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Wednesday, May 06, 2020, 22:43
Germany to ease lockdown as 1st phase of pandemic passes
By Agencies
Wednesday, May 06, 2020, 22:43 By Agencies

A man looks through the window of a closed restaurant near the pier of lake Ammersee in Herrsching, southern Germany, on April 10, 2020, as public life in Bavaria has been limited due to the coronavirus COVID-19. (CHRISTOF STACHE / AFP)

ALGIERS / LIMA / MEXICO CITY / WASHINGTON / BOGOTA / RIO DE JANEIRO / PARIS / ROME / GENEVA / CAPE TOWN / LONDON / CAIRO / OTTAWA / DUBLIN / BERLIN / SAN SALVADOR / UNITED NATIONS / MOSCOW / MADRID / VILNIUS / LAGOS / DAKAR / AMSTERDAM / BRATISLAVA - German Chancellor Angela Merkel on Wednesday announced a range of steps agreed with Germany’s 16 federal state leaders to ease the coronavirus lockdown, saying the first phase of the pandemic had passed, although there was still a long way to go.

“We are at a point where our goal of slowing the spread of the virus has been achieved and we have been able to protect our health system .. so it has been possible to discuss and agree on further easing measures,” Merkel told reporters.

People from two households will be allowed to meet and more shops will open, provided hygiene measures are in place, but guidelines on keeping a distance of 1.5 meters and wearing mouth and nose masks on public transport remain.

The number of confirmed coronavirus cases in Germany increased by 947 to 164,807, data from the Robert Koch Institute (RKI) for infectious diseases showed on Wednesday. The reported death toll rose by 165 to 6,996.

UK

UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson said he will lay out the next steps in his UK government’s response to the coronavirus outbreak on Sunday, and some changes to the nationwide lockdown are likely to take effect the following day.

A morning jogger passes by as British Prime Minister Boris Johnson takes a morning walk at St James's Park in London before returning to Downing Street, May 6, 2020. (STEFAN ROUSSEAU / PA VIA AP)

As part of its plans to exit the lockdown, the government has already said it will roll out a mass program of tracking and tracing coronavirus cases. Johnson promised testing capacity would reach 200,000 a day by the end of the month.

The prime minister told the House of Commons any changes will be made based on the latest scientific data, which will come through over the coming days. In his first appearance at Prime Minister’s Questions since falling sick with COVID-19 in March, he defended his government’s performance and said the time to review decisions will come later.

READ MORE: UK's COVID-19 toll rises above 32,000, highest in Europe

Ministers are trying to find a route out of the lockdown without triggering a second spike of infections that could overwhelm healthcare systems. Though officials say the U.K. is past the peak of infections, the government has faced criticism after the country’s death toll rose to the highest in Europe on Tuesday.

“What people want to see is a careful, sensible program attracting the widest possible support to continue to suppress the disease right down but to allow our economy to start up again,” Johnson said.

A man pushes a woman in a wheelchair as a dog walks alongside them, in the Iztapalapa district of Mexico City, May 5, 2020. (REBECCA BLACKWELL / AP)

UN

United Nations (UN) Secretary-General Antonio Guterres on Wednesday asked for the inclusion of people with disabilities in COVID-19 response.

People with disabilities are among the hardest-hit by COVID-19, Guterres said in a video message for the launch of a new policy brief, adding that they face a lack of accessible public health information, significant barriers to implementing basic hygiene measures, and inaccessible health facilities.

... We must guarantee the equal rights of people with disabilities to access health care and life-saving procedures during the pandemic.

Antonio Guterres, UN secretary-general

The share of COVID-19 related deaths in care homes - where older people with disabilities are over-represented - ranges from 19 percent to an astonishing 72 percent, he noted.

"We cannot let this continue. We must guarantee the equal rights of people with disabilities to access health care and life-saving procedures during the pandemic," the UN chief said.

