The Czech Republic has recorded more than 1,000 new coronavirus cases in a single day for the first time.
On Wednesday, the country reported 1,164 new infections, as it battled a surging spread of the virus.
Daily case figures have regularly come in above 500 so far in September, already well above a previous daily peak of 377 in March during the first wave of infections.
Czech authorities, which acted quickly to impose a strict lockdown in March to halt the spread of the virus, are keen to avoid taking that costly route again after the economy shrank by 11% in the April-June period on an annual basis.
The spike in Czech cases has been among the fastest in Europe, with infection rates over the last two weeks only faster in Spain, France, Malta, Romania and Croatia, according to the European Union agency European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control (ECDC).
The Czech pace is roughly three times that of neighbouring Germany.
However, the death toll in the Czech Republic has remained lower than in many other European countries, with 441 fatalities reported as of Wednesday out of a total of 29,877 cases since the start of the pandemic.
Russia’s official coronavirus death toll has risen to over 18,000.
On Wednesday, Russia said 142 people had died from Covid-19 in the last 24 hours, raising the total to 18,315.
Its taskforce also reported 5,218 new cases, bringing the nationwide caseload to 1,041,007, the fourth largest in the world.
UK health secretary refuses to rule out second lockdown
Returning to Matt Hancock now, as the coronavirus situation in the UK continues to look increasingly fraught.
Speaking to radio station LBC, Hancock said he would not rule out a return to the national lockdown experienced by Britons earlier this year.He said:
I wouldn’t make a vow like that. You wouldn’t expect me to – I am the health secretary in the middle of a pandemic where we are trying to keep the country safe.”
He added that he hoped a lockdown could be avoided, saying: “Our goal is to avoid having to do anything more drastic by people following the rules.”
In Australia’s coronavirus epicentre, Victoria, a retail boss has warned the state government’s roadmap out of lockdown could wipe out 50% of small businesses.
Paul Zahra, the former chief executive of David Jones who is now head of the Australian Retailers Association, made the comments at the National Press Club in Canberra on Wednesday.
He said he expects to see in Victoria in the coming weeks “the first signs of the economic collapse” through the “highly visible” failure of retail businesses and proliferation of for lease signs.
Zahra said there were “no signs yet” that the Victorian government would vary its roadmap which controversially does not lift most restrictions until there are fewer than five new coronavirus cases a day – estimated to be reached in late November.
“We were called into what was classed as a consultation session but was more like information sessions,” he said. “Unfortunately, there was very little feedback that was taken on board.”
You can read the full story from our Guardian Australia reporter, Paul Karp, here:
More from the UK’s health secretary, Matt Hancock, who has said it is still safe for people to return to work because “we have Covid-secure offices”.
His comments come after the government announced a ban on gatherings of more than six people from next Monday, due to a surge in new infections in the UK.
“[Workplaces] are under health and safety legislation and businesses are legally obliged to follow health and safety legislation,” Hancock told Times Radio.
All of our evidence is that the vast majority of the transmission that we are seeing is essentially in social circumstances, not at work.”
He added: “We have got to protect livelihoods through this crisis as well as lives and the strategy is to protect education, to protect work, we are therefore bringing in tighter rules on social engagement because that’s where we are seeing the majority of the transmission.”
If you’re waking up to the news that the AstraZeneca and Oxford University Covid vaccine trial had been put on hold again, here’s some details.
A spokesman for AstraZeneca, the company working with a team from Oxford University, told the Guardian the trial has been stopped to review the “potentially unexplained illness” in one of the participants.
The spokesman stressed that the adverse reaction was only recorded in a single participant and said pausing trials was common during vaccine development.
“This is a routine action which has to happen whenever there is a potentially unexplained illness in one of the trials, while it is investigated, ensuring we maintain the integrity of the trials. In large trials illnesses will happen by chance but must be independently reviewed to check this carefully,” the spokesperson said.
You can read the full story here:
If the Covid-19 pandemic does not prevent the Tokyo Olympics from going ahead again next year, blazing summer heat could still make the Games “a nightmare”, an adviser to the organising committee has told Reuters.
Makoto Yokohari said the highest temperatures in a typical August — when most of the delayed Games will take place — could mean a dangerous mix of heat and humidity.
Yokohari, a professor of environment and urban planning at the University of Tokyo, analysed data going back to the 1984 Olympics in Los Angeles and said he found that in the period where the Games were held, Tokyo had the highest average temperature and precipitation of any host city.
“When it comes to heat stress or heat stroke, the problem is not only the temperature but also the humidity as well,” Yokohari told Reuters.
“When you can combine these two … Tokyo is the worst in history.”
