America’s new infections have reached an all-time high, with at least 40,870 people in a day testing positive to the coronavirus as the White House reaffirmed its mission to revive the economy.
Southern states like Texas, which had been leading a push to reopen, have experienced a huge resurgence in COVID-19, as the USA’s tally surpassed its previous highest record of 36,400 confirmed daily infections, set on April 24.
Eleven states – including Texas, Florida and Arizona – have reported a spike of 50 per cent or more in the past week, while 32 states have seen their numbers rise, according to data from John Hopkins University.
US vice-president Mike Pence held the first coronavirus taskforce briefing in almost two months, saying the country was seeing “encouraging news” as the nation resumed normal life.
“We stand here today because with the rising cases among southern states, President Trump asked us to brief the American people, to give details on what we’re seeing, what we’re doing, and how it’s different from two months ago,” Mr Pence said.
“We want to move America forward, even while we take and continue to take the steps necessary to protect lives and the health of the American people.”
America’s struggle comes as the World Health Organisation called for donations after revealing a funding gap of $US27.9 billion ($40.65 billion) to fight the pandemic.
The WHO is leading an international coalition to develop and deliver 500 million tests, 245 million courses of treatment and two billion vaccine doses to low and middle-income countries.
However only $US3.4 billion ($4.95 billion) of the money it needs has been raised and the call is being made to governments and the private sector to pitch in.
USA freedoms on pause
As Mr Pence claimed “all 50 states and territories across this country are opening up safely and responsibly”, a number of states have begun winding back freedoms.
Texas, which had been among those states wanting economic revival, has paused its reopening and enforced business restrictions following a record increase in daily positive tests.
Texas governor Greg Abbott blamed “certain types of activities, including Texans congregating in bars” for the spike of 6000 new daily cases as he ordered pubs could now only provide delivery and take away.
Restaurants have been limited to 50 per cent capacity for dining-in while rafting and tubing businesses must close and outdoor gatherings of 100 people require permission.
Florida reported almost 9,000 new cases on Friday (local time) – up from 5,000 the day before – as it also cracked down on pubs and clubs.
Mr Pence said about half of the new cases were in younger people , many of whom he said were asymptomatic.
“We’re seeing more and more young people under the age of 35 who are testing positive – in many cases they have no symptoms, but they’re coming forward,” he said.
Mr Pence appeared to play down links between the states that wanted to reopen and the current infection surge.
“I think there will be a temptation for people to look at these sunbelt states that have been reopening and putting people back to work, and suggest that reopening has to do with what we’re seeing in the last week or so.
“But frankly in the case of each of these states, they reopened – in some cases – almost two months ago. And their test cases, their new cases from testing was low and steady, their positivity rate was low.”
To date the USA has had more than 2.4 million infections and almost 125,000 deaths.
It’s school holidays – time to get tested
Almost 5000 thermometers are being shipped to Victorian holiday spots as the state nervously enters the school holidays in the midst of a resurgent coronavirus crisis.
The state government is distributing about 4800 of the infrared thermometers while testing clinics will be set up on the Great Ocean Road and in the Victorian Alps to coincide with the holidays.
The health advice for Victorians is that they can travel within the state during the fortnight of the school holidays – as long as they are healthy.
Anyone with virus symptoms, however mild, must stay home and undergo testing.
Victoria recorded 30 new COVID-19 cases on Friday as the state racked up a 10th day of new cases in the double digits.
That is in stark contrast to the rest of the country. On Thursday, there were only four new cases outside Victoria, all in NSW.
Of the state’s 1947 total cases, 183 are active including six people in hospital.
It also emerged on Friday that almost a third of returned travellers in hotel quarantine in Victoria have been refusing to be tested for coronavirus.
Deputy Chief Health Officer Annaliese van Diemen said about 30 per cent of international travellers were refusing to be tested despite multiple offers during their 14-day stay.
Chief Medical Officer Brendan Murphy said people in hotel quarantine need to be tested for the virus at the start and end of their stay.
“That 30 per cent is quite a high rate, other states haven’t seen the same rate of refusal,” he said in Canberra on Friday.
“But states have the powers … to say to someone, ‘Well, we won’t let you out of quarantine until you’ve been tested and had a clear test’.
“We will … make sure that people understand before they come that this is a requirement. I think most people will co-operate with that arrangement.”
Victoria has ramped up testing, conducting 20,000 since Thursday, bringing the total tests in the state to more than 736,000.
The state is concentrating its testing efforts on 10 suburbs with high community transmission: Keilor Downs, Broadmeadows, Maidstone, Albanvale, Sunshine West, Hallam, Brunswick West, Fawkner, Reservoir and Pakenham.
Public health officials are doorknocking the streets of the six local government areas identified as COVID-19 hot spots to ensure residents are doing the right thing.
These areas are the Melbourne municipalities of Brimbank, Cardinia, Casey, Darebin, Hume and Moreland.
Sewage turns up COVID-19 – more than a year ago
Spanish virologists have found traces of the novel coronavirus in a sample of Barcelona waste water collected in March 2019, nine months before the COVID-19 disease was identified in China, the University of Barcelona says.
The discovery of virus genome presence so early in Spain, if confirmed, would imply the disease may have appeared much earlier than the scientific community thought.
The University of Barcelona team, who had been testing waste water since mid-April this year to identify potential new outbreaks, decided to also run tests on older samples.
They first found the virus was present in Barcelona on January 15, 2020, 41 days before the first case was officially reported there.
Then they ran tests on samples taken between January 2018 and December 2019 and found the presence of the virus genome in one of them, collected on March 12, 2019.
“The levels of SARS-CoV-2 were low but were positive,” research leader Albert Bosch was quoted as saying by the university.
Dr Joan Ramon Villalbi of the Spanish Society for Public Health and Sanitary Administration told Reuters it was still early to draw definitive conclusions.
“When it’s just one result, you always want more data, more studies, more samples to confirm it and rule out a laboratory error or a methodological problem,” he said.
There was the potential for a false positive due to the virus’ similarities with other respiratory infections.
“But it’s definitely interesting, it’s suggestive,” Dr Villalbi said.
Spain has recorded more than 28,000 confirmed deaths and nearly 250,000 cases of the virus so far.