New coronavirus cases and deaths attributed to the pandemic fell in the US, as states allow more businesses to reopen under plans to gradually ease restrictions.
There were 21,712 confirmed infections and 979 additional fatalities in the past 24 hours, according to data compiled by the Covid Tracking Project on Sunday. The death toll was the lowest since May 4 – a day when data may have been impacted by a system outage in New Jersey. Excluding that date, it would have been the lowest number of deaths recorded since April 1.
Out of 277,894 new tests, 7.8 per cent came back positive for the virus, down from 8.4 per cent a day earlier and the lowest level since mid-March.
The number of confirmed US cases since the pandemic began rose to 1.32m. The death toll climbed to 74,270.
States including Florida and California will take further steps this week to reopen their economies.
In Florida, barber shops and salons can open on Monday, and Palm Beach County is set to join “phase one” of the state’s plan by also opening restaurants and retail locations with limits on capacity. Palm Beach County, along with the counties of Broward and Miami-Dade, had been excluded from Florida’s restart because of the higher number of Covid-19 cases there.
California governor Gavin Newsom has said he will lay out guidelines this week on when counties can allow dine-in service at restaurants, and when other businesses can resume operations. The state allowed retail businesses to open for kerbside pickup at the end of last week.
New York will require twice-weekly testing for staff at nursing homes and prevent hospitals from releasing Covid-19 patients to those facilities.
Under a new rule announced on Sunday, hospitals will not be allowed to discharge patients to nursing homes unless they test negative for the virus.
Governor Andrew Cuomo has faced criticism over a controversial policy that prohibits nursing homes from refusing to re-admit residents who tested positive for coronavirus or were suspected cases. New Jersey has a similar policy.
Mr Cuomo said officials had been concerned early in the pandemic about running out of hospital beds. He also said nursing homes should refer patients to other facilities if they could not care for them.
Hospitalisations have been on the decline in recent weeks, recently reaching their lowest rate since mid-March. Most of the temporary beds at an events centre in Manhattan and a US Navy hospital ship went unused. The ship, the USNS Comfort, departed New York City at the end of April, and the field hospital at the Javits Center closed on May 1.
New York, the state hit hardest by the pandemic, reported on Sunday another 207 fatalities attributed to coronavirus, bringing the state’s total to 21,478.
More than 5,000 people in New York nursing homes have died. Mr Cuomo called nursing homes “ground zero” for the virus and said the state was testing as many residents as possible.
Anna Nicolaou in New York
New York government officials warned of a potential coronavirus-related illness in children, as three youngsters in the state have now died from a mysterious inflammatory syndrome.
Mayor Bill DeBlasio also said on Sunday that there was “tremendous concern” as he reported that 38 New York City children had contracted an inflammatory illness that seemed connected to coronavirus. More than 80 per cent of the 38 children also tested positive for antibodies to the coronavirus.
Governor Andrew Cuomo said New York was investigating up to 85 children who may have been afflicted by the Covid-related illness, which is characterised by inflammatory symptoms rather than respiratory.
Children afflicted with the illness suffer from persistent fever, abdominal pain and vomiting as their immune system goes into overdrive. Doctors say the symptoms resemble Kawasaki disease, another illness that causes inflammation of the blood vessels.
Three children in New York have been killed by the inflammatory illness, while the state is investigating an additional two deaths.
“We’ve said many times [the coronavirus] is so troubling and challenging because it’s so new,” Mr DeBlasio said on Sunday.
Business lobby group the British Chambers of Commerce has called for detailed advice on how companies should protect their workers, as the government encourages staff in industries such as construction and manufacturing to go back to work as soon as Monday.
“It is imperative that companies have detailed advice on what will need to change in the workplace, including clarity on the use of PPE,” said Adam Marshall, BCC director general.
Labour leader Keir Starmer told BBC radio that workers now encouraged to turn up to work tomorrow had been left little time to prepare for the sudden shift in government policy, and said there were questions over how they should travel to work given that Mr Johnson had advised against using public transport where possible.
The leader of the UK’s opposition Labour party has said Boris Johnson’s speech setting out a roadmap to a gradual reopening of the UK economy “raises more questions than it answers”.
Keir Starmer told BBC radio that the government’s new message to “stay alert”, which replaces the previous guidance to stay at home for anything other than essential travel, “is not clear enough”.
Nodding to the growing disunity between the Westminster governments and the administrations in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland, he added:
I am worried on the core message of ‘stay alert’ … we now have different messages in different parts of the United Kingdom.
UK to impose quarantine on arriving travellers
The UK has been an outlier in its open borders policy to date, but Boris Johnson said that he was “serving notice” that it will soon be time to impose quarantine on people coming into the UK by air. There was no word on sea or rail travel.
Summing up, the prime minister said the country would only be able to progress through the phased reopening plan if the spread of the disease were halted. “If the alert level won’t allow it, we will simply wait and go on until we have got it right,” he said.
We will come back from this devilish illness. We will come back to health, and robust health. And though the UK will be changed by this experience, I believe we can be stronger and better than ever before.
Mr Johnson has now concluded. Stand by for political and business reaction.
UK encourages some people back to work
Boris Johnson said the UK needed a “world-beating” test and trace system, and said the government needed to be testing hundreds of thousands of people a day to control localised flare-ups.
He has also introduced “a change of emphasis”, to encourage those who can to go back to work. The prime minister used the example of those in manufacturing or construction who he said should be “actively encouraged” to return to their workplaces, although he warned against the use of public transport if possible and promised new guidance for employers “to make workplaces Covid-secure”.
Sketching out the next phases of lockdown, he said people could take unlimited, but socially distanced, outdoor exercise from Wednesday.
The next stage, at the earliest June 1, would involve some children going back to school and the phased reopening of shops. Then, from July at the earliest, he said that, if conditions allowed, “at least some” of the hospitality industry and other public places could be reopened.
