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Friday, August 28, 2020, 22:41
Peru now world's deadliest COVID-19 pandemic hot spot
By Agencies
Friday, August 28, 2020, 22:41 By Agencies


In this file photo taken on May 30, 2020, relatives carry the coffin of a suspected COVID-19 victim at the Nueva Esperanza cemetery, one of the largest in Latin America, in the southern outskirts of Lima. (ERNESTO BENAVIDES / AFP)

HAVANA / BRUSSELS/ SANTIAGO / BERLIN / PARIS / LONDON / WARSAW / MOSCOW / MADRID / PRAGUE - Peru has set another grim record by reporting the highest number of deaths per capita from the coronavirus.

With 28,277 confirmed deaths from COVID-19, or 86.2 per 100,000 inhabitants, Peru on Thursday overtook Belgium as the nation with the most victims, according to data compiled by Johns Hopkins University, the IMF (International Monetary Fund) and Bloomberg

With 28,277 confirmed deaths from COVID-19, or 86.2 per 100,000 inhabitants, Peru on Thursday overtook Belgium as the nation with the most victims, according to data compiled by Johns Hopkins University, the IMF (International Monetary Fund) and Bloomberg. 

It comes a week after the South American nation of 33 million posted the world’s deepest economic contraction in the second quarter following a drastic lockdown.

More than five months after reporting its first case, Peru has one of the world’s worst outbreaks by other measures, too. Over the past seven days, no country has posted more cases. It’s also among nations with most fatalities by population size over the past week.

The outbreak has been so bad that as much as a quarter of Lima’s 12 million population may have already had the virus, according to a government study published last month. Officials warn the country’s real death toll may be close to double the official figure.

Yet there are signs Peru may be past the worst of the pandemic. While the country reported 153 deaths on Thursday, the number of hospitalized patients had fallen 9.2 percent from a peak reached 10 days earlier.

Despite locking the entire country down early and aggressively, the government has struggled to get control of its outbreak. Cases surged after lock-down measures were eased in July, prompting a ban on social and family gatherings and also delaying plans for reopening the economy.

WHO

The World Health Organization will next week receive a raft of pledges of support for its plan for COVID-19 vaccines for all.

But the agency has already had to scale back its ambition.

The United States, Japan, Britain and the European Union (EU) have struck their own deals to secure millions of COVID-19 vaccine doses for their citizens, ignoring the UN body’s warnings that “vaccine nationalism” will squeeze supplies

If other countries that can afford it and pursue a similar approach, the WHO’s strategy for fighting the coronavirus pandemic globally and equitably risks coming undone, experts warn.

Countries wishing to be part of the WHO initiative, dubbed COVAX, must submit expressions of interest by Monday.

More than 170 countries, including Canada, Norway, South Korea and Britain, have submitted non-binding expressions of interest to participate in the scheme, which the WHO has touted as the only global initiative to ensure COVID-19 vaccines are available worldwide to rich and poor countries alike.

It has signed up nine COVID-19 vaccine candidates and set out plans to obtain and deliver 2 billion doses by the end of 2021 across countries that sign up.

READ MORE: WHO aiming for 2b doses of vaccine by end of 2021

But it has struggled to get wealthier countries on board in full beyond pledges of funding and warm words about donating surplus vaccines.

The EU’s aggressive dealmaking for vaccine supplies and tepid statements about COVAX have in particular undermined the initiative, which is co-led by the WHO, the GAVI vaccines alliance and the CEPI Coalition for Epidemic Preparedness Innovations.

The European Commission is likely to pledge cash for COVAX but it is also securing its own supply deals for member states, deeming COVAX too slow and expensive. Brussels has told countries they can help fund COVAX, but can’t seek to buy vaccines via both schemes, a Commission spokesman said. Forced to choose, some countries have pulled out of COVAX entirely.

Other WHO members, which are already major donors to existing global vaccine programmes unrelated to COVID-19, are still on the fence too.

Brazil, with the world’s second worst coronavirus outbreak outside the United States, has not yet decided whether to participate, a health ministry spokeswoman said.

In Japan, deputy Health Minister Hisashi Inatsu said he would like to enter discussions about participating, but the government has not said if it will submit an official expression of interest by Monday.

Officials say both COVAX and government deals can run in parallel, but that’s a radical departure from the original plan outlined in the spring.

