Japan has become the second country to approve the use of antiviral drug remdesivir, reaching the decision just three days after the drugmaker filed for approval.
In Britain, Prime Minister Boris Johnson is expected to announce changes to the nation’s social distancing restrictions this weekend — but residents have been warned any easing of rules will be “very limited”.
This story was being updated throughout Thursday. You can also listen to the latest episode of the Coronacast podcast.
Thursday’s top stories:
Japan approves remdesivir to treat patients with COVID-19
Japan has approved Gilead Sciences Inc’s remdesivir as a treatment for COVID-19, the health ministry said on Thursday, making it the country’s first officially authorised drug for the disease.
Japan reached the decision just three days after the US drugmaker had filed for approval.
Remdesivir was granted authorisation last week by the US Food and Drug Administration for emergency use for the disease caused by the coronavirus.
The drug was previously used to treat Ebola patients, without success.
It is being tried against COVID-19 because it is designed to disable the mechanism by which certain viruses, including coronavirus, make copies of themselves and potentially overwhelm their hosts’ immune system.
A draft study abstract released inadvertently by the World Health Organization (WHO) last week said remdesivir failed to improve patients’ condition or reduce the pathogen’s presence in the bloodstream.
Gilead said the findings were inconclusive because the study was terminated early.
Any easing of Britain’s restrictions next week will be ‘very limited’
UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson will announce a very limited easing of Britain’s coronavirus lockdown next week because the Government will not do anything to risk a second spike in COVID-19 cases, his spokesman said on Thursday.
Mr Johnson is due to announce the next steps in Britain’s battle to tackle the novel coronavirus on Sunday following a review by ministers of the current measures that have all but shut the economy and kept millions at home.
At a cabinet meeting of his top ministers, Mr Johnson said Britain would advance “with maximum caution” and be guided by the science and data when considering whether any of the strict social distancing measures could be eased.
“Any easement to the guidelines next week will be very limited,” the spokesman told reporters.
The spokesman added the Government would be guided by science in the next steps, and added the country had set out plans for a centralised tracing app model.
Ministers are concerned that any swift easing of a lockdown to stem the spread of the coronavirus could lead to a second peak in infection rates, which might overwhelm hospitals and force the Government to shut down the economy for a second time.
Earlier, the Bank of England held off from further stimulus measures on Thursday but said it was ready to take more action to counter the country’s biggest economic slump in over 300 years, caused by the coronavirus lockdown.
More cases linked to Melbourne abattoir and Sydney’s Newmarch House
Victoria has confirmed 14 new cases of coronavirus, with all but one of them linked to an outbreak at Cedar Meats abattoir in Melbourne’s west.
NSW health authorities confirmed three new coronavirus infections.
Two of them were employees at Sydney’s Newmarch House aged care home, while the other also came from a “known source”.
Newmarch’s operator, Anglicare, has appointed an independent adviser to help manage the outbreak, following a demand from the Aged Care Quality and Safety Commission.
South Australia also recorded a new case, its first in 15 days.
SA Health believes the man, in his 70s, acquired COVID-19 overseas but developed “very mild” symptoms including a loss of taste and smell after his return from the UK on March 20.
He was tested on May 5 where it was confirmed he had the virus, and a small number of close contacts have gone into isolation.
Queensland announced two new infections have been detected in the state, both of them on the Gold Coast.
A single additional case was confirmed in Tasmania, taking the state’s total to 224.
Federal Health Minister Greg Hunt said of the 6,891 cases confirmed in Australia to date, 6,023 had recovered. Taking into account 97 deaths across the country, that leaves 771 active cases in Australia.
London’s Notting Hill Carnival cancelled
Notting Hill Carnival is the latest public event to be called off due to COVID-19.
A statement from the carnival’s board of directors said the decision to cancel was made after “lengthy consultations” with its partners and advisory council.
The carnival, which is led by members of the UK’s West Indian community, had not missed a year in the course of its over 50-year history.
The statement added: “Notting Hill Carnival was founded to bring people together during trying times, and we intend to continue that legacy.
“This has not been an easy decision to make, but the reality of the COVID-19 pandemic and the way in which it has unfolded means this is the only safe option. Everyone’s health has to come first.”
The carnival’s organisers said it was in the process of planning an “alternate” Notting Hill Carnival for 2020.
Jacinda Ardern outlines what level two restrictions might look like
New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern has outlined what the country would look like under a further relaxation of its lockdown rules
Her Cabinet will meet on Monday to consider downgrading its alert system to level two.
Under the plan, gatherings would be restricted to 100 people and social-distancing protocols would be required.
