US on the brink of virus shutdown

The race to control coronavirus in the US has taken a dramatic turn, as the US Centres for Disease Control and Prevention have urged the public to cancel or postpone gatherings of 50 people for the next eight weeks.

It comes as US President Donald Trump is reportedly considering a nationwide curfew and the US Surgeon General warned the country "could become Italy".

Germany and Canada moved to close borders while, in a nationwide address, British Prime Minister Boris Johnson also told Britons they must stop going to the pub and out for dinner to stop the coronavirus outbreak.

 

 

In a bombshell statement on Monday (local time) Mr Johnson drastically ramped up Britain's battleplan - banning public gatherings, stopping any non-essential travel. and telling everyone to work from home if they can.

America was effectively on self-imposed lockdown on Monday (local time) amid countless school closures, store shutdowns and cancelled events across the country. Even some public beaches are closing in Florida. The US Supreme Court also announced it would be postponing arguments because of the outbreak.

Restaurants and bars in New York have closed their doors for the next eight weeks as all public schools were finally shut amid stinging criticism at Mayor Bill De Blasio for what many saw as inaction to halt the spread of the virus.

 

President Donald Trump with Vice President Mike Pence, left, and Dr. Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases. Picture: AP
President Donald Trump with Vice President Mike Pence, left, and Dr. Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases. Picture: AP

Parts of the Las Vegas Strip have also gone dark as the hard-partying city shuts up shop.

MGM Resorts International and Wynn Resorts will close their Las Vegas properties as of tomorrow (Tuesday, local time) in light of the coronavirus pandemic.

Wynn said it expects the casinos and hotels to closed for two weeks.

MGM Resorts said it will close casino operations and then hotel operations.

"It is now apparent that this is a public health crisis that requires major collective action if we are to slow its progression," said Jim Murren, chairman and CEO of MGM Resorts, in a statement.

 

A food truck vendor pushes his cart down an empty street near Times Square in New York. Picture: AP
A food truck vendor pushes his cart down an empty street near Times Square in New York. Picture: AP

MGM Resorts operates a number of Las Vegas properties, including the Bellagio, the MGM Grand, and The Mirage.

But some say it's still not enough to stop the virus that has infected more than 3800 people and killed at least 68 in the US.

The US surgeon general said that the United States is about where Italy was two weeks ago in the coronavirus struggle, a sign that infections are expected to rise in America as the government steps up testing and works to free up massive aid for the public health and financial crisis.

 

 

"We are at a critical inflection point in this country, people," Surgeon General Dr. Jerome Adams told Fox News, likening the outbreak in the US to the stage Italy faced two weeks ago before it got worse. "When you look at the projections, there's every chance that we could be Italy."

On Sunday, Mr Trump had moved to allay fears, tweeting that "rumours of a national quarantine are FAKE".

 

VACCINE TRIALS TO BEGIN IN US

It comes as coronavirus vaccine trials are set to begin in the US, with at least one subject receiving a first-ever experimental dose of the potential inoculation, a government official said.

Throughout the trial - funded by the National Institutes of Health - 45 young, healthy volunteers will receive different doses of shots co-developed by the NIH and the Massachusetts-based biotech firm Moderna Inc.

Plans to test the first participant have not been publicly announced, but the official disclosed the information on the condition of anonymity.

Participants are not at risk of being infected with the bug, because the shots do not contain the virus itself.

 

The testing is set to occur at the Kaiser Permanente Washington Research Institute in Seattle.

Dozens of research groups across the world are scrambling to create an effective COVID-19 vaccine as the number of global cases soars to more than 164,000 and 6,470 deaths.

Specifically, they are looking to create shots developed from new technologies that are both faster to produce than traditional inoculations and might prove more potent.

Temporary vaccines are on the table as well - including shots that may guard people's health for a month or two at a time while a more long-term option is developed.

