COVID-19 pandemic ‘is not even close to being over’, WHO chief says

The head of the WHO’s emergencies program, Mike Ryan, told the briefing that tremendous progress had been made towards finding a safe and effective vaccine to prevent infection, but there was still no guarantee the effort would succeed.

In the meantime, countries could fight the spread of the disease by testing, isolating confirmed cases and tracking their contacts, he said. He singled out Japan, South Korea and Germany for their “comprehensive, sustained strategy” against the virus.

Brazil still faces a “big challenge” in fighting the new coronavirus, he said, and urged federal and state authorities there to work together more closely.

“There is no question. Brazil is still facing a big challenge,” Ryan said. He described the situation in the Americas generally as “difficult”.

Asked to respond to US President Donald Trump’s use of the term “kung flu” or other references to the virus as being Chinese, Ryan urged the use of an “international discourse that is based on mutual respect”.

“Many people have used unfortunate language in this response,” he said. “We try to focus on the way ahead, try to focus on what we need to do.”

In a move sought by the WHO’s biggest critic, the US, Tedros announced that a team would be sent to China next week to investigate the origins of the outbreak.

“We can fight the virus better when we know everything about the virus, including how it started,” Tedros said. “We will be sending a team next week to China to prepare for that.”

Governments backtracking as confirmed virus cases surge

Governments are stepping up testing and reimposing restrictions as newly confirmed coronavirus infections surge in many countries. India reported 20,000 on Monday, while the caseload in the US is growing by about 40,000 a day.

The US on Monday reported 38,800 newly confirmed infections, with the total surpassing 2.5 million, or about a quarter of the more than 10 million cases worldwide, according to a tally by Johns Hopkins University.

Experts say the actual numbers, both in the US and globally, are probably far higher, in part because of testing limitations and the large number of people without symptoms.

Beaches are closing and beer is going untapped as Florida, Texas and other states backpedal on their reopenings, ordering mandatory wearing of masks in public and closing down restaurants and bars.

Lines of cars wait at a coronavirus testing site outside Hard Rock Stadium in Miami Gardens, Florida.

Lines of cars wait at a coronavirus testing site outside Hard Rock Stadium in Miami Gardens, Florida.Credit:AP

India’s 20,000 new infections were another record. Several Indian states reimposed partial or full lockdowns after the total number of cases jumped by nearly 100,000 in one week to about 548,000.

In China, nearly 8.3 million out of about 21 million have undergone testing in recent weeks in Beijing after an outbreak centered on a wholesale market. The country reported just 12 new cases on Monday, including seven in Beijing.

South Korean authorities reported 47 new cases as they struggled to curb outbreaks that have spread from Seoul to other regions.

Widespread testing and contact tracing helped South Korea contain its initial outbreak in which it was finding hundreds of new cases a day in late February and early March. Most of those cases were in the area surrounding the city of Daegu, where many were linked to a single church with thousands of members.

Tracing recent transmissions in the Seoul metropolitan area, home to about about half of the country’s 51 million people, has proved to be more difficult.

South Korean officials have said they are preparing to impose stronger social-distancing measures – including banning gatherings of more than 10 people, shutting schools, halting professional sports and restricting non-essential businesses – if the daily increase in infections doubles more than twice in a week.

US Republicans change tune on masks

Republican lawmakers in the US are making a public push for face coverings, splitting with mask-averse Trump on the issue as COVID-19 cases surge in some Republican-leaning states.

The top Republican in the House of Representatives, Kevin McCarthy, said on Monday that every American had a responsibility to follow recommendations to help slow the spread of the coronavirus.

“They should wear a mask,” McCarthy told CNBC after his home state of California began to roll back efforts to reopen the economy. “If you cannot social distance, you need to be wearing a mask and you need to be respectful to one another.”

Republican Senator Tim Scott of South Carolina, where cases are spiking, posted a similar message on Twitter.

“I am encouraging everyone to WEAR YOUR MASKS!” he said.

Throughout the country, resistance to public health measures has taken on a partisan tinge. A Reuters/Ipsos survey conducted in May found that just one-third of Republicans were “very concerned” about the virus, compared to nearly half of Democrats. Trump eschews wearing a mask in public, while his Democratic opponent in November, Joe Biden, generally wears one.

Broadway theatres to remain closed until next year

Broadway theatres will remain closed until at least January 3, 2021, industry group the Broadway League said on Monday, extending their coronavirus-related shutdown for another four months.

The New York City theatres, which went dark in mid-March, had previously set a tentative reopening date of September 6, but social-distancing requirements for audiences, actors and production staff have made it impossible for plays and musicals to resume.

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Thirty-one Broadway shows were in production when the shutdown began. Those that come back are expected to resume over a series of rolling dates in early 2021, the Broadway League said in a statement. The organisation is developing safeguards to help prevent the spread of the coronavirus among audience members, actors and staff.

Producers of some shows, including the stage musical version of the Disney film Frozen, have said they will not return at all.

Others are looking even further ahead to the spring of 2021.

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Reuters, AP, with staff reporters

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