Coronavirus live news: Brazil president Jair Bolsonaro fires health minister

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The full story on the firing of Brazil’s health minister - A US.....s in June.

The full story on the firing of Brazil’s health minister -

A US small business lending programme set up to help companies affected by coronavirus has run out of money.

The Small Business Administration said it was unable to accept new applications “based on available appropriations funding.”

It has been given the task of managing the $349 billion (£280 billion) programme which grants loans to businesses so that they can pay their employees.

The news comes as Congress continues to negotiate further funding to the programme.

President Donald Trump is expected to unveil recommendations to begin easing the lockdown in the least-affected US states at a news conference at 6pm ET (2200 GMT) to “explain the guidelines for opening up America again.”

Meanwhile, George Soros, the billionaire philanthropist, is directing more than $130 million through his Open Society Foundations to combat the effects of the coronavirus, with $37 million aimed to help at-risk populations in New York City.

Brazil’s president Bolsonaro fires health minister

Brazil’s president Jair Bolsonaro has sacked his popular health minister Luiz Mandetta
after a weeks-long stand-off between the two men over radically different views of the coronavirus pandemic.

Mandetta announced the news on Twitter. He has defended social isolation while the far-right president insists the impact of the pandemic on Brazil’s struggling economy is more important than loss of life.

Updated

Poland’s borders will remain closed until at least May 3, Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki said on Thursday.

Morawiecki said Poland would start easing some coronavirus restrictions from April 20.

Poles will also have to cover their noses and mouths in public until a coronavirus vaccine is found, health minister Lukasz Szumowski announced.

While the reopening of parks and forests from April 20 will be welcomed by those stuck in lockdown, many restrictions look set to continue into May, when a presidential election is due.

“These steps ... do not mean the epidemic is over,” Szumowski said.

“We are going to have to learn to live with the epidemic for ... a long time.”

In addition to reopening green spaces, Morawiecki said limits on the numbers of people in shops would be eased. He said he planned to ease the lockdown further every week or two.

New York Federal Reserve Bank President, John Williams, said it may take a few years for the US economy to recover from the severe downturn caused by the coronavirus pandemic.

Once the spread of the virus is contained, it may take a while for consumers to feel safe attending concerts or other large events, Williams said during a discussion organised by the Economic Club of New York.

He said: “First we have to make sure we’re seeing the number of cases plateau and come down, and then think about a gradual return to normal.”

Williams added it may take one to two years to get the economy back to “full strength.”

Households across the UK are now taking to their gardens, doorsteps, balconies and windows to applaud for the frontline workers fighting the coronavirus.

It will be the fourth “clap for carers” event in the UK, becoming a staple for Thursday nights in lockdown.

Leaders of the G7 group of major industrialised nations have agreed the rapid development of a coronavirus vaccine is crucial in dealing with the outbreak.

First Secretary of State Dominic Raab deputised for the UK’s prime minister Boris Johnson at the virtual summit, which also discussed the particular risk coronavirus poses for developing countries.

A Downing Street spokesperson said: “They agreed that the rapid development and production of coronavirus treatments and a vaccine will be crucial to stop the spread of the virus around the world.

“The First Secretary of State stressed the need for the response to be internationally coordinated.

“Leaders discussed the particular risk coronavirus poses to developing nations and agreed on the need to fight coronavirus in every country.

“They committed to continue to support developing countries through bilateral assistance, multinational organisations and by ensuring governments around the world have access to the medical supplies they need.”

Experts have suggested a vaccine for coronavirus could be 12 to 18 months away.

Downing Street added: “G7 leaders also agreed on the importance of financial measures to defend the global economy against the impact of coronavirus.”

With Johnson recovering from the impact of coronavirus, the Downing Street spokesperson said: “All leaders expressed their best wishes for the Prime Minister’s recovery and welcomed the cooperation that has already taken place between G7 countries.”

The G7 is made up of the US, Japan, Germany, Britain, France, Italy and Canada.

Police have found 17 bodies in one of New Jersey’s largest nursing homes after an anonymous tip said a body was being stored in a shed.

A total of 68 people associated with the Andover Subacute and Rehabilitation centres have recently died, with 26 having tested positive for coronavirus.

Police did not find a body in the shed but said the facility’s tiny morgue was “overwhelmed”.

New Jersey has over 71,000 cases and 3,100 deaths due to the coronavirus.

Monday, police received the anonymous tip about a body being kept in a shed.

Instead, they found 17 bodies kept in a morgue built to house four.

Andover police chief Eric Danielson told the New York Times: “They were just overwhelmed by the amount of people who were expiring.”

It is unclear whether any of the 17 deaths were due to Covid-19.

First Lady of the United States, Melania Trump, has phoned Carrie Symonds to wish her and her fiance Boris Johnson well.

She said the US was praying for their “speedy and full recoveries” after Johnson spent a week in hospital with Covid-19.

The office of the First Lady said: “Today, First Lady Melania Trump spoke with Ms Carrie Symonds of the United Kingdom.

“Mrs Trump expressed well wishes for Ms Symonds and Prime Minister Johnson, and noted that the United States was praying for their speedy and full recoveries.

“Mrs Trump reaffirmed that the United States stands together with the United Kingdom in the fight to defeat the coronavirus pandemic.

“Mrs Trump and Ms Symonds expressed optimism that the United States and the United Kingdom would get through this difficult period and emerge stronger than before.”

First lady Melania Trump called Carrie Symonds on Thursday.
First lady Melania Trump called Carrie Symonds on Thursday. Photograph: Jonathan Ernst/Reuters

Updated

European commission president Ursula von der Leyen said Europe owes Italy “a heartfelt apology”.

Italy will offer small savers a new inflation-linked bond next month to raise funds to help the economy cope with the coronavirus crisis, the country’s Treasury said.

Italy’s budget deficit will be near 10% of gross domestic product this year, a senior government official told Reuters, as Rome increases borrowing to counter the deep recession which the virus is expected to have caused.

The new “BTP Italia” bond, which pays a coupon tied to the domestic inflation rate, will have a maturity ranging from four to eight years.

Retail investors will be able to buy the bond from May 18 to May 20, while the offer reserved for institutional investors will take place on May 21.

Italy introduced the BTP Italia bonds at the height of the euro zone crisis to tap large private wealth at home in the face of scant foreign demand for its debt.

A reminder that at 8pm UK time, there will be a nationwide applause to pay homage to NHS and key workers across the country.

France death toll increases by 753

France registered 753 more deaths from coronavirus infections on Thursday, bringing the total to 17,920, the fourth highest tally in the world.

But the number of people in hospital has declined for a second day running.

Jerome Salomon, head of France’s public health authority, said the total number of people in intensive care units fell for the eighth day in a row, at 6,248, a low point since April 1.

At 17,920 the number of fatalities is up 4,4% over 24 hours, with the rate of increase decelerating again after it increased the two previous days

Vladimir Putin has delayed celebrations for the 75th anniversary of Victory Day due to the coronavirus outbreak, rescheduling a patriotic holiday with major political significance.

In remarks on Thursday evening, Putin said that “the risk connected to the epidemic, the peak of which has not passed, are still dangerously high. And that doesn’t give me the right to begin the preparations for the parade and other mass events.”

The holiday is usually observed on May 9th with a military parade including soldiers, tanks and intercontinental ballistic missiles. The government has also recently adopted an event called the Immortal Regiment where hundreds of thousands of ordinary

Russians march bearing images of relatives who died in the war.

Putin did not set a new date for the parade, but promised it would take place in 2020.
The Kremlin was also expected to host French President Emmanuel Macron this year in a politically significant visit that Russia hoped to portray as confirming its exit from isolation.

Putin announced the decision on Thursday after veterans associations submitted a similar request to him, in what was likely a politically choreographed show to justify pushing back the holiday.

The coronavirus epidemic has upended a busy political season in Russia, with the Kremlin already pushing back plans to hold a national plebiscite to endorse constitutional amendments that will allow Putin to run twice more for the presidency, potentially staying in office until 2036.

Earlier, a video purporting to show thousands of Russian troops taking part in rehearsals for the country’s Victory Day parade has raised questions about the Kremlin’s efforts to fight the spread of coronavirus in the armed forces.

Global death toll passes 140,000

The total number of coronavirus deaths across the world has reached at least 140,773, according to Johns Hopkins University, which has tracked the spread of the virus during the pandemic.

The US has the highest number of deaths with more than 33,000 followed by Italy which has passed the 22,000 mark and Spain which has more than 19,000 casualties.

Across the world, the total number of coronavirus cases has reached at least 2,101,164.

Key developments in the global coronavirus outbreak today include:

Global coronavirus cases pass 2 million mark

The total number of coronavirus cases across the world has reached at least 2,090,110, according to Johns Hopkins University, which has tracked the spread of the virus during the pandemic.

The US has the highest number of cases with 640,291, followed by Spain, with 182,816. The number of cases of coronavirus registered globally passed 1.5 million on 9 April.

UK government announces lockdown extension for three weeks

The UK’s foreign secretary, Dominic Raab, who is deputising for Boris Johnson as he recovers from Covid-19, confirmed the extension following advice from the government’s scientific advisory group for emergencies (Sage).

Raab said: “The government has decided that the current measures must remain in place for at least the next three weeks.”

He said Sage had advised that “relaxing any of the measures in place” would “undo the progress we have made” and would “risk damage to both public health and the economy”.

There were 861 Covid-19 deaths in UK hospitals reported on Thursday, taking the total past 13,000.

5 million more Americans sign on as unemployed

More than 22 million American have lost their jobs in the last four weeks as the coronavirus pandemic has swept across the US.

The US labour department announced that another 5.24 million people filed for unemployment benefits last week, making a total of 22.2 million since 14 March, when nationwide stay-at-home orders led to an unprecedented wave of layoffs across the country.

The largest number of people to ask for unemployment benefits in a four-week period before the Covid-19 crisis came in 1992, when 2.7 million sought support.

Australia PM says more Covid-19 measures needed

Scott Morrison, Australia’s prime minister, said the country had succeeding in flattening the infection curve but that a “more extensive surveillance regime” needed to be implemented if they were to forge “the road out” of lockdown.

He praised the extensive testing and contact-tracing system in place and the actions from states to open testing to anyone with symptoms. But he cautioned: “We need to do even better than that … so when we move to a less restricted environment, we can identify outbreaks very quickly and respond to them.”

His government has proposed a mobile app that would trace the movements of patients. At least 40% of Australians would need to download the app for it to be effective.

EU chief: ‘Europe owes Italy an apology’

Europe owes Italy “a heartfelt apology” for not offering assistance when the country was suffering in the early stages of the coronavirus outbreak, the head of the European Union executive said.

Speaking at the European parliament, commission president Ursula von der Leyen said truth was needed to overcome the pandemic, including political honesty. She said: “Too many were not there on time when Italy needed a helping hand at the very beginning. And yes, for that it is right that Europe as a whole offers a heartfelt apology.”

New York State lockdown extended

Governor Andrew Cuomo has extended the New York state shutdown to 15 May. He also announced that starting on Friday, anyone aged two and older would be required to wear face coverings in public if they cannot socially distance.

Another 606 people have died from the virus in New York, the lowest figure in 10 days, bringing the total above 12,000 in the state.

IMF: Asian economies will not grow this year

Economies in Asia will see zero growth this year for the first time in 60 years, the International Monetary Fund (IMF) has said. It warned that the global economy would face the “worst recession since the Great Depression” and that Asia’s service sector in particular will struggle to rebound.

Changyong Rhee, director of the IMF’s Asia and Pacific department, warned that governments would need to take extraordinary actions as a result. Rhee said: “This is not a time for business as usual. Asian countries need to use all policy instruments in their toolkits.”

Singapore reports biggest jump yet in cases

Singapore reported at least 728 new confirmed cases of coronavirus in the previous 24 hours, the biggest jump yet in numbers in the city-state, which had fought hard to keep its outbreak under control.

The latest increase in confirmed cases is 63% more than the 447 new cases reported by the health ministry on Wednesday, and brings the total number so far in the city to 4,427.

Singapore had been praised by the World Health Organization for rigorous contact tracing, quarantine and surveillance measures, which had previously mitigated the spread of Covid-19. But the disease has begun spreading rapidly within the large migrant worker community that Singapore relies on to staff many of its basic services, highlighting what rights groups say is a weak link in containment efforts.

Japan declares nationwide state of emergency

Japan has expanded its state of emergency to cover the entire country.

Shinzo Abe, the country’s prime minister, told a special meeting of medical experts called to discuss the disease: “Areas where a state of emergency should be carried out will be expanded from the seven prefectures to all prefectures.”

According to AFP, the declaration allows regional governors to urge people to stay indoors, but with no punitive measures or legal force the measure is weaker than strict lockdowns seen in other parts of the world.

Facebook to warn users who ‘like’ misinformation

Facebook will begin showing notifications to users who have interacted with posts that contain “harmful” coronavirus misinformation, the company announced.

The new policy applies only to misinformation that Facebook considers likely to contribute to “imminent physical harm”, such as false claims about “cures” or statements that physical distancing is not effective. Facebook’s policy has been to remove those posts from the platform.

Under the new policy, which will be rolled out in the coming weeks, users who liked, shared, commented or reacted with an emoji to such posts before they were deleted will see a message in their news feed directing them to a “myth busters” page maintained by the WHO.

The death toll from Covid-19 in Serbia has reached 103, after health authorities in the country reported four more deaths in the past 24 hours, Serbian news site Telegraf reports.

In a news conference on Thursday afternoon, Darija Kisic Tepavcevic, deputy director of the Serbia’s public health institute, also announced 445 new confirmed cases of coronavirus, taking the total in the country to 5,318.

In Croatia, meanwhile, health authorities have reported 1,791 total cases, and 35 deaths.

That’s it from me, Damien Gayle, for today. Thanks to all those who have been in touch with news, tips and suggestions.

A senior public health scientist has described the plan to stage the Tour de France in August as a “recipe for disaster”, Jeremy Whittle, the Guardian’s Tour de France correspondent, reports.

“The wise thing to do is cancel for this year,” said Devi Sridhar, the chair of Global Public Health at the University of Edinburgh, who is also a key adviser to the Scottish government on the Covid-19 pandemic. “It’s a painful decision but they have no choice.”

The Tour was moved this week from its original start date in late June to a new Grand Départ in Nice on 29 August, following the banning of any large public events until 11 July by the French president, Emmanuel Macron.

“This is a long-term problem, a chronic problem,” Sridhar told cyclingnews.com. “This virus is here to stay and will come back. Even if France gets a handle on it by August, then of course the issue is people coming in from different countries.”

Sridhar pointed to a series of potential risks, that might even lead to the Tour being halted if there was an outbreak within the race convoy during the race. “There’s definitely a risk that the Tour de France moving around and unwittingly spreading the virus could kick-start a new lockdown.”

Health authorities in Poland on Thursday announced 336 new confirmed cases of coronavirus and 28 deaths, as the first health worker in the country died from Covid-19.

