Here’s what you need to know about the coronavirus right now, Reuters reports.
New Zealand marks downward trend in new COVID-19 cases
New Zealand reported a further fall in locally acquired COVID-19 cases on Wednesday, as the largely coronavirus-free nation looks to eradicate an outbreak of the highly infectious Delta variant.
Officials earlier this week said schools, offices and businesses can reopen outside Auckland from Wednesday after near-zero cases in the rest of the country, but there will be a cap on gatherings and masks will remain mandatory in public venues.
Biden to outline plan to curb coronavirus Delta variant
US President Joe Biden on Thursday will present a six-pronged strategy intended to fight the spread of the Delta variant and increase US COVID-19 vaccinations, the White House said on Tuesday.
A White House official familiar with the plan said it would touch on mandates, testing, and schools. The official added the private sector could do more on the issue and that Biden would take on vaccine hesitancy as well.
Vaccinations accelerate in Australia
Three-quarters of people over the age of 16 in Australia’s New South Wales (NSW) have now had at least their first vaccination dose, the state reported on Wednesday, along with the first rise in new infections in three days.
As it prepares to emerge from lockdowns in its two biggest cities, the government is considering the use of vaccination certificates for international travel from October, the Sydney Morning Herald said in a report without citing a source. Australians are banned from leaving the country unless they have exemptions, while returning travellers must undergo a two-week hotel quarantine at their own expense.
US CDC warns against, and eases, travel ratings
The US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) on Tuesday warned against travel to Sri Lanka, Jamaica and Brunei because of the rising number of COVID-19 cases, raising its travel advisory for these countries to “Level 4: Very High”.
The CDC also eased its ratings for the Netherlands, Malta, Guinea-Bissau and United Arab Emirates from “Level 4: Very High” to “Level 3: High,” urging unvaccinated Americans to avoid travel there. It also raised Australia from “Level 1: Low” to “Level 2: Moderate.”
Mask war marks first weeks of school in Florida
Parents in Florida and across the United States have clashed with school and health officials in what has become a politicized tussle over COVID precautions.
Two small districts in Florida that did not require masks have had to shut down because of soaring COVID cases. Staff shortages stemming from illness or quarantine have led to overcrowding on buses and larger class sizes, making social distancing harder, Florida Education Association President Andrew Spar said.
Beijing extends work-from-home guidance in several city districts
Beijing on Sunday extended guidance to work from home in four districts of the Chinese capital, including the largest, Chaoyang, as the city tries to stop a COVID-19 outbreak.
Beijing found 55 new cases in the 24 hours to 3 p.m. (0700 GMT) on Sunday, 10 of which were outside areas that under quarantine, officials said. The city is scrambling to stamp out such community infections.
New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern tests positive for COVID
New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern tested positive for COVID-19 with moderate symptoms, her office said in a statement on Saturday.
She will not be in parliament for the government’s emissions reduction plan on Monday and the budget on Thursday, but “travel arrangements for her trade mission to the United States are unaffected at this stage,” the statement said.
Ardern had been symptomatic since Friday evening, returning a weak positive at night and a clear positive on Saturday morning on a rapid antigen test, it said.
She has been in isolation since Sunday, when her partner Clarke Gayford tested positive, it said.
Due to the positive test, Ardern will be required to isolate until the morning of May 21, undertaking what duties she can remotely.
Deputy Prime Minister Grant Robertson will address media in her place on Monday.
“This is a milestone week for the Government and I’m gutted I can’t be there for it,” Ardern said in the statement.
“Our emissions reduction plan sets the path to achieve our carbon zero goal and the budget addresses the long-term future and security of New Zealand’s health system,” she said. “But as I said earlier in the week isolating with COVID-19 is a very kiwi experience this year and my family is no different.”
Ardern also said on Saturday that her daughter Neve had tested positive on Wednesday.
“Despite best efforts, unfortunately I’ve joined the rest of my family and have tested positive for COVID 19,” Ardern posted on her official Instagram page.
