Europe’s COVID-19 hot spots saw no let-up in activity today, with record high deaths reported in Italy and the virus sickening Britain’s prime minister and two of its top health officials.
Meanwhile, with another rush of cases reported from Italy, the country topped China’s total and is now second only to the United States. The global total today climbed to 590,594 cases from 176 countries, including 26,865 deaths, according to the Johns Hopkins online dashboard.
At a media telebriefing today, World Health Organization (WHO) Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, PhD, said he met with 50 health ministers from around the world today to share lessons learned, such as the need for early isolation and detection, and to express challenges. He added that shortages of personal protective equipment is one of the most urgent threats to the outbreak response.
“When health workers are at risk, we are all at risk,” Tedros said.
In another development, Tedros announced that the first patients were enrolled today in the Solidarity Trial, a massive international effort to quickly generate robust safety and effectiveness data on four different drug regimens. He said at least 45 countries have agreed to participate, with more interested.
Tedros said based on the experience with Ebola, what looks promising on paper or in a test tube may not show a benefit in people. “We must follow the evidence. There are no shortcuts,” he said.
Europe’s hot spots continue steady rises
In the Britain, Prime Minister Boris Johnson said on Twitter today that his mild symptoms began over the last day and that he tested positive for COVID-19 and is self-isolating. He added that will continue to lead the government’s pandemic response by teleconference.
Shortly after, the BBC reported that UK Health Secretary Matt Hancock tested positive for the virus and also has mild symptoms and is isolating at home. Chris Whitty, CB, DSC, the UK’s chief medical officer, said on Twitter today that he started having similar symptoms last night and is isolating at home.
The UK today reported 2,885 new cases and 181 more deaths, putting its respective totals at 14,579 and 759.
Elsewhere, Italy reported 919 more deaths today, its biggest 1-day fatality total, raising the number to 9,134. It also reported 5,909 new cases, boosting its total to 86,498.
The chief of Italy’s Superior Health Institute said today that Italy hasn’t reached its peak yet, Reuters reported. Silvio Brusaferro, MD, said there are some signs of a slowdown and that the peak may not be far away, and he added that the downward case trend will depend on how strictly Italians observe movement restrictions.
In Spain, the European country with the second highest total, health officials reported 6,273 more illnesses today, for a total of 64,059. The country also reported 569 more deaths, lifting the fatality count to 4,934.
Health officials in Madrid have stopped using a rapid test made in China, after researchers found it wasn’t accurate enough, with only a 30% accuracy rate, the South China Morning Post reported. The government had ordered 340,000 of the kits.
Germany, which has Europe’s third highest total, has 42,288 cases today, 51 of them fatal, according to the Robert Koch Institute.
Worries about Mideast’s most fragile nations
Ahmed Al-Mandhari, MD, who directs the WHO’s Eastern Mediterranean regional office (EMRO), today raised concerns about new reports of COVID-19 cases in Syria, which has five, and Libya, which has one. In a statement, he said that though many developed countries are struggling with their responses, outbreaks in countries with fragile health systems are especially worrisome.
For example, in Syria, which has endured 9 years of war, only about half of hospitals and health centers were operating by the end of 2019, and thousands of healthcare workers have fled the country. Millions of displaced people are in the country’s northwest, and it’s a matter of time until the first COVID-19 cases appear there, Al-Mandhari said. And in Libya, growing insecurity and a weak health system limit the country’s ability to mount a response.
Al-Mandhari detailed WHO actions in both countries, which included shipping more tests to Syria and helping Libya bolster its surveillance system.
Elsewhere in the Middle East, a steady surge of cases continued in Iran today, with 2,926 more cases and 144 more deaths, putting its respective totals at 32,332 and 2,378.
According to the WHO EMRO, 38,602 cases have been reported from 22 countries. Besides Iran, the countries with the second highest numbers of cases include Pakistan (1,197) and Saudi Arabia (1,104).
COVID-19 on another cruise ship; Asia developments
The Holland America Zaandam cruise ship is stranded off the coast of Panama, where 53 guests and 85 crew have flulike illness and 2 so far have tested positive for COVID-19 and 4 elderly passengers have died, Business Insider reported.
The story added that plans were in the works to transfer healthy passengers to another ship. The ship’s destination is Fort Lauderdale, Fla., and it has 1,243 guests and 586 crew on board.
In Asian developments:
- Hong Kong’s Center for Health Protection today reported 65 more cases, its biggest 1-day total. Of those, 41 had a travel history.
- Singapore’s health ministry today reported 49 new cases, 22 of them imported.
- Japan’s health ministry today reported 96 more cases and 4 more asymptomatic carriers.
- China today reported 55 more cases, 54 of them imported and 1 a local case from Zhejiang province, the country’s National Health Commission reported today.