Here are the key global developments from the last few hours:
- Vanuatu, one of the last remaining countries to be free of Covid, confirms first case. One of the last remaining Covid-free countries in the world has announced its first positive test.Vanuatu Prime Minister Bob Loughman made the announcement in an address to the nation. Loughman told a press conference that the indigenous Ni-Vanuatu person had arrived from the USA, transiting through Sydney and Auckland.
- Iran imposed a lockdown. Iran imposed a nightly curfew on businesses in Tehran and other cities on Tuesday, as it battles a major surge in coronavirus infections. Restaurants and nonessential businesses in Tehran and 30 other cities were ordered to close at 6pm for one month, to keep hospitals from becoming overwhelmed and to slow the worsening outbreak, which has killed more than 39,000 — the highest toll in the Middle East.
- Lebanon imposed a lockdown. In Lebanon, caretaker Prime Minister Hassan Diab announced a lockdown on on Tuesday night that will begin on Saturday and last until the end of the month. Lebanon has broken daily records in recent weeks, straining the country’s medical sector where intensive care units are almost full and cannot take more cases. The World Health Organization says 1,527 health workers have tested positive since the first case was reported in Lebanon in late February.
- More than 15,000 mink in the United States have died of the coronavirus since August, and authorities are keeping about a dozen farms under quarantine while they investigate the cases, state agriculture officials said.
- England’s students to get six-day window to get home before Christmas.
Students in England will be given a six-day window next month in which to travel home before Christmas, with mass testing carried out on campus before they are allowed to leave.
- Hong Kong-Singapore travel bubble to begin on 22 November. A travel bubble between Hong Kong and Singapore will begin on 22 November, Singapore’s airlines regulator announced on Wednesday, as the two cities move to re-establish overseas travel links and lift the hurdle of quarantine for visiting foreigners.
- China reports 17 new cases, down from day before. Mainland China reported 17 new Covid-19 cases on 10 November, down from 22 reported a day earlier, the country’s health authority said on Wednesday. The National Health Commission said one of the new cases was a local infection reported in Anhui, the first such infection in the eastern Chinese province since 27 February. The other 16 cases were imported infections originating from overseas, it said.
- US sees record Covid hospitalisations. The Covid-Tracking project reports that the US on Tuesday saw its highest number of people hospitalises with coronavirus of the pandemic so far – a day after braking the record on Monday. The number of hospitalisations currently stands at 61,964.
New Zealand’s central bank introduced a new funding programme on Wednesday that would reduce costs for lenders, while holding its benchmark interest rate at record lows and signalling its readiness to shift to negative rates to support the economy, Reuters reports.
The Reserve Bank of New Zealand (RBNZ) held the official cash rate (OCR) steady at 0.25%, as markets expected, and re-iterated rates would stay there until March 2021.
That commitment and the new funding-for-lending programme (FLP) for banks led markets to pare chances of negative rates, sending the New Zealand dollar to the highest since March 2019 at $0.6884.
Government bonds sold off, too, with five-year yields up 10 basis points at 0.3% from Tuesday. The bank also retained its large scale asset purchase (LSAP) programme at NZ$100 billion ($66.32 billion).
The RBNZ said earlier on Wednesday that it would consult next month on whether to reintroduce limits on the amount of “high-risk lending” banks can make, amid growing concerns of a housing bubble.
New Zealand fell into its deepest recession on record in the second quarter, but markets now believe further stimulus may not be necessary as the government has reopened the economy after containing the coronavirus.
The number of confirmed coronavirus cases in Germany increased by 18,487 to 705,687, data from the Robert Koch Institute for infectious diseases showed on Wednesday.
The reported death toll rose by 261 to 11,767, the tally showed.
Wales faces a wave of mental health problems in the wake of Covid-19 – with younger adults, women and people from deprived areas suffering the most, according to a study.
PA: Researchers at Swansea and Cardiff universities examined the pandemic’s impact on the mental wellbeing of the Welsh population. The initial findings reveal around half of the 13,000 participants showed clinically significant psychological distress, with around 20% suffering severe effects.
Their responses were given during June and July, when the pandemic was seen to be having a dramatic effect on psychological wellbeing.
