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Germany eases some coronavirus curbs on public life

April 30, 2020

Germany will lift some coronavirus restrictions to reopen playgrounds, museums, galleries and parks. But Chancellor Merkel said major public events will remain prohibited. Follow DW for the latest.

A child and and adult pushing bikes past a playground in Hamburg
Image: picture-alliance/dpa/B. Marks

- Germany has announced a record number of people on short-time work wage subsidy scheme amid the coronavirus pandemic

- The German government will wait until May 6 to decide on the next steps to ease the lockdown

- The reproduction rate in Germany is at 0.76, down from 1.0 on Monday

- South Korea has reported no daily increase in local infections for the first time since February 15

Updates in Universal Coordinated Time (UTC/GMT)

23:03 US President Donald Trump on Thursday suggested that the coronavirus may have originated in a virology lab in China. 

Trump claimed that he had seen evidence linking the virus to the Chinese state-backed Wuhan Institute of Virology but declined to give any further information.

"Yes, yes I have," the president said on being asked if he had seen anything giving him a high degree of confidence for his claims about the origin of the virus.

"I can't tell you that. I'm not allowed to tell you that," he said, speaking at a White House event.

Trump said that US intelligence officials are probing how the virus first emerged and the steps China took to stop the infection from spreading to the rest of the world.

Trump's latest comments came even as the US intelligence community concluded, earlier in the day, that the virus had originated in China but was not man-made.

Adding to his war of words with Beijing, Trump also said there was a possibility that China either could not stop the spread of COVID-19 or let it spread.

"At least they seem to be trying to be somewhat transparent with us," he said of Beijing's attempts to investigate how the pandemic began.

"But we're going to find out. You'll be learning in the not-too-distant future. But it's a terrible thing that happened — whether they made a mistake or whether it started off as mistake and then they made another one. Or did somebody do something on purpose?" he said.

The president also said that tariffs against China could be a possibility in response to Beijing's handling of the outbreak.

Read moreCoronavirus: From bats to pangolins, how do viruses reach us?

23:03 The International Monetary Fund (IMF) has approved hundreds of millions of dollars in loans for Ethiopia and Mali to help the countries fight the coronavirus pandemic. The Washington-based lender approved $411 million for Ethiopia from its Rapid Financing Instrument, as well as $12 million in debt relief under a separate program. 

Mali will also receive $200 million to help plug the gap in government spending to reduce the impact of the virus. The West African country is one of the world's poorest and has been plagued for years by jihadist and tribal violence. Experts have warned it could be particularly vulnerable to coronavirus.

The IMF also is due to consider a request for some $500 million in emergency financing to fight coronavirus in Ecuador on Friday. Ecuador has been among the hardest-hit countries in Latin America with almost 25,000 confirmed cases and at least 900 deaths.

Read moreJust how helpful is the IMF's debt relief?

21:45 Online retail behemoth Amazon has reported surging sales as people shop from home due to coronavirus, but extra expenses linked to the pandemic have eaten into profits. 

In the first 3 months of 2020, revenue rose 26% to more than $75 billion, but profits slipped 29% from a year ago to $2.5 billion. Shares of Amazon fell about 5% in after-hours trading. 

Chief executive Jeff Bezos said the company would normally expect to make about $4 billion in operating profit in the current second quarter.  

"But these aren't normal circumstances. Instead, we expect to spend the entirety of that $4 billion, and perhaps a bit more, on COVID-related expenses getting products to customers and keeping employees safe," Bezos said. 

20:10 A US military ship has left New York after spending a month in the city helping ease the burden put on hospitals when the number of cases of coronavirus in the city spiked.

The USNS Comfort left a Manhattan pier late Thursday afternoon to head back to a US naval base in Norfolk, Virginia. The 894-foot-long (272-meter-long) ship had arrived in the city on March 30.

The 1,000-bed ship was sent to New York City by US President Donald Trump after projections estimated the metropolis would need to double its number of hospital beds to 110,000 in order to manage the peak of the COVID-19 outbreak.

Other initiatives to handle the projected cases included treating patients in tents in Central Park and converting the home of the US Open tennis tournament into an emergency field hospital.

Hospital admissions were ultimately much lower than expected, however. Only 182 patients were treated on the ship, the Navy said in a statement, around 70% for COVID-19. Total hospitalizations in New York City peaked at 20,000 in mid-April, below the capacity of the city’s permanent hospitals.

Over 17,800 New York City residents have died from the virus, and 7,820 remain hospitalized.

