Saturday 26 September, 2020

UK becomes virus epicentre of Europe; South Korea plays baseball

Britain's Prime Minister Boris Johnson, centre, takes a morning walk in St James' Park before returning to Downing Street in London, as the UK enters a seventh week of lockdown to help stop the spread of coronavirus, Tuesday May 5, 2020. (Stefan Rousseau / PA via AP)

Britain's Prime Minister Boris Johnson, centre, takes a morning walk in St James' Park before returning to Downing Street in London, as the UK enters a seventh week of lockdown to help stop the spread of coronavirus, Tuesday May 5, 2020. (Stefan Rousseau / PA via AP)

Britain on Tuesday became the first country in Europe to confirm more than 30,000 coronavirus deaths, and infections rose sharply again in Russia, even as other nations made great strides in taming the virus.

China marked its third week with no new virus deaths and South Korea restarted its professional baseball season.

In the US, some states began halting steps to lift the lockdown restrictions being blamed for throwing millions out of work and upending the global economy even as thousands of new US infections and deaths were being reported daily.

Britain looks set to surpass Italy as Europe's hardest-hit nation. The government says 28,734 people with COVID-19 had died in UK hospitals, nursing homes and other settings while Italy has reported 29,079 fatalities.

Tallies from both nations are likely to be underestimated because they only include people who tested positive and testing was not widespread in Italian and British nursing homes until recently.

(Photo: A woman sits on a bench at Earl's Court underground station, wearing a mask as the lockdown due to the coronavirus outbreak continues, in London, Thursday, April 30, 2020. (AP Photo/Alberto Pezzali)

Yet official UK statistics released Tuesday that take into account people who died with suspected COVID-19 give a fuller picture and put Britain's coronavirus toll at more than 30,000 dead.

The statistics, which cover up to April 24, show that deaths were a third higher than in the government count. A comparable figure for Italy was not available.

In Russia, the number of infections rose sharply again, with Moscow reporting more than 10,000 new cases for three days in a row.

At the same time, many European countries that have relaxed strict lockdowns after new infections tapered off were watching their virus numbers warily.

"We know with great certainty that there will be a second wave — the majority of scientists is sure of that. And many also assume that there will be a third wave," Lothar Wieler, the head of Germany's national disease control center, said Tuesday.

Widely seen as a success story, South Korea reported only three new cases of the virus, its lowest total since February 18.

Schools will be reopened in phased steps, starting with high school seniors on May 13, but the highlight Tuesday was the baseball season.

Cheerleaders danced beneath rows of empty seats and umpires wore protective masks as one of the world's first major professional sports returned to action in games broadcast to starved sports fans around the world.

The Korea Baseball Organization employed other protective measures, including fever screenings for players and coaches before they entered the stadiums.

(Photo: Hanwha Eagles players wearing face masks line up during the start of their regular season baseball game against SK Wyverns in Incheon, South Korea, Tuesday, May 5, 2020. Cheerleaders danced beneath rows of empty seats and umpires wore protective masks as a new baseball season began in South Korea. After a weeks-long delay because of the coronavirus pandemic, a hushed atmosphere allowed for sounds like the ball hitting the catcher's mitt and bats smacking the ball for a single or double to echo around the stadium. (AP Photo/Lee Jin-man)

With Major League Baseball in the US still mulling plans on what to do about its own season, American sports network ESPN signed a contract to broadcast six KBO games per week, starting with Tuesday's season opener between Daegu's Samsung Lions and Changwon-based NC Dinos, which the Dinos won 4-0.

The country's professional soccer leagues will kick off Friday, also without spectators.

In China, it has been three weeks since any new deaths have been reported in the country where the pandemic began late last year.

Just one new case of infection was confirmed, and fewer than 400 patients are still being treated for COVID-19, health officials said.

Other places in the Asia-Pacific region have also suppressed their outbreaks, including Hong Kong, Taiwan, Vietnam, Thailand, Australia and New Zealand, which has had zero new cases for two days. Bu experts say India, a nation of 1.3 billion people, has yet to see the peak of its outbreak.

In Britain, which unlike other European nations remains in lockdown, a trial began Tuesday of a mobile phone app that authorities hope will help contain the outbreak.

The app, which warns people if they have been near an infected individual, is being tested on the Isle of Wight, off England's south coast. The government hopes it can be rolled out across the country later this month.

UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson plans to soon detail a route out of a nationwide lockdown that began March 23 and runs through Thursday.

(Photo: A TV cameraman walks through the spectators' seating which are covered with pictures of fans, before the start of a regular season baseball game between Hanwha Eagles and SK Wyverns in Incheon, South Korea, Tuesday, May 5, 2020. South Korea's professional baseball league start its new season on May 5, initially without fans, following a postponement over the coronavirus. (AP Photo/Lee Jin-man)

Critics say Johnson's Conservative government responded too slowly when COVID-19 began to spread, and failed to contain the outbreak by widely testing people with symptoms, then tracing and isolating the contacts of infected people.

Countries that did that, including South Korea and Germany, have recorded much lower death rates than those that did not.

The British government's chief scientific adviser, Patrick Vallance, acknowledged Tuesday that "if we'd managed to ramp up testing capacity quicker it would have been beneficial."

In the US, a shuttered pork processing plant in South Dakota took its first steps toward reopening after more than 800 employees were infected with the virus.

California Governor Gavin Newsom, one of the first to impose a statewide stay-home order, announced that some businesses can reopen as early as Friday, with restrictions.

In Louisiana, state lawmakers were restarting their legislature — but feuded over whether they should return at all.

Political battles have become increasingly embedded in US coronavirus policy.

(Photo: Health workers wearing protective suits immunize small children against measles from their vehicle during an enhanced community quarantine to prevent the spread of the new coronavirus in Manila, Philippines on Tuesday May 5, 2020. (AP Photo/Aaron Favila)

The moves to open US states came even as daily new infections continue to exceed 20,000 and daily deaths were over 1,000, according to figures from Johns Hopkins University.

Governments around the world have reported 3.5 million infections and more than 251,000 deaths, including nearly 69,000 deaths in the United States.

Deliberately concealed outbreaks, low testing rates and the severe strain the disease has placed on health care systems mean the true scale of the pandemic is undoubtedly much greater.

With pressure growing in many countries for more measures to restart the economy, politicians were trying to boost funding for research into a vaccine for COVID-19. There are hopes one could be available in months, but many scientists warn it could take much longer.

Developing a vaccine will be the key to returning to less restricted everyday life. An alliance of world leaders on Monday pledged to give 7.4 billion euros ($8 billion) for the effort, but the US and Russia were notably absent.

The money raised will be channelled mostly through recognised global health organizations. French President Emmanuel Macron said he was convinced the US would at some point join the initiative.  

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