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Coronavirus: World Health Organisation mission heads to China as COVID-19 death toll passes 1,500 | World News

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The World Health Organisation will lead a mission to China this weekend to start investigating the COVID-19 outbreak.

The group of 12 Chinese and 12 international members will focus on how the new coronavirus is spreading and its severity.

WHO chief Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said: “The goal of the joint mission is to rapidly inform the next steps in the COVID-19 response and preparedness activities in China and globally.”

COVID-19 is the medical name for the acute respiratory disease caused by the virus.

“Particular attention will be paid to understanding transmission of the virus, the severity of disease and the impact of ongoing response measures,” Mr Tedros added.

Su, 28 (L) and Jia, 29, got married - wearing face masks - at a registry office on Valentine's Day in Shanghai
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Su, 28 (L) and Jia, 29, got married – wearing face masks – at a registry office on Valentine’s Day in Shanghai
Anybody arriving in Beijing will have to self-isolate for two weeks
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Anybody arriving in Beijing will have to self-isolate for two weeks
  • A total of 1,525 people have died from COVID-19, the disease caused by the virus – most in mainland China but one each in Hong Kong, the Philippines and Japan
  • 67,079 cases have been confirmed since the virus started in mid-December in Wuhan, with 63,866 in mainland China, according to data collected by Johns Hopkins University and the World Health Organisation
  • There were 5,090 suspected new cases recorded in mainland China, Chinese authorities said on Friday

It comes as people returning to Beijing were told they would be punished if they did not isolate themselves for two weeks to stop the spread of the virus.

City authorities, quoted in the Beijing Daily newspaper, said: “From now on, all those who have returned to Beijing should stay at home or submit to group observation for 14 days after arriving.



Coronavirus: How worried should we be?







Special report: How bad could the coronavirus outbreak get?

“Those who refuse to accept home or centralised observation and other prevention and control measures will be held accountable under law.”

Anybody returning to the Chinese capital will have to submit travel plans to their community in advance, the notice said.

It was unclear how this would affect foreign visitors arriving from outside China.



Matt Raw fist pumps as he leaves quarantine







Patient celebrates his release from quarantine

Other major coronavirus updates:

  • The first case in Africa was confirmed on Friday after a “foreigner” tested positive in Egypt
  • Two British Labour MPs cancelled all engagements after they were among 250 people at the UK Bus Summit on 6 February which was also attended by a patient with COVID-19
  • A North Sea oil rig worker was placed in isolation as he was tested for COVID-19 after returning from Thailand
  • A ninth person in the UK was confirmed as having the virus on Sunday. The Chinese woman had flown from China and walked into a London hospital’s A&E
  • All 2,257 passengers and crew on the MS Westerdam cruise ship were at last allowed to dock in Cambodia, having been stranded for two weeks after ports in Thailand, Japan, Taiwan, the Philippines and Guam turned them away over fears they would spread the new virus, despite nobody on board testing positive
Workers in protective suits register residents and take their temperatures on a housing estate in Wuhan
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Residents are tested and registered on a housing estate in Wuhan

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About 500 million people in China are affected by travel restrictions, as more cities, including Beijing and Shanghai, imposed lockdowns this week in an attempt to halt the spread of COVID-19.

Last week President Xi Jinping warned top officials efforts to contain the virus had gone too far and were threatening the economy.

People returned from the Chinese New Year holiday on Monday, but cities remain empty, with Shanghai and Beijing’s streets and subways largely deserted, with many shops and restaurants empty or shut.

Passengers on the MS Westerdam waved their towels before disembarking in Cambodia
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Passengers on the MS Westerdam waved their towels on arrival in Cambodia
Alex Sobel and Lilian Greenwood
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Labour MPs Alex Sobel and Lilian Greenwood have cancelled their engagements

Wuhan, the city of 11 million people where the outbreak began, is under the most severe lockdown, with all public transport, taxis and ride-hailing services shut down.

Volunteer drivers are risking their own health by secretly ferrying medical staff and those in vital jobs to and from work after responding to requests on messaging groups.

Others are desperately trying to find accommodation for medical workers, many who have come from across China.

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Coronavirus: France moves patients on high-speed trains to ease pressure on worst-hit hospitals | World News

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Thirty-six critically-ill coronavirus patients have been transferred across France in two high-speed trains.

They were transported from eastern France, where hospitals risk becoming overwhelmed, to the Nouvelle-Acquitaine region in the southwest.

