September 21, 2020

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Coronavirus latest: Brazil cases top 1 million

The world’s second worst-hit country has more than 1 million COVID-19 cases, and nearly 50,000 deaths. Germany’s CureVac is hoping to have initial results from vaccine trials in two months.

  • Mexico and India have recorded record daily amounts of cases
  • Germany’s CureVac is hoping to have initial results from vaccine trials in two months
  • Japan and Vietnam have agreed to a bilateral travel plan
  • The EU is hoping for progress from today’s meeting to discuss the bloc’s budget proposal

All times in GMT/UTC   

22:20 Brazil’s confirmed coronavirus case count has passed 1 million, with 48,954 deaths, according to data released by the country’s Health Ministry.

Brazil is the second worst-hit country in the world, after the US. Globally, nearly 8.6 million people have been infected with COVID-19, and more than 450,000 have died.

21:55 Drugmaker Novartis is halting the trial of malaria drug hydroxychloroquine against COVID-19. Earlier this week, the US FDA revoked the use of hydroxychloroquine and related drug chloroquine against COVID-19, stating that they were unlikely to help patients.

The trial, which had begun in April, sought to test the drug on 440 hospitalized patients. However, only a few patients were recruited.

The Swiss pharmaceutical company said it was struggling to find participants, as many studies raised doubts about the effectiveness of the drug.

21:20 The US Navy has confirmed their decision to demote Brett Crozier, the former commanding officer of the USS Theodore Roosevelt. Chief of Naval Operations Admiral Mike Gilday confirmed that Crozier would not be reinstated to his position after being removed in April.

An outbreak of coronavirus on the aircraft carrier had prompted Crozier to write a letter to the Navy asking for assistance in controlling the spread. The letter was leaked to the media, prompting a political crisis, and Crozier was subsequently removed from his post.

In a press conference on Friday, Gilday told reporters that Crozier had not leaked the email to the media, or intended for it to be leaked. However, he said Crozier and Rear Admiral Stu Baker did not do enough to move sailors off the ship.

The ship was docked in the US territory of Guam for nearly two months starting in March as it dealt with the outbreak. Out of the crew of 5,000, roughly 1,000 became infected, and one died.

19:53 Zimbabwe’s Health Minister Obadiah Moyo has been arrested in a corruption case related to the provision of medical equipment in the fight against COVID-19, the country’s independent anti-corruption commission reported. 

“I can confirm that the minister of health and child welfare has been arrested,” anti-corruption commission spokesman John Makamure told French news agency AFP.

The minister “is currently being held in the Rhodesville police station” in the capital Harare, Makamure added, saying Moyo’s arrest was tied to “the acquisition of equipment needed for COVID-19” and that Moyo “could appear” before a court on Saturday.

According to local media, Moyo was arrested over allegations of corruption in government procurement of around $60 million (€54 million) worth of medical equipment.

The Zimbabwean government has so far made no comment on the case.

On Thursday, Zimbabwe’s main opposition party, the Movement for Democratic Change (MDC), accused the government of corruption when it commissioned a medical company set up just two months ago to provide equipment to fight the coronavirus outbreak. 

The Hungary-based firm Drax Consult SAGL was awarded a $20 million (€18 million) contract to provide COVID-19 tests and protective equipment to Zimbabwe.

The deal was allegedly signed without the legal consent of Zimbabwe’s procurement registration authority.

In March, Hungarian authorities expressed concern about a suspicious $2 million payment into the company’s account.

Zimbabwe has registered nearly 500 coronavirus infections with four deaths. The pandemic and its impact on global trade has also taken a toll on one of Africa’s least stable economies. Tension among the public has been mounting over government corruption and inadequate health services.

19:10 The coronavirus pandemic is now in a “new and dangerous phase,” the World Health Organization (WHO) has said.

The UN agency warned that the virus was accelerating as lockdowns eased and as people tired of physical distancing and isolation.

“The pandemic is accelerating. More than 150,000 new cases of COVID-19 were reported to WHO yesterday, the most in a single day so far,” said WHO Chief Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, adding that almost half of those cases were reported from the Americas, with large numbers also being recorded in South Asia and the Middle East.

