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World has 'long way to go' in #COVID-19 fight - WHO expert

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The world has a “long, long way to go” to bring the coronavirus pandemic under control, despite tentative steps in many countries to begin restarting normal life, the World Health Organization’s top emergencies expert warned on Wednesday (13 May), write Michael Shields and Emma Farge.

Dr Mike Ryan said risks from COVID-19, the respiratory illness caused by the novel coronavirus, remained high at “national, regional and global levels”.

“What we all fear is a vicious cycle of public health and economic disasters if lockdowns are eased without the ability to detect fresh outbreaks,” Ryan, the head of the WHO’s emergencies programme, told an online news briefing,

He added that “very significant control” of the virus was required in order to lower the current risk assessment.

Governments around the world are struggling with the question of how to reopen their economies while still containing the virus, which has infected 4.29 million people, according to a Reuters tally, and led to 291,375 deaths.

The European Union pushed on Wednesday for a gradual reopening of borders within the bloc shut by the pandemic, saying it was not too late to salvage some of the summer tourist season while keeping people safe.

But public health experts say extreme caution is needed to avoid new outbreaks.

“We need to get into the mindset that it is going to take some time to come out of this pandemic,” Maria van Kerkhove, a WHO epidemiologist, told the same online briefing.

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Johnson to levy £10,000 fine on COVID-19 rule-breakers

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People in England who break new rules requiring them to self-isolate if they have been in contact with someone infected with COVID-19 will face a fine of up to £10,000 ($12,914), Prime Minister Boris Johnson said on Saturday (19 September), writes David Milliken.

The rules will apply from 28 September to anyone in England who tests positive for the virus or is notified by public health workers that they have been in contact with someone infectious.

“People who choose to ignore the rules will face significant fines,” Johnson said in a statement.

Fines will start at 1,000 pounds for a first offence, rising to 10,000 pounds for repeat offenders or cases where employers threaten to sack staff who self-isolate rather than go to work.

Some low-income workers who suffer a loss of earnings will receive a £500 support payment, on top of other benefits such as sick pay to which they may be entitled.

Current British government guidance tells people to stay at home for at least 10 days after they start to suffer COVID-19 symptoms, and for other people in their household not to leave the house for 14 days.

Anyone who tests positive is also asked to provide details of people outside their household who they have been in close contact with, who may then also be told to self-isolate.

To date there has been little enforcement of self-isolation rules, except in some cases where people have returned from abroad.

However, Britain is now facing a rapid increase in cases, and the government said police would be involved in checking compliance in areas with the highest infection rates.

Johnson has also faced calls to reintroduce more wide-ranging lockdown rules for the general public.

However, the Sunday Times reported he was poised to reject calls from scientific advisors for an immediate two-week nationwide lockdown to slow the spread of the disease, and instead reconsider it when schools take a late-October break.

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Ireland tightens Dublin COVID-19 restrictions as cases surge

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The Irish government on Friday (18 September) announced strict new COVID-19 restrictions for the capital Dublin, banning indoor restaurant dining and advising against all non-essential travel, after a surge in cases in recent days. Ireland, which was one of the slowest countries in Europe to emerge from lockdown, has seen average daily case numbers roughly double in the past two weeks and significant increases in those being treated for the virus in hospitals, writes Conor Humphries.

“Here in the capital, despite people’s best efforts over recent weeks, we are in a very dangerous place,” Prime Minister Micheal Martin said in a televised address to the country, announcing the restrictions.

“Without further urgent and decisive action, there is a very real threat that Dublin could return to the worst days of this crisis.” The measures, which include a ban on indoor events, will last for three weeks, he said. Ireland had the 17th highest COVID-19 infection rate out of 31 European countries monitored by the European Centre for Disease Control on Friday, with 57.4 cases per 100,000 people in the past 14 days.

The government reported three deaths from the virus on Friday, bringing the total toll to 1,792. Countries across Europe, including Britain, Greece and Denmark, on Friday announced new restrictions to curb surging coronavirus infections in some of their largest cities. Ireland on Thursday tightened its COVID-19 travel restrictions by imposing quarantines on travellers from major holiday markets Italy and Greece.

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France reports new daily record in #COVID-19 cases

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France reported 13,498 new confirmed COVID-19 cases over the previous 24 hours, setting another record in daily additional infections since the start of the epidemic, writes Mathieu Rosemain.

The new cases pushed the cumulative total to 442,194 as the seven-day moving average of daily new infections rose to more than 9,700, compared with a low of 272 at the end of May, two weeks after the lockdown was lifted.

A faster circulation of the virus and a six-fold increase in testing since the government made it free are the two main reasons for the scale of the increase, epidemiologists have said.

The number of people in France who have died from COVID-19 was up by 26 on Saturday at 31,274, a growth significantly lower than registered the previous day.

Health authorities reported a sudden jump in the country’s daily death toll from COVID-19 on Friday (18 September)  because of unreported cases in one hospital near Paris.

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