WHO warns that 1st wave of pandemic not over; dampens hopes

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Worldwide, the virus has infected nearly 5.5 million people, killing over 346,000

BANGKOK, May 26 (AP): As Brazil and India struggle with surging coronavirus cases, a top health expert is warning that the world is still smack in the middle of the pandemic, dampening hopes for a speedy global economic rebound and renewed international travel.

Right now, we’re not in the second wave. We’re right in the middle of the first wave globally,” said Dr Mike Ryan, the World Health Organisation’s executive director.

We’re still very much in a phase where the disease is actually on the way up, Ryan told reporters, pointing to South America, South Asia and other areas where infections are still on the rise.

WHO poured cold water on the hopes of Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro and others of quickly re-opening the economy, warning that authorities must first have enough testing in place to control the spread of the pandemic.

Brazil has 375,000 coronavirus infections second only to the 1.6 million cases in the US and has counted over 23,000 deaths but many fear Brazil’s true toll is much higher.

Ryan said Brazil’s intense transmission rates mean it should keep some stay-at-home measures in place, regardless of the negative impacts on its economy.

You must continue to do everything you can, he said.

But Sao Paulo Gov Jo o Doria has ruled out a full lockdown in Brazil’s largest state economy and plans to start loosening restrictions on June 1.

In Rio de Janeiro, Mayor Marcelo Crivella, an evangelical bishop, designated religious institutions as essential services” so they could stay open with social distancing rules despite recommendations for people to stay at home and most businesses remaining shut.

In Europe, the Russian government reported a record daily spike Tuesday of 174 deaths, bringing the country’s confirmed death toll to 3,807. Russia’s coronavirus caseload surpassed 360,000 the third highest in the world with almost 9,000 new infections registered.

The country’s comparatively low mortality rate has raised questions among experts both in Russia and in the West. Russian officials, however, vehemently deny manipulating any figures and attribute the low numbers to the effectiveness of the country’s lockdown measures.

The question of who can travel where and when remains a dilemma that officials still have yet to solve.

Spain’s foreign minister said Tuesday that European Union members should commonly agree to open borders and jointly determine which non-EU countries are designated as safe for travel. Arancha Gonz lez Laya told Cadena SER radio that resuming cross-border travel should be decided collectively even if countries in the 27-nation bloc are phasing out lockdowns at different dates.

We have to start working with our European partners to retake the freedom of movement in European territories,” she said.

The minister said Spain is eager to welcome tourists to shore up an industry that accounts for 12 per cent of the country’s GDP but plans to do it with health, sustainability and safety.

South Korea on Tuesday began requiring people to wear masks on public transit and in taxis. The country is tracing dozens of infections linked to nightclubs and other entertainment venues as it prepares for 2.4 million students to return to school on Wednesday.

But South Korean rights groups have criticized government plans to require some businesses to register customers with smartphone QR codes.

They say the country’s technology-driven approach to controlling COVID-19 has increased state surveillance too much.

Meanwhile, WHO said it will temporarily drop hydroxychloroquine the malaria drug US President Trump said he is taking from its global study into experimental COVID-19 treatments.

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