Coronavirus: Germany extends lockdown until March 7th.

German chancellor Angela Merkel and the country’s 16 governors are largely extending the country’s coronavirus lockdown until March 7th amid concern that new virus variants could reverse a decline in new confirmed cases.

After Ms Merkel met with governors in a video conference, the government released their agreement on Wednesday.

It says there will be some exceptions made during the extended lockdown, including allowing hairdressers to reopen their businesses on March 1st, albeit with strict hygiene regulations.

Germany’s second lockdown began in November and was extended and toughened before Christmas due to concern that the number of Covid-19 patients could overwhelm hospitals.

It had been set to end on Sunday.

On Wednesday, Germany’s Robert Koch Institute reported the country had 8,072 new virus cases and 813 deaths in 24 hours.

In all, Germany has seen over 63,000 confirmed virus deaths during the pandemic.

The weekly number of newly infections has dropped to 68 per 100,000 inhabitants.

The government’s goal is to push the number below 50 to enable reliable contact-tracing. It peaked at nearly 200 just before Christmas.

China

People thronged the streets of China’s central city of Wuhan this week, as they made final preparations for the Lunar New Year to bring the curtain down on a year marred by the coronavirus pandemic that killed thousands.

The outbreak, which first emerged in Wuhan in late 2019, prompted authorities to enforce a complete shutdown between the end of January and early April last year, as hospitals overflowed with the sick and dying.

As the Lunar New Year approached, things were nearly back to normal in Wuhan, which has been largely virus-free for months, as people scrambled to make last-minute purchases of food and decorations for family celebrations ahead of the Year of the Ox, which begins on Friday.

“I feel happy,” said Song Bo, 33, who works in the auto industry. “Last year, we just stayed at home without doing anything or slept at home every day. This year, though we still need to wear masks, is much better.”

Some shopkeepers were also upbeat.

“When the city was put under lockdown, there was no one on the street,” said Li Hong Gang, a lantern vendor. “Now, business is recovering and I am satisfied with my sales.”

The city’s recovery has drawn close scrutiny, with video images of a crowded music rave in a swimming pool making global headlines in August.

But for merchants at its wet markets, such as Wu Xiuhong, the effects of the shutdown still linger.

Daily sales at Wu’s store, which sells nuts, have halved this year from their usual figure of 40,000 yuan (€5,110) ahead of the Lunar New Year holiday, she said.

“It’s depressing,” she added. “This year is too terrible. We usually have 10 staff but this year we can handle the store with only four.”

Sri Lanka

Sri Lanka will begin giving permission for Muslims who die with Covid-19 to be buried, the prime minister said, following an outcry over a previous ban.

Mahinda Rajapaksa gave the assurance in response to a question in parliament.

Sri Lanka has required the cremation of all people who die from Covid-19, saying the virus in human remains could contaminate underground water.

Muslims and non-Muslims have protested against the rule over the past year, calling it unscientific and insensitive of Muslim religious beliefs.

The United Nations and the United States have also raised concerns with the government.

The World Health Organisation and Sri Lankan doctors’ groups have said Covid-19 victims can either be buried or cremated.

Muslim lawmaker Rishard Bathiudeen said he is happy with Mr Rajapaksa’s assurance, but that the government should implement it by withdrawing the compulsory cremation rule.

“Many people have been cremated before and their families are living in great agony.

“I am happy that they showed some compassion even at this stage, but it has to be implemented soon because people are dying every day,” he said.

Sri Lanka is a predominantly Buddhist country where it is customary for Buddhists and Hindus, the second largest religious group, to cremate the dead.

Muslims make up about 7 per cent of the country’s 22 million people.

Sri Lanka has reported 71,211 coronavirus cases, including 370 deaths.

United States

A man has pleaded guilty to fraudulently obtaining $3.9 million (€3.2 million) in US federal coronavirus loans and using some of the money to buy a Lamborghini Huracan.

David Hines, of Miami, Florida, rubbed his forehead in apparent shame as he pleaded guilty to federal charges including bank fraud at a hearing Wednesday held via videoconference because of Covid-19 restrictions.

He will be sentenced in April.

As part of the plea, Hines acknowledged receiving $3.9 million in federal government loans on behalf of different companies he managed, fraudulently claiming they would be used to pay employees impacted by the pandemic.

Instead, he used the proceeds to go on a spending spree that included shelling out $318,000 on a Lamborghini sports car as well as running up bills at a jewellery store and a luxury Miami Beach hotel.

The Paycheck Protection Programme represents billions of dollars in forgivable small business loans for Americans struggling because of the pandemic.

It is part of the Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security Act, which became US federal law in March. – AP/Reuters

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