Kenya is rolling out voluntary public testing for the novel coronavirus in its biggest slum, where some residents say being declared virus-free boosts their chances of getting a job.
Closer to home, New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern says a draft blueprint on safely starting travel between New Zealand and Australia will be presented to both governments in early June.
It comes as Ms Ardern’s deputy, Winston Peters, has been accused of breaking Cabinet confidentiality in his disagreement over the pace with which coronavirus restrictions are being rolled back.
This story will be regularly updated throughout Wednesday.
Wednesday’s key moments:Voluntary testing rolled out in slum, home to half a million
Kenya is rolling out voluntary public testing for the novel coronavirus in its biggest slum, where some residents say being declared virus-free boosts their chances of getting a job.
“Nowadays when you look for work, they first ask to see your results first,” Shadrack Jumba, a resident of Kibera, told Reuters.
“They ask you to go back and get tested. If your results come back negative, you are fine, but with no test results, it’s a bit difficult to get employed.”
Kibera is one of Africa’s biggest urban slums, home to an estimated half a million people, who mostly live in tin-roofed shacks tightly packed together, conditions health authorities say make it hard to slow the spread of infection.
Many residents are casual labourers, cleaners, market sellers and motorbike taxi drivers, who have lost work due to the COVID-19-linked restrictions in Kenya. Some are reluctant to be tested, fearing neighbours will shun them.
Find out moreAustralia records 11 new cases of COVID-19 in 24 hours
An additional eight cases of COVID-19 were recorded in Victoria on Wednesday while two new cases were recorded in NSW and one new case in Queensland.
No other state or territory recorded a new case of the disease in the 24 hours to 4:00pm on Wednesday.
This brings the national total to 7,139 confirmed cases. This includes 6,566 recovered cases and 103 deaths, according to official figures.
British minister says ‘move on’ from rage at PM adviser Mr Cummings’ road trip
A British Minister says it is time to “move on” after Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s senior adviser provoked outrage and widespread scorn by making a 400km road trip during the coronavirus lockdown.
Dominic Cummings has refused to quit after it was revealed he had driven from London to northern England in March with his 4-year-old son and his wife, who was sick at the time, to be close to relatives.
Mr Johnson has backed his adviser but opinion polls show that faith in him has tumbled since the story on Mr Cummings broke on Friday in The Mirror and The Guardian newspapers, with some people openly lampooning both men on social media.
Mr Johnson’s approval rating dropped by 20 points to -1 per cent in the days after the story broke, according to Savanta, a coronavirus data tracker measuring how the UK is responding to the pandemic.
Mr Cummings, who is an advisor of Mr Johnson, has refused to apologise about the travel.(AP: Matt Dunham)
Opposition parties and some Conservative members of parliament have also demanded that Mr Cummings, the man behind the successful 2016 Brexit campaign and Mr Johnson’s landslide 2019 election victory, should resign. He has refused to apologise.
“Now I think is the time for us all to move on,” Housing Secretary Robert Jenrick told the BBC.
“That’s not to say this isn’t an important issue or that people don’t care a great deal about it but I think there is a lot more that we need to focus on now, like the virus and the economy.”
As nearly 70 million British citizens endured the most stringent lockdown in peacetime history, the news that the man viewed as second-most-powerful in the British Government had taken such a long road journey was greeted with dismay by many.
YouGov found 71 per cent of people believed Mr Cummings had broken lockdown rules and 59 per cent thought he should resign.
West African food trade under strain as COVID-19 shuts borders
Trading across borders in West Africa, with its rutted roads and bribe-hungry police, has never been easy.
But restrictions imposed by governments in response to COVID-19 are crippling the trade in perishable goods and livestock like never before, according to commercial data and interviews with traders.
The breakdowns in trade are contributing to fears of a spiralling food crisis. The United Nations said the pandemic could cause the number of West Africans living in food insecurity to double to 43 million in the next six months.
While some countries have been able to rely on healthy pre-crisis stocks to keep the price of staples such as maize and rice relatively stable, more time-sensitive supply chains are fraying and legions of independent traders are taking the hit.
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Data collected by the Permanent Interstate Committee for Drought Control in the Sahel (CILSS) shows West African traders of perishable produce and livestock have seen losses of 10 to 30 per cent since health restrictions came in, as transport is disrupted and markets close.
Meanwhile, the CILSS reported illegal tax collection at checkpoints had leapt nearly 50 per cent.