He said he “will not hesitate to put on the brakes” if there are further outbreaks or if the current progress reverses.
Boris Johnson sets out next steps in Britain’s response to virus
UK prime minister Boris Johnson has begun a televised address to the nation in which he will sketch out the next phase in the government’s response to coronavirus after seven weeks of lockdown.
Mr Johnson began by warning “it would be madness” to throw away the achievements so far by “allowing a second spike” of infection, and introduced the government’s new message to the public:
We must stay alert. We must continue to control the virus and save lives.
The new ‘stay alert’ slogan replaces the blanket ‘stay at home’ message, and has been rejected by the devolved administrations in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland.
Promising “the first sketch of a roadmap for reopening society”, the prime minister introduced a five-level alert system to signify the level of seriousness of the pandemic in Britain. The country is currently at level four, he said, the second most critical.
• UK prime minister Boris Johnson will use a TV broadcast at 7pm on Sunday to announce only a modest loosening of the restrictions introduced on March 23, instead setting out what Downing Street calls a “roadmap” for a gradual easing over many months.
• Mr Johnson is expected to announce a phased alert system — similar to the one used to assess terrorist risk — with five gradations of risk from coronavirus. Ahead of the broadcast, the prime minister changed the “stay at home” message in favour of a new “stay alert” slogan, as he prepared to set out his plan for a slow release of Britain’s lockdown and coax the country back to work.
• Earlier on Sunday, Robert Jenrick, communities secretary, was dispatched to the television studios to explain the new slogan. He suggested that it was simultaneously intended to persuade people to go to work and stay at home.
• In the clearest break yet in a united approach between the UK’s devolved governments and the Westminster administration, the change in the messaging was immediately disowned by Nicola Sturgeon, Scotland’s first minister. “We mustn’t squander our progress by easing up too soon,” she said at a press conference in Edinburgh.
• Read more from George Parker in London and Mure Dickie in Edinburgh here.
There will be a further easing of the lockdowns brought by the coronavirus this week as Europe and the US continue along the path to reopening their economies.
The UK will begin the week with Boris Johnson having dropped his “stay at home” message in favour of a “stay alert” slogan.
Fast-food chain McDonald’s will restart deliveries in the UK while, in the US, Apple will reopen several of its stores. Shanghai Disneyland will reopen on Monday to a reduced number of visitors.
In Spain, about half the population will begin the so-called phase one of the transition from the lockdown on Monday. France will relax some of its strict lockdown rules, allowing more cars on the streets and some shops to reopen.
Elsewhere in Europe, all Belgian shops will be allowed to reopen if they have social-distancing measures in place and children in Switzerland will also return to school.
Finally, a cautionary tale. South Korea’s capital Seoul will begin the week with social distancing measures back in place after a new cluster of coronavirus cases linked to a party district raised fears of a new wave of cases.
Read what other events are expected here.
Sturgeon asks Westminster not to drop ‘stay at home’ advice in Scotland
Scotland’s first minister Nicola Sturgeon has asked the UK government not to drop the ‘stay at home’ message in Scotland, as she warned that “people will die” if the lockdown were eased too early.
The UK’s united response to the pandemic is fraying as prime minister Boris Johnson shifts the government’s advice to a new ‘stay alert’ slogan, one that Ms Sturgeon immediately dismissed as inappropriate for Scotland and confusing.
“The message in Scotland at this stage is not ‘stay at home if you can’,” Ms Sturgeon said at a press conference in Edinburgh. “The message is except for the essential reason you know about: stay at home, full stop.”
“We mustn’t squander our progress by easing up too soon,” she said, adding that “people will die” if politicians send mixed messages that leave the public thinking it is the right time to ease social distancing.
She also criticised the Westminster government’s handling of communications during the crisis, saying she should not have first heard of the shift in approach in the newspapers.
Boris Johnson will outline his government’s shift in approach to the pandemic in a televised address at 7pm UK time.
Daniel Dombey in Madrid
Spain’s government has clashed with several of the country’s regions over its decision to restrict the scope of the relaxation of its harsh eight-week lockdown.
On Sunday, as Pedro Sánchez, prime minister, held his weekly teleconference with the heads of the country’s regions, several remonstrated over his government’s decision not to include part or all of their territories in stage one of the phase-out of the lockdown.
The government plans to loosen restrictions for about 51 per cent of the country’s population as part of the first stage of the phase-out on Monday.
“It is obvious that Madrid needs to take a step forward,” said Isabel Díaz Ayuso, the head of the region worst hit by the pandemic, citing the capital’s role as the motor of the Spanish economy. Madrid was refused inclusion as one of the participating regions in stage one.
The heads of regions such as Valencia and Andalucia argued that it was a mistake not to include all of their territory in stage one, under which people will be allowed to gather in groups of up to ten, non-essential shops can open without appointment, and restaurants and bars may serve people in outside seating.
“It is important to keep everything we’ve gained up to now,” responded María Jesús Montero, government spokeswoman, who said the government’s decision was based on technical criteria such as the spread of the virus and hospital capacity. She added that Mr Sánchez had asked the regional heads not to air “false grievances or speculations”.
The government has indicated that those regions and areas not included in phase one on Monday will be allowed to reapply next week.
Mehreen Khan in Brussels
Brussels is considering suing the German government after the country’s constitutional court issued an explosive ruling calling into question the supremacy of EU law and the actions of the European Central Bank.
Ursula von der Leyen, president of the European Commission, on Sunday issued a statement in response to last week’s German court ruling insisting that national judges cannot override the European Court of Justice and threatening possible legal action against Germany.
In a landmark ruling, the German court last week said the ECJ had acted outside its mandate in approving the legality of ECB bond-buying and called on the central bank to justify its measures by producing a proportionality assessment within three months.
The ruling came at a particularly sensitive time for the ECB, which last week signalled that it was soon likely to consider increasing the size and timeframe of its new €750bn pandemic emergency purchase programme — its flagship policy response to the coronavirus crisis.
