Australia’s federal politicians won’t get a pay rise as coronavirus hits the economy, the US has passed 2 million cases of coronavirus, and a British epidemiologist has explained the cost of not locking the UK down earlier.
This story will be updated throughout Thursday.
Thursday’s key moments:
Pay freeze for Australian federal politicians
The Remuneration Tribunal has decided federal politicians won’t get a pay rise this year because of the exceptional economic circumstances brought about by coronavirus.
It will be the first time since 2016 that politicians’ pay hasn’t increased by 2 per cent on July 1.
The tribunal said it would usually rely on the budget outlook to help determine whether the public purse could afford to pay politicians more — only this year’s budget has been delayed until October.
Prime Minister Scott Morrison has previously declined to request a pay cut, but the tribunal said letters from senior ministers helped to firm its view that a pay freeze should be implemented.
“The tribunal’s primary focus is to provide competitive and equitable remuneration that is appropriate to the responsibilities and experience required of the roles,” it said.
In April, New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern and her government ministers took 20 per cent pay cuts for six months because of the pandemic.
Melbourne protester tests positive for coronavirus
A person who attended a Black Lives Matter protest in Melbourne on Saturday is among eight new coronavirus cases in Victoria.
Chief Health Officer Brett Sutton said the man in his 30s was “very unlikely” to have acquired the virus at the protest and was not showing symptoms on the day, but he may have been infectious at the demonstration.
An estimated 10,000 people attended the anti-racism protest in Melbourne, which was calling for an end to Aboriginal deaths in custody.
Further protests are being planned for coming days, but Prime Minister Scott Morrison says people who breach public health orders should be charged.
Labor leader Anthony Albanese, whose multicultural affairs spokesman is calling for a national action plan to combat racism, backed the Prime Minister’s calls for protesters to stay home.
US passes 2 million confirmed cases of coronavirus
More than 2 million people have now been infected by coronavirus in the United States, according to a Johns Hopkins University database.
The country accounts for more than a quarter of the world’s 7.3 million infections. Nearly 113,000 deaths have been reported there, accounting for more than a quarter of global fatalities.
With restrictions easing in the United States, cases are on the rise in 21 out of the 50 states.
US President Donald Trump is planning to hold his first rally of the COVID-19 era next Friday in Tulsa, Oklahoma, with more events planned for Florida, Texas and Arizona.
The rallies often draw tens of thousands of people but have been on hiatus since March 2.
There have also been mass protests across the country following the death of George Floyd, an unarmed black man who died in police custody in Minneapolis on May 25.
Anthony Fauci says WHO walked back asymptomatic comments because they were ‘not correct’
Anthony Fauci, the US Government’s top expert in infectious diseases, says the World Health Organization had to backtrack on its statement about asymptomatic spread of the coronavirus being rare because that simply “was not correct.”
The WHO’s technical lead on the pandemic has tried to clear up “misunderstandings” about comments she made that were widely understood to suggest that people without COVID-19 symptoms rarely transmit the virus.
Maria Van Kerkhove said she was referring only to a few studies, not a complete picture.
In response, Dr Fauci said the range of ways symptoms manifest was “extraordinary” but added there was “no evidence” to suggest that people with the virus but no signs of illness could not infect others.
“In fact, the evidence that we have, given the percentage of people, which is about 25 to 45 per cent of the totality of infected people, likely are without symptoms,” he said.
“And we know from epidemiological studies that they can transmit to someone who is uninfected, even when they’re without symptoms.
“So to make a statement — to say that’s a rare event — was not correct. And that’s the reason why the WHO walked that back.”
UK death toll could have been cut in half, epidemiologist claims
A scientist whose modelling helped set Britain’s coronavirus strategy says the country’s death toll could have been cut in half if lockdown had been introduced a week earlier.
Neil Ferguson, an epidemiologist at Imperial College London, told politicians that when key decisions were being made in March, scientists underestimated how widely the virus had spread in the UK.
He told Parliament’s Science and Technology Committee that “the epidemic was doubling every three to four days before lockdown interventions were introduced”, rather than the five to six days estimated at the time.
Britain went into lockdown on March 23.
Professor Ferguson said that “had we introduced lockdown measures a week earlier, we would have reduced the final death toll by at least a half”.
Meanwhile, British Prime Minister Boris Johnson announced that adults living alone or single-parent adults could form “support bubbles” with another household from Saturday.
