Coronavirus latest: EU waives taxes on imported medical supplies | News | DW
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Coronavirus latest: EU waives taxes on imported medical supplies | News | DW

  • Global death toll exceeds 52,500 as the number of infections passes 1 million  
  • Germany has now recorded 1,107 coronavirus deaths
  • The death toll in Spain has risen by over 900 for a second straight day
  • The Communist Party boss in China’s Wuhan says the risk of the virus resurgence in the city still high

Updates in Universal Coordinated Time (UTC/GMT)

12:50 Over 700,000 people in the United States lost their jobs in March due the coronavirus outbreak, US Labor Department said on Friday. The US unemployment rate has now hit 4.4% compared to 3.5% before the pandemic. In their Friday report, US officials said they “cannot precisely quantify the effects of the pandemic on the job market in March.” The latest figures rely on surveys done before the crisis escalated in the past two weeks.

Many experts believe, however, that far more jobs have been lost in the meantime, possibly putting the unemployment rate near 10%.

12:40 The European Commission has approved requests from member countries and Britain to temporarily waive customs duties and sales tax on imported medical devices and protective equipment.

Exempted items include face masks, testing kits and ventilators. The exemption will apply for a period of six months, with a possibility for further extension. The policy takes effect retroactively from January 30.

“By waiving customs and VAT duties on imports of these products from outside the EU, the European Commission will help make those products more accessible,” Paolo Gentiloni, the EU commissioner for the economy, said in a statement.

12:35 After a teleconference meeting with his EU counterparts, German Foreign Minister Heiko Maas said the bloc will do more to combat disinformation about coronavirus.

Maas also said ministers agreed to do more to tackle the spread of the virus in Balkan nations.

12:20 Participation in an online register for free intensive care beds in Germany is to be made obligatory for hospitals. Registration had been voluntary so far.

German Health Minister Jens Spahn said the measure would allow for nationwide oversight of which hospitals have spare capacity. About a third of Germany’s medical facilities are currently registered.

12:00 UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson has said he will maintain isolation, as he still has a temperature. The British leader tested positive for COV-19 on March 27. He has spent the past seven days in isolation, in keeping with British health recommendations.

11:50 The People’s Bank of China, the nation’s central bank, has said it would slash reserve requirements for smaller banks, releasing around 400 billion yuan ($56.3 billion; €52.2 billion) in liquidity. The freed-up money is aimed at helped ease the impact of the coronavirus on its economy. The bank also said it would cut the interest it pays on excess reserves for the first time in 12 years, so as to encourage institutions to spend rather than store funds with the PBC. 

China, the world’s second-largest economy, is expected to see its economic growth to a three-decade record low of 2.3% this year, following 6.1% growth in 2019, the Asian Development Bank said earlier on Friday.

11:40 The number of COVID-19 cases in Switzerland has risen to 19,303, the country’s office of public health has reported, an increase of more than 1,000 from the previous day. The total number of deaths from the disease has risen to 484.

Swiss authorities also canceled the Tour de Suisse cycling race set for June, marking the event’s first cancellation since World War II.

11:20 Indian police have quarantined part the Dharavi neighborhood, one of Asia’s biggest slums, in Mumbai following two coronavirus deaths in the area. Authorities have set up eight “containment zones” in the area, which is home to up to 8 million people. No one is allowed to exit or enter. 

“We have home-quarantined people from these buildings and cordoned off the area so people can’t enter them, and enforced social distancing,” Vijay Khabale-Patil, spokesman of Mumbai’s city authority, said. “We sprayed hydrochloric acid to disinfect these buildings and nearby areas as well.”

India’s population of 1.3 billion is currently on a nationwide lockdown. The measures have left tens of millions jobless and struggling access daily food. 

India has recorded 2,567 cases, but officials fear the virus could explode in densely packed cities, where sanitation is poor and water can be scare.

10:55 Prince Charles has opened a 4,000-bed field hospital in London built to treat coronavirus patients. With 80 wards, the NHS Nightingale hospital is now the world’s largest critical care unit. The temporary facility was built at a convention center in the UK capital in just nine days.

