20th April 2020 – United Kingdom
# Cases $
Source: Public Health England and news reports. (Public Health England Web Site)
*=Interim Figures / Key: UK USA Other
** A new process for collecting numbers of recovered patients is in development: the figure shown is for 22/03/2020. The figure shown is an estimate based on a three week recovery time line.
$ Cases now include Pillar 2 cases as of 11th April 2020
More information coming soon.
23:49 A historic drop in energy demand
Oil prices turned negative on Monday as economies on coronavirus lockdowns around the world cause a historic drop in energy demand. The cost of the US oil benchmark, West Texas Intermediate, for a barrel to be delivered in May plunged to a price of roughly negative $37, as sellers took a loss rather than pay for storage costs. The price of oil for June was also down, though trading higher, at above $20 per barrel, while Brent crude – the other major benchmark – fell more than 7% to about $26 per barrel.
The falls come as analysts expect oil demand to contract to levels last seen in 1995, as businesses around the world remain shut and many people remain at home. The International Monetary Fund has predicted the global economy could contract by 3% this year, as coronavirus restrictions bring activity to a halt. Last month, as the rules took hold in Europe and the US, business surveys showed record-setting declines in orders and output in many countries.
For its part, the World Trade Organization has warned that global trade could fall by up to a third this year – more than double the 12.5% drop in the aftermath of the 2008 financial crisis. Even a recent deal among major oil producers to cut supply by record levels has failed to ease the glut. Since the start of the year, energy prices have fallen by more than 60%.
23:33 Facebook shuts down anti-lockdown events
Facebook has said it will remove pages and events involved in the organisation of protests that violate state laws on social distancing in the US during the pandemic. The company said it has already removed the promotion of anti-lockdown events in California, New Jersey and Nebraska after consultation with state governments. Protests against coronavirus lockdowns were held in states across the US on Sunday.
Hundreds of protesters flouted social-distancing guidelines in defiance of restrictions intended to stem the spread of coronavirus and save lives. Similar events that “defy government’s guidance on social distancing aren’t allowed on Facebook”, a spokesman said on Monday.
Appearing on ABC’s Good Morning America on Monday, Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg was asked whether the organisation of anti-lockdown protests on the platform amounted to “harmful misinformation”. “We do classify that as harmful misinformation and we take that down,” Zuckerberg said, adding that debates about policy would not be stifled. The removal of events has provoked a backlash from conservatives, among them Donald Trump Jr, who accused Facebook of quashing free speech.
The US president has expressed support for the protests, suggesting “some governors have gone too far” in placing restrictions on life.
23:27 Why are people protesting in the US?
Across the country, some groups of Americans are taking to the streets in protest of lockdown orders aimed at limiting the spread of Covid-19. The demonstrations come amid 782,159 confirmed Covid-19 cases nationwide and 41,816 deaths. Numbers are still rising, though infection rates appear to be slowing in some regions. But protesters in more than a dozen states say the stay-at-home measures imposed by state governments to control the spread of coronavirus are an overreaction. As one militia leader in Illinois put it to the BBC: “Re-open my state or we will re-open it ourselves.” Protests have varied in size across the country – from a few dozen protesters in Virginia and Oregon to rallies of thousands in Michigan and Washington state.
22:39 US state to reopen restaurants and salons on Friday
Georgia’s governor has announced that restaurants, hair salons, gyms, bowling alleys and some movie theaters will be allowed to reopen on Friday. It comes as the governor of Tennessee says that by 1 May the “vast majority of businesses” will be allowed to reopen. Meanwhile, the South Carolina governor has allowed residents to return to previously closed beaches starting on Tuesday. Non-essential retail businesses will also be allowed to reopen, as long as they can adhere to social distancing guidelines.
22:28 White House Pres Briefing
President Donald Trump’s daily briefing is starting now. He is joined by members of the coronavirus task force including senior co-ordinator Dr Deborah Birx, and Vice-President Mike Pence.
Trump says governors “just don’t understand” how to carry out testing. It comes as governors complain that the federal government has not helped states get testing supplies from overseas. Trump says the Republican governor of Maryland Mike Hogan, and the Democratic governor of Illinois JB Pritzker, “didn’t understand too much what was going on” with testing. He says Vice-President Mike Pence spoke on the phone with governors today to tell him about their “tremendous capacity” to do tests at local labs. Both governors have been critical of the federal response, and earlier today, Hogan attacked Trump for claiming that states had the testing capacity they needed in order to reopen. “To try to push this off and say the governors have plenty of testing and they should just get to work on testing – that somehow we aren’t doing our job, is just absolutely false,” Hogan told MSNBC. On Tuesday, Dr Anthony Fauci, the government’s top infectious disease expert, told AP news that the US did not yet have an adequate testing and tracing procedure in place to reopen the economy.
President Trump now turns to the price of oil, which turned negative for the first time in history on Monday – meaning that oil producers are paying buyers to take the commodity off their hands, over fears that storage capacity could run out. The price of oil, Trump says, is “at a level that’s very interesting to a lot of people”. Trump says that, with the price plummeting, the US would seek to fill up its petroleum reserves. “We’re filling up our national petroleum reserves, the strategic reserves. We’re looking to put as much as 75 million barrels into the reserves. That would top it out,” he says. He expressed confidence that his administration can “get it for the right price”. Demand for oil has dried up as lockdowns across the world have kept people inside. The price of a barrel of West Texas Intermediate (WTI), the benchmark for US oil, fell as low as minus $37.63 a barrel.
Trump says New York Governor Andrew Cuomo is going to visit him in the Oval Office tomorrow afternoon, and that he’ll be joined by “some of his people”. “We look forward to that,” the president adds. Cuomo and Trump have previously gone back and forth over each other’s responses to the outbreak. During Cuomo’s briefing a few days ago, Trump tweeted: “Stop talking!”
Trump asks Army Corp of Engineer General Todd Semonite to provide an update on the southern US border wall. Semonite had been speaking about the military’s effort to build field hospitals at population centres around the US when Trump asked “how about the wall?” He then asked the general to speak on “the quality of that wall in terms of its power for stopping people that shouldn’t be coming into our country”. Trump has claimed the wall will help prevent infections from entering the US – however, health experts have pointed out that there are already outbreaks occurring in every state. Many of the initial coronavirus cases in the US were linked to people travelling from China or Europe. Construction of the wall has continued during the pandemic – but local residents in border towns in Arizona have said they fear the influx of construction workers could spread the virus. In response to Trump, Semonite said “construction is going very, very smooth”, adding that 164 miles have been built as of today. As he leaves the briefing, he adds: “I have a lot of building to do.”
Asked about the sub-zero oil prices, Trump says that short-sellers are to blame. “Much of it has to do with short sellers. A lot of people got caught,” says Trump. “And there are a lot of people not too happy because they got caught.” He calls the record-low prices “more of a financial thing than an oil situation”. It’s “largely a financial squeeze”, he adds. The current cost oil is negative $37 per barrel, Trump says, noting that he expects the price to jump back up soon.
Trump pledges to personally look into the case of a business owner who was denied a loan through coronavirus relief funds because of a criminal past. Fox News correspondent John Roberts tells the president he received an email from a man in the north-west who owns a supply business. He says he was refused a loan from the Small Business Administration because he has a non-violent felony from the past five years. As a result he has had to let go 50 employees, many of whom are former criminals trying to get back into society. Roberts queries why the businessman was denied a loan. Trump says: “If you give me the name of the company and his name I’ll have that checked out, I’ll do that.” The president adds of small business funding, referring to his own company: “I know I didn’t get any.”
