A summary of today's developments
- India is trying to battle the practice of families throwing the bodies of Covid-19 victims into rivers, Reuters reported. A state government letter officially acknowledged the practice for the first time after pictures on social media shocked the public.
- The UK said it was responding “coolly” and “calmly” to the coronavirus variant first found in India and now spreading in some parts of England. Health minister Edward Argar said the government was monitoring the variant’s impact, including how transmissible it is.
- Malaysia recorded a high of 44 coronavirus-related deaths and cases remained above 4,000 for the fourth day. Its total has now risen to 466,000 with 1,866 deaths.
- China suspended climbs up Mount Everest from the Tibetan side for the current season. On the Nepali side, cases have been reportedly rising at the base camp, leading an international expedition to call off its climb.
- Taiwan raised its Covid-19 alert level for the capital, Taipei, and New Taipei city, bringing in a two-week clampdown on gatherings as well as the closure of many venues.
- Trinidad and Tobago declared a state of emergency as hospitals reach capacity because of a surge in coronavirus cases and an increase in deaths.
Trinidad and Tobago has declared a state of emergency in response to a surge in Covid-19 cases and deaths, Keith Rowley, the prime minister, said on Saturday.
It registered 21 deaths related to Covid-19 on Saturday, a sharp rise from the 11 deaths reported on Friday.
Deaths had not previously risen above 10 in a single day, according to World Health Organization data.
Health officials have blamed a highly infectious Brazilian strain of the virus for the spike in cases, which rose from 207 new cases a week in early April to more than 2,000 last week.
The government also announced an overnight curfew, from 9pm to 5am, with exceptions only for essential services.
Seven hospitals caring are at a critical stage of 73% overall occupancy, principal medical officer Dr Maryam Abdool-Richards said.
According to health ministry data Trinidad and Tobago has 5,214 active infections – a third of the total registered since the pandemic began. It has recorded 265 deaths.
Mexico reported 225 more deaths and 2,695 new cases on Saturday, though the government believes the numbers are far higher than reported.
Though the country as a whole has seen cases reduce since January, some areas are still struggling, including the tourist attractions on the Caribbean coast.
The governor of Quintana Roo state, home to popular resorts such as Cancun, said last week that cases have been increasing for five weeks.
“We knew that there were large risks during Easter week, that there could be a greater number of infections. Unfortunately, that came to pass,” said governor Carlos Joaquin, who warned of a potential lockdown in the state if the situation does not improve.
Florida’s major amusement parks are welcoming in visitors without masks over the weekend, adjusting their rules in line with new looser US guidelines on mask-wearing.
SeaWorld Orlando and Tampa’s Busch Garden allowed anyone fully vaccinated to completely remove their masks, though they do not have to show proof of vaccination.
Walt Disney World and Universal Studios Orlando allowed customers to move around outside without masks, unless on a ride, in a line or on transport.
Major shops have also been announcing that they will be letting in customers without masks, including Walmart, Trader Joe’s and Costco.
Prompted by growing levels of vaccinations, the new guidelines remove the requirement to wear masks apart from in crowded indoor settings.
Fears in England over the rising number of Covid-19 cases linked to the India variant has been causing confusion over vaccines in hotspot towns.
PA media reports that a councillor in Bolton had to delete a tweet telling younger people “anyone” could get a jab if they turned up at a vaccination centre, as “the team will find a reason to vaccinate you”.
Bolton council has been pushing for over-18s to be vaccinated but Professor Anthony Harnden, deputy chair of the Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation, said vaccines should not be directed away from more vulnerable groups.
There was also confusion in neighbouring Blackburn with Darwen, where the council backtracked on an announcement that all over-18s would be vaccinated from next week.
Bodies of Covid-19 victims dumped in rivers, Indian officials admit
The bodies of Covid-19 victims have been found in rivers, Indian officials have officially acknowledged after shock at recent images of bodies floating on the Ganges.
“Bodies have been recovered from rivers in many places,” said Manoj Kumar Singh, a senior official in northern state Uttar Pradesh, in a letter seen by Reuters.
“The administration has information that bodies of those who have succumbed to Covid-19 or any other disease are being thrown into rivers instead of being disposed of as per proper rituals.”
Experts are concerned about undetected cases in Uttar Pradesh villages and Singh’s letter asked village officials and police to stop families from throwing their dead into rivers.
