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Octopuses May Be Adapting to The Rising Acidity of Our Oceans, Study Suggests

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We know that all the excess CO2 we’re pumping into the air – alongside a host of other damaging effects – is driving up the acidity of the oceans as it sinks and dissolves into the water, but it seems as though the hardy octopus can find ways to adapt to its rapidly changing environment.

 

Previous research into the impact of ocean acidification on cephalopods such as octopuses, cuttlefish, and squid has shown some indication increased carbon dioxide in the water could negatively impact this type of marine life.

However, in a new study, a group of Octopus rubescens – a species of octopus common to the west coast of North America – were observed adjusting their routine metabolic rate (RMR) over a series of weeks in response to lowering pH levels in the surrounding water.

“Challenges to an organism’s physiology are often reflected in changes in energy use and therefore can be observed as changes in aerobic metabolic rate,” write the researchers in their paper.

A total of 10 octopuses were studied under controlled lab conditions, with RMR measured immediately after exposure to acidic water, after one week, and after five weeks. Critical oxygen pressure – a measure of whether not not animals are getting enough oxygen – was monitored at the same time.

To begin with, high levels of metabolic change were detected in the creatures – a sort of shock reaction that actually conflicts with earlier research into cephalopods, which had recorded a reduction in metabolic change in similar scenarios.

 

However, RMR had returned to normal after one week, and remained the same five weeks later, suggesting some adaptation had occurred. The increased acidity did have an impact on the ability of the octopuses to function at low oxygen levels, however.

“This response in RMR suggests that O. rubescens is able to acclimate to elevated CO2 over time,” write the researchers. “The observed increase in RMR may be the result of multiple acute responses to hypercapnia [increased CO2 in the blood], possibly including both behavioural and physiological strategies.”

Those strategies could include preparing to move to find a new stretch of water to inhabit, for example, the researchers suggest (something that wasn’t possible here). The short RMR boost might also reflect the octopuses making quick adjustments to their biological processes to suit the new acid level.

The study is the first to look at both short-term (one week) and longer-term (five week) changes in metabolism rates in cephalopods in response to ocean acidification. We know these creatures are tough, and it seems they even have coping strategies that might allow them to adapt to humans destroying the natural environment all around them.

None of this means that we should be okay with the current climate crisis though, or not be trying to make major changes to reverse it. When we don’t take proper care of the planet, it’s not just ourselves that we’re potentially dooming to extinction.

Also, these tests were done in controlled laboratory conditions that don’t take into account many other interlinking factors in the animals’ natural environment. For instance, even if the octopus themselves are able to adjust, what about their food supply?

“While this species may be able to acclimate to near-term ocean acidification, compounding environmental effects of acidification and hypoxia may present a physiological challenge for this species,” write the researchers.

The research has been published in Physiological and Biochemical Zoology.

 



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Can Surgical Masks Be Reused? Scientists Are Asking Some Valid Questions

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Health authorities say the most widespread anti-COVID weapon – surgical masks – must be thrown away after a single use, but environmental concerns are pushing some scientists to question this recommendation.

 

As the coronavirus continues to spread, masks have in many places become mandatory on public transport, in shops, and at work.

But cost has become an issue, as has the fact so many disposable plastic masks wind up in waterways and the oceans.

One alternative is reusable cloth masks, but many people prefer single-use surgical masks because they are lighter and individually cheaper.

“Medical masks are for single use only,” the World Health Organization has said. “Discard the mask immediately, preferably into a closed bin.”

But in the context of scarcities during the first wave of the COVID-19 pandemic, the WHO allowed in an April report for the resuse of decontaminated disposable masks when there is a “critical PPE (personal protective equipment) shortage, or lack of PPE.”

The US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) allowed – in emergency circumstances – hydrogen peroxide vapour to decontaminate the N95 masks worn by healthcare workers. 

Other methods to purify single-use masks include exposing them to high temperatures or ultraviolet radiation. 

But these methods are inconvenient for people at home, said French microbiologist and member of Adios Corona, Denis Corpet.

