October 21, 2020

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Coronavirus latest: Pope urges ‘solidarity in face of pandemic

Pope Francis has offered sympathy to those who weren’t able to say goodbye to their loved ones. Meanwhile, Europe’s elderly have been warned that isolation measures may apply until 2021.

Pope Francis gives Easter Sunday Mass (Getty Images/A. Solaro)

What you need to know

  • The world has recorded close to 1.8 million cases with more than 110,000 deaths 
  • Italy reports its lowest daily death toll since March 19
  • The elderly might have to stay isolated until 2021 — EU
  • Germany plans ‘corona-presidency’ during six-month rotating EU leadership from July
  • Pope Francis livestreams Mass from Saint Peter’s Basilica, calling for solidarity

Updates in Universal Coordinated Time (UTC/GMT)

23:35 Canada is among a number of countries asking for Iran to delay downloading data on the black boxes obtained from a downed Ukrainian international flight. The countries want a postponement due to the travel restrictions in place due to the pandemic. Iran agreed last month to hand over black boxes from Flight 752 to Ukraine or France for analysis, a move welcomed at the time by both countries.

The black boxes are expected to reveal the last moments before the Ukraine International Airlines jetliner was struck by a missile and crashed just after taking off from Tehran airport. Transportation Safety Board of Canada (TSB) stressed that the concerned nations are “anxious for the download and analysis of the recorders to proceed,” TSB president Kathy Fox said that they all “provided a consistent response, indicating that traveling was impossible at this time, and likely for some time to come.” 176 people died in the crash on January 8, of which 57 were Canadian citizens.

21:59 A former Israeli chief rabbi has died from COVID-19, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu announced in a statement.

Eliyahu Bakshi-Doron, 79, who served from 1993 to 2003 as the country’s top chaplain for Sephardim, or Jews of Middle Eastern and North African descent, died in a Jerusalem hospital, according to Israeli media.

“Tragically, Rabbi Bakshi-Doron contracted the coronavirus and doctors’ efforts to save him did not succeed,” Netanyahu said in a statement.

As of Sunday, Israel had reported 11,145 infections and 103 fatalities.

21:31 Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has rejected the resignation of Interior Minister Suleyman Soylu. Earlier on Sunday, Soylu said on Twitter that he was resigning over the hastily arranged implementation of a two-day curfew in major Turkish cities. However, that decision looks set to be overturned following Erdogan’s announcement.

The lockdowns were revealed with just two hours notice on Friday night. As a result, thousands of citizens rushed out to stores to stock up on goods, many of which were not wearing mandatory face masks. Images of large, closely-bunched crowds prompted heavy criticism of the government’s arrangements. Soylu, who was appointed interior minister in August 2016, said his “countless experiences should not have led to such scenes.”

21:01 China has promised to improve the treatment of Africans in the city of Guangzhou in the wake of accusations of discrimination linked to the pandemic. Africans in southern China’s largest city say they have become targets of suspicion and subjected to unfair evictions, arbitrary quarantines and mass testing, especially since the country began focusing on imported infections.

The African Union expressed its “extreme concern,” demanding the Chinese government take immediate action. The United States also denounced what it said was an example of “xenophobia towards Africans by Chinese authorities.”

A recent breakout of infections linked to the Nigerian community in Guangzhou sparked the alleged discrimination by locals and virus-prevention officials.

20:41 Anthony Fauci, the pandemic expert who has been advising the Trump administration, said parts of the US could begin easing restrictions in May, echoing sentiments expressed earlier by Stephen Hahn, commissioner of the Food and Drug Administration.

“I think it could probably start, at least in some ways, maybe next month,” Fauci, head of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, said in an interview with CNN. “We are hoping by the end of the month we can look around and say, OK, is there any element here that we can safely and cautiously start pulling back on? If so, do it. If not, then just continue to hunker down.”

Fauci said that different parts of the country would be ready at different times, rather than all at once coming back to normal like switching on a “light switch.”

