Coronavirus pushes US jobless to Depression level: Live updates

UK scientists have started testing an experimental vaccine as the death toll from the infection hits 190,000 worldwide.

  • 26 million people have sought US jobless aid in the past five weeks since the coronavirus hit. About one in six American workers have lost their jobs, by far the worst string of layoffs since the Great Depression of the 1930s. The US House of Representatives has passed a nearly $500bn spending package to help businesses and hospitals.

  • More than 190,000 people have died due to the pandemic, with 2.7 million infected, out of whom almost 750,000 have recovered.

  • Testing of an experimental COVID-19 vaccine began on healthy volunteers at University of Oxford in Britain, the latest in a cluster of early-stage studies in search of protection against the coronavirus.

  • The head of the World Health Organization (WHO) says there are “worrying upward trends” in early epidemics in parts of Africa and Central and South America, warning that the “virus will be with us for a long time”.

  • The United Nations is warning global hunger could double as a result of the coronavirus pandemic, putting 265 million people at risk.

Here are the latest updates:

Friday, April 24

01:11 GMT – Gilead’s remdesivir showing significant side effect against coronavirus

Researchers studying Gilead Sciences Inc’s experimental coronavirus drug have found that the it failed its first randomised clinical trial, with some showing signficant side effects.

The Chinese trial showed the antiviral drug remdesivir did not improve patients’ condition or reduce the pathogen’s presence in the bloodstream, according to the Financial Times report, which cited draft documents published accidentally by the World Health Organization.

Remdesivir also previously failed as a treatment for Ebola. 

00:55 GMT – US CDC releasing $631m more in response to health emergency

The US Department of Health and Human Services has announced that the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) will be releasing $631m to state and local governments in response to the COVID-19 health emergency.

Health Secretary Alex Azar said that the money will be awarded to 64 local governments to help states with their efforts to re-open, a controversial policy that has drawn criticism by the opposition and many health experts.

00:11 GMT – Duterte extends lockdown of Metro Manila to May 15

Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte has extended the lockdown of Metro Manila to May 15.

The extended lockdown announced on Friday also covers several provinces of Luzon, slightly easing the restrictions that previously covered the entire northern island, affecting more than 57 million people.

Duterte was scheduled to make the announcement on Thursday, but cancelled it at the last minute. 

00:01 GMT – Cruise ship linked to Australia’s biggest virus outbreak sets sail

A cruise ship linked to a third of Australia’s coronavirus deaths has left the country after a month docked in local waters, the authorities said on Friday, as an emergency cabinet meeting was expected to ease some social-distancing measures.

The Ruby Princess, owned by Carnival Corp, has become a flashpoint of public anger after being allowed to unload thousands of passengers in Sydney without health checks on March 19.

Hundreds of its passengers later tested positive to COVID-19, about 10 percent of the country’s roughly 6,600 infections and a third of the country’s 77 coronavirus deaths have been traced to the ship.

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Hello, I’m Ted Regencia in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, with Al Jazeera’s continuing coverage of the coronavirus pandemic. You can find updates from yesterday, April 23, here.

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‘Ousted’ US vaccine expert to file complaint

A vaccine expert who says he lost his job because he disagreed with Donald Trump’s claims about treatments for Covid-19 is to file a whistleblower complaint, his lawyers say.

Dr Rick Bright led the US government agency trying to develop a vaccine for the coronavirus.

He says he was ousted for questioning the potential of hydroxychloroquine, an anti-malaria drug touted by Mr Trump.

President Trump said he had “never heard” of Dr Bright.

The president has previously mentioned the use of hydroxychloroquine and the related drug chloroquine as a possible “game changer” for Covid-19. However, many experts have cautioned that hydroxychloroquine could be ineffective, or even dangerous.

“In our filing we will make clear that Dr Bright was sidelined for one reason only – because he resisted efforts to provide unfettered access to potentially dangerous drugs, including chloroquine, a drug promoted by the administration as a panacea, but which is untested and possibly deadly when used improperly,” a statement from the doctor’s lawyers said.