 

Seven-day method

Adios Corona – a group of scientists who provide information on COVID-19 to the public – recommends “placing the mask in a paper envelope with the date clearly marked, and leaving it for seven days”.

“Several scientific studies show that viruses are almost all dead on a mask after seven days,” said Corpet.

A study published in The Lancet found that only 0.1 percent of the virus on the outside surface of the mask was still detectable after one week.

This method, however, is not appropriate for healthcare workers exposed to high viral loads.

Peter Tsai, the inventor of N95 electrostatically charged filter material, agrees with the seven-day method.

But he suggests leaving used masks out in the open for a week before reuse, a cycle he says can be repeated five to 10 times.

Disposable masks can also be placed in the oven, Tsai told AFP, ideally at a temperature between 70 and 75 degrees Celsius (158 and 167 degrees Fahrenheit) – not too high to avoid burning the plastic, but sufficiently hot to kill the virus.

Washing masks in a washing machine, however, is not a good idea.

 

“Washing without detergent may not wash away the virus,” Tsai said. “And washing with detergent will erase the (electrostatic) charges,” diminishing its efficiency.

French consumers’ rights group UFC-Que Choisir washed surgical masks at 60C, put them in the dryer, and ironed them. After 10 such cycles, the masks still filtered at least 90 percent of 3-micron particles.

“Apart from a slight felting, the washed surgical masks were at least as efficient as the best cloth masks,” UFC-Que Choisir reported last week.

‘Like underwear’

Researcher Philippe Vroman from French engineering university Ensait came to the same conclusion.

After five washes, “there are practically no differences (of filtration) for particles of 3 microns,” Vroman said, on the basis of preliminary results not yet published in a peer-reviewed scientific journal.

“And I would rather we swap masks every four hours and wash them, rather than wearing them several days in a row as some people do. It’s a bit like underwear,” he said.

But not all scientists agree.

“Washing the mask at home could potentially cause a secondary contamination and spread the virus if washing is not set appropriately,” said Kaiming Ye, head of the biomedical engineering department at New York’s Binghamton University.

Until more research is published on the matter, official advice from health authorities is not set to change.

“Single-use surgical masks must be thrown into the bin after use,” said France’s health authority DGS, but noted that more studies were underway.

© Agence France-Presse

 



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A Record Number of People in The US Are Currently Hospitalised With COVID-19

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More people than ever are currently hospitalized in the US due to the coronavirus, and a record of 150,526 new cases were reported on Thursday, according to data from The COVID Tracking Project.

 

This week alone, one in 378 US residents has tested positive for COVID-19, the group said.

Over 1,100 new deaths were also reported on November 12. Over the last week, an average of 1,052 people died each day from COVID-19.

This number of people currently hospitalized, as reported by The COVID Tracking Project, 67,096, is nearly double what it was two weeks ago.

“The current national case surge has been underway for nine weeks,” The COVID Tracking Project said in a blog post explaining the new data, “hospitalizations have risen for seven weeks, and deaths have risen for five.”

Cases are also increasing at the fastest rate since the pandemic began, and not just because there is more testing.

Indeed, the number of cases reported this week is up 41 percent from last, compared to a 13 percent increase in new tests.

Over 234,000 people have now died from the coronavirus. By December 5, that number could be as high as 282,000, according to an analysis by the US Centres for Disease Control and Prevention.

This article was originally published by Business Insider.

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US Could Have 1 Million Daily Virus Cases by The End of The Year, Report Finds

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In March, when New York City hospitals were reeling from an overwhelming surge of coronavirus cases, the US was only catching a glimpse of the bigger crisis to come.

The highest number of cases ever recorded in one day this spring was around 35,000, though many went uncounted. Now, the US has recorded an average of more than 112,000 daily cases over the last seven days. Cases reached an all-time peak of more than 132,000 on Friday.

 

On Monday, the US surpassed 10 million total cases – just 10 days after cases topped 9 million. Before that, it took two weeks for cases to rise from 8 million to 9 million, and three weeks for cases to jump from 7 million to 8 million.

