Fauci blasts China's COVID-19 lies as death toll tops 400,000
The White House's infectious disease expert Dr Anthony Fauci said China did the world a "disservice" by not allowing scientists to speak openly about the coronavirus in the early days of the pandemic.
"I think the Chinese authorities that did not allow the scientists to speak out as openly and transparently as they could really did a disservice," Dr Fauci said.
He said if Chinese scientists had been able to sound the alarm earlier about person-to-person transmission of the virus, the number of cases worldwide could have been reduced. His comments came as the global death tally passed 400,000.
"Because at the beginning of the outbreak, they were claiming that this was just animal-to-human transmission," he said.
"And there really wasn't a human-to-human transmission at all. And they held that line for a few weeks. And then it became very clear when the scientists were able to talk about it, that, in fact, there was human-to-human transmission.
"Yes, it's another example of the unfortunate situation of lack of transparency early on."
Australia, the US and the EU have led criticism of China for not warning the world about the severity of the virus after the first cases were reported in Wuhan in late December and then not being transparent about the number of infected in the country.
A report last week said China held back on providing the World Health Organisation with full data on patients and cases and did not release a genetic map of the virus until more than a week after three other labs had decoded it.
The report by the Associated Press said the genetic data delay slowed the development of a vaccine and the lack of concise information about the number of cases made it difficult to determine how quickly COVID-19 was spreading around the world.
Meanwhile, Dr Fauci said the global Black Lives Matter protests were "the perfect set-up" to see another wave of the disease break out all over the world.
"I get very concerned, as do my colleagues in public health, when they see these kinds of crowds," he said.
"There certainly is a risk. I can say that with confidence. It's a difficult situation. We have the right to peacefully demonstrate and the demonstrators are exercising that right.
"It's a delicate balance because the reasons for demonstrating are valid and yet the demonstration itself puts oneself at an additional risk.
"As I sat in front of the TV and watched the screen go from Washington, DC, to New York City, to Los Angeles, to Philadelphia, I got really concerned.
"I was going, 'Oh my goodness. I hope this doesn't set us back a lot.'. After all of the work in trying to maintain the physical distance and doing all the things, I became very concerned that we might see a resurgence."
UK DEATHS HIT NEW DAILY LOW
Britain has announced fewer than 100 new coronavirus deaths in one day for the first time since lockdown began.
The Department of Health and Social Care has revealed 77 more people have died - meaning the UK death toll has hit 40,542.
The figure is the lowest since March 23 - when 74 deaths were recorded before the pandemic spiralled out of control in the UK.
Meanwhile, Prime Minister Boris Johnson wants to "slash the social distancing rule to one metre" to help save the economy.
The Prime Minister is believed to favour ditching the current two metre rule if the science says it is safe to do so.
Mr Johnson is now said to have tasked a small group of ministers - called the "Save Summer Six" - to draw up measures to return life to something like normal by July.
The group believes changing the social distancing rule is the key to restarting the economy and paving the way for more businesses to open.
Meanwhile, a new report shows that care home residents are on course to make up more than half the deaths caused directly or indirectly by the coronavirus crisis in England.
The study warns that the death toll by the end of June from COVID-19 infections and other excess deaths is "likely to approach 59,000 across the entire English population, of which about 34,000 (57 per cent) will have been care home residents".
The estimate, produced by the major healthcare business consultancy LaingBuisson, includes people who list a care home as their primary residence, wherever they died - including those who died in hospital.
BRAZIL CLOSES DOWN VIRUS STATISTICS
The Brazilian government has been accused of censorship after it stopped releasing its total numbers of COVID-19 cases and deaths and wiped an official site clean of swaths of data.
Health ministry insiders told local media the move was ordered by President Jair Bolsonaro - and was met with widespread outrage in Brazil, one of the world's worst-hit COVID-19 hot spots, with more deaths than Italy and more cases than Russia and the UK.
"The authoritarian, insensitive, inhuman and unethical attempt to make those killed by COVID-19 invisible will not succeed. We and Brazilian society will not forget them, nor the tragedy that befalls the nation," said Alberto Beltrame, president of Brazil's national council of state health secretaries, in a statement.
