The Latest: French health chief says virus reaches ‘plateau’

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:

— Virus reaches “long plateau” in France, health agency chief says.

— British foreign secretary says China must explain virus’ origins.

— Illinois nursing home records 23 coronavirus deaths.

— Canadian prime minister says U.S. border won’t open anytime soon.

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PARIS — The coronavirus appears to be receding in France, one of the world’s hardest-hit countries.

National Health agency chief Jerome Salomon said Thursday that the virus epidemic looks to have reached a “long plateau” that is “evolving slowly downward,” instead of hitting a peak followed by a sharp drop.

Two weeks ago, France saw a 58% weekly jump in deaths nationwide as COVID-19 claimed more and more lives.

Salomon said it was unclear how much of the “excess mortality” reported from March 30-April 5 in comparison to previous years was linked to the virus.

But the rise corresponded with an increase in deaths attributed to the virus in hospitals and care homes, which is now at 17,920. France has not been counting people who die with the virus at home.

More than 6,000 people are still in intensive care but the number has dropped every day for a week, and the number of people hospitalized fell Thursday for a second day.

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LONDON — British Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab says China will have some “hard questions” to answer about how the coronavirus pandemic started.

The virus emerged in Wuhan, China, at the end of 2019. Raab said Thursday the world will need to find out what happened in China in the early days of the pandemic.

Raab is filling in for Prime Minister Boris Johnson, who is convalescing after a weeklong hospital stay to be treated for COVID-19. The foreign secretary said there will have to be a “deep dive” review of the crisis, including how the outbreak came about.

He said the review of all aspects of the pandemic, including its origins, will have to be based on the science and conducted in a “balanced way,” and added that there “is no doubt we can’t have business as usual after this crisis.”

Raab did credit cooperation from Beijing in relation to bringing home stranded Britons in Wuhan and in supplying equipment to deal with the pandemic.

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CAIRO — Egypt’s government will introduce movement restrictions targeted specifically at the holiday of Sham el-Nessim on Monday.

The holiday traditionally includes a festival of social gatherings in parks and gardens that signals the arrival of spring.

Egyptian Prime Minister Mostafa Madbouly announced on Thursday that all public transportation, public spaces and stores will close for the occasion to encourage the country’s 100 million people to stay indoors.

The holiday follows Orthodox Easter on Sunday, which will see muted celebrations in Egypt as the Coptic Orthodox Church decided to suspend Easter prayers and gatherings at churches nationwide. Christians constitute around 10% of Egypt’s predominately Muslim population.

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MALE, Maldives — The Maldives government has placed the archipelago state’s capital island, Male, and two nearby islands under a two-day lockdown after authorities found signs of community spread of the new coronavirus.

Officials said three people tested positive for COVID-19 in Male on Wednesday and Thursday and it was not clear how the virus entered the community.

The Indian Ocean country is known for its luxury tourist resort islands. Before this week, the Maldives had only found positive cases of COVID-19 at the resorts. There have been 23 confirmed cases overall, including 15 foreigners.

Some resorts and hotels have been converted into quarantine centers.

The capital island is tiny, with more than 100,000 people packed into 1 square mile (2.5 square kilometers).

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ISTANBUL — Turkey’s health minister has reported 125 new COVID-19 fatalities in the past 24 hours.

That’s the highest number of daily deaths in the country since the start of the coronavirus pandemic and brings the total death toll to 1,643.

Health minister Fahrettin Koca also tweeted Thursday that the number of infections in the country has increased by 4,801 and the total number of confirmed cases is 74,193.

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JOLIET, Ill. — A nursing home in northern Illinois became the latest such facility in the United States to see its death toll climb past 20.

Symphony of Joliet said a death toll that stood at three as recently as last week had jumped to 23. A spokeswoman for the facility where 22 residents and one staff member have died said the surge occurred despite its efforts to follow government guidelines and despite moving healthy residents to other facilities.

But siblings of one resident who died said the care was woefully inadequate and that they were not even told that their 65-year-old sister had contracted the virus until a representative of a hospital where she was taken told them.

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SARAJEVO — Services were held in several Orthodox Christian churches in Bosnia despite strict social-distancing rules imposed by authorities amid the coronavirus pandemic.

Several dozen parishioners were filmed Thursday attending a communion service in Vasilije Ostroski Church in a Serb-run eastern suburb of Sarajevo.

Cameras captured a priest dipping a shared spoon into a chalice of wine and giving it to parishioners during the service.

The episode has raised fears that authorities in the Serb-run Republika Srpska which, along with a Bosniak-Croat federation, makes up multiethnic Bosnia, would turn a blind eye on mass gatherings in churches in the run-up to Orthodox Easter on April 19.

Bosnia was put on an almost total lockdown more than four weeks ago as the coronavirus begun creating clusters of illness around the impoverished country.

On Thursday, it registered 1,167 coronavirus infections and 43 deaths.

According to the 2013 census, Orthodox Christian Serbs make up around one-third of Bosnia’s 3.5 million residents.

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ATHENS, Greece — Greek authorities are doubling fines and ramping up checks for breaches of the country’s coronavirus lockdown over the coming Orthodox Easter holiday weekend.

Easter is the biggest event on the Orthodox calendar, and traditionally a time for Greeks to congregate in churches and then feast on roast lamb with family and friends in country homes. All those activities have been banned.

Between Saturday night and midnight on Monday, the fines will reach 300 euros ($325), up from the current 150 euros. Greece reported just 15 new coronavirus infections Thursday and three new deaths, bringing total infections to 2,207 and deaths to 105.

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SOFIA, Bulgaria — Bulgaria registered a record increase of confirmed coronavirus cases on Thursday as health officials said the number climbed by 65 to 800.