NZ’s alert level two could see the reopening of schools and childcare services, professional and recreational sports (without the crowds), hairdressers (with staff wearing masks and protective gear) and bars and restaurants (with people individually seated).
Ms Ardern said it was important for the country to proceed cautiously and not backslide, saying it was like being halfway down Mt Everest and that nobody wanted to climb the mountain again.
“The aim is still to reduce close contact with strangers — that acknowledges that the virus is probably still with us, so we do need to behave differently to prevent it taking off again,” she said.
“Level two has been designed to get as many people back to work as possible and the economy back up and running, but in the safest way possible.
New Zealand reduced new cases of the virus to a trickle, including two days this week when no new cases were recorded. In total, the country has reported close to 1,500 cases and 21 deaths.
Queensland relaxes restrictions, NSW says no changes before Mother’s Day
NSW Premier Gladys Berejiklian says while National Cabinet will consider easing restrictions for social distancing tomorrow, her state will not have time to implement any changes before Mother’s Day.
However, she said the state had already taken a “huge step forward” compared to where it was a month ago.
The Premier said the state could still “look forward” to restrictions being eased in the next couple of months.
This morning, Queensland announced that up to five members of one household would be able to visit a second household from Sunday.
Tasmanian Premier Peter Gutwein said his state would announce its restrictions “road map” after National Cabinet’s meeting tomorrow, while Victoria’s Premier Daniel Andrews this morning said he was planning no changes in the near future.
NRL says players with ‘conscientious objection’ to flu shot can play on
The National Rugby League has announced it will allow players who have a conscientious objection to flu vaccinations to sign a revised waiver that permits them to train and play.
The league says its players are required to be vaccinated for flu, but can be exempted in exceptional circumstances such as religious, medical or conscientious grounds.
A number of players have expressed their objection to getting vaccinated as clubs start training in preparation for the season re-start on May 28.
It comes after the Prime Minister and Home Affairs Minister both weighed in on the issue, pushing for the NRL to enforce a “no jab, no play” policy.
While teams have started back at training already, some of the focus has shifted to the issue of vaccinations after Gold Coast Titans player Bryce Cartwright refused to get the flu shot before the re-start of the season.
Three Canberra Raiders players also refused to sign the NRL’s original vaccination waiver, seeking an exemption to allow them to return to training.
Earlier today, Mr Dutton said the Federal Government’s decision to allow the New Zealand Warriors into the country was based on the NRL’s promise to adhere to a set of conditions, including seasonal flu shots.
“We provided support, obviously, for the players to come from New Zealand, and we did that based on the health advice. And the health advice was based on the commitments given by the NRL. So I think it’s pretty clear-cut.”
Cartwright has said on social media that he stands for “the freedom to choose what goes into our bodies” and that he has nothing against people who choose to vaccinate.
The NRL says 97 per cent of players and staff have already been vaccinated.
Ruby Princess cruise ship anchors in the Philippines
The Ruby Princess has arrived in the Philippines with more than 400 crew members still on board.
The International Transport Workers Federation says they are from more than 20 countries, and it is concerned about their ongoing safety.
A coast guard spokesman said 214 Filipino crew members would be tested for COVID-19, but added that they may have to wait behind those from at least 16 other ships anchored in Manila Bay.
The cruise ships have been asked to wait in a Manila Bay anchorage area instead of docking in nearby ports as part of strict precautions against the virus.
Medical and coast guard teams in protective suits will take motorboats out to the ships to carry out tests on board before the Filipino crew can disembark for treatment in a hospital or to stay in quarantine.
It is unclear whether non-Filipino crew will be allowed to disembark in Manila. The ABC has been told quarantine measures will be in place.
More than 600 Ruby Princess passengers and 200 crew tested positive to COVID-19, and more than 20 passengers have died.
The ship is the subject of a special commission of inquiry as well as a separate criminal investigation. It left Australian waters last month.
National Cabinet unlikely to make rapid changes on coronavirus restrictions
The ABC understands any changes to coronavirus restrictions are likely to be made in four-week increments to gauge the impact on the number of infections.
National Cabinet will meet tomorrow to discuss the roadmap out of the coronavirus crisis, and leaders are determined not to inadvertently allow a second wave of major infections by lifting restrictions haphazardly.
The Cabinet is expected to agree to a clear framework to allow Australians to understand how the next few months will look. That will be guided by firm advice from the Australian Health Protection Principal Committee (AHPPC).
For every relaxation of social distancing rules or easing of shutdown measures, there will be a so-called “epidemiological timeframe” to analyse whether the change causes an uptick in infections.