A separate survey by Reseau Billital Maroobe, a collective of West African herders, showed economic activities were at a standstill for 42 per cent of herders in the region as of last week.
The impact is not universal and some trade corridors have been less affected.
But Brahima Cisse, a regional markets expert at CILSS, which has 13 member states and is based in Burkina Faso, said he had never before seen such broad-based losses.
“There is an entire disorganisation of the market that makes the impact unprecedented,” Mr Cisse said.
“People in rural areas don’t even know where to go to sell their products to survive.”
Rough date for draft ‘blueprint’ on Australia-NZ travel Jacinda Ardern says planning for a trans-Tasman travel bubble with Australia is progressing.(AAP: David Rowland)
New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern says a draft blueprint on safely starting travel between New Zealand and Australia will be presented to both governments in early June.
Ms Ardern said she spoke to Prime Minister Scott Morrison on Tuesday and there was enthusiasm on both sides for travel to resume.
“We are working to move on this as quickly as we can. We are both very keen on it … across both sides of the ditch,” Ms Ardern said.
“It won’t be too long before we are ready,” she said.
Over the past two weeks, experts from both countries, including government and airport officials, airlines and health specialists have been working on the plan to reopen their borders with each other.
“Our aim is to put forward a detailed set of recommendations that safely manage any health risks, while also allowing Kiwis and Australians to travel to each country without the need for a 14-day quarantine,” said Scott Tasker, co-chair of the Trans-Tasman Safe Border Group developing the plans.
New Zealand is the most popular outbound travel destination for Australians, with 1.5 million arriving from across the Tasman Sea in 2019.
Likewise, Australia is the most popular outbound travel destination for New Zealanders.
It comes as Ms Ardern has been criticised in recent days for being too cautious. Her deputy, Winston Peters, said New Zealanders should be allowed to travel to Australia now.
Ms Ardern brushed off the criticism as a difference of opinion and said her coalition Government had a consensus on all its decisions.
New Zealand Deputy PM breaks ranks with Ardern over lockdown
New Zealand Deputy Prime Minister Winston Peters has clashed with Jacinda Ardern, saying the country has “been in compulsory lockdown for far too long”.
Mr Peters, whose New Zealand First party forms a governing coalition with Ms Ardern’s Labour, told local radio station Newstalk ZB this morning that he had been transparent with the Prime Minister.
“My party made it very clear we thought that [restrictions needed to be relaxed]. And the Prime Minister has actually admitted that at the Cabinet meeting — she said it,” Mr Peters told Newstalk ZB.
“There was serious concerns from New Zealand First that this was taking too long and we should have got out of this into a better space as fast as possible.”
Deputy PM Winston Peters disagrees publicly with PM Jacinda Ardern on how quickly to relax restrictions.(AP: Hagen Hopkins)
The interview has led to accusations from other parliamentarians that Mr Peters broke ministerial code by revealing what Ms Ardern allegedly said during Cabinet discussions.
Earlier in the week, Cabinet agreed to keep level-two restrictions for a month and consider moving to level one on June 22.
In a press conference today, Ms Ardern said she and Mr Peters would share differing views in public “from time to time”.
She said she took her advice on when to ease coronavirus restrictions from the Director-General of Health, Dr Ashley Bloomfield, and that she hoped New Zealand would be at level one in late June.
Dr Bloomfield today announced New Zealand had not recorded any new coronavirus cases for a fifth consecutive day.
WHO warns first wave of pandemic is not over
The World Health Organization’s top health expert has issued a sobering reminder that the world is still in the middle of the pandemic, dampening hopes for a speedy global economic rebound and renewed international travel.
“We’re still very much in a phase where the disease is actually on the way up,” said Dr Mike Ryan, one of the World Health Organization’s executive directors.
“Right now, we’re not in the second wave. We’re right in the middle of the first wave globally.”
Dr Ryan then made specific mention of Brazil, where despite cases being on the rise, Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro has been bullish about opening the country back up.
Brazil has nearly 375,000 coronavirus infections — second only to the 1.66 million cases in the US — and has counted over 23,000 deaths but many fear Brazil’s true toll is much higher.
As the virus creeps into remote riverside towns and indigenous territories, those who fall ill have to be flown to hospitals in major cities.(AP: Felipe Dana)
Dr Ryan warned that authorities must first have enough testing in place to control the spread of the pandemic and said Brazil’s “intense” transmission rates means it should keep some stay-at-home measures in place, regardless of the negative impacts on its economy.
