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Wednesday, June 10, 2020, 22:19
EU plans 'gradual and partial' easing of travel ban from July 1
By Agencies
Wednesday, June 10, 2020, 22:19 By Agencies

A German policeman speaks to a driver trying to cross the Swiss-German border in Weil am Rhein, near Basel, Switzerland, on March 16, 2020. (SEBASTIEN BOZON / AFP)

NEW YORK / WASHINGTON / BUENOS AIRES / MEXICO CITY / TORONTO / OTTAWA / GENEVA / PARIS / ROME / MADRID / SAO PAULO / LIMA / BERLIN / LONDON / CAPE TOWN / SOFIA / BUDAPEST / MOSCOW - The European Union plans a “gradual and partial” easing of a ban on most travel to the bloc as of July 1, a top official said.

A curb on non-essential travel to the EU is due to lapse on June 15 after being introduced in mid-March for 30 days and extended twice as Europe stepped up the fight against the coronavirus pandemic.

The European Commission, the EU’s executive arm, plans to make a recommendation to the bloc’s national governments as soon as Thursday on another prolongation.

A proposed easing of the restriction as of next month will take “into account a number of principles and criteria” and be “based on a common, coordinated approach by member states,” EU foreign-policy chief Josep Borrell told reporters on Wednesday in Brussels.

Europe is seeking to balance competing desires to revive domestic economies as the summer tourist season gets underway and to guard against a second wave of infections.

The commission has urged internal EU borders to be reopened before external ones and picked up support for this position from the bloc’s national governments.

Germany

Germany will lift border controls with Switzerland, France, Austria and Denmark on June 15, Interior Minister Horst Seehofer said on Wednesday, adding the government would reconsider if the coronavirus situation deteriorates.

Seehofer also said existing rules for non-EU citizens wanting to come to Germany would be extended until the end of June.

Interior Minister Horst Seehofer said existing rules for non-EU citizens wanting to come to Germany would be extended until the end of June

Separately, Germany will from June 16 relax entry restrictions for seasonal workers from European Union states and Schengen countries, a government source said on Wednesday. The new rules will apply until Dec 31. Reuters had seen a draft of the plans on Tuesday.

Germany’s new coronavirus cases held steady, remaining far below the thousands seen at the height of the crisis just over two months ago.

There were 397 new cases in the 24 hours through Wednesday morning, bringing the tally to 186,506, according to data from Johns Hopkins University. That compares with 359 the previous day and almost 7,000 at the peak of the pandemic in late March. Fatalities increased by 41 to 8,736. 

The reproduction factor of the virus, known as R-naught, rose to 1.11 on Monday from 1.05 the day before, according to the latest estimate from the Robert Koch Institute (RKI). The RKI didn’t publish a daily report on Tuesday.

According to data from RKI on Wednesday, the number of confirmed cases rose by 318 to 184,861. The reported death toll rose by 18 to 8,729.

Streets vendors and shoppers wearing face masks fill a street in Lima, Peru, on  June 8, 2020 amid a state of emergency imposed to curb the spread of COVID-19. (MARTIN MEJIA / AP)

The World Health Organization's (WHO) regional director for the Americas Carissa Etienne said on Tuesday that data has raised concerns that novel coronavirus cases are surging in new places in Latin America as some areas show "exponential" rises.

Etienne, who heads the WHO's regional branch the Pan American Health Organization (PAHO), cited a rising number of cases in countries, including Mexico, Panama, Costa Rica, Brazil, Peru, Chile, Venezuela, Haiti and Suriname.

WHO's regional director for the Americas cited a rising number of cases in countries, including Mexico, Panama, Costa Rica, Brazil, Peru, Chile, Venezuela, Haiti and Suriname

WHO Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said that more than 100,000 cases of COVID-19 have been reported to the WHO each day in the past five days, and the Americas continues to account for the most cases.

The Americas have become the major hotspot for the pandemic as the outbreak improves in Europe and Asia, with the United States and Brazil leading the world in reported cases. As of June 8, the Americas have reported 3.3 million cases of coronavirus cases, or nearly half the global total, Etienne said.

Until there is a vaccine or better treatment, she called for a combination of social distancing and initiatives to test, track and isolate coronavirus patients to combat the pandemic.

