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Wednesday, May 27, 2020, 23:08
ECDC: Border closures of little use against COVID-19 spread
By Agencies
Wednesday, May 27, 2020, 23:08 By Agencies

A German police officer wearing a facemasks controls drivers at the French and German border between the cities of Strasbourg and Kehl on March 12, 2020 as part of measures taken due to the COVID-19 outbreak in Europe. (PATRICK HERTZOG / AFP)

BERLIN / ROME / WASHINGTON / MEXICO CITY / PARIS / LONDON / PANAMA CITY / CAPE TOWN / SAN SALVADOR / NEW YORK / GENEVA / CAIRO / MOSCOW / BELGRADE / ATHENS / ZURICH / BRUSSELS - Border closures do little to prevent the spread of COVID-19, the European Union’s public health agency said, as EU states weigh lifting some travel restrictions imposed at the start of the coronavirus pandemic in Europe.

The European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control (ECDC) said measures such as testing travellers before departure or temperature screening on arrival are also largely ineffective, though it confirmed that travelling facilitates the spread of the virus.

ALSO READ: 'Repair and Prepare': EU unveils 750b euro recovery plan

The ECDC said in a report released late on Tuesday that border closures had very negative effects on the economy and were effective only in delaying an epidemic at its beginning and in isolated regions.

“Available evidence does not support recommending border closures, which will cause significant secondary effects and societal and economic disruption in the EU,” which normally operates open borders among member states, the agency said.

The European Commission, the EU executive arm, recommended in April an easing of travel restrictions first between areas of low contagion, encouraging some governments to reopen borders selectively with countries they deemed safer.

But the ECDC report said epidemiological data may not be reliable since European countries do not use a common approach to testing and case reporting, making it impossible to compare the spread of the epidemic.

The agency also said that forcing people to undergo a test before travelling may only be of limited value as the traveller may become infectious just before departure or during travel due to the virus’ two-week incubation period.

Hydroxychloroquine ban

France, Italy and Belgium acted to halt the use of hydroxychloroquine to treat patients suffering from COVID-19, the illness caused by the new coronavirus, amid questions about the safety of the generic anti-malaria drug.

France on Wednesday cancelled a decree allowing hospital doctors to dispense the medicine, while the Italian Medicine Agency (AIFA) suspended authorization to use hydroxychloroquine for COVID-19 outside clinical trials.

Belgium’s medicine agency warned against using the drug to treat the virus any more except within ongoing clinical registered trials. It said trials aiming to evaluate the drug should also take potential risks into consideration.

ALSO READ: Hydroxychloroquine: WHO sees safety findings by mid-June

The sudden changes highlight the challenge for governments as they scramble to find ways to treat patients and control a virus that has spread rapidly around the world over the past three months, killing more than 350,000 and infecting millions.

It also illustrates at least a temporary about-face for regulators on a drug that at the outset of the pandemic had been seen as a promising treatment option.

The moves by three of the countries hardest hit by coronavirus infections and deaths follow a World Health Organization decision on Monday to pause a large trial of hydroxychloroquine due to safety concerns.

Global toll

Global COVID-19 deaths surpassed 350,000 on Tuesday, reaching 350,417 as of 8:32 pm (0032 GMT on Wednesday), according to the Center for Systems Science and Engineering (CSSE) at Johns Hopkins University.

Meanwhile, a total of 5,588,400 COVID-19 cases have so far been reported around the world, according to the CSSE.

The United States reported the most COVID-19 cases and deaths, with a tally of 1,680,680 and a death toll of 98,902. Other countries with over 20,000 fatalities included Britain, Italy, France, Spain, and Brazil, the CSSE data showed.

The number of confirmed COVID-19 cases across Africa surpassed 115,616 and the death toll surged to 3,479 as of Tuesday afternoon, the Africa Center for Disease Control and Prevention said.

An online dashboard maintained by the WHO European Region showed that 2,044,870 confirmed cases had been reported in 54 countries in Europe, with 175,184 deaths as of 10:00 am CET (0800 GMT) on Tuesday.

