Chancellor announces steps in reversing lockdowns amid ‘fragile, partial success’ but stresses ‘extreme caution’ needed.
This blog is now closed. Here’s a summary of Wednesday’s key developments:
The total number of coronavirus cases in the world has surpassed two million, according to the data compiled by the Johns Hopkins University.
German Chancellor Angela Merkel has announced first steps in undoing coronavirus lockdowns for the coming weeks.
The head of the World Health Organization has said he regrets US President Donald Trump’s decision to halt funding for the organisation, but called on world unity to fight the coronavirus pandemic.
The International Monetary Fund (IMF) says the global economy is expected to shrink by three percent this year – the biggest contraction since the Great Depression of the 1930s.
Wednesday, April 15
23:50 GMT – Trump to present new guidelines on reopening US economy
Trump says he will present new guidelines allowing some states to reopen, arguing data indicates the US is “past the peak” of the coronavirus pandemic.
The “encouraging developments have put us in a very strong position to finalise the guidelines for states on reopening the country,” he says, adding the new rules will be revealed at a press conference on Thursday afternoon.
23:40 GMT – US tests more than three million people
Mike Pence, the US vice president, says more than three million people have been tested for the new coronavirus across the country.
“It’s reported to us that we’ve conducted and completed three million, 324,000 tests across the nation, more than 619,000 Americans have tested positive,” he says at a White House press briefing.
More than 27,000 Americans have died and 45,000 have “fully recovered,” he says.
23:04 GMT – Trump threatens to adjourn Congress
Trump is threatening to adjourn the US Congress despite the coronavirus pandemic, accusing Democrats in the Republican-controlled Senate of stalling his nominations for federal judgeships and top government positions.
“I will exercise my constitutional authority to adjourn both chambers of Congress,” he says.
“I’d rather not use that power … We’ll probably be challenged in court and we’ll see who wins.”
He adds: “The current practice of leaving town, while conducting phony pro forma sessions, is a dereliction of duty that the American people cannot afford during this crisis.”
No US president has used the constitutional authority to force Congress to adjourn if they cannot agree on a date to adjourn.
20:32 GMT – Pakistan relaxes restrictions for some key industries
Pakistan’s government has loosened restrictions on a range of industries across the country in a bid to battle the economic fallout of a continuing lockdown, in place to curb the spread of the coronavirus.
Prime Minister Imran Khan announced that the construction industry would be foremost among more than a dozen sectors that would be allowed to reopen operations on Wednesday.
Read more here.
20:16 GMT – Libya to impose 24-hour curfew for 10 days
Libya’s internationally recognised government, in the west, will impose a 24-hour curfew for 10 days effective from Friday, April 17, the Tripoli-based Government of National Accord said in a statement.
Libya’s National Centre for Disease Control reported 36 cases of coronavirus in Libya and only one death.
20:03 GMT – France death toll rises by record 1,438
The number of people who died from coronavirus in France jumped by 1,438 or 9.1 percent to 17,167 in the biggest single-day increase as a number of nursing homes reported cumulative tolls following the three-day Easter weekend, the health ministry said.
The number of people who died in hospitals rose by 514 or 5 percent to 10,643, less than the 541 reported on Tuesday, but the cumulative death toll in nursing homes rose by 924 or 17 percent to 6,524, compared with 221 on Tuesday.
“This increase is not the mortality rate over 24 hours but is due to a catch-up in reporting of data following the three-day weekend,” Health Ministry Director Jerome Salomon said.
19:51 GMT – Malawi announces virus lockdown
Malawi has announced a three-week lockdown to try and curb the spread of the coronavirus, joining other southern African countries like South Africa, Angola and Zimbabwe which have previously announced full or partial lockdowns.
Minister of Health and Population Jappie Mhango said the lockdown will be in effect from April 18 to May 9, adding that all non-essential businesses would close and services would stop.
Read more here.
