WHO says South America new coronavirus ‘epicentre’: Live updates

Brazil, whose president has resisted restrictions, is the hardest hit country in the region with over 330,890 cases.

Brazil coronavirus
  • South America has become an ‘epicentre’ of the COVID-19 pandemic with Brazil the hardest hit country, the World Health Organization’s Mike Ryan said on Friday. 

  • Britain will introduce a 14-day quarantine for almost all international travellers from June 8, interior minister Priti Patel has said, with anyone breaking the rules facing a $1,218 (a 1,000 pound) fine.

  • Some 80 million infants could be at risk of vaccine-preventable diseases like diphtheria, measles and polio due to disruption of routine immunisation caused by the pandemic, UN agencies have warned.

  • Spanish authorities have announced that they will partially lift the lockdown restrictions in Madrid on Monday, after the pace of the coronavirus contagion in the region slowed down.

  • India has registered its biggest jump of coronavirus cases in 24 hours with 6,000 new infections as the country loosens a nationwide lockdown.

  • More than five million people around the world are now confirmed to have the coronavirus, according to data compiled by the Johns Hopkins University. More than 328,000 people have died globally while some 1.9 million people have recovered.

Here are all the latest updates:

Friday, May 22

22:15 GMT – Brazil announces coronavirus tally 

Brazil’s health ministry announced that 330,890 people have contracted the virus and 21,048 have died, overtaking Russia for second place in the world for highest number of cases, after the US. 

21:50 GMT – Cuba credits two drugs with slashing coronavirus death toll

Cuba said that use of two drugs produced by its biotech industry that reduce hyper-inflammation in seriously ill COVID-19 patients has sharply curbed its coronavirus-related death toll.

Health authorities have reported just two virus-related deaths over the past nine days among more than 200 active cases. One is itolizumab, a monoclonal antibody produced in Cuba and elsewhere. The other is a peptide that Cuba says its biotech industry discovered and has been testing for rheumatoid arthritis in Phase II clinical trials.

20:50 GMT – Q&A: How communist-run India state became model in COVID-19 fight

The Indian state of Kerala’s strategy to tackle the coronavirus is being held up as a model on containing the pandemic even as other parts of the country struggle to stop its spread.

The state has 691 cases and the highest recovery rate of nearly 90 percent in India while the total infections in the country have crossed 100,000 and nearly 3,000 people have died.

Only three people have died in the state with a mortality rate of about 0.43 percent. 

Read the Q&A with Kerala’s chief minister here.

Pinarayi Vijayan
Its robust healthcare facilities under the communist party government seems to have helped the state turn the tide against the pandemic [File: Sonu Mehta/Hindustan Times via Getty Images]

20:30 GMT – France ready to mirror British quarantine on visitors: Report

France regrets a British decision to impose a quarantine on people arriving from mainland Europe, and stands ready to impose reciprocal measures, the AFP news agency has quoted the interior ministry as saying.

Britain’s interior minister Priti Patel said earlier on Friday she will introduce a COVID-19 quarantine for travellers arriving from abroad from June 8, a measure that airlines have warned will devastate their industry

20:00 GMT – Canada to ramp up testing and tracing, recommend digital app

Canada will ramp up coronavirus testing and contact tracing as it gradually lifts restrictions and is working closely with Apple Inc and Alphabet Inc’s Google on a mobile phone app to help, the prime minister has said.

In his daily news conference, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said the federal government was already helping Ontario, the most populous province, with contact tracing and was open to do the same for the other 12 provinces and territories.

Businesses and citizens “need to know that we have a coordinated approach to gradually reopen that is rooted in science, evidence and the ability to rapidly detect and control any future outbreaks,” Trudeau said.

Cruise staff stranded: Thousands still await repatriation

19:40 GMT – How a Senegal TV series is fighting coronavirus

Senegal’s latest TV drama star is a fictional doctor who provides coronavirus advice – a far cry from characters in the West African country’s usual fare of infidelity-themed soap operas.

Since late April, a short television show in the Wolof language, dubbed The Virus, has aired on social media and on a private channel, focusing on day-to-day life during the pandemic.

“We wanted to make five to eight-minute TV films to show what to do and what not to do to avoid the coronavirus,” said the programme’s director, Mohamed Moustapha Kante.

Read more here.

senegal soap
Alioune Thiam, the actor who plays Doctor Diouf, is seen during filming of the TV show in Dakar [AFP]

19:20 GMT – Cases in Africa surpass 100,000

The number of coronavirus cases in Africa has surpassed 100,000, the WHO has said, with infection reported in every country on the continent. 

Despite the milestone, the WHO noted outbreak has so far taken a different path than in other parts of the world.

“Case numbers have not grown at the same exponential rate as in other regions and so far Africa has not experienced the high mortality seen in some parts of the world,” the WHO said in a statement. To date, about 3,100 people have died in Africa from COVID-19.

Could the pandemic threaten the survival of Africa’s wildlife? | Inside Story

19:00 GMT – CanSino vaccine appears safe in first human trial

A coronavirus vaccine tested for the first time in humans is safe and induces a rapid immune response, researchers at China’s CanSino Biologics Inc have reported The Lancet medical journal.

Blood samples from a group of 108 vaccinated adults showed both neutralising antibodies and T-cell responses against the novel coronavirus in most of those tested.Further studies will be needed to confirm whether the vaccine protects against infection.

“These results represent an important milestone. The trial demonstrates that a single dose of [the trial vaccine] produces virus-specific antibodies and T cells in 14 days, making it a potential candidate for further investigation,” co-author Professor Wei Chen from the Beijing Institute of Biotechnology in Beijing said in a statement.

“However … the ability to trigger these immune responses does not necessarily indicate that the vaccine will protect humans from COVID-19 … we are still a long way from this vaccine being available to all.”

Where are we with a coronavirus vaccine? | Start Here

18:40 GMT – Muslims pray in Berlin church to comply with social distancing rules 

A Berlin church is hosting Muslims who are unable to fit into their mosque for Friday prayers because of social distancing guidelines.

The Dar Assalam mosque in the Neukölln district normally welcomes hundreds of Muslims to its Friday services. But it can currently only accommodate 50 people at a time under Germany’s coronavirus restrictions.

During the holy fasting month of Ramadan, the nearby Martha Lutheran church stepped in to help, hosting Muslim prayers in Arabic and German.

“It is a great sign and it brings joy in Ramadan and joy amid this crisis,” said Mohamed Taha Sabry, the mosque’s imam. “This pandemic has made us a community. Crises bring people get together.”

Berlin Church Muslim Prayer
Muslims pray inside the evangelical church of St. Martha’s parish in Berlin, Germany [Fabrizio Bensch/Reuters]

18:20 GMT – Trump urges governors to let places of worship reopen ‘right now’     

President Donald Trump has urged US state governors to allow places of worship to reopen immediately, as the country moves gradually towards a lifting of COVID-19 lockdown measures.    

“Today I am identifying houses of worship – churches, synagogues and mosques – as essential places that provide essential services,” Trump told a news conference at the White House.     

“The governors need to do the right thing and allow these very important essential places of faith to open right now, for this weekend,” he said. “If they don’t do it, I will override the governors. In America, we need more prayer, not less.”

18:00 GMT – US plans massive vaccine testing effort to meet year-end deadline

US plans a massive testing effort involving more than 100,000 volunteers and a half dozen or so of the most promising vaccine candidates in an effort to deliver a safe and effective one by the end of 2020, scientists leading the program told Reuters news agency.

The project will compress what is typically 10 years of vaccine development and testing into a matter of months, testimony to the urgency to halt a pandemic that has infected more than 5 million people, killed over 335,000 and battered economies worldwide.

To get there, leading vaccine makers have agreed to share data and lend the use of their clinical trial networks to competitors should their own candidate fail, the scientists said.

Arcturus Therapeutics, RNA medicines company, researches a vaccine for novel coronavirus (COVID-19)
Research associate Phuong-Danh Tran, of RNA medicines company Arcturus Therapeutics, conducts research on a vaccine for the new coronavirus in a laboratory in San Diego, California [Bing Guan/Reuters]

17:40 GMT – WHO: South America is a new ‘epicentre’ 

“In a sense South America has become a new epicentre for the disease,” Dr Mike Ryan, WHO’s top emergencies expert, told a news conference, adding Brazil is “clearly the most affected”.

Ryan noted Brazilian authorities have approved broad use of the anti-malarial drug hydroxychloroquine for treatment of COVID-19. He reiterated that current clinical evidence does not support the unproven drug’s widespread use against the new disease, given its risks.

Mexico City hospitals reaching breaking point

17:20 GMT – Cyprus ends passenger flights ban from June 9 with conditions     

Cyprus will reopen its airports to commercial flights from June 9 after nearly three months of lockdown, Transport Minister Yiannis Karousos has said.

The phased reopening will initially allow passengers to fly to the small EU state from about 20 countries. But the island’s two largest tourist markets, Britain – which accounts for a third of all arrivals – and Russia, are not on the initial lists, amid fears the new coronavirus has not been sufficiently contained.

A second phase of easing restrictions will begin on June 20, the minister said.

17:00 – Nicaragua-Costa Rica pandemic dispute stalls hundreds of trucks at border

Hundreds of freight trucks have been stuck on the border between Costa Rica and Nicaragua as the two countries remain locked in a squabble over measures to contain the coronavirus.

A queue of trucks from across Central America, which a Reuters witness estimated at nearly 1,000 vehicles, sat waiting on both sides of the Penas Blancas border post on Friday. 

Costa Rica has criticised Nicaragua for what some have called a lax response to the pandemic and tightened its border controls. Nearly 40 coronavirus cases in Costa Rica stem from infected truck drivers entering the country, authorities say.

On Monday, Nicaraguan President Daniel Ortega ordered the closure of the border in retaliation for Costa Rican measures that disrupted movement of goods, including forcing truck drivers to take coronavirus tests before entering.

Nicaragua hiding actual COVID-19 death toll: Doctors

16:45 GMT – UK to impose 14-day quarantine for international arrivals from June 8

Britain will introduce a 14-day quarantine for almost all international travellers from June 8, interior minister Priti Patel has said, with anyone breaking the rules facing a 1,000 pound ($1,218) fine.

The government said there would be some exemptions, including road haulage and freight workers, medical professionals travelling to help with the fight against the coronavirus and those coming from Ireland.

“Now we are past the peak of this virus, we must take steps to guard against imported cases triggering a resurgence of this deadly disease,” Patel said at the government’s daily news conference.

16:20 GMT – Trump lashes out at the scientists whose findings contradict him

The US president called one study “a Trump enemy statement”.

He called another “a political hit job”.

As President Donald Trump pushes to reopen the country despite warnings from doctors about the consequences of moving too quickly during the coronavirus crisis, he has been lashing out at scientists whose conclusions he dislikes.

Read more here

Trump speaks during a roundtable in the State Dining Room of the White House [File: Doug Mills/Getty Images/AFP]

16:00 GMT – Italy daily death toll dips, new cases steady

Italy has recorded 130 new deaths from the COVID-19 epidemic against 156 the day before, the Civil Protection Agency said, while the daily tally of new cases rose marginally to 652 from 642 on Thursday.

The total death toll since the outbreak came to light on February 21 now stands at 32,616, the agency said, the third highest in the world after those of the United States and Britain.

Shops, cafes reopen as Italy lifts coronavirus restrictions

15:40 GMT – Spain death toll rises by 56 to 28,628

Spain’s overnight death toll from the new coronavirus has risen by 56, raising the total to 28,628, the health ministry said.

The number of diagnosed cases rose to 234,824 cases from 233,037 on Thursday, the ministry added.

The daily increase in the death toll and the number of cases is not directly comparable to the previous day due to various regions reporting their recent data with delays.

15:20 GMT – 80 million children at risk of measles, polio as vaccines disrupted: WHO, UNICEF 

Some 80 million children worldwide could be at risk of vaccine-preventable diseases like diphtheria, measles and polio due to disruption of routine immunisation during the COVID-19 pandemic, UN agencies and the GAVI vaccine alliance has said.

Data shows that “provision of routine immunization services is substantially hindered in at least 68 countries and is likely to affect approximately 80 million children under the age of 1 living in these countries,” the WHO, UN Children’s Fund (UNICEF) and GAVI said in a joint statement issued ahead of the Global Vaccine Summit set for June 4.

Travel restrictions, delays in vaccine deliveries, reluctance among some parents to leave their homes amid fear of exposure to coronavirus, and a lack of available health workers were behind what it said may be “unprecedented” disruption on a global scale since such expanded programmes began in the 1970s.

COVID-19 in Africa: Misinformation thwarting containment

15:00 GMT – UK: ‘Stay at home for Eid’ messages slammed as patronising

As Eid approaches, Muslims in the United Kingdom are being bombarded with messages through the media to celebrate at home and observe social distancing measures to avoid spreading the novel coronavirus. 

The stream of advice from government, celebrities, and local health and law enforcement officials have been described by some as patronising, as many noticed a double standard.

Social media users expressed their disappointment, saying that there were fewer warnings regarding other recent celebrations such as the VE Day anniversary.

Read more here

UK Muslim
A Muslim woman walks past balloons outside London’s National Hospital for Neurology and Neurosurgery as the spread of the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) continues [File: Simon Dawson/Reuters]

14:45 GMT – Virus deaths five times higher among poor in Spanish region

The coronavirus mortality rate among some of the poorest Catalans is five times higher than among the wealthiest residents of the Spanish region, a study showed, in the latest evidence of how COVID-19 hits the needy hardest.

The northeastern region of Catalonia, which makes up a sixth of Spain’s 47 million population, has the second highest number of registered coronavirus cases and deaths among regions. Spain has been one of the worst-hit countries with nearly 28,000 deaths.

The study by a regional health department institute cross-checked Catalonia’s coronavirus cases and fatalities up to May 7 against age and incomes.

14:30 GMT – Unemployment rose in all 50 US states in April: Labor Department’s BLS

Unemployment rates rose and total employment fell in all 50 US states and the District of Columbia in April as efforts to contain the coronavirus pandemic forced businesses to close across the United States, the Labor Department has said.

The department’s Bureau of Labor Statistics said 43 states set record-high levels of unemployment last month, with the highest being in Nevada, the state with the greatest reliance on the hard-hit food services and hospitality industry. The rate in Nevada surged 24.2 percentage points to 28.2 percent – nearly twice April’s national employment rate of 14.7 percent.

US small businesses: Innovating to survive virus slow down

14:15 GMT – Not ‘everything has gone perfectly’, says NHS England chief executive

Britain should have learned more from other countries who were tackling coronavirus outbreaks earlier, the head of NHS England Simon Stevens has said, acknowledging that not everything with the response had gone perfectly. 

Asked by lawmakers on a parliamentary committee whether Britain should have learned lessons on things like the provision of protective equipment, Stevens, chief executive of the National Health Service in England, said: “I’m sure the answer to that is definitely yes.” 

“I don’t think everything has gone perfectly, in a way how could it? There are clearly things that we will want to learn from and do differently in future,” he told the Public Accounts Committee.

14:05 GMT – Malaria drug touted by Trump tied to increased risk of death: study

The Malaria drug hydroxychloroquine, which US President Donald Trump says he has been taking, was tied to increased risk of death in a study in 96,000 COVID-19 patients, according to a paper published in the Lancet.

The study found that people treated with hydroxychloroquine, or the closely related drug chloroquine, had higher risk of in-hospital death when compared to those who had not been given the drug.

US President Donald Trump announced on May 18 he had been taking hydroxychloroquine for almost two weeks as a preventive measure against COVID-19 [George Frey/AFP]

13:50 GMT – Czechs say epidemic under control, further lockdown easing on Monday

Czech health authorities believe the spread of the new coronavirus is under control despite a tick-up in cases in recent days, as the country prepares to open pubs, hotels and relax mask-wearing rules on Monday.

The Czech Republic took early action in March to close borders, schools and much of the services sector and has also been eager to relax many of the restrictions. Most retail and sports grounds have already reopened and from Monday public events for up to 300 people will be allowed and swimming pools and schools will reopen.

Health Minister Adam Vojtech said an initial easing of restrictions from May 11 had not had an adverse effect. The country has confirmed 8,757 cases of COVID-19 by Friday morning, with 306 deaths.

“There are no negative trends noted, it is still valid that the Czech Republic has managed the situation very well,” he told reporters. 

epa08326418 A worker in a protective suit disinfects the statue of first Czechoslovak President T. G. Masaryk at Hradcanske Square in Prague, Czech Republic, 27 March 2020. The Czech government has im
A worker in a protective suit disinfects the statue of first Czechoslovak President T. G. Masaryk at Hradcanske Square in Prague in March [Martin Divisek/EPA]

13:30 GMT – UK death toll rises 351 to 36,393

The UK’s death toll from confirmed coronavirus cases has risen by 351 to 36,393, the health ministry said.

A total of 254,195 people had tested positive for the coronavirus as of 0800 GMT on May 22.

Outside image - blog - 19 may - UK headline
People shop along Broadway Market in east London [Neil Hall/EPA]

13:15 GMT – Qatar reports 1,830 new cases, highest daily increase

The number of new coronavirus cases in Qatar has risen by 1,830, the highest daily increase since the outbreak began, bringing the total confirmed infections in the country since the outbreak began 40,479. 

To date, 7,893 people have recovered from the disease caused by the virus, COVID-19 and 19 people have died. 

Hello, this is Joseph Stepansky in Doha taking over from my colleague Umut Uras.

I will be handing over this blog to my colleagues shortly. Here are the key developments from this afternoon:

  • Spain announced that it will partially lift the lockdown restrictions in Madrid on Monday.
  • India registered its biggest jump of coronavirus cases in 24 hours with some 6,000 new infections.
  • Russia reported 150 new deaths in the last 24 hours, a record daily rise.

12:40 GMT – Brazil coronavirus deaths surpass 20,000

More than 20,000 people have so far died from COVID-19 in Brazil as the country registered its highest one-day toll.

The health ministry said on Thursday the 1,188 deaths recorded over the previous 24-hour period pushed the overall tally to 20,047.

Read more here.

The spread of the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) in Sao Paulo
The state of Sao Paulo is by far the most affected, with about a quarter of the country’s deaths and infections [Amanda Perobelli/Reuters]

12:15 GMT – Spain partly lifts lockdown in Madrid, allows terraces reopening

Spanish authorities will lift part of the lockdown restrictions in Madrid on Monday after the pace of the coronavirus contagion in the region slowed down, the Madrid regional health department said.

The restrictions in Madrid are now the same as in most of the country that started phasing out the lockdown in early May.

Bars and restaurants in the capital will be allowed to reopen terraces and groups of up to 10 people will be allowed to meet.

12:00 GMT – Human trials of British coronavirus vaccine to reach 10,000

Oxford University and AstraZeneca are recruiting around 10,000 adults and children in Britain for trials of an experimental coronavirus vaccine, a day after receiving US backing worth up to $1.2bn.

Researchers are mainly looking for healthcare staff and other public-facing workers to join the trial as in order to get a clear signal on the vaccine’s efficacy, they need a minimum number to catch the coronavirus in their everyday lives.

An initial trial that started on April 23 has already seen more than 1,000 volunteers aged 18-55 receive the injection and Oxford said phases II and III will add people aged 56 and older as well as children of 5 to 12 years.

11:45 GMT – Saudi Arabia, UAE mosques to stay closed for Eid prayers

Mosques will remain closed for prayers on the Eid Al-Fitr festival, Saudi and United Arab Emirates officials said, calling on the population to adhere to safety guidelines to avoid the spread of the novel coronavirus.

The Eid, which marks the end of the holy fasting month of Ramadan, may fall on Saturday or Sunday in the Gulf region.

11:20 GMT – Malaysia PM in home quarantine

Malaysian Prime Minister Muhyiddin Yassin will be home quarantined for 14 days after an officer who attended a meeting with him this week tested positive for the new coronavirus, the prime minister’s office said in a statement.

Muhyiddin tested negative but “all members of the meeting have been instructed to undergo screening and 14 days’ home quarantine”, the statement added.

Muhyiddin Yassin, former Malaysian deputy Prime Minister, speaks during an interview with Reuters in Kuala Lumpur
Prime Minister Muhyiddin Yassin assummed office in March [Ebrahim Harris/Reuters]

10:55 GMT – UK gov’t took decision to stop mass testing in March: Advisers

The United Kingdom decided to end mass testing and contact tracing of those with or suspected of having COVID-19 in March because a surge in new cases at that time would have been beyond the system’s capacity, government advisers said.

Prime Minister Boris Johnson has been criticised for scaling back testing and tracing in March, only to ramp up the system in recent weeks to try to ease out of a lockdown to tackle the outbreak that has all but shut down the economy.

Johnson’s government repeatedly says it has been guided in its fight against the coronavirus by scientific and medical advice, and John Newton, Britain’s testing coordinator, said it was ministers who ultimately decided on contact tracing.

10:40 GMT – Yemen’s health system ‘has in effect collapsed’: UN

Coronavirus is believed to be spreading throughout Yemen, where the health care system “has in effect collapsed”, the United Nations said, appealing for urgent funding.

Referring to aid agencies, Jens Laerke, spokesman for the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA), told a Geneva briefing: “We hear from many of them that Yemen is really on the brink right now. The situation is extremely alarming, they are talking about that the health system has in effect collapsed.

“They are talking about having to turn people away because they do not have enough (medical) oxygen, they do not have enough personal protective equipment,” he said.

Yemen authorities have reported 184 cases including 30 deaths to the World Health Organization (WHO), its latest figures show. “The actual incidence is almost certainly much higher,” Laerke said.

10:20 GMT – South Africa scientists say up to 50,000 deaths possible

South Africa could see up to 50,000 coronavirus deaths and as many as three million infections by the end of the year as the southern hemisphere winter leads to a higher rate of infection, scientific models showed.

The country already has the highest number of infections and deaths on the African continent, with more than 18,000 identified cases and 339 deaths, but a national lockdown entering its eighth week had slowed infections.

However, scientists and statisticians hired by the health ministry to model the spread of the disease said the country could see between 35,000 and 50,000 coronavirus deaths by November.

09:55 GMT – Indonesia reports 634 new cases

Indonesia registered 634 new cases of coronavirus infection, taking its total to 20,796, according to health ministry official Achmad Yurianto.

Yurianto also announced 48 more COVID-19 deaths, bringing the country’s tally to 1,326. More than 5,000 people have so far recovered.

Indonesia rice
Indonesia reports 48 more COVID-19 deaths, taking the total to 1,326 [Ajeng Dinar Ulfiana/Reuters] 

09:40 GMT – Soros says coronavirus threatens EU’s survival

George Soros, the billionaire financier, has cautioned that the European Union’s survival was threatened by the new coronavirus unless it could issue perpetual bonds or “consols” to help weak members such as Italy.

“If the EU is unable to consider it now, it may not be able to survive the challenges it currently confronts,” Soros said in a transcript of a question-and-answer session emailed to reporters. “This is not a theoretical possibility; it may be the tragic reality.”

Soros said the EU would have to maintain its AAA credit rating to issue such debt – and thus have to have tax-raising powers to cover the cost of the bonds – so suggested it could simply authorise the taxes rather than imposing them.

09:15 GMT –  Virus, lockdowns and the looming second


One by one, governments worldwide are gradually easing tough restrictions meant to contain the spread of the coronavirus – even as, in some countries, infection numbers continue to rise.

The move highlights the pressing need to cautiously reopen economies and restore livelihoods, but the path towards post-coronavirus normality is arduous and long.

With no known treatment or vaccine available, experts warn that an extensive lifting of controls could spark a second – and perhaps deadlier – wave of a pandemic that has so far sickened more than five million people and caused more than 330,000 related deaths.

Read Ayseba Umutlu’s story here.

Spread of coronavirus disease (COVID-19) in Strasbourg
The WHO has repeatedly urged countries to be cautious about easing restrictions [File: Patrick Hertzog/Reuters]

09:00 GMT – Malaysia reports 78 new coronavirus cases with one death

Malaysian health authorities have reported 78 new coronavirus cases, raising the cumulative total to 7,137.

The health ministry also reported one new death, bringing the total toll up to 115.

08:45 GMT – Turkish foreign visitor arrivals plummet 99 percent in April

The number of foreign visitors arriving in Turkey has plummeted by 99.26 percent year-on-year in April to 24,238, data from the tourism ministry showed, as the coronavirus outbreak in the country shut down airports and tourism.

In the first four months of the year, the number of foreign visitors fell 51.2 percent to 4.26 million, the data showed.

08:30 GMT – Thailand to extend coronavirus emergency to end of June

Thailand will maintain its state of emergency over the coronavirus until the end of June, its COVID-19 task force said, in an effort to keep infections under control as the government prepares to ease restrictions further.

Shopping malls and department stores reopened at the weekend after almost two months of closure as the number of cases slowed, but bars, nightclubs, cinemas, playgrounds and some sports remain off-limits.

The government’s Centre for COVID-19 Situation Administration proposed the extension in response to developments with the global pandemic and to allow time to prepare for further easing at the start of next month.

Thailand malls
People stand in line to enter the Siam Paragon shopping mall in Bangkok [Mladen Antonov/AFP]

08:10 GMT – Britain extends COVID-19 mortgage payment holiday

Britain has extended its mortgage payment holiday scheme for homeowners in financial difficulty during the coronavirus pandemic for another three months.

The Treasury said more than 1.8 million mortgage payment holidays had been taken up from a scheme that was launched in March. Homeowners still struggling financially could also have the option of making reduced payments.

“Everyone’s circumstances will be different, so when homeowners can pay some or all of their mortgage, they should work with their lender on a plan; but if they are still struggling, I want them to know that help is there,” John Glen, economic secretary to the Treasury said in a statement.

07:45 GMT – Russia reports record daily rise in new coronavirus deaths

Russia has reported 150 new deaths from the novel coronavirus in the past 24 hours, a record daily rise, taking the country’s official nationwide death toll from the virus to 3,249.

The country’s coronavirus crisis response centre reported 8,894 new coronavirus cases, bringing the total number of infections to 326,448.

Coronavirus cases in Russia exceed 300 thousands
A woman wears a mask as a precaution against coronavirus as she walks at Pyatnitskaya street in Moscow [EPA]

07:30 GMT – Interactive: How did we get to five million COVID-19 cases?

More than five million people have now been infected by the new coronavirus worldwide.

Here is an interactive made by Al Jazeera to help people understand how the outbreak has globally evolved.

07:00 GMT – India reports biggest 24-hour rise in virus cases

India has registered some 6,000 new cases of the novel coronavirus, the country’s biggest jump in 24 hours, as New Delhi eases a nationwide lockdown and airlines prepare to resume some domestic flights.

The country of 1.3 billion people reported a total of over 118,000 confirmed cases, a roughly five percent increase from Thursday’s figures. Included in the total are 3,583 deaths.

Prime Minister Narendra Modi extended a lockdown that started on March 25, to May 31, but relaxed rules in areas with lower numbers of cases and allowed state governments to issue their own guidelines on some matters.

Outbreak of coronavirus disease (COVID-19) in Mumbai
 India has reported more than 118,000 confirmed cases [Hemanshi Kamani/Reuters] 

06:40 GMT – UK to set out quarantine measures for international arrivals

The United Kingdom will set out details of its plans for a quarantine for international arrivals, Northern Ireland Secretary Brandon Lewis said.

Home Secretary Priti Patel will set out the details at a briefing later, he told Sky News.

06:10 GMT – Bulgaria to allow entry of citizens from EU, Schengen countries

Bulgaria, which has started to ease its lockdown, has scrapped a ban on the entry of visitors from the European Union and Schengen visa zone countries, the health ministry said in a statement.

In mid-March European Union member Bulgaria banned entry to its territory to travellers from many countries in an attempt to contain the spread of the novel coronavirus.

The health ministry said that the lifting of the ban also covers San Marino, Andorra, Monaco and Vatican City. The ministry said that people arriving in Bulgaria would continue to spend 14 days in quarantine.

Hello, this is Umut Uras in Doha taking over from my colleague Zaheena Rasheed.

I will be handing over this blog to my colleagues in Doha shortly. Here are the key developments from this morning:

  • Japan’s central bank is launching a $279bn programme to boost lending to small firms
  • New Zealand’s opposition switched leaders to counter soaring support for Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern over her handling of the coronavirus
  • The IMF and Ukraine agreed in principle on a new $5bn aid package

05:25 GMT – Japan central bank to boost lending to small firms

The Bank of Japan is offering 30 trillion yen ($279bn) in additional lending to help small firms struggling with the economic devastation wrought by the coronavirus.

The central bank says it will start providing the funding to banks in June. The new measure brings the Bank of Japan’s total package of financial assistance to small and medium-sized firms to 75 trillion yen ($700bn).

It comes as data showed that Japan has slipped back into deflation for the first time in more than three years, with prices falling 0.2 percent in April.

05:17 GMT – Philippine legislator proposes tax targeting tech giants

Joey Salceda, a Philippine Congressman, has introduced a bill in Parliament aimed at taxing big tech firms such as Facebook, Alphabet’s Google and YouTube, Netflix and Spotify, to raise funds to battle the coronavirus.

The bill looks to raise 29 billion pesos ($571m) by imposing a value-added tax on digital services provided in the Philippines, a key growth area for e-commerce transactions as its people are among the world’s heaviest users of social media.

“We spent to fight COVID-19 and we need more to continue fighting it and recover,” Salceda, the bill’s principal author, told Reuters News Agency.

05:05 GMT – Thailand reports no new cases, no new deaths

Thailand reported no new coronavirus infections or deaths on Friday, maintaining the total of 3,037 confirmed cases and 56 fatalities since the outbreak started in January.

There are 2,910 patients who have recovered and returned home since the outbreak started, the government’s coronavirus taskforce said in an update.

The spread of the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) in Bangkok
Shopping malls in Thailand, which reopened earlier this month, will be allowed to extend their operating hour [Reuters] 

04:46 GMT – Malaysia confirms more cases at migrant detention centre

Malaysia has reported 35 new coronavirus cases at an immigration detention centre on the outskirts of the capital, Kuala Lumpur.

Noor Hisham Abdullah, director-general at the Malaysian health ministry, said the positive cases at the Bukit Jalil immigration detention centre include 17 people from Myanmar, 15 from India and one each from Sri Lanka, Bangladesh and Egypt.

Malaysian authorities have arrested more than 1,800 migrants in at least two raids as part of efforts to contain the spread of the coronavirus, raising concerns they could instead raise infection risks in overcrowded detention centres.

04:29 GMT – Australia’s most populous state to relax curbs on hospitality sector

New South Wales, Australia’s most populous state, has said restrictions imposed to slow the spread of coronavirus will be eased to allow cafes, restaurants and pubs to have up to 50 seated patrons. 

“Losing 221,000 jobs in April was a disaster,” state premier Gladys Berejiklian told reporters in Sydney, referring to state-wide job losses. “We don’t want to see that continue.”

The measure will take effect on June 1. Nationally, nearly 600,000 people were forced out of work in April by the coronavirus restrictions.

04:05 GMT – New Zealand opposition changes leader

New Zealand’s conservative opposition has switched leaders in a last-gasp bid to counter the record support Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern is enjoying for containing the coronavirus.

National Party legislators voted to ditch Simon Bridges after opinion polls suggested he was headed for a wipeout at a general election on September 19. His replacement is former agri-business executive Todd Muller.

A 1 News Colmar Brunton poll released on Thursday night put support for Ardern’s Labour Party up 18 points at 59 percent, a record for the centre-left grouping.

Ardern’s rating as preferred prime minister was 63 percent, up 21 points to the highest figure recorded by any legislator in the survey’s 25-year history.

03:40 GMT – Australia extends bans on cruise ships

Australia extended its ban on cruise ship visits for three months until September 17.

Australian Border Force said any cruise ship capable of carrying more than 100 passengers is prohibited from operating cruises in the country.

The ban has been in place since March 27, following deadly outbreaks linked to cruise ships.

02:07 GMT – No annual growth target for China, a first in decades

China took the rare move of not setting an annual growth target this year after the coronavirus battered the world’s second-largest economy and ravaged global growth.

Instead, given “great uncertainty” caused by the COVID-19 pandemic, Beijing will “give priority to stabilising employment and ensuring living standards”, Premier Li Keqiang told the opening of the National People’s Congress.

It is the first time China has not set a gross domestic product (GDP) goal since the government started to publish such targets in 1990.

Chinese Premier Li Keqiang
Chinese Premier Li Keqiang delivers his work report during the opening session of the National People’s Congress (NPC) at the Great Hall of the People in Beijing on May 22, 2020 [Leo Ramirez/ AFP]

01:33 GMT – Dozens test positive at centres for stranded migrants in Panama

A Panama health official said 59 migrants stranded at Panamanian migration centres have tested positive for the coronavirus.

More than 2,500 migrants became stranded in Panama in March when the border with neighbouring Costa Rica was closed. The vast majority of those people are being held in migration centres in the southern Darien province.

“It is not easy to have 1,900 people in a small place,” Dr Juan Rosales told Reuters. “The work has been hard.”

01:02 GMT – Australia seeks exemption from UK quarantine

Australia is seeking an exemption from a requirement that travellers arriving in the United Kingdom quarantine for 14 days to prevent the spread of COVID-19.

Trade Minister Simon Birmingham said in a statement: “Australia has led the world in the successful containment of COVID-19, which clearly means that travellers coming from Australia would pose a low risk to the rest of the world.”

Birmingham said Australia has no plans to open its borders to non-citizens, while all returning locals will still have to quarantine for two weeks upon arrival.

00:46 GMT – IMF, Ukraine agree in principle on new $5bn aid package

The International Monetary Fund (IMF) and Ukraine have reached an agreement in principle on a new $5bn aid package to help Kyiv battle the coronavirus crisis.

The agreement on the 18-month aid programme is subject to the approval of the IMF’s management and executive board, which will look at the deal “in the coming weeks”, the Washington-based lender said.

Ivanna Vladkova Hollar, the official who led the IMF negotiating team, said the deal would offer “budget support” to Kyiv while “consolidating achievements to date, and moving forward on important structural reforms to reduce key vulnerabilities”. 

00:08 GMT – Trump orders US flags lowered to half-mast for virus victims

Donald Trump, the president of the United States, says he will order the US flag to be flown at half-mast over the next three days as the death toll from COVID-19 approaches 100,000.

“I will be lowering the flags on all Federal Buildings and National Monuments to half-staff over the next three days in memory of the Americans we have lost to the CoronaVirus,” he said in a Twitter post.

The move follows a request from Democratic leaders to do so to recognise a “sad day of reckoning when we reach 100,000 deaths”.

00:03 GMT – Brazil passes 20,000 virus deaths after record 24-hour toll

The coronavirus death toll in Brazil surpassed 20,000 after a record number of deaths in a 24-hour period, the health ministry said.

The country is the epicentre of the outbreak in Latin America and its highest one-day toll of 1,188 pushed the overall death tally to 20,047.

Brazil has now recorded more than 310,000 cases, with experts saying a lack of testing means the real figures are probably much higher.

With its curve of infections and deaths rising sharply, the country of 210 million ranks third in the world in terms of total cases, behind the US and Russia.

Hello and welcome to Al Jazeera continuing coverage of the coronavirus pandemic. I’m Zaheena Rasheed in Male, Maldives.

You can find all the updates from yesterday, May 21, here.

Source: Al Jazeera, News Agencies