The Latest: 2 UN peacekeepers in Mali die of COVID-19

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:

— Two United Nations peacekeepers serving in Mali have died of COVID-19.

— New Orleans likely to reopen more slowly than rest of Louisiana.

— Russian government acknowledges deaths of likely COVID-19 victims.

— New York City to begin reopening on June 8, governor says.

___

UNITED NATIONS — The United Nations secretary-general has announced the deaths of two U.N. peacekeepers from COVID-19.

Antonio Guterres made the announcement at a ceremony Friday, which is the International Day of U.N. Peacekeepers, saying both peacekeepers were serving in Mali. The U.N. said one was from Cambodia and the other from El Salvador.

Guterres said the COVID-19 pandemic has changed almost everything, but not “the service, sacrifice and selflessness” of the more than 95,000 men and women serving in the U.N.’s 13 peacekeeping missions around the world.

According to the U.N. peacekeeping department, there have been 137 confirmed cases of COVID-19 in U.N. peacekeeping operations, with the greatest number by far — 90 cases — in Mali. The deaths are the first from the virus among peacekeepers.

More than 3,900 U.N. staffers have died on duty since 1948. That includes more than 100 U.N. peacekeepers killed in Mali since 2013 when the mission began in the aftermath of a French-led military operation to oust Islamic extremists from power.

___

NEW ORLEANS — New Orleans will likely ease restrictions on gatherings and businesses more slowly than the rest of Louisiana, a city health official said Friday.

Democratic Gov. John Bel Edwards is expected to announce Monday whether Louisiana will further ease restrictions when current emergency orders expire June 5.

But New Orleans — where huge Mardi Gras crowds in late February are suspected of contributing to a deadly COVID-19 outbreak — will likely move more slowly than the state, city health department director Jennifer Avegno said.

“New Orleans has to be more careful,” Avegno said during a live-streamed news conference. “Because what happens regionally affects us more than it does a lot of other places. Not just regionally within Louisiana but regionally within the Gulf South.”

One concern she cited was large Memorial Day gatherings along the Gulf Coast in Florida, Alabama and Mississippi that might have included New Orleans residents. She noted a photo of large gatherings on a northwest Florida beach.

“There is no social distancing. This kind of sight gives public health folks a whole lot of heartburn,” Avegno said.

City officials want more time to collect and analyze data to determine the effect of New Orleans residents’ visits to such Memorial Day events before further loosening restrictions.

___

ORLANDO, Fla. — Universal Orlando plans to reopen its hotels to guests on June 2, more than two months after they were closed to help prevent the spread of the coronavirus.

In a statement Friday, Universal said the hotels will be carefully managed in phases, and will reopen with a range of best practice and hygiene procedures.

Guests staying in the resort hotels will be able to visit Universal’s theme parks on June 3 and 4, before they fully reopen to the public on June 5.

SeaWorld plans to reopen on June 11 and Walt Disney World announced it will begin reopening in phases on July 11.

___

MOSCOW — The Russian government has presented updated coronavirus statistics to include deaths of those who tested positive for the virus but died of other causes.

Friday’s announcement by Deputy Prime Minister Tatyana Golikova followed criticism from some Russian and Western experts who alleged that Russian authorities were under-reporting COVID-19 deaths for political reasons.

Golikova said 1,675 people died of COVID-19 in April. Of that number, 1,136 deaths were directly caused by COVID-19, while the remaining 539 people tested negative but had symptoms indicating they most likely died of the virus. In addition, Golikova said 1,038 others tested positive for the virus but died of other causes.

If all those deaths are attributed to COVID-19, the nation’s total toll for April would be 2,713 or nearly 60% more than the previously announced number.

Golikova said Russia was closely following the World Health Organization’s guidance on registering coronavirus deaths.

___

ROME — Italy’s health ministry has reported no critical coronavirus infection spikes in any region, giving a positive go-ahead for the planned June 3 reopening of Italy to inter-regional travel by Italians and Europeans alike.

The ministry on Friday issued a region-by-region breakdown of infection rates over the past week. The weekly report is part of Italy’s post-lockdown strategy to keep a close eye on infection rates and the ability of the national health system to respond to any new COVID-19 clusters in the onetime European epicenter of the pandemic.

The report said regions such as hard-hit Lombardy still showed a complex, high level of virus circulation, but said the situation was coming under control. The ministry recommended “caution, especially in the moment in which the frequency of movement of people across the national territory increases.”

Also Friday, Lombardy’s regional governor was interrogated by prosecutors investigating the failure of authorities to lock down Alzano Lombardo and other towns in Bergamo province after the first positive case there was registered Feb. 23. It took two weeks for the government to lock down all of Lombardy, allowing the virus to spread exponentially and kill thousands.

___

LAS VEGAS — Bleak numbers show the economic impact of Nevada casino and business closures because of the coronavirus pandemic.

With most businesses and all casinos shuttered through April, state regulators reported Friday that monthly gambling tax revenues were down nearly 100% compared with a year ago. Tourism officials tallied fewer than 107,000 visitors to Las Vegas during the month, down 97% from a year ago.

Democratic Gov. Steve Sisolak this week lifted closure orders on more businesses and said gambling can resume on June 4. McCarran International Airport in Las Vegas reported handling less than 4% of the passengers in April than it did in April 2019.

___

ALBANY, N.Y. — New York City is on track to begin reopening on June 8 as the state gradually loosens restrictions put in place during the coronavirus crisis.

Gov. Andrew Cuomo made that announcement Friday, saying the nation’s worst pandemic hot spot is meeting goals set for hospital rates and testing. The Democratic governor says the city will “stockpile” personal protective equipment like masks, and will focus on infection rates in hot spots by ZIP code.

