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Thursday, May 28, 2020, 20:57
England's COVID-19 test and trace system begins
By Agencies
Thursday, May 28, 2020, 20:57 By Agencies

People wearing face masks walk along Portobello Road Market in London, May 27, 2020. (FRANK AUGSTEIN / AP)

PARIS / NEW YORK / BOGOTA / CAPE TOWN / GENEVA / LONDON / ROME / MADRID / BERLIN / MOSCOW / TRIPOLI / NAIROBI / HELSINKI / HARARE / DAKAR / BUCHAREST / ADDIS ABABA / WINDHOEK - Britain's government faced questions over how closely people would abide by its new COVID-19 test and trace service Thursday, as a row persisted over the Prime Minister Boris Johnson's closest adviser taking a long-distance journey during lockdown.

Lawmakers from the governing Conservative Party continued to add their names to those calling for Dominic Cummings to quit, after it was revealed he had travelled 400 km in March with his four-year-old son and his wife, who was sick at the time, to be close to relatives.

Under the new system, which will be in place in England Thursday, contacts of those who test positive for COVID-19 will be asked to isolate for 14 days, even if they have no symptoms

ALSO READ: 'Move on' says British PM, as row over adviser Cummings persists

Johnson will set out the next steps on easing Britain’s coronavirus lockdown on Thursday, describing what will be possible from June 1, his spokesman said.

Britain is poised to start relaxing measures and possibly allowing more social contact soon for millions of people who have been mostly stuck at home for weeks.

Under the new system, which will be in place in England Thursday, contacts of those who test positive for COVID-19 will be asked to isolate for 14 days, even if they have no symptoms.

The tracing service, which will have a task-force of 40,000 specialists to test those with symptoms and identify their contacts, will initially rely on what the government described as people doing their "civic duty", but sanctions could be introduced if people did not comply.

Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland have similar programs just about to launch or already running.

Britain’s government said there is now enough capacity for all who need tests to get them. It is aiming to provide test results within 24 hours.

Hancock also said an accompanying tracing app, which is being trialed on the Isle of Wight and could help locate anonymous contacts, is ready but is not yet being brought in.

Another 412 deaths were registered as of Tuesday afternoon, bringing the total coronavirus-related death toll to 37,460, the Department of Health and Social Care said. As of Wednesday morning, the number of confirmed cases rose by 2,013 to 267,240, according to the department.

This handout image provided by the World Health Organization (WHO) on May 27, 2020 in Geneva shows WHO Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus (left) and WHO Foundation founder Swiss Thomas Zeltner during the launch of the new WHO Foundation. (CHRISTOPHER BLACK / WORLD HEALTH ORGANIZATION / AFP)

Cross-protection against COVID-19

The World Health Organization (WHO) said on Wednesday that there was no empirical evidence on cross protection against COVID-19, but studies in this area might offer hope for long-term protection.

Cross protection is a phenomenon in which a pre-existing viral infection prevents a secondary infection with the same or closely related virus.

The WHO announced the creation of the WHO Foundation, an independent grant-making entity, which, according to a spokesperson, will initially focus on emergencies and pandemic response

"There is certainly some evidence with regard to T-cells that if you have a previous coronavirus infection, you may be able to mount a more rapid response to COVID-19. But there is no empirical evidence that the previous coronavirus infections protect you from infection with COVID-19," Michael Ryan, executive director of the WHO Health Emergencies Program, said at a press conference.

"The jury is still very much out on that. But it is interesting to know that, at least in some of the studies, if we get a more broad-based T-cell response, there's more hope for vaccines and others producing a more long-term immune response." he said.

"So for me this information is very important. It gives us hope that we're getting the kinds of immune responses that may be helpful for long-term protection and may also mean that vaccines have a broader protection," he added.

The WHO on Wednesday also announced the creation of the WHO Foundation, an independent grant-making entity that will support the organization's efforts to address the most pressing global health challenges.

A WHO spokesperson said in a press release that in view of the COVID-19 pandemic, the WHO Foundation will initially focus on emergencies and pandemic response, and will also raise and disburse funds for all WHO global public health priorities.

