April 17 coronavirus news

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8:15 a.m. ET, April 17, 2020

It is "highly likely" that the coronavirus is "not man-made," European official says

From CNN's Nick Paton Walsh in London

This scanning electron microscope image shows 2019-nCoV, the virus that causes COVID-19.
This scanning electron microscope image shows 2019-nCoV, the virus that causes COVID-19. NIAID-RML

A European intelligence official told CNN that it "is highly likely that it did occur naturally and was not man-made," when asked about the origins of the novel coronavirus.

The official was responding to reports on whether the disease was genetically engineered by the Chinese.   

Some context: US intelligence and national security officials say the United States government is looking into the possibility that the novel coronavirus spread from a Chinese laboratory rather than a market, according to multiple sources familiar with the matter who also caution it is premature to draw any conclusions.

8:08 a.m. ET, April 17, 2020

Yemen can’t survive war on two fronts, UN envoy says, as coronavirus outbreak looms

From CNN's Radina Gigova in Atlanta

A local administration worker fumigates a neighbourhood in Yemen's capital, Sanaa, on March 23.
A local administration worker fumigates a neighbourhood in Yemen's capital, Sanaa, on March 23. Mohammed Huwais/AFP/Getty Images

The coronavirus pandemic threatens to bring "deeper and more widespread suffering" in Yemen, UN Special Envoy Martin Griffiths said, calling for an end to the country's conflict. 

“Yemen cannot face two fronts at the same time: a war and a pandemic," Griffiths told the UN Security Council on Thursday. 

"The new battle that Yemen faces in confronting the virus will be all-consuming," he said. "We can do no less than stop this war and turn all our attention to this new threat." 

Yemeni government forces, together with allies and rebels known as Houthis, have been fighting over control of the impoverished nation for more than five years, creating the world’s worst humanitarian crisis, the UN said. Roughly 80% of the population relies on aid relief.

“The arrival of the Covid-19 pandemic to Yemen threatens to bring deeper and more widespread suffering to the people,” Griffith said. “There cannot be a more timely moment for the two parties to commit to silencing the guns and ending the conflict through a peaceful, political solution.”

Griffiths has been “in constant negotiations” with the two sides on proposals for a nationwide ceasefire and on key measures, such as prisoner release, paying civil servant salaries, and opening roads for humanitarian access, the UN said in a statement. 

Nonetheless, hostilities have continued and civilian casualties have been rising every month since January, according to the UN. More than 500 people were killed or injured during this period, a third of them children.

Five years of fighting have degraded the country's health infrastructure, exhausted people’s immune systems and increased acute vulnerabilities, said UN Emergency Relief Coordinator Mark Lowcock. 

“As a result, epidemiologists warn that Covid-19 in Yemen could spread faster, more widely and with deadlier consequences than in many other countries,” he said. 

Precautions to reduce the risk from Covid-19 are being hampered by "bureaucratic roadblocks, insecurity and restrictions on staff and cargo movements," the UN said. Funding is another impediment, as 31 of the UN’s 41 major aid programs in Yemen will shut down in the coming weeks, if they are not supported.

Lowcock said he is worried about the loss of health teams that have been essential in containing past disease outbreaks. “We need these teams more than ever – not just to keep on top of Covid-19, but to contain a growing risk that cholera will rebound as the rainy season starts,” he said. 

7:56 a.m. ET, April 17, 2020

Shinzo Abe says there are issues with WHO, and Japan will review its funding after the pandemic

From CNN’s Yoko Wakatsuki in Tokyo

Japan's Prime Minister Shinzo Abe speaks during a news conference in Tokyo, Japan, on April 17.
Japan's Prime Minister Shinzo Abe speaks during a news conference in Tokyo, Japan, on April 17. Kiyoshi Ota/Pool/Getty Images

Japan’s Prime Minister Shinzo Abe told media in a Friday press conference that the WHO has issues and Japan will review its financial contributions after the pandemic is over.

"We must support WHO firmly now. However, it is true that there are problems and issues. I think it Is necessary to look into it once the coronavirus outbreak has ceased," Abe said.

Abe says the WHO takes a political stance and that Japan has been requesting for Taiwan to becomes a member for several years. China considers Taiwan a renegade province and objects to its inclusion as an equal by international organizations.

7:42 a.m. ET, April 17, 2020

Australian mayor fined after violating stay-at-home orders and going out for beer

From CNN's Isaac Yee in Hong Kong

The mayor of Australian city Warrnambool has been fined $1,044 after being photographed drinking beer with others outside a liquor store this month -- a breach of stay-at-home orders in the state of Victoria.

Victoria’s social distancing rules state that “gatherings of more than two people are not allowed except for members of your immediate household and for work or education purposes." 

In a statement released on Thursday, mayor Tony Herbert said "I made mistakes" and "I wish to apologies for them."

