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Coronavirus: US unveils plan to reopen businesses

April 16, 2020

Saying a US shutdown was "not a sustainable long-term solution," President Trump announced guidelines to ease social distancing restrictions. The move came as other leaders extended lockdowns. Follow DW for the latest.

Closed stores on a street in New York
Image: DW/S. Schimansky
  • The UK extends lockdown for 3 more weeks 

  • US unemployment reaches 22 million, with 5.2 million new claimants in a week

  • Russia postpones large WWII commemoration event on May 9

  • Singapore's second-wave spike in infections continues, mainly in migrant workers' crowded dormitories

  • German minister lays out new rules for the gradual reopening of businesses

Updates in Universal Coordinated Time (UTC/GMT)

23:50 Canada's strict border controls with the United States will remain "for a significant amount of time," Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said on Thursday.

"As we move forward, there will be special thought given to this relationship. But at the same time we know that there is a significant amount of time, still, before we can talk about loosening such restrictions," Trudeau told a daily briefing.

US President Donald Trump told reporters on Wednesday the two countries were "doing well," and added: "It will be one of the early borders to be released."

Although Trudeau's government has enjoyed good relations with the Trump administration over the past 18 months, tensions remain. Last month, Ottawa slammed a US proposal to deploy troops along the border to fight the spread of the novel coronavirus, prompting Washington to drop the plan.

A total of 1,193 people in Canada had died from the coronavirus and 30,092 people have confirmed infections, data posted by the public health agency showed.

23:35 FBI Deputy Assistant Director Tony Ugoretz said state-backed hackers have staged operations targeting companies conducting research into treatments for COVID-19, the disease caused by the novel coronavirus.

"We certainly have seen reconnaissance activity, and some intrusions, into some of these constitutions, especially those that have publicly identified themselves as working on COVID-related research," Ugoretz told an online panel discussion hosted by the Aspen Institute.

Western governments have warned of increased cyberattacks during the pandemic. Read more about how coronavirus is affecting the digital world.

22:55 The International Monetary Fund has approved $1.386 billion in emergency aid to Pakistan to allow the country to deal with the economic repercussions of the virus. Pakistan has reported 6,919 confirmed infections with 128 deaths.

"While uncertainty remains high, the near-term economic impact of COVID-19 is expected to be significant, giving rise to large fiscal and external financing needs," IMF said in a statement.

The funds come from the international lender’s Rapid Financing Instrument.

22:45 US President Donald Trump's administration has announced it will provide $5 million to the Palestinians to help them fight the coronavirus pandemic.

The aid represents the first time the United States has offered assistance to the Palestinians since Trump cut and then virtually eliminated all aid in 2018 and early 2019.

US Ambassador to Israel David Friedman announced the move in a tweet on Thursday. He said the money would go to Palestinian hospitals and households to "meet immediate, life-saving needs in combating COVID-19." He said the United States "is committed to assisting the Palestinian people."

22:35 Bulgaria is sealing its capital, Sofia, after a significant jump in coronavirus cases over the past two days. The country has 800 confirmed infections with 38 deaths. Over half of these were reported in Sofia.

21:50 Slovenia is set to ease coronavirus-related restrictions that had been in place since mid-March. The country has 1,268 confirmed cases and has reported 61 deaths.

Currently, all shops, except food and drug stores, are closed but most will reopen on Monday. The government has set May 4 as the date for reopening beauty parlors, hairdressers, and pet grooming centers.

It is mandatory for citizens to wear face masks when they visit shops and no socializing will be allowed in public spaces. Schools, universities and cultural institutions will stay closed and public transport will remain suspended.

21:40 Albania has passed a law that allows for a jail term of up to eight years if a person is found guilty of breaking coronavirus quarantine rules and infecting others. The country has reported 518 infections and 26 deaths from the virus.

"These measures are being taken because we are going to relax [lockdown rules]," said Prime Minister Edi Rama. "We are winning the battle on the health front. And we shall win it on the economy front."

Albanian authorities have fined over 7,000 people and suspended 1,800 driving licenses over the breaking of quarantine and self-isolation rules.

