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Friday, July 31, 2020, 22:15
After 'warning light', UK PM halts virus lockdown unwind
By Agencies
Friday, July 31, 2020, 22:15 By Agencies

People sit with drinks at outdoor seating at a pub in the centre of Manchester, northwest England, on July 31, 2020. (OLI SCARFF / AFP)

MEXICO CITY / CAIRO / TRIPOLI / OTTAWA / ADDIS ABABA / BUENOS AIRES / GENEVA / WASHINGTON / MOSCOW / WARSAW / BERLIN / LONDON - British Prime Minister Boris Johnson on Friday postponed a planned easing of the coronavirus lockdown in England after a rise in infections amplified fears of a second deadly COVID-19 surge.

Just hours after Britain imposed tougher measures on swathes of northern England, Johnson announced that casinos, bowling alleys and skating rinks would remain shut while wedding receptions would have to be cancelled.

“Our assessment is that we should now squeeze that brake pedal in order to keep the virus under control.” Johnson told reporters at an online news conference from Downing Street when asked about a second surge in the virus which has killed more than 55,000 people in the UK.

The abrupt halt to the unwind and the imposition of stricter curbs on more than 4 million people were the biggest reversal to date in Britain’s path out of lockdown.

UK scientists are no longer confident that the reproduction number of the coronavirus in England is below 1, the government said on Friday, while a survey showed infections were on the rise for the first time since May.

Passengers wearing full protective gear to protect against the spread of coronavirus push their luggage to check-in, at the Zaventem international airport in Brussels, July 29, 2020. (FRANCISCO SECO / AP)

WHO

There is no "zero risk" strategy for countries easing international travel restrictions during the COVID-19 pandemic, and essential travel for emergencies should remain the priority, the World Health Organization (WHO) said.

In a long-awaited update to its guidance on travel on Thursday, the WHO said cross-border trips for emergencies, humanitarian work, the transfer of essential personnel and repatriation would constitute essential travel.

In a long-awaited update to its guidance on travel on Thursday, the WHO said cross-border trips for emergencies, humanitarian work, the transfer of essential personnel and repatriation would constitute essential travel

The WHO said that countries should gradually lift international travel measures based on a thorough risk assessment. Countries that choose to quarantine all travelers on arrival should do so after assessing the risks and consider local circumstances, the WHO said.

ALSO READ: UK defends Spanish quarantine move as travelers react with anger

Meanwhile, the WHO announced that it has created a Technical Advisory Group on Behavioral Insights and Sciences for Health in a new move to help fight the COVID-19 pandemic.

WHO Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said during a virtual press conference that the move would broaden and deepen WHO's existing work on behavioral science, and will support its work "to offer health advice that is not only stronger, but more effective".

Also in the press conference, Tedros urged younger people to take the same precautions as others to protect themselves and others against COVID-19. He said evidence suggests that the spike in cases in some countries were being driven in part by younger people letting down their guard during the northern hemisphere summer.

More than 16.8 million confirmed cases worldwide, including some 662,000 deaths, have been reported to WHO as of Thursday afternoon, according to its latest dashboard on the disease. 

Global tally

Global COVID-19 cases worldwide crossed 17.3 million while the death toll topped 673,000 on Friday, according to a tally by Johns Hopkins University.

The United States is the worst-hit country, with more than 4.4 million confirmed cases and over 152,000 deaths. 

Countries with more than 300,000 cases also include Brazil, India, Iran, Russia, South Africa, Mexico, Peru, Chile and Britain.

Besides the US, countries with over 30,000 deaths also include Britain, Mexico, Italy, India and France.

ALSO READ: Germany new cases rise most in 6 weeks as global tally tops 17m

Africa tally

The number of confirmed COVID-19 cases across the African continent reached 891,199 on Thursday, the Africa Center for Disease Control and Prevention (Africa CDC) said.

The Africa CDC said in its latest situation update issued on Thursda that the death toll in Africa rose to 18, 884, up from 18,507 on Wednesday.

It added that some 540,872 Africans have recovered so far.

South Africa, which has so far reported 471,123 cases, is Africa's most affected country in terms of confirmed cases, followed by Egypt, Nigeria, Algeria and Morocco, Africa CDC said.