19:42 Here is the roundup of the latest in Europe:

Italy: Police stepped up patrols over the Easter weekend, leading to 12,500 people being sanctioned, with 150 being charged for criminal violations of the lockdown measures. Pope Francis broke with centuries of tradition when he livestreamed his Easter Sunday Mass from an empty St. Peter’s Basilica. 

The country also reported its lowest number of deaths since March 19, with a toll of 431. The figure marks a significant drop since the day prior, when Italy reported 619 deaths. It also reported a decrease in cases and number of people in intensive care.

Italy, one of the countries hardest hit by the coronavirus pandemic, has over 152,000 confirmed cases, with a total death toll of 19,899, according to Johns Hopkins University.

France: French officials reported a decrease in the daily death toll on Sunday, with 561 fatalities. That compares to 635 new deaths recorded on Saturday and 987 on Friday. So far, the country has over 130,000 confirmed cases and 14,412 deaths, according to Johns Hopkins University.

Authorities started isolating 1,900 sailors that were on a navy ship with 50 confirmed COVID-19 cases. 

Spain: Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez declared that Spain is still “far from victory” in the coronavirus outbreak, after the daily death toll rose once again.

On Sunday, authorities reported 619 new deaths, a significant increase from the 510 reported on Saturday – the country’s lowest daily death toll in weeks. Spain, with the second-highest number of cases in the world, has over 166,000 cases and a death toll of 16,972. 

Portugal: In Portugal, a Catholic priest used a microcar to deliver a service on the streets outside Lisbon, using his sunroof as a pulpit. 

Germany: Police in Frankfurt were attacked by a mob of around 20 people with stones and iron bars while trying to enforce social distancing measures. Germany is set to lead the “coronavirus presidency,” when Germany takes the helm of the rotating EU presidency in July.  

United Kingdom: The UK death toll topped 10,000 on Sunday, with a total of 10,629 reported deaths and 85,173 cases. Britain’s ailing Prime Minister Boris Johnson was discharged from the hospital in London where he was being treated under intensive care, to continue his recovery at Chequers, the prime minister’s country house. 

In Bulgaria, a small number of Orthodox Christians attended Easter services at a cathedral in Sofia on Sunday, as the Balkan country allowed places of worship to remain open.

Bulgaria has closed schools and banned nonessential businesses, but has allowed churches to remain open, unlike its neighbors in Greece and Romania. 

The Bulgarian Orthodox Church has agreed not to hand out blessed branches, and has vowed to disinfect places of worship regularly. Bulgaria’s decision to allow churches to remain open has come under intense scrutiny, however, as many fear that religious centers will become hubs for the virus.

18:30 The minister president of Germany’s most populous state, North Rhine-Westphalia, said a return to normal life was only possible if a step-by-step plan was established.

“We need a roadmap that shows us the way to responsible normality,” said minister president Armin Laschet.

“The way back to normality would not be a big jump, but rather cautious steps,” said Laschet, in a televised Easter address. “The more we all have patience, discipline and a community spirit, the easier it will be to return to life.”

Laschet also called the virus the most serious test for the state since its foundation in 1946, adding that it was particularly painful for families that had to maintain distance, where not even a hug was possible. 

“It’s all difficult. We will weaken the virus together, with the strength of every individual,” he said.

17:45 In France, health officials reported another 561 deaths on Sunday, putting the country’s daily toll to 14,400. The latest daily increase follows 635 new deaths recorded on Saturday and 987 recorded on Friday.

The number of patients in intensive care has also continued to drop, hitting 6,845 on Sunday afternoon.

French President Emmanuel Macron was due to address the nation and talk about lockdown measures later in the evening.

17:25 In Portugal, a Catholic priest used a microcar to deliver an Easter service on the streets outside Lisbon on Sunday.

Father Nuno Westwood used the sunroof of his vehicle as a pulpit with the sound of his prayers magnified through the speakers mounted on top of another car. Residents greeted the cleric from their windows. With the coronavirus lockdown in force over most of the Christian world, worshipers are spending the Easter weekend at home.

“The idea is, especially at Easter, during this pandemic when people have lost hope a little and are scared, to give them a message of happiness and for them to know they are not alone,” the priest told the Reuters news agency. “God is with us all, and that’s the message we want to convey, if only from a car!”

