The World Health Organization has reported 106,000 new COVID-19 infections worldwide. This represents the highest daily increase in cases so far in the pandemic. The total number of reported cases has passed the 5 million mark, with a high proportion of new infections occurring in the Americas. The US remains the worst affected nation, with more than 1.5 million confirmed cases and over 92,000 deaths. Around 330,000 fatalities have been reported worldwide so far.
The Malaysian Government has extended its Conditional Movement Control Order (which restricts the entry of foreign nationals into the country) until 9 June. Under the order, no foreign nationals can enter Malaysia unless they hold a diplomatic passport, have permanent residence status or are an ‘expatriate in an essential service’.
Authorities in the Indonesian capital of Jakarta have extended the city’s lockdown until 4 June, maintaining restrictions that limit public transportation and gatherings. The move comes despite the Central Government’s original plans to ease the policy and allow businesses to resume operations. Residents leaving their houses at dusk and night during the holy month of Ramadan were cited as the reason behind the extension. Police are predicting potential clashes should large crowds of worshippers attempt to gather at mosques to celebrate the end of the holy fasting month. Jakarta has also shut its schools and most shops and malls have chosen to close.
The United Nations Secretary General Antonio Guterres has praised Africa’s effort to stem the spread of the virus and said that the developed world could learn lessons from preventative measures taken by many African nations. The continent has thus far not been severely impacted by the pandemic with fewer than 3,000 COVID-19-related deaths from roughly 88,000 cases – far lower than Europe and North America.
In Morocco, the government has extended its state of emergency for at least three more weeks until 10 June. Strict lockdown measures are in place, with the military being deployed to the streets as part of concerted efforts to reduce the rate of infection. Elsewhere in North Africa, Egyptian Prime Minister Mostafa Madbouly announced that all flights to Egypt will remain suspended until further notice. Exceptions include humanitarian, repatriation and United Nations flights with a pre-authorisation from Egyptian civil aviation authorities.
In China, the authorities have placed the entire city of Shulan, home to almost 700,000 people, under lockdown following an outbreak of COVID-19. Only one person from each household is now allowed out each day to make essential purchases. Officials have ordered the temporary closure of public places, schools and public transport, with freedom of movement severely curtailed.
The Director General of the World Health Organisation (WHO) has pledged an independent evaluation of the global coronavirus response would be launched as soon as possible. Dr Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus made the promise during a virtual meeting of the WHO’s decision-making body, the World Health Assembly (WHA). In an apparent reversal of his previous position, Chinese leader Xi Jinping has backed the investigation following pressure from dozens of countries demanding an investigation into the origins of the virus.
United States President Donald Trump has told White House reporters that he has been taking antimalarial drug hydroxychloroquine for several weeks in order to defend against COVID-19. The US Food and Drug Administration (FDA), however, has warned that the drug should not be used for that purpose because it could cause irregular heartbeats and other cardiac trauma. Trump has previously promoted the drug as an effective treatment for COVID-19, despite little to no evidence that it has a positive effect. White House medical staff have indicated that the potential benefits of the president taking hydroxychloroquine outweigh the relative risks.
Elsewhere, the president has threatened to permanently withdraw funding from the WHO in a hostile letter sent to the director general. The letter outlined a 30- day deadline for the agency to show commitment to “substantive improvements” in its ability to demonstrate independence from the Chinese government. Finally in the US, the governors of New York and California have cleared the way for sporting events to resume, without crowds, in June.
The UK government has announced its intention to manufacture 30 million doses of a COVID-19 vaccine and begin inoculating the British public by September 2020, if trails are successful. The plans are dependent on a candidate vaccine developed at the University of Oxford proving to be both safe and effective. Speaking at the daily Downing Street press conference, however, Business Secretary Alok Sharma warned that an effective vaccine may never be found.
In other news, the UK government has backed calls from Australia to establish an independent inquiry into the origins of COVID-19. A draft World Health Organisation (WHO) resolution has been cosponsored by 62 countries, including India, Japan, Canada, New Zealand, Indonesia, Russia and all 27 EU member states. Growing support for the investigation has reportedly enraged Chinese officials, who are threatening trade sanctions against nations who express support for the investigation.
In Brazil, the mayor of Sao Paulo has indicated that the city’s health system is on the brink of collapse as demand grows for intensive care beds due to rising numbers of COVID-19 cases. Bruno Covas said the city’s public hospitals had reached 90% capacity and could run out of space within a fortnight. Brazil has recently overtaken Italy to become the fifth worst-affected nation in terms of total confirmed cases, with over 241,000. Health experts, however, have warned that the real number of cases in the country may be far higher than the official records, due to a lack of testing capacity. Meanwhile, President Jair Bolsonaro has again attended an anti-lockdown protest, flouting social distancing guidelines.
The provincial government of the Canadian province of British Columbia has announced that some children will start to return to schools on a part-time, voluntary basis from 1 June. The gradual reopening will apply to children of all ages, with schools having to implement enhanced cleaning schedules and social distancing measures in the classroom. Additionally, the number of pupils in a class will be limited alongside staggered start and break times. Elementary schools will be limited to 50 per cent in-class instruction, while middle and secondary schools will be limited to 20 per cent in-class instruction, or one day a week. The steps will pave the way for a full-time restart of education in British Columbia in September following the summer holidays.
