The Latest: WHO urges caution in relaxation of lockdown

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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:

– World Health Organization urges caution in relaxation of lockdown strategies

– Ontario’s Ford: 500,000 masks headed across the border.

– Italy’s day-to-day increase in COVID-19 cases dips again.

– Music stars set to stage live concert on April 18 to raise funds for fight against COVID-19

– Germany’s Merkel says too early to consider ending restrictive measures.

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LONDON – The World Health Organization’s emergencies chief said countries looking to exit their lockdown strategies need to use a “calibrated, step-wise approach” that does not release all the restrictions at once.

Dr. Mike Ryan said Monday that the lockdowns seen in many countries involve shutdowns of schools, workplaces, and social gatherings in venues such as public places and parks.

“It probably would be a bad idea to lift all the lockdown restrictions (at once),” Ryan said, noting that countries shouldn’t be looking to transition out of a shutdown without having a plan in place to keep the spread of COVID-19 to manageable levels.

“The lockdown is pushing the disease down. Once you raise the lockdown, you have to have an alternative method to suppress the infection,” Ryan said, explaining countries should have systems in place to detect cases, track contacts, quarantine suspect cases and test widely for the disease.

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TORONTO – The premier of Canada’s most populous province says U.S. officials have stopped 3 million masks from getting to Ontario from manufacturing giant 3M but he says 500,000 of them are being released Monday.

Ontario Premier Doug Ford says getting masks across the U.S. border is difficult after the Trump administration announced it would prevent the export of N95 protective masks.

Ford says he’s hopeful Canada will get an exemption and says he feels better about that after speaking with United States Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer. Ford says he’s grateful for anything he can from the U.S. after delays in global shipments and recent restrictions at the U.S. border have left Ontario with about a one-week supply of critical protective equipment for health care workers.

Canadian health care workers – like those in the U.S. – are in dire need of the masks that provide more protection against the virus that causes COVID-19.

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GENEVA – The World Health Organization chief says it will give new guidance to countries as they decide whether to order or advise people to wear masks to help fight the coronavirus.

WHO Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus pointed to “limited research” on the matter and said: “There is no black or white answer, and no silver bullet.”

“Masks alone cannot stop the pandemic,” he said.

Tedros repeated WHO’s insistence that medical masks “must be prioritized for health workers on the front lines of the response,” and noted the masks are in short supply globally.

Some central European countries have begun requiring citizens to wear masks in public. On Friday, the U.S. government advised Americans to voluntarily wear a basic cloth or fabric face mask to help stop the spread.

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LONDON – British Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab says he has not spoken to Boris Johnson since Saturday but insisted that the prime minister, who has been hospitalized with persistent coronavirus symptoms, remains in charge of the government.

Raab, who earlier chaired the government’s daily coronavirus briefing, said Johnson had a “comfortable” night after being admitted to St. Thomas’ Hospital in south London late Sunday, and that the prime minister was “in good spirits.”

Johnson tested positive for the virus 11 days ago and has said in a series of video messages during his self-isolation since that he was displaying “mild symptoms” of a cough and a high temperature.

The government’s chief medical adviser, Chris Whitty, said it was possible for people to carry on working from hospital but that any decision relating to Johnson’s ability to do so could only be made by his own personal medics.

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ROME – Italy’s day-to-day increase in new COVID-19 cases has dipped again.

The nearly 3,600 new cases that authorities announced on Monday were the lowest day-to-day increase in 20 days. Another number boosting hopes in Italy’s medical community was a small drop, for the third straight day, in the number of intensive care beds occupied by patients with coronavirus infections nationwide.

“Substantially, the data confirms the trend” of a slowing of new cases and “gives comfort that the measures of containment against the viral infection are effective,’’ said Dr. Luca Richeldi, a pneumologist with Rome’s Gemelli Hospital.

Italy now has at least 132,547 confirmed cases, putting it just behind Spain in total known cases. There were 636 deaths in Italy since Sunday, up from 525 a day earlier. But Richeldi said that overall, a downward trend in deaths was holding, showing a decrease of 20 percent compared to a week earlier.

On Monday, Italy marks a month under national lockdown aimed at slowing contagion with the virus.

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KIYV, Ukraine – Ukraine received $1.2 million of aid from the United States amid the growing coronavirus pandemic, Ukraine’s president said Monday.

“Grateful to the U.S. for allocating $1.2 million to Ukraine to combat COVID-19,” Zelenskiy said in a tweet after a phone conversation with the U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo.

