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Coronavirus live news: Australia puts 300,000 back into lockdown; US reports another record increase in cases | World news

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When coronavirus claimed its first victim in India’s largest slum in April, many feared the disease would turn its narrow, congested streets into a graveyard, with social distancing or contact tracing all but impossible. But three months on, Mumbai’s Dharavi offers a rare glimmer of hope with new infections shrinking, thanks to an aggressive strategy that focused on “chasing the virus, instead of waiting for disaster”, according to city official Kiran Dighavkar, AFP reports.

The sprawling slum has long been a byword for the financial capital’s bitter income disparities – with Dharavi’s estimated one million people scraping a living as factory workers or maids and chauffeurs to Mumbai’s well-heeled residents. With a dozen people typically sleeping in a single room, and hundreds using the same public toilet, authorities realised early that standard practices would be of little use.

“Social distancing was never a possibility, home isolation was never an option, and contact tracing was a huge problem with so many people using the same toilet,” Dighavkar told AFP.

An initial plan to conduct door-to-door screenings was abandoned after Mumbai’s searing heat and humidity left medical workers feeling suffocated under layers of protective equipment as they combed the area’s cramped alleys for cases.

A healthcare worker checks the body temperature of a man in Dharavi, Asia’s largest slum colony, last month.

A healthcare worker checks the body temperature of a man in Dharavi, Asia’s largest slum colony, last month. Photograph: Ashish Vaishnav/SOPA Images/REX/Shutterstock

But, with infections rising fast and fewer than 50,000 people checked for symptoms, officials needed to move quickly and get creative. What they came up with was coined “Mission Dharavi”.

Each day, medical workers set up a “fever camp” in a different part of the slum, so residents could be screened for symptoms and tested for coronavirus if needed. Schools, wedding halls and sports complexes were repurposed as quarantine facilities that offered free meals, vitamins and “laughter yoga” sessions. Strict containment measures were deployed in virus hotspots that were home to 125,000 people, including the use of drones to monitor their movements and alert police, while a huge army of volunteers swung into action, distributing rations so they didn’t go hungry. Bollywood stars and business tycoons paid for medical equipment as construction workers built a 200-bed field hospital at breakneck speed in a park inside Dharavi.

By late June, more than half the slum’s population had been screened for symptoms and around 12,000 tested for coronavirus. So far Dharavi has reported just 82 deaths – a fraction of Mumbai’s more than 4,500 fatalities.

“We are on the brink of victory, I feel very proud,” said Abhay Taware, a doctor who saw around 100 patients daily in his tiny clinic at the height of the crisis.

A healthcare worker screens a resident of Dharavi for coronavirus in June.

A healthcare worker screens a resident of Dharavi for coronavirus in June. Photograph: Ashish Vaishnav/SOPA Images/REX/Shutterstock

The 44-year-old father-of-two also had to fight his own battle against coronavirus when he contracted the disease in April, but told AFP he had “no doubts” about returning to work. “I thought I could show my patients that a positive diagnosis does not mean the end,” he said.

With Mumbai and Delhi struggling to accommodate coronavirus patients as India’s cases surge past half a million officials are also wary of celebrating too soon.

“It’s a war. Everything is dynamic. Right now, we feel like we are on top of the situation. The challenge will be when factories reopen,” said Dighavkar, referring to the billion-dollar leather and recycling industries run out of Dharavi’s cramped tenements.

And some in the slum fear their community might not be as lucky next time.

On a blazing morning, as car salesman Vinod Kamble lined up to have his temperature taken, he recalled his terror when the virus landed in Mumbai.

“I felt like Dharavi would be destroyed, and nothing would be left,” he told AFP, describing the near impossibility of avoiding infection in the slum. “We need better infrastructure,” the 32-year-old said. Otherwise the next time a disease like this emerges, I don’t think Dharavi will be able to escape.”

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Revealed: 20 areas at most risk of local lockdowns | World news

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The government has drawn up a list of 20 councils facing the worst coronavirus outbreaks in England, with Bradford, Sheffield and Kirklees identified as areas needing “enhanced support”, according to a classified document leaked to the Observer and the Guardian.

