The Italian Government has approved a decree to allow travel to and from abroad from June 3, while residents crowding at an outdoor testing site in Wuhan have expressed concern that it could expose them to coronavirus.
India’s total coronavirus cases number has risen to 85,940, taking it past China, but it has a much lower death rate than other countries. Indian public health authorities believe a vast shutdown imposed early on has helped avoid a major catastrophe.
Meanwhile, the resurgence of coronavirus in five sailors on the USS Theodore Roosevelt underscores the unpredictable behaviour of the highly contagious virus and raises questions about immunity.
Saturday’s key moments:
Indian cases surpass China, but death rate down
India’s total number of coronavirus cases rose to 85,940, taking it past China, though a strict lockdown enforced since late March has reduced the rate of contagion.
State leaders, businesses and working class Indians have called on Prime Minister Narendra Modi to reopen the battered economy, but the government is expected to extend the lockdown, which would otherwise expire on Sunday, though with fewer restrictions.
So far the death rate in India appears far better, according to health ministry data, with 2,752 fatalities reported, compared with China’s 4,600. The toll in the United States, United Kingdom and Italy is much higher.
Indian officials say the low death rate could be because a majority of people infected with the virus were either asymptomatic or had mild symptoms and that the vast shutdown imposed early on had helped avoid a major catastrophe.
A third of the infections are from the western state of Maharashtra, with state capital Mumbai the worst hit, followed by Tamil Nadu, Gujarat and Delhi.
These are also the most important economic centres of the country, complicating the government’s task as it tries to reopen without triggering a big spurt in infections.
One area of concern has been India’s low testing in relation to its large population, public health officials say.
The country has ramped up testing since the beginning of April to 100,000 this week, but with 1.3 billion people on a per capita basis it is trailing far behind other major countries, such as the US, UK and Italy.
Italy to reopen borders for international travel
The Italian Government has approved a decree which will allow travel to and from abroad from June 3, in a major development as it moves to unwind one of the world’s most rigid coronavirus lockdowns.
The government will allow free travel across the country from that same day. Some regions had pushed for a swifter rollback, but Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte has insisted on a gradual return to normal to prevent a second wave of infections.
More than 31,600 Italians have died of COVID-19 since the outbreak came to light on February 21, the third-highest death toll in the world after that of the United States and Britain.
In a bid to contain the contagion, Italy was the first European country to impose nationwide restrictions in March, only sanctioning an initial relaxation of the rules on May 4, when it allowed factories and parks to reopen.
Shops are due to open on May 18 and the government decided that all movement within individual regions should be allowed that same day, meaning people will be able to visit friends.
The inter-regional and foreign travel ban will remain in place until after Italy’s June 2 Republic Day holiday, preventing any mass travel over that long-holiday weekend.
But all travel curbs will be lifted from June 3 — a major milestone on Italy’s road to recovery, with the government hoping to salvage the forthcoming vacation season when Italians traditionally escape the cities for their annual summer breaks.
Residents worried Wuhan testing centres could spread virus
As Wuhan, the Chinese city where the COVID-19 pandemic began, revs up a massive testing campaign, some residents crowding the test centres expressed concern that the very act of getting tested could expose them to the coronavirus.
Safety has become a hot topic on social media groups among the 11 million residents of Wuhan, people told Reuters as they converged on open-air test sites at clinics and other facilities. Many said, though, that they support the voluntary campaign.
Wuhan health authorities sprang back into action after confirming last weekend the central Chinese city’s first cluster of new infections since it was released from virtual lockdown on April 8.
The new cases — all of them people who had previously shown no symptoms of the disease — spurred Wuhan authorities to launch a citywide search for asymptomatic carriers of the virus, aiming to gauge the level of COVID-19 risk.
“Some people have expressed worry in the [social media] groups about the tests, which require people to cluster, and whether there’s any infection risk,” said one Wuhan resident who asked not to be named.
“But others rebutted those worries, saying such comments are not supportive of the government.”
Spain’s death toll increases by 102
Spain’s daily coronavirus death toll has fallen to its lowest level since mid-March.
The health ministry says 102 people have died in the past 24 hours, taking the overall toll past 27,500.
The rate of new infections also continued to decline, with just over 500 new cases recorded, taking the overall number to nearly 230,700.
Spain remains one of the hardest-hit countries in the world.
Coronavirus spreads in Yemen, with health system in shambles
Hundreds of people in Aden, southern Yemen’s main city, have died in the past week with symptoms of what appears to be the coronavirus, local health officials say.
The officials fear the situation is only going to get worse, with Yemen having little capacity to test those suspected of having the virus, and a five-year civil war destroying the health system.
One gravedigger in Aden said he had never seen such a constant flow of dead — even in a city that has seen multiple bouts of bloody street battles during the civil war.