The World Health Organization has warned that COVID-19 may become endemic like HIV and that populations around the world will have to learn to live with the virus. With more than 100 potential vaccines being developed at the present time, emergencies expert Mike Ryan noted that vaccines exist for several illnesses that have not been eradicated and that commentators should not attempt to predict how long the virus is likely to persist as a global crisis. Director General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus added that despite many countries across the world beginning to ease restrictions, the organisation’s recommendation “is still the alert at any country should be at the highest level possible”. Despite warnings, the European Commission has called for a “gradual and careful easing of lockdown restrictions across the continent”.
In the UK, Public Health England has approved an antibody test kit made by Swiss multinational Roche Holding AG, the first of its kind to be endorsed. The Department of Health and Social care is now in negotiations with the company and reportedly intends to buy millions of kits. Academics at the London School of Economics have published analysis indicating the death toll in care homes across the UK that can be linked to COVID-19 is likely to be double that of official figures. The authors said that government-published data “does not take account of indirect mortality efforts of the pandemic and/or because of problems with the identification of the diseases as the cause of deaths”.
The Chinese Government plans to test all 11 million residents of the city Wuhan for COVID-19 within a week, as new cases begin to resurface after a month of no new cases being reported. Officials have been told to prioritize the testing of vulnerable groups and places like residential compounds. The measure was announced as a response to the six new locally transmitted cases that were recorded in the city between Sunday and Monday. China continues to report very low numbers of new confirmed cases, most of which coming from overseas.
Yuan Zhiming, high-ranking virologist and official leading the lab pinpointed by US officials as the likely source of the pandemic, claims that no virus could have escaped from his facility, stating “our lab not only has a high level of biosafety infrastructure, we also have established a set of rigorous biosecurity protocols to ensure the lab operates safely and efficiently.” The issue has added another source of contention between China and the US, building on existing accusations against Beijing of covering up the severity of the outbreak in Wuhan. Compensation demands have also been moved against the Chinese government by a number of states and civil organisations worldwide, demanding remuneration for the damages and deaths caused by the virus.
Criticism have been also directed at US President Donald Trump, who has been accused of inflating the aggressive political narrative against China in order to distract the electorate from the government’s handling of the pandemic ahead of the elections scheduled for November. The US currently leads in terms of identified cases and fatalities from the virus, with the death toll standing at over 80,000.
As countries seriously affected by the COVID-19 pandemic begin to restart faltering economies, many experts fear that efforts to end lockdown measures may prove to be premature. France has started to ease its almost two-month long lockdown, deaths from the virus registered on Monday were almost four times higher than on Sunday, while new confirmed cases more than doubled over 24 hours. The Health Ministry said it registered 263 new deaths from the virus, against 70 Sunday. It is worth bearing in mind, however, that figures often tend to spike after a weekend lull.
In Italy, the government has announced that it will give regions the power to ease lockdown restrictions. It is expected that the move will see most remaining restrictions lifted next week.
President Vladimir Putin has also announced a gradual easing of lockdown measures despite a new surge in infections, which has made Russia the fourth-worst affected country in the world. The lifting of restrictions will be gradual and individual regions will need to tailor their approach to varying local conditions. Moscow, for example, will keep its own lockdown measures in place until 31 May. Mass public events are still banned, and citizens aged 65 or over have been asked to stay at home.
Health authorities in Ghana have reported an outbreak of COVID-19 in a fish processing facility in the city of Tema. Officials indicated that over 500 people were infected by just one worker. The outbreak in the facility amounts to around 11 per cent of all of Ghana’s cases of COVID-19. This pushed the number of confirmed cases nationwide up to a total of 4,700 as of Sunday night, the highest number in West Africa. Such a rapidly developing cluster emphasized the difficulties faced by governments in implementing lockdowns and closures in key business areas, such as food production and distribution. While interrupting processing of fresh produce would have a great impact over the economy and food security of a country, effectively implementing safety and social distancing measures in these facilities is also practically impossible.
In a televised address, UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson has revealed a staged plan to ease lockdown measures, starting from outdoor and private sporting activities. The Prime Minister also unveiled a five-level threat system to monitor the evolution of the COVID-19 in the country, which will also determine the progression of the lockdown stages. Provisional timelines suggest that schools and some shops might be able to resume their activities on 1 June, while the hospitality industry could reopen with a limited capacity in early July. However, the devolved governments of Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland have declined to implement a similar timetable, believing Johnson’s plan to be too risky. The Prime Minister has also announced the implementation of a mandatory 14-day quarantine for all travellers entering the UK, with exemptions for those arriving from the Republic of Ireland and France. No start date has been announced yet and further exemptions are possible.
In the US, Ohio Governor Mike DeWine has indicated that he will veto any bill that seeks to limit his power to extend the ongoing stay-at-home order passed in the state legislature. DeWine is facing an open revolt among Republican legislators, who accuse him of overstating the threat posed by COVID-19 and who have occasionally participated in the growing number of anti-lockdown demonstrations. DeWine took aggressive steps in the early days of the virus to reduce transmissions in the state, which have resulted in lower rates of cases and deaths. However, the state’s numbers remain short of meeting the federal government’s recommendations for lifting shelter-in-place and other lockdown orders.
