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1 death, 93 cases in Kuwait; global deaths pass 150,000

KUWAIT/WASHINGTON: The ministry of health yesterday reported 93 new coronavirus infections and one fatality in the last 24 hours, bringing the total number of infections to 1,751 and total deaths to six. In a statement, Health Ministry Spokesperson Dr Abdullah Al-Sanad said 34 patients are in intensive care, 18 of them in critical condition and 16 stable.

He added death cases reached six after confirming the death of a Bangladeshi resident (68 years old), noting that he was in the intensive care unit for nine days. Those currently receiving treatment at hospitals reached 1,465 patients, Sanad said, adding that 20 individuals have completed quarantine in the last 24 hours. Earlier, the ministry announced the recovery of 22 new patients, bringing the total to 280 recoveries.

Coronavirus deaths have surged past 150,000 worldwide with nearly a quarter of them in the United States, where President Donald Trump lent his support to protestors rallying against lockdown orders. Evidence is mounting that social distancing successfully slowed the pandemic after more than half of humanity – 4.5 billion people – were confined to their homes.

Governments around the world are now grappling with when and how to ease lockdowns that have crippled the global economy, even as the COVID-19 death toll climbs further in hard-hit countries. Demonstrators in three US states assembled in public this week to call for an end to the restrictions, with the largest protest in Michigan attracting 3,000 people – some of whom were armed.

Trump has largely left decisions on easing lockdowns to state officials even as he outlined guidelines for a staged reopening of the national economy. But his call to “liberate” Michigan, Minnesota and Virginia in a series of tweets were quickly rebuked by the Democratic leaders of the three states. “I do not have time to involve myself in Twitter wars,” said Virginia governor Ralph Northam. The US accounts for nearly a third of the 2.2 million coronavirus infections reported globally.

It has also recorded around 37,000 deaths, more than any other nation, followed by Italy, Spain and France which have all been ravaged by their own outbreaks. However these figures likely reflect only a fraction of the actual number of infections, because many countries are testing only the most serious cases. Virtually no corner of the world has been left untouched, with deaths in Africa passing 1,000 overnight. Nigeria announced the death of President Muhammadu Buhari’s top aide on Saturday, the highest-profile person to succumb to the virus in Africa’s most populous nation.

China sharply raised its own death toll to 4,636 on Friday after adding another 1,290 fatalities for the city of Wuhan, where the respiratory disease first emerged late last year. Trump, who has angrily shot back at claims he reacted too slowly to the virus threat, has accused Beijing of downplaying the impact of the virus within its borders. “It is far higher than that and far higher than the US, not even close!” he tweeted.

Trump did not offer evidence, but pressure has mounted in recent days on Beijing to come clean over its handling of the original outbreak. Leaders in France and Britain have also questioned China’s management of the crisis but Beijing hit back, saying it had not concealed information about the illness.

Wuhan’s epidemic control headquarters said in a social media posting on Friday that it had added 1,290 deaths to the tally in the city, which has suffered the vast majority of China’s fatalities from COVID-19, the disease caused by the virus. That brings the total number of deaths in the city to 3,869. But the city government only added 325 cases, raising the city’s total number of infections to 50,333.

The change also pushes the nationwide death toll up by nearly 39 percent to 4,632, based on official national data released earlier on Friday. The official toll in the country of 1.4 billion people, however, remains well below the number of fatalities in much smaller countries such as Italy and Spain.

Chinese foreign ministry spokesman Zhao Lijian acknowledged that the virus’s rapid spread had contributed to undercounting, but added: “There has never been any concealment, and we’ll never allow any concealment.” There however has also been some domestic discontent over the authorities’ handling of the outbreak, especially in Hubei province and its capital, Wuhan.

A civil servant in Yichang, which is in Hubei, said he had filed a lawsuit against provincial authorities for covering up the epidemic. “Someone must be held accountable for this,” Tan Jun, the civil servant, said on social media. He later said police ordered him not to talk about the matter. Wuhan cited several reasons for the missed cases, including that medical staff were overwhelmed in the early days as infections climbed, leading to “late reporting, omissions or misreporting”. It also cited insufficient testing and treatment facilities, and said the deaths of some patients at home were not properly reported.

Signs that the outbreak could be easing in parts of Europe prompted Switzerland, Denmark and Finland to begin reopening shops schools this week. Germany’s health minister said infection rates had “sunk significantly” after 3,400 deaths in his country, which is now beginning the delicate task of lifting some restrictions without triggering a secondary outbreak. Some small shops will be allowed to reopen Monday, and some children would return to school within weeks. Parts of Italy also began emerging from lockdown, with Venice residents strolling around quiet canals. But Japan, Britain and Mexico all expanded their current movement restrictions.

Signs of the economic damage of the pandemic are mounting, with China reporting its first contraction in GDP in several decades. The Trump administration pledged another $19 billion in relief for farmers reeling from a massive jolt to the agricultural markets with schools and restaurants shuttered across the country. Part of the funds will be used to buy up surplus dairy products and produce that farmers have been destroying, unable to get it to consumers or food processors.

“Having to dump milk and plow under vegetables ready to market is not only financially distressing, but it’s heartbreaking as well to those who produce them,” agriculture secretary Sonny Perdue said. African state leaders and global financial bodies warned on Friday that the continent needed tens of billions of dollars in additional funds to fight the outbreak. The IMF also warned the virus could spark another “lost decade” in Latin America and backed debt moratoriums to free up spending for the region’s fragile economies.

Saudi Arabia’s Grand Mufti Sheikh Abdulaziz Al-Sheikh, the highest religious authority in the country, said prayers during Ramadan and for the subsequent Eid al-Fitr feast should be performed at home if the coronavirus outbreak continues, Saudi’s Okaz newspaper reported on Friday. “Ramadan’s taraweeh (evening) prayer can be performed at home if it cannot be performed at mosques due to the preventive measures taken to fight the spread of coronavirus,” he said in response to a question, adding that the same applies for Eid prayers, according to the paper.

The holy fasting month of Ramadan begins next week. Saudi Arabia in mid-March stopped people performing their five daily prayers and the weekly Friday prayer inside mosques as part of efforts to limit the spread of the coronavirus. On Thursday, the Prophet’s Mosque in the holy city of Madinah said it was banning events which dispense evening meals in the mosque to those in need during Ramadan to break their daily fast. – Agencies

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