Coronavirus update: England’s lockdown measures start to ease, Brazil records highest daily death toll, another death linked to Ruby Princess

England has tentatively begun easing its coronavirus lockdown, urging thousands to return to work if they can to begin rebuilding a struggling economy.

Brazil has recorded its highest daily death toll, with more than 800 deaths in 24 hours, while South Korea is sticking to its plan to ease restrictions despite a cluster of cases linked to a nightclub district in the capital city.

In Australia, the coronavirus death toll has risen to 98 after another Ruby Princess fatality, while the Chief Medical Officer is seeking advice on a coronavirus-linked condition that has killed three children in the US.

Another death linked to Ruby Princess

NSW health authorities have confirmed an 81-year-old woman who had been a passenger on the Ruby Princess died from COVID-19 yesterday.

The death raises Australia’s coronavirus death toll to 98 and the number of fatalities linked to the cruise ship to 22.

New South Wales confirmed six new coronavirus infections this morning, from more than 8,100 tests. That came after the state announced yesterday that it had gone 24 hours without confirming a new case for the first time since the pandemic began.

Premier Gladys Berejiklian said NSW Health knew the source of three of the new cases.

Victoria recorded seven new cases overnight, with none of them linked to the Cedar Meats outbreak in Melbourne. However, the state’s total only went up by by five as two previous cases were reclassified and removed.

Queensland’s tally went up by one this morning, but Premier Annastacia Palaszczuk said it was an “old case”.

Western Australia recorded no new cases this morning, with Premier Mark McGowan saying only one COVID-19 patient remained in hospital in the state.

In the daily coronavirus briefing, Deputy Chief Medical Officer Paul Kelly said the total number of cases recorded nationwide was at 6,975, estimating about 700 people were still sick with COVID-19.

Cuba sends doctors to SA to combat coronavirus

Cuba sent 216 health care workers to SA on Saturday, the latest of more than 20 medical brigades it has sent worldwide to combat the coronavirus pandemic, in what some call socialist solidarity and others medical diplomacy.

The Communist-run country has sent about 1,200 health care workers largely to vulnerable African and Caribbean nations but also to rich European countries such as Italy that have been particularly hard hit by the novel coronavirus.

The administration of US President Donald Trump has urged nations not to accept Cuba’s medical missions on charges it exploits its workers, which Havana denies. But the calls have largely gone unheeded as overwhelmed health care systems have welcomed the help.

Cuba, which has confirmed, 1337 cases of the virus at home and 51 deaths, has one of the world’s highest number of doctors per capita and is renowned for its focus on prevention, community-orientated primary health care and preparedness to fight epidemics.

“The advantage of Cuba is that they are a community health model, one that we would like to use,” South African Health Minister Zweli Mkhize told a news briefing earlier this month.

SA has recorded 4,361 cases, including 86 deaths, with 161,004 people tested for the virus as of Saturday.

The country has a special relationship with Cuba, which supported the fight against apartheid — a conflict that included Cuban troops who fought and died in southern Angola. After Nelson Mandela was freed from prison in 1990, he repeatedly thanked revolutionary leader Fidel Castro.

SA sent medical supplies to Cuba to assist in the fight against coronavirus in the plane that is now returning with the Cuban medical brigade, Cuba’s embassy there wrote on Twitter.

“These are times of solidarity and co-operation. If we act together, we can halt the spread of coronavirus in a faster and more cost effective manner,” Cuba’s ambassador to SA, Rodolfo Benítez Verson, said in a statement.

Cuba has sent its “armies of white robes” to disaster sites and disease outbreaks about the world largely in poor countries since its 1959 leftist revolution. Its doctors were in the front lines in the fight against cholera in Haiti and against ebola in West Africa in the 2010s.

Cuba also exports doctors in exchange for cash, often sending them to remote, impoverished locations where local doctors do not want to work.

Medical services exports are its top source of hard currency, ahead of tourism or sugar, despite the governments of Brazil, Bolivia and Ecuador sending their Cuban doctors packing in recent years after shifting to the right.

