• The head of the US agency in charge of developing a vaccine against the coronavirus says he was removed from his job for opposing the chloroquine treatment promoted by US President Donald Trump.

  • The head of the World Health Organization (WHO) says there are “worrying upward trends” in early epidemics in parts of Africa and Central and South America, warning that the “virus will be with us for a long time”.

  • More than 2.5 million people around the world have been diagnosed with the coronavirus. At least 178,000 have died with the United States accounting for about a quarter of all deaths, according to data compiled by Johns Hopkins University.

  • The United Nations is warning global hunger could double as a result of the coronavirus pandemic, putting 265 million people at risk.

Here are the latest updates:

Thursday, April 23

05:52 GMT – Vietnam relaxes virus restrictions as cases plateau

Communist Vietnam eased social distancing measures Thursday, with experts pointing to a decisive response involving mass quarantines and expansive contact tracing for the apparent success in containing the coronavirus.

Despite a long and porous border with China, the Southeast Asian nation has recorded just 268 virus cases and zero deaths, according to official tallies.

Although numbers tested for COVID-19 are relatively low and experts caution the authoritarian government’s health ministry is the sole source for the figures, they also say there is little reason to distrust them.

Vietnam Conduct COVID-19 Tests To Contain Spread Of The Coronavirus

Market staff wear face shields while taking information from vendors and labourers at Long Bien market for coronavirus disease (COVID-19) rapid test [Linh Pham/Getty Images]

05:35 GMT – US sees 1,738 new coronavirus deaths in 24 hours: Johns Hopkins

The United States recorded 1,738 deaths from the coronavirus in the past 24 hours, a lower toll than the day before, according to a running tally by Johns Hopkins University.

The new deaths bring the total number of COVID-19 fatalities in the US to 46,583 since the outbreak began there, by far the highest figures recorded by any country caught in the global pandemic.

05:20 GMT – Half of German firms using shortened working hours due to coronavirus – Ifo

Half of German companies are using the government’s short-time work facility as most see a decline in revenues due to the coronavirus outbreak, a survey published by the Ifo economic institute showed.

Short-time work is a form of state aid that allows employers to switch employees to shorter working hours during an economic downturn to keep them on the payroll. It has been widely used by industry, including Germany’s car sector.

Hello, this is Usaid Siddiqui in Doha taking over from my colleague Zaheen Rashid.


04:45 GMT – Using pandemic to erode human rights is ‘unacceptable’

Antonio Guterres, secretary-general of the United Nations, has warned that the coronavirus pandemic risks becoming a human rights crisis with some governments using the outbreak as an excuse to adopt repressive measures for unrelated reasons.

“This is unacceptable,” he says, unveiling a report on how human rights should guide the response and recovery to the health, social and economic crisis gripping the world.

“We see the disproportionate effects on certain communities, the rise of hate speech, the targeting of vulnerable groups, and the risks of heavy-handed security responses undermining the health response,” he adds. 

04:20 GMT – Philippines’s Duterte to decide whether to continue lockdown

Little more than a week remains before the scheduled end of the Philippines’s strict community quarantine measures to slow the spread of the coronavirus and the country is expected to find out how the government plans to transition out of the lockdown later on Thursday.

But has the Philippines flattened its curve?

Find out in this report from Ana P Santos in Manila.

04:09 GMT – Australia says all WHO members should support virus inquiry

Scott Morrison, the prime minister of Australia, said all WHO member nations should support a proposed independent review into the origins of the coronavirus and its spread.

“If you’re going to be a member of a club like the World Health Organization, there should be responsibilities and obligations attached to that,” Morrison told reporters in Canberra.

“We’d like the world to be safer when it comes to viruses … I would hope that any other nation, be it China or anyone else, would share that objective.”

Beijing has fiercely rejected calls for an inquiry, describing the efforts as US-led propaganda against China.

03:38 GMT – Red Cross calls for proper planning to handle dead bodies

The International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) has urged governments across the world to prepare and plan for mass casualties from the coronavirus, warning the number of deaths caused by the new coronavirus could overwhelm local capacity to handle dead bodies properly.

Failure to plan ahead risks people being buried in mass graves, with few records and little understanding of who died and where the body was taken.

“Mass fatality planning doesn’t mean there will be mass fatalities. But it’s imperative that plans are made and, if needed, carried out to help lower the pain that families and broader society feel in the face of a high death toll,” said Oran Finnegan, the head of the forensics unit at the ICRC.

Cemetery area for coronavirus disease (COVID-19) victims in Jakarta

Relatives wearing face masks stand next to graves of coronavirus disease (COVID-19) victims at a cemetery area provided by the government in Jakarta, Indonesia, on April 3, 2020 [Willy Kurniawan/ Reuters]

03:24 GMT – Top UK adviser says social distancing may last until year-end

Professor Chris Whitty, the British government’s chief medical adviser, has warned that social distancing measures in the United Kingdom may have to stay in place for the rest of the year.

“In the long run, the exit from this is going to be one of two things, ideally. One of which is a highly effective vaccine … or highly effective drugs so that people stop dying of this disease even if they catch it,” he says.