As countries around the world begin to relax restrictions in place to prevent the spread of COVID-19, the head of the World Health Organization has said that there must be “no going back to business as usual”. During a virtual briefing at the organisation‘s headquarters in Geneva, Tedros Ghebreyesus warned that “the risk of returning to lockdown remains very real if countries do not manage the transition extremely carefully and in a phased approach”.
US President Donald Trump has continued to prime Americans to expect more deaths as the country begins to re-start its economy, saying “we have to be warriors” and that “we can’t keep our country’s closed down for years”. In a reversal from statements made yesterday suggesting the White House COVID-19 taskforce would be disbanded in the coming weeks, the president has now said it will continue on indefinitely.
Diplomatic relations between the US and China have continued to worsen, with White House press secretary describing the relationship of the two countries as one of disappointment and frustration. China’s foreign ministry has rejected claims by US Vice President Mike Pompeo that the virus originated from a lab in Wuhan, the epicentre of the pandemic. A Chinese official has accused the US of attempting to divert attention towards Beijing, stating that Pompeo has failed to produce any evidence supporting his claim.
The UK’s reported death toll from COVID-19 has passed Italy’s to become the highest in Europe and the second highest in the world after the United States. Amid calls for an inquiry into the government’s handling of the outbreak, First Secretary of State Dominic Raab has received repeated warnings by experts against making international comparisons. To describe the UK’s death toll as the highest in Europe would be a “speculation”, due to the lack of comprehensive international mortality data. Prime Minister Boris Johnson is expected to announce plans on Sunday on the relaxation of lockdown measures, following a sustained fall in the country’s daily death toll.
The US administration has given clear signs it plans to reopen the country in the near future. Speaking in Arizona, President Donald Trump said “will some people be affected? Yes. Will some people be affected badly? Yes. But we have to get our country open and we have to get it open soon”. Vice President Mike Pence has suggested the federal government’s COVID-19 task force could be disbanded in the coming weeks because “of the tremendous progress we’ve made as a country”. However, as the popularity of lockdown measures begins to wane, the rate of new infections continues to rise across the country. More than a quarter of all deaths associated with the pandemic have now occurred in the US.
Countries across Europe continue to express cautious optimism and ease restrictions. Italy has recorded 1,075 new cases, its lowest number in two months. In Austria, the country’s health minister has reported that the relaxation of lockdown measures and the reopening of thousands of shops has not led to an increase in recorded infections. Spain has continued to ease restrictions, with the country’s health ministry announcing that more than 70% of cases reported in the last 24 hours are among medical personnel.
The global COVID-19 death toll now stands at over a quarter of a million, as infections top 3.6 million cases. The milestone comes as several countries begin easing lockdowns designed to contain the pandemic. North American and European countries have accounted for most of the new deaths and cases reported in recent days, but numbers are rising from smaller bases in Latin America, Africa and Russia.
British health authorities have announced that coronavirus-related hospital deaths in England rose by 204, the lowest daily increase since late March, bringing the total to 21,384. It was reported that three of the 204 patients who died had no known underlying health condition.
During a press conference on 4 May, Japan’s Prime Minister Shinzo Abe extended the country’s state of emergency until 31 May, warning that relaxing social distancing measures too early could cause hospitals to become overwhelmed with patients. The nationwide state of emergency requires individuals to reduce non-essential travel and implement social distancing measures, though there are no fines or penalties for non-compliance. In prefectures that have recorded fewer cases, restrictions on business operations and small gatherings will be relaxed, but residents will still be asked not to travel outside their home regions. Bars and nightclubs will remain shut, while museums, libraries and parks are likely to be allowed to reopen provided preventive measures are in place.
Indigenous leaders in Brazil have asked the World Health Organization (WHO) to set up an emergency fund to help protect their communities from the threat of the pandemic. Many of these communities live in remote areas of the Amazon with little or no access to healthcare, radically increasing the deadliness of a potential outbreak. At this time, the number of indigenous people who have died from the virus is at least 18.
Global COVID-19 cases have surpassed 3.5 million, with deaths nearing a quarter of a million, although the rate of fatalities and new cases has slowed compared to April peaks. North America and Europe have accounted for most of the new cases, but numbers are rising in Latin America, Africa and Russia. On a more positive note, the Health Ministry of New Zealand has announced that the country has recorded no new cases for the first time since 16 March. There were also no additional fatalities.
Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi has extended the nationwide lockdown until 17 May but has allowed some relaxations. In urban red zones that are not marked as containment zones, private offices can open at 33 per cent capacity. Construction activity can also resume, as long as workers reside on-site. Manufacturing of essential goods and IT hardware is permitted. E-commerce activities are only allowed for essential goods, while small stores are able to open. In rural red zones, all agricultural, construction and industrial activities are permitted.
Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe is expected to extend the state of emergency until the end of May. However, the Government may also ease some of the current lockdown restrictions on economic activity by allowing places with relatively low infection risks, such as parks, to reopen, even in hard-hit prefectures.
