The Latest: Spain poised to ease home confinement

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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 tops 20,000 deaths from coronavirus.

– WHO warns against idea of ‘immunity passports.’

– Spain hopeful of easing confinement restrictions soon.

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MADRID – Spanish Prime Minister Pedro Sánchez says that Spaniards will be allowed to leave their homes for short walks and exercise starting on May 2 after seven weeks of strict home confinement.

Sánchez announced in a televised address Saturday that the government plans to allow those outings for physical fitness “if the evolution of the epidemic remains favorable as it has recently.” Since the start of the state of emergency, Spaniards have only been allowed to leave home for essential shopping, except those workers in industries who cannot work from home.

Sánchez also announced that he would present a detailed plan on the “de-escalation” of the lockdown on Tuesday that he hopes to put into effect in the coming weeks.

Spain has one of the world’s strictest lockdowns as it fights to contain a COVID-19 outbreak that has claimed over 22,000 lives and infected over 200,000 people.

The measures have helped reduce a daily contagion rate that was over 20% a month ago to under 2% this week. On Sunday, children under 14 years old will be allowed to take walks with a parent for up to one hour and within one kilometer from home, ending six weeks of complete seclusion.

“Maximum caution will be our guideline for the rollback,” Sánchez said. “We must be very prudent because there is no manual, no road map to follow.”

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ROME – Nearly 200,000 Italian companies have asked authorities for permission to be able to operate during Italy’s lockdown, either because they help essential businesses or because they deem themselves strategic for the national economy during the coronavirus pandemic.

The interior ministry said Saturday that a streamlined procedure is being implemented that “trusts the sense of responsibility of individual business persons” in allowing companies to resume operations.

The ministry’s local authorities can verify that a company respects COVID-19 safety rules, including social distancing. Most of the requests have come from three northern regions that are among Italy’s most productive, but also among those most heavily hit by coronavirus cases.

So far, only a tiny percentage of the businesses have been found not following the rules, which are part of a government decree aimed at containing Italy’s COVID-19 outbreak.

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ISTANBUL – Turkey’s health ministry has documented 106 new deaths from COVID-19, bringing the death toll to 2,706.

Minister Fahrettin Koca shared daily figures Saturday, showing 2,861 new confirmed cases. The total number of confirmed infections has reached 107,773.

According to the data, 3,845 people were released from hospitals in the past 24 hours, increasing the number of recovered patients to 25,582.

“The rate of positive tests is decreasing,” Koca tweeted and urged continued precaution.

Turkey ranks seventh in the world for the number of confirmed infections, according to Johns Hopkins University. But experts believe the actual toll of the pandemic around the world is higher than the tally.

Nearly 870,000 people have been tested in Turkey so far.

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NEW YORK – Oil producers in the U.S. are making painful decisions about how to shut down operations after the pandemic decimated the need for fuel.

The price of U.S. benchmark crude plummeted more than 70% since the start of the year, selling for $17 a barrel Friday, well below what producers need to remain viable.

Parsley Energy, a mid-sized fracking company based in Austin, Texas, lost half its market value since the year began and told regulators it has been shutting down enough wells to take about 400 barrels of oil per day off the market.

In recent weeks, Exxon slashed its capital spending plan by 30%, or $10 billion, and Chevron gutted its capital expenses by 20%, or $4 billion. Both companies are planning to halt drilling for new oil in different parts of the world and will likely shrink further since conditions have deteriorated since their announcements.

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BERLIN – About 1,000 people gathered in Berlin to protest restrictions caused by the coronavirus, defying social distancing rules.

Demonstrators have gathered in the Rosa-Luxemburg-Platz square in Berlin for several Saturdays. The protests have drawn a variety of people, including some right-wing populists and conspiracy theorists.

News agency dpa reported police repeatedly called on participants to leave and a few people were detained before the crowd dispersed.

Although Germany recently loosened its restrictions slightly by allowing small shops to reopen, rules still call for people to keep a 1.5-meters (5 feet) apart in public.

Authorities can allow gatherings of up to 20 people, although that permission wasn’t granted for Saturday’s protest.

The Volksbuehne theater distanced itself from the demonstration saying, “we are not your backdrop.”

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ROME – Italy has reported 415 deaths and 2,357 new cases of COVID-19 in the last 24 hours.

The Italian health ministry puts Europe’s highest death toll at more than 26,000. The total known infections stand at more than 195,000.

The Lombardy region registers the most cases in Italy, adding some 700 on Saturday for a total of nearly 72,000 infected persons there since Italy’s first case in that northern region on Feb. 20.

Much of Italy’s south has been spared the brunt of the outbreak. Authorities cautioned Italians against abandoning social distancing practices after the current lockdown ends and looser restrictions begin on May 4.

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ATHENS, Greece – Greece has recorded no deaths from COVID-19 in the past 24 hours.

Greek authorities say the total number of fatalities remains at 130. There were 16 new confirmed cases, raising the total to 2,506.

The number of people on ventilators in intensive care units continued to decline to 47.

Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis and several ministers met Saturday to consider gradually easing the strict quarantine measures. Mitsotakis will make an announcement on Monday.

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OSLO, Norway – Norway is extending the ban on all events with more than 500 participants until Sept. 1

Norwegian Culture Minister Abid Raja said during a press conference Saturday “there is now a ban on major sporting events, festivals and concerts until 15 June. That ban is now extended until September 1.”

