Daily US Times: The director-general the World Health Organization (WHO) said on Monday that the coronavirus is “easily the most severe” public health emergency the organization has ever faced. Countries that previously appeared to have the pandemic under control faces major setbacks and recorded an uptick in cases in recent times.
Asia-Pacific countries were among the first hit by the coronavirus and these countries are also first to contain it. But there have been new and in some cases seemingly unexplained increases in the number of infections. Governments that had previously been praised for their response to the pandemic now seem to be struggling.
All this is concerning news for those where the first wave of the virus has yet to come fully under control, let alone in the disaster zones of Brazil and the United States. It’s especially scary because there are only a few more weeks of summer left in parts of the northern hemisphere. Many epidemiologists expect the virus to peak again in winter.
Setbacks in Asia-Pacific
On Tuesday, China – from where the virus was originated – reported the highest number of locally transmitted coronavirus cases since early March for the second consecutive day. Majority of the 64 new domestic cases in Xinjiang. The far western region has seen a fresh outbreak in its capital Urumqi since July 15, after nearly five months of no new cases.
Down south in Hong Kong is also experiencing a major new outbreak. In the past two weeks, more than a thousand new cases were reported, and six days straight of over 100 cases. The new spike came after the city appeared to be almost coronavirus free, easing restrictions and beginning discussion of potential “travel bubbles” with other post-pandemic parts of the world.
While on Monday, there was a slight dip in the number of cases recorded, Japan is facing major setbacks as the country has been seeing some of its worst numbers since the early phases of the pandemic, with some 5,000 new cases in the past week, Johns Hopkins University (JHU) data shows. The worst of the new outbreak has been focused on Tokyo, which recorded six straight days of over 200 new cases until Monday, when there were 131 cases. However, that lower number may be because there were far fewer tests performed over a four-day holiday weekend designed to promote domestic tourism.
Elsewhere in Asia-Pacific, Australia is also experiencing a major upsurge in the number of coronavirus cases. The country had very small number of cases in June, but that number surged towards the end of the month and has exploded in July. The worst-hit area the southern state of Victoria. On Monday, the state announced a further 384 cases. There are 4,775 active cases in Victoria, 414 of which are health workers, putting further strain on the state’s ability to treat the sick.
Many of the most recent major setbacks, in Hong Kong, China, Australia and elsewhere, have come as a surprise to officials. While there are a number of flaws to point out in governments’ responses to the pandemic, the numbers did not explode until very recently — potentially because cases were simply building up undetected and suddenly reached a tipping point or a more virulent strain of the virus had been introduced.
This week, Ben Cowling, a professor at Hong Kong University’s school of public health, wrote that “we may never know” how the latest wave of cases in the city began, but data points to infections being imported from overseas.”
He said: “When (this) epidemic is controlled, this really emphasizes the importance of keeping infections out through effective testing and quarantine of persons arriving in Hong Kong.”
“Once an epidemic begins, it will take a lot of effort to stop.”
Hong Kong deputy leader Matthew Cheung said on Monday that the city had been following the approach of “lift and suppress,” gradually relaxing restrictions as cases diminished and ramping them back up should there be a surge.
The government announced this week that it was making wearing masks in public compulsory — a fairly redundant move given that almost all Hong Kongers already did — and limiting public gatherings to just two people.
The government in Beijing will also help build a Wuhan-style makeshift hospital near Hong Kong’s airport with a capacity of around 2,000 hospital beds.
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