ALSO READ: ECDC: Border closures of little use against COVID-19 spread

Global tally

Global COVID-19 deaths surpassed 356,000 on Thursday, reaching 356,042 as of 5:32 pm (0932 GMT on Thursday), according to the Center for Systems Science and Engineering (CSSE) at Johns Hopkins University.

Meanwhile, more than 5.7 million COVID-19 cases have been reported around the world, according to the CSSE.

The United States reported the most COVID-19 cases and deaths, with a tally nearing 1.7 million and a death toll over 100,000. 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 reached 119,391 and the death toll surged to 3,589 as of Wednesday afternoon, the Africa Center for Disease Control and Prevention said.

Bosnia and Herzegovina

Bosnia and Herzegovina (BiH) has further eased its anti-coronavirus restrictions by allowing shopping malls to reopen in the Federation of Bosnia and Herzegovina (FBiH), one of the two BiH entities, the FBiH Administration of Civil Protection (FACP) confirmed on Wednesday.

The other entity, Republika Srpska (RS), reopened shopping malls in early May.

FACP has decided to allow bars and restaurants to serve indoors, only if they following imposed social distancing and personal protection measures. For the past two weeks they were only allowed to serve in gardens and terraces.

To date, BiH has reported 2,439 cases of COVID-19 infection with 146 deaths.

Brazil

Brazil's death toll from COVID-19 surpassed 25,000 people on Wednesday, reaching 25,598, the health ministry said. There were 1,086 deaths reported over the last 24 hours.

The number of cases rose by 20,599, reaching a tally of 411,821 confirmed cases, according to the ministry.

ALSO READ: Trial of hydroxychloroquine in virus patients halted by WHO

Chile

Chile on Wednesday said a total of 82,289 people in the country have tested positive for the novel coronavirus and 841 people have died.

In the past 24 hours ending 9 pm Tuesday, 4,328 new cases 35 deaths were registered.

With cases still on the rise, Health Minister Jaime Manalich announced that lockdown measures in the capital Santiago and the metropolitan area, home to 7 million residents, will be extended beyond the May 29 deadline.

A health worker in protective gear takes a swab sample of a resident during a random testing at the Aranjuez neighborhood in Medellin, Colombia, on May 27, 2020. (JOAQUIN SARMIENTO / AFP)

Colombia

Colombia will begin easing restrictions starting from June, President Ivan Duque said Wednesday, while warning that the pandemic "hasn't gone away".

Sectors like retail and non-COVID-related medical care can begin normalizing gradually once the lockdown ends, but large events, bars and nightclubs will continue to be closed. Restaurants will be open for takeaway orders only, Duque said.

Even as restrictions begin to ease, public transport in cities must not exceed 35 percent of their capacity and land borders will continue to be closed. International flights, domestic flights and inter-city buses will continue to be suspended.

As part of the relaxed rules, children aged 2 to 5 years old will be allowed out three times a week for 30 minutes from the first of June, while those aged 6 to 17 will be permitted outside three times a week for up to an hour.

Adults under 70 years old will be allowed out three times a week for up to two hours at a time. People aged 70 and over are considered a high-risk population and should remain at home, though they may go out for 30 minutes three times a week.

Colombia has reported more than 24,000 confirmed cases of COVID-19, including 803 deaths.

Cyprus

Cypriot President Nicos Anastasiades announced on Wednesday a revised package to pump into the economy more than 1.2 billion euros (US$1.32 billion), about 6 percent of the country's annual gross domestic product (GDP), to help it out of the coronavirus pandemic crisis.

He added that businesses will also have the opportunity to draw up to 1.7 billion euros in cheap loans.

Anastasiades said that details of the package will be announced at a press conference by the finance minister on Thursday. The revised package will replace the one the government was forced to withdraw from parliament.

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

Djibouti

Djibouti's Ministry of Health on Wednesday announced 229 new COVID-19 cases, bringing the the tally in the country to 2,697 as of Wednesday afternoon.

