Chancellor Angela Merkel is deeply worried about sharply rising new coronavirus infections in Germany, her spokesman said Monday, urging citizens to keep to strict hygiene measures including masks if social distancing cannot be maintained.
“The development of infection numbers is of great concern to us,” Steffen Seibert said. “We can see from some of our European friends where that could lead.”
In a meeting with her CDU party’s top brass, Merkel warned that new infection numbers — currently at around 2,000 a day — could leap to 19,200 daily by Christmas if the trend “continues in this way,” party sources told AFP.
The chancellor’s warning came a day before she is due to hold a video conference with the premiers of Germany’s 16 states on the next measures to take to keep infections down.
Germany began to ease stringent measures including shop closures or limits to the numbers of people meeting from late April, after weeks of lockdown brought new infections down from the peak of around 6,000 daily.
But with travel picking up again, particularly during summer holidays, and larger gatherings taking place, contagion has returned swiftly.
During the CDU meeting, Merkel also reportedly cited where priority would lie in terms of which sectors to keep open while fighting the pandemic.
“We must set priorities — keeping the economy running, schools and kindergartens open. Football is secondary,” she said, according to Germany’s top-selling Bild daily.
The Nigeria Center for Disease Control (NCDC) confirmed this on Saturday night.
According to the agency, the new cases are in 14 states and the Federal Capital Territory.
Lagos recorded 70 cases, Plateau recorded 37, the FCT, 24; Kaduna, 19; Rivers, 12; Oyo, five; Ogun, four; Ebonyi, Katsina, Ondo and Osun have three each, Imo, Yobe have two each, while Ekiti and Nasarawa have one each.
This brings the number of confirmed COVID-19 cases to 56,145 nationwide.
Meanwhile, 48,431 patients have been discharged, while 1,095 deaths have so far been recorded.
Coronavirus infections in India soared past five million on Wednesday, as a WHO envoy warned the pandemic was “still at the beginning”.
Global cases are rapidly approaching 30 million, with more than 935,000 known Covid-19 deaths, the global economy devastated and nations struggling to contain outbreaks.
India, home to 1.3 billion people, has reported some of the highest daily case jumps in the world recently, as a World Health Organization special envoy described the global pandemic situation as “horrible” and “grotesque”.
“It’s much worse than any of the science fiction about pandemics,” David Nabarro told British MPs on Tuesday.
“This is really serious — we’re not even in the middle of it yet. We’re still at the beginning of it.”
The spread of the virus has accelerated in some of the most populous parts of the world such as India, where the latest million infections were detected over just 11 days.
And some experts have warned that the total number of cases could be far higher in the vast nation, which has been easing one of the world’s strictest lockdowns recently despite the surge to help its reeling economy.
“People have lost their fear or are too tired (of) being cautious. They want to be out and earn a living right now,” Jayant Surana, a New Delhi-based entrepreneur, told AFP.
“Everything has now been left to god’s will.”
– Trump vaccine claim –
The United States remains the worst-hit nation in the world in terms of both infections and deaths, and President Donald Trump is under intense pressure over his handling of the coronavirus crisis.
The Republican leader said Tuesday that a vaccine may be available within a month — an acceleration of even his own optimistic predictions.
“We’re within weeks of getting it, you know — could be three weeks, four weeks,” Trump said during a town hall event broadcast on ABC News.
But experts are worried that world-renowned American institutions responsible for overseeing the approval and distribution of vaccines have become increasingly compromised by political pressure, and corners may be cut to get one ready before the presidential election in November.
There was also a bullish claim earlier this week from China, where the virus first emerged late last year, with an official telling state media that a China-developed vaccine could be ready for the public as early as November.
Germany’s health minister Jens Spahn said Tuesday the country aims to reach herd immunity through a voluntary coronavirus vaccine expected to be widely available by mid-2021.
– ‘We cannot bear this’ –
Many European countries had started to ease their restrictions after largely bringing outbreaks under control, but are faced with worrying spikes in infections again.
Denmark on Tuesday announced new restrictions, including shorter hours for bars and restaurants, new face mask requirements, and reduced crowds at football matches.
Referring to Europe, WHO emergencies director Michael Ryan warned it was time to “stop looking for unicorns” and take hard decisions to protect the most vulnerable with a potentially deadly winter approaching.
That came as airlines ramped up pressure on the European Union to coordinate virus measures, demanding an end to quarantine “chaos” and access to reliable and quick testing.
Airlines have been hit especially hard by the pandemic as travel was severely restricted to control the virus. The UN said Tuesday the pandemic cost the global tourism sector $460 billion in the first six months of 2020.
