The Latest: WHO looking into safety of hugs for grandparents


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.


-Germany experts say vaccine, herd immunity vital.

-US to let federal social distancing guidelines expire.

-Britain’s death toll jumps over 26,000 with nursing home deaths.

-As lockdowns ease, health officials urge virus vigilance.


GENEVA – A top World Health Organization official says the U.N. health agency is looking into whether grandparents can safely hug their grandchildren without risk of contracting the coronavirus.

The comments from Maria Van Kerkhove, technical lead of WHO’s emergencies program, come after a top Swiss health official this week suggested that grandparents could hold young grandchildren – under age 10 – close without risk of contracting COVID-19 disease.

Most statistics show the elderly and people with pre-existing health conditions have been the overwhelming majority of victims who have died from the pandemic.

At a WHO news conference, Van Kerkhove acknowledged that many grandparents “are dying to hug their children, grandchildren” and said the issue was one of the “living reviews” conducted by WHO.


DETROIT – The city of Detroit has passed 1,000 deaths due to complications from the COVID-19 virus.

Chief Public Health Officer Denise Fair says 1,008 people in Detroit have died. The city has 8,954 confirmed coronavirus cases.

Of the last 16 deaths, 14 of the victims were over age 70, while eight of those were over age 80 according to Detroit Mayor Mike Duggan.


HELSINKI – Finland says it will gradually reopen schools from May 14 following closures that started last month to stem the spread of new coronavirus.

Prime Minister Sanna Marin says elementary, mid-level and junior high schools will be opened “in a controlled manner” in accordance with health officials’ recommendations and guidance.

Among other things, that will include keeping classrooms separate from each other possibly in different shifts.

Public schools in Finland have been closed since March 18. Education Minister Li Andersson stresses the government cannot continue the closure “because it’s not sustainable epidemiologically.”

Finland, a nation of 5.5 million, has recorded 206 COVID-19 deaths and 4,906 confirmed cases.


NICOSIA, Cyprus – Cyprus’ president has unveiled a road map for gradually lifting a strict, stay-at-home order that has successfully contained the spread of COVID-19.

But Nicos Anastasiades says the “danger hasn’t passed” since the virus won’t completely go away any time soon. He warns that “deviations from or acts of ill discipline” to authorities’ guidelines would lead to a return to lockdown conditions “that nobody wishes.”

Restrictions on movement will start to be rolled back on May 4, with excursions outside the home increased from once per day to three. A night-time curfew will remain in place until restrictions are completely lifted on May 21, when restaurants, hair and beauty salons will also re-open.

Anastasiades made no mention when airports will become fully operational in the tourism-reliant country. A ban on all flights remains in effect until May 17.

Cyprus, with a population of around 880,000, has recorded 843 confirmed coronavirus cases and 15 deaths.


BUDAPEST, Hungary – Hungary’s prime minister says restrictions on leaving the house will be gradually lifted, especially in the countryside areas where there are fewer coronavirus infections. Restrictions will remain in place in Budapest and its surroundings.

Prime Minister Viktor Orban says in a Facebook video that the first phase of defending against the pandemic is over and Hungary’s health sector was now prepared to handle mass infections, as well.

Without giving a specific date, Orban says in the countryside, stores would be able to extend opening hours and that restaurants and cafes will be allowed to reopen terraces and gardens.

Orban says measures allowing only those over 65 to shop in food stores and pharmacies in the morning hours will remain in place.

Hungary has registered 2,727 coronavirus cases and 300 deaths.


PRAGUE – Hundreds of people have been protesting what they say is a chaotic response by the Czech government to the coronavirus pandemic.

The organizers, who were behind the recent massive demonstrations against Prime Minister Andrej Babis, have asked the participants to keep the two-meter (two-yard) distance from one another in line with the government’s rule.

Wearing mandatory face masks, the protesters in Prague’s Letna park are carrying banners with their questions and messages to the Cabinet.

They read like “Let our children get back to schools!” or ”Why did we have to make our face masks by ourselves?”