Professor Nicola Gray, from Swansea University, said: “We examined psychological wellbeing and the prevalence of clinically significant mental distress in a large sample 11 to 16 weeks into lockdown and compared this to population-based data collected pre-Covid-19.
“It showed a large decrease in wellbeing from pre-Covid-19 levels.”
Gray said the effects in Wales, and by implication those in the UK and beyond, are larger than previous studies had suggested.
In more cheerful news from the natural world:
They hatched six weeks ago, watched by thousands of Melburnians who were stuck inside under the coronavirus lockdown. Now, as life is beginning to return to the city below them, three peregrine falcon chicks roosting on a city centre skyscraper are also preparing to leave the nest.
By Friday they will be ready to take flight, says Victor Hurley, the founder of the Victorian Peregrine Project which monitors the birds in conjunction with Birdlife Australia. Then they will be made to move on – peregrines are fiercely territorial, and won’t tolerate their chicks remaining near home:
If you, like me, find that murder hornets help to take your mind off coronavirus for a moment, have I got the right story:
When scientists in Washington state destroyed the first nest of so-called murder hornets found in the US, they discovered about 500 live specimens in various stages of development, officials said Tuesday.
Among them were nearly 200 queens that had the potential to start their own nests, said Sven-Erik Spichiger, an entomologist leading the fight to kill the hornets.
“We got there just in the nick of time,” he said.
Still, that didn’t end the threat from the giant insects that can deliver painful, though rarely deadly, stings to people and wipe out entire hives of honeybees.
Scientists think other nests already exist and say it’s impossible to know if any queens escaped before the first nest was destroyed.
Faced with closures because of coronavirus measures and fierce competition from retail giant Amazon, 250 independent UK bookshops have banded together on a new online platform called Bookshop.org, which started in Britain on November 2 after being launched in the United States.
Its arrival could provide a lifeline to small bookshops, particularly as England has effectively gone into lockdown again for a month to cut virus infection rates.
Unlike other European nations such as Belgium, authorities in Britain, where more than 48,000 people have died in the outbreak, have deemed books non-essential items.
According to a report published in May by market research company Nielsen, two out of five adults said they read more during the first UK-wide lockdown, introduced in late March.
The average reading time in the country rose from 3.5 hours to six hours a week.
South Korea’s spy chief has proposed a summit of the leaders of the United States, Japan and the two Koreas during the Tokyo Olympics next year, the Chosun Ilbo newspaper reported on Wednesday.
Reuters: Park Jie-won made the proposal in Japan, where he arrived on Sunday for his first trip as head of the National Intelligence Service (NIS) aimed at improving relations strained by a feud over compensation for Koreans forced to work for Japanese firms during its 1910-45 colonial rule.
Park suggested the summit during a Tuesday meeting with new Japanese Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga, saying it could take up the issues of North Korea’s denuclearisation and the abduction of Japanese citizens by North Korean agents, the newspaper said.
Japan’s relations with both North and South Korea have long been difficult, largely because of its colonisation of the Korean peninsula.
Park conveyed South Korean President Moon Jae-in’s willingness to normalise ties with Japan, for which he said there needed to be some Japanese apology or expression of regret for the wartime forced labour, the newspaper said.
South Korea’s Yonhap news agency reported that Park had suggested that Moon and Suga announce a new declaration to build on a 1998 joint pledge of a “future-oriented relationship”.
“Both leaders are strongly willing to resolve current issues,” the news agency quoted Park as saying.
North Korean leader Kim Jong Un’s attendance at such a summit would be a landmark. The NIS declined to comment on the reports.
As the coronavirus pandemic rocks international commerce, knock-on effects are being felt in poor corners of the world like Albania, where chromium miners have nowhere to sell their goods due to a drop off in purchases from China, AFP reports.
The Balkan country’s chromium sector is entirely dependent on exports, leaving the men and women who extract it at the mercy of world prices.
“These last few months have been very difficult with the pandemic, the fear of losing our work,” says Florent Veseli, a 33-year-old drilling inside a cold, damp mine under a mountain in the Bulqize region.
“If the mine closes, we will have nothing left, we will no longer be able to feed our families.”
Chromium, a hard metal used chiefly to make stainless steel, has been a struggling commodity for more than two years owing to a shrinking appetite from leading consumer China. A trade war between Washington and Beijing had also injected volatility into the market.
