Pakistan single-day corona cases soar to 2,738 with 36 deaths

India's Covid-19 cases pass nine million as Delhi struggles

By: News Desk      Published: 10:48 AM, 20 Nov, 2020
Pakistan single-day corona cases soar to 2,738 with 36 deaths
Vendors wearing masks sell mobile phone accessories at the back of their parked cars in Lahore.–AFP

Thursday proved to be one of the deadliest days for Pakistan as another 36 people died of the coronavirus, raising the death toll in the country to 7,561.

According to the National Command and Control Centre data issued on Friday morning, it was also a worst day in terms of new coronavirus cases, as the virus was found in 2,738 people, representing a consistent trend of higher infection rate.

With the overall number of coronavirus cases reported in the country reaching 368,665, the region-wise distribution currently stands at: Sindh 159,752, Punjab 112,893, Khyber Pakhtunkhwa 43,259, Islamabad 25,719, Balochistan 16,642, Azad Kashmir 5,806 and Gilgit-Baltistan 4,494. 

These figures again shows that Sindh, Punjab, Islamabad, Khyber Pakhtunkhwa and Azad Kashmir are reporting highest number of new cases 

Meanwhile, the number of active cases is also witnessing a sustained increase amid a higher infection rate against lower recovery ratio, which is overburdening the country’s fragile healthcare infrastructure.

As far the recovery rate is concerned, a total of 327,542 people have so far fully recovered from the infection. Hence, 335,103 cases stand closed [deaths + number of people recovering] in the country. 

It means there are 33,562 coronavirus patients currently in the country, out of which 1,517 are in a critical condition. Of those receiving treatment in intensive care units of different hospitals, 230 have been placed on ventilators.

On the other hand, Thursday also saw health authorities administering 42,909 tests in different parts of the country to identify, isolate and trace the infected persons. Hence, the total number of tests conducted since the coronavirus pandemic outbreak in the country has reached 5,098,291.

India's coronavirus cases pass nine million

India's coronavirus cases passed nine million on Friday, as the world's second-worst-hit country saw hospitals in the capital New Delhi under pressure and graveyards fill up.

India has now registered more than 132,000 deaths, according to the latest official figures, which are widely seen as understating the true scale of the pandemic.

The total number of infections in India is second only to the tally in the United States, which has recorded 11.6 million cases and more than 250,000 deaths.

India, the world's second-most populous nation, has seen a drop in daily cases over the past month but it is still registering about 45,000 new infections on average every day.

New Delhi, facing the dual scourge of winter pollution and coronavirus, has seen infections soar past half a million with a record rise in daily cases.

On Thursday, the megacity's government quadrupled fines for not wearing a mask in an effort to get a grip on the outbreak. At one of Delhi's largest cemeteries, burial space is fast running out, grave-digger Mohammed Shamim told AFP.

"Initially when the virus broke (out), I thought I'll bury 100-200 people and it'll be done. But the current situation is beyond my wildest thoughts," Shamim said. "I only have space left for about 50-60 burials. Then what? I have no idea."

- Covid fatigue -

India imposed a stringent lockdown in March but restrictions have been gradually eased as the government seeks to reboot the economy after the loss of millions of jobs.

Experts say this has helped spread the disease, as has a general reluctance to wear masks and maintain physical distancing.

The western city of Ahmedabad, home to six million people, late Thursday announced an indefinite night curfew after an uptick in cases.

"The increase in numbers of cases is a concern, primarily because it is driven by people not following the basic protocol of corona-appropriate behaviour," said Anand Krishnan, a community medicine professor at Delhi's All India Institute of Medical Sciences.

Hemant Shewade, a Bangalore-based community medicine expert, said it was likely cases outside major towns and cities were not being taken into account in the official numbers.

"My guess is that it is spreading slowly and silently in rural areas," Shewade told AFP. 

In Delhi, the spectre of the virus wreaking havoc has come back to haunt its 20 million residents, as families scramble to arrange hospital beds.

Over 90 percent of intensive care beds with ventilators were occupied as on Thursday, a government mobile app showed.

"My father's oxygen saturation level dipped to 35 percent suddenly and we rushed to the nearby hospital but there were no beds available," Delhi resident Rajeev Nigam told AFP.

"We ran all night from one hospital to another but it was the same story everywhere," he said, blaming the Delhi government for being "unprepared" and "callous" in its approach. 

Distraught families were making fervent pleas on social media, tagging Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal for help in securing beds.

Under pressure to control the new wave, Kejriwal Thursday announced the addition of 1,400 intensive care beds.

Jeevendra Srivastava, an advertising professional, said Delhi was paying the price for overcrowding during the ongoing festive season. "It's shocking how a few people still are not taking this deadly virus seriously," said Srivastava, 47.

"People are still going to crowded places without masks. It's because of this irresponsible behaviour that now almost every second house has a case of the virus."

Americans urged to stay home

US authorities have urged Americans not to travel for the Thanksgiving holiday as virus cases soared in the worst-hit nation and California announced a night-time curfew aimed at curbing the surging pandemic.

America was hit by a spike of over 200,000 new infections and 2,239 fatalities -- the worst death toll since May -- over the past 24 hours, according to a running tally by Johns Hopkins University. 

A powerful weapon against the virus could be coming soon though, as BioNTech and Pfizer planned to apply on Friday for emergency use authorisation of their vaccine in the US.

The recent surge in US cases has sufficiently alarmed authorities that they asked Americans to stay home for next week's Thanksgiving holiday, which normally sees millions travel to gather with their families for meals -- ideal conditions for virus spread.

"It's not a requirement. It's a strong recommendation," Henry Walke, a US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention doctor, told reporters.

