December 4, 2020

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Coronavirus latest: US virus cases near an all-time high

  • The US logs more than 40,000 cases, a single-day record
  • German Food and Agriculture Minister Julia Klöckner meets meat industry officials to discuss the future of livestock farming following several outbreaks
  • The Dutch government throws national airline KLM a €3.4 billion lifeline
  • More than 9.62 million confirmed cases globally, with over 488,500 deaths recorded

All updates in Universal Coordinated Time (UTC/GMT)

20:10 The first bills for coronavirus repatriation flights have been mailed out by Germany’s Foreign Office. In all, 67,000 persons will be asked to pay between €200 and €1000 for flights home, depending on the destination.

The office said payments would cover some 40% of the €93.8 million ($ million) it cost Germany to fly home 56,000 Germans as well as 11,000 citizens of other mostly EU nations left stranded by Covid-19 lockdowns at global destinations. 

The bills should reach all within the next couple of months, the office said. 

Lowest priced at €200 were repatriation flights from North Africa and the Canary Islands; €500 for other African nations and the Caribbean, €600 for South America and Asian, and €1000 for Australia and New Zealand, where 10,000 were stranded. 

The charges were limited to aircraft chartered by the Foreign Office and blocks of seats reserved in other flights. 

Berlin said repatriations organized by the Foreign Office had involved 260 charter flights and 12 partly chartered flights. Repatriations were made from 65 nations. 

20:09 A further $31.3 billion (€35.1 billion) will be needed in the next 12 months to deliver, test and deliver treatments and vaccines to fight the Covid-19 pandemic, says a World Health Organization-led coalition based in Geneva and London

So far $3.4 billion had been contributed, it said, leaving a big funding gap for its so-called ACT-Accelerator Hub. For a vaccine alone, $18 billion is needed. 

The accelerator’s total cost was “less than a tenth of what the International Monetary Fund (IMF) reckoned the global economy was losing every month, said the WHO, stressing that already 468,000 persons had “already lost their lives.” 

19:52 More than 1,100 workers and their contacts have been ordered to quarantine for two weeks after a new coronavirus cluster emerged at a slaughterhouse for Turkeys in northwestern Germany.

Forty-six people have so far tested positive at the meat processing plant in Wildeshausen in the District of Oldenburg. The Geestland factory, owned by the Wiesenhof Group, has shut down its operations.

Although the outbreak is currently much smaller than the cluster at the Tönnies abattoir in North Rhine-Westphalia, local officials say they are taking no chances.

“The primary task is to protect the population from being infected,” said District Administrator Carsten Harings.

18:49 US Vice President Mike Pence has given a relatively upbeat assessment of the pandemic in his country, one that contrasted with that given by the leading government expert on immunology, Anthony Fauci.

Pence, who heads the US coronavirus task force, said that the situation was much improved compared with that in March and April. “We’re in a much stronger place. The truth is we did slow the spread; we flattened the curve,” he said at the first news briefing given by the task force in two months, called after a surge in new infections in southern and western states.

Pence called on young Americans to keep to social distancing guidelines, but did not mention the wearing of masks, which has met with much resistance in the country despite being recommended by health authorities and made obligatory in several states.

His remarks came as the number of confirmed coronavirus infections per day in the US reached a record high of 40,000.

Fauci, for his part, spoke of a “serious problem” amid the infection surges, notably in Florida and Texas, saying the entire country was “interconnected” and remained at risk.

Concerns about the all-time daily record in new cases sparked a sell off in US stocks, with the S&P200 closing down 2% , the Dow Jones dropping 2.5% and the Nasdaq — which hit an all-time high this week — falling 2%.

17:58 While a fresh cluster of cases at a German slaughterhouse has grabbed the headlines, another growing outbreak at a factory that produces doner kebabs has received less attention. According to the latest reports, 82 workers from the plant in the western city of Moers have now tested positive for the coronavirus.

At a press conference on Friday, district officials said 260 tests had been carried out, with 26 results still to come. Seventeen workers at the factory had not yet received a test, they said. The infected persons and people who had been in close contact with them were all in quarantine and showing no symptoms, according to a statement.

Unlike in other meat-processing plants that have seen outbreaks in the same state of North Rhine-Westphalia, the Moers facility did not have shared accommodation for its workers, officials said, and had an “outstanding hygiene concept” in place.

No restrictions are to be imposed on public life at present, according to district administrator Ansgar Müller, as the number of infections was below the level that required action to be taken. Initially, 17 cases had been reported at the plant.

