India's COVID-19 cases hit 'grotesque' level

Coronavirus infections in India soared past 5 million on Wednesday, as a WHO envoy warned the pandemic was "still at the beginning."
Indias COVID-19 cases hit grotesque level

A health worker wearing protective gear collects a swab sample from a resident during a medical screening for the Covid-19 at a police colony in Mumbai on Wednesday.

Coronavirus infections in India soared past 5 million on Wednesday, as a WHO envoy warned the pandemic was “still at the beginning.”

Global cases are rapidly approaching 30 million, with more than 935,000 known COVID-19 deaths, the global economy devastated and nations struggling to contain outbreaks.

India, home to 1.3 billion people, has reported some of the highest daily case jumps in the world recently, as a World Health Organization special envoy described the global pandemic situation as “horrible” and “grotesque.”

“It’s much worse than any of the science fiction about pandemics,” David Nabarro told British MPs on Tuesday.

“This is really serious — we’re not even in the middle of it yet.

“We’re still at the beginning of it.”

The spread of the virus has accelerated in some of the most populous parts of the world such as India, where the latest million infections were detected over just 11 days.

And some experts have warned that the total number of cases could be far higher in the vast nation, which has been easing one of the world’s strictest lockdowns recently despite the surge to help its reeling economy.

“People have lost their fear or are too tired (of) being cautious. They want to be out and earn a living right now,” Jayant Surana, a New Delhi-based entrepreneur said.

“Everything has now been left to god’s will.”

The United States remains the worst-hit nation in the world in terms of both infections and deaths, and President Donald Trump is under intense pressure over his handling of the coronavirus crisis.

The Republican leader said on Tuesday that a vaccine may be available within a month — an acceleration of even his own optimistic predictions.

“We’re within weeks of getting it, you know — could be three weeks, four weeks,” Trump said during a town hall event broadcast on ABC News.

But experts are worried that world-renowned American institutions responsible for overseeing the approval and distribution of vaccines have become increasingly compromised by political pressure, and corners may be cut to get one ready before the presidential election in November.

Germany’s health minister Jens Spahn said on Tuesday the country aims to reach herd immunity through a voluntary coronavirus vaccine expected to be widely available by mid-2021.

Many European countries have started to ease their restrictions after largely bringing outbreaks under control, but are faced with worrying spikes in infections again.

Denmark on Tuesday announced new restrictions, including shorter hours for bars and restaurants, new face mask requirements, and reduced crowds at football matches.

Referring to Europe, WHO emergencies director Michael Ryan warned it was time to “stop looking for unicorns” and take hard decisions to protect the most vulnerable with a potentially deadly winter approaching.

That came as airlines ramped up pressure on the European Union to coordinate virus measures, demanding an end to quarantine “chaos” and access to reliable and quick testing.

Airlines have been hit especially hard by the pandemic as travel was severely restricted to control the virus.

The UN said on Tuesday the pandemic cost the global tourism sector US$460 billion in the first half of 2020.

The economic pain is even more acute in poorer parts of the world.

French school closures

More French schools have closed after several students tested positive for COVID-19 while a further 2,100 individual classes have also been called off, Education Minister Jean-Michel Blanquer said on Wednesday.

Early last week, just 28 schools were closed shortly after the school year resumed but that number hit 81 over the past week.

“We have around 1,200 new COVID cases among students compared with last week,” Blanquer said. 

“We shut down a class as soon as there are three cases.” He noted the closures were a small fraction of the 60,000 schools, calling the beginning of the new school year “the best possible given the health crisis.”

Britain to ration virus tests

The British government plans to ration coronavirus testing, giving priority to health workers and home-care staff after widespread reports that people around the country were unable to schedule tests.

Prime Minister Boris Johnson on Wednesday faced questions about his handling of the COVID-19 pandemic in the House of Commons and before a key committee amid the outcry over the shortage of testing.

Justice Secretary Robert Buckland said the government is in the process of drawing up a new priority list for testing, suggesting that students and their families could be next in line after the National Health Service and social care.

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