Coronavirus latest: Spain anti-lockdown protest draws thousands of far-right supporters

  • Trump has called for places of worship to open this weekend
  • South America is “a new epicenter of COVID-19,” WHO says
  • Trump-endorsed hydroxychloroquine increases chances of death  
  • Over 5 million confirmed infections recorded worldwide

Updates in Universal Coordinated Time (UTC/GMT)

11:33 Spain’s far-right Vox party has called out thousands of supporters to protest the government’s handling of the coronavirus crisis. Politicians urged followers to drive to central Madrid in their cars and motorbikes to skirt the current prohibition on social gatherings under the nation’s two-monthlong state of emergency.

“Let your desire be heard for the resignation of the government,” Vox leader Santiago Abascal said from the open-top bus leading the cars inching down a Madrid boulevard. Vox called the protest the “Caravan for Spain and Liberty.”

Most cars were decked with Spanish flags and there were also small groups of people who participated on foot, with some not respecting the two-meter social distancing rules.

Other protests were held in Barcelona, Seville and other provincial capitals.

Spain’s government is easing some of the world’s toughest restrictions against the pandemic in four stages, depending on the severity of the contagion in each area of the country.

10:04 UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson is facing calls to sack his chief adviser Dominic Cummings after reports that he broke lockdown rules by traveling 400 kilometers (248 miles) while ill with COVID-19 symptoms.

Cummings, who masterminded the 2016 campaign to leave the European Union during the Brexit referendum, drove to Durham in northern England in late March, when a strict lockdown was already in place, The Guardian and Mirror newspapers reported.

British guidelines say people should stay at home and refrain from visiting family members unless they need essential items such as food or medication.

The BBC’s political editor quoted an unidentified source close to Cummings as saying he traveled to Durham during lockdown as he needed his parents’ help with childcare while he was ill.

A Downing Street spokesperson insisted that Cummings had not broken lockdown guidelines.

But the opposition Labour Party said the revelations showed that the aide thought he was above the law.

09:28 German Chancellor Angela Merkel has defended the country’s coronavirus restrictions and called on her compatriots to keep respecting social distancing rules.

She said in her weekly video message Saturday that the measures were necessary, and that officials must continue to justify why some restrictions can’t be lifted while ensuring that they are proportionate.

The country has seen frequent protests against lockdown curbs despite starting to ease the measures from April 20. Further protests were due to take place in Berlin, Stuttgart, Munich, Frankfurt, and Hanover on Saturday.

Merkel added that Germany has “succeeded so far in achieving the aim of preventing our health system being overwhelmed.”

09:16 Anti-viral drug remdesivir cuts recovery times in coronavirus patients, according to the full results of a trial published Friday night. The study found that when injected intravenously daily for 10 days, remdesivir sped up the recovery of hospitalized COVID-19 patients compared to a placebo in clinical tests on just over a thousand patients across 10 countries.

The research was carried out by the US National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases (NIAID) and was published in the New England Journal of Medicine.

But the authors of the trial wrote that the drug did not prevent all deaths. “Given high mortality despite the use of remdesivir, it is clear that treatment with an anti-viral drug alone is not likely to be sufficient,” they said.

08:17 France is allowing religious services to resume starting Saturday after a legal challenge to the government’s ban on such gatherings. To prevent further spread of the virus, visitors to places of worship must wear masks, wash their hands upon entering, and keep a distance of at least one meter (three feet) from other people.

The French government had barred religious services until June 2 even though stores and other businesses started reopening last week. The Council of State, the country’s highest administrative body, struck down the ban, and the government published a decree Saturday allowing services to resume.

The French Bishops Conference said it would work with church leaders to prepare for reopening, notably for Pentecost Sunday services May 31. The rector of the Grand Mosque of Paris said that it will not be ready to reopen for services Sunday marking Eid al-Fitr, the end of the holy month of Ramadan.

07:52 Russia has recorded 9,434 new cases over the last 24 hours, pushing its nationwide tally to 335,882. The country’s coronavirus crisis response center said there had been 139 new fatalities after a record of 150 deaths the day before, bringing the death toll to 3,388.

Russia has the third-largest number of infections in the world after the United States and Brazil.

Authorities have warned that the mortality rate is likely to increase in May. Health Minister Mikhail Murashko said on Friday that some 109,000 people are currently hospitalized —  an increase of 39,000 since May 6 —  with some 2,500 of those in intensive care. 

06:58 A small cluster of cases in northwestern Germany has been linked to the reopening of a restaurant following the easing of the nationwide lockdown. At least seven people who visited the eatery in Leer district, in Lower Saxony, have tested positive for the coronavirus.

“The infections are probably related to a visit to a restaurant,” said a statement from the district authorities. Lower Saxony, which lies next to the Dutch border, was one of the first states to allow restaurants to reopen from May 11.

Around 50 people who came into contact with those infected have been told to quarantine themselves. According to public broadcaster NDR, it is unclear whether staff or customers had ignored social distancing/hygiene rules.