Cuomo made the remarks as a large swath of upstate New York got the go-ahead Friday to reopen hair salons, retail shops and offices under strict guidelines. New York City remains the only region of the state that has not yet commenced economic rebirth.

___

LISBON, Portugal — Portugal is reopening movie theaters, shopping malls, gymnasiums and kindergartens after a gradual lifting of lockdown restrictions over the past four weeks produced no spike in new coronavirus infections.

Also reopening in coming days are places of worship, courtrooms and large stores.

The limit of 50% of seating capacity at restaurants will also be scrapped as long as eateries place impermeable barriers between tables.

Prime Minister Antonio Costa said in the Lisbon metropolitan area, where in some places officials have detected an increase in cases, some of those changes will come into force only after a review at the end of next week.

From Thursday to Friday, Portugal officially recorded 350 new cases of COVID-19 — 323 of them in the greater Lisbon area.

Portugal has officially recorded almost 32,000 cases of COVID-19 and almost 1,400 deaths.

___

BAGHDAD — Iraq’s Health Ministry has reported the country’s highest single-day spike in confirmed coronavirus cases since late February, when the government began recording cases.

The ministry said at least 416 new cases were reported on Friday. The country had given Iraqis a week’s holiday to celebrate Eid al-Fitr, which marks the end of the Muslim holy month of Ramadan. Curfew hours had been relaxed during the month of fasting, which contributed to higher daily rates of infection.

According to ministry figures, more than 5,873 people have tested positive for the virus in Iraq. At least 185 people have died.

Iraqi Prime Minister Mustafa al-Kadhimi ordered a return to full daylong curfews following the end of Ramadan.

___

MADRID — Spain’s health emergency response chief says 51,482 Spanish health workers have been infected by the new coronavirus since the outbreak began, and 63 have died.

Fernando Simón said Friday that almost 7,800 health staff are still off work due to the infection. He said 631 had to be admitted to intensive-care units.

Simón said it is hard to tell whether the employees were infected at work or elsewhere.

___

LONDON — Britain’s government has announced that starting in August, businesses must start sharing the costs of a job retention program that has effectively placed workers furloughed amid the coronavirus pandemic on the government payroll.

The unprecedented program has so far covered the wages of some 8.5 million people and has cost 15 billion pounds ($18.4 billion). It has covered 80% of wages up to 2,500 pounds per worker each month.

Treasury chief Rishi Sunak said from July, businesses can decide to bring furloughed workers back part-time if they want. In September and October, employers will need to contribute 10% and 20% of furloughed wages respectively.

Sunak also announced he is extending a support program for self-employed workers. From August, those eligible can claim an extra grant capped at 6,570 pounds each. The program has so far seen 2.3 million claims worth 6.8 billion pounds.

___

LONDON — The World Health Organization and 30 countries and partners are starting an initiative aimed at making diagnostics, drugs and vaccines for the new coronavirus available to everyone who needs them.

In a press briefing on Friday, WHO and partners, including President Carlos Alvarado of Costa Rica, said they were officially launching the COVID-19 “Technology Access Pool,” an information-sharing platform. Among other goals, the initiative is intended to encourage countries to freely share genetic sequences of the virus and to license any potential treatment or vaccine to the Medicines Patent Pool, a U.N. backed body that works to increase access to and develop medicines for people in low and middle income countries.

“Since the beginning of the pandemic, science has been at the heart of WHO’s efforts to suppress transmission and save lives,” WHO Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said, calling for more countries and organizations to commit to making tests, drugs and vaccines available globally.

Some pharmaceutical executives have questioned whether drugmakers will be willing to sign up to the project, since many of their profits hinge on patents.

___

CHARLOTTESVILLE, Va. — The University of Virginia says its campus will reopen for some in-person classes in August, with the face-to-face instruction ending by Thanksgiving.

Students will be allowed to return for the fall semester on Aug. 25, according to a statement from the university.

Administrators say on-campus classes will end by Nov. 26 and students won’t return until January to limit travel amid the coronavirus pandemic.

Large classes and those taught by professors with health concerns will remain online. The university says most classes offered in-person also will be offered remotely, allowing students to choose whether they will stay home or return.

___

SKOPJE, North Macedonia — Health authorities in North Macedonia have announced an increase in coronavirus cases, just days after the government decided to end a two-month curfew and allow bars and restaurants to reopen.

Health Minister Venko Filipce says 52 new infections and four deaths were reported in the last 24 hours. Authorities have recommended wearing protective masks and maintaining social distance.

Half of the new cases were recorded in five municipalities of the capital Skopje. Filipce says those areas will be quarantined if the number of new infections doesn’t fall in the next few days.

North Macedonia has recorded 2,129 confirmed cases and 126 deaths. A state of emergency declared in mid-March in the country is still in effect.

___

BERLIN — Switzerland is ordering its army to largely stand down from coronavirus duty.

The Swiss government says up to 5,000 soldiers supported civilian authorities across the Alpine country and in neighboring Liechtenstein nation over the past 10 weeks. Switzerland’s army is composed mainly of conscripts.

The government says about 1,000 soldiers will assist with border controls and provide other technical support until mid-June.

Switzerland and Liechtenstein have recorded 30,828 lab-confirmed cases of COVID-19 since the start of the pandemic and 1,657 deaths.

___

Follow AP news coverage of the coronavirus pandemic at https://apnews.com/VirusOutbreak and https://apnews.com/UnderstandingtheOutbreak

Categories: National & International News