20:00 A group of Serbian opposition leaders staged a public protest during the coronavirus curfew in Belgrade, criticizing the government's lockdown measures and its response to the decentralized protest on the previous day.

The Belgrade protest saw several politicians from the non-ruling party sit at the steps of the parliament, with small crowds of opposition supporters and pro-government protesters also appearing at the scene.

The Serbian government, controlled by strongman Aleksandar Vucic, responded slowly in the early days of the pandemic but then sharply changed course and imposed some of the harshest lockdown measures in Europe. In addition to a nationwide curfew, the restrictions included a total ban on outside movement for the elderly.

The government has been slowly easing the lockdown in recent days. However, it prompted a new wave of criticism by declaring an 83-hour-long curfew from Thursday evening to Monday morning, aimed at preventing people from congregating during the May 1st weekend.

Throughout the week, people across Serbia banged their pots and blew whistles from their homes in a campaign dubbed "Noise against dictatorship." The protest continued on Thursday despite Vucic announcing that the planned curfew would be cut short on the previous day.

19:30 UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres has said he laments the lack of global leadership and the international community's divided response to the coronavirus crisis, saying he fears there will be inadequate support for poor countries.

Responding to a question about global leadership, Guterres said in a news conference on Thursday that the international community was divided at a time when it was "more important than ever to be united."

"There is ... a disconnect between leadership and power. We see remarkable examples of leadership but they are usually not associated with power. And where we see power we sometimes do not see the necessary leadership," Guterres said.

"I hope this will be overcome sooner rather than later," he added.

His comments came a day after US President Donald Trump accused China of using the pandemic to hurt his chances of reelection in November.

Guterres described the role of China and the US in fighting the pandemic as "absolutely vital."

"The contribution of China and the United States both to fight COVID-19 and to all other aspects in the development of international relations is, in my opinion, absolutely essential and I hope that it will become possible in the future," he said.

For more than a month, the UN Security Council has been trying to negotiate a resolution that would affirm the need for greater cooperation between countries to fight the spread of the coronavirus and calls for a truce of all humanitarian conflict currently taking place around the globe.

Guterres said he feared there would be insufficient support from the international community for developing countries, both in terms of outbreak response as well as addressing the economic and social fallout. An appeal for $2 billion (€1.8 billion) to help these countries was thus far only half funded, he said.

19:10 Over 60,000 people have been killed by the new coronavirus in the United States, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) said on Thursday.

With 2,552 more deaths recorded nationwide, the US death toll has reached 60,057. The agency also reported 26,512 new cases for a total of 1,031,659. The daily jump is higher than the 23,901 new cases reported on Thursday and 23,459 reported on Wednesday, but it remains well below the 29,355 new cases on Tuesday.

19:08 The premier of the German state of North Rhine-Westphalia urged the easing of restrictions on restaurants but warned of complications posed by alcohol.

Venues in Germany's most populous state and across the country can currently only operate under strict restrictions, usually allowing them to offer takeout or deliver food, but not to serve patrons on site.

Premier Armin Laschet called for a "concrete perspective" for bars and restaurants struggling to survive the crisis but noted that the hospitality industry was "among the most sensitive areas" of the crisis.

"If alcohol is served, the social distancing order is quickly forgotten," he said.

Bavarian Premier Markus Söder said that easing of lockdown measures in this branch would be "the biggest challenge."

Söder noted that ordering face coverings made little sense in venues where people eat and drink, and also noted issues with alcohol and social distancing.

The guidelines for reopening certain areas of the economy must exist in reality and "not only on paper," he added.

18:40 The United Nations World Food Program has begun sending planes with medical supplies to developing nations especially vulnerable to the coronavirus pandemic.

The first flight left Liege Airport in Belgium on Thursday, a Boeing 757 cargo plane carrying 16 tons of medical supplies — masks, gloves, medicines and syringes — destined for Burkina Faso.

The grounding of airplanes during the coronavirus crisis has affected not only passenger travel but also the transportation of medical supplies.

"Today, [the challenge] to find cargo planes is nightmarish. Prices have gone up by four or five times," said Amer Daoudi, the program's corporate responsive director. "You also might not get it today or the day after or for a week.

"We need the capacity to service many of the fragile countries across the globe. The air bridge is going to cover almost 120 countries."

17:44 France's Sports Ministry said joggers and cyclists must be "a minimum distance of 10 meters" (33 feet) apart.

Officials have been alarmed by the hundreds of runners crowding sidewalks and promenades in recent weeks. The situation has led to authorities in Paris to ban daytime running.

