Coronavirus: Lockdowns eased as cases exceed 4.2m worldwide

UK death toll passes 40,000 mark; French children start returning to school

 

Coronavirus has infected more than 4.2 million people and killed more than 286,500, according to a tally kept by Johns Hopkins University.

Here are the latest updates on the pandemic from around the world:

UK

Britain extended its job retention scheme by four months on Tuesday but told employers they would have to help meet its huge cost from August.

Chancellor Rishi Sunak said 7.5 million temporarily laid off employees -- almost one in every four British workers -- were now on the scheme. He said they could rest assured that they would continue to get 80 per cent of their wages until the end of October. But Mr Sunak said the scheme was expensive and could not continue indefinitely. “We have stretched and strained to be as generous as possible to businesses and workers,” he told parliament. “This scheme is expensive. It is the right thing to do -- the cost of not acting would have been far higher -- but it is not something that can continue indefinitely into the future.”

Mr Sunak said that from August, employers currently using the scheme would be allowed to bring furloughed employees back part-time, something business groups had been calling for, to allow them to slowly get back up to speed. But he also told companies they would have to start sharing the cost of the scheme from August.

New analysis puts the UK death toll at just over 40,000, following new figures on care home deaths released by the Office for National Statistics (ONS).

This includes deaths from Covid-19 and where it has been mentioned on the death certificate as a factor.

It comes as:

-Health secretary Matt Hancock confirmed the new contact tracing app will be rolled out across England shortly and Mr Sunak will set out more detailed plans for the furlough scheme.

-Downing Street condemned as “despicable” an attack on Belly Mujinga, a railway ticket office worker who died of coronavirus after being spat at while on duty

- Care home deaths accounted for some 40 per cent of coronavirus-related fatalities registered in England and Wales in the week ending May 1st, data from the Office for National Statistics showed.

- Ministers have set out guidance for commuters using public transport, saying they should keep two metres apart from others “wherever possible”, wear a face covering, use contactless payments and avoid rush-hour.

- Ryanair announced plans to return to 40 per cent of normal flight schedules from July 1st. But Mr Hancock said it was “unlikely” that foreign holidays would be possible this summer.

He also confirmed that when people decided to meet one other person at a distance and outdoors, they should meet in parks and open spaces, not in their gardens. He said one of the reasons is that gardens can sometimes only be accessed through a house.

Mr Hancock also said the household “bubble” idea will help relieve the “anguish” of people wanting to see their grandparents or partners.

The UK Government’s Scientific Advisory Group for Emergencies (Sage) has been asked to look at the idea of a household “bubble” in the coming weeks, where one household is allowed to join up with and interact with one other household only.

Mr Hancock said it may help relieve anxiety as long as it did not impact on pushing the reproductive rate of the virus — the R — above one.

RUSSIA

With Russia overtaking Spain to record the world’s second-highest number of coronavirus infections, President Vladimir Putin’s spokesman became the latest top official to fall ill with the deadly disease.

Dmitry Peskov told Interfax on Tuesday he is receiving treatment for the virus. He joins Prime Minister Mikhail Mishustin and the country’s construction and culture ministers as diagnosed with Covid-19. Peskov, traditionally the official with the closest day-to-day access to Putin, said in a text message he last met the president in person over a month ago. Putin has been conducting government business mostly via video-conferences from his residence outside Moscow.

Putin on Monday announced an end to national stay-at-home restrictions but the move is unlikely to give businesses in the capital and other major cities a rapid boost.

In Moscow, business leaders see little chance of escaping restrictions that have hammered their activities. Mayor Sergei Sobyanin said last week that the measures must remain until at least May 31st because the pathogen is still spreading, Putin’s decision shifted responsibility to regional leaders for deciding the pace of easing, shielding him from potential criticism of those who maintain them.

Despite the lockdowns, Russia has reported at least 10,000 new daily infections for the past 10 days, lifting its total to 232,243 and second only to the US At the same time, Russia has one of the world’s lowest mortality rates with Covid-19 listed as the cause of death in only 2,116 cases, leading critics to claim that the government is withholding data.

SPAIN

Spain has reported 176 new confirmed deaths for coronavirus during the past 24 hours, bringing the country’s total death toll to 26,920. New infections confirmed by laboratory tests are up on Tuesday by 426.

