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Thursday, May 21, 2020, 22:43
Virus: UK healthcare workers begin hydroxychloroquine trial
By Agencies
Thursday, May 21, 2020, 22:43 By Agencies

This April 6, 2020 file photo shows an arrangement of hydroxychloroquine tablets in Las Vegas. (JOHN LOCHER / AP)

MEXICO CITY / QUITO / RIO DE JANEIRO / GENEVA / PARIS / ROME / STOCKHOLM / JOHANNESBURG / WASHINGTON / MADRID / BERLIN / MAPUTO / NAIROBI / NICOSIA / CAIRO / LIMA / ATHENS / MOSCOW / VIENNA - British healthcare workers will on Thursday begin taking part in a University of Oxford-led international trial of two anti-malarial drugs, chloroquine and hydroxychloroquine, to see if they can prevent COVID-19.

In Britain, Europe and Africa participants will receive either hydroxychloroquine or a placebo for three months. In Asia they will receive either chloroquine or a placebo

The 'COPCOV' study will involve more than 40,000 frontline healthcare workers from Europe, Africa, Asia and South America to determine if the drugs are effective in preventing the novel coronavirus.

The trial, led by the University of Oxford with the support of the Mahidol Oxford Tropical Medicine Research Unit (MORU) in Bangkok, will open to British participants at hospital sites in Brighton and Oxford on Thursday and involve those who are in close contact with patients with proven or suspected COVID-19.

The results are expected by the end of this year.

In Britain, Europe and Africa participants will receive either hydroxychloroquine or a placebo for three months. In Asia they will receive either chloroquine or a placebo.

"We are looking at this with great care and examining all of the evidence that is out there," Britain's security minister James Brokenshire told Sky News.

A resident of the Isle of Wight, off the southern coast of England, poses with his smartphone showing the newly released NHS Coronavirus contact tracing app in Ryde on May 8, 2020. (PHOTO / HANDOUT / AFP)

Meanwhile, Britain's system for tracing those with the coronavirus was under fire on Thursday as it grappled with the development of a tracking app and health workers warned the government that unless there was clarity it could suffer a second deadly wave.

Britain is currently testing the app on the Isle of Wight off the southern coast of England where the government says more than half the residents had downloaded it.

Brokenshire said there were technical issues with the app but that traditional measures would be used until it works.

Separately, Brokenshire also said restrictions on arrivals in Britain from overseas would be introduced early next month. He declined to give any further details.

Britain has so far reported 248,293 confirmed cases of the coronavirus and 35,704 deaths, according to the government.

Global tally

Global coronavirus cases surpassed 5 million on Wednesday, with Latin America overtaking the United States and Europe in the past week to report the largest portion of new daily cases globally.

It represents a new phase in the virus' spread, which initially peaked in China in February, before large-scale outbreaks followed in Europe and the United States.

Latin America accounted for around a third of the 91,000 cases reported earlier this week

Latin America accounted for around a third of the 91,000 cases reported earlier this week. Europe and the United States each accounted for just over 20 percent.

A large number of those new cases came from Brazil, which recently surpassed Germany, France and the United Kingdom to become the third-largest outbreak in the world, behind the United States and Russia. Cases in Brazil are now rising at a daily pace second only to the United States.

ALSO READ: UK is first European country with 40,000 virus-linked deaths

The number of confirmed cases across Africa reached 91,598 and the death toll surged to 2,912 as of Wednesday afternoon, the Africa Center for Disease Control and Prevention (Africa CDC) said on Wednesday.

A child wearing a face mask receives a meal from the mobile dining rooms program as people who have not been able to work because of the COVID-19 pandemic line up for a meal outside the Iztapalapa hospital in Mexico City, May 20, 2020. (MARCO UGARTE / AP)

At more than 5 million cases, the virus has infected more people in under six months than the annual total of severe flu cases, which the World Health Organization (WHO) estimates is around 3 million to 5 million globally.

The pandemic has claimed over 328,000 lives, though the true number is thought to be higher as testing is still limited and many countries do not include fatalities outside of hospitals. 

Over half of the total fatalities have been recorded in Europe.

Despite the continued increase in cases, many countries are opening schools and workplaces following weeks of lockdown that have stemmed the spread.

