Here are the key developments from the last few hours:
- France passed 1m cases. France has become the second country in Western Europe to record more than 1m coronavirus infections, according to the Johns Hopkins University tracker. The current total is 1,000,357. France has recorded 34,075 deaths.There are now seven countries worldwide with more than one million cases.
- Six US states reported record day-over-day increases in Covid-19 deaths on Wednesday, as infections rose across the Midwest and elsewhere, prompting new clampdowns on residents, schools and businesses. Deaths attributed to Covid-19 hit daily records in Iowa, Minnesota, Montana, Kansas, Hawaii and Wisconsin. Wisconsin, Illinois, Kentucky, Colorado and Ohio reported record daily increases in new infections.
- The number of confirmed coronavirus cases in Germany rose by more than 10,000 in a single day for the first time, data from the Robert Koch Institute for infectious diseases showed on Tuesday. The institute recorded 11,287 new cases in its daily update for a total of 392,049. The previous day’s increase was 7,830.The previous highest one-day total was on 20 October, according to Johns Hopkins University, with over 8,500 new cases.The reported death toll rose by 30 to 9,905, the tally showed.
- All of Puerto Rico’s 911 call centers were shut down Wednesday night after several employees tested positive for the coronavirus, officials announced. Public Safety Secretary Pedro Janer said people should call the island’s emergency management agency at 787-724-0124 or police at 787-343-2020 in an emergency. He said both agencies are operating 24 hours a day. However, people calling the first number that Janer provided get a recording asking them to call 911 for an emergency. Then the recording provided callers with a directory.
- AstraZeneca COVID-19 vaccine trial Brazil volunteer dies, trial to continue. Brazilian health authority Anvisa said on Wednesday that a volunteer in a clinical trial of the Covid-19 vaccine developed by AstraZeneca and Oxford University had died but added that the trial would continue. A source familiar with the matter told Reuters the trial would have been suspended if the volunteer who died had received the Covid-19 vaccine, suggesting the person was part of the control group that was given a meningitis jab.
- New Zealand reported just two new cases of the virus on Thursday, a day after recording its highest number of new Covid-19 cases in a single day for more than six months – most of them diagnosed in border quarantine facilities. Both new cases were diagnosed in travellers returning to the country, who must spend two weeks in government-run quarantine, where they are tested twice for the coronavirus.
- Alabama lieutenant governor tests positive for coronavirus. Alabama’s lieutenant governor, who has called the state’s mask order a government overstep, announced Wednesday that he has tested positive for Covid-19.
- Trump says he doesn’t see agreement with Democrats on stimulus. Donald Trump has said he does not see any way house speaker Nancy Pelosi and senate Democratic leader Chuck Schumer “will be willing to do what is right for our great American workers, or our wonderful USA itself, on stimulus.”
- Italy’s Lazio region, including the capital Rome, is set to introduce a curfew on Friday from midnight to 5am to try to curb its surging Covid-19 infections, a regional government source told Reuters.
- It comes as Italy registered a record of 15,199 new Covid-19 infections in the last 24 hours, its highest daily increase in coronavirus cases since the beginning of the pandemic.
- Greek authorities announced a regional lockdown of the northern region of Kastoria, after declaring the region an elevated risk, the highest of a four-tier risk assessment. Restrictions will be imposed from 23 October. It comes as the country reported 865 new cases of Covid-19, a new high since the outbreak began in late February.
- Spain became the first western European country to surpass a million coronavirus cases. The unwelcome milestone comes as the government considers a curfew and as political bickering threaten to jeopardise efforts to control the second wave of the virus.
In more cheerful news from India, businesses are stocking up more ahead of this year’s big festival season than at any time in the last five years, expecting people whose earnings were relatively unaffected by the pandemic to spend the money they saved during months of lockdowns, Reuters reports.
India’s biggest shopping season is at the time of the festivals of Durga Puja and Diwali, which fall 20 days apart in October-November each year. Traditionally, this is a time when houses are re-decorated, big-ticket items purchased, feasts held and gifts exchanged.
Businesses and shopkeepers expect more purchases than usual this year, beginning with Durga Puja on Thursday, because the months of lockdowns have resulted in pent-up demand.
Recent data shows that demand for diesel, power and cars has already picked up, and any resurgence of retail buying of everything from phones to furniture would bode well for India’s economy that shrank 23.9% in the quarter ended June – its steepest decline.
Brokerage firm Nomura said its India business-resumption index for the week that ended on 18 October hit its highest level since the country first imposed a lockdown in late March to contain the coronavirus.
Big retailers such as Croma and Vijay Sales, both dealing mainly in electronics and home appliances, told Reuters sales in recent days indicated that this holiday season could be better than last year and that they were actually worried about tightening inventory in certain categories like entry-level laptops and high-end televisions.
The Confederation of All India Traders said its 70 million small businesses on average were planning for a buffer stock of around 14% this season compared with last year’s 10%, to ensure they don’t run out of goods should demand surge.
India cases pass 7.7m
India’s coronavirus infections rose by 55,839, taking its tally to 7.71 million, health ministry data showed on Thursday.
Cases in India have dipped since a peak in September, but experts warn that infections could surge as the peak festival season approaches.
India has the world’s second highest number of infections after the United States, which has a tally of 8.3 million.