"I believed my actions to engage with business owners as part of my mayoral role was within the bounds of the law," Herbert added. "However, I realize I had inadvertently breached the new laws."

Speaking about the incident, first reported by public broadcaster ABC, Victoria Police told CNN: "Following reports of people gathering and drinking in a street outside a Warrnambool liquor store Tuesday 7 April, police can confirm they have issued four penalty notices for breaching Chief Health Officer directions."

Australia currently has 6,523 confirmed cases of the novel coronavirus, including 65 deaths.

7:32 a.m. ET, April 17, 2020

A crisis in care homes: Are the world's most vulnerable coronavirus patients being forgotten?

From CNN's Rob Picheta and Paula Newton

A senior living care home is pictured in Bagshot, England on April 14.
A senior living care home is pictured in Bagshot, England on April 14. Warren Little/Getty Images

As countries tackle their own devastating coronavirus outbreaks with varying levels of success, one troubling trend has emerged: a crisis in care homes.

Staff in long-term care facilities around the world are reporting a swath of undiagnosed cases, a lack of protective equipment, and a gap in the numbers with their residents’ deaths often going unreported.

In the UK, a group of social care charities said they are "appalled by the devastation which coronavirus is causing in the care system," in an open letter to Health Secretary Matt Hancock.

Hancock and the British government have faced intense scrutiny over the lack of personal protective equipment (PPE) available to care workers, and for the fact that the government's official coronavirus death figures do not record those who pass away in care homes.

Pete Calveley, the chief executive of Barchester Healthcare, said on Thursday that cases of confirmed or suspected coronavirus in care homes are “far more widespread than has previously been acknowledged.”

His company is caring for 663 residents with confirmed or suspected Covid-19 in 118 of its 236 care homes, he said.

In Italy, an investigation has been launched into a string of health violations at elderly care homes across the country. 17% of the first 600 elder care homes to be inspected had failed to follow national coronavirus protocols, authorities said.

These violations included a lack of protective equipment for staff, and an absence of dedicated quarantine space to isolate suspected coronavirus patients. A total of 15 facilities have so far been closed and their patients relocated.

Meanwhile, in Canada, public health officials revealed that nearly half of all coronavirus deaths are among residents of seniors’ homes.

Theresa Tam, Canada’s Chief Public Health Officer, has said she expects to see more deaths in the coming days even as the growth rate in positive Covid-19 cases continues to decline in some parts of Canada. There are dozens of outbreaks in long-term care facilities across the country and some have reported multiple deaths and infection rates of one quarter to one half of all residents.

On Saturday a criminal investigation was launched in a Montreal area seniors’ home after 31 residents died in less than a month. While five residents were confirmed Covid-19 cases, the cause of 26 other deaths is under investigation as Quebec officials said the owners concealed information including medical records.

Hundreds of Canadians have already pulled their relatives out of long-term care facilities but others say their relatives are too vulnerable to leave.

Ontario Premier Doug Ford, whose province is now dealing with outbreaks at nearly 100 long-term care facilities, said "he speaks from experience" as he described how his mother-in-law remained in an at risk seniors’ home in the Toronto area. 

7:12 a.m. ET, April 17, 2020

Pope Francis writes 'plan for resurrection' from coronavirus pandemic

From CNN's Delia Gallagher in Rome

Pope Francis delivers a blessing over St. Peter's Square at the Vatican on April 13.
Pope Francis delivers a blessing over St. Peter's Square at the Vatican on April 13. Vatican News/AP

Pope Francis has written a “plan for resurrection” from the coronavirus pandemic which calls for a united effort to end wars, care for the planet, and take care of the poor.

“Will we continue to look the other way with an accomplice’s silence in the face of the wars that are driven by the desire for domination and power?" the Pope wrote in an article entitled "A Plan for Resurrection," published Friday by Spanish Catholic magazine Vida Nueva.

“Will we adopt as an international community the necessary measures to stop the devastation of the environment, or will we continue to deny the evidence?” Francis asked.

In the article Pope Francis writes that the pandemic has shown the “fragility of what we are made of.”

“Borders fall, walls collapse, and all the fundamentalist discourses melt in front of an almost imperceptible presence,” the Pope wrote. “I hope we will find the necessary antibodies of justice, charity and solidarity."

6:49 a.m. ET, April 17, 2020

Prince William says 99-year-old Captain Tom Moore is "absolute legend"

From CNN's Lauren Kent in London

Prince William said Captain Tom Moore, the 99-year-old British War Veteran who walked 100 laps of his garden to raise money for the UK National Health Service, is an "absolute legend."

