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WHO defends coronavirus handling; UK toll rises: Live updates

WHO defends coronavirus handling; UK toll rises: Live updates

The head of the World Health Organization (WHO) has defended its handling of the coronavirus pandemic after US President Donald Trump accused the agency of being “China-centric” and threatened to cut funding.

Meanwhile, the United Kingdom on Wednesday recorded its highest daily death toll, at 938, bringing the number of total coronavirus-linked fatalities to 7,097.

More:

While Spain reported another 757 deaths over the past 24 hours, Wuhan began allowing people to leave for the first time since the central Chinese city was sealed off 76 days ago to contain the coronavirus that first emerged there late last year.

Here are the latest updates.

Wednesday, April 8

18:00 GMT – Gazans fear covonavirus outbreak will be their breaking point

People in Gaza voice concern that a shortage of critical equipment and medical supplies could set off a rapid spread amongst the enclave’s two million people.

The impoverished coastal strip has for years been under a blockade led by neighbouring Israel.

17:40 GMT – Bangladesh: Cox’s Bazar under lockdown over coronavirus fear

Bangladesh has imposed a lockdown in a southern district that hosts more than a million Rohingya in an attempt to prevent the spread of the coronavirus in the crowded refugee camps.

“Entry and exit from Cox’s Bazar district is prohibited from now on,” Kamal Hossain, chief of the district administration, said in a statement on Wednesday, after the country reported 218 cases of coronavirus and 20 deaths.

Read more here.

Rohingya camp, Bangladesh

Banglades has so far reported 218 cases of coronavirus and 20 deaths [Suzauddin Rubel/AFP]  

17:35 GMT – Dubai suspends marriages, divorces to curb spread of coronavirus

Marriages and divorces in Dubai have been suspended “until further notice” as a result of the coronavirus.

The move, announced by the justice department on Wednesday, is among “measures to prevent the spread of the pandemic” rolled out in the Gulf emirate, which has reported 2,659 infections and 12 deaths.

Read more here.

17:30 GMT – Comparing COVID-19, SARS and MERS

The pandemic of COVID-19 is not the first time an international health crisis occurred due to the spread of a novel coronavirus or other zoonotic (animal-originated) viruses.

Here is a comparison of the information and data we have on COVID-19, the disease caused by the new coronavirus, with similar recent coronavirus-related diseases.

INTERACTIVE: Coronavirus outbreaks April 8 2020

17:25 GMT – Ethiopia declares state of emergency to fight COVID-19

Ethiopia has declared a state of emergency in the country to help curb the spread of the coronavirus pandemic.

Home to some 110 million people, Ethiopia has recorded 55 coronavirus cases and two deaths to date.

Read more here.

An Ethiopian health worker stands at a testing station amid concerns about the spread of coronavirus disease (COVID-19) in Addis Ababa

An Ethiopian health worker stands at a coronavirus testing station in Addis Ababa [Giulia Paravicini/Reuters] 

17:13 GMT – Italy considers how to move on after coronavirus peak

Nearly a month after a nationwide lockdown was implemented to prevent the spread of the virus that was ravaging through Italy’s north, there are government discussions and public debate about moving to “phase two”.

This will be a period during which citizens will have to learn to live with the virus.

Read more here.

Fifth week of lockdown to combat the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) in Italy

More people have died of coronavirus in Italy than any other country [Jennifer Lorenzini/Reuters]

16:50 GMT – Dow opens up 300 points on hopes crisis nearing peak

The major United States stock market index opened higher on Wednesday on hopes that the coronavirus outbreak is nearing its peak in the US, and growing expectations that Congress will push through hundreds of billions of dollars more in emergency support for the battered economy.

The Dow Jones Industrial Average climbed 321 points or 1.43 percent to 22,812.00 in the early minutes of trading in New York. The S&P 500 index – a gauge for the performance of US retirement and college savings plans – jumped 1.41 percent higher while the Nasdaq Composite Index traded 1.32 percent higher.

Read more here.

16:46 GMT – WHO’s Tedros defends pandemic handling

WHO Director General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesu defended his agency’s handling of the COVID-19 pandemic, in response to a question about Trump’s criticism and suggestion that Washington could review funding.

“So my advice, three things,” Tedros told reporters in Geneva. “Please, unity at national level, no using COVID for political points. Second, honest solidarity at the global level. And honest leadership from the US and China.”

