Covid-19 wrap | Europe begins to ease coronavirus lockdown, debate on 'immunity passports, and US researchers release sunlight study

2020-04-29 09:55

Keeping you up to date on the latest novel coronavirus (Covid-19) news from around the world.

FOLLOW THE LIVE UPDATE | All the latest coronavirus and lockdown updates

Europe begins to consider emerging from lockdown

Several European nations are eyeing a gradual end to their coronavirus lockdowns as infection rates slow and death rates decline.


Spain is hoping for a return to relative normality by the end of June, said officials in Madrid, announcing a four-phase plan on Tuesday to lift one of the toughest set of restrictions as the daily death toll fell to 301, less than a third of a record high of 950 in early April.

The official count of fatalities since the start of the outbreak rose to 23 822 on Tuesday.

Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez said a relaxation of rules would begin on 4 May.


In France, a new regime of coronavirus testing will be launched on 11 May so that it can slowly unwind its lockdown and avoid economic meltdown, Prime Minister Edouard Philippe said on Tuesday, warning that citizens have to be disciplined to avert a new outbreak.

The government has set itself a goal of carrying out at least 700 000 tests per week.

Once a person tests positive, tracing would begin to identify, test and isolate all those who had been in close contact with the individual, Philippe said.


President Vladimir Putin extended coronavirus lockdown measures for another two weeks on Tuesday, while ordering his government to begin preparations for a gradual lifting of the curbs from mid-May.

The worst days of the outbreak were still ahead, he warned Russia's 85 regional heads via a video-conference call.

The number of new cases in Russia rose by a record 6 411 on Tuesday, bringing its official nationwide tally to 93 558. The number of deaths rose by 72, also a daily record, taking the total number of fatalities to 867.

He ordered his government to prepare guidelines for the gradual easing of curbs from 12 May and to deliver a fresh emergency economic-support plan, the third so far, to soften the impact of the virus. He did not provide details.


Greece is looking to implement a similar timetable to Spain's, with Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis saying on Tuesday that restrictions on citizens' movements would be lifted and more shops allowed to reopen from 4 May.

Greece has so far registered 2 566 coronavirus cases including 138 deaths, much fewer than many other European nations, thanks partly to the swift imposition of its lockdown on 23 March.


People in Germany are obligated to wear masks in shops from Wednesday. Face coverings were already compulsory on buses, trains and trams.

Germany's central government has urged its regional administrations to "be careful" in their reopening of businesses and social facilities.

United Kingdom:

The UK is next due to announce to the results of its continuing three-weekly lockdown review on 7 May.

On 27 April, returning to work having won his own personal fight with coronavirus, Prime Minister Boris Johnson said it was impossible to say "how fast or slow or even when" any lifting of the country's lockdown could begin.

- Al Jazeera

Second US Navy ship hit by Covid-19 outbreak returns to port

A US destroyer hit by dozens of coronavirus cases sailed into San Diego on Tuesday for cleaning, making it the second Navy warship temporarily put out of action by the pandemic.

With 63% of the 300-strong crew tested as of Tuesday, 64 sailors aboard the USS Kidd were found positive for Covid-19, the Navy said.

Two had been medically evacuated to the US mainland last week, and 15 others were subsequently transferred to another vessel with better medical facilities - the USS Makin Island - for monitoring "due to persistent symptoms", it said.

The first cases surfaced last week while the Kidd had been patrolling for drug smugglers in the Caribbean.


Debate swirls on use of virus 'immunity passports'

Governments and organisations around the world are mulling the use of hotly-debated "immunity passports" aimed at easing pandemic-related lockdowns and restrictions on movements.

The certificates could identify people with antibodies that reduce the risk of they will spread the deadly coronavirus, helping them to resume activities and return to work.

But global health authorities and experts are urging caution, pointing to concerns over the accuracy of antibody tests as well as privacy fears and the potential for abuse.

Backers of the idea say the people who qualify could receive digital certificates displayed like smartphone boarding passes, or on paper.

"If this situation lasts six months or nine months, or if there is a second wave, you can assume people will want to leave their homes," said Husayn Kassai, chief executive of the digital identity startup Onfido.

"There needs to be some mechanism to verify a person's immunity. The immunity passport, if it works effectively, is more likely to help people comply with staying at home."

Onfido, which has been in talks with the British government and other authorities, said immunity would be determined by a home testing kit similar to those used for pregnancy tests and validated by health authorities.


Tusk urges Poles to boycott election out of 'decency'

Polish voters should boycott a presidential election set for 10 May out of "basic human decency" because of the new coronavirus pandemic, Donald Tusk, leader of the centre-right European People's Party and a former prime minister, said on Tuesday.

Tusk said a government plan to hold the vote via a postal ballot was insufficient to mitigate safety concerns in the face of the coronavirus pandemic, and accused the ruling nationalist Law and Justice party (PiS) of subverting the constitution.

The election has become highly divisive in Poland, with the PiS insisting it go ahead on schedule despite a mounting number of deaths from the highly contagious Covid-19 disease caused by the novel coronavirus.

Opinion polls show fewer than 30% of Poles are likely to cast ballots if the vote is held on 10 May as scheduled.

"Basic human decency does not allow us to participate in what is being proposed," Tusk said in a video posted on Twitter, adding that he would not cast his vote.

"If you don't know how to act, be decent," he said, citing the late anti-communist activist, Wladyslaw Bartoszewski, who is seen as a leading moral authority by many Poles.

Tusk said he thought PiS could be persuaded to work on an alternative election plan that would be "safe and fundamentally fair".

Poland currently has 12 089 confirmed coronavirus cases and 570 deaths. Schools and most shops are shut, Poles must wear face masks outside and the country's borders are closed as part of a lockdown designed to halt the spread of the virus.

- Al Jazeera

US government reveals details of sunlight study on virus

The US Department of Homeland Security revealed to AFP on Tuesday new technical details regarding its highly anticipated study into how ultraviolet radiation destroys the new coronavirus, saying that its experiment had accurately mimicked natural sunlight.

A summary of the research was presented last week at the White House, with some scientists calling for caution until a more comprehensive report was made public.

US President Donald Trump raised eyebrows last week when he used his daily live national press briefing to ask whether light could become a medical treatment.

"Supposing we hit the body with a tremendous - whether it's ultraviolet or just very powerful light," he said. "Supposing you brought the light inside the body, which you can do either through the skin or in some other way."

Trump continued on to suggest that people inject disinfectants to cure the virus, an idea that health experts quickly shot down.

DHS official William Bryan had briefed the media that the amount of virus on a non-porous surface shrunk by half in just two minutes when sunlight was present, the temperature was 21°C - 24°C and humidity was 80%.

The amount of virus suspended in air shrunk to half its amount in just 1.5 minutes at room temperature and 20% humidity, he added.

These eye-catching results surprised experts because most of the UV light contained in natural sunlight belongs to a subtype called UVA, which causes human skin to tan and age but has not generally been proven harmful to viruses, said David Brenner, director of the Center for Radiological Research at Columbia University Medical Center.


Read more on:    germany  |  spain  |  us  |  poland  |  russia  |  greece  |  frace  |  coronavirus

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