Putin Says ‘Several Dozen’ People In His Circle Have COVID-19

Russian President Vladimir Putin delivers a speech during the opening ceremony of the International Military-Technical Forum “Army-2021” held in the Patriot Park, in Kubinka outside Moscow on August 23, 2021. (Photo by Ramil SITDIKOV / SPUTNIK / AFP)


President Vladimir Putin said Thursday that dozens of people in his inner circle at the Kremlin had tested positive for coronavirus, which has affected over seven million people in the badly-hit country.

Earlier this week, the 68-year-old Putin said he was self-isolating after announcing an outbreak among members of his entourage.

“Cases of the coronavirus were detected in my inner circle. Not just one or two but several dozen people,” Putin said, speaking via video link at a meeting of a Moscow-led security alliance.

Putin had been due to attend the meeting of the Collective Security Treaty Organisation (CSTO) in Tajikistan’s capital Dushanbe in person but said Tuesday he would instead join remotely.

News of the extent of the outbreak at the Kremlin comes a day before staggered three-day parliamentary elections open in Russia to limit the spread of the virus.

Authorities have gone to great lengths to protect Putin — who has been vaccinated with Russia’s homegrown Sputnik V jab — since the start of the pandemic.

Foreign leaders, journalists and officials have all had to self-isolate before meeting the longtime Russian leader.

Putin this week met with Syrian President Bashar al-Assad and athletes returning from the Tokyo Paralympic Games, just before the Kremlin said he was self-isolating.

Highest European Death Toll

Russia has the fifth-highest number of recorded Covid cases, according to an AFP tally, and has struggled to rein in infections despite easy access to vaccines.

According to the latest figures, the country has recorded more than 7 million cases and 195,041 deaths, the highest death toll in Europe.

Infections have been falling in recent days after a spike this summer, but health officials still reported 18,841 new cases and 792 new deaths on Wednesday.

Authorities have struggled with a vaccine-skeptic population, with independent polls showing that a majority of Russians do not plan to be inoculated.

As of Tuesday, about 40.2 million of Russia’s 146 million people had been fully vaccinated, according to the Gogov website, which tallies Covid data from the regions.

Russia has several homegrown vaccines freely available to the public but does not distribute any Western-made jabs.

Moscow, the epicentre of Russia’s outbreak, and a host of regions have introduced mandatory vaccination measures to speed up the inoculation drive, and Putin has repeatedly called on Russians to get vaccinated.

The Kremlin initially set a goal of fully inoculating 60 percent of Russia’s population by September, but later dropped that target even though free jabs have been available since early December.

Russian authorities have been accused of vastly downplaying the effects of the pandemic and, after a tight first lockdown in 2020, have refrained from introducing new restrictive measures.

The country instead pinned its hopes of curtailing the pandemic on its four homegrown vaccines — Sputnik V, EpiVacCorona, CoviVac and the one-dose Sputnik Light.

Coronavirus: Latest Global Developments

In this file photo taken on August 9, 2021, a health worker administers a first dose of the AstraZeneca Covid-19 vaccine to a woman in Suva.



Here are the latest developments in the coronavirus crisis:

– Eviction moratorium ends -The US Supreme Court blocks the extension of a federal moratorium on evictions, ending a protection granted to millions who have struggled to afford rent during the pandemic.

– NZ extends lockdown -New Zealand extends into next week a national lockdown sparked by a Delta virus outbreak, but warns restrictions will last longer in the infection epicentre of Auckland.

– Year-long symptoms -Fatigue and shortness of breath still afflict many patients a year after their hospitalisation for Covid-19, according to a new Chinese study calling for a better understanding of the pandemic’s long-term health effects.

– Rotating presence -The best way to keep cases out of businesses and schools while maintaining some in-person presence is to create two rotating groups, a French study shows.

– Thailand on the red list -The British government says it will add Thailand and Montenegro to its travel “red list” on Monday, with foreigners banned from travelling to England from those countries, and nationals required to quarantine.

– More than 4.4 million dead -The coronavirus has killed at least 4,472,486 people since the outbreak emerged in China in December 2019, according to an AFP compilation of official data.

