Covid-19 wrap | Global death toll tops 1.2 million, Germany shuts down as new virus curbs spur anger

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A researcher works on a coronavirus vaccine at Copenhagen University's research lab on March 23, 2020.
A researcher works on a coronavirus vaccine at Copenhagen University's research lab on March 23, 2020.

Here are the latest developments in the coronavirus crisis.

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

Germany shuts down as new virus curbs spur anger and frustration

Germany on Monday led a tightening of coronavirus curbs in many parts of Europe while the Covid-19 crisis deepened in the United States on election eve.

The virus has infected over 46 million people worldwide, with more than 1.2 million deaths, and the acute outbreaks in Europe and America are sparking further alarm about the state of the already devastated global economy.

To curb the spike in Germany, Europe's biggest economy, Chancellor Angela Merkel appealed to citizens to help achieve a "turnaround" by respecting a new round of shutdowns from Monday until the end of the month.

Germans will not be confined to their homes, but bars, cafes and restaurants must close, as well as theatres, operas and cinemas.

Looking ahead to the festive season, Merkel ruled out any "lavish New Year's Eve parties" but held out hope that families would be allowed to celebrate Christmas together.

In Italy, the first country in Europe to impose a lockdown during the first wave, Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte resisted pressure for new national stay-at-home orders in favour of an approach targeting the hardest-hit regions.

And two days before most of Portugal enters a second lockdown, Prime Minister Antonio Costa said his government intended to declare a health emergency enabling stricter curbs to fight the virus spike.

Austria has announced a full lockdown to start this week, while France imposed its second shutdown last week and is preparing to tighten it further.

- Hospital warning -

Authorities in the Swiss canton of Geneva said they would close bars, restaurants and non-essential businesses from Monday night. And hospitals there warned that surging emergency cases may force them to decide to admit one Covid-19 patient over another if his or her chances of survival are better.

Greece announced a two-week lockdown on its second largest city of Thessaloniki that will include a suspension of flights to and from the city.

Now in its second wave in Europe after emerging in China in December last year, the pandemic has hit some countries harder than others.

In Britain, media reports said that Prince William, second-in-line to the British throne, contracted coronavirus in April but kept his diagnosis secret, with one tabloid saying "he didn't want to alarm the nation".

The head of the World Health Organisation said he was self-quarantining after someone he had been in contact with tested positive.

"I am well and without symptoms but will self-quarantine over the coming days, in line with @WHO protocols, and work from home," Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus tweeted, stressing the importance of complying with coronavirus guidance.

- Vandalism and looting -

But Nigel Farage, the driving force behind Brexit, was set to relaunch his political party as "Reform UK", with a main focus to oppose the government's coronavirus lockdowns.

England is preparing for fresh stay-at-home orders to come into force from Thursday, following warnings that hospitals could be overwhelmed within weeks.

The frustration over the economic and social cost of lockdowns has led to protests in many parts of the world, especially Europe, with some leading to violent skirmishes.

Protesters in several Spanish cities clashed with security forces for a third night Sunday, with vandalism and looting breaking out in some parts.

Spain has already imposed a nighttime curfew, and almost all its regions have implemented border closures to prevent long-distance travel.

Violence has also erupted in several Italian cities as well as the Czech capital Prague.

- 'Devastating' to UK business -

A second coronavirus lockdown in England will deliver a "devastating" blow to British businesses, the country's biggest employers organisation said on Monday.

In Dublin, Irish no-frills airline Ryanair said it sank into the red in the first half of its financial year due to the virus fallout.

The health situation is also deteriorating in the United States, which is gearing up for the election showdown between President Donald Trump and his Democratic rival Joe Biden on Tuesday.

It is the worst-affected country in the world with 9.2 million infections and nearly 231 000 deaths, and the pandemic has been front and centre during the bitter election campaign.

With cases surging again, experts have warned of more devastation.

In Mexico, parades were cancelled and cemeteries closed on Sunday during the Day of the Dead festival, in which people normally deck their homes, streets and relatives' graves with flowers, candles and colourful skulls.

Many remembered those who have passed in the privacy of their homes, as authorities urged people to avoid gatherings.


Swiss report nearly 22 000 new coronavirus cases over weekend

Coronavirus infections rose by 21 926 since Friday morning, data from Swiss health authorities showed on Monday, after the government last week tightened restrictions meant to slow the accelerating spread of Covid-19.

Total confirmed cases in Switzerland and tiny neighbouring principality Liechtenstein increased to 176 177 and the death toll rose by 93 to 2 130, while hospitalisations swelled by nearly 500, keeping the pressure on the country's intensive care.


