A World Health Organization press conference on the impact of the Covid-19 pandemic on children is about to begin at its headquarters Geneva. You can watch it on the live feed at the top of this blog.
Canada will not rule out another full lockdown if needed amid a surge in new Covid-19 cases, although its health minister has insisted the government is significantly more prepared to manage the virus than during the first wave.
Patty Hajdu’s comments on Tuesday followed a pledge she made on Monday to take a “surgical approach” to tackling outbreaks.
Canada reported 1,351 new cases on 14 September, the highest single daily addition since 1 May, amid school reopenings and flare-ups tied to group gatherings.
“We see those numbers rising, but a full economic shutdown would be very difficult for this country. Not to rule it out, because … listen we will protect the health of Canadians and we will do what it takes,” Hajdu told reporters on Tuesday.
Hajdu added that Canada has made “significant improvements” in the healthcare system, and is better prepared with equipment and supplies than it was during the first wave in the spring.
“That will allow us to manage this next stage,” she said.
Some volunteers have quit Johnson & Johnson’s Covid-19 vaccine trial in Spain after news of side-effects in a participant in AstraZeneca’s trial, the Spanish programme’s lead investigator has told Reuters.
Alberto Borobia said there were enough reserve volunteers for the trial to continue as normal, however.
“Many have called to ask us some more detail about the risk of the vaccine, whether what happened with that vaccine had anything to do with the one we are studying, these types of questions,” Borobia said, without confirming how many people had dropped out.
AstraZeneca’s Covid-19 vaccine trials were placed on hold worldwide on 6 September after a serious side-effect was reported in one volunteer in Britain.
Trials resumed in Britain and Brazil on Monday following the green light from British regulators but remain on hold in the US.
Johnson & Johnson’s Belgian Janssen unit began phase 2 trials of its Covid-19 vaccine on 190 people in Spain on Monday with those tests due to conclude on 22 September.
Trials are also being carried out in the Netherlands and Germany, taking the total number of participants in all three countries to 550.
Virus may have infected nearly a fifth of South Africans
An estimated 12 million people – nearly a fifth of the population – may have contracted coronavirus in South Africa, the health minister says, as the country records significant declines in new infections.
South Africa has so far registered 650,749 cases or 47.8% of the total numbers recorded in Africa. At least 15,499 of those infected have died. But the actual numbers of people infected could be much higher, possibly 18-fold more, based on estimates extrapolated from sample antibodies studies.
Revised models “predict that there are probably about 12 million” South Africans with detected or undetected coronavirus, health minister Zweli Mkhize said. “This translates to about 20% of the population.”
South Africa is conducting a national study aimed at providing accurate figures about the prevalence of coronavirus antibodies – a sign of infection – among its population of 58 million.
Mkhize said the drop in numbers of daily detected infections “raises the question of the level of immunity that may already be existing in society”.
Leading vaccinologist Shabir Madhi, a professor at the University of the Witwatersrand, suggested infections rates could be as high as 40% in densely populated parts of the country.
“What we have seen in South Africa – at least based on early data … is that in densely populated areas of the country … between 35-40% of people have been infected with this virus,” Madhi, who is also in charge of the South African leg of the Oxford Covid-19 vaccine trial, said on Sunday.
Case numbers in South Africa have fallen from 10,000-15,000 a day in July to just under 2,000 in recent days. On Monday, the number of daily new infections plunged to 956, the second time in under a week that numbers have dropped below 1,000.
Opposition parties in Myanmar are calling for November’s election to be postponed as the country scrambles to control a coronavirus surge.
The number of new infections are doubling every week – albeit from a relatively low base – and hospitals in the biggest city, Yangon, are overwhelmed in a nation with one of the world’s poorest healthcare systems.
The sharp rise comes as Myanmar prepares to hold national elections on 8 November, with leader Aung San Suu Kyi’s National League for Democracy (NLD) widely expected to be returned to power.
Calls are growing for the polls to be delayed.
The head of the military-aligned opposition Union Solidarity and Development party (USDP), Than Htay, told AFP he was “very concerned” about holding the vote during the pandemic.
“The government should not sacrifice the people … If it’s not suitable to hold the election, postpone it!” he said.
In a Facebook post, the People’s Pioneer party also urged a delay to allow the vote to be held “fairly and without chaos”. Local media say at least three other parties are echoing the call.
So far, Yangon, the commercial hub, Naypyidaw, the capital, and conflict-stricken Rakhine state are all under lockdown, while domestic flights and long-distance bus routes have ceased.
