September 24, 2020

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Coronavirus latest: Fresh cluster prompts partial Beijing lockdown

Eleven residential estates in the Chinese capital have been sealed off after dozens of new cases emerged, linked to a meat market. Brazil’s death toll is now the second-highest in the world.

  • Lockdowns have been imposed in parts of Beijing to try and prevent the spread of a new cluster
  • Brazil surpasses the UK to become country with the second-highest death toll in the world 
  •  Checks at Germany’s borders intended to slow the spread of the coronavirus outbreak are set to come to an end
  • Across the world, there are more than 7.7 million coronavirus cases and some 427,000 deaths

All times in GMT/UTC 

23:59 We have now closed this article. For the latest news, please see Sunday’s live updates article: Germany’s infection rate climbs again

22:05 Here’s the latest from across Europe:

Greece: Greek Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitskotakis said his country is “ready to welcome tourists” as it prepares for a tourist season weighed down by the novel coronavirus pandemic. Although Greece has managed to keep the number of coronavirus-related deaths relatively low at 183, its tourist industry has taken a hit from worldwide travel restrictions. But Greek authorities have sought to alleviate would-be tourists’ concerns. “Everything is ready in terms of making sure that we ensure the proper social distancing guidelines,” said Mitskotakis.

Germany: More than 1 out of every 3 Germans wouldn’t mind returning to the office, according to a survey conducted for the German newspaper Frankfurter Allgemeine Sonntagszeitung. When asked what would prevent them from returning to an employer’s premises, 36% of respondents said there were “no significant obstacles.” More than 70% said they would like to see home office become a more common option for work, while 77% affirmed that they would like more flexible working hours.

United Kingdom: Downing Street said British Prime Minister Boris Johnson is working with education authorities to pave a way for students to return to schools in September. Currently, only select age groups have been allowed to return to classrooms in June after schools across the country were closed in March. However, the decision has polarized public opinion as the United Kingdom struggles with one of the world’s highest deaths tolls from the novel coronavirus.

22:00 Brazil on Saturday reported 21,704 new cases of coronavirus and 892 deaths.

The country has the second-highest confirmed cases in the world with 850,514 infections and the second-highest death toll with 42,720 fatalities.

20:12 Lockdowns are now in place in parts of Beijing in an attempt to prevent the spread of a new, locally transmitted coronavirus cluster. 

In China, believed to be the source of the coronavirus outbreak, strict local and regional lockdown measures had largely eliminated transmission within its borders.

On Thursday, however, Beijing reported its first infection in two months. It then went on to announce 50 more infections, all traced back to a meat and vegetable market in the city.

The recent transmissions have fuelled fears of a resurgence in China, where the curve of the outbreak has been months ahead of the rest of the world. 

Authorities have announced mass testing and ordered residents in 11 residential estates to stay home. A “wartime mechanism” that saw hundreds of police officers deployed was also activated.

19:53 The Doge’s Palace in Venice has reopened after shuttering its doors for three months amid the deadly COVID-19 outbreak that ravaged parts of Italy

Hundreds of visitors formed a line that stretched over 300 meters (yards) in Saint Mark’s Square outside the Ducal Palace on Saturday. 

Thousands of internet bookings were recorded for the first day of the reopening, a local news agency reported. 

Masks are required inside the palace, where many signs ask people to keep a safe distance from each other. Rooms are monitored to avoid overcrowding. 

The streets of Venice were also notably more crowded. In a bid to attract summer tourists, Italy reopened its borders on June 3. 

The number of new cases of coronavirus there has continued to fall as the country emerges from its period of confinement, a process that began last month. 

Most of Italy’s famous monuments, buildings, and sites, including Saint Peter’s Basilica in Rome, the leaning tower of Pisa, and the cathedrals in Florence and Milan, have now reopened to visitors. 

The COVID-19 epidemic has killed more than 34,000 people in Italy.

