The Latest: Inmates tasked with producing medical gowns

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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:

– Coronavirus shakes the conceit of ‘American exceptionalism.’

– Inmates in Japan are set to produce 1.2 million protective medical gowns.

– Medical experts say Japan’s emergency centers are collapsing under the burden of COVID-19.

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TOKYO – In Japan, inmates will be joining the fight against the spread of the coronavirus from behind the bars, by making protective gowns for medical workers.

Inmates will be assigned to the production of protective medical gowns that are in dire shortage at many hospitals, putting many medical workers at risk and fear of getting infected, Justice Ministry officials said Friday.

The ministry said manufacturing of protective gowns will begin in mid-May at 41 of 75 prisons across Japan, with a production target of 1.2 million gowns by October, or about 200,000 per month. Medical experts say they are also facing serious shortages of N95 masks, face shields and other protective equipment for which Japan has largely relied on imports.

At Japanese prisons, inmates are put to work, including sewing, carpentry and other manufacturing as part of corrections programs. The gowns will be distributed to hospitals via the health ministry, officials said.

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TOKYO – Japanese emergency medicine is starting to collapse amid dire shortages of protective gear and test kits that can quickly identify infected patients, putting medical workers at risk of infection and causing their refusal to treat suspected COVID-19 patients and even others suffering heart attacks and external injuries, representatives of the acute medicine said Friday.

The limited number of advanced and critical emergency centers are overburdened with the surging patients and risk of coronavirus infections because many other hospitals are increasingly turning away suspected patients, said Takeshi Shimazu, head of Japanese Association for Acute Medicine, and Tetsuya Sakamoto, who heads the Japanese Society for Emergency Medicine, to a joint video news conference.

“We can no longer operate normally, and in that sense I say the collapse of emergency medicine has already started,” Shimazu said. “I’m most concerned about a collapse of healthcare for the critically-ill patients.”

Japan initially seemed to have controlled the outbreak by going after clusters of infections in specific places, the spread of the virus has outpaced this approach and most new cases are untraceable. Experts say it’s time to bolster testing to assess how widespread the infections actually are. Some experts say the infections in Japan are already far more than the number of cases released by the government.

Japan has about 12,400 cases and more than 300 deaths, according to the health ministry figures.

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ISTANBUL – Turkey’s health minister has compared Istanbul to Wuhan – the Chinese city where the novel coronavirus first emerged – as the epicenter of infections in an interview.

“Turkey’s Wuhan was Istanbul,” minister Fahrettin Koca told a columnist from pro-government Sabah newspaper in an interview published Friday.

Koca said the spread of COVID-19 in Istanbul was brought under control through contact tracing executed by a team of experts. “They followed trails like medical detectives,” he said and argued it would have been difficult to contain the virus otherwise.

The latest official figures show 2,491 people have died and 101,790 COVID-19 cases have been confirmed. The highest number of cases is in Istanbul, the health minister has said.

The country ranks seventh in the world in the number of confirmed infections, surpassing Iran and China, according to Johns Hopkins University.

Experts say the true toll of the pandemic around the world is much higher than the Johns Hopkins tally, due in part to limited testing and difficulties in counting the dead in the midst of a crisis. Nearly 800,000 people have been tested for COVID-19 in Turkey, which has a population of 83 million.

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BUDAPEST, Hungary – Hungary’s prime minister says the government is working on new rules that will allow the country to gradually restart daily activities from early May.

Prime Minister Viktor Orban said Friday on state radio that current rules making people stay at home as much as possible will be replaced and the first phase of protection against the coronavirus pandemic will be completed.

He said that new regulations currently being drafted will have to ensure the protection of the most vulnerable: the elderly, those with chronic illnesses and those living in cities.

Orban said Hungary was following closely developments in neighboring Austria, where the pandemic is at a more advanced stage.

As of Friday, Hungary has registered 2,383 coronavirus cases, with 250 deaths.

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STOCKHOLM – Sweden threatened to close bars and restaurants that do not follow social distancing recommendations by the public health authorities.

“We see worrying reports about full outdoor dining and crowding. Let me be extremely clear. I don’t want to see any crowded outdoor restaurants in Stockholm” or elsewhere, Swedish Interior Minister Mikael Damberg told a news conference.

The Swedish government on Friday asked the country’s 290 municipalities to report on how restaurants and cafes follow the Public Health Authority’s advice.

“These guidelines must be followed, otherwise operations will be closed,” Damberg said.

Earlier this week, Swedish prime minister Stefan Lofven said that “it is not the number of hours of sunshine or temperature that decides whether to listen to the advice of the authorities or not.”

“Don’t think for one moment that we have gone through this crisis yet,” he told a news conference.

Sweden has opted for relatively liberal policies to fight the coronavirus pandemic.

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TOKYO – Japanese government spokesman Yoshihide Suga said Friday quality checks were being carried out on all the masks being doled out to every household, after some turned out to be dirty and defective.