18:25 GMT – Belarus postpones women’s Premier League season opener
The Football Federation of Belarus said it was postponing the start of its women’s Premier League after several players were found to have been in contact with possible carriers of the coronavirus.
Belarus is the only country in Europe still playing a men’s national football league, making it an unlikely draw for fans overseas where matches have been cancelled.
The federation said the Belarusian women’s Premier League, which had been set to kick off on Thursday, would not open its 2020 season until further notice.
— Al Jazeera English (@AJEnglish) April 15, 2020
18:17 GMT – Qatar: Nepali workers expelled for ‘illegal, illicit activity’
Amnesty International has accused Qatar of detaining dozens of migrant workers and expelling them last month after telling them they were being taken to be tested for the coronavirus.
Qatar’s government denied the allegations, saying the repatriated migrant workers had been found to be “engaged in illegal and illicit activity” uncovered during inspections carried out to halt the spread of COVID-19.
Read more here.
17:28 GMT – Colombia to put 4,000 prisoners on house arrest
Colombia will temporarily release some 4,000 prisoners to house arrest in an attempt to stem the spread of the coronavirus, Justice Minister Margarita Cabello said, adding that additional people may be released in the coming days.
Two people recently released from a prison in the central city of Villavicencio died after contracting the coronavirus. Thirteen other prisoners, two guards and an administrator in the same institution also have confirmed coronavirus infections.
“We analysed the projections to get to the highest number of prisoners who could benefit,” Cabello said. “But I have to be realistic; no measure that I could take is going to guarantee 100 percent that we will avoid infection.”
17:15 GMT – Turkey reports new cases, deaths
Turkey on Wednesday confirmed 115 more deaths from the coronavirus in the country over the past 24 hours, bringing the death toll to 1,518.
The total number of registered coronavirus cases surged to 69,392 as 4,281 more people tested positive for the virus, Health Minister Fahrettin Koca said on Twitter.
16:55 GMT – Germany to begin easing virus curbs
German Chancellor Angela Merkel announced first steps in undoing coronavirus lockdowns for the coming weeks, with most shops allowed to open although schools must stay closed until May 4.
Shops up to 800sq metres (8,600 sq ft) will be allowed to reopen once they have “plans to maintain hygiene”, Merkel said, while schools will gradually be reopened with priority given to pupils about to take exams.
Meanwhile, a ban on large public events will be upheld until August 31.
Read more here.
16:52 GMT – Canada reports new cases
Canada’s confirmed cases rose to 27,540, while the death toll from the coronavirus rose to 903, according to data by the Public Health Agency.
16:50 GMT – Jordan says it will ease lockdown measures
Jordan’s Prime Minister Omar al-Razzaz said the government would soon ease a tight lockdown by allowing more businesses and industries to return to work.
However, it will not yet lift a curfew imposed nearly a month ago that restricts the movements of Jordan’s 10 million people, al-Razzaz said.
The prime minister said the new measures could also include allowing people to move more freely in some regions outside the capital, but he warned that they could be rescinded if Jordan sees a further spike in cases of the coronavirus.
16:47 GMT – Italy death toll climbs by 578
Deaths from the coronavirus in Italy rose by 578 in the past 24 hours, down from 602 the day before. Meanwhile, the number of new cases slowed to 2,667 from a previous 2,972, continuing the recent downward trend.
The number of new cases was the lowest since March 13, but the daily tally of deaths remains stubbornly high.
The total death toll since the outbreak came to light on February 21 rose to 21,645, the Civil Protection Department said, the second highest in the world after that of the United States.
16:41 GMT – US House Speaker Pelosi calls Trump’s decision ‘senseless’
United States House of Representatives Speaker Nancy Pelosi called Trump’s decision to halt funding for the WHO senseless and dangerous, and said it would be challenged.
“The President’s halting of funding to the WHO as it leads the global fight against the coronavirus pandemic is senseless,” Pelosi said in a statement. “This decision is dangerous, illegal and will be swiftly challenged.”
