Coronavirus latest: Germany approves human vaccine trials | News | DW

Germany will start the country’s first clinical tests of a possible coronavirus vaccine. Pope Francis says cooperation is the only way to confront the enormous challenges posed by the coronavirus. President Trump said the issuing of US green cards, or permanent residency cards, will be suspended for at least 60 days — but with “certain exceptions” yet to be defined. The UN has warned that vulnerable countries could face famine over the fallout of the pandemic.

Updates in Universal Coordinated Time (UTC/GMT)

11:55 A German Greens politician is calling for a 1,000-bed field hospital in Berlin to be used to treat coronavirus patients from Italy.

The number of ill people in Berlin is fairly low compared to cities in other European countries, and only about a quarter of the city’s intensive care beds set aside for COVID-19 are being used.

Greens lawmaker Catherina Pieroth-Manelli, whose party is one-third of the governing coalition in the state of Berlin, told public broadcaster rbb that offering the field hospital beds to Italy would send a message of solidarity.

“The great European idea of community values — what remains of that if we don’t show concrete solidarity now?” she asked.

About 1,300 of Germany’s 50,000 active coronavirus cases are in Berlin, and experts say a partial lockdown has helped bring down the rate of infection.

Germany has already taken in about 200 patients from hard-hit European countries such as Italy and France, where healthcare systems struggled to cope with a rapid surge in cases.

11:30 The coronavirus pandemic has claimed 94 more lives in Iran in the past 24 hours, the country’s Health Ministry reported, though the number of new infections continues to fall.

The total death toll in Iran now stands at 5,391. Nearly 1,200 new infections were reported from Tuesday to Wednesday, bringing the total number of reported cases in the country to 85,996.

“The gradual downward trend in cases of infections has been maintained,” Health Ministry spokesman Kianosh Jahanpour said in a news conference.

President Hassan Rouhani still called on people to follow outbreak measures.

“If we arrogantly think that the job is done and we have won, then this would be the biggest problem that could affect us,” he said in a weekly meeting of his cabinet.

The number of infections and fatalities in Iran is expected to be much higher than officially reported.

11:15 A dramatic 6% drop in carbon emissions as a result of the coronavirus pandemic cannot be seen as a substitute for climate action, the World Meteorological Organization said.

“Previous economic crises have often been followed by ‘recovery’ associated with much higher emission growth than before the crisis,” the UN body warned on Wednesday, as it marked Earth Day.

“We need to show the same determination and unity against climate change as against COVID-19,” WMO chief Petteri Taalas said.

The outbreak has brought about the biggest annual drop in CO2 emissions since World War II, but it has also compounded the socioeconomic impacts of climate change in many parts of the world, the Geneva-based agency said.

The WMO urged governments to include climate action and transitioning to a green economy in their recovery plans.

10:35 North Rhine-Westphalia, Lower Saxony, Rhineland-Palatinate, Saarland, and Brandenburg will join the list of German states requiring people to wear face masks mainly in shops and public transportation, state authorities confirmed Wednesday, saying that a united approach is important in convincing people of the decision. Citizens and businesses will be given time to prepare, they said. The measure is expected to go into effect on Monday. In Germany, most of the 16 federal states have now announced or already introduced mask requirements to help slow the spread of the coronavirus.

10:05 The first coronavirus deaths in the United States occurred weeks earlier than initially thought, according to health authorities in California. Forensic scientists in Santa Clara, California, revealed that autopsies on two people who died undiagnosed at home on February 6 and February 17 revealed signs of COVID-19. A third death on March 6 was also shown to have been due to the virus. The first official coronavirus death in the US was reported on February 26.

“These three people died at home at a time when testing was very limited and only possible to get via the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention,” the forensics department said. Tests at that time were only available to people who returned from high-risk areas or those who went to a doctor with coronavirus symptoms. The scientists in Santa Clara now expect to see more coronavirus deaths in the area.

This week, a study published by Stanford University that looked at 3,300 volunteers in Santa Clara showed that the number of coronavirus infections there is at least 50 times higher than the number confirmed by the authorities. 

