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Tuesday, August 25, 2020, 22:41
Spain ready to send in troops to tackle coronavirus resurgence
By Agencies
Tuesday, August 25, 2020, 22:41 By Agencies

People queue to be tested at a temporary testing centre for the novel coronavirus in the Spanish Basque city of Gernika, on August 25, 2020. (ANDER GILLENEA / AFP)

GENEVA / BOGOTA / RIO DE JANEIRO / PARIS / BUENOS AIRES / MEXICO CITY / MADRID / LONDON / MOSCOW / BERLIN / SOFIA - Spanish Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez said on Tuesday that troops would be made available to help regions to overcome a worrying resurgence of the coronavirus.

He also said regional administrations could make decisions themselves on how to handle the fight against the epidemic rather than have the central government take charge.

Spain’s cumulative tally of coronavirus cases - already Western Europe’s highest - hit 405,436 after a surge last week, which was the worst week for infections since the epidemic’s peak in late March, Health Ministry figures show

The government would support requests by regional leaders to declare localized states of emergency, Sanchez said.

“The pandemic data curve is worrying and has to be contained. We have to be calm and vigilant,” Sanchez said after the first cabinet meeting following the summer recess.

Spain’s cumulative tally of coronavirus cases - already Western Europe’s highest - hit 405,436 after a surge last week, which was the worst week for infections since the epidemic’s peak in late March, Health Ministry figures show.

Infections have risen sharply since Spain lifted a three-month state of emergency and lockdown in late June, but daily deaths have been much lower than in March-May. Spain’s total death toll stands at 28,872.

“Regions that do not have enough tracers can count on the support of our country’s armed forces,” Sanchez told a news conference, pledging an initial 2,000 troops would be made available.

“The army’s specific training in early detection and epidemiological tracking includes procedures for identifying risk factors and contact tracing,” he added.

Seeking to halt the resurgence, regional authorities have brought back some restrictions that were lifted along with the national lockdown.

But some regions, including hard-hit Madrid, have complained about a lack of legal measures or concerns about how to use those available.

Following concerns from parents and teachers over a lack of clarity on government and regional plans for the safe reopening of classrooms in about two weeks, Sanchez said:

“I guarantee to the fathers and mothers and teaching staff that educational centres will be safe from COVID, and that they will be much safer than many other environments where our young ones have been in the past few weeks.”

Both Madrid and Catalonia announced they would carry out mass testing of students and hire more staff to ensure smaller class sizes when the new term begins.

Cancer patients

Cancer patients are at high risk of severe disease if they contract COVID-19, and those with blood diseases are in the most danger, researchers said.

People with leukemia and other blood cancers who contract the coronavirus face as much as 57 percent higher odds of severe disease compared to those with breast cancer, according to a study published Monday in The Lancet Oncology journal.

The researchers studied data from from 60 centers in the UK Coronavirus Cancer Monitoring Project to develop an “encyclopedia” of which are most vulnerable to the disease, said Lennard Lee, a University of Oxford researcher who helped write the study.

The findings will help patients and their doctors make informed decisions about their risks and treatments, he said.

READ MORE: HK confirms first re-infection of coronavirus in IT worker

Global tally 

Coronavirus cases worldwide on Tuesday surpassed 23.6 million while the global death toll topped 813,000, according to the Center for Systems Science and Engineering (CSSE) at Johns Hopkins University.

ALSO READ: WHO: Virus slowing save in SE Asia, eastern Mediterranean

Africa tally

The Africa Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (Africa CDC) on Monday said some 32 African countries have so far reported less than 5,000 COVID-19 cases amid a spike in new cases in a few African countries.

Across the continent, a total of 1,187,937 confirmed cases and 27,779 deaths had been reported as of Monday, the Africa CDC said.

Three countries, namely Egypt, Nigeria and Morocco, have reported their infection tally in the range between 50,001 to 100,000, it said.

South Africa is the only African country that has reported more than 100,000 confirmed cases so far, with its tally at 609,773, according to the Africa CDC. The country also has the highest death toll at 13,059, it added.

