Virus cases surge in Americas

By: AFP      Published: 12:42 PM, 25 Jun, 2020
Virus cases surge in Americas
People leave a Costco outlet with a trolley full of toilet paper as fears of a second wave of COVID-19 have sparked a rush on some supermarket items in Melbourne.–AFP

More than 78,000 people were diagnosed with COVID-19 in the US and in Brazil alone Wednesday, as the IMF laid out the unprecedented economic devastation caused by the global pandemic and the WHO warned the number of infections could reach 10 million worldwide within the next week.

As many countries emerged from lockdown hoping to resurrect their economies, US states were reimposing virus restrictions and Brazilian experts were warning the country was sending people "to the slaughterhouse."

The International Monetary Fund said that this "crisis like no other" would send the global GDP plunging by 4.9 percent this year and wipe out an astonishing $12 trillion over two years.

It said that many countries will face a recession more than double that which they suffered during the global financial crisis in 2008-2009.

The IMF forecast that China, where the virus emerged late last year, would be the only economy that grows this year, by just one percent. 

The United States is forecast to shrink by eight percent, Germany slightly less, while France, Italy, Spain and Britain would all suffer double-digit contractions.

- 'Slaughterhouse' -

The United States has recorded more deaths than any other nation, with more than 121,000 from nearly 2.4 million cases.

The number of new cases has been on a clear upward trend in recent days, especially in the south and west of the country. On Wednesday the US recorded more than 35,900 cases in 24 hours, according to a tally by the Johns Hopkins University, a figure which approaches previous record daily levels.

White House advisor Anthony Fauci warned the next two weeks would be "critical to our ability to address... surgings" in Florida, Texas and other states.

Texas Governor Greg Abbott said the state, which was one of the most aggressive about reopening, could see new restrictions.

"If it's not contained in the next couple of weeks, it will be completely out of control, and Texas will have to ratchet back," the Trump ally said in televised comments.

Latin America has been one of the world's worst hotspots for weeks, and the number of deaths in Latin America and the Caribbean surpassed 100,000 on Wednesday.

Brazil was the hardest-hit country, with its new cases surpassing even the US -- over 42,700 recorded Wednesday.

"The curve in Brazil is still rising sharply. We're still in the first wave," said Domingos Alves, a professor of medicine at the University of Sao Paulo and member of a scientific committee monitoring the crisis.

"We're sending people to the slaughterhouse" with moves to exit lockdown too soon, he added.

- 'Urgent responsibility' -

World Health Organization chief Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said the global number of cases would reach 10 million within the next week, after four million cases were recorded just in the last month.

The global figure currently stands at over 9.3 million.

"We have an urgent responsibility to do everything we can with the tools we have now to suppress transmission and save lives," he said.

WHO emergencies director Michael Ryan warned that the pandemic had not yet reached its peak in the Americas.

He said it was "particularly intense in Central and South America" where many countries saw "between a 25 and 50 percent rise in cases over the last week," and added that "the spectre of further lockdowns cannot be excluded."

Globally, the number of COVID-19 deaths surged past 480,000 after doubling in less than two months, according to an AFP tally.

Sudan reels from drug shortages

As it battles mounting cases of coronavirus, Sudan is grappling with acute medicine shortages at a time of economic woes largely blamed on the policies of ousted president Omar al-Bashir.

Healthcare providers have reported shortages of basic medications in pharmacies and hospitals, while patients suffering from critical diseases struggle to find drugs.

"I've been looking for my medicine for three days, and I still can't find it," Abdul Aziz Adam, who has asthma, told AFP outside a Khartoum pharmacy.

Adam, a resident of the capital's twin city, Omdurman, toured pharmacies in both only to hear the same response: "That drug is currently unavailable."

The shortages come as Sudan fights to control the spread of COVID-19, which has claimed 548 lives out of almost 9,000 confirmed cases.

"The medicine crisis is evident in Sudan. Basic medications have disappeared from pharmacies," said Abdulaziz Othman, a pharmacy owner.

"Our remaining stock is running low with each passing day."