READ MORE: When it comes to COVID shots, rich nations are first in line

In acting alone, countries will create “a few winners and many losers”, Richard Hatchett, CEO of CEPI, warned on Monday.

It also means poorer or less powerful countries may go to the back of the queue for vaccines that could help them control the pandemic.

This handout picture released by the Sao Paulo State Government press office shows a volunteer receiving a COVID-19 vaccine during the trial stage of the vaccine produced by the Chinese company Sinovac Biotech at the Hospital das Clinicas (HC) in Sao Paulo state, Brazil, on July 21, 2020. (HANDOUT / SAO PAULO STATE GOVERNMENT / AFP)

South America

A group of South America presidents agreed on Thursday to information sharing and coordination on access to eventual COVID-19 vaccines to counter the virus which has the continent within its grip, Chile’s foreign minister said.

Andres Allamand said there would be multiple benefits to a coordinated approach to obtaining a vaccine by members of the Prosur bloc, made up of Chile, Argentina, Brazil, Colombia, Paraguay, Peru, Ecuador and Guyana.

Members of the Prosur bloc, made up of Chile, Argentina, Brazil, Colombia, Paraguay, Peru, Ecuador and Guyana, have agreed to information sharing and coordination on access to eventual COVID-19 vaccines, Chile's foreign minister said

“A joint effort would bring benefits, particularly in terms of access, quantities and guaranteed prices,” he said, following the virtual meeting of presidents and foreign ministers.

More than 150 vaccines are currently being developed and tested around the world, according to the World Health Organization, with 25 human clinical trials.

ALSO READ: WHO aiming for 2b doses of vaccine by end of 2021

Trials of vaccines including those developed by Johnson & Johnson, Sinovac and AstraZeneca are already underway or due to start shortly in Latin America, a current hotspot of the pandemic.

Allamand said the bloc discussed the production in Argentina and Mexico of the vaccine created by British pharmaceutical company AstraZeneca, and the “very advanced” production work in Brazil, and the potential for those initiatives to benefit the wider region.

He said Chile was also conducting its own vaccine diplomacy further afield, noting that at least five projects were in progress.

Allamand said the Prosur leaders also agreed to coordinate the eventual reopening of their borders, putting together a technical commission that will report back on how this could be done within 10 days, potentially including stricter entry requirements such as a negative PCR COVID-19 test.

Global tally

Coronavirus cases worldwide on Friday surpassed 24.4 million while the global death toll topped 832,000, according to the Center for Systems Science and Engineering (CSSE) at Johns Hopkins University.

EU

The European Commission has made a 336 million euro (US$396 million) downpayment to British drug maker AstraZeneca to secure at least 300 million doses of its potential COVID-19 vaccine, a spokesman said on Thursday.

The deal covers development, liability and other costs faced by the vaccine maker. The EU has also secured an option to buy 100 million additional doses of the vaccine under development.

It is the first contract signed by the EU with a maker of potential COVID-19 vaccines

The 27 EU states could buy it at a later stage, should the vaccine prove successful.

The overall price they will pay to acquire the doses has not been revealed, but under an earlier deal struck in June with AstraZeneca by Germany, France, Italy and the Netherlands, all members of the EU, AstraZeneca agreed to sell 300 million doses for 750 million euros (US$843 million).

The EU deal completed the preliminary accord reached with the drug maker by the four countries, the Commission said in a statement.

It is the first contract signed by the EU with a maker of potential COVID-19 vaccines.

Part of the money the EU pays for supply deals covers legal risks faced by vaccine makers if their shots have unexpected side effects. These risks are increased by the hastened process to develop a vaccine in the race against the COVID-19 pandemic.

WHO

The World Health Organization (WHO) reiterated its advice on Thursday that resources permitting, people exposed to the novel coronavirus should be tested even if they do not show immediate symptoms of infection.

The comments come after the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) said this week that people exposed to COVID-19 but not symptomatic may not need to be tested, surprising doctors and politicians and prompting accusations the guidance was politically motivated.

Maria Van Kerkhove, a WHO epidemiologist, said the UN agency recommended suspected cases and their contacts be tested, if possible, but the focus should be on people displaying signs of infection.

Meanwhile, WHO Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said that the pandemic has impacted the mental health of millions of people, in terms of the anxiety and fear it has caused, and disruption to mental health services.

