The Latest: Italian health official pushes back on criticism
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
— WHO leader dodges questions on Trump’s criticism.
— British official says PM Boris Johnson improving.
—Turkey reports sharp rise in confirmed COVID-19 cases.
—Malta reports first death linked to coronavirus.
ROME — Public health officials in the virus-ravaged Lombardy region are pushing back against accusations they made a series of early errors in containing the outbreak that cost lives.
Lombardy’s chief health care official Giulio Gallera says in a letter he was “stupified and embittered” by the seven-point memo published earlier this week by the association of doctors in Lombardy.
The doctors had blasted what they said was a lack of data about the true number of people infected, the lack of tests for doctors and nurses, and the inadequate distribution of protective equipment and masks for medical personnel.
Lombardy has been the epicenter of Europe’s COVID-19 outbreak, registering more than 50,000 of Italy’s infections and nearly 10,000 of Italy’s 17,669 dead.
Gallera notes that many of the doctors’ complaints concerned issues that are out of the region’s control and reflected decisions taken by the national government. He is defending Lombardy’s handling of the outbreak and urging the association to work with the region and not against it.
TORONTO — Air Canada plans to rehire 16,500 laid-off workers via the Canadian government’s 75% emergency wage subsidy.
Canada’s largest airline says the vast majority will remain at home amid the collapse of travel triggered by the pandemic. Nearly half of Air Canada’s 36,000 employees lost their jobs.
Chief executive Calin Rovinescu says they are trying to keep as many employees as possible during the crisis and says the measure helps. Under the wage subsidy program, workers are paid 75% of normal hourly wages or up to $847 Canadian (US$603) per week. The move effectively nationalizes many private payrolls for a time.
MADRID — Authorities in Madrid say at least 4,260 of 4,750 people who lived in the region’s nursing homes and died since the coronavirus began spreading there had the COVID-19 disease or its symptoms.
The figures for the hard-hit Spanish capital shed light on the gap between deaths linked to the virus and actual numbers reported by health authorities, which are confirmed by positive tests.
For Madrid, the confirmed number of elderly COVID-19 deaths was 781 as of Wednesday, meaning that the rest of the elderly who showed symptoms before dying but weren’t tested are not showing up in the national toll. The Health Ministry said the country’s total was 14,555 on Wednesday.
The ministry’s daily figures are being scrutinized to track the epidemic’s impact — and plan its response.
“The figures are much higher than in an ordinary month, because when the virus penetrates in a nursing home it creates havoc,” said Ignacio Aguado, the No. 2 in the Madrid regional government. “These are devastating data that we are fighting against.”
The loopholes in the accounting of the pandemic also had been questioned in the tracking of the contagion tally because Spain’s laboratories have been unable to conduct widespread tests beyond hospitals and nursing homes. Positive infections recorded on Wednesday rose to 146,000.
SAN JUAN, Puerto Rico — Puerto Rico announced it will broaden its classification of COVID-19 deaths to include suspected cases that were never confirmed — addressing a problem of undercounting also seen around the world.
The U.S. territory has faced heavy criticism for not implementing widespread testing and for relying on limited data to implement a strict curfew and produce estimates of when the peak of coronavirus cases might occur.
Health Secretary Lorenzo González says doctors can classify a death as related to COVID-19 without having to wait for lab results.
Authorities in several countries have acknowledged that deaths from COVID-19 have been undercounted for lack of testing, a problem that has been noted especially in deaths at nursing homes in Europe. The issue also is sensitive in Puerto Rico, where officials eventually acknowledged 2,975 people had died as a result of Hurricane Maria in 2017, vastly more than figures in the low hundreds that were initially reported.
NICOSIA, Cyprus — Cyprus’ health minister says enough chloroquine has been procured for use on as many as 240,000 people — roughly a quarter of the island nation’s population — if they’re infected with the coronavirus.
Constantinos Ioannou says the amount has been reserved from the five tons of the drug that Cyprus and Israel jointly purchased from India.
He says Cyprus is one of the first countries to approve prescription of the anti-malaria drug to treat coronavirus patients exhibiting mild-to-medium symptoms who are convalescing at home.
Chloroquine hasn’t yet been officially approved for fighting COVID-19 and scientists say more testing is needed before it’s proven safe and effective against the virus.
VALLETTA, Malta — The small Mediterranean island nation of Malta has recorded its first death linked to the coronavirus.
The country’s health minister identified the victim as a 92-year-old woman who suffered from renal and cardiac complications, and was also diabetic. She died in the hospital on the island of Gozo.
Malta has confirmed 299 cases of the coronavirus — including a 1-month-old — since March 7.
BATON ROUGE, La. — As Louisiana sees encouraging signs in fighting the coronavirus, Gov. John Bel Edwards worries the news could embolden people to lessen their physical distancing from others in an Easter holiday week traditionally packed with religious gatherings and crawfish boils.
The rate of new hospitalizations has slowed, and the number of COVID-19 patients on ventilators has decreased. The governor cautiously described those benchmarks as early signs “the curve is starting to flatten” and the rate of new infections could be shrinking. In a hopeful sign, Louisiana dropped the number of ventilators it’s trying to obtain, from 14,000 on order to 1,000.
While he’s heartened by the latest data, Edwards said Louisianans shouldn’t return to normal life.
