Coronavirus update: WHO warns the first wave of COVID-19 is not over, Spain announces period of mourning
As countries look to reopen their borders the World Health Organization issues a stark warning that coronavirus is “actually on the way up” and takes specific aim at Brazil, which is looking to ease restrictions despite being a hotspot.
This story will be regularly updated throughout Wednesday.
Wednesday’s key moments:
WHO warns first wave of pandemic is not over
The World Health Organization’s top health expert has issued a sobering reminder that the world is still in the middle of the pandemic, dampening hopes for a speedy global economic rebound and renewed international travel.
“We’re still very much in a phase where the disease is actually on the way up,” said Dr Mike Ryan, one of the World Health Organization’s executive directors.
“Right now, we’re not in the second wave. We’re right in the middle of the first wave globally.”
Dr Ryan then made specific mention of Brazil, where despite cases being on the rise Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro has been bullish about opening the country back up.
Brazil has nearly 375,000 coronavirus infections — second only to the 1.66 million cases in the US — and has counted over 23,000 deaths but many fear Brazil’s true toll is much higher.
Dr Ryan warned that authorities must first have enough testing in place to control the spread of the pandemic and said Brazil’s “intense” transmission rates means it should keep some stay-at-home measures in place, regardless of the negative impacts on its economy.
“You must continue to do everything you can,” he said.
Worldwide, the virus has infected nearly 5.5 million people, killing over 346,000, according to a tally by Johns Hopkins University. Experts say the tally understates the real effects of the pandemic due to counting issues in many nations.
Spain declares 10-day period of mourning
The Spanish Government declared a 10-day official mourning period from Wednesday to honour the nearly 30,000 people who have died from coronavirus in one of the world’s worst-hit countries.
During the period, flags will fly at half-mast all over the country’s public buildings and navy ships.
The period will end with an official ceremony led by the head of state in remembrance of the 26,834 fatalities recorded in the country. Spain has reported a total of 235,400 confirmed cases of the disease
In other Spain news the Spanish treasury will lend 14 billion euros ($23 billion) to the state-run social security to help it face costs related to the pandemic, a government spokeswoman said on Tuesday
The loan will help social security to finance additional spending related to the coronavirus epidemic and offset lower contributions from workers who were either furloughed or lost their jobs.
‘Sad, shocked and angry’ Trudeau laments Canada’s aged care
Canadian soldiers helping to manage the coronavirus outbreak in seniors’ residences have witnessed some “deeply disturbing” scenes, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said, adding he was shocked and angry.
Long-term care homes account for around 80 per cent of all the deaths attributed to coronavirus in Canada. The situation is particularly bad in Ontario and Quebec, the two most populous provinces, where around 1,400 soldiers are working.
Mr Trudeau told a daily briefing the armed forces had compiled a report on their observations in Ontario.
“It is deeply disturbing. There are things in there that are extremely troubling and we need to take action,” he said.
Mr Trudeau did not give details but said he had passed on the report to Ontario premier Doug Ford, who is due to speak to reporters later in the day.
“I was sad, I was shocked, I was disappointed, I was angry,” said Mr Trudeau, reiterating that Canada needed to do a much better job of taking care of its elderly population.
Both Quebec and Ontario have asked that the soldiers stay on for longer than initially planned and the federal government is likely to agree, Mr Trudeau said.
J.K. Rowling publishes free fairytale for children in lockdown
JK Rowling has published the first two chapters of a fairytale called “The Ickabog” online for children in lockdown.
“Over 10 years ago, I wrote a stand-alone fairytale called The Ickabog,” Ms Rowling said.
“Until very recently, the only people who’d heard the story of The Ickabog were my two younger children.”
The Harry Potter author said the mostly handwritten manuscript had been stored in her attic until a few weeks ago after which she did some re-writing.
“I’ve decided to publish The Ickabog for free online, so children in lockdown, or even those back at school during these strange, unsettling times, can read it or have it read to them,” she said.
“The Ickabog is a story about truth and the abuse of power. The themes are timeless and could apply to any era or any country.
“To forestall one obvious question: The idea came to me well over a decade ago, so it isn’t intended to be read as a response to anything that’s happening in the world right now.”
The story will be released chapter-by-chapter over the coming weeks until July 10, Ms Rowling said, and in that time she has asked for children to send her their illustrations.
Those deemed the best will be published in a physical copy of the book that will be released in bookstores in November.
Ms Rowling said she intends to donate the royalties she receives from the story to projects and organisations helping the groups most impacted by COVID-19.
Donald Tusk takes dig at Dominic Cummings
As the furore surrounding UK PM Boris Johnson’s senior aide Dominic Cummings continues — with Scottish junior minister Douglas Ross resigning over Mr Cummings’ travel during the lockdown — one man sunk the boot in further.
Former President of the European Council Donald Tusk took Mr Cummings and his fellow Brexiteers to task over the incident with a cheeky titter broadside.
“This is apparently Cummings and his Brexit friends’ rule: that they leave when they should stay” he wrote.
Mr Cummings had driven more than 400 km from London during the lockdown to stay on his family’s farm and later defended his trip, saying his actions were reasonable as he was worried he would not have had childcare options if he and his wife were seriously ill.
He also said he had driven to an estate a further 50 kilometres away to test his eyesight before driving back to London.
Saudi Arabia allows mosques to open for Friday prayers
Saudi Arabia will allow mosques to open for Friday prayers as the kingdom eases restrictions on movement.
Mosques will be authorised to open 20 minutes before Friday prayers and should close 20 minutes after they finish, state TV said on Twitter, citing the ministry of Islamic affairs.
Restrictions will be lifted in three phases, according to officials, culminating in a curfew ending — with the exception of the holy city of Mecca — from June 21.
The haj and umrah pilgrimages, which attract millions of travellers from around the world, will remain suspended until further notice.
UK to start treating virus patients with remdesivir
Britain’s Health Minister Matt Hancock has touted the benefits of the drug remdesivir for COVID-19 patients, as the UK begins using it to treat coronavirus patients.
“This is probably the biggest step forward in the treatment of coronavirus since the crisis began,” health minister Matt Hancock told a government news conference.
“These are very early steps, but we are determined to support the science and back the projects that show promise.”
Clinical trials testing the broad-spectrum antiviral to determine whether or not it is effective are still under way globally, but initial results have suggested it can speed up recovery time by four days.
“We are committed to ensuring that patients can have fast access to promising treatments for COVID-19,” said Dr June Raine, the chief executive of the UK’s Medicines and Health Regulatory Agency.
Remdesivir will be provided to patients free of charge by American biopharmaceutical Gilead, and will be for patients with a “high, unmet medical need” under a doctor’s supervision.
A study last month of more than 1,000 people severely impacted by coronavirus found those who got the drug were discharged from the hospital several days earlier than those who got a placebo.