Japan expands virus alert in Tokyo area as surge spreads

Japan expands virus alert in Tokyo area as surge spreads

Japan is set to raise the coronavirus alert level in Tokyo’s three neighboring prefectures and a forth area in central Japan to allow tougher measures as a more contagious coronavirus variant spreads, along with doubts whether the Olympics can go ahead.

The move comes only four days after Tokyo was placed on alert while the vaccination campaign has covered less than 1% of the population.

The government is expected to official approve the alert status for Kanagawa, Saitama and Chiba and Aichi prefectures in central Japan at a meeting later Friday. It will allow heads of the prefectures to mandate shorter hours for bars and restaurants, along with punishments for violators and compensation for those who comply.

The measures are to begin Monday and continue through May 11.

Many of the cases have been linked to nightlife and dining spots, but they have recently spread to offices, elderly care facilities and schools.

Japan added some 4,300 cases on Wednesday for a total of about half a million with 9,500 deaths.

Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga said the measures cover the areas hit by rapid spikes fueled by a new virus variant first detected in the U.K.. “The government will respond firmly even during my U.S. trip,” he said before departing for Washington for talks with President Joe Biden.

Suga’s government has been criticized for being too slow in enacting anti-virus measures out of reluctance to further damage the economy.

The surge has also prompted concern among many Japanese about hosting the Tokyo Olympics July 23-Aug. 8. On Thursday, two top officials said there was a possibility the Games could be canceled or even if they proceed, it might be without fans.

The new alert comes with binding orders but only for businesses to close early while measures for residents are only requests, leading some experts to doubt their effectiveness.

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Serbia to impose weekend curbs after virus surge

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Serbia will shut down all but essential businesses over the weekend to combat a spike in new coronavirus cases, the government-appointed crisis team said Friday.

Under the new measures only food stores, pharmacies and gas stations will be open from noon on Saturday until Monday morning.

While the Balkan state has become one of the world’s fastest vaccinators in recent weeks, it has nevertheless recorded a steep surge in infections, logging around 4,000 new cases daily this week.

Doctors on the government’s pandemic task force have been urging a lockdown, warning that the new cases are overstretching the health system to a “catastrophic” level.

The group’s leading epidemiologist Predrag Kon said that while he believes the weekend measures are “clearly insufficient”, it was a compromise with officials on the task force led by Prime Minister Ana Brnabic.

Serbia’s government has long resisted tougher restrictions that would inflict further damage on the economy or trigger the type of protests that erupted against a proposed lockdown last July.

“These are the decisions. What happened behind that door, I’ll leave it there”, Kon said after the crisis group meeting.

Serbia’s restaurants and bars have been packed in recent weeks, with 8pm mandatory closures skirted by some underground party venues.

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Virus surge pushes Spain regions to tighten curbs

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Just days after Spain counted a record number of daily infections following the Christmas holidays, several regions moved Friday to further tighten restrictions on social life.

In Madrid, the regional government pulled forward its nightly curfew from midnight to 11 pm with restaurants and bars to close an hour before in a move that takes effect on Monday.

It also recommended avoiding social gatherings at home, and confined 19 municipalities where no-one can enter or leave the area except in exceptional circumstances.

Aragon in the northeast also confined its three biggest cities, including Zaragoza, while the central Castile and Leon region urged residents to stay home “as much as possible” and pulled forward its curfew to 8 pm.

The northern Basque Country is also planning to start its curfew at 6 pm as is the case in neighbouring France.

Under Spain’s decentralised political system, its 17 regions are responsible for handling the pandemic, although the central government could intervene to declare a national lockdown as it did in March.

So far, the government of Socialist Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez has resisted following the lead of other European nations which have reimposed lockdowns, arguing its highly-localised restrictions are enough.

Spain on Wednesday reported nearly 39,000 new infections, its highest-ever daily number, with another 35,000 on Thursday.

And over the past month, the incidence rate has more than doubled to 523 cases per 100,000 residents, Thursday’s figures showed, with the health ministry’s emergencies coordinator Fernando Simon blaming the seasonal festivities.

But he said the new more-contagious virus strain which was first detected in Britain has so far “had very little impact”.

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South Africa’s virus variant drives holiday surge of cases

South Africa’s normally joyful and lively Christmas celebrations have been dampened by the spike in new cases and deaths driven by the country’s variant of COVID-19.

