Coronavirus live news: global cases could be five to 10 million, says Australia's medical chief

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And here’s our latest global wrap on the coronavirus pandemic, ..... underway.

And here’s our latest global wrap on the coronavirus pandemic, starting with the citizens of Wuhan being told to stay inside and be vigilant as the date for their travel restrictions being lifted approaches (8 April). As I mentioned earlier, tomorrow will be a national day of mourning in China. Get the full story below:

In Hungary journalists say a new law supposedly aimed at fighting the coronavirus will make objective reporting of the pandemic harder and leave them open to facing court cases or even jail time for their reporting.

The measures, in place since Monday, have been roundly criticised for the sweeping powers they hand to the nationalist prime minister, Viktor 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.

Journalists in the country say the new law is already being used to deny them access to information, and on occasion to threaten them.

You can read the Guardian’s full story below:

Crops at risk in Europe without migrant workers

Farmers across Europe bank on improvised armies of pickers to save harvest, as coronavirus lockdowns have stopped migrant workers from arriving to carry out the work.

Fruit and vegetable crops in Spain, Italy, France, Germany, the UK and other countries risk rotting in the fields – putrefying testaments to the coronavirus pandemic.

“It won’t be pretty,” said Eamonn Kehoe, a soft fruit specialist with Ireland’s agri-food agency, Teagasc. “If they don’t have the staff it won’t be picked. It’s a nightmare, a perfect storm.”

He was referring to Ireland’s growers, but farmers and agriculture officials across Europe have equally grim warnings about abandoned fields and lost crops unless they can conjure improvised armies of pickers.

Spain, which is the EU’s biggest exporter of fruit and vegetables, is already feeling the impact. “We’re very limited at the moment when it comes to having enough hands to pick and harvest,” said Pedro Barato, the president of Spain’s largest farming association, Asaja.

You can read the full story below:


Australia's chief medical officer says global cases could be '5-10 times higher' than reported

Australia’s Chief Medical Officer Dr Brendan Murphy has said worldwide cases of Covid-19 could be “five to 10 times” higher than the one million known currently. Murphy says the only numbers he has total faith in are the Australian numbers, because “we have the highest testing rate in the world” (Trump has also claimed this mantle).

I think China is in a really difficult position. They did clamp down incredibly hard and they stopped transmission. But their population is not immune. They still have a lot of people in their population and they are, obviously, trying very hard to prevent second waves. I think they have been pretty transparent but as I said, I’m only confident about our numbers. I’m certainly not confident even the numbers out of the US are much higher than being reported because nobody else in the world has been doing testing like we have. Nobody else in the world got on to all those original cases out of Wuhan in January and contained them. That’s why we are now dealing with what we know rather than a huge community transmission that happened all through February in countries like Italy and the US. We’re on top of our cases. But we still have a long way to go.

Australia’s Chief Medical Officer Brendan Murphy (L) and prime minister, Scott Morrison, hold a press conference at Parliament House in Canberra.
Australia’s Chief Medical Officer Brendan Murphy (L) and prime minister, Scott Morrison, hold a press conference at Parliament House in Canberra. Photograph: Lukas Coch/EPA

At the same press conference, Australia’s prime minister, Scott Morrison, said modelling done for the government shows that “at the current rate” Australia is “tracking well”.

At the current rate if we keep doing what we’re doing and keep doing the work to upgrade ICU capacity and secure the extra ventilators then right now that trajectory is promising, it’s encouraging, but there are no guarantees. This virus writes its own rules.

You can follow all of the developments in Australia’ on Guardian Australia’s live coverage of the coronavirus pandemic.

Updated

The Asian Development Bank says that Vietnam’s GDP growth will slow to 4.98% this year, versus 7.02% last year.

Still with business and share markets have had a sticky day after hopes of a Saudi-Russia deal on oil production faded.

Donald Trump talked up the hope of a deal that would reverse a decision last month by the two countries to boost production, which shocked investors and saw prices plunge to $20 a barrel.

