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Coronavirus surges on Colombia's Caribbean coast, doctors warn deaths underreported

BOGOTA (Reuters) – Coronavirus cases and deaths are surging along Colombia’s Caribbean coast as the region becomes the epicenter of the pandemic in the Andean country, with doctors warning many deaths are going undetected.

Colombia – Latin America’s third-most populous nation – has officially reported over 113,000 cases of coronavirus and just under 4,000 deaths among its 50 million inhabitants.

The climbing figures pale in comparison with some neighboring countries, with regional giant Brazil exceeding 64,200 deaths on Saturday.

Colombia’s Caribbean region accounts for close to 40% of the country’s reported cases and just over half its deaths, according to an analysis of government data by the World Health Organization (WHO).

President Ivan Duque told Reuters last month his government was escalating its response to the pandemic in the Caribbean region, given the concentration of cases there, after taking strict measures to slow infection in cities like Cartagena.

There is no definitive hypothesis about why there has been higher mortality in the coast region, but officials and doctors say flouting of social distancing rules and a higher incidence of certain other diseases may play a role.

Atlantico province, with its port capital Barranquilla, has registered over 1,300 deaths – more than Bogota, even though Atlantico has only about one-third of the capital’s population.

Doctors there say that despite an increased number of intensive care beds and stricter social distancing measures, deaths are likely being underreported in Barranquilla, which has a population of 1.2 million people.

“We continue to think there is a dissociation in what is happening in the city and what is being reported officially,” Carmen Polo, a doctor in Barranquilla and president of the Colombian Association of Internal Medicine’s (ACMI) Caribbean chapter, told Reuters.

Barranquilla health secretary Humberto Mendoza denied there was significant underreporting of deaths in the city.

However, Polo, who works in the city’s Portoazul health center, said misinformation spread online about doctors injecting patients with the disease was deterring people from seeking treatment.

Those who die at home with coronavirus symptoms are not classified as suspected cases and are not tested, she said.

“But with the information provided by relatives and the clinical picture presented by the patient, you as a doctor most certainly know this person died of coronavirus,” Polo said.

Juan Marquez, another Barranquilla doctor who will succeed Polo as the ACMI’s Caribbean chapter president in August, agreed deaths are slipping through the net.

“Many patients have died – and are dying – in emergency rooms. Sometimes they don’t even make it to intensive care,” he said.

Though Barranquilla has added around 200 ICU beds since the pandemic began, bringing the total operating to around 600, both Polo and Marquez said the units were operating near capacity.

Though confirmed cases of coronavirus in the city’s ICUs stand at just under 80, Marquez said including suspected cases would show a substantial increase.

“If we add cases which aren’t confirmed…we could multiply these numbers by two or three,” he said.

Medellin’s mayor said on Twitter at the end of June his city had received ICU patients from Barranquilla.

Health secretary Mendoza conceded some asymptomatic cases may go untested, but said Barranquilla had the highest rate of testing in the country.

The city has performed more than 67,600 tests, which the INS reports is equivalent to just over 55,000 tests per million people. Nationally, this puts the city in second place to Colombia’s Amazonas province, according to INS figures.

Health secretary Mendoza said ICUs are not the answer to tackling the disease, which needs to be confronted by stemming its spread.

Young people with a low perception of coronavirus danger have not followed social distancing rules or used face masks diligently, he added.

“Lack of diagnosis presents false information that there are no cases or that there is no mortality,” he said. “History will show the true performance of each region.”

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Health minister hails responsible behaviour after English pubs reopen

LONDON (Reuters) – People in England appear to have broadly behaved themselves as pubs reopened this weekend, Britain’s health minister Matt Hancock said on Sunday after the latest step towards a return to normality from the coronavirus lockdown.

Thousands of people flocked to pubs, restaurants and bars around England on Saturday as large parts of the hospitality sector reopened for the first time since March.

