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Thursday, June 11, 2020, 23:01
EU to draw up safe countries list as borders open to travelers
By Agencies
Thursday, June 11, 2020, 23:01 By Agencies

People visit the Galerie des Glaces (Hall of Mirrors) in the French landmark Chateau de Versailles (Palace of Versailles) near Paris, for its reopening day on June 6, 2020 after weeks of closure following the lockdown measures taken in France to curb the spread of the COVID-19 disease caused by the novel coronavirus. (ANNE-CHRISTINE POUJOULAT / AFP)

MEXICO CITY / GENEVA / SAO PAULO / WASHINGTON / PARIS / ROME / LONDON / COPENHAGEN / MADRID / CAIRO / HAVANA / NEW YORK / RUSSIA / SOFIA / BRUSSELS - The European Union (EU) should gradually reopen its borders to non-EU travellers from July and draw up a list of countries outside the bloc for which restrictions can be removed, the European Commission said on Thursday.

The EU executive said the list of countries with access should be based on three criteria: countries should have COVID-19 under at least as much control as the EU average, have containment measures during travel and also be willing to let in EU visitors.

EU Home Affairs Commissioner Ylva Johansson said decisions on borders were for individual countries to take but she hoped the Commission could help ensure a coordinated approach, something she believed member states themselves also wanted.

The Commission proposed allowing entry from the outset for travellers from the western Balkans countries of Albania, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Kosovo, Montenegro, North Macedonia and Serbia.

COVID-19 in Africa

The coronavirus pandemic is "accelerating" in Africa, spreading from capital cities where it arrived with travellers, but it does not appear that severe cases and deaths are being missed, the World Health Organization (WHO) said on Thursday.

A COVID-19 response team inspects a lab in Harare, Zimbabwe, June 10, 2020. (TSVANGIRAYI MUKWAZHI / AP)

Ten countries are driving Africa's epidemic, accounting for 75 percent of the some 200,000 cases on the continent which has 5,000 deaths, Matshidiso Moeti, WHO's Africa regional director, said at a Geneva briefing. South Africa accounts for a quarter of cases.

"We believe that large numbers of severe cases and deaths are not being missed in Africa," she said. "One of the biggest challenges in Africa continues be availability of supplies, particularly test kits."

Africa will have a "steady increase" in COVID-19 cases until a vaccine is developed and strong public health measures are needed in current "hotspots" in South Africa, Algeria and Cameroon, Moeti said.

Asymptomatic transmission

WHO Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus on Wednesday said that more research needs to be done to better understand the extent to which COVID-19 is being spread by asymptomatic people.

"That research is ongoing, and we're seeing more and more research being done," Tedros said at a virtual press conference from Geneva. "WHO's advice will continue to evolve as new information becomes available."

ALSO READ: WHO now says role of silent virus spreaders remains unclear

Tedros stressed that the most critical way to stop transmission is to find, isolate and test people with symptoms, and trace and quarantine their contacts.

Meanwhile, Michael Ryan, executive director of WHO Health Emergencies Program, said Wednesday that the COVID-19 pandemic is still evolving.

"We have deep concerns that health systems of some countries are struggling, under a huge strain and require our support, our help and our solidarity."

In Europe, the risk issue now are about travels and the opening of the schools, around risk management, mass gathering, surveillance and contact tracing, said Ryan.

READ MORE: EU plans 'gradual and partial' easing of travel ban from July 1

With regards to Africa, Ryan warned that while the death rates have been very low in the past week, the health systems could be overwhelmed as they would have to cope with other diseases such as malaria.  

An employee of the San Isidro Pantheon sanitizes his co-worker's shoes after transporting a corpse of a suspected COVID-19 victim in Azcapotzalco, Mexico City, on June 10, 2020. (ALFREDO ESTRELLA / AFP)

LatAm hits 70,000 deaths

Latin America's coronavirus crisis reached a grim new milestone on Wednesday with total deaths exceeding 70,000, according to a Reuters count, as Mexico hit a daily record for confirmed infections.