Neighbours China and Thailand are boosting security on shared borders to try to stymie any spread of the outbreak.
Sweden records its fewest daily Covid-19 cases since March
While many European countries are seeing their infection rates surge to levels not seen since the peak of the Covid-19 pandemic, Sweden – whose light-touch approach has made it an international outlier – has recorded the fewest daily cases since the virus emerged.
The Scandinavian country’s rolling seven-day average of new cases stood at 108 on Tuesday, its lowest level since 13 March. Data from the Swedish national health agency showed only 1.2% of its 120,000 tests last week came back positive.
According to the European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control, Sweden’s 14-day cumulative total of new cases is currently 22.2 per 100,000 inhabitants, against 279 in Spain, 158.5 in France, 118 in the Czech Republic, 77 in Belgium and 59 in the UK, all of which imposed lockdowns this spring.
News of serious side effects in one participant of AstraZeneca’s Covid-19 vaccine trial led some volunteers in Johnson & Johnson’s vaccine trial in Spain to drop out, its lead investigator told Reuters.
Still, the trial had sufficient reserve volunteers to carry on as normal, lead investigator Alberto Borobia said.
“Many have called to ask us some more detail about the risk of the vaccine, whether what happened with that vaccine had anything to do with the one we are studying, these types of questions,” Borobia said in the interview. He did not say how many people had dropped out.
This highlights the challenge for drugmakers in trialling potential vaccines to control the pandemic in enormous public scrutiny. Drugmakers often pause trials while testing drugs but they do not typically disclose that.
AstraZeneca’s Covid-19 vaccine trial was placed on hold globally on 6 September after a serious side effect was reported in a trial participant in the UK.
Trials restarted in Britain and Brazil on Monday with the go-ahead from British regulators, but remain on hold in the US.
Johnson & Johnson’s Belgian Janssen unit began Phase II trials of its Covid-19 vaccine in Spain on Monday, to be carried out on 190 people and concluded on 22 September.
Trials are also being carried out in the Netherlands and Germany, coming to 550 participants in total.
The Irish government has delayed the planned reopening of all pubs in Dublin following a surge in Covid-19 cases in the capital, but bars across the rest of the country will be allowed to open next Monday.
Ireland is moving to wind down some of the most cautious Covid-19 restrictions in Europe, but a seven-fold increase in infections since the start of August has prompted the government to delay some measures.
Bars that serve food have been allowed to open since the end of June, but so-called “wet bars” that just serve drinks remain closed.
“Wet bars will open on the 21st (of September) for the rest of the country but the very strong advice we got from the public health doctors was, given what is happening in Dublin, just don’t do that for now,” health minister Stephen Donnelly said.
Ireland has registered 48.5 cases per 100,000 people over the past 14 days, the 17th highest of 31 countries monitored by the EU’s independent European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control, but the rate in Dublin is double that.
Pub lobby group the Licensed Vintners Association said it was “devastated and disappointed” by the move.
The government unveiled a new five-level system of Covid restrictions on Tuesday and said the whole country was currently on the second lowest level.
The image of the US and Donald Trump around the world has plunged from poor to the abysmal over the administration’s handling of the coronavirus pandemic, according to a global survey.
A poll conducted by the Pew Research Center of more than 13,000 adults in 13 advanced economies between 10 June and 3 August shows international confidence in the US and its president sharply down across the board, reaching historical lows in several countries.
In the UK, 41% of those polled expressed a favourable opinion of the US, the lowest proportion registered by the Pew survey to date. In France, less than a third viewed the US positively, and just over a quarter of Germans surveyed, similar to the dim ratings both countries gave the US at the time of the Iraq invasion in March 2003.
The survey found Trump was the least trusted major world leader. A median of 16% of those polled in the 13 countries had confidence Trump would “do the right thing in world affairs”, putting him below Vladimir Putin (23%) and Xi Jinping (19%).
You can read more on this from my colleague Julian Borger in Washington here:
As cases continue to rise in the Netherlands, the Dutch government has said it will maintain heavy public spending in an effort to counter the losses from the pandemic despite its finances worsening.
In his annual speech outlining the government’s new budget on Tuesday, King Willem-Alexander said:
In these insecure times, the government chooses not to cut spending, but to invest, in job security, social safety nets and a stronger economy.”
The government’s deficit is set to balloon to 7% of gross domestic product this year and 4% in 2021, while national debt is expected to hit 60% of GDP next year, as support for workers and companies struck by the pandemic is extended well into 2021.
After years of austerity, the Dutch government had realised a surplus of almost 2% last year and had brought down its debt to 49% of GDP.
