The Latest: EU leaders call for ‘massive’ action on virus

The Latest on the coronavirus pandemic. The new coronavirus causes mild or moderate symptoms for most people, but for some, especially older adults and people with existing health problems, it can cause more severe illness or death.


— EU leaders call for urgent, “massive” international action.

— China temporarily bars all foreign nationals.

— U.S. jobless claims reach record 3.3 million.

— Germany testing up to 500,000 a week for virus.


BRUSSELS — European Union leaders are calling for urgent and “massive” coordinated international action to stop the coronavirus pandemic.

Following a videoconference with G20 leaders, European Commission president Ursula von der Leyen and European Council president Charles Michel said in a joint statement that “fast, massive and coordinated global action is necessary on the health and economic fronts to save lives and avoid a further economic crisis.”

Michel and von der Leyen thanked G20 leaders for the solidarity shown to Europe. They stressed that the EU is determined to assist countries vulnerable to the crisis outside the 27-member bloc, “especially in Africa.”

The duo also insisted it’s crucial to keep trade flows and supply chains open in the economic response to the crisis in order “to maintain our ability to manufacture and provide the necessary protective and medical equipment.”

The EU also asked G20 members “to assist each other in repatriating citizens stranded abroad who wish to return home.”


RABAT, Morocco — Hundreds of tourists who were traveling in Morocco in motorhomes have found themselves stranded in a parking lot near a Tangier highway that authorities turned into a makeshift quarantine center.

The mostly British tourists were told they were no longer allowed to wait at the Moroccan side of the Spanish enclave of Ceuta.

They were there in the hope of being allowed entry into Spain. Ceuta is just over 20 kilometers across the sea from Gibraltar, which is British.

Moroccan authorities are in the process of equipping the parking lot with electricity and essential accommodation. The tourists fear they may have to stay there for months. The British embassy declined to comment.


ATHENS, Greece — A group of lawyers has appealed to Greece’s highest court against the ban on services in churches and places of worship across the country, imposed last week to fight the coronavirus spread.

In a legal action made public Thursday, the four lawyers claim the temporary prohibition is unconstitutional and illegal.

The measure was taken March 16 and applies through March 30. The appeal is set to be heard May 5.

Greece’s powerful Orthodox Church had initially hesitated to take substantial measures to address the epidemic, and refused to stop the Communion sacrament in which the faithful sip from a common spoon. People are still allowed to visit churches to pray, so long as they keep a 6-foot distance from each other.


BEIJING — China is temporarily barring all foreign nationals from entry as it seeks to curb the number of imported COVID-19 cases.

The Chinese Ministry of Foreign Affairs announced that foreign nationals with residence permits will be prevented from entering the country starting on Saturday. All visa-free transit policies also will be temporarily suspended.

Diplomatic workers will be exempt, while foreign nationals coming to China for “necessary economic, trade, scientific or technological activities or out of emergency humanitarian needs” can still apply for visas, the foreign ministry said in a statement.

“The suspension is a temporary measure that China is compelled to take in light of the outbreak situation and the practices of other countries,” the statement said.

As the number of China’s reported domestic COVID-19 cases has dwindled, it has had to contend with imported infections from recent overseas arrivals. These individuals have accounted for the majority of China’s new cases for more than a week.


LOS ANGELES — The FBI has arrested a Southern California man who officials say falsely claimed to have developed a cure for the coronavirus.

The U.S. Justice Department says in a statement that Keith Lawrence Middlebrook told his 2.4 million Instagram followers that his company would return hundreds of millions of dollars in profit and solicited investments in the company to market the medication.

The statement says Middlebrook claimed he had developed pills to prevent COVID-19 infections and a drug to cure those suffering from the virus.

There are no known cures or vaccinations for the coronavirus. It wasn’t known if Middlebrook has an attorney who could comment.


DENVER — A statewide stay-at-home order is in effect in Colorado to stem the rapid spread of the coronavirus.

Gov. Jared Polis announced Wednesday he was taking the “extreme measure” because the restrictions taken to date haven’t been enough to reduce the spread of the virus. Polis says if people don’t follow the order there will be a much worse economic disaster with greater disruption for a longer time.

