Ireland recorded no new deaths from the coronavirus on Monday for the first time since March 11, when the first fatalities were announced.
Prime Minister Leo Varadkar called it a “significant milestone”, adding on Twitter: “This is a day of hope. We will prevail.”
The announcement came one week after Ireland, which has suffered 1,606 deaths from 24,698 infections, began to ease lockdown measures that had been in place for nearly two months.
Ireland entered lockdown in late March, recording a peak of 77 deaths on a single day on April 20.
“In the last 24 hours we didn’t have any deaths notified to us,” chief medical officer Tony Holohan said at a daily press briefing.
He warned that the zero figure could be a result of a lag in reporting of deaths over the weekend, but he added: “It’s part of the continued trend that we’ve seen in (the) reduction in the total number of deaths.”
Ireland has announced a five-step plan to reopen the nation by August and took the first steps last Monday — allowing outdoor employees to return to work, some shops to reopen and the resumption of activities such as golf and tennis.
While the news of no fresh deaths was greeted as progress, officials remain concerned there will be a “second wave” if lockdown is loosened.
“The number of new cases and reported deaths over the past week indicates that we have suppressed COVID-19 as a country,” Holohan added in a statement.
“It will take another week to see any effect on disease incidence that might arise from the easing of measures.”
Coronavirus infections in South Africa surged past 20,000 with close to 400 deaths, Health Minister Zweli Mkhize said on Friday.
In a statement the ministry reported 20,125 coronavirus positive cases, and a total of 397 deaths countrywide.
The continent’s most industrialised nation has the highest number of coronavirus infections, with the coastal province of the Western Cape accounting for 64 percent of infections.
A modelling consortium this week projected that more than a million people in South Africa could be infected by coronavirus, causing at least 40,000 deaths, by the time the disease reaches a likely peak in the country in November.
President Cyril Ramaphosa has given the go-ahead for the country to ease lockdown restrictions later this month, having gone into a strict five-tier lockdown on March 27.
So far 10,104 people are considered to have recovered since the first case was announced on March 5.
The government is staggering the easing of confinement measures to strike a balance between curbing the spread of COVID-19 and safeguarding the economy.
Despite a military patrolled lockdown, the government has struggled to keep civilians indoors, particularly in historically overcrowded townships, where many depend on informal trade to survive.
With 543,032 tests conducted so far, the country has developed an aggressive COVID-19 screening and testing approach modelled on years of experience fighting tuberculosis and HIV.
But government has come in for strong criticism for “draconian” bans on freedoms like purchasing cigarettes and alcohol.
The World Health Organization (WHO) announced on Friday that more than 100,000 cases, including 3,100 deaths, have so far been reported on the African continent.
Britain’s official coronavirus death toll is at least 41,000 with almost 10,000 dead in care homes in England and Wales alone, according to a statistical update released on Tuesday.
Some 41,020 deaths where COVID-19 was mentioned on the death certificate were registered across the UK by May 8, according to the Office for National Statistics (ONS).
With hundreds of deaths still being reported each day, it means the current toll, already the highest in Europe and second only to the United States in the global rankings, is likely to be even higher.
The government’s official rolling tally only records deaths after positive tests, and on Tuesday stood at 35,341, up 545 on the day before.
The ONS figures show a sharp fall in coronavirus deaths in the week up to May 8, reinforcing ministers’ claims that Britain is past the peak.
Deaths in care homes fell at a slower rate than the population at large, and the total number of deaths in care homes in England and Wales now stands at 9,975.
Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s government has come under intense criticism for its handling of the outbreak, notably for the time it took to introduce widespread testing.
A cross-party parliamentary committee on Tuesday criticised the decision to initially concentrate testing in a limited number of laboratories.
“From it followed the decision on March 12 to cease testing in the community and retreat to testing principally within hospitals,” it said, warning this left care home residents untested.
