A bellboy waits for a client in the lobby of the Hotel Claris that is taking new measures against the coroanvirus pandemic in Barcelona on Oct 22, 2020. (PAU BARRENA / AFP)
NAIROBI / ADDIS ABABA / DUBLIN / COPENHAGEN / TUNIS / SANTIAGO / QUITO / MEXICO CITY / TEGUCIGALPA / PRAGUE / PARIS / BRUSSELS / TORONTO / LONDON / RIO DE JANEIRO / MADRID / RABAT / KIEV / PRAGUE / MOSCOW / BUDAPEST / CHICAGO / CANBERRA / TBILISI / COLOMBO - Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez said the number of people in Spain who have contracted coronavirus since the start of the pandemic likely exceeds 3 million, some three times higher than official data would suggest.
The much steeper figure is based on serology tests, which measure the antibody response, Sanchez said Friday in Madrid, reiterating an appeal for national unity and for citizens to restrict movement and social contact. At the same time, he indicated that curbs would not be tightened in a way that causes unnecessary damage to the economy.
“We have to put in place the measures needed with the least economic impact,” Sanchez said. “We must at all cost avoid going back to home confinements as we did in spring,” he added. “The next few weeks and months, now that we enter the winter, will be difficult, very difficult.”
Spain this week became the first Western European nation to surpass 1 million infections, according to health ministry figures, as cases surge nationwide and officials seek an effective strategy to check the spread. Health Minister Salvador Illa conceded Thursday that in parts of the country the pandemic is out of control.
By citing the 3 million figure, Sanchez is highlighting how official data can drastically underestimate the scale of the spread. It’s an issue that has been flagged by the WHO, which estimates that 10 percent of people worldwide may have been infected with COVID-19.
In Spain, the trend in the Madrid region, including the capital where the government has declared a state of emergency, is of particular concern. Occupancy of intensive-care beds by COVID-19 patients has been close to 40 percent for several weeks, well above the national average of about 20 percent.
The overall tally of infections rose by 20,986 to 1,026,281 on Thursday, a day after Spain became the first Western European country to record 1 million COVID-19 cases. The death toll stands at 34,521 people.
Pneumonia vaccine shortage
As COVID-19 infections rise, people seeking to avoid one lung disease compounding another are queuing up to get inoculated against bacterial pneumonia, causing shortages of a Merck & Co vaccine in parts of Europe.
Demand for Merck’s Pneumovax 23, which is used to prevent pneumococcal lung infections, has hit record highs across the world, the company said.
“During the rapidly evolving COVID-19 situation, there has been increased emphasis on adult vaccination, and we have seen an unprecedented surge in demand for Pneumovax 23 around the world,” a Merck spokesman told Reuters in an email.
The US drugmaker is working to make as much as possible, but demand is outpacing supplies in some markets, the spokesman added.
Coronavirus cases worldwide on Friday surpassed 41.7 million cases while the global death toll topped 1.13 million, according to data compiled by Johns Hopkins University.
The number of confirmed COVID-19 recorded across the African continent has risen to 1,674,592 while the death toll hit 40,493, the Africa Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (Africa CDC) said on Thursday.
The World Health Organization (WHO) on Thursday urged African countries to scale up adoption of rapid diagnostic tests in order to boost the war against the pandemic in the continent.
Matshidiso Moeti, WHO regional director for Africa, said the continent's ability to minimize the pandemic's toll on livelihoods and healthcare infrastructure depends on rapid testing targeting high-risk demographics.
Moeti said that widespread use of polymerase chain reaction (PCR) - which requires modern laboratories, expertise and reagents - has limited Africa's capacity to detect coronavirus in a larger population.
Belgian Prime Minister Alexander De Croo announced on Friday stricter restriction measures in the sectors of sports, culture, youth, amusement parks and higher education to fight the coronavirus more effectively.
Professional sports competitions will continue without audience. Cultural events may continue but must limit its capacity to 40 people and respect the social distance of 1.5 meters. The wearing of masks is compulsory in the halls.