Starting Thursday, the state’s 5.7 million people should only leave home for grocery shopping, medical care, exercise or taking care of a vulnerable person. It’s in effect until April 11.


JERUSALEM — Israeli airline El Al says it is suspending all flights to and from Israel beginning at midnight.

The suspension will last until April 4.

A statement from the company says it made the decision because of a sharp decline in demand and to protect passengers and crew from infection.

Like other airlines, El Al has faced a crisis following the spread of the coronavirus and is seeking government assistance.

The company, which had previously suspended flights from certain countries with outbreaks, has already laid off a chunk of its workforce.


MADRID — Officials say a U.S. Navy sailor stationed at a naval base in southern Spain has tested positive for the coronavirus.

A statement from Naval Station Rota says an investigation is under way to track who had contact with the sailor.

The base supports U.S. and NATO vessels.


WARSAW, Poland — The chief rabbi of Poland says the Jewish community in Warsaw is saying kaddish, or a reciting special prayer for the dead, for communities in the United States, Israel and elsewhere in Europe as synagogues in most places can no longer holds services because of the coronavirus.

Rabbi Michael Schudrich, originally from New York, told The Associated Press on Thursday the historic Nozyk Synagogue in the Polish capital is still holding prayers services. A minyan, or a gathering of at least 10 adult males, is required for kaddish to be said under Jewish law.

He says requests for prayers for departed loved ones have come in from New York, New Jersey, Texas and elsewhere in the United States, as well Canada, the U.K. and Israel.

Schudrich says the prayers offer “some consolation at a difficult time” for the mourners. Poland was home to Europe’s largest Jewish community before the Holocaust.


MADRID — Real Madrid and Spanish sports authorities say the Santiago Bernabeu Stadium will be used to store donations of medical supplies to help combat the coronavirus outbreak.

The soccer club says it will use the stadium to store private donations. They will be distributed by government authorities to hospitals.

Spain has 56,188 infections and more than 4,000 deaths from the COVID-19 virus.

Civic groups, businesses and individuals are donating much-needed masks and any material that can used to make protective gear for doctors and nurses.


PARIS — Six lawsuits have been filed in France accusing the government of not acting quickly enough to stop the spread of the coronavirus.

A judicial official told The Associated Press on Thursday the suits were filed by individuals or groups seeking the prosecution of government ministers for manslaughter, putting people in danger or failing to help people in danger.

More than 1,300 people have died from the virus in France. More than 25,000 cases have been confirmed.

One case was filed by a 46-year-old man from the Paris region who contracted the virus, his lawyer told France-Info radio. It accuses the government of “stalling” as the virus spread around the world.

France imposed nationwide confinement measures last week, nearly two months after the first cases appeared in the country.

The lawsuits were filed with a special court for prosecuting government ministers. It will decide whether to take the cases.


MOSCOW — Kazakh authorities announced they’re tightening the quarantine in the country’s two largest cities to prevent further spread of the coronavirus.

Starting Saturday, residents of Nur-Sultan, Kazakhstan’s capital, and Almaty, the country’s largest city, can leave their homes only to buy groceries and medicine or go to work.

A government statement also says public places, such as parks and playgrounds, will be closed. Groups of more than three people will be banned except for families.

In Shymkent, Kazakhstan’s third largest city, the airport, the railway station and all kindergartens will be closed. Kazakh officials also announced “gradual” restrictions on public transport in the cities.

Kazakhstan has reported 109 cases of the virus.


WASHINGTON — Nearly 3.3 million Americans applied for unemployment benefits last week — more than quadruple the previous record set in 1982 — amid a widespread economic shutdown caused by the coronavirus.

The surge in weekly applications was a stunning reflection of the damage the viral outbreak is doing to the economy. Filings for unemployment aid generally reflect the pace of layoffs.

The pace of layoffs is sure to accelerate as the U.S. economy sinks into a recession. Revenue has collapsed at restaurants, hotels, movie theaters, gyms, and airlines. Auto sales are plummeting, and car makers have close factories. Most such employers face loan payments and other fixed costs, so they’re cutting jobs to save money.


BERLIN — Germany has increased its ability to test for the new coronavirus to 500,000 a week.

Lothar Wieler, the head of Germany’s Robert Koch disease control center, says the number of tests being conducted in the country was likely the highest worldwide, both in absolute numbers and per capita.

