WHO chief warns of ‘new and dangerous’ Covid-19 phase

Covid-19 has now killed over 458,000 people worldwide since the outbreak emerged in China last year, according to tracking websites. Here are the developments for June 19:

The head of the World Health Organization (WHO) said the coronavirus pandemic is “accelerating” and that more than 150,000 cases were reported on Thursday — the highest single-day number so far.

In a media briefing on Friday, Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said nearly half of the newly reported cases were from the Americas, with significant numbers from South Asia and the Middle East.

“We are in a new and dangerous phase,” he said, warning that restrictive measures are still needed to stop the pandemic. 

“Many people are understandably fed up with being at home (and) countries are understandably eager to open up their societies.” 

But Tedros warned that the virus is still “spreading fast” and that measures like social distancing, mask wearing and hand-washing are still critical.

EU leaders to get together to seek virus plan

Divided EU leaders will meet in person next month to negotiate how to raise and then distribute a major recovery fund to revive a European economy ravaged by the coronavirus pandemic.

The 27 held a video summit on Friday to discuss a proposal from European Commission chief Ursula von der Leyen for a $840-billion rescue fund that, if accepted, would mark a historic milestone for EU unity.

The plan is to help EU countries fight the devastating recession caused by the virus outbreak whose effects are expected to grow worse and be felt for years to come.

“It’s no exaggeration to say we are facing the biggest economic challenge in the history of the European Union,” Chancellor Angela Merkel said after the summit.

Italy’s Serie A to resume

Italian Serie A will return on Saturday after a 103-day break due to the novel coronavirus pandemic.

The top division will resume with four games after having been suspended since March 9.

The teams will play a league game every three days on average as Torino will host Parma on Saturday in the first match.

Also, Hellas Verona will take on Cagliari in another Saturday game.

Meanwhile, deaths from the Covid-19 epidemic in Italy climbed by 47 on Friday, against 66 the day before, the Civil Protection Agency said, while the daily tally of new cases decreased to 251 from 333 on Thursday.

The total death toll since the outbreak came to light onFeb. 21 now stands at 34,561 the agency said, the fourth highest in the world after those of the United States, Brazil and Britain.

English Covid-19 R number falls to 0.7-0.9, in line with UK

The Covid-19 reproduction number for England fell to 0.7-0.9, bringing it into line with the rest of the UK, the government said on Friday, as it also published details of how quickly the disease was shrinking for the first time.

Prime Minister Boris Johnson said on Friday he hoped the time of national lockdowns was over after the United Kingdom’s chief medical officers agreed that the Covid-19 threat level should be lowered.

The Government Office for Science said that the growth rate, which captures the size and speed of change, was -4% to -2% in the UK as a whole, and -4% to -1% in England alone.

Those figures indicate the disease is shrinking across the country.

Six deaths in Oman, 5 in Kuwait

The health authorities on Friday reported new deaths from the coronavirus in Kuwait and Oman, while Morrocco and Palestine announced new infections.

The Omani Health Ministry said in a statement that six more deaths were confirmed from Covid-19, bringing the country’s death toll to 125.

The statement added that 852 new infections were reported in the last 24 hours, bringing the infections tally in Oman to 27,670, including 13,974 recoveries.

In Kuwait, the Health Ministry announced five more fatalities from the virus along with 604 new infections over the past day.

Kuwait’s infections count surged to 38,678, including 313 deaths and 30,190 recoveries.

Morocco’s Health Ministry registered 206 new infections along with 40 recoveries in the past 24 hours.

The ministry said that the country’s infections stood at 9,280, including 213 deaths and 8,081 recoveries.

In Palestine, Health Minister Mai al Kaila confirmed 39 new infections.

She said that Palestine’s total infections, including cases in Jerusalem, jumped to 834, including five deaths and 611 recoveries.

Swiss remove most virus restrictions as new cases ebb

Switzerland will allow events of up to 1,000 people again from next week as cases of the new coronavirus wane, the government said on Friday, declaring their country better equipped to handle any fresh flare-ups.

“As of Monday, June 22, the measures put in place to tackle the coronavirus will for the most part be lifted. Only the ban on large-scale events will remain in place until the end of August,” the cabinet said.

More than 31,000 people have tested positive for the virus and 1,680 have died of Covid-19 since the first case was reported in late February, according to authorities.

Spain revises deaths upwards to above 28,000

Spain’s health ministry raised its coronavirus death toll to 28,313 on Friday after ironing out database inconsistencies, and said the disease was under control in Spain’s nine remaining active clusters as it prepared to reopen to tourism.

The death toll had not been updated since June 7, when Spain reported 27,136 deaths while it was implementing a new methodology for logging cases and deaths.

