Chinese state media have hit back at the US, accusing President Donald Trump’s administration of trying to distract from its own “incompetence” with allegations about the spread of the coronavirus.
The commentary in the Global Times newspaper, published under the auspices of the Chinese Communist Party’s People’s Daily, dismissed as “groundless” allegations China had covered up the scale of the coronavirus outbreak.
US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo’s claim intelligence agencies were following up “significant” evidence the virus came from a laboratory in the Chinese city of Wuhan was “bluffing,” it added.
“The truth is that Pompeo does not have any evidence,” the paper wrote.
“If Washington has solid evidence, then it should let research institutes and scientists examine and verify it.”
The US government’s goal was to blame China for the pandemic, the paper wrote, as well as to manipulate public opinion and to avoid being accused of “pandemic malfeasance.”
“The ultimate goal now is to win the election,” the paper wrote of President Donald Trump’s efforts to gain a second term in November.
Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau meanwhile said it was “too early to draw firm conclusions”, about the theory the coronavirus originated in a Chinese laboratory, Canadian media reported.
Canada is a member of the Five Eyes intelligence alliance with the United States, the United Kingdom, Australia and New Zealand.
Scientists consider it more likely the virus was transmitted to humans from bats via another animal.
The US intelligence community last week concluded that the virus was not man-made.
JAIL TIME AND $63,000 FINE FOR BUSINESSES MISUSING APP
Businesses denying entry to Australians without the government’s coronavirus contact tracing app will face jail time and a hefty fine under proposed laws.
The government’s draft of its legislative backing to privacy and data protections for the COVIDSafe tracing app proposes making it illegal for anyone to refuse a person without the app entry to a public place, ban them from an activity or refuse to buy or sell goods and services to them.
The legislation would also make it an offence to access the data without proper authorisation and for the data to be stored anywhere outside of Australia.
All offences have a maximum penalty of five years in jail, a $63,00 fine or both.
The legislation also says records of the Bluetooth “handshakes” a user’s phone makes with people they come in close contact with must be deleted after 21 days or upon request.
All data from the app must be erased from the server as well as all apps must be deleted from mobile phones once it is officially no longer necessary on health grounds.
The legislation will be put to parliament when it returns next week.
WHAT ARDERN, MORRISON WILL DISCUSS IN COVID-19 TALKS
The creation of a trans-Tasman “bubble”, allowing travel between Australia and New Zealand, will be discussed when Jacinda Ardern joins a coronavirus meeting with state and territory leaders.
The New Zealand Prime Minister said relaxing travel between the two nations would be a key issue when she joins Australia’s next National Cabinet meeting on Tuesday.
“I can confirm I have accepted Scott Morrison’s invite to participate by video link in the Australian National Cabinet,” she said.
“It will discuss a range of matters on the COVID-19 response on both sides of the Tasman, including the creation of a trans-Tasman bubble.”
Ms Ardern said the bubble was about feeling “secure” the COVID-19 response in both countries meant travel could occur safely.
“I want to moderate expectations, the fact that we are in a position to have the countries have this conversation is a huge advantage to both of us,” she said.
“The health of our people is incredibly important, New Zealand we don’t want to give away the gains we have made, nor does Australia want to see any risks either but we also see a lot of opportunities.”
Ms Ardern said the joint meeting was “without precedent” and highlighted the co-operation and “mutual importance” of the Australian and New Zealand economies to each other.
“Both our countries’ strong record on fighting the virus has placed us in the enviable position of being able to plan the next stage in our economic rebuild and include trans-Tasman travel,” she said.
Industry, Technology and Science Minister Karen Andrews said travel between New Zealand and easing other domestic restrictions were the main topics on the agenda at the National Cabinet meeting.
“I think it’s a very good opportunity for Australia and New Zealand to show how closely they have worked together and to make sure that we build on those relationships for the future,” she said.
“The main topic on the agenda, as far as I’m aware, is the restrictions.
“There will be discussions about the progress to date.
“It will be looking at the baby steps we can take to make sure we have Australia back on track.”
ARDERN TO JOIN PM’S AUSSIE VIRUS TALKS
New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern will join Tuesday’s National Cabinet meeting of Australian leaders to discuss each country’s response to the virus.
Ms Ardern was invited to join the meeting when she and Prime Minister Scott Morrison spoke on the phone on Thursday, April 30.
