Nigeria To Evacuate 15 Citizens Stranded In Europe

In this file photo taken on August 07, 2018 (FILES) In this file picture taken on August 7, 2018 shows a Air France planes parked on the tarmac of Roissy-Charles de Gaulle Airport, north of Paris. JOEL SAGET / AFP
This file picture taken on August 7, 2018 shows Air France planes parked on the tarmac of Roissy-Charles de Gaulle Airport, north of Paris. JOEL SAGET / AFP

 

The Federal Government has commenced the evacuation of another batch of 15 Nigerians stranded in Europe.

The Nigerians in Diaspora Commission (NIDCOM) disclosed this on Thursday via its Twitter handle.

As of 11am, the commission said the evacuees would depart the Charles de Gaulle Airport in Paris via an Air France flight to Nigeria and Cotonou, Benin Republic.

It explained that the evacuation exercise was coordinated by the Nigerian Mission in France, Germany, and the Netherlands, and monitored by NIDCOM.

According to the commission, the returnees are expected to arrive at the Murtala Muhammed International Airport in Lagos at about 4:45pm.

It noted that the evacuees would proceed on 14 days self-isolation as mandated by the Nigeria Centre for Disease Control (NCDC), the Federal Ministry of Health, and the Presidential Task Force (PTF) on COVID-19.

Read the tweets below:

 

Over 400 Nigerians Evacuated

The evacuation of the latest batch of Nigerians comes barely a day after more than 400 Nigerians returned to the country from the United Arab Emirates (UAE) and India.

In separate tweets on Wednesday, NIDCOM stated that 246 people returned from UAE and 162 others were evacuated from India.

It noted that the returnees from Dubai arrived at the Murtala Muhammed International Airport at 3:30pm on Wednesday, adding that the Nigerian Mission in Dubai and the UAE government paid for the flight tickets and COVID-19 test for 131 evacuees.

The returnees from India, on the other hand, arrived at the Nnamdi Azikiwe International Airport in Abuja after about four hours.

Ninety-six evacuees disembarked in Abuja while the remaining 66 proceeded to Lagos.

See the tweets below:

British And German Remdesivir Stocks ‘Sufficient’ As US Buys Up Supply

This file photo taken on April 8, 2020 shows one vial of the drug Remdesivir during a press conference about the start of a study with the Ebola drug Remdesivir in particularly severely ill patients at the University Hospital Eppendorf (UKE) in Hamburg, northern Germany, amidst the new coronavirus COVID-19 pandemic. Ulrich Perrey / POOL / AFP
This file photo taken on April 8, 2020 shows one vial of the drug Remdesivir during a press conference about the start of a study with the Ebola drug Remdesivir in particularly severely ill patients at the University Hospital Eppendorf (UKE) in Hamburg, northern Germany, amidst the new coronavirus COVID-19 pandemic. Ulrich Perrey / POOL / AFP

 

 

Britain and Germany said Wednesday they had sufficient stocks of remdesivir, the first drug to be shown to be relatively effective in treating COVID-19, and of which the United States has bought almost all supply.

The US government announced this week that it had bought 92 percent of all remdesivir production by the Gilead laboratory until the end of September — about 500,000 treatments out of nearly 550,000. Each treatment requires 6.25 vials on average.

President Donald Trump “has struck an amazing deal to ensure Americans have access to the first authorized therapeutic for COVID-19,” said Secretary of Health and Human Services Alex Azar.

The drug was approved in the United States on May 1 after clinical trials showing it reduced the recovery time for seriously ill COVID-19 patients by four days, and Europe is set to approve it soon.

Washington’s buy-up raised concerns about a shortage in the rest of the world, but at least two European countries said Thursday that they were not worried.

“The UK has been using remdesivir for some time, first in trials and now in the early access to medicines scheme. The UK currently has a sufficient stock,” the British Prime Minister’s spokesman said.

In Germany, a health ministry spokesman said “the government secured stocks of remdesivir early on for the treatment of corona patients. At the moment, there are sufficient reserves.”

The Gilead laboratory has indicated that it granted free licenses to nine manufacturers of generic drugs in India, Pakistan and Egypt, which will have the right to distribute their versions of remdesivir in 127 countries, mainly in Africa, Asia, the Middle East and Central America.