19:15 France has suspended a ban on demonstrations put in place to stem the spread of the coronavirus outbreak. 

The country’s top administrative court upheld a complaint filed by trade unions and an individual applicant arguing that the universal ban interfered disproportionately with a fundamental right. 

Despite the ban, several protests have taken place in recent days and weeks, among them two large demonstrations against police violence and counter-protests by police officers.

An urgent affairs judge ruled that it had not been established that it was impossible to protest while respecting coronavirus health precautions.

18:40 Chilean President Sebastian Pinera has replaced Health Minister Jaime Manalich as the country struggles to slow down the epidemic and a journalistic investigation put the official death toll into doubt.

Pinera thanked Manalich, one of the president’s close aides, for his “noble service” and dedication. The 66-year-old Manalich will be replaced Oscar Enrique Paris, formerly the head of Chile’s medical association.

The move comes after the South American country reported its biggest daily jump in new coronavirus cases, with over 6,700 infections and 222 new deaths registered on Friday. The country of 18-million people has seen a total of 167,355 infections and 3,101 deaths, according to the data provided by the US-based Johns Hopkins Insitute.

However, a recent journalistic investigation disputed the widely accepted figures, with reporters claiming the true death toll can already be above 5,000.

Chile has just seen its biggest daily jump in infections, despite various anti-virus measures being taken

Despite imposing a slew of anti-virus measures, including a lockdown on the 7-million capital Santiago de Chile and other cities and towns, the authorities have so far failed to stem the spread of the infection.

“The situation in our country continues to rise, above all in the metropolitan region,” health ministry official Arturo Zuniga said on Friday.  

18:10 Employees in Germany are keen to get back to the office, according to a recent survey of workers in six countries. 

An international survey from communications consultancy Kekst CNC asked people what was preventing them from returning back to the office. 

In France, the UK, the US, Sweden, and Japan, the most common answer was “fear of the virus,” accounting for over half of all responses. 

In Germany, however, the most common answer—at 36%—was “there are no significant obstacles.” 

Only 18% of German respondents said they wanted to work from home, far fewer than in the other countries.

17:10 Checks at Germany’s borders intended to slow the spread of the coronavirus outbreak will come to an end at midnight on Sunday, the country’s interior ministry has said. 

The checks, imposed in mid-March, have been reduced since Wednesday. Controls for people coming from France were due to end by Monday morning, a ministry spokesman said. 

Checks on foreigners arriving by plane from Spain will remain in place until June 21. 

Measures to reduce irregular immigration at the Austrian border, imposed prior to the coronavirus outbreak, will remain in effect.

The end of the checks means that people from neighboring countries can once again enter Germany by car without having to state the purpose of their trip. 

A wider travel warning that Germany put into place in March is also set to be lifted for EU countries on Monday.

Prior to the coronavirus outbreak, freedom of movement in the bloc meant people could move between most nations without checks at the borders. 

Germany’s foreign ministry said that the travel warning will remain in effect for three EU countries: Spain and Finland, who have extended their own ban on arrivals, and Sweden, where the outbreak is still considered too dangerous for the German travel warning to be lifted.

16:08 Germany, Italy, France, and the Netherlands have signed a contract with pharmaceutical company Astrazeneca for 400 million doses of a vaccine against the coronavirus, which are to be made available to European citizens, Italian Health Minister Roberto Speranzahas has confirmed. 

The vaccine, which was developed with the University of Oxford, is in an advanced phase of experimentation that is due to end in autumn, Speranza said on Facebook

He said that the first doses should be available by the end of 2020. 

On Friday, the European Commission was given a mandate from EU governments asking the body to negotiate advance purchases of coronavirus vaccines. However, it was unclear whether adequate funds would be available.

15:45 China will supply the continent of Africa with 30 million testing kits and 10,000 ventilators per month amid an accelerating coronavirus outbreak there, African leaders have confirmed, 

According to a statement from the South African president’s office, the supplies will be made available for the countries to purchase through a new continental platform that allows African nations to negotiate cheaper prices for urgently needed medical equipment. 

