Global COVID trend shows hint of plateau; NZ suspicion shifts to quarantine breach in flare-up

hospital crew
hospital crew

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Global COVID-19 cases showed early signs of a plateau, though countries continue to battle large outbreaks, new surges, and smaller flare-ups, such as in New Zealand, where officials now suspect a quarantine breach may be what triggered a recent case cluster.

The pandemic total today reached 2,728,874, and 751,448 people have died from their infections, according to the Johns Hopkins online dashboard.

Signs of a plateau, but rises in India and some Middle East countries

When asked about global patterns at a World Health Organization (WHO) briefing today, Mike Ryan, MD, director of its health emergencies program, said there is a plateau, but he said numbers vary from week to week, and he urged nations to be careful in interpreting the trends. He emphasized that based on studies, a small number of people have been exposed to the virus, and most of the world remains vulnerable. "This virus has a long way to burn if we allow it," Ryan said. "If you take pressure off [the virus], it will slip back to community transmission."

Countries are facing hard choices, such as whether to open schools, and that they need good data and knowledge to guide them. "Calm waters do not mean the storm is over," he added.

India today reported a record daily high of nearly 67,000 cases, Reuters reported. And at today's WHO briefing, Ryan said rapid increases are being reported in Morocco, Lebanon, Syria, and Iraq. For example, Iraq today reported a daily record high of 3,841 cases, according to CNN.

Also at today's briefing, Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, PhD, said the International Monetary Fund estimated that the pandemic is costing the global economy $375 billion a month and that G20 countries have already spent $10 trillion on stimulus and mitigation.

He warned that economies won't rebound anywhere if the virus isn't stamped out everywhere, and that the ACT Accelerator, designed to speed the development of and provide equitable distribution of vaccines, drugs, and diagnostics, provides the best route out of the pandemic, but it requires $31.3 billion, a fraction of continued damage to economies and cost of further stimulus.

NZ probe shifts to quarantine breach

Yesterday, New Zealand officials said they are weighing freight contamination as one potential trigger for a newly identified cluster, its first locally acquired cases in 102 days. However, today Deputy Prime Minister Winston Peters said he suspected the virus came from a breach of quarantine, and he said he hoped there will be more information shortly.

The WHO has said there is no evidence that people can contract the virus from food or food packaging. And at today's briefing, Maria Van Kerkhove, PhD, the WHO's technical lead for COVID-19, said the WHO is aware of the investigation development. She said China has been testing packaging, with samples numbering a few hundred thousand, and so far they have found less than 10 positives.

Ryan added that people are already scared enough about COVID-19, and there is no evidence that food or the food chain is contributing to transmission. He added that it's important that the WHO tracks developments with the testing, but people can go about their daily lives regarding COVID-19 and food, and the sample findings should be not be conflated as a major risk.

In related developments, New Zealand's health ministry today reported 13 more cases linked to the recent local cluster, raising the total to 17. One of the new cases involves a grammar school student who is a relative of the index patient's family. Others include three coworkers of the index case and seven of their family members, an employee from the workplace of an earlier confirmed patient, and one of that person's family members.

The ministry also said health officials are tracking contacts confirmed case-patients had at the grammar school, at a nursing home, and at a resort in Rotorua that the family connected to the initial four cases recently visited.

Health officials are still doing a genetic analysis of the virus involved in the cluster, and so far, evidence suggests a similarity to strains from Australia and the United Kingdom.

China reports another possible reinfection case

For the second day in a row, China reported another COVID-19 infection in someone who recovered months ago. Yesterday, it said a 68-year-old woman from Jingzhou in Hubei province was sick again, 6 months after her initial infection.

The second patient is a man who was sick in April after returning to China from abroad and tested positive again in Shanghai on Aug 10 and doesn't have any symptoms, Bloomberg News reported. So far, testing hasn't turned up any other infections in the patients' contacts.

The cases raise worrying questions about the duration of immunity after COVID-19 infection, a factor that could complicate vaccination against the disease.

At today's WHO briefing, Van Kerkhove said there are examples of possible reinfection, though the cases still not confirmed. She added that patients can remain PCR positive, which doesn't mean they are infectious, for as long as 10 weeks. In examining the cases, the WHO is looking at how patients were tested, and whether false positives or false negatives were possible.

Ideally, scientists would like to isolate live virus to examine in such cases, she said.

Researchers don't yet know how long or strong immunity lasts, Van Kerkhove said. "We are actively following up on any examples."

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