The Latest: Defense Secretary to meet about Capt. Crozier

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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:

– Britain reports nearly 20,000 deaths from virus.

– EPA reminds people to only use disinfectant on surfaces.

– France won’t reopen its restaurants, bars and cafes before June.

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WASHINGTON – A spokesman for Defense Secretary Mark Esper says the Pentagon chief will meet Friday with the Navy’s top admiral for a briefing on a report that is expected to determine the fate of Capt. Brett Crozier.

Crozier was relieved of command of the USS Theodore Roosevelt after he pleaded for more urgent help with a coronavirus outbreak among his crew. Jonathan Hoffman, the chief Pentagon spokesman, says Esper is keeping an open mind about Crozier. The Navy has said it would not rule out reinstating Crozier.

Just days after the acting Navy secretary, Thomas Modly, fired Crozier, Modly resigned amid strong criticism of his handling of the matter. More than 800 members of the Roosevelt crew have tested positive for coronavirus and one died.

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LANSING, Mich. – Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer lengthened her stay-at-home order through May 15, while lifting some restrictions so certain businesses can reopen.

Michigan has nearly 3,000 reported deaths related to COVID-19, behind only New York and New Jersey among U.S. states.

People are now required, rather than encouraged, to wear face coverings in enclosed public spaces such as grocery stores.

Landscapers, lawn-service companies, plant nurseries and bike repair shops can resume operating, subject to social-distancing rules. Stores selling nonessential supplies can reopen for curbside pickup and delivery. Big-box retailers no longer need to close off garden centers and areas dedicated to selling paint, flooring and carpet.

Whitmer says people with multiple in-state homes can resume traveling between them, though it is strongly discouraged.

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ATHENS, Greece – Greek health officials say they have confirmed 27 new coronavirus infections and five new deaths in the last 24 hours.

That brings the country’s total deaths to 130, and the total confirmed infections to 2,490.

The Health Ministry’s spokesman for the coronavirus response, infectious diseases specialist Sotiris Tsiodras, says the number of people intubated in intensive care units had fallen to 48, while 60 people had left the ICU.

The government has said it will begin relaxing the restrictions on May 4, but has yet to detail how that will be done.

The specialist says measures would be lifted gradually and warned Greeks to remain vigilant and maintain strict hygiene and social distancing protocols.

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LONDON – The British government says 684 more people with the coronavirus have died in U.K. hospitals, increasing the total reported to 19,506.

That’s higher than 616 deaths in the previous 24-hour period. There has been increasing scrutiny of the U.K. figures for understating the actual number of coronavirus-related deaths because they don’t include deaths in care homes or elsewhere in the community.

The U.K.’s death toll is the fourth highest in Europe, behind Italy, Spain and France, all of whom have reported more than 20,000 deaths.

The government also says the number of daily tests increased by around 5,000 to 28,532.

On Friday, an online link to an expanded testing program for essential workers stopped accepting applications after a few hours because of “significant demand.”

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ATHENS, Greece – Greek health officials say they have confirmed 27 new coronavirus infections and five new deaths in the last 24 hours.

That brings the country’s total deaths to 130, and the total confirmed infections to 2,490.

The Health Ministry’s spokesman for the coronavirus response, infectious diseases specialist Sotiris Tsiodras, says the number of people intubated in intensive care units had fallen to 48, while 60 people had left the ICU.

The government has said it will begin relaxing the restrictions on May 4, but has yet to detail how that will be done.

The specialist says measures would be lifted gradually and warned Greeks to remain vigilant and maintain strict hygiene and social distancing protocols.

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BELGRADE, Serbia – Authorities in Serbia say gyms and hair salons will reopen next week as part of easing measures against the coronavirus.

Epidemiologist Predrag Kon says a curfew this weekend will remain in place despite apparent stabilization of the situation in the Balkan country. Kon says restrictive measures in some form are expected to last until the summer. But he adds that “life must resume.”

Serbia has reported 7,483 coronavirus infections and 144 deaths.

The country has introduced some of the harshest measures in Europe, including daily and weekend curfews and a complete stay-at-home order for people over 65 years old. Serbia’s elderly last week were allowed out for the first time in more than a month.

