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Wednesday, July 01, 2020, 22:40
Sweden launches commission to investigate coronavirus response
By Agencies
Wednesday, July 01, 2020, 22:40 By Agencies

A woman wears a face mask at a bus stop with an information sign asking people to keep social distance amid the COVID-19 pandemic, in Stockholm, Sweden, June 26, 2020. (STINA STJERNKVIST / TT NEWS AGENCY VIA AP)

WASHINGTON / RIO DE JANEIRO / MEXICO CITY / OTTAWA / CAIRO / HARARE / LONDON / ROME / BERLIN / MADRID / MOSCOW / ATHENS - Sweden’s government has initiated a commission to investigate its controversial approach to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Sweden has taken a different path compared to most European countries by keeping much of society open and by recommending social distancing and self-isolation rather than imposing a blanket lockdown. That strategy has resulted in a much higher death rate than in neighboring countries, according to Johns Hopkins University data.

The commission will evaluate the steps taken by the government and local authorities to limit the spread of the coronavirus, comparing them with what was done elsewhere. It is due to deliver its final report in February 2022. 

Two preliminary reports will be submitted prior to that. The first, due on November 30, will look into the spread of the virus in health care centers and retirement homes. As of June 24, 3,612 people aged 70 or more living in care homes or receiving home care had died from COVID-19, according to data from the National Board of Health and Welfare. That represents 79 percent of the total deaths recorded up to that date.

ALSO READ: Sweden revises COVID strategy after deaths of elderly spiral

Overall, Sweden has reported 68,451 confirmed cases and 5,333 deaths, according to a Johns Hopkins University tally.

Global tally

Global COVID-19 cases neared 10.5 million while the global death toll topped 511,000 on Wednesday, according to a tally by Johns Hopkins University.

The United States is the worst-hit country, with more than 2.6 million confirmed cases and over 127,000 deaths. 

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

Austria

New coronavirus infections in Austria have become “worrying,” with 107 people who testing positive in the last 24 hours, Health Minister Rudolf Anschober told journalists in Vienna. That’s the biggest one-day increase since April 17.

The biggest addition is attributable to a cluster around a Pentecostal evangelical church in Linz, an industrial town two hours west of Vienna, Anschober said. The province of Upper Austria is taking “rigorous” measures, he said, without elaborating.

Meanwhile, Austria has issued travel warnings for Western Balkan countries outside the European Union (EU) due to a rise in coronavirus infections there, Foreign Minister Alexander Schallenberg said on Wednesday.

The move by Austria, which has close ties to the region, is a particular blow for Serbia and Montenegro, which the EU on Tuesday added to its "safe list" of countries from which non-essential travel was allowed as of Wednesday.

READ MORE: EU excludes United States from 'safe' travel list

The Foreign Ministry said the travel warnings, which mean travelers from those countries are requested to go into 14 days' self-isolation or show a negative coronavirus test - also apply to Albania, Bosnia, Kosovo and North Macedonia.

Members of the Brazilian Armed Forces medical team take a COVID-19 test from a member of the indigenous Ye'Kuena ethnic group, at the 5th Special Frontier Platoon in Auari, Roraima state, Brazil, on June 30, 2020. (NELSON ALMEIDA / AFP)

Brazil

The Brazilian Health Ministry on Tuesday raised the national tally of COVID-19 cases to 1,402,041, including 59,594 deaths.

Over the last 24 hours, the country reported 33,846 new cases and 1,280 more deaths, according to the ministry.

The ministry said that so far, 790,040 patients have recovered from the disease in the country.

Brazil's military delivered protective supplies and medicines on Tuesday by helicopter to isolated Amazon indigenous communities bordering Venezuela and tested members for COVID-19.

None tested positive to the rapid finger-prick tests, but the coronavirus pandemic is threatening to decimate hundreds of Amazon tribes that have no immunity to external diseases and whose communal lifestyle rules out social distancing.

READ MORE: Virus fears grow for isolated indigenous people in Brazil's Amazon

Canada

Canada has extended the current ban on international travelers until July 31, according to the Canada Border Services Agency (CBSA) on Tuesday.

