The Latest: Pope Francis earmarks initial $750,000 aid fund

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.


__ Britain Prime Minister Boris Johnson in good spirits despite hospitalization.

__ Pope Francis earmarks initial $750,000 to fund hospitals, schools and nursing homes.

__ Netherlands sees lowest daily increase in coronavirus deaths in a week.

— Madrid’s strained hospitals see decrease in incoming patients.


VATICAN CITY — Pope Francis has earmarked an initial $750,000 for a new fund for hospitals, schools, nursing homes and other structures run by the Catholic Church in poor countries to use to battle the coronavirus pandemic.

Francis on Monday urged church entities around the world to contribute to the fund being run by the Pontifical Mission Societies, which is the pope’s official outreach arm to 1,110 mostly poor dioceses in Asia, Africa, Oceania and the Amazon region.

The fund is the latest example of papal charity amid the pandemic. The Vatican in late March purchased 30 ventilators to be distributed to hard-hit Italian hospitals.

And Francis’ chief alms-giver hand-delivered milk, yogurt and other products from the papal gardens outside Rome to two communities of nuns in Rome who were put in quarantine after several of them tested positive.

Francis also sent special rosaries to medical personnel at Rome’s Gemelli hospital who have been caring for COVID-19 patients.


THE HAGUE, Netherlands — The Dutch public health institute says the country’s coronavirus death toll saw the lowest daily increase in a week. The number of deaths rose by 101 to 1,867.

The institute says the number of people who have tested positive for the virus rose by 952 to 18,803. That is also a smaller rise than the increase of 1,224 reported on Sunday.

The number of people suffering the effects of the virus who were admitted to a hospital rose by 260, slightly higher than Sunday’s 253 increase.


PARIS — Europe’s leading human rights body is calling on governments to safeguard the rights and health of people in prison during the COVID-19 pandemic.

The Council of Europe’s Commissioner for Human Rights urged the organization’s member states to make use of all available alternatives to detention whenever possible.

Dunja Mijatović says any restrictions imposed on detainees should be “non-discriminatory, necessary, proportionate, time-limited and transparent.”

Restrictions to family visits should “imperatively” be mitigated by alternative arrangements such as extended access to phone or video communications.

Many European countries have initiated the release of certain categories of prisoners or adapted their criminal justice policies to reduce their prison population.

The Council of Europe is based in Strasbourg, France and gathers 47 European countries, regardless of whether they are in the EU or not.

At least 12 prison inmates died of drug overdoses earlier this month in Italy and 16 others escaped during riots at more than two-dozen prisons sparked by coronavirus containment measures.


LONDON — Britain Prime Minister Boris Johnson is reportedly in good spirits following his first night in the hospital for what his office described as a “precautionary step” after contracting the new coronavirus.

Johnson remains in charge of government despite being sent to St Thomas’ Hospital after COVID-19 symptoms of a cough and fever persisted. His spokesman James Slack says he remains in hospital under observation.

The 55-year-old leader had been quarantined in his Downing Street residence since being diagnosed with COVID-19 on March 26. He is the first known head of government to fall ill with the virus.

He has released several video messages during his 10 days in isolation.


MADRID — Health officials in Madrid say the strain of incoming patients is easing in hospitals and allowing authorities to think about how to start reverting those facilities to normal operations.

Patients awaiting treatment in emergency wards across the region of 6.6-million that has been hard hit by the new coronavirus went down Monday to 390 cases. That’s one tenth of the arrivals that were seen one week ago.

The number of people being treated for the coronavirus in intensive care units had fluctuated but stabilized at around 1,500 for five straight days.

Regional health minister Enrique Ruíz Escudero says officials are considering returning beds that have been used for positive COVID-19 patients to beds used for normal activity in hospitals.

The development follows a week of social media postings showing patients resting on the floor and in chairs at the suburban hospital.


LONDON — Ireland’s premier will directly assist with the new coronavirus pandemic by returning to the health service for one shift a week.

Leo Varadkar is a qualified medical doctor and has rejoined the medical register.

He is one of thousands across Ireland who have answered the call to return to the health sector during the pandemic.


BERLIN — The organization that handles claims on behalf of Jewish victims of the Nazis says it is making millions of extra dollars available for elderly Holocaust survivors who are particularly vulnerable to the new coronavirus.

The New York-based Conference on Jewish Material Claims Against Germany says the $4.3 million in initial funding would be made available to agencies around the world providing care for some 120,000 survivors.

All survivors are elderly and many suffered from illness, malnutrition and other deprivations either at the hands of the Nazis or as they hid from them. Those early ailments continues to affect their health today.

