The Latest: Clearwater Beach reopened to public at sunrise

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:

— Clearwater Beach in Florida reopened to public at sunrise.

— Slovakia’s government accelerating steps to lift coronavirus restrictions.

— Spanish government warns “chaos” if state of emergency not extended.

— Italy’s national statistics agency found 38.7% more people died through March 31 than five-year average.

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CLEARWATER BEACH, Fla. — Clearwater Beach officially reopened to the public before sunrise Monday morning.

Police removed “closed” signs from barricades at 7 a.m. to the cheers of the 50 or so people waiting to step on the freshly groomed sand. Clearwater police have a large presence patrolling the beach and urging people to socially distance.

Monta Burnett of Clearwater Beach prayed as she stood in the chest-deep water moments after the beach reopened.

Mike McKown drove about two hours from Auburndale to set up his beach umbrella and chair.

The Beach Shanty Cafe on Gulf Boulevard set up two tables outside for people to enjoy breakfast.

Few, if any, people walking on the beach or along the boutique stores on Gulf Boulevard wore protective masks.

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BRATISLAVA, Slovakia — Slovakia’s government is accelerating its steps to lift restrictive measures adopted to contain the coronavirus pandemic.

Prime Minister Igor Matovic says all stores, except shopping malls, can reopen Wednesday. That is two weeks before originally planned due to a more positive development of the outbreak in the country than expected.

Also, museums, galleries, libraries and the outdoor seating at restaurants can return to service.

One person died of COVID-19 in Slovakia on Sunday for a total of 25. The day-to-day increase of the new positive cases reached 5 on Sunday, the ninth day below 10.

As previously scheduled, zoo parks, hairdressers, beauty parlors and taxi services can reopen as of Wednesday. Weddings and religious services are also allowed to take place again.

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MADRID — The Spanish government is turning up pressure on opposition parties to approve another extension of the country’s state of emergency. The government says a failure to do so could “bring chaos.”

Transport and Mobility Minister José Luis Ábalos anticipates a tough debate in parliament on the issue Wednesday. He says the measure is “the most effective legal instrument” to fight the new coronavirus because it grants authorities the exceptional power to restrict freedom of movement.

Ábalos says that without it all the sacrifices made so far will have been “pointless.”

“There’s no Plan B, no alternative” to the state of emergency, Ábalos told a news conference in Madrid on Monday.

Health Minister Salvador Illa said it was “indispensable.”

Spain has managed to reduce the daily increase in the number of coronavirus infections from around 35% in mid-March to 0.16% because of a strict lockdown. More than 25,000 people have died of COVID-19 in the country.

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ROME — Italy’s national statistics agency has released the first comprehensive data on the effect of the new coronavirus on Italy’s mortality rates. The data found 38.7% more people died through March 31 than the average over the past five years.

ISTAT calculated an increase of 25,354 excess deaths from the start of the outbreak Feb. 20 through March 31, compared to the average from 2015 to 2019.

But only 54% of those excess deaths were actually positive for the virus, meaning Italy’s official death toll of nearly 29,000 is likely off by at least 10,000. The report from ISTAT was released on the same day Italy began easing Europe’s first and longest lockdown restrictions.

The report provides data to back up the anecdotal evidence of the staggering toll COVID-19 has taken on some provinces in hardest-hit Lombardy region: Bergamo saw its mortality rate increase 568% compared to the five year average while Cremona’s increase was 391%.

The report was produced in conjunction with Italy’s Superior Institute of Health. It said while only 54% of the excess dead were actually positive for the virus, the others were likely either positive but never tested or died as an indirect result of the pandemic because of the “crisis of the hospital system and fear of going to the hospital.”

ISTAT’s figures are not complete. The report was based on death notices from only 87% of Italian cities, but marks the most comprehensive data available to date.

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BRUSSELS — A European expert on the new coronavirus is warning that people must not be lulled into thinking their lives may soon return to normal as the spread of the disease drops and some citizens return to work.

European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control Director Andrea Ammon told EU lawmakers Monday that “this is not going to end any time soon and people need to prepare mentally for it.”

Ammon said that the number of new positive cases is declining across Europe, and only Bulgaria has cases on the rise. Numbers in Britain, Poland, Romania and Sweden are steady.

More than 1.1 million cases had been recorded as of Monday across 31 European countries. More than 136,000 have died, according to the ECDPC.

Unclear cases, low testing rates and the strain on health care systems mean the true scale of the pandemic is surely greater.

Amman insists that “this virus will not go away as long as we don’t have a vaccine” and warns “we must not drop our guard.”

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MINSK, Belarus — Belarus’ authoritarian leader says the presidential election will be held as planned this summer despite the coronavirus outbreak.

President Alexander Lukaxhenko has ruled the nation of 10 million with an iron hand for more than quarter century. He said Monday that Belarus’ constitution doesn’t allow putting off the vote.

Belarus has not imposed any lockdowns to stem the outbreak.

Lukashenko said that the election will take place “certainly in the summer,” but didn’t mention a specific date. The Belarusian leader has cracked down on dissent and independent media and is expected to easily win another term.