The thinking behind the timeframe is that if several restrictions are lifted at once, it will be hard to gauge the effect of each step.
It comes as Prime Minister Scott Morrison prepares for a meeting with leaders of a small group of countries about the best way to re-open after the first wave of the virus.
The Federal Government has joined a group of so-called “first mover” countries that have been relatively successful in suppressing the pandemic.
It includes Israel, Austria, Denmark, the Czech Republic, New Zealand and Greece.
Commonwealth Bank closes more than 100 branches
The Commonwealth Bank of Australia (CBA) has closed 114 branches across the country to deal with staffing needs elsewhere and a drop in walk-in customers during the coronavirus pandemic.
The “temporary” closures mean about 500 staff are being redeployed to call centres and online operations to help meet demand from people seeking financial assistance.
Since the pandemic was declared in early March, CBA says it has received more than 1 million calls and online requests for help.
A spokesperson said calls for hardship assistance had increased by 800 per cent.
“Over the same period, visits by customers to bank branches have fallen more than 50 per cent in some branches as people follow social distancing and lockdown requirements,” the spokesperson said.
As a result, transaction volumes in branches had dropped significantly, while the demand for online assistance grew.
South Australian pub fined for breaching coronavirus rules
A pub in South Australia has been fined $5,060 for serving drinks in its front bar, a breach of coronavirus restrictions.
Police arrived at the pub just before 10:00pm on Tuesday night to find the front doors open with the licensee and four customers allegedly consuming alcohol.
The customers were issued on-the-spot fines of $1,060 each.
On the same day, 16 intoxicated people at a rowdy house party in Port Augusta also received on-the-spot fines of $1,060.
Police had been tipped off by residents who complained about a large gathering and excessive noise about 12:30pm.
UK statisticians find some ethnic groups at higher risk of dying from COVID-19
Data from the UK’s Office of National Statistics (ONS) shows black people and those of Indian, Bangladeshi and Pakistani ethnicity have a significantly higher chance of dying from COVID-19 than white people.
“The risk of death involving the coronavirus (COVID-19) among some ethnic groups is significantly higher than that of those of white ethnicity,” the ONS report said.
It found black females were 4.3 times more likely to die than white females and black males were 4.2 times more likely to die a coronavirus-related death than white males.
These numbers dropped to 1.9 times more likely when age and other socio-demographic characteristics and measures of self-reported health and disability were taken into account.
The ONS also noted that people of Bangladeshi and Pakistani, Indian, and mixed ethnicities also had statistically significant raised risk of death involving COVID-19 compared with those of white ethnicity.
“These results show that the difference between ethnic groups in COVID-19 mortality is partly a result of socio-economic disadvantage and other circumstances, but a remaining part of the difference has not yet been explained,” the report stated.
Russia records 11,000 new cases, India and Africa reach 50,000
Russia has reported 11,231 new cases of coronavirus, a record daily rise that has pushed the national case total to 177,160.
The country’s coronavirus taskforce said 88 people died overnight, bringing the coronavirus death toll to 1,625.
Moscow, the worst-hit area, also reported a record overnight case increase of 6,703 new cases. Mayor Sergei Sobyanin said the case total was rising in the capital because the amount of testing had been stepped up.
It is the fifth consecutive day that case numbers in Russia have risen by more than 10,000.
Meanwhile, confirmed cases have topped 50,000 in India and across the continent of Africa.
About 850,000 people have been tested out of a population of 1.3 billion across Africa since the pandemic began, according to the Africa Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
The Africa CDC last month said it hoped to test 1 million people within four weeks and 10 million within about six months. But the supply of testing kits remains a challenge.
It puts the number of total cases at almost 52,000, including 2,012 deaths.
A recent Reuters survey found African nations are facing a surge of COVID-19 cases with less than one intensive care bed and one ventilator per 100,000 people.
Even in a best-case scenario, the continent could need at least 10 times the number it has now as the outbreak peaks, analysis showed.
In India, the pace of new infections is showing no signs of abating despite a strict lockdown that has been in place for weeks in the second-most populous country.
India reported 3,561 new cases on Thursday while the death toll rose by 89. It has reported an average of around 2,800 cases each day over the past week.
Johns Hopkins University data puts the total number of cases reported in India at more than 53,000, including 1,787 deaths.
Officials said the early stay-at-home order for the nation’s 1.3 billion people had helped keep numbers down, but noted a spurt in cases from the densely packed cities of Mumbai, Delhi and Ahmedabad.