These measures have been decided by the Consultation Committee after a meeting on Thursday evening. They are an extension of the measures taken on Oct 16 and are in force on Friday until Nov 19.
The epidemiological situation in Belgium remains very worrying. Public health institute Sciensano reported on Friday an average of 10,454 new cases per day for the seven-day period (Oct 13-19).
Over the last seven days from Oct 16 to 22, the average number of hospital admissions was 349.7 per day. Currently 3,649 COVID-19 patients are hospitalized, 573 of them in intensive care.
To date, Belgium has recorded 270,132 COVID-19 cases and 10,588 deaths since the beginning of the epidemic.
Brazil recorded 33,862 additional confirmed cases of the novel coronavirus in the past 24 hours, and 497 deaths from COVID-19, the Health Ministry said on Thursday.
Brazil has registered 5,323,630 cases while the official death toll has risen to 155,900, according to ministry data.
Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro visited Health Minister General Eduardo Pazuello, who has COVID-19, and made his point that the disease is easy to recover quickly from with the help of the controversial drug chloroquine.
The two men chatted and joked without wearing masks in Pazuello's hotel room, seen in a video posted on social media by the president, who recovered from a bout of COVID-19 in July.
Bulgaria reported a new daily record of 1,595 fresh COVID-19 infections as the number of hospitalized is also at its highest.
The Balkan country, where the new weekly cases and deaths doubled last week, will seek to have medicine students involved in the COVID-19 treatment to help frontline doctors, health care Minister Kostadin Angelov said Thursday.
The government, which seeks to avoid tightening nationwide measures, ordered bars, restaurants and night clubs to reduce their capacity to 1 person per 2 square meters.
A pamphlet to remind people of anti-virus precautions during the COVID-19 pandemic is seen in downtown Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada, on Oct 22, 2020. (LIANG SEN / XINHUA)
The Canadian government and the province of Alberta are launching a pilot program to test eligible returning travelers for COVID-19, allowing them to leave quarantine once they receive a negative result, Alberta Premier Jason Kenney said on Thursday.
Canadian citizens, permanent residents, foreign nationals allowed entry into Canada and essential workers with no symptoms can volunteer to get tested at the Calgary International Airport and one land border crossing starting Nov 2.
Such passengers can then leave their place of quarantine once they receive a negative result, as long as they commit to getting a second test six or seven days after their arrival, participating in daily check-ins and following other public health measures. However, a federal minister said individuals would have to quarantine between the first and second negative test results.
Canada reported 2,025 new cases of COVID-19 and another 25 deaths, bringing the total to 208,447 cases and 9,862 deaths, according to CTV.
A total of 58 people have tested positive for COVID-19 at an Olymel pork processing plant in the Canadian province of Quebec, but the plant remains fully operational, spokesman Richard Vigneault said Thursday.
People walk across the medieval Charles Bridge in Prague, Czech Republic, Oct 21, 2020. (PETR DAVID JOSEK / AP)
Czech Prime Minister Andrej Babis said on Friday he would dismiss his health minister unless the minister resigned, for holding a meeting in a restaurant that was closed under government measures to fight the coronavirus pandemic.
"When our medical staff are fighting on the front line to save lives of our fellow citizens, such a thing is absolutely inexcusable," Babis told reporters.
The scandal erupted on Friday when tabloid Blesk ran pictures of Health Minister Roman Prymula leaving a restaurant and entering a car without a face mask, a violation of rules that closed restaurants and required wearing masks in most places including chaffeured cars.
The Czech Republic registered 14,151 new infections on Thursday, down from a record of 14,968 the previous day, Health Ministry data showed Friday.
The country has recorded 223,065 infections since March. Deaths have risen to 1,845 from 1,739 reported a day earlier, which includes 55 deaths on Thursday along with revisions to previous days.
On Thursday, Babis said the country will get 30 ventilators from the European Union. Hospitals were treating 4,417 coronavirus patients as of Wednesday, a four-fold increase this month, and have cut most non-urgent care.