He also urged leaders not to “politicise” the virus.

16:14 GMT – British coronavirus death toll up 938

The UK coronavirus death toll rose by 938 to 7,097 people as of 16:00 GMT on April 7, the health ministry said.

As of 08:00 GMT on April 8, a total of 232,708 had been tested, of which 60,733 tested positive.

16:10 GMT – Lebanon launches aid measures with cash payments

Lebanon’s Social Affairs Ministry announced it is launching an aid programme for those most in need as the country’s worst economic crisis in a generation is exacerbated by a nationwide lockdown to stem the spread of coronavirus.

In its first phase, the 75 billion Lebanese pound programme aims to provide one-time cash assistance of 400,000 Lebanese pounds ($140 at current parallel market exchange rates) to about 187,500 families, according to Jad Haidar, an adviser to Social Affairs Minister Ramzi Moucharafieh.

Read Timour Azhari’s story from Beirut here.

The Listening Post: The geopolitical battle for the COVID-19 narrative

16:05 GMT – French PM: Too soon to lift lockdown

France’s lockdown, in place for more than three weeks, has helped contain the spread of the new coronavirus but the time to lift the restrictions has not yet come, Prime Minister Edouard Philippe said.

Philippe told parliament the lockdown would “last”, again suggesting it may be extended beyond its current April 15 end date. COVID-19 has killed more than 10,000 people in France.

“The expansion (of the disease) is slowing so much that we might soon reach a flattening of the curve (…) and that’s most certainly due to the lockdown’s effect”, he said, but added:

“The time to unwind the lockdown has not come. We must see to it people comply with it.”

15:50 GMT – Trump says he did not see Navarro memos

US President Donald Trump says he did not see memos by White House trade advisor Peter Navarro warning of coronavirus risks.

Navarro, a China hawk, sent a memo in late January warning the new coronavirus could create a pandemic and urged a travel ban for China, the New York Times reported.

A second memo, written in late February and sent to the president, said it could kill up to two million Americans.

15:15 GMT – South African minister disciplined for ‘lockdown lunch’

South African President Cyril Ramaphosa put the communications minister on “special leave” for two months, one of which will be unpaid, for breaking the rules of a countrywide lockdown and having lunch with a former official.

Ramaphosa acted after a picture of Minister Stella Ndabeni-Abrahams at the lunch emerged on social media, angering South Africans confined to their homes during the 21-day lockdown that started on March 27 to rein in the coronavirus outbreak.

According to the rules, people are only allowed to leave their homes for essential tasks like buying food or seeking medical help. Police arrested more than 17,000 people during the first few days of the lockdown, many for violating the lockdown.

Newly appointed Minister of Communications and Telecommunications Stella Ndabeni-Abrahams (R) is sworn in by Chief Justice Mogoeng Mogoeng at Sefako Makgato Presidential Guesthouse on May 30, 2019 in Minister Stella Ndabeni-Abrahams had lunch with a former official, breaching the lockdown rules [AFP] 

14:35 GMT – Indian Supreme Court urges free coronavirus testing 

India’s Supreme Court has ordered private medical laboratories across the country not to charge patients for testing for COVID-19.

According to national media. the court said that tests relating to COVID-19 whether in approved government laboratories or approved private laboratories shall be free of cost.

The court also said that the issue of whether the health institutions will be reimbursed by the government will be decided later.

14:35 GMT – Amid lockdown, South Africa’s waste pickers suffer most

South Africans have been prohibited from working in the streets due to a three-week lockdown imposed by the government on March 27 to curb the spread of the coronavirus pandemic.

The measure has confined South Africans to their homes and allowed only for certain work deemed essential services to continue.

While waste management was declared an essential service, the informal recycling sector was not. And South Africa’s waste pickers suffer because of the measure.

Read the story by Jamaine Krige and Yeshiel Panchia from Johannesburg here.

Coronavirus South Africa

South Africans have been under lockdown imposed since March 27 [Yeshiel Panchia/Al Jazeera] 

14:15 GMT – Turkey to track citizens via mobile phones to enforce quarantines

Turkey will monitor the mobile phones of those diagnosed with the new coronavirus to ensure they do not break quarantine, authorities said on Wednesday, marking the latest measure to stem an outbreak that has surged over the last month.

Turkey will start tracking citizens and send them a message and call them each time they leave their homes, the presidency’s Communications Directorate said.