Beijing declares outbreak 'under control'

The new coronavirus outbreak that has infected 256 people in Beijing since early June is "under control", officials in the Chinese capital said Wednesday, but fears still remain over the risk of community transmission.

Authorities have raced to contain the outbreak linked to the largest wholesale food market in Beijing after the first case was announced on June 11, leading to a partial lockdown of the city.

"The Beijing epidemic directly linked to Xinfadi (market) is basically under control, but at the same time we have discovered household and workplace cluster infections and cases of community transmission," said Beijing municipal government spokesman Xu Hejian at a briefing.

"The prevention and control situation remains complicated, we cannot lower our guard in the slightest."

Officials found that 253 out of 256 Beijing cases were linked to Xinfadi in the south of the city, while contact tracing for the remaining three was still ongoing.

The city announced seven new cases on Wednesday, with the rate of infection slowing since the start of this week.

"This sends a very positive signal, and proves that the prevention and control measures taken lately, as well as lockdown of residential compounds, are effective," said Lei Haichao, head of the Beijing health commission.

"The combination of fever clinics, discovering (cases) from close contacts, and mass nucleic acid testing have played an important role in early detection."

The city increased its daily nucleic acid sample testing capacity to 300,000 from 100,000 per day in early June, said Lei, adding that 137 cases -- just over half -- were found through screening.

Nearly three million people have been tested. Many cases have been low-income migrant workers at Xinfadi and nearby restaurants. The market and dozens of residential compounds have been under lockdown since June 13.

Beijing has mass-tested wholesale market workers, restaurant workers, residents of medium and high-risk neighbourhoods and delivery couriers over the past week.

The cities of Wuhan, where the initial COVID outbreak emerged late last year, and Mudanjiang have also seen similar mass testing campaigns to root out undiscovered asymptomatic cases.

Experts warned that smaller, recurrent outbreaks were likely in future.

"There may be an increase in cases in the winter or next spring, but I don't think the outbreak will be as big as the first wave of the pandemic," said Zhong Nanshan, a leading respiratory expert who spearheaded China's response to the SARS pandemic, on Wednesday.

Australia deploys 1,000 troops in Melbourne

Australia's military announced Thursday it would send 1,000 troops to Melbourne in an effort to help contain the country's only significant coronavirus outbreak over fears of a second wave.

Victoria state has seen a spike in COVID-19 cases, recording almost 150 new infections over the past week as new clusters have emerged in Melbourne.

On Thursday authorities recorded at least 37 cases -- the highest national total since mid-April.

While the numbers remain small compared to global tallies, the outbreak has rattled Australia, which has been rolling back restrictions after successfully curbing the virus spread.

Defence Minister Linda Reynolds said Thursday that 1,000 troops would be deployed to Victoria "in the coming days". 

Up to 850 Australian Defence Force personnel will help monitor returned international travellers being held in hotel quarantine while about 200 others will provide logistical and medical support to COVID-19 testing facilities, she added.

Military personnel are already manning the borders of states that are closed to outside visitors as well as providing planning support to health and emergency management services, including in Victoria.

However, the deployment of such a large military contingent to a major Australian city is unprecedented in the coronavirus crisis.

It comes as concern ramps up in Melbourne, with additional pop-up testing centres set up in virus "hot spots" and supermarkets reimposing buying limits amid fears of a return of panic-buying.

Virus clusters have emerged in large family groups spread across the country's second city, at a hotel used for quarantining returned travellers and at a clothing store.

Victoria state Premier Daniel Andrews said 1,000 workers were going door-to-door urging residents in the worst-affected areas to get tested, with hopes of testing 100,000 people in 10 suburbs over 10 days.

"This suburban testing blitz is all about finding all of those people that have this virus, then having them quarantined in their home with appropriate support," he told reporters.

"It's about bringing further stability to these numbers. The numbers will grow, but that's exactly the strategy: Find these cases."

Australia has recorded roughly 7,500 cases of coronavirus and 104 deaths in a population of 25 million, with several regions believed to be effectively virus free.