December 3, 2020

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Coronavirus latest: India death toll nears 12,000 after record jump

Germany has advised its citizens to leave India after the number of fatalities soared. Meanwhile, Brazil has reported a record number of daily new infections, taking its total tally to 923,189.

  • Brazil marks record high number of daily infections
  • India’s death toll nears 12,000 as Germany sends a warning to its nationals about staying in the country
  • Beijing reports 31 new cases in the past 24 hours amid fears of a second wave of infections

All times in GMT/UTC

20:57 Lithuania rolled out a new collector’s coin, dubbed a “coin of hope” to pay tribute to health workers and others who fought the coronavirus outbreak in the country.

The coin is marked around it edge with the Latin phrase “after darkness, I hope for light”, as well as 2020 for the current year and the internationally accepted signal of distress, SOS on its front side.

Lithuania’s new coin aims to preserve memories of 2020 and pay tribute to responders

“We wanted to say ‘thank you’ to the medics, the medical workers, public transport drivers, to thank teachers who worked at a distance, the shop workers and those who stayed in self-isolation and kept the virus from spreading,” said Asta Kuniyoshi, deputy governor of Lithuania’s central bank.

“So the coin is a coin of hope because, even at the darkest point, we believed that by staying together we would reach the light,” she said.

The coin is minted in silver, with the nominal value of €5, and nickel for €1.5. 

The Baltic country with its 2.8 million residents has seen relatively low coronavirus casualties – 1,778 cases with 76 deaths.

20:09 A group of Azeris clashed with Russian riot police after learning that not all of them would be allowed to return to Azerbaijan. According to Russia’s federal investigators, around 400 people “used violence” against police and border guards, trying to block a major highway and throwing stones at the security forces. At least nine police officers were lightly injured.

The border between Russia and Azerbaijan has been closed since March due to the coronavirus pandemic. The Baku government has since signaled that its citizens would be brought home on charter flights. However, hundreds of Azerbaijan nationals have also been flocking to a border crossing near the Caspian Sea in a bid to reenter their country, accusing their government of dragging its feet on the repatriation effort. The Russian authorities have been allowing a limited number of people across the border each week.

The tension apparently escalated after Russian officials announced this week’s list, which left out many of the earliest arrivals. 

“Only half of the people who have been at the border for a long time got on that list,” one of the Azeri expats told AFP, adding that had made many “angry.” The protesters then headed towards the border but were stopped by the police.

19:46 England’s Premier League returned on Wednesday, with Aston Villa meeting Sheffield United in front of empty stands. This was the first match to be played after a 100-day hiatus prompted by the coronavirus outbreak and the first ever Premier League fixture to be played with no supporters present.

Both teams and their coaches took a knee for 15 seconds at the beginning of the match to show support for George Floyd, the African-American killed in police custody. All the players wore the slogan “Black Lives Matter” instead of their names on the back of their shirts. 

The game at Villa Park ended with no goals, although this result seemed to be caused by a technical glitch – after a free kick from United’s Oliver Norwood, Villa keeper Orjan Nyland managed to catch a ball but stumbled, apparently carrying it over his goal line. However, the technology that normally signals when the ball enters the goal did not activate and the video assistant referee did not overrule the apparent mistake.

17:58 In Germany, the coronavirus tracking app is also available in English, Arabic, and Turkish, as the authorities try to reach as many people as possible. Speaking to DW, Federal Commissioner for Integration Annette Widmann-Mauz noted that the app can be particularly helpful in places where “people live close together.”

“It is important for the people to be able to use the advantages of this app if they are staying in Germany for longer or shorter periods of time,” she said. “The app is voluntary, but it helps to protect human life and to keep the spread of the virus in Germany as low as possible.”

The app can show the user if they or someone close to them was in contact with an infected person, while safeguarding anonymity, she said.

While Germany has been reasonably successful in fighting the coronavirus, it has also seen many localized outbreaks, including hundreds of infected workers discovered in a meat processing plant this week, with most of the confirmed cases coming on Wednesday. As a rule, the plants use migrant labor and the workers face cramped and unsanitary living conditions.

