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:
– Pandemic job losses hit new high, antiviral tests disappoint
– Spain reports more recoveries than infections for the first time since the beginning of its virus outbreak.
– British transportation organization to furlough some of its employees.
– Czech Republic relaxes restrictions for foreigners.
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.
â€œWith all the effort that we have done, the evolution of the epidemic is obviously beginning to be where it should be,â€ said Fernando SimÃ³n, the ministryâ€™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 Spainâ€™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.
LONDON – Transport for London, which runs the capitalâ€™s metro and bus networks, says it is to use the British governmentâ€™s Job Retention Scheme to park 7,000 staff whose work has been impacted by the coronavirus pandemic.
It said taking up the option will save an estimated 15.8 million pounds ($19.4 million) every four weeks and help reduce the impact of the lockdown restrictions put in place since March 23. The furloughs, which account for 25% of TfL employees, will begin Monday and last an initial three-week period.
Under the scheme, employers can furlough employees with the government paying cash grants of 80% of wages up to a maximum of 2,500 pounds ($3,100) a month. TfL will pay the remainder of their salaries.
As part of the lockdown, people have been advised to only make essential journeys, and that has seen journeys on the London Underground slump 95% and journeys on buses fall 85%. As a result, TfLâ€™s main source of income has almost disappeared.
Londonâ€™s Transport Commissioner, Mike Brown, said â€œconstructiveâ€ discussions continue with the government on a financial package â€œto provide the city with the vital transport it needs now and going forward.â€
PRAGUE – The Czech Republic is relaxing its restrictions for foreigners who have been barred from entering the country amid the coronavirus pandemic.
Interior Minister Jan Hamacek, who heads the governmentâ€™s committee that leads its response to the outbreak, says the citizens of European Union countries will be allowed to arrive to do business for three days, starting on Monday.
They still will have to present at the border a negative test for the coronavirus that is not older than four days, Hamacek said Friday.
Starting on Friday, the Czech government already canceled the ban on movement across the country and the Czechs are again allowed to travel abroad.
The government said the positive development of the outbreak makes it possible to ease its restrictive measures.
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 â€œpretext to restrict information and stifle criticism.â€
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.
â€œThis is no time to blame the messenger,â€ Bachelet said. â€œProtecting journalists from harassment, threats, detention or censorship helps keep us all safe.â€
ATHENS, Greece – The office of Greeceâ€™s prime minister says seven government leaders whose countries have been successful so far in limiting their coronavirus outbreaks have held a conference call to discuss how they tackled the first wave of infections, and strategies each is examining to gradually ease lockdown measures.
Greeceâ€™s Kyriakos Mitsotakis joined the call with the Austrian chancellor and the prime ministers of Denmark, the Czech Republic, Israel, Australia and New Zealand, his office said.
The video conference call focused on â€œthe exchange of experiences and good practicesâ€ in tackling the pandemic and the early measures taken to contain local outbreaks in order to give the countriesâ€™ health systems time to tackle the increased pressure. The leaders also discussed â€œstrategies each country is examining for the gradual easing of restrictive measures and the transfer to a new normality,â€ the office said.
JOHANNESBURG – South Africaâ€™s president has good-naturedly offered to demonstrate how to wear a face mask after his attempt during a national address left the mask covering his eyes.
President Cyril Ramaphosa spoke to reporters Friday while touring coronavirus facilities, a day after he announced that the countryâ€™s lockdown would be loosened slightly on May 1. His fumbled attempt to put on a mask just after the speech was widely shared on social media, where some South Africans thanked him for the moment of comic relief.
Ramaphosa has been praised for his calm, measured speeches that acknowledge the deep economic pain the lockdown is causing in one of the worldâ€™s most unequal countries.
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.
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.
â€œWe can no longer operate normally, and in that sense I say the collapse of emergency medicine has already started,â€ Shimazu said. â€œIâ€™m most concerned about a collapse of healthcare for the critically-ill patients.â€
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 itâ€™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.
ISTANBUL – Turkeyâ€™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.
â€œTurkeyâ€™s Wuhan was Istanbul,â€ 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. â€œThey followed trails like medical detectives,â€ 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.
BUDAPEST, Hungary – Hungaryâ€™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.
STOCKHOLM – Sweden threatened to close bars and restaurants that do not follow social distancing recommendations by the public health authorities.
â€œWe see worrying reports about full outdoor dining and crowding. Let me be extremely clear. I donâ€™t want to see any crowded outdoor restaurants in Stockholmâ€ or elsewhere, Swedish Interior Minister Mikael Damberg told a news conference.
The Swedish government on Friday asked the countryâ€™s 290 municipalities to report on how restaurants and cafes follow the Public Health Authorityâ€™s advice.
â€œThese guidelines must be followed, otherwise operations will be closed,â€ Damberg said.
Earlier this week, Swedish prime minister Stefan Lofven said that â€œit is not the number of hours of sunshine or temperature that decides whether to listen to the advice of the authorities or not.â€
â€œDonâ€™t think for one moment that we have gone through this crisis yet,â€ he told a news conference.
Sweden has opted for relatively liberal policies to fight the coronavirus pandemic.
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.
â€œWe are checking very carefully,â€ he told reporters, while stressing the masks are meant to ease peopleâ€™s worries about COVID-19.
Suga confirmed the mask initiative will cost the taxpayer about 9 billion yen ($83 million). Thatâ€™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 â€œAbenoMaskâ€ by the Japanese public, a take on Prime Minister Shinzo Abeâ€™s â€œAbenomicsâ€ 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.
NEW DELHI – Indiaâ€™s prime minister says the countryâ€™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 countryâ€™s village council heads through video conferencing on Friday, Prime Minister Narendra Modi says the country canâ€™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 countryâ€™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.
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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