Global coronavirus death toll tops 1.2 million: AFP

The novel coronavirus has killed at least 1 201 450 people since the outbreak emerged in China last December, according to a tally from official sources compiled by AFP on Monday.

More than 46 543 100 cases of coronavirus have been registered. Of these, at least 30 903 200 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 or the most serious cases.

On Sunday, 5 189 new deaths and 457 794 new cases were recorded worldwide. The countries with the most new deaths were United States with 614, followed by India with 496 and Iran with 440.

The United States is the worst-affected country with 231 003 deaths from 9 208 874 cases. At least 3 630 632 people have been declared recovered.

After the US, the hardest-hit countries are Brazil with 160 074 deaths from 5 545 705 cases, India with 122 607 deaths from 8 229 313 cases, Mexico with 91 895 deaths from 929 392 cases, and the United Kingdom with 46 717 deaths from 1 034 914 cases.

The country with the highest number of deaths compared to its population is Peru with 105 fatalities per 100 000 inhabitants, followed by Belgium with 101, Spain 77 and Brazil 75.

China - excluding Hong Kong and Macau - has to date declared 85 997 cases, including 4 634 deaths and 81 024 recoveries.

Latin America and the Caribbean together have 403 015 deaths from 11 355 634 cases, Europe 280 772 deaths from 10 690 122 infections, and the United States and Canada 241 182 from 9 445 641 cases.

Asia has reported 171 485 deaths from 10 633 543 cases, the Middle East 60 807 deaths from 2 586 451 cases, Africa 43 167 deaths from 1 797 090 cases, and Oceania 1 022 from 34 619 cases.

As a result of corrections by national authorities or late publication of data, the figures updated over the past 24 hours may not correspond exactly to the previous day's tallies.


T-cell study adds to debate over duration of Covid-19 immunity

A small but key UK study has found that "cellular immunity" to the pandemic SARS-CoV-2 virus is present after six months in people who had mild or asymptomatic Covid-19 - suggesting they might have some level of protection for at least that time.

Scientists presenting the findings, from 100 non-hospitalised Covid-19 patients in Britain, said they were "reassuring" but did not mean people cannot in rare cases be infected twice with the disease.

"While our findings cause us to be cautiously optimistic about the strength and length of immunity generated after SARS-CoV-2 infection, this is just one piece of the puzzle," said Paul Moss, a professor of haematology at Britain's Birmingham University who co-led the study.

"There is still a lot for us learn before we have a full understanding of how immunity to Covid-19 works."

Experts not directly involved with the study said its findings were important and would add to a growing body of knowledge about potential protective immunity to Covid-19.

The study, which has not yet been peer-reviewed by other experts but was published online on bioRvix, analysed the blood of 100 patients six months after they had had either mild or asymptomatic Covid-19. It found that while some of the patients' antibody levels had dropped, their T-cell response - another key part of the immune system - remained robust.

"(Our) early results show that T-cell responses may outlast the initial antibody response," said Shame Ladhani, a consultant epidemiologist at Public Health England who co-led the work.

The study also found the size of T-cell response differed, and was considerably higher in people who had had symptomatic Covid-19 than those who had no symptoms when infected.

The researchers said this could be interpreted in two ways: It is possible that higher cellular immunity might give better protection against re-infection in people who had symptoms, or equally, that asymptomatic patients are better able to fight off the virus without the need to generate a large immune response.

"These results provide reassurance that, although the titre of antibody to SARS-CoV-2 can fall below detectable levels within a few months of infection, a degree of immunity to the virus may be maintained," said Charles Bangham, chair of immunology at Imperial College London.

"This ... bodes well for the long term, in terms of both vaccine development and the possibility of long-term protection against re-infection," said Eleanor Riley, an immunology and infectious disease professor at Edinburgh University. She stressed, however, that "we don't yet know whether the people in this study are protected from re-infection."

While more than 46 million people worldwide have been infected with Covid-19, confirmed cases of re-infection are so far very rare.


More than 3.6 million Slovaks took coronavirus swab in nationwide testing scheme - PM

More than 3.6 million Slovaks took part in nationwide coronavirus testing scheme over the past weekend and 38 359 or 1.06% tested positive, Prime Minister Igor Matovic said on Monday.

The central European country of 5.5 million used antigen tests, which return results in 15-30 minutes but are less accurate than standard PCR tests, in an attempt to identify a large portion of infected people, which the government argued could help avoid a hard lockdown.


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