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Coronavirus update: No salutes or guns for Queen’s 94th birthday


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Coronavirus update: No salutes or guns for Queen’s 94th birthday

A junior UK health minister has confirmed reports that an early coronavirus test used to establish whether NHS doctors and nurses were safe to return to work was flawed.In Australia, Deputy Chief Medical Officer Paul Kelly said the low number of new confirmed cases of COVID-19 in 24 hours showed the country was flattening the…

Coronavirus update: No salutes or guns for Queen’s 94th birthday

A junior UK health minister has confirmed reports that an early coronavirus test used to establish whether NHS doctors and nurses were safe to return to work was flawed.

In Australia, Deputy Chief Medical Officer Paul Kelly said the low number of new confirmed cases of COVID-19 in 24 hours showed the country was flattening the curve “very successfully”.

This story is being updated regularly throughout Wednesday. You can also stay informed with the latest episode of the Coronacast podcast.

Wednesday’s key moments

Number of coronavirus cases worldwide passes 2.5 million

More than 2.5 million people have now been infected with COVID-19, a figure that has risen by over 70,000 a day in April.

The United States is by far the hardest-hit country, with more than 800,000 infections and more than 45,000 deaths.

According to Johns Hopkins University data, five other countries have recorded more than 100,000 infections. All of them are in Europe: Spain (208,389), Italy (183,957), France (159,300), Germany (148,453) and the United Kingdom (130,184).

In total, more than 175,000 people have died of COVID-19.

Despite the growing number of cases in the current pandemic, there are signs the spread of coronavirus is slowing as many countries exercise lockdown measures.

In China, where the virus was first detected, daily new cases have dwindled to fewer than 20 a day over the past three days and no new deaths have been reported this week.

Three more deaths confirmed in Australia

Earlier on Wednesday, Deputy Chief Medical Officer Paul Kelly said the low daily increase in COVID-19 cases showed Australia was flattening the curve “very successfully”.

At that time, only four new cases has been recorded since Tuesday afternoon.

Dr Kelly also confirmed there had been three coronavirus deaths in that time, bringing Australia’s death toll to 74.

He said a 92-year-old in Sydney’s Newmarch House aged care facility was among the most recent deaths, and NSW health authorities confirmed a 75-year-old man in St George Hospital and an 80-year-old woman in Gosford Hospital had also died of coronavirus.

Health Minister Greg Hunt said the most recent deaths were a reminder of the “profound task” still ahead of the country.

For the second time this week, both Queensland, Western Australia and ACT all recorded no new cases, while Victoria confirmed two and Tasmania confirmed just one.

Early coronavirus tests UK health workers took were flawed

The UK Government has confirmed reports that some COVID-19 tests used on thousands of National Health Service (NHS) workers to establish whether they were safe to return to work were flawed.

The Telegraph and openDemocracy reported on a leaked document from Public Health England (PHE) that warned of “degraded performance”, meaning the results were less reliable than first thought.

The openDemocracy report, published on Monday, included an expert who claimed the tests in use failed to detect up to 25 per cent of positive results, but PHE issued a statement saying that number was incorrect, and the flaw affected only 2 per cent of samples.

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Asked about the Telegraph report a day later, Junior Health Minister Helen Whately told Sky News:

“This is a normal process … this is a new illness and we are learning all the time. Those who were tested with the test that we think isn’t up to scratch are being written to, to let them know, and they will be offered another test.”

According to The Telegraph, all the PHE centres have been told to stop using the existing tests by Thursday, and NHS labs still using the method have been told to double-check any uncertain results.

Australia to lead push to boost WHO’s powers or create an entirely new health body

Prime Minister Scott Morrison will lead a global push to give the World Health Organisation, or another body, the same powers as weapons inspectors to forcibly enter a country in order to avoid a repeat of the coronavirus pandemic.

Mr Morrison has pitched the proposal to several world leaders in recent days, including United States President Donald Trump, German Chancellor Angela Merkel and French President Emmanuel Macron.

One of the limitations under the WHO, founded in 1948, is that international officials must be invited by nations before being allowed to investigate.

The Australian Government is dubious of the chances of reforming the WHO, given that each of its 194 members has veto powers, so believes establishing a new world health oversight body may be the best option.