The economic pain is even more acute in poorer parts of the world, such as Algeria, where the winemaking industry illustrates the devastation suffered by businesses during a virus lockdown, with livelihoods hanging by a thread.
Libya on Monday reported more than 1,000 new coronavirus infections, the highest tally for a single day since the conflict-ravaged country announced its first cases in late March.
“Of the 4,291 tests performed on Sunday, 1,080 were positive,” said the National Centre for Disease Control (NCDC), a Tripoli-based government agency.
The figure brings the total number of Covid-19 cases in the North African country to 18,834, including 16,376 who required hospitalisation, 2,162 patients who recovered and 296 deaths.
The NCDC urged people in areas where the virus is spreading rapidly to avoid travel unless it is essential.
Tripoli and its suburbs, home to more than one-third of Libya’s population, accounted for more than half of the new cases for the third week in a row.
On Sunday, the NCDC launched a campaign to raise awareness about health protocols, including the wearing of masks which is compulsory in public.
It called on Tripoli residents to be more vigilant and to respect such measures given the “rapidly worsening epidemiological situation”.
Libya, ravaged by a complex web of conflicts since the ouster of longtime dictator Moamer Kadhafi in a 2011 NATO-backed uprising, has seen Covid-19 cases surge, weighing on already stretched health services.
At the end of August, the World Health Organization voiced alarm over the uptick in infections.
“Compounding the situation, Libya’s health care system has been badly disrupted by years of conflict,” the WHO said.
“Given the acute shortages of tests and laboratory capacity, the real number of (Covid-19) cases is likely to be much higher.”
Millions of mask-wearing European children returned to school on Tuesday with governments determined to get pupils back in class despite still-rising coronavirus infections which surged over four million across the continent for the first time.
Schools reopened in Russia, Ukraine, Belgium and France, where teachers and children aged 11 and older were obliged to wear face coverings, echoing regulations in place across the continent.
Lockdowns imposed from March meant many children have missed months of education, as well as time with their friends.
“I’ve been waiting for this moment for a long time!” 12-year-old Chahda told AFP excitedly as she arrived with her friend at school in the southern French city of Marseille.
However, the largest school district in the United States — New York City — announced a delay to in-person classes at public institutions until September 21, after reaching a deal with a prominent teachers’ union that had threatened a strike over health concerns it felt had gone unaddressed.
In Europe, the decision to forge ahead with school reopenings comes as the virus is spreading rapidly again in many countries, raising fears that more lockdowns and disruption are to come in autumn and winter.
“I am convinced that we can and will prevent a second general shutdown,” Germany’s Economy Minister Peter Altmaier said, unveiling figures to suggest his country has passed the worst of its recession.
An AFP tally of infections, using official data from across Europe, showed that more than four million people have contracted the illness, with Russia accounting for almost a quarter of infections.
The virus emerged late last year in China and has now infected more than 25 million people globally and killed almost 850,000.
The Chinese city at the centre of the initial outbreak, Wuhan, took another leap back to normality on Tuesday when its almost 1.4 million youngsters also returned to schools and kindergartens.
State media broadcast images of thousands of students hoisting the Chinese flag — a daily routine at all public schools — despite warnings to avoid mass gatherings.
– ‘Weird’ tennis returns –
While schools attempt to get back to normal, the virus continues to play havoc with cultural and sporting events.
The US is hosting the world’s first major tennis tournament since Covid-19 emerged, but it has not been plain sailing at the US Open, where one player was sent home after testing positive and other players are grappling with eerie empty arenas.
“It’s a little bit weird to play without fans and without the support and the atmosphere on the centre courts,” said former champion Angelique Kerber.
The Italian city of Venice is also gearing up for the annual film festival, with about half the usual number of visitors expected and no Hollywood A-listers prepared to accept invitations from the organisers.
“It’s a festival without stars because Hollywood is still in lockdown,” Festival Director Alberto Barbera told AFP. “Will there be less glamour? Yes. Will there be fewer stars on the red carpet? Certainly.”
– Blow for Sanofi –
Tuesday also brought bad news for everyone hoping for a swift medical breakthrough that could bring an end to the pandemic.
French pharma giant Sanofi announced that a drug in testing as a treatment for serious Covid-19 cases had proved disappointing and trials will be halted.
The drug “did not give us the results we were hoping for”, said the firm’s research chief John Reed.
Sanofi is also part of the global race to develop a vaccine against coronavirus, with more than two dozen different products being trialled around the world according to the World Health Organization.
In Hong Kong, health authorities are focusing on rolling out a mass testing scheme but have seen their efforts hampered by distrust of officials following China’s crushing of the city’s democracy movement.