Latin American fatalities attributed to COVID-19 stand at 70,972, while total infections are at 1.45 million.

Brazil, with the largest economy in the region, remains Latin America's most affected country as total fatalities are just shy of 40,000, the world's third highest death toll after the United States and Britain.

In the region's second biggest country Mexico, a new daily record of 4,883 confirmed cases was reported by the health ministry, along with 708 additional fatalities. The daily totals bring Mexico's overall official tally to 129,184 infections and the death toll to 15,357.

The WHO has determined that Latin America is the new hotspot for the pandemic. The outbreak has spread rapidly in Peru, Chile and Columbia.

Global tally

Global confirmed COVID-19 cases on Thursday surpassed 7.36 million and the global death toll topped 416,000, according to data compiled by the Center for Systems Science and Engineering (CSSE) at Johns Hopkins University.

The United States is the hardest-hit country, with over 2 million cases and more than 112,000 deaths.   

Countries with over 200,000 cases also include Brazil, Russia, Britain, India, Spain, Italy and Peru. 

The number of confirmed cases across the African continent surpassed 196,524 while the death toll rose to 5,341 as of Wednesday, the Africa Center for Disease Control and Prevention (Africa CDC) said.

Brazil

Brazil's most populous state Sao Paulo reported a record number of COVID-19 deaths for the second day running on Wednesday even as its homonymous metropolis allowed shops to resume business and prepared to reopen its malls.

The state, the epicenter of the pandemic in Brazil, recorded 340 deaths in the last 24 hours, raising its death toll to 9,862, a fourth of the country's total fatalities, the governor's office said.

That did not stop shoppers flocking to the 25 de Março shopping district in Sao Paulo city, where around half of the businesses were open on Wednesday. 

The city's malls will reopen on Thursday for four hours a day after agreeing with authorities on reducing public access as a precaution against the contagion.

In Rio de Janeiro, the second hardest hit Brazilian city, the mayor announced malls will also reopen on Thursday as part of a scheduled easing of restrictions.

Brazil has 772,416 confirmed cases and at least 39,680 deaths from COVID-19.

READ MORE: More confusion as Brazil issues contradictory data sets

Bulgaria

The number of confirmed COVID-19 cases in Bulgaria has reached 2,993, official figures showed on Thursday.

A total of 104 new COVID-19 cases were confirmed across the country in the last 24 hours, said the country's health ministry, compared to the 79 new cases on Wednesday and 83 on Tuesday.

According to the ministry, the number of recoveries rose to 1,664 after 41 more patients were discharged in the last 24 hours.

The death toll remained at 167 as no additional fatalities were reported, according to the ministry. 

Cuba

Cuba will test all visitors for coronavirus when it reopens to international tourism, which will be limited at first to the beach resorts at the keys of the Caribbean's largest island, Prime Minister Manuel Marrero Cruz said on Wednesday.

Unveiling cautious plans for lifting Cuba's partial lockdown, Marrero Cruz said specialists would conduct epidemiological monitoring at hotels, where occupation would be limited. Excursions would be restricted to the keys.

Visitors would not be able to visit Havana, the center of Cuba's outbreak, at first. The prime minister said Cuba would open first to domestic tourism and further details would be announced soon.

New cases have dropped to less than 10 per day on average from a peak of around 50, and two thirds of the island is virus-free, according to official data.

Marrero Cruz said public pools would reopen for summer at 30 percent capacity. Beaches will also reopen, with local authorities ensuring social distancing, but summer carnivals will not take place this year. Schools will reopen in September to finish the current year with the new one starting in November, while public and private transport will be restored gradually, he said.

Face masks will remain obligatory in all public spaces in a first phase, and then in spaces with a concentration of people.

Cyprus

Cyprus' Health Ministry has expanded the list of countries where travelers are allowed to enter the eastern Mediterranean island.