Trump is asked why the governor of Maryland bought 500,000 testing kits from South Korea when the White House says the states have the ability to do all of the testing that they need. “The governor of Maryland could have called Mike Pence. He could have saved a lot of money but that’s OK,” says Trump, pointing to a map of testing facilities in Maryland. “I don’t think he needed to go to South Korea. He needed to get a little knowledge,” he adds. The White House has claimed that states have local laboratories that are capable of doing all the testing that they need. But states say that they are lacking the test kits themselves, rather than the labs in which to check them.
Quoting an apocryphal story about US Founding Father George Washington confessing to chopping down a cherry tree as a boy, Trump tells the White House briefing room: “I cannot tell a lie.” He made the comment as he called on a journalist whom he had earlier promised could ask a question. Moments later, Trump said: “I haven’t left the White House in months.” A PBS reporter said: “You held a rally in March.” Trump shrugs: “Did I hold a rally? I’m sorry, I held a rally!”
As with the furore over ventilators, so with the furore over testing. That was President Trump’s theme today, first on his Twitter account and then at the White House briefing.”It used to be ventilators, ventilators, ventilators,” he said. “Now it’s testing, testing, testing.”Trump has accused the “Do Nothing Democrats” of playing a “dangerous political game” by insisting there is a shortage of tests for coronavirus.But governors from both parties have insistently called for more federal help in order to do the testing necessary before they can ease up on stay-at-home orders.Trump told us their demands for tests was overblown, just as it had been in the case of ventilators.”Nobody that needed a ventilator didn’t get one,” he said, declaring that the governors already had tremendous testing capacity in their states about which they didn’t know: “hundreds and hundreds of laboratories” and thousands of pieces of equipment available at federal locations. The president brought up experts and officials to fill in the details for us and lay out the maps of where these supplies are located.But for him the bottom line was political. He claimed that “they” – presumably the Do Nothing Democrats – didn’t “catch him” on ventilators and so thought they’d “get him” on testing.
21:29 Considerable drop in Dutch numbers
There seems to have been a considerable drop in Dutch deaths and hospital admissions over the past few days, according to the public health authority’s (RIVM) latest data. Since Sunday, 75 people were reported to have been hospitalised and 67 patients have died – compared to double that number on Friday. However, the daily figures don’t reflect the trend and the actual numbers are almost certainly higher. There are fewer staff working over the weekend, so it’s normal to have a dip in the figures recorded. And the RIVM only registers Covid-19 as the cause of death when a person has tested positive for the virus. That said, it looks as though the curve has been flattened. A spokesperson for the RIVM told the BBC it looks as though the Netherlands is “over the hill”, as far as hospital admissions go. But while even cautious officials admit to feeling a spark of excitement, they say it’s too soon to relax the partial lockdown. An announcement on possible changes to the current restrictions in the Netherlands is scheduled for Tuesday evening.
21:08 NHS publishes death toll ethnicity data for England
The ethnicity of those who have died with coronavirus in English hospitals has been published for the first time. The breakdown by NHS England gave the ethnicity of 12,593 of the 13,918 people known to have died before the weekend. It states that 18.7% of those who died had Black, Asian and mixed ethnicity (BAME) backgrounds. The most recent reliable ethnicity data in England and Wales is a little dated, but according to the 2011 census 14% of people in were from ethnic minority backgrounds. Downing Street says it has commissioned an investigation into the issue.
20:52 Infections at stricken US pork plant rise again
The number of employees infected with coronavirus at a giant pork processing plant in the US state of South Dakota continues to rise. According to the state’s health department, 748 Smithfield Foods employees have now tested positive, as have 143 people who came into contact with them. That brings the total number of cases linked to the plant to 891, a rise of more than 300 since 15 April. Last week, the plant became the largest coronavirus hotspot in the US. We spoke to workers, their families and union representatives who say the company put employees’ health at risk in a bid to keep the plant open. In a statement to the BBC, the company said it had taken the appropriate measures.
20:42 Israelis observe social distancing at anti-Netanyahu protest
Thousands of Israeli protesters held a socially distanced protest against the policies of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. Wearing face masks, waving flags and holding placards, the protesters gathered on Sunday night in Tel Aviv’s Rabin Square, where they stood at least two metres (6ft) apart. They condemned what they described as anti-democratic measures taken by the Israeli prime minister during the coronavirus pandemic. Israel’s parliament has been tasked with forming a unity government after three inconclusive elections plunged the country into a political crisis. On Monday, Mr Netanyahu and his political rival, Benny Gantz, signed an agreement to form an emergency unity government
20:33 Maryland buys half a million tests from South Korea
Maryland’s Republican Governor has purchased 500,000 test kits from South Korea with the help of his Korean-born wife. Yumi Hogan, who speaks fluent Korean, was up late at night on the phone helping to secure the deal from LabGenomics, the governor said at a press conference on Monday.
Larry Hogan, a member of President Trump’s own party, has been highly critical of the federal government’s speed in helping states to ramp up testing. As Hogan announced the new kits at the Annapolis statehouse on Monday, the South Korean flag flew behind him. A Korea Air flight delivered the tests directly on Saturday, Hogan said, as he spoke alongside a representative from the South Korean embassy.
19:51 US oil prices go negative for first time
US oil prices have dropped to negative values for the first time in history, as global demand dries up as a result of the coronavirus. May futures’ contracts for the main benchmark – West Texas Intermediate – closed at -$37.63 a barrel. This means producers are paying buyers to take crude oil that they cannot sell and fear they won’t be able to store. The falls are partly based on warnings that storage capacity could be filled within weeks. They come despite a landmark deal reached by oil producers earlier this month to cut world output and keep prices up. European oil prices have also fallen, but not to such an extent, as oil production continues to exceed the massively reduced demand.
19:30 Italy’s sacrifices are starting to pay off
The Italian authorities have called today’s figures “extremely encouraging”. The number of people currently infected with Coronavirus has fallen for the first time – just by 20, but it’s an important milestone, despite the fact that there were fewer tests than the previous day. Total cases, which includes those who have died and recovered, rose by just over 1.2%, the smallest proportional increase since the outbreak began. There were, however, 454 deaths – slightly up on Sunday’s figure. While the infection numbers are cause for optimism, the daily death toll is proving stubbornly high. Intensive care figures also show a downward trend, with occupancy now at its lowest level in a month. Italy is by no means out of the woods. But it’s on the right path – and it now feels like its sacrifices are paying off.
19:19 Norwegian Air crew staffing firms file for bankruptcy
Norwegian Air has announced that four subsidiary companies supplying it with pilots and cabin crew in Sweden and Denmark have filed for bankruptcy. The move puts nearly 5,000 jobs at risk, as Norwegian grapples with the impact of coronavirus on the airline industry. The firm has already cut 85% of its operations, and grounded all but 11 planes in its fleet of 160.
The announcement gives an insight into the complications of the industry. Most of Norwegian’s crew and pilots are hired indirectly – as a result, the fate of their careers isn’t decided by the airline, but instead by subsidiary companies which are jointly owned by airline. In a statement, CEO Jacob Schram called the bankruptcies “heartbreaking”.
19:12 Labour warns of ‘insolvency crisis’
UK Chancellor Rishi Sunak said earlier he “wasn’t convinced” it was a good idea for the government to increase the guarantee for small business loans to 100%, up from 80% But Labour is asking him to look again. Shadow chancellor Anneliese Dodds says the UK has seen very low numbers of struggling businesses accessing the government backed loans compared with other countries. If action is not taken, the UK will see a “crisis of insolvency” among small businesses, she warns. She also says the government needs to provide regular updates on the job retention scheme now it has started. Separately, Labour MP Rachel Reeves has asked manufacturers to get in touch if they have not heard back from the government about offers to supply protective equipment for the NHS.
