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Thursday, August 13, 2020, 22:55
Italian PM probed over virus, prosecutors urge case be dropped
By Agencies
Thursday, August 13, 2020, 22:55 By Agencies

Italian Premier Giuseppe Conte gives a press conference on measures to relaunch the economy following the coronavirus outbreak, at Palazzo Chigi premier's office, in Rome, July 7, 2020. (ROBERTO MONALDO / LAPRESSE VIA AP)

ROME / CAPE TOWN / MEXICO CITY / LONDON / LIMA / SAO PAULO / ATHENS / MADRID / PARIS / BERLIN - Prosecutors have investigated Italian Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte and six members of his government over how they handled the coronavirus crisis, but have recommended the case be dropped, Conte’s office said on Thursday.

Judicial sources confirmed the prosecutors had investigated the ministers following lawsuits filed in recent months in various cities on accusations including manslaughter, creating a pandemic and curbing Italians’ political rights.

The Rome-based prosecutors concluded that the accusations were groundless and the case should be dropped, the premier’s office said in a statement.

Under a standard procedure, the prosecutors sent the files to the Ministers Tribunal, a special court which is called to rule on cases involving the prime minister and other ministers and which could still order Conte and his ministers to face trial. However this is considered unlikely following the prosecutors’ recommendation.

The ministers involved along with Conte are Health Minister Roberto Speranza, Economy Minister Roberto Gualtieri, Interior Minister Luciana Lamorgese, Foreign Minister Luigi Di Maio, Defence Minister Lorenzo Guerini and Justice Minister Alfonso Bonafede.

Italy was the first European country to be hit hard by the coronavirus and has recorded more than 35,000 deaths since its outbreak came to light on Feb 21.

A teacher offers hand sanitizer to a student before she enters a building at Bowie Middle School in Odessa, Texas, Aug 12, 2020. (BEN POWELL / ODESSA AMERICAN VIA AP)

US

The US state of Louisiana is tracking seven outbreaks tied to schools and colleges, sounding an alarm over the risks of hasty school resumption.

Figures from the Louisiana Department of Health showed that four outbreaks were linked to colleges and three tied to primary and secondary schools. Data shows that 151 cases are connected to those college outbreaks, and 17 cases are being attributed to outbreaks at primary and secondary schools.

Figures from the Louisiana Department of Health showed that four outbreaks were linked to colleges and three tied to primary and secondary schools

The news came on the same day US President Donald Trump released eight recommendations for reopening US schools amid the pandemic, including that masks be used when social distancing is not possible.

Trump said at a White House press briefing that the federal government would provide 125 million reusable masks to school districts around the country.

ALSO READ: Spike in coronavirus cases in US clouds return to classes

The recommendations came as US' coronavirus tally neared 5.2 million, with more than 166,000 deaths.

According to a new report by the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) and the Children's Hospital Association (CHA), 179,990 new cases involving children were reported from July 9 to Aug 6, a 90-percent increase in child cases over four weeks.

Separately, at least 922 healthcare workers in the United States have died of COVID-19, a recent report published by Lost on the Frontline, a joint project between US nonprofit Kaiser Health News and UK newspaper the Guardian, has found.

Meanwhile in Florida, the Department of Health warned that a dump of months-old COVID-19 data had severely skewed the latest daily report, making it appear worse than it was.

Global tally

Coronavirus cases worldwide surpassed 20.6 million while the global death toll neared 750,000, according to a tally by Johns Hopkins University.

The US is the worst-hit country with the most number of cases and fatalities, followed by Brazil.

Women wearing face shields and masks walk at a park in Buenos Aires, Argentina, on Aug 12, 2020 amid a lockdown which was imposed to curb the spread of the coronavirus. (NATACHA PISARENKO / AP)

Argentina

Argentina’s coronavirus fight is taking a turn for the worse as the nation that implemented one of Latin America’s strictest lockdowns sees deaths surge anyway.

South America’s second-largest economy reported 303 COVID-19 fatalities in the past 24 hours, a record that was double the prior day’s toll. It’s quickly climbing in the ranks among the deadliest outbreaks over the past week on a per capita basis. In the past seven days, Argentina reported 22.5 deaths per million people compared with 28.1 in Brazil and 23.4 in the US, the world’s biggest hot spots. Total deaths have now surpassed 5,000 since the pandemic began.

