The Latest: China refutes allegations about origin of virus

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.


— China, Europe show that restarting virus-hit economies is not easy.

— China refutes allegations that the coronavirus pandemic originated at a lab near Wuhan.

— Serbia police open investigation into a video of an officer beating a man.


BEIJING — China is refuting allegations that the coronavirus pandemic may have originated in a laboratory near the city of Wuhan where contagious samples were being stored.

Foreign Ministry spokesman Zhao Lijian cited the head of the World Health Organization and other unidentified medical experts as saying there was no evidence that transmission began from the lab and there was “no scientific basis” for such claims.

“We always believe that this is a scientific issue and requires the professional assessment of scientists and medical experts,” Zhao told reporters at a daily briefing on Thursday.

“Only with reasonable response can the international community win this fight,” Zhao said. “China will continue to work together with other countries to help and support each other.”

China has also strongly denied claims it delayed reporting on the virus outbreak in Wuhan late last year and underreported case numbers, worsening the impact on the U.S. and other countries. The virus is widely believed to have originated with bats and have passed via another animal species to humans at a wildlife and seafood market in Wuhan, although a firm determination has yet to be made.

Allegations about a leak of the virus from the lab have been made in the U.S. media without direct evidence, and President Donald Trump has vowed to suspend funding for the World Health Organization, partly because of what he claims is its pro-China bias.


BELGRADE, Serbia — Police in Serbia have opened an investigation into one of their officers beating of a man who has allegedly flouted a curfew imposed to curb the coronavirus spread.

Amateur footage of a police officer repeatedly and violently slapping an unidentified person sitting at the back of a police car parked at a Belgrade street has triggered outrage on social media.

Serbia’s Interior Minister Nebojsa Stefanovic said in a statement Thursday that the footage “which shows inappropriate behavior of a policeman is not the picture of the police we would like to see.” He says he asked for an internal police investigation.

Serbia has introduced some of the toughest lockdown measures in Europe that include a daily 12-hour curfew and a complete ban on all those older than 65 from leaving their homes. Further tightening the restrictions, the authorities have imposed an Orthodox Easter weekend curfew starting Friday and ending next Tuesday.

Those who are caught violating those measures could face hefty fines as well as up to three years in jail.


THE HAGUE, Netherlands — Cargo traffic at the Port of Rotterdam sank by 9.3% in the first quarter to 112.4 million metric tons from the same period a year ago as the coronavirus crisis hammered economies around the world and led to tougher border checks.

The port’s CEO, Allard Castelein, said Thursday: “We are facing unprecedented disruptions.” And he expects the situation to get worse.

Castelein says the impact of falling demand on the port will become clearer in April numbers and a “10-20% drop in throughput volume on an annual basis would seem to be very likely.”

He says the impact will depend on how long lockdown measures and other restrictions remain in place and how quickly production and trade recovers.

A fall off in container traffic was only felt in a limited way in the first quarter in the Dutch port because ships from China, where the virus originated, take four to five weeks to reach Rotterdam.

In the container segment, capacity between Asia and Europe is being cut by around 25% due to a reduction in demand. “This will also be clearly seen in the port of Rotterdam in the coming quarter,” the port said in a statement.

The main falls in throughput in the first quarter were in coal, crude oil and oil products.


LONDON — The British government is set to extend a nationwide lockdown for several more weeks, as health officials say the coronavirus outbreak in the country is peaking.

Authorities are expected to announce an extension of restrictions on movement and business activity after a meeting Thursday of the government’s crisis committee, COBRA.

Health Secretary Matt Hancock said “it is too early to make a change” to the lockdown introduced on March 23 in an attempt to slow the spread of the virus.

But as other European countries cautiously ease their measures, U.K. authorities face pressure to explain when and how the country will reopen.

As of Wednesday, 12,868 people had died in U.K. hospitals after testing positive for coronavirus. The figure does not include deaths in nursing homes and other settings.

Chief Medical Officer Chris 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.”


TOKYO — Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe is considering expanding an ongoing state of emergency to all of Japan from just Tokyo and other urban areas as the virus continued to spread.

He convened a meeting Thursday to get approval from experts — a step he needs to clear before issuing a declaration. An approval is expected later in the day.

In his opening remarks at the experts meeting, Economy Minister Yasutoshi Nishimura said the ongoing partial state of emergency cannot effectively slow the infections because people move in and out of the designated areas.

Abe’s April 7 state of declaration only covers Tokyo and six other prefectures deemed at highest risks of infection explosion. He initially issued a stay home request only to the people in those areas, though later expanded it to the rest of the country.

Additional measures, including nonessential business closures, are in place only in Tokyo and six other prefectures. In Japan, those measures do not carry penalties.

Abe’s coronavirus measures have been criticized for being too slow and too lax. Several local leaders have asked Abe to include their prefectures as part of the emergency, others have launched their own.