They will be asked to return home and police will penalise those who continue to violate quarantine rules, it said, adding that Turkish law allows for processing of personal data without consent for “exceptional aims”.

14:00 GMT – Australia approves massive stimulus package

Australia’s conservative government will subsidise the wages of six million people for at least the next six months after MPs approved the country’s largest financial stimulus package to cushion the economic blow from the coronavirus pandemic.

Citing the threat of a prolonged economic downturn, Prime Minister Scott Morrison’s government late last month outlined a plan to pay employees at any company that has seen a 30 percent reduction in revenues 1,500 Australian dollars ($928) every fortnight.

The wage subsidy package, which is expected to cost 130 billion Australian dollars, is the centrepiece of 320 billion Australian dollars pledged by the government and central bank in financial support as the pandemic shuts companies and leaves many unemployed.

12:30 GMT – Egypt extends nationwide nighttime curfew

Egypt will extend a nationwide nighttime curfew by 15 days until April 23 to counter the coronavirus spread, Prime Minister Mostafa Madbouly has said.

Airports will also stay closed, he said in a televised news conference, adding that the curfew would now start one hour later at 8pm local time each evening.

Egypt also confirmed a further nine deaths from coronavirus, raising the death toll to 94 and bringing the total number of infected cases to 1,450.

12:15 GMT – EU science chief resigns over virus response

The head of the European Research Council has resigned, the EU confirmed, reportedly in protest at the bloc’s handling of its coronavirus response.

Mauro Ferrari, who only took over as president of the ERC in January, told the Financial Times he was “extremely disappointed” by the EU’s response to the pandemic, which has hit Italy and Spain particularly hard. 

A spokesman for the European Commission, the bloc’s executive that oversees the ERC, confirmed Ferrari had resigned with immediate effect on Tuesday.

“The Commission regrets the resignation of Professor Ferrari at this early stage in his mandate, and at these times of unprecedented crisis in which the role of EU research is key,” the spokesman said in a statement.

12:00 GMT – Iran says coronavirus deaths near 4,000

A medical aid worker sets up and installs a bed at a shopping mall, to receive patients suffering from the coronavirus disease (COVID-19), in Tehran

A medical aid worker sets up and installs a bed at a shopping mall, one of Iran’s largest, which has been turned into a centre to receive patients suffering from the coronavirus disease in Tehran [Ali Khara/WANA via Reuters]

Iran’s new coronavirus death toll has climbed to 3,993 with 121 more deaths in the past 24 hours, a health ministry spokesman told state TV, adding that the total number of infections in the country has risen to 64,586.

“We had 1,997 new infected cases in the past 24 hours …. there are 3,956 infected people in critical conditions,” spokesman Kianush Jahanpur added.

11:46 GMT – Czech coronavirus cases top 5,000 but growth slows

The number of cases of the new coronavirus in the Czech Republic has risen past 5,000, although a slower growth rate allowed the health minister Adam Vojtech to say he was confident the state had prevented an uncontrolled spread as it starts easing lockdown measures.

“We can get ready for a gradual controlled return to normal life,” Vojtech told reporters.

“We are certainly past the worst. At the same time, we have succeeded in protecting hospitals and intensive care units which still have reserves.”

Czech officials reported 195 new cases on Tuesday, down from a peak of 375 on March 27.

11:33 GMT – Tokyo sees biggest daily jump in infections

Less than usual pedestrians cross the Shibuya crossing after the government announced the state of emergency for the capital following the coronavirus disease outbreak in Tokyo, Japan

Less than usual pedestrians cross the Shibuya crossing after the government announced the state of emergency for the capital following the coronavirus disease outbreak in Tokyo [Issei Kato/Reuters]

Tokyo has recorded 144 coronavirus infections on Wednesday, its biggest daily jump since the start of the pandemic, the city’s governor Yuriko Koike said, on the first day of a state of emergency aimed at containing the outbreak.

Total infections in the Japanese capital stand at 1,339, said Koike, a rise that helped carry the nationwide tally to 4,768, according to an evening report by public broadcaster NHK.

Deaths in Japan as of Wednesday morning stood at 98, said the NHK.

The number of infections is still far smaller than in many European countries and the United States, but a steady rise in some areas prompted Prime Minister Shinzo Abe to declare the emergency in Tokyo, Osaka and five other hard-hit prefectures.