Argentina has one of the world’s longest and strictest nationwide lockdowns - now at 146 days. The government restricted movement so heavily that citizens can’t even cross provincial borders without facing scrutiny and possible fines

Worse still, concerns are mounting that real case and death tallies may actually be much higher.

The worsening outbreak stands at odds with a government that seemed to do everything right as soon as the pandemic started racing around the globe. Argentina has one of the world’s longest and strictest nationwide lockdowns - now at 146 days. The government restricted movement so heavily that citizens can’t even cross provincial borders, either by air or car, without facing scrutiny and possible fines.

The epicenter of the virus remains the province of Buenos Aires, which had 64 percent of all cases as of Wednesday. The capital city of Buenos Aires has 17 percent of nationwide cases.

ALSO READ: WHO: COVID-19 cases in Americas surpass 10 million

Meanwhile, President Alberto Fernandez spoke after a meeting with representatives of AstraZeneca and biotechnology company mAbxience of Grupo INSUD, according to a statement and said Argentina and Mexico could produce 150 million initial doses of “active substance in the potential COVID-19 vaccine” after the requisite trials. The goal is to produce vaccines for Argentina and other regional countries as of the first semester 2021.

Brazil

Brazil on Wednesday said 55,155 new COVID-19 cases and 1,175 additional deaths were reported in the previous 24 hours, bringing the tally to 3,164,785 and the death toll to 104,201.

The governor of Sao Paulo, Joao Doria, announced on Wednesday that he has tested positive for COVID-19.

Women wearing protective robes and face masks walk on a street in Sao Paulo, Brazil, Aug 12, 2020. (PHOTO / STR / XINHUA)

Also on Wednesday, a Brazil labor judge gave meat producer JBS SA 10 days to medically screen workers at its Garibaldi chicken plant and also pay for COVID-19 testing for every worker, according to a copy of the ruling seen by Reuters.

More than 900 people work at the plant in Rio Grande do Sul state, of which 230 have already tested positive for the novel coronavirus, prosecutors who sought the order said, citing data from local health services. Seven workers have been hospitalized and one died, the prosecutors told the court.

Meanwhile, Paraná’s Technology Institute, known as Tecpar, said it expects to produce a controversial coronavirus Russian vaccine by the second half of 2021, shortly after the state of Parana signed a memorandum of understanding with Moscow.

Chile

Chile will lift one of the world’s longest quarantines on Monday, moving the capital Santiago’s central business district and adjoining Central Station to a “transitional” stage under a “Step by Step” reopening.

People may leave their homes on weekdays without the previously required police permissions, and meet in small groups, while businesses can gradually reopen.

The center of Santiago has a large, multicultural and floating population and contains the presidential palace, government ministries, many businesses and transport hubs. It has been under strict lockdown for 143 days since March 26, shortly after Chile’s first coronavirus case was confirmed. 

Chile reported 1,540 new COVID-19 cases and 27 additional deaths on Wednesday, bringing the totals to 378,168 cases and 10,205 fatalities.

Ecuador

Ecuador on Wednesday reported 1,547 new cases of COVID-19 and 33 additional deaths in the past 24 hours, bringing the total caseload to 97,110 and the death toll to 5,984.

According to the Ministry of Public Health, another 3,545 deaths in the past five months were likely caused by COVID-19, but have not been verified.

Egypt

Egypt confirmed on Wednesday 129 new COVID-19 infections, bringing the tally to 95,963, said the Health Ministry.

Another 26 deaths were registered, raising the death toll to 5,085, while 1,013 more patients have recovered, taking the number of recoveries to 55,901, the ministry's spokesman Khaled Megahed said.

Ethiopia

Ethiopia's confirmed COVID-19 cases reached 25,118 after 943 new cases were confirmed on Wednesday, the Ministry of Health said.

It was the highest daily increase ever posted in the country.

The ministry said in a statement that 23 more deaths were recorded, raising the death toll to 463.

Another 338 patients had recovered, taking the total number of recoveries to 11,034, the ministry added.

Finland

Finnish authorities reported a “clear increase” in the number of confirmed COVID-19 cases. In the most recent monitoring period of Aug 3-9, a total of 139 new infections were recorded, an increase from 81 in the week before. 

Cases are rising especially in the Helsinki-region.

Finland has so far reported 7,642 confirmed cases and 333 deaths, according to a tally by Johns Hopkins University.

