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WHO: Lockdowns not enough to defeat virus, public health measures needed

Iran Press TV

Sunday, 22 March 2020 3:09 PM

The World Health Organization (WHO) says lockdowns are not enough to defeat the coronavirus pandemic, noting that public health measures are still needed to avoid a resurgence of the virus once the restrictions are lifted.

"What we really need to focus on is finding those who are sick, those who have the virus, and isolate them, find their contacts and isolate them," Mike Ryan, executive director of the WHO's emergencies program said on Sunday.

"The danger right now with the lockdowns ... if we don't put in place the strong public health measures now, when those movement restrictions and lockdowns are lifted, the danger is the disease will jump back up."

The new coronavirus, a respiratory disease known as COVID-19, is believed to have first emerged in the central Chinese city of Wuhan in Hubei Province late last year. It has been reportedly contained in China, but is spreading rapidly around the globe.

As many as 300,000 infections have been confirmed worldwide with more than 13,000 fatalities.

As cases of infection with the new coronavirus continue to surge throughout the world, governments are scrambling to put restrictions in place to contain the deadly pandemic.

The restrictions have confined one billion people to their homes in different countries.

Ryan also said the examples of China, Singapore and South Korea, which coupled restrictions with rigorous measures to test every possible suspect, provided a model for Europe which has now become the epicenter of the pandemic.

"Once we've suppressed the transmission, we have to go after the virus. We have to take the fight to the virus," Ryan said.

Asked about development of a possible vaccine for the virus, the WHO official said several vaccines are in development, but only one has begun trials in the United States.

Asked how long it would take before there was a vaccine available in Britain, he said that people needed to be realistic, adding, "We have to make sure that it's absolutely safe... we are talking at least a year."

"The vaccines will come, but we need to get out and do what we need to do now."

The European Union has been ramping up its efforts to coordinate the fight against the virus across all its 27 member states as WHO warned on Friday that Europe was now the "epicenter" of the global coronavirus pandemic and was reporting more daily cases than China did at the height of its outbreak.

Italy, the world's hardest hit country, recorded a jump in its death tally from the viral infection on Saturday. Fatalities jumped by 793 to 4,825 in the largest one-day rise since the contagion emerged in Italy a month ago.

Confirmed cases of infection also rose to 53,578 from 47,021, the Civil Protection Agency said Sunday.

This is while China where the pathogen has recorded 3,245 deaths from the virus.

China embarks on clinical trial for virus vaccine

China has started the first phase of a clinical trial for a novel coronavirus vaccine as the world's scientists race to find a way to combat the deadly pathogen.

US health officials also said last week they had started a trial to evaluate a possible vaccine in Seattle.

The Chinese effort is expected to continue until the end of the year, according to a filing in the country's Clinical Trial Registry, dated March 17.

"Volunteers of the COVID-19 phase one trial have already started receiving the vaccine," a staff member involved in the government-funded project told AFP on Sunday.

The 108 participants, aged between 18 and 60, will be tested in three groups and given different dosages.

They are all residents of the central city of Wuhan -- where the new coronavirus first emerged late last year.

As the COVID-19 pandemic rages and governments step up protection measures, pharmaceutical companies and research labs around the world are working at full tilt.

There are currently no approved vaccines or medication for the new disease, which has killed more than 13,000 people worldwide so far.

The vaccine trial announcements come amid an escalating feud between the US and China over the pandemic, with President Donald Trump enraging Beijing by speaking of the "Chinese virus".

China's nationalistic Global Times published an opinion piece last week noting "the development of a vaccine is a battle that China cannot afford to lose".

But the quest is expected to take time -- the US candidate vaccine may take another year to 18 months before becoming available.

An antiviral treatment called Remdesivir, made by US-based Gilead Sciences, is already in the final stages of clinical trials in Asia and doctors in China have reported it has proven effective in fighting the disease.

But only randomized trials will allow scientists to know for sure if it really helps or whether patients would have recovered without it.

Russia sends virus experts, medics to Italy

Russia has sent the first of nine military planes which are to take a total of 100 army virus experts and medics to Italy to help fight the coronavirus pandemic there.

