- The WHO said it acted “quickly and decisively” and warned the world on time of the danger posed by the novel coronavirus
- The US has over 1 million coronavirus cases and its more than 58,000 fatalities exceed the death toll from the Vietnam War
- German companies are concerned about a potential wave of insolvencies
- China has scheduled the National People’s Congress for May 22
Updates in Universal Coordinated Time (UTC/GMT)
17:10 The drug remdesivir, manufactured by US biopharmaceutical company Gilead Science, has seen mixed results after two trials, one that deemed it effective and another that concluded the opposite.
Remdesivir, which previously failed in trials against the Ebola virus, acts on the coronavirus directly, as opposed to controlling the abnormal and often lethal autoimmune response it causes.
In animal testing against SARS and MERS, diseases caused by similar coronaviruses, the drug has helped prevent infection and reduced the severity of symptoms. But it is not yet approved anywhere in the world for any use.
Gilead Science said a trial overseen by the US National Institutes of Health, which tested remdesivir versus a placebo in about 800 hospitalized coronavirus patients around the world, proved effective. In particular, the company said the drug helped improve outcomes for patients, especially if administered earlier in the course of illness.
But in a randomized study among more than 200 coronavirus patients in Wuhan, China, doctors found no positive effects of administering the drug compared with a control group of adults. The results were published by science journal The Lancet.
“Unfortunately, our trial found that while safe and adequately tolerated, remdesivir did not provide significant benefits over placebo,” said Bin Cao from China-Japan Friendship Hospital and Capital Medical University in China, who led the research.
The authors of the Wuhan trial did note that the study faced several limitations, including the fact that it was stopped prematurely when patient numbers dropped too low to continue it, the outbreak was brought under control.
16:45 The WHO declared a “global public health emergency” its highest level of alarm, in late January, said the agency’s head Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus.
This was before any COVID-19 deaths were reported outside of China, he noted. The Chinese death toll stood at 170, according to WHO data on January 30.
“In the three months since the Emergency Committee last met, WHO has worked day in, day out to sound the alarm, support countries and save lives,” Ghebreyesus said on Wednesday.
“We’ve shipped millions of test kits and tons of protective gear all around the world, focusing on those countries who need our support most,” he added. “We’ve trained more than 2 million health workers — to be exact, 2.3 million health workers around the world. We don’t think that’s enough, we will train more.”
“There’s one thing we haven’t done: We haven’t given up. And we will not give up.”
Addressing reporters from Geneva, the WHO chief also said he would reconvene the body’s Emergency Committee, which includes 15 independent experts from across the world, on Thursday to “evaluate the evolution of the pandemic” and provide advice on updated health recommendations.
16:20 The World Health Organization (WHO) acted “quickly and decisively” from the beginning of the pandemic, the agency’s chief Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said Wednesday.
Ghebreyesus started the WHO’s daily briefing with an overview of his agency’s reaction. He noted that his organization warned that the transmission between humans was likely in mid-January, while China’s probe had yet to find “clear evidence” that the infection was transmitted in this way.
“We sounded the alarm early and we sounded it often,” he said.
Ghebreyesus’ comments come after his organization was strongly berated by US President Donald Trump over the alleged pro-China bias. The US has decided to suspend its share in the WHO’s funding.
15:30 In the Swedish town of Lund, authorities announced they would spread manure in its main park to prevent people from gathering there and to curb the coronavirus spread.
Traditionally, the Walpurgis Eve celebrations would see thousands of revelers celebrate in public on Thursday evening. This year, however, the city officials urged people to stay at home and pledged to fence off the Lund city park.
They also told the AFP news agency they would spread one ton of “awful” smelling chicken manure in the park.
“It’s not very pleasant to sit around drinking beer in that smell,” said Gustav Lundblad, the chairman of Lund’s environment board.
Unlike nearly all EU countries, Sweden stopped short of imposing a full-scale lockdown. However, the country has introduced a series of restrictions and urged people to work from home.
15:12 Commenting on the possible COVID-19 vaccine, German Health Minister Spahn said the country would probably not order mandatory immunizations. He added that his impression was that most people would want a COVID-19 vaccine.
“Wherever we can reach the goal [of vaccination] by being prepared and providing good arguments, I do not believe we need to make it mandatory,” he said.
Last month, Germany made immunization against measles mandatory in schools and kindergartens, sparking criticism in some parts of the public.
On Wednesday, Spahn said vaccines were one of humanity’s greatest achievements. He also expressed hope that the current crisis would “maybe [cast] a new light” on the vaccination debate.
14:50 Poland is set to reopen its hotels, shopping centers and kindergartens next week.
Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki urged “social discipline” and added that wearing masks outdoors would still be mandatory.
“We’re opening up the economy significantly, but we’re not loosening safety rules by an inch,” Morawiecki added.
Stores would only allow entry to one customer per 15 square meters (161 square feet).
Despite protests from the opposition leaders, the Polish government is still set to hold its presidential election per postal ballot in May.
14:10 In Kenya, the authorities cut off over 400,000 refugees in two camps from the outside world in order to curb the coronavirus spread.
The government ordered “the cessation of movement into and out” of the Dadaab camp in the east of the country, which houses 217,000 people, and the Kakuma camp in the northwest, with 190,000 residents, Interior Minister Fred Matiangi said.
The African country has so far recorded 384 confirmed cases of COVID-19 and 14 deaths. However, no cases were reported in either of the camps.
14:00 Polish soldiers fired warning shots at a German man after he tried to illegally enter the country via its border with the Czech Republic, a spokesman for the Polish army has said. According to army reports, the man, who lives in the Czech Republic, drove to a border crossing in the east of the country on Tuesday. There, soldiers told him he was not allowed to enter Poland. He then exited the car and crossed the border into Poland on foot, ignoring the soldiers’ commands to stay where he was. The soldiers then fired two warning shots and arrested the German man. He could not say what he planned to do in Poland, a border control spokeswoman said. Poland’s borders have been closed to foreigners since March 13 in an attempt to slow the spread of the coronavirus.
13:40 Air passenger traffic shrank by over a half in March due to the coronavirus pandemic, according to the International Air Transport Association (IATA).
The drop reached 52.9% within the last month based on the number of kilometers traveled by paying passengers. The agency described it as “the largest decline in recent history.”
“March was a disastrous month for aviation,” said IATA head Alexandre de Juniac. “Demand was at the same level it was in 2006, but we have the fleets and employees for double that.
“The industry is in free fall and we have not hit bottom,” he added, noting that governments and the industry needed to work together to prepare for easing restrictions on air travel.
13:30 A decade of US economic growth came to a halt in the first quarter of 2020, when GDP fell 4.8% amid the coronavirus pandemic, a government report published Wednesday has shown. For the US, it was the biggest quarterly drop in 12 years. The report said it was not able to quantify the full impact the virus will ultimately have on the economy.
13:25 A vaccine against COVID-19 will only become widely available in the second half of next year, the head of UK-based GlaxoSmithKline (GSK), the world’s biggest vaccine maker.
“If things go right … to get to scale of manufacturing in the hundreds of millions [of doses] is going to be in the second half of next year,” said GSK head Emma Walmsley.
Meanwhile, German pharmaceutical company BioNTech announced it has started testing a possible vaccine on volunteers in Germany. The clinical trial involved 12 participants, said BioNTech, who works with the US-based Pfizer company.
Several other companies across the world also race to develop their own version of the vaccine.
13:20 Half the global workforce is could suffer “massive damage to their ability to earn a living,” the International Labour Organization, the United Nations’ labor agency, said in its third report on the coronavirus crisis.
The ILO projected that 1.6 billion people in the “informal economy,” which includes work without proper contracts or oversight by government regulation and taxes, “stand in immediate danger of having their livelihoods destroyed.”
It said the extension of lockdown measures would lead to working hours drop by 10.5% in the second quarter, revising its initial estimate of 6.7%. That equates to a loss of 305 million full-time jobs, based on a 48-hour workweek.
“As the pandemic and the jobs crisis evolve, the need to protect the most vulnerable becomes even more urgent,” said ILO Director-General Guy Ryder. “For millions of workers, no income means no food, no security and no future.”
13:05 Germany’s economy cannot be restarted at a single stroke, said Economy Minister Peter Altmaier, warning that such a move could reinflame the pandemic.
The government expects the lowest point of the economic activity would be reached before the end of June. Unemployment is also set to hit 2.62 million in 2020 from a 2.27 million average last year.
Altmaier said the latest infection figures were a positive signal but described the process of restarting the economy as a “long-distance race.”
“Only if we lift economic and social restrictions step-by-step, and with a sense of proportion, can we start with the slow recovery in the second half of the year,” Altmaier said.
12:30 The pandemic will push Germany into its biggest economic slump in decades, Economy Minister Peter Altmaier said.
The German economy is expected to shrink 6.3% in 2020, with the government predicting a rebound next year and return to the pre-epidemic level in early 2022.
Altmaier also said the government hoped that infection figures would allow for more restrictions on businesses and public life to be eased.
Germany is the EU’s economic powerhouse, boasting the fourth biggest economy in the world.