People walk on the street in downtown Panama City on Aug 24, 2020, the first day of the relaxation of curfew and quarantine imposed by the Panamanian government to curb the spread of COVID-19. (ARNULFO FRANCO / AP)

WHO

Up to 172 countries have been engaging with the "largest and most diverse COVID-19 vaccine portfolio" coordinated by the World Health Organization (WHO), the UN health body's chief said on Monday.

The WHO chief said there are nine vaccines currently under this portfolio, adding that a further nine vaccines were under evaluation for the longer term

"At present, there are nine vaccines that are part of this dynamic portfolio," said WHO Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus at a virtual press briefing, referring to the COVAX Global Vaccines Facility.

He added that a further nine vaccines are currently under evaluation for the longer term.

COVAX is "a mechanism for joint procurement and pooling risk across multiple vaccines so that whatever vaccine is proven to be safe and effective, all countries within the facility will be able to access them," said Tedros.

He noted that global competition for vaccine doses could lead to prices spiking exponentially in comparison to COVAX.

The COVAX allocation framework aims at "ensuring that low-, middle- and high-income countries all receive the vaccine in a timely way as soon as there is supply of a safe and effective vaccine," said Tedros.

ALSO READ: WHO: Over US$100b needed to ensure access to vaccines

According to the WHO chief, it's important to provide the vaccine to those at highest risk, including health workers, people over 65 years old and those at higher risk of dying from COVID-19 due to certain diseases they already have.

"A number of vaccines are now in the final stage of clinical trials and we all hope we will have multiple successful candidates that are both safe and effective," Tedros said, adding that the goal of COVAX is to deliver at least two billion doses of vaccines by the end of 2021.  

Angola

Angola on Monday reported 51 new cases of COVID-19 and four related deaths, taking the tally to 2,222 and the death tally to 100, authorities said on Monday.

Secretary of State for Public Health Franco Mufinda said that one of the deaths was registered in central Benguela province, the first fataltiy seen in that region, while the other three deaths were posted in the capital Luanda.

Argentina

Argentina confirmed a record 8,713 new cases of coronavirus on Monday and 381 resulting deaths in just 24 hours, as the Latin American nation battles a surge of contagions.

The country's Health Ministry said that just weeks into a stricter quarantine in the capital Buenos Aires and its suburbs, cases were now springing up in other regions of the country. It put the total caseload at over 350,000, with 7,366 deaths so far.

The announcement comes after thousands of Argentines participated in a march calling for the restrictions to be lifted and stalled economic activity restarted.

The ministry said on Tuesday that occupancy of intensive care beds is at 57.3 percent nationwide and 64.5 percent for the Buenos Aires area.

Meanwhile, Argentinian President Alberto Fernandez on Monday said the country's economy "is starting to move" again, driven by infrastructure projects designed to spur activity. Fernandez announced a series of infrastructure projects for the city, amounting to 997 million pesos (about US$13.53 million) in investment.

Belarus

Belarus reported 82 new confirmed COVID-19 cases on Tuesday, taking its nationwide tally to 70,727, according to the country's health ministry.

There have been 172 new recoveries in the past 24 hours, bringing the total to 69,097, the ministry added.

So far, 652 people have died of the disease in the country, including six over the past 24 hours, it said.

As of Tuesday, over 1,480,000 tests for the virus have been conducted across the country, including 2,108 over the past 24 hours, according to official figures.

Brazil

Brazil registered 17,078 additional cases of COVID-19 over the last 24 hours and 565 deaths, the nation's Health Ministry said on Monday.

The country has now recorded 115,309 coronavirus deaths and 3,622,861 confirmed cases.

Bulgaria

The Bulgarian Health Ministry on Tuesday reported a record 18 COVID-19 deaths in the last 24 hours, taking its nationwide tally to 563.

The previous daily record of 16 deaths was reported on Aug 4.

According to the ministry, the number of confirmed infections has reached 15,386, an increase of 99 over Monday.

