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US warned against lifting lockdowns as virus deaths tipped to hit 147,000 by August


US health officials have warned Congress that prematurely lifting lockdowns could lead to additional outbreaks of the deadly coronavirus, as new modelling predicts the 80,000 deaths to now will swell to nearly 150,000 within three months.

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The virus has already killed 80,000 Americans, with a revised mortality model predicting more than 147,000 will die by early  August, up nearly 10,000 from the last projection, as restrictions for curbing the pandemic are relaxed.

National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases director Fauci told a US Senate panel the virus epidemic is not yet under control in areas of the nation.

“I think we’re going in the right direction, but the right direction does not mean we have by any means total control of this outbreak,” Fauci said during Tuesday’s three-and-a-half-hour hearing.

He urged states to follow health experts’ recommendations to wait for signs, including a declining number of new infections, before reopening.

US President Donald Trump has been encouraging states to end a weeks-long shuttering of major components of their economies.

But senators heard a sobering assessment from Fauci, when asked by Democrats about a premature opening of the economy.

“There is a real risk that you will trigger an outbreak that you may not be able to control and, in fact paradoxically, will set you back, not only leading to some suffering and death that could be avoided, but could even set you back on the road to try to get economic recovery,” Fauci said.

Some states already have begun reopening their economies and others have announced plans to phase that in beginning in mid-May, even as opinion polls show most Americans are concerned about resuming such operations too soon.

New Jersey Governor Phil Murphy said on Tuesday he intended to announce some tentative moves toward reopening even though his state, by some measures, is currently the most serious coronavirus danger zone in the US.

The COVID-19 respiratory disease caused by the new coronavirus has infected more than 1.3 million Americans and killed more than 80,600.

Fauci, 79, testified to Congress remotely in a room lined with books as he self-quarantines after he may have come into contact with either of two members of the White House staff who were diagnosed with COVID-19.

Medical researchers have been scrambling to find not only an effective vaccine for coronavirus but also drugs to treat it until a vaccine comes to market.

A revised coronavirus mortality model predicts more than 147,000 Americans will die from COVID-19 by early August, up nearly 10,000 from the last projection, as restrictions for curbing the pandemic are relaxed, researchers say.

The latest forecast from the University of Washington’s Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation (IHME) reflects “key drivers of viral transmission like changes in testing and mobility, as well as easing of distancing policies,” the report said.

But  IHME researchers acknowledged that precise consequences of moves to reopen shuttered businesses and loosen stay-at-home orders remains difficult to gauge.

“The full potential effects of recent actions to ease social distancing policies, especially if robust containment measures have yet to be fully scaled up, may not be fully known for a few weeks due to the time periods between viral exposure, possible infection and full disease progression,” the report said.

The last revision of the IHME mortality model, frequently cited by the White House and other public health authorities, predicted that the cumulative US death toll will climb to 147,040 by August, up 9856 from the institute’s previous update on May 10.

A week earlier, the model had put the figure at nearly 135,000, almost double its April 29 forecast.

UK deaths pass 38,000

The United Kingdom’s COVID-19 death toll topped 38,000 as of early May, by far the worst reported in Europe, raising questions about Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s handling of the coronavirus crisis.

Figures published by the Office for National Statistics (ONS) for England and Wales brought Britain’s official death toll to 38,289 as of May 3 – up almost 6000 in a week, according to a Reuters tally of registrations data.

While different ways of counting make comparisons with other countries difficult, the figure confirms Britain is among those hit worst by the pandemic which has killed more than 285,000 people worldwide.

The data came a day after Johnson set out a gradual plan to get Britain back to work, including advice on wearing home-made face coverings – although his attempt to lift the lockdown prompted confusion.

Such a high UK death toll increases the pressure on Johnson. Opposition parties say he had been too slow to impose a lockdown, introduce mass testing and get enough protective equipment to hospitals.

The data painted a grim picture in care homes, which have been especially hard hit by the virus.

“Care homes (are) showing the slowest decline, sadly,” ONS statistician Nick Stripe told BBC TV.

“For the first time that I can remember, there were more deaths in total in care homes than there were in hospitals in that week.”

The figures show care homes account for a third of all COVID-19 deaths in England and Wales.

A Reuters Special Report published last week showed care homes bore the brunt of policy designed to shield its hospitals from COVID-19, leaving many of the weakest exposed.

Unlike the daily death toll announced by the government, Tuesday’s figures include suspected deaths from COVID-19.

Ministers dislike comparisons of the headline death toll because Britain’s performance in part reflects the fact it has been quicker to publish comprehensive data on COVID-19 deaths than other European countries.

They say excess mortality – the number of deaths from all causes which exceed the average for the time of year – is more meaningful because it is internationally comparable.

Early evidence, though, suggests Britain is faring badly on that front too.

So far this year, there have been more than 50,000 excess deaths compared to the five-year average, ONS statistician Stripe said.

The ONS said deaths from all causes decreased for a second week running as of May 1, but 8012 more people than average died in the 18th week of 2020.

Indonesia toll passes 1000

Deaths from coronavirus in Indonesia have passed the 1000 mark as the nation reports 16 new fatalities and 484 additional infections.

Indonesia has reported 1007 deaths and 14,749 cases, health ministry official Achmad Yurianto said on Tuesday.

Across the country, Yurianto said there were also more than 32,000 suspected cases, while 119,728 people had been tested and 3063 recovered.

-with AAP

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