“The final word on EU law is always spoken in Luxembourg [at the ECJ]. Nowhere else,” said Ms von der Leyen.
Brussels is now considering the full implications of the 110-page ruling and “we will look into possible next steps, which may include the option of infringement proceedings”, said the commission president. She said:
The European Union is a community of values and of law, which must be upheld and defended at all times. This is what keeps us together. This is what we stand for.
Daniel Thomas in London
Retail and property chiefs have warned that the government’s business bailout package of reliefs, grants and loans will not be sufficient to stop the “imminent collapse of many businesses”.
Retail bosses have formed an unusual alliance with their landlords to lobby the government for help with rental payments, with retailers warning that they will not be able to pay rents for months to come.
In a letter to small business minister Paul Scully and chancellor Rishi Sunak, the British Retail Consortium said the crisis “facing parts of the retail sector . . . must be addressed urgently ahead of the June quarter [rent] day”. The letter was also signed by the British Property Federation and Revo, which represents the top shopping centre owners.
Many businesses, including Topshop owner Arcadia, have already called in restructuring experts or started renegotiating with landlords. A number of others have been forced into administration, including Debenhams, Laura Ashley, Oasis and Cath Kidston.
You can read more on that story here.
Monavar Khalaj in Tehran
Iran’s supreme leader Ayatollah Khamenei has called on public health officials to reconsider a closure of mosques and holy sites during Ramadan.
However, Mr Khamenei, who was taking part in a government coronavirus response meeting through an online video conference for the first time on Sunday, insisted this did not mean putting pressure on officials, who have the final say in the matter.
The closure is controversial as religious people would normally worship in mosques and shrines during Laylat al-Qadr, or the night of destiny, when Muslims believe the first verses of the Quran were revealed to the Prophet Mohammed. Muslim worshipers pray during three nights in the last ten days of the fasting month to observe Laylat al-Qadr, when they believe their fate for the following year is determined.
Meanwhile, President Hassan Rouhani said the country’s schools would re-open on May 16 after being closed for more than two months. Iran’s death toll reached 6,640 on Sunday from 6,589 a day before, out of 107,603 individuals to have tested positive.
Peggy Hollinger in London
The UK aerospace industry is calling for an urgent meeting with ministers to address the “existential crisis” it faces as a result of the collapse in global aircraft demand, which is expected to cost the sector annual sales of £5bn this year alone.
Paul Everitt, chief executive of ADS, which represents aerospace companies from giants such as Rolls-Royce and Airbus to smaller family-owned suppliers, has written to business secretary Alok Sharma, chancellor of the exchequer Rishi Sunak and cabinet office minister Michael Gove to ask for a crisis meeting with the industry’s senior leaders.
Read the full story here
• In the UK, prime minister Boris Johnson asked the British public to “stay alert” to help control the spread of coronavirus, dropping the blanket “stay at home” message of the past seven weeks. The change in approach has been disowned by Scotland’s first minister Nicola Sturgeon, however.
• Globally, the lowest number of daily deaths on a Saturday for the past six weeks was recorded yesterday, as 4,297 people died of the disease, bringing the cumulative death toll to 273,297.
• Germany has seen a rise in the reproduction rate — the number of people each confirmed coronavirus patient infects — to above 1, just days after Angela Merkel’s government moved to relax the country’s lockdown.
• Elsewhere in Europe, Italy’s prime minister Giuseppe Conte said the country’s lockdown could end earlier than planned, while Spain recorded its lowest daily coronavirus death toll since the country’s two-month-old lockdown began.
• Dr Anthony Fauci and two other members of the US coronavirus taskforce entered self-quarantine after coming into contact with someone who had tested positive for the disease, Reuters reported.
• Russia recorded its eighth consecutive day with new infections above 10,000 on Sunday, as the country becomes the biggest hotspot in Europe, with the second fastest growing case count after the US.
James Politi in Washington
A group of international companies with a large presence in the US has warned that advanced economies, and particularly America, risk becoming more protectionist because of the coronavirus pandemic, raising alarm bells for the global economy.
According to a survey conducted by the Global Business Alliance, which represents US subsidiaries of groups including BMW, Nestlé and HSBC in Washington, 77 per cent of its members said they thought the US would become more protectionist on trade, cross-border mergers and acquisitions, and government procurement because of the virus.
In the survey, due to be released on Monday, 69 per cent said they believed that other advanced economies would also move to impose more barriers to trade, in defiance of appeals from international economic institutions such as the IMF to refrain from protectionism.
Read more on that story here.
Miles Johnson in Rome
Italy’s prime minister has said the country’s lockdown could end earlier than planned as Rome attempts to mitigate a brutal recession caused by nearly two months of freezing the economy.
“If the situation remains under control on the epidemiological level, we’ll be able to agree some earlier moves with the regions,” said Giuseppe Conte in an interview with the Italian daily Corriere della Sera.
Mr Conte also said that “the economic consequences will be very painful” from the coronavirus crisis and that EU financial aid should be distributed as quickly as possible to countries that need it. The European Commission is forecasting that Italy’s economy will contract by 9.5 per cent this year.
On May 4, Italy began the first phase of easing its nationwide lockdown, which had been imposed since March 10, with some factories and construction sites being allowed to reopen, as well as permitting restaurants and bars to provide takeaway services. Other shops will be permitted to reopen by the middle of May, while bars and restaurants are scheduled to resume table service on June 1.
However, the rush of Italians to enjoy the looser measures has prompted warnings from some politicians that the country was at risk of creating another spike in Covid-19 cases.
UK’s Johnson shifts message from ‘stay at home’ to ‘stay alert’
Boris Johnson has asked the British public to “stay alert” to help control the spread of coronavirus, as the prime minister drops the blanket “stay at home” message of the past seven weeks.
In a message posted to Twitter ahead of an address to the nation this evening, Mr Johnson said: “Everyone has a role to play in helping to control the virus by staying alert and following the rules.”
