South Africa mall customers lockdown
Customers sit on chairs at Maponya Mall as South Africa starts to relax some aspects of a stringent nationwide lockdown due to the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) outbreak in Johannesburg, South Africa, May 5, 2020. Image Credit: Reuters

Dubai: Was COVID-19 present in other countries before it was first reported by Chinese authorities to the World Health Organisation on December 31?

The WHO said on Tuesday that a report stating that the coronavirus had emerged in December in France, sooner than previously thought, was "not surprising". It urged countries to investigate any other early suspicious cases.

"This gives a whole new picture on everything," WHO spokesman Christian Lindmeier told a UN briefing in Geneva, referring to the French reports. "The findings help to better understand the potential virus circulation of COVID-19," he added, saying other possible earlier cases could emerge after retesting samples.

A French hospital which has retested old samples from pneumonia patients discovered that it treated a man who had COVID-19 as early as December 27, nearly a month before the French government confirmed its first cases.

The findings, as well as the WHO statement, have raised many questions? When and where did the virus originate? How did it spread around the world? Do we know the real numbers of people who have died of COVID-19?

While we do not have answers to many of these questions, what we do know is that the issue is not going to die down soon.

More than 251,000 people have died of the novel coronavirus since the epidemic surfaced in China late last year, according to an AFP tally based on official sources.

There have been more than 3,595,970 officially recorded cases spanning 195 countries and territories.

The United States is the worst-hit country, with 68,934 deaths out of 1,180,634 cases. Britain follows with 32,313, then Italy with 29,079 deaths, Spain with 25,613 and France with 25,201.

As the race is on to find a way to stamp out the virus, a special telethon backed by the WHO but snubbed by Washington pulled in $8.1 billion to support international efforts to develop a vaccine.

"This was a powerful and inspiring demonstration of global solidarity," said WHO chief Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus.

US bracing for spike in deaths?

Is the coronavirus under control in the US? Not really, according to a New York Times report which says that President Trump’s administration is privately projecting a steady rise in coronavirus infections and deaths over the next several weeks. The daily deaths on June 1 is projected to reach about 3,000 - nearly double the current level, according to the report.

The projections are based on data collected by various agencies, including the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, and laid out in an internal document. The numbers show that as the country begins reopening its economy, it may have to pay a huge cost in terms of human lives.

India prepares for massive repatriation of stranded citizens

India will deploy commercial jets, military transport planes and naval warships to bring back hundreds of thousands of citizens stranded across the world, in what's set to be the biggest-ever peacetime repatriation exercise in history, agencies reported.

In the first week, India’s Ministry of External Affairs (MEA) has prepared a chart for the evacuation of over 14,000 Indian nationals stranded in 13 foreign countries by 64 flights. The first phase of the drive is estimated to help about 1.8 million Indian citizens return home, according to the Indian Navy. 

That far outnumbers the 170,000 people India airlifted from Kuwait in 1990, Bloomberg reported.

While the Indian government is making plans for the smooth return of its nationals, Kerala is grappling with the implications of the return of such a large number of expatriates. The policy makers of the state will need to make smart interventions to ensure that the returning expatriates can utilise their skills to help change Kerala.

Figures rise in UK, Russia

Britain has overtaken Italy to report the highest official death toll from coronavirus in Europe with more than 32,000 deaths, figures released on Tuesday showed.

In Russia, the number of infections rose sharply again, with Moscow reporting more than 10,000 new cases for three days in a row. Meanwhile, three doctors in Russia have fallen out of hospital windows in the span of two weeks, two of them having openly criticised the country’s response to the coronavirus pandemic. Out of the three, two of them have reportedly died and one remains in critical condition.

- with inputs from agencies