The US is the worst-affected country with 633,564 deaths, followed by Brazil with 577,565, India with 436,861, Mexico 256,287 and Peru 198,064.

Based on the latest reports, the countries with the most new daily deaths were the US with 1,238, followed by Brazil with 920 and Mexico with 835.

India Coronavirus Cases Top 20 Million As US, Europe Ease Curbs

An elderly woman gets inoculated with a dose of Covishield vaccine against the Covid-19 coronavirus at a drive-in vaccination facility in Mumbai on May 4, 2021, as India’s total Covid caseload soared past 20 million. (Photo by Punit PARANJPE / AFP)



India’s coronavirus caseload topped 20 million on Tuesday as it struggled to contain a huge outbreak, in stark contrast to gradual reopenings in the United States and Europe.

Rapid immunisation programmes in wealthier nations have helped suppress outbreaks, and the European Union was even looking at allowing vaccinated foreign tourists into the bloc as early as next month.

That was a far cry from the nations still grappling with outbreaks, including India where more than 350,000 new cases were reported Tuesday as a devastating wave of infections overwhelmed hospitals and depleted critical resources such as medical oxygen.

With the government struggling, some young Indian volunteers have set up apps to crowdsource aid and are using social media to direct resources to people in need.


A health worker wearing a personal protective equipment (PPE) suits attends a Covid-19 coronavirus patient inside a Covid-19 ward at the SRN hospital, in Allahabad on May 3, 2021. (Photo by SANJAY KANOJIA / AFP)


“Some of us do midnight to morning shifts, because the calls don’t stop at 3 am,” said Swadha Prasad, 17, who works long hours updating information, verifying the availability of supplies and fielding calls from frantic relatives seeking help.

“We work very hard but we can’t save everyone,” said Prasad, her voice quavering as she recalled efforts to help an 80-year-old woman who died.

The number of new cases has declined in recent days, however, having peaked at 402,000 on Friday.

The South Asian nation’s plight has highlighted the threat still posed by the pandemic, which has already claimed more than 3.2 million lives worldwide.

Rickshaw driver Mohammad Javed Khan in the central Indian city of Bhopal turned his vehicle into a makeshift ambulance after he saw people carrying patients to hospitals on their backs as they were too poor to afford one.


A health official takes a swab sample from a man to test for the Covid-19 coronavirus at a testing centre in Allahabad on April 1, 2021. (Photo by Sanjay KANOJIA / AFP)


“Even when (people) call ambulances, the ambulances are charging 5,000-10,000 rupees ($70-140),” said Khan, who sold his wife’s jewellery to equip the rickshaw with medical equipment.

“How will a poor person be able to afford it? Especially during this pandemic when most people don’t have an income?”

EU eyes travel resumption

The leaders of Europe, meanwhile, were looking to take further steps towards recovery with a proposal to revive international travel and tourism as early as next month.

The European Commission proposed Monday that travellers who are fully vaccinated with EU-approved shots — Pfizer/BioNTech, Moderna, Johnson & Johnson and AstraZeneca — should be allowed to enter the bloc if they are coming from countries where Covid-19 is under control.

Among the European governments hoping for a post-pandemic tourism boom is Greece, which has reopened outdoor dining after six months of closures.

On Monday, the outdoor terraces in the trendy Kolonaki district of Athens filled up with customers.

“I haven’t worked in six months,” said Yannis Karagiannakis, a waiter. “I was going around in circles, was depressed.”

But in a sign that the pandemic is not yet over in Europe, Germany cancelled its world-famous Oktoberfest beer festival for a second year running.

Americans are among those eyeing possible European vacations this summer, with more than 100 million people in the United States now fully vaccinated and US media reporting that authorities were expected to authorise the Pfizer shot for children aged 12 and up.

The successful drive has allowed authorities in many parts of the world’s biggest economy to start relaxing curbs, including New York and Florida.


People queue up to get inoculated with a dose of Covishield vaccine against the Covid-19 coronavirus at a vaccination facility in Mumbai on May 4, 2021, as India’s total Covid caseload soared past 20 million. (Photo by Punit PARANJPE / AFP)


WHO plea to G7

But in hard-hit Brazil, vaccine shortages have forced several large cities to suspend administering second doses of the Chinese-developed CoronaVac shot.

