The French government has unveiled a vast package of measures estimated at €110 billion to help the country through the coronavirus crisis.
A new budget bill announced by the Prime Minister Édouard Philippe aims to address the economic and social problems caused by the Covid-19 pandemic.
It is a significant increase on the €45bn plan announced in March, but the Finance Minister Gérard Darmanin said nobody could be sure €110 billion would be enough. “The government is prepared to go further if necessary,” Darmanan said.
France is among Europe’s worst hit countries from the pandemic, with more than 134,000 confirmed cases and in excess of 17,000 deaths, according to figures compiled by John Hopkins University.
With the loss of an estimated €43bn in tax revenues and increased costs to mitigate the crisis, the Economy Minister Bruno Le Maire has announced he expects the French economy to shrink by 8% this year. Measures in the emergency package:
- Frontline hospital staff are to get bonuses of between €500 and €1,500 and up to time-and-a-half for overtime hours until the end of the health emergency. The extra payments and bonuses will be free of tax and social charges. There will also be payments to carers in nursing and residential homes.
- Public officials who are working through the lockdown could be eligible for bonuses of up to €1,000, including police officers and teachers who have taken care of the children of essential workers.
- From mid May, there will be additional financial support paid to low income families: a €150 one-off payment and an extra €100 per child. Other low income families will receive €100 per child.
- The budget for the “partial unemployment” scheme under which firms are encouraged to keep workers on staff during the lockdown, with the government paying a large part of their salaries, was given an extra €4bn, taking it to €24bn. Around eight million French workers from an estimated 700,000 companies are believed to now be on the scheme. Workers at qualifying companies who earn up to €4,607.82 net – which is four and a half times the minimum wage – are paid 84% of their net salary while not working; those on the minimum wage will receive their full salary. The scheme covers temporary staff but not interns or apprentices.
- A further 900,000 small French businesses, freelancers and self-employed have applied for financial help that has also been increased from €1,500 to €3,500. Small businesses and the self-employed have been allowed to suspend payments of rent, gas and electricity.
The government appears to be making good on the president Emmanuel Macron’s early pledge that no French firms would be allowed to go under during the coronavirus crisis.
The French economy minister Bruno Le Maire said the government was also considering what financial aid should be given to the struggling national airline AirFrance-KLM and said he would announce its decision “in the coming days”.
Despite optimistic signs that there have been declining numbers of new Covid-19 cases in some European countries, the World Health Organization’s regional director for the continent warns “we remain in the midst of a storm”.
Hans Kluge, WHO Europe’s regional director, is answering journalists’ questions now at a briefing.
The coronavirus pandemic should act as a call for solidarity among Europe’s leaders, the German finance minister, Olaf Scholz, has said, adding that he hoped the European Union would emerge from it stronger. Reuters reports:
EU finance ministers agreed last week on half-a-trillion euros of support for their coronavirus-battered economies, but left open the question of how to finance the subsequent recovery in the bloc, which is headed for a steep recession. “The current challenge is a call for solidarity. That applies on a global scale, but it also applies particularly for Europe,” Scholz said.
His comments came in an interview with Reuters on Thursday, in which he also reiterated Germany’s reluctance to commit any form of collective post-lockdown debt issuance by the bloc or its institutions. Asked how the pandemic would change the EU, Scholz said: “I hope it will be stronger, more united and more confident.”
The outbreak has laid bare bitter divisions within the bloc, with member states squabbling over topics including money, medical equipment and drugs, border restrictions and trade curbs.
Last week’s agreement did not resolve the issue of whether to use joint debt to help finance the recovery, something Italy, France and Spain pushed strongly for but which remains a red line for Germany, the Netherlands, Finland and Austria.
The bloc’s 27 national leaders are only committed to discussing whether “innovative financial instruments” should be applied, paving the way for further debate.
MEPs and civil society groups have called on the European commission and European Council to condemn the Hungarian government’s exploitation of the coronavirus crisis to erode democracy.