But that looks less certain now and the price of Brent crude slipped more than 1% in the Asia trading session. Shares also struggled and Wall Street was set to open down on Friday. All the main indices in Asia Pacific, from Sydney to Seoul, are in the red.

Updated

Some more details from my colleague Helen Davidson about the capacity cuts at Cathay Pacific, the Hong Kong-based airline that has been devastated by the city protests and now the virus.

Augustus Tang, the chief executive, says the airline’s passenger fleet “has been virtually grounded as the remaining demand has disappeared”, according to a memo seen by Reuters.

“We carried 582 customers on one day this week, with a load factor of just 18.3%,” he said, adding that a usual day would see 100,000 passengers.

Cathay’s passenger capacity will now be further reduced from the previously announced “skeleton schedule” to two weekly flights to four long-haul destinations- London Heathrow, Los Angeles, Vancouver, and Sydney.

Tang said they hoped to maintain three weekly flights on regional services to Tokyo, Taipei, New Delhi, Bangkok, Jakarta, Manila, Ho Chi Minh City and Singapore, as well as three weekly flights to Beijing, Shanghai and Kuala Lumpur.

He will take a 30% cut to his base salary from April to December, as will Chairman Patrick Healy, with executive directors taking a 25% cut, the memo said.

Updated

This week the Australian Broadcasting Corporation’s 7.30 Report TV programme asked viewers if any of their children had messages to send to their grandparents, who they couldn’t see at the moment because of the home isolation requirements. The result was terrific.

China records 31 new cases

China has released its latest daily figures. They include 31 new cases, 29 of which were imported.

Updated

A row has erupted in the US over the sacking of the commander of the US Theodore Roosevelt aircraft carrier, which is docked in Guam. Captain Brett Crozier had written a scathing letter asking for stronger measures to control a coronavirus outbreak onboard his warship, which was subsequently leaked to the media.

Acting US Navy Secretary Thomas Modly said the commander exercised poor judgment. Modly said the letter was sent through the chain of command but Crozier did not safeguard it from being released outside the chain.

“He sent it out pretty broadly and in sending it out pretty broadly, he did not take care to ensure that it couldn’t be leaked and that’s part of his responsibility,” Modly said.

“It raised alarm bells unnecessarily,” he added.

Captain Brett Crozier was removed as commander of the Theodore Roosevelt aircraft carrier.
Captain Brett Crozier was removed as commander of the Theodore Roosevelt aircraft carrier. Photograph: Us Navy/Reuters

Over 100 personnel on the Theodore Roosevelt have tested positive for the coronavirus so far.

In the four-page letter, Crozier, who took command in November, described a bleak situation aboard the nuclear-powered carrier as more sailors tested positive for the highly contagious respiratory virus.

He called for “decisive action”: removing over 4,000 sailors from the ship and isolating them. He said that unless the Navy acted immediately, it would be failing to properly safeguard “our most trusted asset - our sailors.”

The ship has since docked at US naval base in Guam.

Democratic presidential candidate Joe Biden said the Trump administration’s decision to remove the commander showed “poor judgement”.

Fujifilm Holdings Corp says it has developed a new test for the coronavirus that reduces the results time to about two hours.

The test was developed by subsidiary Fujifilm Wako Pure Chemical Corp and will be released on 15 April, Reuters reports.

The SARS-CoV-2 RT-qPCR Detection kit will be able to deliver results for the virus that causes Covid-19 faster than existing polymerase chain reaction (PCR) tests, which presently take four to six hours, the company said.

Jazz guitarist John Bucky Pizzarelli dies in outbreak

Jazz guitarist John Bucky Pizzarelli who was inducted to the New Jersey Hall of Fame, has died at the age of 94.

The virtuoso who had played for presidents at the White House during his long and esteemed career died on Wednesday at his home in New Jersey.

His family told the New York Times they believe the cause of death was the coronavirus. And the Bergen Record reports that Pizzarelli tested positive for the virus on Sunday.

