us.-weekly-jobless-claims-seen-hovering-near-record-highs

U.S. weekly jobless claims seen hovering near record highs

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – The number of Americans seeking unemployment benefits in the last three weeks likely totaled a staggering 15 million as tough measures to control the novel coronavirus outbreak abruptly ground the country to halt, which would cement views the economy was in deep recession.

FILE PHOTO: People gather at the entrance for the New York State Department of Labor offices, which closed to the public due to the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) outbreak in the Brooklyn borough of New York City, U.S., March 20, 2020. REUTERS/Andrew Kelly/File Photo

Thursday’s weekly jobless claims report from the Labor Department, the most timely data on the economy’s health, would strengthen economists’ expectations of job losses of up to 20 million in April. The government reported last Friday that the economy purged 701,000 jobs in March. That was the most job losses since the Great Recession and ended the longest employment boom in U.S. history that started in late 2010.

“These dismal numbers suggest another record-breaking April jobs report,” said Beth Ann Bovino, chief U.S economist at S&P Global Ratings in New York. “America is now in recession and as it appears to deepen, the question is how long it will it take before the U.S. recovers.”

The number of initial claims for state unemployment benefits probably slipped to a seasonally adjusted 5.250 million for the week ended April 4 from 6.648 million, according to a Reuters survey of economists.

The anticipated lower reading is likely because the model that the government uses to strip out seasonal fluctuations shows a downside bias for last week’s data. States also appear to be struggling to process high volumes of claims.

Estimates in the survey were as high as 9.295 million. Going by the average forecast, last week’s claims data would bring the cumulative jobless benefits claims to more than 15 million since the week ending March 21.

With more than 95% of Americans under “stay-at-home” or “shelter-in-place” orders, reports continue to mount of state employment offices being overwhelmed by a deluge of applications. Mike Ricci, a spokesman for Maryland Governor Larry Hogan, wrote on Twitter on Wednesday that “we have approximately 1,000 calls coming through in every two hour period of time,” noting that “currently, federal employees and people who have worked in multiple states cannot file online.”

RANKS OF UNEMPLOYED SWELLING

As such, any moderation in claims last week would probably be temporary. The breadth of businesses shuttered because of the stringent measures to curb the spread of COVID-19, the disease caused by the coronavirus, has expanded from bars, restaurants and other social gathering venues to transportation and factories. The United States has the highest number of confirmed COVID-19 cases in the world.

Businesses are also encouraging their lowest paid hourly workers to apply for unemployment benefits to take advantage of an extra $600 per week for up to four months. This enhancement is part of a historic $2.3 trillion rescue package and is on top of existing jobless benefits, which averaged $385 per person per month in January.

It is equivalent to $15 per hour for a 40-hour workweek. The federal minimum wage is about $7.25 per hour.

“The new $600 Federal payment alone still exceeds average earnings in leisure and hospitality by almost 50%,” said Andrew Hunter, a senior U.S. economist at Capital Economics.

“This may in turn be part of the reason why jobless claims have soared so rapidly in recent weeks. Workers may be more accepting of temporary furloughs if they stand to lose little income, and several major retailers have cited the new provisions when announcing layoffs.”

Thursday’s claims report is also expected to show the number of people continuing to receive benefits after an initial week of aid shot up to 8.0 million in the week ending March 28 from 3.029 million in the prior week, according to the Reuters survey. That would obliterate the record 6.635 million hit in May 2009.

The so-called continuing claims data is reported with a one-week lag and is viewed as a better gauge of unemployment and its impact on gross domestic product.

“The labor market has entered a traumatic period,” said Gregory Daco, chief U.S. economist at Oxford Economics in New York. “We foresee the unemployment rate spiking to 14% in April.”

The economy is believed to have contracted sharply in the first quarter, with even an historic decline in GDP being forecast for the second quarter. Economists say the economy entered recession in March.

The National Bureau of Economic Research, the private research institute regarded as the arbiter of U.S. recessions, does not define a recession as two consecutive quarters of decline in real gross domestic product, as is the rule of thumb in many countries. Instead, it looks for a drop in activity, spread across the economy and lasting more than a few months.

Reporting By Lucia Mutikani; Editing by Dan Burns and Chizu Nomiyama

china-seeks-to-contain-8216silent-carriers8217-of-coronavirus

China seeks to contain ‘silent carriers’ of coronavirus

BEIJING/SHANGHAI (Reuters) – China took new measures on Wednesday to try to prevent asymptomatic “silent carriers” of the new coronavirus from causing a second wave of infections, as the country reported another modest rise in confirmed cases.