But Covid-19 “dealt the final blow” because “many industries at the end of the value chain have slowed down,” Sheraz Neffati, executive director of the International Chromium Development Association, told AFP.
Chinese e-commerce giant Alibaba Group Holding Ltd said orders made during its Singles’ Day mega-shopping festival had exceeded $56bn by Wednesday morning, as consumers sought to cash in on a deluge of discounts, Reuters reports.
This year’s shopping extravaganza comes a week after Alibaba lost almost $76bn of its market value following China’s suspension of the $37bn listing of Ant Group, the financial technology firm Alibaba owns a third of.
It also takes place as China experiences an economic rebound after getting the spread of the novel coronavirus under control within its borders, following the virus’ emergence in the central city of Wuhan late last year.
Alibaba launched the annual online blitz early this year, with two primary discount periods taking place from 1 November through 3 November and again on 11 November.
The company will calculate gross merchandise volume (GMV) over the full 11-day period, as opposed to the usual 24 hours.
As of 12:30 am local time (1630 GMT) on 11 November, the campaign’s GMV had surpassed 372.3bn yuan ($56.3bn) with the order rate hitting a record peak of 583,000 per second, Alibaba said.
Alibaba has said it will introduce more than 2m new products, double last year’s amount. Other companies such as Douyin – the Chinese version of Beijing ByteDance Technology Co Ltd’s TikTok – JD.com Inc and Pinduoduo Inc are also holding their own Singles Day shopping events.
Analysts expect this year to be a boon for luxury brands, as Chinese consumers accustomed to going overseas to buy high-end goods are now stuck at home due to coronavirus border closures.
More than 15,000 mink have died in US from coronavirus since August
More than 15,000 mink in the United States have died of the coronavirus since August, and authorities are keeping about a dozen farms under quarantine while they investigate the cases, state agriculture officials said.
Global health officials are eying the animals as a potential risk for people after Denmark last week embarked on a plan to eliminate all of its 17 million mink, saying a mutated coronavirus strain could move to humans and evade future Covid-19 vaccines.
The US states of Utah, Wisconsin and Michigan – where the coronavirus has killed mink – said they do not plan to cull animals and are monitoring the situation in Denmark.
“We believe that quarantining affected mink farms in addition to implementing stringent biosecurity measures will succeed in controlling SARS-CoV-2 at these locations,” the US Department of Agriculture told Reuters on Tuesday.
The USDA said it is working with the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, state officials and the mink industry to test and monitor infected farms.
Lebanon imposes lockdown
In Lebanon, caretaker Prime Minister Hassan Diab announced a lockdown on on Tuesday night that will begin on Saturday and last until the end of the month.
Lebanon has broken daily records in recent weeks, straining the country’s medical sector where intensive care units are almost full and cannot take more cases. The World Health Organization says 1,527 health workers have tested positive since the first case was reported in Lebanon in late February.
The Lebanese announcement came despite harsh criticism by business sectors that have been suffering for more than a year as the country passes through its worst economic and financial crisis.
The head of Lebanon workers union, Bechara el Asmar, warned on Monday the effects of a complete lockdown “will be catastrophic for workers and economic activities.” Daily laborers cannot afford to stay at home, he said.
Aya Majzoub of the Human Rights Watch said the crisis has thrown more Lebanese below the poverty line, adding that the government is obliged to ensure that everyone has adequate food, water, health care, and other basic needs, “including when the population is subject to stay-at-home orders.”
Lebanon, a country of 6.8 million – 1.5m of whom are Syrian refugees – has registered 95,355 cases and 732 deaths of the virus but the real numbers are believed to be much higher. Those numbers began rising quickly following a massive 4 August, blast at Beirut’s port that killed and wounded many and caused damage worth billions of dollars.
Many intensive care units meant for coronavirus cases have been used to treat thousands of injured in the port explosion.
Iran imposes lockdown
Iran imposed a nightly curfew on businesses in Tehran and other cities on Tuesday, as it battles a major surge in coronavirus infections.
AP: Restaurants and nonessential businesses in Tehran and 30 other cities were ordered to close at 6pm for one month, to keep hospitals from becoming overwhelmed and to slow the worsening outbreak, which has killed more than 39,000 — the highest toll in the Middle East.
