Global health experts are urging the Trump administration to allow U.S. government disease specialists to return to northeastern Congo to help fight the second-largest Ebola outbreak in history.
The U.S. experts have been sidelined for weeks, ordered away from the region due to State Department security concerns. Health workers have compared the area to a war zone. Dozens of rebel groups are active and attacks by them have forced workers to halt Ebola containment for days at a time.
New statements in two top medical journals this week are calling on the U.S. to change its mind and send its experts back where they are sorely needed.
Coronavirus cases are spiking from India to South Africa and Mexico in a clear indication the pandemic is far from over, while Russia and Brazil now sit behind only the United States in the number of reported infections, according to COVID-19 Information & Resources.
The surges come as much of Asia, Europe and scores of U.S. states have been easing lockdowns to restart their economies as new infections wane. U.S. autoworkers, French teachers and Thai mall workers are among hundreds of thousands of employees back at work with new safety precautions.
Russia reported a steady rise in new infections Tuesday, and new hot spots have emerged across the nation of about 147 million. Russia registered nearly 9,300 new cases in the last 24 hours, bringing the total to almost 300,000 infections, about half of them in Moscow. Authorities say over 2,800 people with COVID-19 have died in Russia, a figure some say is surely higher.
Some experts argue Russian authorities have been listing chronic illnesses as the cause of death for many who tested positive for the virus. Officials angrily deny manipulating statistics, saying Russia’s low death toll reflects early preventive measures and broad screening. Nearly 7.4 million tests have been conducted.
In Russia’s second-largest city of St. Petersburg, a virus hot spot, all burials now must be with closed coffins as a precaution, irrespective of the cause of death. Previously the measure applied only to COVID-19 deaths.
Russia’s caseload is second only to that of the U.S., which has seen 1.5 million infections and over 90,000 deaths. The country’s prime minister, Mikhail Mishustin, resumed work Tuesday after a bout of coronavirus.
Cases are still rising across Africa, where all 54 nations have seen confirmed infections for a total of over 88,000 cases and 2,800 deaths, according to the Africa Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
South Africa has the highest number of cases at over 16,400 and nearly 290 deaths. Infections have increased dramatically in Cape Town and the surrounding Western Cape province, which now accounts for 61% of South Africa’s total.
Latin America has seen more than 480,000 confirmed coronavirus cases and about 31,000 dead. The highest number of cases is in Brazil, which became the world’s third worst-hit county Monday with more than 250,000 infections despite limited testing. Hospital officials reported that more than 85% of intensive care beds are occupied in the states of Rio de Janeiro and Sao Paulo.
Some countries have seen encouraging signs reverse: Iran reported a steady drop in new infections through April, only to see them rise again in May.
But there is new hope after an experimental vaccine against the coronavirus yielded encouraging results, though in a small and extremely early test. Stocks rallied Monday on the news.
In a surprise announcement, President Donald Trump said he has been taking the malaria drug hydroxychloroquine to protect against the virus even though scientists say there is no evidence of its effectiveness against the disease and his own administration has warned it should be administered only in a hospital or research setting because of potentially fatal side effects.
In Russia, President Vladimir Putin has declared that a partial economic shutdown imposed in late March helped slow the outbreak and prevented the nation’s health care system from being overwhelmed. A week ago, he ended the nationwide lockdown.
He has given Russia’s 85 regions a free hand to determine how they will ease their own lockdowns, but some have been struggling. The mostly Muslim southern province of Dagestan has reported a spike in infections that left its hospitals overflowing.
In India, coronavirus cases surged past 100,000, and infections are rising in the home states of migrant workers who fled cities and towns during a nationwide lockdown when they lost their jobs. India is now seeing more than 4,000 new cases daily. States including West Bengal, Bihar, Odisha and Gujarat, the major contributors of India’s migrant labor, are showing major spikes in infections as the country’s lockdown rules have eased. More than 3,100 with COVID-19 have died, according to India’s Health Ministry.
And in densely populated Bangladesh, where authorities reported a record number of new positive tests at over 1,600, thousands of cars were on the streets of the capital, Dhaka, despite a lockdown. Authorities have relaxed some rules and allowed shops to open ahead of the Muslim holiday of Eid al-Fitr.
In Latin America, intensive care units in the Chilean capital of Santiago have been beyond 90% capacity for days, and officials warned that intensive care staff members are reaching their limits.
“They can’t keep going forever, no matter how many beds or ventilators there are,” said Claudio Castillo, a professor of public policy and health at the University of Santiago.
Infections are also increasing in poor areas of Buenos Aires, the capital of Argentina, where authorities relaxed strict lockdown measures last week, allowing some businesses to open and children to walk outside on weekends.
Colombia struggled with an outbreak in Leticia, a city on the border with Brazil, where hospitals were overwhelmed and patients were being sent to commandeered hotels. Colombia has recorded about 16,300 confirmed cases and close to 600 dead.
In Europe and in the United States, which has seen 36 million Americans file for unemployment, economic concerns dominated the political landscape.
Unemployment claims in Britain jumped 69% in April, the government reported Tuesday. European car sales collapsed by an unprecedented 76% last month.