Jazz guitarist John Bucky Pizzarelli who was inducted to the New Jersey Hall of Fame, has died at the age of 94.
Jazz guitarist John Bucky Pizzarelli who was inducted to the New Jersey Hall of Fame, has died at the age of 94. Photograph: Rich Schultz/AP

Associated Press says:
Pizzarelli was born in Paterson, New Jersey, and had a career that spanned eight decades.

He showed off his musical chops for former presidents like Ronald Reagan and Bill Clinton and played alongside musical icons like Frank Sinatra.

Jazz guitar wouldn’t be what it is today without Bucky Pizzarelli, said jazz guitarist Frank Vignola. He and Freddie Green were responsible for a style of rhythm guitar playing that has lasted until 2020.

Pizzarelli died with his wife, Ruth, his son Martin, and his caregiver at his side.

China to hold national day of mourning on Saturday

China will hold a national mourning on Saturday for “martyrs” who died in the fight against the epidemic, the official Xinhua news agency says.

Three minutes of silence will be observed at 10am on 4 April across the country “while air raid sirens and horns of automobiles, trains and ships will wail in grief,” Xinhua said.

China has reported a total of 81,589 confirmed cases, which exclude asymptomatic patients, and 3,318 deaths from the outbreak.

A food delivery man scans the code on a mobile phone to show the green code as he prepares to enter into 798 Art Zone in Beijing.
A food delivery man scans the code on a mobile phone to show the green code as he prepares to enter into 798 Art Zone in Beijing. Photograph: Wu Hong/EPA

Updated

Just while I’m on the airline industry, Hong Kong’s carrier Cathay Pacific carried just 582 passengers one day this week, with a load factor of 18.3%, Reuters reports, quoting an internal memo. It’s CEO and chairman have agreed to take a 30% base salary cut until December.

Cathay Pacific aircraft are seen parked on the tarmac at the airport, following the outbreak of the new coronavirus, in Hong Kong.
Cathay Pacific aircraft are seen parked on the tarmac at the airport, following the outbreak of the new coronavirus, in Hong Kong. Photograph: Tyrone Siu/Reuters

Updated

International airline seat capacity drops 80% from a year ago

We have written quite a lot about the dire state of the airline industry, but here’s a little more woe to add to it ...

International seat capacity has dropped by almost 80% from a year ago and half the world’s airplanes are in storage, new data shows, suggesting the aviation industry may take years to recover from the coronavirus pandemic.

Carriers including United Airlines Holdings Inc and Air New Zealand have warned they are likely to emerge from the crisis smaller, and there are fears others may not survive.

“It is likely that when we get across to the other side of the pandemic, things won’t return to the vibrant market conditions we had at the start of the year,” said Olivier Ponti, vice president at data firm ForwardKeys.

“It’s also possible that a number of airlines will have gone bust and uneconomic discounts will be necessary to attract demand back,” he said in a statement.

There seems to be some movement on whether or not Americans should wear face masks routinely, outside of the house.

Speaking at a White House briefing, Dr Deborah Birx, a member of President Trump’s coronavirus task force, said the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention would issue guidelines in the coming days on the use of face coverings.

Birx however cautioned that Americans, who have been admonished to stay at home except for essential outings, should not develop a “false sense of security” that they are fully protected from the respiratory illness by wearing a mask.

New York City’s mayor, Bill de Blasio, urged residents to wear face coverings, citing studies showing that the virus can be transmitted by infected people who are showing no symptoms.

“What that means is when you put on that face covering you’re protecting everyone else,” de Blasio said. The Democratic mayor suggested New Yorkers use scarves or other home-made masks because medical-grade protective gear was in short supply.

The WHO has said only people who are sick or treating or assisting people who are sick should wear masks.

The Guardian asked four experts for their advice on face masks.