The ban, which also allows the immediate family members of Canadian citizens, diplomats and aircrews to come into Canada, was set to expire Tuesday night.

The ban exempts the United States, which entered into a separate agreement with Canada shortly after the halt on all other foreign travel. The agreement, which prohibits non-essential travel between Canada and the United States, remains in effect until July 21. Under the agreement, essential workers, such as truckers and health workers, are allowed to cross the border.

Chile

Chile on Tuesday raised the number of confirmed COVID-19 cases in the country to 279,393, with 5,688 deaths.

According to the Ministry of Health, 3,394 new cases and 113 more deaths were registered in the last 24 hours.

Minister of Health Enrique Paris said at a press conference that the country was beginning to see an improvement in the number of confirmed cases.

"We have 16 percent fewer new cases now compared to the last 14 days," the minister said.

Egypt

Egypt confirmed on Tuesday 1,557 new COVID-19 infections, bringing the total number of cases in the country to 68,311, said the Health Ministry.

Khaled Megahed, the ministry's spokesman, said that 81 more deaths were reported, raising the death toll to 2,953.

He added that 509 patients were completely cured and discharged from hospitals, taking the total recoveries to 18,460.

Germany

Germany has for now secured enough supplies of remdesivir, which is set to become the first COVID-19 treatment approved in Europe, and is banking on developer Gilead to meet future needs, the country's health ministry said on Wednesday.

READ MORE: Gilead prices remdesivir at US$2,340 per patient

Germany’s coronavirus infection rate remained below the key threshold of 1.0 for a seventh day, and the number of new cases held far below the level at the height of the outbreak.

The reproduction factor - or R value - edged up to 0.83 on Tuesday, from 0.74 the previous day, according to the latest estimate by the country’s health body, the Robert Koch Institute (RKI). 

There were 376 new cases in the 24 hours through Wednesday morning, up from 349 the previous day and bringing the total to 195,418, according to data from Johns Hopkins University. The death toll rose by 14 to 8,990.

According to data from RKI on Wednesday, the number of confirmed cases increased by 466 to 194,725 while the reported death toll rose by 12 to 8,985.

The Weissenfels municipality in the state of Saxony-Anhalt ordered 2,200 workers at a meat processing plant to undergo compulsory coronavirus tests Tuesday after a contract worker tested positive, MDR television reported.

Also on Tuesday, Bavaria announced that it has approved free COVID-19 tests for all citizens, the first state in Germany to do so.

Greece

Greece reopened its regional airports to international flights on Wednesday, pinning its hopes on a recovery in tourism after a three-month lockdown.

All travellers must fill in a passenger locator form at least 48 hours before entering the country. Random tests will be conducted upon arrival. 

Greece's two main airports opened last month but more flights were allowed from July 1, from non EU countries.

The country has managed to contain coronavirus infections to 3,409 since its first case in February.

Greece is following EU directives on who is allowed into the country. Direct flights from Britain, Sweden and Turkey will not be permitted until July 15.

Italy

A total of 142 new COVID-19 cases were reported in Italy over the past 24 hours, compared to 126 on Monday, the Ministry of Health said Tuesday in its daily report.

The new figure brought the total number of active cases to 15,563, down from 16,496 on Monday.

Another 23 deaths were also reported, bringing the overall death toll in the country to 34,767. Meanwhile, a total of 190,248 patients have recovered, up from 189,196 on Monday.

The overall number of COVID-19 cases, including infections, fatalities and recoveries, rose by 142 to 240,578 nationwide over the past 24 hours, the ministry said.

Latvia

Latvia further relaxed its COVID-19 restrictions Tuesday, lifting the requirement to wear face coverings on public transport and allowing public gatherings of up to 1,000 people starting July 1, the government said.

Rules for catering service providers were also eased as there will no longer be restrictions on the number of people allowed to sit at one table in cafes and restaurants.

The government also decided to allow outdoor gatherings of up to 3,000 people from Aug 1 on the condition that a space of at least four square meters is provided for each person.

Local outbreaks have not been recorded in Latvia for more than four weeks while 40 percent of the new infections confirmed over the past couple of weeks had been imported cases.