A volunteer is seen inside a convention center that was used as a makeshift hospital to treat patients with the coronavirus disease (COVID-19), in Wuhan, Hubei province, China April 9, 2020. REUTERS/Aly Song

Mainland China reported 63 new infections on Wednesday, up from 62 a day earlier, the National Health Commission said. Of those, 61 were travellers arriving from overseas, bringing the total number of confirmed cases in China to 81,865.

While new infections have fallen from their peak in February after China locked down several cities and imposed strict travel restrictions, authorities have called for continued vigilance amid fears of a fresh resurgence of infections.

Aside from curbing an influx of infected travellers from abroad, China’s other concern is managing asymptomatic people, or virus carriers who exhibit no clinical symptoms such as a fever or a cough.

On China’s Twitter-like Weibo service, “Are asymptomatic people really asymptomatic?” was the third most-discussed topic on Thursday afternoon, highlighting a state media interview with Liu Youning, a professor of respiratory medicine at the People’s Liberation Army General Hospital.

Liu said asymptomatic carriers posed little risk, but that people should continue to avoid crowded areas, maintain social distancing, wear masks and wash hands.

“Scary, we need to keep safe. Some people are already getting slack, they don’t wear masks when going outside,” wrote a user posting under the name “Lu Ban of the Vast Desert”.

China reported 56 new asymptomatic cases on Wednesday, bringing the total number of such cases to 657 since data for such infections were published daily from April 1.

The State Council, or Cabinet, on Wednesday published new rules to manage asymptomatic coronavirus carriers, or what some state media described as “silent carriers” of the virus.

Under the regulations, medical institutions must report detection of asymptomatic cases within two hours of their discovery. Local governments must then identify all known close contacts of the case within 24 hours.

Asymptomatic patients will be quarantined collectively for 14 days, and will be counted as confirmed cases if they start to show symptoms. People who have had close contact with them must also be quarantined for two weeks.

Earlier this week, a new function appeared on Tencent’s ubiquitous (0700.HK) WeChat mobile platform allowing people to check if they have ever sat on trains and planes near an asymptomatic carrier who later became a confirmed case.

The heightened sense of caution came as restrictions on outbound movement of people from Wuhan, capital of central Hubei province and epicentre of the outbreak in China, were lifted on Wednesday after a virtual lockdown of over two months.

Easing was also evident elsewhere, as the commercial centre of Shanghai said it would begin reopening some schools from April 27.

MAKESHIFT HOSPITAL

Of the 61 new confirmed cases arriving from overseas, 40 were in China’s northeast Heilongjiang province, which shares a border with Russia. All 40 were returning Chinese nationals, reported Xinhua.

The Heilongjiang city of Suifenhe is building a makeshift hospital because imported cases from Russia continue to rise, reported state-controlled tabloid Global Times on Thursday, as all of the city’s isolation hotels were full.

Suifenhe has closed its borders to all arrivals and implemented restrictions on the movement of its citizens on Wednesday, similar to measures seen in Wuhan.

Wuhan, a megacity of 11 million people in the middle reaches of the Yangtze river, still sees tens of new cases of asymptomatic carriers each day.

Hubei’s health authority has reported 303 new asymptomatic cases since it began publishing data for such cases on April 1, but only two asymptomatic patients in Wuhan were reported to have developed symptoms and become confirmed case in the same timeframe.

Mainland China has reported 657 new asymptomatic cases so far this month. Of those, it said 57 have developed symptoms.

Chinese health authorities estimated earlier in April that around two-thirds of the asymptomatic patients will later develop symptoms.

Slideshow (15 Images)

As of Wednesday, 3,335 people in China have died from the virus that causes a flu-like respiratory disease. Wuhan accounts for more than 75% of the fatalities.

Interactive graphic tracking global spread of coronavirus: open tmsnrt.rs/3aIRuz7 in an external browser.