In Italy, travel within the same region for work, health reasons, emergencies or visits to immediate family members is now permitted. Travellers must wear face coverings and maintain a distance of at least one metre between themselves and others. Movement between regions remains prohibited unless for valid work purposes, health reasons, emergencies or if returning home. Self-declaration forms are still required for all movement.
New figures have shown that the United Kingdom is now the second worst-hit country in Europe and the third in the world in terms of fatalities, as the government has begun to include deaths in care homes in its daily count. Figures indicate that since the beginning of the outbreak there have been approximately 3,800 fatalities in care homes. At present, the total number of fatalities in the United Kingdom has exceeded 26,000.
Meanwhile, the number of tests being carried out daily has reached 52,000. However, the government had set itself the target of carrying out 100,000 tests per day by the end of April. Whilst the government’s testing coordinator said on 29 April that he is confident that this target would be hit, Justice Secretary Robert Buckland indicated that the target would likely not be achieved until the first week of May. Prime Minister Boris Johnson is set to lead his first public briefing for the first time since he returned to work after being admitted to intensive care.
In the United States, the government announced that an antiviral drug, manufactured by Gilead Sciences, has proved effective in the first round of trials, allegedly shortening treatment time for the virus by four days. The details of this study are yet to be published. The drug, called Remdesivir, was initially developed to treat Ebola, but never got approval; it is still yet to be approved in any country aside from the United States. The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) will reportedly authorise it for emergency-use.
Despite this, Remdesivir has not been highly rated in other tests worldwide. In the United Kingdom, a study was published in the Lancet magazine stating that the drug did not speed recovery in patients tested in China. The test was stopped before after only half of the patients had been injected with it. Gilead Sciences maintains this is only the case because the company could not find enough numbers of patients to test as the virus had stopped transmitting.
The United Nations’ High Commissioner for Human Rights has accused a list of countries of using COVID-19 emergency powers “to quash dissent, control the population, and even perpetuate their time in power”. Nigeria, Kenya, South Africa, the Philippines, Sri Lanka, El Salvador, the Dominican Republic, Peru, Honduras, Jordan, Morocco, Cambodia, Uzbekistan, Iran and Hungary are believed to be “using excessive and sometimes deadly force to enforce lockdowns and curfews”.
The number of deaths in Brazil associated with coronavirus has exceeded 5,000, more than the official number reported by China. The country’s president, Jair Bolsonaro, has repeatedly dismissed concerns over the pandemic’s severity, referring to it as “just the sniffles”. Protesters across the country have continued to bang pots and pans from their windows during the lockdown, reminiscent of demonstrations that led to the controversial fall of former president Dilma Rousseff.
In Russia, President Vladimir Putin has extended a non-working period until 11 May and warned the rate of infections in the country has yet to peak. In Moscow, reports have emerged that nurses are quitting en masse from coronavirus hospitals over dangerous working conditions and a lack of pay. Additionally, the head of a Russian hospital, Dr. Yelena Nepomnyashchaya, is reportedly in critical condition after falling from a window of the Krasnoyarsk Regional Hospital for War Veterans in Siberia, which was recently repurposed to tackle the Covid-19 pandemic. The fall took place during a conference call with health officials in which she complained about the lack of personal protective equipment to treat coronavirus patients.
World Health Organization (WHO) director Dr Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus has scolded some countries for failing to implement containment measures when the novel coronavirus was declared a global emergency in January. During a press conference at the agency’s headquarters in Geneva, Ghebreyesus reported at least 21 countries are now experiencing vaccine shortages and that 14 vaccination programmes have been postponed that would have immunised over 13 million people for diseases such as polio, measles and cholera. The health-care provision in sub-Saharan Africa is experiencing particular disruption, and the number of cases of malaria may now double as a result. The WHO is concerned about new cases in Africa, eastern Europe and Latin America, where case numbers and associated fatalities are underreported due to a lack of testing capacity.
British Prime Minister Boris Johnson has warned the country is at the “moment of maximum risk” and urged citizens to continue to comply with lockdown measures. Professor Chris Whitty, the government’s chief medical adviser, has said the outbreak has a “very long way to run” and believes that further peaks are likely to occur once social distancing measures are eased. Despite concerns of a rebound in case numbers, countries across the world, including Australia, New Zealand, Norway, Spain, Germany, Belgium, Israel, Romania, Italy have begun to ease their restrictions.
In the US, several states have announced plans to re-open non-essential businesses, despite concern from public health officials that increased testing capacity is required before such measures can be considered safe. President Donald Trump has suggested a plan is in the works to increase testing and has continued to blame China for the pandemic. New York governor Andrew Cuomo has announced the state’s death-toll has peaked, and that some restrictions will begin to be eased from 15 May. The New York Democratic Primary, initially postponed from April to June, has been cancelled in what Senator Bernie Sanders has called an “outrage” and a “blow to American democracy”.
The number of cases globally has now exceeded 3 million. Health officials in Wuhan, the origin of the global COVID-19 pandemic, have reported that there are no remaining cases in the city’s hospitals. Wuhan had reported 46,452 cases, constituting 56 per cent of the national total of those confirmed. It also reported 3,869 fatalities, 84 per cent of China’s total. The city is still testing residents regularly despite relaxing lockdown restrictions.