At the government’s daily media briefing, England’s deputy chief scientific adviser, Angela McLean, admitted that limited capacity had driven strategy on testing.
“It was the best thing to do with the tests that we had. We could not have people in hospital with Covid symptoms not knowing whether or not they had Covid,” she said.
Health Secretary Matt Hancock earlier told parliament he was encouraged that care home deaths were falling.
A total of 62 percent of care homes in England had no reported cases of COVID-19 at all, he added.
Just over a quarter (27 percent) of all deaths in England from the virus were in such places, compared with a European average of about half, he told MPs.
“We will not rest from doing whatever is humanly possible to protect our care homes from this appalling virus,” he said.
He added, “Again, I sound a very strong warning on behalf of the committee and the government of Borno State that they should desist henceforth or face the law.
“We will close down all such premises and prosecute the offenders in accordance with the extant laws of the country.”
Kwayabura informed journalists that while the total number of recovered patients who have been discharged from the isolation centre was 18, the death toll has risen to 21.
He said 10 out of the 21 cases were managed at the isolation centres before the patients gave up the ghost, but the remaining 11 were brought in critical conditions and their status was only discovered after a post-mortem was conducted.
The Commissioner, who is also the secretary of the State COVID 19 Task Force, lamented that some infected patients wait until the disease knocks them down before presenting themselves at the hospital.
According to him, the Ministry of Health had already sent out letters to the culprits with very clear warnings that none of them has the capacity to test for COVID-19.
Kwayabura added that as laboratories conduct diagnostic investigations, they do not have the mandate to attend to patients medically or prescribe the drugs to use.
“I want to sound a very strong warning to pharmacies and patent medicine stores outlets across the state, to private laboratories and private hospitals spread across the state; it is absolutely clear in the laws of this nation that they cannot provide medical care to any individual.
“Therefore, it remains an illegal act to consult within the premises of your facilities,” the commissioner caution.
He, however, asked all government and private hospitals and clinics to be on high alert and properly profile all patients who come to their facilities for medical care.
Kwayabura also asked medical personnel to immediately arrange for the referral of any suspected case of COVID-19 to the state isolation centre for necessary actions.
The coronavirus pandemic has killed more than 270,000 people worldwide since it began in China late last year, with more than 85 percent of fatalities in Europe and the United States, according to an AFP tally compiled from official figures at 1615 GMT on Friday.
In total, 270,927 deaths have been reported across the globe from 3,877,772 confirmed cases.
Europe is the most affected continent with 153,367 deaths and 1,678,485 cases. The United States is the country with the most deaths at 75,781, followed by Britain with 31,241, Italy 30,201, Spain 26,299 and France 25,987.
Britain’s overall death toll from the coronavirus outbreak rose by 739 to 27,510 on Friday, as new data indicated that people in disadvantaged areas were worse hit.
The increase came as Health Secretary Matt Hancock announced the country had met its goal of achieving 100,000 tests a day by the end of April.
A total of 122,347 tests were achieved on Thursday, he told a daily briefing about the government’s response to the pandemic, calling the increase an “incredible achievement”.
“The testing capacity that we’ve built together will help every single person in this country,” he said. “Testing is crucial to suppress the virus.”
The 100,000 target had looked out of reach at the beginning of the week, when only 43,000 people were being tested per day despite a capacity for 73,000.
Friday’s number includes thousands of home testing kits that have been sent in the post but not yet returned. The minister paid tribute to delivery companies including Yodel for helping to send out the tests.
The government has faced weeks of criticism, particularly from health and social care workers, who say they have been unable to get tests despite dealing with COVID-19 patients.
It also faced a backlash for not including deaths in care homes and the wider community in official statistics, forcing a change on Wednesday.
Prime Minister Boris Johnson said on Thursday that Britain was “past the peak” of the outbreak, and that wider testing would be key to keeping transmission rates down.
Hancock said testing would also be crucial to lifting stringent lockdown measures imposed in late March and restoring social and economic freedoms.
