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Mainland China reports 10 new COVID-19 cases vs 6 a day earlier
23 September 2020, 2:47 AM

Mainland China reported 10 new COVID-19 cases as of September 22, up from 6 a day earlier, the country’s national health authority said on Wednesday.

The National Health Commission said in a statement that all new cases were imported infections involving travellers from overseas.

The number of new asymptomatic infections also rose to 18 from 15 a day earlier, though China does not classify these symptomless patients as confirmed cases.

The total number of confirmed COVID-19 cases for mainland China now stands at 85 307, while the death toll remained unchanged at 4 634.

 

New York says new cluster of Brooklyn COVID-19 cases causes ‘significant concern’
23 September 2020, 2:05 AM

New York City’s Health Department has identified a new cluster of COVID-19 cases in Brooklyn, and said on Tuesday a marked uptick in infections there and in some other neighborhoods is “cause for significant concern.”

Four areas have seen a large increase in cases between early August and last week, Patrick Gallahue, a spokesperson for the city’s Department of Health and Mental Hygiene, wrote in an email to reporters.

After becoming the global epicenter of the coronavirus pandemic in the spring, the city has managed to bring the number of positive test results to below 1% through social distancing measures.

However, in the borough of Queens, positive cases have risen to 2.24% in Kew Gardens and 3.69% in Edgemere-Far Rockaway. In Brooklyn, officials are concerned about Williamsburg, with a 2% positive rate, and a southern part of the borough that includes Midwood, Borough Park and Bensonhurst, where the positive rate is 4.71%.

“It is now clear that these signals in the south of Brooklyn have coalesced into one cluster we are calling the Ocean Parkway Cluster,” Gallahue wrote in the email.

“At this point in time, these increases could potentially evolve into more widespread community transmission and spread to other neighborhoods unless action is taken.”

The department said it would continue to urge people to avoid large indoor gatherings, wear masks when socially distancing is not possible and to get tested for the virus frequently.

“We will have more to say in the days ahead,” Gallahue wrote.

Nigeria’s main unions to strike over petrol, power price hikes
23 September 2020, 1:05 AM

Nigeria’s main labour unions will begin an indefinite strike from Monday to protest an increase in power and petrol prices, the leader of the body said, after a meeting with the government two weeks ago ended in a deadlock.

The Nigerian Labour Congress, which represents millions of workers across most sectors of Africa’s biggest economy, including parts of the oil industry, plans to embark on a general strike starting next week, leader Ayuba Wabba said.

A reversal of the petrol and power price hikes would avert the strike, Wabba said in a statement.

The government has not yet responded to the strike plans.

Nigeria cut costly subsidies this month to allow the petrol price to move with the market and hiked the power tariff.

President Muhammadu Buhari has said the increases were crucial because the country could no longer afford the subsidies.

The country has been under pressure for reforms from international lenders such as the World Bank to qualify for budget support loans after the novel coronavirus triggered an oil price crash that slashed the government’s income.

Cheap fuel prices have long been seen by many in Nigeria as a benefit of living in an oil-producing country.

Previous attempts to eliminate subsidies were scuppered after riots ensued.

The unions said the increase was ill-timed because the coronavirus pandemic had created economic hardship, with businesses forced to cut jobs.

A recession also looms after the economy contracted in the second quarter.

Nigeria has been struggling to boost revenues to fund its record high budget after a crash in the price of oil, its main export.

In February, the government raised the VAT to 7.5% from 5% to boost tax revenues, seen as among the lowest in the world.

The unions said the hike would worsen inflation, which is in double digits, and could erode a recently agreed national minimum wage.

The central bank, in an unexpected move, on Tuesday cut interest rates to try to stimulate growth.

Argentina economy plunges record 19.1% in second quarter on pandemic impact
23 September 2020, 12:28 AM

Argentina’s economy contracted a record 19.1% in the second quarter versus the same period a year earlier as the coronavirus pandemic crippled production and demand, though was slightly better than analyst forecasts.

The steep fall, deeper than a 16.3% drop during Argentina’s major 2002 crisis, came as the South American country imposed a strict lockdown in mid-March to stem the virus.

The country has over 640 000 confirmed COVID-19 cases, and nearly 13 500 deaths.

Argentina, a major grains producer, has been in recession since 2018 and is just emerging from default on its sovereign debt, with investors again growing concerned about prospects for its economic recovery and dwindling foreign currency reserves.

The government imposed the lockdown on March 20, and while it has been eased it remains in place until at least October 11, with Argentina still at its peak in terms of daily case numbers. The country recorded over 400 deaths in 24 hours on Monday.

