The latest:

More than 60% of commercial flights to and from Beijing cancelled after new outbreak. WHO moves to update guidelines on treating people stricken with COVID-19 after clinical trial shows a steroid can help save critically ill patients. Quebec coroner’s office orders public inquiry into COVID-19 deaths in long-term care homes India, with the fourth-highest caseload after the U.S., Brazil and Russia, adds more than 2,000 deaths to its tally. Russia reports 7,843 new cases of the novel coronavirus, its lowest daily caseload registered since April 30.

China raised its emergency warning to its second-highest level and cancelled more than 60 per cent of the flights in and out of Beijing on Wednesday amid a new coronavirus outbreak in the capital. It was a sharp pullback for the nation that declared victory over COVID-19 in March and a message to the rest of the world about how tenacious the virus really is.

The virus prevention and control situation in Beijing was described as “extremely grave” at a meeting of Beijing’s Communist Party Standing Committee led by the city’s top official, Party Secretary Cai Qi.

“This has truly rung an alarm bell for us,” Cai told participants.

The website of the Communist Party’s Global Times said 1,255 flights to and from the capital’s two major airports were scrapped by Wednesday morning. Beijing Capital Airport is traditionally the world’s second-busiest in passenger capacity.

WATCH | Beijing on edge as cases of COVID-19 spread:

Freelance reporter Patrick Fok says the coronavirus may be more widespread in the Chinese capital than first believed. 3:04

No official public notice on a change in regulations has been issued by China’s civil aviation authority or by either Beijing Capital Airport or Beijing Daxing International Airport. But Beijing Capital said on its microblog it expected to handle 500 flights on Wednesday, sharply lower than in recent days.

The cancellations are among a number of limits on travel in and out of the city, especially in hot spot areas. Beijing had essentially eradicated local transmissions until recent days, recording 137 new cases since late last week.

On Wednesday, the city of 20 million people raised its threat level from 3 to 2, leading to the cancellation of classes, suspended reopenings and stronger requirements for social distancing. China had relaxed many of its coronavirus controls after the ruling Communist Party declared victory over the virus in March.

A man wearing a face mask walks past a counter with a display showing flight information and a message on preventive measures against the coronavirus disease (COVID-19), at the departure hall of Beijing Capital International Airport after scores of domestic flights in and out of the Chinese capital were cancelled Wednesday. (Carlos Garcia Rawlins/Reuters)

Since the coronavirus emerged in China late last year and spread worldwide, more than 8.1 million people have contracted it, according to Johns Hopkins. The university has tallied more than 440,000 deaths from the disease it causes, COVID-19.

For most people, the virus causes mild or moderate symptoms, such as fever and cough. For some, especially older adults and people with existing health problems, it can cause more severe illness, including pneumonia, and lead to death.

Globally, 8.2 million confirmed cases of COVID-19 have been recorded, according to a tally by Johns Hopkins University. Nearly 85,000 of those cases are in China, where there have been more than 4,600 deaths.

Promising steroid treatment results

The World Health Organization said it was moving to update its guidelines on treating people stricken with COVID-19 to reflect results of a clinical trial that showed a cheap, common steroid can help save critically ill patients. Director General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus on Wednesday said research was at last providing “green shoots of hope” in treating the virus.

Trial results announced on Tuesday showed dexamethasone, used since the 1960s to reduce inflammation in diseases such as arthritis, cut death rates by around a third among the most severely ill COVID-19 patients admitted to hospital.

The WHO said Wednesday that the steroid should be reserved for serious cases in which it has been shown to provide benefits. 

WATCH | The latest on dexamethasone:

The World Health Organization welcomes news about the apparent effectiveness of the steroid, but says there is still much to learn about it.   1:55

For patients on ventilators, the treatment was shown to reduce mortality by about one third, and for patients requiring only oxygen, mortality was cut by about one fifth, according to preliminary findings shared with WHO.

The benefit was only seen in patients seriously ill with COVID-19 and was not observed in patients with milder forms of the disease.

What’s happening in Canada

Quebec’s chief coroner has ordered a wide-ranging public inquiry into deaths that have occurred in the province’s long-term care homes, private seniors’ residences and other residential institutions for vulnerable people over the first six weeks of the COVID-19 pandemic.

A majority of the province’s COVID-19 deaths have occurred in public or private long-term care homes, known by their French initials as CHSLDs, many of which were plagued by chronic staffing shortages long before the pandemic hit.