Reporting by Ryan Woo, Se Young Lee, Liangping Gao, Stella Qiu, Lusha Zhang, Gabriel Crossley, Emily Chow and Andrew Galbraith; Editing by Kim Coghill and Michael Perry/Mark Heinrich

exclusive-us.-ambassador-to-south-korea-is-discussing-plans-to-resign-8211-sources

Exclusive: U.S. ambassador to South Korea is discussing plans to resign – sources

SEOUL (Reuters) – U.S. Ambassador to South Korea Harry Harris has said privately that he does not plan to stay on beyond the November U.S. presidential election, regardless of whether President Donald Trump wins another term, five sources told Reuters.

FILE PHOTO: South Korean Foreign Minister Kang Kyung-wha and U.S. Ambassador to South Korea Harry Harris, exchange documents at the Foreign Ministry in Seoul, South Korea March 8, 2019. Ahn Young-joon/Pool via REUTERS

Harris, a 40-year veteran of the U.S. Navy who started in Seoul in 2018 after Trump appointed him, has expressed increasing frustration with the tensions and drama of his tenure, the sources said, all speaking on condition of anonymity because of the diplomatic sensitivity of the issue.

“He’s been wanting to stay only until November rather than serving in the second term even if Trump wins it,” one source with direct knowledge of the issue said.

The U.S. State Department did not immediately respond to a request for comment. The U.S. Embassy in Seoul did not immediately respond to comment, nor did a close aide to Harris.

Harris’ predecessors each served about three years and generally enjoyed good personal rapport with South Koreans. But his time in Seoul has been marked by increasing acrimony between the two longtime allies.

The U.S. ambassador has become the public face of what many South Koreans see as overbearing policies embraced by the Trump administration in the name of “America First.”

Although polls show wide South Korean support for the alliance in general, people there have balked at Trump’s demands that Seoul pay billions of dollars more for a U.S. troop presence in the country.

The military cost-sharing agreement lapsed in December, and the failure to strike a new deal has led to more than 4,000 South Korean workers being put on unpaid leave.

In October a group of South Korean students climbed over a wall into the grounds of the ambassador’s residence in Seoul to protest against the U.S. troop presence in the country, sparking complaints from the State Department over lax security by South Korean police.

In December protesters destroyed portraits of Harris during a demonstration outside the U.S. Embassy as they chanted “Harris out! We are not a U.S. colony! We are not an ATM machine!”

Friction also developed over U.S. insistence that South Korea limit its engagement with North Korea until Trump had made progress in denuclearisation talks.

And Seoul’s foreign ministry summoned Harris in August after U.S. officials expressed disappointment over its decision to end an intelligence-sharing pact with Japan.

“He would’ve never imagined something like that, because both countries, as allies, would usually put on a nice face once you get out of the meeting room even if there’s a disagreement,” a second source said of Harris’ reaction to the foreign ministry’s public disclosure of the acrimonious meeting.

Before being named ambassador, Harris was an admiral leading U.S. Navy’s Pacific Command.

It is unclear whether Harris has already tendered his resignation, but as part of his retirement plans he has built a house in Colorado, three sources said.

Besides the politics, Harris also was the target of racially charged acrimony over his Japanese heritage.

Born in Japan to a Japanese mother and an American father, Harris faced increasingly personal attacks – even from high-level South Korean officials – as a simmering historic dispute between Seoul and Tokyo erupted again last year.

Some South Koreans mocked Harris’ moustache by likening it to those worn by the Japanese colonial leaders who ruled Korea from 1910-45.

Harris said in January that he was aware that his moustache had become “a point of some fascination here” but he was the American ambassador to Korea, “not the Japanese-American ambassador to Korea.”

The first source said that Harris never complained about the pressures of the job, but that it had become clear some of the personal attention was weighing on him.

“He wouldn’t openly say he’s stressed out or like ‘life is hard’ – he’s a four-star admiral and has been through a lot,” the source said.

“But no one likes to deal with people who are ungrateful for your hard work, and throwing racist slurs isn’t the right way to treat an ally who has such deep ties and fondness for your country,” the source added.

Reporting by Hyonhee Shin; Additional reporting by Josh Smith in Seoul and David Brunnstrom in Washington; Writing by Josh Smith; Editing by Gerry Doyle

australian-police-take-8216black-box8217-off-cruise-ship-in-coronavirus-homicide-probe

Australian police take ‘black box’ off cruise ship in coronavirus homicide probe

SYDNEY (Reuters) – Australian police said on Thursday they have taken the “black box” of a cruise ship which disembarked hundreds of passengers infected with the coronavirus in Sydney, as part of a homicide investigation into the country’s deadliest infection source.

