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Britain faces virus surge, WHO issues grim warning

Agence France-Presse

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A waiter wearing a face mask or covering due to the COVID-19 pandemic, cleans a table outside a restaurant in Covent Garden, London on 22 September 2020. (AFP)

LONDONUnited Kingdom — The British government announced fresh steps Tuesday to try and stop a coronavirus surge in England, as the World Health Organization warned that new cases worldwide soared to almost two million last week in a grim new record.

The pandemic is showing no signs of abating — more than 31.3 million infections have been detected globally, with 965,000 deaths — and nations are scrambling to contain new outbreaks.

The World Health Organization said 1,998,897 new Covid-19 cases were registered around the world last week — a six-percent increase over a week earlier.

It was “the highest number of reported cases in a single week since the beginning of the epidemic,” the UN health agency said.

However the number of deaths declined by 10 percent over the previous week to 37,700.

The ramped-up response in Britain follows warnings that the country could see up to 50,000 cases a day by mid-October, and a month later exceed 200 deaths every day.

Britain also put on hold plans to allow the phased return of fans to sporting venues in England from October 1.

France and Spain are battling similar surges. Spain’s health minister on Tuesday called on Madrid residents to limit their movements and social contacts to the “essential”.

Nobel ceremony cancelled

Under new rules to come into force on Thursday, English pubs, bars and other hospitality venues will be required to close at 10 pm. Food and drink outlets will also be restricted to table service only.

Many nations in Europe were easing restrictions after largely overcoming initial outbreaks, but the resurgence of the virus has forced them to tighten curbs again.

The Nobel award ceremony in Stockholm has been cancelled for the first time since 1944 and will be replaced by a televised event, the Nobel Foundation said.

Rather than receiving their medals and diplomas from the king of Sweden in person, the laureates will receive their medals and diplomas in their home countries.

This year’s laureates, in the fields of medicine, physics, chemistry, literature, peace and economics, will be announced between October 5 and 12.

The Nobel Peace Prize ceremony in December will also be scaled back this year, the head of the Nobel Institute said.

This year’s ceremony will not be held as usual in the main room of Oslo’s City Hall, which can accomodate 1,000 guests, but in the auditorium of Oslo University, which can host a tenth of that number.

The banquet usually held in honour of the laureate the same evening has been cancelled outright.

Trump under pressure

The number of deaths in the United States was closing in on 200,000 on Tuesday, with infections in the world’s worst-hit nation approaching seven million.

Overall, the US accounts for four percent of the world’s population and 20 percent of its coronavirus deaths.

President Donald Trump has faced intense criticism of his handling of the crisis ahead of the November election.

Trump insisted Monday that the United States was “rounding the corner with or without a vaccine”.

But US Federal Reserve boss Jerome Powell will warn Tuesday that a full recovery in the world’s biggest economy “is likely to come only when people are confident that it is safe to reengage in a broad range of activities,” according to prepared remarks.

‘We are not the problem’

The pandemic has wiped out hundreds of thousands of jobs around the world, with millions living rough.

Hundreds of restaurant, bar and nightclub workers demonstrated in the southern Spanish tourist resort of Malaga on Tuesday to seek government help to tide over the crisis.

They held banners saying “We are not the problem” and “rescue now”.

“What we are seeking… is that steps be taken to save the hospitality sector. Many of my colleagues can’t make ends meet. We have to save this sector by whatever means because there are many families that depend on this,” Borja Ramos, a 37-year-old kitchen worker told AFP.

Until a vaccine is available, the options for treatment available to the less privileged are limited.

In Mexico, where more than 73,000 people have died, many are choosing to stay at home when they fall ill instead of seeking treatment at creaking public hospitals.

Jessica Castillo in Hidalgo state said she suffered for a week at home, and even had suicidal thoughts.

“I felt that the air I was breathing wasn’t entering my lungs,” said 43-year-old pastry chef, whose coronavirus recovery took more than a month.

“But I said: ‘If I go to hospital, I’ll never return’.”

p: wjg

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