“We urgently need to relieve congestion in the region’s intensive care units, because you have to stay one step ahead,” Francois Braun, head of SAMU paramedics, told RTL radio.

Gas cylinders being loaded into a train. Pic: Interior Minister/J Groissard
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Gas cylinders being loaded onto a train. Pic: Interior Minister/J Groissard
Paramedics carrying a patient onto a German military plane in Strasbourg
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Paramedics carrying a patient onto a German military plane in Strasbourg

Carriages carrying 36 people were specially converted, and a line of ambulances waited outside Bordeaux station on their arrival.

Paramedics in hazmat suits also loaded several patients on life-support onto a German Airbus A400M aircraft in Strasbourg and transferred them across the border to the German city of Ulm.

The first region to be hit by coronavirus was Grand Est in northeastern France, before the pandemic moved west and began to engulf the Paris area.

French health authorities reported another 292 new deaths from COVID-19 on Sunday – a 13% rise on the previous day.

The total number of deaths since 1 March is now 2,606, with known infections reaching 40,174.

Prime Minister Edouard Philippe has warned the country’s 67 million people that the toughest weeks are still ahead.

Ventilators are being removed from operating theatres and student doctors are being drafted in.



Across France, people have been in lock down or face fines except for necessary excursions including food shopping and work.







The empty streets of Paris

As in the UK, retired doctors are returning to the wards.

President Emmanuel Macron has brought in the army to help move those unwell with COVID-19, while a field hospital has been set up in the eastern city of Mulhouse.

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Coronavirus: The funeral home overwhelmed by New York’s conveyor belt of death | US News

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The phone doesn’t stop ringing at the Gerard J Nuefeld funeral home in New York City.

Those who turn up at the door look bewildered and deeply anxious. Robert Lugo arrives sobbing into his protective mask.

He, like so many you see in this neighbourhood, is wearing gloves.

Funeral directors are trying their hardest to offer dignity to the dead
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Funeral directors are trying their hardest to offer dignity to the dead

Robert is visibly shaken and it turns out his loss is especially raw. His grandmother, Ana Diaz, died last night at Elmhurst Hospital.

The hospital is at the centre of the COVID-19 outbreak. Staff there are exhausted dealing with the surge in patients, and protective equipment is in desperately short supply. One doctor described the situation as apocalyptic.

Robert breaks down as he tells me that this grandmother – “the glue” in his family – died without any family by her side.

It is an unfathomable burden for him to bear, and sadly, it is one so many are now forced to endure.

“My grandmother died alone,” he tells me, his voice breaking. “We didn’t even see her and couldn’t touch or talk to her. We couldn’t give her that boost of morale to say, hey, you know, you got to come out of this. We need you to come out of this. There was nothing.”

Ana Diaz (left) had just celebrated her 80th birthday
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Ana Diaz (left) had just celebrated her 80th birthday

Little over a week ago, his family were all together celebrating her 80th birthday.

“She embraced every life she touched,” Robert says.

Now, half of her family have tested positive. They’re not only deprived of the chance to grieve her passing, but they’re isolated and struggling with their own symptoms too.

Joe Nuefeld Jr is working all hours alongside his father, trying to offer dignity to the dead and support their distraught families.

“The crematoriums really aren’t letting anybody in,” he tells me. “The cemeteries are, for the most part, telling people to stay in their cars and just watch the burial from the gravesite.”

New York City has been badly hit by the coronavirus pandemic
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New York City has been badly hit by the coronavirus pandemic

He drives us to St Michael’s Crematorium.

A family that is following him in a car behind have turned up hoping they can get in, but they’re not even allowed through the gates.

Instead, they’re forced to hand over their candle to Joe so he can place it next to the coffin. He clutches it protectively in his hands as he drives through the grounds – conscious of how fleeting it feels for the relatives watching on.

“Sometimes when it’s so brief, it almost leaves them still feeling hollow,” Joe says. “Like, you know, what just happened? They don’t have enough time to process it. It’s heartbreaking. It’s really sad.”

Back at the funeral home, his father Joseph Sr says their work has been non-stop for a fortnight.

“It just got crazy… people are unfortunately passing away in big numbers,” he said.

“Because they live in this area and I’m the only funeral home left in this area, they’re coming to me.