Prime Minister Boris Johnson has urged people to “enjoy summer safely” as he bids to tread a narrow path of restoring consumer spending to help battered businesses recover, while avoiding a second wave of COVID-19 infections.

“From what I’ve seen, although there’s some pictures to the contrary, very very largely people have acted responsibly,” health minister Matt Hancock told Sky News.

“Overall, I’m pleased with what happened yesterday. It was really good to see people out and about, and largely socially distancing.”

Britain has been the European country worst hit by the coronavirus and has an official death toll of 44,198.

Johnson and Prince Charles each paid treatment to Britain’s National Health Service, 72 years after it was founded, for its sacrifices in tackling the pandemic.

Simon Stevens, chief executive of NHS England, thanked the public for their support, as well as their restraint on Saturday night.

“Pleasingly, we did not see last night the kind of scenes people feared (there) might be” he told BBC’s Andrew Marr Show.

“The foolish few, but the sensible majority, I think is the story across the country, and long may that continue.”

Police Federation National Chair John Apter however said it was “crystal clear” that drunk people were unable to practice social distancing.

The rule changes apply only to England as the devolved nations in the United Kingdom have been setting their own timetables for easing restrictions, with Wales and Scotland easing restrictions more slowly.

The government has said that it is aiming for local lockdowns rather than national restrictions if needed, such as the one introduced in the city of Leicester last week.

Hancock said he was worried about factory conditions in the city. Boohoo (BOOH.L) last week defended its supply chain practices after criticism from a garment workers’ rights group.

“There are some quite significant concerns about some of the employment practices in some of the clothing factories in Leicester,” he said, adding there was significant enforcement powers available including shutting down businesses.

“We’re not just asking nicely, we’re very clear to businesses that these are their responsibilities.”

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Philippines records highest single-day jump in new coronavirus cases

MANILA (Reuters) – The Philippines reported its biggest single-day jump in new coronavirus cases on Sunday, adding 2,434 confirmed infections and taking the total count to 44,254, the health ministry said.

The ministry said the rise could be attributed to increased contact among people as the country began easing lockdown measures to help reduce the pandemic’s damage to the economy.

The Philippines also recorded seven new deaths, the ministry said, bringing total fatalities to 1,297.

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Ghana's president self-isolates after close person tests positive for coronavirus

ACCRA (Reuters) – Ghana’s President Nana Akufo-Addo will self-isolate for 14 days on the advice of doctors after a person in his close circle tested positive for coronavirus, the government said in a statement late on Saturday.

“He has, as at today, tested negative, but has elected to take this measure out of the abundance of caution,” the statement said, adding that the president will continue to work during the period, in compliance with COVID-19 safety protocols.

The statement did not say if the close person was a staff or family member.

Ghana has recorded 19,388 coronavirus cases, one of the highest number of cases in sub-Saharan Africa, with 117 deaths.

The West African nation’s deputy trade and industry minister Carlos Kingsley Ahenkorah resigned on Friday for violating coronavirus self-isolation measures after he tested positive for the virus.

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Business

Trump approves five-week extension for small business pandemic loan applications

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – U.S. President Donald Trump on Saturday signed into law a deadline extension to August 8 for small businesses to apply for relief loans under a federal aid program to help businesses hurt by the COVID-19 pandemic, the White House said.

The extension to the Payroll Protection Program (PPP), which was launched in April to keep Americans on company payrolls and off unemployment assistance, gives business owners an additional five weeks to apply for funding assistance plagued by problems.

An estimated $130 billion of the $659 billion provided by Congress is still up for grabs. Critics worry the U.S. Small Business Administrator’s office, which administers the loan, may continue to experience challenges in fairly distributing the funds.

From the outset, the unprecedented first-come-first-served program struggled with technology and paperwork problems that led some businesses to miss out while some affluent firms got funds.

The SBA’s inspector general found in May that some rural, minority and women-owned businesses may not have received loans due to a lack of prioritization from the agency.