The United States, which accounts for about 20 per cent of the WHO’s budget, suspended its funding last week. It is understood President Donald Trump broadly agrees with Australia’s proposal to bolster world health inspection powers.

US warned the next wave could be worse than the last

People in jumpers wearing face masks wait in line

More than 45,000 people have died in the United States.(Reuters: Andrew Kelly)

The US Centres for Disease Control and Prevention has warned a second wave of coronavirus is expected to hit America during its next winter.

CDC director Robert Redfield said the US would have to deal with the flu and coronavirus at the same time.

Asked about calls for US states to be “liberated” from restrictions, as well as protests against lockdown measures, Dr Redfield said it was “not helpful”.

He said social distancing would need to continue even after restrictions were lifted, saying they’d had an “enormous impact”, and that testing and contact tracing would also have to increase.

The first-known US infection was diagnosed on January 20 in Washington state near Seattle.

Since then, more than 800,000 people have tested positive in the country, and more than 45,000 have died (a figure that has doubled in a little over a week).

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Australia is going to build a strategic fuel reserve

A hand holding a fuel nozzle putting petrol in a white car

The fuel reserve will initially be held in the US.(AAP: Lukas Coch)

As oil prices continue to plummet around the globe and Australian consumers reap the rewards at the petrol pump, the Federal Government has announced it will spend $94 million on building a fuel reserve to bolster the national stockpile.

Energy Minister Angus Taylor said the Government wanted to take advantage of historically low fuel prices to safeguard the nation in the event of “global disruptions”.

“We are establishing a strategic fuel reserve that can ensure, even in the event there is a global disruption that slows fuel supplies moving around the world, we will get access to the fuel we need to keep our country going,” Mr Taylor said.

He said there was about a month’s worth of fuel on Australian soil currently, but the Government wanted a much larger reserve.

The stockpile will initially be held in the United States, while work begins to expand domestic capacity as soon as possible.

“We have full storages here in Australia, but in time we are exploring opportunities with the industry to establish local storage,” he said.

“Now is the time to buy fuel, and we are doing that.”

India’s air quality is improving

India Gate is visible from the an empty road in front. The sky is clear

India Gate in New Delhi on April 20, 2020.(AP: Manish Swarup)

India’s extended lockdown to curb the coronavirus outbreak has led to an unexpected bonus in a country featuring six out of 10 of the world’s most polluted cities: cleaner air.

On March 25, the first day of the lockdown, the average PM 2.5 levels decreased by 22 per cent, and nitrogen dioxide dropped by 15 per cent, according to air pollution data analysed by the Centre for Research on Energy and Clean Air.

The Centre for Science and Environment, a research and advocacy organisation in New Delhi, attributed the drop in air pollutants to fewer vehicles on the road, less construction activity, and factories shutting down.

“These are extraordinary times,” executive director Anumita Roychowdhury said.

India accounts for the highest pollution-related deaths in the world with more than 2 million people dying every year, according to a December 2019 report by the Global Alliance of Health and Pollution.

The country has reported more than 20,000 confirmed cases of COVID-19 and more than 600 deaths.

A man wearing a mask runs through a barrier that says DELHI POLICE. India Gate is visible in the background, the air is smoggy

India Gate in New Delhi on October 28, 2019.(AP: Manish Swarup)

Japanese children’s home reports eight babies with coronavirus

A care home for infants in Tokyo has found eight cases of coronavirus infection among its children.

One staff member tested positive for the virus on April 16, which prompted tests on 29 children living in the facility.

Eight of the children’s tests came back positive, and they are now being cared for in hospital, but none of the children were showing major symptoms such as fever.

Children who cannot live at home for reasons such as abuse, neglect or custody battles are usually cared for at residential care facilities in Japan.

The institution said seven of its 47 staff, including the person who already tested positive, had been asked to stay at home because of fevers or respiratory troubles.

Japan has had more than 11,500 coronavirus infections and nearly 300 deaths.

Ruby Princess set to leave Australia but infected crew still on board

A man in army uniform on a shoreline looking at a cruise ship.