The total contagion, including antibody tests, stands at 269,520. The figures were slightly up from a day before, but records usually see an increase on Tuesday as unreported data over the weekend shows up in official statistics.

Nearly 140,000 people have recovered after contracting the virus, Spain’s Health Ministry said.

Roughly half of Spaniards are starting to enjoy a looser version of the country’s stringent lockdown adopted in mid-March.

Spain will require all visitors from abroad to quarantine for 14 days if they arrive in the country after May 15th.

The new Health Ministry order, published in Spain’s official gazette, said the goal is to “limit the risks derived from the international traffic of people” during the rollback of the coronavirus lockdown.

Travel agencies and transport companies must inform their customers about the new regulations before they sell their Spain-bound tickets, and airlines need to make sure that passengers fill out a “location card” in case they need to be contacted after their trip.

Tourism-magnet Spain is starting to loosen the grip after seven weeks of strict confinement. Authorities have reported more than 26,700 deaths for coronavirus and over 268,000 infections confirmed by tests.

FRANCE

French children have started going back to school as the country gradually lifts confinement measures, following two months of lockdown.

Authorities say 86 per cent of preschools and primary schools are reopening this week. Most schools across the country start accommodating children on Tuesday. In Paris, schools will reopen on Thursday.

Classes are capped at 10 students at preschools and 15 elsewhere. Students are required to keep physical distance from each other and wash their hands several times a day. Teachers must wear a mask.

School attendance is not compulsory. The government has allowed parents to keep children at home amid fears prompted by the Covid-19, as France is one of the hardest-hit countries in the world. A target date has not been scheduled yet for high schools.

As of Tuesday, French authorities reported nearly 140,000 people infected with the virus and more than 26,000 deaths.

BELGIUM

Brussels Airlines has unveiled a cost-cutting plan that will result in the reduction of 25 per cent of its workforce.

The Lufthansa subsidiary, which employs 4,000 people, has suspended its flights as a result of the coronavirus pandemic. The carrier, which also suffered from the bankruptcy of travel operator Thomas Cook last year, plans to reduce its fleet from 54 to 38 aircraft as part of the restructuring.

Brussels Airlines said it is losing €1million a day because of revenue losses, aircraft leasing and maintenance costs. The company has asked the government for €290million in aid.

“While the turnaround plan is indispensable to overcome the crisis, the ongoing discussions with both the Belgian government and Lufthansa remain essential,” Brussels Airlines said.

GREECE

Police in northern Greece say migrants at a holding site near the country’s border with Turkey have staged violent protests following weeks of delays in processing their asylum claims due to the Covid-19 pandemic.

Authorities said the protests also involved unaccompanied minors at the closed facility, which currently houses some 250 asylum seekers. No injuries were reported.

The asylum service’s operations have been scaled back due to the pandemic restriction measures that have affected many public services.

Greek authorities are struggling to cope with a spike in migrant crossings from Turkey, at the land border and islands, that occurred before the lockdown.

DENMARK

A top medical official in Denmark said “it is very unlikely that another wave of corona will occur” in the Scandinavian country.

“But we may see changes in the reproduction rate,” said Kaare Moelbak, of Statens Serum Institut, a government agency that maps the spread of coronavirus in Denmark. Currently the Danish so-called reproduction rate, which measures the average number of people a person with the virus infects, is at 0.7, down from a previous 0.9. It has been below 1.0 in the past weeks.

Mr Moelbak said Denmark had now built up a test capacity and can now isolate infected people.

He spoke at a news conference with Danish Prime Minister Mette Frederiksen, who announced that Denmark will create an agency to ensure the supply of protective equipment and testing facilities to “strengthen the preparedness” in the future.

Denmark started a lockdown on March 11th and has in the past few weeks slowly reopened society.

INDONESIA

Indonesia’s death toll from the coronavirus outbreak has breached the 1,000-mark, making it the country with the most Covid-19 deaths and the highest fatality rate in South East Asia.

Covid-19 task force spokesman Achmad Yurianto confirmed 16 new deaths in the last 24 hours, taking the country’s death toll to 1,007.

The number of coronavirus fatalities has come under scrutiny in recent days as media reports and medical experts said the national death toll was likely to be more than double the official figure of 1,007.

