The island of Taiwan imposed new restrictions in its capital city on Saturday as it battled its worst outbreak since the pandemic began
Taiwan has reported 180 new cases of Covid-19 as it rushes to contain the worst outbreak the island has seen since the pandemic began. Authorities have raised the alert level in Taipei and the neighbouring county of New Taipei, limiting family gatherings, and ordering numerous industries to close.Taiwan has been one of the world’s pandemic success stories, and its case numbers remain low relative to outbreaks around the world. But Saturday’s cases, which bring its total number so far to about 1,470 among a population of 24 million, mark the highest rates of community transmission since the pandemic began. Until now almost all of Taiwan’s cases were detected in new arrivals held in hotel quarantine.Of the 180 cases, 132 were reportedly without a known source.At a press conference on Saturday, Premier Su Tseng-chang and cabinet ministers announced the lifting of the alert level for Taipei and New Taipei from two to three, on a four-level scale, where four establishes a lockdown. Beginning 4pm Saturday they will remain in place until 28 May, authorities said.According to guidelines published in local media, level 3 generally includes mandatory mask wearing in public, limits on outdoor gatherings to 10 and indoor gatherings to five, and the closure of all businesses except essential services, law enforcement, government services, and health services.However in Saturday’s announcement, food and beverage outlets were only ordered to close if they could not fully implement customer ID registration and social distancing measures. Customers were urged to choose takeout over dining in. Weddings and funerals have not been cancelled but will require registration of attendees, and the limits on gatherings did not apply to schools or work.Within hours of the announcement some supermarkets were mobbed by shoppers, despite no apparent suggestion that supermarkets would close.Scenes at a grocery store in Taipei, only 30 minutes after new Level 3 pandemic restrictions were announced. Shelves are empty. Checkout lines are snaking around the building. The wait is 1+ hour and getting longer 🛒 pic.twitter.com/YuzQtp4Zv3— Leslie V. Nguyen-Okwu 阮蕾 (@lnguyenokwu) May 15, 2021
Under the general guidelines, residents in neighbourhoods where community transmission has occurred – for example in Taipei’s Wanhua district which is at the centre of a major cluster – must stay within defined perimeters and comply with testing. Schools and public gatherings in the neighbourhood would also be suspended.Residents of Wanhua, where the outbreak was originally centred around several hostess bars and tea houses linked to the sex work industry, have been reporting in droves to rapid testing clinics since Friday. Authorities have promised law enforcement has no intention of targeting sex workers or undocumented migrants.Among Saturday’s reported cases, just 43 were in Wanhua.The rest of Taiwan remains on alert level 2 but entertainment venues have been ordered to close and religious gatherings banned. The Taiwan-Palau travel bubble has also been suspended until 8 June, and Hong Kong has increased its quarantine requirements for anyone arriving from Taiwan.The health minister, Chen Shih-chung, said alert level 4 would not be triggered unless there were 100 or more daily cases for seven consecutive days.The outbreak has caught Taiwan by surprise, after almost 18 months with no major outbreaks. The island state established border controls early on and runs a strict hotel and home quarantine system. However like several nations in the Pacific which had similar success, the country has a low vaccination rate, at least partly due to struggles convincing its population to get vaccinated. While the rollout has prioritised vulnerable and high risk groups, in recent weeks health services have offered self-paid vaccines to the general public in order to use up doses before they expire. On Friday president Tsai Ing-wen announced Taiwan’s first locally developed vaccine would be available by July.Taipei’s mayor and senior hospital authorities were expected to address the press on Saturday afternoon.
New record number of deaths in India
India posted a record rise in deaths from Covid-19 in the 24 hours to Wednesday morning local time, pushing its total fatalities past the 250,000 mark.
Deaths swelled by 4,205, while daily cases rose by 348,421, with India’s overall caseload now surging past 23 million, according to health ministry data.
There were also more reports on Wednesday of bodies being washed up on the Ganges river – the suspected result of a shortage of cremation sites.
India variant found in 44 countries – WHO
The World Health Organization said on Wednesday that a variant of Covid-19 behind the explosion of cases in India has been found in dozens of countries all over the world.
The UN health agency said the B.1.617 variant of Covid-19, first found in India in October, had been detected in more than 4,500 samples uploaded to an open-access database “from 44 countries in all six WHO regions”. Its weekly epidemiological update on the pandemic said it had received reports of detections from five additional countries.
Outside of India, it said that Britain had reported the largest number of Covid cases caused by the variant.
A train carriage converted into an isolation room for Covid-19 patients in Agartala, India. Photograph: Abhisek Saha/Le Pictorium Agency/ZUMA/REX/Shutterstock
at 5.31am BST
Good morning/afternoon/evening. I’m Martin Farrer and welcome to our rolling overage of the coronavirus pandemic.