Brazil currently has the world's second-highest number of cases, at 672,846 (the US has 2 million), according to the John Hopkins university site, and has overtaken Italy, with 35,930 deaths.
CHINA DEFENDS ITS ACTIONS OVER COVID-19
Senior Chinese officials, releasing a lengthy report on the nation's response to the coronavirus pandemic, have defended their government's actions and said China provided information in a timely and transparent manner.
National Health Commission Chairman Ma Xiaowei said on Sunday that a recent news media report that the Chinese government didn't initially share the genome sequence for the virus "seriously goes against the facts."
An Associated Press investigation found that government labs sat on releasing the genetic map of the virus for more than a week in January, delaying its identification in a third country and the sharing of information needed to develop tests, drugs and a vaccine.
Ma did not address the specific findings in the AP report, but said there were many unknowns in the early stage of the outbreak and that it took time to gather evidence and figure out the characteristics of the new virus.
"The Chinese government did not delay or cover up anything," he said. "Instead, we have immediately reported virus data and relevant information about the epidemic to the international community and made an important contribution to the prevention and control of the epidemic around the world."
He ticked off a series of government actions from a detailed timeline in the government report, which ran to 66 pages in the English version. The report lauded China's success in reducing the daily increase in new cases to single digits within about two months and the "decisive victory ... in the battle to defend Hubei Province and its capital city of Wuhan" in about three months.
Wuhan, where the first cases of the new virus were detected late last year, was the hardest hit part of China in the outbreak.
The city and soon after much of Hubei province were locked down for more than two months to stop the spread of the virus to the rest of the country.
FEW NEW VIRUS CASES, WORRIES OVER PROTESTS
Health authorities are waiting to see if Saturday's Black Lives Matter protests across the nation have undermined the containment of COVID-19 in Australia.
Just a handful of new cases were reported on the weekend, but it will be nearly a fortnight before it is known if there are any spikes in cases as a result of the rallies where social distancing was almost impossible.
Deputy Chief Medical Officer Paul Kelly said while he understood why people joined the protests, health authorities now have to be extra alert.
"We don't know if anyone in those mass gatherings were infected or infectious, and so it is a wait-and-see approach," Professor Kelly told reporters in Canberra on Sunday.
"I was encouraged to see the face masks yesterday ... those people were doing the right thing."
Victorian Deputy Chief Health Officer Annaliese van Diemen agreed the Black Lives Matter protest in Melbourne increased the risk for cases.
"In terms of potential outbreaks related to the protest, it really will be at least a week and probably closer to two weeks before we have an idea of whether there's been any transmissions or outbreaks related to that," Dr van Diemen said.
Twenty thousand people also marched in Sydney and crowds rallied in Brisbane, Adelaide and some regional cities and towns despite public health warnings.
Federal Health Minister Greg Hunt hopes the rallies that clearly broke COVID-19 social distancing rules will not lead to a new wave of infections.
"If there is someone who is infectious in the midst of a crowd like that, that can have a catastrophic impact," Mr Hunt told ABC radio.
Worldwide, there have been at least 6,897,225 cases and nearly 400,000 deaths.
The ACT recorded its first case of COVID-19 in over a month, a male aged in his 40s, who recently returned from overseas.
But ACT Chief Health Officer Kerryn Coleman is confident there has been no risk to the broader ACT community.
"The case is, however, a good reminder of the ongoing pandemic and the need for our community to continue to observe physical distancing and hygiene measures, and for people to stay home if they are unwell," Dr Coleman said in the statement.
There were also four new cases of coronavirus in Victoria, One is a household contact linked to an outbreak last month at a McDonald's restaurant in Fawkner and the three others are returned travellers in hotel quarantine.
But Western Australia, South Australia and Queensland all returned blank sheets, as did NSW for a second day in a row.
But Queensland is undertaking contact tracing after a Melbourne man who arrived to pick strawberries in Bundaberg was confirmed on Saturday. Meanwhile, the Morrison government is extending some of the measures in its $1.2 billion support package for the aviation sector to ensure the industry is sustained during the COVID-19 pandemic.