In Berlin, authorities also placed 370 families in quarantine in Neukölln, a city area with a large percentage of migrants, after scores of infections were detected.

Talking to DW, Widmann-Mauz said the government would continue to update the app until it offers a total of 20 languages.

17:34 As Germany prepares to tackle the economic fallout of the pandemic, Germany’s states reached a deal the federal government on the €130 billion ($146 billion) recovery plan, Chancellor Angela Merkel said.

The plan aims to stimulate internal spending by cutting taxes and making goods such as groceries, furniture, and cars cheaper. Funds will also be directed to companies who had been severely hit by the crisis. The fund is just part of various measures introduced in a pair of additional emergency budgets in Germany amid the pandemic. The second emergency budget is in the process of going through Parliament.

Currently, Germany foresees taking on a single-year record €218.5 billion in new debts in 2020.

The federal and state authorities also agreed on additional loosening of coronavirus measures, although various restrictions remain in place. Most notably, schools are expected to resume normal operation after the summer holidays. The exact time of summer break varies from state to state, although students in most parts of Germany go back to school in August.

17:10 People in Germany are still obligated to wear face masks and keep their distance in public, German Chancellor Angela Merkel said after meeting with state premiers.

“As long as there is no medication, as long as there is no vaccine, we need to keep on living with the pandemic,” she said, noting that outbreaks were being reported in places where distancing rules were ignored.

Merkel also praised this week’s introduction of the coronavirus tracking app, calling it a “very good start” for the digital battle against the virus. The chancellor thanked some seven million citizens who had already downloaded the app, but did not say if she herself had done so.

The leader also said she was “actually quite satisfied” with the slow infection rate in Germany and thanked the country’s health workers.

“We are far from exponential growth,” she said, referring to the outbreak.

16:59 Germany would keep the ban on big public events until October, but the federal government has left some leeway to state authorities on the issue, said Bavarian Premier Markus Söder after a meeting between Chancellor Angela Merkel and the heads of Germany’s 16 states.

Public events should not be held if standards of hygiene and infection tracing cannot be met, Söder added.

“Some states would interpret this more strictly, others will not,” said the conservative politician.

16:43 German Chancellor Angela Merkel met with state premiers face-to-face after three months of video-conferencing and phone calls. At the Berlin meeting, the chancellor and the heads of Germany’s 16 states discussed anti-pandemic measures alongside economic recovery and Germany’s future relationship with the UK following the end of the Brexit transition period.

The German government wants schools to return to normal operation after the end of summer holidays, according to the AFP news agency. At the same time, the federal authorities reportedly also want to keep the ban on large public events in force at least until the end of October. Social distancing measures, such as obligatory wearing of masks in shops and on public transport are also expected to stay in force.

Merkel (front right) hold us a stuffed toy she received as a gift from Schleswig-Holstein Premier Daniel Günther (left)

16:32 The World Health Organization (WHO) sees “green shoots of hope” in the global struggle against the coronavirus pandemic, WHO chief Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus has said.

While cases were “still rapidly rising” in many parts of the world, there were also “great examples of many countries that have shown how to effectively suppress the virus with a combination of testing, tracing, and quarantining patients,” he added.

Commenting on the study that showed steroid dexamethasone can help the most severe COVID-19 cases, Ghebreyesus said it was “very welcome news.”

However, the WHO chief also warned that the drug did not help in milder cases and that the world needed “more therapeutics that can be used to tackle COVID-19.”

16:12 Sweden will lift its travel warning on 10 European countries at the end of the month, the country’s Foreign Minister Ann Linde has said. Currently, Stockholm advises its citizens to avoid non-essential travel to Belgium, CroatiaFrance, Greece, Iceland, Italy, Luxembourg, Portugal, Spain and Switzerland, but the recommendation would be changed on June 30.

However, Sweden will keep the travel warning in place for other destinations, including other EU countries, the UK, Liechtenstein and Norway until at least July 15. The warning would also stay in place for countries outside the EU and the Schengen free movement area until the end of August.

15:33 Hundreds tested positive for the coronavirus in a German slaughterhouse, continuing the string of large-scale outbreaks in meat-processing facilities across the country.

Authorities said that over 1,000 workers were tested, but only 500 results were ready by Wednesday. Out of those, at least 400 came back positive, with more results expected later.

The outbreak prompted the officials to shut down the plant and suspend all schools and daycare centers in the region until summer holidays start on 29th of June.

The Rheda-Wiedenbrück plant near Bielefeld, is run by Tönnies, the leading meat processing firm in Germany.

 “We can only apologize,” a company spokesman said.

German meat processing industry relies on seasonal migrant labor, with mostly Eastern European workers housed in cramped accommodation facilities, making following social distancing and hygiene measures next to impossible. Last month, the German government pushed for a new framework that would improve the workers’ position.

13:10 There is no need to stockpile the drug dexamethasone yet, a German health ministry spokesman said, after British trial data showed it reduced death rates among patients with the most severe coronavirus infections.

“There’s no need to stock up in any way right now,” the ministry spokesman said in Berlin, adding he was unwilling to comment further on a study that had “not even been published yet.” 

The healthy ministry in Germany’s reaction to the preliminary results is more cautious than that of Britain, whose government said soon after Oxford University announced the findings of their trial on Tuesday that it had amassed a stockpile of 200,000 courses of the drug as a result.

12:00 Tunisia’s economy may shrink by up to 7% this year because of the pandemic, the investment minister said.

The number of those out of work in Tunisia will go up by 275,000, according to a government study in partnership with the United Nations Development Program, Investment Minister Selim Azzabi said.

The study expects the economy to shrink by 4.4% but Azzabi said that figure might end up being as high as 7%.

11:36 German Finance Minister Olaf Scholz said that Germany’s increasing federal debt ratio is bearable and that the country still has fiscal room for greater action should a second wave of coronavirus hit.

Germany intends to take on €218.5 billion ($246 billion) in new debt this year in order to help the country through the coronavirus crisis. This will raise Germany’s federal debt ratio from 60% to 77%.

“Less would not be enough,” Scholz said in Berlin, adding that the debts would be repaid within 20 years starting from 2023.

Other countries had a higher debt ratio before the pandemic than Germany will have after the crisis, he added.

He also touched on the recently completed bailout negotiations with Germany’s flagship airline Lufthansa, saying that talks are finished and that he believes the solution is good and balanced, one he hopes shareholders will approve of.

“I’m counting on that,” he told reporters.

Investor Heinz Hermann Thiele had previously criticized the €9 billion bailout deal. In response, Lufthansa said it may need to apply for creditor protection if shareholder support is insufficient.

11:24 The number of people who have tested positive in quarantined apartment blocks in Berlin’s Neukölln district has risen to 70, district Mayor Martin Hikel confirmed.

The seven densely populated buildings in the German capital were placed under quarantine after an initial 57 cases were discovered and under the current conditions no one is allowed to leave.

Hikel says part of the problem is complacency as the virus appears to be subsiding but he warned “that’s it’s not over and that sticking to the quarantine is also about protecting other people.”

10:53 Authorities in Gütersloh in Germany’s most-populous state North Rhine-Westphalia, have said some 400 workers at a large meatpacking factory have tested positive for the coronavirus.

The regional health authority said that the outbreak is linked to a slaughterhouse operated by the Tönnies Group in nearby Rheda-Wiedenbrück.

There have been a number of clusters uncovered at German abattoirs in recent weeks. The government has reacted by imposing stricter safety rules for the sector and forbid the practice of using subcontractors.

10:29 Minks at a farm in Denmark have contracted the coronavirus and, as a result, the whole stock will now be culled, the Danish Veterinary and Food Administration said.

