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Coronavirus: German lockdown easing to start in May

April 15, 2020

Germany will reopen schools in early May and allow some of the currently closed retailers to open as well, Chancellor Angela Merkel said. Social distancing measures will stay in place. Follow DW for the latest.

BG Deutschland steht still | Bahnhof München
Image: Imago Images/R. Peters

  • The number of infections worldwide hits the 2 million mark, with more than 125,000 reported deaths
  • Merkel outlines plans to start lifting lockdown, including some schools reopening on May 4
  • Germany and the EU have joined a chorus of international criticism of President Donald Trump's decision to suspend US funding to the World Health Organization. Trump made the announcement after criticizing WHO's response to the coronavirus outbreak

Updates in Universal Coordinated Time (UTC/GMT)

23:59 The development of a COVID-19 vaccine may be the only way to return to  "normalcy," said UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres.

"A safe and effective vaccine may be the only tool that can return the world to a sense of 'normalcy,' saving millions of lives and countless trillions of dollars," Guterres said during a video conference. He also called for accelerated development and widespread availability of the vaccine. 

Globally, there are more than 2 million confirmed cases while over 134,000 people have died of the virus.

22:30 The coronavirus pandemic is likely to have a  "profound and pervasive impact" on global mental health, a panel of psychiatrists warned.

In a paper published in The Lancet Psychiatry, a monthly journal, the panel of 24 specialists said that anxiety is on the rise as billions cope with isolation and lockdown measures. 

Two accompanying surveys of the British public also showed that most people had experienced increased anxiety and fear of becoming mentally unwell since the start of the pandemic. The surveys, which questioned more than 3,000 people, showed that respondents also feared the effects of social isolation and inadequate access to healthcare. 

"Increased social isolation, loneliness, health anxiety, stress and an economic downturn are a perfect storm to harm people's mental health and wellbeing," said Rory O'Connor, one of the paper's authors and a professor of Health Psychology at the University of Glasgow.

"The scale of this problem is too serious to ignore, both in terms of every human life that may be affected, and in terms of the wider impact on society."

20:39 Mexico will ban cremating the remains of coronavirus victims in order to avoid hindering the search for tens of thousands of people who have gone missing due to cartel violence, a senior health official said.

"In a country where there are enforced disappearances, something which is a monumental social tragedy, there is a victims' law that says this should not occur," Hugo Lopez-Gatell said. 

The decision reverses official guidelines that advised remains should "preferably" be cremated. 

"You have to keep open the possibility of searching for missing persons at all times," said Lopez-Gatell. More than 60,000 people have gone missing in Mexico since 2006, most of whom are expected to be victims of the country's network of organized gangs. 

Mexico has 5,399 confirmed coronavirus cases and a death toll of 406, according to Johns Hopkins University.

20:36 Brazilian Health Minister Luiz Henrique Mandetta has announced he has not accepted the resignation of a key health official.

As reported in these live updates at 17:12, Wanderson de Oliveira, secretary of health vigilance, had said that he would be quitting, but that decision now seems to have been rebuffed by his superior.

Brazil is the hardest hit country in Latin America with almost 28,320 registered cases, and 1,736 deaths, according to the latest figures from Johns Hopkins University.

20:06 Amazon has suspended activity at its French distribution centers for five days, from April 16 to April 20. The stoppage comes in the wake of a court ruling that found fault with the technology firm's COVID-19 measures "regarding the security and health of its workers."

19:56 Over 4,000 prisoners have been temporarily released from Colombia's prisons in what President Ivan Duque described as a "humanitarian" effort. Several countries across the world, including Turkey, Morocco, Indonesia and Ethiopia have already announced similar measures to prevent crowded prison facilities from becoming infection hotspots.

The US state of California also approved moving 3,500 non-violent inmates to house arrest earlier this month.

On Wednesday, Colombia's Duque said the move would ensure "that people most vulnerable to the virus can ... go to house arrest and improve their health protection" He reiterated that the measure was temporary and would not affect those convicted of drug trafficking or membership of armed groups.

19:46 Ivory Coast has earmarked €380 million ($415 million) in financial aid to prop up cocoa and cashew producers — key exporters for the West African country who have been hit by the pandemic. Cotton, rubber, palm oil and coffee manufacturers will also be beneficiaries of the package, government spokesman Sidi Toure said.