He says the decision wasn’t easy for the Norwegian government to make but stressed “we cannot have big events (in Norway) that can contribute to more infections that will affect life and health.”

Norway has reported 201 coronavirus deaths and 7,493 confirmed cases.

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LONDON – Britain’s confirmed tally of hospital deaths among people with the coronavirus has topped 20,000, making it the fifth country to reach the grim milestone.

The government says 20,319 people with COVID-19 have died in British hospitals, an increase of 813 from the day before. The figure doesn’t include deaths in nursing homes, which are likely to number in the thousands.

Britain is the fourth European country after Italy, Spain and France to reach 20,000 deaths. The United States has recorded more than 50,000 coronavirus fatalities.

There are signs the U.K. outbreak has peaked, with the number of people hospitalized with the coronavirus declining. But the government says it is too soon to ease a nationwide lockdown imposed on March 23 and extended to May 7.

Still, some businesses are planning to reopen after implementing social distancing measures. Several automakers say they will restart production in May.

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MADRID – Spain’s health authorities say 2,944 new COVID-19 infections were confirmed in the previous 24 hours, taking the total to nearly 206,000 cases.

Authorities say the daily figure is a 1.5% increase from Friday, compared to over 20% from a month before. There were 378 reported deaths in the last 24 hours, taking the death toll since the start of the pandemic in Spain to nearly 23,000.

“The recent tendency of the evolution of the pandemic appears to hold true, each day improving a bit, but it is important to not fall into excessive euphoria,” Spanish health official Fernando Simón said. “We must be prudent. We have to develop ways to transition (out of lockdown), but first we must guarantee our security capabilities.”

On Sunday, Spanish children under 14 years old can go outside with a parent for a maximum of one hour and within one kilometer from home. They’ve been indoors since March 14. Parks and schools remain closed.

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ROME – Italians celebrated the 75th anniversary of their country’s liberation from World War II occupation forces by emerging on balconies or rooftops to sing a folk song linked to resistance fighters.

Citizens played recordings of “Bella Ciao” or sang a cappella to mark Liberation Day, which is a national holiday. The traditional marches and other memorial gatherings are banned during the COVID-19 pandemic.

In Rome, Italian air force jets flew overhead, trailing smoke colored with the red, white and green hues of the Italian flag.

The government’s commissioner for the pandemic, Domenico Arcuri, cautioned Italians: “All must understand that we’re not fully liberated from the virus. Against this enemy, we haven’t regained our freedoms” yet.

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TEHRAN, Iran – Iran says it registered 76 more deaths in the previous 24 hours.

That puts the reported death toll from Covid-19 at 5,650 and confirmed cases at over 89,000. Iran is the country hardest hit by the virus in the Middle East.

Health Ministry spokesman Kianoush Jahanpour says more than 1,100 new confirmed cases were detected from the previous day.

Jahanpour added nearly 3,100 patients are in critical condition.

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ROME – Italy will start distributing free protective masks to nursing homes, many of which have been devastated by coronavirus infections and deaths.

Domenico Arcuri, the government’s commissioner for the pandemic, says doing so is a “gesture of solidarity and nearness and support to these places ever more at the epicenter of this great crisis.”

Arcuri says free masks also will be distributed to public officials, transport workers and police. Millions of Italians will be allowed to return to workplaces starting on May 4, when lockdown restrictions will be considerably eased.

Italy, with some 26,000 reported deaths, most of them of elderly persons, has Europe’s highest toll from COVID-19. In Lombardy, Italy’s most stricken region, prosecutors are investigating about two dozen homes, including one in Milan where some 200 residents died.

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VATICAN CITY – Pope Francis has singled out funeral home workers for people’s prayers during the COVID-19 pandemic.

In Italy and some other countries, the deaths of people with coronavirus infections have meant funeral parlor workers must deal with the grief of families who aren’t allowed to hold public funerals as part of government-ordered measures to try to contain the pandemic.

Francis says, “What they do is so heavy and sad. They really feel the pain of this pandemic so close.”

The pope made the appeal for prayers during morning Mass on Saturday in the Vatican City hotel where he resides.

In past remarks, the pope has cited others for doing what he called heroic work during the pandemic, including doctors, nurses, supermarket clerks and transport workers.

The Vatican has its own lockdown, barring the public from its museums and religious ceremonies. It has reported nine coronavirus cases among the residents or employees of the walled, independent Vatican City State.

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BEIJING – For the 10th straight day, China reported no new deaths from the coronavirus.

Twelve new cases were reported on Saturday, 11 of them brought from overseas and one local transmission in the northeastern province of Heilongjiang bordering on Russia, according to the National Health Commission.

Just 838 people remain hospitalized with COVID-19 while another 1,000 people are undergoing isolation and monitoring for being either suspected cases or having tested positive for the virus while showing no symptoms.

China, widely believed to be the source of the global pandemic, has reported a total of 4,632 deaths among 82,816 cases.

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

Police officers in riot gear, some with face masks to protect against coronavirus, dissolve an illegal demonstration against the restrictions and measures to prevent the spread of coronavirus in Berlin, Germany, Saturday, April 25, 2020. (AP Photo/Markus Schreiber)
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