Global deaths top 200,000, WHO says ‘no proof’ of antibody
The world's coronavirus death toll passed 200,000 early this morning Australian time as the number of infections approached three million.
In Europe, the UK became the latest nation to report it has passed more than 20,000 COVID-19 deaths, a figure it described last month as its best-case scenario.
It stormed past the unwanted milestone when it recorded another shocking daily death toll of 813.
The tally means Britain has become the fifth country to pass 20,000 deaths in hospital from Covid-19 - behind the US, Italy, Spain and France. The US is fast closing in on one million infections.
UK Home Secretary Priti Patel aslo urged her country to "stay strong" and said people should stay at home for the foreseeable future.
"Our instruction remains clear, people should stay at home, protect the NHS (National Health Service) and save lives," Ms Patel said.
"We know that people are frustrated but we are not out of danger. It is imperative that we continue to follow the rules."
As the death toll rises, the government is facing growing criticism over its response to the pandemic. It was slower to impose a lockdown than European peers and is struggling to raise its testing capacity.
The development comes as UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson prepares to return to work at 10 Downing Street this week, three weeks after leaving intensive care after being struck down with COVID-19.
Over the past week he has been increasing his daily walks and gradually raising his workload, culminating in regular calls with cabinet ministers as well as President Trump and the Queen. He was "back to his normal, ebullient self", Matt Hancock, the health secretary, said. Mr Trump said that the prime minister "sounded incredible".
Ministers think he is likely to be back for prime minister's questions on Wednesday, although there are some suggestions that he could return as soon as Monday. He is due to consult his doctors this weekend.
Meanwhile a six-month-old baby who was being treated for COVID-19 received a guard of honour while being moved out of isolation at a hospital in the UK on Friday.
The hospital said baby Erin was in an isolation room with her mother, Emma, for two weeks while undergoing treatment for the highly contagious virus. This video (see above) shows Erin receiving a guard of honour from staff.
"Today, little Erin beat COVID-19 after testing negative," the hospital said.
"She is still being treated for other conditions at Alder Hey, but is making good progress."
WHO CASTS SERIOUS DOUBT ON GREAT COVID-19 HOPE
The World Health Organisation (WHO) has shocked nations devastated by coronavirus by casting doubt on one of their greatest hopes to ease the crisis.
Countries like the US, the UK, France, Spain and Italy have all been hoping that people who have contracted the virus but survived would develop antibodies making them immune from getting COVID-19 again.
This would basically give survivors an "immunity passport" to let them get back out into the community and back to work.
But the WHO has stunned health experts around the world by saying their is no evidence to back the antibody theory.
"Some governments have suggested that the detection of antibodies … could serve as the basis for an 'immunity passport' or 'risk-free certificate'," the WHO said.
"There is currently no evidence that people who have recovered from COVID-19 and have antibodies are protected from a second infection."
If WHO is proven right, it is crushing news for countries like the US which has had more than 50,000 deaths and over 900,000 infections.
In particular, devastated New York hoped to use antibody testing to try to protect frontline healthcare works in hospitals.
Preliminary antibody testing suggests one in every five New Yorkers have had the virus, leading the state's health commissioner, Dr Howard Zucker, to say he hopes testing can help get people out of their homes.
"It is a way to say this person had the disease and they can go back into the workforce," Dr Zucker said. "A strong test like we have can tell you that you have antibodies."
A city health official, however, expressed skepticism about the testing earlier this month.
Antibody tests "may produce false-negative or false-positive results," Demetre Daskalakis, a deputy health commissioner, wrote to healthcare providers.
ER medic Dr Tsion Firew from Columbia University said the WHO was right to say that hope was not evidence.
"We hope so (that someone who recovers cannot be infected again), but we don't know from the evidence we have so far."
An Iraqi vet, she said the impact of the virus on New York "felt like COVID-19 was a bomb dropped on our city. The bombs you cannot see, but you can see the grave impact it is having on the population."