Ivory Coast is the world's top producer of cocoa, accounting for some 40% of the global market in 2019.

A €2.6 billion ($2.84 billion) "economic, social and humanitarian" stimulus was announced on March 31 by Prime Minister Amadou Gon Coulibaly and these new announcements are a part of this plan.

Ivory Coast has so far reported 626 cases of COVID-19 and has a death toll of six.

19:15 Here is our roundup of the latest coronavirus stories from across Europe:

Germany: The government has announced a plan to cautiously lift some of the lockdown measures. On Monday, smaller retailers will be allowed to open providing they follow specified conditions of distancing, crowding, and hygiene. Schools will start opening in early May, alongside hair salons. However, the government is keeping its suspension on religious services and large public events, and the social distancing measures will stay in place.

The UK: Health officials reported 761 coronavirus deaths on Wednesday, a slight drop compared to the previous day. England's chief medical officer Chris Witty said the death toll, which is now close to 13,000 was "probably reaching the peak overall." However, high fatality numbers "will continue" and the reported daily death toll might go up tomorrow, Witty said at the daily press conference.

Italy: Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte softened his stance on the EU's financial response after weeks of insisting on a joint EU borrowing scheme. In a Facebook post on Wednesday, he said that the EU's compromise plan reached last week did not have "humiliating conditions of any kind" for his country. Previously, Conte blasted the deal as "insufficient" and said he would not sign off on it until it contained adequate measures.

Russia: Veterans in Russia urged President Vladimir Putin to postpone the massive Victory Day parade marking the 75 years since the capitulation of Nazi Germany, which is set for May 9th. Surviving World War II veterans and thousands of active duty soldiers take part in the Moscow event every year, usually observed by large civilian crowds. With the number of COVID-19 infections near 24,500 and rising quickly in the country, three veteran associations urged the Kremlin to push it back. A Kremlin source told Interfax that a decision has already been made and is due to be announced in the coming days.

The EU: The head of the European Commission, Ursula von der Leyen, called on all member states to coordinate on lifting restriction measures to avoid raising the tensions. Brussels said curfews could be lifted once the pressure eases on national health care systems, infection numbers drop, and extra protection can be provided to particularly vulnerable groups. Von der Leyen also pledged to draw up a plan to kick-start the bloc's economy, with the top EU leaders set to discuss a possible "Marshall Plan" as a coronavirus response next week.

France: After aircraft carrier Charles-de-Gaulle and two escort vessels were called to port over an outbreak of COVID-19, the French Defense Ministry said at least 668 sailors tested positive for the novel coronavirus. Over 30 crew members have been hospitalized. 
The nuclear-powered vessel boasts a crew of about 2,000 sailors. The navy said a total of 1,767 people have been tested so far, most of them from the French flagship. The military was conducting ad investigation.

Hand out photo of emergency vehicles in front of the French aircraft carrier Charles de Gaulle as arriving in the southern French port of Toulon on April 12, 2020 with sailors onboard infected with COVID-19 (novel coronavirus).
The Charles de Gaulle set sail for home last week with a coughing crewImage: picture-alliance/dpa/abaca/Marine Nationale

19:02 US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo has spoken with his Chinese counterpart and expressed the need for full transparency and information sharing between the two nations.

Tensions between the world's top two economies have increased in recent days, as President Donald Trump suspended US funding for the World Health Organization (WHO), accusing it of being "China-centric."

Pompeo said the UN health body had failed to deliver on its promises. The secretary of state has repeatedly accused China of covering up the scale of the outbreak in the early days, backed up by his president who said two weeks ago that China’s figures were "a little bit on the light side."

Pompeo has now conveyed the United States' stance to China's top diplomat, Yang Jiechi, by phone. "The Secretary stressed the need for full transparency and information sharing to combat the COVID-19 pandemic and prevent future outbreaks," a State Department readout on the call said.

Chinese state broadcaster CCTV said that Yang told Pompeo it was important for the two countries to properly manage their relations. Yang hoped the US would meet China halfway, focus on cooperation and help to promote bilateral alliances.

Pompeo later said on twitter that Washington and Beijing would "continue to work together to defeat this pandemic and restore global health and prosperity."

