- Over 257,000 people have died around the globe from COVID-19 while over 3.6 million people are known to have been infected
- The US will disband its coronavirus task force as President Donald Trump turns his attention to reopening the economy
- German Chancellor Angela Merkel is expected to hand more control on lockdown decisions back to the states when she talks to regional leaders later on Wednesday
- US President Donald Trump changed the policy he announced Tuesday and will not disband a coronavirus task force
Updates in Universal Coordinated Time (UTC/GMT)
For the first time, the annual military parade was not held in the capital, Sofia, and was moved instead to a military university in the former capital, Veliko Tarnovo.
Fighter jets carried out air demonstrations at a base in southern Bulgaria, while naval demonstrations took place on the Black Sea near Varna.
Pictures of the naval demonstration showed crowds of people lining the harbor to watch the exercises.
Defense Minister Krasimir Karakachanov said that despite the COVID-19 crisis, the country would continue to press forward with its plans to modernize its armed forces, including the purchase of 160 armored vehicles.
23:07 Brazil saw its largest rise in COVID-19 deaths Wednesday, with 10,503 new cases and 615 deaths in the last 24 hours. This comes right after President Jair Bolsonaro’s claim on Tuesday that the worst of the crisis was over.
Brazil’s health minister, Nelson Teich, acknowledged for the first time that lockdowns are required to control the spread of COVID-19. His comments stood in contrast with Bolsonaro, who has been accused of downplaying the threat.
Meanwhile, Bolsonaro’s spokesman, Otavio do Rego Barros tested positive for coronavirus, and is currently in quarantine at home. The news has raised concerns about the president’s exposure to the virus.
Brazil is the epicenter of the COVID-19 outbreak in Latin America. The central bank slashed its benchmark rate to a record low 3%, to give a boost to the Brazilian economy. This was the seventh rate cut since July 2019, as the central bank tries to revive an economy that was already suffering before the pandemic.
21:17 Poland will postpone Sunday’s presidential election, the country’s governing parties announced on Wednesday.
A new date for the election will be announced “as soon as possible,” ruling party leader Jaroslaw Kaczynski and coalition partner leader Jaroslaw Gowin said in a statement.
“Having in mind Poles’ safety, due to the epidemic, the elections will be held by postal vote,” they said.
The decision comes after the ruling Law and Justice (PiS) party faced mounting pressure over its plans to press forward with the vote despite health concerns due to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic.
The PiS party had been pushing to hold the May 10 election as a postal vote. The short-notice postal vote plans were heavily criticized amid concerns that the hastily thrown together election might not hold up to democratic standards.
A camera team for German public broadcaster ARD was filming the demonstration, when a protester suddenly left the crowd and attempted to kick one of the team members. The suspect ended up kicking a microphone boompole, which struck the camera operator in the head.
The 46-year-old man attempted to flee the scene, but was detained by police.
Between 350 to 400 demonstrators took part in the protest, police said. Protesters are currently only permitted with up to 50 people in Berlin due to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic.
Authorities ultimately dispersed the crowd. Several protesters resisted police and hurt officers, a Berlin police spokeswoman told news agency DPA.
On May 1, another camera team was also attacked during a separate demonstration in Berlin as they were filming a satirical program for public broadcaster ZDF. The camera team was attacked by people wearing hoods and six people were taken to the hospital, ZDF said.
Germany: Chancellor Angela Merkel announced the country had passed through the very first phase of the COVID-19 pandemic. After a meeting with leaders from Germany’s 16 states, the country’s politicians agreed that all shops will be allowed to open — regardless of size. People will also be able to meet up in twos with others from separate households. So far, the country has seen 6,993 deaths and over 167,000 confirmed cases of the virus. The country’s football league also announced that the season would restart on May 15.
The Netherlands: Prime Minister Mark Rutte unveiled a four-month plan that will see the staggered exit from its coronavirus lockdown. Initial restrictions will be lifted from next week. In the first stage, hairdressers, beauty salons and elementary schools will be allowed to reopen and non-contact outdoor sports will be allowed. Cinemas, restaurants and cafes will also get to reopen but there will be limits on how many people visit. Social distancing measures will still apply in all areas. But anyone hoping to visit gyms, saunas, sex clubs, coffee shops or casinos will have to wait until September.
