US President Donald Trump says British Prime Minister Boris Johnson is “doing great”, as speculation mounts the leader is preparing to return to work after falling gravely ill with coronavirus.
In Australia, Prime Minister Scott Morrison said face masks are not recommended, and that “good progress” had been made to tackle the coronavirus pandemic, as the country records three more deaths.
This story was updated regularly throughout Friday. You can also stay informed with the latest episode of the Coronacast podcast.
Friday’s key moments
Asia’s Muslims keep faith and distance as Ramadan begins
Governments of Asian nations with large Muslim populations are urging people to keep their distance while observing their faith as Islam’s fasting month of Ramadan begins.
During Ramadan — which is set to begin on Friday or Saturday depending on the sighting of the new moon — Muslims join their families to break the fast at sunset, go to mosques to pray and look to spend time with relatives.
But curbs have been imposed on large gatherings for prayers and public meals due to the coronavirus crisis.
In a televised address, Malaysian Prime Minister Muhyiddin Yassin urged residents to keep their distance from others as much as possible.
“Just like when we fast, we must struggle and fight against our desires,” he said.
“It doesn’t matter that we cannot pray together at the mosque. Perhaps this is a God-given opportunity for us to pray with our families at home instead.”
On Thursday, the government extended curbs on movement until May 12, cancelled popular evening markets, banned attendance at mosque prayers and stopped travel back to people’s hometowns.
In neighbouring Indonesia — which has the world’s biggest Muslim population — President Joko Widodo repeated a call for people to work and pray at home during a national address.
Indonesia has recorded 7,775 infections and 647 deaths and has Asia’s highest toll outside China, where the disease emerged.
Chef Pete Evans fined $25,000 over product claims
Celebrity chef Pete Evans has been fined more than $25,000 by the Therapeutic Goods Administration (TGA) over claims he made about a product called a “BioCharger”.
The “hybrid subtle energy revitalisation platform” came with a $14,990 price tag and claimed to “optimise and improve potential health, wellness and athletic performance” on Evans’s website, but it appears to have been removed from the site.
The website claimed it replicates light, frequencies, harmonics, pulsed electromagnetic fields and voltage that are found in nature, for a variety of treatments.
It was brought to the attention of the TGA by a Facebook Live video that Evans posted on April 9, in which he said:
“It’s programmed with a thousand different recipes and there’s a couple in there for the Wuhan coronavirus.”
At the time, the creators of the BioCharger NG, Advanced Biotechnologies, released a statement distancing themselves from Evans’s claims, emphasising that “the BioCharger NG is not a medical device” and is not intended for use in the diagnosis, cure, mitigation, treatment, or prevention of diseases or any other conditions.
The TGA said there was “no apparent foundation” for Evans’s claim that the BioCharger could have any effect on coronavirus and issued two infringements totalling $25,200.
Tweet by @ama_media: “This guy just doesn’t get it. Pete Evans is trying to sell a $15,000 fancy light machine to vulnerable and frightened people to protect them against #COVID_19. He is not a doctor. He is not a scientist. He is a chef.”
NRL season restart date given greenlight by broadcasters
The National Rugby League said it will restart on May 28 after reaching a deal with its two broadcast partners.
A deal between the league, Channel Nine and Foxtel is seen as crucial before the NRL moves ahead with the rest of its plans to restart the competition.
ARL Commission chairman Peter V’landys told AAP that the NRL and broadcasters would finalise a competition structure early next week, as both parties want different outcomes.
“We were all united on the 28th May start,” he said.
“But just the competition structure, we need a little more time — but we definitely announce it early next week.”
The competition’s 16 clubs have been told they can restart training on May 4. The State of Origin series will be played at the end of the year.
Trump says Boris Johnson was ‘sharp and energetic’ during recent call
Speculation is mounting that British Prime Minister Boris Johnson is preparing to return to work after falling gravely ill with COVID-19 several weeks ago.