18:15  Members of the G20 group of world-leading economies have agreed to suspend debt payments owed to them by some of the world's poorest countries. The measures were agreed during an online meeting owing to the coronavirus. Repayments will be suspended from May 1 until the end of the year.

A total of 77 countries are eligible for the moratorium.

The initiative will "provide north of $20 billion of immediate liquidity" for poor countries, said Saudi Finance Minister Mohammed Al-Jadaan.

The suspension includes $8 billion owed to private creditors and $12 billion owed to other countries, said French Finance Minister Bruno Le Maire. A further $12 billion in debt payments to institutions such as the World Bank may also be considered for a debt freeze.

"That's how real international solidarity works," tweeted German Finance Minister Olaf Scholz.


18:02 Luxembourg has ordered citizens to cover their mouths and noses in public, albeit not necessarily with a medical face mask, which remain in short supply around the world.

"Mouth protection will be obligatory, whether it be a scarf, a bandana or a mask," Prime Minister Xavier Bettel said on Wednesday.

17:45 A special fund to stabilize German economy, worth €600 billion ($655,4 billion) will soon be ready to use, Germany's Finance Minister Olaf Scholz told the Reuters news agency. 

"Our rescue packages are aimed to help the companies and the economy, to protect jobs, and also to use the money orderly and reasonably from the taxpayer's perspective," he said. At the same time, the state should only help the businesses navigate the crisis and not get involved in the long-term, he warned.

The fund is part of an emergency budget involving the government taking out at least €156 billion in new borrowing this year. Berlin's response would also include providing guarantees for the companies to help them borrow money — and the government could also use the stabilization fund to directly intervene in emergencies. Such emergencies are expected mostly from airlines and travel agencies, which have been heavily hit by the crisis.

17:29 US President Donald Trump's name will appear on the checks that the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) will be mailing to tens of millions of people around the country as part of a $2.2 trillion (€2 trillion) stimulus operation to aid the United States’ economy during the crisis.

The US Treasury Department confirmed the unprecedented move to put a president's name on any kind of IRS payments, and said that the decision would not delay their delivery.

The checks will be sent to those who do not have their details on file with the IRS to allow for direct deposits, particularly as many of the recipients are on low incomes. The checks will contain a signature of an official from the Bureau of the Fiscal Service. The checks are also signed by civil servants to ensure government payments are nonpartisan. A president is not an officially authorized signer for money sent by the Treasury.

17:12 A senior Brazilian health official has quit. The Health Ministry confirmed the resignation of Wanderson de Oliveira, secretary of health vigilance, who had been leading the fight against the outbreak in Brazil, Latin America's hardest-hit country. De Oliveira's boss, Health Minister Luiz Henrique Mandetta, may also risk losing his job, not least after a contentious interview at the weekend effectively criticizing the president's handling of the crisis.

President Jair Bolsonaro and his Health Ministry have had a series of clashes during the pandemic, exhibiting contrasting styles and also sometimes putting out contradictory messages. Public approval for the health ministry's handling of events has been far higher than the president's.

16:58 Addressing the nation, Germany's Angela Merkel said the country would cautiously start lifting the lockdown measures, but warned that the government has little wiggle-room to avoid a resurgence of infections.

  • Some German stores will be allowed to open on Monday under specific conditions, the chancellor said. The easing will only apply to stores with surface area bellow 800 square meters (8,611 square feet)
  • Schools in Germany will start to open on May 4
  • Barber shops will also be allowed to open in early May
  • Festivals and other public events will likely stay banned until the end of August
  • Religious services will stay suspended for foreseeable future
  • The government will reconvene to discuss the situation every two weeks
  • The government still recommends wearing face masks when shopping or using public transport

The health system in Germany is "not overwhelmed" despite a massive amount of work provided by medical workers, Angela Merkel said, with around 10,000 intensive care beds currently available. However, she described it as a "fragile interim success."

16:18  Germany's Angela Merkel announced a plan to start easing lockdown measures, with some businesses and schools set to start working on May 4. At the same time, the social distancing is set to stay in place and Germany's government will "strongly recommend" to people to wear face masks while grocery shopping or in public transport.

People in Germany would still be required to keep a 1.5 meters (5 feet) from each other and gather in groups no larger than two, unless they were members of the same household, she said.

"We need to understand that we will need to live with the virus as long as there is no medication or vaccine," Chancellor Merkel said.

