As health officials issued warnings Tuesday against reopening economies too quickly, the coronavirus struck inside some of the world’s superpowers, with a top aide to Russian President Vladimir Putin diagnosed just days after U.S. Vice-President Mike Pence’s press secretary also tested positive.
Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov was hospitalized with the coronavirus, the latest in a series of setbacks for the Russian leader as the country struggles to contain the growing outbreak. The announcement of Peskov’s hospitalization came a day after Putin announced Monday that Russia was easing some of its nationwide lockdown restrictions.
Peskov is not the only top Russian government official to come down with the coronavirus. Prime Minister Mikhail Mishustin revealed April 30 that he had tested positive for the virus, as have two other government ministers. Last month, British Prime Minister Boris Johnson landed in the hospital and has since recovered, underscoring the reach and spread of the virus.
There have been more than 4.2 million confirmed cases of the virus worldwide and more than 287,000 deaths. Russia has reported more than 232,000 confirmed coronavirus cases and more than 2,100 virus-related deaths as of Tuesday, figures experts say are likely significant under counts.
The climbing death tolls come as Dr. Anthony Fauci, the U.S. government’s top infectious disease expert, issued a warning that “the consequences could be really serious” if American cities and states reopen the U.S. economy too quickly. More than 80,000 people have died of the virus in the U.S.
More COVID-19 infections are inevitable as people again start gathering, but how prepared communities are to stamp out those sparks will determine how bad the rebound is, Fauci told a Senate hearing on Tuesday.
If there is a rush to reopen without following guidelines, “my concern is we will start to see little spikes that might turn into outbreaks,” Fauci said.
Dr. Michael Ryan, the emergencies chief for the World Health Organization, said Germany and South Korea have good contact tracing that hopefully can detect and stop virus clusters before they get out of control. But he said other nations, which he did not name, have not effectively used investigators to contact people who test positive, track down their contacts and get them into quarantine before they can spread the virus.
“Shutting your eyes and trying to drive through this blind is about as silly an equation as I’ve seen,” Ryan said. “Certain countries are setting themselves up for some seriously blind driving over the next few months.”
Here is a look at COVID-19 developments around the world.
VIRUS IN THE WORKPLACE
As U.S. states begin to loosen stay-at-home restrictions and businesses get up and running, an Associated Press analysis shows thousands of people are getting sick from COVID-19 on the job.
Recent figures show a surge of infections in meatpacking and poultry-processing plants. There’s been a spike of new cases among construction workers in Austin, Texas. Of the 15 U.S. counties with the highest per-capita infection rates between April 28 and May 5, all have meatpacking and poultry-processing plants or state prisons, according to data compiled by the AP.
Earlier in the pandemic, many health workers were testing positive and they continue to be infected in large numbers.
Gerard Brogan, director of nursing practice for the California Nurses Association, says as many as 200 nurses a day tested positive in California recently. Nationwide, he says the National Nurses United had tallied more than 28,000 positive tests and more than 230 deaths among health workers.
The developments provide a cautionary note to communities around the United States as they gradually loosen restrictions on business.
HARD-HIT ITALY SEES JUMP IN CASES
A big jump in confirmed COVID-19 cases in Italy’s hardest-hit region, Lombardy, contributed to the country’s highest day-to-day increase in several days.
According to Health Ministry data, 1,033 cases were confirmed in Lombardy since Monday evening, accounting for the majority of Italy’s 1,402 new cases. In contrast, the last few days had seen Lombardy’s daily new caseload running in the few hundreds.
Overall, Italy counts 221,216 confirmed coronavirus infections. Experts say the true number is doubtlessly much higher, pointing out that many people with mild symptoms often don’t get tested.
Authorities registered 172 deaths in infected patients in the 24-hour period ending Tuesday evening, raising to 30,911 the confirmed death toll. Nearly half of those deaths have occurred in Lombardy, where the country’s outbreak began in late February.
Health officials are anxiously awaiting daily case numbers later in the week to determine if a partial lifting of lockdown restrictions on May 4 caused any rise in contagion rates.
VIRUS PROVIDES OPPORTUNITY FOR FRAUD
Counterfeit COVID-19 test kits. Fake treatments. Fraudulent masks or cleaning products. False promises of being able to deliver protective equipment.
Law enforcement officials say the virus has served as an invitation to people seeking to perpetrate money-making schemes by pedaling fake or non-existent goods.
Homeland Security Investigations, an arm of the Department of Homeland Security, has opened over 370 cases and so far arrested 11 people, as part of “Operation Stolen Promise,” according to Matthew Albence, acting director of U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement.
“It’s incredibly rampant and it’s growing by the day,” Albence said. “We’re just scratching the surface of this criminal activity. ”
Lisa Marie Pane, The Associated Press