The Latest: Italy looks to start reopening in May

0

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:

– WHO warns rush to ease virus rules could cause resurgence.

– Premier announces Italy can start reopening next month.

– Denmark releases new testing guidelines.

___

MILAN – Italian Premier Giuseppe Conte on Tuesday confirmed that Italy can start reopening on May 4, but he doused any hopes of a total loosening of some of the strictest lockdown measures in a western democracy.

“Many citizens are tired of the efforts that have been made so far and would like a significant loosening of these measures, or even their total abolition,” Conte said in a Facebook post, adding that “a decision of that kind would be irresponsible.”

Conte indicated that moves to relax the restrictions would be announced by the end of the week, and that they would take into account the different circumstances among regions.

Italy’s north, hardest-hit by the virus and the country’s economic engine, has been straining to restart industry after a shutdown of nonessential manufacturing on March 26 – even as some have received permission to reopen with a much-reduced workforce in recent days.

Veneto regional governor Luca Zaia estimates as much as 40% of companies are already working in the region. Conte pointed out that the regions still were not able to keep up with some necessities for a reopening, including masks and gloves, noting that the government had supplied 110 million masks in addition to 3,000 ventilators to hospitals. “It is too easy to say, ‘let’s open everything,” Conte said.

___

COPENHAGEN, Denmark – Any person in Denmark who has been or will be hospitalized for more than one day with or without COVID-19 symptoms, and staff and residents at retirement homes and facilities for people with mental health issues, will be tested under new guidelines released Tuesday.

“In this situation, it is very important that there is increased awareness to avoid infection in the population,” the Danish Health Authority said, saying “the spread of infection has been greatly reduced, and we have therefore started to open up the society gradually.”

On Monday, hair salons, tattoo parlors, physiotherapists, among others, were able to reopen their business after some classes were allowed to return to school last week. Zoological gardens and animal parks said they have been allowed to reopen on May 1.

Across the Baltic Sea, Lithuania has extended its lockdown until May 11 with virtually no help for business and fears that the Baltic country might see a repeat of the 2009 nosediving of the gross domestic product when there was a dip of minus 15%.

___

PRAGUE – The Czech Republic is launching a comprehensive study with a goal to determine the number of undetected infections with the coronavirus in its population.

Health Minister Adam Vojtech says some 27,000 people across the country will be tested in the next two weeks, starting on Thursday.

The study will be conducted in different parts of the Czech Republic where the epidemic is at different stages on people aged 18 – 89. In the capital of Prague and the second largest city of Brno, children also will be included.

The samples of the population tested will include volunteers as well a selected group suffering from chronic diseases.

A significant number of people infected with the coronavirus suffer no or only mild symptoms, but there is concern that they might unwittingly spread the virus to others. At the same time, those people are expected to be immune to COVID-19 in the future.

The results that will be known in early May should help authorities to adjust the plans to gradually relax restrictive measures imposed to contain the pandemic.

The Czech Republic has 6,914 tested positive for the coronavirus, 196 have died, according to Health Ministry figures.

___

SEOUL, South Korea – South Korea’s professional baseball league has decided to begin its new season on May 5, initially without fans, following a postponement over the coronavirus.

The Korea Baseball Organization made the announcement after a board meeting on Tuesday while teams began their preseason exhibition games in empty stadiums.

The league says fans will be barred from games until the risk of infections are gone.

The league plans to maintain a 144-game regular season schedule, but it has decided scrap its all-star game and shorten the first round of the playoffs from a best-of-five to best-of-three series.

The KBO says it could shorten its regular season if infections erupt. The league will advise players to wear face masks in locker rooms and require them to download smartphone apps to report their daily health status to league officials.

South Korea on Tuesday reported 9 new infections of the coronavirus and one more death, bringing its totals to 10,683 cases and 237 deaths. The country’s caseload has slowed from early March when it was reporting around 500 fresh cases a day.

___

YANGON, Myanmar – A car used by the World Health Organization to transport swab samples to be tested for the COVID-19 virus has been attacked in western Myanmar, killing the driver and wounding a passenger.

The Global New Light of Myanmar newspaper reported Tuesday that the vehicle bearing a U.N. license plate was attacked in Rakhine State en route to Yangon late Monday afternoon.

Rakhine has been the scene of bitter fighting between the government and the Arakan Army, an ethnic guerrilla group fighting for autonomy in Rakhine State. Each side blamed the other for the Monday attack.

The newspaper account said the driver and the passenger, a health worker, were taken to a nearby hospital. The father of the driver, 28-year-old Pyae Sone Win Mg, said his son died Tuesday morning.

___

BERLIN – This year’s Oktoberfest in Munich has been called off because of the coronavirus pandemic. The cancellation of the world-famous annual celebration of beer, which was supposed to run from Sept. 19 to Oct. 4, underlines expectations that the way back to normal life will be very long.