Merkel is issuing a televised address and update on the government's plans, after talks this afternoon with state government leaders and other relevant politicians from around Germany.

15:51 The World Health Organization (WHO) "regrets" the decision of US President Donald Trump to suspend its funding for the UN's health body. In his daily press briefing, WHO chief Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus highlighted the need for global unity and said that he "hoped" the US would reverse its decision. 

"The United States of America has been a long-standing and generous friend of the WHO and we hope it will continue to be so," Tedros said. "We regret the decision of the President of the United States to order a halt in the funding to the WHO." 

Tedros extolled the virtues of working together in the common struggle against the outbreak, which he described as a "dangerous enemy." 

"When we are divided the virus exploits the cracks between us." 

The WHO was still assessing the impact of the United States' decision and would "try to fill any gaps with partners," Tedros said. 

Meanwhile, in the US, House of Representatives Speaker Nancy Pelosi on Wednesday called Trump's decision dangerous, saying it would be challenged in Congress. 

"The President's halting of funding to the WHO as it leads the global fight against the coronavirus pandemic is senseless,"
Pelosi said in a statement. "This decision is dangerous, illegal and will be swiftly challenged."

15:25 Singapore has registered 447 new cases. The health ministry confirmed the figure, another daily record jump for the city-state, bringing the total number of infections to 3,699. Singapore has reported 10 deaths from COVID-19.

More than 400 of Wednesday's new cases were linked to migrant workers' dormitories. The disease has spread rapidly within Singapore’s large migrant worker community, highlighting what rights groups say is a problem in its containment efforts.

15:17 Russian President Vladimir Putin announced a new package of measures worth 200 billion rubles ($2.7 billion, €2.5 billion) to support Russia’s businesses and regions, during an online government meeting. 

The extra financial support is for regional governments and for small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs), "if they keep employment at 90% of April 1 levels," tweeted Emily Sherwin, DW's Moscow correspondent.

The Russian government has already announced a corporate tax holiday for six months and a reduction of social taxes that businesses have to pay for their employees. Some SME business owners had criticized the level of financial support from the government.

The new measures offer direct funding of salaries at the upper level of the minimum wage, at 12,130 rubles ($161, €147) a month. Russian airlines will also get more than 23 billion rubles, said Putin during the meeting.

There was no word on the country's Victory Day parade being postponed. The parade to celebrate 75 years since the Soviet victory in WWII is set for May 9. Russian veterans' associations urged Putin to postpone the parade because coronavirus could pose a risk to participants. WWII veterans from all over Russia have been invited to watch and take part in events over four days.

14:45 Here's a lengthier roundup of events in Asia on Wednesday, starting with an unusual election. 

In South Korea, millions of people wore masks and disposable gloves as they voted in parliamentary elections. The country saw its highest turnout in nearly three decades despite the coronavirus, after the government resisted calls to postpone the elections billed as a midterm referendum on President Moon Jae-in.  You can read more about the election here.

South Korea has confirmed more than 10,590 coronavirus cases, including 225 deaths, with the number of new infections decreasing in recent weeks.

Japan has urged its citizens to stay at home, as media reports warned that as many as 400,000 citizens could die of the coronavirus without urgent action. People have been encouraged to isolate and businesses to close, but there are no fines or penalties to force compliance. Japan has seen an accelerating infection rate in recent weeks, particularly in Tokyo. Lawmaker Takashi Takai was forced to resign from the main opposition Constitutional Democratic Party on Wednesday, after media reported he had visited a bar in Tokyo's Kabukicho red light district, despite the call to stay at home.

China reported a decline in new confirmed cases of the coronavirus in the mainland on Wednesday, but there was an increasing number of local transmissions in its far northeast bordering Russia. A number of cases came from the northeastern Heilongjiang province, a front line in China's bid to keep out imported cases from across the border with Russia. New infections from Russia have also hit other parts of China such as Inner Mongolia and the financial hub of Shanghai.

Malaysia reported 85 new cases of coronavirus, the lowest daily rise since the government imposed curbs to limit the virus' spread on March 18. The country remains in lockdown, with borders closed and people told to stay at home unless shopping for essentials or commuting to work; many businesses remain closed.

In Thailand, the pandemic has seen only muted celebrations of the Thai New Year holiday, from April 13 to 15, with the sale of alcohol during this period banned to discourage social gatherings. The country says it is extending a ban on incoming international flights until April 30 to curb the spread of the coronavirus.