Covid-19 has claimed more than 400,000 lives in Brazil — second only to the United States.

Warning about the global inequality in access to Covid-19 supplies, the WHO said Monday that rich countries must step up their funding for vaccines, tests and treatments in poorer nations if the pandemic is to be brought to an end.


A Covid-19 coronavirus patient on oxygen support is helped by a health worker inside an ambulance while waiting for admission in a civil hospital in Ahmedabad on May 3, 2021. (Photo by Sam PANTHAKY / AFP)


“We will only solve the vaccine crisis with the leadership of these countries,” WHO chief Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said, urging decisive action at the G7 summit in June.

Nearly 1.2 billion doses have so far been injected worldwide, according to an AFP count, but just 0.2 percent of them have been administered in the 29 lowest-income countries.

WHO Mission To China Fails To Find Animal Source Of Coronavirus

This file photo taken on April 29, 2020 shows an engineer looking at monkey kidney cells as he makes a test on an experimental vaccine for the Covid-19 coronavirus inside the Cells Culture Room laboratory at the Sinovac Biotech facilities in Beijing. Nicolas ASFOURI / AFP
This file photo taken on April 29, 2020 shows an engineer looking at monkey kidney cells as he makes a test on an experimental vaccine for the Covid-19 coronavirus inside the Cells Culture Room laboratory at the Sinovac Biotech facilities in Beijing. Nicolas ASFOURI / AFP


The WHO mission to China to uncover the origins of the coronavirus has failed to identify the animal source, scientists said Tuesday.

Experts believe the disease — which has gone on to kill more than 2.3 million people worldwide — originated in bats and could have been transmitted to humans via another mammal.

While transmission from animals was the likely route, so far “the reservoir hosts remain to be identified”, Liang Wannian, head of the China team, told reporters.

He added that studies showed the virus “can be carried long-distance on cold chain products,” appearing to nudge towards the possible importation of the virus — a theory that has abounded in China in recent months.

He also said there was “no indication” the sickness was in circulation in Wuhan before December 2019 when the first official cases have been recorded.

WHO foreign expert Ben Embarak, who was based in the WHO’s Beijing office for two years from 2009, backed up the assertion saying there was no evidence of “large outbreaks in Wuhan” before then.

The mission is a diplomatically knotty one, which was trailed before it began by fears of a whitewash, with the US demanding a “robust” probe and China firing back with a warning not to “politicise” the investigation.

During the closely-monitored visit, reporters were largely kept at arms’ length from the experts, but snippets of their findings crept out over Twitter and interviews.

The experts spent one month in China, two weeks in quarantine and the same again on fieldwork.

But, already over a year after the virus emerged, some of it was of questionable relevance to their stated aim of finding the virus source, including a visit to a propaganda exhibition celebrating China’s recovery from the pandemic.

The group spent just an hour at the seafood market where many of the first reported clusters of infections emerged over a year ago.

They also appeared to spend several days inside their hotel, receiving visits from various Chinese officials without going out into the city.

But deeper research was carried out at the Wuhan virology institute where they spent nearly four hours and said they met with Chinese scientists there including Shi Zhengli, one of China’s leading experts on bat coronaviruses and deputy director of the Wuhan lab.

Former US president Donald Trump repeated a controversial theory that a lab leak may have been the source of the pandemic.

Scientists at the laboratory conduct research on some of the world’s most dangerous diseases, including strains of bat coronaviruses similar to Covid-19.

Beijing is desperate to defang criticism of its handling of the chaotic early stages of the outbreak.

It has refocused attention at home — and abroad — on its handling of, and recovery from the outbreak.

Dubai Limits Entertainment Activity As COVID-19 Cases Surge

Women wearing masks for protection against the coronavirus, walk in the Mall of Dubai on April 28, 2020, after the shopping center was reopened as part of moves in the Gulf emirate to ease lockdown restrictions imposed last month.
(Karim Sahib | AFP)


Dubai clamped down on its entertainment scene Thursday and suspended non-essential surgery in hospitals after a spike in coronavirus cases in the UAE as the glitzy emirate stays open to tourists.

