Covid-19 wrap | US registers 10 000 coronavirus cases in one week, Brazil jumps to third in infections, China scientists reveal new drug, and study shows presymptomatic patients can contaminate environments

2020-05-19 08:58

Here are the latest developments in the coronavirus crisis.

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US tops 90 000 coronavirus deaths, 1.5 million cases

The United States on Monday surpassed 90 000 deaths from the novel coronavirus and 1.5 million confirmed cases, according to a running tally from Johns Hopkins University.

The Baltimore-based monitor registered 10 000 deaths in just one week.

The US has the world's highest number of deaths and infections but several countries - including Belgium, Spain, Britain, Italy and Sweden - have recorded more fatal cases per capita, according to the statistical website Worldometer.

New York state accounts for nearly a third of US deaths, with more than 28 300 linked to Covid-19, according to Johns Hopkins.

The state officially records about 22 700 deaths but this does not include those that were probably linked to the virus, where there was no official confirmation.

By 6 June, the US could reach around 112 000 deaths, according to an average of 20 epidemiological models analysed by the University of Massachusetts.


Brazil jumps to third in Covid-19 cases worldwide

Brazil has the third-highest number of novel coronavirus cases in the world, according to official figures released on Monday, a troubling surge for a country struggling to respond to the pandemic.

With 254 220 confirmed cases, Brazil has now surpassed Britain, Spain and Italy in the past 72 hours on the list of total infections, and is behind only the United States (1.5 million) and Russia (290 000).

Brazil has registered 16 792 Covid-19 deaths, the sixth-highest toll in the world.

But experts say under-testing means the real figures could be 15 times higher or more.

The giant South American country of 210 million people is torn by a political battle over how to respond to the virus.

Far-right President Jair Bolsonaro compares the virus to a "little flu", condemns the "hysteria" surrounding it and is urging the country to get back to work to stop an economic crash.

State and local authorities, however, are largely calling on citizens to stay home and practice social distancing - backed by the Supreme Court, which gave them the final say in the matter.

Bolsonaro is now seeking his third health minister since the pandemic began.


Scientists in China believe new drug can stop pandemic 'without vaccine'

A Chinese laboratory has been developing a drug it believes has the power to bring the coronavirus pandemic to a halt.

The outbreak first emerged in China late last year before spreading across the world, prompting an international race to find treatments and vaccines.

A drug being tested by scientists at China's prestigious Peking University could not only shorten the recovery time for those infected, but even offer short-term immunity from the virus, researchers say.

Sunney Xie, director of the university's Beijing Advanced Innovation Centre for Genomics, told AFP that the drug has been successful at the animal testing stage.

The drug uses neutralising antibodies - produced by the human immune system to prevent the virus infecting cells - which Xie's team isolated from the blood of 60 recovered patients.

A study on the team's research, published on Sunday in the scientific journal Cell, suggests that using the antibodies provides a potential "cure" for the disease and shortens recovery time.


Huge European rescue plans, vaccine hopes fuel virus optimism

A half-trillion-euro European fund laid out by France and Germany sparked optimism on Monday about fighting economic fallout from the coronavirus, as did encouraging early results on vaccine research by a US biotech firm.

Global markets surged as Europe pushed toward normality with major landmarks reopening after a two-month hiatus, and as China told the World Health Organisation it would back an independent inquiry into the handling of the outbreak once the pandemic is "brought under control".

Global markets were buoyed by the €500 billion ($540 billion) European fund, along with encouraging early results from clinical trials of a potential vaccine by Moderna.

The first stage trial provoked an immune response similar to people convalescing from the Covid-19 disease in eight recipients, according to the company. A larger phase 2 trial is due to begin soon.


Small groups allowed to meet in Northern Ireland

People who do not live together have finally been allowed to meet in small groups in Northern Ireland.

Up to six friends can now gather outdoors, as long as social distancing is observed, as coronavirus restrictions in the region began to ease on Monday. Indoor get-togethers of family members from different households are still not allowed.

Churchgoers are also now allowed to pray alone, while in-person Christian services are still on hold. Many churches continue to hold services behind closed doors, with proceedings broadcast online.

Weddings involving someone with a terminal illness can now be held.

"These have been hard-won freedoms and when you do exercise those freedoms, it is important no one else is put at risk," Arlene Foster, Northern Ireland's first minister, told her daily news briefing.

The lifting of restrictions broadly reflect those in Ireland, but the omission of any dates for future action has raised the chances of different parts of the island reopening at different times.

The United Kingdom's constituent parts of Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland have taken a more conservative approach than England after Prime Minister Boris Johnson encouraged some people to return to work last week.

The devolved government's decision on Monday to ease the measures meant both jurisdictions on the island of Ireland entered the first phase of their exit plans in step with each other, as garden centres and golf courses reopened on both sides of the open border.

- Al Jazeera

Presymptomatic virus patients can contaminate environments: study

Coronavirus was detected on several surfaces in hotel rooms where two presymptomatic Chinese students were quarantined before being diagnosed with the disease, according to a study released on Monday.

For the study, published in the Emerging Infectious Diseases journal of the US Centres for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), researchers in China examined the hotel rooms of the two students, who returned to China from studying abroad on 19 March and 20 March.

They did not display any virus symptoms at the time and were transferred to a hotel for 14 days of quarantine.

On the morning of the second day in quarantine, they remained presymptomatic but both tested positive for Covid-19 and were hospitalised.

About three hours after they tested positive, the researchers sampled various surfaces in their rooms.

These included door handles, light switches, faucet handles, thermometers, television remotes, pillow covers, duvet covers, sheets, towels, bathroom door handles, toilet seats and toilet flushing buttons.


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