The New Zealand leader will present the latest information about her country’s response to the coronavirus crisis, and hear about Australia’s testing and contract tracing plans, including the COVIDSafe app.
Prime Minister Morrison has also been swapping notes with UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson, who recently became a father shortly after recovering from a life-threatening case of coronavirus.
The leaders spoke on Sunday night, discussing how to ease restrictions and open up the economy.
They also spoke about aligning approaches on common challenges once the pandemic has passed.
ITALY EASES LOCKDOWN BUT FEARS RESURGENCE
Italy has started to unwind Europe’s longest coronavirus lockdown, letting some 4.5 million people return to work after nearly two months at home and finally allowing families to reunite.
A continuous hum of cars, buses and motorbikes pointed to an increase in early morning commuting on Monday, but traffic was still noticeably lighter than before the virus struck in February.
The government has ordered only a gradual revival, giving factories the green light to restart their dormant production lines.
It has also said parks can reopen, giving children the chance to run around, while relatives can once again meet up.
However, friends have been told to keep apart and most shops must stay shut until May 18. Restaurants and bars can only offer take-aways, while schools, cinemas and theatres will remain shut for the indefinite future.
With almost 29,000 deaths from COVID-19 since its outbreak emerged on February 21, Italy has the world’s second highest toll after the United States.
Moreover, the daily tally of fatalities and new infections have slowed more gradually than the government hoped, prompting Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte to adopt a slowly-slowly approach to ending the lockdown, which will be constantly adjusted depending on contagion trends.
“We are still in the full throes of the pandemic,” Conte said in an interview with La Stampa newspaper on Sunday, stressing the so-called “phase 2” of the lockdown “must not be seen as a signal that we’re all free”.
The easing of the lockdown has been blighted by a lack of clarity over exactly what activities were allowed from Monday, and even whose houses people will be able to visit.
The confusion was only worsened by guidelines issued by the government at the weekend, which quickly became the butt of widespread criticism and mockery on social media.
These spelled out that visits to even distant relatives will be allowed, including the children of cousins, or the cousins of spouses, as well as visits to anyone with whom one has “a stable bond of affection”.
However they did not say whether friendship counted as a stable bond of affection, until an off-the-record message to media outlets from the prime minister’s office explained that visits to friends are still not permitted.
Conte said that “phase 2” would include more testing to see who has the virus, with five million kits sent to the regions in the next two months.
In addition, from this week some 150,000 blood tests will be carried out to get an idea of how many Italians have already developed antibodies.
TRUMP VOWS TO HAVE VACCINE BY END OF YEAR
US President Donald Trump says a vaccine for COVID-19 will be available by the end of the year.
Trump also said his government was putting its “full power and might” behind remdesivir, a drug that has shown early promise as a treatment for the disease caused by the new coronavirus.
Trump commented on Sunday night during a televised town hall sponsored by Fox News Channel.
Trump sat inside the Lincoln Memorial in Washington DC and fielded questions from two Fox hosts, as well as from people who submitted questions over Fox’s social media platforms.
Trump responded to a Nebraska man who recovered from COVID-19 by saying: “We think we are going to have a vaccine by the end of this year.” He also said his administration was pushing hard for Remdesivir.
It comes after US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo claimed “enormous evidence” showed the coronavirus originated in a lab in China, further fuelling international tensions with Beijing over its handling of the outbreak.
Mr Pompeo’s comments on US TV on Sunday (local time) came as Europe and parts of the United States prepared to cautiously lift virus lockdowns as signs emerge that the deadly pandemic is ebbing and governments look to restart their battered economies.
More than 243,000 people have been killed and 3.4 million infected worldwide by the virus, which has left half of humanity under some form of lockdown and pushed the global economy towards its worst downturn since the Great Depression.
US President Donald Trump, increasingly critical of China’s management of the first outbreak in the city of Wuhan in December, last week claimed to have proof it started in a Chinese laboratory.
Scientists believe the virus jumped from animals to humans, after emerging in China, possibly from a market in Wuhan selling exotic animals for meat.
Mr Trump, without giving details, said on Thursday, April 30, he had seen evidence the Wuhan Institute of Virology was the source, appearing to echo speculation fuelled by US right-wing radio commentators about a secret lab.