In an open letter, 80 signatories, including Human Rights Watch and Transparency International, warned the European commission president, Ursula Gertrud von der Leyen, and the European Council president, Charles Michel, that they must not allow Hungary’s nationalist prime minister, Viktor Orbán to use the pandemic as a smokescreen for anti-democratic activities
The measures, in place since late March, have been criticised for the sweeping powers they hand to Orbán, to rule by decree. Another part of the bill provides penalties of up to five years in prison for those spreading misinformation during the pandemic.
The letter says: “We cannot allow unscrupulous political actors to use the current climate as a pretext for dismantling democracy and undermining the rule of law.
The recent actions of Viktor Orbán’s government in Hungary are a flagrant attack on the cornerstones of the rule of law and the values of the union. We therefore urge you to unequivocally condemn the Hungarian government’s misuse of the coronavirus crisis to erode democratic values.
The European Commission and the Council must also take swift and decisive actions to address these threats to the rule of law being carried out under the guise of emergency powers.”
Death rates from coronavirus in Ireland and Northern Ireland appear to be stabilising but care homes continue to be badly hit.
At least 10 people died in a care home in Derry over the past two weeks and eight died in a psychiatric centre in county Laois last weekend.
Irish authorities also reported the death of two healthcare workers, a man in his 40s and a woman in her 50s, who worked St Luke’s hospital in Kilkenny.
Ireland on Wednesday recorded 38 deaths, including that of a 23-year-old, bringing the official toll to 444. There are 12,547 confirmed cases of infection.
Ireland’s death rate has stabilised in recent days and the number of people in intensive care has declined slightly, prompting cautious optimism. “While a number of these parameters are going in a positive direction, it is clear that we need to keep going in our efforts, on an individual level, to limit the spread of this virus,” Tony Holohan, the chief medical officer, told a media briefing.
Northern Ireland reported six deaths on Wednesday, bringing its total to 121 deaths in hospitals, with 2,088 cases of infection. The predicted number of deaths was less severe than originally feared, when modelling suggested 3,000 deaths, said Robin Swann, the health minister. “We cannot be certain of how this first wave will play out – no modelling can predict the future – but we can acknowledge that the unprecedented social distancing restrictions on all our lives are starting to make an impact.”
More from the Netherlands, where a study of blood donors has discovered that around 3% have developed antibodies against the new coronavirus, giving an indication of what percentage of the Dutch population may have already had the disease.
The head of the National Institute for Health (RIVM), Jaap van Dissel, disclosed the results during a debate with parliament on Thursday.
“This study shows that about 3% of Dutch people have developed antibodies against the coronavirus,” Van Dissel said. “You can calculate from that, it’s several hundred thousand people” in a country of 17 million.
There are 28,158 confirmed coronavirus cases in the Netherlands, but only the very ill and healthcare workers are currently being tested, Reuters reports.
Akhtar Mohammad Makoii
The president of Afghanistan has asked the Taliban to declare a ceasefire in an effort to instead fight coronavirus as the number of confirmed cases reached 840, triggered by a surge of infections in Kabul.
The country’s president, Ashraf Ghani, has asked for a ceasefire across the country so health workers can fight the virus. “I call on the Taliban to give a positive response to the rightful demand of United Nations secretary general, regional governments, people of Afghanistan and the government to stop war and declare a ceasefire,” he said.
About 56 new Covid-19 cases have been recorded in the last 24 hours, a health ministry spokesman said in a press conference in Kabul. Of the new cases, 37 were confirmed in Kabul, the country’s capital. The city of six million, which has so far recorded 238 confirmed cases, is under full lockdown in an attempt to contain the spread of the disease.
Six new coronavirus deaths have also been reported in the same period, pushing the death toll to 30. There have been 56 recoveries so far.
Of new cases, 11 have been confirmed in Herat, Afghanistan’s worst affected area so far, with 321 confirmed cases.