In case you missed this, the Guardian’s Yang Tian has written about her anticipation of receiving a care package from her father in Beijing: “Dad has always sent care packages from China. Now it’s face masks instead of snacks.”

Hong Kong orders pubs and bars to close

Hong Kong has ordered pubs and bars to close for two weeks from 6 pm on Friday as the financial hub steps up social distancing restrictions and joins cities around the world in the battle to halt the spread of coronavirus.

Reuters reports that anyone who violates the new law faces six months in jail and a fine of HK$50,000 ($6,450).

The extraordinary move comes a week after the government stopped all tourist arrivals and transit passengers at its airport and said it was considering suspending the sale of alcohol in some venues.

Hong Kong’s bars and pubs will close on Friday night for two weeks.
Hong Kong’s bars and pubs will close on Friday night for two weeks. Photograph: Kevin On Man Lee/Penta Press/REX/Shutterstock

“Any premises (commonly known as bar or pub) that is exclusively or mainly used for the sale or supply of intoxicating liquors ... must be closed,” the government said in a statement late on Thursday.

It added that 62 confirmed coronavirus cases in the city had been linked to bars, leading to 14 further infections, including a 40-day-old baby.

Hong Kong has 802 cases of coronavirus and four deaths from the disease.

Alcohol will still be available in supermarkets and convenience stores.

Here are some of the images from Fort Lauderdale, where the Zaandam cruise liner has finally docked. It’s a salient reminder of the human cost of this tragedy.

The virus-hit cruise ship Zaandam, which has dozens of ill passengers and crew on board, has been cleared to dock in Florida.
The virus-hit cruise ship Zaandam, which has dozens of ill passengers and crew on board, has been cleared to dock in Florida. Photograph: Marco Bello/Reuters
The virus-hit cruise ship Zaandam, which has dozens of ill passengers and crew on board, has been cleared to dock in Florida.
The virus-hit cruise ship Zaandam, which has dozens of ill passengers and crew on board, has been cleared to dock in Florida. Photograph: Marco Bello/Reuters
The virus-hit cruise ship Zaandam, which has dozens of ill passengers and crew on board, has been cleared to dock in Florida.
The virus-hit cruise ship Zaandam, which has dozens of ill passengers and crew on board, has been cleared to dock in Florida. Photograph: Chandan Khanna/AFP via Getty Images
The virus-hit cruise ship Zaandam, which has dozens of ill passengers and crew on board, has been cleared to dock in Florida.
The virus-hit cruise ship Zaandam, which has dozens of ill passengers and crew on board, has been cleared to dock in Florida. Photograph: Mike Stocker/AP

Virus-stricken Zaandam cruise liner docks in Florida

The Zaandam cruise line, on which four people have died, has docked in Fort Lauderdale, after previously being denied entry. Dozens of other passengers are sick with flu-like symptoms on the vessels.

Earlier this week the ship offloaded its healthy passengers onto its sister-ship, the Rotterdam, which has now also been given permission to dock in Florida’s Port Everglades.

Carnival’s Holland America cruise ship Rotterdam, left, arrives at Port Everglades as the Zaandam, right, is docked in Florida.
Carnival’s Holland America cruise ship Rotterdam, left, arrives at Port Everglades as the Zaandam, right, is docked in Florida. Photograph: Lynne Sladky/AP

The Zaandam cruise liner last entered port in Valparaíso, Chile, more than two weeks ago and has been stranded at sea with a Covid-19 outbreak onboard worsening after several Latin American countries refused to let it dock.

The agreement to let both ships dock in Florida comes after opposition from the state governor Ron DeSantis and several Broward county commissioners who feared that they could not cope with an influx of sick passengers.

You can read our full story here

Risk in Wuhan remains high, says party chief

Residents of the Chinese city of Wuhan, where the virus began, have been told to strengthen self-protection measures and avoid going out unless it is necessary.

The City’s Communist party chief, Wang Zhonglin, was quoted as saying in a statement published by the Wuhan city government that the risk of a rebound in the city’s coronavirus epidemic remained high due to both internal and external risks and that it must continue to maintain prevention and control measures.