Under US law, a whistleblower complaint can be filed if a person believes their employer retaliated against them for exercising their rights as an employee.

In a surprise announcement on Tuesday, the US health department said Dr Bright had been removed as director of the Biomedical Advanced Research and Development Authority (Barda) and reassigned to a different role at the National Institutes of Health.

The following day, Dr Bright released a statement saying that he was replaced because he resisted “misguided directives” to promote hydroxychloroquine and chloroquine as treatments for Covid-19.

“While I am prepared to look at all options and to think ‘outside the box’ for effective treatments, I rightly resisted efforts to provide an unproven drug on demand to the American public,” Dr Bright said.

Asked about the row during the daily coronavirus briefing on Wednesday, President Trump responded: “I’ve never heard of him.”

On Dr Bright’s claim that he was driven out, Mr Trump added: “A guy says he was pushed out of a job. Maybe he was, maybe he wasn’t. You’d have to hear the other side.”

Dr Bright had headed Barda since 2016.

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Iran vows to DESTROY any US force in Persian Gulf – Donald Trump issued BOLD threat

If any US vessel threatens Iran’s military or ships, they will be destroyed, the head of the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps, Hossein Salami said today. The head of the country’s special forces also claimed the security of the Persian Gulf is the ultimate strategic priority for the Islamic Republic. The brazen warning comes as Donald Trump has issued a series of threats to Iran this month, despite the current coronavirus pandemic.

Mr Salami said: “I have ordered our naval forces to destroy any American terrorist force in the Persian Gulf that threatens security of Iran’s military or non-military ships.

“Security of the Persian Gulf is part of Iran’s strategic priorities.

“I am telling the Americans that we are absolutely determined and serious in defending our national security, our water borders, our shipping safety, and our security forces, and we will respond decisively to any sabotage.

“Americans have experienced our power in the past and must learn from it.”

After the Middle East almost suffered all-out war, tensions between Mr Trump and Iran have seen a spike in recent weeks.

The US Navy accused Iranian vessels of confrontational and aggressive behaviour in the Gulf.

According to the Navy, six of its vessels were confronted by ships from the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC).

Such was the behaviour of the vessels the US Central Command warned any further actions could risk a flare up in relations between the two states.

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The US Navy said: “11 Iranian Revolutionary Guard vessels repeatedly conducted dangerous & harassing approaches against US naval ships operating in international waters of North Arabian Gulf.

“US crews took actions deemed appropriate to avoid collision.

“The US crews issued multiple warnings via bridge-to-bridge radio, five short blasts from the ships’ horns and long-range acoustic noise maker devices, but received no response from the IRGCN.

“After approximately one hour, the IRGCN vessels responded to the bridge-to-bridge radio queries, then manoeuvred away from the US ships and opened distance between them.”

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This came after the IRGC redirected a Hong-Kong flagged oil tanker to its waters.

Iran has also accused the US of blocking multiple ships in the Strait of Hormuz – a key stretch in the Persian Gulf.

In response, Mr Trump has ordered the US Navy to attack and destroy any Iranian gunboats that approach US vessels.

The US President has also warned the Islamic Republic against any surprise attacks in the Middle East amid the coronavirus outbreak.

Tensions between the two countries flared after the US withdrew from the 2015 nuclear deal.

The deal was designed to limit Iran’s nuclear development while also allowing international investigators into the country.

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Prince Charles and his wife join UK round of applause for carers

LONDON (Reuters) – Prince Charles and his wife Camilla joined Britain’s “Clap for Carers” ritual on Thursday, their first appearance together since the heir to the throne recovered from the coronavirus.

The nationwide event has become a weekly fixture in recent weeks, with Britons up and down the country clapping, banging pots and pans, cheering and whooping to show their appreciation to all those protecting the public during the pandemic.

Prime Minister Boris Johnson, who is recovering at his country residence after a spell in intensive care with COVID-19, was due to take part in the applause, a spokesman said earlier.