The new message from the government is to stay at home “as much as possible”, and to work from home “if you can”.
The change in approach has been disowned by Scotland’s first minister Nicola Sturgeon, but cabinet minister Robert Jenrick told the sunday morning political TV shows that people would be able to understand a broader message as the country moved to a new phase in the coronavirus fight.
Courtney Weaver in Washington
Anthony Fauci, one of the US’s top health officials, has entered a “modified quarantine” after coming into “low risk” contact with an individual who had contracted the virus.
The doctor shared the news with CNN, but did not give further details. He is one of several top US officials who have entered quarantine after saying they had come into contact with an individual who had tested positive for the virus.
Other officials in quarantine include Stephen Hahn, the commissioner of the Food and Drug Administration, and Robert Redfield, director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
None of them identified which individual they had come into contact with. However, Katie Miller, press secretary for Vice-president Mike Pence, on Friday was confirmed to have tested positive for the virus, and has worked closely with the rest of the coronavirus task force.
Dr Fauci, 79, has emerged as one of the key faces of the administration’s response to the coronavirus outbreak, and one of the few officials willing to break with President Donald Trump publicly.
In an interview with Science Magazine earlier this spring, Dr Fauci noted he could not simply “jump in front of the microphone and push [Trump] down”, when the president made a false statement.
Dr Fauci did not clarify to CNN what a “modified quarantine” would look like.
He, Dr Redfield, and Dr Hahn were all due to testify before the Senate on Tuesday about the best way to safely reopen the country’s workforce and schools.
Guy Chazan in Berlin
Germany has seen a rise in the reproduction rate – the number of people each confirmed coronavirus patient infects – to above 1, just days after Angela Merkel’s government moved to relax the shutdown on public life in Europe’s biggest economy.
According to the Robert Koch Institute (RKI), the R-number stood at 1.1 as of Saturday evening. Authorities have warned in the past that an increase in the R-number above 1 can lead to an exponential rise in coronavirus infections.
The RKI said there was a “degree of uncertainty” about the number, but any increase in the reproduction number “necessitates a close monitoring of the situation in the coming days”.
Germany has the seventh-highest number of confirmed cases of the virus in the world. Latest RKI date on Sunday put the tally of reported infections at 169,218, and deaths at 7,395.
Meanwhile, the RKI reported that three districts in Germany had exceeded the government’s self-imposed limit of more than 50 new infections per 10,000 people over the last seven days. In Coesfeld and Steinburg, the surge in infections appeared to be connected to a big local abattoir and meat factory.
Steve Bernard in London
The lowest number of daily deaths on a Saturday for the past six weeks were recorded yesterday, as 4,297 people died of the disease caused by coronavirus, bringing the cumulative death toll to 273,297.
In the US, a further 1,529 people died, bringing the total number of deaths related to the pandemic since it began to 73,291, according to data from the Covid Tracking Project. This represents the lowest Saturday death toll since the beginning of April.
Globally, the number of newly confirmed Covid-19 cases climbed by 86,740 on Saturday. The total number of infections is now just short of 4m, according to data from the European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control. Johns Hopkins and Worldometers already had the total surpassing 4m yesterday.
Brazil was once again the worst-affected country outside of the US by deaths, registering 730 fatalities yesterday. The number of newly confirmed cases was only surpassed by US and Russia as a further 10,611 infections were recorded, bringing the total to 155,939 in the hardest-hit country in Latin America.
Russia continues to struggle to contain the spread of the virus as an additional 10,817 cases were confirmed. This is the seventh straight day that it has reported 10,000 or more new cases. The total number of infections has now surged through 200,000 to hit 209,688.
Explore data about the pandemic to better understand the disease’s spread and trajectory in the live-updating and customisable version of the FT’s Covid-19 trajectory charts.
Mure Dickie in Edinburgh
Scottish government leaders on Sunday rejected prime minister Boris Johnson’s new “stay alert” coronavirus slogan and said they would stick with the “stay at home” message, marking the biggest breach yet in the UK’s united front on Covid-19.
“If I am perfectly frank, I have no idea what ‘stay alert’ actually means,” Jeane Freeman, Scottish health secretary told the BBC’s Politics Scotland. “We’ve not been consulted on the possibility of any change, and as it has been reported, that is not a change that we would agree with.”
Nicola Sturgeon, Scotland’s first minister, warned on Thursday that dropping the “stay at home” message could undermine public compliance with the lockdown with potentially catastrophic consequences for Scotland. She called then for a return to “proper, grown-up” discussions between Westminster and the devolved UK nations.
But on Sunday, Ms Sturgeon said she had only learned of Mr Johnson’s plans from media reports. “The Sunday papers is the first I’ve seen of the PM’s new slogan,” the first minister tweeted.
It is of course for him to decide what’s most appropriate for England, but given the critical point we are at in tackling the virus, ‘Stay Home Save Lives’ remains my clear message to Scotland.
Daniel Dombey in Madrid
Spain’s coronavirus death toll has fallen to its lowest level since the very beginning of its two-month old lockdown, as just over half of the country prepares for a relaxation in the emergency rules.
According to ministry of health figures released on Sunday, 143 people have died in the most recent 24 hour period after contracting coronavirus, taking the accumulated total to 26,621. This figure, which does not include probable but untested cases in care homes, compares with a peak of 950 on April 2 and is the lowest level since March 18, just two days after the lockdown began.
On Monday, large parts of the country — accounting for some 51 per cent of the population — will begin the first stage of the phase out of the lockdown. Restaurants and bars will be able to serve customers outside, non-essential shops can open without needing to fix appointments and people can gather in groups of ten and fewer.
However, Madrid, Barcelona and some other regions will have to wait at least another week. The government says they have not yet fulfilled all the necessary criteria in terms of reducing the number of infections, hospitalisations and deaths, and the availability of hospital beds and other resources.
