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Coronavirus: What’s happening around the world on Wednesday

First case of COVID-19 confirmed among migrants at the U.S.-Mexico border

The Associated Press · Posted: Jul 01, 2020

An international disaster relief organization reported Tuesday the first confirmed case of COVID-19 among migrants living in a tent encampment of asylum seekers at the U.S.-Mexico border.

Global Response Management said that one person in the Matamoros camp, which is across the Rio Grande from Brownsville, Texas, had tested positive.

There are some 2,000 asylum seekers living in tents along the border. The migrants from Central America and other parts of the world have been stranded by the U.S.’s suspension of asylum hearings due to the pandemic through at least mid-July.

Last week, Andrea Leiner, a spokesperson for GRM, said they had implemented measures to try to reduce the risk of the virus’s spread, but conceded it was a challenge with confirmed infections cropping up among U.S. and Mexican immigration officials and in residents on both sides of the border.

They had placed tents one metre apart, leaving them open for ventilation and having everyone sleep head to toe to curtail the chances of transmission while people sleep, she said. 

Two Tamaulipas state immigration officials, who requested anonymity because they were not authorized to discuss the case, said the infected person was a Mexican citizen who was deported earlier in June from the United States to Reynosa and who arrived at the camp over the weekend.

Four other people the young woman had contact with tested negative, the officials said.

Asylum seekers began pooling in border cities like Matamoros under the U.S. policy commonly known as “Remain in Mexico,” in which asylum seekers can make their initial request for U.S. asylum, but have to wait in Mexico for the lengthy process to play out.

More than 60,000 asylum seekers have been returned to Mexico to wait for hearings in U.S. court since January 2019, when the U.S. introduced its “Migrant Protection Protocols” policy.

There had been concern since the arrival of the pandemic that the crowded tents and lack of proper sanitation could lead to infections in the Matamoros camp.

GRM started working in the camp last September. The organization provides medical treatment with a team of medical volunteers.

Dr. Michele Heisler, medical director at Physicians for Human Rights and professor of internal medicine and public health at the University of Michigan, in a statement characterized GRM’s work in the camp as “Herculean.” She criticized the U.S. policy for creating the situation and said asylum seekers should be paroled to stay with relatives in the U.S. while their cases are processed.

“Local and national health authorities in Mexico must act immediately to improve access to COVID-19 testing and care in Matamoros,” Heisler said. “The families living in the Matamoros tent city are among the most vulnerable in the hemisphere to the spread of COVID-19.”

Mexico’s own national caseload continues to rise steadily, with 5,432 confirmed cases reported Tuesday, to bring the nationwide total to more than 226,000. Confirmed COVID-19 deaths rose by 648 Tuesday, to bring the total to 27,769 deaths.

What’s happening with COVID-19 in Canada

As of 9 a.m. ET on Wednesday, Canada had 104,204 confirmed and presumptive coronavirus cases. Provinces and territories listed 67,592 of the cases as recovered or resolved. A CBC News tally of deaths based on provincial reports, regional health information and CBC’s reporting stood at 8,639.

Ottawa has extended for at least another month a sweeping travel ban that bars entry to all travellers who are not Canadian citizens, permanent residents or people entering from the U.S. for “essential” reasons.

The order, which was set to expire Tuesday night, “has been extended until July 31 for public health reasons,” Rebecca Purdy, spokesperson for the Canada Border Services Agency, said in a statement to CBC News.

There seems to be no great desire to quickly reverse the unprecedented border restrictions that were imposed in March, with the United States adding 40,000 new cases of COVID-19 each day. This comes as the EU is leaving the U.S. off a list of 15 countries whose citizens soon will be allowed to visit its 27 member nations.

When Leger Marketing asked Canadians in May when they thought Canada should reopen its border with the United States, 47 per cent of respondents said “not before the end of the year.” With more than 2.6 million cases now in the United States, it’s unlikely Canadians’ enthusiasm for welcoming Americans has increased since then.

The U.S.-Canada border will remain closed as Ottawa extends a sweeping travel ban for at least another month. (Christinne Muschi/Reuters)

Here’s what’s happening around the world

The United Nations Security Council is trying again to reach agreement on its first resolution on COVID-19 since the coronavirus started circling the globe in February after a lengthy dispute between the U.S. and China over mentioning the World Health Organization (WHO).

A revised draft resolution by France and Tunisia was submitted for a vote Tuesday, and the result is expected to be announced on Wednesday.

The draft resolution backs Secretary General Antonio Guterres’s March 23 call for global ceasefires to tackle the pandemic, and demands an “immediate cessation of hostilities” in all conflicts on the council’s agenda, including Syria, Yemen, Libya, South Sudan and Congo.

It calls on all warring parties “to engage immediately in a durable humanitarian pause for at least 90 consecutive days” to enable the safe and unhindered delivery of humanitarian aid and medical evacuations.

