COVID-19 again? Reinfection cases raise concerns over immunity

By Kate Kelland

LONDON (Reuters) – The case of a man in the United States infected twice with COVID-19 shows there is much yet to learn about immune responses and also raises questions over vaccination, scientists said on Tuesday.

The 25-year old from Reno, Nevada, tested positive in April after showing mild symptoms, then got sick again in late May with a more serious bout, according to a case report in the Lancet Infectious Diseases medical journal.

Scientists said that while known incidences of reinfection appear rare – and the Nevada man has now recovered – cases like his were worrying. Other isolated cases of reinfection have been reported around the world, including in Asia and Europe.

“It is becoming increasingly clear that reinfections are possible, but we can’t yet know how common this will be,” said Simon Clarke, a microbiology expert at Britain’s Reading University.

“If people can be reinfected easily, it could also have implications for vaccination programs as well as our understanding of when and how the pandemic will end.”

‘STILL DON’T KNOW ENOUGH’

The Nevada patient’s doctors, who first reported the case in a non peer-reviewed paper in August, said sophisticated testing showed that the virus strains associated with each bout of infection were genetically different.

“These findings reinforce the point that we still do not know enough about the immune response to this infection,” said Paul Hunter, a professor in medicine at Britain’s University of East Anglia.

Brendan Wren, a professor of vaccinology at the London School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine, said the Nevada case was the fifth confirmed example of reinfection worldwide.

“The demonstration that it is possible to be reinfected by SARS-CoV-2 may suggest that a COVID-19 vaccine may not be totally protective,” he said. “However, given the (more than) 40 million cases worldwide, these small examples of reinfection are tiny and should not deter efforts to develop vaccines.”

(Reporting by Kate Kelland; Editing by Andrew Cawthorne)

One in 10 may have caught COVID, as world heads into ‘difficult period’: WHO

By Stephanie Nebehay and Emma Farge

GENEVA (Reuters) – Roughly one in 10 people may have been infected with the coronavirus, leaving the vast majority of the world’s population vulnerable to the COVID-19 disease it causes, the World Health Organization said on Monday.

Mike Ryan, the WHO’s top emergency expert, was addressing the agency’s Executive Board, where the United States made a thinly veiled swipe at China for what it called a “failure” to provide accurate and timely information on the outbreak.

But Zhang Yang of China’s National Health Commission, said: “China has always been transparent and responsible to fulfill our international obligations.” China maintained close contacts with all levels of the U.N. health agency, she added.

Ryan said that outbreaks were surging in parts of southeast Asia and that cases and deaths were on the rise in parts of Europe and the eastern Mediterranean region.

“Our current best estimates tell us about 10% of the global population may have been infected by this virus. It varies depending on country, it varies from urban to rural, it varies depending on groups. But what it does mean is that the vast majority of the world remains at risk,” Ryan said.

“We are now heading into a difficult period. The disease continues to spread,” he said.

The WHO and other experts have said that the virus, believed to have emerged in a food market in the central Chinese city of Wuhan late last year, is of animal origin.

The WHO has submitted a list of experts to take part in an international mission to China to investigate the origin, for consideration by Chinese authorities, Ryan said, without giving details.

U.S. assistant health secretary Brett Giroir said that it was critical that WHO’s 194 member states receive “regular and timely updates, including the terms of reference for this panel or for any field missions, so that we can all engage with the process and be confident in the outcomes”.

Germany, speaking for the EU, said the expert mission should be deployed soon, with Australia also supporting a swift investigation.

Meanwhile, Alexandra Dronova, Russia’s deputy health minister, called for an evaluation of the legal and financial repercussions of the Trump administration announcing the U.S. withdrawal from the WHO next July.

The United States will not pay some $80 million it owes the WHO and will instead redirect the money to help pay its U.N. bill in New York, a U.S. official said on Sept. 2.

(Reporting by Stephanie Nebehay and Emma Farge; writing by Stephanie Nebehay; Editing by Hugh Lawson and Alison Williams)

Exclusive: New global lab network will compare COVID-19 vaccines head-to-head

By Kate Kelland

LONDON (Reuters) – A major non-profit health emergencies group has set up a global laboratory network to assess data from potential COVID-19 vaccines, allowing scientists and drugmakers to compare them and speed up selection of the most effective shots.

