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 accelerates across Latin America, India, Pakistan.
— Italy drug agency leader warns of anti-malaria drug use.
— German politician suggests helping Russian patients with virus.
— Portugal says tourists welcome with no quarantine if arrive by plane.
ROME — The head of Italy’s pharmacological agency says there is little data about the effectiveness of the anti-malaria drug promoted by U.S. President Donald Trump to treat coronavirus.
Dr. Nicola Magrini offered a briefing on the various trials the Italian Pharmacological Agency had approved during the coronavirus crisis, including one involving hydroxychloroquine.
Magrini says while the drug was being used in Italy, the agency recommended it only in some patients, preferably on its own or in association with other drugs only in clinical trial settings.
While the science is still out on hydroxychloroquine’s effectiveness, Magrini said: “We are fairly certain about the possible harm and absence of security of using it in some limited sub-groups of patients.”
Trump has said he is taking hydroxychloroquine to protect against the coronavirus, even though his administration has warned it can have deadly side effects.
Magrini adds he didn’t expect a vaccine before spring or summer of next year. Italian researchers are collaborating on the Oxford University vaccine.
MADRID — The Spanish government is allowing Madrid and Barcelona to ease their lockdown measures.
Most of Spain has begun to slowly reopen since May 11, but those two areas combine for nearly half of the country’s 233,000 officially recorded cases. Spain’s COVID-19 death toll of almost 28,000 is the world’s fifth highest.
The government is allowing the country’s 17 autonomous regions to gradually lift restrictions on movement and social distancing. The loosening of limits is staggered over four stages, with a requirement that certain targets, including the number of cases and hospital capacity, are met before moving onto the next stage.
Health Minister Salvador Illa says the Madrid region and city of Barcelona are moving into Phase 1 on Monday. That permits outdoor-only seating for restaurants and bars up to 50% of capacity, gatherings of families and friends of up to 10 people. It also allows the reopening of small shops, museums, cinemas and places of worship, all with restrictions on capacity.
BERLIN — A German regional politician is reportedly suggesting taking in COVID-19 patients from Russia, which is seeing a spike in cases.
German weekly Der Spiegel reported Saxony’s governor, Michael Kretschmer, says it would be a “strong sign” if the European Union treated Russian patients, too. Germany has taken in scores of coronavirus patients from other EU countries, particularly France and Italy, in recent months.
Kretmscher told Spiegel that “we should also show solidarity with Russia.”
Russian health officials reported more than 326,000 cases of COVID-19 on Friday and more than 3,200 deaths.
MADRID — Spanish authorities say 300 Moroccans will return to their country after being stranded in one of Spain’s two north African enclaves for more than two months.
The representative of Spain’s government in Ceuta says the Moroccan nationals are leaving by bus across the border into Morocco throughout the day.
They were stranded when Morocco closed its borders with Ceuta and Melilla, Spain’s two African enclaves, to foreigners and nationals in early March to contain the COVID-19 spread.
Once on the Moroccan side, they will be confined to hotels for 14 days, according to Spanish authorities. Of the 300 people, 130 had been staying in a municipal sports facility turned into a shelter, while others found lodging in hotels or homes.
JAKARTA, Indonesia — Indonesian Vice President Ma’ruf Amin apologized to all Indonesians as the threat of COVID-19 in the country is not over yet.
As of Friday, the government announced there are 634 new COVID-19 cases, bringing the total number of confirmed cases to 20,796. About 1,300 deaths and more than 5,000 recoveries have been recorded.
“We, the government, apologizes as the danger of coronavirus is not over yet. It is not easy to eliminate it. Besides it is difficult to fight the coronavirus, Indonesia has a high population number, compared to other ASEAN countries, and a wide region from Sabang to Merauke. Some of the Indonesians are also lacking discipline and not following the healthy protocol,” Amin said on Friday.
In the recorded video published at the daily video conference, Amin said the country is still dealing with the threat of COVID-19 and working on preventing the virus transmission, especially during the Eid al-Fitr holiday. People were asked to avoid mass gatherings during the celebration of the end of Ramadan, the holiest month for Muslims.
“The government appeals to people to stay home during the Eid al-Fitr and not to go to the mosque or the open fields since we are still facing the danger of the COVID-19,” he said.
LISBON, Portugal — Portugal’s foreign minister says tourists are welcome in his country and no quarantine will be imposed on people arriving by plane.
Foreign Minister Augusto Santos Silva said Friday that “minimal health controls,” which he did not specify, will be enacted at airports. Other European countries, including Spain, Italy and the United Kingdom, have preferred a 14-day self-isolation rule for arrivals.
Santos Silva said in an interview with Observador radio station that Portugal’s public health system has coped well with the new coronavirus outbreak, though doctors and nurses have complained of shortcomings.
Also, Portugal has issued rules so that beaches, hotels, restaurants and national monuments can reopen, Santos Silva noted.
