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Monday, July 06, 2020, 22:46
Virus: EU to discuss remdesivir deal; Russia's tally tops 687,000
By Agencies
Monday, July 06, 2020, 22:46 By Agencies

In this May 20, 2020 file photo, EU commissioner for Health, Stella Kyriakides delivers a speech during on joint press conference on The European Green Deal Biodiversity and Farm to Fork Strategies with European Commission Vice President and EU commissioner for Environment and Oceans, at EU headquarters in Brussels. (JOHN THYS / POOL / AFP)

STOCKHOLM / LIMA / MEXICO CITY / BRASILIA / SAN SALVADOR / MADRID / PRAGUE / BOGOTA / CAIRO / DUBLIN / CAPE TOWN / ROME / LONDON / ATHENS - European Union Health Commissioner Stella Kyriakides will have a call with Gilead Sciences Inc. executives on Monday to advance a procurement deal for remdesivir on behalf of 16 EU members, including Germany, Belgium, the Netherlands, Austria and Denmark, an EU official familiar with the matter said.

The health chief will also inquire about Gilead’s production capacity and the timeline for delivery, according to the official, who asked not to be named because negotiations are continuing. Remdesivir is one of only two medicines with a proven effect against the coronavirus.

Zimbabwe

Police in Zimbabwe arrested 12 nurses protesting outside state hospitals on Monday demanding to be paid in US dollars as inflation running at nearly 800 percent  was eroding their salaries, the country’s nurses union said.

An economic crisis under President Emmerson Mnangagwa has revived memories of the hardships of more than a decade ago when hyperinflation wiped out savings and pensions and forced the country to dump its currency in favour of the US dollar.

The demonstrations, including at Zimbabwe’s biggest hospital in the capital Harare, come at a time COVID-19 cases are rising in the southern African nation, which has recorded 716 infections and eight deaths so far.

Nurses holding placards reading “No US dollar no work” and “#Nurses can’t breath” said they had to protest because they cannot survive on a monthly salary of 3,000 Zimbabwe dollars (US$47).

People wearing face masks exit an underpass in Moscow, Russia, on July 4, 2020. (ALEXANDER ZEMLIANICHENKO JR / XINHUA)

Russia

Russia's official coronavirus case tally, the fourth largest in the world, rose to 687,862 on Monday after officials reported 6,611 new infections in the last 24 hours.

Authorities also said 135 people had died overnight, bringing Russia's official death toll to 10,296.

Another 3,579 new recoveries were reported over the last 24 hours, raising the number of recoveries to 454,329.

Moscow, the country's worst-hit region, reported 685 newly-confirmed cases, taking the number of infections there to 225,545.

ALSO READ: India overtakes Russia, now world's 3rd-most affected nation

Scientists 'say virus is airborne, ask WHO to revise guidelines'

Hundreds of scientists say there is evidence that novel coronavirus in smaller particles in the air can infect people and are calling for the World Health Organization (WHO) to revise recommendations, the New York Times (NYT) reported on Saturday.

The WHO has said the coronavirus, which causes the respiratory disease COVID-19, spreads primarily from person to person through small droplets from the nose or mouth, which are expelled when a person with COVID-19 coughs, sneezes or speaks.

In an open letter to the agency, which the researchers plan to publish in a scientific journal next week, 239 scientists in 32 countries outlined the evidence showing smaller particles can infect people, the NYT said.

"We are aware of the article and are reviewing its contents with our technical experts," WHO spokesman Tarik Jasarevic said in an email reply to a Reuters request for comment.

ALSO READ: WHO halts hydroxychloroquine, HIV drugs trial for COVID-19

Whether carried by large droplets that zoom through the air after a sneeze, or by much smaller exhaled droplets that may glide the length of a room, the coronavirus is borne through air and can infect people when inhaled, the scientists said, according to the NYT.

However, the health agency said the evidence for the virus being airborne was not convincing, according to the NYT. "Especially in the last couple of months, we have been stating several times that we consider airborne transmission as possible but certainly not supported by solid or even clear evidence," Dr. Benedetta Allegranzi, the WHO's technical lead of infection prevention and control, was quoted as saying by the NYT.