Virus deaths in the south Asian nation rose by 702 in the last 24 hours, taking the toll to 116,616, the ministry added.
Charlotte Graham-McLay reports:
Jacinda Ardern won New Zealand’s election with a commanding majority, in part attributed to her handling of the Covid-19 pandemic in her country. But a veteran epidemiologist is exhorting the prime minister to use the political capital gained in her decisive victory to scrutinise the coronavirus response by her government and officials, and adopt strategies proposed by her opponents before Saturday’s vote.
“New Zealand has shown it can be quite smart and flexible, but we can see we’ve got these blind spots and we need to have no blind spots,” said Nick Wilson, a University of Otago epidemiologist. “This is such an unforgiving disease and very few countries are doing it right so we need to smarten up our act quite substantially.”
Ardern’s government has been commended internationally for its pandemic response, in which one of the world’s strictest lockdowns in March and April resulted in a death toll of 25, and fewer than 2,000 confirmed cases in the nation of 5 million:
Japanese researchers showed that masks can offer protection from airborne coronavirus particles, but even professional-grade coverings can’t eliminate contagion risk entirely, Reuters reports.
Scientists at the University of Tokyo built a secure chamber with mannequin heads facing each other. One head, fitted with a nebuliser, simulated coughing and expelled actual coronavirus particles. The other mimicked natural breathing, with a collection chamber for viruses coming through the airway.
A cotton mask reduced viral uptake by the receiver head by up to 40% compared to no mask. An N95 mask, used by medical professionals, blocked up to 90%. However, even when the N95 was fitted to the face with tape, some virus particles still sneaked in.
When a mask was attached to the coughing head, cotton and surgical masks blocked more than 50% of the virus transmission.
“There was a synergistic effect when both the virus receiver and virus spreader wore masks,” the researchers wrote in a study published on Wednesday.
There has been a growing consensus among health experts that the Covid-19 virus can be spread through the air. The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention revised its guidance this month to say the pathogen can linger in the air for hours.
A separate team of Japanese researchers used supercomputer simulations to show that humidity can have a significant effect on the airborne dispersion of virus particles.
Podcast: How do we save society?
With the coronavirus pandemic continuing to highlight health and economic inequalities, and the US election fast approaching, this week we return to the archive to explore how divisions in society arise and what we can do about them. In this episode from 2017, Ian Sample investigates where group splits come from, how we can connect to those we disagree with, and what could happen if we fail:
Britain on Thursday said it would partner with an Oxford-based firm to provide testing for the T-cell response of coronavirus vaccine candidates to try to assess their immune responses, Reuters reports.
T cell immunity is thought to be essential to protection against infection from the SARS-COV-2 coronavirus, and could provide longer term immunity than antibodies.
The UK Vaccine Taskforce has chosen Oxford Immunotec to supply T cell testing for its assessment of different vaccine candidates.
“It is important to be able to assess the different vaccines head-to-head and the T cell response is part of our portfolio of accredited assays that we are employing for cross comparisons,” Kate Bingham, chair of the UK Vaccines Taskforce, said in a statement.
Britain has signed supply deals for six different coronavirus vaccine candidates, including those being made by AstraZeneca and Pfizer and BioNTech, seen as among the frontrunners in the race for a vaccine.
Oxford Immunotec said its techonology platform enabled the centralisation of fresh blood samples from different locations to measure the T cell response in a standardised way.
It said the platform, known as T-SPOT, was being used to identify the T cells made in response to the pathogen that causes tuberculosis.
This is not strictly coronavirus related (or joyful) but:
Russia and Iran have obtained some US voting registration information and are attempting to sow unrest in the upcoming election, the government’s national intelligence director said in a rare news conference Wednesday night.
“We have already seen Iran sending spoofed emails, designed to intimidate voters, incite social unrest and damage President Trump,” said John Ratcliffe, the director of national intelligence.
The FBI director, Chris Wray, also spoke, saying the US will impose costs on any foreign countries interfering in the 2020 US election:
Asian shares fell on Thursday and US Treasury yields ticked lower as investors fretted over the slow pace of US stimulus talks and a surge in global cases of Covid-19.
Reuters: Global investor sentiment took a fresh hit over talks to boost the world’s largest economy after US President Donald Trump on Wednesday accused Democrats of being unwilling to craft an acceptable compromise on stimulus, following reports of progress earlier in the day.
It remains unclear whether stimulus negotiations would continue ahead of the US presidential and congressional elections on 3 November.
“We still think that this deal will remain elusive in the sense that this amount that we are talking about, $1.88 trillion, that’s about 9% of GDP, and 2.2 trillion which is Speaker Pelosi’s package, is even higher at around 10% of GDP,” said Anthony Chan, chief Asia investment strategist at Union Bancaire Privee (UBP) in Hong Kong.
“Even if both sides do manage to reach an agreement, given the tight deadline ahead of the election it’s unlikely that something like that would be able to go through the Senate smoothly.”
In morning trade, MSCI’s broadest index of Asia-Pacific shares outside Japan was down 0.63%.
Australian shares gave up 0.6%, Seoul’s Kospi was off 0.59% and and Chinese blue-chips dropped 1.1%.
The Nikkei was 0.69% lower.