Regional and political fractures are emerging in many countries over how fast to lift the lid on coronavirus-imposed lockdowns, as worries about economic devastation collide with fears of a second wave of deaths.
French mayors are resisting the government’s call to reopen schools, but Italian governors want Rome to ease lockdown measures faster. In the US, meanwhile, a new report on unemployment claims shows the depth of job losses caused by business shutdowns.
Madrid health chief quits after lockdown vote
The health chief for the Madrid region has quit, a day after the region’s Cabinet voted unanimously to try and accelerate the end of its coronavirus lockdown.
Yolanda Fuentes, a doctor, tendered her resignation Thursday, private Spanish news agency Europa Press and other national media reported.
The Madrid region has Spain’s highest number of coronavirus cases, with 63,870 out of more than 221,000 nationally.
Spain is slowly rolling back its restrictions on movement, but Madrid’s move to ask the central government to be included in the next phase of the rollback surprised many.
The spread of the coronavirus in the Madrid area has slowed considerably, with an increase of just 86 cases from Wednesday.
The central government has said a decision will be made in coming days.
LA restaurants brainstorm safe new world
California restaurants have drafted a plan to allow the industry to reopen for sit-down dining with an array of safeguards while avoiding possible requirements imposed in other states that customers have their temperature taken or the number of tables be dramatically limited.
The recommendations, obtained by The Associated Press, are to be submitted to Governor Gavin Newsom on Thursday. They envision a changed world within dining rooms, as an industry built on face-to-face contact and crowded tables looks for ways to safely conduct business and avoid the spread of coronavirus.
Tables would be limited to no more than 10 people. Buffets, salad bars and shared bread baskets would be out. Salt and pepper shakers could be replaced by bottles of hand sanitiser. And meals could arrive from food servers sheathed in face masks.
Restaurant dining rooms were shuttered in California in March as part of broad orders to deter the spread of the virus, though takeout and delivery remained. The move devastated the industry and sent droves into unemployment lines in a state with an internationally known food culture.
No-confidence vote in Italy after Mafiosi transferred house arrest
Italy’s centre-right parties have lodged a parliamentary no-confidence motion against the justice minister after more than 375 convicted Mafiosi were transferred from prisons to house detention during the pandemic.
Lawyers had successfully argued that their clients risked being infected with COVID-19 in the country’s overcrowded prisons. Justice Minister Alfonso Bonafede of the populist 5-Star Movement told lawmakers on Wednesday that the government would soon issue a decree to put the mobsters back behind bars.
Meanwhile Italy’s confirmed coronavirus death toll is nearing 30,000.
The health ministry says there were 274 deaths in the 24-hour period ending Thursday evening, raising to 29,958 the number of people who have died with diagnosed COVID-19 infections.
Health authorities say the death toll is likely much higher, since some who died in nursing homes or in their own home, especially the elderly, might have had coronavirus infections but were never tested.
Italy registered 1401 new cases, increasing the country’s overall count of confirmed COVID-19 infections to 215,858.
The French prime minister has given the green light to start ending a strict two-month lockdown throughout France on Monday, even though the coronavirus is still circulating in four regions, including Paris.
Laying out a sort of how-to manual for the progressive reopening of France, Prime Minister Edouard Philippe says a balance must be struck between restarting life and the economy while guarding against a second wave of the pandemic, which has left more than 26,000 people dead in France since March 1.
Philippe held out the possibility that backsliding in fighting the pandemic could mean back-pedalling on the freedom from confinement starting next week.
Important restrictions will remain in place – particularly for travel, urban public transport and schools – until the situation is reassessed in early June. Restaurants and bars are to remain closed for now, along with most beaches.
UK qualifies Sunday’s lockdown announcement
Britain’s foreign secretary is stressing that any changes to social distancing and lockdown measures will be “modest and incremental” to avoid a second peak, as the country’s total death toll reaches 30,615.
Asked about changes to lockdown rules expected to be announced by Prime Minister Boris Johnson on Sunday, Dominic Raab says “It’s a very dangerous moment, we need to proceed with caution.”
He said the R-rate, the rate of infection, is between 0.5 and 0.9. National statistician Ian Diamond added that the lowest R-rate is “probably in London.”
Brazil warns of supermarket shortages
Brazil’s economy minister warns there could soon be product shortages in supermarkets if state quarantine measures are allowed to continue.
Paulo Guedes told an audience at the Supreme Court, including its chief justice, that Latin America’s largest market is at risk of “collapse” similar to what happened in neighbouring Venezuela. He was joined by President Jair Bolsonaro and a group of industry leaders, who together walked to the top court to make their case for rollback of restrictions on gatherings and activity even as Brazil’s COVID-19 cases continue to surge. The Supreme Court ruled last month that local governments, not the federal government, have jurisdiction to adopt such measures.
Bolsonaro told reporters after the audience that several states’ decrees went beyond what was required, causing millions of job losses.
Angela Merkel speaks to Pope Francis
Chancellor Angela Merkel’s office says the German leader has discussed the coronavirus pandemic with Pope Francis in a phone conversation.
Merkel spokesman Steffen Seibert says the chancellor and the pontiff advocated support for poor countries in the virus crisis during Thursday’s call. He says it centred on “the global humanitarian and political situation in view of the corona pandemic” and on the significance of solidarity in Europe and the world.
Merkel invited Francis to visit Germany when that is possible again.
German tracing app slated for mid-June
German officials say they hope to launch an app to help trace coronavirus infection chains by mid-June.
The German government had initially suggested that such an app could be available by April, but the release was delayed in part by privacy and security concerns.
Federal officials, speaking on condition on anonymity because they weren’t authorised to be quoted by name, say the time frame was a “challenge” because of the “dynamic” nature of software projects, but “mid-June is a realistic time frame” for the release of a first version of the app.
Germany has tasked Deutsche Telekom and software company SAP with leading the project. The companies have said they will draw on Bluetooth technology being developed by Apple and Google to allow smartphones to register which other devices are in close proximity.
The app, which will be voluntary, can then be used to anonymously inform other smartphone users if they had close contact to someone who tested positive for the new coronavirus, giving them reason to also get a test.
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