Coronavirus: Virus may never go away, says WHO

Death toll worldwide passes 294,000 as Germany is to ease border controls

Commuters wear PPE on the London Underground at King’s Cross St Pancreas on Wednesday morning. Tolga Akmen/Getty/AFP

The coronavirus that causes Covid-19 could become endemic like HIV, the World Health Organisation said on Wednesday, warning against any attempt to predict how long it would keep circulating and calling for a “massive effort” to counter it.

“It is important to put this on the table: this virus may become just another endemic virus in our communities, and this virus may never go away,” WHO emergencies expert Mike Ryan told an online briefing.

“I think it is important we are realistic and I don’t think anyone can predict when this disease will disappear,” he added. “I think there are no promises in this and there are no dates. This disease may settle into a long problem, or it may not be.”

However, he said the world had some control over how it coped with the disease, although this would take a “massive effort” even if a vaccine was found a prospect he described as a “massive moonshot”.


More than 100 potential vaccines are being developed, including several in clinical trials, but experts have underscored the difficulties of finding vaccines that are effective against coronaviruses.

Ryan noted that vaccines exist for other illnesses, such as measles, that have not been eliminated.

WHO Director General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus added: “The trajectory is in our hands, and it’s everybody’s business, and we should all contribute to stop this pandemic.”

Ryan said “very significant control” of the virus was required in order to lower the assessment of risk, which he said remained high at the “national, regional and global levels”.

It comes as the United Nations is forecasting the coronavirus pandemic will shrink the world economy by 3.2 per cent this year, the sharpest contraction since the Great Depression in the 1930s.

The UN’s mid-year report said Covid-19 is expected to slash global economic output by nearly $8.5 trillion (€7.9 trillion) over the next two years, wiping out nearly all gains of the last four years. In January, the UN forecast modest growth of 2.5 per cent in 2020.

Coronavirus has infected more than 4.3 million people and killed more than 294,000, according to a tally kept by Johns Hopkins University.

Here are the latest updates on the pandemic from around the world:


Italy’s German-speaking region South Tyrol has defied Rome by easing lockdown restrictions quicker than in the rest of the country.

Spurred by economic pressure, the provincial governor defied Rome this week and reasserted South Tyrol’s cherished autonomy, allowing restaurants, hair salons, tattoo parlours and museums to reopen on Monday well ahead of the timetable set by Italy’s government.

“We have a relatively positive situation regarding the epidemic, with a rate of contagion the lowest in Italy,” said governor Arno Kompatscher, whose South Tyrolean People’s Party has controlled the province since 1948.

South Tyroleans sat in Walther Square, near Bolzano’s Duomo, and ate lunch at the prescribed two metre distance or drank coffee in bars outfitted with Plexiglas safety screens.

Despite the province’s bold stance, some business owners demurred to Rome for now. South Tyrol reported no new confirmed virus cases on Tuesday.

The province so far has 2,572 confirmed cases with 290 deaths, both figures representing about 1 per cent of Italy’s totals. Italy has recorded 31,106 deaths from coronavirus, based on the latest figures.


France’s daily death toll from the new coronavirus dropped on Wednesday to 83 from 348 the day before, bringing the total number of dead there to 27,074 and putting it just behind Spain in terms of overall fatalities from the disease.

Three days after ending a 55-day lockdown, the number of additional confirmed cases was also lower than on Tuesday, easing fears of a new wave of infections.

France briefly overtook Spain on Tuesday as the country with the world’s fourth-highest number of COVID-19 fatalities, but its southern neighbour earlier on Wednesday reported that its death toll had risen overnight to 27,104.


China has reported seven new coronavirus cases. Six of them were in the north-eastern province of Jilin where authorities have raised alert levels and suspended rail connections to one county where a cluster of unknown origin has appeared over recent days.

Another 754 people are in treatment for suspected cases or for having tested positive but not shown symptoms, while 104 people are in hospital undergoing treatment.

China has reported a total of 4,633 deaths among 82,926 cases.

On Tuesday, local media reported the government would conduct tests on all 11 million residents of Wuhan, the central industrial city where the virus was first detected late last year.


Spain’s daily death toll from the coronavirus inched up on Wednesday to 184 fatalities from 176 on Tuesday, the country’s health ministry said.

The overall death toll from the disease rose to 27,104, while the overall number of diagnosed cases rose to 228,691 from 228,030 the prior day.

Spanish authorities are planning to keep borders closed to most travellers from abroad until July, two foreign ministry sources said on Wednesday, in a move to try and avoid a second wave of contagion from the coronavirus.

Land borders with France and Portugal have been closed since a state of emergency was declared in mid-March to fight the pandemic, pushing the economy to a near stand-still and hitting its tourism sector hard.

Spain has started easing the lockdown for its residents as the pandemic gets under control. But it also imposed a two-week quarantine for foreign travellers and practically shut the border to air and maritime travel to avoid importing new cases from other countries.

The quarantine measure is due to expire on May 24th when the state of emergency lapses, but both can be extended. In any case, restrictions on travel are likely to remain in place for much longer than May 24th, no matter how crucial tourism is for the Spanish economy, the sources told Reuters.