Here are some of the main developments to get you up to speed:
The India variant Covid-19 has been found in dozens of countries all over the world, according to the World Health Organization’s weekly update on the pandemic. The UN health agency said the B.1.617 strain had been found in “44 countries in all six WHO regions”.
Deaths from Covid in India rose by another record amount in the last 24 hours. Fatalities were up by 4,205, the health ministry said, while daily coronavirus cases rose by 348,421.
Taiwan may be forced to raise its Covid-19 alert level in “coming days”, the health minister said on Wednesday. It could mean the closure of shops dealing in non-essential items after a cluster of six cases was discovered – a high number on the island which has kept infections very low throughout the pandemic.
Major US airlines have weighed in alongside UK carriers to urge the reopening of transatlantic travel, calling on governments in Washington and London to arrange a summit as soon as possible.
Pfizer has asked the UK medical regulator for permission to use its Covid-19 vaccine for 12- to 15-year-olds in Britain, the Telegraph reported on Wednesday.
Americans will be offered free taxis to vaccination centres in order to convince them to have a dose of the treatment. Joe Biden announced the scheme with Uber and Lyft on Tuesday.
A fresh outbreak in Australia has been blamed on a man who had completed hotel quarantine in South Australia. Officials in neighbouring Victoria said on Wednesday that the man tested positive after returning home to Melbourne.
The virus has cost Australia A$311bn (£171bn), according to Tuesday’s federal budget, thnaks to the massive cost of health and job support schemes.
Brazil has signed a deal for Pfizer to deliver an additional 100m doses of its Covid-19 vaccine, doubling the number of shots from the company. The health ministry recorded 72,715 additional confirmed cases of the coronavirus in the past 24 hours, along with 2,311 deaths.
The Canadian provinces of Alberta and Ontario said on Tuesday they would stop offering first doses of AstraZeneca’s vaccine, with Ontario citing evidence that the risk of rare blood clots is somewhat higher than previously estimated.
The New South Wales health minister has said a newspaper’s decision to name the man who visited numerous barbecue shops in Sydney while infected with Covid-19 was “appalling” and would undermine public health.Brad Hazzard said the Australian Financial Review’s story identifying a patient “stinks” because it may discourage the public from cooperating fully with the contact tracers in the future and the man had not consented to have his identity revealed.“No journalist should think it’s OK to go naming a patient, someone who is working with [the Department of] Health,” Hazzard said.“It’s the quickest way to destroy the confidence of all of us if we think that some journalist somewhere thinks it’s OK to name a patient who is working with us to make sure the community stays safe. It stinks, actually.”Last week, the state announced two locally acquired cases, a man in his 50s from Woollahra – dubbed Patient X – and his wife, also in her 50s, but the couple was not named as is the usual practice.AFR editor-in-chief Michael Stutchbury has defended his decision to identify the patient as newsworthy. “[The executive] is a prominent businessman involved in a number of key business transactions and it was newsworthy and in the public interest to explain his movements given the ongoing reporting around the visits,” a spokesperson for Stutchbury told Guardian Australia.“We approached [the company] and they were aware of the story and provided comments. We recognise and acknowledge the government’s concerns and did not take this decision lightly.”The NSW chief health officer, Dr Kerry Chant, said the man, who was named against his will, was reassured by the department that the information did not come from officials.“I’m incredibly disappointed,” Chant said. “I stood up [at the press conference] every day and I got to say I really respect the way the media hasn’t pushed me when I won’t give the exact age or disclose something.“In the end we rely on people sharing the most blow-by-blow descriptions.”Chant said the man had taken several calls a day from the department and had provided multiple details including his walking route and his credit card time stamps. “It’s not a good outcome for public health when that happens,” Chant said.Last week the premier, Gladys Berejiklian, said the man had been “very active in the inner east” and had been “very good” at registering his details at locations he visited, including a cinema at Bondi Junction and several barbecue stores.On Monday, in its markets column Street Talk, the Nine Entertainment financial daily revealed the man’s name, position and employer.The AFR story was then copied by the Daily Mail and news.com.au, which both ran multiple photographs which further identified the couple.The newspaper carried a comment from the man’s employer, saying it won’t comment on an employee’s medical condition.
