Urgent research into COVID-19 linked illness in kids
Prime Minister Scott Morrison has requested urgent advice on whether a mysterious coronavirus-linked illness affecting American children is an issue in Australia.
Kawasaki disease is suspected to have caused the death of at least three children in the United States and has developed in almost 100 children in the last two months.
Health Minister Greg Hunt confirmed this morning that Chief Medical Officer Brendan Murphy had sought advice from paediatric experts in Australia and overseas.
He will then provide a briefing to the national cabinet about the issue this Friday.
Mr Hunt said the government was taking the disease "very seriously" but at this stage, there were no signs of it in Australia.
He said it was unclear whether Kawasaki disease was triggered or caused by COVID-19, or whether it was a separate condition only identified by mass testing now underway.
It comes as the federal government is expected to appoint Associate Professor Ruth Vine as the country's first deputy chief medical officer for mental health to help direct the response to the coronavirus crisis.
Health Minister Greg Hunt is expected to make a statement on mental health today while Prof Vine, the former chief psychiatrist for Victoria, has been selected for the role, The Australian reports.
Government modelling forecasts a 50 per cent increase in suicides directly related to the economic shutdown and the associated distress, with the possibility they could outstrip direct deaths from coronavirus.
"A priority on the road out of the pandemic is supporting the mental health and wellbeing of all Australians," Mr Hunt will say, according to the newspaper.
"Supporting the mental health of Australians is a deep personal passion of mine and a priority of this government."
Prof Vine will sit alongside Chief Medical Officer Brendan Murphy, who recommended mental health be treated as a priority.
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Meanwhile, some 1.5 million COVID-19 antibody tests bought by the federal government aren't accurate enough to be used in Australia, a report has found.
The antibody tests were supposed to be distributed soon after they arrived in March, but a report commissioned by Health Minister Greg Hunt said they were not ready for widespread deployment, the Nine Newspapers reports.
Australian National University Professor Carola Vinuesa, one of the report's co-authors, said the tests are not useful.
"At the moment, the quality does not seem to be good enough for these tests to be deployed in large scale," she told the newspaper.
"The sensitivity is not very good. They are not useful in being able to say 'you were infected'."
SECOND WAVE 'MAY NOT BE ABLE TO CONTROL'
America's top coronavirus specialist has warned states not to rush reopening as he revealed a successful vaccine could be ready within months.
Appearing before the first ever remote US Senate hearing, Dr Anthony Fauci said there were at least eight vaccines in development.
"Given the way the body responds to viruses of this type, I'm cautiously optimistic that we will get a candidate that's effective," Dr Fauci said over a livestream.
"If we are successful, we hope to know that in the late fall and early winter.
"We have many candidates and hope to have multiple winners."
But as America grapples with how to kickstart its devastated economy, Dr Fauci warned of "needless suffering and death" if states lift restrictions too early.
"You will trigger an outbreak you may not be able to control, which in fact will set you back," he said.
This would not only lead to "suffering and death that could be avoided but could even set you back and almost turned the clock back rather than going forward. "That is my major concern."
Encouraged by President Donald Trump, more than 30 states have started easing social distancing restrictions and reopening some businesses.
More than 81,000 Americans have died from the coronavirus and the US accounts for more than a quarter of the world's 4 million cases.
Dr Fauci said it was almost certain the actual death toll was much higher than official figures.
He also said some states were overstepping the federal "guideline framework" to reopen.
"My concern is that some areas, cities, states, what have you, jump over those various checkpoints and prematurely open up without having the capability of being able to respond effectively and efficiently," Dr Fauci said.
"My concern is that we will start to see little spikes that might turn into outbreaks," he said.
"The consequences could be really serious."
With a growing partisan divide over reopening the country, Dr Fauci also defended himself against claims by Republican senator Rand Paul that he was overstepping.
"I have never made myself out to be the end all and only a voice in this. I'm a scientist, a physician and a public health official, I give advice, according to the best scientific evidence," Dr Fauci said.
"I don't give advice about economic things. I don't give advice about anything other than public health."
Dr Fauci and other officials, including the heads of the Centre for Disease Control and the Food and Drug Administration, also testified that they had a collegiate relationship with President Trump, after being questioned about media reports the White House had been clashing with members of the COVID-19 task force.
"There is certainly not a confrontational relationship between me and the president," Dr Fauci said.
LOCKDOWNS EASE, CASES UP 1000PC IN US
As Dr Fauci issued his warning about reopening too soon and too quickly, it was revealed that counties in Tennessee and Kansas, both states that have eased lockdown restrictions, have experienced 1,000 per cent jumps in virus cases in a week.
An unreleased White House taskforce report indicates cases are increasing in heartland pockets of the United States despite President Donald Trump's claim that infections are "coming down rapidly" across the country.