The day-to-day increase in new cases of COVID-19 in the Czech Republic has been under one hundred for a week, according to Health Ministry figures.


COLOMBO, Sri Lanka – Sri Lanka will re-impose a 24-hour countrywide curfew as part of the country’s stringent measures designed to contain the spread of the new coronavirus.

According to the government’s decision, the curfew will be from effective from Thursday at 8 p.m. until May 4.

The government’s decision to go for a blanket curfew across the island comes after a surge of confirmed cases in the last three days. There are now 630 COVID-19 cases in Sri Lanka, including seven deaths.

The country had been under a 24-hour curfew since March 20. The curfew was lifted during daytime hours in more than two thirds of the country on Tuesday and Wednesday.

There has been intermittent lifting of the curfew recently in selected areas which were not seen as dangerous.

Police strictly enforce curfew and have arrested more than 41,000 violators since last month.


WASHINGTON – President Donald Trump says the federal government will not be extending its social distancing guidelines when they expire Thursday at the end of the month.

Trump told reporters in the Oval Office that the coronavirus guidelines will be “fading out” because of work that governors are doing in their states.

Vice President Mike Pence said the guidelines issued 45 days ago have been incorporated into guidance provided to the states on how they can begin the process of gradually reopening their economies.

The guidelines – which were originally supposed to last 15 days and were then extended another 30 – included encouraging Americans to work from home and avoid restaurants and discretionary travel as well as telling older Americans and those with serious underlying health conditions to isolate themselves.


BATON ROUGE, La. – Republican state lawmakers are bristling at Gov. John Bel Edwards’ decision to extend Louisiana’s stay-at-home order through May 15.

They’re considering the extraordinary step of trying to override the Democratic governor’s emergency decision-making about the state’s coronavirus outbreak.

Edwards is in Washington for a meeting with President Donald Trump about Louisiana’s response to the COVID-19 disease.

Meanwhile, some GOP legislators – primarily in the House – are trying to rally support for a rare legal maneuver that would allow them to overturn possibly some or all of the governor’s disaster orders and proclamations.

The governor’s office says that would put millions of dollars in federal aid at risk.


LONDON – Britain’s official death toll from the coronavirus has jumped to more than 26,000, after deaths in nursing homes were added to the daily total for the first time.

The government says 3,811 more people died after testing positive for the coronavirus than had been previously reported.

The death toll now stands at 26,097, up from the 21,678 announced Tuesday.

Until now, hospital deaths have been reported daily, while deaths in nursing homes and other settings were reported separately on a weekly basis.

The new total is the second-highest official toll in Europe after Italy, although countries do not use exactly the same measures.

It is still likely is an underestimate because testing has not been routinely carried out in nursing homes until recently.


ROME – Italy’s day-to-day increase in new cases of COVID-19 is nearly the same as the previous day’s number.

The health ministry said there were 2,086 new cases in the 24-hour period ending Wednesday evening, compared to an increase of 2,091 registered a day earlier. Italy’s overall total of known coronavirus infections now stands at 203,591.

Italy has the most deaths of persons with COVID-19 of any European country. On Wednesday, 323 deaths were reported, giving Italy an overall toll of 27,682.

Italy is in its eighth week of national lockdown, with some partial easing of restrictions on everyday life slated to take effect on Monday.


ANKARA, Turkey – Turkey announced 89 new deaths from the coronavirus in the past 24 hours, as the number of daily fatalities continued to decrease.

Health Minister Fahrettin Koca also reported 2,936 new infections, bringing the total to 117,589. The total number of deaths now stands at 3,081.

At least 5,231 people were released from hospitals in the past 24 hours, raising the number of patients who have recuperated to 44,022, according to data shared by the minister.

The country hasn’t reported a daily increase of deaths above 100 since April 16.

However, Koca warned against a relaxation of measures that could lead to a “wave of a second peak.”

“We are seeing a declining trend but it is important that this is sustained,” Koca told reporters earlier.


