Coronavirus: US confirmed Covid-19 cases surpass one million

World round-up: France and Spain announce gradual easing of lockdown

Sydney's world famous Bondi Beach has reopened to swimmers and surfers as the New South Wales government relaxes some Covid-19 restrictions. Video: Reuters

 

Cases of coronavirus in the United States have surpassed one million, according to figures released by John Hopkins University on Tuesday night, meaning it has a third of the world’s confirmed cases.

In the US more than 56,000 people have died from Covid-19, the respiratory illness caused by coronavirus, the most of any country, according to a Reuters tally. New York accounts for nearly half of those deaths.

The grim figures came as US president Donald Trump was set to sign an executive order requiring meat plants to remain open, amid growing fears that coronavirus is impacting on America’s food supply.

Mr Trump indicated he would invoke the Defense Production Act to ensure meat companies continue to operate, promising to provide extra protective gear and additional help to businesses that have been forced to close.

Mr Trump also said the US was considering having passengers on international flights from coronavirus hot spots be tested for the virus. “We’re looking at doing it on the international flights coming out of areas that are heavily infected,” Trump said at a White House event. He said his administration was working with airlines on the plan, which could happen “in the very near future.” He said Brazil was one of the countries “getting to that category” of being a hot spot.

France

France will begin to ease its coronavirus lockdown from May 11th to avoid an economic meltdown, while Spain is preparing for a “new normal” as Europe’s most hard-hit nation removes restrictions over the next eight weeks.

French prime minister Edouard Philippe announced the plans to remove restrictions on Tuesday, but he warned that infections would spiral higher again if the country moved too swiftly.

Schools will gradually reopen and businesses will be free to resume operations, Mr Philippe said in an address to the French parliament.

However, restaurants and cafes will remain closed until at least early June and professional sports, including soccer, will not begin again until the autumn.

“We must protect the French people without paralysing France to the point that it collapses,” Mr Philippe said. “A little too much carefreeness and the epidemic takes off again. Too much prudence and the whole country buckles.”

More than 23,000 people have died in the pandemic in France, the world’s fourth highest toll behind the United States, Italy and Spain. But the lockdown had saved tens of thousands of lives, the prime minister said.

The numbers in hospital in France with Covid-19 have fallen daily for two weeks, while the number of sufferers in intensive care has declined for 19 consecutive days.

The easing would be underpinned by an aggressive testing and isolation programme, Mr Philippe said.

“We are going to have to learn to live with the virus,” he said. “We must learn to live with Covid-19 and to protect ourselves from it.”

France will implement a new doctrine on Covid-19 testing from May 11th with the aim of testing everyone who has come into contact with infected people, Mr Philippe said. It targetted a testing capacity of 700,000 per week.

French prime minister Edouard Philippe presents the government’s plan to exit from the lockdown situation at the French National Assembly in Paris. Photograph: David Niviere via Getty
French prime minister Edouard Philippe presents the government’s plan to exit from lockdown at the National Assembly in Paris. Photograph: David Niviere via Getty

Spain

Meanwhile, Spain announced a four-phase plan on Tuesday to lift one of the toughest coronavirus lockdowns in Europe and return to normality by the end of June as the daily death toll fell to 301, less than a third of a record high of 950 in early April.

Prime minister Pedro Sánchez said the lifting of the measures that have halted public life since March 14th and nearly paralysed the economy, will begin on May 4th and vary from province to province. Each phase is designed to last two weeks.

While restaurants can start opening terraces at no more than 30 per cent of their capacity during the first phase, remote working will be recommended where possible until reaching the last phase of the plan at some point in June, when beaches would also be able to reopen with the support of local authorities.

“We are starting to glimpse an outcome that will be a reward for the huge collective effort made over the past weeks,” Mr Sánchez said, warning that the “virus is still lurking.”

“It’s up to the people now, we are embarking on a journey without a precise route map... What we’ve accomplished is enormous but it could all be lost if we don’t look after each other,” he said. Mr Sánchez explained the government had chosen not to set precise deadlines for the easing of the lockdown, as had countries such as Italy, to avoid missing them in what is a fluid situation.

Britain

The UK is on track to record one of the worst coronavirus death tolls in Europe, after data published on Tuesday showed nationwide fatalities topped 24,000 nine days ago.

A day after prime minister Boris Johnson spoke of success in dealing with the outbreak, the new figures showed the week ending April 17th was Britain’s deadliest since comparable records began in 1993. The UK’s Office for National Statistics said 21,284 people had died in England by April 17th with mentions of Covid-19 on their death certificate. Together with figures from Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland, the total United Kingdom death toll was at least 24,000 as of April 19th.

Health secretary Matt Hancock announced the death toll from coronavirus in British hospitals rose by 586 to 21,678 on Tuesday. He added that Britain would publish data on deaths in care homes and in the community every day from Wednesday.

The figures came after Scotland’s first minister Nicola Sturgeon announced new guidance recommending that the Scottish public should wear face masks in enclosed spaces where social distancing is difficult to achieve, for example while shopping or using public transport. She announced the recommendations on facial coverings – which are not mandatory – as calls grew for the UK government to amend its own guidance, with the British Medical Association calling on ministers to make wearing masks in public compulsory. Sturgeon said “all governments across the UK are considering this and it’s not for me to speak to them”, insisting there was no “divide or split” on the matter.

Europe

Italy, which has the world’s second-highest number of coronavirus deaths at almost 27,000, will allow factories and building sites to reopen from May 4th and permit limited family visits as it prepares a staged end to Europe’s longest lockdown.