Despite the World Health Organization’s call for Belarus to ban public events as coronavirus cases rise sharply, Lukashenko has insisted that the country will have a parade on May 9 to mark the 75th anniversary of the defeat of Nazi Germany.

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MOSCOW — The Central Asian nation of Tajikistan has reported its first coronavirus deaths.

The Health Ministry of the ex-Soviet country that borders Afghanistan to the north said Monday that three people infected with coronavirus have died.

Tajikistan reported its first 15 coronavirus cases on April 30. The number of infections climbed to 230 Monday, nearly half of them in the capital, Dushanbe.

Tajikistan is one of the poorest ex-Soviet nations and its healthcare system could be hard pressed to cope with the contagion.

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LONDON — Scotland leader Nicola Sturgeon has hinted that the coronavirus lockdown in her country will last at least a few more weeks beyond this Thursday’s scheduled review.

The first minister said at the Scottish government’s daily press briefing that it is “very unlikely” any changes will be announced to lockdown measures when they are reviewed.

British Prime Minister Boris Johnson, who has recovered from COVID-19, is widely expected to announce a further extension as the U.K.‘s coronavirus-related death toll heads towards becoming Europe’s highest.

The four constituent nations of the U.K. are England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland and they have coordinated through the coronavirus outbreak. That included issuing lockdown orders together on March 23.

Sturgeon said she understands the need for people to see “light at the end of the tunnel.”

However, she said the virus’ reproduction rate was still too high to ease the lockdown despite “real and significant progress.”

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LONDON — A vast temporary hospital built in days at a London convention center to house coronavirus victims is being mothballed after treating only a few dozen patients.

The British government says the Nightingale Hospital will be placed “on standby” once the current patients have been discharged.

The London facility could have handled 4,000 patients. Nightingale and half a dozen other hospitals around the country were built with military assistance amid fears Britain’s hospitals would be overwhelmed by COVID-19 patients.

But the number of patients never exceeded the available beds, and the temporary hospitals have largely stood empty.

Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s spokesman James Slack said they had “absolutely not” been a waste of money.

He said “we view the fact that the Nightingales have not had to be used in a significant way as something that is positive.

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TOKYO — Tokyo Gov. Yuriko Koike says Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s decision to extend the coronavirus state of emergency until the end of May is unavoidable because the new cases of the infections in the city is slow to decline.

“We just have to go the extra mile toward putting an end to it,” Koike said.

Tokyo had 87 new cases of the infections to a prefectural total of 4,655, about one-third of a national total.

Since Abe declared the state of emergency on April 7, Tokyo took tougher measures than many other areas. That included requests for schools and non-essential businesses to close, in addition to a stay-at-home instructions for residents.

Many business owners abiding by the shutdown request and individuals have faced income losses or pay cuts, and keeping the measures in place for another month would add to their difficulty.

Koike said Tokyo will consider additional support to secure businesses and employment, though she did not give further details.

Japan has more than 15,000 cases, with 510 deaths.

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JOHANNESBURG — An estimated 1.5 million South Africans returned to work Monday as the country slightly eased lockdown conditions that have been in effect for five weeks.

The mining, manufacturing and selected retail sectors began reopening with up to 30% of their workforce. Additional workers will be added gradually depending on safety precautions and South Africa’s statistics on the spread and severity of COVID-19 in the country.

South Africa currently has the most confirmed cases of the disease in Africa with 6,783 and 131 deaths.

Community health workers have screened more than 7 million people and more than 245,000 people have been tested

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HONG KONG — Hong Kong’s coronavirus-battered economy shrank by 8.9% over a year earlier in the first quarter, its worst performance since quarterly reporting began in 1974.

The government said Monday the Chinese territory’s economy already was struggling before the pandemic due to weak global trade and anti-government protests that began in June and depressed tourism.

Exports fell 9.7% in the first quarter from a year earlier, the government reported. Exports of services plunged 37.8% and consumer spending declined 10.2%.

Even though virus cases might be subsiding, trade tensions are heating up again and protests are resuming, said Iris Pang of ING.

“A longer recession is expected,” said Pang in the report.

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TOKYO — Japan’s Prime Minister Shinzo Abe saysan extension of the state of emergency is to prepare for “new normal” in the era of the coronavirus. He urged people to adopt new lifestyles based on physical distancing.

The current state of emergency Abe declared on April 7 was due to end Wednesday but Abe said the measure has to stay in place until the end of the month.

Citing experts on a government-commissioned panel, Abe said the number of new infections has not decreased enough to safely lift the measures. He said ending the state of emergency too soon would only trigger rapid resurgence of the infections.

Abe said Tokyo and a dozen other high-risk prefectures such as Osaka and Fukuoka will still have to keep the ongoing strict social distancing measures, but the rest of the country with relatively few cases can gradually ease restrictions on businesses and small meetings.

He said museums, libraries, parks and other facilities can resume with ample preventive measures.

Abe said he will convene experts in 10 days to evaluate if there is enough progress to possibly lift the measures before the end of the month.

Japan has more than 15,000 cases with 510 deaths. The number of cases detected in Tokyo accounts to about one-third of the national total.

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

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