Gilead boss Daniel O’Day said in May that remdesivir made in the US could also be exported.

Experts say that worldwide production should increase to meet demand.

“If you are worried that you or a loved one will need this drug and it won’t be available if you are not in the US, I don’t think that will be the case (and I certainly hope not),” Farasat Bokhari, associate professor in economics at the University of East Anglia, said.

“Manufacturers in other countries are going to ramp up production.  The only issue is how fast they can do it.”

 

 

 

-AFP

Merkel, Macron Meet As Germany Takes On High-Stakes EU Presidency

French President Emmanuel Macron (L) and German Chancellor Angela Merkel attend a news conference following talks on European Union integration, defense and migration at the Elysee Palace in Paris, France August 28, 2017. REUTERS/Charles Platiau.

 

Chancellor Angela Merkel hosts French President Emmanuel Macron for talks on Monday, just days before Germany takes on the rotating presidency of the European Union with an economy mired in the worst crisis since World War II.

Berlin’s chairing of the 27-member bloc will be its last with Merkel in charge, and could be the one that defines the legacy of the leader dubbed the “eternal chancellor”.

With the future of the bloc’s relationship with Britain still to be determined, a crucial shift to a lower carbon world in the balance and crises from Libya to Syria all jostling for attention, there is no shortage of burning issues to tackle.

But it is the COVID-19 pandemic and the economic devastation it has wrought which will dominate and concentrate minds.

READ ALSO: EU Trade Chief Hogan Drops Out Of WTO Race

“This crisis that we’re currently experiencing is different compared to any other we have experienced since the founding of Europe,” Merkel, in power since 2005, told parliament in an address laying out Berlin’s priorities for the EU presidency.

“Alone in Europe, it has claimed more than 100,000 lives. A few weeks of economic standstill was enough to endanger what we have built up over years.”

With all to play for, member states are anxiously looking to Europe’s biggest economy to take charge.

In an interview published Saturday, European Commission chief Ursula von der Leyen said it was “very fortunate that Germany is taking over the presidency at this time of a major crisis.”

Merkel’s long experience and credibility “helps enormously,” she told the Handelsblatt newspaper.

– German ‘bulldozer’ –

Besides its geopolitical weight and economic heft, Germany takes on custodianship of the bloc with a strong hand as it has so far withstood the health emergency better than most other member states.

Compared to the debt crisis that threatened to sink the single currency zone in 2009-2010, Germany looks very different today — it’s out with Scrooge and in with Lady Bountiful.

Once an obstinate champion of budgetary rigour, Merkel’s government has ditched its no-new-debt dogma to throw resources at the crisis.

Its programme to shore up the economy totals more than a trillion euros in spending, loans and guarantees.

Together with Macron, Merkel sketched out the backbone of the 750 million-euro ($840-million) fund proposed by von der Leyen to bolster the bloc’s economy.

The fund would offer grants — with no repayment obligation — to countries hardest hit by the pandemic, a major policy U-turn for Berlin.

With an eye on the devastating blow taken by the worst-hit countries like Spain or Italy, Merkel explained that it was “imperative that Germany not only thinks of itself but is prepared for an extraordinary act of solidarity”.

“In such a crisis, everyone is expected to do what is necessary. And what is necessary in this case is rather extraordinary,” she told the Sueddeutsche Zeitung newspaper.

“Of course it’s good that things are moving forward finally. But it’s regrettable that without a jolt from crisis, this chancellor has usually lacked the drive to make changes,” complained weekly Der Spiegel of veteran firefighter Merkel — set to retire after elections late this year.

The recovery fund is likely to be among the key points raised when Merkel and Macron meet at German government retreat Meseberg on Monday.

Despite opposition from fiscal hardliners such as Austria and the Netherlaands, observers believe that the EU’s paymaster Berlin will ram through an accord.

“When the Germans are certain they are right, it’s very bulldozer, there is no margin for discussion,” a high-ranking EU official said.

– ‘Swan song’ –

An EU diplomat agreed, saying: “On the recovery fund, I expect Germany to dictate the whole process. Merkel is holding all the cards and (EU Council chief) Charles Michel will follow that.