Social distancing guidelines in France already suggest people maintain a distance of at least one meter. However, recent studies have suggested that this distance is not enough for runners and cyclists, who spread virus particles much farther than a person standing still.

The Sports Ministry did not clarify how the measure would be enforced. However, no more than 10 people will be allowed to gather for any group exercise activity.

The government has recently canceled all sporting events until September, including Ligue 1 and Ligue 2, it's top two football leagues and its Top 14 rugby league.

France reported 289 coronavirus deaths on Thursday, a drop of more than 100 from Wednesday, and a further decline in the number of patients in intensive care.

Jerome Salomon, France's top health official, said the increase brought the country's total death toll to 24,376, the world's fifth-highest figure after the United States, Italy, Britain and Spain.

The daily toll was well down from the 427 reported on Wednesday.

The latest figures continued the more optimistic trend seen in recent days, with the number of patients in intensive care shrinking by 188 to 4,019. The number peaked at 7,200 on April 9.

17:16 Russian Prime Minister Mikhail Mishustin tested positive for the new coronavirus and named his deputy the acting head of government.

Mishustin revealed the results in a televised videoconference with President Vladimir Putin.

"It has just now became known that the coronavirus test I gave came back positive," Mishustin told Putin, who supported the PM's decision of handing over the reins to Deputy Prime Minister Andrey Belousov.

Mishustin also said he would follow state guidelines and self-isolate, but added he intended to "maintain active contact with the colleagues and [Putin] via telephone and video conference."

The 54-year-old politician was handpicked by Putin to succeed long-time former-Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev, who resigned over a constitutional reform spearheaded by the president.

Thursday's announcement comes about a month after UK leader Boris Johnson also tested positive for the virus. Johnson was eventually hospitalized and treated in intensive care, only resuming his duties this week.

17:05 The UK is now "past the peak" of the COVID-19 outbreak, Prime Minister Boris Johnson said during his first press conference since being hospitalized with the disease.

The UK has registered over 26,000 deaths of the new coronavirus, making its death toll the second highest in Europe, after Italy.

When asked about the death toll, Johnson defended his government response.

"I do think that broadly speaking we did the right thing at the right time," Johnson said, noting there were "so many reasons to be hopeful in the long term."

The British prime minister also pledged to present a "menu of options" on relaxing the lockdown next week.

16:50 Barbers and hairdressers in Germany said they are expecting an "overwhelming" demand for their services once salons in Germany reopen on Monday.

"We're seeing a large, an overwhelming request for hair services," said director of the Central Association of German Hairdressers Jörg Müller, adding that some salons are booked out three weeks past the date the coronavirus restrictions are to be lifted. 

The demand, however, won't be able to balance out the revenue lost while the restrictions were in place, he said. 

"The hairdressers can't cut or color twice as much hair," Müller said. 

Hair salons in Germany have been closed since March 23 as a measure to slow the spread of the coronavirus. Müller said the sector has lost nearly half a billion euros in revenue in that time. 

In order to reopen, salons are required to take strict health precautions. Both hairdressers and clients are required to wear face masks during the appointment and clients must have their hair washed at the salon. Salons are exempt from observing rules that require people to keep a minimum distance between each other, but must take care that the salon is properly ventilated.

16:30 Polish Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki said residents who regularly cross the Polish border for work or schooling will be able to do so again on May 4 without needing to undergo a 14-day quarantine.

The new rules apply to Polish employees and students who cross into Germany, Lithuania, Slovakia and the Czech Republic. Entry will continue to be prohibited to all others unless they undergo a two-week quarantine.

"The growth of the new coronavirus cases is relatively low and stable. We haven't won with the epidemic, but we increasingly have it under more control," Morawiecki wrote in a post on his Facebook page.

"It means we can take more decided steps to allow economic life to speed up."

Poland was one of the first European Union states to close its borders due to the new coronavirus.

16:00 The top spy agency in the United States has said for the first time that it believes the new coronavirus that originated in China was not manmade or genetically modified.

"The Intelligence Community also concurs with the wide scientific consensus that the COVID-19 virus was not manmade or genetically modified," the Office of Director of National Intelligence (ODNI) said in a statement.

"The (intelligence community) will continue to rigorously examine emerging information and intelligence to determine whether the outbreak began through contact with infected animals or if it was the result of an accident at a laboratory in Wuhan," it added.

The statement stood in stark contrast to conspiracy theories circulated by some supporters of US President Donald Trump, who have suggested that COVID-19 escaped from a Chinese government biological weapons laboratory where it had been developed by scientists.