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SAN JUAN, Puerto Rico – Puerto Rico’s education secretary says public schools will reopen in August and all students will enter the next grade regardless of their academic achievements or if they’ve taken online classes.

Eligio Hernández says teachers will spend August through October helping students with subjects they struggled with during the ongoing two-month coronavirus lockdown.

The announcement comes just months after a series of strong earthquakes damaged dozens of schools that remain permanently shuttered in the island’s southern region. Puerto Rico on Friday reported at least 77 deaths and more than 1,270 confirmed cases of COVID-19.

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GENEVA – U.N. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres is joining leaders from the European Union and beyond to ensure all countries get the tools to fight the coronavirus outbreak.

He spoke during a virtual launch event co-hosted by French President Emmanuel Macron, World Health Organization Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen and the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation.

The United Nations chief says its important to unite national leaders along with the private sector, humanitarian groups and other partners against the COVID-19 threat. Ridding the world of it “requires the most massive public health effort in history. We are in the fight of our lives.”

Billed as a “landmark collaboration,” the effort aims to ensure the development, production and delivery of vaccines, therapeutics and diagnostics reach all countries no matter if big or small, rich or poor.

“Not a vaccine or treatments for one country or one region or one-half of the world,” Guterres says, “but a vaccine and treatment that are affordable, safe, effective, easily administered and universally available for everyone, everywhere.”

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SAN JUAN, Puerto Rico – Authorities say a 28-year veteran with Puerto Rico’s police department has become the first officer to die of COVID-19.

Spokesman Axel Valencia told The Associated Press that 56-year-old Miguel Martínez Ortiz died early Friday after being hospitalized nearly three weeks ago. He says Martínez was part of a federal task force with U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement. Hundreds of officers remain in a two-week quarantine for symptoms and possible exposure to the coronavirus.

Puerto Rico reports at least 77 deaths and more than 1,270 confirmed cases. Only some 12,680 people have been tested on an island of 3.2 million.

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PARIS – France won’t reopen its restaurants, bars and cafes before June. Authorities also announced reinforced financial support for the sector amid the virus crisis.

Finance minister Bruno Le Maire says the government is deferring tax payments and extending short-term unemployment to businesses that won’t be allowed to reopen next month. He says small companies of less than 20 employees can apply for emergency aid of up to 10,000 euros ($10,786).

Most French businesses are set to reopen on May 11. However, the schedule for restaurants, bars and cafes won’t be decided before the end of May, Le Maire said.

France, one of the most popular tourist destinations with more than 80 million foreign visitors each year, is planning an investment fund to help relaunch that sector.

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ROME – At least 44 percent of new coronavirus infections registered this month in Italy occurred in nursing homes or long-term care facilities, according to the Superior Institutes of Health.

The data released Friday confirms anecdotal evidence that eldercare facilities have become the major source of new infections in Italy, as elsewhere, given the vulnerability of residents and the lack of protective equipment for staff.

The next largest source of contagion from April 1-23 was among family members — nearly 25 percent — collateral damage from Italy’s seven-week stay-at-home order, the first and most extensive in the West. Nearly 11 percent of infections were traced to hospitals, 4.2 percent at work and 2 percent in religious communities.

Also, the average number of people who will get COVID-19 from a single infected person — the so-called R0 — is now under 1 nationwide for the first time, according to the report. It started out between 2-3 in hard-hit parts of the north, where the epicenter of Europe’s pandemic erupted on Feb. 21.

Stefano Merler of the Bruno Kessler Foundation, who analyzed the data, says even though Italy’s lockdown had brought the R0 down to an average of 0.2-0.7 nationwide, “we’re still not in a situation of security.”

Virologists say Italy couldn’t consider re-opening until the R0 is well under 1, while adding that it won’t reach 0 until there is a vaccine.

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ALGIERS, Algeria – Algerian President Abdelmadjid Tebboune announced confinement restrictions will be eased with the start of Ramadan, the Islamic holy month.

Tebboune says Algeria “managed to limit the spreading of the pandemic” and called for “solidarity, mutual aid, discipline, patience and vigilance” during the Ramadan month.

Algeria has reported 3,007 positive tests for the virus and 407 deaths from COVID-19.