He said poor families would be given 5,000 rupees (£48) to cremate bodies. A lack of materials for cremation could be part of the reason for the practice, as well as religious traditions for some and fears about becoming infected, Singh’s memo said.
An international expedition called off its Mount Everest climb on Saturday, blaming a surge in cases at base camp.
Austrian company Furtenbach Adventures said some teams at base camp had been partying and holding meetings together, ignoring basic precautions against spreading infection.
“To climb above base camp with these massively increasing corona numbers and risk the lives of our 20 customers, 4 mountain guides and 27 Sherpas carelessly, would be irresponsible,” said the company’s managing director Lukas Furtenbach in a statement.
While climbs continue on the Nepalese side, China cancelled the 2021 spring climbing season from the Tibetan side of the mountain.
Mira Acharya, director of Nepal’s tourism department, denied the severity of the situation at the base camp.
“Doctors at the base camp said the situation was not as serious as it was reported,” she told Reuters.
Nepal has reported 447,704 coronavirus cases and 4,856 deaths, according to government data.
PA Media reports that more than 600,000 vaccine appointments in the UK were booked in the 48 hours after the programme opened to people aged in their late 30s.
Some 611,863 appointments for first and second doses were made in the period after 38- and 39-year-olds became eligible to arrange their jabs from Thursday.
NHS England said younger people in their 30s are expected to be invited over the next few days and weeks.
The health secretary, Matt Hancock, said he was “delighted” that people in the new age range had made appointments so quickly, as he urged others to do the same when their turn comes.
Following the announcement on Friday that second-dose appointments will be brought forward from 12 to eight weeks for people aged 50 and above, NHS England advised that no one needs to contact the health service.
People due to get their second dose in the next 10 days, up to and including 24 May, should attend their appointment as planned.
Others will be contacted by the NHS to let them know when they can rebook.
More than two-thirds of people aged 50 and above have been fully vaccinated with two doses.
More than three-quarters of people aged between 40 and 49 have had first doses just a fortnight after they were first offered a jab in the rollout.
Some 30 million people have had a first dose in England – two-thirds of the total adult population.
My colleague Jason Rodrigues is outside the BBC’s Broadcasting House in London, where anti-lockdown and anti-vax protesters have gathered.
Vietnam has reported 165 new coronavirus cases and one new death, its health ministry said, as it sees a steady rise in infections since the virus re-emerged late last month, Reuters reports.
Half of the new cases were detected at Quang Chau industrial park in the northern province of Bac Giang, the ministry said in a statement.
Vietnam’s latest outbreak has spread to 26 of 63 provinces, authorities said. The country has recorded a total 3,985 coronavirus cases, with 36 deaths, due largely to its strong containment record.
Venezuela has approved the use of Russia’s single dose Sputnik Light Covid-19 vaccine, the Russian Direct Investment Fund has said.
Developed by Moscow’s Gamaleya Institute, the slimmed-down vaccine, which the RDIF says is 79.4% effective against COVID-19 and costs under $10 a dose, has been earmarked for export and has been billed as a way to help vaccine supplies go further in countries with high infection rates.
Approval of the shot by Venezuela follows successful use of the two-dose Sputnik V vaccine in the country and “will help accelerate the vaccination” campaign, said Kirill Dmitriev, the head of the RDIF, which is responsible for marketing the vaccine abroad.
PA Media reports that a total of 46,992,750 Covid-19 vaccinations took place in England between 8 December and 14 May, according to NHS England data, including first and second doses, which is a rise of 531,484 on the previous day.
NHS England said 30,331,992 were the first dose of a vaccine, a rise of 185,059 on the previous day, while 16,660,758 were a second dose, an increase of 346,425.
France is on track to reach its goal of administering 20m initial doses of coronavirus vaccine on Saturday, officials said, days before restaurant terraces reopen as the government begins lifting a nationwide lockdown.
Again nearly 600,000 vaccinations today,” health minister Olivier Véran tweeted late Friday. “Tomorrow, 20 million French will have had at least one dose,” which would represent nearly 30% of the population.
“I’m reasonably optimistic,” Prime Minister Jean Castex told journalists while visiting the mass vaccination site at the Porte de Versailles conference centre in Paris.