For weeks, US officials familiar with intelligence reporting have spoken out against these conspiracy theories. The virus is instead believed to have broken out at a meat market in the Chinese city of Wuhan, or from a Wuhan government laboratory that is believed to be conducting biological hazard research.

15:25 Cautious about lifting lockdown measures too quickly, German Chancellor Angela Merkel and state leaders said the country would open up parts of public life but keep a ban on major events

Germans will once again be allowed to meet for religious ceremonies, take their children to playgrounds, and visit museums or zoos, Chancellor Angela Merkel said. Social distancing regulations will, however, remain in place.

14:55 Croatia is set for a record-breaking recession, with the GDP of the EU country projected to shrink by 9.4% in 2020.

This would mark the "biggest annual drop" since the independence war which ended in 1995, said Prime Minister Andrej Plenkovic.

The Adriatic country is a popular tourist destination. With vacation planes canceled across Europe and the world due to the pandemic, Croatia faces a threat to its tourism industry, which makes up roughly one-fifth of the country's economy.

14:00 Italy is reopening two airports next week as it begins relaxing lockdown measures.

Italy's Transport Ministry said Rome's Ciampino International Airport and the Florence Airport in Peretola would reopen on May 4, when the country's current coronavirus lockdown expires. Opening the airports would allow for testing of a screening system for coronavirus, the ministry said without elaborating.

Ciampino is Rome's secondary international airport, while the airport in Peretola is the second-largest airport in Tuscany.

The ministry said trains would also add new long-distance connections "to ensure minimum essential services."

Many Italians will head back to work when the countrywide lockdown, put in place on March 9, expires next week.

13:55 In Denmark, the coronavirus has not spread any faster since the country began gradually loosening restrictions in mid-April, according to the State Serum Institute, which is responsible for preparing to act against infectious diseases. 

The rate that shows the average number of infections one sick person will cause has gone up only slightly in the past two weeks and is still below 1.0, the institute said. A value below 1 means the spread of the virus is slowing.

"However, there are no signs that the COVID-19 epidemic is accelerating," the institute said. 

13:35 The economy in the eurozone could shrink between 5% and 12% in 2020 due to the coronavirus crisis, chief of the European Central Bank (ECB) Christine Lagarde has said.

"We are facing an economic contraction of a magnitude and speed that is unprecedented in recent history," Lagarde said in Frankfurt.

"As containment measures are gradually lifted, these scenarios foresee a recovery in economic activity although its speed and scale remain highly uncertain," she added.

Figures from Eurostat — the statistics office of the EU — published Thursday estimated that the eurozone economy shrunk nearly 4% in the first quarter.

The impact on the second quarter is likely to be "even more severe," Lagarde said. In recent weeks, the ECB has scrambled to shore up the eurozone economy with stimulus measures that have included keeping interest rates at historic lows as well as a €750-billion ($814-billion) pandemic emergency bond purchasing program. This brings the financial institution’s total asset purchases to around €1.1 trillion this year.

Lagarde said that "the highest priority is to save lives."

"We must remember that each death is a tragedy," she said.

13:15 Over 30 million people in the US have filed unemployment claims since mid-March amid the coronavirus crisis, according to new figures released by the US Labor Department.

More than 3.84 million workers in the last week alone filed for unemployment benefits after coronavirus measures shut down businesses nationwide, forcing millions of employers to lay off workers.

The report for the week that ended on April 25 showed that the average number of people applying for job benefits for the past four weeks has jumped to over 5 million.

Economists have projected that the unemployment rate for April could soar as high as 20%. That would make it the highest rate since it reached 25% during the Great Depression.

13:10 The World Health Organization reminded the public that infectious diseases other than the novel coronavirus need to be kept in check through vaccinations during the current pandemic.

"Immunization services are essential. If they have been interrupted, catchup measures must be taken as quickly as possible," said Hans Kluge, the regional director of the WHO's European office.

"We cannot allow the impact of COVID-19 to be amplified by neglecting other vital health protection measures."

Countries need to ensure that health systems are equipped for other infectious diseases while also remaining dedicated to caring for those suffering from the new coronavirus.

The WHO's European branch is particularly concerned about a measles outbreak that affected 6,000 people on the continent in January and February of this year.

12:40 Australian state and territory officials have started relaxing coronavirus-related restrictions after the country saw a low number of new infections.

Health officials have declared the Australian Capital Territory as free of the coronavirus.

Canberra and its surrounding areas became free of the disease after two patients recovered overnight.

The capital, home to about 427,000 people, had registered 106 cases and three deaths from COVID-19 before eliminating all known active infections by Thursday.