UK TAKES 'DRACONIAN' ACTION AGAINST VIRUS

Britain is urging people to stay away from pubs and restaurants, withdrawn police support for mass gatherings across the community and told elderly people to stay at home for 12 weeks because of the coronavirus.

British Prime Minister Boris Johnson dropped a bombshell on Monday (local time), with a speeding up of restrictions as the virus takes hold across the union.

There have been 171 new cases reported today, but the true number was expected to be much higher as Britain tries to ramp up testing for both those who have the illness and those who have recovered.

So far, 53 people have died.

Now whole families must stay at home for 14 days if anyone in the home has a cough or temperature.

 

A woman crosses the millennium bridge in front of St Pauls Cathedra in London. Picture: Getty Images
A woman crosses the millennium bridge in front of St Pauls Cathedra in London. Picture: Getty Images

 

"We are asking people to do something difficult and that will disrupt their lives," Mr Johnson said.

"We need people to start working from home where they possibly can, and you should avoid, pubs, clubs, theatres and other such social venues."

The number of cases has spiralled faster than experts thought, prompting the British Government to push ahead with measures quickly, he said.

"It looks as though we are approaching the fast growth part of the upward curve," he added.

More restrictions would be announced at the weekend.

Those in self isolation have been told not to go to the shops for supplies, while a run or a walk was permitted as long as people kept at a distance.

It comes as the European Union banned travel into the EU for a month.

 

Londoners were preparing themselves for stricter lockdown measures. Picture: Getty Images
Londoners were preparing themselves for stricter lockdown measures. Picture: Getty Images

Ursula von der Leyen, the boss of the European Commission, said: "The less we travel, the more we can contain the virus."

"Our measures to contain the coronavirus outbreak will be effective only if we co-ordinate on the European level.

"We have to take exceptional measures to protect the health of our citizens."

Britain has been criticised for aiming for a herd immunity response to the virus, effectively saying most people will get it and that would stop the spread.

However, this morning's announcement shows a different strategy, more in line with Italy, France and Spain.

The recommendations will not be enforced with fines like they have been in other countries.

 

 

"The next three, four months are going to be extraordinarily difficult for our NHS colleagues," he said.

Mr Johnson said the UK was working with businesses across the country to ensure they are given "the liquidity they need".

"This is going to be a very considerable challenge for businesses big and small. we need to make sure they have time to pay and that we give businesses the space in which they can come back from this," he said.

"If we can get the disease under control, flatten that peak and see it start to eventually decline then there's absolutely no reason why economies worldwide shouldn't come roaring back."

Cases in the UK were expected to double in the next five days, Chief Scientific Adviser Sir Patrick Vallance said.

Sir Vallance said the UK was around three weeks behind Italy's coronavirus epidemic, that today killed a further 349 people.

Mr Johnson said the government had the powers to easily enforce social bans, but didn't think that would be necessary.

"We're giving very strong advice that venues such as theatres should no longer be visited … we have the powers necessary but I don't believe it'll be necessary to use those," he said.

"We are a mature and grown-up and liberal democracy where people understand very clearly the advice being given to them."

Chief Medical Officer Chris Whitty said the UK was moving up the curve of confirmed cases and the number of people with coronavirus "will accelerate now quite rapidly".

Mr Whitty assured the UK's 66 million people that most with coronavirus would only have very mild symptoms and that it could be "easily managed at home".

The CMO said the UK was looking at months of fighting coronavirus and thanked everyone working in the country's National Health Service.

 

GERMANY SHUTS BORDERS

Germany on Monday shut its borders with five European neighbours in an attempt to contain the spread of coronavirus, according to a new report.

The country's borders with Austria, Denmark, France, Luxembourg and Switzerland were entirely closed off, aside from commercial traffic and commuters - those who are travelling to and from work, Deutsche Welle reported.

Only the country's borders with the Netherlands and Belgium have yet to be affected, according to the BBC.