Cuba has more than 37,000 health care workers in 67 countries worldwide, according to the foreign ministry.

Chinese experts arrive to help Nigeria in coronavirus fight

A team of Chinese medical professionals on Wednesday arrived at Abuja’s Nnamdi Azikwe International Airport, Nigeria flying in medical equipment worth about 1.5 million US dollars.

The Chinese ambassador to Nigeria, Zhou Pingjian, whiles welcoming the 15-man team said it is time to “reciprocate the friendship and kindness” offered by Nigeria.

The value of the equipment, medical supplies is about $1.5 million, and including the other cost like the chartered air flight, it’s around $2 million, the ambassador disclosed.

China where the COVID-19 disease was discovered in late 2019 has dispatched medics and supplies across the globe in a soft power push. The government placed the team into mandatory 14-day quarantine before they can start their duties.

The decision to welcome the Chinese doctors has however prompted a backlash from the Nigerian Medical Association which argued that Nigeria did not need external intervention to manage the ongoing pandemic. But top government officials including the Health Minister defended the deployment stressing that the Chinese team will help advise local authorities on handling the pandemic.

Minister Osagie Ehanire told reporters: “This is a global problem, you know that this is affecting the whole world in such a way that all countries must help each other and we must also be our brothers keeper.”

Nigeria as of April 9 has recorded 276 confirmed cases of COVID-19 with and six deaths. The West African country is the continent’s most populous and is classed highly vulnerable to the spread of the virus due to its weak healthcare system.

The country has already received medical supplies, including masks, gowns and testing kits from China’s richest man Jack Ma.

Meanwhile the opposition People Democratic Party, PDP, kicked against what it called the importation of Chinese medics.

A statement released by the main opposition party on Wednesday read in part: “The PDP charges Nigerians to hold President Buhari responsible should there be any upsurge in the rate of COVID-19 infection and death in our country following the importation of doctors from China, the epicenter of the scourge, by the Buhari-led Federal Government.

“The PDP is alarmed that President Buhari ignored the protests by Nigerians and professional bodies including the Nigerian Medical Association (NMA) and allowed the importation of the Chinese doctors despite warnings that bringing in doctors from the hotbed of the plague will expose our citizens to further risks.

“This is even as Nigerians across board have continued to question the status, identity and interest of the Chinese doctors as well as the safety of kits and equipment from China, particularly following scary reports of escalation of the scourge in certain countries reportedly after the arrival of Chinese medical personnel in those countries.”

Africa: Make Sure COVID-19 Measures Work for Africans – Moeti

Cape Town — The low infection rates in Africa countries could be a result of a lesser capacity to test for COVID-19, relative to other countries where it has spread, and not necessarily an accurate reflection of the rates of new infections, according to the latest WHO briefing on the virus.

Having said that, the WHO Africa region and the Africa Centres for Disease Control and its partners have been hard at work training health workers, advising governments and putting health resources in place to remedy the continent’s testing capacity.

“Infections are increasingly spreading not only between African countries but within different localities in the hardest-hit countries. Coupled with this as the flu seasons starts to kick in, especially in Southern African countries there is expected to be an increase in COVID-19 cases,” said Dr Matshidiso Moeti, Africa Regional Director of the World Health Organization (WHOAfro).

Dr. Moeti also addressed concerns about the economic and social dimensions of the lockdowns put in place by a number of African countries.

“The potential economic impact is a great concern and it requires that governments should then put in place mitigation measures in order for example for people at the lowest socio-economic level not to suffer unduly from the fact that many of them work in the informal sector of the economy and do not have formal employment, some of the people are working as market stall holders and need to earn some money everyday in order to put food on the table.

“There is a need to balance the feasibility of some of these physical distancing measures in contexts where families live in very small spaces, have very communal types of lives and actually physical distancing in the house might be quite a challenge. These are some of the considerations that we’ve seen in some countries that have imposed these measures,” Moeti said.

