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WHO warns against neglecting non-coronavirus patients

By
Darryl Coote & Don Jacobson
Women in Beijing, China, wear protective face masks on the streets on Sunday. The Chinese capital is slowly returning to normal following a sharp decrease in the number of new coronavirus cases. Photo by Stephen Shaver/UPI
Women in Beijing, China, wear protective face masks on the streets on Sunday. The Chinese capital is slowly returning to normal following a sharp decrease in the number of new coronavirus cases. Photo by Stephen Shaver/UPI | License Photo

March 30 (UPI) -- The coronavirus pandemic is stretching nations' healthcare systems to capacity and could put non-COVID-19 patients at risk, the World Health Organization said in an update Monday.

WHO Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus told reporters patients needing more routine types of care must not be neglected.

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"Even though we're in the midst of a crisis, essential health services must continue," he said. "Babies are still being born, vaccines must still be delivered, and people still need life-saving treatment for a range of other diseases."

Ghebreyesus said it's essential for healthcare organizations to follow WHO guidelines for setting up separate coronavirus facilities during the surge in order to maintain access for patients needing care for routine vaccinations, childbirth and treatment for other infectious and noncommunicable diseases.

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The WHO chief also, once again, urged developed nations to allow the free flow of much-needed medical equipment internationally and without restrictions on trade.

"We call on countries to work with companies to increase production, ensure the free movement of essential health products and ensure equitable distribution of those products, based on need," he said, urging specific attention to low-to-middle income countries in Africa, Asia and Latin America.

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The number of cases worldwide is above 740,000, according to Johns Hopkins University. The United States leads all nations with more than 143,000. The global death toll has surpassed 35,000 and nearly 157,000 have recovered.

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Europe

Spanish cases appeared to be slowing, with 6,400 new cases Monday -- the lowest growth rate in a week.

A lockdown in Spain was expanded over the weekend when all non-essential workers were ordered stay home for two weeks.

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In Germany, Bavarian health officials extended a lockdown originally set to expire Friday. Bavarian Prime Minister Markus Soder ordered an extension until April 19. Under the restrictions, residents can only leave their homes for doctor visits, commuting to work or for urgent shopping.

Nearly 14,500 people in the German state have tested positive as of Monday, with 133 deaths.

In Italy, which has the second-highest number of cases at nearly 98,000, the death toll among front-line medical providers reached 63 on Monday.

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Italy's doctors' guild said medics from Bergamo and Forli had succumbed to the coronavirus. More than 8,500 Italian health workers are now infected -- a rise of nearly 600.

Australia

Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison announced an $80 billion stimulus package, dubbed the JobKeeper payment, on Monday that will subsidize the wages of an estimated six million workers. He told reporters the plan will provide Australians "with the economic lifeline they will need in the many months ahead."

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Under the plan, the government will pay millions of workers about $920 every two weeks through their employers for up to six months, his office detailed in a statement.

The historic plan follows the $2.2 trillion aid package U.S. President Donald Trump signed into law on Friday that will see millions of middle- to low-income Americans receive checks of $1,200.

Morrison said the stimulus package aims to keep Australians employed "even when the work may dry up."

"We will pay employers to pay their employees and make sure they do," he said.

The package comes a day after Morrison announced new limits on gatherings to two people, down from 10, and told all citizens to remain at home unless absolutely necessary.

Australia has reported more than 4,200 cases and 18 deaths.

Asia

In South Korea, President Moon Jae-in unveiled a $7.4 billion emergency disaster relief fund that will pay some 14 million middle- and low-income households, Yonhap News Agency reported.

"This decision wasn't easy to make, so it went through many meetings and discussions," Moon said. "All people suffered from COVID-19 and all the people participated in the quarantine together. All citizens are entitled to compensation for suffering and hard work."

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A Cheong Wa Dae official told reporters that Moon expects the government to make the payments in May. The move follows lawmakers approving a $9.5 billion supplementary budget due to the coronavirus.

South Korea's Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has reported more than 9,600 cases so far and 158 dead. However, the country has been experiencing a gradual overall decline since a peak of cases on Feb. 29.

Singapore's central bank on Monday eased its monetary policy to guard against inflation, as it expects the city-state to fall into a recession this year.

"The COVID-19 pandemic has led to a severe contraction in economic activity both in Singapore and globally due to the combination of supply chain disruptions, travel restrictions imposed in many countries and a sudden decline in demand," the Monetary Authority of Singapore said in a statement.

The MAS said Singapore's GDP growth is projected at -4 percent to -1 percent. It said it's adopting a zero percent appreciation rate of the policy band starting at the prevailing level of the nominal effective exchange rate.

In China, health officials on Monday reported a fourth consecutive day of decline in cases. Thirty cases were imported from overseas, an increasing trend that led China to temporarily bar entry to foreign nationals.

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Since the outbreak began in early December, China has recorded more than 81,400 cases. Most of those patients have been cured and discharged, China's National Health Commission said in its daily update.

Beijing also reported four new deaths, all of which were recorded in Wuhan in Hubei province, the disease's former epicenter and home to a seafood market the virus is believed to have emerged from. Of China's 3,300 deaths attributed to the disease, over 96 percent occurred in Hubei, based on the health commission data.

China, once the location of the most cases, has since been overtaken by Italy and the United States and now has more than 142,300 cases.

Scenes from a pandemic: World copes with COVID-19

A health worker with the Israeli national emergency service, Magen David Adam, wears protective gear while taking swabs to test for COVID-19 at a drive-through testing center in East Jerusalem on August 26. Photo by Debbie Hill/UPI | License Photo

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