The Latest: WHO leader warns of danger of easing lockdowns

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May 8, 2002
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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:— New York virus death toll tops 9-11 deaths.— World Health Organization leader warns of easing lockdowns as virus trend appears to weaken in some countries.— Traffic restrictions to limit Easter travel cause jams in Slovakia.___GENEVA — The head of the World Health Organization’s Europe office says a trend of decline in the rate of increase in new coronavirus cases does not mean it’s time to relax measures aimed to stop its spread.Dr. Hans Kluge, WHO’s regional director for Europe, also said some countries “are experiencing a rapid increase in cases or a fresh surge,” and called for continued vigilance. He noted measures taken in many countries to shut schools and businesses.“We still have a long way to go in the marathon and the progress we have made so far in fighting the virus is extremely fragile,” he said. “To think we are coming close to an endpoint would be a dangerous thing to do. The virus leaves no room for error or complacency.”He said countries that any prospect of easing lockdowns or physical distancing measures “requires very careful consideration,” such as by considering if health systems are prepared.“Many of us are looking forward to celebrating Easter with better weather but this is not the time to lower our guard,” Kluge told a video news conference from Copenhagen. “We must soldier on.”___BRATISLAVA, Slovakia — Huge traffic disruptions have been reported across Slovakia amid the government’s new restrictions on movement to contain the epidemic of the coronavirus.The restrictions were imposed for Wednesday till Monday to prevent people from travelling over Easter. Slovakia is a Roman-Catholic stronghold in central and eastern Europe.People are only allowed to travel to work, do essential shopping or visit doctors. Only family members can stay together for outdoor activities that are restricted to take place only within one county.Police teamed up with the military to enforce the measures on the borders of the counties, causing traffic jams.Bratislava authorities say the traffic on all roads leading to the capital has collapsed, advising people to cancel their travel plans.Economy Minister Richard Sulik apologized for the delays on Wednesday, saying he would like to relax the restrictions. Prime Minister Igor Matovic was against it.___PARIS — France’s defence ministry announced that French aircraft carrier Charles de Gaulle is heading back to port amid a possible virus outbreak onboard.The ministry said in a statement Wednesday that around 40 troops are presenting symptoms compatible with the COVID-19 disease. They have been placed under strict medical observation.A medical team equipped with tests will get onboard Wednesday in order to confirm the potential cases and prevent the virus from further spreading, the ministry said.The aircraft carrier, which was on a mission in the Atlantic Ocean, is returning immediately to its base in the port of Toulon, on the Mediterranean coast, where it was initially expected to dock on April 23. Its crew is composed of about 1,900 troops.The announcement comes after a coronavirus outbreak hit U.S. aircraft carrier USS Theodore Roosevelt, now at port in Guam. As of Tuesday, the U.S. Navy said at least 230 crew had been tested positive. The firing last week of the Roosevelt’s captain created a combustible controversy in the country.___BRUSSELS — A hundred non-governmental organizations including human and women’s rights groups are urging European governments to implement measures safeguarding access to abortion during the COVID-19 epidemics.In a statement released Wednesday, they asked governments to recognize abortion as an essential care.Their call came as Poland’s parliament prepares to put on the agenda a strict new abortion law. The eastern European country already has some of the the continent’s most restrictive abortion laws.“European governments must act urgently to guarantee safe and timely access to abortion care during the COVID-19 pandemic,” said Leah Hoctor, the regional director for Europe at the Center for Reproductive Rights. “They should move swiftly to eradicate all medically unnecessary requirements that hamper access to abortion care and should authorize women to access early medical abortion from their homes.”The groups said the current health crisis has affected reproductive health services at hospitals and clinics because of staff shortages or reassignments of affected personnel to tasks related to the deadly virus.“In many places, accessing normal clinical services has become extremely difficult,” they said. “Restrictions to reproductive health services disproportionately affect women living in poverty, women with disabilities, Roma women, undocumented migrant women, adolescents, trans and gender non-binary people, and women at risk of or who are survivors of domestic and sexual violence.”___BEIJING — China says the struggle against the global coronavirus pandemic provides a “platform for China-U.S. co-operation,” despite sniping between the sides over blame and responsibility.Citing recent comments between Chinese leader Xi Jinping and President Donald Trump, Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Zhao Lijian told reporters at a briefing Wednesday that the sides would “benefit from co-operation and stand to lose from conflict, and co-operation is the only correct choice.”Some in Congress are calling for China to be held accountable for initially covering up the outbreak, an accusation Beijing strongly denies despite growing evidence. Anticipating a backlash, China’s official Xinhua News Agency has suggested Beijing could retaliate against the U.S. by banning the export of medical products that would leave the U.S. stuck in the ”ocean of viruses.”Zhao drew attention last month when he suggested without evidence that the U.S. military transported the virus to Wuhan or that the virus was released from a U.S. lab.“It might be US army who brought the epidemic to Wuhan. Be transparent! Make public your data! US owe us an explanation!” Zhao tweeted March 12.Asked about the tweet on Tuesday, Zhao said it had been “a response to the stigmatization some US politicians made against China previously, and it also reflected the indignation of many Chinese people about these practices.”___TOKYO — The printing of Albert Camus’ “The Plague” in Japanese shot above the cumulative million mark, with 154,000 copies going into extra printing seven times since February.People have been snatching up copies since the coronavirus pandemic hit, and a bookstore chain limited purchases to one copy per buyer to curtail literary hoarding.“The book is offering insight for people on the basic question of how we must live life when we are all faced with these insular times,” publisher Shinchosha spokesman Morito Mamiya said Wednesday.The novel, first published in French in 1947, and in Japanese in 1969, portrays the dilemma of human existence as a North African city gets overtaken by the plague. On a regular year, about 5,000 copies of the classic get sold in Japan, but it’s now No. 1 for literature at major Japanese bookstores.___PARIS — The Bank of France said the French economy has entered recession with an estimated 6% drop in the first quarter of this year compared to the previous three months, amid the lockdown of the country due to the coronavirus crisis.In a statement Wednesday, the Bank de France said that every two weeks under lockdown could lead the French annual economic activity to shrink by 1.5%.Confinement measures have been implemented since March 17 and are likely to be extended after the current April 15 deadline.French Finance minister Bruno Le Maire said this week that the country will probably face this year its deepest recession since the end of World War II.The French government launched a 45-billion euro ($48.8 billion) economic rescue package to support businesses. The sectors of construction, transport, restaurants and hotels are especially impacted.___PRAGUE — The unemployment level in the Czech Republic surprisingly remained at same level in March as the previous despite the epidemic of the coronavirus.The Labor Ministry said on Wednesday the unemployment was unchanged at 3.00% last month. That is 225,678 people were without a job, the lowest number since 1997.Analysts estimated a growth in unemployment would already come in March and expected the impact of the coronavirus crisis to be fully felt in April.The unemployment might reach up to 10% later in the year, analysts predicted.The government has approved various packages to help the struggling economy amid tough restrictions to contain the virus. It pledged to use up to $40 billion in direct aid and loans guarantees.The number of infected in the Czech Republic surpassed 5,000 and was at 5,033 on Wednesday morning, according to Health Ministry, 91 have died.___LONDON — Prime Minister Boris Johnson has spent a second night in intensive care unit as his condition remained stable while he fought the new coronavirus.Health Minister Edward Argar told the BBC on Wednesday that Johnson is receiving oxygen but is still not on a ventilator — a suggestion that at least his condition is not getting worse.Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab has temporarily taken over many of the prime minister’s duties to lead the country’s response to the pandemic as Johnson receives care. Britain has no official post of deputy prime minister.Johnson is the first major world leader confirmed to have COVID-19. He was admitted to St. Thomas’ Hospital late Sunday with a fever and cough that persisted 10 days after he was diagnosed with the virus.The 55-year-old was moved to the ICU on Monday evening after his condition worsened.The news comes as the makeshift hospital installed at London’s ExCel convention centre began receiving its first patients on Tuesday. The hospital was built to boost treatment capacity in London.___KATHMANDU, Nepal — Stranded British nationals boarded a chartered flight in Kathmandu on Wednesday in their first chance to leave Nepal since the country went on a complete lockdown more than two weeks ago.The flight arranged by the British government had 268 passengers on board and was headed to London. Each passengers paid 800 pounds ($985).Luke Tiller, a welder from Essex, said he and his partner waited for days before the flight was finally arranged while friends from other nations left Nepal days earlier.Nepal’s government ordered a complete lockdown last month to stop the spread of the coronavirus; halting all flights and other transportation, shutting down markets, schools and offices. Nepal has nine confirmed cases of which one has already recovered.___BANGKOK — Thailand’s Immigration Bureau says the government has agreed to automatically extend the deadlines for tourists whose visas have expired in the past two weeks without requiring them to apply in person at government offices. Many were stranded by travel curbs instituted to combat the spread of COVID-19.Immigration Police Deputy Spokesman Col. Cherngron Rimpadee said Wednesday the measure to extend visas until April 30 would become effective when signed by Prime Minister Prayuth Chan-ocha, probably this week. The date may be extended depending upon the state of the coronavirus outbreak.The visa issue had generated concern because the need to apply in person had caused crowded lines of people to form at the main immigration office on the outskirts of Bangkok, waiting for hours in unhealthy conditions that did not allow them to practice social distancing.Although Thailand is one of the world’s major tourist destinations, its immigration procedures for visitors and resident expatriates can be complicated and time-consuming.Other Asian tourist destinations such as Indonesia have already allowed automatic visa extensions.___BRUSSELS — Finance ministers from the 19 countries that use the euro single currency have broken off talks amid deep divisions over how best to respond to the ravages of the coronavirus on European economies and will meet again Thursday.Eurozone chief Mario Centeno had been scheduled to hold a news conference Wednesday morning, but EU headquarters said the event was cancelled, following talks deep into the night.European governments are scrambling to put together hundreds of billions of euros to save lives as well as companies and families from going bankrupt. Many countries worst hit by the virus are also those that can least afford the costs, like Italy and Spain.But they are divided over how best to tackle the challenge. Italy and Spain, backed by France, want to throw all the EU’s economic might into fighting the virus and damage from the disruption it’s caused as soon as possible.However, nations like Germany and the Netherlands want to keep something in reserve should things get even worse. They are reluctant to share debt with EU partners without strict conditions out of concern that they might end up having to foot the bill.___Follow AP news coverage of the coronavirus pandemic at and Associated Press

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