They include a 2-meter (6 ½-foot) distance between tables, masks for waiters and an obligation to take the name, address
and phone number of guests so that possible infections can be traced.

Read more: German restaurants reopen with pandemic measures in place

06:20 The UK is planning to require companies to cover 20% to 30% of the wage subsidy paid to furloughed workers from August to reduce the state’s share of the pandemic-related aid package. The Times reports that employers would also be required to restart paying their share of national insurance contributions, which amount to 5% of a worker’s wage.

Earlier this month, the UK extended its job retention scheme — which covers up to 85% of a temporarily laid-off worker’s salary up to 2,500 pounds (€2,789, $3041) per month — until October but said it would ask employers to share the cost. The government has put a similar scheme in place for the self-employed.

Read more: UK seeks to end reliance on Chinese imports

05:48 Muslims around the world are preparing to celebrate the three-day Eid al-Fitr – one of their biggest holidays – as the dawn-to-dusk fasting of Ramadan comes to an end. The holiday begins on Saturday or Sunday, depending on the sighting of the new moon. Saudi Arabia has declared Eid will begin on Sunday. This year, the holiday will be marked with hundreds of millions of people confined to their homes during what is usually a festive time of traveling, visiting families, shopping and gatherings with loved ones.

Egypt: The government has moved its curfew four hours earlier to 5 p.m. local time and has banned all public transport for six days from Sunday. 

India: The government has banned large gatherings while in some states, Muslims have launched campaigns encouraging people to refrain from shopping for new clothes for the holiday and instead give alms to those in need. India’s 172 million Muslims have faced increased stigma, threats and boycotts by some Hindus who blame the coronavirus outbreak on a three-day convention of Islamic missionaries held in March.

Indonesia: The Southeast Asian country has seen a spike in new coronavirus cases in recent days as millions of people prepare for Eid. Although President Joko Widodo has banned people traveling home for the holiday amid fears this could give rise to transmission, thousands have reportedly made the journey this week. 

While many Indonesians, particularly migrant workers, have become stranded with no income amid economic hardship due to the impacts of the pandemic, thousands are turning to smugglers and fake travel documents to reach their hometowns in time for celebrations this evening.

Iraq: Streets have been seen filled with people busy shopping for clothes, toys and home appliances in the days leading up to the holiday. Most businesses have been allowed to reopen in the last few weeks but authorities plan to reinstate a 24-hour curfew over Eid. 

Iran: Health Minister Saeed Namaki warned people not to travel during Eid. Iran has suffered the deadliest outbreak in the Middle East with nearly 130,000 cases and more than 7,000 deaths. Ahead of the celebrations, authorities have canceled mass prayers in Tehran traditionally led by Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei.

Malaysia: Authorities will allow Malaysians to visit relatives who live nearby, but such gatherings are limited to 20 people. People are encouraged to wear face masks and to refrain from physical contact and sharing plates. Some mosques have reopened, but congregations are limited to 30 people.

Turkey: Ankara has imposed its first nationwide lockdown before the holidays. The four-day curfew went into effect across all 81 provinces at midnight local time (2100 UTC Friday), on the eve of Eid festivities. People are not allowed to attend large gatherings or travel to visit family and friends. Congregational prayers in mosques have been suspended since March 16.

Saudi Arabia: Home to the holy Islamic cities of Mecca and Medina, people will only be authorized to leave their homes to buy food and medicine.

United Arab Emirates: Parks and private beaches will be open but groups will be limited to five people. Children under 12 and adults over 60 are banned from malls in Dubai and Abu Dhabi, while restaurants can only operate at 30% of capacity.

West Bank, Jerusalem: Palestinian authorities have announced that a lockdown in the town of Bethlehem will be re-imposed during the three days of the festival. Jerusalem’s Al-Aqsa mosque compound –  the third holiest site in Islam – will remain closed until after the holiday.

05:27 A police officer has been shot in Chile during protests against restrictions on public movement to slow the spread of the coronavirus. Police said in a tweet that a bullet hit the officer’s left arm during riots in the Cerrillos neighborhood, part of the greater Santiago de Chile area.

Police targeted demonstrators with a water cannon before a person ran into the street and fired in their direction, a video published by a radio station showed. The greater Santiago de Chile area remains under quarantine, so many people cannot go to work.  Although the government has announced the distribution of food parcels, delivery has been delayed. 

So far in Chile, 61,857 people have been confirmed to be infected and 630 people have died.

04:29 The number of confirmed coronavirus cases in Germany increased by 638, bringing the total to 177,850 infections, the Robert Koch Institute said on Saturday. The death rose by 42 to 8,216, a rise from the day before.