The 46-year-old physiotherapist, a father of two, had been on intensive care in Radom, east-central Poland, after falling ill with the disease two weeks ago, local media reported. He had been working in a hospital that had become a hotspot for coronavirus, with more than 200 patients and members of staff testing positive.

Poland has so far reported 7918 coronavirus infections, and 314 deaths from the virus.

Polish president Andrzej Duda speaking at a press conference, watched in an apartment in Warsaw
Polish president Andrzej Duda speaking at a press conference, watched in an apartment in Warsaw Photograph: Wojciech Olkusnik/EPA

The latest figures come as members of Poland’s governing coalition on Thursday sought opposition support for a two-year extension of the president’s term because of the difficulty of holding an election next month under coronavirus restrictions, Reuters reports.

Poland’s ruling nationalist Law and Justice (PiS) party had advocated holding a postal ballot for the May 10 election, but late on Wednesday unexpectedly presented a bill to keep President Andrzej Duda in office for longer. As a constitutional change, it needs opposition backing to secure the necessary two-thirds approval.

Prime minister Mateusz Morawiecki was also expected on Thursday to announce an easing of its coronavirus lockdown.

In March, Poland closed its borders, schools and other public places and forbade people to leave their homes except for pressing reasons. It has so far recorded 7,771 coronavirus infections and 292 deaths.

“Final decisions will be taken today. I think that first, starting from Monday, we can expect an opening of forests, green areas,” Deputy Prime Minister Jacek Sasin told the private radio station RMF.

Closer international cooperation is needed to coordinate the fight against Covid-19 with greater involvement by the United Nations, international law experts have urged, writes Owen Bowcott, the Guardian’s legal correspondent.

The former legal director of the World Health Organisation (WHO), Professor Gian Luca Burci, and the prominent international lawyer Professor Philippe Sands QC have called for a better alert system and more information sharing.

While accepting that now, in the middle of a pandemic, is not the time to allocate blame, they questioned whether China should have sounded the alarm earlier and doubted whether there is a legal basis for President Trump unilaterally withdrawing US funding for the WHO.

In a webinar organised by the British Institute of International and Comparative Law held on Thursday afternoon, Professor Burci said:

There’s enough evidence to suggest that China knew and should have known earlier…. The WHO acted fairly quickly and quite diligently.

More developed countries should have known that a virus of this nature could spread internationally and it was [their] responsibility [to prepare].

The lessons from this crisis is to learn planning for the next one .. There should be a more consultative mechanisms where states sit together. There needs to be cooperation. There should be a blueprint for working together. There’s a real place for the UN rather than [working] through a sectoral organisation. We need a politically effective forum for consultation.

The number of diseases spread internationally is expanding. So this is our future and we may not have long time to prepare. Most of the diseases [like HIV or Ebola] have had an animal origin.

In terms of Trump’s funding withdrawal, Burci said: “There’s no legal basis for a unilateral decision by the US to stop funding.” He said there is a dispute resolution in article 56 of the International Health Regulations but it has never been tested.

Professor Sands agreed that there is a need for improved international cooperation at a time of populist politics but any inquiry into the Covid-19 outbreak should be conducted by a panel of independent academics, he sugested, rather than the UN security council which is vulnerable to vetoes from its members such as China, the US or the UK.

Taiwan, not a member of WHO, he pointed out has been a model in terms of country responses: it was testing incoming passengers from Wuhan even before China declared an outbreak on December 31st last year. Coronavirus is a wake-up call for larger threats such as climate change, Sands added.

After more than a month in which he was not seen in public, Nicaragua’s president has reappeared, giving a speech in which he claimed the coronavirus was “a sign from God”, the Associated Press reports.

In the televised address on Wednesday night, Daniel Ortega claimed that Nicaragua had suffered only one death from the coronavirus pandemic and that the country’s three confirmed cases were “imported”.

There had been concerns about the health of the 74-year-old former guerrilla leader, but he appeared well and was not using a mask during his speech.

Ortega has refused to adopt the social-distancing and lockdown measures used in other countries, and has in fact encouraged Nicaraguans to participate in mass gatherings.

Nicaraguans “haven’t stopped working, because if this country stops working, it dies”, Ortega said. The government did extend Holy Week school vacations to two weeks; classes are scheduled to resume on 20 April.

Ortega did not comment on how many tests have been carried out. Experts suspect there are many undetected cases.

UK lockdown extended for three weeks

Britain’s lockdown is to continue for at least another three weeks because experts still cannot be sure the coronavirus epidemic has peaked, the foreign secretary, Dominic Raab, has said, writes Rowena Mason, the Guardian’s deputy political editor, in London.

Raab, who is deputising for the prime minister while he recovers from Covid-19, said there was hope that the number of new infections was no longer rising in the community daily but there was less certainty about some hospitals and care homes.

However people would have to stick with the instructions to “stay at home, protect the NHS, and save lives” until scientists and medics could be sure the outbreak was under control.

“The worst thing we could do is ease up too soon. It would be the worst outcome not just for public health but the economy and the country as a whole,” he said.

The coronavirus outbreak in Canada’s long term care homes has become so grave that one province has repeatedly asked for the military to be deployed, prime minister Justin Trudeau said Wednesday, Leyland Cecco reports from Toronto.

Calling it an “unusual request”, Trudeau said the officials in Quebec have sent three requests to the federal government for help.

“We know this is a serious situation if Quebec is asking the federal government for help. We will do this as quickly as possible so we can send them the support they need,” said Trudeau. But he also said that while the military had a number of doctors, he wasn’t sure if troops were well-suited to aid in care homes.

The hardest-hit province in the country, Quebec is grappling with a mounting death toll among its elderly population and a shortage of workers for retirement homes. On Wednesday, premier François Legault said an additional healthcare workers were needed, calling the situation a “national emergency”.

Centre d’hebergement de la Piniere, an elderly care home affected by the outbreak of Covid-19 in the Laval, Quebec
Centre d’hebergement de la Piniere, an elderly care home affected by the outbreak of Covid-19 in the Laval, Quebec Photograph: Christinne Muschi/Reuters

There are more than 14,000 cases recorded in the province with at least 487 deaths. Across the country, nearly half of the 1,048 deaths from Covid-19 have been in long term care home.

Ontario, the country’s most populous province, is also grappling with outbreaks in its care homes. On Wednesday, premier Doug Ford announced new directives to prevent care aides and nursing staff from working at multiple locations.

The prime minister admitted the impact to seniors residences has been “more severe” than the government had hoped. “The conditions are getting more and more difficult.”

Italy registered 525 more deaths from Covid-19 on Thursday, 53 less than Wednesday, taking the death toll to 22,170, Lorenzo Tondo in Palermo reports.

The number of people who are currently infected rose by 1189 in a day, 62 more than on Wednesday. Some 2,072 have recovered in the last 24 hours, bringing the total number to 40,164.

The Civil Protection agency said the overall total of cases in Italy, including the deceased, the currently infected and those who have recovered, is now 168,941, up 3,786 on Thursday.

Authorities said the number of intensive care beds in use continues to fall: 2,936 are currently hospitalised in intensive care units - the lowest number registered since 21 March.

Italy’s government is still working on a plan to enter ‘phase two’ of its lockdown, which is set to end on 3 May, as several regions, worried for the economic impact, are urging Rome to not extend the quarantine beyond its current deadline.

Red Cross staff take a selfie at the Red Cross headquarters in Turin
Red Cross staff take a selfie at the Red Cross headquarters in Turin Photograph: Stefano Guidi/Getty Images

As the country is struggling to pull its economy through the coronavirus crisis, European Commission president Ursula von der Leyen apologised to Italy on behalf of Europe for its failure to do more to help at the beginning of the pandemic.

“It is true that no one was really ready for this. It is also true that too many were not there on time when Italy a needed a helping hand at the very beginning,” she said in a speech to the European Parliament.

More good news for Greece on the Covid-19 front, as research showed that when it comes to containing the deadly disease it is the best performing country in Europe, writes Helena Smith in Athens.

In what has been described as ground-breaking analysis of the best and worst performing countries on the continent, Greece has outstripped all others in both dealing with the outbreak, according to The Bridge Tank. The independent economic think tank says:

Thanks to early and strict containment measures, they have successfully managed to flatten the curve and slow down the spread of the virus. The contrast between Greece – which suspended public events and closed schools even before the first 100 cases were detected, and Spain – which took similar decisions at a much later stage of the epidemic – is particularly striking.

Greek health authorities have confirmed 2,207 cases of coronavirus and 105 deaths to date. In the pan-European comparative analysis it was followed by the Czech Republic and Romania. The report went on:

Four weeks after the first 100 COVID-19 cases were detected in each country, it took 19 days for the number of cases in Greece to double, a clear indicator that Greece has successfully ‘flattened the curve’. At the other end of the spectrum, the UK is still witnessing a sharp rise in confirmed cases.

This week we looked into how a country more normally associated with crisis apparently managed to avert this one.

Slovakia has posted its biggest daily jump in the number of new coronavirus cases, bringing its total to nearly 1,000, the country’s health ministry said on Thursday, according to Reuters.

On Wednesday, Slovakia recorded 114 new cases, bringing the total to 977 since the virus was first detected in March. The jump surpassed a daily rise of 101 cases recorded on 7 April, when at least 31 cases were detected in marginalised Roma communities, prompting the state to quarantine five settlements in eastern Slovakia. Eight coronavirus patients have died so far.

While neighbours in central Europe such as the Czech Republic and Poland begin to ease restrictions as the growth in cases slows or steadies, Slovak prime minister Igor Matovic has said the country will re-open only cautiously.

Slovakia has has banned international passenger travel, closed schools and most shops, banned cultural, religious and sporting events and imposed 14-day quarantine for anyone returning from abroad.

Slovakia’s Prime Minister Igor Matovic speaking at a news conference in Bratislava in March
Slovakia’s prime minister, Igor Matovic, speaking at a news conference in Bratislava in March Photograph: Radovan Stoklasa/Reuters

EU chief: 'Europe owes Italy an apology'

Europe owes Italy “a heartfelt apology” for not being there when the country was suffering the consequences of coronavirus, the head of the European Union executive has said.

Speaking at the European parliament, European commission president Ursula von der Leyen said truth was needed to overcome the pandemic, including political honesty.

Too many were not there on time when Italy needed a helping hand at the very beginning. And yes for that it is right that Europe as a whole offers a heartfelt apology.

She went on to claim that Europe is now “the world’s beating heart of solidarity,” citing German deliveries of ventilators to Spain, the Czech Republic’s decision to open hospitals to French coronavirus patients, as well as the Polish paramedics and Romanian doctors saving lives in Italy.

Ursula von der Leyen, president of the European Commission, speaking in the European parliament on Thursday
Ursula von der Leyen, president of the European Commission, speaking in the European parliament on Thursday Photograph: Thierry Monasse/Getty Images

The direct apology to Italy went further than von der Leyen’s previous expressions of regret, where she chided member states for an “only-for-me response” during the early phase of the pandemic. At the start of the crisis, France and Germany imposed export bans on vital medical equipment, while no European country initially answered Italy’s call for aid via the EU’s emergency mechanism.

A mid March opinion poll found that 88% of Italians felt Europe was failing to support Italy, results that rattled Brussels and other national capitals.

EU leaders are meeting next Thursday, where they will again try to chart a common path out of the crisis, but they remain divided on the best economic recovery plan.

MPs in Sweden have passed a new law granting the government temporary powers to quickly adopt measures aimed at curbing the spread of coronavirus, AFP reports.

The new law grants the Social Democrat-led government the ability to temporarily close businesses, limit public gatherings or shut down ports and airports, as well as a number of other measures.

It comes after criticism of the comparatively relaxed approach taken so far in the Scandinavian country, which had held back from strict measures and now has a rate of coronavirus deaths and infections that is far higher than its near neighbours.

Sweden’s prime minister, Stefan Lofven, at a news conference on the coronavirus situation, in Stockholm, earlier today
Sweden’s prime minister, Stefan Lofven, at a news conference on the coronavirus situation, in Stockholm, earlier today Photograph: Ali Lorestani/TT/EPA

The government is still prohibited from adopting measures that curtail rights guaranteed by the country’s constitution, meaning it would still need to go through parliament to issue the type of curfews that have been imposed elsewhere in Europe.

So far the government has banned gatherings of more than 50 people and barred visits to nursing homes. On Thursday, the government also decided on a month-long extension of a ban on non-necessary travel to the country from outside the EU, in line with a joint EU decision.

The new powers come into force on 18 April and last until the end of June.

Sweden’s public health agency on Thursday reported another 130 deaths from coronavirus, bringing the total death toll in the country to 1,333. So far the country has recorded 12,540 confirmed cases of coronavirus. Of those, 996 have been treated in intensive care.

Updated

Singapore reports biggest jump yet in cases

Singapore has reported 728 new confirmed cases of coronavirus detected in the past 24 hours, the biggest jump yet in numbers in the city state, which had fought hard to keep its outbreak under control.

The latest increase in confirmed cases is 63% more than the 447 new cases reported by the health ministry on Wednesday, and brings the total number so far in the city to 4,427.

Singapore had been praised by the World Health Organization for rigorous contact tracing, quarantine and surveillance measures, which had previously mitigated the spread of Covid-19.

But the disease has begun spreading rapidly within the large migrant worker community that Singapore relies upon to staff many of its basic services, highlighting what rights groups say is a weak link in containment efforts, Reuters reports.

Updated

5m more Americans sign on as unemployed

More than 22 million American have lost their jobs in the last four weeks as the coronavirus pandemic has swept across the US, according to government figures, write Dominic Rushe and Amanda Holpuch in New York.

The US labor department announced on Thursday that another 5.24 million people filed for unemployment benefits last week, making a total of 22.2 million since 14 March when nationwide stay at home orders led to an unprecedented wave of layoffs across the country.

The largest number of people to ask for unemployment benefits in a four-week period before the Covid-19 crisis came in 1992 when 2.7 million sought support.

This graph shows the rise in initial unemployment claims recorded since the coronavirus crisis began affecting the US in mid-March

The torrent of layoffs has swept across the country, and every sector of the economy, leading to backlogs and anger at state unemployment offices as people have struggled to make claims. The delays are likely to trigger further spikes in the figures in coming weeks.

“It’s akin to the entire country being hit by a hurricane,” said Jason Reed, assistant chair of finance at the University of Notre Dame. “And we don’t know when the hurricane is leaving.”

Updated

The death rate in “institutional households” in the Netherlands has doubled since the first part of this year, the Dutch public health authority has said, as it reported 181 more deaths from Covid-19 on Thursday. The death toll in the Netherlands is now 3,315.

At 2pm on Thursday, RIVM said 1,061 more people had tested positive for coronavirus, bringing the total number of confirmed cases in the Netherlands up to 29,214. The number of patients admitted to hospital with the disease is 9,309, up 182 on a day earlier.

