20.09.2021

Cautious hope for relative flatline in UK cases, as leak shows test and trace failing in English hotspots

Meanwhile, England’s “world beating” coronavirus test and trace service is failing to reach more than half the contacts named by infected residents in Blackburn with Darwen – where health chiefs are battling a major outbreak.

The UK’s National Statistician Professor Sir Ian Diamond has said the number of people testing positive for Covid-19 has flatlined in recent weeks. When asked on Sky’s Sophy Ridge On Sunday if authorities had seen an increase in confirmed cases, Sir Ian replied: “No we haven’t, we’re basically flat over the last few weeks.

“If we are really super careful and if we are able to follow all the rules, it does seem to me that we should expect there to be a relative flatline at the moment. Clearly over the autumn we will need to be ever vigilant.”

Iranian health officials play down president’s claim 25 million people infected

Iranian health officials sought on Sunday to play down the president’s estimate that some 25 million people have been infected with the coronavirus, saying it was based on serological blood tests that measure exposure to the illness and that cannot be relied on to show the current state of disease.

The 25 million figure put forward by Hassan Rouhani on Saturday is nearly a third of the population and massively higher than the official number of Covid-19 cases. Official case numbers rose to 273,788 on Sunday, with 14,188 deaths, Health Ministry spokeswoman Sima Sadat Lari said.

A Health Ministry statement carried by Iranian news media said the figure given by the president was based on numbers produced by a deputy in the ministry.

“It is not possible to rely on serological tests to diagnose the current state of the disease,” the statement said.

Iran has been hardest hit by the pandemic in the Middle East, with infections and deaths rising sharply since restrictions were eased, beginning in mid-April. Still, the number given by Rouhani took many Iranians by surprise.

​Hong Kong tightens restrictions as cases hit record

Hong Kong tightened coronavirus restrictions on Sunday, with non-essential civil servants told to work from home from this week, as the global financial hub reported a record number of daily cases.

Earlier on Sunday, an event by pro-democracy politicians to mark the one-year anniversary of an attack in a train station by an armed mob was stopped by police in riot gear for breaking coronavirus measures already in place that restrict group gatherings to four people.

Hong Kong leader Carrie Lam told a news conference the city recorded more than 100 cases in the past 24 hours, the most since the pandemic took hold in late January, taking the tally close to 2,000 patients, 12 of whom have died.

“The situation is very serious and there is no sign of it coming under control,” Ms Lam said.

Amusement parks, gyms and 10 other types of venues will remain closed for another seven days, while a requirement for restaurants to only provide takeaway after 6pm was extended. Face masks will be mandatory in indoor public areas.

More than 140 offenders have been housed in hotels and bed and breakfasts following their release from prison during the UK’s coronavirus lockdown, reports Conrad Duncan.

The Ministry of Justice (MoJ) said it had been using hotels since May for its Conditional Release Date (CRD) accommodation scheme to prevent offenders becoming homeless and sleeping rough during the pandemic.

The department said the move to house offenders in hotels was “a last resort” after all other options were exhausted.

Of the 304 offenders who were due for release and provided with accommodation, 136 were housed in hotels or B&Bs, the MoJ said.

Lockdown kills, says Bolsonaro

Brazilian president Jair Bolsonaro said on Saturday that lockdown measures used to curb the spread of Covid-19 “kill” and have “suffocated” the country’s economy.

“Without salaries and jobs, people die,” he said referring to restrictions imposed by some states and municipalities. “Lockdown kills,” he added, saying that some politicians have suffocated the economy with forced curfews.

The president’s statement comes as Brazil’s economy is expected to contract 6.4 per cent this year, hit by the pandemic.

Mr Bolsonaro, who announced he had tested positive for Covid-19 on July 7, met his supporters in the grounds of his official residence, the Alvorada Palace, in Brasilia.

The president was wearing a mask and kept some meters (yards) of distance from his supporters.

Mr Bolsonaro said he is feeling well, despite the virus, and again credited his health to the use of hydroxychloroquine to fight COVID-19, despite no scientific evidence. “I am a living proof (that the drug works),” he told supporters.

‘The pandemic is showing no sign of stopping’

Pope Francis is assuring his closeness to all those grappling with Covid-19 and its “economic and social consequences.”

Speaking on Sunday from his studio window overlooking St. Peter’s Square, Francis said that “the pandemic is showing no sign of stopping.”

He said he was thinking in particular about all those whose suffering in the pandemic is worsened by conflicts.

Citing a recent UN Security Council resolution, he renewed his appeal for a worldwide, immediate cease-fire that he said “will permit the peace and security indispensable to supplying the necessary humanitarian assistance.”

‘The Dutchman is the real responsible man for the whole mess’

Hungarian prime minister Viktor Orban said on Sunday that Dutch leader Mark Rutte was responsible for the deadlock at a European Union summit, where leaders were set to haggle for a third day over a vast stimulus plan for their coronavirus-hit economies.

“I don’t know what is the personal reason for the Dutch prime minister to hate me or Hungary, but he is attacking so harshly,” he told reporters in front of the steps of a European history museum in a Brussels park, a short walk from the summit venue.

“I don’t like blame games but the Dutchman is the real responsible man for the whole mess… The Dutch prime minister, he is the fighter.”

Mr Orban, a right-wing nationalist who has accumulated unprecedented powers since winning election a decade ago, has clashed with the EU’s executive and other member states for years over his perceived backsliding from democratic governance.

A group of wealthy and fiscally “frugal” northern states led by the Netherlands has blocked progress at the summit towards agreement on a 750 billion euro fund to revive Europe’s economies.

Turkey suspends flights to Iran

Turkey has suspended flights to Iran amid a coronavirus outbreak in the Islamic Republic, a spokesman for Iran’s Civil Aviation Organisation, Reza Jafarzadeh, said on Sunday, according to the official IRNA news agency.

Polish PM says would not accept rule of law strings on EU money

Polish Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki said on Sunday he would not agree to a new mechanism to freeze EU money for countries violating the rule of law proposed as part of a mass coronavirus stimulus economic scheme.

Morawiecki said the EU leaders’ summit was still divided on budget rebates, governance of a new recovery fund, proportion between free grants and repayable loans for aid, or climate conditionalities on the money.

“The positions are getting closer but not enough yet,” he said as the 27 EU heads arrived for a third day of haggling over money to restart growth on the continent hammered by the pandemic.

Coronavirus mystery at Yosemite National Park

No employee or resident has tested positive at Yosemite National Park’s health clinic, and no visitors have reported being sick since the park began reopening last month, but tests of the park’s raw sewage have confirmed the presence of the virus.

Dozens of people are believed to have been infected.

The public health officer for Mariposa County, who is overseeing coronavirus testing in the Yosemite area, said the emergence of the coronavirus will not likely lead to policy changes because the park is already following local and state restrictions.

Eric Sergienko said he believes the confirmed presence of the virus in Yosemite will make people more vigilant.

Yosemite, which typically attracts more than 4 million visitors each year, is cutting the number of vehicle passes to the park by half. Visitor centres remain closed, while campgrounds, gift shops and hotels are limiting services to allow for physical distancing.

India reports record daily rise in cases

A record 24-hour surge of 38,902 new cases has taken India’s coronavirus total to 1,077,618.

The Health Ministry on Sunday also reported 543 additional deaths for a total of 26,816.

The number of people who have recovered continues to grow. The Health Ministry data shows 677,422 patients have been cured so far across the country, putting the recovery rate at 62.82 per cent.

Experts say India is likely to witness a series of peaks as the infection spread in rural areas.

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