US attacks WHO for ‘failure’ to curb coronavirus: Live updates

Failure to obtain information needed to fight COVID-19 cost ‘many lives’, US Secretary of Health Alex Azar alleges.

A worker wearing a full body suit holds a STOP sign in front of a Food market as he manages the flow of the customers on May 18, 2020 in the Jackson Heights neighbourhood of Queens in New York City. J
  • The United States has accused the World Health Organization (WHO) of failing to obtain information that the world needed to fight COVID-19. 
  • World leaders have spoken at the virtual meeting of the World Health Assembly, as many countries called for an independent probe into the pandemic.
  • Chinese President Xi Jinping says Beijing has always been transparent about the outbreak and will support a probe once the pandemic is under control.
  • Globally, there have been more than 4.7 million known cases of COVID-19, and nearly 315,000 people have died, according to Johns Hopkins University. More than 1.7 million people have recovered.

Here are all the latest updates:

Monday, May 18

21:30 GMT – El Salvador Supreme Court orders state of emergency suspended

El Salvador’s Supreme Court said on Monday it has ordered the immediate suspension of the state of emergency declared due to the coronavirus pandemic by President Nayib Bukele, who has faced criticism of showing authoritarian tendencies and exceeding his powers.

Bukele ordered the state of emergency on Saturday, when previous orders were set to expire, without congressional approval.

The renewal would have kept the emergency declaration in force for the next 30 days, extending strict lockdown measures such as school suspensions and a ban on movement in certain areas with high numbers of infections.

20:55 GMT – Trump says he is taking hydroxychloroquine, despite FDA warnings 

US President Donald Trump revealed he is taking hydroxychloroquine, a malaria drug that he has touted despite medical warnings about its use, as a preventive medicine against the coronavirus.

“I’ve been taking it for the last week and a half. A pill every day,” Trump told reporters. He said he has been having “zero symptoms” from it.

Last month, the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) warned against taking hydroxychloroquine outside of a hospital or formal study, citing “serious and potentially life-threatening heart rhythm problems“.

20:50 GMT – US cases surpass 1.5 million, over 90,000 deaths

The United States coronavirus cases has surged past 1.5 million cases, according to John’s Hopkins University, making it the country with most confirmed cases globally.

The total number of deaths from COVID-19 has now reached 90,000.

Whistle-blower: US could face ‘darkest winter in modern history’

20:46 GMT – Qatar to close shops, halt all commercial activities 

Qatar will close all shops and halt all commercial activities, from May 19 to May 30, to stem the spread of the novel coronavirus, state news agency QNA said on Monday, citing a decision by Qatar’s Cabinet.

The closure excludes pharmacies, food supply stores and food deliveries.

Qatar reported 1,365 new coronavirus cases on Monday, raising the total number of confirmed infections in the country to 33,969, the Ministry of Health said.

20:35 GMT – More Guatemalans deported from US test positive for virus

Ten Guatemalans deported from the United States last week have tested positive for COVID-19 upon their return.

A Guatemalan health official who was not authorized to discuss the information publicly and requested anonymity said Sunday they had been aboard a May 13 flight from Alexandria, Louisiana.

Last week, health authorities had said three people from that flight had tested positive for the virus. The remaining 52 deportees aboard that flight will now be tested, the official said.

US coronavirus: Experts fear new wave of infections

20:20 GMT – US stocks surge on COVID-19 vaccine progress

Wall Street stocks rocketed higher following positive news on the first clinical tests of a coronavirus vaccine, lifting shares of airlines, hotels and other beaten-down sectors.

The Dow Jones Industrial Average piled on more than 900 points, or 3.9 percent, to 24,597.37.

19:59 GMT – Jordan business owners fear financial ruin amid lockdown

Like other small businesses around the world suffering steep declines with the spread of coronavirus, businesses in Jordan have had their profits take a pounding during the holy month of Ramadan.

Read more here.

Jordanian business owners suffering due to lockdown amid Ramadan season [Ali Younes/Al Jazeera]
Jordanian business owners suffering due to the coronavirus lockdown amid Ramadan season [Ali Younes/Al Jazeera]

19:40 GMT – 70 cases of COVID-19 at French schools days after re-opening

Just one week after a third of French schoolchildren went back to school in an easing of the coronavirus lockdown, there has been a worrying flare up of about 70 COVID-19 cases linked to schools, the government said.

Some lower grades in schools were opened last week and a further 150,000 junior high students went back to the classroom Monday as further restrictions were loosened by the government.

The move initially spelled relief: the end of homeschooling for hundreds of thousands of exhausted French parents, many of whom were also working from home.