“It’s a very important moment for the entire country, because it supports our prospects for ending this crisis,” he said.
The government aims to have 30m initial doses injected by 15 June, when President Emmanuel Macron has said all adults will be able to sign up for a jab currently reserved for priority groups and adults over 50.
“It’s within reach,” Castex said.
Authorities also reported further declines in the number of patients requiring intensive care in hospitals.
The number of people in intensive care stood at 4,352 on Friday, a decline of 90 from the previous day and well below the peak of 6,001 during the “third wave” of infections that battered France starting in March.
On Wednesday, museums, theatres, cinemas and concert halls will reopen with limited capacity after six weeks of closure to halt the pandemic, and the nationwide curfew will be pushed back to 9pm (1900 GMT) from 7pm.
Non-essential shops will also reopen and outdoor seating at cafes and restaurants will be allowed for the first time since 30 October.
Cafes and restaurants will be able to serve clients indoors on 9 June, and the curfew will be fully lifted on 30 June if infection rates continue to decline.
Portugal will allow tourist flights from EU countries with low infection rates and from the UK, but passengers must show a negative coronavirus test on arrival, the interior ministry said on Saturday.
In a statement, it said the ban will be lifted on European countries with less than 500 cases of infections per 100,000 people.
Tourists from Liechtenstein, Norway, Iceland and Switzerland are also allowed to start flying to Portugal, Reuters reports.
Visitors will have to show proof of a negative test taken up to 72 hours before a flight and airlines will be fined between €500 ($607) and €2,000 for each passenger who boards without presenting proof of a negative test.
Portugal currently only allows essential flights for professional, study, family reunion, health or humanitarian reasons.
Travellers from countries where 500 or more cases per 100,000 people have been reported over a 14-day period can only enter Portugal if they have a valid reason, such as for work or healthcare. Arrivals must then quarantine for 14 days.
I’m Jedidajah Otte and am taking over while my colleague Tobi is on a break. Feel free to get in touch with tips and pointers, I’m on Twitter @JedySays.
My colleague Jedidajah Otte reports that according to the health minister Edward Argar, the UK government is acting “coolly” and “calmly” to tackle the coronavirus variant first found in India as social distancing measures are further eased on Monday.
At a press conference on Friday, Boris Johnson said he would press ahead with allowing indoor gatherings of six people or two households in England from next week, though the final stage of lifting restrictions in June could face “serious disruption”.
His comments came amid warnings from scientists that the new variant of concern first detected in India, B.1.617.2, could lead to a “significant” surge in infections, and could be up to 50% more transmissible than the variant first detected in Kent.
Malaysia reports record number of daily Covid-19 deaths
Malaysia has reported a new daily high of 44 coronavirus-related deaths, while new infections remained above 4,000 for the fourth straight day.
The health ministry said in a tweet that 4,140 new cases were reported on Saturday, pushing the total past 466,000 with 1,866 deaths – the third highest infection rate in the region behind Indonesia and the Philippines
My colleague Victoria Bekiempis speaks to New Yorkers on their reaction to the new guidance that people who have been vaccinated no longer need to wear face coverings in public.
Poland eases lockdown restrictions
Across Poland, bars and restaurants have opened their outdoor terraces for the first time in over six months, with masks not being required outdoors where social distancing can be observed.
On Friday, Poland had 3,288 new coronavirus cases compared with a high of 35,251 on 1 April. Some 35.7% of adult Poles have received at least one dose of vaccine and 13.6% are fully vaccinated, according to the European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control.
Bars and restaurants can now offer outdoor service, with indoor service due to reopen with limited capacity on May 28. Since October, they have been able to serve only take-away food.
“We’ve been closed for so long, over 200 days, and it was very stressful and exhausting for different reasons, we didn’t know if we could survive at all,” said Zuzia Mockallo, 34, co-owner of Bar Studio, located in the capital’s landmark building, the Palace of Culture and Science.
“I really feel that the emotions are a bit comparable to the New Year, where everyone has huge expectations of the old year ending and a new opening ... We are very happy and a little excited, a little nervous, but very emotional.”
New coronavirus cases in Poland dropped sharply during April and the government began easing restrictions this month.
The Koszyki shopping centre in central Warsaw, where one of the city’s most popular cluster of bars is located, installed a clock counting down to midnight.