In an address to the nation on Saturday, Prime Minister Pedro Sánchez said the decision over which regions were permitted to phase out the lockdown was a purely technical one and pleaded with people to exercise “maximum caution” when the rules are relaxed.
The situation in Madrid, which is governed by Mr Sánchez’s political opponents on the centre-right, is particularly contentious, mainly due to the economic cost of continuing the lockdown. The region is the country’s economic powerhouse.
George Parker in London
Boris Johnson will on Sunday drop his “stay at home” message in favour of a new “stay alert” slogan as he prepares to set out his plan for a slow release of Britain’s lockdown.
The prime minister is expected to announce a phased alert system — similar to the one used to assess terrorist risk — with five gradations of risk from coronavirus, setting out what Downing Street calls a “road map” for a gradual easing over many months.
The cabinet will convene on Sunday to sign off the government’s plan, which will be announced to the nation by Mr Johnson in a televised address at 7pm. The modest changes will include allowing people to take unlimited exercise and the reopening of garden centres. But most restrictions will stay in place until at least the end of May.
Grant Shapps, transport secretary, said on Saturday that there would be “no leap to freedom” from the lockdown and confirmed the government was looking to tighten border controls.
Read the full story here.
Henry Foy in Moscow
Russia recorded 11,012 new coronavirus cases in the last 24 hours on Sunday as the pandemic in the country showed no signs of slowing down.
The increase marks an eighth consecutive day with new infections above 10,000, as the total number of cases rose to 209,688. More than 1,900 Russians have died from Covid-19.
Russia’s recent surge in cases, as new infection rates fall in other countries, has made Russia the biggest hotspot in Europe and the country with the second fastest growing case count after the US.
Officials have warned that infections may not peak until June, despite a national lockdown that entered its seventh week on Sunday. Russians have been ordered to stay at home apart from two essential journeys to food shops or pharmacies per week, and all but essential businesses have been closed.
Leila Abboud in Paris, Joe Miller in Frankfurt and Javier Espinoza in Brussels
A businesswoman takes the Eurostar from London to Paris for a meeting. A cyclist in Geneva rides to the picturesque French village of Annecy. An Italian family heads to the Riviera for a holiday.
These once-banal trips have something in common as countries seek a return to normal after Covid-19: they are likely to be invisible to public health authorities despite the rollout of smartphone apps to trace chains of infected people.
At fault is the uncoordinated approach to contact-tracing apps taken by various countries and a lack of leadership from the EU on the issue, according to researchers and policymakers involved in the projects.
Read the full story here
More than 4m people worldwide have been infected with coronavirus. 1.3m of cases are located in the US, where the rate of tests coming back as positive reached the lowest level in more than seven weeks.
A new cluster of coronavirus cases linked to a Seoul party district has prompted the reinstatement of social distancing measures in the capital and raised fears of a new wave of cases in South Korea.
Health authorities raised the coronavirus threat alert level in a north-eastern Chinese city near the border with North Korea from medium to high, after 11 new cases were detected.
Experts warn coronavirus will divert resources in the developing world from the prevention and treatment of other illnesses such as malaria and dengue fever.
Western Australia, the country’s largest state, issued a multi-phase “roadmap” to ease many restrictions imposed due to the pandemic.
China’s central bank has warned that the country’s economy faces unprecedented challenges as it attempts to recover from the coronavirus outbreak.
Simeon Kerr in Dubai
Emirates expects coronavirus to have a “huge impact” on its future financial performance, as the Dubai airline forecast that it will take at least 18 months for travel demand to return to a “semblance of normality”, its chief executive said.
As it reported a 21 per cent profit increase for the financial year ending March 31, Emirates, which has suspended regular operations since March 25, said it is taking aggressive cost management measures to safeguard the business, Sheikh Ahmed bin Saeed Al Maktoum said in a statement.
The government-owned airline has in the first three months of this calendar year raised 4.4bn dirhams ($1.2bn) in additional liquidity through term loans and other facilities and will continue to tap the bank market to cushion the impact of Covid-19 on cash flow.
The group had been performing strongly until mid-February, Sheikh Ahmed said, when the international response to the virus caused a “sudden and tremendous drop in demand”.
Announcing its 2019-2020 results, Emirates said it was working with regulators to ensure the health of travellers in a post-pandemic world and was ready to reactivate operations “as soon as circumstances allow”.
Emirates airline reported a 21 per cent increase in profit to Dh1.1bn ($288m), despite a loss of Dh1.1bn on fuel hedge “ineffectiveness”.
Traffic was down 4 per cent to 56.2m passengers. The airline achieved a passenger seat factor — a measure of capacity efficiency — of 78.5 per cent on positive demand until the last quarter. Revenues were down 6 per cent and operating costs down 10 per cent.
The group did not declare a dividend to its government shareholder “due to the unprecedented business environment from the ongoing pandemic”. Last year, its dividend to the Investment Corporation of Dubai was Dh500m.
Monavar Khalaj in Tehran
Iran is ready to exchange prisoners with the US without any precondition since “Covid-19 is threatening the lives of Iranian nationals imprisoned” in that country, a government spokesman said on Sunday.
“Iran has announced it is prepared to swap inmates without conditions. Talks are under way for the release,” said Ali Rabiei. “But the US has refrained from [making] a response so far.”
Mr Rabiei, however, said that there were signs that the US was more prepared now to carry out the exchange than in the past.
“We have information that Iranian nationals held in the US prisons are not being taken care of very well,” he said. “This is worrisome for us.”
Iran and the US swapped prisoners late last year when Tehran released Chinese-American graduate student Xiyue Wang for scientist Massoud Soleimani, who had faced charges over the alleged violation of sanctions.
Mr Wang, pictured at Zurich airport on his way back to the US, was a Princeton University graduate student imprisoned on espionage charges after being arrested in 2016.
Meanwhile, Sirous Asgari, an Iranian materials science and engineering professor, was waiting for medical clearance to be deported, Iran’s domestic media said.