Institutional households include care homes, mental health institutions, residential institutions for the disabled, prisons, and residential centres for asylum seekers, RIVM said in a news release. In an updated filed this afternoon, the agency said it estimates that a third of Dutch care homes now have at least one patient with coronavirus.

The death rate in private households was 1.5 times higher than usual.

Updated

Belgium begins testing in all care homes

Belgium has begun testing more than 210,000 residents and staff at nursing homes, which account for about half of the country’s coronavirus-related deaths, Reuters reports.

Belgium is one of only a few countries in Europe that includes all non-hospitalised people who displayed symptoms of the disease in its daily tally of Covid-19 deaths, even if they had not been confirmed as having had it.

A nurse cares for a resident at a care home in Ciney, Belgium, in this picture taken earlier in April
A nurse cares for a resident at a care home in Ciney, Belgium, in this picture taken earlier in April Photograph: Olivier Hoslet/EPA

The policy, which has proven controversial, may help to explain the small country of about 11.5 million people, which has been in lockdown since mid-March, has the fifth highest coronavirus death toll in Europe, more than larger countries such as Germany and the Netherlands.

On Thursday, Belgian medical authorities said the coronavirus death toll had risen to 4,857 people, of which 49% had been in care homes. Of these, only 6.5% were confirmed as having Covid-19. The vast majority were merely suspected cases.

The mass testing at care homes is expected to take about three weeks.

Updated

The public health agency in Sweden has reported another 130 deaths from coronavirus, fewer than the day before, bringing the total death toll in the country to 1,333.

So far the country has recorded 12,540 confirmed cases of coronavirus. Of those, 996 have been treated in intensive care, the public health agency said.

Stockholm remains the worst-affected region, with more than 5,000 cases.

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One more person has died from Covid-19 in Kenya since yesterday, and nine new cases of coronavirus have been recorded. There has been no change in the number of patients who have recovered.

The PGA Tour has announced plans to resume in June, with the first four events being closed to spectators due to the coronavirus pandemic.

The tour has been suspended since the Players Championship was cancelled after the opening round on 12 March, with the first three majors of the year – the Masters, US PGA and US Open postponed and the Open Championship cancelled for 2020.

As a result, September’s US Open and November’s rescheduled Masters will form part of the PGA Tour’s 2020-21 season, with 14 events remaining on the 2019-20 calendar.

UK reports 861 new Covid-19 deaths

The UK’s health department has issued the latest daily figures for coronavirus hospital deaths. There were 861, taking the running total to 13,729.

Yesterday the daily figure was 761 but Prof Chris Whitty, the UK government’s chief medical adviser, said in the press conference yesterday afternoon that he expected today’s figure to be higher.

The latest figures come as the UK government’s spokesman claimed the coronavirus crisis strengthened the need for the UK to be free of EU regulation after 2020. He made that argument as he said the UK would refuse to extend the post-Brexit transition – even if the EU requested an extension.

There is more information about today’s figures here. For more developments from Britain, follow our UK coronavirus live blog.

Facebook to warn users who 'like' misinformation

Facebook will begin showing notifications to users who have interacted with posts that contain “harmful” coronavirus misinformation, the company announced on Thursday, writes Julia Carrie Wong, the Guardian’s tech reporter in San Francisco.

The new policy applies only to misinformation that Facebook considers likely to contribute to “imminent physical harm”, such as false claims about “cures” or statements that physical distancing is not effective. Facebook’s policy has been to remove those posts from the platform.

Under the new policy, which will be rolled out in the coming weeks, users who liked, shared, commented or reacted with an emoji to such posts before they were deleted will see a message in their news feed directing them to a “myth busters” page maintained by the World Health Organization (WHO).

Announcing the move, Guy Rosen, Facebook’s vice-president of integrity, said in a blogpost:

We’re going to start showing messages in News Feed to people who have liked, reacted or commented on harmful misinformation about COVID-19 that we have since removed. These messages will connect people to COVID-19 myths debunked by the WHO including ones we’ve removed from our platform for leading to imminent physical harm.

We want to connect people who may have interacted with harmful misinformation about the virus with the truth from authoritative sources in case they see or hear these claims again off of Facebook. People will start seeing these messages in the coming weeks.

Facebook does not take down other misinformation about Covid-19, such as conspiracy theories about the virus’s origins, but instead relies on its third-party factchecking system. If a factchecker rates a claim false, Facebook then adds a notice to the post, reduces its spread, alerts anyone who shared it, and discourages users from sharing it further.

Restrictions to tackle the spread of the coronavirus in Switzerland will be gradually relaxed from April 27.

On Thursday, the government said hospitals would be allowed to perform all procedures, including elective surgeries, while hair salons and massage parlours will be allowed to reopen.

A view of empty Zurich city centre in Switzerland on April 7, 2020.
A view of empty Zurich city centre in Switzerland on April 7, 2020. Photograph: Anadolu Agency/Anadolu Agency via Getty Images

Primary schools, shops and markets will reopen on May 11, while secondary schools, vocational schools and universities will reopen on June 8.

An existing ban on meetings of more than five people is also expected to be relaxed, but details will not be announced until the end of May.

Swiss president Simonetta Sommaruga told a news conference:

The spread of the coronavirus was slowed, and our hospitals are not stretched to the limit.”

“We want to make sure there isn’t a resurgence in infections, and we don’t want to endanger the gains we’ve made so far. That’s why we ask people to stick to the social distancing and hygiene measures we’ve put in place.”

The country’s death toll from Covid-19 stands at 1,269, while 26,422 people have tested positive for the virus according to data from John Hopkins University.

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Germans have the right to hold public protests if they adhere to social distancing rules, the country’s constitutional court has ruled.

A group of pro-democracy activists had petitioned the court after authorities in the town of Giessen banned a protest planned this week to denounce lockdown rules that prevent public gatherings of more than two people.

They said the measures breached freedom of assembly, a key tenet of the German constitution.

Although two lower courts had previously sided with the local authorities, the constitutional court said a general ban on demonstrations would be unconstitutional.

However, it stopped short of allowing the protest planned this week to go ahead.

I’m Amy Walker, taking over the liveblog while my colleague Damien Gayle takes a break.

Updated

In India, politicians from the ruling Hindu nationalist BJP party have been touting cow urine as a cure for Covid-19.

In Tanzania the president has promised that taking communion in church would “burn” the virus away.

In Brazil a congressman claimed a day of fasting would halt its spread.

As the global pandemic has worsened, politicians, faith leaders and other authority figures from around the world have touted unscientific methods to tackle its spread.

The Guardian’s network of foreign correspondents have rounded up the nuttiest.

Amazon has closed its six distribution centres in France, two days after a French court ruled it was not doing enough to protect workers from the coronavirus pandemic.

The company is facing mounting scrutiny on both sides of the Atlantic as it tries to deal with a surge in online orders during lockdowns while keeping employees safe.

On Tuesday a court in Nanterre, Paris, issued an emergency ruling requiring the company to stop selling non-essential goods for a month while it works out new safety measures.

Sales of food, medicine and hygiene supplies are still allowed under the ruling. However, Amazon France said that given the “inherent complexity” of its activities, and the potential €1m (£870,000) fine for each violation of the ruling, the risk was too high.

Amazon France’s chief executive, Frédéric Duval, denounced the court’s order on Thursday, saying the company had spent “colossal amounts” on health precautions including sanitary gels and face masks. He said the firm would appeal.

The author Luis Sepúlveda, the celebrated author and former communist militant from Chile during the Pinochet regime, has died at a hospital in northern Spain, AFP reports.

Best-known for his 1992 novel, “The Old Man Who Read Love Stories”, Sepulveda, who was 70, was particularly successful in Europe, where he had been based since the 1980s.

His works, appreciated for their simple humour and depictions of life in South America, have been translated in some 50 countries and range from novels, chronicles and novellas to children’s stories.

“I write because I believe in the militant force of words”, he once wrote.

Luis Sepulveda, pictured in 2017, who has died in a hospital in northern Spain
Luis Sepulveda, pictured in 2017, who has died in a hospital in northern Spain Photograph: Duilio Piaggesi/Rex/Shutterstock

Sepulveda was born on 4 October, 1949, at Ovalle, north of the Chilean capital Santiago. From a young age he was a political activist, first for Chile’s Communist Youth, and then for the Socialists.

He was arrested and jailed for treason for two and a half years in 1973 under the military regime of Augusto Pinochet. After rights group Amnesty International intervened, Sepulveda was freed and escaped, living underground for nearly a year before being recaptured and sent into exile in 1977.

He never returned to live in Chile and it was only in 2017 that he regained his Chilean nationality, which had been stripped from him decades earlier.

He first began showing symptoms of Covid-19 on February 25 after returning from a festival in Portugal.

Updated

Health authorities in Russia reported 3,448 new confirmed cases of the coronavirus on Thursday, up from 3,388 a day earlier, bringing the overall number of cases in the country 27,938, Reuters reports.

Thirty-four people died in the last 24 hours, which took the national coronavirus death toll to 232, the Russian coronavirus crisis response centre said.

The latest figures came as the Kremlin said it would accept a “kind offer” by Donald Trump to ship ventilators from the US if Russia felt it needed them.

Russia shipped ventilators and protective gear this month to the US after a phone call between Trump and his Russian counterpart, Vladimir Putin.

Trump told Putin in a recent phone call that the US could reciprocate as it begins to produce more ventilators, Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov told reporters on a conference call on Thursday.

“If necessary, Russia would of course take advantage of this kind offer,” Peskov said.

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Spain is to introduce a targeted basic income to support its least well off citizens through the economic slump to come after its coronavirus outbreak, according to the leader of junior coalition partner Podemos.

In a statement posted on Twitter on Thursday morning, Pablo Iglesias, secretary general of the centre-left party, said the basic income was “a measure of social justice and also of economic efficiency”. He wrote:

We are very happy that in the coalition government we have finally agreed that in this country there will be a minimum vital income this May.

There are hundreds of thousands of families in Spain that could not wait several months; The government is aware of its situation and will work to accelerate to the maximum all the necessary procedures so that this minimum vital income is effectively functioning in this month of May.

It is a measure of social justice and also of economic efficiency: it will allow the fridge of many compatriots to be filled and it will also allow many people to maintain a minimum consumption capacity, which is essential for the economy to recover as quickly as possible when we have defeated the virus.

... Everything is ready so that the teams of the vice-presidency for social rights and the ministry of inclusion, social security and migration hold new meetings, as we have had for days now to finish defining the details of this social protection system, which is called to become a new nuclear social right of our welfare state and of our democracy.

This is not a victory for the coalition government, nor for Podemos; it is a victory for all the groups that for many years have worked through thick and thin to put on the table the need for a minimum income.

To all of them: thank you. We hope to be in the expectations.

Here’s the first tweet in the thread for you to read for yourself.

Updated

In a bid to keep up with the coronavirus spread, the Indian state of Kerala is set to convert thousands of its iconic houseboats into isolation wards, writes Hannah Ellis-Petersen, the Guardian’s South Asia correspondent.

Around 2,000 houseboats, which usually travel through the serene, palm tree-lined backwaters of Kerala, are currently being converted into isolation facilities for coronavirus patients.

The two storey luxury boats are beloved by tourists and are also a popular purchase among Bollywood actors, who are known to renovate them to the highest standards of luxury.

“We are happy to hand over our boats,” said Kevin Rozario, general secretary of All Kerala Houseboat Owners and Operators Association. “By handing over our boats, we are joining the global fight against the virus. We see it as our duty and we will provide all help.”

A houseboat in the backwaters of Kerala, prior to the Covid-19 pandemic ...
A houseboat in the backwaters of Kerala, prior to the Covid-19 pandemic ... Photograph: David Noton/ALAMY

According to the local government, the boats can be made fit for purpose by the end of the month, and then can be moved to remote locations for the safety of patients and locals.

It follows on from the Indian government beginning to renovate 20,000 train carriages into medical facilities and isolation wards two weeks ago. Each train carriage holds 16 beds and a total of 320,000 patients could be cared for in the “quarantine coaches”, a statement from the railways said.

India currently has 12,380 confirmed coronavirus cases and 414 deaths. However, officials believe the real figure could be much higher as India has one of the lowest testing rates in the world.

Japan declares nationwide state of emergency

Japan has expanded its state of emergency to cover the entire country, AFP reports.

My colleague in Tokyo, Justin McCurry, earlier reported that Shinzō Abe, the country’s prime minister, was poised to announce the expansion of measures, which had already been declared in seven regions, including Tokyo.

On Thursday evening, Abe told a special meeting of medical experts called to discuss the disease:

Areas where a state of emergency should be carried out will be expanded from the seven prefectures to all prefectures

According to AFP, the declaration allows regional governors to urge people to stay indoors, but with no punitive measures or legal force the measure is far weaker than strict lockdowns seen in other parts of the world.

Despite recording its first case in mid-January, Japan has so far seen a relatively small outbreak with about 8,500 infections and 136 deaths by Thursday.

Updated

Security forces enforcing the lockdown in Nigeria to curb the spread of Covid-19 have killed more people so far than the virus itself, the country’s official human rights body reports.

Nigeria has imposed a total lockdown in the capital Abuja and economic hub Lagos, a city of some 21 million people, and set restrictions in other regions in a bid to contain the spread of the coronavirus, with security forces, including the police and army, deployed to enforce them.

In a report released late on Wednesday, the National Human Rights Commission said it had received and documented “105 complaints of incidents of human rights violations perpetuated by security forces” in 24 of Nigeria’s 36 states and Abuja.

Of these complaints, “there were 8 documented incidents of extrajudicial killings leading to 18 deaths”, it said. According to the latest figures published on Wednesday night, 12 people in Nigeria have died of Covid-19, out of a total of 407 confirmed cases. The report added:

This speaks volumes of the protocols and rules of engagement for our law enforcement as well the efficiency level and capacity of law enforcement agents to deal with civil population. It’s a sheer display of impunity and reckless disregard for human life in law enforcement by security personnel.

The number of new confirmed coronavirus infections in Germany has risen for a second consecutive day, as the country prepares to lift restrictions aimed at slowing the spread of the virus.

The Robert Koch Institute (RKI) for infectious diseases reported 2,866 new confirmed cases on Thursday, bringing the country’s total to to 130,450. The number of new cases on Wednesday was 2,486.

The daily death toll also rose for a second day, by 315 to 3,569, the tally showed. On Wednesday the reported death toll was 285.

The number of the coronavirus deaths in Iran was below 100 for the third consecutive day on Thursday.

Health ministry spokesman Kianush Jahanpur said in a statement on state TV that 92 more people had been recorded as dying from the virus, bringing the total death toll in the country to 4,869.

Iran’s total number of cases of people infected with the coronavirus has reached 77,995, Jahanpur said.

Dr Matshidiso Moeti, the head of the World Health Organization in Africa, has called Donald Trump’s decision to cut funding for the UN health body a blow to efforts to support healthcare across Africa.

