WASHINGTON -- Dr. Anthony Fauci, the U.S. government's top infectious-disease expert, said Wednesday that the World Health Organization had to backtrack on its statement about asymptomatic spread of the coronavirus being rare because that simply "was not correct."
The WHO's technical lead on the pandemic has tried to clear up "misunderstandings" about comments she made that were widely understood to suggest that people without covid-19 symptoms rarely transmit the disease. Maria Van Kerkhove insisted Tuesday that she was referring only to a few studies, not a complete picture.
Weighing in on Wednesday, Fauci said the variety of ways that symptoms manifest is "extraordinary" but that "there's no evidence" to suggest individuals who have the virus but no signs of illness can't infect others.
Fauci said on ABC's Good Morning America: "And, in fact, the evidence that we have, given the percentage of people, which is about 25[%], 45% of the totality of infected people, likely are without symptoms. And we know from epidemiological studies that they can transmit to someone who is uninfected, even when they're without symptoms. So to make a statement -- to say that's a rare event -- was not correct. And that's the reason why the WHO walked that back."
Meanwhile, with the next round of pandemic aid stalled in Congress -- and no guarantee of a federal bailout anytime soon -- local governments are facing tough choices about what to cut and what to keep.
The federal Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security Act sent $150 billion to states and the nation's most populous cities and counties to help them pay for expenses related to the virus outbreak. But only 36 cities met the population threshold of 500,000 or more to qualify for the money.
Already, cities are dipping into reserves, canceling road projects, postponing routine maintenance, cutting parks and recreation programs, and furloughing staff members. State and local governments have shed more than 1.5 million jobs since the beginning of March, the U.S. Labor Department reported last week. The National League of Cities said municipalities could be looking at $360 billion in red ink through 2022.
A $3 trillion relief bill passed in May by the U.S. House, where Democrats have the majority, included nearly $1 trillion for state and local governments. It has little chance of passing in the Republican-controlled Senate, where prospects for future aid to states and cities remain uncertain.
Some states are sharing the money they received from the earlier congressional relief package with local governments. Pennsylvania plans to distribute $625 million to counties that did not get direct aid from the federal government, including $33 million for Lehigh County, of which Allentown is the seat. A committee will decide how the money will be distributed, but it's too soon to say whether Allentown will get a cut, or how much. In any case, there will be a lot of competition for the money.
"When everybody holds their hand out, not everybody is going to get the amount of M&Ms they were hoping for," said Lehigh County Executive Phil Armstrong, the county's top elected official. "When you look at the needs, it's probably going to be short."
Republicans in the U.S. Senate have said they want to see how the money they previously approved is being spent so they can get a better idea of the needs before negotiating another large aid bill.
UPTICK IN TEXAS
Texas on Wednesday reported a third-consecutive day with a record number of patients hospitalized with covid-19 as a new rise in cases ripples across states nationwide.
More than 2,500 new cases were reported in Texas, by far a single-day high.
The upward trend is being seen six weeks into Texas' reopening that began in May and as restaurants get permission to expand their dining rooms to nearly full capacity starting Friday. While thousands of hospital beds remain available, officials are voicing concern.
Republican Gov. Greg Abbott and state health officials have pointed out hot spots in rural counties with meatpacking plants and prisons but have not offered an explanation for rising caseloads elsewhere. But on Wednesday, some city officials and health experts linked the worsening numbers to businesses reopening and to people growing more complacent with social distancing.
"This is a concerning trend," said Dr. Mark Escott, the interim health authority for Austin Public Health in the Texas capital. Surrounding Travis County set a record Tuesday with 161 new cases, nearly double its previous single-day high.
Texas is one of a number of states nationwide grappling with rising virus caseloads as summer begins. Arizona and North Carolina are also being closely watched over their rising numbers.
On Wednesday, Abbott reiterated that he was "concerned but not alarmed" in Texas. He has not signaled any intention of putting social or business restrictions back in place, and he urged residents to continue wearing masks, sanitizing their hands and maintaining social distancing.
WORRIES IN EUROPE
Nations are facing the worst global recession in nearly a century, a key economic body warned Wednesday. Meanwhile in Europe, restrictions to fight the spread of the coronavirus portend a bleak summer tourism season even as more nations announce plans to welcome visitors again.
Beginning Tuesday, Austria will open up to all European neighbors with the exception of Spain, Portugal, Sweden and Britain, meaning that visitors from 31 countries will no longer be required to undergo a two-week quarantine upon arrival. Greece, another European holiday hot spot, will allow tourists to fly to Athens or the main northern city of Thessaloniki beginning Monday.