16:45 Italy has reported its lowest daily death toll since March 19, with 431 deaths. The tally also marks a significant drop from the 619 deaths recorded on the day before. The rate of infection has also slowed compared to Saturday, with 4,092 new cases to Saturday’s 4,694.

The number of people in intensive care also dropped on Sunday to 3,342 ICU patients compared to 3,381 on Saturday.

“The pressure on our hospitals continues to ease,” civil protection service chief Angelo Borrelli told reporters.  

Despite numerous positive signs in recent days, Italy remains one of the hardest-hit countries in the global pandemic. It has seen 146,363 total cases, second only to the US, and it leads the globe by the total coronavirus death toll with 19,899 lives lost.

16:33 France is set to isolate 1,900 sailors, after 50 naval personnel tested positive for COVID-19 aboard the flagship navy vessel, Charles-de-Gaulle.

Authorities said an operation was underway by land and sea to evacuate the nuclear-powered aircraft carrier, and prevent risk of further infection on Sunday.  All personnel will be tested and placed in isolation for two weeks, while the ship will be subjected to disinfection from Tuesday. 

The ship docked in the southern port of Toulon, after cutting short its mission in the Mediterranean and Atlantic by 10 days because of the outbreak.

16:20 Spain is still “far from victory” against the coronavirus outbreak, Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez said on Sunday, after the country daily death toll rose once again.

“We are all keen to go back out on the streets… but out desire is even greater to win the war and prevent a relapse,” he said in a televised address.

Earlier on Sunday, the authorities reported 619 new deaths. This marks a significant increase compared to 510 on Saturday, which was the lowest daily death toll in weeks. At the same time, the number of infections continued to drop.

Spain has so far seen confirmed 166,019 infections, second only to the US tally of 530,830 cases. It has also recorded 16,972 deaths, according to the figures provided by the US-based Johns Hopkins Institute.

16:15 New York Governor Andrew Cuomo reported 758 new deaths in the heavy-hit US state, a slightly smaller daily rise than the 783 people who were reported dead yesterday.

16:00 The government in Italy says increased police patrols over Easter weekend have led to more than 12,500 people being sanctioned. Of those, 150 face criminal charges for allegedly violating lockdown measures.

The country’s Interior Ministry released data from Saturday’s traffic checkpoints and patrols. It said more than 280,000 people were stopped and asked to explain why they were not at home.

The numbers were slightly higher than on previous days. Italy’s lockdown measures allow people to move around for work, health reasons or to fetch necessities such as grocery shopping.

All those outside are required to carry a certificate explaining why they are not at home. Fines can range up to 3,000 euros and criminal charges can ensue for anyone making a false declaration.

Authorities had augmented patrols over the long Easter weekend, when many Italians would normally head to summer homes or to lunches with friends and family.

15:10 The United Kingdom coronavirus death toll has topped 10,000, authorities said on Sunday. With the another 737 people dying, it now stands at 10,612 across England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland. The latest daily jump is noticeably lower than the 917 deaths on the day before and the 980 reported on Friday.

One of the people who lost their life on Sunday was British performer Tim Brooke-Taylor, previously a part of comedy trio The Goodies. He was 79.

15:00 The United Arab Emirates has introduced an online wedding service for couples who wish to get married despite the country’s contact restrictions, Abu Dhabi-based newspaper The National reported on Sunday.

The Justice Ministry has set up a website for engaged couples to submit the documents needed to record their weddings, and to allow them to choose a cleric from an approved list of marriage registrars. The couples then set a date for a virtual wedding ceremony via videoconferencing, in which the couple must give their digital signatures before the marriage contract is issued. 

The contracts are then digitally reviewed and sent to the couple’s mobile phones. The UAE has over 3,700 reported cases and 20 deaths, according to Johns Hopkins University.

 14:35 United States health officials are hopeful that stay-at-home restrictions could be relaxed by May 1, US Food, Drug and Administration Commissioner Stephen Hahn said on Sunday. However, he warned that it was still too early to say if that target date would be met.