Speaking to Reuters ahead of announcing the labs involved, Melanie Saville, director of vaccine R&D at the Coalition for Epidemic Preparedness Innovations (CEPI), said the idea was to “compare apples with apples” as drugmakers race to develop an effective shot to help control the COVID-19 pandemic.

The centralized network is the first of its kind to be set up in response to a pandemic.

In a network spanning Europe, Asia and North America, the labs will centralize analysis of samples from trials of COVID-19 candidates “as though vaccines are all being tested under one roof”, Saville said, aiming to minimize the risk of variation in results.

“When you start off (with developing potential new vaccines) especially with a new disease, everyone develops their own assays, they all use different protocols and different reagents – so while you get a readout, the ability to compare between different candidates is very difficult,” she told Reuters.

“By taking the centralized lab approach … it will give us a chance to really make sure we are comparing apples with apples.”

The CEPI network will initially involve six labs, one each in Canada, Britain, Italy, the Netherlands, Bangladesh and India, Saville said.

Hundreds of potential COVID-19 vaccines are in various stages of development around the world, with shots developed in Russia and China already being deployed before full efficacy trials have been done, and front-runners from Pfizer, Moderna and AstraZeneca likely to have final-stage trial results before year-end.

Typically, the immunogenicity of potential vaccines is assessed in individual lab analyses, which aim to see whether biomarkers of immune response – such as antibodies and T-cell responses – are produced after clinical trial volunteers receive a dose, or doses, of the vaccine candidate.

But with more than 320 COVID-19 vaccine candidates in the works, Saville said, the many differences in data collection and evaluation methods are an issue.

As well as potential variations in markers of immunity, there are differences in how and where samples are collected, transported and stored – all of which can impact the quality and usefulness of the data produced, and make comparisons tricky.

And with a range of different vaccine technologies being explored – from viral vector vaccines to ones based on messenger RNA – standard evaluation of their true potential “becomes very complex”, she said.

“With hundreds of COVID-19 vaccines in development … it’s essential that we have a system that can reliably evaluate and compare the immune response of candidates currently undergoing testing,” she said.

By centralizing the analysis in a lab network, much of what Saville called the “inter-laboratory variability” can be removed, allowing for head-to-head comparisons.

CEPI says all developers of potential COVID-19 vaccines can use the centralized lab network for free to assess their candidates against a common protocol. For now, the network will assess samples from early-stage vaccine candidate testing and first and second stage human trials, but CEPI said it hoped to expand its capacity to late stage (Phase III) trial data in the coming months.

Results produced by the network will be sent back to the developer, with neither CEPI nor the network owning the data.

CEPI itself is co-funding nine of the potential COVID-19 vaccines in development, including candidates from Moderna, AstraZeneca, Novavax and CureVac.

(Reporting by Kate Kelland, editing by Mark Potter)

Delivering super-cooled COVID-19 vaccine a daunting challenge for some countries

By Matthias Inverardi and Ludwig Burger

FRANKFURT (Reuters) – Getting a coronavirus vaccine from manufacturing sites to some parts of the world with rural populations and unreliable electricity supply will be an immense challenge, given the need to store some vials at temperatures as low as minus 80 degrees Celsius (-112 Fahrenheit), Deutsche Post warned on Tuesday.

The German logistics firm said that distribution of an eventual vaccine across large parts of Africa, South America and Asia would require extraordinary measures to keep deliveries of so-called mRNA vaccines refrigerated at Antarctic-level temperatures.

Companies developing vaccines requiring exceptional cold storage, such as Moderna and CureVac, are working hard to make their injections last longer in transit.

The novel class of mRNA vaccines is among the furthest advanced in a field of 33 immunization shots currently being tested on humans globally, but they may need to be cooled at minus 80 degrees Celsius.

But upgrading cold storage infrastructure in regions outside the 25 most advanced countries, home to one third of the global population, will pose an immense challenge, said Deutsche Post in its study, conducted with consultancy firm McKinsey.

Vaccine developers Translate Bio and Moderna said in June they are working to produce evidence in time for the roll-out that their respective products can be shipped and stored at less extreme temperatures.

