The Latest: France encourages biking to work amid 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:
— European Union to give millions of masks to healthcare workers
— Portugal PM laments international fight for medical equipment during outbreak.
— Chancellor of Austria won’t play the “blame game” about responsibility for spread of virus.
PARIS — Many in France are planning to bike to work rather than use crowded public transportation when the country lifts some confinement restrictions on Monday.
In Paris, people were lined outside a bike shop with second-hand bicycles on sale. Customer Sylvie Leger says she feels “anxious” about getting on the metro because of the coronavirus.
Biking has been encouraged by the French government to help with overcrowding on trains and buses. Temporary biking lanes will open in Paris. Cars will be banned from the famous Rue de Rivoli, a long street alongside the Louvre museum.
Also, France will subsidize riders up to 50 euros (nearly $55) for repairs.
BRUSSELS — The European Union says the first plane is delivering aid and humanitarian staffers to the Central African Republic and more flights are planned.
The European Commission says the flight was heading from Lyon in France to Bangui with 60 staffers and 13 tons of humanitarian aid. Soon two other aircraft with another 27 tons of aid will make the trip. EU citizens and others stranded in the region will be brought back on the return leg.
The EU money will pay for the flights and U.N agencies and NGOs can use them.
EU Crisis Management Commissioner Janez Lenarcic says leaving any coronavirus-hit region “without protection today exposes us all to a lack of protection in the future.”
MINSK, Belarus — Hundreds of Belarusians, including World War II veterans, attended a church ceremony in Minsk that marked the 75th anniversary of the allied victory over Nazi Germany.
None wore masks, despite the growing coronavirus outbreak in the country.
President Alexander Lukashenko repeatedly dismissed concerns around the pandemic as “mass psychosis” and rejected the idea of a lockdown.
“We chose our own path, and I’m convinced today that we did the right thing,” Lukashenko told veterans. He assured veterans who want to attend the Victory Day parade on Saturday, which Minsk is going ahead with despite the outbreak, that “nothing will happen” to them.
Belarus remains one of the few countries that hadn’t imposed a lockdown or restricted public events despite recommendations of the World Health Organization. The 9.5-million ex-Soviet nation has reported more than 20,000 confirmed coronavirus cases, with surges after public events with mass attendance, such as Easter services.
NICOSIA, Cyprus — Cyprus’ president attempted to quell concerns over the decision to reopen all public schools on May 21, saying it will depend on how well the country keeps the virus at bay.
President Nicos Anastasiades says he’ll take the advice of a team of medical experts. He says the government would never be “complicit in regressive” actions that would enable the virus to flourish and endanger public health.
Some Cypriots questioned why the government would opt to reopen schools for five weeks and risk a flareup of infections. Others attributed the move to pressure from the business community to free parents from taking care of kids at home and allowing them back to work.
MADRID — Spain’s government is deliberating which regions can rollback lockdown measures next week.
The regional authorities of Madrid, hardest hit by the coronavirus, are pushing the government to allow them to loosen restrictions. However, that position appears to have led to the resignation of its regional director of public health on Thursday.
Madrid’s regional chief Isabel Díaz Ayuso told Spanish state broadcaster TVE on Friday the capital was prepared. She says, “for there to be no more infections there would have be zero movement and that would lead to (economic) ruin.”
Government deputy prime minister Pablo Iglesias say it’s likely Madrid would have to wait, accusing Díaz Ayuso of “wanting to make propaganda from something as serious as saving lives.”
Madrid leads Spain with 8,500 confirmed deaths from the virus that has killed more than 26,000. Officials in Catalonia, the second-hardest hit area, have said they are not prepared to move forward with the rollback.
Spain reported 221 deaths on Friday, down from daily totals of more than 900 deaths a month ago.
BERLIN — Germany’s Lufthansa says its airlines will reactivate part of their fleet next month.
The company says Lufthansa, its budget subsidiary Eurowings and Switzerland’s Swiss will put 80 aircraft back into service starting June 1. So far, it has been operating a limited “repatriation flight schedule” with 80 planes.
Lufthansa says destinations including the Spanish island of Mallorca and the Greek island of Crete will return to its schedule in June, along with flight to the German North Sea island of Sylt and Rostock on the country’s Baltic coast.
German states are lifting restrictions on travel within the country.
Airlines have suffered from a near-collapse of air travel as a result of lockdowns, entry bans and quarantine rules. Lufthansa is negotiating with the German government on a potential 9 billion euro ($9.7 billion) aid package.