The Ruby Princess is set to leave Australian waters on Thursday.(AAP: Dean Lewins)

NSW Police Commissioner Mick Fuller says hundreds of crew from the Ruby Princess cruise ship could fly home by Thursday if flights can be finalised.

On Tuesday, 57 crew members left the ship and were escorted to Sydney hotels to await their flights home.

Another 400 are expected to come off the Ruby Princess before it is set to leave Australian waters on Thursday.

However, there are still 40 crew members who are currently infected with coronavirus.

Meanwhile, the ship’s senior doctor has told an inquiry she would not have let passengers disembark when it first docked in Sydney last month.

Ilsa Watzdorf told the inquiry she swabbed some passengers who had presented with flu-like symptoms for COVID-19 after they tested negative for influenza.

Asked whether it was appropriate that 2,700 people were allowed to disembark on March 19 despite more than a dozen displaying COVID-19 symptoms, she said:

“If it was my decision, I would’ve perhaps waited like the previous time.”

Tasmania announces support for visa holders, rejects call they should ‘just go home’

The Tasmanian Government has announced a $3 million package to support an estimated 26,000 temporary visa holders facing financial hardship due to the coronavirus pandemic.

The funding will be used to expand an existing grants program for people facing financial hardship due to self isolation, to help non-government organisations provide emergency relief, and to help workers who can go home with travel advice or financial barriers.

He said Tasmanian businesses had benefited from visa holders, and added that in many cases travel was not possible due to restrictions.

NRL games back on before the end of May

Te Maire Martin, in North Queensland Cowboys kit, runs towards the tryline while a Roosters player dives towards him

The ARL says “everyone is unified” in getting NRL players back on the field.(AAP: Dan Himbrechts)

Australia’s NRL teams will resume training in less than two weeks and hold games before the end of May.

Australian Rugby League commissioner Wayne Pearce said government authorities had given the league the green light to get back to training ahead of a restart to the season on May 28.

“Everyone is supportive of what we’re doing. Everyone is unified into getting back on the field,” he said in a statement on the NRL website.

“We feel like we owe it to not just the players and coaches but the thousands of staff members at various clubs and associated industries that are out on the unemployment lines too.”

Grassroots rugby league has also been given the go-ahead in New South Wales.

Training for community football leagues, including juniors, will commence from July 1 and competition will resume from July 18.

China tightens travel bans on city grappling with worst COVID-19 outbreak

People wearing full PPE suits sit at a desk in an airport. A barrier in front of them says POLICE

Heilongjiang province has already put restrictions on foreign citizens entering the area.(Reuters: Huizhong Wu)

A city of 10 million people in north-east China grappling with the biggest coronavirus outbreak in the country has further restricted travel into the area to contain the spread of the virus.

Harbin, capital of Heilongjiang province, has banned non-locals and non-locally registered vehicles from entering residential zones, according to local state media.

The province shares a border with Russia, and has been at the front line of China’s efforts to identify infected Chinese citizens arriving from Russia.

It has already put in place rules that require anyone arriving in the city from outside China or from key epidemic areas to go into isolation.

Earlier this month, Harbin implemented a 28-day quarantine measure for all arrivals from abroad, as well as mandatory testing including two PCR tests (the standard method of testing in Australia) and one antibody test.

Harbin reported seven new confirmed cases on Tuesday, bringing the number of current local infections in the city to 52, on top of three infected travellers arriving from Russia.

About 1,400 people are currently under medical observation for signs of the virus.

ACT schools to remain online for all of term two

Canberra schools will be closed for at least all of term two, while other states are planning to welcome students back to the classroom in a few weeks.

ACT Education Minister Yvette Barry confirmed that all schools would be expected to continue online learning for the duration of term two, commencing next Tuesday, April 28.

Victorian schools have already started online learning for term two and are expected to continue for the rest of the term, but across the border in New South Wales, students will begin a staggered return to classes on Monday, May 11.

Students in Queensland have also started online learning for term two, and will do so until at least May 22, while Western Australia’s Catholic schools are adopting remote learning at the start of term two, with a review earmarked for May 18.

Deputy Chief Medical Officer Paul Kelly said the Australian Health Protection Principal Committee, which is advising National Cabinet on coronavirus restrictions, was keen to see schools starting to reopen.

