The Latest: Germany minister: WHO backbone of virus fight
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:
— German foreign minister: WHO is backbone of virus fight.
— Britain’s death total reaches nearly 14,000.
— Prince William opens new field hospital in Birmingham.
— Prime Minister Shinzo Abe issues state of emergency for Japan.
BERLIN — Germany’s foreign minister says cutting funding for the World Health Organization is like “throwing the pilot out the plane.”
The comment comes days after U.S. President Donald Trump announced American payments to the Geneva-based body would stop because of its handling of the coronavirus pandemic.
Heiko Maas says the United Nations and its health agency are the “backbone” of the current fight against the outbreak and “it makes no sense at all to question the functioning and significance of the WHO now.”
Maas says it’s important to strengthen the agency with more funding.
GENEVA — Swiss authorities will lift restrictions aimed for the coronavirus over the next two months after a decline in cases in recent weeks.
Home and Health Minister Alain Berset told a news conference in the capital of Bern, “We want to go as fast as possible and as slow as necessary.”
The Federal Council, Switzerland’s seven-member executive, says the three-step process starts with the opening on April 27 of hospitals for non-urgent needs, medical and dental offices, hair salons and some stores.
On May 11, all other stores and public schools are to reopen, followed on June 8 by professional schools, institutes of higher learning and libraries and museums.
Berset says those openings will come with protection guidelines and the plan may change. Switzerland has 26,732 virus cases and 1,107 deaths.
LONDON — Britain has recorded another 861 coronavirus deaths, bringing the total to 13,729.
The figure released daily by the government underestimates the actual toll because it only includes deaths in hospitals and not nursing homes or other settings.
The increase is 100 more deaths than the 761 reported Wednesday. It’s below the largest daily increase of 980, recorded last week.
The number of deaths each day is starting to fall in Italy, Spain and France, which were hit by the pandemic earlier than Britain.
U.K. health officials say it’s too soon to say whether the outbreak in Britain has reached its peak.
ROME — Relatives of residents in Italy’s largest nursing home are demanding information about the high number of deaths and reports that medical staff were prohibited from using protective gear for the coronavirus.
A Facebook group, the Committee for Justice and Truth for Victims of Trivulzio, is gathering testimony and information from relatives who are considering class action legal offensive against the Pio Albergo Trivulzio home in Milan, which is governed by local and regional authorities.
At least 143 people have died in the 1,000-bed home since the beginning of March. Prosecutors have opened an investigation into the facility and more than a dozen others around Italy.
The Trivulzio home has said it followed all security protocols and is cooperating with investigators.
LONDON — Prince William has praised the “selfless commitment” of doctors and nurses while opening a new field hospital in Birmingham, England.
The 500-bed Nightingale Hospital was built inside an exhibition center in just eight days. It will take patients recovering from the coronavirus, freeing up hospitals to care for the most critically ill. It has a mortuary and can increase capacity to take up to 4,000 patients.
The field hospital is the second of seven such temporary facilities to open, after the first became operational at London’s ExCel center.
Speaking by video link to about 50 health care workers and military staff, William said: “The building you are standing in is yet another example of how people across the country have risen to this unprecedented challenge.”
MOSCOW — Russian officials say the first coronavirus contagion has been registered at the spaceflight training facility outside Moscow.
The Moscow region’s coronavirus headquarters reported the Star City cosmonaut training center had its first infection, but didn’t identify the person.
The Star City serves as the main hub for training of U.S., Russian and other crew of the International Space Station.
The newest crew consisting of NASA’s Chris Cassidy and Russians Anatoly Ivanishin and Ivan Vagner arrived at the orbiting lab a week ago. Cassidy said before the blastoff that he and his crewmates had been in “a very strict quarantine” for a month before the flight and were feeling good.
Roscosmos director Dmitry Rogozin says the Russian space corporation had 30 coronavirus cases.
LONDON — British regulators have approved the first newly adapted ventilator design from the consortium seeking to quickly build the devices.
The Penlon model has been authorized by the Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency. This model will help COVID-19 patients, who need their lungs cleared of fluid more often.
The government has ordered 15,000 of the devices. The first 40 are being sent to the military logistics hub in Donnington, southeast England, for distribution to the National Health Service on Thursday.
More than 10,000 ventilators are currently available and the government has some 2,000 on order from existing suppliers. Hundreds are expected to be built over the next week.
NICOSIA, Cyprus — Cyprus’ finance minister says plans are being drawn to gradually reopen businesses and shops next month.
But Minister Constantinos Petrides says it will depend on how well people stick to a strict stay-at-home order that includes a night-time curfew in force until April 30.
Cyprus has 715 confirmed coronavirus cases and 29 deaths related to the virus.
TIRANA, Albania — The Albanian Parliament passed Penal Code amendments covering the coronavirus pandemic.
The Parliament passed the laws with fines or imprisonment up to six months for violating the curfew hours.
Business’ owners violating the security health measures will be jailed up to two years, while those violating the quarantine up to three years. People knowingly spreading the virus can be jailed up to five years. Those causing death can face 5-10 years.
Prime Minister Edi Rama says the amendments are needed. The virus has infected 518 Albanians and killed 26.
MOSCOW — The Kremlin says Russia will gratefully accept U.S. President Donald Trump’s offer to provide ventilators for coronavirus patients.
Trump said Wednesday the U.S. was ready to send ventilators to Russia, saying “they’re having a hard time in Moscow. We’re going to help them.” He added the U.S. also stands ready to provide ventilators to other countries, including Italy, Spain and France.
