Starting on the 16th of August, The Oxford Blue’s Global Affairs team will be bringing you bite-sized weekly worldwide updates on the virus. This week’s update summarises significant regional headlines from Africa, Asia, Australasia, Europe, and North America.
As of the 14th of August, there are over 1 million confirmed cases in Africa. Across the continent, approaches to the containment of the virus continue to differ. South Africa, which currently has the most amount of confirmed cases on the continent, will move on to the next phase of easing their lockdown restrictions starting on the 17th of August. With close to 600,000 total confirmed coronavirus cases, South Africa’s restrictions include a ban on international flights and a moratorium on alcohol and tobacco sales to ease pressure on healthcare directed towards non-COVID-19 related hospital visits. In East Africa, Tanzania remains an outlier in its approach. Having last released details surrounding COVID-19 cases and deaths on the 29th of April, the country boasts its ‘coronavirus-free’ status with many social activities, including tourism, continuing as usual. This proceeding differs sharply from its neighbour Kenya, where a suspension of higher education will end with the phased reopening of universities in September. The country’s Education Cabinet Secretary has also announced the suspension of face-to-face teaching in higher education institutions until January of 2021.
This week, it was announced that seven African countries would begin testing for antibodies next week. According to John Nkengasong, the head of the Africa Centres for Disease Control and Prevention, these countries include Liberia, Sierra Leone, Zambia, Zimbabwe, Cameroon, Nigeria, and Morocco. Although the continent displays comparatively lower infection rates, this could be linked to the low levels of testing in many countries. Experts believe that infection rates are likely significantly higher and antibody tests will help determine if this is the case.
On the 16th of August, BBC Africa reported on ten groundbreaking inventions across the continent that will help combat the spread of the virus. These include the automatic hand-washing machine invented by nine-year-old Kenyan schoolboy Stephen Wamukota and the web-based X-ray lung scans pioneered by Tunisian engineers for determining if a person has the virus.
The five countries reporting the most cases in Asia are concentrated in South Asian or the Middle East, with India, Iran, Saudi Arabia, Pakistan, and Bangladesh leading in the number of confirmed cases. On Friday, after reporting a single-day spike of 64,553 cases in 24 hours, India was deemed the country with the fastest-growing outbreak rate in the world. It overtook the UK by becoming the country with the fourth-highest coronavirus death toll in the world.
However, even in countries held up as pandemic success stories, which previously seemed to have the virus under control, cases have once again begun to rise. This second wave has been particularly unexpected in Vietnam, which saw its first death only at the end of last month, a toll that has since risen to 24. Hong Kong has also experienced another spike in infections, with a record-high number of cases in a day. The government warns that its hospital system could face collapse. This “third-wave” has led to the reimposition of social distancing measures, some of which have been criticised by the public as an assault on democracy. These measures include postponing the upcoming elections and banning pro-democracy gatherings and rallies.
Finally, the Philippines has overtaken Indonesia as the coronavirus hotspot in Southeast Asia, with more than 150,000 confirmed cases. More than 2.7 million people have been put back into lockdown in its capital city of Manila. President Duterte said he would respond to the virus “with the same fervour” as his war on drugs, and volunteered himself as a test subject for the new Russian vaccine, which he claims Putin promised to share with the Philippines.
The Australian state of Victoria has recorded another 303 new cases on Saturday. On the 10th of August, Australia recorded its deadliest day since the start of the pandemic, following a second wave of infections in Melbourne. The city has been on lockdown for over a month, but stricter measures were implemented on the 3rd of August, including a night-time curfew and a requirement to carry a permit whenever leaving the house. Melbourne’s residents have been required to stay at home except for essential shopping, medical care or exercise. The restrictions will remain in place until at least the 13th of September.
The outbreak is suspected of having begun with breaches in the quarantine of those returning from overseas. However, the country has reported its lowest one-day increase in new cases in more than three weeks on the 13th of August. According to the state chief health’s officer, Brett Sutton, the number of daily new cases in the state of Victoria was starting to trend down.
New Zealand has entered a second wave of infections, reporting 69 active cases at the moment. The lockdown imposed in Auckland was extended for another 12 days following another increase in cases on Friday. This development came after the country had gone 102 days without any locally transmitted cases of the novel virus before Tuesday. During a media briefing, PM Jacinda Ardern warned that the cluster in Auckland would “grow before it slows”. She also said the situation was “being dealt with in an urgent but calm and methodical way”. New Zealand’s deputy PM believes the source of this resurgence was a breach inside the quarantine system. However, all information given at this point is speculative, and the matter is still being investigated. The country’s top health official stated that the virus might have been circulating in the country for weeks before it was detected. Dr Ashely Bloomfield, the director-general of health, has said that all active cases will now be required to enter government-managed quarantine, instead of being allowed to self-isolate at home.
Cases have been increasing across most of Europe. France, Germany, and Spain, among others, have hit post-lockdown records in new daily cases. The increase is the most considerable in Spain, resulting in several countries instituting mandatory quarantine for citizens returning from the country. In Spain, wearing a mask is now obligatory whenever outside one’s house, while bars and nightclubs have been closed and smoking on the street prohibited.
Due to a rapid increase in positive tests, Scandinavian countries, whose authorities have until now been among the most sceptical of mask-wearing, have started to change course. Denmark announced obligatory face masks in public transport, starting next week, while both Norway and Finland now recommends it in public. Sweden, ever the contrary, has stuck to their policy of not recommending masks, as practically the only country in the world.
Vladimir Putin, the Russian president, announced that Russia had successfully developed a vaccine. Western experts quickly denounced the vaccine as insufficiently tested and potentially dangerous. Signalling the diplomatic importance of a potential vaccine, Russia named it Sputnik-V after the Cold War-era satellites that marked a decisive victory by the USSR over America in the Space Race.
Overall, coronavirus cases in the USA are increasing. At 2.5 million cases, the USA maintains its position as the country with the highest number of confirmed infections, currently making up a quarter of the global coronavirus cases.
Case numbers have dropped so far this month since late July, while deaths, still below their peak spring levels, hit an average of 1000 per day by early August, more than double this recorded in early July. The New York Times reported that virus testing in the US has fallen for the first time since the beginning of the pandemic, “a sign the nation’s response has stalled”. So far in August 733,000 people have been tested each day on average, down from approximately 750,000 last month.
The impact of the pandemic is affected by significant regional variation across the United States. Up to this week, in New York and California, the states with the most known cases, more than 1 million people have had coronavirus. In less populated states such as Vermont, there are fewer than 5000 patients.
Whereas during the primary stages of the lockdown the North East, specifically New York and New Jersey, was by far the worst affected region, it has coped relatively better with the recent increases in cases than other regions. The Midwest, South and West see an increase in cases whereas the North is maintaining a plateau.
The response to coronavirus restrictions remains highly politically divisive, with President Trump suggesting some people wear them primarily to show opposition to him. Similarly, Vice-President Mike Pence warned the media that talk of a second wave was using “grim predictions” to scare the American people. The top US health official for infectious diseases, Anthony Fauci, sees the current situation as a continuation of the initial outbreaks: “we’re still in a first wave”.