"Category A" has been expanded to include 18 countries, namely: Austria, Bulgaria, Croatia, the Czech Republic, Denmark, Estonia, Finland, Germany, Greece, Hungary, Latvia, Lithuania, Luxembourg, Malta, Norway, Slovakia, Slovenia and Switzerland. Travelers arriving in Cyprus before June 20 from these countries must present a health certificate. After June 20, they will be allowed to enter the country without restrictions.

For travelers in "Category B" countries - Israel, Poland and Romania - they will be required to present a negative COVID-19 certificate upon arrival.

Travelers from countries in "Category C" - Belgium, Ireland, Italy, France, Portugal, Spain, Sweden, the Netherlands and the United Kingdom - are still allowed to enter Cyprus. 

Denmark

Denmark will intensify efforts to contact close associates of those who tested positive for COVID-19 with a new contact tracking unit, said the Danish Patient Safety Agency in a press release on Wednesday.

Instead of waiting to be contacted, authorities will reach out to anyone who has tested positive to locate and contact those who have had contact with the infected patient, according to the press release.

Meanwhile, the Danish government has decided to reopen its border from June 15 for residents of German northernmost state Schleswig-Holstein without restrictions, announced Minister of Justice Nick Haekkerup on Wednesday evening.

Also from June 15, visits from lovers, grandparents, children, and for finances, business, and job interviews from other EU and Schengen countries, as well as the United Kingdom, will be allowed. People residing in the EU and the UK who own holiday houses in Denmark, or who can document that they are only being in transit in Denmark for vacation or tourism outside Denmark, will also be allowed to travel in the country.

The number of confirmed COVID-19 cases in Denmark stood at 12,016, with 593 deaths, according to the latest count released by the Danish Statens Serum Institut on Wednesday.  

Djibouti

Djibouti's Ministry of Health on Wednesday announced 42 new COVID-19 cases, bringing the tally to 4,373 as of Wednesday afternoon.

Some 2,260 people have recovered as of Wednesday afternoon, the ministry said in a statement.

The ministry had previously reported 34 deaths related to COVID-19 .

Egypt

Egypt reported on Wednesday 1,455 new COVID-19 cases, bringing the tally to 38,284, said the Health Ministry.

Another 36 deaths were reported, raising the death toll to 1,342, Khaled Megahed, the ministry's spokesperson, said in a statement.

As many as 503 patients were completely cured and discharged from hospitals, increasing the total recoveries to 10,289, according to the statement.

The capital Cairo and the nearby provinces of Giza and Qalioubiya have reported the highest number of COVID-19 infections in Egypt, while the provinces of the Red Sea, Matrouh and South Sinai see the lowest number of infections, according to the statement.

Ethiopia

Ethiopia's confirmed COVID-19 cases climbed to 2,506 after 170 new cases were confirmed on Wednesday, the Ministry of Health said.

The ministry said 22 more patients have recovered in the past 24 hours, bringing the number of recoveries to 401.

The ministry also said that three more deaths were reported, raising the death toll to 35.

Finland

Finland is eliminating border controls and quarantine requirements with Baltic and Nordic countries excluding Sweden starting June 15, Interior Minister Maria Ohisalo said. 

Necessary travel, such as for work, is allowed from the EU’s Schengen area. The Russian border remains mostly shut until at least July 14.

A waiter wearing a face mask walks past patrons dining at an outdoor area of a cafe in Paris, France, June 2, 2020. (GAO JING / XINHUA)

France

France should speed up its gradual return to work and business activity, French Finance Minister Bruno Le Maire said on Thursday as new data showed the economy lost half a million jobs in the first quarter alone.

President Emmanuel Macron's government put France under one of Europe's most stringent lockdowns from mid-March, and only began lifting restrictions on May 11. Macron is due to address the nation in a televised speech on June 14.

France's daily toll from COVID-19 on Wednesday was only one-third of the tally the day before but the total of new confirmed infections rose again, one month out of a strict lockdown.