19:09 Austrians trickling back to shops
It has been about a week since the Austrian government began easing restrictions. There were long queues at some DIY stores, as people went out to buy home improvement supplies and plants for their gardens. But many other little shops reported a slower start to business. Some customers are afraid of infection; others have lost their jobs and are worried about money. Strict social distancing measures remain in place and face masks are mandatory in all shops. Peter Buchmüller from the Austrian Chamber of Commerce says many small shops are achieving just “10 to 20 percent of their normal turnover”. Covid-19 infections in Austria are increasing at a rate of less than 1% daily. But Austria’s Health Minister Rudi Anschober has warned against complacency, and urged Austrians to heed the lockdown rules. Researchers in Vienna have found that Austrians’ average range of movement is now back to more than 12km (7.5 miles) a day – near the pre-crisis level.
18:58 ‘We don’t have secrets at the WHO’
In an emotional briefing amid rising tensions with the US, World Health Organization Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus insisted his agency had not withheld information about the coronavirus from any nation. The WHO’s handling of the pandemic has been criticised by US President Donald Trump, who suspended funding to the UN’s global health body last week, saying it had failed to manage the outbreak properly and been too trusting of China. At the televised briefing, Dr Tedros said about 15 representatives of the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) had been seconded to the WHO since January and had been kept informed as the situation developed. “We don’t have secrets in WHO, and as soon as we get information we pass it on – because it’s about lives,” Dr Tedros told the news conference.
He then warned that political disagreements could hamper efforts to save lives. “You know where I come from – I know war. I know poverty. I know disease. I know how people suffer in all conditions. I know how people are killed because of poverty,” Dr Tedros, who is Ethiopian, said. “Maybe people who don’t know all this… maybe they’ve had an easy ride in life. Maybe they don’t know what war means, what poverty means. That’s why I’m emotional.”
18:46 Deaths rise above 20,000 in France
France has become the latest country to record more than 20,000 deaths related to coronavirus, a toll its director of health has called “symbolic and painful”. As of Monday, there have been 20,265 virus-related deaths in France – 12,513 of them in hospitals and 7,752 in nursing homes, Jérôme Salomon said. “Tonight, our country is crossing a painful symbolic milestone,” he said. Three other countries have so far recorded more than 20,000 deaths – Spain, Italy and the US.
18:20 RAF aircraft sent for delayed PPE leaves UK
An RAF aircraft has departed from the UK for Turkey to pick up a delayed consignment of personal protective equipment for the NHS. The A400 transport aircraft left RAF Brize Norton at around 17:00 BST and is expected to arrive in Istanbul later this evening to be loaded. The gowns, to protect those treating coronavirus patients, had been expected to arrive from Turkey on Sunday. Chris Hopson, chief executive of NHS Providers, told the BBC earlier there was “relatively low confidence” the delivery of 400,000 protective gowns would arrive on Monday. The row over a shortage of protective gear for the NHS has intensified over the last few days. At today’s Downing St coronavirus briefing in the last hour, Chancellor Rishi Sunak said procuring the equipment was turning out to be an “international challenge”.
18:05 Italy sees first decline in active infections
Italian authorities say the number of people officially identified as infected with coronavirus has fallen for the first time since the country’s outbreak began. “For the first time, we have seen a new positive development: the number of currently positive has declined,” civil protection agency chief Angelo Borrelli told reporters. As of Monday, there were 108,237 people either being treated in hospital or recovering at home after testing positive, 20 fewer than the previous day – a small but symbolic drop. On Sunday, the increase of active positive cases was 486. Italy has the third-highest number of Covid-19 cases in the world after Spain and the US. However, as people who die at home or in care facilities are not included in its figures, many doctors believe its actual death and infection rates may be higher than the official tallies.
17:02 UK Press Briefing
The UK’s Chancellor Rishi Sunak says he wants to address the issue of PPE – which the government has been criticised on in recent days. He says it is an “international challenge” for all countries. The government is working hard to get the PPE NHS staff need, he says, and is receiving shipments of PPE regularly. He also says the government is “working to resolve the Turkish shipment following unexpected delays”. And today the UK has “unloaded 140,000 gowns from Myanmar”. He says they are continuing to pursue “every possible option” for procurement.
More than 140,000 firms have applied for grants from the UK government’s job retention scheme opened today, Rishi Sunak says. The grants they receive will help pay the wages of more than a million people, he promises, as the government aims to keep as many people as possible in their existing jobs. HMRC chief executive Jim Harra earlier told the BBC’s Today programme that employers had made 67,000 job claims in the first 30 minutes.
The number of new deaths announced – 449 – is the lowest for two weeks. Last week the figures were hovering between 700 and 900, before dropping below 600 on Sunday. That is, of course, good news. Although the figures for the past two days should be treated with caution. They cover the weekend, and we know reporting and recording delays can mean figures drop before rising again. But the falls are big enough to suggest we may soon start seeing the number of new deaths coming down. The numbers in hospital with coronavirus have already started dropping gradually, so the signs are there that we are beginning to turn the corner.
The deputy chief scientific adviser Angela McLean has been talking through key statistical data in a series of slides. She says the public has “responded” to the government’s call for social distancing, with overall travel 80% of what it was in February and rail and Tube journeys down by 95% since February. While there was a rise in road, rail and bus trips over the Easter weekend, travel patterns quickly returned to pre-Easter lockdown levels afterwards and have been maintained since then. She moves on to talk about trends in new infections. Monday’s figure of 4,676 was the lowest for four days and some way below the peak so far, on 5 April. She says the figures are “flattening out” and are stable – which she describes as a “relief”. On hospital admissions, she says the number of people in hospital who have tested positive “remains stable”. While well ahead of the rest of the country, the number of patients in London has fallen for seven consecutive days and she hopes that this will be “replicated” across the UK. She finishes by talking about the number of deaths in the UK compared with other countries, acknowledging there is a lag for stats of fatalities in hospitals and those in “all settings”, including care homes.
Mr Sunak has also been talking about the latest UK coronavirus figures. He says the UK has now carried out 501,379 tests for coronavirus, with 19,316 tests carried out yesterday. He says 124,743 people have tested positive for the virus, 17,971 people are in hospital with coronavirus in the UK and sadly 16,509 who were in hospital with coronavirus have died. The UK government has promised it will dramatically increase coronavirus testing to 100,000 a day by the end of the month. We look here at whether capacity can be increased to reach that target.
Our health editor Hugh Pym presses Rishi Sunak again about PPE, after repeated complaints from NHS workers that they don’t have access to the right protection. Mr Sunak says “a billion pieces of PPE” have been delivered in the UK but the government is still improving its sourcing of it domestically and internationally. “People on the front line can rest assured that we are doing everything we can,” he says. We look here at whether the NHS has got enough protective equipment. Hugh Pym also raises the question of small businesses who are finding it difficult to access loans, asking whether the government would consider extending the scheme. Sunak replies that 12,000 loans have now gone out to small businesses, and that this is a “sign of progress”.
ITV’s Robert Peston asks whether Boris Johnson has signalled the lockdown is going to remain pretty much in place for a much longer period. Sunak says ministers have been “crystal clear” that the UK is not near a point where the current restrictions can be relaxed and that speculation to the contrary is “wrong”. Peston also asks whether deaths in care homes could have been under-estimated by up to 40%. On this Dr Doyle says there is a discrepancy between the daily tally of hospital deaths and overall fatalities, adding that the latter total will be updated by the Office for National Statistics later in the week. She concedes the overall figure will be higher than that currently recorded – but says she does not know by how much.