Officially, the number of coronavirus virus cases in Yemen is low — 106 infections in the southern region, with 15 deaths.
Authorities in the Houthi rebel-controlled north announced their first case on May 5 and said there had been only two infections, one of whom died, a Somali migrant.
But doctors said the Houthis were covering up an increasing number of cases to protect their economy and troops. And the surge in deaths in Aden — more than 500 in just the past week, according to the city registrar — has raised the nightmare scenario that the virus is spreading swiftly in a country with almost no capacity to resist it.
The upswing in suspected COVID-19 cases in Yemen is sounding alarms throughout the global health community, which fears the virus will spread like wildfire throughout the world’s most vulnerable populations such as refugees or those affected by war.
“If you have a full-blown community transmission in Yemen, because of the fragility, because of the vulnerability, because of the susceptibility, it will be disastrous,” said Altaf Musani, the World Health Organization (WHO) chief in Yemen.
WHO says its models suggest that, under some scenarios, half of Yemen’s population of 30 million could be infected and more than 40,000 could die.
Donald Trump says US working to develop vaccine
President Donald Trump said the US Government would invest in all the top coronavirus vaccine candidates, adding a list had been narrowed to 14 promising possibilities with a plan to narrow further.
At an event in the White House Rose Garden, in which many administration officials wore masks but the President did not, Mr Trump expressed his hope that a vaccine would be in place before the end of the year and said his administration would mobilize its forces to get a vaccine distributed once one was in place.
Mr Trump said the US Government was working with other countries to develop a vaccine at an accelerated pace while preparing to distribute a vaccine once one is ready.
Mr Trump, who took criticism for not coordinating with European countries over travel restrictions in the early stages of the pandemic, said the world was cooperating to develop a vaccine.
“We’ve got countries that are allies — we have some countries, frankly, that are not allies — where we’re working very closely together,” Mr Trump said. “We have no ego. Whoever gets it, we think it’s great. We’re going to work with them. They’re going to work with us. Likewise, if we get it, we’re going to be working with them.”
Sporting world focused on Germany as Bundesliga resumes
The gaze of the sporting world will fall on Germany this weekend as the Bundlesliga becomes the first major football league to emerge from the shutdown caused by the coronavirus pandemic.
All 18 clubs will crank back into action in what could act as a catalyst for other leagues to follow suit.
Strict health and safety protocols will be in place and stadiums will be empty for the so-called ghost games.
Topping the bill will be the Revierderby between Borussia Dortmund and Schalke 04 — a fixture that would normally be played out in front of 80,000 fans.
This time there will be eerie silence with only about 200 people pitchside and in the stands, including medics, security, hygiene staff and certain media personnel.
Everyone except the players must wear a mask.
“This game lives off fans, their emotions, the intensity of the stadium. We will not experience any of that.”
Researchers to test whether dogs can sniff out COVID-19
Dogs’ ability to sniff out whether people are infected with COVID-19 will be put to the test by British researchers in a bid to develop a fast, non-invasive means of detecting the disease.
Britain’s Government said on Saturday it had given 500,000 pounds ($944,000) towards the research, which will be conducted by the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine, Durham University and a British charity, Medical Detection Dogs.
“Bio-detection dogs already detect specific cancers and we believe this innovation might provide speedy results as part of our wider testing strategy,” Innovation Minister James Bethell said.
Six dogs — labradors and cocker spaniels — will be given samples of the odour of COVID-19 patients from London hospitals, and taught to distinguish their smell from that of people who are not infected.
Medical Detection Dogs said it had previously trained dogs to detect certain cancers, Parkinson’s disease and malaria.
If successful, an individual dog could check up to 250 people an hour and be used in public spaces and at airports.
Last of Timor-Leste’s coronavirus cases recover
Timor-Leste now has zero cases of coronavirus — and no deaths — after the last of 24 confirmed cases recovered.
It’s the first time since late March, when Timor-Leste had its first confirmed case of COVID-19, that the country has had no active infection nor anyone in isolation or awaiting results.
Most of the 24 cases were young students who had only mild symptoms.
The country’s overwhelmingly young population was no doubt a factor in the zero death toll.
But with thousands of cases in neighbouring Indonesia, Timor-Leste faces a tough choice — keeping its borders closed to prevent any new infections or reopening them to assist a devastated economy.
New York police relax group monitoring as beaches reopen
The New York Police Department, criticised over instances of harsh social distancing enforcement, will step back from ticketing people for gathering in small clusters or for failing to wear a mask.
The police will continue to disperse large gatherings that are most likely to present a risk of spreading the coronavirus, Mayor Bill De Blasio said.
“But we’re not going to have the NYPD focus on, you know, two people together or three people together,” he said.
“We’re going to focus on when it starts to be more than a handful of people. And we’re not going to be having the NYPD enforcing on face coverings.”
