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Kuwait has 20,000+ hospital beds, will import remdesivir

By B Izzak

KUWAIT: The National Assembly’s health and labor committee discussed with Health Minister Sheikh Dr Basel Al-Sabah and ministry officials the latest developments on the coronavirus and the Chinese medical team visit. MP Mohammad Al-Huwailah said ministry officials informed the committee that they have struck a deal with a US company to import sufficient quantities of the new coronavirus drug. The lawmaker was referring to remdesivir, which has reportedly shown positive results on coronavirus patients. He said the officials highlighted the strong measures taken by the health ministry in fighting the disease, reiterating the country’s health system’s capability to deal with the coronavirus.

Rapporteur of the committee MP Saadoun Hammad said that the ministry informed the panel that the Chinese report has not yet been sent as the team left Kuwait and will send its report soon. The minister told the panel that team members did not visit wards of Jaber Hospital, where hundreds of coronavirus patients are being treated, because the Chinese Embassy prevented them from doing so.

Hammad said the minister told the panel that 480 new beds, including 96 intensive care beds, have been allocated at Jahra Hospital for Kuwaiti coronavirus patients. The ministry also told the panel that as many as 10,800 hospital beds have been made ready during the coronavirus crisis to add to around 10,000 other beds at various hospitals, he said. Hammad said that committee members called on the health ministry to provide more protection to medical staff dealing with the disease after a recent spike in infections among them.

Member of the committee Osama Al-Shaheen said that the danger from the coronavirus has not ended and that measures will not be eased until the disease curve starts to go down. He said health officials told the panel that 41 percent of cases in Kuwait do not show any symptoms, which poses a great danger in fighting the disease. Hammad also urged the education minister to officially end the school year and declare students in classes from one to 11 as having passed and adopt first term marks for 12th graders.

Meanwhile, MPs and the oil trade union yesterday criticized proposed government amendments to the labor law in the private sector which would allow employers to cut salaries of their staff. MP Humoud Al-Khudhair advised the government not to send its amendments to the National Assembly because they will be rejected, saying that rights of workers should not be curtailed. Khudhair also called on other lawmakers to reject the proposed amendments.

The Cabinet on Monday approved in principle amendments to the labor law to allow employers and employees strike a mutual agreement to cut the salaries of the staff under the existing circumstances. A large number of MPs said they will reject the amendments because they will force Kuwaitis to leave the private sector. Head of the petroleum and petrochemicals trade union Mohammad Al-Hajeri strongly opposed the amendments, stressing that the rights of workers cannot be reduced. He said the trade union has been pressing authorities to introduce more guarantees in the labor law to ensure employers will not reduce salaries or benefits of workers.

MP Ahmad Al-Fadhl explained yesterday that his amendments to the labor law are different from those of the government, adding that his proposals apply only to companies that are facing financial distress and cash flow problems. He said his proposal calls to allow companies which face economic problems due to the coronavirus to negotiate temporary salary cuts with their employers as a solution against resorting to firing them. Fadhl said his proposals are temporary and are subject to approvals by authorities, adding that salaries will go back to their original value once the pandemic is over.

US President Donald Trump made his first major foray out of the White House since the coronavirus lockdown began in a push for economic reopening as the daily US death toll from the disease spiked. It came as Britain became the country with the second most deaths in the world at 32,000, putting it above Italy in the grim ranking of national fatalities.

Elsewhere in Europe, hard-hit Spain and France reported a levelling off of figures, offering hope that life could slowly start returning to normal, but in Latin America the death toll passed 15,000. With experts warning of a severe global recession, many governments have been easing stay-at-home measures to try to revive reeling economies. “We can’t keep our country closed for the next five years,” Trump said on a trip to a mask-making factory in Arizona, conceding that some people would be “badly affected”.

And in the latest sign his administration no longer considers the pandemic its top daily priority, the White House is set to disband the emergency task force handling the outbreak. “I think we’re starting to look at the Memorial Day (May 25) window, early June window” for shutting it down, Vice President Mike Pence said. Trump urged US states to ease restrictions as he attempts to fire up the world’s biggest economy before the November presidential election, when the high death toll and millions of lost jobs could cost him dearly.

At least 256,422 people have died of the novel coronavirus since the epidemic surfaced in China late last year, according to an AFP tally. The United States is the worst-hit country, with more than 70,000 deaths, ahead of Britain where fatalities topped 32,000. The new UK toll from the Office for National Statistics and regional health bodies has not yet been incorporated into the government’s deaths figure of 29,427. The US registered 2,333 more deaths over the 24 hours to Tuesday evening, according to a Johns Hopkins University tracker, more than twice as many as the day before. Some scientific models suggest the figure will rise to 3,000 a day by June.

In New York, the challenge was further highlighted when 15 children were hospitalized with a rare inflammatory disease possibly linked to the coronavirus, raising alarm in the medical community. The children were diagnosed with Kawasaki disease, a mysterious illness that causes the walls of arteries to become inflamed, resulting in fever, skin peeling and joint pain. Four of the patients tested positive for COVID-19 and six were found to have antibodies, suggesting they had previously been infected.

Countries across the world are balancing the need to revive stalled economies against the risk of a new wave of deadly infections. In Germany, regional leaders pushed back against Chancellor Angela Merkel’s pleas for caution, with the biggest state Bavaria saying it would reopen restaurants and hotels this month. Hong Kong announced plans to reopen schools, cinemas, bars and beauty parlors from Friday, while Californian bookshops, florists and clothing stores will also be allowed to reopen at the end of the week.

Social distancing rules were eased in South Korea, where workers went back to offices yesterday, and museums and libraries were reopened. And in ground-zero Wuhan, Chinese youngsters filed back to class yesterday for the first time since the city was shut down in January, wearing masks and walking past thermal scanners. Senior school students in 121 institutions were back in front of chalk boards and digital displays for the first time since their city – the ground zero of the coronavirus pandemic – shut down in January. Teenagers sat at individual desks spaced a metre apart, seeing their teachers in the flesh after months of distance learning.

Only the province’s oldest students were present yesterday – vocational students and seniors who are due to take the make-or-break university entrance exams. Officials in Wuhan say students and staff must all have had virus tests before going back to school, and campuses have been disinfected and cleaned. In preparation for reopening, some schools spaced out their desks and organized smaller class sizes, according to local media. Thermal scanners greeted everyone walking through school gates, and anyone with a high temperature was not allowed in. State-run China Daily said some places arranged staggered arrival times for teachers and students.

The pandemic’s economic casualties have continued to pile up. Spain added 280,000 people to its jobless ranks, while the Virgin Atlantic airline said it would have to fire one in three staff as the virus grounds planes worldwide. Walt Disney said it expected an impact of some $1.4 billion in the current fiscal quarter as a result of a massive hit to its theme parks and other operations. And home-sharing platform Airbnb announced it would slash one fourth of its workforce due to the collapse of the travel industry.

In a ray of hope for the sports world, South Korea’s baseball players returned to action, albeit to empty stadiums. Banners with photos of masked fans stretched across the bleachers at the SK Wyverns club’s Munhak Baseball Stadium in Incheon. Players have been asked not to shake hands or exchange high-fives, while spitting is prohibited. Tomorrow will also see the delayed start of the country’s football K-League.

In Europe, Juventus players returned to individual training at the Italian football giants’ base in Turin on Tuesday, though their Portuguese star Cristiano Ronaldo began two weeks’ quarantine on his return following two months of confinement on his native island of Madeira. But in Britain, sports leaders warned of the “catastrophic” impact of the virus, with football, cricket and rugby counting the cost of delayed or cancelled tournaments and leagues.

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