The Latest: St Petersburg deaths up by a third in May
The Latest on the coronavirus pandemic. COVID-19 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.
MOSCOW — Russia’s second-largest city, St. Petersburg, says the number of deaths there in May was about one-third higher than the same month last year.
A city government website said there were 6,427 deaths in May; 4,875 deaths were reported in May 2019. It was not clear if the sharply higher death toll was connected to the coronavirus pandemic.
Russia’s national coronavirus taskforce says 230 deaths due to COVID-19 have been recorded in the city. Russia’s comparatively low COVID-19 mortality rate — 5215 deaths out of more than 432,000 infections — has prompted skepticism at home and abroad. Russian officials say the count contains only those confirmed to have died directly of the infection, not those who tested positive for the virus but died of other causes.
HERE’S WHAT YOU NEED TO KNOW TODAY ABOUT THE VIRUS OUTBREAK:
— The World Health Organization recommends that trials of hydroxychloroquine resume after reviewing safety data.
— Italy has opened its borders, but many of its neighbors see the move as premature.
— Sweden’s chief epidemiologist acknowledges regrets over handling of pandemic.
— Wuhan has finished a mass testing effort of nearly all its 11 million people, resulting in 300 being put in isolation.
— Pandemic pushes Australia’s economy into 1st recession in 29 years.
HERE’S WHAT ELSE IS HAPPENING TODAY:
LONDON — After suspending the hydroxychloroquine arm of a clinical trial of experimental COVID-19 drugs, the director-general of the World Health Organization said experts had reviewed the safety data and were now recommending the trial continue as planned.
The recommendation means doctors will soon be able to resume giving the drug to patients enrolled in the U.N. health agency’s study.
Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said Wednesday that the WHO’s safety monitoring committee for the global trial had now examined all available mortality data about hydroxychloroquine. Some studies had suggested that people who were taking the drug for COVID-19 had a higher chance of dying than those who were not.
Tedros said: “The members of the committee recommended that there are no reasons to modify the trial protocol.”
U.S. President Trump has said he is taking hydroxychloroquine even though he has not tested positive for the coronavirus; there are no studies that have proven the drug is effective against COVID-19.
Tedros said the executive group running the WHO’s trial endorsed the continuation of all arms of the trial, including hydroxychloroquine. Other treatments being tested, including remdesivir and an HIV combination therapy drug, were unaffected.
Tedros said that to date, more than 3,500 people have been recruited into the trial in 35 countries.
ISLAMABAD — Health officials say two more Pakistani lawmakers have died after testing positive for the coronavirus amid an alarming spike in infections.
Mian Jamshed Kakakhel, a member of a provincial assembly in the northwest, and Shaukat Manzoor Cheema, who was a member of the Punjab Assembly, both died on Wednesday.
Another two lawmakers with the virus died at different hospitals in Pakistan on Tuesday, and one died earlier.
Pakistan recorded its highest single-day increase in infections on Wednesday, when 4,131 new cases and 67 deaths were confirmed in 24 hours.
Information Minister Shibli Faraz held a televised news conference in which he didn’t wear mask.
Faraz said: “You need to hold an umbrella when it rains, otherwise you will get soaked. Similarly, if you want to avoid getting infected, you must take the necessary precautions.”
Critics accuse Prime Minister Imran Khan of easing virus restrictions last month when there was a need to enforce a stricter lockdown.
Pakistan has recorded a total of 80,463 confirmed cases and 1,688 deaths since February.
MADRID — Spain has recorded its first COVID-19 death in three days as the coronavirus outbreak recedes in what has been one of Europe’s hardest-hit countries.
The Spanish Health Ministry on Wednesday reported one death and 291 new confirmed cases over the previous 24 hours.
Fernando Simón, head of the country’s medical emergency response, said wider testing is detecting more cases of people who are asymptomatic than before.
He said of Spain’s number of deaths and infections: “The trend is downwards,.
ROME — The majority of Italy’s regions had no or only a handful of new confirmed coronavirus cases in 24 hours as people were allowed to resume travel throughout the nation and tourists from Europe were permitted into Italy.
The easing of lockdown restrictions on Wednesday reflects the government’s decision to start rebooting many sector, especially the devastated tourist industry.
According to Health Ministry data, Italy registered 321 confirmed virus cases in the 24-hour period ending Wednesday, for a total of 233,836 cases overall. Two-thirds of the new cases were in Lombardy, the northern region where Italy’s coronavirus outbreak erupted in February.