The government also agreed a plan to bring a team of 28 US National Guard medical staff to help in Czech hospitals, and was in talks with Germany to possibly provide 100 medical staff.
Chile has administered over 4 million PCR tests for the novel coronavirus, making the country the first in Latin America for the number of tests administered, Health Minister Enrique Paris said Thursday.
In the last 24 hours, 31,734 more tests were administered, bringing the total number of tests carried out to 4,005,923 since the pandemic began in the country, according to the Ministry of Health.
A total of 1,495 new cases were reported in the past 24 hours, bringing the country's infection tally to 497,131. The death toll rose by 73 to 13,792, according to the Department of Statistics and Health Information.
Denmark registered 760 new cases of coronavirus infection in the past 24 hours, bringing the country's tally to 37,763 as of Thursday, according to Statens Serum Institut (SSI), which is responsible for the Danish preparedness against infectious diseases.
It was the highest daily tally recorded since the first COVID-19 case was confirmed on Feb 27.
During an afternoon press conference on Thursday, Foreign Minister Jeppe Kofod announced new travel restrictions in response to a "tsunami" of infections throughout Europe.
Under the new restrictions, Greece, Norway, the northern German region of Schleswig-Holstein, and some areas of Sweden are now the only countries and regions that remain open to unrestricted travel for Danes, while "unnecessary travel" to the rest of Europe is not advised.
Ecuador should brace for possible new COVID-19 outbreaks in the wake of holiday celebrations, Minister of Public Health Juan Carlos Zevallos warned on Thursday.
The coming weeks may see fallout from recent celebrations in the port of Guayaquil marking the 200th anniversary of the founding of the city, according to Zevallos.
Guayaquil has the country's second-largest outbreak, with 14,651 infections.
Ecuador has registered 156,451 confirmed cases and 8,195 deaths so far, according to the Ministry of Public Health.
The coronavirus is spreading more quickly than during its initial outbreak in the spring, French government scientific advisor Arnaud Fontanet said on Friday, in one of the starkest warnings yet about the scale of the virus' resurgence engulfing Europe.
He spoke a day after France extended curfews to around two thirds of its population on Thursday amid a COVID-19 situation that Prime Minister Jean Castex described as "very serious".
Castex said a curfew imposed last week on Paris and eight other cities would be extended to 38 more departments, confining 46 million out of the country's 67 million population to their homes from 9 pm to 6 am.
French health authorities reported a record 41,622 new cases
Health authorities reported a record 41,622 new cases, bringing the cumulative total to 999,043.
According to data compiled by Johns Hopkins University, the French tally had crossed 1 million early Thursday, becoming the second country in Western Europe to pass the milestone after Spain.
The number of patients hospitalized grew by 847 at 14,032, increasing by more than 800 in one day for the first time since April 6, when France when in the midst of a two-month lockdown.
The death toll was up by 162, at 34,210, a figure above a months-high seven-day moving average of 155.
Georgia reported 1,759 new COVID-19 cases on Friday, the highest number since the outbreak of the virus in the country, bringing its total to 24,562.
A total of 686 of the 1,759 new cases were confirmed in the capital city of Tbilisi, the National Center for Disease Control and Public Health (NCDC) said.
As of Friday, 9,751 of the 24,562 patients have recovered, while 183 others have died, said the center.
A woman wearing a face mask walks past a carousel on the Opera square in Frankfurt, Germany, Oct 22, 2020. (MICHAEL PROBST / AP)
New COVID-19 infections in Germany remained close to record levels and increased by 11,242 within one day, reaching a total of 403,291, the Robert Koch Institute (RKI) said on Friday.
This figure was just below the record of 11,287 new COVID-19 cases confirmed a day earlier, according to the RKI, the federal government agency for disease control and prevention.
"At present, we still have a chance to slow down the further spread of the virus," said RKI President Lothar Wieler at a press conference on Thursday, adding that "everybody can contribute to this."
The death toll in Germany rose by 49 within one day to 9,954 on Friday. The number of patients needing treatment in intensive care units (ICUs) also continued to rise, with 1,030 patients in ICUs as of Thursday, according to the latest RKI daily situation report.
