Brazil registers 965 new coronavirus deaths, confirmed cases hit 347,398

SAO PAULO (Reuters) – Brazil registered 965 new coronavirus deaths on Saturday, taking the total number of fatalities to 22,013, the Health Ministry said.

The country now has 347,398 confirmed cases, according to the ministry, up 16,508 from Friday, when it surpassed Russia to become the world’s virus hot spot behind the United States.

The actual number of cases and deaths is believed to be higher than the official figures disclosed by the government, as the testing capacity of Latin America’s largest country still lags.

Brazil’s far-right President Jair Bolsonaro has been fiercely criticized for his handling of the outbreak, which has led to the exit of two health ministers amid his insistence in opposing social distancing measures while advocating the use of unproven drugs for treatment.

The former army captain has seen his opinion poll ratings drop as an unfolding political crisis adds to the economic fallout from the coronavirus pandemic.

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Italy's daily coronavirus death toll dips, new cases steady

ROME (Reuters) – Italy recorded 119 new deaths from the COVID-19 epidemic on Saturday against 130 the day before, the Civil Protection Agency said, while the daily tally of new cases rose marginally to 669 from 652 on Friday.

The total death toll since the outbreak came to light on Feb. 21 now stands at 32,735, the agency said, the third highest in the world after those of the United States and Britain.

The Civil Protection Agency said the total number of confirmed cases in Italy since the start of its outbreak now amounts to 229,327, the sixth highest global tally behind those of the United States, Russia, Spain, Britain and Brazil.

People registered as currently carrying the illness dipped to 57,752 on Saturday from 59,322 the day before.

There were 572 people in intensive care on Saturday, down from 595 on Friday, maintaining a long-running decline. Of those originally infected, 138,840 were declared recovered against 136,720 a day earlier.

The agency said 2.164 million people had been tested for the virus as of Saturday, against 2.122 million on Friday, out of a population of around 60 million.

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Friendly dolphins ‘missing’ human interaction amid COVID-19 pandemic, bringing gifts from the sea

A pod of dolphins in Australia has been bringing their human friends gifts from the sea during the coronavirus pandemic.

Typically, patrons of Queensland‘s Barnacles Café & Dolphin Feeding wait in line to give treats to the humpback dolphins of Tin Can Bay, 7NEWS reports.

But given the spread of COVID-19 and the lockdown procedures in place, the café has seen no visitors for quite some time.

Photos shared to the café’s official Facebook page show two dolphins with “gifts” on their noses. Some of the deep-sea treasures include barnacles, old bottles and pieces of coral.

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“The pod has been bringing us regular gifts, showing us how much they’re missing the public interaction and attention,” the post reads. “They are definitely missing you all.”

Luckily, restrictions in the area have been easing, and patrons are allowed to visit once more.

“One male dolphin brings in objects on his rostrum, or beak, and then he carefully presents them to us,” Lyn McPherson, a volunteer at the café, told ABC News. “What we have to do is give him a fish in return.

“We haven’t trained him, but he has trained us to do this.”

Mystique, a 29-year-old dolphin, has been doing most of the gift-bearing, she said.

“We swear he has a collection waiting to bring us.”

While it’s heartwarming to believe the dolphins have truly been missing their two-legged pals, it’s unlikely that it’s the reason for the gift-giving, a University of Queensland doctorate student told 7NEWS.

“Nothing surprises me with dolphins and their behaviour anymore,” Barry McGovern said. “In all likelihood, they probably don’t miss humans per se. They probably miss a free meal and the routine.”

It’s not just humans missing their normal routines, after all.

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As coronavirus spreads, Trump lashes out at science that contradicts him

“A Trump enemy statement,” he said of one study.

“A political hit job,” he said of another.

As President Donald Trump pushes to reopen the country despite warnings from doctors about the consequences of moving too quickly during the coronavirus crisis, he has been lashing out at scientists whose conclusions he doesn’t like.