NSW Police personnel gear up in personal protective equipment for the Strike Force Bast raid of the Ruby Princess cruise ship at Port Kembla, New South Wales, Australia, April 8, 2020, in this still image from video. Video taken April 8, 2020. NSW Police via REUTERS ATTENTION EDITORS – THIS IMAGE HAS BEEN SUPPLIED BY A THIRD PARTY. MANDATORY CREDIT. NO RESALES. NO ARCHIVES. WATERMARK FROM SOURCE.

The investigation got underway as the Australian authorities said the rate of new coronavirus infections hit its lowest number in three weeks and began arranging more flights to bring home citizens stranded abroad.

The Ruby Princess cruise ship, owned by Carnival Corp (CCL.N), has become a flashpoint of public anger in Australia after authorities granted the ship permission to disembark its 2,700 passengers last month without health checks.

Hundreds of the passengers later tested positive for the coronavirus and 15 have died, out of Australia’s roughly 6,000 confirmed cases and 51 deaths.

Investigators boarded the ship at an industrial port south of Sydney, interviewed the captain and took electronic logs as evidence, New South Wales state Police Commissioner Mick Fuller said.

“They spoke to the captain of the ship, who was extremely helpful,” Fuller said in a televised news conference on Thursday.

“Ships have a black box very similar to that of international planes, and that and other evidence has been seized for further investigation.”

About 1,000 crew of various nationalities remain on board the ship.

Globally, more than 1.5 million people have tested positive to the coronavirus, which has caused about 87,000 deaths.

FLATTENED CURVE

In the past day, Australia recorded 96 new coronavirus infections, its first daily increase of fewer than 100 cases in three weeks, Health Minister Greg Hunt told reporters in Canberra.

“The curve continues to flatten, we are consolidating the gains,” Hunt said in a televised news conference.

“While we have been cautious over the last two weeks as we have seen the early data, what we’re seeing now is a genuine consolidation.”

Prime Minister Scott Morrison in his Easter address implored people to stay home and cancel trips during what is a traditional vacation period.

Morrison earlier met with state and territory leaders in one of the bi-weekly meetings of a special Cabinet set up to deal with the coronavirus outbreak. The Cabinet will not meet now until Thursday, Morrison said.

Australia has for weeks restricted the movements of people, requiring them to stay home except for essential work or to exercise and buy food, and police have said they will use the threat of on-the-spot fines to stop people travelling or socialising over Easter.

Police said they will step up their presence and use helicopters to target anyone who attempts to travel.

Meanwhile, Foreign Minister Minister Marise Payne said she had arranged with Qantas Airways Ltd (QAN.AX) to run special flights to repatriate Australians stuck abroad.

The flights would carry people in Peru, Argentina and South Africa home in the next week, with flights also being planned from India and the Philippines.

CASH IS KING

While Australia has slowed the growth in new coronavirus cases, it remains anxious about the economic toll of the virus.

Desperate to avoid a prolonged economic contraction, Australia’s parliament on Wednesday approved spending $130 billion ($81 billion) over the next six months to subsidise the wages of about 6 million people, or a quarter of the population.

Slideshow (8 Images)

Australia’s central bank on Thursday said the country’s banks are well placed to weather the coronavirus-driven economic downturn and any potential run to withdraw cash by some locals.

“Some customers with large balances sought to hold precautionary funds. This included a small number of customers asking very large withdrawals, more than $100,000, and in some cases into the millions of dollars,” the Reserve Bank of Australia said.

Interactive graphic tracking global spread of coronavirus: open tmsnrt.rs/3aIRuz7 in an external browser.

Reporting by Byron Kaye; Editing by Stephen Coates, Lincoln Feast and Raissa Kasolowsky

japan8217s-economy-faces-extreme-uncertainty-as-coronavirus-spreads-8211-central-bank-head

Japan’s economy faces extreme uncertainty as coronavirus spreads – central bank head

TOKYO (Reuters) – Uncertainty over Japan’s economic outlook is “extremely high” as the coronavirus pandemic hits output and consumption, central bank Governor Haruhiko Kuroda said, stressing his readiness to take additional monetary steps to prevent a deep recession.

