Kazakhstan Imposes ‘Second Wave’ Of Restrictions As COVID-19 Surges

A healthcare worker gives a Covid-19 test to a medical staff near Halyk Arena in Almaty, on July 5, 2020 as Kazakhstan imposed a second round of nationwide restrictions to counter a huge surge in coronavirus cases since the previous lockdown that has overwhelmed the oil-rich country’s healthcare system. Ruslan PRYANIKOV / AFP

 

Kazakhstan on Sunday imposed a second round of nationwide restrictions to counter a huge surge in coronavirus cases since the previous lockdown, which has overwhelmed the oil-rich country’s healthcare system.

Shopping centres, gyms, swimming pools, hairdressers and beauty salons have all closed down for the next two weeks, a measure that authorities may choose to extend.

An AFP correspondent saw long queues outside pharmacies in the country’s largest city Almaty, where demand for medicines such as paracetamol has far outstripped supply.

Yevgeny Yermin was waiting to buy medicines for his 76-year-old mother, who has coronavirus symptoms.

He said that he had not taken the virus seriously until it hit his own family.

“A week ago we lost our grandfather (to the coronavirus). We thought it was all some sort of a joke. Turns out it isn’t a joke at all,” Yermin told AFP.

Kazakhstan imposed a strict lockdown in late March that saw important sectors of the economy grind to a halt and prevented most travel.

But it was one of the first Central Asian countries to lift restrictions in late May, when it had less than 9,000 confirmed cases.

Since then however, coronavirus cases have risen more than five-fold, reaching over 47,000 with 188 fatalities.

– Stadium converted to field hospital –

The new restrictions are notably less stringent — travel between most cities remains possible and citizens can fly in and out of the country.

Darya, a 17-year-old Almaty resident, told AFP she felt the second lockdown was not strict enough.

“In parks, people are walking around without masks and gathering in big crowds,” she said, adding that several of her friends were currently ill with the virus.

The growth in cases is putting acute strain on hospitals, with several hospital chiefs reporting that they are full or nearing capacity.

President Kassym-Jomart Tokayev earlier this week ordered a 50-percent expansion in the number of hospital beds.

Almaty’s Halyk Arena, a sports stadium that usually stages ice hockey and volleyball matches, is being converted into a temporary hospital with the capacity to receive up to 1,000 coronavirus patients in the coming weeks.

The arena is already being used as coronavirus testing point.

Aliya Baygaliyeva, the doctor in charge, told AFP that the centre had a capacity of up to 800 tests per day, but until recently had been hampered by a two-week delay in supplies of reagents from South Korea.

Last month only 70 to 80 people per day came to take tests, but now there was far more demand, she said.

“(The virus) has gathered strength. We are seeing a lot more people here now.”

AFP

Markets Mixed As Investors Track Second Wave, New Lockdowns

People walk through a shopping area in Tokyo on May 12, 2020. Kazuhiro NOGI / AFP.

 

Equities were mixed Wednesday in Asia after a healthy run-up the day before as traders weigh positive data suggesting economies are recovering against signs of a second wave of infections and the reintroduction of some lockdowns.

While governments and central banks have provided a wall of cash to support markets, investors are walking a tightrope between hopes the easing of restrictions will lead to a rebound and the possibility that looser measures will inflame the pandemic again.

After a rally across most regional bourses Tuesday, Wall Street and Europe followed suit after figures pointed to a big improvement in eurozone private-sector activity in June as well as a jump in US new home sales.

Meanwhile, several countries continued to loosen up, including in Britain where pubs, restaurants, hotels and cinemas were told they could open again from July 4.

“Through the lens of survey data, at least for now, the world’s essential economies are seeing a V-shaped and coordinated rebound that looks set to (continue) through the summer in the northern hemisphere,” said Stephen Innes at AxiCorp. “Fingers crossed a second wave super spread does not land in our lap.”

However, there are growing concerns of a relapse in some countries that had been opening up, with Tokyo governor Yuriko Koike on Wednesday warning a number of new cases had been found at one workplace.

READ ALSO: COVID-19 Crisis Sinks Global Economy In 2020, Collapsing GDP 4.9% – IMF

That comes after Germany reimposed containment measures in two western districts — home to almost 640,000 people — after an outbreak at a slaughterhouse infected more than 1,500 workers.

Portugal has also announced new restrictions in and around Lisbon.

And leading US health officials headed by top infectious disease expert Anthony Fauci warned of “historic” challenges, adding: “COVID-19 activity will likely continue for some time.”

Fauci warned the next two weeks would be “critical to our ability to address… surgings” in Florida, Texas and other states.

Tokyo and Singapore each lost 0.1 percent, Hong Kong dipped 0.5 percent and there were also losses in Manila.

Sydney added 0.2 percent, Shanghai gained 0.3, Mumbai added 0.5 percent and Taipei put on 0.4 percent with Wellington and Jakarta more than one percent higher.

Seoul climbed 1.5 percent with help coming from a report that North Korean leader Kim Jong Un has suspended plans for military action against the South in an apparent easing of tensions just over a week after Pyongyang blew up a liaison office.

London, Frankfurt and Paris were all in the red in early trade.

While equities have been on a generally upward trajectory, gold — a key safe haven in times of uncertainty — has also been on the up as the relatively weak dollar makes it cheaper to buy, while investors are also keeping an eye on a fall-back in case the crisis erupts again.

The yellow metal is up around 17 percent since the end of December and sitting at a seven-and-a-half-year high of $1,775.