British ministers say the unit will need 16,000 staff if it reaches full capacity. Charles made a short speech by video link from his Scottish home calling the new facility “a spectacular and almost unbelievable feat of work.” The heir to the British throne was until this week in self-isolation after testing positive for the virus.

Similar field hospitals are being set up in other UK cities including Cardiff, Belfast and Glasgow to cope with an expected surge in seriously ill patients.

10:40 German Interior Minister Horst Seehofer wants to tighten land border controls with Poland, Czechia, Belgium and the Netherlands. German news magazine Der Spiegel reports that the cabinet is due to discuss the new proposals on Monday which would allow only those with good reasons, such as cross-border workers, to enter. Similar restrictions are already in place for arrivals from Austria, France, Switzerland, Luxembourg and Denmark. According to the report, the new rules would oblige air passengers arriving in Germany to go into quarantine.

Read more: Coronavirus: EU internal borders could stay shut

10:35 Google says it will publish users’ location data to allow governments around the world to gauge the effectiveness of social distancing measures. From Friday, reports on users’ movements in 131 countries will available on a special website.

According to a post on one of the tech giant’s blogs, Google Trends will display “a percentage point increase or decrease in visits” to locations like parks, shops, homes and places of work, not “the absolute number of visits.”

Despite privacy concerns, several governments have ordered electronic monitoring of their citizens’ movements to limit the spread of the virus.

Read more: Will Germans trade privacy for coronavirus protection?

10:30 Russia says it is sending 11 military planes to Serbia carrying medical equipment to help in the fight against COVID-19. The Russian Defense Ministry said the aid commitment to the Balkan country includes medical teams and military specialists. Last month, Russia also sent coronavirus-related aid to Italy and the United States.

Serbia, which declared a state of emergency to halt the spread of the coronavirus in mid-March, currently has 1,171 confirmed cases and 31 deaths.

10:15 The regional government in Bavaria has announced that Germany’s largest study on the coronavirus will be rolled out in the southern state starting Sunday. Researchers will randomly select around 3,000 households to conduct coronavirus tests. The study attempts to create a representational picture of how extensively the virus has already spread. 

Experts worldwide have warned that current confirmed infection numbers are drastically lower than reality, as testing is limited and varies from place to place, meaning many COVID-19 cases go undetected. The study will deliver initial results in a matter of days, State Premier Markus Söder said, adding that the project will last one year.

09:55 The total number of coronavirus infections in Spain has surpassed Italy. As of Friday morning, 117,710 people had tested positive for COVID-19 in Spain, the health ministry said. Italy currently has 115,242 reported cases. 

The death toll in Spain rose by more than 900 for a second day in a row, with 932 fatalities over the past 24 hours. A total of 10,935 individuals in Spain have died from the disease. A total of 6,416 patients remain in intensive care, while over 30,000 have overcome the infection. 

The community of Madrid remains the area most affected by the outbreak, with over 34,000 cases. Spain has the highest number of coronavirus fatalities in the world after Italy. The country has been under an ongoing nationwide lockdown for three weeks.

09:45 German government spokesman Steffen Seibert has confirmed that Chancellor Angela Merkel is back at work in the Chancellery. Merkel had been under a two-week quarantine at home following a meeting with an infected doctor.

“Thankfully the chancellor tested negative for the coronavirus several times,” Seibert said.

Read more: What happens if Angela Merkel can’t work?

09:40 In the fight against the coronavirus, the Norwegian government has ordered the emergency shutdown of schools and kindergartens and many public and private institutions, triggering hundreds of layoffs and stunting the economy. The oil-producing Scandinavian nation has also suffered from the plummeting price of crude.

09:20 A Nigerian man has been shot dead for allegedly flouting a stay-at-home order aimed at curbing the coronavirus spread, Nigerian officials have said. According to the officials, a resident of the city of Warri, in the southern Delta state, was killed by a soldier tasked with enforcing a citywide lockdown. The incident also involved youths protesting and lighting fires in the street, police said. 

