- UN says “now is not the time” for blame game after Trump threatens to halt WHO funding
- The German economy could slump 10% in first quarter of 2020, report warns
- Switzerland eyes easing its social distancing measures by the end of the month
- Romania’s army takes over a second hospital after identifying multiple cases there
Updates in Universal Coordinated Time (UTC/GMT)
18:08 Authorities in Jordan announced a 48-hour nationwide curfew would be starting on midnight Thursday as the government boosts its anti-pandemic efforts. The latest announcement comes two weeks after authorities relaxed a previous curfew and allowed people to go out on foot during the day.
17:50 Reacting to criticism from US President Donald Trump, UN chief Antonio Guterres said this was not the moment to question the UN’s response.
Previously, Trump said World Health Organization (WHO) “really blew it” and was “China centric.” The US president also claimed to have rejected WHO’s advice on allowing travel from China.
On Wednesday, Guterres said the UN’s health agency needed support, while at the same time hinting that its actions might be at some point be probed.
“Once we have finally turned the page on this epidemic,there must be a time to look back fully to understand how such a disease emerged and spread its devastation so quickly across the globe, and how all those involved reacted to the crisis,” Guterres said in a statement. “But now is not that time.”
Trump, meanwhile, is facing criticism himself for downplaying the virus’ threat, with presidential elections looming.
17:06 With 779 people dying in 24 hours, authorities in New York State reported the biggest single-day increase yet on Wednesday. However, Governor Andrew Cuomo said the curve was “flattening” and hospitalization rates were going down.
“The number of deaths, as a matter of fact, will continue to rise as those hospitalized for a longer period of time pass away,” Cuomo said.
The eastern US state has so far borne the brunt of the outbreak, with nearly 6,300 people losing their lives.
16:56 The UK has reported 938 new coronavirus deaths, by far the biggest day-to-day jump since the outbreak reached the country. Nearly 7,100 lives have been lost to the disease in Britain, the health ministry tweeted on Wednesday, adding that 60,733 people have so far tested positive.
Prime Minister Boris Johnson is also suffering from COVID-19; he was hospitalized late on Sunday and transferred to intensive care late on Monday. On Wednesday, Chancellor of the Exchequer (finance minister) Rishi Sunak said the PM was still in intensive care but added his condition was “improving.”
“I can also tell you that he has been sitting up in bed and been engaging positively with the clinical team,” Sunak said.
16:51 On Wednesday, Italy once again reported fewer people in intensive care — 3,693 compared to 3,792 on the previous day — feeding hopes that the nation’s health system is catching up with the crisis. Authorities reported a lower daily death toll than the day before but also noted a larger jump in infection numbers. The latest figures showed 542 people dying in the previous 24-hour period, compared to 604 reported on Wednesday. At the same time, the country has registered 3,836 new cases, an increase of almost 800 compared to Tuesday’s numbers.
16:25 Switzerland “should be able” to start easing up social isolation measures by the end of April, the government said on Wednesday.
Faced with the pandemic, the European nation has imposed border controls, shuttered schools, and banned public gatherings. The restrictions would stay in place until at least 26 of April.
However, “the first relaxations should be able to occur before the end of April,” President Simonetta Sommaruga told a press conference in Bern.
Health Minister Alain Berset confirmed that a relaxation was “within sight” and that “we are beginning to see a bit of light at the end of the tunnel.”
The government fears a sharp economic downturn, with the outbreak likely to shrink the nation’s economic output by over 10%. Other European countries, such as Austria and Denmark, have also signaled they will try to loosen social restrictions before the end of the month.
15:55 Romania has placed another hospital under military management, after a large number of staff contracted the novel coronavirus.
The country’s health minister, Nelu Tataru, said that military doctors would take control of the facility in the central city of Deva with immediate effect.
“I can’t say that anyone [here] has done their jobs, otherwise I wouldn’t be here,” he told journalists at the scene.
Last week, the military also took control of a hospital in the northeastern city of Suceava after it was found to be the biggest source of infections in the country.
15:43 NASA will not publicly mark the 50th anniversary of Apollo 13, the famous mission to the Moon which was aborted after an exploding oxygen tank put the lives of its three crew members at risk. All three of the astronauts survived and two of them remain alive to this day.