21:20 US President Donald Trump has unveiled new guidelines for US states to ease social distancing requirements in the country, but only for areas with strong testing and a decreasing number of coronavirus cases. Divided into three different phases, the plan was revealed to governors during a call on Thursday.

"Our experts say the curve has flattened and the peak is behind us," Trump said at a press conference, stressing that each state would act individually, based on its own data.

"We are not opening all at once, but one careful step at a time," he said.

"A national shutdown is not a sustainable long-term solution," Trump said, warning that keeping large chunks of the economy closed would have broad negative repercussions — including on health.

According to the White House, the first phase would allow for larger venues like restaurants and movie theaters to begin operations while keeping strict social distancing measures in place.

The second phase would allow non-essential travel to resume. Schools can also reopen during this phase. Finally, the third phase would allow for medically vulnerable people to resume public interaction.

Each phase will last at least 14 days, during which a downward trajectory of COVID-19 cases should be observed.

While some states may be able to lift some restrictions as early as this month, strict measures will stay in place for areas that have been hit hard by the pandemic.

20:55 Here is a roundup of the latest from Europe:

"We remain in the eye of the storm," the WHO's regional director for Europe, Hans Kluge, said on Thursday. He added: "It is imperative that we do not let down our guard."

France has joined the chorus of skepticism over China's actions in the wake of the outbreak at the turn of the year. President Emmanuel Macron told The Financial Times there were gray areas in China's behavior and things "happened that we don't know about." Macron went on to question the Chinese response to the outbreak. "Let's not be so naive as to say it's been much better at handling this," he said of China's handling of the pandemic. The country’s registered death toll is almost 18,000, but some data suggested the spread of the COVID-19 has been contained after a 1-month-old national lockdown, officials said.

German Chancellor Angela Merkel stressed the need for more global cooperation to combat the pandemic and backed the World Health Organization in the wake of a US decision to suspend its funding of the UN's health arm.

The UK has announced its lockdown measures will remain in place for at least another three weeks while Prime Minister Boris Johnson, who is still recovering from COVID-19 after being released from the hospital last week, joined in for the weekly clap for National Health Service workers, according to a government spokesman.

Downing Street has expressed its gratitude to citizens for following social distancing rules but warned: "If we stop now, we risk increasing the spread of coronavirus. We're extending the rules by at least three weeks, and will not change the rules until five tests are met."

In Poland, citizens will have to cover their noses and mouths in public until a vaccine is created, the country's health minister announced. The Polish government has eased a few of the lockdown restrictions that have brought daily life to a virtual standstill. But those relaxations do not include opening the country's borders, which will remain closed until at least May 3, Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki announced.

Spain's death toll has soared past 19,000 with another 551 fatalities in the last 24 hours, but questions over the accuracy of the tally have been raised, suggesting the number could be much higher. After nearly five weeks of confinement, the rise in deaths and infections has slowed over the past two weeks, but regional authorities in Madrid and Catalonia said they each had thousands more victims than the official count.

Italy will begin conducting experimental immunity tests on an initial 150,000 people next month as part of its efforts to reopen the country. Italy's commissioner for the pandemic, Domenico Arcuri, told state-run RAI news that the government hopes the first wave of tests will gradually grow in number and become the national standard.

20:27 Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro has fired the country's Health Minister Luiz Henrique Mandetta, Mandetta said on Twitter.

''I am thankful for the opportunity that was given to me to head our Health Ministry,'' Mandetta wrote, after announcing that Bolsonaro had asked for his resignation.

The two had clashed for weeks over Brazil's response to the coronavirus pandemic, with Mandetta backing social isolation proposals, while Bolsonaro downplayed COVID-19 as a "little flu."

Bolsonaro has staunchly argued that lockdown measures are unnecessary and economically harmful. He has also maintained that the outbreak is being blown out of proportion.

Mandetta had told health officials he expected to be fired and tried to minimize fears that his departure could disrupt efforts to battle the pandemic.

Oncologist Nelson Teich was chosen to replace Mandetta, who has said he will assist with the transition. Teich said there would be no sudden changes to Brazil's social distancing policies.

Mandetta's Health Ministry response to COVID-19 was rated "good" or "great" by 76% of Brazilians, pollster Datafolha found this month. But just 33% of those surveyed gave Bolsonaro a positive rating on the crisis.