French children return to school in Saint-Sebastien-sur-Loire

19:18 GMT – French gov’t ordered to lift ban on religious meetings

France’s highest administrative court has ruled that the government must lift a blanket ban on meetings at places of worship imposed as part of measures to combat the coronavirus.

After receiving complaints from several individuals and associations, the Council of State said that such a ban on freedom of worship caused “a damage that is serious and manifestly illegal”.

It told the government to lift the ban within the next eight days.

19:10 GMT – US accuses WHO of ‘failure’, costing ‘many lives’ 

The US Health and Human Services Secretary has demanded “change” at the WHO, accusing it of failing to obtain the information the world needed as the coronavirus outbreak emerged.

Alex Azar said the US supports an independent review of “every aspect of WHO’s response to the pandemic,” keeping up a US onslaught against the UN health agency over its alleged failure to press China to be more transparent about the origins of the outbreak.

“We must be frank about one of the primary reasons this outbreak spun out of control: there was a failure by this organisation to obtain the information that the world needed, and that failure cost many lives,” he said.

18:57 GMT – Macron, Merkel agree $542bn recovery plan for Europe

France and Germany have proposed a 500bn euros ($542bn) fund to finance the recovery of the European Union’s economy from the devastation wrought by the coronavirus crisis.

Putting aside past differences and seeking to prove that the Franco-German core of Europe remains intact, President Emmanuel Macron and Chancellor Angela Merkel announced the unprecedented package after their talks by video conference.

With the European economy facing its biggest challenge since World War II, Macron also acknowledged that the EU had fallen short in its initial response to the virus and needed to coordinate more closely on health.

18:43 GMT – Chechen leader says protesting medics should be fired

The governor of Russia’s Chechnya said medics who complained about a lack of coronavirus protection were “provocateurs” who should be fired, after they retracted their statements on a loyalist channel.

“Provocateurs should be dismissed,” Ramzan Kadyrov said at a government meeting, Russian news outlet TASS reported.

Medics last week complained of a lack of masks in their hospital in the town of Gudermes, with some even gathering to protest.

Head of the Chechen Republic Kadyrov meets with Russia's President Putin near Moscow

18:20 GMT – UAE to expand nightly curfew after rise in coronavirus cases

The United Arab Emirates will extend a nightly curfew by two hours starting this week after reporting an increase in the number of novel coronavirus cases, an official said.

The curfew, which currently runs from 10 pm to 6 am would start at 8 pm as of Wednesday until further notice, Saif Al Dhaheri, spokesman for the National Emergency Crisis and Disaster Management Authority, told a news conference.

17:59 GMT – Syria bans public prayers during Eid

Syria will not hold public prayers during Eid al-Fitr holidays at the end of the Muslim holy month of Ramadan, authorities announced, mirroring restrictions in Egypt and Algeria.

Inviting the faithful to pray at home with family, Damascus announced “the suspension of collective prayer in mosques for Eid,” state news agency SANA reported.

The decision by the legal committee of the ministry of religious endowments was aimed at restricting the spread of the new coronavirus.

17:43 GMT – The curious case of South Asia’s ‘low’ coronavirus deaths

Scientists and public health experts are continuing to conduct research into why some South Asian countries – despite their ramshackle health infrastructure and dense populations – have witnessed lower coronavirus mortality rates compared with many Western countries.

Read more here.

S Asia - Pakistan
New reported cases appeared to spike over the Muslim festival of Eid al-Fitr this weekend [File: K.M. Chaudhry/AP]

17:19 GMT – Brazil: Bolsonaro snubs health advice, snaps photos with children

Wearing a face mask, Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro posed for photographs with children plucked out of a crowd of supporters on Sunday, disregarding public health advice aimed at containing one of the world’s worst coronavirus outbreaks.

Bolsonaro’s latest flouting of social-distancing guidelines came after a month in which he lost two health ministers, both of whom resisted his fight against quarantines. Brazil’s confirmed cases of the virus passed those of Spain and Italy on Saturday, making it the site of the world’s fourth-largest outbreak.

Read more here.

16:55 GMT – Uber cuts 3,000 jobs as virus slashes payroll by 25 percent 

Ride hailing company Uber has cut 3,000 jobs from its workforce, its second major wave of layoffs in two weeks as the coronavirus slashed demand for rides.

Uber will be re-focusing on its core business, moving people and delivering food and groceries, said CEO Dara Khosrowshahi, in a note to employees.

Carrefour teams up with Uber Eats for lockdown deliveries
The San Francisco company has cut a quarter of its workforce since the year began, eliminating 3,700 people from the payroll earlier this month [File: Gonzalo Fuentes/Reuters]

16:30 GMT – US drugmaker reports promising early results from COVID-19 vaccine test

US biotech firm Moderna reported promising early results from the first clinical tests of an experimental vaccine against the novel coronavirus performed on a small number of volunteers.

