Coronavirus update: Jeweller commissioned to make $2.1 million coronavirus mask

An unnamed US-based client has commissioned an Israel-based jeweller to craft a $US1.5 million ($2.1 million) coronavirus mask made out of 18-carat gold and studded with 3,600 black and white diamonds.

Meanwhile, countries around the world are experiencing coronavirus surges with Vietnam entering a “critical” period, Brussels making masks mandatory and Jordan closing its border with Syria.

This story will be regularly updated throughout Thursday.

Thursday’s key moments

Jewellers commissioned to craft $2.1 million gold and diamond face mask

As many around the world struggle with unemployment during the global pandemic an Israel-based jeweller has been commissioned to make a $US1.5 million ($2.1 million) coronavirus mask made out of 18-carat gold and studded with 3,600 black and white diamonds.

Isaac Levy, owner of the Yvel jewellery brand, said the mask would also be fitted with an N99 filter to offer a high level of protection.

He described the client as a Chinese art collector living in the US.

Isaac Levy, owner of Israeli jewelry company Yvel watches over a worker and parts of a mask in a workshop.
Isaac Levy, owner of jewellery company Yvel, watches over an employee working on the gold and diamond mask.(AP: Sebastian Scheiner)

“He is a young-old customer of ours, very charming, very outgoing, very wealthy and he likes to stand out,” Mr Levy said.

The jeweller plans to deliver the mask personally when it is completed, in October.

The mask, which a team of around 25 artisans is working on, was not only a work of art but a way of keeping his staff in jobs.

“For a lot of people around the world it may be the most expensive mask in the world and maybe that’s a really big thing,” he said.

Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro’s grandmother-in-law dies after contracting coronavirus

Jair Bolsonaro wears a black mask
Brazil’s President, Jair Bolsonaro, tested positive to the coronavirus last month but has since recovered. .(AP: Eraldo Peres)

The grandmother of Brazil’s first lady has died after more than a month fighting COVID-19 in a public hospital on the outskirts of Brasilia.

Maria Aparecida Firmo Ferreira, 80, was the grandmother of Michelle Bolsonaro, who is married to Brazil’s President Jair Bolsonaro.

She had been hospitalised since July 1, having tested positive for the coronavirus.

The health secretariat of Brazil’s federal district confirmed her death on Wednesday.

Mr Bolsonaro and his wife were diagnosed with COVID-19 last month. The President, who has recovered, has consistently downplayed the severity of the virus.

Brazil has more than 3.1 million confirmed cases of coronavirus and more than 103,000 deaths, ranking second highest in the world behind the United States.

Vietnam enters ‘critical’ period in new outbreak, unlinked case discovered in capital

People in face masks sit waiting on plastic stools outdoors.
People wait in line for COVID-19 test in Hanoi.(AP: Hau Dinh)

Vietnam’s Prime Minister says the next 10 days will be critical in the Southeast Asian country’s fight against a new coronavirus outbreak, which resurfaced late last month after three months of no domestic cases.

Vietnam was lauded for suppressing an earlier contagion through aggressive testing, contact-tracing and quarantining, but it is now racing to control infections in multiple locations linked to the popular holiday city of Da Nang, where a new outbreak was detected on July 25.

“Note that the period from this week to the middle of next week is critical,” Prime Minister Nguyen Xuan Phuc said on Wednesday, according to a Government statement.

Vietnam reported 17 new coronavirus infections on Wednesday, taking its total cases to 880, with 17 deaths. All fatalities stemmed from the new outbreak.

One of the new infections was in the capital Hanoi and had no clear link to Da Nang, the health ministry said, in a development that could complicate efforts to track and control the spread.

Mr Phuc had on Friday warned the risk of a wider spread was “very high” and called for a more determined containment fight.

The majority of recent cases were in Da Nang, home to 1.1 million people, where a city-wide lockdown was extended indefinitely on Tuesday.

A sports stadium converted into a 1,000-bed field hospital received its first COVID-19 patients on Wednesday, many from three hospitals central to Da Nang’s outbreak.