Johnson was last seen in public on April 12, when he posted a video message shortly after leaving hospital.

Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab, who is deputising for him, was filmed applauding outside his ministry, with staff and security personnel a safe distance away.

Charles and Camilla, who are in Scotland, appeared outside a front door, in unusually casual attire by their standards. Camilla was in jeans, while the prince wore a shirt but no tie.

In now familiar scenes across the country, neighbours waved at each other and clapped, while drivers honked car horns and emergency vehicles flashed their blue lights to show their appreciation to National Health Service staff and other carers.

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U.S. House prepares to pass $500 billion coronavirus bill, approves oversight panel

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – The U.S. House of Representatives was poised on Thursday to pass a $484 billion coronavirus relief bill, funding small businesses and hospitals and pushing the total spending response to the crisis to an unprecedented nearly $3 trillion.

The measure is expected to receive solid bipartisan support in the Democratic-led House. But threats of opposition by some members of both parties prompted legislators to return to Washington for the House vote despite stay-at-home orders meant to control the spread of the virus.

The Republican-led Senate passed the legislation on Tuesday by unanimous consent, so senators did not have to travel.

Approval by the House will send the latest relief bill to the White House, where Republican President Donald Trump has promised to quickly sign it into law.

Before voting on the coronavirus aid bill, the House voted to approve a new select committee, with subpoena power, to probe the U.S. coronavirus response. It will have broad powers to investigate how federal dollars are being spent, U.S. preparedness and Trump administration deliberations.

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, a Democrat, said the panel is essential to ensure funds go to those who need them and to prevent scams. Republicans said the panel is not needed, and that the three coronavirus relief bills already passed have enough oversight in them. The committee was approved on a vote of 212-182, along party lines.

The $484 billion aid bill that the House was to vote on next would be the fourth passed to address the coronavirus crisis. It provides funds to small businesses and hospitals struggling with the economic toll of a pandemic that has killed more than 47,000 Americans and thrown a record 26 million out of work over the past five weeks, wiping out all the jobs created during the longest employment boom in U.S. history.

“This is really a very, very, very sad day. We come to the floor with nearly 50,000 dead, a huge number of people, and the uncertainty of it all,” Pelosi said during debate.

Congress passed the last coronavirus relief bill, worth more than $2 trillion, in March, with overwhelming support from members of both parties. It was the largest such funding bill ever passed.

TROUBLE AHEAD

But the two parties have set the stage for an angry fight over additional funding for state and local governments reeling from the impact of lost revenue after Republicans refused to include it in the current relief bill.

Trump has said he supports more funding for states, and has promised to back it in future legislation.

But congressional Republicans have resisted. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell suggested in a radio interview on Wednesday that states could go bankrupt, but said later he did not want states to use federal funds for anything unrelated to the coronavirus.

Democrats castigated McConnell for the remark. “Leader McConnell said to our cities and states, to our cops and firemen and teachers, he told them to drop dead,” said Representative Max Rose, who represents a district in New York City.

New York Governor Andrew Cuomo called the bankruptcy proposal “one of the really dumb ideas of all time” during a regular news briefing.

Thursday’s voting was taking place under safety protocols that considerably lengthened proceedings. Lawmakers were instructed to wait in their offices for the vote, then come to the House in alphabetical order in small groups and to stand in line, six feet apart, before entering the chamber.

There was also a half-hour break scheduled to clean the chamber between the first and second votes.About 40 House members were in the room to watch the hours of debate in person, at any given point during the day. Most wore face masks and removed them to speak, after using cleaning wipes to swab off their lecterns and microphones.

Echoing Trump, many Republicans also want the country – including Congress – to reopen more quickly than in the several more weeks recommended in many states. Republican Representative Ralph Norman of South Carolina said lawmakers should “get our businesses to open the doors and do what Americans have always been allowed to do, which is go to work.”

House Republican leader Kevin McCarthy said the latest aid package should have been passed at least two weeks ago after the Trump administration requested it, saying that perhaps then more Americans would have kept their jobs.

