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Corona is not finished yet Fears real of 2nd virus wave: WHO

May 27, 2020

Corona is not finished yet Fears real of 2nd virus wave: WHO

GENEVA/RIYADH/MADRID/NEW YORK/BEIJING: Countries where coronavirus infections are declining could still face an “immediate second peak” if they let up too soon on measures to halt the outbreak, the World Health Organisation said on Monday.

The Worldometer recorded over 5.6 million cases of coronavirus while over 350,000 deaths across the world.

The world is still in the middle of the first wave of the coronavirus outbreak, WHO emergencies head Dr Mike Ryan told an online briefing, noting that while cases are declining in many countries they are still increasing in Central and South America, South Asia and Africa.

Ryan said epidemics often come in waves, which means that outbreaks could come back later this year in places where the first wave has subsided. There was also a chance that infection rates could rise again more quickly if measures to halt the first wave were lifted too soon. “When we speak about a second wave classically what we often mean is there will be a first wave of the disease by itself, and then it recurs months later. And that may be a reality for many countries in a number of months’ time,” Ryan said.

“But we need also to be cognizant of the fact that the disease can jump up at any time. We cannot make assumptions that just because the disease is on the way down now it is going to keep going down and we are get a number of months to get ready for a second wave. We may get a second peak in this wave.”

He said countries in Europe and North America should “continue to put in place the public health and social measures, the surveillance measures, the testing measures and a comprehensive strategy to ensure that we continue on a downwards trajectory and we don’t have an immediate second peak.”

Many European countries and US states have taken steps in recent weeks to lift lockdown measures that curbed the spread of the disease but caused severe harm to economies. Meanwhile, Saudi Arabia will end its nationwide coronavirus curfew from June 21, except in the holy city of Makkah, the interior ministry said Tuesday, after more than two months of stringent curbs. Prayers will also be allowed to resume in all mosques outside Makkah from May 31, the ministry said in a series of measures announced on the official Saudi Press Agency.

The kingdom, which has reported the highest number of virus cases in the Gulf, imposed a full nationwide curfew during Eid al-Fitr, the Muslim holiday that marks the end of the fasting month of Ramazan.

The ministry said it will begin easing restrictions in a phased manner this week, with the curfew relaxed between 6 am and 3 pm between Thursday and Saturday. From Sunday until June 20, the curfew will be further eased until 8 pm, the ministry added. The kingdom will lift the lockdown entirely from June 21.

"Starting from Thursday, the kingdom will enter a new phase (in dealing with the pandemic) and will gradually return to normal based on the rules of social distancing," Health Minister Tawfiq Al-Rabiah said on Monday. Saudi Arabia has reported around 75,000 coronavirus infections and some 400 deaths from COVID-19.

In March, Saudi Arabia suspended the year-round "umrah" pilgrimage over fears of the disease spreading in Islam´s holiest cities. That suspension will remain in place, the interior ministry said.

Authorities are yet to announce whether they will proceed with this year´s Haj -- scheduled for late July -- but they have urged Muslims to temporarily defer preparations for the annual pilgrimage.

Meanwhile, Europeans returned to a new normal and headed to parks, gyms and pools on Monday as more countries eased coronavirus restrictions, while Japan lifted its state of emergency but urged citizens to avoid second wave of infections.

In the United States, as the pandemic death toll approached the horrific milestone of 100,000, stir-crazy Americans also headed en masse to beaches and parks for the big Memorial Day weekend.

While many Americans wore masks and followed distancing rules, many did not — and images of packed pools and boardwalks triggered fears of a new flare up of the virus that has infected more than 5.5 million worldwide and killed more than 346,000, according to an AFP tally.

Meanwhile, hopes that anti-malaria drug hydroxychloroquine could be used as a potential treatment for the virus were quashed as the World Health Organization halted clinical trials "while the safety is reviewed."

With the global economy battered, governments are scrambling to provide relief to businesses and citizens wearying of mass confinement.

In hard-hit Spain, Madrid and Barcelona cautiously emerged from one of the world's strictest lockdowns, with parks and cafe terraces open for the first time in more than two months. Hundreds of people flooded Madrid's famous Retiro Park to enjoy a stroll or a jog in the sunshine. "The reopening of Retiro brings me a feeling of serenity, gives me comfort," said Rosa San Jose, a 50-year-old schoolteacher.

In other parts of Spain, beaches reopened with strict guidelines for social distancing. The Spanish government also announced that it would scrap quarantine for foreign arrivals from July 1, in the hope of helping the battered tourism sector.

But not all the news from Europe was encouraging. Sweden, which has gained international attention for not enforcing stay-at-home measures, saw its COVID-19 death toll pass 4,000, a much higher figure than its neighbours.