Use of hydroxychloroquine 

A senior WHO official on Wednesday warned against using hydroxychloroquine or chloroquine, the drugs for malaria and other diseases, in the treatment of COVID-19, saying these drugs should be reserved for use "within clinical trials".

Responding to question on hydroxychloroquine or chloroquine being used to treat COVID-19 patients in certain countries, Dr Michael Ryan, executive director of the WHO Health Emergencies Programme, said at a press conference that despite that both drugs are already licensed for many diseases, at this stage, they "have been as yet found to be effective in the treatment of COVID-19 or in the prophylaxis against coming down with the disease."

"And in fact the opposite, warnings have been issued by many authorities regarding the potential side effects of the drug and many countries have limited its use to that of clinical trials or during clinical trials or under the supervision of clinicians in a hospital setting that's specifically for COVID-19, because of a number of potential side effects that have occurred and could occur," Ryan stressed.

Ryan said that hydroxychloroquine and chloroquine are included in the ongoing "solidarity trials" that take place across multiple countries. "And as WHO, we would advise that, for COVID-19, that these drugs be reserved for use within such trials."

The Brazilian health ministry on Wednesday loosened protocols for the use of chloroquine, indicating it even for mild cases of the coronavirus.

US President Donald Trump has also defended his use of hydroxychloroquine as a preventative measure against the coronavirus. He said on Wednesday the regimen of hydroxychloroquine that he is taking will finish in the next day or two.

Brazil

Brazil's coronavirus outbreak worsened on Wednesday and the South American nation could soon have the second-highest number of cases in the world as the health ministry reported another 888 deaths and nearly 20,000 new cases in a single day.

Russia currently has the second highest number of cases after the United States.

Brazil's confirmed case tally now stands at 291,579,according to the health ministry. The death toll now stands at 18,859.

On Monday, Brazil overtook Britain to become the country with the third highest number of infections and registered a daily record of 1,179 deaths on Tuesday.

READ MORE: Brazil clears way for use of chloroquine to treat COVID-19

Bosnia and Herzegovina

The citizens of Bosnia and Herzegovina (BiH) will soon no longer have to undergo a 14-day quarantine upon their entry into BiH, said the institutions of Republika Srpska (RS) and the Federation of BiH (FBiH), two entities of the BiH, on Wednesday.

The entry ban for foreigners is expected to be lifted on June 1, but only for those for business purposes, said the Council of Ministers of BiH on Monday.

Foreigners will have to meet two conditions for entering BiH, according to the draft decision of the Council of Ministers. One of the conditions is to have a negative COVID-19 test result conducted by the authorized lab within 48 hours. The second will be a invitation letter from a BiH company.

So far, BiH has reported 2,238 COVID-19 cases and 136 deaths.  

People wearing face masks shop for plants at a garden center in Mississauga, Ontario, Canada, on May 20, 2020. (ZOU ZHENG / XINHUA)

Canada

The Public Health Agency of Canada made an official recommendation on Wednesday that Canadians should wear non-medical face masks.

"If you can't predict whether you can maintain that two-meter distance, then it's recommended that you wear the non-medical mask or facial covering," Canada's Chief Public Health Officer Theresa Tam said at a press conference in Ottawa on Wednesday.

Tam said public health advice is evolving based on the science and on steps provinces are taking to reopen their economies."We need to flexibly change our measures as we get more information."

As of Wednesday noon, there were 80,081 confirmed cases of COVID-19 and 6,027 deaths in the country. 

Colombia

Colombia on Wednesday followed Argentina's footsteps and imposed one of the toughest travel bans in the world to fight coronavirus, saying no international passenger flights will be allowed until Aug 31.

Colombia has banned domestic flights only until the end of June so far.

"Until Aug 31 we do not expect to resume international air travel or to reopen land borders," Transport Minister Angela Maria Orozco said in an interview with Blu Radio on Wednesday.

Colombia's decision is a blow to its largest carrier, Avianca Holdings, which this month filed for bankruptcy in a US court. Avianca said in a statement that the government had not yet notified it about the new ban.

Cyprus

Cyprus is preparing plans to restart air travel and tourism on June 9, according to government sources quoted by state television on Wednesday.

Deputy Government Spokesman Panayiotis Sentonas said President Nicos Anastasiades conducted the meeting, with the scientific team advising the government on the coronavirus pandemic and the Council of Ministers, to discuss detailed planning for reopening airports and hotels.

