Stranded Aussies back as US death toll passes 20,000

A special Singapore Airlines flight with almost 200 Australians on board has landed in Sydney from Phnom Penh with passengers desperate to get home amid a lockdown in Cambodia and neighbouring countries due to the coronavirus.

The flight, carrying 184 Australian passengers, landed in Sydney at 6.30am AEST.

The flight, with Singaporean airline SilkAir, was arranged in conjunction with the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade in Canberra after Cambodian Prime Minister Hun Sen late on Thursday ordered cross-border restrictions on any travel between provinces.

"The plane has successfully departed Phnom Penh," a spokesman for the Australian embassy in Cambodia told reporters.

 

Stranded Australians have been flown out of Cambodia. Picture: Twitter
Stranded Australians have been flown out of Cambodia. Picture: Twitter

 

Foreign Minister Marise Payne also confirmed the flight, tweeting that "Australia's Embassy in Cambodia [and] DFAT in Canberra have worked together to assist 184 Australians & families to depart Phnom Penh today. We are grateful for all the good work that made this happen."

It comes as the global death toll from the virus passed 112,000 with more than 20,000 in the US alone and 10,000 in the UK.

The Australian Embassy said in a statement that 164 Australian citizens, plus 20 permanent residents and family members boarded the flight as regular commercial options "were drying up fast".

 

 

"So we decided to facilitate this one-off non-scheduled flight to a transit country, which then connected to a scheduled flight on the same plane to Sydney," it said. "Passengers paid for economy and business seats."

Cambodia has been criticised for its slow response to the coronavirus pandemic, however attitudes have hardened recently and Prime Minister Hun Sen early on Tuesday cancelled next weeks's annual Khmer New Year celebrations. Heavy travel restrictions were also imposed between provinces earlier in the week which added a sense of urgency for the flight, with Australians living in the countryside told to make a speedy trip to the capital to avoid being locked out of the airport.

 

 

The embassy said it took "a lot of work to make this happen" in "challenging circumstances" adding this would also help relieve pressure on Cambodia's healthcare system, which Australia continues to support through its aid program.

"Great to have been able to help Aussies reconnect with loved ones back home through this flight," ambassador Pablo Kang said on his Twitter feed. "We thank all involved, including the government, for their assistance, and our passengers for their patience and understanding." All on board are expected to go immediately into self-isolation upon arrival in Sydney.

 

Australians stranded by the coronavirus are finally on their way home from Cambodia. Picture: Twitter
Australians stranded by the coronavirus are finally on their way home from Cambodia. Picture: Twitter

US COULD EASE RESTRICTIONS NEXT MONTH

The United States may be ready to start gradually reopening next month, the government's top infectious diseases expert said on Sunday (local time), as signs grew that the coronavirus pandemic is peaking.

US President Donald Trump had earlier wanted the world's largest economy to be "raring to go" by Sunday (local time), but most of the country remained at a standstill and churches took Easter celebrations online to halt the spread of the virus that has killed more than 20,000 people in the US.

Mr Trump has cast the decision on when to ease the lockdown as the biggest of his presidency as he faces competing pressures from public health experts and businesses along with some conservative allies who want a swift return to business as usual.

 

 

Dr Anthony Fauci, the veteran pandemic expert who has quietly sought action to stem infections, said in a televised interview that parts of the country could begin easing restrictions next month - but was cautious.

"I think it could probably start at least in some ways maybe next month," Fauci, head of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, said in an interview on US TV.

"We are hoping by the end of the month we can look around and say, okay, is there any element here that we can safely and cautiously start pulling back on?" Dr Fauci said.

"If so, do it. If not, then just continue to hunker down."

Dr Fauci said that regions would be ready at different times rather than the United States turning on a "light switch."

 

 

Stephen Hahn, commissioner of the Food and Drug Administration, said it was premature to say that the country would reopen on May 1.

"We're hopeful about that target, but I think it's too early to be able to tell that," Mr Hahn said in a TV interview.

The United States has been recording nearly 2000 deaths a day from the coronavirus, disproportionately older people with weakened immune systems and ethnic minorities with less access to health care and teleworking.

Dr Fauci said he was "cautiously optimistic" as admissions into hospitals and intensive care had begun to decline even in worst-hit New York.

There are sign the outbreak "not only has flattened, it's starting to turn the corner," he said.