Bank of Japan Governor Haruhiko Kuroda, wearing a protective face mask following an outbreak of the coronavirus disease (COVID-19), attends a quarterly meeting of the Bank of Japan’s regional branch managers in Tokyo, Japan, in this photo distributed by Kyodo April 9, 2020. Mandatory credit Kyodo/via REUTERS ATTENTION EDITORS – THIS IMAGE WAS PROVIDED BY A THIRD PARTY. MANDATORY CREDIT. JAPAN OUT.

While aggressive central bank actions across the globe have eased financial market tensions somewhat, corporate funding strains were worsening, Kuroda told a quarterly meeting of the Bank of Japan’s regional branch managers on Thursday.

“The spread of the coronavirus is having a severe impact on Japan’s economy through declines in exports, output, demand from overseas tourists and private consumption,” he said.

Japan recorded 503 new coronavirus infections on Wednesday – its biggest daily increase since the start of the pandemic – as a state of emergency took effect giving governors stronger legal authority to urge people to stay home and businesses to close.

In contrast to stringent lockdowns in some countries, mandating fines and arrests for non-compliance, enforcement will rely more on peer pressure and a deep-rooted Japanese tradition of respect for authority.

The balancing act underscores the difficulty authorities have in trying to contain the outbreak without imposing a mandatory lockdown that could deal a major blow to an economy already struggling to cope with the virus outbreak.

Hideaki Omura, the governor of the central Japan prefecture of Aichi, said he would declare a state of emergency for his prefecture on Friday.

Omura said Aichi, which includes the city of Nagoya and hosts Toyota Motor Corp, was talking with the central government about being included in the national state of emergency as well, but felt he could not wait any longer to restrict movement.

“Looking at things the past week and watching the situation – the rise in patients, the number without any traceable cause – we judged that it was a very dangerous situation and wanted to make preparations,” he told a news conference.

Even with less stringent restrictions compared with other countries, analysts polled by Reuters expect Japan to slip into a deep recession this year as the virus outbreak wreaks havoc on business and daily life.

Shares of Oriental Land Co (4661.T) fell on Thursday after the operator of Tokyo Disneyland said it would keep the amusement park shut until mid-May.

Entertainment facility operator Uchiyama Holdings (6059.T) said it was closing 43 karaoke shops and 11 restaurants until May 6.

“For the time being, we won’t hesitate to take additional monetary easing steps if needed, with a close eye on developments regarding the coronavirus outbreak,” Kuroda said.

Kuroda’s remarks highlight the strong concern policymakers have over the outlook for Japan’s economy and how companies continue to struggle to generate cash, despite government and central bank promises to flood the economy with funds.

At its policy meeting later this month, the BOJ is likely to make a rare projection that the world’s third-largest economy will shrink this year, sources have told Reuters.

The BOJ eased monetary policy in March by pledging to boost purchases of assets ranging from government bonds, commercial paper, corporate bonds and trust funds investing in stocks.

The government also rolled out a nearly $1 trillion stimulus package to soften the economic blow.

Interactive graphic tracking global spread of coronavirus: open tmsnrt.rs/3aIRuz7 in an external browser.

Reporting by Leika Kihara; Additional reporting by Yoshifumi Takemoto, Elaine Lies and Kaori Kaneko; Editing by Chris Gallagher and Stephen Coates

new-york-reports-779-more-deaths-governor-says-social-distancing-working

New York reports 779 more deaths, governor says social distancing working

(Reuters) – New York’s efforts at social distancing are working to get the coronavirus outbreak under control even as the state reported an additional 779 deaths, a record high for a second day, the Governor Andrew Cuomo said on Wednesday.

Cuomo, who has emerged as a leading national voice on the outbreak, said he never thought he would ever again experience a disaster on the scale of the September 11, 2001 ,attacks and called the mounting death toll “almost unimaginable to me.”

The governor acknowledged that it was a “very real possibility” that deaths in New York were being undercounted as people died in their homes, and called for continued adherence to business closures and other social distancing steps.

Cuomo ordered all flags to be flown at half-staff across New York, where 6,268 people have now died from COVID-19, the respiratory illness caused by the novel coronavirus, accounting for nearly half the deaths in the United States.

“Don’t start doing a retrospective like it’s over,” Cuomo told a daily briefing. “We are not through it. It’s not over.”

Cuomo pointed to the fall in new hospitalizations on Tuesday to 586 on Tuesday, down from 656 a day earlier, and other data points as evidence that New York was “bending the curve” and gaining some control over the rate of infections.

