Coronavirus: Australia reports record number of cases as global infections near 15m

World round-up: WHO says spikes in southern Europe and Balkans worrying

Parents wait as students wearing masks and face shields leave after attending classes during the first day of reopening of public high schools following closure due to the  coronavirus in Yangon on Tuesday. Photograph: Sai Aung Main/AFP

Parents wait as students wearing masks and face shields leave after attending classes during the first day of reopening of public high schools following closure due to the coronavirus in Yangon on Tuesday. Photograph: Sai Aung Main/AFP

 

More than 14.9 million cases of coronavirus have been recorded worldwide with more than 617,250 deaths, according to the latest data from Johns Hopkins University.

The total number of cases is at least triple the number of severe influenza illnesses recorded annually, according to World Health Organisation (WHO) data, while the death toll in seven months is close to the upper range of yearly influenza deaths.

The top five countries with the most cases are the US, Brazil, India, Russia and South Africa. A Reuters tally shows the disease is accelerating the fastest in the Americas, which account for more than half the world’s infections and half its deaths. Globally, the rate of new infections shows no sign of slowing.

The following is a summary of the latest developments on the virus around the world:

Australia

Residents of Australia’s second most populous city, Melbourne, must wear masks when leaving home from Wednesday as the country posted a record rise in novel coronavirus cases while New South Wales state was on “high alert”. Australia recorded 501 new coronavirus infections in the past 24 hours, its highest since the epidemic took hold in March. Its death toll also rose by 2 to 128. Victoria state, of which Melbourne is capital, accounted for most of the new cases, with 484. Worryingly, more than half the people who tested positive for the virus in Victoria between July 7th and July 21st, or more than 2,000 people, did not isolate, Victoria Premier Daniel Andrews said. Mr Andrews warned that the number of cases would stay on an upward trajectory if people did not self-isolate after getting tested. Meanwhile, Melbourne has seen a rapid increase in the number of coronavirus cases in recent weeks, with the virus spreading to many aged and nursing homes and some prisons. Victoria has recorded more than 6,700 coronavirus infections, more than half of Australia’s total.

US

President Donald Trump, in a shift in rhetoric and tone, encouraged Americans on Tuesday to wear masks if they cannot maintain social distance and warned that the coronavirus pandemic would get worse before it got better. The US recorded about 60,000 new cases of Covid-19 on Monday, up more than 30 per cent in the last two weeks for a total of more than 3.8 million. Deaths over the same period are up 6 per cent and total confirmed deaths have passed 140,000. For months, Mr Trump has punished and exiled public health experts such as Dr Anthony Fauci, the longtime head of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, who have advanced basic recommendations such as mask-wearing and hand-washing. California infections topped 400,000, and Texas reported its second-deadliest day. US Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar said on Wednesday the federal government has signed a contract with Pfizer Inc. for 100 million doses of coronavirus vaccine, once it is approved.

India

India reported 648 new deaths Wednesday to take its total to 28,732, passing Spain to rank seventh globally in deaths, according to data compiled by John Hopkins University. India has more than 1 million cases and reported almost 40,000 new cases on Wednesday. The country already ranks third in the number of infections. Deaths in India so far have lagged the casualty rate seen elsewhere- aided partially by the country’s younger population mix - but fatalities are gaining momentum and India is rapidly closing in on former European hot spots France and Italy. Having been keen to reopen its economy, India is now facing the twin challenge of combating the pandemic and massive flooding in the country’s northeast.

Japan

Tokyo governor Yuriko Koike told residents to avoid unnecessary trips outdoors as much as possible during a forthcoming four-day weekend as the total number of coronavirus cases in the city topped 10,000. “I want residents to avoid going out as much as possible,” Ms Koike said at a meeting of a panel of experts advising the city. “If you are going outside, take the utmost precautions to avoid infection.” Japan’s capital had another 230 or more cases on Wednesday, Ms Koike said earlier. Hospitalisations in Tokyo have jumped almost five-fold over the past month, though authorities have stressed the medical system is not under stress. Just 14 of those hospitalised are listed as serious cases, in an ICU or on a ventilator, and the city has had only two deaths in the past month. The city had over 3,800 cases so far this month, more than the previous peak in April when the city entered its state of emergency. A metro monitoring panel said infections in Tokyo were spreading among middle-aged and elderly persons. Tokyo will secure 2,000 hotel rooms by end-July for mildly ill and asymptomatic patients, Ms Koike said.

New Zealand

New Zealand’s housing minister said the country can house about 6,900 people in 32 quarantine hotels, with no plans to boost that capacity in the near term. Occupancy of the hotels, currently at 44 per cent, is projected to rise to 81 per cent over next two weeks, Megan Woods said at a briefing Wednesday. A new arrangement linking passage to New Zealand to an available room will be in place from August, Ms Woods said. With the system able to handle about 14,000 returnees per month, officials are giving each airline flying to New Zealand a rolling, 14-day quota of returnees to better align seat demand with the supply of quarantine rooms.