N.Korea reports first COVID-19 death as fever spreads ‘explosively’
At least one person confirmed to have COVID-19 has died in North Korea and hundreds of thousands have shown fever symptoms, state media said on Friday, offering hints at the potentially dire scale of country’s first confirmed outbreak of the pandemic.
The data represents an unprecedented admission of an “explosive” outbreak in a country that had reported no previous confirmed cases since the pandemic began, and could mark a grave public health, economic and political crisis for the isolated regime.
South Korea’s new president, Yoon Suk-yeol, who took office this week, plans to provide COVID-19 vaccines and other medical support to North Koreans, and his government would discuss details with Pyongyang, his spokeswoman said on Friday, without elaborating.
Experts said that given North Korea’s limited testing capabilities, the numbers released so far probably represent a small fraction of the infections, which could lead to thousands of deaths in one of only two countries in the world without a COVID-19 vaccination campaign.
About 187,800 people are being treated in isolation after a fever of unidentified origin has “explosively spread nationwide” since late April, the official KCNA news agency reported.
Roughly 350,000 people have shown signs of that fever, including 18,000 who newly reported such symptoms on Thursday, KCNA said. About 162,200 have been treated, but it did not specify how many had tested positive for COVID-19.
At least six people with fever symptoms have died, with one of those cases confirmed to have contracted the Omicron variant of the virus, KCNA said.
Harvard Medical School’s Kee Park, who has worked on health care projects in North Korea, said the country has been testing about 1,400 people each week, which is not nearly enough to survey 350,000 people with symptoms.
“What is more worrisome is the sheer number of symptomatic people,” he added. “Using a conservative case fatality rate of 1% and assuming the surge is due to an Omicron variant of COVID-19, North Korea can expect 3,500 deaths from this outbreak.”
North Korean leader Kim Jong Un visited the anti-virus command centre on Thursday to check the situation and responses after declaring a “gravest state of emergency” and ordering a national lockdown, KCNA said.
State media has said the outbreak began in the capital, Pyongyang, in late April, without elaborating on potential causes. The city hosted several massive public events on April 15 and 25, including a military parade and large gatherings where most people did not wear masks.
Kim, who attended some of those events, “criticised that the simultaneous spread of fever with the capital area as a centre shows that there is a vulnerable point in the epidemic prevention system we have already established,” KCNA said.
Kim said actively isolating and treating people with fevers is a top priority, while calling for scientific treatment methods and tactics, and measures to supply medication.
In another dispatch, KCNA said health authorities were trying to organise testing and treatment systems and bolster disinfection work.
The rapid spread of the virus highlights the potential for a major crisis in a country that lacks medical resources and has refused international help with vaccinations while keeping its borders shut.
Analysts said the outbreak could worsen the country’s already tough food situation this year, with the lockdown hampering its “all-out fight” against drought and the mobilisation of labour.
CALLS FOR AID
North Korea said last year it had developed its own polymerase chain reaction (PCR) equipment for COVID tests. But it declined vaccine supplies from the COVAX global sharing programme and China, possibly leaving the vast majority of people in a relatively young society at higher risk of infection.
North Korea has so far not publicised any new calls for help in countering the outbreak, but some observers were optimistic that the disclosure was a signal that the government would soon accept vaccines or other aid.
Yoon’s pledge for support came a day after Kwon Young-se, his nominee to be the unification minister, responsible for inter-Korean ties, said at his confirmation hearing that he would push for humanitarian assistance for the North, including COVID treatment, syringes and other medical supplies.
A unification ministry spokesman said on Friday that about 95.4 billion won ($74.1 million) from an inter-Korean cooperation fund was earmarked to facilitate exchanges in the health and medical area.
A U.S. State Department spokesperson said it had no plans to send vaccines to North Korea but supported international efforts to provide aid to vulnerable people there, urging Pyongyang to facilitate that work.
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