The Cambridge, Massachusetts-based company said the vaccine candidate, mRNA-1273, appeared to produce an immune response in eight people who received it similar to that seen in people convalescing from the virus.

“These interim Phase 1 data, while early, demonstrate that vaccination with mRNA-1273 elicits an immune response of the magnitude caused by natural infection,” said Moderna’s chief medical officer Tal Zaks.

16:05 GMT – Iran calls for solidarity against pandemic, condemns US sanctions

Iran has called for global solidarity against the pandemic, but said that unilateral sanctions are “inhumane” and causing “unnecessary suffering and pain” for its population.

“The US must be held to account for its intensifying unilateral sanctions against Iran and other affected nations,” Saeed Namaki, Iran’s health minster, said in an address to the WHO’s annual assembly being held online.

Alex Azar, US Secretary of Health and Human Services, addressed the two-day forum but did not respond to Iran’s allegations.

15:40 GMT – Nigeria to impose ‘precision lockdown’ in coronavirus hotspots

Nigeria will impose “precision lockdown” measures in areas that report rapid increases in cases of the new coronavirus, the chairman of the presidential task force said.

The government also extended a full lockdown in the northern economic hub of Kano state, which has the second highest number of confirmed cases in the country, behind the commercial capital of Lagos, and where authorities are investigating a spate of mysterious deaths.

Covid-19 restrictions eased in Lagos
Nigeria has had more than 6,000 confirmed cases of the virus and 192 deaths [Adeyinka Yusuf/Anadolu]

15:17 GMT – How long will it take the US economy to recover from coronavirus?

Coronavirus lockdowns are pushing the United States into a sharp and painful recession. But how long will it take for the economy to recover its pre-pandemic strength?

And what does it mean for the more than 36 million Americans who have lost their jobs since mid-March?

Read more here.

15:04 GMT – Morocco extends coronavirus lockdown to June 10

Morocco is to extend its national lockdown to contain the spread of the new coronavirus until June 10, Prime Minister Saad Dine El Otmani said.

Morocco had confirmed 6,930 coronavirus cases, including 192 deaths, by Monday morning, as the rise of hotspots within families and factories complicates efforts to curb infections

14:40 GMT – Qatar Airways cabin crew to wear protective suits; face masks must for passengers

Qatar Airways cabin crew will begin wearing protective suits and passengers will have to wear face masks on board, the Middle East airline said, as it begins rebuilding its network after the coronavirus pandemic grounded flights.

Cabin crew have already been wearing face masks and gloves while on board but will now also wear suits over their uniforms, while face masks would be mandatory for passengers from May 25, the airline said in a statement.

Cabin crew and passenger interactions will be reduced, it added.

Qatar Airways Boeing 777 aircraft Flying from Doha to Kuwait on March 7, 2020 [Sorin Furcoi/Al Jazeera]
On short and medium haul flights, one set of Qatar Airways’ cabin crew will operate the outbound flight and a second group the inbound [File: Sorin Furcoi/Al Jazeera]

14:21 GMT – Slovenia to tighten border controls for some visitors amid lockdown easing

Slovenia plans to tighten border controls for some European Union citizens to prevent a possible import of the new coronavirus, the government said, partially rowing back from a decision last week to let all EU nationals in.

The move reflects public disquiet that visitors from countries badly affected by the virus, such as neighbouring Italy, could inadvertently bring it with them.

Life returns normal in Slovenia
On May 14 Slovenia became the first European country to declare an official end to its coronavirus epidemic [Ales Beno/Anadolu] 

13:59 GMT – WHO’s assembly delays decision on Taiwan observer status

World Health Organization member states agreed during their main annual assembly to delay a controversial discussion on granting Taiwan observer status, despite the United States and others stepping up pressure in recent days.

At the start of the first-ever virtual World Health Assembly, countries unanimously agreed to postpone a decision on granting observer access to Taiwan – a move vehemently opposed by Beijing – until later in the year to avoid diverting attention from the COVID-19 pandemic.

13:40 GMT – Spain says opening borders to tourists still weeks away

Spain’s Transport Minister said the country will not re-open its borders to tourists for at least another five weeks.

“We cannot allow foreigners to enter while we are still preventing the Spanish population from leaving their homes,” he said.

The minister’s comments come after Italy, alongside Spain one of the European countries worst hit by the coronavirus pandemic, announced it would open its borders to tourists from June 3.

13:20 GMT – US firm announces ‘positive interim’ phase 1 results for virus vaccine

United States biotech firm Moderna reported “positive interim” results on Monday in the first clinical tests of its vaccine against the new coronavirus performed on a small number of volunteers.

