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Wednesday 5 August, 2020

World Medical Association dismisses China's coronavirus figures

The Latest on the coronavirus pandemic. The new coronavirus causes mild or moderate symptoms for most people. For some, especially older adults and people with existing health problems, it can cause more severe illness or death.

TOP OF THE HOUR:

— World Medical Association says China's figures on the new coronavirus infections aren't credible.

— Puerto Rico says 4-year-old girl has COVID-19.

— Greece bans swimming in the ocean, speargun fishing and watersports in lockdown.

— Poorest New York City neighbourhoods hit hardest by coronavirus.

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BERLIN

The chairman of the World Medical Association says China's figures on the new coronavirus infections aren't credible.

But German doctor Frank Ulrich Montgomery says the numbers aren't credible in many other countries, either.

Montgomery says the recent low Chinese numbers were "nonsense" and suggested Beijing was intentionally providing false figures. The radiologist and former head of the German Medical Association says other countries are also working with uncertain figures because better data often isn't available.

Montgomery cited the lack of proper testing as one reason why many developing countries are reporting low infection rates.

He called for the World Health Organization to do more to impress on governments in poorer nations the need to take measures to restrict the spread of the pandemic.

Montgomery warned that if the virus takes hold in megacities such as Cairo, "then it's going to get really dangerous."

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WASHINGTON

Dr Anthony Fauci says those on cruise ships who are not sick need to disembark "as quickly as possible" to prevent further spread of the virus.

The top US infectious disease official says those on the ships who are sick with the new coronavirus obviously need medical attention.

Fauci told "CBS This Morning" on Thursday that some of those passengers on cruise are Americans and the others need to be safely returned to their home countries.

Dozens of cruise ships are either lined up at Port Miami and Port Everglades or waiting offshore due to the coronavirus pandemic.

Federal, state and local officials have been negotiating over whether Carnival's Holland America cruise ships, the Zaandam and Rotterdam, would be allowed to dock at Port Everglades this week.

But the company's Coral Princess is coming, too, with what that ship's medical center called a higher-than-normal number of people with flu-like symptoms.

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NEW YORK

New data shows the new coronavirus is hitting every part of New York City but especially hard in neighbourhoods that tend to be poorer and are more likely to have several people living under one roof.

Data released by city health officials show that residents in the immigrant-rich Jackson Heights, Elmhurst and Corona sections of Queens have tested positive for the virus in far greater numbers and at higher rates per capita than in wealthy in mostly white parts of Manhattan and Brooklyn.

People living in one Queens zip code just south of LaGuardia Airport were roughly four times as likely to have tested positive as people in the gentrified section of Brooklyn that Mayor Bill de Blasio calls home.

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SAN JUAN, Puerto Rico

The US territory of Puerto Rico is reporting its first underage cases of COVID-19.

The Health Department says a 4-year-old girl and a 17-year-old teen are among the more than 300 people who have tested positive for the coronavirus.

The government has reported 12 deaths as health officials warn the peak of cases is not expected until early May.

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ATHENS, Greece

Greece's Coast Guard has banned swimming in the sea, speargun fishing and recreational water sports as part of lockdown measures to prevent the spread of the new coronavirus.

The country is in the second week of a lockdown. People are allowed to leave their homes for essential reasons including walking a pet or exercising.

But the Coast Guard says swimming, underwater fishing and water sports are not permitted.

Greece has thousands of kilometers of coastline and access to the sea and beach activities are massively popular.

Greece has 1,415 confirmed cases of COVID-19 and 50 deaths.

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BANGKOK

Thailand has taken more measures to cut arrivals from abroad, with its national airline suspending all flights until May 31 and the trickle of people qualified for entry into the country further slowed to fight the spread of COVID-19.

Thai Airways International announced that in addition to suspending all flights from abroad, its staff would take salary cuts while being put on leave from this Saturday until the end of May to help practice social distancing. The airline had already cut most of its flights.