ALSO READ: WHO: Virus spreaders who never show symptoms 'very rare'

PAHO will continue supporting Brazil's efforts to curb the outbreak even though its federal government is not abiding by WHO recommendations on social distancing, and its President Jair Bolsonaro has said he might follow the US Trump administration's example and withdraw from the Geneva-based United Nations health agency.

According to the latest WHO figure, globally as of Wednesday afternoon, there have been 6,287,771 confirmed cases of COVID-19, including 379,941 deaths, reported to the WHO.

The United States remains the hardest-hit country by the virus, with a total of 1,798,330 confirmed cases and 105,008 deaths reported to the WHO. Brazil, the second hardest-hit country in terms of the confirmed cases, has so far reported 526,447 infections, with 29,937 deaths.  

Canada-US border restrictions

Canada and the United States are set to extend a ban on non-essential travel to late July as both countries seek to control the spread of the coronavirus, according to three sources familiar with the matter, Reuters reports.

Washington and Ottawa introduced month-long restrictions in March and renewed them in April and May. The ban, currently due to expire on June 21, does not affect trade.

A spokeswoman for Canadian Deputy Prime Minister Chrystia Freeland, who has overall responsibility for ties with the United States, said both sides agreed the ban had worked well.

Data show that while the outbreak is slowing across the 10 Canadian provinces, new cases show little sign of abating in Toronto and Montreal, the country's two largest cities. A majority of provinces have privately told Ottawa they are reluctant to resume non-essential travel, one of the sources said.

Argentina

Argentina confirmed more than 1,000 new cases of coronavirus on Tuesday as the rate of new infections continued to rise just days after it extended lockdown measures in the capital Buenos Aires, the country's largest city and epicenter for the virus.

Argentina's Health Ministry logged 1,141 new cases in the past 24 hours, as well 24 deaths, pushing its totals to 24,761 cases and 717 deaths since the outbreak began in early March.

Argentina last week extended a mandatory lockdown in Buenos Aires, which accounts for the country's highest concentration of confirmed infections. Other areas have moved to "mandatory and preventive social distancing."

Much of the nation had been under a shelter-in-place order since March 20. The country has a commercial flight ban until Sept 1, one of the world's strictest travel measures during the pandemic.

Austria

Austria is lifting checks at its border with Italy and ending quarantine requirements for arrivals from 30 other European countries as of June 16, Foreign Minister Alexander Schallenberg said on Wednesday.

The lifting of restrictions will not apply to Britain, Sweden, Spain and Portugal, Schallenberg said. Austria will continue to advise against travel to Lombardy, Italy's hardest-hit region, with a partial travel warning, he added.

Brazil

Brazil on Tuesday restored detailed COVID-19 data to its official national website following controversy over the removal of cumulative totals and a ruling by a Supreme Court justice that the full set of information be reinstated.

The official website reverted to showing cumulative totals of deaths and infections - as well as breakdowns by state - as it had done until last week.

On Tuesday evening, the latest daily numbers were uploaded to the site. They showed 32,091 new infections of coronavirus in the previous 24 hours for a cumulative total of 739,503 cases, and 1,272 more deaths, bringing the toll to 38,406 dead, the third highest after the United States and Britain.

President Jair Bolsonaro said the WHO had lost credibility in its handling of the pandemic and that Brazil could pull out of the international body.

Sao Paulo's health department reported a record number of COVID-19 deaths for one day, just as the mayor said shops could resume business for four hours a day as of Wednesday in the state capital, and malls could open again on Thursday pending agreement on conditions to protect shoppers.

Rio de Janeiro, Brazil's second-largest city, also started to ease quarantine rules, including by allowing soccer games without spectators. But a judge on Monday ordered the resumption of quarantine measures, allowing only essential services to operate due to the state's surging death toll of over 7,000 fatalities.

Bulgaria

Bulgaria will extend the epidemic emergency until the end of June to fight the spread of the coronavirus after an increase in new registered cases, Prime Minister Boyko Borissov said on Wednesday.

The Balkan country has eased most of the restrictive measures it imposed in the middle of March, allowing restaurants and shopping malls to reopen. Borissov said the government did not plan to introduce new restrictions for the time being but appealed to people to keep social distancing.