“We see light at the end of the tunnel,” he said during an interview with ABC’s “This Week.” 

President Donald Trump drew widespread criticism in March when he suggested that Easter Sunday would be the target date to “reopen” the country’s economy and relax lockdown restrictions. 

The US has recorded more cases and deaths than any other country, with over 530,000 confirmed infections and a death toll of 20,608, according to Johns Hopkins University.

13:35 In Britain, Prime Minister Boris Johnson was discharged from the London hospital where he was treated for coronavirus in intensive care, while the United Kingdom’s COVID-19 death toll was expected to exceed 10,000. 

Johnson’s office said he left St. Thomas’ Hospital and is set to continue his recovery at Chequers, the prime minister’s country house. 

Johnson, 55, was taken to hospital on April 5, after suffering persistent symptoms of the virus. He was then moved to an intensive care unit on April 6, and remained there until last Thursday.

“On the advice of his medical team, the PM will not be immediately returning to work. He wishes to thank everybody at St. Thomas’ for the brilliant care he has received,” an official statement said. 

The UK has almost 80,000 confirmed cases and a death toll of 9,892, according to Johns Hopkins University.

13:15 Italy will transfer migrants from German private rescue ship Alan Kurdi to another ship where they would be kept in quarantine, Italian officials said on Sunday.

The vessel, with 149 migrants on board, was previously rejected port from Malta and Italy over coronavirus concerns. Following complaints and pressure from Berlin, Italian authorities supplied the crowded charity boat with food yesterday.

On Sunday, Italy’s transport ministry said that people on board would be moved to another ship, screened and then kept in quarantine.

12:40 The South African police service said it had arrested four of its own officers for their part in the illegal alcohol trade. The lockdown in South Africa includes a ban on the sale of alcohol and cigarettes.

South African authorities also have announced a crackdown on looters and have carried out at least 16 raids in Cape Town of liquor stores to break up illicit gatherings.

South Africa has 2,028 confirmed cases of coronavirus, the highest in Africa, and 25 people have died.

For the first time in 25 years, sub-Saharan Africa is heading for recession, the World Bank has said.

While countries in Africa have not been as badly hit by coronavirus, the knock-on effect from the struggling economies of China, the EU and the US are negatively affecting African countries’ economies.

The slump in the trade of raw materials and tourism is also set to lead to negative growth of up to 5.1%, the World Bank estimated. In 2019, African countries saw growth of around 2.4%.

11:38 Israeli authorities have closed off a number of ultra-Jewish Orthodox neighborhoods in Jerusalem where one in 1,000 residents have been found infected with the coronavirus. The move comes after authorities found violations of coronavirus restrictions across ultra-Orthodox neighborhoods such as group gatherings.

As of Sunday, the government also instructed all Israelis to cover their mouths and noses in public as part of a new measure to contain the outbreak. Children under six and those unable to wear masks for health reasons are exempt.

11:30 Berlin police say the majority of people have been adhering to coronavirus social-distancing rules over the Easter weekend. Some 500 police officers have been deployed across the German capital due to concerns the weekend’s predicted warm weather may lead people to disregard government advice. Some police traveled on horseback to surrounding forests check for violators. 

As part of the restrictions to curb the virus, Germans are banned from gathering in groups of more than two unless they are members of the same household.

11:14 Migrants aboard the German rescue ship Alan Kurdi are to be transferred to another vessel and quarantined at sea off Italy to ensure they don’t have coronavirus. The Italian Transport Ministry said in a statement that the controls cannot take place on land due to the pandemic. Instead, the Italian Red Cross and health authorities will screen the 150 migrants on the second ship.

Italy had asked Germany to take in the migrants but the ministry said that Sea-Eye group spokesperson Gorden Isler refused, saying that “the large ships of the Italian coast guard are much better suited” to the job.

10:30 Pope Francis has broken with centuries of tradition to livestream his Easter Sunday Mass to allow the world’s 1.3 billion Catholics to celebrate their holiest holiday under the coronavirus lockdown.