Death and Deprivation
Hancock also said the government was concerned about Office for National Statistics (ONS) figures about the effect the virus has had on more deprived parts of the country.
The virus has had a disproportionate impact on black and ethnic minority communities, the elderly, men and the obese.
The ONS earlier revealed that areas of England with the worst rankings for income, health, education and crime, suffered 55.1 deaths per 100,000 people due to COVID-19.
That compared to 25.3 per 100,000 in the least deprived areas.
“This is something that we’re worried about,” Hancock said.
“We’re… trying to understand the impact of the virus as much as we possible can as and when we get new evidence.”
According to the ONS, general mortality rates involving all causes of deaths, including COVID-19, were 88 per cent higher in the most deprived areas than in the least.
But when looking at the impact of deprivation on COVID-19 mortality, the rate in the most disadvantaged areas of England was 118 per cent higher than in more well-off locations.
“People living in more deprived areas have experienced COVID-19 mortality rates more than double those living in less deprived areas,” said Nick Stripe, ONS head of health analysis.
The ONS figures, which analysed deaths between March 1 and April 17, confirmed London was the epicentre of Britain’s outbreak, which is the second-worst in Europe behind Italy.
The capital had the highest mortality rate in the country, with 85.7 deaths per 100,000 people involving COVID-19.
This was more than double the next highest area, the West Midlands — which includes the city of Birmingham — where there were 43.2 deaths involving coronavirus per 100,000 people.
The east London borough of Newham was worst hit, with 144.3 deaths per 100,000 people.
London and Birmingham are the most diverse areas of Britain, a fact that has been used to explain why ethnic minorities have been particularly affected by the outbreak.
But a new study by the Institute for Fiscal Studies (IFS) think tank on Friday suggests a more complex picture.
It notes that most minorities are younger on average than the general population, so should be less vulnerable.
But “after stripping out the role of age and geography, Bangladeshi hospital fatalities are twice those of the white British group, Pakistani deaths are 2.9 times as high and black African deaths 3.7 times as high”, it said.
“Bangladeshi men have high rates of underlying health problems, and black Africans and Indian men are particularly exposed to the virus due to their prevalence in healthcare roles.”
Spain registered a sharp drop in its daily death toll from the new coronavirus on Sunday, with the number falling to 410 from 565.
The total number of fatalities in Spain, the third hardest-hit country in the world after the US and Italy, has reached 20,453, the health ministry said.
“It’s a number that gives us hope,” said health ministry emergencies coordinator Fernando Simon of the daily death toll, at its lowest in four weeks.
“It’s the first time we are under 500 dead since the daily tolls began to climb.”
Infections rose to 195,344, with 4,218 new cases in the past 24 hours.
But Simon admitted the fall in the number of deaths from Saturday to Sunday can be explained by the lower registration of fatalities over the weekend. Such a drop is often followed by a rise at the start of the week.
Spanish authorities believe the country reached the peak of the pandemic on April 2 when they had counted 950 deaths in 24 hours. But they are not ready to recommend a lifting of the nationwide lockdown, one of the tightest in Europe.
Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez on Saturday announced he would ask parliament to extend the lockdown by two weeks to May 9.
The restrictions currently in place would, however, be loosened slightly to allow children time outside from April 27, Sanchez said.
Damascus in early March paused a military offensive on rebels and jihadists in Syria’s northwest, after a ceasefire brokered by regime ally Russia came into effect.
The Moscow-backed campaign had displaced nearly a million people in the region since December, piling pressure on informal settlements already brimming with families forced to flee previous bouts of violence.
The fate of the displaced has been a key concern of aid groups amid an outbreak in the country of the novel coronavirus, which has killed two and infected eight others.
The United Nations has appealed for a nation-wide ceasefire to tackle the novel coronavirus threat, while aid groups have warned of a health catastrophe if the pandemic hits overcrowded displacement camps or crammed regime prisons.