India is to permit some activities in rural areas starting next week, including manufacturing and infrastructure projects, to provide relief to workers impacted by the COVID-19 lockdown. The new guidelines came a day after Prime Minister Narendra Modi extended a nationwide lockdown to May 3. So far across the country, 170 hotspots and 260 potential hotspots have been identified where the number of cases is high or exponentially increasing.

14:38 H&M has started making protective aprons and aims to deliver 1 million of them to the Swedish healthcare system over the next two weeks, the company has said.

The world's second-biggest fashion retailer is one of a number of clothing firms helping out in the face of the pandemic. Inditex, the company behind shops such as Zara, Massimo Dutti and Pull and Bear, is also producing medical gear, while British fashion brand Barbour said it had converted its production line to fabricate protective gowns.

The H&M apron is being made in accordance with the standards and requirements set by healthcare authorities, the Swedish fashion outlet said. H&M had already started production of face masks for hospital staff.

14:15 Global cases have now surpassed 2 million, according to the Johns Hopkins Institute, with around half of the cases in Europe and almost a third in the US. There have been 128,000 deaths worldwide, with around 200 countries logging infections.

Partial lockdowns have been implemented in many countries with varying degrees of stringency and success.

Senior politicians, actors and sports stars have all been affected. Sporting events have been canceled and global travel has ground to a halt as countries attempt to contain the outbreak.

Europe reported its first infection on January 25, in France, and it wasn't long before Germany and Italy followed suit, the latter of which was the hardest-hit in Europe until Spain assumed that mantle last week. Between them, Spain and Italy have reported some 340,000 cases and almost 40,000 deaths.

12:30 Germany has extended its border controls until at least May 4. Interior Minister Horst Seehofer ordered the extension for Germany's borders with Austria, Switzerland, France, Luxembourg and Denmark. It also applies to flights from Italy and Spain.

11:30 Former UK Prime Minister Gordon Brown has told DW that US President Donald Trump’s decision to stop funding the World Health Organization (WHO) lacks logic. "To protect ourselves locally in Germany or in America, we have to act globally," said Brown. "And if this disease has a second and third round in Africa or in the developing world and then comes back to the West, then we'll be to blame for not helping those African countries that the WHO is intent on supporting."

Brown said that multinational organizations such as the WHO, the United Nations, and the World Bank were doing their part, but that an adequate response needed world leaders to be involved. Even if the US and China did not take the lead, Brown said, the European Union, Japan, and other allies could push ahead to seek a medical breakthrough. 

"I think we could get this global coordination, and it's a necessary, one, to finance the search for a cure and for a vaccine and for diagnostics and therapeutics," Brown said, adding that there was a need to for more manufacturing capacity for ventilators and testing equipment.

11:10 The United States may need social distancing measures as a result of the coronavirus outbreak until 2022, a group from the Harvard School of Public Health has claimed. "Intermittent distancing may be required into 2022 unless critical care capacity is increased substantially or a treatment or vaccine becomes available," the Harvard researchers said in findings published in the journal Science. Widespread viral testing would be required in order to allow authorities to know when it might be necessary to re-trigger distancing.

Meanwhile, the authors said, too much social distancing without respite could be a bad thing. Under one scenario that was modeled, "the social distancing was so effective that virtually no population immunity is built," the paper said, highlighting the need for an intermittent approach.

A major drawback in their model, say the authors, is how little is currently known about how strong a previously infected person's immunity is and how long it lasts. The overall death toll in the US from the virus stands at 26,059, according to the Johns Hopkins University.

10:24 European Union Foreign Affairs Commissioner Josep Borrell has joined the chorus of criticism against US President Donald Trump for withdrawing funding from the World Health Organization.

He said the decision is "deeply" regrettable. "Only by joining forces we can overcome this crisis that knows no borders."

Earlier today Germany Foreign Minister Heiko Maas rejected Trump's move, saying the United Nations and "especially the underfunded WHO" were the best institutions to "strengthen the development and distribution of tests and a vaccine." 

China and Russia have also slammed the decision.

10:10 In Spain, the number of deaths reported in 24 hours on Wednesday was 523, down on the previous day’s figure of 567. In total, 18,579 people have died in the country, the health ministry said. However, the number of infections rose by 5,092 to 177,633 — an increase of 2.95% compared with 1.7% the previous day.

