China ups coronavirus death toll

Patient on ventilator
Patient on ventilator

PatrikSlezak / iStock

Chinese officials revised the death total for Wuhan, the pandemic's initial epicenter, upward by 50% today after a data review, as several countries progressed with plans to use apps for contact tracing, considered a key part of the health response as they ease distancing restrictions.

The global pandemic total climbed to 2,218,332 cases today from 185 countries, along with 148,654 deaths, according to the Johns Hopkins online dashboard.

Death additions came from database reviews

China added 1,290 more deaths to the total for Wuhan, increasing the city's total to 3,869 and increasing the country's total to 4,632, according to a state media report posted on the National Health Commission (NHC) web site. Some experts have suspected that deaths were undercounted in China.

Health officials also added 325 more confirmed illnesses, raising Wuhan's case total to 50,333 and the country's total to 82,692.

The report said the surge in cases early in the outbreak overwhelmed systems, posing challenges for data collection and leading to some delays and inaccuracies. With Wuhan's lockdown lifted, health officials have been reexamining data, as required by Chinese laws. The new deaths and illness reports came from a review of data from funeral parlors, medical institutions, and public security authorities.

Also, hospitals couldn't treat all patients, and some returned home where they died, while some temporary medical facilities weren't directly linked to online reporting systems.

At a World Health Organization (WHO) media telebriefing today, Maria Van Kerkhove, PhD, the group's technical COVID-19 lead, said the WHO is aware of the new numbers and noted that the revised death and illness numbers came from a few different databases, which also included labs, detection centers, nursing homes, and makeshift hospitals. She said that, because of the overwhelmed healthcare system, some records weren't filled in properly and some were delayed.

Knowing the true death and illness totals are crucial for supporting the wider public health response to COVID-19, Van Kerkhove said. She said she anticipated that many hard-hit countries will have to review their records, adding that deaths outside of hospitals will take some time to classify.

Mike Ryan, MD, who heads the WHO's health emergencies program, said it's important for countries to be as fast as possible at clarifying their outbreak numbers. "It's important to understand the size and scale of the outbreak as it moves forward." He said numbers can change, but it's important for countries to release what they have as soon as possible.

WHO to release test guidance; Stones join concert lineup

In other WHO developments, Van Kerkhove said the agency would be issuing guidance over the weekend regarding serologic testing.

She said that information surrounding the tests can be confusing, especially since they are flooding the market, which she said is good, but many of them haven't been validated for accuracy. She emphasized that the tests can measure antibodies, but they don't tell if someone is immune to the virus.

Also, Hugh Evans, cofounder of a group that's hosting the internationally broadcast "One World Together at Home" virtual concert tomorrow to support frontline health workers in the WHO, said more than 100 countries will air the show and that the Rolling Stones have joined the musical lineup.

European hot spot totals rise

As Spain, Italy, France, and the United Kingdom reported thousands of new cases today, Russia reported 4,070, its highest daily number, pushing its total to 32,008, which includes 273 deaths. Turkey, another emerging European hot spot, reported 4,343, down slightly from 4,801 yesterday.

In other European developments, the UK has launched a large trial at more than 160 National Health Service sites to test potential COVID-19 treatments. So far, more than 5,000 patients are enrolled in the RECOVERY (Randomized Evaluation of COVID-19 Therapy) trial.

According to the trial's web portal, some of the first therapies under study are the HIV drug combo lopinavir-ritonavir, low-dose dexamethasone, hydroxychloroquine, and azithromycin. The group said researchers will regularly review data from the trial to quickly identify effective treatments so that they can be made available to all patients.

Countries eye apps to assist contact tracing

As European countries look to ease some their social-distancing measures, work is underway in several countries to use phone apps to assist with contact tracing. Germany's health minister Jens Spahn said today that the outbreak has become controllable or manageable and so far the healthcare system hasn't been overwhelmed, Reuters reported. And an expert from the Robert Koch Institute said the country's reproduction rate has dropped below 1, meaning one person infects fewer than one other person.

Spahn said the country would introduce a contact-tracing app developed by the Robert Koch Institute for smartphones in 3 to 4 weeks. The app, which would likely be voluntary, would use Bluetooth technology and alert people quickly when they have been exposed to an infected person.

Italy is also planning to use a smartphone app to track people who test positive for COVID-19 as part of a plan to lift its national lockdown, Reuters said in a separate report. An Italian health official said there are plans to test the app in some Italian regions before it is available to the rest of the country.

The Italian and German apps would be part of the Pan-European Privacy Preserving Proximity Tracing initiative platform that would allow apps to operate across country borders.

Norway is also launching a contact tracing app called Smittestop (stop infection), Agence France-Presse reported, and Australia is also urging citizens to download the "TraceTogether" app to help health officials ease off on social distancing measures.

Brazil's health minister fired; Ecuador's death undercount

In other global COVID-19 developments:

  • Brazil's president fired the country's health minister, Luiz Henrique Mandetta, following clashes over how to manage the country's COVID-19 outbreak, which has risen to 33,682 cases with 2,141 deaths, Reuters reported today. Brazil's president has downplayed the pandemic and has called on state governors to lift social distancing measures that health experts recommended.

  • Ecuador's Guayas province, the country's outbreak epicenter, may have thousands of COVID-19 deaths, though due to scarce testing, only 403 deaths from the virus have been recorded, the BBC The government said 6,700 people in Guayas province died in the first half of April, compared to the 1,000 that is typical for the same time period. An outbreak in the Guayas city of Guayaquil has overwhelmed the city's hospitals and morgues.

  • China's Sinovac Biotech announced today that it has launched a phase 1 clinical trial of its inactivated vaccine against the virus that causes COVID-19. The study involves 144 healthy adults in Jiangsu province and will test two different dosages. Two-thirds of the group will receive the vaccine and one-third will receive placebo.

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