Top US virus expert warns of premature exit from lockdown
People sit on the stairs in front of the Sacre Coeur Basilica in Paris, on May 12, 2020, on the second day of France's easing of lockdown measures in place for 55 days to curb the spread of the COVID-19 pandemic, caused by the novel coronavirus.
Top US virus expert warns of premature exit from lockdown
Issam Ahmed (Agence France-Presse) - May 13, 2020 - 7:45am

WASHINGTON, United States — The top US infectious disease expert warned on Tuesday against relaxing coronavirus lockdowns too quickly as France began to reopen schools and Russia and India started getting back to work despite surging virus cases.

Government immunologist Anthony Fauci's stark words fed concerns that even a cautious exit from the world's unprecedented economic shutdown could trigger a second wave of the highly contagious virus.

In France, primary and nursery schools reopened with teachers wearing face masks and children's chairs separated to avoid spreading the virus.

French Education Minister Jean-Michel Blanquer hailed the reopening, which will be rolled out gradually throughout the country, including Paris schools on Thursday.

Russia also began to gradually ease lockdown rules even as the country's infections surged past 232,000 — now the second most confirmed cases in the world after the United States.

Russia hit the dire landmark Tuesday after a week of reporting more than 10,000 daily infections and as it was confirmed that President Vladimir Putin's spokesman tested positive for the virus.

US Vice President Mike Pence's press secretary tested positive last week and the White House said Tuesday that Pence has decided to "keep his distance" from President Donald Trump for a few days.

In testimony to US lawmakers, Fauci admitted the true number killed by the epidemic in the US is likely higher than the official toll of almost 82,000 -- the world's highest.

And despite Trump's evident desire to restart the economy ahead of the November election, Fauci warned that a sustained 14-day decrease in cases was a vital first step to exiting lockdowns safely.

"If a community or a state or region doesn't go by those guidelines and reopens... the consequences could be really serious," Fauci said.

"There is a real risk that you will trigger an outbreak that you may not be able to control," he added, warning that would not only cost lives, "but could even set you back on the road to trying to get economic recovery."

'Necessary measure'

Fauci's warning came after the World Health Organization urged "extreme vigilance" to prevent a second wave of the disease, which has killed more than 289,000 people around the world according to an AFP toll.

In Russia, some parts of the country hummed back to life Tuesday — the end of a "non-working" period. 

For those braving public transport, masks and gloves were a must in line with new anti-virus rules. 

"It's a necessary measure," said 25-year-old Tatiana Khan, speaking on a half-empty bus in Moscow.  

"If everyone had worn masks from the start, observed the precautions, I think we wouldn't have had such a spread of the epidemic," she added from behind a surgical mask. 

Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi announced a $270 billion economic stimulus as the Asian giant's economy lumbers back to life. 

Its giant railway network restarted in defiance of a recent surge in the number of infections, with 3,600 recorded on Monday, just below Sunday's record tally. 

The country of 1.3 billion imposed a strict shutdown in late March, which Modi's government has credited with keeping cases to a modest 70,000, with around 2,300 deaths. 

Masked passengers queued outside New Delhi station on Tuesday, waiting to be screened for virus symptoms.

Ajay Dewani, a photographer, said he walked for four hours to get to the station.

"I haven't been paid for two months and my landlord was hassling us for rent," Dewani told AFP.

Iran, meanwhile, said it would reopen mosques for three nights this week, after struggling to contain the outbreak that has killed more than 6,700 people there.

'Radically transparent'

South Korea, credited with one of the world's more successful anti-virus campaigns, said it was using mobile phone data to track Seoul nightclub visitors after a cluster of new cases.

The outbreak — which forced a delay in reopening schools — hit gay venues and potential carriers may fear coming forward because of the stigma surrounding homosexuality.   

And in Britain, which has Europe's most confirmed fatal cases, the Office of National Statistics said reports from care homes for the elderly suggest a government tally of 32,065 deaths underestimates the full toll.

Precautionary economic and social lockdowns have cut a swathe through the global economy and, while many areas are now cautiously moving back to work, world markets are treading cautiously amid fears of a second wave.

The Nasdaq's six-day winning streak ended Tuesday as US stocks pulled back after Fauci's warnings about reopening the economy too quickly.

Observers are nervously eyeing Wuhan, where the virus was first reported late last year, after the Chinese city registered the first cluster of new COVID-19 infections since it reopened after a 76-day lockdown on April 8.

Chinese authorities moved to test the entire 11-million strong population after the new cases came to light.

In an interview with AFP, US epidemiologist Larry Brilliant urged China to be "radically transparent" with medical investigators.

Scientists believe the virus jumped from bats to humans in a Wuhan market but there have been unproven claims — including from Trump — that the disease somehow escaped from a Chinese lab. — with AFP bureau

As It Happens
LATEST UPDATE: October 20, 2020 - 3:04pm

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

October 20, 2020 - 3:04pm

A number of European countries took urgent new measures on Monday to combat a second wave of coronavirus infections, as the World Health Organization blamed the surge in worldwide cases — now more than 40 million — on countries' failure to quarantine infected people properly.

Ireland and Wales became the first countries on the continent to re-enter lockdown as the number of people who have died from COVID-19 in Europe passed 250,000, according to an AFP tally.

Irish prime minister Micheal Martin issued a nationwide "stay at home" order from midnight Wednesday, with all non-essential retail businesses to close and bars and restaurants limited to takeaway service only, although schools will remain open. — AFP

October 20, 2020 - 7:29am

Canada, in the midst of a second wave of COVID-19 illnesses, topped 200,000 cases and inched closer to 10,000 deaths Monday, according to official data compiled by Canadian broadcasters CBC and CTV.

About 80% of these cases and more than 90% of the deaths were recorded in the country's two most populous provinces, Ontario and Quebec, which has been the epicenter of the country's epidemic since it broke out in Canada last March.

As of Monday afternoon, Canada had 200,039 cases and 9,772 dead — with its two westernmost provinces still to report their updated tallies — according to the public health data.

That amounts to 532 cases per 100,000 people in the country of 38 million, or five times fewer than in the United States. — AFP

October 19, 2020 - 10:37pm

The novel coronavirus has killed at least 1,114,836 people since the outbreak emerged in China last December, according to a tally from official sources compiled by AFP at 11:00 GMT Monday.

At least 40,064,580 cases of coronavirus have been registered, of whom at least 27,549,400 are now considered 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. Many countries are testing only symptomatic or the most serious cases. — AFP

October 19, 2020 - 8:30pm

South Africa's Health Minister Zweli Mkhize said he has tested positive for COVID-19 just two days after the country's diagnosed cases topped 700,000.

The 64-year-old minister is the fifth member of the government to contract the virus after his colleagues in the ministries of defence, labour, trade and mineral resources.

"I wish to inform the public that this afternoon my wife, Dr May Mkhize, and I have tested positive for COVID-19," said Mkhize is a statement late Sunday. — AFP

October 19, 2020 - 3:44pm

The number of confirmed coronavirus cases worldwide passed 40 million on Monday, according to an AFP tally at 0715 GMT based on official sources.

A total of 40,000,234 infections and 1,113,896 deaths have been recorded across the globe. More than half the global caseload has come in the three hardest-hit countries: the United States with 8,154,935 infections, India with 7,550,273 and Brazil 5,235,344.

In just the last seven days more than that 2.5 million cases have been reported, the highest weekly number since COVID-19 emerged in China late last year.

The increase can only partly be explained by a sharp increase in testing and still likely does not include a large number of less severe or asymptomatic cases. — AFP

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