WHO convenes COVID-19 emergency committee, updates travel guidance

The World Health Organization (WHO) COVID-19 emergency committee is meeting today to review the latest pandemic developments and discuss extending the public health emergency of international concern (PHEIC) under the International Health Regulations, amid a steady surge in hot spots and flare-ups elsewhere as restrictions are eased.

Meanwhile, the world's pandemic total climbed to 17,421,013 cases, and 675,545 people have died from their infections, according to the Johns Hopkins online dashboard.

Meeting of emergency panel, updated travel recommendations

The meeting is the group's fourth concerning COVID-19, and comes about 6 months after the WHO first declared the PHEIC on January 30. Its last meeting was on April 30. WHO emergency committees usually meet every 3 months or more often as needed.

At the emergency committee meetings, the group usually hears from each of the WHO's six regions and headquarters officials, emergency committee said in a statement today. As part of their deliberations, emergency committees typically update their recommendations for countries.

In another development, the WHO yesterday updated its travel guidance, which covers considerations for resuming international travel. At a media briefing earlier this week, WHO officials acknowledged that travel bans can't stay in place indefinitely and that the activity will be safer if countries do more to reduce disease levels within their own borders.

The guidance states that there is no "zero risk" for importing or exporting cases and that the gradual lifting of restrictions should be based on a thorough risk assessment that weighs local transmission patterns, measures to control the virus, and health system capacities in destination and departure countries.

The WHO recommended prioritizing essential travel for emergencies, humanitarian actions, essential personnel, and repatriation. Cargo travel should prioritize essential medical, food, and energy supplies, and sick travelers and those at risk for COVID-19 complications delay or avoid travel to and from areas with community transmission.

Also, the new document includes a Q and A for the general public, which covers practical considerations such as ventilation, mask use, pretravel testing, and what to do if symptoms occur during travel.

Some resurgent countries report record highs

Vietnam today reported 82 new cases, its biggest single-day rise, along with its first deaths two deaths from the virus, Reuters reported, based on information from the health ministry. Vietnam's recent surge is linked to a flare-up in Da Nang, which coincided with an increase in domestic travel, which spread the virus to other parts of the country, including Hanoi and Ho Chi Minh City.

The two fatalities reported today involved a 70-year-old man and a 61-year-old man, both of whom were likely exposed in Da Nang.

In Hanoi, health officials yesterday launched a mass testing campaign and ordered distancing measures, such as banning large gatherings and shutting bars and nightclubs.

The Philippines today reported 4,063 cases, marking a single-day high for the second day in a row. The country's President Rodrigo Duerte today kept restrictions in place for Manila and other affected provinces for another 2 weeks.

Poland today reported a record high for the second day in a row, reporting 657 new cases today. The country is considering imposing restrictions on hot spots, which include the Silesia region, where there have been outbreaks among coal miners.

In other global developments:

  • United Kingdom health officials paused further easing of COVID-19 restrictions after a rise in cases, prompting fears of another wave. The UK reported 846 cases today, the most in more than a month. The pause means that attractions such as casinos, bowling alleys, and skating rinks will remain closed for 2 more weeks and that wedding receptions won't be allowed.

  • China and Hong Kong both reported more cases in their ongoing outbreaks, with China reporting 123 local cases today, the most since early March. And Hong Kong reported 121 cases today, all but 3 of them locally acquired, amid an announcement from the city's chief executive Carrie Lam that elections, slated for September 6, will be delayed a year due to the pandemic.

  • Iceland yesterday reimposed some restrictions after two new clusters were reported, according to Reuters. It limited gatherings to 100 people and ordered people to maintain physical distancing.

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