More than 22 million people have been infected by the novel coronavirus pandemic with at least 780,000 lives lost to the disease. Here are the updates for August 18:

Health workers take swab samples from passengers who arrived at Beirut International Airport on its re-opening day following the coronavirus disease outbreak on July 1, 2020.
Health workers take swab samples from passengers who arrived at Beirut International Airport on its re-opening day following the coronavirus disease outbreak on July 1, 2020. (Reuters)

Tuesday, August 18, 2020

Lebanon orders two-week shutdown 

Lebanon's interior ministry has ordered businesses across the country to shut down for two weeks and enforced an overnight curfew from Friday after a rise in coronavirus infections.

Tuesday's decision allows for clearing rubble, making repairs and giving out aid in neighbourhoods demolished by the August 4 blast in Beirut. The airport will remain open, with travellers having to take a PCR test before boarding.

Lebanon has registered record numbers of daily infections that have crossed 400, with its tally on Monday standing at 9,337 cases and 105 deaths since February.

All markets, malls, gyms and pools, among other private businesses, will have to close during the lockdown, the ministry said.

The curfew will extend from 6 pm to 6 am local time, exempting workers in the medical and food sectors, as well as the army, diplomats and journalists.

South Korea shuts Seoul nightspots, churches 

South Korea will ban large public gatherings and shut down churches and nightspots in the greater capital area amid an alarming surge in viral infections that health officials describe as the country’s biggest crisis since the emergence of Covid-19.

In a nationally televised announcement on Tuesday, Prime Minister Chung Sye-kyun said strengthening social distancing restrictions for the Seoul metropolitan area, which is home to half of the country’s 51 million people, was inevitable because a failure to slow transmissions there could result in a major outbreak nationwide.

South Korea reported 246 new cases on Tuesday, mostly from the capital area, pushing its total for the last five days to 959.

The measures, which will take effect Wednesday in Seoul and nearby Gyeonggi province and the city of Incheon, prohibit gatherings of more than 50 people indoors and 100 people outdoors. Nightclubs, karaoke rooms, buffet restaurants, computer gaming cafes and other “high-risk” venues will be shut. Churches will only be allowed to provide online services.

UAE sees 'alarming' increase in cases 

An increase in the number of coronavirus cases over the past two weeks is "alarming" and may herald further increases in the near future, the United Arab Emirates' health minister said on Tuesday.

The UAE registered 365 new cases and two deaths over the last 24 hours, the government said, bringing the total number of Covid-19 infections in the Gulf state since the start of the pandemic to 64,906 with 366 deaths.

New daily coronavirus cases in the UAE peaked in mid-May but the country has seen periodic spikes since then, despite a generally falling trend.

Covid-19 causes mental health crisis in Americas – WHO official 

The Covid-19 pandemic is causing a mental health crisis in the Americas due to heightened stress and use of drugs and alcohol during six months of lockdowns and stay-at-home measures, the World Health Organization's regional director said on Tuesday.

The pandemic also has brought a related problem in a surge in domestic violence against women, Carissa Etienne said in a virtual briefing from the Pan American Health Organization in Washington.

Etienne called on governments to expand mental health services and prioritise mental health as part of their response to the pandemic.

Many people are stressed by fear of developing the severe illness caused by the novel coronavirus, while doctors, nurses and health workers are working longer hours than ever before and risking their lives in hospitals, she said.

"Ongoing stay-at-home measures, coupled with the social and economic impacts of this virus, are increasing the risks of domestic violence – home is not a safe space for many," she said.

Helpline calls have risen in Argentina, Colombia and Mexico, but the real extent of domestic violence during the Covid-19 pandemic is likely under-estimated, as survivors are stuck at home and outreach services are interrupted, Etienne said.

Irish prime minister says schools will reopen

Ireland will reopen schools for the first time since March and the aim of new restrictions to slow the spread of coronavirus is to make sure key parts of the economy remain open, Prime Minister Micheal Martin said.

Ireland significantly tightened its nationwide coronavirus restrictions on Tuesday to rein in an increase in cases, urging everyone to restrict visitors to their homes, avoid public transport and for older people to limit their contacts.

"Schools are so important to children in general, to society, to the economy as well, that we want our schools to reopen, and our schools will reopen," Martin told a news conference.

Covid-19 cases in Americas reach 11.5 million 

Coronavirus cases in the Americas have reached almost 11.5 million and over 400,000 people have died as a result of the pandemic, the WHO regional director Carissa Etienne said on Tuesday.

Speaking in a virtual briefing from Washington with other Pan American Health Organization directors, Etienne said the region continues to carry the highest burden of the disease, with 64 percent of officially reported global deaths despite having 13 percent of the world's population. The biggest drivers of the case counts are the United States and Brazil, she said.