Mr De Blasio has said that most New Yorkers are following guidelines banning gatherings and requiring face coverings in public.
Meanwhile, a slump in technology stocks knocked Wall Street’s main indexes lower on Friday, as strict limits on business and social distancing began to ease in many parts of the state.
Beaches in New Jersey and Connecticut will be open for the holiday weekend and construction and manufacturing businesses will reopen in many rural parts of New York and some upstate cities.
US Navy personnel contract COVID-19 for a second time
Five sailors on the ship docked in Guam after a COVID-19 outbreak have gotten the virus for the second time and have been taken off the ship.
The resurgence of the virus in the five sailors on the USS Theodore Roosevelt underscores the unpredictable behaviour of the highly contagious virus and raises questions about immunity.
All five sailors had previously tested positive and had gone through at least two weeks of isolation. As part of the process, they all had to test negative twice in a row, with the tests separated by at least a day or two before they were allowed to go back to the ship.
The Roosevelt has been at port in Guam since late March after the outbreak of the virus was discovered. More than 4,000 of the 4,800 crew members have gone ashore since then for quarantine or isolation. Earlier this month, hundreds of sailors began returning to the ship, in coordinated waves, to get ready to set sail again.
In a statement, the navy said that, while onboard, the five sailors self-monitored and adhered to strict social distancing protocols.
“These five sailors developed influenza-like illness symptoms and did the right thing reporting to medical for evaluation,” the navy said, adding that they were immediately removed from the ship and put back in isolation. A small number of other sailors who were in contact with them were also taken off the ship.
More than 2,900 sailors have reboarded the ship, and about 25 per cent of the more than 1,000 who had tested positive have now recovered.
London streets to go car-free amid restrictions
Cars will be banished from miles of streets in central London to encourage more walking and cycling and help public transport cope with social distancing restrictions.
London Mayor Sadiq Khan said the plan, which covers major cross-town routes, would transform parts of central London into one of the largest car-free zones in any capital city.
“COVID-19 poses the biggest challenge to London’s public transport network in TfL’s (Transport for London) history,” he said.
Passenger numbers on London’s Underground network have fallen by 95 per cent since Britain went into lockdown in March, while the number of bus journeys has fallen by 85 per cent.
TfL has said the requirement to maintain a two-metre distance from other people will mean buses and the tube will only be able to carry 13-15 per cent of the normal number of passengers even when full services had been restored.
London’s congestion charge, payable by vehicles driving in a central zone, and ultra-low emission zone will be reintroduced on Monday.
Under the proposals, the congestion charge could increase to 15 pounds ($28.24) a day from 11.50 pounds next month and the hours of operation extended as part of a package of temporary changes, it said.
Brazil’s heath minister resigns after just weeks on the job
Nelson Teich has handed his resignation in to Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro after less than a month on the job, adding to turmoil in the Government’s handling of the coronavirus.
Mr Teich disagreed with the President on a number of issues relating to the virus, including the pace of reopening the economy and Mr Bolsonaros’s push for hydroxychloroquine as a treatment for coronavirus.
Last week, Mr Teich said he was not consulted before Mr Bolsonaro issued a decree allowing gyms, beauty parlours and hairdressers to open for business.
Mr Teich is the second health minister to resign amid the coronavirus pandemic in Brazil. He replaced Nelson Mandetta, who also resisted broader use of hydroxychloroquine and disagreed with Mr Bolsonaro’s argument to do away with quarantines and other coronavirus restrictions.
Brazil has now surpassed Germany and France in the number of coronavirus cases, with more than 200,000 people infected and a death toll of 13,933.
Moscow starts free antibody testing for all residents
Free antibody tests will be offered to all residents of Moscow, which alone accounts for half of Russia’s more than 262,000 reported cases.
Mayor Sergei Sobyanin said the program will allow officials “to know precisely how many Muscovites had coronavirus and developed immunity, how many people are infected or are suspected to have coronavirus”.
Mr Sobyanin said that 70,000 people will receive invitations for testing “every few days”, increasing to 200,000 a day by the end of the month.
It comes as Russia reported 9,200 new confirmed cases of coronavirus on Saturday — and 119 deaths — in the previous 24 hours.
The country now has 272,043 cases and 2,537 deaths from the virus.
The data obtained during testing will help authorities in the city of more than 12 million people coordinate the work of health care facilities and make decisions on whether to extend or ease lockdown restrictions, the mayor added.
Scientists remain divided over the utility of antibody tests because they essentially can’t detect ongoing infections and it’s still unclear whether the presence of antibodies ensures people will be immune to future infections.
There is also varying reliability among the many tests so far developed. The World Health Organization says it is still evaluating the numerous tests available and warns that inaccurate tests could compromise response efforts.