“She also wants to get Brexit out of the way and she will always go for the deal as she wants to keep the West together. The third leg will be restoring ties with US after the election there.”

Merkel, who has ruled out running for a fifth term next year, won’t have much time.

Brexit talks will have to be done by the end of the year, while in November, the focus will be on whether US President Donald Trump, whose relationship with Merkel has been frosty at best, manages to hold on to his job.

What is clear is that Merkel’s fingerprints will be all over the EU’s roadmap through the next six months.

“This will be a very Merkel presidency, her swan song,” said the EU diplomat, adding that she would be using it “to craft her legacy”.

AFP

German Court Orders Facebook To Stop Merging Data Collected On Whatsapp And Instagram

This handout image obtained November 4, 2019 courtesy of Facebook, shows the new company logo for Facebook.  Eric BARADAT / FACEBOOK / AFP

 

A top German court on Tuesday ordered Facebook to stop merging data collected through its Whatsapp and Instagram subsidiaries or other websites unless users explicitly agree, in a legal victory for competition authorities.

Germany’s Federal Cartel Office (FCO) had told Facebook to rein in the data collecting in a landmark decision in 2019, but the social media giant appealed the order.

In a fast-track proceeding on Tuesday, Germany’s Federal Court of Justice (BGH) sided with the FCO watchdog in finding that Facebook was abusing its dominant position to force users to consent to all their data being collected.

“Facebook does not allow for any choice,” presiding judge Peter Meier-Beck said in the Karlsruhe courtroom.

He said the Silicon Valley company must comply with the order while its appeal is pending in a lower court.

It is a major setback for the social media giant, which has long been under scrutiny in privacy-conscious Germany.

Facebook insisted however there would be “no immediate changes” for users in Germany and stressed that the main appeals proceedings were still ongoing.

“We will continue to defend our position that there is no anti-trust abuse,” a spokesman said.

The FCO criticised Facebook in February 2019 for making the “unrestricted” data harvesting part of the website’s terms of use. That meant people had to tick the box or opt out of being on Facebook altogether.

The personal data picked up through Facebook’s own platform, Whatsapp, Instagram and third-party websites serve to build up a user’s profile for the purposes of targeted advertising, a key income source for the group.

The Federal Cartel Office ordered the tech giant to stop combining information from Facebook and non-Facebook sources unless users gave “voluntary consent”.

It also said Facebook was not allowed to exclude people from its services if they chose to refuse permission.

Facebook said at the time it disagreed with the decision, arguing the German anti-trust body was setting rules that applied “to only one company” and that it underestimated the competition it faced from rivals.

‘Abuse of power’

The FCO however found that Facebook was by far the biggest social network in Germany, with over 23 million daily active users representing 95 percent of the market.

Rivals like Snapchat, YouTube or Twitter “only offer parts of the services of a social network” and are not directly comparable, the authority said.

Facebook lodged an appeal against the FCO ruling with the higher regional court in Duesseldorf that is ongoing.

But Tuesday’s fast-tracked decision at the BGH was aimed at settling a row about whether Facebook can keep combining data in the meantime.

FCO chief Andreas Mundt welcomed the preliminary outcome.

“When data is collected and used illegally, an anti-trust intervention must be possible to prevent an abuse of market power,” he said in a statement.

Professor Rupprecht Podszun, an expert in competition law at Heinrich Heine University Duesseldorf, called Tuesday’s decision a “big win” for the FCO.

The German battle against Facebook is seen as a legal first and is being closely watched at home and abroad as concern mounts about the power held by tech behemoths.

The Californian firm led by Mark Zuckerberg has repeatedly come under fire in recent years over data protection and privacy.

In one major scandal in 2018, it emerged that data belonging to tens of millions of Facebook users had been harvested by consulting firm Cambridge Analytica, and used in part to support Donald Trump’s 2016 election campaign.

 

AFP

Germany Orders First Local Lockdown Since Easing – State Premier

 

German authorities on Tuesday ordered a new lockdown for an entire district — the first since easing coronavirus restrictions and a major setback for hopes of a swift return to normality.

The move came after a coronavirus outbreak at a slaughterhouse that has infected more than 1,500 workers.

