Virus 'peaked' in China but could trigger global pandemic: WHO
Passengers with protective masks wait for their flight to Shanghai at Suvarnabhumi airport in Bangkok, on February 24, 2020. The novel coronavirus has spread to more than 25 countries since it emerged in December and is causing mounting alarm due to new outbreaks in Europe, the Middle East and Asia.
AFP/Hector Retamal
Virus 'peaked' in China but could trigger global pandemic: WHO
Dario Thuburn, Agnes Pedrero (The Philippine Star) - February 25, 2020 - 8:32am

GENEVA, Switzerland — The World Health Organization on Monday said the new coronavirus epidemic had "peaked" in China but warned that a surge in cases elsewhere was "deeply concerning" and all countries should prepare for a "potential pandemic".

WHO chief Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said the peak in China occurred between January 23 and February 2 and the number of new cases there "has been declining steadily since then".

"This virus can be contained," he told reporters in Geneva, praising China for helping to prevent an even bigger spread of the disease through unprecedented lockdowns and quarantines in or near the outbreak's epicentre.

An acceleration of cases in other parts of the world has prompted similar drastic measures. Italy has locked down 11 towns and South Korea ordered the entire 2.5 million residents of the city of Daegu to remain indoors.

It also caused falls of more than three-percent in several European stock markets — with Milan plunging 5.4 percent — and a boost for safe-haven gold amid fears the epidemic could hit a global economic recovery.

The spread of the disease — officially known as COVID-19 — continued unabated with Afghanistan, Bahrain, Iraq, Kuwait and Oman announcing their first cases on Monday.

China also continued its preventive measures against the virus, on Monday postponing its agenda-setting annual parliament meeting for the first time since the Cultural Revolution in the 1960s.

Cover-up allegations

In Iran, the death toll climbed on Monday by four to 12 — the highest number for any country outside China.

But there were concerns the situation might be worse than officially acknowledged. The semi-official ILNA news agency quoted one local lawmaker in hard-hit Qom — a religious centre — who said 50 people had died there.

The Iranian government denied the report, and pledged transparency.

Even so, authorities have only reported 64 infections in Iran, an unusually small number that would mean an extremely high mortality rate.

In China, 2,592 people have died out of 77,000 infections.

Michael Ryan, head of WHO's health emergencies programme, said a team from the UN agency would be arriving in Iran on Tuesday.

But he cautioned against drawing any conclusions about the mortality rate. Iran "may only be detecting severe cases" because the epidemic was still at an early stage, he said.

"We need to understand the exact dynamics of what has happened in Iran, but clearly there have been gatherings for religious festivals, and then people coming and then moving afterwards," he said.

Avoid 'public panic'

South Korea has also seen a rapid rise in infections since a cluster sprouted in a religious sect in Daegu last week.

South Korea reported more than 200 infections and two more deaths on Monday, bringing the total cases to more than 830 — by far the most outside China.

Eight people have died from the virus there, and President Moon Jae-in over the weekend raised the country's virus alert to the highest "red" level.

As part of the containment efforts, school holidays were extended nationally while the 2.5 million people of Daegu were told to remain indoors.

Authorities in Hong Kong announced that from Tuesday it would not allow arrivals from South Korea other than returning residents.

Mongolia earlier announced it would not allow flights from South Korea to land.

Speaking in Geneva, South Korean Foreign Minister Kang Kyung-hwa warned governments against "taking action that would fan public panic".

"I am deeply concerned at incidents of xenophobia and hatred, discriminatory immigration controls and arbitrary repatriation," she said.

Football, fashion curbed

Fears were also growing in Europe, with Italy reporting four more deaths Monday, bringing the total to seven.

More than 200 people have been infected there, and several Serie A football games were postponed over the weekend.

The famed Venice Carnival was also cut short, and some Milan Fashion Week runway shows were cancelled.

More than 50,000 people in about a dozen northern Italian towns have been told to stay home, and police set up checkpoints to enforce a blockade.

Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte has said that residents could face weeks of lockdown.

Economic toll

The virus is taking an increasingly heavy toll on the global economy, with many factories in China closed or subdued due to the quarantines.

The International Monetary Fund warned Sunday that the epidemic was putting a "fragile" global economic recovery at risk, while the White House said the shutdowns in China will have an impact on the United States.

Bruce Aylward, leader of an international mission of experts, said it was time for China to start lifting some of the restrictions.

"Obviously they want to get society back to a more normal semblance of what probably is the new normal, because this virus may be around... for months," Aylward said. — with Laurent Thomet in Beijing

2019-NCOV CHINA COVID-19 NOVEL CORONAVIRUS PANDEMIC WORLD HEALTH ORGANIZATION
As It Happens
LATEST UPDATE: September 21, 2020 - 7:52am

Follow this page for updates on a mysterious pneumonia outbreak that has struck dozens of people in China.

September 21, 2020 - 7:52am

The novel coronavirus has killed at least 957,948 people since the outbreak emerged in China last December, according to a tally from official sources compiled by AFP at 1100 GMT on Sunday.

At least 30,849,800 cases of coronavirus have been registered. Of these, at least 20,871,300 are now considered to have recovered.

The tallies, using data collected by AFP from national authorities and information from the World Health Organization (WHO), probably reflect only a fraction of the actual number of infections. — AFP

September 20, 2020 - 12:31pm

London's hard-hit live entertainment sector is hoping to prove it can resurrect itself from the coronavirus shutdown — and a series of gigs from a maze of tunnels could show the way to do it.

"Lockdown Town", which opens on October 2, will see socially distanced performances of American music from the 1920s to 1950s in a network of vaulted venues near Waterloo station.

Audiences will have their temperatures checked during staggered arrival times, move from one venue to the next wearing masks, and not stay in one area for more than 15 minutes.

The number of spectators has been capped at a maximum of 360 each evening —  well below the 500-700 capacity in normal times. — AFP

September 20, 2020 - 11:05am

Italians head to the polls Sunday — to the alarm of coronavirus experts — for a referendum and regional elections that could weaken the government and radically reshape the political landscape.

Just a week after a Herculean effort by schools to reopen in line with last-minute COVID-19 rules, classrooms across the country will be shut to pupils and transformed into ballot stations for the two-day vote.

A triumph for the far-right in this fiercely fought campaign would sound alarm bells in Brussels.

It will be the first test for Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte's center-left coalition government since it imposed an economically crippling nationwide lockdown to fight the virus, which has killed almost 36,000 people.

The referendum, on slashing the number of members of parliament — from 630 to 400 in the lower house, and 315 to 200 in the upper house — is expected to pass, though there has been a late uptick in the number of prominent 'no' declarations. — AFP

September 19, 2020 - 4:05pm

The Department of Health reports 3,962 additional cases of COVID-19 infections. This brings the total number of COVID-19 cases in the Philippines to 283,460.

The Health department also announces 1,128 new recoveries and 100 new deaths.

September 19, 2020 - 2:12pm

Canada's conservative opposition leader Erin O'Toole tested positive for the new coronavirus, his office announces, one day after another federal party leader did, too.

Both O'Toole and Bloc Quebecois leader Yves-Francois Blanchet were "feeling well" and were self-isolating, according to statements. 

Each had had close contact with staffers who tested positive for the COVID-19 illness. — AFP

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