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Global coronavirus cases rise to more than 12 million

(Reuters) – Global coronavirus cases exceeded 12 million on Wednesday, according to a Reuters tally, as evidence mounts of the airborne spread of the disease that has killed more than half a million people in seven months.

The number of cases is triple that of severe influenza illnesses recorded annually, according to the World Health Organization.

Many hard-hit countries are easing lockdowns put in place to slow the spread of the novel virus, while others, such as China and Australia, implement another round of shutdowns in response to a resurgence in infections. Experts say alterations to work and social life could last until a vaccine is available.

The first case was reported in China in early January and it took 149 days to hit 6 million cases. It has taken less than a third of that time – just 39 days – to double to 12 million cases, the tally shows.

There have been more than 546,000 deaths linked to the virus so far, within the same range as the number of yearly influenza deaths reported worldwide. The first death was reported on Jan. 10 in Wuhan, China before infections and fatalities surged in Europe and then later in the United States.

The United States reported a daily global record of 56,818 new COVID-19 infections on July 3 when global cases reached the 11 million mark. The United States recorded a total of 3 million cases on Tuesday, and accounts for more than a quarter of both global cases and global fatalities putting President Donald Trump’s pandemic strategy under scrutiny.

Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro tested positive for coronavirus after downplaying the seriousness of the pandemic. The country has reported between 20,000 and 50,000 new cases daily since July 1. Brazil has more than 1.7 million cases and nearly 68,000 deaths.

The Reuters tally, which is based on government reports, shows the disease is spreading the fastest in Latin America. The Americas account for more than half the world’s infections and almost half its deaths. Brazil and the United States account for around 45% of all new cases since the beginning of July.

India – the country with the third highest number of infections – is battling an outbreak of more than 20,000 new cases each day.

In countries with limited testing capacity, case numbers reflect only a proportion of total infections. Experts caution that official data likely underrepresents both cases and deaths.

(To see a Reuters interactive, open this link in an external browser: tmsnrt.rs/2Zedzk8)

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David Attenborough in appeal to save charity behind London Zoo

LONDON (Reuters) – Veteran broadcaster and naturalist David Attenborough has appealed for donations to save the conservation charity behind two leading British zoos, London and Whipsnade, which has been hammered financially by the coronavirus pandemic.

The short video clip, which will air on British television on Thursday, draws attention to the scientific work of the Zoological Society of London and features images of animals both in the two zoos and their native habitats.

“The Zoological Society of London has made an outstanding contribution to conservation and our understanding of wildlife for 200 years,” said Attenborough, noting that the two zoos are home to over 20,000 animals, some of them endangered.

“The national institution is now itself at risk of extinction,” said Attenborough, 94, who is famed worldwide for his documentaries on the natural world.

The ZSL has lost vital income after the coronavirus pandemic forced its zoos to close for the first time since World War Two, he said, urging people to make donations via the link zsl.org/justgiving.

In a separate press release, ZSL director Dominic Jermey said the zoos would be unable to recoup the money lost even though they have now been allowed to reopen, due to social distancing measures and heavily restricted visitor numbers.

“Unlike any other UK zoo, our zoos are the lifeline for ground-breaking research at the world-renowned ZSL Institute of Zoology and fund our global conservation projects – work that has never been more vital,” he said.

The research includes looking into how diseases such as coronaviruses transfer from wildlife to humans, he added.

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Canada handled the coronavirus outbreak better than United States, PM Trudeau says

OTTAWA (Reuters) – Canada handled the novel coronavirus outbreak better than many of its allies, including the United States, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said on Wednesday, in a rare public comment on the faltering U.S. effort.

Canada – with a population one-tenth the size of the United States – has so far recorded 8,711 deaths and 106,167 cases and Trudeau said the situation was stabilizing, although some hot spots remained.

In contrast, the United States has recorded more than 3 million cases and 131,336 deaths. Authorities have reported alarming upswings of daily case loads in roughly two dozen states over the past two weeks.

“We were able to control the virus better than many of our allies, particularly including our neighbor,” Trudeau told a briefing, saying Canada’s success would help efforts to restart the economy.

Canada and the United States have blocked nonessential travel between the two nations since March and are discussing whether to extend the ban when it expires on July 21.

Canadian health officials said the death toll could hit 8,900 by July 17.

