The Latest: Czechs go another day without virus death
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:
— As economies stagger, pressures grow to ease virus lockdowns.
— Czech Republic goes another day without virus death.
— China: Claims of virus released from lab are ‘purely fabricated.’
— Greek prime minister speaks from behind protective barrier in parliament.
PRAGUE — Nobody died of COVID-19 in the Czech Republic on Wednesday, the second day without a fatality this month after April 15.
So far, 227 people have died in the Czech Republic, according to Health Ministry figures released Thursday, after more than 7,500 have been tested positive.
The day-to-day increase of the new cases has been under 100 for the eighth day and less than 10 died daily since April 13.
It is now possible for the government to gradually ease its restrictive measures adopted to contain the pandemic.
BERLIN — More than 300,000 people in Germany have lost their jobs over the past month because of the economic impact of the coronavirus pandemic. The government, however, says millions more remain employed thanks to the country’s extensive use of short work.
Labor Minister Hubertus Heil said Thursday the country faces a “historic challenge.”
He said unemployment rose by 13% in April, compared to March. The jobless rate rose to 5.8% from 5.1% the months before. He noted that the government expects GDP to drop by 6.3% this year.
But he noted that Germany should be able to avoid the mass unemployment seen in other countries, such as the U.S.
Heil said that some 10.1 million people have applied for short work, which allows companies in distress to receive state funds if they hold onto employees rather than letting them go. He said restaurants, bars and hotels are particularly hard hit.
BEIJING — China says any claims that the coronavirus was released from a laboratory are “unfounded and purely fabricated out of nothing.”
Foreign Ministry spokesman Geng Shuang said Thursday the Wuhan Institute of Virology at the center of the allegations “does not have the ability to design and create a new coronavirus, and it has never done so.”
Geng cited the institute’s director, Yuan Zhiming, as saying the lab strictly implements bio-security procedures that would prevent the release of any pathogen.
“I would like to point out again that the origin of the virus is a complex scientific issue, and it should be studied by scientists and professionals,” Geng said.
Geng also criticized U.S. politicians who have suggested China should be held accountable for the global pandemic, saying they should spend their time on “better controlling the epidemic situation at home.”
MADRID — As Spaniards ready to go for runs or walks for the first time since mid-March and separated relatives plan how to meet in coming weeks, the head of Spain’s health emergency coordination center says “unnecessary risks” should be avoided.
Asked about children hugging grandparents, Dr. Fernando Simón said that “psychologically it’s great to hug as many people as possible,” but that close contact would be exposing the elderly to “low but unnecessary risks.”
The epidemiologist said that contagion levels are waning in Spain even beyond what figures show because more testing is making visible infections that happened two weeks earlier and that showed no symptoms or required no hospitalization.
BERLIN — The head of Germany’s disease control center says he expects the actual number of deaths in the country from the new coronavirus to be higher than those currently reported.
Lothar Wieler of the Robert Koch Institute told reporters Thursday that early figures from two of Germany’s 16 states — Berlin and Hesse — indicate that the number of people dying is higher than average for the time of year.
In other countries, this so-called excess mortality has been higher than the reported COVID-19 death toll, indicating some deaths from the pandemic are going undetected, though it is unclear whether these result directly from infection or other factors, such as health system overload.
Wieler said his agency “is working on the assumption that more people likely died of (COVID-19) than have been officially reported.” He said the wide range of complications now linked to the disease could be one explanation.
ATHENS, Greece — Greece’s prime minister has spoken in parliament, appearing behind a protective plastic shield, to outline steps his center-right government is taking to aid the economy during the virus pandemic.
The barrier was installed at the podium in parliament’s plenary chamber ahead of the debate Thursday that was joined by opposition party leaders.
Parliament staff assisting debates in the chamber are seated directly below the podium.
Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis announced plans this week to ease lockdown restrictions over two months, starting May 4. Many stores have installed plastic barriers in customer areas ahead of the reopening.
Recently emerged from a years-long financial crisis, Greece is widely expected to follow other European countries into recession in 2020. Government estimates say the contraction will be between 4% and 8% of gross domestic product. But financial sector estimates say the downtown could be more severe due to Greece’s heavy reliance on tourism.
LONDON — A British army veteran who started walking laps in his garden as part of a humble fundraiser for the National Health Service is celebrating his 100th birthday after warming the hearts of a nation that donated millions of pounds to back his appeal.
Capt. Tom Moore planned to walk 100 laps of his garden ahead of Thursday’s milestone.
His original target was 1,000 pounds ($1,250). He has now raised 30 million pounds.
He wrote on Twitter: “Thank you everyone, you are all magnificent.”
Earlier he had told supporters in a handwritten note that the past few weeks had put a spring in his step.
To honor his determination, the Royal Air Force staged a birthday flypast, the public sent birthday cards and Prime Minister Boris Johnson offered a birthday message.
JOHANNESBURG — The Africa Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says coronavirus cases across the continent have increased 37% in the past week.
Africa now has more than 36,000 cases including more than 1,500 deaths.