Twice this week, Trump has not only dismissed the findings of studies but suggested — without evidence — that their authors were motivated by politics and out to undermine his efforts to roll back coronavirus restrictions.

More coverage: Coronavirus in Canada

First it was a study funded in part by his own government’s National Institutes of Health that raised alarms about the use of hydroxychloroquine, finding higher overall mortality in coronavirus patients who took the drug while in Veterans Administration hospitals. Trump and many of his allies had been trumpeting the drug as a miracle cure and Trump this week revealed that he has been taking it to try to ward off the virus — despite an FDA warning last month that it should only be used in hospital settings or clinical trials because of the risk of serious side effects, including life-threatening heart problems.

“If you look at the one survey, the only bad survey, they were giving it to people that were in very bad shape. They were very old, almost dead,” Trump told reporters Tuesday.

“It was a Trump enemy statement.”

He offered similar pushback Thursday to a new study from Columbia University’s Mailman School of Public Health. It found that more than 61% of COVID-19 infections and 55% of reported deaths — nearly 36,000 people — could have been been prevented had social distancing measures been put in place one week sooner. Trump has repeatedly defended his administration’s handling of the virus in the face of persistent criticism that he acted too slowly.

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”Columbia’s an institution that’s very liberal,” Trump told reporters Thursday. “I think it’s just a political hit job, you want to know the truth.”

Trump has long been skeptical of mainstream science — dismissing human-made climate change as a “hoax,” suggesting that noise from wind turbines causes cancer and claiming that exercise can deplete a body’s finite amount of energy. It’s part of a larger skepticism of expertise and backlash against “elites” that has become increasingly popular among Trump’s conservative base.

Yet Trump has made clear that, at least when it comes to hydroxychloroquine, he has prioritized anecdotal evidence, including a letter he told reporters he’d received from a doctor in Westchester, New York, claiming success with the drug.

Asked this week what evidence he had that the drug was effective in preventing COVID-19, Trump responded: “Are you ready? Here’s my evidence: I get a lot of positive calls about it.”

That veterans study, funded by grants from the NIH and the University of Virginia, was not a rigorous experiment, but a retrospective analysis by researchers at several universities looking at the impact of hydroxychloroquine in patients at veterans’ hospitals across the nation. It found no benefit and more deaths among those given hydroxychloroquine versus standard care alone. The work was posted online for researchers and has not been reviewed by other scientists.

The Columbia study, in draft form, also hasn’t yet been published or reviewed by other experts. The researchers ran numbers through a mathematical model, making assumptions about how quickly the coronavirus spreads and how people behave in hypothetical circumstances.

Trump’s criticism of the studies also comes as his allies have been eager to counter messaging from public health experts who say Trump is putting lives at risk by pushing states to quickly reopen in an election year. Republican political operatives have been recruiting pro-Trump doctors to go on television to advocate for reviving the U.S. economy as quickly as possible, without waiting to meet federal safety benchmarks.

Gostin said Trump should leave it to his public health agencies to assess emerging data and the value of various studies.

“I think there are real dangers,” he said, “for the president to play scientist and doctor on TV.”

___

Associated Press writer Carla K. Johnson contributed to this report from Seattle.

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WHO has worked 'day and night' on pandemic, funding lags: Tedros tells board

GENEVA (Reuters) – The World Health Organization (WHO) has worked non-stop since the novel coronavirus emerged, informing its 194 member states of its evolution and providing technical advice, its director-general said on Friday.

“WHO has worked day and night to coordinate the global response at all three levels of the organisation, providing technical advice, catalysing political solidarity, mobilising resources, coordinating resources and much more,” WHO Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus told the WHO Executive Board.

“So far almost $800 million has been pledged or received towards WHO’s appeal for COVID-19 programmes, leaving a gap of just over $900 million,” Tedros told the 34-member board holding a virtual three-hour session.

