The Latest: Australia to send doctors to cruise ships

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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:

– New York virus toll doubles in 72 hours.

– Australia to assess who needs medical evacuation from cruise ships.

– About 950,000 people apply for welfare benefits in Britain.

-Foreign ministers warn that democratic principles could be at risk during pandemic.

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CANBERRA, Australia – Australia is sending doctors by helicopter to cruise ships anchored off Sydney to assess who needs medical evacuation rather than bring 8,500 crew members ashore and risk overrunning hospitals with COVID-19 cases.

Eight foreign cruise ships off Australia’s east coast plus a German ship birthed at the west coast port of Fremantle have defied an Australian Border Force order on March 29 to leave the country. The ships fear their crews will become dangerously ill at sea.

New South Wales state Police Commissioner Mick Fuller said on Thursday he won’t allow crew members ashore in Sydney unless they need medical attention.

Fuller told reporters: “If a small percentage end up with the virus, it will overwhelm our health system and everything we’ve done to date will be wasted.”

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LONDON – Around 950,000 people have applied for welfare benefits amid the COVID-19 crisis – nearly 10 times the usual number for a two-week period.

The Department of Work and Pensions says the surge is unprecedented and that it is moving 10,000 staff to the frontlines to help process the applications. It says more will also be hired.

The grim news comes as British Airways continues talks with unions over the fate of thousands of employees who face being laid off because of the crisis.

The airline has grounded much of its fleet and cabin crew, ground staff and engineers are among those facing job suspensions.

The Unite union says has been “working around the clock to protect thousands of jobs and to ensure the UK comes out of this unprecedented crisis with a viable aviation sector.’’

Aviation has been particularly hard-hit in the crisis, as travel restrictions keep people close to home.

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BERLIN – Foreign ministers from 13 European Union countries warned Thursday that democratic principles could be at risk from measures taken to curb the coronavirus pandemic.

Top diplomats from Germany, France, Italy, Spain and nine other nations said in a joint statement that it was legitimate for EU members to adopt “extraordinary measures to protect their citizens and overcome the crisis.”

But the countries warned they were “deeply concerned about the risk of violations of the principles of rule of law, democracy and fundamental rights arising from the adoption of certain emergency measures.”

The statement didn’t single out any specific country, but measures taken by Hungary in particular have been criticized by human rights activists.

The 13 foreign ministers said “emergency measures should be limited to what is strictly necessary, should be proportionate and temporary in nature, subject to regular scrutiny, and respect the aforementioned principles and international law obligations.”

They warned it “should not restrict the freedom of expression or the freedom of the press.”

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MADRID – Nearly 900,000 workers lost their jobs in Spain since authorities ordered people to stay home to slow down the expansion of the new coronavirus, authorities said Thursday.

The short-term job loss was higher than in January 2009, when 350,000 workers lost their jobs as the global financial crisis hit the southern European country.

The number of workers who were making payments to the country’s social security fund dropped by 898,822 by the end of March, the official data released on Thursday showed.

The losses began on March 12, as the government moved to declare a state of emergency and asked people to work remotely. Since then, further measures have been taken, barring all but essential workers from leaving their homes until mid-April.

Construction and services, including the country’s thriving, important tourism industry have been the industries hardest hit by the job losses, figures released by the Ministry of Labour showed. The number of people officially registered as unemployed rose to 3.5 million by the end of the month, the highest level since April 2017.

Spain has more than 100,000 COVID-19 infections and has seen more than 800 deaths for five days in a row, although authorities say that the arc of contagion has started to slow down. Intensive care units in hospitals of Madrid, the hardest hit region, are reporting a slightly lower number of patients arriving in serious conditions.

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MOSCOW – The coronavirus outbreak in Russia continues to pick up speed.

Russian officials registered 771 new cases on Thursday – 43% more than the day before, bringing the country’s total to 3,548 cases, with 30 deaths and 230 recoveries.

The vast majority of Russian regions are currently on lockdown, ordering residents to self-isolate at home and not go out, unless it’s to buy groceries, medications, walk their dogs or take out trash.

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SEOUL, South Korea – The South Korean capital of Seoul is building a huge coronavirus testing station in a sports complex built for the 1988 Summer Olympics as it seeks to test hundreds of people returning to the city each day amid broadening outbreaks in Europe and the United States.

Mayor Park Won-soon on Thursday said the city will test all South Korean and long-term foreign residents returning from overseas starting Friday, mostly relying on the makeshift station located in the main Olympic stadium’s parking lot that will be capable of testing 1,000 people per day.

South Korea has been enforcing two-week quarantines on all passengers arriving from overseas since Wednesday to stem a rise in imported coronavirus infections.

While passengers arriving with fever or respiratory symptoms are isolated and tested at the airport, Seoul also plans to test those who seem well as experts say the virus can spread from people with no or mild symptoms.

South Korea’s Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says at least 601 of the country’s 9,976 coronavirus infections were linked to recent arrivals, with most of the cases detected in the Seoul metropolitan area over the past three weeks.

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BEIJING – China on Thursday recorded another 35 confirmed and 20 suspected coronavirus cases, all from overseas.

Another 55 asymptomatic cases were also recorded, 17 of them imported, bringing to 1,075 the number of who have tested positive but show no symptoms and are now being isolated and monitored.

China also reported another six deaths, all in the hardest-hit province of Hubei, bringing the national death toll to 3,318 with 81,589 total cases.