The government late last month instituted rules that foreigners traveling to Thailand must have certificates guaranteeing they are not infected with COVID-19 and have $100,000 in medical insurance. Thai citizens need a 'fit-to-fly' certification, and both groups must self-isolate for 14 days after arrival. Thai embassies have to endorse the certifications.

Prime Minister Prayuth Chan-ocha on Thursday ordered the Foreign Ministry to take measures to have the embassies slow new endorsements until April 15 because the pace of arrivals was making it hard to enforce isolation rules.

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LONDON

Political opponents, scientists and even usually supportive newspapers are lambasting British Prime Minister Boris Johnson over his government's broken promises on testing for the new coronavirus.

Johnson's Conservative government vowed to rapidly increase the number of tests for COVID-19 to 10,000 tests a day, then 25,000 a day by mid-April.

So far the 10,000-a-day target has not been met.

Johnson, who is working from isolation after being diagnosed with COVID-19, promised in a video message that the government was "massively increasing testing."

He said testing "is how we will unlock the coronavirus puzzle, this is how we will defeat it in the end."

But as the number of deaths in the UK soars to more than 2,300, the fragile unity behind the government's response is shattering.

The right-leaning Daily Mail slammed the "testing fiasco" on its front page. "Questions without Answers," said the Conservative-supporting Daily Telegraph, accusing the government of being unable to say why Britain lagged behind its European neighbours on testing.

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GENEVA

The head of the World Health Organization's office in Europe says figures show that more than 95% of people who have died of coronavirus on the continent have been aged over 60.

But Dr Hans Kluge said age is not the only risk factor for severe disease, adding: "The very notion that COVID-19 only affects older people is factually wrong."

In an online news conference Thursday in Copenhagen, Kluge said "young people are not invincible" — echoing similar recent comments from WHO Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus.

The UN health agency says 10% to 15% of people under 50 with the disease have moderate or severe infection.

"Severe cases of the disease have been seen in people in their teens or 20s with many requiring intensive care and some unfortunately passing away," Kluge said.

He said recent statistics showed 30,098 people have been reported to have died in Europe, mostly in Italy, France and Spain.

"We know that over 95 percent of these deaths occurred in those older than 60 years," he said, with more than half aged over 80.

Kluge said more than four in five of those people had at least one other chronic underlying conditions, like cardiovascular disease, hypertension or diabetes.

"On a positive note, there are reports of people over the age of 100 who were admitted to hospital for COVID-19 and have now — since — made a complete recovery," he said.

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BEIJING

The Chinese government is hitting back at US officials and lawmakers who are accusing it of suppressing and hiding information about the coronavirus outbreak.

Foreign ministry spokeswoman Hua Chunying said Thursday that "the words and actions of individual American politicians are really despicable and immoral" and that they should focus their energies on what they can do to protect their citizens and save as many lives as they can.

"We have said many times that to stigmatize, blame and shift responsibility to others cannot make up for the lost time," she said. "Continued lying will only waste more time and cause more loss of life."

American lawmakers and officials have accused China of a cover-up of the seriousness of the initial outbreak that allowed it to spread more widely. Some also allege that China is understating its number of cases and deaths.

Hua said that China has released the relevant information in a timely manner every day.

"We understand the current plight of the US and the pressure facing some American officials," she said.

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MADRID

Spain has seen Thursday a new record in virus-related fatalities, with 950 deaths in 24 hours that came as the country is seeing the growth of contagion waning, health ministry data showed.

The total number of deaths were 10,003 on Thursday.

New coronavirus infections rose by nearly 8% overnight to 110,238, placing Spain neck to neck with Italy, the country that saw the worst outbreak in Europe.

Health authorities have been saying that the pace of contagion has dropped from a daily average of 20% until March 25 to less than 12% after that date, more than 10 days after Spaniards were ordered to stay at home.

The government has acknowledged that the real number of infection could be much higher because Spain only has the capacity of doing between 15,000 to 20,000 tests per day.

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BELGRADE, Serbia

Police in Serbia have briefly detained a journalist who wrote about a lack of protective equipment and "chaotic" conditions at a large hospital complex amid the spread of the coronavirus.