11:00 GMT – Swiss coronavirus death toll goes past 700, positive tests near 23,000

The Swiss death toll from the coronavirus has reached 705 people, the country’s public health ministry said on Wednesday, rising from 641 people on Tuesday.

The number of positive tests for the disease also increased to 22,789 from 22,242 on Tuesday, it said.

10:45 GMT – WHO Europe says ‘now is not the time to relax measures

The World Health Organization’s European office has said despite seeing “positive signs” from some countries, it was too early to scale back measures aimed at containing the spread of the new coronavirus.

“Now is not the time to relax measures. It is the time to once again double and triple our collective efforts to drive towards suppression with the whole support of society,” WHO regional director for Europe, Hans Kluge, told a news conference on Wednesday.

More:

10:30 GMT – Belarus coronavirus cases pass 1,000, no new deaths

Coronavirus precautions in Minsk

A general view of Nemiga Street is seen amid coronavirus pandemic precautions in Minsk, Belarus [Anadolu Agency]

The number of coronavirus cases in Belarus topped 1,000 on Wednesday, the health ministry said, reporting 205 new infections, a record daily rise.

The total number of cases rose to 1,066, but there was no change in the number of deaths, which remained at 13. Belarus has not closed its borders, introduced quarantine measures or asked people to follow social distancing guidelines.

President Alexander Lukashenko has called the coronavirus a “psychosis” that can be fought with vodka, saunas and driving tractors, but some of his citizens are taking matters into their own hands to protect themselves.

10:10 GMT – Ethiopia declares state of emergency to curb spread of COVID-19

Ethiopian Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed has declared a state of emergency in the country to help curb the spread of the new coronavirus.

“Considering the gravity of the #COVID19, the government of Ethiopia has enacted a State of Emergency,” Abiy’s office said on Twitter on Wednesday.

Africa’s second most populous nation at more than 110 million, Ethiopia has recorded 52 cases of COVID-19, the disease caused by the novel coronavirus, and two deaths.

Authorities have already taken a series of measures to stem the spread including closing schools, banning public gatherings and requiring most employees to work from home.

The prime minister did not mention what additional steps would be taken under the state of emergency.

10:00 GMT – EU ministers fail to agree virus economic rescue in lengthy talks

European Union finance ministers have failed to agree in all-night talks on more support for their coronavirus-hit economies, and their chairman said on Wednesday morning he was suspending the discussions until Thursday.

Diplomatic sources and officials said a feud between Italy and the Netherlands over what conditions should be attached toeurozone credit for governments fighting the pandemic was blocking progress on half a trillioneuros worth of aid.

“After 16 hours of discussions we came close to a deal but we are not there yet,”Eurogroup chairman Mario Centeno said. “I suspended theEurogroup and (we will) continue tomorrow.”

Read more here.

09:45 GMT – Malaysia reports 156 new coronavirus cases with 2 new deaths

Malaysian health authorities have reported 156 new cases of the coronavirus infection, pushing the cumulative total to 4,119 cases as Southeast Asia’s third-largest economy continues to grapple with the highest rate of infection in the region.

The health ministry also reported two new deaths, including one Pakistani national who had attended a mass religious gathering that was the source of over 1,000 infections in the country.

The ministry said 65 people have died so far after contracting coronavirus.

09:30 GMT – Poland confirms 5,000 cases of coronavirus

Outbreak of the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) in Gdynia

Women applaud on their balconies as they join the action to appreciate all healthcare professionals, during the outbreak of the coronavirus disease in Gdynia, Poland [Matej Leskovsek/Reuters]

The number of patients infected with the novel coronavirus in Poland has reached the 5,000 mark, the country’s health ministry said.

As of Wednesday morning, the country had recorded exactly 5,000 confirmed cases of infection with COVID-19, with 136 fatalities in total.

Tuesday marked the largest daily increase in fatalities – at 22 – and the second-largest daily increase in total cases of the coronavirus at 435. Poland has so far tested nearly 100,000 people.

For almost four weeks now, public life in Poland has been drastically restricted by measures put in place to slow the spread of the novel coronavirus. Schools and restaurants are closed and all gatherings of more than two people are banned.

09:10 GMT – Indonesia reports 218 new coronavirus infections, taking total to 2,956

Indonesia has confirmed 218 new coronavirus infections, taking the total in the Southeast Asian country to 2,956, health ministry official Achmad Yurianto said.

