America’s Covid response is flawed. But even the gold standard nations are seeing big outbreaks
Yet even countries lauded for their fast and effective responses to Covid-19 are seeing large outbreaks and resurgences of the infection, as it becomes clear that successes in containing the virus are often only temporary.
Its government took further action to curb a second wave in March, as Hong Kong residents began returning to the city, bringing the virus back with them. Authorities barred non-residents from entering Hong Kong, halted transit through the city’s airport, and implemented strict quarantine and testing on arrivals.
For many weeks, daily virus cases were down to single digits, and sometimes zero.
Despite all this, the semi-autonomous region has been facing a “third wave” of infections since July 6, with authorities warning of potential “exponential growth” in cases.
The city has introduced a mask mandate for the first time, although many of its citizens wore them anyway.
“If this trend continues, it [will be] very difficult to handle the situation,” said Dr. Chuang Shuk-kwan of Hong Kong’s Centre for Health Protection, warning that the city’s testing capacity, quarantine facilities and hospital capacity were reaching the limit. In total, the city has reported 2,372 Covid-19 cases, and people are now being urged to stay at home.
Australia was another country held up as the gold standard for its pandemic response.
On February 1, Australia joined the US in closing its borders to foreign visitors who had recently been in China. As the virus spread, Australia barred entries from Iran, South Korea and Italy in early March, before closing its borders to all non-citizens and non-residents on March 19.
The country banned public gatherings and non-essential travel as part of a series of restrictions in late March and, for a time, the outbreak was considered broadly under control.
A spokesperson for the Australian Department of Health said in a statement to CNN in early May that “we have well and truly flattened the curve of cases and new infections.”
“The next step beyond this will be to build confidence and momentum that will see our economy get back up and running and get Australians back up on their feet and moving ahead with confidence,” Morrison said.
Dr. William Haseltine, president of the think tank ACCESS Health International, held Australia up as an example to the US. He said the nation, along with China and New Zealand, had effectively dealt with serious outbreaks of the coronavirus and through testing, contact tracing and clear guidance had brought new cases down to single digits.
The border between Victoria and New South Wales (NSW) — Australia’s two most populous states — was closed for the first time, lockdown was reimposed and masks were made mandatory last weekend. Buying food, exercise, going to work and care are the only exceptions to the stay-at-home order for Melbourne and the surrounding area.
Victoria recorded 403 new cases of Covid-19 on Wednesday, according to Premier Daniel Andrews, the third-highest daily increase in cases since the pandemic began, slightly down on Tuesday’s record of 484 new cases. Australia now has more than 13,000 cases and 140 deaths, according to Johns Hopkins University (JHU).
Japan also seemed to have responded effectively to the coronavirus.
On May 25, Prime Minister Shinzo Abe lifted its state of emergency, saying in a briefing that “we were able to end the outbreak in about one month and a half with Japan’s own way.” He said the nation would gradually increase social and economic activities to create a “new life” with the coronavirus.
Business and social activities began returning and Tokyo governor Yuriko Koike said that museums and sports facilities would reopen with safety conditions, and schooling would be phased back in.
The Japanese government even launched a new travel initiative to encourage domestic travel.
But infections have since started to surge, and Japan recorded its highest daily tally of 981 cases on Thursday, according to the Ministry of Health, along with two deaths. The total number of cases in Japan is now almost 29,000, with 994 deaths, according to JHU.
Several prefectures with the largest cities posted record-high numbers on Thursday.
Tokyo governor Yuriko Koike reported a record 366 new Covid-19 cases — the first time it’s topped the 300 mark. Of the patients, 60% are aged in their 20s and 30s, according to Koike.
New research from Japan suggests that many coronavirus clusters outside of hospitals may have been started by people who are younger than 40 or don’t feel sick, underscoring the importance of measures, such as face coverings, to slow the spread.
With early travel restrictions and sweeping closures, the nation had largely contained the virus spread, recording a mortality rate that was far better than many countries in the Western world. As coronavirus tore across the US and Europe, Israel was moving towards reopening.
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu routinely held news conferences about this success, warning about the newest challenges and taking credit for the victories.