Guterres noted that only 28 percent of people with significant disabilities have access to benefits, and only 1 percent in low-income countries.

ALSO READ: UN chief asks for wartime plan for COVID-19

People with disabilities, in particular, women and girls, face a greater risk of domestic violence, which has surged during the pandemic, Guterres said.

The policy brief asked for accessibility of information as well as goods and services to people with disabilities; accessibility of health services, testing and life-saving procedures; expansion of both mainstream and targeted social protection programs for people with disabilities and their families.

Governments, donors, UN agencies and other actors need to establish accountability mechanisms to monitor investments and ensure disability inclusion in COVID-19 response, according to the brief.

WHO

The World Health Organization (WHO) said on Tuesday that a report that COVID-19 had emerged in December in France, sooner than previously thought, was “not surprising”, and urged countries to investigate any other early suspicious cases.

The disease later identified as COVID-19 was first reported by Chinese authorities to the WHO on Dec 31 and was not previously believed to have spread to Europe until January.

“This gives a whole new picture on everything,” WHO spokesman Christian Lindmeier told a UN briefing in Geneva, referring to the French report.

“The findings help to better understand the potential virus circulation of COVID-19,” he added, saying other earlier cases could emerge after retesting samples.

The French patient, a fishmonger, is not thought to have a direct link to China or a history of recent travel and experts say the French case requires more investigation.

Lindmeier encouraged other countries to check records for pneumonia cases of unspecified origin in late 2019, since this would give a “new and clearer picture” of the outbreak.

ALSO READ: France discovers undiagnosed coronavirus patient from last year

Global toll

Global COVID-19 deaths has surpassed 257,000 and the global tally topped 3.6 million, with cases reported in 187 countries and regions around the world, according to the Center for Systems Science and Engineering (CSSE) at Johns Hopkins University.

The United States reported the most COVID-19 deaths, with a toll surpassing 71,000, and the most COVID-19 confirmed cases, with a tally surpassing 1.2 million. 

Other countries with over 20,000 fatalities included Spain, Italy, Britain and France, the CSSE data showed.  

A social distancing sign is posted on the floor near an escalator at a mall in Texas, May 5, 2020. (DAVID J. PHILLIP / AP)

Netherlands

The number of confirmed coronavirus cases in the Netherlands rose by 232 to 41,319 on Wednesday, with 36 new deaths, health authorities said.

The country’s death toll stands at 5,204, the National Institute for Health (RIVM) said in its daily update. The RIVM cautioned that it only reports confirmed cases, and actual numbers are higher.

Slovakia

Slovakia reopened restaurant terraces, hotels, all shops outside large malls and other businesses on Wednesday, expediting plans to revive the economy thanks to better-than-expected progress in containing the coronavirus outbreak.

The government, which opened small shops on April 22, also gave the green light for religious services and weddings to take place with a limited number of guests.

The latest figures showed 1,429 cases in total with 25 deaths, and more than half of those infected already recovered.

US

The number of COVID-19 deaths in the United States topped 70,000 on Tuesday, representing over a quarter of all the virus deaths reported worldwide.

The US death toll reached 70,115 as of 2:15 pm (1815 GMT), according to the Center for Systems Science and Engineering (CSSE) at Johns Hopkins University.

President Donald Trump said the White House coronavirus task force will wind down as the country moves into a second phase that focuses on the aftermath of the outbreak.

"We can't keep our country closed for the next five years," Trump said, when asked why it was time to wind down the task force.

Earlier, Vice-President Mike Pence, who leads the task force, said Trump was starting to look at Memorial Day on May 25 as the time to shift management of the response to the pandemic. 

Meanwhile, Texas Governor Greg Abbott said nail and hair salons, along with barbershops, can open on Friday, while gyms and office buildings will be allowed to open on May 18 with restriction.

In another development, health officials in Illinois' Cook county, which includes the city of Chicago, will probe deaths involving heart attacks and pneumonia for indications of COVID-19 as far back as November, a county spokeswoman said on Wednesday.