The vaccine, mRNA-1273, appeared to produce an immune response in eight people who received it, of the same magnitude as that observed in people convalescing from the virus, the company said.

Full results of the phase 1 test, the first in the development of a vaccine and which in this case involved 45 participants, were not yet known.

Whistle-blower: US could face ‘darkest winter in modern history’

Hello, this is Usaid Siddiqui in Doha taking over from my colleague Mersiha Gadzo

12:50 GMT – UK wants to work with teachers to restart schools from June 1

UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s government wants to work with teachers and trade unions to help some students return to schools from June 1, the British leader’s spokesman has said.

Some teachers have criticised the government for moving too quickly to return some students to schools, part of concerns in the UK that the country is not ready even for the tentative easing of rules.

“We continue to want to work with teachers, head teachers and the unions in order to find a way to have a controlled and careful return of some year groups from June 1 at the earliest,” the spokesman told reporters.

12:44 GMT – Africa backs WHO, needs help with debt relief, supplies: Ramaphosa

South Africa’s President Cyril Ramaphosa has said that Africa affirms its “full support” for the World Health Organization (WHO) which he said had been key in guiding the international response to the pandemic.

Ramaphosa, speaking to the WHO’s annual assembly being held online, said that assistance to Africa needs to include debt relief and help with diagnostics, drugs and medical supplies.

12:41 GMT – Barbados PM calls for debt relief for Caribbean in pandemic

Barbados Prime Minister Mia Mottley has said that the Caribbean bloc Caricom states need a restructuring of debt or a debt moratorium to “provide certainty to both borrower and lender” during the pandemic.

Mottley, addressing the World Health Organization’s annual assembly, warned that without debt relief there could be a “disorderly unravelling” that will create a crisis both within countries and the global financial system.

12:31 GMT – Pakistan’s Supreme Court orders government to lift ban

Pakistan’s Supreme Court has ordered the government to lift a ban on business activities on Saturday and Sunday, imposed in order to limit market activity on certain days to combat the spread of the coronavirus.

The bench, headed by the country’s chief justice ruled that there is no “justifiable rational or reasonable classification on the basis of which these two days are excluded from doing business”.

Chief Justice Gulzar Ahmed also ordered the government of the southern province of Sindh to reopen all shopping malls for business.

In its order, the court appeared to take the position, popular among many worldwide critics of lockdowns, that the coronavirus was only one of many diseases and that the government was over-reacting to the threat.

12:11 GMT – WHO pledges independent pandemic response probe at ‘earliest appropriate moment’

World Health Organization (WHO) director-general Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus has pledged to launch an independent probe to review the coronavirus pandemic response as soon as possible.

“I will initiate an independent evaluation at the earliest appropriate moment to review experience gained and lessons learned and to make recommendations to improve national and global pandemic preparedness and response,” he said at the start of the WHO’s annual World Health Assembly.

11:54 GMT – Putin says situation in southern Russia’s Dagestan is difficult

Russian President Vladimir Putin has said the coronavirus situation in Russia’s southern region of Dagestan was particularly difficult and that the mainly Muslim region’s healthcare system was under serious strain.

The Caspian Sea region of Dagestan has reported 3,460 cases of the new coronavirus and 29 deaths, although Russian media reports have suggested the real figures are much higher.

Moscow extends lockdown until May 31 as COVID-19 infections soar

11:27 GMT – Merkel: Pandemic will be overcome quicker if world works together

German Chancellor Angela Merkel has said the pandemic would be overcome more quickly if the world works together to tackle it, adding that it was necessary to look at whether the World Health Organization’s (WHO) functioning could be improved.

In a video message at the WHO meeting, Merkel stressed that no country could tackle the coronavirus alone, adding: “I am convinced we will overcome the pandemic. The more we work together internationally, the quicker we will achieve this.”

11:24 GMT – South Korea calls for giving WHO teeth in face of new diseases

South Korean President Moon Jae-in has called for giving the World Health Organization (WHO) more teeth to combat emerging diseases that threaten global health.

Moon, in remarks to the WHO’s annual ministerial assembly being held online, said: “We must update the WHO International Health Regulations and other relevant norms and augment them with binding legal force”.

Under the 2005 rules, WHO’s 194 member states are supposed to inform the Geneva-based agency quickly of any outbreaks. But WHO currently has limited leverage and lacks the power to enter countries to investigate without their permission.

“Infection-related data should be shared among countries in a more transparent manner and an early warning system and a cooperation mechanism must be jointly established,” Moon said.

11:05 GMT – China’s Xi says supports WHO-led probe when pandemic is under control

China supports a comprehensive review of the global response to the pandemic led by the World Health Organization (WHO) after the virus is brought under control, Chinese President Xi Jinping has said.