Health Minister Harsh Vardhan said Maharashtra, the state where Mumbai is located, was an area of particular concern.
US-China stoush over virus origins intensifies
China has accused US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo of telling one lie to cover up another in his continued attacks against Beijing over the coronavirus pandemic.
Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Hua Chunying reiterated that China had been transparent about the COVID-19 outbreak that emerged in Wuhan late last year and said US politicians were making baseless accusations against China.
“For domestic politics, some US politicians repeatedly blame China, regardless of the facts,” she said.
Earlier, Mr Pompeo sought to deflect questions about his comment on the weekend that there was “a significant amount of evidence” that COVID-19 emerged from a Chinese lab.
He said China could have prevented the deaths of hundreds of thousands of people around the world by being more transparent.
Ms Hua said if Mr Pompeo was so certain the virus emerged from a lab, he should “show us”.
“He has never presented evidence because there was just no such thing,” she said.
Meanwhile, US President Donald Trump announced the White House’s coronavirus taskforce would not be wound down as he had previously suggested, but would focus on safety and reopening the country.
The United States is by far the hardest-hit country from the pandemic, with more than 1.2 million infections and 73,431 deaths. China now has the 11th-highest number of confirmed cases, at 83,970, with 4,637 deaths.
Johnson flags ‘unlockdown plan’ ahead of Sunday announcement
British Prime Minister Boris Johnson says details of the next stage of the UK’s coronavirus response will be announced on Sunday, with the possibility of changes taking effect the next day.
However, Mr Johnson said it was essential Britain got its “unlockdown plan” right.
The Prime Minister also announced that he was hoping Britain would be carrying out 200,000 tests a day by the end of May, up from the current target of 100,000.
This week, the UK passed 30,000 coronavirus deaths and 200,000 cases, making it the second hardest-hit country behind the United States.
Record number of daily deaths and new cases in Brazil
Brazil has registered a record number of coronavirus cases and deaths, prompting Health Minister Nelson Teich to flag the possibility of strict lockdowns in particularly hard-hit areas.
There were 10,503 new confirmed cases in the past 24 hours, well above the previous record of 7,288 cases on April 30, and 615 deaths.
The state prosecutor’s office in Rio de Janeiro said it had received a report from Brazil’s leading epidemiological institute, Fiocruz, recommending a lockdown there.
So far, only the north-eastern city of Sao Luis has prohibited people from leaving their homes except for necessary activities.
Overall, Brazil has registered 126,611 coronavirus cases and 8,588 deaths.
President Jair Bolsonaro has played down the impact of the disease, which he called a “little flu”.
NSW Deputy Premier’s trip to farm investigated
Deputy Police Commissioner Gary Worboys says NSW Police will look into whether a trip Deputy Premier John Barilaro made to his Southern Tablelands farm at the weekend breached the state’s coronavirus lockdown.
Mr Barilaro inadvertently revealed the trip during a press conference on Monday.
In a statement today, he said he went to the farm to “feed chickens, mow lawns and tend to maintenance”.
Last month, Arts Minister Don Harwin resigned after it was revealed he had stayed at his Central Coast beach house during the lockdown.
AFP recruits sanctioned for breaking social-distancing rules
The AFP says 53 recruits have been sanctioned for breaching social-distancing rules at a late-night party in Canberra in early April.
AFP Commissioner Reece Kershaw told a Senate committee two recruits were given show cause notices, but had not been sacked.
Show cause notices require individuals to explain in writing why disciplinary action, including loss of employment, should not be taken against them.
The trainees are enrolled in a course for prospective protective services officers.
Germany announces further easing of lockdown restrictions, including the return of soccer
The German Bundesliga will be the world’s first major soccer league to return since the start of the coronavirus pandemic after it was given approval to restart in the second half of May behind closed doors.
The move was one of several steps Chancellor Angela Merkel announced to ease Germany’s lockdown, saying the first phase of the pandemic had passed but there was still a long way to go.
Under measures agreed with Germany’s 16 federal state leaders, people from two households will be allowed to meet, and more shops will open, provided hygiene measures are in place.
But guidelines on keeping a distance of 1.5 metres and wearing mouth and nose masks on public transport will remain.
The plan also includes a fail-safe “emergency brake”, so restrictions can be reintroduced if an area registers more than 50 new infections per 100,000 inhabitants within seven days.
EU expecting deepest economic recession in its history
The European Union has predicted “a recession of historic proportions this year” due to the impact of coronavirus.
The 27-nation economy is predicted to contract by 7.5 per cent this year, before growing about 6 per cent in 2021, assuming countries steadily ease their lockdowns.