“We are checking very carefully,” he told reporters, while stressing the masks are meant to ease people’s worries about COVID-19.

Suga confirmed the mask initiative will cost the taxpayer about 9 billion yen ($83 million). That’s lower than the initial budgeted 47 billion yen ($435 million).

Kowa Co., a textile and medical equipment company, and trading company Itochu Corp. apologized Thursday, saying the masks they supplied the government were defects and are being recalled.

The handouts to 50 million households, have been pejoratively dubbed “AbenoMask” by the Japanese public, a take on Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s “Abenomics” economic policies.

The reusable cloth masks come in packages of two and are delivered in mailboxes. Japanese media reports said some were stained or moldy, or had bugs in the packaging.

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NEW DELHI – India’s prime minister says the country’s 1.3 billion people are bravely fighting the coronavirus epidemic with limited resources and the lesson they have learned so far is that the country has to be self-sufficient for meeting its needs.

Addressing the country’s village council heads through video conferencing on Friday, Prime Minister Narendra Modi says the country can’t afford to look outward to meet a crisis of this dimension in future.

Self-reliance is the biggest lesson taught by the epidemic, Modi said.

India has so far reported 22,358 positive novel coronavirus cases and 718 deaths. India has been importing critical medical supplies, including protective gears, masks and ventilators from China.

Alluding to low casualties as compared to other countries, Modi said that the country’s efforts to win the battle against the pandemic through a strict lockdown imposed on March 25 and social distancing is being appreciated by other countries. The country-wide lockdown is due to end on May 3.

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Correction Note: The item above has been corrected to say India’s lockdown was imposed on March 25, not April 25.

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KARACHI, Pakistan – Pakistan’s southern Sindh province has banned prayers during the Islamic month of Ramadan after the Pakistan Medical Association pleaded with Prime Minister Imran Khan and the country’s religious leaders to rethink their refusal to close mosques countrywide.

Even as Pakistan’s confirmed cases of COVID-19 have begun to increase by 600 and 700 a day, compared to earlier daily increases of about 300, Khan has refused to order mosques closed. Instead he has left it to clerics__ some of whom have called for adherents to pack mosques trusting their faith to protect them __ to police government-ordered social distancing.

Pakistan recorded 642 new cases in the last 24 hours bringing the total number of known infections to 11,155 with 237 deaths. Khan has criticized Sindh’s Chief Minister Murad Ali Shah of being too zealous in his restrictions to contain the spread. Shah’s Pakistan People’s Party is politically opposed to Khan’s Justice Party.

Sindh province of which Karachi is the capital and the country’s financial hub has the second largest number of virus cases in Pakistan, recording 3,671 positive cases. Karachi is also one fo the world’s largest city with a population of about 15 million, located on the Arabian Sea.

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NEW DELHI – A surge in cases of the coronavirus in the central Indian state of Maharashtra has propelled the country to a record 24-hour high on the eve of Ramadan, the Islamic holy month.

Health authorities said Friday that Maharashtra recorded 778 new cases on Thursday, bringing India’s total of confirmed cases of COVID-19, the respiratory illness caused by the virus, to 22,930. India’s 1,680 new cases Thursday marked its biggest single-day jump since April 19, a day before India relaxed some restrictions for industry in a bid to help employ some of the millions of migrant workers who fled cities for their homes villages when the ongoing lockdown was announced March 24.

Fearing rampant spread of the disease in the city’s crowded slums, officials in India’s financial capital of Mumbai, the state capital of Maharashtra, are developing a plan to administer doses of the Donald Trump-backed anti-malarial drug hydroxychloroquine as a prophylactic against COVID-19 among some slumdwellers.

Hydroxychloroquine has long been used to treat malaria and anti-inflammatory diseases like rheumatoid arthritis but is not a proven treatment for COVID-19 and may cause heart rhythm problems.

Mumbai health official Dr. Daksha Shah says the timeline and details of the program are “under process.”

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SEOUL, South Korea — South Korea starting next week will strap electronic wristbands on people who ignore home-quarantine orders in its latest use of tracking technology to control its outbreak.

Vice Health Minister Kim Gang-lip on Friday said those who refuse to wear the bands after breaking quarantine will be sent to shelters where they will be asked to pay for accommodation.

Officials said around 46,300 people are currently under self-quarantine. The number ballooned after the government began enforcing 14-day quarantines on all passengers arriving from abroad on April 1 amid worsening outbreaks in Europe and the United States.

Although quarantined individuals have been required to download a tracking app that alerts authorities if they leave their homes, some of them have been caught slipping out by leaving their phones behind.

The wristbands will communicate with the phone apps through Bluetooth and alert authorities when people leave home or attempt to remove the bands.

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

A driver is collected a sample for COVID-19 coronavirus testing at a drive-through in Osaka, western Japan, Thursday, April 23, 2020. Drive-through services has begun to include tests for the new coronavirus in the western city. (Kyodo News via AP)
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