SOAVE, Italy — The northern Italian province of Bolzano is reopening stores this weekend in defiance of the Rome government’s program, citing a special statute that grants it some autonomy.
According to the statute signed Friday, stores may reopen on Saturday, ahead of the official May 18 opening date nationally. That will be followed Monday by the reopening of bars, restaurants, hairdressers and museums, which are not slated to open until June 1.
In Rome, the minister for Italy’s regions, Francesco Boccia, says he had no choice but to pose a legal challenge. Boccia says the reopening were premature as there is no health and safety plan yet in place for those sectors.
Bolzano has not had any deaths from coronavirus in days while the new positives have been in the low single digits. It accounts for just 1% of Italy’s nearly 215,000 cases.
The government has not altered its easing of the lockdown, which started this week with office workers and more factories. Veneto governor Luca Zaia says it was getting harder to explain the contradictions between companies with hundreds of workers being open “and a hairdresser cannot cut a woman’s hair.”
BRUSSELS — The European Commission will start dispatching a stock of 10 million masks to healthcare workers across the 27-country bloc and in the UK.
The Commission says a first batch of 1.5 million masks will be shipped to 17 member states and Britain over the next few days. The stock, purchased through an EU fund set up to tackle the COVID-19 crisis, will be distributed in weekly installments over the next six weeks.
“This is EU solidarity in action to help respond to the needs of European health systems and €3 billion has been mobilized from the EU budget to directly support national efforts,” says Stella Kyriakides, Commissioner for Health and Food Safety.
BERLIN — Deaths in Germany in late March and early April were above the average in the previous four years, which appears in part a result of the coronavirus pandemic.
The Federal Statistical Office says the difference was largest in the week of April 6-12, when deaths were 11% above the average from 2016-2019.
That’s generally when deaths decline as the number of people ill with flu declines, and the office says “this points to excess mortality in connection with the COVID-19 pandemic.”
The deaths in Germany from the coronavirus is low compared to several other European countries. Germany has tested and recorded one of the world’s largest numbers of infections, yet its death rate has been much lower than those in Britain, Italy, Spain and France.
BEIRUT — Lebanon’s mosques welcomed worshipers for Friday prayers for the first time in nearly two months, as authorities eased restrictions designed to limit the spread of the coronavirus.
The Interior Ministry announced churches and mosques could hold congregational prayers on Sundays and Fridays if they limit capacity and respect social distancing guidelines.
Mosque officials sprayed worshipers with disinfectant as they entered the buildings and took their temperatures. Masked worshipers sat, contrary to tradition, at considerable distances from one another and were obliged to bring their own prayer mats.
The minister of education says Lebanon’s schools and universities would resume May 28. They are expected open until the end of July when a two-month summer recess begins. Students from first to third grades will continue distant learning.
LISBON, Portugal — Portugal’s prime minister says his country has learned a tough lesson over the past two months of the coronavirus pandemic: that you can’t depend on foreign suppliers for essential medical equipment.
“We can’t be relying on a market that’s uncontrolled and brutal, with an almost physical brawl going on to buy one ventilator here, another there,” Prime Minister Antonio Costa said Friday.
He announced plans to step up national production so that Portugal can become self-sufficient in the production of masks, personal protective equipment and ventilators.
He said that if Portugal is going to move on from the current lockdown and “learn to live together with the virus,” it’s crucial that there are enough breathing machines available in case things go wrong.
Costa spoke during a visit to Portugal’s Engineering and Development Center, where a crowdfunding scheme has enabled it to produce an expected 400 breathing machines this month.
VIENNA — Austrian Chancellor Sebastian Kurz says there’s no sense in engaging in a “blame game” about who was responsible for the spread of the coronavirus.
Kurz was asked Friday whether the Austrian government will apologize to other countries for what happened in ski resorts such as Ischgl, where tourists were infected and carried the virus as far away as Iceland and Norway.
Kurz said that Austria responded earlier than other countries to the pandemic. He added: “I would never demand an apology from the Italians for Italian guests bringing the virus to Austrian ski resorts, because they certainly didn’t do it deliberately.”
Kurz said that “it doesn’t make sense to play an international blame game about who is responsible for this pandemic.”
He said it’s important to be self-critical and examine what could have been done better.
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.
Follow AP news coverage of the coronavirus pandemic at https://apnews.com/VirusOutbreak and https://apnews.com/UnderstandingtheOutbreak.