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Virus 'peaked' in China but could trigger global pandemic: WHO

Dario Thuburn, Agnes Pedrero - The Philippine Star
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

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: October 26, 2021 - 3:23pm

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

October 26, 2021 - 3:23pm

Recognizing the importance of widespread testing, Watsons now sells FDA-certified COVID-19 antigen test kits with a price range of P399-Php 500 in all stores nationwide. The testing kits are for administering by medical professionals such as doctors, nurses and medical technologists and will require medical prescription. The required specifications set by the Health Technology Assessment Council (HTAC) are at 80% sensitivity and 97% specificity and these test kits can deliver at least 95% sensitivity and 99.2% specificity. 

"As more people head out to work, school and gatherings, Watsons knows that antigen test kits are important in helping reduce transmission," said Maita Santiago, Watsons Philippines Customer Director. "Watsons is taking a proactive role as the Philippines continues to fight this pandemic. Tools such as antigen testing kits help provide important information and serve as a guide so the public will know what steps to take."

Having antigen testing available at Watsons, touted as the Filipino's trusted health and wellness partner, means more people will have access to affordable and effective testing options, which can result in fewer transmissions. The antigen test kits will use saliva as the indicator for the presence of the virus and results can be seen in 30 minutes or less. For more information and counseling, you can ask your Watsons pharmacist. You can also download the app at http://bit.ly/WatsonsMobileApp and shop for your vitamins and medicines.  
 

October 26, 2021 - 11:48am

Mexico begins COVID-19 vaccinations for adolescents with chronic diseases in the capital, the latest step in an immunization drive in one of the countries hit hardest by the pandemic.

Authorities in Mexico City say they had begun using the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine to inoculate minors with comorbidities aged between 12 and 17 years old.

Fifteen-year-old Paola Abigail Chocooj, who has diabetes, was among those participating, some in their school uniforms. — AFP

October 23, 2021 - 10:44am

Peru, which has the world's highest COVID-19 death rate per capita, has surpassed 200,000 deaths from the coronavirus, the health ministry said on Friday.

The ministry announced 25 new deaths over the previous 24 hours, taking the South American country over the symbolic threshold with 200,003 deaths since the pandemic started in March 2020.

The Andean country of 33 million has also recorded 2.2 million infections.

With 6,065 deaths per million population, Peru's COVID mortality rate is the highest in the world, according to an AFP count based on official data.

The news comes at a time of falling daily cases and deaths attributed to the increase in vaccinations, although authorities remain worried about a potential new wave of infections due to the Delta variant that is now predominant in the country.

"We're maintaining a high level of control," health minister Hernando Cevallos said recently. — AFP

October 21, 2021 - 1:41pm

India administers its billionth COVID-19 vaccine dose on Thursday, according to the health ministry, half a year after a devastating surge in cases brought the health system close to collapse.

According to the government, around three-quarters of adults in the country of 1.3 billion people have had one shot and around 30 percent are fully vaccinated.

India suffered a huge spike in cases in April and May, reporting more than 400,000 infections and 4,000 deaths per day, with many hospitals unable to cope and crematoriums overwhelmed. — AFP

October 20, 2021 - 8:22pm

Russian President Vladimir Putin on Wednesday ordered a nationwide week-long paid holiday starting on October 30 to curb COVID infections amid record virus deaths and again urged Russians to vaccinate themselves.  

At a televised meeting with officials, Putin said he supported a government proposal to "declare non-working days between October 30 and November 7 throughout the country" and asked Russians to "show responsibility" and get COVID jabs. — AFP

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