The controls took effect on Monday morning (local time)

 

Germany has moved to shut borders with some European neighbours. Picture: Getty Images
Germany has moved to shut borders with some European neighbours. Picture: Getty Images

 

The country's interior minister, Horst Seehofer, said at a press conference that the deadly bug is spreading "rapidly and aggressively" in Germany.

"We must assume that the peak of this development has not yet been reached," Seehofer said. "So the situation is very serious."

A total of 4838 coronavirus cases, along with 12 deaths, were confirmed in Germany as of Sunday, according to the Robert Koch Institute for infectious diseases. Only a day earlier, 3795 confirmed cases and eight deaths had been reported.

Berlin has discouraged its citizens from travelling in general - with Foreign Minister Heiko Maas tweeting Sunday that "we currently advise against non-essential travel abroad."

Schools and nurseries across the country are shutting down this week until after the Easter holidays at the end of April.

Hamburg, Berlin and Cologne have closed all bars, clubs, cinemas, theatres and concert halls.

 

Berlin’s Brandenburg Gate, a popular landmark and tourist destination, stood nearly devoid of visitors on Monday (local time). Picture: Getty Images
Berlin’s Brandenburg Gate, a popular landmark and tourist destination, stood nearly devoid of visitors on Monday (local time). Picture: Getty Images

 

VIRUS 'DEFINING HEALTH ISSUE OF OUR TIME'

The World Health Organisation has labelled the coronavirus the "defining health issue of our time".

Speaking in Geneva, WHO chief Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus had a message for the globe: "We're all in this together."

Mr Ghebreyesus also called for every single suspected case of COVID-19 to be tested in a bid to halt the deadly pandemic.

"You cannot fight a fire blindfolded," he said, adding that WHO recommended that countries "Test, test, test. Test every suspected case."

He also urged people around the world to "stop hoarding".

 

Medicals workers speak to a driver at a drive-through coronavirus testing facility in San Antonio, Texas. Picture: AP
Medicals workers speak to a driver at a drive-through coronavirus testing facility in San Antonio, Texas. Picture: AP

 

"We also ask people to express their solidarity by refraining from hoarding essential items, including medicines. Hoarding can create shortages of medicines and other essential products which can exacerbate suffering," he said.

SOCIAL DISTANCING NOT ENOUGH TO HALT VIRUS

Aussies are being told to stand 1.5 metres from each other and not to shake hands under social distancing measures but experts say this may not be far enough.

Chief Medical Officer Brendan Murphy has told Australians to keep a distance of 1.5 metres away from others under social distancing rules designed to control the spread of COVID-19.

The US Centre for Disease Control says the virus can spread up to six feet which is 1.8 metres.

 

Monash University and Alfred health infectious diseases expert Professor Allen Cheng told News Corp "the 1.5m level clearly isn't a sharp demarcation (you're not safe at 1.51 metres and at risk at 1.49 metres!)"

"Some more recent studies have suggested that most droplets do fall mostly within 1 metre, so the 1.5 recommendation allows for some uncertainty," he said.

Australian Chief Medical Officer Brendan Murphy speaks to Chief Health Officers from states and territories in Canberra. Picture: AAP
Australian Chief Medical Officer Brendan Murphy speaks to Chief Health Officers from states and territories in Canberra. Picture: AAP

However, NSW University biosecurity expert Professor Raina MacIntyre told News Corp while the 1-2 metre rules was a tradition of infection control but there was not a lot of evidence to back it up.

"New studies show droplets can spread up to six metres," she said.

 

 

Professor Raina MacIntyre says droplets can spread up to six metres. Picture: UNSW
Professor Raina MacIntyre says droplets can spread up to six metres. Picture: UNSW

 

 

In 2014 MIT researchers in the US found coughs and sneezes have gas clouds that keep smaller infectious droplets in the air over much greater distances than previously realised.

These droplets could remain in the air long enough to reach airconditioning outlets.

They may travel five to 200 times further than previous estimates suggested.