Greek Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis announced on Thursday a ban on nighttime movement from 12:30 am to 5 am in high-risk areas including the capital Athens and the second-largest city of Thessaloniki. Mitsotakis also said that the wearing of masks is now also compulsory in indoor and outdoor spaces.
Greece recorded a third straight record daily increase with 882 new coronavirus cases bringing the tally to 28,216 in a country of just under 11 million people. It recorded 15 more deaths in the past 24 hours, raising the death toll to 549.
Honduras has registered a total of 91,078 confirmed cases of COVID-19 and 2,596 deaths, according to the latest official report on the pandemic.
According to the figures released by the National Risk Management System (Sinager), the fatality rate stood at 2.86 percent and some 36,341 patients have recovered.
Ireland has been placed under a nationwide lockdown again starting from Thursday due to the resurgence of COVID-19 cases in the country.
Under what the Irish government calls a Level-5, or the highest response to the pandemic, all people in the country are required to stay within 5 kilometers of home except those who have to go to workplace or school.
No visits to private homes are allowed. People can meet outdoors, provided they involve members from no more than two households. No social or family gatherings are permitted with the exceptions of weddings and funerals that only allow the attendance of 25 people in maximum.
All non-essential retail outlets and personal services such as hairdressers and beauty salons have to be closed, but essential retail outlets such as supermarkets will remain open.
Those who violate the restrictions could face an on-the-spot fine of up to 500 euros (about US$590), the national radio and television broadcaster RTE reported. More than 2,500 police officers will be deployed across the country to ensure the compliance of the restrictions, RTE added.
Italy’s daily virus cases reached a record 16,079, up from 15,199 Wednesday as daily fatalities rose to 136.
Patients in intensive care units rose by 66 to 992, the most since early May, while below the April peak of more than 4,000.
Lombardy, the region around Milan, reported 4,125 new cases, ahead of a night-time curfew starting Thursday.
Two city police officers patrol the Navigli area, a popular evening spot of restaurants and pubs bordering canals in Milan, Italy, Oct 22, 2020. (LUCA BRUNO / AP)
Mexico's health ministry reported on Thursday 6,612 additional cases of the novel coronavirus and 479 more deaths in the country, bringing the official number of cases to 874,171 and the death toll to 87,894.
Officials said six of Mexico's 32 federal entities now are showing signs of new outbreaks, after previously bringing down the number of infections.
In the northern border state of Chihuahua, which has registered nearly four times the number of estimated cases than at its prior peak, the government has ordered a return to the strictest level of health measures beginning Friday, Deputy Health Minister Hugo Lopez-Gatell said.
Other states registering new waves of cases are Aguascalientes, Durango, Nuevo Leon, Queretaro and Zacatecas, said Jose Luis Alomia, the health ministry's head of epidemiology.
Morocco’s health ministry reported 4,151 new coronavirus infections on Thursday, the largest one-day rise on record, with nearly half of cases in economic powerhouse Casablanca.
The death toll rose to 3,132 after 53 additional fatalities were reported in the last 24 hours.
There are now 29,118 active cases in Morocco, which has a coronavirus fatality rate of 1.7 percent and a recovery rate of 82.7 percent, according to health ministry data.
The surge in cases came after Morocco eased some restrictive measures earlier this month, allowing children back to public schools in Casablanca and opening more mosques.
Poland will close restaurants and bars for two weeks and limit public gatherings to five people, Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki said on Friday, after new coronavirus infections hit a new daily record of more than 13,600.
Older school children will also move to distance learning.
Morawiecki appealed to people over 70-years-old to stay home, although did not announce a mandatory lockdown for older people.
Poland hopes to keep the number of new daily coronavirus infections below 18,000 next week, Health Minister Adam Niedzielski said after daily infections rose to 13,632.
Portugal said it will limit travel between municipalities from Oct 30 through Nov. 3.
The government on Thursday reported the biggest daily increase in confirmed virus cases since the start of the outbreak, with 3,270 new infections, more than the previous record of 2,608 on Friday. The overall tally now stands at 109,541.