In a news release, the coroner said that will be the starting point for a much larger inquiry, which will look at several different kinds of residences and several regions of Quebec in order to present a “representative portrait” of what has happened province-wide.

Canada has recorded 99,777 cases of COVID-19 as of 2:00 p.m. ET Wednesday, and 8,301 deaths. More than 54,000 of those cases are in Quebec, where there have been more than 5,000 deaths.

Canada and the U.S. will extend to July 21 an agreement to keep their border closed to non-essential travel, with many Canadians fearing cases arriving from the U.S.

“This is a decision that will protect people on both sides of the border as we continue to fight COVID-19,” Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said.

What’s happening in the U.S.

The U.S. death toll has exceeded 117,000, according to Johns Hopkins University. That surpasses the number of Americans who died in the First World War, when 116,516 were killed — although both tolls are far from precise.

The U.S. has the most confirmed infections and deaths from COVID-19 in the world, and as parts of the economy have reopened in recent weeks, cases have surged in places like Texas, Arizona and Florida, where the virus has sidelined some members of a U.S. team that tracks hurricanes.

What’s happening around the world

India — which has the fourth-highest caseload after the U.S., Brazil and Russia — added more than 2,000 deaths to its tally, after Delhi and Maharashtra states included 1,672 previously unreported fatalities. Its death toll of 11,903 is the eighth highest in the world.

People wearing masks as precaution against the coronavirus walk in narrow market alley as it rains in Kohima, capital of the northeastern Indian state of Nagaland on Wednesday. India is the fourth hardest-hit country by the COVID-19 pandemic in the world after the U.S., Russia and Brazil. (Yirmiyan Arthur/The Associated Press)

Authorities in Greece have reported 55 new confirmed cases of COVID-19 and two new deaths — a relatively high number of new infections compared with the average seen in recent weeks. Authorities are keeping a close eye on the daily tally after the country formally launched its tourism season Monday, relaxing restrictions for air travellers and reopening the airport in Greece’s second-largest city, Thessaloniki. The death toll has reached 187 while the total number of confirmed infections is 3,203.

New Zealand, not long after declaring itself virus-free when the last known infected person recovered, is dealing with a re-emergence of the virus. Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern assigned a top military leader to oversee the border quarantines after what she described as an “unacceptable failure” by health officials.

They had allowed two New Zealand citizens who had recently returned from London to leave quarantine before being tested for the virus. After the women tested positive, New Zealand began tracing their potential contacts to ensure the virus is contained.

New Zealand’s neighbour Australia has deepened a diplomatic spat with China by accusing Beijing and Moscow of using the heightened anxiety around the pandemic to undermine Western democracies by spreading disinformation online. Australia has angered China by calling for an independent inquiry into the origins of and responses to COVID-19.

Even as Mexico announces plans for reopening churches and religious events, the country is posting significant increases in cases and deaths. Tuesday’s 4,599 was the second-highest daily increase to date, to reach an accumulated total of 154,863. Deaths rose by 730.

Honduras President Juan Orlando Hernandez and his wife have tested positive for COVID-19, the Central American leader said late Tuesday in a television message. Hernandez has been hospitalized and is on an IV. He said his wife is asymptomatic and two other people who work with them are also infected.

In Europe, which has seen over 184,000 virus-related deaths, Spanish Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez announced that Spain will hold a ceremony July 16 to honour its more than 27,000 dead.

In Germany, officials in the country’s western region said the number of new COVID-19 cases linked to a large meatpacking plant has risen to 657 — a higher figure than many recent daily increases for the entire country. German Chancellor Angela Merkel praised officials for swiftly closing schools in the region.

“We are far away from an exponential increase,” Merkel told reporters, insisting that the country would continue to try to relax restrictions despite the local outbreak at the slaughterhouse. “But we see from these outbreaks that the virus isn’t gone.”

Russia on Wednesday reported 7,843 new cases of the novel coronavirus, its lowest daily caseload registered since April 30, pushing the nationwide total  to 553,301. The country’s virus response team said 194 people had died in the last 24 hours, bringing the official death toll to 7,478 since the crisis began. 

The Russian government built special tunnels to protect President Vladimir Putin from the coronavirus at home and at work, Putin’s spokesperson said Wednesday. Dmitry Peskov said one tunnel was installed at the president’s home outside Moscow and two at the Kremlin.



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