The Latest: British official talks new virus procedures

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.


— WHO regrets the U.S. decision to halt funding.

—Group of 20 nations agree to suspend debt payments.

—Trudeau says Canada’s lockdown will last ‘many more weeks.’


LONDON — British Health Secretary Matt Hancock says new procedures will be introduced so “wherever possible” people will have a “chance to say goodbye” to loved ones dying with the coronavirus.

At the government’s daily coronavirus press briefing, Hancock said “wanting to be with someone you love at the end of their life is one of the deepest human instincts.”

He said he wept when he heard 13-year-old Ismail Mohamed Abdulwahab died from COVID-19 earlier this month without a parent at his bedside.

He said the new procedures will give “people’s closest loved ones the chance to say goodbye” subject to limiting the risk of infection.

No further details were offered.

Following intense criticism of the government over the pandemic in care homes, Hancock also announced measures to combat the spread of the coronavirus, including increased testing and improved access to protective equipment.


WASHINGTON — U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo has spoken with a senior Chinese diplomat to underscore the Trump administration’s demand that China be transparent and share the full gamut of information about the origins and spread of the new coronavirus.

Amid the administration’s increasingly vocal complaints about Beijing’s response to the outbreak of the COVID-19 virus in the city of Wuhan, the State Department said Pompeo spoke Wednesday with Yang Jiechi, a former Chinese foreign minister who now runs the foreign affairs office of China’s Communist Party. The call came a day after President Donald Trump froze U.S. payments to the World Health Organization pending a review into how it handled the outbreak and whether it bowed to Chinese pressure to downplay its severity.

Pompeo “stressed the need for full transparency and information sharing to combat the COVID-19 pandemic and prevent future outbreaks,” the department said in a statement.


LONDON — The British government’s chief medical adviser says the U.K.’s daily coronavirus death toll in hospitals is likely to rise over coming days, but the country is “probably” approaching the peak of the outbreak.

At the government’s daily coronavirus press briefing, professor Chris Whitty said that in the past few weeks, the number of those dying after testing positive for COVID-19 has risen after dipping over the weekend and the subsequent two days. After the four-day Easter weekend, Whitty said there’s likely to be a “catch-up” and “a bounce tomorrow.”

His comments come after the U.K. recorded its fourth straight day of below 800 deaths in hospitals, which has surprised many forecasters who were predicting more than 1,000 daily U.K. deaths by now. The government said earlier another 761 people died in hospitals, taking the total to 12,868 people. That death toll does not include those who passed away in care homes or elsewhere.

Whitty said the U.K. is “probably reaching the peak overall” but that officials are “not yet at the point where we can say confidently and safely this is now past the peak.”


ANKARA, Turkey — Turkey’s death toll for the new coronavirus surpassed 1,500 after the country reported 115 additional fatalities in the past 24 hours.

Health Minister Fahrettin Koca also reported 4,281 new infections, bringing the total number of confirmed cases in the country to 69,392.

The death toll now stands at 1,518.


MADRID — Grappling with how to reshape education disrupted by the coronavirus pandemic, Spanish authorities announced the school year will end in June as usual and that almost all high school students will get a pass grade.

Spain cancelled classes for 8.2 million schoolchildren last month as the coronavirus outbreak gathered pace. Distance learning tools have been used since then.

Spain has attributed 18,579 deaths to the coronavirus, the world’s third-worst toll after the United States and Italy.


LONDON — A pregnant nurse who tested positive for COVID-19 has died after undergoing an emergency caesarean to save her child.

The Bedfordshire Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust says Mary Agyeiwaa Agyapong died Sunday and “was a fantastic nurse and a great example of what we stand for.’’

An internal staff email sent to her colleagues at Luton and Dunstable Hospital says the decision to perform the caesarean came after her condition deteriorated. Channel 4 News, which first reported the tragedy, said doctors initially thought Agyapong was showing signs of improving, but her symptoms got worse.

The NHS Trust’s chief executive, David Carter, told Channel 4 that the little girl’s survival was a “beacon of light at this very dark time.”


WASHINGTON — U.S. law enforcement officials say more than 130 investigations have been launched around the country into fraud and other crimes linked to the COVID-19 outbreak.

U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement’s Homeland Security Investigations says its agents have so far made nine arrests and executed seven search warrants as part of an effort with other law enforcement agencies to crack down on fake virus tests and treatments and personal protective equipment and other attempts to take advantage of the health crisis.

The agency announced the start of “Operation Stolen Promise” in response to what it called a “significant rise in criminal activity.”

HSI said it has seized more than $3 million in illicit proceeds and shut down 11,000 domain names connected to allegedly fraudulent schemes.

Agents expect the amount of fraud will increase as financial relief and federal stimulus money starts to filter through the U.S. economy in the coming weeks.


BRUSSELS — Belgium, the home of famous summer festivals like Tomorrowland and Rock Werchter, is banning such mass gatherings until the end of August.

Belgian Prime Minister Sophie Wilmes said at the same time it is in talks to see to what extent the major soccer league could start its games in August behind closed doors.

Organizers had been expecting such a move. Still, Rock Werchter said in a statement “we are devastated,” before adding “there are more important things in life right now.” Tomorrowland said that “this situation is extremely hard on us all. As a community, we are sad, disappointed, and angry — but also hopeful, because we know that we are much stronger than this setback.”


TORONTO — Prime Minister Justin Trudeau says Canada’s lockdown will last “many more weeks” and warned Canadians if the economy is reopened too soon all the sacrifices they are making now might be for nothing as the country could see another peak in coronavirus cases.

