The Latest: EU’s top diplomat warns against defense cuts

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:

— AP analysis shows two Tennessee counties with high infection rates.

— Dr. Fauci hopeful of vaccine in advanced trials by early winter.

— More than 8,000 died in British nursing homes in 2 months.

___

BRUSSELS — The European Union’s top diplomat is warning member countries not to slash defense spending as their economies buckle under pressure from the coronavirus because the disease is likely to spark security challenges in coming years.

After chairing a video conference of defense ministers on Tuesday, EU foreign policy chief Josep Borrell said it was clear the pandemic is very likely to deteriorate the security environment in the years ahead. Borrell said as the crisis also hits the economy, it’s important to secure the necessary funding for security and defense.

Talks between the 27 EU member countries over their next long-term budget have been blocked for more than a year, well before the coronavirus hit Europe. Cuts to defense funds in that spending package were already being considered and, given the impact of the disease, seem even more likely now.

___

NASHVILLE, Tenn. — Two rural counties in Tennessee are reporting some of the highest per capita coronavirus infection rates in the United States.

Trousdale County has the highest per capita coronavirus infection rate and Bledsoe County has the fifth highest, according to an Associated Press analysis. In both counties, the high infection rates are attributable to their local prisons.

Trousdale, a county of just over 9,500 people, has reported 1,363 cases of the virus, nearly all of those at the Trousdale Turner Correctional Center run by private prison contractor CoreCivic.

Bledsoe County has reported 604 cases, including 586 at the state-run Bledsoe County Correctional Complex. Nearly all the inmates there completed 14 days of isolation without becoming ill, state corrections officials have said.

Two Trousdale prisoners and one Bledsoe prisoner have died after testing positive, although prison officials say they are asking the medical examiner to determine the exact causes of death.

___

LONDON — British police are investigating after a railway ticket office worker who was spat at by a man claiming to have the coronavirus died with COVID-19.

The TSSA trade union says Belly Mujinga was working at London’s Victoria station on March 22 when a man spat and coughed at her and a colleague. Both workers fell ill within days, and the 47-year-old Mujinga died in a London hospital on April 5. Mujinga’s husband said his wife had underlying respiratory problems when she was admitted to a hospital three days before she died.

The union says the two two railway workers reported the spitting incident to a supervisor, but police were not initially informed. The British Transport Police said Tuesday that it was now investigating

Prime Minister Boris Johnson called the attack “despicable.”

___

ACCRA, Ghana — Unions in an industrial city just outside Ghana’s capital have asked the government to conduct mass testing of workers and people in the city and to fumigate workplaces.

The plea comes after government officials said one person who tested positive for the new coronavirus infected at least 533 workers at a fish-processing factory in Tema. The infections at the Pioneer Food Cannery were announced over the weekend.

As of late Monday, the West African nation had tested more than 161,300 people, of which 5,127 tested positive for COVID-19, according to Ghana’s health service.

___

ROME — A big jump in confirmed COVID-19 cases in Italy’s hardest-hit region contributed to the country’s highest day-to-day increase in several days.

According to Health Ministry data, 1,033 new cases were confirmed in Lombardy. But the Civil Protection Agency said that in addition to confirmed infections in the last 24-hour period, Lombardy’s latest number includes cases from several days earlier that hadn’t been included in previous tallies, driving up the region’s caseload in one day.

In contrast, the previous few days had seen Lombardy’s daily new caseload running in the few hundreds.

Overall, Italy counts 221,216 confirmed coronavirus infections. Experts say the true number is doubtlessly much higher, pointing out that many people with mild symptoms often don’t get tested.

Authorities registered 172 deaths in infected patients in the 24-hour period ending Tuesday evening, raising to 30,911 the confirmed death toll. Nearly half of those deaths have occurred in Lombardy, where the country’s outbreak began in late February.

Health officials are anxiously awaiting daily case numbers later in the week to determine if a partial lifting of lockdown restrictions on May 4 caused any rise in contagion rates.

___

SEATTLE — UW Medicine, the Seattle-area health care system which has played a leading role in responding to the coronavirus outbreak, is now facing a huge financial hole because of the fallout from COVID-19.

The Seattle Times reports UW Medicine’s losses could be more than $500 million by the end of summer. That’s according to an email Monday from UW Medicine CEO Dr. Paul Ramsey that was obtained by the newspaper. Ramsey wrote that staff cuts, furloughs, hiring restrictions and a pay cut for senior leadership could all be implemented.

UW Medicine’s total budget for fiscal year 2020 was $5.8 billion. In early March, UW Medicine was among the first in the state to set up drive-thru sites to test its employees and patients, as well as University of Washington students who were showing symptoms of COVID-19.

Researchers at UW Medicine are also working on a variety of potential treatments and vaccinations for the virus.

___

SOFIA, Bulgaria — Bulgaria’s health authorities are gradually lifting restrictions after the country’s parliament decided not to extend the state of emergency imposed on March 13.

People can again visit indoor museums, galleries and libraries, as well as theater performances and concerts on outdoor stages. Cinemas are reopening, but no more than 30 percent of the seats may be occupied. Restaurants and cafes are open, but for now customers are only allowed to sit on terraces or in gardens.

To support the hard-hit tourism sector, Prime Minister Boyko Borissov on Tuesday announced the reducing of the value-added tax rate on restaurants from 20% to 9%. The Balkan country’s economy relies heavily on its Black Sea and ski resorts as tourism contributes 12% to Bulgaria’s GDP.

Bulgaria has confirmed 2,023 COVID-19 cases and 95 deaths from the disease.

