Coronavirus update: China's Hubei province lowers emergency response level, pandemic causes economic havoc
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Coronavirus update: China’s Hubei province lowers emergency response level, pandemic causes economic havoc

China’s Hubei province — the initial epicentre of the coronavirus outbreak — will lower its response level from tomorrow, armed men have protested against lockdown restrictions at the Michigan State Capitol and British Prime Minister Boris Johnson says the UK is “past the peak” of its outbreak.

In Australia, National Cabinet is bringing forward discussions about when to relax coronavirus restrictions, while Prime Minister Scott Morrison has repeated his call for an inquiry into the origins of coronavirus.

This story is being updated regularly throughout Friday. You can also stay informed with the latest episode of the Coronacast podcast.

Today’s top stories

Japan to extend state of emergency

Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe wearing a face mask
Shinzo Abe said the measures would need to be extended, with the country’s health system under extreme pressure.(AP: Kyodo News)

Japan’s Prime Minister Shinzo Abe has said it is highly likely the country’s coronavirus state of emergency, which was supposed to end next week, will have to be kept in place for another month.

He said the medical system was still under severe pressure with the number of confirmed cases exceeding 10,000.

His government will be preparing to extend the measure by about a month, with more detail to be released next week.

Despite early signs it had controlled the virus, Japan has now recorded more than 14,000 confirmed cases and 430 deaths.

China’s Hubei province lowers emergency response

People wear masks while waiting for a train in China.
Some major travel destinations in China will reopen to the public for the first time in months.(Reuters: Aly Song)

China’s central province of Hubei will lower its coronavirus emergency response level from the highest to second-highest level from tomorrow.

The virus was first detected in the province’s capital Wuhan in late 2019.

Since late March, Chinese authorities have been lifting lockdown restrictions across Hubei province.

Meanwhile, China is beginning a national holiday weekend with millions of people expected to travel after the lifting of coronavirus travel restrictions.

The country where the virus first emerged late last year now appears to have the outbreak under control, after recording more than 80,000 cases and more than 4,600 deaths earlier in the pandemic.

Some major travel destinations, including Beijing’s Forbidden City, will reopen to the public for the first time in months.

The palace complex in central Beijing will allow 5,000 visitors a day, down from the earlier maximum of 80,000.

No new confirmed cases of coronavirus were reported in Hubei on Thursday.

The province has so far reported 68,128 confirmed cases — with 50,333 in Wuhan.

It has reported 4,512 deaths and 63,616 patients have been discharged from hospital after recovery.

Heathrow Airport sees April passenger numbers plummet

Empty terminal 5 at Heathrow Airport in London.
Terminal 5 at Heathrow Airport in London stands virtually empty of passengers.(AP: Matt Dunham)

Europe’s busiest airport, London’s Heathrow, has said it expects to register a 97 per cent decline in passenger numbers for April as coronavirus restrictions around the world hit last month.

It said numbers were likely to remain weak until governments fighting the coronavirus outbreak deem it safe to travel.

For the first quarter, its revenue has fallen by 12.7 per cent to 593 million pounds ($1.156 billion) but said it had 3.2 billion pounds ($6.237 billion) in liquidity, which will be sufficient to maintain the business at least over the next 12 months.

Meanwhile, three of the top four airlines in the US have announced all passengers will have to wear face masks to prevent the spread of the virus.

United, Delta and American Airlines said the move was also made to reassure passengers about air travel safety.

Ryanair said it was cutting up to 3,000 pilot and cabin crew jobs due to the impacts of the pandemic.

The Irish carrier, which is one of the world’s leading budget airlines, said the measures would also include unpaid leave and salary cuts of up to 20 per cent for its remaining staff and closure of a number of its bases across Europe.

Global aviation is facing its greatest challenge in decades, with international borders shut and international travel well down.

Chinese state media mocks US coronavirus response

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The cartoon took a swipe at the US’s criticism of China’s lockdown measures, variants of which have now been used globally.