Australia's most populous state of New South Wales will ease gathering restrictions from Friday to allow a maximum of two adults and their children to visit others.

The island state of Tasmania, which has the worst coronavirus outbreak per capita, has said it will not relax restrictions at least until next week.

Meanwhile, the Northern Territory, which has remained largely free of the virus with only 28 cases and no deaths, announced the most comprehensive relaxing of coronavirus measures in the country.

Restaurants, cafes, bars, gyms, libraries and beauty salons in the rural state will be allowed to open from Saturday, though distancing rules still apply. The territory had closed its borders to interstate and overseas travelers on March 23.

The states of Victoria and South Australia are continuing to consider how and when to lift restrictions on public life.

All the Australian states and territories still have their borders closed.

12:25 Applications for asylum in the EU dropped by 43% in March compared to February owing to travel restrictions put in place because of COVID-19, according to the European Asylum Support Office (EASO).

There were 34,737 applications lodged in March, a drop of almost half compared to February. The EASO also noted that before the outbreak reached Europe, applications in January and February had increased by 16% compared to the same period in 2019.

The EU's executive, the European Commission, has published advice to member states on ways to ensure the continuity of asylum procedures. Member states were encouraged to continue processing asylum applications as usual, while respecting lockdown restrictions within each country.

11:58 Pope Francis' charity envoy, Cardinal Konrad Krajewski from Poland, has donated money to a parish priest tasked with helping transsexual workers in Italy left without work due to the coronavirus pandemic. 

The priest wrote to Krajewski telling "the story of these people. They earned money off the books, obviously, perhaps they have problems with documents and cannot apply for subsidies," the cardinal said.

The priest, Father Andrea Conocchia, is overseeing some 20 sex workers in the coastal town of Torvaianica, about 40 kilometres (24.9 miles) south of Rome.

"These people are human beings who were hungry," the cardinal told Italian daily Corriere della Sera. "They are mostly from Latin America, they really love the pope, who is from Argentina… And we are all children of God."

11:50 Iran's Health Ministry reported 71 new deaths, bringing the country’s official death toll up to 6,028. 

"The number of deaths from this disease effectively crossed 6,000 today," ministry spokesman Kianoush Jahanpour said in televised remarks. The ministry also reported 983 new coronavirus cases, bringing the total to 94,460. More than 75,100 of those infected by the virus had been released from hospital after recovering, while 2,976 were still in critical condition at the time of the announcement. 

Iran has shut schools, universities, cinemas and stadiums in an effort to contain the virus, but since April 11, has allowed a phased reopening of its economy. The ministry is also devising health protocols to allow Friday and group prayers to recommence in some cities.

11:40 The German government is expected to announce a range of measures, which would see some lockdown restrictions eased. However, hygiene and social distancing rules will be compulsory maintained.

  • Playgrounds will be reopened, with parents made responsible for their children at all times; 
  • Religious services, including weddings, will be allowed
  • Museums, zoos, botanical gardens will open once more

Chancellor Angela Merkel is expected to make a statement with more details, along with leaders of the sixteen German states, later on Thursday.

11:33 Indonesians have taken to sunbathing outdoors after unbacked claims circulated on social network platforms that sunlight and the vitamin D it provides can slow down or kill the new coronavirus, international French news agency AFP reported.

Some Indonesian military and police units have also incorporated sunbathing sessions into their morning exercise routines, AFP said.

Last week, a senior US official stated that, according to new research, sunlight can quickly destroy the virus. The study has not yet been independently evaluated, but US President Donald Trump enthusiastically cited the study during a press conference.

In a country where fair skin has long been associated with high social class and is a much sought after beauty standard, Indonesians' sudden interest in sunbathing has led President Joko Widodo's government to warn of the dangers of skin cancer and recommend sun protection.

The new trend has also concerned some doctors.  "Exposing the body to direct sunlight is good for getting vitamin D, but not directly for preventing disease," said Dirga Sakti Rambe, a doctor at Jakarta's OMNI Pulomas Hospital.

He acknowledged that the vitamin D provided by sun exposure is important for the human immune system, but stressed that "sunbathing does not kill the virus that causes COVID-19."

11:15 Italian Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte said that some regions may be able to ease lockdown measures more rapidly than others, but warned against removing restrictions at the same time across the board. 

Regions led by right-leaning parties, who are not a part of the national government, have rejected calls for a gradual, staggered easing of the restrictions, which Conte says is vital to preventing another surge in infections. Calabria, in southwestern Italy, announced that bars and restaurants can reopen immediately as long as they had outdoor tables.