Each African country will be given a quota based on its population and the state of the outbreak there, the head of the Africa Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said. 

Canada, the Netherlands, South Korea, and France are also partners in the effort, the statement from the South African president’s office said. 

African countries have called for an equitable distribution of coronavirus supplies, including future treatments and vaccines. They have said the pandemic will not end until the whole world is protected. 

Thus far only 3 million coronavirus tests have been conducted in Africa, far short of the goal of 13 million.

15:00 The birthday of Queen Elizabeth II was marked on Saturday with a smaller-than-usual ceremony at Windsor Castle, her first public outing since coronavirus lockdown measures were imposed March. The usual “Trooping the Colour” parade was canceled due to the outbreak. 

An extravagant highlight of the royal calendar that typically attracts thousands of tourists to the streets of central London, it was only the second time the event had been called off during the Queen’s near-70 years of reign. The parade was called off once before in 1955 during a national rail strike. 

This year, the queen received a royal salute at the castle, where she then watched a small number of soldiers–observing social distancing rules–march the grounds.

The parade would standardly feature hundreds of soldiers and carriages, a carriage procession by the royal family, and a Royal Air Force flyover of Buckingham Palace. 

14:25 Researchers in Thailand are catching bats in a forest cave, to test them for the coronavirus. 

The tests are being conducted over a three-day period that started on June 11 at Tham Sador cave in Thailand’s eastern Chanthaburi province, according to Supaporn Wacharapluesadee, the deputy chief of the Thai Red Cross’ Emerging Infectious Disease Health Science Centre.

“Thailand has more than 140 species of bats and we see the need to study and learn more about them. We need to understand the coronavirus more and know where the risk may be at so that policies can be made,” she said. 

Supaporn said researchers hoped to collect saliva, blood, urine, and feces samples from 200 bats. The animals are immediately released back into the cave once the samples are collected. 

Results of the tests for COVID-19 could take weeks. 

According to the World Health Organization, evidence suggests the coronavirus most likely originated in bats in China. It is thus far unclear how the virus made the jump to humans. 

Thailand was the second country after China to report cases of COVID-19. Since then, the number of infections in the country has grown to 3,134 infections, resulting in 58 confirmed deaths.

13:24 Ukrainian officials have announced they will allow entry to foreign citizens after a three-month border lockdown.

However, foreigners entering Ukraine will need to show proof of having an insurance policy enough to cover the observation and treatment of COVID-19.

People arriving from countries that are heavily impacted by the coronavirus would need to be placed under quarantine.

The rule doesn’t apply to diplomats and cross-border workers such as truck drivers unless there is reason to believe they had had contact with people infected with the coronavirus.

The country is also set to restart international air traffic on Monday.

The easing of travel restrictions comes despite the country reporting record daily jumps in infection numbers, with 753 reported on Saturday compared to 683 on the day before. Overall, Ukrainian authorities have reported 30,506 cases and 880 deaths.

12:55 More than 20,000 rugby fans have packed the stands at a stadium in southern New Zealand, as the isolated country reopened its sports venues.

The fans witnessed Otago Highlanders claim a 28-27 victory over Waikato Chiefs in the city of Dunedin.

With most countries maintaining strict restrictions on top-level sports events, the Dunedin game is one of the first high-profile fixtures to be held without preventive measures.

New Zealand lifted all COVID-19 restrictions earlier this week. The island nation of some 5 million people has seen around 1,500 infections and 22 deaths since the beginning of the pandemic. The authorities believe no coronavirus cases are still active in the country.

“It’s massive,” the country’s sports minister, Grant Robertson, said on the sidelines. “It’s a world-first and it’s a payoff for all the hard work of 5 million New Zealanders.”

A fan told the  AFP news agency she was happy that the country was out of lockdown.