On April 18, almost exactly two months after Israel discovered its first case, Netanyahu declared that the country had succeeded in its fight, setting a global example “in safeguarding life and blocking the outbreak of the pandemic.” He predicted Israel would set an example in restarting the economy as well.
But the second wave its health experts are now cataloging appears to be tracking for a very different ending.
Just weeks after reopening restaurants, malls and beaches, Israel was seeing a 50-fold surge in coronavirus cases from approximately 20 new cases a day in mid-May to more than 1,000 less than two months later.
In early July, Netanyahu announced that gyms, pools, event halls, pubs and more would close indefinitely, while restaurants and places of worship would operate with limited numbers. Desperate to avoid a complete lockdown with unemployment already at more than 20%, Netanyahu issued a stark warning.
“All citizens of Israel know, or need to understand, that we must now take limited actions, with as minimal an economic impact as possible, in order to avoid those extreme measures that will paralyze the economy,” he said.
But on July 17, Israel re-imposed a series of strict limitations, bringing the country closer to a second complete lockdown, as cases hit another daily record. The government announced that restaurants would be limited to take-out or delivery service, gatherings limited to 10 people indoors, and stores, malls, museums and salons would close on weekends. From Friday, beaches will also close at weekends.
On Thursday, Israel hit a new record of 1,819 new cases within 24 hours. The previous record of 1,758 was set one day earlier.
At a cabinet meeting that day, Netanyahu warned: “We are making every effort to avoid a general lockdown… We do not have many choices; it is not a normal situation. This is not a situation in which we can do all these processes that take days and hope that everything will be fine. The disease is changing speed and we must change together with it.”
Israel’s top public health official, Prof. Siegal Sadetzki, resigned, writing on Facebook: “To my regret, for a number of weeks the handling of the outbreak has lost direction. Despite systemic and regular warnings in the various systems and in the discussions in different forums, we watch with frustration as the hour glass of opportunities runs low.”
Not an exact science
Concerns are growing elsewhere. On July 1, people in the Czech capital, Prague, built a 1,600-foot table and held a massive public dinner party to celebrate the end of the country’s coronavirus lockdown.
The country imposed strict, early rules and masks became compulsory for everyone anywhere outside their home from March 19.
But a spike in cases during restriction easing has seen various measures reimposed. Czechs will again have to wear face masks indoors at all events with more than 100 people, including weddings and funerals, beginning on Saturday. All such events will be limited to 500 people, down from 1,000, the Czech Ministry of Health announced Friday.
In Prague, people must wear face masks again in all medical facilities, including doctor’s offices and pharmacies. People still have to wear face coverings on the subway, the city announced. The country has now reported 14,800 cases and 365 deaths, according to JHU.
While the new case numbers remain low in many of these countries compared to nations where the pandemic is running rampant — such as the US and Brazil — experts say the latest rise in cases shows that, despite even the most stringent anti-epidemic controls, the virus still poses a threat.
And since social distancing and behavioral changes are not an exact science, the resurgences emphasize that completely eradicating the risk may be impossible until a vaccine is found — and the waves of infection and new lockdowns are set to continue.
CNN’s Vanessa Yung, Isaac Yee, Angus Watson, Sol Han, Yoko Wakatsuki, Junko Ogura, Kaori Enjoji, Tomas Etzler, Ivana Kottasova and Oren Liebermann contributed reporting.
Botswana: Mystery elephant deaths caused by cyanobacteria
Toxins made by microscopic algae in water caused the previously unexplained deaths of hundreds of elephants in Botswana, wildlife officials say.
Botswana is home to a third of Africa’s declining elephant population.
The alarm was raised when elephant carcasses were spotted in the country’s Okavango Delta between May and June.
Officials say a total of 330 elephants are now known to have died from ingesting cyanobacteria. Poaching has been ruled out as a cause of death.
The toxic bacteria can occur naturally in standing water and sometimes grow into large blooms known as blue-green algae.
Warning: Some people may find the following images upsetting
The findings follow months of tests in specialist laboratories in South Africa, Canada, Zimbabwe and the US.