A record number of 14,305 news cases have been confirmed in the past 24 hours, and with no sign of South Africa reaching a peak, threatening the country’s health systems, experts said.

South Africa has a cumulative total of 968,563 confirmed cases, including 25,983 deaths, by far the most cases in all of Africa. Africa’s 54 countries, representing 1.3 billion people, have together reported more than 2.59 million cases, including more than 61,000 deaths, according to figures released Friday by the African Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

South Africa’s 7-day rolling average of daily new cases has more than doubled in the past two weeks from 8.65 new cases per 100,000 people on Dec. 10 to 18.25 new cases per 100,000 people on Dec. 24.

The South African variant, 501.V2, is more infectious than the original COVID-19 virus and is dominant in the country.

To combat the resurgence of the disease, South Africa has imposed measures including closing many large public beaches, requiring masks in public areas, restricting sales of alcohol to four days a week and enforcing a nighttime curfew from 11 p.m. until 4 a.m. However, the quickening pace of the spread of the disease is bringing experts to urge stricter measures.

“We do need to think of additional restrictions, so that it’s clear to people the seriousness of the current situation,” infectious diseases expert Dr. Richard Lessells told The Associated Press. “Because already many hospitals in many parts of the country are extremely stretched.”

Health Minister Zweli Mkhize, in a Christmas message to the country on Friday urged all South Africans to take preventive measures to slow the spread of the virus. Mkhize also issued a message on Christmas Eve in which he rejected a suggestion by Britain’s health minister that South Africa’s variant had contributed to Britain’s variant.

Mkhize said that statements by Britain’s Secretary for Health, Matt Hancock, had created a perception that the variant in South Africa has been a major factor in the second wave in U.K.

“This is not correct. There is evidence that the U.K. variant developed earlier than the South African variant,” Mkhize said.

There is no evidence to suggest the South African variant is more transmissible, causes more severe disease or increased mortality than Britain’s variant or any other variant that has been sequenced in the world, said Mkhize.

He also said he was against travel bans.

“It is the widely shared view of the scientific community that, given the current circumstantial evidence, the risks of travel bans may outweigh the benefits, and that it is possible to contain the variants while sustaining international travel,” he said.

“Banning travel between the U.K. and South Africa is an unfortunate decision,” said Mkhize in his statement. “There is no evidence that the South African variant is more pathogenic than the U.K. variant to necessitate this step.”






Mkhize noted that South Africa is part of a group of “countries that are leading in the field of genomic surveillance: Australia, Denmark, the Netherlands, South Africa and the United Kingdom.”

Leading South Africa’s genomic research is Professor Tulio de Oliveira who is leading a team of scientists studying the genomic sequencing of the new variant.

“I’ll be spending Christmas in my lab,” de Oliveira told AP. “We’ll be working throughout the whole holiday season on this research.”

Other African countries are also battling a resurgence of the disease.

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Covid-19 surge in Brazil ‘very, very worrisome’: WHO chief

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The World Health Organization chief voiced deep concern Monday over a sharp increase in Covid-19 cases and deaths in Brazil in recent weeks.

“I think Brazil has to be very, very serious,” WHO chief Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus told reporters, after fresh cases in the country jumped from around 10,000 per day in early November to more than 50,000, and as the daily death rate shot up nearly ninefold in a week.

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Fauci warns Americans to brace for ‘surge upon surge’ of virus

Americans should brace for a “surge upon a surge” in the coronavirus as millions of travelers return home after the Thanksgiving holiday, US government scientist Anthony Fauci said Sunday.

“There almost certainly is going to be an uptick because of what has happened with the travel,” Fauci told CNN’s “State of the Union.”

“We may see a surge upon a surge” in two or three weeks, he added. “We don’t want to frighten people, but that’s the reality.”

This was an ominous trend, Fauci added, with the Christmas holidays and more year-end travel looming, he said.

The virus is blamed for more than 266,000 deaths in the US, the hardest-hit country in the world, with cooler weather bringing daily death figures nearing the worst levels of April.

Pre-positioned vaccine

Fauci’s comments came as US news media reported that first shipments of the Pfizer vaccine against COVID-19—one of the first to claim high effectiveness, along with a Moderna product—had arrived in the United States from a Pfizer lab in Belgium.