An experimental vaccine by Cambridge, Massachusetts-based Moderna Inc. triggered hoped-for immune responses in eight healthy, middle-aged volunteers. They were found to have antibodies similar to those seen in people who have recovered from COVID-19.
Much bigger studies on the vaccine’s safety and effectiveness are planned. Worldwide, about a dozen vaccine candidates are in or near the first stages of testing.
More than 4.8 million people worldwide have been infected and over 318,000 deaths have been recorded, according to a tally by Johns Hopkins University that experts believe is too low for several reasons. (VOA)
Due to the reduction in air and noise pollution pursuant to the imposition of the nationwide lockdown to fight the Covid-19 outbreak, the population of birds and butterflies has surged significantly across the country.
“The lockdown has resulted in an increase in the population of birds in the country. Resident birds are breeding much more than before due to less human activity, no noise and air pollution,” wildlife biologist Faiyaz Khudsar said.
Clanking of machinery in factories, buzzing of car horns and whirring of vehicular engines have now been replaced by chirping of birds in the dawn and the dusk.
Khudsar, who is also the scientist in-charge at the Yamuna Biodiversity Park (YBP), said that due to the reduction in noise pollution, bird mating calls and songs are being understood by its mates clearly.
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“Vocalisation is very important. When there is less noise pollution, it is very easy for birds to express themselves. Otherwise, there are many studies which suggest that due to noise pollution, birds sometimes fail to reach their mates,” Khudsar said.
He also said that at a place where there is less human population, aircraft are grounded and no vehicles ply on the road, birds tend to increase their flight or retain their historical geographical ranges. “Lockdown is a good time for birds,” he said, smiling.
Khudsar also alluded to the effect of air pollution on butterflies and said that heavy metals emitted from the vehicles and haze increases their mortality. “Due to reduction in sulphur dioxide toxicity, flocks of ePioneer’ butterflies are flying around and are breeding more than ever before,” he said.
Vikrant Tongad, environment conservationist and founder of Social Action for Forest and Environment (SAFE), expressed happiness over the increase in the population of birds and butterflies, but rued over the maintainability of the current situation post the lockdown period.
“The rosy situation we see today is part of our policies, but there is lack of implementation in the country. We should move towards green energy; people should be made aware and policies should be implemented,” Tongad suggested. (IANS)
Sidewalk vendors wearing face masks and gloves sold pork, tomatoes, carrots and other vegetables to shoppers Friday in the Chinese city where the coronavirus pandemic began, as workers prepared for a national memorial this weekend for health workers and others who died in the outbreak.
Authorities are easing controls that kept Wuhan’s 11 million people at home for two months, but many shops are still closed. Shoppers and sellers in the Minyi neighborhood on the city’s southwest side had to do their business over high yellow barriers, as access to the community is still controlled.
“I don’t feel safe going to a supermarket,” said Zhan Zhongwu, who wore two layers of masks and was buying pork for his wife and grandchild. “There are too many people,” he said. “Many infections happened in the supermarket.”
Residents have been relying on online groceries and government-organized food deliveries after most access to the city was suspended Jan. 23 and restaurants, shops and other businesses shut down.
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Wuhan and the rest of China are preparing for a nationwide three minutes of silence on Saturday in honor of the 3,322 people who officially died of the virus, including doctors, nurses and other health workers who have been declared martyrs.
They include Li Wenliang, an eye doctor in Wuhan who was reprimanded in December for warning about the virus and later died of the disease. He became a symbol of public anger at the ruling Communist Party for suppressing information about the coronavirus, possibly worsening its spread, before it took action in late January.
The party rescinded Li’s reprimand and declared him a hero as part of a propaganda effort aimed at deflecting criticism of the official response.
On Saturday, national flags will be lowered to half-staff at 10 a.m. while air raid sirens and the horns of cars, trains and ships will “wail in grief,” the official Xinhua News Agency said.
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People have been told to avoid cemeteries on Saturday, the start of a three-day holiday when families traditionally tend the graves of ancestors.
While the United States and other governments tighten controls and shut down businesses, Chinese leaders are trying to revive the world’s second-largest economy after declaring victory over the outbreak.
Still, local authorities have orders to prevent new infections as millions of people stream back to work in factories, offices and shops. Passengers on planes, trains, subways and buses are checked for fever and employers have orders to disinfect workplaces regularly.
Vegetable vendor Xie Lianning said she picked up supplies at a wholesale market at 5 a.m. and drove to Minyi. She was checked for fever at the neighborhood entrance.
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Xie set up shop on a sidewalk in front of closed shops that were covered by roll-down metal doors. The block was surrounded by the head-high yellow barriers installed to keep residents inside during the quarantine.
“Our business is not bad. Here is definitely better than indoors,” said Xie. “Nobody wanted to go inside. People are willing to buy things outside.”
Wuhan accounts for three-quarters of China’s virus deaths but has reported no new cases for a week. Despite that, controls requiring official permission to enter or leave the city are to stay in place through Tuesday.
Xie said she still was worried about the virus but had to get back to work. “We have no choice,” she said. “There are old and young in my family living with us. We have a heavy financial burden.” (VOA)