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Coronavirus: What’s happening around the world on Wednesday

The latest:

  • More than 60 per cent of commercial flights to and from Beijing cancelled due to new coronavirus outbreak.
  • World Health Organization moves to update guidelines on treating people stricken with COVID-19 after clinical trial shows a steroid can help save critically ill patients.
  • India, with the fourth-highest caseload after the U.S., Brazil and Russia, adds more than 2,000 deaths to its tally.
  • Russia reports 7,843 new cases of the novel coronavirus, its lowest daily caseload registered since April 30.

More than 60 per cent of commercial flights in and out of Beijing have been cancelled as the Chinese capital raised its alert level Wednesday against a new coronavirus outbreak and other nations confronted rising numbers of illnesses and deaths.

The resurgence in China highlighted calls for vigilance as many nations are easing virus restrictions to revive their economies.

The virus prevention and control situation in Beijing was described as “extremely grave” at a meeting of Beijing’s Communist Party Standing Committee led by the city’s top official, Party Secretary Cai Qi.

“This has truly rung an alarm bell for us,” Cai told participants.

The website of the Communist Party’s Global Times said 1,255 flights to and from the capital’s two major airports were scrapped by Wednesday morning. Beijing Capital Airport is traditionally the world’s second-busiest in passenger capacity.

WATCH | Beijing on edge as cases of COVID-19 spread

Freelance reporter Patrick Fok says the coronavirus may be more widespread in the Chinese capital than first believed. 3:04

No official public notice on a change in regulations has been issued by China’s civil aviation authority or by either Beijing Capital Airport or Beijing Daxing International Airport. But Beijing Capital said on its microblog it expected to handle 500 flights on Wednesday, sharply lower than in recent days.

The cancellations are among a number of limits on travel in and out of the city, especially in hot spot areas. Beijing had essentially eradicated local transmissions until recent days, recording 137 new cases since late last week.

On Wednesday, the city of 20 million people raised its threat level from 3 to 2, leading to the cancellation of classes, suspended reopenings and stronger requirements for social distancing. China had relaxed many of its coronavirus controls after the ruling Communist Party declared victory over the virus in March.

People wearing face masks and uniforms of Alibaba’s supermarket chain Hema Fresh wait outside a site for nucleic acid tests Wednesday, following new cases of coronavirus infections in Beijing. (Tingshu Wang/Reuters)

Since the coronavirus emerged in China late last year and spread worldwide, more than 8.1 million people have contracted it, according to Johns Hopkins.The university has tallied more than 440,000 deaths from the disease it causes, COVID-19.

For most people, the virus causes mild or moderate symptoms, such as fever and cough. For some, especially older adults and people with existing health problems, it can cause more severe illness, including pneumonia, and lead to death.

Promising steroid treatment results

The World Health Organization (WHO) said it was moving to update its guidelines on treating people stricken with COVID-19 to reflect results of a clinical trial that showed a cheap, common steroid can help save critically ill patients.

Trial results announced on Tuesday showed dexamethasone, used since the 1960s to reduce inflammation in diseases such as arthritis, cut death rates by around a third among the most severely ill COVID-19 patients admitted to hospital.

The WHO’s clinical guidance for treating patients infected with the novel coronavirus is aimed at doctors and other medical professionals and seeks to use the latest data to inform clinicians on how best to tackle all phases of the disease, from screening to discharge.

WATCH | Dexamethasone shows promise treating severe COVID-19 patients:

Researchers in the U.K. say dexamethasone, a widely available corticosteroid, reduced COVID-19 deaths by up to one-third in severely ill hospitalized patients. 3:39

Although the dexamethasone study’s results are preliminary, the researchers behind the project said it suggests the drug should immediately become standard care in severely stricken patients.

For patients on ventilators, the treatment was shown to reduce mortality by about one third, and for patients requiring only oxygen, mortality was cut by about one fifth, according to preliminary findings shared with WHO.

The benefit was only seen in patients seriously ill with COVID-19 and was not observed in patients with milder forms of the disease.

What’s happening in Canada

Canada and the U.S. will extend to July 21 an agreement to keep their border closed to non-essential travel, with many Canadians fearing cases arriving from the U.S.

“This is a decision that will protect people on both sides of the border as we continue to fight COVID-19,” Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said.

In B.C., Provincial Health Officer Dr. Bonnie Henry announced that B.C. has confirmed 11 new cases of COVID-19, including 10 new test-positive cases and one that has been epidemiologically linked to previous cases. The province has had 2,756 cases to date.

Ontario is considering granting a degree of immunity from civil lawsuits related to COVID-19.

The move would protect organizations and people — including health-care providers — from lawsuits if they spread COVID-19 while acting in good faith, according to a provincial government source. Premier Doug Ford confirmed Tuesday that an immunity provision is on his government’s radar.

What’s happening in the U.S

The U.S. death toll has exceeded 116,900, according to Johns Hopkins University. That surpasses the number of Americans who died in the First World War, when 116,516 were killed — although both tolls are far from precise.

The U.S. has the most confirmed infections and deaths from COVID-19 in the world, and as parts of the economy have reopened in recent weeks, cases have surged in places like Texas, Arizona and Florida, where the virus has sidelined some members of a U.S. team that tracks hurricanes.

What’s happening around the world:

India — which has the fourth-highest caseload after the U.S., Brazil and Russia — added more than 2,000 deaths to its tally, after Delhi and Maharashtra states included 1,672 previously unreported fatalities. Its death toll of 11,903 is the eighth highest in the world.

India has been reporting some 10,000 new infections and more than 300 deaths each day over the last two weeks. Adding the previously unreported deaths drove India’s fatality rate from 2.9 per cent to 3.4 per cent.

A woman rolls up a protective sheet at the entrance of a house so health-care workers wearing personal protective equipment (PPE) can check the temperature of residents during a checkup camp for the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) in Mumbai, India Wednesday. (Francis Mascarenhas/Reuters)

New Zealand, not long after declaring itself virus-free when the last known infected person recovered, is dealing with a re-emergence of the virus. Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern assigned a top military leader to oversee the border quarantines after what she described as an “unacceptable failure” by health officials.

They had allowed two New Zealand citizens who had recently returned from London to leave quarantine before being tested for the virus. After the women tested positive, New Zealand began tracing their potential contacts to ensure the virus is contained.

Their cases raised the spectre that international air travel could spread the virus just as countries are reopening airports to stimulate tourism.

New Zealand’s neighbour Australia has deepened a diplomatic spat with China by accusing Beijing and Moscow of using the heightened anxiety around the pandemic to undermine Western democracies by spreading disinformation online.

“It is troubling that some countries are using the pandemic to undermine liberal democracy to promote their own more authoritarian models,” Australian Foreign Minister Marise Payne said in a speech to a university.

Australia has angered China by calling for an independent inquiry into the origins of and responses to COVID-19.

Even as Mexico announces plans for reopening churches and religious events, the country is posting significant increases in cases and deaths. Tuesday’s 4,599 was the second-highest daily increase to date, to reach an accumulated total of 154,863. Deaths rose by 730.

Russia on Wednesday reported 7,843 new cases of the novel coronavirus, its lowest daily caseload registered since April 30, pushing the nationwide total  to 553,301.

Russia’s virus response team said 194 people had died in the last 24 hours, bringing the official death toll to 7,478 since the crisis began. 

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