“Many people are understandably fed up with being at home. Countries are understandably eager to open up their societies and economies,” he said. “But the virus is still spreading fast, it’s still deadly and most people are still susceptible.”

WHO emergencies director Mike Ryan called on countries to react quickly to new clusters of the virus. “When you see a cluster, you have to jump on the cluster… if we want to avoid the blunt instrument of lockdown,” he said.

Maria Van Kerkhove, the WHO’s technical chief on COVID-19, said virus sequences from the new outbreak in Beijing were already available for study and said the virus “is closely related to the European strain.”

According to Ryan, “many of the viruses that circulated in New York were of European origin”, while “Japan has reimported cases from Europe.”

Ryan said it was “reassuring” that the Beijing outbreak looked more like human-to-human transmission.

17:50 After the latest major outbreak at a German slaughterhouse, the top politician in the region has warned that reimposing a broad lockdown is a possibility if the localized cases cannot be contained. A total of 803 cases have so far been identified at the facility in the Gütersloh area, according to North Rhine-Westphalia’s state premier Armin Laschet, out of just 1,106 individuals tested. Tests for around 5,000 more employees are pending, with the army drafted in to help speed up the process. 

“We are mobilizing all our forces to try to quell the infections,” Laschet said, adding that it still appeared possible to localize the outbreak. “But if this should change, a more comprehensive lockdown in the region could become necessary.” 

Laschet’s regional Cabinet will hold an emergency meeting on Sunday.

17:35 Switzerland will start allowing gatherings of up to 1,000 people from next week onwards, in the fourth stage of a gradual relaxation of restrictions in the country. Currently the upper limit stands at 300, although political demonstrations are exempt from this rule.

Also starting on Monday, the physical distancing requirement will be reduced from 2 meters to 1.5 meters, restaurants and nightclubs will be permitted to stay open beyond midnight, and people in bars will no longer be obliged to sit at a table. 

By European standards, the wealthy Alpine nation has not been hit that hard by the virus to date, logging 31,134 cases and 1,679 deaths. Since May 19, it has reported just 599 new cases. 

“We have once again found a lot of our old freedoms: bars and restaurants are open again, we can gather together,” President Simonetta Sommaruga said in Bern. “At the same time, the virus is still here. Nobody knows how the situation will evolve. In other words, we have to stay cautious.” 

16:45 German carmaker BMW is planning to shed in the region of 6,000 jobs worldwide, or about 5% of its total workforce.

“Futher steps are needed to make the BMW Group more resilient to external influence and market fluctuations,” a company statement said, adding that BMW aimed “to achieve planned workforce reductions through attrition and voluntary agreements.” 

Possible examples of voluntary agreements might be early retirement for more elderly staff, or offers of financial support for further education for younger employees.

BMW will also put on hold a collaboration with Mercedes-Benz on developing self-driving technology, with the two companies saying in a joint statement that “in view of the expense involved in creating a shared technology platform, as well as current business and economic conditions, the timing is not right.” 

Car factories and dealerships alike were impacted by the lockdown measures imposed in many countries around the world. 

16:00 United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees(UNHCR) Filippo Grande told DW that the European Union (EU) should not turn its back on refugees and climate change amid the global pandemic.

“I’m not just talking about the pandemic because everybody understands that. But what about climate change? What about migration and refugees? What about insecurity, terrorists? And if we don’t work together, we won’t be able to overcome them,” the UN chief said.

Grande acknowledged that the EU’s current priority was the outbreak and its “very catastrophic” health and economic impacts, but warned: “If you keep postponing the vital discussion on asylum and migration, if you don’t consider seriously the proposals that the European Commission has put before all member states …We will have this problem again in six months. Boats floating in the Mediterranean,” said the Italian national.

Grande said Europe had still not presented a solution on how to address the refugee crisis. “There is not even an agreement between states on what to do with those that are disembarked. If we don’t make progress there, we will face further emergencies in Europe in the future,” he warned.

According to Grande, the UNHCR is focusing its efforts not only on the health aspects of the crisis but also on the economic impacts of the outbreak. He warned that refugees and displaced peoples “live off very fragile incomes and daily wages” and are at increased risk as the coronavirus-related lockdowns and restrictions take a heavy toll on the informal economy.