Britain’s health minister Matt Hancock described Mr Johnson as “cheerful, ebullient and getting much better” and that he will be back at his desk as soon as doctors recommend it.
“That decision is for the Prime Minister in consultation with his doctors,” he said.
The 55-year-old has been recovering at his country residence in Chequers after he was discharged from hospital earlier this month.
During a White House briefing, US President Donald Trump said Mr Johnson sounded “incredible” and like his old self during a recent phone conversation.
“He was so sharp and energetic,” Mr Trump said.
“He was ready to go. It’s like the old Boris, he’s doing great.”
British newspaper The Daily Telegraph has reported Mr Johnson is planning to return to work as early as Monday to take back control of the coronavirus crisis.
The leader is facing criticism from Opposition politicians and some epidemiologists for reacting too slowly to the virus outbreak.
The United Kingdom has the fifth-worst official death toll in the world, after the United States, Italy, Spain and France.
Britain’s death toll rose by 616 to 18,738 on Friday. There are 138,078 confirmed cases of coronavirus in the United Kingdom.
According to the country’s budget forecasters, the economy could be heading into its deepest recession in more than 300 years even after the finance ministry and the Bank of England rushed out a string of emergency stimulus measures.
Australia’s top vet says cats can get coronavirus
Pet cats could soon be tested for coronavirus in Australia and owners who catch COVID-19 are being warned to send their feline companions away while they recover from the illness.
Australia’s Chief Veterinary Officer, Mark Schipp, said coronavirus cases in domestic and large cats overseas, including tigers, showed the animals were susceptible to picking up the virus from humans.
“Cats have the same receptors as humans do to coronavirus so they have respiratory symptoms and also they have some gastrointestinal symptoms,” he said.
“But there’s absolutely no evidence that these animals are able to pass it back to humans — indeed, they seem to be the victims of this pandemic just as much as humans are.”
A commercial coronavirus test for cats has become available, with confirmatory testing to be carried out at the Australian Centre for Disease Preparedness.
Transport for London stands down 7,000 staff
The operator of London’s Underground and bus network says it will place 7,000 staff on leave because of the coronavirus crisis.
As part of the lockdown, people have been advised to only make essential journeys, and that has seen trips on the Tube slump 95 per cent and journeys on buses fall 85 per cent. As a result, Transport for London’s (TfL) main source of income has almost disappeared.
TfL said it would access the UK Government’s job retention scheme, saving around $30 million dollars a month.
Under the scheme, employers can stand down employees, with the Government paying cash grants of 80 per cent of wages up to a maximum of $4,850 a month. TfL will pay the remainder of their salaries.
It said the decision would partly reduce the huge financial impact of the pandemic while discussions continue with the Government on support it will need to keep London transport going.
The move, which impacts 25 per cent of TfL staff, will start on Monday and last an initial three-week period.
Face masks providing a ‘false sense of security’
After the National Cabinet meeting, Prime Minister Scott Morrison said advice from the Government’s medical experts was still that face masks don’t protect wearers from infection.
“It is not recommended by the expert panel that they are necessary to be worn,” he said.
“It’s important to note that the wearing of such a mask does not protect you from an infection, but if you are displaying respiratory symptoms then it is, at best, a measure that prevents you transferring it to others.”
Chief Medical Officer Brendan Murphy said non-medical face masks were providing a “false sense of security” to those who wear them.
“We’re saying again that they are not recommended, we have very low case numbers in Australia,” he said.
“These masks often aren’t of particularly good quality, and they often provide a false sense of security and make people not practice the social distancing measures that we want.
“We are not recommending the general community wear masks. We have been saying that consistently through the pandemic.”
Donald Trump suggests injecting disinfectant
US President Donald Trump has shared some musings on potential coronavirus cures.
He said researchers should look into injecting patients with ultraviolet light or even disinfectant.
In a White House news briefing, a US official said coronavirus appeared to weaken more quickly when exposed to sunlight, heat and humidity, in a potential sign that the pandemic could become less contagious in summer months.