US HEATWAVE TESTS STAY-AT-HOME ORDERS
As summer arrived early in California, thousands of people headed for the beach, many of them not only defying staya-at-home orders, but also ignoring social distancing.
Amid the global pandemic that's killed more than 1600 people in the Golden State, an estimated 40,000 people hung out at Newport Beach and thousands of others spent time at Huntington Beach on Friday.
Dozens of areas of Southern California saw temperatures of 32 degrees or higher before noon, and heat advisories went into effect from the Central Coast south through Los Angeles County and down through interior areas to the southern US border with Mexico.
"We're seeing a huge increase in crowds that we would normally see out here in the middle of the summer," said Brian O'Rourke, the lifeguarding battalion chief.
Newport Beach is located in Orange County - where beaches have not been closed by local officials, but restrictions have been put in place to keep people safe.
Lifeguards believe many of those getting some sunshine traveled from Los Angeles and San Diego, both counties in which beaches have been closed.
Dr Barbara Ferrer, director of the Los Angeles County Department of Public Health, pleaded to those traveling around for some beach time: "We don't need you to go out and get infected in another county and then bring yourself, infected, back here to LA County."
KTTV reports many people at the beach were not practicing social distancing and were not wearing masks.
Lisa Mangat, director of California State Parks, told the OCR: "With the warm weather, it's only natural people want to make use of parks and beaches, but we are encouraging them to stay home."
Governor Gavin Newsom said last week it'd be "unrealistic" to think California could go back to what many considered a "normal" way of life before the pandemic - and said he fears the worst might not be over.
"If we all pull back, we could see a second wave that makes this pale in comparison," the Democratic governor said.
NY GOV: WE'VE HAD 56 DAYS, OUR ANCESTORS SUFFERED FOR YEARS
New York Governor Andrew Cuomo has urged people growing restless in lockdown that previous generations were forced to live under testing conditions for years during wars and other crises.
Mr Cuomo announced New York had another 437 COVID-19 deaths yesterday and said he understood people were desperate to get back to"normal" - but he reminded them that without social distancing, his devastated state could have lost many thousands more lives.
"Generations are called upon to deal with high levels of difficulty," he said.
"We are called upon to deal with this crisis; the 1918 pandemic went on for two years, we're on day 56."
Mr Cuomo said the Great Depression and the world wars last for years, not weeks or months, and America still managed to come out the other side in a strong position.
"I get 56 days is a long time and I get that its the worst thing that we have experienced in modern history, I get that," he said. "But just a little perspective, not that it makes our situation any better but it gives you a sense perspective.
"What did we accomplish? 100,000 fewer infections - that's what 56 days of our relative living through hell accomplished."
America has seen increasing protest activity around the country as people take to the streets to demand to be allowed to get back to work and get on with their lives.
CHINA LASHES AUSTRALIA OVER CALLS FOR INQUIRY
China has accused Australia of "ideological bias and political games" over PM Scott Morrison's calls for an independent inquiry into the COVID-19 pandemic.
China's Foreign Ministry spokesman Geng Shuang said the proposed inquiry was a political move that would undermine global efforts to tackle the virus.
"At such a critical juncture, it is highly irresponsible to resort to politically motivated suspicion and accusation," Mr Geng said.
"We advise the Australian side to put aside ideological bias and political games, focus on the welfare of the Australian people and global public health security, follow the international community's collective will for cooperation, and contribute to the global cooperation in fighting the virus, instead of doing things to the contrary."
Mr Morrison and Foreign Affairs Minister Marise Payne have called for a "transparent international review into COVID-19".
Mr Morrison, who has spoken about the proposed inquiry to US President Donald Trump and other world leaders, said complying with such an inquiry should be considered a "responsibility" by World Health Organisation members.
The US has halted funding to the WHO until a review is completed into its handling of the pandemic.
Even a Democratic opponent, New York Governor Andrew Cuomo, has supported Mr Trump's demands for answers from the WHO.
SRI LANKA IN 24-HOUR LOCKDOWN, 30,000 ARRESTED
Sri Lanka has reimposed a countrywide 24-hour curfew after a jump in coronavirus cases.