Doctors and testing firms from mainland China are involved in the programme, fuelling public fears that their DNA and data will be harvested to create a system of control underpinned by biometrics.
“I think it’s a waste of time,” local resident Emily Li told AFP. “The government can’t convince me in terms of the effectiveness of the testing programme.”
– ‘Bubble within a bubble’ –
Elsewhere, fresh economic data for the second quarter further revealed the extent of the economic devastation caused by the virus’s march around the globe.
Brazil’s economy, the biggest in Latin America, contracted by a record 9.7 percent in the second quarter of 2020, the official statistics agency said Tuesday.
There is uncertainty about whether the economy will recover strongly over the rest of the year because the virus is still wreaking havoc and room is running out to continue the huge government stimulus spending that has softened the blow so far.
On Monday, India said its economy had collapsed by 23.9 percent.
Only China, where the outbreak was first reported, has escaped a recession in the period, according to official data.
Malls and temples opened across India on Monday after a 10-week lockdown, despite a record daily rise in new cases and predictions that the epidemic will worsen for weeks to come.
The government has risked easing restrictions in a bid to ease the devastating blow to the economy dealt by the coronavirus.
But the number of new cases rose by 9,983 to 256,611, according to government figures announced Monday, putting the country of 1.3 billion on course to quickly overtake Britain and Spain among nations with the highest number of infections.
The reported death toll of 7,135 is lower than other badly-hit countries, but India’s epidemic is only expected to peak in July. Many experts say the toll is higher.
In the capital, Delhi, shopping malls, restaurants, temples and mosques re-opened for the first time since March 25.
But highlighting the city’s reputation as one of India’s worst coronavirus hotspots, one day after announcing the reopening, Delhi chief minister Arvind Kejriwal went into isolation with virus symptoms including a fever.
– ‘Rough it out’ –
The worst traffic jams in many weeks were seen in the city of 20 million people. But the public response to being able to shop and pray was tentative. There was only a trickle of people at most places of worship.
Businessman Mohit Budhiraja, wearing a mask and carrying sanitiser, went to his local temple in eastern Delhi for the first time since the lockdown.
“It felt like something was missing when I couldn’t come to the temple for all these weeks,” he said. “I hope things improve, but now I will come every day.”
Many temples set up sanitisation tunnels at entrances and barred worshippers from bringing offerings.
“People are having their temperature tested twice before they get in,” said Ravindra Goel, a trustee of the Jhandewalan temple, one of the oldest in Delhi.
The 400-year-old Jama Masjid mosque, one of the biggest in India, planned only three prayers a day instead of the usual five for Muslims. Worshippers also had to bring their own prayer mats.
Shopping malls also imposed tight checks at entrances and social distancing in stores. Owners acknowledged they would have to wait to see normal business levels return.
“This will last for at least two months, we will just have to rough it out,” said Mahendra Singh, owner of a clothes franchise in one mall.
– Major hit –
Delhi accounts for more than 27,600 cases and 761 deaths — although media reports say the real figures are much higher. Shamika Ravi, an economics professor whose daily data analysis on the crisis is widely followed, said Delhi’s deaths have risen “alarmingly”.
The city government has ordered that hotels and banquet halls remain closed as they could be turned into hospitals.
Authorities have faced several complaints by relatives of people who have died before a hospital would accept them. Authorities say up to 15,000 extra beds could be needed by the end of the month.
“Citizens must be provided with real-time information on nearby testing labs, quarantine facilities, hospital bed availability,” said Ravi.
“Fear and panic can only be dispelled by honest communication.”
Mumbai accounts for around a fifth of India’s cases and hospitals have been overrun. Authorities have been more cautious about lifting restrictions. Roadside shops reopened, but malls, restaurants and hair salons remained shuttered.
The Indian government says the tough lockdown has limited the spread of the coronavirus. But it is now braced for a major hit to the economy, with millions of labourers now jobless.
Rating agencies have said the economy could contract by more than five percent this year, after average growth of about seven percent over the past decade.
Health officials in Finland announced no new coronavirus infections on Thursday for the first time in more than three months.
“This is the first ‘zero day’ since February 26,” a spokesperson for the Institute for Health and Welfare told AFP.
However, one person died from the virus on Thursday, the institute said, bringing the death toll to 322 in the Nordic nation of 5.5 million people.
An estimated 5,800 of Finland’s 7,000 recorded COVID-19 cases have now recovered.
A total of 50 people remain in hospital, with seven in intensive care.
The virus’ reproduction rate has fallen in the last two weeks to between 0.75 and 0.80, officials said, adding that more than a third of hospital districts did not register a single case during the final week of May.