17:52 One in five Moscow residents who have taken the coronavirus test has tested positive, the city administration reported on Friday. 

“Today, 19.9% of Muscovites have antibodies to the coronavirus,” Deputy Mayor Anastasia Rakova, tasked with guiding the city’s policies on health issues, said in a statement.

More than 90,000 Moscow residents have undergone testing for the antibodies as part of a citywide program to determine the scale of the outbreak.

About a third of those who have tested positive for the antibodies are likely to have acquired them in the past month, Rakova said.

Moscow lifted a lockdown three weeks ago, citing a substantially reduced infection rate after the restriction had been in place for two months. 

Russia has reported more than 620,000 cases of the novel coronavirus, the world’s third-largest caseload behind that of the United States and Brazil.

17:30 Pope Francis has donated 35 ventilators to countries ill-equipped to deal with the coronavirus pandemic, the Vatican said on Friday.

The pontiff wanted to “express concretely his closeness to the countries hit by the COVID-19 pandemic, especially those whose health systems are having more difficulties,” a statement said.

The countries that received ventilators were Haiti, the Dominican Republic, Bolivia, Brazil, Colombia, Ecuador, Honduras, Mexico, Venezuela, Cameroon, Zimbabwe, Bangladesh and Ukraine, according to the statement from the papal charity office.

16:43 German Chancellor Angela Merkel says her country is in a good position to help fund a large-scale economic program to help EU countries recover after the coronavirus pandemic, and that it is in Germany’s interest to do so.

“Germany had a low debt ration and can afford, in this extraordinary situation, to take on some more debt,” she said in an interview with six European newspapers, adding that “what’s good for Europe is good for us.”

Merkel and French President Emmanuel Macron last month proposed a €500 billion ($560.4 billion) recovery package financed by shared borrowing with other EU member countries — despite Germany’s previous and long-standing resistance to joint borrowing.

14:27 German Food and Agriculture Minister Julia Klöckner has reiterated various moves the government plans to take to remedy abuses in the meat industry in the wake of several large coronavirus outbreaks among workers.

At a press conference after a meeting with representatives from the meat industry, she repeated her criticism of meat prices that were too low to reflect the true cost of production.

She once more said that Germany was planning to introduce an animal welfare levy that would be added to the price of meat. In addition, she said, representatives at the talks had agreed that authorities should look at the ethical background to cheap food in general and at unfair trade practices in the meat industry.

Klöckner said a quality seal was also being considered to give consumers guidance about what meat products met their ethical standards.

12:37 Sweden’s head of virus response has denied the WHO’s claim that the country is experiencing “accelerated transmission.” He says rising numbers are down to increased testing.

“Unfortunately it is a misinterpretation of the data,” Anders Tegnell, an epidemiologist with the Swedish Public Health Agency told Radio Sweden.

The WHO’s European regional office earlier in the week put Sweden on a list of 11 countries at risk of a second wave that could “push healthcare systems to the brink once more.”

11:00 German Food and Agriculture Minister Julia Klöckner has invited meat industry officials to discuss the future of livestock farming. The meeting comes after several coronavirus outbreaks at meat-processing plants in Germany have led to increased scrutiny on conditions for workers and animals in the industry.

“There is hardly another European country that has meat as cheap as we do,” Klöckner said ahead of the talks, criticizing Germany’s dependence on the “cheap meat” industry. The coronavirus outbreaks have drawn attention to the plight of migrant workers living in often-cramped conditions and working long hours without compensation.

10:37 Citing the surge in coronavirus infections in the US, German Health Minister Jens Spahn urged people in Germany to remain cautious about the pandemic.

“40,000 new infections in the US in a single day: The pandemic has not yet reached its peak worldwide. This is an urgent warning to us in Germany to remain vigilant. Wherever the virus gets a chance, it spreads,” Spahn posted on Twitter.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) now estimates that between 16.5 and 26.4 million people in the US have been infected. The US has roughly 2.3 million confirmed cases and the current nationwide death rate is around 600 per day.

09:40 London police clashed with partygoers at an illegal party overnight in Notting Hill, west London. Police said they were attacked while attempting to disperse crowds. Though there were no confirmed reports of serious injury, they said objects had been thrown at them.

“We know that after months of restrictions, people have been frustrated and people will want to come together in gatherings but these illegal raves are obviously unacceptable,” Environment Secretary George Eustice told Sky News.

