Coronavirus: Risk of ‘apocalyptic’ infection in major US cities, disease centre warns

World round-up: Australia rations toilet paper; Italy sends in soldiers amid row over outbreak

A major incident has been declared in the English coastal town of Bournemouth after thousands of people gathered on the beach amid the ongoing Covid-19 pandemic. Video: Reuters

 

More than 9.6 million cases of coronavirus have been recorded worldwide with more than 489,920 deaths, according to the latest data from Johns Hopkins University. The World Health Organisation (WHO) has said it expects global infections to pass 10 million by the end of the week.

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

WHO funding

The WHO said on Friday that it needs $31.3 billion (€27.8 billion) over the next 12 months to develop and roll out tests, treatments and vaccines. It said $3.4 billion had been contributed to date, leaving a funding gap of $27.9 billion, of which $13.7 billion was “urgently needed”. The WHO initiative aims to scale up delivery of 500 million tests and 245 million courses of treatments to low- and middle-income countries by mid-2021, it said in a statement. It also aims to scale up delivery of 2 billion vaccine doses, including 1 billion to be bought by low- and middle-income countries, by the end of 2021.

US

With new coronavirus cases surging in Texas and Florida, officials in both states on Friday ordered bars to close again and imposed tighter restrictions on restaurants, setting back efforts to reopen their economies.

Governor Greg Abbott gave bars in Texas until midday on Friday to shut, while Florida’s department of business and professional regulation told bars to immediately stop serving alcohol on their premises. The announcements marked a major step back by both states – two of the early drivers in attempts to reopen the economy – and an acknowledgement that infection figures had grown too worrisome to stand pat.

Florida on Friday announced a startling 8,942 new Covid-19 cases. That number was a leap from the state’s previous daily record of 5,511 new cases, reached on June 24th. Total US cases rose by 40,751 on Thursday, a record daily increase.

Texas confirmed a record 5,996 new coronavirus cases on Thursday, just one day after beating its previous daily record with Wednesday’s 5,551 new cases.

At least 121,500 Americans have died of Covid-19, the highest death toll from the highly infectious disease in the world.

Despite the grim news from Texas and Florida, vice-president Mike Pence sounded a note of optimism at the first US coronavirus taskforce briefing in months. “As we see the new cases rising, and we’re tracking them very carefully, there may be a tendency among the American people to think that we are back to that place that we were two months ago,” Mr Pence said. “The reality is we’re in a much better place.” In Texas and Florida, he said, “we’re seeing more and more young people, under the age of 35, who are testing positive. In many cases they have no symptoms.”

New York governor Andrew Cuomo on Friday criticised states that reopened their economies before getting the coronavirus spread under control, saying there was “undeniable, irrefutable evidence” those states made a mistake.

The US Centers for Disease Control (CDC) warned that they believe the US actually has had 10 times the number of known infections over the course of the pandemic so far, or 20 million cases. The CDC warned that there was a risk of “apocalyptic” infection in major cities.

Brazil

New cases continue to surge above 30,000 a day in Brazil, which is second only to the US in deaths and cases from the pandemic. The country confirmed 39,483 new coronavirus cases on Thursday, bringing the national total to 1,228,114 known infections. The number of deaths in the country is nearing 55,000, with 54,971 fatalities confirmed.

Brazilian president Jair Bolsonaro said he believes he’s already had the coronavirus, after denying he’d had it and months spent downplaying its seriousness as he mingled with supporters without a face mask. The 65-year-old president made the unexpected announcement during a live webcast on Facebook on Thursday evening. “I can take a test to see if I have antibodies,” he added. Suspicions that Mr Bolsonaro had been infected arose shortly after a number of aides who accompanied him on a March trip to Mar-a-Lago to meet with Mr Trump tested positive. At the time, Mr Bolsonaro denied that he had the virus, emphasising his strength as a reason for why he had not caught it. He also fought to keep his exam results private, though months later they would be revealed and show that he tested negative. Earlier in the week, a federal judge ordered the president to wear a face mask while out in Brasilia.

