The Latest: Belgians urged to watch Easter services at home
The Latest on the coronavirus pandemic. The new coronavirus causes mild or moderate symptoms for most people. For some, especially older adults and people with existing health problems, it can cause more severe illness or death.
TOP OF THE HOUR
— Good Friday observed at home as Japan virus divide surfaces.
— Places of worship in Belgium are set to remain open, with social distancing measures in place, over the Easter weekend.
— Notre Dame Cathedral will have its Good Friday ceremony with no crowd.
BRUSSELS — Worship places in Belgium will remain open over the Easter weekend but health authorities are advising residents to watch religious services remotely as the death toll of the novel coronavirus has now surpassed 3,000 cases.
Benoit Ramacker, a spokesman for the COVID-19 crisis center, said on Friday that officials in charge of the worship places must ensure that social distancing measures will be implemented in religious premises.
“All other religious services are prohibited, except unfortunately for funerals, but also weddings,” he said. “We also see that several of you, many religious communities, have planned in the coming days an alternative religious service via Internet radio and television. Thank you and congratulations also for this creativity.”
According to the latest figures released by the health ministry, 40% of the 3,019 people who have died in Belgium because of the epidemics lived in nursing homes.
MADRID — The coronavirus has claimed at least 15,843 lives in Spain and has officially infected 152,446 people, although both the rate of contagion and mortality are dropping, official health ministry data shows Friday.
The 605 new deaths recorded overnight were the lowest increase since March 24. There were 4,576 more recorded infections than a day earlier, bringing down the daily rate of contagion to 3%.
The Spanish government is meeting Friday to establish a 20 billion-euro ($21.9 billion) fund to help small businesses and the self-employed cope with the economic fallout of the outbreak, but it’s also discussing what comes next for 47 million Spaniards who have been quarantined for four weeks.
After a two-week freeze of all nonessential economic activity, factories and construction sites are set to resume work on Monday. Schools, most shops and offices will remain closed, with people encouraged to work from home.
Experts have warned that the return of certain activity will increase contagion and that health authorities need to scrutinize any new cases.
A three-week survey of 30,000 households should help understand how many people are or have been infected and guide future “de-escalation” of the confinement measures, the government has said.
The state of emergency has been extended to April 26 for now, although Prime Minister Pedro Sánchez has said that he will most likely be asking parliament for further extensions.
TOKYO — Cardboard boxes are being readied at Tokyo’s Narita international airport for quarantine as arriving people wait for test results for the coronavirus.
Shotaro Tajima, a Japanese Health Ministry official in the contagious diseases section, said Friday people are now at nearby hotels and have not had to stay in the boxes.
If cases grow, people may need to wait longer for test results, which usually come back within several hours. Japan is requiring tests for people who fly in from dozens of nations, including the U.S., China and Italy.
Japan has about 5,500 coronavirus cases, but worries are growing about a surge in cases. The government’s state of emergency declared this week requests people to stay home. It also asks businesses to shut down but allows exceptions, such as small “izakaya” counter-bar restaurants, which can be open from 5 a.m. to 8 p.m. in Tokyo.
PARIS — Although still damaged and scarred by fire, Notre Dame Cathedral is — if only for an instant — coming back to life as a center for prayer in a Paris locked down against the coronavirus.
Just days before the first anniversary of the April 15, 2019, inferno that ravaged the beloved Paris landmark, the French capital’s archbishop is leading Good Friday celebrations unlike any others that have gone before inside the centuries-old jewel of Gothic architecture.
Archbishop Michel Aupetit will venerate a crown of thorns that survived the flames that brought down the cathedral’s roof and spire and horrified Parisians and believers across the world.
There will be prayers, readings and music during the Friday morning ceremony but no crowd. With the cathedral closed to the public, only a tiny handful of people are taking part. But the proceedings are to be broadcast live.
LONDON — A senior British official is being accused of flouting the government’s advice against all but essential travel outside the home.
U.K. media have reported that Housing Secretary Robert Jenrick traveled from London to his house in central England, then made another 40-mile (60-kilometer) journey to visit his parents.
Opposition Labour Party lawmaker Nick Thomas-Symonds said “it’s very important for public confidence that Robert Jenrick explains himself and why exactly that journey was necessary.”
Jenrick said he went to his parents’ house to deliver “essentials — including medicines” to his parents, who are self-isolating. Delivering medicines to vulnerable people is permitted under the U.K. lockdown rules.
Scotland’s Chief Medical Officer Catherine Calderwood was forced to resign earlier this week after traveling to her second home, in violation of her own rules.
Authorities are imploring people not to travel to see relatives or visit second homes over the Easter holiday weekend as Britain sees the number of deaths from COVID-19 continue to rise.
ANKARA, Turkey — Turkey is sending a planeload of surgical masks, N95 masks and hazmat suits to Britain to help the country battle the coronavirus outbreak.
State-run Anadolu Agency said a military cargo plane carrying the medical supplies took off from an air base near the capital Ankara on Friday.
A second plane carrying more equipment would depart on Saturday, the agency reported.
There was no information on the quantity of the supplies sent.
In the past weeks, Turkey has similarly donated medical supplies to Italy, Spain as well as five countries in the Balkans.
