The Latest: African countries urged to up testing tenfold

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.


— ‘We’re expendable’: Russian doctors face hostility, mistrust.

— African countries urged to increase testing tenfold.

— Italian authorities warn against young people going out without respecting physical distancing rules.

— Spain requires everyone over age 6 to wear a mask in public.

— Serbia’s national carrier expected to resume flights to New York next month.


JOHANNESBURG — The African continent needs to test about 10 times the number of people it has already tested for the coronavirus. That’s according to the Africa Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Director John Nkengasong says Africa should strive to test at least 1% of the population of 1.3 billion people, or 13 million people, but so far 1.3 million to 1.4 million tests have been conducted. Africa’s number of virus cases is above 95,000 and could surpass 100,000 by the weekend. The continent has seen roughly the same number of new cases in the past week as the week before, and Nkengasong says that “we hope that trend continues.”

While early lockdowns delayed the pandemic, he says “that doesn’t mean Africa has been spared.” But he says health officials are not seeing a lot of community deaths or “massive flooding of our hospitals” because of COVID-19.

Countries with fragile health systems and a recent history of conflict like Somalia and South Sudan, however, remain “very concerning” as cases rise quickly. Somalia has reported more than 1,500 cases but aid groups worry the real number is far higher. South Sudan has more than 280 cases.


MILAN — Italian authorities are warning that young people gathering without respecting physical distancing rules and not wearing masks are risking Italy’s hard-won efforts to control the coronavirus outbreak.

Milan Mayor Giuseppe Sala said Thursday that he is asking local police to increase patrols of night spots, be more severe in handing out fines and close any bars or restaurants in flagrant violation of the rules.

He said in a Facebook message that Milan has a problem now, like many Italian cities: “I understand the young people — and they are not only young people — who need to socialize. But the risk is very high.’’

Cases in Milan, the seat of hard-hit Lombardy, continue to rise as Italy continues to relax its long lockdown. Since Sunday, there have been 137 new cases in the city of 1.4 million residents.

Premier Giuseppe Conte echoed the concern in a speech to parliament’s lower chamber, saying that while it was “entirely understandable” that young people are excited about going out again, now more than ever it was important to wear masks outdoors and maintain social distancing.


MADRID — Spaniards are going about their restricted lives wearing masks in compliance with a government order that comes into force Thursday.

Masks are now mandatory for people over 6 years old in all public spaces, including outdoors when they can’t keep a distance of 2 meters (6.5 feet) between them.

The new ruling affects approximately 45 million people. It departs from earlier recommendations to make the masks compulsory only for health workers and those with COVID-19 compatible symptoms.

Last month the government extended their obligatory use to public transport.

Bank employee Carlos García in Madrid welcomed the new regulation but said it was coming too late.

“It has been very confusing: one day yes, one day no. I think we are going slowly with this, like with so many other things,” the 23-year-old said.

Spain has recorded more than 27,800 deaths for the new coronavirus and over 230,000 infections confirmed by laboratory tests.


BELGRADE, Serbia — Serbia’s national carrier Air Serbia has resumed commercial flights as the government eased the lockdown against the new coronavirus.

The first flight on Thursday after the lockdown was to Zurich. It will be followed by two more flights to Zurich later in the day, and two more for Frankfurt.

Officials say full resumption of flights will depend also on other airports and countries which are slowly reopening as the virus outbreak appears to slow down.

During the lockdown, Air Serbia flew to pick up Serbia’s citizens who got stranded abroad amid the crisis.

Crisis authorities have said the situation in the country has stabilized despite virus clusters in a southern area. Serbia has reported nearly 11,000 cases and over 200 deaths.

Air Serbia is partly owned by Etihad Airways. The carrier says it will resume flights to New York on June 6.


BEIRUT — Lebanon’s prime minister is warning of a major food crisis in the Mediterranean country which is facing an unprecedented economic and financial crisis made worse by the coronavirus pandemic.

In an opinion piece published in the Washington Post late Wednesday, Prime Minister Hassan Diab also warns of eventual “starvation” in the Middle East that he says may spark a new migration flow to Europe.

He urges the United States and the European Union to establish a dedicated emergency fund to help the conflict-prone region.

Lebanon, one of the most indebted nations in the world, defaulted for the first time in March on its sovereign debt. Anti-government protests that erupted in October over widespread corruption subsided during a nationwide lockdown since mid-March to blunt the spread of the coronavirus, but sporadic protests continue.

Diab’s government is seeking a rescue program from the International Monetary Fund while grappling to deal with the financial crisis that saw the local currency crash, people’s savings devastated and prices and inflation soar in the past few weeks.