Italy’s death toll increased by 71 during the same day-to-day period, bringing the country’s known total during the pandemic to 33,601. Authorities acknowledge that many people who died in Italy these past months likely had coronavirus infections but weren’t tested.
DAKAR, Senegal — A nonprofit biomedical research institute in Senegal that has been working on a rapid coronavirus testing kit says a number of its personnel have tested positive for the virus, including one who died.
Pasteur Institute of Dakar Assistant Director Camille Abbey said Wednesday that the cases were confirmed at different times and that none of the staff members who tested positive worked as virologists.
Measures to prevent the spread of the virus remain in place at the institute.
The research institute’s director, Dr. Amadou Sall, said both staff members and scientific collaborators had tested positive.
Sall said in a statement last week that researchers and their family members “face the same life risk and reality constraints that all Senegalese people share … The virus does not spare anyone.”
He did not specify how many people affiliated with the institute. Media reports in Senegal suggested about five.
The West African nation has confirmed 3,932 cases and 45 deaths.
The Pasteur Institute of Dakar is working with biomedical company Mologic to create a rapid coronavirus test that will only cost $1. Trials are underway at an infectious disease testing facility.
BRUSSELS — Bars and restaurants in Belgium will be allowed to reopen starting Monday after more than two months of closed doors due to the coronavirus pandemic as the country enters a new phase in its lockdown exit plan.
Prime Minister Sophie Wilmes said Wednesday that cinemas and other cultural venues will have to wait until July 1 before opening to audiences limited to 200 people.
Wilmes said tables at bars and restaurants will have to be spaced at least 1.5 meters apart and seat a maximum of 10.
She said: “It’s not the finish line, but it’s a big step forward.”
The prime minister added: “But make no mistake, the epidemic has not disappeared. The virus is not gone, and neither are the risks.”
Wilmes also announced the reopening of Belgium’s borders with other countries from Europe’s 26-nation Schengen Area and from Britain as of June 15.
Belgium has recorded more than 9,500 virus-related deaths but the number of new confirmed cases has nosedived in recent weeks.
MADRID — Spain’s national statistics body says nearly 44,000 more people have died since the beginning of 2020 than in the same period a year earlier — an increase of 24% amid the coronavirus pandemic.
The data released Wednesday also revealed a shocking 155% spike in mortality during the week from March 30 to April 5. This year there were 20,575 deaths in Spain that week, compared with 8,081 in 2019.
The region around the Spanish capital has seen the highest increase in estimated fatalities, the National Statistics Institute said.
The institute’s data is higher than the official Health Ministry death toll of the pandemic, which on Wednesday stood at 27,127. That counts only those who died having tested positive for COVID-19. Officials say the disparities are due to people who died without being tested or from other causes. The figure for excess deaths is seen as a more accurate reflection of the toll wreaked by the pandemic.
LISBON, Portugal — Portuguese health officials say continuing increases in confirmed coronavirus cases in the Lisbon region are due to more tests being carried out in areas identified as hotspots.
The Health Ministry on Wednesday announced 366 new cases nationally — the biggest daily increase in almost four weeks.
Officials said 335 of those new cases were in the Lisbon metropolitan area, while the outbreak is waning in the rest of the country.
The Lisbon total was almost double the number detected in the region the previous day.
Secretary of state for health Antonio Sales said the government’s strategy is to encircle the hotspots, which are in low-income neighborhoods around the capital, and run more tests there.
Construction workers and temporary staff working in the service sector are being especially targeted for testing.
SKOPJE, North Macedonia — Authorities in North Macedonia are considering reintroducing movement restrictions in parts of the country after registering the highest number of new COVID-19 infections in a day since the first case in late February.
Health minister Venko Filipce posted on Twitter Wednesday that 101 new cases and four deaths were recorded in the previous 24 hours. That brings the total number of infections to 2,492, with 145 deaths.
A national crisis body dealing with the epidemic is meeting urgently to decide whether to impose new restrictions in parts of the capital, Skopje, where more than half the new infections were recorded.
North Macedonia’s government last week ended a curfew and allowed bars and restaurants to reopen.
Filipce said the tiny Balkan country of 2.1 million people is seeing new infections as a result of people ignoring warnings to wear protective masks and gloves, and to adhere to social distancing.
BERLIN — A plan to close one of Berlin’s two airports in mid-June has been dropped because passenger numbers are expected to rise as coronavirus restrictions ease.
Federal and regional governments agreed two weeks ago to allow the closure of Tegel airport starting June 15 – a move that the operator had pushed for since March to save cash after air transport practically collapsed. All flights were to be moved to Berlin’s other airport, Schoenefeld.