The United States, which has 4.25 per cent of the world's population, accounts for almost a fifth of the world's nearly 110,000 deaths from COVID-19 since the disease first emerged in China late last year.

 

 

 

Dr Fauci, who has advised six successive presidents, acknowledged that the United States could have saved lives by shutting down public spaces when the disease's seriousness became clear early in the year.

"But there was a lot of pushback about shutting things down back then," said Dr Fauci, without naming Mr Trump who has been criticised for not reacting.

Mr Trump had been hoping to campaign on a strong economy as he seeks re-election in November.

Instead, some 17 million people have lost their jobs in a matter of weeks and his presumptive Democratic rival, Joe Biden, has been hammering him for not doing more to stop the virus.

NY'S CURVE FLATTENING BUT DEATH TOLL 'TERRIBLY HIGH'

Meanwhile, hard-hit New York State is seeing a "flattening" of the rate of new coronavirus cases and fatalities, but the death toll is still "at a terribly high level" - with another 758 dying overnight, Gov. Andrew Cuomo said on Sunday (local time).

It was the sixth straight day that the state's death toll remained in the 700s - and the governor warned that the virus is on the move to the suburbs and rural areas of the state, reports the New York Post.

"I think you will see more growth in less populated places," Gov. Cuomo said.

As for the general current figures, "You're not seeing a great decline in the numbers, but you're seeing a flattening," the governor said at a press conference.

 

 

 

Gov. Cuomo said of the new deaths, "you're seeing a recurrence of the terrible news, which is the lives lost."

The new figure was slightly down from the 783 coronavirus deaths recorded overnight Friday into Saturday.

A total of 9385 people have now died from the contagion in the state - or more than three times the number of victims, 2735, on 9/11, the governor added.

Another 8236 people tested positive for the contagion, leaving the new state total at 188,694. New York City made up the bulk of that number, or 103,208, with 4900 overnight.

Still, Gov. Cuomo said the number of additional beds needed for coronavirus patients in the past 24 hours was 53, "which is the lowest number since we started doing these charts.

"The change in total number of hospitalisation is down again. This is the number that we have been watching because the great fear for us was always overwhelming the hospital system," he said.

 

 

 

There are now 18,700 people hospitalised with the virus, Gov. Cuomo said.

The number of people on ventilators "ticked up" by 110 - and "most people who are intubated will not come off a ventilator," Cuomo said, "so that's not good."

Asked by a reporter at the presser what he would do if he came down with the virus, Gov. Cuomo responded, "My plan is to do this from home."

JOHNSON RELEASED FROM HOSPITAL

Virus-stricken British Prime Minister Boris Johnson thanked medics for saving his life after he left hospital on Easter Sunday, as billions around the world marked the holiday from lockdown and the coronavirus pandemic death toll steadily climbed worldwide.

More than half of humanity is confined to their homes as governments scramble to contain the disease's deadly march across the globe.

Fatalities soared past 109,000 over the weekend, with more than 1.7 million infected, though there was a shred of hope in some hard-hit countries as numbers started levelling out.

Europe has so far shouldered the burden of the virus: more than 80 per cent of all deaths have been on the continent, mostly in hard-hit Italy, Spain, France and Britain.

 

Boris Johnson has been released form hospital. Picture: Getty Images
Boris Johnson has been released form hospital. Picture: Getty Images

 

Britain passed its own grave threshold on Sunday too as its death toll topped 10,000.

Mr Johnson said Britain would beat the pandemic as he thanked his medical staff in a candid video message after he was discharged from a state-run National Health Service (NHS) hospital.

"I hope they won't mind if I mention in particular two nurses who stood by my bedside for 48 hours when things could have gone either way," said 55-year-old Mr Johnson, who was

diagnosed with the virus at the end of March and admitted to hospital last Sunday where he spent three days in intensive care.

He said he was discharged after "a week in which the NHS has saved my life, no question", speaking in a suit and tie but looking visibly worn.

The leader is expected to rest up at a country estate before returning to work.

 

EMPTY CHURCHES AMID VIRUS LOCKDOWN

From the Vatican to Panama and the Philippines, there were unprecedented scenes of empty churches as the world's two-billion plus Christians celebrated Easter from the confines of their homes.

Speaking from a near-empty Saint Peter's Basilica at the Vatican, Pope Francis offered prayers for the ill and urged European "solidarity" to fight the outbreak.

