European nations revisit COVID-19 actions as cases climb in Asia

In global COVID-19 developments today, pandemic activity gained more steam in parts of Europe and is still high in its initial hot spots, as a handful of Asian nations—such as Japan and Indonesia—grappled with rising case numbers.

The global total today rose to 2,127,873 cases from 185 countries, along with 142,148 deaths, according to the Johns Hopkins online dashboard.

Switzerland begins easing restrictions

In Europe, some of the earlier hot spots, such as Italy and Spain, though past their peak, are still reporting thousands of new cases and hundreds more deaths. Italy reported 3,786 new cases today, with Spain reporting 2,157 more.

Switzerland today announced a three-step plan to ease its restrictions, starting with allowing hospitals to perform all procedures again, including elective ones, and allowing hair salons, massage parlors, and cosmetic studies to resume, Reuters reported. The next phase will allow compulsory schools, shops, and markets to reopen on May 11. Then on Jun 8, other secondary schools, vocational schools, and universities will reopen, with more details on a relaxed ban on group gatherings to be announced at the end of May. 

UK extends pandemic measures

Meanwhile, the United Kingdom (UK) today extended its nationwide lockdown for 3 more weeks, similar to extensions announced recently by Italy, Spain, and France.

At a media briefing yesterday, Chris Whitty, CB, DSC, the UK's chief medical officer, said the UK's outbreak is probably reaching its peak, but it is too soon to consider moving to the next response phase. In another UK development, health secretary Matt Hancock said health officials will introduce measures to allow close family members to say goodbye to dying relatives in person, the BBC reported. Strict distancing measures and other factors in many countries have barred people from saying their final goodbyes to loved ones.

Meanwhile, COVID-19 activity continues to climb in two recently emerging hot spots, Russia and Turkey. Russia today reported 3,448 new cases, its record high. And Turkey—one of the few European countries that hasn't ordered a lockdown—reported 4,801 new cases.

Cases spike in Singapore; Japan declares emergency

In Singapore, which is battling a resurgence of cases, the country reported 728 new cases today, a record daily high, according to the health ministry. None of the country's cases since Apr 9 have been imported, and 654 of the newly confirmed illnesses are among foreign workers living in dormitories. It said 48 cases were in the community and 26 were in foreign workers living outside of the dorms.

Elsewhere, Japan's Prime Minister Shinzo Abe today declared a nationwide state of emergency, expanding measures he placed on Tokyo and six prefectures last week, National Public Radio reported. The order, in effect until May 6, is designed to limit spread of the disease, especially as people travel for the country's Golden Week holidays.

So far, Japan has reported 8,582 cases, 136 of them fatal, according to the health ministry.

Indonesia—the world's fourth most populous country—said its outbreak is growing and, based on modeling estimates, that it expects cases to peak between between May and June, with about 95,000 cases, Reuters reported. So far, the country has reported 5,516 cases and 496 deaths, the highest outside of China.

Meanwhile, the number of local cases in China is rising slowly, with 12 reported today, along with 34 imported cases, according to the National Health Commission. Of the local cases, 5 are from Guangdong province, 4 are from Heilongjiang province, and 3 are from Beijing. One of the country's recent hot spots is in Heilongjiang province on the border with Russia, where the town of Suifenhe is on lockdown.

In other global developments:

  • The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation today announced $150 million more for the global COVID-19 response, bringing its total donation to more than $250 million.

  • The Coalition for Epidemic Preparedness Innovations (CEPI) announced today that it has granted $6.9 million to Inovio to work with the International Vaccine Institute and the Korea National Institute of Health to conduct a phase 1/2 study of Inovio's DNA-based vaccine candidate in South Korea. The trial will run alongside a phase 1 trial in the United States that got underway on Apr 6.

  • Indian police said today that the country has charged the chief of a Muslim seminary with culpable homicide for holding a gathering that led to a surge in COVID-19 infections, Reuters Thousands of followers, including some from Indonesia, Malaysia, and Bangladesh, were quarantined after attending meetings at the group's New Delhi headquarters in the middle of March. Health officials suspect that two-thirds of New Delhi's cases are linked to the gathering. The group's events have also been linked to illness clusters in Pakistan and Malaysia.

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