A Chinese state media outlet has released an animated video using Lego pieces to mock the United States’ coronavirus response and the Trump administration’s claims of an initial Chinese COVID-19 cover-up.

Entitled Once Upon a Virus, the almost two-minute animation, released by China’s official Xinhua news agency, takes the form of a back-and-forth between China and the US.

The dialogue begins with the Chinese warrior who stated they had discovered a dangerous new virus, to which the Statue of Liberty replied:

“It’s only a flu … Don’t wear a mask”, adding that China’s “stay-at-home” measures were a violation of human rights.

The video purports that the US did not heed warnings from the Chinese Government but later accused China of “giving false data”.

Last month, US President Donald Trump accused both China and the World Health Organization (WHO) of a COVID-19 cover-up, saying “the world received all sorts of false information about transmission and mortality”.

Framework for resuming community and elite sport

A female soccer coach with her back to the camera holding a stopwatch and watching teenage girls train.
A framework has been developed to guide how community and elite sport can resume in Australia.(Getty: Hero Images)

Speaking after National Cabinet, Prime Minister Scott Morrison gave an outline of some principles that will guide the recommencement of community and elite sport in Australia once restrictions are eased.

“The principles today draw heavily on the Australian Institute of Sport’s framework for rebooting sport in a COVID-19 environment,” he said.

“These principles set out the basis for which we might be able to go forward.”

Some of the principles he outlined were:

  • Preference for outdoor activities as they are a lower risk setting — a lot more of the risk is in indoor facilities
  • People should be able to both play and spectate sport
  • Small groups of less than 10 people in a non-contact setting
  • It will be a staged approach with individual jurisdictions to work out how it progresses

Mr Morrison said the above factors will be considered next week and no decisions had been made to ease restrictions.

Queensland Premier Annastacia Palaszczuk has cleared the way for the NRL’S 2020 season to resume and has given the Broncos, Cowboys and Titans permission to travel across the border to play and train.

National Cabinet brings forward decision on easing restrictions

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PM says Australia has earned ‘early mark’ from restrictions

Prime Minister Scott Morrison also announced National Cabinet will bring forward its consideration of when to relax coronavirus restrictions across the country.

Mr Morrison said Australians “have earned an early mark” and leaders will now meet next Friday to consider easing the rules that have been put in place.

He said 11 of the 15 criteria needed for this to happen have been met, and that downloading the COVIDSafe app will help. So far, 3.5 million people have downloaded the app.

The Prime Minister also gave an update on some key figures:

  • More than 1.5 million people are on JobSeeker payments
  • 650,000 businesses have applied for JobKeeper
  • 950,000 people have applied to access their super early, totalling $7.9 billion in claims
  • 3,400 businesses have received a cash flow boost worth over $6 billion
  • 6.8 million Australians have received the one-off $750 payment

National Cabinet was able to adopt the aged care code today — all of the aged care facilitators have signed up to this code as of last night.

The aged care sector will also receive a one-off funding boost of $250 million to support the sector through the pandemic.

It brings the total amount of funding the sector has received to address COVID-19 to $850 million.

NSW confirms new cases of community transmission

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NSW Premier Gladys Berejiklian calls on aged-care home operators to better manage visitations

NSW Premier Gladys Berejiklian says “four or five” new cases of coronavirus in the state are believed to be the result of community transmission.

From today, eased restrictions in New South Wales mean two adults can visit other households. Restrictions are also being eased in other states and territories.

These states have announced their daily numbers of new cases:

  • New South Wales: 9
  • Victoria: 3
  • Queensland: 0
  • South Australia: 0
  • Tasmania: 0

Tasmania says north-west outbreak ‘largely under control’

The Tasmanian Government says it will lift additional restrictions imposed on the state’s north-west next week, with Premier Peter Gutwein saying the region’s coronavirus outbreak was “largely under control”.