The items were sent in boxes displaying the words of 13th century Sufi Poet Jalaluddin Rumi: “There is hope after despair and many suns after darkness.”
ACCRA, Ghana — Some African nations are trying to ease the pain of coronavirus lockdowns even as they extend them.
In Ghana, President Nana Akufo-Addo says the lockdowns in the greater Accra and Ashanti regions have been extended for a week, but he pledges that the government will fully absorb the cost of electricity bills for the “poorest of the poor” and 50% of the cost for all other consumers.
In South Africa, which has announced a two-week lockdown extension, President Cyril Ramaphosa says he and his Cabinet will take a one-third salary cut for the next three months, with the money going to a fund to help vulnerable countrymen.
Full or partial lockdowns in Africa have affected more than 20 countries, severely hurting the livelihoods of millions of informal workers and others.
KUALA LUMPUR, Malaysia — Malaysia will extend its lockdown for another two weeks but let selected industries reopen in stages.
Nonessential businesses and schools have been shuttered for a month until April 14 but Prime Minister Muhyiddin Yassin announced Friday the restricted movement order will be extended until April 28. Even though the country has reported a reduction in cases in recent days, he said it was premature to lift the control measures as “the war on COVID-19 is not yet over.”
Malaysia reported 118 new infections on Friday, bringing its total to 4,346, the highest in Southeast Asia.
Muhyiddin said selected economic sectors can reopen in phases but must follow strict hygiene guidelines and movement restrictions.
He warned the lockdown could stretch up to a few months for the government to be entirely sure that the chain of transmission has been broken.
MOSCOW — Russian doctors will start treating patients with pneumonia for the new coronavirus without waiting for test results to confirm the diagnosis, the country’s Health Minister Mikhail Murashko said.
“We’re seeing that the disease progresses fast, and it has specific clinical presentation, (allowing) to diagnose (it) without confirming in the lab based on the clinical presentation,” Murashko said in a TV interview that aired on Thursday night.
Murashko’s statement echoes earlier comments from Moscow doctors involved in treating coronavirus patients, saying that the vast majority of pneumonia cases in Russia are most likely caused by the new virus and should be treated as such.
“Existing tests for confirming COVID-19 are 70-80% accurate,” Denis Protsenko, chief doctor of a top Moscow hospital treating coronavirus patients, said Thursday.
Russian health officials reported 1,786 new cases of the coronavirus on Friday, bringing the country’s total to 11,917. The outbreak has picked up speed in Russia in recent weeks, with the number of cases growing exponentially and doubling every few days. Kremlin critics have been questioning the official statistics, pointing to a growing number of pneumonia cases and suggesting that Russia’s coronavirus case count might be much higher.
BUDAPEST, Hungary — Hungary’s prime minister says the country now has about 2,000 of the 8,000 ventilators it expects to need at the peak of the coronavirus pandemic.
Prime Minister Viktor Orban also said Friday on state radio that he expects around 20% of Hungary’s health workers to be infected with the coronavirus.
Orban, who has extended indefinitely restrictions put in place two weeks ago to make people stay home, said Hungary was learning from measures implemented in neighboring Austria, which he called “our large laboratory,” where the pandemic is at a more advanced stage.
Hungary has 1,190 cases of the coronavirus, and 77 people with have died.
LONDON — Boris Johnson’s father says the British prime minister needs time to recover from the new coronavirus and is unlikely to be back at work imminently.
The U.K. leader spent three nights in the intensive care unit at St. Thomas’ Hospital in London after his COVID-19 symptoms worsened. He was moved back to a regular ward on Thursday evening, and his office says he is in “the early phase of his recovery.”
His father Stanley Johnson said the prime minister needed to “rest up.”
“He has to take time,” Stanley Johnson told the BBC. “I cannot believe you can walk away from this and get straight back to Downing Street and pick up the reins without a period of readjustment.”
Johnson was diagnosed with COVID-19 two weeks ago, the first world leader confirmed to have the illness. Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab is standing in for Johnson while he is in hospital.
MANILA, Philippines — Southeast Asian foreign ministers have endorsed in a video conference the setting up of regional fund to respond to the coronavirus pandemic and discussed a planned meeting of their leaders with counterparts from China, Japan and South Korea.
The Department of Foreign Affairs in Manila said Friday that the top diplomats of the 10-member Association of Southeast Asian Nations linked up by video Thursday in a meeting led by Vietnam. The ASEAN ministers could not hold an actual meeting due to the pandemic.
The ministers endorsed several collective steps to fight the pandemic, including the establishment of a COVID-19 ASEAN response fund, sharing of information and strategies and ways to ease impact of the global health crisis on people and the economy, the department said but did not provide details.
They also discussed a planned meeting of their leaders with counterparts from China, Japan and Korea in a video conference on April 14 to talk about the pandemic, three Southeast Asian diplomats told The Associated Press.
In Thursday’s discussion, Philippine Foreign Secretary Teodoro Locsin Jr. stressed the importance of maintaining peace and stability in the South China Sea amid the contagion, the department said.
The Philippines has expressed solidarity with Vietnam after a Vietnamese fishing boat was reportedly rammed and sank by a Chinese coast guard ship in the disputed waters.
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