"The rise in the coronavirus infections is based on cluster outbreaks, which we are dealing with quickly, without closing the cities, without spiking panic or fear," Borissov said, adding that the extension was proposed to avoid any escalation in cases that could overwhelm hospitals.

Bulgaria has so far recorded 2,889 coronavirus cases, of whom 167 have died. Over the past 24 hours it recorded 79 new cases.

Canada

Ontario has started testing about 8,000 migrant farm workers for COVID-19 in a hard-hit rural region of the province after two young workers died and the coronavirus was found on at least 17 farms, according to local health authorities.

The Ontario outbreak has centered on farms in the Windsor-Essex region, across from the Michigan border. Canadian farmers rely on 60,000 temporary foreign workers predominantly from Latin America and the Caribbean to plant and harvest crops.

About 200 farm workers have tested positive for the coronavirus, said Wajid Ahmed, medical officer of health for Windsor-Essex.

Cyprus

Cyprus reopened its airports to international travel on Tuesday as part of its third and most important phase of the easing of restrictions, officials reported.

Travelers from 13 countries - Greece, Malta, Bulgaria, Norway, Austria, Finland, Slovenia, Hungary, Israel, Denmark, Germany, Slovakia and Lithuania - can now fly in without restrictions. Those arriving from Switzerland, Poland, Romania, Croatia, Estonia and the Czech Republic will not be required to present a health certificate after June 19.

Travelers from six other EU countries will have to present a negative COVID-19 test certificate until further notice.

Along with airports, other important facilities were also allowed to reopen on Tuesday, such as ports and marinas, shopping malls and department stores, catering facilities inside hotels, indoor restaurants and cafes, theaters and cinemas, kindergartens, nurseries and outdoor playgrounds.  

Denmark

Denmark, the first country outside Asia to ease its coronavirus lockdown, said on Wednesday the spread of COVID-19 has not accelerated since it entered its second phase of reopening society last month.

The Nordic country allowed restaurants, cafes and malls to resume business during May in the second phase of easing lockdown restrictions. In April it had allowed day care centers, schools, hair dressers and some small businesses to reopen.

"There is no sign yet of noticeable changes in the extent of contagion despite the gradual opening of society in April and early May," Danish health authorities said in a report on Wednesday, adding that the number of confirmed new infections had continued to fall despite more tests being carried out.

The number of coronavirus-related deaths has hovered between zero and four per day in the last three weeks.. The number of hospitalizations has fallen to fewer than 100 since the beginning of June.

As of Tuesday, the number of confirmed COVID-19 cases in Denmark stands at 11,962, with 593 deaths, according to the latest official figure published by the Statens Serum Institut. 

Denmark's nursing home residents, hospital patients, and patients in psychiatric wards will soon be allowed to receive more visitors, according to a press release from the Ministry of Health on Tuesday.

Egypt

Egypt confirmed on Tuesday 1,385 new COVID-19 cases, raising the country’s tally to 36,829, said the Health Ministry. 

It was the 13th day in a row for Egypt's daily COVID-19 infections to exceed 1,000.

Also on Tuesday, 35 more deaths were recorded, bringing the death toll to 1,306, the ministry’s spokesman Khaled Megahed said in a statement.

The number of recoveries rose to 9,786 after 411 more patients were completely cured and discharged from hospitals, Megahed said. 

The capital Cairo and the nearby provinces of Giza and Qalioubiya have reported the highest numbers of COVID-19 infections in Egypt, whereas the provinces of the Red Sea, Matrouh and South Sinai see the lowest infections, according to the statement.

Ethiopia

Ethiopia's confirmed COVID-19 cases reached 2,336 after 190 new cases were confirmed on Tuesday, the Ethiopian Federal Ministry of Health (FMoH) said.

The ministry said that 18 more patients have recovered on Tuesday, bringing the total number of recoveries to 379.

The ministry also disclosed that five more deaths were recorded, raising the death toll to 32.

France

France will enter a 4-month transition after the end of the sanitary emergency state, government spokeswoman Sibeth Ndiaye said on Wednesday following the weekly cabinet meeting.

While the sanitary emergency state, which gives extra powers to authorities to curb the propagation of the coronavirus epidemic, will end on July 10, some exceptional provisions will remain as part of the transition, Ndiaye told reporters.