Romania's daily COVID-19 cases exceeded 5,000 on Friday for the first time since the start of the pandemic, reaching 5,028, bringing the country's total infections to 201,032, said the authorities.
The number of critically ill patients has exceeded 700 for nine consecutive days, reaching a record of 782 on Friday, according to the Strategic Communication Group (GCS), the official novel coronavirus communication task force.
The pandemic has so far claimed the lives of 6,245 Romanians, up by 82 in the past 24 hours. A total of 144,429 coronavirus patients have recovered, with 10,427 patients still in health facilities.
Russia's daily tally of new coronavirus cases hit a record high of 17,340 on Friday, including 5,478 in Moscow, taking the national tally to 1,480,646 since the pandemic began.
Authorities said 283 people had died in the last 24 hours, bringing the official death toll to 25,525.
Scotland will adopt a new five-tier system of coronavirus restrictions from November in an attempt to simplify rules amid a surge in cases and a rising number of deaths.
The tiered system is similar to England’s three-tier strategy and is expected to come into force on Nov 2, First Minister Nicola Sturgeon told reporters in Edinburgh on Friday.
The new approach comes alongside an expanded testing strategy. It’s an attempt by the Scottish government to take a more targeted approach and make restrictions easier to understand amid separate outbreaks across the region -- in particular in the central belt, which includes Edinburgh and Glasgow.
Scotland’s five-tier system of restrictions “will allow us to take a national approach if required,” Sturgeon said. “It is possible that the whole country could be placed in the same level.”
Scotland’s semi-autonomous government, which has already introduced tougher rules on households and the hospitality industry than in England, is battling a renewed outbreak of COVID-19 as it tries to balance protecting the economy with curbing new infections.
The number of coronavirus cases have spiked in recent weeks and the total since the start of the pandemic exceeded 50,000 earlier this week. The number of fatalities has also begun increasing sharply, with almost 100 deaths in the last seven days.
Slovakia has registered its highest one-day tallies of new coronavirus cases and deaths before tighter restrictions go into force and a free nationwide testing program starts.
The Health Ministry said on Friday that 2,581 new cases had been recorded on Thursday in the country of 5.5 million. It also reported a record number of COVID-19 related deaths for a second successive day, with 19 on Thursday after 17 on Wednesday.
Slovakia has reported 134 deaths since the pandemic began and has 28,918 active COVID-19 cases now.
On Thursday, the government ordered a partial lockdown, shutting most schools and requiring people to stay at home except for essential shopping and nature trips to curb the virus' spread and ease the burden on hospitals.
The government also said two testing drives would be carried out from Oct 30 to Nov 1, and from Nov 6-8.
Sweden will cap the number of club-goers at 50, after images of people partying in Stockholm sparked outrage in the country.
“It’s time for partying in nightclubs to stop,” Prime Minister Stefan Lofven said at a press conference in Stockholm. “It is disrespectful to health care staff, who have worked hard, day and night, when they open a newspaper and see photos from packed nightclubs and dance floors.”
At the same time, the government has also decided to raise the cap on some sporting and cultural events to 300, from 50, provided that people are seated at a safe distance from each other. That easing, according to the government, can be implemented without increasing the risk of transmission.
The Nordic country has reported 108,969 cases of coronavirus and 5,930 related deaths to date.
The Grand Tunis area decided on Thursday to extend the 15-day curfew imposed since on Oct 8 for another two weeks to Nov 6 in order to curb the spread of COVID-19, Tunis Afrique Presse reported.
The curfew, imposed in the Grand Tunis area covering the governorates of Tunis, Ariana, Ben Arous and Manouba, runs from 8 pm to 5 am from Monday through Friday, and from 6 pm to 5 am on Saturday and Sunday.
The country has so far reported a total of 45,892 coronavirus cases and 740 deaths.
British Prime Minister Boris Johnson reiterated Thursday his stand to avoid a national lockdown in fighting against the COVID-19 pandemic, saying that his government will work hard to protect jobs and put the country in a better position for an economic recovery.