The nation’s weekly per cent positivity rate – the share of coronavirus tests that come back positive – has reached 9 percent. Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, has said the rate should ideally sit below 3 percent. Only six states and Washington, DC, currently meet that threshold. Half of states have test-positivity rates in the double digits. South Dakota’s rate is highest, at around 54 percent.

Experts predict this fall-winter surge will be the largest, and perhaps deadliest, yet. Indeed, the second surge the country experienced over the summer, from June through August, resulted in nearly 4.2 million cases. Since September, the US has already recorded about 4 million more.

According to a recent prediction from Pantheon Macroeconomics, the US could be on track to record 1 million daily coronavirus cases by the end of 2020 if average cases continue to grow 34 percent from week to week, as they are currently.

new daily cases bi chart

The US is ‘about to enter COVID hell’

Other models offer more conservative, albeit still troubling, estimates.

The University of Washington’s Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation, for instance, predicts that daily cases could peak at nearly 306,000 on December 31. (The institute defines daily cases as all infections on a given day, not just new cases identified through testing.)

 

If states continue to relax restrictions, the model suggests the fall-winter surge could be even worse, reaching a peak of nearly 793,000 daily cases on January 23. The institute’s model predicts that 160,000 more people in the US could die of the coronavirus from now through February 1.

“I am tremendously concerned,” Megan Ranney, an emergency-medicine physician at Brown University, told Business Insider.

“The other surges were very localised,” she added. “This is different because it is truly nationwide.”

Weekly hospitalizations have also risen about 18 percent from week to week. If that trend continues, daily hospitalizations could triple to 180,000 by the end of the year.

On Monday, Dr. Michael Osterholm, a recent appointee to President-elect Joe Biden’s coronavirus advisory board, told CNBC that the US was “about to enter COVID hell.”

But public-experts say the US can lower daily cases – and consequently, deaths – this winter, before a vaccine hits the market. The solution would involve more lockdown restrictions.

Lockdown measures could prevent a worst-case scenario

In a Monday report, Pantheon Macroeconomics’ chief economist, Ian Sherpherdson, warned that the US should brace for the worst-case scenario of 1 million daily cases this winter. The longer states and cities wait to impose lockdown restrictions, he added, the more likely that scenario becomes.

“When it gets as bad as it appears to be in some parts of the country, and potentially others in the weeks to come, you really have little choice left than to do a short-term lockdown, trying to get the numbers down to a point where testing and contact tracing can actually have an impact,” Marissa Levine, a public-health professor at the University of South Florida, told Business Insider. “I hate to say that because we didn’t necessarily have to be in this position.”

 

Many states are taking the opposite approach, however.

In October, Texas began allowing counties with relatively few coronavirus hospitalizations to reopen bars and other businesses at limited capacity. Pennsylvania, too, started permitting venues like concerts and stadiums to operate at 10 percent to 25 percent occupancy. Restaurants in South Carolina have been able to operate at full capacity since October 2.

Other states have reinstated some restrictions, but not nearly to the extent that they did in the spring.

Illinois, Massachussetts, and New Mexico recently imposed curfews that limit how late certain businesses can remain open. Illinois began prohibiting indoor dining in bars and restaurants earlier this month. And at the end of October, Michigan reduced the maximum capacity at indoor venues from 500 people to 50.

Some other states – including Delaware, Louisiana, Maine, and North Carolina – have simply put their reopening plans on pause.

Public-health experts say it’s likely that under a Biden administration, states may get more concrete guidelines as to when they can safely reopen or should enact new restrictions. Biden’s campaign website at one time stated that if elected, he would tailor reopening guidelines to individual communities based on their levels of transmission.

 

But any lockdown is likely to be met with some opposition, due to a combination of pandemic fatigue and politics.