“For the first time in Germany, we will return an entire district to the measures that applied several weeks ago,” said Armin Laschet, state premier of North Rhine-Westphalia.

He said the lockdown would affect 360,000 people in the district of Guetersloh, and would stay in place until at least June 30.

The new outbreak occurred at a slaughterhouse in the town of Rheda-Wiedenbrueck that employs nearly 7,000 people.

As of Sunday, 21 people were being treated in hospital, six of them in intensive care.

The outbreak in Germany’s most populous state is the biggest since the country began lifting the lockdown in early May.

READ ALSO: South Africa To Start Africa’s First COVID-19 Vaccine Pilot

Local authorities across Germany agreed then to pull an “emergency brake” and reimpose social curbs if the infection rate rises above 50 cases per 100,000 residents over a week in a particular district.

The rate in Geutersloh has soared well above that, sitting at 263 cases per 100,000 residents on Monday.

The new lockdown means a return to measures first introduced in March, with cinemas, museums, concert halls, bars, gyms, indoor swimming pools and saunas shut down, Laschet said.

Schools and kindergartens have also been closed ahead of school holidays which will start this weekend.

The move comes as Germany and the rest of the EU begin taking steps towards getting tourism up and running again, with many European borders reopening just last week.

Several planeloads of German tourists have flown to Spain’s Mallorca island to take part in a test of plans to reopen the popular destination as the country emerges from its coronavirus lockdown.

But the latest flareup in Guetersloh prompted authorities in the German island of Usedom to turn away a couple who had travelled from the affected district.

– Under control –

Several COVID-19 outbreaks at slaughterhouses, not just in Germany but also in France, have put a spotlight on the working and housing conditions facing the workers — many of whom come from Romania or Bulgaria.

The German government has responded by banning the use of subcontractors in the meat industry in a bid to curb the controversial practice of companies using middlemen to supply workers from abroad who are more vulnerable to abuses.

But Germany has also seen new coronavirus clusters in residential buildings in Lower Saxony and in Berlin, where 370 families living in high-rise flats were placed under quarantine in one neighbourhood last week.

Despite the new outbreaks, the Robert Koch Institute (RKI) disease control centre remained optimistic on Tuesday that the virus remains under control in Germany.

“If we are able to keep the number of cases low the whole time, then we will be able to contain and end outbreaks locally, and that will remain the case,” RKI head Lothar Wieler said.

With new infection rates sharply down from highs in March and a death toll significantly lower than those of its neighbours, Germany became the first major EU country to begin easing virus restrictions about seven weeks ago.

The government has noted that rules to maintain a minimum distance of 1.5 metres (five feet) as well as requirements to cover up noses and mouths in closed public spaces have helped in the fight against new transmissions.

It is now counting on contact tracing — both through human trackers as well as through a new app — to ensure that any new infections are isolated.

Chancellor Angela Merkel has repeatedly warned against complacency before a viable vaccine is found.

AFP

Former Pope Benedict In Germany To Visit Ailing Brother

 

Former pope Benedict XVI travelled from the Vatican to Germany on Thursday to visit his sick brother, officials said, in his first trip abroad since his shock resignation in 2013.

The unexpected trip to the Bavarian city of Regensburg was described as “a private visit” made necessary by the deteriorating health of Benedict’s 96-year-old brother Georg Ratzinger, said Clemens Neck, a spokesman for the Regensburg bishopric.

“It might be the last time the brothers see each other in this world,” Neck told AFP.

The Vatican confirmed the trip and said the only other time 93-year-old Benedict had left the Vatican since his resignation was a visit to the Castel Gandolfo papal palace outside Rome.

It is believed to be his first time back in Germany since 2011.

Benedict, seen as a traditionalist in the Catholic Church, stunned the world when he became the first pope in 600 years to resign, citing health reasons.

READ ALSO: EU Hopes US Pullout Of Digital Tax Talks Not ‘Definitive’

The former pontiff, whose original name is Joseph Ratzinger, now lives in a small former monastery inside the Vatican and has largely stayed out of the public eye.

“I wish Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI a good stay in Germany and the necessary rest to privately look after his brother,” Georg Baetzing, the head of the German Bishops’ Conference, said in a statement.

