Coronavirus LIVE Updates: The World Health Organization on Saturday warned the coronavirus pandemic was likely to be "lengthy" after its emergency committee met to evaluate the crisis six months after sounding the international alarm. The committee "highlighted the anticipated lengthy duration of this COVID-19 pandemic", the WHO said in a statement, and warned of the risk of "response fatigue" given the socio-economic pressures on countries. The panel gathered Friday for the fourth time over the coronavirus crisis, half a year on from its January 30 declaration of a public health emergency of international concern (PHEIC) -- the WHO's highest level of alarm. "WHO continues to assess the global risk level of COVID-19 to be very high," it said following the meeting. The novel coronavirus has killed at least 680,000 people and infected at least 17.6 million since the outbreak emerged in China last December, according to a tally from official sources compiled by AFP.
Here are the latest updates on the pandemic:
‣ The emergency panel has urged the WHO to support countries in preparing for the rollout of proven therapeutics and vaccines. The committee also urged the agency to accelerate research into the remaining "critical unknowns" of the virus, such as the animal source of the disease and potential animal reservoirs. It called for improved understanding of the epidemiology and severity of COVID-19, including its long-term health effects. And the committee wanted more light shed on the dynamics of the virus, such as "modes of transmission, shedding, potential mutations; immunity and correlates of protection".
‣ As the pandemic worsens, United States, which has been hit the hardest, counted 61,262 new coronavirus cases in the 24 hours leading up to Saturday. It was the fifth consecutive day with more than 60,000 infections recorded. There were also 1,051 deaths in the 24-hour period. The US has now tallied more than 4.6 million cases and 154,319 deaths, making it the hardest-hit country in the world. The new numbers came as Florida braced for the arrival of Tropical Storm Isaias, which is expected to strengthen back into a hurricane as it approached the southeastern part of the virus-ravaged state. Among US states, only California, with almost double Florida's population of about 21 million people, has registered more coronavirus cases.
‣ South Africa has now registered more than 500,000 cases of coronavirus, the health ministry announced Saturday, making it by far the hardest-hit country in Africa. The country has become the epicentre of the deadly pandemic on the continent, accounting for more than half of Africa's diagnosed infections. "Today South Africa has exceeded the half-a-million mark with a cumulative total of 503,290 confirmed COVID-19 cases recorded," Heath Minister Zweli Mkhize said in his daily update. More than a third of positive cases are in Gauteng province -- South Africa's financial hub. So far the number of fatalities stands at 8,153, although local researchers have recorded a jump of nearly 60 percent in the overall number of natural deaths in recent weeks, suggesting a far higher toll of coronavirus-related fatalities than officially recorded.
‣ Thirty-six crew members confined on a Norwegian cruise ship have tested positive for the new coronavirus, officials said Saturday. Arriving at the northern Norwegian port of Tromso from the archipelago of Svalbard, the crew of the MS Roald Amundsen was quarantined on board the ship on Friday after four staff members tested positive for the virus and were hospitalised. Of the 158 crew members on board, 36 are infected, Pal Jakobsen, media officer for the city of Tromso, told AFP, confirming a development that raises fears of a resurgence of cases in Norway. The ship's company Hurtigruten had earlier indicated 33 positive tests. The infected crew were all Filipino apart from three people from France, Norway and Germany. The company said on Friday that four crew members "were isolated several days ago because of other disease symptoms, with no symptoms of COVID-19.