The Balkan country of 7 million has imposed strict social-distancing measures that have worked well but so far it has tested only a limited number of people who are suspected to be infected.

It is probably one of the reasons why Bulgaria has the lowest number of confirmed cases and the third-lowest number of fatalities from the coronavirus per 100,000 inhabitants in the European Union, according to latest data by the European Center for Disease Prevention and Control.

The government started on Thursday massive testing hoping that it will provide a better picture of the virus’ spread that could help to shape future steps to revive the economy.

Thirty-eight people have died from COVID-19 in Bulgaria.

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ROME — Deaths and new infections in Italy continued to plateau Thursday, showing no significant easing nearly a month after a peak.

The number of deaths of people infected with the coronavirus in Italy grew by 525 in the last 24 hours to 22,170, the smallest increase in four days. At the same time, new cases grew by 3,786 cases to 168,941, the largest jump in four days.

Pressure on hospitals eased with 750 fewer beds occupied, including 143 fewer in intensive care units — with ICU beds dropping below 3,000 for the first time since March 21.

Virologist Andrea Crisanti, who is leading the Veneto region’s efforts to contain the virus, said Thursday that it will be another couple of weeks of strict measures before deaths and infections are expected to drop off significantly.

“We are still seeing the results of what happened four or five weeks ago” in terms of virus circulation, he told foreign journalists.

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LISBON, Portugal — Portugal’s government and parliament have approved a request from the country’s president to extend the national state of emergency for another two weeks.

The special limits on movement and the closure of nonessential services will remain in place until May 2 amid the coronavirus pandemic.

But officials offered some hope for easing the restrictions next month. The bill said that “depending on how the pandemic develops and taking into account the experiences of other European countries” there may be a gradual and calibrated reopening of companies and services in May.

Portugal has recorded 629 deaths from COVID-19 and almost 19,000 confirmed cases. Neighboring Spain has more than 19,000 dead from the virus.

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JERUSALEM — The Islamic trust managing a contested holy site in Jerusalem said Thursday that it would remain closed during the upcoming Muslim holy month of Ramadan due to the coronavirus crisis.

The Islamic Waqf had suspended worship at the shrine, known to Muslims as the Noble Sanctuary and to Jews as the Temple Mount, last month in response to recommendations of religious and medical authorities.

Ramadan is expected to begin next week.

The site is considered the holiest in Judaism, where two Jewish temples stood in antiquity, and the third holiest in Islam after Mecca and Medina. It is the emotional epicenter of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

The coronavirus outbreak forced the suspension of mass gatherings for the Jewish holiday of Passover and the Christian holiday of Easter this week.

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TORONTO — Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau says the border between Canada and the United States isn’t opening any time soon for nonessential travel.

Trudeau says it will be “many weeks” before Canada can loosen such a restrictions.

U.S. President Donald Trump said Wednesday the U.S.-Canada border will be among the first borders to open and says the U.S. and Canada are doing well in handling the pandemic. The U.S. has more confirmed cases and deaths from COVID-19 than any country in the world.

The U.S. and Canada agreed last month to limit border crossings to essential travel amid the pandemic, but that agreement is due to expire April 19. Nearly 200,000 people cross that border daily in normal times.

Truck drivers and Canadian snowbirds, who live in the U.S. for part of the year and are returning to Canada, are among those who are exempted from the current travel ban. Canada sends 75% of its exports to the U.S. and about 18% of American exports go to Canada.

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LONDON — The British government says a nationwide lockdown imposed to slow the spread of the new coronavirus will remain in place for at least three more weeks.

Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab says “any change to our social distancing measures now would risk a significant increase in the spread of the virus.”

The lockdown has been in place since March 23. Schools, pubs, restaurants and most shops are closed, and most people are allowed to leave home only for essential errands or exercise.

Medical officials say the outbreak in the U.K. is reaching its peak but it’s too early to loosen restrictions on daily life.

As of Thursday, nearly 14,000 people had died in U.K. hospitals after testing positive for coronavirus.

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MOSCOW — Russian President Vladimir Putin has warned against attempts to blame China for failing to duly inform the rest of the world about the coronavirus outbreak.

In Thursday’s phone call with Chinese President Xi Jinping, Putin emphasized that “attempts to accuse China of failing to inform the global community about the emergence of dangerous infection are counterproductive.”

The Kremlin added that the Russian president gave a “high assessment of the continuous and efficient actions of the Chinese partners” that allowed the outbreak to be stabilized. It said both leaders voiced confidence that close cooperation between Moscow and Beijing will help overcome the outbreak.

China has strongly denied claims it delayed reporting on the virus outbreak in Wuhan late last year and underreported case numbers, worsening the impact on the U.S. and other countries. Beijing also rejected allegations that the coronavirus pandemic may have originated in a laboratory near Wuhan where contagious samples were being stored.

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BERLIN — Almost two dozen countries have called for stronger international cooperation and solidarity in the fight against the coronavirus pandemic.

Foreign ministers from Germany, France, Italy, Canada, Spain, Mexico and 17 other nations issued a joint statement Thursday describing the outbreak and its consequences as “a wake-up call for multilateralism.”

The group said it backed a call by the U.N. for an immediate global ceasefire, expressed its support for humanitarian efforts in poor countries affected by the pandemic, and said it would “commit, on a voluntary basis, to provide resources” to the World Health Organization’s efforts to curb the outbreak.

Following a virtual meeting of the group, known as the Alliance for Multilateralism, German Foreign Minister Heiko Maas warned that U.S. moves to withdraw from the arena of international cooperation could boost those “who don’t share our values, the values of liberal democracy.”

Asked about President Donald Trump’s recent decision to cut funding for the WHO, Maas said Germany would welcome talks between the U.N. health agency and American officials “so that a way out of this situation can be sought.”

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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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