White House considers scaling back daily briefings after disinfectant comments

Here are the latest coronavirus updates from around the world.
Image: Georgia
Jessica King sits under a dryer at Three-13 Salon, Spa and Boutique, during the phased reopening of businesses and restaurants from coronavirus disease (COVID-19) restrictions in the state, in Marietta, Ga., on April 24, 2020.Bita Honarvar / Reuters

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The White House is considering scaling back President Donald Trump's daily briefings on the coronavirus pandemic as his aides and allies increasingly worry that his lengthy appearances may backfire politically.

Those concerns reached an inflection point when the president suggested on Thursday evening that people might be able to inject household cleaning items or disinfectants to deter the coronavirus, sparking immediate and universal backlash from the medical community.

The evaluation of Trump's briefings comes as the worldwide death toll for the coronavirus surpassed 200,000 on Saturday, according to Johns Hopkins University data.

Over 20,000 of those fatalities have been in the United Kingdom, the country's health minister said Saturday, making it the fifth nation to reach that grim milestone.In China, where the pandemic began, the government reported no new deaths for a 10th straight day.Here's what to know about the coronavirus, plus a timeline of the most critical moments:

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WHO warns against concept of ‘immunity passports’

The World Health Organization cautioned against the idea of “immunity passports” in a briefing released on Saturday, saying there is currently no evidence that people who have recovered from COVID-19 are protected from a second infection.

“Immunity passports” or “risk-free certificates” has been suggested by some governments as a means to enable people to travel or to return to work assuming they cannot be re-infected. But the WHO said more research on immunity is needed before this can be considered.

“At this point in the pandemic, there is not enough evidence about the effectiveness of antibody-mediated immunity to guarantee the accuracy of an ‘immunity passport’,” the brief said.

People who assume that they are immune to a second infection because they have received a positive antibody test result may ignore public health advice. As such, the use of such certificates at this point may also increase the risks of continued transmission, it said.

Muted Anzac Day memorials take place in Australia and New Zealand

Traditional crowds at dawn services for the Anzac Day memorial holiday in Australia were replaced Saturday with candlelit vigils in driveways and neighbors gathering to listen to buglers play "The Last Post."

Restrictions on social gatherings due to coronavirus meant that the commemorations, also marked in New Zealand, were more muted. 

Anzac Day marks the anniversary of the day that soldiers from both countries, known as Anzacs, landed on the Gallipoli Peninsula in modern day Turkey, during World War I in 1915. It also honors those killed in all wars.

In Australia's capital, Canberra, Prime Minister Scott Morrison spoke at a crowd-free commemorative service held inside the Australian War Memorial. 

In New Zealand, where even tighter crowd restrictions are in place, Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern stood at dawn on the driveway of Premier House, the leader’s official residence, for a ceremony

Greek economy expected to shrink by 5-10 percent this year, minister says

The Greek economy, hit hard by coronavirus restrictions, is expected to shrink by 5-10 percent this year, the country’s finance minister said Saturday.

“It seems we have been settling at a range of between 5 and 10 percentage points,” Finance Minister Christos Staikouras told Open television station. He added that estimates are changing constantly, depending on the impact of the restrictions and on how those restrictions will be lifted.

As of late Friday, Greece had reported 2,490 cases of COVID-19, including 130 deaths, a low rate compared to many fellow E.U. member countries. The country, which exited its three international bailouts in 2018, had been on a recovery path since a 10-year debt crisis that brought a 25 percent contraction. 

Sri Lanka reimposes countrywide 24-hour curfew

Sri Lanka has reimposed a countrywide 24-hour curfew over the weekend after a surge in the number of confirmed virus cases, most of them navy sailors who were hunting those evading quarantine.

The 46 new infections on Friday were the highest in a day. They brought to 420 the number of COVID-19 patients in the Indian Ocean island, including seven deaths.

Sri Lanka had partially lifted a monthlong curfew last week during daytime hours in more than two thirds of the country. The new curfew remains in effect until Monday. Police have so far arrested more than 30,000 violators.

Quarantine breakers to be given electronic tracking wristbands in South Korea

South Korea will strap electronic wristbands on those who have ignored home-quarantine orders starting next week, according to the country's Central Disaster and Safety Countermeasures headquarters. 

The so-called "Safety Band" will regulate the people violating self-isolation, South Korea’s Vice Health Minister Kim Gang-lip said on Friday. Those who refuse to wear the bands after breaking quarantine will be sent to shelters where they will be asked to pay for accommodation, he said according to the Associated Press. 

South Korea has reported 10 new cases of the virus on Saturday — the eighth day in a row its daily jump was below 20. No new deaths were reported Saturday for the second straight day, according to South Korea’s Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. 

The figures brought national totals to 10,718 cases and 240 deaths on Saturday. South Korea has largely managed to bring its epidemic under control due to an extensive testing campaign and intensive contact tracing.

India, Pakistan ease restrictions for some businesses amid lockdown

The Indian government allowed a limited reopening of small businesses in residential areas on Saturday, more than a month after the nation went into a lockdown to curb the spread of the virus, officials said.

Late Friday the federal home ministry said retail shops could start operations with the staff number reduced by 50 percent, while also requiring appropriate social distancing, wearing of masks and gloves during work. The sale of liquor and other non-essential items will continue to be prohibited, and no shops in large market places or malls will be allowed to open for business until May 3.

India has reported 24,506 cases of the virus and 775 deaths, with authorities setting up new teams to focus on compliance and implementation of lockdown measures.

In neighboring Pakistan, the government extended the nationwide lockdown till May 9. However, it is switching to a so-called "smart lockdown" from Saturday for targeted tracking and tracing of cases while allowing some industrial and commercial activities to begin under safety guidelines.

China reports no new deaths for tenth straight day

No new deaths have been reported in China for the tenth consecutive day on Saturday. 

The country's National Health Commission also recorded just 12 new cases, 11 of which it said were brought in from overseas. There was a local transmission in the northeastern province of Heilongjiang bordering on Russia, according to the Associated Press.

The country has reported a total of 4,632 deaths and 82,816 cases, but the total number of active cases is now below 1,000. As a result officials have slowly started to loosen restrictions on residents.

Brazil becoming coronavirus hot spot as testing falters

RIO DE JANEIRO — Cases of the new coronavirus are overwhelming hospitals, morgues and cemeteries across Brazil as Latin America’s largest nation veers closer to becoming one of the world’s pandemic hot spots.

Medical officials in Rio de Janeiro and at least four other major cities have warned that their hospital systems are on the verge of collapse, or already too overwhelmed to take any more patients.

Health experts expect the number of infections in the country of 211 million people will be much higher than what has been reported because of insufficient, delayed testing.

Meanwhile, President Jair Bolsonaro has shown no sign of wavering from his insistence that COVID-19 is a relatively minor disease and that broad social-distancing measures are not needed to stop it. He has said only Brazilians at high risk should be isolated.

The health ministry has confirmed nearly 53,000 COVID-19 cases and more than 3,600 deaths. By official counts, the country had its worst day yet on Thursday, with about 3,700 new cases and more than 400 deaths, and Friday was nearly as grim.

Experts warned that paltry testing means the true number of infections is far greater. And because it can take a long time for tests to be processed, the current numbers actually reflect deaths that happened one or two weeks ago, said Domingos Alves, adjunct professor of social medicine at the University of Sao Paulo, who is involved in the project.