Pawe* Slupski, the centre’s PR manager, said the mood was “very much like New Year’s Eve”.
“Life’s just going back to normal,” said Ania Pietrzak, a 37-year-old stylist and costume designer who was one of Bar Studio’s first customers, describing how she missed the freedom to go out and have a drink or just light a cigarette without fear of being fined for not wearing a mask.
Thailand has planned to allow restaurants to resume dine-in services in its capital, Bangkok, a senior official has said, but opening hours and the number of diners will be limited as the country faces a third wave of infections.
Since April, Thailand has faced its deadliest coronavirus outbreak. Thailand reported 3,095 new coronavirus cases and 17 deaths today, bringing total cases to 99,145 and 565 deaths. Of the new cases, 1,163 were in Bangkok.
Restaurants in dark red zones like Bangkok will be allowed to reopen for dine-in services but at a limited capacity of 25% and will have to close at 9pm (1400 GMT), said Taweesin Wisanuyothin, a coronavirus taskforce spokesman.
Restaurants in dark red zones, which have the highest risk of infection and the strictest restrictions, could previously only open for delivery.
The new regulations, subject to the prime minister’s approval, should take effect before Monday, he said at a briefing, adding that some 100,000 restaurant operators and staff will be offered vaccines to ensure their safety.
Bangkok, the epicentre of the outbreak, and four other provinces are categorised as dark red zones.
Another 17 provinces are in red zones, risk areas where restaurants can serve customers until 11 pm and 56 provinces are in orange areas, where there are no dining restrictions.
Malls nationwide will still close at 9 p.m. and entertainment venues remain closed.
Thailand has administered 2.2m vaccine doses to frontline workers and high-risk groups so far and a broader vaccination drive is expected to start in June. An app for foreigners is also being developed to allow them to register for inoculation, said Natapanu Nopakun, a foreign ministry spokesman.
“Walk-in vaccinations will be available soon. Provinces that are ready can commence immediately. Foreigners can walk into these locations when they are announced,” he said.
In the UK, government ministers are pushing ahead with a major easing of restrictions on Monday despite concerns over the so-called Indian variant of coronavirus, as they were criticised for allowing the strain’s import.
Boris Johnson was sticking with plans to allow mixing indoors and greater physical contact in England as scientists warned the strain could be 50% more transmissible than the variant first detected in Kent.
Health minister Edward Argar said on Saturday that the government was acting “coolly” and “calmly” in carrying on with step three in the road map to ending lockdown restrictions.
However, the British Medical Association (BMA) said the move is a “real worry” while many are still awaiting vaccination.
Argar was also forced to defend border restrictions, saying it is “impossible to completely hermetically seal” the nation amid criticism of the delay in adding India to the travel red list.
The prime minister warned on Friday the variant could cause “serious disruption” to plans to ease the lockdown and may delay the planned ending of all legal restrictions on June 21.
The Scientific Advisory Group for Emergencies (Sage) concluded there is a “realistic possibility” the strain is 50% more transmissible than the one that emerged in Kent.
If the higher transmissibility is confirmed, the experts said moving to step three could “lead to a substantial resurgence of hospitalisations” that is “similar to, or larger than, previous peaks”.
Surge testing is also under way in several places in England including areas of Bolton, Blackburn, Sefton and London.
Public Health England data shows a rise in cases of the Indian variant of concern from 520 to 1,313 this week in the UK.
Questioned why Bangladesh and Pakistan were added to the red list two weeks ahead of India, Mr Argar said the decisions were made “on the basis of the evidence, based on a number of factors”.
Meanwhile, the deputy chair of the Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation (JCVI) said vaccines are “almost certainly less effective” at reducing transmission of the Indian variant.
China has decided to cancel the 2021 spring climbing season from the Tibetan side of Mount Everest, the world’s tallest peak, because of coronavirus concerns, the official Xinhua news agency has said.
The Himalayan nation of Nepal, which is so short of oxygen canisters it has asked mountaineers to bring back their empties, has issued a record 408 permits to climb Everest in the April-May season after last year’s closure.
In contrast, a total of 21 Chinese climbers had secured approval for climbs in spring, Xinhua added.
Last Sunday, state media said China would establish “a line of separation” at the summit of Everest to prevent the mingling of climbers from Nepal and those ascending from the Tibetan side as a precautionary measure.