Prof Asgari was acquitted of stealing trade secrets last November by a federal judge in Ohio, but the US government later ordered him to be sent back to Iran.
Nicolle Liu in Hong Kong
Health authorities on Sunday raised the coronavirus threat alert level in a north-eastern Chinese city near the border with North Korea from medium to high.
The move followed the detection of 11 new confirmed Covid-19 cases on Saturday in the city of Shulan in Jilin province.
The city has imposed new prevention measures, limiting residents from leaving their districts and prohibiting eat-in options at all restaurants, according to a message posted on the provincial health committee’s Weibo social media account.
China recorded 12 local infections and two imported cases on Saturday, with no new deaths, according to the National Health Commission.
It was the highest daily number of infections recorded this month, bringing the national tally to 82,901 with 4,633 fatal cases.
Don Weinland in Beijing
China’s central bank has warned that the country’s economy faces unprecedented challenges as it attempts to recover from the coronavirus outbreak.
“In the first quarter of the year, the coronavirus outbreak has brought an unprecedented impact on the economic development of our country,” the People’s Bank of China said in its quarterly monetary policy report.
“But the impact of coronavirus is controllable, and the huge challenges faced in the short term cannot change the stabilisation of the economy, its long-term recovery and basic high-quality growth,” the bank added.
The central bank signalled that it could loosen its monetary policy this year to be more supportive of growth, adding in the report that it could take up stronger policy measures going forward. So far, the PBoC has taken a conservative approach to boosting growth through a monetary stimulus package.
Economic growth in the first quarter of the year contracted by 6.8 per cent, the worst performance since the 1970s.
China has largely controlled the spread of the virus but now faces a low demand for exports as the rest of the world is hit by the pandemic.
The Australian barley industry is bracing for tariffs imposed by China as a result of Beijing’s anti-dumping and countervailing duties investigations.
The trade tensions emerged as Australia campaigns for an inquiry into the origins of the coronavirus outbreak despite a furious reaction from Beijing, which has accused Canberra of teaming up with Washington to mount “a political campaign” against China.
Scott Morrison, Australia’s prime minister, said on April 29 that his government wanted an independent inquiry into the Covid-19 outbreak, which he said was in the interests of the wider international community.
Beijing warned last month that Chinese consumers might boycott Australian products in retaliation.
Growers and distributors say Beijing could impose a dumping margin of up to 73.6 per cent and a subsidy margin of up to 6.9 per cent for barley imported from Australia, according to a statement issued at the weekend by Grain Producers Australia, Grains Industry Market Access Forum, Australian Grain Exporters Council, GrainGrowers and Grain Trade Australia.
Australia’s trade minister Simon Birmingham said he was “deeply concerned” by reports that “unjustified duties” might be levied on Australian barley imports into China.
“Our barley producers operate in a competitive global market without any trade distorting subsidies and price their products in an entirely commercial way,” he said in a statement.
China’s commerce ministry had set a deadline of May 19 for Australian barley exporters and the Australian government to respond, the trade groups said.
“We will use the remaining time before China finalises its decision to continue our efforts to resolve this matter satisfactorily and will seek to uphold the integrity of our world-leading barley producers,” Mr Birmingham said.
Simeon Kerr in Dubai and Andrew England in London
The economic consequences of the coronavirus pandemic, coupled with the spectacular collapse of crude prices, have wrought havoc across the oil-rich Gulf as lockdowns strangle businesses and finance ministers cut state spending.
Few in the region are as exposed to the crisis as Dubai. The strengths that have long made the city stand out — and put the United Arab Emirates on the map — make it more vulnerable.
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More than 4m people worldwide have been infected with coronavirus, according to data from Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore.
More than 1.3m people have been infected in the US, the university’s Coronavirus Research Center shows.
The next worst-hit countries are Spain with 223,578 cases, Italy with 218,268, the UK with 216,525, Russia with 198,676 and France with 176,782.
The university maintains a database of US and global information here.
The data are sourced from the World Health Organization and national and sub-national health authorities as well as academic and commercial tracking organisations.
Miles Johnson in Rome and Daniel Dombey in Madrid
While Italy’s southern “Mezzogiorno” regions have suffered far fewer deaths in the pandemic compared with the wealthier north, the economic damage from the crisis is expected to leave deeper scars in a part of the country that has lagged behind the rest of Italy for decades.
This north-south divide is playing out in other parts of southern Europe such as Spain, exacerbating regional inequalities that have been growing for years.
In both countries, wealthier northern regions are expected to bounce back quickly thanks to their strong industrial and agricultural bases. The tourism-dependent southern areas, meanwhile, are likely to languish for longer.
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Foxtons and The Restaurant Group fundraising under fire
Attracta Mooney and George Hammond in London
A row has broken out over shareholder rights in the UK after leading advisers criticised Foxtons and The Restaurant Group for shunning retail investors during their recent equity fundraising.
The two companies are among 42 businesses that have raised £3.6bn in equity since April in response to the coronavirus pandemic to shore up their finances.
But Institutional Shareholder Services and Glass Lewis, influential proxy advisers, urged shareholders to rebel at the companies’ annual general meetings this month.
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A fire has broken out at a hospital for coronavirus patients in the northern suburbs of Moscow, killing one person, state media reported on Sunday.
The Tass news agency reported that the fire was started by malfunctioning medical equipment in a ward on the ground floor of the six-storey SI Spasokukotsky City Clinical Hospital.
More than 300 people were evacuated from the building in Moscow’s affluent Northern Administrative Okrug but one patient was fatally injured, the state-run RT reported.
Moscow’s coronavirus crisis management centre announced on Sunday that another 58 patients have died in the Russian capital over the previous 24 hours, Tass reported.
In all, 1,068 Covid-19 patients have died in Moscow, the Tass news agency said.
A total of 198,676 coronavirus cases have been confirmed in Russia, with 31,916 patients having recovered from the virus, according to Tass.
