An employee wearing a protective shield uses a measuring tape to check the distance between tables and chairs in the outdoor seating area of a restaurant in Washington, DC, US, on Wednesday, May 27, 2020. Photographer: Andrew Harrer/Bloomberg

WHO warns against austerity : Global COVID-19 update

An employee wearing a protective shield uses a measuring tape to check the distance between tables and chairs in the outdoor seating area of a restaurant in Washington, DC, US, on Wednesday, May 27, 2020. Photographer: Andrew Harrer/Bloomberg

Key Developments:

WHO Warns Against Austerity

The World Health Organization warned against austerity in health spending as Europe’s economies reel from the effects of lockdowns to rein in the coronavirus. “We must learn from the mistakes of the past,” when public spending on health fell in the wake of the euro crisis, Hans Kluge, WHO regional director for Europe, said in a briefing.

Cuts in public spending on health shift costs to households who may already be facing financial insecurity, the WHO’s European office warned. Kluge called for solidarity among European governments. “If there’s something we have learned so far it’s that one country, even if it’s doing a great job, is not standing alone. We are safe only when everyone is safe.”

US Jobless Rolls Shrink for First Time in Pandemic

US states’ jobless rolls shrank for the first time during the pandemic in a sign people are starting to return to work, even as millions more Americans filed for unemployment benefits.

Continuing claims, which tally Americans’ ongoing benefit claims in state programs, fell to 21.1 million for the week ended May 16, Labor Department figures showed Thursday. Initial jobless claims for regular state programs totalled 2.12 million in the week ended May 23, to bring the 2 1/2-month total above 40 million.

Separate data showed that US orders for durable goods sank sharply for a second month in April as the pandemic wreaked havoc on the manufacturing industry.

Johnson to Set Out Results of UK Virus Response Review

“The Prime Minister will be able to set out later what we have concluded as a result of that review and to talk in some more detail about the recovery plan and what the next steps are likely to be,” Boris Johnson’s official spokesman, James Slack, said on a call with reporters Thursday.

Johnson will speak at a 5 p.m. press conference with Chief Medical Officer Chris Whitty and Chief Scientific Adviser Patrick Vallance. The prime minister’s office also dismissed a police finding that Dominic Cummings, Johnson’s top aide, may have broken lockdown rules, insisting the matter is now closed.

Separately, the UK’s coronavirus tracing program was hit by technical problems on the day of its launch, with some health-care workers unable to log on to the system. The so-called Test and Trace service is a key part of Johnson’s plan to help the British economy return to normality.

AstraZeneca Joins With Oxford Biomedica to Produce Shot

AstraZeneca Plc joined forces with Oxford Biomedica Plc to help produce one of the world’s fastest-moving potential vaccines against COVID-19. Oxford Biomedica will produce multiple batches of the vaccine this year and give AstraZeneca access to its Oxbox manufacturing center, according to a statement Thursday. AstraZeneca has been working with the University of Oxford on the inoculation.

Third of Russians Believe Threat Is Overblown: Poll

Nearly a third of Russians believe that the threat from the coronavirus crisis has been massively overblown, according to an opinion poll published on Thursday. The survey of 7,600 people from across Russia was conducted on May 21-26 by the Higher School of Economics in Moscow.

Google Launches ‘Scam Spotter’

Alphabet Inc.’s Google has created “Scam Spotter” in partnership with Cybercrime Support Network, an organization that supports victims of online crimes. The website is intended to simplify and organize expert advice about coronavirus-related scams. Scammers have taken advantage of “fear and uncertainty,” around the virus, leading to approximately $40 million in fraud losses, Google said.

Swiss Allow Sex Work But Not Judo in Reopening

Swiss politicians have decided that sex workers can soon get back to business while sports and activities involving close physical contact such as judo, boxing, wrestling and dancing will remain prohibited.

Prostitution is legal in Switzerland and can resume from June 6, along with cinemas, nightclubs and public pools, the government announced this week. Yet sports and activities that involve “close and constant” physical contact remain forbidden in an effort to stop the spread of the coronavirus.

Li Says China’s Economy Can Grow

China’s economy can grow this year if the key tasks set out by the government, including ensuring employment and people’s livelihoods, are achieved, according to Premier Li Keqiang.