In an empty St Peter’s Basilica, Francis gave the “Urbi et Orbi” (To the city and to the world) message and blessing, urging European “solidarity” in the face of the pandemic.

“Today my thoughts turn in the first place to the many who have been directly affected by the coronavirus: the sick, those who have died and family members who mourn the loss of their loved ones, to whom, in some cases, they were unable even to bid a final farewell,” he said.

The pope also called for “immediate” ceasefires in global conflicts and appealed for the forgiveness of debt to developing nations.

Normally St Peter’s Square would be packed with worshippers on Easter Sunday, but the crowds and lavish flower arrangements are missing. Instead, the Vatican, which has been closed to the public for more than a month, is now sealed off by armed police wearing facemasks and rubber gloves.

Pope Francis kisses the altar at the start of Easter Sunday Mass (Getty Images/A. Solaro)

10:24 The coronavirus death toll in Europe has reached 75,011, according to the latest tally conducted by French news agency AFP. Some 80% of all the coronavirus-related deaths are in Italy, Spain, France and the UK. Europe has a total of 909,673 infected persons, AFP reported, making it the continent hardest hit by the disease.

Italy and Spain are the most affected European countries with 19,468 and 16,972 deaths respectively. France has a toll of 13,832 deaths and the UK 9,875.

10:10 Iran says its death toll from COVID-19 has risen by 117 in the past day to 4,474. The Islamic Republic has recorded 71,686 cases of the new coronavirus and has been the country hardest hit by the pandemic in the Middle East.

09:46 Spain’s overnight death toll has risen to 619 from a nearly three-week low of 510 on Saturday. Nearly 17,000 people have now died from COVID-19 related complications, the Health Ministry said in a statement. Spain is one of the worst-hit countries, and total cases have now risen by 4,167 to 166,019.

09:36 Malaysia has registered 153 new coronavirus cases, bringing the number of people infected to 4,683, the highest in Southeast Asia. Three new deaths raised the country’s death toll to 76. The Health Ministry said 45% of all confirmed cases have recovered. Indonesia has recorded its biggest daily jump so far with 399 new cases. There are now 4,241 infections. The world’s largest Muslim-majority nation has seen 374 deaths, with 46 new fatalities in the past 24 hours.

Thailand has reported three more deaths as well as 33 new infections, bringing the total number of cases to 2,551 and the death toll to 38. The Philippines has registered its highest number of deaths in a single day, with 50 new fatalities. The death toll now stands at 297. The Health Ministry said 220 new infections took the total number of virus cases to 4,648.

09:24 Ten Jewish worshippers wearing face masks have prayed at Jerusalem’s Western Wall during a Passover ceremony that usually draws thousands. The group maintained social distancing for the “Priestly Blessing” at the holy site in the walled Old City. The blessing is carried out by members of the Jewish priestly caste, known as “Kohanim” in Hebrew.

The Western Wall abuts the sacred compound known to Jews as Temple Mount, and to Muslims as The Noble Sanctuary. The holiest place where Jews are allowed to pray in Jerusalem, it was built more than 2,000 years ago by Herod the Great.

08:46 Police in Frankfurt have been attacked by men with stones and iron bars while enforcing social distancing measures to stop the spread of coronavirus. In a statement issued on Saturday, police said officers stopped their car when they saw a large group of people in the street who were blatantly ignoring lockdown rules.

As one officer stepped out of the patrol car, one of the group threw a large stone at the vehicle, before the group ran away. Shortly afterward, a second officer was attacked by around 20 people as the officer got out of the vehicle.

The incident, on Friday, is believed to be the first in Germany, where residents are generally respecting strict regulations that have been put in place nationwide to slow the spread of coronavirus.

08:35 Chinese officials have reportedly tried to influence German government officials to give positive feedback on Beijing’s handling of the coronavirus outbreak. The newspaper Welt am Sonntag cited a confidential Foreign Ministry document that said senior officials and employees of several German ministries were invited “to express themselves in positive terms on China’s handling of the coronavirus.”

It said a German intelligence source had confirmed that “Chinese officials are pursuing increased political influence and using propaganda policies in connection with the coronavirus.” According to the report, the ministry has recommended all government departments reject such approaches. The ministry has refused to confirm or deny the report. 

