U.S. Infections Hit Low; South Africa Clamps Down: Virus Update
Pedestrians wearing protective face masks walk near in the Shinjuku district of Tokyo, Japan. (Photographer: Soichiro Koriyama/Bloomberg)

U.S. Infections Hit Low; South Africa Clamps Down: Virus Update

The U.S. reported the lowest level of infection since the early days of the pandemic and welcomed back sports fans to stadiums. The Indianapolis 500 was run before 135,000 fans, the largest crowd for a sporting event since the pandemic began. Few wore masks.

The world needs the cooperation of the Chinese government to trace the origins of Covid-19 and prevent future pandemic threats, two leading U.S. disease experts said Sunday.

Renewed outbreaks in Africa and Asia led to new restrictions. South Africa extended a curfew and curbed gatherings, as Nigeria’s largest city imposed a strict new virus law. Malaysia announced a two-week nationwide lockdown to subdue a surge, while China ordered a neighborhood in the city of Guangzhou to stay at home.

Key Developments:

U.S. Infections Hit Low; South Africa Clamps Down: Virus Update

Indy 500 Draws Biggest Pandemic Crowd (3:54 p.m. NY)

The Indianapolis 500 was run in front of 135,000 fans, the largest U.S. sporting event since the start of the pandemic. Few fans at the motor race appeared to be wearing masks, though they were required by local ordinance.

The race, won for a fourth time by Brazilian driver Helio Castroneves, was at about 40% of its official 350,000 capacity, according to the Indy Star. Yearly attendance is usually about 300,000. The stands were empty at last year’s race.

Lagos Imposes Strict Virus Law (3:09 p.m. NY)

Nigeria’s biggest city imposed a new coronavirus law that carries strict penalties, including fines and imprisonment for violations.

Under the new law, the Lagos state governor can “quarantine anyone he deems fit and for any period of time, sanction erring individuals with fines of up to 500,000 naira or imprisonment of up to five years,” the state health commissioner, Akin Abayomi, said in an emailed statement. A 500,000 naira fine is the equivalent of about $1,220.

Texas Caseload Plunges to 14-Month Low (2:30 p.m. ET)

Texas recorded its lowest daily tally of new virus cases in 14 months as the pandemic continues to wane in the second-largest U.S. state.

There were 286 new cases detected on Sunday, the smallest figure since March 25, 2020, when the contagion was just beginning to emerge in the Lone Star state, according to state health department data.

Meanwhile, hospitalizations have plunged, dropping to 1,745, the lowest since May 30, 2020. The proportion of hospital capacity occupied by virus patients is below 7% in all 22 of the state’s trauma service zones.

South Africa Tightens Restrictions (1:43 p.m. NY)

South African President Cyril Ramaphosa extended a night-time curfew and reduced the permissible size of public gatherings to contain the spread of the coronavirus after a surge in infections.

The curfew will run from 11 p.m. to 4 a.m., one hour longer than before, as the country moves to virus alert-level two, from level one. A maximum of 100 people will be allowed at indoor gatherings and 250 at outdoor events. A widely anticipated tightening of curbs on alcohol sales didn’t materialize.

“We have seen in other countries the tragic consequences of allowing the virus to spread unchecked,” Ramaphosa said in a televised address to the nation on Sunday.

U.S. Experts Call for Virus Origin Probe (12:21 p.m. NY)

The world needs the cooperation of the Chinese government to trace the origins of Covid-19 and prevent future pandemic threats, two leading U.S. disease experts said Sunday.

Information to support the theory that the SARS-CoV-2 virus may have escaped from a lab in Wuhan, China, has increased, said Scott Gottlieb, a commissioner of the Food and Drug Administration in the Trump administration who now sits on the board of Pfizer Inc.

China hasn’t provided evidence to disprove that theory, while the search for signs that the virus emerged from wildlife hasn’t yielded results, he said on CBS News’s “Face the Nation.”

Not knowing how the pandemic started puts the world at risk of future outbreaks, Peter Hotez, co-director of the Texas Children’s Hospital Center for Vaccine Development, said in a separate TV appearance.

Italy Deaths at 7-Month Low (11:30 a.m. NY)

Italy reported the fewest deaths since October, a welcome sign as the country continues to relax restrictions.

Deaths fell to 44 from 126 Saturday, with 2,949 cases, for a positive test rate of 1.8%. Numbers are generally lower on Sundays because of fewer tests.

On June 1, Italy is set to allow indoor dining, amid other reopenings. Earlier Sunday, health minister Roberto Speranza extended a travel ban from India, Sri Lanka and Bangladesh to June 21.

Malaysia Doctors May Ration Care (10:54 a.m. NY)

Malaysia’s worsening outbreak may force doctors to allot intensive care beds to patients with higher chances of recovery amid a record surge in new cases, Health Director-General Noor Hisham Abdullah said.

“The number of ICU beds at Covid hospitals, quarantine and treatment centers is declining and may be inadequate,” he said in a statement. The health ministry “has warned of possible situations where doctors will have to make difficult choices to prioritize ICU beds for patients with higher recovery potential than those with lower recovery potential.”