Spain: Lawmakers in Spanish parliament voted to extend the country’s coronavirus state of emergency, which was first declared on March 14. This is the fourth time lawmakers have approved the measure. The state of emergency permits Spain’s government to restrict the rights of citizens. The country’s many curbs on public life will now remain in place until May 23. Despite this, several measures have gradually been lifted: some sports have been allowed, and smaller businesses have reopened. Starting next Monday, some cafes and restaurants may also reopen.
Lithuania: the Baltic country also gave the go-ahead to enter another phase of its multi-staged coronavirus exit plan. As of May 18, up to 30 people can be outdoors together, but they must stick to social distancing rules. Kindergartens and preschools as well as sports clubs and beauty salons will also be allowed to reopen. The government also laid out a roadmap for resuming travel: Beginning next week it is opening several ferry-routes to Germany and will operate a “travel bubble” with Baltic neighbors Latvia and Estonia.
Greece: The Greek government is hopeful the country can reopen for tourists in July, said Minister of State Giorgos Gerapetritis in parliament. The details of how to kick-start the tourism industry, including financial support, will be decided by May 15, he added. The tourism industry is the largest contributor to the Greek economy, accounting for up to 30% of its gross domestic product, with workers in this industry hard-hit by pandemic travel restrictions. So far, the country has 147 confirmed deaths and 2,663 cases of COVID-19.
Bosnia-Herzegovina: Muslims in the central Balkan nation returned to mosques, as the government gradually relaxed lockdown measures. This is set to be a relief for worshippers during the holy month of Ramadan. Mosques are now open for five daily prayer sessions. Worshippers must continue to adhere to social distancing and hygiene measures. Most small businesses, including hairdressers and beauty salons, in the country reopened this week, but educational establishments remain shut.
19:40 The German Football League (DFL) announced that the Bundesliga would resume its season on May 15 after more than two months without a match due to the coronavirus pandemic.
Matches in the top two divisions will be played in stadiums without fans.
DFL chief Christian Seifert had welcomed a government decision earlier in the day to allow soccer matches to resume, but he also said in a statement it was “a great responsibility for the clubs and their employees to implement the medical and organizational requirements in a disciplined manner.”
There were also economic reasons behind the decision to allow football to resume. With 13 of the 36 teams in Germany’s top two divisions reportedly on the brink of bankruptcy, the league needs to claim around €300 million ($325 million) from TV contracts if the season is completed.
The DFL has long urged restarting play, which it says is vital for a sector that employs 56,000 people in Germany.
18:25 As France readies for a gradual lifting of lockdown restrictions, it also announced a steep fall in the number of hospital patients.
The Health Ministry said 25,809 people died from the virus in hospitals and nursing homes. Over the past 24 hours, 278 people died from COVID-19, a slight dip from 330 deaths confirmed on Tuesday.
France will lift at least some lockdown restriction on May 11, with Prime Minister Edouard Philippe due to announce on Thursday how this initial easing will take shape.
It is expected that shops will be allowed to open but cafes and restaurants forced to remain closed. Some schools are also due to open, in a strategy that has caused some controversy.
As well as a decline in death rates on Wednesday, France also reported 283 fewer patients suffering from the coronavirus in intensive care, making a total of 3,147. Nationwide, there were 23,983 patients in the hospital, 792 fewer than the previous day.
17:55 Deaths from coronavirus across Italy rose by 369 on Wednesday, compared to 236 the day before, authorities said. The country’s total death toll since the outbreak began now stands at 29,684, the third-highest in the world after the United States and Britain.
Officials at Italy’s biggest nursing home, Pio Albergo Trivulzio, in Milan have defended their actions amid a criminal investigation and family outrage over 300 coronavirus deaths that took place there from January to April.
The Trivulzio is one of many nursing homes currently under investigation for the hundreds of dead during Italy’s outbreak. Italian media have turned the elderly home into a symbol of the horrific toll the virus had on residents of these facilities.
Last month, a report from La Repubblica newspaper ran testimony by a whistleblower and unions representing health care workers that included claims of staff not being allowed to wear masks, for fear of spooking residents.