The data in the report, which was obtained by NBC News, was included in a May 7 COVID-19 task force report compiled by its data and analytics team.
Included in the report is a list of counties that have seen infections spikes in a week compared to the previous seven days. Local health officials in most of those areas have already warned they are potential emerging hot spots due to the spike in confirmed cases.
Tennessee's Trousdale County, which is just outside Nashville, saw the biggest spike with infections increasing by more than 1,000 per cent, the report shows.
PUTIN'S SPOKESMAN TESTS POSITIVE FOR VIRUS
Russian President Vladimir Putin's spokesman Dmitry Peskov on Tuesday (local time) said he tested positive for the coronavirus and was receiving treatment in hospital, news agencies reported.
"I am ill. I'm being treated," Mr Peskov was quoted as saying by Russian news agencies TASS and Interfax, which specified he had COVID-19.
Mr Peskov is the fourth senior government official to have fallen ill, after Prime Minister Mikhail Mishustin, Culture Minister Olga Lyubimova and Construction Minister Vladimir Yakushev said they tested positive for the coronavirus.
None were reported to be in a serious condition, with only Mishustin in hospital who was still holding some meetings by video link.
Peskov told TASS news agency that he was last in direct contact with Putin "over a month ago."
The Russian leader has been staying at his residence outside Moscow for several weeks and is carrying out meetings and speeches via video link.
Mr Peskov, 52, has served as Putin's spokesman since 2000. He has not held his usual daily telephone briefings with reporters since May 6.
Mr Putin on Monday announced that a strict national lockdown would be eased starting Tuesday, even though the country's rate of new infections shows no sign of slowing.
Russia reported 10,899 new coronavirus cases on Tuesday and a total of 232,243 infections, bringing the nationwide total past that of Britain. The country has the world's second highest number of infections.
The country's coronavirus response centre said on Tuesday the death toll from the virus rose by 107 people to 2116.
Russia puts the continued daily rise in cases down to widespread testing. It has carried out more than 5.8 million tests.
BRITAIN'S DEATH TOLL WORST IN EUROPE
It comes as Britain's coronavirus death toll now exceeds 40,000, by far the worst yet reported in Europe, raising more questions about Prime Minister Boris Johnson's handling of the coronavirus crisis.
Britain's Office for National Statistics on Tuesday said more people have died from the coronavirus in the UK than the official national toll suggests, after more care home deaths were linked to the outbreak.
Figures published by the Office for National Statistics for England and Wales brought the UK's official death toll to 38,289 as of May 3, according to a tally of death registrations that also includes Scotland and Northern Ireland.
The ONS and regional health bodies registered 36,473 deaths from or mentioning COVID-19 up until May 1, in contrast to the government tally which said 27,510 people had died up to that day.
The government's rolling daily toll on Monday stood at 32,065, which already makes Britain the worst-affected country in Europe and the second worst globally.
Ministers have repeatedly pointed out that each nation has a different method of recording and registering their data.
But the new ONS figures heap fresh pressure on the government, which has been criticised for its response to the outbreak, and its plan to ease strict stay-at-home measures.
The ONS data showed that 8,312 people died in care homes across England and Wales by May 1.
But ONS statistician Nick Stripe said: "If we feed in the figures from … last week, there's about another 1,500, 1,600 notified.
"So that puts us close to 10,000 COVID-related deaths in care homes by May 8," he told BBC television.
Despite a steep overall drop in the death rate over the week ending May 1, the toll in care homes was not coming down as quickly, he warned.
"In the last (published) week, 40 per cent of all deaths that mention COVID were in care homes - that's up from 34 per cent last week and about four weeks ago, that was about five per cent.
"So care homes is showing the slowest decline, sadly … There were more deaths in total in care homes than there were in hospitals in that week, I've never seen that before." The figures also indicated that Britain's excess mortality, which experts have said is the truest indicator of the virus' impact, was close to 50,000 by May 1.
The total number of people who died in England and Wales since the outbreak took hold was 46,494 higher than the five-year average, the ONS data showed.
"There's now 50,841 across the UK, above average," Stripe added. Britain is in the eighth week of its economically crippling lockdown. Prime Minister Boris Johnson on Monday announced a more detailed plan to begin lifting the stringent social distancing regime.
Among the first set out in the 50-page plan is the reintroduction of unlimited outdoor exercise from Wednesday. People can also meet one person from outside their household and drive to places for recreation.
It urges those working in construction, manufacturing and other manual jobs to return to work, while encouraging those able to work from home to continue to do so.
The government is now also advising people to wear face coverings in enclosed spaces such as shops and public transport.
Opposition parties, unions and business leaders say there is a lack of clarity about the new recommendations - and have voiced concerns about the safety of people returning to work
FRANCE'S DEATH TOLL OVERTAKES SPAIN'S
It comes as France's cumulative death toll from coronavirus infection rose by 348, or 1.3 per cent, to 26,991 on Tuesday, overtaking Spain's toll of 26,920.