“Physical distancing is a very important component of controlling this virus. We’ve seen it applied in contexts which are quite different from Africa, and where it is being applied in Africa there needs to be very careful, thoughtful analysis and an urgent putting in place of mitigation measures to ensure that these measures are feasible for the population and people who are vulnerable don’t suffer unduly.

“For socially restrictive measures to be effective, they must be accompanied by strong, sustained and targeted public health measures that locate, isolate, test and treat COVID-19 cases,” Moeti said.

Lola Castro, the World Food Programme Regional Director for Southern Africa, says there needs to an effort to look at the differing needs of urban and rural populations in terms of food security. She also emphasised the need to maintain regional trade from food-producing countries to their neighbours in order to secure the supply of food.

” It’s vital that ports continue to operate to receive food and other essential humanitarian cargo; that borders and roads stay open so it can be moved where it is most needed; and that distributions to vulnerable people are conducted safely,” said Castro.

” It’s also crucial that the international community promptly provide the considerable funding needed to maintain and scale up assistance programmes.”

Snakes Could Be the Source of the Coronavirus Outbreak in China

Source: Discover Magazine

Snakes – the Chinese krait and the Chinese cobra – may be involved in the newly discovered coronavirus that has triggered an outbreak of a deadly infectious respiratory illness in China this winter.

Snakes – the Chinese krait and the Chinese cobra – may be the original source of the newly discovered coronavirus that has triggered an outbreak of a deadly infectious respiratory illness in China this winter.

The illness was first reported in late December 2019 in Wuhan, a major city in central China, and has been rapidly spreading. Since then, sick travelers from Wuhan have infected people in China and other countries, including the United States.

Using samples of the virus isolated from patients, scientists in China have determined the genetic code of the virus and used microscopes to photograph it. The pathogen responsible for this pandemic is a new coronavirus. It’s in the same family of viruses as the well-known severe acute respiratory syndrome coronavirus (SARS-CoV) and Middle East respiratory syndrome coronavirus (MERS-CoV), which have killed hundreds of people in the past 17 years. The World Health Organization (WHO) has named the new coronavirus 2019-nCoV.

We are virologists and journal editors and are closely following this outbreak because there are many questions that need to be answered to curb the spread of this public health threat.

What Is a Coronavirus?
The name of coronavirus comes from its shape, which resembles a crown or solar corona when imaged using an electron microscope.

Coronavirus is transmitted through the air and primarily infects the upper respiratory and gastrointestinal tract of mammals and birds. Though most of the members of the coronavirus family only cause mild flu-like symptoms during infection, SARS-CoV and MERS-CoV can infect both upper and lower airways and cause severe respiratory illness and other complications in humans.

This new 2019-nCoV causes similar symptoms to SARS-CoV and MERS-CoV. People infected with these coronaviruses suffer a severe inflammatory response.

Unfortunately, there is no approved vaccine or antiviral treatment available for coronavirus infection. A better understanding of the life cycle of 2019-nCoV, including the source of the virus, how it is transmitted and how it replicates are needed to both prevent and treat the disease.

Zoonotic Transmission
Both SARS and MERS are classified as zoonotic viral diseases, meaning the first patients who were infected acquired these viruses directly from animals. This was possible because while in the animal host, the virus had acquired a series of genetic mutations that allowed it to infect and multiply inside humans.

Now these viruses can be transmitted from person to person. Field studies have revealed that the original source of SARS-CoV and MERS-CoV is the bat, and that the masked palm civets (a mammal native to Asia and Africa) and camels, respectively, served as intermediate hosts between bats and humans.

In the case of this 2019 coronavirus outbreak, reports state that most of the first group of patients hospitalized were workers or customers at a local seafood wholesale market which also sold processed meats and live consumable animals including poultry, donkeys, sheep, pigs, camels, foxes, badgers, bamboo rats, hedgehogs and reptiles. However, since no one has ever reported finding a coronavirus infecting aquatic animals, it is plausible that the coronavirus may have originated from other animals sold in that market.

