February 26, 2021

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Coronavirus latest: Record single-day increase in cases globally

The WHO has registered almost 260,000 global COVID-19 cases, a record single-day spike since the start of the pandemic in December. More than 600,000 people have died.

  • EU leaders meet for a third day to try to finalize a pandemic recovery fund amid economic turmoil
  • China’s Xinjiang province declares a “wartime situation” and Hong Kong’s leader says the situation there is “critical”
  • The US, Brazil, India and South Africa recorded the biggest increase in cases on Saturday
  • More than 600,000 people have died, according to a tally by Johns Hopkins University

All updates in Universal Coordinated Time (UTC/GMT)

18:59 The US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) gave emergency approval for a new approach to coronavirus testing that involves pooling samples.

The FDA said it granted emergency use authorization to Quest Diagnostics for a COVID-19 test with pooled samples. The pooling would allow laboratories to combine parts of samples from several people and test them together. 

The testing method could speed up the delivery of test results and cut costs. It is the first test to be authorized to be used this way.

17:30 US President Donald Trump defended his handling of the coronavirus pandemic and called the country’s leading infectious disease expert “alarmist.”

During an appearance on conservative cable network Fox News, Trump repeated his assertion that the rise in the US’ case count was due to increased testing. He also claimed many of then new cases “are young people that would heal in a day. They have the sniffles.”

The US president also dubbed Anthony Fauci, a leading member of the White House Coronavirus Task Force, “a bit of an alarmist.” Fauci had warned about US states easing lockdown measures too early.

16:51 Health officials in Lazio, the Italian region that includes Rome, warned its residents that local lockdowns may need to be reimposed if there are more clusters of coronavirus infections.

The region reported 17 new cases on Sunday, 10 of which were “imported” from other countries as foreign residents returned to Italy, according to Lazio Health Commissioner Alessio D’Amato. 

“I appeal for the use of masks, otherwise, we’ll have to close down again,” D’Amato said.

Lazio’s tally were included in the 219 new cases Italy reported on Sunday, raising the country’s total number of infections to 244,434. Italy has also recorded 35,045 deaths since the pandemic began.

15:54 Holiday travelers returning to Bavaria, Germany’s largest state, may soon be tested for the coronavirus at the airport upon arrival, State Premier Markus Söder said.

“We are currently considering, and will continue to consider, setting up testing centers at airports so that when you return from your holiday, you can be tested there at any time, free of charge,” Söder told German public broadcaster ZDF.

Munich’s Franz Josef Strauss airport is the second biggest in Germany after Frankfurt International Airport. 

The Bavarian government has already committed to providing tests for every citizen free of charge, a testing strategy that does not yet exist in Germany’s other 15 states. Bavaria has recorded nearly 50,000 coronavirus cases and more than 2,600 deaths since the pandemic began, more than any other state.

15:44 Cuba celebrated its first day of no new domestic cases of the new coronavirus in 130 days. 

Francisco Duran, the Ministry of Public Health’s chief epidemiologist, took off his mask on live television to deliver the good news.

“I always tell you to stay safe at home, but I know many of you will go to the beach today,” Duran said. 

Only a handful of cases were reported in Cuba last week, all in the capital city of Havana. Most of the island nation’s 11.2 million inhabitants have been virus-free for more than a month.

15:39 Nigeria’s Foreign Minister Geoffrey Onyeama confirmed he tested positive for COVID-19 after feeling throat irritation.

He is the first member of President Muhammadu Buhari’s Cabinet to test positive. The Cabinet has been conducting executive council meetings virtually as it aims to keep the government working while abiding by social distancing rules.

Nigeria began easing lockdown measures in May after enacting them to slow down the spread of the virus. More than 36,000 cases have been recorded and the disease has claimed 778 lives since the pandemic began.

Buhari’s former chief of staff, Abba Kyari, died from COVID-19 in April. 

15:07 Despite an outbreak at a chicken slaughterhouse, officials in the Vechta district in northern Germany see no reason to shut down the operation.

“It’s a matter of discretion,” district administrator Herbert Winkel said. “We couldn’t identify a specific source of infection.”

So far, 66 of the 1,046 workers at a chicken slaughterhouse operated by the Wiesenhof group have tested positive for the virus. Winkel said 70 relatives of the infected workers have been placed in quarantine and further contract tracing will take place on Monday.