ALSO READ: Africa eyes traditional medicine as cases top 800,000

Children wearing face masks walk in a supermarket in Dakar, Senegal, July 29, 2020. (EDDY PETERS / XINHUA)

Argentina

Argentine President Alberto Fernandez on Thursday said he was "very concerned" about the exponential rise in coronavirus infections across the country, and pledged to firmly enforce social distancing measures that were put in place since March.

Argentina's current lockdown phase is set to expire on Sunday, but Fernandez declined to say whether measures would be relaxed under the circumstances.

Carla Vizzotti, the Health Ministry's health access secretary, said that a significant number of provinces had outbreaks with an important number of cases that were being investigated, and they have yet to find the source, leading to the speculation of community transmission.

Argentina posted a record daily increase of 6,377 new cases, bringing thetally to 185,373. There were 130 newly reported deaths, taking the death toll to 3,441.

Brazil

Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro said on Thursday he was taking antibiotics for an infection that left him feeling weak, chuckling in an online video about "mold" in his lungs, having spent weeks in isolation after catching the novel coronavirus.

"I just did a blood test. I was feeling kind of weak yesterday. They found a bit of infection also. Now I'm on antibiotics," Bolsonaro said in a livestream video, without elaborating on the infection.

"After 20 days indoors, I have other problems. I have mold in my lungs," he said, referring to nearly three weeks he spent at the official presidential residence. He tested positive for the coronavirus on July 7 and then negative last Saturday.

His wife, Michelle Bolsonaro, tested positive on Thursday, according to a statement from the presidential palace. Science and Technology Minister Marcos Pontes also said he had tested positive for the virus, making him the fifth cabinet minister diagnosed publicly.

Brazil on Thursday recorded 57,837 new cases and another 1,129 deaths, the Health Ministry said on Thursday, pushing the tally past 2.6 million and the death toll to 91,263, according to ministry data.

On Wednesday, 120 masked residents of Peropava in Sao Paulo state, which has survived since slavery was abolished in 1888, lined up to submit for mass coronavirus testing after several members of the community contracted the disease.

Botswana

Botswana's capital city Gaborone was placed under total lockdown on Thursday night for a period of two weeks with effect from midnight, following an "unexpected turn" in the number of new COVID-19 cases.

The move came after 30 new cases were reported in the city in the last 24 hours.

With the advice of the presidential COVID-19 task force team, Minister of Health and Wellness Lemogang Kwape said the government made the decision to lockdown the greater Gaborone. Only essential service providers will be allowed to operate at 25 percent capacity, he said.

Nationwide, Botswana has registered 170 confirmed cases and two deaths.

Canada

All passengers going through security at Canada's four biggest airports will be required to undergo temperature checks starting on Thursday, according to a mandate issued by Transport Canada.

According to the mandate, the temperature checks will be conducted at all passenger and employee security screening checkpoints at Montreal's Pierre Elliott Trudeau International Airport, Toronto's Pearson International Airport, Calgary International Airport, and Vancouver International Airport. Passengers with a temperature lower than 38 degrees Celsius will be able to pass through.

Transport Canada said that by September, temperature screening stations will be in place in the departure areas of Canada's next 11 busiest airports, including Halifax, Quebec City, Ottawa, Winnipeg, Regina and Edmonton. 

In another development, the Ontario government is set to reopen all its publicly funded schools in September, which will result in elementary-age students back in classrooms full time, while class sizes for some secondary schools will be limited to about 15 students attending alternate days, the province announced on Thursday.

Canada has so far reported 117,677 confirmed cases and 8,974 deaths, according to a tally by Johns Hopkins University.

Cuba

Just 10 days ago, Cuba registered zero new coronavirus cases for the first time since the start of its outbreak, burnishing its reputation for a textbook handling of disasters like hurricanes and now the fearsome pandemic.

On Thursday though, top epidemiologist Francisco Duran berated Cubans in his daily briefing for letting their guard down too quickly, resulting in several new focal points of local transmission. "People are holding different types of gatherings without taking into account distancing and often without even using a face mask," the usually mild-mannered Duran said, visibly irritated.

He reported nine new cases over the last day, after the daily count jumped as high as 37 over the past week. The country has so far reported less than 2,600 cases with 87 deaths - and no newly reported deaths in the last 18 days.

One recent outbreak occurred at a gathering of followers of the Afro-Cuban Santeria religion in the town of Bauta, southwest of Havana, according to authorities. The town has been placed under a stricter quarantine than the original nationwide lockdown, closing most stores and only allowing one person per household out to shop or sending limited food parcels to residents' homes.