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Mission of Mercy: On duty at Japan's 'last-chance' hospital for coronavirus

KAWASAKI, Japan (Reuters) – Two paramedics jump out the back of an idling ambulance with Tokyo plates, carefully lowering an elderly woman on a stretcher. The patient, her small face covered with an oxygen mask, disappears behind St. Marianna’s automatic doors.

Another suspected COVID-19 patient has arrived.

In the midst of a global pandemic, St. Marianna University Hospital, a Catholic institution in a working-class suburb south of Tokyo, has become synonymous with the virus.

In the three months since the first wave of sick passengers arrived from the cruise ship Diamond Princess, the hospital has treated some 40 people seriously ill with the disease, more than almost any other medical facility in Japan. It has even taken in patients when other hospitals turned them away.

Doctors have intubated patients in a tent set up in the carpark and performed tracheostomies in a saran-wrapped operation room. Nurses in full protective gear gather in groups of six to shift patients connected to a tangle of lifesaving machines. And hanging in the staff room is an illustration of “Amabie,” a mythic Japanese creature thought to ward against plagues.

By most metrics, Japan has so far weathered the global pandemic better than many other countries. Infections haven’t spiked here as in other countries, and new cases have slowed since mid-April. So far, Japan has confirmed 16,251 infections, and 777 people have died, out of a global death toll of more than 300,000 people.

But it hasn’t always felt like success at St. Marianna, where every hallway and room inside the emergency and critical-care center has been allocated one of three colors: green, yellow and red. Daily life revolves around these boundaries now, with nurses and doctors moving between the world of waiting relatives wearing surgical masks in the “green” zone to the “red” ward, where they dress like astronauts, donning heavy-duty tyveks and HALO respirators.

Yasuhiko Taira, a professor at the medical school here, says that when the first COVID-19 patients started arriving in February, he reminded staff members they had an obligation to take in coronavirus patients who had nowhere else to go.

“We told them, yes, there’s a high chance you may get the virus, and since we’re doctors, we can’t do much about that,” says Taira, 66, who previously ran the ICU. “If we ran away from this, who’s going to do it?”

When St. Marianna was overwhelmed with patients early in the crisis, some private and public hospitals were still turning patients away for a number of reasons, including their lack of specialized staff and protective gear, with ICUs often citing their capacity constraints.

In April, Japan doubled the funds hospitals receive for taking in critical COVID-19 patients, easing the burden on places such as St. Marianna.

But over the period of several days spent with “Team C,” a group tasked with caring for coronavirus patients at St. Marianna’s ICU, there is a sense of resignation among the staff over what awaits them in the grueling months ahead, caring for patients who can seem on the verge of recovery, only to slip away a few days later.

“THE STRESS STARTS TO PILE ON”

It’s 8 a.m. and doctors from the overnight shift step up one by one to a senior doctor on duty, reading off an array of numbers and acronyms that make up the various conditions of each of the 11 patients inside the ICU. Shigeki Fujitani strides down a cramped hallway toward the central nurse station, thumbing a well-worn cellphone and nodding at staff in blue and purple scrubs.

“We had one death this morning,” says Fujitani, the 54-year-old director of the ICU, walking up to a large whiteboard divided into a grid with masking tape. The names of critical patients, all men in their 50s and 60s, are listed on the left, next to a condensed history of their time in the ward.

The dead man’s name has already been removed from the chart. The three beds now available in the ICU will likely be filled by evening.

“It’s common to see no change for weeks and then for the patient to not make it,” Fujitani says later, pacing in his office.

He mentions an ICU doctor who died by suicide in New York after seeing dozens of coronavirus patients die in her hospital.

“Everyone is trying to cure the patient, and then when you can’t … the stress starts to pile on after two, three months of this,” he says.

“YOU CAN’T SEE THE END OF THIS”

Outside the sliding doors of the ICU, Naoya Kohamoto takes a deep breath.

“You can’t see the end of this,” says Kohamoto, 37, a nurse practitioner who joined the coronavirus team a month ago. “They just don’t get better. You see data that says 80 percent of intubated patients don’t make it, but you always hope it’s not the case for your patient.”