Lawmakers have called for an investigation into the killing and punishment of the perpetrator. Nigeria has seen 184 infections and two fatalities.

09:05 Bavarian State Premier Markus Söder has called on Germans to “hold strong” in the fight against coronavirus, as infections continue to climb, though at a slower rate.

“The trend is positive, the curve is flattening, the restrictive measures are being to show results,” the conservative politician said in Munich, while cautioning it was too early to reverse restrictive measures. “The numbers continue to grow,” he said, adding: “Holding strong will pay off.”

Bavaria has instituted some of the strongest restrictions in Germany to stem to spread of the virus, going beyond the nationwide social distancing measures to include a lockdown set to last through Easter. 

With 20,237 infections, Bavaria has the greatest number of confirmed COVID-19 cases among Germany’s 16 states.

08:55 As fear, coronavirus infections and lockdowns move around the world, we asked some of DW’s network of correspondents to give us an insight into how everyday life is changing. Here’s what they found out: 

08:45 A hospital in the western German city of Bonn where coronavirus patients were being treated had to be evacuated on Thursday after a World War II bomb was discovered on the facility grounds. The bomb was defused on Thursday afternoon. The 11 patients being treated for COVID-19 were moved to other parts of the hospital complex or were transferred to other hospitals.

08:30 Singapore Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong will announce new restrictive measures at 4 p.m. local time aimed at stemming the coronavirus pandemic, including school closures. 

A leaked document on the planed closures triggered a social media flurry. The Education Ministry called on people to wait on official announcements and not to react to “any purported messages or announcements they chance upon, especially from dubious sources.”

Singapore had infections early in the pandemic but managed to keep the numbers low. The number of cases has recently been growing and has reached 1,049.

08:25 German Foreign Minister Heiko Maas has reiterated the need for EU nations to work together in the coronavirus crisis, saying the fight cannot be overcome by individual nations.

“The virus knows no borders,” Maas told German public broadcaster ARD. He said the EU needs to organize itself so it distributes masks and medicine “so that everyone benefits.”

“We will help, we must help, also in our own interest,” Maas said, referring to financial help for fellow EU nations with Germany’s status as an export nation. With respect to the “coronabonds” desired by Mediterranean European nations, Maas said, there are many possibilities for joint financial help. “One should not discuss this too ideologically,” he added. 

Germany has been one of the primary nations to speak out against the coronabonds, which would see the EU take on debt at the supranational level to help hard-hit nations like Italy and Spain. EU ministers will be video conferencing today to discuss the issue. They had failed to reach a comprise earlier in the week.

08:10 The head of Germany’s Robert Koch Institute, Lothar Wieler, has provided the latest information on the growth of the coronavirus in Germany in a morning briefing. The country has seen the number of infections jump by 6,174 since yesterday and the death toll rise by 145, he said. The fatality rate was currently 1.2%, mirroring an expected increase in deaths over time: “We are at the beginning of this epidemic,” Wieler cautioned. 

Around 23,800 individuals have recovered from the infection, he added. Wieler addressed the ongoing debate about wearing face masks in Germany. He underlined that while non-medical face masks could keep infected individuals from spreading the disease through virus-containing droplets in the air, they could not prevent an individual from being infected. Maintaining social distance remains the most important measure, Wieler said.

He did not answer a question on whether Germany’s death rate would reach China’s rate of 4%.

07:45 In Pakistan, police will be enforcing a strict lockdown to prevent people from going to mosques for Friday prayers, after large gatherings took place on the holiest day of the week in Islam. The “curfew-like” lockdown will begin in the nation’s southern province of Sindh, where its largest city, Karachi, is located, starting a noon local time, officials said. 

Pakistan currently has 2,421 confirmed cases of coronavirus, with a large number of cases traced to a Sunni Muslim group’s congregation in the city of Lahore last month. Officials fear the spread could easily overwhelm health services. Other South Asian nations such as Bangladesh and India have also been struggling to persuade religious groups to maintain social distance.

