Belarus President Alexander Lukashenko said on Monday nobody would die from the coronavirus in his country and again rejected any need for the strict lockdown measures adopted by most countries to contain the spread of the pandemic.
It was the latest show of defiance by the strongman leader, who has dismissed worries about the disease as a “psychosis” and variously suggested drinking vodka, going to saunas and driving tractors to fight the virus, Reuters reports.
Belarus has kept its borders open and even allowed soccer matches in the national league to be played in front of spectators. Its churches have also remained open in the run-up to Orthodox Easter on 19 April.
“No one will die of coronavirus in our country. I publicly declare this,” Lukashenko said. “We have already found combinations of drugs to save people.”
The health ministry has reported 2,919 confirmed coronavirus cases and 29 deaths in Belarus. But Lukashenko said the fatalities were the result of underlying health conditions in the patients, such as heart disease and diabetes.
“Therefore, I say that not a single person died purely from the coronavirus.”
Putin warns Russia to prepare for ‘extraordinary’ virus crisis
Russian President Vladimir Putin on Monday warned officials to brace for “extraordinary” scenarios in the coronavirus pandemic as Moscow tightened its lockdown measures and Russia reported its highest daily infection figures yet, AFP reports.
Russia reported 2,558 new cases on Monday, bringing the overall nationwide tally to 18,328. Eighteen people diagnosed with the virus died overnight, pushing the death toll to 148. Though rising, the number of deaths remains much lower for now than in countries such as the United States and Italy.
In a video conference with officials on Monday, Putin said the next weeks would be “decisive” for Russia’s fight against the virus as the situation “is changing practically every day, and unfortunately not for the better.”
He told officials that they need to “consider all scenarios for how the situation will develop, even the most complex and extraordinary.”
In the video conference, Putin called for measures to end shortages of protective equipment for medics.
“I know there’s not always enough of that and of course here we need additional measures to get rid of all these shortages,” the president said.
He added that Russia would also bring in the defence ministry to help if necessary.
That White House press briefing has now ended.
Here are the main points:
- US president Donald Trump will decide whether to continue funding the WHO and whether to reopen the economy on 1 May in the next few days, he said.
- “I have the ultimate authority” to re-open the country and scale back distancing measures, Trump claimed. This is not true.
- Payments to individuals as part of the US economic stimulus package will be made by Wednesday this week, said US Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin.
- The US has significantly ramped up testing in recent days. “In three weeks, we went from 300,000 tests to 3m tests,” said Dr. Deborah Birx.
In other US news: Bernie Sanders endorsed Joe Biden’s bid for president. The announcement comes five days after Sanders withdrew from the Democratic primary, and the former candidate told his supporters today, “We’ve got to make Trump a one-term president.”
Dr Deborah Birx noted earlier that the US has significantly ramped up testing in recent days. “In three weeks, we went from 300,000 tests to 3m tests,” she said. “We know that we have to further increase that.” A team is mapping the testing capacity is across the country, she added.
The White House Press Briefing is ongoing, with Dr Anthony Fauci – the country’s leading infectious diseases expert and a key member of the US coronavirus task force – speaking now.
“I can tell you one thing he’s going to listen. But I think what’s going to happen is he’s going to get input from a number of experts. One of them is health.”
Dr. Fauci is speaking following a retweet by US president Trump that included the hashtag #FireFauci, and is being asked bout Trump’s plans to possibly reopen the country by 1 May – Trump said earlier in the presser that he will know later this week whether that will happen.
Trump also said earlier in the press briefing that he did not plan to fire the doctor.
“When you have conversations with the president, sometimes they really have to be confidential,” Dr Fauci said when asked if he’s willing to publicly contradict Trump if he advocates for unsafe policies.
“I’ll have to think about that,” Fauci said, adding that he’s confident the president will defer to public health experts’ guidance.
Hello and welcome to today’s live coverage of the coronavirus pandemic with me, Helen Sullivan.
As confirmed cases worldwide approach two million and deaths at more than 119,400, according to the Johns Hopkins University tracker, New York Governor Andrew Cuomo is seeing “glimmers of hope” and has told the state that the “worst is over”.
Later, in a freewheeling and aggressive press conference, even by his standards, US president Donald Trump repeatedly confronted journalists, calling one disgraceful, and saying another would be “the last to know” the answer to her question.
Meanwhile Russian President Vladimir Putin has warned the country to prepare for an “extraordinary” virus crisis, saying the situation “is changing practically every day, and unfortunately not for the better.”
I’ll be bringing you the latest for the next few hours. You can get in touch with me directly with news, tips, questions or comments on Twitter @helenrsullivan.
- The confirmed global death toll passed 119,483, and at least 1.9 million people have been infected, according to researchers at Johns Hopkins University. The tallies are likely to be underestimates.
- US president Donald Trump said we’ll know in the next few days whether he wants to reopen by 1 May, and also whether he plans to continue funding the World Health Organization. Payments to individuals as part of the US economic stimulus package will be made by Wednesday this week.
- New York Governor Andrew Cuomo said that with the number of coronavirus hospitalisations starting to plateau, that there were glimmers of hope. “Yes, I think you can say the worst is over,” he said.
- The US is nearing the peak of its outbreak, according to the director of the Centres for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), Robert Redfield, who told NBC: “You’ll know when you’re at the peak when the next day is actually less than the day before. We are stabilising right now.”
- The US governors of New York, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, Delaware and Connecticut announced they had formed a regional advisory council. Each state will name a public health official and an economic development official to serve on a working group alongside each governor’s chief of staff to design a “reopening plan” for their states.
- The French president, Emmanuel Macron, says crèches and schools will begin to reopen on 11 May. That date will mark the start of a new phase. B, he said, but the lockdown will continue until then.
- The number of deaths from coronavirus in Italy passed 20,000 after they rose by 566 on Monday, 135 more than on Sunday. Almost half of the deaths (280) were registered in Lombardy, the northern region worst affected by the virus.
- A total of 11,329 patients have died in UK hospitals after testing positive for coronavirus, the UK’s Department of Health said, up by 717 in 24 hours.
- German experts recommended a gradual relaxing of restrictions, as long as new infections stabilise and hygiene measures to control the spread of the virus are maintained.
- The head of the World Health Organization urged caution over moves to lift lockdown conditions. He said much was still unknown about the virus and that finding, testing and isolating cases was still crucial.
- The UK will not ease lockdown this week, said to the foreign secretary, Dominic Raab, who added that it was “still far too early”, and that the UK would be getting ahead of itself if ministers relaxed restrictions before medical experts advised them to.
- Spain saw another fall in its overnight death toll, down by 102 to 517 in 24 hours, bringing the total to 17,489, the country’s health ministry said, adding that it was the smallest proportional daily increase since tracking began.