Iran has set single-day death records 10 times over the past month, a sign of how quickly the virus is spreading, even as the government claims to have ramped up testing in recent days.
The announcement of new limits on Tehran’s bustling cafes and shops, the strictest since a brief nationwide business shutdown in April, reflects the growing sense of urgency among officials. In a first, Iranians’ phones lit up on Monday with a personal appeal from Saeed Namaki, the health minister.
“Do not leave your house for as long as you can and stay away from any crowded places,” his text read. “Coronavirus is no joke.”
Yet in the face of a steep economic decline, Iran continues to avoid a tougher lockdown.
The country is already squeezed by unprecedented American sanctions reimposed in 2018 when the Trump administration withdrew from Tehran’s nuclear accord with world powers. Iran’s currency has plunged to new lows in recent weeks, hurting millions of citizens already living in poverty.
Some more detail on that travel bubble between Hong Kong and Singapore:
A travel bubble between Hong Kong and Singapore will begin on 22 November, the two cities announced on Wednesday, as they moved to re-establish overseas travel links and lift the hurdle of quarantine for visiting foreigners.
Hong Kong’s commerce secretary and Singapore’s transport minister said the scheme would begin with one flight a day into each city, with a quota of 200 travellers per flight. This would be increased to two flights a day into each city from 7 December.
If the Covid-19 situation deteriorated in either city the travel bubble would be suspended, they said.
Singapore’s transport minister Ong Ye Kung said the travel bubble enabled both cities to open up borders in a controlled manner, while maintaining safety.
“While we may be starting small, this is an important step forward … It will be a useful reference for other countries and regions that have controlled the epidemic, and are contemplating opening their borders.”
Travellers from both cities must travel on designated flights and must undertake Covid-19 tests. No quarantine would be required in either place and there would be no restrictions on the purpose of travel.
For Hong Kong, which has banned non-residents since March, the deal with Singapore is its first resumption of travel ties with another city. Travellers from mainland China and neighbouring Macau still face 14 days in quarantine.
Singapore already has pacts on essential business and official travel from China, Indonesia, Japan, Malaysia, South Korea, and opened unilaterally to general visitors from a handful of countries including Brunei, New Zealand and Vietnam.
GP services will be cut back well into 2021 so family doctors can immunise millions of people against coronavirus at new seven-day-a-week clinics, NHS England has said.
Health leaders warned that surgeries will not be able to offer their full range of care for patients from next month as doctors and nurses will be immersed in administering jabs at more than 1,200 mass vaccination centres across England, potentially including sports halls, conference centres and open air venues.
It came as Britain reported 532 new deaths within 28 days of a positive Covid-19 test on Tuesday, the highest daily figure since May. Some 20,412 people tested positive for Covid-19, down slightly from the previous day:
Hong Kong-Singapore travel bubble to begin on 22 November
A travel bubble between Hong Kong and Singapore will begin on 22 November, Singapore’s airlines regulator announced on Wednesday, as the two cities move to re-establish overseas travel links and lift the hurdle of quarantine for visiting foreigners.
China reports 17 new cases, down from day before
Mainland China reported 17 new Covid-19 cases on 10 November, down from 22 reported a day earlier, the country’s health authority said on Wednesday.
The National Health Commission said one of the new cases was a local infection reported in Anhui, the first such infection in the eastern Chinese province since 27 February. The other 16 cases were imported infections originating from overseas, it said.
The commission also said the number of new asymptomatic cases fell to 15 from 25 reported a day earlier. China does not classify symptomless patients as confirmed Covid-19 cases.
The total number of confirmed Covid-19 cases reported in mainland China now stands at 86,284, while the death toll remains unchanged at 4,634.
England’s students to get six-day window to get home before Christmas
Students in England will be given a six-day window next month in which to travel home before Christmas, with mass testing carried out on campus before they are allowed to leave.
A mass exodus will take place on staggered departure dates set by universities from 3 December to 9 December after England’s four-week lockdown, under plans announced by the Department for Education (DfE)on Tuesday night. Students testing positive would need to remain in self-isolation for 10 days.
In a major shift, the government said it would also instruct universities to then move learning online by 9 December so that students can have the option of returning home to study from there. It is not known what the plan is for after the Christmas period though a DfE spokesperson said details would be published “in due course”: