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:
— Russian Prime Minister Mikhail Mishustin says he has tested positive and has told President Vladimir Putin he will self-isolate.
— Prime Minister Johnson: U.K. “past the peak” and “on a downward slope” in coronavirus outbreak.
— Germany, Portugal, Czech Republic set to start to loosen coronavirus restrictions.
— Turkey sending protective gear, equipment to help Palestinians.
MOSCOW — Russian Prime Minister Mikhail Mishustin says he has tested positive for the new coronavirus and has told President Vladimir Putin he will self-isolate.
First Deputy Prime Minister Andrei Belousov will temporarily perform Mishustin’s duties.
Mishustin, 54 was named prime minister in January.
Also, the mayor of Moscow says he doesn’t think the Russian capital is close to overcoming the spread of coronavirus.
Moscow accounts for half of Russia’s reported 106,000 infections and on Thursday recorded nearly 3,100 new cases.
“We’re not even at the midpoint, in my opinion; at best we have passed a quarter of this way,” Mayor Sergei Sobyanin said. Moscow quickly built one hospital to handle coronavirus cases and Sobyanin said the need for more could be filled by establishing treatment facilities at shopping malls, sports venues or the sprawling Stalin-era VDNKh exhibition complex.
LONDON — British Prime Minister Boris Johnson says the U.K. is “past the peak” and “on a downward slope” in its coronavirus outbreak.
In his first news conference in more than a month following his hospitalization with COVID-19 and his subsequent recuperation, Johnson said he would be presenting a “comprehensive plan” next week about how and when the U.K. will ease the lockdown restrictions, which are due to last at least until May 7.
Though he said it would provide a “roadmap,” Johnson is widely expected to extend the current lockdown further.
Johnson also voiced frustrations in getting personal protective equipment, and in ramping up the testing program, but he insisted that the government was throwing “everything at it, heart and soul, night and day, to get it right.”
Johnson, whose partner Carrie Symonds gave birth to a boy on Wednesday, said another 674 people with the coronavirus have died in all settings, taking the total to 26,711, the second highest in Europe behind Italy.
PARIS — French health authorities released a map showing the country’s areas that are the most affected by the virus which will serve as a reference when the country will ease confinement measures after May 11.
The northeastern part of France, including the whole Paris region, has been placed in “red zone” as the map is based on an estimation of the virus circulation and the burden over intensive care units in local hospitals.
The government said “green zones” will be able to lift some restrictions more rapidly.
Health minister Olivier Veran said final decisions will be made based on the evolution of the map next week.
National health agency director Jerome Salomon said the spreading of the virus continues to slow down in the country with the number of COVID-19 patients in intensive care decreasing for the third straight week.
France, one of the world’s hardest-hit countries, has reported 24,376 deaths from the disease at hospital and in nursing homes.
BERLIN — German Chancellor Angela Merkel says authorities will allow religious services to resume and let museums, zoos, galleries and playgrounds re-open as part of the gradual loosening of the pandemic lockdown.
Merkel said after meeting with governors of Germany’s 16 states that it was important to remain “disciplined” to ensure successful efforts to curb the coronavirus outbreak aren’t undone.
She acknowledged the impact that the lockdown measures have had on the economy and social life, but said officials wanted to wait until next week before considering lifting restrictions on kindergartens and most schools.
LISBON, Portugal — Portugal is starting to loosen its coronavirus restrictions, with small stores, hair salons, libraries, car showrooms and government tax departments allowed to reopen from next Monday.
Next week, means of public transport will be allowed to carry up to two-thirds of their capacity, but passengers must wear masks.
The government also announced Thursday that from May 18, kindergartens and school classes for students age 16-18 are to resume. Smaller restaurants and cafes and their terraces will also be able to accept customers if they restrict capacity to 50%.
On June 1, all other stores and shopping malls can open, as can cinemas and theaters.
The government set no date for the reopening of bars, nightclubs or gymnasiums.
Meanwhile, people must work from home if they can through the end of May, cannot come within 2 meters of other people, and no events are allowed to have more than 10 people.
Portugal attributes 989 deaths to the outbreak, with just over 25,000 cases.
PRAGUE — The Czech government is accelerating its relaxing of the restrictive measures adopted to contain the coronavirus pandemic.
Health Minister Adam Vojtech says cultural, sports and other public events will be allowed to take place as of May 11, two weeks earlier than previously planned, for a maximum of 100 people.
Theaters, cinemas, concert halls and circuses can get back to business that date as well with the same number of people attending. Originally, those venues were scheduled to operate, starting May 25.