16:34 GMT – Northern Ireland restrictions extended
Northern Ireland will keep coronavirus restrictions in place for another three weeks, First Minister Arlene Foster said, keeping the British-run region in line with similar measures in the neighbouring Republic of Ireland that are due to run until May 5.
“We have decided restrictions will remain in place for another three weeks and we will review that coming up to that time,” Foster told a news conference, saying Northern Ireland was still in the middle of its first wave of infections.
“If we relax our guard now all will have been in vain.”
16:24 GMT – WHO chief regrets US decision to cut funding
The head of the World Health Organization said that he regretted the decision by US President Donald Trump to pull funding for the organisation, but called on world unity to fight the new coronavirus pandemic.
“The United States of America has been a long-standing and generous friend of the WHO, and we hope it will continue to be so,” WHO Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus told a press conference. “We regret the decision of the president of the United States to order a halt in the funding to the WHO.”
WHO was still assessing the impact and would “try to fill any gaps with partners”, Tedros said. But he noted now was the time for the world to be united in its common struggle against the outbreak, which he described as a “dangerous enemy”.
15:57 GMT – What US funding cut means for WHO’s fight
Concerns have been raised over the WHO future after US President Donald Trump announced a funding cut for the body amid the coronavirus pandemic.
Trump’s decision could mean as much as $720m in health programmes could go unfunded this year and next.
Read more here.
16:13 GMT – Brazil’s health secretary resigns
Brazil’s Health Ministry said that Health Secretary Wanderson de Oliveira has resigned, as tensions between Health Minister Luiz Henrique Mandetta and President Jair Bolsonaro over the handling of the coronavirus crisis escalate.
15:37 GMT – Singapore reports 447 new cases
Singapore’s health ministry confirmed 447 new coronavirus cases in the biggest daily jump, to bring the total number of cases in the city-state to 3,699.
Four hundred four of the new cases were linked to migrant workers’ dormitories.
While Singapore won global plaudits for its handling of the coronavirus, the disease has spread rapidly within its large migrant worker community, highlighting what rights groups say is a weak link in the city-state’s containment efforts.
15:33 GMT – ‘No country will be spared’ in sub-Saharan Africa: IMF
Sub-Saharan Africa is facing an unprecedented health crisis and a severe economic downturn that could drag on economies for years to come, the International Monetary Fund said, warning: “No country will be spared.”
Read more here.
15:21 GMT – G20 agrees to temporary debt standstill for poorest countries
The Group of 20 nations announced support for a temporary halt to debt payments by the world’s poorest nations as they struggle to deal with the coronavirus pandemic.
“We support a time-bound suspension of debt service payments for the poorest countries that request forbearance,” the G20 finance ministers and central bankers said in a communique following their virtual meeting. “All bilateral official creditors will participate in this initiative.”
The group also called on private creditors, working through the Institute of International Finance, to participate in the initiative.
15:17 GMT – Aston Martin extends manufacturing suspensions
Luxury carmaker Aston Martin is extending by a week the manufacturing suspensions in place at its two factories as lockdown measures remain in place in Britain.
“Considering the current global and local position on suppliers and employees, the business is now extending this temporary suspension until Monday 27 April, subject to ongoing review of the changing circumstances,” the company said in a statement.
“The business will look to resume operations as soon as it is reasonable to do so.”
14:58 GMT – IMF, World Bank leader praise G20 debt relief initiative
International Monetary Fund Managing Director Kristalina Georgieva and World Bank President David Malpass praised a new G20 debt relief agreement that suspends bilateral debt servbice payments by poor countries.
A source familiar with a G20 meeting of finance ministers and central bank governors said the debt service suspension would run from May 1 through December 31, with an option for renewal in 2021.
Georgieva, in a statement to a meeting of G20 leaders, also said the IMF was “urgently” seeking some $18bn in new resources for the Fund’s Poverty Reduction and Growth Trust for poor countries and was exploring how the use of special drawing rights could aid this effort.
14:52 GMT – #YouClapForMeNow: UK immigrants read poem in widely shared video
This social media video of key workers from minority backgrounds in the UK is being widely shared and celebrated online.