Deputy chief public health officer Howard Njoo said the outbreak was largely under control, while stressing measures such as contact tracing and quarantine would still be essential.

“If we relax too much or too soon, the epidemic will most likely rebound, with explosive growth as a distinct possibility,” he told a separate news conference.

Although Trudeau’s relations with U.S. President Donald Trump have been good over the last 18 months, he skipped a Washington meeting on Wednesday to herald the start of a new continental trade agreement with the United States and Mexico.

Trudeau, who would have had to enter a 14-day quarantine period on his return, repeated concerns about the possible imposition of U.S. tariffs on Canadian exports of aluminum.

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Moscow theatres to reopen in August as Russia's coronavirus cases pass 700,000

MOSCOW (Reuters) – Residents of Moscow will be permitted to visit the theatre again from Aug. 1 for the first time in more than four months, authorities said on Wednesday as coronavirus infections in Russia edged past the 700,000 mark.

Theatre audiences at 50% capacity will be allowed, President Vladimir Putin’s special representative for international cultural cooperation Mikhail Shvydkoy was quoted as saying by the TASS news agency. Shvydkoy added that he hoped this percentage could be increased by September.

Russia’s nationwide case tally stood at 700,792 as of Wednesday, the fourth highest in the world after India, Brazil and the United States, while 10,667 people have died from the virus, according to official data.

However, since measures meant to slow the spread of the virus began to be eased in May, the number of new cases recorded each day has been on a downward trend. Russia says 472,511 people have recovered from the virus.

Some businesses returned to work in May, following a nationwide non-working period in April, while in Moscow, the epicentre of Russia’s outbreak, the phased reopening of shops, restaurants and gyms came in June.  

On Wednesday, Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said the country’s coronavirus situation was leaning towards improving and that there was cause for more optimistic forecasts.

Russia’s healthcare regulator, meanwhile, said it had found no direct link connecting domestically-produced ventilators with two hospital fires that killed six people in May.

Russia suspended the use of all Aventa-M ventilators produced at a factory near the Ural mountains while an investigation by the regulator, Roszdravnadzor, into the cause of the two fires at hospitals treating patients for the novel coronavirus was ongoing.

Roszdravnadzor said it had discovered some small violations, as well as discrepancies between the product and its operational and technical documentation.

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Exclusive: EU reaches deals with Roche, Merck for supply of COVID-19 drugs – source

BRUSSELS (Reuters) – The European Commission has reached agreements with pharmaceutical companies Roche (ROG.S) and Merck KGaA (MRCG.DE) to supply experimental drugs that can be used to treat COVID-19 patients, a commission source told Reuters on Wednesday.

The EU executive agreed to the deal to source Roche’s RoActemra and Merck’s Rebif for supply to any 27 EU members states willing to buy them, the source who is familiar with the issue told Reuters. The person declined to be identified because of the sensitivity of the topic.

The source declined to disclose the terms of the deal.

Roche and Merck were not immediately available for comment. A commission spokeswoman was also not immediately available for comment.

The agreements follow requests from EU states in May to acquire the two drugs which are considered potentially useful against COVID-19.

RoActemra is a drug for rheumatoid arthritis, which has been tested on COVID-19 patients in combination with Gilead’s (GILD.O) antiviral remdesivir, the only treatment so far authorised by the European Union for its use against COVID-19.

Rebif is used to treat multiple sclerosis patients. It was originally developed by the Swiss biotech firm Serono before Merck bought the company.

Both drugs target proteins in the body associated with inflammation, and there is some hope that they may help severely ill COVID-19 patients suffering from a so-called cytokine storm, a severe immune system reaction that in some cases has led to organ failure of those infected with the new coronavirus.

The companies said in letters sent to the EU Commission that they could meet demand from EU countries, the EU source said, declining to name the EU states that expressed interest in the drugs.

EU countries have now to agree with the companies on the supplies needed, the source said.

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‘Nothing to do with them’ Donald Trump sparks fury as President removes US from WHO

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Speaking to BBC Radio 4’s Today Programme, Dr Nabarro claims it is sad to see the US pull out of the WHO as the most important country in the organisation’s budget. He warned the coronavirus pandemic will get “much worse” in the next six months and without the US the global effort to fight the virus will suffer. He said: “I’m just really sad because the world is facing a massive health crisis, it’s been extremely bad for the last six months, I fear it’s going to get much worse in the next six months.

