Coronavirus: Latest on COVID-19 from around the world - Thursday, May 21

The World Health Organization expressed concern on Wednesday about the rising number of new coronavirus cases in poor countries, even as many rich nations have begun emerging from lockdown.

The global health body said 106,000 new cases of infections of the novel coronavirus had been recorded in the past 24 hours, the most in a single day since the outbreak began.

"We still have a long way to go in this pandemic," WHO director-general Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus told a news conference. "We are very concerned about rising cases in low- and middle-income countries."

There have now been 5 million confirmed infections and 326,500 deaths.

Europe

Italy

Deaths from the COVID-19 epidemic in Italy have climbed by 161 against 162 the day before, while the daily tally of new cases fell to 665 from 813 on the prior day.

The total death toll since the outbreak came to light on February 21 now stands at 32,330, the third-highest in the world after those of the United States and Britain.

The number of confirmed cases amounts to 227,364 the sixth-highest global tally behind those of the United States, Russia, Spain, Britain and Brazil.

Spain

Spain has made it compulsory for all citizens, including children over six, to wear masks in public spaces as one of Europe's strictest lockdowns gradually unwinds.

Spain has suffered 27,778 deaths and had 232,037 cases of the COVID-19 disease, according to latest data. But the pace of new fatalities has slowed to under 100 a day, and Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez's left-wing coalition is aiming to lift most of the lockdown by the end of June unless there is a second wave.

Some are getting weary of the restrictions: demonstrators of up to a few hundred have been gathering daily at 9 pm to bang pots and pans and call for the government's resignation. Mainly in wealthy, conservative neighbourhoods, the protesters have often ignored social-distancing rules.

France

The youngest pupils in French secondary schools began to return to their classrooms on Monday, although older students and those living in the areas worst-hit by the coronavirus epidemic remained at home.

Pupils in the first two grades of "college" - middle school running from ages 11 to 15 - were able to return but with safety measures including mandatory masks and social distancing rules in place.

But the change only affected those areas branded "green" by the government for their lower rates of the disease - essentially in the west and south of the country - and even there, attendance is not compulsory.

Much of the east and north, including Paris, is still considered "red" and secondary schools remain shut until further notice.

A health worker disinfects public areas.
A health worker disinfects public areas. Photo credit: Getty

Russia

Russia's coronavirus caseload has surpassed 300,000 on Wednesday, with the death toll almost reaching 3000.

The country's health officials reported 8764 new infections on Wednesday and 135 new deaths - the highest daily spike in mortality.

Russia's comparatively low mortality rate has raised questions in the West, with some suggesting that the country's government is underreporting coronavirus-related deaths.

Asia

Singapore

Singapore, a regional travel and tourism hub, will gradually allow travellers to transit through its Changi Airport from June 2, the city-state's aviation regulator said on Wednesday.

Currently, foreign passengers may only transit through Singapore if they are on repatriation flights arranged by their governments. In March, visitors were banned from entering or transiting through the city-state to help combat the COVID-19 pandemic.

"This is part of Singapore's strategy to gradually re-open air transport to meet the needs of our economy and our people, whilst ensuring sufficient safeguards for safe travel," the Civil Aviation Authority of Singapore said.

Singapore is set to start easing its coronavirus curbs from June 2.

Singapore has sentenced a drug suspect to death on the popular video chat app Zoom because of the city-state's coronavirus lockdown, a move slammed by a human rights group as callous and inhumane.

Defence lawyer Peter Fernando said the Supreme Court announced the penalty to his client, Punithan Genasan, in a virtual hearing Friday. Genasan was in jail, while Fernando and prosecutors participated in the hearing from different locations.

It is believed to be the first time the death sentence was delivered remotely in Singapore, which has imposed social distancing measures it calls a "circuit breaker."

The court ruled that the 37-year-old Malaysian was the mastermind of drug trafficking activity in 2011.

South Korea

South Korean students have returned to school, but not without some hitches, in a possible template for other countries struggling to reopen educational facilities.

Hundreds of thousands of high school seniors across South Korea entered their schools after having their temperatures checked and rubbing their hands with sanitiser - familiar measures amid the coronavirus pandemic. Students and teachers are required to wear masks, and some schools have installed plastic partitions at each student's desk, according to the Education Ministry.

Only high school seniors returned on Wednesday. Younger students are scheduled to return to school in phased steps by June 8.

In a reminder that getting back to normality won't be easy, students in some schools near Seoul were asked to return home in the morning after two students were found to have contracted the coronavirus. Earlier Wednesday, health authorities also reported 32 new cases in South Korea for a total of 11,110, the first time the daily jump has been above 30 in more than a week.

Americas

United States

New York City residents from low-income communities tested positive for COVID-19 antibodies at a much higher rate than the general population, according to data disclosed by Governor Andrew Cuomo on Wednesday (May 20).

Cuomo told a daily briefing that 27 percent of the 8000 people tested from low-income communities were positive for COVID-19 antibodies, compared with 19.9 percent in the general population in New York City.

The World Health Organization has warned US President Donald Trump he shouldn't be taking hydroxychloroquine.

"At this stage, (neither) hydroxychloroquine nor chloroquine have been as yet found to be effective in the treatment of COVID-19 nor in the prophylaxis against coming down with the disease," said Dr. Mike Ryan, head of WHO's emergencies programme. "In fact, the opposite, in that warnings have been issued by many authorities regarding the potential side effects of the drug."

Middle East and Africa

Yemen

The United Nations refugee agency warned on Wednesday that internally displaced people camps in Yemen are "a ticking bomb" as new coronavirus spreads in the country.

"We have all the elements for a ticking bomb," UNHCR country representative in Yemen, Jean-Nicolas Beuze said.

Yemen has announced 72 confirmed cases of the novel coronavirus and 13 deaths, according to a Reuters tally.

But health experts believe the real number of cases is far higher given the lack of tracking and testing capabilities in the poorest country in the Arabian Peninsula.

Health and sanitation systems are wrecked, and diseases such as cholera are rife.

Medical response

The head of emergencies at the World Health Organization said an end to US funding for the UN health agency will have a "major implication for delivering essential health services to the most vulnerable people in the world."

Dr. Michael Ryan was responding to questions from reporters about a letter sent by US President Donald Trump to the WHO's chief threatening an end - for good - to funding from the United States, its biggest donor, unless the agency reforms.

The comments came on a day when a total of 106,000 COVID-19 cases were reported to WHO over the last 24 hours, the most in a single day since the outbreak began.

Ryan said the US funding that reaches the WHO emergencies program was "on the order of $100 million a year" and much goes to "humanitarian health operations all over the world, in all sorts of fragile and difficult settings."

He expressed "concern" about any such funding cuts.

"We'll obviously have to work with other partners to ensure that those funds are as can still flow," Ryan said. "And we trust that other donors will, if necessary, step in to fill that gap."

Authorities in 23 countries across five continents have sought access to contact tracing technology from Apple Inc and Alphabet Inc's Google, the companies announced on Wednesday as they released the initial version of their system.

The Apple-Google technology enables governments fighting the novel coronavirus to publish mobile apps in the coming days that the companies said will be able to reliably log users who are in physical proximity for at least five minutes. A user who later becomes infected with the virus could use the app to automatically and anonymously notify recent contacts.

Economic fallout

Engine maker Rolls-Royce says it plans to cut some 9000 jobs globally as it grapples with the collapse in air travel due to the COVID-19 pandemic. The company based in Derby, England, employs 52,000 people overall, and didn't specify which regions would take the hardest blow.

Reuters / APTN / Newshub.

 

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