“Sanitary conditions have changed,” Ndiaye said. “The epidemic can be considered as contained” even as “the virus continues to circulate, even discreetly, and we need to remain armed.”

During the transition, the prime minister will retain powers over movements and access to transportation, she said. The prime minister will also be able to set up extra rules regarding large gatherings.

In case of a second lock-down, parliamentary approval would be required, Ndiaye added.

France's coronavirus death toll stands at 29,296, the fifth-highest in the world. On Tuesday, the number of people in intensive care fell below 1,000 for the first time since March 19. 

The number of daily confirmed coronavirus infections increased by 403 to 154,59.

A mother and her child look at a penguin swimming at the Paris Zoological Park in the Bois de Vincennes, Paris, France, June 9, 2020, a day after the park reopened after being closed for nearly three months due to COVID-19. (GAO JING / XINHUA)

Hungary

Hungary and Croatia will lift restrictions on cross-border travel from Friday as the pandemic has subsided and remains under control in both countries, Hungarian foreign minister Peter Szijjarto said on Wednesday.

Szijjarto said in a Facebook video that previous border openings with Austria, Slovakia, Serbia, Slovenia and the Czech Republic had not caused a spike in new cases.

As of Wednesday, out of a population of 10 million, Hungary had registered 4,027 infections, including 551 deaths, 2,355 recoveries and 1,121 active cases.

Italy

Deaths from the COVID-19 epidemic in Italy climbed by 79 on Tuesday against 65 the day before, the Civil Protection Agency said, while the daily tally of new cases was broadly stable at 283 against 280 on Monday.

The total death toll now stands at 34,043, the agency said, the fourth highest in the world after those of the United States, Britain and Brazil.

The Civil Protection Agency said that of the 79 newly recorded deaths, 32 had actually occurred in previous days in the central region of Abruzzo, but had not previously been reported by Abruzzo's authorities.

The total number of confirmed cases in Italy since the start of its outbreak now amounts to 235,561, the seventh highest global tally behind those of the United States, Russia, Brazil, Spain, Britain and India.

People registered as currently carrying the illness fell to 32,872 from 34,730 the day before.

Kenya

Kenya's Ministry of Health on Tuesday confirmed 127 new COVID-19 cases, bringing the total number of infections in the country to 2,989.

Rashid Aman, the ministry's chief administrative secretary, said that three deaths were reported in the last 24 hours, pushing the death toll to 88.

Aman said that 24 more patients were discharged from health facilities, bringing the total of recoveries to 873. 

Aman also said that since the outbreak began in Kenya, 72 frontline health care workers have contracted the virus, of which 19 were admitted to health facilities.

Meanwhile on Tuesday, Kenya's stock market launched a mobile phone-based trading platform to sustain trading during the pandemic and encourage more residents to become investors.

READ MORE: Africa can learn from others on reopening economies

Latvia

The state of emergency declared in Latvia in mid-March to contain the spread of COVID-19 ended on Tuesday, but a number of precautionary measures remained in place to keep the pandemic in check.

People are still asked to follow rules such as practicing social distancing, thorough hand washing and wearing face masks on public transport, government officials said at a news conference.

Prime Minister Krisjanis Karins noted that the coronavirus has been present in Latvia for nearly 16 weeks, but thanks to the collective effort of the people, the country has managed to contain the spread of the infection, which has enabled the government to ease the restrictions.

Health Minister Ilze Vinkele said that the distancing requirement will remain in force at least until the end of this year. 

According to the Latvian Center for Disease Prevention and Control, by Tuesday, Latvia had recorded 1,089 COVID-19 cases and 26 deaths.

Mexico

New coronavirus cases in Mexico are expected to keep rising, a top health official said on Tuesday, even as the government pushes a gradual reopening of the economy launched at the beginning of this month.

"We still haven't reached the maximum point," Deputy Health Minister Hugo Lopez-Gatell said at a morning news conference. "For several more weeks, we will keep announcing there are more cases today than yesterday."

His assessment was largely echoed by officials from the WHO and its PAHO during a webcast news conference later in the day. 

Government figures released on Tuesday night showed nearly 600 deaths added to the official count as total infections rose to 124,301. Overall, reported deaths stood at 14,649.