Due to the coronavirus outbreak, however, the agency has decided against having any kind of gathering to mark the occasion. Instead, NASA has released new photos, videos, and conversations between the crew and the mission control in Houston, including the line “Houston, we’ve had a problem here,” uttered by astronaut Jack Swiger.
A misquote of the line (“Houston, we have a problem”) was made famous by the 1995 movie Apollo 13. NASA has also released a multimedia project allowing to track the mission in “real time” ahead of the 50th anniversary of the takeoff on April 11.
15:18 All non-essential travel into the EU should stay suspended until May 15, the European Commission said on Wednesday.
All EU countries, joined by Switzerland, Norway, Liechtenstein and Iceland, agreed to halt incoming travel for a 30-day period on March 17.
The countries can individually decide on prolonging the measures, but Commission Vice President Margaritis Schinas urged members to keep the restrictions in place.
“While we can see encouraging first results, prolonging the travel restriction is necessary to continue reducing the risks of the disease spreading further,” he said in a statement.
14:53 The UK aims to be delivering at least 100,000 coronavirus tests per day by the end of this month, British officials said on Wednesday, saying that a partnership with private companies would help them reach this goal.
A new lab, set-up by the Cambridge University and pharmaceutical companies AstraZeneca and GlaxoSmithKline, would aim to conduct 30,000 tests per day in May.
A lack of testing capacity had prompted considerable domestic criticism of the government over the past few weeks.
14:48 French aircraft carrier Charles de Gaulle has aborted its mission in the Atlantic Ocean and is heading back to French port city of Toulon due to a possible coronavirus outbreak.
Some 40 sailors were showing symptoms compatible with COVID-19, France’s Defense Ministry said on Wednesday.
“They have been placed in isolated confinement out of precaution,” said French government spokeswoman Sibeth Ndiaye.
Over 1,700 crew members serve aboard the military vessel.
14:40 ‘Frontline’ health workers in Russia will receive a monetary bonus, President Vladimir Putin said on Wednesday.
Doctors who treat coronavirus patients would get an additional 80,000 rubles ($1,059, €973) per month. Nurses, ambulance medics and drivers would get between 25,000 and 50,000 rubles.
Putin also urged people to stick to the restrictions, saying that the battle against the virus would “depend on our discipline and responsibility.”
His remarks come after the country announced 1,175 new cases on Wednesday, bringing the total to over 8.600, most of them in Moscow. The outbreak has so far killed 63 people.
14:11 Dubai has suspended weddings and divorces “until further notice” to avoid public gatherings that might boost the coronavirus spread. Additionally, couples who have already formalized their marriage are not allowed to have wedding parties “even among their immediate circles,” said Justice Khaled al-Hawsni of the family court.
The emirate is currently under strict lockdown with all but essential workers needing a permit to leave their homes.
14:01 US health officials are considering new guidelines which would allow some of the currently isolated groups to go back to work. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) may announce the changes as soon as Wednesday, according to US Vice President Mike Pence.
People who have been exposed to someone who is infected could return to their jobs if they do not show symptoms, test their temperature twice a day and wear a face mask, according to a source cited by the AP news agency. Previously, the CDC issued similar guidance for front-line medical workers who had been exposed to the virus.
13:53 German police are to use an airship to monitor the public’s observance of the ongoing lockdown measures, officials said on Tuesday. The airship will be deployed above Lake Constance on the country’s southern border with Switzerland. Officers on board would monitor the activity around the popular tourist location as many Constance residents are expected to be tempted by sunny weather during the Easter weekend. Local company Zeppelin NT is providing the aircraft.
“We are happy to be able to contribute to curbing the pandemic, by supporting this important police work,” company chief Eckhard Breuer said.
13:30 Germany’s Cabinet has approved draft legislation that will make it easier for authorities to prevent foreign takeovers of strategic companies.
The new regulations, which require approval from the Bundestag, Germany’s parliament, would lower the threshold required for authorities to examine and block potential takeovers. It would also put on hold any takeovers subject to regulatory approval.
The proposal pre-dates the coronavirus pandemic, but the German government has vowed to “stand by our companies” in the face of foreign investors who might seek to take advantage of the crisis to acquire companies more cheaply.