In a stark warning, Diab says many Lebanese may soon find it difficult to afford even bread.


MADRID — The top official in charge of easing Spain’s lockdown says that the country will only reopen to foreign tourists in July, once safety for both locals and visitors can be guaranteed.

Wary of the competition from other Mediterranean countries already reopening borders, hoteliers and officials in tourist-magnet islands and coastal regions have been pressing Spanish central authorities to relax curbs in place to fight the coronavirus outbreak.

But Environment and Energy Minister Teresa Ribera has told EFE news agency that an early massive opening to visitors would be “irresponsible.”

“Our idea is to work on safe origins and destinations thinking on July rather on June,” Ribera told the state news agency.

She added that rebounds of the outbreak in China, South Korea and Singapore have been associated to imported infections.

Tourism contributes 12% of Spain’s 1.24 trillion-euro (1.4 trillion-dollar) gross domestic product. The country has recorded at least 27,800 deaths for the novel virus and over 232,000 confirmed infections.


LONDON — Drug maker AstraZeneca says it has secured the first agreements for 400 million doses of a COVID-19 vaccine that is now being tested.

The pharmaceutical company says in a statement Thursday that it plans to conclude further deals in order to expand capacity over the next few months.

The company says it has the capacity to manufacture 1 billion doses of the University of Oxford’s potential COVID-19 vaccine.

AstraZeneca CEO Pascal Soriot says the company “will do everything in our power to make this vaccine quickly and widely available.’’


TOKYO — Japan’s top government spokesman said Thursday that the country is considering attending the Group of Seven summit meeting, if the U.S. reschedules the canceled gathering.

Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga was responding to a question about President Donald Trump’s tweet Wednesday that he is considering rescheduling the canceled G-7 meeting with world leaders in the U.S., because it would be a “great sign to all” of things returning to normal during the coronavirus pandemic.

Trump had scheduled the G-7 summit for June 10-12 at Camp David, the presidential retreat in Maryland. The summit was canceled it in March because of the pandemic, and Trump said the leaders would confer by video conference.

Suga said Thursday that he interpreted Trump’s tweet as “an expression of the President’s intention to normalize the global economy quickly.”

He said his understanding is that details such as the dates and format of the meeting are still being studied by the U.S. as host nation.

Suga said Tokyo and Washington are in discussion, but declined to comment further.

Japan is still partially under a coronavirus state of emergency. Abe plans to announce lifting of the measure in three of the remaining eight prefectures later Thursday, while keeping it in place in Tokyo and four other areas.


TOKYO — Japan’s economy minister says experts have approved a government plan to remove a coronavirus state of emergency in Osaka and two neighboring prefectures in the west where the infection is deemed slowing, while keeping the measure in place in the Tokyo region and Hokkaido.

Economy Minister Yasutoshi Nishimura told reporters that experts at the meeting approved the plan to lift the measure in Osaka, Kyoto and Hyogo.

The measure will be kept in place in Tokyo and three neighboring prefectures, as well as Hokkaido, where the infections have slowed but need further improvement.

The three are among the eight prefectures still under the emergency status after Prime Minister Shinzo Abe lifted the measure last week in all but eight of the 47 Japanese prefectures. Abe declared the state of emergency on April 7 in parts of Japan including Tokyo and later expanded it to nationwide.

Under Japan’s state of emergency, which does not enforce lockdowns, many people have followed the social distancing requests but others had to continue commuting, while a sizeable minority continued to dine out or picnicked at parks. More stores, restaurants and bars have started to reopen recently, under new anti-infection guidelines.

Abe will formally announce the plan later Thursday after approval by parliamentary committees.

Japan has about 16,424 confirmed cases and 777 deaths as of Wednesday, according to the health ministry.


BEIJING — The central Chinese city of Wuhan, where the global coronavirus pandemic is believed to have originated, has issued a total ban on the hunting, breeding and human consumption of wild animals.

The move is in an apparent response to research showing the virus most likely originated among bats and was transmitted to people via an intermediary wild species sold for food at a market in the city.

The regulation issued Wednesday seeks to carry out measures passed at the national level covering protected land animals as well as sea life, promising financial relief to help dealers move into other lines of business.

However, it contains numerous exceptions, including for animals used for traditional Chinese medicine, as long as they are not consumed as food for humans. That left it unclear whether the ban would cover pangolins, small mammals whose scales are used for traditional Chinese medicine but which are thought to have been the intermediary carrier of the virus.

The regulation will be enforced immediately and will be in effect for five years.


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