Tourism accounts for 15% of Portugal’s GDP and 9% of the country’s jobs, and authorities are striving to salvage some part of the summer vacation season following a lockdown.
Portugal has officially attributed 1,277 deaths to COVID-19 and recorded almost 30,000 cases.
KUALA LUMPUR, Malaysia — Malaysian Prime Minister Muhyiddin Yassin had a virus scare after an official at Wednesday’s post-cabinet meeting that he chaired was diagnosed with COVID-19.
The prime minister’s office said Muhyiddin, a cancer survivor, underwent a virus test Friday morning and was negative. But it said in a statement that Muhyiddin will observe a 14-day quarantine.
It said all other officials at the meeting have also been ordered to test for the virus and to quarantine themselves. The statement said strict health measures and social distancing were practiced in all meetings at the prime minister’s office.
Malaysia has reported over 7,000 infections and more than 100 deaths. The government has reopened most businesses, but still bans mass gatherings and inter-state travel.
MADRID — The latest report from Spain’s National Statistics Institute makes grim reading for the country’s tourism sector.
The report published Friday said that in April hotel occupancy was “nil,” as establishments locked down due to the new coronavirus outbreak.
The institute, which is a government body, published columns of zeros for overnight stays, average length of stays and occupancy rates.
Spain is Europe’s second most popular tourist destination, after France.
LONDON — The British government says people flying into the U.K. will have to self-isolate for 14 days and could be fined 1,000 pounds ($1,220) if they fail to comply.
Home Secretary Priti Patel will announce details of the quarantine plan on Friday. The government has already said it is likely to start in early June and will apply to arrivals from everywhere except Ireland, which has a longstanding free-movement agreement with the U.K.
There are likely to be exemptions for some travelers, including truckers and medics.
Britain did not close its borders during the worst of the coronavirus outbreak and is introducing its quarantine just as many other European countries are starting to open up again. Airlines have warned that the British move could hobble their efforts to recover from the devastation wreaked by pandemic-related travel restrictions.
There has also been confusion about the U.K. policy, after the government initially said it would not apply to people arriving from France. That prompted a rebuke from the European Union, which wants a coordinated policy across the 27-nation bloc.
Britain later said France would not be exempt.
LONDON — UK government borrowing swelled to 62.1 billion pounds ($75.7 billion) last month as programs meant to cushion the blow of the COVID-19 pandemic hit the public purse.
The UK Office of National Statistics says the figure was the highest for any month on record.
The ONS also cautioned that its estimate could be significantly revised as the full impact of the outbreak becomes clearer.
Michael Hewson of CMC Markets says that “none of these numbers should be a surprise to anybody … as every other country is in the same leaky boat.’’
He says the numbers are expected to go even higher because of Treasury chief Rishi Sunak’s decision to extend a program for furloughed employees into the fall.
THE HAGUE, Netherlands — The owner of an abattoir in the eastern Netherlands says that health authorities have placed all 600 staff in home quarantine for two weeks after 45 workers tested positive for the coronavirus.
The meatworks is in Groenlo, close to the Dutch border with Germany. Authorities in Germany agreed this week to crack down on labor conditions in slaughterhouses following the discovery of clusters of COVID-19 cases.
Ronald Lotgerink, CEO of Vion Food Group that owns the abattoir said he was surprised by the infections. Vion is an international food company with production locations in the Netherlands and Germany.
“As a crucial company, we took all necessary measures to ensure the protection and health of our staff,” Lotgerink said in a statement Friday.
He added that the company and meat sector “must learn from this quickly and change our behavior and share that with each other.”
COPENHAGEN, Denmark — A Danish government agency that maps the spread of the coronavirus in Denmark said between 0.5% and 1.8% of the country’s 5.8 million people have had the COVID-19 infection, according to early results.
Statens Serum Institut, or SSI, said the figures, based on 2,600 people that were randomly chosen in Denmark’s five cities and who were given the anti-body tests, must be “interpreted with great caution.”
“Furthermore, whether the figures can be transmitted to the entire Danish population can also be influenced by whether groups with different patterns of infection choose or not choose to accept the offer to be tested,” said Steen Ethelberg who heads the project group behind the SSI study.
He added that the results were “the first part of the gradual roll-out of the study” and more results are expected in the coming weeks.
He said to get a full picture, 6,000 people “have to be tested to achieve the desired precision” across the country.
Danish media, citing an SSI report distributed to lawmakers only, have speculated that the virus’ strength might be decreasing.
Denmark ordered a lockdown March 11 and has in recent weeks slowly opened up society with museums and cinemas reopening, and hospitals winding down their coronavirus units.
MOSCOW — Russia has reported the highest daily spike in coronavirus deaths on Friday, as health officials registered 150 deaths in the last 24 hours, bringing the country’s toll to 3,249.