The ministry said that some 1,185 patients have recovered as of Wednesday afternoon, of which 53 of the recoveries were reported during the last 24 hours period.

The country also reported four more deaths, raising the death toll to 18, according to the ministry.

Egypt

Egypt confirmed on Wednesday 910 new COVID-19 cases, raising the tally in the country to 19,666, said the Egyptian health ministry.

It was the first time for COVID-19 daily infections in Egypt to exceed 900, after seeing over 700 daily cases in the past eight days.

Anohter 19 deaths were reported on Wednesday, bringing the death toll to 816, the ministry's spokesman Khaled Megahed said in a statement.

Megahed said that 178 coronavirus patients were completely cured and discharged from hospitals in the past 24 hours, increasing the total number of recoveries to 5,205.

The ministry expects the next period to see "the peak" of coronavirus infections in the country, according to remarks made by Assistant Health Minister Mohamed Fawzy to a local TV channel earlier in the day.

Pupils practice social distancing while queuing up to enter Eestinkallio primary school in Espoo, Finland, on May 14, 2020, as the schools reopened. (ALESSANDRO RAMPAZZO / AFP)

Finland

Finland has seen no evidence of the coronavirus spreading faster since schools started to reopen in the middle of May, the top health official said on Thursday.

"The time has been short, but so far we have seen no evidence," Mika Salminen, director of health security at the Finnish Institute of Health and Welfare, told a news conference.

Finland started to reopen schools and daycare centers from May 14 following an almost two-month shutdown.

Romania

Romania will reopen outdoor cafes and restaurants and allow international road and rail travel from June 1, after a two-month lockdown to contain the new coronavirus outbreak, President Klaus Iohannis said on Thursday.

The European Union state, which has reported 18,791 cases of the coronavirus and 1,229 deaths, began easing the lockdown on May 15.

From Monday, outdoor cafes will open with social distancing guidelines and a maximum of four people per table. Romanians will be able to travel between cities without restrictions and outdoor events with up to 500 people will be allowed. Non-contact outdoor sporting events can be held without an audience.

France

The French government's contact-tracing app project was approved by the lower house of parliament on Wednesday, paving the way for a weekend launch of the so-called "StopCovid" app.

The bill, approved by a 338-215 margin, now moves to the upper house Senate, whose vote is not binding.

France's coronavirus death toll rose by less than 100 for the seventh day running on Wednesday while the number of confirmed cases climbed only modestly, according to data which indicated the worst of the pandemic could be over for the country for now.

The health ministry said in a statement that the number of fatalities had risen by 66 to 28,596, the fourth-highest tally in the world.

The number of confirmed cases rose by 191 to 145,555.

Germany

The number of confirmed coronavirus cases in Germany increased by 353 to 179,717, data from the Robert Koch Institute (RKI) for infectious diseases showed on Thursday.

The reported death toll rose by 62 to 8,411, the tally showed.

Following a meeting with the minister presidents of eastern Germany's 16 states, Chancellor Angela Merkel said on Wednesday that the states could make "independent decisions" in light of regional coronavirus infection levels.

In recent days, an agreement has been reached on a "common protection framework" that remains valid, said Merkel. The minimum distance rule of 1.5 meters and the obligation to wear face masks on public transport, for example, continue to apply.

Merkel stressed that an emergency mechanism, which is triggered if more than 50 new infections over seven days per 100,000 inhabitants are detected in a region, also continues to remain in force.

Meanwhile, Germany will lift a warning against travel to 26 fellow EU countries from June 15, Foreign Minister Heiko Maas said on Wednesday, adding that Berlin would decide later on its travel guidelines for other countries, including Turkey.

Guinea-Bissau

Guinea-Bissau reported 17 new confirmed cases of COVID-19 on Wednesday, bringing the tally in the country to 1,195, including seven deaths and 42 recoveries.

Dionisio Cumba, coordinator of the Center for Emergency Health Operations (COES), said at a daily briefing that the national lab could not carry out any test in the past two days due to a lack of lab materials, as the third donation of medical equipment, including testing kits, from the Chinese foundations Jack Ma and Alibaba had not yet been distributed to the lab.