In a speech to parliament, he said he would be willing to work with regions in the future to enable them to relax measures ahead of the proposed end to the restrictions – in a month – if they had particularly low rates of infection. 

"There will not be a plan based on sudden initiatives by individual local authorities, but rather one based on scientific findings," Conte said.

Calabria, in southwestern Italy, announced that bars and restaurants can reopen immediately as long as they had outdoor tables.

Italy, one of the hardest hit by the pandemic, has 203,591 recorded cases and a death toll of 27,682.

11:02 Japan is preparing to extend its state of emergency for about a month past its current expiration date of May 6, according to Reuters news agency.

A final decision will be made at a meeting on Friday. Prime Minister Shinzo Abe first announced the state of emergency in seven prefectures, including Tokyo, on April 7.

Japan has reported 13,965 confirmed cases of COVID-19 and 425 people have died.

10:52 A Swedish town has turned to a traditional source to try and ward off the coronavirus: chicken droppings. 

The southern university town of Lund began spreading chicken manure in its central park in the lead up to its annual Walpurgis Night on Thursday. 

Sweden has made headlines around the world for taking a much less severe approach of tackling the coronavirus outbreak, allowing larger gatherings and —  instead of implementing social distancing measures —  asking its citizens to maintain safe distances.  

Walpurgis Night celebrates the northern European country's shift from long, dark winter days to sunnier, longer spring days. The event is typically celebrated with picnics and parties and usually attracts thousands of people.

"This is a park where usually 30,000 people gather, but with COVID-19 this is now unthinkable," Lund Mayor Philip Sandberg told Reuters. "We don't want Lund to become an epicentre for the spread of the disease."

10:45 The EU’s gross domestic product (GDP) shrank 3.5% in the first three months of 2020, according to new statistics revealed by the bloc. Meanwhile, the GDP of the Eurozone, the group of countries within the EU that use the euro, shrunk by 3.8%. The figures mark one of the biggest drops in growth since the EU’s inception.

The EU’s Economic Affairs Commissioner Paolo Gentiloni said that the figures should inspire the EU’s leaders to approve a recovery plan. So far, plans have been hampered by disagreements between countries.

"The preliminary flash for euro area and EU GDP is a further indication that Europe is experiencing an economic shock without precedent in modern times," he said. "It is vital that the EU rise to this challenge."

10:30 Bundesliga and German second division soccer players will be tested for the coronavirus from Thursday, the German Football league (DFL) confirmed.

Germany suspended soccer in mid-March due to the coronavirus pandemic. The DFL hopes that the tests, a part of its hygiene and safety campaign, would enable players to resume matches behind closed doors from May onwards.

The DFL still hopes to complete the league season, which was altered due to the outbreak, by June 30.

According to the German sports magazine Kicker, two rounds of coronavirus testing is required for soccer clubs to resume team training.

Read more: Coronavirus: German public turning against Bundesliga return behind closed doors

Soccer fans cut out for lockdown

10:00 For victims of domestic abuse, the lockdowns imposed in response to the coronavirus have made life even more unbearable. Social workers warn that the stoppage of home visits to families in difficult circumstances is compounding the problem.

Read more: Behind closed doors: UK domestic abuse surges during coronavirus lockdown 

Domestic abuse during lockdowns

09:15 Confirmed coronavirus cases in Spain have risen to 213,435, up more than 500 from Wednesday. Their death toll rose to 24,543 from 24,275.

While Spain remains the country with the largest confirmed number of cases in Europe, but the UK and Italy have had more deaths linked to COVID-19.

New figures show that Spain’s economy had also shrunk by 4.1% in the first quarter compared to the same period last year. Spain remains in the grips of one of the strictest lockdowns in Europe.

08:43 Schools in Hungary will remain closed until the end of May and events with more than 500 participants will not be allowed until August 15, Prime Minister Viktor Orban has announced.

Orban was previously been reprimanded by the EU for using lockdown restrictions to attempt to seize more control over the Hungarian parliament and over the country. Orban said on Wednesday that some restrictions outside of Budapest will be eased next week. The capital city has been worst hit by the outbreak.

Hungary has 2,775 confirmed cases and 312 people have died.

08:20 The head of the German public health agency has placed the infection rate in Germany at 0.76 in his daily press conference.

Dr Lothar Wieler of the Robert Koch Institute (RKI) also floated the wider testing of those without any symptoms, for Germany to get a better grasp on how many people are or have been infected.

"We have been very lucky in Germany," he said, referring to Germany's relatively low death rate. "But remember — this virus is in our country, and it will stay here for many months to come."

