This article titled “Coronavirus live news: Czech Republic shuts shops to curb Europe’s fastest growth in cases; record deaths in Russia” was written by Lucy Campbell (now); Amy Walker and Helen Sullivan (earlier), for theguardian.com on Wednesday 21st October 2020 13.25 UTC
South Africa faces a high risk of surging coronavirus infections that may force the country back into a stricter lockdown, after new cases rose by 42% in Western Cape province in the last two weeks, the health minister said on Wednesday.
Zweli Mkhize said in a statement that the increase in infections and deaths “will inform the recommendations that the Health Department makes to the National Coronavirus Council”, the body that decides lockdown levels.
The Brazilian president Jair Bolsonaro has been accused of putting politics before lives after announcing he would refuse to acquire an experimental coronavirus vaccine from China.
“I’m alerting you that we will not buy vaccine from China,” the rightwing nationalist reportedly told ministers.
Urged on social media to shun the vaccine of “the Chinese dictatorship”, Bolsonaro insisted he would. “IT WILL NOT BE PURCHASED,” he wrote.
Those statements, likely to irk Brazil’s top trade partner, came just hours after Bolsonaro’s own health ministry, Eduardo Pazuello, signed off on the purchase of 46 million doses of an experimental vaccine from the Chinese pharmaceutical company Sinovac.
In another social media post Bolsonaro suggested Pazuello was a traitor.
Bolsonaro’s opposition to the Chinese vaccine appears partly the result of his longstanding hostility to China’s Communist party rulers and proximity to Donald Trump. But it is also part of a bitter political fight with the governor of São Paulo state, João Doria.
Doria hopes to challenge Bolsonaro for the presidency in 2022 and has spearheaded attempts to bring the so-called CoronaVac to Brazil through a partnership between Sinovac and the Butantan Institute, a São Paulo-based biomedical research centre.
Critics slammed Bolsonaro’s stance. “The politics of death,” tweeted Daniel Dourado, a public health expert and lawyer from the University of São Paulo.
Former president Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva said the move underlined Bolsonaro’s submissiveness to Trump: “The US doesn’t tolerate any Latin American country having ties with China.”
Since schools in the southern Italian region of Campania closed due to a surge in Covid-19 cases, teachers have been taking their classes to the streets to prevent students from falling behind, Reuters reports.
Campania, around Naples, escaped largely unscathed from Italy’s first coronavirus wave in the spring, but the region has seen infections soar in recent weeks and local authorities have closed most schools until the end of October.
“Mothers called me and said the kids are in floods of tears, they want to go back to school, they don’t understand why schools need to be stopped,” said Pamela Buda, while holding a class for pupils sitting on public steps in central Naples.
Tonino Stornaiuolo yells out his lessons to pupils listening from their balconies and on the streets outside their homes.
We do everything to respect the rules because I think this emergency in Italy is serious and real.
The government has so far avoided imposing nationwide curbs on schools, businesses and freedom of movement, but has urged regional authorities to draw up their own restrictions if needed.
Lombardy, where Milan is located, has already introduced a curfew from 11pm to 5am to put a stop to late night gatherings. Campania has said it will follow suit.
“I wanted to find a way in which the kids could see us and share time with us, at least as long as it is possible and until we know whether there will be another lockdown,” Stornaiuolo added.
The Netherlands hit a new record for daily coronavirus cases, with more than 8,500 infections in the 24 hours, data released by the National Institute for Public Health (RIVM) on Wednesday showed.
The daily number of confirmed cases continues to rise in one of Europe’s second-wave hotspots, nearly a week after the government imposed “partial lockdown” measures including the closure of bars and restaurants.
More French regions will have to impose curfews, government says
Several more French departments are to enter red-alert status amid the coronavirus pandemic, which means that they will have to impose curfews, the government said on Wednesday.
Spokesman Gabriel Attal also told a news conference that the government was proposing to extend a state of emergency to 16 February. This would mean it retained the power to extend curfews already in place in France’s biggest cities, including Paris.
From Saturday, Paris and other big cities have been put on a 9pm to 6am curfew, which is set to last four weeks but could be extended to six weeks.
Attal also said that the country’s emergency rooms were now at 40% of capacity due to the heavy influx of Covid-19 patients.
French media reported that hospitals in the cities of Clermont and Dijon were moving to emergency mode, meaning that they postpone non-coronavirus related operations and cancel staff holidays.
Hospitals in the Paris region moved into emergency mode early October, as coronavirus patients made up close to half of all patients in intensive care units.
Here is some much-needed midday joy courtesy of Reuters, which reports that in Spain a 99-year-old is back to playing computer games with her grandchildren after recovering from Covid-19.
When Florentina Martin contracted the coronavirus in September, her grand-daughter’s greatest fear was not that the disease would kill her, but that she would end up alone on an emergency ward.
Noelia Valle thinks her grandmother probably got infected at her 99th birthday party on 16 September, when the family went outside to enjoy the fine weather with drinks on a terrace, close together without masks.
A few days later, Martin began to feel weak and retreated to bed. Exposure to contaminated rapeseed oil when she was younger left Martin with lifelong health problems, heightening her vulnerability to respiratory complications from Covid-19.
But she only developed mild symptoms and was able to recuperate at home in Madrid, supported by her family, her carer Olga Arauz and her dog, a half-deaf Havanese called Luna.
Now she is back to watching her favourite TV shows and playing games on a tablet with her five-year old great-grandson Pedro.
Despite her grandmother’s full recovery, Valle, who is a biologist, still insists on wearing a mask when she stops by for a visit.
I don’t want to let my guard down but of course I feel a huge sense of relief.
Scotland to introduce new five-tier alert system
Pubs and restaurants in the central belt of Scotland are to remain closed, Nicola Sturgeon said as she extended coronavirus restrictions for a third week.
Speaking at the Scottish government’s daily virus briefing, the first minister said the measures introduced at the beginning of October and intended to last for two weeks will now continue until 2 November.
They were due to end on 25 October, and also forced the closure of snooker and pool halls, indoor bowling, casinos and bingo halls in the central belt, with a 6pm indoor curfew brought in for hospitality businesses elsewhere in Scotland.