Separately, the lead US airport security agency is weighing the possibility of requiring masks or face coverings for passengers who pass through checkpoints, according to a US official and two people familiar with the deliberations. News of potential changes came as the Senate Commerce Committee was set to hold a hearing Wednesday on the state of the aviation industry.

Italy

Italy on Tuesday maintained a declining trend in active COVID-19 infections and intensive care cases, one day after it eased the national lockdown, according to the latest numbers released by the Civil Protection Department.

Health authorities registered 98,467 active infections on Tuesday, down from 99,980 a day earlier, continuing the trend since April 20, when the country reported a drop in total active infections for the first time.

Tuesday also saw 2,352 additional recoveries, bringing the number of total recoveries to 85,231.

An additional 236 deaths were reported in the past 24 hours, pushing the death toll to 29,315.

Of those infected, 1,427 are in intensive care, down by 52 compared to Monday, and 16,270 are hospitalized in normal wards, down by 553. The rest, or 82 percent of those who tested positive, are in isolation at home.

The total number of COVID-19 infections, fatalities and recoveries in Italy now stands at 213,013.

READ MORE: Italy starts slow return to normality, fears resurgence of virus

Spain

The number of daily fatalities from the coronavirus in Spain picked up on Wednesday as health authorities registered 244 deaths, up from below 200 on each of the three previous days.

The health ministry said the overall coronavirus death toll rose to 25,817 on Wednesday from 25,613 the day before. The number of diagnosed coronavirus cases rose to 220,325 from 219,329 on Tuesday, the ministry said.

Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez looks set to secure enough parliamentary votes later Wednesday to extend a state of emergency for two more weeks as the country exits a lockdown imposed to control one of the world's worst coronavirus outbreaks.

"Lifting the state of emergency would be a total, unpardonable mistake," Sanchez said in a parliamentary speech.

If approved, it would be the fourth two-week extension to the state of emergency.

People wearing face masks walk over marks on the ground meant to encourage social distancing to protect against the spread of the coronavirus, at the Gare Saint-Lazare train station in Paris, France, May 4, 2020. (MIICHEL EULER / AP)

France

The Paris public transport system will deploy as many as 2,000 police officers to enforce rules on social distancing and the wearing of masks when France starts to ease lockdown measures on May 11.

The operator of metros, buses and commuter trains in the French capital, known as the RATP, has also increased its cleaning budget by at least 70 percent and is testing methods like anti-viral sprays in buses, according to Chief Executive Officer Catherine Guillouard.

France reported more than 300 additional coronavirus-linked deaths for the second day running on Tuesday, but the people in hospital with the infection and those in intensive care units  fell at their steepest rate on record.

After increasing by only 135 on Sunday - the lowest tally in more than a month - the number of people who have died from a coronavirus infection in France climbed by 306 on Monday and by 330 on Tuesday, bringing the death toll to 25,531, the fifth-highest in the world.

In a statement, the French health ministry  said the number of people in intensive care units fell to 3,430 from 3,696 on Monday, an unprecedented decline of 7.2 percent and lower for the 27th consecutive day.

The number of people in hospital with coronavirus fell 3 percent, also at its sharpest rate ever seen since the outbreak, to 24,775, continuing a now uninterrupted three-week fall.

Total confirmed cases rose by 1,104 to 132,967, well below the 3,000 President Emmanuel Macron's government has set as the upper limit before it would reverse a decision to partially lift the lockdown next Monday.

Macron said it was unlikely that French people would be able to undertake major foreign trips this summer and that even trips within Europe may have to be limited in order to reduce the risk of a resurgence of the coronavirus epidemic.

Belgium

Belgium reported 339 additional deaths from the coronavirus pandemic, up from 97 the prior day, for a total of 8,339. 