There are no statistics yet as to how many Holocaust survivors have been infected by the new coronavirus. Israel’s first reported COVID-19 fatality was an 88-year-old survivor. About a third of the elderly population in Israel are survivors.

The additional funds will be used to “address critical gaps” in providing survivors help with homecare, food, medicine and other assistance as it is needed.

It is in addition to approximately $350 million in direct compensation, the Claims Conference is providing to more than 60,000 survivors in 83 countries this year and some $610 million in grants to more than 300 social service agencies.

Since 1952 through the Claims Conference the German government has paid more than $80 billion in Holocaust reparations.


KARACHI, Pakistan — Pakistan opened its first drive-thru COVID-19 test facility in the southern Sindh provincial capital of Karachi.

A team of doctors and medical staff are operating the first drive-thru facility in Pakistan’s latest attempt to stem the spread of the virus.

Pakistan has carried out 35,875 tests countrywide and has 3,277 positive cases, 881 of them in southern Sindh province.

The majority of the cases are in eastern Punjab province, where 60 percent of Pakistan’s 220 million people live.

According to news reports, a team of visiting Chinese doctors has recommended the Punjab province remain under lock down for another 29 days. Pakistan is in a countrywide lock down until April 16, when it will be reviewed.

There have been 50 reported deaths from the coronavirus.


BUDAPEST, Hungary — Hungary’s prime minister has announced a second package of economic measures meant to protect the country’s economy from the effects of the coronavirus pandemic.

Prime Minister Viktor Orban said Monday that the measures would reallocate some 18-20% of Hungary’s state budget, or as much as around $32 billion, while raising the budget deficit from 1% of GDP to 2.7%.

Orban said that “the aim is for us to create as many jobs as the virus ruins.”

Orban said the state will help pay some wages in the private sector and spend about $1.33 billion to support investments targeting job creation.

Hungary will also make available loans totaling some $5.9 billion for businesses and gradually boost pension payments from February 2021.

Opposition parties called for extending unemployment benefits and for immediate extra payments to pensioners and workers in the health sector.

Hungary has registered 744 coronavirus cases, with 38 deaths linked to COVID-19.


BEIRUT — Lebanon’s President Michel Aoun has appealed for the international community to help the country that is passing through its worst economic and financial crisis in decades, made worse in recent weeks by the new coronavirus.

Aoun said in a speech Monday in front of ambassadors of the International Support Group for Lebanon that includes the U.N., U.S., China, France, Germany, Italy, Russia, Britain, EU and the Arab League that Beirut was getting ready to launch work to revive the economy when coronavirus hit the world.

“We are facing all these challenges and welcome any international assistance,” Aoun said adding that the presence of a million Syrian refugees is adding to the crisis.

Lebanon has reported 541 cases of coronavirus and 19 deaths.

Also in Lebanon, which has been imposing a lockdown for weeks, security forces began implementing strict measures that allow vehicles with even or odd plate numbers to drive for three days a week each. Driving will be banned on Sundays to try limit the spread of the virus.


PRAGUE — Czech government ministers say the country is set to gradually relax some restrictions imposed to contain the spread of the coronavirus.

Interior Minister Jan Hamacek, who heads the government’s crisis committee that deals with the outbreak, says that he is proposing to cancel the ban for the Czechs to travel abroad as of April 14. Hamacek says that the border checks would remain in place and people would be allowed to travel only under specific rules that still have to be finalized.

Currently, the Czechs are barred from leaving the country and foreigners are barred from entering it.

Hamacek, however, says that all tough restrictions on movement within the country won’t be relaxed for Easter.

Health Minister Adam Vojtech says the government is also set to discuss a proposal to allow more small stores to reopen, depending on the development of the epidemic.

The Cabinet will decide on all those measures later this week.

The Czech Republic has 4,591 people infected with the virus, 72 have died, according to the Health Ministry figures released on Monday.


MADRID — Coronavirus-related fatalities and recorded infections continued to drop on Monday in Spain, although authorities warned of possible distortions by a slower reporting of figures over the weekend.

The country’s health ministry reported 637 new deaths for the previous 24 hours, the lowest fatality toll in 13 days, for a total of over 13,000 since the pandemic hit the country. New recorded infections were also the lowest in two weeks: 4,273 bringing the total of confirmed cases over 135,000.

Hospitals are also reporting that the pace of incoming patients to their emergency wards is slowing down, giving a much needed respite to overburdened medical workers.

Mimicking the “Noah’s Ark” approach seen in China and other Asian countries, the government is putting together a list of venues, hotels and sports centers where patients who test positive but show no symptoms could be isolated to avoid infecting relatives.


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