The country has been under lockdown since March 14, although some sectors of the economy considered non-essential went back to work on Monday. Spanish Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez defended his decision to back some industries returning to work after criticism. Those who returned to work included metalworkers, builders, and factory and shipyard workers.

Sanchez also said his government "will not leave anyone behind" as a result of the state of emergency introduced by his government.

09:40 The European Union has recommended that member states take small, strictly controlled steps when rolling back lockdown measures.

President of the European Commission Ursula von der Leyen and President of the European Council Charles Michel have outlined plans to cohesively extract European Union member states from lockdown measures and restore normality.

Von der Leyen said that the restrictions imposed were necessary but have come at an "enormous price." 

The Commission has recommended that the three conditions must be met before lifting lockdown measures: meeting epidemiological criteria; ensuring sufficient health system capacity; and surveillance in the form of large-scale testing.

"Though the way back to normality will be very long, it is also clear that the extraordinary confinement measures cannot last indefinitely," the document reads. 

The non-binding roadmap will serve to "prepare the ground for a comprehensive recovery plan and unprecedented investment."

Von der Leyen announced there will be an online donor conference to raise funds for research on the development of a vaccine. 

A vaccine "is our collective best shot at beating the virus. To support this global initiative, funding is needed," she said.

09:39 The Federation of German Industries (BDI) has demanded a clear and consistent nationwide plan for a timed restart of the economy from the government. "Our firms must soon know the increments in which social and economic life should be allowed to start up again," said BDI President Dieter Kempf. "If we don’t manage to gradually lift the gridlock on the economy and society, then considerable consequences threaten our companies."

09:33 Finland's government announced the lifting of travel restrictions to and from the country's most populous region Uusimaa, which had been introduced three weeks ago to tackle the spread of coronavirus in the country. 

Uusimaa, where the capital Helsinki is located, accounted for two-thirds of the country's COVID-19 infections at the end of March, with nearly 2,000 of the 3,161 cases, according to Finnish health authorities. 

The country has recorded 64 COVID-19 fatalities. 

"We have decided to lift the restrictions since the legal grounds for continuing the temporary restrictions on movement are no longer considered to exist," Prime Minister Sanna Marin said, referring to clauses in the country's Emergency Powers Act. 

But Finland has not seen the end nor the peak of the epidemic, Marin warned. 

The prime minister and other cabinet members urged residents to avoid non-essential domestic travel, including to their summer cottages, and asked them to continue exercising social distancing. 

Schools will continue to be closed and a ban on public meetings of more than 10 people will remain in place until May 31. Restaurants, cafes and bars will also stay closed until then, but can provide take-out services.

09:15 The European Union has called for a coordinated exit plan as member states look at relaxing coronavirus restrictions. But with disparate national responses to COVID-19, there's no one-size-fits-all solution. See DW's full report here

07:58 Germany's Foreign Minister Heiko Maas has rejected Donald Trump's move to halt funding for the WHO. Maas said the UN, and ''especially the underfunded WHO,'' were the best institutions to ''strengthen the development and distribution of tests and a vaccine.'' 

''Recriminations don't help. The virus doesn't care for borders. We have to closely work together against #COVID19,'' Maas wrote in a tweet. 

China said it was "seriously concerned" about the US decision and urged Washington to fulfill its obligations during the coronavirus crisis. 

"This US decision will weaken WHO's capacities and undermine the international cooperation against the epidemic," Chinese official Zhao Lijian told a press briefing. 

Russia has also criticized the US for lashing out at the WHO. "I would warn against attempts to politicize the coronavirus outbreak, and that refers not only to the WHO's role, but also to accusations aired against certain countries," Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov said yesterday.  

"It's important to refrain from finger-pointing and realize that we face a common peril and we can only fight it together,'' he added.

Both China and Russia have come under increased scrutiny over their governments' handling of the pandemic.

07:00 The Associated Press (AP) reported, citing internal documents it obtained and expert estimates, that Chinese officials delayed informing the public about the pandemic for six crucial days. 

President Xi Jinping issued his first public comments on the coronavirus on January 20, when he said the outbreak should be ''taken seriously,'' while leading Chinese epidemiologist, Zhong Nanshan, announced for the first time that the virus was transmissible from person to person. 