But he warned that the death count would continue at the current level, if not climb higher, over the next several days as those hospitalized more than a week ago and put on a ventilator machine passed away.

Slideshow (6 Images)

He also warned that any relaxing of social distancing steps – on Tuesday he extended the state’s closure of non-essential businesses and schools until the end of April – risked reversing the gains.

“This is just a small snapshot in time where we are,” Cuomo said. “You have four or five days of flattening. You could have tomorrow morning we wake up and the number is back up.”

Cuomo called for research into why people from minority communities were dying at disproportionate rates, a phenomenon that has become increasingly clear over the past few days as more states disclosed the racial makeup of the deceased.

reporting by Nathan Layne in Wilton, Connecticut, Maria Caspani in New York and Stephanie Kelly in Maplewood, New Jersey, Editing by Franklin Paul and Jonathan Oatis

uk8217s-johnson-8216improving8217-as-he-fights-covid-19-in-intensive-care

UK’s Johnson ‘improving’ as he fights COVID-19 in intensive care

LONDON (Reuters) – British Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s condition is improving and he is able to sit up in bed and engage with clinical staff, finance minister Rishi Sunak said on Wednesday as Johnson remained in intensive care battling COVID-19.

Johnson was admitted to St Thomas’ hospital on Sunday evening with a persistent high temperature and cough and was transferred to intensive care on Monday.

The 55-year-old British leader, who tested positive for the new coronavirus nearly two weeks ago, has received oxygen support but has not been put on a ventilator.

“The latest from the hospital is that the prime minister remains in intensive care where his condition is improving,” Sunak said at a daily government coronavirus news conference.

“I can also tell you that he has been sitting up in bed and been engaging positively with the clinical team.”

Later, Downing Street issued a brief statement, expected to be the last update on Johnson’s condition until Thursday. “The Prime Minister continues to make steady progress. He remains in intensive care,” it said.

While he is out of action, the country is entering what scientists say is the deadliest phase of the outbreak and the government is pondering the question of when to lift lockdown measures that are playing havoc with the economy.

Total UK hospital deaths from COVID-19 have risen by a daily record of 938 to 7,097 as of 1600 GMT on April 7. [nL9N2AI02K]

But the number of new infections and hospital admissions is starting to show signs of flattening, Stephen Powis, medical director of the National Health Service, told the news conference. [nL9N2BW005]

“We are beginning to see the benefits (of the lockdown) I believe but the really critical thing is that we have to continue following instructions – we have to continue following social distancing, because if we don’t the virus will start to spread again,” he said.

Johnson’s designated deputy, Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab, will chair a meeting on Thursday to discuss how to deal with a review of the lockdown measures.

“We committed that there would be a review in and around three weeks (from the start of the lockdown). That review will be based on the evidence and the data provided by SAGE,” said Sunak, referring to the Scientific Advisory Group for Emergencies.

Slideshow (23 Images)

Britain’s uncodified constitution, a collection of sometimes ancient and contradictory precedents, offers no clear, formal “Plan B” if a prime minister is incapacitated. In essence, decisions have to be made collectively by the cabinet.

Should Raab become unwell, Sunak will be the next in line to take over.

In the latest of a raft of measures to rescue the economy and society from the worst effects of the crisis, he announced an extra 750 million pounds ($930 million) of funding for charities so that they could continue their work. [nL3N2BW04H]

Additional reporting by Elizabeth Howcroft, Costas Pitas and Alistair Smout; writing by Estelle Shirbon; editing by Stephen Addison

what-you-need-to-know-about-the-coronavirus-right-now

What you need to know about the coronavirus right now

(Reuters) – Here’s what you need to know about the coronavirus right now:

Public benches are taped off in Brockwell Park as the spread of the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) continues, London, Britain, April 8,2020. REUTERS/Reade Levinson

Reviewing and renewing lockdowns

The British government holds a Cobra meeting on Thursday chaired by Dominic Raab, first secretary of state, to discuss how to deal with a review of lockdown measures that is based on evidence and data from the Scientific Advisory Group for Emergencies.

In Italy, Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte urged sticking with the rigid lockdown, rejecting calls from businesses to open factories, while France extended its lockdown past April 15, though the increase of hospital deaths appeared to be slowing again.

Disunity in the European Union

EU finance ministers failed to agree on a joint response on more economic support for their countries, despite talks that stretched into the night on a 16-hour videoconference.