Indonesia has one of the lowest testing rates in the world and some epidemiologists say that has made it harder to get an accurate picture of the infections in the world’s fourth most populous country.

INDIA

India is reopening parts of its colossal rail network and will run limited trains as the country begins easing its nearly seven-week strict lockdown amid an increase in coronavirus infections.

Special trains will depart from select big cities, including Delhi and Mumbai, and run to full capacity. Passengers will be allowed to enter stations only if they are asymptomatic and clear thermal screening; they must maintain social distancing on board and will be given hand sanitisers upon entry and exit.

The train network often described as India’s lifeline spans 67,000 kilometres (42,000 miles) and carries more than 20 million passengers daily.

India’s rail, road and air services were suspended in late March as part of a tight nationwide lockdown that has helped keep confirmed coronavirus infections relatively low for a population of 1.3 billion. But in recent days, as the lockdown has eased and some businesses have reopened, infections and deaths due to Covid-19, the respiratory disease caused by the coronavirus, are increasing.

India has confirmed 70,756 coronavirus cases, including 2,293 deaths.

SINGAPORE

Singaporeans will be able to get a haircut at the barber shop or visit a bakery as the government loosens coronavirus restrictions three weeks before a partial lockdown ends.

Despite an upsurge in cases due to an outbreak among foreign workers staying in crowded dormitories, the government says transmission in the local community has dropped and it plans a phased reopening of the economy.

Barbers and hairdressers, food manufacturers and outlets, and laundry shops are among selected businesses that can open with strict health measures in place after five weeks of shutdown.

Singapore has reported 23,822 infections, the most in Asia after China, India and Pakistan. But it has a low fatality rate of 21 deaths.

PHILIPPINES

Philippine president Rodrigo Duterte has said the massive lockdown that has restricted millions to their homes will be eased, but warned that people who want to return to work must follow safeguards to avoid more deaths and a second wave of Covid-19 outbreaks.

The Philippine economy contracted in the first quarter and the finance secretary reported that up to 1.5 million jobs have been lost during the lockdown on Luzon island, the country’s most populous region, which includes the capital, Manila.

Mr Duterte made the announcement in videotaped remarks shown on nationwide television. He said his spokesman will later disclose which regions will remain under lockdown and which areas would be released based on the scale and speed of infections. The two-month lockdown was supposed to last until May 15th.

The Philippines has reported more than 11,000 infections, including 726 deaths.

CHINA

China has reported just one new coronavirus case as the government presses ahead with reopening measures, including allowing some students in Beijing to return to class and Shanghai Disneyland to open its gates again to a limited number of visitors.

Other measures have included permitting Beijing’s ancient Forbidden City to expand its visitor numbers, as long as they book online first, show evidence they are healthy and wear a mask while touring the massive complex that was home to generations of China’s emperors.

The National Health Commission also said 115 people remain in treatment and 763 are being isolated and monitored as either suspected cases or after testing positive for the virus without showing symptoms.

China has not reported a new death from the virus in almost a month. In total, it has recorded 4,633 deaths among 82,919 cases since the virus was first detected in the central Chinese city of Wuhan last year.

NEW ZEALAND

New Zealand health authorities have reported no new coronavirus cases, the third day since early last week the country of 5 million people has recorded zero additional cases.

The news came as New Zealand prepared to relax many of the restrictions imposed since the outbreak began. Most businesses, including retail stores, shopping centres, restaurants and gyms, can reopen on Thursday and schools will reopen on Monday. Bars will be able to start serving customers again on May 21st.

Social distancing rules will still apply and social gatherings will be limited to 10 people.

AUSTRALIA

Prime minister Scott Morrison says Australia is winning the battle against the coronavirus but it “still has the great potential to do enormous harm to the livelihoods of Australians”.

New South Wales, the most populous state, recorded no new cases of coronavirus for the first time since health authorities began documenting a daily total of infections in February.

Australia has reported nearly 7,000 cases, with fewer than 770 active. The national death toll is 97, with New South Wales recording the highest number of fatalities at 46.

The federal government has announced a three-phase easing of coronavirus restrictions in the coming months, with states and territories to determine the timing. The initial phase will include the reopening of cafes, restaurants and shops, plus allowing outdoor gatherings of up to 10 people.

Social distancing and hygiene measures will stay in place.-AP/PA