People bask in the sun while sitting on a lawn marked with circles to enforce social distancing at Domino Park, New York, May 26, 2020. (WANG YING / XINHUA)

New epicenter

The Americas have emerged as the new epicenter of the coronavirus pandemic, the World Health Organization (WHO) said in a Tuesday briefing, as a US study forecast deaths surging in Brazil and other Latin American countries through August.

"Now is not the time for countries to ease restrictions," Carissa Etienne, WHO director for the Americas and head of the Pan American Health Organization (PAHO), said via videoconference.

The Americas have registered more than 2.4 million cases of the new coronavirus and more than 143,000 deaths from COVID-19, said Carissa Etienne, WHO director for the Americas and head of the Pan American Health Organization

The Americas have registered more than 2.4 million cases of the new coronavirus and more than 143,000 deaths from COVID-19. Latin America has passed Europe and the United States in daily infections, she said.

"Our region has become the epicenter of the COVID-19 pandemic," Etienne said, as other PAHO directors warned there are "very tough" weeks ahead for the region and Brazil has a long way to go before it will see the pandemic end.

ALSO READ: Brazil jumps to world number 2 in coronavirus cases, behind US

Also of concern to WHO officials are accelerating outbreaks in Peru, Chile, El Salvador, Guatemala and Nicaragua.

A University of Washington study warned that Brazil's total death toll could climb five-fold to 125,000 by early August.

The current data projects COVID-19 deaths in Peru totaling nearly 20,000 by August, the university's Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation (IHME) said, indicating demand is likely to outstrip of the supply of beds in intensive care units.

The latest IHME model projections see deaths rising to nearly 12,000 in Chile, 7,000 in Mexico, 6,000 in Ecuador, 5,500 in Argentina and to 4,500 in Colombia by August.

One country in the region doing relatively well against COVID-19 is Cuba, where the IHME forecasts a death toll of just 82 by August while testing continues to outpace the outbreak.

Albania

Kindergartens and nurseries across Albania will reopen on June 1, Minister of Health and Social Protection Ogerta Manastirliu said on Tuesday.

Manastirliu added that the second phase of reopening in Albania will proceed with the tourism season under strict safety guidelines designed to protect citizens' health and stem the spread of the COVID-19 in the country.

Twenty-five new coronavirus cases were registered in Albania over the last 24 hours, according to health authorities, raising the tally to 1,029, including 803 recoveries and 33 deaths.

Brazil

Brazil's COVID-19 death toll reached 24,512 on Tuesday, after another 1,039 deaths were recorded over the last 24 hours, the health ministry said.

The number of infections in Brazil rose to 391,222, with 16,324 new cases.

READ MORE: Brazil police raid Rio governor's residences amid COVID-19 probe

Bulgaria

Bulgaria will allow restaurants, bars and cafes to reopen at full capacity on Monday as the Balkan country further eased restrictions.

Health Minister Kiril Ananiev issued a new order on Tuesday night, allowing bars and restaurants in tourism-dependent Bulgaria to go fully back to business ahead of the summer season.

Ananiev also allowed the resumption of cultural and entertainment events, including theaters, concerts and stage performances. Dance classes could also resume, using up to 30 percent of their indoor capacity and up to 50 percent of the outdoor capacity.

According to the order, however, discos, piano bars and night bars must stay closed as the country remains under a declared epidemic situation because COVID-19 until June 14.

As of Wednesday, Bulgaria has 2,460 confirmed coronavirus cases, including 133 deaths, a relatively low number in Europe.

Canada

Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said on Tuesday that he was shocked by the reports of alleged elder abuse in nursing homes impacted by the COVID-19 in the province of Ontario.

The members of the Canadian Armed Forces sent to nursing homes in Ontario have seen shocking conditions, including "blatant disregard" for infection control measures, mistreatment of residents, and a level of care described as "horrible," according to Global News.

"On reading the deeply disturbing report, I had obviously a range of emotions of anger, of sadness, of frustration, of grief," Trudeau said.

Trudeau said the report underscores the need to improve standards of care for seniors in long-term care homes across the country and his government will support the provinces' efforts to do that going forward. 

The Ontario provincial government said in a tweet that it was aware of the abuse reports made by soldiers and will hold a press conference soon.

