The Latest: Sweden warns businesses not social distancing

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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.’

– Sweden threatens to close businesses not following social distancing guidelines.

– Japan inspects masks being sent to families after some were delivered dirty and defective.

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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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YANGON, Myanmar – Myanmar has announced extensions of all official measures it is taking against the spread of COVID-19, including targeting June 18 as the ending date for 10 p.m.-4 a.m. curfew in Yangon, the nation’s biggest city and commercial capital.

The state-run Global New Light of Myanmar newspaper reported Friday that rules and directives for combatting the coronavirus are to be extended from April 30 to May 15. Implementation of such rules covering matters such as travel and gatherings are generally set by individual states and regions.

A curfew for Yangon was originally announced on April 18, with no end date set.

Other measures implemented in Yangon include suspending all commercial passenger flight arrivals, banning most gatherings of more than five people and imposing lockdowns in neighborhoods with high numbers of COVID-19 cases.

The Health Ministry announced seven new cases of the disease on Friday, bringing the total up to 139, including five deaths.

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CANBERRA, Australia – Australia’s Parliament will sit for three days in mid May in a sign that the wheels of government are returning to normal despite the coronavirus pandemic.

Parliament’s schedule was scrapped in March and a scaled-down assembly has met only two days since to pass billions of dollars in emergency economic measures.

Prime Minister Scott Morrison announced on Friday that Parliament will sit on May 12 to 14 do deal with usual legislative business as well as some virus-related bills.

There will be fewer lawmakers than usual in the Senate and House of Representative chambers due to social distancing regulations.

Morrison said he expects more sitting weeks will be scheduled through June.

Obstacles to lawmakers meeting in the national capital include a shortage of domestic flights and most states demanding interstate travelers quarantine in hotels for two weeks.

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CANBERRA, Australia – Australia’s prime minister says his government will cooperate with like-minded countries to change the World Health Organization.

Australian agrees with the United States that the United Nation’s agency needs to be reviewed, but Australia continues to support the agency’s valuable work in the Pacific. President Donald Trump has directed his administration to freeze WHO funding, claiming it didn’t deliver adequate early reports on the coronavirus.

Prime Minister Scott Morrison told reporters on Friday: “What happens at the upper echelons of these organizations, and how they operate, I think is in need of change.”

“Australia will continue to advocate for that change with like-minded countries who share our concerns,” Morrison said.

“What ultimate decision the United States ultimately takes on funding will be a matter for them. We will certainly want to see an improved set of arrangements at the WHO, and we’ll continue to push for that through the forums as a participant, as a member, as someone who understands and publicly states the value of the work that it does on the ground. So, I think that’s a constructive but not uncritical partner,” he added.

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TOKYO – Masks from Japanese electronics maker Sharp Corp. have proved so popular with consumers there is going to be a lottery.

Sharp said Friday that access got so massive for online orders, which began Tuesday, not a single sale was completed.

As a fix, Sharp announced a lottery for 30,000 boxes of the masks, each with 50 masks.

A person is entitled to one 2,980 yen ($28) box each.

Applications are accepted all day Monday next week, with lottery winners announced Tuesday.

“We apologize for causing inconveniences to our customers,” spokesman Kentaroh Odaka said.

Before the coronavirus pandemic, Sharp, owned by Hon Hai Precision Industry Co., also known as FoxConn, of Taiwan, made displays for TVs and theaters.

Sharp’s masks were shipped from last month, but initially just to medical facilities.

Some Japanese hospitals have complained about a mask shortage. Masks have been sometimes hard to find at stores around Japan.

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HONG KONG – Hong Kong’s university entrance examinations began on Friday morning, complete with social-distancing measures, after a one-month delay due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

More than 52,000 students are expected to sit for the city’s Diploma of Secondary Education (DSE) examinations over the next month, the results of which are used to determine university admissions.

As part of safety measures taken to prevent potential transmissions of COVID-19, all examination candidates and personnel are required to wear surgical masks and sanitize their hands. Students will have their body temperature checked at the exam centers, and are required to sign health declaration forms.

Any student found to have a body temperature of above 38 degrees Celsius will be refused entry.

At exam venues, desks are required to be spaced just over 3 feet apart, with the recommended distance being nearly 6 feet between candidates.

The nationwide exams will take place between April 24 and May 25. Candidates were originally meant to take the exams from March 27, but exams were postponed as Hong Kong saw a surge in COVID-19 cases in March.

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BEIJING – China on Friday reported no new COVID-19 deaths for the ninth straight day, and just six new cases of the virus.

Two of those were brought from overseas, with three domestic cases in Heilongjiang on the Russian border and one in the southern business hub of Guangdong.

Hospitals are still treating 915 cases, 57 listed as serious, while 999 people are being isolated and monitored as either suspected cases or for having tested positive without showing symptoms. The country’s death toll from the global pandemic first detected in the central Chinese city of Wuhan late last year remains at 4,632 among 82,804 cases.

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

People gather for a drink at an outdoor bar in Stockholm, Sweden, Wednesday April 22, 2020 despite the coronavirus COVID-19 outbreak. (Anders Wiklund/TT via AP)
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