The surge in fatalities is a result of revisions, as 229 hospital deaths from March 24 through May 4 were added to the tally. None of those were cases confirmed by a diagnostic test for the virus, but 71 could be confirmed by a CT scan. 

The remaining fatalities are suspected cases based on medical interpretation of symptoms displayed.

Nigeria

The number of coronavirus infections in Nigeria surged to 2,950 after 148 new cases were reported, the country's disease control agency has said.

The death toll from the COVID-19 rose to 98 after six more deaths were added, the Nigeria Center for Disease Control (NCDC) said in an update late Tuesday.

The number of recoveries increased to 481, while the number of active cases stood at 2,371.

The NCDC attributed the continuous rise in the number of infections to the increased capacity for testing across the country, it said in a situation report.

Russia

Russian President Vladimir Putin will later on Wednesday hear details of a government plan to gradually ease restrictions imposed over the coronavirus crisis, the Kremlin said.

The country’s coronavirus crisis response centre said earlier on Wednesday that the number of cases had risen by more than 10,000 for a fourth consecutive day and now stood at 165,929.

Meanwhile, Russian Culture Minister Olga Lyubimova was diagnosed with COVID-19, the TASS news agency reported.

Czech Republic

Immunity to the novel coronavirus is building up very slowly in the Czech Republic, with likely no more than 4-5 percent of the population covered, the health ministry said on Wednesday, after mass testing for antibodies that started last month.

The preliminary results from the study found immunity levels were likely lower in the two biggest cities of Prague and Brno.

Overall, it found 107 positive cases after testing 26,549, making it one of the largest studies in Europe. The study estimated the number of people infected by the virus but not showing symptoms could range from 27-38 pecent.

The Czech Republic is now reopening in phases after imposing travel curbs and shutting shops and restaurants in March, and Health Minister Adam Vojtech said the study would not change plans.

The country has recorded 7,899 cases of the virus, with more than half recovered and 258 dead. The number of active cases has steadily declined to 3,624 reported on Wednesday morning. 

El Salvador

Salvadoran President Nayib Bukele announced still tougher measures on Tuesday to curb the coronavirus pandemic, including shopping trips limited to twice a week.

The new measures take effect for 15 days from Thursday in the Central American nation, which has recorded 587 infections and 14 deaths and already had some of the region's strictest curbs.

Shopping trips will be regulated on the basis of the numbers on people's identity documents, Bukele said in a televised speech, and they will no longer be allowed to cross municipal boundaries, even to buy food or medicine.

Brazil

Brazil hit a record for daily coronavirus deaths on Tuesday, indicating that the nation is still in the thick of its battle against the virus, even as some areas of the country are beginning to open up.

According to the Health Ministry, there have been 6,935 new cases of the coronavirus in Brazil since Monday evening and 600 more deaths. The previous record of 474 deaths came on April 28.

The nation has now tallied 114,715 confirmed cases of the virus and 7,921 deaths, the ministry said, making it by far the hardest-hit country in Latin America. 

São Luis became Brazil's first major city to begin a coronavirus "lockdown" on Tuesday with another, Fortaleza, saying it would follow suit on Friday, as local health services struggle to cope with the pandemic.

Tuesday's lockdown measure covers São Luis and parts of three other municipalities with a total population of around 1.3 million people in the poor northeastern state of Maranhão. The lockdown, which lasts until May 14, forbids people from going outside except to obtain groceries, medications or cleaning supplies.

On Friday, Fortaleza in Ceara state, among the hardest-hit of all Brazilian cities, will enter a 20-day lockdown period, authorities there announced on Tuesday.

Relatives of hospitalized patients stand across the street as they wait in hopes of receiving news of their loved ones, outside a public hospital treating both COVID-19 and other patients, in the Iztapalapa district of Mexico City, May 5, 2020. (REBECCA BLACKWELL / AP)

Mexico

Mexican President Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador said on Tuesday that he hoped to gradually reopen productive and social activities on May 17 in light of the evidence of a slowdown in the spread of COVID-19 in the country.