Receiving the donation from China on Monday, Cumba said the donation would allow the national laboratory to process and analyze COVID-19 infection tests more quickly.

Italy

Deaths from the COVID-19 epidemic in Italy climbed by 117 on Wednesday, against 78 the day before, the Civil Protection Agency said, while the daily tally of new cases climbed to 584 from 397 on Tuesday.

The total death toll now stands at 33,072, the agency said, the third highest in the world after those of the United States and Britain.

The number of confirmed cases amounts to 231,139, 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 50,966 from 52,942 the day before.

Kenya

Kenya's Ministry of Health on Wednesday confirmed 123 new COVID-19 cases, bringing the total number of infections to 1,471.

It was the first time the country saw a triple-digit daily increase in confirmed cases, and it was also the highest single-day increase since March 13, according to Mutahi Kagwe, cabinet secretary in the ministry of health.

Kagwe said three more deaths were reported, raising the death toll to 55, while three more recoveries were recorded, bringing the total number of recoveries to 408.

Libya

The UN-backed Libyan government on Wednesday extended a curfew for 10 days in its further efforts to curb the COVID-19 pandemic.

The extension of the curfew running from 6 pm to 6 am local time starts Thursday, it said.

The total number of confirmed COVID-19 cases in Libya stands at 99, including 40 recoveries and four deaths, according to the National Center for Disease Control.

Libya's east-based authorities have imposed a 12-day curfew in the eastern city of Benghazi. 

Lithuania

The Lithuanian government on Wednesday extended a nationwide quarantine until June 16, together with new easing measures targeting travel, border regime, businesseses and public events.

According to the government's decision, residents of the European Economic Area (EEA), Switzerland, the United Kingdom and people legally residing in these countries will be admitted entry to Lithuania if the COVID-19 infection rates in these countries do not exceeded 25 cases per 100,000 population in the last 14 calendar days. Two-weeks mandatory self-isolation rule will be abandoned for these people arriving to Lithuania.

The working hours of bars, restaurants, cafes, nightclubs and other places of entertainment have been extended by the government from 8 am-10 pm to 8 am-11 pm.

From June 1 to June 15, cultural, sports and other events can be held outdoors when participants do not leave their vehicles or with no more than 300 participants respecting a social distance of at least 1 meter. Indoor events can be held with no more than 100 participants.

According to the Ministry of Health, Lithuania has reported a total of 1,647 confirmed cases by Wednesday morning, including 66 deaths and 1,184 recoveries.

Mali

Mali's health authorities reported 39 new confirmed cases of COVID-19 on Wednesday, bringing the total number of infections in the country to 1,116.

No deaths were recorded in the past 24 hours across the country, the Ministry of Health and Social Affairs said, adding that 1,986 close contacts are being monitored on a daily basis.

So far, the West African country has reported 1,116 confirmed cases, including 70 deaths and 632 recovery cases, since March 25.

Mexico

Mexico on Wednesday registered 3,463 new cases of coronavirus and 463 deaths, bringing its tally to 78,023 cases and the death toll to 8,597, according to information provided by health authorities.

Taxi drivers register to get tested for COVID-19 in Sale, Morocco, May 27, 2020. (CHADI / XINHUA)

Morocco

The Moroccan health ministry reported 24 new confirmed COVID-19 cases on Wednesday, bringing the country’s tally to 7,601.

The number of recoveries rose by 97 to 4,978, according to a statement by the ministry.

A total of 202 deaths have been reported so far.

Norway

Norway continued to ease restrictions, saying on Wednesday that it would now allow entire classes to gather in kindergartens and schools rather than in smaller groups. 

The government will also lift a ban on visits to nursing homes and hospitals. 

The Nordic country has so far had fewer than 8,400 confirmed cases and 235 deaths, with no deaths reported since last week.

Poland

The Polish government announced on Wednesday further easing of anti-coronavirus restrictions, as the country reported 399 new confirmed COVID-19 cases over the past 24 hours.

