Leaders from around the globe have joined the World Health Organisation for a virtual meeting in which they pledged their support for a collaboration to speed up the development of treatments for COVID-19, though the US was markedly absent.
The death toll in the US surpassed 50,000 overnight as Donald Trump signed a $750 billion relief package into law, the fourth of that nature so far throughout this pandemic.
A triumphant milestone has been celebrated by Spain as, for the first time, the country records more people having recovered from coronavirus than being diagnosed with it in a single day.
This story is being updated regularly throughout Saturday. You can also stay informed with the latest episode of the Coronacast podcast.
Saturday’s key moments:
- World leaders launch WHO COVID-19 plan, but US won’t take part
- US death toll passes 50,000 as Donald Trump signs $750 billion virus relief bill into law
- Recoveries in Spain outnumber diagnoses
- No deaths in South Korea in past 24 hours, officials say
- Climate activists leave shoes behind as a mark of attendance to protest in Switzerland
- Banned Vienna protest against coronavirus lockdown draws 200
World leaders launch WHO COVID-19 plan, but US won’t take part
French President Emmanuel Macron, German Chancellor Angela Merkel and South African President Cyril Ramaphosa are among dozens of leaders from across the globe who have pledged to help a global initiative to accelerate work to fight COVID-19, the World Health Organisation says.
The WHO billed the initiative as a “landmark collaboration” to speed development of safe, effective drugs, tests and vaccines to prevent, diagnose and treat COVID-19.
There was one major global power missing from the virtual meeting, however — the US.
“There will be no US official participation”, said a spokesperson for the US mission in Geneva.
“We look forward to learning more about this initiative in support of international cooperation to develop a vaccine for COVID-19 as soon as possible.”
Mr Macron urged all, namely the US and China to support the WHO undertaking.
“We will continue now to mobilise all G7 and G20 countries so they get behind this initiative. And I hope we’ll manage to reconcile around this joint initiative both China and the US, because this is about saying: the fight against COVID-19 is a common human good and there should be no division in order to win this battle,” said Mr Macron.
US President Donald Trump has lambasted the WHO as being slow to react to the outbreak and being “China-centric”, and announced a suspension of funding.
Prior to the meeting, when asked to confirm whether the United States was going to be participating, a WHO source said: “No, but almost everyone else is.”
Seth Berkley, the chief executive of GAVI, The Vaccine Alliance (a Geneva-based public-private partnership that leads immunisation campaigns in poor countries) said global manufacturing capacity must be ramped up ahead of choosing “a winner” vaccine.
“We can’t have a repeat of what happened in 2009, the H1N1 (swine flu) vaccine, when there was not enough supply for developing countries or when supply did come it came much later,” he said.
US death toll passes 50,000 as Donald Trump signs $750 billion virus relief bill into law
The death toll in the US now exceeds 50,000, according to data from Johns Hopkins University. More than 3,000 of those occurred in the past 24 hours.
The tally of cases in the US now stands at more than 875,000, even as parts of the US reopen after weeks of lockdown.
Gyms, hair salons, tattoo parlours and some other businesses were cleared to open their doors by Georgia Governor Brian Kemp, who disregarded warnings from public health officials that relaxing restrictions could lead to more infections and deaths. Oklahoma, Alaska, and a number of other states have taken steps to reopen as well.
Overnight, President Donald Trump signed a $US484 billion ($758 billion) interim coronavirus bill into law.
The package provides funds to small businesses and hospitals struggling with the economic toll of a pandemic that has thrown a record 26 million out of work, wiping out all of the jobs created during the longest employment boom in US history.
It is the fourth bill passed in the US to address the coronavirus crisis.
Recoveries in Spain outnumber diagnoses
For the first time since the beginning of the coronavirus outbreak in Spain, more people are being diagnosed as cured than those falling sick, authorities say.
In the past 24-hours, there were 2,796 new infections confirmed while 3,105 overcame the infection.
“With all the effort that we have done, the evolution of the epidemic is obviously beginning to be where it should be, said Fernando Simón, the ministry of health emergency centre coordinator.
Spain has recorded 367 new deaths of patients with the coronavirus, to a total of 22,524.
No deaths in South Korea in past 24 hours, officials say
South Korea has reported no new coronavirus deaths in the past 24-hours — the first time that’s happened in more than a month.
Only six new cases were reported on Friday.
Officials hope that the number of cases could drop to zero in the coming days, too.
South Korea has been lauded for its approach to fighting coronavirus, after an outbreak in Daegu saw its numbers soaring.
The country has largely managed to bring it under control without major disruption thanks to an extensive testing campaign and intensive contact tracing, earning praise from the World Health Organisation and other nations.
The Government has outlined guidelines for a two-year return to normality, but says it will depend on continued social distancing.
South Korea has a total of 10,708 confirmed cases, with 240 deaths.
Climate activists leave shoes behind as a mark of attendance to protest in Switzerland
Green activists placed rows of shoes in central Zurich to mark the place of protesters who normally come out in person each week to demand action on climate change.
Organisers said they wanted to make their point while respecting current restrictions on public gatherings.
A handful of people stood in the background holding banners that read “Wake Up: Climate Action Now” and “Crisis is Crisis” before being dispersed by police without incident.
Greta Thunberg, the activist who founded the global “Fridays for Future” protest movement, acknowledged that demonstrators were having to change tactics.
“Today we had planned a global climate strike with millions taking part. But in an emergency you have to adapt and change your behaviour,” she tweeted
She said during an Earth Day event earlier this week that countries have a chance to choose a new path as they begin to return to normal after coronavirus lockdowns.
Banned Vienna protest against coronavirus lockdown draws 200
A crowd of around 200 defied a police ban to gather in central Vienna for a protest against Austria’s coronavirus lockdown.
The restrictions, which have been in place for more than a month, saw bars, restaurants, schools and non-essential shops shut.
Some shops, however, were reopened last week in a first easing of the curbs.
The protest’s organisers, the Initiative for Evidence-Based Corona Information (ICI), want the lockdown ended.
They argue, among other things, that wearing face masks and fabric equivalents that are compulsory in shops and on public transport is counter-productive.
After looking on for an hour, police dispersed the crowd, checking the identities of those who stayed. There was one arrest, a spokesman said.
ICI urged people to respect the ban on Friday’s event but said it would register “a new, bigger demo” in a week’s time.
Austria has reported a total of 15,071 confirmed cases and 530 coronavirus-related deaths.
Taliban rejects call for Ramadan ceasefire
The Taliban has rejected an Afghan Government call for a ceasefire for the Muslim holy month of Ramadan and to let authorities focus on tackling the coronavirus, raising new concern about prospects for a fragile peace process.
Hopes for an end to Afghanistan’s decades of war were raised in late February when the Taliban and the United States struck a deal on the withdrawal of US-led foreign forces in exchange for Taliban security guarantees.
But the deal did not include a ceasefire, which has been left to the US-backed Government to negotiate with the insurgents.
A Taliban spokesman, Suhail Shaheen, said in a post on Twitter that a ceasefire would be possible if the peace process was being implemented “fully” but “hurdles” meant the Taliban would not yet lay down their arms.
President Ashraf Ghani called for the ceasefire for Ramadan and to allow the country to focus on what he said was a critical novel coronavirus outbreak spreading all over the country.
Afghanistan has detected more than 1,300 cases of the virus but health experts say the number could be higher as testing is limited and Afghanistan’s weak health system would struggle with a widespread outbreak.
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