Asked in a press briefing about the impact of the decision by the WHO’s biggest funder to withhold cash, Moeti said it would have an impact that went beyond the WHO’s ability to fund efforts to fight Covid-19. She warned efforts to fight polio, HIV and malaria in Africa were also likely to be affected.

Overall, we will be needing about $300m for the next six months at least to support what countries are doing [to combat Covid-19). This has been a blow to the global WHO budget.

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The French military has ordered an inquiry into how the Charles de Gaulle aircraft carrier, the flagship of the naval fleet, was contaminated with Covid-19 after a third of its crew tested positive for the virus, Kim Willsher, the Guardian’s Paris correspondent, reports.

The cluster is especially puzzling as the nuclear-powered vessel had reportedly had no contact with the outside world since it went to sea on 15 March.

Last Friday, the French defence ministry confirmed 50 sailors had coronavirus and the ship, in the Atlantic at the time, was ordered back to base in the port of Toulon on France’s Mediterranean coast. It arrived on Sunday, two weeks earlier than planned.

Since then 668 sailors, one third of the 1,767-strong crew have tested positive, the French defence ministry confirmed.

French sailors wearing face masks aboard the aircraft carrier Charles de Gaulle as it arrived in Toulon earlier this week
French sailors wearing face masks aboard the aircraft carrier Charles de Gaulle as it arrived in Toulon earlier this week Photograph: Christophe Simon/AFP via Getty Images

“Today, 31 of them are in hospital, one in intensive care. We do not have the results for 30% of the tests,” it said in a statement.

The crew has been placed in isolation for 14 days before being allowed to rejoin their families.

“Operations to disinfect the vessel and aircraft have begun,” the French defence minister, Florence Parly, said adding a message of support for the confined sailors and their families.

The Charles de Gaulle was docked at Brest on France’s western coast between 13-15 March, where the sailors were given shore leave. This was two days before the strict confinement.

Admiral Christophe Prazuck, the chief of staff of the French navy, has ordered an inquiry into the contamination of the vessel.

The Charles de Gaulle, which carries Rafale fighter planes, Hawkeye surveillance and control aircraft as well as Caracal and Cougar helicopters and Aster anti-air missiles, had been on exercise since 21 January.

It spent several weeks in the Mediterranean as part of Opération Chammal, the French contribution to the international anti-terrorist operation Inherent Resolve in Iraq and Syria. It then sailed to the North Sea and then the Atlantic for “operations of security and defence” to European sea routes, said the ministry.

Updated

Spain recorded 5,183 new cases of the virus between Wednesday and Thursday, bringing its total number of confirmed cases to 182,816 - a rise of 2.9% on the previous 24 hours, writes Sam Jones in Madrid.

Over recent days, the increase in new cases has been holding at around 3% a day, well down from a daily average of 12% at the end of March and 20% in mid-March. To date, Spain has recorded 19,130 deaths.

Questions remain over Spain’s official figures because of the way it tests and reports. So far, the official figures from the health ministry have been based only on deaths of people who have tested positive for the coronavirus.

A patient is carried by health staff to the intensive care unit of Gregorio Maranon Hospital in Madrid, Spain on Wednesday
A patient is carried by health staff to the intensive care unit of Gregorio Maranon Hospital in Madrid, Spain on Wednesday Photograph: Anadolu Agency/Anadolu Agency via Getty Images

As the health minister, Salvado Illa, put it recently: “Anyone who’s been positively diagnosed with the coronavirus and who dies is a person who’s counted as a victim of the coronavirus.”

A lot of people are likely to have died from the virus without having been tested, meaning their deaths do not figure in the official count.

This is particularly the case in care homes, where thousands of people have died untested, but showed symptoms consistent with the coronavirus.

According to figures analysed by El País, at least 11,600 people have died of the virus - or displaying symptoms associated with it - in Spanish care homes. Those deaths would account for almost two-thirds of the nationwide fatalities.

On Wednesday, Catalonia’s regional government changed the way it counted coronavirus deaths after asking for data from funeral companies.

It now puts the region’s death toll - in hospitals, homes and care homes - at 7,097. However, the rise in the death toll has not been factored into Thursday’s figure from the Spanish health ministry, which puts the regional death toll at 3,855.

Updated

The World Health Organization Africa region is holding a live joint media briefing with the World Economic Forum. You can watch in this player on its Twitter feed.

Updated

Japan’s prime minister, Shinzo Abe, is poised to declare a nationwide state of emergency in an attempt to contain the coronavirus outbreak, Japanese media reports said on Thursday, writes Justin McCurry in Tokyo.

Abe last week declared a month-long state of emergency in seven regions, including Tokyo, but has come under pressure to include other parts of the country amid a steady rise in Covid-19 cases.

The move stops far short of the lockdowns introduced in other countries. Instead, local authorities have asked people to stay indoors and request that non-essential businesses close, but there are no penalties for those who fail to comply.

The government has said people have to reduce contact with others by 70-80% to avoid an explosive growth in infections in Japan, which has so far seen a relatively small outbreak, despite recording its first case in mid-January, with about 8,500 infections and 136 deaths by Thursday.

As a result, there has been a significant fall in the number of commuters on Tokyo’s usually crowded public transport system and some central parts of the city are practically deserted. But experts fear the virus could spread in local neighbourhoods, where the streets appear to be much busier.

People walk in the entertainment district of Dotonbori in Osaka, Japan
People walk in the entertainment district of Dotonbori on Wednesday. Japan’s prime minister is poised to declare a nationwide state of emergency Photograph: Aflo/Rex/Shutterstock

Since the state of emergency emergency came into effect on 8 April, several regional governors have called for the measures to be expanded to cover their areas – warning of a growing number of infections and stretched medical facilities.

The chief cabinet secretary, Yoshihide Suga, said the government would consult experts on Thursday before widening the state of emergency from seven to all 47 of Japan’s prefectures.

In a joint statement issued this week, emergency medical associations warned that they were “already sensing the collapse of the emergency medical system”, with hospitals unable to deal with patients suffering from illnesses other than Covid-19.

In addition, the mayor of Osaka, Japan’s third-biggest city, this week appealed for donations of raincoats to be repurposed as protective clothing for health workers who were being forced to use bin liners due to a shortage of equipment.

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1m coronavirus tests to be rolled out across Africa

More than 1 million coronavirus tests will be rolled out in Africa from next week to address a gap in assessing the number of cases on the continent, the head of the African Union’s health body has said.

In an online briefing to journalists on Thursday, John Nkengasong, director of the Africa Centres for Disease Control, said maybe 15 million tests would be required across Africa in the next three months, the Associated Press reported.

Africa has suffered in the global race to obtain testing kits and other badly needed medical equipment. While the number of virus cases across the continent was above 17,000 on Thursday, health officials have said the testing shortage means more are out there. South Africa, the most assertive African nation in testing, has carried out perhaps 80,000 tests so far, Nkengasong said.

He also expressed concern for the US decision to cut funding for the World Health Organization, saying it absolutely will affect African Union member states’ ability to receive support from the UN agency.

Any reduction in support for African nations will be painful as the continent has some of the world’s weakest health systems.

Ten African nations have no ventilators at all to treat virus patients who need respiratory support, the Africa CDC chief said, but arrangements are being made to deliver some recently donated by the Jack Ma Foundation. Nkengasong did not name the 10 countries.

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In a development that runs contrary to the rules of science and technology, Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps claims to have invented a device that can detect the presence of coronavirus at a distance of 100 metres, writes Patrick Wintour, the Guardian’s diplomatic editor.

The IRGC, subject to intense US sanctions and seen by Washington as the source of instability across the Middle East, unveiled the device earlier this week at a ceremony hosted by its commander Maj Gen Hossein Salami.

Hossein Salami, commander-in-chief of the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps, giving a speech in February
Hossein Salami, commander-in-chief of the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps, giving a speech in February Photograph: WANA/Reuters

The device “creates a magnetic field, and by using an embedded bipolar virus, any infected area can be detected within a 100-metre radius”, according to the IRGC, which said the process takes under five seconds.

Salami said:

This device does not require blood transfusions and operates remotely and intelligently, i.e. it is used for mass screening and fully detects infected surfaces and people who are infected.

He said it would also act as a smart disinfectant since it would know which areas need disinfecting.

This is an amazing scientific phenomenon, and it has been tested in various hospitals, and it has answered more than 80% of its accuracy, and it will be a very good basis for any kind of virus.

It is fair to say that the device’s unveiling led to a degree of scepticism on social media, with some Iranians saying they did not know whether to laugh or cry.

Separately Babak Shokri, vice-chancellor of Shahid Beheshti University of Medical Sciences claimed Iran will be able to market a coronavirus-resistant fabric within a month.

Updated

This is Damien Gayle taking control of the live blog now for the next eight hours or so, with thanks to my colleague Simon Murphy for keeping things ticking over.

As usual I’ll be bringing you the latest coronavirus news, with a focus on Europe, the Middle East and Africa, while picking up the last updates from the evening in Asia and the first news emerging from the east coast of the Americas.

If you want to get in touch with me, with any tips, suggestions or questions, or news that you would like to see us covering, please send an email to [email protected] or a direct message via my Twitter profile, @damiengayle.

Updated

The number of confirmed cases in west Africa is steadily rising since the first case confirmed by Nigeria on 27 February. All countries in the region are affected and under lockdowns of varying degrees, with international travel suspended and movement increasingly prohibited. Ivory Coast has the highest number of confirmed cases at 654.

Yet, across west Africa testing is very limited, with Ghana testing about 35,000 people so far and Nigeria only about 5,000. In Lagos, authorities have just begun the first community testing to determine the spread in the wider population, as so far tests have only been conducted on people who have recently travelled into the country or who have alerted authorities to their condition.

Nigeria’s government is racing to strengthen a chronically underfunded health system, with only a few hundred ICUs and ventilators for its 200 million people, according to medical unions. Nigeria spends 4% of GDP on health, which is among the lowest levels in percentage terms in Africa.

Nigeria already has an oxygen crisis, with 625,000 people dying each year due to hospitals not having enough oxygen provision. In recent weeks, strikes by doctors have further highlighted the difficulties in health services, amid complaints of unpaid salaries and poor working conditions.

The number of laboratories testing for Covid-19 are being quickly expanded and health centres built with help from the private sector. But there remain fears that even a moderate outbreak could overwhelm the system unless much more is done.

The financial toll of the lockdowns on the poor in west Africa is already becoming clear, with videos across social media of citizens pleading for food supplies and money. Lockdowns have been widespread but help is incredibly limited. Ghana has been among the more proactive countries, yet most are struggling to provide adequate supplies to more than a fraction of the people affected.

In Senegal, there are fears that more than 100,000 street children, known locally as Talibés, who beg on the streets are at a greater risk of contracting the coronavirus. Many are homeless or living in squalid, congested Islamic boarding schools. Senegalese authorities say they are trying to help by providing education centres for 1,500 children.

Updated

Europe still in the midst of the Covid-19 storm, World Health Organization warns

More from the World Health Organization press briefing, as the body’s European regional director warns that the continent is still in the midst of the storm of the Covid-19 pandemic, with the number of cases nearing a million.

“As of today, Europe remains very much at the centre of the pandemic. And on the one hand, we have reason to be optimistic, and at the other to be still concerned,” the WHO’s Hans Kluge said.

In the past 10 days, the number of cases reported in Europe has nearly doubled to close to 1 million, he told reporters in an online briefing. This meant about 50% of the global burden of Covid-19 was in Europe, Kluge said.

Updated

The French government has unveiled a vast package of measures estimated at €110bn (£95.8bn) to help the country through the coronavirus crisis.

A new budget bill announced by the prime minister, Édouard Philippe, aims to address the economic and social problems caused by the Covid-19 pandemic.

It is a significant increase on the €45bn plan announced in March but the finance minister, Gérard Darmanin, said noone could be sure €110n would be enough. “The government is prepared to go further if necessary,” Darmanin said.

France is among Europe’s worst-hit countries from the pandemic, with more than 134,000 confirmed cases and in excess of 17,000 deaths, according to figures compiled by John Hopkins University.

With the loss of an estimated €43bn in tax revenues and increased costs to mitigate the crisis, the economy minister, Bruno Le Maire, has announced he expects the French economy to shrink by 8% this year. Measures in the emergency package include:

  • Frontline hospital staff are to get bonuses of between €500 and €1,500 and up to time and a half for overtime hours until the end of the health emergency. The extra payments and bonuses will be free of tax and social charges. There will also be payments to carers in nursing and residential homes.
  • Public officials who are working through the lockdown could be eligible for bonuses of up to €1,000, including police officers and teachers who have taken care of the children of essential workers.
  • From mid-May, there will be additional financial support paid to low-income families: a €150 one-off payment and an extra €100 per child. Other low-income families will receive €100 per child.
  • The budget for the “partial unemployment” scheme under which firms are encouraged to keep workers on staff during the lockdown, with the government paying a large part of their salaries, was given an extra €4bn, taking it to €24bn. About eight million French workers from an estimated 700,000 companies are believed to be on the scheme. Workers at qualifying companies who earn up to €4,607.82 net – which is four and a half times the minimum wage – are paid 84% of their net salary while not working; those on the minimum wage will receive their full salary. The scheme covers temporary staff but not interns or apprentices.
  • A further 900,000 small French businesses, freelancers and self-employed have applied for financial help that has also been increased from €1,500 to €3,500. Small businesses and the self-employed have been allowed to suspend payments of rent, gas and electricity.

The government appears to be making good on the president, Emmanuel Macron’s, early pledge that no French firms would be allowed to go under during the coronavirus crisis.

Le Maire said the government was also considering what financial aid should be given to the struggling national airline AirFrance-KLM and said he would announce its decision “in the coming days”.

Updated

Despite optimistic signs there have been declining numbers of new Covid-19 cases in some European countries, the World Health Organization’s regional director for the continent said: “We remain in the midst of a storm.”

Hans Kluge, WHO Europe’s regional director, is answering journalists’ questions at a briefing.

Updated

The coronavirus pandemic should act as a call for solidarity among Europe’s leaders, the German finance minister, Olaf Scholz, has said, adding that he hoped the European Union would emerge from it stronger. Reuters reports:

EU finance ministers agreed last week on half-a-trillion euros of support for their coronavirus-battered economies, but left open the question of how to finance the subsequent recovery in the bloc, which is headed for a steep recession. “The current challenge is a call for solidarity. That applies on a global scale, but it also applies particularly for Europe,” Scholz said.

His comments came in an interview with Reuters on Thursday, in which he also reiterated Germany’s reluctance to commit any form of collective post-lockdown debt issuance by the bloc or its institutions. Asked how the pandemic would change the EU, Scholz said: “I hope it will be stronger, more united and more confident.”

The outbreak has laid bare bitter divisions within the bloc, with member states squabbling over topics including money, medical equipment and drugs, border restrictions and trade curbs.

Last week’s agreement did not resolve the issue of whether to use joint debt to help finance the recovery, something Italy, France and Spain pushed strongly for but which remains a red line for Germany, the Netherlands, Finland and Austria.

