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Australia’s Victoria reports lowest COVID-19 cases since June
17 September 2020, 2:16 AM

Australia’s Victoria state said the daily rise in coronavirus infections eased further on Thursday, as the state began relaxing most restrictions outside its largest city of Melbourne after a steady drop in cases in recent days.

Residents in regional areas of the state can now have outdoor gatherings of up to 10 people, and cafes will be able to seat up to 50 people outside.

Victoria, Australia’s second-most populous state, reported 28 new cases on Thursday, the lowest daily rise since June 24 and down from daily highs above 700 in early August.

The southeastern state, at the centre of the coronavirus outbreak in the country, reported eight deaths from the virus in the last 24 hours, the same as reported a day earlier.

Average daily cases over the last two weeks in Melbourne, which is on an extended hard lockdown until September 28, continued their downward trend, falling below 45 on Thursday.

The average dropped below 50 on Wednesday, the level the state has set to start easing curbs for the city.

Victoria, home to one-quarter of Australia’s 25 million people, now accounts for about 75% of the country’s more than 26 800 COVID-19 cases and 90% of its 832 deaths.

Brazil’s Rio risks second wave of COVID-19 with ill-timed reopening
17 September 2020, 1:52 AM

The reopening of beaches and bars as Rio de Janeiro heads into the heady summer season risks a second spike of coronavirus infections, experts warned, even as Brazil’s second-largest city dismantles much of its emergency healthcare capacity.

Pictures of dense parasols rolling carpet-like over Rio’s famed beaches and rowdy street-side drinking have gone viral in recent weeks, alarming epidemiologists who fear the reopening may have come too soon.

Part of the problem they say, is that Rio’s decision to ease restrictions was based partly on incorrect data showing a fall in deaths, which later turned out to only be a bureaucratic delay in their notification.

Deaths were in fact still stable, at a high plateau.

COVID-19 has already devastated Brazil’s postcard city, killing more than 10 000 people. If Rio were a country, its per capita mortality rate would rank as the world’s worst.

Brazil has the world’s third-largest coronavirus outbreak behind the United States and India.

“There’s no guarantee the situation has permanently stabilized. There are still a lot of people susceptible to the virus in the city,” said Americo Cunha, a professor of math and statistics at Rio de Janeiro state university who has been tracking the outbreak.

“If there aren’t adequate containment measures, you could see a so-called second wave,” he added.

A second wave could be particularly fatal.

While Rio built two temporary hospitals at the beginning of the pandemic, it has already closed one of them, citing a flattening curve.

The state has cut nearly half of its intensive care units.

The city had promised to build as many as seven field hospitals but failed to deliver them amid serious graft allegations.

The governor of Rio de Janeiro state was suspended in August for 180 days for allegedly receiving bribes linked to the state’s coronavirus response. He denies wrongdoing.

“If we have a rise in cases due to this reopening process, the probability that the health system will collapse is very high,” said Diego Xavier, a researcher at Fiocruz, a leading Brazilian public health research institute.

With the summer approaching, it is likely cases will inch upwards, as they have in Europe, epidemiologists say. So far, however, the number of deaths from coronavirus in many European countries has not risen in line with new infections.

Some cariocas, as Rio’s sun-loving residents are known, say the beach is getting unfair attention.

“We’re stuck in crowded buses or on the metro to get to work anyway,” said Pedro Bittencourt, who works as a salesman at a clothing store. “So I think it’s more than reasonable to be able to enjoy a bit of beach.”

SA records 1 923 new cases, 64 more coronavirus related deaths
17 September 2020, 12:56 AM

South Africa has recorded 1 923 new coronavirus cases. This brings the total number of cases to 653 444.

The country has also recorded 64 new COVID-19 related fatalities, bringing the total number of deaths to 15 705.

In a statement, Health Minister Dr Zweli Mkhize says most of the new deaths were recorded in KwaZulu-Natal.

“Regrettably, we report 64 more COVID-19 related deaths: “24 from KwaZulu-Natal, 14 from Gauteng, 9 from Western Cape, 6 from Northern Cape and 11 from Mpumalanga,” says Dr Mkhize.

The cumulative number of tests conducted to date is 3 961 179.

The number of recoveries now stands at 584 195, this translates to a recovery rate of 89,4%.

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Trump contradicts CDC director on vaccines: ‘he was confused’
17 September 2020, 12:15 AM

US President Donald Trump predicted on Wednesday at least 100 million doses of a coronavirus vaccine could be distributed in by the end of 2020,contradicting a top government health official Trump dismissed as confused.