"We have kept the aviation sector going by funding minimum networks to get essential personnel and critical supplies to where they may be needed," Deputy Prime Minister Michael McCormack said in a statement.
COVID-19 VACCINE 'INHALER' COULD BE READY IN JULY
A coronavirus vaccine which would be taken through an inhaler could be ready in the next few weeks.
As trials of a vaccine continue at Oxford University, drug company Astra Zeneca has said it is standing by to produce the vaccine in mass volumes as soon as final approval is given.
The company plans to produce two billion doses thanks to funding from Microsoft billionaire Bill Gates.
The Oxford University team are reportedly "80 per cent confident" the COVID-19 vaccine works in younger people and say the vaccine could be given using a device like an asthma inhaler next month.
Professor Adrian Hill said that clinical trials will end when the vaccine has clearly been found to protect people.
"We are guessing that might be around about August time - it might be before if cases do not decline as quickly as we expect, or be later if we run out of cases," he said.
AstraZeneca has already agreed to supply 100 million doses of the potential vaccine to the UK. It has also signed a massive $A1.5 billion deal for a coronavirus vaccine with the US government.
The order from US Biomedical Advanced Research and Development Authority comes after demands for from Donald Trump for a coronavirus vaccine by the end of the year, as part of program dubbed "Operation Warp Speed".
Currently, there is no vaccine or treatment available for COVID-19 but doctors across the globe are testing current antiviral drugs to see if they can beat coronavirus.
Meanwhile, the World Health Organisation is now advising everyone to wear face masks in public when they can't practice social distancing - an about-face from its earlier guidance on stopping the spread of the coronavirus.
WHO director-general Dr Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said new evidence showed face masks worn by healthy people could be "a barrier for potentially infectious droplets".
WHO had always advised that sick people and their caretakers should wear medical face masks. The new guidance advises healthy people to wear non-medical face masks.
WHO officials for months have stood firm that a healthy person would get a false sense of security from wearing a mask and would use up supplies needed by medical professionals.
New York already has a mandate for everyone to wear a face mask if they can't stay at least two metres apart.
New studies, however, show people can be highly infectious in the few days before they show symptoms or can catch the virus and never show symptoms.
HUGE PROTESTS COULD BE HUGE COVID RISK
US health experts fear the massive protests being held following the death of George Floyd could lead to a huge spike in COVID-19 infections.
Observers say only about 40 per cent of protesters appear to be wearing masks and people are walking arm in arm - far from the recommended two metres distancing.
"There's no doubt there will be a bump in cases," said Dr Marty Makary, from John Hopkins University.
"The science is the science. From a public health standpoint, we know what drives this infection - proximity and a lack of taking mitigating steps like wearing masks.
"We know it's things like mass gatherings and travel.
"When people think about protesting they should also remember that it is often gathering people through travel, potentially from high-risk areas."
AUSTRALIA REJECTS CHINA'S CLAIM AFTER PUSH FOR TRAVEL BAN
Trade Minister Simon Birmingham has rejected China's assertion that Australians have attacked Chinese people during the coronavirus pandemic.
China's Ministry of Culture and Tourism has advised its citizens to avoid travelling to Australia, citing racial discrimination and violence against Chinese people in connection with the COVID-19 pandemic.
"There has been an alarming increase recently in acts of racial discrimination and violence against Chinese and Asians in Australia due to the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic," the ministry said in a statement on Friday evening.
It did not give any specific examples of such discrimination or violence. "We reject China's assertions in this statement, which have no basis in fact," Senator Birmingham told AAP in a statement on Saturday.
"Our rejection of these claims, which have been falsely made by Chinese officials previously, is well known to them."
Deputy Prime Minister Michael McCormack said it was rather a moot point as there was no travel between China and Australia at present because of the coronavirus pandemic.
He also believed the allegations were made on "false information".
"There hasn't been a wave of outbreaks of violence against Chinese people," he said in Queanbeyan, NSW.
This is the latest is a series of frictions between the two countries.
The Chinese statement came less than 24 hours after the Australian government tightened is foreign investment rules.