Rishi Sunak is asked by the Guardian’s Richard Partington whether the UK is heading for a deep and prolonged recession if the lockdown lasts much longer and whether he agrees with ex-PM Tony Blair that the economic damage could be “terrifying”. The chancellor says the immediate outlook is challenging and he can’t guarantee that every single job and business will be saved. He says the key thing is to prevent another resurgence of the virus later this year as this would be “very bad” for the economy as well as public health and the five tests to lift the lockdown “have not been met”. While he is planning for a range of scenarios, he says the job retention scheme and other interventions are designed to ensure that the economic recovery, when it happens, will be as “strong as possible”.
The chancellor rejects claims that the government was too slow to cancel mass sporting events and was wrong to allow the Cheltenham Festival and Liverpool’s Champions League match with Atletico Madrid in the second week of March to go ahead. He says ministers have been guided by the scientific advice and taken the “right decisions at the right time”. Dr Doyle says she is sorry to hear that cases of the virus and deaths in Liverpool have been blamed on the football match, which was attended by 40,000 people. She says there needs to be research into how much of a difference holding the match made and the level of infection from Spanish fans who travelled to the UK for the match. Also asked about reports that some councils are on the brink of financial collapse, Mr Sunak says the government has provided £3bn in extra support to local authorities since the crisis began. He says this should show the government is prepared to “stand shoulder-to-shoulder” with front-line workers.
Further good news on the numbers of patients in hospital with coronavirus – a small drop, the seventh day in a row it has come down. Now around 18,000 patients are in hospital, with plenty of space to treat more if numbers did go up. There are more than 15,000 beds free, while one in five intensive care beds is available. It now seems clear the health service will not be overwhelmed in the way it was in Italy.
The panel at the UK briefing is asked whether the government has any behavioural modelling for when the country’s lockdown is eventually relaxed. The deputy chief scientific officer, Angela McLean says: “We certainly spend a lot of time speaking to behavioural scientists and everything we do we talk to them very carefully about what they expect to happen. “If they were here now they would say these are unprecedented times, which makes it difficult to predict how people would behave in future.” She says it is a “very hard thing to predict”. The daily briefing has now drawn to a close, with Chancellor Rishi Sunak saying: “There is light at end of the tunnel, but we are not there yet.”
Asked about the risk of small businesses going to the wall, Mr Sunak says he’s “not persuaded” that it would be right for the government to move to a 100% guarantee for emergency business loans. In total, the chancellor says the UK government’s package of support is “more significant in scope and scale” than those in other countries. He says that 12,000 loans have now gone out to small businesses with around 35,000 applications made, at an 80 – 90% acceptance rate.
16:38 PPE shipment ‘cleared’ for export from Turkey to UK
Turkish sources have told the BBC that the delayed shipment of personal protective equipment destined for the UK has been cleared for export by Turkey’s Health Ministry. “Turkey is very keen to get this shipment on its way and is trying hard to send it today or tomorrow,” a source told us. The company involved in the shipment to Britain only finalised its application for permission to export this morning, according to the source. Since the virus outbreak, medical goods being exported from Turkey require this permission. It’s still unclear when the shipment will actually leave, and whether any additional paperwork is outstanding. A spokeswoman for the FCO in Turkey could not confirm if any progress had been made. She told the BBC the situation remains that they are “continuing to work to get this equipment delivered”.
16:35 UK death toll increases by 449
A further 449 coronavirus related deaths were recorded in UK hospitals over a 24 hour period, according to government figures published on Monday. That takes the total number of recorded hospital deaths to 16,509 as of 17:00 BST on Sunday. The UK’s daily figures do not include deaths in the community, in places like care homes.
16:18 Outbreak in refugee hostel in Lisbon
More than 130 asylum seekers in Lisbon, Portugal, have contracted the coronavirus after an outbreak at their hostel. Of about 180 residents, 138 tested positive for the virus, the mayor’s office said. The hostel was evacuated and disinfected on Sunday after one resident was taken to hospital, and everyone who had tested positive was relocated and placed in quarantine. In Portugal, 735 people have died with the virus, according to official figures, and there have been 20,863 confirmed cases.
16:13 US, Canada, Mexico borders shut for another 30 days
The borders between the US, Canada and Mexico will stay closed for another 30 days to all but essential travellers, Acting US Secretary of State Chad Wolf has said. The borders first closed on 21 March. The US has expelled at least 6,300 undocumented migrants on its Mexico border, using emergency powers designed to curb the spread of coronavirus. Critics say the powers are being used to control immigration rather than just as a public health measure.
15:57 Shake Shack returns $10m government emergency loan
US burger company Shake Shack says it is returning a $10m (£8m) loan it received from the US government to help pay wages and bills during the pandemic. Large, wealthy companies have faced criticism for accepting government loans when they have large amounts of money in the bank or other ways to raise cash, such as selling shares. A $349 billion stimulus package was passed to help US companies weather the financial storm caused by the lockdown, but the money, described as being for small businesses, ran out after two weeks. On Monday Shake Shack said it was “fortunate to now have access to capital that others do not”. Some other large companies, including Amazon and Disney, have laid off staff, encouraging them to apply for government paycheck assistance.
15:47 Europe’s tentative steps out of lockdown
The Czech Republic made its first move to lift restrictions two weeks ago, allowing citizens to cycle, jog and hike in the countryside without face masks. They’ll discuss travel today, with President Milos Zeman suggesting he wants the borders to remain closed for a year, and urging people to “savour the beauty of the Czech countryside” instead. In Norway this morning children returned to pre-school, under three conditions: they must take packed-lunches, no toys can be brought in from home, and there must be hand-washing facilities outside. Books, bikes and cars are being sold again today in Germany, with face masks recommended in public places, and mandatory in some states. But for others, confinement endures. In Spain, some construction work has restarted but general lockdown measures remain tight. A ban on children leaving their homes has been lifted, so they can now get fresh air. Belgium and France will stay under lockdown until early May, with care home deaths still a huge concern in both countries.
15:39 Analysis: ‘The world has more crude oil than it can use’
The oil market has come under intense pressure during the coronavirus pandemic with a huge slump in demand. The leading exporters – Opec and allies such as Russia – have already agreed to cut production by a record amount. In the US and elsewhere, oil-producing businesses have made commercial decisions to cut output. But still the world has more crude oil than it can use. And it’s not just about whether we can use it. It’s also about whether we can store it until the lockdowns are eased enough to generate some additional demand for oil products. Capacity is filling fast on land and at sea. As that process continues it’s likely to bear down further on prices. It will take a recovery in demand to really turn the market round, and that will depend on how the health crisis unfolds. There will be further supply cuts as private sector producers respond to the low prices, but it’s hard to see that being on a sufficient scale to have a fundamental impact on the market.
15:20 Lockdown eased on Israeli ultra-Orthodox areas
Israel has lifted special restrictions on predominantly ultra-Orthodox Jewish areas in Jerusalem and next to Tel Aviv, where coronavirus rates were among the highest in the country. Bnei Brak and several Jerusalem districts were effectively sealed off earlier this month – a move that prompted outrage among the communities and clashes with riot police. The spread of the virus in these places has since declined. The slow pace at which some ultra-Orthodox areas adopted official measures to reduce the spread of Covid-19 has been heavily criticised by other sections of society. Restrictions are still in place across Israel, where 172 people have died with coronavirus, and more than 13,500 others have been infected.
14:49 429 new hospital deaths reported in England
A further 429 people have died with coronavirus in hospitals in England, latest figures show. NHS England said that 348 of these deaths were reported over the weekend, while the others took place at earlier dates. The new figures take the total number of confirmed deaths in hospitals in England to 14,829. In Wales, a further nine deaths have been announced, taking the total number of hospital deaths reported by Public Health Wales to 584. Daily figures released by the UK – and the nations within it – do not include deaths in the community, including care homes.