The health ministry said the death toll was up by only 23 to 29,319, the fifth-highest total in the world. On Tuesday, 87 COVID-19 deaths were reported.

But the number of new confirmed cases was 545; that figure had stayed below the 500 threshold during the previous three days. Over the last 15 days France has reported a daily average of 639 new confirmed cases.

The number of people being treated in hospital for COVID-19 continued its weeks-long decline, falling by 283 to 11,678 on Wednesday, while the number of people in intensive care fell by 22 to 933.

Both numbers are important measures of a health system's ability to deal with the pandemic.

Germany

Germany recorded the fewest new coronavirus cases since the end of February and the infection rate fell back below the key threshold of 1.0.

There were 16 new cases in the 24 hours through Thursday morning, bringing the total to 186,522 according to data from Johns Hopkins University. Fatalities rose by 16 to a total of 8,752. 

The reproduction factor of the virus, known as R-naught, was at 0.86 on Wednesday, compared with 1.10 the day before, according to a daily report by the Robert Koch Institute (RKI).

According to data from RKI on Thursday, the number of confirmed cases rose by 555 to 185,416 while the death toll increased by 26 to 8,755.

Ghana

Ghana has confirmed 157 new coronavirus cases, taking its tally to 10,358 as of Thursday morning, data from the Ghana Health Service said.

The number of recovered cases increased to 3,824 with 69 more recoveries recorded, while the number of COVID-19 related deaths remained at 48.

Guinea-Bissau

Guinea-Bissau President Umaro Sissoco Embalo announced on Wednesday the state of emergency will be extended again for 15 days nationwide until June 25.

In his message to the country, President Embalo said that "in the past 15 days, the country has experienced the first phase of ... the gradual opening of some economic activities," adding that there were "progress and improvement in general in the face of the COVID-19 pandemic, our invisible enemy."

"However, it must be recognized that the situation is still worrying, which is why, in consultation with members of the government and the High Commission, after an in-depth analysis of the situation of COVID-19 in the country, we have decided to extend the state of emergency for 15 days," President Embalo said.

Since March 25, Guinea-Bissau has reported 1,389 confirmed cases, including 153 recoveries and 12 deaths.

Italy

Italian Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte said he will be questioned by prosecutors on Friday over the way the coronavirus outbreak was handled in the northern Italian city of Bergamo, one of the areas most badly affected by the epidemic.

"I am not at all worried," Conte told reporters outside the prime minister's office in Rome, adding that he was not under investigation himself.

The prosecutors are looking into why badly hit areas around Bergamo were not closed down early in the outbreak, and have already questioned the regional governor of Lombardy, which includes Bergamo, and Lombardy's health chief.

Deaths from the COVID-19 epidemic in Italy climbed by 71 to 34,114 on Wednesday, against 79 the day before, the Civil Protection Agency said, the fourth highest in the world after those of the United States, Britain and Brazil.

The number of confirmed cases rose by 202 to 235,763, the seventh highest global tally behind those of the United States, Russia, Brazil, Spain, Britain and India.

People registered as currently carrying the illness fell to 31,710 from 32,872 the day before.

Kenya

Kenya's Ministry of Health on Wednesday confirmed 105 new COVID-19 cases, bringing the tally to 3,094.

Rashid Aman, the ministry's chief administrative secretary, said one death was reported in the last 24 hours, bringing the death toll to 89.

Another 175 patients were discharged from health facilities, raising the total number of recoveries to 1,048, according to Aman.

Meanwhile, Aman launched a home-based isolation and care guidelines for COVID-19 patients, noting that the protocol was developed to provide a solution in the management of the increasing numbers and the anticipated surge in the COVID-19 cases.

Separately on Wednesday, President Uhuru Kenyatta held a day-long meeting with county governments and agreed on a raft of COVID-19 response measures, including increasing the capacity of isolation beds to 30,500 within one month, to be put in place ahead of the gradual re-opening of the economy.