The bloc’s 27 national leaders are only committed to discussing whether “innovative financial instruments” should be applied, paving the way for further debate.

MEPs and civil society groups have called on the European commission and European Council to condemn the Hungarian government’s exploitation of the coronavirus crisis to erode democracy.

In an open letter, 80 signatories, including Human Rights Watch and Transparency International, warned the European commission president, Ursula Gertrud von der Leyen, and the European Council president, Charles Michel, that they must not allow Hungary’s nationalist prime minister, Viktor Orbán to use the pandemic as a smokescreen for anti-democratic activities

The measures, in place since late March, have been criticised for the sweeping powers they hand to Orbán, to rule by decree. Another part of the bill provides penalties of up to five years in prison for those spreading misinformation during the pandemic.

The letter says: “We cannot allow unscrupulous political actors to use the current climate as a pretext for dismantling democracy and undermining the rule of law.

The recent actions of Viktor Orbán’s government in Hungary are a flagrant attack on the cornerstones of the rule of law and the values of the union. We therefore urge you to unequivocally condemn the Hungarian government’s misuse of the coronavirus crisis to erode democratic values.

The European Commission and the Council must also take swift and decisive actions to address these threats to the rule of law being carried out under the guise of emergency powers.”

Updated

Death rates from coronavirus in Ireland and Northern Ireland appear to be stabilising but care homes continue to be badly hit.

At least 10 people died in a care home in Derry over the past two weeks and eight died in a psychiatric centre in county Laois last weekend.

Irish authorities also reported the death of two healthcare workers, a man in his 40s and a woman in her 50s, who worked St Luke’s hospital in Kilkenny.

Ireland on Wednesday recorded 38 deaths, including that of a 23-year-old, bringing the official toll to 444. There are 12,547 confirmed cases of infection.

Ireland’s death rate has stabilised in recent days and the number of people in intensive care has declined slightly, prompting cautious optimism. “While a number of these parameters are going in a positive direction, it is clear that we need to keep going in our efforts, on an individual level, to limit the spread of this virus,” Tony Holohan, the chief medical officer, told a media briefing.

Northern Ireland reported six deaths on Wednesday, bringing its total to 121 deaths in hospitals, with 2,088 cases of infection. The predicted number of deaths was less severe than originally feared, when modelling suggested 3,000 deaths, said Robin Swann, the health minister. “We cannot be certain of how this first wave will play out – no modelling can predict the future – but we can acknowledge that the unprecedented social distancing restrictions on all our lives are starting to make an impact.”

More from the Netherlands, where a study of blood donors has discovered that around 3% have developed antibodies against the new coronavirus, giving an indication of what percentage of the Dutch population may have already had the disease.

The head of the National Institute for Health (RIVM), Jaap van Dissel, disclosed the results during a debate with parliament on Thursday.

“This study shows that about 3% of Dutch people have developed antibodies against the coronavirus,” Van Dissel said. “You can calculate from that, it’s several hundred thousand people” in a country of 17 million.

There are 28,158 confirmed coronavirus cases in the Netherlands, but only the very ill and healthcare workers are currently being tested, Reuters reports.

The president of Afghanistan has asked the Taliban to declare a ceasefire in an effort to instead fight coronavirus as the number of confirmed cases reached 840, triggered by a surge of infections in Kabul.

The country’s president, Ashraf Ghani, has asked for a ceasefire across the country so health workers can fight the virus. “I call on the Taliban to give a positive response to the rightful demand of United Nations secretary general, regional governments, people of Afghanistan and the government to stop war and declare a ceasefire,” he said.

About 56 new Covid-19 cases have been recorded in the last 24 hours, a health ministry spokesman said in a press conference in Kabul. Of the new cases, 37 were confirmed in Kabul, the country’s capital. The city of six million, which has so far recorded 238 confirmed cases, is under full lockdown in an attempt to contain the spread of the disease.

Six new coronavirus deaths have also been reported in the same period, pushing the death toll to 30. There have been 56 recoveries so far.

Of new cases, 11 have been confirmed in Herat, Afghanistan’s worst affected area so far, with 321 confirmed cases.

In Kandahar, the testing process is halted due to lack of test kits, local officials said. The province has had a surge in infections as thousands of Afghan migrants poured back from Pakistan in recent days. Kandahar went into full lockdown on Wednesday.

A health ministry spokesman said the real number of infections is higher than what the ministry announces as many of patients decline to be hospitalised, citing “social stigma”.

“We’re so vulnerable, because of war, migrants and also we are a poor nation but our good point is that we get united at times of crises,” the spokesman said.

Updated

The Foreign Office has responded to our earlier report detailing how Britons have been left stranded in Peru after missing UK repatriation flight because a military aircraft that had been sent to collect them refused to let them board.

According to the Foreign Office, a dozen passengers were unable to board the flight from Cusco to the country’s capital, Lima, because they failed a health screening.

A Foreign Office spokesman said: “We can confirm that, unfortunately, a dozen passengers were refused access to the military flight from Cusco to Lima that was due to join up with the flight to London. The Peruvian authorities denied them boarding, following health screening.

“We recognise this is deeply disappointing for these passengers and a worrying time. We will continue to do all we can to support them and other British nationals who remain in Peru.”

Updated

Authorities in the India state of Kashmir have issued an unusual order as part of their efforts to stop the spread of coronavirus: the felling of thousands of poplar trees.

The Jammu and Kashmir administration said pollen from the millions of Russian poplar trees in the region risked causing hay fever and allergies, which could result in sneezing and coughing, which might then increase the spread of coronavirus and make people more vulnerable.

The order issued by the Jammu and Kashmir government requested district administrations to carry out “lopping/felling” of the poplar trees as they “may prove fatal to the public health”.

“The pollen of said trees,” added one local magistrate, “create influenza like infections which may create unnecessary panic among the general public”. The magistrate ordered all poplar trees in the district to be cut within the week.

The ruling was the result of a petition filed to the Jammu and Kashmir high court in early April, stating that poplar pollen could create “havoc for humans with respiratory diseases” and potentially aggravate COVID-19 infections.

However, doctors have called this into question, stating there is little evidence that poplar pollen causes respiratory problems. Activists and conservationists, meanwhile, said the felling will have a hugely detrimental impact on the environment of Kashmir.

“Eradication of exotic varieties of poplars would result in an economic and ecological disaster in Kashmir,” warned Tariq Hussain Masoodi, dean of the forest faculty at Sher-e-Kashmir University of Agriculture Sciences and Technology.

The Jammu and Kashmir government said they had now assembled a team of experts and would be evaluating the issue over the next two weeks.

There are an estimated 10-15m poplar trees in Kashmir, and every April they shed cotton-like balls, which can be seen floating in the air. But this is not the first time they have been subject to a felling order. In 2015, following health concerns, Jammu and Kashmir high court banned the sale, purchase and planting of the trees and ordered millions felled.

Updated

Poland is loosening its coronavirus lockdown as it will reopen parks and forests on Monday before eventually revising rules on the number of customers allowed in shops, a minister has indicated.

The country has so far recorded 7,582 coronavirus cases with 286 deaths, according to figures compiled by Johns Hopkins University.

Poland’s prime minister is expected to announce on Thursday details of the government’s plan for easing restrictions on public life, which were launched to curb the spread of the virus.

“Final decisions will be taken today. I think that first, starting from Monday we can expect opening of forests, green areas,” the state assets minister, Jacek Sasin, told private radio RMF on Thursday. Poland will also revise the rules on the number of customers allowed in shops at a time, he added, but did not say when they would come into effect. Sasin also said it is too early to talk about reopening of schools.

It comes after protesters in Poland defied the coronavirus lockdown to oppose a proposal that would almost completely ban abortion.

Updated

Like elsewhere, the economic reality of the coronavirus pandemic lockdown is beginning to bite in the Netherlands where the number of people filing for unemployment benefits soared by 42% in March.

The country, the eurozone’s fifth largest economy, paid benefits to 37,800 new unemployed in March, an increase of 11,200 from the month before.

The strongest increases were among people who used to work in restaurants and bars, and among people under 25 years of age, the Dutch federal employment agency said. on Thursday.

The country’s government ordered all restaurants, bars, museums, sport facilities and other public places in the Netherlands to shut down on 15 March in the fight against the coronavirus pandemic. They are to remain shut until at least 28 April. To help businesses cope with the economic standstill and to prevent significant layoffs, the Dutch government has said it will cover up to 90% of the wage bill of companies who see a significant decline in sales in the coming months.

More than 85,000 companies have already applied for this support. Despite the help, the number of people who lost their jobs in March jumped almost 10% from the previous month to about 283,000, Statistics Netherlands said.

Updated

Nearly two dozen French sailors are being treated in hospital after a large outbreak of Covid-19 on board an aircraft carrier.

Some 1,767 marines have been evacuated from the French carrier, the Charles De Gaulle, with at least 668 testing positive for coronavirus.

“There are about 20 at the moment in hospital. Out of the 20, one is in the re-animation ward and in a stable case,” spokesman Eric Lavault told RMC radio.

On Wednesday, the French armed forces ministry said 1,767 marines - nearly all from the Charles de Gaulle carrier itself - had been evaluated and at least 668 had tested positive for the virus.

The vessel set sail for the eastern Mediterranean on 21 January to support French military operations in Iraq and Syria, before deploying to the Atlantic and then the Baltic. It participated in exercises with northern European navies in the Baltic Sea before returning to Toulon two weeks earlier than planned after crew members showed signs of Covid-19 symptoms.

Updated

Let’s kick off with some good news to warm our hearts during these dark times. In the UK, a 99-year-old war veteran has now raised more than £12million for the NHS by walking lengths of his garden.

Cap Tom Moore, who lives with his family in Bedfordshire, had originally planned to raise £1,000 with his challenge but smashed through his target after his efforts captivated the nation.

The veteran, who served in the second world war after being selected for officer training in 1940 and completed postings in India and Sumatra, is walking 10 laps of the 25-metre garden a day with the help of his walking aid and hoped to reach 100 laps by his 100th birthday in April. However, he is likely to reach his target ahead of schedule today.

“Our brave nurses and doctors are frontline in this case … this time our army are in doctors and nurses uniforms and they’re doing a marvellous job,” Moore said earlier this week.

Here’s my colleague Jessica Murray’s story about Tom from yesterday by which time the war veteran had already raised £9m.

Updated

Morning folks, it’s Simon Murphy here taking the helm of the coronavirus global live blog from the UK to steer you through events as they unfold for the next few hours.

That’s it from me, Helen Sullivan for today. Thanks for following along – I’m now handing the blog over to my colleague Simon Murphy, who is suitably caffeinated.

But first – a poem:

Profit over people, cost over care: America’s broken healthcare exposed by virus

In the wealthiest country in the world, the Covid-19 pandemic has exposed the core of a healthcare system that is structurally incapable of dealing with the pandemic. Federal and local governments, health insurers and employers have pledged to help Americans pay their way through this crisis, but to do so requires a dramatic overhaul of a system which has for decades prioritised cost over care.

Coronavirus latest: at a glance

A summary of the biggest developments in the global coronavirus outbreak:

In the US meanwhile, retail sales plunged in March while industrial production in the same month suffered its steepest drop since 1946, data showed Wednesday.

Other reports pointed to weak homebuilder sentiment and manufacturing conditions, while a Federal Reserve report said American economic activity “contracted sharply”, AFP reports.

“The economic data was nothing short of disastrous,” Ann Miletti of Wells Fargo Asset Management told Bloomberg TV.

“How long can you sustain the shutdown is what’s on investors’ minds.”

The nearly empty parking lot of the Mall of Georgia in Buford, Georgia, USA, 15 April 2020.
The nearly empty parking lot of the Mall of Georgia in Buford, Georgia, USA, 15 April 2020. Photograph: Erik S Lesser/EPA

President Donald Trump has said that he will on Thursday announce the first plans for lifting lockdowns after the US - the worst-hit country with the most virus deaths and infections - passes the “peak on new cases”.

The World Health Organization has warned, however, that lifting virus-related restrictions too early could have devastating consequences, with fears of a possible second wave of infections.

Asian markets fell in early trade on Thursday following overnight woes on Wall Street as more negative US economic data fuelled worries about the full impact of the coronavirus pandemic.

There had already been a spate of grim economic forecasts this week, with the IMF warning of the worst global downturn in a century, and poor US economic figures released Wednesday spooked investors further.

The woes on Wall Street discouraged traders in Asia, where Tokyo was down 1.2%, Hong Kong lost 0.8& and Sydney dropped 1.4%.

Seoul slipped 0.6%, while Taipei shed 0.3% and Shanghai was down 0.1%.

The Philippine central bank cut its benchmark interest rate by 50 basis points on Thursday ahead of a 21 May policy meeting, this year’s latest reduction aiming to counter the economic impact of the coronavirus pandemic.

The cut takes the rate on the bank’s overnight reverse repurchase facility to 2.75% with effect from Friday.

Updated

UK papers, Thursday 16 April 2020

Trump wades further into China Covid-19 row as focus turns to easing lockdowns

Donald Trump has again questioned China’s transparency over the coronavirus outbreak, casting doubt on the origins of the virus and number of cases, while signalling the US would soon join countries across Europe in easing its lockdown.

“Do you really believe those numbers in this vast country called China?” the US president said, when asked about the severity of the US death toll at a White House press briefing. “We report everything, we’re reporting the cases and our reporting is good. We’re reporting every death.”

Meanwhile the IMF said on Thursday Asia’s economic growth would grind to a halt for the first time in 60 years, as the crisis takes an “unprecedented” toll on the service sector and major export destinations:

Australian Prime Minister has just given a press conference in which he announced the following:

  • Restrictions to remain in place for at least another four weeks, but easing is on the agenda
  • The government wants increased testing - including those with no symptoms – as well as larger scale contact tracing (downloading the app) and localised lockdown ability to be put in place, before restrictions are loosened.
  • Parliament may return next month

Slides handed out to media at the conference argue that Australia has one of the highest reported detection rates globally, and estimate that approximately 92% of all symptomatic cases are being detected across the country.

Australia has 6457 confirmed cases. The coronavirus death toll is 63 people.

The country’s Chief Medical Officer, Professor Brendan Murphy, said the growth rate in cases is “very encouraging”.

Trump used Wednesday’s White House briefing to continue his attack on the World Health Organisation but this time also targeted the World Trade Organisation’s practice of favouring developing nations over developed ones when it comes to trade terms. Trump claimed that ‘as far as I’m concerned’ the US is ‘a developing nation, too’.

Trump has threatened to shut down Congress so he could fill vacancies in his administration without Senate confirmation. No US president has ever used the authority, included in the Constitution, to adjourn both chambers of Congress.

Engineers in Colombia have developed a mechanical ventilator for Covid-19 patients that could cost as little as $2,000, in one of numerous crash projects around the world aimed at helping ease a global shortage of the devices, AP reports.

