China steps up testing after virus cluster in Dalian

By: AFP      Published: 11:13 AM, 24 Jul, 2020
China steps up testing after virus cluster in Dalian

A Chinese city of nearly six million people will introduce a wave of coronavirus testing to stamp out a small cluster of cases, authorities said Friday, with state media reporting communities will be locked down.

Since the virus first surfaced in the central city of Wuhan late last year, the country's official number of infections has been restricted to a trickle, mainly among arrivals from abroad. All mass lockdowns have been lifted. But recent domestic outbreaks have proved the difficulty of stamping out the contagion entirely.

The port city of Dalian in Liaoning province has reported three cases in recent days after going nearly four months without any.

The fresh outbreak has been linked to a seafood processing company that deals with imported products.

On Friday, the Dalian health commission said the city had to "quickly enter wartime mode, go all-out, mobilise all people and resolutely curb the spread of the epidemic".

It announced strict new measures, including on-the-spot nucleic acid tests for everyone taking the subway line that passes the affected seafood company.

Kindergartens and nurseries have been closed, and some communities have been placed under lockdown, according to state-run newspaper Global Times.

City authorities said they would test more than 190,000 people, including employees at shopping malls, wholesale markets and warehouses.

The outbreak comes as hundreds of football players from the Chinese Super League -- which will kick off its much delayed season Saturday -- are in a sealed-off hotel in the city.

The league's 16 teams have been split into two groups for the first games of the drastically rejigged season, with the others to be played in Suzhou, near Shanghai.

The latest cluster has turned the spotlight on the country's food supply chain, and China has banned imports from a number of overseas food producers involved in virus outbreaks.

One Chinese importer told AFP that exporters had earlier been asked to guarantee their shipments were not contaminated.

A document published Thursday by China's State Council also warned that the country's public health system should prepare for a possible second wave of the virus in the winter.

At a press conference earlier this month, officials said samples taken from Whiteleg shrimp packaging in Dalian had tested positive for the virus.

There were 21 coronavirus cases reported in China on Friday, including two of the three recent Dalian cases and 13 in the western region of Xinjiang.

US records over 76,000 new cases

The United States on Thursday recorded 76,570 new coronavirus cases in the previous 24 hours, Johns Hopkins University reported, after the nation's total number of infections topped four million earlier in the day.

The country, which is the world's hardest-hit, also registered a total of 1,225 more deaths, the Baltimore-based university's real-time tracker indicated at 8:30 pm (0030 GMT Friday).

That brings the country to a total of 4,032,430 infections, which have resulted in 144,167 fatalities.

The US has seen a coronavirus surge, particularly in southern and western states, as Texas, California, Alabama, Idaho and Florida all announced record one-day death tolls. 

Nevertheless, the rate of new cases is now showing signs of easing off in some of the worst-hit zones.

The US reached the three-million case milestone approximately two weeks ago, on July 8. 

Mexico reports record daily spike in virus cases

Mexico on Thursday posted 8,438 new coronavirus cases in 24 hours, a daily record, and an additional 718 deaths, data from the health ministry showed.

According to the ministry's daily update, the Latin American country has recorded 370,712 cases of COVID-19 and 41,908 deaths since its first case was reported in late February.

The previous record for cases added in one day was 7,615 on July 18.

Mexico has the fourth-highest number of deaths in the world, after the United States, Brazil and the United Kingdom.

It can take several days to record new cases and deaths, meaning there are some days when the official results lag behind the actual numbers.

As of the cutoff on Wednesday evening, the death and infection rates per million Mexican residents were 319.47 and 2,809.79 respectively, according to an AFP tally.

"When COVID-19 came, it became even more complicated because it revealed the country's deteriorated health," said Hugo Lopez Gatell, the deputy health minister in charge of the fight against the pandemic.

According to Thursday's report, 43 percent of the people who died also suffered from hypertension, 38 percent from diabetes and 25 percent from obesity.

The Mexican government on June 1 began easing lockdown restrictions in several areas of the country.

Brazil study finds no hydroxychloroquine benefit for COVID-19

A study published Thursday on the use of hydroxychloroquine in Brazil to treat COVID-19 found the drug ineffective, the latest blow to President Jair Bolsonaro's push for its widespread use.

The clinical trial, conducted at 55 hospitals across Brazil and published in the New England Journal of Medicine, tested whether hydroxychloroquine improved the condition of patients with mild to moderate cases of COVID-19, alone or in combination with the antibiotic azithromycin.

Bolsonaro's government has recommended since May that doctors in Brazil's public health system prescribe hydroxychloroquine or the related anti-malaria drug chloroquine, plus azithromycin, from the onset of symptoms of the new coronavirus.

Like US President Donald Trump, whom he admires, Bolsonaro has touted hydroxychloroquine as a treatment for COVID-19.

The far-right leader is even taking the drug himself, after coming down with the virus earlier this month.

However, a slate of randomized controlled trials (RCTs), considered the gold standard for clinical investigation, have found the drug is ineffective against coronavirus and has potentially damaging side effects.

The Brazilian RCT reached the same conclusion.

Brazil has essentially become the world's biggest testing ground for the drugs because of the Bolsonaro government's policy.

"Among patients hospitalized with mild-to-moderate COVID-19, the use of hydroxychloroquine, alone or with azithromycin, did not improve clinical status at 15 days as compared with standard care," said the study, by doctors and researchers from a group called Coalition COVID-19 Brazil.

The group's members comprise two research institutes and six hospitals, including Albert Einstein Hospital in Sao Paulo, considered one of the best in Latin America.

The study, carried out on 667 patients, also found those on hydroxychloroquine developed clinical markers that increased their risk for heart and liver problems.

The authors acknowledged however that the study had several limitations, including that it was not "blind" -- patients and their doctors knew whether they were in the control group or not.

"The trial cannot definitively rule out either a substantial benefit of the trial drugs or a substantial harm," they said.

Brazil has the second-biggest number of infections and deaths in the pandemic, after the United States: 2.3 million and 84,000, respectively.

AFP

Agence France-Presse is an international news agency.