The agency said the latest data indicate more than 1,800 fatalities nationwide.
The number of coronavirus cases in Thailand passed 3,000 during the weekend, while fatalities reached 56 with the death of a 68-year-old man.
The kingdom’s health ministry said 2,787 cases have recovered, representing more than 92 per cent of the total number of the confirmed cases. There are still 161 people being treated in hospitals.
Four new Covid-19 cases were confirmed on Saturday, which brought the total number to 3,004, the ministry said in a statement.
The fatality was an out-patient at a private hospital who reported fever, muscle aches and difficulty breathing. He was referred to another hospital where he was intubated but died of complications from the infection, the ministry said.
Of Thailand’s 76 provinces, 44 have not reported any confirmed cases for the past 28 days, the ministry added.
Western Australia, the country’s largest state, on Sunday issued a multi-phase “roadmap” which will ease many restrictions imposed due to the coronavirus pandemic.
The state would continue to enforce social distancing rules but from May 18 will allow indoor public gatherings and outdoor non-work gatherings of up to 20 people.
Weddings and funerals will be permitted providing there are no more than 20 people inside or 30 outside.
Cafés and restaurants will be allowed to provide meal services, including within pubs, bars, clubs, hotels and casinos to up to 20 patrons.
People would be encouraged to return to work, said state premier Mark McGowan. “Western Australia now needs to get moving and get our economy going again,” he said in a televised address.
Mr McGowan said he was hoping restrictions would be further lifted in four weeks.
Western Australia is home to 2.6m people, of whom nearly 2m live in the capital, Perth. The state covers 2.6m square km, more than 10 times the size of the UK.
Edward White in Wellington
South Korea’s rate of coronavirus cases has climbed higher again as the country reverses some easing of its social distancing rules in response to a new cluster linked to a Seoul entertainment district.
Health officials reported 34 new cases on Sunday, most of which were locally transmitted and marking a sharp increase from the past week when the country had several days of no local infections.
The increase in transmission, which has been linked to nightclubs in Seoul’s Itaewon district, is a blow to the government in South Korea after being praised for its programme of mass testing, high-tech contact tracing and social distancing measures to combat what was for a time the worst outbreak outside of China.
Park Won-soon, Seoul mayor, has moved to shut down the city’s bars and clubs with an immediate order banning the facilities from hosting crowds of people.
“Carelessness can lead to an explosion in infections – we clearly realised this through the group infections seen in the Itaewon club case,” Mr Park said.
Officials have attributed the new cluster to at least one person who visited several clubs and bars last weekend, potentially coming into contact with at least 1,500 other partygoers.
Despite having entry logs for contact tracing at many establishments, officials have found most entries to be inaccurate, raising fears over containing the outbreak.
Clive Cookson in London and Hannah Kuchler in New York
The US government’s medical research arm is preparing the ground for Covid-19 “human challenge trials” that would deliberately infect healthy volunteers with coronavirus, as part of efforts to accelerate work on the development of a vaccine.
Francis Collins, director of the National Institutes of Health, has asked its vaccines working group to “write a perspective on the scientific and practical considerations for a Covid-19 human challenge model”.
The group, which includes senior vaccine developers from universities and industry, will meet on Monday.
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Afghanistan’s public health ministry reported 215 new positive cases of Covid-19 so far this weekend, official media reported on Saturday.
There are now 3,776 known cases in the country, with 109 deaths and 472 recoveries, the state-run Bakhtar news agency reported. Of the 215 new cases, 57 were reported in Herat and 50 in Kabul.
The agency said there were fears among health officials that lockdown rules are not being obeyed in Kabul and other major cities in the unstable, war-ravaged nation.
Tesla said it will reopen factory despite county ban
Electric-car maker Tesla said on Saturday it has started to resume operations despite being prohibited from doing so by California’s Alameda County, site of its Fremont manufacturing plant.
“Tesla has started the process of resuming operations,” the company wrote on its blog. “Our employees are excited to get back to work, and we’re doing so with their health and safety in mind.”
Tesla chief Elon Musk on Saturday sued the county, after officials denied his request to reopen the factory that has been shut since March 23 due to the coronavirus pandemic.
Mr Musk filed an 18-page lawsuit asking a federal judge to allow him to reopen his factory, after tweeting that he would move Tesla’s Palo Alto headquarters, in Santa Clara County, and potentially shut all manufacturing in Fremont.
Tesla said its reopening process was in line with California governor Gavin Newsom’s recent guidance, “which is supported by science and credible health data, the state and federal government’s classification of vehicle manufacturing as national critical infrastructure, and our robust safety plan”.
A US airline trade group urged the Transportation Security Administration on Saturday to implement a proposal to check the body temperatures of passengers and customer-facing employees during the coronavirus pandemic.
Airlines for America, which represents the largest US airlines including American Airlines, United Airlines, Delta Air Lines and Southwest Airlines, said in a statement that the TSA checks would “add an extra layer of protection for passengers as well as airline and airport employees”.
A US official said no decision has been made on whether to mandate the checks, but said a decision could potentially be made as early as next week.
On Wednesday, the TSA announced that its employees must wear facial protection while at screening checkpoints.
“TSA is making this change to protect our employees and travellers as social distancing cannot always be maintained in the screening process,” said TSA administrator David Pekoske.
Last week, major US airlines announced that they are requiring customer-facing employees and passengers to wear a cloth face-covering over their nose and mouth throughout journeys, from check-in to deplaning.
Australia’s gradual reopening is not for everyone, according to a senior medical official.
Paul Kelly, one of the country’s two deputy chief medical officers, urged Australians over the age of 70 to be cautious about the timetable for lifting the lockdown announced this week.
“So we do know that people over the age of 70 and particularly those with chronic diseases are more at risk of the severe end of the virus and how it affects our health,” he told a media briefing on Saturday.