The prototype for a low-cost ventilator is calibrated by engineering professors from La Sabana University.
The prototype for a low-cost ventilator is calibrated by engineering professors from La Sabana University. Photograph: Fernando Vergara/AP

It’s one of the latest efforts around the world to produce pared down, emergency versions of full feature ventilators, which have become more expensive as governments try to outbid each other to purchase them.

According to New York governor Andrew Cuomo ventilators are currently selling for $50,000 each.

Here are a few others:

  • In Afghanistan, a female team of robotics experts announced last week they had created a Covid-19 ventilator made out of Toyota car parts that will cost $400.
  • In Argentina, the National University of Rosario says it has come up with a ventilator that has fewer than 20 components, and has shared its design online.
  • In Colombia, at least five universities have been working separately on their own ventilators and three of them have built prototypes that are already being tested to comply with standards set by national regulators. Ae ventilator produced by Sabana University has been tested successfully on a pig. It must still undergo further tests on animals and humans before it can go into production.

The Guardian’s Verna Yu has this explainer on what a wet market is – and why Wuhan’s is different:

At the crack of dawn every day, “wet markets” in China and across Asia come to life, with stall owners touting their wares such as fresh meat, fish, fruits and vegetables, herbs and spices in an open-air setting.

The sights and sounds of the wet market form part of the rich tapestry of community life in Asia. They are where local people buy affordable food, or just go for a stroll and meet their neighbours for a chat.

While “wet markets”, where water is sloshed on produce to keep it cool and fresh, may be considered unsanitary by western standards, most do not trade in exotic or wild animals and should not be confused with “wildlife markets” – now the focus of vociferous calls for global bans.

The now-infamous Wuhan South China seafood market, suspected to be a primary source for spreading Covid-19 in late 2019, had a wild animal section:

In the six days after top Chinese officials secretly determined they likely were facing a pandemic from a new coronavirus, the city of Wuhan at the epicentre of the disease hosted a mass banquet for tens of thousands of people; millions began traveling through for Lunar New Year celebrations, AP reports.

The shuttered Huanan Seafood Market in Wuhan, China being disinfected in March.
The shuttered Huanan Seafood Market in Wuhan, China being disinfected in March. Photograph: Gerry Yin/The Guardian

President Xi Jinping warned the public on the seventh day, 20 January 2020. But by that time, more than 3,000 people had been infected during almost a week of public silence, according to internal documents obtained by The Associated Press and expert estimates based on retrospective infection data.

China has now reported a total of 3,342 deaths from the virus among 82,341 cases.

Foreigners working in Singapore’s trade-dependent economy and living in crowded dormitories now account for half of the tiny city-state’s virus cases after new infections spiked for a third day, AP reports.

Workers look out of their dorm at Westlite Dormitory, one of the two workers’ dormitory gazetted as isolation areas to curb the spread of coronavirus in Singapore.
Workers look out of their dorm at Westlite Dormitory, one of the two workers’ dormitory gazetted as isolation areas to curb the spread of coronavirus in Singapore. Photograph: Edgar Su/Reuters

Its number of coronavirus infections has jumped by 1,167 since Monday. While successfully managing its first wave of infections, Singapore overlooked its vast population of foreign workers who live in dormitories that typically house up to 20 men sharing kitchens, toilets and other facilities.

Tens of thousands of the workers from Bangladesh, India and other poorer Asian countries are now quarantined in their dormitories or have been moved to alternative sites to reduce crowding.

The 447 new coronavirus cases raise Singapore’s total to 3,699. The health ministry said in a statement late Wednesday that the significant rise in cases among foreign workers was expected partly due to ongoing tests at the dormitories.

About a fifth of total cases were detected in one single dormitory.

A fascinating read here from Jason Burke on how Islamic extremists hope to exploit the Covid-19 pandemic to launch new attacks, motivate followers and reinforce their credentials as alternative rulers of swaths of unstable countries across the Middle East, Asia and Africa:

Updated

New Zealand’s prime minister has warned there will be no “rush to normality” when restrictions are eased.

Jacinda Ardern said that significant restrictions would be kept in place even if the country eases the nationwide one-month lockdown enforced to beat the spread of the coronavirus.

New Zealand introduced its highest, level 4 lockdown measures in March, under which offices, schools and all non-essential services like bars, restaurants, cafes and playgrounds were shut down. A decision on whether to lift the lockdown would be made on 20 April.

Ardern said if New Zealand moves to the lower level 3 of restriction, it would permit aspects of the economy to reopen in a safe way but there will be no “rush to normality”.

Here’s our report on the results of the first general election of the coronavirus outbreak, where South Korea’s ruling party has won a landslide victory in national assembly elections, in what is being seen as an endorsement of President Moon Jae-in’s response to the pandemic.

Moon’s left-leaning Democratic party and its smaller affiliate won 180 seats in the 300-seat assembly – the biggest majority in the national assembly by any party since South Korea’s transition to democracy in 1987 – according to the Yonhap news agency. The conservative opposition United Future party and its smaller sister party won 103 seats.

Turnout was 66.2%, higher than any parliamentary elections held in South Korea since 1992.

Some news from New Zealand now, where the coronavirus crisis has hit the world of rugby.

PBS and the Associated Press report that International aid groups are now supporting the US healthcare system, in an indictment of the response to the coronavirus pandemic from one of the world’s wealthiest countries.

The 638,111 confirmed cases of coronavirus – a number more than three times higher than that of the next worst-affected country, Spain, which has 180,000.

30,844 Americans have lost their lives in the crisis so far.

Elizabeth Warren says she would accept being Joe Biden’s running mate

Warren has said she would accept an offer to be running mate to the Democratic presidential candidate, Joe Biden, if the position were offered.

“Yes,” said the US Senator when asked on MSNBC how she would respond if Biden asked her to run for vice-president.

Biden, who was Barack Obama’s vice-president, has vowed to pick a woman to be his running mate and said he would name a committee to help him vet a shortlist of names soon.

Several people likely to be in contention have expressed their interest. “I would be an excellent running mate,” said Stacey Abrams, the former Georgia gubernatorial candidate, in an interview published by Elle on Wednesday. Governor Gretchen Whitmer of Michigan told NBC News on Wednesday that she was “fortunate” to be considered for the position.

Ecuador’s Galapagos Islands, a UNESCO World Heritage site, have 73 confirmed cases of the novel coronavirus, the majority on board a tourist ship, the governing council president said Wednesday.

A Metropolitan police officer stands guard at the entrance of Rio Coca bus terminal in Quito on 17 March 2020.
A Metropolitan police officer stands guard at the entrance of Rio Coca bus terminal in Quito on 17 March 2020. Photograph: Rodrigo Buendía/AFP via Getty Images

“Forty-eight positive cases have been identified” out of the 69 people on board the Flora, Norman Wray told AFP. Wray, who heads the Galapagos Government Council, added that all passengers are crew members, as the ship no longer has tourists on board. “In total, we have 73” confirmed cases and two deaths on the archipelago, Wray said.

Ecuador has recorded 7,858 cases and 388 deaths since the start of the pandemic. Guayas province and its capital, port city Guayaquil, have been the hardest hit, comprising about 70 percent of the cases reported since February 29.

According to Wray, there are still 1,000 tourists in the Galapagos, most of whom are Ecuadorians who decided to stay during the general lockdown, which has been extended by the national government until April 19. About 1,500 other tourists were evacuated from the islands.

Summary

  • Confirmed cases worldwide top 2m. The latest numbers from Johns Hopkins University, which is tracking the spread of the virus, put the confirmed global total of cases at 2,063,161. The researchers say at least 136,938 people have died since the start of the outbreak.
  • Asia’s economic growth this year will grind to a halt for the first time in 60 years, the IMF said on Thursday, as the coronavirus crisis takes an “unprecedented” toll on the region’s service sector and major export destinations.
  • The US reports more than 25,000 new cases. Washington’s Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has reported 605,390 cases of coronavirus – an increase of 26,385 cases from its previous count – and said the number of deaths has risen by 2,330 to 24,582.
  • US president Donald Trump says some states may reopen before 1 May. There were governors “champing at the bit” to reopen, he said. Trump also reiterated the decision to halt funding to the World Health Organization.
  • The head of the WHO said he regrets US President Donald Trump’s decision to pull funding for the agency, but that now is the time for the world unite in its fight against the new coronavirus.
  • South Korea’s left-leaning ruling party won a landslide victory in Wednesday’s general election, partial results showed, after the coronavirus pandemic turned the political tide in President Moon Jae-in’s favour.
  • Nearly 700 sailors assigned to the French aircraft carrier Charles de Gaulle’s naval group have tested positive for the coronavirus, the armed forces ministry said on Wednesday.
  • Amazon has ordered the temporary closure of all six of its French distribution centres, one day after a French court ruled it was not doing enough to protect its workers in the country amid the coronavirus pandemic.
  • Ten Britons and a UK resident have been left stranded in Cusco, Peru, after missing a UK repatriation flight on Wednesday because a military aircraft which had been sent to collect them refused to let them board after landing and taking off twice, they say.
  • A man who lost his mother to the coronavirus has filed a police case against the leader of Belarus, accusing President Alexander Lukashenko of failing to take adequate measures to fight the spread of the pandemic, Reuters reports.
  • Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti said Wednesday it is unlikely concerts and sporting events will resume until at least 2021, as the city continues to fight the coronavirus pandemic.
  • New York City revises its death toll sharply upwards to more than 10,000 people. It added 3,778 people who were not tested but who are nevertheless presumed to have died from Covid-19.
  • G20 finance ministers agree to suspend poorer countries’ debt payments. The measure will be in effect from 1 May until the end of the year as they prepare for increased spending on healthcare systems.

Updated

An explainer now on how WHO funding works and where it goes, as Trump announces US funding to the organisation will be put on hold.

The United States’ funding freeze blows a major hole in the World Health Organization’s budget as it attempts to steer the fightback against the coronavirus pandemic.

Washington is the biggest single contributor to the United Nations’ health agency, AFP reports.

Looking at the specified voluntary contributions that have been fully distributed is one way of making comparisons between the contributions of donors to the WHO.

In this sector, the United States is the biggest contributor with $553.1 million, or 14.67%. China’s contribution of $7.9 million amounted to 0.21% of the total.

Officials of the World Health Organisation are seen during a community testing in Abuja, Nigeria 15 April, 2020.
Officials of the World Health Organisation are seen during a community testing in Abuja, Nigeria 15 April, 2020. Photograph: Afolabi Sotunde/Reuters

The money, which can often be highly earmarked for particular projects, is paid out throughout the year as projects and needs arise.

Within the specified voluntary contributions sector in the 2018 and 2019 budget - before the coronavirus crisis - the WHO’s biggest spending outlay was on polio eradication (26.51%).

Next came:

  • Increasing access to essential health and nutrition services (12.04%);
  • Vaccine-preventable diseases (8.89%);
  • Establishing effective coordination and operations support (6.1%)
  • Preventing and controlling outbreaks (5.96%).

In terms of regional distribution, it reached those projects via:

  • Africa, which received $1.32 billion;
  • The eastern Mediterranean ($1.23bn);
  • The WHO headquarters ($591m);
  • Southeast Asia and Europe ($223m);
  • The western Pacific ($166m)
  • The Americas ($24m).

Germany on Wednesday unveiled plans to lift some restrictions imposed because of the coronavirus pandemic, becoming the first major European nation to take on the delicate task of reopening without triggering a new wave of infections, AFP reports.

Germany was the largest of several European countries announcing tentative steps on Wednesday to reopen their economies and societies.

Denmark began reopening schools for younger children after a month-long closure and Finland lifted a two-week rail and road blockade on the Helsinki region.

Lithuania said it would allow smaller shops to reopen from Thursday.

Yet a full-scale return to normality still appears a long way off in most other countries.

Harvard scientists have warned that repeated periods of social distancing could be needed as far ahead as 2022 to avoid overwhelming hospitals.

Spanish Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez, who has allowed work to restart in some factories and building sites, warned that “nothing will be the same until a vaccine is found.”

Belgium extended its stay-at-home order until at least 3 May and banned mass gatherings until the end of August.

Australian riot police enter Villawood detention centre

Australia’s immigration detention centres have been largely forgotten during this crisis. But detainees remain scared.

AAP has this report:

Riot police have entered western Sydney’s Villawood Immigration Detention Centre to stop a protest by detainees concerned about a COVID-19 outbreak in the facility.

Three detainees in the centre’s Blaxland compound have been holding a rooftop protest since Saturday while others remain on a hunger strike demanding COVID-19 virus testing and the release of detainees, according to the Refugee Action Coalition.

“Other detainees in Blaxland have been locked in their rooms,” the Refugee Action Coalition said in a statement on Thursday.

The riot squad are on the scene with police working with Australian Border Force to control the situation, a NSW Police spokeswoman told AAP.

Qatar Airways crews have been applauded by passengers and won praise from governments for repatriating thousands of travellers stranded by the coronavirus aviation shutdown, AFP reports.

Qatar Airways crew prepare to enter Sydney international airport to fly a repatriation flight back to France on 2 April 2020.
Qatar Airways crew prepare to enter Sydney international airport to fly a repatriation flight back to France on 2 April 2020. Photograph: Peter Parks/AFP via Getty Images

Observers say Doha is hoping that by carrying on flying when regional competitors are grounded, it will score diplomatic points in an ongoing confrontation with its neighbours.

While Qatar Airways is only operating 35 percent of its normal services, it has used spare capacity to carry 17,000 people on almost 60 special charter services for countries with stranded citizens.

Germany, France and Britain have all publicly directed citizens to fly home on the Gulf airline and praised Qatar on social media.

Qatar Airways has also evacuated US diplomats and other nations’ foreign service staff from Iraq.

However, there was criticism of the airline on social media at the start of the month from travellers stuck in New Zealand that the only flight option for those not on a special repatriation flight was a $10,000 business fare.

Ten Britons and a UK resident stranded in Peru after missing repatriation flight

Chris Ramsay in happier times trekking at the Vinicunca Rainbow Mountain in Cusco.
Chris Ramsay in happier times trekking at the Vinicunca Rainbow Mountain in Cusco. Photograph: Whatsapp

Dan Collyns reports for the Guardian:

Ten Britons and a UK resident have been left stranded in Cusco, Peru, after missing a UK repatriation flight on Wednesday because a military aircraft which had been sent to collect them refused to let them board after landing and taking off twice, they say.

As a result, they missed the repatriation flight which the UK embassy in Peru says is the last. Several such flights have shuttled marooned Britons back to the UK over recent weeks.

Chris Ramsay, 29, who was among at least four of the Britons who had been diagnosed with Covid-19, said he felt abandoned by the British foreign office.

“It’s been a rollercoaster of emotions and events,” said Ramsay, one of seven Britons who had been staying in the Pariwana hostel which was put under quarantine by Peruvian health authorities in March when two guests tested positive for the virus. Ramsay believes he was infected while under the lockdown.

“I woke up expecting to be going home today, then was told ‘no’ after the military flight left, then was told maybe and they’d got it to turn around, then ‘no’ again when it left Cusco without us for the second time,” he said.