As of Tuesday afternoon, Canada has reported 86,614 confirmed COVID-19 cases, and 6,637 deaths.  More than two dozen Canadian soldiers have reportedly tested positive for COVID-19.

A Chilean police officer measures the temperature of a homeless man before he was given a bag of free food, outside the San Jose hospital in Santiago, Chile, May 26, 2020. (ESTEBAN FELIX / AP)

Chile

Chile's health ministry said on Tuesday 77,961 people have been infected with the novel coronavirus in the country and 806 have died.

In the past 24 hours ending 9 pm Monday local time (0100 GMT on Tuesday), 3,964 new cases were detected and 45 more deaths were reported.

A total of 30,915 people have recovered since the outbreak began.

According to Health Minister Jaime Manalich, Chile is now turning to high-flow oxygen therapy, a less invasive treatment for patients that require help in breathing but are not so critical that they need to be put on a ventilator.

Egypt

Egypt reported on Tuesday a record 789 daily new COVID-19 infections, raising the tally in the North African country to 18,756, said the health ministry.

It was the eighth consecutive day for Egypt's daily infections to exceed 700.

Another 14 deaths were reported, bringing the death toll in Egypt to 797, while 127 more patients were completely cured and discharged from hospitals, raising the total recoveries to 5,027, the ministry's spokesman Khaled Megahed said in a statement.

El Salvador

Salvadoran President Nayib Bukele said on Tuesday he takes hydroxychloroquine, an antimalarial drug that US President Donald Trump has promoted as a way to ward off the novel coronavirus, though experts have warned about its safety.

Bukele told reporters that El Salvador was not promoting it anymore as a treatment, following the recommendation of the World Health Organization, though patients would still be able to take it as a preventative measure if they wished.

"I use it as a prophylaxis, President Trump uses it as a prophylaxis, most of the world's leaders use it as a prophylaxis," Bukele said.

Finland

The Finnish Institute for Health and Welfare (THL) on Tuesday released a COVID-19 symptom map application to help people know the latest situation of the disease.

With the application, the overall picture of the COVID-19 situation compiled by THL will be supplemented by symptom information reported by people themselves, said the health authority in a press release issued on Tuesday.

According to THL, as of Tuesday afternoon, Finland has confirmed a total of 6,628 COVID-19 cases, after 29 new cases were reported. The death toll rose by four to 312.

People sit outside a cafe in Berlin, capital of Germany, May 26, 2020. (BINH TRUONG / XINHUA)

Germany

Germany's government and its state premiers have agreed to extend social distancing rules until June 29 to contain the coronavirus pandemic, a government spokesman said.

Under the agreement, public gatherings of up to 10 people would also be allowed from June 6, the government spokesman said. Chancellor Angela Merkel originally suggested extending the distancing rules, which require people to stay 1.5 meters apart, until July 5.

The country's 16 states have been hit to differing degrees by the coronavirus, and Thuringia in the east, which has had fewer cases, voiced its dissent in separate statement.

A government source said the cabinet may also decide to lift a warning against travel to 26 fellow European Union (EU) countries plus Britain, Iceland, Norway, Switzerland and Liechtenstein from June 15, opening the way to separate advice for specific regions.

Markus Soeder, premier of Bavaria, the hardest-hit state, voiced opposition to moving too fast in reopening tourism. In a nod to Bavaria's objections, the cabinet might postpone its decision by a week, but still lift the blanket travel warning from mid-June, media group RND reported.

There were 600 new cases in the 24 hours through Wednesday morning, bringing Germany's tally to 181,200, according to data from Johns Hopkins University. Fatalities increased by 63 to 8,372. 

According to data from the Robert Koch Institute (RKI) for infectious diseases Wednesday, the number of confirmed cases increased by 362 to 179,364. The reported death toll rose by 47 to 8,349.

The reproduction factor of the virus dropped to 0.70 on Tuesday from 0.83 the day before, according to the latest estimate from RKI.

Ghana

Ghana has confirmed 153 more COVID-19 cases, bringing its tally to 7,117 as of Wednesday morning, said the Ghana Health Service (GHS).

The latest update by the GHS also captured 220 more recoveries, increasing the number of recoveries to 2,317, while the death toll rose by two to 34.