Spain

Barcelona authorities on Tuesday cut the number of people allowed on to the city’s beaches to 32,000 from 38,000. Spain’s tourism minister Reyes Maroto said on Wednesday that a resurgence in coronavirus cases in Catalonia was coming under control, adding that she hoped this meant there would be no need for neighbouring France to close the border.

Austria

Austria is reintroducing a requirement that face masks be worn in supermarkets, banks and post offices. Border controls will tighten, as a significant share of infections are coming from travellers returning from Balkan countries such as Serbia and Romania.

Romania

The number of coronavirus infections in Romania rose by a record 1,030 new cases in a day, the government said on Wednesday, as the WHO said spikes in southern Europe and the Balkans were worrying. Romania has confirmed 40,163 cases since the pandemic reached it in late February and 2,101 people have died. The government has extended a state of alert, in place since May 15th, by another 30 days until the middle of August.

England and Wales

Coronavirus deaths in England and Wales fell to their lowest levels since lockdown in the first week of July, signalling a sustained decline in the toll from the virus. Fatalities fell 31 per cent in the week ending July 10th, to 366, continuing a downward trend for the past month. The overall number of deaths from all causes recorded across the two nations stood at 8,690 in the same week, 560 below the five-year average, making it the fourth week in a row where excess deaths were lower than in a typical year. However, the number of deaths in private homes remains higher than normal. There were 2,960 deaths in homes, 706 higher than the five-year average. The latter figure brings to 19,767 the total number of excess deaths in private homes in England and Wales since the beginning of the pandemic, suggesting people who might typically go to hospital or into care homes are remaining at home or not seeking treatment. Since mid-March there have been 19,767 excess deaths in private homes in England and Wales.

Germany

Germany recorded a drop in the number of new coronavirus cases and the infection rate eased further, while remaining just above the key threshold of 1.0. There were 392 new cases in the 24 hours through Wednesday morning, bringing the total to 203,717 according to data from Johns Hopkins University. That compares with 590 the previous day and almost 7,000 at the peak of the pandemic in late March.

Czech Republic

The number of active coronavirus infections topped 5,000 in the Czech Republic for the first time after labs reported the highest daily rise in nearly a month, the health ministry said on Wednesday. Authorities had reported 212 new cases by Tuesday night, bringing the total number of active cases to 5,046. Total cases including those who have recovered or died reached 14,324. The central European country of 10.7 million has reported 360 deaths from coronavirus, far fewer than many western European nations. But it has seen infection numbers creeping up, first from an outbreak at a mine in north-eastern Moravia-Silesia region.

Switzerland

Switzerland has expanded to 42 the number of territories on its watchlist of

coronavirus hot spots, new arrivals from which must enter a ten-day quarantine, health authorities said on Wednesday. New entries as of Thursday include Bosnia, Costa Rica, Ecuador, El Salvador, Eswatini, Guatemala, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Luxembourg, Maldives, Mexico, Montenegro, the Palestinian territories, Suriname and the United Arab Emirates. The authorities removed Belarus and Sweden from the list.

Russia

Russia reported 5,862 new cases of the novel coronavirus on Wednesday, pushing its total infection tally to 789,190, the fourth largest in the world. The country’s coronavirus crisis response centre said 165 people had died in the last 24 hours, bringing the official death toll to 12,745.

Americas

Canada’s recent increase in cases was expected as the economy reopens, a senior medical official said, while expressing concern about how many young people were contracting the virus.

Brazilian president Jair Bolsonaro said he took another coronavirus test and the results were expected Wednesday as he hopes for a negative result two weeks since falling ill. More than 2.15 million people have tested positive for the virus in Brazil and more than 81,000 people have died. While Mr Bolsonaro has played down the outbreak, its scale has made Brazil a prime testing ground for potential vaccines.

Panama will further reopen its economy next week, adding some sectors in the provinces of Los Santos, Herrera and Cocle that have a low number of virus cases, a health official said.

The novel coronavirus pandemic is showing “no signs of slowing down” in the Americas, the Pan American Health Organisation’s director said.

Middle East and Africa

Two ministers in South Africa’s cabinet were admitted to hospital with Covid-19, as Africa’s most-industrialised country counted a total 372,628 confirmed cases and 5,173 deaths.

About 2,000 Israelis rallied outside prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s residence in Jerusalem as protests mounted against him over his handling of a worsening coronavirus crisis.

Qatar relaxed restrictions aimed at controlling the crisis, allowing citizens and permanent residency holders to travel outside the country and return at any time, and residents outside the country to return starting August 1st.

Zimbabwe president Emmerson Mnangagwa said his government would impose a night-time curfew and tighten other measures.

Medical developments

The University of Oxford’s possible Covid-19 vaccine could be rolled out by the end of the year but there is no certainty, the lead developer of the vaccine said.

Brazil approved clinical trials starting in August for a potential vaccine under joint development by Pfizer and BioNTech.–PA, Guardian, Reuters, Bloomberg