According to the government, starting from Saturday, Poles will no longer have to wear masks if social-distancing rules can be observed. However, mask wearing will still be required on public transport.

Also starting from Saturday, the limit on the number of customers in shops and restaurants will be lifted. 

Fitness clubs, cinemas, theaters, and amusement parks, which have remained closed for two months, will be allowed to reopen on June 6. Wedding services and family celebrations will be allowed for up to 150 people from June 6 with no mask-wearing requirement.

So far, 22,473 people have been infected with the coronavirus and 1,028 patients have died in Poland.

Few people wearing face masks are seen standing on a platform at the Novoslobodskaya metro station in Moscow, Russia, on May 26, 2020, amid a strict national lockdown imposed to stop the spread of COVID-19. (KIRILL KUDRYAVTSEV / AFP)

Russia

Russia on Thursday reported 174 deaths from the new coronavirus in the previous 24 hours, matching its record daily rise for fatalities and taking the overall death toll to 4,142.

The country's coronavirus crisis response centre said the overall number of infections had risen by 8,371 to 379,051. Another 8,785 people recovered, bringing the total recoveries to 150,993. This is the third straight day the daily number of recoveries has exceeded new cases as the outbreak shows signs of stabilizing in Russia.

President Vladimir Putin said on Wednesday that Moscow, the epicenter of Russia's coronavirus outbreak, had succeeded in preventing what he called worst-case scenarios as the city announced it would ease tough lockdown measures within days.

READ MORE: Putin orders parade preparations after 'outbreak peaks' in Russia

Speaking to Moscow Mayor Sergei Sobyanin by video conference, Putin said it was obvious the situation in the city of 12.7 million people had stabilized thanks to steps taken by the authorities.

Sobyanin told Putin he intended to loosen the capital's lockdown from June 1. 

Under the relaxed rules, Muscovites will be allowed to go out for walks three times a week in masks and to do early morning outdoor physical exercise. Non-food shops can also reopen along with certain services, said Sobyanin.

South Africa

South Africa on Wednesday reported 1,673 new COVID-19 cases, the highest daily increase since the country reported its first case in early March.

As of Wednesday, the country's caseload has reached 25,937, Health Minister Zweli Mkhize said in his daily update.

The country also reported another 28 deaths, raising the death toll to 552, Mkhize said.

So far, the nationwide count of recoveries stands at 13,451, Mkhize said, adding that a total of 634,996 tests have been conducted, with 29,005 tests done in the past 24 hours.

The Ministry of Health warned that harsher lockdown restrictions could be re-introduced at COVID-19 hotspots in the country if interventions failed to contain the pandemic in those areas after June 1.

Hotspots are areas that have more than five infected people per 100,000 population, or areas where the infections are increasing at a fast pace.

Senegal

Senegalese Ministry of Health and Social Action reported on Thursday 95 new confirmed cases of COVID-19, bringing the total number of cases registered in the country to 3,348.

During the daily briefing, the Director General of Public Health Dr. Marie-Khemess Ngom Ndiaye, informed that out of 991 tests conducted in the past 24 hours, 95 returned positive, including 86 follow-up contact cases and nine community transmission ones.

A record 100 patients have been cured, bringing the total recovered cases to 1,686 since the outbreak of the pandemic on March 2 in the country, she said.

The number of patients under intensive care dropped from 20 to 19, while the number of deaths rose to 39.

Ethiopia

Ethiopia's confirmed COVID-19 cases reached 831 after 100 more cases were confirmed, the Ethiopian Ministry of Health said in a statement on Thursday.

This is so far the highest daily increase in the Horn of Africa country.

The Ethiopian Ministry of Health, in a statement issued on Thursday, revealed that from the total of 4,950 medical tests that were conducted in the last 24 hours, 100 of them tested positive for COVID-19, eventually bringing the total number of cases to 831.

The statement further said all but two of the 100 new COVID-19 cases are Ethiopian nationals, 53 males and 47 females, with their age ranging from three to 70 years old.

The ministry also said that 191 patients who tested positive for COVID-19 have so far recovered from the virus.