Australia

Australian supermarkets have reintroduced national rationing of essential groceries after panic buying resumed in some states, provoked by a rise in cases in Victoria. The southern state reported its 10th straight day of new cases in double digits on Friday. Thirty new cases were reported after what premier Daniel Andrews called a “suburban testing blitz”in hotspot suburbs, involving ambulances and mobile test centres.

In response to panic buying, which earlier in the pandemic saw shelves emptied of toilet paper, pasta, disinfectant and other staples, the Woolworths grocery store chain announced it would reintroduce countrywide buying limits on toilet paper. Woolworths initially brought in limits in Victoria alone on Wednesday. Customers were restricted to just two items of toilet paper, hand sanitiser, paper towels, flour, sugar, pasta, mince, long-life milk, eggs and rice. Coles, another supermarket chain, also brought in limits on buying hand sanitiser, flour, eggs, other groceries and toilet paper. Despite the spike in infections, Australia’s prime minister Scott Morrison said on Friday he would stick with plans to further ease coronavirus restrictions.“There will be outbreaks and what matters is that we continue to build our capability to deal with those outbreaks,” Mr Morrison told a media briefing in Canberra.

Europe

Coronavirus cases are resurging in Europe as countries ease restrictions imposed to curb the spread of the disease, the WHO has warned. “For weeks I have spoken about the risk of resurgence as countries adjust measures. In several countries across Europe, this risk has now become a reality,” WHO director for Europe Dr Hans Kluge said in his weekly briefing to media. Across the WHO’s European region, which covers 54 countries, roughly 20,000 new coronavirus cases and 700 deaths are currently being reported daily. “Thirty countries have seen increases in new cumulative cases over the past two weeks. In 11 of these countries, accelerated transmission has led to very significant resurgence that if left unchecked will push health systems to the brink once again in Europe.”

Sweden

In Sweden, people are losing trust in authorities’ handling of the coronavirus pandemic, as the man behind the country’s light-touch approach called lockdowns a form of madness and political parties demanded the Swedish strategy be reviewed before the next election in 2022.

Sweden’s chief epidemiologist also lashed out at WHO, calling it “a total mistake” to put his nation on a list of countries where “accelerated transmission” of coronavirus could overwhelm health systems.

UK

Britain reported 186 new deaths from coronavirus on Friday, bringing the total toll to 43,414. There were 1,004 positive tests conducted in the previous 24 hours. UK health secretary Matt Hancock threatened to close beaches, after tens of thousands of people descended in droves on beaches in Bournemouth and other stretches of the Dorset coast. Mr Hancock said on TalkRadio he had the power to close the beaches if people did not respect social-distancing rules.

Spain

The official in charge of Spain’s response to Covid-19 said imported infections are a growing source of concern as the continent readies to welcome more visitors. Epidemiologist Fernando Simón said on Thursday that 54 people who had contracted the disease in the past week have been linked to recently arrived visitors in Spain. He suggested that controls should be strict and that regional and local governments should be ready to apply localised isolation to avoid spreading the disease.

Italy

Italy has sent soldiers to restore order in a coastal town near Naples after a coronavirus outbreak at an apartment complex illegally occupied by hundreds of migrant workers caused angry confrontations with residents. The authorities announced on Thursday that more than 40 people living at the abandoned buildings in Mondragone, 45km from Naples, had tested positive for Covid-19, and warned the entire town could be quarantined if the outbreak proves widespread.

The apartment buildings were sealed off to prevent the spread of infection but footage on RAI state TV from Thursday showed a group of residents defying the order to stay put and marching through the town in protest at what they said was racist discrimination. Many of those living at the complex are Bulgarians working as seasonal fruit pickers in the fields around the town. Italian residents on the street chanted “Mondragone is ours” and gathered outside the sealed-off area, resulting in both sides shouting abuse at each other, footage showed. Soldiers were manning barricades and police checks were in place on Friday around the housing complex.