In the footage, first, second and third-generation immigrants including doctors, nurses, teachers, shopkeepers, dentists, social workers, care workers, delivery drivers and broadcasters read a powerful poem about their contributions during the pandemic.
Creative director Sachini Imbuldeniya made the video, using the poem by her colleague Darren Smith.
— Tez (@tezilyas) April 14, 2020
14:46 GMT – Portugal flattens the curve: ministers
Portugal’s coronavirus curve has flattened but the good news is still not enough for the country to lift lockdown measures and reopen its tourism-dependent, export-oriented economy, government ministers said.
Sales said told a news conference the curve flattened due to the “excellent behaviour and civism of the Portuguese people” who obeyed lockdown rules imposed by the government from March 18.
Portuguese President Marcelo Rebelo de Sousa will extend the nationwide lockdown until May 1.
Though the developments are positive, Prime Minister Antonio Costa said earlier the time to “gradually and progressively” reopen the economy had yet to come.
14:43 GMT – Norway PM tells children it will take time before normal life is back
Prime Minister Erna Solberg told Norwegian children it would take time for life to return to normal with the country, like others in Europe, preparing to reopen parts of society shut down by the coronavirus outbreak.
“It will still be a while before everything returns to normal. How long it will be, we don’t know,” she said, flanked by her ministers for education and for family. No children were present, in keeping with social-distancing rules.
“One of the things I miss the most is to give a good hug to my friends,” Solberg told her young viewers. “For now it is not possible with the rules to maintain distance that we have now. But other things will soon be possible.”
14:28 GMT – G20 finance officials meeting runs late
Finance ministers and central bank governors from the Group of 20 major economies (G20) are still meeting, and a news conference expected at 9:15 ET (13:15 GMT) has been delayed, the Saudi G20 secretariat said in a statement.
“The meeting communique will be sent at the conclusion of the meeting and the time of the press conference will then be advised,” the secretariat said.
This pandemic has been tough on a lot of people.
They’ve lost family, jobs, their personal freedom.
— Al Jazeera English (@AJEnglish) April 12, 2020
14:25 GMT – Russian veterans urge Putin to postpone parade
Russian veterans urged President Vladimir Putin to postpone a military parade to mark the 75th anniversary of Soviet victory in World War II, due to the coronavirus risk to participants.
Russia has so far not dropped plans to hold a massive parade with thousands of troops marching through Red Square on May 9, despite a national lockdown over the pandemic and a ban on large public events.
14:19 GMT – New quarantines in 58 Turkish provinces
Turkey is imposing quarantines on 227 residential areas in 58 provinces, the Interior Ministry said.
The areas are home to some 250,00 people, the ministry said in a statement, but did not supply further details.
The ministry also said it is lifting quarantine measures on 41 residential areas in 14 provinces of the country.
Turkey on Tuesday confirmed 107 more deaths from the virus, bringing the death toll to 1,403. The total number of registered cases surged to 65,111.
14:06 GMT – Global number of cases tops 2 million
The global number of cases stands at 2,000,984, according to data gathered by Johns Hopkins University in the US.
Meanwhile, a total of 128,011 died from the virus around the world.
14:00 GMT – WHO COVID-19 envoy: Leave recriminations for when virus is defeated
The WHO special envoy for the COVID-19 urged any recriminations about the organisation to be left until after the virus has been defeated.
“We say to everybody, we plead with everybody, look forward. Focus on the epic struggle right now and leave the recriminations till later,” said special advisor David Nabarro in a webinar.
“If in the process you decide you want to declare that you’re going to withdraw funding or make other comments about the WHO, remember this is not just the WHO, this is the whole public health community that is involved right now and every single person in the world is a public health worker now, everybody is taking responsibility, everybody is sacrificing, everybody is involved.”
13:56 GMT – Qatar reports new cases
The State of Qatar reported 283 new cases in the past 24 hours, brining the total number of positive cases in the country to 3,711.