___

UNITED NATIONS — The United Nations secretary-general is urging religious leaders to challenge “inaccurate and harmful messages” fueling rising ethno-nationalism, hate speech and conflict as the coronavirus pandemic circles the globe.

Antonio Guterres warned “extremists and radical groups are seeking to exploit eroding trust in leadership and feed on people’s vulnerability to serve their own ends.”

He says the role of faith leaders in addressing the challenges of COVID-19 can play “a pivotal role.”

The U.N. chief cites an “alarming increase in violence against women and girls” as the pandemic spreads. Guterres appealed to religious leaders “to categorically condemn such acts and support shared principles of partnership, equality, respect and compassion.”

He also called on the leaders to join the fight against misinformation about COVID-19.

___

HARTFORD, Conn. — Connecticut Gov. Ned Lamont has replaced the state’s public health commissioner, a change a state official says was made because of missteps dating to last year.

The official announcement from the Democratic governor didn’t say why he was replacing Renée Coleman-Mitchell with Deidre Gifford, commissioner of the state Department of Social Services, who also will serve as acting public health commissioner.

According to the state official, who spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to disclose the information, Lamont removed her for slow action on a plan to protect nursing homes from the coronavirus and refusing to publicly release school-by-school vaccination rates last year.

___

BERLIN — The reproduction rate for the coronavirus rate has remained above the key threshold of 1 for three days in a row in Germany, but health authorities say it is more of a statistical issue than cause for concern.

Lars Schaade, vice president of the Robert Koch-Institute, Germany’s public health agency, says the latest so-called R-rate was 1.07, indicating that every 100 people infected would infect 107 others. Experts say it’s important to keep the figure below 1 to prevent the pandemic from expanding.

But he says there is a lag in the data. The current “R” figures are based on information from April 28 through May 3, while actual new cases reported in the last three days have been fewer than 1,000 per day.

He says the RKI will be providing an adjusted R figure “better suited to illustrate longer-term trends” in addition to the unadjusted figure.

___

GLENVILLE, W.Va. — Five inmates at a federal prison in West Virginia have tested positive for the coronavirus after a large transfer of prisoners led to the first case at the lockup.

Data on the federal Bureau of Prisons website Tuesday show the new cases at FCI Gilmer came around a week after one of the 124 inmates transferred to the prison in Glenville tested positive.

Federal and state politicians opposed the prisoner transfers when they were announced and renewed their criticism after the positive case emerged at Gilmer.

U.S. Sen. Joe Manchin has said Attorney General William Barr has assured him that no additional inmates will be relocated to Gilmer or the federal prison at Hazelton.

Federal Bureau of Prisons Director Michael Carvajal has said the agency identified 10 sites across the country with enough bed space to house new inmates and ease overcrowding at their other prisons. He says inmates who don’t test positive for the virus after a 14-day quarantine will be transported to their designated prisons.

___

WASHINGTON — Dr. Anthony Fauci says the government is working on several potential vaccines for COVID-19.

“We have many candidates and hope to have many winners,” he told the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pension committee. “In other words, it is many shots on goal.”

Despite the rapid pace of work on vaccines, Fauci was offering no guarantees. He says, “The big unknown is efficacy.”

Fauci heads the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases and is the government’s leading expert on the pandemic. He says he hopes to have a vaccine in advanced trials by late fall or early winter.

___

ROME — Italian Premier Giuseppe Conte says six women are joining a key committee advising the government about how the country can safely emerge from lockdown.

That comes after female researchers, scientists and lawmakers noted women weren’t represented in Italy’s management of the pandemic.

The premier’s office says Conte made the appointments “out of the need to guarantee gender representation” in the delicate phase. Since Italy’s devastating COVID-19 outbreak began, the 20-member technical-scientific committee had been all-male.

Among the female experts who now join the committee are a biologist with expertise in immunology and an expert on safety in the workplace. Conte also added five women to a separate ad hoc advisory body that is headed by a male Italian industrialist and made up mainly of men. Among the women joining that advisory body will be a sociology professor and a founder of Italy’s first university center dedicated to fighting domestic violence.

Earlier this month, female lawmakers lodged a Parliamentary motion calling on Conte to remedy gender imbalance on the advisory panels. For weeks, Italians had been briefed daily by only male doctors, epidemiologists and other experts about developments in the pandemic.

___

BEIRUT — Lebanon’s government decided to reinstate a national lockdown for four days after a spike in reported cases of infections and complaints from government officials of lax implementation of social distancing measures.

It called on citizens to stay home starting Wednesday night until Monday morning, avoiding outings except for emergencies. Lebanon began a phased plan to relax a national lockdown late last month that allowed small businesses and restaurants, among other things to reopen, and shortened a nighttime curfew.

But after a few days of single-digit cases detected, there was a spike of reported infections this week, including among Lebanese returning home during repatriation programs who didn’t observe quarantine measures.

Lebanon, a country of more than 5 million, has recorded only 870 infections and 26 deaths after imposing early lockdown measures. A nationwide testing campaign helped traced the virus.

___

PARIS — France’s prime minister Edouard Philippe says newly elected local officials will take office next week, after the election process was suspended for over two months amid the coronavirus crisis.

Phillipe says 30,000 out of 35,000 municipalities in France have elected officials on the first round of local elections held on March 15, just two days before the country entered into lockdown.

Elections were suspended and outgoing officials maintained in their former position.

As the country reopens this week, most municipal councils will take office on May 18, Philippe says. They will have until May 28 to elect their mayors.

No decision has been made yet for about 5,000 municipalities, including Paris and other big cities, where a second round is needed. It is “too soon” to decide on sending voters back to the polls, Philippe says.

___

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

Categories: National & International News