Covid-19 wrap | EU recovery initiative, Japan recession, coronavirus probe gains momentum

Here are the latest developments in the coronavirus crisis.

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Macron, Merkel to present EU recovery initiative on Monday

French President Emmanuel Macron and German Chancellor Angela Merkel will discuss a joint plan to spur the EU's recovery from the coronavirus crisis on Monday, which will be presented during a joint press conference, the French presidency said.

The talks will "define a French-German initiative to respond to the Covid-19 crisis at the European level, in the areas of health, the economic recovery, the environmental and digital transition, and industrial sovereignty", the statement said.

The two leaders will meet via video conference beginning at 15:30 (13:30 GMT), and the press conference is scheduled for around 17:00.

Europe is just beginning to emerge from the lockdowns to halt the outbreak, which has taken a huge bite out of national economies and raised the prospects of damaging recessions that could last for months.

But EU members have been divided for weeks on the best response, after the bloc pledged to muster €500 billion ($540 billion) in emergency funding last month.

The debate has again exposed the divide between northern countries leery of exploding budget deficits, and hard-hit southern countries like Italy and Spain that are desperate for more spending.

- AFP


Pandemic dead give New Delhi gravedigger sleepless nights

Death had not fazed gravedigger Mohammed Shamim up to now, but since the grip of the coronavirus crisis has tightened in New Delhi, a shiver runs up even his spine each time he sees a hearse pull up at the cemetery he tends.

"I've been burying the dead for the last two decades. But until now, I've never been scared for my own life," he said.

The Indian capital has become one of the country's Covid-19 hotspots, with media reports based on graveyard records saying there are 450 dead - triple the official tally.

Shamim says he alone has dug graves for 115 bodies at the cemetery's designated area for coronavirus dead, about 200m away from the others.

Despite the third-generation gravedigger's experience, his family has now started complaining about his job at the Jadid Qabristan Ahle Muslim cemetery, and Shamim has moved his four daughters to his parents' house to reduce the risk of them catching the disease.

- AFP


Asia virus latest: Japan in recession

Japan dived into its first recession since 2015, according to official data, with the world's third-largest economy shrinking by 0.9% in the first quarter as it wrestles with the fallout from the coronavirus.

The drop in gross domestic product followed a 1.9% decline in the fourth quarter of 2019 as a tax hike and typhoons hit Japan hard - even before the pandemic shut down much of the economy.

A recession is defined as two consecutive quarters of negative GDP growth and some analysts predicted the Japanese economy would suffer worse as the effects of the coronavirus become clearer.

- AFP


South Korean football club sorry for 'sex doll' controversy

One of South Korea's top football clubs apologised for causing "deep concern" after being accused of using sex dolls to fill empty seats at a weekend game.

FC Seoul insisted the mannequins - used in the absence of fans, who are banned because of the coronavirus - had "no connection to sex toys".

But some of the artificial spectators, deployed for Sunday's game against Gwangju FC, wore T-shirts with the logo of SoloS, a sex toy seller.

- AFP


Alarm as another German abattoir hit by coronavirus outbreak

Germany has uncovered another cluster of coronavirus infections at a slaughterhouse, fuelling alarm about working conditions in the country's meat packing plants.

A total of 92 employees at the Westfleisch slaughterhouse in Lower Saxony state have tested positive, local authorities in Osnabrueck district announced late Sunday.

The plant has been closed until further notice and staff have been placed in quarantine, joining a string of German slaughterhouses that have suffered similar outbreaks.

Many of the cases have been among abattoir workers from eastern Europe who live in shared accommodation.

Germany has grown increasingly concerned about the meat industry as a hotbed of new coronavirus infections, just as the nation emerges from lockdown and attempts to restart its battered economy.

- AFP


Saint Peter's Basilica in the Vatican reopens

Saint Peter's Basilica in the Vatican reopened to visitors on Monday after being closed for over two months under Italy's lockdown orders to prevent the spread of the coronavirus.

A handful of visitors queued up, observing social distancing rules, and were watched by police officers wearing face masks before having their temperatures taken to enter the church, which has been closed since 10 March.

- AFP


'Express burials' hide true Covid-19 picture in Nicaragua

Doctors are warning of looming Covid-19 chaos in Nicaragua, where victims' families and the opposition accuse President Daniel Ortega's government of ordering "express burials" to hide the true number of infections.

To date, the Central American country has confirmed just 25 cases of the coronavirus and eight deaths. But rights groups and experts believe the numbers are far higher.

"We are entering a phase of rapid community spread of the virus," said epidemiologist Alvaro Ramirez.

"As the exponential curve continues to increase and more people become infected, we are going to get a chaotic situation."

In contrast to restrictions in other Latin American countries, Nicaragua has been criticized for an almost complete absence of measures to contain the virus.

- AFP


Coronavirus probe gains momentum ahead of World Health Assembly

More than 100 countries, including 50 African nations and all European Union member states, are backing a resolution calling for an independent probe into the coronavirus pandemic, Australia said in the run-up to a key meeting of the World Health Assembly (WHA).

Australian Health Minister Greg Hunt was quoted by news reports as saying the motion was "expected to be endorsed" at the assembly as early as Tuesday. Hunt is representing his country in the virtual WHA meeting, which is set to begin later on Monday.

At least 116 countries have now signed up as co-sponsors of the draft motion calling for an investigation, according to Australia's TV network ABC news.

Britain, Canada, India, Indonesia, Japan, New Zealand and Russia have also indicated their support.

While the coronavirus motion does not single-out China by name, it has angered officials with Beijing threatening economic countermeasures against Australia, which first pushed for an investigation.

Aside from the pandemic, World Health Organisation (WHO) officials are also expected to raise the question of Taiwan's participation as an observer at the WHA - a move that is also expected to anger China.

Taiwan, which Beijing considers part of China, is one of the few places to have successfully contained the spread of coronavirus, also known as Covid-19.

The coronavirus pandemic was first reported in the Chinese city of Wuhan in late December. It has since spread around the world with some 4.7 million cases confirmed by Monday and at least 315 000 deaths.

Although Taiwan lost its place at the United Nations and on many UN bodies when countries began to normalise relations the People's Republic of China in the early 1970s, it remained an observer at the WHA until 2016 when Tsai Ing-wen was elected the island's president. China claims Tsai, who was returned for a second term in a landslide in January is a separatist.

The US has given its backing to Taiwan's campaign to participate in the assembly, while China has been stepping up its attacks on the self-ruled island and countries that support it.

- Al Jazeera


'Express burials' hide true Covid-19 picture in Nicaragua

Doctors are warning of looming Covid-19 chaos in Nicaragua, where victims' families and the opposition accuse President Daniel Ortega's government of ordering "express burials" to hide the true number of infections.

To date, the Central American country has confirmed just 25 cases of the coronavirus and eight deaths. But rights groups and experts believe the numbers are far higher.

"We are entering a phase of rapid community spread of the virus," said epidemiologist Alvaro Ramirez.

"As the exponential curve continues to increase and more people become infected, we are going to get a chaotic situation."

In contrast to restrictions in other Latin American countries, Nicaragua has been criticized for an almost complete absence of measures to contain the virus.

Ortega's government has kept schools and offices open and maintained crowd-pulling events like the national soccer league.

Hospital staff report a health system overwhelmed by patients with respiratory illnesses, and relatives say the bodies of loved ones are being carted off in pick-up trucks for "express burials" without their consent.

- AFP

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