Pfizer was using charter flights to pre-position vaccine for quick distribution once it receives US approval—expected as early as December 10—the Wall Street Journal and other media reported.

The Pfizer and Moderna vaccines, both said to be safe and perhaps 95 percent effective, have introduced a much-needed glimmer of hope after months of gloomy news.

“This puts the end to the pandemic. This is the way we get out of the pandemic. The light is at the end of the tunnel,” Admiral Brett Giroir, the US official overseeing coronavirus testing, told CNN.

But like Fauci he expressed grave concerns about the months immediately ahead.

“Our hospitalizations are peaking right now at about 95,000,” Giroir said. “About 20 percent of all people in the hospital have COVID, so this is a really dangerous time.”

Until large numbers of Americans have been vaccinated—Giroir said half the eligible population might be by March—much will depend on people taking the recommended precautions, including mask-wearing and distancing, he and Fauci said.

Giroir said it might take until the second or third quarter of next year for most Americans to be vaccinated, but that substantial benefits would accrue much sooner.

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Coronavirus surge in California blamed on indoor gatherings, travel

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As California officials impose the latest coronavirus restrictions, one county official said travel and indoor gatherings are driving the surge in cases.

Daily cases in California have doubled in the last 10 days, representing “the fastest increase California has seen since the beginning of this pandemic,” Gov. Gavin Newsom said at a briefing Monday. Last week, California topped 1 million coronavirus cases. 

Newsom's latest restrictions, which took effect on Tuesday, put 41 of the state’s 51 counties in the strictest of the four-tier system for reopening that is based on virus cases and infection rates. Newsom said 13 counties were in the strictest tier last week.

Some counties even jumped multiple tiers as cases surged and despite the new restrictions.

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Dr. Teresa Frankovich, health officer for Humboldt County, which is in the so-called “red tier," just one away from the strictest tier, detailed the restrictions to county residents on Monday, saying the recent increases are to blame on travel and gatherings of people. 

“This is travel where you're going to visit friends and family, staying in households, having close contact unmasked, sharing vehicles," Frankovich said. “I really want to be clear to people that if we want to be able to keep our schools operational, to keep our business community operational, we have to stop the gathering.”

"That's a particularly difficult challenge at the holiday season but it's essential to protect our families and our community," Frankovich continued. 

CALIFORNIA AUTHORITIES INSIST PEOPLE STAY HOME — MEANWHILE THEY'RE ESCAPING TO LAVISH GETAWAY IN HAWAII

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has already come out with some evidence supporting the idea that virus transmission at home is common. In a recent report, the CDC assessed 101 households in Nashville, Tenn., and Marshfield, Wis., from April to September. More than half (53%) of all household contacts were infected and “secondary infections occurred rapidly, with approximately 75% of infections identified within five days of the primary patient’s getting sick, the health agency wrote.

Fox News' Bradford Betz contributed to this report

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Coronavirus cases surge past 40 million infections worldwide

Concerning coronavirus trend? US sees big spike in new cases

Fox News correspondent Jonathan Serrie has the latest from Atlanta on ‘Special Report’

LONDON – The number of confirmed COVID-19 cases throughout the world has surpassed 40 million, but experts say that is only the tip of the iceberg when it comes to the true impact of the pandemic.

The milestone was hit Monday morning, according to Johns Hopkins University, which collates reports from around the world.

The actual worldwide tally of COVID-19 cases is likely to be far higher, as testing has been variable, many people have had no symptoms and some governments have concealed the true number of cases. To date, more than 1.1 million confirmed virus deaths have been reported, although experts also believe that number is an undercount.

CORONAVIRUS: WHAT YOU NEED TO KNOW

The U.S., India, and Brazil are reporting by far the highest numbers of cases — 8.1 million, 7.5 million, and 5.2 million respectively — although the global increase in recent weeks has been driven by a surge in Europe, which has seen more than 240,000 confirmed virus deaths in the pandemic so far.

Will a COVID-19 vaccine be ready for emergency use by November?

Dr. Marc Siegel, Fox News medical contributor reacts to Dr. Fauci’s recent comments on a potential COVID-19 surge and Pfizer’s COVID-19 vaccine 
production timeline.

Last week, the World Health Organization said Europe had reported a record weekly high of nearly 700,000 cases and said the region was responsible for about a third of cases globally. Britain, France, Russia and Spain account for about half of all new cases in the region, and countries like Belgium and the Czech Republic are facing more intense outbreaks now than they did in the spring.