WHO

The WHO said on Sunday that it appreciated Sweden's move to set up a commission to review the country's handling of the coronavirus crisis.

"Sweden has done something very important by starting an investigation to understand how the strategy worked. The WHO really appreciates this initiative, which other countries should also learn from," WHO Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus told Swedish daily Svenska Dagbladet.

The Swedish government appointed a commission on June 30 to evaluate the country's coronavirus strategy and the roles of the government, public agencies and regional authorities in containing the spread of the novel coronavirus and its impact.

READ MORE: Sweden launches commission to investigate coronavirus response

The commission will be led by a lawyer and include representatives from the national health care system and municipalities as well as political scientists, economists, and experts on ethics and crisis handling, Prime Minister Stefan Lofven said at a news conference on June 30.

Global tally

Global COVID-19 cases neared 11.5 million while the global death toll topped 534,000 on Monday, according to a tally by Johns Hopkins University.

The United States is the worst-hit country, with more than 2.8 million confirmed cases and almost 130,000 deaths. 

Countries with over 200,000 cases also include Brazil, Russia, India, the United Kingdom, Peru, Chile, Spain, Italy, Iran and Mexico.

Brazil

Brazil recorded 26,051 new confirmed cases of the novel coronavirus in the past 24 hours as well as 602 deaths, the Health Ministry said on Sunday.

Brazil has registered more than 1.6 million cases since the pandemic began, while cumulative deaths total 64,867, according to the ministry.

Bulgaria

Bulgaria will clamp down on people who fail to observe obligatory social distancing in public spaces or wear protective masks indoors as new cases of the coronavirus surged, Health Minister Kiril Ananiev said on Monday.

The Balkan country of 7 million people has registered 5,740 cases and 246 deaths. New cases in the past week alone totalled 1,049.

Ananiev said he would extend the state of epidemic emergency in the country until the end of July to allow him to be more flexible and issue special orders if needed.

On Monday, health officials in central city of Veliko Tarnovo said 23 out of 42 people who attended a school prom at the end of June tested positive for the infection.

Ananiev told reporters that 20 players and officials from two top division soccer clubs had tested positive and warned that Bulgaria might ban public attendance at football matches.

Bulgaria has lifted most of the restrictions linked to the coronavirus, opening bars, restaurants and allowing free travel to help the economy recover and does not plan to tighten measures for the time being.

Chile

Chilean President Sebastian Pinera announced on Sunday a new US$1.5 billion package of measures to help keep the country´s ailing middle class afloat as the coronavirus pandemic continues to ravage the economy of the world´s top copper producer.

The measures include access to zero-interest loans, subsidized rent and the ability to defer mortgage loan payments for up to six months, Pinera said in a televised speech.

"The coronavirus pandemic...is hitting our middle class hard," Pinera said, touting the fresh round of stimulus as a bailout at least 1 million families.

Chile on Sunday reported its tally of infections rose by 3,685 to 295,532 while the death toll climbed by 116 to 6,308.

Colombia

Coronavirus cases and deaths are surging along Colombia's Caribbean coast as the region becomes the epicenter of the pandemic in the Andean country, with doctors warning many deaths are going undetected.

Colombia - Latin America's third-most populous nation - has officially reported over 113,000 cases of coronavirus and just under 4,000 deaths among its 50 million inhabitants.

Colombia's Caribbean region accounts for close to 40 percent of the country's reported cases and just over half its deaths, according to an analysis of government data by the WHO. Atlantico province, with its port capital Barranquilla, has registered over 1,300 deaths - more than Bogota, even though Atlantico has only about one-third of the capital's population.

Doctors there say that despite an increased number of intensive care beds and stricter social distancing measures, deaths are likely being underreported in Barranquilla, which has a population of 1.2 million people.