One of the seven emirates that make up the UAE, Dubai has branded itself this winter as an open, sunny and quarantine-free escape.

But Covid-19 infections have surged since the New Year and the UAE registered a daily record of 3,529 new cases on Thursday, a new high for the 10th consecutive day.

“To ensure public health and safety, all entertainment permits issued will be on hold effective immediately,” Dubai Media Office tweeted.

“Dubai Tourism will continue to evaluate the progress with the health authorities.”

It said more than 200 cases of non-compliance with coronavirus guidelines had been recorded and around 20 establishments closed in the past three weeks.

Authorities have also instructed hospitals to suspend all non-essential surgery until February 19.

While mask-wearing and social distancing have been in force, restaurants, hotels and mega-malls have remained open in tourism-reliant Dubai.

Businesses contacted by AFP on Thursday said they will continue to serve customers but without live entertainment such as disc jockeys and dancers.

According to Emirati health officials, the UAE has already inoculated over two million of its approximately 10 million population.

Dubai reopened its doors for tourism in July last year.

Posts of sports and media celebrities at Dubai’s multitude of beach clubs and cocktail bars have flooded social media over Christmas and New Year.

Fellow emirate Abu Dhabi, which has large oil reserves and so is less dependent on tourism, has taken a more conservative approach, generally requiring quarantine on arrival.

But tourists can freely enter Dubai with a negative PCR test in their home countries — and possibly another upon arrival, depending on the place of departure.

Its airline Emirates offers free travel insurance with every ticket purchased, including hospitalisation and repatriation costs for coronavirus.

Tourism has long been an economic mainstay of Dubai, which welcomed more than 16 million visitors in 2019 before the pandemic struck.

The UAE has recorded a total of more than 263,000 cases, including 762 deaths.

Britain has dropped the UAE from its “travel corridor” list of quarantine-exempted countries because of its rising cases.

Lebanon Enters Full Lockdown To Stem COVID-19 Uptick



Lebanon went into a tight lockdown Thursday, with residents barred even from grocery shopping and forced to rely on food deliveries as the country battles to slow spiking novel coronavirus cases.

The new restrictions were only loosely respected in some areas of the country, however, reflecting deep mistrust of a political elite held responsible for a deepening economic crisis.

The lockdown, ordered after some hospitals started to run out of intensive care beds, includes a 24-hour curfew until January 25.

Non-essential workers are barred from leaving their homes, and supermarkets are only allowed to operate by delivery.

Those needing an emergency exemption — to see a doctor, say — can request one via a text message or by filling in a form online.

In the capital, roads were quieter than usual, while non-essential shops remained shuttered. Security forces stopped drivers at several checkpoints in the centre of the city.

Security forces said compliance with the new measures stood at 94 percent.

But in some areas, some people ventured out to buy groceries.

As the lockdown went into force, authorities announced Thursday that 41 people had died of the coronavirus over the previous 24 hours, with 5,196 new infections registered.

– Heart attacks –

Recent days have seen Lebanon hit record daily Covid-19 caseloads in one of the steepest increases in transmission worldwide.

In Geitawi Hospital in Beirut on Thursday, director Pierre Yared said the emergencies department was brimming over with more than 30 people suffering from Covid-19 the previous day.

“The ER was filled with corona patients, there were no other patients,” he said.

Cases skyrocketed after authorities loosened restrictions during the holiday season, allowing restaurants and night clubs to remain open until 3:00 am, despite warnings from health professionals.

A partial lockdown in place since January 7 has failed to halt the spread of the virus.

Firass Abiad, the prominent director of the main state hospital treating Covid patients, warned the latest lockdown must not fail.

“In the last 24 hours alone, four Covid positive patients presented in cardiac arrest to our emergency room,” he wrote on Twitter.

“One of them was a 19 years old patient. This is serious.”

The new measures came into effect after caretaker health minister Hamad Hasan was admitted to hospital with Covid-19 late Wednesday, state media said.

The announcement on Monday raised fears of food shortages in impoverished and remote regions where deliveries are not readily available.

For several days, Lebanese have flooded supermarkets and chemists to stock up on supplies.

Some are worried the new restrictions will pile additional suffering on the country’s poorest.