Hours earlier, Robert Redfield, director of the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, said a COVID-19 vaccine could be broadly rolled out by the middle of next year or a little later.

“No, I think he made a mistake when he said that,” Trump said, telling reporters he called Redfield. “That’s incorrect information. “I believe he was confused. I think he just misunderstood the question, probably.”

Redfield, head of the federal government’s disease control agency, made his comments in testimony before a US Senate panel.

He said general availability of a vaccine could come by”late second quarter, third quarter 2021.”

A vaccine could be ready as soon as this November or December, Redfield said, adding that limited first doses could go to those who were most vulnerable. But “in order to have enough of us immunised to have immunity, I think it’s going to take six to nine months,” he added.

 

Hurricane Sally swamps US Gulf Coast with massive floods, ‘unreal’ rain
16 September 2020, 11:53 PM

Hurricane Sally uprooted trees, flooded streets and cut power to hundreds of thousands of homes and businesses on Wednesday as it brought what the US National Hurricane Center called “historic and catastrophic” flooding to the Alabama-Florida coast.

Sally, which made landfall early Wednesday near Gulf Shores, Alabama, as a Category 2 storm, was downgraded in the afternoon to a tropical storm as maximum sustained winds dropped to 70 miles per hour (113 kph).

Some parts of the Gulf Coast had been inundated with more than 18 inches (46 cm) of rain over the previous 24 hours, with more precipitation expected even as the storm’s winds slow further, the National Hurricane Center (NHC) said.

Several residents along the Alabama coast said they had been caught off guard by damage caused by the slow-moving storm, which flipped a tractor-trailer onto its side on one Alabama highway.

“It’s never been anything like this. It’s crazy. It’s because it stalled. If it had just passed through we would’ve been fine,” said Cody Phillips, a manager at Desoto’s Seafood Kitchen, located near the beach in Gulf Shores.

The coastal resort community of Pensacola, Florida, suffered up to five feet of flooding, and travel was cut by damaged roads and bridges. More than 500 000 homes and businesses across the area were without power as the storm knocked over stately oak trees and tore power lines from poles.

The storm was moving at a slow 5 mph pace toward the Alabama-Florida border but was predicted to pick up speed, the NHC said.

“The rain is what stands out with this one: It’s unreal,” said Cavin Hollyhand, 50, who left his home on a barrier island and took shelter in Mobile, Alabama, where he viewed the damage on Wednesday. Some isolated areas could see up to 35 inches (89 cm) of rain before Sally is done, the NHC said.

Upon landfall at Gulf Shores, Sally’s winds were clocked at 105 mph. Along the coast, piers were ripped away by the storm surge and winds.

Alabama Governor Kay Ivey told residents not to go outside to check on damage unless necessary, and to stay away from live power lines and fallen trees.

“We had strong winds for a long period of time,” said 38-year-old Grant Saltz as he took a break from clearing debris outside his Mobile restaurant. “Instead of a few hours we got it for 12 hours.”

In Pensacola, where wind gusts were clocked at 77 mph at one point, images on social media showed major floods. One witness reported hailstorms in the city as well and the NHC warned of possible tornados.

Pensacola police told residents not to drive around looking at damage due to high winds.

“We see lots of ‘lookers’ out,” the police department wrote on Twitter. “It’s slowing our progress down. Please stay at home!”

Sally is the 18th named storm in the Atlantic this year and the eighth of tropical storm or hurricane strength to hit the United States. There are currently three other named storms in the Atlantic, highlighting one of the most active Atlantic hurricane seasons on record.

“We’ve only got one name left,” said Jim Foerster, chief meteorologist at DTN, an energy, agriculture and weather data provider, referencing the procedure to name storms and the prospect of running out of letters. “That’s going to happen here soon, Wilfred, and then we’ll be into the Greek alphabet.”

Hurricanes have increased in their intensity and destructiveness since the 1980s as the climate warms, according to researchers at the US National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. Climate change is also a factor in the increasing frequency of record-breaking wildfires plaguing the western United States, scientists say.

Damage from Sally is expected to reach $2 billion to $3 billion, said Chuck Watson of Enki Research, which tracks tropical storms and models the cost of their damage. That estimate could rise if the heaviest rainfall happens over land, Watson said.

As the storm moved east and inland, ports on the western Gulf Coast were reopened to travel and energy companies were beginning to return crews to offshore oil platforms.

Sally shut more than a quarter of US Gulf of Mexico offshore oil and gas production. Two coastal oil refiners halted or slowed operations, adding to existing outages from last month’s Hurricane Laura and pandemic-related demand losses.

 

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