Here are the German figures for recent days:

Thursday, May 21: 460 new cases; 27 new deaths

Wednesday, May 20: 797 new cases; 83 new deaths

Tuesday, May 19: 513 new cases; 72 new deaths

Monday, May 18: 342 new cases; 21 new deaths

Sunday, May 17: 583 new cases, 33 new deaths

Saturday, May 16: 620 new cases; 57 new deaths

Friday, May 15: 913 new cases; 101 new deaths

Thursday, May 14: 933 new cases; 89 new deaths

Wednesday, May 13: 798 new cases; 101 new deaths

Tuesday, May 12: 933 new cases; 116 new deaths

03:35 Demonstrations against coronavirus restrictions are once again expected to take place in several German cities this weekend, with protests announced in Berlin, Stuttgart, Munich, Frankfurt, and Hanover. 

The demonstration in Stuttgart is forecast to be smaller than the one last weekend that drew 5,000 people. In Cologne, some 500 people plan to make a human chain. In Bavaria, 60 separate protests are expected.

Last weekend, thousands gathered in cities around Germany to protest restrictions on public life put in place to slow the spread of the coronavirus. Many argue that the restrictions violate rights guaranteed by Germany’s constitution. 

Other groups also turned out for counter-demonstrations against conspiracy theories and right-wing groups that police have warned could exploit the current situation.

03:33 Car rental company Hertz Global Holdings Inc filed for bankruptcy protection in the US and Canada after a massive drop in sales due to the coronavirus pandemic. Its operating regions in Europe, Australia, and New Zealand were not included in the filing.

“With the severity of the Covid-19 impact on our business, and the uncertainty of when travel and the economy will rebound, we need to take further steps to weather a potentially prolonged recovery,” CEO Paul Stone said.

The century-old company had racked up $18.7 billion in debt by the end of March, with only $ 1 billion of available cash.

Hertz had laid off 12,000 workers and furloughed another 4,000 in late March.

02:35 China reported zero new cases of the coronavirus for the first time since the country’s National Health Commission started releasing data. Yesterday, Premier Li Keqiang said the country has “made major strategic achievements in our response to COVID-19.”

The number of cases in China reached its peak in mid-February but dwindled rapidly as the country appeared to have brought the contagion under control. The number of deaths stands at 4,634.

The reliability of China’s official figures has been doubted, particularly by the United States. Beijing has denied accusations of a coverup, insisting it has been transparent in sharing information with the World Health Organization. The virus, which first emerged in the city of Wuhan late last year, has since spread worldwide, killing more than 335,000 people. 

02:11 New York state has lifted a complete ban on gatherings of any size, allowing up to 10 people to be together as long as they follow social distancing guidelines.

Governor Andrew Cuomo signed the executive order ahead of the Memorial Day, which honors US veterans who died while serving in the armed forces. “Please be safe and wear a mask,’’ the governor’s spokesperson said on Twitter.

The order is a significant step in easing restrictions imposed in March that barred all non-essential gatherings.

00:05 Here’s a roundup of the latest news from Latin America:

Brazil has reported 330,890 cases of the coronavirus, the country’s health ministry said, overtaking Russia as the second most affected country after the United States. The country also registered 1,001 new deaths, taking the total number of fatalities to 21,048. 

Most of the cases are in the densely populated Sao Paulo, whereas the highest rate of infection is in the state of Amazonas — 490 people infected per 100,000 population, said WHO emergencies director Mike Ryan. Unlike in the US and Europe where the elderly were the worst-hit, a significant number of deaths in Brazil are among younger people. 

Peru has extended its state of emergency and national lockdown until the end of June, as its confirmed cases rose to 111,698, the second-highest in Latin America. It has also reported 3,244 deaths. 

While the lockdown, which began in mid-March, has been extended for the fifth time, there will be easing of certain restrictions, as the Andean nation gradually reopens its economy. 

By June 30, Peru will have been under lockdown for more than three months. “We must move to a new coexistence, which allows us as a society to be more caring, more responsible, disciplined, respectful of the minimum standards of behavior so as not to harm the people we love the most,” President Martin Vizcarra said.

Cuba said it has curbed its coronavirus-related death toll by using two drugs produced by its biotech industry. The drugs, used on severely ill COVID-19 patients since April, reduces hype-inflammation, the government said. 

The country has reported just two virus-related deaths among the more than 200 active cases over the past nine days. 

One of the drugs 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.

“Some 80% of patients who end up in critical condition are dying. In Cuba, with the use of these drugs, 80% of those who end up in critical or serious condition are being saved,” Cuban President Miguel Diaz-Canel said.

Mexico has been downplaying the coronavirus outbreak for weeks, and the government said it had the situation under control, even as the country emerges as one of the global hotspots for the pandemic.

Mexico reported its first case in February and has since recorded 62,527 cases and 6,989 deaths. About a quarter of all cases and deaths were reported in the past week. Many of the deaths categorized as “atypical pneumonia” are believed to COVID-19 but are not included in the official count. The country has neither imposed a strict lockdown as seen in neighboring countries nor has it ramped up testing.

00:00 Catch up on yesterday’s coronavirus news here: Coronavirus latest: Trump-endorsed hydroxychloroquine increases chances of death

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.

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