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WHO warns against rushed end to coronavirus lockdowns; spread latest

Zurich/Geneva, Switzerland

The World Health Organization warned on Wednesday that countries emerging from restrictions to halt the new coronavirus must proceed “extremely carefully” or risk a rapid rise in new cases.

Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said countries needed to ensure they had adequate measures to control the spread of the COVID-19 respiratory disease like tracking systems and quarantine provision.

“The risk of returning to lockdown remains very real if countries do not manage the transition extremely carefully and in a phased approach,” he said at a virtual briefing in Geneva.

Coronavirus US New Jersey

People visit the Empty Sky Memorial as the The One World Trade Center in New York is seen from Liberty State Park after many New Jersey Parks set to re-open during the outbreak of the coronavirus disease in Jersey City, New Jersey, US, on 2nd May. PICTURE: Reuters/Eduardo Munoz

WHO epidemiologist Maria Van Kerkhove supported his concerns about the disease which has infected 3.71 million globally and killed more than 258,000 people, according to a Reuters tally.

“If lockdown measures are lifted too quickly, the virus can take off,” Van Kerkhove told the briefing.

Government-ordered lockdowns have become increasingly unpopular as countries suffer rising unemployment and economic activity grinds to a halt.

The eurozone economy will contract by a record 7.7 per cent this year because of the pandemic, while US private employers laid off 20.2 million workers last month as business shut their doors.

Some countries, like Germany, Spain and Italy have started to relax restrictions, while the US President Trump has said his focus is on opening up the country again.

Soccer authorities have also started to consider how they can salvage interrupted competitions, with Germany’s Bundesliga getting permission to restart later this month.

Fire raging
WHO official Mike Ryan said it was up to governments and sporting federations to decide how and when to restart, adding the UN organisaton would offer risk management advice if needed.

Tedros, who has come under fire mainly from the Trump administration for his handling of the outbreak, said that he would conduct an assessment of the WHO’s actions when the pandemic recedes.

“While the fire is raging I think our focus should not be divided,” he said.

Tedros also defended the WHO’s record on warning about the potential for human-to-human transmission of the new coronavirus, saying it informed the world in the first half of January.

The Geneva-based body has been accused of being “China- centric” by top donor the United States which has cut off funding to the body.

US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo renewed his criticism on China on Wednesday, blaming the country for the deaths the outbreak has caused and demanding Beijing share information about the outbreak.

The WHO, which is preparing another mission to China to discover the animal origin of the virus, treated the country no differently to any of its 194 members, Tedros said.

“The rule we have in WHO and other UN agencies is that when a member state reports we post as is,” Tedros said.

“The most important thing is our guidance before, during and after 14 January included the likelihood of human to human transmission that helped countries to prepare, he added. “This is the whole truth.”



More than 3.7 million people have been reported to be infected by the novel coronavirus globally and 256,897 have died, according to a Reuters tally as of 1322 GMT on Wednesday. 


• In France, data from the INSEE statistics office shows a nationwide increase in deaths at home, particularly pronounced in some of the low-income suburbs ringing central Paris.

• Germany’s confirmed cases increased by 947 to 164,807, data from the Robert Koch Institute showed on Wednesday.

• The United Kingdom has drawn up a three-stage plan to ease the lockdown that was first imposed at the end of March, The Times newspaper said.

• Immunity is building up very slowly in the Czech Republic, with likely no more than four to five per cent of the population covered, the health ministry said after starting mass testing for antibodies.

• Russian soldiers and medical workers providing coronavirus assistance in Italy will start returning to Russia from Thursday, the Interfax news agency reported, as the number of new cases in Russia rose by more than 10,000 for the fourth consecutive day.

• Russia’s culture minister tested positive, becoming the third confirmed cabinet member to catch the disease, the TASS news agency reported.

• Latvia, Lithuania and Estonia will open their borders to each others’ citizens from 15th May, creating a Baltic “travel bubble” within the European Union.

• Pope Francis said employers must respect the dignity of workers, particularly migrants, despite economic difficulties.


• US President Donald Trump said on Wednesday the White House coronavirus task force would continue its work, focusing on vaccines and therapeutics, a day after he said it would wind down its operations.

• Trump accused Democrats of hoping his coronavirus response fails “so they can win the election,” as the Republican governor of Texas acted to further relax business shutdowns.

• Salvadoran President Nayib Bukele announced still tougher measures, including shopping trips limited to twice a week.

• Colombia’s mandatory quarantine will be extended by a further two weeks, its President said, although additional sectors will be allowed to start returning to work.

• The Development Bank of Latin America (CAF) will loan Argentina $US4 billion to help finance projects to combat the growing coronavirus impact. Confirmed cases topped 5,000 on Tuesday, though they remain far below the level of large neighbouring countries Chile, Brazil and Peru.

• Confirmed cases in Peru have now exceeded 50,000.

• Mexico registered 26,025 cases and 2,507 deaths on Tuesday. Separately, Foreign Minister Marcel Ebrard said the US Government had sent Mexico a plane loaded with ventilators. 

• Brazil hit a record for daily coronavirus deaths on Tuesday, indicating that it is still in the thick of its battle even as some areas of the country begin to reopen.


• China will expand its funding if needed to support the United Nations initiative to speed up development of vaccines and treatment for COVID-19, the foreign ministry said.

• Hundreds of Indian police tested positive for the coronavirus in recent days, raising alarm as it attempts to enforce the world’s largest lockdown.

• COVID-19 has set Indonesia’s poverty eradication efforts back by a decade, its finance minister said after regional elections were postponed.

• The spread of the coronavirus in Kazakhstan has slowed in recent days, its government said, indicating it could exit a state of emergency next week.

• A delayed rotation of US Marines to a defence base in Darwin, Australia, will go ahead under strict measures against COVID-19, the Australian Defence Minister said.

• Australia will have a COVID-19-safe economy up and running by July, its prime minister said as his government seeks to get one million unemployed people working again.


• Uganda’s Oresident has called on international creditors to cancel all of Africa’s debts to ease the economic distress caused by the outbreak of the novel coronavirus.

• Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas extended to 5th June a state of emergency declared in areas under his administration in the Israeli-occupied West Bank.


• Global shares struggled on Wednesday as weak economic data, doubts about the easing of coronavirus lockdowns and simmering US-China tensions cast a pall over markets. 

• Investment firms must take particular care to treat their customers fairly as trading by less experienced retail investors surges in volatile markets, the European Union’s securities watchdog said.

• Italy’s public debt is set to rise to nearly 160 per cent of gross domestic product this year as the economy shrinks due to the crisis, the EU executive estimated. 

• India’s services activity suffered a shock collapse in April as the lockdown crippled global demand, causing a historic spike in layoffs and reinforcing fears of a deep recession in Asia’s third-largest economy, a private survey showed.

• South African private sector activity fell to a new record low in April, a business survey showed, as company closures due to lockdown led to a collapse in demand.



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