“The key is the lockdown, which restricted supply and was a blow to demand, which pummeled economic activity in the second quarter of 2020,” said consultancy Ecolatina.

A Reuters poll of 14 local and foreign analysts ahead of the data had forecast a 19.9% average contraction for the April-June period and a median estimate of a 19.6% drop. The Q2 fall was deeper than neighbor Brazil, though better than hard-hit Peru.

“The strong isolation restrictions imposed from the second half of March and that lasted until August had a significant economic cost for the entire country,” said economist Natalia Motyl of consultancy Libertad y Progreso.

Motyl added that services, construction and manufacturing had been the hardest hit, while the important farm export sector had been less affected by the lockdown, that had taken a hit from global commodities prices.

Argentina’s economy, which declined a revised 5.2% in the first quarter of the year, is estimated to contract around 12% this year, according to a central bank poll and government forecasts.

As US surpasses 200 000 COVID-19 deaths, Wisconsin sounds alarm over surges in cases
22 September 2020, 11:40 PM

Wisconsin Governor Tony Evers on Tuesday declared a new public health emergency and extended a face mask mandate into November to fight a coronavirus flareup, as the number of people who have died across the United States since the pandemic began passed 200 000.

In-person social gatherings have led to cases in Wisconsin skyrocketing among people aged 18 to 24, Evers said, as he pleaded with students who returned to colleges for the fall semester to stay out of bars and wear masks.

“We are seeing an alarming increase in cases across our state, especially on campus,” the governor said in a statement announcing his decision.

The mask mandate, part of a second public health emergency the Democratic governor declared in late July, was due to expire on Monday. A conservative group is contesting the order in court, arguing Evers violated state law by using emergency powers more than once.

Wisconsin has experienced one of the highest percentage increases of coronavirus cases nationwide over the past two weeks, and has the second-highest rate of positive coronavirus tests in the nation at 17%, according to a Reuters tally.

The spike landed Wisconsin back on Chicago’s quarantine travel list, which requires people coming from the state to the city’s north to self-quarantine for 14 days.

“Unfortunately Wisconsin is currently in very poor control when it comes to COVID,” Chicago Department of Public Health Commissioner Allison Arwady said during an afternoon news conference. She said people traveling to and from Wisconsin for work are exempt from the order.

The United States continues to have world’s highest number of COVID-19 deaths. On a weekly average, it is losing about 800 lives each day to the virus, according to a Reuters tally, down from a peak of 2 806 daily deaths recorded on April 15.

During the early months of the pandemic, many experts expected the maximum number of deaths in the United States from the pandemic to be around 200 000.

“The idea of 200 000 deaths is really very sobering and in some respects stunning,” Dr. Anthony Fauci, the top US infectious diseases expert, told CNN.

Thousands of tiny US flags covered part of the National Mall in the nation’s capital on Tuesday to commemorate the lives lost.

Speaking in front of the flags, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi called on Americans to embrace science.

“This was preventable – not all of it, but much of it,” said Pelosi, a Democrat.

With barely six weeks left before the US election on November 3, Republican President Donald Trump’s handling of the coronavirus pandemic and the subsequent economic downturn has battered his standing among voters.

At a Swanton, Ohio, campaign rally on Monday, Trump touted his efforts in the health crisis.

“It affects virtually nobody. It’s an amazing thing,” Trump said of the coronavirus, which has infected nearly 6.9 million Americans.

“It affects … elderly people with heart problems and other problems – if they have other problems that’s what it really affects, that’s it,” he said, despite all evidence to the contrary.

Trump has frequently questioned scientific experts – including those in his own administration – on everything from the timing of a vaccine to reopening schools and businesses and the importance of face coverings to curb the virus’ spread. He has refused to support a national mask mandate and holds large political rallies where few wear them.

He has also admitted to playing down the danger of the coronavirus early on because he did not want to “create a panic.”

Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden, who leads Trump nationally in every major opinion poll, on Tuesday acknowledged the 200 000 milestone on Twitter and said it was “a staggering number that’s hard to wrap your head around.”

“There’s a devastating human toll to this pandemic – and we can’t forget that,” wrote Biden, who often wears a mask and has said he would require masks nationwide.

The University of Washington’s health institute is forecasting coronavirus fatalities will reach 378 000 by the end of the year, with the daily death toll potentially skyrocketing to 3 000 per day in December.

Six out of every 10 000 residents in the United States has died from COVID-19, one of the highest rates among developed nations.

More than 70% of those who died from the virus in the United States were over the age of 65, according to Centers for Disease Control and Prevention data

 

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