"I mean, it's incredible -- I did see it on the news the other night and I thought 'good on him,'" Prince William, the Duke of Cambridge, told the BBC in a Friday interview. "He's amazing and what I love also is that he's a 99-year-old war vet, he's been around a long time, knows everything. And it's wonderful that everyone, kind of, has been inspired by his story and his determination."

British veteran Captain Tom Moore looks on after completing the 100th length of his back garden in Bedfordshire, England, on April 16.
British veteran Captain Tom Moore looks on after completing the 100th length of his back garden in Bedfordshire, England, on April 16. Vickie Flores/EPA-EFE/Shutterstock

Captain Tom Moore completed 100 laps of his garden on Thursday morning and has now raised more than $22.4 million (£18 million) to support the UK's national health system. Moore started with the modest goal of raising £1,000.

Following his final laps yesterday, Tom Moore's children wrote on his fundraising JustGiving page, "We are so in awe of him as a father, a fundraiser and nation's treasure now." 

Meanwhile, a Change.org petition calling for Moore to be knighted by Queen Elizabeth has received more than 500,000 signatures.

6:33 a.m. ET, April 17, 2020

London mayor calls for masks to be worn on public transport and in shops

From CNN's Lauren Kent in London

London Mayor Sadiq Khan arrives in Downing Street in London ahead of government briefing on March 16.
London Mayor Sadiq Khan arrives in Downing Street in London ahead of government briefing on March 16. Peter Summers/Getty Images

The Mayor of London Sadiq Khan called for masks to be worn on public transport and in shops, in a Friday interview with the BBC. 

Khan said the UK is an "outlier" for not recommending masks and called for non-medical facial coverings such as bandanas, scarfs and reusable masks to be worn in public places. 

"I'm lobbying our government's experts and our government to change the advice," Khan said. "If you really can't stay at home, if you really have to use public transport and you can't keep your social distance, then wear a non-medical facial covering."

The UK government guidelines on social distancing do not mention masks or facial coverings. In a Downing Street press conference on April 3, the Deputy Chief Medical Officer Jonathan Van-Tam said there is "no evidence that general wearing of facemasks by the public who are well effects the spread of the disease in our society."

The World Health Organization is standing by its recommendation to only wear a mask if you are sick or caring for someone who is sick.

According to the WHO website: "If you are healthy, you only need to wear a mask if you are taking care of a person with suspected 2019-nCoV infection." It also says: "Masks are effective only when used in combination with frequent hand-cleaning with alcohol-based hand rub or soap and water."

But a growing number of countries have nonetheless updated their advice, urging their citizens to wear masks if they leave the house.  

In a series of Friday tweets, Khan added, "It breaks my heart that 20 London bus workers have lost their lives to #COVID19. It could easily have been my dad & his friends. I‘m taking part in this minutes silence at 11am with @UnitetheUnion and urge all Londoners to join us."

"Today I announced additional action to keep drivers safe, with middle-door only boarding on buses from Monday on top of enhanced cleaning & new protective screens on drivers’ cabs. Our transport workers are heroes and we must do everything we can to protect them," Khan said.

6:17 a.m. ET, April 17, 2020

Denmark's children head back to school after coronavirus closures

From CNN's Susanne Gargiulo

Denmark's Prime Minister Mette Frederiksen, right, speaks to pupils during the reopening of Lykkebo School in Copenhagen, on April 1.
Denmark's Prime Minister Mette Frederiksen, right, speaks to pupils during the reopening of Lykkebo School in Copenhagen, on April 1. Philip Davali/Ritzau Scanpix/AP

This week, as younger children across Denmark walked onto school grounds, school bags on their backs and holding parents by the hand, things seemed almost normal. Almost.

Jimmy Skov Glasdam Adetunji, head of secondary education at the Hendriksholm School in Rodovre, just outside Copenhagen, spent Wednesday going through classrooms with a measuring stick to ensure the 440 students could be seated at least two meters (six feet) apart when they arrived on Thursday.

He had split the schoolyard into six sections with red and white barrier tape, and sent a detailed diagram to parents outlining staggered arrival times, routes, breaks and lunch times.

"I can't wait to see the kids again," Adetunji said. "But we will obviously have to talk about the pandemic and the rules and why our playground is now marked by police tape. So, it's going to be a contrast between fun and seriousness."

A few miles away, in Bronshoj, Philip Mundt was dropping his six-year old son Emil for his first day back. "He is so excited," Philip said, laughing. "All the way here, he's been talking about how he's going to see his friends and that this is the best day of his life. He is really looking forward to this."

Schools across Denmark raised flags in celebration as they welcomed back younger students this week, with an excitement comparable to a first day of school. And it is the first day of school in over a month, after Denmark announced widespread closures on March 11 to contain the spread of the coronavirus.

The country was among the first in Europe to close borders, shops, schools and restaurants, and to ban large gatherings, among other measures. Now, it is one of the first to begin reopening.

Read more here.