As evidence mounts that the relaxation of lockdown rules is leading to a resurgence of Covid-19 in some of England’s most deprived and ethnically mixed areas, officials have ordered the army to deploy extra mobile testing units, which will be sent into a series of hotspots around the country from this weekend.

Public Health England (PHE), the country’s lead infection control agency, briefed local government health chiefs last week that ministers were considering publishing a ranking of the 10 councils most affected by new outbreaks, which could be released within days. Councils fear the data will be used to enforce more local lockdowns of the kind imposed in Leicester, where all but essential shops must stay shut, schoolchildren have been sent home, and pubs and restaurants remain closed.

Local authorities, areas of interest table

The top 10 ranking is likely to be based on a document circulated to local health chiefs on Thursday, headed “official sensitive”. The chart, compiled by PHE and reproduced below, ranks the 20 councils with the highest proportion of positive cases. Leicester remains at its head, with 5.7% of individuals who underwent a test found to have the virus. Kirklees, in West Yorkshire, was not far behind, with a 5% rate. Bradford, and Blackburn with Darwen in Lancashire, were the next highest.

Titled “local authority areas of interest”, the table is based on testing between 21 June and 4 July. It identifies six areas of “concern”. More serious cases are labelled as needing “enhanced support”, with three councils in this category. One – Leicester – is listed as requiring “intervention”.

The document states “these areas are currently under investigation by the local public health protection teams”. “Testing access is being increased in areas including Bradford”, it says, and the areas listed are “associated with workplace outbreaks which have contributed to the increase in infection rates”.

Last month, 164 workers at a meat factory in Kirklees tested positive, and at the beginning of July, a bed factory in Batley, which is administered by Kirklees Council, was closed after eight workers were found to have the virus.The communities most affected have several factors in common: poverty, poor health and a high proportion of non-white residents. “Those on the list are going to be characterised by higher deprivation, higher black, Asian and minority ethnic (BAME) communities and denser housing,” said a public health director briefed on the plans.

“Some are going to be in the list for the whole period of the pandemic. The drivers are structural and demographic, so the pattern of spread will reflect the inequalities that already existed. Some of the most strapped-for-cash councils are going to be dealing with some of the worst outbreaks.”

Areas with large south Asian populations, particularly where several generations may share a home and live in crowded conditions, are among those emerging as particularly at risk.

Hand sanitiser at Kober meat processing plant in Cleckheaton, confirmed as the location of a localised coronavirus outbreak.



Hand sanitiser at Kober meat processing plant in Cleckheaton, confirmed as the location of a localised coronavirus outbreak. Photograph: Danny Lawson/PA

Bradford has the highest proportion of people of Pakistani origin in England.

The council has today deployed testing units, staffed by the armed forces, to its Bowling and Keighley districts. Residents will be able to be tested without an appointment. Similar units will be deployed in Blackburn and Sheffield.

“Bradford has a higher infection rate than most but it’s coming down due to action we’ve taken,” said council leader Susan Hinchcliffe. “We welcome the dialogue with government. We’re already doing more testing than any other authority in the region, but want to do more.”

Bradford has asked for its own mobile testing units, more environmental health officers, support to pay full wages to low-paid workers having to self-isolate, and funding to develop its own local test-and-trace system.

Officials have not yet outlined what metrics will be used to impose further lockdowns, but it is understood a system based on the German model is under discussion. This would involve a threshold of 50 weekly positive tests per 100,000 of the population in any given council. Once that is breached, special measures could be triggered.

Data made public on Thursday shows Leicester is currently on 116 new cases per 100,000 of population per week, down from 140 two weeks ago.

Rochdale is in second place, with nearly 33 cases, down from over 50 three weeks ago. Kirklees is also suffering high rates, as are Bradford, Blackburn with Darwen, Rotherham and Bedford.

The health secretary, Matt Hancock, announced the UK’s first local lockdown on 29 June as Leicester reported 944 new cases in a fortnight. Non-essential shops and schools were shut, and pubs and restaurants were unable to reopen. Legislation to enforce the restrictions was pushed through parliament.