Over 800,000 people in the US have been diagnosed with the virus and over 45,000 have died.

09:30 The German Federal Institute for Vaccines said it has given the go-ahead for clinical testing of a potential COVID-19 vaccine to begin in Germany.

In the initial stage of the trial, 200 healthy people between the ages of 18 and 55 will be given varying doses of the drug, with a second phase to focus on higher-risk individuals.

The Mainz-based company Biontech is behind the vaccine, the institute said.

The institute added that it was the fourth coronavirus vaccine candidate in the world to receive approval for testing.

It added that the decision was the “result of a careful assessment of the potential risk/benefit profile of the vaccine candidate.”

Biontech said it was developing the vaccine candidate, called BNT162, together with pharma giant Pfizer. Clinical trials are also set to be carried out in the US once approval for human testing has been cleared there.

09:25 Germany’s playgrounds should be gradually reopened, said Family Minister Franziska Giffey and the German Children’s Fund, a national child welfare organization. They have called on Germany’s public health authority, the Robert Koch Institute, to make a decision about the risk of infection from surfaces in playgrounds.

The German Children’s Fund said many kids are missing out on vital contact with other children owing to coronavirus restrictions.

The German state of North-Rhine Westphalia’s premier, Armin Laschet, has also called for the needs of young people to be taken into account as restrictions are relaxed. Laschet, who is vying to succeed Chancellor Angela Merkel as leader of the center-right CDU party, said that opportunities for youth to take part in sport should be made a priority.

“If the youth start meeting in shopping malls or parks instead of at sports centers, that won’t make much sense,” Laschet told German newspaper Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung.

Playgrounds in Germany have been closed for weeks

09:00 Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison has spoken to German Chancellor Angela Merkel and other world leaders to seek support for an international investigation into the coronavirus pandemic.

Morrison’s push for a review, which would include a look at the World Health Organization’s (WHO) response to the outbreak, has drawn sharp criticism from China. Beijing has accused Morrison of taking instructions from the United States.

US President Donald Trump has halted financial support for the WHO and has been critical of China’s handling of the crisis. Morrison said on Twitter he had a “very constructive discussion” with Trump on the two nations’ responses to COVID-19.

Morrison also confirmed that he talked to Merkel and French President Emmanuel Macron.

“We talked about the WHO and the need for greater international cooperation in response to pandemics, including a vaccine, and as we recovered from this global crisis,” he wrote on Twitter.

Morrison also stressed the importance of cooperation in dealing with the economic fallout of the crisis.

08:50 Pope Francis is urging Europe — and the world —to stay united in the face of the coronavirus pandemic.

His plea during Wednesday’s morning Mass comes ahead of an EU summit to discuss a stimulus package that has divided the bloc. Northern and southern European states have clashed repeatedly over financial responses to the pandemic, with some voicing concerns the deadlock could threaten the EU’s survival.

“In these times in which we need so much unity among us, among nations, let us pray today for Europe … so that Europe manages to have this unity, this fraternal unity of which the founding fathers of the European Union dreamed,” he said.

Pope Francis reiterated the need for solidarity in a phone call with French President Emmanuel Macron. The pair also spoke about the need to implement ceasefires in active conflicts, and provide support to debt-hit African countries struggling to cope with the virus outbreak, Macron said.

08:25 The number of COVID-19 infections in Poland has passed 10,000, the Health Ministry announced on Twitter. The death toll has reached 404.

Poland joined many EU member states in imposing stringent social distancing measures, but on Monday began to relax some of the restrictions. Polish authorities hope to return to normality in the coming months.

The new numbers of 10,034 include all those who have died and recovered.

08:10 Concerns are rising about almost 10 million people who live in refugee camps around the world after a resident of a camp in Lebanon tested positive for coronavirus.

A Palestinian refugee from Syria in the Wavel refugee camp in Lebanon was transferred to a hospital in Beirut after being found to be infected, the United Nations Relief and Works Agency (UNWRA) has confirmed.

UNRWA said it is “taking all necessary steps to provide the required assistance to the patient’s family to allow them to isolate themselves inside the house.”