14:00 British authorities have ordered the closure of a meat processing plant and a chicken factory after an outbreak, similar to a spate of outbreaks at slaughterhouses in Germany and France.

Staff at the chicken processing plant in Wales were ordered to self-isolate for two weeks after 58 new cases were detected. And an Asda meat processing plant in the northern English city of Leeds shut down in response to an outbreak. It did not disclose how many people had tested positive.

More than 600 cases were detected at a major outbreak in a slaughterhouse in Germany on Thursday, causing lockdown measures across the district. Slaughterhouses are plagued with exploitative working conditions and cramped living conditions for often eastern European workers.

13:19 Saudi Arabia has reported more than 150,000 confirmed cases, after a rise in infections over the past 10 days. The country exceeded 100,000 cases on June 7.

At least 1,184 people have died from the virus. 

Authorities began cutting restrictions on movement and travel on May 28, with a national curfew due to be lifted on June 21, outside of Mecca and Jeddah.

The country is preparing for the haj pilgrimage, in which 2.5 million Muslims visit Islam’s holiest site. It is considering drastically reducing the scale of this year’s event.

13:15 Spain has increased its official death toll by more than 1,000 people. It is the first update to its figures in nearly two weeks, after a shift in how it reports figures and the clearing of a backlog of data. At least 28,313 people have died in the country with more than 244,000 confirmed infections. An official immunization survey has estimated that 5% of its 47 million inhabitants likely contracted the virus.

In the past six weeks, 34 different clusters have been detected, including in slaughterhouses, nursing homes, hospitals, as well as among migrant workers and party-goers.

10:20 The coronavirus pandemic hit Cape Town much earlier than previously assumed while its health care system could be overwhelmed within weeks.

Salim Abdool Karim, an epidemiologist and infectious diseases specialist, has been speaking about the struggles within both South Africa and Cape Town in an interview with DW.

“South Africa acted very early. We imposed restrictions when we had only 402 cases but it is no longer sustainable, so we are making the difficult decision to ease restrictions.”

There has been a particular concentration of cases in the city of Cape Town, and across South Africa’s Western Cape, as Abdool Karim explained: “When we look at the epidemiology of the spread in the Western Cape, it started spreading in the grocery stores and before we even knew about the outbreak, we were always playing catch up. It quickly reached a stage of trying to contain the virus.”

South Africa has the capability thanks to its experience in dealing with HIV, but lacks the kits needed to implement the tests. Award winning HIV researcher Abdool Karim said: “We would like to be able to do more testing, and we have the capacity, but we need the kits. The suppliers are not able to supply the kits we need.”

09:41 The novel coronavirus was already present in Milan and Turin in Italy as early as December, over two months before the country’s first infection was reported, a national health institute study of waste water has discovered.

Researchers found traces of the virus in samples of waste water collected in the two northern cities at the end of last year, and Bologna in January, the ISS institute said in a statement.

Italy’s first known native case was detected mid-February and the virus soon tore through the north of the country, becoming Europe’s COVID-19 epicenter.

The results of the study “help to understand the start of the circulation of the virus in Italy,” the ISS said.

They also “confirm the by-now consolidated international evidence” as to the strategic function of sewer samples as an early detection tool, the ISS added.

Italy was the first country in the world to impose a nationwide lockdown due to the virus and its first known case, other than a couple of visiting Chinese tourists, was a patient in the town of Codogno in the Lombardy region.

09:02 Indonesia has recorded an additional 1,041 infections, brining its tally to 43,803.

Health ministry official Achmad Yurianto said the country had registered a further 34 coronavirus fatalities, with the death toll now standing at 2,373, the highest in East Asia outside of China.

So far, 366,581 people have been tested for the novel virus, Indonesia’s COVID-19 task force reported.

08:51 Road accidents in Germany reached a record low in April amid coronavirus-related restrictions and guidelines on how citizens could travel around the country, the Federal Statistics Office (Destatis) have reported.

The number of traffic accidents dropped in April by 35%, to 144,400, the lowest monthly figure since German reunification in 1990, Destatis said.

Meanwhile, figures for injuries caused by accidents on the road fell by 33%, to roughly 21,000, for the same period.

The death toll from accidents only fell slightly, to 236, in comparison with April last year.