In Europe, authorities in Sweden, a country known for its softer approach to combatting the pandemic, will order the closure of five Stockholm bars and restaurants that failed to respect social distancing guidelines. The government has allowed schools, cafes, bars, restaurants and other businesses to stay open, while instructing people to respect social distancing guidelines. Restaurants and bars are only allowed to provide table service, with tables spaced one to two metres apart to prevent overcrowding.
In the UK, the country reported its lowest daily rise in fatalities in nearly four weeks. The number of people who have died rose by 413 to 20,732, the lowest reported daily increase in April. The last time the country recorded a smaller increase was on 31 March, when 381 deaths were reported. The news comes as Prime Minister Boris Johnson returned to work at Downing Street following his recovery from having COVID-19.
The US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo has launched a fresh attack on the World Health Organisation (WHO), indicating that the US may never restore recently withdrawn funding. Additionally, Pompeo mooted the possibility of the US working to establish an alternative to the UN body. The acting head of the US Agency for International Development indicated that the administration would assess if the WHO was being run properly and may look for alternative partners. Plans for an alternative to the WHO would likely hinge on President Donald Trump securing re-election in November 2020, with Democratic nominee Joe Biden likely to adopt a more internationalist approach and restoring WHO funding should he become President.
Recent days have seen a rise in the number of anti-lockdown protests that have taken place in the US, with dozens planned across the nation in the coming weeks. Right-wing groups, some with conspiracist elements, appear to be behind the demonstrations. The fledgling movement has acquired some influential support, with Attorney General William P. Barr expressing concerns about state-level restrictions potentially infringing on constitutional rights. Additionally, President Trump has expressed support for protesters via his social media accounts.
In the UK, Human trials have commenced for a COVID-19 vaccine candidate developed at Oxford University. The vaccine, which was developed in under three months, has received millions in funding from the UK Government. The vaccine is made from a weakened version of a common cold, known as ChAdOx1, that has been modified so it doesn’t cause symptoms in humans while containing some genetic material as COVID-19. Researchers are said to have a high degree of confidence in the efficacy of the vaccine, which uses similar technology as those used to treat MERS and Ebola. It is hoped that the vaccine could be approved with millions of doses available as early as September 2020. However, UK chief medical adviser Chris Whitty has said neither a vaccine nor a drug to treat COVID-19, is likely to be available in 2020.
The director-general of the World Health Organisation, Dr Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, has warned that there is “still a long way to go” in combating the COVID-19 pandemic. Despite case numbers in Western Europe stabilising or declining, outbreaks across Africa, Latin America and Eastern Europe continue to grow with many countries “still in the early stages of their epidemics”. The WHO leader also warned against complacency and insisted that lockdown measures were effective in limiting the spread of the virus.
In the US, several states have announced plans to ease restrictions and allow businesses to reopen. Oklahoma Governor Kevin Stitt has announced a three-tiered approach to reopening businesses state-wide, aiming to have the state back to “business-as-usual” by mid-June. Beginning on 24 April, “personal care businesses”, such as hair salons, spas and barbershops can reopen for appointments only as long as they adhere to strict “sanitation protocols”. Other Oklahoma businesses previously deemed non-essential will be allowed to reopen from 1 May. Elsewhere, Pennsylvania Governor Tom Wolf announced that he intends to allow the reopening of businesses from 8 May in three phases, colour-coded red, yellow and green, with the latter meaning that all restrictions are lifted, aside from federal guidelines.
Scientists from the Jenner Institute at the University of Oxford announced they will begin the clinical trial phase for a new vaccine called ChAdOx1 Ncov-19 on 24 April. This has reportedly been developed from a harmless chimpanzee virus, which has already shown promising results against other diseases. The team, along with other scientists from Imperial College London intend to test 510 people between the ages of 18 and 55. In the daily coronavirus press conference, Health Secretary Matt Hancock announced that the team at the University of Oxford will receive an extra £20 million in funding whilst Imperial College London would receive £22.5 million.
Elsewhere, in France, for the last three consecutive days, police have been dealing with riots in several suburbs in Paris. On the 20 April, residents in the suburb of Villeneuve-la-Garenne took to the streets to protest the ‘heavy-handed’ police treatment of ethnic minorities during the COVID-19 lockdown. The protests follow an incident in which a resident of Arab ethnicity from the area was injured in an accident with an unmarked police car along with reports of assault from officers when enforcing the lockdown restrictions. Residents took to the streets, throwing fireworks and setting fire to parked police cars and bins. Police reportedly used tear gas to disperse the crowds and a high-security presence remains in the area. Further related violence is anticipated over the coming days.
The head of the World Health Organization (WHO) has issued a stark warning that that “the worst is yet ahead of us” as countries across the globe begin to relax restrictions on movement and business implemented to prevent the spread of COVID-19. Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus stated the easing of restrictions should not be taken as a sign the pandemic is over.
The US oil market has collapsed into negative prices for the first time since futures contracts began trading in 1983. The pandemic has led to an unprecedented oversupply of crude oil in North America, where rising stockpiles threaten to overwhelm storage facilities. Millions of barrels of oil are now being stored in crude tankers outside shipping ports, a measure not seen since the last financial crisis. There is also concern for the stability of the US economy, as state governors and the president remain locked in a stand-off as to whether the US can begin lifting restrictions.