The new tally includes 53 fatalities over the past week till Thursday.

Chinese vaccine may not be ready for sale until at least 2021 – state media

A coronavirus vaccine candidate China is developing may not be ready for sale until at least 2021, as researchers struggle to move into large-scale human trials in the country because of a lack of new infections, a senior company executive said.

More than 10 experimental vaccines are being tested in humans globally as scientists race to protect against the novel coronavirus that has killed more than 450,000 people.

But none of them has yet passed late-stage phase 3 trials that require thousands of participants to determine a vaccine candidate’s effectiveness.

Saudi Arabia cases exceed 150,000 – health ministry

The number of coronavirus cases in Saudi Arabia exceeded 150,000 on Friday following a rise in new infections over the past 10 days.

The Saudi Ministry of Health reported 4,301 new cases on Friday, taking the total to 150,292, with 1,184 deaths. The country hit more than 100,000 cases on June 7.

The number of new infections has continued to rise in recent weeks, as authorities began phasing out restrictions on movement and travel on May 28.

Ukraine mulls reimposing virus restrictions as new cases rise

Ukraine said on Friday it was considering the reimposition of coronavirus restrictions in several regions as infections surged after the lifting of a lockdown.

Health Minister Maksym Stepanov told reporters that “in certain regions, strict restrictions must be imposed” again after the country eased lockdown measures.

Stepanov did not clarify which restrictions should be re-introduced or where.

He added that the number of coronavirus patients who needed to be hospitalised was also rising across the country.

On Friday, Ukraine registered its largest daily increase in coronavirus infections, with the new cases rising by 921 in a single day and the total caseload now approaching 35,000.

Virus shuts UK meat and chicken plants

UK authorities have shut down a meat processing plant and a chicken factory following similar closures in Germany and France in response to new coronavirus outbreaks.

Production at the chicken processing plant in Wales was halted on Thursday and the staff told to self-isolate for two weeks after testing detected 58 new cases.

A meat processing plant voluntarily closed near the northern English city of Leeds in response to an outbreak that was revealed by Health Secretary Matt Hancock on Thursday.

The Asda meat plant did not disclose how many infections were detected or when production was suspended.

“As a precautionary measure we have voluntarily closed the site to protect colleagues and prevent any further transmission,” it said in a statement.

Britain’s officials virus death toll of 42,288 is Europe’s highest and third globally behind the United States and Brazil.

UK unveils $1.2 billion schools ‘catch-up’ plan after lockdown

British Prime Minister Boris Johnson on Friday said English schools would receive $1.2 billion (£1 billion) in funding to help pupils catch up after missing months of classes due to the coronavirus.

The announcement came as health minister Matt Hancock said the government had lowered the country’s coronavirus alert level, after a recommendation by scientific advisers.

The move from Level 4, where transmission is high or rising, to Level 3, where the epidemic is in general circulation, was “a big moment for the country”, he said.

Iran’s cases top 200,000 mark

Iran said its novel coronavirus caseload passed the 200,000 mark as authorities gave provinces the power to reimpose measures aimed at stemming the spread of the virus.

Official figures have shown an upward trajectory in new confirmed Covid-19 cases since early May, when Iran hit a near two-month low in recorded infections.

Health ministry spokeswoman Sima Sadat Lari said on state television that another 2,615 people in Iran had tested positive for the virus in the past 24 hours.

That brought to 200,262 the total number of confirmed cases since the country’s outbreak emerged four months ago.

She added that 120 fatalities in the past day had taken the overall toll to 9,392.

Czechs record biggest daily jump in cases in two months

Czech Republic reported its biggest one-day jump in virus cases in two months, with the rise exceeding 100 for only the third time since mid-April.

There are 118 new cases, the health ministry said, the largest daily rise since April 21.

The central European country has since May been relaxing lockdown rules, with more easing planned from Monday.

The government has been focusing lately on localised measures rather than nationwide bans to contain the virus.

The Czech Republic had reported 10,283 cases as of Friday morning, of which almost three quarters have recovered.

Its death toll of 334 is a fraction of those seen in western European neighbours.

Myanmar says 23 cases in migrants deported from Thailand 

Myanmar reported 23 cases of virus infection among a group of people held in quarantine there after being deported from Thailand.

The health ministry said in a statement the group had tested positive while in a quarantine centre in the southeastern Kayin state.

Thant Zin Aung, a lawmaker for Myanmar’s Myawaddy township, which borders Thailand, said all 23 had been deported to Myanmar from Thailand on June 8. They had been in a Thai detention centre close to the Malaysia border over visa violations, he said. At least some had earlier been detained in Malaysia.