In a video speech to the WHO, Xi said China has been open and transparent about the COVID-19 outbreak that first emerged in the country in late 2019 and will support an investigation conducted in an objective and impartial manner.

Xi also pledged $2bn over two years to help with the COVID-19 response and said any vaccines developed against the disease by China will be made a public good.

10:47 GMT – Guterres: World pays ‘heavy price’ for ‘very little unity’

The planet is paying a heavy price due to countries ignoring the recommendations of the World Health Organization (WHO) in fighting the pandemic, UN chief Antonio Guterres has said.

“Different countries have followed different, sometimes contradictory strategies and we are all paying a heavy price,” the secretary-general told a virtual meeting of the WHO’s World Health Assembly from New York.

“We have seen some solidarity, but very little unity, in our response to COVID-19.”

Since many countries had ignored the WHO’s recommendations, “the virus has spread across the world and is now moving into the global South, where its impact may be even more devastating”.

10:39 GMT – Shops, cafes reopen as Italy lifts restrictions

Italy has taken its biggest step towards a cautious return to post-coronavirus normality, allowing a number of businesses and churches to reopen after more than two months of strict lockdown restrictions.

Read more here.

Parts of Europe ease coronavirus curbs as new infections drop

10:33 GMT – #IndonesiaWhatever: Indonesians vent online over response

A flood of criticism of the Indonesian government’s response to the pandemic and the behaviour of many Indonesians has appeared on social media under a hashtag that translates as #IndonesiaWhatever.

The posts followed online comments by a doctor and social media influencer, Tirta Mandira Hudhi, who was outraged by the easing of a flight ban that led to passengers inundating a Jakarta airport late last week and ignoring guidelines on social distancing.

On his Instagram account, the doctor posted a picture of himself in full personal protective equipment, holding a sign with the words “Indonesia? Whatever. Do what you like!”

By Monday, the post had drawn more than 400,000 likes and the hashtag #IndonesiaTerserah was among the top trending on Instagram and Twitter.

10:30 GMT – Spain aims to reopen borders to tourism in late June

Tourism-dependent Spain aims to reopen borders to visitors around the end of June as its lockdown fully unwinds, a minister has said.

Madrid last week surprised its EU partners by imposing a two-week quarantine on all overseas travellers and effectively keeping borders closed, saying that was needed to avoid importing a second wave of the coronavirus.

But the move was meant to be temporary and Transport Minister Jose Luis Abalos said it would be phased out in parallel with travel being allowed within Spain, whose regions are easing restrictions in different phases.

spain tourism blog entry
Workers prepare the beach to comply with social distancing requirements in Mogan, Gran Canarias, Spain [Angel Medina/EPA-EFE]

10:28 GMT – Russian PM says growth of new cases has stopped

Prime Minister Mikhail Mishustin has said that growth of new coronavirus cases has stopped in Russia, which has recorded the world’s largest number of infections after the US.

“The situation with the spread of the coronavirus infection remains difficult but we can still acknowledge that we managed to put a stop to the growth of infections,” Mishustin told a government meeting.

10:22 GMT – Australia welcomes growing support for inquiry at WHO meeting

A resolution pushed by the EU and Australia calling for a review into the origins and spread of the coronavirus has the support of 116 countries at the World Health Assembly, almost enough for it to pass, a document showed.

The resolution on the coronavirus will be put forward on Tuesday if it gains backing from two-thirds of the 194 members of the assembly, the governing body of the World Health Organization.

China has strongly opposed calls for an international investigation into the pandemic but appeared more amenable to the resolution on Monday.

10:18 GMT – 130 people test positive at refugee home in Germany

130 people have tested positive for the coronavirus at accommodation for asylum seekers in
western Germany, officials have said.

The remaining 170 residents at the shelter in the town of St Augustin, around 30km (19 miles) southeast of Cologne, have been confirmed negative in tests, a spokeswoman for the district government of Cologne said.

The residents are now being housed separately, depending on their test results, with outdoor areas also segregated. Asylum seekers have been instructed to eat only in their rooms.

germany blog entry
Employees of the Public Order Office leave the refugee accommodation in Sankt Augustin, Germany [Oliver Berg/DPA via AP]

10:10 GMT – UK adds loss of smell and taste to COVID-19 symptom list

The UK has added the loss of smell and taste to its official list of COVID-19 symptoms, a step that it hopes could help pick up about two percent more cases of the coronavirus.

The change, announced by Professor Jonathan Van-Tam, England’s deputy chief medical officer, came after scientists advising the government decided it could help pick up more cases if included in the basic case definition.