Ana Lalic, who writes for portal Nova.rs, was taken to a police station late Wednesday, her apartment in the city of Novi Sad was searched and her laptop and two mobile phones were impounded, her lawyer says. The independent online portal later said she was released on Thursday after protests by independent journalist unions.

The detention came after the clinical centre in northern Serbia said Lalic's article "disturbed the public and hurt the image of the health organization."

Serbia's government has adopted a regulation that allows only state emergency committee officials to speak about measures taken by authorities in the fight against the COVID-19 spread. Government officials say the order is intended to fight against the spread of fake news amid the pandemic.

Rights journalist groups say the regulation introduces censorship, jeopardizes investigative journalism and freedom of the press.

Following the protests, Serbia's Prime Minister Ana Brnabic said Thursday the government will abolish the decree, although she thinks "the regulation protects everyone, the citizens, medical workers and families from fake news and unverified information."

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TOKYO

Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe's pledge to deliver just two old-fashioned gauze masks per household as a latest coronavirus measure has backfired and many people even thought it was an April Fool's Day joke.

"Today I'm wearing one too, and this cloth mask is not disposable," he said as he unveiled the plan at a government task force meeting Wednesday, saying gauze masks are washable and reusable.

The masks will be delivered in a mail to each of the country's 50 million households, starting from areas with escalating infections, including Tokyo, Osaka and other major cities.

Abe repeated Thursday that Japan is barely holding on and the coronavirus infections are on the brink of turning explosive. His government has enacted a special law and convened a task force to pave the way for Abe's possible state of emergency declaration.

In a country where surgical masks are staple household items as protection for pollen allergy, common cold or any facial issue, masks have been out of stock for weeks now, and stocks were low even at medical institutions.

Still, the plan quickly proved unpopular and people mocked on Twitter and other social media by calling it "Abenomask," or "Abe's mask," a play on his economic and financial policy of "Abenomics."

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SOAVE, Italy

A new study quantifying the hidden toll from coronavirus in the province of Bergamo, at the epicentre of Italy's epidemic, has found that the number of deaths linked to the virus is double the official tally.

The study by the daily L'Eco di Bergamo with the InTwig data analysis agency puts the number of virus deaths last month at 4,500, compared with the official toll of 2,060, in the province of 1.1 million people.

Mayors have warned that the official numbers fail to take into account the many people dying at home or in rest homes who have never been tested for the virus. Under current policies, only those who arrive at hospitals manifesting strong symptoms are tested.

Lombardy accounts for 40% of Italy's cases and more than half of its deaths, with Bergamo the hardest-hit province in the heavily populated industrial northern region.

Italy, which as recorded the most deaths of any nation, has extended a strict nationwide lockdown, including a shutdown of at least 60% of heavy industry, until April 13.

But authorities caution that any return to normal movement will be a slow process.

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BRUSSELS

More than a thousand people have now died from the new coronavirus in Belgium.

Emmanuel Andre, a scientist and a spokesman at the COVID-19 crisis centre, said on Thursday that 93 percent of the 1,011 people who died after getting infected by the virus were older than 65.

A total for 15,348 people tested positive for the deadly virus in Belgium, a country of around 11.5 million people.

The occupancy rate of intensive care beds stood at 52 percent, meaning that 1,145 beds remained available as 5,376 patients were hospitalized Thursday.

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TAIPEI, Taiwan

Taiwan has announced it is planning to donate 10 million face masks, plus medicine, to medical staff in countries that are fighting coronavirus.

The self-governed island claimed by Beijing has been seeking to showcase its own handling of the outbreak as it pushes back against China's efforts to isolate it diplomatically.

The Japanese electronics maker Sharp, which is owned by Taiwan's Honhai Precision Industry, a major maker of iPhones, has meanwhile said it was expanding production of surgical masks to locations in Europe, China and India.

Sharp earlier announced it was launching production of surgical masks in Japan.

As of Wednesday, Taiwan had reported 329 confirmed cases and five deaths.  

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