While the continent’s capacity to test for the virus is growing, shortages of test kits remain across Africa. That means more cases could be out there. But the head of policy with the Africa CDC, Benjamin Djoudalbaye, tells reporters that the virus “is not something you can hide.”
In South Africa, which has the most cases in Africa with more than 5,300, Health Minister Zweli Mkhize says that authorities are “very hopeful we have averted the first storm.”
The country has been praised for testing assertively and will slightly loosen a five-week lockdown on Friday.
KYIV, Ukraine — Authorities in Ukraine have opened all 872 food markets in the country on Thursday, as the government prepares to gradually lift the strict lockdown enacted on March 12 to curb the spread of the coronavirus.
The decision to reopen the markets comes after a series protests all around Ukraine, during which entrepreneurs and farmers bemoaned the dire economic straits the lockdown has put them in.
Ukrainians will be allowed to go to the markets while wearing masks and observing social distancing. Two inspectors will be assigned to each market to make sure the rules are followed and to check visitor’s temperature.
Earlier this month, Ukraine’s Prime Minister Denys Shmyhal announced gradually easing lockdown restrictions after May 11, if there isn’t a spike of new infections.
Ukraine has so far reported over 10,000 cases of the new coronavirus and more than 250 deaths.
GENEVA — The head of the World Health Organization’s European office is warning the continent remains “in the grip” of the coronavirus pandemic even as about three-fourths of the region’s countries are easing restrictive measures.
Dr. Hans Kluge noted a reduction of cases in the region thanks to social distancing measures, adding: “We must monitor this positive development very closely.”
He said Italy, Britain, France, Germany and Spain still have high numbers of cases, and pointed to increases in cases in Belarus, Russia, Kazakhstan and Ukraine.
Of the 44 countries in WHO Europe’s region that have enacted domestic restrictions, 21 have already started easing those measures and another 11 plan to do so in the coming days, Kluge said.
“This virus is unforgiving. We must remain vigilant, persevere and be patient, ready to ramp up measures as and when needed,” he said. “COVID-19 is not going away anytime soon.
“The European region accounts for 46 percent of cases and 63 percent of deaths globally,” he added. “The region remains very much in the grip of this pandemic.”
VILNIUS, Lithuania — For the time being, Vilnius International Airport is busy. Not with people heading for an exotic destination. But cinemagoers pack the tarmac in their cars to watch a movie while the grounded planes are parked in background.
A drive-in cinema has been set up at Lithuania’s main airport as part of the Aerocinema project that will run until the end of May. A silver screen has been stretched out outside gates 1-4, and some 150 cars with a maximum of two people per vehicle — except families — can watch a movie. Wednesday’s screening was the Oscar-winner South Korean film “Parasite.”
Each car pays 15 euros ($16) with proceeds going to the Vilnius International Film Festival that is behind the project.
“Going out onto an airport apron, which is usually only possible to access after check-in, is an exciting experience. I hope this would create a lifetime impression on our audience,” said Algirdas Ramaška, head of the film festival.
The Baltic country’s airspace has been closed commercial aviation and Lithuania’s three airports — including the Vilnius airport that served five million passengers last year — have been shut because of the pandemic.
BRATISLAVA, Slovakia — Slovakia’s new government who has been facing the coronavirus pandemic as an immediate policy challenge has won a mandatory confidence vote in Parliament.
Of the 141 lawmakers present in the 150-seat Parliament, 93 voted to give confidence to the four-party coalition government that was sworn on March 21. Forty eight were against it.
The coalition is led by Prime Minister Igor Matovic, whose center-right Ordinary People captured 25% of the Feb. 29 vote after Matovic made fighting corruption the central plank of his election campaign.
The government adopted strict restrictive measures, including limits on movement and made wearing a face mask mandatory in public. The development of the outbreak has made it possible to start relaxing those restrictions.
The country had just over 4,500 cases of COVID-19, and 23 people died, according to government figures released on Thursday. The day-to-day increase of the positive cases was under 10 for the fifth straight day.
LONDON — The British government acknowledges that it may miss a self-imposed goal of conducting 100,000 tests for coronavirus a day by Thursday, but insists it is on course to vastly expand the country’s testing capacity.
The government has been criticized for failing to catch most cases of COVID-19 and now says wide-scale testing will be key to controlling the virus and easing a nationwide lockdown.
Earlier this month it vowed to perform 100,000 tests a day by April 30. The number has been climbing steadily, but the highest daily total reached so far is 52,000.
Justice Secretary Robert Buckland said that “even if the target isn’t met today … we’re well on our way to ramping this up.”
On Wednesday, the U.K.’s official death toll from the virus leap to more than 26,000 after deaths in nursing homes were added to the hospital total. The tally is the world’s third-highest, surpassed only by the United States and Italy.
Prime Minister Boris Johnson, who spent a week in hospital with the virus, is under pressure to reveal when and how the government will ease a nationwide lockdown that was imposed on March 23. The restrictions are due to last at least until May 7.
Follow AP news coverage of the coronavirus pandemic at https://apnews.com/VirusOutbreak and https://apnews.com/UnderstandingtheOutbreak