By B Izzak and Agencies

KUWAIT: The interior ministry said yesterday that a female prisoner died of coronavirus, becoming the first incarcerated victim of the deadly disease in Kuwait. Meanwhile, global coronavirus infections topped nine million as the World Health Organization warned the pandemic was accelerating.

The interior ministry said in a statement the 59-year-old woman was taken to hospital in stable condition around 10 days ago, but her condition deteriorated four days ago and she was admitted to the intensive care unit, where she died. The woman was battling a number of chronic diseases, the statement added. The interior ministry has said that dozens of prisoners have been infected with the coronavirus and that precautionary health measures have been taken, including sanitizing prisons.

The Cabinet reviewed a new report on the disease by the health minister, who informed the council that the recovery rate from the disease has increased to 79 percent. But the report also expressed concern about the rise of infections among Kuwaitis. The Cabinet is expected to decide on Thursday whether the country can finally move into the second of the five-phase return to normal life. The Cabinet last Thursday decided to delay the move by at least one week because of the steep rise in the number of cases among citizens, which has continued in the past five days.

The civil aviation authority said yesterday that over 100,000 expats left the country during the past three months, when Kuwait closed its airports and grounded the Kuwait Airways fleet. About a quarter of those who left are expats who were living illegally in the country but registered to benefit from an interior ministry amnesty to leave without paying fines or even the airfare. Special flights continue to operate out of Kuwait Airport taking expats to their home countries. Yesterday, over 2,000 expats were due to leave.

MP Khalil Al-Saleh said yesterday that a local bank has laid off a number of Kuwaiti employees and called on the government to intervene. The lawmaker, who heads the manpower development committee in the National Assembly which debates with the government to find jobs for nationals, said the decision is unacceptable. He warned that failure to take stern actions against such a move will threaten job security for Kuwaitis in the private sector.

Europe has steadily eased its travel lockdowns in recent weeks, and France on Monday took its biggest step back to normality by allowing millions of children to return to school. But many parts of the world, including Latin America and South Asia, are only beginning to feel the full force of the pandemic, while other regions are being hit with second waves.

“The pandemic is still accelerating,” the WHO’s director general Tedros Adhanom

Ghebreyesus told a virtual health forum organized in the United Arab Emirates. Tedros said the greatest threat was not the virus itself, which has now killed over 470,000 people, but “the lack of global solidarity and global leadership”. “We cannot defeat this pandemic with a divided world,” he said. “The politicization of the pandemic has exacerbated it.”

Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro is one of the leaders to have repeatedly played down the threat, comparing the virus to a “little flu” and arguing the economic impact of shutdowns is worse than the virus itself. More than 50,000 people have been confirmed to have died from the virus in Brazil, with the true number believed to be far higher.

Brazil’s official death toll is second only to the United States, which has recorded 120,000 fatalities, and President Donald Trump’s handling of the crisis has been widely criticized as erratic and chaotic. Trump on Monday said the American toll could surpass 150,000, as two more members of his team that helped organize a controversial weekend rally for him in Oklahoma tested positive.

Mexico, Peru, Chile and Argentina are also coping with crises – Mexico City being forced to delay plans for a broad reopening of the economy as the country’s death toll raced past 20,000. With a vaccine still far away, the WHO has called for a rapid increase in production of the steroid dexamethasone, which has been shown to have life-saving potential.

In Europe however, countries continued to ease their restrictions. Thousands of French people danced and partied in the streets well into Monday for an annual music festival, in the first big blowout since the lockdown. Many felt the authorities were too lax. “This is not what a gradual end to the lockdown looks like,” said Dr Gilbert Deray. “I understand that the Festival of Music is something of a liberation, but did we really have to have it this year?” Swimming pools and cinemas also reopened while children up to the age of 15 returned to school. 

In England authorities said cinemas, museums and galleries would reopen on July 4 in the next phase of easing lockdowns as infection rates there also slow. But illustrating the persisting risks, Portugal Prime Minister Antonio Costa said restrictions on gatherings of more than 10 people would be reimposed and cafes and shops ordered to close at 8:00 pm in Lisbon.

Australians were warned to avoid travelling to Melbourne as the country’s second-biggest city tightened restrictions over fears of an upsurge in cases. China, Germany, South Korea and Japan are also battling new outbreaks, with some reintroducing containment measures.

The sports world has been slowly re-emerging from the virus darkness, although for every step forward it seems to take one back. Three of the world’s top male tennis players tested positive after taking part in a tournament in the Balkans featuring world number one Novak Djokovic, raising questions over the sport’s planned return in August.