“You must continue to do everything you can,” he said.
Worldwide, the virus has infected nearly 5.5 million people, killing over 346,000, according to a tally by Johns Hopkins University. Experts say the tally understates the real effects of the pandemic due to counting issues in many nations.
Thirty-year-old with coronavirus dies in Queensland Queensland Premier Annastacia Palaszczuk says Blackwater has no other known cases of coronavirus.(ABC News: Chris Gillette)
The man, from Blackwater in Central Queensland, died in his home yesterday after earlier testing positive for coronavirus.
Chief health officer Jeannette Young said the 30-year-old’s partner returned to their home after work at 4:30pm yesterday and found him unresponsive.
He died a short time later.
Dr Young said the man is believed to have been sick with symptoms for several weeks and had a “complicated” medical history.
It is not known how he contracted the virus.
It is believed he had been at home for most of the time and had not travelled outside of the town since February.
His partner also has symptoms and has been taken to the Rockhampton Hospital, however, an initial test for COVID-19 came back negative.
Queensland Premier Annastacia Palaszczuk said it was a timely reminder the illness was still present in the community.
“Blackwater has never had a case of COVID before,” she said.
“Contact tracing is extensively underway.
“The police and ambulance officers who attended the scene are also now in quarantine.”
The death is Queensland’s seventh from coronavirus.
Russia past its peak, Putin says, as daily deaths hit new high Vladimir Putin holds a video conference with Russian Defence Minister Sergei Shoigu at the Novo-Ogaryovo residence outside Moscow.(AP: Alexei Nikolsky)
Russian President Vladimir Putin says the country has passed its peak of new coronavirus infections, with 8,900 new cases reported in the past day, bringing the total to more than 360,000 — the third-highest in the world.
That is down from the country’s highest daily increase in cases of 11,700, on May 11.
But while infections per day are dropping, the country’s daily death toll hit a new high of 174 in the past day, taking the total to 3,807.
“According to experts, the peak can be considered passed,” Mr Putin told Defence Minister Sergei Shoigu via video conference on Tuesday.
He told Mr Shoigu to begin preparations to hold Russia’s Victory Day parade next month, after it was delayed from its original May 9 date.
The country’s relatively low mortality rate has raised doubts among experts in Russia and in the West, drawing suspicions that authorities could have manipulated the statistics and under-reported virus-related deaths for political reasons.
Russian officials angrily reject the allegations and argue that the low death toll reflects the effectiveness of the measures taken to stem the outbreak.
But healthcare workers say they have evidence of an under-reporting of deaths of their colleagues.
A Russian health official said on Tuesday that 101 medics had died of coronavirus, according to data from regional authorities.
But healthcare workers believe the real figure is at least three times higher and have circulated an online list, compiled by their colleagues, of more than 300 medics who have died.
Crew of live export ship in WA test positive to coronavirusSpace to play or pause, M to mute, left and right arrows to seek, up and down arrows for volume.WatchDuration: 2 minutes 8 seconds2m 8s Coronavirus outbreak on live export ship in WA
Six crew members of a livestock carrier docked in Fremantle have tested positive for coronavirus, with the WA Premier accusing the Federal Government of allowing the ship to berth despite health concerns on board.
The Al Kuwait arrived in Fremantle from the United Arab Emirates last Friday after receiving permission from federal authorities to dock.
The outbreak has sparked a row between the state and federal governments about how the ship was allowed to dock with sick crew on board.
WA Premier Mark McGowan said that responsibility lay with the Federal Department of Agriculture.
He said at the point the department granted docking permission, the ship had lodged a pre-arrival report saying three crew members had elevated temperatures.
Mr McGowan said the Fremantle Port Authority was not made aware of those health concerns, and it was not until Sunday evening that the authority learnt of the health issues via “word of mouth” from another worker at the port.
Federal Agriculture Minister David Littleproud defended his department’s actions, saying the correct information was passed on to the WA Health Department.
“It wasn’t until the 22nd of May that the ship themselves notified the Department of Agriculture that someone had an elevated temperature and was showing symptoms,” he said.
“At that point the protocol is the Department of Agriculture immediately notifies the Western Australian Department of Health, which it did.”