“Until we have those, and the probability of having those any time in the next calendar year are incredibly small and I think we should be realistic about that. We’re going to have to rely on other social measures, which of course are very socially disruptive as everyone is finding at the moment.”

Ministers will have to decide what mix of measures will have to remain in place once the UK goes through the peak of the coronavirus and beyond, he adds.

01:50 GMT – Italian cruise ship docked in Japan has 14 more coronavirus cases

Japan’s NHK broadcaster reported that 14 more cases of coronavirus infections have been confirmed on an Italian cruise ship docked for repairs at Japan’s Nagasaki prefecture.

The figure brings the total number of cases on the Costa Atlantica to at least 48.

The Italian cruise ship is carrying 623 crew members and no passengers, officials say.

An aerial view shows Italian cruise ship Costa Atlantica in Nagasaki, Japan

An aerial view shows Italian cruise ship Costa Atlantica in Nagasaki, southern Japan April 21, 2020 [Kyodo/via Reuters]

01:25 GMT – South Korea posts biggest GDP fall since 2008 financial crisis

South Korea said its economy shrank 1.4 percent during the first three months of the year, the worst contraction since late-2008, reflecting the enormous shock unleashed by the coronavirus on domestic demand and trade.

The Bank of Korea said domestic consumption decreased 6.4 percent from the previous quarter as people, while staying at home to avoid virus transmissions, spent less on restaurants, leisure activities, clothing and cars.

Amid worldwide lockdowns, exports shrank 2 percent despite a seasonal rebound in shipments of semiconductors, one of the country’s major export items.

01:12 GMT – China reports 10 new coronavirus cases in mainland

Health authorities have reported 10 new coronavirus cases in mainland China, down from 30 a day earlier as the number of so-called imported cases involving travellers from overseas declined.

The National Health Commission said six of the new COVID-19 cases confirmed on Wednesday were imported, down from 23 a day earlier. 

The total number of confirmed coronavirus cases for mainland China now stands at 82,798. No new COVID-19 deaths were reported, leaving the toll unchanged at 4,632.

00:49 GMT – Trump downplays threat of coronavirus returning

Trump has played down the possibility that the coronavirus could be worse this winter in the northern hemisphere despite medical experts’ warnings that COVID-19 could combine with the flu to make a more complicated return to the US.

“It’s not going to be what we’ve gone through, in any way, shape or form,” Trump said.

“If it comes back, though, it won’t be coming back in the form that it was. It will be coming back in smaller doses that we can contain,” he continued. “You could have some embers of corona … (but) we will not go through what we went through for the last two months.”

00:45 GMT – Trump ‘disagrees strongly’ with Georgia’s plan to reopen economy

Trump said he told Georgia Governor Brian Kemp that he “disagreed strongly” with Kemp’s decision to begin allowing some nonessential businesses to soon reopen.

“The people of Georgia … have been strong, resolute, but at the same time he must do what he thinks is right,” Trump said of Kemp, a Republican.

“I want him to do what he thinks is right. But I disagree with him on what he’s doing… But I think (opening) spas and beauty salons and tattoo parlours and barbershops in phase one … it’s just too soon.”

In addition to pushback from Trump, Kemp’s plan to begin cracking open the Georgia economy faces two key hurdles – the state is struggling to increase testing for new coronavirus infections and boost tracking of those in contact with infected people.

00:19 GMT – US vaccine expert ‘removed for opposing Trump-backed chloroquine’

Dr Rick Bright, the head of the US agency in charge of developing a vaccine against coronavirus, said he was removed from his job for opposing the chloroquine treatment promoted by Trump.

The director of the Biomedical Advanced Research and Development Authority (BARDA) was moved to a lesser position in the National Institutes of Health on Tuesday.

“I believe this transfer was in response to my insistence that the government invest the billions of dollars allocated by Congress to address the COVID-19 pandemic into safe and scientifically vetted solutions, and not in drugs, vaccines and other technologies that lack scientific merit,” he said in a statement.

Bright said he will be asking the inspector general of the Department of Health and Human Services to investigate the Trump administration’s politicisation of BARDA and its pressuring of scientists to favour companies with political connections.

00:13 GMT – Canada provinces seek military help to combat pandemic

Canada’s Ontario and Quebec provinces have asked the military to help overwhelmed staff at elderly care homes hard-hit by the coronavirus pandemic.

The requests came as Canada surpassed 2,000 COVID-19 deaths – half of them at long-term care facilities.

Ontario Premier Doug Ford said soldiers are needed at five of the most affected care homes in the province, saying the coronavirus in these places is spreading like a “raging wildfire”.

Francois Legault, Quebec Premier, told reporters he asked Ottawa to send 1,000 troops, saying “it will help us a lot to have lots of extra hands to do tasks that are less medical and help the staff”.

Hello, I’m Zaheena Rasheed in Male, Maldives, with Al Jazeera’s continuing coverage of the coronavirus pandemic. You can find updates from yesterday, April 22, here. 

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