WHO said the new measures being taken across Europe are “absolutely essential” in stopping COVID-19 from overwhelming its hospitals. Those include new requirements on mask-wearing in Italy and Switzerland, closing schools in Northern Ireland and the Czech Republic, closing restaurants and bars in Belgium, implementing a 9 p.m. curfew in France and having targeted limited lockdowns in parts of the U.K.

The agency said several European cities could soon see their intensive care units overwhelmed and warned that governments and citizens should take all necessary measures to slow the spread of the virus, including bolstering testing and contact tracing, wearing face masks, and following social distancing measures.

NYC BANQUET HALL CITED FOR HUGE PARTY THAT VIOLATED CORONAVIRUS RESTRICTIONS

WHO has previously estimated about 1 in 10 of the world's population — about 780 million people — have been infected with COVID-19, more than 20 times the official number of cases. That suggests the vast majority of the world's population is still susceptible to the virus.

Some researchers have argued that allowing COVID-19 to spread in populations that are not obviously vulnerable will help build up herd immunity and is a more realistic way to stop the pandemic instead of the restrictive lockdowns that have proved economically devastating.

A man walks past anti-lockdown graffiti in Manchester, England, Monday, Oct. 19, 2020 as the row over Greater Manchester region’s coronavirus status continues. Britain’s government says discussions about implementing stricter restrictions in Greater Manchester must be completed Monday because the public health threat caused by rising COVID-19 infections is serious and getting worse. (Peter Byrne/PA via AP)

But WHO Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus has warned against the belief that herd immunity might be a viable strategy to pursue, saying this kind of protection needs to be achieved by vaccination, not by deliberately exposing people to a potentially fatal disease.

“Allowing a dangerous virus that we don’t fully understand to run free is simply unethical,” Tedros said last week.

The U.N. health agency said it hopes there might be enough data to determine if any of the COVID-19 vaccines now being tested are effective by the end of the year. But it warned that first-generation vaccines are unlikely to provide complete protection and that it could take at least two years to bring the pandemic under control.

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Australia starts virus testing blitz to curb surge in Melbourne

Health workers fanned out across suburbs of Melbourne Friday in a testing blitz aimed at choking off a surge in coronavirus cases in Australia’s second-biggest city.

Officials reported another 30 new COVID-19 infections in the city overnight in a continuing outbreak that has raised fears of a second wave in Australia, which looked like it had successfully contained the epidemic.

It was the 10th straight day of double-digit rises in new cases in Melbourne and surrounding Victoria state, while most other Australian regions have seen no or low single-digit new infections for weeks.

The outbreak has rattled people across Australia, with major supermarket chains on Friday re-imposing nationwide limits on purchases of toilet paper and paper towels to counter a surge in panic-buying not seen since the first days of the pandemic in March.

“Stop it, it’s ridiculous,” Prime Minister Scott Morrison said when quizzed about the public rush on stores at a press conference.

The chains slapped the buying restrictions on stores in Victoria earlier this week, but extended them after noting excessive demand spreading to other states.

“While the demand is not at the same level as Victoria, we’re taking preventative action now to get ahead of any excessive buying this weekend and help maintain social distancing in our stores,” Woolworths Supermarkets said in a statement.

Around 200 soldiers were deploying to Melbourne over the weekend to help with the testing offensive in 10 suburb “hot spots”, where officials are going door-to-door to track the virus.

Victoria Premier Daniel Andrews has set a goal of testing 100,000 people in 10 days in the targeted suburbs.

Around 20,000 tests were carried out in the first 24 hours of the effort, state deputy chief health Officer Annaliese van Diemen said on Friday.

Morrison’s chief health adviser played down the likelihood that the Melbourne outbreak would evolve into a broader “second wave” of the epidemic.

“We’re very likely to see more such outbreaks, not just in Victoria—it could be anywhere in the country,” said Chief Medical Officer Brendan Murphy.

“We’re prepared, we’re responding and we’re very, very comfortable with the way things are going.”

But the Melbourne outbreak has rattled officials elsewhere in Australia.

In neighbouring New South Wales, officials said they would bar Victorians from attending professional sporting events when they begin allowing fans next week—a particularly stinging move in the sports-mad country.

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