Malaysian and Thai authorities have been detaining and deporting migrants from Myanmar in recent weeks as part of efforts to curb the spread of the coronavirus. Many are believed to be refugees from the Rohingya ethnic minority, hundreds of thousands of whom have fled a crackdown in Myanmar.

The 23 cases were the most officially reported in a single day in Myanmar, which has recorded only 286 cases of the virus so far and six deaths.

Indonesia reports 1,041 new infections, 34 deaths

Indonesia reported 1,041 new virus infections, taking its total number of cases to 43,803.

Health ministry official Achmad Yurianto said there were 34 more deaths reported, with total fatalities now at 2,373, the highest coronavirus death toll in East Asia outside of China.

So far, 366,581 people have been tested, according to the country’s Covid-19 task force. 

Russia reports nearly 8,000 new cases

Russia reported 7,972 new cases of the novel coronavirus, pushing its nationwide case tally to 569,063 since the crisis began.

The national coronavirus response centre said 181 people had died in the last 24 hours, bringing the official death toll to 7,841. 

At least 10 Covid-19 cases found in Kenya refugee camp

At least 10 virus cases have been confirmed in one of the world’s largest refugee camps, the sprawling Dadaab complex in Kenya.

The statement by aid group Medecins Sans Frontieres also expresses concern that travel restrictions around the coronavirus pandemic are hurting efforts to deliver aid, send patients for specialised care and contain the spread of the virus.

A major fear in this pandemic is the spread of the virus in crowded refugee camps around the world, and aid groups are using the occasion of World Refugee Day on Saturday to speak out.

In the Kakuma camp in Kenya, Congolese refugee Aisha Regina says that if the virus spreads there “then all of us will perish.

There is no space where one can stay away from the other.”

The UN refugee agency earlier this month reported one case in the Kakuma camp.

Virus in Italy two months before first case

The coronavirus was already present in two large cities in northern Italy in December, over two months before the first case was detected, a national health institute study of wastewater has found.

Researchers discovered genetic traces of Sars-Cov-2, the virus that causes Covid-19, in samples of wastewater collected in Milan and Turin at the end of last year, and Bologna in January, the ISS institute said in a statement.

Italy’s first known native case was discovered mid-February.

The results “help to understand the start of the circulation of the virus in Italy,” the ISS said.

They “confirm the by-now consolidated international evidence” as to the strategic function of sewer samples as an early detection tool, it added.

Italy was the first European country to be hit by the virus and the first in the world to impose a nationwide lockdown. The first known case, other than a couple of visiting Chinese tourists, was a patient in the town of Codogno in the Lombardy region.

Italy has recorded over 34,500 deaths.

ISS water quality expert Giuseppina La Rosa and her team examined 40 wastewater samples from October 2019 to February 2020.

Samples from October and November 2019 were negative, showing the virus had yet to arrive, La Rosa said.

Given the large number of coronavirus cases that have little or no symptoms, wastewater testing could signal the presence of the virus even before the first cases are clinically confirmed in areas untouched by the epidemic or where it has ebbed.

The ISS is launching a pilot study of sewage samples at priority sites identified in tourist resorts in July, and expected to set up a nationwide surveillance network of wastewater by the autumn.

First results of CureVac vaccine trial expected in 2 months 

The first trial results of a coronavirus vaccine being developed by CureVac are expected in two months, German news website Focus Online reported.

CureVac, an unlisted German company, this week said first meaningful results could be available in September or October and, under favourable conditions, it could be approved by the middle of next year. 

Thailand reports 5 new coronavirus cases

Thailand on Friday reported five new coronavirus cases, all of which were found in quarantine, making it 25 days without a confirmed domestic transmission of the virus.

The new cases were Thais returning from Saudi Arabia, said Taweesin Wisanuyothin, spokesman for the government’s Covid-19 task force.

Thailand has recorded 58 deaths related to Covid-19 among some 3,146 confirmed cases, of which 3,008 patients have recovered.

Germany’s confirmed virus cases rise by 770 

The number of confirmed virus cases in Germany increased by 770 to 188,534, data from the Robert Koch Institute for infectious diseases showed.

The reported death toll rose by 16 to 8,872, the tally showed. 

Hungary ready for second wave 

Hungary’s government will take the necessary legal and economic measures to protect lives in case there is a second wave of the novel coronavirus epidemic, Prime Minister Viktor Orban told state radio on Friday.

“If there are signs pointing to a second wave (of the virus) coming, we will not hesitate to take the necessary legal and economic steps,” Orban said. 