– Political crisis –

Lebanon, a country of more than six million, was already grappling with its worst economic downturn in decades when the pandemic hit.

Previous lockdowns have forced businesses to close and deprived some, particularly informal day labourers, of income. Around half Lebanon’s population lives in poverty.

The World Bank Group on Tuesday approved a $246-million aid package to help 786,000 vulnerable Lebanese, but it is unclear when it will arrive.

Lebanon has recorded 237,132 cases since February last year, including 1,781 deaths.

Parliament is expected to convene Friday to examine a bill to allow the import and use of Covid-19 vaccines, which authorities have previously said will arrive in Lebanon by February.

Coming after months of political crisis and mass anti-government demonstrations, the country’s Covid-19 response is being overseen by a caretaker administration.

The previous government had resigned after a massive explosion of ammonium nitrate fertiliser at Beirut port last summer killed 200 people, wounded thousands and ravaged large parts of the capital.

A deeply divided political class has been unable to agree on a new cabinet to launch urgently needed reforms.

WHO Warns COVID-19 Herd Immunity Unlikely This Year

Municipal workers carry the coffin of an unclaimed body of a Covid-19 coronavirus victim to a crematorium in Colombo on December 10, 2020. Lakruwan WANNIARACHCHI / AFP
Municipal workers carry the coffin of an unclaimed body of a Covid-19 coronavirus victim to a crematorium in Colombo on December 10, 2020.


Scientists at the World Health Organization warned that mass vaccinations would not bring about herd immunity to the coronavirus this year, even as one leading producer boosted its production forecast.

Infections numbers are surging around the world, especially in Europe where nations have been forced to ramp up virus restrictions even as vaccines are rolled out.

The WHO’s chief scientist Soumya Swaminathan warned Monday that it would take time to produce and give enough shots to halt the spread of the virus, which has infected more than 90 million people worldwide with deaths approaching two million.

“We are not going to achieve any levels of population immunity or herd immunity in 2021,” she said, stressing the need to maintain physical distancing, hand-washing and mask-wearing.

Experts are also concerned about the rapid spread of new variants of the virus, such as the one first detected in Britain which is feared to be significantly more transmissible.

England opened seven mass vaccination sites Monday to fight a surge fuelled by that variant, which is threatening to overwhelm hospitals.

But England’s chief medical officer Chris Whitty told the BBC: “The next few weeks are going to be the worst weeks of this pandemic in terms of numbers into the NHS (National Health Service).”

Elsewhere in Europe, Portugal was facing a new lockdown because of a spike in cases and deaths, as the President Marcelo Rebelo de Sousa tested positive for the virus.

The 72-year-old was asymptomatic and isolating in the presidential palace in Lisbon, his office said.

Slovakia was preparing to start a new round of mass testing, Prime Minister Igor Matovic said late Monday, following a first nationwide screening in November.

“From next weekend at the latest, we will run a mass test every week until we get the situation under control. There is no other way,” said Matovic, who tested positive himself in December after an EU summit.

‘Endemic disease’ warning

German company BioNTech, which partnered with Pfizer to produce the first vaccine approved in the West, said it could produce millions more doses than originally expected this year, boosting the production forecast from 1.3 to two billion.

The announcement was a boost to countries struggling to deliver the shots, but the company also warned that Covid-19 would “likely become an endemic disease”, with vaccines needed to fight new variants and a “naturally waning immune response”.

Officials in Russia said they would trial a one-dose version of country’s Sputnik V vaccine as part of efforts to provide a stopgap solution for badly hit countries.

India, with the world’s second-highest number of infections, is set to begin giving shots to its 1.3 billion people from Saturday in a colossal and complex undertaking.

US President-elect Joe Biden, who has pledged to devote all available resources to fight the pandemic, received his second vaccine dose on Monday.

Environmental impact

There have been surges in Asia as well, where many nations avoided the high death tolls and infection rates seen in Europe and the United States in the early months of the pandemic.

Malaysia’s king declared a nationwide state of emergency Tuesday to fight a coronavirus surge that is overwhelming hospitals, but critics charged it was a bid by an unstable government to cling to power.

The last time an emergency was declared nationally in Malaysia was in 1969, in response to deadly racial riots.