The trip comes just days after numerous EU countries reopened their borders to Europeans as coronavirus lockdowns are eased.

Benedict’s brother Georg is a priest himself and a former conductor of the Regensburger Domspatzen, the cathedral choir of Regensburg.

AFP

Berlin, NATO Caution Against Reducing The Number Of US Troops In Germany

 In this file photo taken on March 04, 2020, US soldiers patrol prior to an artillery live fire event by the US Army Europe's 41st Field Artillery Brigade at the military training area in Grafenwoehr, Germany. Christof STACHE / AFP
In this file photo taken on March 04, 2020, US soldiers patrol prior to an artillery live-fire event by the US Army Europe’s 41st Field Artillery Brigade at the military training area in Grafenwoehr, Germany. Christof STACHE / AFP

 

Germany and NATO on Tuesday underlined the importance of US troops in Germany for security on both sides of the Atlantic, a day after President Donald Trump announced he would slash the number stationed there.

“We think that the US presence in Germany is important for the security not just of Germany but also for the security of the United States and especially for the security of Europe,” German Foreign Minister Heiko Maas said during a visit to Poland.

Trump said he was reducing the numbers because Germany was “delinquent” in contributions to NATO and had treated the United States “badly” on trade.

Trump said there are 52,000 US soldiers stationed in Germany and he will bring this number down to 25,000.

But according to the Pentagon, there are only between 34,000 and 35,000 US soldiers permanently stationed in Germany. Rotation of units means the overall number can only temporarily top 50,000.

Maas said Germany had not been given any details on when and how the redeployment might take place.

“Neither the State Department nor the Pentagon has been able to provide any information about this,” he said, adding that any changes to Europe’s security architecture “definitely need to be talked about”.

NATO chief Jens Stoltenberg also said that US troops in Europe made both sides of the Atlantic safer.

Defence ministers from the alliance will discuss Trump’s plans during video talks on Wednesday and Thursday.

Russian foreign minister Sergei Lavrov declined on Tuesday to comment on Trump’s move, calling instead for the “resumption of a normal dialogue” with NATO members amid tensions over Moscow’s actions in Ukraine and the Middle East.

France called for Europe’s greater “strategic autonomy” within NATO in the wake of the US withdrawal, according to comments by French foreign minister Jean-Yves Le Drian due to be published on Wednesday.

Lithuanian President Gitanas Nauseda for his part said in a statement to AFP that the US presence in Europe was “the foundation of NATO deterrence”.

“We expect that some of the troops that the United States plans to relocate from Germany will stay in Europe,” he said, adding that Lithuania “would be glad to host US troops on a regular basis”.

Permanent US presence in Poland?

The move has been criticised as weakening America’s commitment to European defence as well as its ability to wield influence in the Middle East and Africa.

US troops have been stationed in the geopolitically vital country since the end of World War II, forming the bulk of NATO’s conventional defence against the Soviet Union during the Cold War.

The resurgence of Russia’s military ambitions under President Vladimir Putin has given the US presence new importance in the last two decades, with central and eastern European states leading the way in pressuring for stronger US defences.

Speaking at a joint press conference with Maas, Polish Foreign Minister Jacek Czaputowicz said his government had been in discussions about boosting the number of US troops in Poland, but the two issues were separate.

“I want to underline that these talks (with the US) have no connection with the recent US declarations and US-German relations concerning the presence of, or reduction of, US forces in Germany,” he said.

“From our standpoint, US forces in Germany also serve our security. We would want that presence in Germany to be continued.”

A country of 38 million people on NATO’s eastern flank, Poland has long campaigned for a permanent US troop presence on its soil to ward off Russian adventurism.

Trump has already upped his country’s troop rotations in Poland to 5,500 personnel as part of a wider NATO response to concerns in the region triggered by Russia’s 2014 annexation of territory from neighbouring Ukraine.

Having spent decades under Soviet rule before 1991, Baltic NATO ally Latvia also hailed the possibility of fresh US deployments to the sensitive region bordering Russia.

“We would welcome more American involvement in the safety of Baltics, including permanently stationed US troops here,” Latvia’s defence minister Artis Pabriks told AFP in Riga.