Elsewhere in the US, encouraged by tweets from the president, protesters have gathered in state capitals across the US to demonstrate against the allegedly draconian lockdown measures that have been implemented. Some have also come bearing firearms to the rallies, with gun rights groups being among the organisers, citing infringements on civil liberties. Those taking to the streets have stated that the stringent measures restricting movement and businesses are unnecessarily hurting citizens.
Several US governors, from both sides of the aisle, have accused Donald Trump of making “delusional” and “dangerous” statements following the president’s claim that states have sufficient testing capacity. Tensions are increasing over pressure to relax stay-at-home orders and other control measures, with state leaders firmly stating they will not begin the ‘Opening Up America Again’ programme without the implementation of widespread testing. The stand-off comes as the death toll in the US from the novel coronavirus has passed 40,000, almost double the number than the next most affected country, Italy.
Given the “deeply worrying” level of fatalities associated with COVID-19, a senior British minister has confirmed the UK is not considering lifting lockdown measures in the near future. Despite positive signs that fatality-rates may be slowing, the country’s deputy chief medical officer has warned claims the UK has reached the peak of the outbreak are premature. Irish health minister Simon Harris has stated that large public gatherings are likely to remain prohibited for the duration of 2020, and that vulnerable persons are likely to have to remain isolated for a significant period of time. A day before the country plans to ease some lockdown measures, Poland has recorded its largest increase in confirmed cases to date.
Elsewhere, authorities in France and Italy have shared positive news that, in both countries, rates of infections and associated fatalities appear to be consistently declining. Despite this, the countries remain on lockdown and are holding off on easing restrictions at this time. Two other countries seeing a consistent decline in case number increases are Germany and Norway, the governments here are looking to ease some of the restrictions in place.
The World Health Organization (WHO) has indicated that despite some positive signs, Europe remains the centre of the pandemic with over a million cases. A senior official stated that declining numbers of active cases in several European countries have been offset by sustained increase elsewhere in the region. Approximately 90,000 people have died as a result of the COVID-19 outbreak in Europe, around 65% of the reported global total.
In Portugal, authorities have announced that they will extend current lockdown measures for at least 15 days until 2 May, but will ease some restrictions thereafter. The country appears to have successfully slowed the spread of COVID-19, doing considerably better than its neighbour, Spain. Officials have declined to specify which measures will be lifted initially, saying that scientific data will inform any future decisions.
Elsewhere, Ireland’s chief medical officer, Tony Holohan, has stated that the country’s COVID-19 outbreak has been contained and effectively suppressed in the population at large. Holohan has, however, warned that the virus is still spreading in care homes for the elderly. Prime Minister Leo Varadkar, who has reprised his previous career as a doctor during the pandemic, indicated he will look to ease restrictions after a nationwide stay-at-home order expires on 5 May. That said, should the Irish government wish to avoid travel restrictions between Ireland and Northern Ireland, it will have to consider coordinating any easing of restrictions with the administrations in Belfast and London, which have both indicated that lockdown measures will continue for the time being.
The head of the World Health Organisation (WHO) has expressed dismay over the loss of over $400 million from the organisation’s budget following the United States’ decision to halt its contributions. Media reporting indicates that there was a near-unanimous agreement amongst White House officials that the WHO is too heavily influenced by the Chinese Government. WHO officials have pushed back strongly against accusations of political bias and have indicated that they will explore other options to fill any financial gaps that they may face in the near future.
In the United Kingdom, the National Police Chiefs Council (NPCC) has announced that thousands of fines have been issued in recent weeks to individuals and groups who breached social distancing measures aimed at slowing the spread of COVID-19. Despite these numbers, data suggests that the vast majority of the British public are adhering to current guidelines. Pressure is building on the government over persistent shortages of personal protective equipment (PPE) and the scale of the outbreak in care homes. Despite outbreaks of COVID-19 being reported in over 2,000 care homes, official government figures currently only account for confirmed cases of the virus and related deaths in hospitals. Questions on the issue are likely to continue until the government changes its stance and includes social care statistics in its official figures.
The number of confirmed cases of COVID-19 globally has now surpassed 2 million, with 12 countries continuing to see case numbers grow by more than 1,000 per day. However, despite this, in Europe, Austria has begun to reopen some shops after the government announced it has managed to flatten the curve of new infections. Shops under 400 square meters, along with hardware stores and garden centres, have been allowed to reopen. The government also made it compulsory to wear face masks when going to supermarkets or pharmacies.
Similarly, Iceland’s Minister of Health, Svandis Svavarsdottir has announced that beginning of 4 May, the government will begin lifting some of the COVID-19 restrictions. The limit on the number of people involved in public gatherings will be increased from 20 to 50 and schools, colleges and universities will resume although secondary schools and universities will also be limited to 50 people per room. Services such as hairdressers and museums will also be allowed to reopen but there must be a minimum of a two-meter gap between customers.