Reuters reported here on Thursday that a technical snafu in a U.S. government system caused many small businesses to receive loans twice or more times, nearly a dozen people with knowledge of the matter said.

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Barcelona's landmark Sagrada Familia reopens for key workers

BARCELONA (Reuters) – Barcelona’s Sagrada Familia reopened on Saturday, giving frontline workers the chance to have the usually tourist-packed landmark to themselves in recognition of their efforts during the coronavirus pandemic.

People took photos and listened to audio guides after Archbishop of Barcelona Juan Jose Omella led representatives of healthcare workers into the church.

The basilica, designed by architect Antoni Gaudi, closed almost four months ago. But for the next two weekends it will be open to essential workers, including those in healthcare, the police and NGOs, who will be able to explore without the usual crowds.

The goal is to recognise and pay tribute to Barcelona residents, “especially those who have been on the front lines fighting and working to prevent Covid-19”, according to a statement on the basilica’s website.

“It’s the first time I’ve been and for me it represents a gift, a gift for the effort and the hours we’ve put in during the past few months, so I’m grateful,” said Virginia Martinez, a hospital doctor from the nearby city of Terrassa. “It’s recognition of our work and what’s better than visiting a monument like this?”

A second phase of reopening will see the lofty and famously unfinished church welcome Barcelona’s residents for free, while a third phase will allow domestic and international tourists to visit.

Started in 1882, the Sagrada Familia is the sixth most visited tourist attraction in the world, according to TripAdvisor.

The reopening came as Catalonia on Saturday enforced a new lockdown on more than 200,000 people after several new outbreaks of coronavirus were detected.

Residents in Segria, which includes the city of Lleida, around 150 km (90 miles) away from Barcelona, are not permitted to leave the area, but will not be confined to their homes as was the case during Spain’s strict lockdown at the start of the outbreak.

Spain has registered 205,545 coronavirus cases and 28,385 deaths, according to health ministry data, making it one of the worst affected countries in Europe.

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Australia's Victoria reports 108 new coronavirus cases, biggest jump in over three months

SYDNEY (Reuters) – Australia’s second most-populous state, Victoria, reported its biggest jump in coronavirus cases since late March on Saturday, forcing it to expand stay-at-home orders to two more suburbs and sending nine public housing towers in a complete lockdown.

The southeastern state recorded 108 new cases on Saturday, up from 66 on Friday and more than 70 new cases in each of the previous four days, forcing authorities to reimpose lockdowns in more than 30 suburbs earlier in the week.

“These numbers are a very real concern to all of us,” Victorian Premier Daniel Andrews told a news conference.

The spike in Victoria is being closely watched as the rest of the country has reined in the virus that causes COVID-19.

Australia’s most populated state, New South Wales, reported six new coronavirus cases on Saturday, five of them returning travellers from overseas.

The sixth is a past infection and not an active case, according to health officials. The state reported no new cases on Friday.

Overall, Australia has weathered the coronavirus pandemic much better than most other nations, with just over 8,300 cases and 104 deaths so far.

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Brazil health regulator Anvisa allows Chinese COVID-19 vaccine trial

SAO PAULO (Reuters) – Brazilian health regulator Anvisa on Friday approved clinical trials of a potential coronavirus vaccine developed by China’s Sinovac, according to an official gazette publication.

The study – first announced on June 11 – is led by Instituto Butantan, a research center funded by the state of Sao Paulo. The agreement with Sinovac includes not only trials but also the transference of technology to produce the potential vaccine locally.

On June 29, Sao Paulo state Governor Joao Doria said 9,000 volunteers have already been registered to test the vaccine against COVID-19, the respiratory disease caused by the novel coronavirus.

Trials will be conducted by 12 research centers in six Brazilian states: Sao Paulo, Rio de Janeiro, Minas Gerais, Brasilia, Rio Grande do Sul and Parana, according to Doria.

