Pakistan reports 37 coronavirus deaths, over 2,200 new cases
Hard-hit Brazil threatened by second wave of virus
Another 37 people died of the coronavirus in Pakistan during the past 24 hours (Tuesday) after which the death toll in the country climbed to 7,230, showed the data released by National Command and Operation Centre on Wednesday morning.
Most of these deaths were recorded in Punjab where the virus claimed 17 more lives. It was followed by nine in Sindh, five in Azad Kashmir and three each in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa and Islamabad.
On the other hand, the country recorded over 2,000 new infections for the sixth consecutive day. As a result, the number of coronavirus cases jumped to 363,380 after another 2,208 people tested positive on Tuesday.
In this scenario, Pakistan is also witnessing an alarming rise in the number of active coronavirus cases due to the addition of more patients against the lower recovery rate. Currently, the country has 30,362 infected persons.
Meanwhile, 1,551 infected persons are in a critical condition – an increase of 104 against the previous day.
Sindh continues to be the most affected region of the country with 157,432 cases and 2,760 deaths. The details for other provinces and regions are given below:
Punjab 111,626 cases and 2,509 deaths, Khyber Pakhtunkhwa 42,815 cases and 1,318 deaths, Islamabad 24,871 cases and 263 deaths, Balochistan 16,529 cases and 156 deaths, Azad Kashmir 5,640 cases and 131 deaths, and Gilgit-Baltistan 4,467 cases and 93 deaths.
On the other hand, 38,544 – an around 25 percent increase when compared with Monday – tests were conducted in the country on Tuesday after which the overall number increased to 5,018,483.
As far as the recovery rate is concerned, a total of 325,788 people have so far fully recovered from the infection. Hence, 333,018 cases stand closed [deaths + number of people recovering] in the country.
After struggling for months to get its spiraling Covid-19 death toll under control, Brazil is now threatened by the nightmare scenario that has already shaken the United States and Europe: a second wave.
Brazil has been one of the countries hit hardest by the pandemic, with more than 166,000 people killed -- the second-highest number in the world, following the United States.
After a seemingly endless plateau, with more than 1,000 deaths a day from June to August, on a seven-day rolling average, the numbers had finally been falling in the giant country of 212 million people. But after dropping to as low as 350 deaths per day early last week, the rolling average has now risen above 400 again.
There is also a worrying trend in the number of hospitalizations. Sao Paulo, the state hit hardest by the virus, registered an 18-percent increase in Covid-19 hospitalizations last week.
That led the state government to put the brakes on its gradual exit from partial lockdown.
However, eight months after the pandemic reached the country, Brazilians are showing signs of fatigue with social distancing measures.
In the country's largest cities, shops, schools, cinemas and gyms have reopened, and beaches, bars and restaurants are regularly packed with crowds.
But experts warn the country's virus ordeal is probably far from over.
- 'Worrying level' -
"For the past three months, we'd been seeing a steady level of 50, 55 Covid cases" at a time, said Sidney Klajner, president of Albert Einstein Hospital in Sao Paulo.
"But today I think we have 90 patients with Covid or suspected Covid," he told AFP.
"Most of them are younger patients who we understand are taking less precautions."
Last weekend, an unauthorized party on Ipanema beach in Rio de Janeiro drew more than 2,000 revelers, most without face masks.
That was despite the fact that intensive care units in the city's public hospitals had just hit the dangerous threshold of 95-percent occupancy.
"We may already be in a second wave," said Domingos Alves, head of the Health Intelligence Lab at the University of Sao Paulo.
He said he was especially worried by the "R value," the number of people an infected person transmits the virus to on average.
When the number is higher than one, experts consider it worrying.
"In early October, the national rate was 0.97, with just four (of Brazil's 27) states above one. But a month later, 14 states were above one, and the national average, too," he told AFP.
"We're at a worrying level, especially given that testing has decreased and the official figures are under-estimates."
He said more political leadership was needed on the pandemic.
"Brazil urgently needs to put in place mass testing to try to get the second wave under control, before it gets submerged like the United States and Europe."
- Bolsonaro denounces 'gossip' -
If there is a second wave, it will probably hit Brazil unequally, said Julio Croda, an infectious disease specialist at the University of Mato Grosso do Sul.
Immunity among those who have already had the virus may partially protect some hard-hit areas, he said.
"But even if the second wave is smaller in terms of the number of cases, it can still cause a major tragedy," because authorities have largely scrapped field hospitals and other emergency measures taken at the height of the outbreak, he said.
"Even a less intense second wave could be deadlier than the first, because of that demobilization," he said.
The Brazilian government, which has struggled to respond effectively to the pandemic, does not look likely to do better if there is a second round.
President Jair Bolsonaro, who has downplayed the pandemic since the outset, last week dismissed talk of a second wave as "gossip."
"And if it comes, we'll just have to face it, because otherwise our economy will really collapse," said the far-right leader, who argues the economic impact of lockdown measures is worse than the virus itself.
The comment came several days after he urged Brazilians to "stop being a country of fags" and "face up to (the virus) and fight."