He reported 19 new coronavirus deaths, taking the total to 240, while 222 people have recovered.

08:45 GMT – Israel coronavirus cases top 9,400, death toll at 71

The number of coronavirus cases in Israel now tops 9,400 and the death toll stands at 71, the country’s health ministry said.

Six people died and 156 more tested positive for COVID-19, raising the total number of cases to 9,404.

The ministry said 147 of the patients are in a critical condition, while 801 have recovered so far.

On late Tuesday, Israel imposed a lockdown through Friday to mark the Jewish Passover holiday.

08:30 GMT – Philippines reports five new deaths, 106 more coronavirus cases

A woman wearing a protective face mask reads the Bible in a gymnasium which turned into a shelter for the homeless following the enforcement of a community quarantine in Manila

A woman wearing a protective mask reads the Bible in a gymnasium transformed into a homeless shelter following the enforcement of a community quarantine in the Philippines’ main island of Luzon to contain the coronavirus disease in Manila. [File: Eloisa Lopez/Reuters]

The Philippines’ health ministry said the coronavirus outbreak has killed another five people, with 106 additional infections.

In a bulletin, the health ministry said the total number of deaths has risen to 182 while infections have increased to 3,870. Twelve patients recovered on Wednesday, bringing the total to 96, it added.

08:15 GMT – Iran’s Rouhani urges IMF to give Tehran its requested loan amid coronavirus

Iran’s President Hassan Rouhani has urged the International Monetary Fund to give the country the $5bn it requested in emergency funding to help Tehran fight the coronavirus outbreak.

“I urge international organisations to fulfill their duties … we are a member of the IMF … There should be no discrimination in giving loans,” Rouhani said in a televised cabinet meeting.

On March 12, Iran announced it had requested the loan from the IMF to help fight what was then one of the world’s deadliest COVID-19 outbreaks.

Iran has not received assistance from the IMF since a “standby credit” issued between 1960 and 1962, according to IMF figures.

Rouhani also criticised US sanctions on Iran as “economic and medical terrorism”.

08:00 GMT – Russia reports record 1,175 daily rise in new coronavirus cases

Coronavirus cases increase in Moscow

Health officials wearing protective suits transport a patient, who shows coronavirus symptoms, to Kommunarka Hospital, as the spread of the virus continues rapidly amid precautions by the government in Moscow. [Anadolu Agency]

The number of coronavirus cases in Russia rose by more than 1,000 for the second day running, taking the total to 8,672, the crisis response centre said on Wednesday.

The number of reported cases rose by 1,175, a record daily increase, while deaths increased by five to 63, the centre said.

More:

07:45 GMT – UK PM spends second night in intensive care fighting coronavirus

British Prime Minister Boris Johnson has spent a second night in intensive care and was in a stable condition after receiving oxygen support for COVID-19 complications.

Johnson, who tested positive nearly two weeks ago, was taken to St Thomas’ hospital on Sunday evening as he had a persistent high temperature and cough but his condition deteriorated on Monday and he was transferred to an intensive care unit.

The 55-year-old British leader received oxygen support but was not put on a ventilator and his designated deputy, Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab, said he would soon be back at the helm as the world faces one of the gravest public health crises in a century.

Read more here.

07:30 GMT – Myanmar confirms third death from coronavirus

Concerns COVID-19 Cases Are Going Unreported In Southeast Asia

Burmese people shop for masks in a shop on March 03, 2020 in Yangon, Myanmar. [File: Paula Bronstein/Getty Images]

Two more people have died in Myanmar after contracting the coronavirus, bringing the total to three, Myanmar’s health authorities said.

A 63-year old woman died of cardiogenic shock with sepsis, severe pneumonia, and cytokine storms associated with the COVID-19 disease, along with a 47-year old man who died of respiratory failure with septicaemia due to the virus, Myanmar’s Health and Sports Ministry confirmed.

The country reported its first death from the virus on March 31.

As of Wednesday, the ministry has confirmed 22 cases of coronavirus.

07:18 GMT – Virus may spark ‘devastating’ global condom shortage

A global condom shortage is looming as the coronavirus pandemic shutters factories and disrupts supply chains, the world’s top maker of the contraceptives said, with the United Nations warning of “devastating” consequences.

Malaysia – one of the world’s top rubber producers and a major source of condoms – imposed a nationwide lockdown last month as infections surged to the highest level in Southeast Asia.