Schools in the north-west have been closed this week and “non-essential businesses” have been closed for the past three weeks. They will be allowed to reopen on Monday.

Of the state’s 221 confirmed cases, 147 have been in the north-west, including 12 of the state’s 13 deaths.

Mr Gutwein said while the north-west specific restrictions would be lifted, the statewide restrictions would remain in place.

Trump says he’s seen evidence that coronavirus originated in Wuhan institute

donald trump in a suit and tie speaks with his hands raised with mike pence behind him
Donald Trump did not explain what evidence he had seen.(AP: Patrick Semansky)

US President Donald Trump says he has seen evidence that coronavirus originated in the Wuhan Institute of Virology in China.

However, he did not explain what this evidence was, telling reporters he was “not allowed” to say.

Mr Trump also said China was either too incompetent to stop the virus getting out “or they let it out”.

Earlier, America’s Office of the Director of National Intelligence released a statement saying that US intelligence concurred with the “wide scientific consensus” that coronavirus was “not manmade or genetically modified”.

But it added that US intelligence would “continue to rigorously examine emerging information and intelligence to determine whether the outbreak began through contact with infected animals or if it was the result of an accident at a laboratory in Wuhan”.

Yesterday, Mr Trump claimed that China’s handling of the pandemic was proof that Beijing would stop at nothing to derail his re-election bid in November.

‘It could happen again’: Scott Morrison says world must know how pandemic began

A close up photo of Scott Morrison with a serious expression on his face. He is wearing a suit.
Scott Morrison said any investigation needed to be independent.(AAP: Mick Tsikas)

Prime Minister Scott Morrison has repeated his call for an investigation into the origin of the coronavirus outbreak, an issue which has caused diplomatic tension between Australia and China.

Mr Morrison said any investigation needed to be independent and needed to find out how the pandemic started and what lessons could be learned.

China’s ambassador to Australia previously said Mr Morrison’s demand for an independent investigation into the outbreak could see Chinese consumers boycotting Australian goods and services

While countries including the United States have backed Australia’s call, others have said the priority for now should be responding to the pandemic.

Meanwhile, Australia is continuing to back Taiwan’s push to return to the World Health Organization, risking another diplomatic stoush with China.

13 now dead at Western Sydney aged-care home

a sign reading anglicare villages newmarch house residential care
A resident at the Newmarch House aged care facility run by Anglicare Sydney tested positive for COVID-19. April 13, 2020.(ABC News)

Another resident who tested positive to COVID-19 has died at the Newmarch aged-care home in Western Sydney, taking the death toll there to 13.

NSW Premier Gladys Berejiklian called it a “horrific situation”.

“Unfortunately this particular operator has been left wanting on a number of levels,” she told ABC News Breakfast.

The outbreak began when an employee worked six shifts at Newmarch last month while having mild symptoms.

Yesterday, it was confirmed that another three residents had tested positive for COVID-19.

Gunmen protest against lockdown at Michigan State Capitol

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Anti-lockdown protesters crowd inside Michigan State Capitol

Hundreds of people, some carrying assault rifles and other weapons, have gathered inside the Michigan State Capitol in Lansing to protest against the US state’s coronavirus lockdown.

The “American Patriot Rally” included armed militia group members and people with pro-Trump signs.

Protesters had their temperatures taken by police as they entered. Inside, they sang the national anthem and chanted “let us work”.

The protest appeared to be the largest in the state since April 15, when supporters of President Donald Trump organised thousands of people for “Operation Gridlock”, jamming the streets of Lansing with their cars in protest against Michigan’s strict stay-at-home order.

The order is set to continue until May 15. Governor Gretchen Whitmer has defended it as necessary given Michigan is one of the hardest-hit US states, with 3,789 coronavirus deaths.

