Pandemic cases cross 16.5 million, keeping countries on edge

As COVID-19 cases piled up in several current hot spots, such as Latin America, the United States, and India, countries such as Vietnam and Greece that have brought their disease levels down scrambled to target flare-ups with stepped-up measures.

The global total today passed the 16.5 million mark, reaching 16,540,137 cases and 655,300 deaths, according to the Johns Hopkins online dashboard.

Hot spots pose continuing challenges

India today reported nearly 50,000 cases, and in Latin America, Mexico recently passed Peru as the Latin American country with the second highest number of cases, behind Brazil, which reported about 23,500 cases yesterday amid early signs of its outbreak stabilizing.

Two presidents of Latin American countries who were infected by the virus—Bolivia's leader Jeanine Anez and Brazil's president Jair Bolsonaro—have returned to work after their recoveries. In another Brazilian development, medical and other groups have filed a complaint in the International Criminal Court that accuses Bolsonaro of crimes against humanity by denying and neglecting the pandemic, National Public Radio reported.

In Africa, the World Health Organization (WHO) regional office said the outbreak in South Africa, the continent's hot spot, is mainly focused on four populous provinces but is growing rapidly in less populous ones, which it said is gravely concerning.

In the office's weekly outbreaks and health emergencies update, it said South Africa's cases increased by 18% last week, with deaths rising by 25%. The country has now reached about 445,000 cases.

So far, there is no sign that South Africa's outbreak is slowing. Though cases may have peaked in Western Cape province, increases in other areas are putting pressure on health systems, and growing case numbers in more remote areas are occurring where there are fewer hospital and intensive care unit beds.

Though the country has ordered a range of measures, such as mask use, the WHO said it's not clear if people have adopted them or are following a ban on most inter-province travel.

In Iran, the Middle East's hot spot, the number of deaths today hit its single-day high of 235 deaths, Anadolu Agency news reported. The ongoing second surge of cases in the country, one of the first affected outside of Asia, is straining health systems.

Other countries set sights on flare-ups

Vietnam, which recently identified its first local cases in about 3 months, today announced that it would suspend flights to and from Da Nang due to the detection of cases in and around the city, Reuters reported. So far, at least 22 cases have been confirmed, 11 of them linked to a hospital.

In Australia, an outbreak in Victoria state that's centered in Melbourne has found its way into nursing homes, according to media reports. There are now 769 active cases in nursing homes, and state health officials are transferring residents to public and private hospitals to protect them from the virus, CNN reported.

In Europe, Greek health officials ordered masks to be used in more indoor spaces, following a small uptick in the last half of July in Athens and Thessaloniki, Reuters reported.

Meanwhile, in Germany, the head of the Robert Koch Institute raised concerns about a rise in cases, which have doubled recently and are likely due to complacency regarding distancing measures. And in Spain, Madrid officials announced a mandatory mask order and a limit on gatherings after a rise in cases, mainly among younger people, CNN reported.

In other global COVID-19 developments:

  • The United Nations World Tourism Organization today said pandemic lockdowns and travel bans have cut the number of tourists by 300 million and led to a $320 billion loss to the industry—three times higher than for the global economic crisis in 2009. It projected that international tourism will recover in the last half of 2021.

  • The head of China's Center for Disease Control, Gao Fu, PhD, said at a weekend webinar that he had received one of the country's experimental COVID-19 vaccines in an effort to encourage the public to accept immunization once a product is available, the Associated Press reported.

  • Turkmenistan hasn't reported any COVID-19 cases to the WHO, but it recently took steps to prevent the spread of the virus such as limiting mass gatherings, the WHO said today, following a 10-day mission to the country. It suggested that the country take more critical measures, such as testing all suspected cases, tracing contacts, and isolating and caring for sick patients.

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