“Even if we make it completely clear: ‘This is the line, if you cross this line, you should shut down,’ it’s still ultimately a political decision,” Ingrid Katz, an assistant professor at Harvard Medical School, told Business Insider. “If decisions are being driven by forces other than science, then they are not always going to be decisions that are in people’s best interests.”

This article was originally published by Business Insider.

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In Just 24 Hours, The US Has Recorded Over 200,000 New COVID-19 Cases

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The United States on Tuesday far exceeded its previous daily record of new COVID-19 cases, adding 201,961 cases in 24 hours, according to the tally compiled by Johns Hopkins University.

 

The high number, partly due to data delayed over the weekend, took total cases in the US to 10,238,243, with a total of 239,588 deaths, as of 8:30 pm (0130 GMT).

In the 24-hour period, 1,535 deaths from COVID-19 were registered, a record in recent months as the US struggles to contain the spread of the pandemic.

For a week now, the number of new infections has trended at over 100,000 each day.

Coronavirus hospitalizations have also hit an all-time high, with more than 60,000 people hospitalized across the country, according to the COVID Tracking Project.

President Donald Trump, who has refused to concede defeat in the November 3 election, has repeatedly mocked people for wearing masks and claimed the virus would go away by itself.

But his victorious opponent Joe Biden has vowed to take a more proactive approach, telling the nation this week that face coverings are the single best way to get the virus under control.

US pharma giant Pfizer and its German partner BioNTech announced Monday that their vaccine candidate was 90 percent effective in preventing COVID-19, marking a major breakthrough in the search for a vaccine.

© Agence France-Presse

 



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The Oxford University COVID-19 Vaccine Trial Is Officially Back On

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Clinical trials of one of the most advanced experimental COVID-19 vaccines resumed Saturday after a brief safety pause, as infection numbers continued to march upward in countries across the globe.

 

The world’s hopes for a reprieve from the pandemic were dealt a blow earlier in the week when pharmaceutical company AstraZeneca and Oxford University announced they had “voluntarily paused” their vaccine trial after a UK volunteer developed an unexplained illness.

But on Saturday the trial was given the all clear by British regulators to resume following a safety review. The company also announced it was resuming clinical trials in Brazil next Monday after being given the green light there as well.

The global death toll from the coronavirus has risen to 916,000 with 28.5 million infections, while France and the United Arab Emirates posted grim new milestones for daily infections on Saturday.

And with billions still suffering from the fallout of the pandemic, a worldwide race for a vaccine is underway, with nine companies already in late-stage Phase 3 trials.

Even during the pause, AstraZeneca said it remained hopeful that the vaccine could still be available “by the end of this year, early next year”.

Oxford University said that “in large trials such as this, it is expected that some participants will become unwell and every case must be carefully evaluated”.

 

Charlotte Summers, lecturer in intensive care medicine at Cambridge University, said the pause showed the researchers’ commitment “to putting safety at the heart of their development programme.”

“To tackle the global COVID-19 pandemic, we need to develop vaccines and therapies that people feel comfortable using, therefore it is vital to maintaining public trust that we stick to the evidence and do not draw conclusions before information is available,” she said.

Backlash

That public trust will be crucial to convincing a public that is impatient for a vaccine – and in some corners sceptical.

Among the impatient is US President Donald Trump, who has been accused by rival Joe Biden of “undermining public confidence” by regularly raising the possibility that a vaccine will be ready before November’s election.

The Republican president is under pressure as the US toll continues to rise, nearing 6.5 million cases on Saturday with more than 193,000 deaths – by far the most in either measure in the world.

Biden also called Trump “reckless” for holding a rally in the Nevada city of Reno even after the venue had to be changed because the event breached local COVID-19 restrictions. Television images of the rally Saturday showed a packed outdoors crowd, with few wearing face masks.

 

Some of those potentially sceptical about a vaccine meanwhile turned out in numerous German cities and Poland’s capital Warsaw on Saturday, protesting against anti-coronavirus measures and often defying mask-wearing rules.

The movement is made up of a number of different groups, from self-declared “free thinkers” to anti-vaccine campaigners, conspiracy theorists and far-right activists.