19:10 WHO chief Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus has praised Chancellor Angela Merkel for her explanation of how even a small increase in the average COVID-19 infection rate could impact Germany's health system in the coming months.

Merkel was keen to stress how vulnerable the country's healthcare system remained, despite Germany receiving fairly widespread praise for its handling of the outbreak thus far.

"Great explanation by Chancellor Merkel on how a relatively small increase in COVID-19 infection can overwhelm even a strong health system. I congratulate her on strong leadership & dedication to keep her nation & the world safe from COVID-19," Tedros said.

Read more:  Germany’s coronavirus response: Separating fact from fiction

19:05 Here's some more information and background on Russia postponing its May 9 commemorations of Victory Day in Europe (which first appeared in these updates at 15:29), via our correspondent in Moscow, Emily Sherwin.

"It shows just how seriously authorities are now taking this pandemic. Some political scientists have even gone so far as describing Victory Day as part of the official state ideology. It has huge emotional significance for many people here because an estimated 26 million Soviet citizens were killed during WWII."

"It has also become an opportunity for Russia to show off its significance on the world stage and to show off its military might with bombastic military parades that take place on Red Square [in Russia's capital city, Moscow]." Putin has ramped up the scale of ceremonies marking the anniversary during his tenure.

Authorities had briefly considered carrying out the parade without the public being present, said Sherwin: "They've clearly decided that the risk of having 15,000 troops march on Red Square was too great." 

Victory in Europe Day takes place every year in Russia on May 9. This year, celebrations were set to mark 75 years since the end of WWII. An array of world leaders had planned to attend. Putin said the celebrations would still go ahead later this year.

18:30 After almost a month of shutdown, some shops in Lithuania have now opened up as some of the restrictions imposed in an effort to curb the spread of COVID-19 are gradually being lifted.

DIY stores in Vilnius, among several other big cities, have started selling again under strict regulations, with other shop owners saying they would reopen in a matter of days.

Lithuania has so far registered 1,128 cases and its death toll currently stands at 30 from the virus.

17:43 Chilean author Luis Sepulveda, best known for his book "The Old Man Who Read Love Stories," has died after contracting the novel coronavirus, according to his publisher and Spanish media.

Sepulveda passed away in a hospital in Asturias, in northern Spain, where he lived for several decades.

The 70-year-old, who escaped to Spain during the 1973-1990 dictatorship of Augusto Pinochet, had spent weeks in a hospital in Oviedo.

17:00 The state of New York has extended its shutdown measures by two weeks, through May 15, despite data showing conditions were improving slightly.

"We have to continue what we are doing," Governor Andrew Cuomo said in his daily briefing. "I would like to see that infection rate get down even more," while reporting that 606 more people had died, the lowest daily death toll in 10 days.

16:16 The UK's lockdown will remain in place for a further three weeks, the British government has announced.

Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab said: "Any change to our social distancing measures now would risk a significant increase in the spread of the virus."

The current measures have been in place since March 23, and include the closure of schools, pubs, restaurants and most shops. Exercising once a day is still permitted.

Medical officials say the outbreak in the UK is nearing its peak but it's too early to loosen the restrictions.

As of Thursday, 13,729 people had died in UK hospitals from COVID-19 from a total of more than 100,000 registered cases.

16:12 Renowned graffiti artist Banksy has been creating artwork in his bathroom during the stay-at-home regulations imposed in the UK.

The creations include his trademark stenciled rats going stir-crazy, including depictions of the rodents squeezing a tube of toothpaste, hanging off the light switch, unraveling toilet rolls and urinating over the toilet seat.

The street artist, whose identity remains a secret, posted the photos on his Instagram page, saying: "My wife hates it when I work from home."

An artwork by Banksy is seen in this picture obtained from the artist's Instagram account on April 16, 2020.
The world's latest sought-after commodity didn't escape the British-based artist's attentionImage: Reuters/Instagram/Banksy
n artwork by Banksy is seen in this picture obtained from the artist's Instagram account on April 16, 2020.
The location of Banksy's bathroom remains as mysterious as his identityImage: Reuters/Instagram/Banksy

15:40 Epidemiologist Dirk Brockmann, who works for Germany’s Robert Koch Institute, has said that social distancing rules in Europe are proving effective as the continent seeks to flatten the curve. But he also warned that it may be a while before there is a significant loosening of lockdown measures.