Some new cases also come from abroad, underscoring the dilemma Cuba and other tourism-reliant nations face in deciding whether to fully open up.

Egypt

Egypt reported on Thursday 401 new COVID-19 infections, the lowest since mid-May, bringing the tally to 93,757, said the Health Ministry.

It was the fifth day in a row for daily infections to fall below 500.

Meanwhile, the country saw a record daily rise in recoveries, as 1,211 more patients discharged from hospitals after recovery, raising the number of recoveries to 38,236, according to a statement by the ministry's spokesman Khaled Megahed.

Another 46 people died, raising the death toll to 4,774, according to the statement.

READ MORE: 'Vaccine nationalism': Is it every country for itself?

El Salvador

El Salvador's government plans to reopen more shopping, restaurants and public transportation next month under a new plan outlined late on Wednesday, following months of economic lockdowns aimed at slowing the spread of the coronavirus.

President Nayib Bukele latest directive, announced on Twitter, will allow industrial activity, shopping malls, indoor dining at restaurants and mass transportation to start up again on Aug 20.

In the following phase of the plan on Sept 4, businesses in the so-called informal economy, along with gyms and houses of worship, will be able to resume normal activities. Commercial flights, sporting events and beaches are seen starting back up from Sept 19, according to the plan.

To date, El Salvador's official coronavirus tally stands at more than 15,000 confirmed infections, with at least 430 deaths.

EU

The Council of the European Union (EU) on Thursday removed Algeria from its updated list of "safe" countries following a resurgence of COVID-19 cases in the country.

By 12:09 pm CEST (1009 GMT) on Thursday, Algeria had reported 29,229 confirmed cases, including 1,186 deaths, according to data from the WHO.

The latest list, which the EU reviews every two weeks, did not include any new recommendations for which the EU member states could lift the temporary travel restrictions.

The list serves as a guideline for the EU's 27 members and is aimed at supporting the EU travel industry and tourist destinations, particularly countries in southern Europe which are the hardest hit by the COVID-19 pandemic.

France

French Health Minister Olivier Veran said local government officials will now be able to make wearing face masks in outdoor public spaces mandatory to curb the spread of COVID-19.

The move came a day after French health authorities reported 1,377 additional confirmed COVID-19 cases Thursday, bringing the tally to 186,573 and the moving 7-day average above the 1,000 threshold for the first time since the first half of May, when France eased its lockdown.

"The virus circulation is sustained with new daily cases increasing by more than 1,000 ... Swift and sweeping efforts are necessary," health authorities said in a statement. 

Health authorities said 381 people were in intensive care units (ICUs) due to the disease, up by only one compared with 24 hours earlier but the first time that figure has increased on a daily basis in 16 weeks.

Another 16 deaths were also reported, taking the death toll to 30,254.

A medical staff takes a swab sample from a driver at a new corona test station at the 'Hochfelln' service station on the A8 motorway between Salzburg and Munich near Bergen, Germany, July 30, 2020. (MATTHIAS SCHRADER / AP)

Germany

Germany's Robert Koch Institute (RKI) for infectious diseases on Friday put three Spanish regions, including Catalonia on its list of countries designated high-risk for the novel coronavirus.

The three regions are Catalonia, home to Barcelona, Aragon and Navarre in northern Spain, RKI said.

People returning from high-risk areas must go into quarantine for two weeks unless they can present a negative coronavirus test not older than 48 hours or are willing to take a test at an airport.

From next week, Germany plans to make coronavirus tests mandatory at airports for all returning holidaymakers from high-risk areas in order to slow the spread of infections.

Germany reported 870 newly confirmed coronavirus cases on Friday, according to RKI's tally. That brought the total number to 208,698 while 9,141 deaths have been recorded.

READ MORE: Surge spurs new WHO warning

Ireland

Ireland reported its highest daily number of COVID-19 cases in two months on Thursday, with 85 cases confirmed compared to an average of around 20 per day during the past two weeks.

That was the highest daily number reported in Ireland since late May.

According to a tally by Johns Hopkins University, Ireland's tally stands at 26,027, with 1,763 deaths.

Kenya

Kenya's COVID-19 tally neared 20,000 on Thursday after another 788 people tested positive in the last 24 hours, a health official said.