France, UAE milestones

There are signs of a resurgence of the virus in numerous countries that lifted many coronavirus measures after beating back the first wave of infections months ago.

France reported 10,000 new infections on Saturday, the country’s highest daily number since launching wide-scale testing.

The milestone came a day after Prime Minister Jean Castex declined to announce any new major restrictions despite a “clear worsening” in the country’s outbreak.

“We have to succeed in living with this virus, without returning to the idea of a generalised lockdown,” Castex said.

Another country to hit a daily milestone on Saturday was the United Arab Emirates, which recorded more than 1,000 new coronavirus cases for the first time.

In Spain, which this week became the first EU country to pass half a million infections, a case was detected among Princess Leonor’s classmates.

 

The 14-year-old heiress to the Spanish throne – who only returned to school in Madrid on Wednesday – will now have to observe a two-week quarantine.

The uncle of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, businessman Mohamad Makhlouf, died from COVID-19 on Saturday, two close sources told AFP.

And in Latin America, which this week passed the milestone of eight million virus cases, worst-hit Brazil charted more than 131,000 deaths from COVID-19 as of Saturday, the second-highest in the world behind the US.

Latvia meanwhile reinstated a compulsory 14-day quarantine for arrivals from neighbouring Estonia due to an upsurge in cases there.

© Agence France-Presse

 



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Scientists Concerned Over ‘Data Inconsistencies’ in Russian COVID-19 Vaccine Trial

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The Lancet medical journal said Thursday it had asked authors of a study on a potential Russian COVID-19 vaccine for clarifications after their research came under scrutiny.

Russia announced last month that its vaccine, named “Sputnik V” after the Soviet-era satellite that was the first launched into space in 1957, had already received approval.

 

This raised concerns among Western scientists over a lack of safety data, with some warning that moving too quickly on a vaccine could be dangerous.

Russian researchers published their trial findings last week in the Lancet, meaning their research had undergone review from a selection of their peers.

It said that the vaccine had proven to be “safe and well-tolerated” among a few dozen volunteers.

However an open letter signed this week by more than 30 Europe-based experts cast doubt on the findings, pointing towards “potential data inconsistencies”.

The researchers identified what they said appeared to be a number of duplications in figures presented and concluded that the data within the study was “highly unlikely” to be correct.

The lead study author was quoted Thursday by Russia’s RIA Novosti news agency saying he rejected the letter’s claims.

A spokeswoman for The Lancet told AFP that they were aware of the open letter.

“We have shared the letter directly with the authors and encouraged them to engage in the scientific discussion,” she said.

The spokeswoman added that the research had been reviewed by independent experts before publication.

The pandemic has seen an unprecedented mobilisation of funding and research to rush through a vaccine that can protect billions of people worldwide.

Pharma giant AstraZeneca said this week it was halting Phase 3 trials of its candidate vaccine, developed with the University of Oxford, after one volunteer fell ill.

© Agence France-Presse

 



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Harvard Scientist Says We Need More Cheap, ‘Crappy’ Tests For COVID-19. Here’s Why

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The aphorism “perfect is the enemy of good enough” has been played out to tragic effect in the US’s inadequate testing for the coronavirus, according to researchers calling for quick tests that cost only about a dollar each, and which may not be as accurate but can be carried out several times a week by the whole population.

 

Michael Mina, assistant professor of epidemiology at Harvard University, has for weeks been pushing for what he calls “crappy” tests.

His idea is to move away from the current high-precision molecular tests, known as PCR tests, which are still scarce in large swathes of the country and which people often have to wait hours to get done, and then have to wait days – or up to a week – for the results.

He has called for the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) to authorize the sale of rapid tests which can be done out at home using a strip of paper that changes color in a quarter of an hour to give a result, similar to a pregnancy test.

These tests have a low sensitivity, which means they miss a lot of positive results, and hence give a lot of “false positives.”

But for Mina and other experts, such a strategy would be more effective in terms of public health because across the whole population, the number of cases identified would be higher than under the current system.