The Oktoberfest typically draws about 6 million visitors every year to the packed festival grounds in Bavaria’s capital.

Bavarian governor Markus Soeder said after meeting Munich’s mayor Tuesday: “We agreed that the risk is simply too high.” He added that “you can neither keep your distance nor work with facial protection” at the Oktoberfest.

Soeder noted that the festival attracts visitors from around the world, raising concerns about bringing new infections to Bavaria.

Mayor Dieter Reiter said that “it is an emotionally difficult moment and of course it is also an economically difficult moment for our city.”

As it stands, major events with large audiences are banned in Germany until at least the end of August. The country has taken the first steps toward loosening its shutdown, allowing small nonessential shops to start opening this week, but it remains unclear when bars and restaurants will be able to welcome customers again.

The Oktoberfest has previously been canceled during the two world wars; at a time of hyperinflation in Germany in 1923; and because of cholera outbreaks in 1854 and 1873, German news agency dpa reported.

___

BANGKOK – The World Health Organization said Tuesday that rushing to ease coronavirus restrictions will likely lead to a resurgence of the illness, a warning that comes as governments start rolling out plans to get their economies up and running again.

“This is not the time to be lax. Instead, we need to ready ourselves for a new way of living for the foreseeable future,” said Dr. Takeshi Kasai, the WHO regional director for the Western Pacific.

He said governments must remain vigilant to stop the spread of the virus and the lifting of lockdowns and other social distancing measures must be done gradually and strike the right balance between keeping people healthy and allowing economies to function.

“As we move forward in this difficult time, our lives, our health system and approach to stopping transmission must continue to adapt and evolve along with the epidemic, at least until a vaccine or very effective treatment is found. This process will need to become our new normal,” Kasai said.

___

JAKARTA, Indonesia – Indonesia President Joko Widodo has banned people in the world’s most populous Muslim nation from traveling back home to celebrate the Islamic holiday during the coronavirus pandemic.

The announcement came amid warnings from health experts of a chance Indonesia will face an outbreak of coronavirus cases that could infect more than a million people following Ramadan, unless the government takes stricter measures in a country home to about 230 million Muslims.

Widodo initially just banned nearly 6 million of the country’s civil servants, soldiers, police officers and state-owned employees from going on the annual exodus known as “mudik” to celebrate Eid al-Fitr, which marks the end of the dawn-to-sunset fasting during Ramadan.

In the annual mass exodus, millions of Indonesians usually cram into trains, ferries, cars and planes, resulting in massive traffic jams and fully booked flights.

Last year, about 33 million Indonesians left big cities to visit relatives during the holiday.

Widodo said government surveys that showed a risky 24% of people insisted on returning home for the holiday caused him to issue the ban. He asked his administration to prepare measures in enforcing the restriction.

As of Monday, the nation had reported at least 6,760 infections – including 590 deaths from COVID-19, more fatalities than any Asian country other than China.

___

CANBERRA, Australia – Australia’s prime minister strongly backs his foreign minister’s call for an independent inquiry into the origins of the coronavirus.

China’s Foreign Ministry rejected Australian Foreign Minister Marise Payne’s call on Sunday for an independent review into the origins of the virus, including China’s handling of the initial outbreak.

But on Tuesday, Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison said Payne’s view had his “very, very strong support.”

“Such an inquiry is important,” Morrison told reporters.

“It’s important for public health globally that there is a transparency in the way you can get access to this important information early. So it’s not pursued as an issue of criticism, it’s pursued as an issue of importance for public health,” he added.

Australia’s call for transparency comes after U.S. officials revealed intelligence agencies were assessing whether the respiratory virus escaped from a biological laboratory in the Chinese city of Wuhan, where the pandemic began.

President Donald Trump has said he instructed his administration to halt funding for the World Health Organization pending a review of its role “in severely mismanaging and covering up the spread of the coronavirus.”

___

PARIS – Media watchdog Reporters Without Borders is sounding the alarm that the coronavirus pandemic poses a threat to freedom of the press around the world.

In its annual evaluation of global media freedoms, the group warned Tuesday that the health crisis could serve as an excuse for governments “to take advantage of the fact that politics are on hold, the public is stunned and protests are out of the question, in order to impose measures that would be impossible in normal times.”

___

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

A man holds up a book inside an open bookstore in Rome, Monday, April 20, 2020. In Italy, bookstores, stationary stores and shops selling baby clothes and supplies were allowed to open nationwide last Tuesday, provided they could maintain the same social-distancing and sanitary measures to prevent the spread of COVID-19 required in supermarkets. (AP Photo/Alessandra Tarantino)
Advertisements