And in Britain, a political scandal raged on as Prime Minister Boris Johnson defied pressure to sack his top aide Dominic Cummings, accused of breaching the government's own lockdown rules in March and April.

As Johnson separately announced the government will allow non-essential retail stores to reopen June 15, thousands of sun worshippers swarmed a beach — in the southern resort town of Bournemouth — underscoring the difficulty of enforcing social distancing rules in the summer months.

In the US, Americans are watching each other closely as states gingerly lift lockdown measures to varying extents. Video footage of a raucous, elbow-to-elbow pool party in Missouri over the weekend has now been viewed some 16 million times on YouTube.

As of Tuesday evening, the US death toll stood at 98,218, according to the Johns Hopkins University tracker, and the number of infections is over 1.66 million. Both are the highest anywhere in the world.

Americans desperate for breathing room and company after two months of lockdown also headed to beaches on both coasts. Crowds packed the boardwalk in Ocean City, Maryland. Police on horseback patrolled a bustling shoreline in Venice Beach, California.

In Asia, Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe ended a nationwide state of emergency after new cases slowed to a crawl. The move will help the world's third-largest economy to gradually pick up speed again, but Abe urged citizens to remain cautious. "If we lower our guard, the infection will spread very rapidly, we need to be vigilant," he said. He urged people to adopt a "new lifestyle" and continue to avoid the "three Cs": closed spaces, crowded places and close contact.

Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro has also heavily promoted hydroxychloroquine while the virus has exploded across nation, which this week became the second most infected in the world after the United States.

But the World Health Organization said Monday it was halting testing of the drug for COVID-19 after studies questioned its safety, including one published Friday that found it actually increased the risk of death. The WHO "has implemented a temporary pause. While the safety data is reviewed", its chief Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said, referring to the hydroxychloroquine arm of a global trial of various possible treatments.

The latest reminder of the threat came from Sweden, where the COVID-19 death toll crossed 4,000 -- a much higher figure than its neighbours.

The Scandinavian nation has gained international attention -- and criticism -- for not enforcing stay-at-home measures like other European countries. The extended lockdowns, however, have started to bite globally, with businesses and citizens wearying of confinement and suffering immense economic pain.

In the Maldives, a dream destination for well-heeled honeymooners, tens of thousands of impoverished foreign labourers have been left stranded, jobless and ostracised as the tiny nation shut all resorts to stop the virus. "We need money to survive. We need our work," said Zakir Hossain, who managed to send about 80 percent of his $180 a month wage to his wife and four children in Bangladesh before the outbreak.

Meanwhile, the trading floor of the New York Stock Exchange reopened Tuesday in a largely symbolic step toward economic recovery, and stocks surged at the opening bell, even as the official US death toll closed in on 100,000, a mark President Donald Trump once predicted the country would never see.

The NYSE trading floor in lower Manhattan opened for the first time in two months, though with plexiglass barriers, masks and a reduced number of traders to adhere to the 6-foot social-distancing rules. Those entering the NYSE will have their temperatures taken and were asked to avoid public transportation.

New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo, who has presided over a state with the highest death toll since the virus took hold in the United States, rang the bell to set off trading. “They didn’t reopen the way it was,” he said during his daily briefing. “They reopened smarter.”

Stocks surged in morning trading, driving the S&P 500 to its highest level in 2 1/2 months on rising hopes for an economy recovery. The S&P 500 was up 2%, while the Dow Jones Industrial Average climbed more than 660 points, or 2.7%.

In Europe, Russian’s Vladimir Putin announced that the postponed military parade marking the 75th anniversary of Nazi Germany’s defeat in World War II will take place on June 24. Victory Day has become the most important holiday in Russia, traditionally marked on May 9 with a show of armed might in Red Square.

Putin said the country has passed the peak of the outbreak. Russia reported a record one-day spike Tuesday of 174 deaths, bringing the country’s confirmed death toll to over 3,800. Russia’s coronavirus caseload surpassed 360,000 — the third-highest in the world — with almost 9,000 new infections registered.

Meanwhile, Rabbi Shalom Rubanowitz looks forward to reopening his synagogue doors — if his congregation can balance the laws of God and California during the coronavirus pandemic.

On Monday, the state released a framework that will permit counties to allow in-person worship services. They include limiting worshipers to 100 or less, taking everyone’s temperature, limiting singing and group recitations and not sharing prayer books or other items.

The Orthodox congregation of Shul on the Beach in Los Angeles County’s Venice Beach will follow the guidelines, consulting with rabbinical authorities who place a high importance on preservation of life, Rubanowitz said. “We can do it, it’s just a question of how,” he said, noting that Orthodox believers are barred from using technology or carrying many personal items on the Sabbath.