But the northern region of Veneto, one of Italy’s early coronavirus hotspots, which includes the cities of Venice and Verona, was not prepared to wait another week to make life a little more bearable.

Its governor, Luca Zaia, broke with the national government, decreeing that locals could now exercise freely outside their homes, visit second homes in the region, and go to drive-through takeaways. “We can’t become a laboratory or guinea pigs,” he said. “We also have to live.” There were some encouraging signs for Italy as on Monday it recorded the lowest 24-hour number of deaths since mid-March, with 260.

The number of Germany’s confirmed coronavirus cases increased by 1,144 to 156,337, data from the Robert Koch Institute for infectious diseases showed on Tuesday. The death toll rose by 163 to 5,913, according to the tally. The disease control centre says the country’s rate of infections has increased, but the number remains at a manageable level.

The Czech Republic has reported its lowest daily rise in new coronavirus cases in more than six weeks as it eases out of a lockdown imposed to curb the spread of infection.The number of cases rose by 41 on Monday, bringing the total to 7,449, with 223 deaths. The central European country with a population of 10.7 million has seen far fewer cases than its neighbours after taking quick action to close schools and most shops and require face masks in public.

Akihiro Yoshida, the owner of Hair salon Pinch, gives hair treatment to his customer Natsuki Suda, in Tokyo, Japan,on Tuesday. Photograph: Kim Kyung-Hoon/Reuters
Akihiro Yoshida, the owner of Hair salon Pinch, gives hair treatment to his customer Natsuki Suda, in Tokyo, Japan,on Tuesday. Photograph: Kim Kyung-Hoon/Reuters

Asia

It is too early to consider lifting Japan’s state of emergency over the coronavirus, the head of the Japan Medical Association said on Tuesday, adding that it will be difficult for Tokyo to host the Olympics next year without an effective vaccine. Tokyo on Monday confirmed 39 new coronavirus infections, the fewest since March 30th. Japan as a whole has recorded 13,614 confirmed cases, including 394 deaths, according to public broadcaster NHK.

China has reported six new coronavirus cases (three domestic and three from overseas) and no deaths, according to the country’s National Health Commission. More than 2,200 Indonesians have died from Covid-19, but were not recorded, according to an investigation from Reuters. The official death toll from the virus in the country is 765.

Hong Kong leader Carrie Lam said on Tuesday most civil servants will gradually return to work from May 4th, although the government had not yet decided whether to ease travel and social distancing restrictions that are due to expire next week. The global financial hub on Monday reported no new coronavirus infections for a second day, bringing relief to a city whose economy has been battered by the coronavirus that came on the heels of crippling anti-government protests. The city has confirmed 1,038 cases and four deaths since the outbreak began in January.

The UAE has recorded 541 new coronavirus infections on Tuesday, and seven deaths, as it pushed forward with plans to end its lockdown.Total infections in the country have now reached 11,380 and the death toll now stands at 89, according to reports in the Guardian. The UAE is opening up its cavernous shopping centres and restaurants even as confirmed coronavirus cases spike, in a gamble to stimulate its economy while still trying to fight off the pandemic. That has led to a new normal of temperature checks, social distancing monitors at supermarkets and marked-off empty seats on the city’s driver-less Metro.

A migrant worker undergoes a nose swab test as medical workers look on at a dormitory amid the coronavirus disease outbreak in Singapore on Monday. Photograph: Edgar Su/Reuters
A migrant worker undergoes a nose swab test as medical workers look on at a dormitory amid the coronavirus disease outbreak in Singapore on Monday. Photograph: Edgar Su/Reuters

Singapore’s health ministry has said it is not able to test all migrant workers in dormitories and has been isolating some symptomatic patients first, a method that a government health adviser said was causing a lag in the reporting of cases. The island nation of 5.7 million people has nearly 15,000 confirmed coronavirus infections, one of the highest totals in Asia, largely because of outbreaks in cramped dormitories housing more than 300,000 mostly South Asian workers. Fourteen people have died of coronavirus in Singapore. The ministry on Tuesday confirmed 528 more coronavirus infections, the smallest daily rise in almost two weeks.

New Zealand

Around 400,000 people returned to work in New Zealand after prime minister Jacinda Ardern shifted the country’s alert status from Level 4 to Level 3 , loosening some of the tough movement restrictions that shut down businesses for weeks. Level 3 sees retailers, restaurants and schools allowed to reopen on a smaller scale. Schools will reopen on Wednesday for children up to Year 10 who cannot study from home, or whose parents need to return to work. Workers are able to resume on-site work, provided they have a Covid-19 control plan in place, with appropriate health and safety and physical distancing measures. New Covid-19 infections were up by two on Tuesday to 1,124 cases.

A man poses for a photo at Bondi Beach following its reopening to the public in Sydney, Australia, on Tuesday. Photograph: Joel Carett/EPA
A man poses for a photo at Bondi Beach following its reopening to the public in Sydney, Australia, on Tuesday. Photograph: Joel Carett/EPA

Australia

Australia’s most populous state, New South Wales, said on Tuesday it will relax some restrictions on movement, as beaches reopened amid hopes a policy of widespread medical testing will help sustain a decline in new cases of the coronavirus. Bondi Beach and two neighbouring beaches in Sydney were reopened to local residents on Tuesday after being closed a month ago due to large crowds breaking social distancing rules. Australia recorded just one new case of Covid-19 from an unknown source in the past 24 hours, suggesting community transmission had almost stopped, health minister Greg Hunt said. – Reuters, PA, Guardian, Bloomberg

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