 

The quick tests tend to be good at detecting people who emit a large amount of virus, which is when they are more contagious, right at the beginning, while the PCR tests are very sensitive and can detect even small concentrations of the virus, when people are no longer as contagious.

“We’re so focused on high-end expensive tests that we’re not testing anyone,” said Mina in the podcast “This Week in Virology.”

“Maybe we only need a really crappy test,’ he said.

“If it’s cheap enough to use it very frequently, then if it doesn’t detect less than five percent of people when they’re transmitting, maybe it detects 85 percent of people when they’re transmitting. And that’s a huge win over what we have right now.”

The head of Harvard’s Global Health Institute, Ashish Jha, touched on the subject on Monday.

“They’re not actually crappy tests,” he told reporters. “In certain circumstances they are not so sensitive when you have very low amounts of virus, and you’re not doing much spreading. But when you’re actually really infectious, you have large amounts of virus in your throat elsewhere and the test becomes much, much better,” he said.

 

“From an epidemiologic point of view, that’s when you want to capture people. You want to get them when they’re infectious,” he said.

Even if rapid tests miss half the cases, it is likely that with two tests a week, they will end up detecting them.

It must also be noted that the current system is thought to be missing nine cases out of ten because so few people are being tested, according to estimates by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

The FDA has still not authorized the sale of any of the paper strip tests, which would cost between one and five dollars.

“I’m worried that our federal government is still stuck in a mental model that doesn’t make sense for this pandemic,” said Jha.

© Agence France-Presse

 





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US Has Accused Russia of Firing an Anti-Satellite Weapon in Space

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The United States accused Russia on Thursday of test-firing an anti-satellite weapon in space, warning that the threat against Washington’s systems was “real, serious and increasing.”

 

US Space Command “has evidence” that Moscow “conducted a non-destructive test of a space-based anti-satellite weapon” on July 15, it said in a statement.

“Last week’s test is another example that the threats to US and Allied space systems are real, serious and increasing,” the statement continued.

“Clearly this is unacceptable,” tweeted US nuclear disarmament negotiator Marshall Billingslea, adding that it would be a “major issue” discussed next week in Vienna, where he is in talks on a successor to the New START treaty.

The treaty caps the nuclear warheads of the US and Russia – the two Cold War-era superpowers.

On Thursday, President Donald Trump told his Russian counterpart Vladimir Putin that he hopes to avoid an “expensive” arms race with Russia and China.

The system used to conduct last week’s test is the same one that Space Command raised concerns about earlier this year, when it manoeuvred near a US government satellite, said General Jay Raymond, head of US Space Command.

“This is further evidence of Russia’s continuing efforts to develop and test space-based systems, and consistent with the Kremlin’s published military doctrine to employ weapons that hold US and allied space assets at risk,” Raymond said in a statement.

 

It is the latest example of Russian satellites behaving in a manner “inconsistent with their stated mission,” the Space Command statement added.

“This event highlights Russia’s hypocritical advocacy of outer space arms control,” said Christopher Ford, a US assistant secretary of state for arms control.

The statement also came as China launched a rover to Mars on Thursday, a journey coinciding with a similar US mission as the powers take their rivalry into deep space.

© Agence France-Presse

 





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US Coronavirus Cases Smash Daily Record as Global Infections Soar

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New daily coronavirus cases in the United States soared past 50,000 for the first time Wednesday, as the World Health Organization delivered a grave warning that the global pandemic is accelerating.

 

Restaurants, bars and beaches in the world’s worst-hit nation closed from California to Florida, as states reeling from yet another surge in the deadly virus braced for Independence Day festivities.

Global infections have hit their highest level in the past week, WHO data showed, with chief Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus saying new cases topped “160,000 on every single day.”

The grim milestone came as the European Union left the United States, Brazil and Russia off its final list of nations safe enough to allow residents to enter its borders.

