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Coronavirus: What's happening around the world on June 17

More than 60 per cent of commercial flights in and out of Beijing have been cancelled as the Chinese capital raised its alert level Wednesday against a new coronavirus outbreak while other nations confronted rising numbers of illnesses and deaths.

Flights in and out of Beijing cancelled as city raises alert level against new outbreak

A man holds a child wearing masks to curb the spread of the coronavirus in Beijing on Wednesday. The Chinese capital on Wednesday cancelled more than 60 per cent of commercial flights and raised the alert level amid a new coronavirus outbreak, state-run media reported. (Ng Han Guan/The Associated Press)

The latest:

  • More than 60% of commercial flights to and from Beijing cancelled after new outbreak.
  • WHO moves to update guidelines on treating people stricken with COVID-19 after clinical trial shows a steroid can help save critically ill patients.
  • Quebec coroner's office orders public inquiry into COVID-19 deaths in long-term care homes
  • India, with the fourth-highest caseload after the U.S., Brazil and Russia, adds more than 2,000 deaths to its tally.
  • Russia reports 7,843 new cases of the novel coronavirus, its lowest daily caseload registered since April 30.

China raised its emergency warning to its second-highest level and cancelled more than 60 per cent of the flights in and out of Beijing on Wednesday amid a new coronavirus outbreak in the capital. It was a sharp pullback for the nation that declared victory over COVID-19 in March and a message to the rest of the world about how tenacious the virus really is.

The virus prevention and control situation in Beijing was described as "extremely grave" at a meeting of Beijing's Communist Party Standing Committee led by the city's top official, Party Secretary Cai Qi.

"This has truly rung an alarm bell for us," Cai told participants.

The website of the Communist Party's Global Times said 1,255 flights to and from the capital's two major airports were scrapped by Wednesday morning. Beijing Capital Airport is traditionally the world's second-busiest in passenger capacity.

WATCH | Beijing on edge as cases of COVID-19 spread:

Freelance reporter Patrick Fok says the coronavirus may be more widespread in the Chinese capital than first believed. 3:04

No official public notice on a change in regulations has been issued by China's civil aviation authority or by either Beijing Capital Airport or Beijing Daxing International Airport. But Beijing Capital said on its microblog it expected to handle 500 flights on Wednesday, sharply lower than in recent days.

The cancellations are among a number of limits on travel in and out of the city, especially in hot-spot areas. Beijing had essentially eradicated local transmissions until recent days, recording 137 new cases since late last week.

On Wednesday, the city of 20 million people raised its threat level from 3 to 2, leading to the cancellation of classes, suspended reopenings and stronger requirements for social distancing. China had relaxed many of its coronavirus controls after the ruling Communist Party declared victory over the virus in March.

A man wearing a face mask walks past a counter with a display showing flight information and a message on preventive measures against the coronavirus, at the departure hall of Beijing Capital International Airport, after scores of domestic flights in and out of the Chinese capital were cancelled Wednesday. (Carlos Garcia Rawlins/Reuters)

Since the coronavirus emerged in China late last year and spread worldwide, more than 8.3 million people have contracted it, according to Johns Hopkins. The university has tallied more than 445,000 deaths from the disease it causes, COVID-19. Nearly 85,000 of those cases are in China, where there have been more than 4,600 deaths.

For most people, the virus causes mild or moderate symptoms, such as fever and cough. For some, especially older adults and people with existing health problems, it can cause more severe illness, including pneumonia, and lead to death.

Promising steroid treatment results

The emergencies chief of the World Health Organization welcomed the news this week that dexamethasone, a cheap steroid, was shown in a British trial to reduce deaths among patients critically ill with the coronavirus, but he said it was too soon to change how patients are treated.

"It's one of the breakthroughs we're going to need to effectively deal with COVID-19, but it's still preliminary data," Dr. Michael Ryan said at a press briefing on Wednesday. "We will pull together the necessary expert group ... and come to a decision around our clinical advice to countries."

WATCH | The latest on dexamethasone:

The World Health Organization welcomes news about the apparent effectiveness of the steroid, but says there is still much to learn about it.   1:55

Trial results announced on Tuesday showed dexamethasone, used since the 1960s to reduce inflammation in diseases such as arthritis, cut death rates by about a third among the most severely ill COVID-19 patients admitted to hospital.

Ryan said that "this is not the time to rush to change clinical practice" and that it was crucial to understand issues like what dose should be used on patients, how patients would be assessed and if there were adequate supplies of the drug.

