The United Kingdom has recorded its deadliest day yet in the coronavirus crisis, while New York’s Mayor has warned hundreds of coronavirus deaths a day are going uncounted.
This story is being updated regularly. You can also stay informed with the latest episode of the Coronacast podcast.
Thursday’s key stories:
Johnson improves on UK’s deadliest day
British Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s condition has improved but he remains in intensive care, as the UK experienced its deadliest day from the coronavirus pandemic.
Mr Johnson, 55, was admitted to the intensive care unit at London’s St Thomas’ Hospital on Monday night after having trouble breathing.
Chancellor of the Exchequer Rishi Sunak told Tuesday’s daily press conference that the PM had been sitting up in bed and “engaging positively” with his medical team.
“The latest from the hospital is that the Prime Minister remains in intensive care where his condition is improving,” Mr Sunak said.
“I can also tell you that he has been sitting up in bed and been engaging positively with the clinical team.”
Earlier on Wednesday Downing Street said Mr Johnson was “clinically stable” and had been receiving oxygen but had not been placed on a ventilator.
The update on Mr Johnson’s condition came as the UK recorded its highest daily death toll of 938 people, taking the total number of coronavirus deaths to 7,097.
More than 5,000 additional people tested positive for coronavirus during the same period, but that number and the amount of hospital admissions were beginning to plateau, the medical director of the National Health Service, Stephen Powis, said.
Despite that Mr Sunak hosed down hopes the current lockdown in the UK would be lessened, with Wales’s First Minister earlier on Wednesday announcing it would be extending its lockdown by at least a week.
The British Government imposed a lockdown on March 23, initially for three weeks, but there is little chance of the measures being eased.
“We need to start seeing the numbers coming down,” Health Minister Edward Argar told the BBC.
“That’s when you have a sense, when that’s sustained over a period of time, that you can see it coming out of that.”
New York’s true death toll higher than reported
New York City’s Mayor says the true death toll in his city is even higher than official statistics suggest, as the count does not include people who died at home without ever being tested for the virus.
“We’re talking about something like 100, 200 people per day,” Mayor Bill de Blasio told CNN of the yet to be recorded COVID-19 deaths.
Across the US, the death toll reached about 13,000, with approximately 400,000 confirmed infections — some of the deadliest hot spots were Detroit, New Orleans and the New York metropolitan area.
Mr de Blasio said New York’s black and Hispanic communities had a disproportionately high number of coronavirus deaths, and the city was starting an outreach campaign for those residents.
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Preliminary data indicates that black people account for 28 per cent of the city’s COVID-19 death toll, even though they are just 22 per cent of the city’s population, while Hispanic people are 34 per cent of the city’s virus death toll and 29 per cent of its population.
“It’s sick. It’s troubling. It’s wrong. And we are going to fight back with everything we’ve got,” Mr de Blasio said.
JobKeeper coronavirus package passes Parliament
Up to 6 million Australians are set to benefit from a $1,500 per fortnight wage subsidy, after Federal Parliament approved the Government’s $130 billion JobKeeper legislation.
Payments will be made to employers for up to six months during the coronavirus-fuelled economic downturn, starting from next month.
It is the single largest piece of Government spending in Australian history, and more than 730,000 businesses have already registered with the ATO for access to the scheme.
“This is a major demand on the public purse, but we have put ourselves into a position where Australia can meet these costs,” Treasurer Josh Frydenberg said in a late-night press conference.
The Opposition backed the legislation after it failed to expand the JobKeeper program to include 1.1 million more casual workers and temporary visa holders, leading to accusations from Senate crossbenchers Labor was rolling over.
Mr Frydenberg argued many casual workers would benefit from the doubling of unemployment benefits, known as the JobSeeker payment.
Spain hits 14,500 coronavirus deaths
Spain’s overnight death toll from the coronavirus has edged higher again, with 757 deaths in the previous 24 hours, up from 743 people the previous day.
That brings the total death toll to 14,555, the world’s second highest after Italy.
However, Health Minister Salvador Illa said the numbers were still consistent with a slowdown, as the daily percentage pace of increases has roughly halved from the end of March to about 5 per cent.
“There are no good numbers when it comes to deaths … [but] we are now in the slowdown phase,” he said.
Bruce Aylward, senior advisor to the World Health Organisation (WHO) director-general, said Spain’s outbreak was “definitely slowing” but he cautioned against over-optimism.
Overall, cases rose to 146,690 from 140,510 on Tuesday.
