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COVID-19 global news wrap: international setbacks and successes

Nicole MacKee writes:

As many Australians begin to pack up their home offices, head back to their workplaces, and revisit their favourite pubs, restaurants, and cinemas, it is timely to reflect upon and learn from the challenges facing other countries.

On 11 January 2020, a 61-year-old man from Wuhan, China, became the first person in the world to die from the virus. At that time, a total of 41 people had been diagnosed with SARS-CoV-2, and the resulting disease, COVID-19, had not yet been named.  

In the months since then, there have been 8,052,090 confirmed cases globally, and 437,283 deaths, according to Johns Hopkins University and Medicine (as of 16 June). 

Australia experienced a setback this week when Victoria reported its largest single-day increase in cases since 15 May, the ABC reported.

With 21 new cases recorded in the state overnight (15 in returned travellers in mandatory hotel quarantine), Chief Health Officer Brett Sutton said: “A day like today can make me nervous.”

As Australia continues to relax restrictions over the coming weeks, we have a brief look at the pandemic’s continuing impact across the globe.

The following case/death figures were sourced from Johns Hopkins University and Medicine, 16 June 2020.


China

84,378 cases/4,638 deaths

Beijing authorities say the coronavirus outbreak in the city is “extremely severe” prompting significant shutdowns in the city, The Guardian has reported. 

Residents had been told to avoid “non-essential” travel out of Beijing, and anyone entering or leaving would be tested for Covid-19, the report said. Twenty-seven neighbourhoods in the city have been classified as medium risk – meaning that authorities can impose stricter restrictions on the movement of people and cars and can carry out temperature checks – and one neighbourhood has been designated high risk.

It’s the most significant outbreak in China since February, prompting fears of a second wave. Prior to this, the capital had gone 56 consecutive days without a report of a locally transmitted infection.

The latest outbreak has seen 135 people infected, with most linked to the Xinfadi Wholesale Food market, according to AP News.


United States

2,115,079 cases/116,191 deaths

Six US states have reported record increases in coronavirus cases this week, according to The Guardian

Arizona, Florida, Oklahoma, Oregon, Texas and Nevada all reported soaring numbers of new coronavirus cases this week, after The Washington Post reported that total US coronavirus cases climbed beyond 2 million, with 114 people dying from the disease.

Also in The Washington Post this week, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reported that people with underlying conditions were 12 times more likely to die of the disease than healthy people. 

CDC data also showed that Hispanic (33 percent), Black (22 percent), and Native American/Alaskan Native (1.3 percent) patients made up a larger proportion of cases relative to their populations. White (non-Hispanic) people accounted for 36 percent of cases.


Canada

99,147 cases/8,175 deaths

Canada has seen a slowing of coronavirus spread in recent weeks, but the provinces of Ontario and Quebec remain hotspots, accounting for 90 percent of new cases, according to a Reuters report.

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said that while the country was continuing to make progress, the pandemic was still threatening the health and safety of Canadians. “We’re not out of the woods,” he said, noting that residents in aged care facilities remained at high risk.

Aged care facility residents accounted for about 18 percent of cases and 82 percent of deaths, Canada’s Public Health Agency reported.


South Korea

12,155 cases/278 deaths

South Korea is testing a QR code tracing system to track visitors at entertainment venues, restaurants and churches, after reporting its third flare-up in recent weeks.

An outbreak of 40 cases was linked to a church in Seoul, while more than 250 cases have been sourced back to nightclubs and bars in the capital, The Guardian reported.

These latest outbreaks have been a significant setback for a country that was viewed as one of the initial COVID-19 success stories, according to a report in TIME.


Singapore

40,969 cases/26 deaths

Up to half of Singapore’s new coronavirus cases are asymptomatic, the ABC reported last week. 

Government task force leader Lawrence Wong said: “Based on our experience, for every symptomatic case you would have at least one asymptomatic case.”

With more than 40,000 cases, Singapore has one of the highest infection tallies in Asia due to mass outbreaks in dormitories for its migrant workers.

After a two-month lockdown, Singapore has been gradually relaxing restrictions and has reopened schools.


India

343,091 cases/9,900 deaths

India reported almost 10,000 new coronavirus cases on Thursday last week, with hospitals struggling to cope in the worst-affected cities of Mumbai, New Dehli and Chennai, The Guardian has reported. 

After almost two months of lockdown, the Indian Government is relaxing restrictions with restaurants, shopping malls and places of worship reopening across the country.