Meanwhile, 159 people have recovered from the disease in Bulgaria over the past 24 hours, raising the total number of recoveries to 10,497, the ministry said.Currently, 714 COVID-19 patients are hospitalized with 65 in intensive care units, it added.

Bulgaria reported its first COVID-19 death on March 11. 

Chile

Chile's Ministry of Health on Monday announced the country has recorded a total of 399,568 confirmed COVID-19 cases, including 10,916 deaths and 372,464 recoveries.

According to the ministry, in the previous 24 hours, tests detected 1,903 new cases while another 64 patients died.

Colombia

Colombia will enter a period of "selective" quarantine when its five months of national coronavirus lockdown ends at the close of August, President Ivan Duque said on Monday, and will be part of Johnson & Johnson phase three vaccine trials.

Restrictions on events and large crowds will continue during September while the government evaluates the spread of the virus, Duque said, as more economic reactivation with safety protocols moves ahead.

Confirmed and suspected coronavirus patients should still isolate, Health Minister Fernando Ruiz said.

For the J&J vaccine trial, it will include 60,000 healthy volunteers worldwide between the ages of 18 and 60 who will receive a single dose of the vaccine, the Health Ministry said in a statement.

Meanwhile, the capital Bogota will end a strict coronavirus quarantine in seven of its neighborhoods four days earlier than planned because occupation rates in intensive care units (ICUs) have fallen, the mayor said.

Colombia has reported 541,139 confirmed cases and 17,316 deaths, according to a tally by Johns Hopkins University.

Croatia

Schools in Croatia will reopen on Sept 7, Minister of Science and Education Radovan Fuchs said on Monday, despite a recent spike in COVID-19 cases.

Croatia started to see a surge in infections in August, with 306 new cases registered on Saturday alone, the highest daily tally reported. 

There were 136 fresh cases in the last 24 hours as of Monday afternoon, and 2,212 cases remain active, according to the Croatian Institute of Public Health.

Ecuador

Ecuador on Monday reported 520 new cases of COVID-19 and 12 more deaths in the previous 24 hours, raising the total caseload to 108,289 and the death toll to 6,322.

The Ministry of Public Health said infections were still on the rise in the north-central province of Pichincha, the current epicenter of the national outbreak, which has so far recorded 22,501 infections.

Egypt

Egypt recorded on Monday 138 new COVID-19 cases, raising the total infections in the country since the outbreak of the pandemic to 97,478, said the Health Ministry.

According to the ministry's spokesman, Khaled Megahed, another 18 patients died from the respiratory disease in the past 24 hours, taking the death toll to 5,280.

READ MORE: Africa's COVID-19 cases exceed 1 million

A worker is seen spraying disinfectant inside a bus in Addis Ababa, capital of Ethiopia, on Aug 24, 2020. (MICHAEL TEWELDE / XINHUA)

Ethiopia

Ethiopia's COVID-19 tally reached 42,143 after 1,472 new cases were confirmed on Monday, the Ministry of Health said.

The ministry said in a statement that 14 more patients succumbed to illnesses related to the COVID-19 in the past 24 hours, raising the death toll to 692.

The number of recoveries rose by 267 to 15,262, according to the ministry.

France

France reported 1,955 new COVID-19 cases over the past 24 hours, less than half the previous day’s figure that was a four-month high.

Monday’s number was well below the 4,897 recorded a day earlier and fit into a recent pattern of lower new cases at the start of each week. Fatalities rose by 15 in the past 24 hours to a total of 30,528, according to a health ministry statement.

"The circulation of the virus is progressing markedly, and is at its most intense among young adults," the statement reads.

Georgia

Georgia confirmed eight new COVID-19 cases on Tuesday, bringing its tally to 1,429.

Four of the new cases were imported, the National Center for Disease Control and Public Health said.

The number of recoveries stood at 1,150 while the death toll reached 19, according to the center..

Germany

Germany’s new coronavirus cases increased at a pace close to Saturday’s four-month high, while the infection rate fell below a key benchmark of 1.0.

