Coronavirus: What’s happening around the world on Friday

The latest:

  • South Korea tightens physical distancing restrictions in Seoul metropolitan area.
  • Hundreds protest against exams in India as daily virus cases hit new peak.
  • Canada’s economy shrank at fastest pace on record in Q2 amid pandemic.
  • Poll suggests pandemic has brought Canadians together, pushed Americans apart.
  • COVID-19 deaths to cross 317,000 in U.S. by Dec. 1, widely cited model projects.
  • Havana announces curfew to curb new coronavirus peak.
  • Britain to launch campaign encouraging people to return to work.

The South Korean government ramped up efforts to end a strike by thousands of the country’s doctors on Friday, as Seoul took the unprecedented step of restricting eateries in the capital in a bid to blunt a surge in coronavirus cases.

The health ministry extended a back-to-work order for doctors to the entire country and filed a complaint with police against at least 10 doctors it said have not abided by an order that has been in place in Seoul since Wednesday.

The escalation in the dispute between doctors and the government comes as South Korean officials grapple with a fresh wave of COVID-19 infections.

After aggressive tracing and testing contained a large outbreak earlier this year, the country suffered a setback this month when a church cluster spread to a political rally.

Officials reported 371 new infections as of midnight Thursday — the 15th straight day of triple-digit jumps, which brought the national total to 19,077 cases, including 316 deaths.

People walk through the Myeongdong shopping district in Seoul on Thursday. Churches, nightclubs and most schools in the capital are closed, and masks are mandatory in public places. (Jung Yeon-je/AFP/Getty Images)

“To protect the lives and safety of the citizens in a grave crisis of nationwide coronavirus transmission, the government inevitably expanded the back-to-work order for trainee and professional doctors today nationwide,” Health Minister Park Neung-hoo said.

Almost 16,000 intern and resident doctors have been on strike since Aug. 21 over the government’s plans to boost the number of doctors in the country over the coming decade, which it said is necessary to better prepare for public health crises.

The student doctors, however, argued that extra funding would be better spent improving the salaries of existing trainees, and addressing systemic issues.

Thousands of teaching hospital doctors, trainee doctors and private practice physicians began a three-day strike on Wednesday to express solidarity with the intern and resident doctors.

The intern and resident doctors form the backbone of health-care services in key places such as emergency rooms and intensive care units, and major hospitals have reported delays and disruptions since the walkout. The striking doctors have volunteered their services at temporary testing centres to help with the outbreak.

A member of the Shincheonji Church of Jesus who has recovered from COVID-19 donates his blood plasma at a gymnasium in Daegu, South Korea, on Friday. (Jung Yeon-Je/AFP/Getty Images)

Also on Friday, officials further constricted movement in the Seoul metropolitan area, the centre of the fresh outbreak.

Coffee shops, some of which have been identified as hot spots in the outbreak, are restricted to takeout and delivery services. Restaurants, snack bars and bakeries are not allowed to offer on-site dining between the hours of 9 p.m. and 5 a.m. The measures will last for at least a week.

Churches, nightclubs and most schools in the capital are already closed, and masks are mandatory in public places.

Prime Minister Chung Sye-kyun announced the government had agreed to extend Phase 2 restrictions — the second-highest level — across the country for at least another week.

“Phase 3 social distancing is the choice of last resort given the economic and social ripple effect,” Chung said during a government meeting.

Korea Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (KCDC) director Jeong Eun-kyeong warned that modelling indicates that if the outbreak is not contained, cases could surge to as much as 2,000 per day.

What’s happening with coronavirus in Canada

As of 10:30 a.m. ET on Friday, Canada had 126,970 confirmed and presumptive coronavirus cases. Provinces and territories listed 112,825 of those as recovered or resolved. A CBC News tally of deaths based on provincial reports, regional health information and CBC’s reporting stood at 9,138.

Canada’s economy shrank at the fastest pace on record in the second quarter, as consumer spending, business investment, imports and exports all dried up because of COVID-19.

Statistics Canada reported Friday that the country’s gross domestic product shrank by 11.5 per cent in the three-month period between April and June. That’s a 38.7 per cent pace of contraction for the year as a whole, far and away the steepest and fastest decline dating back to 1961.

The numbers show just how pronounced the slowdown caused by the sudden shock of COVID-19 was. But they also seem to suggest that a corner has been turned, and a rebound may be equally swift.

A sign on a closed shop in Ottawa on May 18 welcomes the return of shoppers the next day, when some businesses were permitted to open as part of Ontario’s first phase of reopening amid the pandemic. (Justin Tang/The Canadian Press)

While the quarterly numbers were the worst in almost 60 years, the GDP numbers for June specifically make that month the biggest bounceback on record.

June’s GDP grew by 6.5 per cent from May’s level as provinces reopened their economies and consumers and businesses started spending again. But the economy has yet to fully bounce back to where it was. Even after June’s strong numbers, Canada’s GDP is still nine per cent below where it was in February.

Meanwhile, a new international public opinion survey suggests Canadians believe the COVID-19 crisis has brought the country together, while Americans blame the pandemic for worsening their cultural and political divide.

Fully two-thirds of Canadian respondents to the Pew Research Center study released Thursday say they believe Canada is more united as a result of the coronavirus, while 77 per cent of U.S. participants feel precisely the opposite is true south of the border.

A similar bilateral gap emerged when those surveyed were asked about how their respective countries responded to the emergency.

In Canada, 88 per cent of respondents said they approved of their country’s response to COVID-19, compared with just 47 per cent of Americans who feel the same way about how the U.S. has responded.