Rashid Aman, chief administrative secretary in the Ministry of Health, said the nation's tally stood at 19,913.

Aman said another 100 patients were discharged from hospitals, bringing the number of recoveries to 8,121.

Fourteen more people have died, Aman said, raising the death toll to 325.

Meanwhile, Kenya announced Thursday that some international flights will be allowed from Saturday. Passengers with a PCR-based COVID-19 negative certificate and body temperature not exceeding 37.5 degrees Celsius will be exempted from quarantine, Transport Cabinet Secretary James Macharia said.

Libya

The National Center for Disease Control of Libya on Thursday reported a record daily increase of 216 COVID-19 cases, pushing the national tally pass 3,400.

A total of 3,438 cases have so far been reported, with 604 recoveries and 73 deaths, the center said.

Due to the spike in infections, the UN-backed government imposed a 24-hour curfew in the country for five days starting from Friday afternoon.

Mexico

Mexico's health ministry posted 639 deaths from coronavirus on Thursday to bring the country's toll to 46,000, almost the same as the United Kingdom, which has the third-highest death toll worldwide from the pandemic.

Total confirmed infections in Mexico stand at 416,179 cases, up 7,730, according to the ministry's official count.

The Mexican government has said the real number of infected people is likely to be significantly higher than the confirmed cases.

Morocco

Morocco on Thursday reported 1,046 new COVID-19 cases, the biggest single-day increase so far, taking the total number of infections in the country to 23,259.

The number of recoveries went up by 186 to 17,511 while the death toll rose by 12 to 346, said Abdelkrim Meziane Belfkih, head of the department of epidemic diseases at the Ministry of Health.

Poland

Poland reported its highest number of new daily coronavirus cases since the global pandemic started for the second day in a row on Friday, with 657 new cases, according to the Health Ministry.

The additional of the new cases brought the tally to 45,688. Of the new cases, 227 were in the Silesia region, which has been grappling with an outbreak amongst miners.

The ministry also reported seven more deaths, raising the death toll to 1,716.

Piotr Muller, spokesman for the Polish government, tweeted that the government would discuss what action it would take, including whether to introduce new quarantine measures. 

Portugal

The Portuguese government announced on Thursday that 19 parishes of the region of Lisbon and the Tagus Valley will move from the current "state of calamity" to the "contingency situation" from Aug 1, a lower level of deconfinement.

Minister of Presidency Mariana Vieira da Silva said that the country as a whole will remain at the "alert situation" level, which is the lowest level of deconfinment.

The move came due to the "downward trend in the number of cases," Vieira da Silva said.

Portugal recorded 255 new infections in the past 24 hours, bringing the tally to 50,868. The death toll stood at 1,727.

Romania

The number of coronavirus infections in Romania rose by 1,295 to a total of 50,886 cases, the government said on Friday, as the country is under a state of alert that is due to end in two weeks.

Since Romania's outbreak came to light on Feb 26, a total of 2,343 people have died and 27,007 recovered, it said.

About a third of Romania's cases have been concentrated in four areas: the capital Bucharest, the northern town of Suceava,

Russia

Russia reported 5,482 new cases of the novel coronavirus on Friday, pushing its national tally to 839,981, the world's fourth largest caseload.

Officials said 161 people had died in the last 24 hours, bringing the official death toll to 13,963.

South Africa

South Africa will allow struggling sit-down restaurants to serve customers dinner for an extra hour until 10 pm, Minister of Tourism Mmamoloko Kubayi-Ngubane announced on Thursday.

The sale of alcohol, however, remains prohibited and the date for the new rules to take effect is unclear as regulations need first to be published.

The cabinet has also agreed to ease the restrictions around leisure travel, allowing individuals to leave their homes for leisure within the province where they live, she added.

Accommodation establishments will be able to take in people for leisure purposes, while tour operators will be allowed to conduct guided tours in open safari vehicles subject to certain rules. Short-term home rental or sharing accommodation through Airbnb, for instance, remains prohibited.

South Africa has so far reported 482,169 confirmed cases and 7,812 deaths, according to a tally by Johns Hopkins University.

Spain

Spain reported 1,229 new coronavirus infections on Thursday, topping 1,000 for the second day in a row and marking the biggest rise since a national lockdown was lifted on June 21, health ministry data showed.