There were 1,628 new infections and one additional fatality in the 24 hours through Tuesday morning, taking the tally to 236,122 and the death toll to 9,276, according to data from Johns Hopkins University. On Saturday, 1,737 fresh cases were posted, the highest daily increase since late April. 

According to data from the Robert Koch Institute (RKI) for infectious diseases, coronavirus cases rose by 1,278 to 234,853 while deaths increase by five to 9,277.

Germany’s reproduction factor fell to 0.98 on Monday from 1.08 the day before, according to the latest estimate from the RKI.

Bavarian Premier Markus Soeder warned Tuesday that Germany risks a return to the peak levels of daily new cases close to 7,000 seen at the end of March and beginning of April. He ruled out easing restrictions on movement and social gatherings.

A sticker on the ground reminding people to wear face masks is seen at the main train station in Essen, Germany, Aug 24, 2020. (MARTIN MEISSNER / AP)

Chancellor Angela Merkel will hold talks with Soeder and his regional counterparts on Thursday to discuss Germany’s strategy to contain the virus.

On Monday, federal and regional health officials said they plan to scrap a requirement for people returning to Germany from high-risk areas to be tested for the coronavirus as capacity is stretched. 

Travelers will still be subject to a two-week quarantine, which can be ended after five days if a test result shows they don’t have the virus. The changes will likely take effect in mid-September or early October.

Meanwhile, Germany has issued a travel warning for Paris and the French Cote d'Azur region, which includes Marseille and Nice, due to rising coronavirus infections there, the foreign ministry in Berlin said late on Monday.

Guinea-Bissau

Guinea-Bissau's President Umaro Sissoco Embalo announced on Monday night his decision to extend the country's state of emergency for another 15 days until Sept 8 as COVID-19 persists.

Embalo noted that the number of infections has greatly decreased and many of the patients affected by the disease have been discharged from hospitals and treatment centers.

However, he urged the public "to remain vigilant and above all, to respect the instructions, as well as the barrier gestures" in order to avoid infection. Physical distancing and wearing a mask in public places and transport "are mandatory and remain in effect," he added.

So far, Guinea-Bissau has reported 2,205 confirmed COVID-19 cases, including 34 deaths and 1,127 recoveries. 

Ireland

Irish health chiefs have seen a particular increase in COVID-19 cases in Dublin in recent days and are closely monitoring the trend in the most populous part of the country, Chief Medical Officer Ronan Glynn said on Monday.

Ireland reported more than 100 COVID-19 cases for the fifth time in 10 days, with almost half of the 147 new infections in the capital. Glynn said there was no suggestion currently that further measures would be needed in Dublin and hoped nationwide restrictions announced last week would bring cases down.

Italy

The first phase of a clinical trial of an Italian-developed GRAd-COV2 coronavirus vaccine kicked off on Monday, officials and scientists said.

The experimental, publicly financed vaccine was developed by Italian biotech company ReiThera in collaboration with a team of scientists at the National Institute of Infectious Diseases (INMI) at Rome's Spallanzani Hospital.

Andrea Antinori, who directs the Human Immunodeficiency Virus Department at INMI Spallanzani, said that phase one will involve 90 healthy volunteers divided into two equal groups: one aged between 18 and 55 and the other aged between 65 and 85.

The announcement came as Italy reported 757 new infections on Monday, according to the Ministry of Health. Four additional deaths and 192 new recoveries were also posted on Monday.

Overall, Italy has registered 205,662 recoveries and 35,441 deaths. The total number of confirmed cases -- including new infections, recoveries and fatalities -- now stands at 260,298.

Malta

Malta's government is set to forge ahead with its plan to hire a ship to keep migrants in quarantine at sea for up to one month despite the heavy price tag, Home Affairs Minister Byron Camilleri said on Monday.

The minister said at a news conference that the plan had been delayed after one of the interested companies filed an appeal when it was not chosen for the tender. Around 14 companies bidded to house migrants at sea, with costs varying between 12,400 euros and 150,000 euros per day.

"Migrants who test negative (for COVID-19) following this preventive period will then be transferred to the detention centers," Camilleri said.

