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Illustration: Sarah Grillo/Axios

The coronavirus outbreak may be "at the brink" of a global pandemic, Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, tells Axios.

What's new: Signs people are infecting each other in a more sustainable fashion in China, an uptick in confirmed cases in Japan and Singapore, and research showing people without symptoms may be able to infect each other are fueling concerns that COVID-19 will develop into a pandemic.

The state of play: The virus has killed more than 2,000 people and infected more than 75,000 others, mostly in mainland China. Five deaths and more than 800 infections have been confirmed in 28 other nations and territories.

  • Countries are furiously racing to contain the virus by issuing travel restrictions, imposing quarantines and isolation methods, and tracing contacts of people with known infections.
  • The World Health Organization has an international team in China, trying to help the country learn more about the virus, while China is testing some experimental treatments.

The latest: Based on Chinese data from more than 44,000 confirmed cases published Monday, the WHO says early indications are...

  • More than 80% of people who catch the infection experience mild symptoms, 14% have severe disease-like pneumonia and shortness of breath, and 5% come down with a critical disease like sepsis, multi-organ failure, and respiratory failure.
  • About 2% of people infected with the virus die from it — much less than other coronavirus outbreaks, SARS (~14%) and MERS (~35%).
  • "[T]he risk of death increases the older you are," noted the WHO, while adding researchers were trying to determine why this is the case. Young children appear not to experience as severe symptoms as older adults.

Yes, but: Fauci said there remain many unknowns — where the virus originated from, how transmissible it is, how deadly it is, and if people without symptoms are infectious.

  • "I would strongly suspect there are asymptomatic people transmitting [infection], but I don't think that's a major driver," Fauci said.
  • He adds it's too early to determine the death rate, as there is not enough data yet.

What they're saying: "There are these huge looming issues, on whether this can be contained or not. And, if it's going to spread, are we prepared to respond and mitigate it in our own country and other vulnerable places, particularly Africa?" Stephen Morrison of the Center for Strategic and International Studies told Axios last week.

  • Tension between economic pressures to re-open the pharmaceutical, auto and aviation factories underpinning global supply chains and markets, and the need to quarantine and control the disease could lead to a "period of stop-go, stop-go" that could worsen the situation, Morrison said.
  • "There's a cascade of challenges and unknowns."

What to watch: Despite efforts to prepare the American health care system for a pandemic, Morrison said the U.S. is not ready, pointing to the 2017-2018 flu season that killed at least 80,000 Americans as an example of when a sudden increase of cases "really overwhelmed the system."

  • "We'd be very quickly in trouble" if there was a sudden influx of ill people during a pandemic, Morrison said.

Go deeper:

Go deeper

More corporations are requiring workers to get vaccinated

Graphic: Axios Visuals

Life for the unvaccinated could get more difficult as bosses increasingly move to make COVID-19 vaccines mandatory.

The big picture: The federal Government in May said that it is legal for companies to require employees to get vaccinated for coronavirus.

White House: Over 500,000 new shots recorded Friday, highest since July 1

Photo: Anna Moneymaker/Getty Images

The United States recorded more than half a million new COVID-19 vaccine shots on Friday, the highest number since July 1, White House deputy press secretary Karine Jean-Pierre said.

Why it matters: The Delta variant is continuing to spread across the United States and it now comprises over 80% of the coronavirus cases in the country, Jean-Pierre said. A report from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention noted that "vaccination is the most important strategy to prevent severe illness and death."

Biden to announce sanctions, other efforts to address crisis in Cuba amid protests

Photo: Sarah Silbiger/UPI/Bloomberg via Getty Images

President Biden will announce sanctions against one entity and two Cuban individuals this afternoon and provide details on his administration's efforts to improve internet connectivity in Cuba, a senior administration official said Friday.

Why it matters: After initially hoping to place the issue on the back burner, the White House has recently ramped up its focus on Cuba amid protests on the island and in the United States, congressional backlash and political pressure from the South Florida Cuban community.

  • The president is also expected to make announcements on remittances and plans for U.S. embassy augmentation, the official said.
  • The official noted that the administration is in talks with private sector providers about the possibility of providing wireless LTE communications to the Cuban people.
  • "Given the protest of July 11, it is important for U.S. diplomats to engage directly with the Cuban people and if we can do that in a way that ensures the safety of U.S. personnel, that is something that we will undertake," he said, noting that the president would announce more details later this afternoon.

The details: The president will meet today with Senate Foreign Relations Chairman Sen. Bob Menendez (D-N.J.), a Cuban-American, and House Foreign Affairs Committee Chairman Rep. Gregory Meeks (D-N.Y.), among other political and community leaders and artists.

  • Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.), an outspoken voice on Cuban issues, is not expected to attend the meeting.
  • The meeting follows a series of engagements by Cedric Richmond and the Office of Public Engagement with the Cuban-American community, the official said.

What they're saying: "We're gonna do everything we can to keep Cuba on the front burner, so we can keep the conversation on the rights of the Cuban people and their rights to manifest peacefully," the official said on the call with reporters.

Be smart: Cuba is a tricky political issue for Democrats, who are split on the matter. The president was defeated by Donald Trump in South Florida during the 2020 election, and Democrats fear similar results, particularly in the upcoming midterms, if they mishandle the situation.

Go deeper: The newly announced sanctions today will follow already imposed sanctions against Cuban officials and entities allegedly responsible for human rights abuses during the government's crackdown on island-wide protests earlier this month.