But AP reported that on January 14, China's National Health Commission chief laid out a grim assessment of the outbreak situation in a confidential teleconference with provincial health officials — with a memo stating that the meeting was held to map out instructions on COVID-19 from Chinese leaders including Xi. 

The meeting teleconference took place one day after officials learned of the first registered coronavirus case outside China, in Thailand. 

In the days between January 14 and January 20, the city of Wuhan hosted a mass banquet for tens of thousands of people and millions began traveling through for Lunar New Year celebrations. 

Prior to the six-day delay, there was a lapse of almost two weeks in which China's Center for Disease Control did not record any cases from local officials, AP said, citing internal bulletins. 

It remains unclear whether it was local officials or national officials who failed to record the cases, or if officials knew of the cases at all.  

But experts told AP that China's rigid controls on information, bureaucratic hurdles and a reluctance to send negative news up the chain of command muffled early warnings. 

The Chinese government has repeatedly denied allegations that it suppressed information in the early days of the epidemic and maintains that it immediately reported it to the World Health Organization. 

''Allegations of a cover-up or lack of transparency in China are groundless,'' said foreign ministry spokesman Zhao Lijian in Wednesday's press conference.

06:57 An Australian rower inadvertently broke a world record at home during lockdown. Using a home rowing machine, Georgie Rowe set the record for the world's fastest half-marathon. 

The champion rower was taking part in an indoor-rowing competition organized by Rowing Australia after the national championships were canceled. 

"To be honest, I just wanted to get some kilometers up for New South Wales in the interstate indoor regatta," she told public broadcaster ABC. "It was just a good way to do it — put on 21km, put some music on and just go for it."

But the Olympic hopeful managed a record time, beating US rower Esther Lofgren's record for the heavyweight women's half-marathon in the 19-29 age bracket.

05:05 Vietnam introduced hefty fines for those who disseminate "fake news" or rumors on social media, to combat the rapid spread of coronavirus misinformation across the country.  

Those found guilty of using social media to share false, untruthful, distorted or slanderous information, will face fines ranging from 10 to 20 million dong ($426-$853), equivalent to around three to six months' basic salary in Vietnam. 

But human rights groups have raised concerns that new anti-fake news rules can extend far beyond the coronavirus topic and could be used to punish dissent. 

Vietnam has reported 267 COVID-19 infections, with no deaths so far.

05:00 Chile's Constitutional Court approved a special law that would pardon roughly 1,300 prisoners at high risk of contracting coronavirus. 

The constitutional pardon, which now awaits the approval of President Sebastian Pinera, is meant to ease pressure on the country's prisons, which a high court report called "time bomb" for infection. 

Those benefiting from the law would be prisoners over 75 years old, mothers of children under 2 years old, and pregnant women. They will be able to serve the rest of their sentences at home. 

Prisoners who committed crimes against humanity and those guilty of homicide, kidnapping, drug trafficking and domestic violence are not included in the pardon deal.

03:59 What to watch from Europe on Wednesday:
- European Commission to present "roadmap to exit" lockdowns for member states
- German Chancellor Angela Merkel to hold a video conference with the heads of Germany's 16 states to discuss plans about easing restrictions set to expire on Sunday

03:52 US President Donald Trump’s announcement that the US would suspend funding to the World Health Organization (WHO) over allegations the agency had covered up the initial coronavirus outbreak was met with widespread opposition from politicians, diplomats and medical professionals. 

The decision immediately drew condemnation from the likes of United Nations Secretary General Antonio Guterres, who said it was "not the time" to reduce funding to the agency, which is at the forefront of international efforts to stem the spread of coronavirus. 

Meanwhile, US House Speaker Nancy Pelosi warned Americans to ''ignore the lies'' and ''insist on the truth'' regarding the US response to the coronavirus pandemic. She also condemned Trump for ignoring early warnings about the virus. ''The truth is a weak person, a poor leader, takes no responsibility," she wrote.

Several top medical experts including Dr. Patrice Harris, the president of the American Medical Association, the largest network of physicians in the US, slammed the move to halt funding. Harris called the decision "a dangerous step in the wrong direction that will not make defeating COVID-19 easier."