The measure would bring rules in Germany in line with European Union regulations on foreign investment approved last year.
Germany, Europe’s biggest economy, had already tightened rules on foreign takeovers in 2018. The rule change partly reflected concerns over Chinese investment in core industries.
12:59 Part of the European Parliament complex in Brussels is being converted into a homeless shelter, the body’s president, David Sassoli, said in a video posted to his Twitter account.
Up to 100 people will be able to stay in Helmut Kohl building, an annex named after the late German Chancellor.
Sassoli also said European Parliament’s kitchens would make 1,000 meals per day, which will be distributed to health workers and the needy.
He said last week that he would make available the parliament’s medical department in Brussels and one hundred vehicles from its fleet. He added that sites in Luxembourg and Strasbourg were prepared to do the same.
Sassoli also announced on Tuesday that the Parliament’s headquarters in Strasbourg would house a coronavirus test center.
The European Parliament is officially headquartered in Strasbourg, while Luxembourg is home to the body’s secretariat. However, both sites hold only plenary sessions, with most MEPs working out of Brussels.
11:47 The German-British tourism giant TUI is set to take a €1.8-billion ($1.96 billion) loan from the German government to help it stay afloat amid the economic crisis in the travel industry. The loan is meant to bridge the “unprecedented global situation,” TUI chief executive Fritz Joussen said.
The loan, which will be issued by the public lender KfW, marks one of the biggest instances of a German company using the benefits offered by a €750 billion rescue package, which aims to curb the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on the German economy.
Joussen said TUI started 2020 with “with extremely strong bookings” before the pandemic. However, global lockdowns and curbs on international travel have pummeled the tourism industry across the board.
“We are now preparing intensively for when our operations can resume after the coronavirus crisis and firmly believe, people will continue to want to travel and explore other countries and cultures in the future,” said Joussen.
11:23 Hamburg has reported a higher number of coronavirus recoveries than infections for the first time since the pandemic hit Germany. While a total of 3,217 people have tested positive for the disease in the city, 1,790 have recovered. That leaves 1,427 who still have coronavirus, or a difference of 300 people.
Hamburg residents were also met with a few other hopeful statistics: The basic reproduction number, which is the expected number of cases resulting from one single case, has declined, Hamburg mayor Peter Tschentscher told a state press conference on Tuesday.
Meanwhile, the doubling time, or period after which the number of infected persons doubles, has increased to 14 days — a sign that the epidemic is spreading less aggressively, the Hamburger Morgenpost reported.
Germany currently has almost 108,000 confirmed cases of coronavirus, and over 2,000 related fatalities, according to Johns Hopkins University.
11:02 The World Health Organization’s (WHO) regional director for Europe described the outbreak of coronavirus across the continent as “very concerning.”
“A dramatic rise in cases across the Atlantic skews what remains a very concerning picture in Europe,” said Dr. Hans Kluge during a virtual WHO press conference. “We still have a long way to go in the marathon,” said Kluge.
Dr. Bruce Aylward, senior advisor to the WHO Director-General, also spoke at the virtual conference. He said the world was now living in a “COVID-reality.” ”It’s not lifting lockdowns and going back to normal,” he commented.
Aylward praised the response of Spain’s health authorities and resolve of the country’s leaders. He recently returned from a WHO trip to the country to monitor its response to the coronavirus pandemic. Aylward said it was too early to speak of optimism, but that the outbreak in Spain was “definitely slowing down.”
10:30 Spain could gradually begin to start loosening restrictions by the end of April, according to Finance Minister and government spokeswoman Maria Jesus Montero.
Citizens could begin to slowly “regain their normal life” after April 26, when the rigid restrictions currently in place are expected to expire, Montero told the Antena 3 television channel. Even once some of the measures were lifted, however, there would still be significant guidelines on meetings in public spaces, she said.
A curfew has been in force since March 15, and Spaniards are only allowed to leave their homes to go shopping or conduct other essential activities.
Meanwhile, the country reported 757 new virus fatalities on Wednesday, bringing its total death toll up to 14,555, and marking the second successive daily rise in virus-related deaths.
Additionally, the number of new infections rose to 146,690, up from 140,510 on Tuesday, the health ministry said. Spain has the second-highest number of recorded fatalities due to coronavirus, after Italy.