"We have seen a slower increase, as a function of time. This is very promising as it means the containment measures, and the population-wide behavioral changes, they have an impact," Brockmann told DW.

However, he also urged caution: "We are now at this critical junction, where we have a constant speed of the epidemic, so new cases come in at a constant number every day, and there's a slight move downwards. It means the measures are effective but it also means that when we go back to normal operations, no containment, then we would expect an increase in the number of cases."

When asked about the coming weeks, Brockmann said: "For many countries we are in this plateau region, which is usually a very long period. In Italy, for instance, things have been constant for the last two weeks. It will take another two or four weeks until there is a significant decrease. We have witnessed this in different countries, like in China, Singapore and South Korea."

You can watch the full interview here: 

Europe flattening the curve

15:29 Russian President Vladimir Putin has announced the postponement of celebrations marking 75 years since the end of World War II in Europe, which were set for May 9.

The commemoration of the Soviet Red Army's victory was to feature a large military parade across Moscow's Red Square and an array of world leaders had planned to attend. 

Putin said during televised comments that the event had to be postponed but would be held later this year.

Russia celebrates Victory in Europe Day on May 9, with most of Europe and the US marking the event on May 8. At the time, the signing of the German capitulation was specifically timed to ensure the two separate dates.

13:54 New unemployment figures have emerged in the United States, with some 22 million Americans now out of work. The US government revealed that 5.2 million people applied for unemployment benefits last week alone amid the severe restrictions imposed in a bid to control the virus.

The figures demonstrate the worst stretch of US job losses on record and some economists say the unemployment rate could reach 20% before the end of April, the highest since the Great Depression of the 1930s.

13:45 Germany’s flagship airline Lufthansa will extend its current limited flights policy for a further two weeks, taking it through to May 17. In addition, there will be three fewer flights per week to Montreal, the airline has announced.

There will still be three flights per week to Chicago, New York, Sao Paulo, Bangkok and Tokyo.

12:46 Here is a roundup of the latest Asia news:

Japan is to give people 100,000 yen ($925, €850) to help them observe social distancing rules, as a state of emergency is expanded from seven prefectures to the whole country. Prime Minister Shinzo Abe says Japan needs to achieve an 80% reduction in person-to-person contact, with the infection currently rising to nearly 10,000.

In the Philippines, a majority of senators have demanded the immediate resignation of Health Secretary Francisco Duque III for failing to deal with the novel coronavirus pandemic. The lawmakers accuse Duque of leadership failure, negligence and inefficiency and claim the problem is still endangering the lives of health workers and the Filipino people. President Rodrigo Duterte rejected the senators' call but has said he wants Duque to work harder.

In Indonesia, an official from the country's task force fighting COVID-19 has said the pandemic was expected to peak in May at 95,000 cases. The archipelago nation has imposed a partial lockdown in the greater Jakarta region, home to about 30 million people, banning gatherings of more than five people and restricting travel. Meanwhile, President Joko Widodo said he was optimistic that the economic impact of the pandemic would not last beyond 2020.  "I believe next year tourism will boom again," he said. 

Malaysia has approved the use of antigen rapid test kits from South Korea, as it looks to increase its coronavirus testing among high-risk groups and potential hotspots. The country, which until Monday had the highest number of confirmed cases in Southeast Asia, had relied solely on polymerase chain reaction (PCR) laboratory tests to confirm the presence of the novel coronavirus. However, an increasing number of suspected cases and the demand for more testing put a strain on the 43 laboratories set up to process the PCR samples.

In Singapore, the latest figures showed 447 new infections, another record daily increase. The majority of new cases are linked to crowded dormitories that house low-paid foreign workers. The city-state now has 3,699 infections and has recorded 10 deaths. It initially managed to keep an outbreak in check but is now battling a fast-rising second wave. Thousands of workers, many of them South Asian, are being moved to alternative accommodation to reduce the risk of infection. 