A courier sits on a bike waiting for orders on 2 April in Wuhan. The government stipulates that residents with green health code can go out in public.
A courier sits on a bike waiting for orders on 2 April in Wuhan. The government stipulates that residents with green health code can go out in public. Photograph: Getty Images

Updated

UK to build two temporary hospitals

Britain will build a further two temporary hospitals to treat coronavirus patients, the National Health Service said as its first field hospital prepares to open in London on Friday.

The NHS said it would build a 1,000-patient facility at a university in Bristol, south-west England, and a 500-bed facility at a conference centre in Harrogate in the north of the country.

A handout picture provided by the British Ministry of Defence shows the Nightingale Hospital at the ExCel conference centre in Docklands.
A handout picture provided by the British Ministry of Defence shows the Nightingale Hospital at the ExCel conference centre in Docklands. Photograph: Sergeant Donald Todd (RLC)/BRITISH MINISTRY OF DEFENCE/EPA

That means it is now planning to open five field hospitals in the coming weeks. The first, the NHS Nightingale in east London will receive its first patients next week. It will be located in Docklands and will eventually be capable of providing support for up to 4,000 coronavirus patients if required. It will initially provide up to 500 beds

Prince Charles will open the hospital via video link from his Scottish residence, where he is recovering from Covid-19.

Iran's parliament Speaker tests positive

In case you missed it, the speaker of Iran’s parliament, Ali Larijani, has contracted the coronavirus, the highest-ranking official among several senior government figures to catch the disease, the Associated Press reports.

The parliament in Iran announced Larijani’s illness on its website, saying he was receiving treatment in quarantine.

Iran’s health ministry said Thursday the coronavirus had killed another 124 people, pushing the country’s death toll to 3,160.

Iranian parliament speaker Ali Larijani, who has been confirmed sick with coronavirus
Iranian parliament speaker Ali Larijani, who has been confirmed sick with coronavirus Photograph: Louai Beshara/AFP via Getty Images

'Worrying spike' in cases and deaths in Middle East, says WHO

Governments in the Middle East need to act fast to limit the spread of the coronavirus after cases rose to nearly 60,000, almost double their level a week earlier, the World Health Organization said on Thursday.

“New cases have been reported in some of the most vulnerable countries with fragile health systems,” said Ahmed Al-Mandhari, the WHO’s director for the Eastern Mediterranean region, which includes Pakistan, Afghanistan, Somalia and Djibouti, as well as Middle Eastern states.

“Even in countries with stronger heath systems, we have seen a worrying spike in the numbers of cases and deaths reported,” he said in a statement.

People in protective clothing walk past rows of beds at a temporary 2,000-bed hospital for COVID-19 coronavirus patients set up by the Iranian army at the international exhibition centre in northern Tehran.
People in protective clothing walk past rows of beds at a temporary 2,000-bed hospital for COVID-19 coronavirus patients set up by the Iranian army at the international exhibition centre in northern Tehran. Photograph: Ebrahim Noroozi/AP

Outside of Iran, which has reported just over 50,000 cases, confirmed coronavirus numbers have been relatively low in the Middle East compared to Europe, the United States and Asia.

But health officials fear that cases of the highly contagious respiratory illness caused by the virus are under-reported and that many countries with weak governments and health systems eroded by conflict will struggle to cope.

“I cannot stress enough the urgency of the situation,” said Mandhari. “The increasing numbers of cases show that transmission is rapidly occurring at local and community levels.”

“We still have a window of opportunity, but this window is slowly closing day by day,” he added.

Heathrow to close one runway due to drop in air traffic

In a sign of the sizeable impact that this pandemic is having on travel, London’s Heathrow airport has said it will close one of its runways from Monday because of a fall in traffic.

The airport has two runways and will alternate which one they keep open on a weekly basis, a spokesman said.