“Some people unfortunately got laid off because of this delay,” McCarthy said. Democrats rejected the charge, saying lawmakers had improved on Trump’s request by adding more money for small businesses, hospitals and coronavirus testing.

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‘Secretive’ Chinese Communist Party let COVID-19 get ‘out of control’ to ‘protect’ itself

China’s ambassador to the UK has hit back at the United States, saying that Washington should not seek to “bully” Beijing. During a rare question and answer session, Liu Xiaoming dismissed claims of a Chinese cover up of the coronavirus pandemic due to a lack of transparency at the beginning. However, the last colonial governor of Hong Kong, Lord Patten, told Sky News that the Chinese Communist Party has serious questions to answer.

He said: “This isn’t an argument we have with China and those wonderfully brave doctors who tried to blow the whistle on what was happening in Wuhan.

“We have an argument with the Chinese Communist Party, and with people like the ambassador.

“He’s an example of what the Chinese foreign ministry themselves call ‘wolf diplomacy’. You can’t honestly believe a word he says.

“We know, and everybody in China knows that the virus in its first stages of epidemic was covered up.”

Lord Patten continued: “There were deliberate lies, that’s well known.

“At the end of January, even the Chinese foreign minister was telling the Australian foreign minister that this virus was all curable and preventable.

“At the same time, the Chinese were buying large amounts of medical supplies from Australia.

“There is so much evidence that supports, unhappily, the fact that the Chinese Communist Party, because it’s always secretive, trying to protect itself, let this get out of control.”

The former governor added: “In January to February, five million people left Wuhan and the province for other parts of China and other parts of the world.

“That’s why it started spreading and exactly the same thing happened with SARS, though it wasn’t quite as bad.

“As long as there is this Chinese Communist dictatorship under Xi Jinping which has rowed back on the sort of changes and reforms which were being made in the past, we do need to look at a new relationship with the Chinese Communist regime.”

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Lord Patten also told Sky: “I think we have to do this cross-Government, I think we have to do this with our allies.

“I hope the next American administration will behave rather more sensibly in the way it deals with these issues and works with its allies.

“We all have a stake in trying to make sure that China doesn’t bully the world.

“In Hong Kong, the Chinese Communists are trying to use the fact that we’re all concentrating understandably on fighting this terrible epidemic in order to turn the screws on Hong Kong.

“We’ve got to make it clear that we stand up for values we believe in passionately.”

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Coronavirus: City of Kawartha Lakes eyes ‘soft re-opening’ of some outdoor services on May 12

All City of Kawartha Lakes municipal amenities and boat launches remain closed due to the ongoing coronavirus pandemic.

But it may not be that way come May 12 — the same day the provincial state of emergency is slated to be lifted, should Premier Doug Ford choose to not extend it.

“We are targeting May 12 as a date based on the state of emergency,” said Mayor Andy Letham.  “We’re going to do a review at that time on our boat ramps, landfills and the rail trail — opening it to motorized vehicles.”

“I want to stress this is a target date only.”

“These are outside activities and it will depend on the state of emergency and our local state of emergency as well,” Letham said.

The 55 km rail trail between Lindsay and Kinmount was to open May 1 to motorized vehicles, but that date will be pushed back.

On the media teleconference Thursday, Letham told reporters these are outdoor activities and that if those services reopened, there would be parameters put in place for physical distancing.

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“This is not a done deal. If we continue on the route we’re going, we’re on a good path over the next 2.5-3 weeks, then we can look at easing some of these things back into our community,” added Letham.

Letham has had preliminary discussions with Haliburton-Kawartha Lakes-Brock MPP Laurie Scott about some non-essential businesses returning to a reduced behind-the-scenes operation to get ready for the eventual re-opening of the economy.

To date, nothing has been decided and the provincial order restricting non-essential business remains in place.

“The provincial emergency has closed our businesses and non-essentials.  We have no control over that,” said Letham.  “We’re just looking at some of the local decisions we’ve made.”