“We still got a lot to find out about this virus and how to deal with it and it just seems really unfortunate that the most important in terms of size in the WHO budget, the most important country, decided to pull out.

“And I’m also really sad for the American people who I’m sure by and large want to be part of the global response and will be a bit confused about why this has happened.”

Asked whether tensions between China and Taiwan over the latter’s membership to WHO could have pushed the US President to make that decision, Dr Nabarro blasted: “First of all, the decision about whether Taiwan or anybody else is a member of the WHO is nothing to do with the WHO and its staff.

“It’s all to do with the people who run the WHO and they are the countries of the world. They elect each year about whether or not Taiwan or other members join – super important that everybody knows that.

“Secondly, the communications with the people in Taiwan and the institutions of Taiwan by the WHO were in no way affected by this and there’s been regular correspondence between them.”

The United States will leave the World Health Organisation on July 6, 2021, the United Nations said on Tuesday after receiving formal notification of the decision by President Donald Trump more than a month ago.

Trump had to give one-year notice of the US withdrawal from the Geneva-based UN agency under a 1948 joint resolution of the US Congress, which also obliges Washington to pay financial support. The United States currently owes the WHO more than $200 million in assessed contributions, according to the WHO website.

After more than 70 years of membership, the United States moved to quit the WHO after Trump accused it of becoming a puppet of China amid the coronavirus pandemic. The virus first emerged in China’s Wuhan city late last year.

“The Secretary-General is in the process of verifying with the World Health Organisation whether all the conditions for such withdrawal are met,” UN spokesman Stephane Dujarric said.

Trump had halted funding for the 194-member organization in April, then in a May 18 letter gave the WHO 30 days to commit to reforms. He announced the United States would quit less than two weeks later.

The WHO is an independent international body that works with the United Nations. UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres has said that the WHO is “absolutely critical to the world’s efforts to win the war against COVID-19.” Trump has long scorned multilateralism as he focuses on an “America First” agenda.

Since taking office, he has quit the UN Human Rights Council, the UN cultural agency, a global accord to tackle climate change and the Iran nuclear deal. He has also cut funding for the UN population fund and the U.N. agency that aids Palestinian refugees.

US coronavirus task force response coordinator Dr. Deborah Birx said that the United States and other countries could have had a stronger initial response to COVID-19 if China had been more forthcoming about key features of the virus.

At a panel held by the Atlantic Council, a US think tank, Birx said the United States would have been more focused on identifying COVID-19 patients without symptoms if China has shared information about the frequency with which COVID-19 patients, particularly young people, are asymptomatic.

“I have to say if we had known about the level of asymptomatic spread, we would have all looked at this differently,” Birx said at the panel. “That’s usually the initial countries’ responsibility and I think that did delay across the board our ability to really see or look for this.”

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Birx said that public health officials had originally assumed that only 15 to 20 percent of COVID-19 patients are asymptomatic when in fact that number is at least 40 percent.

“We were looking for people with symptoms. We should have looked for anyone who would have been exposed,” she said.

President Donald Trump has levelled blame at China for the outbreak, saying the country should have warned the world much sooner.

China’s United States embassy told Reuters in a statement that China has been open, transparent and responsible since the pandemic broke out.

“We notified the [World Health Organisation] of the epidemic, shared the genome sequencing of the virus, carried out international cooperation and helped other countries affected, all at the earliest time possible,” the statement said. “These are plain, internationally recognised facts, which cannot be denied or erased by anyone.”

The United States saw a 27 percent increase in new cases of COVID-19 in the week ended July 5 compared with the previous seven days.

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Australia battles to contain Melbourne coronavirus outbreak

SYDNEY (Reuters) – Australia should slow down the return of its citizens from abroad, Prime Minister Scott Morrison said on Wednesday, as the country grapples with a fresh coronavirus outbreak that has forced it to isolate its second most populous state.

The border between Victoria and New South Wales, the busiest in the country, was closed overnight and around 4.9 million residents in the Victorian capital of Melbourne will return to partial lockdown at midnight following a spike in COVID-19 cases in the city.