What's happening in Canada

Quebec's chief coroner has ordered a wide-ranging public inquiry into deaths that have occurred in the province's long-term care homes, private seniors' residences and other residential institutions for vulnerable people over the first six weeks of the COVID-19 pandemic.

A majority of the province's COVID-19 deaths have occurred in public or private long-term care homes, known by their French initials as CHSLDs, many of which were plagued by chronic staffing shortages long before the pandemic hit.

"The population needs answers, so we will do it as quickly as possible with the resources we have," said chief coroner Pascale Descary.

Canada has recorded 99,853 cases of COVID-19 as of 2:00 p.m. ET Wednesday, and 8,307 deaths. More than 54,000 of those cases are in Quebec, where there have been more than 5,300 deaths.

What's happening in the U.S.

New cases are surging in Oklahoma, Arizona and other states. The spike reported on Wednesday and over the last two weeks points to a troubling trend.

In addition to record new cases in Oklahoma on Wednesday, Florida reported more than 2,600 new cases and Arizona more than 1,800 — the second-highest daily increase for both states. A day earlier, six states reported record increases in cases, including Texas, Nevada and Oregon.

The U.S. death toll has exceeded 117,000, according to Johns Hopkins University. That surpasses the number of Americans who died in the First World War, when 116,516 were killed — although both tolls are far from precise.

What's happening around the world

Pakistan is announcing plans to repatriate all of its citizens stranded around the globe, including in the Middle East, as a result of the pandemic. Syed Zulfiqar Bukhari, who advises Prime Minister Imran Khan about Pakistanis living abroad, told a news conference Wednesday that between 40,000 and 45,000 of its nationals will be brought home every week, starting June 20.

India — which has the fourth-highest caseload after the U.S., Brazil and Russia — added more than 2,000 deaths to its tally, after Delhi and Maharashtra states included 1,672 previously unreported fatalities. Its death toll of 11,903 is the eighth highest in the world.

Authorities in Greece have reported 55 new confirmed cases of COVID-19 and two new deaths — a relatively high number of new infections compared with the average seen in recent weeks. Authorities are keeping a close eye on the daily tally after the country formally launched its tourism season Monday. The death toll has reached 187 while the total number of confirmed infections is 3,203.

New Zealand, not long after declaring itself virus-free when the last known infected person recovered, is dealing with a re-emergence of the virus. Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern assigned a top military leader to oversee the border quarantines after what she described as an "unacceptable failure" by health officials.

They had allowed two New Zealand citizens who had recently returned from London to leave quarantine before being tested for the virus. After the women tested positive, New Zealand began tracing their potential contacts to ensure the virus is contained.

New Zealand's neighbour Australia has deepened a diplomatic spat with China by accusing Beijing and Moscow of using the heightened anxiety around the pandemic to undermine Western democracies by spreading disinformation online. Australia has angered China by calling for an independent inquiry into the origins of and responses to COVID-19.

A member of the biological sciences team at the National Polytechnic Institute tests a woman for COVID-19 on Wednesday as the outbreak in Mexico City continues. (Henry Romero/Reuters)

Even as Mexico announces plans for reopening churches and religious events, the country is posting significant increases in cases and deaths. Tuesday's 4,599 was the second-highest daily increase to date, to reach an accumulated total of 154,863. Deaths rose by 730.

Honduras President Juan Orlando Hernandez and his wife have tested positive for COVID-19, the Central American leader said late Tuesday in a television message. Hernandez has been hospitalized and is on an IV. He said his wife is asymptomatic and two other people who work with them are also infected.

In Germany, officials in the country's western region said the number of new COVID-19 cases linked to a large meatpacking plant has risen to 657 — a higher figure than many recent daily increases for the entire country. German Chancellor Angela Merkel praised officials for swiftly closing schools in the region.

Russia on Wednesday reported 7,843 new cases of the novel coronavirus, its lowest daily caseload registered since April 30, pushing the nationwide total  to 553,301. The country's virus response team said 194 people had died in the last 24 hours, bringing the official death toll to 7,478 since the crisis began. 

The Russian government built special tunnels to protect President Vladimir Putin from the coronavirus at home and at work, Putin's spokesperson said Wednesday. Dmitry Peskov said one tunnel was installed at the president's home outside Moscow and two at the Kremlin.

With files from Reuters and CBC News

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