12:00 Opposition Labour leader Keir Starmer has accused the British government of not revealing the true magnitude of the outbreak in the UK. Starmer said that according to his calculations more than 27,000 people had died in Britain from COVID-19.
“A total to date of 27,241 recorded deaths from coronavirus and that’s probably an underestimate because of the time lag,” Starmer told parliament.
The official figure of 21,648 is only inclusive of those who died in UK hospitals, though from tomorrow the government has promised to publish those that die in care homes and the community.
11:30 France is wary of foreign predators hoping to take advantage of the pandemic so it is tightening its investment criteria, Economy Minister Bruno Le Maire said.
Until the end of 2020, any purchase of a 10% stake or more in “very big companies” by a non-EU investor would require the French government’s approval, Le Maire told LCI television. The current threshold is 25%. Investments in all biotechnology firms would also need to be authorized. The minister said the move was because “in this crisis period, some businesses are vulnerable, some technologies are weakened, and could be bought at a low price by foreign competitors.”
Le Maire also called on French people to get back to work once current restrictions start to be eased as of May 11. ”We are now in the second phase … of a return to activity: We must get back to work,” the minister said. “And the greatest possible number of French people must get back to work.”
Also on May 11, face masks will be made available for the general public as small shops and businesses reopen. Masks will be obligatory on public transport and half the seats will remain vacant to maintain social distancing between passengers.
10:30 India has seen its highest jump in coronavirus-related deaths over a 24-hour period. The death toll has risen by 73, taking it to 1,007, the Health Ministry said, while confirming the country has now more than 30,000 infections.
The highest number of cases has occurred in Maharashtra, principally in its two biggest cities, Mumbai and Pune, and national capital Delhi. These areas were among those where the lockdown, now in its fifth week, is set to continue, as other regions prepare for a gradual easing of restrictions from May 3.
Poverty and a poor healthcare system make India’s battle against COVID-19 difficult. Many can’t work because of the lockdown. They need humanitarian aid. Religious conflict makes the situation worse.
09:05 Singapore’s first drone delivery service has got underway, distributing vitamins to a ship, with its operator saying the devices can significantly reduce human contact during the pandemic.
Singapore is on a mission to embrace technological innovation as way of tackling a manpower shortage in a city-state of just 5.7 million people. However, a beneficial consequence, according to the firm that manufacturers the drones, is that it also reduces physical interaction amid the outbreak.
The unmanned aerial device delivered two kilograms (4.4 pounds) of vitamins to the vessel owned by Eastern Pacific Shipping, its first paying customer, said F-drones, the company behind the service. The flight lasted seven minutes and covered a distance of 2.7 kilometres (1.7 miles). ”Besides being efficient, delivery drones can also reduce unnecessary human contact amid the COVID-19 pandemic,” said F-drones chief executive Nicolas Ang.
08:26 Turkey has extended the closure of schools until the end of May, Education Minister Ziya Selcuk said.
Ankara announced the initial closure on March 12 after it reported its first case of COVID-19. Almost 115,000 cases later, and with a death toll of nearly 3,000, Selcuk told a news conference not to expect schools to reopen again until June at the earliest.
08:15 Coronavirus cases in Russia are approaching the 100,000 plateau as President Vladimir Putin has fielded criticism for the handling of the crisis.
Russia reported 5,841 new cases over the past 24 hours, bringing its total case number to 99,399. The death toll also increased to 972 after 108 further deaths.
On Tuesday, Putin extended a partial economic shutdown, due to expire on Thursday, through May 11. Russian opposition activists staged an online protest against the lockdown measures, claiming the government has used the pandemic to impose illegal restrictions that violate people’s rights.
According to a government-affiliated poll, trust in Putin sits at 28% among Russian citizens, the lowest figure in 14 years.
08:05 Roy Horn, famed for being one half of the big-cat-trainers act Siegfried & Roy, is the latest celebrity to have tested positive for the novel coronavirus.
Horn’s publicist told US media outlet ABC: “We can confirm that Roy Horn has tested positive for the virus that causes COVID-19 and is currently responding well to treatment. Most importantly, Siegfried & Roy send positive wishes to everyone impacted by the pandemic. We will have no further comment on Roy’s recovery at this time and ask everyone to respect his right to privacy.”
Horn’s career working with dangerous animals in Las Vegas ended after a tiger attack in 2003.
07:40 As Germany begins easing lockdown restrictions, pupils in some parts of the country are preparing to return to school. For principals and teachers, that means enforcing physical distancing rules and hygiene standards.
