A nurse of the Les Flaxinelles EHPAD (Housing Establishment for Dependant Elderly People) has a blood sample taken for a COVID-19 serological test, Bergheim, eastern France, April 14, 2020,. (AFP Photo)

The number of coronavirus cases across the globe has reached 2 million and more than 124,000 have died in the most serious pandemic of the past century.

The U.S. has become the epicenter of the pandemic with more than 610,000 confirmed novel coronavirus cases with a death toll of over 26,000, according to Worldometer.

Spain and Italy have reported about 174,000 and 162,000 cases respectively. The death toll in Spain is currently at over 18,000 relatively lower than Italy’s 21,000.

Vaccine study advances

Chinese scientists have started the second phase of a clinical trial of a COVID-19 vaccine in the hardest-hit city of Wuhan in central China’s Hubei Province. China’s Central Television reported 273 out of 500 volunteers have been injected with the vaccine candidate.

The first phase of the vaccine clinical trial focused on its safety, while the second phase studies its efficacy.

China reported 46 new virus cases on Wednesday, 36 of them from overseas. Eight of the domestic cases were in Heilongjiang province bordering Russia, where authorities have been rushing to stem a new outbreak among those traveling back to China.

US may need social distancing until 2022, study warns

The United States may need to endure social distancing measures adopted during the coronavirus outbreak until 2022, according to researchers at the Harvard School of Public Health.

“Intermittent distancing may be required into 2022 unless critical care capacity is increased substantially or treatment or vaccine becomes available,” the Harvard researchers said in findings published Tuesday in the journal Science.

Giving examples of South Korea and Singapore, the researchers wrote that effective distancing could reduce the strain on health care systems and enable contact tracing and quarantine to be feasible.

New Zealand pay cuts

New Zealand’s top officials are taking a 20% pay cut for six months in acknowledgment of the community’s sacrifices in dealing with the coronavirus.

Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern says it applies to government ministers, chief executives of government organizations and also that opposition leader Simon Bridges had volunteered to join them. She said it wouldn’t apply to any front-line staff like doctors or nurses.

Ardern’s salary of $286,000 is a comparatively high amount for a country with only 5 million people.

South Korea votes

Voters wore masks and moved slowly between lines of tape at polling stations after the government resisted calls to postpone South Korea’s parliamentary elections, seen as a midterm referendum on President Moon Jae-in.

Long lines and record-high participation in early voting seemed to defy expectations of low voter turnout in the middle of a social-distancing campaign to slow infections.

U.S. cuts WHO funds

President Donald Trump has directed a halt to U.S. payments to the World Health Organization pending a review of its warnings about the coronavirus and China.

He said the world depends on WHO to make sure accurate information about health threats are shared in a timely manner. Trump claims the organization failed to carry out its “basic duty” and must be held accountable.

Mandatory masks

Singapore has made masks mandatory for everyone, following a sharp spike in new cases. Most people not wearing masks could be fined $212, while repeat offenders could face stiffer penalties.

Source: Daily Sabbah & Associated Press

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