The 46 new infections reported Friday - 30 were navy sailors on the hunt for civilians evading quarantine - were the highest in a day, the Associated Press reported.
Sri Lanka has confirmed 420 cases and seven deaths; the south Asian island nation has increased testing.
The new curfew remains in effect until Monday. Police have arrested more than 30,000 violators.
Meanwhile, in Poland people isolated in quarantine are upset about having to use a new government app that forces them to self regular "selfies" to authorities to prove they are remaining in place.
People arriving in Poland suspected of being at risk of having the virus by Polish health authorities must install the Home Quarantine app.
It prompts the user to take a straight-face real-time selfie at the quarantine address provided to the authorities.
By using geolocation and facial recognition algorithms, the Government can tell whether you're at your quarantine residence or not. The app prompts you to take a selfie at random times, sometimes multiple times a day - and you have 20 minutes to respond. Police respond in instances where people do not send the required selfie in time.
Users are upset about what they see as an invasion of privacy.
AUSSIE DEATHS RISE AS SOCIAL DISTANCING IGNORED
Australia's coronavirus death toll has risen to 80 as the nation commemorated Anzac Day at home due to social distancing measures.
Tasmania recorded its tenth COVID-19 fatality with a 90-year-old man dying at the Mersey Community Hospital in Latrobe.
Nine of Tasmania's deaths have been in the northwest, where an outbreak has been responsible for more than 130 of the island's 207 cases and earlier this month forced the closure of Burnie's two hospitals.
Almost 6700 cases have now been recorded nationwide, a relatively modest increase on the 6565 a week ago. At the peak of the crisis at the end of March, cases were rising by over 200 a day.
There were 12 new cases in NSW, four of which were recorded at a western Sydney nursing home.
Caddens' Anglicare Newmarch House - where a fifth person died on Friday morning - has now recorded 48 infections, making it NSW's largest ongoing coronavirus cluster.
NSW Health Minister Brad Hazzard described the virus as "cagey", "energetic" and "sneaky", and urged members of the public to continue adhering to social distancing restrictions.
"If people become too relaxed or complacent, the virus can take off," he told reporters.
"We know we're doing well, but don't let it lull you into a false sense of security." Victoria has recorded just three new cases to a total of 1346. Fourteen of these have been connected to Albert Road Clinic, a private 80-bed psychiatric facility run by Ramsay Health Care.
Victoria's Chief Health Officer Brett Sutton said the clinic had effectively been shut down.
Anyone who attended on or after March 24 is at risk of developing COVID-19. In Queensland, two new cases brought the total to 1026, while in Western Australian there was only one new case bringing the state's total to 549. In the ACT, cases rose by one to 106, while in South Australia there were no new cases for a third day in a row, keeping the total at 438.
Social distancing measures meant Anzac Day services were either viewed on television, through social media channels or commemorated on the drives of people's homes.
The televised Dawn Service at the Australia War Memorial in Canberra was reduced to a small number of dignitaries, including Prime Minister Scott Morrison, Governor-General David Hurley, New Zealand High Commissioner Dame Annette King and Opposition Leader Anthony Albanese.
HUNT REJECTS MASKS FROM CHINA
Meanwhile, federal Health Minister Greg Hunt has knocked back the offer of protective medical masks at inflated prices from Wuhan, China, the starting point of the virus.
"What we offered and were able to secure was longer-term contracts for volume and time, not one-off inflated purchases," he told Nine newspapers.
The minister said that early in the spread of virus, a procurement team together with high level diplomatic efforts had locked in supply lines of masks, test kits and ventilators.
In the private sector the huge increase in demand has led to claims of profiteering, with prices for N95 masks rising sharply.
LOCKDOWNS START TO EASE IN ASIA
A tentative easing around the world of coronavirus lockdowns gathered pace Saturday with the reopening in India of neighbourhood stores that many of the country's 1.3 billion people rely on for everything from cold drinks to mobile phone data cards.