Noting that people in long-term facilities such as care homes and psychiatric institutions are at increased risk of infection, the WHO chief added that mental health professionals have themselves been infected with the virus, and some mental health facilities have been closed to be converted into treatment facilities for people with COVID-19.

UNICEF

Almost one-third of the world's 1.5 billion schoolchildren affected by the COVID-19 shutdown of their schools were unable to use remote learning, according to a UN Children's Fund (UNICEF) report on Thursday.

"For at least 463 million children whose schools closed due to COVID-19, there was no such a thing as remote learning," said Henrietta Fore, UNICEF executive director. "The sheer number of children whose education was completely disrupted for months on end is a global education emergency."

"The repercussions could be felt in economies and societies for decades to come," she said in a release accompanying the report.

Children from the poorest households and those living in rural areas are by far the most likely to miss out during closures, according to the report. Globally, 72 percent of schoolchildren unable to access remote learning live in their countries' poorest households.

In upper-middle-income countries, schoolchildren from the poorest households account for up to 86 percent of students unable to access remote learning, UNICEF said. Globally, three quarters of schoolchildren without access to remote learning live in rural areas.

Brazil

Brazil reported 44,235 new cases of the novel coronavirus and 984 deaths in the past 24 hours, the health ministry said on Thursday.

In total, Brazil has registered 3,761,391 cases while the official death toll from COVID-19 has risen to 118,649, according to ministry data, in the world's worst coronavirus outbreak outside the United States.

Chile

Chile's Ministry of Health on Thursday reported that the country has recorded a total of 404,102 confirmed COVID-19 cases and 11,072 deaths.

According to the ministry, in the previous 24 hours, tests detected 1,739 new cases while 82 more patients died.

A total of 377,922 people had so far recovered while 15,108 confirmed cases are considered to be still active.

Colombia

Colombia's government said on Thursday it was taking the first step toward re-opening international flights after more than five months, saying it was unlikely to increase transmission of the coronavirus.

The health ministry did not give a date for renewed flights. It said other authorities including the civil aviation agency will evaluate its re-opening proposal.

The government said the country, which has more than 570,000 confirmed COVID-19 cases and 18,000 deaths, is passing its infection peak.

Meanwhile, the capital Bogota emerged from lockdown on Thursday with a gradual reopening plan called "New Reality," aiming to reactivate the economy. Bogota Mayor Claudia Lopez said the initial reopening phase will last until December.

Under the initial phase, businesses can operate at 60 percent capacity while the city's mass transit system will increase passenger capacity from the current cap of 35 percent to 50 percent.

Cuba

Havana's governor announced an overnight curfew, ban on travel from the Cuban capital to other provinces and greater restrictions on the circulation of vehicles on Thursday in a bid to curb a new peak in coronavirus cases.

The new measures will come into effect on Sept 1 for 15 days, Reinaldo García Zapata said on state television, at which point the situation will be re-assessed.

In the wake of the spread of infection from Havana to other provinces, people's freedom of movement will be restricted from 7 pm to 5 am,  the first curfew since the crisis began. Most shops will only be allowed to sell produce to residents of their own neighborhood.

Authorities say people have not been sufficiently disciplined in following measures to curb the virus and will impose severe fines on anyone found infringing the new measures, holding a party or hanging out in public spaces.

Havana registered 269 cases last week, the highest of weekly cases since the start of the pandemic, according to Cuban biologist Amilcar Perez Riverol, whose analysis of the Cuban outbreak has a social media following.

Dominican Republic

The number of confirmed COVID-19 cases in the Dominican Republic rose to 92,964 on Thursday after tests detected 407 new infections, the Ministry of Public Health said.

The COVID-19 death toll climbed to 1,630 after 17 more patients died in the same period, while the number of recoveries stoot at 64,347.

Among the confirmed active cases, 7,370 are in hospital isolation and 19,617 are in self-quarantine at home. Of those hospitalized, 226 are being treated in intensive care units.

Ecuador

Ecuador's Ministry of Public Health reported on Thursday 670 new COVID-19 cases and 61 more deaths, bringing the tally to 111,219 and the death toll to 6,471.

The ministry said that there were another 3,708 deaths that were likely caused by COVID-19 but have yet to be officially confirmed.

The province of Pichincha continues to be the epicenter of the pandemic in the South American country, with a total of 23,381 cases, followed by Guayas with 18,671 cases. The majority of the infections in Pichincha are concentrated in the capital city of Quito.

