- Trump vows to have vaccine by end of year
- ‘Enormous evidence’ linking coronavirus to Wuhan lab
- Europe set to ease lockdowns
- China’s dystopian approach to enforcing quarantine
New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern will join tomorrow’s National Cabinet meeting of Australian leaders to discuss each country’s response to the virus.
Ms Ardern was invited to join the meeting when she and Prime Minister Scott Morrison spoke on the phone last Thursday.
The New Zealand leader will present the latest information about her country’s response to the coronavirus crisis, and hear about Australia’s testing and contract tracing plans, including the COVIDSafe app.
Prime Minister Morrison has also been swapping notes with UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson, who last week became a father shortly after recovering from a life-threatening case of coronavirus.
The leaders spoke on Sunday night, discussing how to ease restrictions and open up the economy.
They also spoke about aligning approaches on common challenges once the pandemic has passed.
TRUMP VOWS TO HAVE VACCINE BY END OF YEAR
US President Donald Trump says a vaccine for COVID-19 will be available by the end of the year.
Trump also said his government was putting its “full power and might” behind remdesivir, a drug that has shown early promise as a treatment for the disease caused by the new coronavirus.
Trump commented on Sunday night during a televised town hall sponsored by Fox News Channel.
Trump sat inside the Lincoln Memorial in Washington DC and fielded questions from two Fox hosts, as well as from people who submitted questions over Fox’s social media platforms.
Trump responded to a Nebraska man who recovered from COVID-19 by saying: “We think we are going to have a vaccine by the end of this year.” He also said his administration was pushing hard for Remdesivir.
It comes after US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo has claimed that “enormous evidence” showed the coronavirus originated in a lab in China, further fuelling international tensions with Beijing over its handling of the outbreak.
Mr Pompeo’s comments on US TV on Sunday (local time) came as Europe and parts of the United States prepared to cautiously lift virus lockdowns as signs emerge that the deadly pandemic is ebbing and governments look to restart their battered economies.
More than 243,000 people have been killed and 3.4 million infected worldwide by the virus, which has left half of humanity under some form of lockdown and pushed the global economy towards its worst downturn since the Great Depression.
US President Donald Trump, increasingly critical of China’s management of the first outbreak in the city of Wuhan in December, last week claimed to have proof it started in a Chinese laboratory.
Scientists believe the virus jumped from animals to humans, after emerging in China, possibly from a market in Wuhan selling exotic animals for meat.
Mr Trump, without giving details, said last Thursday that he had seen evidence the Wuhan Institute of Virology was the source, appearing to echo speculation fuelled by US right-wing radio commentators about a secret lab.
‘HISTORY OF INFECTING THE WORLD’
China denies the claims and even the US Director of National Intelligence office has said analysts are still examining the exact origin of the outbreak.
Mr Pompeo, a former CIA chief, told ABC News in the US that he agreed with a statement from the US intelligence community about the “wide scientific consensus that the COVID-19 virus was not man-made or genetically modified.”
But Mr Pompeo went further than Mr Trump, citing “significant” and “enormous” evidence that the virus originated in a Wuhan lab.
“I think the whole world can see now, remember, China has a history of infecting the world and running substandard laboratories.”
Mr Pompeo said early Chinese efforts to downplay the coronavirus amounted to “a classic Communist disinformation effort. That created enormous risk.” “President Trump is very clear: we’ll hold those responsible accountable.”
It comes as US news reports said Mr Trump has tasked US spies to find out more about the origins of the virus, as he makes China’s handling of the pandemic a centrepiece of his campaign for the November presidential election.
The United States has the most coronavirus deaths in the world at more than 66,000 and Mr Trump is keen for a turnaround to help reduce the economic pain, with tens of millions left jobless.
Florida is set to ease its lockdown on Monday (local time), as other US states wrestle with pressure from demonstrators — some armed — who have rallied against the restrictions.
There are signs the pandemic is slowing in some parts of the United States. In New York, the epicentre of the US outbreak, an emergency field hospital erected in Central Park is set to close as virus cases decline. Across the Atlantic, European nations prepared for cautious easing of restrictions.
Hard-hit Italy — which reported its lowest daily toll since stay-at-home orders were imposed on March 10 — is set to follow Spain in allowing people outside.
Italians from Monday (local time) will be allowed to stroll in parks and visit relatives. Restaurants can open for takeaways and wholesale stores can resume business, but there was some confusion over the rules.
Romans were doing aerobics on rooftop terraces and exercising indoors while squares in the city centre were mostly empty on the last day Italians were obliged to remain within 200 meteres of their homes.
