Commuters wearing protective masks ride a subway in New York, U.S., on Wednesday, June 3, 2020. Photographer: Sarah Blesener/Bloomberg

EU set to prolong ban on travel — Global virus update

Commuters wearing protective masks ride a subway in New York, U.S., on Wednesday, June 3, 2020. Photographer: Sarah Blesener/Bloomberg

Key Developments:

  • Virus Tracker: Cases pass 6.6 million; deaths exceed 391,000
  • Fauci, virus task force sidelined with Trump all-in on reopening
  • The tiny data firm at the center of the hydroxychloroquine storm
  • Trump’s re-election hopes grow shakier with Biden gains
  • Cases rise in post-lockdown Mideast in signs of trouble ahead
  • US Jobless Rate Unexpectedly Falls in May as Hiring Rebounds

UK Scientists Unsure on Face Mask Use

The UK government’s top scientists expressed concern that enforced use of face masks in small spaces could compromise other COVID-19 prevention measures, but stopped short of issuing a recommendation before travellers need to wear the coverings starting in mid-June.

The scientific panel, responding to a government question on whether masks should be worn when close contact is unavoidable, said evidence of the effectiveness wasn’t available and enforced mask-wearing could deter people from social distancing and hand washing, according to a paper released Friday.

UK lawmakers have cited concerns that wider adoption of face coverings could lead to a shortage for health workers who have struggled with a lack of supply. The government ignored those issues and said from June 15 anyone refusing to cover their faces on trains, buses and other forms of public transport will face fines and could be barred from boarding.

Ireland Accelerates Reopening

Irish Prime Minister Leo Varadkar laid out a plan to accelerate the country’s reopening as the coronavirus outbreak comes under control. From Monday, people can travel 20 kilometres (12 miles) from home, and all stores can reopen where it’s safe to do so, with malls allowed open from June 15.

From the end of June, people will be free to move around Ireland as all travel restrictions end. The aim is to reopen the economy fully by July 20, moving forward an earlier target of mid-August.

US Jobless Rate Falls

America’s labour market unexpectedly rebounded in May, signalling that the economy is picking up faster than thought from the depths of the pandemic-induced slump.

Nonfarm payrolls rose by 2.5 million after a 20.7 million tumble the prior month that was the largest in records back to 1939. The jobless rate fell to 13.3% from 14.7%.

EU Set to Prolong Ban on Travel

The European Union plans to prolong a ban on most travel to the bloc for an extra two weeks until July 1 as member nations first remove internal border controls triggered by the coronavirus pandemic.

“Many” EU governments on Friday supported renewing a restriction on outside arrivals for a third time, said European Home-Affairs Commissioner Ylva Johansson. The curb on non-essential travel to the bloc is currently due to lapse on June 15 after being introduced in mid-March for 30 days and extended twice.

UK Body to Probe Impact on People of Colour

The UK’s Equality and Human Rights Commission plans to hold an inquiry into the effect of the coronavirus on people of colour. As the virus takes a disproportionate toll on minority groups in Britain, the commission said the inquiry will form part of its wider approach to address structural race inequality in the country.

Iran Adds Nearly 3,000 New Cases Again

Iran reported 2,886 new coronavirus cases and 63 more deaths in the past 24 hours, bringing the country’s tally to 167,156 infections and 8,134 deaths. Countries across the Middle East are grappling with what appears to be a new surge in coronavirus cases — offering a cautionary tale for a world gradually reopening to a new normal.

Iran, too, has seen a spike in infections after the country eased its lockdown, but the number of new cases have dropped from Thursday’s record increase.

Bentley to Cut 1,000 UK Jobs

Bentley Motors plans to cut as many as 1,000 jobs in the UK, about a quarter of its workforce, to cope with the fallout of the coronavirus crisis after years of weak profitability. The British luxury carmaker plans to reduce headcount through voluntary measures but “cannot rule out future compulsory redundancies,” the Crewe-based manufacturer said Friday in a statement.

Singapore Unemployment May Rise to Record

The number of unemployed residents in Singapore may rise above 100,000 this year from around 73,000 in 2019 due to the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic, the Straits Times reported, citing Deputy Prime Minister Heng Swee Keat in parliament on Friday.

This is more than Singapore’s highest annual average number of 91,000 unemployed residents that was registered during the 2003 SARS epidemic, according to the newspaper.

Turkey Won’t Impose Weekend Curfew

Turkey’s President Recep Tayyip Erdogan on Friday cancelled a decision to reimpose lockdown in major cities to avoid what he described as “some social and economic consequences.”