They added: “Although we are seeing significantly fewer flights at the moment, Heathrow will remain open so that we can continue to play a crucial role in helping to secure vital medical goods and food for the nation during this unprecedented epidemic.”

British Airways planes are parked at Heathrow airport in London on 2 April 2020. The airline has furloughed 30,000 staff because of the Covid-19 crisis.
British Airways planes are parked at Heathrow airport in London on 2 April 2020. The airline has furloughed 30,000 staff because of the Covid-19 crisis. Photograph: Ben Stansall/AFP via Getty Images

On Thursday BA suspended 30,o00 staff from cabin crew to ground staff, engineers and head office employees, until the end of May under the government furlough scheme for companies hit by the coronavirus pandemic.

In 2018, Heathrow served 80.1 million passengers, according to their website. A total of 475,624 flights took off from the west London site in the same year.

Gatwick Airport has also significantly scaled back its operations, closing one of its two terminals on Wednesday and its runway will only be open for scheduled flights between 2pm and 10pm. The measures will be in place for a minimum of one month.

Gatwick recorded 47 million passengers last year.

Trump blames states for lack of supplies

For those of you who may not have seen some of our coverage of President Trump’s recent press conference, there were a few key lines:

  • The president blamed the states for lack of supplies in fighting the virus.
  • One of the key medical faces of the virus fight, Dr Deborah Birx, said not everyone was adhering to social distancing rules: “I can tell by the curve as it is today that not everyone is following the social distancing guidance,” Birx said. “We can bend our curve, but everyone has to take responsibility as Americans.”
  • Newly approved testing kits will be able to give results in 15 minutes, Birx said.
  • Trade and economic adviser, and Defence Production Act policy coordinator, Peter Navarro, said that the bidding on supplies inside the US is due to a “black market” of bidders driving up prices. He said domestic supplies are being bought up and sent abroad.
  • Vice president Mike Pence said the US had the “greatest healthcare system in the world”.
  • Jared Kushner addressed the briefing but said very little, other than people were working hard and doing a good job.

You can stay up to date on all of our live coverage from the US on our US blog:

Updated

Hello and welcome to the Guardian’s live coverage of the Covid-19 pandemic. I’m Alison Rourke and will be steering our coverage for the next few hours.

As the number of infections rose past one million, and deaths passed 50,000, countries, including the United Sates, are taking increasing measures to combat the virus. New York’s governor, Andrew Cuomo, has warned his state will run out of ventilators in six days.

Donald Trump has issued orders to use the defence production act to make ventilators. The president has also confirmed in his daily press briefing that he has tested negative for Covid-19. The US now has just under 240,000 infections and 5, 798 deaths according to the Johns Hopkins university tracker.

Here’s a summary of the other top points:

  • Global cases of the virus have passed one million, according to figures collected by researchers from Johns Hopkins University. Deaths worldwide have passed 50,000.
  • In terms of deaths, Italy remains the country worst affected by the outbreak, with 13,915 fatalities, followed by Spain, with 10,003 deaths. The US is now the third worst affected country, with 5,316 total deaths.
  • Governments in the Middle East need to act fast to limit the spread of the coronavirus after cases rose to nearly 60,000, almost double their level a week earlier, the World Health Organization said on Thursday.
  • The UK health secretary, Matt Hancock, said the government was hoping to build an “at-scale” diagnostics industry to reach 100,000 tests a day by the end of the month, as he unveiled his five-pillar strategy. Just 5,000 NHS staff have been tested so far.
  • More than 6.65 million people have filed for unemployment benefits in the US last week, according to the latest official figures, highlighting the devastating economic impact of the Covid-19 pandemic on the American economy.
  • The pro-independence leader of Catalonia, the region of Spain hardest hit by the coronavirus after Madrid, has abandoned his government’s initial reluctance to seek help from the Spanish army, saying any assistance would be gratefully received.

You can get in touch with me via email [email protected] For now, let’s get underway.

Updated

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