International Covid-19 news: Europeans return to work, group started to counter Trump’s ‘misinformation’

Millions of Europeans emerged with relief from coronavirus confinement on Monday, with hard-hit Italy leading the way out of the world’s longest lockdown, AFP reports.

At least 3.5 million people are now known to have been infected, but US President Donald Trump offered hope for an end to the pandemic, saying he believed there would be a vaccine by year’s end.

The search for a cure received a further boost when the European Union hosted a telethon for world leaders aimed at raising 7.5 billion euros to discover a Covid-19 vaccine. About 248 000 people have died since the coronavirus emerged in China late last year and swept across the globe, given wings by the network of air routes that in normal times keep the modern world ticking.

Lockdowns imposed on half of the planet have derailed economies, and politicians are now grappling with how to get the wheels turning again without sparking a second wave of infections.

Italy – second only to the United States in its Covid-19 death toll and the first to impose a national lockdown – was gingerly emerging into the spring sunshine on Monday, with construction sites and factories resuming work.

Restaurants reopened for takeaway orders, but bars and ice cream parlours will remain shut. The use of public transport is being discouraged and everyone will have to wear masks in indoor public spaces.

Group launched to challenge Trump

AFP reports that a political action committee has launched to counter false and misleading statements about the coronavirus pandemic from US President Donald Trump with a wide-ranging, tech-infused social media campaign.

Defeat Disinfo, which started last week, plans to use “a sophisticated set of tools that allows us to spot misinformation just as it’s beginning to go viral on social media,” according to a statement.

It also aims to promote the “truthful counter narrative” about Covid-19 with tweet-for-tweet responses to limit the impact of inaccurate information.

Curtis Hougland, director of the committee and head of a technology firm which has worked to counter online propaganda from Russia and Islamic State extremists, said artificial intelligence would play a role in the effort.

The technology “uses techniques such as natural language processing and machine learning classifiers to determine the emotions, themes and messages animating the conversation in a predictive way,” Hougland said.

He said this technology “was incubated and tested at the front-line of ISIS propaganda” and has been updated for the latest initiative.

The committee is not aligned with any candidate but argues that Trump “is denying the facts on his administration’s coronavirus response,” adding that “we’re holding him accountable.”

Lockdown ends in Lagos, Nigeria

Africa’s biggest city, Lagos, Nigeria, returned to work on Monday at the end of a five-week coronavirus lockdown, AFP reports.

In the metropolis of 20 million, where exuberance and poverty live side by side, relief at being able to earn money once again was almost palpable, despite Nigeria’s mounting Covid-19 toll.

All shops seemed to be open, car parks were full and street hawkers selling cool drinks, grilled meat and vegetables were pitching their wares on street corners as before.

Seychelles returns back to normal

Life in the Seychelles began returning to normal on Monday as authorities relaxed confinement measures, with no new coronavirus cases recorded in almost a month and only 11 people infected in the island nation, AFP reports.

The country went into lockdown on 8 April, two days after the last case of the virus was recorded, shutting non-essential services and banning all movement aside from grocery shopping.

A few days later a nighttime curfew was added to the measures.

The restrictions were applied to Mahe, the main island as well as the second and third most-populated islands Praslin and La Digue.

On Monday most businesses were allowed to re-open and people were once again moving freely and going to work – few of whom wore a mask.

Authorities have called on citizens to nevertheless maintain social distancing measures and remain vigilant.

The absence of tourists has led the Seychellois rupee to drop 30% to the US dollar and the euro in recent weeks.