Coronavirus: Britain resists lockdown as Europe counts cost

World round-up: India’s cases pass 8m as Taiwan marks 200 days without local transmission

A medical worker collects a swab sample from a woman at a Covid-19 coronavirus screening site in New Delhi on Thursday. Photograph: Jewel Samad/AFP/Getty Images

A medical worker collects a swab sample from a woman at a Covid-19 coronavirus screening site in New Delhi on Thursday. Photograph: Jewel Samad/AFP/Getty Images

 

More than 44.4 million cases of coronavirus have been recorded worldwide with more than 1.17 million deaths, according to the latest data from Johns Hopkins University.

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

Europe

Europe began counting the cost of the sweeping restrictions on social life imposed tocontain a surge in coronavirus infections while Britain continued to hold out against following Germany and France in ordering a second lockdown.

As the pandemic raced ahead across the continent, Europe has moved back to the centre of the global pandemic, facing the prospect of a prolonged economic slump alongside a public health crisis which has so far seen more than 44 million infections and 1.1 million deaths worldwide.

France and Germany have imposed controls almost as strict as the lockdowns of the first phase of the crisis in March and April, shutting bars and restaurants and restricting movement, while allowing schools and most businesses to remain open.

But Britain, the country with the largest number of coronavirus deaths in Europe, said it would stick with a system of local lockdowns despite a new study which showed cases in England doubling every nine days.

“The judgement of the government today is that a blanket national lockdown is not appropriate, would do more harm than good,” UK housing minister Robert Jenrick told Times Radio.

Germany has set aside €10 billion to help small businesses hit by the new measures but economy minister Peter Altmaier said the economy was not experiencing an industrial collapse as it did in the initial phase of the pandemic.

“(The economy) is so strong that we can avoid sliding into a long period of recession,” he said. However he added output would not return to pre-pandemic levels until at least 2022.

Separately, Bank of France Governor Francois Villeroy de Galhau also said the drop in gross domestic product (GDP) expected at the end of the year should be less severe than in first half of the year after the initial lockdown.

Financial markets steadied somewhat on Thursday following a brutal selloff a day before as the latest restrictions snuffed out faint signs of recovery seen over the summer and pointed to further economic pain at the end of the year.

The European Central Bank, which has been propping up the economy through its €1.35 trillion euro Pandemic Emergency Purchase Programme, said it was ready to offer additional support.

Governments have been desperate to avoid a repeat of the spring lockdowns but have been forced to move by the speed of new infections and a steadily increasing mortality rate across the continent as winter approaches.

Even the well-equipped health systems of countries like France, Germany, the Netherlands and Switzerland have been pushed close to their limits by the exponential surge in cases recorded this month.

On Thursday, Sweden, which alone among European countries never imposed a lockdown, reported its third record increase in cases in a matter of days.

“We’re beginning to approach the ceiling for what the healthcare system can handle,” Chief Epidemiologist Anders Tegnell told a news conference, calling for a joint effort to curb the spread of the virus.

‘Winter will be hard’

German chancellor Angela Merkel said her government had moved quickly to prevent intensive care facilities being overwhelmed and called for a joint effort to face the crisis.

“We are in a dramatic situation at the start of the cold season. It affects us all, without exception,” Ms Merkel told the Bundestag lower house of parliament, adding new restrictions to reduce social contact were “necessary and proportionate”.

However she warned of difficult months ahead and said: “The winter will be hard.”

While Paris and Berlin hope that the month-long lockdowns will be enough to slow the spread of the disease, there was little certainty about whether they would be enough for a return to even near-normality.

“We want to do everything so that French people can be with their families and their friends for the festivities at the end of the year,” French health minister Olivier Veran said. “Will it be the same? Possibly not.”

While the latest restrictions have put a spotlight on Europe, the United States has also seen a surge in new coronavirus cases in the run-up to next week’s presidential election, with more than 80,000 new cases and 1,000 deaths reported on Wednesday.

“We are on a very difficult trajectory. We’re going in the wrong direction,” said Dr Anthony Fauci, task force member and director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases.

India

India’s confirmed coronavirus caseload has surpassed eight million as concerns grew over a major Hindu festival season and winter setting in.

The country’s trajectory is moving toward the United States which has over 8.8 million cases, the highest in the world.

India’s health ministry reported another 49,881 infections and 517 fatalities in the past 24 hours, raising the death toll to 120,527.

Life in India is edging back to pre-virus levels with shops, businesses, trains and cinemas reopening and the country’s third-largest state of Bihar with a population of about 122 million people holding elections.

But health experts warn that mask and distancing fatigue is setting in and can lead to a fresh wave of infections.

India saw a steep rise in cases in July and added more than two million in August and another three million in September.

But it is seeing a slower pace of coronavirus spread since mid-September, when daily infections touched a record of 97,894 with the highest number of deaths at 1,275.

Dr Jacob John, a retired virologist, said that in most parts of India the infection curve was never flattened and the number of people who are now susceptible to the virus had decreased.

He warned that the ongoing festival season was likely to increase the speed of the viral spread, resulting in localised outbreaks where people gathered without masks and did not adhere to social distancing.

US

The United States’ top infectious-disease doctor pleaded with Americans to set politics aside and wear face masks to stop the rise in Covid-19 cases. Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute for Allergy and Infectious Diseases, and colleagues outlined how face coverings can help prevent Covid-19. In a commentary Wednesday in the Journal of the American Medical Association, Fauci said overcoming politically driven biases around mask use is critical for avoiding economically crippling shutdowns, but stopped short of calling for a mask mandate. He also said vaccines against Covid-19 won’t be available in the US until January at the earliest.

Marshall Islands

The Marshall Islands has reported its first cases of the coronavirus after two people who flew from Hawaii to a US military base tested positive.

The small Pacific nation had been among the last places in the world to have no reported cases of the virus.

The Office of the Chief Secretary said in a statement that a 35-year-old woman and a 46-year-old man had tested positive this week after flying directly from Honolulu to the base on Kwajalein Atoll.

The office said the two cases were not connected, that both people remained in quarantine, and that there was no chance of community transmission.

Taiwan

Taiwan on Thursday marked 200 days since its last locally transmitted case April 12th. Overall, the island of 23 million people has had 550 confirmed cases, with only seven deaths. Experts say closing borders early and tightly regulating travel have gone a long way toward fighting the virus. Other factors include rigorous contact tracing, technology-enforced quarantine and universal mask wearing.

South Korea

Several clubs in popular Seoul nightlife districts have banded together to close on Halloween weekend in a bid to halt the spread of coronavirus. They’ve also launched a poster campaign to remind people to avoid large crowds, showing a ghost with the words, “If you try to enjoy Halloween, you could become a real ghost.” Seoul’s government has pushed to close clubs, which typically draw large crowds over Halloween, with partygoers spilling out into the street. That comes as South Korea reported 125 new Covid-19 cases in the past 24 hours, the largest gain in six days.–Agencies