“There is a keenness to get kids back to school. We recognise [that in] the statements that have come out through the AHPPC, and the National Cabinet, there are subtleties there that are difficult to interpret,” he said.

Toilet paper sales more than doubled in March

A woman drives a forklift inside a warehouse filled with toilet paper

Sales of toilet paper, rice, pasta and flour doubled last month.(Supplied: Kimberly-Clark)

Last month, Australia recorded its biggest monthly rise in retail sales on record.

Figures from the Australian Bureau of Statistics show that supermarket and grocery store sales rose 22.4 per cent.

Specifically, the sale of toilet paper, rice, pasta and flour doubled, while spending on canned food, medicinal products and cleaning products increased by more than 50 per cent.

Sales of alcohol and home office supplies were also strong.

However, sales are expected to have fallen more recently, as panic-buying petered out, with transaction data from the major banks indicating a pullback in spending.

Spending at cafes, restaurants and takeaway food outlets, as well as on footwear and accessories, declined sharply after stricter social-distancing measures were introduced.

WHO says coronavirus probably came from an animal, not a lab

Six gloved hands work on a sedated bat in a lab

Donald Trump has said China should be punished if it was “knowingly responsible” for the pandemic.(Reuters: Stephane Mahe)

The World Health Organisation says all available evidence suggests coronavirus originated in animals in China late last year and was not manipulated or produced in a laboratory.

China and the United States have traded accusations about the issue.

Last month, the US State Department summoned Cui Tiankai, the Chinese ambassador to the United States, to protest against Beijing’s suggestion the US military might have brought coronavirus to the Chinese city of Wuhan, where the coronavirus pandemic emerged in December.

Last week, US President Donald Trump said his Government was trying to determine whether the virus emanated from a Wuhan lab, saying China should be punished if it was “knowingly responsible” for the pandemic.

US suspends immigration for at least two months

Donald Trump dressed in a suit gesturing during a speech.

Donald Trump said his order would only apply to those seeking permanent residency.(AP: Manuel Balce Ceneta)

US President Donald Trump has announced the United States will suspend immigration for at least two months.

He said the measure was necessary to protect American workers, many of whom had lost their jobs because of the coronavirus pandemic.

Mr Trump said his order would only apply to those seeking permanent residency in the United States, not to individuals entering the country on a temporary basis.

The announcement was first made on Twitter on Tuesday, but no detail had been given.

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The US economy has ground to a standstill due to coronavirus. More than 22 million people have applied for unemployment benefits in the last month.

Oxford vaccine testing on humans to begin this week

flu-jab

More than 17,337 have died in the UK from COVID-19.(ABC News: File)

Oxford University will begin testing a COVID-19 vaccine in humans this week, with production to potentially start before the trial is complete.

British Health Secretary Matt Hancock said the Government would invest another 20 million pounds ($39 million) in the search for a vaccine.

The British Government is also funding another vaccine project at the Imperial College in London.

Official figures show 17,337 people have died in the UK after being hospitalised with COVID-19.

Britain’s death toll far higher than daily figures suggest

A woman walks past a mural on a building wall depicting a nurse in a mask

The UK’s daily toll only includes hospital deaths.(Reuters: Henry Nicholls)

Britain’s coronavirus death toll was more than 40 per cent higher than the UK Government’s daily figures had indicated.

The Office for National Statistics (ONS), which records all deaths including those in care homes and hospitals, reported 13,121 deaths in England and Wales by April 10.

The UK Government’s daily toll, which includes only hospital deaths, was 9,288 by that date.

Health Minister Matt Hancock sought to downplay the news at a Downing Street press conference.

“[There are] important differences between how we measure deaths in hospitals — which we can get that data daily, and so it’s incredibly important for tracking as soon as possible what’s happening in terms of the impact of this disease — with the ONS data, which is measured in a different way.”

Meanwhile, the number of people seeking benefits in the UK is rising at the fastest pace on record as millions face unemployment or wage cuts in the face of the pandemic.

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Virgin CEO confident despite horror couple of weeks

The photo shows the silhouette of a woman walking inside Melbourne Airport as a plane prepares for boarding.