09:19 The EU is “concerned” about the Polish parliament’s decision to carry out May’s presidential election by post.
“I followed this process very closely. I’m concerned about free and fair elections and the quality of voting, of the legality and constitutionality of such a vote,” EU Values and Transparency Commissioner Vera Jourova told Polish newspaper Rzeczpospolita.
The Polish parliament pushed through special measures on Monday for the election to be conducted entirely by postal ballot, in an attempt to limit coronavirus transmission. Ruling Polish nationalist party, the Law and Justice party (PiS), backed the changes. However, critics and opposition fear that the change could unfairly boost the re-election chances of President Andrzej Duda — the PiS-backed candidate who is ahead in opinion polls. Under Duda, Poland has carried out controversial changes, including reforms to the judicial system and media. The date for the elections is set for May 10, leaving just over a month for the postal ballot to be organized.
“If I were a Polish citizen, I would like to know how exactly the voting will take place, because it will be taking place soon. Voting by correspondence is a significant change and this method will be used for the first time, people are not used to it,” added Jourova.
She pointed to recommendations from the Council of Europe for countries not to carry out “fundamental changes” to electoral rules in the year leading up to elections.
08:55 The German economy is headed for a deep recession, according to the country’s five leading economic institutes. The think tanks, including Ifo and DIW, or the German Institute for Economic Research, described the German economy as entering a state of “shock,” with a GDP that is set to shrink by over 4% this year, and by 10% in the second quarter.
“The corona pandemic will trigger a serious recession in Germany,” the report said.
The decline would be the sharpest ever recorded in Europe’s leading economic force since quarterly national accounts became available in 1970.
08:11 Thousands of Wuhan residents have flocked to airports, train and bus stations after the Chinese epicenter of the coronavirus ended its 76-day lockdown. More than 55,000 people were expected to leave the city by rail, with over 10,000 set to leave by air.
People celebrated their renewed freedom by waving flags and watching a light show projected onto skyscrapers.
Despite the lifting of the travel restrictions, however, schools remain closed and residents are required to keep a tracking application on their smartphones.
07:23 UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson remains in a stable condition after spending a second night in intensive care. He was admitted to a London hospital on Sunday suffering from COVID-19.
“I understand the prime minister is in a stable condition, he’s comfortable and in good spirits. He has in the past had some oxygen, but he’s not on ventilation,” junior Health Minister Edward Argar told Sky News.
The prime minister’s office released a statement concerning Johnson’s health on Tuesday. It says Johnson “remains in intensive care for close monitoring.”
Johnson, who is 55-years-old, was taken to St. Thomas’ hospital, London, on Sunday evening suffering from persistent coronavirus symptoms. His condition worsened and he was admitted to intensive care on Monday. Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab is deputizing for Johnson in his absence.
Latest figures from Johns Hopkins university show the UK has over 55,000 confirmed cases of coronavirus with 6,159 deaths.
06:35 EU finance ministers have failed to agree on a fiscal plan to help EU member states that have been hard hit by the pandemic. ”After 16 hours of discussions, we came close to a deal but we are not there yet. I suspended the Eurogroup and (we will) continue tomorrow Thursday,” said Eurogroup chief Mario Centeno.
06:33 German politicians and an official have warned that right-wing extremists in the country are attempting to co-opt the coronavirus crisis for their own gain.
“Right-wing extremists are trying to capitalize on the crisis,” Stephan Kramer, president of Thuringia’s office for the protection of the constitution, told German news outlet RND. “They criticize the government and the EU for apparent failures or claim that refugees have spread the virus. Others are asserting that the coronavirus serves as a means to set up a police state.”
Kramer also warned that some right-wing extremists were considering carrying out attacks to exacerbate the crisis. Others were attempting the opposite, offering assistance and carrying out community work. Georg Maier, Thuringia’s minister of interior and local government, agreed, telling RND that some right-wing extremists were trying to use the crisis as a conspiracy theory. “We are bearing that in mind,” said Maier.
Bavaria’s interior minister, Joachim Herrmann, also warned that members of the right wing-extremist party Der Dritte Weg (the Third Way) have been particularly active. Members have been offering assistance in everyday life or going shopping for people during the crisis, in order to win new supporters. They were using the crisis to present themselves as a social organization “that takes care of the of the problems of the ‘little’ people,” said Herrmann. He was answering a question posed by Bavarian parliament member Cemal Bozoglu.
