COVID-19 world update: Restrictions to ease in various countries

Comprehensive world news update, including no reported deaths in Vietnam

The latest on the coronavirus pandemic. These files from the Associated Press were assembled and posted at 8:30 a.m., Wednesday, April 22.

TOP OF THE HOUR:

  • AP Exclusive: ER staff saves lives, suffers in hot spot.
  • Britain’s death toll reaches more than 18,000.
  • Greta Thunberg urges world leaders to co-operate on virus, climate.
  • Germany to start trial for coronavirus vaccine.

British death toll rises by 759 in one day, passes 18,000

LONDON — The British government says 759 more people with the coronavirus have died in U.K. hospitals, taking the total to 18,100.

The daily increase reported was lower than the 823 in the previous 24-hour period.

The U.K.’s death toll is the fourth highest in Europe, behind Italy, Spain and France, all of whom have reported more than 20,000 deaths.

However, there has been increasing scrutiny of the U.K. figures in recent days for understating the actual number of people having died of COVID-19. The numbers don’t include those who have died in care homes or elsewhere in the community.

Earlier, British Health Secretary Matt Hancock said the country was at the “peak” but that it was too early to start considering a relaxation of the lockdown measures in place since March 23.

Spain to rely on scientific targets when relaxing restrictions

MADRID — Spain’s prime minister says confinement rules for the coronavirus outbreak will be relaxed gradually but according to scientific targets and not calendar dates.

Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez told parliament the government has been working on the plan for the past three weeks.

Sanchez foresees restrictions lifted at different speeds in different places, such as urban or rural areas, because the pandemic is “asymmetrical.”

Epidemiologists will help determine the pace, based on how the pandemic ebbs. Sanchez says the criteria include the capacity of the public health system in the area and the local number of infections and deaths.

Spain has recorded more than 208,000 infection cases and 21,700 deaths.

Sri Lanka brings back hundreds of stranded students

COLOMBO, Sri Lanka — Sri Lanka is sending special flights to bring back hundreds of students stranded in India, Pakistan and Nepal.

SriLankan Airlines will operate special flights from Amristar and Coimbatore in India, Karachi and Lahore in Pakistan and Kathmandu in Nepal. The flights will bring back 433 students stranded in those cities.

The returnees will be sent to the military-run quarantine centres where they’ll stay for 14 days.

The airline earlier operated similar flights to bring home pilgrims and students stranded in countries such as China and India.

SriLankan Airline has suspended passenger flights until April 30 while operating cargo and special flights. Last month, Sri Lanka closed its international airport for inbound international commercial passenger flights.

Greta Thunberg urges world leaders to focus on science

STOCKHOLM — Swedish climate activist Greta Thunberg is urging world leaders to act together to cope with crises and to listen to science experts.

The 17-year-old Swede says the climate crisis “may not be as immediate as the corona crisis but we need to tackle this now otherwise it will be irreversible.” She calls the virus outbreak “a tragedy.”

She says world leaders must put differences aside and make decisions that “in the long run may be necessary.”

She spoke during a conversation with Johan Rockstrom, co-director of Germany’s Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research, in a live online event to mark the 50th anniversary of Earth Day.

Many large cities are smog-free after shutdowns caused by the coronavirus pandemic. Major cities have seen reductions of deadly particulate matter from the previous year.

Vatican plans to resume normal activities

VATICAN CITY — The Vatican is thinking ahead to a “Phase II” of the coronavirus pandemic and plans to resume normal activities starting early next month.

The Vatican says its secretary of state, Cardinal Pietro Parolin, met with the Holy See’s top officials on Wednesday to “reflect on a second phase of the COVID-19 emergency.”

Italy, the European epicenter of the pandemic, is planning a gradual reopening of some activity and services starting May 4. In a statement, the Vatican says it would follow suit, deciding on a “gradual reactivation of ordinary services, while keeping in place the health precautions aimed at limiting contagion.”

The Vatican closed its doors to tourists when Italy locked down in early March after recording its first domestic case Feb. 21. The Vatican has registered nine positive tests so far.

Romania says people will be able to travel freely if masked

BUCHAREST, Romania — Romania’s president says people will be allowed to travel freely within the country after May 15, the same day that wearing of masks in closed spaces and public transport will become mandatory.

President Klaus Iohannis says other restrictions, including a ban on large gatherings, will remain in effect. Iohannis is scheduled to meet with education officials to examine how schools can gradually reopen.

A state of emergency because of the pandemic first declared March 16 was later extended until May 15. Romania has reported 9,710 coronavirus cases and 508 deaths.

