The Latest: Former Greek health minister dies at 78 of virus

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:

— China, South Korea see new virus cases as world lockdowns ease.

— Widely respected doctor in Greece dies from the new coronavirus.

— Thailand removes China and South Korea from its list of countries at high-risk for COVID-19.

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ATHENS, Greece — Greek former health minister, cardiologist and university professor Dimitris Kremastinos has died of the new coronavirus, Greek officials said Friday. He was 78.

Kremastinos, a widely respected doctor who became a household name in Greece as the personal physician of late prime minister Andreas Papandreou in the mid-1990s, was admitted to Athens’ public Evangelismos hospital on March 26 and was being treated in the intensive care unit for COVID-19, the illness caused by the new coronavirus. He died Friday morning.

News of his death was made public by Health Minsiter Vassilis Kikilias, who tweeted that the former minister “served the health sector with dignity and a sense of responsibility.”

Tributes for Kremastinos, who was currently serving as parliament vice-president and was a member of the center-left KINAL party, poured in from politicians.

Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis paid tribute to Kremastinos’ legacy, saying “the world of science and politics today lost a leading member.” The prime minister tweeted that the professor had “left a special imprint of dignity, responsibility and effectiveness.”

Already an established leading cardiologist, Kremastinos became well-known in Greece when he became involved in the medical care of Papandreou, who spent the last months of his premiership critically ill before his death in 1996.

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BANGKOK — Thailand’s Health Minister says the government has agreed to remove China and South Korea from its official list of countries at high-risk for COVID-19 infections because their daily case counts have dropped to the single-digit level.

Anutin Charnvirakul said Friday that the Center for Covid-19 Situation Administration has approved the action but he did not know when it would be implemented. The measure would become official upon its publication in the Royal Gazette.

The move, when implemented, would appear to exempt people arriving from China and South Korea from a mandatory 14-day quarantine upon their arrival in Thailand. But it would not mean a sudden influx of visitors, as Thai aviation authorities have banned incoming commercial passenger flights through May 31.

Thailand announced eight new confirmed COVID-19 cases Friday, bringing the total to 3,000 including 55 deaths. Nearly 3,000 patients have recovered.

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SEOUL, South Korea — South Korea’s top infectious disease expert says the country could possibly push back plans to reopen schools if coronavirus infections surge again over the weekend after a weeks-long decline.

Jeong Eun-kyeong, director of the Korea Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, made the comments on Friday while addressing fears of a broader spread of COVID-19 in the densely populated Seoul metropolitan area after health workers detected more than a dozen infections linked to nightclubs.

A slowing caseload in previous weeks had allowed officials to relax social distancing guidelines and schedule a reopening of schools, starting with high school seniors on May 13.

“At this moment, it’s too early to say whether we need to postpone the opening of schools, but we will monitor the spread of the virus and review information from our epidemiological investigations throughout today and tomorrow before determining the risks and discussing the matter with related ministries,” she said during a virus briefing.

The government issued an administrative order advising nightclubs, hostess bars and similar entertainment venues around the country to close for a month after officials detected at least 15 infections linked to a 29-year-old patient, who visited three clubs in Seoul’s Itaewon district on Saturday before testing positive on Wednesday.

Jeong said the patient did not wear masks inside the clubs and that the number of infections will likely rise as health workers are still tracing and testing his contacts.

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VIENNA — Austria and Romania have reached an agreement to provide trains for Romanian care workers who have had trouble getting to Austria because of travel restrictions.

The Austrian government said that the first train will set off from Romania on Sunday, traveling through Hungary.

It says that about 33,000 people in Austria need round-the-clock care and many of the people who provide it come from Romania. Over recent weeks, restrictions in travel within Europe imposed to slow the spread of the coronavirus have made it near-impossible for colleagues from Romania to relieve them.

It wasn’t immediately clear how many Romanians will use the trains.

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TEHRAN, Iran — Iran’s semi-official Tasnim news agency says Friday prayers are resuming in mosques in 146 cities with minimal risk conditions for spreading the coronavirus after being banned for more than two months.

The report said prayer gatherings will continue to be banned in major cities, including all provincial capitals, for now.

Iran is battling the worst outbreak in the Middle East while under heavy U.S. sanctions. Officials said Thursday the death toll from COVID-19, the illness caused by the virus, rose to nearly 6,500 among more than 100,000 confirmed cases.

There are currently no plans to reopen the country’s religious shrines, including the most important Shiite holy site in the country, the Imam Reza Shrine in the northeastern city of Mashahd.

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NEW DELHI, India — India has recorded 3,390 new coronavirus infections and 103 deaths in the last 24 hours.

Total cases in the country of 1.3 billion people surpassed 56,000, with 1,886 fatalities, according to health ministry data. More than 16,500 people have recovered.

The coastal state of Maharashtra remains the worst affected with almost 20,000 cases and 651 deaths.

India began a mammoth evacuation exercise late Thursday, bringing back the first batch of its citizens stranded overseas amid the COVID-19 shutdown. More than 340 Indian nationals returned home on the first two flights from the United Arab Emirates (UAE).