The outbreak among the semiaquatic species is the first of its kind in Denmark, but comes shortly after 10 mink farms in the Netherlands were ordered to cull their stocks after some animals tested positive for the novel virus.

10:05 Taiwan is to ease its border controls as of next week by permitting business travelers to visit from some lower-risk countries, though they will have to be tested and quarantined.

Taiwan’s Central Epidemic Command Centre said as of Monday it would permit business travelers from countries such as New Zealand, Australia, Vietnam and Thailand, plus those from South Korea, Japan, Malaysia, Singapore, Hong Kong and Macau, which it deemed to be medium to low risk areas.

Taiwan has never gone into complete lockdown and life has continued pretty much as normal, primarily because of its early and effective prevention work, as well as a highly regarded health care system.

Nevertheless, Taiwan has been more cautious over easing its border restrictions, which have been shut to most foreign visitors for the last three months.

09:46 The Danish government has urged all those who took part in this month’s large racial justice protest in Copenhagen to get tested for the coronavirus after one person who attended tested positive.

Health Minister Magnus Heunicke said some 15,000 people were at the June 7 rally in the capital and “some of them stood very close to each other.”

Heunicke said individuals should take a test “whether you have symptoms or not.” He added: “As long as we have the virus in Europe and in Denmark, it will flare up. We are dealing with a very, very contagious disease.”

09:36 German biotech company CureVac will become the second firm to begin human trials of an experimental vaccine in the country, Germany’s official vaccine regulator announced.

The trial period is likely to last 15 months but will show an initial phase of results as early as this coming fall.

09:24 Beijing cannot rule out the possibility that the number of coronavirus infections in the city will decrease any time soon, a city official declared.

Pang Xinghuo, a senior official for the Beijing disease control authority, said the epidemic was still growing in the city.

Infections have accelerated in the Chinese capital over the last week, resulting in canceled flights and reimposed lockdowns to help contain the fresh outbreak.

09:13 Germany will extend its ban on large events, including fairs, until at least the end of October, broadcaster n-tv has reported, citing a document readied for a meeting of Chancellor Angela Merkel and the premiers of the country’s 16 states.

Meanwhile, German Football Association president Fritz Keller is considering allowing almost 1,000 fans into the German Cup final on July 4.

Newly-crowned Bundesliga champions Bayern Munich will meet Bayer Leverkusen in the showpiece event at Berlin’s Olympic Stadium and Keller said: “The (Berlin) Senate is responsible. In Berlin events with up to 1,000 people are allowed. If the Senate says, ‘Yes, we can do it,’ then let’s have 1,000.”

09:01 Authorities in China and Norway have concluded that Norwegian salmon was probably not responsible for the examples of the coronavirus that was discovered on chopping boards in a Beijing food market, the Norwegian fisheries and seafood minister said.

Following a meeting between Chinese and Norwegian officials on Tuesday, Odd Emil Ingebrigtsen told a video conference. “We can clear away uncertainty and the halt in salmon export to China.”

08:55 Germany’s smartphone app to help trace infections has been downloaded some 6.5 million times in the 24 hours since it was launched yesterday.

The CEO of software company SAP, Christian Klein, said the figure demonstrates the excellent work that SAP and Deutsche Telekom had put into readying the Corona-Warn-App over the last six weeks.

08:23 Russia has recorded 7,843 new infections, the country’s lowest lowest daily figure since April 30, bringing the nationwide total to 553,301.

Russia’s virus response team confirmed 194 people had died over the last 24 hours. The overall death toll now stands at 7,478.

08:00 Spanish Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez has announced a state ceremony will take place on July 16 to honor more than 27,000 people who have died from the virus.

Sanchez told lawmakers that the memorial will be presided over by King Felipe VI, with top officials from the European Union and the World Health Organization in attendance.

07:15 Pakistan has reported its highest single-day number of fatalities with 136 deaths announced on Wednesday.

The country reported 5,839 new cases, making a total of 154,760, including 2,975 deaths.