President Vladimir Putin’s spokesman Dmitry Peskov hailed Trump’s offer as “very positive,” saying in Thursday’s call with reporters that “Russia will certainly accept the kind offer if necessary.”
Russia has registered 27,938 coronavirus cases and 232 deaths. Officials have scrambled to secure ventilators and other essential supplies amid an exponential growth in infections.
Earlier this month, Russia sent a planeload of medical supplies, including ventilators to the United States. Moscow says the U.S. paid for half of the medical supplies, while the other half was sponsored by Russia’s state investment fund.
TALLINN, Estonia — Estonia’s hardline interior minister is accusing the Baltic country’s health authorities and sport organizations of “criminal negligence” for allowing an Italian volleyball team to visit in March.
Estonian health officials have said an Italian volleyball team from Milan playing international Challenge Cup games on the island most likely brought the virus to Saaremaa, where some of Estonia’s first COVID-19 cases were recorded in early March.
Interior Minister Mart Helme, chairman of the nationalist Estonian Conservative People’s Party, says in an interview with the Estonian broadcaster Kanal 2 that “someone should take responsibility.”
Saaremaa has registered 20 fatalities and 508 positive coronavirus cases. Estonia had recorded 36 deaths and 1,434 COVID-19.
The island is under lockdown, the first time since Estonia’s nearly fifty-year Soviet occupation ended in 1991.
TOKYO — Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe announced a state of emergency for all of Japan.
Abe says the measure takes effect Friday and lasts until May 6, the end of Japan’s “golden week” holidays.
He says the nationwide state of emergency is aimed at stopping cross-border movement of people and achieve as much as 80% of social distancing “to overcome this national crisis in an all-out national effort.”
Abe’s previous state of declaration on April 7 only covered Tokyo and six other prefectures deemed at highest risks of infection. He initially issued a stay home request only to the people in those areas, though later expanded the measure to the rest of the country.
Abe also announced 100,000-yen ($930) cash handouts to all 120 million Japanese citizens.
Japan has more than 9,000 virus cases and about 150 deaths.
COPENHAGEN, Denmark — Queen Margrethe II was serenaded for her 80th birthday.
People sang birthday songs from their homes, balconies, parks and public gardens to celebrate Denmark’s popular monarch. It was broadcast live on two national broadcasting channels.
They showed flag-waving people singing the Danish version of “Happy Birthday,” playing instruments and shouting “hurrah.”
A Facebook group started the initiate, saying despite the coronavirus isolation, they wanted to celebrate the monarch who ascended the throne in 1972.
“Thanks for the song. It went straight to the heart,” the queen said.
Earlier this month, Margrethe urged people not to give her flowers, but to send them to “older fellow citizens having difficulty at this time.” Flower shops reported many bouquets sent to retirement homes.
MILAN — Italy’s hardest-hit region of Lombardy is pushing to relaunch manufacturing on May 4, the day the national lockdown is set to lift.
Lombardy’s plan focuses on maintaining a one-meter distance between workers, mandating the use of masks, remote working where possible and the use of anti-body blood testing. That testing is set to launch in the region on April 21, to get a better picture of where the virus is still active.
Regional officials are considering mandating that offices and companies stagger their opening hours, to avoid congesting public transport.
Italy’s deputy economic development minister, Stefan Buffagni, called the plan premature.
‘’Lombardy’s request is a mistake,’’ Buffagni said, adding that it wasn’t clear based on what data Lombardy was seeking to reopen.
Lombardy has borne the brunt of the virus, with more than half of Italy’s deaths and one third of infections. The province of Milan — centered on Italy’s financial capital — continues to see notable daily increases in infections.
PARIS — The hotel group Accor says it will take in people with the COVID-19 who show no symptoms but risk contaminating others.
Sebastien Bazin told France Inter radio some of the group’s hotels in France have agreed to take in people to ensure they are isolated.
The public hospital system and local governments, including the Paris City Hall, worked on the initiative. The spread of the coronavirus in France has taken a toll on tourism, emptying hotels. The nation’s strict confinement measures last until May 11.
More than 17,000 people have died of the coronavirus in France since March 1.
LONDON — A leaked letter to a senior UK health official shows that leaders in social care are accusing the government of offering conflicting messages, creating confusion and adding to the workload of those on the frontlines of the coronavirus pandemic.
The letter seen by the BBC from the Association of Directors of Adult Social Services also raises concerns about funding, testing and personal protective equipment for nursing homes.
Leading British charities say the COVID-19 outbreak is causing “devastation” in nursing homes. Official statistics showed Tuesday that hundreds more people with the new virus have died than were recorded in the U.K. government’s daily tally.
Among those raising the alarm is Robert Kilgour, who owns Renaissance Care, which runs 15 care homes across Scotland.
Kilgour told the BBC Breakfast that the sector was facing a “tsunami wave” of coronavirus cases. He appealed for more testing of social care staff, and described the government response as “too little, too late.’’
Health Secretary Matt Hancock acknowledged in a BBC interview that the government needs to do more for the sector.
MADRID — Spain is recording another sharp increase of over 5,183 new reported coronavirus infections and 551 new confirmed deaths, but authorities say that’s because of broader testing.
Health Minister Salvador Illa says at least 1,312, or a quarter of Thursday’s new infections, were identified by the new rapid antibody tests that can identify those who already had the illness or show no symptoms.
The contagion and fatality tallies increased around 3% from 24 hours earlier, health ministry data showed. Some 40% of the 182,816 total infections have already been released from treatment.
The official fatality toll rose to 19,130. But Spain this week started to extend the tests, which for weeks have been under 20,000 per day.
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