The president said that activities could be generally resumed at the end of the month, provided that the health situation in the country did not worsen.

Hugo Lopez-Gatell, the undersecretary of prevention and health promotion, said that the contagion in Mexico has been reduced between 60 and 75 percent thanks to social distancing and other measures.

Mexico registered 1,120 new coronavirus cases on Tuesday, bringing the total number to 26,025, the health ministry said at an evening press conference.

The country also reported 236 new deaths, raising the death toll to 2,507.

Peru

Peru's Ministry of Health on Tuesday said 3,817 new cases were reported in the last 24 hours, bringing the tally to 51,189.

The ministry said in its official daily report that as of day 51 of the state of emergency, the country has registered a total of 1,444 deaths.

According to the ministry, out of all the cases reported, 5,509 people had been hospitalized and 709 were in intensive care units. Nationwide, 406,579 COVID-19 tests had been conducted.

Colombia

Colombia's mandatory quarantine will be extended by a further two weeks until May 25 as it tries to contain the spread of the novel coronavirus, President Ivan Duque said on Tuesday, although additional sectors will be allowed to start returning to work.

Industrial sectors and sales of cars and other items can restart from May 11. Manufacturing and construction had already been allowed to return to work.

Municipalities without confirmed cases can also begin reopening, Duque said. Large events will still be banned, as will the opening of bars and clubs.

Children aged between 6 and 17 can go outside three times a week for 30 minutes, Duque added. Those 14 and under need to be accompanied by an adult who is not part of a high-risk group.

The Andean country has reported more than 8,600 confirmed cases, leading to 378 deaths.

South Africa

South Africa on Tuesday reported 10 more deaths related with COVID-19, bringing the death toll to 148.

As of Tuesday, the total number of confirmed COVID-19 cases in South Africa stood at 7,572, up by 352 from Monday's figure, Heath Minister Zweli Mkhize said in a statement.

Western Cape province sees the highest number of confirmed cases, with 3,609 cases, followed by Gauteng province with 1,697, and KwaZulu-Natal province with 1,142.

Senegal

Senegalese Ministry of Health and Social Action announced Wednesday 104 new confirmed cases of COVID-19, marking the first time the daily increase exceeded 100 in the West African nation.

During the daily briefing of the pandemic, Senegalese Director General of Public Health Doctor Marie Khemesse Ngom Ndiaye said Senegal had carried out 1,182 tests in the past 24 hours, among which the health authorities detected 104 positive cases, including 100 follow-up contact cases and four community transmission cases.

Algeria

Algerian health authorities on Tuesday reported 190 new cases of COVID-19 in the past 24 hours, bringing the country's tally to 4,838. 

Head of COVID-19 Detection and Follow up Commission, Djamel Fourar, said five more deaths were registered, pushing the death toll to 470.

Fourar added that the total number of recoveries has risen to 2,067.

Sudan

Sudan on Tuesday recorded 100 new COVID-19 cases, bringing the total number of infections to 778, Sudan's health ministry said.

Four more deaths were confirmed, bringing the death toll to 45, the ministry said in a statement.

The ministry added that nine more patients had recovered, taking the total number of recoveries to 70.

Ireland

Ireland on Tuesday eased some of its lockdown measures that were introduced more than a month ago following the COVID-19 outbreak in the country.

Under the relaxed rules, people are allowed to travel up to five kilometers from their homes for the purpose of exercise, up from two kilometers. Medically vulnerable people, referring to those aged over 70 or with serious underlying health conditions, are also allowed to leave their homes for a brief period of time for exercise or a ride provided they avoid all contact with others.

On Tuesday night, the Irish Department of Health announced that 211 more COVID-19 cases and another 23 deaths were reported in the country in the past 24 hours, bringing the country's tally to 21,983 and the death toll to 1,339.

