International Covid-19 news: Global death toll hits 500 000, Americans 'ignoring health guidelines'

The global death toll from the coronavirus pandemic has topped half a million, AFP reports. 

In another grim milestone, the number of infections recorded worldwide rose to more than 10 million, according to an AFP tally, complicating efforts to ease restrictions on debilitated economies.

The US has recorded more than 125 000 deaths and 2.5 million cases - both around a quarter of the global totals.

The second hardest-hit country Brazil registered 259 105 infections in the past week - the country's highest of any week during the pandemic.

The latest figures came as protesters in cities across Brazil - and as far away as Stockholm, London and Barcelona - held demonstrations against President Jair Bolsonaro, who has said the virus is akin to a "little flu" and railed against stay-at-home measures.

In the UK, Prime Minister Boris Johnson said his country had gone through a "profound shock" as he prepared to unveil a large stimulus programme.

"I think this is the moment for a Rooseveltian approach to the UK," Johnson said, referring to former US president Franklin D. Roosevelt's New Deal economic response to the Great Depression.

The UK government still plans to reopen pubs, restaurants and hairdressers across England on 4 July, even as it warns it may have to shut down the city of Leicester because of a spike in cases.

The Middle East's most affected country Iran reported 162 more deaths on Monday, its highest single-day toll yet, a day after the country made mask-wearing mandatory for inside

Americans 'ignoring Covid-19 guidelines'

Reuters reports that a spike in US coronavirus infections is fueled in large part by people ignoring public health guidelines to keep their distance and wear masks, the government's top infectious disease official said.

A daily surge in confirmed cases has been most pronounced in southern and western states that did not follow health officials' recommendations to wait for a steady decline in infections for two weeks before reopening their economies.

"That's a recipe for disaster," Anthony Fauci, who directs the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, told CNN in an interview broadcast on Monday.

"Now we're seeing the consequences of community spread, which is even more difficult to contain than spread in a well-known physical location like a prison or nursing home or meatpacking place," Fauci told the cable channel in the interview, which was recorded on Friday.

In places where cases are soaring, US health officials are also considering "completely blanketing these communities with tests," Fauci said, to try to get a better sense of an outbreak.

They would either test groups, or "pools," of people or have community groups do contact tracing in person rather than by phone. Contact tracing involves identifying people who are infected and monitoring people who may have been exposed and asking them to voluntarily go into quarantine.

The UK's failed Covid-19 app

As the UK's Covid-19 infections soared in the past months, the government reached for what it hoped could be a game changer – a smartphone app that could automate some of the work of human contact tracers, reports AFP.

The origin of the NHS Covid-19 App goes back to a meeting on 7 March when three Oxford scientists met experts at NHSX, the technical arm of the UK's health service. The scientists presented an analysis that concluded manual contact tracing alone couldn't control the epidemic.

"Given the infectiousness of SARS-CoV-2 and the high proportion of transmissions from presymptomatic individuals, controlling the epidemic by manual contact tracing is infeasible," concluded the Oxford scientists' paper, which was published in the journal Science two months later.

The Oxford researchers believed that a smartphone app could help locate individuals who didn't know they were infected – and by alerting them quickly could reduce and even halt the epidemic if enough people used it. Within days of the meeting, NHSX began the process of awarding millions of dollars worth of no-bid contracts to develop such an app, government procurement records show.

In the weeks that followed, ministers seized on the technology as a route out of Britain's lockdown that began on 23 March. At a Downing Street coronavirus briefing on 12 April, health secretary Matt Hancock announced that testing had begun on what he called the government's "next step – a new NHS app for contact tracing."

He explained that people could use the app to report feeling unwell and it would anonymously alert other app users who recently had been in close contact with them. On April 28, he said he expected the app to be ready by mid-May.

Shoppers along Edinburghs Princes Street as non-es
Shoppers along Edinburghs Princes Street as non-essential stores across the country reopen today as part of Scotland's phased plan to ease out of the coronavirus pandemic lockdown.

Pat Gelsinger, chief executive of VMware Inc, a Silicon Valley tech firm hired to develop the app, told a Fox Business television interviewer on 8 May, "I tell you, we think this is the best one in the world and we're really thrilled to be working with the NHS in the UK to help bring it about."

But by the end of May, government officials were downplaying the app. In an interview with Sky News, Hancock called the app "helpful" but said traditional contact tracing needed to be rolled out first. Quoting another official, he said, "It puts the cherry on the cake but isn't the cake."

Behind the scenes, NHSX testers were discovering serious technical problems.

The agency had opted to develop an app that collected and stored data on central servers that could be used by health authorities and epidemiologists to study the disease. It relied on a technology called Bluetooth to determine who recently had been near someone displaying symptoms and for how long.

NHSX testers were finding that while the app could detect three-quarters of nearby smartphones using Google's Android operating system, it sometimes could only identify four percent of Apple iPhones, according to government officials. The problem was that, on Apple devices, the app often couldn't utilize Bluetooth because of a design choice by Apple to preserve user privacy and prolong battery life.

The issue was no secret. Apple and Google had jointly announced in April that they would release a toolkit to better enable Bluetooth on contact-tracing apps. But to protect user privacy, it would only work on apps that stored data on phones, not central servers. The NHSX app didn't work that way.

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