State television said that as part of preparations for the restart of tourism, reports on the pandemic situation in 21 countries will be prepared with a view of categorizing them and choosing those from which tourists would be allowed to arrive from and when.

State television also said that hotels will resume operation as of June 1 for local visitors so as to prepare to receive foreign tourists from June 9.

It added that air travel will first resume with Greece, Israel and Malta, three countries with the same epidemiological characteristics as Cyprus.

Djibouti

Djibouti's Ministry of Health on Wednesday announced 210 new COVID-19 cases, bringing the total number of confirmed cases in the country to 1,828.

The ministry also announced that some 1,052 people who have been infected with the COVID-19 have recovered.

Djibouti has so far conducted a total of about 20,056 COVID-19 tests, according to the ministry. The death toll remains at nine.

Ecuador

Ecuador's largest city allowed some businesses to reopen on Wednesday following a fall in daily deaths from the coronavirus pandemic that had for weeks required the city to remain in quarantine.

Public transportation and private vehicles were again circulating in the coastal city of Guayaquil on Wednesday and open air markets and shopping malls began opening their doors. Municipal offices opened to the public with limited hours. Bars, restaurants and movie theaters remain closed.

Guayaquil's municipal government said in a social media video that daily death rates linked to COVID-19 in the city had dropped to around 10 per day in May from a peak of 460 in April.

The city is maintaining a curfew and some restrictions on vehicle traffic. Domestic and international flights remain halted.

Ecuador officially has 34,854 infections and 2,888 deaths from the virus. But the government recognizes that the figures are probably much higher because of limited testing.

Egypt

Egypt signalled an expansion of testing for the new coronavirus on Wednesday, announcing that all the country's 320 general hospitals would offer testing to people showing symptoms of the illness.

People with minor symptoms will be sent home as they await test results, while those showing serious symptoms will be kept in hospital, according to a government statement. Since May 14, some patients with minor symptoms are being asked to self-isolate at home rather than in quarantine hospitals.

Egypt confirmed 745 new coronavirus cases on Wednesday, the highest daily increase yet, bringing the total number of confirmed cases to 14,229.

The health ministry reported another 21 deaths, raising the death toll to 680. The number of people confirmed to have recovered stands at 3,994.

EU

European Union (EU) regulators on Wednesday called on passengers to wear face masks, observe physical distancing and frequently wash their hands in new guidelines for air travel in the age of COVID-19.

The joint guidelines of the European Union Aviation Safety Agency and the European Center for Disease Prevention and Control represent an effort to map out rules for safe flying after a worldwide collapse in air travel because of the coronavirus pandemic. The protocol offers a blueprint from the time passengers arrive to catch a flight to when they leave the airport at their destination, said Patrick Ky, executive director of the aviation regulator.

Carriers and airport operators must ensure that passengers keep a distance of 1.5 meters from each other when feasible. When that isn’t possible, extra measures such as hand washing and “respiratory etiquette” must be implemented. Passengers must refrain from traveling if they have symptoms compatible with COVID-19 or if they have come into contact with people who have the virus, regulators said.

In jetliner cabins, airlines must ensure physical distancing “to the extent possible”, according to the guidelines.

France

French health authorities reported another 110 coronavirus deaths on Wednesday, an increase of 0.4 percent, bringing the total to 28,132, the fourth-highest in the world behind the US, Britain and Italy.

The number of confirmed cases increased by 418 to 143,845, an increase of 0.3 percent, in line with the average rise per day seen since the unwinding of a national lockdown on May 11.

On Tuesday, the number of cases rose by 524 but the death toll had gone down due to adjustments reported by regional health centers in nursing homes.

In the last two weeks of the lockdown, the daily rise in the number of confirmed cases was on average 0.8 percent, an indicator closely watched by the government to ensure the gradual relaxation of measures does not trigger a feared second wave of the disease.

In an interview with newspaper Le Parisien, Genevieve Chene, head of health authority Sante publique France (SPF), said there were no signs the pandemic is picking up, despite some new infection clusters, but warned the virus "was still there".

"We will have to wait until the end of next week to know if contaminations are on the rise again", she said.