German Car Sales Slashed In Half In May – Official Data

A picture taken on March 19, 2020 shows a view of closed restaurants, bars and locations for adult entertainment on the “Grosse Freiheit” street in the red light district of the northern German city of Hamburg on March 19, 2020. MORRIS MAC MATZEN / AFP

 

German new car registrations plummeted by almost 50 percent year-on-year in May, official data showed Thursday, with virus lockdowns hitting the vital industry hard ahead of a massive new economic stimulus package.

Just over 168,000 cars were registered last month, the KBA transport authority said, down 49.5 percent compared with May 2019 and following a 37.7-percent drop in March and 61.1 percent in April.

The May figures showed “some reduction in tensions on the new car market,” EY analysts commented, but “the car sector remains in a deep crisis”.

Chancellor Angela Merkel and ministers unveiled late Wednesday details of a 130-billion-euro ($146 billion) stimulus package aimed at getting Europe’s top economy moving again.

But aside from increased subsidies of up to 6,000 euros for electric car purchases, there was no direct aid for carmakers — reflecting opposition from both economists and environmentalists to a repeat of 2009’s post-financial crisis “cash for clunkers” scheme.

Some politicians pointed to slashed value-added tax as a potential boost to auto manufacturers.

READ ALSO: Armenia Hospitals Overwhelmed As COVID-19 Cases Surge

May’s data showed that “reopening car showrooms at the end of April had next to no positive effect on demand,” said Reinhard Zirpel, president of the VDIK car importers’ federation.

“The sector now hopes that the measures announced in the stimulus package will end buyers’ restraint and bring about an improvement in the second half of the year.”

AFP

COVID-19: France, Germany Propose $542bn Recovery Plan For Europe

German Chancellor Angela Merkel listens during a joint press conference with French President Emmanuel Macron, who attends via video link, at the Chancellery in Berlin, Germany, on May 18, 2020 on the effects of the novel coronavirus COVID-19 pandemic. Kay NIETFELD / POOL / AFP
German Chancellor Angela Merkel listens during a joint press conference with French President Emmanuel Macron, who attends via video link, at the Chancellery in Berlin, Germany, on May 18, 2020 on the effects of the novel coronavirus COVID-19 pandemic.
Kay NIETFELD / POOL / AFP

 

France and Germany proposed Monday a 500-billion-euro ($542-billion) fund to finance the recovery of the European Union’s economy from the devastation wrought by the coronavirus crisis.

Putting aside past differences and seeking to prove that the Franco-German core of Europe remains intact, President Emmanuel Macron and Chancellor Angela Merkel announced the unprecedented package after talks by video conference.

With the European economy facing its biggest challenge since World War II, Macron also acknowledged that the EU had fallen short in its initial response to the virus and needed to coordinate more closely on health.

Financed by “borrowing from the market in the name of the EU,” the 500 billion euros will flow to the “worst-hit sectors and regions” in the 27-member bloc, the two countries said in a joint statement.

“We are convinced that it is not only fair but also necessary to now make available the funds… that we will then gradually repay through several future European budgets,” Merkel said.

Countries benefitting from the financing would not have to repay the money, Macron added, emphasising that the funds “were not loans.”

The eurozone economy overall is forecast to contract by a whopping 7.7 percent this year, with the damage set to be most severe in southern members like Italy and Greece.

‘More solidarity’

The agreement of such borrowing marks a major shift by Germany, which has until now rebuffed calls by Spain and Italy for so-called “coronabonds” for joint borrowing on financial markets to provide stimulus cash.

Germany, the Netherlands and other rich countries had seen them as an attempt by the indebted south to unfairly take advantage of the north’s fiscal discipline.

The Merkel-Macron plan now faces a potentially painful negotiation with all 27 member states and then a vote in European Parliament, which had been eyeing an even larger package.

In the first signs of cracks within the EU, Austria insisted that any help should be in the form of loans, not grants.

“We will continue to show solidarity and to support those countries which have been worst affected by the corona crisis, but this has to be in the form of loans not grants,” a statement from Austrian Chancellor Sebastian Kurz’s office said.

On the other side of the spectrum, a source in the office of Italian Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte described the plan as a “good starting point”, but said a package that should not be “revised downwards, but rather expanded.”