Mexican officials have gradually raised the projections of total fatalities and now forecast up to 35,000 deaths through October. The government previously predicted the pandemic would peak in early May.

A medical worker analyses a COVID-19 sample collected using a test kit made in Morocco, in the capital Rabat, June 9, 2020. (CHADI / XINHUA)

Morocco

Morocco on Tuesday announced a one-month extension of the state of health emergency until July 10 to curb COVID-19.

The cabinet, which convened a meeting via video conference, adopted a bill on extending the state of health emergency from June 10 to July 10, said government spokesman Saaid Amzazi in a press briefing. 

The bill also insists on the gradual easing of confinement measures, taking into consideration the differences in the epidemiological situation between the regions, prefectures and provinces, he added.

Moroccan Prime Minister Saad Eddine El Othmani will provide more details about the decision during a parliamentary hearing session scheduled on Wednesday, Amzazi said.

The Moroccan Health Ministry on Tuesday reported 135 new infections with COVID-19, bringing the total number of cases in the North African country to 8,437. The death toll grew to 210 after two more fatalities were recorded in the last 24 hours.

Mozambique

Mozambique's health authorities said Tuesday that the cumulative number of people tested positive for the coronavirus rose to 453 in the country after 20 new cases were confirmed in the past 24 hours.

"There are five more fully recovered patients in the country reported in the last 24 hours. Thus, the number of recovered people rose from 131 to 136," said Rosa Marlene, National Director of Public Health at a daily press conference

Netherlands

Workers in protective equipment oversaw the gassing of 10,000 mother mink and around 50,000 mink pups on a farm in the southern Dutch town of De Mortel on Tuesday over fears they could infect humans with the new coronavirus.

The Kuunders farm is one of 10 mink farms in the Netherlands where the ferret-like animals, which are bred for their fur, have been ordered culled after some tested positive for the disease. The animal outbreaks, which originated from human handlers, were first noticed in April.

In May, the Dutch government reported two cases where mink then transmitted the disease to humans, in what are the only animal-to-human cases on record.

Pieter Jacobs of the Dutch Foods and Wares authority, which is overseeing the cull, estimated that all told, 75,000 mothers and 300,000 pups will be killed on the 10 infected farms, with four additional possible cases being investigated. There are some 140 mink farms in the Netherlands, despite an impending 2024 ban.

Peru

Peru's Health Ministry on Tuesday said confirmed cases of the new coronavirus have risen above 200,000, with 5,738 deaths.

A spokesman for the ministry said a total of 203,736 cases were now confirmed. The number of infections in the country is the second highest in Latin America, after Brazil, and eighth globally.

ALSO READ: WHO now says role of silent virus spreaders remains unclear

Russia

Russia recorded 8,404 new COVID-19 cases in the past 24 hours, taking its tally to 493,657, the country's coronavirus response center said in a statement Wednesday.

The death toll rose by 216 to 6,358 while the number of recoveries increased by 10,386 to 252,783, according to the statement.

Moscow, the country's worst-hit region, reported 1,195 newly confirmed cases, taking the tally in the Russian capital to 199,785.

Somalia

Somalia's Health Ministry on Tuesday confirmed 48 new COVID-19 cases, bringing the country's tally to 2,416

Health Minister Fawziya Abikar said 19 more patients have recovered in the last 24 hours, bringing the total number of recoveries to 489.

The minister said one more death was reported, bringing the total number of fatalities to 85.

South Africa

South Africa will continue to "take whatever action is necessary" to safeguard the lives of its citizens amid the COVID-19 scourge, President Cyril Ramaphosa said on Tuesday.

Monday "marked a solemn milestone in our country's fight against the coronavirus, as the number of our fellow citizens who have lost their lives to this disease passed the 1,000 mark reaching 1,080," Ramaphosa said.

If necessary, the government will impose a higher alert level in specific parts of the country to prevent a rapid increase in cases, Ramaphosa said.

Alcohol abuse is straining the healthcare system in the Western Cape province, South Africa's epicenter of the COVID-19 outbreak, authorities warned on Tuesday.

A number of hospitals in the province have seen a significant spike in trauma cases linked to alcohol abuse since the government lifted a ban on alcohol on June 1, Western Cape Governor Allan Winde said.