Read more: Coronavirus: Practicing Islam amid pandemic

07:30 China has warned foreign diplomats to stop coming to Beijing. The country, where the coronavirus was first reported in December, has temporarily banned foreign visitors from entering to prevent a resurgence of the disease. 

Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Hua Chunying said in a daily media briefing that the ministry knew of confirmed cases of coronavirus among the diplomatic community in China.

07:15 The prime minister of the Netherlands, Mark Rutte, has appealed to German and Belgian tourists to not travel to the country over the Easter weekend. Though cross-border travel has already slowed to a trickle, thanks to national closures across European nations, Rutte said the Dutch Foreign Ministry will spread a keep-away message over social media. 

Easter typically sees German and Belgian tourists flock to Dutch campsites and vacation rentals. Many of these have already been closed due to coronavirus, though the Dutch government has avoided a full lockdown until now.

07:00 Israel has declared the city of Bnei Brak, a coronavirus hotspot, off limits and sent more than 1,000 police officers to block off entry points into and out of the city. The city, located east of Tel Aviv, is one of Israel’s poorest and most densely populated. Most of its residents are Haredi Jews, an ultra-Orthodox denomination. Israel media has said up to 40% of Bnei Brak’s roughly 200,000 residents could be infected with coronavirus, making it highest per capita rate in a city across all of Israel. 

06:45 The Asian Development Bank has predicted the coronavirus pandemic will cost the world economy up to $4.1 trillion (€3.78 trillion) in lost economic activity, or nearly 5% of total global economic output.

06:35 The International Monetary Fund (IMF) announced late Thursday that Rwanda will receive $109.4 million in emergency funding to alleviate the effects of the coronavirus. It is the first African nation to receive COVID-19 emergency funds from the multilateral financial organization. 

Rwanda has registered 84 cases of the virus and no deaths as of yet. The country is grappling with high food prices amid a nationwide lockdown that the government extended on Thursday for 15 more days.  The country, which relies heavily on tourism, closed its borders last month to curb the disease’s spread.

06:30 Australia’s chief medical officer, Brendan Murphy, said that as many as 10 million people may already have been infected by coronavirus worldwide. While totals currently show 1 million confirmed cases of infection, health experts expect the actual number is much higher due to testing limitations and asymptomatic cases.

06:05 Romanian Prime Minister Ludovic Orban said late Thursday the government is likely to postpone local elections in June due to the coronavirus. “It is almost certain that a local election can no longer be held on June 28. After consulting the other parties, we will decide a date at which the election can be organized under the best conditions based on the outbreak’s development,” Orban said. 

Romania declared a state of emergency on March 16 and instituted a lockdown last week. It has 2,738 cases of infection, with 115 deaths.

06:00 Poland’s coalition government is split over whether to hold presidential elections on May 10.

Jaroslaw Kaczynski, head of the ruling nationalist Law and Justice party (PiS), said the leader of junior coalition partner Porozumienie told him that, “He is against the election at the moment. He justifies this with medical reasons.” Kaczynski and the PiS would like to see the vote take place as scheduled. 

Poland’s lower house of parliament is expected to vote Friday on a plan to conduct the May election remotely. The parliamentary vote will take place by post.

05:50 The Mexican Modelo brewery group has announced it will halt the production of Corona beer for the foreseeable future. The move comes after the government ordered the stop of all non-essential businesses. Agriculture and food production are excluded, but brewing was not included in these categories. Production of Corona and the company’s other beers is currently being scaled down and will cease entirely by Sunday, Modelo said.

05:32 A passenger from a German cruise ship stranded off the coast of Western Australia has died of coronavirus, Germans news agency DPA reported, citing Australian health officials. The man died in a hospital in the city of Perth, officials added. 

The ship, the Artania, has been moored off Perth since dozens of its crew and passengers tested positive for COVID-19 last week. Over 800 healthy passengers and crew were allowed to fly back to Germany while 39 others are being treated in Australian hospitals.