Although the closure was supposed to be temporary, Tegel – Cold War-era West Berlin’s main airport – was thought unlikely to reopen its doors because the capital’s much-delayed new airport is finally set to open at the end of October.
On Wednesday, after the German government said it plans to lift a travel warning for much of Europe in mid-June, airport boss Engelbert Luetke Daldrup announced a reprieve for Tegel. He said that both of the existing, aging airports are now needed to “create the necessary space under corona conditions” for operations.
Tegel is still slated to close on Nov. 8 after the new airport opens.
BRUSSELS — Passengers at Brussels airport could be denied access to flights if their body temperature exceeds 38 degrees Celsius (100.4 F) as part of measures aimed at limiting the spread of the coronavirus.
As it prepares for the return of passengers services, Brussels Airport said in a statement Wednesday that systematic body temperature checks will be performed from June 15 via thermal cameras that will also detect whether passengers are wearing face masks.
The cameras will be installed in the departures hall and will check passengers before they enter the terminal. Arriving travelers will also have their temperature checked, the airport said.
“Brussels Airport is preparing actively for an expected increase in passenger traffic as soon as intra-European borders will open up again,” said Arnaud Feist, the airport CEO. “This control is in addition to all the health measures already taken to allow passengers to travel at ease.”
NICOSIA, Cyprus — Cyprus has accelerated the lifting of most of the country’s remaining coronavirus restrictions by three weeks, citing its consistently low infection rate since the May 4 end of a stay-at-home order.
Health Minister Constantinos Ioannou said on Wednesday the third phase of the country’s gradual rollback of restrictions will be completed by June 24 instead of July 14.
That means that as of June 9, shopping malls, airports and the interior seating spaces of hotels, bars and restaurants, open-air theaters and cinemas will be back in business. Sports events without spectators, kindergartens, playgrounds, summer schools and school canteens also re-open on that date.
Casinos, dance schools, gyms, theme and water parks open their doors four days later.
A 10-person limit on public gatherings will stay in effect at least until June 24.
To date, Cyprus counts 952 confirmed virus cases and 17 deaths.
LONDON — British police statistics show that black and ethnic minority Londoners were more likely than their white counterparts to be fined or arrested for breaking coronavirus lockdown rules barring gatherings and non-essential travel.
Metropolitan Police figures show that black people received 26% of the 973 fines handed out by police between March 27 and May 14 and accounted for 31% of arrests. They make up about 12% of London’s population.
People from Asian, black, mixed and other backgrounds received more than half of fines and arrests, but account for about 40% of the city’s population.
The police force said the reasons for the discrepancy “are likely to be complex and reflect a range of factors.”
Owen West, a former police chief superintendent, said, “the U.K. police service has massive issues with discrimination … and I really do think now is the time to confront it.”
LONDON — The British government is confirming plans to impose a 14-day quarantine for people arriving in the country starting next week, despite pleas from the travel industry to drop the idea.
Airlines and tour companies say the quarantine will derail plans to rebuild business. It comes as other European countries reopen their borders and ease travel restrictions imposed during the coronavirus pandemic.
Others say the measure comes too late. Britain’s official COVID-19 death toll stands at more than 39,000, the highest in Europe. Officials say the quarantine will help prevent a second wave of infections, though most of Britain’s European neighbors currently have lower infection rates.
Starting Monday, travelers and returning Britons coming from all countries except Ireland, which has a long-standing free-movement agreement with the U.K., will be asked to self-isolate for two weeks.
Breaches can be punished with a 1,000-pound ($1,220) spot fine, or by prosecution and an unlimited fine. But it’s unclear how the quarantine will be enforced. The U.K. government has said only that people “could” be contacted to ensure they are complying.
BERLIN — Germany’s government says it plans to lift a travel warning for European countries on June 15 — but it may still advise against travel in some cases, for example to Britain if quarantine rules there remain in place.
Germany issued a warning against all nonessential foreign travel in March. The aim is to change that for Germany’s 26 European Union partners, other countries outside the EU that are part of Europe’s passport-free Schengen travel area and Britain.
Foreign Minister Heiko Maas said Wednesday that the warning would be replaced with more conventional travel advice “so long as there are no longer entry bans and no large-scale confinement” in the countries concerned. He said all countries except Norway and Spain, where entry restrictions are expected to last longer, now fulfill those conditions.
Maas said that the new travel advice won’t amount to “an invitation to travel,” and in some cases may advise against trips – “for instance to Britain, so long as there is still an obligatory 14-day quarantine for everyone arriving there.”
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