Anvisa’s approval comes after Brazil surpassed 1.5 million confirmed cases of COVID-19, according to Health Ministry data, the second worst outbreak after the United States. The number of deaths rose by 1,290 in the past 24 hours, bringing the total tally to 63,174, the data showed.

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Coronavirus HORROR: US records highest cases yet ahead of Trump’s July 4 celebration

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On Friday the US recorded its highest daily increase in confirmed COVID-19 cases with another 57,497 identified. In nearly 40 of America’s 50 states the number of coronavirus cases is continuing to rise.

The highest number of infections are currently in Florida, Texas, California, Georgia and Arizona.

At the Mount Rushmore event Trump is expected to deliver a fiery speech denouncing those who would “tear down” America’s history.

This is a reference to attacks on statues and monuments that have taken place in cities across America over the past few weeks in the aftermath of George Floyd’s killing.

Many of those targeted commemorated key figures in the Confederacy but other status, such as one of George Washington in Portland, have also been pulled down.

After Trump’s address attendees will watch a fireworks display to celebrate America gaining its independence from the British empire.

Speaking ahead of the event Trump commented: “We’re going to Mount Rushmore.

“Mount Rushmore is in great shape and it’s going to be in great shape for centuries to come.

“’I’ll be making a speech there.

“I’ll be seeing a lot of people, a lot of different people and I think it will be a fantastic evening.”

Mount Rushmore features four iconic former US Presidents cared out of rock on the side of a South Dakota mountain.

Those included are George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, Theodore Roosevelt and Abraham Lincoln.

It was carved between 1927 and 1941 by sculptor Gutzon Borglum and his son.

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A source speaking to Associated Press said Trump plans to use his speech to attack the “left-wing mob and those practicing cancel culture”.

The President is expected to describe attacks on historic statues and monuments as “totalitarian behaviour that is completely alien to American life”.

Ahead of the event both supporters and opponents of Trump have gathered near the venue.

Independence Day celebrations across America have been cancelled or scaled back due to the coronavirus pandemic.

On Friday Florida recorded the most new coronavirus cases with an additional 9,488 patients positively diagnosed.

Major League Baseball also said 38 of its players and staff have tested positive for COVID-19 across 19 teams.

The league is expected to resume play later this month on July 23 or 24.

The United States has seen more coronavirus deaths than any other country in the world with over 130,000 confirmed fatalities.

It is followed by Brazil and the UK in second and third places respectively.

Trump has received criticism for only once being pictured wearing a mask since the coronavirus epidemic began.

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Pubs, restaurants and hairdressers reopen as England's lockdown eases

LONDON (Reuters) – England takes its biggest steps yet towards resumption of normal life on Saturday as people are finally allowed to drink in a pub, get a haircut or have a meal in a restaurant for the first time in over three months.

Prime Minister Boris Johnson said everybody had to behave responsibly and maintain social distancing to support businesses and not risk a second wave of the coronavirus.

Some hairdressers were reported to have opened at the stroke of midnight while pubs will be allowed to start serving from 0500 GMT on so-called “Super Saturday”, sparking worries of pent-up over-indulgence.

Johnson said his message was to “enjoy summer safely” and not undo the progress made in knocking back the pandemic.

He said workers in pubs, restaurants, hairdressers and other businesses had made an heroic effort to prepare for reopening.

“The success of these businesses, the livelihoods of those who rely on them, and ultimately the economic health of the whole country is dependent on every single one of us acting responsibly,” he said. “We must not let them down.”

Police said they were “absolutely prepared” for the pubs reopening.

But customers might find the atmosphere inside rather different from the usual Saturday-night scrum.

Numbers will be limited, no one will be allowed to stand at the bar and there will be no live music. Patrons will also have to give their details to allow tracers to identify them if anyone later tests positive.

JD Wetherspoon, one of the biggest chains, said it had invested 11 million pounds ($14 million) in safety measures.Most of its pubs in England will open at the usual time of 8 a.m. on Saturday. It is not taking bookings, but said at busy times numbers would be controlled by staff.

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