Greece

Greece will allow travelers from around two dozen countries to visit from mid-June without having to be quarantined, government officials said, part of a gradual easing of coronavirus lockdown restrictions.

"There will be some 20-25 countries whose nationals will be allowed to come," a government source said, adding that the list would include Cyprus, Israel and countries in central Europe and the Balkans. The full list would be announced this week.

Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis has said Germans will be allowed to visit Greece from June 15. He has also said that international flights to the northern city of Thessaloniki would resume on June 15, sooner than an initial planned date of July 1.

Greece currently allows citizens from all EU countries except Italy, Spain and the Netherlands to fly into Athens but they are then subject to a 14-day confinement. Visitors from Britain and other non-EU countries are also currently barred from entering Greece.

Greece has weathered the coronavirus crisis relatively well, with just 2,892 confirmed cases and 173 deaths.

Another government source said health experts were discussing whether travelers would need to have been tested for COVID-19 before visiting Greece and whether insurance coverage for such infections should be recommended.

Guinea-Bissau

The government of Guinea-Bissau announced on Tuesday certain COVID-19 restrictions will be eased, including the reopening of borders and the authorization of movement for public transport.

Authorities would require that all passengers entering Guinea-Bissau present at the borders a medical certificate indicating that the passenger has tested negative for COVID-19.

However, all residents of Guinea-Bissau's nine regions are still confined to their regions, and not allowed to travel between regions.

Public transport can only operate at half capacity, and there is a limit of three passengers for all taxis.

According to the government, the curfew will go on, but people can now go out for one hour between 7:00 am and 6:00 pm local time. All cafes, restaurants and bakeries can only do take-aways.

So far, Guinea-Bissau has reported 1,178 confirmed cases, including seven deaths and 42 recoveries.  

Italy

Deaths from the COVID-19 epidemic in Italy climbed by 78 on Tuesday, against 92 the day before, the Civil Protection Agency said, while the daily tally of new cases increased to 397 from 300 on Monday.

The total death toll now stands at 32,955 the agency said, the third highest in the world after those of the United States and Britain.

The number of confirmed cases amounts to 230,555, the sixth highest global tally behind those of the United States, Brazil, Russia, Spain and Britain.

People registered as currently carrying the illness fell to 52,942 from 55,300 the day before, the agency said.

READ MORE: Dutch govt: 2nd case of mink transmitting virus to human

Libya

The Libyan National Center for Disease Control on Tuesday announced two new COVID-19 cases in southern Libya, bringing the tally in the country to 77.

The two new coronavirus cases, the first in southern Libya, were confirmed out of 66 suspected samples received, the center said in a statement.

So far, 40 patients have recovered from the virus in Libya and three have died, the center added.

Mexico

Mexico registered 501 new deaths from the coronavirus on Tuesday, its biggest single-day increase in fatalities yet, as the jump in new cases also set a record.

The country's tally now stands at 74,560 and the death toll reached 8,134, health authorities said.

Officials have discovered dozens of unlicensed retirement homes in northern Mexico, raising fears that so far undetected coronavirus clusters may emerge in the thinly regulated sector.

After outbreaks in three registered private facilities in the state of Nuevo Leon sent the health department scrambling to investigate the industry, it shuttered 40 unregistered homes in and around the city of Monterrey.

As of May 25, there had been 88 confirmed cases of the coronavirus in the three homes in Nuevo Leon, the department said on Monday. One person tested positive in a fourth home.

Authorities say at least 19 people have died in registered retirement homes across Mexico.

Morocco

A total of 45 new COVID-19 cases were confirmed in Morocco on Tuesday, bringing the total number of infections in the country to 7,577.

The number of recoveries increased to 4,881 after 107 new ones were registered, Director of Epidemiology at the Ministry of Health Mohamed El Youbi said in his daily briefing.

El Youbi said that the death toll rose to 202, after two more deaths were reported in the past 24 hours.

A municipal worker cleans a street at Independence Square in Panama City,  May 26, 2020. (ARNULFO FRANCO / AP)

Panama

The Panama government said on Tuesday that in June it will start to relax some measures imposed to curb the spread of the novel coronavirus, permitting sectors such as construction, nonmetallic mining and pharmaceuticals to resume operations.