Brazil approves human trials for potential Johnson & Johnson vaccine

Brazil's health regulator Anvisa said it had approved stage 3 clinical trials for a potential Covid-19 vaccine developed by Johnson & Johnson's pharmaceutical subsidiary Janssen.

Brazil is the second-worst hit country for coronavirus cases and deaths after the United States, leading many companies to seek out clinical trials here. The Johnson & Johnson vaccine candidate is the fourth to be approved for human trials in Brazil, Anvisa said in its statement. 

Australia signs deal with AstraZeneca for possible vaccine

Australia has signed a deal with drugmaker AstraZeneca to secure a potential Covid-19 vaccine, the prime minister said, joining a growing list of countries lining up supplies of the drug.

AstraZeneca’s candidate is seen as a frontrunner in the global race to deliver an effective vaccine against the coronavirus that has killed more than 770,000 people and infected nearly 22 million, according to a Reuters tally.

"Under this deal we have secured early access for every Australian," Prime Minister Scott Morrison said in an emailed statement.

"If this vaccine proves successful we will manufacture and supply vaccines straight away under our own steam and make it free for 25 million Australians."

UK records 1,089 new Covid-19 cases

The United Kingdom recorded 1,089 new positive cases of Covid-19 on Tuesday, up from 713 on Monday, government figures showed.

A further 12 people died after testing positive for the coronavirus within 28 days.

The UK has recorded more than 1,000 daily cases on eight out of the last 10 days.

New French workplace mask rules to take effect September 1 

The French government plans to make wearing a mask compulsory in the vast majority of workplaces from September 1 to try to stop a resurgence of the Covid-19 pandemic.

The labour ministry said on Tuesday the new arrangement would apply to all shared spaces in offices and factories, but would not extend to individual offices where only one employee is present.

It also said that working from home would remain its recommended option for employees. 

FIFA cancels next round of internationals outside Europe

FIFA on Tuesday announced international matches will only be played in Europe in the window that opens at the end of August to reduce travel for players.

FIFA said in a statement it was replacing the period scheduled from August 31 to September 8 with a new window from January 24 to February 1 next year "for all confederations except UEFA."

This means non-European players will not have to travel to play with their national team.

FIFA said the new period in January and February had been chosen with the African Cup of Nations in mind, with "the exact dates to be determined at a later date".

FIFA said its Council had decided on these calendar changes "in response to the global disruption caused by the Covid-19 pandemic that continues to plague many parts of the world".

It also cancelled the women's international, scheduled for September 14-22, for all confederations except UEFA.

Merkel rules out easing coronavirus rules 

Chancellor Angela Merkel warned on Tuesday there could be no further relaxation of coronavirus restrictions while Germany grapples with a surge in new infections.

She urged Germans to follow the rules on hygiene precautions and reminded travellers returning from risk areas that quarantine was not an option "but a must" so long as they could not show a negative test.

"We are seeing that an increase in mobility and closer contacts are leading to a higher number of cases," Merkel told a press conference in Duesseldorf.

"I believe there can be no further loosening (of restrictions) at this point," she said in her first public comments on the pandemic since returning from her summer break.

Germany has in recent weeks reported an average of well over 1,000 new cases a day, compared with around 350 in early June.

Turkey's total coronavirus cases rise to over 250,000

Turkey's total number of coronavirus cases rose to 251,805, with 1,263 new cases identified in the past 24 hours, health ministry data showed, as the death toll from the virus climbed to 6,016.

The data showed 20 people had died in the past 24 hours in Turkey, while the total number of recoveries rose to 232,913.

Red Cross records over 600 violent incidents

The Red Cross said on Tuesday it recorded more than 600 incidents of violence, harassment or stigmatisation against healthcare workers, patients and medical infrastructure over coronavirus cases during the first six months of the pandemic.

The International Committee of the Red Cross said that the figure of such incidents is "likely much higher" and that of the 611 episodes it found across more than 40 countries, more than 20 percent involved physical assaults.

"This crisis has put healthcare workers in harm's way when they are needed the most. Many have been insulted, harassed, and subjected to physical violence," said Maciej Polkowski, the head of ICRC's Health Care in Danger initiative.

"This atmosphere of fear, which is often compounded by a lack of adequate personal protective equipment, is adding significant stress to their physical and mental health and that of their families," said Polkowski.

Of the incidents, 15 percent were of fear-based discrimination, and 15 percent were verbal assaults or threats.

The release of the data came ahead of the August 19 World Humanitarian Day to pay tributes to humanitarian workers killed and injured in line of duty and to honour health workers providing life-saving support and protection to people in need.