Troupe members of "Circo Encuentro" perform a juggling act for residents as they wait for a vat of soup to cook that they made with donated food items, in Bogota, Colombia, July 4, 2020. (FERNANDO VERGARA / AP)

Czech Republic

A rise in new coronavirus infections in a Czech coal mining region that has driven a recent jump in overall cases is under control and should ease soon, the health minister said on Sunday amid criticism.

State hard coal miner OKD last week closed its mines in the Karvina area in the country's east, along the Polish border, after a jump in cases among miners and their close contacts. The rise has caused overall case numbers to accelerate, prompting some other European Union members like Slovenia to bump the Czech Republic from their list of safe countries, complicating travel at the start of the summer holiday season.

Responding to criticism from an opposition leader, Health Minister Adam Vojtech said on Twitter: "The situation is under control and in the coming days we expect another drop in cases if everyone (infected) will maintain a quarantine and (abide by) set rules."

The country has reported a total of 12,440 cases, including 121 new cases on Saturday, with an overall death toll of 351. The region of Karvina, where OKD's operations are based, has had 247 cases per 100,000 people over the past seven days compared to a rate of around 10 overall in the country.

Egypt

Egypt witnessed a record 623 daily recoveries from COVID-19 on Sunday, raising the total number of recoveries in the country to 20,726, said the health ministry.

The country reported 1,218 new cases, the lowest since June 19, raising the nationwide tally to 75,253, the ministry's spokesman Khaled Megahed said in a statement.

Egypt also saw 63 additional fatalities on Sunday, the least since June 14, raising the death toll to 3,343, according to the statement.

El Salvador

El Salvador's presidential office on Sunday postponed the second phase of the economy's reopening by two weeks, citing a still-rising number of coronavirus infections.

The second phase of reopening, which would allow public transportation, business services, manufacturers and the shoe, bag, box and paper industries to resume operations, was due to begin on July 7 but has now been delayed until July 21, after the government said infections rose by 50 pecent and deaths increased by 80 percent.

According to the new schedule, the airport is set to reopen for commercial flights on Aug 18.

El Salvador has so far reported 217 deaths and 7,777 infections.

Germany

Germany’s coronavirus infection rate rose slightly while remaining below the key threshold of 1.0 for a 12th day, and the number of new cases held far below the level at the height of the outbreak.

The reproduction factor - or R value - edged up to 0.96 on Sunday, from 0.93 the previous day, according to the latest estimate by the country’s health body, the Robert Koch Institute (RKI). 

There were 325 new COVID-19 cases in the 24 hours through Monday morning, bringing the nationwide tally to 197,523, according to data from Johns Hopkins University. Three more fatalities were recorded, pushing the death toll to 9,023.

According to data from RKI on Monday, the number of confirmed cases increased by 219 to 196,554, and the reported death toll rose by 4 to 9,016.

German industrial orders rebounded moderately in May and a fifth of firms in Europe’s biggest economy said in a survey published on Monday they feared insolvency, adding to expectations of a slow and painful recovery from the coronavirus pandemic.

Germany has withstood the pandemic better than other big European countries, recording fewer COVID-19 deaths, and its economy has been relatively resilient during more than six weeks of lockdown owing to generous stimulus packages and a decision to keep open factories and construction sites.

But data showing that industrial orders had risen by a record 10.4 percent during a month when restrictions were gradually lifted, almost a third less than forecast in a Reuters poll, dashed hopes of a quick return to pre-crisis business activity.

Ghana

Ghana confirmed 697 new COVID-19 cases on Sunday, bringing its tally to 20,085, according to the latest data from the Ghana Health Service.

A total of 14,870 recoveries were reported following the addition of 540 new ones, according to the data.

The death toll rose by five to 122.

Greece

Greece is allowing direct flights from Britain on July 15, the Greek government said on Monday, as Athens tries to salvage its all-important summer tourist season.

Greece lifted restrictions on flights from EU countries to its two main airports on June 15 and the rest on July 1 - but had kept a ban in place on fellow member Sweden and former member Britain, as well as several other countries with large coronavirus caseloads.

Greece has managed to contain the coronavirus pandemic to 3,519 infections since it reported the first case in February.