“The rest of the country knows that the sacrifice that you’re going through right now is not just for you and your own family, but it’s for the broader Australian community,” Morrison said during a televised media conference.

Morrison said he would take a proposal to a national cabinet of state and territory leaders on Friday, seeking to slow down the return of Australian citizens and permanent residents by reducing the number of repatriation flights. The two groups have been the only arrivals allowed since Australia closed its international border in March.

Neighbouring New Zealand announced on Tuesday that its national airline will not take new inbound bookings for three weeks to reduce the burden on overflowing quarantine facilities.

In Australia, red flags have been raised by potential quarantine breaches that the Victorian state government believes led to returnees spreading the virus. Officials have begun an inquiry.

Victoria reported 134 new infections on Wednesday, down from the previous day’s record 191 but well over the low single digit daily increases of the country’s other seven states and territories.

Fears of a broader second wave were underscored on Thursday by an official report of three new COVID-19 cases in the national capital, Canberra. Two of the infected people had returned from Melbourne last week, and the third was their housemate.

In Sydney, authorities were scrambling to track down 48 passengers who were allowed to disembark a flight from Melbourne overnight without being checked for COVID-19 symptoms.

The resurgence of the virus deals a blow to Australia’s hopes of cushioning its landing as it sinks into its first recession in three decades. Federal Treasurer Josh Frydenberg said the border closure and Melbourne lockdown would cost the economy up to A$1 billion ($700 million) per week.

Morrison said the government would offer additional income support beyond a wage subsidy currently due to end in September, while Frydenberg said income tax cuts may be accelerated.

BORDER CONTROL

At the Victoria and NSW border, police checkpoints caused delays of more than an hour for drivers. The state line is heavily trafficked by daily commuters who live and work on either side.

“I got a permit but with all the checks, my commute across was heavily delayed,” Amanda Cohn, who crosses the border from her home in NSW each day to reach the Victorian hospital where she works, told Reuters. “Plenty of others need to get across and they don’t have a permit.”

Authorities had hastily set up a system to issue travel permits for a select group, but a website created to dispense passes crashed soon after its launch.

Victoria’s only other internal border, with South Australia, has been closed since mid-March.

In Melbourne, renewed lockdown measures will kick in at midnight for at least six weeks, closing down cafes, bars, restaurants and gyms, and confining residents to their homes except for essential business.

Among the new COVID-19 cases on Wednesday were 75 occupants of nine public housing towers that were earlier this week placed into complete lockdown, barring their 3,000 residents from leaving for five days.

Nationwide, Australia has reported about 9,000 COVID-19 cases and 106 deaths from the virus.

($1 = 1.4399 Australian dollars)

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Dozens forced into quarantine in Mongolia amid bubonic plague fears

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Dozens of people were quarantined with suspected bubonic plague cases, including one boy who reportedly contracted the disease after eating a marmot. The boy reportedly displayed a high temperature after eating the animal, which is large ground squirrel.

The animal many have been hunted by a dog prior to consumption.

The boy was in Mongolia’s Bayan-Ulgii aimag province and his condition has improved, according to medical reports.

The new case comes after an infection was reported in China’s Inner Mongolia Autonomous Region of Bayannur.

Dr Narangeral, head of ministry of health in Mongolia, said: “The child’s condition has improved and there are reports that the fever has dropped and the pain in the axillary glands has decreased.

“We also took full control of 34 suspects in the first contact.

“Samples from the child will be flown in at 22:00 tonight for testing at the National Center for Communicable Diseases.

“This is the second plague in our country. Cases of marmot plague have also been reported in Inner Mongolia, China.

“In this regard, Russia yesterday began to take measures to ban marmot hunting.

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“While our neighbours are paying close attention, our citizens are being warned not to hunt and eat marmots illegally and to follow their advice.”

A herdsman in the Inner Mongolia region is believed to be in stable condition.

The World Health Organisation said it was “carefully monitoring” the infections but it was “not high risk”.

WHO spokeswoman Margaret Harris said: “Bubonic plague has been with us and is always with us, for centuries.

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“We are looking at the case numbers in China. It’s being well managed.

“At the moment, we are not considering it high risk but we’re watching it, monitoring it carefully.”

The bubonic plague is highly infectious and can be fatal.

Dubbed the “Black Death” in the Middle Ages, the disease can be transmitted by rodents.