The country is preparing to enter a new stage on Sept 12, where restrictions on mobility, transit, and gatherings will be lifted.

Egypt

Egypt reported on Thursday 237 new COVID-19 infections, bringing the total caseload to 98,062, the country's Health Ministry said in a statement.

Deaths rose by 25 to 5,342 while recoveries increased by 899 to 69,612, according to the statement.

Ethiopia

Ethiopia's confirmed COVID-19 cases reached 46,407 after 1,186 new COVID-19 positive cases were confirmed on Thursday, the Ministry of Health said.

The ministry said in a statement that another 20 more patients had died in the last 24 hours, raising the death toll to 745.

The number of recoveries increased by 518 to 16,829, according to the ministry.

France

France is hoping to avoid COVID-related quarantine measures imposed on its citizens travelling to and from Switzerland, French junior European affairs minister Clement Beaune told Europe 1 radio on Friday.

Beauen also said that the UK has taken a more “political approach” to managing the health crisis and has wrongly classified all of France as risky for the virus. France is in talks with the UK on travel rules and has said it would impose reciprocal rules. Beaune said he regrets the lack of coordination in Europe on travel.

Separately on Friday, Paris police department said that people doing outdoors exercise and cyclists will not have to wear face masks outdoors, after authorities made masks mandatory everywhere in Paris from Aug 28. The police department said in a statement that children under the age of 11 would also not have to wear face masks.

France recorded a daily tally of 6,111 new coronavirus infections on Thursday, the highest level since lockdown ended and the second-highest ever, pushing the tally to 259,698. 

The number of deaths from coronavirus increased by 32 to 30,576 from Tuesday. On Wednesday, no death or hospital data had been reported due to a technical glitch.

READ MORE: France eyes lockdown as last resort in Europe’s virus fight


Chancellor Angela Merkel (center) arrives at the Federal Press Conference before her traditional summer press conference on current domestic and foreign policy issues in Berlin, Germany, Aug 28, 2020. (MICHAEL KAPPELER / POOL PHOTO VIA AP)

Germany

German Chancellor Angela Merkel said on Friday the coronavirus pandemic was likely to worsen in coming months, and that her government would respond by prioritizing the welfare of society as a whole, notably its children, and the economy.

The government will be "doing everything so that our children are not the losers of the pandemic. School and daycare need to be the most important things," she told reporters at a news conference.

The government would also seek to keep the economy going, or to restart it where it was still stunted by the pandemic, and to preserve jobs.

Merkel said the pandemic was likely to worsen in coming months, and that her government would respond by prioritizing the welfare of society as a whole, notably its children, and the economy

The third priority would be a spirit of social solidarity as the pandemic hits some people, such as elderly or low-income families, harder than others.

There were 1,561 new cases in the 24 hours through Friday morning, taking the tally to 240,571, according to data from Johns Hopkins University. 

According to data from the Robert Koch Institute (RKI) for infectious diseases on Friday, the number of confirmed cases increased by 1,571 to 239,507, and the death toll rose by three to 9,288.

The reproduction number fell to 0.83 on Thursday from 0.85 the previous day, according to the latest report from the RKI.

On Thursday, Merkel called on Germans to refrain from traveling to areas with severe outbreaks of the coronavirus, which include the US.

People from Germany who visit high-risk places without a valid reason risk losing income if they’re forced to miss work due to quarantine, which can run as long as 14 days, Merkel said in Berlin on Thursday. 

Meanwhile, Germany is also extending a ban on major events such as concerts, sports and festivals, until at least the end of the year. The ban was previously set to run out at the end of October.

States will also impose stricter limits on gatherings in private homes, and 15 of Germany's 16 states agreed to a minimum fine of 50 euros (US$59) for failing to wear a mask where it is mandatory, like in grocery stores or on public transportation.

Ireland

Ireland is seeing a “worrying trend” in coronavirus cases, the health ministry warned, as case numbers continue to increase. 

The country is now seeing about 33 cases per 100,000 people compared to three in June, ministry adviser Philip Nolan told reporters in Dublin, while the number of people being admitted to the hospital is starting to rise.

The warnings come a day after health minister Stephen Donnelly said the country is at a tipping point that could result in another nationwide lockdown. 

Ireland reported 93 new cases with no deaths Thursday. There have been 1,535 cases over the past two weeks.