Namibia

Namibia has put the coastal town of Walvis Bay under complete lockdown after recording two positive cases of COVID-19 after 45 days of zero new infections, President Hage Geingob said on Thursday.

Speaking at a media briefing, Geingob said at midnight on June 1, all 14 regions, with the exception of Walvis Bay, will transit from stage 2 to more moderate precautions under stage 3, until June 29, for a period of 28 days or two incubation periods.

South Sudan

South Sudan's Ministry of Health on Wednesday confirmed 188 new COVID-19 cases, bringing the total number of infections in the country to 994.

Makur Matur Koriom, the undersecretary in the ministry, confirmed two more patients succumbed to the disease, bringing the number of fatalities to 10.

The official said that the country has so far recorded six recoveries.

Spain

Spain has registered 27,118 deaths from the coronavirus, the health ministry said on Wednesday, just one more than the previous day, but countrywide mortality data suggest the actual toll could be much higher.

The ministry said 39 deaths were reported over the last seven days, while a total of 236,769 cases have been detected since the beginning of the outbreak.

But a project by the National Epidemiology Centre, which compares deaths recorded across the country's civil registries with historical averages, suggests 55 percent more people died than expected between March 13 and May 22, equivalent to more than 43,000 extra deaths.

"Clearly some of the excess can be attributed to coronavirus but establishing cause of death is very complicated, especially in people with underlying health conditions," Dr Joan Ramon Villalbi, a board member of the Spanish Society for Public Health and Sanitary Administration, told Reuters.

Switzerland

Swiss politicians have decided that sex workers can soon get back to business while sports and activities involving close physical contact such as judo, boxing, wrestling and dancing will remain prohibited.

Prostitution is legal in Switzerland and can resume from June 6, along with cinemas, nightclubs and public pools, the government announced this week. Yet sports and activities that involve “close and constant” physical contact remain forbidden in an effort to stop the spread of the coronavirus.

US

The number of COVID-19 deaths in the United States topped 100,000 on Wednesday, reaching 100,047 as of 5:32 pm (2132 GMT), according to the Center for Systems Science and Engineering (CSSE) at Johns Hopkins University.

The milestone comes 126 days since the first case and 87 days since the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention announced the country’s first fatality, on Feb 29 in Washington state.

Nearly 1.7 million cases have been reported in the country as of Wednesday afternoon, according to the CSSE data. New York, the country's worst-hit state, reported 364,965 cases with 29,370 deaths. New Jersey, Massachusetts, Michigan, Pennsylvania and Illinois each reported over 5,000 deaths.

With all 50 states having partially reopened their economies, a key coronavirus model from the Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation forecast that more than 140,000 people in the country would die by Aug 4.

The District of Columbia will lift its stay-at-home order Friday, making the nation’s capital one of the last areas in the US to start reopening. Prohibitions on groups of 10 or more and other restrictions will remain in place, said Mayor Muriel Bowser.

The White House's top coronavirus adviser Anthony Fauci told CNN that the US "might have a vaccine that will be deployable by the end of the year, by December or November".

A second wave of the COVID-19 outbreak in the United States "could happen" but is "not inevitable," Fauci also said, adding that the US can prevent another wave of the disease as long as states reopen "correctly".

Zimbabwe

Zimbabwe's capital Harare is leading in the number of COVID-19 positive cases with 59 confirmed infections, followed by Masvingo province with 25.

Matabeleland South province ranks third in the tally with 16 cases while the city of Bulawayo ranks fourth with 15.

So far, returning residents have been the major source of new cases, with 75 out of 76 samples that were tested between May 23-25 being returnees from South Africa and Botswana.

Newly reported cases spiked from 56 to 132 on Wednesday, with most of them detected in quarantine centers, raising fears of possible internal infections there.

More than 120 people have escaped from quarantine facilities throughout the country in recent days despite warnings from the police that it is a crime to do so.

Only two of the country's 10 administrative provinces - Manicaland and Mashonaland Central - have yet to record any COVID-19 cases.

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