- Number of confirmed coronavirus cases worldwide surpasses 18 million.
- Norwegian cruise ship passengers, crew test positive for coronavirus.
- France imposes new rules requiring outdoor masks.
- Pakistan imposes lockdown to contain COVID-19 after Eid al-Adha holiday.
- Curfew imposed in Australia’s second-largest city, Melbourne.
- Philippine capital returning to lockdown as virus surges.
- Task force doctor warns COVID-19 now ‘extraordinarily widespread’ in U.S.
- Rollout of COVID-19 Alert app faces criticism over accessibility.
The World Health Organization said Monday an advance team looking into the origins of the COVID-19 outbreak has concluded its mission in China, and the UN health agency is preparing the deployment of a larger group of experts to the suspected outbreak zone.
WHO Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said the international team will deploy to Wuhan, the city where the pandemic is believed to have erupted late last year. Tedros said terms of reference have been drawn up by the WHO and China, but did not elaborate.
“The WHO advance team that travelled to China has now concluded their mission to lay the groundwork for further joint efforts to identify the virus’s origins,” he told a news conference. “Epidemiological studies will begin in Wuhan to identify the potential source of infection of the early cases.”
He said “evidence and hypothesis” generated from the work would “lay the ground for further, longer-term studies.”
The comments came amid an increasingly heavy toll from the pandemic in the United States, Brazil and India, as investigators seek to clarify the origins of the virus and how it may have jumped from animals to humans late last year.
Dr. Michael Ryan, the WHO’s emergencies chief, noted “gaps in the epidemiological landscape” and said it would be assessed what studies to conduct and what data to collect. He said the two-person advance team had not returned from China, and had not been “debriefed” yet.
“The real trick is to go to the human clusters that occurred first and then to work your way back systematically looking for that first signal at which the animal human species barrier was crossed,” Ryan said. “Once you understand where that barrier was breached, then you move into the studies in a more systematic way on the animal side.”
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The WHO press office, contacted by The Associated Press after the news conference, did not provide details of the terms of reference, say whether they would be made public, or indicate how big the international team would be or when it could be sent to China.
It said team members had “extensive discussions” with their Chinese counterparts during the three-week visit, and had discussions by video with virologists and other scientists in Wuhan — including the Wuhan Institute of Virology. U.S. President Donald Trump in April claimed to have seen evidence to support the theory that the lab was the origin of the virus.
Worldwide, the number of confirmed coronavirus cases has climbed past 18 million, according to data compiled by Johns Hopkins University in Maryland. The number of global deaths stands at more than 690,000.
What’s happening with coronavirus in Canada
As of 4 a.m. ET on Monday, Canada had 117,031 confirmed and presumptive coronavirus cases. Provinces and territories listed 101,595 of the cases as recovered or resolved. A News tally based on provincial reports, regional health information and ‘s reporting indicates that 8,982 Canadians have died.
Starting Monday, Quebec is loosening its coronavirus restrictions to allow group gatherings of up to 250 people.
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The new rule applies to indoor spaces, including movie theatres, sporting events and places of worship. People are still asked to keep a safe distance and wear a mask.
Many Canadians are changing the way they celebrate holiday long weekends due to the pandemic. Vancouver’s Pride week wrapped on Sunday with festivities broadcast online. Only a few people took to the streets to celebrate.
One long weekend is all it can take to spark a new outbreak, as was the case with the Canada Day celebrations in Kelowna, B.C. Indoor gatherings in the tourist hot spot were thought to have resulted in at least 130 new cases of the coronavirus in the region.
With the COVID-19 pandemic forcing people to change their travel plans, boat sales are increasing as Canadians look for ways to vacation closer to home.
“Sales are at a record high,” said Chris Perera of Kingston, Ont., who runs a website that lists new and used boats for sale across the country.
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Meanwhile, the federal government is facing criticism over the download requirements for its COVID-19 notification app.
There are complaints that some Canadians are being restricted from accessing and using the technology.
The free “COVID Alert” app, which became available on Friday, is designed to track the location of phones relative to each other, without collecting personal data anywhere centrally.
However, the application requires users to have Apple or Android phones made in the last five years, and a relatively new operating system.
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Christopher Parsons, a senior research associate at Citizen Lab, part of the Munk School of Global Affairs and Policy, says that makes the app inaccessible for older Canadians and other marginalized groups.
Marit Stiles, an Ontario MPP, says her parents weren’t able to download the app and questioned its wider accessibility for vulnerable and senior Canadians.
What’s happening in the rest of the world
The United States has the world’s largest number of confirmed cases at nearly 4.7 million, or one-quarter of the global total, and more than 155,000 deaths, according to Johns Hopkins University. More than 1,000 Americans have died of COVID-19 in each of the past six days.