When doctors in the ICU sense a patient is nearing death, Kohamoto calls the patient’s relatives and asks them to come to the hospital. Although they can’t physically be close to their ill relative, they’re able to talk to them over Facetime.

Wearing two layers of gloves, a face shield, a respirator mask and multiple plastic gowns, Kohamoto holds up an iPad to the unconscious patient so family members can share memories and say their farewell.

“I tell them their father is doing everything he can to still come home,” he says. When a patient dies, Kohamoto holds the iPad up to the doctor writing the official death certificate.

On a nearby notice board a clear file filled with consent forms for the experimental drug Avigan is tacked next to a handwritten letter sent by a family member of a patient who died last month.

“I never thought such a horrible thing could happen and I still can’t believe it’s true,” the sender wrote. “For all of you who worked under the risk of infection, with your own fear and worries, our entire extended family would like to express our gratitude for all that you have done.”

Kohamoto holds his tablet against his chest. After a pause, he adjusts his glasses and returns to the ICU through its automatic doors.

“A LONG BATTLE”

As governments contemplate reopening their economies after months of lockdown and people hope to return to their normal routines, it remains unclear even to front-line medical professionals to what extent the reopening may cause new spikes in infections.

“What we’re preparing for now is months of this, a lull, then a small cluster or spike,” Fujitani says. “It’s going to be a long battle, and we can’t have staff, especially nurses, burning out.”

Yasunobu Tsuda, a critical-care nurse specialist whose wife is preparing to return to work as a midwife at St. Marianna after maternity leave, says the work takes its toll.

“You go home and the first thing you want to do is hug your child at the door, but you can’t,” he says. Even at home, Tsuda wears a mask.

“I don’t think my child even knows my face yet.”

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Coronavirus: Winnipeg restaurant shares plans for new dining experience

A Winnipeg restaurant owner is preparing to welcome guests back with strict new protocols once he gets the go-ahead from the Manitoba government as part of Phase 2 of the province’s reopening plan.

To start, Kris Kopansky, co-owner of Brazen Hall, said guests will be asked to wait outside for their table to be ready.

Once inside, Kopansky said everyone will be required to sanitize their hands before being seated and menus will no longer be at tables. Guests are instead being asked to pick their meal online, however, disposable menus will be available for any less tech-savvy customers.

There will be a one-way route to the washroom and people will be asked to wash their hands before and after their trip to the restroom.

Kopansky said servers, who will be screened before clocking in, will be wearing masks while on the job.

“It’s going to be interesting to see how the public reacts,” he said.

Brazen Hall, which typically seats 200 people, has been closed since March 19 because of the COVID-19 pandemic.

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Restaurants and bars will be able to reopen at 50 per cent capacity indoors, according to the draft plan of Phase 2 announced by premier Brian Pallister on Thursday.

Pallister did not give a date but said it will depend on how the numbers look.

Phase 2 was previously scheduled for possible implementation no earlier than June 1.

“A lot of nervous energy right now, just not having that date keeps us on our toes,” Kopansky said.

Brazen Hall laid off about 80 per cent of its staff while it was closed.

Kopansky is hoping to hire back as many as he can, noting that extra staff will be required to ensure new protocols are being followed.

Kopansky said increased cleaning and keeping tables 6 ft. apart are also part of the reopening plan.

​”It’s definitely a time where people are a little bit undecided but we are going to make sure that our guests feel that they are very safe inside of our place.”

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Lethbridge councillors set intentions in first meeting as new COVID-19 recovery committee

Lethbridge city council met for the first of new weekly meetings on Thursday, sitting as the Lethbridge Community and Economic Recovery Committee, which has been tasked with aiding in city-wide recovery from the COVID-19 pandemic.

The first meeting of the committee — which name has been shortened to Recovery Lethbridge by some councillors — included a short agenda, with the first order of business being electing a chair.

Councillor Belinda Crowson was nominated by Mayor Chris Spearman, and was elected committee chair by acclimation.