14:57 Coronavirus-related deaths in the United States have eclipsed 140,000, according to data from Johns Hopkins University.

About 5,000 people die in the United States because of the virus each week. By comparison, northern neighbor Canada has recorded 8,800 coronavirus deaths since the pandemic began.

13:56 Authorities in the Spanish state of Catalonia have told 96,000 residents of three towns to stay at home amid an outbreak in the region.

Officials urged people living in Figueres and Vilafant, in the Girona province, and Sant Feliu de Llobregat near Barcelona not to leave their houses unless it’s for an essential journey.

Catalonia’s Health Ministry reported 1,226 coronavirus cases on Saturday as the state continues to struggle with a recent outbreak.

Spain, which has recorded more than 28,000 deaths since the outbreak began, emerged from a strict lockdown on June 21. Catalonia has attempted to reinstitute stay at home measures this month.

13:30 Speaking from his studio window overlooking St. Peter’s Square, Pope Francis assured his closeness to all those grappling with the coronavirus pandemic and its “economic and social consequences.”

“The pandemic is showing no sign of stopping,” the pope said.

He said he was thinking particularly about all those suffering in conflict zones. He renewed his plea for worldwide, immediate ceasefire, which would “permit the peace and security indispensable to supplying the necessary humanitarian assistance.”

The pope has repeatedly called for a global ceasefire so people can get the health support they need

13:05 Iran’s health officials have sought to play down claims by the nation’s president, Hassan Rouhani, that 25 million Iranians have been infected by the coronavirus.

Rouhani announced the 25 million estimate, significantly higher than the 273,788 reported cases, without saying what the figure was based on. He added that 30 million to 35 million more people were at risk.

The Iranian Health Ministry said the estimate was based on data from serological tests, which determine whether a person has been exposed to the disease by showing their antibody response.

“It is not possible to rely on serological tests to diagnose the current state of the disease,” the ministry said in a statement.

Iran has been the hardest-hit country in the Middle East, with cases surging after lockdown measures were relaxed in mid-April.

09:16 Hong Kong’s leader says the virus is spreading out of control in the city as she announced a record daily high of more than 100 cases and ordered new social distancing measures.

The financial hub was one of the first places to be struck by the virus when it emerged from central China but had impressive success in tackling the disease, all but ending local transmissions by late June. 

Over the last two weeks, however, cases have begun to spike again and doctors fear it is spreading undetected in the densely packed territory of 7.5 million people.

On Sunday, Chief Executive Carrie Lam said more than 500 infections had been confirmed in the last fortnight, bringing the city’s total tally to 1,788 cases with 12 fatalities. 

“I think the situation is really critical and there is no sign the situation is being brought under control,” she told reporters.

After last week’s closing of bars, gyms and nightclubs, and ordering everyone to wear masks on public transport, Lam announced new measures.

They include plans to make it compulsory to wear masks inside any public indoor venue — and a new order for non-essential civil servants to work for home. 

08:25 German shipyard Meyer Werft – known for building luxury cruise ships – has suspended operations for six weeks due to a slump in orders amid the coronavirus pandemic. 

Over the next five years, the shipyard — which is located in Papenburg at the river Ems in northern Germany — will need to reduce costs by €1.2 billion ($1.3 billion). 

The Papenburg-based firm is hoping to receive aid from Lower Saxony’s state government and from the federal government. 

More than 3,000 employees are still waiting to be paid. The company will initially establish an agreement with the works council regarding part-time work hours until the end of the year.

The global tourism industry has been particularly hit hard by the crisis. Meyer Werft boss Bernard Meyer described the situation as “precarious.” Companies still don’t know when they can resume cruise holidays.

07:24 Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s corruption trial has resumed amid protests and slumping popularity over his administration’s handling of the pandemic.

Netanyahu is charged with fraud, breach of trust and accepting bribes in a series of scandals in which he is alleged to have received gifts from billionaire friends and exchanged favors with media outlets for favorable coverage of himself and his family.

Although Israel appeared to have tempered the first wave of virus infections, a second wave hit the country following a hasty reopening. Netanyahu has been strongly criticized for his response to the second wave, which has seen new daily cases rise to nearly 2,000. 