On Wednesday night, 22 officers were hurt and several patrol cars were vandalized when police arrived at an unauthorized music event in Brixton, south London. After the clash, the city’s Metropolitan Police said it was undertaking an “enhanced policing operation” across London which involved deploying additional officers.

Under lockdown restrictions in the UK, groups are still limited to six people. However, the warm weather over the past few weeks has seen larger gatherings take place, including illegal parties and raves.

On Thursday, authorities in the southern coastal town of Bournemouth declared a “major incident” after thousands of people flocked to the beach. Local authorities said they were “appalled” at the scene in the midst of the pandemic.

08:40 Authorities in the central German city of Göttingen said a week-long quarantine placed on a housing complex with some 700 residents will end as planned at midnight.

Following an outbreak last week of around 120 COVID-19 infections traced to the complex, the city ordered residents to remain in their homes and closed off the building; building a fence around the premises and setting up entry and exit points. The city said it had provided meals, groceries and medical facilities for the residents.

City officials said the quarantine measures successfully prevented the outbreak from spreading further. The fence will be partially taken down, and security checks will remain for several isolated COVID-19 cases required to remain at home.

The housing complex is notorious for being run down with residents living tightly packed in small apartments. Last weekend, clashes broke out between police and residents of the building who threw stones from windows and tried to break down the fence surrounding the building.

08:00 The Dutch government will give KLM a €3.4 billion ($3.81 billion) lifeline to help the national carrier survive the slump in the global aviation industry caused by the pandemic.

The support package is made up of a 1 billion-euro loan and 2.4 billion euros in guarantees for bank loans.

“This is a very important step and I express my gratitude on behalf of all KLM colleagues to the Dutch state and the banks for their confidence in our organization and our future,” Dutch Finance Minister Wopke Hoekstra  said in a statement, adding that  job losses at the carrier that employs some 30,000 people are “likely unavoidable.”

As part of the bailout conditions, KLM must slash costs by 15%, improve the airline’s sustainability and reduce the number of night flights from Amsterdam’s Schiphol airport.

Meanwhile, Bain Capital, a US private investment firm, has been announced as the winning bidder for Virgin Australia.

The airline filed for bankruptcy after it was more than AUD $5 billion (US$3.2 billion) in debt and had appealed for an AUD $1.4 billion loan to stay afloat, but the Australian government refused to bail out the majority foreign-owned company. The airline, backed by Richard Branson, has struggled for years against larger carrier Qantas.

06:28 Brazilian soccer clubs have decided to go ahead with the country’s main championship on August 9 despite health experts warning that the coronavirus outbreak could peak in Brazil at that time.

The top-flight league was initially set to begin in May but was postponed due to the pandemic. In a statement, Brazil’s soccer confederation said that representatives of all 40 clubs of the two main divisions agreed on the dates. After a three-month suspension, the restart will depend on clearances from health authorities.

Brazil’s soccer confederation said 19 of the 20 clubs in the top flight were open to playing in other cities if their hometowns are deemed unsafe by health authorities.

Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro and Rio de Janeiro’s Flamengo, one of Brazil’s richest soccer clubs, have been lobbying for the return of the game since May.

More than 55,000 in Brazil have died from COVID-19 and about 1.2 million people have been infected, second only to the US in gross terms.

05:45 German railway and public transport operator Deutsche Bahn (DB) is spraying bus surfaces with a special coating to protect passengers and employees from the coronavirus.

DB says the coating achieves a germ reduction of over 90% and protects treated areas against germs for at least 12 months

As part of a nationwide pilot project, 12 regional buses in the town of Dormagen between the western cities of Düsseldorf and Cologne were first given the colorless antiviral and antibacterial substance. All surfaces that could be touched – for example the steering wheel, seats, stop buttons and handrails – were sprayed.

According to DB, the coating achieves a germ reduction of over 90% and protects treated areas against germs for at least 12 months. In addition, the substance is active against bacteria, yeast, mold and other viruses.

DB also plans to gradually install screens to separate the driver’s seat in all its buses.

DB also plans to gradually install screens to separate the driver’s seat in all its buses.

Bernd Strehl, the managing director of DB’s regional bus operation for the western state of North Rhine Westphalia, said that nevertheless, all passengers must still adhere to health and hygiene rules.

“This also means that our passengers wear a mouth-and-nose cover, because the coating unfortunately cannot prevent infections through the air,” he said.

04:50 Australia will go ahead with easing coronavirus restrictions, Prime Minister Scott Morrison announced, despite a surge in infections in Victoria, the country’s second most populous state.