The Federal Government has said it wants a market solution to Virgin’s crisis.(AAP: Mal Fairclough)

Despite Virgin Australia going into voluntary administration, there is optimism the company will survive the coronavirus pandemic.

ABC senior business correspondent Peter Ryan said he spoke with CEO Paul Scurrah on Wednesday morning.

The Federal Government has said it wants a market solution, and Deloitte administrator Vaughan Strawbridge said there had been 10 interested parties.

On Wednesday morning, Labor frontbencher Bill Shorten put more pressure on the Federal Government to ensure a solution was found, saying he had “no problem” with the idea of it taking a stake in the airline to ensure it survived.

US relief bill passes Senate, Trump and Cuomo meet at White House

A close up photograph shows the lined face of a middle aged man with short hair.

Andrew Cuomo says New York will need more testing before its economy can be reopened.(Reuters: Carlo Allegri)

The US Senate has unanimously approved a bill worth $US500 billion ($800 billion) to support businesses and hospitals during the coronavirus pandemic.

The bill will now go to the House of Representatives, which is expected to vote on it later this week.

Combined with America’s three earlier measures, the package would take the nation’s total amount of coronavirus spending to nearly $US3 trillion.

New York Governor Andrew Cuomo, meanwhile, has said he has had a “functional and effective” conversation with US President Donald Trump.

Mr Cuomo said he told Mr Trump a rapid increase in testing was a crucial “benchmark” his state needed before it could safely reopen its economy.

New York is the hardest-hit US state, with more than 14,000 deaths in New York City alone.

Millions login to Netflix amid lockdown

Joe Exotic poses for a photo with a tiger

Netflix’s Tiger King has become a cultural phenomenon.(Supplied: Netflix)

Netflix picked up nearly 16 million global subscribers during the first three months of the year, as people around the world were forced to entertain themselves at home.

The company more than doubled the quarterly growth it predicted in January, well before the COVID-19 outbreak began to shut down many major economies.

It was the biggest three-month gain in the 13-year history of Netflix’s streaming service.

Lockdowns across the globe coincided with the released of Netflix’s documentary Tiger King, which quickly became a cultural phenomenon.

Queen celebrates quiet birthday

An elderly woman wearing a matching jacket and hat smiles as she talks with people.

Queen Elizabeth II’s birthday was a muted occasion.(Reuters: Victoria Jones/PA)

Queen Elizabeth II turned 94 on Tuesday, but the coronavirus lockdown meant there was little fanfare to mark the occasion.

Royal birthdays and anniversaries are usually marked by ceremonial gun salutes across London, but the Queen felt it would be inappropriate for them to go ahead during the pandemic.

The Queen’s birthday is also normally marked by flags being flown from government buildings and a parade in June, both of which will not go ahead in their traditional form.

The only official acknowledgment from the Royal family came via Twitter where Buckingham Palace posted a private family film of the Queen as a child, playing with her late sister Margaret.

The Queen spent the day at Windsor Castle, west of London. She has stayed there with her 98-year-old husband Prince Philip during the lockdown.

Barcelona FC raises funds for virus fight

Lionel Messi celebrates after scoring Barcelona's third goal against Chelsea in the Champions League

Barcelona’s stadium has not had a sponsor since it opened in 1957.(AP: Emilio Morenatti)

Barcelona Football Club will sell the title rights to the Camp Nou stadium for one year and donate the entire amount raised to the fight against the global pandemic.

The Camp Nou is the biggest stadium in Europe, with more than 99,000 seats.

It has not had a sponsor since it opened in 1957.

All beers are off — Oktoberfest cancelled

Men an women in checked shirts and traditional German dresses raise large glasses full of beer.

Oktoberfest brings in 1 billion euros ($1.7 billion) a year to Munich.(Reuters: Andreas Gebert)

Munich’s Oktoberfest, the world’s largest festival, has been cancelled.

Six million people normally flock to the Bavarian capital every year for two weeks of beer-drinking festivities.

But with the events held in packed tents with long wooden tables and benches, social distancing would be impossible.

Some parts of Germany have started to relax lockdown measures introduced last month to slow the spread of the virus, but big events are banned until August 31.

As of Tuesday, Germany had registered 143,457 cases of coronavirus, of whom 4,598 had died.

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How coronavirus turned property on its head

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