Critics say that Israel’s emergency government appeared to neglect the figures at the start, and moved ahead with ambitious reopening plans despite the new cases. Additionally, despite a large amount of financial aid available to the government, many of those in need due to the economic impact of the virus have not seen any assistance.

Demonstrators also gathered in Tel Aviv and in front of Netanyahu’s residence in Jerusalem this week to protest the government’s management of the virus. Israel, a country of 8.8 million, has recorded over 49,000 cases and a death toll of 401.

07:07 India has recorded its biggest one-day surge, with nearly 39,000 new confirmed cases in just 24 hours, bringing the total number of cases to 1,077,618.

India’s health ministry also reported 543 additional deaths, bringing the total death toll to 26,816. The country has been the hardest-hit nation in Asia, and has the third-highest number of cases in the world.

06:03 More than 200,000 seafarers are stuck on ships around the world due to widespread restrictions on international travel, in what the United Nations has warned is a growing humanitarian crisis.

Seafarers typically work for six to eight months at a time before disembarking and flying back to their home countries, according to an AFP feature that highlights the plight of ship workers amid the pandemic.

However, some have been stuck on ships for much longer and many have gone months without setting foot on land ­– a situation that has been blamed for a number of suicides at sea.

“The last time I stepped off from this 200-meter (650-foot) ship was in February, Tejasvi Duseja, an Indian ship worker, told AFP.

Another seafarer, Philippine luxury cruise technician Cherokee Capajo, spent nearly four months on ships without a break on land. He boarded a Carnival cruise ship in Florida in late January, and was not able to step on land until two weeks after he arrived in Manila on June 29. He said he wanted to “kiss the ground” when he came ashore two weeks later, after finishing quarantine.

Many of those stuck on ships completed their tours more than four months ago and were exhausted, the International Labor Organization said in a statement. Earlier this month, more than 12 countries met at a UK-hosted International Maritime Summit, which saw leaders agree to recognize seafarers as “essential workers” in order to help them bypass travel restrictions and return home.

05:33 Melbourne residents will be required to wear masks in public from Wednesday, after Victoria, Australia’s second-most-populous state marked two consecutive weeks of triple-digit increases in new infections.

People will be fined A$200 (€122, $140) if found without facemasks, said Victoria Premier Daniel Andrews.

“Most of us wouldn’t leave home without our keys, we wouldn’t leave home without our mobile phone. You won’t be able to leave your home without the mask… as it is absolutely essential to stop the spread of this virus,” he said.

Some reasons for not having to wear a mask include medical or professional reasons, like when teaching or running, or for children under 12.

Victoria, the capital of which is Melbourne, has recorded 363 fresh new cases and three more deaths, bringing the national death toll to 122, said Andrews.

The state’s latest outbreak, mostly due to community transmission, started last month and is said to have been due to security lapses in hotel quarantine for people returning to Melbourne from overseas. Australia has just over 11,800 confirmed cases.

05:18 Sixty-six employees of a chicken slaughterhouse in Lohne, Lower Saxony tested positive for coronavirus last week, the district of Vechta announced on Saturday.

The 66 positive tests were the result of 1,046 swabs taken on Thursday. The district, located about 70 kilometers [43 miles] southwest of the northwestern city of Bremen, assumes that the infections “arose predominantly in the private sector,” according to an official statement.

The facility is also owned by the Wiesenhof Group’s Oldenburger Geflügelspezialitäten (OGS) company, the district said.  The new seven-day incidence of new cases is now at 41.13 per every 100,000 in the district. If that figure reaches 50, residents will be subjected to a number of new restrictions under German federal law.

A number of major outbreaks have been identified at slaughterhouses both in Germany and in other parts of the world. In June, over 1,400 employees of a slaughterhouse owned by the Tönnies Group in North Rhine-Westphalia, marking Germany’s largest single coronavirus outbreak.

Experts have blamed poor and cramped working conditions and a lack of sufficient sanitation measures on such outbreaks.

A worker processes chicken at a slaughterhouse in Lohne, Lower Saxony, which saw 66 workers tested positive for coronavirus.

05:05 Authorities in China’s western Xinjiang province have declared a “wartime situation” as the region attempts to clamp down on a sudden spike in cases. 

Xinjiang authorities reported 17 confirmed cases, 23 asymptomatic infections early Sunday morning, with 269 people under observation.

A small spike was observed midweek and by Thursday authorities had placed Urumqi, the regions’ capital, under lockdown. 

