The Latest: Spain’s main virus spokesman tests positive

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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:

– Spain surpasses China in coronavirus infections tally.

– British prime minister’s chief adviser shows signs of coronavirus.

– Burial agencies in Sweden decide to mark coffins with a deceased COVID-19 victim with a special symbol.

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MADRID – Spain’s main spokesman in the coronavirus crisis has tested positive for the COVID-19 disease but the results need to be confirmed, authorities have announced as the country of 47 million became the third to surpass China in number of infections.

Dr. Fernando Simón, who had become the Spanish government’s face and voice during the crisis, was replaced on Monday’s daily press conference by his deputy, Dr. María José Sierra.

Simón had been initially praised for relaying calm and clarity in the early days of the crisis, but as infections and deaths for the virus mounted he was heavily criticized for having played down the severity of the outbreak.

Sierra said that the increase of daily cases had dropped from an average of 20% before March 25, to 12% in the past five days. She said the drop was due to social distancing and confinement measures in place for the past two weeks.

The official said that the main worry for the government now was the pressure on the country’s intensive care units because it could arrive 2 or 3 weeks after the infection.

“Reducing the pressure on the ICUs will be important for considering de-escalation measures,” she said.

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LONDON — One of the scientists advising the British government on the coronavirus pandemic says there are signs that the effective lockdown of much of the country is working.

Professor Neil Ferguson thinks the epidemic is “just about slowing” as a result of the social distancing measures the government has imposed over the past couple of weeks.

That’s evidenced by the number of new hospital admissions, he told BBC radio.

“It’s not yet plateaued so the numbers can be increasing every day but the rate of that increase has slowed,” he said.

Ferguson, who had to self-isolate himself a couple of weeks ago after showing signs of the COVID-19 illness, said the number of deaths will continue to rise on a daily basis as it is a lagging indicator. Latest figures show that 1,228 people in the U.K. who have tested positive for the virus have died.

The epidemiologist thinks that between 3% to 5% of people in London may have been infected, with between 2% and 3% in the country as a whole.

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BANGKOK- The Southeast Asian nation of Laos, which detected its first COVID-19 cases last week, has instituted a nationwide lockdown to fight the disease’s spread.

The state news agency KPL reports that Prime Minister Thongloun Sisoulith issued an order effective Monday through April 19 prohibiting all citizens and foreigners from leaving their accommodations except for essential activity such as buying food or medical care. Those engaged in agricultural production are allowed out according to rules from their local authorities.

All international checkpoints are closed except for transport of goods and to allow foreigners to return to their countries.

Laos has nine confirmed cases of the coronavirus with no deaths reported. The country of about 7.4 million people is one of the poorest in Asia.

Myanmar, which also reported its first COVID-19 cases last week, is closing its airports to all commercial passenger flights at midnight Monday through April 13. Exceptions are allowed with official permission for relief flights, all cargo flights and medical evacuations.

Myanmar, with a population of more than 56 million, is also one of the region’s poorer countries. It has 10 confirmed COVID-19 cases with no deaths.

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LONDON – British Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s chief adviser, Dominic Cummings, is the latest senior government figure to show symptoms of the new coronavirus.

Johnson’s office says Cummings developed symptoms over the weekend and is self-isolating at home.

Johnson announced Friday that he has tested positive for COVID-19 and has mild symptoms. Health Secretary Matt Hancock has also tested positive, while the chief medical officer of England, Chris Whitty, says he is self-isolating after showing symptoms.

Senior U.K. officials have been criticized for continuing to hold face-to-face meetings until recently, even while urging the rest of the country to stay home and avoid all but essential contact with others.

Cummings is a controversial figure – a self-styled political disruptor who helped lead Britain’s pro-Brexit referendum campaign in 2016. He has been blamed for briefing journalists that the U.K. was seeking “herd immunity” against the coronavirus by letting most of the population get it. The government and its scientific advisers deny that was ever their strategy.

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STOCKHOLM – Sweden’s funeral home association says that burial agencies across the country have decided that coffins with a deceased COVID-19 victim should be marked with a special symbol so that caskets are not opened because of fears the deceased could still be contagious.

Ulf Lerneus, the association’s manager, tells Swedish daily Aftonbladet that there has been a confusion among his members after Sweden’s Public Health Authority earlier this month decided that deceased victims should no longer be in body bags.

“Nobody can say there is no risk of infection,” Lerneus was quoted by the daily as saying. Caskets with the symbol showing three droplets “should not be opened” when transported from the mortuary, said Lerneus.

The association gathers some 400 authorized, private funeral homes across the Scandinavian country.

Sweden has reported some 3,700 cases where people have been tested positive, of which 255 of them are in intensive care. According to official figures, 110 people have died.

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LONDON – Britain’s health service is asking airline cabin crew who have been laid off during the coronavirus pandemic to go to work in temporary new hospitals being built to treat COVID-19 patients.

The National Health Service says easyJet and Virgin Atlantic are writing to thousands of staff – especially those with first aid training – asking them to work at hospitals being built inside convention centers in London, Birmingham and Manchester.

It said those who sign up will perform support roles under the supervision of doctors and nurses.

EasyJet announced Monday it was grounding all of its 344 planes amid a collapse in demand due to the COVID-19 crisis. It said there was “no certainty of the date for restarting commercial flights.”