08:22 India has registered another one-day high of 13,586 coronavirus cases, raising the total to 380,532. India’s death toll has now reached 12,573, after a further 336 people died from the virus.

Meanwhile, a lockdown has been reimposed on 15 million people in southern India. New restrictive measures in Chennai, the capital of Tamil Nadu state, and nearby districts, followed a spike in infections in the region, even as the rest of the country of 1.3 billion people gradually return to normal life as lockdowns ease elsewhere.

During the 12-day newly implemented lockdown in Chennai, food shops and petrol stations will remain open, but with restricted opening hours. In addition, citizens can only travel within two kilometers (1.2 miles) of their own homes except for medical emergencies.

08:00 Top US immunologist Anthony Fauci has expressed his confidence that there would soon be a vaccine, describing early trial results as “encouraging.”

Speaking to news agency AFP, Fauci dismissed the notion that finding a vaccine will be a long-shot as one hasn’t been developed for HIV, despite trying for decades. Fauci said that the two weren’t comparable.

“The reason I have more confidence with coronavirus is that we know the majority of people recover from COVID-19 because their immune system clears the virus,” he said. “So nature has already given you a proof of concept that it can be done.”

He also said he was “cautiously optimistic” regarding the National Institutes of Health’s early animal studies on the Moderna vaccine.

07:12 Initial results of a vaccine being developed and trialed by biopharmaceutical CureVac are expected in two months, according to the director of the Institute of Tropical Medicine at Tübingen University, where the trials are taking place.

“It’ll be pretty quick,” said Professor Peter Kremsner.

CureVac, an unlisted company based in Tübingen, said earlier this week it would start human trials of the vaccine. The first test person will be “observed over a 24-hour period” after receiving the first vaccine.

It hopes first meaningful results could be available in September or October and, under favorable conditions, the vaccine could be approved by the middle of 2021.

At the beginning of the week, German Economy Minister Peter Altmaier announced the government would be acquiring a €300 million ($337 million) stake in CureVac, equating to around 23% of the company’s shares. The move was made in an effort to protect the firm from a potential takeover from abroad. The state, however, said it did not wish to influence business decisions.

06:37 Germany’s meat-processing sector has come under increasing scrutiny during the pandemic, with several plants reporting massive outbreaks. The sector is plagued with poor working conditions, exploitative contracts and extortionate rents in mass housing for eastern European workers.

The latest example of a cluster of cases came in Gütersloh where over 600 people have tested positive at a slaughterhouse.

06:15 China’s plans to revamp its disease control system may not be enough to handle future outbreaks, according to a number of experts inside and outside the country.

The overhaul proposals, unveiled in late May, do not remedy all the flaws exposed by COVID-19 and do not tackle the issues of secrecy and censorship that many experts believe exacerbated the problem at the outset.

“The biggest problem in China is (local governments) are afraid that epidemics can impact social stability,” said Yang Gonghuan, a former deputy head of the China Centre for Disease Control and Prevention in Beijing. “So they don’t want reporters to speak and don’t want people like Li Wenliang to speak.”

Li was a doctor in Wuhan and was reprimanded by authorities for “spreading rumours” when he attempted to make others aware of the dangers of the virus, from which he later died.

Chinese authorities waited more than two weeks to shut down the original epicenter of the virus, Wuhan, after the first case was identified there at the beginning of the year. Health minister Ma Xiaowei confessed earlier this month that the fight to stop the spread of the coronavirus “exposed some problems and shortcomings,” without giving more details.

05:30 Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi has promoted yoga as way of fighting off the dangers of COVID-19.

Modi, who is an avid practitioner and has long extolled the virtues of the ancient Indian practice, believes by doing yoga you can build a “protective shield” of immunity against the coronavirus.

The prime minister, who was speaking via a YouTube message on the eve of the International Day of Yoga, said: “We all know that until now nowhere in the world have they been able to develop a vaccine for COVID-19 or coronavirus. Which is why right now, only a strong immunity can act as a protective shield or a bodyguard for us and our family members… yoga is our trusted friend in building this protective shield (of immunity).”

