US tops 1m virus cases as British Airways slashes jobs
The number of confirmed coronavirus infections in the United States topped one million on Tuesday, according to a tally by Johns Hopkins University.
The pandemic has claimed the lives of more than 57,000 people in the US, which leads the world in the number of confirmed infections with 1,002,498 by the Baltimore-based school's latest count.
Globally, coronavirus cases topped three million since the outbreak began in China late last year. The United States, with the world's third-largest population, has five times as many cases as the next hardest-hit countries of Italy, Spain and France.
Of the top 20 most severely affected countries, the United States ranks fifth based on cases per capita, according to a Reuters tally. The United States has about 30 cases per 10,000 people. Spain ranks first at over 48 cases per 10,000 people, followed by Belgium, Switzerland and Italy.
US coronavirus deaths, the highest in the world, now exceed the total number of Americans killed in the 1950-53 Korean War - 36,516.
Coronavirus deaths total just below the 58,220 Americans killed during the Vietnam War that ended in 1975.
The coronavirus has killed more people in the United States than the seasonal flu in recent years, except for the 2017-2018 season, according to the US Centres for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).
Flu deaths range from a low of 12,000 in the 2011-2012 season to a high of 61,000 during 2017-2018.
Coronavirus deaths in the United States fall far short of the Spanish flu, which began in 1918 and killed 675,000 Americans, according to the CDC. Unprecedented stay-at-home orders to try to curb the spread of the virus have hammered the economy, with the number of Americans seeking unemployment benefits over the last five weeks soaring to 26.5 million.
About a dozen states are beginning to relax the stay-at-home restrictions despite the warning of health experts that premature actions could cause a surge in new cases.
NYC IGNORES SOCIAL DISTANCING FOR FLYOVER
Meanwhile, hundreds of New Yorkers flocked to waterfront parks on Tuesday - blowing off social-distancing guidelines and standing shoulder-to-shoulder to catch a glimpse of the Blue Angels and Thunderbirds that, ironically, roared over the Big Apple in an airborne tribute to coronavirus front-line medical workers struggling daily to lower the number of COVID-19 cases.
Photos show packed crowds looking skyward from New York and New Jersey, throwing COVID-19 concerns up in the air for a chance glance at the famous jet squads, reports the New York Post.
"I'm not worried about it," said Arthur Moss, 41, who watched the show ith friends in Long Island City. "If you're outside you don't need to wear a mask."
However, New York Governor Andrew Cuomo has said people must wear masks outside when social distancing is not feasible, such on crowded sidewalks - but Moss, of New Orleans, apparently didn't know that.
"It's a beautiful day," he added. "I'm from New Orleans and I always used to see the Blue Angels. I'm out here to support the frontline people."
One local, who identified herself only as Margaret Ann, said she tried social distancing but found it near impossible.
"We tried, but the piers are 10-feet wide, same with the sidewalks," the 34-year-old said. "When these many people come at once there really isn't much you can do."
Nearly 500 people gathered along the park, many leaving cars double- and triple-parked along a nearby boulevard to rush out to the piers so as not to miss the show.
The 40-minute, joint flying demonstration by the Navy's Angels and the US Air Force T-Birds launched a nationwide display of airborne shout-outs to first responders and health care workers, with the jet teams taking to the skies above Manhattan, Long Island and New Jersey.
The jets' first zoomed over the George Washington Bridge in the north of Manhattan at midday (2am AEST), then veered west over Newark in New Jersey, before flying east over Lower Manhattan, Brooklyn and Queens. After that, they buzzed out over the Long Island Sound, looping around Westchester County before heading south toward Pennsylvania for the next leg of the tour.
Video shows the war birds flying in Delta formation over Downtown Brooklyn.
Dubbed "Operation American Strong," the 12-jet precision-flying crew will put on shows all the way to Texas, according to Air Force Magazine.
The Thunderbirds were founded in 1953, and the Blue Angels in 1946, in the wake of World War II.
BRITISH AIRWAYS CUT THOUSANDS OF JOBS
It comes as British Airways is set to slash up to 12,000 jobs as part of a restructuring plan forced on the carrier by the fallout from the novel coronavirus, its parent company IAG said on Tuesday (local time).
The firm said its plans were still under consultation but it was "likely that they will affect most of British Airways' employees and may result in the redundancy of up to 12,000".
Passenger demand would take "several years" to return to 2019 levels, it added. International Airlines Group (IAG), which also owns Iberia and Vueling, saw its shares lose 2.2 per cent as preliminary results showed first quarter revenue had fallen by 13 per cent to 4.6 billion euros ($A7.7 billion).
The group's operating result before exceptional items came in at a loss of 535 million euros ($A898 million), compared with a profit of 135 million last year, with the second quarter expected to be worse.
IAG said it had reduced passenger capacity for April and May by 94 per cent compared with the same period last year.
BA chief executive Alex Cruz had warned last month there would be consequences for the airline after the coronavirus pandemic devastated demand.
Recent weeks have seen the carrier, which has some 4500 pilots and 16,000 cabin crew, only operating flights for essential travel and repatriation of tourists marooned abroad.
Weighing further on the group was an exceptional 1.3 billion euro ($A2.1 billion) charge resulting, it said on Tuesday, from the "ineffectiveness" of its fuel and foreign currency hedges for the remainder of the year.
IAG, which said detailed first quarter results would be released on May 7, added its January-February operating result was similar to that period of 2019, despite the suspension of flights to China from the end of January as the virus impacted there.
The group repeated its February guidance that "given the uncertainty on the impact and duration of COVID-19, IAG is not currently providing profit guidance for 2020" as a whole.
"However, the Group expects its operating loss in the second quarter to be significantly worse than in the first quarter," given the virus fallout, Chief Financial Officer Stephen Gunning said in the statement.
