WASHINGTON - The World Health Organization (WHO) says there is no place it considers to be a “zero risk” environment for the coronavirus.
The head of the WHO emergencies program, Dr. Michael Ryan, was answering a reporter’s question Monday in Geneva about the safety of air travel as many European countries reopen their borders to tourists from other EU nations.
“Let us remember and we've seen there is no 'zero risk' in any environment,” Ryan answered. “What we need to do is identify the risks that may be involved or the increased risk that may be associated with travel. We need to try and reduce those risks to the absolute minimum and be able to mitigate any negative impacts.”
WHO Director General Dr. Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus warned of a possible resurgence of COVID-19 in countries where the pandemic has appeared to have subsided.
“Last week, China reported a new cluster of cases in Beijing after more than 50 days without a case in that city,” he said. “More than a hundred cases have now been confirmed. The origin and extent of the outbreak are being investigated."
The first cases of COVID-19 were reported in China in late December when doctors began discussing a new pneumonia-like disease.
Tedros said more than 100,000 confirmed cases of coronavirus have been reported worldwide each day over the past two weeks and countries that have curbed transmissions "must stay alert to the possibility of resurgence." Most of the new cases are in the Americas and South Asia, he said.
Among those South Asian nations is Pakistan where experts say the number of coronavirus cases could double by the end of the month if people continue to ignore social distancing and other precautions.
Pakistan had 144,478 cases and 2,729 deaths, according to Johns Hopkins University tracking as of Monday, and officials there warn there could be as many as 1.2 million cases by July. Pakistan lifted its lockdown on May 9, citing economic stress, and has since seen infection rates rise from 1-in-10 tests to more than 1-in-5.
Pakistan's Minister for Planning, Development & Special Initiatives Asad Umer, who also heads the government’s COVID-19 command center, said Monday that there must be “a change in our attitude toward the virus,” noting that many Pakistanis refuse to carry out even the most basic preventative measures such as wearing masks.
But some Pakistani officials say the country’s economy will collapse if people do everything doctors recommend.
Meanwhile, millions of Europeans are again filling restaurants and putting their feet in sandy beaches as border restrictions have been lifted across much of the continent.
Americans and Asians are still restricted from coming to the European Union (EU) for at least another month, but many European tourists are allowed to once again visit their neighbors even while they are still urged to show caution.
“We have got the pandemic under control, (but) the reopening of our frontiers is a critical moment,” said Spanish Prime Minister Pedro Sánchez. “The threat is still real. The virus is still out there.”
French President Emmanuel Macron celebrated the reopening of Parisian restaurants and the city's iconic sidewalk cafes Monday, saying it is time “to turn the page of the first act of the crisis” and “rediscover our taste for freedom...this doesn't mean the virus has disappeared and we can totally let down our guard...the summer of 2020 will be a summer unlike any other.”
Travelers arriving in Greece are no longer required to be tested for COVID-19.
But visitors to Britain must enter a 14-day quarantine, prompting several countries to keep their borders closed to Britons for the meantime.
In the United States, a new report by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says the COVID-19 death rates for people with chronic illness is 12 times higher than others who get infected.
The top illnesses that pose a greater risk of death are heart disease, diabetes, and lung disease.
A new survey by the University of Chicago finds that 11% of African Americans had a close friend or family member who died from the coronavirus compared to 4% of whites.
Health experts say while preexisting conditions and limited access to quality health care play a part in the gap, other reasons loom.
“I think we will have a national conversation, not only about those inequities, but about how we get to solutions, because it’s not just about what’s going on right now, it’s really what has gone on for decades regarding structural racism, implicit bias, discriminatory housing policies and the like,” said Dr. Patrice Harris, former president of the American Medical Association.
“AMA is going to lead these conversations and make sure everyone has information so we can address issues around implicit bias and discriminatory practices,” said Harris.
The coronavirus is also forcing a postponement of the Oscars for only the fourth time in 91 years, according to the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences, which oversees the awards.
The 2021 Academy Awards will be handed out on April 25, eight weeks later than originally scheduled. The qualifying release deadline has also been pushed to Feb. 28, 2021, instead of Dec. 31, 2020.
Academy officials say they want to give filmmakers a fair chance to finish their movies and submit them in time to be eligible for an Oscar.
The virus has forced some directors to put off other projects and studios to hold off releasing some films until theaters across the country are reopened.
“This is a much-needed boost for those films who may have been stalled in post-production,” an Academy member told Variety, an industry news outlet.
This is only the fourth time since 1929 the Oscars have been postponed.
A flood in Los Angeles caused a delay in 1938. The 1968 ceremony was put off for two days because of the assassination of Martin Luther King. The 1981 Academy Awards were postponed because of the assassination attempt against President Ronald Reagan just a few hours before the show was scheduled to begin.