Desperate to avoid Leicester’s fate, councils are lobbying for a “graded response”, the local public health director said, with a rolling back of some elements of lockdown, such as larger gatherings, rather than closure of whole sectors. “What we want to avoid is the secretary of state making clumsy, unhelpful interventions, so we are getting ahead of the curve, understanding what our problem is and acting to address it. But we are hampered by slow reporting of data and absence of data,” they added.

Councils have only just begun to receive a breakdown of new cases by postcode, and this is arriving weekly. Health chiefs say they need the information daily if they are to spot outbreaks in time to stop them spreading.

The plans to publish a top 10 were discussed on a regional call with Public Health England, two public health directors confirmed. “They seem to be intent on putting it into the public domain,” said one of those on the call. “We have expressed some concerns over how they do it, as the data does need to be interpreted. Nonetheless, I welcome transparency.”

The classified list of 20 at-risk councils uses six metrics including number of cases per 100,000 of population per week and per day, percentage of individuals testing positive as a proportion of all tests, and “exceedances”. This is where councils are issued with a red light because they consistently have more positive cases than forecast by a government algorithm. A slightly lower number of exceedances leads to an amber light.

The chart also shows the number of community outbreaks per council over the last week. Outbreaks are classed as two or more positive tests in a single setting, such as a workplace, school or prison.

The Department of Health and Social Care said it did not have a set trigger, but would use a range of data to decide where and how to act, stating: “We have been transparent about our response to coronavirus and are always looking to improve the data we publish, including the way we update testing statistics.

“The list of the 10 local authorities with the highest weekly incidence of coronavirus is already publicly available in PHE’s weekly surveillance report.

“All councils in England now have the ability to access testing data, right down to an individual and postcode level. If councils feel they require more assistance with data, of course, PHE is able to help them.”

Kirklees and Sheffield councils were approached for comment.

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Serbian police arrest 71 in coronavirus protests | World news

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Serbian police have detained 71 people after clashes during a fourth night of anti-government protests that were initially sparked by the announcement of a new coronavirus lockdown, a senior police official has said.

Fourteen police officers were injured when hundreds of demonstrators tried to storm the parliament building in downtown Belgrade on Friday evening, the police director, Vladimir Rebic, said. Several reporters were also hurt.

Protesters defying a ban on gatherings because of the pandemic, threw bottles, rocks and flares at police who were guarding the parliament building, and police responded with teargas to disperse them.

Similar clashes broke out twice earlier this week. The protests began when the populist president, Aleksandar Vucic, announced a strict curfew for this weekend to curb a surge in new coronavirus cases.


Serbian protesters clash with police over government handling of coronavirus – video report

Vucic later scrapped the curfew and authorities instead banned gatherings of more than 10 people in Belgrade, the capital, and shortened the working hours of indoor businesses.

Many in Serbia have accused the increasingly authoritarian Vucic and his government of allowing the crisis to get out of control by holding a paralimentary election on 21 June that tightened the ruling party’s grip on power.

Vucic has denied this, although authorities had relaxed the rules before the vote, allowing large crowds at soccer games, weddings and other events.

On Friday, the Serbian prime minister announced the highest daily number of deaths, 18, since the start of the pandemic in the Balkan country. Authorities reported 12 new deaths on Saturday and 354 new infections.

The country has had more than 18,000 confirmed infections and 382 deaths since March and health authorities have said hospitals are almost full due to the latest rise in cases.

Vucic has claimed the involvement of unspecified foreign security services in the unrest and said he will not be toppled in the streets. Some opposition leaders, meanwhile, are blaming the rioting on groups they say are controlled by the government and sent out to discredit peaceful protests.

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Russia Reports 6,611 New Coronavirus Infections | World News

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MOSCOW (Reuters) – Russia on Saturday reported 6,611 new coronavirus cases, taking its nationwide tally of infections to 720,547.

The country’s coronavirus crisis response centre said 188 people had died from the virus in the past 24 hours, bringing the death toll to 11,205.

Russia said 497,446 people have recovered from the virus.

(Reporting by Gleb Stolyarov; writing by Polina Devitt; Editing by Toby Chopra)

Copyright 2020 Thomson Reuters.

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