The Latest: EU agency: Virus plummeted asylum applications

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.


— Hopes turn to virus drug breakthrough as economies stumble.

— European Union agency says asylum applications have plummeted.

— Spain says its economy has shrunk by 5.2%, after 25 consecutive semesters of gains.


BRUSSELS — The European Union’s asylum agency says that the number of asylum applications in Europe plummeted by almost half last month as measures to combat the spread of the coronavirus kicked in.

The European Asylum Support Office said Thursday that just 34,737 applications for asylum were lodged in the 31 European countries it collects data for in March, a 43% drop over the previous month.

It said that “just before the COVID-19 outbreak in Europe, applications had increased compared to the same period in 2019, with 65 300 applications lodged in January and 61 100 in February.”

To halt the spread of the coronavirus, many European Union countries have temporarily closed parts of their borders, making it increasingly difficult for migrants to enter without authorization.

Greece, a main entry point for people seeking refuge or better lives in Europe, suspended all asylum applications for a month at the beginning of March after Turkey began waving migrants through to their common border.

Nationals from Syria, Afghanistan, Colombia and Venezuela continue to file the most asylum applications.


MADRID — Spain’s government says the country’s economy shrunk by 5.2% in the first trimester of the year as the country was stricken by the coronavirus pandemic.

That breaks with 25 consecutive semesters of positive economic activity going back to 2013 for Spain, the eurozone’s fourth largest economy.

Spain’s National Institute of Statistics said Wednesday that the drop in economic activity came after a 0.4% growth in the final trimester of 2019. The measurement was based on preliminary data.

The institute said that the coronavirus crisis and lockdown measures have “introduced an extraordinary difficulty in measuring the economic evolution of the trimester.”

Spain applied strict stay-at-home rules on March 14 when it declared a state of emergency that is still in effect. Hundreds of thousands of workers have been furloughed.

Spain has confirmed over 24,000 deaths and 230,000 infections from the new virus.


CANBERRA, Australia — The Australian Capital Territory has become the first of the country’s eight states and mainland territories to declare itself free of all known cases of the coronavirus.

Chief Health Officer Kerryn Coleman said the territory surrounding the capital city Canberra was free of any recorded infection on Thursday for the first time in seven weeks after the last patient recovered.

There have been 106 confirmed COVID-19 cases in Canberra and three patients have died. The capital territory has a population of only 420,000, the second-smallest of the states and territories, and its infection rate per head of population ranks in the middle of the field.

Everyone with cold or flu symptoms have been offered free COVID-19 testing in Canberra for the past week and the government said that offer will be extended for another week. One in 49 of the territory’s population had been tested by Thursday.

Health Minister Rachel Stephen-Smith said a government announcement will be made on Friday on the future of lockdown measures that will take into account the risk of a second wave of infections.

Lawmakers and their staff from across Australia will converge on Canberra on May 12 for the first regular sitting of Parliament since early March.

Australia has recorded 6,746 virus infections, 90 of whom have died. Eight new cases were reported since Wednesday.


NEW DELHI — India says it has achieved tremendous gains and improvement in curbing the coronavirus infections through a stringent lockdown imposed across the country five weeks ago.

A Home Ministry statement late Wednesday said the government would give considerable relaxations in many districts as the lockdown comes for a review on Sunday.

India has so far reported more than 33,050 positive coronavirus cases with 1,074 deaths.

The government on Wednesday allowed migrant workers, pilgrims, tourists, students and other persons stranded at different places in the country to resume their journeys by road. The decision will provide relief to hundreds of thousands of workers who want to return to their villages from Indian cities and towns after they lost jobs following the imposition of a country-wide lockdown on March 25.

The government recently allowed reopening of neighborhood shops in cities and towns and resumption of manufacturing and farming activity in rural India to help millions of poor people who lost work.


SEOUL, South Korea __ South Korea has reported four more cases of the coronavirus over the past 24 hours, the first time that its daily jump has marked below five in about two months.

The Koreas Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said in a statement Thursday that the additional figures took the country’s total to 10,765 with 247 deaths. It says 9,059 of them have recovered and been released from quarantine.

It says the four new cases are all imported ones and that there were no newly reported cases of local infections.

Local media said it’s the first time for South Korea to have no daily increase of local infections since Feb. 15.

South Korea’s caseload has been slowing in recent weeks after it recorded hundreds of new cases every day between late February and early March.

South Korea has subsequently relaxed some of its social distancing guidelines. It expected to ease up on more restrictions in coming days if its caseload maintains a downward trend.


MALE, Maldives — Maldives has reported its first death to the new coronavirus with the total number of positive cases standing at 280.

Health Minister Abdulla Ameen said Thursday that the victim was an 83-year-old woman from the capital Male’.

First cases of COVID-19 were reported at tourist resorts in this Indian Ocean archipelago state and authorities for sometime kept it from spilling over into the community. However, there is now a sudden spike in the number of patients in the capital island as well as far off islands with no traceable source of infection.