Everest has been scaled by more than 6,000 climbers since the first conquest by Edmund Hillary and Sherpa Tenzing Norgay in 1953. At least 311 people have died on the slopes of the mountain, which is 8,849 metres (29,032 ft) high.
Portugal’s secretary of state for tourism, Rita Marques, has said “everything is open” in her country.
Portugal confirmed this week it will reopen its borders to UK tourists from Monday.
Speaking to BBC Breakfast, Marques said:
We have been working hard to tackle the pandemic, as I said, so restaurants and coffee shops and shops and everything is open as from 1 May.
Some restrictions apply, of course, so you have to wear a mask, you have to maintain social distancing.
“Masks need to be used all day long, except when you are on the beach, of course.
“So if you are going to a restaurant near the beach you should wear a mask, but if you are near the sea you don’t need to wear a mask.”
Russia has reported 8,790 new coronavirus infections and 364 coronavirus related deaths in the past 24 hours.
This follows 9,462 new infections being recorded the day previously, the highest number of new cases since the end of March.
Australia has carried out its first repatriation flight from India after the government temporarily banned all travel from the country last month, with 80 passengers arriving in Darwin from Delhi.
The Australian government came under fire for temporarily barring all travel to and from India last month, a policy that drew heavy criticism from lawmakers, expatriates and the Indian diaspora.
A total of 70 passengers were barred from boarding the flight on Friday after they or their close contacts tested positive for the coronavirus.
“We are following the medical advice and ensuring that we protect Australians here and I’m pleased that that first flight has arrived, and obviously there will be more flights to come,” Treasurer Josh Frydenberg said in a televised briefing.
“It’s important to do the testing that we are doing right now, before people come on those planes to Australia. That’s the process we are following, and we will continue to follow.”
Two more Royal Australian Air Force repatriation flights to the Northern Territory are scheduled this month, with about 1,000 people planned to return by the end of June. About 9,000 Australians in India have registered with the federal government, requesting to return home.
India has reported more than 300,000 infections a day over the past three weeks, overwhelming its health care system and leaving many without hospital beds, oxygen and adequate treatment.
Taiwan raises its coronavirus alert level
Taiwan has raised its Covid-19 alert level on Saturday for the capital, Taipei, and New Taipei city, bringing in a two-week clampdown on gatherings as well as the closure of many venues as the government has reported 180 new domestic infections.
The new rules will not mean offices, schools or restaurants have to close, but will cause the shutdown of cinemas and other entertainment spots, while limiting family get-togethers to five people indoors and 10 outdoors.
For the first time, masks will have to be worn outdoors.
Taipei’s government has already ordered bars, nightclubs and similar venues to shut.
Health Minister Chen Shih-chung said a “level of risk” in certain hot spots, such as Taipei’s gritty Wanhua district, had spurred the decision to raise the alert level.
“Only by doing this can infections be dealt with and controlled,” he told reporters.
People should avoid travel between Taipei and the rest of the island to prevent spreading the infection, Chen added.
President Tsai Ing-wen’s spokesman said she would reduce the number of “unnecessary meetings” or public events. The presidential office is close to Wanhua.
The rising community infections unnerved the stock market this week, but at the same news conference, Premier Su Tseng-chang reiterated that the island’s economic fundamentals remain good.
Taiwan has millions of vaccine doses on order from Moderna Inc and AstraZeneca Plc, though only a small number have arrived from the latter due to global shortages and vaccination rates remain low.
More vaccines will start arriving next month, Tsai has said.
Since the pandemic began, Taiwan has reported fewer than 1,500 cases among a population of about 24 million, most of them imported from abroad, but a recent rise in community transmissions has spooked residents.
The island has never gone into a full lockdown and its people are used to life carrying on near normal, despite the pandemic ranging in many other parts of the world.
Late on Friday, several universities, including the elite National Taiwan University, said they would immediately switch to remote learning, telling students to stay away from campuses.
Museums in Taipei, and the zoo, said they would shut too.
You can read more from my colleague Helen Davidson here:
Good morning, Tobi Thomas here covering the global coronavirus live blog. If you would like to get in touch with any tips, please do email firstname.lastname@example.org or find me on twitter here. Thanks!