The hypothesis that the 2019-nCoV jumped from an animal at the market is strongly supported by a new publication in the Journal of Medical Virology. The scientists conducted an analysis and compared the genetic sequences of 2019-nCoV and all other known coronaviruses.

The study of the genetic code of 2019-nCoV reveals that the new virus is most closely related to two bat SARS-like coronavirus samples from China, initially suggesting that, like SARS and MERS, the bat might also be the origin of 2019-nCoV. The authors further found that the DNA coding sequence of 2019-nCoV spike protein, which forms the “crown” of the virus particle that recognizes the receptor on a host cell, indicates that the bat virus might have mutated before infecting people.

But when the researchers performed a more detailed bioinformatics analysis of the sequence of 2019-nCoV, it suggests that this coronavirus might come from snakes.

From Bats to Snakes
The researchers used an analysis of the protein codes favored by the new coronavirus and compared it to the protein codes from coronaviruses found in different animal hosts, like birds, snakes, marmots, hedgehogs, manis, bats and humans. Surprisingly, they found that the protein codes in the 2019-nCoV are most similar to those used in snakes.

Snakes often hunt for bats in wild. Reports indicate that snakes were sold in the local seafood market in Wuhan, raising the possibility that the 2019-nCoV might have jumped from the host species – bats – to snakes and then to humans at the beginning of this coronavirus outbreak. However, how the virus could adapt to both the cold-blooded and warm-blooded hosts remains a mystery.

The authors of the report and other researchers must verify the origin of the virus through laboratory experiments. Searching for the 2019-nCoV sequence in snakes would be the first thing to do. However, since the outbreak, the seafood market has been disinfected and shut down, which makes it challenging to trace the new virus’ source animal.

Sampling DNA from animals sold at the market and from wild snakes and bats is needed to confirm the origin of the virus. Nonetheless, the reported findings will also provide insights for developing prevention and treatment protocols.

The 2019-nCoV outbreak is another reminder that people should limit the consumption of wild animals to prevent zoonotic infections.

China confirms Wuhan virus can be spread by humans

Hong Kong (CNN) — Officials in China are racing to contain the outbreak of a new virus that has left at least nine people dead and sickened more than 440, after it was confirmed the infection can be passed between humans.
The spread of the respiratory virus to Thailand, Japan, South Korea, Taiwan, and now the United States, is fueling fears of a broader epidemic, as China enters its busiest travel period of the year.
Wuhan, the central Chinese city where the coronavirus was first detected, announced a series of new measures Tuesday, including the cancellation of upcoming Lunar New Year celebrations, which had been expected to attract hundreds of thousands of people.

Tour agencies have been banned from taking groups out of Wuhan and the number of thermal monitors and screening areas in public spaces will be increased. Traffic police will also conduct spot checks on private vehicles coming in and out of the city to look for live poultry or wild animals, after the virus was linked to a seafood and live animal market, according to a report by state media outlet the People’s Daily, citing Wuhan’s Municipal Health Commission.

The new measures come after Chinese President Xi Jinping ordered “resolute efforts to curb the spread” of the virus Monday.
There are now fears, however, that efforts to contain it are coming too late, hampered by a slow-moving Chinese bureaucracy which failed to put sufficient measures in place in time.

In the coming days, hundreds of millions of Chinese are expected to begin traveling across the country and overseas as the annual Lunar New Year break gets fully underway, compounding concerns of a further spike in cases.
Though infections were first detected in Wuhan in mid-December, infrared temperature screening areas were not installed in the city’s airports and stations until January 14, according to state media.

More than 440 cases of the virus have been confirmed across China, with the majority in Wuhan itself, but also as far afield as Beijing, Shanghai and Guangdong province, near Hong Kong.

