Covid-19 wrap | UK coronavirus toll over 40 000, Fauci issues warning in US, EU backs WHO, and Indonesia's gravediggers battle virus fears, stigma

2020-05-19 14:56

Here are the latest developments in the coronavirus crisis.

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UK virus toll over 40 000, with 10 000 care homes deaths

Britain's official coronavirus death toll is now over 40 000 with almost 10 000 dead in care homes in England and Wales alone, according to a statistical update released on Tuesday.

Some 40 902 deaths from coronavirus were registered by 8 May, according to the Office for National Statistics (ONS), meaning the true toll will be even higher when deaths registered over the last 10 days are taken into account.

The ONS figures include deaths where Covid-19 is suspected or mentioned on the death certificate.

The government's official rolling tally, which was 34 796 as of Monday, is lower because it only records deaths after positive tests.

Either way, Britain is the worst-hit country in Europe and the government has been criticised heavily for its response to the outbreak.

The ONS figures show a sharp fall in coronavirus deaths in the week up to 8 May, reinforcing ministers' claims that the country is past the peak.

- AFP


Virus curfew complicates lives of Kuwaiti polygamists

Abu Othman, like thousands of Kuwaiti men, has struggled to split his time between two wives living in separate homes amid the Gulf state's strict lockdown to combat the coronavirus.

"My life has become so complicated," said the 45-year-old, who has 10 children between the two women.

"I am constantly on the move between them," he said, stressing that he could never choose one wife over the other.

The oil-rich country has imposed some of the strictest measures in the Gulf to combat the spread of the virus, which has so far infected over 15 000 people and claimed 118 lives there.

Last week, Kuwait announced a nationwide "total" lockdown until 30 May, suspending all but essential private and public sector activities.

Under the curfew, residents are allowed to shop for food only once every six days, after electronically obtaining official permission, and may otherwise leave home for two-hour evening walks.

Those who break the rules, which also include mandatory use of face masks outside the home, can be fined as much as $16 000 and jailed for up to three months.

But in response to appeals by scores of polygamists like Abu Othman to ease their restrictions on movement, the Kuwaiti authorities on Sunday introduced electronic permits to men married to more than one woman for one-hour visits twice a week.

Traditional Islamic jurisprudence allows Muslim men to marry up to four women - a custom initially meant to ensure the welfare of widows and orphans of those who had died fighting for Islam.

A strict requirement is that men treat all their wives equally and fairly.

Polygamy has become increasingly uncommon in much of the Muslim world. Tunisia was the first predominantly Muslim country to abolish the practice in 1956.

Kuwait had one of the highest rates of polygamy in the Gulf between 2010 and 2015, at over 8% of marriages, according to a study by the Doha International Family Institute.

- AFP


Fauci warns against reopening US too soon

Dr Anthony Fauci has said that if federal guidelines to reopen were not followed, "little spikes" would become outbreaks.

He also said the real US death toll is probably higher than the official tally of approximately 90 000.

His message is at odds with the tone of US President Donald Trump, who is keen to get the economy going again.

Fauci was one of several White House experts testifying to the US Senate from quarantine after a White House staff member tested positive for Covid-19.

Trump and White House staff are being tested daily.

"There is a real risk that you will trigger an outbreak that you may not be able to control, which in fact, paradoxically will set you back," Fauci said.

He also added that such an outbreak would set back economic recovery and lead to "suffering and death".

He was referring to the White House's "Opening Up America Again" plan, which includes three 14-day phases states are urged to consider implementing as they allow schools and businesses to reopen.

Several states currently restarting their economies have infection rates that are still rising.

- AFP


EU backs WHO after Trump pull-out threat

The European Union backed the World Health Organisation and multilateral efforts to fight the coronavirus on Tuesday after US President Donald Trump threatened to quit the global agency.

"This is the time for solidarity, not the time for finger pointing or for undermining multilateral co-operation," European foreign affairs spokesperson Virginie Battu-Henriksson told reporters.