“Historically the metal has rallied when stocks have sold off as funds typically flowed towards assets that are deemed to be lower risk,” said CMC Markets analyst David Madden.

“The rise of the US dollar as a risk-off play has distorted the old relationship between gold and attitudes towards risk. Recently we have seen gold and stocks move higher in tandem.”

– Key figures around 0810 GMT –

Tokyo – Nikkei 225: DOWN 0.1 percent at 22,534.32 (close)

Hong Kong – Hang Seng: DOWN 0.5 percent at 24,781.58 (close)

Shanghai – Composite: UP 0.3 percent at 2,979.55 (close)

London – FTSE 100: DOWN 0.8 percent at 6,271.71

West Texas Intermediate: UP 0.1 percent at $40.39 per barrel

Brent North Sea crude: UP 0.3 percent at $42.77 per barrel

Euro/dollar: DOWN at $1.1293 from $1.1308 at 2050 GMT

Dollar/yen: UP at 106.61 yen from 106.53 yen

Pound/dollar: DOWN at $1.2480 from $1.2520

Euro/pound: UP at 90.48 pence from 90.30 pence

New York – Dow: UP 0.5 percent at 26,156.10 (close).

AFP

 

Israel Tests 100,000 To Prevent Pandemic ‘Second Wave’

 

Israel has launched a campaign to test 100,000 people for novel coronavirus antibodies as the country prepares for a possible “second wave” of cases, a top official said Thursday.

The initiative is one of the world’s largest schemes and aims to test Israel’s “collective immunity” against the COVID-19 disease.

“We have started… It should not be too long before we see some interesting trends,” said Yair Schindel, a senior official on the government’s task force tackling the pandemic.

The government is trying to determine how widely the virus has spread and who is most at risk going forward.

In parallel to the national campaign, authorities are also running separate surveys of “high-risk areas”.

Israel’s ultra-Orthodox Jewish community has been particularly hard-hit by the pandemic, while other focus groups include hospital staff treating coronavirus patients.

READ ALSO: US COVID-19 Death Toll Surpasses 100,000 As Pandemic Rages In Latin America

“We need to understand how many of them were actually exposed and created antibodies,” said Schindel, who co-founded aMoon, a venture capital firm specialising in biomedical start-ups.

The World Health Organization, however, said last month there is no evidence that those who have recovered from COVID-19 are protected from future infection.

– Low death rate –

Israel has gradually relaxed its anti-coronavirus measures in recent weeks, reopening schools, beaches and restaurants.

The country has registered 281 deaths from COVID-19 and more than 16,800 cases in a population of around nine million, according to official figures.

But despite Israel faring relatively well compared to some countries, the government is already preparing for a spike in cases that could hit this winter or even sooner.

The government has bought around 2.5 million tests for the antibodies scheme, Schindel said.

These are being distributed to the country’s four health insurance companies, before the samples are brought together for analysis.

“I have not heard about another large-scale national survey yet,” said Schindel.

Israel’s blood testing scheme, which Schindel hoped would be taken up by other countries, was first revealed earlier this month by the New York Times newspaper.

Around 70 percent of Israel’s novel coronavirus infections are linked to a case from the United States, according to a Tel Aviv University study, while the rest can be traced to European cases.

Israel enforced strict measures at the start of the pandemic, shutting its borders to visitors and ordering residents to stay at home.

The use of telemedicine, allowing healthcare workers to monitor patients from a distance, also had a positive impact, according to specialists who spoke to AFP.

“Another thing that is unique… is that the Israeli population is very used to going from routine day-to-day to an emergency situation,” said Schindel.

“Usually it is not because of a pandemic, it is because we have missiles coming in,” he added, referring to rockets fired by Palestinian militants from Gaza.

The enclave has been under a crippling Israeli blockade for more than a decade.

AFP

Top China Expert Warns Of Potential Second COVID-19 Wave

This photo taken on February 6, 2020 shows a laboratory technician working on samples from people to be tested for the new coronavirus. STR / AFP

 

China faces a potential second wave of coronavirus infections due to a lack of immunity among its population, its government’s senior medical advisor has warned.

After months of lockdowns and curbs on travel China has largely brought the virus under control, but fears of a second wave have risen as clusters have emerged in northeast provinces and in the central city of Wuhan.

“The majority of… Chinese at the moment are still susceptible of the Covid-19 infection, because (of) a lack of immunity,” Zhong Nanshan, the public face of government’s response to the pandemic, told CNN.

“We are facing (a) big challenge,” Zhong added. “It’s not better than the foreign countries I think at the moment.”

Zhong, who helped expose the scale of the 2003 outbreak of Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS), also said authorities in ground-zero Wuhan had under-reported cases during the early days of the pandemic.

“The local authorities, they didn’t like to tell the truth at that time,” said Zhong, who was part of a team of experts sent to Wuhan to investigate the outbreak.

“I didn’t believe that result (the number of cases reported) so I (kept) asking and then, you have to give me the real number,” he said.

READ ALSO: COVID-19 Crisis Punctures Tunisia Tourism Rebound

But he added he believed data published after Wuhan was locked down in late January, and when the central government took control of the response, “will be correct”.

The novel coronavirus has killed at least 309,296 people, according to a tally from official sources compiled by AFP, with scientists around the world racing to find a vaccine.

Zhong cautioned that a “perfect” vaccine for a disease that the World Health Organization (WHO) says may never disappear could take “years”.

AFP