People across the country are also banned from visiting each other’s homes, unless they are part of an extended household.
The restrictions will now be in place until a tiered system is introduced on 2 November, with different measures for different areas.
Sturgeon said while there is “cautious optimism” that the current restrictions are working, Scottish ministers have been told by advisers it would not be safe to lift them as originally planned on Monday.
The extension allows us to transition more smoothly to the new levels system that we hope will be introduced on November 2.
The Guardian’s Scotland editor Severin Carrell reports that at that top level, people living in areas affected will reportedly live under restrictions close to the full lockdown introduced in late March across the UK, when there were strict controls on travel, a “stay at home” message and the closure of the vast majority of shops and businesses.
Unlike the full lockdown, schools would not automatically close if they were in areas hit by the extreme tier unless public health advice recommended it; that would be judged on a case-by-case basis.
Sturgeon is due to publish her draft proposals on Friday before a debate in the Scottish parliament next week.
More from the UK on our politics and coronavirus live blog:
Separately, a video clip posted on social media showed at least two dozen bodies in black bags on beds or lying on the floor in the basement corridor of a Siberian hospital for patients with Covid-19.
Reuters reports that the Altai region’s health ministry confirmed the authenticity of the video and said the bodies had built up because doctors have to conduct post-mortems on all victims and were unable to keep up despite working overtime.
Russia recorded 15,700 new coronavirus infections on Wednesday, while a daily record high of 317 deaths pushed the total number of fatalities since the start of the pandemic to 24,952. With 1,447,335 infections in total, the country of around 145 million has the world’s fourth largest caseload.
Russia is not planning to impose any further lockdowns to contain the Covid-19 pandemic, the Kremlin said on Wednesday, after deaths hit a record daily high of 317 (see 8.36am.).
Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said no harsh restrictions were required to contain the virus, saying safety precautions, hygiene and certain curbs imposed by local authorities were key.
He told reporters that Russia was now better-equipped to respond to the pandemic.
The work that has been done has already yielded results. The health system is ready to sustain the pressure caused by the pandemic.
Russia’s health watchdog said it was investigating after local media outlet 161.ru reported that several people in a hospital in the southern city of Rostov-on-Don had died when their oxygen supply ran out. A city official denied the report. Peskov called the report alarming.
Beds in intensive care units (ICU) in Tunisian public hospitals are about 80% full as Covid-19 cases surge, the health minister said on Wednesday, calling the situation “critical”.
Tunisia has just 181 ICU beds, of which 145 are being used by patients, Fouzi Mehdi told reporters.
Coronavirus cases have been rising fast in the country, which had managed to contain the virus earlier this year, and have reached 45,000 cases and 740 deaths.
The government imposed a curfew this month in the capital, Tunis, to slow a second wave of the pandemic.
But the prime minister, Hichem Mechichi, said he will not impose another lockdown, saying the economic cost it too high, with the economy expected to shrink by 7% this year and the fiscal deficit to double to about 14%.
Turkey is considering reimposing some measures to stem rising coronavirus cases, such as stay-home orders for younger and older people or even weekend lockdowns, but will avoid hurting the economic recovery, a senior official said.
The official, who requested anonymity, said the total number of Covid-19 cases is about five times that reported in the government’s daily tally – echoing concerns by Turkey’s top medical association and opposition lawmakers.
Health ministry officials were not immediately available to comment. The health minister Fahrettin Koca has warned about the increase in numbers and urged Turks to abide by nationwide distancing and mask rules, which are subject to fines.
The senior official was speaking to Reuters after Turkey’s daily new symptomatic coronavirus cases rose to 2,026 on Monday, the highest level since early May when restrictions on businesses and households were in place.
“New measures could be enforced after looking at the process over a few weeks,” the senior official said, adding the picture would become clearer after assessing the impact of the partial reopening of schools earlier this month.
Turkey’s medical association and main opposition party have criticised a government decision to only disclose the number of symptomatic patients.
The health ministry changed the wording in its daily reports from “cases” to “patients” on 29 July, and Koca said the daily number only includes symptomatic cases.
The official told Reuters there were many without symptoms.
It appears the number of cases is around five times the number of patients. If this trend goes higher of course some measures will be taken.
Another official said that while a recent rapid rise in cases in the capital Ankara had slowed somewhat, upticks in cities such as Istanbul posed a risk for the country in this “difficult period”.
But draconian measures like “a full lockdown” were not on the agenda, he said.
The number of “patients” in Turkey since the outbreak began exceeds 350,000, with nearly 9,500 deaths, ministry data shows.
Turkey imposed lockdowns, restricted intercity travel and closed restaurants and cafes earlier this year. Almost all restrictions were lifted in June.
The economy shrank 10% in the second quarter and a Reuters poll on Wednesday showed growth was seen contracting 3.4% in 2020 as a whole, a much bleaker outlook than government forecasts.
Any new curbs would have a “narrower scope” and protect the economy, the first official said.
“Measures on the agenda are: closure of restaurants and facilities at certain hours; fixed hours during which young people and over-65s can go out; or as a last step, weekend lockdowns,” he said, adding the cabinet is working on it. “We will see some steps without waiting too long.”
Iran’s health ministry on Wednesday reported 5,616 new coronavirus cases for the previous 24 hours, the highest daily number since February, bringing the national tally to 545,286 in the Middle East’s hardest-hit country.
Ministry spokeswoman Sima Sadat Lari told state TV that 312 people had died from the disease in the past 24 hours, bringing total fatalities to 31,346.
To stem a third wave of the outbreak, authorities have urged people to avoid unnecessary trips and stay home, warning that hospitals in Tehran and some other major cities are overflowing with patients with coronavirus.
On Tuesday, the health minister Saeed Namaki appealed for more public and government support to enforce restrictions to curb the spread of the virus.
Earlier this month, mask-wearing became mandatory in public in Tehran, where the government said violators would be fined. The government on Saturday extended restrictions and closures in the capital into a third week.
Authorities plan to impose similar restrictions in other cities, where the infection rates are high.
Up to 30% of the people now contracting Covid-19 in Poland could end up being hospitalised, the health minister said on Wednesday, as the government weighs new restrictions amid an ongoing surge in cases.