CAIRO – Sudan’s Health Ministry has reported the country’s highest one-day tally of coronavirus infections since the first case was confirmed over two months ago, with 57 new COVID-19 patients and three fatalities.

Wednesday’s figures took the country’s tally to 375 confirmed cases, including 28 fatalities. A total of 32 were discharged after their recovery, the ministry said.

Most of the country’s COVID-19 patients were in the capital, Khartoum where authorities earlier this month imposed round-the-clock curfew for three weeks to slow the spread of the virus.

Sudan’s health care system has been weakened by decades of war and sanctions. The country of 43 million people is still reeling from last year’s uprising that toppled longtime ruler Omar al-Bashir.


ATHENS, Greece – Greek authorities say the use of face masks will be compulsory – on pain of a 150-euro ($163) fine – in public transport and shops from May 4, when the country starts to ease its lockdown restrictions. But they’ll be optional in schools when secondary school children start returning to class from May 11.

Classes will have no more than 15 children kept 1.5 meters (about 5 feet) apart, while larger classes will be split up and attend lessons on alternate days, Education Minister Niki Kerameos says.

Coronavirus task force chief Sotiris Tsiodras said it’s important for children to return to normal life as far as possible, adding that while transmission of the virus from children to adults can’t be ruled out, “it seems to be unusual.”

Health officials have reported one new death and 10 new COVID-19 infections in the previous 24 hours, bringing the country’s total to 139 deaths and 2,576 infections.


SOFIA, Bulgaria – Authorities say all schools in Bulgaria will remain closed and students will continue to use distance learning until the end of the school year.

Schools will open only for the end-of-year exams for seventh-grade students, needed for admission in high school, and the graduation tests for the 12th-grade students, the education minister says.

The Balkan country of 7 million has declared a nationwide state of emergency until May 13 to contain the spread of the coronavirus outbreak. Bulgaria has recorded 1,447 confirmed COVID-19 cases and 64 deaths.


BERLIN – Four leading scientific research organizations in Germany say some measures imposed to curb the rate of coronavirus infections will need to remain in place until a vaccine is found or herd immunity is achieved.

They say in a joint statement that their mathematical models independently show the reproduction rate of the outbreak has been below 1 in Germany since the end of March. This means every person confirmed with COVID-19 infected fewer than one other person over the past month.

The Fraunhofer Society, the Helmholtz Association, the Leibniz Association and the Max Planck Society say the drop in new cases in Germany was thanks to restrictions and behavior changes. But they warned “the situation is not stable, even a small increase in the reproduction rate would lead us back into a phase of exponential growth.”

They say striving for herd immunity, where so many people acquire immunity that the virus is effectively stopped from spreading through the population, would require “several years” and some restrictions would need to be maintained. Experts say a vaccine likely won’t be available until next year.

The institutions urged a focus on three areas: continued hygiene measures; expanded testing and tracing capacity; and adjusted contact restrictions.


ROME – Italy’s head of the coronavirus pandemic strategy says the country is prepared for a second wave of infections “even bigger than the first” if its gradual reopening leads to a surge in new cases.

Domenico Arcuri told the lower Chamber of Deputies that Italy’s 20 regions now have twice as many ventilators than currently needed and the 5,200 intensive care beds Italy had before the pandemic had nearly doubled to 9,000.

Italy, the European epicenter of the pandemic with more than 27,000 dead, entered the crisis with a fraction of the ICU capacity compared to other developed nations.

Arcuri told lawmakers that beds in sub-intensive care had increased six-fold, the same increase in Italy’s bed capacity in infectious disease and pneumology wards.

Italy’s planned reopening begins May 4.


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Swiss Civil Protection members wearing protective face masks as a precaution against the spread of the coronavirus serve meals to homeless people in an emergency shelter for homeless people installed at the former military barracks of Les Vernets, during the Swiss state of emergency due to the coronavirus outbreak, in Geneva, Switzerland, Tuesday, April 28, 2020. (Salvatore Di Nolfi/Keystone via AP)