Relatives of some of the Trivulzio residents are gathering evidence for prosecutors and demanding the government appoint a commissioner to run the facility while the criminal investigation proceeds.
The Trivulzio’s scientific consultant, Dr. Fabrizio Pregliasco, confirmed that 300 residents had died in the first four months of the year, but he said the 61% increase in deaths compared to the previous five-year average was ”sadly, painfully” in line with the trend in Milan itself.
Attorney Vinicio Nardo said the government failed to put the facility on a priority list for protective equipment and questioned whether prosecutors will be able to find a definitive link between the deaths and the home’s management.
16:04 WHO chief Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said the novel coronavirus pandemic has disproportionately affected at-risk populations.
“Crises can exacerbate existing inequalities, which is demonstrated in higher rates of hospitalization and death among certain populations in many countries,” said Ghebreyesus during a press conference.
Ghebreyesus, who has led the UN agency during one of the biggest global health crises in living memory, said health care for at-risk populations must be prioritized, including for impoverished communities and ethnic minorities.
“We must address this now and in the longterm by prioritizing diagnosis and care for those who are most at risk,” he said. “This is not only the right thing to do, it’s the smart thing to do. We cannot end the pandemic until we address the inequalities that are fueling it.”
15:55 Kenyan authorities have carried out the demolition and forced eviction of an informal settlement in Nairobi, raising fears that thousands could become infected with COVID-19 as a result.
“We are in a serious crisis because of the COVID-19 pandemic so evicting people from their homes and their only place of safety at this moment is wrong,” said Ruth Mumbi, coordinator of the Grassroots Women Initiative Network (GRAWINET).
Authorities bulldozed some 600 homes and forcefully evicted at least 5,000 people — including many single mothers and children, activists said.
The state-run Nairobi City Water and Sewerage Company claims to have ownership over the land, saying it says has been illegally occupied since 2008.
“The government is talking about ‘flattening the curve’ and ‘slowing the spread’ of the virus, but at the same time it is compromising the lives of 5,000 people. God forbid, if there is an outbreak of COVID-19 in this locality, no one will be safe,” Mumbi added.
Rights groups secured a court injunction to stop the demolition, but authorities proceeded with the forced evictions regardless, she said.
Meanwhile, Kenyan Health Minister Mutahi Kagwe announced that one suburb of Nairobi, as well as a part of the port city of Mombasa, had been sealed off due to skyrocketing cases of coronavirus in those areas.
Kagwe said that for the next 15 days, “there shall be cessation of movement” in and out of the virus hotspots, but that residents inside will be allowed freedom of movement.
15:20 Sweden’s Public Health Agency reported a total of 23,918 cases of COVID-19 and a death toll of 2,941 — an increase of 87 deaths from Tuesday.
As the death toll neared 3,000, state epidemiologist Anders Tegnell called the number “horrifyingly large.”
Sweden has not imposed the kind of far-reaching restrictions on civil life seen elsewhere in Europe. Instead, the country has opted for an approach based on the “principle of responsibility.” Schools for under-16s, cafes, bars, restaurants and businesses have been allowed to remain open, while the government has urged people to follow social distancing guidelines.
The country has the highest death rate among its Scandinavian neighbors at 291 per 1 million inhabitants, compared with Norway’s death rate of 40 per 1 million, Denmark’s rate of 87 per 1 million, and Finland’s rate of 45 per 1 million.
Swedish officials maintain their light-touch coronavirus plan is sustainable in the long-term.
14:15 European Commissioner for the Economy Paolo Gentiloni told reporters that the EU is headed for “a recession of historic proportions this year” as a result of the novel coronavirus pandemic.
“It is now quite clear that the EU has entered the deepest economic recession in its history,” Gentiloni said. “Economic activity in the EU dropped by around one-third practically overnight.”
The EU economy comprising 27 member states is expected to contract by 7.5%, while the eurozone economy is expected to shrink by 7.75%. While both the EU and eurozone economies are not expected to make up the shortfall in 2021, they will make considerable gains of more than 6%.
14:10 Chancellor Angela Merkel said Germany had gone through ”the very first phase” of the pandemic and announced further easing of lockdown measures. Merkel met with the leaders of the federal states to determine the next steps.