13:52 GMT – UK death toll rises to 12,868
The United Kingdom’s hospital death toll rose by 761 to 12,868 as of 16:00 on April 14, the health ministry said.
“313,769 people have been tested of which 98,476 tested positive,” it added.
The true UK death toll however far exceeds the hospital toll as people have also died in nursing homes and in the wider community, broader data showed on Tuesday.
Hello, this is Farah Najjar taking over from my colleague Usaid Siddiqui.
12:45 GMT – CDC director says 19-20 US states may be ready to reopen on May 1
The director of the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says he believes 19 or 20 US states have had limited impact from the new coronavirus and their governors believe they may be ready to reopen by President Donald Trump’s May 1 target date.
“There are a number of counties within this country that have not experienced really any coronavirus despite testing,” Robert Redfield said in an interview with ABC’s Good Morning America.
12:20 GMT – WHO focused on saving lives, says Tedros after US funding freeze
The WHO is purely focused on saving lives and halting the coronavirus pandemic, its chief said Wednesday after US President Trump announced he was freezing funding for the WHO.
“There is no time to waste. WHO’s singular focus is on working to serve all people to save lives and stop the COVID-19 pandemic,” Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said on Twitter following Trump’s decision.
12:00 GMT – 74 million in Arab world lack hand-washing facility: UN
Some 74 million people in the water-scarce Arab region are at greater risk of catching the novel coronavirus because they lack a sink or soap at home, the United Nations has said.
This includes 31 million people in Sudan, more than 14 million in war-torn Yemen and 9.9 million in Egypt, a UN report said.
“While it has been agreed worldwide that hand-washing with soap and water is the best prevention against COVID-19 contagion, this simple act proves to be difficult in a region where 74 million people lack access to a basic hand-washing facility,” the UN’s Economic and Social Commission for Western Asia said.
11:40 GMT – 24-hour curfew in Maldives’s capital after first case of local transmission
Health authorities in the Maldives are imposing a 24-hour curfew in the country’s capital, Male, and several nearby islands following the first detected case of domestic transmission of the coronavirus.
The island nation had previously recorded 20 cases, but all involved travellers from overseas. The aim of Wednesday’s total lockdown is to trace contacts of the infected person and conduct tests on them, say authorities.
The police is urging residents of the capital to return to their homes by 15:30 local time (11:30 GMT).
“Your cooperation is needed to control a potential community spread in greater Male area,” the police said.
11:20 GMT – Swiss coronavirus death toll soars
The Swiss death toll from the virus has reached 973, the country’s public health ministry said, rising from 900 people the day before.
The number of positive tests also increased to 26,336 from 25,834, it said.
11:06 GMT – Timeline of Trump’s fight with WHO
The US president’s move to temporarily halt funding to the WHO follows weeks of escalating attacks by Trump on the Geneva-based UN health agency, as he has sought to deflect scrutiny of his own administration’s response to the outbreak.
Here is a timeline of events that led to Trump’s decision to cut funding.
10:54 GMT – World reacts to Trump withdrawing WHO funding
US President Trump has instructed his administration to temporarily halt funding to the WHO over its handling of the coronavirus pandemic.
Trump said the WHO “failed in its basic duty and it must be held accountable”. He said it promoted China’s “disinformation” about the virus that likely led to a wider outbreak.
Reaction to Trump’s move was fast and furious worldwide. Read more here.
10:28 GMT – EU ‘deeply regrets’ Trump’s cut to WHO funding, says unjustified
The European Union joined worldwide condemnation of the US president’s decision to halt funding to the WHO, saying it was unjustified during the coronavirus pandemic.
“Deeply regret U.S. decision to suspend funding to WHO. There is no reason justifying this move at a moment when their efforts are needed more than ever,” EU foreign policy chief Josep Borrell said on Twitter.
The US is the WHO’s biggest overall donor.