Florida, one of the hardest-hit states, saw its number of cases rise to 491,884 on Monday. The state’s health department said that’s an increase from 487,132 the previous day.
White House coronavirus task force leader Dr. Deborah Birx said on Sunday that the virus had entered a “new phase” in the U.S. as it has rapidly spread in rural and urban America.
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“What we are seeing today is different from March and April. It is extraordinarily widespread,” Birx told CNN’s State of the Union as she urged Americans to wear face masks and observe physical distancing measures.
U.S. President Donald Trump on Monday tweeted that Birx “took the bait” by responding to House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, who told ABC’s This Week that she had lost confidence in Birx because Trump appointed her and the president has been spreading disinformation about the virus.
So Crazy Nancy Pelosi said horrible things about Dr. Deborah Birx, going after her because she was too positive on the very good job we are doing on combatting the China Virus, including Vaccines & Therapeutics. In order to counter Nancy, Deborah took the bait & hit us. Pathetic!
Spain on Monday reported 968 new coronavirus infections in the past day, showing a slower pace of contagion than last week when the country reported more than 1,000 new cases for three days in a row.
Cumulative cases, which also include results from antibody tests on people who may have recovered, increased to 297,054 from 288,522, the health ministry said.
Spain aims to roll out a COVID-19 contact-tracing app across the country in September after saying on Monday that a pilot showed it could detect almost twice as many potential infections as human trackers during a simulated outbreak on the tiny island of La Gomera.
In France, various communities are starting to impose rules requiring people to wear masks outdoors to curb the spread of the coronavirus.
Starting Monday, 69 towns in the Mayenne region of western France imposed such rules, as did parts of the northern city of Lille and coastal city of Biarritz in French Basque country.
The new rules are on top of a nationwide decree last month requiring people to wear masks in all stores and other indoor public places. Pressure is growing on the government to mandate outdoor mask use on a national level, too, due to hundreds of new clusters of cases in recent weeks.
France has reported 7,000 new cases in the last week, after bringing the virus nearly under control with a strict two-month nationwide lockdown, and has confirmed 30,265 virus-related deaths since the pandemic began.
Norwegian cruise line Hurtigruten is halting all of its so-called expedition cruises until further notice following an outbreak of the novel coronavirus on one of its vessels last week, the company said on Monday.
At least 40 passengers and crew from the MS Roald Amundsen cruise liner have so far tested positive for the coronavirus, with hundreds more awaiting test results, public health officials said on Sunday.
“A preliminary evaluation shows a breakdown in several of our internal procedures,” chief executive Daniel Skjeldam said in a statement.
“Our own failure, as well as the recent rise in infections internationally, has led us to halt all expedition cruises in Norwegian and international waters.”
Meanwhile, in Papeete, Tahiti, some 340 passengers and crew are confined on a cruise ship after one traveller tested positive for the virus, the commissariat for French Polynesia said late Sunday.
All those aboard the Tahiti-based Paul Gauguin cruise ship are being tested and will be kept in their cabins pending the results, it said in a statement.
Pakistan’s government on Monday announced a new countrywide lockdown through Aug. 17, with grocery stores and pharmacies allowed to remain open. Mosques and churches will also be allowed to stay open, but with physical distancing and mask requirements.
The country reported one of its lowest daily infection rates for the virus on Monday as the Muslim holiday of Eid al-Adha was ending. But now officials want to avoid a repeat of the spike in new cases that followed the holiday of Eid ul Fitr in June.
In Australia, the streets of Melbourne were deserted Sunday night as a six-week curfew, from 8 p.m. to 5 a.m., went into effect for the city’s five million residents.
Premier Daniel Andrews declared a state of disaster for Victoria province and announced new measures after seven deaths and 671 new cases were reported since Saturday. Victoria, with Melbourne as its capital, announced on Monday 429 new infections and 13 more deaths overnight.
Starting late Wednesday, non-essential businesses will close in Melbourne, Australia’s second-largest city, to try to curb the outbreak.
In the Philippines, health officials reported a jump of more than 3,200 confirmed coronavirus cases on Monday, bringing the country’s total to 106,330, including more than 2,100 deaths. The Philippines has the second-highest number of confirmed cases in Southeast Asia after Indonesia, and has had more reported infections than China, where the pandemic began late last year.
President Rodrigo Duterte relaxed the country’s lockdown on June 1 in an effort to restart the stalled economy, but on Monday he agreed to place the capital and outlying provinces back under a lockdown after medical groups warned the country was waging “a losing battle” against COVID-19.
Presidential spokesperson Harry Roque said metropolitan Manila and five densely populated provinces will revert to stricter quarantine restrictions for two weeks starting Tuesday. The move will again prohibit non-essential travel outside of homes.