Johnson says UK is ‘past the peak’, rejects claims lockdown came too late

Boris Johnson claps while standing outside a front door
Boris Johnson takes part in the Clap for our Carers campaign outside 10 Downing Street.(Reuters: Hannah McKay)

British Prime Minister Boris Johnson says the UK is now “past the peak” of its coronavirus outbreak and is on the “downward slope”.

Mr Johnson promised to set out a plan next week on how the country might start gradually returning to normal life.

Defending his handling of the outbreak, and rejecting the suggestion that a lockdown came too late, Mr Johnson said the death toll could have been a lot worse.

Britain has the second-highest official death toll in Europe with 26,771 deaths.

Northern Territory says returned ADF personnel with coronavirus pose no risk

Australian flag patch on soldier in Afghanistan(Australian Defence Force: Captain Al Green)
The ADF personnel had been serving in the Middle East.

Northern Territory Health Minister Natasha Fyles says four ADF personnel taken to Royal Darwin Hospital with coronavirus pose no risk to the community.

They were serving in the Middle East when they contracted the disease, and were flown to Darwin this morning.

A fifth ADF member with coronavirus is in mandatory quarantine in Brisbane.

The Northern Territory yesterday announced its plan for relaxing restrictions. From today, the 10-person limit for outdoor activities will no longer apply.

More than 30 million Americans lose their jobs in six weeks

A woman in a mask walks past a boarded up shop with red spray paint on the walls.
Some 30 million Americans are out of work.(AP: Andrew Harnik)

Another 3.8 million people who have lost their jobs have applied for benefits in the United States, as the coronavirus pandemic continues to wreak havoc on the world’s largest economy.

It took the total national number of people who have become unemployed in the past six weeks to 30.3 million, or approximately one in six American workers.

Some economists predict that when the US unemployment rate for April comes out next week, it could be as high as 20 per cent — a figure not seen since the depression of the 1930s, when joblessness peaked at 25 per cent.

The economy is expected to contract in the April-June quarter by as much as 40 per cent at an annual rate.

France and Italy suffer sharp economic contractions

A person on a bike in an empty shopping arcade
A cyclist rides along an empty Galleria Vittorio Emanuele II shopping arcade in Milan following Italy’s lockdown.(AP: Claudio Furlan/LaPresse)

France has suffered its sharpest economic contraction since records began in 1949.

In the first quarter of the year, the French economy shrank 5.8 per cent from the previous three months. The slump was the deepest on a quarterly basis since World War II.

The figures reflect the impact of the coronavirus outbreak on the country, which went into lockdown in mid-March. France has the fifth highest death toll in the world at 24,376, according to Johns Hopkins University data.

Meanwhile, Italian Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte acknowledged that his country’s economy faced an unprecedented slump and confirmed the latest Treasury forecast for a contraction of 15 per cent in the first half of the year.

The Italian economy shrank by 4.7 per cent in the first quarter from the previous three months thanks to the lockdown.

With 27,967 confirmed coronavirus deaths, Italy’s death toll is second only to that of the United States.

Russian PM tests positive for coronavirus

Russian Prime Minister Mikhail Mishustin gestures with his hands while he its at a table with a Russian flag in the background
Russian Prime Minister Mikhail Mishustin has COVID-19.(Reuters: Sputnik/Dmitry Astakhov)

Russian Prime Minister Mikhail Mishustin says he has tested positive for coronavirus and has told President Vladimir Putin he will self-isolate.

In Russia, the Prime Minister oversees the economy and answers to the President. Mr Mishustin, 54, was appointed to the role in January.

It was not immediately clear when Mr Putin last met with Mr Mishustin in person. 

The Prime Minister’s case is one of more than 106,000 in Russia, which has recorded just over 1,000 deaths.

Food delivery used as a cover to sell drugs

A delivery biker rides along an empty street
A delivery biker rides along an empty street Wednesday, April 22, 2020, in Tokyo, Japan.(AP: Eugene Hoshiko)

Criminals are using food delivery services as a cover to transport drugs and other illegal goods during the coronavirus crisis, which has seen countries around the world go into lockdown, Interpol said on Thursday.