Latvia has so far reported 1,118 confirmed cases and 30 deaths.

Malta

Malta reopened its airport on Wednesday to allow visitors from several European countries, but the move will not include Britain, which accounts for 30 percent of the island's tourist arrivals. 

The reopened connections include cities in France, Germany, Spain and Italy.

"We hope to welcome 700,000 tourists by the end of the year," Tourism Minister Julia Farrugia Portelli said at a news conference on Tuesday.

Malta has had only two new COVID-19 cases in the last week, and health authorities said they are treating only 26 active cases. Nine people have died of the virus.

Mexico

Mexico's Health Ministry reported on Tuesday 5,432 new confirmed cases of coronavirus infections and 648 additional fatalities, bringing the total in the country to 226,089 cases and 27,769 deaths.

Morocco

A total of 243 new COVID-19 cases were confirmed in Morocco on Tuesday, bringing the tally in the country to 12,533.

The number of recoveries rose to 8,920 after the addition of 87 new recoveries, Hind Ezzine, head of the department of epidemic diseases of the Ministry of Health, said at a press briefing.

She said the death toll increased to 228 after three more fatalities were recorded in the last 24 hours.

Panama

Panama registered 765 new cases of coronavirus infection on Tuesday, taking the tally in the country to 33,550, while deaths climbed by 11 to 631 overall, the health ministry said in a statement.

Russia

Russia on Wednesday reported 6,556 new cases of the novel coronavirus, taking its nationwide tally to 654,405.

The country's coronavirus response centre said 216 people had died of the virus in the last 24 hours, bringing the official death toll to 9,536.

Slovakia

The number of new coronavirus infections in Slovakia jumped back up to 20 on Wednesday, the highest daily figure since a week ago and the second highest since late April.

Newly confirmed cases had dropped to single digits in late April and mostly stayed there until last week, when new reported infections rose to double-digits on four days, peaking at 23 on June 24 before dropping back to just two on Tuesday.

As of June 30, the country of 5.4 million had 1,687 cases and 28 deaths. The number of tests rose to 2,063 on Tuesday, the highest daily number since June 5.

South Africa

The number of confirmed COVID-19 cases in South Africa reached 151,209 after 6,945 new cases were reported in the past 24 hours, Health Minister Zweli Mkhize said on Tuesday.

Another 128 deaths had been recorded since Monday, bringing the death toll to 2,657, the minister said in his daily report.

Earlier in the day, the minister warned that another hard lockdown "may become necessary" to curb the pandemic. He voiced special concern over Gauteng province, which has seen rapid rises in both confirmed cases and related deaths in recent days.

As of Tuesday, Gauteng recorded 42,881 confirmed COVID-19 cases and 216 deaths, only second to the Western Cape, the epicenter of the outbreak, which reported 62,481 cases and 1,859 deaths. 

Spain

Spain and Portugal's prime ministers on Wednesday officially reopened their joint border to all travelers after a three-month closure to prevent the spread of coronavirus.

In the presence of Spain's King Felipe and Portugal's President Marcelo Rebelo de Sousa, Spanish Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez and his Portuguese counterpart Antonio Costa, solemnly opened the border. All other travel restrictions within the European Union were lifted last week.

Spain has so far reported 249,271 confirmed cases and 28,355 deaths, according to a Johns Hopkins University tally, while Portugal has so far reported 42,141 cases, with 1,576 deaths.

Switzerland

Individuals returning to Switzerland from regions deemed to be at high risk from the coronavirus will be quarantined, the government said on Wednesday, as the country tries to halt a recent upswing in the number of new cases of the disease.

The Federal Office of Public Health will maintain and update a list of countries from which travelers returning to Switzerland must self-isolate for 10 days beginning Monday, Health Minister Alain Berset told a news conference.

Berset cited Sweden as an example of a country which might currently fall on the list.

Cases of the coronavirus in Switzerland have risen rapidly since mid-June, hitting a two-month high of 137 new reported cases on Wednesday, up from an average 10-20 daily cases in late May according to public health office figures.

The government attributed the virus's recent rise partly to infected individuals entering the country since borders to neighboring countries opened last month.