UK citizen Patricia Pacheco, 61, has been in Cusco since February with her Peruvian husband Roberto and her brother Ian Lindsay, who was diagnosed with Covid-19, and his wife Mary McCarron.

Pacheco said UK officials had managed to arrange the Peruvian military flights late on Tuesday after a flight charter company abruptly refused to carry anyone who had tested positive for the virus.

“We thought we were getting out now we’ve sunk back to the depths of despair,” said Pacheco, who lives with her husband, a UK resident, in Montgomery, Wales.

On Wednesday, the Twitter account of the UK embassy in Peru said: “Today one last UK Government chartered flight took back British nationals and residents from Lima to London. We’ve now helped over 1,200 people get back to the UK from Peru in very challenging circumstances.”

It added: “The vast majority of British nationals have now left Peru but we are aware that not everyone who wanted to leave was able to.”

Update: The Foreign Office says a dozen passengers were unable to board the military flight from Cusco to Lima because they failed a health screening.

Updated

With the global economy plunged into the worst recession in a century, the Group of 20 nations on Wednesday announced a one-year debt standstill for the world’s poorest nations as they struggle to deal with the coronavirus pandemic.

The G20, which brings together the world’s largest economies, also reiterated the pledge to deploy “all available policy tools” to deal with the health and economic crisis caused by Covid-19.

The G20 finance ministers and central bankers endorsed “a time-bound suspension of debt service payments for the poorest countries,” and in the communique following their virtual meeting, said, “All bilateral official creditors will participate in this initiative.”

Saudi Finance Minister Mohammed Al-Jadaan, who currently chairs the group, said this means “poor countries don’t need to worry about repaying over the course of the next 12 months.”

The initiative will “provide north of $20 billion of immediate liquidity” for poor countries to use “for their health system and support their people facing Covid-19,” he said in a press briefing.

Updated

United Airlines Holdings Inc said on Wednesday that it has cut its flight schedule by 90% in May and expects similar cuts for June as a result of the coronavirus pandemic, and warned that travel demand that is now “essentially at zero shows no sign of improving in the near term,” making job cuts likely, Reuters reports.

United disclosed its outlook in a memo to employees that it publicly released. The airline said it flew fewer than 200,000 people in the first two weeks of April, a 97% drop from the more than 6 million people it flew during the same time in 2019. It expects to fly fewer people during the entire month of May than it did on a single day in May of last year, Munoz and Kirby said.

“The historically severe economic impact of this crisis means even when travel demand starts to inch back, it likely will not bounce back quickly,” they said.

While the $5 billion that United expect to receive in government payroll support under the CARES Act means it is barred from involuntary furloughs before 30 September, the airline indicated that it expects to have to cut payroll after that. It said it will be offering new voluntary leave packages in the coming weeks and voluntary separation programs.

United Airlines employees check a passenger in during the coronavirus pandemic at Denver International Airport Tuesday, 14 April 2020.
United Airlines employees check a passenger in during the coronavirus pandemic at Denver International Airport Tuesday, 14 April 2020. Photograph: David Zalubowski/AP

Podcast: How did an unproven drug become Trump’s ‘miracle cure’?

Hydroxychloroquine has been used to treat a number of diseases in the past half-century but after a French study claimed it was effective against coronavirus it has been hailed by the US president as a cure. But there is scant evidence it is effective – and it could actually be harmful.

IMF says Asia will suffer zero economic growth this year

Asia’s economic growth this year will grind to a halt for the first time in 60 years, as the coronavirus crisis takes an “unprecedented” toll on the region’s service sector and major export destinations, the International Monetary Fund said on Thursday.

Asia’s economy is likely to suffer zero growth this year the IMF said in a report on the Asia-Pacific region released on Thursday.

Chinese workers and health officials wear protective white suits as travellers from Wuhan are processed and taken to do 14 days of quarantine, after arriving on the first trains to Beijing on April 8, 2020 in Beijing, China.
Chinese workers and health officials wear protective white suits as travellers from Wuhan are processed and taken to do 14 days of quarantine, after arriving on the first trains to Beijing on April 8, 2020 in Beijing, China. Photograph: Kevin Frayer/Getty Images

While Asia is set to fare better than other regions suffering economic contractions, the projection is worse than the 4.7% average growth rates throughout the global financial crisis, and the 1.3% increase during the Asian financial crisis in the late 1990s, the IMF said.

The IMF expects a 7.6% expansion in Asian economic growth next year on the assumption that containment policies succeed, but added the outlook was highly uncertain.

Unlike the global financial crisis triggered by the 2008 collapse of Lehman Brothers, the pandemic was directly hitting the region’s service sector by forcing households to stay home and shops to shut down, the IMF said.

The region’s export powerhouses were also taking a battering from slumping demand for their goods by key trading partners such as the United States and European countries, it said.

Updated

South Korea’s left-leaning ruling party wins landslide victory

South Korea’s left-leaning ruling party won a landslide victory in Wednesday’s general election, partial results showed, after the coronavirus pandemic turned the political tide in President Moon Jae-in’s favour.

South Korean election officials sort voting papers for ballot counting in the parliamentary elections at a gymnasium in Seoul on 15 April 2020.
South Korean election officials sort voting papers for ballot counting in the parliamentary elections at a gymnasium in Seoul on 15 April 2020. Photograph: Jung Yeon-Je/AFP via Getty Images

The country uses a mix of first-past-the-post seats and proportional representation, but even before all the individual constituencies were decided, Moon’s Democratic party had taken 163 seats in the 300-member National Assembly, an absolute majority.

Turnout was 66.2 percent, higher than any parliamentary elections held in the South since 1992.

Just a few months ago scandals over power abuse and sluggish economic growth threatened the left-leaning president, with critics calling his dovish approach towards North Korea - despite Pyongyang’s abandonment of its nuclear and ballistic missile test moratoriums - unrealistic.

But the South’s relatively quick and effective handling of the epidemic - it has also exported test kits to at least 20 countries - has been a boon for Moon ahead of the parliamentary elections, largely seen as a referendum on his performance.

And his so-called “coronavirus diplomacy” - such as recent publicity on his bilateral phone calls with at least 20 state leaders regarding epidemic response - boosted Koreans’ confidence in his administration, said Minseon Ku, a politics scholar at Ohio State University in the United States.

The Navajo Nation has extended its weekend lockdowns preventing people from leaving their homes, except in emergencies, on the vast expanse of land that has been harder hit by the coronavirus than any other Native American reservation in the US, AP reports.

A road sign outside Bloomfield warns Navajos to stay home during their nation’s 8pm to 5am curfew to slow the spread of coronavirus in New Mexico, US, 7 April 2020.
A road sign outside Bloomfield warns Navajos to stay home during their nation’s 8pm to 5am curfew to slow the spread of coronavirus in New Mexico, US, 7 April 2020. Photograph: Andrew Hay/Reuters

The tribe first put in place the 8pm Friday to 5am Monday lockdown last weekend for the reservation that lies in parts of Arizona, New Mexico and Utah and is larger than the state of West Virginia. It came after a nightly curfew was imposed to keep people at home from dusk to dawn during the week.

Navajo Nation President Jonathan Nez said Wednesday he was thankful most people are adhering to public health orders, but not everyone is complying.

The number of coronavirus cases on the Navajo reservation and border towns rose to 921 on Wednesday, with 38 deaths. About 175,000 people live on the Navajo Nation, and Nez said he was working to ensure non-essential business would close as ordered.

Tribal police enforced the weekend lockdown by setting up checkpoints in Navajo communities. They issued more than 100 criminal nuisance citations for violating it on Friday and Saturday, Navajo Nation police spokeswoman Christina Tsosie said.
Enforcement of the lockdown over Easter weekend was the largest coordinated effort ever for the department, Navajo Police Chief Phillip Francisco said.

The best way to send news tips or ask questions is on Twitter @helenrusllivan.

US school administrators across America are trying to re-imagine classrooms and the prospect of reopening schools in the era of social distancing, AP reports.

With the majority of schools nationwide shut down, educators are scrambling to plan for the future after a chaotic few weeks that, for many districts, included closing all schools, deciding whether to waive assessment tests and whether and how to do distance learning. Next comes the important question of when schools can safely re-open.

School buses are seen parked at First Student Charter Bus Rental in San Francisco, California, US 7 April, 2020.
School buses are seen parked at First Student Charter Bus Rental in San Francisco, California, US 7 April, 2020. Photograph: Stephen Lam/Reuters

California Governor Gavin Newsom laid out a few possible scenarios this week for reopening the states public schools to 6 million students, saying the timeline was still unclear but when students do eventually return things will look radically different.

The biggest challenge for schools is how to continue physical distancing among children and adults to ensure that kids aren’t going to school, getting infected and then infecting grandma and grandpa, Newsom said.

That could mean requiring schools to stagger schedules, with some students arriving in the morning and the rest in the afternoon.

Similar conversations are taking place at state school boards across the country. The issue is on Idahos agenda Thursday, and several other states, including Arkansas and Mississippi, are starting to have the discussion, Hull said.

In US election news, MSNBC news host Rachel Maddow has asked Elizabeth Warren whether she would consider being Joe Biden’s running mate if asked.

She said she would:

Mexican assistant health secretary Hugo López-Gatell said Wednesday there has been widespread non-compliance with orders for all non-essential businesses to close.

Those firms that don’t comply would be inspected, fined and possibly subject to criminal investigations for endangering the health of employees, he said.

While there have been widespread reports that border assembly plants known as maquiladoras had failed to close during the pandemic, López-Gatell cited only one border state Baja California as having a high level of non-compliance.

A cloud rests over a housing development across the highway from a new Toyota assembly plant, in Apaseo El Grande, Guanajuato state, Mexico.
A cloud rests over a housing development across the highway from a new Toyota assembly plant, in Apaseo El Grande, Guanajuato state, Mexico. Photograph: Rebecca Blackwell/AP

Videos of walk-outs and protests at assembly plants have circulated on social media in recent weeks. But López-Gatell said the problem was centred more in Mexico’s industrial central region.

In all, 18% of firms in Mexico are considered essential and are allowed to stay open. López Gatell said 50% of those that were supposed to close did so, but about 32% of the remaining companies initially failed to close.

Of that one-third, about half closed after being warned, while the other half continue to operate.

Mexico has 5,847 confirmed coronavirus cases and almost 450 deaths.

Nicaraguan President Daniel Ortega re-appeared Wednesday after 34 days in which he was not seen in public, AP reports.

Ortega made a televised address to the nation in which he said Nicaragua had suffered only one death from the coronavirus pandemic and that the country’s three confirmed cases were imported.

There had been concerns about the health of the 74-year-old former guerrilla leader, but he appeared well and was not using a mask during his speech.

A man walks by a mobile health clinic displaying a picture of Nicaragua’s President Daniel Ortega and his wife Vice-President Rosario Murillo in Managua on 14 April 2020.
A man walks by a mobile health clinic displaying a picture of Nicaragua’s President Daniel Ortega and his wife Vice-President Rosario Murillo in Managua on 14 April 2020. Photograph: Inti Ocón/AFP via Getty Images

Ortega has refused to adopt the social-distancing and lock-down measures used in other countries, and has in fact encouraged Nicaraguans to participate in mass gatherings.
Nicaraguans haven’t stopped working, because if this country stops working, it dies, Ortega said. The government did extend Holy Week school vacations to two weeks; classes are scheduled to resume April 20.
Ortega did not comment on how many tests have been carried. Experts suspect there are many undetected cases.

Trump fans flames of Chinese lab coronavirus theory during daily briefing

Donald Trump has fuelled a media theory that the coronavirus pandemic began when the pathogen accidentally escaped a Chinese laboratory, teasing that “more and more we’re hearing the story”.

The US president’s TV network of choice, Fox News, has reported that “multiple sources” in the American government believe initial transmission of the virus was bat-to-human in a virology lab in Wuhan. Due to weak safety protocols, an infected lab worker then went to a wet market where the virus spread.

When Fox News reporter John Roberts put this to Trump at a press briefing on Wednesday, he replied: “Well, I don’t want to say that John, but I will tell you more and more we’re hearing the story.”

The president is notorious for recycling content from Fox News in his remarks or tweets, and it was unclear whether he was privy to any other information to back the claim. He added: “We’ll see. When you say ‘multiple sources’, now there’s a case where you can use the word ‘sources’. But we are doing a very thorough examination of this horrible situation that happened.”

Trump added that he did not want to disclose any discussions he had with Chinese president Xi Jinping about the laboratory.

The New York Times is reporting that a pork factory in Smithfield, South Dakota is the new centre of the coronavirus pandemic in the US. This week, the paper reports:

The Smithfield plant became the nation’s largest single-source coronavirus hot spot. Its employees now make up about 44 percent of the diagnoses in South Dakota, and a team of researchers from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has traveled there to assess how the outbreak spiraled out of control. Smithfield is the latest meat processing facility to close in the face of the coronavirus.

A Japanese MP has been expelled from his party after it was revealed he had visited a club in a Tokyo red light district, two days after the prime minister, Shinzo Abe, declared a state of emergency in an attempt to contain the coronavirus outbreak.

Takashi Takai, a 50-year-old lower house member for the Constitutional Democratic party of Japan, admitted he had visited Sexy Cabaret Club in Tokyo’s Kabukicho district on 9 April, media reports said, despite government requests that people refrain from visiting bars, restaurants and clubs as part of efforts to reduce personal contact by 70-80%.

Takai submitted a letter of resignation after media reported his visit to the club, but the party rejected it and expelled him instead, Kyodo news agency said.

Almost empty street is seen after the government announced the state of emergency following the coronavirus disease outbreak at Kabukicho district in Tokyo.
Almost empty street is seen after the government announced the state of emergency following the coronavirus disease outbreak at Kabukicho district in Tokyo. Photograph: Issei Kato/Reuters

Under the monthlong state of emergency, residents of Tokyo and six other areas have been asked to stay home and nonessential businesses to temporarily close. Bars and restaurants are allowed to stay open until 8 pm. Tokyo’s governor, Yuriko Koike, has warned that clubs and hostess bars, some of which allow intimate physical contact, could become infection clusters.

Takai reportedly told party officials: “I regret acting carelessly and making people feel uncomfortable when they have been asked to refrain from going out.”

In a video message, the party’s leader, Yukio Edano, said the MP had acted irresponsibly, adding: “We decided to expel him given the seriousness of the matter.”

On the subject of deaths in US nursing homes, the New York Times has this report, headlined “After Anonymous Tip, 17 Bodies Found at Nursing Home Hit by Virus.”

The call for body bags came late Saturday.

By Monday, the police in a small New Jersey town had gotten an anonymous tip about a body being stored in a shed outside one of the state’s largest nursing homes.

When the police arrived, the corpse had been removed from the shed, but they discovered 17 bodies piled inside the nursing home in a small morgue intended to hold no more than four people.

“They were just overwhelmed by the amount of people who were expiring,” said Eric C. Danielson, the police chief in Andover, a small township in Sussex County, the state’s northernmost county.

