Germany lifting some restrictions, world death toll tops 131,000
Markus Soeder, Bavaria's State Premier, German Chancellor Angela Merkel, Peter Tschentscher, Mayor of Hamburg and German Finance Minister and Vice-Chancellor Olaf Scholz address a press conference on German government's measures to avoid further spread of the novel coronavirus COVID-19, on April 15, 2020 following a video conference with the leaders of the German federal states at the chancellery in Berlin. German Chancellor Angela Merkel announced first steps in undoing coronavirus restrictions that have plunged the economy into a recession, with most shops allowed to open although schools must stay closed until May 4.
AFP/Bernd von Jutrczenka/Pool

Germany lifting some restrictions, world death toll tops 131,000

Nina Larson (Agence France-Presse) - April 16, 2020 - 9:00am

GENEVA, Switzerland — Germany on Wednesday unveiled plans to lift some restrictions imposed because of the coronavirus pandemic, becoming the first major European nation to take on the delicate task of reopening without triggering a new wave of infections.

As US President Donald Trump came under increasing fire for ordering a freeze on American funding for the World Health Organization, the Group of 20 (G20) announced a one-year debt moratorium for the world's poorest nations.

The number of COVID-19 cases around the globe soared past two million, meanwhile, according to an AFP tally, and the death toll topped 131,000.

Germany was the largest of several European countries announcing tentative steps on Wednesday to reopen their economies and societies.

Denmark began reopening schools for younger children after a month-long closure and Finland lifted a two-week rail and road blockade on the Helsinki region.

Lithuania said it would allow smaller shops to reopen from Thursday.

Other countries are also tweaking confinement rules, with Iran set to let some small businesses reopen and India allowing millions of rural people to return to work.

In South Korea, people went to the polls on Wednesday and delivered a strong show of support for President Moon Jae-in, commending his handling of the epidemic.

Once home to the world's second-largest outbreak, South Korea has largely brought the virus under control through widespread testing, contact-tracing and social distancing. 

Yet a full-scale return to normality still appears a long way off in most other countries.

Harvard scientists have warned that repeated periods of social distancing could be needed as far ahead as 2022 to avoid overwhelming hospitals. 

Spanish Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez, who has allowed work to restart in some factories and building sites, warned that "nothing will be the same until a vaccine is found."

Belgium extended its stay-at-home order until at least May 3 and banned mass gatherings until the end of August.

'Extreme caution'

In Germany, Chancellor Angela Merkel announced first steps in undoing coronavirus restrictions that have plunged the economy into a recession.

Most shops will be allowed to open once they have "plans to maintain hygiene" although schools must stay closed until May 4 and a ban on large public events will remain in place until August 31.

"We have to proceed with extreme caution," Merkel told reporters in Berlin.

Schools will gradually be reopened with priority given to pupils about to take leaving examinations.

And the government urged people to wear face masks when out shopping or on public transport, but stopped short of making it a requirement like in neighbouring Austria.

Offering a lifeline for the world's poorest countries, the G20 -- a group of the world's leading economies -- said it would temporarily suspend debt repayments from the most impoverished nations. 

The reprieve will free up more than $20 billion for those countries to focus on the pandemic and will last at least a year, according to Saudi Finance Minister Mohammed Al-Jadaan.

But the global economic outlook remains gloomy, with Germany already in recession and US industrial output declining by 6.3 percent -- its biggest fall in seven decades.

More than a third of French workers are on temporary unemployment, the government said.

The virus death toll topped 17,000 in France but in a hopeful sign hospitalizations went down for the first time.

On the horizon looms the worst economic downturn in a century, which the IMF has said could see $9 trillion wiped from the global economy.


As the world tries to chart a way out of the crisis, Trump came in for criticism for his freeze on payments to the WHO, the UN's health agency.

"No doubt, areas for improvement will be identified and there will be lessons for all of us to learn," WHO chief Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said. 