07:15 Germany’s leading lender, Deutsche Bank, has posted a loss for the first quarter of 2020, while British banking giant Barclays has registered tumbling net profits for the same time period.
Despite the deficit of €43 million ($46.6 million), announced by the Frankfurt-based Dax group, Deutsche Bank remains upbeat in the midst of the economic downturn brought on by the COVID-19 pandemic. The German bank’s CEO, Christian Sewing, who is overseeing an overhaul of the financial institution, said: “In the current crisis, we were able to present robust figures and have shown a strong performance in supporting our customers in all of our core businesses.”
Barclays saw its net profits plummet 42% in the first quarter, hit by the economic shock sparked by the novel coronavirus. But like its German rival, the British bank talked up its chances of emerging vigorously from the difficult period.
“Despite the downturn caused by the COVID-19 pandemic, the group’s position remains robust,” an official statement read. “The impact of COVID-19 came late in what was until that point a good quarter.”
06:43 Tourism is a major industry in Greece. And the government in Athens hopes Greece’s near-COVID-free situation may give it an edge over rival Mediterranean destinations. But without a vaccine against the coronavirus, tourists may not want to travel to Greece should it open up again.
06:40 Hotels in Poland will be open for business during the summer holidays, government spokesman Piotr Müller has told state radio. These summer holidays traditionally occur in July and August.
The announcement comes in spite of the number of infections from the novel coronavirus continuing to rise in the country.
Later on Wednesday, the Polish government is set to announce whether it will reopen some businesses any time soon, while it recently extended school closures until May 24.
06:18 China has accused Australia of “petty tricks” as its spat over the pandemic shows no signs of easing up.
The Australian government has been calling for an international inquiry into how the outbreak began, a notion which has received short shrift from Beijing.
06:02 German economic institute Ifo has revealed “worrying numbers that point to a wave of bankruptcies“ set to hit Europe’s largest economy in the coming months.
According to a study, a number of German companies see their existence under threat from the crisis caused by the outbreak. Indeed, Ifo said that 29.2% of the firms surveyed felt they could survive for a maximum of three months under the restrictive measures currently in place. A further 52.7% suggested they could survive no more than six months under the current circumstances.
On Tuesday, Ifo released further predictions, including the forecast that Germany’s economy will contract by 6.6% overall in 2020 due to the global outbreak of COVID-19.
05:29 A vacation abroad looking highly unlikely for most travelers this summer. But through books we can escape from our coronavirus isolation to countries we miss and experiences we crave. The editorial team of DW’s Travel desk has put together a few wanderlust-inspired reading tips.
05:16 Airbus has cited COVID-19 as being responsible for a net loss of almost €500 million ($542 million) in the first quarter of 2020, as the planemaker’s CEO described the moment as “the gravest crisis the aerospace industry has ever known.”
The €481 million loss is put into context when Airbus’ net profit was €40 million during the same timeframe last year.
“We saw a solid start to the year both commercially and industrially but we are quickly seeing the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic coming through in the numbers,” said Airbus CEO Guillaume Faury.
04:45 Numerous countries did not take the outbreak serious enough and ignored international advice during the initial phase of the pandemic, according to a German defense think tank report.
“This crisis shows that various nations have partially ignored or even denied the early warning signals,” said Christian Haggenmiller, a doctor with the German Institute for Defense and Strategic Studies (GIDS). The medical expert was particularly critical of the United States as the country has “very extensive means” but the virus “was not considered a priority by the current political leadership.”
The GIDS is a cooperation between the German army and the Helmut Schmidt University in Hamburg, a military educational institution.
04:25 Germany has reported 1,304 more cases of COVID-19 while the number of deaths has risen by 202, the Robert Koch Institute (RKI) for infectious diseases revealed in its daily update.
Both statistics were a jump on Tuesday’s figures, when 1,144 new infections were reported by the RKI and the number of deaths recorded for the 24-hour period was 163.
Europe’s most populous country now has a total of 157,641 registered infections and its death toll from the virus currently stands at 6,115.
03:56 The German Cabinet is set to extend its strict worldwide travel warning until mid-June, according to news magazine Spiegel.
The publication cited a draft resolution from the Foreign Office stating that the measure should remain in place “until further notice,” and at least until June 14. It did not specify whether travel will be allowed during the summer holidays, saying only that the situation should be carefully reviewed with other EU states closer to the time.
The document said the travel warning aimed to limit the spread of the coronavirus and prevent German holidaymakers once again getting stranded overseas.
Germany issued the warning for all nonessential travel on March 17. Borders with its neighbours may only be crossed by freight traffic, commuters or others who may have a valid reason.