Covid-19 wrap | UK plans coronavirus 'antibody certificates', and no second wave in France

2020-05-22 11:55

Here are the latest developments in the coronavirus crisis.

FOLLOW THE LIVE UPDATE | All the latest coronavirus and lockdown updates


UK to roll out antibody testing, planning 'antibody certificates'

Around one in six people in London and one in 20 elsewhere in England have already had the coronavirus, the United Kingdom's Health Secretary Matt Hancock said, as he announced plans for "antibody certificates".

Data gathered from an antibody surveillance study suggests 17% of people in London and around 5% of people across England have tested positive for antibodies to coronavirus, he told the daily Downing Street briefing.

This news comes as the government agreed to a deal with pharmaceutical firms Roche and Abbott for more than 10 million antibody tests, to see if people have had Covid-19.

They will first be offered to health and social care staff as well as patients and care home residents.

The tests are not without their critics.

Germany, one of the first countries to order millions of tests from Swiss drug giant Roche, said it would not use them until they had been debated by the country's top ethicists.

Concern remains about how the issuing of "antibody passports" could lead to a two-tier society, with some people continuing to be locked down at home while others move about freely with life beginning to return to normal.

"In our view, any documentation that limits individual freedoms on the basis of biology risks becoming a platform for restricting human rights, increasing discrimination and threatening - rather than protecting - public health," read an editorial comment in top science journal Nature.

The level of immunity remains a mystery, wrote Nature's editorial board.

Tests are unreliable, the volume of testing needed is unfeasible and the threats to privacy and marginalised groups who would likely face even greater scrutiny all mean that immunity passports are a bad idea, they wrote.

The UK government is, however, seemingly pressing on regardless, and also arranging supplies for the devolved administrations of Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland, with each part of the UK deciding how to use its test allocation.

While it remains unclear what level of immunity people develop once they have had Covid-19, some experts hope a degree of immunity lasts for at least a year or two.

However, having antibodies does not automatically mean a person will not pass the virus onto somebody else.

- Al Jazeera


Brazil passes 20 000 virus deaths after record 24-hour toll

The coronavirus death toll in Brazil surpassed 20 000 on Thursday, after a record number of fatalities in a 24-hour period, the health ministry said.

The country is the epicentre of the outbreak in Latin America, and its highest one-day toll of 1 188 pushed the overall death tally to 20 047.

Brazil has now recorded more than 310 000 cases, with experts saying a lack of testing means the real figures are probably much higher.

With its curve of infections and deaths rising sharply, the country of 210 million ranks third in the world in terms of total cases, behind the United States and Russia.

The death toll - the sixth highest worldwide - has doubled in just 11 days, according to ministry data.

Despite the worrying spread of the disease, far-right President Jair Bolsonaro on Thursday continued his calls to scrap lockdown measures to revive the country's flagging economy.

But almost all of the country's 27 states are under some sort of lockdown order, though Brazilians are wearying of the restrictions in place since the end of March.

Sao Paulo state, the economic and cultural capital of Brazil, is by far the most affected area, with about a quarter of the country's deaths and infections.

The virus's impact has accelerated in Rio de Janeiro state in recent days.

- AFP


Will Covid-19 deal US malls a mortal blow?

As they gradually reopen, US shopping malls are requiring masks and implementing social distancing policies in hopes of convincing customers that they can shop safely in the coronavirus era.

But these once-dominant shopping behemoths are in survival mode following lengthy pandemic shutdowns that have precipitated retail bankruptcies and stores unable to pay rent.

Each day the Covid-19 crisis seemingly brings fresh carnage to the US retail landscape.

The owner of lingerie chain Victoria's Secret on Thursday announced it will shutter 250 stores in the US and Canada, and warned more closures are likely in the next two years.

And Macys has projected a first-quarter loss of around $1 billion, suggesting more belt-tightening for a mall anchor store that already announced 125 store closures in February even before the coronavirus crisis.

