Countries reopening even as virus toll continues to climb

The United Nations secretary-general says support for his March 23 call for a global cease-fire to tackle the COVID-19 pandemic has not been translated into “concrete action,” and in some cases warring parties have exploited the crisis to step up military action.

UN warns of ‘deadly threat’ from virus during war

Antonio Guterres warned the UN Security Council on Wednesday that “civilians caught up in violence now face a new and deadly threat from COVID-19.”

He pointed to conflict-torn Libya where the UN mission documented at least 58 civilians killed and 190 injured between April 1 and May 18.

The UN chief told the council meeting on the protection of civilians in conflict that as the pandemic “rages on, causing enormous human suffering and additional stress to health systems,” people already weakened by years of fighting “are particularly vulnerable.”

Italy’s death toll passes 33,000

Italy’s known death toll in the COVID-19 pandemic topped 33,000 on Wednesday, with 117 more deaths registered nationwide since the previous day.

But authorities acknowledge that the real number of deaths will probably never be known since many with coronavirus symptoms in care residences or in their own homes died without being tested in the past few months.

Lombardy, the northern region, which has registered more than a third of the entire nation’s known cases, confirmed 384 new coronavirus infections on Wednesday, considerably more than the 73 registered in the next heaviest-hit region, Piedmont, also in the north.

Carabinieri officers patrol the city trendy Navigli district in Milan, Italy, May 26, 2020. (AP)

Health Ministry and other government officials are closely monitoring regions for any jump in new cases following the May 18 easing of many lockdown restrictions, including allowing all retail stores to re-open and cafes and restaurants to resume in-house service.

Italians are waiting to learn if they will be able to freely travel among all regions starting on June 3, or only among some of them, in view of contagion rates.

Currently travel between regions is limited to strict necessity.

Italy registered 584 confirmed new cases on Wednesday, raising to 231,139 the total number of known coronavirus infections in the country, according to Health Ministry figures.

Spike in South Korea shows perils of reopening

In South Korea, 40 newly confirmed cases – the biggest daily jump in nearly 50 days – raised alarms as millions of children returned to school yesterday.

All but four of the new cases were in the densely populated Seoul region, where officials are scrambling to stop transmissions linked to nightclubs, karaoke rooms and a massive e-commerce warehouse. All were reopened last month when social distancing measures were relaxed.

The country’s top infectious disease expert said South Korea may need to reimpose social distancing restrictions because it’s becoming increasingly difficult for health workers to track the spread of COVID-19 amid warmer weather and eased attitudes on distancing.

“We will do our best to trace contacts and implement preventive measures, but there’s a limit to such efforts,” said Jeong Eun-kyeong, director of South Korea’s Centres for Disease Control and Prevention.

Object detection and tracking technology for people not wearing masks, developed by SK Telecom, is displayed on a screen at the company headquarters in Seoul, South Korea. (Getty)

“Young people have a very broad range of activity, so at the point of diagnosis, there’s already a lot of exposure… the number of people or locations we have to trace are increasing geometrically,” he added.

Seoul and nearby cities had restored some control in recent weeks by reclosing thousands of bars, karaoke rooms and other entertainment venues to slow the spread of the virus.

SeaWorld and Walt Disney World will reopen in Orlando, Florida, in June and July after months of being closed because of the coronavirus pandemic, according to plans a city task force approved Wednesday.

The proposals will now be sent to Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis for final approval.

The plan calls for SeaWorld to open to the public on June 11. Disney plans a tiered reopening, with Magic Kingdom and Animal Kingdom opening on July 11, followed by Epcot and Hollywood Studios on July 15.

Last week, Universal Orlando presented its plan to reopen on June 5. That plan also has been approved by the Orlando task force, which sent its recommendation to the governor.

Disney’s senior vice president of operations, Jim McPhee told the task force the parks would open with limited capacity, but he didn’t specify the number of guests who would be allowed in initially.

Disney World also plans smaller, soft openings prior to July 11, but no specifics were provided.

SeaWorld is planning an employee appreciation event on June 10 before opening to the public the next day, said Interim CEO Marc Swanson.

Mexico confirms record death toll, new infections

Just hours after Mexican health officials reported record numbers of deaths and new coronavirus infections, President Andrés Manuel López Obrador said Wednesday he will resume his travel schedule next week, flying commercial to the beach destination of Cancun.

Prior to the pandemic, the president, who has yet to leave Mexico on an international trip, effectively operated as if he was still on the campaign trail, crisscrossing the country each week to hug and shake hands with his admirers.

Mexico City
An image of Santa Muerte, or Sacred Death, hangs on a tree on a block where family members typically wait for news of their loved ones outside Balbuena General Hospital, which is treating both patients with COVID-19 and those with other conditions, in Mexico City, May 25, 2020. (AP)

Throughout two months of social distancing measures, López Obrador has fretted about the impact on the economy and stubbornly refused to halt his key infrastructure projects. One of the those, the Mayan Train, which is supposed to whisk tourists around the Yucatan Peninsula, will be the objective of his first scheduled trip since March.

“I’m going to be careful,” López Obrador said. “If the airline requires you to use a mask, I’m going to use it.” He said doctors are recommending that he limit his flying and travel more by car, so he planned to drive back to the capital from the Caribbean coast with stops in epidemic hotspots, including Veracruz and his home state of Tabasco.

He said he would restrict his events to no more than 50 people and maintain a healthy distance. It will be a dramatic change from his usual events, where crowds press close to him to pass letters or shout requests.

Greece decides who can fly in

Greece says the United States is unlikely to be on a list of countries that will be allowed to resume direct flights to Greece in the coming weeks but could be added later in the summer.

Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis said Wednesday that Greece’s government was finalising the list of countries that will be allowed to resume flights to Athens on June 15 and regional airports on July 1 and has already stated that Germany will be included.

“It is unlikely that the (US) will be on our list, given the data that we currently have,” Mitsotakis told a web event hosted by the Brookings Institution and Miller Center of Public Affairs at the University of Virginia.

“We will start with countries that have similar epidemiological data with Greece. And we expect to gradually ramp up direct flights to our islands.”

Spain reckons with its losses

A scientific study says Spain has registered 43,000 deaths more than average while it has been in the grip of the new coronavirus pandemic.

The hard-hit country’s official COVID-19 death toll stood at 27,118 on Wednesday, one more than the previous day, according to Health Ministry statistics.

The higher death toll is based on averages of recent years between March 15 and May 24, ascertained by Spain’s Carlos III University, which monitors Spain’s mortality rate. The data it provides is based on numbers of deaths submitted by public records offices around the country. The data does not include the cause of death.

Spanish royal family
In this handout provide by Casa de S.M. el Rey Spanish Royal Household, (L-R) King Felipe VI of Spain, Princess Leonor of Spain, Queen Letizia of Spain and Princess Sofia of Spain take a minute of silence for the COVID 19 victims at the Zarzuela Palace on May 27, 2020 in Madrid, Spain. (Getty)

As well as the roughly official coronavirus 27,000 deaths, experts estimate some 9,000 suspected but unconfirmed deaths from COVID-19 have occurred at nursing homes. That leaves around 7000 excess deaths as unexplained.

Fernando Simón, the head of Spain’s emergency medical response, said Wednesday that many of the extra deaths likely can be put down to people who died at home or hospitals without having been tested, or who died of other illnesses, or people who did not go for treatment because hospitals were overwhelmed.

Spain officially recorded 231 new infections from Tuesday, 37 more than the previous day, to reach almost 237,000. Madrid and Barcelona accounted for about 75 per cent of the new cases.

Brazil reopening despite increasing crisis

Sao Paulo state, the epicentre of the coronavirus outbreak in Brazil, will reopen some of its closed businesses starting June 1 despite a growing number of confirmed COVID-19 cases.

Governor João Doria said Wednesday that stay-at-home recommendations will remain in effect until June 15 for the state that’s home to 46 million people, but some economic activity will resume in less affected regions, including Sao Paulo city, as long as social distancing guidelines are respected.

More than 6400 people have died because of the new coronavirus in Sao Paulo state, about one-fourth of all of Brazil’s deaths. Experts and even some authorities have said that represents a significant undercount because of insufficient testing.

Doria said Sao Paulo regions that reduce daily increases in their COVID-19 cases and have enough available intensive care beds can partially reopen stores, shopping malls, offices, car dealerships and real estate brokerages. Sao Paulo never imposed a lockdown, so non-essential industries and civil construction were never closed. Doria said the decision is based on scientific guidelines.

Doria has been frequently singled out for criticism by Brazil’s President Jair Bolsonaro, who has opposed governors’ restrictions on activity.

– Reported with Associated Press

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