Under new measures, a curfew imposed in nine regions is now reduced to 5 p.m. (instead of 3 p.m.) until 7 a.m. In the hardest-hit Blida region. The full lockdown is replaced by a curfew from 2 p.m. to 7 a.m. Mosques will remain closed and Muslims are being advised to pray at home.

Mohand Idi Mechnane, head of the government commission in charge of islamic religious issues, told the AP: “It’s heartbreaking to Algerian people… but health comes above religious duties.”

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WARSAW, Poland – Poland is extending the closure of all level of schools until May 24 because of the coronavirus pandemic.

Education Minister Dariusz Piontkowski says it’s also postponing high school exams until June 8, cancelling the spoken form of the exams.

Primary school exams are being pushed back to June 16-18, from late April. The changes will not affect the process of admission to universities or middle schools.

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WASHINGTON – The Environmental Protection Agency is reminding people to only use disinfectant on surfaces.

The EPA issued the statement in a release before President Donald Trump suggested on Thursday it might be helpful to inject disinfectant to combat the coronavirus.

The EPA says, “Never apply the product to yourself or others. Do not ingest disinfectant products.”

William Bryan of the Department of Homeland Security said at a White House briefing on Thursday “emerging results” from new research suggest solar light has a powerful effect in killing the virus on surfaces and in the air.

But he said there was no consideration of internal use of disinfectants. Trump’s hypothesis drew a flood of comments on Twitter.

(This item has been corrected to show the EPA issued the statement in a press release before Thursday’s press conference, not after.)

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LONDON – The British government’s new online link for “essential workers” to book tests for the coronavirus has stopped accepting applications for the day as a result of “significant demand.”

Just hours after launching, the link read: “Coronavirus test: applications closed.”

In a tweet, the Department of Health and Social Care apologized, saying there has “been significant demand.” It also says it is “continuing to rapidly increase availability and ”more tests will be available tomorrow.”

On Thursday, Health Secretary Matt Hancock said the government was rolling out its testing program to essential workers with coronavirus symptoms and their families.

The swab tests are also available to those working in prisons and journalists covering the coronavirus pandemic.

The program’s roll-out is intended to help the government meet its target of 100,000 tests a day by the end of the month. The last daily figure was around 23,500.

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BERLIN – Hotels, restaurants, bars and cafes in Germany are placing empty chairs in streets and squares Friday to highlight the economic plight of the pandemic.

Business owners want the government to increase financial support for the hospitality and events sector and lay out a clear plan for when they can reopen.

The protest first took place April 17 in the eastern city of Dresden and has been replicated in other cities.

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MADRID – Authorities hailed that, for the first time since the beginning of the coronavirus outbreak in Spain, more people are being diagnosed as cured than those falling sick.

On Friday, there were 2,796 new infections confirmed while 3,105 overcame the infection.

“With all the effort that we have done, the evolution of the epidemic is obviously beginning to be where it should be,” said Fernando Simón, the ministry’s health emergency center coordinator.

Spain has recorded 367 new deaths of patients with the coronavirus, to a total of 22,524, as the government mulls the way out of a strict confinement that has extended for more than 40 days.

Health officials from Spain’s 17 regions and the central government were to meet later on Friday with proposals on how to roll back the six-week lockdown. Authorities have said that future steps will be incremental and depend on how regions meet certain health criteria.

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GENEVA – The U.N. human rights chief says some states are using the coronavirus outbreak as a pretext to clamp down on independent media, including the arrest and intimidation of journalists.

Michelle Bachelet, the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights, did not specify which countries have used the pandemic as a “pretext to restrict information and stifle criticism.”

Bachelet noted that some political leaders have aimed their statements against journalists and media workers, and insisted that a free media is always essential but now more than ever during the pandemic.

“This is no time to blame the messenger,” Bachelet said. “Protecting journalists from harassment, threats, detention or censorship helps keep us all safe.”

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

Veterans Response members, from left, Pablo Soto, Ray Guasp, and Dan Torres, stock shelves at New Opportunities on West Main Street in Meriden, Conn., on Thursday, April 23, 2020. The non-profit organization is collecting and distributing mostly non-perishable food items to local pantries throughout the state. (Dave Zajac /Record-Journal via AP)
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