14:32 Mayor of ‘corona island’ resigns
In early March, a volleyball team from Milan travelled to the Estonian island of Saaremaa to play a couple of matches with a local side. Within two weeks, Saaremaa was the centre of Estonia’s virus outbreak. Locals dubbed it “corona island”. Now, Mayor Madis Kallas has resigned, taking responsibility for the spread of the illness. He said allowing the volleyball games to go ahead was “the wrong decision”. His resignation comes just days after a BBC report examining why Saaremaa had become a virus hotspot. Nobody can travel to or from the island, and hospital staff told the BBC half the population was thought to be infected.
14:24 Djokovic opposed to compulsory coronavirus vaccine
The men’s world number one tennis player, Novak Djokovic has said he is opposed to vaccination for Covid-19. Djokovic said he would have a “decision” to make if there’s a push for players to be vaccinated when tennis starts again. Speaking to fellow Serbian athletes on Sunday, the 17-time Grand Slam champion said: “I wouldn’t want to be forced by someone to take a vaccine in order to be able to travel. “If it becomes compulsory, what will happen? I will have to make a decision. I have my own thoughts about the matter and whether those will change at some point, I don’t know. “If the season was to resume in July, August or September, though unlikely, I understand that a vaccine will become a requirement straight after we are out of strict quarantine.” All tennis tournaments are currently suspended until 13 July. Wimbledon has been cancelled for the first time since World War Two, and the French Open has been put back four months until late September.
14:10 ‘Avoiding second deadly spike is top priority for UK’
Government insiders have told our political editor that avoiding a second deadly spike in coronavirus cases is “top of the list” of priorities for the UK. Laura Kuenssberg said ministers also have “very deep” concerns for the country’s economy and will face a “very difficult balance” between the two. But she said: “We know right now, from people I’ve been speaking to at the top of government and from the prime minister’s own view, that avoiding a second deadly spike is at the top of the list for the government.”
13:39 Supply of protective gowns ‘pressured’ – No 10
The delivery of protective gowns to healthcare staff in the UK in particular is “pressured at the moment,” Downing Street has said. The PM’s spokesman told reporters there was a “global supply problem” with procuring the kit. Earlier, a minister said he was “hopeful” a delayed delivery of gowns expected over the weekend would leave Turkey today. The spokesman said efforts were being made to make the delivery as soon as it was ready, but said the UK was not dependent on Turkey and had “plenty more orders lined up and expected”. He added that in total one billion pieces of protective equipment have now been delivered to healthcare staff.
13:32 70 UK healthcare workers have died with Covid-19, BBC analysis shows
At least 70 healthcare workers have died in the UK since the start of the outbreak, ongoing BBC News analysis has shown. Further analysis suggests healthcare workers with black, Asian and minority ethnic (BAME) backgrounds are disproportionately represented among the dead.
Out of 60 deaths where we have been able to establish ethnicity and occupation, 42 have BAME backgrounds. About one in five of the NHS’s 1.2 million workforce are from BAME backgrounds, government figures show. Public Health England is set to start recording the ethnicity of those to die with coronavirus, after research suggested people from black, Asian and minority ethnic backgrounds are at greater risk of becoming seriously ill.
13:06 Investigation after thousands defy Bangladesh lockdown
A three-person committee has begun looking into an incident over the weekend when 100,000 people defied the nation-wide lockdown in Bangladesh. They broke the rules to attend the funeral of Maulana Jubayer Ahmed Ansari, a senior member of an Islamist party. The incident has sparked fears of leading to massive Covid-19 clusters emerging from the event. Bangladesh has confirmed more than 2,400 cases so far and 91 deaths.
12:58 Latest virus figures for Scotland
Scotland’s First Minister Nicola Sturgeon confirms 8,450 people have tested positive for coronavirus in Scotland, up 263 from yesterday. A total of 1,809 patients are in hospital with suspected or confirmed Covid-19, with 169 being treated in intensive care. A further 12 patients have died, meaning 915 deaths have now been recorded after a positive test. However, she cautions that death registrations over the weekend tend to be lower than on weekdays. Scotland’s actual virus death toll is likely to be higher than 915, as the figure only includes deaths in hospital.
12:34 Number listed as ‘cured’ quietly drops in Wuhan
The latest statistics from China’s National Health Commission indicate that hundreds of people were wrongly listed as cured/discharged in the central Chinese city of Wuhan. The number of people cured there was reported as 47,300 on Friday, but that figure has quietly dropped today – down to 46,359. The number of people cured in China at a nationwide level has dropped in line with this. On Friday, 77,944 people were reported as having been cured of Covid-19. But today, that figure has fallen to 77,084.
On Friday, the Wuhan municipal government revised its number of confirmed cases and deaths, to say an extra 1,290 people had died. It said the delays for releasing this information were due to some patients dying at home, being treated in hospitals that didn’t pass their information to the central network, or because of reported errors. But the National Health Commission’s official figures seem to suggest that as many as 941 cases of Covid-19 in the central city may have been incorrectly reported as cured over the last three months.
12:24 Prince Philip sends support to UK scientists and key workers
The Duke of Edinburgh has released a message to everyone helping to tackle the coronavirus pandemic across the UK, and keeping essential services running. Prince Philip, 98, said he wanted to recognise the “vital and urgent” work being carried out by medical and scientific workers to protect people from Covid-19. He also thanked key workers – including postal workers, waste collectors and supermarket workers – who “ensure the infrastructure of our life continues”. The Duke moved from his usual residence in Sandringham, Norfolk, as the pandemic reached the UK. He is currently living with the Queen, 93, at Windsor in Berkshire.
12:17 Former UK PM Blair refuses to criticise Johnson over ‘missed’ meetings
The UK needs the “right combination of skills” at the centre of government during the coronavirus crisis, former prime minister Tony Blair has said. He said the private sector may be better placed than the public sector to ensure personal protective equipment (PPE) is delivered to frontline workers. The former Labour prime minister also refused to criticise current PM Boris Johnson for missing emergency Cobra meetings on the crisis. He said such matters were for a “later stage”. It follows a report in the Sunday Times that Mr Johnson did not chair five of the earliest meetings focused on the threat of this pandemic.
11:53 Ghana lifts lockdown after ‘enhanced testing’
Ghanaian President Nana Akufo-Addo has lifted restrictions on movement in parts of the country that were under a partial lockdown. Other restrictions like a ban on social gatherings and closure of schools will remain in force, while border crossings will stay shut for two more weeks to prevent the spread of coronavirus. The president said the decision follows a better understanding of the nature of the virus, success in containing its spread, an enhanced testing programme and the expansion of isolation and treatment centres. The country has now recorded 1,042 cases of coronavirus and nine deaths. Over 60,000 samples have been tested in the country.
11:46 ‘Low confidence’ over PPE arrival in the UK from Turkey
A senior NHS figure says there is “relatively low confidence” a delayed delivery of 400,000 protective gowns will arrive on Monday. The consignment had been expected to arrive from Turkey on Sunday. Chris Hopson, chief executive of NHS Providers, told the BBC there was “no doubt” some hospital trusts already had shortages of the gowns, which protect those treating coronavirus patients. Culture Secretary Oliver Dowden said he was “hopeful” the delivery from Turkey would arrive on Monday and that the government was “working very hard” to resolve “challenges at the Turkish end”.