Lithuania

Lithuania will lift the nationwide quarantine as of 24:00 on June 16, but the state of emergency will remain in force to curb the spread of COVID-19, the government decided on Wednesday.

From June 17 to June 30, outdoor events can be held with no more than 700 participants and indoor activities are not allowed to have more than 150 participants, according to a press release from the government.

From July 1 to July 16, up to 1,000 participants will be able to attend events held in open spaces and up to 200 participants in closed spaces.

Temporary internal border controls have been extended from June 17 to July 16, with checks on people entering Lithuania to be carried out at the internal border of the EU. Residents of the European Economic Area, Switzerland, Britain will be admitted entry to Lithuania if the COVID-19 infection rates in those countries did not exceed 25 cases per 100,000 inhabitants in the last 14 calendar days.   

According to the Ministry of Health, Lithuania has reported 1,733 confirmed cases by Wednesday morning, including 74 deaths and 1,369 recoveries.

Morocco

The Moroccan government announced on Wednesday that it will start easing restrictions imposed to curb COVID-19 in some regions from Thursday, but will not fully lift the state of emergency until July 10.

The government has divided the prefectures or provinces of Morocco into two zones according to the criteria set out by the health authorities, Prime Minister Saad Eddine El Othmani said during a parliamentary hearing session.

"In the first zone, lockdown measures will be greatly alleviated, while in the second zone, measures will ease up at a relatively slower pace," El Othmani said.

In the first zone, the relaxation of measures will include resumption of urban public transport, freedom of movement within a certain distance of homes, and reopening of hairdressing salons and public gardens.

Morocco confirmed 71 new COVID-19 cases on Wednesday, bringing the tally to 8,508.

A worker holds a pair of scissors while installing a makeshift safety screen inside a taxi to safely separate drivers from their customers, in Lima, Peru, June 10, 2020. (MARTIN MEJIA / AP)

Peru

Peru reported 5,087 new COVID-19 cases in the past 24 hours, taking the national tally to 208,823, the Health Ministry said on Wednesday.

The death toll climbed by 5,738 to 5,903.

According to Peruvian authorities, 9,916 COVID-19 patients are in hospital, including 1,065 in intensive care units and on ventilators, while another 98,031 patients have recovered.

Currently, Peru has the eighth largest caseload in the world. In Latin America, it has the second highest number of confirmed cases following Brazil.

Poland

Poland will reopen its borders to other EU countries on June 13, Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki announced on Wednesday.

International flights, which have been ceased apart from repatriation charter flights, will resume three days later, according to Morawiecki.

The Ministry of Health said on Wednesday morning that the number of confirmed coronavirus infections in Poland had reached 27,668. 

Russia

Russia on Thursday rolled out a drug approved to treat patients suffering from the coronavirus, its state financial backer said, as the number of infections in the country surpassed half a million.

The first deliveries of the new antiviral drug, registered under the name Avifavir, were made to some hospitals and clinics across the country, Russia's RDIF sovereign wealth fund said in a press release. RDIF has funded trials and has a 50 percent share in the drug's manufacturer ChemRar.

Negotiations were underway to supply the drug to almost all of Russia's regions, with seven of its more than 80 regions receiving Thursday's initial deliveries, RDIF chief Kirill Dmitriev said.

Russia recorded 8,779 cases in the past 24 hours, taking the nationwide tally to 502,436, the country's coronavirus response center said in a statement Thursday. The death toll rose by 174 to 6,532.

The Kremlin denied on Thursday there was anything untoward with Russia's official coronavirus death data after the WHO said this week that Russia's low death rate was "difficult to understand".

Asked if the Kremlin thought the data was strange, spokesman Dmitry Peskov said "no", but that Russia's consumer health regulator would be ready to explain the data to the WHO.

Somalia

Somalia's Health Ministry on Wednesday confirmed 36 new COVID-19 cases, bringing the total number of infections to 2,452.

Health Minister Fawziya Abikar said 17 more patients have recovered in the last 24 hours, bringing the total number of recoveries to 506.