“Nobody’s wearing masks, it’s good,” she added

12:02 European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen has used a conference on Italy’s post-pandemic economic recovery to urge the country to make “ambitious reforms,” Germany’s DPA news agency reports. 

Rome is preparing to receive up to €173 billion ($194 billion) in grants and loans from the EU’s coronavirus recovery fund. EU leaders joined Italian Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte via video link on Saturday to start discussing a rebound plan. The negotiations are expected to continue into next week, and involve business leaders, politicians, unions and other stakeholders.

“We, the EU, are for the first time borrowing money from our children. So our investment today must deliver for our children,” said von der Leyen. “As we invest to shape the economy of the future, we must also work on ambitious reforms — to ensure that our investments deliver on the citizens’ needs and expectations.” 

Von der Leyen called on Italy’s government to do more to tackle bureaucratic hurdles, organized crime in the public sector and the underemployment of women and young people.

The Commission has proposed a €750 billion recovery plan to help stimulate the economies of EU members hardest hit by the coronavirus crisis. The pandemic has been particularly devastating for Italy, where it killed more than 34,000 people and took a heavy toll on the economy — the third-largest in the eurozone.

10:19 Here’s the latest on the four countries worst impacted by the pandemic:

India, now the fourth worst-affected nation in the world, has reported its biggest single-day jump in cases, adding 11,458 confirmed infections and taking its total count to more than 300,000, according to data from the federal health ministry. The death toll has reached 8,884 after an additional 386 people passed away.

Russia remains the country with the third-largest number of coronavirus cases at 520,129. Moscow on Saturday said it had recorded 8,706 new infections and that 114 people had died of the virus in the last 24 hours, raising the official national death toll to 6,829.

Brazil, meanwhile, on Friday recorded the second-highest death toll, surpassing Britain. A further 909 fatalities were recorded, putting the country’s tally at 41,828. Latin America’s largest country has also seen the second-highest number of infections behind the United States.

In the US, several states — including Texas and Florida — have posted record daily case totals, signaling the crisis is far from over. The country has recorded the most COVID-19 deaths globally at over 114,000.

Despite concerns that the virus is continuing to spread, US President Donald Trump and many state governors remain determined to get the world’s biggest economy back on track.

10:01 Pakistani authorities have identified and sealed off nearly 1,300 hot spots to contain the rising trajectory of new cases. The move comes as the South Asian country reported 6,472 news cases on Saturday, its highest single-day total. 

Pakistan put its entire population of 220 million under lockdown in March. The government has since eased restrictions, saying it was necessary to save the economy, but it has caused a surge in infections.

Prime minister Imran Khan has resisted demands from experts to reimpose the stay-at-home orders, instead referring to “smart lockdowns” in areas — including the capital Islamabad, affected by clusters of cases.

Pakistan has now reached a total of 132,405 cases, including 2,551 deaths.

08:55 Poland has opened its borders to Germany, the Czech Republic and Slovakia, as the coronavirus pandemic in the country slows. The restrictions were lifted from midnight Friday local time (2200 UTC).

It is the first time in nearly three months that all borders with its European Union neighbors are open. Poland had already relaxed controls to the border with Lithuania a day earlier.

The government — along with other EU nations — halted entry to the country in mid-March in a bid to slow the spread of the coronavirus.

The decision hit commuters who regularly cross the Polish-German border particularly hard. An exception was agreed upon for them later.

07:21 German carmaker Volkswagen and its luxury brand Audi have been ordered to keep their plants in the Mexican state of Puebla closed for the time being due to concerns about the coronavirus spreading. 

Governor Miguel Barbosa signed a decree on Friday stating that conditions for reopening the automotive sector were not yet favorable, according to a post on the state’s Twitter account.

Most car plants in other parts of Mexico resumed operations earlier this month after the government classified carmaking, mining and construction essential activities from June 1. 