Bangladesh has reported 341 additional cases and 10 more deaths, bringing its total to 1,572 infections with 60 fatalities. Experts say Bangladesh lacks the necessary management to handle the outbreak. Panic gripped doctors and nurses after reports that more than 100 health workers had been infected. Bangladesh has imposed a nationwide lockdown until April 25.

Matches in the world's richest cricket competition, the Indian Premier League, have been suspended until further notice because of the coronavirus. The Board of Control for Cricket in India (BCCI) says the Indian Premier League competition, already postponed from its original start date of March 29, would "only commence when it is safe and appropriate to do so."

"The health and safety of the nation and everyone involved in our great sport remains our top priority," the BCCI added in a statement.

A dispute is brewing over the extended closure of mosques a week ahead of the holy month of Ramadan in Pakistan. Mufti Muneeb-ur Rehman has accused the government of Prime Minister Imran Khan of using the COVID-19 epidemic to act against mosques and religious communities in general. Khan this week extended the lockdown for a further two weeks, into the start of May. Religious gatherings have played a role in the virus' spread in some countries, most famously in South Korea.

11:55 German hospitals with Intensive Care Units (ICUs) must now report daily their bed capacity to a newly-created register, the German Interdisciplinary Association for Intensive and Emergency Medicine (DIVI) announced in line with an order from the federal health ministry. 

Hospitals must also report the number of COVID-19 patients who are undergoing intensive care treatment, who are ventilated or who have been discharged from hospital since January 1.

The new regulation is "an important component in order to now receive valid daily figures for the entire country", said DIVI President Uwe Janssens. "In addition, political decision-makers will in future be able to use the data from the DIVI Intensive Care Register for orientation."

The new register should give a clear picture of the availability of ventilation beds and extended therapy measures for acute lung failure.

11:40 In a video message on his Facebook page, German President Frank-Walter Steinmeier has thanked people from critical professions. Steinmeier has made about 30 telephone calls in the past few days thank workers such as nurses, doctors, social workers, teachers, craftsmen and supermarket employees.

"I would like to thank all those who are particularly important in this crisis," Steinmeier said. "To all of them, my deepest respect."

11:30 The German government has agreed on new rules for a gradual return to the workplace for many employees, to apply across the board. Labor Minister Hubertus Heil said the cabinet has agreed on the additional, binding standards.

"Whoever works in these extraordinary times also needs extraordinary protection," he said. Among the specific regulations are that a minimum distance of 1.5 meters (5 feet) should be maintained in the workplace, whether outdoors, indoors or in vehicles. For this, it would be necessary to install barriers and markings in many places, as well as limitations on entrance to particular areas.

Where such measures are not possible, partitions should be installed. If that is also not feasible, employers should make mouth and nose coverings available for employees and customers.

Procedures should be adapted so that employees have as little contact as possible with one another, Heil said. This applies to breaks, shift changes and presence in the office.

The central principle should be that no one should be at work if they are ill, he added. Anyone with even a slight fever should remain at home or leave the workplace until they can be given medical clearance.

The rules are binding, said Heil, and authorities would randomly check compliance. Heil said consultations had taken place with employers and trade unions and that the rules were not intended to burden the economy with unnecessary regulatory threats.

11:20 Almost 20,000 people have died from COVID-19 in Spain now. Over the past 24 hours, 551 people died from the virus, up from 523 the day previous. Cases rose from 177,633 to 182,816.

The numbers do show a slowdown after nearly five weeks in lockdown. The highest daily death toll was 950 on April 2.

However, regional authorities in Madrid and Catalonia insist there are thousands more victims than the official death toll shows, raising fears the outlook may be far worse than it seems. 

Spain has one of the tightest lockdowns in Europe, with only essential workers allowed out. The rest of the populace can only leave home to buy food and medicine, to attend a medical emergency or to briefly walk the dog.

11:10 Austria wants to test all employees and residents of elderly care homes. Health Minister Rudolf Anschober told reporters this was "the very big, central focus" of the future test strategy in the alpine republic. The measure will affect 130,000 people in more than 900 institutions. So far Austria has carried out a total of about 157,000 corona tests.