WHO asks for end to vaccine nationalism

Countries putting their own interests ahead of others in trying to ensure supplies of a possible virus vaccine are making the pandemic worse, WHO chief Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said.

"(Acting) strategically and globally is actually in each country's national interest – no one is safe until everyone is safe," he told a virtual briefing calling for an end to "vaccine nationalism".

He said he had sent a letter to all WHO members asking them to join the multilateral COVAX vaccine effort.

England axes health agency criticised for response

England will scrap the government agency responsible for responding to public health emergencies after the country has suffered the highest death rate in Europe from the pandemic.

Public Health England, a cornerstone of the state-run health system with responsibility for managing infectious outbreaks, will have many of its functions merged with the government's contact tracing service into a new body to be known as the National Institute for Health Protection.

Vietnam deputy PM says pandemic to stay for a long time

Vietnam's Deputy Prime Minister Vu Duc Dam said that pandemic would stay in the country for a long time, adding that it would take at least a year for the population to have access to a vaccine.

"We have to take measures to live safely alongside the disease," Dam said at a government meeting.

Vietnam, which first detected the virus locally in January, has reported 983 cases and 25 deaths, with more than half of its infections in the past month alone.

Greece to receive 3 million doses of vaccine

Greece’s health minister says his country will receive around 3 million doses of the virus vaccine being developed by the University of Oxford and pharmaceutical company AstraZeneca, in batches beginning in December.

Speaking on Greece’s Skai TV, Vassilis Kikilias said the country of around 11 million people would initially receive 700,000 doses of the vaccine, which is currently in advanced trials, at the end of December, and would receive the rest in batches in the following months.

Depression rates almost doubled in Britain

Rates of depression appear to have almost doubled in Britain since the country was put into lockdown in late March as a result of the pandemic, according to the country’s official statistics agency.

The Office for National Statistics said 19.2 percent of adults were likely to be experiencing some sort of depression in June, up from 9.7 percent between July 2019 and March.

The agency, which assessed the same 3,527 of adults before and during the pandemic, said feeling stressed or anxious was the most common way adults were experiencing some form of depression.

Union Berlin hoping to have fans at friendly

German soccer club Union Berlin wants to hold a pre-season friendly match with 3,000 spectators and is hoping that “preventative” virus tests for fans will allow it to happen.

The Bundesliga club says it has applied to the local Treptow-Köpenick health authorities for permission to hold the game with an altered hygiene plan on September 5.

Union says “a preventative test for all spectators is intended to replace the currently valid social distancing rules.”

South Africa loosens restrictions

South Africa, which had one of the world’s strictest anti-pandemic lockdowns for five months, relaxed its restrictions in response to a decrease in new cases.

The country loosened its regulations to permit the sales of alcohol and cigarettes, and the reopening of bars, restaurants, gyms and places of worship, all limited to no more than 50 people. Schools will reopen gradually starting August 24.

With more than 589,000 confirmed cases, South Africa has more than half of all reported cases in Africa. The 54 countries of the continent reported a total of more than 1.1 million cases, according to the Africa Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Norway wealth fund says pandemic still poses market risk

The pandemic continues to pose a risk to financial markets even though global stocks have sharply rebounded from falls earlier this year, an executive at the Norwegian sovereign wealth fund said.

"The main thing is the pandemic. It is still a global pandemic. It does not seem to be under control in any shape or form," deputy CEO Trond Grande told a news conference.

Indonesia confirms 1,673 infections

Indonesia reported 1,673 infections, bringing the total number of cases in the Southeast Asian nation to 143,043, data from the country's health ministry showed.

The data recorded an additional 70 deaths, taking the total to 6,277.

Olympique de Marseille reports 3 cases

French Ligue 1 football club Olympique de Marseille reported three cases of coronavirus in a development that could jeopardise the re-start of the top-flight season.

Marseille said that, in all, it had registered four confirmed virus cases over the last four days.

The club is due to play Saint Etienne on August 21 in the first match of the new season. 

South Korea warns of crisis as cases surge

South Korean health officials say they've found 457 virus cases linked to a huge Seoul church led by a bitter critic of the country’s president, driving an alarming surge of infections in the greater capital area.

Kwon Jun-wook, director of South Korea’s National Health Institute, said outbreaks at the Sarang Jeil Church and elsewhere have pushed the country into the biggest crisis yet since the emergence of pandemic.

Russia logs almost 5,000 new daily cases

Russia reported 4,748 virus cases, pushing its nationwide tally to 932,493, the fourth largest in the world.

The country's virus crisis response centre said 132 people had died of the disease in the last 24 hours, bringing the official virus death toll to 15,872.

India reports over 55,000 daily cases

India reported more than 55,000 new cases, putting its total virus caseload past 2.7 million.