“From studies by our experts, about 20 to 30% of new daily coronavirus cases could end up in hospital, which means we could have up to 2,000 to 3,000 new patients in hospital daily,” Poland’s health minister Adam Niedzielski told the lower house of parliament.
Czech Republic shuts shops and curbs movement to stem Covid-19 surge
The Czech government on Wednesday ordered most shops and services to shutter and sought to limit all movement to essential trips such as for work and medical visits to curb Europe’s fastest growth in new coronavirus infections. Food stores and pharmacies will remain open.
The health minister Roman Prymula said the Czech health system would soon reach the limits of its capacity and that hospitals would run short of beds in November without immediate action.
It comes as the country recorded a record daily rise of 11,984 new coronavirus infections on Tuesday, amid a surge in recent weeks. The number of people who died of Covid-19 rose to 1,619 from 1,513 over the past 24 hours in the country of more than 10 million.
Poland will most likely move older primary school students to distance learning, the prime minister Mateusz Morawiecki said on Wednesday, as the country tries to combat a big increase in Covid-19 cases.
Poland’s infections have doubled in less than three weeks and now exceed 200,000, the health ministry said. It reported on Wednesday 10,040 new infections, a daily record.
Earlier on Wednesday, government Covid-19 advisor Andrzej Horban said 10,000 daily cases is the upper limit of the health system’s capacity, with up to 2,000 patients admitted to hospitals every day.
As of Wednesday, patients with Covid-19 occupied 9,439 hospital beds and were using 757 ventilators, compared with 8,962 and 725 a day earlier, the ministry said. Its spokesman said that capacity as of Wednesday is about 17,000 Covid-19 hospital beds.
Morawiecki said the government wants to create 13,000 new hospital beds and will move to create more temporary hospitals.
Malaysia reported 732 new coronavirus cases on Wednesday, raising the total to 22,957 infections.
The country, which imposed targeted lockdowns this month amid an increase in cases, also recorded six new deaths, raising its total number of fatalities to 199.
Switzerland’s new coronavirus infections almost doubled in a day to a record level, health authorities said on Wednesday.
The public health agency reported 5,596 new coronavirus cases, compared to 3,008 on Tuesday. The total confirmed cases in Switzerland and tiny neighbouring principality Liechtenstein rose to 91,763 and the death toll by 11 to 1,856.
The government is fast-tracking legislation to give police new powers to levy on the spot fines for breaches of the new restrictions, which come into effect on Thursday.
Authorities are also considering fines of €60 for those who travel outside a 5km travel limit and refuse to wear masks in public areas.
“Too many people are acting in a manner which enables the transmission of the virus and therefore additional measures are needed,” said the justice minister, Helen McEntee.
The system of penalties being proposed here may help to change behaviour … the objective is to get people to behave responsibly, rather than impose punishment.
The level five restrictions, the highest tier, will close non-essential retail as well as beauty salons, gyms and many amenities. The lockdown is to last six weeks.
Ireland’s contact tracing system, meanwhile, has become overwhelmed by a 14-day incidence rate per 100,000 population of 279.3.
Thousands of close contacts of positive Covid-19 cases from over a three day period will not be contacted, the Irish Times reported. Instead tracers will text infected people to ask them to contact their own close contacts.
Slovenia reported a record 1,503 daily cases of Covid-19, while Croatia too posted a record high of 1,424 new infections.
This week Slovenia introduced a curfew from 9pm to 6am and a 30-day state of emergency to cope with the coronavirus. Slovenia has had 15,982 cases of Covid-19 and 200 fatalities.
Meanwhile, Croatia, which so far has had 28,287 cases and 393 deaths, said it was not yet considering such measures. At the moment, Croatia mandates wearing face masks indoors, limits the number of customers in bars and restaurants, and receive a limited number of guests, and requires gatherings of more than 50 people to get approval from the authorities.
A landslide win by Bolivia’s socialist party at weekend elections may herald a year of dramatic shifts in Latin American politics as the painful economic impact of the pandemic discredits incumbents and fuels demand for change, Reuters reports.
Bolivia’s former economy minister Luis Arce won Sunday’s vote in the Andean nation, pledging to protect welfare spending as he takes over next month from a conservative interim government.
“The pandemic has caused the Bolivian people to suffer and this government did not know how to handle it,” said Nicanor Baltazar, a leader of Bolivia’s largest workers group, the COB. “The people have understood that.”
With Latin America one of the hardest-hit regions in terms of Covid-19 deaths and impact on economic growth, analysts said the outcome in Bolivia could mark a shift towards populism as more elections loom in 2021.
Voters will elect new presidents next year in Chile, Peru, Ecuador, Honduras and Nicaragua, with major legislative votes also due in Mexico and Argentina. Even before the coronavirus struck, violent protests had rocked countries including Chile and Colombia, fuelled by anger over inequality and political scandals.
With Latin America’s $5.7 trillion regional economy forecast to contract more than 9% this year and poverty indicators for its 650 million people due to surge back to rates last seen in 2005, tensions are already mounting.
The pandemic’s economic fallout will leave Latin American governments burdened by crippling deficits and facing angry demands from voters for action on poverty and public services, said Benjamin Gedan, director of the Wilson Center’s Argentina Project in Washington.
The pandemic’s toll in Latin America is a godsend to outsiders and populists, who will promise to repudiate debt, reject budget cuts and fight corruption.
Barcelona’s hospitals are braced as a second wave of Covid-19 hospital admissions is under way, Reuters reports.
For Julio Pascual, a sharp rise in coronavirus admissions at the Barcelona hospital he serves as medical director carries an unwelcome sense of deja vu.
As Spain’s total registered cases near 1 million, daily admissions at the Catalan capital’s Hospital del Mar have more than doubled to around 16 over the past few days.
Situated in a pandemic hotspot, the hospital is better prepared to treat patients with Covid-19 than it was in March, but Pascual is concerned over a chronic shortage of nurses, and risks that overworked staff could burn out.
It is not the speed of the first wave but there’s an evident uptick in cases. If the rhythm [of Covid-19 hospitalisations] of the past week continues, rescheduling and suspending some non-priority activities will become unavoidable.
With the most confirmed cases in western Europe, Spain is struggling to manage its second wave.
