The Latest: US, UK warn of cyberattacks using virus as lure
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
— Dr. Birx: US must stick to guidelines, avoid 2nd wave of virus.
— US, UK warn of cyberattacks using virus as lure.
— British PM Boris Johnson stable, responding to treatment.
— Pope Francis denounces taking financial advantage during pandemic.
WASHINGTON — U.S. and U.K. security agencies have issued a joint security warning about cyberattacks using the coronavirus outbreak as a lure.
The U.S. Department of Homeland Security and Britain’s National Cyber Security Center says criminals and what they call “persistent threat” groups are attempting to transmit ransomware and malware that are tied to the COVID-19 outbreak. One example includes emails that purport to come from the World Health Organization. Others are phishing attempts that appear to come from Microsoft or other tech companies whose remote tools are often used by people working from home.
The statement says they have not detected an overall increase in cybercrime. But they have noted a growing use of malicious threats involving COVID-19 related themes.
MOSCOW — Russian president Vladimir Putin announced new measures to help businesses and people cope with economic shocks from the coronavirus outbreak.
Speaking in a conference call with top officials, Putin says the government will allow small- and medium-business to reduce social insurance payments and reschedule debts, among other measures. He also announced new payments for families with children and people who lost jobs because of the outbreak.
Putin previously ordered most Russians except those working in essential industries to stay off work until the end of the month as part of a partial economic shutdown to curb the spread of the coronavirus. He urged provincial governors to be flexible and ensure key industries keep running while strictly observing sanitary norms.
Russia has registered 8,672 cases and 63 deaths.
NEW DELHI, India — The number of confirmed cases in India has crossed the 5,000 mark, with 149 deaths.
Although the cases are spread over roughly 40% of India’s districts, they are concentrated in India’s densely populated urban centers. Mumbai, previously known as Bombay, is the worst impacted.
India’s strategy is focused around identifying “containment zones” where efforts would be targeted on restricting the virus “within a defined geographic area” to break the chain of transmission. But officials say the next week would be pivotal. India has only conducted 121,271 tests, but is likely to scale up testing in the coming days.
India has put its entire population, one-fifth of the worlds’ population, under lockdown until April 14.
MINSK, Belarus —The number of coronavirus cases in Belarus, one of the few European countries that hasn’t gone into lockdown, has surpassed 1,000.
The country’s health officials reported 205 new cases on Wednesday, which brought the total to 1,066, with 13 deaths.
Belarus’ neighbors have imposed restrictions on public life to halt the virus’ spread. Its main ally, Russia, has closed the border. But factories, stores and restaurants conduct business as usual in Belarus, stands at sports events are filled with spectators and masks are a rare sight in the capital of Minsk.
Alexander Lukashenko, the longtime president of Belarus, dismissed concerns around the pandemic as “mass psychosis” last week and appeared more worried about the economic impact of a lockdown on the country’s struggling economy.
THE HAGUE, Netherlands —The Dutch public health institute has reported 147 new deaths in the coronavirus outbreak, bringing the country’s toll to 2,248.
The increase Wednesday was smaller than a day earlier when the toll rose by 234 victims. The totals Tuesday are the highest of each week of the crisis, with health authorities reporting cases from the weekend.
The number of people who tested positive rose by 969 to 20,549, although the number of infections is likely higher because not everyone with symptoms is tested. The government has announced plans to ramp up testing and explore the use of cellphone apps to track infected people and their contacts.
The chairman of the Dutch association for intensive care, Diederik Gommers, told lawmakers the country is seeing “an unbelievably quick reduction in the net increase in IC patients.”
However, he warned that any relaxation of social distancing and other measures could give the outbreak new speed.
VILNIUS, Lithuania — Lithuania says it will restrict public movement and impose lockdown on major cities during Easter weekend to prevent the spread of coronavirus in the predominantly Catholic nation.
Prime Minister Saulius Skvernelis says Lithuanian cities and towns will be closed for non-residents from Friday night until Monday night.
The only exceptions apply to medical, emergency services staff and the military.
