The Latest: UN wants leaders to work together against virus

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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:

– Pandemic job losses hit new high, antiviral tests disappoint.

– EPA reminds people to only use disinfectant on surfaces

– Spain reports more recoveries than infections for first time.

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

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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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LONDON – Transport for London, which runs the capital’s metro and bus networks, says it is to use the British government’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, TfL’s main source of income has almost disappeared.

London’s Transport Commissioner, Mike Brown, said “constructive” discussions continue with the government on a financial package “to provide the city with the vital transport it needs now and going forward.”

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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 government’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.

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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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ATHENS, Greece – The office of Greece’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.

Greece’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 “the exchange of experiences and good practices” in tackling the pandemic and the early measures taken to contain local outbreaks in order to give the countries’ health systems time to tackle the increased pressure. The leaders also discussed “strategies each country is examining for the gradual easing of restrictive measures and the transfer to a new normality,” the office said.

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JOHANNESBURG – South Africa’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 country’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 world’s most unequal countries.

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

A healthcare worker assists a COVID-19 patient at one of the intensive care units (ICU) of the Ramon y Cajal hospital in Madrid, Spain, Spain, Friday, April 24, 2020. (AP Photo/Manu Fernandez)
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