But restrictions on the operations of Malaysian contraceptive giant Karex, which makes one in every five condoms globally, mean the firm expects to produce 200 million fewer condoms than usual from mid-March to mid-April.

“The world will definitely see a condom shortage,” said Karex Chief Executive Goh Miah Kiat. “It’s challenging, but we are trying our best right now to do whatever we can. It is definitely a major concern – condom is an essential medical device.”

06:15 GMT – Pakistan to increase COVID-19testing capacity

Outbreak of the coronavirus disease (COVID-19), in Karachi

A health worker wearing a protective suit takes a nose-swab from a woman at the drive-through screening and testing facility for COVID-19, in Karachi, Pakistan. [Akhtar Soomro/Reuters]

Pakistan’s government says it plans on quadrupling its daily COVID-19 testing capacity to at least 25,000 tests a day by the end of April, addressing a key concern in a country where analysts fear the numbers of coronavirus infections are being under-reported due to a lack of testing capacity.

Planning Minister Asad Umar said the government would also increase its supply of personal protective equipment to doctors from April 9, with equipment to be provided directly to hospitals rather than through provincial governments.

As ofWednesday morning, Pakistan had 3,546 activecases of coronavirus being treated countrywide, with at least 57 fatalities and 458 patients recovered since the outbreak began in late February, according to government data.

05:55 GMT – Twitter’s Dorsey sets up $1bn fund

Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey is setting aside $1bn in stock to establish a philanthropic venture focused initially on global relief efforts for the COVID-19 pandemic.

Dorsey announced the new venture, called Start Small, in a series of tweets, and said the contribution amounts to 28 percent of his fortune. The organisation will disclose all transfers, sales and grants on a public Google Doc spreadsheet.

Start Small will not be limited to COVID-19 work. “Once we have disarmed this pandemic,” he wrote, the organisation will shift its focus to girls’ health and research into universal basic income, the idea that governments should guarantee a minimum income for all citizens.

Good morning. This is Linah Alsaafin taking over from my colleague Kate Mayberry.

05:30 GMT

I will shortly be handing over the blog to my colleagues in Doha.

A brief summary of the morning’s developments:

  • The number of confirmed cases of coronavirus across the world is now more than 1.4 million with 82,133 deaths, according to Johns Hopkins University, which is tracking the numbers.
  • US President Donald Trump has criticised the WHO over its response to the coronavirus outbreak.
  • A ban on travel from the Chinese city of Wuhan, where the virus first emerged late last year, has finally been lifted. About 65,000 people took the chance to leave as the ban was removed.
  • And New Zealand is expressing cautious optimism that it might be slowing the spread of the virus.

05:25 GMT – Amnesty calls on Philippines to investigate curfew abuse

Amnesty International is calling on the Philippines to investigate alleged abuses by local officials against thoseaccused of breaching curfews after three LGBTQI people were forced to perform humiliating acts as a punishment.

The acts were recorded and shared to social media, Amnesty said.

“These abusive practices should not be swept under the rug by local authorities under the pretense of ‘implementing curfews’ and ‘just following orders’,” Amnesty International Philippines Executive Director Butch Olano said in a statement.

Local officials have been found detaining curfew violators, including children, in dog cages, while in another area a police officer beat up residents for breaching the restrictions.

04:50 GMT – Thailand, Germany report new cases

Thailand and Germany have just given their latest updates on the coronavirus in their countries.

Thailand reported three more deaths – men from India, Russia and the United States. Some 30 people have now died from the virus in the Southeast Asian nation. It has a total of 2,369 confirmed cases.

In Germany, there were 254 more deaths bringing the total to 1,861. The total number of confirmed cases meanwhile rose to 103,228.

04:25 GMT – New Zealand expresses cautious optimism after cases slow

New Zealand’s Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern has said she is cautiously optimistic about slowing the spread of the novel coronavirus after the country reported the lowest number of new daily cases in two weeks.

“We may yet see bumps along the way but I remain cautiously optimistic that we are starting to turn a corner,” Ardern told a news briefing in Wellington.

New Zealand

New Zealand’s streets emptied at the end of March after an unprecedented 28-day shutdown was imposed; Prime Minister Ardern said on Wednesday she was cautiously optimistic the spread of the disease was slowing [Mark Baker/AP Photo]

New Zealand imposed a national lockdown in late March. Itreported 50 new cases on Wednesday from 54 on Tuesday and 67 on Monday, bringing the total to 1,210. One person has died.