U.S. Cases Reach Another Low (8:20 a.m. NY)

The U.S. added slightly more than 12,000 new cases, the fewest since the early days of the pandemic last year, according to data compiled by Johns Hopkins University and Bloomberg. While reporting typically slows on weekends, the number was the lowest since March 23, 2020.

U.S. daily deaths fell to 362, the fewest on a Saturday in 11 months. Deaths from Covid-19 have declined almost continually since late February as a nationwide vaccination campaign took hold.

Kenya Extends Curfew (8:20 a.m. NY)

Kenya extended a night curfew and a ban on public gatherings by 60 days, Interior secretary Fred Matiang’i said in a legal notice. By Saturday, east Africa’s biggest economy had 170,485 Covid-19 cases and 3,141 fatalities, according to the Ministry of Health.

Variant Forces Guangzhou Lockdown (6:40 a.m. NY)

China’s southern metropolis of Guangzhou ordered residents in one of its neighborhoods to stay home to contain an outbreak from becoming more widespread, with state television reporting infections in the city are of the variant first detected in India.

Five confirmed cases and 21 asymptomatic infections in the outbreak since May 21 are of the variant, China Central Television reported, citing the vice head of the city’s health commission. Households in an area spanning five streets within the Liwan district have been barred from leaving their homes except for selected family members to buy daily necessities.

Israel Restricts Travel (5:35 a.m. NY)

Israel’s Health Ministry has restricted travel to and from Argentina and Russia, adding to a list that includes Ukraine, Ethiopia, Brazil, South Africa, India, Mexico and Turkey. Israeli citizens and residents will be barred from traveling to both countries beginning May 31, unless they obtain special permission. Anyone returning from there will be required to quarantine, even if they have been fully vaccinated or have recovered from the virus.

Singapore to Detail Reopening (5:32 a.m. NY)

Singapore Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong will outline his plan for tackling coronavirus and reopening the economy in a speech Monday afternoon. In a post on Facebook, Lee said the government aims to accelerate testing, contact tracing, and its vaccination program, and that it wants to offer every eligible person at least their first dose by the end of August. There were 19 new cases of locally-transmitted infections reported on Sunday, including six currently unlinked to known clusters. The city-state has responded to the recent outbreak with strict curbs such as moving most school-learning online.

‘Few’ U.K. Patients Finished Doses (5:25 a.m. NY)

Only a handful of Covid patients being admitted to hospital have had two vaccinations, according to head of NHS Providers Chris Hopson. Based on his conversations with health bosses in hotspot area around the country, Hopson said in a Twitter thread that those who did tended to have other serious health issues and that a significant majority being admitted were not vaccinated. The evidence sends a “very clear message about the overwhelming importance of getting both doses,” he said.

Russia Cases Rise After Holiday (4:13 p.m. HK)

Russia’s new coronavirus infections rose to 9,694, the highest level since March. Cases have climbed in Moscow as well, remaining above 3,000 over the past four days. Moscow Mayor Sergei Sobyanin said on state television that the increase is mostly seasonal, though a jump in hospitalizations in the capital was in part due to people delaying medical attention until after a 10-day holiday at the start of May. He urged people to get vaccinated.

U.K. Mulls Compulsory Vaccines for Health Workers (4 p.m. HK)

The U.K. is considering making vaccinations mandatory for health workers, according to Vaccines Minister Nadhim Zahawi. “It would be incumbent on any responsible government to have the debate, to do the thinking on how we go about protecting the most vulnerable by making sure those who look after them are vaccinated,” he said in a Sky News interview.

Malaysia Halts 5-Day Streak of Record Daily Infections (2:30 p.m. HK)

Malaysia reported 6,999 new Covid cases on Sunday, halting a five-day streak of record daily infections that topped 9,000 on Saturday. The let-up comes ahead of a two-week nationwide lockdown aimed at reining in an outbreak that has led to 2,179 deaths this year, according to data from the health ministry. Covid-linked deaths were fewer than 500 in 2020. The new restrictions will be in place June 1-14.

India’s Infections Continue to Decline (12:05 p.m. HK)

New infections in India fell to their lowest level in more than six weeks. The country added 165,553 cases, taking the confirmed nationwide total to 27.9 million as of May 30, government data showed.

Daily fatalities remained below 4,000 for a third straight day. The country reported 3,460 deaths, taking the total to 325,972.

U.S. Sports Stadiums Draw Large Crowds (11:20 a.m. HK)

With case numbers retreating, U.S. sports stadiums were drawing in larger crowds over the Memorial Day holiday weekend. A game in Arlington, Texas, between Mexico and Iceland was attended by 44,892 fans, possibly the largest crowd at a soccer game since the pandemic, according to a tweet from Gabriel Gabor, a press officer for Major League Soccer.

Boston’s Fenway Park held its first game at full capacity since the pandemic hit, with the Red Sox beating the Miami Marlins 3 to 1 as local fans cheered. The stadium drew a crowd of 25,089, Major League Baseball reported.

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