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Coronavirus: What's happening around the world on Thursday

The World Health Organization says it has seen no evidence of the coronavirus being spread by food or packaging, after two cities in China reported they had found traces of the virus in imported frozen chicken wings from Brazil and on outer packaging of frozen Ecuadorian shrimp.

WHO says no need to fear COVID-19 spread through food, packaging

Catholic priest Omar is pictured as Brazilian military members work on disinfection of the Christ the Redeemer statue in Rio de Janeiro on Thursday ahead of its reopening amid the COVID-19 pandemic. (Ricardo Moraes/Reuters)

The latest:

  • Mexico passes 500,000 confirmed virus cases.
  • Texas reports fewer than 7,000 hospitalized coronavirus patients for first time in six weeks.
  • B.C. could see 2nd wave of COVID-19 in September bigger than the first, modelling shows.
  • Federal agriculture minister details $50M program to direct surplus food to those in need.
  • U.K. orders quarantine for arrivals from France.
  • People should not fear spread of COVID-19 in food, packaging, WHO says. 
  • Anti-vaccination group sues Canadian government over pandemic response.
  • New Zealand officials scramble to trace the unknown source of new outbreak.

The World Health Organization said on Thursday it saw no evidence of coronavirus being spread by food or packaging and urged people not to be afraid of the virus entering the food chain.

Two cities in China said they had found traces of the coronavirus in imported frozen chicken wings from Brazil and on outer packaging of frozen Ecuadorian shrimp, raising fears that contaminated food shipments might cause a new outbreak.

"People should not fear food, or food packaging or processing or delivery of food," WHO head of emergencies program Mike Ryan told a briefing in Geneva. "There is no evidence that food or the food chain is participating in transmission of this virus. And people should feel comfortable and safe."

WHO epidemiologist Maria Van Kerkhove said China had tested hundreds of thousands of packages and "found very, very few, less than 10" proved positive for the virus.

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The WHO's director general says only it has the global capacity to pool resources and share the rewards of badly needed diagnostics and vaccines.

Brazil's Agriculture Ministry said in a statement that it was seeking clarification on the Chinese findings. Ecuador's production minister, Ivan Ontaneda, told Reuters that the country maintains strict protocols and cannot be held responsible for what happens to goods after they leave the country.

More than 20.7 million people have been reported to be infected by the novel coronavirus globally, according to data from Johns Hopkins University. More than 752,000 have died and 12.9 million have recovered.

The WHO also urged countries that are striking bilateral deals for vaccines not to abandon multilateral efforts, since vaccinating pockets will still leave the world vulnerable.

Russian President Vladimir Putin said on Tuesday that Russia had become the first country to grant regulatory approval for a COVID-19 vaccine after less than two months of human testing, a move Moscow likened to its success in the Cold War-era space race.

Moscow's decision to grant approval before then has raised concerns among some experts. Only about 10 per cent of clinical trials are successful, and some scientists fear Moscow may be putting national prestige before safety.

The WHO does not have enough information to make a judgment on the expanded use of the Russian vaccine, said Bruce Aylward, WHO senior adviser.

WATCH | Doubts surround Russia's approval of coronavirus vaccine:

Doubts surround Russia’s coronavirus vaccine

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Duration 3:14
Russian President Vladimir Putin says a locally developed COVID-19 vaccine has been given regulatory approval after less than two months of testing on humans, but there are concerns safety could have been compromised for speed.

"The vast majority of the population of the world is susceptible to this disease," he told the briefing. "The second thing that we are seeing is the stringency of the application of control measures is dropping."

People aren't using masks the way they should, so any levelling off of the disease is lulling people into a false sense of security, Aylward said.

On Wednesday, UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres warned that the COVID-19 pandemic not only threatens gains in fighting global poverty and building peace but risks exacerbating existing conflicts and generating new ones.

A member of the South Sudanese Ministry of Health's Rapid Response Team takes a sample from a man who was recently in contact with a confirmed case of COVID-19 in Juba, South Sudan, in April. (Alex McBride/AFP/Getty Images)

He told a Security Council meeting on the challenge of sustaining peace during the pandemic that his call on March 23 for an immediate ceasefire in conflicts around the world to tackle the coronavirus led a number of warring parties to take steps to de-escalate and stop fighting.