The acting head of the US Department of Homeland Security’s Science and Technology Directorate said the virus survived best indoors, in dry conditions, and lost potency with higher temperatures and humidity — especially when exposed to sunlight.
In response, Mr Trump asked if hitting the body with light would have an impact.
“Supposing we hit the body with a tremendous, whether it’s ultraviolet or just very powerful light, and I think you said that has not been checked,” he said, gesturing towards medical officials.
Mr Trump also noted that researchers were looking at the effects of disinfectants on the virus and wondered if it could be injected into coronavirus patients.
“I see that disinfectant knocks it out in a minute, and is there a way we can do something like that by injection inside?” he said.
“Almost a cleaning. Because you see it gets on the lungs and it does a tremendous number on the lungs. So it would be interesting to check that out.”
Australia’s Chief Medical Officer Brendan Murphy advised against the injection of disinfectant after Friday’s National Cabinet meeting.
“I would not … I would caution against the injection of disinfectants. They could be quite toxic to people,” he said.
“I wasn’t privy to his comments, so I want to be very careful about commenting on something that I didn’t hear myself.
“And ultraviolet light, look, I don’t know the context in which he said it, so I really would need to study it before I could comment.”
Mr Trump’s comments prompted British company RB, which makes Dettol and Lysol, to release a statement saying that “under no circumstances should [the] disinfectant products be administered into the human body, through injection, ingestion or any other means”.
Australia records three more deaths
New South Wales, Tasmania and Western Australia have each recorded a new death from coronavirus, taking the national death toll to 78.
A 96-year-old woman who was resident of at an aged-care facility in Sydney’s west died on Friday.
She is the fifth resident from Newmarch House near Penrith who has died from COVID-19.
A 79-year-old north-west Tasmanian woman died while being cared for in the Launceston General Hospital.
Western Australia also recorded another death after a man in his 70s from the Artania cruise ship died in hospital last night.
Meanwhile, the number of new confirmed cases of COVID-19 has risen by single digits in four states and the ACT.
Australian death toll: 78
ACT: 1 new case, 104 confirmed cases
New South Wales: 7 new cases, 2,982 confirmed cases
Northern Territory: No new cases, 28 confirmed cases
Queensland: 2 new cases, 1,026 confirmed cases
South Australia: No new cases, 438 confirmed cases
Tasmania: No new cases, 205 confirmed cases
Victoria: 6 new cases, 1,343 confirmed cases
Western Australia: 2 new cases, 548 confirmed cases
Modelling shows falling Australian case numbers
The Federal Government has released the latest coronavirus modelling, which shows that Australia continues to reduce the number of new infections recorded each day.
The Government’s “nowcasting” of the coronavirus situation aims to take stock of the coronavirus situation using the latest numbers.
But that process gets less accurate if less data is fed into it. As case numbers continue to fall, the data being put into modelling is shrinking, making forecasts less precise.
Jodie McVernon from the Doherty Institute, which is responsible for formulating the modelling, said systems to track the growth rate of COVID-19 were a work in progress.
“We’re continually improving our methods to account for the local epidemiology,” she said.
Scott Morrison hails ‘good progress’ after National Cabinet meeting
National Cabinet met on Friday and Prime Minister Scott Morrison told the media afterwards the country was making good progress.
He said the continued progress was “enabling us to be in a position where we can have that confidence to continue to ease restrictions that are in place right across the country”.
Here are some key points from his press conference:
- The 1.5-metre social distancing rule is not a requirement in classrooms at school.
- The PM stressed his concerns again about restrictions in place at aged care facilities.
- The Federal Government’s contact tracing app is almost ready for release.
- Wearing a facemask is not necessary and doesn’t protect you from a COVID-19 infection.
- National Cabinet agreed to develop national principles for sport and recreation.
- Scott Morrison said easing of restrictions could happen over the next few weeks.