Many of the dead elephants were found near watering holes, but until now the wildlife authorities had doubted that the bacteria were to blame because the blooms appear on the edges of ponds and elephants tend to drink from the middle.
“Our latest tests have detected cyanobacterial neurotoxins to be the cause of deaths. These are bacteria found in water,” the Department of Wildlife and National Parks’ Principal Veterinary Officer Mmadi Reuben told a press conference on Monday.
The deaths “stopped towards the end of June 2020, coinciding with the drying of [water] pans”, AFP quotes him as saying.
Reports in June noted that tusks had not been removed. Poaching has been ruled out as cause of death, as has anthrax poisoning, according to senior wildlife department official Cyril Taolo.
But questions still remain about the deaths, Mr Reuben told reporters.
“We have many questions still to be answered such as why the elephants only and why that area only. We have a number of hypotheses we are investigating.”
Hundreds of carcasses were spotted with the help of aerial surveys earlier this year.
Dr Niall McCann, of the UK-based charity National Park Rescue, previously told the BBC that local conservationists first alerted the government in early May, after they undertook a flight over the delta.
“They spotted 169 in a three-hour flight,” he said. “To be able to see and count that many in a three-hour flight was extraordinary.
What is cyanobacteria?
- Cyanobacteria, also known as blue-green algae, is found worldwide especially in calm, nutrient-rich waters
- Some species of cyanobacteria produce toxins that affect animals and humans
- People may be exposed to cyanobacterial toxins by drinking or bathing in contaminated water
- Symptoms include skin irritation, stomach cramps, vomiting, nausea, diarrhoea, fever, sore throat, headache
- Animals, birds, and fish can also be poisoned by high levels of toxin-producing cyanobacteria.
Australia’s coronavirus lockdown strategy worked. Could this be a model for the US?
“The Covid-19 epidemic in our country has gone through four waves,” Wu Zunyou, chief epidemiologist at the Chinese Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), said Saturday. “Besides the first wave (in Wuhan), the other epidemic waves were clusters that were regional and small-scale and were effectively controlled.”
For some lockdown skeptics, China’s experience was easy to dismiss: the country is an authoritarian, one-party state, and its methods could not necessarily be applied in democracies.
But the situation in Victoria proves that the lockdown strategy does work elsewhere, and that, given the proper information and reassurances, people are willing to make the sacrifices required to contain the virus.
With the outbreak in Victoria contained, the number of cases throughout the rest of Australia has continued to trend down. On Sunday, New South Wales, which includes Sydney, reported four new cases, while Queensland state reported just one.
New Zealand too, which on Monday began reducing social distancing regulations after daily cases dropped to zero, has seen positive results from lockdowns, enabling the country to return to relative normality far faster than nations which did not take such measures.
The US, however, remains the worst hit country in the world, with more than 6.7 million coronavirus cases and almost 200,000 deaths, according to Johns Hopkins University. As those figures potentially rise through winter, and with less and less reason to go outside, some people may start to reconsider their anti-lockdown sentiment.
An earlier version of this story incorrectly suggested that authorities in Melbourne would consider lifting a nighttime curfew next week. The curfew is currently in effect until October 26.
CNN’s Angus Watson and Eric Cheung contributed reporting.
Cruz: Ginsburg was ‘one of the finest Supreme Court litigators to have ever lived’
“He obviously worked every day with Justice Ginsburg, and I will say he admired what a careful lawyer she was,” he said. “Consistently of the lawyers on the left, of the judges on the left. Chief Justice Rehnquist was always most willing to give an important opinion to Justice Ginsburg because she wrote narrow, careful opinions.”
Cruz also honed in on the importance of filling Ginsburg’s vacancy with a constitutionalist judge ahead of the November election. The senator had been on President Donald Trump’s shortlist of Supreme Court nominees.
“We’re one vote away from seeing our religious liberty rights stripped away, from our free speech stripped away, from our Second Amendment stripped away,” he added. “This election matters, and I think it is the most important issue in 2020 — electing presidents and a Senate who will nominate and confirm strong constitutionalists to the court.”
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