In New Delhi, city officials last week predicted a 20-fold increase in the caseload, taking cases to more than half a million by the end of July.

The country of 1.3 billion now has the fourth highest number of cases, according to Johns Hopkins University data.


Brazil

888,271 deaths/43,959 deaths

Brazil overtook the UK last week as the country with the second highest COVID-19 death toll after the US, The Guardian has reported. 

This comes after President Jair Bolsonaro’s claim on 12 April, when the country’s death toll sat at more than 1200, that “this matter of the virus appears to be going away”.

Medical experts have condemned the Bolsonaro’s response, with leading oncologist and author Dr Drauzio Varella saying:  “I’ve the feeling our country is living through a tragedy – and that this tragedy is going to be so much more severe for the poorest.” 

The Guardian also reported that Brazil lost two health ministers in the space of one month. Nelson Teich announced his resignation from the health ministry via a WhatsApp message in mid-May, just one month after the sacking of his predecessor,  Luiz Mandetta.


Sweden

52,383 cases/4,939 deaths

“If we were to encounter the same disease again knowing exactly what we know about it today, I think we would settle on doing something in between what Sweden did and what the rest of the world has done,” said Anders Tegnell, Sweden’s chief epidemiologist and the architect of the country’s relaxed approach to coronavirus.

In a report in The Guardian earlier this month, Tegnell acknowledged that the country had had too many deaths from COVID-19 and should have done more to curb the spread of the virus. 

The report noted that Sweden’s death rate per capita was the highest in the world in the seven days to 2 June, leading the government promise to set up a commission to look into its COVID-19 strategy.

A report in The BMJ noted that more than half the country’s deaths had occurred in aged care facilities, something Tegnell admitted was a “failure”.


Germany 

188,213 cases/8,814 deaths

As Germany opened its borders this week, appeals were made to its citizens to download a new coronavirus tracking app, according to a report in The Guardian.

The Corona Warn App was downloaded more than one million times in the first few hours of its release on Tuesday this week.

German Health Minister Jens Spahn said the app would be vital in measures taken to break chains of infection, particularly at a time when Germans were becoming more mobile.

“We are increasingly coming into contact with anonymous people, whether at demonstrations or on public transport,” he said. “Every hour we gain by an early warning is a gain in our fight against this virus. I’d prefer people to get tested too often than too little.”


Denmark

12,416 cases/598 deaths

Denmark’s relative success in tackling the COVID-19 pandemic has been attributed to its swift shutdown and compliant community, Reuters reported last month. 

“The quick shutdown and the fact that Danes actually listened to messages from authorities about good hygiene and social distancing are the main reasons we’ve come this far,” said Hans Jorn Kolmos, a professor in clinical microbiology at the University of Southern Denmark.

Kolmos said, unlike the French and Italians, Danes were less likely to hug and kiss as a form of greeting, which also helped slow the spread of the virus.

In April, Denmark became the first country in Europe to reopen schools, daycare centres and smaller businesses. So far, it has not seen a subsequent rise in COVID-19 cases.


Italy

237,290 cases/34,371 deaths

As Italy moved to ease its final stage of lockdown restrictions this month, anger was mounting about the way in which the Italian Government had handled the devastating outbreak in Northern Italy.

Relatives of COVID-19 victims said two Lombardy towns – Alzano and Nembro – should have been declared “red zones” as soon as outbreaks were detected there, according to a report by BBC News.

Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte was questioned by prosecutors, who travelled to Rome from Bergamo, after 50 legal complaints were filed with the Bergamo prosecutor’s office. The relatives are calling for an inquiry into alleged government negligence.


Spain

244,109 cases/27,136 deaths

Spain will re-open its borders to travellers from the European Union and Schengen area from 21 June, The Guardian has reported. Visitors from the UK, however, may be required to self-isolate for 14 days.

On 2 June it was reported that Spain had recorded no COVID-19 deaths in a 24-hour period for the first time since March, according to AAP. The death toll at that time was 27,127 and in the subsequent fortnight, a further nine deaths have been recorded.


New Zealand

1,506 cases/22 deaths

New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Arden has described the early release of two women from quarantine – who were later diagnosed with COVID-19 – as an “unacceptable failure of the system”, The Guardian has reported. 

The women had arrived in New Zealand from the UK on 7 June and were granted permission, on compassionate grounds, to leave quarantine after only six days to visit a dying relative. The pair had not been tested for COVID-19 before leaving quarantine.

Prior to this, New Zealand had had no new cases of coronavirus for 24 days, due to the strict lockdown measures the country had instituted in the early days of the global crisis.