Christian Drosten, a leading virologist at Berlin’s Charite hospital, says about 6-7% of tests come back positive.

So far, there have been 39,500 cases in Germany and 222 deaths.


PRAGUE — The Czech Republic is offering 10,000 protective suits to Italy and Spain to help the two countries hardest hit by the outbreak of the coronavirus in Europe.

Interior Minister Jan Hamacek says the country “can afford it and they desperately need them.”

Foreign Minister Tomas Petricek says he was in touch with the ambassadors of the two countries about how to transport the protective equipment.

The Czech Republic has 1,775 people infected with the coronavirus, six people have died.


TOKYO — Japan’s Prime Minister Shinzo Abe convened a coronavirus task force meeting, instructing all 47 prefectural leaders to plan contingency measures to fight the virus in response to assessments that the coronavirus is now rampant in the country.

The task force is backed by a special law passed this month that allows Abe to declare a state of emergency, though top officials say such a declaration is not planned immediately.

The task force meeting Thursday comes a day after Tokyo Gov. Yuriko Koike asked the 1.3 million residents in the Japanese capital to stay home this weekend, citing a spike of new cases, including those that cannot be traced. She added a lockdown of Tokyo is a possibility if the infections become explosive as in Europe and the U.S.

Abe says Japan will impose entry bans to 21 European countries and Iran and suspend visas from entrants from those countries until the end of April. He says similar measures for China and South Korea are also extended through end of next month.

Tokyo on Thursday had 47 cases, a record single-day increase surpassing 41 from the day before. Japan has about 2,000 cases, including 259 in Tokyo.


JAKARTA, Indonesia — The Indonesian government reported 20 new deaths in the previous 24 hours.

That brings the country’s death toll in the COVID-19 outbreak to 78, the highest in the Southeast Asia region.

There have been 103 new cases on Thursday to total 893 positive tests in the archipelago nation, mostly in the capital of Jakarta.


MADRID — Spain has become the country in Europe where the coronavirus outbreak is expanding fastest. It’s second only to the United States in the number of new cases reported.

Spain’s Health Ministry reported 8,578 new infections and 655 deaths on Thursday, bringing the total infections to 56,188 and more than 4,000 fatalities.

Italy’s initial steep rise in confirmed cases has started to level off more than two weeks into a nationwide lockdown. On Wednesday, the country reported 5,210 new cases and 683 deaths.

The outbreak is straining Spain’s health care system, with medical staff struggling to treat the infected amid a shortage of protective gear and enough ventilator machines and other medical equipment.

One out of 10 of the country’s COVID-19 fatalities have been recorded in nursing homes.


BAGHDAD — Iraq has extended a government-imposed curfew for another two weeks, prohibiting large gatherings and non-essential businesses to stem the spread of the coronavirus, according to a cabinet statement.

It is the second extension since the first curfew was imposed on March 17.

Iraqis have struggled to adhere to the curfew, prompting senior Iraqi officials and prominent religious figures to call for the public to stay at home and avoid congregating in crowds.

At least 29 people have died of coronavirus in Iraq amid 346 confirmed cases, according to the Health Ministry.


BEIJING — China is strongly pushing back on U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo’s insistence on referring to the deadly novel coronavirus that has sparked a global pandemic as the “Wuhan virus” after the city in China where it was first detected.

Foreign Ministry spokesman Geng Shuang said Thursday that it was an effort to “stigmatize China and discredit China’s efforts in an attempt to divert attention and shift responsibilities.”

“He has a very sinister motive,” Geng told reporters at a daily briefing.

Geng also defended China’s efforts at tackling the virus and denied it was seeking to place responsibility for the outbreak elsewhere. China has been accused of trying to squelch information about the outbreak during its early stages, and some of its diplomats have openly suggested that the virus may have been brought to China from the United States.

Pompeo’s call for the virus to be identified by name as the “Wuhan virus” at a virtual meeting of foreign ministers from the Group of 7 leading industrialized countries resulted in their opting against releasing a group statement.

The World Health Organization and others have cautioned against giving the virus a geographic name because of its global nature, and even President Donald Trump has steered away from those terms as critics have said they foster discriminatory sentiments and behavior against Asians and Asian Americans.

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