The EU has sponsored a motion at Tuesday's session of the WHO's annual assembly to urge an "impartial, independent and comprehensive evaluation" of the international response to the pandemic.

And the spokesperson said: "The European Union backs the WHO in its efforts to contain and mitigate the Covid-19 outbreak and has already provided additional funding to support these efforts."

Not for the first time, this puts Brussels in opposition to Washington, where Trump has accused the UN health agency of being too close to China and of being slow to react to the Covid-19 outbreak.

On Monday, the US leader - who has already frozen US funding for the WHO - wrote its director-general, Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, to lay out the charges and threaten to pull out.

"They're a puppet of China, they're China-centric to put it nicer," he explained.

Beijing has furiously denied the US allegations that it played down the threat and Chinese President Xi Jinping reiterated at the World Health Assembly that his nation had been "transparent" throughout the crisis.

- AFP


Jerusalem's Al-Aqsa mosque to reopen after Eid holiday

Jerusalem's Al-Aqsa mosque will reopen to worshippers after the Eid holiday, a statement from its governing body said on Tuesday, two months after closing due to the coronavirus.

"The council decided to lift the suspension on worshippers entering the blessed Al-Aqsa Mosque after the Eid al-Fitr holiday," a statement from the Waqf organisation said, referring to the holiday expected to begin this weekend.

The statement added that the exact terms of the reopening of Islam's third holiest site would be announced later.

- AFP


England's schools to reopen as coronavirus curbs ease

Schools in England in the United Kingdom are set to reopen on 1 June.

The move is part of a phased lifting of a lockdown imposed nearly two months ago against the coronavirus.

Even though the schools will only be open to students from certain years, some parents feel the move is happening too quickly.

- Al Jazeera


Russian PM back to work after coronavirus battle

Russian Prime Minister Mikhail Mishustin is returning to work after fighting off the coronavirus, the Kremlin said on Tuesday.

President Vladimir Putin signed a decree ordering Mishustin to resume his regular duties, which had been carried out by a deputy since 30 April while the 54-year-old prime minister was receiving medical treatment.

Mishustin, who was appointed by Putin in a surprise move earlier this year, stayed in hospital but still participated in government meetings, appearing behind a desk in a suit.

Putin had decreed that deputy prime minister Andrei Belousov take over his duties after Mishustin told Putin his test came back positive.

No further details about Mishustin's recovery or condition were released.

- AFP


Beijing says Trump 'shirking responsibility' to WHO

Beijing on Tuesday accused Donald Trump of shirking responsibility to the World Health Organisation, after the US president threatened to pull out of the UN health body.

Trump, who said he would permanently freeze funding to the WHO if it could not prove independence from Beijing, aims to "smear China" and "shirk responsibility" over its international obligations to the organisation, foreign ministry spokesperson Zhao Lijian said.

- AFP


Indonesia's gravediggers battle virus fears, stigma

Gravedigger Junaidi Hakim shouts "hurry up" as he summons his weary colleagues in a never-ending race to bury novel coronavirus victims at a Jakarta cemetery.

The team switches quickly from digging fresh graves to burying the bodies - aiming to get the task done in under 10 minutes to lessen the chance of getting infected themselves.

"The most worrying part is when we're unloading a coffin because we have to touch it," said 42-year-old Hakim, a father of four.

"We feel a bit relieved after it's buried."

Some 50 gravediggers at Pondok Ranggon cemetery - one of two earmarked for Covid-19 victims in the Indonesian capital - are working up to 15 hours a day, seven days a week, for monthly wages of 4.2 million rupiah ($290).

They dig at least 20 fresh graves daily, marked with white wooden poles that list the name, birthdate and day the occupant died.

But they can hardly keep up with the influx of confirmed and suspected virus victims.

"The ambulances never stop bringing us bodies," said Hakim.

- AFP

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