But they're hoping people have money to spend.
The Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development reported Wednesday that global economic output could fall by as much as 7.6% this year if a second wave of infections emerges, with the pandemic's economic effect expected to be even harsher in Europe because of the continent's strict and relatively lengthy coronavirus lockdowns.
In the eurozone, which comprises the 19 European Union nations that use the common euro currency, GDP is expected to plunge 11.5% this year if there's a second wave and by more than 9% even if another round of infections is avoided.
"Now we're in the midst of ... perhaps the most global health, economic and social crisis, and it's simply the most severe any of us have ever witnessed," Angel Gurria, secretary-general for the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development, said during the presentation of the report in Paris. He named tourism and air travel among the "critical" sectors hit hard by the pandemic, and he urged countries to cooperate in developing and fairly distributing a vaccine for the virus.
"As long as a virus is widespread somewhere, the threat will remain everywhere, and economic costs will persist as some borders remain closed," Gurria said. The report predicted that the crisis would leave "long-lasting scars," including lower living standards, high unemployment and weak investment.
As of Wednesday, the virus has infected 7.3 million people worldwide and killed more than 415,000, about 180,000 of them in Europe, according to official figures tallied by Johns Hopkins University.
A scientist whose modeling helped set Britain's coronavirus strategy said Wednesday that the country's death toll in the pandemic could have been cut in half if the lockdown had been introduced a week earlier.
Britain has the world's second-highest number of confirmed covid-19 deaths, at more than 41,000. Including cases in which the coronavirus was suspected but not confirmed by a test, the total is more than 50,000 people dead.
Neil Ferguson, professor of mathematical biology at Imperial College London, told lawmakers that when key decisions were being made in March, scientists underestimated how widely the virus had spread in the U.K.
He told Parliament's Science and Technology Committee that "the epidemic was doubling every three to four days before lockdown interventions were introduced," rather than the five to six days estimated at the time.
Ferguson said that "had we introduced lockdown measures a week earlier, we would have reduced the final death toll by at least a half."
He also said the death toll would have been lower if residents of nursing homes had been shielded from infection, something that didn't happen effectively enough.
On March 16, Ferguson and colleagues published a paper suggesting that even with some social-distancing measures, the U.K. could see 250,000 virus-related deaths and the United States could have a death toll of about 1 million. Ferguson predicted those figures could more than double in both countries in a worst-case scenario.
The following day, Prime Minister Boris Johnson advised Britons to work from home, if possible, and to avoid unnecessary social gatherings. A nationwide lockdown followed on March 23, barring people from visiting friends and family members whom they don't live with.
Johnson's Conservative government is facing criticism that it was slow to act against the virus. The government says it followed the advice it was given at the time by scientific advisers.
Asked at a government news conference whether mistakes had been made, Johnson said that "at the moment, it's simply too early to judge ourselves."
"We made the decisions at the time on the guidance of SAGE [the government's Scientific Advisory Group for Emergencies], including professor Ferguson, that we thought were right for this country," the prime minister said.
The government has begun to ease the lockdown, with the relaxing of movement restrictions and the return of some children to school, but it says it will proceed cautiously. The U.K. is still seeing several thousand new confirmed coronavirus cases and hundreds of deaths a week.
"The epidemic is shrinking, but not fast," said the government's chief scientific officer, Patrick Vallance. "That urges caution."
INDIA CASES ON RISE
The number of coronavirus cases in India continued to rapidly increase Wednesday, with officials reporting nearly 10,000 new cases over the previous 24 hours.
The spike has come as the government moves forward with reopening restaurants, shopping malls and religious places in most of its states after a more than two-month lockdown.
The government has already partially restored train services and domestic flights and allowed shops and manufacturing to reopen. Subways, hotels, schools and colleges, however, remain shuttered nationwide.
The Health Ministry on Wednesday reported an 24-hour increase of 9,985 cases and 274 deaths. India has recorded 276,583 cases, the fifth-highest in the world, and 7,745 deaths.
And in Indonesia, authorities said Wednesday that they have arrested at least 33 people suspected of snatching the bodies of coronavirus victims from several hospitals to bury them according to Islamic and social customs.
Charges for 10 of the people detained in South Sulawesi province in the past week will be forwarded to prosecutors, provincial police spokesman Ibrahim Tompo said. If found guilty, they face up to seven years in jail and a $7,000 fine for violating the health quarantine law and resisting officials, he said.
Information for this article was contributed by Marc Levy, Paul J. Weber, Angela Charlton, Colleen Barry, Pablo Gorondi and Jill Lawless of The Associated Press.