The Latest: Afghanistan officials urged to work together

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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:

– Virus tamed in New Zealand, while Brazil emerges as hot spot.

– Afghanistan officials urged to work together against the virus.

– Italian bishops say that the schedule to reopen the country didn’t include rules for Mass.

– Prime minister of France to announce how the country plans to gradually reopen.

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KABUL, Afghanistan – War-ravaged Afghanistan has conducted barley 9,000 tests for COVID-19 and has recorded more than 1,800 positive cases, meaning one in nine Afghans tested were positive.

The government ordered a lockdown in several cities earlier this month. However, Afghanistan’s feuding political leaders have come under sharp criticism from the United States for bitter infighting that has raged for months. The U.S. has urged President Ashraf Ghani and his rival Abdullah Abdullah, who also declared himself president, to set aside their differences to fight against the pandemic.

The U.S. has also urged the Taliban to reduce violence, also to battle the spread of the disease. It is feared an explosion in the number of COVID-19 cases could overwhelm a health care system that is woefully inadequate and largely destroyed by four decades of war.

The inadequate testing is particularly troubling because more than 200,000 Afghan refugees have returned in recent months from Iran, which is reeling from the pandemic. Iran is the hardest hit country in the region recording 91,472 positive cases and more than 5,800 deaths since it first surfaced earlier this year.

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VATICAN CITY – Pope Francis is calling for “prudence and obedience” to government protocols dictating the easing of coronavirus shutdowns to prevent infections from surging again.

Francis made the appeal Tuesday after Italian bishops bitterly complained that the Italian government’s reopening schedule contained no provisions for Masses to be resumed.

At the start of his morning Mass Tuesday, Francis said: “As we are beginning to have protocols to get out of quarantine, let us pray that the Lord gives his people, all of us, the grace of prudence and obedience to the protocols so that the pandemic doesn’t return.”

The government announced Sunday that funerals could resume starting May 4, but there was no information on when the faithful could attend Mass. In a statement, Italian bishops said they “cannot accept that the exercise of the freedom of worship is compromised.”

The office of Premier Giuseppe Conte’s hastily responded that it was working on protocols to allow the resumption of Masses as soon as possible but “in conditions of maximum security.”

The clash was an unusual public display of tensions between church and state over the virus-imposed curbing of public religious observance, which has been blamed for helping to spread the infection in some parts of the world.

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PARIS – French Prime Minister Edouard Philippe is presenting a nationwide plan to parliament Tuesday on how the country will gradually reopen schools, stores and some other businesses.

The plan is expected to include guidelines for public use of masks, and what to do on public transport as more people start going back to work.

Lawmakers are also scheduled to discuss a tracing app the French government is working on to help track the virus after the lockdown eases, and which has raised privacy concerns.

Tuesday’s plan will have a key blank spot, however: the government still doesn’t know yet when it plans to reopen restaurants, hotels, museums, which are central to France’s all-important tourism economy.

Authorities say more than 23,000 people have died with the virus in French hospitals and nursing homes, more than any other country except the U.S., Italy and Spain.

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SEOUL, South Korea – South Korea has repeated calls for joint efforts with North Korea to stem the spread of the coronavirus, which it sees as a potential opportunity to improve strained bilateral relations.

A South Korean presidential official, who refused to be named during a background briefing on Tuesday, said Seoul doesn’t expect the possible anti-virus efforts to clash with international sanctions against North Korea over its nuclear program.

South Korean President Moon Jae-in, who held three rounds of peace talks with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un in 2018, earlier said joint anti-virus efforts could provide a “new opportunity” for inter-Korean engagement.

But the North has been ignoring the South’s calls after it virtually shut down all cooperation with its rival in past months amid faltering nuclear talks with the Trump administration. The North in late January closed an inter-Korean liaison office in the border town of Kaesong over virus concerns.

The North has said there hasn’t been a single virus case on its territory, but the claim is questioned by many outside experts.

Edwin Salvador, the World Health Organization’s representative to North Korea, said in an email to AP last week that the country reported that it tested 740 people for COVID-19 as of April 17 but that all came out negative. He said the North also said it so far released more than 25,000 people from quarantine since Dec. 31.

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TOKYO – Japan said it will approve remdesivir, a closely watched antiviral drug made by Gilead Sciences Inc., for the treatment of COVID-19 patients in the country.

The drug is expected to be the first approved COVID-19 drug in Japan, ahead of a Japanese-developed anti-flu drug favipiravir.

Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga told reporters Tuesday that Japan has been part of a multinational joint testing of remdesivir since March and it was moving ahead overseas. Japan has a fast-track permit for emergency use of drugs approved overseas.

Remdesivir was originally developed to treat Ebola. A leak by the World Health Organization of a Chinese clinical trial suggesting the drug was not effective in severe cases, cast doubts over its effectiveness. The drug has been also used for SARS and MERS, but it is still under investigation for COVID-19.

Japan is currently testing favipiravir, jointly developed by Fujifilm and Toyama Chemical Co., at Japanese hospitals. Experts say both remdesivir and favipiravir can be effective when used in an early stage of COVID-19.

“We will do our utmost to deliver effective drugs for the patients as soon as possible,” Suga said.

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MADRID – Official statistics show that Spain’s unemployment rate rose to 14.4% in the first quarter of 2020, up from 13.8 in the last three months of 2019.