It also said it expected to follow the European Commission's recommendation to lift restrictions on travel from 15 countries outside Europe's generally border-free Schengen zone, but would not lift the measures until July 20 -- compared to the Commission's July 1 proposal--and would exclude Serbia from that

list.

Mask-wearing requirement will also become compulsory for individuals traveling on public transport from Monday, with Health Minister Berset saying had Switzerland lagged its neighbors by not imposing such a requirement earlier.

The Swiss government also extended to 18 months from 12 the time it will compensate companies for putting staff on short working hours amid the coronavirus pandemic, it said on Wednesday.

It said it anticipates a budget deficit of around 1 billion Swiss francs (US$1.05 billion) next year, and said it would decide at year's end how to pay back billions of debt it has accumulated to provide relief for struggling business. It assumed it would not have to raise taxes to repay the debt in the medium term.

The Netherlands

Dutch sex workers welcomed customers back on Wednesday as the Netherlands further eased coronavirus measures, but they were advised to avoid heavy breathing and kissing to help reduce the risk of transmitting COVID-19.

Erotic dancers and prostitutes lost their main source of income for three-and-a-half months and generally did not have access to state support during lockdown.

They were surprised when the government brought forward the date they could reopen from a tentative Sept 1 to July 1.

As the number of new infections and COVID-19 deaths fell fast in recent weeks, the Netherlands lifted most lockdown measures. The country has recorded more than 50,000 infections and over 6,000 deaths since mid-March.

Tunisia

The Tunisian Ministry of Health reported on Tuesday two new COVID-19 cases, bringing the total number of infections in the country to 1,174.

A total of 1,031 patients have recovered in Tunisia while 50 deaths had been reported, the ministry said.

UK

The United Kingdom's death toll from confirmed cases of the novel coronavirus rose 176 on Wednesday to 43,906 from 43,730 the day before, government figures showed.

The number of confirmed cases rose to 312,654 as of Tuesday, the British Department of Health and Social Care said.

British Prime Minister Boris Johnson on Tuesday announced a 5-billion-pound (about US$6.2 billion) plan to fuel economic recovery in the wake of the coronavirus crisis. In a speech in Dudley, a city close to Birmingham in the West Midlands region, Johnson said the government "is wholly committed not just to defeating coronavirus, but to using this crisis finally to tackle this country's great unresolved challenges of the last three decades."

According to a statement from 10 Downing Street, the massive plan covers hospital maintenance, road network, school rebuilding and courts upgrades, through a bold program of "national renewal, uniting and levelling up the UK"

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

US

Coronavirus cases in the US on Tuesday increased by 48,096 to 2.61 million as compared with the same time yesterday, according to data collected by Johns Hopkins University and Bloomberg News, as the government's top infectious disease expert warned that number could soon double.

"Clearly we are not in total control right now," Dr. Anthony Fauci, head of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, told a US Senate committee. Fauci said the daily increase in new cases could reach 100,000 unless a nationwide push was made to tamp down the resurgent virus.

Fauci said there was no guarantee of a vaccine, although early data had been promising: "Hopefully there will be doses available by the beginning of next year," he said.

The number of COVID-19 cases in the United States topped 2.6 million on Tuesday, reaching 2,606,211 as of 12:33 pm (1633 GMT), while the death toll reached 126,360, according to the Center for Systems Science and Engineering (CSSE) at Johns Hopkins University. 

New York, New Jersey and Connecticut on Tuesday added travelers from California and seven other states to those who must self-quarantine for 14 days upon arrival. Texas and Florida were named last week.

Zimbabwe

Zimbabwe on Tuesday recorded 17 new COVID-19 cases, bringing the country's tally  to 591, said the Ministry of Health and Child Care.

The new cases include citizens returning from South Africa and Botswana, and three local infections, said the ministry, adding that the country has witnessed an increasing number of imported cases, which make up the majority of the country's infections.

Recoveries are also increasing, standing at 162 after 11 more patients recovered on Tuesday.

Zimbabwe recorded another COVID-19 death on Monday, raising the country's death toll to seven.

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