The Latest: Russia hurries to build new treatment center

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The Latest on the coronavirus pandemic, which has infected more than 275,000 people and killed more than 11,400. The COVID-19 illness causes mild or moderate symptoms in most people, but severe symptoms are more likely in the elderly or those with existing health problems. More than 88,200 people have recovered so far, mostly in China.

TOP OF THE HOUR:

– Russia exhorts builders to hurry with treatment center

– German hospitals offer help to struggling French region.

– Britain struggles to prepare for the coming health care emergency.

– Bangkok orders its popular shopping malls to shut down.

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MOSCOW – A deputy mayor of the Russian capital says workers are laboring around-the-clock to build a center that can treat hundreds of coronavirus victims, and that completion is expected within a month.

Placards in the style of Soviet propaganda posters have been placed at the site, about 40 kilometers (25 miles) outside Moscow’s center, exhorting builders to work at maximum speed; one shows Mayor Sergei Sobyanin pointing at the viewer and the slogan “Builders – Minutes count!”

Deputy Mayor Andrei Bochkarev said Saturday that the new facility will be able to accommodate up to 500 patients. Russia so far has recorded 253 cases of coronavirus infection.

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BERLIN – Germany’s southwestern state of Baden-Wuerttemberg is opening its hospitals to patients from the neighboring region of eastern France that’s struggling with a surge of infections with the new coronavirus.

A spokesman for the state’s health ministry confirmed a report Saturday by the daily Schwaebische Zeitung that governor Winfried Kretschmann has offered assistance to France amid a growing shortage of ICU beds there.

Markus Jox said authorities have asked all hospital in Baden-Wuerttemberg with free capacity to take in French patients requiring ventilators.

Jox said that while the state’s own capacity is limited and there are already some bottlenecks, “we will naturally try to help our French neighbors.”

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LONDON – Britain lags behind Italy, Spain and France in the spread of the new coronavirus, but already the country’s overstretched health system is creaking.

The U.K.’s state-funded National Health Service has about 4,000 critical-care beds and some 5,000 ventilators, and officials say that’s far fewer than will be needed as the number of cases spikes in the coming weeks.

On Thursday, a London hospital temporarily declared a “critical incident,” meaning it could take no more critically ill patients. Unpublished NHS figures seen by The Guardian say the number of confirmed of suspected COVID-19 patients in intensive care in south London rose from seven on March 6 to 93 on March 17.

Engineering firms and automakers are stepping in to manufacture ventilators, and the government says it is shipping large supplies of protective equipment to hospitals. But some medics say they do not have confidence that they will receive the equipment they need to treat patients and keep themselves safe.

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BANGKOK – The governor of Bangkok has ordered the city’s popular shopping malls to shut down except for their supermarkets and pharmacies to combat the spread of the coronavirus.

The malls’ restaurant outlets are also allowed to operate, but only for takeout and delivery orders. Convenience stores, as well as food stalls and traditional standalone markets selling fresh food, can keep operating.

Other venues in the Thai capital now ordered closed from Sunday until April 22 include swimming pools, golf courses, tattoo parlors and cockfighting rings. Public and private schools and colleges, movie theaters, gyms and bars were already ordered closed.

The latest restrictions come as Thailand announced 89 new confirmed coronavirus cases, bringing its total to 411.

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THE HAGUE, Netherlands – The Dutch military is stepping in to help transfer coronavirus patients from the hardest-hit region in the Netherlands to hospitals elsewhere in the country.

Defense Minister Ank Bijleveld tweeted that military logistics specialists will be deployed Saturday to help with transfers between hospital intensive care units.

The decision to deploy the military came after hospitals in the hard-hit Brabant region of the southern Netherlands said they are struggling to cope with all the cases.

The head of infection prevention at the Amphia Hospital in the city of Breda Jan Kluytmans told national broadcaster NOS that “hospitals in Brabant can’t handle on their own the stream of patients we expect in the short term.”