In response to the failure, Ardern appointed Assistant Chief of Defence Air Commodore Digby Webb to oversee the country’s quarantine and isolation facilities.

Just last week, Ardern said she “did a little dance” on hearing that the country had no active COVID-19 cases, according to an SBS report.


Fiji

18 cases/0 deaths

While there have only been 18 reported cases of COVID-19 in Fiji, and no deaths, the economic devastation wrought by the global pandemic is hitting the the small Pacific nation hard.

The Guardian reported that women were being forced to choose “food over sanitary products”, after price rises and lost income had put the cost of these essential items beyond many. 

Travel restrictions had resulted in the loss of tens of thousands of jobs in Fiji, where tourism accounts for 40 percent of gross domestic product.


Papua New Guinea

8 cases/0 deaths

When Papua New Guinea recorded its first case of COVID-19 on 20 March, there were grave concerns that a country with an estimated 600-700 doctors and 3,000 hospital beds would not be able to cope with a serious outbreak, according to a report in The Guardian. 

Almost three months later, with just eight confirmed cases and no deaths, Papua New Guinea has fortunately been relatively unscathed by the COVID-19 pandemic to date.


Indonesia

40,400 cases/2,231 deaths

Indonesia’s coronavirus caseload continues to grow with a further 857 infections and 43 deaths reported last Sunday, Reuters has reported. 

The country had tested more than 320,000 people for the virus as of Sunday.


Vietnam, Malaysia and Thailand

334 cases/0 deaths; 8,505 cases/121 deaths; 3,125 cases/58 deaths

Despite early fears that the COVID-19 pandemic would overwhelm much of South East Asia, there have been many positive stories in the region.

The Guardian has reported that Vietnam (334 cases/0 deaths) has not recorded a single fatality. 

Vietnam, along with Thailand (3,125 cases/58 deaths) and Malaysia (8,505 cases/121 deaths), has been praised for tackling the pandemic with rapid action and clear communication.

Thailand was thought to have been particularly vulnerable to the pandemic, after receiving a large number of travellers from Wuhan, in China. In January, Thailand had recorded the second highest number of cases after China, but  has been able to effectively contain the spread of the virus.


United Kingdom

298,315 cases/41,821 deaths

The most socially disadvantaged parts of England and Wales have been hit twice as hard by the coronavirus as wealthier areas, the BBC has reported.

A spokesperson for the Office for National Statistics said that, after adjusting for age of population, there were 128 deaths involving COVID-19 per 100,000 population in the most disadvantaged areas in England, compared with 60 deaths per 100,000 in the least disadvantaged areas. The findings were similar for Wales.

This week, the BBC also reported on early findings from the RECOVERY trial, which found that dexamethasone cut the risk of death by one third in patients who were on ventilators. The findings were yet to be reported in a peer-reviewed journal.

The researchers said that had the drug been used to treat the patients from the start of the pandemic, 5,000 lives could have been saved.


Philippines

26,781 cases/1,103 deaths

Children in the Philippines will not attend school until a vaccine to protect against COVID-19 becomes available, according to report in The Guardian

Earlier this week, Philippines education secretary Leonor Briones said online classes would resume at the end of August, but there were concerns that millions of students without internet access or in poorer or remote communities would not have access to education.

The Philippines has recently relaxed its strictly enforced quarantine measures that had been in place for two months, despite hundreds of new cases being diagnosed daily.


Chile

179,436 cases/3,362 deaths

The Chilean Health Minister resigned on the weekend after intense public criticism of the government’s handling of the pandemic, The Guardian reported. 

On Saturday 13 June, Chile recorded the highest daily death toll to date, with 234 deaths. Chile was among the countries with the highest number of cases relative to population size.


Guinea-Bissau

1492 cases/15 deaths (accessed 17 June)

The tiny African nation of Guinea-Bissau has reported that 9% of its health workers have contracted coronavirus.

According to a report in The Guardian, more than 170 of Guinea-Bissau’s 2,000 health workers had been infected. A World Health Organization expert warned this week that the country’s hospitals were close to being overwhelmed.

The West African nation has been struggling to contain the spread of coronavirus, which has infected more than 1,400 people and caused 15 deaths.


Meanwhile, this image below was published with Croakey’s first report on the new coronavirus on 28 January. So much has changed since then.

Image taken from real-time online mapping of the outbreak, by John Hopkins University Center for Systems Science and Engineering. At 6.44pm AEST, 28 January, 2020

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