With more than a year gone since the first known outbreak of the coronavirus, the fallout from the worst pandemic in a century has become clearer — from the economy and society to culture and the environment.

The masks that have become ubiquitous and necessary to save lives, for example, are proving a deadly hazard for wildlife, with birds and marine creatures ensnared in the staggering number of discarded facial coverings littering animal habitats.

Single-use surgical masks have been found scattered around pavements, waterways and beaches worldwide since countries began mandating their use in public places to slow the pandemic’s spread.

Worn once, the thin protective materials can take hundreds of years to decompose.

“Face masks aren’t going away any time soon,” Ashley Fruno of animal rights group PETA told AFP.

“But when we throw them away, these items can harm the environment and the animals who share our planet.”

COVID-19: Latest Global Developments

A nurse swabs the nose of a patient as he administers a COVID-19 test in Ljubljana on December 22, 2020, as nation wide mass free rapid testing for the novel coronavirus Covid-19 starts.
Jure Makovec / AFP


Here are the latest developments in the coronavirus crisis:

Eye of the storm

The United Kingdom registers a record  53,135 new coronavirus cases in 24 hours, as the government comes under pressure to introduce tighter restrictions, including delaying the return to school.

Health chiefs warn that England is “back in the eye” of the coronavirus storm, with as many patients in the hospital as during the initial peak in April, and the new strain of the virus appearing to be behind the recent upsurge in cases.

‘High’ risk new strains

The Stockholm-based European Centre Disease Prevention and Control (ECDC) says that the risk is “high” that newly discovered virus variants causing Covid-19 could cause more deaths due to “increased transmissibility”.

New strain reaches Latin America

Chile’s health authorities say they have detected a case of the new coronavirus strain initially found in Britain, the first such confirmed infection in Latin America.

Vaccinations roll out

Argentina and Belarus launch their vaccination campaigns, both using the Sputnik V shots developed by Russia.


Registered nurse Patricia Cummings administers the COVID-19 vaccine to Vice President-elect Kamala Harris December 29, 2020 at the United Medical Center in Washington, DC. Alex Edelman / AFP
Registered nurse Patricia Cummings administers the COVID-19 vaccine to Vice President-elect Kamala Harris December 29, 2020 at the United Medical Center in Washington, DC.
Alex Edelman / AFP

Harris vaccinated

US Vice President-elect Kamala Harris receives her Covid vaccine live on television and urges public trust in the process.

French vaccine-skeptic

Just four in 10 people in France want to have a vaccination against Covid-19, a poll by Ipsos Global Advisor in partnership with the World Economic Forum shows.

US call for China reporter release

US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo demands that China release citizen journalist Zhang Zhan, jailed for reports from pandemic Ground Zero Wuhan, accusing Beijing of seeking to cover up the Covid-19 pandemic.


A pro-Beijing supporter holds China's national flag as he and others gather outside the Legislative Council in Hong Kong on November 12, 2020, a day after the city's pro-Beijing authorities ousted four pro-democracy lawmakers. Anthony WALLACE / AFP
A pro-Beijing supporter holds China’s national flag as he and others gather outside the Legislative Council in Hong Kong on November 12, 2020, a day after the city’s pro-Beijing authorities ousted four pro-democracy lawmakers.


1.77 million dead

The coronavirus has killed at least 1,775,272 people since the outbreak emerged in China in December 2019, according to an AFP tally on Tuesday based on official sources.

At least 81 million cases have been registered.

The United States is the worst-affected country with 334,967 deaths, followed by Brazil with 191,570.

The tallies are based on daily tolls provided by health authorities in each country and exclude later re-evaluations by statistical organisations, as has happened in Russia, Spain and Britain.

New high at Premier League

England’s top-flight Premier League says that 18 football players and staff have tested positive for coronavirus, the highest number since weekly testing began, plunging the continuation of the season into doubt.

Indian Wells postponed

Indian Wells in California, traditionally the first Masters event of the year on the men’s tennis calendar, will not be held as usual in March because of the coronavirus, the ATP says.