In Kandahar, the testing process is halted due to lack of test kits, local officials said. The province has had a surge in infections as thousands of Afghan migrants poured back from Pakistan in recent days. Kandahar went into full lockdown on Wednesday.
A health ministry spokesman said the real number of infections is higher than what the ministry announces as many of patients decline to be hospitalised, citing “social stigma”.
“We’re so vulnerable, because of war, migrants and also we are a poor nation but our good point is that we get united at times of crises,” the spokesman said.
The Foreign Office has responded to our earlier report detailing how Britons have been left stranded in Peru after missing UK repatriation flight because a military aircraft that had been sent to collect them refused to let them board.
According to the Foreign Office, a dozen passengers were unable to board the flight from Cusco to the country’s capital, Lima, because they failed a health screening.
A Foreign Office spokesman said: “We can confirm that, unfortunately, a dozen passengers were refused access to the military flight from Cusco to Lima that was due to join up with the flight to London. The Peruvian authorities denied them boarding, following health screening.
“We recognise this is deeply disappointing for these passengers and a worrying time. We will continue to do all we can to support them and other British nationals who remain in Peru.”
Authorities in the India state of Kashmir have issued an unusual order as part of their efforts to stop the spread of coronavirus: the felling of thousands of poplar trees.
The Jammu and Kashmir administration said pollen from the millions of Russian poplar trees in the region risked causing hay fever and allergies, which could result in sneezing and coughing, which might then increase the spread of coronavirus and make people more vulnerable.
The order issued by the Jammu and Kashmir government requested district administrations to carry out “lopping/felling” of the poplar trees as they “may prove fatal to the public health”.
“The pollen of said trees,” added one local magistrate, “create influenza like infections which may create unnecessary panic among the general public”. The magistrate ordered all poplar trees in the district to be cut within the week.
The ruling was the result of a petition filed to the Jammu and Kashmir high court in early April, stating that poplar pollen could create “havoc for humans with respiratory diseases” and potentially aggravate COVID-19 infections.
However, doctors have called this into question, stating there is little evidence that poplar pollen causes respiratory problems. Activists and conservationists, meanwhile, said the felling will have a hugely detrimental impact on the environment of Kashmir.
“Eradication of exotic varieties of poplars would result in an economic and ecological disaster in Kashmir,” warned Tariq Hussain Masoodi, dean of the forest faculty at Sher-e-Kashmir University of Agriculture Sciences and Technology.
The Jammu and Kashmir government said they had now assembled a team of experts and would be evaluating the issue over the next two weeks.
There are an estimated 10-15m poplar trees in Kashmir, and every April they shed cotton-like balls, which can be seen floating in the air. But this is not the first time they have been subject to a felling order. In 2015, following health concerns, Jammu and Kashmir high court banned the sale, purchase and planting of the trees and ordered millions felled.
Poland is loosening its coronavirus lockdown as it will reopen parks and forests on Monday before eventually revising rules on the number of customers allowed in shops, a minister has indicated.
The country has so far recorded 7,582 coronavirus cases with 286 deaths, according to figures compiled by Johns Hopkins University.
Poland’s prime minister is expected to announce on Thursday details of the government’s plan for easing restrictions on public life, which were launched to curb the spread of the virus.
“Final decisions will be taken today. I think that first, starting from Monday we can expect opening of forests, green areas,” the state assets minister, Jacek Sasin, told private radio RMF on Thursday. Poland will also revise the rules on the number of customers allowed in shops at a time, he added, but did not say when they would come into effect. Sasin also said it is too early to talk about reopening of schools.
It comes after protesters in Poland defied the coronavirus lockdown to oppose a proposal that would almost completely ban abortion.
Like elsewhere, the economic reality of the coronavirus pandemic lockdown is beginning to bite in the Netherlands where the number of people filing for unemployment benefits soared by 42% in March.
The country, the eurozone’s fifth largest economy, paid benefits to 37,800 new unemployed in March, an increase of 11,200 from the month before.