ISTANBUL — A mafia boss has been set free as Turkish prisons continue releasing inmates to ease overcrowding in prisons amid the coronavirus pandemic. The new amnesty law will free some 90,000 prisoners but keep government critics behind bars due to Turkey’s broad terror laws.

Ultranationalist Alaattin Cakici, imprisoned for 16 years, was released from an Ankara prison early Thursday, according to tweets by his lawyer. Private DHA and IHA news agencies filmed his convoy leaving the prison. Among his convictions are instigating murder, money laundering and leading an illegal criminal group.

Cakici is close to nationalist politician Devlet Bahceli, who is allied with the Turkish government.

Dozens of journalists, activists, opposition politicians and others will remain incarcerated because many of them have been imprisoned on terror-related charges. Opposition parties and rights groups have criticized the new law, which was published on the Official Gazette Wednesday.


LONDON — A 99-year-old military veteran has completed his quest to walk 100 laps of his garden to raise funds for the National Health Service.

Capt. Tom Moore raised some 12 million pounds ($14 million) to support health care workers during the coronavirus pandemic.

As he reached his goal, he shuffled through a guard of honor from the 1st Battalion of the Yorkshire Regiment and said he was glad to be “surrounded by the right sort of people.”

Moore, who uses a walker, sought to walk 100 laps in his 25-meter (82-foot) garden before he turned 100 on April 30. But his simple act captivated the nation in a time of crisis.

Celebrities, fellow veterans, health workers and many other Britons have rallied behind Moore after the World War II veteran appeared on national television.


BRUSSELS — A top European Union official says the 27-nation bloc will reshape its next trillion-euro budget to focus on tackling the coronavirus and funnel much of the spending into the first few years.

European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen told EU lawmakers Thursday that the new 7-year budget set to enter force in January “will be the mother-ship of our recovery.”

Von der Leyen, whose institution is drafting a new spending package, says the budget “must be different to what we have imagined” given the way the virus is ravaging Europe’s economies.

She says “we will use the power of the whole European budget to leverage the huge amount of investment we need to rebuild the single market after corona. We will front-load it, so we can power that investment in those crucial first years of recovery.”

Talks on the budget, which accounts for just over 1% of the gross national income of member countries, have been blocked for almost a year.

Some countries are reluctant to pay more to plug the roughly 75-billion-euro ($81 billion) hole left by Britain’s departure from the EU.


COPENHAGEN, Denmark — The Danish government says it is suspending with immediate effect the mandatory handshake as required by a law saying that nationalized Danes are to be shaking hands with official representatives at citizenship ceremonies.

Immigration and integration minister Mathias Tesfaye, a Social Democrat, said Thursday that an upcoming law proposal to renew the 2018 law will not make it mandatory for would-be Danes to shake hands, citing the coronavirus and advice from health authorities not to infect others by giving hand.

The law, presented by the previous center-right government that had a hardliner approach to immigration, is widely seen as aimed at some Muslims who for religious reasons decline to touch members of the opposite sex.

“I cannot say when we will give hand to each other again. But we cannot allow thousands of applicants to wait indefinitely to become citizens,” said Tesfaye, a member of the Social Democratic Party which initially had opposed the law but reverse its stand and maintained it when they got to power last year.

“They meet all other requirements. Therefore, we will pause the rule of handshake. I think that’s common sense.”


SINGAPORE — Singapore officers patrolling the city-state to enforce safe distancing measures have met some nasty response.

Environment and Water Resources Minister Masagos Zulkifli said criminal force has been used by recalcitrant citizens against a number of officers on the frontline.

He said an enforcement officer was slapped Wednesday by a man who didn’t comply with safe distancing measures, while a volunteer Safe Distancing Ambassador was punched after advising an errant member of the public to wear his mask properly. He wrote in a Facebook post that these were but two cases that the police will investigate.

Masagos warned that such behavior was unacceptable and that action would be taken against these individuals. He said authorities have set up a mobile app for members of the public to flag instances of such misbehavior and send other feedback on the safe distancing measures.

Enforcement officers were Thursday given special passes and red armbands for the public to identify them.

Singapore has reported 1,167 new coronavirus cases in the past three days to take its tally to 3,699, with 10 deaths. Most of the new cases are linked to foreign workers living in cramped dormitories, who now account for about half of total infections.

The city-state of under six million people has imposed a partial lockdown until May 4 and made it mandatory for people to wear masks outside their homes.


PRAGUE — No one died of COVID-19 in the Czech Republic’s hospitals on Wednesday, the first day without a fatality since March 23.

Seventy five people needed intensive care in hospitals, a number dropping for the fourth straight day.

The labs detected 160 new cases of people infected with the coronavirus, the first time over 100 after three days with less than a hundred cases.

A total of 6,303 people have been tested positive in the Czech Republic, according to Health Ministry figures released on Thursday, 166 have died.

Due to the relatively positive development, the government has unveiled a plan to gradually relax some restrictions imposed to contain the pandemic.


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