"Yet, regrettably, in many instances, the pandemic did not move the parties to suspend hostilities or agree to a permanent ceasefire," Guterres said.


What's happening with coronavirus in Canada

As of 9 p.m. ET on Thursday, Canada had 121,234 confirmed and presumptive coronavirus cases. Provinces and territories listed 107,551 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 9,053.

Agriculture Minister Marie-Claude Bibeau announced details on Thursday of a $50 million program that will redirect surplus perishable food products to vulnerable people during the pandemic.

Bibeau said 12 million kilograms of food that otherwise would have been wasted, including one million fresh eggs, would go to families. Other products that will be redistributed include potatoes, walleye, chicken and turkey.

A volunteer sorts food items in the receiving area of the warehouse at the Ottawa Food Bank in April. Agriculture Minister Marie-Claude Bibeau said Thursday that COVID-19 has had a tremendous impact on Canadians' food security. (Justin Tang/Canadian Press)

She said COVID-19 has had a tremendous impact on Canadians' food security. "Many families have not had enough food or have been eating smaller portions because they haven't been able to pay for food."

Surplus fruit, vegetables, meat and seafood was generated because the COVID-19 crisis shut down much of the restaurant and hospitality industry, leaving producers with unprecedented surpluses.

In British Columbia, the COVID-19 curve is now climbing at a higher rate than the initial outbreak in March, and new provincial modelling shows B.C. could see a second wave bigger than the first by September.

But the province's contact-tracing efforts could temper that growth, Provincial Health Officer Dr. Bonnie Henry said Thursday, after announcing 78 new COVID-19 transmissions.

(CBC News)

As restrictions have eased, Henry said, the number of contacts people are having are about 70 per cent of normal, despite the province recommending people keep their contacts to 60 per cent or lower when B.C. first entered Phase 3 of its restart plan in late June.

At the current contact rate, daily cases could climb to 100 by September, according to the modelling. "We are on an upward trajectory. That is concerning," Henry said, adding that "right now, we have it within our ability to make the changes we need to bend that curve back down."

In Ontario, Education Minister Stephen Lecce said he's "unlocked" $500 million in funding to enhance physical distancing and improve air quality, along with providing PPE and boosting the number of custodians ahead of the return to school in September.

The minister also announced an additional $50 million for upgrades to ventilation systems and $18 million for online learning amid concerns over student safety during the COVID-19 pandemic.

WATCH | Learning lessons from other countries as provinces adjust back-to-school plans:

Learning lessons from other countries as provinces adjust back-to-school plans

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As B.C. delays the start of classes and Ontario parents protest class sizes, the provinces could look to other countries for how to approach going back to school during the COVID-19 pandemic.

    The half-a-billion dollars in funding comes after the ministry allowed school boards to dip into reserve funds. Boards that do not have reserves will be provided with funding from an $11 million allocation.

    Lecce promised the new funding following weeks of criticism of the province's back-to-school plan from parents, teachers and medical professionals, particularly when it comes to class sizes.


    Here's what's happening around the world

    In the United States, Texas reported fewer than 7,000 hospitalized coronavirus patients for the first time in six weeks.

    That encouraging sign Thursday was clouded by questions over testing as students return to school and college football teams push ahead with playing this fall. Testing has dropped off in Texas, a trend seen across the U.S as health experts worry that patients without symptoms aren't bothering because of long lines and waiting days to get results.

    Numbers from Texas health officials this week offer a hazy picture of how much testing has fallen. At one point this week, the infection rate in Texas was as high as 24 per cent, only to suddenly drop Thursday to 16 per cent.

    Officials have not offered explanations about the wild swing in infection rates.

    Mexico has passed the half-million mark in confirmed coronavirus cases. The Health Department reported 7,371 newly confirmed cases Thursday, bringing the country's total for the pandemic to 505,751.

    The department reported 627 more confirmed COVID-19 deaths, giving Mexico a total of 55,293.

    A banner fashioned to resemble a giant protective mask is placed on a monument of Benito Juarez, as a message to the community to fight against the spread of COVID-19 in the Iztapalapa neighbourhood of Mexico City, Mexico, on Thursday. (Edgard Garrido/Reuters)

    Experts agree that due to Mexico's extremely low testing rates, those numbers are undercounts and that the real figures may be two to three times higher. With only about 1.15 million tests conducted to date in a country of almost 130 million people, less than one per cent of Mexicans have been tested.