Flights, subway services and train services were quickly suspended. Public gatherings are now banned as well, according to statements by the Xinjiang government released on social media. 

Health authorities have marshaled resources to the province and will move 200 medical staff to carry out extensive testing throughout Urumqi, according to a statement by the director of the Urumqi Municipal Health Commission, Zhang Wei, late Saturday. 

Xinjiang is where China has been criticized for carrying out mass surveillance and internment campaign against ethnic minorities, including ethnic Uyghur and Kazakh Muslims.

04:30 The number of confirmed coronavirus cases in Germany has increased by 202 to 201,574, data from the Robert Koch Institute (RKI) for infectious diseases showed on Sunday.

The reported death toll rose by 1 to 9,084, the tally showed.

03:00 The coronavirus death toll in the US exceeded 140,000 on Saturday as cases continued to spike in 43 out of 50 states.

The COVID-19 infections have been rising exponentially since late June, with an average of 5,000 deaths every week, according to a weekly Reuters analysis.

By contrast, neighboring Canada has so far reported 8,800 since the start of the pandemic.

In the hardest-hit US counties, authorities have run out of places to store dead bodies.

01:56 A Honduran journalist died of COVID-19 which he reportedly contracted while being held in prison on a defamation sentence.

The National Cardiopulmonary Institute on Saturday confirmed the death of David Romero due to respiratory failure associated with the virus.

Romero was a strong critic of President Juan Orlando Hernandez and had been in prison since March 2019.

Defamation in the country was decriminalized with a new law that took effect last month. Romero could have been eligible for release.

01:54 China reported 16 new coronavirus cases on Saturday, up from 22 a day earlier, according to the county’s national health authority.

Thirteen new infections were found in Urumqi, the capital of China’s far western region of Xinjiang, while authorities said the other three were imported cases involving travelers from overseas.

As of Saturday, mainland China had registered 83,660 confirmed COVID-19 cases, the national health authority said. The death toll remained at 4,634.

01:42 Australia’s Victoria state reported 363 new coronavirus cases on Sunday, after registering 217 infections on Saturday.

State Premier Daniel Andrews said masks will be mandatory as of midnight Wednesday and imposed a fine of A$ 200 (€122) for not wearing them in public.

Australia has so far recorded over 11,000 COVID-19 cases and 120 coronavirus-related deaths. The number of infections has recently spiked after the country almost contained the pandemic spread.

00:58 The number of coronavirus cases in the Czech Republic is on the rise, with the European country reporting 53 new infections on Saturday. On each of the four days prior, more than 100 new cases were recorded by health authorities.

The Czech Republic currently has 4,705 active cases, the highest number since April, according to broadcaster CTK. The country’s previous peak was 4,737 active cases recorded on April 11.

Overall, the Czech Republic has recorded fewer than 14,000 COVID-19 cases since the beginning of the pandemic in March – a less severe outbreak than many other countries in Europe.

After the surge in coronavirus cases, the authorities have reintroduced compulsory mask-wearing in shops.

Neighboring Slovakia also reported an increase in COVID-19 cases after weeks of almost no new infections. On Saturday, the authorities confirmed 11 new cases, bringing the total number of cases to 1,976. The death toll from the virus is 28.

The government tightened quarantine measures for travelers from certain “risk countries.”

00:30 Mexico reported 7,615 new confirmed coronavirus cases and 578 additional fatalities on Saturday. Overall, the country has registered 338,913 COVID-19 infections and 38,888 related deaths.

According to the health ministry, the actual number of infected people is likely significantly higher than the confirmed cases.

00:04 The World Health Organization (WHO) has reported a record spike in the global coronavirus cases for the second day in a row, with a total of 259,848 cases in 24 hours.

The US, Brazil, India and South Africa recorded the biggest jump in cases on Saturday – 71, 484 new cases in the US; 45,403 in Brazil; 34,884 in India; and 13,373 in South Africa.

On Friday, the WHO reported 237,743 new cases.

The single-day COVID-19 death toll also rose to a record high on Saturday with 7,360 fatalities.

Globally, the total coronavirus cases surpassed 14 million on Friday. Nearly 600,000 people have died of the virus since the pandemic started in December 2019.

shs/alw (dpa, Reuters, AP, AFP) (DW)