The 17 were among 68 recent deaths linked to the long-term care facility, Andover Subacute and Rehabilitation Center I and II, including two nurses, officials said. Of those who died, 26 people had tested positive for the virus.

In the US, federal health officials are coming under increasing pressure to start publicly tracking coronavirus infections and deaths in nursing homes amid criticism they have not been transparent about the scope of outbreaks across the country that have already claimed thousands of lives, AP reports.

West Virginia National Guard’s Task Force members prepare to test residents at nursing home in Charleston, West Virginia, US, 6 April 2020.
West Virginia National Guard’s Task Force members prepare to test residents at nursing home in Charleston, West Virginia, US, 6 April 2020. Photograph: Us Army/Reuters


Experts say the lack of tracking and transparency has been a major blind spot, and that publicising outbreaks as they happen could not only alert nearby communities and anguished relatives but also help officials see where to focus testing and other safety measures.
Such an action by the agencies that oversee the nations 15,000 nursing homes is seen as long overdue, coming more than a month after a nursing home in Washington state became the first Covid-19 hot spot in the US with an outbreak that ultimately killed 43 people and a near-daily drumbeat of new cases that in some cases has forced entire homes to be evacuated.

Because the federal government has not been releasing a count, The Associated Press has been keeping its own running tally of nursing home outbreak deaths based on media reports and state health departments. The APs latest count of at least 4,817 deaths is up from about 450 just two weeks ago.

A new decree took effect in Vietnam on Wednesday introducing fines for the dissemination of ‘fake news’ or rumours on social media.
Local authorities have already fined hundreds of people for posting what they described as “fake news” about coronavirus, Reuters reports. But the new decree, drafted in February, supersedes one from 2013 which does not specifically cover ‘fake news’, new guidelines say.
A fine of 10-20 million dong ($426-$853), equivalent to around three to six months’ basic salary in Vietnam, will be imposed on people who use social media to share false, untruthful, distorted, or slanderous information, according to the decree.

The new rules were not specifically drafted to deal with coronavirus social media comment and extend far beyond that topic, raising concern among human rights groups already heightened by a cybersecurity law that has been in effect since last year.

Penalties can now be imposed on anyone sharing publications that are banned from circulation in Vietnam, state secrets, or maps which fail to show Vietnam’s claims in the South China Sea, according to the decree.

California is launching a $125m disaster relief fund for undocumented immigrants, the first of its kind in the nation, California governor Gavin Newsom announced Wednesday.

Undocumented immigrants make up 10% of California’s workforce, Newsom said, but are ineligible for unemployment insurance, pandemic unemployment assistance and federal stimulus support.

The governor noted that there was an overrepresentation of the undocumented workforce in essential services, “in the healthcare sector, in the agriculture and food sector, in the manufacturing and logistics sector, and in the construction sector.”

“We feel a deep sense of gratitude for people that are in fear of deportation but are still addressing the essential needs of tens of millions of Californians,” he said.

More than 2 million undocumented immigrants live in California, making up 6% of the state’s overall population. Last year, undocumented immigrants paid $2.5bn in local and state taxes, Newsom said. But still amid this crisis, many find themselves in the impossible situation of having to choose between healthcare and legal status, or continuing essential work without protections.

Amazon to close French warehouses over coronavirus concerns

Amazon has ordered the temporary closure of all six of its French distribution centres, one day after a French court ruled it was not doing enough to protect its workers in the country amid the coronavirus pandemic.

The online giant said in a statement that “this week, we are requesting employees of our distribution centres to stay at home. In the longer term, we will evaluate the impact of that [court] decision for them and our French logistic network”.

Amazon’s French warehouses are to be shut down for five days from Thursday to carry out a deep clean and to “take all the necessary measures to guarantee the health and safety of staff”, the company said.

Management said the 10,000 full- and part-time staff would continue to be paid.

A tribute to the prime minister of New Zealand has gone horribly wrong, after a television presenter attempted to render Jacinda Ardern in cake form, and failed spectacularly.

Laura Daniel said the common wisdom was “don’t bake your heroes” but she wanted to try anyway as the coronavirus lockdown dragged on.

“I’m deeply sorry Jacinda Ardern,” Daniel wrote on Instagram of her masterpiece. “I truly tried my best with what I had available … it’s made from another NZ icon lolly cake.”

Supermarket shelves have been short of flour and baking supplies for weeks because many have taken up baking as a hobby during New Zealand’s four-week lockdown, which has imposed some of the most strict restrictions anywhere in the world.

The cake – which features a lurid shade of pink lipstick, wavy black liquorice hair and googly blue candy eyes – was based on a picture of the prime minister on the cover of a recent biography of Ardern, An Extraordinary Leader.

The coup de grace was a set of what appeared to be real teeth.

Irish police made one of their largest drug seizures of the year when a car tried to evade one of their checkpoints set up to enforce strict measures to curtail the spread of the coronavirus, Reuters reports.

The police have been given new powers to enforce stay-at-home restrictions and increased the already large number of checkpoints over the Easter holiday weekend, mainly to deter trips to holiday homes.

But cocaine with a street value of around €500,000 (US$545,700) was recovered when police caught up with a car that sped away from a checkpoint in Dublin’s city centre in the early hours of Tuesday before colliding with a wall near the city’s River Liffey, 2 km (1.2 miles) away.

Three people were arrested, and divers later recovered two handguns following a search of the riverbed, police said in a statement.

Police say there have been 144 incidents that started “as potential breaches of the regulations, but during the incidents other offences were disclosed”.

On 8 April, the first day of the increased Easter operation, police seized 20,000 smuggled cigarettes from a driver at a checkpoint in County Mayo. Two days earlier, on April 6, police found cocaine with a street value of about €51,000 after stopping a car at a checkpoint in southern Waterford.

One question: are you Shakespeare?

A strange story from Kashmir now:

Authorities have ordered the felling of tens of thousands of poplar trees that account for nearly a third of the region’s forests, over fears of a convergence of respiratory allergies and the spread of the coronavirus, Reuters reports.

But doctors and scientists say the imported trees’ pollen and drifting seeds are not a particularly significant allergy problem, and that widespread forest losses may be the bigger threat.

A view of snow covered trees and mountains after a recent snow fall on 31 January, 2020.
A view of snow covered trees and mountains after a recent snow fall in Kashmir, 31 January, 2020. Photograph: Yawar Nazir/Getty Images

Widespread felling of the trees kicked off after the Jammu and Kashmir High Court earlier this month said health threats from poplars should be examined and, if supported, female poplar trees, which produce drifting cotton-like clumps of seeds in the spring, should be felled. The court decision was the result of a public-interest petition filed by a Srinagar lawyer, stating that poplar pollen could create “havoc for humans with respiratory diseases” and potentially aggravate Covid-19 infections.

Environmentalists and doctors have pointed out that male, rather than female, trees produce pollen, and said that neither the pollen nor seeds from the tree represented a more significant respiratory threat than other spring-blooming plants.

The Jammu and Kashmir region has so far seen about 300 confirmed cases of the virus, and four deaths, according to the Ministry of Health and Family Welfare.

Vietnam’s VietJet Air and state carrier Vietnam Airlines will resume some domestic flights from Thursday after the government eased a 15-day lockdown for some parts of the Southeast Asian country.

Late on Wednesday, Vietnam’s government extended a two-week period of social distancing for 12 provinces in the country, including capital Hanoi and the southern business hub of Ho Chi Minh City, but lifted those measures for most rural areas.

The Civil Aviation Authority of Vietnam (CAAV) had previously said that domestic flights would remain suspended to fully comply with social distancing measures.

But following Wednesday’s announcement, the CAAV granted permission for four domestic airlines to resume flights between key routes, including Hanoi, Ho Chi Minh City and the central city of Danang.

A man picks up a luggage trolley at Noi Bai international airport in Hanoi, Vietnam.
A man picks up a luggage trolley at Noi Bai international airport in Hanoi, Vietnam. Photograph: Luong Thai Linh/EPA

LA mayor says concerts and sporting events unlikely to resume until 2021

Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti said Wednesday it is unlikely concerts and sporting events will resume until at least 2021, as the city continues to fight the coronavirus pandemic.

“It’s difficult to imagine us getting together in the thousands anytime soon, so I think we should be prepared for that this year,” he told Wolf Blitzer on The Situation Room. “Until there’s either a vaccine, some sort of pharmaceutical intervention, or herd immunity, the science is the science. And public health officials have made very clear we have miles and miles to walk before we can be back in those environments.”

Garcetti’s comments echo those of New York City mayor Bill de Blasio and California governor Gavin Newsom, both of whom said it will be a long time before gatherings of 100 or more people are commonplace again.

President Donald Trump has expressed the desire to reopen the country by 1 May, but governors and city officials have increasingly put forward longer timelines.

Man who lost mother to coronavirus files case against Belarus leader

A man living France who lost his mother to the coronavirus has filed a police case against the leader of his native Belarus, accusing President Alexander Lukashenko of failing to take adequate measures to fight the spread of the pandemic, Reuters reports.

A young man walks a dog by a billboard reading “We will win” in Minsk, Belarus.
A young man walks a dog by a billboard reading “We will win” in Minsk, Belarus. Photograph: Natalia Fedosenko/TASS


Aleksander Matveyev said he had reported Lukashenko to Belarus police for investigation over the death of his mother, Lydia Matveyeva, 68, who died on 2 April in a hospital in Vitebsk, a city in northeast Belarus.
“Lukashenko did not take the necessary measures in time,” her son told Reuters in a video call. “And if this person who exercises power does not take those measures, he does nothing, he should be held accountable like any other citizen.”

Lukashenko, in power since 1994, has been one of the world leaders most publicly sceptical about the need for strong action to curb the coronavirus. The Belarus health ministry, which encourages people to reduce contact to prevent the spread of the coronavirus, says 36 people in Belarus have died of it. But Lukashenko has said all victims had other health problems. On Monday he said he believed nobody in Belarus would be killed by the virus.

Matveyeva’s death certificate, an image of which was sent to Reuters by her family, records her “main cause of death” as “coronavirus”.

Lukashenko’s office and the interior ministry did not respond to a request for comment. A person who answered the phone in the hospital director’s office declined to comment on Matveyeva’s death.

Nearly 700 sailors from French aircraft carrier test positive

Nearly 700 sailors assigned to the French aircraft carrier Charles de Gaulle’s naval group have tested positive for the coronavirus, the armed forces ministry said on Wednesday.

The ministry said 1,767 mariners, nearly all from the Charles de Gaulle itself, had been tested and results showed at least 668 to be infected with the new coronavirus. Results are still not in from a third of the tests, Reuters reports.

“Thirty one personnel are today in hospital,” it said in a statement. “More tests are being carried out.”

Medical staff of the Marseille Naval Fire Battalion testing sailors of the French aircraft carrier Charles De Gaulle in Saint-Mandrier, near Toulon, France, 14 April 2020.
Medical staff of the Marseille Naval Fire Battalion testing sailors of the French aircraft carrier Charles De Gaulle in Saint-Mandrier, near Toulon, France, 14 April 2020. Photograph: Jonathan Bellenand/FRENCH NAVY HANDOUT/EPA

The carrier arrived home in Toulon two weeks earlier than expected after about 40 crew members showed signs of Covid-19 symptoms.

Sick crew members had been placed under strict medical observation on board the nuclear-powered carrier and a team equipped to carry out the first tests airlifted to the vessel.

Crew from the Charles de Gaulle and the frigate Chevalier Paul were now in confinement within their naval base, while the pilots of the carrier’s warplanes and helicopters were also in quarantine.

The navy chief had ordered an investigation, the ministry said.

Summary

Hello and welcome to today’s live coronavirus pandemic coverage. The world has passed another sombre milestone, with more than 2 million coronavirus cases confirmed worldwide.

Trump, meanwhile, held a press conference in which he expressed doubt over China’s coronavirus death toll in response to reporter asking why US fatalities account for a fifth of the global total.

“Do you really believe those numbers from this vast country called China? And that they have a certain number of cases and a certain number of deaths. Does anyone really believe that,” Trump said.

Trump doubled down on his decision to halt funding to the World Health Organization and announced that US governors will be given new guidelines on Thursday and some states may reopen before 1 May.

I’ll be bringing you the latest developments from around the world as they happen.

A reminder that I welcome news tips, questions and comments on Twitter @helenrusllivan.

  • Confirmed cases worldwide top 2m. The latest numbers from Johns Hopkins University, which is tracking the spread of the virus, put the confirmed global total of cases at 2,047,731. The researchers say at least 133,354 people have died since the start of the outbreak.
  • The US reports more than 25,000 new cases. Washington’s Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has reported 605,390 cases of coronavirus – an increase of 26,385 cases from its previous count – and said the number of deaths has risen by 2,330 to 24,582.
  • US president Donald Trump says some states may reopen before 1 May. There were governors “champing at the bit” to reopen, he said. Trump also reiterated the decision to halt funding to the World Health Organization.
  • The head of the WHO said on Wednesday he regrets US President Donald Trump’s decision to pull funding for the agency, but that now is the time for the world unite in its fight against the new coronavirus.
  • New York residents will be required to wear face coverings when they are out in public and coming in close contact with other people, Governor Andrew Cuomo said Wednesday. The order takes effect on Friday.
  • G20 finance ministers agree to suspend poorer countries’ debt payments. The measure will be in effect from 1 May until the end of the year as they prepare for increased spending on healthcare systems.
  • The UK hospital death toll rises by 761. The Department of Health and Social Care says a total of 12,868 people have now died in hospitals around the UK. The 761 new deaths announced on Wednesday represent a fall on the equivalent figure reported yesterday; 778. The figure is likely to rise once deaths in other settings are taken into account.
  • New York City revises its death toll sharply upwards to more than 10,000 people. It added 3,778 people who were not tested but who are nevertheless presumed to have died from Covid-19.
  • Italy reports 578 new deaths. The number of fatalities in Italy rises by 578 on Wednesday, 24 fewer than the increase seen on Tuesday, taking the death toll to 21,645.
  • The European Union’s medicine regulator estimates it could take a year for a vaccine to be available for widespread use. The European commission president, Ursula von der Leyen, has previously claimed a vaccine could be on the market “before autumn”.
  • The 107th edition of the Tour de France is postponed until August.the world governing body, the UCI, says the opening stage will now start on 29 August and the finale will take place on 20 September. It was due to begin in Nice on 27 June and conclude in Paris on 19 July.
  • Oil slumps despite production cuts. US oil prices tumble to 18-year lows of $19.20 (£15.33) a barrel and the benchmark price for Brent crude drop by 5% to $28 a barrel amid gloomy forecasts for demand during the pandemic.
  • Canadian economy slides 9% in a month. Its statistics agency says the country’s economy suffered a decline of nearly 9% in March – the worst figure ever recorded.
  • Three rounds of EU-UK Brexit talks are scheduled. Both sides say they remain committed to reviewing progress in June.

Updated

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