Italy

Italy reported 1,411 new COVID-19 cases Thursday, in line with the previous day but still the most since May 6. A record 94,024 tests were performed as summer vacationers returned rom countries including Spain and Greece.

The Lazio region around Rome is offering free tests at ports and airports to anyone coming back from the popular destination of Sardinia, where some clusters at nightclubs were reported.

Patients in intensive-care units fell by two to 67, while most new hospitalized patients, at least in Lombardy, have been admitted for other issues than COVID-19 symptoms like respiratory problems or pneumonia.

Lithuania

Lithuania reported 48 COVID-19 cases on Thursday, including 28 in the capital Vilnius, the country's health ministry said Friday.

According to local website Lrt.lt, the new cases represent the biggest daily spike in COVID-19 cases in the country since April 19, when Lithuania reported 59 new cases.

"It is holiday time, in July and particularly in August, and people relax, which gives the results we have. The daily average for August is around 25 cases," Daiva Razmuviene of the National Public Health Centre was quoted as telling LRT RADIO.

According to the country's health ministry, Lithuania had registered 2,810 COVID-19 cases by Friday morning, including 86 deaths and 1,816 recoveries. 

Malawi

Malawi will allow airlines and schools to resume operations from Sept 1, as it seeks to limit the economic and social damage from its coronavirus lockdown, authorities said on Thursday.

James Chakwera, Acting Director of the Department of Civil Aviation, said in a statement that initially only a limited number of flights would operate, while all arrivals will be required to produce COVID-19 negative test results based on tests conducted within 10 days prior to arrival.

Meanwhile, the school closures have left more than 5 million pupils across all levels out of class.

"We'll take a phased approach starting with examination classes from September 7th to the others later in October,” Education Minister Agnes Nyalonje said in a statement.

Malawi has recorded 5474 cases and 173 deaths, although the real figure may be higher as fewer than 50,000 tests have been conducted.

Mexico

Mexico's health ministry on Wednesday reported 6,026 newly confirmed cases of coronavirus infections and 518 additional fatalities, bringing the total in the country to 579,914 cases and 62,594 deaths.

Morocco

Morocco on Thursday reported 1,221 new COVID-19 cases, raising the total number of infections in the country to 57,085.

The death toll rose by 27 to 1,011 while the number of recoveries increased by 1,315 to 41,901, said Mouad Mrabet, coordinator of the Moroccan Center for Public Health Operations at the Ministry of Health, at a press briefing.

Netherlands

More than 100 mink farms in the Netherlands will be ordered closed by March after animals at dozens of locations contracted the coronavirus, Dutch news agency ANP reported on Thursday.

Hundreds of thousands of the ferret-like animals, which are bred for their fur, have been culled in the Netherlands and other European countries since the virus outbreak.

The Netherlands had already intended to halt its mink breeding industry by 2024, but decided to bring forward the closures after several farm employees contracted COVID-19.

The government has set aside 180 million euros (US$212 million) to compensate farmers, according to the ANP report, citing sources.

The Netherlands has so far reported 70,980 confirmed cases and 6,244 deaths, according to a tally by Johns Hopkins University.

Nigeria

Nigeria will resume international flights from Sept 5, the head of the aviation regulatory body said on Thursday, marking a week-long delay to the resumption date previously announced by the government.

Airports have been closed since March 23 to all but essential international flights as part of the country’s efforts to combat the COVID-19 pandemic.

Last week Aviation Minister Hadi Sirika said four flights would begin landing daily in commercial hub Lagos, and four in the capital Abuja from Aug 29.

But the director general of the Nigerian Civil Aviation Authority (NCAA), Musa Nuhu, announced the revised time at a news conference in Abuja for the task force on coronavirus. 

"While airlines and airports were ready, other non-aviation logistics require the one-week extension to be ready," said Musa, explaining the reasons for the week-long delay.

Nigeria has so far reported 53,317 confirmed cases and 1,011 deaths, according to a tally by Johns Hopkins University.

Norway


Norway will not yet ease restrictions designed to counter the novel coronavirus even though the spread has been slower recently, Prime Minister Erna Solberg said on Friday.

“Even if the infection numbers are coming down, we can’t say that we have landed safely yet... we have to be sure that we maintain control,” Solberg told a news conference.

To prevent a resurgence in COVID-19 infections, the country halted its planned easing of restrictions earlier this month, and imposed new measures such a ban on bars to serve alcohol after midnight.