    Britain will require all people arriving from France to isolate for 14 days — an announcement that throws the plans of tens of thousands of vacationers into chaos.

    The government said late Thursday that France is being removed from the list of nations exempted from quarantine requirements because of a rising number of coronavirus infections, which have surged by 66 per cent in the past week.

    The Netherlands, Malta, Monaco and the Caribbean islands of Aruba and Turks and Caicos were also added to the quarantine list.

    France is one of the top holiday destinations for British travellers, who now have until early Saturday to get home if they want to avoid two weeks in isolation.

    The number of new infections in Britain is also rising.

    Britain's Prime Minister Boris Johnson elbow-bumps a paramedic at the Northern Ireland Ambulance Service headquarters during his visit to Belfast, Northern Ireland, on Thursday. (Brian Lawless/Reuters)

    Prosecutors in Rome have formally told Italian Premier Giuseppe Conte and other ministers they have opened an investigation into the government's coronavirus response.

    A statement Thursday from Conte's office notes such investigations are required when complaints are received. However, prosecutors have already informed the government that it considers the claims "unfounded and worthy of being shelved."

    Italy was the first country in Europe to become the epicentre of COVID-19 and has a confirmed death toll of more than 35,000, now sixth-highest in the world.

    New Zealand officials were scrambling to trace the source of an outbreak of the coronavirus, reporting 13 new cases on Thursday, as long queues of people formed to escape a renewed lockdown in the country's biggest city and be tested.

    WATCH | Coronavirus pops up again in New Zealand:

    Coronavirus pops up again in New Zealand

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    New Zealand's prime minister announces new restrictions for Auckland after members of one household in the city test positive for the coronavirus.

    The discovery of four infected family members in Auckland two days ago shocked a country that had not recorded a case of COVID-19 for more than three months, raising some criticism of the government's handling of the crisis.

    With the announcement, New Zealand has a total of 36 active cases.

    The Himalayan kingdom of Bhutan has imposed its first nationwide lockdown due to a virus infection in a returning traveller who had been released from quarantine.

    The deserted Norzin Lam road, the main artery of Bhutan capital Thimphu, is seen during a government-imposed nationwide lockdown as a preventive measure against the coronavirus. (Upsana Dahal/AFP/Getty Images)

    The government issued a stay-at-home order for its approximately 750,000 people, and all schools, offices and commercial establishments were closed.

    The government's statement said the lockdown would be enforced from five to 21 days "to identify and isolate all positive cases, immediately breaking the chain of transmission."

    Vietnam's Health Ministry reported 25 more coronavirus infections and three additional deaths on Thursday, bringing the total number of cases in the Southeast Asian country to 905, with 20 fatalities.

    More than 430 of the total cases are linked to the central city of Danang, where the new outbreak began late last month.

    A health worker swabs a boy for a COVID-19 test at Hoan Kiem district medical centre in Hanoi, Vietnam, on Thursday. (Nhac Nguyen/AFP/Getty Images)

    The ministry said 133,340 people are being quarantined in the country, including 5,361 at hospitals, 25,043 at centralized quarantine centres and the rest at home.

    An Africa-wide study of antibodies to the coronavirus has begun, while evidence from a smaller study indicates that many more people have been infected than official numbers show, the Africa Centres for Disease Control and Prevention said Thursday.

    Experts are eager to know the real number of COVID-19 cases in Africa, as confirmed cases and deaths have been relatively low on the continent of 1.3 billion people. Poor data collection, however, has complicated efforts.

    A health worker checks the temperature of students at Access International Schools in Magboro, Nigeria, last week. (Pius Utomi Ekpei/AFP/Getty Images)

    But recent surveys in Mozambique found antibodies — proteins the body makes when an infection occurs — to the virus in five per cent of households in the city of Nampula and 2.5 per cent in the city of Pemba.

    That's while Mozambique has just 2,481 confirmed virus cases. Further studies are underway in the capital, Maputo, and the city of Quelimane.

    With files from The Associated Press and CBC News

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