New South Wales will extend most of its Covid-19 restrictions for another week as it struggles to identify the missing link between a quarantine case and the recent, small outbreak.The state has again not reported any further community transmission, recording zero cases in the 24 hours to 8pm Saturday.But NSW Health said it was still unable to identify the link between a case in hotel quarantine and two cases in the eastern suburbs, which were connected by rapid genomic sequencing work last week.The state will therefore extend the current restrictions by another week across Greater Sydney, aside from one change, which will allow customers to shop without masks. Retail staff will continue to need to wear masks.On Thursday, the state announced two locally acquired cases, a man in his 50s from Woollahra – dubbed Patient X – and his wife, also in her 50s.The source of their infection has not yet yet been established. But authorities continue to believe he contracted the virus upon brief contact with someone else who was infectious in the community.“Investigations are ongoing into the source of two locally acquired cases, announced on Thursday 6 May,” NSW Health said on Sunday. “They are household contacts of each other; a man and woman in their 50s from the eastern suburbs.”“Despite extensive investigations to date, NSW Health has not identified how the initial case, the man in his 50s, was exposed to Covid-19, which suggests he acquired the infection through brief contact with a currently unidentified person who was infectious in the community.”The extension of the restrictions will last until 12.01 am, Monday 17 May.Households will be limited to 20 visitors, including children, and masks will still be compulsory on public transport and in public indoor venues, including aged care facilities. Visitors to aged care facilities are still limited to two people per day.Pubs and bars will not be allowed to have patrons standing up and drinking and dancing will continue to be prohibited, except for at weddings. Singing by audiences at indoor shows or at church is also not allowed.Promisingly, NSW Health said testing numbers were still strong. About 18,000 tests were reported to 8pm last night, a dip from the 22,153 the day prior.NSW Health said high testing rates were vital for detecting the unknown link that led to the community transmission.“We thank the community for their strong response to calls for testing and continue to urge everyone in NSW with even the mildest symptoms – such as headache, fatigue, cough, sore throat or runny nose – to come forward immediately for testing, then isolate until you receive a negative result.”
This year authorities have eased quarantine rules in an effort to lure back foreign adventurers.Everest Base Camp, Nepal: More than 30 sick climbers have been evacuated from the foot of Mount Everest, raising fears that coronavirus may scupper a hoped-for bumper season on the world’s highest mountain.Nepal’s tourism industry suffered a devastating blow last year when the pandemic prompted a complete shutdown of its summits, costing millions in lost revenue.This year authorities have eased quarantine rules in an effort to lure back foreign adventurers and have issued climbing permits to more than 400 people, a new record.An Everest permit alone costs $11,000 and climbers pay upward of $40,000 for an expedition.But the warmer weather that ushers in safer conditions for scaling Nepal’s dangerous, snow-capped peaks has coincided with a deadly second wave of Covid-19 infections, with active cases in the country rising six-fold in the last two weeks.Norwegian climber Erlend Ness spent two nights sleeping in his tent at base camp last month, unsure of what was making him ill.”I was evacuated to Kathmandu and was tested. My result was positive for Covid,” he told AFP, becoming the first climber with an Everest permit to confirm his infection.”I think I’m not the only one… Every team at the base camp knows the risk of Covid is there and they have to be careful, they should be careful,” he said.Fellow climber Gina Marie Han-Lee decided to abandon her expedition last week over fears the disease was spreading around base camp.”I have taken a helicopter out of EBC (Everest base camp) back to Kathmandu after 1 day. The Covid situation at EBC is a total shitstorm. I had no clue what I was flying into,” the US citizen wrote on her Facebook page on April 29.”It was a heartbreaking decision but I’m putting my health first. Covid at a high altitude does not sound like something I want to play with.””We don’t have tests here”Officials at a health clinic catering to the climbers say more than 30 people have been flown off the camp in recent weeks.At least two have tested positive after returning to the capital Kathmandu.But the government has yet to confirm a single Covid case on Everest.”Some evacuated may have tested positive in Kathmandu. They did not test at the base camp, so we cannot be sure where they got infected,” said Nepal’s tourism department chief Rudra Singh Tamang.Health professionals at the camp say they do not have the capacity to test for the disease.”We have permission to only work as a clinic so we don’t have tests here. We have made requests but nothing has happened yet,” a doctor there said.More than a thousand people are typically camped at the bustling tent city at the foot of Everest, including foreign climbers and the teams of Nepali guides that escort them to the peak.But the usual reverie and loud communal parties are absent this year after expedition groups were asked to keep to themselves and avoid socialising with others.Customary religious ceremonies held before an ascent to pray for a safe expedition have also been turned into quiet and private affairs.”We are taking all precautions possible to make sure that there are no infections,” said Tashi Sherpa of Seven Summit Treks, the largest climbing agency at Everest.”We are not visiting other tents, and even groups within the camps are not mixing.””We are very scared”More than 400 people in Nepal have died over the last two weeks after contracting Covid.The country’s health system has been overwhelmed by the sudden spike, with hospitals filling fast and relatives of patients scrambling for medicine and intensive care beds.Climbers on peaks elsewhere in the country have also run into problems.An expedition on Dhaulagiri, the seventh highest mountain in the world, is in limbo after at least three members tested positive for Covid this week.Nine are being evacuated and others are being tested, the head of their expedition said.Breathing is already difficult at high altitudes so any coronavirus outbreak among climbing groups could pose severe health risks.Evacuating ill climbers from the remote peaks poses a major logistical challenge.”We are very scared, there are many rumours and we don’t know what is really going on,” said Harshvardhan Joshi, an Indian climber hoping to summit Everest.”What if someone shows symptoms after reaching a higher camp?”(Except for the headline, this story has not been edited by NDTV staff and is published from a syndicated feed.)