READ MORE: European countries continue to slowly emerge from lockdowns

Germany

The number of confirmed coronavirus cases in Germany increased by 745 to 176,752, data from the Robert Koch Institute (RKI) for infectious diseases showed on Thursday. The reported death toll rose by 57 to 8,147.

The reproduction factor of the virus, known as R-naught, rose to 0.88 on Wednesday from 0.86 the day before, according to the latest estimate from RKI.

Chancellor Angela Merkel’s cabinet agreed on tougher standards for the domestic meat industry after coronavirus hot spots at slaughterhouses prompted reports of inadequate working and hygiene standards.

From the beginning of next year, meat packers will no longer be able to subcontract workers and will face stiffer fines for violating labor laws, the government announced on Wednesday. They will also face more frequent inspections by authorities.

Germany is coming down on the meat-packing sector amid concerns that looser restrictions on public life could spark a renewed spike in coronavirus infections, prolonging the crisis.

Production at a meat plant in Lower Saxony was halted Monday after 92 of its workers tested positive for COVID-19, the latest of several outbreaks at such facilities.

Austria

Austria plans a hefty expansion of its coronavirus testing just to screen hotel staff, in the hope of luring Germans and other tourists this summer and banishing the uncomfortable memory of a massive outbreak at a fashionable ski resort.

Like Germany, Austria introduced a lockdown to stem contagion early in its outbreak, and it has now been gradually easing restrictions for over a month. Shops, restaurants, bars and some museums have reopened and hotels will follow from May 29.

Austrian Chamber of Commerce chief Harald Mahrer said a consortium of private labs was being assembled to test 65,000 hotel workers a week from July 1. Currently, the Alpine nation tests 6,000 to 8,000 people a day.

Greece

Greek Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis on Wednesday outlined the government's plan to support the economy, labor, and the tourism sector affected by the novel coronavirus pandemic and the nationwide lockdown imposed for six weeks in the country.

Mitsotakis unveiled the government's latest program to support households and businesses. The measures, totaling 24 billion euros (US$26.4 billion) will be split into three parts: labor support, tax cuts, and entrepreneurship boost.

Mitsotakis said the tourism sector will officially reopen on June 15 and international direct flights will be allowed from July 1. 

The Greek health ministry on Wednesday announced one more death and 10 new confirmed COVID-19 cases, bringing the death toll to 166 and the country's tally to 2,850.

Ireland

A total of 828 people working at meat processing plants in Ireland were confirmed to have been infected with COVID-19, Irish national radio and television broadcaster RTE reported on Wednesday.

The report quoted health authorities as saying that of all the confirmed cases in the meat processing plants, 328 were reported over the last week, making such a place another potential hot spot for outbreaks of clusters of infections in the country.

Italy

Deaths from the COVID-19 epidemic in Italy climbed by 161 on Wednesday, against 162 the day before, the Civil Protection Agency said, while the daily tally of new cases fell to 665 from 813 on Tuesday.

The total death toll now stands at 32,330 the agency said, the third highest in the world after those of the United States and Britain.

The number of confirmed cases amounts to 227,364 the sixth highest global tally behind those of the United States, Russia, Spain, Britain and Brazil.

People registered as currently carrying the illness fell to 62,752 from 65,129 the day before.

A healthcare worker (left) writes on a specimen bottle while a resident of Eastleigh waits to be tested during a mass testing exercise for the coronavirus in Nairobi, capital of Kenya, on May 20, 2020. (SIMON MAINA / AFP)

Kenya

Kenya's Ministry of Health on Wednesday confirmed 66 new COVID-19, bringing the total number of cases in the country to 1,029.

The official said that eight more patients were discharged from hospitals, bringing the total number of recoveries to 366.

Kagwe also extended the cessation of movements in and out of Eastleigh residential estates in Nairobi and Old Town in the coastal city of Mombasa, which have recorded the highest cases of the virus.

"Malls, eateries, restaurants to remain closed and hawking prohibited until Saturday, the 6th June 2020," he added.

Mexico

Mexico's health ministry on Wednesday registered 2,248 new coronavirus infections and an additional 424 fatalities, a record one-day death toll since the start of the pandemic.

The new infections brought confirmed coronavirus cases to 56,594 and 6,090 deaths in total, according to the official tally.