"For many, this is an Easter of solitude lived amid the sorrow and hardship that the pandemic is causing, from physical suffering to economic difficulties," he said in a livestreamed message beamed around the world.

 

 

 

On the outskirts of Rome, one devout follower held a video session with friends to mark the holy day in lieu of being able to gather in church.

"Before lunch, six of us connected online for the Angelus prayer," said Rosa Mastrocinque, adding that her "spirituality has increased" during her weeks-long confinement.

The pope had earlier urged creativity to mark the holy weekend - a call that was met by many.

ITALY, SPAIN SEE SOME LIGHT

Italy has recorded the lowest number of new coronavirus deaths in three weeks, saying 431 people died in the past day to bring its total to 19,899.

It was the lowest day-to-day toll since March 19.

For the ninth day running, intensive care admissions were down and hospital admissions overall were down.

More than 4000 people tested positive as Italy began its fifth week under nationwide lockdown, continuing a general flattening in its infection curve.

But officials have noted that Italy has also increased its testing capacity in recent days, yielding more positive cases but allowing for more effective quarantine measures for people once they know they are infected.

 

 

 

Italy crossed the one million virus test mark on Sunday (local time), doubling the number of tests since the end of March. Overall, 156,363 people have been confirmed as positive, although officials note that the true number of infected could be as much as 10 times that, particularly in hard-hit Lombardy.

Meanwhile, Italy's civil protection agency has arranged for rescued migrants to be placed in quarantine to check for coronavirus infections on ships or on land.

Civil protection chief Angelo Borrelli said he signed the order after Italy banned foreign-flagged migrant rescue ships from its ports last week.

Mr Borrelli said the new provision would be in effect to provide medical checks and quarantine for the 156 migrants currently aboard the German-flagged charity rescue ship Alan Kurdi. Migrants who reach the Italian territory on their own would be quarantined on land.

Meanwhile, Spain has reported its lowest daily growth in confirmed coronavirus infections in three weeks as it prepares to loosen its strict lockdown measures and let some workers return to their jobs.

 

A volunteer of the Spanish NGO Open Arms pushes in a wheelchair an elderly resident of a nursing home with coronavirus symptoms to a Barcelona hospital. Picture: AP
A volunteer of the Spanish NGO Open Arms pushes in a wheelchair an elderly resident of a nursing home with coronavirus symptoms to a Barcelona hospital. Picture: AP

Spanish health authorities have reported 4167 confirmed new cases over the past 24 hours. The country's total is at 166,019, second only to the United States.

Deaths in Spain have reached a total of 16,972, with 619 new fatalities confirmed since Saturday. More than 60,000 patients have recovered from COVID-19 in Spain.

The country on Monday will allow workers in industry and construction to return to work after a two-week shutdown of economic activities other than healthcare and the food industry.

Those who can work from home are strongly encouraged by authorities to continue doing so. Retail shops will remain closed other than supermarkets, fruit stands, bakeries, butchers, newsstands and pharmacies.

AUSTRALIA'S NEW VIRUS DETECTING DEVICE

Meanwhile, Aussie scientists are developing a simple wearable patch able to detect which COVID-19 patients are most likely to develop a severe form of the disease and need a ventilator.

Australian National University researcher Professor Mark Kendall has developed a microwavable sensor which attaches to the patient's skin and measures fluid in the skin containing markers of disease.

The device would be worn by the patients like a watch.

The simple wearable patch Australian scientists are developing to detect which COVID-19 patients are most likely to develop a severe form of the disease and need a ventilator. Picture: Supplied
The simple wearable patch Australian scientists are developing to detect which COVID-19 patients are most likely to develop a severe form of the disease and need a ventilator. Picture: Supplied

Patients who become severely ill with COVID-19 suffer when their immune system goes into overdrive releasing inflammatory factors called cytokines, which clog their lungs with fluid.

One of these cytokines IL-6 is very low in healthy people and a German study has found higher levels of IL-6 can predict whether the patient is deteriorating and is likely to need a ventilator.

The device, being developed by the ANU and Brisbane based WearOptimo, will allow real time measurement of IL-6 levels in the patients.

"Real time testing of IL-6 in hospitalised COVID-19 positive patients is the game-changer we need to accurately identify those most likely to require precious ICU resources," respiratory and intensive care physician Professor Keith McNeil said.