Turkey’s Interior Ministry had announced the curfew in 15 cities including Istanbul, Ankara and Izmir this weekend in an e-mailed statement early Friday. About 12 hours later, Erdogan in a Twitter post said he decided to “cancel the curfew decision over the weekend” due to feedback from citizens.

Turkey reopened restaurants, beaches and ended travel restrictions earlier this week to restore some measure of mobility for the population of 83 million who’ve been under curfews and lockdowns since March. The decision to reimpose the curfew over the weekend came as a surprise for many.

Epidemic ‘Under Control’ in France

In France, “we can reasonably say that the epidemic is under control,” Professor Jean-Francois Delfraissy, the head of the country’s scientific council, told radio broadcaster France Inter on Friday. “The virus continues to circulate, particularly in certain regions, more in the Paris region than in the southwest of France, but it circulates at a slow speed.”

New cases have dropped to an estimated 1,000 a day, from around 80,000 new cases a day in early March before the lockdown, he said.

Infection Rate in England Drops

Office for National Statistics estimates that 53,000 people in England had COVID-19 on average between May 17 and May 30, less than half the estimate for the previous two weeks. There were an estimated 39,000 new infections per week, versus 54,000 in prior period. About 0.1% of population on average had the disease, down from 0.24%.

The figures cover community population, which excludes those in hospitals, care homes or other institutional settings. Over the whole study period, an estimated 0.41% of people have ever tested positive for COVID-19, the ONS said.

Malaysia Announces Additional Stimulus

Malaysia unveiled 35 billion ringgit ($8.2 billion) in additional stimulus to help the economy recover from the coronavirus pandemic. The new plan, which follows a late-March stimulus package worth nearly $60 billion, includes 10 billion ringgit in direct fiscal injection to the economy, Prime Minister Muhyiddin Yassin said.

Malaysia’s economy expanded 0.7% year-on-year in the first quarter, its worst showing since the global financial crisis, as restrictions imposed to curb the virus choked commerce.

German Virus Infection Rate Drops Further

Germany’s coronavirus infection rate dropped further below the key threshold of 1.0, while the number of daily cases remained far below the thousands seen at the height of the crisis more than two months ago.

There were 351 new cases in the 24 hours through Friday morning, bringing the total to 184,472, according to data from Johns Hopkins University. That compares with 242 infections the previous day. Fatalities increased by 33 to 8,635.

The reproduction factor of the virus fell to 0.57 on Thursday from 0.71 the day before, according to the latest estimate from the Robert Koch Institute. That means 10 infected people are estimated to infect an average of fewer than six others.

Japan Minister Says Cultural Standard Helped Beat Virus

Japan’s success against the coronavirus without enforcing a strict lockdown is due to the citizens’ “cultural standard” that is different from other nations, Finance Minister Taro Aso said, drawing criticism from the public that the comments were inappropriate.

“Other countries have called me up and asked me if we’re the only ones with some drug against the virus or something,” Aso said in response to a question from a lawmaker on Japan’s reputation of successfully containing the pandemic. “When I tell them ‘our country’s cultural standard levels are different to yours,’ they’re left speechless. That’s the simplest way to put an end to the questions.”

NYC Records Zero Confirmed Deaths as It Moves to Reopen

New York City’s health department produced data Thursday that showed no deaths of virus-carriers the previous day, giving officials cause to cautiously celebrate. Three deaths probably attributable to COVID-19 occurred in untested patients, the department reported. It was a far cry from a week in mid-April when the city recorded about 700 deaths a day.

“In the face of extraordinary challenges, New Yorkers have gone above and beyond to keep each other safe throughout the crisis,” said mayoral spokeswoman Avery Cohen. “With hope on the horizon, we will continue to do everything we can to reopen safely without losing sight of the progress we’ve made.”

Brazil Surpasses Italy in Coronavirus Deaths

Brazil reported a record number of daily coronavirus deaths, surpassing Italy to become third in the world in number of fatalities from the disease.

The country reported 1,473 fatalities on Thursday, bringing the death toll to 34,021, trailing only the US and the UK. The Health Ministry also said it recorded 30,925 new cases in the last 24 hours, pushing the country’s total to 614,941, behind only the US.

The nation of 210 million people has become an epicenter of the virus. The region now accounts for about 40% of the world’s daily virus deaths. While the pandemic has eased in some countries, the virus continues to spread, adding about 100,000 cases a day as hot spots emerge across Latin America and India.