Covid-19 wrap: Over 380 000 global deaths, Asian nations accused of censorship and more US job losses

Keeping you up to date on the latest novel coronavirus (Covid-19) news from around the world.

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Coronavirus toll at 11:00 GMT Wednesday

Paris – The novel coronavirus has killed at least 380 428 people since the outbreak first emerged in China last December, according to a tally from official sources compiled by AFP at 11:00 (GMT) on Wednesday.

At least 6 399 710 cases of coronavirus have been registered in 196 countries and territories. Of these, at least 2 756 500 are now considered recovered.

The tallies, using data collected by AFP from national authorities and information from the World Health Organisation (WHO), probably reflect only a fraction of the actual number of infections. Many countries are testing only symptomatic cases or the most serious ones.

The United States is the worst-hit country with 106 181 deaths from 1 831 821 cases. At least 463 868 people have been declared recovered.

After the US, the hardest-hit countries are Britain with 39 369 deaths from 277 985 cases, Italy with 33 530 deaths from 233 515 cases, Brazil with 31 199 deaths and 555 383 cases and France with 28 940 deaths and 188 322 cases.

 - AFP

UN accuses Asian nations of censorship during pandemic

Geneva – The UN rights chief warned on Wednesday that China and other Asian countries were using the coronavirus crisis as an excuse to clamp down on free expression and tighten censorship.

In a statement, Michelle Bachelet expressed alarm over how censorship had been tightened in several countries, along with arbitrary arrests and detention of people who criticise their government's response, or even who simply share information or views on the pandemic.

"Arrests for expressing discontent or allegedly spreading false information through the press and social media, have been reported in Bangladesh, Cambodia, China, India, Indonesia, Malaysia, Myanmar, Nepal, the Philippines, Sri Lanka, Thailand and Vietnam," the statement said.

The UN High Commissioner said she recognised the need to restrict harmful disinformation to protect public health, or any incitement of hatred towards minority groups.

But she insisted that this should not result in purposeful or unintentional censorship.

"While governments may have a legitimate interest in controlling the spread of misinformation in a volatile and sensitive context, this must be proportionate and protect freedom of expression," Bachelet said. "This crisis should not be used to restrict dissent or the free flow of information and debate."

 - AFP

France's virus-tracking app chalks up 600 000 downloads

Paris – France's new phone app for tracking coronavirus cases and alerting people at risk of contagion was downloaded some 600 000 times in less than 24 hours since its launch, the country's digital affairs minister said on Wednesday.

"It's a good start," Cedric O told France 2 television, while app analytics firm AppAnnie said StopCovid was leading the list of French downloads for both Apple and Google Android phones.

Virus tracing apps are seen as a vital tool for slowing the spread of Covid-19, which has killed nearly 29 000 people in France.

Governments around the world have developed apps, either on their own or enlisting help from private companies including Apple and Google, which have teamed up to provide tracing software that is compatible between their phones.

France refused to work with Apple and Google for its app, citing data privacy concerns.

Many use Bluetooth technology that allows phones to "see" if a person comes into close contact with someone who has tested positive for the virus – assuming the infected person had entered the diagnostic into the app.

 - AFP

US private employment falls 2.76m in May - ADP

Washington – Private companies shed another 2.76 million jobs in May following nearly 20 million job losses in April due to the coronavirus pandemic, according to data released on Wednesday from payrolls firm ADP.

The losses were widespread throughout all sectors and sizes of business, though education posted a rare, modest increase in employment, according to the data, which are seen as a preview of the government's monthly jobs report due out Friday.

 - AFP

The Lancet casts doubt over hydroxychloroquine study

Paris – The Lancet has issued an "expression of concern" over a large-scale study of hydroxychloroquine and chloroquine it published that led to the World Health Organisation suspending clinical trials of the anti-viral drugs as a potential treatment for Covid-19.

In a statement, the medical journal acknowledged "important" questions over the research, after dozens of scientists issued an open letter last week raising concerns about its methodology and transparency around the data, which was provided by the firm Surgisphere.

"Although an independent audit of the provenance and validity of the data has been commissioned by the authors not affiliated with Surgisphere and is ongoing, with results expected very shortly, we are issuing an Expression of Concern to alert readers to the fact that serious scientific questions have been brought to our attention," The Lancet said on Tuesday.

While an expression of concern is not as severe as a journal withdrawing a published study, it signifies that the research is potentially problematic.

The observational study looked at records for 96 000 patients and concluded that treatment with hydroxychloroquine, which is normally used to treat arthritis, and chloroquine, an anti-malarial, showed no benefit and even increased the likelihood of patients dying in hospital.

 - AFP

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