US dips under 50,000 new coronavirus cases

BALTIMORE (AP) — The United States (US) has dipped under 50,000 new coronavirus cases for the first time in four days, according to a daily tally by Johns Hopkins University, but experts fear celebrations for the July 4 Independence Day weekend will act like rocket fuel for the nation’s surging outbreak.

Johns Hopkins counted 45,300 new coronavirus infections in the US on Saturday after three days in which the daily count reached as high as 54,500 new cases. The lower figure on Saturday does not necessarily mean the situation in the US is improving, as it could be due to reduced reporting on a national holiday.

The US has the most infections and virus-related deaths in the world, with 2.8 million cases and nearly 130,000 dead, according to the university. Experts said the true toll of the pandemic is significantly higher, due to people who died before they were tested and missed mild cases.

To show just how steep the current infection curve is in the US, the country was reporting under 20,000 new infections a day as recently as June 15.

Despite warnings by health experts to limit gatherings, US President Donald Trump went ahead with a speech at Mount Rushmore in South Dakota on Friday and an evening of tribute and fireworks on Saturday on the National Mall in Washington.

The World Health Organization (WHO) said it is ending a trial into whether anti-malaria drug hydroxychloroquine helps patients hospitalised with COVID-19.

WHO said on Saturday it has “accepted the recommendation” from the committee overseeing the trial to discontinue testing of hydroxychloroquine and lopinavir/ritonavir, a drug combination used to treat HIV/AIDS. The drugs were being compared with standard care for hospitalised patients.

WHO said a review of the interim results showed hydroxychloroquine and lopinavir/ritonavir “produce little or no reduction in the mortality of hospitalised COVID-19 patients when compared to standard of care.”

The agency added that while there was no “solid evidence” of increased mortality for hospitalised patients given the drugs, there were “some associated safety signals in the clinical laboratory findings” of an associated trial.

WHO said the decision won’t affect possible trials on patients who aren’t hospitalised, or on those receiving the drugs before potential exposure to the coronavirus or shortly afterward.