At present, those who arrive in Malta are tested and kept in isolation within the detention centers while some others are held in quarantine in other areas or centers.

Malta has reported 1,667 confirmed cases and 10 deaths, according to a tally by Johns Hopkins University.

Mexico

Mexico is due to take part in clinical trials of an Italian vaccine being developed against the coronavirus, Foreign Minister Marcelo Ebrard said on Tuesday.

Ebrard did not say when Mexico would begin the trials of the GRAd-COV2 vaccine being developed by the National Institute for Infectious Diseases ‘Lazzaro Spallanzani’ in Rome.

“Yesterday they told us, they informed us...so that our country participates in what will be the clinical studies of the (coronavirus) vaccine,” Ebrard told a press conference.

Mexican health authorities will also begin this week to use a broader definition to identify possible coronavirus cases, a top official said on Monday, after questions about whether testing was too limited.

A new definition of "suspected" infections will come into use on Tuesday and will include loss of smell, loss of taste and diarrhea as possible COVID-19 symptoms, Deputy Health Minister Hugo Lopez-Gatell said.

It will also allow a person with just one symptom, rather than two or more, to be viewed as potentially infected. Mexico's policy is to apply tests to people who show sufficient symptoms, Lopez-Gatell noted.

Mexico's Health Ministry on Monday reported 3,541 newly confirmed cases and 320 additional fatalities, bringing the total in the country to 563,705 cases and 60,800 deaths.

Moldova

Moldova's Deputy Prime Minister for Reintegration Cristina Lesnic has tested positive for the novel coronavirus and is being treated at home, the Office for Reintegration Policies said on Monday.

The office will continue to perform all functions, while those who were in possible contact are to be tested for COVID-19, it said.

Moldova reported 350 new coronavirus cases and five deaths on Monday. So far, the country has registered a total of 33,828 cases and 945 deaths, while 23,570 people have recovered. 

Medical workers in protective gear stand outside a temporary field hospital in Casablanca, Morocco, on Aug 24, 2020. (CHADI / XINHUA)

Morocco

Morocco registered 903 new COVID-19 cases and 32 additional deaths on Monday, taking its infection tally to 53,252 and the death toll to 920.

The number of recoveries rose by 1,135 to 37,478, according to a health official.

Russia

Russia registered 4,696 new COVID-19 cases in the past 24 hours, taking its total to 966,189, the country's COVID-19 response center said in a statement Tuesday.

Meanwhile, 120 new deaths were reported, taking the nationwide count to 16,568.

Moscow, the country's worst-hit region, reported 681 new cases, bringing its tally of infections to 258,430, the response center said.

South Africa

South Africa’s coronavirus epidemic is on a downward curve, with new infections, hospital admissions and the positivity rate all showing declines.

While new cases doubled every two days in March, that rate has now slowed to doubling in as many as 79 days, Salim Abdool Karim, the chairman of the Ministerial Advisory Committee on the outbreak, said during a briefing Monday.

Hospital admissions in all of South Africa’s nine provinces have declined, and the testing positivity rate now averages about 13 percent, from a peak of 27 percent in the week ended July 23.

“We are over the plateau,” Karim said. “Is the worst over? That’s not entirely answered at this point. We have to remain vigilant because of the possibility of a second surge.”

The fall in the number of cases being detected means that the country will “switch to surveillance mode” and change its testing strategy to a district model while adding antibody testing to measure the full extent of the outbreak, Karim said.

South Africa recorded 611,450 cases and 13,159 deaths as of Sunday, giving it the largest number of infections in Africa and the fifth-largest total globally. More than 3.5 million people have been tested, out of a population of 59 million.

Tunisia

Tunisia on Monday night reported 75 new COVID-19 cases, bringing the total number of confirmed cases in the country to 2,893.

A total of 1,454 patients had recovered while 71 others had died so far, according to a statement released by the Ministry of Health.

UK

British drug-maker AstraZeneca said on Tuesday it had begun testing an antibody-based treatment for the prevention and treatment of COVID-19, with the first participants dosed, adding to recent signs of progress on possible medical solutions to the disease.