The Netherlands has confirmed around 3,000 coronavirus cases, including 106 deaths.

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ATHENS, Greece – China has sent 18 tons of medical supplies to Greece, including hundreds of thousands of surgical and protection masks.

An Air China flight landed in Athens on Saturday morning bringing in the supplies. They include 8 tons of equipment donated by the Chinese government, among them the 550,000 masks, and 10 tons donated by Chinese businesses and organizations.

China’s ambassador to Greece, Zhang Qiyue, said her country will do anything it can “to help our friends in Greece.” She also commended Greece for the “timely and strong” measures it has taken to limit the spread of the new virus.

Greece has confirmed at least 495 coronavirus cases, including 10 deaths.

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PRAGUE – South Korean automaker Hyundai’s car plant in the Czech Republic and Kia’s factory in neighboring Slovakia have closed their production lines, bringing a key part of both countries’ economies to a standstill.

Hyundai Motor Manufacturing Czech in Nosovice won’t reopen until at least April 6 as a preventive measure against the coronavirus outbreak.

Kia is joining its affiliate Hyundai in closing the plant near the Slovak city of Zilina.

In the Czech Republic, Skoda Auto, which belongs to Germany’s Volkswagen Group, and Toyota Peugeot Citroën Automobile, a joint project of Japan’s Toyota and France’s PSA, already suspended production earlier in the week.

The remaining three big car factories in Slovakia have been doing the same, including plants belong to Volkswagen, PSA and Jaguar Land Rover.

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JOHANNESBURG – The number of coronavirus cases in Africa has topped 1,000, according to the Africa Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Angola reported its first cases, and Burkina Faso’s foreign minister announced he is infected. At least 40 of Africa’s 54 countries now have confirmed cases.

The Ivory Coast said it would close its borders starting Sunday, while Ethiopia’s electoral authorities were discussing the possible impact on a national election later this year.

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DILI, East Timor – The tiny Southeast Asian country of East Timor has reported its first confirmed case of the new coronavirus.

The interim health minister said Saturday that a foreign national who had returned from abroad tested positive and has been put in quarantine.

East Timor, which gained independence from Indonesia in 2002, has a population of 1.3 million.

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ISTANBUL – Turkey’s president has released an audio message urging all citizens, especially the elderly and the chronically ill, to not leave their homes, take care of personal hygiene and maximize social distance to combat the coronavirus.

A senior Turkish official says President Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s public announcement was forwarded to all phone companies and will reach citizens through automated calls. It is part of an effort to raise awareness among the elderly who may not have access to online information. The message was also shared on social media.

At least 670 people have tested positive for the coronavirus in Turkey and nine people have died.

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SEOUL, South Korea – South Korea’s prime minister has “strongly recommended” that the country’s religious facilities, gyms and clubs close for the next 15 days to help stem the spread of the coronavirus.

Chung Se-kyun said in a nationally televised speech Saturday that the government plans to use administrative orders to shut down the facilities that remain open but fail to enforce proper distance between people.

He said the government could also file damage claims against churches and businesses that become linked to infections after failing to employ preventive measures.

South Korea’s epidemic has slowed, but there are growing concerns about a steady rise in infections in the Seoul metropolitan area, home to about half of South Korea’s 51 million people.

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The Associated Press receives support for health and science coverage from the Howard Hughes Medical Institute’s Department of Science Education. The AP is solely responsible for all content.

A man walks with his bag along an empty street at the ‘Kraemerbruecke’ (Kraemer Bridge), a most frequented tourist spot, in Erfurt, central Germany, Saturday, March 21, 2020. Erfurt’s Kraemer Bridge is the longest inhabited bridge north of the Alps and features 32 buildings. For most people, the new coronavirus causes only mild or moderate symptoms, such as fever and cough. For some, especially older adults and people with existing health problems, it can cause more severe illness, including pneumonia. (AP Photo/Jens Meyer)
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