A spokesman for CureVac said its vaccine candidate is based on an experimental rabies vaccine which has already been shown to keep its molecular structure when stored in a regular fridge for months. Tests are underway to show the COVID-19 product has the same durability and the company is confident the data will be “competitive”, he added.

Deutsche Post said that even if the vaccine cold chain requires temperatures of only minus 8 degrees Celsius the share of the world’s population with reliable access to it increases only to about 70%, with substantial parts of Africa at risk of missing out.

“We anticipate 10 billion vaccine doses will have to be distributed across the world, and that includes regions that don’t have motorway access every five miles,” Katja Busch, Chief Commercial Officer of Deutsche Post’s DHL global forwarding unit, told Reuters.

(Additional reporting by Lisa Baertlein, editing by Louise Heavens)

Pandemic pace slows worldwide except for southeast Asia, eastern Mediterranean: WHO

By Stephanie Nebehay

GENEVA (Reuters) – The COVID-19 pandemic is still expanding, but the rise in cases and deaths has slowed globally, except for southeast Asia and the eastern Mediterranean regions, the World Health Organization (WHO) said.

In its latest epidemiological update, issued on Monday night, it said that the Americas remains the hardest-hit region, accounting for half of newly reported cases and 62% of the 39,240 deaths worldwide in the past week.

More than 23.65 million people have been reported to be infected by the coronavirus globally and 811,895​ have died, according to a Reuters tally on Tuesday.

“Over 1.7 million new COVID-19 cases and 39,000 new deaths were reported to WHO for the week ending 23 August, a 4% decrease in the number of cases and (a 12% decrease) in the number of deaths compared to the previous week,” the WHO said.

Southeast Asia, the second most affected region, reported a jump accounting for 28% of new cases and 15% of deaths, it said. India continues to report the majority of cases, but the virus is also spreading rapidly in Nepal.

In WHO’s eastern Mediterranean region, the number of reported cases rose by 4%, but the number of reported deaths has consistently dropped over the last six weeks, the WHO said. Lebanon, Tunisia and Jordan reported the highest increase in cases compared to the previous week.

The number of cases and deaths reported across Africa decreased by 8% and 11% respectively in the past week, “primarily due to a decrease in cases reported in Algeria, Kenya, Ghana, Senegal and South Africa”, it said.

“In the European region, the number of cases reported has consistently increased over the last three weeks,” it said. “However, only a slight decrease (1%) was reported in the most recent week, and the number of deaths have continued to decrease across the region.”

In WHO’s western Pacific region, the number of new cases dropped by 5%, driven by less spread in Japan, Australia, Singapore, China and Vietnam. South Korea reported an 180% jump in cases, “mainly due to an increase in cases associated with religious gatherings”.

(Reporting by Stephanie Nebehay; Editing by Giles Elgood)

Coronavirus spikes in Asia spur warnings against complacency

By Colin Packham and Alasdair Pal

SYDNEY/NEW DELHI (Reuters) – Spikes in novel coronavirus infections in Asia have dispelled any notion the region may be over the worst, with Australia, India and Hong Kong reporting record daily cases, Vietnam testing thousands and North Korea urging vigilance.

Asian governments had largely prided themselves on rapidly containing initial outbreaks after the virus emerged in central China late last year, but flare-ups this month have shown the danger of complacency.

“We’ve got to be careful not to slip into some idea that there’s some golden immunity that Australia has in relation to this virus,” Prime Minister Scott Morrison told reporters.

Australia recorded its deadliest day with at least 13 deaths and more than 700 new infections, mostly in the second-most populous state of Victoria, where the government ordered all residents to wear face-coverings outside.

The country has confirmed a total of 16,298 cases since the pandemic began, with 189 fatalities, more than half in Victoria and its capital Melbourne, which is under a new lockdown.

Victoria’s new infections have seeded outbreaks in other areas, including Australia’s most populous state, New South Wales, which reported 18 new cases.

Further restrictions on movement would deal a blow to the economy, already in its first recession for 30 years, but failure to control the outbreaks would do more economic harm in the long run, Morrison said.

‘FULL FORCE TO TEST’

Vietnam, virus-free for months, has also had a harsh reminder of the dangers with a new surge spreading to six cities and provinces in six days, linked to an outbreak in the central city of Danang.

