The California city of San Francisco and several Bay Area counties said Friday that they will begin imposing stay-at-home orders this weekend as part of their battle against the coronavirus.
California Gov. Gavin Newsom said Thursday that the state was on the verge of imposing stay-at-home orders on a regional basis once intensive care units in the state's five regions reached more than 85% capacity.
San Francisco and the Bay Area counties, however, are not waiting for the hospital capacity threshold and are instead voluntarily opting into the state's regional stay-at-home order.
"We are in our worst surge yet of COVID-19. It is stressing health care systems across the state of California and taxing our health care workers," Dr. Grant Colfax, San Francisco's director of health, said Friday. "We need urgent intervention now if we want to be able to care for the sick in mid-to-late December. We do not want your parent, your spouse, your child, your grandparent or any loved one to be in need of help and our hospitals too overwhelmed to properly care for them."
Starting Sunday night, the order will close all outdoor dining, public outdoor playgrounds, outdoor museums, zoos and aquariums, drive-in theaters, and open-air tour buses and boats. Pet grooming and electronics or shoe repair, considered low-contact retail, will be allowed to operate on a curbside-dropoff basis. All other retail, including grocery stores, will be allowed to operate only at 20% capacity.
"We must do whatever is necessary in order to get the virus under control," said San Francisco Mayor London Breed. "This is about protecting people's lives."
The head of the World Health Organization said Friday that with a COVID-19 vaccine on the horizon, nations must start investing and preparing for the next pandemic.
"Despite years of warnings, many countries were simply not ready for COVID-19," WHO Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus told a special session of the U.N. General Assembly on the coronavirus. "Many mistakenly assumed their strong health systems would protect them."
He said countries that have dealt with recent coronaviruses, including SARS, or severe acute respiratory syndrome, and MERS, or Middle East respiratory syndrome, as well as other infectious diseases, have done better in containing COVID-19.
"Now all countries must develop that same muscle memory and invest in the measures that will prevent, control and mitigate the next crisis," Tedros said. "It is also clear the global system for preparedness needs attention."
The WHO has come in for criticism from some countries for its handling of the pandemic after China reported the first cases early this year. U.S. President Donald Trump has been one of the most vocal critics, and on May 29 announced the United States would withdraw from the global health organization. President-elect Joe Biden has said he will reverse that decision when he takes office in January.
The WHO chief stressed the need for rich and poor countries alike to have equal access to a COVID-19 vaccine, saying sharing science is not charity, but in the best interest of every nation. He also urged nations to radically rethink how they prioritize and view health if they want to avoid another crisis on this scale.
"The pandemic has proven that a health crisis is not just a health crisis, it's a social, economic, political and humanitarian crisis," he said. "The risks of under investment in health have wide-ranging impacts, and so do the benefits of investing in health."
On Friday, Bahrain became the second country to approve emergency use of the Pfilzer-BioNTech coronavirus vaccine. Britain was the first nation to greenlight the vaccine.
The challenge would be keeping the vaccine cold enough. It must be stored at temperatures around minus 70 degrees Celsius. Bahrain routinely registers summer temperatures of 40 degrees Celsius.
Bahrain has already inoculated 6,000 people with a Chinese vaccine that uses a dead version of the virus. The Mideast nation has had nearly 88,000 cases of the coronavirus and almost 350 deaths, according to Johns Hopkins Coronavirus Resource Center.
Global COVID-19 confirmed cases have surpassed 65 million with more than 1.5 million deaths. The U.S. continues to have the highest number of confirmed cases - more than 14 million so far -- and nearly 279,000 deaths, according to Johns Hopkins University.