International Covid-19 news: Spain’s medics contracting the virus, big outbreak at Congo prison

More than 70% of new virus cases detected in Spain over the past 24 hours have been among medical staff, the health ministry said on Tuesday, AFP reports. 

With the epidemic well in remission after peaking over a month ago, Spain has begun moves to ease out of the lockdown following weeks in which the rate of deaths and new infections has steadily declined.

These latest figures confirm a trend in recent weeks that showed medical staff accounting for most new infections.

Since the epidemic began, Spain has now counted more than 250 000 infections, including those people shown to have had the virus through antibody tests.

Of that figure, 18% of cases – or 43 956 – have involved health staff, in what Fernando Simon, who heads the ministry’s emergencies department, said was a “significant occurrence”.

Lesotho eases lockdown

Lesotho on Tuesday announced that a coronavirus lockdown would be tentatively lifted, in the only country in Africa yet to report a single case of Covid-19, AFP reports. 

Lesotho went into lockdown on 29 March to protect itself from a potential spread of the virus from South Africa, which entirely surrounds the kingdom and has continent’s highest number of confirmed cases.

That lockdown was extended to 6 May last month.

Prime Minister Thomas Thabane said “all non-essential services and enterprises” would be allowed to “temporarily open shop” from Wednesday.

Details on the timeline will be issued later, he said.

“The government is closely monitoring the situation,” Thabane said, adding that face masks would become mandatory in public places.

Borders remained closed for the time being, and Thabane condemned reports of illegal crossings from South Africa.

Lesotho’s army on Monday said it had intercepted 18 Lesotho nationals who had crossed back into the country with the help of patrol staff and health officials.

Covid-19 outbreak at Congo jail

The DR Congo government fears a “large-scale” spread of the Covid-19 pandemic after around 100 inmates of a military prison tested positive for the virus, AFP reports. 

“Contamination at the prisons could be a vector of large-scale propagation in our society, especially if it involves the Makala prison because of its overcrowding,” according to the minutes of a cabinet meeting.

With the emergence of Covid-19 cases at the Ndolo military prison north of Kinshasa — where cases doubled to nearly 100 in two days — “the risk of a lightning-fast spread… cannot be ruled out,” said the minutes obtained by AFP.

According to the latest bulletin issued Tuesday by a health ministry team tackling the pandemic, 101 cases have now been discovered at Ndolo, of which 92 were described as “benign or light”.

Of the other nine, three patients have been hospitalised, the statement said.

Congo has 705 cases, with 34 deaths.

US records steepest ever drop in exports

AFP reports that US exports plunged 9.6% in March – the biggest monthly decline on record – increasing the trade deficit to $44.4 billion as the coronavirus pandemic disrupted global commerce, according to government data released Tuesday.

While widespread business shutdowns in the US did not take hold until later in the month as cities and states imposed lockdowns to try to contain the spread of the virus, transportation disruptions began earlier overseas.

Imports into the US also fell, but only by 6.2% compared to February, as transportation and shipping began to close down worldwide, causing the trade gap to jump nearly 12% from $39.9 billion in February, the Commerce Department reported.

Exports fell by $20 billion to $187.7 billion, while imports fell to $232 billion, according to the report.

Analysts had been expecting a rebound in US trade after Washington and Beijing signed a partial deal in January that relieved some of their nearly two-year long tariff battle, but the pandemic has upended that progress.

The US is the epicentre of the virus, and has more than 1.2 million cases.

Virgin Atlantic begins job cuts

AFP reports that airline titan Virgin Atlantic will cut more than 3 000 jobs – around a third of staff – after the coronavirus put airlines under “unprecedented pressure”, the British carrier part-owned by tycoon Richard Branson announced Tuesday.

With the virus having decimated international air travel over the past two months, Virgin said it was obliged to make the cuts to preserve its financial future and added it was in talks with the government about potential support.