As of Tuesday, the province had reported 34,819 confirmed cases and 890 deaths, in comparison with 52,991 cases and 1,162 deaths nationwide.

Teachers guides a student on how to wear a face mask at a primary school in Barcelona, Spain, June 8, 2020. (EMILIO MORENATTI / AP)

Spain

Wearing masks in public will remain mandatory in Spain after the country's state of emergency ends on June 21 until a cure or vaccine for the coronavirus is found, Health Minister Salvador Illa said on Tuesday.     

Spaniards must continue to wear masks indoors and outdoors if they cannot guarantee a 1.5-meters distance from other people as part of a decree to govern conditions after the lockdown is lifted, Illa said at a news conference.

READ MORE: WHO recommends wider use of face masks to curb COVID-19

Three weeks ago, Spain made masks mandatory in all public spaces where adequate social distancing cannot be maintained. The rule applies to everybody over the age of six.

The Ministry of Health, Consumer Affairs and Social Welfare on Tuesday reported no deaths from COVID-19 for a second straight day. According to the ministry, the death toll remained at 27,136. 

A total of 84 new infections were reported, the ministry said, bringing the tally to 241,966.

Sweden

The Public Health Agency of Sweden, the country's top health authority, will stop holding daily briefings that had provided updates on the country’s COVID-19 infection rate and death toll.

The decision comes amid a furor over Sweden’s strategy to fight the pandemic, after state epidemiologist Anders Tegnell acknowledged his approach was flawed. Instead of every day, updates for the press will now be provided only on Tuesdays and Thursdays.

Sweden’s softer lockdown has resulted in one of the world’s highest death rates relative to its population. But both Tegnell and Prime Minister Stefan Lofven have insisted there’s no need to change strategies. The controversy had turned the briefings into public grillings during which Tegnell was increasingly pressed to explain himself.

UK

Two drugs used to treat inflammatory diseases and cancer are being tested as potential therapies for patients with COVID-19, the Universities of Birmingham and Oxford announced on Wednesday.

Izana Bioscience's Namilumab, a monoclonal antibody already in late-stage tests to treat rheumatoid arthritis and an inflammatory disease called ankylosing spondylitis, is one of the two drugs that are being tested.

The second drug, Infliximab (CT-P13), developed by Slough-based Celltrion Healthcare UK, is an anti-tumour necrosis factor (TNF) therapy. It is used to treat eight autoimmune diseases including rheumatoid arthritis and irritable bowel syndrome.

Meanwhile, British Prime Minister Boris Johnson will set out details on Wednesday of which sectors of the economy will be allowed to resume on June 15, including the reopening of zoos and drive-in cinemas in England.

June 15 has already been flagged as the next stage of that process, and is when non-essential retailers and secondary schools will be allowed to open again, albeit with strict rules about the need for social distancing.

Chairing Tuesday's Downing Street daily briefing, Business Secretary Alok Sharma confirmed that retail outlets that were forced to close during lockdown will be allowed to reopen from June 15, provided that they complied with COVID-19 secure guidelines.

Another 286 COVID-19 were registered in Britain as of Monday afternoon, bringing the death toll in the country to 40,883, the British Department of Health and Social Care said Tuesday. The total number of confirmed cases rose by 1,387 to 289,140, according to the department.

Sharma said the R-rate of infection remains below one.

US

Anthony Fauci, the top US infectious disease specialist, has called the coronavirus pandemic his “worst nightmare” and warned that the deadly outbreak is far from over. 

Coronavirus cases in the US increased by 17,145 from the same time Monday, to 1.97 million, according to data collected by Johns Hopkins University and Bloomberg News. Deaths rose to 111,491.

At least 28 US states are not following the guidelines by the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) on reporting new COVID-19 cases, half of which saw the trend of new cases increasing in the last week, CNN reported on Tuesday.

Those states are not reporting probable cases, according to the daily case count listed on the CDC's website.

Coronavirus cases and hospitalizations are spiking in parts of California and the US Southwest, prompting Arizona to reactivate its emergency plan for medical facilities and California to place counties where half its population lives on a watch list.

New York City reached a milestone, with just 1 percent testing positive for the novel coronavirus for the first time since the beginning of the outbreak, according to Mayor Bill de Blasio.

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