India has the third-most cases, behind the US and Brazil. It also has the fourth-most deaths from the virus, with 51,797.

But India's deaths per million people stands at 34 – far lower than what has been reported in some North American and European countries.

Philippine capital's virus lockdown being eased

Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte has decided to ease a mild lockdown in the capital and four outlying provinces to further reopen the country’s battered economy despite having the most reported pandemic infections in Southeast Asia.

Most businesses, including shopping malls and dine-in restaurants, and Roman Catholic church services will be allowed to partially resume on Wednesday with restrictions, including masks and social distancing.

New Zealand PM hits back at Trump's claims

New Zealand’s leader has hit back at President Donald Trump’s claim that New Zealand is experiencing a big surge in virus cases.

Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern said that Trump’s comments were “patently wrong.”

“I think for anyone who’s following the pandemic and its transmission globally will quite easily see that New Zealand’s nine cases in a day does not compare to the United States' tens of thousands,” Ardern told reporters.

UK retailer Marks and Spencer says to axe 7,000 jobs

Marks and Spencer, the British retail chain selling clothing and food, is to cut around 7,000 jobs as the pandemic keeps shoppers away from its stores, it announced.

The job cuts, to be carried out over the next three months, include losses from its central support centre, in regional management and in its UK stores, M&S said in statement.

Russian energy minister tests positive 

Russian Energy Minister Alexander Novak will join a meeting of the OPEC+ group's Joint Ministerial Monitoring Committee on Wednesday via video link after testing positive for the virus, the energy ministry said.

"The minister feels good. He has no symptoms," an energy ministry spokeswoman said.

Chinese company says vaccine ready by end of year

The head of a major state-owned Chinese pharmaceutical company says its virus vaccine will be commercially available by the end of the year.

Liu Jingzhen, the chairman of SinoPharm, told a Chinese Communist Party newspaper that the vaccine would cost less than $140 and be given in two shots, 28 days apart. He said that students and workers in major cities would need to get the vaccine, but not those living in sparsely populated rural areas.

“Not all of the 1.4 billion people in our country have to take it,” he said in an interview published in the Guangming Daily.

Australia's Victoria reports lowest rise in cases in a month

Australia's second most populous state of Victoria reported its lowest daily rise in new coronavirus cases in a month, stoking hopes that a second wave of infection in the state is easing.

The state recorded 17 deaths from the new coronavirus in the last 24 hours, a day after recording its deadliest day of the pandemic with 25 casualties. It reported 222 cases compared with 282 on Monday.

A cluster of infections in Melbourne, the Victorian capital, forced authorities two weeks ago to impose a night curfew, tighten restrictions on people's daily movements and order large parts of the state's economy to close.

The strict restrictions appear to have put new daily case numbers on a downward path after they peaked at more than 700 earlier this month.

Despite the second wave of infections, Australia has reported just over 23,500 Covid-19 cases and 438 deaths, far fewer than many other developed nations.

China reports 22 new cases
China reported 22 new coronavirus cases in the mainland for August 17, same as the tally a day earlier, the health authority said.

All of the new infections were imported cases, the National Health Commission said in a statement, making it the second straight day for zero new locally transmitted cases. There were no new deaths.

China also reported 17 new asymptomatic patients, compared with 37 a day earlier.

As of August 17, mainland China had a total of 84,871 confirmed coronavirus cases, it said. China's death toll from the coronavirus remained unchanged at 4,634.

New Zealand reports 13 new cases

New Zealand reported 13 new confirmed cases of coronavirus for the past 24 hours compared with nine a day earlier as the Pacific nation battles to contain an outbreak in the biggest city of Auckland.

Twelve cases are linked to the existing virus cluster in Auckland, Director-General of Health Ashley Bloomfield said in a media briefing in Wellington.

Auckland, home to nearly a third of New Zealand's 5 million people, remains in lockdown due to a flare up in infections there. Social distancing rules are in place in other town s and cities.

New Zealand has so far recorded just under 1,300 confirmed cases and 22 deaths.

Mexico's confirmed deaths surpass 57,000

Mexico's health ministry reported 3,571 new confirmed cases of coronavirus infections and 266 additional fatalities, bringing the total in the country to 525,733 cases and 57,023 deaths.

The government has said the real number of infected people is likely significantly higher than the confirmed cases.

Anti-government protesters defy measures in Argentina

Thousands of opposition demonstrators took to the streets in cities across Argentina to protest against President Alberto Fernandez and his plans to extend confinement measures against the coronavirus.

Demonstrators defied social distancing rules to answer calls to protest against a government announcement last Friday to extend containment measures in the Buenos Aires region until August 30.

The capital is home to 90 percent of the country's growing coronavirus caseload.

Source: TRTWorld and agencies