Modi, a teetotal vegetarian, set up a ministry to promote yoga, Ayurveda and other traditional Indian treatments, when he assumed power in 2014, while also eventually winning over the UN with his International Day of Yoga proposal, which was inaugurated the following year.

“Yoga has the potential to cater to the mental, physical and psychological challenges. It puts to test how one can live in challenging times,” the Indian leader added.

05:00 Thailand has reported five new infections, all of which were discovered while the individuals were in quarantine, meaning it is 25 days since the country confirmed a domestic case.

The new transmissions were Thai nationals returning from Saudi Arabia, said Taweesin Wisanuyothin, spokesman for the government’s COVID-19 task force.

Fifty-eight people have died from the coronavirus in Thailand while the country has experienced 3,146 confirmed cases in total.

04:00 A breakthrough on the EU coronavirus recovery fund is unlikely at today’s meeting described as a “stepping-stone” summit by European Council President Charles Michel. EU officials, however, hope that leaders can start to pave the way for a compromise at the summit in July. 

EU leaders will meet for a video conference to discuss the European Commission’s budget proposal as well as the €750 billion aid package to help the bloc’s recovery from the fallout of the pandemic. “This is not a closed negotiation,” one EU diplomat said, noting major differences between EU capitals. “Everything is left to do.”

02:43 Germany reported 770 new cases of coronavirus, and 16 more deaths, according to the latest data from the Robert Koch Institute public health agency. Since the start of the pandemic, 188,534 people have been infected, and 8,872 people have died. New clusters of cases in Berlin and Göttingen have seen housing complexes placed under complete quarantine.

02:26 China reported 32 new cases of coronavirus, 25 of which were in Beijing. Five other patients tested positive but were asymptomatic. Chinese officials do not count these patients as confirmed cases. China has also published the genome data for the coronavirus behind the latest outbreak. The country’s Center for Disease Control and Prevention submitted the genome sequencing data for the virus to the World Health Organization, which had previously sought access to the data.

02:06 The US reported 687 new coronavirus-related deaths in the past 24 hours, taking the total number of fatalities to 118,381. The country has seen a decline in the number of daily deaths, but experts fear the trend may reverse. For the eighth consecutive day, the US reported less than 1,000 deaths. 

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recorded a daily increase of 22,834 cases from its previous count. The US remains the worst affected country in the world, but the epicenter of the outbreak has moved from New York to the country’s south and west.

00:48 The US has questioned China’s credibility in reporting the latest cluster figures in Beijing and called for neutral observers to assess the extent of the outbreak. “I would hope that their numbers and reporting are more accurate than what we saw in the case of Wuhan and other places in the PRC, but that remains to be seen,” David Stilwell, the top US diplomat for East Asia said.

“As far as numbers, it would be good to have folks on the ground to get confirmation,” he said. US President Donald Trump has repeatedly accused China of concealing the actual scale of the outbreak in its initial weeks. Beijing insists it has been open and transparent in its approach.

00:37 Mexico’s Health Ministry reported on Thursday a record 5,662 new confirmed cases of coronavirus infections and 667 additional fatalities, bringing the total in the country to 165,455 cases and 19,747 deaths. The government has said the real number of infected people is likely significantly higher than the confirmed cases.

00:30 Layoffs caused by the pandemic in the US crossed 45.7 million after 1.5 million additional workers filed claims for unemployment benefits last week, the Labor Department said. The new figures are a decrease of about 58,000 from the previous week, but higher than what analysts expected. The jobless rate in the world’s largest economy has been steadily rising as businesses are hit hard by the massive public health crisis. 

00:20 Anthony Fauci, the US’ top infectious disease expert, said that further lockdowns will not be needed to control the spread of the coronavirus. “I don’t think we’re going to be talking about going back to lockdown,” he told news agency AFP. “I think we’re going to be talking about trying to better control those areas of the country that seem to be having a surge of cases.” 

00:10 Brazil reported 22,765 new coronavirus cases and 1,238 more deaths over the past 24 hours. The new figures released by the country’s Health Ministry show Brazil fast approaching 1 million confirmed infections, and 50,000 fatalities. 

The Latin American country has the worst outbreak outside of the United States, with a total of 978,142 cases and 47,748 deaths. 

adi/sri (AFP, dpa, Reuters) (DW)