On Tuesday, Trump alleged that the WHO said that there was no human-to-human transmission in mid-January. However, while the organization did not claim to have direct evidence of the method of transmission, it had not openly ruled out the possibility of human-to-human transmission at that time. Later on in January, the WHO did voice suspicions that the virus could be spread through such a method. 

The United States currently has the highest number of cases and a higher death toll than any other country in the world, with more than 609,000 infections and 26,000 deaths.

03:35 Japan has encouraged citizens to limit interactions by 70% to prevent a worsening of the coronavirus crisis in the country. Tokyo could see a massive jump with 80,000 infections within a month if major changes were not brought in, government spokesman Yoshihide Suga said in a statement. 

He also added that the government was considering its coalition partner's request for handing out 100,000 yen (€850, $930) per person to deal with the public health crisis. However, this would only be possible once an extra budget was established. 

Japan has reported 7,885 infections and 146 deaths from the virus.

03:34 Singapore has passed an order making it mandatory for people to wear a mask when they step out of their homes. Failure to comply with this order could result in a fine of 300 Singapore dollars (€193, $212) fine, the city-state’s health ministry said in a statement. Only children under the age of two or people with special needs are exempted. While masks may be removed while exercising, they need to be put back immediately afterward.

Singapore has seen a sharp increase in cases over the past week, with 3,252 infections and 10 deaths reported.

02:16 New Zealand's Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern is set to take a 20% pay cut for the next six months in the face of the economic crisis caused by the coronavirus pandemic.

The salary reduction will also apply to government ministers and public service chief executives, Ardern said on Wednesday.

"It's about leadership," she said. "If there was ever a time to close the gap between different positions, it's now." 

The pay cut will not apply to workers on the frontlines, including police officers and health care workers. Ardern earns 470,000 New Zealand dollars ($286,000) (€260,000) per year, while cabinet ministers earn about 300,000 New Zealand dollars per year.

New Zealand is three weeks into a four-week lockdown aimed at halting the spread of coronavirus. The country of 4.9 million has recorded 1,386 cases and 9 deaths.

01:21 Deportations from the United States are contributing to an increasing number of coronavirus cases in Guatemala, the country's health minister Hugo Monroy said on Tuesday.

Presidential spokesman Carlos Sandoval clarified later, saying that Monroy was referring to a flight in March on which ''between 50% and 75% [of the passengers] during all their time in isolation and quarantine have come back positive.''

Before Tuesday, Guatemala had only reported three positive infections among people deported by the US. Guatemala, with a population of 17.25 million, has 167 reported cases and a virus death toll of five.

01:13 United Nations Secretary-General Antonio Guterres rejected US President Donald Trump's move to halt US funding to the World Health Organization (WHO), saying it was "not the time" to do so.

It is "not the time to reduce the resources for the operations of the World Health Organization or any other humanitarian organization in the fight against the virus," Guterres wrote in an official statement. 

"It is my belief that the World Health Organization must be supported, as it is absolutely critical to the world's efforts to win the war against COVID-19," the statement read. 

Earlier on Tuesday, Trump announced that he would suspend funding to the WHO, accusing the Geneva-based health agency of "severely mismanaging and covering up the spread of the coronavirus", which has claimed almost 126,000 lives worldwide.

00:31 US President Donald Trump said the federal government will be issuing guidelines for reopening the country as soon as this week. Some states may be able to reopen before May 1, he told reporters at a White House press briefing.

Each state governor will be able "to implement a reopening," with less-hit states opening sooner. Last month, Trump drew widespread criticism when he suggested that the US would loosen measures to curb the spread of the virus by Easter.

The US currently has the most cases and the highest death toll of any other country in the world, with 25,717 deaths and more than 605,000 cases.

00:05 Welcome to DW's coverage of the latest updates on the coronavirus pandemic. Catch up on Tuesday's developments here.

In reporting on the coronavirus pandemic, unless otherwise specified, DW uses figures provided by the Johns Hopkins University (JHU) Coronavirus Resource Center in the United States. JHU updates figures in real time, collating data from world health organizations, state and national governments and other public official sources, all of whom have their own systems for compiling information.

Germany's national statistics are compiled by its public health agency, the Robert Koch Institute (RKI). These figures depend on data transmission from state and local levels and are updated around once a day, which can lead to deviation from JHU.

lc/se (AFP, dpa, AP, Reuters)