- Global death toll from COVID-19 surpasses 700,000.
- Australia’s Victoria state enacts strict lockdowns to curb coronavirus spread.
- India reports over 50,000 new cases for an eighth straight day.
- 32% of Canadians may hold off on getting eventual coronavirus vaccine, survey shows.
- Coronavirus vaccine won’t be a ‘silver bullet,’ Dr. Tam says.
Melbourne’s usually vibrant downtown streets were draining of signs of life on Wednesday on the eve of Australia’s toughest-ever pandemic restrictions coming into force.
Many of the stylish boutiques and eateries in a city dubbed Australia’s Hipster Capital, which prides itself on superior coffee, had already closed their doors ahead of a ban on non-essential businesses that will throw 250,000 people out of work from Thursday.
Defence personnel in fatigues and police officers patrolled the streets enforcing pandemic rules that include mandatory masks, which the few pedestrians were abiding by.
The closing down of Australia’s second-largest city, which usually accounts for a quarter of the nation’s economic activity, also coincided with frenetic preparation.
Hairdresser Niki Fiocca said she had been solidly booked by customers in recent days before her salon must close for at least six weeks.
“I just hope that this all works out for us,” said Fiocca, revealing she felt “a little bit under stress.”
“If everyone did the right thing, maybe this wouldn’t have happened,” she said, referring to Melbourne’s growing coronavirus infections.
Victoria set a new daily record of 725 cases on Wednesday. Elsewhere in Australia, only 14 new infections were found.
A Victoria state government website crashed on Wednesday when it was overwhelmed by employees in essential services applying for permits that would allow them to leave home for work from Thursday.
Many Melbourne businesses in this city of five million are not expected to survive the second and harshest lockdown.
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Australia’s Deputy Chief Medical Officer Michael Kidd urged Australians who live outside Victoria to support family and friends in Melbourne.
“The surprise phone call, an email, a video catch-up, even a card or a letter with positive messages of love or support can make a big difference to our family members and our friends in Victoria who find themselves living under the restrictions,” Kidd said in a nationally televised news conference.
Authorities are concerned that many Melbourne residents were ignoring orders to stay home, even when they were infected with the coronavirus.
A 38-year-old Melbourne woman has been charged with repeatedly bashing a 26-year-old police woman’s head against a concrete sidewalk this week. The officer had been attacked for asking the woman why she wasn’t wearing a mask, police allege.
Victoria Premier Daniel Andrews has acknowledged that his government was asking a lot of residents with the new level of restrictions, which would cause hardship.
What’s happening with coronavirus in Canada
As of 5:30 a.m. ET on Wednesday, Canada had 117,791 confirmed and presumptive coronavirus cases. Provinces and territories listed 102,450 of those as recovered or resolved. A CBC News tally of deaths based on provincial reports, regional health information and CBC’s reporting stood at 8,994.
The federal government’s new COVID Alert app doesn’t offer 100 per cent privacy and could allow some who test positive for the coronavirus to be identified, particularly those who live in small communities or who don’t interact with many people.
When the government unveiled the app on Friday, it stressed that users’ privacy is protected because it “has no way of knowing your location, your name or address,” among other details.
Those who download the app and later test positive enter a special code to notify people who have been near them for at least 15 minutes sometime over the previous two weeks. The notification doesn’t identify who tested positive and maintains their privacy, the government said.
The government employees who developed it say in a blog that they wanted to describe the app’s handling of information as “anonymous.”
But Privacy Commissioner Daniel Therrien’s office disagreed.
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“Anonymous’ implies that there is no risk whatsoever that a person could be identified,” they wrote. “However, and although we all agreed that while there’s a very, very low risk that someone could be re-identified through the app, it isn’t necessarily zero.
“Someone living in a remote area and only interacting with one or two other people could theoretically be identified by their neighbours if they received exposure notification alerts, for example.”
Here’s what’s happening around the world
According to Johns Hopkins University, the global total of confirmed coronavirus cases was more than 18.5 million as of 5:30 a.m. ET on Wednesday. More than 700,000 people have died, while 11.1 million have recovered. The U.S. and Brazil lead case numbers, with a combined total of more than 7.5 million.
India has reported more than 50,000 new coronavirus cases for an eighth straight day, taking the country’s number of confirmed cases since the pandemic began past 1.9 million.
The Health Ministry on Wednesday reported a spike of 52,509 new cases and 857 new deaths in the past 24 hours. It said India’s recovery rate among COVID-19 patients has reached 66.31 per cent and a record 661,892 samples were tested in the last 24 hours, taking the cumulative testing to more than two million.
China reported 27 new virus cases on the mainland Wednesday. Of those, 22 were in the northwestern region of Xinjiang, whose capital Urumqi has been the centre of China’s latest outbreak.
Measures to contain the spread, including locking down some communities and limiting public transport, appear to have been effective and reported case numbers have gradually fallen. The remaining five cases were brought from overseas by Chinese travellers, the National Health Administration said.
China has reported 4,634 deaths among 84,491 cases since the virus was first detected in the central city of Wuhan late last year. A total of 810 people are being treated in hospital for the disease.
Hong Hong has reported 80 new virus cases and four additional deaths.
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Hong Kong saw cases spike in a new wave of infections, but new daily cases have now fallen back into the double digits. Authorities in the semi-autonomous Chinese region have ordered that masks be worn in all public places, slapped restrictions on indoor dining, banned many activities and increased testing. Hong Kong has recorded a total of 3,669 cases and 42 deaths from the virus.
South Africa’s health minister on Wednesday reported decreasing rates of new confirmed cases of the coronavirus but warned that vigilance must continue “to prevent a renewed surge.”
The country has 521,318 confirmed coronavirus cases, the fifth-highest in the world and more than half of all reported cases in Africa, according to the Africa Centres for Disease Control and Prevention. It has recorded 8,884 COVID-19 deaths, although studies of excess mortality rates indicate the actual toll could be higher.
The rapid spread of infections in poor, overcrowded urban centres in Cape Town, Johannesburg and other cities threatened to overwhelm public hospitals, but Health Minister Zwelini Mkhize told reporters that so far the health system has been able to cope.