The aid comes as the outbreak is taking a toll on Ukraine’s economy, with the state budget deficit tripling and incomes plummeting. Ukraine, where 1,319 coronavirus cases have been registered so far, has been in lockdown since March, with the borders closed and the vast majority of businesses not operating.

The country’s government hopes to get a $8 billion loan from the International Monetary Fund to keep the economy afloat.

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ROME – The association of doctors in Italy’s virus-ravaged Lombardy region has identified seven “errors” committed by public health officials early on in the outbreak that the association says contributed to the virus’ spread and the death of more than 80 doctors.

Among the key claims was a lack of data about the true number of people infected, the lack of tests for medical personnel, and the inadequate distribution of protective equipment and masks for medical personnel.

The association blasted what it said was the “confused” management in the region’s nursing homes, where hundreds of elderly died, many of whom were never tested for COVID-19 and do not figure into official virus death counts.

The doctors also complained about “uncertainties” in decisions to close high-risk areas, a reference to the delayed decision to lock down hard-hit Bergamo until two weeks after the first infections were reported.

Responding, Italy’s civil protection chief Angelo Borrelli insisted that the virus was an “invisible enemy” that took everyone by surprise. He acknowledged that Italy hadn’t been able to take all necessary measures at the start but said “better than this we couldn’t have done.”

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LONDON – A host of international stars including Chris Martin, Alanis Morissette, John Legend, Billie Eilish, Lang Lang, Elton John and Andrea Bocelli will perform in a live concert on April 18 to raise funds for the fight against the COVID-19 pandemic.

During a press briefing on Monday, Lady Gaga announced she too would be performing in the concert, calling the coronavirus pandemic “a catastrophe” and said she was praying for all those who were sick.

She made her remarks while wearing thick black-rimmed glasses and a sober plaid tweed blazer over a low-cut top.

“My heart is very achy and warm for those who are ER doctors and nurses who are sleeping in cars to make sure they don’t infect their family,” she said. “We all salute you.”

“I would also like to send my prayers to people who are losing their jobs and are having a hard time feeding themselves and their children,” Lady Gaga said.

She added that in the past week, she and others have raised $35 million for buying much-needed protective gear for health workers, improving lab capacities and further research and development into possible drugs and vaccines to treat the new coronavirus.

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LONDON – J.K. Rowling, the author of the Harry Potter books, says she has “fully recovered” from what she believes to have been coronavirus.

Rowling said in a tweet that she had not been tested but that she had displayed “all symptoms” of the virus over the past two weeks.

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ANKARA, Turkey – The number of confirmed COVID-19 infections in Turkey surpassed 30,000, after the country’s health minister reported 3,148 more cases in the past 24 hours.

Fahrettin Koca also reported 75 more deaths on his Twitter account on Monday, raising the death toll in the country to 649.

The total of number of infections in Turkey stands at 30,217.

A total of 1,415 people are in intensive care, including 966 intubated patients, while 1,326 COVID-19 patients have recovered, according to the figures the health minister posted on Twitter.

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MADRID – Spanish investigators on Monday released from custody a businessman suspected of involvement in the theft of 2 million facemasks amid the new coronavirus outbreak.

Private news agency Europa Press reports that the man from the northwest Galicia region remains a suspect in the case, which is ongoing.

With facemasks in short supply in many parts of the world, Galician authorities say protective equipment for health workers worth 5 million euros ($5.4 million) were stolen from a warehouse in Santiago de Compostela last February.

Local officials allege the man, who was detained on Saturday, knew that amid a health emergency the equipment would increase in value.

Police suspect the equipment was going to be sent for sale in neighboring Portugal.

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ATHENS, Greece – Greece has recorded six more deaths from COVID-19 in the past day, bringing the country’s total to 79, another 20 positive cases were detected, bringing the total to 1,755.

The country took lockdown measures relatively early on in its outbreak compared to some other European countries, and authorities say the restrictions appear to be working.

Nearly all retail businesses have been shut down, and people are allowed out of their homes only for specific reasons. Thousands of fines have been imposed for those violating the lockdown regulations.

Civil Protection Deputy Minister Nikos Hardalias urged Greeks to stick to the restrictions. “April will be the most difficult, but the most crucial, month,” he said.

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KINGSTON, Jamaica – Authorities in Jamaica have arrested a female pastor accused of holding a church service in her home in violation of a coronavirus curfew.

Police said in a statement Monday that the 54-year-old woman hosted more than 50 people at her house in St. Catherine parish near the capital of Kingston. Jamaica has reported more than 50 confirmed cases of COVID-19 and at least three deaths.

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BERLIN – German Chancellor Angela Merkel says she’s as anxious as anyone for life to return to normal in the country.