Restrictions have been imposed across the country, notably in the two hardest hit regions, with Madrid placed on partial lockdown and Catalonia shutting bars and restaurants.
Xavier Borras, medical director at the Hospital de Sant Pau, also in Barcelona, told Reuters:
We need to convince people not to socially interact. What’s at stake are the non-Covid patients … The resources that were working well until a week ago are simply not enough anymore.
In the 24 hours to Tuesday afternoon, coronavirus admissions there rose to 11, the highest since late April though still far off the peaks of 50-60 daily reached in late March, he said.
Borras said the hospital was expanding its number of beds for coronavirus patients, which could eventually lead to the cancellation of scheduled non-urgent operations.
Since 5 October, national health ministry figures show Covid-19 hospitalisations are up around 20%, but with sharp regional variations. In Catalonia they surged 71% to 2,410 while in Madrid they fell 12%.
A source at Madrid’s La Princesa hospital said a few non-urgent procedures were postponed around two weeks ago, but admissions had since stabilised.
Good morning from London. I’m Lucy Campbell, I’ll be bringing you all the latest global developments on the coronavirus pandemic for the next eight hours. Please feel free to get in touch with me as I work if you have a story or tips to share! Your thoughts are always welcome.
The Czech Republic’s deputy prime minister, Jan Hamáček, who is also the interior minister, has tested positive for Covid-19, Reuters has reported.
Hamáček, 41, is chief of the Social Democratic party, junior partner in the ruling coalition, and is also head of the crisis committee coordinating logistical efforts to counter the pandemic.
It comes as the country recorded a record daily rise of 11,984 new coronavirus infections on Tuesday.
Slovakia and Poland have reported record daily tallies of coronavirus cases.
In Poland, the total number of confirmed Covid-19 infections has doubled in less than three weeks and now exceeds 200,000, the health ministry said, as it announced a new daily record of 10,040 cases.
As of Wednesday, coronavirus patients 9,439 hospital beds and were using 757 ventilators, compared with 8,962 and 725 respectively a day earlier
South Yorkshire will move into England’s highest tier of coronavirus restrictions, the Sheffield city region mayor, Dan Jarvis, said on Wednesday.
You can read more about the development here:
In the UK, the government has been accused of hitting Londoners with a “triple whammy” of higher costs in return for Covid-related funding for Transport for London (TfL).
Mayor Sadiq Khan called on ministers to reconsider “ill-advised and draconian” proposals.
He said the government wanted to extend the congestion charge zone to the North and South Circular roads in 12 months’ time, which would expand the zone to cover about 4 million more Londoners.
The government was also said to want to increase TfL fares by well above the inflation rate, and double down on demands to remove free travel for under-18s.
A further government proposal is to introduce a new council tax charge in the capital, regardless of whether residents use public transport, said the mayor.
I simply cannot accept this government plan, which would hit Londoners with a triple whammy of higher costs at a time when so many people are already facing hardship.
“The government should be supporting Londoners through this difficult time, not making ill-advised and draconian proposals which will choke off our economic recovery.
“Ministers already forced TfL to bring forward proposals to increase the cost and hours of the congestion charge in May. Now they want to expand it to cover 4 million more Londoners.
Record daily coronavirus deaths in Russia
Russia recorded 15,700 new coronavirus infections on Wednesday, as well as a daily record high of 317 deaths from the highly-contagious virus.
Since the start of the pandemic, the country of about 145 million people has recorded 1,447,335 infections and 24,952 deaths, authorities said.
UK: South Yorkshire ‘on cusp’ of tier 3 deal
The UK government is “on the cusp” of agreeing a deal with local leaders in South Yorkshire for the area to go into the tightest coronavirus measures, the housing secretary said on Wednesday.
“We have had very successful conversations … with the leaders of South Yorkshire,” Robert Jenrick told Sky News. “Again, there’s a serious situation there.”
It comes after the government imposed tier 3 restrictions – which includes the closure of indoor venues such as pubs – on Greater Manchester.
Ukraine and the Czech Republic have reported daily record rises in coronavirus infections.
On Wednesday, Ukraine’s national security council reported a record 6,719 new cases registered in the past 24 hours, bringing the total number to 315,826 cases.
The number of daily Covid-19 deaths also jumped to 141 from the previous record of 113 registered on Tuesday, the council said. The country’s coronavirus death toll now stands at 5,927.
The Czech Republic reported 11,984 new cases of the virus for 20 October, the highest daily tally on record, amid a surge in recent weeks,
The number of people who died of Covid-19 rose to 1,619 from 1,513 over the past 24 hours in the country of more than 10 million, Health Ministry data showed on Wednesday.
In the North of England, leaders have warned of “winter hardship” as Greater Manchester is forced into tougher coronavirus restrictions.
Prime minister Boris Johnson imposed the stringent tier 3 rules when negotiations between ministers and local politicians broke down after more than a week, but only confirmed a fraction of the funds they had asked the government for.
Greater Manchester mayor Andy Burnham accused Johnson of “playing poker” with people’s lives when a deal could not be reached on cash for the region to support them through the measures.
You can catch up with yesterday’s events, ahead of the region going into tier 3 from midnight on Thursday, here:
That’s it from me, Helen Sullivan for today. The best thing I learned in the last few hours – and it has nothing to do with the dreaded lurgy – is that there is such a fish as a “handfish”. It has its own, small, human-like hands:
Here’s more about handfish:
A wardrobe of fur coats that children could touch and feel before entering “Narnia”; a giant bed big enough for 30 kids to lie on while they listened to a storyteller; a purpose-built studio for live performances. Bringing stories to life through interactive and hands-on experiences was at the core of Oxford’s new Story Museum.
After a two-year, £6m transformation, the new museum was due to be unveiled on 4 April, replacing a series of temporary exhibitions with permanent galleries designed to immerse visitors, especially young people, in a world of stories.
Then, Covid-19 struck and the UK went into lockdown. The opening weekend of festivities was cancelled and the museum remained shut.
“I can’t tell you how crushing it was to be poised [to open] and stopped in our tracks,” said museum director Caroline Jones.