Events with more than 200 participants will still be banned, distancing rules in theaters kept intact and sports activities for adults limited, Solberg said.

“I realize many are disappointed, but we do this to maintain control of the spread of the disease,” she added.

The level of infections is however currently considered “low,” Health Minister Bent Hoeie said.

The country of 5.4 million diagnosed 356 people with COVID-19 last week, and the weekly figures have been considerably higher in August than in the preceding three months, FHI data showed.

Norway said on Wednesday it will impose a 10-day quarantine on all people arriving from Germany and Liechtenstein from Aug 29 due to rising numbers of COVID-19 cases in those countries.

Similar restrictions will also be imposed on those coming from two additional regions in Sweden, the Norwegian foreign ministry said in a statement.

With its latest additions, Norway will be restricting travel from most European countries, including France, Britain, Spain, Poland and Switzerland.

Norway has so far reported 10,542 confirmed cases and 264 deaths, according to a tally by Johns Hopkins University.

Poland

Poland will ban flights from 46 countries, including France and Spain, as of Sept 2, according to a draft regulation published on Thursday, as the country grapples with a spike in coronavirus infections.

The move follows targeted measures to reintroduce restrictions on public life in the worst affected parts of the country, as the government tries to tackle the spread of the virus without resorting to a complete lockdown.

Countries affected by the ban are popular tourist destinations Montenegro and Croatia, as well as Romania, the United States, Israel, Mexico and Brazil.

Poland has reported 64,689 cases of the novel coronavirus and 2,010 deaths.

Portugal

Portugal will return to the "state of contingency" on Sept 15, with the objective of preparing return measures for the new school year, the Portuguese government announced on Thursday.

According to Minister of the Presidency Mariana Vieira da Silva, statistics "show an increase in cases, despite the decreasing trend in the region of Lisbon and Vale do Tejo and the relatively stable trend over the last fortnight".

For this reason, she explained that in the middle of next month "the whole country will be in a state of contingency" so that the necessary measures can be defined "in each area to prepare the return to school and the return of many Portuguese to their workplace".

She also pointed out that Portugal's capacity to carry out COVID-19 tests "is increasing," with more than 13,000 tests per day being carried out in August.

Portugal recorded two more deaths in the past 24 hours, raising the death toll to 1,809. The country’s infection tally stands at 56,673, according to the Directorate-General for Health (DGS).  

Russia

Russia reported 4,829 new cases of the novel coronavirus on Friday, bringing its nationwide tally to 980,405, the fourth largest caseload in the world.

Russia's coronavirus taskforce said 110 people had died over the last 24 hours, pushing its official death toll to 16,914.

Slovakia

Slovakia will require travellers from six more European countries to stay in quarantine from Sept 1 due to rising numbers of coronavirus cases there, the Health Ministry said on Friday.

They are Croatia, a particularly popular holiday destination for Slovaks, as well as Spain, France, the Netherlands, Belgium and Malta.

Anyone who has visited those countries in the previous two weeks will be required to self-quarantine for 10 days, or present a negative test after at least five days’ self-isolation following entry to Slovakia.

The ministry also advised people not to travel to Greece and certain parts of other European countries due to rising numbers of coronavirus cases. Those areas include the Czech capital Prague, the Austrian capital Vienna and in the UK, Tayside in Scotland and the Northwest region of England.

Slovakia will also ban outside events with more than 1,000 people and inside events of more than 500 people from the start of September, and internal events must end by 11 p.m.

Children from the fifth grade and secondary school students will be required to wear face masks in schools in the first two weeks of the school year, which begins on Sept. 1. Younger children will have to wear them in common areas of schools and pre-school facilities.

Slovaks already have to wear face masks in shops, public buildings and on public transport.

Spain

Johnson & Johnson's Janssen unit will begin Phase II trials for its COVID-19 vaccine in Spain, the Netherlands and Germany next week, Spanish health minister Salvador Illa announced on Friday. The trial will last two months and include 590 participants across the three countries, including 190 people in Spain, Illa said at a news conference in Madrid.

Spain diagnosed 3,781 new coronavirus infections in the past 24 hours, with the Madrid region most affected by the resurgence of the epidemic, health ministry data showed on Thursday.

Spain has the highest prevalence of the virus in Western Europe. The cumulative tally now stands at 429,507. Eight more deaths were logged, bringing the death toll to 28,996.