“We are following a bold path,” said Merkel. “We can afford to be a bit bold but we must remain cautious.”
The country is now at a point “where we can say that we have reached the goal of slowing down the spread of the virus,” Merkel added.
Social distancing has been slightly eased, with the chancellor saying that members of two separate households can now meet. But she warned Germans not to go further than that, to continue to cover their noses and mouths, and to maintain general physical distancing outside through June 5.
Merkel and state premiers agreed that all shops, regardless of size, will be allowed to reopen. The businesses must, however, adhere to strict hygiene and social distancing measures. States will have the power of discretion on when and whether to reopen restaurants.
Bundesliga football matches have been given the green light to play without fans, beginning mid-May, though no official date has been set. Likewise, non-professional leagues and children’s outdoor sports activities will also be allowed.
Universities will remain closed, but all other students have been allowed to return to school, in stages, until the summer break.
What remains banned altogether are large public events like festivals and concerts, until the end of August.
13:30 US President Donald Trump said the White House coronavirus task force will be kept operational, focusing on vaccines and therapeutics. Trump’s announcement comes a day after he said the task force would be dissolved.
“Because of this success, the Task Force will continue on indefinitely with its focus on SAFETY & OPENING UP OUR COUNTRY AGAIN. We may add or subtract people to it, as appropriate. The Task Force will also be very focused on Vaccines & Therapeutics,” Trump said in a series of tweets.
12:49 EU Foreign Affairs chief Josep Borrell has called for more “strategic autonomy” in reacting to the pandemic, as a number of countries have run out of medical supplies.
In an interview with several newspapers across Europe, Borrell said: “It is not normal that Europe doesn’t produce a single gram of paracetamol, and 80% of global antibiotics production is concentrated in China.
“The supply chain should be shorter and why not have production centers nearby?” questioned Borrell, in reference to the prospect of developing production capacity in Africa.
The coronavirus outbreak had also demonstrated the need for strategic stocks of medical equipment, drawing comparisons with the way stocks of oil are distributed, the EU’s foreign policy chief highlighted.
12:26 New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio believes that rising infection rates outside of the New York metropolitan area should serve as a warning to other states not to reopen their economies too soon.
De Blasio told CNN that the declining number of cases in the New York metropolitan area, while increasing in other parts of the United States, suggested that other states may be moving too quickly to open up businesses and relax lockdown measures.
“This desire to restart and open up without necessarily referencing the actual facts of what’s going on is dangerous,” de Blasio said.
11:39 Russian Culture Minister Olga Lyubimova is the latest politician to have been infected with the novel coronavirus, according to Russian news agency Tass. Lyubimova has displayed mild symptoms and is continuing to work remotely, her press secretary said. Last week, Russian Prime Minister Mikhail Mishustin, the man in charge of Russia’s response to the pandemic, revealed he had tested positive for COVID-19.
11:00 A quick reminder: Chancellor Angela Merkel has held a phone conference with Germany’s regional leaders and is expected to announce proposals on how to gradually loosen the lockdown in the next hour or so. The draft proposals from Merkel’s government were already leaked to the media before the discussions — you can read more about them here:
Germany set to pass lockdown decisions back to states.
09:43 Pope Francis has said employers must respect workers’ rights despite the economic struggles caused by the pandemic.
“It’s true that the crisis is affecting everyone but the dignity of people must always be respected,” Francis said at the end of his general audience, held from the papal library instead of St Peter’s Square due to Italy and the Vatican’s ongoing lockdown.
The pope said he wanted to defend “all exploited workers and I invite everyone to turn the crisis into an occasion where the dignity of the person and the dignity of work can be put back at the center of things.”
Francis said he was particularly mindful of the exploitation of agricultural workers in Italy, most of whom are migrants.
08:39 The operator of Frankfurt airport has reported a loss for the first quarter of the year and is expecting further deficits throughout 2020 as the novel coronavirus grounds most global aviation. Fraport executive board chairman Stefan Schulte said that the pandemic had caused “global aviation’s worst-ever crisis.”
The airport operator made a net loss of €29 million in the year’s first quarter, compared to a profit of €30.5 million for the same period in 2019. It was Fraport’s first negative result since it went public in 2001.