Ireland

Ireland will ease quarantine restrictions on people travelling from abroad on July 20, with people arriving from a "green list" of countries with low COVID-19 rates to be exempt from isolating themselves for 14 days, Transport Minister Eamon Ryan said.

The government had said in June that the restrictions would be eased from July 9, but Ryan said this had been delayed due to concern about travel-related infections.

"A so-called green list... will be published on July 20, or prior to that," Ryan said in an interview with Newstalk radio station on Sunday. He said Ireland would drop the quarantine for countries whose infection rates "are similar if not better than our own."

Ireland has so far recorded 25,498 cases, with 1,740 deaths.

Italy

Worries of a potential new but limited wave of coronavirus infections are on the rise in Italy, even as official data showed that on a national level the infection rate has slowed to a trickle.

According to data from the Italian Ministry of Health, the country on Sunday reported 192 new cases of COVID-19. The figure, down from 235 a day earlier, marks the 17th consecutive day with fewer than 300 new cases. The ministry also reported seven COVID-19 deaths in the last 24 hours.

There were 14,642 active cases in the country as of Sunday, 21 more than on Saturday.

Corriere della Sera, Italy's largest newspaper, reported Saturday there are about 20 small, isolated hotspots across Italy that officials are keeping an eye on. At least five have resulted in localized lockdown measures.

Kenya

Kenya’s President Uhuru Kenyatta announced on Monday a phased reopening of the country from a COVID-19 lockdown, lifting restrictions on travel in and out of the capital Nairobi and allowing air travel to resume.

Kenyatta said the country has reached a reasonable level of preparedness for a partial loosening of restrictions but urged caution and warned against reckless behaviour.

Domestic commercial and passenger flights are scheduled to restart on July 15, Kenyatta said, while international travel will resume from Aug 1.

Mosque and churches will be allowed to host services again, but for a maximum of an hour with only 100 worshippers allowed at a time.

Kenya had confirmed nearly 7,900 cases of the coronavirus as of July 6, with 160 deaths, with cases continuing to climb. On Saturday, 389 new infections were reported in the country’s biggest single-day jump.

The outbreak has battered the economy, with the finance ministry projecting growth to slow to 2.5 percent this year from 5.4 percent last year, due to the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Mexico

Mexican health authorities reported 4,683 confirmed new infections of the novel coronavirus on Sunday, pushing its tally to a total of 256,848, and 273 more deaths to a total of 30,639.

Morocco

Morocco on Sunday reported 393 new COVID-19 cases, taking the total number of infections in the country to 14,215.

The total number of recoveries rose by 396 to to 9,725 while the death toll reached 235, said Hind Ezzine, head of the Department of Epidemic Diseases of the Ministry of Health.

The surge in infections was caused by an outbreak in the western city of Safi, which has many industrial units specialized in canning and processing of sardines. 

The city was placed under quarantine on Sunday and 18 sardines processing units were closed. A travel ban to and from the city was also introduced. Access to the city's beaches was prohibited and two major community-based markets were shut down.

Peru

Peru on Sunday jumped past 300,000 confirmed cases of COVID-19, the fifth-highest in the world, as the Andean nation of nearly 33 million people slowly reopens its battered economy.

Coronavirus cases rose by 3,638 on Sunday to 302,718, although new daily cases have slowed from peak levels in May and June. Health experts fear a potential flare-up, however, with more people on the streets as the lockdown eases.

Peru's death toll now stands at 10,589, the 10th-highest in the world, according to Reuters calculations.

A student sanitizes his hands before entering the school compound, in Johannesburg, South Africa, on July 6, 2020. (DENIS FARRELL / AP)

South Africa

South Africa reported a record 173 COVID-19 deaths, bringing the country's death toll to 3,199, Health Minister Zweli Mkhize said early Monday.

Cumulative infections rose to 196,750, with 8,773 new cases reported, according to the Mkhize.

President Cyril Ramaphosa urged South Africans to keep a distance from their elderly parents and grandparents. "Sadly, there have been a number of coronavirus outbreaks at homes for the elderly and care centers, resulting in a number of deaths," Ramaphosa said in his weekly address to the nation.