Cruise ships have been responsible for 20% of Australia’s roughly 5,300 coronavirus infections. They have also been floating hotspots elsewhere, with cases documented in liners moored off Japan and the US.

05:25 Australian officials have closed internal borders between the country’s seven states in an attempt to prevent the further spread of the coronavirus. It is the first time since the Spanish flu of 1918 that such restrictive travel measures have been put in place. Prime Minister Scott Morrison also urged Australians to stay home and maintain social distancing measures.

“We must continue to do this. Doesn’t matter what the temperature is,” Morrison said in a televised press conference. “If it’s a warm day, don’t go en masse down to the beach. A simple instruction that all Australians expect other Australians to abide by.”

Australia has around confirmed coronavirus infections and 28 deaths,  health officials have said.

05:15 New Zealand has begun allowing some 100,000 tourists stranded in the country to fly home, including roughly 12,000 Germans, the largest number of Germans remaining abroad. Tourists had become trapped after the island nation instituted an internal flight ban that prevented travelers from catching international flights. The New Zealand government said Thursday that internal flights would once again be permitted, as long as they were for the purposes of leaving the country. 

05:10 More than 27,000 people are under self-quarantine in South Korea, following the implementation of strict measures targeting incoming travelers. The South Korean government said that 19,567 of the quarantined individuals had recently returned from overseas.

The country was one of the first outside of the China to report cases of COVID-19 infection, but broad testing and early isolation measures helped to prevent the virus from spreading broadly. However, authorities are now working to combat a second wave caused by individuals returning from Europe and the United States, where the virus has spread wildly. 

There have been 10,062 confirmed cases of infection, according to the country’s Center for Disease and Control Prevention.

05:05 Kyrgyzstan has reported its first death from COVID-19, the government announced. The 61-year-old victim had suffered from other underlying health issues. The Central Asian nation has 116 confirmed cases, according to Johns Hopkins University.

05:00 Nationwide approval ratings for Angela Merkel’s government have gone up during the coronavirus crisis, a new poll has shown. Her conservative Christian Democratic Union party and its Bavarian sister party, the Christian Social Union, saw their support rise by 7% to a total 34% in comparison to early March. The junior coalition partner in the German government, the Social Democrats, saw their support flatline at 16%, however. 

A vast majority of Germans believe the government is handling the crisis well. Across the political spectrum, 93% of Germans approve of the measures implemented to curb the virus’ spread, which include enforced social distancing, the closure of non-essential business, and the suspension of public gatherings involving more than two individuals, among other things.

04:50 German daily Süddeutsche Zeitung has reported that over 2,300 doctors and nurses in clinics and hospitals across Germany have been infected with coronavirus, citing information from the Robert Koch Institute (RKI), Germany’s public health agency. However, RKI warned the number is likely much higher: “We must assume this is an underrepresentation,” the institute said. 

German medical personal has complained about shortfalls in protective equipment as the nation has scrambled to secure such supplies amid massive global demand unmet by production.

Read more: Coronavirus crisis: Underpaid, overstretched nursing staff demand more than applause

04:30 The death toll in Germany from the coronavirus has picked up speed, passing the 1,000 mark. According to Johns Hopkins University in the US, the death toll stands at 1,107, with 84,794 cases of infection nationwide. 

While the fatality rate remains quite low, the daily death rate rose slightly. The Robert Koch Institute, reported Friday morning that the death toll had climbed by 145 in comparison to the previous day.

Read more: Is comparing coronavirus death rates futile?

04:10 DW’s Frank Sieren has lived in Beijing for over 20 years and has reported extensively on the coronavirus outbreak, In his latest column, he looks at how China is using digital surveillance to prevent a second COVID-19 outbreak. Germany is currently considering various voluntary apps. Read Sieren’s China here.

But while we remain vigilant, 100 civil society groups have warned against “sleepwalking” into permanent surveillance in the coronavirus pandemic’s aftermath. Digital surveillance rolled out to curb the virus should be limited in time and scope, they say. Read the full report here.