Since mid-May Finland’s government has begun lifting emergency restrictions that were imposed on 18 March.
Schools were reopened for two weeks before the summer holidays began at the start of June, and earlier this week bars, restaurants, sports facilities and cultural institutions were allowed to reopen under social distancing regulations.
However, officials and the government have said they are braced for a second wave of infections later in the year, and have warned the public to continue following distancing advice and to self-isolate and seek testing if they experience any symptoms.
China reported a new cluster of coronavirus cases in Wuhan Monday after a month without fresh infections at the pandemic’s global epicentre, as a northeastern city was placed under lockdown.
The cases added to fears China could be facing a new wave of infections, even as restrictions continued to ease in some other parts of the country.
Five new infections were confirmed in one residential district of Wuhan, the central Chinese city where the virus was initially detected late last year and which emerged from its own lockdown roughly four weeks ago, following dramatically dwindling numbers.
Authorities also issued stay-at-home orders and travel bans in Shulan, a city of around 670,000 people in northeastern China, after three new infections were confirmed there.
The disease first emerged late last year, sweeping through Wuhan city and surrounding Hubei province, killing thousands and sickening many more.
Authorities in Wuhan imposed draconian restrictions on travel and movement in what appeared to have been a successful bid to quash the outbreak.
That lockdown eased in recent weeks as officials said the disease was under control, with travel to and from the city allowed.
But on Sunday authorities acknowledged one person had tested positive for the virus in Wuhan, followed by another five on Monday.
Local authorities said all new cases were from the same residential compound, mostly older people, and an official from the affected district has been dismissed for “insufficient” virus containment efforts.
There were also 11 new “asymptomatic” cases reported in wider Hubei province. China is recording symptomatic and asymptomatic cases separately.
In a stark warning of the dangers of a fresh wave after weeks of declining case numbers, a local cluster of coronavirus cases grew in Shulan.
The city’s public transportation — as well as taxis and trains leaving the city — was suspended Sunday, with Jilin province raising its emergency alert to the highest level, according to state broadcaster CCTV.
Jilin’s provincial capital imposed a 21-day quarantine and mandatory four nucleic acid tests for arrivals from Shulan.
Five new cases were reported Monday in the country’s northeast near North Korea, which claims to have no coronavirus cases.
– Students monitored –
The news of new infections at the global ground zero comes as many European nations begin the tricky task of navigating out of lockdowns imposed to halt the spread of the virus.
It also comes as swathes of the US ease restrictions on movement — despite still rising rates of infection — and as citizens chafe under rules many say are government overreach.
The virus has now infected more than four million people worldwide — claiming more than 280,000 lives — and crippled the global economy.
The total number infected in China is around 83,000, with more than 4,600 dead.
No new deaths have been reported nationwide for nearly a month, with life in China gradually returning to normal after months of disruption.
Shanghai Disneyland reopened Monday, while the national government gave the green light last week for cinemas and sports venues to reopen.
More students returned to school in Beijing on Monday, weeks after senior high school students were allowed to return to campuses in the capital.
China has faced criticism both at home and abroad for downplaying the virus and concealing information about the outbreak when it first emerged in Wuhan. Doubt has also been cast over the official toll.
Beijing has insisted it has always shared information with the World Health Organization and other countries in a timely manner.
Four members of a Thai youth football team guided out of a flooded cave complex will not be allowed physical contact with their parents until the risk of infection has gone, the chief of the rescue bid said Monday.
“They (the four) will be kept away from their parents for a while because we are concerned about infections,” Narongsak Osottanakorn told reporters, adding doctors will decide on family visits “at a distance or through glass.”
The Minister of Health, Professor Onyebuchi Chukwu, has reiterated the government’s determination to put an end to the spread of Ebola virus in Nigeria and protect all its citizens from contracting the disease.
While speaking on the Tuesday edition of Channels Television’s Sunrise Daily, he noted that it would be wrong to speculate if there had been more cases of the virus but maintained that some health workers who attended to the late Patrick Sawyer had shown fever symptom but the tests on them turned out negative with the exception of the female doctor who had been confirmed to have contracted the Ebola virus.
On the general situation of things in the country, he said that 70 people, who had primary contacts with the Liberian, were currently under active surveillance, and having shown suggestive symptoms, about 8 people have been quarantined.
He added that the family of the female doctor has also been kept under watch and surveillance, they have been tested and none of them had tested positive yet.
Questions were raised about Nigeria’s involvement in the conference of African Health Ministers held in Accra, Ghana and how it has allegedly failed to address the issue of Ebola spread across the continent and into Nigeria, and Prof. Chukwu explained that indeed the conference addressed the issues of Ebola spread.