Trudeau says Canada is still “a number of weeks away” from being able to start to reopen and urged Canadians to be patient.

He says once there is some reopening there is going to be a need for rapid testing on a wide scale and extensive contact tracing for those who test positive. He says once Canada is past the first wave government needs to have the capacity to stamp out any future outbreaks.

His remarks are his strongest yet against loosening economic restrictions too soon.

Canada has more than 27,557 confirmed cases including 954 deaths.


BERLIN — Germany plans to let small shops reopen as early as next week after a four-week coronavirus shutdown, but Europe’s biggest economy is keeping strict social distancing rules in place.

After much-anticipated talks with Germany’s 16 state governors, Chancellor Angela Merkel set out a plan for the first steps of a slow restart of public life.

A ban on gatherings of more than two people in public has been in place since March 23 and was due to run until Sunday. Merkel says the restrictions will remain in place, and officials will review at the end of the month what happens after May 3.

Nonessential shops also have been closed for nearly four weeks. Other shops of up to 800 square meters (8,600 square feet) will be allowed to start reopening, with hygiene precautions. Merkel says the decision applies to the period from Monday though May 3.


ROME — Italy’s daily increase in COVID-19 cases has continued to slow.

The day-to-day increase of 2,667 confirmed cases that was announced by authorities was the lowest in some five weeks and represented a less than 1.7% increase compared to the total cases of the previous day. The number of intensive care beds occupied by patients with coronavirus infections also kept dropping.

Other encouraging numbers were registered in Lombardy, the northern region which by far has had the heaviest case load. Lombardy saw 827 more cases since a day earlier, but past days had brought day-to-day increases of 1,000 or much more. Italy now has more than 165,000 known cases of COVID-19.


WASHINGTON — President Donald Trump has repeatedly touted the anti-malaria drug hydroxychloroquine as a treatment for the new coronavirus, but pilots who take it will have to wait 48 hours before flying.

The Federal Aviation Administration says it reviewed hydroxychloroquine and closely related chloroquine when they became available. The drugs “have long been considered generally incompatible for those performing safety related aviation duties,” reads an FAA statement.

The safety agency cites the “wide variety of dosages” and lack of standards around using the drugs to treat the coronavirus in deciding that pilots who take them must wait before flying.


BRUSSELS — Belgium is extending many of its key lockdown rules for two weeks but is planning to start reopening up the economy after May 3.

Prime Minister Sophie Wilmes says any loosening of rules would depend on the cases continuing to taper off over the next weeks. Originally the lockdown rules would have expired after the weekend but the intensity of the pandemic has forced the government to extend the situation.

“It is very clear that the crisis is not behind us,” Wilmes says. “We have to continue our efforts without weakening,”

She says garden centers and do-it-yourself shops could open under the same conditions as essential food stores now.


ATHENS, Greece — Greek officials are cautioning against early talk of lifting the country’s lockdown, noting that any measures will have to be very seriously weighed and the effects of restrictions being eased abroad studied.

Greece has reported 22 new infections and one new death from COVID-19, bringing the total of infections to 2,192 and deaths to 102.


CAIRO — Sudan has suspended prayers in mosques and churches across the capital of Khartoum, state-run media reported.

It’s the latest action in the government’s gradual tightening of anti-coronavirus measures as the official case count climbed to 32, including five fatalities.

Earlier this week the government decided to lock down the capital for three weeks starting on Saturday. The round-the-clock curfew poses a challenge for the densely populated state of Khartoum, where the World Bank says 26% are destitute and many live in packed areas with poor sanitation and neglected health care.


LONDON — The head of the World Health Organization says it regrets the U.S. decision to halt funding.

Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus says the U.S. has been “a longstanding and generous friend to WHO and we hope it will continue to be so.”

He made the comments after President Donald Trump announced a halt to U.S. funding, temporarily suspending millions of dollars from the U.N health agency’s biggest funder.

Tedros says WHO remained committed to slowing the spread of the COVID-19 pandemic and it would work with its partners to ensure that any funding shortfall could be met.

“COVID-19 does not discriminate between rich nations and poor, large nations and small,” Tedros said. “This is a time for all of us to be united in our common struggle against a common threat, a dangerous enemy. When we’re divided, the virus exploits the cracks between us.”

Tedros says WHO’s member countries and independent organizations will assess the U.N. health agency’s performance at a later day. But the focus must remain on ending the outbreak.


DUBAI — The world’s wealthiest countries have agreed to immediately suspend billions of dollars in debt payments for the world’s poorest countries as nations race to spend money on health care and workers impacted by the pandemic.

The Group of 20 nations, which include the U.S., China, India, Germany, France and others, agreed unanimously Wednesday on the suspension of debt payments at a virtual summit of finance ministers that was presided over by Saudi Arabia.

Saudi Finance Minister Mohammed al-Jadaan said after the meeting, “All bilateral official creditors will participate in this initiative, which is an important milestone for the G-20.”

The G-20 didn’t say how many countries would be impacted, but French Finance minister Bruno Le Maire says 76 countries were eligible to the moratorium.


WASHINGTON — Most states are paying out the extra $600 per week in unemployment benefits that was provided in the $2.2 trillion federal economic relief package approved last month.

At least 32 states, including California, Texas and New York, have started or will start making the payments this week.

Still, as of late Tuesday, many states were still scrambling to process the extra funds, including Washington state, Ohio, Wisconsin and Nevada.


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