The strongest increases were among people who used to work in restaurants and bars, and among people under 25 years of age, the Dutch federal employment agency said. on Thursday.
The country’s government ordered all restaurants, bars, museums, sport facilities and other public places in the Netherlands to shut down on 15 March in the fight against the coronavirus pandemic. They are to remain shut until at least 28 April. To help businesses cope with the economic standstill and to prevent significant layoffs, the Dutch government has said it will cover up to 90% of the wage bill of companies who see a significant decline in sales in the coming months.
More than 85,000 companies have already applied for this support. Despite the help, the number of people who lost their jobs in March jumped almost 10% from the previous month to about 283,000, Statistics Netherlands said.
Nearly two dozen French sailors are being treated in hospital after a large outbreak of Covid-19 on board an aircraft carrier.
Some 1,767 marines have been evacuated from the French carrier, the Charles De Gaulle, with at least 668 testing positive for coronavirus.
“There are about 20 at the moment in hospital. Out of the 20, one is in the re-animation ward and in a stable case,” spokesman Eric Lavault told RMC radio.
On Wednesday, the French armed forces ministry said 1,767 marines – nearly all from the Charles de Gaulle carrier itself – had been evaluated and at least 668 had tested positive for the virus.
The vessel set sail for the eastern Mediterranean on 21 January to support French military operations in Iraq and Syria, before deploying to the Atlantic and then the Baltic. It participated in exercises with northern European navies in the Baltic Sea before returning to Toulon two weeks earlier than planned after crew members showed signs of Covid-19 symptoms.
Let’s kick off with some good news to warm our hearts during these dark times. In the UK, a 99-year-old war veteran has now raised more than £12million for the NHS by walking lengths of his garden.
Cap Tom Moore, who lives with his family in Bedfordshire, had originally planned to raise £1,000 with his challenge but smashed through his target after his efforts captivated the nation.
The veteran, who served in the second world war after being selected for officer training in 1940 and completed postings in India and Sumatra, is walking 10 laps of the 25-metre garden a day with the help of his walking aid and hoped to reach 100 laps by his 100th birthday in April. However, he is likely to reach his target ahead of schedule today.
“Our brave nurses and doctors are frontline in this case … this time our army are in doctors and nurses uniforms and they’re doing a marvellous job,” Moore said earlier this week.
Here’s my colleague Jessica Murray’s story about Tom from yesterday by which time the war veteran had already raised £9m.
Morning folks, it’s Simon Murphy here taking the helm of the coronavirus global live blog from the UK to steer you through events as they unfold for the next few hours.
That’s it from me, Helen Sullivan for today. Thanks for following along – I’m now handing the blog over to my colleague Simon Murphy, who is suitably caffeinated.
But first – a poem:
Profit over people, cost over care: America’s broken healthcare exposed by virus
In the wealthiest country in the world, the Covid-19 pandemic has exposed the core of a healthcare system that is structurally incapable of dealing with the pandemic. Federal and local governments, health insurers and employers have pledged to help Americans pay their way through this crisis, but to do so requires a dramatic overhaul of a system which has for decades prioritised cost over care.
Coronavirus latest: at a glance
A summary of the biggest developments in the global coronavirus outbreak:
In the US meanwhile, retail sales plunged in March while industrial production in the same month suffered its steepest drop since 1946, data showed Wednesday.
Other reports pointed to weak homebuilder sentiment and manufacturing conditions, while a Federal Reserve report said American economic activity “contracted sharply”, AFP reports.
“The economic data was nothing short of disastrous,” Ann Miletti of Wells Fargo Asset Management told Bloomberg TV.
“How long can you sustain the shutdown is what’s on investors’ minds.”
President Donald Trump has said that he will on Thursday announce the first plans for lifting lockdowns after the US – the worst-hit country with the most virus deaths and infections – passes the “peak on new cases”.
The World Health Organization has warned, however, that lifting virus-related restrictions too early could have devastating consequences, with fears of a possible second wave of infections.