He revealed that one of the resolutions of the conference, which was facilitated by the World Health Organisation, was “the establishment of coordinating mechanism for all the ECOWAS countries, plus all the Central African countries, on how to ensure that we share common strategies, best practices and information as we moved on.”
He explained that the spread of Ebola was “just unfortunate”, as the late Patrick Sawyer, whose was the index case, travelled to Nigeria against the warnings of his own country.
“How he ended up travelling and not disclosing full information to those who were asking (is unknown). Even on the hospital bed he was still denying. Its just unfortunate that he just brought this into Nigeria, but then it tells you that every country of the world is indeed at risk”, he said.
He, however, gave assurances that the global community was aware of this risk and there were efforts to address it.
“This week the W.H.O is meeting in Geneva to review all strategies that are in place and to see if anything more drastic could be suggested.
“Even in-country here in Nigeria, we are working as a team; Federal Government, Lagos State Government, other state governments, W.H.O, US Centre for Diseases Control and Prevention. We continue to review the strategies we are putting in place.”
Speaking on the focus of the strategy being deployed, he noted that communication was paramount, beyond information, as there was need to always share information and this, he said, the states and Federal Government were “doing very well”.
He stated that the President has been supportive of the Federal Ministry of Health by inaugurating an inter-ministerial committee for communication strategies, and eight ministers, whose offices are relevant, were serving on the committee. They include the Ministers of Communication Technology, Foreign Affairs, Agriculture, Interior, Aviation, Science and Technology and the Minister of Information, who chairs the committee.
Asides the use of electronic media to run jingles, which had started since March 2014, the Health Minister disclosed that the scope of communication had been widened with the launch of a new website: www.ebolaalert.org which is an interactive website that accommodates sharing of suggestions, airing complains and answering questions from citizens. This is in addition to accounts being opened on social media platforms; Facebook and Twitter.
A toll-free telephone line; ‘0800EBOLAHELP’ has also been launched for the public, dedicated to reaching the health agencies and help desks set up to attend to citizens.
Other strategies include diagnosis, which he said has been greatly improved to the delight of the country’s development partners, adding that they would continue to upgrade.
Border screening was also mentioned as part of the strategies. This include temperature screening and data collection of all passengers entering the country. He added that there had been a directive for corpses not to be brought into the country without proper death certificates.
He cited the cases reported in Anambra and Imo states as examples of how the issue of corpse screening would be handled. He insisted that the responsibility was on the families of the dead persons to prove the cause of death, while the corpses would also be subjected to tests by Nigerian authorities.
Many citizens have expressed the view that the doctors’ strike was a blessing in disguise for Nigeria, owing to the view that the Liberian carrier of the Ebola virus would have been taken to a public hospital where there are usually more patients and this would have led to a possibly uncontrollable spread, but Professor Chukwu believes that while this could be a valid opinion, the country still remained at a disadvantage with the doctors being on strike.
Although, according to the Minister, the non-availability of doctors in government hospitals across the country hadn’t affected the management of the Ebola virus yet, he warned that there were possibilities of more cases of the virus springing up in the coming days and at this point more experts would be needed to manage it.
He appealed to the striking doctors to get back to work as most of their requests had been addressed by the Federal Government.
He said that the reasons for the doctors’ refusal to resume work could only be answered by the leadership of the Nigerian Medical Association, as all relevant authorities and stakeholders had intervened in the matter and he could not explain why the doctors have refused to resume.
Nigerians have also expressed fear that Nigeria lacked the infrastructural capacity in its health sector to handle the outbreak of Ebola.
The Health Minister, while admitting that there was dire need for the country to move faster in that aspect, said that work had commenced on providing more isolation facilities across the country and within the hospitals to prevent the spread of the virus.
He commended the Lagos State Government for providing the required facilities to quarantine and treat patients. “Given the way Lagos State has been proactive in this matter, I want to commend the authorities of Lagos State. I believe still working with them, they will be able to provide additional spaces”, he said.
The Minister also promised to do more on sensitizing young Nigerians on the Ebola virus. He revealed that the Ministry had commenced work on collaborating with schools across the country to provide proper information to the students.
Ebola and Bush Meat
On the suspected cause of the virus, Prof Chukwu maintained an earlier plea that Nigerians who consider bats as delicacies should avoid its consumption and that of other bush meat as they could have been in contact with bats.
He, however, added that those processing the bats and other bush meat were more in danger of contracting the Ebola virus as they are the ones who handle the animals in their raw state. He explained that the meat, if well heated up, could be free of the Ebola virus.