08:00 Armenia reports 163 more cases of Covid-19, bringing total to 2,782
Armenia has reported 163 more cases of coronavirus, bringing the total number to 2,782.
The results of 920 tests have been negative.
According to the data of the National Center for Disease Control, 24 patients have recovered; a total of 1,135 people have now been discharged from hospital.
Forty deaths have been reported.
The number of active cases is 1,600.
07:55 Russia has reported more than 10,000 new infections for a fourth day in a row.
The number of known new cases rose by 10,559 in the last 24 hours, bringing the total to 165,929, the country’s coronavirus reponse center said.
It also said there had been 86 deaths over the same time period.
07:30 The outbreak in Germany has had severe ramifications for the manufacturing industry, with official data showing the worst plunge in new orders on record for the month of March.
New contracts fell by 15.6% month-on-month as the lockdown measures began to take hold, statistics authority Destatis said, in seasonally-adjusted figures, calling it “the biggest fall since the beginning of the data series in 1991.”
The drop easily outstripped the 7.5% drop that occurred in January 2009, the worst month in the worst year of the financial crisis.
06:20 Taiwan’s health minister has asked the World Health Organization (WHO) for improved, more direct, communication, with the island, which is still not a member of the UN health body.
Taiwan is excluded from the WHO at China’s behest as a result of the longstanding sovereignty dispute between Beijing and Taipei. It means Taiwan is unable to take part in official meetings, such as the World Health Assembly due to take place later this month.
Taiwanese officials say its omission does not help the global battle against the novel coronavirus and puts its citizens’ health at risk. Both China and the WHO have disputed this assertion.
Health Minister Chen Shih-chung said: “What we want is first-hand information. Any second-hand information slows down any actions we take, and distorts our judgement about the epidemic. But if we can we get first-hand information within the organization, we can see the whole picture and can react proactively by creating various systems or policies.”
Taiwan says the WHO has given incorrect numbers for Taiwan and has bowed to Beijing pressure to prevent the island’s requests for help.
04:30 A leading US government scientist, Dr. Rick Bright, has accused President Donald Trump of failing to prepare adequately for the pandemic.
The former director of the Biomedical Advanced Research and Development Authority accused the Trump administration of trying to rush the use of hydroxychloroquine, an anti-malaria drug, for the treatment of COVID-19 patients.
”I witnessed government leadership rushing blindly into a potentially dangerous situation by bringing in a non-FDA approved chloroquine from Pakistan and India, from facilities that had never been approved by the FDA,” he told reporters.
He said the administration’s blind endorsement of the anti-malaria medication as ”alarming” to him and his fellow scientists. He also claimed he was reassigned to a lesser role for resisting political pressure to allow the widespread use of the drug on coronavirus patients. Bright was reassigned to a new role at the National Institutes of Health on April 22.
03:40 In Germany, the number of new COVID-19 cases rose by 947, bringing the country’s total to 164,807, according to data released by the Robert Koch Institute (RKI) for infectious diseases on Wednesday. The number of new cases rose significantly compared to the 685 new cases logged by the RKI the day prior.
The death toll also rose by 165, bringing the total number of Germany’s coronavirus fatalities to 6,996.
03:25 Outside of the US, here’s a look at what’s going on across the rest of North and South America.
Brazil: Brazil recorded its highest number of deaths on Tuesday. According to the health ministry, there have been 6935 cases of the virus since Monday, with 600 new deaths.
Brazil is one of the worst hit countries in Latin America. President Jair Bolsonaro has been accused of downplaying the threat of the virus. Major cities implemented lockdown measures as late as Tuesday.
Canada: Canada’s deaths rose above 4,000 as of yesterday, but the spread of the disease in the US’s northern neighbor has been far more controlled.
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau announced on Tuesday that Canada would invest C$252 million (€165 million) to help farmers and food processors, to help them weather the pandemic.
Ten provinces within the country have begun opening up after weeks of lockdown.
Chile: While Chile has been hit hard by the pandemic, the death toll in the nation has remained low. Protests against economic inequality had gripped the country for six months, before lockdown measures forced protestors to remain home.