Nursing homes across Europe have suffered particularly hard from the outbreak, with grim scenes emerging from Spain and certain homes in Germany. 

Austria will also focus on testing retail staff. 

There are 14,370 confirmed cases in Austria and more than 8000 people have recovered.

10:30 The World Bank's chief Africa economist Albert Zeufack has told DW the international community really needs to "step up and help Africa face this crisis." 

"Africa also needs coordination within, so the African Union is working clearly with both the IMF and the World Bank to negotiate with all the creditors," he said. "It's important to understand that most of Africa's debt is owned by the private sector."

10:00 European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen repeated an apology to Italy on behalf of Europe for its failure to do more to help at the start of the pandemic. "It is true that no one was really ready for this. It is also true that too many were not there on time when Italy needed a helping hand at the very beginning," she said at the European Parliament.

She said that, after a bad start, the EU has shown it is capable of solidarity. "The truth is that it did not take long before everyone realized that we must protect each other to protect ourselves."

"The real Europe is standing up, the one that is there for each other when it is needed the most...The one where paramedics from Poland and doctors from Romania save lives in Italy. Where ventilators from Germany provide a lifeline in Spain."

09:50 The World Health Organization has warned that Europe remains in the "eye of the storm" with the pandemic.

"When we put proven measures in place — ensuring that we can identify, isolate and test all suspect cases, and quarantine and monitor the health of all close contacts providing care to those who need it; together with physical distancing measures if necessary — we can stop the virus in its tracks," Regional Director Hans Kluge told reporters in an online briefing.

He said about half of the world's COVID-19 cases are registered in Europe and that the coming weeks are crucial for the region. 

"Case numbers across the region continue to climb. In the past 10 days, the number of cases reported in Europe has nearly doubled to close to 1 million."

He called for solidarity and warned there was no quick path to normality. 

He said there were positive signs coming from Spain, Italy, Germany, France and Switzerland in recent weeks, but he warned that the situation was worse in the UK, Turkey, Ukraine, Belarus, and the Russian Federation.

The WHO will next week release guidelines on how to relax lockdown measures, but that any roll-backs must be contingent on several conditions:

  • Health systems have the capacity to identify, isolate and test patients, as well as tracing and quarantining contacts
  • Outbreak risks are minimized in high-vulnerability settings such as elderly homes
  • Workplace preventive measures are established
  • Importation risks can be managed
  • Communities are involved and have a say in the transition

09:30 The Federation of German Industries (BDI) says it welcomes an agreement between federal and state governments to relax restrictions in Germany. However, it criticized the decision to only open shops up to 800 square meters. It also called for more decisive measures on face masks, which are not compulsory but highly recommended in public.

Volkswagen and Mercedes-Benz have announced they will restart production at some of their German plants next week following the easing of restrictions. 

Car production was never banned in Germany, but it ground to a halt after authorities restricted the movement of people and closed car dealerships. 

"With the decisions by the federal and state governments in Germany and the loosening of restrictions in other European states, conditions have been established for the gradual resumption of production," Ralf Brandstaetter, Chief Operating Officer of the Volkswagen brand, said in a statement.

08:45 About 3% of the population of the Netherlands may have antibodies to the coronavirus, Dutch scientists have reported. 

The Netherlands National Institute for Public Health and the Environment (RIVM) said that tests of blood donors revealed about 3% of samples contained antibodies.

RIVM Director Jaap van Dissel told Dutch media outlets that this could amount to about half a million people, but warned that this did not necessarily mean they were immune.

The tests were undertaken on blood and plasma from tens of thousands of donors. The RIVM has previously said that an immunity level of about 60% is required for herd immunity to take effect.

08:30 Germany's biggest metal festival — the Wacken Open Air — has been canceled this year. All major public events in Germany have been banned until at least the end of August.

We are facing an unprecedented situation in our 30 years: It is with heavy hearts that we have to announce that there will be no Wacken Open Air this year," the organizers announced on their website.

The festival, which normally attracts 75,000 people, was scheduled to run from July 30 to August 1. 

The ban on public events has led to the cancelation of major events including several music festivals including Hurricane and Southside and probably Oktoberfest.