The cumulative total rose to 285,430. That figure was up 2,789 on the previous day and includes results from antibody tests on people who may have already recovered.

A Muslim man uses hand sanitizer at the Bradford Grand Mosque as Muslims gathered for Eid al-Adha prayers, in Bradford, West Yorkshire, England, July 31, 2020. (DANNY LAWSON / PA VIA AP)

UK

More than 4 million people across a large part of northern England must comply with tighter lockdown rules after Boris Johnson’s government rushed to tackle a new spike in coronavirus cases.

Residents in Greater Manchester, and parts of East Lancashire and West Yorkshire will no longer be able to meet indoors with members of other households, Health Secretary Matt Hancock said. However, residents can still go to the pub and to work.

The surprise announcement, affecting more than 4.3 million people, came late on Thursday. 

"We can see that second wave in Europe," Hancock told Sky News. 

Asked by the BBC if the UK was now entering a second wave, Hancock said: "It is not yet and we are absolutely determined to take the action that is needed."

On Thursday, Britain reported its highest number of new COVID-19 infections in more than a month. Official data showed 846 new positive tests,  the highest number of daily infections since June 28.

ALSO READ: WHO says COVID-19 pandemic is 'one big wave', not seasonal

Prime Minister Boris Johnson said COVID-19 was under some measure of control in Britain, but a resurgence in some European countries showed the pandemic was not over.

Meanwhile, passengers arriving into Britain from Luxembourg will have to quarantine themselves for 14 days, the government said on Thursday, echoing a decision earlier in the day by Scotland's devolved government. The new rules will now apply to the whole of Britain and come into effect from 1100 GMT.

US

The first two COVID-19 vaccines to enter large-scale US trials will not be tested in pregnant women this year, raising questions about how this vulnerable population will be protected from the coronavirus, researchers told Reuters.

Moderna and Pfizer, which has partnered with Germany’s BioNTech, this week separately launched clinical trials that use a new and unproven gene-based technology. Both companies are requiring proof of a negative pregnancy test and a commitment to using birth control from women of childbearing age who enroll.

Drugmakers say they first need to make sure the vaccines are safe and effective more generally. In addition, US regulators require that drugmakers conduct safety studies in pregnant animals before the vaccines are tested in pregnant women to ensure they don’t harm the fetus or lead to miscarriage.

Bioethicists, vaccine and maternal health experts have argued for years that pregnant women should be included early in trials of pandemic vaccines so they would not need to wait until long after a successful candidate emerges. That debate fell on deaf ears in recent outbreaks of Ebola and Zika, but has taken on new urgency in the era of COVID-19, as studies show pregnant women are at increased risk of severe disease from the new coronavirus.

According to the 2012 Census, 75.4 million US women were of childbearing age, defined as 15 to 50 years old. Currently, pregnant women are recommended to take flu and whooping cough vaccines and certain others depending on individual circumstances, but none of these have been specifically tested and proven safe for pregnant women.

Doctors may want to see even more data for completely new vaccine technologies, such as those used by Moderna and Pfizer, compared with one that has already been used in pregnant women.

Such differences highlight why “we need multiple vaccines” to best address the needs of specific populations, Corey said. 

US coronavirus cases increased 1.9 percent Thursday to 4.47 million, according to data collected by Johns Hopkins University and Bloomberg News. 

Deaths rose 1.1 percent to 151,570, with Texas and Florida setting daily records in fatalities.

Herman Cain, a former Republican presidential candidate, became the latest high-profile death attributed to COVID-19.

The US death toll is expected to climb to 230,822 by November, said the Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation (IHME) of the University of Washington.

Zimbabwe

Zimbabwean Agriculture Minister Perrance Shiri has died of COVID-19, President Emmerson Mnangagwa announced on Thursday.

Shiri, a retired Air Chief Marshall, died early Wednesday morning, a few days after his driver succumbed to the virus.

Mnangagwa, accompanied by the country's two vice-presidents, Constantino Chiwenga and Kembo Mohadi, told mourners gathered at Shiri's home in Harare that post-mortem results revealed that the Shiri died of COVID-19.

Shiri was the first cabinet minister in Zimbabwe to die of the respiratory disease.

As of Wednesday, Zimbabwe has reported 2,879 confirmed cases, with 41 deaths and 887 recoveries.


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