Germany: First vaccine trial to begin

BERLIN — Germany’s health minister has regulatory approval for the first trial in the country of a vaccine for the coronavirus.

Jens Spahn says the trial will involve 200 people ages 18-55. He cautioned the process of fully testing the vaccine would take months.

Germany’s regulatory authority, the Paul Ehrlich Institute, approved the trial for an RNA-based vaccine being jointly developed by BioNTech and Pfizer. Regulatory approval for trials is also being sought in the United States and China.

Numerous companies are racing to develop a vaccine for the coronavirus that has infected more than 2.5 million people worldwide and caused at least 178,000 deaths in the past four months.

U.K. aims for 100,000 tests per day

LONDON — Acting British Prime Minister Dominic Raab says the government is still targeting 100,000 tests a day for coronavirus by the end of this month — even though it’s more than 80,000 short with just eight days to go.

In the first hybrid prime minister’s questions in the House of Commons with a maximum 50 lawmakers allowed in the legislature, Raab conceded there will need to be an “exponential” increase in tests in coming days.

The most recent daily figures show that only 18,206 tests were conducted, even though the government has ramped up capacity to a potential 40,000.

Raab is filling in for British Prime Minister Boris Johnson while he recovers from COVID-19.

Keir Starmer, the new leader of Britain’s main opposition Labour Party, criticized the government for being slow in putting Britain into lockdown and getting the necessary personal protective equipment for front-line staff.

Greenpeace activists mark Earth Day in Poland

WARSAW, Poland — Greenpeace activists marked Earth Day in Poland by unfurling banners before the main government office in Warsaw saying that a return to normal after the anti-COVID-19 stay-at-home measures will spell a crisis for the environment.

One of the red banners unfurled before the office of Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki read, “Normal was a Problem. Future can be Better.”

Poland’s Environment Ministry has noted wild animals have ventured into space usually taken up by humans.

People have been under home isolation since March 16. The ban to enter woods and parks was lifted Monday. The nation of 38 million has reported over 10,000 COVID-19 cases and 404 deaths.

With no reported deaths, Vietnam to loosen travel restrictions

HANOI — Vietnam will loosen travel restrictions as the country lifts a nationwide shutdown after no new COVID-19 cases were reported the past week.

The government announced the confinement order will be lifted starting Thursday in most cities and provinces except in the capital Hanoi, which has nearly half of the country’s 268 infections. Vietnam is among a few countries with no reported deaths from the virus.

The government requests people carry on social distancing and bans public gathering of more than 20 people, in-dining restaurants and other nonessential business will remain closed. In several provinces where no infection was reported, schools will be reopened. Students will be scanned for temperature before entering the premises.

“We have basically contained the situation, but we must stay alert and take very careful steps when reopening the country,” deputy Prime Minister Vu Duc Dam said.

Vietnam shut down its border with China in January, stopped international arrivals in mid-March and vigorously carried out contact tracing down to commune level.

Criminal cases launched against priests who defied quarantine regulations

KYIV, Ukraine — Police in Ukraine launched criminal cases against priests who defied quarantine regulations and allowed believers inside churches for the Easter services without face masks.

The country’s Interior Ministry says some 130,000 people attended Easter church services on Sunday. It says quarantine regulations were violated in 19 churches across 13 regions.

Five criminal cases have been launched against priests in two parishes of the Moscow-affiliated Orthodox Church in Ukraine. The priests may face up to eight years in prison.

Ukraine has registered 6,592 cases of the coronavirus and 174 deaths. The government ordered a strict lockdown in March, banning all public events, suspending most public transport and urging people to stay home.

Germany: Lawmaker wants to treat more Italian virus victims

BERLIN — A regional lawmaker in Berlin is proposing that a 1,000-bed field hospital being built in the German capital be used to treat coronavirus patients from Italy.

Catherina Pieroth-Manelli told public broadcaster rbb Wednesday the move would send a signal of solidarity to Italy, which has been hardest hit in Europe by the pandemic.

Pieroth-Manelli, a member of the Greens that are part of a three-party governing coalition in Berlin state, said the offer would depend on how the number of infections develop in Germany.

Even without the field hospital, which will be completed at the end of the month, only about a quarter of the existing hospital beds set side for COVID-19 patients in Berlin are currently in use. Germany currently has about 50,000 active cases, about 1,300 of them in Berlin.

Germany has already taken in more than 200 patients from other European countries, including Italy, France and the Netherlands.

South Africa deploys additional troups to enforce lockdown

JOHANNESBURG — South Africa’s president has told Parliament that he is deploying another 73,000 members of the national defence forces to help enforce a coronavirus lockdown and support other government efforts.