European Commission chief Ursula von der Leyen, who would have to help implement the package, hailed the plan as a “constructive proposal.”

“It acknowledges the scope and the size of the economic challenge that Europe faces,” she said.

Merkel said the seriousness of the crisis meant that “solidarity” must be the order of the day.

“The aim is to ensure that Europe comes out of the crisis more cohesive and with more solidarity,” she said, calling the proposal “courageous.”

Traditionally seen as the engine that powers Europe, the French-German alliance had until the announcement appeared to be stumbling in recent months.

Paris wanted Germany to show more fiscal flexibility and some reports suggested Berlin was irritated by Macron grandstanding on the European stage.

‘Learn the lessons’

Macron said stronger European coordination on health issues must be a priority, admitting that the EU fell short in its initial response to the coronavirus outbreak.

“Europe was without doubt put at fault at the beginning of this crisis,” Macron said.

He added that unilateral steps by some EU countries to close borders — without consulting their neighbours — had given a “sad image” of Europe, with some members showing “nationalist reflexes”.

He said Europe needed “very concrete capacities” to handle health crises with shared stocks of masks and tests, and prevention plans to combat epidemics.

“A Europe of health — which has never existed — has to be our priority,” he said. “We need to learn all the lessons from this pandemic.”

In a sign of how the pandemic has changed global diplomacy, their joint press conference saw them stand at lecterns in cities hundreds of kilometres (miles) apart, with Merkel in Berlin and Macron in Paris.

Just In: Leaders Bayern Munich Brush Aside Union On Bundesliga Return

Robert Lewandowski bagged his 26th league goal this season as leaders Bayern Munich maintained their four-point lead by brushing aside Union Berlin 2-0 behind closed doors on Sunday on the Bundesliga’s restart weekend.

READ ALSO: Dortmund Thrash Schalke As Bundesliga Makes ‘Very Strange’ Return

Lewandowski netted a first-half penalty and defender Benjamin Pavard added a late header in Berlin after the Bundesliga became the first top European league on Saturday to resume during the coronavirus pandemic.

Haaland Scores First Post-Lockdown Goal In Bundesliga

Dortmund's Norwegian forward Erling Braut Haaland celebrates after scoring the opening goal during the German first division Bundesliga football match BVB Borussia Dortmund v Schalke 04 on May 16, 2020 in Dortmund, western Germany as the season resumed following a two-month absence due to the novel coronavirus COVID-19 pandemic. Martin Meissner / POOL / AFP
Dortmund’s Norwegian forward Erling Braut Haaland celebrates after scoring the opening goal during the German first division Bundesliga football match BVB Borussia Dortmund v Schalke 04 on May 16, 2020 in Dortmund, western Germany as the season resumed following a two-month absence due to the novel coronavirus COVID-19 pandemic. Martin Meissner / POOL / AFP

 

The setting may be unfamiliar with the German Bundesliga returning behind closed doors after a two-month coronavirus shutdown, but the identity of the day’s first goal-scorer was entirely familiar as Erling Braut Haaland put Borussia Dortmund ahead against Schalke on Saturday.

Haaland diverted a low Thorgan Hazard cross into the far corner of the net in the 29th minute for the first goal of the five matches kicking off on Saturday afternoon on the long-awaited comeback of top-flight football in Europe.

It was the 10th goal in nine Bundesliga appearances for the prolific 19-year-old Norwegian striker, who moved to Dortmund from Red Bull Salzburg in the winter.

Usually the scorer of the first goal in the Ruhr derby — one of the biggest fixtures in German football — could expect to be mobbed by his teammates.

On this occasion, though, Haaland’s colleagues respected social distancing recommendations and avoided getting too close as they applauded the smiling and dancing goal-scorer.

Haaland also had a hand in the second goal, forcing Schalke goalkeeper Markus Schubert into a poor clearance which led to Raphael Guerreiro making it 2-0 just before half-time.

A Dortmund win would leave them a point behind leaders Bayern Munich, who play on Sunday.