Congo has declared an end to the latest Ebola outbreak that killed six people in its east
Authorities say disease has been contained thanks to vaccination drive as they continue to monitor situation.The Democratic Republic of the Congo on Monday declared the end of an Ebola outbreak that infected 12 people in the eastern province of North Kivu and killed six of them.
The outbreak was contained using Merck’s Ebola vaccine, which was given to more than 1,600 of the patients’ contacts, and contacts of contacts, the international medical charity Doctors Without Borders (Medecins Sans Frontieres, or MSF) said.
The cases were genetically linked to the 2018-20 Ebola epidemic that killed more than 2,200 people, the second-highest toll recorded in the disease’s history.
The latest flare-up, the DRC’s 12th since the disease was first identified in 1976, emerged on February 3 in the city of Butembo with the death of a woman whose husband had contracted the virus in the previous outbreak.
The virus can remain in certain body fluids, including semen, of a patient who has recovered from the disease, even if they no longer have symptoms of severe illness.
“I am pleased to solemnly declare the end of the 12th epidemic of Ebola virus disease in North Kivu Province,” health minister Jean-Jacques Mbungani said in a statement on Monday.
“Despite the security context and the COVID-19 pandemic, the rapidity and efficiency of the response put in place by the government and its partners made it possible to defeat this pandemic in less than three months,” he said.
The response was often hampered by insecurity caused by armed groups and social unrest limited the movement of health workers, the World Health Organization (WHO) said in a statement.
“Huge credit must be given to the local health workers and the national authorities for their prompt response, tenacity, experience and hard work that brought this outbreak under control,” said Matshidiso Moeti, the WHO regional director for Africa.
“Although the outbreak has ended, we must stay alert for possible resurgence and at the same time use the growing expertise on emergency response to address other health threats the country faces.”
Mbungani urged the population to remain vigilant, and said surveillance teams will continue to work with the local health authorities to watch for any further cases.
A much-feared viral disease that can lead to internal bleeding and organ failure, Ebola killed some 11,000 people in West Africa between 2013 and 2016.
The DRC is also fighting the coronavirus pandemic. The country has reported nearly 30,000 cases and 768 deaths.
Viral images show seas of burning bodies in makeshift crematoriums. Hospital beds and oxygen are scarce. Desperate patients and relatives have turned to the black market for medicine, while others die as they wait for care.
Security officers checking cars along a road in Suva after the Fijian capital entered a 14-day lockdown.Suva: A Covid-19 outbreak that forced Fiji’s capital into lockdown after the island nation avoided transmission for a year was confirmed as the Indian variant Tuesday, with health officials saying they feared a “tsunami” of cases.The Pacific country had largely dodged community transmission before a cluster emerged this month centred on a quarantine facility in Nadi, the city that is home to Fiji’s international airport.The permanent secretary for health and medical services, James Fong, said six new cases had emerged in quarantine facilities on Tuesday and events in India showed the threat posed by the strain could not be underestimated.”We cannot let that nightmare happen in Fiji,” he said in a televised address.”We still have time to stop it happening but a single misstep will bring about the same Covid tsunami that our friends in India, Brazil, South Africa, the United Kingdom and the United States are enduring.”Fiji has largely contained the virus through strict isolation measures and border controls, recording 109 cases and just two deaths in a population of 930,000.There are currently 42 active cases, 18 of them detected at the border and 24 locally transmitted.The cluster began when a soldier contracted the virus at a quarantine facility and transmitted it to his wife, who then exposed up to 500 people at a funeral.Fong said there was evidence that soldiers who had returned from overseas deployments had broken quarantine rules by mixing with each other when they should have been in isolation.”This is unacceptable,” he said, adding that the military was investigating what had happened.The capital Suva is in lockdown, along with Nadi and Lautoka, Fiji’s second largest city.Authorities on Tuesday banned inter-island travel, while national carrier Fiji Airways has suspended all international and domestic passenger flights.The emergence of community transmission is a blow for Fiji’s hopes of opening quarantine-free travel bubbles with Australia and New Zealand, both major sources of international tourists before the pandemic.(Except for the headline, this story has not been edited by NDTV staff and is published from a syndicated feed.)