10:06 GMT – Iran’s coronavirus death toll rises to 4,777 – health official
Iran’s new coronavirus death toll has reached 4,777, health ministry spokesman Kianush Jahanpur has said in a statement on national TV.
Ninety four people died in the past twenty four hours, he said.
09:40 GMT – Germany slams Trump’s WHO payment freeze
Germany has slammed the US decision to suspend payments to the WHO, as Foreign Minister Heiko Maas warned against “blaming others” for the coronavirus crisis.
US President Trump announced the funding freeze on Tuesday, accusing the WHO of “severely mismanaging” the spread of the virus.
“Blaming others won’t help. The virus knows no borders,” Maas wrote on Twitter.
“One of the best investments is to strengthen the UN, above all the under-financed WHO… in the development and distribution of tests and vaccines.”
The US is the biggest contributor to the WHO, making payments of $400m last year.
09:30 GMT – Spain’s daily death toll from coronavirus slips to 523, total at 18,579
The number of deaths from the coronavirus in Spain in 24 hours has dropped again to 523 from 567 reported on Tuesday, the country’s health ministry said.
The daily death toll on Wednesday brought the total number of deaths to 18,579.
09:27 GMT – Gold glitters as cash-strapped Thais sell jewellery
Thais are flocking to Bangkok’s Chinatown to sell their gold jewellery as the price of the precious metal spikes and the economy tanks due to the coronavirus pandemic.
Gold surged to a seven-year high on Tuesday to $1,731.25 an ounce, following global moves led by the US to reinflate economies with trillions of dollars of stimulus measures.
That has boosted the price of gold across the world, tempting many to sell their stocks of the precious metal at a time of economic hardship without recent precedent.
09:10 GMT – China failed to warn public of COVID-19 pandemic for six days: AP
In the six days after top Chinese officials secretly determined they were probably facing a pandemic from the new coronavirus, the city of Wuhan hosted a mass banquet for tens of thousands of people and millions began their annual trips home for the Lunar New Year celebrations.
President Xi Jinping warned the public on January 20 – the seventh day – but by then, more than 3,000 people had been infected during almost a week of public silence, according to internal documents obtained by The Associated Press (AP) news agency and estimates based on retrospective infection data.
Read more here.
08:40 GMT – Oman to cut ministries’ development budgets by 10 percent – state media
Oman’s finance ministry has told all ministries and civilian government units to reduce approved liquidity for development budgets by 10 percent, state media said.
It also said the creation of government companies performing business activities would cease and priority would be given to the private sector.
08:15 GMT – India to ease restrictions next week in rural areas
India will permit several activities in rural areas starting next week, including manufacturing and infrastructure building, to provide relief to workers impacted by the COVID-19 lockdown, the government said.
The Ministry of Home Affairs guidelines came a day after Prime Minister Narendra Modi extended a nationwide lockdown to May 3.
The easing of the lockdown would start next Monday and take place only in those rural areas where there were no COVID-19 containment zones or hotspots, a ministry press release said.
07:48 GMT – China urges United States to fulfill its obligations to WHO
China has urged the US to fulfill its obligations to the WHO, after US President Trump halted funding to the body over its handling of the coronavirus pandemic.
Foreign ministry spokesman Zhao Lijian told reporters during a daily briefing the situation with the pandemic, which has infected nearly two million people globally, was at a critical stage and that the US’s decision would affect all countries of the world.
07:24 GMT – Finland to lift capital region lockdown -PM
Finland will lift the roadblocks in place around its capital region after nearly three weeks, Prime Minister Sanna Marin has said, in a first act of easening the Nordic country’s coronavirus-related restrictions.
The travel restrictions to and from the capital region, Uusimaa, to the rest of the country began on March 28 and were introduced to prevent people from spreading the virus to other parts of the country.
07:04 GMT – Danish schools begin reopening after month-long closure
Denmark has started reopening its schools after a month-long closure over the novel coronavirus, becoming the first country in Europe to do so.
Nurseries, kindergartens and primary schools were reopening on Wednesday , according to an AFP correspondent, after they were closed on March 12 in an effort to curb the COVID-19 epidemic.