“There will be outbreaks and what matters is that we continue to build our capability to deal with those outbreaks,” Morrison said at a media briefing.

Australia recorded 37 new cases, including 30 in Victoria state. Health authorities responded by deploying ambulances and mobile test centers across the southeastern state. Authorities said they tested 20,000 people after going door-to-door in Melbourne suburbs.

In Sydney, a 12-year-old student tested positive, forcing the closure of his school for cleaning.

04:25 Germany has logged 477 new COVID-19 cases over the past 24 hours, the Robert Koch Institute (RKI) for infectious diseases said, in one of the lowest rates reported this week.

The death toll rose by 21 for Thursday, bringing the country’s total to 8,948.

Here’s a look at how the virus has developed in Germany this week:

Saturday: 687 new cases, unclear new fatalities data

Sunday: 537 new cases, 3 new fatalities

Monday: 503 new cases, 10 new fatalities

Tuesday: 587 new cases, 19 new fatalities

Wednesday: 630 new cases, 13 new fatalities

03:25 The US is grappling with a new surge in cases, with several states logging their own record-breaking infection rates.

Unlike some countries in East Asia and Europe, the US is still in the midst of its first wave of the virus. Experts point to the wildly divergent virus responses from state to state, as well as a politicization of health measures to curb the virus — including wearing face masks and social distancing.

02:35 A Europe-wide study found that children who contract COVID-19 typically have “mild” symptoms and that deaths are very rare.

The study, published in The Lancet Child & Adolescent Health journal, looked at nearly 600 children under the age of 18 who were infected with the novel coronavirus.

Researchers found that fewer than one in 100 children who contract the virus end up dying from it, but that a small but significant percentage ended up developing a severe case. The most common symptom among the children analyzed was fever, while 54% had a respiratory tract infection and 25% had pneumonia.

Marc Tebruegge, the study’s lead author from the University College London’s Great Ormond Street Institute of Child Health, said although the results shouldn’t be used to draw general conclusions about the impacts of the virus on children, he said the results were still reassuring.

“Overall, the vast majority of children and young people experience only mild disease,” he said.

Although the symptoms tended to be mild, researchers found that COVID-19 positive children who were infected with other respiratory illnesses at the same time were over three times more likely to require treatment in intensive care units rather than children who just had COVID-19.

The finding could have serious implications for Europe’s upcoming cold and flu season in the winter, said Begona Santiago-Garcia from Spain’s University Hospital Gregorio.

01:50 Mexico passed a grim milestone on Thursday, as the country’s total cases rose to over 200,000 and its pandemic death toll surpassed 25,000.

The Health Ministry reported over 6,100 cases and 736 deaths on Thursday, although the government has admitted that the actual number of infections is likely much higher due to low testing rates. Only the United States and Brazil have higher death tolls in the Americas.

Mexico’s Finance Minister Arturo Herrera also announced on Thursday that he tested positive for the virus, becoming the highest-ranking Cabinet member to be infected. It was unclear when he last met with President Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador, who is due to meet with US President Donald Trump next month.

01:12 The number of new coronavirus cases in the United States is nearing an all-time high, with southern and western states hit particularly hard.

Daily death tolls, hospitalizations, and the percentage of positive tests have been rising in several areas of the country, in what experts say are indications that the virus is making a comeback.

In Arizona, a record 415 people are currently on ventilators while 24% of the coronavirus tests carried out over the past seven days have been positive, nearly triple the country’s average.

In Texas, one of the states that was one of the first to lift stay-at-home restrictions, reopening plans have been put on hold. For a second day in a row, Florida reported over 5,000 new COVID-19 cases.

On Wednesday, the US reported over 34,500 COVID-19 cases, coming close to the all-time high of 36,400 that was reached in late April.

00:15 Brazil’s President Jair Bolsonaro said he may have previously contracted the coronavirus, despite having tested negative multiple times.

Bolsonaro said two of his previous tests in recent weeks had come back negative, although he fought a court battle to halt the release of his hospital test results, prompting questions about whether he’d been infected with the virus.

The Brazilian leader has come under fire for his response to the pandemic, with new cases continuing to sharply rise. The South American country currently has the second-highest number of cases in the world, with officials recording over 39,400 new COVID-19 cases and over 1,100 new deaths over the past 24 hours.

00:00 Catch up on Thursday’s coronavirus news here.

rs,see/rc (AP, AFP, Reuters, dpa) (DW)