Citizens will be allowed out for funerals, sudden medical situations and if they live and work in different municipalities.
The Baltic country of 3 million has reported 15 deaths and 912 confirmed COVID-19 cases.
WASHINGTON — A leader of the White House’s coronavirus response team is warning there could be another wave of U.S. infections if people don’t stick with the health guidelines recommending they stay indoors and avoid social interactions.
Dr. Deborah Birx says “if people start going out again, socially interacting, we could see a very acute second wave very early.”
Birx told NBC’s “Today” show she’s “hopeful” the United States will have fewer than the projected 100,000 to 240,000 deaths. She says people have been following the 30-day recommendations to stay at least 6 feet away from others, wash their hands regularly with soap and water, use hand sanitizer and avoid gatherings of more than 10 people.
But she says what’s “really important” is people “don’t turn these early signs of hope into releasing from the 30 days to stop the spread.”
There have been about 400,000 U.S. cases and about 13,000 deaths.
LONDON — Boris Johnson’s spokesman says the British prime minister is stable and responding to treatment for the coronavirus in the intensive care unit of a London hospital.
James Slack says Johnson continues to receive “standard oxygen treatment” and is breathing without any other assistance.
Johnson has spent two nights in the ICU of St. Thomas’ Hospital since being admitted Sunday. He was diagnosed with COVID-19 on March 26 and still had a cough and fever 10 days later.
His spokesman declined to provide further details of Johnson’s treatment, saying Wednesday’s update “was given to us by St. Thomas’ Hospital and it contains all of the information which the PM’s medical team considers to be clinically relevant.”
Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab is standing in for Johnson while he is hospitalized.
TOKYO — Gov. Yuriko Koike say the Japanese capital has a record 144 new confirmed cases of the coronavirus, bringing the total to 1,339 on Wednesday, one day after a state of emergency was declared in the region.
Prime Minister Shinzo Abe declared a month-long state of emergency in Tokyo and six other hard-hit prefectures to bolster the fight against the coronavirus. Abe said he was expecting widespread compliance despite the lack of legal penalties for violating social distancing and other measures.
However, on Wednesday rush hour trains were still crowded and shops were open as usual. That concerned Koike, who said via internet live streaming that “Asking for the residents to use self-restraint and stay home is not enough. We should restrict use of cluster-causing facilities.”
She has repeatedly said hostess bars, karaoke and other nighttime entertainment spots are main sources of infections, urging the residents to stay away.
Japan has 4,257 confirmed cases and 92 deaths.
PRAGUE — The Czech Republic’s health minister says the number of infected people in the Czech Republic surpassed 5,000.
Health Minister Adam Vojtech says there were 5,033 cases and 91 people have died.
The day-to-day increase reached 195 on Tuesday, the second lowest in more than a week. Health officials predicted about 11,000 Czechs will be infected by the end of April.
The government has already relaxed some restrictions on individual outdoor sports activities this week and allowed some stores to reopen on Thursday.
VATICAN CITY — Pope Francis is denouncing the mafia and all those who are taking advantage of the coronavirus pandemic to make money.
Francis opened his morning Mass on Wednesday by praying that “all those who profit off the needs of others, and sell them” experience spiritual conversion.
Francis’ homily was dedicated to the biblical story of Judas betraying Jesus — a narrative Christians commemorate this week in the run-up to liturgical services marking Christ’s Last Supper, crucifixion and resurrection on Easter.
In his remarks, Francis said everyone has a “little Judas inside of us” who makes a choice between loyalty to others or self-interest. He said: “Each one of us has the capacity to betray, to sell others, to choose our own interests.”
Speaking of mobsters and money lenders, he said: “May the Lord touch their hearts and convert them.”
Italian officials have warned that organized crime groups are maneuvering to profit off the social and economic disruptions caused by Italy’s virus-induced nationwide shutdown.
TIRANA, Albania — Forty Albanian citizens waiting at the two border crossings with Greece were let in and sent to hotels under quarantine for 14 days, the health ministry reports on Wednesday.