The paper, "Violent expiratory events: on coughing and sneezing," was published in the Journal of Fluid Mechanics.

In 2019 Bristol University researchers found the average sneeze or cough sent around 100,000 contagious germs into the air at speeds of up to 100 (160km) miles per hour

A 2012 study of how best to control coughing in a hospital setting found a normal cough produced a turbulent jet about 0.7m towards the end of the bed.

 

 

The study published in the journal PLOS was not done using actual humans but a high-fidelity human patient simulator.

It found an N95 mask was more effective than surgical mask in preventing expelled air leakage during coughing but there was still significant sideway leakage.

 

MAKING THE INTERNET VIRUS-PROOF

New protocols are being created for internet and phone line technicians as more Australians go into isolation.

Other challenges posed to the telecommunications industry as a result of the coronavirus were discussed at a roundtable meeting with federal government and industry representatives on Monday.

The NBN is making plans to deal with the changes in internet usage with many workplaces now encouraging or mandating staff work from home.

"NBN Co and other industry participants are expecting a change in traffic patterns, with higher traffic levels during the day and increased activity in the suburbs as compared to business districts," communications minister Paul Fletcher said.

The industry is looking overseas to worse-affected nations in a bid to predict what will happen in Australia as the COVID-19 crisis deepens.

Italy reported a 26 per cent increase in the usage of some telecommunications services when more people started working from home.

 

ANGER GROWS OVER SHORTAGE OF TESTING EQUIPMENT

One hundred thousand extra COVID-19 tests will arrive in Australia on Tuesday, but there is an emerging shortage of the swab kits that collect specimens for testing.

Roche diagnostics has fast tracked the delivery of the tests to overcome the dwindling supply in Australia which has seen the Deputy Chief Medical Officer Paul Kelly appeal to the worried well not to waste medical resources by coming forward for testing.

 

 

The new test will allow pathology laboratories to fast track coronavirus testing.

Currently laboratories can perform around 380 test per day using an old COVID-19 test.

This compares to the current test which is highly labour intensive.

But as one problem is solved another has emerged.

 

The Roche testing kit for coronavirus. Picture: Supplied
The Roche testing kit for coronavirus. Picture: Supplied

 

Deputy Chief Medical Officer Paul Kelly said on Monday the Government needed to be "careful and prudent" about its use of testing, as he warned there were some shortages of consumables" in relation to the testing kits.

News Corp understands some hospitals in Victoria have a shortage of the kits used to take swabs from people's throat and nasal passages to send off to be tested for COVID-19.

These kits are not made by Roche but by other companies.

 

Roche Medical Diagnostics has developed a fast COVID19 test. Picture supplied.
Roche Medical Diagnostics has developed a fast COVID19 test. Picture supplied.

 

A new Roche COVID-19 test fast tracked by America's medical regulator the Food and Drug Administration will be processed by 15 machines in hospitals and private pathology labs currently around Australia.

Each machine, called the Cobas 6800, can process 384 tests per day with a single push of a button.

This equates to 5760 tests a day nationwide.

Results can be supplied within just three hours, the managing director of Roche diagnostics in Australia Allison Rossiter said.

Roche said it has received orders for two more of these machines in Australia in recent weeks to deal with the coronavirus crisis.

Fifty thousand of the new tests arriving in Australia today will be the new COVID-19 test the other half will be the older more labour intensive test that can be run on different machines.

Roche is the major, but not the only, COVID-19 test supplier in Australia and the world.

It said it can currently produce 400,000 new tests worldwide each week.

The tests are manufactured in the US while the machines that perform them are made in Switzerland.

Asked whether global supply of the tests could be interrupted if Donald Trump decided to restrict exports Ms Rossiter said Roche was a Swiss company, not an American company, "our machines are made in Switzerland for the world and not just for America."

Miss Rossiter said the company had been working very closely with the government to ensure it could meet demand for coronavirus testing in Australia.