He also said he’s frustrated at the performance of the UK’s COVID-19 test and trace system, which he has repeatedly billed as “world-beating,” and said it needs to improve to help defeat the coronavirus.
Just 59.6 percent of contacts of positive COVID-19 cases were reached between Oct 8 and Oct 14, statistics for England's Test and Trace scheme showed - compared with the 80 percent target - with turnaround times for people receiving their results also getting slower.
The UK reported a further 21,242 coronavirus cases Thursday, down from a record 26,688 cases a day earlier, daily government statistics showed. There were a further 189 deaths within 28 days of a positive test, down slightly from 191 the day before.
There is evidence levels of COVID-19 infections are "flattening" in some areas of Britain, the UK's chief scientific officer Patrick Vallance said.
Meanwhile, England will Spain's Canary Islands, the Maldives, Denmark and the Greek island of Mykonos to its safe travel list from Oct 25, Transport Minister Grant Shapps said. Liechtenstein was removed from the safe travel list.
Ukraine registered a daily record of 7,517 COVID-19 cases, the national security council said on Friday, up from a previous record of 7,053 on Thursday.
The total number of cases climbed to 330,396.
The council said 121 new coronavirus-related deaths were registered in the past day. On Wednesday, the toll hit a record 141.
Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky said the country does not plan to introduce a strict quarantine despite the rising number of infections, as the imposition of strict curbs could complete stall the country's economy, Interfax Ukraine news agency reported Thursday.
The US reported 76,195 new cases on Thursday, as cases, hospitalizations and deaths are all accelerating as cooler weather descends on much of the country.
North Dakota, with 887 new cases on Thursday, remains the hardest-hit state, based on new cases per capita, followed by South Dakota, Montana and Wisconsin. In terms of sheer numbers, Texas reported the most new cases on Thursday with 6,820 new infections, followed by California with 6,365.
In this undated March 2020 photo provided by Gilead Sciences, rubber stoppers are placed onto filled vials of remdesivir at a Gilead manufacturing site in the United States. (PHOTO / GILEAD SCIENCES VIA AP)
The US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) approved on Thursday Gilead Sciences Inc’s antiviral drug remdesivir for treating patients hospitalized with COVID-19, making it the first and only drug approved for the disease in the United States.
Remdesivir, given intravenously, was one of the drugs used to treat US President Donald Trump during his bout with COVID-19.
Remdesivir has been available under an FDA emergency use authorization (EUA) since May, after a study led by the National Institutes of Health showed it reduced hospital stays by five days.
Remdesivir, given intravenously, was one of the drugs used to treat US President Donald Trump during his bout with COVID-19
However, the World Health Organization (WHO) last week said its global trial of COVID-19 therapies found that remdesivir did not have a substantial effect on patients’ length of hospital stay or chances of survival.
Gilead has questioned the potential for bias in the WHO study.
Remdesivir, which will be sold under the brand name Veklury, costs US$3,120 for a five-day treatment course, or US$2,340 for government purchasers such as the Department of Veterans Affairs.
American pharmaceutical company Moderna, the first to start clinical trials of a COVID-19 vaccine in the US, finished enrolling all 30,000 of its participants for final stage trial on Thursday.
All 30,000 participants have received their first shot, and currently 25,654 of them have received their second dose, according to Moderna.
Once everyone has the second vaccination, Moderna will take time to assess the safety of it. If the benefits outweigh the risks, the company will apply for emergency use authorization of the FDA.
Moderna's vaccine candidate mRNA-1273 is being tested at approximately 89 clinical research sites in the United States.
Blood plasma treatment
A trial found that infusing hospitalized COVID-19 patients with blood plasma from people who had recovered had no effect on whether they got sicker or died, Stat reports, citing a study published in the medical journal BMJ.
The study was the first completed randomized trial of the treatments. An earlier study by the Mayo Clinic showed some benefit, leading the US FDA to give the therapy emergency approval in August, but that trial didn’t have a control arm, according to the report.
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