German Finance Minister Olaf Scholz said a deal on the package worth half a trillion euros was close, and he hoped it could be clinched when the ministers meet again from 1500 GMT.

Mauro Ferrari, president of the EU’s main science organisation, the European Research Council, has quit the post he took up in January, citing institutional resistance and bureaucratic infighting over his proposal for a big scientific programme to combat the coronavirus.

In a statement, the ERC said it regretted Ferrari’s comments on his resignation, adding they were “at best … economical with the truth”.

From fine to flailing: rapid health declines shock medical workers

The speed with which patients are declining and dying from the new coronavirus is shocking even veteran doctors and nurses as they scramble to try to stop such sudden deterioration.

The quick turns for the worse are likely products of an “overly exuberant” reaction by the immune system as it fights the virus, said Dr Otto Yang, an infectious disease specialist at the UCLA Medical Center in Los Angeles.

Called a cytokine storm, it occurs when the body overproduces immune cells and their activating compounds – cytokines – causing dangerously high blood pressure, lung damage and organ failure.

(Open tmsnrt.rs/3aIRuz7 in a separate browser for an interactive graphic to track the global spread.)

Containing the ‘silent carriers’

China has adopted new measures to curb the spread of the virus by asymptomatic carriers, whom some state media described as “silent carriers”.

Medical institutions must now report such cases within two hours of discovery. Local governments then have 24 hours to identify all known close contacts. Both the patient and close contacts will be quarantined for 14 days.

‘Black box’ taken off cruise ship in Australia coronavirus homicide probe

Police carrying out a homicide investigation into Australia’s deadliest infection source have removed the Ruby Princess’ ‘black box’.

The cruise ship, owned by Carnival Corp, has become a flashpoint of public anger after authorities granted permission for passengers to disembark last month without health checks.

Hundreds of them later tested positive for the virus and 15 died. About 1,000 crew of various nationalities remain on board at an industrial port south of Sydney.

(For a selection of updated, curated coronavirus coverage, click here)

Compiled by Karishma Singh; Editing by Clarence Fernandez

nrl-australian-rugby-league-competition-plans-to-restart-on-28-may

NRL: Australian rugby league competition plans to restart on 28 May

The NRL was suspended on 23 March

Australia’s National Rugby League competition will restart on 28 May if coronavirus restrictions are eased.

The league was stopped after just two rounds of the 2020 season, but Australian Rugby League bosses said they wanted to give everyone involved in the sport some “certainty”.

The pandemic has decimated sport with most campaigns cancelled or suspended.

“We haven’t finalised what that [competition] looks like yet,” ARL commissioner Wayne Pearce said.

“Why we want to firm up a date is to give certainty to players and their schedules, clubs and thousands of people who are out of work through clubs and millions of fans.

“It’s a mark for everyone to work towards that’s associated with the game.”

Australia has a relatively low number of coronavirus cases compared to parts of Europe and the United States. Just over 6,000 people have been diagnosed with Covid-19 and 51 have died.

The ARL also confirmed it intended to play the full three-game State of Origin series in June and July and that the NRL grand final would remain in its traditional format of one match, played in Sydney.

Thursday’s decisions were made after a phone hook-up with representatives from each of the 16 NRL clubs.

“The situation is changing dramatically and we need to get moving,” ARL chairman Peter V’landys said.

“It is in the best interests of our clubs, our players, our stakeholders and importantly our fans that the competition resumes as quickly and as safely as possible.

“We have said right from the start that what we say today may need to change tomorrow. We will be flexible, and if the trend changes or if government restrictions change then so will we. The health and safety of our players and the general public remains the absolute priority.”

coronavirus-arrests-after-men-lick-hands-and-wipe-supermarket-food

Coronavirus: Arrests after men lick hands and wipe supermarket food

Sainsbury's store in Lancaster Road, MorecambeImage copyright
Google

Image caption

The men walked into the Sainsbury’s store in Lancaster Road, Morecambe, on Saturday afternoon

Police have made two arrests after two men were seen on CCTV licking their hands and wiping them over vegetables, meat and fridge handles in a supermarket.

The men walked into the Sainsbury’s store in Lancaster Road, Morecambe, on Saturday afternoon.

Staff were forced to thoroughly disinfect the store and destroy products, Lancashire Police said.

Insp James Martin described the incident as “flabbergasting”.