UN chief Antonio Guterres condemned Trump's move while billionaire Bill Gates, a major WHO contributor, tweeted that cutting funding was "as dangerous as it sounds."

European allies were similarly disapproving and Washington's rivals also took aim -- Russia condemning the "selfish approach" of the US, and China and Iran blasting the decision. 

Trump accused the WHO on Tuesday of "severely mismanaging and covering up the spread of the coronavirus" and said it could have been contained if the organisation had accurately assessed the situation in China late last year.

As European nations made tentative moves to open up, in poorer and more densely populated countries, governments are still struggling to enforce restrictions on movement that are piling misery on the needy.

Fears over hunger and possible social unrest are especially acute in parts of Africa and Latin America.

In Cape Town, clashes erupted Tuesday as police fired rubber bullets and tear gas at residents protesting access to food aid.

A similar crisis is taking hold in Ecuador, where hunger trumps fear of the virus for residents in rundown areas of the badly affected city of Guayaquil. 

"The police come with a whip to send people running, but how do you say to a poor person 'Stay home' if you don't have enough to eat?" said Carlos Valencia, a 35-year-old teacher.

As It Happens
LATEST UPDATE: February 24, 2021 - 1:05pm

Follow this page for updates on a mysterious pneumonia outbreak that has struck dozens of people in China.

February 24, 2021 - 1:05pm

Fashionistas will have to log on to soak up the glamour at Milan Fashion Week, which remains online a year after the coronavirus first swept into northern Italy. 

No sharply dressed crowds will attend the extravaganza's opening on Wednesday: it's virtual catwalk shows only, with the likes of Armani and Prada presenting new women's collections for autumn and winter 2021-22. — AFP

February 23, 2021 - 11:31am

Movie theaters in New York City will partially reopen next month, Governor Andrew Cuomo announces, the latest easing of coronavirus restrictions in the Big Apple.

Cuomo says cinemas will be able to operate at 25% capacity, or up to 50 people per screen, from March 5 -- almost exactly a year since they shut. — AFP

February 21, 2021 - 5:39pm

The head of the World Health Organization on Sunday appeals to Tanzania to take "robust action" to combat COVID-19 in the country, where the president has long played down the virus.

President John Magufuli has claimed coronavirus has been has fended off by prayer in Tanzania, and refused to take measures to curb its spread. 

But a recent spate of deaths attributed to pneumonia has struck both members of the public and government officials.

And Magufuli on Friday appeared to admit the coronavirus was circulating in his country after months of denial.

WHO director general Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said a number of Tanzanians traveling to neighboring countries and beyond have tested positive for the coronavirus.

"This underscores the need for Tanzania to take robust action both to safeguard their own people and protect populations in these countries and beyond," he said in a statement.

Tedros said he had urged Tanzania in late January to take measures against the pandemic and to prepare for vaccinations.

"Since then I have spoken with several authorities in Tanzania but WHO is yet to receive any information regarding what measures Tanzania is taking to respond to the pandemic. — AFP

February 21, 2021 - 4:09pm

The Department of Health reports 1,888 new cases of the coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) on Sunday, February 21, bringing the number of total cases to 561,169.

Of the total caseload, 26,238 or 4.7% are still classified as active cases, or patients who have neither passed away nor recovered and are still in hospitals and quarantine facilities.

Read full story here

February 21, 2021 - 1:20pm

Health authorities report 18 more cases of the B.1.1.7 variant of the COVID-19 virus first detected in the UK, bringing the number of cases of the variant to 62.

According to a release, the Department of Health, UP-Philippine Genome Center and UP National Institutes of Health detected the cases in genome sequencing of 757 samples.

"The DOH, UP-PGC, and UP-NIH further report that an additional sample from Region 7 belonging to the last (6th) genome sequencing batch was found to have both N501Y and E484K mutations, while two among the 80 Region 7 samples sequenced in the 7th batch were also found to have both mutations, bringing the total to 34," DOH says.

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