To prevent triggering a new wave of infections being imported by travellers from abroad, the government is studying ways of controlling who can enter the country.

Part of the holiday season could still be saved by tourists from Schengen countries, the source added.

Spain’s tourism industry draws some 80 million annual visitors and accounts for around 12 per cent of gross domestic product in the world’s second most visited country.

A medical staff member takes a swab sample from a child to test for coronavirus in Jiangxo, China. Photograph: Getty/AFP


The country plans to start loosening border controls this weekend after two months of restrictions.

Interior minister Horst Seehofer said checks on the border with Luxembourg will be dropped after Friday. On the borders with France, Switzerland and Austria, all crossings will be opened — rather than selected ones at present — and authorities will switch to spot rather than systematic checks.

Mr Seehofer said the aim is to restore free travel across those three borders on June 15th, so long as coronavirus infection rates allow.

Germany imposed checks on its borders with France, Switzerland, Austria, Luxembourg and Denmark on March 16th and people “without a valid reason to travel” have not been allowed to cross.

Eastern neighbours Poland and the Czech Republic closed their own borders. Mr Seehofer said Germany is prepared to relax controls on the Danish border, but Denmark is in the process of consulting its other neighbours


The tiny African mountain kingdom has confirmed its first positive case of Covid-19, making it the last of 54 African countries to report the disease.

The health ministry said one person, who had recently arrived in the country, had tested positive without showing signs of illness.

The patient is isolated. Lesotho, a country of two million people, is surrounded by South Africa, which has the highest confirmed cases in Africa at 11,350.


Russia on Wednesday reported 10,028 new confirmed cases of the novel coronavirus, pushing its nationwide tally to 242,271.

Russia’s coronavirus response centre said 96 people died overnight, bringing the official death toll to 2,212.

Russia has suspended the use of Russian-made medical ventilators of a certain model manufactured after April 1st, a state healthcare regulator said on Wednesday, following two hospital fires reported to involve two such machines.

The Aventa-M medical ventilator was used at the Saint George’s Hospital in St Petersburg where five people died in a fire on Tuesday, and also in a hospital in Moscow where a fire killed one person on Saturday.

Roszdravnadzor, the regulator, said on Tuesday it was checking the quality and safety of the ventilators in the two hospitals.


Austrian authorities said the country’s border with Germany will reopen fully next month.

The Austria Press Agency reported that the chancellery in Vienna said the border will be open completely on June 15th and that checks will be reduced, starting on Friday.

It said Austria is aiming for similar agreements with Switzerland, Liechtenstein and its eastern neighbours.

Austria has been pressing for a reopening of some borders in the hope of attracting tourists to the country this summer.


New Zealand reported no new cases of coronavirus on Wednesday, the second day in a row without any and the fourth such day since early last week.

Director-General of Health Ashley Bloomfield said it was encouraging news as the country prepares to ease many of its lockdown restrictions. Most businesses, including shopping centres, retail stores and restaurants, will be able to reopen. Social distancing rules will remain in place and gatherings will be limited to 10 people.


Poland will extend its strict border controls until June 12th due to the coronavirus pandemic, its Interior Ministry said on Wednesday.

Poland closed its borders to foreigners in March to stop the spread of the coronavirus and has extended the restriction four times since then.

Polish citizens, diplomats, foreigners with the legal right to live in Poland and foreign professional drivers can enter Poland at selected checkpoints.

While keeping borders closed, Poland is easing some other curbs imposed earlier. It has reopened shopping malls, hotels, outdoor playgrounds and allowed kindergartens to restart.

The government is expected to announce on Wednesday the lifting of further restrictions on schools, restaurants and hairdressers.

Poland now has 17,062 confirmed coronavirus cases and 847 deaths. On Tuesday, the country saw its largest spike in new coronavirus cases in one day due to a rapid growth in infections among coal miners.


Brazil’s confirmed cases of the novel coronavirus passed Germany on Tuesday, as Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro fought states over his wish to reopen gyms and beauty parlors even as his country becomes a new global hotspot for the pandemic.

Brazil has confirmed 177,589 cases since its outbreak began in late February, passing Germany’s 170,508 confirmed cases and drawing nearly even with France’s tally of 178,225 confirmed and probable cases.

Europe is beginning to lift lockdowns as the death toll in the region eases, but the outbreak is still accelerating in Brazil, where Bolsonaro has played down the risks of the disease and criticized state governments’ isolation orders.

Brazil recorded its deadliest day yet, with 881 confirmed deaths in 24 hours from the Covid-19 respiratory disease caused by the virus.


South Korea said it has no immediate plans to revive strict social distancing rules despite a spike in coronavirus cases linked to nightclubs in Seoul.

Vice health minister Kim Gang-lip said the government needs more time to analyse details of recent outbreaks before determining whether to maintain relaxed social distancing guidelines.

South Korea eased up on much of its strict social distancing rules last week before it had about roughly 30 new cases each day in the past few days. On Wednesday, South Korea recorded 26 new cases, 20 of them associated with clubs in Seoul’s Itaewon entertainment district.

Health officials said in principle they would maintain relaxed social distancing rules if the country’s daily jump is below 50 and the number of untraceable cases account for less than 5 per cent of all confirmed cases. – PA/Reuters