Germany

Germany’s coronavirus infection rate fell to the lowest in three weeks, while the number of new cases remained well below the level at the height of the outbreak. The reproduction factor, or R value, dropped to 0.59 on Thursday from 0.72 the previous day, according to the latest estimate by the country’s health body, the Robert Koch Institute.

The estimate means that out of 100 people who get infected, a further 59 people are likely to contract the virus. The government is trying to keep the value below 1.0 to prevent exponential growth in infections. There were 500 new cases in the 24 hours through Friday morning, up from 391 new cases the previous day and bringing the total number of confirmed cases to 193,371, according to data from Johns Hopkins University. Fatalities increased by 12 to 8,940.

During the past week, the infection rate in Germany had been lifted as high as 2.88, driven up by local outbreaks, including in two municipalities in the western state of North Rhine-Westphalia. In the district of Guetersloh, more than 2,000 people were infected, most of them working at a local meat plant, and the area was put back into lockdown.

Russia

Russia on Friday reported 6,800 new coronavirus cases, the first daily rise below 7,000 since late April, taking its nationwide tally to 620,794 cases. The country’s coronavirus response centre said 176 people had died of the virus in the last 24 hours, bringing the death toll to 8,781.

South Africa

South Africa, which accounts for about half of the infections on the African continent with 118,375, reported a record 6,579 new cases, as transmissions increased after it loosened what had been one of the world’s strictest lockdowns earlier this month.

Yemen

Unicef has warned that millions of children could be pushed to the brink of starvation as the coronavirus pandemic sweeps across war-torn Yemen amid a “huge” drop in humanitarian aid funding. It said the number of malnourished Yemeni children could reach 2.4 million by the end of the year, a 20 per cent increase on the current figure.

China

China reported 13 new cases. Eleven were in Beijing, where mass testing has been carried out following an outbreak that appears to have been largely brought under control. The other two cases were brought by Chinese travellers from overseas, according to the National Health Commission.

South Korea

South Korea reported 39 new cases, mostly from the densely populated Seoul metropolitan area, where officials have been struggling to stem transmissions amid increased public activity and eased attitudes on social distancing.

India and Indonesia

India, which has the world’s second-largest population, has seen regular record daily increases in cases. The 24-hour spike of 17,296 new infections reported on Friday raised the national caseload past 490,000, including 15,301 fatalities. Indian Railways has delayed the resumption of regular train services by more than a month, until August 12th. In India and in neighbouring Pakistan, government leaders have resisted new restrictions, citing economic concerns. The world’s fourth-most populous country, Indonesia, passed 50,000 cases on Thursday, with at least 2,620 deaths, the highest number of cases and fatalities in southeast Asia. That’s up from just two positive cases in early March.

Japan

Japan recorded on Friday more than 100 new infections for the first time since May 9th, hitting its highest daily total since it eased a lockdown, Kyodo News reported. Meanwhile, Japan’s Covid-19 contact-tracing app has been downloaded more than 4 million times since its launch a week ago, as the government seeks to head off a second wave of infections now that businesses and schools have reopened. Japan lifted a state of emergency in late May. It has weathered the pandemic better than most developed countries, with almost 18,000 infections and 969 deaths.

Thailand

Thailand confirmed on Friday four new coronavirus cases, all of which were imported from abroad, marking 32 days without community transmission.

Mexico

Mexico’s health ministry on Thursday reported 6,104 new confirmed cases and 736 new deaths, pushing the country past a total of 25,000 deaths and 200,000 confirmed cases. The country’s finance minister, Arturo Herrera Gutiérrez, tested positive but is experiencing only “minor” symptoms, he said.

Argentina

Argentine doctors are predicting that coronavirus cases will peak in coming weeks as the southern hemisphere winter sets in, straining hospital intensive care units after confirmed cases accelerated past 50,000.

New Zealand

New Zealand reported one new case of Covid-19. Like all of the country’s active cases it was diagnosed during the routine testing of quarantined travellers.

Study

A Europe-wide study shows child virus deaths are “extremely rare”. Fewer than one in 100 children who test positive die, although a small but significant percentage develop severe illness, the study showed.–Guardian, Bloomberg, Reuters, PA