The infection rate, or R-number (reproduction number), refers to how many people on average are infected by each infected person. The number in Germany had been hovering around 0.7 during most of April, but spiked to 1.0 on Monday as Germany eased some of the restrictions on public life. In order for the outbreak to slow, the rate has to remain below 1.0.

Read more: Germany's Chancellor Angela Merkel warns against rushing to loosen coronavirus restrictions

08:00 German companies have signed up a record 10.1 million workers for a state salary scheme to cover reduced working hours, according to new figures released by the Federal Employment Agency (BA).

The number of people claiming unemployment benefits rose by 308,000 from March to April, taking the overall total to 2.644 million. 

The spike marks the first time ever that unemployment and underemployment has increased in the month of April. The unemployment rate rose by 0.7 percentage points to 5.8%.

Due to the coronavirus pandemic, the labor market is under huge pressure, said BA chief Detlef Scheele.

"The demand for new employees has literally collapsed," Scheele said.

07:57 Confirmed cases in Russia have passed 100,000, authorities have announced. The record daily rise of 7,099 brings the total number of cases to 106,498.

The death toll has risen to 1,073, with 101 deaths in the last 24 hours.

Earlier in the week, President Vladimir Putin warned Russia that the worst may still be to come and extended the current lockdown to May 11.

07:45 The UK is on track to become the worst-hit country in Europe and the confirmed number of infections has now overtaken Germany.

The UK government is facing criticism for its handling of the crisis after failing to meet a target of testing 100,000 people a day. On Tuesday, just over 52,000 tests were carried out, and the government has confirmed that this target will not be met.

Prime Minister Boris Johnson has returned to work this morning after spending several nights in intensive care with coronavirus. The government is set to review an extension of the lockdown next week. And the health ministry warned businesses about anticipating reopening too soon.

The UK has 166,441 confirmed cases and 26,166 people have died.

07:16 German Chancellor Angela Merkel’s chief of staff has told broadcaster N-TV that Germany will "certainly" be extending the current restrictions until at least May 10. His comments come hours before Merkel is due to hold talks with Germany's 16 state premiers on how to move forward in the coronavirus crisis.

Social distancing restrictions in Germany are currently set to expire on May 3. The head of the Chancellery Helge Braun’s words appear to dash the hopes of many Germans that life may begin to normal on this date. Braun confirmed a large discussion would be held on May 6.

Germany began to relax some restrictions this week, with many shops reopening. However, Merkel has already warned that any increase in the infection rate may lead to lockdowns being tightened once more.

Germany has 161,539 confirmed cases and 6,467 people have died.

Read more: Coronavirus: Lifting lockdowns, European countries go their own way

07:08 Captain Tom Moore, the British war veteran who raised more than £27 million for Britain’s National Health Service, has been flooded with good wishes for his 100th birthday. The centenarian completed 100 laps of his garden to aid efforts to fight the coronavirus.

Read more: After raising millions for health care workers, British WWII vet tops UK singles charts

06:58 War-torn Yemen has reported multiple coronavirus infections and two deaths. This marks the first time Yemen has confirmed any deaths from the virus.

An official in the port city of Aden said the number of cases was likely to increase in the coming days. There are now 22 confirmed cases, but rights groups and officials estimate the real number of figures may be much higher. The UN identified a "very real probability" that the virus was circulating within communities.

Millions face famine and lack of medical care and an outbreak could be devastating, especially for the 24 million people who rely on regular aid. Given the prevalence of diseases with similar symptoms, like dengue fever, there may be many cases that have been missed.

"We have all been waiting for this moment and preparing for it despite our scarce [health] capabilities," said an official in the separatist Southern Transitional Council (STC), which on Sunday declared self-rule in Aden and other southern regions.

06:40 Ukraine now has more than 10,000 confirmed cases and 261 people have died, the health minister has announced.

The Ukrainian government has put a lockdown in place until May 11. Experts in the country expect the pandemic to peak there early in May.

06:22 German lawmaker and foreign policy expert Jürgen Hardt has called for an independent investigation into the causes of the coronavirus pandemic, and urged the implementation of international hygiene standards in public spaces.

"The goal must not only be a transparent explanation of the causes, but also the development and implementation of international hygiene standards, especially for animal markets," Hardt told the Augsburger Allgemeine daily. "An independent and transparent international investigation led by the WHO could make an important contribution. China must also allow this in its own interest," he added.

"This should take place as soon as possible so that the necessary evidence is still available. Given the scope of the pandemic, every country in the world has a responsibility to deal transparently with causes and measures," said Hardt.