"Starting on Monday, June 1, the opening of the second block of economic activities can begin," Health Minister Rosario Turner told reporters in a press conference.

As part of the second stage of reopening the economy, the textile, electronics and electricity sectors will also be able to resume operations, Commerce Minister Ramon Martinez said.

Panama's curfew will also be relaxed, and places of worship, parks and sporting facilities may reopen at up to 25 percent capacity, Martinez said.

Poland

Over 3,600 Polish miners have so far tested positive for the novel coronavirus, with results of large-scale testings still coming in, Polish press agency PAP reported on Tuesday.

Miners now account for half of the total COVID-19 cases in the voivodeship (region) of Silesia in southern Poland, the region hardest hit by the epidemic in the country.

Romania

Romanian Health Minister Nelu Tataru announced on Tuesday that new relaxation measures will be adopted as of June 1.

According to Tataru, the authorities would assess the first period of 14 days of relaxation after the end of the state of emergency and then announce the new relaxation measures.

"For now we can say with a quite high degree of certainty that we will reopen terraces(of restaurants)... We'll keep the same social distance," Tataru was quoted by the official Agerpres news agency as telling local broadcaster B1TV.

Beaches could reopen from June 15 and from July or August, Romanians could lead "a quasi-normal life,” according to Tataru.

Romania reported 146 new confirmed cases on Tuesday, bringing the country’s tally to 18,429, with 1,216 fatalities.  

Russia

Russia has confirmed 8,338 new COVID-19 cases in the last 24 hours, raising its total number of infections to 370,680, its coronavirus response center said in a statement Wednesday.

The death toll increased by 161 to 3,968, while the number of recoveries rose by 11,079 to 142,208, according to the statement.

Moscow, the country's worst-hit region, confirmed 2,140 new cases in the last 24 hours, taking its total to 171,443.

Experts believe that the peak of the pandemic is over in Russia, President Vladimir Putin said Tuesday during an online meeting with Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu.

Senegal

The Senegalese Ministry of Health and Social Action reported 31 new confirmed COVID-19 cases on Tuesday, bring the country’s tally to 3,161.

Health Minister Abdoulaye Diouf Sarr said that 50 more patients had recovered, bringing the total number of recoveries to 1,565.

Sarr also said that the death toll has risen to 36 across the country.

READ MORE: Africa told not to let crisis hurt progress

Serbia

Serbia has banned inbound flights by Montenegro's flag carrier Montenegro Airlines after Podgorica refused to open its borders to people from Serbia, where coronavirus persists.

Serbia's Directorate for Civilian Aviation said it decided to act as Montenegro's move affect reciprocity in air transportation.

Serbia's Prime Minister Ana Brnabic told Serbians, who visit Montenegro in large numbers, "they should not go where they are undesirable".

As the coronavirus infection rate dropped, Serbia earlier this month opened borders with most of its neighbors, including Montenegro, Croatia and Hungary.

So far, Serbia, has reported 11,227 cases of coronavirus infection and 239 deaths. Montenegro has reported 324 cases and nine deaths.

Somalia

Somalia’s health ministry on Tuesday confirmed 22 new COVID-19 cases, bringing the tally to 1,711.

Health Minister Fawziya Abikar said another death was recorded, raising the death toll to 67.

Abikar said 18 more patients have recovered, bringing the total number of recoveries to 253.

South Africa

South African President Cyril Ramaphosa on Tuesday declared May 31 as the National Day of Prayer to strengthen national unity in fighting the COVID-19 pandemic.

The National Day of Prayer is dedicated to the remembrance of those who are working to keep South African safe, and those who are suffering and grieving, Ramaphosa said.

Ramaphosa also confirmed that the country will ease the current lockdown from level four to level three on June 1, and restrictions on congregational worship will be loosened in a carefully measured way.

Churches and other places of worship can reopen their doors from June, but will be limited to 50 people, Ramaphosa said.

As of Tuesday afternoon, the country has reported over 23,615 COVID-19 cases and 481 deaths. 

Spain

Spain's health ministry reported on Tuesday that a total of 27,117 people had died from the coronavirus since the beginning of the outbreak.