But confidence in the economy has eroded quickly in recent months, and a national poll published on Thursday showed more than half the respondents expected the economic downturn to worsen in the coming year.
A third of workers in the Netherlands said coronavirus had already negatively impacted their job.
Netherlands hits daily record of coronavirus cases
New coronavirus cases in the Netherlands have hit a daily record of 1,379 in the past 24 hours, according to Dutch daily newspaper de Volkskrant.
On Monday, health authorities in the country recorded 1,300 new infections, it said. The rise means Covid-19 cases have increased by 9,194 in a week – 85% more than in the first week of September when 4,917 new cases were recorded.
Most new infections recorded on Tuesday were reported in Amsterdam and The Hague.
Ireland has set out new rules for its quarantine-free travel “green list”, allowing visitors from countries with a Covid-19 infection rate of under 25 cases per 100,000 over the past fortnight to skip the 14-day isolation.
Previously the green list was made up of countries with lower infection rates than Ireland, but the government stopped updating the list when the number of cases there surged to 45 per 100,000 people during the past two weeks.
Prime minister Micheál Martin said the government would soon publish a new list and would then adopt a coordinated EU system of travel restrictions he said would be approved at an EU general affairs council meeting on 13 October.
Concern is mounting in the UK about a backlog in its coronavirus testing system that has caused people in areas with the highest infection rates to be unable to get a test.
Sir Lindsay Hoyle, the House of Commons Speaker, has joined MPs speaking out about the unavailability of coronavirus tests. He says he is receiving “numerous complaints” and that the situation is “completely unacceptable”.
Meanwhile, Scottish first minister Nicola Sturgeon said: “I do have a concern about the capacity constraints right now in the UK-wide system,” Sturgeon said, adding that the issue in Scotland was not about access to testing slots, but of sufficient laboratory processing.
You can follow updates on the issue – understood to have been caused by a backlog at laboratories which process the tests – over on our UK blog:
Millions of school students in Pakistan have returned to classes after schools and colleges were closed for six months due to the coronavirus outbreak.
Educational institutes were closed in March but the government announced a staggered reopening last week as daily infection numbers are falling.
“May God make us successful in this test, and may the loss suffered by the students be compensated,” education minister Shafqat Mahmood told reporters in Islamabad.
Senior schools were the first to restart, with middle school set to go back next week and primary school the week after.
The long closure led to the cancellations of exams and left academic calendars in disarray.
Mahmood warned that schools that did not following precautionary measures, including the wearing of masks and social distancing, would be closed.
Pakistan has recorded 302,424 cases of the coronavirus and more than 6,300 deaths but daily infections have been slowing from a peak of nearly 7,000, and 118 deaths, in one day in June.
On Monday, authorities reported 404 new cases and six deaths.
Denmark’s coronavirus reproduction rate at 1.5
Hospitality venues in Copenhagen have been ordered to limit their opening hours following a rise in Covid-19 cases in Denmark.
Restaurants, bars and cafes will have to close at 10pm in the capital, after health minister Magnus Heunicke said the country’s reproduction rate – which indicates the average number of people an infected person transmits the virus to – is at 1.5.
A total of 334 new coronavirus infections had been registered in the last 24 hours, he told a press conference.
Germany will not take shortcuts in the race to develop a vaccine against Covid-19, its research minister has said,
“Even when the world is waiting for a vaccine – we won’t take risky short-cuts here,” Anja Karliczek told a news conference in Berlin. “We will not deviate from this line in Germany or in Europe. And I also believe that all countries should proceed in this way globally.”
She also repeated her assertion from July that she does not expect that a vaccine will be broadly available until the middle of 2021.
A trolley that uses artificial intelligence (AI) is delivering food to restaurant customers in Seoul to minimise human contact amid the pandemic.
After customers order through a touch-screen on the table, the 1.25-metre-tall robot, developed by South Korean telecoms company KT corp, brings the food and uses its visual SLAM (simultaneous localisation and mapping) capabilities to avoid obstacles and navigate around customers.
The robot is also equipped with food trays – which can carry up to four tables or 30 kilograms-worth of food – as well as an LCD screen and speaker that communicate in both Korean and English.
“Customers found the robot serving quite unique and interesting, and also felt safe from the coronavirus,” said Lee Young-ho, a manager at the Mad for Garlic restaurant in Seoul, which has tested the robot.
From Monday, restaurants and cafes in the densely populated capital are allowed to open after 9pm, but must leave 2 metres between tables and record patrons’ names and contact details.