08:15 A 99-year-old war veteran from England has been using his walking frame to raise money for UK health workers battling coronavirus.

Captain Tom Moore initially wanted to raise 1,000 pounds by walking 100 laps of his garden. After his quest garnered nationwide attention, Moore raised 12 million ($15 million, €13.8 million) and was welcomed across the finish line with a guard of honor.

08:00 Russia has reported another 3,448 new cases, up from 3,388 the previous day. There are now 27,938 confirmed cases.

Some 34 people died in the past 24 hours, bringing the official death toll to 232. 

Russian cities are attempting to follow the lead of Moscow and impose lockdown quarantine measures across the country. The capital has thus far borne the brunt of the exponential growth. 

President Vladimir Putin warned this week that the outbreak was "not getting better." He told officials to prepare for a worst-case scenario and said the military could become involved.

07:00 UK media are reporting that the government will soon announce a three-week extension to social distancing policies. Health Minister Matt Hancock says the outbreak is starting to peak, but lifting measures would let it "run rampant."

"We think it is too early to make a change," Hancock told Reuters news agency. "While we've seen a flattening of the number of cases, and thankfully a flattening of the number of deaths, that hasn't started to come down yet."

Almost 13,000 people have died from COVID-19 in hospitals in the country, though the actual death toll could be much higher.

06:25 In Germany, there are more than 130,000 confirmed cases, according to the Robert Koch Institue (RKI). There are currently 130,450 cases in Germany, a rise of 2,866 in one day. This is the second consecutive day where the infection rate climbed. 

Some 315 people died from COVID-19 in the same period, bringing the total to 3,569. 

About 77,000 people have recovered in total.

RKI numbers lag behind the John Hopkins University (JHU) count. This is due to different methods of information gathering: Whereas the RKI relies on numbers being sent to them by state authorities and collates the totals, JHU sources numbers from official information that is publicly available and then compiles it.

Germany announced it will try and start rolling back restrictions from May 4.

Chancellor Angela Merkel's chief of staff has meanwhile defended the decision for a gradual and cautious relaxation of measures. "None of us have taken this decision lightly, because of course we feel that people now want to return to public life," Helge Braun told public broadcaster ARD.

05:50 Australia has extended its restrictions for at least another four weeks. Prime Minister Scott Morrison said authorities will expand testing, improve its tracing efforts and act to seal off local outbreaks. These three policies will take four weeks to enact, after which authorities will reassess. The federal Parliament will reopen for a trial week in May. 

Australia's lockdown measures include movement restrictions, school closures, and shutting restaurants and pubs. Health authorities say they have so far had great success in flattening the curve, partly thanks to extensive testing measures that have caught 92% of all symptomatic cases.

Meanwhile, New Zealand says it expects to start easing restrictions next week, although Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern warned it would not be a return to normality. New Zealand has had tremendous success in slowing the virus, with measures including closing the borders, countrywide stay-at-home orders and shuttering all but essential businesses and services. One of the first things it may loosen is allowing more businesses to open if they can do so in a safe manner. Schools up to year 10 may reopen with voluntary attendance, and funerals and weddings would be restricted to a maximum of 10 people.

05:33 United Nations Secretary-General Antonio Guterres has urged African nations to ramp up efforts, otherwise they "could end up suffering the greatest impacts.'' He told African ambassadors that despite the continent being blameless for the outbreak, it still stood to suffer the most; much like with climate change.

He commended early efforts by many governments to slow transmission rates and brace economies. He held particular praise for Uganda rescheduling social security contributions to support businesses, Namibia offering emergency income grants to workers who have lost jobs, and Egypt expanding its social safety net, reducing taxation for industries and postponing taxation on agricultural land.

Meet the Africans stranded abroad during the COVID-19 crisis

04:50 The European Parliament is set to meet in a special session to discuss a joint response from member states to the coronavirus pandemic. European Commissioner Ursula von der Leyen and European Council President Charles Michel are to head the meeting starting at around 0700 UTC.

MEPs are expected to vote on a resolution containing calls for greater protection for EU citizens in the face of the health crisis, EU aid to support member state health systems and a uniform strategy for phasing out emergency measures.