The Russian Defense Ministry said on Sunday the aid mission was agreed by President Vladimir Putin and Italian Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte.

They spoke on the phone Saturday evening, the Kremlin said.

The military transport planes arrived overnight at an aerodrome outside Moscow and eight medical teams were ready to fly out with mobile aerosol disinfecting units and medical equipment, the Defense Ministry said.

The first plane took off Sunday and was due to land at the Pratica di Mare military airport outside Rome, the ministry said.

The planes are set to fly out a group of around 100 people including specialists on viruses and epidemics from the defense ministry who have "significant international experience of fighting epidemics," it said.

The ministry said that the experts had previously taken part in fighting Ebola, African swine fever and anthrax outbreaks.

Russia has a total of 306 confirmed cases of coronavirus so far.

Putin visited Italy in July last year and has often spoken of his long friendship with former prime minister Silvio Berlusconi.

France threatens to close border with Britain

French President Emmanuel Macron threatened to close France's border with Britain on Friday if Prime Minister Boris Johnson failed to take more stringent measures to contain the coronavirus outbreak, a French newspaper reported.

On Friday evening, Johnson ordered pubs, restaurants, theatres; cinemas and gyms to shut their doors to slow the accelerating spread of the disease, days after other European countries put their citizens on lockdown.

French newspaper Liberation, citing sources in Macron's office, said Johnson's decision came after the French leader gave him an ultimatum on Friday morning, threatening an entry ban on any traveler from the UK if there were no new measures.

"We had to clearly threaten him to make him finally budge," the report quoted an Elysee official as saying.

Contacted by Reuters, Macron's office declined to comment.

But a source close to Macron confirmed there was a phone call between the two leaders on Friday.

"The way it's presented is a bit harsh, but we were indeed preparing to close (the border)," the source told Reuters.

Asked about the report, a Downing Street spokeswoman said, "As the Prime Minister said on Friday, these new measures were taken based on scientific advice and in keeping with the government's action plan set out two weeks ago."

The British government has said it is acting on the guidance of its scientific advisers as it steps up efforts to limit the outbreak.

Macron ordered stringent restrictions on people's movement in France on Monday.

Restaurants, bars and schools have been shut nationwide and people ordered to stay at home other than to buy groceries, travel to work, exercise or for medical care.

Macron also pushed for European Union member states to close the bloc's external borders earlier this week.

The report echoed comments Macron's Prime Minister Edouard Philippe made in an interview on Tuesday.

"If neighboring countries, Britain for instance, stayed for too long in a situation without taking these measures, then we would find it hard to accept on our soil British nationals who would have been moving freely in their own country," Philippe said.

Britain left the EU on Feb. 1, but remains in a free-movement area with the bloc until the end of the year.

France has reported its first death of a hospital doctor from coronavirus.

Health Minister Olivier Veran said that as far as he knew the man -- who died on Saturday -- was the "first hospital doctor to be hit".

The accident and emergency practitioner worked at a hospital in Compiegne, north of Paris, AFP was able to confirm.

Veran refused to give any more information about the victim, saying details were being withheld for medical reasons and to respect the wishes of the doctor's family.

Compiegne is in the Oise department, the first area in France to be badly hit by the outbreak.

With a controversy raging about the lack of protective masks for medical staff in France, Veran said most of the medical staff who will contract the virus will be infected outside of their work.

The minister said that although protection for frontline staff was "absolutely indispensable", there had been several cases of doctors and nurses falling ill when they were equipped with masks.

The virus has so far killed 562 people in France with a further 6,172 in hospital, of whom a quarter are in a serious condition in intensive care.

Spain reports virus deaths up 30 percent in one day

Spain has announced 394 new deaths caused by the novel coronavirus, raising to 1,720 the official death toll in Europe's worst-hit country after Italy, a 30 percent increase over the previous day.

The number of confirmed cases of the disease rose by 3,646, or 14.6 percent, to 28,572, according to health ministry figures, with officials warning infections will rise further in the coming days.

With 1,785 being treated in intensive care units for the virus, there is mounting concern about overcrowding at hospitals.

Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez warned late on Saturday that Spain's outbreak, already among the harshest in the world, would continue to worsen.

"We must prepare ourselves emotionally and psychologically for very hard days ahead," he told the nation in a televised address late on Saturday.

"We have yet to receive the impact of the strongest, most damaging wave, which will test our material and moral capacities to the limit, as well as our spirit as a society," he added.

Spain has issued lockdown orders for its roughly 46 million residents who are only permitted to leave their homes for essential work, food shopping, medical reasons or to walk the dog.

Millions of face masks from China land in Czech Republic

A giant cargo plane carrying over 100 tons of medical material from China, including million of face masks, has landed at a Czech airport, the Defense Ministry says.

The Czech Republic, which by Sunday had 1,047 confirmed coronavirus cases including six cured patients and no deaths, has been grappling with a shortage of face masks and disinfectants.

The shortage has led thousands of Czechs to make face masks at home as the state banned people from leaving home without their nose and mouth covered.

The An-124 Ruslan plane, which also carried respirators from Shenzhen landed before midnight Saturday in the central city of Pardubice.

"We are planning another two (Ruslan) flights this month," Czech Defense Minister Lubomir Metnar said in a statement, adding they could take place on Tuesday and then at the end of March.

Czech media said the plane carried five million face masks, two million respirators and other medical material weighing 106 tons in total, while a China Eastern plane that landed in Prague an hour later carried seven million face masks.

Another China Eastern plane with more than a million face masks already landed in Prague on Friday.

Schools, pubs, theatres, cinemas and other facilities are closed across the Czech Republic, an EU member of 10.7 million people.

Thailand virus cases rocket to 600

Thailand's confirmed that the coronavirus cases has risen by a third to nearly 600, as fears of a full-blown crisis take hold in a country largely spared until now.

Thailand's Health Ministry announced on Sunday the spike was mainly in the capital, but warned residents of Bangkok not to leave and risk spreading the virus around the country.

"We would like you to stay home. Do not travel upcountry," said Health Ministry official Taweesin Visanuyothin.

Southeast Asia has so far been spared the worst of the pandemic that has swept the world, confining nearly one billion to their homes and killing more than 13,000. But that could be about to change.

With a boxing stadium and night club among the likely transmission sites, Bangkok has now imposed tough restrictions.

Virtually all public spaces have been shuttered, from shopping malls and beauty parlors to golf courses and swimming pools.

Residents packed out supermarkets over the weekend to stockpile food, fearing a full lockdown.

Transport links are also slowly being severed.

A frontier crossing point near northern city Chiang Rai saw thousands of Thai and Myanmar citizens rushing to get home before land border closures came into effect.

Bangkok Airways and Thai AirAsia have cancelled all international flights while Thai Lion Air has grounded its fleet entirely.

Yet elsewhere in the tropical tourist destination, life continued unabated with beaches in Pattaya and Phuket thronged with sun-seekers.

One doctor at Bangkok's Chulalongkorn hospital warned tougher measures were needed -- even calling for three weeks of martial law to force people to self-isolate.

The nation is "on the verge of a crisis" and heading for the Italian model, a doctor told AFP, adding hospitals are already straining under the pressure.

Meanwhile, Vietnam on Saturday imposed a blanket ban on all foreigners entering the country, even though the number of confirmed cases still hovers below 100.

In under-developed Myanmar and Laos, there is increasing skepticism about claims of zero cases as fears grow for their decrepit healthcare systems and fragile economies.

Saudi Arabia reports over 500 virus cases as UAE cancels passenger flights

Saudi Arabia reported a jump in coronavirus cases on Sunday while the United Arab Emirates announced that Emirates airline is suspending passenger flights.

Saudi Health Ministry spokesman Mohammed Abdelali said the kingdom recorded 119 new cases of the virus on Sunday, raising the total number to 511, the highest to date among Arab states in the Persian Gulf.

The tally of cases in the six-nation [Persian] Gulf Cooperation Council now stands at more than 1,700.

Abdelali added that 72 of the newly diagnosed coronavirus cases were Turkish nationals under quarantine in the holy city of Mecca after interacting with an infected compatriot.