“Our basic case definition, which has for some time been new continuous cough or fever, will change to new continuous cough or fever or anosmia,” Van-Tam, who previously worked at SmithKline Beecham, Roche and Aventis Pasteur, told reporters.

08:50 GMT – Yemen’s Saudi-backed government pleads for coronavirus aid

Yemen’s Saudi-backed government has accused its Houthi foes of covering up a big outbreak of coronavirus in areas they hold.

The Aden-based government also called for urgent global assistance to help Yemen’s war-ravaged health sector.

“Reports on the ground indicate a large number of coronavirus cases in areas under the Houthis’ control and hiding this information is completely unacceptable,” Minister of Local Administration Abdul Raqib Fath told a news conference.

The government has reported 128 infections and 20 deaths linked to the coronavirus across nine of Yemen’s 21 provinces. The Houthis, who hold most large population centres, have only announced four cases, with one death, all in the capital Sanaa.

08:36 GMT – Thailand’s economy contracts for first time since 2014

Thailand’s economy has shrunk for the first time in six years due to the pandemic, which has shuttered borders and devastated the tourism-reliant country.

Data released by its economic planning agency shows a nearly 40-percent drop in tourist arrivals in the first three months of 2020, compared with the same period last year.

The drop has led the economy to shrink 1.8 percent year-on-year in January-March.

Thailand has not seen a contraction since 2014 when it was brought to a standstill by political riots that clogged the streets of Bangkok and led to a coup two months later in May.

08:23 GMT – EU authorisation for remdesivir might be granted in coming days – EMA

The head of the EU’s medicines agency Guido Rasi has said an initial authorisation for US pharmaceutical company Gilead’s remdesivir as a COVID-19 treatment could be granted in coming days.

“It might be that a conditional market authorisation can be issued in the coming days,” Rasi told a hearing in the EU Parliament in Brussels.

The European Medicines Agency (EMA) has already recommended the compassionate use of remdesivir, which allows a drug to be administered to patients even before it has been fully authorised.

08:12 GMT – Saint Peter’s Basilica in the Vatican reopens

Saint Peter’s Basilica in the Vatican has reopened to visitors after being closed for over two months under Italy’s lockdown orders.

A handful of visitors queued up, observing social distancing rules, and were watched by police officers wearing face masks before having their temperatures taken to enter the church, which has been closed since March 10.

People line up in respect of security distancing to access St. Peter's Basilica on May 18, 2020 in The Vatican during the lockdown aimed at curbing the spread of the COVID-19 infection, caused by the
People line up according to physical distancing measures to access St Peter’s Basilica in The Vatican [Vincenzo Pinto/AFP]

08:00 GMT – China says premature to immediately begin an investigation

China’s foreign ministry has said it was premature to immediately launch an investigation into the origins and spread of the coronavirus.

Spokesman Zhao Lijian told reporters during a daily briefing that the vast majority of countries in the world believe the pandemic is not yet over.

The ministry said in a separate statement that President Xi Jinping will give a video speech for the opening ceremony of the World Health Assembly later on Monday.

China’s Wuhan has tested third of residents for coronavirus

07:27 GMT – Spain’s cabinet to approve 3-3.5 billion euro basic-income scheme next week

The Spanish cabinet is due to approve next week a programme to grant a basic income to the poorest segments of the population to help them weather the economic fallout of coronavirus, Social Security Minister Jose Luis Escriva has said.

The minister said in an interview with RNE radio station that the cabinet would approve the programme, probably during the weekly cabinet meeting scheduled on May 26.

He said as many as 1 million families would receive the new benefit, which would cost the government between 3 billion euros and 3.5 billion euros per year.

07:21 GMT – Acropolis in Athens reopens after shutdown

Greece has reopened the Acropolis in Athens and all other archaeological sites in the country after a two-month closure.

President Katerina Sakellaropoulou led the ceremony as one of the first to visit the ancient Greek complex that sits on a hill above the capital. Only journalists and employees wearing masks were present.

Visitors wear protective face masks as they walk past the ancient Parthenon temple at the archaeological site of the Acropolis in Athens, Greece, March 13, 2020. REUTERS/Costas Baltas
Visitors walk past the ancient Parthenon temple at the Acropolis in Athens, Greece on March 13, 2020 [Costas Baltas/Reuters]

07:00 GMT – English Premier League could show more matches on free-to-air, minister says

The English Premier League could show more matches on free-to-air TV platforms once it resumes, including during the normally protected 3pm slot on a Saturday, minister Oliver Dowden has said.

Dowden, head of the department for digital, culture, media and sport, said making the games available on free platforms could help to prevent fans from turning up outside the stadium for games that are being played behind closed doors.

“It is likely to (resume) mid-June at the earliest,” he told BBC TV.

06:57 GMT – Hungary government to propose giving up emergency powers on May 26

Hungary’s government will submit a proposal to Parliament on May 26 to end its special coronavirus emergency powers, has quoted Prime Minister Viktor Orban’s chief of staff as saying.

Gergely Gulyas put a date on a similar statement by Orban on Friday. Gulyas said Parliament would take a few days to pass the bill, which will end the much-criticised emergency powers by early June.

No end date was set when Parliament gave the government permission to rule by decree in matters related to the coronavirus, leading to international criticism and accusations of an autocratic power-grab.

06:47 GMT – ‘Idiotic’ UK mismanaging crisis: Ryanair CEO

Ryanair Chief Executive Michael O’Leary has said the British government had mismanaged its response to the coronavirus outbreak for many weeks and its policy on a 14-day quarantine for international travellers was idiotic.

“It is idiotic, and it is unimplementable,” O’Leary told BBC radio. “This the same government that has… mismanaged the crisis for many weeks.”

06:41 GMT – UK still in talks with France over quarantine exemption: Minister

The UK is still in talks with France over whether French travellers should be exempt from a 14-day quarantine when they arrive in the UK, culture minister Oliver Dowden has said.

“Discussions are ongoing with the French on that,” he told Sky News.

The two countries said earlier this month that the UK would not impose quarantine to travellers coming from France at this stage, but the UK has still not set out the full details.

06:30 GMT – India records largest single-day coronavirus surge

India has recorded its biggest single-day surge with 5,242 new cases of coronavirus and 157 deaths in the last 24 hours, taking the country’s infection tally to more than 96,000, the highest in Asia.

The country now has 3,029 reported fatalities due to COVID-19.

The surge in infections comes a day after the federal government extended a nationwide lockdown to May 31 but eased some restrictions to restore economic activity and gave states more control in deciding the nature of the lockdown.

Authorities are attributing the surge in infections to the return of hundreds of thousands of migrant workers to India’s villages, which have weaker health infrastructure.


Hello, this is Mersiha Gadzo in Doha taking over the live updates from my colleague Kate Mayberry.


05:30 GMT –

I’m now handing over the blog to my colleagues in Doha.

A quick recap of key developments this morning – Brazil’s right-wing president Bolsonaro continues to defy rules on social distancing and quarantine even as the number of cases in his country surges; coronavirus has tipped Japan into its first recession in four-and-a-half years; pressure is building for an international probe into the pandemic as the World Health Assembly (WHA) prepares to meet in a few hours time; and Australia’s leading economists are backing social distancing.

05:00 GMT – Japan slips into first recession in four-and-a-half years

The coronavirus pandemic has tipped Japan’s economy into its first recession in four-and-a-half years.

Monday’s first-quarter gross domestic product (GDP) data underlined the broadening effect of the outbreak, with exports plunging the most since the devastating March 2011 earthquake and tsunami. Global lockdowns and supply chain disruptions have also hit shipments of Japanese goods.

Al Jazeera’s Impact team has more here.

Japan - coronavirus
People observe physical distancing rules as they wait to enter a fruit and vegetable shop in Yokohama, Japan [Koji Sasahara/AP Photo]

04:40 GMT – Fiji judge quashes social gathering convictions

Fiji High Court Judge Justice Salesi Temo has quashed 49 of 51 cases relating to breaches of curfew and physical distancing restrictions, saying the penalties imposed by the lower court were cruel, degrading and, or, disproportionately severe, according to a report in the Fiji Sun.

Justice Temo noted that many of those convicted had been fined, but lacked the means to pay the fine and their livelihoods had been adversely affected by the coronavirus pandemic.

“Most were unemployed or subsistence farmers,” the judge said. “If they were working, they were not earning that much in a week. Most of them pleaded guilty on the first call, and most were first offenders.”

04:25 GMT – Coronavirus probe calls intensify ahead of WHA meeting

The World Health Assembly (WHA) is due to start a key meeting in a few hours time, and calls for an independent probe into the coronavirus pandemic are growing.

Australia says more than 100 countries, including 50 African nations and all European Union member states, are backing a resolution calling for an investigation.

There is also pressure on the assembly over Taiwan, which is pushing to be heard in the face of Chinese opposition. Read more here.

World Health Assembly
The World Health Assembly is due to hold a virtual meeting on Monday [File: Fabrice Coffrini/AFP]

04:05 GMT – El Salvador emergency declaration challenged

El Salvador’s attorney general has challenged a presidential decree declaring a state of emergency as unconstitutional.

President Nayib Bukele, 38, announced the extension on Saturday without securing the backing of legislators. 

Bukele, who was elected last year, maintains he is within his rights.