"This has been such an unprecedented event, we have had hospitals doubling and quadrupling their testing provisions and we hope the hysteria dies down soon," Ms Rossiter said.

 

David Storey processes samples for a COVID-19 In the US. Picture Hyoung Chang AP
David Storey processes samples for a COVID-19 In the US. Picture Hyoung Chang AP

 

Australians needed to be sensible and calm in their approach to testing so that the elderly, the vulnerable and those most likely to have the disease got the tests, she said.

"People like me and my kids who are healthy don't need the test they should be for high risk groups," she said.

People worried about the illness should practice social distancing, self isolation and wash their hands regularly to prevent spread of infection, she said.

Deputy Chief Medical Officer Paul Kelly said after one testing clinic was opened more than 1600 people were tested but just one was found to be positive.

"You need to look at where you get your best bang for your buck," he said.

The government said only those who have symptoms of the coronavirus such as a fever, sore throat and a dry cough who have been overseas in the last two weeks or been in contact with someone who has the virus should be tested.

 

COLES, WOOLIES TAKE ACTION ON PANIC BUYING

Supermarkets have resorted to implementing special opening hours for the elderly and disadvantaged and will be shutting stores overnight to fast track the restocking of depleted shelves.

Panic buying, which is showing no signs of abating, has left shelves empty and seen items including toilet paper, paper towels, tissues, pasta, rice and meat placed on supermarkets' restricted quantities list.

Customers on Monday left disappointed because they were unable to get their hands on many essential goods.

Other items proving difficult to nab included eggs, milk, dishwashing liquid, pet food and sanitary items.

 

Eggs are among the items that are becoming extremely scarce in supermarkets nationally including at this Woolworths store in South Melbourne.
Eggs are among the items that are becoming extremely scarce in supermarkets nationally including at this Woolworths store in South Melbourne.

In an unprecedented move Woolworths said from Tuesday it would be opening exclusively for the elderly and those with a disability between 7am to 8am to cope with the unprecedented demand for goods.

Rival supermarket Coles later announced it too would be doing the same thing, beginning the special hour of shopping from Wednesday morning during the same time frame.

In a further drastic move both supermarkets will shut stores overnight across the country from 8pm Wednesday night until 7am the next morning so they can restock their shelves.

Exceptions include Woolworths's stores at Brisbane Airport, Town Hall and QV Melbourne.

A Woolworths spokesman said: "these early closures will help ensure our team members have the time and space they need to properly restock shelves for the next day's trade".

Pensioners Jim Kennelly, 91 and his wife Doreen, 90, said they struggled to get their hands on goods in the supermarket and were disgusted with the clear out of items.

Pensioners Jim Kelly, 91, and his wife Doreen, 90, from Middle Park in Melbourne are disgusted with the way shoppers have been behaving amid the coronavirus outbreak. They have been struggling to get all their relevant supplies.
Pensioners Jim Kelly, 91, and his wife Doreen, 90, from Middle Park in Melbourne are disgusted with the way shoppers have been behaving amid the coronavirus outbreak. They have been struggling to get all their relevant supplies.

"There's not an egg in the store, lucky we got some last week," Mrs Kennelly said.

"People are just out for themselves, the young ones couldn't care less."

Mr Kennelly said: "the young ones are not the same as they were in our day. I feel sorry for those who can't get around easily".

Woolworths supermarkets managing director Claire Peters said they would continue to do their best to restock shelves during the period of heightened demand.

"We know many of our elderly customers have been missing out on essential items when they shop," she said.

"Now - more than ever - we need to be kind to each other, especially to those most vulnerable."

Coles also announced it will launch a massive recruitment drive, scouting for 5000 new casuals to help cope with the unprecedented number of customers through its doors.

"This will allow us to serve more customers and replenish shelves faster while offering employment opportunities for Australians working in other industries impacted by COVID-19," the supermarket said in an issued statement.

"Casuals will have their inductions fast-tracked so we can boost the number of team members on the shop floor as quickly as possible."



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