The universities will re-open for all students, but only for groups not bigger than 15 in one place on May 11.
At the same time, the government has ruled out big summer music and other festivals.
The day-to-day increase of the new cases COVID-19 has been under 100 for the eighth day in the Czech Republic while less than 10 died daily since April 13.
ANKARA, Turkey — The number of confirmed COVID-19 cases in Turkey surpassed 120,000 after the country’s health minister announced 2,615 new cases in the past 24 hours.
Fahrettin Koca on Thursday also reported 93 new deaths on Thursday, bringing the total to 3,174. The total number of infections now stands at 120,204.
Turkey ranks seventh in the world for the number of confirmed infections, according to Johns Hopkins University, although experts believe the actual toll of the pandemic is higher than the tally.
ATLANTA — Georgia Gov. Brian Kemp will allow his statewide shelter-in-place order to expire at midnight Thursday but is extending his emergency powers to June 12 and telling the elderly and medically fragile to stay at home until then.
The first-term Republican governor had already carved sizable loopholes in his order that applied to all 10 million Georgians and signaled it would end when he allowed some businesses to reopen last week and Monday. Social distancing requirements and bans on large gatherings remain in place.
Kemp told The Associated Press in a Thursday interview that he’s been pleased with how his effort to reopen some businesses — among the most aggressive in the nation — has gone in the face of a continuing COVID-19 pandemic that has sickened 26,000 people in the state and killed more than 1,100.
UNITED NATIONS — Secretary-General Antonio Guterres says he is looking into alternatives for the largest annual gathering of world leaders at the United Nations in late September, an event that is supposed to commemorate the 75th anniversary of the global organization this year but may undergo significant changes because of the COVID-19 pandemic.
He told a news conference Thursday that the U.N. Secretariat is conducting “research of the different technical possibilities that exist” and he planned to discuss the annual high-level meeting of the General Assembly with its president, Tijjani Muhammad Bande, “very soon.”
The U.N. calendar of events calls for the assembly’s General Debate — the official name of the high-level meeting — to open on Sept. 22, with a kickoff event for world leaders the previous day to commemorate the 75th anniversary of the United Nations, which was founded after World War II.
PRISTINA, Kosovo — The European Union on Thursday delivered the first aid to Kosovo to fight COVID-19.
A statement from the EU’s office in Kosovo said the 5 million-euro ($5.4 million) assistance comprised of different protective medical gloves, face shields, protective goggles, hand disinfectants, sets of single-use bed sheets and boxes for transporting laboratory samples.
“Despite the difficult situation in the EU member states, the EU is committed to help Kosovo, and what we see today is just a start,” said EU Ambassador Nataliya Apostolova, pledging more aid with other medical supplies such as ventilators, infusion pumps, ambulance vehicles and more in the next weeks.
The EU is also preparing 63 million euro ($68.4 million) as mid-term measures for socio-economic grant assistance as well as 100 million euro ($108.5 million) loan as macro-economic assistance to Kosovo.
Following the outbreak of the virus in mid-March, Kosovo is in a total lockdown after having 22 dead and at least 799 cases since then.
UNITED NATIONS — The United Nations chief says he hopes many countries in the world will follow the “remarkable example” of South Korea which has been “extremely successful” in addressing the coronavirus pandemic and is planning to tackle climate change in its recovery from COVID-19.
Secretary-General Antonio Guterres pointed to the announcement Thursday “that there was no new case in the Republic of Korea,” the country’s official name.
At the same time, he said, South Korea has presented plans for “a very ambitious green deal” for its recovery from the pandemic including no new coal-fired plants and a reduction of emissions from existing coal-fired plants.
Guterres told a news conference Thursday: “We hope that this example of the Republic of Korea will be followed by many other countries in the world.”
The Koreas Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said in a statement early Thursday that four cases in the previous 24 hours, all imported, took the country’s total to 10,765 with 247 deaths and 9,059 recoveries.
South Korea’s caseload has been slowing in recent weeks after it recorded hundreds of new cases every day between late February and early March. It has subsequently relaxed some of its social distancing guidelines and is expected to ease up on more restrictions in coming days if the downward trend continues.
South Korea had its first confirmed case of COVID-19 on Jan. 20, the same day as the United States. But unlike the U.S., officials there used a test focused on the same gene targets as the World Health Organization’s recommended test, according to the website of a test manufacturer. The government quickly allowed private sector labs to produce it.
