WHO warns of drawn out pandemic as South Africa cases top 500,000

A health worker walks between beds at a temporary field hospital set up by Medecins Sans Frontieres (MSF) during the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) outbreak in Khayelitsha township near Cape Town, South Africa, July 21, 2020. Picture taken July 21, 2020. (Reuters)
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Updated 02 August 2020

WHO warns of drawn out pandemic as South Africa cases top 500,000

  • The coronavirus has killed more than 680,000 people and infected more than 17.5 million
  • Nigeria on Saturday announced it would ease a lockdown in the commercial capital Lagos

JOHANNESBURG: The UN health agency warned that the coronavirus pandemic would be lengthy and could lead to “response fatigue,” as the case count in South Africa topped half a million.
Six months after the World Health Organization declared a global emergency, the coronavirus has killed more than 680,000 people and infected more than 17.5 million, according to an AFP tally.
South Africa is by far the hardest hit country in Africa, accounting for more than half of diagnosed infections, although President Cyril Ramaphosa said the fatality rate is lower than the global average.
Health authorities had been expecting a surge in cases after the gradual loosening of a strict lockdown that was imposed at the end of March.
Nigeria on Saturday also announced it would ease a lockdown in the commercial capital Lagos, allowing churches and mosques to reopen next week.
An emergency WHO committee reviewing the pandemic “highlighted the anticipated lengthy duration of this COVID-19 outbreak, noting the importance of sustained community, national, regional, and global response efforts.”
“WHO continues to assess the global risk level of COVID-19 to be very high,” it said in its latest statement.
The agency also said the effects of the pandemic “will be felt for decades to come.”
Mexico overtook Britain to become the third hardest hit country in virus deaths — after Brazil and the United States — with more than 46,600 fatal cases.
Although many Latin American countries have begun relaxing stay-at-home measures, the virus is still spreading quickly across much of the region, which has now recorded more than four million cases and almost 200,000 deaths.
Half of them are in Brazil, where President Jair Bolsonaro said he believes “nearly everyone” will catch the virus eventually, after himself recovering from it.
The US, the hardest-hit country in the world, has now tallied more than 4.6 million cases and 154,319 deaths.

The outlook was bleak in Asia as well, where India and the Philippines reported record increases in new daily infections.
“We are waging a losing battle against COVID-19, and we need to draw up a consolidated, definitive plan of action,” said an open letter signed by 80 Filipino medical associations.
Japan’s Okinawa declared a state of emergency after a record jump in cases on the islands — many linked to US military forces stationed there.
The pandemic has spurred a race for a vaccine with several Chinese companies at the forefront, while Russia has set a target date of September to roll out its own medicine.
However, US infectious disease expert Anthony Fauci said it was unlikely his country would use any vaccine developed in either nation.
“I do hope that the Chinese and the Russians are actually testing the vaccine before they are administering the vaccine to anyone,” he said.
As part of its “Operation Warp Speed,” the US government will pay pharmaceutical giants Sanofi and GSK up to $2.1 billion for the development of a COVID-19 vaccine, the companies said.

France, Spain, Portugal and Italy all reported huge contractions in their economies for the April-June quarter, while Europe as a whole saw gross domestic product fall by 12.1 percent.
Daily case numbers in Switzerland have crept up again in recent weeks, while Norway recorded its first virus death in two weeks.
At least 36 crew members confined to a Norwegian cruise ship have tested positive for the new coronavirus, the operator Hurtigruten said on Saturday.
Despite the resurgence in cases, there have been demonstrations in Europe against the curbs.
Thousands protested in Berlin on Saturday urging “a day of freedom” from the restrictions, with some demonstrators dubbing the pandemic “the biggest conspiracy theory.”
In South Korea, the elderly leader of a secretive sect at the center of the country’s early coronavirus outbreak was arrested for allegedly hindering the government’s effort to contain the epidemic.
People linked to Lee Man-hee’s Shincheonji Church of Jesus accounted for more than half of the South’s coronavirus cases in February and March, but the country has since appeared to have brought the virus under control.
The pandemic has also continued to cause mayhem in the travel and tourism sectors, with more airlines announcing mass job cuts.
Latin America’s biggest airline, the Brazilian-Chilean group LATAM, said it would lay off least 2,700 crew, and British Airways pilots overwhelmingly voted to accept a deal cutting wages by 20 percent, with 270 jobs lost.


Afghan assembly approves release of 400 ‘hard-core’ Taliban prisoners

Updated 9 min 48 sec ago

Afghan assembly approves release of 400 ‘hard-core’ Taliban prisoners

  • Some 3,200 Afghan community leaders and politicians gathered to advise the government on whether the prisoners should be freed

KABUL: Afghanistan’s grand assembly, or Loya Jirga, on Sunday approved the release of 400 “hard-core” Taliban prisoners, paving the way for the beginning of peace talks aimed at ending more than 19 years of war.
“In order to remove an obstacle, allow the start of the peace process and an end of bloodshed, the Loya Jirga approves the release of 400 Taliban,” the assembly said in a resolution.
Afghan President Ashraf Ghani had convened the assembly in the capital Kabul, where some 3,200 Afghan community leaders and politicians gathered amid tight security and concerns about the COVID-19 pandemic to advise the government on whether the prisoners should be freed.
The Taliban militants had insisted they be released as a condition for entering peace talks with the government. With the release, the Afghan government will fulfil its pledge to release 5,000 Taliban prisoners.
Western diplomats said talks between the warring parties will start in Doha this week.
Deliberation around the release of last batch of Taliban prisoners, accused of conducting some of the bloodiest attacks across Afghanistan, had triggered outrage among civilians and rights groups who questioned the morality of the peace process.
But ahead of November elections, US President Donald Trump is determined to fulfil a major campaign promise of ending America’s longest war.
The drawdown will bring the number of US troops to “a number less than 5,000” by the end of November, Defense Secretary Mark Esper said in an interview broadcast on Saturday.
In a February pact allowing for the withdrawal of US troops, Washington and the Taliban agreed on the release of the Taliban prisoners as a condition for the talks with Kabul.