However classes are only resuming in about half of Denmark’s municipalities and in about 35 percent of Copenhagen’s schools, as other have requested more time to adjust to health protocols still in place.
All are expected to reopen by April 20.
06:41 GMT – IMF board approves emergency support for Burkina Faso, Niger – statements
The IMF Executive Board has approved support for Burkina Faso and Niger under its Rapid Credit Facility to help the West African nations confront the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic, the Fund said.
The IMF said the board had approved a $115m disbursement for Burkina Faso and another $114m for Niger.
05:55 GMT –
I’m now handing over the blog to my colleagues in Doha. Thank you for reading and do get in touch with any tips or suggestions.
05:30 GMT – Pakistan to ease some lockdown restrictions
Pakistan is easing restrictions on several areas of its economy, including the construction and cement industries, to address rising unemployment and economic stagnation.
Senior Muslim community leaders have also promised to resume prayers in mosques on Friday, defying government orders to limit congregations.
Mufti Taqi Usmani, a prominent Sunni Muslim leader, said mosques would also hold daily congregational prayers at each of the five prescribed Muslim prayer times.
04:50 GMT – Vietnam cracks down on ‘fake news’ with new decree
Vietnam has introduced hefty new fines equivalent to as much as six months of basic income for those found guilty of disseminating “fake news” or rumours on social media, including on coronavirus.
A new decree says a fine of between 10 and 20 million Vietnamese dongs ($426-$853) will be imposed on those who use social media to share false, untruthful, distorted, or slanderous information.
The new rules extend far beyond the coronavirus, raising concern among human rights groups already heightened by a cybersecurity law that came into effect last year.
“This decree provides yet another potent weapon in the Vietnamese authorities’ arsenal of online repression,” said Tanya O’Carroll, director of technology at Amnesty International.
04:43 GMT – Japan’s Fujifilm ramps up capacity for possible COVID-19 drug
Japan’s Fujifilm Holdings says it has expanded manufacturing capacity to “significantly increase” production of its anti-flu drug Avigan that is being tested as a treatment for COVID-19.
Fujifilm expects to increase the production of Avigan up to 100,000 treatment courses by July 2020, about 2.5 times more than at the beginning of March. By September, it expects to be able to produce 300,000 courses, it said in a statement on Wednesday.
Fujifilm is conducting clinical trials of Avigan on patients of COVID-19 both at home and in the US.
04:15 GMT – Thailand extends ban on passenger flights until end of April
Thailand has extended a ban on incoming passenger flights until the end of the month, the Civil Aviation Authority of Thailand said on Wednesday.
Earlier this month, the country’s interior ministry said land borders in 21 provinces would be reopened on Saturday to allow Thais in neighbouring countries to return home.
Up to 100 people will be allowed to enter at each border checkpoint a day, and they will be subject to a 14-day state quarantine.
04:10 GMT – Japan urges people to curb interactions
Japan’s citizens should do everything they can to limit interactions with others and curb the spread of the coronavirus, government spokesman Yoshihide Suga said on Wednesday as the country reported 457 new confirmed cases.
Japan wants people to reduce interactions by 70 percent and a state of emergency came into force at the weekend.
However, compliance is not mandatory and the authorities have offered no financial support for those who cannot work from home and risk losing their income.
The government is now considering a proposal to hand out 100,000 yen ($933.45) to each person to help cushion the blow.
03:50 GMT – Human rights groups call on Thailand to release prisoners
A group of 11 Thai and international human rights groups are calling on the government to release prisoners to protect them against the risk of contracting the coronavirus in severely overcrowded jails.
In a joint letter to the director general of the Department of Corrections, they noted there were more than 379,000 people in detention, and urged the authorities to release a number of categories of prisoner including those above the age of 60, the sick, those on pre-trial remand and inmates who have nearly completed their sentences.