He said the economic activity in the EU had dropped by around a third “practically overnight” after the virus hit.
More than 1.1 million people have contracted the virus across Europe and over 137,000 have died, according to the European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control, though the true scale of infections could be much higher.
Mexico warned it’s running out of beer
Mexico’s brewing industry has warned that the country could run out of beer in the next few days because of production and distribution problems caused by the coronavirus pandemic.
Beer production stopped weeks ago because the Mexican Government did not include it on a list of essential activities.
The president of the Beer Brewers association, Karla Siqueiros, told local media that the last supplies available had been delivered more than a month ago.
She urged the Mexican Government to authorise factories to be reopened and promised social-distancing protocols would be observed.
There have been 27,634 confirmed cases of coronavirus in Mexico, with 2,704 deaths.
Iran’s COVID-19 cases pass 100,000
The death toll from the coronavirus outbreak in Iran has risen to 6,418 and the total number of infections to 101,650.
Iran has suffered the deadliest coronavirus outbreak in the Middle East. There has been a gradual increase in the number of infections in 15 provinces over the past couple of days, a Health Ministry spokesman said on Twitter.
Iran, keen to mitigate the pandemic’s blow to an economy already battered by US sanctions, has been gradually lifting restrictions on public life imposed to limit contagion from the global COVID-19 pandemic.
Health officials, however, have repeatedly warned that Iran could face a new wave of infections if social distancing is not maintained and masks and gloves not used as more and more restrictions are lifted.
WHO warns against hasty lifting of lockdowns
The World Health Organization (WHO) has warned that countries emerging from restrictions to halt the new coronavirus must proceed “extremely carefully” or risk a rapid rise in new cases.
More than 3.7 million people have been infected worldwide and more than 260,000 killed.
Government-ordered lockdowns have become increasingly unpopular as countries suffer rising unemployment and economic activity grinds to a halt.
WHO director-general Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, who has come under fire mainly from the Trump administration for his handling of the outbreak, said that he would conduct an assessment of the WHO’s actions when the pandemic recedes.
Dr Tedros also defended the WHO’s record on warning about the potential for human-to-human transmission of the new coronavirus, saying it informed the world in the first half of January.
Spain extends coronavirus state of emergency
Spain has extended the state of emergency imposed to combat the coronavirus pandemic for two more weeks from Sunday, allowing the Government to control people’s movements as it gradually relaxes a national lockdown.
Parliament approved the measure after Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez, who heads a fragile coalition Government, mustered enough support from opposition parties to carry the vote.
“Lifting the state of emergency would be a total, unpardonable mistake,” Mr Sanchez said in a parliamentary speech, adding that the billions in state aid to help businesses and individuals hit by the lockdown were released thanks to the emergency decree.
Spain, where more than 25,000 people have died from COVID-19, has been under a lockdown since March 14 and the current state of emergency ends at midnight on Saturday.
The parliamentary wrangling on how to orchestrate the exit from the lockdown underlines the divisive political environment in a country that has faced four national elections in four years and where the Government must battle for any backing.
‘Entering the worst stage’: 50,000 cases confirmed in Peru
The number of coronavirus cases in Peru has soared above 50,000, highlighting the country’s struggle to control the virus’s spread with the infection rate yet to reach its peak.
Peru was one of the first Latin American countries to implement a shutdown when coronavirus landed, but cases have doubled in the last 10 days. Peru ranks second only to Brazil for contagions in the region.
Ciro Maguiña, an infectious disease specialist and vice-dean of Peru’s College of Physicians, said the “worst stage” of the outbreak was still ahead.
Significant outbreaks have been uncovered in food markets, at mines, in prisons, among homeless communities and police forces.
Protective equipment shortages have sparked protests at hospitals, while the country’s ability to contain the virus has been hampered by its high poverty rate — about 21 per cent of its 33 million people live on less than $US102 ($158) a month, official statistics say.
Glasshouse dining on the menu in Amsterdam
A Dutch restaurant has come up with an idea on how to offer classy outdoor dining during the pandemic: small glass cabins built for two or three people, creating intimate cocoons on a public patio.
Waiters wear gloves and transparent face shields, and use a long board to bring dishes into the glass cabins to ensure minimal physical contact with customers.
While the concept is currently being trialled only for family and friends of staff from the ETEN restaurant, which is part of the Mediamatic arts centre, it certainly looks glamorous, as diners enjoy candle-lit meals with a waterside view.
Organisers call the project ‘Serres Séparées’ (Separate Greenhouses) because they say it sounds better in French.