But it wasn’t just disappointment at having to postpone the unveiling. Jones had to rethink the museum’s entire approach for Covid times. Out went the sensory activities: the cheesy props children were encouraged to sniff to transport them into Aesop’s fable of the fox and the crow; the chance to whisper their own stories to the trees. In came a guided, touch-free experience delivered at a distance for a vastly reduced number of visitors:
Australia may have recorded first case of Covid-19 re-infection
A case of Covid-19 in Victoria is being treated as a rare case of reinfection, the first case classified as such in Australia.
Reinfection with Covid-19 is rare, with only a six cases reported among the 40m cases worldwide to date, including in the US and Hong Kong. It seems that in most cases of Covid-19, people develop immunity to the virus after being infected, though it is still unclear how strong this immunity is or for how long it remains.
The Victorian case is less clear. Genomic sequencing has not yet been completed, but the premier Daniel Andrews said the man first tested positive to the virus in July. He tested positive again in October. In many cases it is unclear whether a second positive test is truly a reinfection or merely dead virus being shed.
Andrews announced the possible reinfection on Wednesday saying the man was being treated as a reinfected case “out of an abundance of caution”:
- The US Centers for Disease Control and Protection has found that 300,000 excess deaths were recorded in the US this year – 66% of which are accounted for by the official coronavirus death toll of around 220,000. Excess deaths refer to how many more deaths have been reported in total this year compared with the same period last year. Usually, between the beginning of February and the end of September, about 1.9 million deaths are reported. This year, it is closer to 2.2 million – a 14.5% increase. The remaining deaths, the CDC wrote, “provide information about the degree to which Covid-19 deaths might be underascertained”.
- Brazil’s health minister Eduardo Pazuello has fallen ill with a suspected case of Covid-19. The ministry said Pazuello had a fever on Tuesday and would be tested for Covid-19. On Monday, the minister had missed a public event with President Jair Bolsonaro.
- Pazuello also announced that Brazil would add the Chinese-made CoronaVac vaccine against Covid-19 to its national immunisation program, despite a political and diplomatic row over whether to use it.
- Hong Kong’s Cathay Pacific Airways said on Wednesday it would cut 5,900 jobs and end its regional Cathay Dragon brand as it grapples with a plunge in demand. The restructuring will cost HK$2.2bn ($284m) and the airline will also seek changes to conditions in its contracts with cabin crew and pilots, it told the stock exchange.
- A state-owned drugmaker in China is setting up production lines to supply a billion doses of two possible vaccines that are being tested on 50,000 people in 10 countries, the company chairman said on Tuesday. Testing by SinoPharm Group is “in the last kilometre of a long march”, chairman Liu Jingzhen said. He gave no indication when results were expected.
- Health officials in New Zealand recorded 25 new cases of Covid-19 on Wednesday – the highest number in a single day in many weeks – with two of them diagnosed in the community.
- Spain is nearing a total of a million infections over the course of the pandemic so far, with 988,322 registered on the Johns Hopkins database, which would make it the first European country and sixth country globally to do so. Its death toll stands at more than 34,000.
Speaking at a campaign rally in Erie, Pennsylvania, Trump told voters “If you want depression, doom and despair. Vote for sleepy Joe Biden. And boredom”. Trump blamed former presidential candidate Hillary Clinton when his microphone cut out during the rally and also claimed that if the virus had not struck he would not have needed to campaign very hard to win re-election:
Brazil adds CoronaVac vaccine to national immunisation program
Brazil’s health minister said Tuesday the country would add the Chinese-made CoronaVac vaccine against Covid-19 to its national immunisation program, despite a political and diplomatic row over whether to use it.
AFP reports that health minister Eduardo Pazuello said the federal government had reached a deal with Sao Paulo state, which is helping test and produce the vaccine, to buy 46 million doses to be administered starting in January.
“This vaccine will be Brazil’s vaccine,” in addition to another developed by Oxford University and pharmaceutical firm AstraZeneca, Pazuello told a video meeting of the South American country’s 27 governors.
“That’s our big news. This is going to recalibrate the process” of eventually vaccinating Brazil’s population against Covid-19, which has claimed more lives here than any country except the United States.
CoronaVac, developed by Chinese pharmaceutical firm Sinovac Biotech, has been caught up in a messy battle in Brazil.
India has recorded 54,044 new coronavirus infections, taking its tally to 7.65 million, health ministry data showed on Wednesday, Reuters reports.
The world’s second most populous nation also has the second highest caseload, after the United States, which has a total of 8.2 million.
India’s death toll from the virus stood at 115,914, with 717 deaths in the last 24 hours, the ministry said.
Infections in India have been on the decline since a September peak, but experts have warned there could be a surge as the festival season approaches.
In other news from Japan:
The famed deer that roam the city of Nara no longer face discomfort – or far worse – after local companies developed a safe alternative to the plastic packaging discarded by tourists that often ended up in the animals’ stomachs.
Last year several of the 1,300 deer that wander around the ancient capital’s central park were found dead after swallowing plastic bags and food wrappers, prompting calls for tourists not to leave their rubbish behind. One of the dead animals had swallowed more than 4kg of rubbish:
The Mainchi reports that Japan is expecting a sharp drop in newborns next year after pregnancies fell 11.4% in the three months from May compared to the same period in 2019.
A government tally, seen by Kyodo News, underscores fears that the pandemic will worsen the nation’s already low birth rate. It marks the first such figures released by the government, linking a drop in the number of births to the impact of the coronavirus.
Japan, home to one of the world’s longest-living populaces, is also one of the most aged societies, with the highest percentage of elderly people anywhere in the world.
The nation’s dwindling number of newborns fell below 1 million for the first time in 2016 and fell to a record low of 865,000 last year. There are concerns that the number could dip below 800,000 next year if the current trend continues.
Asian shares and US stock futures rose on Wednesday as renewed hopes for a new round of U.S. stimulus drew money into equities from government debt, Reuters reports.
MSCI’s broadest index of Asia-Pacific shares outside Japan rose 0.56%. Australian stocks edged up by 0.1%, while shares in China rose 0.07%. Tokyo shares gained 0.4%.
U.S. stock futures also rose 0.44%.
The yuan surged to the strongest level against the dollar in more than two years on growing optimism about China’s economy and speculation that a victory for US.