France

France reported 2,524 new coronavirus infections over the past 24 hours, a new post-lockdown daily record, but there was no strain on hospitals as the virus circulates mainly among younger people, the health minister said.

France’s cumulative total of cases now stands at 206,696.

Despite the spike in infections, the number of people in hospital with COVID-19 continued to fall and was down by 121 to 4,891, the first time it fell below 5,000 since March 19. 

The daily death toll increased by 18 to 30,371 on Wednesday.

Health Minister Olivier Veran said the government would do all it could to avoid a new lockdown, and that schools are scheduled to open normally in September, albeit with the virus protection procedures.

Georgia

Georgia confirmed five new COVID-19 cases on Thursday, bringing its tally to 1,283. 

As of Thursday, a total of 1,068 patients have recovered while 17 others have died, the National Center for Disease Control and Public Health (NCDC) said.

Parents wait with children on the schoolyard for the start of their first day of school in Gelsenkirchen, Germany, Aug 12, 2020. Students in North Rhine-Westphalia will have to wear face masks at all times due to the coronavirus pandemic. (MARTIN MEISSNER / AP)

Germany

German Health Minister Jens Spahn said on Thursday he expected there to be a COVID-19 vaccine in the coming months and definitely next year, speaking after the public health agency withdrew a report suggesting there would be one in autumn.

His forecast appeared to chime with a report that the Robert Koch Institute (RKI) issued on Wednesday and later withdrew, in which the public health agency said it expected a vaccine by the autumn. The institute later said the document was not up-to-date and had been published in error.

Speaking in an interview with ZDF Thursday, Spahn said,“My biggest concerns are people returning from trips abroad and that there are certain events such as celebrations and parties where infections can happen”.

“What’s important for me is that nurseries and schools can reopen as normal and that industry and trade can continue. That’s important to secure jobs.”

The number of confirmed coronavirus cases in Germany increased by 1,445 to 219,964, data from RKI showed on Thursday, while the reported death toll rose by 4 to 9,211.

According to data from Johns Hopkins University, there were 1,319 new cases, the highest daily increase in three months, bringing the tally to 220,859. Deaths rose by five to 9,213.

Germany’s reproduction factor - or R value - dropped to 0.88 on Wednesday, the RKI’s latest report showed.

Chancellor Angela Merkel is due to hold talks with regional education ministers later on Thursday as students return to school in some regions this week after the pandemic disrupted the summer vacation season. 

Greece

Greece reported 262 new cases of COVID-19 on Wednesday, its highest daily tally since the start of the coronavirus outbreak in the country.

The latest jump in cases brings the total number of infections in Greece to 6,177. There have been 216 deaths recorded.

Of the new cases, 85 were registered in the northern Greek city of Thessaloniki and 66 in the capital Athens.

Civil aviation authorities on Wednesday extended a ban to flights from Turkey until Aug 31 and restricted flights from Albania and North Macedonia to Athens airport only.

Italy

Italy ruled on Wednesday that people travelling from Croatia, Greece, Malta and Spain must be tested for the coronavirus on arrival, as new infections increase in the four countries which are popular holiday destinations for Italians.

Health Minister Roberto Speranza said on Facebook he had signed the new order, adding that anyone travelling from or through Colombia would not be allowed in Italy.

The country has recorded more than 35,000 deaths since its outbreak came to light on Feb 21. Some 481 new cases were registered in the country in the last 24 hours, bringing the overall number of cases to 251,713, according to the latest bulletin by the Health Ministry. 

Lithuania

The Lithuanian government has decided to extend the European Union's internal border control until Sept 14 due to the current COVID-19 pandemic, the Ministry of the Interior announced in a press release Wednesday.

"As before, border control will be carried out at the seaports and airports," Rita Tamasiuniene, Minister of the Interior, was quoted as saying in the release.

Foreign nationals arriving from the countries with an incidence rate above 16 cases per 100,000 inhabitants are subject to 14-day self-quarantine. 

According to the Ministry of Health, Lithuania had registered 2,309 COVID-19 cases by Wednesday morning, including 81 deaths and 1,683 recoveries.

Mexico

Mexico’s health ministry on Wednesday reported 5,858 newly confirmed cases of coronavirus infection and 737 additional fatalities, bringing the total in the country to 498,380 cases and 54,666 deaths.