Thanksgiving is the busiest US holiday in terms of travel, as it falls on a Thursday and many Americans take the Friday off work and make a long weekend of it.

- No US shutdown -

Despite the warning, President-elect Joe Biden did not come out for the type of national shutdown that some European nations have put back in place as cases have jumped after a summer lull. 

"There's no circumstance which I can see that would require total national shutdown. I think that would be counterproductive," Biden, who takes office on January 20, told reporters Thursday.

US states and cities have been imposing their own restrictions, including home confinement, the closure of indoor dining and a limit on gatherings as infections soar across the country.

New York City on Thursday closed its schools -- affecting 1.1 million students -- but left gyms and bars open, the opposite of the virus strategy in many European cities where schools have stayed open.

California will impose a 10:00 pm to 5:00 am curfew from Saturday, with state Governor Gavin Newsom saying it was "crucial to decrease transmission and slow hospitalizations."

President Donald Trump has been muted in his public reactions to the surge in cases, staying largely out of the public eye as he presses his unsubstantiated fraud claims in the election he lost to Biden.

Health Secretary Alex Azar told a White House briefing that the BioNTech/Pfizer application was expected Friday, confirming a timeline BioNTech co-founder Ugur Sahin shared with AFP in an interview.

"There is a chance that we can receive approval from the US or Europe or both regions this year still," Sahin said. "We may even start delivering the vaccine in December," he added, "if everyone works together very closely".

The BioNTech/Pfizer shot and another one from US firm Moderna have taken the lead in the race for a vaccine, after large-scale trial data this month showed their jabs were around 95 percent effective against Covid-19.

Trials for another vaccine, developed by Oxford University and AstraZeneca, also show it safely produces a robust immune response in healthy older people, while producing fewer side effects than in younger people, its British maker said on Thursday.

- Europe outbreaks easing -

Vaccines would be a major weapon against the virus that has killed at least 1,350,275 people and infected 56 million since the outbreak emerged in China last December, according to a tally from official sources compiled by AFP on Thursday. 

After the US, the second worst-affected country is Brazil with 167,455 deaths, followed by India with 131,578 and Mexico which hit 100,104 deaths on Thursday.

But in some parts of Europe, there were signs of new restrictions imposed to halt the second wave were taking effect.

New infections in Germany have plateaued since a partial lockdown came into force in early November, officials said, even though the daily number of new coronavirus cases remains high.

France, too, has seen declines in daily new Covid-19 cases since a second nationwide lockdown began at the end of October. 

President Emmanuel Macron and ministers will discuss easing some restrictions from December 1, though officials warned the country was still far from the end of its lockdown.

The virus and restrictions imposed to halt its spread continue to disrupt businesses, sports and entertainment worldwide.

Face-to-face meetings between the chief negotiators in Brexit talks were suspended on Thursday after a member of the EU team tested positive for coronavirus.

Mexico's deaths surpass 100,000

Mexico said Thursday its coronavirus death toll had risen above 100,000, becoming the world's fourth country to pass the grim milestone.

"Today in Mexico we have 100,000 people who have lost their lives due to Covid-19," deputy health minister Hugo Lopez-Gatell told a news conference.

The health ministry announced 576 more deaths in its daily update, taking the total to 100,104, behind only the United States, Brazil and India.

The overall number of infections registered now stands at 1,019,543 in the nation of more than 128 million, up 4,472 from the previous day.

While the number of daily infections has begun to rise again in recent weeks, the authorities say that deaths remain on a downtrend.

"There are infections, but fortunately... there are fewer deaths and that's the aim," President Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador said this week.

But Malaquias Lopez, an epidemiologist and former health ministry official, said it was unclear if the situation was improving.

"We're at a point where we don't see a clear phase of descent. We don't know where it's going," he told AFP.

The government says poor diets and health problems including obesity, hypertension and diabetes are partly to blame for the high death toll.

"These conditions increase the possibility of a patient dying, it's true, but in Mexico they're almost a death sentence," said Lopez, who thinks the authorities have used the risk factors to deflect criticism of their handling of the pandemic.

Latest global developments

Here are the latest developments in the coronavirus crisis:

- December vaccine rollout 'possible' -

BioNTech co-founder Ugur Sahin says the frontrunner Covid-19 vaccine his German firm is developing with Pfizer could be rolled out before the year is over in the United States or Europe.

- US warns against Thanksgiving travel -

The US government cautions Americans against travelling for the Thanksgiving holiday next week, saying: "It's not a requirement. It's a strong recommendation."

- NYC schools close -

New York's public schools will close to battle a sharp rise in infections, the mayor announces.

- Two million Russia cases -

Health officials report 23,610 new infections and 463 virus-related deaths in the last 24 hours, both record highs since the start of Russia's outbreak. Total infections now stand at 2.02 million -- the fifth-highest in the world -- with 34,850 people dead.

- German cases plateau -

The number of new infections in Germany has plateaued since a partial lockdown came into force in early November, but the daily number of new coronavirus cases remains too high, health officials say.

- Japan on maximum alert -

Japan is on "maximum alert" after logging a record 2,000 daily infections with nearly 500 in the capital Tokyo alone, though no immediate restrictions are planned. 

- Shot for seniors? -

Phase 2 trials of a leading vaccine candidate developed by Britain's Oxford university and AstraZeneca show it safely produces a robust immune response in healthy older people, while producing fewer side effects than in younger people.

- No unicorns -

The World Health Organization's emergencies director warns vaccines won't arrive in time to defeat the second wave of the pandemic and should not be seen as a "unicorn" magic solution.

- Mink mutation managed -

Denmark's health ministry says a mutated version of the virus detected in minks that raised concerns about the effectiveness of a future vaccine has likely been eradicated.

With inputs from AFP.