"That will enable more effective planning of the need for and use of those resources, and signal those requiring more intensive early intervention potentially avoiding more severe deterioration."

It comes as Sarah Gilbert, professor of vaccinology at Oxford University, told The Times newspaper she was "80 per cent confident" the vaccine being developed by her team would work and could be available by September.

 

 

Human trials of the vaccine are due to begin in the next two weeks.

And the drug which led to the births of thousands of deformed babies, Thalidomide, has emerged as a potential treatment for COVID-19.

Although it is no longer used to treat nausea caused by pregnancy thalidomide is still being used as an anti-inflammatory to treat some lung conditions, skin lesions and throat ulcers in HIV patients and cancer.

Researchers at Wenzhou Medical University are trialling the treatment in combination with several hormones in a randomised trial on 100 patients with COVID-19 with the study due to report at the end of May.

AUSTRALIA'S DEATH TOLL RISES AS AUSSIES RETURN FROM ABROAD

Australia's chief medical officer Brendan Murphy has said the country is "in a good place" in its fight against the coronavirus as the death toll rose by three to 59.

Mr Murphy said there is "no place in the world I would rather be than Australia at the moment".

Australia now has 6289 confirmed cases of the new coronavirus.

The flight crew of the chartered flight from Uruguay disembark the plane at Melbourne Airport. Picture: AAP
The flight crew of the chartered flight from Uruguay disembark the plane at Melbourne Airport. Picture: AAP

Mr Murphy said people in the community are still transmitting the virus so it is necessary to "keep our pressure on and make sure that we don't end up like countries in the world that you have all seen on the news".

He said the country was "in a good place … but we have to maintain that good place".

New arrivals at Sydney International airport are ushered into waiting buses for hotel quarantine. Picture: Jeremy Piper
New arrivals at Sydney International airport are ushered into waiting buses for hotel quarantine. Picture: Jeremy Piper

Federal Treasurer Josh Frydenberg said it would be "very dangerous and unrealistic" to remove social distancing restrictions too soon.

He said those restrictions will stay in place across Australia "for as long as it takes" based on medical advice.

NSW recorded another coronavirus death - a man in his 80s, who had been in close contact with someone diagnosed with the virus.

The man had no link to the Ruby Princess cruise ship, NSW health authorities have confirmed.

In Tasmania, a woman in her 70s died at the North-West Regional Hospital in Burnie, Premier Peter Gutwein said.

In Adelaide, a 74-year-old man - a patient at the Royal Adelaide Hospital - died as well, South Australia Health confirmed early on Sunday.

 

 

AUSSIES RETURN FROM OVERSEAS

Long-stuck Aussie travellers flown from Peru, Uruguay, India and Nepal are trickling through Sydney and Melbourne before being shuttled to hotels for two weeks of quarantine.

Nearly 100 of them spent weeks stranded on an Antarctic cruise ship off the coast of Uruguay while another 63 left Kathmandu on a Canadian government-backed flight.

"Thanks also to (the) Canadian High Commission in New Delhi and Canadian Govt. To do what you did remotely … hats off," Australian Ambassador to Nepal Peter Budd tweeted on Saturday (April 11).

More than 100 Australian passengers from the Antarctic cruise ship Greg Mortimer have arrived in Melbourne from Uruguay.

Passengers from the Australian cruise ship Greg Mortimer, get on a plane to be flown to Australia at the international airport in Montevideo, Uruguay. Picture: AP
Passengers from the Australian cruise ship Greg Mortimer, get on a plane to be flown to Australia at the international airport in Montevideo, Uruguay. Picture: AP

Victoria's Deputy Chief Health Officer Dr Annaliese van Diemen said up to 70 per cent of people - an estimated 80 people - on-board the Melbourne flight could have coronavirus.

Dr Annaliese van Diemen said preparations are being made to test and quarantine those on board repatriation flights from Peru, Delhi and Uruguay.

"Everybody will be assessed when they get off the flight by a medical flight by a medical team," Dr van Diemen said.

 

"If that assessment determines they need testing, then yes they will be tested."

Passengers will go into 14 days of isolation in a hotel.

In the US, the death toll surged towards 20,000 after more than 2000 people died in a day.

The global infection toll early on Sunday was 1.75 million with nearly 110,000 deaths.

 

 

Originally published as Stranded Aussies back as US death toll passes 20,000


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