The government has said the real number of infected people is likely significantly higher than the confirmed cases.

Earlier on Wednesday, Mexico’s President Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador said that the coronavirus pandemic is losing force in Mexico.

ALSO READ: Norway to quarantine more travelers as COVID-19 cases rise

Morocco

Morocco on Wednesday reported 1,499 new COVID-19 cases, raising the total number of infections in the country to 36,694.

Recoveries rose by 292 to 25,626 while the death toll climbed by 23 to 556, said Mouad Mrabet, coordinator of the Moroccan Center for Public Health Operations at the Ministry of Health.

Namibia

Namibia will impose a nationwide curfew for 16 days effective from Aug 12 midnight to Aug 28, in a bid to control the further spread of COVID-19, President Hage Geingob announced Wednesday.

The curfew will apply to the most affected local authority areas of Walvis Bay, Swakopmund, and Arandis, as well as Windhoek, Okahandja and Rehoboth. It will be imposed from 20:00 to 05:00 daily, according to Health Minister Kalumbi Shangula.

Later in the day, the national airline Air Namibia said the country will suspend all domestic flights for 18 days starting from Wednesday. In addition, the suspension of regional flights will be extended until Sept 20, and Frankfurt flights until Sept 30.

So far, Namibia has recorded a total number of 3,406 confirmed COVID-19 cases and 27 deaths.

Nigeria

Nigeria's Foreign Affairs Minister Geoffrey Onyeama on Wednesday confirmed he has recovered from COVID-19 following three weeks of isolation.

Onyeama, who tested positive for the novel coronavirus on July 19, said in a tweet that the latest test carried out on him turned out negative.

Nigeria has so far reported 47,743 confirmed cases and 956 deaths, according to a tally by Johns Hopkins University.

Commuters wearing face shields and masks wait for public buses in Comas, on the outskirts of Lima, Peru, Aug 12, 2020. (RODRIGO ABD / AP)

Peru

Peruvian President Martín Vizcarra on Wednesday banned family gatherings and extended lockdowns to five more regions of the country amid a fresh spike in cases of the novel coronavirus.

Fifteen of Peru’s 25 regions were already covered by rolling lockdowns. Vizcarra announced the return of a blanket Sunday curfew as figures revealed a 75 percent surge in infections among children and adolescents.

In recent days, the Andean country has registered a daily average of 7,000 confirmed infections and 200 deaths, according to official data.

There have been 489,680 confirmed cases while the death toll stood at 21,501 by Tuesday, the Ministry of Health said.

Romania

With a new daily high of 1,415 COVID-19 new cases, the total number of infections in Romania has reached 65,177, said the Strategic Communication Group (GCS), the country's official COVID-19 communication task force, on Wednesday.

Another 43 deaths were registerd in the past 24 hours, raising the death toll to 2,807, said the GCS.

The number of critically-ill patients reached 485, maintaining a trend of daily record highs of over 400 for two weeks.

Russia

Russia reported 5,057 new cases of the novel coronavirus on Thursday, bringing its nationwide tally to 907,758, the fourth largest caseload in the world.

The country's coronavirus taskforce said 124 people had died over the last 24 hours, pushing its official death toll to 15,384.

Russian Deputy Prime Minister Yury Trutnev has tested positive for COVID-19, TASS news agency reported on Wednesday, citing his assistant.

Trutnev's trip to the Far East as part of the visit of Russian Prime Minister Mikhail Mishustin has been postponed, according to the assistant.

Rwanda

The Rwandan Ministry of Health on Wednesday evening reported 18 new COVID-19 cases and 46 recoveries, bringing the total number of infections and recoveries to 2,189 and 1,524, respectively.

The ministry also reported one more death, taking the death toll to eight. 

South Africa

South Africa's COVID-19 recovery rate has reached 75.9 percent, with the number of recoveries currently standing at 432,029, Health Minister Zweli Mkhize said on Wednesday.

The minister said earlier in the day that with fewer and fewer daily confirmed cases reported, the country's COVID-19 infection rate appeared to be stable.

South Africa has so far recorded 568,919 confirmed cases as of Wednesday, the minister said in his daily update. There were 2,810 new cases reported in the past 24 hours, Mkhize said.

Another 259 deaths were also reported, taking the death toll to 11,010, he said.