National carrier Air India will conduct 64 flights to 12 countries from May 7-13 to bring back approximately 15,000 Indians stranded due to the coronavirus lockdown.

Officials say at least 200,000 Indians abroad have registered to return. The stranded Indians will pay their own fares. They will be quarantined when they arrive.

India is also using its Navy to bring back stranded citizens. The country suspended all international travel in March before going into a strict lockdown to slow COVID-19 cases.

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SEOUL, South Korea — China and South Korea both reported more coronavirus infections Friday after reopening economies damaged by devastating outbreaks. Around the globe, governments are opting to accept the risks of easing pandemic-fighting restrictions that left huge numbers of people without income or safety nets.

In the U.S., some governors are disregarding or creatively interpreting White House guidelines in easing their states’ lockdowns and letting businesses reopen. An Associated Press analysis found 17 states appeared to have not met one of the key benchmarks set by the White House for loosening up — a 14-day downward trajectory in new cases or positive test rates.

South Korea’s 13 fresh cases reported Friday were its first increase higher than 10 in five days. A dozen were linked to a 29-year-old who visited three nightclubs in Seoul last weekend.

“A drop of ink in clear water spreads swiftly,” Vice Health Minister Kim Gang-lip said, urging vigilance to guard hard-won gains. “Anyone can become that drop of ink that spreads COVID-19.”

In China, where the new coronavirus first emerged, authorities reported 17 new cases, including 16 people that tested positive but were not showing symptoms. No new deaths have been reported for more than three weeks, and 260 people remain hospitalized for COVID-19 treatment.

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TOKYO — Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe and U.S. President Donald Trump have agreed to cooperate closely in developing COVID-19 vaccines and drugs, and in their efforts to boost their economies.

The two leaders held telephone talks as they seek to reopen businesses in their respective countries.

Japan’s Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga told reporters the leaders exchanged views on the COVID-19 situation, measures to prevent further spread of the virus, development of drugs and vaccines, and steps for reopening the economies in their countries. He said Abe proposed the talks.

“It was extremely meaningful to be able to reassure Japan-U.S. cooperation via telephone talks between the two leaders just as the international society is expected to unite and tackle the (pandemic),” Suga said.

The Japanese health ministry, in a rare fast-track process, approved Gilead Sciences Inc.’s antiviral drug remdesivir on Thursday to treat COVID-19 patients. The approval was granted under a special fast-track process only four days after the company filed an application.

Japan is still under a coronavirus state of emergency, which was extended this week until the end of May, though there have been no hard lockdowns.

The United States has more than 1.2 million reported infections, with deaths exceeding 75,000, while Japan has about 15,500 cases and 580 deaths.

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UNITED NATIONS — United Nations Secretary-General Antonio Guterres says the coronavirus pandemic keeps unleashing “a tsunami of hate and xenophobia, scapegoating and scare-mongering.”

The U.N. chief said Friday that “anti-foreigner sentiment has surged online and in the streets, anti-Semitic conspiracy theories have spread, and COVID-19-related anti-Muslim attacks have occurred.”

Guterres said migrants and refugees “have been vilified as a source of the virus — and then denied access to medical treatment.”

“With older persons among the most vulnerable, contemptible memes have emerged suggesting they are also the most expendable,” he said. “And journalists, whistleblowers, health professionals, aid workers and human rights defenders are being targeted simply for doing their jobs.”

Guterres appealed “for an all-out effort to end hate speech globally.”

The secretary-general called on political leaders to show solidarity with all people, on educational institutions to focus on “digital literacy” at a time when “extremists are seeking to prey on captive and potentially despairing audiences.”

He called on the media, especially social media, to “remove racist, misogynist and other harmful content,” on civil society to strengthen their outreach to vulnerable people, and on religious figures to serve as “models of mutual respect.”

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CANBERRA, Australia — Australia plans to reopen its economy in three stages by July, but there are no plans to open the country to general international travelers in the foreseeable future.

Prime Minister Scott Morrison said Friday the states will set their own pace in easing coronavirus restrictions, and details of the second and third stages of the plan had yet to be finalized.

Australia’s two most populous states, New South Wales and Victoria, are continuing to record new cases daily while the other states and territories have gone multiple days without finding new infections despite ramped up testing.

Queensland will relax its social distancing rules for Mother’s Day on Sunday by allowing up to five people from one household to visit another household, and the Northern Territory will open pubs next week for the service of alcohol with meals.

Under stage one of a national plan agreed upon by federal and state leaders on Friday, small cafes and restaurants will open as long as each patron has at least 4 square meters (43 square feet) of space.

Children will return to classrooms and groups of 10 people will be allowed to gather outdoors. Playgrounds, golf courses, swimming pools and libraries will reopen.

Nightclubs and other drinking venues without seated dining will not reopen until stage 3.

Morrison said he was open to the possibility of international students returning to Australian universities on charter flights, but general international travel will not open up “in the foreseeable future.”

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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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