Temperatures this July, when the Olympics were due to start before the new coronavirus forced a postponement, were significantly cooler than the five-year average for the month of 30.4 degrees Celsius.
But with August averaging highs of 30.8 degrees Celsius and lows of 24.2 over the 30 years over his study, Yokohari said organisers should be prepared for the worst.
“If the weather turns out like right now, or like last year, then it is going to be a nightmare,” he said.
The UK’s health secretary, Matt Hancock, has said banning gatherings of more than six people will make social distancing “easier for police to enforce”.
Fines for those who flout the rules – which do not apply to work or education settings, as well as weddings and funerals – will start at £100 but could go up to £3,200 for repeated non-compliance.
“We’re making this change to make [the rules] super simple. You can’t have more than six people in social settings, except in limited exemptions like weddings,” Hancock told Times Radio.
Here are the key developments from the last few hours:
- AstraZeneca Plc and Oxford pause major vaccine trial for second time. AstraZeneca Plc has put a hold on the late-stage trial of its highly anticipated Covid-19 vaccine candidate after a suspected serious adverse reaction in a study participant, health news website Stat News reported on Tuesday. It quoted an AstraZeneca spokesperson as saying in a statement that the “standard review process triggered a pause to vaccination to allow review of safety data”. The study is testing a Covid-19 vaccine being developed by AstraZeneca and University of Oxford researchers at sites including the US and the UK, where the adverse event was reported.
- Canada is seeing a worrying increase in the number of people infected with the coronavirus as schools across the country start to reopen, a top medical official said on Tuesday. Chief public health officer Theresa Tam said an average of 545 new cases had been reported daily over the past week, up from about 300 in July.
- Disruptions to health services due to the pandemic are putting millions of additional lives at risk worldwide, the United Nations said Wednesday, warning that Covid-19 could reverse decades of progress in reducing child mortality.
- A million jobs were lost in Australia between March and June quarters. The Australian Bureau of Statistics has announced that the total number of filled jobs fell by 6.4% and hours worked fell by 9.8% between the March and June quarters.
- New Zealand reported six new cases of Covid-19 on Wednesday, all spread by community transmission and connected to an outbreak in the largest city, Auckland. Health authorities are asking all members of a particular church, Mt. Roskill Evangelical Fellowship, to be tested for the coronavirus –even if they are not symptomatic or have been tested before. All six of the new cases have links to the church.
- Gatherings of more than six people to be banned in England. Social gatherings of more than six people will be illegal in England from Monday after the number of daily positive Covid-19 cases in the UK rose to almost 3,000.
- France recorded 6,544 new daily cases. The number of new, confirmed cases of Covid-19 in France rose by 6,544 over the last 24 hours to stand at a total of 335,524.
- Three migrant camps near Athens were placed in quarantine as concerns mount over spread of virus. Three migrant camps near Athens were placed in quarantine on Tuesday as concerns mounted over the spread of Covid-19 among thousands of asylum seekers living in squalid conditions in Greece.
- Spain reported 3,168 new cases in past 24 hours. Spain’s health ministry reported 8,964 new Covid cases on Tuesday, 3,168 of them diagnosed over the past 24 hours.
- The coronavirus bill has cost UK government £210bn, spending watchdog says. The government response to the coronavirus pandemic is on track to cost £210bn for the first six months of the crisis, Whitehall’s spending watchdog has said.
- Hong Kong will ease coronavirus curbs. Hong Kong will expand the size of public gatherings to four people and reopen more sports venues from Friday as the Asian financial hub relaxes strict curbs against a third wave of the coronavirus.
- School disruption could have century-long economic impact: OECD. Disruption to schooling stemming from the Covid-19 epidemic will cause a skill loss that could result in a 1.5% drop in global economic output for the rest of this century, the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development has estimated.
Thousands have fled an overcrowded refugee camp after multiple fires gutted much of the site on the Greek island of Lesbos, authorities have said.
There were no reports of injuries after the fire started in the early hours of Wednesday at Moria camp, Reuters reports.
The cause of the blaze which burned tents and containers was not immediately clear, a fire brigade official said. A police official said that migrants had been taken to safety. People were seen leaving the camp, carrying their luggage, witnesses said.
At least 25 firefighters with 10 engines, aided by police, were battling the flames both inside and outside the facility, the fire brigade said, adding that emergency personnel were pushed back by migrants during their efforts to put out the fire.
The Moria facility, which hosts more than 12,000 people – more than four times its stated capacity – has been frequently criticised by aid groups for poor living conditions.
It was placed under quarantine last week after authorities confirmed that an asylum-seeker had tested positive for the coronavirus. Confirmed infections have risen to 35 since then: