WHO team to probe coronavirus origin in China’s Wuhan: Live news

WHO chief Tedros Adhanom Ghebreysus says team of experts to travel to epicentre of the virus to study its origins.

A worker in protective overalls take the temperature of a traveler from Wuhan before directing her to her district in Beijing on Sunday, April 19, 2020. Wuhan, the city at the center of the global cor
A worker in protective overalls take the temperature of a traveler from Wuhan before directing her to her district in Beijing on Sunday, April 19, 2020. Wuhan, the city at the center of the global coronavirus epidemic, lifted a 76-day lockdown early April and allowed people to leave for destinations across China. (AP Photo/Ng Han Guan) [The Associated Press]
  • Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, the director general of the World Health Organization, has announced that a team of international experts will travel to the Chinese city of Wuhan to begin a study into the origin of the coronavirus.

  • Africa Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s John Nkengasong said 23 of Africa’s 54 countries have reported a sustained decrease in new confirmed coronavirus cases in the past couple of weeks.

  • South Korea reports the highest number of daily coronavirus cases since March, and parliament forced to close amid expectations that authorities will impose tougher restrictions. 
  • The U-turn by the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) on testing close contacts of people with COVID-19 raises concern among experts about asymptomatic spread of the disease.
  • More than 24 million people around the world have been diagnosed with the coronavirus, and 15.8 million have recovered, according to Johns Hopkins University. Nearly 826,000 people have died.

Here are the latest updates:

Thursday, August 27

23:57 GMT – United Airlines announces biggest pilot job cut in its history

United Airlines is preparing for the biggest pilot furloughs of its history after announcing the need to cut 2,850 pilot jobs this year, or about 21 percent of the total, without further US government aid.

Airlines, reeling from the devastating impact of the pandemic on air travel, have asked the US government for another $25bn to cover employee payroll through March.

The first tranche, which banned any job cuts until October 1, expires at the end of September, but talks in Washington have stalled as Congress has struggled to reach agreement on a broader coronavirus assistance package.

23:39 GMT – Texas, Florida, California, New York will not follow new US COVID-19 testing plan

Several large US states including Texas are not heeding new federal health officials’ calls to reduce COVID-19 testing of some exposed to the virus, joining a broad rebuke of the Trump administration by public health leaders.

California, Connecticut, Florida, Illinois, Texas, New Jersey and New York all plan to continue to test asymptomatic people who have been exposed to COVID-19, despite new guidance from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) suggesting that such tests may not be needed.

“The current Texas guidance recommends testing for all close contacts of a confirmed case because it allows for early case identification among people who are at a higher risk of infection,” a spokesman for the Texas Department of State Health Services in a statement.

“There’s not a planned change at this point.”

Pence claims US victory over coronavirus, condemns racial unrest (3:01)

California and New York made similar statements. The Florida Department of Health said asymptomatic testing was continuing while the new CDC recommendations were evaluated.

The CDC said this week that people exposed to COVID-19 but not symptomatic may not need to be tested, shocking doctors and politicians and prompting accusations the guidance was politically motivated.

20:15 GMT – Poland re-introduces ban on flights from 46 countries 

Poland will ban flights from 46 countries, including France and Spain, as of Sept 2, according to a draft regulation published on Thursday, as the country grapples with a spike in coronavirus infections.

The move follows targeted measures to reintroduce restrictions on public life in the worst affected parts of the country, as the government tries to tackle the spread of the virus without resorting to a complete lockdown.

“Due to the threat of spreading SARS CoV-2 virus infections, it is necessary to exercise the right to introduce air traffic bans… in order to minimize the threat to public health,” the regulation said.

Poland closed its borders and suspended flights in March to stop the spread of the coronavirus. However, it progressively loosened restrictions on public life, with shopping centres, hotels and restaurants all reopening in May.

Has flying changed forever? | Start here (9:39)

20:05 GMT – Differences over coronavirus aid remain, Pelosi says after talks with White House aide 

US House of Representatives Speaker Nancy Pelosi said after talks with White House Chief of Staff Mark Meadows that Democrats and Republicans remain far apart over how much to spend on the next coronavirus relief legislation.

In a statement, Pelosi said Democrats had offered to cut the amount in the bill to $2.2 trillion, but she suggested the White House, which has said it is looking to spend $1 trillion, had rejected the offer.

“This conversation made clear that the White House continues to disregard the needs of the American people as the coronavirus crisis devastates lives and livelihoods,” Pelosi said after a 25-minute call with Meadows. 

19:30 GMT – Netherlands to close mink farms after coronavirus outbreak 

More than 100 mink farms in the Netherlands will be ordered closed by March after animals at dozens of locations contracted the coronavirus, Dutch news agency ANP has reported.

Hundreds of thousands of the ferret-like animals, which are bred for their fur, have been culled in the Netherlands and other European countries since the virus outbreak.

The Netherlands had already intended to halt its mink breeding industry by 2024, but decided to bring forward the closures after several farm employees contracted COVID-19. The government has set aside 180 million euros ($212 million) to compensate farmers, the ANP report said, citing sources.

According to the Dutch Federation of Pelt Farmers, the Netherlands exports around 90 million euros ($101 million) worth of fur a year for use in China and globally. The country had roughly 900,000 mink at 130 farms, Statistics Netherlands data said.

Are EU countries using COVID-19 to clamp down on refugees? | Inside Story (25:00)

18:15 GMT – Italy court rejects Sicily anti-migrant order 

An Italian court slapped down a decree issued by Sicily’s right-leaning leader Nello Musumeci ordering the closure of migrant centres on the island to curb the spread of coronavirus.

The Sicilian regional administrative court approved an appeal lodged by the central government in Rome for Sunday’s decree to be scrapped, the AGI news agency reported.

Musumeci had clashed with officials in Rome but anti-migrant former interior minister Matteo Salvini had praised the move ahead of a flurry of local elections next month.

The Sicilian leader had ordered that all migrants on the island’s “hot spots” and reception centres be transferred to facilities outside the island. Musumeci’s decree also banned any migrant from “entering, transiting and stopping over on the Sicilian region’s territory with vessels big and small, including those belonging to charities.”

18:00 GMT – France reports 6,111 new COVID-19 infections, second-highest level ever

France has recorded 6,111 new confirmed coronavirus infections over the past 24 hours, the highest level since lockdown ended and the second-highest ever, since the 7,578 high set on March 30 during lockdown and at the height of the epidemic.

The French health ministry said the total number of confirmed infections now stood at 259,698. On Wednesday, the country recorded 5,429 new infections, which was a new post-lockdown record.

German sniffer dogs show promise at detecting coronavirus (2:26)

17:40 GMT – Nigeria to resume international flights from September 5

Nigeria will resume international flights from Sept. 5, the head of the aviation regulatory body has announced.

Musa Nuhu, director general of the Nigerian Civil Aviation Authority (NCAA), made the comments at a news conference for the task force on coronavirus. International flights, which were halted in March due to the coronavirus pandemic, had been expected to resume on Aug. 29

17:10 GMT – WHO: Broad population COVID-19 testing not always useful 

Testing for COVID-19 infections and a fast turnaround for results are critical for controlling the pandemic, but broad-based population tests are not always useful, officials at the World Health Organization have said.

Maria Van Kerkhove, a WHO epidemiologist, said the UN agency recommended suspected cases be tested and their contacts, if feasible, likewise, but the focus should be on people with symptoms.

Mike Ryan, head of its emergencies programme, noted that broad population testing programmes absorbed a large amount of resources.

The comments come after the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) said this week that people exposed to COVID-19 but not symptomatic may not need to be tested, surprising doctors and politicians and prompting accusations the guidance was politically motivated.

Man living in complete isolation for 45 years | Close Up | (15:15)

17:00 GMT – UK adds Switzerland, Czech Republic and Jamaica to quarantine list from Saturday 

Travellers arriving in Britain from Switzerland, the Czech Republic or Jamaica after 0300 GMT on Saturday will need to quarantine themselves for 14 days to slow the spread of COVID-19, transport minister Grant Shapps has said.

“Data shows we need to remove the Czech Republic, Jamaica and Switzerland from our list of Coronavirus Travel Corridors to keep infection rates DOWN,” Shapps said in a statement.

People arriving from Cuba however would no longer have to quarantine, he added. 

16:35 GMT – UN Syria talks resume after coronavirus cases forced suspension 

The United Nations has said talks aimed at rewriting the Syrian constitution have resumed after a three-day pause caused by positive cases of coronavirus among four participants.

The discussions between the representatives of President Bashar al-Assad’s government, the opposition and civil society resumed in Geneva on Thursday after Swiss health authorities gave the green light.

UN envoy for Syria Geir Pedersen, who is moderating the talks, has voiced hope it could pave the way towards a broader political process in Syria.

Read more here

Struggling designers find ways to help fight COVID in Indonesia (2:18)

16:20 GMT – International team of experts to probe coronavirus origins in Wuhan: WHO’s Tedros 

A team of international experts will travel to the Chinese city of Wuhan to begin a study into the origins of the coronavirus, World Health Organization (WHO) Director General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus has announced.

15:35 GMT – UK reports highest daily COVID-19 cases since June 12 

The United Kingdom has recorded 1,522 new cases of COVID-19 in the latest daily government statistics, the highest number since June 12 and up from 1,048 cases a day earlier.

A further 12 people were recorded as having died within 28 days of their first positive test for COVID-19, taking the UK’s cumulative death toll on this measure to 41,477. 

Croatia virus surge: Infections increase as tourists arrive (2:25)

15:05 GMT – WHO panel to review international health regulations – Tedros 

The head of the World Health Organization (WHO) has said that his agency was setting up a review committee to evaluate the performance of its International Health Regulations (IHR) during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus made the announcement to Geneva diplomats hours ahead of a press conference. “The Committee will make technical recommendations on the functioning of the IHR as well as regarding possible amendments,” he said, according to his remarks.

He said the review committee’s first meeting would be on September 8-9.

Gro Harlem Brundtland, one of Tedros’ predecessors at the helm of the UN agency, told reporters in June that the WHO should change the IHR guidelines that led it to oppose travel restrictions early in the outbreak – a step criticised later by the United States

14:35 GMT – Mass public events to remain banned in Germany until end of year

Mass public events where coronavirus contact tracing and hygiene rules can’t be maintained are to remain banned in Germany   until the end of the year. 

That was decided during talks on Thursday between Chancellor Angela Merkel and the leaders of Germany’s 16 states, as rising infection   rates in the country strengthen calls for tougher nationwide rules. 

But sources from the talks said the state administrations are to form a working group on how to deal with fans at national sporting events,   with a proposed framework to be presented by late October. 

This is set to ignite some hope that Bundesliga football games could welcome back crowds under certain conditions before the end of the   year. 

Peru economy: COVID-19 puts millions of people out of work (2:27)

14:30 GMT – EU pays 336 mln euros for doses of AstraZeneca’s potential COVID-19 vaccine

The European Commission has paid 336 million euros ($396 million) to secure at least 300 million doses of the potential COVID-1 vaccine being developed by British drug maker AstraZeneca, a spokesman has announced.

Brussels signed the deal on behalf of EU states for the supply of at least 300 million doses of its COVID-19 vaccine candidate. It has an option for a further 100 million, the spokesman said.

“We cannot indicate at this stage the specific pricing per dose. However, a significant part of the overall costs are funded by a contribution from the overall ESI funding for vaccines,” he said, referring to the bloc’s so-called emergency support instrument.

13:35 GMT – Poland to shorten coronavirus quarantine period to 10 days 

Poland will shorten its quarantine period for those suspected of being infected with coronavirus to 10 days from 14 days, the health minister has announced, amid a spike in new daily cases.

“We will change the rules for quarantine and isolation… We would like to propose the shortening of quarantine to 10 days,” Health Minister Adam Niedzielski told a press conference.

Poland has recorded 64,689 confirmed coronavirus cases and 2,010 deaths. 

What’s behind the record rise in global COVID-19 infections? | Inside Story (25:00)

13;25 GMT – Swedish public health agency says can ease COVID-19 rules for some public events 

Rules over public gatherings in Sweden can be eased to allow up to 500 people to attend if they can be seated, the Public Health Agency has said, proposing such venues can be granted an exception from the current rule that sets a ceiling of 50 people.

“The proposal relates to evens where there are numbered seats,” the Agency’s chief epidemiologist Anders Tegnell told reporters.

He said that if the government accepts the proposal, its effects should be evaluated “and if it works well, the limit can be raised”. 

Coronavirus: What did they get wrong? | Start Here (9:04)

12:35 GMT – WHO Europe chief cites coronavirus warning signs ahead

The World Health Organization’s top official in Europe Dr Hans Kluge said younger people are likely to come into closer contact with the elderly as the weather cools in Europe, raising the prospect of spread to the most vulnerable.

“We don’t want to do unnecessary predictions, but this is definitely one of the options – that at one point there would be more hospitalisations and an uptick in mortality,” he said from Copenhagen, the WHO Europe headquarters.

 “It may be that younger people indeed are not necessarily going to die from it, but it’s a tornado with a long tail and it’s a multi-organ disease,” he said.

11:40 GMT – EU signs supply contract with AstraZeneca for potential vaccine

The European Commission said it has signed a contract on behalf of the EU states with British drugmaker AstraZeneca for the supply of at least 300 million doses of its COVID-19 vaccine candidate.

The move follows an advance purchase agreement signed by Brussels with AstraZeneca earlier in August.

It is the first contract signed by the EU with a maker of potential COVID-19 vaccines, it envisages an option to purchase 100 million additional doses to be distributed on a population-based pro-rata basis among the 27 EU states.

11:08 GMT – Masks to be compulsory across Paris

New measures against Covid-19 in Paris
People wear masks in Paris as government takes new measures against the coronavirus [File: Anadolu Agency]

Face masks will be made compulsory in all public places in Paris, one of the French regions hardest-hit by a resurgence of the coronavirus, Prime Minister Jean Castex said.

The Paris police chief, after consultation with the mayor, “will expand mask-wearing” – which is already compulsory on public transport, in enclosed spaces, and in certain busy areas of the city – “throughout the capital”, Castex told reporters.

10:30 GMT – Germany agrees tougher rules to fight rising infections

Germany plans to keep fans out of stadiums until at least the end of the year and get tougher on mask-wearing to combat a worrying rise in coronavirus infections, according to a draft seen by AFP.

Chancellor Angela Merkel is holding talks with the leaders of Germany’s 16 federal states to officially agree on a package of new measures, which will apply nationwide.

The new regulations will include a minimum fine of 50 euros ($59) for anyone caught without a face mask in places where wearing one is compulsory, such as in shops and on public transport.

10:00 GMT – Africa reports sharp decline in new infections

Africa’s top public health official says the continent has seen a 20-percent decrease in confirmed cases in the past week, with 23 of 54 countries reporting a sustained decrease in new cases in the past couple of weeks

John Nkengasong with the Africa Centers for Disease Control and Prevention told reporters testing and other efforts to contain the virus have been largely working, but just one or two cases could reignite infections.

The African continent has reported more than 1.2 million confirmed cases, roughly half in South Africa.

09:35 GMT – Doctors in Kenyan capital end strike over pay delays, lack of PPE

Doctors employed by Kenya’s Nairobi County government resumed work following a six-day strike over delayed salaries and a lack of protective equipment when handling patients who may have COVID-19, a union official said.

Thuranira Kaugiria, Nairobi County secretary-general of the Kenya Medical Practitioners, Pharmacists and Dentists Union, said in a WhatsApp message the doctors had returned to work after signing an agreement with county officials on Wednesday.

In the agreement, the government promised to pay doctors on the fifth day of every month, failing which the doctors were free to stop work without notice, and to provide the doctors with adequate supplies of high-quality personal protective equipment.

09:05 GMT – Hungary PM Orban’s cabinet chief quarantined over coronavirus

Senior Fidesz lawmaker Gergely Gulyas, who will be Prime Minister Viktor OrbanÕs chief of staff, speaks to Reuters in an interview in Budapest
Gergely Gulyas is waiting to see if a second COVID-19 test will prove negative in order to attend a government meeting on Friday [File: Krisztina Than/Reuters]

Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban’s cabinet chief will remain in quarantine until he tests negative for the coronavirus after he attended a private event last Saturday where a participant tested positive for the disease, Orban’s office said.

The first test taken by cabinet chief Gergely Gulyas was negative, the office said in a statement on state news agency MTI. A state secretary working in Orban’s office, Balazs Orban, has also been quarantined since Wednesday.

The office said Gulyas would only be able to leave quarantine and attend a government meeting on Friday if his second COVID test proves negative as well.

08:35 GMT – Coronavirus hits isolated Indian island tribe

Ten members of India’s dwindling Great Andamanese tribe have tested positive for the coronavirus, officials said, fuelling concerns about the safety of the group and other Indigenous people in the remote archipelago.

Of the 10, six have recovered and have been put in home quarantine, while the rest are undergoing treatment in a local hospital, officials told AFP.

Only slightly more than 50 Great Andamanese people survive today and live on the tiny Strait Island where the Indian government looks after their food and shelter.

08:10 GMT – Novacyt launches test to differentiate COVID-19 and flu

Clinical diagnostics company Novacyt , one of many healthcare companies whose shares have surged during the pandemic, has launched a test to differentiate between COVID-19 and common winter diseases.

Novacyt said its “Winterplex” test panel included two gene targets specific to COVID-19, as well as gene targets for influenza A&B and respiratory syncytial virus (RSV).

07:45 GMT – Russia’s coronavirus cases surpass 975,000

Russia has reported 4,711 new cases of the coronavirus, bringing its nationwide tally to 975,576 – the fourth-largest caseload in the world.

Russia’s coronavirus task force said 121 people had died over the last 24 hours, pushing its official death toll to 16,804.

07:30 GMT – Rwanda again tightens COVID-19 measures as cases surge

Robot demonstration at COVID-19 treatment centre in Kigali
The United Nations Development Program donated a high-tech robot to the Kanyinya COVID-19 treatment centre in Kigali [File: Clement Uwiringiyimana/Reuters]

Rwanda has lengthened its evening curfew and prevented movement in and out of the western area of Rusizi after a recent surge in the number of new coronavirus cases.

After a cabinet meeting chaired by President Paul Kagame, the government announced the tightening of a national curfew to 7pm to 5am from the current 9pm to 5am and the banning of all public transport between Kigali and other districts.

All transport was also banned in and out of Rusizi, where there has been a significant increase in cases.

07:00 GMT – Aerospace giant Rolls-Royce logs $7.1bn H1 loss

British aerospace giant Rolls-Royce said it has suffered a massive net loss in the first half of the year as the coronavirus outbreak sparked a crisis in air transport.

Rolls-Royce, which operates in the air, defence and energy sectors, posted a net loss of 5.4 billion pounds ($7.1bn) in the six months to June, after a net loss of 909 million pounds ($1.2bn) a year earlier.

The company also unveiled a 2-billion-pound ($2.6bn) asset disposal programme.

06:45 GMT – India reports record 75,000 new virus infections

India has recorded another single-day record of new coronavirus cases: 75,760 new infections in the past 24 hours.

The health ministry also reported 1,023 deaths in the past 24 hours, taking total fatalities up to 60,472.

India’s previous highest daily count was 70,488 on August 22. India has been recording more than 60,000 new infections per day for the last two weeks and now has reported 3.3 million cases since the pandemic began.

Hello, this is Linah Alsaafin taking over the blog from my colleague Kate Mayberry.

04:40 GMT – Online schooling excludes 463 million children: UN

The UN Children’s Fund says 463 million children are not able to access virtual schooling, which has become necessary during the pandemic, because they do not have the equipment or access to the internet.

After gathering data from 100 countries, UNICEF said children in South Asia, Africa, the Pacific and East Asia were most seriously affected.

“The sheer number of children whose education was completely disrupted for months on end is a global education emergency,’ said Henrietta Fore, executive director of the fund. 

03:50 GMT – South Korean parliament closed; lawmakers in self-quarantine

South Korea’s parliament has closed after a photojournalist covering the governing party tested positive for COVID-19 on Wednesday, according to Yonhap news agency.

Parliament said more than 50 people, including 14 senior members of the Democratic Party, had been in contact with the journalist and would need to go into self-quarantine and get tested.

Several government offices have also been forced to close because of reported cases, Yonhap said.

03:40 GMT – South Korea urges people to work from home

South Korea is urging employers to allow their staff to work from home.

The country is battling a surge in new cases, mostly linked to churches and an anti-government rally earlier this month, and are worried offices could become hotspots.

“Please carry out thorough checks of risk factors at workplaces, where the work environment is especially vulnerable to infection, such as call centres and logistics warehouses,” said Health Minister Park Neung-hoo as he reminded businesses of the need to adopt flexible working practices. 

02:30 GMT – Hong Kong moves to relax some coronavirus restrictions

Hong Kong is moving to relax some of its rules on social distancing measures from midnight (16:00 GMT) on Thursday for seven days. 

The first phase of relaxation includes the re-opening of indoor premises such as cafes and restaurants for limited hours, as  as well as outdoor sports premises where activities involve little physical contact.

Gatherings of more than two people will remain banned.

02:10 GMT – Urumqi begins new round of testing: state media

In China, the People’s Daily says the city of Urumqi in the far western region of Xinjiang, has begun nucleic acid testing of “key communities” as part of measures to “gradually restore normality”.

The city has reported no new infections for 11 days.

01:35 GMT – South Korea reports biggest jump in cases since March

The Korea Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says the country recorded 441 new cases of coronavirus in the past 24 hours, the highest daily number since March.

This is the first time the number has been above 400 since March 7, and raises the prospect of tighter restrictions to curb the disease’s spread. Cases have been in triple digits since August 14.

Tougher restrictions would include a ban on gatherings of more than 10 people, while cinemas, cafes and wedding venues might also have to close.

00:00 GMT – Victoria reports lowest number of daily cases in two months

The Australian state of Victoria reported 23 deaths and 113 new infections – the lowest figures in nearly two months, helped by a strict lockdown.

The state is battling a second wave of the virus thought to have been set off by returning travellers breaching quarantine rules.

23:00 GMT (Wednesday) – Air New Zealand posts $300m loss

Air New Zealand has posted a net loss of 454 million New Zealand dollars ($300m) for the financial year ended June 30.

Like many around the world, the closing of borders has led to a collapse in the airline’s passenger traffic.

About one-third of Air New Zealand’s 12,500 employees are expected to lose their jobs as a result.

22:30 GMT (Wednesday) – Concern at US testing U-turn

Health experts are concerned a sudden decision by the US to change testing guidance for people who have been exposed to COVID-19 patients but have not developed symptoms risks spreading the virus further.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) now says so-called “close contacts” of people with COVID-19 do not “necessarily need” to be tested if they do not have symptoms.

The CDC has not explained the decision.


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 (August 26) here.

Source: Al Jazeera, News Agencies