NY to reopen restaurants

Restaurants, a key part of New York City’s identity, will be allowed to open with outdoor seating Monday as the city enters the second phase of easing coronavirus restrictions, Mayor Bill de Blasio said Thursday.

The outdoor seating plan will provide a lifeline for New York’s crucial restaurant industry as the city emerges cautiously from lockdown.

“We have to save this industry,” he said. “It’s part of our identity.”

Masks mandatory in California

California will require people to wear masks in most indoor settings and outdoors when distancing isn’t possible under a statewide order.

The order comes as California broadly reopens the economy; in most counties, people can now shop, dine in at restaurants, get their hair done and go to church, among other things. 

The order will require people to wear masks when inside or in line for any indoor public spaces, in healthcare settings like hospitals and pharmacies, while waiting for or riding public transportation and in outdoor spaces where its not possible to stay 1.8 metres apart from other people.

Virus keeps spreading in South Korea

The virus continues to spread in South Korea, particularly in the densely populated Seoul metropolitan region, which is home to half the country’s 51 million people.

The Korea Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reported 49 new cases for the nation, with 26 of them in Seoul and the nearby port city of Incheon. South Korea has had a total of 12,306 infections, including 280 deaths.

India cases rise more

India has recorded the highest one-day spike of 13,586 virus cases, raising the total to 380,532.

The country’s death toll reached 12,573, a rise of 336. The number of recoveries touched 52 percent at 204,711.

Singapore opens gyms, dining out

Singaporeans can wine and dine at restaurants, work out at the gym and socialise with no more than five people at a time as of Friday, when the city-state removed most of its pandemic lockdown restrictions.

Malls, gyms, massage parlours, parks and other public facilities reopened their doors with strict social distancing and other precautions.

Japan, Vietnam to partially lift restrictions

Japan and Vietnam have agreed to partially lift travel bans and ease restrictions step by step as a way to reopen economic and bilateral exchanges between the two Asian nations where virus infections have largely been taken under control.

Japanese Foreign Minister Toshimitsu Motegi told reporters that Vietnam is one of four countries that Japan has been discussing resuming mutual visits in phases. Japan is also seeking similar bilateral arrangements with Thailand, Australia and New Zealand.

The two countries are discussing final details such as timing of resumption, Motegi said.

China publishes virus genome data from Beijing outbreak

China has published the genome data for the virus behind the latest coronavirus outbreak in the capital city of Beijing, the website of state-backed National Microbiology Data Center showed.

State-backed Beijing News also reported that the Chinese Center for Disease Control and Prevention submitted the genome sequencing data for the virus to the WHO, which had previously sought access to the data. 

China reports 32 new cases

Mainland China reported 32 new virus cases, 25 of which were reported in the capital city Beijing, China’s National Health Commission said.

This compared with 28 confirmed cases a day earlier, 21 of which were in Beijing. Local authorities are restricting the movement of people in the capital and stepping up other measures to prevent the virus from spreading further following a series of local infections.

Another five asymptomatic patients, those who are infected with the coronavirus but show no symptoms, were also reported as of June 18 compared with eight a day earlier.

China does not count these patients as confirmed cases. 

Mexico posts record number of infections

Mexico’s health ministry reported a record 5,662 new confirmed cases of coronavirus infections and 667 additional fatalities, bringing the total in the country to 165,455 cases and 19,747 deaths.

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

Californians ordered to wear face masks in public

California’s Governor Gavin Newsom ordered all Californians to wear face masks in public in a bid to stem the spread of the virus.

“Science shows that face coverings and masks work,” Newsom said in a statement. “They are critical to keeping those who are around you safe, keeping businesses open and restarting our economy.”

His order came following a decision last week by officials in Orange County, south of Los Angeles, to rescind an order requiring people to wear masks in public.

Three other counties – Fresno, Riverside and San Bernardino – had also walked backed on requirements to wear face coverings because of public pressure.

Further US lockdowns not needed, Fauci says

The US does not require more widespread lockdowns to get its outbreak under control, despite the fact that the national daily infection rate is not showing signs of decline, leading government expert Anthony Fauci said in an interview Thursday.

“I don’t think we’re going to be talking about going back to lockdown,” he said when asked whether places like California and Texas that are seeing a surge in their caseload should reissue stay-at-home orders.

“I think we’re going to be talking about trying to better control those areas of the country that seem to be having a surge of cases.”

Brazil inches towards 1 million cases

Brazil’s health ministry reported new Covid-19 statistics showing the country fast approaching 1 million confirmed coronavirus cases and 50,000 deaths.

With the world’s worst outbreak outside the US, Brazil now has 978,142 confirmed cases and 47,748 deaths, up 1,238 from Wednesday, the ministry said.