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Interpol said it had received reports from police in Ireland, Malaysia, Spain and Britain identifying delivery drivers transporting drugs such as cocaine, marijuana, ketamine and ecstasy.

The Spanish National Police identified and arrested seven people dressed as food delivery drivers who were caught delivering cocaine and marijuana by bicycle, motorcycle and car, with some of the drugs concealed inside home delivery backpacks.

In Ireland, police recovered 8 kilograms of cocaine as well as two handguns hidden in pizza boxes.

Interpol said delivery riders may be complicit or unwitting links in drug transportation and that, in some cases brought to its attention, suspects were sometimes falsely disguised as food delivery drivers.

Pandemic could see record decline in carbon emissions: report

A landscape view of Mount Everest and other peaks of the Himalayan range.
Some residents in Punjab say they are seeing the peaks of the Himalayas for the first time due to a drop in pollution.(Reuters: Monika Deupala)

The International Energy Agency says reduced energy use caused by the coronavirus pandemic could lead to a record annual decline in carbon emissions.

The IEA said CO2 emissions could fall by almost 8 per cent this year — the largest decrease ever recorded.

The agency said the lockdowns imposed because of the pandemic could cause global energy demand to fall by 6 per cent this year — equivalent to removing the entire demand of India.

“Resulting from premature deaths and economic trauma around the world, the historic decline in global emissions is absolutely nothing to cheer,” said IEA executive director Dr Fatih Birol.

“And if the aftermath of the 2008 financial crisis is anything to go by, we are likely to soon see a sharp rebound in emissions as economic conditions improve. But governments can learn from that experience by putting clean energy technologies — renewables, efficiency, batteries, hydrogen and carbon capture — at the heart of their plans for economic recovery.”

‘So what?’ Bolsonaro says as Brazil’s deaths surge past China’s

Brazil's President Jair Bolsonaro takes off his glasses as he speaks in front of a microphone with flags in the background.
Brazil’s President Jair Bolsonaro has shrugged off questions about the country’s rising death toll.(AP: Eraldo Peres)

Brazil’s official death toll has surpassed China’s, with the country now recording more than 5,500 deaths and almost 80,000 confirmed cases of COVID-19. China officially has 4,637 deaths.

However, when Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro was asked about the increasing death rate on Tuesday night (local time), he gave a simple two word answer: “So what?”

“I’m sorry, but what do you want me to do?” Mr Bolsonaro added.

Steady increases in Brazil’s death toll have sparked fears that Latin America’s biggest economy could soon become the world’s next coronavirus hotspot.

A longtime critic of stay-at-home measures, Mr Bolsonaro has said the economic cost outweighs the dangers of what he has called a “little flu”.

He has advocated isolating older people and letting younger people work.

Captain Tom showered with honours as he turns 100

Captain Tom wears glasses, blazer and war medals with a thumbs up in front of cakes decorated with planes and tanks.
War veteran Tom Moore poses with birthday cakes as he celebrates his 100th birthday.(AP: Emma Sohl/Capture the Light Photography)

British World War II veteran Captain Tom Moore, who has raised millions for the country’s National Health Service (NHS), celebrated his 100th birthday on Thursday.

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For his milestone century, he was promoted to the rank of honorary Colonel, given an RAF flyover and made an honorary member of the England cricket team.

He was also thanked by British Prime Minister Boris Johnson and sent more than 140,000 cards, according to the BBC.

Captain Moore walked 100 laps around his garden this month to raise money for the NHS to aid its fight against the COVID-19 pandemic. His initial target was 1,000 pounds.

He has raised over 31 million pounds [almost $60 million] and won the hearts and the admiration of a nation hit hard by the outbreak.

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Privacy concerns over new technology to help track the spread of coronavirus

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