BRITAIN HOLDS MINUTE'S SILENCE
Meanwhile, Britain has fallen silent in honour of health and other key workers who have lost their lives in the coronavirus pandemic.
People paused on Tuesday in a sombre nationwide tribute to the sacrifice made by those on the frontline, in roles ranging from doctors and nurses to carers, cleaners, porters and bus drivers.
Healthcare staff, some tearful, bowed their heads in memory of colleagues, followed in some areas by applause. Elsewhere, traffic stopped as essential workers in all key sectors were remembered.
Prime Minister Boris Johnson has vowed key workers who have lost their lives in the pandemic will not be forgotten.
Just back at work after recovering from COVID-19, he joined the countrywide commemoration, which the Unison union, the Royal College of Midwives and the Royal of College of Nursing had campaigned for.
Mr Johnson stood in silence alongside Cabinet Secretary Mark Sedwill and Chancellor Rishi Sunak inside 10 Downing Street.
Afterwards, the PM tweeted: "This morning I took part in a minute's silence to remember those workers who have tragically died in the coronavirus pandemic. The nation will not forget you."
More than 100 NHS and social care workers have lost their lives. Workers in other key sectors such as transport are also among those who have died while carrying out their vital work during the pandemic. College of Nursing chief Dame Donna Kinnair said: "I am heartened to hear how many people took part in the minute's silence to honour the memory of staff who have tragically died during the pandemic.
"We thought it was important to pay tribute publicly to those who have lost their lives to the virus, and I am proud that so many took the time to do so this morning." She issued an urgent call for protection of workers, saying the death toll must not be allowed to rise.
"An even greater task now remains - to stop more joining the tragic number of those who have died. All key workers, healthcare staff among them, must be afforded the greatest protection
WUHAN LAB VIRUS LEAK FEARS RAISED IN EARLY FEBRUARY
Advice to the Morrison government as early as February suggested that COVID-19 may have been an inadvertent leak from a Wuhan laboratory, three senior federal sources have confirmed.
In the early days of the outbreak the probability was initially placed at around 50 per cent that COVID-19 was accidentally released from a bio-containment facility but this was swiftly downgraded to a five per cent chance as more became known about the virus, according to a report in The Daily Telegraph.
Responding to The Daily Telegraph's revelations that Five Eyes intelligence agencies were looking at the Wuhan Institute of Virology after it was revealed two senior scientists had worked in Australia studying live bats, Health Minister Greg Hunt said the reason Australia wanted a review was to understand "exactly" how the coronavirus started.
"We want a clear, independent, fearless global review of the origins, the actions, and the global path forward, in relation to this and all future pandemics," he said.
In the upper echelons of the Morrison government it is now considered unlikely the naturally-occurring, highly-infectious coronavirus came from a laboratory but that further investigations are required to advance world knowledge and prevent future pandemics.
Home Affairs Minister Peter Dutton said while he could not comment on the Telegraph's report that senior Wuhan Institute of Virology scientists Peng Zhou and Shi Zhengli studied bats at the CSIRO's Australian Animal Health Laboratory, he said: "Obviously, ASIO and our agencies do a lot of work with their international counterparts, particularly the Five Eyes community. We've looked at a number of cases, particularly over the last couple of years," he said.
"But it's not something I'd comment on in terms of the investigation."
Mr Zhou - the head of the Bat Virus Infection and Immunity Project at the Wuhan Institute of Virology - spent three years at the bio-containment facility Australian Animal Health Laboratory between 2011 and 2014.
The other scientist whose work is being looked at is Ms Zhengli, who is the director of the Centre for Emerging Infectious Diseases at the Chinese Academy of Sciences' Wuhan Institute of Virology. She also spent time in Australia in 2006 at the Animal Health Laboratory.
When the COVID-19 outbreak occurred in Wuhan, Ms Zhengli said she had sleepless nights worrying whether it was released from her laboratory but has since strongly denied this occurred. The Daily Telegraph does not suggest the two scientists are responsible for the outbreak or spread of COVID-19, but merely that they have come to the attention of intelligence agencies.
CHINA SLAMS MORRISON GOVERNMENT
It comes as Chinese officials have accused Australia of selling "vinegar" as "wine," criticising the Morrison government's call for an independent review into the origins of the coronavirus as a "political manoeuvre".
A public stoush between the two nations over Australia's push for a global COVID-19 inquiry has continued to escalate, with Trade Minister Simon Birmingham confirming on Tuesday the federal government called China's Ambassador to Australia Cheng Jingye after he made "threats of economic coercion".
Mr Jingye had said the Chinese public would boycott Australian imports if the government continued to pursue a review.
A Chinese Embassy spokesman took the extraordinary step of publicly highlighting the "content" of the phone call between Mr Jingye, and DFAT Secretary Frances Adamson that took place on Monday.
The spokesman said Mr Chenge "flatly rejected" Australia's concerns about his remarks on trade and elaborated "clearly" China's position on the COVID-19 review proposal.
"(Mr Cheng said) that no matter what excuses the Australian side has made, the fact cannot be buried that the proposal is a political manoeuvre," the spokesman said.
"Just as a western saying goes: cry up wine and sell vinegar".
The Embassy claimed Ms Adamson "tried her best" to defend Australia's review proposal.
"(Ms Adamson said) the proposal has neither political motive nor targets China," the spokesman said.
"She also admitted it is not the time to commence the review now and Australia has no details of the proposal.
"She further said that Australia does not want the matter to have any impact on Australia-China relationship."
In a statement the Embassy said Australia should put aside "ideological bias, stop "political games" and do more to "promote" the bilateral relationship with China.
Originally published as US tops 1m virus cases as British Airways slashes jobs