“On the one hand, we’re super excited for the reopening, we’re already organising various activities the kids will be able to do with their grandparents outdoors,” said Rome resident Marghe Lodoli, who has three children.
“On the other hand, it’s disorientating. The rules are not clear, and we’re not sure if just using common sense will do.”
Italian authorities have said some preventive measures are still needed in a country that has the second-highest number of virus deaths.
Elsewhere, Germany will continue its easing on Monday (local time), while Slovenia, Poland and Hungary will allow public spaces and businesses to partially reopen.
Portugal will also begin to ease some of its lockdown measures on Monday, allowing small shops and hairdressers to reopen, but people must still observe strict social distancing rules.
In another sign of life returning, an influential German minister said on Sunday (local time) he supports a resumption of the country’s soccer season this month as long as teams respect hygiene conditions.
The British government said the easing of coronavirus lockdown measures was likely to be gradual, as it announced a further rise in the overall death toll.
Prime Minister Boris Johnson was expected to unveil the government’s plans in coming days, after announcing the country had passed the peak of the virus.
Most governments are sticking to measures to control the spread of the virus – social distancing and masks in public — and more testing to try to track infections even as they relax curbs.
Face masks will be mandatory on public transport starting Monday in Spain, where people were allowed to go outdoors to exercise and walk freely Saturday after a 48-day lockdown.
Even as some European countries gradually lift restrictions, officials in Moscow — the epicenter of the contagion in Russia — urged residents to stay home.
With cases increasing by several thousand each day, Russia is now the European country registering the most new infections.
PREPARE FOR ‘BAD SCENARIOS’
European leaders are backing an initiative from Brussels to raise 7.5 billion euros ($A12.8 billion) to tackle the pandemic and raise funds for efforts to find a vaccine for COVID-19, the disease caused by coronavirus.
The race is on to find a viable vaccine or treatment with several countries involved in trials.
In Asia, South Korea — once the second worst-hit nation on the planet — said on Sunday it would ease a ban on some gatherings and events as long as they “follow disinfection measures”.
Thailand allowed businesses such as restaurants, hair salons and outdoor markets to reopen so long as social distancing was maintained and temperature checks carried out.
But experts caution that many countries are still not through the worst. The Philippines suspended all flights into and out of the country for a week starting Sunday in a bid to ease pressure on its congested quarantine facilities.
Iranian President Hassan Rouhani announced mosques would reopen across large parts of the Islamic Republic, after they were closed in early March to try to contain the Middle East’s deadliest COVID-19 outbreak.
Rouhani warned, however, that while Iran would reopen “calmly and gradually”, it should also prepare for “bad scenarios”.
PLAN TO LIFT LOCKDOWN REVEALED
Australia’s Chief Medical Officer has detailed how COVID-19 lockdown restrictions will be eased, as he called on more Australians to download the Federal Government’s coronavirus tracing app.
Professor Brendan Murphy said authorities were “seriously looking” at what lockdown measures could be relaxed, and would make recommendations to National Cabinet over the course of next week.
The Australian Health Protection Principal Committee (AHPPC) will meet next week to establish guidelines for easing social distancing and other coronavirus measures ahead of Friday’s National Cabinet meeting.
The reopening of university campuses will also be considered.
The extent to which measures will be eased will in part rely on the percentage of the country’s 16 million adults who have downloaded the COVIDSafe tracing app.
So far, almost 4.5 million Australians have downloaded and signed up for the app.
Prof Murphy said there would most likely be a staggered approach to lifting restrictions, warning that some countries had eased them too quickly and experienced a second wave of infections.
He said each stage would be reviewed for a number of weeks before a decision was made on whether to relax lockdown measures further.
“This virus is still in our community, it’s still with us, we are … in a much better position than just about any other country in the world, but we have to be careful as we chart the next couple of months,” Prof Murphy said.
He said there had been an increase in movement which was consistent with decisions by some jurisdictions to ease lockdown measures.
Prof Murphy said he did not want to see people using saliva to shine cricket balls even after the coronavirus threat has passed.
He said that was one of many unhygienic practices he thought should be dumped from Australians behaviour entirely moving forward.
“In so many parts of our society, hygiene practices need to change,” Prof Murphy said
“We, as a first-world, very wealthy country, have probably become a bit relaxed about hygiene and I think its time that we focused on those things and have learned from those measures.
“I don’t think using saliva to shine cricket balls is a very good thing at all.”
Prof Murphy said there was 6,801 cases of COVID-19 in Australia, an increase of 18 cases in the last 24 hours.
There was still evidence of low-level community transmission of the virus, with small outbreaks detected in Victoria and NSW.