The case tally in Australia is 6,673 coronavirus infections, with 78 deaths. Forty-three people remain in intensive care, with 29 on ventilators.
Chief Medical Officer Brendan Murphy said the quarantining of returning travellers had been extremely effective.
“Because we are now quarantining formally every return traveller, the opportunity for a return traveller to infect locals is essentially zero,” he said.
“And I have to say again we are so grateful to the states and territories for organising this quarantine, and grateful for those Australian citizens who have put up with two weeks of quarantine to protect their fellow members of the community.
“And most of them have done so very graciously.”
Singapore records almost 900 new cases
Singapore has recorded 897 new cases of coronavirus taking its total number of cases to 12,075.
The health ministry said the vast majority of the new cases were migrant workers residing in dormitories, many of which are under government-ordered quarantine due to mass outbreaks.
The island of 5.7 million people now has one of the highest infection rates in Asia, behind only China, India and Japan.
Singapore Prime Minister Lee Hsien announced earlier this week it will extend its partial lockdown by another four weeks after reporting thousands of new coronavirus cases in recent days.
Facebook gets rid of ‘pseudoscience’ ad-targeting category
Facebook has removed “pseudoscience” as an option for advertisers that want to target audiences.
The category was available until this week even as the world’s largest social media network vowed to curb misinformation about the COVID-19 pandemic.
A company spokeswoman said it had also paused the availability of some other interest categories while it evaluates its list, after Reuters found “conspiracy theory” was no longer an ad-targeting option.
The Markup demonstrated that Facebook was allowing such ads after saying it would police COVID-19 misinformation on its platform.
“More than 78 million Facebook users were interested in “pseudoscience,” it said citing Facebook’s ad portal.
Misinformation about the pandemic caused by the novel coronavirus, from bogus cures to wide-ranging conspiracy theories, has also spread on rival social media platforms such Twitter and YouTube.
US House passes $500 billion coronavirus bill and oversight panel
The US House of Representatives has overwhelmingly approved a $US484 billion ($760 billion) coronavirus relief bill, funding small businesses and hospitals and pushing the total spending response to the crisis to almost $US3 trillion ($4.7 trillion), an unprecedented figure.
The measure passed the Democratic-led House by a vote of 388-5, with one member voting “present”. House members were meeting for the first time in weeks because of the coronavirus pandemic.
Politicians, many wearing masks, approved the bill during an extended period of voting intended to allow them to remain at a distance from one another in line with public health recommendations.
The House action sent the latest of four relief bills to the White House, where Republican President Donald Trump has promised to sign it quickly into law.
More than 4.4 million laid-off workers applied for US unemployment benefits last week as job cuts escalated across an economy that remains all but shut down, the Government said on Thursday [local time].
Roughly 26 million people have now filed for jobless aid in the five weeks since the coronavirus outbreak began forcing millions of employers to close their doors.
About one in six American workers have lost their jobs in the past five weeks, by far the worst string of layoffs on record. Economists have forecast that the unemployment rate for April could go as high as 20 per cent.
The enormous magnitude of job cuts has plunged the US economy into the worst economic crisis since the Great Depression of the 1930s. Some economists say the nation’s output could shrink by twice the amount that it did during the Great Recession, which ended in 2009.
Elizabeth Warren’s brother dies from COVID-19
Former Democratic presidential candidate Elizabeth Warren’s oldest brother, Donald Reed Herring, died on Tuesday night [local time] after contracting coronavirus, she confirmed on Thursday.
Mr Herring, 86, known as Don Reed, was an Air Force pilot who flew hundreds of combat missions in Vietnam.
“He was charming and funny, a natural leader,” Senator Warren wrote on Twitter.
“What made him extra special was his smile — quick and crooked, it always seemed to generate its own light, one that lit up everyone around him.”
Senator Warren has been a prominent critic of Republican President Donald Trump’s response to the coronavirus outbreak, which has killed more than 47,000 Americans.