Germany’s Office for the Protection of the Constitution has said that Beijing is seeking to cast light on its medical missions abroad to help fight the pandemic “in order to present the People’s Republic as a trustworthy partner.”

08:33 China has recorded its highest daily number of imported virus cases, with 97 new infections. No new deaths were reported. The country where the disease first emerged has largely brought its domestic outbreak under control, but it faces a fresh battle against imported cases from overseas, mostly Chinese nationals returning home.

The northeastern Harbin city, close to the border with Russia, says it has ordered those entering from abroad to undergo a 28-day quarantine. Residents, meanwhile, will be quarantined for 14 days where confirmed and asymptomatic cases have been found.

08:27 As well as warning Europe’s elderly population, and those with pre-existing health conditions, that they may need to stay isolated for the rest of the year, European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen has warned EU nationals against booking their summer vacation just yet.

“I advise people to delay such plans. No one can make reliable predictions for July and August at the moment,” she told German newspaper Bild am Sonntag.

She also criticized the German government’s decision that holidaymakers could only claim a credit note for canceled trips during the coronavirus crisis, and not a full refund. “Throughout Europe, people have a legal choice as to whether they want the cash or a voucher,” she insisted.

07:57 Russia has reported 2,186 new coronavirus cases, the largest daily increase since the start of the outbreak, bringing the national tally of confirmed cases to 15,770. The number of coronavirus-related deaths rose by 24 to 130. On Saturday, the Kremlin said a “huge influx” of coronavirus patients was beginning to put a
strain on hospitals in Moscow. The Russian capital and many other regions have been in lockdown for nearly two weeks to stem the contagion, but hospitals in the
capital are still being pushed to their limit, officials said.

07:04 Saudi Arabia has extended a nationwide curfew until further notice. Last week, King Salman placed the capital Riyadh and other big cities under a 24-hour curfew, locking down much of the population to stem the spread of the virus.

The country of some 30 million has recorded 4,033 infections with 52 deaths, the highest among the six Gulf Arab states. Saudi authorities reported more than 300 new infections on each of the last four days.

06:12 Hospitals in Japan are reportedly so overrun with COVID-19 patients that they are turning away people rushed by ambulance, including those suffering strokes, heart attacks and external injuries. The Japanese Association for Acute Medicine and the Japanese Society for Emergency Medicine have issued a joint statement warning of a potential “collapse of emergency medicine,” which may lead to the collapse of medicine overall. It said some of those turned away later turned out to have the coronavirus.

Japan has nearly 7,000 confirmed cases and about 100 deaths, but the numbers are growing. The government has declared a state of emergency, asking people to stay home.

06:01 Microsoft founder Bill Gates has called on industrialized countries to invest billions in the development and distribution of a coronavirus vaccine. In an opinion piece for Germany’s Welt am Sonntag newspaper, the US billionaire said the race was on to find a vaccine to help curb the pandemic, predicting that researchers are aiming for “at least one of them to be ready for use in 18 months.” Gates said that a solution for a new pathogen had never previously been discovered in such a short time. “This tight schedule can only be met with appropriate financial support,” he warned.

05:50 Church pews across Europe will be empty this morning as Christians celebrate Easter Sunday under lockdown conditions. Churches and synagogues across Australia and New Zealand offered their services online, allowing their flocks to attend services virtually. The Jewish Passover festival coincides with Easter this year.

Pope Francis is set to break with centuries of tradition by taking his Easter mass online, with Saint Peter’s Basilica — usually packed every year with worshippers — left deserted. 

A handful of US priests and pastors will risk arrest by holding public services in their churches on Sunday, snubbing rules and medical advice. But most were streaming their services, and some were innovating with “drive-in” blessings.

05:34 South Korea reported just 32 additional infections over the past 24 hours, a continued downward trend. The country now has 10,512 confirmed cases and more than 7,300 people have recovered. The Korea Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said Sunday that the death toll had increased by three to 214. After hundreds of domestic cases were reported every day in March, officials are now worried about a steady rise in infections linked to those arriving from overseas and transmissions at bars and other leisure facilities.