Meanwhile, top health official Zafar Mirza — who advises Prime Minister Imran Khan – said Pakistan would consider the use of the steroid dexamethasone, which reduces the deaths of hospitalized patients who need oxygen by up to one-third.

“It is an old and cheap anti-inflammatory medicine and we have multiple producers in Pakistan,” he said.

The government has acted to isolate flare-ups in cases across the country, to curb the rising trajectory of infections. Authorities are sealing off high-risk areas in the country’s 20 biggest cities.

Pakistan’s National Command and Control Center also said raids were being carried out to impose fines and shut markets, industries and shops where there had been breaches of social distancing regulations.

06:55 Britain’s health minister has hailed the use of the steroid dexamethasone in the treatment of COVID-19 patients as the best news so far of the outbreak.

Results announced on Tuesday showed that the drug – used to reduce inflammation in other diseases such as arthritis – reduced death rates by around a third among the most severely ill patients admitted to hospital.

“It does increase your chances of survival quite significantly,” Health Secretary Matt Hancock said. “It is one of the best pieces of news we’ve had through this whole crisis.”

Hancock stressed that dexamethasone was not a cure for the disease, but that it did increase the chances of survival significantly. 

Speaking in regard to the risk of a second wave, Hancock said that this was “always a concern.”

06:38 Cambodia’s government has exploited the coronavirus outbreak to intensify its crackdown on opponents, according to Human Rights Watch (HRW).

Since the turn of the year, 15 people have been detained, with a further 80 charged in what HRW described as politically motivated cases.

“The Cambodian government should stop using the world’s attention on the COVID-19 pandemic as cover to crack down on the opposition,” said Phil Robertson, HRW’s deputy Asia director.

HRW has characterized as “political prisoners” a total of 32 inmates, including 23 members of the now-banned Cambodia National Rescue Party (CNRP).

HRW called for authorities in Cambodia to halt campaigns against the political opposition party and release prisoners held on “fabricated” charges.

05:50 India’s official death toll has increased by more than 2,000, bring the total number of fatalities from COVID-19 to 11,903.

Mumbai revised its count up by 862 to 3,165 because of unspecified “discrepancies” while New Delhi saw a record hike of more than 400 deaths, taking its death toll to more than 1,800.

COVID-19 has badly hit a number of India’s densely populated cities while Chennai reimposed its lockdown from Friday due to a surge in infections.

Elsewhere, lockdowns are slowly beginning to relax, prompting Germany to warn its nationals about staying in the country.

The German Foreign Ministry sent a message to its nationals currently in India saying it “recommends that you and your families seriously consider whether a temporary return to Germany or another country with an assured health care system makes sense.”

The message added that restrictions in India were being eased but “unlike in Europe, case numbers are still rising strongly. This increases considerably the risk of infection.”

The embassy said its medical experts felt that people with the novel coronavirus and other serious medical issues have “no or very little chance of being admitted to hospitals. This increases considerably the health risks of a stay in India.”

05:23 Norwegian Air will resume 76 routes which had been curtailed because of the pandemic, while bringing back into action 12 of its mothballed planes, the airline has announced.

“More than 300 pilots and 600 cabin crew from the company’s bases in Norway will operate 20 aircraft, which means that approximately 200 pilots and 400 cabin crew will be brought back from lay-offs,” a Norwegian Air statement said.

05:00 Australia’s borders are unlikely to reopen to international visitors until 2021, Trade Minister Simon Birmingham said.

However, the minister did suggest long-term visitors, such as students, will be exempt, allowing them to come to Australia, albeit with a requirement to quarantine upon arrival.

“We can simply work through the 14-day quarantine periods that have worked so well in terms of returning Australians to this country safely,” Birmingham said in a speech to the National Press Club.

The return of students from across the globe will be a welcome boost for universities facing big financial losses due to the border restrictions. International education is Australia’s fourth biggest foreign exchange earner, worth A$38 billion ($26.14 billion, €23.19 billion) a year.