“All presidents in the democratic history of our country have had the power to declare a state of emergency and have exercised it, without legislative approval,” he said.

In a televised speech to the nation on Sunday, he urged all arms of the government to come together to tackle the coronavirus.

03:25 GMT – Honduras extends blanket curfew

Honduras has extended a blanket curfew for a week.

The curfew was first imposed in mid-March to avoid the coronavirus overwhelming the country’s health system, and will now remain in force until May 24.

02:45 GMT – Parliament of Malaysia opens single-day session with support for front-liners

Malaysia’s parliament started a one-day session on Monday by giving a standing ovation to the country’s front-line workers.

Led by the king, members of Parliament, Senators and guests joined in the applause.

Parliament will sit for a single day, with the king’s speech the only item on the agenda. It is the first time the House has sat since a power grab in late February that led to the resignation of Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad and the collapse of the Pakatan Harapan government. After a week of turmoil, the king appointed Muhyiddin Yassin as prime minister, saying he believed he had the support of a majority of members of Parliament.

02:00 GMT – South Korea reports 15 new cases as club cluster eases

South Korea has reported 15 new cases of the coronavirus with signs the cluster centred around a Seoul clubbing district is slowing.

The Korea Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (KCDC) said five of the cases were locally-acquired, with the remainder imported, according to Yonhap news agency.

One new death was reported, bringing the total to 263.

01:40 GMT – China reports seven new coronavirus cases

China’s National Health Commission has reported seven new cases of coronavirus, two in the northeastern province of Jilin where a partial lockdown is in place.

Shanghai also had one case, while the rest were confirmed among travellers returning from overseas in Inner Mongolia.

01:30 GMT – Leading economists in Australia back social distancing

A new survey shows Australian economists overwhelmingly support social distancing measures to slow the spread of the coronavirus.

The first Economic Society of Australia-Conversation poll asked 43 of the country’s leading economists whether they agreed, disagreed, strongly agreed or strongly disagreed with the proposition: The benefits to Australian society of maintaining social distancing measures sufficient to keep R less than one for COVID-19 are likely to exceed the costs.

Almost three quarters backed the proposition, 23 of them “strongly”. Only nine disagreed.

R is the reproduction number for the virus and measures the average number of other people someone who already has coronavirus will infect. When R is below one, the outbreak will begin to peter out.

01:00 GMT – UN chief calls on Bangladesh to move Rohingya back to camps

UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres is calling on Bangladesh to move Rohingya refugees – held on a flood-prone island after being rescued from ships stranded at sea – to the main refugee camps.

Bangladesh says the 308 Rohingya were sent to Bhashan Char island because of coronavirus concerns.

“While those rescued at sea may be quarantined for public health purposes, they must also be extended the protection they deserve as refugees,” Guterres said in a letter to Bangladesh’s foreign minister, AK Abdul Momen, that was obtained by AFP.

“I trust that they too will benefit from the humanitarian services offered to the Rohingya in Bangladesh and that, at the end of their quarantine period, they will be allowed to return to their families in Cox’s Bazar.”

Four cases of coronavirus have so far been detected in the camps. Read more on the story here.

In this April 15, 2020, photograph, a health worker from an aid organization walks wearing a hazmat suit at the Kutupalong Rohingya refugee camp in Cox's Bazar, Bangladesh. There's been little if any
Emergency teams worked to contain the spread of the virus in the world’s largest refugee settlement [File: Shafiqur Rahman/AP]

00:00 GMT – Bolsonaro defies coronavirus advice with selfies

Brazil’s President Bolsonaro continues to defy advice on social distancing even as the coronavirus outbreak in Brazil worsens.

On Sunday, he posed for selfies with at least three children picked out from a crowd of supporters who had congregated outside the presidential palace, Reuters News Agency reported.

In an online video, Bolsonaro said he welcomed the demonstration.

“Above all [the people] want freedom, they want democracy, they want respect,” he said.

Health ministry figures from Sunday night showed 7,938 new cases in Brazil, bringing the total to more than 241,000. A further 485 people died, bringing the death toll to 16,118. 

23:30 GMT (May 17) – Hong Kong nationals arrive home after evacuation flight from India

A group of 249 Hong Kong residents stranded in India have arrived back home on a chartered flight.

The plane left New Delhi at about 11pm on May 17 local time (17:30 GMT), according to a Hong Kong government statement. The passengers included seven children under two years of age. They will all be required to undergo COVID-19 testing and spend 14 days in compulsory quarantine. 


Hello and welcome to Al Jazeera’s continuing coverage of the coronavirus pandemic. I’m Kate Mayberry in Kuala Lumpur. 

Read all the updates from yesterday (May 17) here.

Source: Al Jazeera, News Agencies