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A commuter, wearing a protective face mask, walks in downtown Dubai, United Arab Emirates, on Thursday, March 5, 2020.

Coronavirus cases reach five million – Global virus update

A commuter, wearing a protective face mask, walks in downtown Dubai, United Arab Emirates, on Thursday, March 5, 2020.

Key Developments:

  • Virus Tracker: Cases reached 5 million; deaths exceed 328,000
  • Why a new cluster in China is triggering alarms: QuickTake
  • Trump’s push to reopen repels some GOP supporters
  • WHO is caught in a dangerous place between Trump and China
  • Trump gambles on a resurrection, with lives and livelihoods

Coronavirus Cases Reach 5 Million

It’s the latest milestone for the worst pandemic in a century that has upended every aspect of modern life and hammered the global economy. The number of infections worldwide has doubled over the past month. The U.S. accounts for almost a third of the cases, five times the number seen by Russia, the No. 2 country on the list. Brazil, one of the latest hot spots, has the third largest number of cases.

Milestones in the pandemic have become commonplace and only amount to an approximate guidepost. Health experts widely believe the actual count is higher than the official numbers, as Covid-19 has proved difficult to detect and track. The official death toll is at more than 328,000, with the U.S. fatalities exceeding 93,000.

Pelosi, Schumer Ask Trump to Fly Flags at Half Staff

“We are writing to request that you order flags to be flown at half staff on all public buildings in our country on the sad day of reckoning when we reach 100,000 deaths,” House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Senate Democratic leader Chuck Schumer said in a letter to Trump. The country has so far recorded more than 93,439 deaths from coronavirus so far.

UK Agrees to Deal on Antibody Testing

The UK has agreed on a deal to acquire antibody tests, a boost to Prime Minister Boris Johnson as he tries to ease the country back to normality. Details will be announced by Health Secretary Matt Hancock at the government’s daily 5 p.m. briefing, Johnson’s spokesman James Slack said on a call with reporters Thursday.

Britain has been in talks with Swiss pharmaceutical giant Roche Holding AG about buying its tests, which were cleared by a UK health authority earlier this month. Asked whether the agreement is with Roche, Slack said it would be a fair conclusion to make, but to wait for Hancock’s announcement.

Separately, Oxford University began enrolling UK health workers in a global trial to see whether anti-malaria drugs can prevent infection by the coronavirus. US President Donald Trump said earlier this week that he’s been taking hydroxychloroquine to reduce the risk of coronavirus infection, despite government warnings that it can cause serious side effects.

Another 2.4 million Americans filed for unemployment

More than 2 million Americans applied for unemployment benefits last week, signaling major job losses are continuing two months after the coronavirus pandemic started shuttering businesses. Initial jobless claims for regular state programs totaled 2.44 million in the week ended May 16, Labor Department figures showed Thursday.

Since efforts to the contain Covid-19 pandemic rapidly shut down the U.S. economy in mid-March, about 38.6 million initial unemployment insurance claims have been filed. That two-month total is roughly equivalent to all of the initial claims filed during the Great Recession.

Scotland to Start Easing Lockdown Next Week

Scotland plans to start easing restrictions next week, allowing more free movement outdoors in line with similar efforts across other parts of the UK to emerge from lockdown. First Minister Nicola Sturgeon told the Scottish Parliament in Edinburgh on Thursday that people will be able to meet those from another household outside, while activities such as golf and tennis can resume. Businesses such as garden centers and more food takeouts can open to customers while the construction and forestry industries will restart.

Turkey Cuts Rates Again

Turkey’s central bank delivered a ninth straight interest-rate cut after measures to prop up the lira drove out foreign investors, helping the currency recover from an all-time low. By escalating their defense of the lira, authorities have opened the way for lower borrowing costs, a linchpin of the government’s strategy to keep cheap credit flowing to consumers and businesses as it tries to mitigate the economic fallout from the coronavirus outbreak.

TSA Makes Changes to Airport Security Screening

Ahead of the Memorial Day holiday weekend in the U.S., the Transportation Security Administration has started making changes to airport screening. “In the interest of TSA frontline workers and traveller health, TSA is committed to making prudent changes to our screening processes to limit physical contact and increase physical distance as much as possible,” TSA Administrator David Pekoske said.

The agency said it had seen a steady growth of travellers coming through airport checkpoints over the past couple of weeks.

Philippine Apologizes for ‘Second Wave’ Confusion

The Philippines’ Health Department corrected a statement made by its top official that the country is already experiencing its second wave of coronavirus infections, apologizing for the confusion it caused.

The Southeast Asian nation is still in the first wave, driven by the local community transmission of the virus, Health Director Beverly Ho said in a virtual briefing. Secretary Francisco Duque told lawmakers on Wednesday that the first wave already occurred in January when three Chinese tourists tested positive for the virus.

Tokyo Emergency May Be Lifted Soon

Japan could lift the state of emergency in Tokyo and surrounding prefectures as soon as Monday, if current trends continue, Prime Minister Shinzo Abe said. The measure was lifted Thursday for Osaka and the two adjoining prefectures of Kyoto and Hyogo after the move was endorsed by a government panel of health experts earlier in the day. The emergency declaration will stay in effect for Tokyo and surrounding prefectures, as well as for the northern island of Hokkaido, for the time being, he said.

Indonesia Cases Top 20,000 After Record Surge

Indonesia recorded a record surge in new coronavirus cases, adding 973 infections to take the total in the country to 20,162. The increase was driven by 502 infections reported in East Java. Earlier this week, President Joko Widodo ruled out an immediate easing of social distancing rules and ordered officials to strictly enforce a ban on travel during the busy holiday season to prevent a spike in new coronavirus cases.

The spike in infections in recent weeks may delay plans to reopen Southeast Asia’s largest economy as early as next month as an overwhelmed healthcare system fails to ramp up testing of those with even explicit COVID-19 symptoms. With reports of a large number of people traveling to their hometowns to celebrate the Muslim festival of Eid al-Fitr later this month in defiance of the ban on such travel, known as mudik, fears have increased of a fresh wave of infections.

China Vaccine Maker Agrees to Canada Deal

Leading Chinese vaccine developer CanSino Biologics Inc.. has agreed to a deal to test and sell a separate Canadian vaccine candidate. In addition to developing its own vaccine with the Chinese military, CanSino will partner with Vancouver-based Precision NanoSystems Inc. to co-develop another potential vaccine.

The company will conduct testing of Precision’s experimental vaccine and has the right to commercialize it in Asia excluding Japan. Widely viewed as one of the front-runners in the race for successful vaccine, the deal adds to CanSino’s chances of being among the first to deliver.

CanSino’s own vaccine is currently in the second of three phases of human testing and is among five Chinese candidates to have reached that advanced stage — more than the U.S. and Europe combined. The stock surged in Hong Kong on Thursday morning before abruptly reversing gains in the afternoon.

Cases Stabilize in Russia

The number of confirmed new infections rose by 8,849 over the past day in Russia, to 317,554. The country reported 127 more fatalities, taking the total to 3,099.

Infections in the country have nearly tripled from the end of April, but new cases have since started to level off. Thursday’s 2.9% increase in cases is in line with Wednesday, and below the five-day average.