The French overseas territories of Martinique, Guadeloupe, Reunion Island, French Guiana and Mayotte have all extended their lockdowns until the 11 May in line with mainland France. As part of the lockdowns, all public gatherings are banned and citizens are only allowed to leave their homes for grocery shopping, trips to pharmacies and for essential work. All of the territories have also imposed curfew from 20:00 to 05:00 local time except for Cayenne in French Guiana, where the curfew begins one-hour later at 21:00 local time.
In the United States, Tennessee Governor Bill Lee announced that the nationwide stay-at-home order will be extended until the 30 April. Governor Lee also stated that next month, he will gradually restart the local economy whilst continuing to implement the social distancing measures. Meanwhile, several Democratic governors on the East and South coasts have announced they are joining forces to combat the spread of the virus. For example, the states of New York, New Jersey, Connecticut, Pennsylvania, Delaware, Rhode Island and Massachusetts will form a new regional public and economic health group. On the West coast, the states of California, Washington and Oregon announced they would come together to design a reopening plan. However, US President Donald Trump was quick to assert his authority to override the governors’ decision, stating “when somebody’s the president of the United States, the authority is total”.
Elsewhere, COVID-19 restrictions continue to be extended and new ones implemented. French President Emmanuel Macron announced that the nationwide lockdown will be extended until the 11 May. The announcement was made as the number of cases are showing signs of slowing down. As part of the lockdown, French citizens are unable to leave their homes unless to exercise, buy groceries or seek medical attention. Despite the extension of the lockdown, the French president also announced a plan to start reopening their economies after the end of the new lockdown date.
To the south, Spain has announced the loosening of its regulations, allowing workers in “non-essential” industries such as construction, to return to their jobs after a two-week ban. However, Madrid has made it clear that these restrictions would be reimplemented should case numbers start to rise at an increasing rate again.
The United States continues to be the worst affected country by COVID-19, with cases exceeding 435,000, accounting for around 28% of the global total. The US response to the virus remains inconsistent, with hyper-partisan politics emerging at every level of government. President Donald Trump has elected to delegate much of the responsibility for managing the crisis to individual state governors, who have implemented various levels of restrictions on their residents. There is a reasonable probability that a lack of direction from the federal government will result in the United States failing to control the epidemic as quickly as other western nations.
The US Government has, however, indicated that it will seize all exports of personal protective equipment (PPE) until it determines whether it has a surplus to the country’s requirements. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) will hold exports of respirators, surgical masks and surgical gloves until the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) determines whether the equipment can be used in the domestic effort to contain COVID-19. The move was authorised by President Trump on 3 April and may have a knock-on effect of resulting in shortages of PPE in other countries.
In the UK, Prime Minister Boris Johnson remains in intensive care with a severe case of COVID-19. Chancellor Rishi Sunak indicated in the latest daily government press conference that Johnson’s condition is improving and that he has not, as yet, required mechanical ventilation. Johnson is reportedly conscious, sitting up and has been engaging positively with clinicians. Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab continues to supervise day-to-day government operations. Given the severity of the Prime Minister’s symptoms, it is unlikely that he will be able to lead the government in the coming weeks. Separately, there were 938 COVID-19 related deaths reported in the UK yesterday, the worst daily mortality rate of the outbreak so far.
Europe continues to be the hardest hit continent as a result of COVID-19. Finance ministers from the EU have announced that they have yet to agree on a united economic response. There is a growing divide between the blocs northern and southern countries, with Germany and the Netherlands fearing they’ll be burdened with high levels of debt while Italy and Spain, two of the hardest-hit countries globally, feel not enough is being done. This announcement was coupled with one of the bloc’s top scientists, Mauro Ferrari, dramatically quitting due to the bloc’s response to the virus.
However, in Austria, the government has set out plans to become the first European country to ease its lockdown measures, with some non-essential businesses to open in the coming days. Chancellor Sebastian Kurz has presented a timetable to restart the economy in a number of phases whilst minimising the risk of a surge of new infections. According to the timetable, small shops will be permitted to open again from 14 April as well as large DIY stores and garden centres. From 1 May, other businesses deemed slightly higher risk, including hair salons, will be allowed to reopen. There is also a possibility that bars and restaurants will reopen in mid-May. Kurz has made clear that, despite easing restrictions, some control measures will remain in place for months. European countries will likely look to Austria in the coming weeks and months as an indicator of how lockdown measures can be lifted without allowing the virus to re-emerge.
In the UK, after contracting COVID-19, Prime Minister Boris Johnson remains in intensive care, with Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab currently leading the government. Chancellor Rishi Sunak has been designated as the individual who will take over should Raab become incapacitated. Several senior figures in the UK government are currently in self-isolation after they or close family members began to display symptoms of COVID-19. This comes as the UK recorded its deadliest day of the outbreak so far, with 786 deaths reported on 7 April. However, the UK’s Chief Scientific Advisor has indicated that there has been a sustained below-trend growth in new COVID-19 cases.
UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson has been transferred to an intensive care unit (ICU) at St Thomas’ Hospital, London, after his condition is said to have worsened. He was initially admitted to the hospital on Sunday 5 April as a “precautionary measure”, as he continued to experience Covid-19 symptoms, 10 days after testing positive for the virus. Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab will now deputise and head the UK government while Mr Johnson remains in hospital.