Here’s what’s happening around the world

According to a tally kept by Johns Hopkins University, the global total of confirmed coronavirus cases is now more than 24.4 million. More than 832,000 people have died, while 16 million have recovered.

In the United States, the University of Washington on Thursday expanded the forecast of its widely cited COVID-19 model, projecting 317,697 deaths in the United States by Dec. 1 due to the pandemic as cases climb in many states.

The new forecast, by the university’s Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation (IHME), reflects an increase of about 8,000 deaths from its previous forecast.

However, the report also suggests that if 95 per cent of Americans wore a mask, the death toll could be reduced by about 67,000 lives.

A masked visitor walks past new physical distancing signs inside the Museum of Modern Art in New York City on Thursday. (Michael Loccisano/Getty Images)

At least 180,000 Americans have died from the respiratory disease, while reported U.S. infections have breached 5.8 million cases, according to Johns Hopkins.

Nationally, metrics on new cases, deaths, hospitalizations and test positivity rates are all declining but there are emerging hotspots in the Midwest.

Iowa, Minnesota, North Dakota and South Dakota all recorded on Thursday the biggest one-day increases in new infections since the pandemic started.

On Thursday, Havana’s governor announced an overnight curfew, ban on travel from the Cuban capital to other provinces and greater restrictions on the circulation of vehicles in a bid to curb a new peak in coronavirus cases.

The new measures will come into effect on Sept. 1 for 15 days, Reinaldo Garcia Zapata said on state television, at which point the situation will be reassessed.

Havana registered 269 cases last week, the highest of weekly cases since the start of the pandemic, according to Cuban biologist Amilcar Perez Riverol.

Cuba had mostly contained its novel coronavirus outbreak by the end of June, by isolating patients and conducting rigorous contact tracing, and eased lockdown restrictions.

But it tightened them again six weeks later after cases jumped again, especially in Havana, albeit allowing domestic tourism over the summer as long as would-be vacationers took a coronavirus test before heading out. That loophole is now over, in the wake of the spread of infection from Havana to other provinces.

Britain’s government will urge people to return to offices and other workplaces where it is safe to do so to help the economy recover from the COVID-19 pandemic, transport minister Grant Shapps said on Friday.

“Our central message is pretty straightforward: We are saying to people it is now safe to return to work,” he told LBC radio.

Prime Minister Boris Johnson will launch a campaign extolling the virtues of returning to the office and providing reassurance that it is a safe place, while a new online tool will help people avoid the most crowded trains and buses, a report in the Telegraph newspaper said.

A pedestrian passes a Pret a Manger store in central London on Friday. The British coffee and sandwich chain said on Thursday it was cutting 2,800 jobs as a result of the impact of the coronavirus outbreak. (Isabel Infantes/AFP/Getty Images)

According to data from the Centre for Cities, only 17 per cent of workers in British cities had returned to their workplaces by early August, underscoring the challenge facing Johnson in steering the country away from its coronavirus shutdown.

Hundreds of masked protesters demonstrated in major Indian cities on Friday against a government plan to hold exams for millions of students during the coronavirus pandemic, as the daily tally of infections hit a record.

The health ministry reported 77,266 infections, taking the nation’s tally to 3.3 million, with a toll of 61,529 deaths. India, with the most infections in Asia, has posted the highest single-day increase worldwide every day since Aug. 7.

More than 2.4 million students are set to take tests next week for admission to medical and engineering schools, which the federal government has declined to defer, despite growing pressure from students and opposition parties.

Activists with Assam Pradesh Congress Committee (APCC) take part in a demonstration in Guwahati on Friday, demanding India’s government postpone exams for entry to top national engineering and medical colleges over COVID-19 concerns. (Biju Boro/AFP/Getty Images)

Usually held in April and May, the exams have already been postponed twice this year. But some students want another delay, for fear of rising infections as well as difficulty travelling to exam centres because of virus-linked curbs on transport and lockdowns in some places.

China is moving into its final weekend before a full reopening of schools amid continuing measures to prevent any further spread of the coronavirus.

The country reported just nine new cases on Friday, all brought from outside the country. Hospitals are treating 288 people for COVID-19 and another 361 are being monitored in isolation for showing signs of the illness or having tested positive for the virus without displaying symptoms.

The roughly 25 per cent of students still out of school are due to return to classes on Monday. Classes are being held on a staggered schedule and mask wearing and social distancing are required.

College undergraduates are also due to return to campus next week, with Beijing ordering tests for all 600,000 taking up places at the city’s institutions.

A city worker draws a mural on a wall in Jakarta on Thursday. Indonesia on Friday reported 3,003 new coronavirus cases, its biggest rise in new infections for a second successive day. (Bay Ismoyo/AFP/Getty Images)

Indonesia reported its biggest rise in new coronavirus cases for a second successive day on Friday, while operations at a second factory in the country’s biggest province were scaled down following the emergence of new infection clusters.

Indonesia passed the 3,000 mark in new daily cases for the first time and added 105 new deaths, as authorities in West Java tackled outbreaks in three factories that the provincial governor said could be due to workers not following health measures.

That included a plant owned by Japanese automaker Suzuki, which cut operations by half after 71 employees tested positive for the coronavirus. On Friday, Suzuki Indonesia said in a statement that it would remain at reduced capacity until conditions were safe.

That added to more than 200 at a factory owned by South Korean firm LG Electronics, which a spokesman said would resume operations next week.

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