The retail industry was struggling long before Covid-19 hit, weeding out brick-and-mortar stores that were steadily losing market share to e-commerce, and that spawned a wave of mall closures and the appearance of "zombie malls" with almost no stores.

Analysts expect those trends to accelerate.

"Covid is pulling forward several years of retailer fallout," Green Street Advisors said in a report, predicting more than half of mall-based department stores would close by 2021.

That report was published 28 April, just ahead of bankruptcy announcements by J Crew, Neiman Marcus and JC Penney.

With more than 800 stores, JC Penney has been an especially important presence at US malls. Most of the locations are expected to shut down as the company reorganises.

- AFP


Coronavirus detected in Haiti's largest prison

Nearly a dozen detainees in Haiti's largest prison have tested positive for the novel coronavirus, an administrator said on Thursday, as fears mounted that the disease could spread like wildfire through the country's dirty and overcrowded correctional system.

Last week, approximately 50 prisoners in the Port-au-Prince penitentiary reported having a fever, prompting health officials to test 12 inmates as a sample.

Results indicated that 11 were positive for Covid-19.

"I can confirm that Covid-19 entered the prison," said Charles Nazaire Noel, director of the national prison system.

"We fought a tough battle to avoid that, but unfortunately, it happened. We are not going to give up, we will continue to strengthen the prison sanitation system," he said, adding that he has asked the Ministry of Health to screen all of the penitentiary's inmates.

Haiti has more than 11 000 people behind bars - most of them waiting to go on trial, sometimes for years - in such deplorable conditions that human rights activists liken it to torture.

The poorest country in the Americas has reported 663 cases of the novel coronavirus, and has carried just over 2 100 tests since the first cases were detected on 19 March.

- AFP


France daily toll continues to fall, with no second wave yet seen

The number of coronavirus deaths registered in France over the past 24 hours dipped to 83 on Thursday, as a top doctor said he was not seeing a second wave of infections despite the country easing its lockdown.

The latest deaths in hospitals and nursing homes brought France's total toll from the pandemic to 28 215, the health ministry said in a statement.

The trends remained optimistic, with 49 fewer people in intensive care for a total of 1 745 patients - a number that exceeded 7 000 at the peak of the crisis.

France on 11 May allowed the first easing of its lockdown imposed to fight the virus, and officials have said it is too early to draw conclusions that there is no sign yet of a second wave of infections.

But Patrick Pelloux, the president of France's emergency doctors' association, said he feared "less and less" that there would be a second wave of infections due to the easing.

"The mathematical modelling allowed the possibility of a rise ... with a small peak which was to start now," he told France 2 television.

But "in fact we do not see it", he said.

"This does not mean that the epidemic has stopped," he added, emphasising the need to continue to respect social distancing and wear a mask.

"But we are not seeing a second wave coming."

- Al Jazeera


Australia extends cruise ship ban to September

Australia on Friday extended its ban on most international cruise ships for three months until mid-September, making no mention of a hoped-for exemption for travel to neighbouring New Zealand.

The ban applies to any cruise liner capable of carrying more than 100 passengers, the Australian Border Force said in a statement.

It is the latest blow to the multi-billion-dollar cruise industry, which already faces lengthy bans in countries from the US to the Seychelles.

Australia first announced the ban on international cruise liners on 27 March when nearly 30 of the ships were in its territorial waters.

Hundreds of Australians who disembarked from the ships were subsequently diagnosed with Covid-19.

The former passengers have accounted for more than 20 of the 101 deaths registered from the disease in the country.

Most of those cases and deaths were connected to the Ruby Princess liner, which arrived in Sydney in late March.

The handling of that ship and its passengers is the subject of a criminal probe and a high-level civil investigation.

Australia closed its borders to non-residents in late March and has said foreigners will remain barred from the country for the foreseeable future.

Prime Minister Scott Morrison has raised the possibility of offering an exemption to the ban for citizens of New Zealand, which has successfully contained the coronavirus outbreak so far.

- AFP

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