Australia has now recorded 95 deaths, the latest being an elderly woman in Western Australia and another person at the Anglicare-run nursing home, Newmarch House, in western Sydney.
WA Premier Mark McGowan on Sunday announced the death of the 83-year-old who died at home on April 30.
ROBOTS AND CAMERAS: CHINA’S SCI-FI QUARANTINE WATCH
Robots delivering meals, ghostly figures in hazmat suits and cameras pointed at front doors: China’s methods to enforce coronavirus quarantines have looked like a sci-fi dystopia for legions of people.
Authorities have taken drastic steps to ensure that people do not break isolation rules after China largely tamed the virus that had paralysed the country for months.
With cases imported from abroad threatening to unravel China’s progress, travellers arriving from overseas have been required to stay home or in designated hotels for 14 days.
Beijing loosened the rule in the capital this week – except for those arriving from abroad and Hubei, the province where the virus first surfaced late last year.
At one quarantine hotel in central Beijing, a guard sits at a desk on each floor to monitor all movements.
The solitude is broken by one of the few visitors allowed near the rooms: A three-foot-tall cylindrical robot that delivers water bottles, meals and packages to hotel guests.
The robot rides the elevator and navigates hallways on its own to minimise contact between guests and human staff.
When the robot arrives at its destination, it dials the landline phone in the room and informs the occupant in an eerie, childlike voice: “Hello, this is your service robot. Your order has arrived outside your room.” Its belly opens and the guest takes the delivery items before the robot turns and rolls away.
Doctors in hazmat suits go from room to room daily reminding occupants, including an AFP journalist who had been in Hubei, to take their temperatures with the mercury thermometer provided at check-in, and to ask if any are experiencing symptoms.
People under home quarantine elsewhere in the city have had silent electronic alarms installed on their doors.
Officials put up a notice on each quarantined household’s door asking neighbours to keep an eye on the confined inhabitants.
In one Beijing residential compound, officials told AFP that people under home quarantine must inform community volunteers whenever they open their doors.
Friederike Boege, a German journalist, began her second quarantine in Beijing this year on Sunday after returning from Hubei’s capital Wuhan.
Her building’s management installed a camera in front of her door to monitor her movements.
“It’s quite scary how you get used to such things,” she told AFP. “Apart from the camera I do believe that the guards and the cleaner on the compound would denunciate me if I were to go out,” Boege said.
During her previous quarantine experience in March after returning from a trip to Thailand, she was reported to building management by a cleaner for going downstairs to take out the trash.
CORONAVIRUS SURGE IN BRAZIL BRINGS A COFFIN SHORTAGE, MORGUE CHAOS
In Brazil’s bustling Amazon city of Manaus, so many people have died within days in the coronavirus pandemic that coffins had to be stacked on top of each other in long, hastily dug trenches in a city cemetery. Some despairing relatives reluctantly chose cremation for loved ones to avoid burying them in those common graves.
Now, with Brazil emerging as Latin America’s coronavirus epicentre with more than 6,000 deaths, even the coffins are running out in Manaus.
The national funeral home association has pleaded for an urgent airlift of coffins from Sao Paulo, 2700 kilometres away, because Manaus has no paved roads connecting it to the rest of the country.
The city of about two million people carved from the jungle has been overwhelmed by death in part because it’s the main site where those from remote Amazon communities can get medical services, according to Lourival Panhozzi, president of the Brazilian Association of Funeral Service Providers.
As of April 30, Brazil’s Health Ministry said that there were over 5,200 confirmed cases of COVID-19 in Amazonas state and 425 deaths, although there are concerns that inadequate testing for the virus has meant that the numbers may be much higher.
Before the outbreak, the city of Manaus, the capital of the state, was recording an average of 20-35 deaths a day, according to the mayor. Now, it is recording at least 130 a day, data from the state’s health secretary show.
People in the region also have been widely ignoring isolation measures. There also are signs in the much larger cities of Rio de Janeiro and Sao Paulo that suggest authorities may not be able to handle a huge increase in the death toll.
A field of fresh graves that was dismissed in April by President Jair Bolsonaro as excessive has since been filled.
Authorities in Sao Paulo dug hundreds of graves last month in anticipation of a rise in deaths. Bolsonaro has likened the coronavirus to “a little flu” and insists that sweeping state measures to close all but essential business are more damaging than the illness.
On April 2, he questioned whether photos of the new graves were “fake news” or “sensationalism.”
By Thursday, all those graves were filled with the dead, as were dozens of other new ones, according to images by the AP photographer who took the original photos and revisited the site on Sao Paulo’s eastern region.
Refrigerated trucks to hold overflows of bodies are now seen outside hospitals and cemeteries.