04:00 The Coronavirus continues to spread, and so does fake news about it. No, garlic doesn’t help. Neither does alcohol. In our daily COVID-19 special, take a look at the misinformation making the rounds … and why you shouldn’t believe a word of it. 

03:00 As the coronavirus continues to ravage Iran, European countries are offering aid.  However, as DW reports, Tehran continues to enrich nuclear fuel, claiming it is using gamma rays as disinfectant.

01:54 China’s services sector struggled to get back on its feet in March after a brutal month of unprecedented shop closures and public lockdowns amid the coronavirus outbreak, a private survey showed on Friday.

Services companies cut jobs at the fastest pace on record as orders plunged for the second straight month and businesses scrambled to reduce their operating costs. Export orders also slumped again as more countries imposed their own tough virus containment measures.

While the Caixin/Markit services Purchasing Managers’ Index (PMI) rebounded to 43 in March from a record low of 26.5 in February, it still remained deep in contraction territory and was the second weakest reading since the survey began in late 2005. The 50-point mark separates growth from contraction on a monthly basis.

01:25 The United Nations approved a resolution calling for “international cooperation” and “multilateralism” when facing the coronavirus pandemic. In its first resolution since the pandemic began, the UN General Assembly stressed “the need for full human respect for human rights.”

“There is no place for any form of discrimination, racism and xenophobia in the response to the pandemic.” The resolution was submitted by Switzerland, Indonesia Singapore, Norway, Liechtenstein and Ghana. It was adopted by 188 of the 193 states that make up the body.

Russia attempted to oppose the resolution with its own text — one supported by the Central African Republic, Cuba, Nicaragua and Venezuela — but it was ultimately unsuccessful.

01:10 US President Donald Trump has sharply criticized 3M Co in a tweet after earlier announcing he was invoking the Defense Production Act to get the company to produce face masks. “We hit 3M hard today after seeing what they were doing with their Masks. ‘P Act’ all the way. Big surprise to many in government as to what they were doing — will have a big price to pay!” Trump said on Twitter.

00:51 The United States recorded 1,169 deaths from the coronavirus in the last 24 hours, according to Johns Hopkins University’s case tracker. It is the highest one-day death toll recorded in any country since the pandemic began. The US now has 5,936 coronavirus deaths on record.

00:30 Residents of Wuhan, epicenter of the coronavirus epidemic in China, should strengthen self-protection measures and avoid going out unless it is necessary, the city’s Communist Party chief said.

Wang Zhonglin was quoted as saying in a statement published by the Wuhan city government that the risk of a rebound in the city’s coronavirus epidemic remained high due to both internal and external risks and that it must continue to maintain prevention and control measures.

00:25 Walt Disney Co. plans to furlough non-essential US employees across the company from April 19 as the coronavirus outbreak continues to disrupt the media and theme park businesses. Disney committed to full pay and benefits for all employees through April 18 despite theme park closures, the halt of film and television production and the closing of movie theaters.

All impacted workers will remain Disney employees through the furlough period and will receive full healthcare benefits. The company did not say how many employees would be affected.

00:15 Here’s a recap of the global figures:

1,013,157 confirmed cases

52,983 deaths.

210,263 recovered worldwide

Editor’s note: In reporting on the coronavirus pandemic, unless otherwise specified DW uses figures provided by the Johns Hopkins University (JHU) Coronavirus Resource Center in the United States. JHU updates figures in real time, collating data from world health organizations, state and national governments and other public official sources, all of whom have their own systems for compiling information. Germany’s national statistics are compiled by its public health agency, the Robert Koch Institute (RKI). These figures depend on data transmission from state and local levels and are updated around once a day, which can lead to deviation from JHU.:

00:00 Catch up on yesterday’s news here: Coronavirus latest: Global coronavirus infections top 1 million

djv, cmb/rt (AP, AFP, dpa, Reuters)

Every evening at 1830 UTC, DW’s editors send out a selection of the day’s hard news and quality feature journalism. You can sign up to receive it directly here.

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