Prof Kelly said older Australians could get caught up in the excitement of reopening shops and cafes. “I would just urge caution about your own health and consider that, including having people over to your house.”
Clove cigarette factory emerges as Indonesia hotspot
Workers and politicians in an Indonesian city are urging the reopening of a large manufacturer of kretek, the country’s distinctive clove-flavoured cigarettes, despite its emergence as a coronavirus cluster, state media reported on Sunday.
The factory owned by HM Sampoerna in Surabaya was shut down on April 7 after a number of workers tested positive for Covid-19, the official Antara news agency reported.
However, local politicians have lobbied for a reopening of the factory, which employs thousands of residents, on Monday.
“Many Surabaya and Sidoarjo residents work at the company … and their lives depend on the company,” Khusnul Khotimah, a member of the city’s legislature, told Antara. Sidoarjo is a district adjacent to Surabaya.
Villages around the Sampoerna factory have been sprayed with disinfectant and the local legislature has asked the factory to strengthen health protocols, the news agency said.
Surabaya, a city of 3m people, reported 75 new cases on Saturday, a majority of the 128 new cases reported in East Java, a province with nearly 40m people.
The head of the province’s testing task force, Kohar Hari Santoso, told Antara the kretek factory was one of several clusters in the province.
Matthew Rocco in New York and Steven Bernard in London
The rate of Covid-19 tests in the US that came back positive reached its lowest level in more than seven weeks as a key global metric showed an optimistic trend.
There were 25,179 new cases of Covid-19 in the US reported on Saturday, according to data compiled by the Covid Tracking Project. A total of 73,291 Americans have died, with states reporting 1,529 fatalities attributed to Covid-19 in the past 24 hours.
There have been 333,122 cases in New York, about one-quarter of the national tally. The state reported 572 new hospitalisations, the lowest since mid-March.
In New Jersey, officials said there were 1,759 new positive tests – raising the cumulative tally to 137,085 – and the number of fatalities increased 166 to 9,116. Like New York, New Jersey has seen a drop in cases and hospitalisations.
In addition, the number of people dying from Covid-19 around the world each week has begun to ease more significantly, with a key metric reaching the lowest level in a month.
The weekly rolling average, which provides a clearer picture of the underlying trend by smoothing fluctuations, has fallen to a 34-day trough of 5,132 in a sharp decline from the peak of 6,783 for the week ending April 18.
The US conducted more than 300,000 tests for a third consecutive day. Of the 300,842 new tests, 8.4 per cent came back positive, the lowest rate since March 16.
New York, the state hit hardest by the pandemic, recorded an additional 226 deaths, bringing the total to 21,271.
The British government has handled the crisis worse than every other major country apart from the US, according to a new poll.
Almost three in 10 think the UK has handled the situation worse than Italy (29 per cent) and Spain (also 29 per cent).
Two weeks ago, the public believed the British government had dealt with the situation better than both Italy and Spain. More than half — 52 per cent — believe Germany has responded in a better way.
A small majority — 54 per cent — believe the UK has handled the crisis better than the US.
Just under half approve of Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s performance, while more than a third disapprove.
The issues on which the British public is most disaffected are: access to testing and personal protective equipment for NHS staff and essential workers, with 55 per cent disapproval over testing and 60 per cent disapproval over PPE.
The majority are still cautious about reopening public places. Only 8 per cent believe schools and offices should reopen this weekend. Just 9 per cent think non-essential shops should reopen. As many as 60 per cent were very uncomfortable at the idea of eating in restaurants.
The Opinium poll was conducted among 2,005 UK adults on May 5-7.
Singapore reported 753 cases of Covid-19 infection in Singapore so far this weekend, of whom 739 are migrant workers living in dormitories.
“We continue to pick up many more cases amongst Work Permit holders residing in dormitories, including in factory-converted dormitories, because of extensive testing in these premises,” the health ministry said in a statement.
The government insists the pandemic is under control “in the community”, referring to Singapore citizens and permanent residents.
“The number of new cases in the community has decreased, from an average of 12 cases per day in the week before, to an average of 10 per day in the past week,” the ministry said.
New Zealand reported one confirmed and one probable case of Covid-19 so far this weekend.
Both cases were linked to an elder care home in Auckland.
“The confirmed case is a household contact of a previously confirmed case linked to the cluster,” the health ministry said in a statement issued on Saturday.
“The probable case is a nurse employed by Waitemata District Health Board who has been in self-isolation,” it added.
New York governor Andrew Cuomo has voiced concern over the effects of Covid-19 on children after 73 young people in the state became severely ill. “We had thought, initially…that young people were not affected by Covid-19,” Mr Cuomo said. “We are not so sure that that is the fact any more.”
Carlyle Group and Singapore’s sovereign wealth fund GIC are calling off their acquisition of a stake in American Express Global Business Travel, igniting a legal battle over a deal that would have valued the pandemic-hit company at $5bn.
UK transport secretary Grant Shapps has given a strong indication that he will soon introduce new UK border controls. He refused to confirm reports that the government will require all arrivals at UK airports, seaports and international rail stations to self-quarantine for 14 days.
The US Food and Drug Administration has approved a coronavirus antigen device made by Quidel Corporation, a new coronavirus diagnostic tool that broadens the array of tests available to detect coronavirus infections and which could help authorities to lift lockdowns. The California-based group said the test will deliver results in 15 minutes.
Spanish prime minister Pedro Sánchez has issued a plea to citizens to take as many precautions as possible when the country’s strict two-month coronavirus lockdown is relaxed on Monday. In an address to the nation, Mr Sánchez said people should “take precautions as if they were infected” and called for “total caution and prudence”.
Belarus went ahead with a massive military parade to commemorate the defeat of Nazi Germany on Saturday, drawing a crowd of thousands of people despite mounting concerns about the spread of coronavirus in the former Soviet state. Belarus’s eastern neighbour Russia has cancelled a similar parade amid soaring infections from the virus.