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Relatives Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) stand next to an ambulance before the burial of a woman, who died from the COVID-19 coronavirus, at a graveyard in in Srinagar on May 21, 2020. Photographer: Tauseef Mustafa /AFP via Getty Images

US consumer spending falls most ever — Global virus update

Relatives Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) stand next to an ambulance before the burial of a woman, who died from the COVID-19 coronavirus, at a graveyard in in Srinagar on May 21, 2020. Photographer: Tauseef Mustafa /AFP via Getty Images

Key Developments:

  • Virus Tracker: Cases top 5.8 million; deaths over 360,000
  • Every single worker has COVID at one US farm on eve of harvest
  • In boom-and-bust San Francisco, pandemic brings grim new reality
  • Canada’s Covid hot zone is even deadlier than Chicago or LA
  • Merkel seizes her chance to revolutionise the German economy
  • Life returns to London’s finance hub — doused in disinfectant

US Consumer Spending Falls Most Ever

US consumer spending plunged in April by the most on record after the pandemic halted purchases of all but the most essential goods and services.

Household outlays fell 13.6% from the prior month, the sharpest drop in Commerce Department records back to 1959. The median estimate in a Bloomberg survey of economists called for a 12.8% decline.

Portugal Cases Rise Most in 3 Weeks

Portugal reported 350 new cases on Friday, the biggest daily increase in three weeks, with new infections mostly in the Lisbon region. Total cases stand at 31,946 after cases rose for five days. New deaths were 14, bringing the total to 1,383. New cases near Lisbon have come from some construction projects, some companies and certain neighborhoods, Director-General of Health Graca Freitas said Friday. Portugal started easing confinement measures on May 4 and plans to further loosen restrictions on June 1.

Norway, Denmark Ease Borders Limits

Denmark and Norway agreed to allow leisure travel between the Scandinavian nations after both oversaw mostly successful efforts, including a nationwide lockdown, to contain the pandemic. Denmark also is allowing tourists from Germany and Iceland, subject to some restrictions.

Sweden was left out of the plan, and Danish Prime Minister Mette Frederiksen said the neighboring country was “in a different place” on the virus. Norway and Denmark have about 20,000 total cases while Sweden, which adopted a more lax approach against the virus, has reported almost 36,500 cases.

Austria to Lift Mask Requirement

Austria will lift the requirement to wear face masks in public places on June 15, keeping it only in public transportation, health-related sectors and for services that require close contact such as hairdressing, Chancellor Sebastian Kurz said.

The country will also ease restrictions on restaurants including a limit of four guests allowed per table and an 11 p.m. curfew. Kurz warned that the coronavirus hasn’t been defeated yet and that social distancing and lockdown measures might still be required in response to local outbreaks.

Greece to Reopen Borders to Countries Including China

Greece will reopen its borders on June 15 to visitors from China and 28 other countries, as it becomes one of the first nations in Europe to attempt a revival of its key tourism sector. The list “is based on the epidemiological profile of the countries of origin,” the Athens-based Tourism Ministry said. It will gradually be expanded, adding more countries from July 1, according to an emailed statement.

Greece appeared to bring its coronavirus outbreak under control relatively quickly and has recorded 2,906 cases and 175 deaths out of a population of around 11 million people. The government now wants to reactivate the battered tourism sector, which accounts for about a fifth of gross domestic product. Greece’s economy is seen contracting in 2020 in a range from 5% to 10%.

Israel Signals Concern Over Rise in Cases

Israel’s Health Ministry warned the public that it should abide by social distancing practices after a “relatively unusual increase” in new coronavirus cases. The ministry reported 64 infections in the preceding 48 hours, according to a statement late Thursday, which bucked the declining trend over the past few weeks. The government has allowed most segments of the economy to reopen.

Philippines Tweaks Virus Data Reporting After Spike

The Philippines will change how it’s reporting coronavirus infections a day after a record spike in daily cases. New infections will be differentiated from cases whose validation was delayed, Health Undersecretary Maria Rosario Vergeire said. Friday’s virus count will be released later tonight, she said.

The record rise of 539 daily cases on Thursday “does not mean that the situation is worsening,” Vergeire said, adding that 109 of these were reported in the past three days. Earlier, President Rodrigo Duterte said restrictions in the capital region will be further eased from June 1, allowing the reopening of most businesses and transport including local flights.

Iran Cases Surge

Iran had its highest daily increase in new cases in almost two months, with 2,819 infections reported in 24 hours. The country added 50 more deaths, bringing the total to 146,668 infections and 7,677 fatalities. Earlier in the day, the health ministry said that the number of cases in three southern provinces were on the rise and just entering their peak.

Infection Rates Drop in Belgium and Germany

Belgian health authorities reported the 7-day average reproduction number, which reflects how fast the disease is spreading, declined to 0.73 in the seven days through May 28 from 0.86 in the prior week. Two-weekly tests on about 1,500 blood samples donated to the Red Cross by healthy volunteers showed that about 4.7% of the population has antibodies, a proportion virtually unchanged since mid-April.

Germany reported 672 new cases in the 24 hours through Friday morning, compared with 324 the previous day, bringing the total to 182,196. Fatalities increased by 42 to 8,470 and the daily death toll has remained below 100 for about two weeks. The reproduction factor fell to 0.61 on Thursday from 0.68, which means 10 infected people are estimated to infect an average of around six others.

Washington Reopens in a Win for Trump

As President Donald Trump urged the states to begin reopening economies shuttered by the pandemic, the nation’s capital stubbornly resisted. Not anymore. Starting Friday, Washington finally lifts its stay-at-home order.

The move represents a symbolic victory for Trump who is eager to demonstrate that the country is getting back to normal. But it also poses risks as a resurgence of the virus in Washington, currently one of the worst hot spots in the nation, would be an equally potent symbol of the downside of Trump’s go-fast approach.

“It doesn’t look like they’ve had a big enough decline to justify reopening,” said Robert Bednarczyk, an assistant professor at the Emory University Rollins School of Public Health. “I’m a little confused about the data D.C. is using.”

Russian Deaths Rise by Record

Russia reported a record 232 deaths over the past day taking total fatalities to 4,374. The government has faced questions about the low fatality rate in the country relative to other nations with high total infections and Moscow’s health department has said the death toll linked to Covid-19 in April was more than twice initial reports once the count was broadened to include cases related to the coronavirus.

Cases continued to stabilize, with the country adding 8,572 new confirmed infections, taking the total to 387,623. The 2.3% increase in cases is slightly below the 2.4% five-day average.

Deaths May Be 3 Times Official Tally in Indonesia

Indonesia’s spiraling coronavirus crisis has citizens taking matters into their own hands, with networks of volunteers compiling data that show the death rate in the world’s fourth-most populous nation may be three times higher than what the government says.

Concern that the country’s low testing rate means virus deaths were going unrecorded spurred citizens, health workers and scientists to set up LaporCovid-19 and KawalCOVID19, two open-source data platforms that allow people around Indonesia to report suspected COVID-19 deaths via WhatsApp and Telegram.