.@ManushyaFdn joined 11 human rights organizations in the joint letter urging the Department of Corrections in #THAILAND to immediately release prisoners & ensure the health & safety of prison population & staffs during #COVID19 crisis.
— Manushya Foundation (@ManushyaFdn) April 15, 2020
A number of other countries, including Turkey, are releasing prisoners to reduce the risk of the virus spreading.
You can read more about the effect that coronavirus is having on prison systems around the world in the stories below.
02:40 GMT – Masks made compulsory in Singapore
Everyone in Singapore must now wear a mask when they go outside after a sharp jump in coronavirus cases over the past two days.
Anyone found without a mask will be fined 300 Singapore dollars ($212), while repeat offenders could be prosecuted in court and face higher fines, the Health Ministry said in a statement late on Tuesday. It said exemptions would be made for children below two years old or those with special needs.
Singapore now has 3,252 cases after reporting 386 new infections on Monday, and 334 on Tuesday. The government distributes masks free of cost to all residents.
02:20 GMT – New Zealand’s Ardern takes pay cut amid coronavirus lockdown
New Zealand’s Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern is taking a 20 percent pay cut for the next six months. The salary cut also applies to government ministers and public service chief executives, Ardern said in a news conference on Wednesday.
“It’s about leadership,” she said.
“If there was ever a time to close the gap between different positions, it’s now.”
01:50 GMT – Trump move to cut WHO funding under fire
The United Nations Secretary-General Antonio Guterres has said now is “not the time” to be cutting funding to the WHO, and the medical community has also criticised the move.
Dr Patrice Harris, president of the American Medical Association called it “a dangerous step in the wrong direction that will not make defeating COVID-19 easier”.
Dr Amesh Adalja, an infectious disease expert and senior scholar at the Johns Hopkins University Center for Health Security, said while reforms might be needed, it is not the time.
“It’s not the middle of a pandemic that you do this type of thing,” he said.
Dr William Schaffner, an infectious disease expert at the Vanderbilt University Medical Center
“This virus doesn’t need passports. In a few short months, it has travelled to all of the continents of the world except Antarctica. If there were ever an event that showed us how we need to work tougher as a global community, this is it.”
01:30 GMT – South Koreans voting in parliamentary election
Polling stations opened in South Korea at 6am (21:00 GMT) for the country’s 21st legislative elections.
300 seats are up for the grabs in the National Assembly, chosen by a combination of direct votes and proportional representation.
Turnout is expected to be high (it reached a record during last week’s early voting) despite the continuing coronavirus pandemic. Voters have to wear masks, gloves, undergo a fever check and maintain social distance while moving only in a guided path in polling stations.
The governing Democratic Party has benefitted from the government’s response to the coronavirus. Having once been the location of the largest outbreak outside China, the country has just reported 27 new cases, 16 of them imported from overseas.
Kelly Kasulis explored the mood of the nation ahead of the vote. Results are expected by Wednesday evening.
23:45 GMT (Tuesday) – Iceland to start lifting restrictions from May 4
Iceland is planning to lift restrictions it introduced to curb the spread of the coronavirus.
From May 4, universities and high schools will reopen with some limitations while schools for younger children will operate as normal.
Hair salons, dentists and museums will be allowed to operate, while gatherings of as many as 50 people will be allowed. A two-metre (6.5-feet) social distancing rule will remain in place.
The government estimates the prevalence of the virus in the general population is about 1 percent.
23:30 GMT (Tuesday) – Trump to withhold WHO funding over pandemic response
Trump says he will, at least temporarily, halt funding to the World Health Organization (WHO) over its handling of the coronavirus pandemic.
Trump claimed the WHO had “failed in its basic duty and it must be held accountable”.
He also accused the UN agency of promoting China’s “disinformation” about the virus, which he said probably led to a bigger outbreak than would otherwise have happened.
Hello and welcome to Al Jazeera’s continuing coverage of the coronavirus pandemic. I’m Kate Mayberry in Kuala Lumpur.
You can read all the updates from yesterday (April 14) here.