Authorities told tens of thousands of people who visited Danang to report to disease control centres, as nine new cases were confirmed, taking total infections to 42 since the virus resurfaced at the weekend.

Cases have also appeared in the capital, Hanoi, the southern commercial hub of Ho Chi Minh City and in the Central Highlands.

Thanks to a centralised quarantine programme and aggressive contact-tracing, Vietnam has registered a total of only 459 cases, with no deaths.

But now more than 81,000 people are in quarantine and authorities in Hanoi said the more than 20,000 residents who recently returned from Danang, a holiday getaway that has been a big draw since restrictions were eased, would be tested.

Hanoi also banned big gatherings and ordered bars closed while its chairman, Nguyen Duc Chung, declared the city must “act now and act fast”.

“We have to use full force to test all 21,063 returnees,” Chung said. “All must be done in three days.”

India reported more than 52,000 new cases over the previous 24 hours, its highest in a single day and taking its tally to almost 1.6 million.

India has the third highest number of infections globally, and while its major cities like New Delhi and Mumbai have seen their case-loads ease, infections are increasing sharply in rural areas.

Hong Kong also reported a daily record with 149 new cases, including 145 that were locally transmitted, as authorities warned that the global financial hub faced a critical period.

The Chinese territory reported 118 new cases on Wednesday. More than 3,000 people have been infected in Hong Kong, 24 of whom have died.

NORTH KOREAN WARNING

China reported 105 new coronavirus cases on the mainland, up from 101 the previous day, with 96 of them in the far western region of Xinjiang, five in the northeastern province of Liaoning, one was in Beijing and three imported cases.

As of Wednesday, China had 84,165 confirmed cases, with 4,634 deaths.

Isolated North Korea was on alert after a defector suspected of having the virus sneaked back in from South Korea.

North Korea, which says it has had no domestic cases, imposed strict quarantine and screening in Kaesong, just north of the border with South Korea, where the suspected infection was reported in a 24-year-old man who defected to South Korea in 2017 and slipped back in to the North this month.

North Korea has not confirmed the man tested positive for the virus but said he was showing symptoms.

The Rodong Sinmun newspaper, a ruling Workers’ Party mouthpiece, warned against carelessness.

“A moment of inattention could cause a fatal crisis,” it said.

(Reporting by Colin Packham in Sydney, Phuong Nguyen in Hanoi, Hyonhee Shin in Seoul, Huizhong Wu and Judy Hua in Beijing and Alasdair Pal in New Delhi; Writing by Robert Birsel, Editing by Raju Gopalakrishnan and Edwina Gibbs)

Global coronavirus deaths top half a million

By Jane Wardell and Cate Cadell

SYDNEY/BEIJING (Reuters) – The death toll from COVID-19 surpassed half a million people on Sunday, according to a Reuters tally, a grim milestone for the global pandemic that seems to be resurgent in some countries even as other regions are still grappling with the first wave.

The respiratory illness caused by the new coronavirus has been particularly dangerous for the elderly, although other adults and children are also among the 501,000 fatalities and 10.1 million reported cases.

While the overall rate of death has flattened in recent weeks, health experts have expressed concerns about record numbers of new cases in countries like the United States, India and Brazil, as well as new outbreaks in parts of Asia.

More than 4,700 people are dying every 24 hours from COVID-19-linked illness, according to Reuters calculations based on an average from June 1 to 27.

That equates to 196 people per hour, or one person every 18 seconds.

About one-quarter of all the deaths so far have been in the United States, the Reuters data shows. The recent surge in cases has been most pronounced in a handful of Southern and Western states that reopened earlier and more aggressively. U.S. officials on Sunday reported around 44,700 new cases and 508 additional deaths.

Case numbers are also growing swiftly in Latin America, on Sunday surpassing those diagnosed in Europe, making the region the second most affected by the pandemic, after North America.

On the other side of the world, Australian officials were considering reimposing social distancing measures in some regions on Monday after reporting the biggest one-day rise in infections in more than two months.

The first recorded death from the new virus was on Jan. 9, a 61-year-old man from the Chinese city of Wuhan who was a regular shopper at a wet market that has been identified as the source of the outbreak.

In just five months, the COVID-19 death toll has overtaken the number of people who die annually from malaria, one of the most deadly infectious diseases.