Ardern said there were no plans to relax the restrictions during this week’s long Easter weekend.

04:10 GMT – MPs in Southeast Asia warn of ‘authoritarian turn’

A group of parliamentarians in Southeast Asia is warning regional governments against using the outbreak as an excuse to assert their power,crackdowns on critics and undermining institutions.

In a statement, the Asean Parliamentarians for Human Rights noted that the Philippines and Thailand had declared states of emergency while Cambodia was expected to do so soon.

Malaysian parliamentarian Charles Santiago, who chairs the group, said attempts to grab more power were “appalling”.

“While these are extraordinary times that may require extraordinary measures, we must guard against the authoritarian turn of some governments’ responses to COVID-19 or the next casualty could be our rights and democracies,” he said.

03:50 GMT – Trump claims WHO ‘missed the call’ on coronavirus

US President Donald Trumpclaims the WHO”missed the call” on the coronavirus pandemic, was “very China-centric” in its approach, and had gone along with Beijing’s efforts months ago to minimise the severity of the outbreak.

You can find out more here.

03:05 GMT – China investigates party member critical of Xi over outbreak

A prominent Communist party member who criticised Chinese leader Xi Jinping’s handling of the coronavirus outbreak is being investigated on suspicion of a “severe violation of discipline and law,” a joint government-party watchdog said according to The Associated Press news agency.

Ren Zhiqiang is a former head of state-run real estate conglomerate Huayuan Group and a party member who has become known for being willing to speak out on sensitive topics.

Ren has not been seen since mid-March after the publication online of an essay criticising the government’s handling of the coronavirus.

A one-sentence notice issued on Tuesday by the party-government joint disciplinary watchdog body in Beijing’s western district said Ren was undergoing a “review and monitoring investigation” but gave no details and did not mention Ren’s article or previous statements.

The article has since deleted by China’s censors, AP said.

02:05 GMT – Hong Kong extends social distancing restrictions to April 23

Hong Kong is extending social-distancing restrictions, including a ban on public gatherings of more than four people, until April 23.

The measures also include the closure of some bars, as well as cinemas, gyms, nightclubs, karaoke lounges, massage parlours and mahjong clubs. Beauty salons and massage parlours have also been added to the list.

Hong Kong

Hong Kong’s once lively entertainment district of Lan Kwai Fong is now quiet as a result of the social distancing restrictions [Jerome Favre/EPA]

The territory has reported 936 cases of coronavirus with four deaths, and has also tightened quarantine requirements for people arriving from overseas.

01:30 GMT – China reports jump in confirmed cases of coronavirus from overseas

China’s National Health Commission has reported 62 new confirmed cases of the new coronavirus, nearly all of them in people returning from overseas.

The mainland’s imported cases stood at 1,042 as of Tuesday, 59 more than a day earlier, according to the health authority.

That brings the total number of confirmed cases to 81,802 so far.

00:10 GMT – Wuhan travel ban lifted after two-month shutdown

A ban on travel from Wuhan, the Chinese city where the coronavirus first emerged late last year, has been lifted with the first trains leaving the city early on Wednesday morning.

The city has been in strict quarantine since the end of January as part of a series of measures to try and curb the spread of the virus.

China Wuhan

A policeman stands beside a high-speed train – the first to leave Wuhan’s Hankou Railway Station in two months [Aly Song/Reuters]

23:00 GMT – Uruguay approves flight to evacuate passengers from cruise ship

Uruguay has authorised a humanitarian flight to evacuate some passengers from a cruise ship where nearly 60 percent of the 217 people on board have tested positive for coronavirus.

The Australian-owned Greg Mortimer was supposed to be on a cruise to the Antarctic, but coronavirus emerged shortly after it left Ushuaia, in the far south of Argentina on March 14.

The cruise ship’s owner, Aurora Expeditions, has “contracted a medical plane … to repatriate the Australian and New Zealander passengers,” Uruguay’s foreign ministry said, adding that the plane had been given permission to arrive on Thursday.

Foreign Minister Ernesto Talvi said on Twitter that an agreement had been reached through “intense conversations and very close cooperation with the Australian government.”

I’m Kate Mayberry in Kuala Lumpur with Al Jazeera’s continuing coverage of the coronavirus pandemic.

Read all the updates from yesterday (April 7) here.

aljazeera

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