“I’m trying to accommodate them as best I can… I think we had about 12 services scheduled. And shortly after I left the office, within two hours, I had three more services. And then this morning, as soon as we came in, we put on three or four more services.”

One doctor in New York described conditions in his hospital as 'apocalyptic'
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One doctor in New York described conditions in his hospital as ‘apocalyptic’

I’m struck by just how stressful their job has become. This is a father and son who take pride and comfort in accommodating the many ceremonies and rituals this diverse neighbourhood desires.

There are more than 100 nationalities in the area – many who traditionally hold large gatherings to say goodbye to their relatives.

Joe Sr says they are trying to let individuals briefly see the caskets before they take them away, but they know they have to closely monitor numbers.

The father and son wear protective clothing where embalming the bodies. But like all undertakers, they are vulnerable to infected bodies.

Nonetheless, they are desperately determined to help a community that’s coming to terms with being separated at the most demanding of moments – a surreal and cruel consequence of this pandemic. Watching them work is both humbling and exhausting.

With the predicted peak of this virus two weeks away, their days aren’t getting any shorter.

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Coronavirus: Belarus president refuses to cancel anything – and says vodka and saunas will ward off COVID-19 | World News

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Few measures have been enforced to curb coronavirus in Belarus – instead, people are being urged to drink vodka and go to saunas.

The country – specifically its president – has shrugged off concerns about the COVID-19 outbreak, starkly illustrated on Sunday with the nation’s football matches continuing as normal.

As most countries enforce strict measures to curb the spread of the coronavirus, fans continued to shuffle into football grounds as they would any other weekend.

Few face masks were visible as FC Minsk fans watched their team play in Belarus
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Few face masks were visible as FC Minsk fans watched their team play in Belarus
Belarus has no plans to postpone matches or cancel the football season
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Belarus has no plans to postpone matches or cancel the football season

Few social distancing measures appear to be in force, but spectators at some grounds did have their temperatures checked before being granted entry.

A small number of fans opted to wear face masks while huddled together in packed stands, but they were few and far between.

Belarusian football organisers have said they have no intention of postponing matches or cancelling the season – and the country’s leader has also shown that he is keen for sporting fixtures to continue.

President Alexander Lukashenko took part in an ice hockey match on Saturday – controversially declaring that sport “is the best anti-virus remedy”.

At the event, he told a reporter: “It’s better to die standing on your feet than to live on your knees.”

Alexander Lukashenko (pictured here with Vladimir Putin) is against imposing strict coronavirus measures
Image:
Alexander Lukashenko (pictured here with Vladimir Putin) is against imposing strict coronavirus measures

When asked if there was anything that would stop him playing ice hockey, Mr Lukashenko replied: “It is possible, but why? I don’t understand. There are no viruses here.

“Did you see any of them flying around? I don’t see them too. This is a fridge.”

So far, 94 coronavirus cases have been reported in Belarus, a former Soviet nation that is home to 9.5 million people.

Mr Lukashenko, an avid ice hockey player who has been in power since 1994, has downplayed the need for social distancing – and Belarus is one of the only countries that has taken few measures to curb COVID-19’s spread.

Temperature checks were in force at some football matches - social distancing was not
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Temperature checks were in force at some football matches – social distancing was not

In recent weeks, the president has suggested that Belarusians should drink 50ml of vodka a day to ward off the virus, but not at work – advice that is completely at odds with recommendations from the World Health Organisation.

He has also stated that regular trips to the sauna, working in the fields and having breakfast on time are the best ways to stay healthy – dismissing stricter measures imposed in neighbouring Russia and elsewhere as “frenzy and psychosis”.

Mr Lukashenko has also vowed that Belarus will still celebrate Victory Day on 9 May – a day when elderly veterans from World War Two parade through the streets. This is despite data that shows older people are more susceptible to contracting coronavirus in public spaces.

Professional football has ground to a halt around the world - not in Belarus
Image:
Professional football has ground to a halt around the world – not in Belarus

According to the Belarusian Telegraph Agency, the president said: “We are not cancelling anything. We will host all the events we have planned … Let God protect us from the coronavirus.”

In separate remarks on Friday, Mr Lukashenko said he “really liked” Donald Trump’s statements calling for US businesses to reopen and Americans to get back to work.

“There were many people urging me to close borders, enterprises and begin a nationwide quarantine. Back then I made a principled decision: we will implement a quarantine only when it is really needed,” he added.

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