05:25 Indonesia is to stop an annual exodus of people from cities at the end of the Muslim fasting month of Ramadan. About 75 million urban dwellers normally return to their ancestral villages as the Holy Month comes to a close — this year at the end of May. But health experts have warned that people could carry the coronavirus with them to rural areas. 

The government of the world’s biggest Muslim-majority country has ordered public buses, trains, airplanes and ships to fill only half their passenger seats. The rule will also apply to cars, while motorcycles can only be ridden only by one person.

The capital Jakarta is the epicenter of Indonesia’s outbreak, with the most infections and deaths among a national tally of 3,842 cases and 327 fatalities.

05:03 A lawyer for WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange has issued an appeal for him to be released from a UK jail, saying he is at higher risk of contracting the coronavirus. Stella Morris said there were genuine fears over his health due to long periods of isolation inside London’s Belmarsh prison. “He is in isolation for 23 hours a day and all visits have stopped,” Morris said.

Assange is waiting for an extradition hearing on May 18 on behalf of the US, where he is wanted for questioning over WikiLeaks’ activities. Last month, a British court rejected a bail request, ruling that Assange was likely to skip US extradition proceedings if freed.

04:17 Germany has reported a further 129 coronavirus deaths, the lowest daily fatality rate in three days. The Robert Koch Institute puts the total death toll at 2,673 out of 120,479 confirmed cases. Another tally, by Johns Hopkins University, puts the number of fatalities in Germany slightly higher, at 2,871. The two figures vary as RKI depends on data transmission from state and local levels and is updated around once a day, while JHU updates figures in real-time.

03:57 The majority of Germans are in favor of making face masks compulsory — at least in some places — to offer protection against the coronavirus, according to a poll by YouGov. A total of 33% of those interviewed would support requirements that face masks be worn in supermarkets. A further 21% are in favor of measures that would ensure facemasks are worn anywhere in public. Those against obligatory face mask-wearing in any circumstances totaled 37%. Another 9% had no opinion. Austria made wearing face masks in supermarkets compulsory from the end of March. In Germany, face masks are not compulsory except in the city of Jena in Thuringia.

03:04 The UK’s publicly-funded health system, the NHS, is working with tech giants Google and Apple to develop a mobile phone coronavirus tracing app, reported British newspaper The Sunday Times. Ministers hope that the app will make it possible to start lifting some social-distancing restrictions from late next month, the paper reported. The system will reportedly use Bluetooth technology and will alert anyone who has downloaded the app if they have been in close proximity with someone who has tested positive for COVID-19. Apple and Google on Friday both announced that they will be collaborating on contact tracing technology using Bluetooth. The European Commission adopted a recommendation earlier this week for a pan-European coordinated approach for the use of mobile applications to track, trace and model the coronavirus.

03:01 North Korean leader Kim Jong Un has called for stricter measures in the fight against the coronavirus pandemic, in a meeting with the Worker’s Party. The country claims to have no cases of the virus, but experts are skeptical of this. The meeting addressed the rapid spread of the virus across nations. According to state news agency KCNA, a resolution was made to take “more thorough state measures for protecting life and safety of people from the great worldwide epidemic disease.”

02:37 Mainland China reported 63 new asymptomatic cases on Saturday, as opposed to 34 new cases from the previous day. The total number of cases reached 82,052. The Hubei province, which was once a hotbed for the infection, reported no new cases. Considerable doubts over China’s reported figures.

01:22 The coronavirus will be the focus of Germany’s six-month presidency of the Council of the European Union, wrote Foreign Minister Heiko Maas in a guest article for German national newspaper Die Welt. “We will make it a ‘Corona-Presidency’ in order to overcome corona and its effects”, said Maas.

A different EU member state holds the presidency of the Council of the European Union every six months. Germany will hold the presidency from July 1.

“There are lessons to be learned from the crisis, for example how we improve support for EU disaster control and joint procurement, as well as the production of essential medical supplies,” wrote Maas.