At least 285,600 jobs were lost in the same period, the worst result since the financial crisis hit Spain hard in 2013, a quarterly survey by Spain’s National Institute of Statistics showed.

Tuesday’s figures reflect only the partial impact of the new coronavirus pandemic in Spain’s job market. They fail to capture the millions of workers are being furloughed in Spain ever since the lockdown was imposed in mid-March.

The number of households with all members unemployed rose 6% to 60,700 from the fourth quarter of 2019 to the first of 2020, the survey showed.

Spain’s left-wing coalition government is poised to announce Tuesday further steps to ease the 7-week lockdown, one of the world’s strictest.

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ANKARA, Turkey – Turkey has dispatched a planeload of personal protective equipment to support the United States as it grapples with the coronavirus outbreak.

A Turkish military cargo plane carrying the medical equipment took off from an air base near the capital Ankara on Tuesday, the state-run Anadolu Agency reported.

A top official said Turkey is sending 500,000 surgical masks, 4,000 overalls, 2,000 liters (528 gallons) of disinfectant, 1,500 goggles, 400 N-95 masks and 500 face shields.

Turkey has sent similar medical equipment aid to a total of 55 countries – including Britain, Italy and Spain – in an apparent attempt to improve its global standing by positioning itself as a provider of humanitarian aid at times of crisis.

“We pledge to help our friends and allies in need to the best of our ability and stand in solidarity with nations around the world at this difficult time,” said Fahrettin Altun, the presidential communications director.

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President Donald Trump says states should “seriously consider” reopening their public schools before the end of the academic year, even though dozens already have said it would be unsafe for students to return until the summer or fall.

Trump made the comments Monday in a call with governors discussing how to reopen their economies, among other topics.

None of the governors on the call responded to the suggestion, according to a recording obtained by The Associated Press.

Trump made the comments as the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention worked to finalize guidelines for reopening the economy. For schools, that included putting students’ desks 6 feet apart, serving meals in the classroom instead of the cafeteria and closing playgrounds.

Reopening schools is considered key to getting the economy moving again. Without a safe place for their kids, many parents would have difficulty returning to work.

But some education officials say opening schools quickly would bring major risk and little reward, especially since the end of the school year is approaching.

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WASHINGTON – The White House released new guidelines aimed at answering criticism that America’s coronavirus testing has been too slow, and President Donald Trump tried to pivot toward a focus on “reopening” the nation.

Still, there were doubts from public health experts that the White House’s new testing targets were sufficient.

Monday’s developments were meant to fill critical gaps in White House plans to begin easing restrictions, ramping up testing for the virus while shifting the president’s focus toward recovery from the economic collapse caused by the outbreak. The administration unveiled a “blueprint” for states to scale up their testing in the coming week – a tacit admission, despite public statements to the contrary, that testing capacity and availability over the past two months have been lacking.

The new testing targets would ensure states had enough COVID-19 tests available to sample at least 2.6% of their populations each month – a figure already met by a majority of states. Areas that have been harder hit by the virus would be able to test at double that rate, or higher, the White House said.

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TOKYO – The head of Japan’s medical association thinks it will be difficult to hold the Olympics without an effective coronavirus vaccine.

“I hope vaccines and drugs will be developed as soon as possible,” Japan Medical Association President Yoshitake Yokokura said Tuesday.

Japan and the International Olympic Committee agreed to postpone the Tokyo 2020 Summer Games until July next year due to the coronavirus pandemic. Japan is under a monthlong state of emergency amid a rapid increase of infections throughout the country, where hospitals are overburdened.

Yokokura did not say whether he opposes the Olympics without a vaccine.

“The key is a situation with the infections at that point. If the infections are under control only in Japan, it will still be difficult to hold the games unless the pandemic is over in the rest of the world,” he said.

Experts have said it could take 12-18 months or longer to develop a vaccine that is safe and effective for clinical use.

Japan has 13,576 reported virus cases, plus 712 others from a cruise ship quarantined near Tokyo earlier this year, with 389 deaths, the health ministry said Tuesday.

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NEW YORK – JetBlue will start requiring all customers to wear a face covering while traveling, the airline announced Monday.

Passengers will be required to cover their nose and mouth during check-in, boarding, in flight and while deplaning. The policy goes into effect May 4.

“This is the new flying etiquette,” Joanna Geraghty, president and chief operating officer of JetBlue, said in a news release. “Onboard, cabin air is well circulated and cleaned through filters every few minutes but this is a shared space where we have to be considerate of others.”

Delta announced earlier Monday that it will require flight attendants to wear masks starting Tuesday, and American Airlines said Monday night it will mandate the same beginning May 1. The airlines will join United, JetBlue and Frontier in requiring masks be worn by flight attendants during flights.

The new regulations follow outrage on social media over a crowded American Airlines flight with many passengers not wearing masks. The Association of Flight Attendants, which represents United flight attendants but not those at JetBlue, American, Delta or Southwest, asked the federal government to require that passengers wear masks.

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

A man prepares allotments of free food donated by the Kabul Chamber of Industries and Mines for distribution to needy people during a quarantine for the coronavirus, in Kabul, Afghanistan, Wednesday, April 22, 2020. (AP Photo/Rahmat Gul)
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