South Australia announces six-day 'circuit-breaker' lockdown
The state of South Australia announced a six-day "circuit-breaker" lockdown for its nearly two million people on Wednesday to contain a sudden coronavirus cluster in its capital city that ended a months-long streak of no infections.
Schools, restaurants and factories were told to close at midnight while stay-at-home orders were issued for residents across the state.
It came as two new cases were linked to a cluster that emerged from an Adelaide hotel used to quarantine travellers from overseas, taking the outbreak to 22 cases.
Weddings and funerals will be banned and mask-wearing in public made mandatory in the state, which had not recorded a significant outbreak since April.
"We are going hard and we are going early," state premier Steven Marshall said. "Time is of the essence and we must act swiftly and decisively. We cannot wait to see how bad this becomes."
The approach stands in stark contrast to the United States -- where some politicians are refusing to implement virus measures even as case numbers surge -- or Europe, where lockdowns were introduced only after infections spiralled.
South Australians have been told to only leave their homes for essential work, to buy groceries or for health reasons. The state is the first in Australia to ban outdoor exercise for all residents since the pandemic began.
Chief health officer Nicola Spurrier said the "extreme" measures would give the state of 1.8 million people time to get on top of contact tracing and halt chains of transmission.
"I cannot be making this decision in two or three weeks' time or even two or three days' time because it is going to be too late," she said.
On Monday, as 17 cases were confirmed, officials had begun ordering thousands of suspected close contacts to self-isolate, and suspended international flights.
Adelaide residents have since been flocking to Covid-19 testing sites, with many forced to wait several hours in long queues to be seen by overwhelmed clinicians.
South Australia's new restrictions come amid fears the latest outbreak has the potential to infect high-risk populations, with care workers and a prison guard among those testing positive.
Spurrier said the state hoped to avoid a lengthy Melbourne-style lockdown, where residents in Australia's second-largest city spent months mostly confined to their homes after security bungles at a hotel quarantine.
The announcement sparked a fresh round of panic-buying in Adelaide, despite assurances that supermarkets would remain open.
"We will have police officers on standby to attend if we see any civil disorder and we would take action. This is completely unacceptable," South Australia police commissioner Grant Stevens said.
Melbourne, which recorded thousands of cases and hundreds of deaths at the height of its outbreak, has begun easing restrictions after more than two weeks without any new cases.
Other regions, where the virus has largely been stamped out, have imposed new quarantine rules on anyone travelling from South Australia.
The country's internal borders had been gradually reopening and were due to be almost fully reopened by Christmas.
Australia has been relatively successful in containing the virus, with just over 27,700 cases and 907 deaths recorded since the pandemic began.
US senator Grassley contracts coronavirus
Senior US Senator Chuck Grassley, 87, tested positive for the coronavirus on Tuesday, the latest of some two dozen American lawmakers who have contracted Covid-19 this year as the pandemic surges nationwide.
"I've tested positive for coronavirus. I'll b following my doctors' orders/CDC guidelines & continue to quarantine," tweeted the Iowa Republican, who is the second-oldest senator in the 100-member chamber.
Grassley is also president pro tempore of the US Senate, which makes him third in line to the presidency, after the vice president and the speaker of the House of Representatives.
He is the second senator to isolate this week, after Florida's Rick Scott entered quarantine for coming into contact with someone who later tested positive for the virus.
Scott has tested negative but remains at home.
Multiple lawmakers tested positive before returning to Washington for a November session, including 87-year-old Republican congressman Don Young of Alaska, the oldest House member.
Congresswoman Cheri Bustos and House Republican Tim Walberg have tested positive in recent days.
By entering quarantine under government health guidelines, Grassley was unable to vote on the floor, which brought his record of 27 years without missing a single Senate roll call to a halt.
Grassley said he is "feeling well and not currently experiencing any symptoms."
Congress has been forced into recess on multiple occasions since outbreaks swelled in the United States in March. Nearly 250,000 Americans have now died from the virus.
A September outbreak was linked to a White House Rose Garden ceremony where President Donald Trump announced Amy Coney Barrett as his Supreme Court nominee.
Trump and First Lady Melania Trump tested positive, as did dozens of others in attendance, including Republican senators Mike Lee and Thom Tillis.
Senator Bill Cassidy, who tested positive for the coronavirus in August, tweeted that he and his wife "are praying for a quick and full recovery for @ChuckGrassley."
With cases skyrocketing to record levels, lawmakers from both parties, including Grassley, have urged Americans to wear masks and social distance whenever possible.
Mask-wearing remains a political issue in Washington, with lawmakers clashing on the Senate floor Monday over whether senators should wear masks when speaking in the chamber.
Grassley is an iron man of sorts, having cast a staggering 8,927 consecutive votes over a record 27 years without missing a single one, until Tuesday.
The last time Grassley missed a vote was July 1993, when he toured flood damage in Iowa with then-president Bill Clinton.
"I'm disappointed I wasn't able to vote today in the Senate, but the health of others is more important than any record," said Grassley.
While he claims the longest period of time without missing a Senate vote, the record for the most consecutive roll call votes is held by Senator William Proxmire, at 10,252.
With inputs from AFP.