Mexico registered its biggest daily increase yet in infections on Tuesday, when it reported 2,713 new cases. Mexico's highest daily death toll was on 12 May, when health authorities reported 353 fatalities.

READ MORE: Massive food market in Mexico stirs unease about infections

Morocco

The Moroccan health ministry on Wednesday announced 110 new COVID-19 cases, bringing the total tally in the country to 7,133.

The number of recoveries rose by 197 to 4,098, Mohamed El Youbi, director of epidemiology at the Ministry of Health, said at his daily briefing.

Meanwhile, 194 deaths from COVID-19 have been reported so far, after one more death was recorded in the last 24 hours, El Youbi added.

Mozambique

Mozambique's Ministry of Health announced on Wednesday that the number of coronavirus cases in the country rose from 146 to 156 in the last 24 hours.

Director of Public Health Rosa Marlene said a total of 232 tests were carried in the last 24 hours, of which 10 turned out to be positive.

Marlene said a total of 48 patients had recovered from COVID-19 in the country. No deaths had been reported in the country, Marlene stressed.

Peru

Peru's number of confirmed coronavirus cases surpassed 104,000, the Ministry of Health reported on Wednesday, as the outbreak puts pressure on the demand for medicines, whose prices have soared in recent days.

There are 104,020 confirmed cases in the South American country, and the death toll rose to 3,024, up from 2,914 a day earlier, the ministry said.

The number of confirmed cases in Peru - the second highest in Latin America after Brazil - has doubled in two weeks, straining hospitals and leading to shortages of medicines used to treat patients for COVID-19.

Local police visited several pharmacies in Lima on Wednesday as the government seeks to crack down amid reports that the prices for basic medicines such as acetaminophen and the antibiotic amoxicillin have surged by as much as 10 times their regular prices.

Russia

Russia's official coronavirus death toll rose to 3,099 on Thursday after officials said 127 people had died in the last 24 hours.

Russia's authorities reported 8,849 new cases of the novel coronavirus, pushing the nationwide case tally to 317,554.

Somalia

Somalia's health ministry on Wednesday confirmed 71 new cases of coronavirus, bringing the total tally in the country 1,573.

Health Minister Fawziya Abikar said two more deaths were recorded, raising the death toll to 61.

Abikar added that 10 more patients had recovered, bringing the total number of recoveries to 188.

South Africa

South Africa could see up to 50,000 coronavirus deaths and as many as 3 million infections by the end of the year as the southern hemisphere winter leads to a higher rate of infection, scientific models showed on Thursday.

The country already has the highest number of infections and deaths on the continent, with more than 18,000 identified cases and 339 deaths, but a national lockdown entering its sixth week had slowed infections.

However scientists and statisticians hired by the health ministry to model the spread of the disease said the country could see between 35,000 and 50,000 coronavirus deaths by November.

The models, which consider best and worst scenarios, see as many 3 million possible coronavirus cases by November, while demand for hospital beds is seen peaking at 45,000, around ten times the current intensive care bed availability.

One of models showed the lockdown had reduced the rate of infection by 60 percent, and that since the beginning of May, when lockdown restrictions were eased, that had fallen to 30 percent.

South Sudan

South Sudan's Ministry of Health on Wednesday confirmed 134 new cases of COVID-19, bringing the total number of infections to 481.

Makur Matur Koriom, the ministry's undersecretary, said that the number of recoveries rose to six after two more patients were discharged from hospitals.

Koriom said the country has so far registered six deaths from COVID-19.

Spain

The Spanish government on Wednesday won a key parliamentary vote in order to extend the State of Alarm in the country for the fifth time until June 7.

Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez said that the measure was "the only possible way to combat the virus efficiently," and promised it would "not last one day longer than necessary. Nobody has the right to throw away what we have all achieved together," he added.

Spain's overnight death toll from the new coronavirus was 95 on Wednesday, a slight rise on Tuesday's 83, the health ministry said.

The overall number of fatalities is now 27,888 the ministry said, while the number of diagnosed cases rose to 232,555 cases after 416 new cases were reported.

READ MORE: Spain imposes quarantine on incoming overseas travelers

Sweden

Sweden, which has opted for a more open strategy in combating the virus than other European countries, had the highest number of deaths in Europe per capita from the COVID-19 disease over the last seven days, data showed.