In other news, the number of prisoners to have died in England and Wales after contracting the virus has risen to nine. The inmates had been held at Littlehey jail, Cambridgeshire; Low Newton prison, in County Durham; Birmingham prison; HMP Manchester; Altcourse, in Merseyside; Belmarsh, in south-east London; and Whatton jail, Nottinghamshire. Moreover, 107 prisoners across 38 prisons have now tested positive for Covid-19, while 1300 inmates are currently self-isolating and thousands of prison staff are absent due to Covid-19-related issues. Over the weekend, the UK government announced that up to 4000 inmates would be released early in order to free up space in prisons to allow for single-occupancy cells to limit further infections.
New York State Governor Andrew Cuomo has extended the stay-at-home order until the 29 April. The restrictions were first announced on the 20 March and resulted in the closure of all non-essential businesses and schools. The governor also announced that he has raised the fine for those caught violating the order from 500 to 1,000 USD. Elsewhere, in South Carolina, Governor Henry McMaster announced that a stay-at-home order is to be implemented from 17:00hrs local time on the 07 April. As part of the order, non-essential businesses will be closed and all residents are advised to stay at home unless travelling to work, exercising, buying essential goods or visiting family. Anyone caught violating the order is eligible for 30 days in jail or a 100 USD fine for each day of violation.
UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson has been admitted to hospital as a precautionary measure after continuing to experience symptoms persistent with the virus. Mr Johnson first experienced symptoms 10 days ago and has been in self-isolation, but still leading the government. It is thought he will continue to run the government; however Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab – who has been designated to take over prime ministerial duties should Johnson fall too ill – will chair the next COBRA meeting on the 6 April. The announcement was made shortly after Her Majesty the Queen, Queen Elizabeth II, delivered a pre-recorded public speech urging everyone to follow the government’s advice. In what has been seen as an echo of the nations World War II spirit, she used an extract of Dame Vera Lynn’s wartime song and promised the nation ‘we will meet again’.
In France, the government has now launched an online form to replace the printed ones, which people travelling outside for essential work, exercise and to pick up groceries have to have on them at all times. It is hoped that the form will make it easier for those out to show the police what their business is, without handing forms of paper around. France has one of the strictest lockdowns in Europe, with people only allowed out to pick up essential goods and medicine, exercise for a maximum of one hour within 2km of their house and for essential work. Despite this, the country is optimistic that these measures will soon be lifted, gradually.
The number of confirmed COVID-19 cases worldwide has now exceeded 1 million, with the US accounting for more than a fifth of the total. The pandemic has also claimed more than 50,000 lives worldwide. In an effort to combat the economic impact of the pandemic, the World Bank announced that its board of executive directors had approved an initial US$1.9 billion in emergency funds for 25 countries, as well as moving quickly to action projects in 40 others. India, for example, may receive up to US$1 billion to support the better screening of the virus, pay for personal protective equipment and set up new isolation wards. The organisation is also working to redeploy resources in existing World Bank-financed projects worth up to US$1.7 billion as well as reportedly being prepared to spend up to US$160 billion over the next 15 months to combat the pandemic.
In Europe, Moscow has extended its strict lockdown measures until the end of April after President Vladimir Putin’s decision to extend nationwide paid leave. All Muscovites are being requested to stay at home and only go out when strictly necessary. Public venues, including museums, theatres and parks have been closed until further notice. Only food stores and shops selling essential goods will remain open.
Case numbers continue to grow significantly on a daily basis, with now over 940,000 confirmed cases reported worldwide. Deaths are also continuing to increase, with the total now just shy of 50,000. In Europe, Spain now has the fastest growing number of confirmed cases, with an additional 8,195 new confirmed cases yesterday and an additional 923 confirmed deaths. Only the United States saw a greater case and death growth rate on 1 April.
Behind the US and Spain, Germany’s growth rate is also remarkably strong, with over 6,000 new cases yesterday. However, the country is now conducting more than 50,000 tests per day. This is significantly more than the UK for example, a point that has been picked up by political observers and health experts in the UK. Additionally, the German confirmed case-to-death rate is much lower than many other European countries, leading experts to believe that the country is simply recording closer to the real number of cases, which would include more infections showing moderate or no symptoms.
At the time of writing, the global total of confirmed cases of COVID-19 has exceeded 860,000, with the United States remaining one of the worst hit countries. The US now has over 188,000 confirmed cases with Dr Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, indicating that Americans should prepare for the possibility that 100,000 people could die as a result of the virus in the United States. President Donald Trump has also warned that the coming weeks will be particularly painful in terms of new infections and projected deaths. CNN estimates that 262 million Americans, around 80 percent of the population, are currently subject to stay-at-home orders.
In South Africa, it has been reported that some people are not complying with the recently decreed 21-day lockdown. According to reports, those living in extreme poverty are more likely to defy regulations in order to earn small amounts of money and to source food. The country’s security forces are also developing a reputation for heavy-handedness when enforcing the lockdown, with one police officer being arrested for murder following the death of a man who had violated restrictions. South Africa’s experience highlights a problem that is likely to reoccur in many impoverished African nations as COVID-19 spreads on the continent.