Merkel says “we’re still living in the pandemic” and now isn’t the time to talk about an end date to restrictive measures.

Merkel says “we would be a bad government if we did not intensively, day and night, consider how we can take steps to return to ordinary life while still protecting health.”

But, she adds she would be considered ‘a bad chancellor, and we’d be a bad government,’ if she set an immediate date to end restrictions.

European officials are scheduled to hold a video conference Tuesday to discuss the crisis and Merkel said the European Union was “facing its greatest test since its founding” that has hit every nation.

“Everyone has been affected and therefore it is in everyone’s interest, and in Germany’s interest, that Europe emerges stronger from this test.”

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PRAGUE – The Czech government has agreed to relax some restrictions imposed to contain the epidemic of the coronavirus.

Industry and trade minister Karel Havlicek says that starting Tuesday, people would not have to wear a mandatory facemask for outdoor individual sports activities, such as jogging or riding a bicycle.

Havlicek says people still have to keep a compulsory distance of two meters (yards) from one another.

As of Thursday, more stores are allowed to reopen, including hobby markets and businesses selling construction materials and bicycles.

At the same time, the stores will have to provide a disinfection liquid and protective gloves for one-time use at the entrance and people inside have to keep a two-meter (two-yard) distance from each other.

More stores will reopen after Easter, Havlicek said on Monday.

The government has also approved a proposal to cancel the ban for the Czechs to travel abroad, starting on April 14. Havlicek said people will have a chance to travel to foreign countries for business trips, visiting relatives, or for medical reasons. On return, they will have to be quarantined for two weeks.

Currently, the Czechs are barred from leave the country and foreigners are barred from entering it.

The Czech Republic has 4,735 infected with the coronavirus, 78 people have died.

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ATLANTA – Inmates in the state of Georgia will begin making masks for themselves and prison staff.

The Georgia Department of Corrections said that inmates at three prisons where sewing plants are located are making non-medical-grade masks for inmates and staff.

The production of the masks, which can be hand-washed and reused, began March 31 at Central, Hancock and Pulaski state prisons. Ultimately, the plan is to make 85,000 masks so that each staff member and each inmate at all Georgia prisons has two masks.

As of Sunday evening, 17 inmates had tested positive for COVID-19, including two Lee State Prison inmates who have died, and 25 Department of Corrections staff members had confirmed cases, according to the agency’s website.

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BELGRADE, Serbia – Serbian health authorities say 67 medical staff and nine patients of Belgrade’s main coronary care hospital have tested positive for the new coronavirus.

Of the total positive cases 11 are doctors. All have been moved to other hospitals in the Serbian capital with mild symptoms.

This is the second COVID-19 outbreak in a major hospital in Belgrade. Nearly 50 medical staff and two pregnant women have tested positive in Belgrade’s main maternity ward.

Officials say over 160 medical workers have been infected in Serbia with the new coronavirus.

Serbia has recorded 2,200 infected people and 58 deaths.

ROME – The Italian region of Tuscany is starting to distribute masks for its 3.7 million residents.

Masks will be required when in public once they reach each household.

Civil Protection volunteers on Monday unloaded cartons of the first batch of some 620,000 masks from a warehouse to be distributed to towns and cities throughout the central region.

Volunteers are working around-the-clock to distribute three masks each to every resident. Once local authorities confirm everyone has received their share, the Tuscany governor’s order to wear them in public will go into effect as part of restrictions aimed at containing the spread of COVID-19 infections.

Lombardy is Italy’s most afflicted region and made a similar mandatory mask-wearing order last week. Tuscany has nearly 6,000 confirmed coronavirus cases.

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WASHINGTON – The District of Columbia has passed 1,000 total positive infections of the new coronavirus.

Health officials said Monday 99 new cases had been identified. That brings the total up to 1,097 with 24 deaths.

Mayor Muriel Bowser has issued a stay-home order for Washington’s approximately 700,000 residents.

Neighboring Maryland and Virginia have done the same.

Bowser has declared a state of emergency, shuttered all schools and ordered all non-essential businesses to close.

White House and Capitol tours have been cancelled and the National Zoo, Smithsonian museum network and Kennedy Center have closed. On Sunday, officials shutdown a popular fish market at the city’s Wharf boardwalk after crowds ignored social distancing guidelines and packed the area on Saturday.

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

German Chancellor Angela Merkel brief the media about measures of the German government to avoid further spread of the coronavirus at the chancellery in Berlin, Germany, Monday, April 6, 2020. In order to slow down the spread of the coronavirus, the German government has considerably restricted public life and asked the citizens to stay at home. 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/Markus Schreiber,Pool)
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