As a result, a nation with less than one-sixth the population of the United States mobilized to test more than 20,000 people a day. South Korea also instituted drive-thru centers, allowing quicker identification of those who were infected but might not be displaying symptoms, thus slowing the emergence of new cases to a more manageable level.
MADRID — Spain’s health minister has announced strict conditions for a relaxation of movement and isolation measures from next Saturday.
Health Minister Salvador Illa said Thursday that people can practice sports or go for walks with one other person from their home between 6 a.m. and 10 a.m. and between 8 p.m. and 11 p.m.
Team sports are not allowed, and people cannot go further than 1 kilometer from their home.
People over 70 years old and people who need someone’s assistance to walk have a separate time period for going out.
Children under 14 years old can leave the house for an hour between midday and 7 p.m.
People must stay at least 1.5 meters apart.
Illa said easing lockdown measures will happen gradually.
WASHINGTON — D.C. health officials announced Thursday morning that 217 positive new COVID-19 infections had been identified, bringing the total up to 4,323 with 19 new deaths for a total of 224.
Mayor Muriel Bowser declared a state of emergency on March 11 and issued a stay-home order on March 30 for Washington’s approximately 700,000 residents.
Bowser has also announced plans to turn Washington DC’s convention center into a 1,500-bed field hospital.
WASHINGTON — A union that represents U.S. airport security officers wants to require travelers to wear face masks when they go through checkpoints.
American Federation of Government Employees President Everett Kelley said in an online forum with members of Congress that such a requirement should be a “priority” to protect security screening officers.
Kelley said the threat to officers will increase as travel volume returns to normal levels.
More than 500 Transportation Security Administration employees have tested positive for COVID-19 and five have died from the virus.
The Transportation Security Administration has imposed social distancing at airport checkpoints and says that travelers who choose to wear a mask should be prepared to move it so officers can confirm their identity.
ANCHORAGE, Alaska — ConocoPhillips Alaska will cut production on the North Slope by 100,000 barrels a day, or nearly half its total output, beginning in June but no layoffs are anticipated with the reduction, the company announced.
The company decided to curtail production “in response to unacceptably low oil prices resulting from global oil demand destruction caused by the impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic, combined with a global oversupply of oil,” according to a statement announced the reduction.
The company will ramp down production in late May. Any extensions past June will be determined on a monthly basis, the Houston-based company said. Operations of the 800-mile trans-Alaska pipeline are not expected to be affected, it said.
ConocoPhillips had been averaging production of about 218,000 barrels a day during the first quarter of this year.
ANKARA, Turkey — Turkey is sending personal protective gear and other medical equipment to help Palestinians in Gaza and the West Bank fight the COVID-19 outbreak.
Presidential spokesman Ibrahim Kalin said the supplies will be dispatched later on Thursday. He wrote on Twitter that “Turkey will continue to stand by the Palestinian people.”
Another official said the aid, consisting of testing kits and devices, N95 masks, protective overalls, gloves, oxygen masks, hand disinfectants and goggles, will be sent aboard a Turkish Airlines cargo plane.
Earlier, a Turkish military cargo plane carrying a second consignment of personal protective equipment, left for the U.S. Turkey says it has donated medical supplies to 55 countries.
TOKYO — Japan’s Prime Minister Shinzo Abe plans to extend the ongoing coronavirus state of emergency beyond its scheduled end on May 6.
Abe said Thursday that hospitals are still overburdened and medical workers are under severe pressure to deal with the patients still on the rise.
“I believe it will be difficult to return to our normal daily lives after May 7,” Abe said. “We must expect an endurance race to a certain extent.”
Abe said he will consult with experts to decide how long the measures should be extended. Local officials and medical experts have called for an extension for another month nationwide.
The rise in the cases somewhat slowed in the last few days. But Japan still had more than 200 new cases overnight, bringing a national total to some 14,000 cases, with 415 deaths.
BEIJING — China says any claims that the coronavirus was released from a laboratory are “unfounded and purely fabricated out of nothing.”
Foreign Ministry spokesman Geng Shuang said Thursday the Wuhan Institute of Virology at the center of the allegations “does not have the ability to design and create a new coronavirus, and it has never done so.”
Geng cited the institute’s director, Yuan Zhiming, as saying the lab strictly implements bio-security procedures that would prevent the release of any pathogen.
“I would like to point out again that the origin of the virus is a complex scientific issue, and it should be studied by scientists and professionals,” Geng said.
Geng also criticized U.S. politicians who have suggested China should be held accountable for the global pandemic, saying they should spend their time on “better controlling the epidemic situation at home.”
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