The draft resolution also criticizes the behaviour of EU members Hungaryand Poland during the coronavirus crisis. The EU lawmakers' normal calendar of meetings is currently suspended, due to virus-related restrictions. A large number of MEPs will attend the session online and all will cast their votes by email. Voting will therefore take until late in the evening. Parliamentary President David Sassoli will announce the result on Friday.

04:30 Bavarian State Premier Markus Söder says Munich's Oktoberfest will probably not run this year. "I am very, very skeptical and, from the current state of affairs, I can hardly imagine that such a large event is actually possible at this time," he told public broadcaster Bayerische Rundfunk. He said a final decision had not yet been made, but that it was on the brink of cancellation.

Germany has banned all major public events at least until the end of August. The world's biggest beer festival attracts 6 million people each year. It is scheduled to start on September 19.

03:37 Singapore has reported 447 new coronavirus cases, taking the city-state's total number of infections to 3,699. At least 1,167 cases have been reported since Monday, indicating a sharp spike in numbers.  

While Singapore was praised for its handling of the first wave of infections, the new cases are mostly linked to the country's foreign workers, mostly from India, Bangladesh, and other Asian countries. Living in crowded dormitories with close to 20 people in one place, this population has accounted for almost half of Singapore's coronavirus cases.

03:36 South Korea has reported 22 new coronavirus infections, a day after the country went to polls with President Moon Jae-in's ruling party coming out with an absolute majority. This is the fourth consecutive day that the country has recorded fewer than 30 new cases. 

Despite the fall in new infections, the Koreas Centers for Disease Control and Prevention is concerned over a "quiet spread" that could reach a much broader section of the public as people forgo social distancing. The total number of infections stands at 10,613 with 229 deaths.

03:13 Data suggests that the United States is "past the peak" of the coronavirus outbreak, US President Donald Trump said during his daily press briefing. He added that new data "put us in a very strong position to finalize guidelines for states on reopening the country."

The Trump administration will be unveiling guidelines for easing coronavirus-related restrictions in the states on Thursday.

Requirements for social distancing may be eased in low transmission areas while maintaining stricter control in places that have been hit hard by the pandemic. However, the final decision would remain with the states' governors.

02:40 US President Donald Trump has been slammed by world leaders for announcing a temporary halt in funding to the World Health Organization (WHO) pending a review. Trump accused the UN health body of "covering up" the coronavirus pandemic and inadequately responding to the spread of COVID-19. Here are some key things you need to know about this decision and its repercussions.

02:00 Catch up on how Germany plans to gradually lift restrictions imposed to stop the spread of coronavirus, here.

01:50 China has reported 46 new coronavirus cases but no new deaths from the pandemic. Most of the new cases — 34 infections — were brought from outside China, while three domestic cases were recorded in Beijing amidst strict preventive measures. An additional four cases were reported in the Heilongjiang province, where authorities are concerned about citizens coming in from Russia.

Read more: Doubts over China's claim of beating coronavirus

01:26 Asia's economic growth is likely to suffer zero growth for the first time in 60 years due to the economic impacts of coronavirus, according to the International Monetary Fund (IMF)

"These are highly uncertain and challenging times for the global economy," said Changyong Rhee, the director of the IMF's Asia and Pacific Department. "The Asia-Pacific region is no exception. The impact of the coronavirus on the region will be severe, across the board, and unprecedented," Rhee told a virtual news briefing.

01:14 Nicaraguan President Daniel Ortega made his first public appearance in 34 days on Wednesday, when he made a televised address on the coronavirus pandemic.

In the address, he said that there had only been one confirmed death due to the virus, and that the country’s three confirmed cases were ''imported.'' He also criticized the United States for its high case count and death toll. 

''The biggest power on Earth isn't able to provide for its own citizens in cities in the United States,'' he said. 

Ortega has consistently refused to adopt social distancing measures in Nicaragua, however, and has encouraged people to participate in mass gatherings. 

Nicaraguans ''haven't stopped working, because if this country stops working, it dies,'' he added.

00:30 Welcome to DW's coverage of the latest updates on the coronavirus pandemic. Catch up on Wednesday'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.

aw, lc, see/rt (AFP, dpa, AP, Reuters)

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