The path of reopening provides “a great deal of hope,” he added. “That’s what people need.” Houses of worship are the latest focus as the state eases mid-March stay-at-home orders that shut down all but essential services and kept 40 million Californians at home to slow the spread of COVID-19.

Social distancing precautions are cited for reducing rates of hospitalizations and deaths and most of California’s 58 counties are deep into phase two of Gov. Gavin Newsom’s four-stage plan to restart the battered economy. The state on Monday cleared the way for in-store shopping to resume statewide with social distancing restrictions, although counties get to decide whether to permit it.

Worshippers who are allowed to return will find some jarring changes. The state guidelines limit gatherings to 25% of building capacity or 100 people, whichever is lower. Choirs aren’t recommended. Neither are shaking hands or hugging. Worshipers are urged to wear masks, avoid sharing prayer books or prayer rugs, keep their distance in pews and skip the collection plate. Large gatherings such as for concerts, weddings and funerals should be avoided.

Cross Culture Christian Center, a Lodi church that defied the governor and then sued him, said the guidelines were welcome but didn’t change anything. “Our church and places of worship across California have suffered greatly because our leaders chose to marginalize and criminalize faith-based gatherings,” Pastor Jon Duncan said in a statement. “If we are to remain free, we must never allow this to happen again.”

The Roman Catholic Diocese of Orange announced last week that it is phasing in public Masses beginning June 14, starting with restricted numbers of worshipers. At first, choirs will be banned, fonts won’t contain holy water and parishioners won’t perform rituals where they must touch each other. “We know that God is with us, but at the same time we have to be careful and make sure that we protect each other in this challenging time,” Bishop Kevin Vann said Friday.

Meanwhile, President Xi Jinping said on Tuesday China would step up its preparedness for armed combat and improve its ability to carry out military tasks as the coronavirus pandemic is having a profound impact on national security, state television reported.

China’s performance in fighting the new coronavirus has shown the success of military reform, Xi was quoted as saying, adding that the armed forces should explore new ways of training amid the pandemic.

Xi, who chairs China’s Central Military Commission, made the comments when attending a plenary meeting of the delegation of the People’s Liberation Army and People’s Armed Police Force on the sidelines of the annual session of parliament.

India on Tuesday recorded a total of 145,380 coronavirus infections and a death toll of 4,167, comparatively low figures for the world’s second-most populous country.

But separate states witnessing millions of migrant labourers returning from the big cities were recording rising infections, officials said, fearing that the pandemic could spread through villages where medical care is basic at best. Health ministry officials said that India’s death rate stood at 0.3 deaths per 100,000 people, compared to what they said was a world average of 4.4. “We have surprisingly found a low fatality rate in India, which is very good,” said Balram Bhargava, director general of the Indian Council of Medical Research, in New Delhi.

Officials from the home and railway ministries said at least 4.5 million workers had migrated home from economic hubs in the two months since Prime Minister Narendra Modi declared a lockdown.

The eastern state of Bihar registered more than 160 infections on Monday, its highest one-day rise, taking its tally to more than 2,700 cases. In the past 48 hours, more than 75 people tested positive in Odisha and 176 in different districts in the desert state of Rajasthan.

The UN´s weather agency warned Tuesday that COVID-19 would amplify the risks of what was expected to be a record-breaking hot summer in the northern hemisphere.

The World Meteorological Organization urged governments to make plans to keep people safe during heatwaves without spreading the novel coronavirus.

This year is expected to be "another record-breaking heat season in the northern hemisphere", WMO spokeswoman Clare Nullis Kapp told a virtual briefing in Geneva. "We´re currently experiencing one of the hottest years on record. "COVID-19 amplifies the health risks of hot weather for many people, and it complicates the task of managing it."

The United Nations agency teamed up Tuesday with non-governmental organisations to call for stronger preparations to keep people safe in hot weather while keeping a lid on the pandemic.

The information series, which covers topics such as ventilation, vulnerable populations and personal protection equipment, is being issued "to alert decision-makers to try to help them manage the duel challenge of heat and COVID," said Nullis Kapp.

In some places, what would typically be good advice during a heatwave -- such as heading for air-conditioned indoor public spaces -- runs counter to public health guidance due to the coronavirus crisis.

India is currently experiencing a widespread heatwave, with temperatures reaching 47.5 degrees Celsius (117.5 Fahrenheit) in the city of Churu in the northwestern Rajasthan state. "India is experiencing a heatwave, and this is at the same time as India is relaxing the lockdown measures," said Nullis Kapp.

"Heatwaves are becoming more frequent and more intense because of climate change. This is putting an increasing stress on human health and human health systems," she added.