"We are starting to see more cases linked to interactions... We advise everyone to stay home," he told a news conference, adding that more than 4,000 people are under quarantine.

Rwanda imposes shutdown as infections jump across Africa

Rwanda has imposed a nationwide shutdown and border controls to combat the coronavirus at the weekend in some of the strictest measures taken in Africa, as infections spread across the continent and authorities warn healthcare systems are ill-equipped to cope with.

Governments from the Indian Ocean nation of Mauritius to Burkina Faso on the fringes of the Sahara have banned public gatherings, shuttered schools, churches, mosques and bars and closed their airports.

Africa has lagged behind the global curve for coronavirus infections and deaths, but in the past few days has seen a significant rise in cases.

The continent has now reported more than 1,100 infections -- more than 1,000 of them in sub-Saharan Africa -- as the World Health Organization expresses concern that poor sanitation, urban crowding and the lack of intensive-care units, equipment and trained staff could hamper any response.

The Democratic Republic of Congo reported its first death on Saturday, taking the sub-Saharan African toll to six after Burkina Faso, Gabon and Mauritius previously reported fatalities.

But World Health Organization chief Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus warned that official figures being given likely did not reflect the full picture.

Rwanda is closing its borders completely, except for goods and cargo and returning citizens, authorities said, after reporting 17 confirmed cases, the highest number in the East Africa region.

Anyone arriving in Rwanda will be subject to a 14-day quarantine at designated locations.

International visitors for tourism and trade shows are a major source of revenue for Rwanda and the capital Kigali in particular, which markets itself as an attractive location for global conferences.

It follows Mauritius -- some 1,800 kilometers (1,100 miles) off the eastern coast of Africa -- which went into lockdown on Friday after reporting its first death and 14 confirmed cases.

Africa's most populated country Nigeria announced a tightening of restrictions on its 200 million people, with churches, mosques, social gatherings, football viewing centers and night clubs only permitted to host up to up to 50 people.

In West Africa, the outbreak has resurrected memories of the 2014 Ebola outbreak that left more than 11,000 dead mainly in Guinea, Liberia and Sierra Leone.

Despite fears over the virus, Guineans were set to go to the polls Sunday to vote in a divisive referendum on whether to adopt a new constitution that has sparked months of protests.

In neighboring Senegal, which has almost 60 confirmed infections, the government said Saturday it would show "no tolerance" for those found breaking restrictions -- including a ban on public prayers in mosques put in place to combat the pandemic.

On Friday, Zimbabwe announced its first COVID-19 case at Victoria Falls, a resort town.

That was followed on Saturday by news of the first case in the capital Harare.

In South Africa -- the continent's largest economy -- Health Minister Zweli Mkhize said last week that infections "ultimately can affect up to 60 percent of the population."

A 2016 analysis by the Rand Corporation, a US think-tank, found that of the 25 countries in the world that were most vulnerable to infectious outbreaks, 22 were in Africa -- the others were Afghanistan, Yemen and Haiti.

The report identified a "disease hotspot belt" extending across the southern rim of the Sahara through the Sahel to the Horn of Africa, where many countries are struggling with conflicts.

Cyprus reports first coronavirus death

Cyprus' Health Ministry has announced the first novel coronavirus death on the Mediterranean island and said there were 83 cases of infection.

The number of COVID-19 cases in the island's breakaway Turkish Cypriot north has meanwhile risen to 35, including 31 German tourists, with no deaths, officials there said.

The eastern Mediterranean island is divided between the internationally-recognized Republic of Cyprus and the northern third under Turkish control.

The individual who died in the south was a 70-year-old British man who had contracted the virus from another Briton while being treated at Paphos general hospital's ICU, said news site Phileleftheros.

"During his hospitalization at Paphos General Hospital, the patient was found positive as a result of tracking COVID-19 contacts at the same clinic," the health ministry said in a statement late Saturday.

It said the patient had already suffered a number of underlying health impairments and his condition worsened after contracting the virus at the hospital.

The man died at Famagusta Hospital while Paphos General Hospital remains shut after around 20 medical staff contracted the virus from a patient.

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