11:20 Virgin Atlantic will collapse without help – Branson
Virgin Group boss Richard Branson has written an open letter to the company’s employees warning Virgin Atlantic will collapse unless it receives government financial support, saying this is the “most challenging time” the company has faced in five decades of business. He writes: “It is hard to find the words to convey what a devastating impact this pandemic continues to have on so many communities, businesses and people around the world. From a business perspective, the damage to many is unprecedented and the length of the disruption remains worryingly unknown.”
It has been reported that the carrier is asking for up to £500m ($614M) of public money. Sir Richard writes: “This would be in the form of a commercial loan – it wouldn’t be free money and the airline would pay it back.” He also defends himself from criticism of his request for help from taxpayers, saying: “I’ve seen lots of comments about my net worth – but that is calculated on the value of Virgin businesses around the world before this crisis, not sitting as cash in a bank account ready to withdraw.”
He adds: “Much has been said about Virgin Atlantic employees taking a wage reduction for eight weeks, spread across six and a half months. This was a virtually unanimous decision made by Virgin Atlantic employees and their unions who collectively chose to do this to save as many jobs as possible – it was not forced upon them by management.”
11:17 South African man arrested for smuggling girlfriend in car boot
Police in South Africa have arrested a man for smuggling his girlfriend in the back of a car during a nationwide lockdown. Faith Mazibuko, an official from the province of Guateng, tweeted that the woman was found during a security check on Friday. The woman was also arrested for “consenting to be smuggled,” Mrs Mazibuko added. South Africa imposed a lockdown on 24 March for three weeks but the authorities have extended it until the end of April. Travel across the country is restricted for everybody except those providing essential services, as defined by the government.
11:09 ‘If you don’t want to work like a slave, you’re out’
British supermarkets have been making contingency plans to cope with bouts of panic buying and potential disruption to food supplies caused by the coronavirus pandemic. One country that the UK depends on more than any other for fresh fruit and veg is Spain, where around a quarter of fresh produce sold in UK supermarkets comes from in the summer. But there are questions over how some Spanish companies are treating their migrant workers, who mainly come from Africa. “If you want to work like a slave, then there is a lot of work,” one labourer, who did not want to be named, told the BBC. “But if you ask for your rights, then you can’t work.” The conditions are miserable. Some are paid below the minimum wage, live in shanty towns and work without breaks in greenhouses that are 50C inside.
10:57 Spanish cases rise to over 200,000
The number of people diagnosed with coronavirus has risen to 200,210, according to Spain’s health ministry. Nearly 400 new deaths have also been reported since yesterday, bringing the total toll to 20,852. Spain has the second-highest number of confirmed infection cases in the world, behind the US, figures from Johns Hopkins University say.
10:37 Singapore reports sharpest daily spike yet
Singapore has confirmed 1,426 new Covid-19 cases – its biggest daily jump yet. With just over 8,000 cases, the country has the most number of infections in Southeast Asia, surpassing figures in Indonesia and the Philippines. Officials said that the majority of the new cases were foreign workers while 16 of the new cases are Singaporeans or those with permanent residency. Once praised for its success in containing the virus, Singapore is now facing a surge of infections linked to industrial work sites and tightly packed worker dormitories. Around 300,000 low-wage workers, mostly from South Asia, work in Singapore in construction and maintenance.
10:18 New Zealand’s response proves successful, but the outbreak is far from over
I’ve been speaking to people in New Zealand over the past few days about how they feel the government has handled the spread of Covid-19. It’s been a general thumbs up for the prime minister. Jacinda Ardern has been praised for her decisive and empathetic leadership. The clarity of her message – supported by the science community and by Ashley Bloomfield, Director-General of Health – has made it easier for the public to comply with the difficult task of a complete lockdown. “We have done what very few countries have been able to do. We have stopped a wave of devastation,” Ms Ardern said of the country’s success. New Zealand has kept its number of cases and fatalities relatively low, but the real challenge will be when the restrictions ease. It’ll be a test for the country’s ability to enforce social distancing rules, and for its contact tracing systems keeping track of new cases and their origins. So far, most cases in New Zealand have been linked to overseas travel. To keep the numbers in check, borders will have to remain closed or very tightly controlled. So, for New Zealand to hold on to its success story, it’s hard to see a return to normal anytime soon.
10:01 US faced with protests amid pressure to reopen
Protesters have taken to the streets in states across the US, demanding that governors reopen economies shut by the coronavirus pandemic. Rallies took place on Sunday in Arizona, Colorado, Montana and Washington state, following earlier protests in other states. Most of the crowds numbered in the low hundreds. Agitation for easing restrictions has grown, despite the risk of a surge in infections should the country be reopened too soon. US President Donald Trump has signalled support for the protests, and more are expected to be held later today. The US has become the epicentre of the coronavrius crisis, with over 735,000 cases and some 40,000 deaths. But signs have emerged that it is reaching the apex of the outbreak and that infection rates are slowing.
09:49 Five-minute coronavirus tests being trialled
The University of South Wales says it has developed a coronavirus testing kit which can give results within half an hour. The test is still to be evaluated to see how accurate it is but the local NHS health board has said there are promising early signs. This is one of a number of rapid diagnostic tests that are being developed around the country. For example, scientists at Norwich Research Park have been working on a faster test using a similar method to the University of South Wales team. The University of Exeter has developed a “multiplex” test – one that can both test for signs of a current infection, and for antibodies that would suggest a previous infection. This is also still in the process of being evaluated. The Exeter team has begun trialling the test at St Thomas’s Hospital in London and says that, if successful, it could give patients an answer in five minutes.
09:32 Millions to claim as UK furlough scheme goes live
A UK government pay scheme to keep millions on payrolls despite not working has gone live. Under the Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme, which has been extended until the end of June, the government will cover 80% of workers’ wages, up to £2,500 a month, if they are put on leave. Chancellor Rishi Sunak said: “We promised support would be available by the end of April – today, we deliver our promise.” Millions of workers are expected to be “furloughed” because of the lockdown. Jim Harra, head of the UK’s tax authority, HM Revenue and Customs (HMRC) told the BBC the system had dealt with 67,000 claims in its first 30 minutes of operation and can accommodate “up to 450,000 claims per hour”. “If every employer tries to use it this morning some will be asked to queue or come back later, that doesn’t mean the system has crashed, it simply means it’s full. “Employers can claim any time between now and Wednesday, and we will have the money in their bank account by 30 April.”
09:11 UK PM was briefed on an ‘hourly and daily basis’
The UK Culture Secretary, Oliver Dowden, has defended Prime Minister Boris Johnson over reports in the Sunday Times that he missed a number of emergency government meetings dealing with Covid-19 at the early stages. Mr Dowden told the BBC: “I worked for [former PM] David Cameron and was the minister responsible for civil contingencies. It is perfectly normal for other ministers, appropriate secretaries of state, to chair Cobra. “Cobra is basically a committee that co-ordinates action across Government and, at the early stages, that was chaired by the health secretary. That’s exactly what you would expect. “That does not mean the prime minister is not engaged. He was being briefed on an hourly and daily basis, took a very close personal interest in this and clearly, as the crisis progressed, he then took over chairing. That’s a normal course of events.”
08:58 Germany begins reopening shops and schools
For the first time in weeks restrictions are easing in Germany. The country has flattened the curve of new infections and last week said the virus was tentatively under control. Small shops, bookshops, garages and bicycle stores of any size are being allowed to open their doors, as long as they apply social distancing measures.
Schools remain largely closed but the classes about to graduate this summer will gradually resume and universities will be allowed to hold exams. All other lockdown measures will remain in place. Germany on Monday recorded 1,775 new cases for the past day while the number of deaths linked to Covid-19 rose by 110 to 4,404, according to official figures.