Crowson said she was excited to take on the new role.

“This is very much about making sure everyone is moving along, that things are getting done are reported back,” she said. “This is wonderful because it gives me a chance to help coordinate everything and to help make sure that anything my colleagues need in their work on the sub-committees is getting done, and that they’re supported.”

Councillor Jeffery Coffman was named vice-chair of the committee, which will function with four sub-committees reporting back at meetings each Thursday moving forward.

“We’ve made sure that everything reports back to this group. This is a committee of council and this committee will report up to council,” said Crowson.

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“So the process has been set that we’re going to ask each of those groups to set a chair, and that chair then will meet with the chairs of the other committees, and that will then report up so that everything is connected.”

Crowson said the hope is to support the city through both the community and corporate recovery that will follow the COVID-19 pandemic.

“We looked at the needs, and then we broke those into categories, and now we’ve assigned ourselves those various roles,” she said.

The sub-committees were confirmed to be made up of the following members:

  • Economic and business recovery — Business improvements, local construction and red tape reduction
    • Mayor Chris Spearman, councillors Ryan Parker and Blaine Hyggen
    • Councillors Jeffery Coffman, Belinda Crowson and Joe Mauro
    • Councillors Rob Miyashiro, Jeff Carlson and Mark Campbell
    • City manager Craig Dalton and the City of Lethbridge senior management team

    The economic and business recovery group will work closely with Economic Development Lethbridge and the Lethbridge Chamber of Commerce, who have together presented as the Lethbridge and Region Economic Recovery Task Force frequently over the last two months.

    Crowson said the new committee will not duplicate the work of any other community organizations, and that communication will be key to having all parts work effectively together.

    “The worst thing that could happen is siloing, so that information is not being shared across. So we’ve set this up very carefully to make sure that there’s good communication, that the public is going to be involved and aware of what’s going on, and that we’ll get the best ideas around the table,” she said.

    Each sub-committee has now been tasked with finding members of the public to join the recovery efforts.

    “So there’s going to be three members of council on each, and then we’re asking them to find seven to 10… members that would be connected to the issues that they are looking at,” said Crowson.

    “They will be able to bring information, to bring advice, to bring recommendations, to be there to bounce ideas off of — so that’s the next step.”

    The sub-committees have been given two weeks to outline individual terms of reference, define how success will be measured and bring community members on board.

    That information will be shared at the June 4 meeting of the committee.

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UK PM Johnson orders for plans to end reliance on Chinese imports: The Times

(Reuters) – British Prime Minister Boris Johnson has instructed civil servants to make plans to end UK’s reliance on China for vital medical supplies and other strategic imports in light of the coronavirus outbreak, The Times newspaper reported on Friday bit.ly/2AIukv1.

The plans, which have been code named ‘Project Defend’, include identifying Britain’s main economic vulnerabilities to potentially hostile foreign governments as part of a broader new approach to national security, the newspaper reported, adding that the efforts are being led by Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab.

Two working groups have been set up as part of the project, according to the report, with one source telling The Times that the aim was to diversify supply lines to no longer depend on individual countries for non-food essentials.

Johnson told lawmakers he would take steps to protect Britain’s technological base, with the government review also expected to include personal protective equipment and drugs, the report added.

The development comes as Beijing has been tackling mounting international criticism over its handling of the coronavirus outbreak, which began in China before spreading to the rest of the world.

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U.S. secures 300 million doses of potential AstraZeneca COVID-19 vaccine

BENGALURU/LONDON (Reuters) – The United States has secured almost a third of the first 1 billion doses planned for AstraZeneca’s experimental COVID-19 vaccine by pledging up to $1.2 billion, as world powers scramble for medicines to get their economies back to work.

While not yet proven to be effective against the coronavirus, vaccines are seen by world leaders as the only real way to restart their stalled economies, and even to get an edge over global competitors.

