Covid-19 wrap: WHO warns virus could stay, Trump deepens rift with Fauci and 600 000 Australians lose jobs

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

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WHO warns virus may be here to stay as toll nears 300 000

Geneva – The coronavirus may never go away and populations will have to learn to live with it just as they have HIV, the World Health Organisation (WHO) has warned, as the global death toll from the disease nears 300 000.

The United States logged more than 1,800 deaths on Wednesday, bringing the nation's total to 84,059. The president has increasingly looked to pin the blame on China, where the virus first emerged late last year.

A vaccine could allow countries and economies to fully re-open from lockdowns and potentially earn millions of dollars for its creators. But the WHO said the virus may never be wiped out entirely.

"This virus may become just another endemic virus in our communities and this virus may never go away," said Michael Ryan, the global health body's emergencies director in Geneva. "HIV has not gone away – but we have come to terms with the virus."

The prospect of the disease hanging around leaves governments across the world facing a delicate balancing act between suppressing the pathogen and getting economies up and running.

 - AFP


Trump deepens rift with top doctor Fauci on US reopening

Washington – US President Donald Trump on Wednesday deepened his rift with top medical advisor Anthony Fauci over loosening coronavirus restrictions, saying they "totally" disagree on whether to keep schools closed.

The issue of whether students should return to schools and universities in September is emerging as a flashpoint in the standoff between the White House and medical experts over how quickly to reopen the country.

Trump, speaking to reporters at the White House, said he found Fauci's latest call for a highly cautious reopening "not acceptable".

"We're opening our country, people want it open, the schools are going to be open," Trump said.

Fauci, an internationally respected expert on infectious diseases and a key advisor to Trump throughout the pandemic, testified in Congress on Tuesday that ending the lockdown too quickly could bring "really serious" consequences.

"There is a real risk that you will trigger an outbreak that you may not be able to control," he said.

This was starkly at odds with Trump's push to put the health emergency behind him and focus on getting the US economy back open.

 - AFP


Nearly 600 000 Australians lose jobs as virus lockdown bites

Sydney – Almost 600 000 Australians lost their jobs as the virus shutdown took hold in April, the steepest monthly drop since records began more than 40 years ago, data showed on Thursday.

The Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS) said 100 000 people filed for unemployment benefits, while a further 500 000 left the workforce altogether.

Prime Minister Scott Morrison called the figures "terribly shocking", with the ABS reporting the underutilisation rate – which combines unemployment and underemployment – reached a record high of 19.9% in April.

The ABS said 2.7 million people – or one in five Australian workers – either left the workforce or had their work hours reduced as the country recorded an "unprecedented fall" in the workforce participation rate to 63.5%. The drop in the participation rate meant unemployment rose one percentage point to 6.1%, well short of forecasts of more than 8%.

Just 12.4 million Australians now have jobs after the steepest monthly fall in employment since the ABS began recording monthly data in 1978.

Morrison warned Australians to brace for more difficult economic news in the months ahead, adding: "A very tough day. Terribly shocking, although not unanticipated.

"We knew there would be hard news as the pandemic wreaks an impact on Australia as it is on countries all around the world."

 - AFP


Nicaragua releases 2 800 prisoners to house arrest to contain virus

Managua – Nicaragua released more than 2 800 prisoners to house arrest on Wednesday to contain the spread of the coronavirus pandemic, but advocates said there were no political prisoners among them.

Authorities have jailed at least 86 opposition figures and supporters of rights groups under the government of Daniel Ortega – a former rebel hero who has been in power since 2007 and is now accused of running a repressive dictatorship.

Many of those prisoners were arrested during 2018 protests against Ortega that rights groups said left 300 people dead. But none of them were among the 2 815 prisoners the interior ministry said had been released from Nicaragua's prisons, defence lawyer Yonarki Martinez told AFP.

"It's obvious that there's no respect for human rights and the health of those denied their freedom," Martinez said.

The Inter-American Commission on Human Rights called for the "immediate liberation" of the country's political prisoners.

 - AFP


Crewcuts and catch-ups as New Zealand lockdown ends

New Zealanders mingled with friends and hit the shopping malls for the first time in seven weeks as a national lockdown ended and businesses faced a "new normal" minimising the constant threat of coronavirus.

A long-awaited haircut was the top priority for many Kiwis after almost two months in isolation, with queues of tangle-headed customers forming at barbers before dawn.

 - AFP


Japan seeks to lift virus emergency in most regions

Japan's government said it wants to lift a state of emergency declared over the coronavirus in most of the country, though not yet the capital Tokyo and other urban centres.

Prime Minister Shinzo Abe earlier this month extended a nationwide state of emergency until the end of May.

But with infections sharply down, his government is now hoping to lift the measure early in up to 39 of the country's 47 prefectures.

 - AFP


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