Coronavirus reportedly found on Ecuadorean shrimp packaging in China

Cooked prawns on ice on display for sale.
China halted imports of shrimp from Ecuador after the coronavirus was detected on packaging.(ABC News: Chris Gillette)

A city in China’s eastern Anhui province has discovered coronavirus on the packaging of shrimp from Ecuador, in the latest instance of the virus being detected on imported products.

State television network CCTV said the virus was detected on the outer packaging of frozen shrimp bought by a restaurant in Wuhu city when local authorities carried out a routine inspection.

On Tuesday, the virus was reported to have been discovered in a port city in eastern Shandong province on the packaging of imported frozen seafood, although in that case it was not revealed where the products originated.

Since July, several other Chinese cities have also reported cases, including the port cities of Xiamen and Dalian, prompting China to suspend imports from three Ecuadorean shrimp producers.

Nucleic acid tests for the virus on workers, food and inside the Wuhu restaurant, as well as for staff at a shrimp wholesale company and their family members showed negative results, as did tests carried out on staff, food and the environment at other restaurants in the city that bought shrimp from the wholesale company.

Brussels makes masks mandatory

A couple, both wearing face masks to fight against the spread of the coronavirus, sit on a bench in downtown Brussels.
A couple wearing face masks sit on a bench in downtown Brussels.(AP: Francisco Seco)

Authorities in the Belgian capital of Brussels have introduced mandatory mask rules across the city to combat the spread of the coronavirus.

Belgian Crisis Centre spokeswoman Frederique Jacobs said the capital region had seen an “alarming” 57 per cent rise in infections over the previous week.

Brussels Minister-President Rudi Vervoort’s office said this increase had taken the city past Belgium’s red line of 50 cases per 100,000 inhabitants on average over the last seven days.

A statement said “the wearing of masks covering the nose and mouth is from now on obligatory for all people aged 12 and over in all public places and in private places accessible to the public”.

Brussels is home to the main European Union institutions, the NATO military alliance and has a population of around 1.2 million people.

Mandatory mask rules are also in place in the port city of Antwerp.

Grounded Japanese going on virtual foreign holidays

Staff dressed as flight attendants serves meals to customers in a fake plane.
Staff dressed as flight attendants serve meals to customers at First Airlines, which provides VR flight experiences and 360-degree tours of cities.(Reuters: Kim Kyung-Hoon)

Japanese businessman Katsuo Inoue chose Italy for this year’s summer vacation, and he enjoyed the trimmings of a business class cabin and soaked up the sights of Florence and Rome — without ever leaving Tokyo.

Mr Inoue, 56, and his wife “flew” as clients of Tokyo entertainment company First Airlines, which is tapping into a growing virtual reality travel market for Japanese holidaymakers grounded by coronavirus restrictions.

Grounded travellers sit in first or business class seats in a mock airline cabin where they are served in-flight meals and drinks, with flat panel screens displaying aircraft exterior views including passing clouds.

Virtual reality goggles provide immersive tours at destinations including Paris, New York, Rome and Hawaii.

At First Airlines, where “passengers” are even given a pre-flight safety demonstration with a life vest and oxygen mask, bookings are up about 50 per cent since the pandemic began, according to the company.

Jordan seals land border with Syria

A Jordanian man with a big beard and a medical face mask
After implementing one of the world’s strictest lockdowns, then relaxing restrictions, Jordan is now starting to see another uptick in cases.(Reuters: Muhammad Hamed)

Jordan is closing its land trade border crossing with Syria for a week after a spike in COVID-19 cases coming from its northern neighbour.

Officials said the Interior Minister’s decision to close the Jaber crossing would come into effect on Thursday morning.

The move, which also puts officials working at the crossing under quarantine, comes after 12 cases were reported on Wednesday in addition to 13 on Tuesday in the first such surge for several weeks.

The country’s other land crossings with Saudi Arabia, Israel and the Palestinian territories are only open for commercial goods since the tight lockdown in March to stem the pandemic.

Prime Minister Omar al Razzaz said on Wednesday the spike was a “source of concern” and officials have said most cases came from truck drivers arriving from Syria, where NGOs say a significant rise in cases has been recorded by humanitarian workers.

Earlier this month the kingdom postponed a resumption of international flight services that was planned for Wednesday.