The ABC has seen the email sent by the federal Department of Agriculture to the WA Health Department on Friday, hours before the ship docked, warning that three crew members had recorded elevated temperatures.
But the email said “from the information received there was no concern of COVID-19 on the vessel”.
Latin America’s largest airline files for bankruptcy LATAM is the largest airline in the world so far to file for bankruptcy.(AP: Esteban Felix)
One of the world’s largest airlines, LATAM, has filed for US bankruptcy protection on Tuesday, following a similar bankruptcy filing earlier this month by Latin America’s number two airline, Avianca.
But unlike Avianca, which experienced management turmoil and losses, Chile’s LATAM posted profits for the past four consecutive years totalling more than $700 million.
LATAM had also approved a dividend payment this year, in contrast to other carriers that had halted payouts.
In the lead-up to the bankruptcy filing, LATAM laid off 1,800 employees out of more than 40,000 in total.
“This path represents the best option,” chief executive Roberto Alvo said in a statement.
The carrier is the world’s largest carrier so far to seek an emergency bankruptcy reorganisation due to the coronavirus pandemic.
Most recently, Germany bailed out Lufthansa for a 20 per cent stake, and in Australia, Virgin Australia entered into voluntary administration looking for buyers.
LATAM is an instantly recognisable brand for South Americans, dominating international air travel in the region, as well as a leading domestic flight operator in Brazil, Colombia, Chile, Argentina, Peru and Ecuador.
Its subsidiaries in Brazil, Argentina and Paraguay are not part of the bankruptcy process and the airline is still pursuing a bailout from the Brazilian Government.
LATAM’s Brazil unit said it might file for bankruptcy there as well if negotiations for aid fell through.
JK Rowling publishes free fairytale for children in lockdown
JK Rowling has published the first two chapters of a fairytale called “The Ickabog” online for children in lockdown.
“Over 10 years ago, I wrote a standalone fairy tale called The Ickabog,” Ms Rowling said.
Until very recently, the only people who’d heard the story of The Ickabog were my two younger children.”
The Harry Potter author said the mostly handwritten manuscript had been stored in her attic until a few weeks ago after which she did some rewriting.
“I’ve decided to publish The Ickabog for free online, so children in lockdown, or even those back at school during these strange, unsettling times, can read it or have it read to them,” she said.
“The Ickabog is a story about truth and the abuse of power. The themes are timeless and could apply to any era or any country.”
“To forestall one obvious question: The idea came to me well over a decade ago, so it isn’t intended to be read as a response to anything that’s happening in the world right now.”
The story will be released chapter-by-chapter over the coming weeks until July 10, Ms Rowling said, and in that time she has asked for children to send her their illustrations.
Those deemed the best will be published in a physical copy of the book that will be released in bookstores in November.
Ms Rowling said she intends to donate the royalties she receives from the story to projects and organisations helping the groups most impacted by COVID-19.
New York puts spotlight on reopening economy, daily deaths drop to 73 New York State Governor Andrew Cuomo rings the opening bell to mark the reopening of stock exchange trading floor.(AP/New York Stock Exchange)
New York State Governor Andrew Cuomo says it is time to focus on relaunching New York City’s economy after weeks of declining deaths and hospitalisations.
After ringing open the stock exchange, marking the reopening on the trading floor, the Democratic Governor laid out a plan that includes accelerating major infrastructure projects and tackling transmission of the new coronavirus in the hardest-hit neighbourhoods.
The mid-Hudson Valley, including the city’s northern suburbs, have become the latest region of New York state to begin slowly phasing in economic activity.
Long Island was expected to follow on Wednesday, which would leave New York City as the only region awaiting the start of reopening.
Statewide hospitalisation rates continue to decline with about 200 new cases a day. The number of deaths reported on Monday local time dropped to 73, the lowest number since late March.
‘Sad, shocked and angry’ Trudeau laments Canada’s aged care Earlier this month Justin Trudeau referred to “heartbreaking tragedies” in long-term care facilities, mentioning overworked employees and understaffed homes.(The Canadian Press: Arian Wyld via AP)
Canadian soldiers helping to manage the coronavirus outbreak in aged care residences have reported horrific conditions to Prime Minister Justin Trudeau.
A report by the armed forces on five of the worst-affected Ontario homes revealed residents were left in dirty nappies with “significant faecal contamination,” as well as cockroaches and ants in rooms.
At one point “patients [were] observed crying for help with staff not responding for 30 minutes to over two hours,” it said.