Spain

Coronavirus cases in Spain jumped by nearly 1,700 on Wednesday, part of a surge that has prompted the construction of a military field hospital in the hard-hit Aragon region and led authorities in Galicia to practically ban smoking in public places.

Health ministry data showed 1,690 new cases were diagnosed in the past 24 hours, bringing the cumulative total to 329,784. The new daily number excluded Madrid, which did not provide fresh data due to technical difficulties.

TV footage showed air force personnel setting up dark green tents to serve as a field hospital in Zaragoza, Aragon’s regional capital in northeastern Spain. Set to open on Friday, the facility attached to Zaragoza’s University Clinic hospital will be used as a triage centre and temporary ward, the air force said in a statement.

Despite having some of the lowest levels of the virus, northwestern Galicia issued a blanket ban on smoking on the street and on restaurant terraces when social-distancing cannot be guaranteed.

Wealthy northeastern Catalonia is set to expand a mass-testing program in the coming days to include several neighbourhoods of its capital, Barcelona.

Tunisia

The Tunisian Ministry of Health reported on Wednesday 42 new cases of COVID-19, bringing the total number of confirmed cases in the country to 1,780.

A total of 1,278 patients have recovered in Tunisia while 52 deaths were reported, according to a statement by the ministry.

UK

Nearly 6 percent of people in England were likely infected with COVID-19 during the peak of the pandemic, researchers studying the prevalence of infections said on Thursday, millions more people than have tested positive for the disease.

A total of 313,798 people have tested positive for COVID-19 in Britain, 270,971 of which have been in England. However, a study which tested more than 100,000 people across England for antibodies to the coronavirus showed that nearly 6 percent of people had them, suggesting that 3.4 million people had previously contracted COVID-19 by the end of the June.

The results are consistent with other surveys, such as those conducted by the Office for National Statistics, which suggest higher levels of COVID-19 in the community during the pandemic than implied by daily testing statistics.

Separately on Wednesday, Britain’s official COVID-19 death toll was lowered by over 5,000 because the government adopted a new way of counting fatalities after concerns were raised that the old method overstated them.

From now on, the authorities will publish on a daily basis the number of deaths that occurred within 28 days of a positive COVID-19 test result, the Department of Health said.

Under the new method, Britain has an official COVID-19 death toll of 41,329 rather than the 46,706 recorded under the old system. The toll is still the highest in Europe, ahead of Italy on about 35,000.

The British government announced Thursday that it has launched a new COVID-19 test and trace App, with trials taking place in parts of the country.

The NHS (National Health Service) Test and Trace App will start its trials from Thursday with residents on the Isle of Wight and NHS Volunteer Responders across England, followed shortly by residents in the London borough of Newham, according to the government.

Venezuela 

Venezuelan Oil Minister Tareck El Aissami said on Wednesday he had recovered from the novel coronavirus, a month after he tested positive for COVID-19.

El Aissami, who is also the OPEC nation’s economic vice-president and was named to the position of oil minister earlier this year, said on Twitter he had received a negative result on a rapid test for the virus.

Venezuela, whose oil industry and economy have unraveled during Maduro’s six-year tenure, has reported 27,938 cases of the coronavirus and 238 deaths.

The Gambia 

The Gambia announced on Thursday a daily record of ten COVID-19 related deaths, along with 79 new confirmed cases, the Ministry of Health said in a report.

The death cases bring the total death toll from the disease in the West African country to 43, and the crude case-fatality ratio stands at 2.8 percent, the report said.

The ministry also revealed that 79 new cases were detected out of 184 tests performed, taking the total number of confirmed COVID-19 cases to 1,556 in the country.

Zimbabwe 

Zimbabwe recorded 18 COVID-19 deaths on Wednesday, marking the highest number of deaths from the disease in a single day so far, bringing the country's death toll to 122.

Sixteen of the deaths occurred in the capital Harare, the Ministry of Health and Child Care said in a statement Thursday morning.

The country's total cases of COVID-19 rose to 4,893 after 75 new cases were recorded, of which 74 of those are due to local transmission.

With 76 people recovering from the disease, the number of recoveries rose to 1,620, leaving active cases at 3,151.

Zimbabwe has been recording a high number of locally transmitted cases of COVID-19 over the past weeks, prompting the government to tighten lockdown measures, including imposing a dusk-to-dawn curfew.

 


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