VW had previously said it planned to get its factories in Puebla and the state of Guanajuato up and running on June 15. But Barbosa’s decree means that won’t happen.

Barbosa said he wants to reopen the state’s economy as soon as possible, but that he won’t do so at the expense of public safety. The auto industry represents 3.8% of Mexico’s GDP and provides jobs to nearly a million Mexicans, according to Reuters. 

The North American country has reported 133,974 confirmed COVID-19 cases and 15,944 deaths, although the real numbers are expected to be much higher.

06:49 India is reporting 11,458 new coronavirus infections — its biggest single-day increase since the pandemic began. The country’s tally now stands at more than 300,000 cases, including 8,884 deaths. India overtook the UK on Friday to become the world’s fourth-worst affected country in the world, behind the US, Brazil and Russia.

The Indian government has started easing a lockdown that was imposed in late March, but there are concerns about the virus’ continued spread. The hard-hit capital, New Delhi, recorded more than 2,000 new cases on Saturday, while large numbers have also been reported in Mumbai and Chennai.

04:33 Eleven residential estates in southwestern Beijing have been locked down due to a fresh cluster of coronavirus cases linked to a nearby meat market, local officials said on Saturday.

Forty-five out of 517 samples so far collected from merchants and employees at the Xinfadi meat market have tested positive for the virus, according to the People’s Daily.

Xinfadi, which has 4,000 tenants, was ordered shut to be disinfected after the virus was found in the environment, the official Xinhua News Agency said.

The chairman of the wholesale market told state-run Beijing News that the virus was detected on chopping boards used to handle imported salmon.

Major supermarket chains throughout the city have subsequently removed salmon from their shelves, Beijing Youth Daily reported.

Chu Junwei, a Fengtai district official, told a news briefing that the area was in “wartime emergency mode.”

Residents of 11 estates in the district were ordered to remain in quarantine.

A second market, which provides 90% of the city’s fruits and vegetables, was also shut after a cluster of four new Covid-19 cases was traced back to the site.

Nine nearby schools and kindergartens have told to close next week. 

The fresh cases are the first locally transmitted infections in the Chinese capital in more than 50 days.

China has remained vigilant for signs of a fresh wave of local infections, which could see officials forced to shut down large parts of the country’s economy for a second time.

Most of the recent cases in China were citizens living abroad who were tested as they returned home during the pandemic.

The novel coronavirus first emerged in the Chinese city of Wuhan in December and is believed to have jumped from an animal to humans at a market that sold wildlife.

03:13 Germany reported 348 new cases of coronavirus infections and 18 deaths within 24 hours, according to the latest figures from the Robert Koch Institute (RKI).  The total number of confirmed cases in the country is now at 186,022 with 8,781 deaths.

The number of reproductions, or R-value, continued to remain under the critical mark of 1.0 at 0.87. This means that an infected person infects less than one other person on average. 

02:14 Poland on Saturday reopened borders with all its European Union neighbor countries.

While controls on its border with Lithuania were relaxed on Friday, the borders to Germany, the Czech Republic and Slovakia reopened at midnight.   

The entry requirements for people from non-EU countries have also been relaxed. 

Polish authorities had closed entry for foreigners within the EU in mid-March.

Flights to EU countries are slated to resume from June 16.

00:58 US infectious disease expert Dr. Anthony Fauci has warned that “blips” of increasing COVID-19 hospitalizations being reported by some states in the country could spiral out of control if concrete contact tracing measures are not put in place. 

Texas — which has spearheaded efforts for states to reopen — and North Carolina saw their highest hospitalization rates since the beginning of the pandemic.  

While authorities in these states have pointed towards low coronavirus death rates, Fauci said that increased hospitalizations were a worrying trend. 

Speaking to CNN, he added that it was also a sign that “maybe we need to slow down a little” on reopenings. 

nm, dvv/mm(AFP, AP, dpa, Reuters)  (DW)