National health emergency chief Fernando Simon said infections were clearly on the rise in Madrid, but have stabilized somewhat in Catalonia and Aragon after rising earlier this month.

The government earlier on Thursday announced that Spanish schoolchildren aged six and over must wear masks to class when they return to school in less than two weeks. Health Minister Salvador Illa said that, while closing down schools could be necessary if multiple cases of the virus were detected across different classrooms, that would be the last resort.

People crowd the commuter train platforms at Atocha station in Madrid, Spain, Aug 27, 2020. (ANDREA COMAS / AP)

The Gambia

The Gambia's President Adama Barrow has extended by 21 days a state of emergency on mainland Africa's smallest nation as coronavirus cases surged, a government statement said on Thursday.

Public gatherings in The Gambia have been banned, dusk-to-dawn curfew declared, and schools remain closed. Places of worship may remain open with restrictive safety measures in place, according to the statement.

The Gambia, with a population of just over 2 million, has reported 2,743 cases since the outbreak in March, and 93 deaths. The daily reported cases were relatively low until mid-July.

Cases have increased exponentially in the country, which is mostly surrounded by Senegal, in the last couple of weeks, prompting the government to reimpose restrictive measures. Neighboring Senegal has reported 13,294 cases with 277 deaths.

Tunisia

Tunisia on Thursday reported 117 new COVID-19 cases, bringing the total number of confirmed cases in the country to 3,323.

A total of 1,504 patients had recovered while 73 others had died, according to a statement released by the Ministry of Health.

Uganda


Ugandan President Yoweri Museveni warned late Thursday that government ministers and politicians could get arrested for violating COVID-19 guidelines.

Some ministers and politicians who should be setting an example for the public are instead flouting the guidelines, Museveni said in a statement posted on social media.

"Regarding the politicians that have been gathering people contrary to the guidelines, my order to the IGP (Inspector General of Police) is now out. The order now is that do not put yourself in a situation where people gather around you. If you do, we shall arrest you," he said.

"We had contained the disease because the majority followed the guidelines," Museveni said, urging politicians to stick to the guidelines and standard operating procedures issued by the country's health ministry.

Despite a ban on public gatherings to stop the spread of the virus since March, politicians have been seen gathering people in preparation for next year's general elections.

As of Thursday, Uganda has registered a total of 2,679 confirmed coronavirus cases, including 1,268 recoveries and 28 deaths, according to its health ministry

UK

The British government will urge people to return to offices and other workplaces where it is safe to do to help the economy recover from the COVID-19 pandemic, Transport Minster Grant Shapps said on Friday.

"Our central message is pretty straightforward: we are saying to people it is now safe to return to work," he told LBC radio referring to a campaign set to be launched next week.

Shapps also said about 4,200 people have been referred to the police over potential coronavirus quarantine breaches. “If people think they’re doing that risk-free, they’re not,” Shapps said. “It’s not just the fine for not quarantining, you can actually get a criminal record,” he said adding there’s also the “social risk” of passing coronavirus on.

Shapps spoke a day after he announced that anyone arriving in England from Switzerland, the Czech Republic or Jamaica after 0300 GMT on Saturday would need to quarantine themselves for 14 days.

Meanwhile earlier on Friday, Britain said it will back three nationwide COVID-19 studies with 8.4 million pounds (US$11 million) to fund research into understanding human immune responses to the pandemic.

The announcement came as the UK recorded 1,522 new cases of COVID-19 in the latest daily government statistics published on Thursday, the highest number since June 12. The fresh infections take the overall tally to 330,368.

A further 12 people were recorded as having died within 28 days of their first positive test for COVID-19, taking the UK's cumulative death toll on this measure to 41,477.

US

Several US Midwest states reported record one-day increases in the number of new coronavirus cases on Thursday as nationwide deaths from the virus  topped 180,000 and officials braced for the possibility of another surge with school openings.

Iowa, Minnesota, North Dakota and South Dakota all recorded on Thursday the biggest one-day increases in new infections since the pandemic started.

Nationally, metrics on new cases, deaths, hospitalizations and test positivity rates are all declining but there are emerging hotspots in the Midwest.

Meanwhile, the governors of Arizona, California, Connecticut, Florida, Illinois, Texas, New Jersey and New York said they would not reduce testing as recommended by the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Nationwide, coronavirus cases surpassed 5.8 million while the death toll topped 180,000, according to a tally by Johns Hopkins University.


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