Members in the same two-household bubble can meet, indoors or out, without remaining two metres apart.
It is an exception to social distancing rules that will allow some grandparents to hug their grandchildren again and couples who do not live together to be intimate without breaking the law.
Brazilian state reopens despite spike in deaths
Brazil’s most populous state, Sao Paulo, has reported a record number of COVID-19 deaths for the second day running on Wednesday local time.
The spike comes as its metropolis has allowed shops to resume business and prepared to reopen its malls.
Sao Paulo, the epicentre of the pandemic in Brazil, recorded 340 new deaths in the last 24 hours, raising the state’s confirmed death toll to 9,862.
This accounts for a quarter of the country’s total fatalities, the governor’s office said.
That did not stop shoppers flocking to a prominent shopping district where around half of the businesses were open on Wednesday.
Most shops in Sao Paulo have been shut since March.
As shoppers packed the streets, stores provided hand sanitiser and only allowed in people wearing masks.
“I’m afraid because the virus is growing, but at the same time we have to go to work and buy things to sell, though always protected by a mask,” said Vanessa Pereira, a saleswoman.
The city’s malls will reopen on Thursday for four hours a day after agreeing with authorities on reducing public access as a precaution against the contagion.
Gladys Berejiklian announces easing of restrictions in NSW
NSW Premier Gladys Berejiklian has announced further easing of coronavirus restrictions, with up to 20 people allowed in households around the state from Saturday.
Up to 20 people will also be allowed to gather in groups outside from Saturday.
Food courts will also be open from Saturday.
“This is based on the health advice, given the data and how well we’ve been doing,” Ms Berejiklian said.
Community transmission of COVID-19 has flatlined over the past two weeks in NSW, with no new cases recorded.
“We cannot forget the virus is still amongst us,” Ms Berejiklian said.
PNG searching for 66 citizens who should be in quarantine
Papua New Guinea has threatened to cancel the passports of any of its returning citizens that flout quarantine rules, after 66 people who were supposed to be in quarantine could not be located.
PNG has only recorded eight cases of COVID-19, with all patients having recovered, and is seeking to declare the nation coronavirus free.
It has been 44 days since the last case, however, antibody testing has indicated some level of community transmission.
Of the more than 8,600 antibody tests, 190 tested positive, meaning they may have had COVID-19 and recovered from it.
PNG correctional services are being brought in to monitor returning citizens in quarantine, after the 66 people were found to have left early.
“Not only are they in breach of health and COVID-19 quarantine protocols and directions contained in Emergency Order No. 3 but they place the lives of other Papua New Guineas at risk if they are carrying the COVID-19 virus,” said Police Commissioner David Manning.
“We are now trying to locate them. They have shown that they have no regard for the safety of other people.”
Moscow records 5,000 deaths in May
Officials in Moscow have announced there were more than 5,000 coronavirus-related deaths in the Russian capital last month.
Mayor Sergey Sobyanin said in a statement that 5,200 people had died because of COVID-19 in May.
He added about 1,000 people died of other causes but COVID-19 had “acted as a catalyst”.
Russian officials have started giving detailed reports on virus-related deaths in an effort to dispel doubts about the country’s low pandemic death toll and to counter allegations numbers were manipulated for political reasons.
Russia currently has the third-highest number of confirmed virus cases and only 6,358 officially reported deaths.
According to experts, only deaths directly caused by COVID-19 and confirmed by a positive test make the official count.
No ‘grand splendour’ for Tokyo 2021
Chief executive of the planning committee for the Tokyo Olympics, Toshiro Muto, is managing expectations for the Games after they were postponed until next July.
The Games, originally scheduled to start next month, were postponed for a year in March by the International Olympic Committee (IOC) and the Japanese Government, due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
Since then, organisers have been looking at ways to reduce costs and streamline the event.
Following a virtual presentation to the IOC Executive Board in Lausanne, Tokyo organisers stressed the need to simplify the Games without going into details about how this would be done.
“The Games will not be a grand splendour but will be a simplified Games,” Mr Muto said.
He said more than 200 ideas to simplify and reduce costs for the rescheduled Games had been discussed but gave no timeframe as to when these changes might be implemented.
Johnson & Johnson to start human vaccine trials
Johnson & Johnson is aiming to start human trials of its potential COVID-19 vaccine in the second half of July, two months earlier than planned, as drug makers race to develop a shot for the deadly respiratory disease.