Spain, India Crash Through Coronavirus Milestones

(FILES) In this file photo taken on June 1, 2020 a health professional works at the Intensive Care Unit (ICU) ward where patients infected with the COVID-19 novel coronavirus are being treated, at the Santa Casa hospital in Belo Horizonte, state of Minas Gerais, Brazil. (Photo by Douglas MAGNO / AFP)


Spain passed the landmark figure of 500,000 coronavirus infections on Monday as India reopened some metro lines despite becoming the world’s second most affected country.

Spain had largely gained control over its outbreak by imposing one of the world’s toughest lockdowns, but infections have surged since the restrictions were fully removed at the end of June.

The country became the first in western Europe to hit the 500,000 mark — albeit with a far lower death rate and many more asymptomatic cases than were recorded during its previous peak in late March and early April.

“The situation is much more favourable but we remain in an upwards phase,” said health official Fernando Simon.

But the overall caseloads in European countries are dwarfed by India’s 4.2 million confirmed infections.

Nevertheless, economic necessity pushed the South Asian nation to risk reopening transport lines on Monday — metros began running again in the capital New Delhi after a five-month shutdown and 12 other cities also restarted subway services.

“For our lives to move on, we have to get out of our homes… so this is a good move by the government,” on commuter Deepak Kumar on the Delhi subway told AFP.

Passengers are obliged to wear masks, keep their distance and undergo temperature checks.

– ‘Like guinea pigs’ –
India leapfrogged Brazil to become the world’s second-hardest hit nation after the United States, with the virus having caused almost 890,000 deaths and more than 27 million infections worldwide.

As governments around the world have moved away from the idea of blanket lockdowns, countries in all continents have been experimenting with targeted measures to deal with infection spikes.

England fiddled with its overseas quarantine rules again on Monday, imposing restrictions on travellers from seven Greek islands popular with holidaymakers.

Morocco imposed a lockdown on Casablanca and shut schools on the day they were supposed to reopen after a surge in cases in the city.

Officials said the virus risked overwhelming the country if it was not controlled, but some parents were left fuming.

“They were on cloud nine over returning to school tomorrow,” wrote one father on Twitter. “How do you explain this to a six-year-old and an eight-year-old?”

In Spain, parental anger flowed in the other direction, with fears rising that schools were opening too soon with millions of pupils returning on Monday.

“Going back to school is being treated like an experiment, we’re like guinea pigs,” said Aroa Miranda, a 37-year-old mother-of-two.

France put seven more regions on a red list on Sunday after regularly recording daily infection rates of between 7,000 and 9,000 — although the figure fell dramatically on Monday.

Israel announced a “nightly closure” of 40 cities and towns with the highest infection rates with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu accepting the measures were not ideal but saying there was “no way to avoid them”.

– Olympic hope –
The coronavirus fallout continues to ricochet around the sporting world, with French footballer Kylian Mbappe the latest in a long line of footballers to test positive.

Many tennis players have also been infected, galvanising organisers of the French Open later this month to impose strict guidelines.

All players will be housed in two designated hotels “without exception” to reduce the risk, said tournament director Guy Forget, who also said far fewer spectators would be allowed to watch than initially planned.

Both tennis and football have seen their calendars ripped to shreds by the virus, but the biggest single casualty has been the Tokyo Olympics, which were due to take place this summer.

International Olympic Committee vice president John Coates offered a note of hope on Monday, saying the rescheduled Games would go ahead next year regardless of the pandemic.

“These will be the Games that conquered Covid, the light at the end of the tunnel,” Coates told AFP in an exclusive interview.




India Reopens Further As Coronavirus Cases Hit 1.5 Million

A bride (R) and a groom wearing facemasks exchange flower garlands as part of a traditional ritual of their social marriage function, during a lockdown imposed by the state government against the surge in COVID-19 coronavirus cases, in Kolkata on July 29, 2020. (Photo by Dibyangshu SARKAR / AFP)



India will reopen gyms and end a nighttime curfew from August, but cinemas, bars and schools will remain closed in the vast South Asian nation as the number of coronavirus cases passed 1.5 million and deaths neared 35,000 on Wednesday.

The country of 1.3 billion people — the world’s third-most infected nation — has gradually eased its virus restrictions imposed since late March to boost the flagging economy.