All Eyes On Germany As Bundesliga Football Returns

Referee Deniz Aytekin, 2nd left, and his team stand on the pitch prior the German first division Bundesliga football match BVB Borussia Dortmund v Schalke 04 on May 16, 2020 in Dortmund, western Germany as the season resumed following a two-month absence due to the novel coronavirus COVID-19 pandemic. Martin Meissner / POOL / AFP
Referee Deniz Aytekin, 2nd left, and his team stand on the pitch prior the German first division Bundesliga football match BVB Borussia Dortmund v Schalke 04 on May 16, 2020 in Dortmund. Martin Meissner / POOL / AFP

 

The Bundesliga returns to action on Saturday with the resumption of the first top European league since the coronavirus lockdown watched closely to see if it provides a blueprint for other competitions.

Matches will be played behind closed doors and players and coaches, who have been in quarantine for the past week, must follow stringent hygiene guidelines.

In the highlight of six matches on Saturday, Borussia Dortmund host Schalke 04 in the Ruhr Derby at 1330 GMT, a fixture that would normally attract an 82,000 crowd to Signal Iduna Park.

Professional football returned to western Europe earlier in the day as the second-tier Bundesliga 2 resumed with four matches at 1100 GMT.

South Korean Lee Jae-Sung scored the first league goal in over two months when he gave Holstein Kiel a third-minute lead at Regensburg.

Although Germany has suffered far fewer deaths from coronavirus than other large European countries, it is still too dangerous for crowds to return.

On Sunday, Bayern Munich will resume their quest for an eighth successive Bundesliga title when they play in the capital against Union Berlin.

Bayern were four points clear at the top of the table when the season was suspended in March. An exciting Dortmund team featuring Norwegian striker Erling Braut Haaland and highly-rated English forward Jadon Sancho are in second place.

Mass testing

The German Football League (DFL) made no secret of the fact that several clubs are already in a dire financial situation as a result of the lockdown.

If they are able to complete the nine remaining rounds of matches by June 30, clubs could receive around 300 million euros ($324 million) in money from television contracts.

To order to get the political green light to resume, the DFL has put in place the mass testing of players and staff.

The matches themselves will be surrounded by extraordinary measures.

Teams will arrive at stadiums in several buses in order to meet social distancing requirements inside the vehicles.

Once play begins, players have been warned not to shake hands or embrace to celebrate goals, while substitutes and coaches on the bench must wear protective masks.

There are also concerns that fans will try to approach stadiums to support their teams from afar. Police in Dortmund have appealed to fans to stay at home.

Clubs in England, Spain and Italy, where leagues are weeks away from returning to action, will be watching to see how the weekend’s games go.

The Bundesliga is expecting millions of extra fans to watch television coverage worldwide, with particular interest in football-mad Brazil and Mexico.

“The whole world will be looking at Germany, to see how we get it done,” Bayern coach Hansi Flick said.

“If we manage to ensure that the season continues, it will send a signal to all leagues.”

Some have already fallen foul of the rules.

Augsburg’s new coach Heiko Herrlich has ruled himself out of Saturday’s match against Wolfsburg after leaving the team hotel to buy toothpaste.

“I made a mistake,” Herrlich said. “I did not live up to my function as a role model for my team and the public.”

While Herrlich was criticised, there was sympathy for Union Berlin coach Urs Fischer after he broke quarantine following a family bereavement.

It means he must miss his side’s clash with Bayern.

“All our sympathy goes to the Fischer family in this difficult time,” said Union president Dirk Zingler.

Ex-Chelsea striker Salomon Kalou, 34, has been suspended by Hertha Berlin for shaking hands with team-mates.

Bavaria’s state leader Markus Soeder warned that those who fail to follow the regulations should expect consequences.

“If the health experts have given you these suggestions, if the league itself has worked out concepts at great expense, then you have to abide by these rules,” Soeder said Friday.

“And if you don’t follow them, in case there is any doubt, there will be ‘a red card’.”

The coronavirus has claimed over 7,800 lives in Germany and a poll by broadcaster ARD showed 56 percent of the German public are opposed to football’s return.

But Aleksander Ceferin, the president of European football’s governing body UEFA, said the return to action was a “good sign”.

“It’s not just about football. People are depressed because of the lockdown and the uncertainty. Football brings a certain normality and positive energy. It makes it easier to be at home, when you can watch sport,” he told BeinSport.