Long-term care homes account for around 80 per cent of all the deaths attributed to coronavirus in Canada. The situation is particularly bad in Ontario and Quebec, the two most populous provinces, where around 1,400 soldiers are working.
“It is deeply disturbing. There are things in there that are extremely troubling and we need to take action,” he said.
“I was sad, I was shocked, I was disappointed, I was angry,” said Mr Trudeau, reiterating that Canada needed to do a much better job of taking care of its elderly population.
“It was the most heart-wrenching report I have read in my entire life,” said Ontario Premier Doug Ford, at one point on the verge of tears.
“I’m going to fix this system, no matter what it takes.”
Both Quebec and Ontario have asked that the soldiers stay on for longer than initially planned and the federal government is likely to agree, Mr Trudeau said.
Donald Tusk takes dig at Dominic Cummings The London street in which Mr Cummings lives has been a place of protests since his movements were revealed.(PA: Aaron Chown via AP)
As the furore surrounding UK PM Boris Johnson’s senior aide Dominic Cummings continues — with Scottish junior minister Douglas Ross resigning over Mr Cummings’ travel during the lockdown — one man sunk the boot in further.
Former president of the European Council Donald Tusk took Mr Cummings and his fellow Brexiteers to task over the incident with a cheeky titter broadside.
“This is apparently Cummings and his Brexit friends’ rule: that they leave when they should stay,” he wrote.
Mr Cummings had driven more than 400km from London during the lockdown to stay on his family’s farm and later defended his trip, saying his actions were reasonable as he was worried he would not have had childcare options if he and his wife were seriously ill.
He also said he had driven to an estate a further 50 kilometres away to test his eyesight before driving back to London.
Spain declares 10-day period of mourning It is the longest official mourning period in the country’s 40-year-old democracy.(AP: Manu Fernandez)
The Spanish Government has declared a 10-day official mourning period from Wednesday to honour the nearly 30,000 people who have died from coronavirus in one of the world’s worst-hit countries.
During the period, flags will fly at half-mast all over the country’s public buildings and navy ships.
The period will end with an official ceremony led by the head of state in remembrance of the 26,834 fatalities recorded in the country. Spain has reported a total of 235,400 confirmed cases of the disease.
The Government has also announced treasury will lend 14 billion euros ($23 billion) to the state-run social security to help it face costs related to the pandemic, a government spokeswoman said on Tuesday.
The loan will help social security to finance additional spending related to the coronavirus epidemic and offset lower contributions from workers who were either furloughed or lost their jobs.
Saudi Arabia allows mosques to open for Friday prayers Saudi Arabia has seen nearly 75,000 cases of COVID-19, and reported 399 deaths.(AP: Amr Nabil)
Saudi Arabia will allow mosques to open for Friday prayers as the kingdom eases restrictions on movement.
Mosques will be authorised to open 20 minutes before Friday prayers and should close 20 minutes after they finish, state TV said on Twitter, citing the ministry of Islamic affairs.
Restrictions will be lifted in three phases, according to officials, culminating in a curfew ending — with the exception of the holy city of Mecca — from June 21.
The haj and umrah pilgrimages, which attract millions of travellers from around the world, will remain suspended until further notice.
UK to start treating virus patients with remdesivir There are currently more than 260,000 confirmed cases of COVID-19 and almost 37,000 deaths in the UK.(AP: Frank Augstein)
Britain’s Health Minister Matt Hancock has touted the benefits of the drug remdesivir for COVID-19 patients, as the UK begins using it to treat coronavirus patients.
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“This is probably the biggest step forward in the treatment of coronavirus since the crisis began,” Health Minister Matt Hancock told a government news conference.
“These are very early steps, but we are determined to support the science and back the projects that show promise.”
Clinical trials testing the broad-spectrum antiviral to determine whether or not it is effective are still under way globally, but initial results have suggested it can speed up recovery time by four days.
“We are committed to ensuring that patients can have fast access to promising treatments for COVID-19,” said Dr June Raine, the chief executive of the UK’s Medicines and Health Regulatory Agency.
Remdesivir will be provided to patients free of charge by American biopharmaceutical Gilead, and will be for patients with a “high, unmet medical need” under a doctor’s supervision.
A study last month of more than 1,000 people severely impacted by coronavirus found those who got the drug were discharged from the hospital several days earlier than those who got a placebo.
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