Democrat presidential candidate Joe Biden next month will lead to better Sino-US ties.
Here’s today’s global coronavirus report:
In peaceful, non-coronavirus news:
A Nasa spacecraft has successfully landed on an asteroid, dodging boulders the size of buildings, in order to collect a handful of cosmic rubble for analysis back on Earth.
The space agency team behind the Osiris-Rex project said preliminary data showed the sample collection went as planned and that the spacecraft had lifted off the surface of asteroid Bennu.
“I can’t believe we actually pulled this off,” said lead scientist Dante Lauretta of the University of Arizona. “The spacecraft did everything it was supposed to do.”
New York, New Jersey and Connecticut on Tuesday urged their residents to not travel between the three states as the US Northeast sees a rise in Covid-19 cases, Reuters reports.
The governors, however, said they would not attempt to impose quarantines on visitors from neighboring states.
New York, an early epicentre of the coronavirus pandemic and home to more Covid-19 deaths than any other state, requires travellers from 38 states and two U.S. territories where cases are rising to quarantine for 14 days upon arrival.
Connecticut, New Jersey and Pennsylvania now also meet New York’s criteria for the quarantine requirements, Governor Andrew Cuomo said, but implementing such restrictions would be impractical.
The number of confirmed coronavirus cases in Germany increased by 7,595 to 380,762, data from the Robert Koch Institute for infectious diseases showed on Wednesday.
The reported death toll rose by 39 to 9,875, the tally showed.
More now on the state-owned Chinese drugmaker setting up production lines to supply 1 billion doses of two possible coronavirus vaccines that are being tested on 50,000 people in 10 countries, the company chairman said Tuesday.
Testing by SinoPharm Group is “in the last kilometer of a long march,” chairman Liu Jingzhen said at a news conference. He gave no indication when results are expected.
China’s fledgling drug industry is part of a global race to produce a vaccine and has four candidates in final stages of testing. Health experts say, however, that even if China succeeds, stringent certification rules in the United States, Europe and Japan might mean its vaccine can be distributed only in other developing countries.
SinoPharm is testing two vaccines in countries including Egypt, Argentina, Jordan and Peru, Liu said. Both are inactivated, meaning they use a non-infectious version of the coronavirus.
According to Liu, production lines for vaccines are being set up in Beijing and Wuhan, the city in central China where the outbreak began in December.
“The production capacity will reach 1 billion doses next year, ensuring sufficient safety,” Liu said.
Chinese-developed vaccines have been tested on 60,000 people with “only slight adverse effects,” said Tian Baoguo, an official of the Ministry of Science and Technology.
Thousands of people in China including healthcare workers and others deemed to be at risk have been given the experimental vaccines. Three city governments have announced plans to inoculate members of the public who need it.
As the second coronavirus wave bites, Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban – who shut the borders in September – is holding back on tougher measures such as a lockdown, despite growing criticism of his response, AFP reports.
During the first wave, the Central European EU member had relatively low numbers of infections and deaths from the virus compared with most European countries.
But in October more Hungarians have died than in the previous four months put together. And seven-day rolling average data from the European Centre for Disease Control (ECDC) show that on October 19 Hungary had the third-highest Covid-19 death rate per million in the bloc – behind the Czech Republic and Romania.
A shift in government policy as well as a complacent population are to blame, according to experts.
Orban’s critics say the government’s messaging over the summer was not strict enough on issues such as mask wearing, avoiding large gatherings and travel abroad.
Australia’s most heavily hit coronavirus state of Victoria logged a sixth consecutive day of low single digit new cases on Wednesday, as the state government said it was on track to announce fresh easing measures at the weekend.
“We do genuinely hope on Sunday to make some announcements in the future and if these numbers stay on trend we will be able to do that,” Victoria Premier Daniel Andrews told a news conference.
Victoria, which has been under strict lockdown measures since early July, hopes to revitalise outdoor dining over the summer in the hard hit hospitality sector, by allowing pop up restaurants in public gardens and carparks in downtown areas.
New infections in the Victoria’s state capital Melbourne rose by three in the past 24 hours, up from a revised number of two from the day before, bringing total state numbers to 20,323 cases since the outbreak began, of which just 109 remain active.
A downward trend in Victoria, which has been under strict lockdown measures since early July, brings it within reach of a milestone required for opening measures to take place.
Mexico’s health ministry on Tuesday reported 5,788 additional cases of the novel coronavirus and 555 more deaths in the country, bringing the official number of cases to 860,714 and the death toll to 86,893.
Health officials have said the real number of infected people is likely significantly higher than the confirmed cases.
Venezuela plans to vaccinate citizens with Russian and Chinese coronavirus vaccines, which could arrive in the South American nation in December or January, President Nicolas Maduro said on Tuesday, Reuters reports.
“It has been announced that the completed Russian and Chinese vaccines should arrive by December, January, December-January, and we are going to start vaccination,” Maduro said during a live broadcast on state television.
He added that older people and those with existing diseases would take priority, but that all Venezuelans would be vaccinated.
The country received a first batch of the Russian “Sputnik-V” coronavirus vaccine in early October as part of the Phase Three clinical trial, and the government said about 2,000 volunteers would participate. The delivery was the first in Latin America.
Maduro in September proposed administering the Russian coronavirus vaccine to nearly 15,000 candidates in upcoming legislative elections so that they could campaign safely.
Brazilian health minister ill with suspected Covid case
Brazilian Health Minister Eduardo Pazuello has fallen ill with a suspected case of Covid-19, the ministry’s press office said on Tuesday, as the country battles with the third-worst coronavirus outbreak globally, with nearly 5.3 million cases.
Reuters reports that the ministry said Pazuello had a fever on Tuesday and would be tested for Covid-19. On Monday, the minister had missed a public event with President Jair Bolsonaro.
“He had a small indisposition and went to the hospital,” Bolsonaro said at the event. The ministry said on Monday that Pazuello had been discharged and was at home.
Bolsonaro has sought to downplay the severity of the coronavirus, calling it a little flu. The president fell ill with a mild case of Covid-19 earlier this year, and several of his cabinet ministers have been infected previously.