The Lebanese government is particularly worried about the impact of coronavirus in refugee camps and informal settlements. Lebanon hosts millions of Syrian and Palestinian refugees. Authorities said the high population densities and poor hygiene facilities would accelerate the rate of infection.

Refugee agencies are racing to build isolation facilities and improve conditions in refugee camps from Bangladesh to Kenya ahead of potential COVID-19 outbreaks. The biggest problem may be with the lack of testing available in refugee camps.

“Testing is in short supply even in New York and Norway, but it is nonexistent in most of the countries in the [global] south for the people we try to help,” Jan Egeland, the head of the Norwegian Refugee Council, told The Associated Press news agency.

Meanwhile, hundreds of refugees at the Moria camp on the Greek island of Lesbos have gathered to protest the risk of coronavirus in the camp, according to Greek media. The refugees blocked entrances to the camp, chanting “Freedom for all. We are at risk of COVID-19.”

The camp has been placed under quarantine after several residents of refugee camps on the Greek mainland were diagnosed with coronavirus in recent days. Given the size of Moria, there are fears that an outbreak there could affect thousands.

07:45 Spanish Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez said his government plans to begin winding down the coronavirus lockdown measures in the second half of May.

Restrictions will be eased slowly and gradually to ensure safety, Sanchez said at a parliamentary session where he will ask lawmakers to extend Spain’s state of emergency until May 9.

The lockdown was first enforced in Spain on March 14.

Spain has been hard-hit by the coronavirus outbreak, seeing the second-highest number of deaths and the highest number of COVID-19 infections in Europe. Over 21,280 people have died and more than 204,000 people in Spain have been infected, according to the Johns Hopkins Institute.

07:20 French Labor Minister Muriel Penicaud has said more than 10 million private-sector workers have signed up for a temporary unemployment scheme the government put in place to help companies during the pandemic.

“As of today, 10.2 million private-sector workers have been put on temporary unemployment. That’s more than one employee of every two and six out of 10 companies,” Penicaud said in an interview with BFM Business radio.

France has had one of the strictest lockdowns in Europe in place since March, with people confined to their homes except for in special circumstances. France is set to end its lockdown on May 11, but Prime Minister Edouard Philippe has warned the return to normal will be gradual.

France has 159,300 confirmed cases of coronavirus and 20,829 people have died.

07:15 Three critically endangered giant ibis birds were deliberately poisoned and died in Cambodia, the country’s Wildlife Conservation Society (WCS) has said. Economic disruptions caused by the coronavirus worsened poaching in the country.

The giant ibis is only found in Cambodia, where the population is estimated to be less than 300.

WCS said the birds, whose bodies were found inside the sanctuary on April 9, were killed for their meat. WCS country director Ken Serey Rotha on Tuesday said the hunters had poisoned the birds with a pesticide that could kill further animals or people if the birds were eaten.

Colin Poole, WCS’s Greater Mekong regional director, said local people in rural areas of Cambodia have no social safety net to help them with the disruptions that have been caused by the coronavirus.

“Suddenly, rural people have little to turn to but natural resources, and we’re already seeing a spike in poaching,” Poole said in a statement. He called for greater support of people in these areas, where they are the main line of defense for forests and wildlife.

An endangered animal, the giant ibis is currently found only in Cambodia

06:40 Taiwanese President Tsai Ing-wen has apologized for coronavirus infections among naval crew members returning from deployment in the Pacific. She said they posed a risk to the public of Taiwan, and she took responsibility for the “mistake.”

A Taiwanese naval fleet of three ships docked in Palau in March. Dozens of crew members tested positive for COVID-19 since returning to Taiwan.

“I want to extend my apologies for the mistake made by the navy during the mission, which subsequently let our nationals bear the risk of the epidemic,” Tsai told a news conference. Tsai said she took responsibility as the military’s commander-in-chief.

Taiwan’s handling of the coronavirus pandemic has been praised by the World Health Organization and by the international community.

Over 50,000 tests have been carried out in Taiwan and the government has acted quickly to trace those who may have had contact with infected people. On Monday, less than 48 hours after the sailors arrived back on the island, the Central Epidemic Command Center sent mobile alerts to 210,000 residents who could be at risk. They also reached out to 3,000 residents who had direct contact with the sailors.