Authorities have closed the borders “to protect the life of the people inside and outside of Albania,” according to Prime Minister Edi Rama.
Only those coming for an emergency to check on families will be allowed to enter the country while Albanians with foreign citizenship are not allowed.
Spokeswoman Etiola Kola said 35 Albanians were quarantined at a hotel after crossing the southeastern Kapshtice border check point Tuesday evening.
The local media on Wednesday reported on five others crossing the border in southern Kakavia, both with neighboring Greece where hundreds of thousands of Albanians live since immigrating after the fall of the communist regime in 1990.
Their expenses for 14 days of quarantine will be billed to their families.
Albania has 400 COVID-19 cases and 22 deaths. The relatively low figures are attributed to rigid restrictions in the country.
MADRID — Spain’s Health Ministry reported Wednesday 757 new deaths of patients with coronavirus and 6,180 new confirmed infections.
Both figures were slightly higher than Tuesday’s, when the first increase in five days was explained by a backlog of test results and fatalities that had gone unreported over the weekend.
But doubts about the statistics are being heard louder as fresh data starts to emerge.
Authorities have already acknowledged that a scarcity of testing kits and a bottleneck in the number of tests that laboratories can conduct on a daily basis are giving an underestimated contagion tally, which rose to 146,000 on Wednesday. A nationwide survey of 30,000 households has been launched to figure out what is the more approximate extent of the epidemic beyond hospitals and nursing homes.
Health Minister Salvador Illa said Tuesday that his department can only account for those who die and were tested. There have been few instances of post-mortem testing.
To rein in the data divide, Spain’s Justice Ministry issued an order on Wednesday requiring more than 4,000 civil registries across the country to provide new and revised data.
JOHANNESBURG — Some African leaders are bristling at President Donald Trump’s attack on the WHO chief, especially after Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus spoke up this week against “racist” comments by two French doctors who said a coronavirus vaccine could be tested in Africa.
Tedros condemned the remarks as leftovers of a “colonial mentality.” Tedros is from Ethiopia and is the first African to lead the World Health Organization.
“Surprised to learn of a campaign by the U.S. govt against WHO’s global leadership. The African Union fully supports WHO and Dr. Tedros,” the chair of the AU Commission, Moussa Faki Mahamat, tweeted.
“I agree with you, my brother. WHO, under the stewardship of Dr. Tedros, has shown itself to be a true flag-bearer of multilateralism when global solidarity has become critical,” Namibia’s President Hage Geingob responded in a tweet.
GENEVA — The head of the World Health Organization’s Europe office says a trend of decline in the rate of increase in new coronavirus cases does not mean it’s time to relax measures aimed to stop its spread.
Dr. Hans Kluge, WHO’s regional director for Europe, also said some countries “are experiencing a rapid increase in cases or a fresh surge,” and called for continued vigilance. He noted measures taken in many countries to shut schools and businesses.
“We still have a long way to go in the marathon and the progress we have made so far in fighting the virus is extremely fragile,” he said. “To think we are coming close to an endpoint would be a dangerous thing to do. The virus leaves no room for error or complacency.”
He said countries that any prospect of easing lockdowns or physical distancing measures “requires very careful consideration,” such as by considering if health systems are prepared.
“Many of us are looking forward to celebrating Easter with better weather but this is not the time to lower our guard,” Kluge told a video news conference from Copenhagen. “We must soldier on.”
BRATISLAVA, Slovakia — Huge traffic disruptions have been reported across Slovakia amid the government’s new restrictions on movement to contain the epidemic of the coronavirus.
The restrictions were imposed for Wednesday till Monday to prevent people from travelling over Easter. Slovakia is a Roman-Catholic stronghold in central and eastern Europe.
People are only allowed to travel to work, do essential shopping or visit doctors. Only family members can stay together for outdoor activities that are restricted to take place only within one county.
Police teamed up with the military to enforce the measures on the borders of the counties, causing traffic jams.
Bratislava authorities say the traffic on all roads leading to the capital has collapsed, advising people to cancel their travel plans.