President Cyril Ramaphosa shortly before the lockdown began in late March deployed more than 2,500 troops.

Defence Minister Nosiviwe Mapisa-Nqakula tells local radio station that the dramatic new increase is in part so defence forces can transport and bury bodies and even build mortuaries if South Africa’s death toll rises sharply. The country has the most virus cases in Africa with more than 3,400, including 58 deaths.

“What informs us is what we’ve seen in other countries,” the minister says. “If it doesn’t happen in South Africa, thank god.”

Virus has peaked in Belgium

BRUSSELS — Belgium says the coronavirus crisis spiked about 10 days ago and he nation is getting into a safer zone but only if it doesn’t drop all the medical precautions used to contain the spread of COVID-19.

Crisis centre spokesman Prof. Steven Van Gucht says it was “positive to see that the peak of deaths seems to be behind us. It was around April 12 both for hospitals as for care homes.”

An additional 266 deaths were added to the list on Wednesday, bringing Belgium’s total to 6,262. The count in Belgium is high because it uses different statistical measures compared to most countries. It fully counts deaths in hospitals and care homes and also includes victims who are thought to have died of COVID-19, even if they have not been tested for the virus.

Many among the dead announced Wednesday may have died in the past few days, sometimes going a week back, says Van Gucht.

The government will announce Friday the measures to be relaxed for the nation of 11 million.

RAF plane arrives with badly needed surgical gowns

LONDON — A Royal Air Force plane believed to be carrying badly needed surgical gowns has landed in the U.K. as Britain scrambled to deal with shortages of critical protective materials for medics in the COVID-19 outbreak.

The plane landed Wednesday at RAF Brize Norton. Two other planes are on stand-by to pick up more materials from Turkey.

It was not immediately clear if the plane contained the needed surgical gowns, which had been due to arrive over the weekend.

Britain has been struggling to get personal protective equipment to front-line medics. Doctors have expressed concern that they are risking their lives because of inappropriate supplies.

Health minister Helen Whately says 61 members of the National Health Service have died in the outbreak.

Another German state to make face masks mandatory

BERLIN — Germany’s most populous state says it will make wearing face masks compulsory in shops and on public transport starting Monday. The decision by North Rhine-Westphalia, home to nearly 18 million people, means that most German regions have now taken comparable steps.

The eastern state of Saxony became the first to impose an obligation to wear masks or some other face covering on Monday. A steady trickle of regions have followed in announcing similar plans, although some — such as Berlin — will require them only on public transport. North Rhine-Westphalia was joined Wednesday by three more states: Lower Saxony, Rhineland-Palatinate and Saarland.

The federal and state governments agreed last week to “urgently recommend” that people wear masks or some other covering on public transport and in shops, but stopped short of making them obligatory.

In Germany, the 16 state governments are ultimately responsible for imposing and loosening lockdowns. That means that although federal and state governments have sought to co-ordinate their moves, there have been several regional variations in the nation of 83 million people.

Open-air markets begin operations again in Serbia

BELGRADE, Serbia — Vendors selling vegetables, fruit and dairy products were back at Serbia’s markets on Wednesday as authorities allowed for the reopening of the open-air facilities with the easing of some measures against the new coronavirus.

Wearing protective face masks and gloves, the sellers have put up their products on the stalls as first customers trickled in to buy fresh spring offerings at an open air green market in central Belgrade.

Such markets are very popular in the Serbian capital with many scattered throughout the city of 2 million. One vendor says “there are not too many people yet, but this very good.”

Elsewhere in the city, shops selling technical goods and book stores also reopened as part of the easing of lockdown restrictions. Authorities have also shortened a daily curfew by one hour and allowed people over 65 years old to go for a walk three times a week.

Serbia’s elderly had been ordered indoors for over a month and the daily and weekend curfews were introduced in the Balkan country that saw some of the toughest rules against the outbreak.

Serbia so far has reported 6,890 infections with the new coronavirus and 130 deaths.

India moves to make attack on health care workers a serious offence

NEW DELHI, India — India is planning to bring an ordinance that will make attacks on health care professionals a serious offence with a jail term from six months up to seven years.

Federal minister Prakash Javadekar on Wednesday said the ordinance will be implemented as a law after President Ram Nath Kovind’s sanction.

“There will be absolutely no tolerance to attacks on doctors and healthcare professionals,” said Javadekar.

Once approved, the law will take effect immediately. Under the law, health care professionals will also be extended insurance coverage.