Two different health ministers resigned in the span of roughly a month before Bolsonaro appointed Pazuello. Bolsonaro has endorsed the drug hydroxychloroquine for treating coronavirus, despite its being unproven for that purpose; the former ministers had advised a more cautious approach.
Pazuello, who does not hold a medical degree, expanded access to hydroxychloroquine and allowed for public doctors to prescribe it for almost anyone who tests positive for coronavirus.
England’s widening north-south political divide dominates the papers after Boris Johnson’s government imposed tier 3 restrictions on Manchester despite fierce resistance from the city’s mayor, Andy Burnham.
The Guardian reports that Burnham accused the prime minister of playing a “game of poker with people’s lives” after the imposition of the highest level of restrictions on the city and surrounding area:
Trump is has just finished speaking at a rally in Pennsylvania. Here is one moment from his appearance:
Cathay to cut 5,900 jobs
Hong Kong’s Cathay Pacific Airways Ltd said on Wednesday it would cut 5,900 jobs and end its regional Cathay Dragon brand as it grapples with a plunge in demand from the coronavirus pandemic, Reuters.
The restructuring will cost HK$2.2 billion ($283.9 million) and the airline will also seek changes in conditions in its contracts with cabin crew and pilots, it told the stock exchange.
Overall, it will cut 8,500 positions, or 24% of its normal headcount, but that includes 2,600 roles currently unfilled due to cost reduction initiatives, Cathay said.
“The global pandemic continues to have a devastating impact on aviation and the hard truth is we must fundamentally restructure the group to survive,” Cathay Chief Executive Augustus Tang said in a statement.
The International Air Transport Association expects it will take until 2024 for passenger traffic to recover to pre-Covid-levels.
The airline, which has stored around 40% of its fleet outside Hong Kong, said on Monday it planned to operate less than 50% of its pre-pandemic capacity in 2021.
After receiving a $5 billion rescue package led by the Hong Kong government in June, it had been conducting a strategic review that analysts expected would result in major job losses because it has been bleeding HK$1.5 billion to HK$2 billion of cash a month.
New Zealand records 25 new coronavirus cases including two in community
Charlotte Graham McLay reports:
Health officials in New Zealand recorded 25 new cases of Covid-19 on Wednesday – the highest number in a single day in many weeks – with two of the instances diagnosed in the community.
The others were diagnosed in managed isolation facilities, where all travelers entering New Zealand must spend a fortnight. 18 of those were recorded from Russian and Ukraine fishing crews who had been flown to New Zealand to work on fishing boats, and are staying in a quarantine hotel.
Only New Zealanders and their families are permitted to enter the country – unless they are essential workers who obtain visa exemptions. The infected arrivals from Moscow were among 235 fishing crews who arrived from Russia via Singapore on a charter flight, remaining on the plane during the Singapore stop.
The workers were all tested for Covid-19 before they left Russia, said Ashley Bloomfield, New Zealand’s director-general of health, and two people were barred from boarding the plane due to positive tests.
“At least one person must have boarded that plane who was infectious,” Bloomfield told reporters in Wellington. “The fact that we’ve found these infections is absolutely the system working.”
The two community cases were contacts of a ports worker whose case was reported on Sunday. That case was the first instance of community transmission in New Zealand since 25 September.
There are currently 56 active cases of Covid-19 in New Zealand, 53 of them in managed isolation facilities. There have been 1,556 total confirmed cases of the virus in New Zealand, with 25 deaths.
Chinese vaccines have been given to 60,000 people worldwide
The New York Times reports:
Chinese vaccines have been administered to 60,000 people in clinical trials, many of them around the world, and none of them have experienced any serious adverse reactions, a senior Chinese official said on Tuesday.
The figures came from Tian Baoguo, a senior official at China’s Ministry of Science and Technology, who spoke at a news conference. “Initial results show that they are safe,” he said.
China has four vaccine candidates in Phase 3 trials, the last stage of testing before regulatory approval. Because the outbreak is largely under control in China, these trials are conducted in more than 10 countries.
Within China, the Chinese government has not waited for clinical trials to conclude before vaccinating tens of thousands of people. Officials have already laid out plans to give shots to even more people, citing emergency use. But scientists have warned that taking a vaccine that has not completed Phase 3 trials carries health risks. On Sunday, the eastern Chinese city of Yiwu stopped the sale of a coronavirus vaccine after dozens of people demanded to be inoculated over the weekend.
Charlotte Graham McLay writes:
We reported this story last week about American doctors moving to New Zealand during the Covid-19 pandemic – with their in-demand skills making them one of the only groups of people who can obtain visa exemptions to enter the country at the moment.
Medical recruiting firms in both New Zealand and the United States told us the South Pacific nation was in hot demand for US doctors due to New Zealand’s free healthcare, scientific regard given to doctors during the pandemic, better management of the coronavirus, and more progressive politics.
On Wednesday, New Zealand’s immigration agency told us that it wasn’t just American doctors making the move. Since 10 August alone, the agency has approved visa exemptions for 80 Indian health workers to come to New Zealand, 74 Britons, 41 Filipinos, and 36 from the US.
They’ve also approved visa exemptions for 24 South Africans, 11 medical workers from Ireland and Australia, 9 from Canada, and a handful from each of 20 other countries from Belgium to Zambia. And that’s just since 10 August — the agency did not provide earlier figures.
New Zealand has seen, so far, one of the lowest Covid-19 death tolls in the world after a strict, early lockdown. Normal life here has largely resumed, except for strict border controls that bar anyone except New Zealanders and their families from entering the country.
The five percent of people in Britain predicted by a new tool to be at highest risk from Covid-19 accounted for three-quarters of deaths during the first wave of the pandemic, researchers reported Wednesday.
Tthe risk-assessment method – which also predicts the chances of hospitalisation – could help identify the small percentage of the population most in need of being shielded from the virus, they reported in BMJ, a medical journal.
“The tool provides nuanced information on people’s risk of serious illness due to Covid-19 and is designed for use by clinicians with patients to reach a shared understanding of risk,” the authors said in a statement.
To develop the new application, called QCOVID, researchers from across Britain compiled data from six million patients, including age, height-weight ratio, ethnicity, and pre-existing conditions – such as high-blood pressure and diabetes – known to increase the risk of serious outcomes after infection.