However, Treasurer Josh Frydenberg pointed out that China makes up only a little over five per cent of the $4 trillion foreign investment in Australia.
China last month slapped a tariff on imports of Australian barley, as well as blocking beef imports from four Australian suppliers because of labelling issues, coinciding with Australia calling for an investigation into the origin of the COVID-19 virus in China.
Senator Birmingham said it was unfortunate that Australia had to close its borders with China to protect the country from COVID-19 as it spread from Wuhan.
"This decision was criticised by the Chinese government at the time, but it proved to be a critical decision in keeping Australians safe from the devastation faced by much of the rest of the world," he said.
"Australia is enjoying world leading success in suppressing the spread of COVID-19 and, when the health advice allows, we look forward to again welcoming visitors from all backgrounds to our safe and hospitable nation."
However, Labor's Jason Clare believed there had been a spike in racist abuse during the pandemic and hoped Foreign Minister Marise Payne was talking to China.
"I hope that she's on the phone talking to the Chinese government about this as well as all of the other issues that seem to be a problem at the moment," Mr Clare told ABC television on Saturday.
Liberal backbencher Jason Falinski said clearly, Australia was going through a more strained time with China than it has before.
"I think diplomacy is best done quietly and not done publicly and with a foghorn," he told ABC television.
"I think that there have been unfortunate incidents where people have been blaming members of the Chinese community for the pandemic in Australia, so that's something that we need to resolve."
MORE THAN A DEATH A MINUTE IN BRAZIL
Brazil has recorded its worst ever coronavirus daily death toll with nearly 1500 people killed by the bug in 24 hours - more than one every minute.
The South American nation now has the third highest number of cases, with 615,000 people to have contracted the virus.
The country's 34,021 COVID-19 fatalities is behind only the UK and USA.
During an online broadcast, before the startling figures were released, Brazilian president Jair Bolsonaro continued to attack efforts by the country's state governors and mayors to quarantine their cities and regions.
Mr Bolsonaro urged businesses to wage "war" on state governors - arguing that their actions are crippling the country's economy.
He said: "We can't go on like this. Nobody can take it anymore.
"The collateral impact will be far greater than those people who unfortunately lost their lives because of these last three months here."
Brazil's rapidly rising death toll follows Mexico, which has suffered almost 12,000 coronavirus deaths in total, registering a record high of more than 1,000 deaths in 24 hours on Wednesday.
The figures are sending ripples of fear through Latin America's largest economies, suggesting that the bleakest months could yet to come.
Chile is also fighting the crisis with 1,300 COVID-19 deaths and has extended its quarantine in Santiago, the capital.
However, despite advice from medical experts, countries in the region are starting to plan for reopening.
Miguel Lago, the director of Brazil's Institute for Health Policy Studies, believes taking such measures could lead to a spike in infections - causing chaos for hospitals already under pressure by the crisis.
CHINA LOWERS PANDEMIC EMERGENCY LEVEL
China's capital lowered its emergency response level for the coronavirus pandemic to the second-lowest level on Saturday.
The move lifts most restrictions on people travelling to Beijing from Wuhan and surrounding Hubei province, where the virus first appeared late last year.
They will no longer face 14-day mandatory quarantines and other forms of monitoring, and those currently in such situations will be allowed to return to their normal lives. Beijing residential compounds will not be required to conduct temperature checks and masks no longer must be worn for outdoor activities.
Kindergartens will reopen and other grades still suspended will restart classes. Beijing has reported no new cases of local transmission in at least 50 days and as many as 90 days in some districts.
INDONESIA RECORDS NEW HIGH IN CASES
Indonesia reported nearly 1,000 new cases of the coronavirus on Saturday, a new single-day high for the country that brought its total caseload past 30,000, as the government unveiled an enhanced stimulus package worth $47.6 billion to anchor the virus-battered economy.
The health ministry said there were 993 newly infected people over the past 24 hours. Indonesia has confirmed 30,514 cases, including 1,801 deaths, the most in Southeast Asia.
Originally published as Fauci blasts China for COVID-19 lies as death toll tops 400,000