The Chilean government had declared it will be issuing certificates to those who have recovered from the virus, in a controversial move. The WHO said that there is no evidence suggesting those who contract the virus cannot be infected again.
Colombia: Colombian President Ivan Duque announced that it will be extending its lockdown till May 25. The quarantine was imposed on March 23, and extended twice.
The government is also trying to gradually reopen its economy, beginning with textile and manufacturing sectors. Municipalities which are free of COVID-19 will be allowed to reopen more industries, with the permission of the Interior Ministry.
Guatemala: As the number of cases rose in this central American nation, the pandemic has exposed several other problems in Guatemala. Income inequality has led to several people being unable to access basic necessities.
While the US government has been deporting migrants from the country, the Guatemalan government said that at least 100 of the deportees tested positively for coronavirus. Guatemala is under pressure to keep receiving deportees while trying to control the spread of the virus within the nation.
Mexico: Mexico has seen a sharp rise in COVID-19 cases in the past few days. However, the rate of testing remains low. The government said that the real number of cases could be higher than 104,000.
To avoid a strain on the public health system, Mexico had received masks and protective goggles from China. The country also received ventilators from the US to treat its coronavirus patients, as part of an agreement between US President Trump and Mexican President Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador.
02:10 US President Donald Trump says the White House will wind down its coronavirus task force as his administration shifts its focus on reopening the economy.
“We can’t keep our country closed for the next five years,” Trump said Tuesday. “Will some people be affected? yes. Will some people be affected badly? Yes. But we have to get it opened.”
The special inter-agency task force, headed by Vice President Mike Pence, was created to help manage the pandemic as it spread rapidly throughout the US.
Dr. Anthony Fauci, the country’s leading infectious diseases expert and most prominent member of the COVID-19 task force, will continue to be an adviser, Trump said. Fauci has become a household name and is seen as a trusted source for information in the pandemic.
The US has the highest COVID-19 death toll in the world, with more than 71,000 confirmed fatalities. Scientific models suggest that that number of deaths could double by August.
The move to dismantle the task force was swiftly criticized, particularly by those within the medical community. Dr. Syra Madad, noted the virus response team is being disbanded despite continuing spike in cases.
01:49 Australia plans to reopen businesses by July, after its progress in containing the spread of Covid-19.
Prime Minister Scott Morrison and state ministers are due to discuss protocols later this week, to ensure a “COVID-safe environment” for the economy to reopen.
Australian Treasurer Josh Frydenberg told ABC television, “the quicker you can get people back into jobs and off those unemployment queues, the better off the economy will be and the better off those individuals will be.”
Meanwhile, Australia is considering a plan to open up a “trans-Tasman travel bubble” with New Zealand, although it is expected that this may not be in the immediate future.
01:15 Deaths due to coronavirus in the US rose by 2,333 in the last 24 hours, more than twice as many as the day before. The country’s tally of cases has now reached 1,203,502 cases, with 71,031 deaths.
The number of cases in the US has been on the rise, even as some states have begun partially reopening businesses and offices. During a visit to a mask plant in Arizona on Tuesday, President Donald Trump acknowledged that reopening too soon might badly affect some people. He also stated that reopening the country was the right decision.
00:20 According to documents seen by the German press agency DPA, the German government is willing to give more control to individual state governments for the relaxation of lockdown measures imposed because of the coronavirus pandemic.
However, there would be an upper limit on the number of new infections beyond which limitations would have to be re-imposed. Should the number of new weekly infections reach over 50 per 100,000 residents in any given region or city, strict social distancing measures will need to be implemented immediately.
Chancellor Angela Merkel is due to speak with the heads of Germany’s 16 states on Wednesday to discuss further relaxing the country’s lockdown measures.
Until now the federal government and Germany’s 16 states have been coordinating a unified response to the virus, but as the number of new COVID-19 cases in Germany drops, state leaders are restless to come up with their own plans.
Under the draft agreement, the German government would also greenlight reopening all of the country’s stores and allowing all of Germany’s students to return to school before the summer break — albeit on a rotating schedule and under strict social distancing measures.
00:00 Catch up on yesterday’s coronavirus news here: UK overtakes Italy with largest known death toll in Europe