Covid-19 wrap | Europe emerges from coronavirus lockdowns, new infections in Wuhan, Saudi Arabia triples VAT and infections in White House inner circle

2020-05-11 07:55

Here are the latest developments in the coronavirus crisis.

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

Europe emerges from confinement as infections spike in Asia

Swathes of Europe began the long process of re-opening from coronavirus lockdowns on Monday, but the first new infections in weeks at China's ground zero offered a sobering reminder of the dangers of a second wave of cases.

The mixed fortunes illustrated the high-wire act governments face across the globe as they try to get economies moving while keeping in check a pandemic that has now killed more than 280 000 people.

As Britain plotted a path to normality and France and Spain basked in a relaxation of restrictions, the Chinese city where the pandemic was born reported a second day of new cases after a month without sign of the virus.

And neighbouring South Korea announced its highest number of infections for more than a month driven by a cluster in a Seoul nightlife district.

With millions out of work and economies shattered, governments are desperate to hit the accelerator, but most are choosing a gradual approach as fears about a resurgence of the virus linger.


China's ground zero reports virus infections

China reported a second day of new cases of coronavirus in Wuhan on Monday after a month without new infections at the pandemic's global epicentre, offering a stark warning of the dangers of a fresh wave.

The virus first emerged late last year, sweeping through the city and surrounding Hubei province, killing thousands and sickening many more.

It subsequently spread around the world.

Authorities in Wuhan imposed draconian restrictions on travel and movement in what appeared to have been a successful bid to quash the outbreak.

That lockdown began to ease in recent weeks, as authorities said the disease was under control, most recently with children returning to school, and travel to and from the city allowed.

But on Sunday authorities acknowledged one person had tested positive for the virus in Wuhan, and a day later, they said there were five more cases.

Local health officials said the new cases were all from the same residential compound, mostly older people.

There were also 11 new "asymptomatic" cases reported in wider Hubei province. China is recording symptomatic and asymptomatic cases separately.


Coronavirus hits White House inner circle

In the United States, the disease has moved into the White House inner circle, with a spokeswoman for Vice President Mike Pence testing positive. One of Trump's valets was found to be infected last week.

Nevertheless, Trump's advisers were out in force on Sunday, appearing on talk shows to push for an end to locally imposed lockdowns.

Small anti-lockdown protests have emerged in a number of US states, with some demonstrators arguing the restrictions violate their rights.


Lockdown plans in the UK, France and Spain

In Britain Prime Minister Boris Johnson said it was too soon for the country to lift its lockdown but he offered hope by unveiling a "conditional plan" to ease curbs in England during the months ahead.

Johnson said the restrictions had brought "a colossal cost to our way of life" but it would be "madness" to squander the nation's progress by moving too early.

Almost seven weeks after a nationwide stay-at-home order was put in place, more than 31 800 have died in Britain - a figure second only to the US.

Elsewhere in Europe, however, officials have been emboldened by declining death rates, with France's toll dropping to 70 on Sunday, its lowest since early April, and Spain's daily fatalities falling below 200.

The French were able to walk outside their homes without filling in a permit for the first time in nearly eight weeks on Monday, while teachers began returning to primary schools and some shops were set to re-open.

Many Spaniards meanwhile made plans to meet friends and family at outdoor bars and restaurants, although virus hotspots such as Madrid and Barcelona remain under wraps.

Belgium and Greece were among other European nations set to ease lockdowns on Monday, two months after the World Health Organisation declared a pandemic.

-  AFP

Saudi triples VAT, suspends handouts in virus-led austerity drive

Saudi Arabia's finance minister on Monday said the kingdom will triple its Value Added Tax (VAT) and halt monthly handout payments to citizens in new austerity measures amid record low oil prices and a coronavirus-led economic slump.

The measures, which could stir public resentment with the cost of living rising, come as the petro-state steps up emergency plans to slash government spending to deal with the twin economic blow.

"It has been decided the cost of living allowance will be halted from June 2020 and VAT will be raised from 5% to 15% from July 1," Finance Minister Mohammed al-Jadaan said in a statement released by the official Saudi Press Agency.

Jadaan insisted the measures were necessary to shore up state finances amid a "sharp decline" in oil revenue as the coronavirus pandemic saps global demand for crude.

The government was also "cancelling, extending or postponing" expenditures for some government agencies and cutting spending on major state projects introduced as part of an ambitious reform programme to diversify the oil-reliant economy, the minister added.


US adds 776 coronavirus deaths in 24 hours: tracker

The United States recorded 776 coronavirus deaths in the past 24 hours, bringing the total to 79 522, according to the real-time tally by Johns Hopkins University at 20:30 on Sunday (00:30 GMT on Monday).

The figure was the lowest daily tally since March, with 24-hour totals in recent weeks ranging from 1 000 to 2 500.

The country - hardest hit by the pandemic in terms of the number of fatalities - has now confirmed a total of 1 329 072 cases, the Baltimore-based school reported.


India to 'gradually' restart rail operations in lockdown easing

One of the world's largest train networks will "gradually" restart operations from Tuesday as India eases its coronavirus lockdown, as the number of cases passed 60 000 with more than 2 000 deaths.

Some 30 train journeys - 15 pairs of return trips - will run from the capital New Delhi to other cities including Mumbai, Bangalore and Chennai, Indian Railways said late on Sunday.

"Indian Railways plans to gradually restart passenger train operations from 12th May, 2020... Thereafter, Indian Railways shall start more special services on new routes," the railways ministry added in a statement.

"It will be mandatory for the passengers to wear face cover and undergo screening at departure and only asymptomatic passengers will be allowed to board the train."

The vast train network, which had carried more than 20 million passengers daily, was halted in late March as India imposed a strict lockdown to stem the spread of the deadly novel coronavirus.


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