Taiwan has had 425 confirmed cases of coronavirus and six people have died.

Read more: How has Taiwan kept its coronavirus infection rate so low?

06:00 Some shops are reopening in Germany, but that doesn’t seem to be encouraging people to spend their money. In a survey conducted by the Insa Institute of the Bild newspaper, 57% of Germans said they would not buy a product costing more than €250 ($271) in the coming weeks, despite the gradual lifting of coronavirus restrictions. Only 17% said they would be willing to make such a purchase.

Germany’s partial lockdown began to ease on Monday, with shops smaller than 800 square meters (8,611 square feet) — as well as all bookstores, bicycle shops and car dealerships — allowed to open for business. Grocery stores, post offices, pharmacies and other essential businesses have remained open during the country’s partial lockdown.

Many shops in Germany have reopened and some states require mouth and nose coverings when shopping

05:35 Egypt has flown thousands of masks, surgical caps and other medical supplies to the United States to help treat coronavirus patients.

It’s a significant role reversal for Egypt, a top recipient of US aid. The country has so far reported 250 deaths and 3,300 COVID-19 infections. The United States now has almost 45,000 fatalities and 825,000 cases.

Egyptian President Abdel-Fattah el-Sissi has been keen to strengthen ties with US President Donald Trump, who has voiced his support for the former general.

“This is why international diplomacy and maintaining relationships with allies like Egypt are essential not in times of crisis, but every day,” said Dutch Ruppersberger, a Democrat who heads a group in the US House of Representatives that promotes relations with Egypt.

04:45 The number of new coronavirus cases in Germany rose by 2,237 over the last 24 hours to 145,694, according to data from the Robert Koch Institute (RKI), Germany’s public health institute. The death toll also climbed by 281 to 4,879.

It is the second day in a row that new infections have accelerated in Germany.

Meanwhile, a further 4,200 people recovered from the disease in the last 24 hours bringing the official total to 99,400, the institute’s statistics showed.

RKI figures rely on data from state and local health officials and are updated around once a day, which can lead to deviation from other published statistics, such as those from the Johns Hopkins University.

03:27 Thirty-four crew members aboard Costa Atlantica, an Italian cruise ship, have tested positive for the novel coronavirus in the city of Nagasaki in Japan. The cruise ship had docked in Japan in late January to undergo repairs. One person had tested positive on board the ship yesterday, and 33 others were known to be infected with the virus today. Local officials said the infected people did not have severe symptoms.

The ship has 623 crew members and no passengers on board. Japan’s health minister said ministry officials and experts from the National Institute of Infectious Diseases would be sent to the ship.

01:59 A US-government funded study has found that hydroxychloroquine, a malaria drug widely considered effective in combating COVID-19, may not benefit those affected with the disease. The study states that the drug may be associated with more deaths from the novel coronavirus. 
According to the study, the death rate for patients who were administered the malaria drug stood at 28%, while the death rate was 22% when hydroxychloroquine was combined with azithromycin, an antibiotic drug. The death rate for those who receive standard care was 11%, reported AFP. 

However, the study, which has not yet been peer-reviewed, has several limitations. The study did not assign people randomly into groups, as it analyzed past medical records of 368 military veterans in the US who either died or were discharged before April 11. The people analyzed were mainly black males, with a median age of more than 65, a group that is disproportionately affected by underlying illnesses. 

01:00: More than 70% of businesses in the UK have put at least some staff on furlough due to the coronavirus pandemic, according to a poll by the British Chamber of Commerce (BCC). Last week, the same survey revealed that 66% of UK businesses had put at least some staff on leave.

About 30% of the businesses have put 75%-100% of their staff on leave. The BCC said that firms are increasingly putting their staff on leave in anticipation of the government’s Job Retention Scheme, which will go live on April 20. Under the scheme, the government will pay businesses 80% of the salaries of staff put on leave. “It is now critical that payments from the furlough scheme reach businesses as smoothly and as quickly as possible in order to protect jobs and livelihoods,” Adam Marshall, the director-general of the BCC said.