Several health care workers in India have been attacked as they battle to stop the spread of the coronavirus. Doctors have also endured campaigns from their neighbours to force them out of apartments and attacks by violent mobs.

Earlier on Wednesday, Indian Medical Association withdrew their symbolic protest, after Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s government promised to ensure their safety against rising violence over fears that medical staff in India is spreading the coronavirus.

Indian Medical Association had asked the federal government to enact a law against health care violence.

India has so far reported 19,984 cases of COVID-19 with 640 deaths.

China calls lawsuit from Missouri “absurd”

BEIJING — China has slammed a lawsuit brought against it by the U.S. state of Missouri over the global pandemic as “very absurd.”

Foreign Ministry spokesman Geng Shuang said Wednesday the legal action had “no factual and legal basis at all,” and repeated defences of China’s response to the outbreak that has largely subsided in the country where it was first detected.

The ministry and other Chinese government departments have strenuously denied accusations that officials delayed reporting on the extent of the outbreak in the central Chinese city of Wuhan late last year, even as reports pile up that worries over political stability were placed above public health concerns.

Missouri’s top state prosecutor on Tuesday announced the lawsuit that alleges Chinese officials are to blame for the pandemic that has sickened around 2.5 million worldwide, thrown tens of millions out of work and devastated local economies, including in China.

The state’s action will likely end up being largely symbolic, however, since lawsuits against other countries typically don’t go anywhere because U.S. law generally prohibits them. Independent reports say Missouri has reported 215 deaths from the virus.

Death toll in Spain approaches 28,000

MADRID — Spain saw its death total reach 21,717 cases as its government weathers criticism about how it will let children out of a six-week lockdown.

Spain’s health authorities said Wednesday that 435 more people have died in the last 24 hours. Authorities also reported 4,211 new confirmed infections, taking the total to 208,389 cases since the start of the pandemic.

Yielding to pressure from some parents, Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez announced Sunday that children would be allowed out as of April 27, without specifying the exact rules for the outings.

Sanchez is appearing before Spain’s Parliament Wednesday to ask for a third two-week extension of the state of emergency that has given his government extraordinary powers to confine the country. The main opposition party has conditioned its support on a proper explanation of what children can do next week.

In another sign that the health crisis is becoming manageable, a large makeshift morgue in a Madrid ice rink is closing as the daily toll drops under 500 deaths from a high of 950 three weeks ago.

Only the United States and Italy have more deaths than Spain from the virus, and only the U.S. has more infections.

Czech to test 27,000 people

PRAGUE — The number of people tested positive in the Czech Republic has surpassed 7,000 as the country has been easing restrictive measures adopted to contain the pandemic of the coronavirus.

Overall, 7,041 Czechs were infected with the virus, according to Health Ministry figures released on Wednesday, while 204 have died.

The health authorities registered 133 new cases on Tuesday as 8,301 tests were conducted that day. That’s down from 154 cases the previous day.

A total of 186,918 tests have been done in the country. On Tuesday, 412 patients needed hospitalization and 80 of them intensive care.

On Thursday, the country will start a two-week testing of 27,000 people across the country in a study to determine undetected infections with the coronavirus in its population.

Death toll in Bangladesh climbs to 120

DHAKA, Bangladesh — The total death toll from the coronavirus in Bangladesh reached 120 while the number of total infections rose to 3,772 with another 390 positive cases on Wednesday, an official said.

Nasima Sultana, additional director general of the Directorate General of Health Services, said another 10 people, including seven men and three women, died over last 24 hours amid growing concern that the upward trend could continue over next few weeks as community transmission has taken place across the country.

Reports say many positive cases are asymptomatic, which poses a serious threat to the community. A nationwide lockdown is in place until Saturday to help contain the virus from spreading.

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Municipal employees, wearing protecive suits to protect against coronavirus, disinfect Kievsky (Kyiv) railway station in Moscow, Russia, Wednesday, April 22, 2020. Authorities in the Russian capital have ordered most Muscovites who don’t work in vital industries to stay home in an effort to stymie the spread of the coronavirus. Muscovites are currently not allowed to leave their homes unless it’s for work, grocery shopping, visiting a doctor or taking out the trash. (Moscow News Agency photo via AP)

In this April 15, 2020, photo, Bishop of the Episcopal Church of New Hampshire, the Rt. Rev. Robert Hirschfeld, wears his bishop’s mitre and mask as he rides outside the State House in Concord, N.H., to raise awareness to keep reducing infection rate and to raise funds for a local charity. (Geoff Forester/Concord Monitor via AP)/The Concord Monitor via AP)

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