Record Covid-19 cases in California as some countries prepare for ‘universal’ testing

LA closes beaches and businesses as hospitals fill up while Bavaria announces ‘test offensive’

a closure sign is placed at the entrance of a beach front parking lot in the Venice beach section of Los Angeles

The Los Angeles county department of public health is ordering beaches closed to prevent crowding for 4 July celebrations.
Photograph: Marcio José Sánchez/AP

California has reported record new infections following its reopening as Los Angeles county ordered all beaches closed for 4 July and the re-shuttering of some businesses.

Amid warnings hospitals were filling up and others could run out of intensive care beds in the coming weeks, the state broke its record on Monday for the highest number of new coronavirus cases reported in a single day, with more than 8,000 – the third time in eight days the state has broken a record for new cases.

Among locations hit by the escalating rate of infections there has been San Quentin prison, with 900 new cases in the past fortnight.

The state’s outbreak, however, has been centred on Los Angeles county, which has hit its own milestone of 100,000 cases, including 3,300 deaths, with the LA county public health director, Barbara Ferrer, warning of “alarming increases in cases, positivity rates and hospitalisation” following the loosening of restrictions.

A Reuters survey estimates that Covid-19 cases more than doubled in at least 10 US states in June.

The World Health Organization’s Americas director, Dr Carissa Etienne, said 27 US states were registering exponential rises in cases and warned that countries, states and cities that relaxed restrictions too soon could be flooded with new Covid-19 cases, adding: “The battle is tough but it is far from lost.”

In a dramatic about-face, Arizona’s governor has ordered bars, nightclubs and water parks to close again for at least a month starting on Monday night. The Republican governor, Doug Ducey, has also ordered public schools to delay the start of the classes.

The chaotic US experience – where the virus has killed at least 124,000 people – has underlined global fears of how quickly it can resurge, amid fears of a second wave of the pandemic.

The head of the World Health Organization warned the “worst of the pandemic” may still be yet to come.

The WHO director-general, Dr Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, was speaking at a virtual press conference where he disclosed his organisation would be sending a team of experts to China next week to study the origins of the outbreak.

“We can fight the virus better when we know everything about the virus, including how it started,” Tedros said.

The International Labour Organization released figures suggesting the global labour force had lost the equivalent of 400m jobs in lost hours since the beginning of the pandemic.

In India, which has recorded almost 570,000 infections and more than 16,000 deaths, the prime minister, Narendra Modi, warned in a televised address the country was at a critical juncture, after infections surged again at the end of the country’s lockdown.

Modi blamed people for failing to wear masks or follow physical distancing guidelines, adding that people were “becoming careless”.

With the ever present risk of new surge of infections, even as countries have moved to reopen their economies, some regions are experimenting with broader testing, not limiting it only to those showing symptoms of the disease.

Among them is the southern German state of Bavaria which has announced a “corona test offensive”, allowing citizens to get a test for the virus even if they do not show any symptoms.

Testing costs that are not currently covered by public health insurance schemes could in the future be shouldered by the state, Bavaria’s health minister, Melanie Huml, said following the announcement on Sunday.

Such a “universal” testing programme would make it easier to detect and contain local outbreaks or asymptomatic carriers of the virus, politicians in the southern German state argue.

The Bavarian approach was unveiled as scientists reported the results of mass testing in the Italian town of Vo’ Euganeo, which suggested that 40% of people diagnosed with Covid-19 in the town showed no signs of being ill, reinforcing the theory that asymptomatic carriers may be significant spreaders of the virus.

The authors said the research – published in the journal Nature – showed how important mass testing and isolating carriers was in containing clusters of the virus.

The town of Vo’, which has a population of 3,200, registered Italy’s first death from the disease in late February. It was immediately placed in a two-week lockdown, during which researchers were able to test more than 85% of the population.

They found that 2.3% of those tested were infected at the beginning of quarantine, compared with 1.2% at the end of lockdown, and that more than 40% of those who tested positive showed no symptoms.

The authors of the research said their findings showed how rapid case isolation and mass testing were able to effectively eliminate the virus from the town.