00:42 Harvard University has rejected US President Donald Trump’s call to return the money it had received from the federal relief funds over the coronavirus pandemic. Previously, reports surfaced that Harvard was one of big-name institutions claiming loans intended for small businesses and restarting the US economy.

“Harvard is going to pay back the money,” Trump told reporters on Tuesday, noting that the prestigious university already had billions at its disposal. “They shouldn’t be taking it,” he added.

Harvard University, however, quickly denied claiming the money intended for struggling companies, while admitting it had received $8.6 million (over €7.9 million) under an emergency program to help US higher education.

“Like most colleges and universities, Harvard has been allocated funds as part of the CARES Act Higher Education Emergency Relief Fund,” the university said, adding that it was “committed” to use 100% of these funds to “provide direct assistance to students facing urgent financial needs due to the COVID-19 pandemic.”

00:15 The US backtracked from a UN resolution that it endorsed yesterday, and which emphasized the “crucial leading role” of the World Health Organization (WHO) in fighting the pandemic. All 193 UN members voted for the Mexican-drafted initiative.

On Tuesday, the US said it was still “seriously concerned with the lack of independence that the WHO has shown since the beginning of this pandemic.” In a clarification published on their UN mission website, the US diplomats also warned that “the creation of layers of UN bureaucracy devoid of controls to ensure independence, accountability, and transparency, is both unnecessary and unwise.”

Previously, US President Donald Trump berated the UN health agency and accused it of pro-China bias. His administration suspended US funding for the body last week.

00:13 The US Navy hospital ship deployed off Manhattan is no longer needed, New York state Governor Andrew Cuomo said, following a slow drop in the state hospitalization rates. Only 178 coronavirus patients have so far been treated aboard USNS Comfort.

“It did give us comfort, but we don’t need it anymore,” Cuomo said. ”So if they need to deploy that somewhere else, they should take it.”

The US state is still heavily hit by the pandemic, but the number of hospitalized patients has dropped by over 2,000 since last week and is now at about 16,000.

Over 250,000 people have tested positive for COVID-19 across the state and 14,828 have died.

00:05: The US state of Missouri has filed a lawsuit against the Chinese government over its handling of the COVID-19 outbreak, the state’s Attorney General Eric Schmitt has said. The lawsuit claims that between December and January 23, 2020, the Chinese government concealed the seriousness of the outbreak to the world. The lawsuit further alleges that China denied the risk of human-to-human transmission, silenced whistleblowers and hoarded personal protective equipment. Sovereign immunity, however, protects China from being sued by a state.

However, Schmitt said that his legal argument is valid as he is considering the Communist Party of China as a non-state actor. China has consistently denied the accusation that it delayed revealing details of the severity of the pandemic.

00:00 US President Donald Trump vowed to sign an executive order to “temporarily suspend” issuing of green cards for at least the next 60 days. The green card allows immigrants to gain permanent residency in the US and opens a path to US citizenship.

Trump added that the new executive order “will not apply to those entering on a temporary basis.”

Addressing reporters at the daily White House briefing, Trump said the ban would help US nationals find work in the aftermath of the pandemic.

“It would be wrong and unjust for Americans laid off by the virus to be replaced with new immigrant labor flown in from abroad,” he said. “We must first take care of the American worker.” 

The lockdowns and closure of businesses have already driven US unemployment numbers to record heights.

Catch up on Tuesday coronavirus news here: Coronavirus as it happened: US Senate passes $480 billion stimulus package

In reporting on the coronavirus pandemic, unless otherwise specified, DW uses figures provided by the Johns Hopkins University (JHU) Coronavirus Resource Center in the United States. JHU updates figures in real time, collating data from world health organizations, state and national governments and other public official sources, all of whom have their own systems for compiling information.

Germany’s national statistics are compiled by its public health agency, the Robert Koch Institute (RKI). These figures depend on data transmission from state and local levels and are updated around once a day, which can lead to deviation from JHU.

ed,nm,dj/sms(AFP, Reuters, AP, dpa)

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