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Virus-link mystery as rare disease strikes UK children


UK health officials are scrambling to find out if there is a link between a rare inflammatory disease which is putting children into intensive care units and COVID-19, as the nation’s coronavirus death toll passes 21,000.

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Health minister Matt Hancock said he was “very worried” about reports of children struggling with severe symptoms that might have a link to COVID-19.

“We have become aware in the last few days of reports of severe illness in children which might be a Kawasaki-like disease,” national medical director for England Stephen Powis said.

Kawasaki disease is a rare illness that causes inflammation of blood vessels. Some children have been placed into intensive care units in London and across the UK.

“I’ve asked the national clinic director for children and young people to look into this as a matter of urgency… We’re not sure at the moment. It’s really too early to say whether there is a link,” Powis said.

It comes as Prime Minister Boris Johnson returned to work after recovering from COVID-19 and warned that it is still too dangerous to relax a stringent lockdown wreaking havoc on Britain’s economy for fear of a deadly second outbreak.

Britain recorded another 360 virus deaths overnight to take its official toll past 21,000. But there are fears it is much higher as deaths in aged care and private homes have not been included.

“If we can show the same spirit of unity and determination as we’ve all shown in the past six weeks then I have absolutely no doubt that we will beat it,” Johnson said.

“I ask you to contain your impatience because I believe we are coming now to the end of the first phase of this conflict and in spite of all the suffering we have so nearly succeeded.

We simply cannot spell out now how fast or slow or even when those changes will be made, though clearly the government will be saying much more about this in the coming days.

“We must also recognise the risk of a second spike, the risk of losing control of that virus and letting the reproduction rate go back over one because that would mean not only a new wave of death and disease but also an economic disaster.”

With unemployment soaring, many companies crippled and a recession looming, Johnson said he understood the concerns of business and would consult with opposition parties pressing for clarity on a pathway out of lockdown.

Italy, France deaths rise again

Deaths from the COVID-19 epidemic in Italy climbed by 333 overnight against 260 the day before, but the daily tally of new cases declined to 1739 from 2324 on Sunday, posting the lowest reading since March 10.

The total death toll in Italy since its outbreak came to light on February 21 now stands at 26,977 – the second highest in the world after the United States.

The number of confirmed cases amounts to 199,414, the third highest global tally behind the US and Spain.

People registered as currently carrying the illness fell to 105,813 from 106,103 on Sunday.

There were 1956 people in intensive care on Monday against 2009 on Sunday, maintaining a long-running decline.

Of those originally infected, 66,624 were declared recovered on Monday, up from 64,928 a day earlier.

Italy plans to gradually lift its seven-week lockdown, beginning on May 4.

In France, the virus death toll rose by 437 overnight to take its official toll to 23,293.

The 1.9 per cent increase on Monday is the highest in four days. but well below the more than 4.0 per cent rate recorded 10 days ago.

The number of people in hospital with COVID-19 infection fell further to 28,055 from 28,217 on Sunday and the number of people in intensive care fell to 4608 from 4682 on Sunday.

Both have been on a downward trend for more than 10 days.

BHP mine workers test positive

Peruvian copper mine Antamina, owned by global miners BHP and Glencore, has reported 210 positive cases of coronavirus.

The company said in a statement it discovered the cases while conducting 600 tests on its staff and contractors, 500 of which have been returned by the laboratory.

It said that 87 per cent of the positive cases were asymptomatic while those with signs of COVID-19 mostly had mild symptoms.

Antamina said two weeks ago it would halt all operations for at least two weeks to mitigate against the spread of the virus.

Volkswagen restarts production

German car-making giant Volkswagen has resumed production at its biggest German factory as part of a broader industry drive to get back to work in Europe.

Encouraged by a fall in infection rates, Germany has eased lockdown rules and car makers are relying on the country’s ability to trace and contain new coronavirus cases to safely restore operations in Europe’s largest economy.

Volkswagen group, which also owns the Skoda, Audi, Bentley, Porsche and Seat brands, is resuming production on Monday at its plant in Wolfsburg, Germany, as well as at factories in Portugal, Spain, Russia, South Africa and the Czech Republic this week.

Production capacity at Wolfsburg will be just 10-15 per cent to begin with, and will reach about 40 per cent of pre-crisis levels after about a week, Andreas Tostmann, the VW brand’s board member responsible for production, said.

“The restart of Europe’s biggest car factory after weeks of standstill is an important symbol for our employees, our dealers, suppliers, the German economy and for Europe,” he said.

Volkswagen’s plans mirror moves by rivals Renault, Peugeot and Fiat Chrysler to revive an industry crippled by dealership lockdowns and supply bottlenecks caused by restrictions to contain the pandemic.

-with AAP

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