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ATHENS, Greece – Authorities have placed a refugee camp north of the Greek capital under quarantine after 20 of its residents tested positive for the new coronavirus.

The Migration and Asylum Ministry said the Ritsona camp would be quarantined from Thursday for 14 days, during which nobody would be allowed into or out of the facility. The camp is normally open, with residents allowed to enter and leave at will.

One of the camp’s residents, hospitalized in Athens to give birth, was found to be positive earlier in the week and health authorities began tracking the people she had come into contact with.

The ministry said 63 people were tested in the camp, and 20 were found to be positive for the virus. None of those found positive were showing any symptoms, it said, adding that none of the camp’s staff had tested positive. Authorities would continue testing in the camp on Thursday.

Separately, an asylum seeker living in an apartment in Kilkis in northern Greece was also found to be positive for the coronavirus while in a local maternity hospital. The woman and her family had been placed in quarantine at home for 14 days, and authorities were tracking down the woman’s contacts.

Tens of thousands of migrants and refugees live in Greece, many of them in overcrowded camps on eastern Greek islands. So far no cases of coronavirus infections have been reported in the island camps.

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JOHANNESBURG – The first country in sub-Saharan Africa to impose a coronavirus lockdown has now extended it by two weeks.

Rwanda’s announcement is a likely sign of what’s to come as more African nations tell almost all citizens to stay home or lock down major cities.

Cases in Africa are now above 6,000.

The lockdowns in places like South Africa, Uganda and now Eritrea have led to concerns that millions of people who live hand-to-mouth could go hungry or lose access to other emergency healthcare.

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TOKYO – The shortage of protective gear caused by the coronavirus pandemic has hit the workers at the meltdown-hit Fukushima nuclear plant in Japan, where they’ve needed them daily for years to guard against radiation.

Shipments temporarily stopped coming in, although an alternative supplier was later found, according to Tokyo Electric Power Co., the utility that runs Fukushima Dai-ichi. The 4,000 workers at the plant cannot always practice social distancing as they must come close to each other to carry out cleanup work, spokesman Joji Hara said Thursday.

To reduce the possibility of infection, workers have been forbidden from riding on public transportation, such as trains, and must either drive to work or take the special company buses. When eating at the cafeteria, they can’t sit facing each other, and their temperatures are checked daily, he said.

“We are involved in decommissioning work that can’t ever stop and so we are taking every precaution we can,” said Hara.

The workers with special skills, who would be hard to replace, have reduced contact with people to minimize risks of infection. There is no lockdown in Japan and so all such efforts outside work are voluntary.

In March 2011, a tsunami swallowed the plant and sent three reactors into meltdowns, causing the worst nuclear disaster since Chernobyl. The reactors must be chilled constantly, producing tons of contaminated water every day.

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CANBERRA, Australia – Australia’s government will offer parents free child care from next week in a bid to keep 13,000 child care centers open during the coronavirus pandemic and to prevent workers staying home to look after children.

Prime Minister Scott Morrison said on Thursday one million families would benefit from the subsidies expected to cost 1.6 billion Australian dollars ($973 million) over three months.

Parents are increasingly keeping children home from schools and child care centers due to the risk of COVID-19 and several child care centers have closed their doors due to dwindling revenue.

The government insists that the children remain safer in schools than they are outside, despite some experts disagreeing. Morrison does not want parents forced to give up jobs to care for children.

Morrison told reporters: “If you have a job in this economy, it’s an essential job.”

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WELLINGTON, New Zealand – New Zealand’s government says it has a plan to repatriate tens of thousands of tourists who have been stuck in the country since a strict lockdown began a week ago.

The tourists are from Britain, Germany, the U.S. and many other countries. Many had been unable to catch restricted internal flights to the main city of Auckland to get a seat on one of the few international flights that are still operating.

Foreign Minister Winston Peters said Thursday that the tourists will now be allowed to catch internal flights, that foreign governments will be able to organize charter flights to New Zealand to repatriate citizens so long as they satisfy health conditions, and that Qatar Airways flights from New Zealand to Europe will increase from one to two per day.

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JERUSALEM – Israel’s health minister, who has had frequent contact in recent weeks with Prime Minister Netanyahu and other top officials, was diagnosed with the new coronavirus, the Health Ministry announced Thursday.

Yaakov Litzman and his wife, who also has the virus, are in isolation, feel well and are being treated, the statement said. Requests to enter isolation will be sent to those who came in contact with the minister in the past two weeks, the announcement said.

The Israeli daily Haaretz reported that the head of Israel’s Mossad spy agency and the National Security Council were asked to go into isolation because of their contacts with Litzman. Netanyahu had gone into isolation previously after a top aide tested positive for the virus.

Israel has gone into near lockdown to try to contain the virus outbreak.

Israel’s large, insular Ultra-Orthodox community, of which Litzman is a member, has been particularly hard hit by infections. In the early phases of the outbreak, some rabbis had pushed back or ignored government-mandated movement restrictions, but resistance appears to have diminished.

Israel has reported just over 6,000 confirmed cases of coronavirus, and 26 people have died.

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

This Friday, March 27, 2020, photo shows the cruise ship Artania docked at Fremantle harbour in Fremantle, Australia. More than 800 cruise ship passengers and crew are heading home to Germany on chartered flights while 41 others infected with the coronavirus have been admitted to an Australian hospital after an argument over where they should be treated among local medical personnel. (Richard Wainwright/AAP Image via AP)
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