It makes France the country with the world's fourth-highest death toll from the virus after the US, Britain and Italy.
The health ministry said in a statement that the number of people in hospital with coronavirus infection fell again to 21,595 from 22,284 on Monday, continuing an uninterrupted downward trend that has lasted four weeks.
On the second day after the end of a 55-day lockdown, the number of people in intensive care also continued a similar downward trend and fell by 170, or 6.3 per cent, to 2542.
UK RAIL WORKER SPAT AT, DIES OF COVID
Meanwhile, a British railway ticket office worker has died of coronavirus after being spat at while on duty.
Belly Mujinga, 47, was on the concourse of Victoria station in London in March when a member of the public who said he had COVID-19 spat and coughed at her and a colleague.
Within days of the assault, both women fell ill with the virus.
Ms Mujinga, who had underlying respiratory problems, was admitted to Barnet Hospital and put on a ventilator but died on April 5, said her trade union, the Transport Salaried Staffs Association (TSSA).
Ten people attended her funeral.
The union has reported the incident to the Railways Inspectorate, the safety arm of the Office for Road and Rail (ORR), for investigation and is taking legal advice.
"We are shocked and devastated at Belly's death. She is one of far too many frontline workers who have lost their lives to coronavirus," TSSA general secretary Manuel Cortes said.
"The Health Secretary Matt Hancock recently announced that STG60,000 ($A114,000) would be paid to the survivors of health and care workers who die as a result of the pandemic.
"Our view is that this compensation should be extended to the families of all frontline workers who perish trying to keep our country and vital services going.
"Sadly, Belly's is just one of many family tragedies where children have had their parents taken away from them.
"However, there are serious questions about her death; it wasn't inevitable.
"As a vulnerable person in the 'at risk' category, and her condition known to her employer, there are questions about why she wasn't stood down from frontline duties early on in this pandemic.
"Rather than talking about the easing the lockdown, the government must first ensure that the right precautions and protections have been taken so that more lives are not lost.
"Anyone who is vulnerable should remain at home and home working should be the default wherever possible.
"Our rail industry needs to have a very serious look at what tasks are deemed 'essential' and must put protections in place for all our members and our passengers."
NEW VIRUS WARNING IN CHINA
It comes as China's health authority says the reappearance of local clusters of coronavirus cases in recent days suggests counter-epidemic measures cannot be relaxed yet.
While prevention and control efforts have normalised, that does not mean measures can be eased, Mi Feng, spokesman at the National Health Commission, said on Tuesday at a media briefing.
Seventeen new cases were reported on Monday, up from 14 the day before which had represented the first double-digit increase in 10 days.
Of the 17 new cases, seven were listed as imported, while five were in the city of Wuhan, the epicentre of the pandemic, where a strict lockdown was lifted last month.
Another five cases were spread across three northeastern provinces, including Jilin, where authorities suspended train service in and out of a county where a cluster originating with a 45-year-old woman was recently detected.
At a news conference on Sunday, Mi renewed calls for people to avoid social gatherings and to "seek medical advice or testing in designated hospitals if they exhibit symptoms such as fever, cough or fatigue." Despite that, 82,000 third-year middle school students in Beijing returned to classes Monday to prepare for their high school entrance exams.
Also Monday, the National Health Commission said there had been no new deaths, extending that record for almost a month, and 141 people remained in hospital in treatment.
Another 783 people were under isolation and observation for being suspected cases or for having tested positive without showing any symptoms. China has recorded a total of 4,633 deaths from the virus among 82,918 cases of COVID-19.
AUSSIES URGED TO STAY VIGILANT AND HYGIENIC
Australians emerging from their homes as COVID-19 restrictions lift are being urged to stay vigilant and hygienic to prevent a second wave of cases.
Chief Nursing Officer Alison McMillan urged anyone with cold or flu symptoms to stay at home and away from others.
"As you begin to move around more and you get back to some of your normal activities, let's keep up that amazing effort that everyone has done," she said.
"If there are any signs that you are sick, please, please stay at home and call your GP to see about getting tested."
Hand hygiene was of top importance, as was sneeze etiquette.
"Remember to wash your hands before you eat, after you go to the toilet and certainly after you cough or sneeze," Ms McMillan said.
"The surfaces you touch could be infected, so really important when you're touching things, make sure you're using the hand sanitising products regularly as you go about your business."
An extra 18 cases of coronavirus were diagnosed in the 24 hours to 3pm Tuesday, taking the national total to 6964.
Almost 900,000 tests have been used during the pandemic so far.
- with Reuters, AAP, AP, staff writers
Originally published as Urgent research into COVID-19 linked illness in kids