05:21 Luxembourg’s Foreign Minister Jean Asselborn has urged the German government to lift border controls on its borders with Luxembourg and France as soon as possible, according to a report from the German Editorial Network (RND).
“I am very concerned about the border controls. We seriously have to be careful,” said Asselborn. “When the Schengen area falls, the citizens’ Europe will fall. The Schengen Area is the EU’s greatest achievement.”
Asselborn also cited the country’s dependence on health care workers who commute across Luxembourg’s borders from Germany and France.
“This only brings trouble,” he said. “Every day people from Saarland and Rhineland-Palatinate write to me complaining about the border controls.”
Temporary border controls have been in place at the borders with Austria, Switzerland, France, Luxembourg and Denmark since March 16.
05:13 The number of COVID-19 cases in Germany is now over 100,000, according to the Robert Koch Institute (RKI). This confirms figures reported by the Johns Hopkins University on Monday. The RKI now reports 103,228 confirmed cases, an increase of over 3,000 cases from Tuesday. Germany’s death toll is 1,861, up by over 250 from the day prior.
RKI President Lothar Wieler, said that he was confident that the current restrictions in place are having a positive effect on curbing the spread of coronavirus, but believes that there is still a long way to go.
“We are still at the beginning of this pandemic,” Wieler said in an interview with Deutschlandfunk radio. “We really must be very, very careful. However, the curve has leveled off a little bit, which is certainly a nice result.”
Regarding an exit plan, Wieler also rejected the idea of a total lifting of restrictions, saying that they cannot all be lifted at once.
“An exit might suggest that one simply abandons all measures and then lives as before this epidemic. I personally cannot imagine that at the moment,” he said. “I can imagine that step by step there will be certain changes.”
Johns Hopkins University (JHU), which combines data from the World Health Organization as well as local and national sources, the number of deaths in Germany exceeded 2,000 on Wednesday, while the country has 107,663 confirmed cases.
RKI figures are typically lower than JHU figures, as the institute only publishes figures that have been reported by official health authorities, who can take up to one business day to report their data.
03:23 Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey said he was committing $1 billion in stock to help tackle the coronavirus pandemic. He said he would transfer his equity in Square Inc, his financial payments startup, to his charity fund, Start Small LLC.
In a series of tweets, he said all donations to and from the fund will now be publicly accessible through a Google Doc spreadsheet.
“Why now? The needs are increasingly urgent, and I want to see the impact in my lifetime,” he said.
The amount represents 28% of Dorsey’s net worth, which is estimated to be $3.3 billion, according to Forbes. He said he was pledging his stake in Square rather than Twitter because he owns a larger share of the payments processor.
03:15 US country-folk singer John Prine has died of complications from COVID-19. He was 73 years old.
Mr. Prine had twice undergone treatment for cancer. In 1998, he had surgery to remove a tumor in his neck, which had damaged his vocal cords, and in 2013 he had part of one lung removed to treat lung cancer.
Originally from Maywood, Illinois, a working-class suburb of Chicago, Prine began his artistic career in the 1970s. His album ”The Missing Years,” featuring Bruce Springsteen, Tom Petty and other artists, won a Grammy Award for best contemporary folk recording in 1992.
Last year, he was inducted into the Songwriters Hall of Fame and was selected to receive a 2020 Grammy for lifetime achievement.
03:06 Here is the latest from the Americas
Canada: Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said Canada would continue to persuade the US not to block the export of medical supplies to fight the coronavirus. “We are going to continue to highlight to the American administration the point to which health care supplies and services go back and forth across that border,” Trudeau said. The prime minister said Canada was expecting the arrival of 500,000 N95 surgical masks on Wednesday from the firm 3Mwhich were part of a batch of 4 million that had been ordered by the province of Ontario. “We have had constructive and productive conversations that have assured that this particular shipment comes through, but we recognize there is still more work to do,” Trudeau said. Meanwhile, the premier of Alberta, Jason Kenney, warned that the coronavirus outbreak looks set to cripple the province’s economy, which was already suffering from low oil prices before the lockdown there began. Kenney said that unemployment could increase to 25% from the current 7.2%. Latest figures: 17,897 infected, 375 deaths, 3,791 recovered.
