Coronavirus updates: COVID-19 was present in Europe in December, doctor claims


(NEW YORK) — A pandemic of the novel coronavirus has now killed more than 247,000 people worldwide.

Over 3.5 million people across the globe have been diagnosed with COVID-19, the disease caused by the new respiratory virus, according to data compiled by the Center for Systems Science and Engineering at Johns Hopkins University. The actual numbers are believed to be much higher due to testing shortages, many unreported cases and suspicions that some governments are hiding the scope of their nations’ outbreaks.

Since the first cases were detected in China in December, the United States has become the worst-affected country, with more than 1.1 million diagnosed cases and at least 67,682 deaths.

Here’s how the news is developing Monday. All times Eastern:

7:59 a.m.: South Korean schools to start reopening next week

Students will start returning to schools across South Korea next week, as the number of COVID-19 cases in the country steadily declines.

South Korean Education Minister Yoo Eun-hae announced Monday that high school seniors will return to classrooms on May 13, followed by students in lower grades in phased steps from May 20. The plan is for all schools to be fully reopened by June 1, she said.

Some 5.4 million students in South Korea have been taking classes online since April 9 due to the pandemic, according to Yoo.

South Korean Prime Minister Chung Sye-kyun announced Sunday that the country will relax its strict social distancing measures starting May 6, which were put in place to curb the spread of the novel coronavirus virus.

The nation’s number of new COVID-19 cases has remained low. South Korea’s Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reported just eight additional cases of the disease on Monday morning, all of which were imported from overseas. Out of 10,801 people in the country who have been diagnosed with COVID-19 so far, 9,217 have recovered and 252 have died.

7:27 a.m.: Russia reports over 10,000 cases for 2nd straight day

Russia reported more than 10,000 new cases of COVID-19 on Monday for the second day in a row.

The country’s coronavirus response headquarters said 10,581 new infections had been registered in the past 24 hours, slightly under Sunday’s daily record of 10,633 new cases.

Russia now has 145,268 diagnosed cases of the disease, more than Turkey, Iran and China.

However, the country’s death toll remains relatively low with just 76 fatalities reported in the past 24 hours, bringing the nationwide tally to 1,356, according to the coronavirus response headquarters.

6:39 a.m.: Virus was present in Europe in late December, doctor claims

The novel coronavirus may have reached Europe much earlier than originally thought.

Dr. Yves Cohen, an intensive care chief in Paris, told French news channel BFMTV during a live interview Sunday that they had retrospectively identified a positive case at Jean-Verdier Hospital in the northeastern Paris suburb of Bondy on Dec. 27. Doctors reanalyzed samples from molecular diagnostic tests of 24 patients in December and January who were suffering from pneumonia-like illness but had tested negative, Cohen said. Tests for COVID-19 were not being offered at that time.

One of the patient’s samples tested positive for COVID-19. Doctors even tested the sample twice to be sure, Cohen said.

“We called the patient. He was sick for 15 days and infected his two children, but not his wife,” Cohen told BFMTV. “One wonders if she has not been infected asymptomatically. We cannot go any further, but I think it is up to another institution to carry out the investigations.”

Cohen said the man may be France’s “Patient Zero.” He urged doctors to retest all patient samples that had returned negative for pneumonia.

“Perhaps there are others in other areas,” he added. “The virus was probably circulating (at that time).”

France reported its first confirmed case of COVID-19 in the southwestern city of Bordeaux on Jan. 24. It was also the first reported case in Europe.

With nearly 169,000 diagnosed cases of COVID-19 and almost 25,000 deaths, France is one of the worst-affected countries in the coronavirus pandemic, according to a count kept by Johns Hopkins University. The European country has been on a nationwide lockdown since March 17, though the French government plans to gradually ease restrictions from May 11.

6:05 a.m.: Japan to extend state of emergency until end of May

Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe said Monday he had decided to extend the nationwide state of emergency to May 31.

During a meeting with the Japanese government’s coronavirus task force, Abe said he will review the situation in mid-May to see whether the order can be lifted earlier.

Japan has reported nearly 15,000 diagnosed cases of COVID-19 and at least 487 deaths, according to a count kept by Johns Hopkins University.

The island country was forced to postpone the 2020 Summer Olympics in Tokyo until next year due to the coronavirus pandemic.

5:03 a.m.: US reports over 25,000 new cases on Sunday

The United States reported more than 25,000 new cases of COVID-19 on Sunday, according to a count kept by Johns Hopkins University.

Although still high, the country’s daily case count is down from a peak of around 36,300 new cases reported on April 24.

The number of new cases brings the U.S. tally to at least 1,158,041.

3:32 a.m.: Italy cautiously emerges from world’s longest lockdown

Italy, the first country in the world to impose a nationwide lockdown due to the coronavirus pandemic, eased some restrictions on Monday as the number of new infections continued to decline.

Starting Monday, parks and public gardens will reopen, people will be allowed to visit relatives within the same region, restaurants can provide takeaway services and athletes will be able to resume training for individual sports. Still, Italian Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte has insisted that social distancing must remain at all times and large gatherings will not be permitted.

Construction sites, factories and wholesale supply businesses were allowed to resume work last week or as soon as they implement safety measures against the novel coronavirus. An estimated 4.4 million people in Italy have been able to return to work.

Then if all goes well, shops, museums and libraries will reopen on May 18, followed by bars, restaurants, cafes and beauty salons on June 1. Schools, however, will not reopen before September, according to Conte.

A number of other countries in Europe and around the world have also begun relaxing coronavirus-related restrictions or have announced plans to do so imminently.

Italy, one of the worst-hit countries in the pandemic, has been under a nationwide lockdown since March 9. More than 210,000 people in the European country have been diagnosed with COVID-19, and nearly 29,000 have died, according to a count kept by Johns Hopkins University.

Italy reported some 1,400 new cases on Sunday, down from its peak of around 6,600 new cases on March 21.

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