08:34 UK ‘hopeful’ PPE will arrive from Turkey on Monday
UK Culture Secretary Oliver Dowden says he is “hopeful” 84 tonnes of personal protective equipment, which includes 400,000 gowns, will arrive on a flight from Turkey on Monday. “We are very hopeful that later today that flight will take off and we will get those gowns,” Mr Dowden told BBC Breakfast. “There have been challenges at the Turkish end. I don’t want to start making more and more promises but I understand that that flight will take off this afternoon and those will be delivered.” Mr Dowden also confirmed that PPE from China had been procured and the UK would be “getting those shortly as well”. This weekend saw warnings that some supplies of PPE for NHS workers were on the verge of running out.
08:12 Lockdown easing begins in Czech Republic
The Czech Republic is beginning the first of a five-stage relaxation of the lockdown today. Farmers’ markets, car dealerships and some other small businesses will be allowed to reopen for the first time since 12 March, when the country introduced one of the earliest lockdowns in Europe. The government will discuss easing travel restrictions on Monday. Foreign Minister Tomas Petricek says the borders should open initially for business and entrepreneurial purposes, while ordinary citizens should be able to begin visiting neighbouring countries in mid-May, depending on the epidemiological situation.
Travel and tourism would come at a later phase, he said, adding that he could imagine that people might even be able to take their beloved holidays to Croatia. Around 1m Czechs, a tenth of the population, visit the country each year. The foreign minister also said that opening the borders of Schengen should be coordinated, and that the situation in neighbouring countries would have to be taken into account. In a radio interview, the country’s president, Milos Zeman, said he wanted the borders to remain closed for a year, and that people should instead “savour the beauty of the Czech countryside”. Over 6,700 cases of coronavirus have been reported in the Czech Republic, along with 186 virus-related deaths.
07:45 Thai beaches reclaimed by nature
Videos of black-tip reef sharks swimming right next to a beach, pictures of turtles, dugongs and dolphins swimming in empty, turquoise seas, and news of the first nests of giant leatherback turtles in years – these have raised hopes of a silver lining in the collapse of Thailand’s tourist industry. Environmentalists have for years campaigned for restrictions on tourism in sensitive marine environments. “With tourists around, there were thousands of daily boat trips all over the country,” says Thon Thamrongnawasawat, a marine scientist advising the department of national parks. “But once they stopped coming, the boats stopped and now marine animals can come closer to the shore.” These boats are the principal threat to marine life, damaging the coral, injuring larger animals and sometimes polluting the water.
Worapot Lomlim, the chief of the national park covering Maya Bay, said while there were no statistics to prove the correlation between Covid-19 and the recovery of marine life, the animals were appearing near the islands more often and “the colour of the sea has definitely become clearer and more vivid”.
However, in the case of the leatherback turtles, they began nesting again last November, well before the outbreak. They are so rare that national park officials removed the eggs to a safer location to hatch. The remarkable recovery of the environment around islands which have been closed for three years already has demonstrated clearly that fewer tourists are better for marine life.
But tourism contributes around one fifth of Thailand’s GDP, and the government is keen to revive the industry as soon as possible. The reprieve being enjoyed by wildlife may not last long.
07:25 UK cautious about easing lockdown
Prime Minister Boris Johnson is extremely cautious about removing the UK lockdown. He met Dominic Raab, the foreign secretary who has been replacing the prime minister as he recovers from coronavirus, at Chequers on Friday. And the overarching message emerging from that was to avoid a second peak of the virus by easing the lockdown too early. All the language now appears at the cautious end of the spectrum, talking not of easing but of modifications to the lockdown and referencing Boris Johnson’s initial assertion that it would take three months to turn the tide. That would push us towards June. The fear is not just the obvious health risk but also the fear of damage to the economy and that it would be that much greater if you had to reimpose the lockdown.
07:14 Blood plasma treatment to be trialled in UK
The UK is gearing up to use the blood of coronavirus survivors to treat hospital patients ill with the disease. NHS Blood and Transplant (NHSBT) wants people who recovered from Covid-19 to donate blood so they can potentially assess the therapy in trials. It is hoped that the antibodies they have built up will help to clear the virus in others. A major project to study the treatment, involving more than 1,500 hospitals, has already begun in the US.
06:55 Malaria drug trial against Covid-19 agreed
Pharma company Novartis has reached a deal with the US to go ahead with a trial of the malaria drug hydroxychloroquine against Covid-19 in 440 hospitalised patients, the Swiss drugmaker says. The drug has been used to treat malaria for decades and has been promoted by US President Donald Trump after some anecdotal evidence suggested it might help against coronavirus. But there is no scientific proof that it actually helps. “We recognise the importance of answering the scientific question of whether hydroxychloroquine will be beneficial for patients with Covid-19 disease,” the company said. Labs around the globe are rushing to develop a cure or a vaccine against the new coronavirus.
06:47 The ‘last cruise ship’ finally comes home
The three last cruise ships still sailing will dock today – and one of them has had an odyssey like no other. The MSC Magnifica left Europe in January, and was in the other corner of the world when ports began to close. With nowhere to go, the Swiss-owned ship started the long journey home. Its passengers, used to a new port every few days, last felt land six weeks ago. On Monday those passengers will finally get off in Marseille, having last disembarked in Wellington. Their voyage has included political storms, presidential pleas, one death, and – despite it all – plenty of fun.
06:39 Backlash after Indian hospital says no treatment for Muslims
Police have registered a case against a private hospital in India’s Meerut city for putting out a newspaper ad saying it will not treat Muslims, unless they have proof of negative Covid-19 test results. The ad spurred backlash on social media over the weekend, prompting the hospital to put out another apologetic one on Sunday. In its first advert, the Valentis Cancer Hospital blamed the Tablighi Jamaat – an Islamic preaching group – for the rising number of infections in the city. Nearly 30% of India’s total cases, which is more than 15,000, have been linked to a religious event organised by the group in March. “All but two cases in Meerut are connections of the Tablighi Jamaat,” Dr Amit Jain, who is part of the hospital’s management, told The Wire news site. The incident has led to many Indians associating the spread of the virus with Muslims. After a wave of Islamphobic posts on social media, the government called for an end to divisive tweets and posts.
06:18 Doubt cast over Tokyo Olympics in 2021
A Japanese virus expert has warned the Tokyo Olympics might not be able to go ahead even by 2021. The Games were postponed to next year due to the coronavirus pandemic. “Holding the Olympics needs two condition: controlling Covid-19 in Japan and controlling Covid-19 everywhere, because you have to invite the athletes and the audience from all over the world,” Kentaro Iwata, a professor of infectious diseases at Kobe University, told journalists. “Japan might be able to control this disease by next summer, I wish we could, but I don’t think that would happen everywhere on earth, so in this regard I’m very pessimistic about holding the Olympics Games next summer.” The decision to postpone the event to next year was controversial and Japan for a long time insisted they would be able to go ahead this summer. Only when several countries’ athletics bodies warned they wouldn’t participate, Tokyo and the IOC postponed the games.
05:48 European countries take steps to ease lockdown
Several European countries are starting off the new week with tentative steps to ease the strict lockdowns in place. On Monday, in Germany small shops will be allowed to open and schools will resume for those classes that have graduation exams coming up. Last week Berlin said the infection rate had slowed and that the outbreak was under control – while warning that people had to remain vigilant to avoid a second wave of infections.
Also from Monday, Poland will re-open parks and forests and in Norway, nursery schools will reopen their doors to children. The Czech Republic will allow open-air markets to trade and in Albania, the mining and oil industries can operate again. However, Spain, which has one of Europe’s strictest lockdowns, and France have both decided to hold off on relaxation of measures for a few more weeks. In Spain though, children will be allowed some time outside from next week.