The death rate averages out to 78,000 per month, compared with 64,000 AIDS-related deaths and 36,000 malaria deaths, according to 2018 figures from the World Health Organization.

CHANGING BURIAL RITES

The high number of deaths has led to changes to traditional and religious burial rites around the world, with morgues and funeral businesses overwhelmed and loved ones often barred from bidding farewell in person.

In Israel, the custom of washing the bodies of Muslim deceased is not permitted, and instead of being shrouded in cloth, they must be wrapped in a plastic body bag. The Jewish tradition of Shiva where people go to the home of mourning relatives for seven days has also been disrupted.

In Italy, Catholics have been buried without funerals or a blessing from a priest. In New York, city crematories were at one point working overtime, burning bodies into the night as officials scouted for temporary interment sites.

In Iraq, former militiamen have dropped their guns to instead dig graves for coronavirus victims at a specially created cemetery. They have learned how to conduct Christian, as well as Muslim, burials.

ELDERLY AT RISK

Public health experts are looking at how demographics affect the death rates in different regions. Some European countries with older populations have reported higher fatality rates, for instance.

An April report by the European Center for Disease Prevention and Control looked at more than 300,000 cases in 20 countries and found that about 46% of all fatalities were over the age of 80.

In Indonesia, hundreds of children are believed to have died, a development health officials have attributed to malnutrition, anemia and inadequate child health facilities.

Health experts caution that the official data likely does not tell the full story, with many believing that both cases and deaths have likely been under reported in some countries.

(Reporting by Jane Wardell in Sydney and Cate Cadell in Beijing; Editing by Tiffany Wu and Daniel Wallis)

Latest on the worldwide spread of the new coronavirus

(Reuters) – More than 3.59 million people have been reported to be infected by the novel coronavirus globally and 250,386 have died, according to a Reuters tally as of 0200 GMT on Tuesday.

DEATHS AND INFECTIONS

* For an interactive graphic tracking the global spread, open https://tmsnrt.rs/3aIRuz7 in an external browser.

* For a U.S.-focused tracker with state-by-state and county map, open https://tmsnrt.rs/2w7hX9T in an external browser.

EUROPE

* WHO said on Tuesday that a report that COVID-19 had emerged in December in France was “not surprising”, and urged countries to investigate early.

* More than 30,000 people in the United Kingdom have died with suspected COVID-19, the highest official toll yet reported in Europe, according to data published on Tuesday.

* The United States and Britain launched trade negotiations by videoconference, as both struggle with the effects of the pandemic and aim to shore up domestic supply chains.

* The mayor of The Hague ordered police to break up a demonstration against government measures to slow the country’s outbreak.

* Spain reported its third day in a row of under 200 deaths, but a record number of people claiming social security benefits for April.

* Austria’s first lockdown loosening three weeks ago has not led to a new spike in infections, though further vigilance is necessary, its health minister said.

AMERICAS

* The U.S. Senate will start scrutinizing the lawyer tapped by President Donald Trump to oversee a $500 billion fund to rescue larger businesses.

* A newly revised coronavirus mortality model predicts nearly 135,000 Americans will die from COVID-19 by early August, almost double previous projections.

* Some 40 Cuban sugar mills remain open out of season despite a partial lockdown of the country, in a last-ditch effort to add foreign exchange to the government’s all-but-empty coffers.

* Brazilian officials expect a rise in global agricultural protectionism as countries seek to secure local food supplies, according to a draft report seen by Reuters.

* Indigenous leaders in Brazil have asked the WHO to set up an emergency fund to help protect their communities.

* At least 300 people held in two centers set up by the Salvadoran government protested on Monday, demanding to be released and given their test results.

ASIA-PACIFIC

* China reported one new case for May 4, down from three the day before.

* Hong Kong said it will relax restrictions on public gatherings and allow gyms, cinemas and beauty parlours to re-open this week as new cases dwindle.

* One of Bangladesh largest drugmakers, Beximco Pharmaceuticals will begin producing experimental antiviral drug remdesivir, a senior executive said.

* Pakistan has raised concerns with the United Arab Emirates that workers are returning home with high infection rates and that crowded living conditions in the UAE may be helping the virus spread.

* Indonesia reported on Tuesday its biggest daily rise in infections with 484 new cases, taking the total to 12,071.