Confirmed cases of the virus reached 236,259, the ministry said.

READ MORE: Spain declares 10-day official mourning for virus victims

Switzerland

Switzerland unveiled plans on Wednesday to reopen borders to all its neighbours except Italy and to allow larger public gatherings, further easing restrictions on public life as the novel coronavirus outbreak shows signs of ebbing.

The government said public and private events up to 300 people and spontaneous gatherings of up to 30 people would be allowed again from June 6.

The move would unwind the current ban on meetings of more than 5 people that have shut down much of public life and led to deserted city centres, shops and roads as people stayed at home.

“We can enjoy all the things that are now possible again,” Swiss President Simonetta Sommaruga told reporters. “With today’s decision we can prepare ourselves for a new normality.”

The government will also decide on June 24 whether to also lift a ban on events with up to 1,000 people. Larger events will not be possible until the end of August, the government said.

The relaxation comes as new cases of COVID-19 in Switzerland have decelerated, rising by 15 on Wednesday here to 30,776. The death toll reached 1,649.

A man drinks coffee while chatting with his friends outside a cafe in Tunis, Tunisia, on May 26, 2020. (ADEL EZZINE / XINHUA)

Tunisia

Tunisia on Tuesday conditionally reopened cafes and restaurants as part of its partial lifting of the anti-coronavirus restrictions.

Under the government's decision, customers have to take away with the ordered drinks and meals without staying in the cafes and restaurants, in order to avoid gatherings.

These conditions will continue to be applied until June 4, after which cafes and restaurants will be allowed to resume their activities normally. 

As of Monday night, no new COVID-19 cases were reported in Tunisia. The country’s tally remains at 1,051.

The mandatory quarantine in Tunisian medical centers over the COVID-19 concerns has so far cost the state 15 million dinars (US$5.19 million), a health ministry official said Tuesday.

UK

Individual UK businesses, schools, hospitals and housing estates could be isolated on a local level if coronavirus flares up, under Prime Minister Boris Johnson plan to relax lockdown rules.

Housing Secretary Robert Jenrick said the new track, trace and isolate plan would have a “very local element to it.” The measures, which include hiring 25,000 contact tracers to monitor the spread of the virus, are due to come into operation next week, although a mobile phone app to help track the spread of infections has been delayed.

“If there is a flare-up in one particular community -- and that could be applied on a small scale, like a particular workplace or school -- then measures can be introduced, which hopefully the public will get behind, to enable us to control the virus in that locality,” Jenrick told BBC News on Wednesday.

On Tuesday, Health Minister Matt Hancock said he would talk to colleagues about fines imposed on families for breaking lockdown rules, after government adviser Dominic Cummings received widespread public condemnation for his lockdown travel.

READ MORE: UK junior minister resigns over PM adviser's lockdown drive

Another 134 COVID-19 deaths were recorded in Britain as of Monday afternoon, bringing the total coronavirus-related death toll to 37,048, the Department of Health and Social Care said Tuesday.

As of Tuesday morning, 265,227 people have tested positive in Britain, a daily increase of 2,004, according to the department.

US

California, the most populous US state, on Tuesday allowed barber shops and hair salons in most counties to operate for the first time in more than two months. In Los Angeles, Mayor Eric Garcetti said all retailers may open for in-store shopping as of Wednesday, with 50 percent capacity. Places of worship can resume services at 25 percent capacity or a maximum of 100 people, whichever is lower.

New York state will now focus on reopening its economic engine, New York City, the only region still on lockdown. New York City was hardest hit by the coronavirus, and its recovery has been the toughest, Governor Andrew Cuomo said at a press briefing.

The Trump administration has released coronavirus testing targets for May. The goals aim for states to test between 2 percent and 15 percent of their populations this month, according to a testing plan outlined by the US Department of Health and Human Services.

Meanwhile, Vice-President Mike Pence's press secretary Katie Miller said she was back at work after recovering from COVID-19.

Separately, according to new guidelines on COVID-19 antibody test published on the website of the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), serologic test results should not be used to make decisions about returning persons to the workplace and schools. Definitive data are lacking, and it remains uncertain whether individuals with antibodies are protected against reinfection with the novel coronavirus, according to the CDC.

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