AstraZeneca said the early-stage trial would evaluate if AZD7442, a combination of two monoclonal antibodies (mAbs), was safe and tolerable in up to 48 healthy participants between the ages of 18 and 55 years.

If the UK-based trial has a positive readout, AstraZeneca said it would proceed with larger, mid-to-late-stage trials to test AZD7442 as both a preventative treatment for the disease and a medicine for patients who have it.

Meanwhile, an experimental COVID-19 vaccine being developed by the University of Oxford and AstraZeneca could be put before regulators this year if scientists are able to gather enough data, the director of the Oxford Vaccine Group said Tuesday.

The UK recorded 853 new cases of COVID-19 in the latest daily statistics published on Monday, down from 1,041 on Sunday and pushing the tally to 326,614, government figures showed. Four more people died after testing positive for the coronavirus within the previous 28 days, government figures showed.

Deaths in England and Wales fell to a 21 week-low, with 139 fatalities linked to the coronavirus in the week ended Aug 14, representing 1.5 percent of total fatalities, the Office for National Statistics said on Tuesday.

Ukraine

Yulia Tymoshenko, the former Ukrainian prime minister who helped lead the 2004 Orange Revolution, has been moved to intensive care after contracting the coronavirus.

News that the 59-year-old had fallen ill came on Sunday, with Tymoshenko’s health worsening on Monday evening and prompting the transfer, according to her spokeswoman, Maryna Soroka.

“Unfortunately we don’t have good news at the moment,” Soroka said Tuesday on Facebook. Tymoshenko remains in “serious condition.”

Tymoshenko’s career faded as the Orange Revolution team collapsed and Viktor Yanukovych, who the uprising blocked from power, went on to secure the presidency in 2010. Yanukovych then imprisoned Tymoshenko over a gas contract she signed with Russia, before another street revolt toppled him in 2014, prompting her release.

She ran unsuccessfully in Ukraine’s 2019 presidential election, which was won by political novice Volodymyr Zelenskiy. She continues to lead her party in opposition.

The number of COVID-19 infections in Ukraine has been increasing, with the national tally reaching 110,949 as of Tuesday, according to a tally by Johns Hopkins University.

US

The head of the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) walked back his claim that an experimental therapy had provided a dramatic benefit to COVID-19 patients, a rare reversal for an agency that has prided itself on rock-solid science and public trust.

On Sunday night at a press conference with President Donald Trump, FDA Commissioner Stephen Hahn said that blood plasma from COVID-19 survivors given to new patients could save huge numbers of lives. “What that means is -- and if the data continue to pan out -- 100 people who are sick with COVID-19, 35 would have been saved because of the administration of plasma,” Hahn said.

On Monday night, Hahn reversed himself. “What I should have said better is that the data show a relative risk reduction not an absolute risk reduction,” Hahn said in a tweet.

Separately on Monday, Hahn told Reuters that the FDA does not harbor "deep state" elements, rejecting criticism from Trump that staff there were trying to delay a coronavirus vaccine.

Hahn's remarks came as coronavirus cases in the US surpassed 5.7 million and deaths topped 177,000, according to a tally by Johns Hopkins University. 

California Governor Gavin Newsom said the state is seeing progress “across the spectrum” in its virus fight, while New York Governor Andrew Cuomo said the state saw its lowest infection rate since the start of the pandemic, at 0.66 percent as of Sunday.

Meanwhile, the University of Alabama had a total of 531 COVID-19 cases across students, faculty and staff on its Tuscaloosa campus since classes resumed Aug 19, according to Al.com.

On COVID-19 vaccines, Anthony Fauci, the top US infectious diseases expert, has warned that distributing a under special emergency use guidelines before it has been proved safe and effective in large trials is a bad idea that could have a chilling effect on the testing of other vaccines.

Separately, Moderna Inc said it plans to provide 80 million doses of its experimental coronavirus shot to the EU. The US biotech company has finished talks with the European Commission over a potential agreement, which includes an option for EU member states to purchase an additional 80 million doses, according to a statement Monday.


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