NEW YORK — Police were called to a Brooklyn neighborhood Wednesday after a funeral home overwhelmed by the coronavirus resorted to storing dozens of bodies on ice in rented trucks, and a passerby complained about the smell, officials said.

Investigators who responded to a 911 call found that the home had rented four trucks to hold about 50 corpses, according to a law enforcement official. No criminal charges were brought and the official, who was not authorized to speak publicly about the investigation, spoke to The Associated Press on condition of anonymity.

The Andrew T. Cleckley Funeral Home was cited for failing to control the odors. The home was able to obtain a larger, refrigerated truck later in the day, the official said.

New York City funeral homes have struggled as at least 18,000 people have died in the city since late March.

The NYPD notified the state Department of Health, which oversees funeral homes, about the situation at the Andrew T. Cleckley Funeral Home. It did not respond to an email seeking comment.


LAS VEGAS — Nevada Gov. Steve Sisolak is extending his directive asking people to stay at home to limit the spread of coronavirus until May 15. But he will ease restrictions on other outdoor activities and some businesses starting Friday.

Sisolak’s office said Wednesday night that he would allow starting May 1 retail businesses and marijuana dispensaries to offer curbside pickup, as restaurants have been doing. He will also allow drive-in church and other religious services, as long participants stay in their cars and maintain at least 6 feet of distance from those outside their household.

The governor said he was also once again allowing golf courses, pickleball and tennis courts to open Friday, as long as they can do so safely.

The updates Wednesday night came hours after the governor teased the announcements in an interview with ABC News.

Sisolak said in the interview that Nevada’s cases and deaths from COVID-19 have reached a plateau, but he wants to see declines before lifting his directive that people stay home outside of essential trips. He said the opening of Las Vegas casinos likely won’t happen until the third or fourth phase of his gradual reopening plan, but he has has not released any more details or timeline.

The governor’s office said Wednesday night that if the numbers “continues in a positive direction” then he may ease more restrictions after May 15.


LOS ANGELES — The city of Los Angeles will offer free coronavirus testing to all residents, whether or not they have symptoms.

Until now tests were reserved for those with symptoms and frontline employees like healthcare and grocery store workers. Mayor Eric Garcetti says LA will be the first major U.S. city to offer widescale testing to all its residents.

People can sign up online for appointments starting immediately. Priority will still be given to people with symptoms, such as a fever, cough and shortness of breath.

People will be able to go back for tests several times: there is no limit.


BEIJING — China on Thursday reported no new deaths from coronavirus and four new cases, all brought from outside the country.

The National Health Commission said 619 people were hospitalized with COVID-19 and just over 1,000 were being monitored for possibly having the illness or for testing positive for the virus but showing no symptoms. China has reported a total of 4,633 deaths from the virus among 82,862 cases.


OLYMPIA, Wash. — Washington Gov. Jay Inslee says the state has to see more progress in several areas, including the daily number of new coronavirus cases and deaths, before social distancing restrictions can safely be lifted.

He says the state’s stay-at-home order that was enacted March 23 would remain in place beyond May 4 and said he would have more details Friday on a phased-in approach to open the state’s economy.

Washington state in January had the country’s first confirmed coronavirus case, the first deadly cluster in a Seattle-area nursing home and was among the first places to institute sweeping directives designed to slow the spread of COVID-19.


LOS ANGELES — A coalition of marijuana companies, churches and advocacy groups is asking California Gov. Gavin Newsom for a temporary cut in the state’s hefty pot taxes.

The group that includes the California State Conference of the NAACP, Los Angeles Metropolitan Churches and the industry group Southern California Coalition warned in a letter to the governor that the coronavirus crisis and a crashing economy will take an especially heavy toll on businesses run by minorities who were disproportionately targeted during the decades-long drug war.

“If action is not taken now many of our business colleagues and friends may be pushed into the gray, or worse, back into the illicit market,” said the letter, dated April 23.

“At a time where unemployment is at a record high, the legal industry is seeing its customers flock to lower priced cannabis products in the illegal market regardless of quality or safety,” the group said.

“As COVID-19 continues to disproportionately impact communities of color, our social equity businesses and our customers will be impacted even more,” the group warned.

California kicked off broad legal sales in 2018. But the state’s legal marijuana industry has long blamed tax rates that can approach 50% in some areas for driving business into the illicit market. According to some estimates, consumers are spending roughly $3 in the state’s underground pot economy for every $1 in the legal one.


CHEYENNE, Wyo. — Gov. Mark Gordon says Wyoming will ease some of its coronavirus restrictions on Friday, with barbershops, gyms, nail salons and child care centers among the businesses that will be allowed limited re-openings.

The changes replace health orders that are set to expire Thursday. They are the first steps in the Republican governor’s plan to restart the state economy.

Gordon also says Wyoming residents would be allowed to camp at state parks starting May 15.


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