After President Donald Trump demanded a vaccine, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) agreed to provide up to $1.2 billion to accelerate British drugmaker AstraZeneca’s (AZN.L) vaccine development and secure 300 million doses for the United States.

“This contract with AstraZeneca is a major milestone in Operation Warp Speed’s work toward a safe, effective, widely available vaccine by 2021,” U.S. Health Secretary Alex Azar said. The first doses could be available in the United States as early as October, according to a statement from HHS.

The vaccine, previously known as ChAdOx1 nCoV-19 and now as AZD1222, was developed by the University of Oxford and licensed to AstraZeneca. Immunity to the new coronavirus is uncertain and so the use of vaccines is unclear.

The U.S. deal allows a late-stage, or Phase III, clinical trial of the vaccine with 30,000 people in the United States.

Cambridge, England-based AstraZeneca said it had concluded agreements for at least 400 million doses of the vaccine and secured manufacturing capacity for 1 billion doses, with first deliveries due to begin in September.

Now the most valuable company on Britain’s blue-chip FTSE 100 Index, AstraZeneca has already agreed to deliver 100 million doses to people in Britain, with 30 million as soon as September. Ministers have promised Britain will get first access to the vaccine.

GRAPHIC: AstraZeneca beats Shell in market cap terms – here

VACCINE SCRAMBLE

With leaders across the world surveying some of the worst economic destruction since at least World War Two and the deaths of more than 327,000 people, many are scrambling for a vaccine.

The U.S. government has struck deals to support vaccine development with Johnson & Johnson (J&J) (JNJ.N), Moderna (MRNA.O) and Sanofi (SASY.PA), sparking fears the richest countries will be able to protect their citizens first.

Sanofi’s chief angered the French government earlier this month when he said vaccine doses produced in the United States could go to U.S. patients first, given the country had supported the research financially.

“We have a lot of things happening on the vaccine front or the therapeutic front,” Trump told reporters at the White House when asked about the AstraZenca announcement. “You’re going to have a lot of big announcements over the next week or two” on therapeutics.

Trump, during a Thursday visit to a Ford Motor Co (F.N) plant in Michigan, said the U.S. military is “in gear so we can give out 150 to 250 million shots quickly.”

AstraZeneca said it was in talks with governments and partners around the world – such as the Serum Institute of India – to increase access and production and is speaking to various organisations on fair allocation and distribution.

“We would like to thank the U.S. and UK governments for their substantial support to accelerate the development and production of the vaccine,” AstraZeneca Chief Executive Pascal Soriot said.

The Serum Institute of India, the world’s largest maker of vaccines by volume, has dedicated one of its facilities with a capacity to produce up to 400 million doses annually to producing the Oxford vaccine.

“We are scaling up on a conservative basis of about 4 to 5 million doses a month to begin with,” Chief Executive Adar Poonawalla told Reuters, adding the company was in discussions with AstraZeneca.

COVID-19 PROTECTION?

A Phase I/II clinical trial of AZD1222 began last month to assess safety, immunogenicity and efficacy in over 1,000 healthy volunteers aged 18 to 55 across several trial centres in southern England. Data from the trial is expected shortly.

There are currently no approved treatments or vaccines for COVID-19.

Governments, drugmakers and researchers are working on around 100 programmes. Experts are predicting a safe, effective means of preventing the disease could take 12 to 18 months to develop.

Only a handful of the vaccines in development have advanced to human trials, an indicator of safety and efficacy, and the stage at which most fail.

“AstraZeneca recognises that the vaccine may not work but is committed to progressing the clinical program with speed and scaling up manufacturing at risk,” it said.

Other drugmakers including Pfizer Inc (PFE.N), J&J and Sanofi are in various stages of vaccine development.

U.S.-based Inovio Pharmaceuticals (INO.O) said Wednesday its experimental vaccine produced protective antibodies and immune system responses in mice and guinea pigs.

And Moderna this week released positive data for its potential vaccine, which it said produced protective antibodies in a small group of healthy volunteers.

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