Although currently becoming progressively rare, infections are not uncommon in China.

Russia has set up patrols to control areas that border China and Mongolia were people can hunt for marmots.

Authorities in Russia’s Altai region, in the border with Kazakhstan, China and Mongolia, said patrols had been set up to implement a ban on hunting marmots, the TASS news agency reported.

If untreated, plague can result in death in up to 90 percent of cases.

Bubonic plague can develop pneumonic plague, which can cause shortness of breath, headaches and coughing.

The last major reported outbreak was in 2009 in the town of Ziketan in Qinghai province on the Tibetan Plateau.

Fears of a new outbreak follow the severe coronavirus pandemic, which was first documented in Wuhan, China, late last year.

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Masks, disinfectant, social distancing: Japan responds to disaster amid coronavirus

Yatsushiro, JAPAN (Reuters) – Boxes of surgical masks, bottles of disinfectant and a sign saying “Please wear a mask” mark the entrance to a public gym in Yatsushiro city, a shelter for residents fleeing devastating floods in southwestern Japan this week.

Elsewhere in the gym, cardboard partitions separate the 233 evacuees’ sleeping areas and another sign instructs them to check their temperature each morning, then sterilise the thermometers.

The measures show what a thorny issue it is for Japan to deal with natural disasters in the time of coronavirus.

Japanese authorities have been warning local officials for months to include coronavirus measures in their disaster preparations. Residents have been urged to seek shelter with friends or relatives if possible to avoid overcrowding evacuation centres.

But coronavirus contagion was the last thing on the mind of 78-year-old retiree Aiko Ishimura when neighbours knocked on her door on Monday to tell her about evacuation orders.

Ishimura, who lives alone, had planned to shelter at home.

“So we just came as we were. We were in such a rush to come here, we didn’t bring anything,” Ishimura, who fled with neighbours, told Reuters. “I wasn’t worried at all about coronavirus, not at all.”

“We don’t have many cases here in the first place. We don’t really do the whole mask-wearing thing,” she added, although she said she keeps a mask in her pocket.

Kumomoto prefecture, where Yatsushiro is located, has had only 49 of Japan’s more than 20,000 coronavirus cases, according to public broadcaster NHK.

That compares with close to 7,000 in Tokyo, where cases are on the rise again among its 14 million residents.

Misa Matsuda, a 48-year-old nurse, accustomed to the annual floods in the region, had also intended to remain at home. But she was stunned early Monday when she opened her door and found the river flowing just a few feet from her house.

“I thought, there’s no way the water would come up here to our house, where it’s a bit of a hill,” she said.

Extreme weather disasters have become increasingly common in Japan recently. Last year, Typhoon Hagibis killed nearly 100 people, a year after more than 200 died in western Japan in the worst flooding in decades.

Matsuda said she wasn’t too concerned about coronavirus because basic steps were being taken, but did worry residents would congregate to chat, creating just the sort of crowded conditions authorities say increase infection risk.

City official Takanobu Ono said the evacuation centre was limited to 300 people despite a capacity for 500. But he said the priority for evacuees was escaping with their lives.

“Some of have just been saved by the skin of their teeth,” he said. “The reality is that coronavirus is less of a concern for them … So we’re taking the measures we have to, but haven’t been so strict about it.”

About 60 people have died or were feared dead from floods and landslides triggered by torrential rains that have pounded the southwestern island of Kyushu, including Kumamoto prefecture, since Saturday. Extreme rain warnings were issued for parts of central Japan on Wednesday.

Disaster experts said persuading people to evacuate early and find alternative shelters was vital, but agreed that convincing people to plan ahead was often tough.

“We kept saying, ‘Check your hazard map,’” said Masako Yoneda of the Japan Academic Network for Disaster Reduction, which issued an urgent warning on the topic in May. “But still, there are people who don’t check.”

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Japan minister again says no need for new emergency for coronavirus

TOKYO (Reuters) – Japanese Economy Minister Yasutoshi Nishimura reiterated on Wednesday there is no need to declare a new state of emergency for the coronavirus despite rising infections, as serious cases remained low and there was no strain on the medical system.

But, he noted an increase in the number of untraceable cases and cases among older people, saying: “It is necessary to respond with a sense of crisis.”

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