The relaxation of the super-strict Indian lockdown came with major caveats. It did not apply to hundreds of quarantined towns and other hot spots that have been hit hardest by the outbreak that has killed at least 775 people in India and terrified its multitudes of poor who live hand-to-mouth in slum conditions too crowded for social distancing.
Shopping malls also remained closed across the country. Still, for families that run small stores, being able to earn again brought relief.
"This is a good decision," said Amit Sharma, an architect. "We have to open a few things and let the economy start moving. The poor people should have some source of income. This virus is going to be a long-term problem." Last week, India also allowed manufacturing and farming activities to resume in rural areas to ease the economic plight of millions of daily wage-earners left without work by the country's lockdown imposed March 24. India's stay-home restrictions have allowed people out of their homes only to buy food, medicine or other essentials.
Elsewhere in Asia, authorities on Saturday reported no new deaths for the 10th straight day in China, where the virus originated.
And South Korea reported just 10 fresh cases, the eighth day in a row its daily jump came below 20. There were no new deaths for the second straight day. In Sri Lanka, however, the lockdown was tightened, not eased, confirming a pattern of one-step-forward, one-step-back also seen elsewhere as countries battle the pandemic, trying to juggle public health against the health of shut- down economies.
Sri Lanka had partially lifted a month long curfew during daytime hours in more than two thirds of the country. But it reimposed a 24-hour lockdown countrywide after a surge Friday of 46 new infections, the highest increase in a day on the Indian Ocean island. The new curfew remains in effect until Monday.
Pope Francis appealed to people to pray for funeral home workers, saying: "What they do is so heavy and sad. They really feel the pain of this pandemic."
EUROPE'S PLANS FOR EASING RESTRICTIONS
In Europe, Belgium sketched out plans for a progressive lockdown relaxation, starting May 4 with the resumption of non-essential treatment in hospitals and the reopening of textile and sewing shops so people can make face masks.
Bars and restaurants would be allowed to start reopening June 8, although Belgian Prime Minister Sophie Wilmes also cautioned that a surge in infections could alter the timeline and that "nothing is set in stone."
In France, the government is preparing to gingerly ease one of Europe's strictest lockdowns from May 11.
Denmark has reopened schools for the youngest grades.
Kids in Spain will get their first fresh air in weeks on Sunday when a total ban on letting them outside is relaxed.
After 44 days indoors, they'll be allowed to take one toy or scooter with them but not play together for the adult-supervised one-hour excursions no further than one kilometre from home.
Without a tried-and-tested action plan for how to pull countries out of coronavirus lockdown, the world is seeing a patchwork of approaches.
Schools reopen in one country, stay closed in others; face masks are mandatory in some places, a recommendation elsewhere.
AMERICAN STATES REOPEN AS OTHERS STAY SHUT
In the US, Republican governors in Georgia and Oklahoma allowed salons, spas and barbershops to reopen, while Alaska opened the way for restaurants to resume dine-in service and retail shops and other businesses to open their doors, all with limitations. Some Alaska municipalities chose to maintain stricter rules.
Though limited in scope, and subject to social-distancing restrictions, the reopenings marked a symbolic milestone in the debate raging in the United States and beyond as to how quickly political leaders should lift economically devastating lockdown orders.
In Michigan, Democratic Governor Gretchen Whitmer lengthened her stay-at-home order through May 15, while lifting restrictions so some businesses can reopen and the public can participate in outdoor activities such as golf and motorised boating. Michigan has nearly 3,000 deaths related to COVID-19, behind only New York and New Jersey.
During a White House press briefing Friday, President Donald Trump spoke optimistically of the economy but also asked people to continue social distancing and using face coverings.
The same day, Trump signed a $484 billion bill to aid employers and hospitals under stress from the pandemic. Over the past five weeks, roughly 26 million people have filed for jobless aid, or about 1 in 6 US workers.
Trump also said his widely criticised comments suggesting people can ingest or inject disinfectant to fight COVID-19 were an attempt at sarcasm.
Originally published as Global deaths top 200,000, WHO says 'no proof' of antibody safety