Coronavirus update: Mike Pompeo blasts China over COVID-19 outbreak, Spain extends state of emergency

US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo again blasts China over the coronavirus pandemic, as the European Union forecasts the deepest recession in its history.

This story is being updated throughout Thursday. You can also listen to the latest episode of the Coronacast podcast.

Thursday’s top stories:

US-China stoush over virus origins intensifies

China could have prevented the deaths of hundreds of thousands of people around the world by being more transparent about the new coronavirus, according to US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo.

Mr Pompeo also sought to deflect questions about his Sunday comment that there was “a significant amount of evidence” that COVID-19 emerged from a Chinese lab.

“They knew. China could have prevented the deaths of hundreds of thousands of people worldwide,” Mr Pompeo said on Wednesday [local time].

Mr Pompeo’s renewed criticism of China’s handling of the early stages of the pandemic, which has now infected 3.6 million and killed more than 258,000 worldwide, is the latest of several heated exchanges between the two nations.

Foreign Ministry Spokesperson Hua Chunying.
Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesperson Hua Chunying urged the US to provide evidence of its coronavirus claims.(MOFA)

China also hit back at some of Mr Pompeo’s claims on Wednesday during a press briefing and said that if Mr Pompeo is so certain of the origins of the virus being from a lab he should prove it.

“He said there was ‘enormous evidence’, then show us,” China’s Foreign Ministry spokesperson Hua Chunying said.

“I think that this question should be left to scientists and medical control experts to answer, and the politicians should not keep lying on this issue for the needs of domestic politics.”

Asked what China thought about the US allegedly putting pressure on allies to stand up to China, the spokesperson had a harsher way of describing America’s actions.

“The United States is just threatening or coercing them to help the country to frame China together,” she said.

Mr Pompeo also said the WHO needs to demand an investigation into China’s handling of outbreak.


Iran’s COVID-19 cases pass 100,000

A woman in black with a head covering and face mask wrings her hands and cries with her head thrown back.
Relatives of a victim who died from the new coronavirus mourn in Iran.(AP: Ebrahim Noroozi)

The death toll from the coronavirus outbreak in Iran rose 6,418 and the total number of infections to 101,650, the Health Ministry said in a tweet on Wednesday (local time).

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.

‘Deepest economic recession’ in EU’s history

A man speaks at a podium with a graph projected in the background.
The European Union predicted “a recession of historic proportions this year” due to the impact of the coronavirus.(AP: Kenzo Tribouillard)

The European Union has predicted “a recession of historic proportions this year” due to the impact of the coronavirus as it released its first official estimates of the damage the pandemic is inflicting on the bloc’s economy.

The 27-nation EU 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.

As the virus hit, “economic activity in the EU dropped by around one third practically overnight,” he said.

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.

The pandemic has hit jobs, with the unemployment rate across the EU forecast to rise from 6.7 per cent last year to 9 per cent in 2020 but then fall to around 8 per cent in 2021.


Spain extends coronavirus state of emergency

The Prime Minister speaks in a chamber with three other people sitting at a safe social distance.
Spanish Prime Minster Pedro Sanchez ask for a fourth two-week extension of the state of emergency.(AP: Ballesteros)

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.

Germany’s Bundesliga to return as lockdown eases

Two footballers compete for the ball in an empty stadium.
The German Bundesliga has Government approval to restart in May behind closed doors.(Reuters: Wolfgang Rattay)

The German Bundesliga will be the world’s first major soccer league to return since the advent of the coronavirus pandemic, after it was given Government approval to restart in May, albeit behind closed doors.

The move was one of several steps Chancellor Angela Merkel announced on Wednesday to ease the 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.

Their plan included a fail-safe ’emergency brake’, so restrictions would be reintroduced if an area registers more than 50 new infections per 100,000 inhabitants within seven days.

‘Entering the worst stage’: 50,000 cases confirmed in Peru

A close up of a person with brown eyes with a face mask reading the Spanish message "Resist Peru".
Peru has the second highest number of infections in South America.(AP: Rodrigo Abd)

The number of new coronavirus cases confirmed in Peru on Tuesday (local time) soared above 50,000, highlighting the country’s struggle to control the virus’s spread with the infection rate yet to reach its peak, a medical expert said.

Peru was one of the first Latin American countries to implement a shut down 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, laying bare the patchy enforcement of Government-ordered social isolation measures.

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.


Glass house dining on the menu in Amsterdam

A couple sitting in a glass enclosure with the water in the background and candles as they eat.
Amsterdam is serving up “quarantine greenhouses” for diners during the coronavirus pandemic.(Reuters: Eva Plevier)

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.

“It’s super-cosy, it’s really cosy, it’s nice and the food is delicious,” said Janita Vermeulen, who was invited to a trial dinner with her roommate.

Organisers call the project ‘Serres Séparées’ (Separate Greenhouses) because they say it sounds better in French.


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