No deaths were reported in that period, the minister said. The death toll remained at 85.

Spain

The Spanish Ministry of Health, Consumer Affairs and Social Welfare reported no additional deaths from COVID-19 for a third straight day Wednesday, while the number of new cases continued to edge up.

The ministry registered 167 new cases on Wednesday, raising the tally to 242,280. The death toll remained at 27,136.

Meanwhile, Belgium's Prince Joachim 10,400 euros (US$11,800) has been fined for breaking quarantine rules last month during a trip to the southern Spanish region of Andalusia, where he tested positive for the coronavirus, a Spanish government official said on Wednesday.

He has been penalized for failing to quarantine himself for 14 days on arrival, a requirement for anyone entering the country, the government official in Andalusia told Reuters. Prince Joachim admitted breaching quarantine rules, and has 15 days to respond to the fine, the official said.

Uganda

Uganda on Wednesday started a nationwide distribution of free face masks as the country strives to combat the spread of COVID-19 pandemic.

Over 30 million masks will be distributed countrywide, according to the Ministry of Health.

The move came after President Yoweri Museveni on Tuesday said that the wearing of face masks will be mandatory as the country eases lockdown restrictions.

Uganda has so far registered 665 COVID-19 cases, 119 recoveries and zero deaths, according to the health ministry.

UK

Britain published new guidance for airlines and airports on how to operate safely to minimize the risks from coronavirus, adding to hopes that the country will soon agree deals to allow quarantine-free travel.

Passengers and staff should wear face coverings in airports and on aircraft, while passengers should check in all luggage including hand bags and remain seated for as much of the flight as possible, said the Department for Transport on Thursday.

Since the outbreak of coronavirus, there has been minimal flying into and out of Britain. Airlines had been hoping for a recovery in July, but they say new UK rules requiring international arrivals to quarantine for 14-days have pushed this back.

Britain has said work is continuing on “air bridges” between countries with low infection rates, something which the industry says is vital to kickstart travel demand and avoid further job losses on top of the tens of thousands already announced.

The new aviation guidance shows the government is preparing for a restart.

READ MORE: Johnson under pressure as UK scientists speak out on failures

A COVID-19 screening site stands outside the VA Long Beach Healthcare System in Long Beach, California, June 10, 2020. (ASHLEY LANDIS / AP)

US

A second wave of cases in America is raising alarm after new infections pushed the overall count past 2 million.

The number of COVID-19 cases in the United States surpassed the 2 million mark Wednesday to reach 2,000,464 as of 11:33 pm local time (0333 GMT Thursday), according to the Center for Systems Science and Engineering (CSSE) at Johns Hopkins University, while the death toll from the disease rose to 112,924.

New York state remains the hardest-hit with 380,156 cases and 30,542 fatalities. Other states with over 100,000 cases include New Jersey, California, Illinois, and Massachusetts, the CSSE data showed.

Vice-President Mike Pence said on Wednesday there has been no sign yet of an increase in coronavirus cases from two weeks of nationwide protests over police misconduct and racism.

Los Angeles County officials said that movie and TV production can resume on Friday, but movie theaters must remain closed because of the coronavirus epidemic.

Meanwhile, the US government will fund and conduct key studies on three experimental coronavirus vaccines, US top infectious disease expert Anthony Fauci told CNN. Phase 3 trials, which typically involve tens of thousands of people and measure whether a vaccine is safe and effective, will begin with one by Moderna in July, then an Oxford/AstraZeneca vaccine in August and one by Johnson & Johnson in September, according to CNN.

ALSO READ: US digesting magnitude of virus deaths

Separately, the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has issued an emergency use authorization to American company Illumina, Inc., for the first COVID-19 diagnostic test, the Illumina COVIDSeq Test, to utilize next generation sequence technology, according to a FDA release on Wednesday. Using next generation sequencing means that the test can generate information about the genomic sequence of the virus present in a sample, which can be also used for research purposes, according to the FDA.

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