“We think there’s a way to do that, if it’s outside and we can do it responsibly, then at some point, we’re going to have to start getting back to where we want to be.”

Letham said the municipality will work with Haliburton, Kawartha, Pine Ridge District Health Unit on benchmarks to put in place to move forward with re-opening some services.

He will discuss that on a call on Monday.

Also on the call, Letham said the municipality is sending a letter of support to Enbridge Gas for the expansion of service to Bobcaygeon.

The service has already been extended and installed in nearby Fenelon Falls.

The City of Kawartha Lakes will turn on its blue lights at city hall in Lindsay, for a week starting Friday night, in tribute to those affected by the mass shooting tragedy in Nova Scotia.

All flags at city hall and the Bobcaygeon Service Centre will also be lowered on Monday.

Council will meet for the first time in a virtual setting on Apr. 28.

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South Africa's SAA faces wind-down or liquidation, rescue team says

JOHANNESBURG (Reuters) – Specialists appointed to try to save state-owned South African Airways (SAA) said on Thursday that they had no further funds for rescue efforts and that the two remaining options were a wind-down process or placing the company into liquidation.

The wind-down process is dependent on employees accepting the termination of their employment by mutual consent within a given time frame, the specialists said in a notice to affected parties seen by Reuters.

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One killed, two injured in early morning shootings in Denver

A person was killed and two others were injured in two shootings early Thursday morning in Denver.

Denver police responded about 1:40 a.m. to a shooting in the 14500 block of East 51st Place and found two people with gunshot injuries, according to the department. One of the victims was pronounced dead and another was transported to the hospital with serious injuries.

Earlier in the night, police responded to the 4800 block of North Clarkson Street for a separate shooting. Police arrested an adult male suspect in the case, and the victim is expected to survive, according to the department.

The incident on East 51st Place is the tenth homicide in Denver so far this year.

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U.S. extends economic aid to Greenland to counter China, Russia in Arctic

COPENHAGEN/WASHINGTON (Reuters) – The United States announced a $12.1 million economic aid package for Greenland on Thursday aimed at strengthening mutual ties and boost a renewed U.S. push for a greater military presence in the Arctic.

The move to improve ties with Greenland drew criticism from Denmark, which less than a year ago rebuffed U.S. President Donald Trump’s offer to buy the vast Arctic island as “absurd.”

Greenland, which on Thursday welcomed the money, is becoming increasingly important for the U.S. military and for the U.S. ballistic missile early warning system because of a Russian and Chinese commercial and military buildup in the Arctic.

The aid package is aimed particularly at the areas of natural resources and education.

Greenland, home to only 56,000 people but rich in natural resources, is an autonomous Danish territory. With its tiny economy heavily dependant on fishing, the island, which has no roads between its 17 towns and one commercial international airport, relies on annual grants from Denmark.

“They have clearly crossed the line,” said Karsten Honge, member of the foreign affairs committee for the Socialist People’s Party, a government ally.

“It’s completely unheard of that a close ally tries to create division between Greenland and Denmark this way,” he told Reuters.

Soren Espersen, a member of the Danish parliament’s foreign affairs committee for opposition party The Danish People’s Party, called the U.S. offer “an insult” to Greenland and Denmark.

A senior U.S. State Department official, at a briefing on Thursday, denied Washington’s efforts were intended to create divisions, saying the United States has been working closely with Denmark for months on this initiative.

“I think what we’re doing here is good old-fashioned diplomatic stagecraft designed to enhance our engagement,” the official said, adding that the aid package was not “designed to pave the way to purchase Greenland.”

The United States plans this year to open a consulate in Greenland’s capital Nuuk for the first time since 1953.

Russia has stepped up its military capabilities in the Arctic, while China calls itself a “near Arctic state” and has laid plans for a Polar Silk Road focused on new Arctic shipping routes and access to natural resources.

The United States has paid little attention to the Arctic in the last two decades, but the officials said it is “in the process of adjusting our Arctic policy to today’s new strategic realities.”

The Danish foreign ministry was not immediately available for comment.

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