She is widely seen as a top contender for the vice-presidential pick for presumptive Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden, who is challenging Mr Trump in November’s election.
New York survey suggests 2.7 million in state may have been infected
A preliminary survey has found that nearly 14 per cent of people tested positive for antibodies against the novel coronavirus, suggesting that as many as 2.7 million New Yorkers may have been infected with the disease, New York Governor Andrew Cuomo says.
While noting the sample size of 3,000 people and other limitations of the survey, Mr Cuomo said the implied fatality rate of 0.5 per cent of those infected by COVID-19, the respiratory illness caused by the virus, was lower than some experts feared.
“If the infection rate is 13.9 percent, then it changes the theories of what the death rate is if you get infected,” Mr Cuomo told a daily briefing.
The survey targeted people who were out shopping, but not working, meaning they were not essential workers like grocery clerks or bus drivers but were more likely to test positive for antibodies than someone isolated at home, Mr Cuomo said.
Even after discounting for those caveats, Mr Cuomo said the preliminary data added to his understanding of the virus and would inform his reopening plan, with social-distancing measures relaxed more quickly in less infected regions of the state.
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Half of Europe’s deaths in aged care homes
The World Health Organization has said up to half of all coronavirus deaths across Europe have been in aged care homes, calling it an “unimaginable tragedy”.
In a press briefing on Thursday (local time), WHO Europe director Dr Hans Kluge said a “deeply concerning picture” was emerging of the impact of COVID-19 on long-term homes for the elderly, where care has “often been notoriously neglected”.
Dr Kluge said health workers in such facilities were often overworked and underpaid and called for them to be given more protective gear and support, describing them as the “unsung heroes” of the pandemic.
He also noted that about half of the global burden of COVID-19 cases and deaths are in Europe and that in the last week, numbers have increased in the east, citing Russia, Turkey and Ukraine.
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South Africa to begin phased easing of lockdown on May 1
The South African Government will allow a partial reopening of the economy on May 1, with travel restrictions eased and some industries allowed to operate under a five-level risk system, President Cyril Ramaphosa says.
Mr Ramaphosa struck a cautious tone in his second national address of the week while emphasising that the worst of the coronavirus pandemic had yet to pass and that people needed to remain vigilant.
South Africa has spent nearly a month under restrictions requiring most of the population of about 58 million to stay at home apart from essential trips, leaving many struggling without wages and short of supplies.
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Focus on COVID-19 could lead to more malaria deaths in Africa
The number of deaths caused by malaria in Sub-Saharan Africa could double to 769,000 this year, as efforts to curb the disease are disrupted by the COVID-19 pandemic, the World Health Organization [WHO] warned on Thursday.
WHO Regional Director for Africa Dr Matshidiso Moeti said a recent analysis found that if mosquito net distribution stopped and case management reduces, “malaria deaths in sub-Saharan Africa could double in comparison to 2018”.
“This would be the highest number of deaths seen in the region since the year 2000,” she said.
She pointed to statistics from Africa’s Ebola outbreak showing that more people died of other diseases, including malaria, than from Ebola itself, due to lack of access to treatment.
“Let us not repeat that again with COVID-19,” she said.
The region has more than 25,000 confirmed cases of COVID-19, with more than 1,200 deaths.
US may never restore WHO funding, Pompeo says
US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said a fundamental reform of the World Health Organization was needed and that the United States, the WHO’s biggest donor, may never restore funding to the UN body.
Mr Pompeo told Fox News late on Wednesday [local time] there needed to be “a structural fix of the WHO” to correct its “shortcomings”.
Asked if he was not ruling out a change in leadership of the WHO, Mr Pompeo replied: “Even more than that, it may be the case that the United States can never return to underwriting, having US taxpayer dollars go to the WHO.”
The WHO has denied the Trump administration’s charges and China insists it has been transparent and open.
Democrats have accused the Trump administration of trying to “scapegoat” the WHO to distract from its handling of the coronavirus outbreak.
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