Virgin Atlantic has cancelled most of its flights and has urged the British government to help keep struggling airlines aloft.

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SOFIA, Bulgaria – Bulgaria is postponing its bid to adopt the euro in the wake of a global economic downturn due to the coronavirus pandemic.

Bulgaria’s central bank governor said Monday that his country will delay its accession process until next year.

Dimitar Radev told private Nova TV channel that “the timeline for joining the banking union and participation in the exchange rate mechanism are not realistic anymore”.

The government had said earlier that Bulgaria wants to enter the two-year process that leads to joining the euro, called ERM II, this July. Its hope is that a swift entry into the eurozone would guarantee Bulgaria’s deeper integration in the EU.

Radev said that a delay until 2021 would not be “fatal”. He warned, however, that the country should not wait for a new entry cycle as it did during the global financial crisis of 2008-2009.

Bulgaria is one of the poorest EU members but has since 1997 kept a stable exchange rate between its currency, the lev, and the euro.

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PARIS – Students at France’s most prestigious engineering school are engaging in remote tutoring to help high school pupils get their “Baccalaureat,” the state diploma awarded to pupils in their final lycée year.

The world-renowned Ecole Polytechnique said Monday that 325 of its students will give one hour of their time every day to youngsters in need of support during the isolation period imposed by French authorities to limit the spread of the deadly novel coronavirus.

“During this enduring quarantine period in France, many high school students feel they are lacking in family support when it comes to learning lessons on their own at home,” the school said in a statement. “This is either because their parents are directly implicated in the current pandemic, or because their parents may not have the academic level necessary to help.”

Polytechnique said priority will be given to students whose parents are directly involved in the fight against the disease, including medical professionals, military personnel, police officers or firefighters.

In addition, 25 English-speaking students from the school’s Bachelor of Science program have offered to help with English tutoring lessons.

The French government has ordered the closure of schools across the country but students will still be required to pass their baccalaureat tests in June unless it is postponed to a later date.

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MADRID – Spain has become the third country to surpass China in coronavirus infections after the United States and Italy. With a population of 47 million, the country’s tally of infections reached 85,195 on Monday, a rise of 8% from a previous day.

Monday also saw 812 fatalities to 7,300 since the outbreak started in earnest in early March, Spain’s Health Ministry said in a statement.

In Madrid, where nearly half of the total deaths have been recorded, flags were hoisted at half-mast as authorities declared the official mourning, with a minute of silence expected at noon time.

Authorities also step up the country’s half-a-month lockdown on Monday, beginning with a new two-week period of “hibernation,” as described by a Spanish Cabinet member in order to alleviate the pressure of the illness in the country’s health system.

Only workers in hospitals, pharmacies, the food supply chain and other essential industries are required to work until the end of Easter, in mid-April, while the rest have been asked to scale back operations to weekend-level.

At least six of Spain’s 17 regions are at their limit of ICU beds and three more were close to it, authorities said, while frantic construction of field hospitals continues.

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VIENNA – Austrian Chancellor Sebastian Kurz says that people will be obliged to wear face masks in supermarkets starting this week as the country battles to slow the spread of the coronavirus.

Kurz announced the new measure on Monday, two weeks after Austria introduced restrictions on people’s movement. Austria borders Italy, Europe’s worst-hit country. So far, it has more than 9,000 confirmed cases, including over 100 deaths, according to the health minister.

Kurz said that, likely starting on Wednesday, supermarket chains will start handing out simple face masks to people when they enter supermarkets and people will have to keep them on while they shop. He said that “in the medium term” the aim is for people to wear them in other public situations too.

He emphasized that the new measure doesn’t lessen the need to people to keep their distance from others.

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SEOUL, South Korea — South Korea says nearly half of its 172,000 eligible voters overseas will be denied absentee voting for next month’s parliamentary elections after polling was ruled out in dozens of diplomatic offices worldwide amid broadening coronavirus outbreaks.

South Korea’s National Election Commission said polling preparations were halted at 65 diplomatic missions in 40 countries as of Monday, affecting some 80,500 voters, including those in major U.S. cities such as Washington, New York and Los Angeles.

The commission says more diplomatic offices could decide to close for the April 1-6 absentee voting.

Voters in South Korea will be required to wear masks and use disposable gloves at ballot booths during the parliamentary elections on April 15. Election workers will conduct temperature checks and provide separate polling places for voters with fever or respiratory symptoms.

Some politicians had called for the country to postpone the elections, which will be a crucial moment for President Moon Jae-in’s government amid concerns about the epidemic’s impact on public health and the economy.

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Follow AP news coverage of the coronavirus pandemic at https://apnews.com/VirusOutbreak and https://apnews.com/UnderstandingtheOutbreak

Spanish Royal Guard soldiers during disinfection work at a hospital to prevent the spread of the new coronavirus in Madrid, Spain, Sunday, March 29, 2020. Spain and Italy demanded more European help as they fight still-surging coronavirus infections amid the continent’s worst crisis since World War II. The new coronavirus causes mild or moderate symptoms for most people, but for some, especially older adults and people with existing health problems, it can cause more severe illness or death. (AP Photo/Bernat Armangue)
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