05:29 NZ PM claims virus success
New Zealand’s Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern has extended the country’s lockdown for another week, it was due to end on Wednesday. She started her daily press conference by paying tribute to “the many people who have lost someone to Covid-19 and the many more who had the terror of almost losing someone”. New Zealand’s death toll stands at 12, and Ardern said she had received a phone call about each person. “We may be among the few countries where that’s still able to happen,” she said. She also said New Zealand had done something few other countries have been able to do, and almost totally contained the spread of Covid-19. Officials are confident, she said, that there was no widespread community transmission in the country, with each person now infecting, on average, less than one other person. “Compared to the rest of the world we have done something that is incredible,” she said.
As of next Tuesday, 28 April, New Zealand will move down one level of lockdown, she said. Businesses will be gradually allowed to send in staff to re-stock or clean, and schools can start getting ready to receive students again, but social distancing and stay-at-home guidelines remain. The date is slightly further away than some had been forecasting, but Ardern said that “the sacrifice made to date has been huge – cabinet wanted to make sure we lock in our gains”. “The longer we are in lockdown, the less likely it is that we will need to go back,” she said.
05:27 Muslims prepare for an unusual Ramadan
With the start of Ramadan only days away, the Muslim world is facing the dilemma of how to observe the holy month during the virus lockdown and under guidelines of social distancing. Ramadan involves fasting during the day to then break that fast in the evening with a shared meal amid family and the larger community. Many attend long nightly congregations at mosques for prayers called Taraweeh. This year will be different. In most countries, religious authorities have ruled that prayers during Ramadan should be performed at home and urged people to adhere to the guidelines on social distancing. For weeks already, the site around the sacred Kaaba in Mecca has been almost empty. “Our hearts are crying,” said Ali Mulla, the muezzin at the Grand Mosque in Mecca. “We are used to seeing the holy mosque crowded with people during the day, night, all the time… I feel pain deep inside.”
05:06 India eases lockdown rules
Starting today, India is relaxing some lockdown rules. But this won’t apply to every state – some have already made it clear that they won’t ease because of rising infections.
What will change?
- Agricultural businesses will be able to open. This includes dairy, aquaculture, tea, coffee and rubber plantations, as well as shops selling farming products – such as fertilisers or machinery.
- Public works programmes, which are a crucial source of employment for daily-wage earners, will also re-open, but under strict instructions to follow social distancing.
- Trucks, trains and planes carrying cargo will also be allowed to operate.
- Banks will also re-open, as will government centres distributing social security benefits and pensions.
But none of these new rules will apply in virus hotspots, which will be marked by state governments. Along with restrictions on both international and domestic travel, schools, colleges, malls, cinema halls and most businesses – except those providing essential services – will remain shut.
04:58 Beijing reopens 73 major tourist sites
We’re seeing more and more signs that life is slowly but surely starting to go back to normal in China after more than two months in lockdown. Beijing on Sunday reopened 73 major tourist sites in the city, including several areas along the Great Wall, said state media outlet Xinhua All of these sites are outdoor areas – and account for around 30% of the city’s tourist attractions. An official with the Beijing bureau for tourism said visitation at the sites would be kept at a 30% capacity. And it’s not just Beijing that’s trying to encourage people to get up and out. In Shanghai, a late night shopping campaign is set to be launched from May to June, which will see shops extend their opening hours till midnight.
04:36 India’s PM Modi calls for inclusivity
Prime Minister Narendra Modi made a plea for inclusivity in India, saying the virus does not discriminate. “Covid-19 does not see race, religion, colour, caste, creed, language or border before striking. We are in this together,” he wrote on LinkedIn. His comments are significant because they come as incidents of Islamaphobia have been reported after 30% of India’s cases were linked to an event organised by an Islamic preaching group in March. It meant many Indians associated the spread of the virus with Muslims. Many Muslim vendors and shopkeepers have complained that people have avoided them, some say they have even been targeted. The government has called for an end to divisive tweets and posts – and taken action to back up these calls too. India has more than 13,000 active infections and 519 deaths.
04:22 US oil prices drop to 21-year low as demand dries up
The price of US oil has fallen to a level not seen since 1999, as demand dries up and storage runs out. The price of a barrel of West Texas Intermediate (WTI), the benchmark for US oil, dropped 14% to $15.65 In Asia trading on Monday morning. The oil market has come under intense pressure during the coronavirus pandemic with a huge slump in demand with factories and manufacturing plants closed. US storage facilities are struggling to cope with the glut of oil. “With storage filling, no one wants to take delivery of oil anymore,” said Stephen Innes, chief global market strategist at Axicorp. Major US producers with deep pockets are reluctant to cut output to avoid higher costs to restart should demand rebound. But smaller drillers face a financial squeeze under low prices and many have curbed or shut production. That situation has kept oil flowing to storage hubs even with demand now weak.
04:14 Pakistan allows Ramadan prayers
After pressure from religious leaders, Pakistan has reversed a ban on congregational prayers in mosques ahead of the month of Ramadan, despite concerns over coronavirus spread. During the month of fasting and self-reflection, due to begin later this week, Muslims around the world offer evening prayers at mosques. Under the agreement with religious leaders, people above the age of 50, children and those with flu symptoms will not be allowed to enter mosques. All carpets have to be removed and the floor is to be regularly mopped with disinfectants. Worshippers have to maintain a distance when praying, should wear face masks and avoid shaking hands or embracing others. The government said even a slight breach of the guidelines could lead to closure of mosques. Should infections begin to rise, authorities will reconsider their decision. Authorities had earlier put a ban on religious gatherings and implemented a curfew to keep people away from Friday prayers, but these were only partially followed.
03:38 South Korean baseball to resume – without audiences
With the number of new infections at a steady low for the past days, South Korea is beginning to lift some restrictions. That means some sporting events will be allowed to kick off. Guidelines for churches will also be relaxed. The country’s baseball league, for instance, will resume its games – although without an audience in the stands. And churches will be allowed to restart operations as long as they comply with disinfection guidelines. South Korea was the first country to be severely hit outside of China but over the past weeks it has successfully driven new infections to very low levels. On Monday, only 13 new cases were reported.
03:20 Disney stops paying 100,000 workers during downturn
Walt Disney will stop paying more than 100,000 employees from this week as it struggles with coronavirus closures. The world’s biggest entertainment group operates theme parks and hotels in the US, Europe and Asia. Stopping pay for almost half of its workforce will save Disney up to $500m (£400m) a month, according to the Financial Times. Disney made operating income of $1.4bn from its parks, experiences and products in the last three months of 2019.
03:07 Surfers may be back, but there’s still concern
Some of Sydney’s beaches have re-opened this morning and it’s not without controversy here. Three beaches are now open and we’ve already seen surfers flock back to the water at Maroubra Beach. Exercise on the sand is also allowed. The city’s famous Bondi Beach remains closed. The decision, for one of the city’s wealthier regions, has caused consternation as these beach suburbs also remain among Sydney’s virus hot spots. However it reflects a general mood among some sections of society who want things to get back to normal as case numbers dramatically improve.
The three biggest states – New South Wales, Victoria and Queensland recorded just seven new cases overnight, with Queensland recording no new cases for the first time in more than 80 days. But authorities have repeatedly urged caution. Prime Minister Scott Morrison has said current restrictions and the shut-down of businesses will be kept for at least another four weeks. The message from Victoria’s premier was crystal clear: “We need to be proud of the progress we’ve made but we need to know it’s very, very fragile”.
Sources: Various news sources including but not limited to BBC News, Fox News, CNN.