Brazil: Health Minister Luiz Henrique Mandetta said the country was facing a “serious problem” getting enough ventilators to cope with the coronavirus epidemic. Mandetta added that Brazil had reached out to China to ensure it would be able to fill an order for face masks as coronavirus deaths accelerated. “We need to bring 40 million masks from China,” he said at a news conference. “We are having difficulties in the Chinese market to guarantee these purchases.” The announcement comes as Brazilian officials try to ease an earlier diplomatic spat with China, after the country’s education minister and President Jair Bolsonaro’s lawmaker son criticized Beijing for its handling of the crisis. Latin America’s largest country just registered a rise of more than 100 COVID-19 deaths in one day. Latest figures: 13,717 infected, 686 deaths, 127 recovered.
Ecuador: An emergency burial ground, donated by a private cemetery of the city of Guayaquil, is being built to cope with the rising number of deaths in Ecuador. The Andean country has been acutely affected by the coronavirus epidemic. Last week, the government had already begun storing the bodies of coronavirus victims in giant refrigerated containers until graves were prepared. But it now has to create more space to bury them. The COVID-19 outbreak has overwhelmed hospitals and emergency services, with some families keeping dead bodies in their homes for days. It has also led to a shortage of wooden coffins and some Ecuadorans have had to bury their relatives in cardboard boxes donated by cemeteries. President Lenin Moreno admitted this week that the number of coronavirus infections and its resulting deaths were likely far higher than official estimates. Latest figures: 3,747 infected, 191 deaths, 100 recovered.
Colombia: Businesses in Colombia have called on the government to expand measures to help companies ravaged by the consequences of the coronavirus lockdown, which President Ivan Duque extended to April 27. The top business sectors affected by the lockdown are restaurants, stores, tourism, airlines and factories that do not make food- or health-related items. Duque’s government has already promised credit guarantees of up to 12 trillion pesos (about $3 billion) for small and medium-sized companies. But businesses are worried about bankrupcies and widespread layoffs, saying more is needed. The government, meanwhile, has continued to use all tools in its disposal to make citizens comply with the lockdown measures, including the deployment of Colombia’s military. Police have issued warnings and fines people for flouting quarantine rules. Latest figures: 1,579 infected, 46 deaths, 88 recovered.
Mexico: Authorities in Mexico are speaking out publicly against a rise in harassment and attacks on health workers in the country. ”There have been cases, you could say isolated, but all outrageous,” the Mexican undersecretary of health, Hugo Lopez-Gatell, said. ”It’s even more outrageous when it concerns the health professionals that we all depend on in this moment, because they are on the front lines facing this epidemic,” he added. A hospital in Guadalajara, Mexico’s second-largest city, told its health workers to wear civilian clothes to and from work, instead of their scrubs or uniforms, because some public buses refused to allow them to board. This week an individual threw flammable liquid on the doors of a new hospital under construction in the northern border state of Nuevo Leon. Edith Mujica Chavez, president of Jalisco state’s Interinstitutional Commission of Nurses, also denounced attacks suffered by health workers, which included physical aggression, verbal harassment and even having bleach solutions thrown at nurses. Latest figures: 2,439 infected, 125 deaths, 633 recovered.
Venezuela: The government has quarantined thousands of migrant returnees in makeshift shelters along the border, officials and rights activists said. Venezuelans who had fled the country’s economic collapse have begun returning home as neighboring Colombia restricted economic activity due to the coronavirus epidemic, leaving many refugees without money to buy food or pay rent. More than 2,100 migrants returning from Colombia to Venezuela were ordered to remain in schools and unused government buildings near the border that lack sanitary conditions, opposition lawmakers said. Some 625 Venezuelans have also crossed into the country from Brazil, according to officials in the eastern border state of Bolivar, where they have been kept in makeshift shelters in local motels and government buildings. The influx now presents a threat to Venezuela’s medical system, which has severely decayed in the past six years. Medical experts warn that the crumbling health system could be quickly overwhelmed if COVID-19 spreads. Latest figures: 165 infected, 7 deaths, 65 recovered.