But the latest reopenings from August 5 are limited to gyms and yoga teaching facilities, as well as an end to the curfew, currently from 10 pm to 5 am.

Case numbers in India are soaring and more states are reimposing shutdowns to stem the spread of the virus.

Independence Day celebrations on August 15 will go ahead, but with “social distancing and by following other health protocols” such as mask-wearing, the home affairs ministry said.

Metro train services, cinemas, swimming pools, entertainment parks, theatres, bars, auditoriums and assembly halls will remain closed for now, it added.

Schools and other educational institutions will also remain shut through the end of August, at least.

Prime Minister Narendra Modi said this week that India was in a “better position that other countries”, and winning international praise.

The health ministry website — which no longer includes total infections as the government puts more emphasis on recoveries — on Wednesday reported almost 50,000 new infections and 768 more deaths.

India, home to some of the world’s most crowded cities and where health-care spending per capita is among the world’s lowest, passed one million cases only 12 days ago.

But many experts have said the country is not testing enough people, and that many coronavirus-linked deaths are not being recorded as such.

A study released Tuesday that tested for coronavirus antibodies reported some 57 percent of people in Mumbai’s teeming slums have had the infection — far more than official figures suggest.

The Tata Institute of Fundamental Research’s Ullas S. Kolthur, who was involved in carrying out the survey, said he was surprised by the results.

“At least in the slums, we think it is largely because social distancing wouldn’t work simply because of the population density,” Kolthur told AFP.

Last week, a similar study indicated that almost a quarter of people in the capital New Delhi have contracted the virus — almost 40 times the official total.

There are, however, doubts about the accuracy of such tests, since other coronaviruses — not just this one — may also produce antibodies that could give a false positive result.

The Mumbai survey also covered a relatively small sample of around 7,000 people.

India now has the third-highest number of cases in the world behind the United States and Brazil, although the official number of deaths in the South Asian nation is far lower.

As a proportion of its population, India also lags behind, with only 1,110 cases per million people, compared to 13,148 for the United States, according to an AFP tally.






Coronavirus Cost Global Tourism $320 Billion From January To May – UN

A total of 600,523 deaths were recorded globally out of 14,233,355 cases, a count based on official data showed, including 205,065 deaths in Europe — the worst-affected continent. (Photo by Ernesto BENAVIDES / AFP)



The coronavirus crisis cost the global tourism sector $320 billion in lost revenue between January and May, the UN World Tourism Organization said Tuesday.

This is “more than three times the loss during the Global Financial Crisis of 2009,” the Madrid-based organisation said in a statement.




Concern Over South Africa Coronavirus Toll After Rise In Natural Deaths

People stand in a street of a high density migrants area in the Johannesbrg city center, on May 10, 2020. (Photo by Luca Sola / AFP)



South Africa has recorded a jump of nearly 60 percent in overall numbers of natural deaths in recent weeks, suggesting a much higher toll of coronavirus-related fatalities than officially reported.

“In the past weeks, the numbers have shown a relentless increase – by the second week of July, there were 59% more deaths from natural causes than would have been expected based on historical data,” the South African Medical Research Council (SAMRC) said in a report released late Wednesday.

The report by the council, which is government-funded but an independent unit, came as the health ministry announced a record increase of 572 coronavirus deaths over the previous 24 hours.

The author of the report, Professor Debbie Bradshaw, said “the weekly death reports have revealed a huge discrepancy between the country’s confirmed COVID-19 deaths and number of excess natural deaths”.

South Africa is the worst-affected country in Africa and among the top five in the world in terms of confirmed cases, with 394,948 infections reported to date including 5,940 deaths.

The mortality rate has remained low, however, at around 1.5 percent on Wednesday, according to the health ministry’s daily updates.

The SAMRC is charged with conducting research on disease trends and identifying the main causes of deaths in the country.

“The SAMRC has been tracking mortality for decades in South Africa, and this system has identified excess deaths associated with the COVID-19 epidemic,” said the council’s CEO professor Glenda Gray.

“These may be attributed to both COVID-19 deaths as well non-COVID-19 due to other diseases such as TB, HIV and non-communicable diseases, as health services are re-orientated to support this health crisis,” she said.