EU fails to agree on COVID-19 rescue package
European Union finance ministers failed in all-night talks to agree on more economic support for their coronavirus-stricken economies, spurring Spain to warn the bloc’s future was on the line.
A stand-off between ailing southern European Union states, led by Italy, and fiscally conservative northern European countries, led by the Netherlands, blocked progress.
“This is a crucial issue on which the European Union’s future is at stake,” Spanish Agriculture Minister Luis Planas said of the fraught talks.
While the ministers sparred over more economic aid, the European Central Bank warned them that the bloc may need fiscal measures worth up to 1.5 trillion euros ($2.6 trillion) this year to tackle the economic free-fall caused by the COVID-19 epidemic.
The EU has already relaxed limits on state aid and public spending to help its 27 member states combat the slump and restart growth.
But it has struggled to present a united front in the face of the epidemic, with countries disagreeing over how much financial aid is needed, fighting over supplies of medical equipment, and imposing emergency border controls inside Europe’s Schengen zone of passport-free travel.
“Shame on you, shame on Europe. Stop this clownish show,” French Finance Minister Bruno Le Maire was quoted as telling the feuding finance ministers, according to one official who participated in the talks.
Homelessness risk in US amid coronavirus
The economic blow of the coronavirus could push 1.5 million US families to the brink of homelessness, housing experts have warned, accelerating the spread of the pandemic in overcrowded homes.
Those families would join some 8 million existing US households on the verge of losing their homes, and who pay half or more of their income on rent.
“It’s just a shocking number of people in our country who are losing jobs, who are losing hours, who are losing income,” said Diane Yentel, head of the National Low Income Housing Coalition.
The number of people seeking US unemployment benefits spiked last week to a record high of more than 6 million, and that did not include workers in the informal economy who are not eligible for jobless benefits.
Those families may spend 50 per cent to 70 per cent of their income on housing costs, and often cram into crowded rental spaces with relatives, Ms Yentel said.
People without secure homes struggle with social distancing, hygiene precautions and stay-at-home orders put into place to help stem the spread of the pandemic, the experts said.
Burton, Nike donating masks for COVID-19 fight
The Burton snowboard company is donating 500,000 respirator masks to hospitals in the US northeast, harnessing the company’s worldwide footprint to help put a dent in the country’s lagging stockpile.
The first 48,000 masks have been delivered from a manufacturer in China, and are earmarked for hospitals across Vermont and New Hampshire.
The rest of the masks are scheduled to arrive within the next two weeks, and at least half will go to particularly hard-hit areas of New York and Boston.
“It’s absolutely insane that a snowboard company has to do this because we’re the ones who have the relationships in China,” CEO Donna Burton Carpenter said.
“But it’s something we’re more than glad to be doing.”
Apparel brand Nike has also been working to shift some of its manufacturing capacity to the production of personal protective equipment.
Lauren Thomas on Twitter: Here is Nike’s full-face shield, designed to defend against COVID-19.
Working alongside the Oregon Health & Science University, the brand says it has developed face shields and respirator lenses, which have been provided to healthcare providers in the state.
The US Health and Human Services Department recently surveyed 323 hospitals around the country, and reported widespread shortages of personal protective equipment and uncertainty about their availability from government sources.
WHO hits back at Trump claims
The World Heath Organisation has responded to US President Donald Trump’s threat to cut its funding by reminding him about the current state of the COVID-19 pandemic, saying “now is not the time to cut back on funding.”
Airing his thoughts on Twitter, Mr Trump threatened to freeze US funding to the WHO, saying the international group “really blew it” on the coronavirus pandemic.
Donald Trump on Twitter: The W.H.O. really blew it. For some reason, funded largely by the United States, yet very China centric. We will be giving that a good look.
He then repeated the accusations against the UN health organisation at a White House news briefing.
“…We’re going to put a hold on money spent to the WHO. We’re going to put a very powerful hold on it and we’re going to see,” Mr Trump said.
But WHO officials defended their organisation against Mr Trump’s claims.
“We are still in the acute phase of a pandemic so now is not the time to cut back on funding,” said Dr Hans Kluge, WHO Regional Director for Europe.
Dr Bruce Aylward, senior adviser to the WHO Director-General, also defended the UN agency’s relationship with China, saying its work with Beijing authorities was important to understand the outbreak, which began in Wuhan.
“It was absolutely critical in the early part of this outbreak to have full access to everything possible, to get on the ground and work with the Chinese to understand this,” he told reporters.