Risk of new lockdowns rises with fear of second COVID-19 wave

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Sat, 13 Jun 2020 - 09:36 GMT

FILE PHOTO: People wearing face masks queue to enter a reopened Primark store as Madrid eases lockdown restrictions following the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) outbreak, in Madrid, Spain, June 11, 2020. REUTERS/Susana Vera/

FILE PHOTO: People wearing face masks queue to enter a reopened Primark store as Madrid eases lockdown restrictions following the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) outbreak, in Madrid, Spain, June 11, 2020. REUTERS/Susana Vera/

LONDON/BRUSSELS (Reuters) - Fears of a second wave of COVID-19 infections shut six major food markets in Beijing on Friday, while India, which opened up this week, recorded a record daily increase and half a dozen U.S. states said their hospital beds were filling up fast.

Health officials worldwide have expressed concerns in recent days that some countries grappling with the devastating economic impact of lockdowns may lift restrictions too swiftly, and that the coronavirus could spread during mass anti-racism protests.

“We must be ready to roll back relaxation of measures if needed,” the European Union’s health commissioner Stella Kyriakides said after urging its 27 members to plough ahead with testing the population as they reopen schools and businesses.

In China, where the new coronavirus originated, two new cases of COVID-19, the disease it causes, were recorded in the capital. Authorities closed part or all of six big wholesale food markets which the two men had recently visited but it was not known how they had become infected.

India opened most public transport, offices and malls this week after nearly 70 days even though health officials said it was weeks away from flattening the rising infection curve.

The official death toll, at 8,498, is relatively small, but the health ministry said registered cases rose by 10,956 on Friday, a record, with many in Delhi, Mumbai and Chennai.

Syed Ahmed Bukhari, the head of Delhi’s Jama Masjid, one of India’s biggest mosques, ordered a halt to congregations until the end of the month.

“What is the point of visiting mosques at a time when the virus is spreading so fast?” he said.

FIRST WAVE NOT OVERCOME
In Turkey, the top medical association said the easing of restrictions on June 1 had come too soon, although the daily death toll as fallen in recent weeks to about 20.

“There is talk of when the second wave will hit, but we have not yet been able to overcome the first wave,” Cavit Isik Yavuz, part of the coronavirus research team at the Turkish Medics Association said.

While new infections are slowing in most of Europe, health experts see a moderate to high risk that post-lockdown rises may warrant new restrictions.

The European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control (ECDC) predicted a moderate acceleration across Europe in coming weeks, which could place healthcare systems under stress if not checked rapidly. Government control measures could check and reverse upward trends within two to three weeks, it said.

Andrea Ammon, director of the ECDC, stressed the importance of maintaining physical distancing, hand hygiene and what she called “respiratory etiquette”.

Officials have expressed concern the virus could spread among the tens of thousands who have crowded together in Europe’s big cities to demonstrate against racism after the death in U.S. police custody of George Floyd.

“Mass events could be a major route of transmission,” said Martin Seychell, a health official at the EU Commission.

SOLIDARITY CALL

World Health Organization (WHO) Director General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said late on Thursday that the threat of a resurgence remained very real.

“We must also remember that, although the situation is improving here in Europe, globally it’s getting worse ... We will continue to need global solidarity to defeat this pandemic fully,” he said.

Of 5,347 new deaths recorded worldwide, 3,681 were in the Americas, the WHO said on Thursday.

In about half a dozen U.S. states including Texas and Arizona, the number of coronavirus patients filling hospital beds is rising, fanning concerns that the reopening of the U.S. economy may unleash a second wave of infections. Alabama, Florida, North Carolina, South Carolina, Oregon and Nebraska all had a record number of new cases on Thursday.

“I want the reopening to be successful,” Harris County Judge Lina Hidalgo, the top executive for the county that encompasses Houston, Texas, told reporters. “But I’m growing increasingly concerned that we may be approaching the precipice of a disaster.”

More hospitalisations inevitably mean more deaths ahead, said Spencer Fox, research associate at the University of Texas at Austin.

“We are starting to see very worrying signs about the course the pandemic is taking in cities and states in the U.S. and around the world,” he said. “When you start seeing those signs, you need to act fairly quickly.”

Wall Street’s main indexes opened sharply higher on Friday, a day after the biggest one-day dive in about three months on fears of a resurgence in infections. Global stocks .MIWD00000PUS were up 1.3% after four days of consecutive losses.

The United States has now recorded more than 113,000 coronavirus deaths, by far the most in the world. That figure could be over 200,000 by September, Ashish Jha, the head of Harvard’s Global Health Institute, told CNN.

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