With more than 52,000 new COVID-19 cases in the United States alone in the past 24 hours, according to a Johns Hopkins University tally, several US states imposed 14-day quarantines on visitors in the buildup to the long weekend’s July 4 celebrations.

California suspended indoor dining at restaurants in Los Angeles and several counties, while New York scrapped plans to allow restaurants to seat customers inside from next week.

President Donald Trump reiterated his belief that the contagion will “at some point… sort of just disappear, I hope.”

But the US leader who has yet to be seen in public wearing a face mask during the pandemic added he would have “no problem” doing so.

 

EU travel ban eased

The rollbacks came as the European Union reopened its borders to visitors from 15 countries.

The bloc hopes relaxing restrictions on countries from Algeria to Uruguay will breathe life into its tourism sector, choked by a ban on non-essential travel since mid-March.

Travelers from China, where the virus first emerged late last year, will be allowed to enter the EU only if Beijing reciprocates.

And Brazil – which has suffered the most deaths globally for the last week, and is the second-worst affected country overall – was excluded entirely.

It topped 60,000 total fatalities Wednesday, after suffering 1,000 deaths in just 24 hours.

However, with over 10 million known infections worldwide and more than 500,000 deaths, the pandemic is “not even close to being over”, the WHO warned.

Data provided by the UN health agency for the seven days from June 25-July 1 showed the highest number of new daily cases ever recorded came on June 28, when over 189,500 new cases were registered worldwide.

Dutch brothels reopen

According to the United Nations, the coronavirus crisis could cost global tourism and related sectors from $1.2 to $3.3 trillion in lost revenue.

Greece, which has suffered fewer than 200 virus deaths, has seen its economy hit hard by lockdowns and travel restrictions – all but ending its lucrative tourism season before it began.

 

Romanian Cojan Dragos was “the first tourist” in one Corfu hotel after driving there with his wife and daughter.

“We have the whole hotel just for us,” he told AFP.

Separately, Spain and Portugal held a ceremony as they reopened their land border.

The Netherlands also confirmed the reopening Wednesday of another tourist draw – its brothels and red-light districts.

“I’m totally booked,” said sex worker Foxxy, adding that she had held a “little party” when she heard restrictions would be lifted.

Clusters spur new lockdowns

Russia did not make the EU’s list of approved countries so its citizens will be absent from the bloc’s tourist hot-spots.

The country, however, enjoyed a public holiday Wednesday as it voted in a referendum to approve constitutional changes allowing President Vladimir Putin to stay in power for another 16 years.

Putin was forced to postpone the vote in April as his government tackled an outbreak that has infected almost 650,000 people – the third-highest in the world.

In other countries, clusters are still causing problems.

Parts of the Australian city of Melbourne suffered sharp rises in infections, spurring new stay-at-home measures.

 

The Palestinian Authority announced a five-day lockdown across the West Bank after a surge in confirmed cases.

And textile factories in the central British city of Leicester were suggested as the reason for a spike in infections that has prompted the reimposition of local restrictions.

Americas spike

In the United States, spikes across southern and western states are driving a surge in national infections.

Texas, which again smashed its daily COVID-19 record with over 8,000 new cases, joined Florida and California in closing some beaches for the upcoming holiday weekend.

Apple announced it would close another 30 US stores on Thursday, half of them in California.

A further 700 deaths nationwide took the US past 128,000 deaths in total.

The Pan American Health Organization warned that the death toll in Latin America and the Caribbean could quadruple to more than 400,000 by October without stricter public health measures.

The US government announced this week it had bought 92 percent of all remdesivir production – the first drug to be shown to be relatively effective in treating COVID-19.

Britain and Germany, however, said Wednesday they had sufficient stocks of the drug.

Corona baby

In Britain, some 1,500 acts from Ed Sheeran and Coldplay to Paul McCartney and The Rolling Stones urged the county’s government to save the live music industry, which has been collapsing because of the coronavirus.

But while lockdown measures have been a disaster for many, some have welcomed the chance to spend more quality time with hard-working partners.

© Agence France-Presse

 



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