U.S. President Donald Trump suspended funding to the World Health Organization in early April, accusing the UN health agency of failing to stop the virus from spreading when it first surfaced in China, and accusing WHO of parroting Beijing.

China strongly supports the WHO and insisted that its role in calling for global action on COVID-19 be included in any resolution, diplomats said, while the U.S. insisted on a reference to “transparency” on COVID-19 and no mention of the WHO.

The draft being put to a vote doesn’t mention either the WHO or transparency.

The United States cannot count on the availability of a safe and effective COVID-19 vaccine, the government’s top infectious diseases expert said Wednesday, and he urged Americans to work together to fight the virus that is surging across large parts of the country.

“It’s extremely important to have safe and effective vaccines available for everyone in this country,” Dr. Anthony Fauci, the head of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, told a U.S. Senate committee.

Fauci said, however, that “there is no guarantee … we’ll have a safe and effective vaccine,” and he urged Americans to work together to contain the virus.

On Monday, Fauci warned that coronavirus cases could grow to 100,000 a day in the U.S. if public health recommendations aren’t followed.

In California, an official said a farming region on the state’s border with Mexico has sent hundreds of patients to hospitals outside the area in recent weeks, as leaders accept Gov. Gavin Newsom’s recommendation to backpedal on reopening its battered economy.

Imperial County unveiled a plan that includes closing businesses deemed non-essential and shuttering county parks.

The Mexican border city of Mexicali has taken its own measures to combat the virus, including a checkpoint for motorists entering from the U.S. that created a seven-hour backup on the U.S. side on Saturday.

Meanwhile, Tokyo confirmed 67 new cases of coronavirus on Wednesday, marking the highest daily tally in the Japanese capital since the state of emergency was lifted in late May, public broadcaster NHK reported.

A staff member in a face mask holds a notice about physical distancing in the cabin of a shuttle train at Tokyo Disneyland during the reopening day of the park. (Philip Fong/AFP/Getty Images)

It was also the sixth straight day in which Tokyo had confirmed more than 50 cases, NHK said.

South Korea is considering including religious facilities on the same list with nightclubs, hostess bars and karaoke rooms as “high risk” venues for the spread of COVID-19 following a slew of transmissions tied to church gatherings.

South Korean Prime Minister Chung Sye-kyun said during a meeting Wednesday that more than 40 per cent of the country’s newly confirmed infections over the previous three days have been traced back to places of worship.

He pleaded with people to refrain from religious gatherings and criticized churches and other facilities for failing to implement proper preventive measures, such as requiring followers to wear masks and sit apart during services.

Thailand has further eased COVID-19 restrictions, allowing the reopening of schools and high-risk entertainment venues such as pubs and massage parlours that had been shut since mid-March.

Students wearing face masks and shields observe physical distancing as they line up to attend classes in a school in southern Thailand, as schools reopened after being temporarily closed due to the pandemic. (Madaree Tohlala/AFP/Getty Images)

It also is allowing foreign visitors on a controlled basis, limiting entry to those with existing family or work ties, students, technical experts, investors and specially invited VIPs. Scheduled passenger flights to Thailand were suspended in early April.

The number of foreign visitors allowed into the country each day is limited to 200, and they are supposed to travel on repatriation flights bringing Thai citizens home. All returnees, foreign and Thai, will be subject to varying degrees of quarantine.

Italy is still insisting on quarantines for visitors from the 14 countries given the green light by the European Union to visit.

Health Minister Roberto Speranza said Italy was taking the “line of caution” given its battle to contain the outbreak in the onetime epicentre of Europe’s COVID-19 emergency.

The EU said Tuesday it would reopen its borders to travellers from 14 countries — Algeria, Australia, Canada, Georgia, Japan, Montenegro, Morocco, New Zealand, Rwanda, Serbia, South Korea, Thailand, Tunisia and Uruguay.

Chinese visitors are likely to be readmitted soon, but not most from the U.S., where infections are surging.

Speranza signed an ordinance Tuesday requiring “fiduciary quarantine” for visitors from the 14 countries. He said in a statement: “The situation at the global level remains very complex. We must avoid that the sacrifices made by Italians in these months are in vain.”

A protest against Africa’s first COVID-19 vaccine trial was underway Wednesday as experts noted a worrying level of resistance and misinformation around testing on the continent.

Anti-vaccine sentiment in Africa is “the worst I’ve ever seen,” the CEO of the GAVI vaccine alliance, Seth Berkley, told an African Union vaccine conference last week.

“In general, people in Africa know the diseases and want to protect each other,” he said. “In this case, the rumour mill has been dramatic.”

The trial that began last week in Johannesburg, South Africa is part of one already underway in the U.K. of a vaccine developed at the University of Oxford. Some 2,000 volunteers in South Africa are expected to take part.

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