Germany’s foreign minister also described how the EU would begin organizing itself after the crisis: “One of our first tasks will be to remove the restrictions on free travel and the internal market in a gradual and coordinated manner.” 

He also called for the EU budget over the next seven years to become a “revival program for Europe.” He said the EU should invest now to develop “research, climate protection, technological sovereignty and crisis-proof health and social systems.”

00:31 Germany should follow a staggered approach when lifting restrictions, stated a report commissioned by Germany’s North Rhine-Westphalia state premier, Armin Laschet. State premiers and Chancellor Angela Merkel will virtually meet on April 19 to decide whether some of the restrictions can be lifted or changed.

In the foreseeable future “individual areas of public life should be gradually reopened,” said the report, published in the German newspaper Frankfurter Allgemeine. The report lists schools, universities and the retail sector as separate groups.

At schools, there would be differences in class times, and further differences according to age. In day-care centers and where “face-to-face teaching” is carried out, teachers who do not belong to risk groups would work first and foremost. The report also sets out how the economy would start up: shops would open first, nightclubs later. Football matches, trade fairs and conventions would remain banned for longer.

Restaurants would be allowed, but tables would have to be set up far apart and only a few guests would be allowed. Relaxing restrictions should only be considered when the health system is “visibly not overwhelmed” and when conditions for better monitoring of the crisis have been established, stated the report.

However, the experts who compiled the report warned against premature optimism. “There will be setbacks,” they wrote, warning of “smaller and perhaps larger waves of infection” where coronavirus restrictions would have to be re-implemented. 

00:19 European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen said that the bloc’s elderly may have to be kept isolated until the end of the year to protect them from coronavirus. 

“I know it’s difficult and that isolation is a burden, but it is a question of life or death, we have to remain disciplined and patient. Children and young people will enjoy more freedom of movement earlier than elderly people and those with pre-existing medical conditions,” she said.

She also added that she hoped a European laboratory would be able to come up with a vaccine soon. “Without a vaccine, we have to limit as much as possible contact with the elderly,” she told German newspaper Bild am Sonntag.

00:15 A recap of yesterday’s events:

The US became the country with the most coronavirus deaths in the world, according to the tally of the US-based Johns Hopkins Institute.

Germany pledged financial support for more healthcare professionals. Health Minister Jens Spahn announced that therapists, dentists and rehabilitation specialists will be able to apply for financial aid. 

Spain registered its lowest daily death toll in 19 days, reporting 510 new deaths. The country is one of the hardest-hit by the virus in Europe.

The UK’s Queen Elizabeth said that coronavirus “would not overcome us” and that “Easter isn’t canceled” during her first televised address to mark the holiday. The UK’s leader Boris Johnson is reported to be walking and “continuing to make good progress,” Downing Street has announced. He spent days last week in intensive care, suffering from coronavirus.

“Low risk” economic activities resumed across most of Iran as the Islamic Republic sought to reboot its stricken economy.

Police in Austria began fining face mask violators from Saturday. People found in public spaces without either a mask or scarf to cover their mouth and nose will be fined €25 ($27.34). Those found violating other quarantine rules such as visiting areas deemed out of bounds will be fined €50. 

South Korea said it will attach electronic wristbands to those who violate self-quarantine orders as it looks to strengthen the monitoring of contacts of coronavirus cases. Those found breaking quarantine orders can be fined as much as $8,200 (€7,499) and face up to a year in prison.

00:05 Welcome to of the latest updates on the coronavirus pandemic. Catch up on all of Saturday’s developments here: US death toll crosses 20,000

In reporting on the coronavirus pandemic, unless otherwise specified, we uses figures provided by the Johns Hopkins University (JHU) Coronavirus Resource Center in the United States. JHU updates figures in real time, collating data from world health organizations, state and national governments and other public official sources, all of whom have their own systems for compiling information.

Germany’s national statistics are compiled by its public health agency, the Robert Koch Institute (RKI). These figures depend on data transmission from state and local levels and are updated around once a day, which can lead to deviation from JHU.

tg,kmm/aw (DW, AFP, AP, dpa, Reuters)