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WORLD | 26-05-2020 11:15

WHO warns that first wave of Covid-19 pandemic is not over

Top World Health Organisation official cautions that world is "right in the middle of the first wave globally," as cases in Brazil and India surge.

As Brazil and India struggle with surging coronavirus cases, a top health expert is warning that the world is still in the very middle of the outbreak, dampening hopes for a speedy global economic rebound and renewed international travel.

“Right now, we're not in the second wave. We're right in the middle of the first wave globally," said Dr. Mike Ryan, the World Health Organisation's executive director.

“We're still very much in a phase where the disease is actually on the way up,” Ryan said, pointing to South America, South Asia and other parts of the world.

India, with a population of over 1.3 billion, saw a record single-day jump in new cases for the seventh straight day. It reported 6,535 new infections Tuesday, raising its total to over 145,000, including close to 4,200 deaths.

The virus has taken hold in some of the country's poorest, most densely populated areas, underscoring the challenges authorities face in trying to contain a virus for which no vaccine or cure has yet to be developed.

Most of India’s cases are concentrated in the western states of Maharashtra, home to the financial hub of Mumbai, and Gujarat. Infections have also climbed in the east as migrant workers stranded by lockdowns returned to their native villages from India’s largest cities.

Despite this, India allowed domestic flights to resume Monday following a two-month hiatus, but at a fraction of normal traffic levels.

In Brazil, where President Jair Bosonaro has raged against state and local leaders enforcing stay-at-home measures, WHO warned that before reopening the economy, authorities must have enough testing in place to control the spread of the virus.

Brazil has 375,000 coronavirus infections — second only to the 1.6 million cases in the United States — and has counted over 23,000 deaths, but many fear Brazil's true toll is much higher.

Ryan said Brazil’s “intense” transmission rates means it should keep some stay-at-home measures in place, regardless of the damage to the economy.

“You must continue to do everything you can,” he said.

But São Paulo Governor João Doria has ruled out a full lockdown in Brazil’s largest state economy and plans to start loosening restrictions on June 1.

A US travel ban was set to take effect Tuesday for foreigners coming from Brazil.

In Europe, Russian President Vladimir Putin announced that the postponed military parade marking the 75th anniversary of the allied victory in the World War II will take place on June 24. Victory Day has become the most important holiday in Russia, marked every year on May 9 with a show of armed might in Red Square.

Putin said the country has passed the peak of the outbreak.

Russia reported a record one-day spike Tuesday of 174 deaths, bringing the country’s confirmed death toll to over 3,800. Russia’s coronavirus caseload surpassed 360,000 — the third-highest in the world — with almost 9,000 new infections registered.

The country’s comparatively low mortality rate has raised questions among experts. Russian officials vehemently deny manipulating any figures and attribute the low numbers to the effectiveness of the country's lockdowns.

The question of who can travel where and when remains a dilemma in many places.

Spain’s foreign minister said that European Union members should collectively agree to open borders and determine which non-EU countries are safe for travel.

“We have to start working with our European partners to retake the freedom of movement in European territories," Arancha González Laya told Cadena SER radio.

Spain is eager to welcome tourists to shore up an industry that accounts for 12 percent of the country’s GDP.

Aiming to entice travelers, Greek authorities will introduce cheaper tickets for sea travel from the mainland to Greek islands on June 1.

The Czech Republic, Hungary and Slovakia struck a deal to open their borders for 48 hours of travel without quarantines among their citizens starting Wednesday.

Indonesia said it will deploy 340,000 security forces in 25 cities to enforce health rules as the world’s fourth most populous nation prepares to reopen shopping centers and other businesses in the capital Jakarta on June 4.

“We want to get into a new normal and enter a new order,” Indonesia's President Joko Widodo said after inspecting moves to reopen Jakarta's subway and a shopping mall in Bekasi.

South Korea began requiring people to wear masks on public transit and in taxis. The country is tracing dozens of infections linked to nightclubs and other venues as it prepares for 2.4 million students to return to school on Wednesday.

South Korea’s Health Ministry said beginning in June, “high-risk” businesses such as bars, nightclubs, gyms, karaoke rooms and concert halls will be required to use QR codes to register customers so they can be found more easily when infections occur. Privacy watchdog group Jinbo Net called the move excessive.

“That’s exactly how we step into a surveillance state,” it said.

Meanwhile, seven public media outlets from the US, Europe, Canada, Japan and Australia said they will work to beat back “the proliferation, particularly on social networks, of fake news" about Covid-19.

The broadcasters include France Médias Monde, Deutsche Welle, the BBC World Service, NHK World, CBC Radio-Canada, ABC Australia and the U.S. Agency for Global Media, whose networks include Voice of America and Radio Free Asia.

Worldwide, the virus has infected 5.5 million people, killing about 350,000, according to a tally by Johns Hopkins University. Europe has had about 170,000 deaths and the US has seen nearly 100,000. Experts say the tally understates the true toll of the disaster.

– AP

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