Sweden has kept most schools, restaurant and businesses open during the pandemic. While deaths are on the decline, Sweden had 6.25 deaths per million inhabitants per day in a rolling seven day average between May 12 and May 19, according to Ourworldindata.org. That was the highest in Europe and just above the United Kingdom, which had 5.75 deaths per million.

Over the course of the pandemic, Sweden still has had fewer deaths per capita than the United Kingdom, Spain, Italy, Belgium and France, which have all opted for lockdowns, but much higher than Nordic neighbours Denmark, Norway and Finland.

Sweden's strategy, mostly based on voluntary measures regarding social distancing and basic hygiene, has been criticized by some as a dangerous experiment with peoples lives but also been put forward as a future model by the WHO.

Tunisia

Tunisian Prime Minister Elyes Fakhfakh announced on Wednesday a program to revive the country's economy "after its success in overcoming the coronavirus pandemic."

The program is based on strengthening national sovereignty and security, preserving the economic fabric, working to revitalize the most affected sectors and fighting against corruption and impunity. It will be presented to the parliament at the end of next month, according to Fakhfakh.

On Tuesday, one new COVID-19 case and one more death were reported in Tunisia, bringing the total number of cases to 1,044 with 47 deaths.

The number of recoveries rose to 826, according to the Ministry of Health.

Uganda

Uganda's Ministry of Health confirmed late on Wednesday 10 new COVID-19 cases, as the government revised its total number of infections down to 145 cases.

"Following a presidential directive of deducting all foreign truck drivers from Uganda's case count, the confirmed COVID-19 cases now stand at 145," according to the statement.

The ministry said that since the presidential directive was issued, the total number of foreign-national truck drivers handed over to their respective countries of origin has reached 124.

Ukraine

The Ukrainian government has approved a decision to extend quarantine measures introduced in the country until June 22, Ukrainian Prime Minister Denys Shmyhal said on Wednesday.

Meanwhile, the second stage of easing the restrictions will begin from May 22, Shmyhal said.

As part of the second phase of easing, public transportation and commuter services will begin from May 22, and kindergartens and subway will reopen from May 25 in the cities where the situation allows. Sports events will be allowed without attendance.

On Wednesday, the Cabinet of Ministers of Ukraine also resumed work at 66 checkpoints across the state border with Poland, Slovakia, Romania, Hungary and Moldova.

US

The United States will pump up to US$1.2 billion into developing AstraZeneca's potential COVID-19 vaccine and said on Thursday it would order 300 million doses.

The commitment provides for a possible US-based clinical trial this summer involving 30,000 volunteers. US Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar said he hoped the first doses of the vaccine, which is being developed with the University of Oxford in England, would be available by October, with the full order delivered by early in 2021.

AstraZeneca stressed that the vaccine may not work and that it was still waiting for results from an early stage trial in southern England, before any moves towards late stage testing.

Separately, the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has released two new resources to assist states, localities as well as businesses and community organizations in reopening during the COVID-19 pandemic, according to a CDC release on Wednesday.

US schools shuttered by the coronavirus should pursue a carefully phased reopening only after public health benchmarks are met, and summer camps should be limited largely only to children from the immediate area, the guidelines recommend.

Meanwhile, officials in Florida, Arizona and Georgia have been reportedly manipulating COVID-19 data and censoring scientists while pushing for early reopening, according to US media reports on Wednesday. A US scientist who created Florida's COVID-19 data website was fired earlier this week for refusing to manipulate data in the way the state officials need for reopening economy, according to a report by local newspaper Florida Today.

Zimbabwe

Nine Malawian nationals have tested positive for COVID-19 in Zimbabwe after illegally crossing into the country from neighboring South Africa, the state-controlled Herald newspaper reported Wednesday.

The nine border jumpers were intercepted along with 32 others by Zimbabwean security agents on Tuesday while seeking transport from haulage trucks in the border town.

They have been put in isolation at a hotel in the border town of Beitbridge while 32 others have been moved to Harare where they await repatriation in liaison with the Malawian Embassy.

Meanwhile, police said they are yet to locate 19 people who escaped quarantine in Beitbridge on Monday night.

So far, 27 people have escaped from the Beitbridge quarantine center since it started operating. Five others absconded mandatory quarantine at an isolation center in Chiredzi in the last few days.



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