It is “practical and realistic” to not set a numerical growth target this year as China is not immune from the economic shocks brought about by the pandemic, the premier said at a press conference as the annual parliament session closed on Thursday. Li said the government has the ability to take further action should the outlook deteriorate.

Roche Partners With Gilead

Roche Holding AG and Gilead Sciences Inc. are initiating a late-stage trial of a two-drug combination in hopes of creating a new weapon in the battle against COVID-19. The study will pair Roche’s immune suppressor Actemra along with Gilead’s antiviral remdesivir, the only drug shown so far to fight the coronavirus, in treating patients with severe pneumonia. The results of the combination will be compared to those from patients who receive remdesivir and a placebo.

The trial adds to the blizzard of research into existing medicines against COVID-19. While antivirals seek to stop viruses from replicating, drugs like Actemra — often used to treat rheumatoid arthritis — aim to counter harmful levels of inflammation, sometimes called a cytokine storm, that can be just as damaging as the infection itself.

Russian Recoveries Exceed New Cases Again

Confirmed cases rose by 8,371 over the past day to 379,051 while 8,785 people recovered, bringing the total to 150,993. This is the third straight day the daily number of recoveries has exceeded new cases as the outbreak shows signs of stabilizing in Russia.

The data comes as Moscow prepares to ease a lockdown imposed since the end of March after President Vladimir Putin declared that Russia has passed the peak of the pandemic. City authorities managed “not only to stabilize the situation, but significantly improve it,” Moscow Mayor Sergei Sobyanin told Putin on Wednesday. “We can already talk about the next steps to get out of this crisis.”

Travel Companies Urge UK to Drop Quarantine Plans

More than 70 executives from travel firms have written to the UK government calling for the dropping of a controversial quarantine plan that will apply to passengers entering the UK from June 8. The signatories include The Ritz, Claridges, The Dorchester and Mandarin Oriental.

“The very last thing the travel industry needs is a mandatory quarantine imposed on all arriving passengers which will deter foreign visitors from coming here, deter UK visitors from traveling abroad and, most likely, cause other countries to impose reciprocal quarantine requirements on British visitors, as France has already announced,” according to the letter to Home Secretary Priti Patel.

Virus Clusters Surface in Korea, Japan

South Korea will temporarily close museums, parks and galleries in Seoul and surrounding cities after reporting its biggest spike in new cases in nearly two months, raising fears of a second wave of infections. The country reported 79 new cases, about double the new infections reported a day earlier and marked the highest number of cases since April 5 when it registered 81. The total number of confirmed cases reached 11,344, according to the Korea Centers for Disease Control & Prevention.

The surge came as health authorities were investigating a new outbreak at a distribution center for Softbank-backed Coupang Corp., an e-commerce company known for its “rocket delivery” service, which has increased in popularity as more Koreans have turned to online shopping in the wake of pandemic. So far, 82 cases have been linked to the distribution center with the numbers likely to rise as health authorities complete testing of more than 4,000 known contacts.

Small clusters have also emerged in several locations in Japan, including the capital, in its first week since a state of emergency was lifted nationwide. More than four people were found to be infected at a hospital in western Tokyo, Nippon Television reported. At least 18 others, mostly patients, are being tested after showing symptoms including fever. In the southwestern city of Kitakyushu, an uptick in new cases — 22 infections in five days, after more than three weeks without a single case — prompted the government to send its virus cluster response team to investigate.

Glaxo Targets Vaccine Booster

Glaxo says its adjuvant can reduce the amount of vaccine required per dose, allowing more people to be immunized, and create longer-lasting immunity, according to a statement Thursday. The U.K. drugmaker is also working to develop a vaccine, but the two efforts are separate. “More than one vaccine will be needed to address this global pandemic,” Roger Connor, president of Glaxo’s vaccines operation, said in the statement.

Masks Work, Japan Panel Says

Mask-wearing — anathema to many in the US — is one reason why Japan has avoided the heavy coronavirus death tolls seen in many parts of the world, according to the government’s expert panel on the pandemic.

While face-coverings have sparked angry confrontations in some parts of the world, and were initially dismissed as ineffective by the World Health Organization, they have long been part of everyday life in Japan. But they won’t be enough for the country to maintain its strong record on containing the virus.