05:27 Swedish climate activist Greta Thunberg donated a $100,000 (€92,000) prize she won from a Danish foundation to the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) for use in its coronavirus response.

"Like the climate crisis, the coronavirus pandemic is a child rights crisis," Thunberg, 17, said in a UNICEF statement. "It will affect all children, now and in the long term, but vulnerable groups will be impacted the most," she added.

UNICEF said the funds would be used primarily to address "food shortages, strained health care systems, violence and lost education."

The Danish NGO Human Act will match Thunberg’s donation, the statement added.

05:10 US oil prices jumped above $17 (€15.66) a barrel due to improving demand and a smaller-than-expected rise in stockpiles. West Texas Intermediate (WTI) crude, the US benchmark, rose by 16.4% to $17.53 a barrel in Asian trade, after increasing by more than a quarter the day prior. Brent crude, the international marker, was up by 10.4% at $24.90.

A deal by top producers to cut output by almost 10 million barrels is also set to take effect on Friday, with signs that some countries have already started to curb production in line with the agreement.

Oil prices hit historic lows earlier in April, when the WTI plunged into the negatives for the first time ever, due to an oversupply of oil and a shortage of storage facilities.

04:09 Germany has recorded 1,478 new cases of coronavirus in the last 24 hours, bringing the total number to 159,119, according to the Robert Koch Institute (RKI). The RKI also reported a total of 173 new fatalities, raising the death toll to 6,288.

On Wednesday, the RKI announced that the infection rate decreased to 0.75, meaning that 10 people with the virus infect 7.5 other people on average. The RKI has maintained that the rate should be below 1.0, in order to let the pandemic die down. Earlier in April it was as high as 1.3.

03:38 South Korea on Thursday reported no new domestic cases of coronavirus for the first time since its February peak. 

Health authorities also said no local transmission took place during a local parliamentary election that took place earlier this month with increased safety measures, including requiring voters to wear gloves and masks.

Four imported cases were recorded, taking the total tally of infections to 10,765. This is also the first time in two months that South Korea's daily infection count remained under five.

The death toll rose by one to 247.

The Korea Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said in a statement that 9,059 people have recovered and been released from quarantine.

Coronavirus test pioneer

02:36 Germany is bracing itself for the release of new figures which will show just how much the coronavirus pandemic has impacted people's employment. The Federal Employment Agency (Bundesagenteur für Arbeit) is due to announce its April statistics on Thursday (0800 UTC). It's expected they will reveal a record number of applications for the "short-time work" wage subsidy scheme, known as Kurzarbeit.

Read moreShort-time work: A vital tool in Germany's economic armory against coronavirus

The previous record was in May 2009, when 1.44 million Germans accessed the scheme in the fallout from the global financial crisis. Experts have predicted Thursday's number to far exceed that, and for most applications to come from smaller businesses such as restaurants, hotels and private clinics. German Economy Minister Peter Altmaier on Wednesday spoke of increases on an unprecedented scale. Jobless numbers are also expected to rise, despite the wage subsidy scheme. In March, Germany's unemployment rate was 5.1%.  

00:50 Countries under coronvirus lockdown in Europe saw 11,000 fewer premature deaths because of improved air quality, said a study published on Thursday.

As hundreds of millions of people stayed at home and factories remained shut in an effort to curb the coronavirus pandemic, the region saw a decline in air pollution and fossil fuel pollution.

According to the study, the level of nitrogen dioxide (NO2) and small particle pollution known as PM2.5 fell 37% and 10%, respectively.

The findings suggested that the benefits in Germany, Britain and Italy exceeded the equivalent of more than 1,500 premature deaths in each country.

"Our analysis highlights the tremendous benefits for public health and quality of life that could be achieved by rapidly reducing fossil fuels in a sustained and sustainable way," said Lauri Myllyvirta, lead author of the study conducted by the Helsinki-based Centre for Research on Energy and Clean Air.

Myllyvirta said the impacts are "the same or bigger in many other parts of the world."

The study reported that China saw a 25% and 40% decline in NO2 and PM2.5 levels during the strictest duration of lockdown. Hubei Province, where the pandemic began, saw an even sharper decline.

"So we are looking at an even larger number of avoided deaths," Myllyvirta said.

Read moreCoronavirus plastic waste polluting the environment

A link between pollution and COVID-19? 

00:00 Catch up on yesterday's news here: WHO defends its COVID-19 response

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.

ed,mvb,se/rt (AP, AFP, Reuters, dpa)

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