The death toll rose to nine Wednesday morning. Among the victims are a 66-year-old man and a 48-year-old woman who died on January 20, according to the Wuhan Municipal Health Commission. The majority of those who have died as a result of the virus have been elderly and had pre-existing conditions.

Cases confirmed worldwide

Around a month after the virus was first identified in Wuhan, it has already spread well beyond mainland China.
In Asia, cases have been detected in Taiwan, South Korea, Thailand and Japan, while authorities in the US confirmed their first case on Tuesday and there have been reports of potential cases in Australia.
Despite initial reports that the virus was unlikely to spread between humans, Chinese health authorities have now said there is “definitely human-to-human transmission.” One patient is believed to have infected as many as 14 medical staff in one hospital, suggesting the disease can be spread far more easily than previously thought.
The specter of SARS (severe acute respiratory syndrome), which infected more than 8,000 people and killed 774 in a pandemic that ripped through Asia in 2002 and 2003, has loomed large over discussion of the current virus.
During the SARS outbreak, Chinese authorities initially downplayed the dangers and censored coverage, preventing people from realizing the severity of the virus and taking action in time to stop its spread.
Zhong Nanshan, an expert with China’s National Health Commission who is investigating the Wuhan virus, told state media Monday that while it is not as serious as SARS, the number of people with the disease was “climbing” and suggested that the “death rate at the moment is not so representative.”
A study by researchers in the UK estimated that the number of infections in Wuhan is still grossly underestimated, with the real number closer to 1,700, based on the spread of the virus to other cities and countries in a relatively short period of time.
US authorities announced the country’s first confirmed case on Tuesday. The patient, a young man, had been traveling and arrived at Seattle-Tacoma International Airport in Washington state before health screenings for the virus began.
Travelers wear face masks as they walk outside of the Beijing Railway Station in Beijing, Monday, January 20, 2020.
Travelers wear face masks as they walk outside of the Beijing Railway Station in Beijing, Monday, January 20, 2020.

Worldwide effort

Even before cases were detected in other countries, the efforts to contain the Wuhan coronavirus were international. Wuhan alone has connections to dozens of overseas destinations, and Beijing and Shanghai have hundreds more.
Airports across Asia have stepped up temperature screening of incoming passengers, as have several hubs in the US with connections to Wuhan, including New York, San Francisco and Los Angeles.
With all indications that the virus has a relatively slow incubation time, however, these efforts may be insufficient to stop its spread.
“You cannot absolutely prevent entry into the country of a disease like this. The incubation period is probably a week,” Australia’s chief medical officer, Brendan Murphy, said Tuesday. “It’s about identifying those with a high risk and making sure people with a high risk know about it and know how to get medical attention.”

He said that while there was no cause for immediate alarm, the true number of cases was likely far higher than currently reported and urged people to be vigilant about potential symptoms.
Australian authorities on Tuesday quarantined a man in Brisbane who had returned from Wuhan with possible symptoms of the coronavirus. He will remain in isolation until his symptoms have resolved, Queensland Health authorities said.
Raising concerns about how difficult it is to detect those with the virus, even if they have some symptoms, a patient in South Korea told doctors there she had developed a fever and muscle pains on Saturday and was prescribed cold medicine by a doctor in Wuhan, before being sent on her way. She was later confirmed to have the coronavirus during a check in Seoul.
In the US, the National Institutes of Health is working on a vaccine for the new virus, though it will take at least a few months until the first phase of clinical trials get underway and more than a year until a vaccine might be available.
Scientists in Texas, New York and China are also at work on a vaccine, according to Peter Hotez, a vaccine scientist at Baylor College of Medicine in Houston.

“The lesson we’ve learned is coronavirus infections are serious and one of the newest and biggest global health threats,” Hotez told CNN.
The World Health Organization will convene an emergency meeting on Wednesday to determine whether the outbreak constitutes a public health emergency of “international concern” and what recommendations should be made to help manage its spread.

CNN’s Yong Xiong and Angus Watson contributed reporting from Beijing. Journalist Isaac Yee contributed from Hong Kong.