The company has already signed deals with the US Government to create enough manufacturing capacity to produce more than 1 billion doses of its vaccine through 2021.
There are currently no approved treatments or vaccines for COVID-19, the illness caused by the new coronavirus that has killed more than 410,000 people globally.
The company’s study will test the vaccine against a placebo and assess the shot’s safety and immune response in 1,045 healthy people aged between 18 and 55 years, as well as those 65 years and older.
The trial will take place in the United States and Belgium.
There are currently about 10 coronavirus vaccines being tested in humans and experts have predicted that a safe and effective vaccine could take 12 to 18 months from the start of development.
France ends emergency laws but can still limit movements and gatherings
France will end special government powers brought in to deal with the coronavirus pandemic on July 10 but it will retain the ability to curb gatherings and freedom of movement for four months.
As coronavirus infections spiralled out of control in March, France passed “state of health emergency” legislation which gave the Government the power to restrict civil liberties by decree without parliamentary approval.
With data showing the virus may be fading and the number of people in intensive care continuing to steadily decline since the Government lifted its lockdown on May 11, France is now confident it can also end the emergency legislation.
“This end of the state of health emergency is good news, since it means essentially that although we have not yet won the battle, we’ve scored points against COVID-19,” government spokeswoman Sibeth Ndiaye said at a news briefing.
But the Cabinet has approved a new bill that will allow the Government to restrict freedom of movement, make face masks compulsory on public transport, shut businesses and ban gatherings for another four months.
France has the third-highest COVID-19 death toll in Europe after the United Kingdom and Italy.
France’s coronavirus death toll stands at 29,296, the fifth-highest in the world and on this week the number of people in intensive care fell below 1,000 for the first time since March 19.
Austria opening borders as Germany extends travel warnings
Austria has announced it will open its borders to most European neighbours from June 16, with the exceptions of Spain, Portugal, Sweden and Britain.
Austrian Foreign Minister Alexander Schallenberg said the border with Italy to the south would be open without conditions, but that a travel warning for Austrian citizens was in place for Lombardy, the northern Italian region that was the epicentre of Italy’s epidemic.
Lombardy is still showing triple-digit growth in daily infections while most of Italy counts a handful or fewer daily cases.
Meanwhile, Germany is prolonging its travel warning for more than 160 countries outside Europe.
The Government agreed to extend the guidance introduced on March 17 due to the coronavirus pandemic to almost all non-EU countries, with the exception of some that have successfully contained the outbreak.
Last week, Germany downgraded its travel warning for the rest of the 27-nation EU as well as Switzerland, Liechtenstein, Norway, Iceland and Britain.
The Government also announced the end of border controls for EU citizens coming to Germany.
Africa passes 200,000 confirmed cases
Africa’s confirmed coronavirus cases have surpassed 200,000 according to the Africa Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
The 54-nation continent has 202,782 cases and 5,516 deaths.
While Africa still represents a tiny percentage of the world’s total COVID-19 cases, well under 5 per cent, officials in South Africa and elsewhere have expressed concern as the number of infections continues to climb.
South Africa leads the continent with 52,991 cases, with almost two-thirds of them in the Western Cape province, centred on the city of Cape Town.
Egypt has 36,829 cases and Nigeria has 13,464.
South Korea tracking people going into nightclubs, bars and gyms
Officials in South Korea now require nightclubs, karaoke rooms and gyms to register their customers with smartphone QR codes so they can be easily located when needed.
The country reported 50 new cases of COVID-19 overnight and the figures from the Korea Centers for Disease Control and Prevention brought national totals to 11,902 cases and 276 deaths.
At least 41 of the cases were reported from the densely populated Seoul metropolitan area, where officials have struggled to trace transmissions linked to entertainment venues, church gatherings and low-income workers who could not afford to stay home.
Since late May, the country has been reporting around 30 to 50 new cases per day, a resurgence that has threatened to erase some of the hard-won gains against the virus.
The nationwide requirement of QR codes at “high-risk” venues came after a trial run in the cities of Seoul, Incheon and Daejeon, where some 300 businesses used an app developed by internet company Naver to collect information on some 6,000 customers.
The Government is also encouraging churches, libraries, hospitals and movie theatres to voluntarily adopt the technology.