Russia’s comparatively low mortality rate has raised eyebrows in the West, with some suggesting that the country’s government may be underreporting virus-related deaths and manipulating the statistics. Russian officials vehemently deny the allegations and attribute the low numbers to the effectiveness of the measures taken to curb the spread of the outbreak.
Russia’s coronavirus caseload has exceeded 326,000 on Friday, with health officials reporting almost 9,000 new infections.
Earlier this month President Vladimir Putin announced gradually lifting lockdown restrictions, saying that Russia was able to “slow down the epidemic” and it was time for gradual reopening. The vast majority of the country’s regions have been on lockdown since March 30.
BRUSSELS — The European Union’s transactions with the rest of the world fell from 252 billion euros ($274.8 billion) to 228 billion ($248.6 billion) in March compared with the first month of the year as the lockdown measures implemented to limit the spread of the coronavirus impacted the international exchanges of goods.
According to figures released by the bloc’s statistical office Eurostat, the machinery and vehicles sector was heavily hit, with a decrease of 20% of extra-EU exports amounting to 14 billion euros ($15.3 billion) compared with January. Imports of vehicles, other manufactured goods and energy products also decreased.
Despite the general downturn, exports of chemicals however increased by 4%, the equivalent of four billion euros ($4.4 billion), the agency said.
NEW DELHI, India — India has reported 6,088 new coronavirus cases in the last 24 hours for its biggest single-day spike, increasing the country’s total number of infections to 118,447.
The death toll due to the pandemic rose to 3,583 on Friday. More than 48,000 people have recovered, according to health ministry data.
Maharashtra remains the worst-affected state in India with more than 41,000 cases after it added over 2,000 new infections for the fourth straight day. The number of fatalities in the state rose to 1,454, highest in the country.
India has the 11th-most cases in the world.
The nationwide surge comes ahead of the “calibrated” re-opening of domestic flights beginning Monday.
SEOUL, South Korea — South Korean health authorities say they’re reviewing the possible use of new smartphone technology from Apple and Google that automatically notifies users when they come close to people infected with the coronavirus.
But officials also say it isn’t clear whether the Bluetooth-based apps would meaningfully boost the country’s technology-driven fight against COVID-19, where health workers have aggressively used cellphone data, credit card records and surveillance footage to trace and isolate potential virus carriers.
Vice Health Minister Kim Gang-lip said Wednesday that the U.S. tech giants in a message conveyed through South Korean cellphone carrier KT recommended that the Korea Centers for Disease Control and Prevention consider using their technology.
Lee Kang-ho, another health ministry official, said officials were discussing whether the apps would be useful, but added “our methods in anti-virus efforts differ from methods and goals pursued over there.”
The software released by Apple and Google — a product of a rare partnership between the industry rivals — relies on wireless Bluetooth technology to detect when someone who downloaded the app has spent time near another app user who later tests positive for COVID-19.
Following a 2015 outbreak of a different coronavirus, MERS, South Korea rewrote its infectious disease law to allow health authorities quick access over a broad range of personal information when fighting epidemics, which includes medical and credit card records and location information provided by police and cellphone carriers.
Health workers have been vigorously using these powers while carrying out an aggressive test-and-quarantine program.
UNITED NATIONS — The United Nations secretary-general is again urging factions in conflict to heed his call for a global cease-fire to help tackle the COVID-19 pandemic.
In a report to the U.N. Security Council released Thursday, Antonio Guterres pointed to the more than 20,000 civilians killed or injured in 2019 attacks in 10 countries — and millions more forced from their homes by fighting. He said the pandemic is “the greatest test the world has faced” since the United Nations was established 75 years ago and has already had a severe impact on efforts to protect civilians, especially in conflict-affected countries where weak health care systems can be overwhelmed.
The U.N. chief said support for his March 23 cease-fire appeal from governments, regional organizations, armed groups, civil society and individuals throughout the world has been “encouraging” — but he said in many instances “challenges in implementing the cease-fire still need to be overcome.”
Guterres reiterated his global cease-fire call, saying “as the world confronts the monumental challenge of the COVID-19 pandemic, the need to silence the guns could not be more acute.”
He issued the appeal in his annual report to the Security Council on the protection of civilians where he stressed that the most effective way to protect them “is to prevent the outbreak, escalation, continuation and recurrence of armed conflicts.”
SYDNEY — Leaders of Australia’s most populous state say they will lead the nation in reopening the economy, increasing the maximum number of customers restaurants can seat from 10 to 50 beginning June 1.
New South Wales Premier Gladys Berejiklian said Friday bookings will be limited to parties of 10 people when customer numbers are increased for restaurants, cafés and pubs.
Customers will have to be seated and each must be allowed four square meters (43 square feet) for social distancing.
Restrictions vary across Australia’s eight states and territories, but New South Wales is set to allow the most customers in restaurants.
Australia has reported 7,081 cases of COVID-19, and 100 patients have died.
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