Economy Minister Richard Sulik apologized for the delays on Wednesday, saying he would like to relax the restrictions. Prime Minister Igor Matovic was against it.
PARIS — France’s defense ministry announced that French aircraft carrier Charles de Gaulle is heading back to port amid a possible virus outbreak onboard.
The ministry said in a statement Wednesday that around 40 troops are presenting symptoms compatible with the COVID-19 disease. They have been placed under strict medical observation.
A medical team equipped with tests will get onboard Wednesday in order to confirm the potential cases and prevent the virus from further spreading, the ministry said.
The aircraft carrier, which was on a mission in the Atlantic Ocean, is returning immediately to its base in the port of Toulon, on the Mediterranean coast, where it was initially expected to dock on April 23. Its crew is composed of about 1,900 troops.
The announcement comes after a coronavirus outbreak hit U.S. aircraft carrier USS Theodore Roosevelt, now at port in Guam. As of Tuesday, the U.S. Navy said at least 230 crew had been tested positive. The firing last week of the Roosevelt’s captain created a combustible controversy in the country.
BRUSSELS — A hundred non-governmental organizations including human and women’s rights groups are urging European governments to implement measures safeguarding access to abortion during the COVID-19 epidemics.
In a statement released Wednesday, they asked governments to recognize abortion as an essential care.
Their call came as Poland’s parliament prepares to put on the agenda a strict new abortion law. The eastern European country already has some of the the continent’s most restrictive abortion laws.
“European governments must act urgently to guarantee safe and timely access to abortion care during the COVID-19 pandemic,” said Leah Hoctor, the regional director for Europe at the Center for Reproductive Rights. “They should move swiftly to eradicate all medically unnecessary requirements that hamper access to abortion care and should authorize women to access early medical abortion from their homes.”
The groups said the current health crisis has affected reproductive health services at hospitals and clinics because of staff shortages or reassignments of affected personnel to tasks related to the deadly virus.
“In many places, accessing normal clinical services has become extremely difficult,” they said. “Restrictions to reproductive health services disproportionately affect women living in poverty, women with disabilities, Roma women, undocumented migrant women, adolescents, trans and gender non-binary people, and women at risk of or who are survivors of domestic and sexual violence.”
BEIJING — China says the struggle against the global coronavirus pandemic provides a “platform for China-U.S. cooperation,” despite sniping between the sides over blame and responsibility.
Citing recent comments between Chinese leader Xi Jinping and President Donald Trump, Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Zhao Lijian told reporters at a briefing Wednesday that the sides would “benefit from cooperation and stand to lose from conflict, and cooperation is the only correct choice.”
Some in Congress are calling for China to be held accountable for initially covering up the outbreak, an accusation Beijing strongly denies despite growing evidence. Anticipating a backlash, China’s official Xinhua News Agency has suggested Beijing could retaliate against the U.S. by banning the export of medical products that would leave the U.S. stuck in the ”ocean of viruses.”
Zhao drew attention last month when he suggested without evidence that the U.S. military transported the virus to Wuhan or that the virus was released from a U.S. lab.
“It might be US army who brought the epidemic to Wuhan. Be transparent! Make public your data! US owe us an explanation!” Zhao tweeted March 12.
Asked about the tweet on Tuesday, Zhao said it had been “a response to the stigmatization some US politicians made against China previously, and it also reflected the indignation of many Chinese people about these practices.”
TOKYO — The printing of Albert Camus’ “The Plague” in Japanese shot above the cumulative million mark, with 154,000 copies going into extra printing seven times since February.
People have been snatching up copies since the coronavirus pandemic hit, and a bookstore chain limited purchases to one copy per buyer to curtail literary hoarding.
“The book is offering insight for people on the basic question of how we must live life when we are all faced with these insular times,” publisher Shinchosha spokesman Morito Mamiya said Wednesday.
The novel, first published in French in 1947, and in Japanese in 1969, portrays the dilemma of human existence as a North African city gets overtaken by the plague. On a regular year, about 5,000 copies of the classic get sold in Japan, but it’s now No. 1 for literature at major Japanese bookstores.
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