* Thailand may see the economic impact from the pandemic stretch over another nine months, its prime minister said.

MIDDLE EAST AND AFRICA

* Yemen’s Houthis said a Somali national, the first case in the capital Sanaa, died on Sunday, the group’s al-Masirah TV reported.

* Afghanistan’s government began distributing free bread to hundreds of thousands of people across the country as supplies have been disrupted and prices have soared.

* Lebanon’s supreme defence council will advise the government to extend a shutdown until May 24, a security source said.

* A parliamentary panel authorised Israel’s Shin Bet security service to continue using mobile phone data to track infected people until May 26.

* Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas extended to June 5 a state of emergency declared in areas under his administration in the Israeli-occupied West Bank.

ECONOMIC FALLOUT

* Stock markets snapped a three-day losing streak on Tuesday and oil was on its longest run of gains in nine months as moves to ease major economies out of their coronavirus lockdowns lifted sentiment. [MKTS/GLOB]

* Banks in the European Union could end up paying annual contributions to an industry rescue funds by tapping government support for coronavirus-hit companies, lawmakers said on Tuesday.

* South Africa’s tax revenue losses due to the coronavirus and credit ratings downgrades could reach $15.5 billion this fiscal year, the commissioner of the revenue services said.

* Egypt’s budget deficit for the financial year that will begin in July will widen to 7.8% of gross domestic product if the crisis continues until the end of December, the finance minister said.

* The International Coffee Organization sees lockdowns flipping the global coffee market into a 1.95 million 60kg bag surplus in 2019/20 from previously forecast 474,000 bag deficit.

(Compiled by Sarah Morland, Vinay Dwivedi and Uttaresh.V; Editing by Arun Koyyur, Anil D’Silva and Tomasz Janowski)

Latest on the spread of the coronavirus around the world

(Reuters) – Reported cases of the coronavirus have crossed 2.7 million globally and 189,970 people have died, according to a Reuters tally as of 0200 GMT on Friday.

DEATHS AND INFECTIONS

* For an interactive graphic tracking the global spread, open https://tmsnrt.rs/3aIRuz7 in an external browser.

* For a U.S.-focused tracker with state-by-state and county map, open https://tmsnrt.rs/2w7hX9T in an external browser.

AMERICAS

* The U.S. House of Representatives overwhelmingly approved a $484 billion coronavirus relief bill on Thursday.

* An array of U.S. merchants in Georgia and other states prepared to reopen for the first time in a month.

* A preliminary survey of New York state residents found that nearly 14% of those tested had antibodies against the coronavirus.

* California recorded its deadliest day of the coronavirus pandemic on Thursday.

* Drugmaker Gilead disputed a report that said its experimental coronavirus drug failed a trial in China, saying results were inconclusive as the study was terminated early.

* Canada pledged new money to develop and eventually mass-produce vaccines.

* Costa Rica has for the past week reported a steady fall in the number of people currently infected.

* Ecuador’s authorities added 11,000 new infections that resulted from delayed testing.

* Cuba’s decades-old rationing system is staging a comeback in a bid to prevent virus transmission during frantic shopping hunts.

EUROPE

* France offered retailers some relief on Thursday, saying it wanted them to reopen when a nationwide lockdown ends on May 11.

* Spain’s daily increase in fatalities further steadied at around 2%, as the government apologised for confusion over lockdown rules for children.

* Germany has chosen a home-grown technology for smartphone-based tracing of infections, putting it at odds with Apple Inc.

* Britain’s health minister Matt Hancock promised to expand testing to all those considered key workers.

* Greece extended its general lockdown by a week to May 4.

* Irish hospital admissions of COVID-19 patients have fallen from an average of around 100 per day at the start of April to around 40 now.

ASIA-PACIFIC

* South Asia’s infections have crossed 37,000, with more than half in India.

* China is preparing to buy more than 30 million tonnes of crops for state stockpiles to help protect itself from supply chain disruptions.

* Thousands of Hong Kong students were among the first in the world to take their final secondary school exams on Friday, all wearing face masks and having their temperatures checked.

* As many as 91 crew of an Italian cruise ship docked in Japan’s southwestern port of Nagasaki are infected with coronavirus. Tokyo’s first drive-through coronavirus test centre was launched this week.

* Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte has extended a strict lockdown in the capital Manila until May 15.

* Indonesia will temporarily ban domestic air and sea travel starting Friday, barring a few exceptions.

* Malaysia will extend travel and other curbs by two weeks to May 12.

* Australia will push for an international investigation into the coronavirus pandemic at next month’s annual meeting of the World Health Assembly.

MIDDLE EAST AND AFRICA

* South African President Cyril Ramaphosa said the government will allow a partial reopening of the economy on May 1.

* The governors of Nigeria’s 36 states agreed to ban interstate movement for two weeks.

* Algeria will ease confinement measures from the first day of the holy month of Ramadan on Friday.

* Israel’s religiously devout Jews, who traditionally shun the use of internet or smartphones, are increasingly going online to shop, study and video chat.

ECONOMIC FALLOUT

* Asian shares and U.S. stock futures fell on Friday, spurred by doubts about progress in the development of drugs to treat COVID-19 and new evidence of U.S. economic damage. [MKTS/GLOB]

* The UK’s government borrowing is soaring to the highest levels in peacetime history.

* The closure of bars and restaurants may have slashed global wine sales and winemakers’ revenues in Europe by half.

* Japan’s core consumer inflation eased in March for the second straight month.

* Half of German companies are using the government’s short-time work facility as most see a decline in revenues.

* Italian government debt yields fell after EU leaders agreed to move towards joint financing of a recovery.

* Latin America’s biggest economies, Brazil and Mexico, will likely struggle with increasing deficits this year.

(Compiled by Milla Nissi, Devika Syamnath and Ramakrishnan M.; Editing by Tomasz Janowski, Shounak Dasgupta and Sriraj Kalluvila)

‘I’m still scared’ – Asia remembers tsunami that killed 230,000

By Prapan Chankaew

PHANG NGA, Thailand (Reuters) – Communities across Asia commemorated the more than 230,000 victims of the Indian Ocean tsunami on Thursday, the 15th anniversary of one of the world’s most deadly disasters.

On the morning after Christmas Day in 2004, a 9.1 magnitude quake off northern Sumatra island triggered a tsunami with waves as high as 17.4 meters (57 feet) that swept over vulnerable coastal areas of Indonesia, Sri Lanka, India, Thailand and nine other countries.

“It still haunts me … I can remember it all the time,” said Suwannee Maliwan, 28, who lost both parents and five other relatives when the tsunami hit the Thai province of Phang Nga.

“Sometimes I dream that a wave is coming. I’m still scared,” she said. “Sometimes I want to move somewhere else, but it’s not possible because I was born here, my mom and dad passed away here.”

FILE PHOTO: Submerged buildings are seen near the pier at Ton Sai Bay in Thailand’s Phi Phi island, December 28, 2004 after a tsunami hit the area. REUTERS/Luis Enrique Ascui/File Photo

Memorials were scheduled in the Indonesian province of Aceh, where entire villages were flattened and more than 125,000 people perished in the giant waves. Since then, the area has been largely rebuilt, with some 25,600 residential, commercial, government and school buildings constructed inside a high-risk zone, that had suffered virtually total devastation in 2004.

In Thailand, where more than 5,300 people were killed, including tourists visiting resort islands in the Andaman Sea, officials held a memorial ceremony and called for more awareness and preparedness for disasters.

“The government wants to lift safety standards… and build awareness across all sectors in preparing and protecting people against disasters,” Deputy Interior Minister, Nipon Bunyamanee, said at an opening ceremony. He said Dec. 26 had been designated national accident prevention day.

Officials later laid wreaths at a memorial center in Phang Nga province to pay tribute to King Maha Vajiralongkorn’s nephew, Bhumi Jensen, who was last seen jet-skiing off the coast when the tsunami hit.

An interfaith service for Muslim, Christian and Buddhist victims was also scheduled.

Survivors from Ban Nam Khem, the worst hit Thai village, will hold a candlelight vigil in the evening. At least 1,400 people were killed when waves struck the fishing village.

In India, where more than 10,000 people died in the tsunami, survivors also were to hold memorial ceremonies. More than 35,000 people died in Sri Lanka.

(Writing and additional reporting by Chayut Setboonsarng in Bangkok; Editing by Simon Cameron-Moore)