Meanwhile on Monday, schools reopened for Grades R, 6 and 11 learners.

To help fight COVID-19 in the Eastern Cape province, 35 military nurses, 12 doctors and five clinical associates from the South African Military Health Services (SAMHS) left Pretoria to Eastern Cape for deployment on Sunday. Director of Nursing at SAMHS Zuziwe Maso told Xinhua that the province requested assistance because their health personnel could not cope with the increasing number of infections.

Switzerland

Passengers on trains, trams, buses, mountain railways and ferries across Switzerland had to don facemasks on Monday under a government order to help fight the novel coronavirus.

The government phased out most restrictive measures last month as cases waned. But numbers picked up again as people come into closer contact, prompting the government to order passengers to wear masks on public transport.

Compliance with the new rule appeared high.

Switzerland has reported more than 32,200 infections and 1,686 related deaths as of Sunday. 

Spain

The northwestern Spanish region of Galicia imposed restrictions on about 70,000 people on Sunday following a COVID-19 outbreak, a day after Catalonia also introduced a local lockdown to curb the spread of the coronavirus.

People living in A Marina along Spain's northern coast in the province of Lugo will not be able to leave the area from midnight on Sunday until Friday, two days before regional elections in Galicia on July 12. The regional government said people will be allowed to move around A Marina, but only those who need to travel for work will be allowed to leave or enter the area.

Regional Health Minister Jesus Vazquez Almuina said at a news conference on Sunday that the biggest outbreaks were linked to several bars in the area. Regional health authorities said there were now 258 cases in Galicia, of which 117 were in Lugo.

Capacity in bars and restaurants will be reduced to 50 percent and people will have to wear a face mask even if outdoors on beaches or at swimming pools, the authorities said.

Spain has registered 205,545 coronavirus cases and 28,385 deaths, according to the health ministry's data, making it one of Europe's worst-affected countries.

UK

Britain hopes to permit outdoor and socially distanced performances at cultural venues, Minister Oliver Dowden said on Monday, after announcing a nearly US$2 billion investment in the arts, in a bid to rescue the country’s arts and culture sector from the brink of collapse in the wake of the coronavirus lockdown.

Separately, the Treasury announced a 111 million-pound plan to triple the number of traineeships nationwide, as Chancellor of the Exchequer Rishi Sunak expands measures to protect jobs. Sunak will outline to Parliament on Wednesday the next steps in the government’s plans to kick-start the economy.

READ MORE: Johnson demands UK 'Build, build, build' to beat virus slump

Another 22 COVID-19 deaths were registered in Britain as of Saturday afternoon, bringing the death toll in the country to 44,220, the British Department of Health and Social Care said Sunday.

As of Sunday morning, 285,416 people have tested positive for the disease in Britain, a daily increase of 516, according to the department. 

A healthcare worker prepares to draw blood at a drive-through coronavirus testing site outside the Hard Rock Stadium in Miami Gardens, Florida, July 5, 2020. (WILFREDO LEE / AP)

US

Rising coronavirus cases in 39 US states cast a shadow over the nation's Fourth of July celebrations as health experts worried that holiday parties will cause a further spike in infections that could overwhelm hospitals.

Coronavirus cases in the US increased by almost 56,000 from Saturday, according to Johns Hopkins University, which updated its tracking website on Sunday after more than five hours without new data. With US cases totaling 2,874,396, deaths rose by 269 to 129,870.

Florida's cases climbed by 10,059 on Sunday, surpassing the highest daily tally reported by any European country during the height of the coronavirus outbreak there. Cases are also soaring in Arizona, California and Texas and trending upwards in Midwest states.

Mississippi House Speaker Philip Gunn said Sunday that he tested positive for the novel coronavirus, as he had been in contact with a person who had been tested positive. 

Meanwhile, New York Governor Andrew Cuomo announced that New York City will enter phase three of reopening on Monday as scheduled, but indoor dining will remain suspended.

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