They then tested the approach on 2.2 million patients – most of whom did not have Covid-19 – to see how well it predicted hospitalisation and deaths during two periods, late January to the end of April, and May 1 to June 30.
More than three-quarters of those who died from the virus were in the top five percent of those predicted to be at maximum risk.
While the tool effectively profiled those facing the worst odds, it did not identify which factors caused fatal outcomes, the researchers cautioned.
More than 100 people are believed to have been infected by the coronavirus at a wedding early this month in the northern Mexico border city of Mexicali, authorities said, AP reports.
About 300 people attended the 0 October nuptials of a soap opera actor and the daughter of a businessman, Alonso Oscar Pérez Rico, the health secretary of Baja California state said Monday.
Pérez Rico told local media that there were apparently no masks or temperature checks at the event and that the organisers also did not have permission to hold an event of that size during the pandemic.
He said authorities are investigating whether anyone attended the wedding knowing they had Covid-19 or were infected by the virus. In some states in Mexico, knowingly infecting someone with a disease is a crime.
In the UK, Labour is stepping up the pressure to impose an England-wide “circuit-breaker”, claiming the economy will be billions of pounds worse off if the government fails to act.
Keir Starmer, the Labour leader, last week endorsed calls by the government’s scientific advisers for a two- to three-week shutdown. Rishi Sunak, the chancellor, has opposed the plan, calling it a “blunt instrument” and warning about the damaging economic impact of shuttering many sectors.
Spain nears 1m cases
Spain is nearing a total of a million coronavirus infections over the course of the pandemic so far, with 988,322 currently registered on the Johns Hopkins coronavirus database, which would make it the first European country and sixth country overall to to do so.
More than 34,000 people have died.
The Spanish Health Ministry reported Tuesday that authorities have recorded nearly 14,000 new cases, taking the total to 988,322.
At the current rate of infection, Spain is likely to exceed 1 million on Wednesday.
Health experts say the true number of infections is probably much higher. That’s because insufficient testing, asymptomatic cases and other issues mean official counts fail to capture the real scale of the outbreak.
CDC finds 300,000 excess deaths in US
Here is a closer look at that report from the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, which shows the has seen 300,000 more deaths than it usually would.
The CDC has been tracking how many deaths have been reported and comparing them with counts seen in other years. Usually, between the beginning of February and the end of September, about 1.9 million deaths are reported. This year, it’s closer to 2.2 million – a 14.5% increase, AP reports.
The CDC says around 200,000 of the deaths are already attributed to coronavirus, but that the it’s likely Covid-19 was a factor in many other deaths, too. For example, someone with heart attack symptoms may have hesitated to go to a hospital that was busy with coronavirus patients.
The largest segment of the excess deaths, about 95,000, were in elderly people ages 75 to 84. That was 21.5% more than in a normal year. But the biggest relative increase, 26.5%, was in people ages 25 to 44. Deaths in people younger than 25 actually dropped slightly.
Deaths were up for different racial and ethnic groups, but the largest increase – 54% – was among Hispanic Americans.
Hello and welcome to today’s live coverage of the coronavirus pandemic.
It’s Wednesday here in Sydney, my name is Helen Sullivan, and this is the place to be for Covid news from around the world.
The US has seen 299,028 excess deaths since January 26, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said in a new report. 66% of these deaths have already been attributed to coronavirus, in line with the official total of just over 220,000 deaths.
The CDC warns that, “these results provide information about the degree to which Covid-19 deaths might be underascertained and inform efforts to prevent mortality directly or indirectly associated with the COVID-19 pandemic, such as efforts to minimise disruptions to health care.”
“The largest percentage increases were seen among adults aged 25–44 years and among Hispanic or Latino persons.”
Meanwhile Spain is nearing 1m coronavirus cases, a milestone that would make it the sixth country worldwide to cross the threshold.
Here are the key developments from the last few hours:
- AstraZeneca’s Covid-19 vaccine trial in the US is expected to resume as early as this week after the US food and drug administration (FDA) completed its review of a serious illness, sources told Reuters.AstraZeneca’s large, late-stage US trial has been on hold since 6 September, after a participant in the company’s UK trial fell ill with what was suspected to be a rare spinal inflammatory disorder called transverse myelitis.
- The White House and Democrats in the US congress have moved closer to agreement on a new coronavirus relief package. With just two weeks to go until the US presidential election, Trump signalled a willingness to go along with more than $2.2tn in new Covid-19 relief, as Democrats had been pushing for months – despite opposition from the Republican party.
- Chaos and fury as Boris Johnson forces curbs on Greater Manchester. Andy Burnham, the mayor of Greater Manchester in England, accused the government of playing a “game of poker with people’s lives” after Boris Johnson imposed the toughest Covid restrictions on the region without agreeing a support package for businesses and low-paid workers.
- Lombardy curfew aims to curb Covid hospital admissions rise. Authorities in Lombardy have been given the green light to impose a curfew as the Italian region hardest hit in the coronavirus first wave braces itself for a surge in hospital admissions.
- Belgium postpones non-essential hospital work to deal with Covid-19 surge. The country will need to postpone all non-essential hospital procedures to deal with a surge in Covid-19 infections, the health minister Frank Vandenbroucke said, days after warning of a Covid “tsunami” hitting the country.
- UK to spend £30m on trials infecting young people to hasten Covid vaccine. More than £30m of UK government money is to fund the world’s first Covid-19 “challenge trials”, in which healthy young volunteers are intentionally infected with the virus to hasten the development of a vaccine.
- Italy’s southern Campania region plans to introduce a night-time curfew from this weekend in an effort to tackle a surge in Covid-19 cases. The move follows a similar decision taken on Monday by the northern region of Lombardy following a rise in hospital admissions. The Campania governor Vincenzo De Luca said he planned to introduce an 11pm curfew from this weekend.
- Berlin’s municipal government has made it compulsory to wear masks at markets, in queues and on 10 busy shopping streets, but stopped short of imposing another lockdown to curb a new wave of infections in the German capital. The mayor, Michael Müller, urged the capital’s residents to comply with the new rules, which also included limits on parties, to avoid shutting down public life again.
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