People play in a park in Dublin, Ireland, May 5, 2020 as the country eased some of its lockdown measures that were imposed to curb the spread of the coronavirus. (PHOTO / XINHUA)

Canada

Canada will invest C$252 million (US$179.5 million) to help farmers and food processors weather the coronavirus outbreak, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said on Tuesday.

Tuesday's announcement, he said, was a "first step," but falls "short of what the sector needs and will lead to delays in the ability of agriculture firms to address the impacts of COVID-19."

The money can be used to buy personal protective equipment for workers, adapt to health protocols, and support other social distancing measures, Trudeau said.

Meanwhile, Canada has dispatched nurses to Gull Bay First Nation, a remote northern indigenous community hit hard by the coronavirus, to conduct testing and provide healthcare support, the local leader said on Tuesday.

Canada has so far reported 61,961 confirmed cases and 4,037 deaths. 

Egypt

Egypt's daily new COVID-19 infections set a new record with 388 cases reported on Tuesday, raising the tally in the country to 7,201.

In a statement, Khaled Megahed, spokesman for the health ministry, said 16 more patients died Tuesday, bringing the death toll to 452.

Meanwhile, 98 more cases of recovery were reported on Tuesday, bringing the total number of recoveries to 1,730.

Sierra Leone

Sierra Leone's tally of COVID-19 cases has risen to 199 after 21 new cases were confirmed on Tuesday, local health authorities said.

The West Africa country has so far recorded 43 recovery cases and 11 deaths, it added.

The country is scheduled to lift its 3-day nationwide lockdown on Wednesday.  

Greece

The Greek health ministry on Tuesday reported 10 new COVID-19 cases and zero deaths in the past 24 hours, one day after the country began a partial lifting of lockdown measures.

The total number of COVID-19 infections in Greece now stands at 2,642 infections. The country's death toll remains at 146, a spokesman for the health ministry said.

Mali

Malian health authorites reported 32 new confirmed cases of COVID-19 on Tuesday, bringing the number of confirmed cases to 612 in the country.

Three more deaths were recorded, and five more patients tested negative and were declared cured after treatment. A total of 2,013 close contacts are under observation by the country's health authorities.

 So far, the West African country has reported 612 positive cases, including 32 deaths and 228 recoveries since the beginning of the pandemic in the country on March 25.

Guinea-Bissau

Guinea-Bissau on Tuesday reported 62 new confirmed cases of COVID-19, bringing the country's total number of confirmed cases to 475, health authorities said.

Five government members of Guinea-Bissau have tested positive for COVID-19, including Prime Minister Nuno Gomes Na Biam, Minister of Public Health Antonio Deuna, Minister of the Interior Botche Cande, the Secretary of State for Public Order Mario Fambe, and the Secretary of State for Regional Integration Monica Buaro da Costa.

So far, Guinea-Bissau has reported 475 confirmed cases, including 19 recoveries and one death.

Morocco

A total of 166 new COVID-19 cases were confirmed in Morocco on Tuesday, bringing the total tally to 5,219, announced Director of Epidemiology at the Ministry of Health Mohamed El Youbi at his daily briefing.

The number of recoveries increased to 1,838 after 185 more patients were confirmed to have recovered.

El Youbi said two more deaths were reported in the past 24 hours, pushing the death toll to 181.

Botswana

Botswana is considering slowly reopening its economy following a five weeks lockdown which will end on Thursday.

The country's legislators will convene an emergency parliament meeting on Wednesday to discuss new regulations expected to usher in the reopening of businesses and schools under strict supervision.

Somalia

Somalia's health ministry on Tuesday confirmed 79 new cases of COVID-19, bringing the total number of infections in the country to 835.

Health Minister Fawziya Abikar said three deaths were recorded, bringing the death toll to 38.

The minister added that 14 patients have recovered from hospitals in the past 24 hours, bringing the total number of recoveries to 75. 

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