04:15 In a televised speech, Honduran President Juan Orlando Hernandez confirmed that he has been infected with the coronavirus.  

“As president of the nation and a responsible citizen, I want to communicate that during the weekend I started to feel some discomfort and today I was diagnosed as having been infected with COVID-19,” Hernandez said.

He said he has been experiencing mild symptoms, had started receiving treatment and is feeling better.

Hernandez’s wife and two of his aides have also tested positive and are all being treated.

Honduras began gradually reopening its economy last week after nearly three months of lockdown measures, despite some doctors warning that the country’s healthcare system could become overwhelmed. Some 260 people in Honduras have died from the infection.

03:09 Beijing has imposed city-wide movement restrictions to stop the spread of a new COVID-19 outbreak, state media reported. The “closed management” orders require that entry points to all residential communities be guarded 24 hours a day, with strict registration measures enforced and controls on movement of people.

Beijing’s municipal government also raised its COVID-19 alert level on Wednesday, as the outbreak has spread to multiple districts in the city.

Communist Party secretary Cai Qi recommended that authorities “round up everyone who should be rounded up,” a directive not seen in China since the virus first broke out in the central city of Wuhan.

All unnecessary travel out of the city has been stopped, and anyone who needs to leave must present proof of a negative COVID-19 test. On Wednesday, around 70% of all flights leaving and entering Beijing airport were cancelled, state media reported.

02:57 Germany has recorded 345 new COVID-19 infections and 30 deaths over the past 24 hours, according to the public health body Robert Koch Institute (RKI). Since the beginning of the pandemic, 187,184 people in Germany have been infected with the coronavirus; of those 173,600 have recovered, and 8,830 have died.

02:05 Mexico reported a near-record increase in the number of coronavirus cases and deaths. The country’s Health Ministry confirmed 4,599 new cases, the second-highest daily increase. The death toll rose by 730, the third highest-daily increase.

While the country has reported a total of 154,863 infections, and 18,310 deaths, these numbers are suspected to be inaccurately low, as Mexico does relatively little testing. Health officials see few signs of a decrease in the pace of infections as the country announced plans to reopen churches and religious events.

01:49 More Americans have died due to the coronavirus than in World War I, according to the latest figures. The US recorded 740 deaths in the past 24 hours, taking the total number of fatalities in the country to 116,854. It also reported 23,351 new cases in the same period. With 2,134,973 infections, the US count is by far the highest in the world.

00:50 China reported 44 new cases of coronavirus amid fears of a second wave of infections in the country. Eleven of the new cases were imported, the National Health Commission said. Beijing, the center of the new outbreak, registered 31 new cases. China’s Heilongjiang province, meanwhile, is imposing a 21-day quarantine on people arriving from Beijing’s medium-to-high risk areas.

00:30 US states Arizona, Florida, Oklahoma, Oregon and Texas have reported a record increase in the number of coronavirus cases for the second week in a row. The states also face rising hospitalizations, including an outbreak at a church in rural Oregon. Nevada also reported its highest single-day tally. It last reported a record increase on May 24. 

00:10 Brazil reported 34,918 new coronavirus cases in the past 24 hours, a record number of infections in a single day. With a total of 923,189 cases, Brazil is second only to the United States in the number of infections. The Latin American nation also registered 1,282 COVID-19 new deaths, taking the total number of fatalities to 45,241, the Health Ministry said.

Despite these grim statistics, Walter Braga Netto, a top Brazilian official dealing with the crisis, said Tuesday that the situation was under control. “There is a crisis, we sympathize with bereaved families, but it is managed,” he said.

However, Pan American Health Organization (PAHO) Director Carissa Etienne said that Brazil’s continuously increasing transmission rate is very concerning, while recommending stronger physical distancing and a careful reopening of the economy.

Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro has been an opponent of physical distancing measures and lockdowns, saying the economic costs outweigh the risk to public health. Many Brazilian states are reopening businesses, despite the severe outbreak.

adi/sri (AP, AFP, Reuters, dpa) (DW)