“Things could shift again, and they will shift again if people decide that their job is over and that they’re no longer going to comply with our stay at home order and with social distancing,” the Democratic governor said.
More than 17,000 people in Louisiana have confirmed infections of the COVID-19 disease caused by the coronavirus, according to health department data. The number of virus patients statewide who needed ventilators fell again Wednesday, along with the number of people hospitalized by the virus. Of the nearly 2,000 virus patients in hospitals, 490 were on ventilators, down from 519 a day earlier.
UNITED NATIONS — United Nations Secretary-General Antonio Guterres is responding to U.S. President Donald Trump’s threatened cutoff of funding to the World Health Organization, saying the U.N. agency “is absolutely critical to the world’s efforts to win the war against COVID-19” and must be supported.
The U.N. chief says the coronavirus pandemic “is unprecedented in our lifetime and requires an unprecedented response.”
“Obviously, in such conditions, it is possible that the same facts have had different readings by different entities,” Guterres says.
Once the pandemic ends, he says, there must be an investigation of how it emerged and spread so quickly as well as the reactions of all those involved in the crisis so lessons can be learned.
“But now is not that time,” the secretary-general says. “Now is the time for unity, for the international community to work together in solidarity to stop this virus and its shattering consequences.”
U.N. spokesman Stephane Dujarric says Guterres has been in touch with the World Health Organization and the U.S. administration “at various levels.”
The U.S. contributed nearly $900 million to WHO in 2018-2019, according to the agency’s website, representing about 20 percent of its $4.4 billion budget for those years.
LONDON — European planemaker Airbus is reducing production by about a third as demand for aircraft and travel plummets due to the coronavirus pandemic.
The company said it delivered 122 planes in the first quarter, but 60 remain undelivered. It delivered only 36 in March, down from 55 in February as airlines asked to defer orders as they face huge costs related to a near total shutdown on air travel.
CEO Guillaume Faury was unable to say how long the production cuts would last, saying only that Airbus would review its output on a monthly basis.
The company said it was keeping tight control on costs and has not yet applied for government support, though it said it may yet seek to tap European government schemes that help pay the salaries of workers put on temporary leave.
NICOSIA, Cyprus — Cyprus has extended a strict stay-at-home order that includes a night-time curfew and a once-a-day restriction on going outside from April 13 to the end of the month in a bid to eliminate the spread of the coronavirus.
President Nicos Anastasiades says in a televised address that although experts assess that a slower rate of new infections offer a “ray of light,” there can be no let-up in existing measures that have successfully curtailed instances of the virus being brought into the country from abroad.
Anastasiades says the measures, including a ban on mass gatherings, apply to Orthodox Easter celebrations next week when the faithful traditionally inundate churches for Holy Week services and gather to celebrate Easter Sunday.
ANNAPOLIS, MD — Maryland recorded its largest daily increase in coronavirus yet on Wednesday, a rise Gov. Larry Hogan attributed to an “emerging hot spot” in the Baltimore-Washington corridor as well as increased testing.
The number of cases rose to 5,529, an increase from 4,370 on Tuesday, or nearly 27%. Deaths from the virus in Maryland increased to a total of 124, up from 103 the day before.
Hogan notes that Wednesday’s numbers “reflect a tripling of the tests reported” since Tuesday. He says Maryland is seeing commercial labs begin to clear their backlog of tests.
MEXICO CITY — The Mexican government says at least 108 Mexicans have died of complications related to COVID-19 in the United States, more than half of those in New York.
The actual number could be higher, because Mexico’s foreign ministry says in a statement that the figures only include deaths reported to its consulates.
Some 11 million Mexicans live in the United States, about 4.5 million without legal status.
ANKARA, Turkey — Turkey’s health minister says the number of confirmed COVID-19 cases has increased by 4,117 in the past 24 hours, raising the total number of infections to 38,226.
Fahrettin Koca also reported 87 more deaths in the last 24 hours, bring the country’s death toll to 812.
The minister said 1,492 COVID-19 patients are currently in intensive care, including 995 who are intubated. At least 1,846 patients have recovered, according to figures Koca posted on his Twitter account.
The figures released Wednesday came as the World Health Organization expressed alarm over the “dramatic increase in virus spread” in Turkey over the last week.
ROME — Pressure on Italy’s intensive care units continued to ease, with 99 fewer beds occupied over the last 24 hours while the greatest number of people were counted as recovered since the pandemic hit Italy: 2,099.
It is the first time that the number of people who have been dismissed from the hospital has topped 2,000, and marks an increase of one-third over the number sent home a day earlier. Italy also saw the number of people who died with the coronavirus hit the lowest number in nearly a month, with 542 deaths since Tuesday, while the new cases crept up slightly to 3,836.
Ranieri Guerra, a representative of the World Health Organization, told reporters the improvements were a result of actions taken two or three weeks ago, which reinforces the necessity to continuing the containment measures.
GENEVA — The World Health Organization chief sought to rise above sharp criticism and threats of funding cuts from U.S. President Donald Trump over the health agency’s response to the coronavirus, quipping: “Why would I care about being attacked when people are dying?”
WHO Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus admittedly dodged questions about Trump’s comments a day earlier, but said the agency was made up of humans “who make mistakes,” and said his key focus was saving lives, not playing politics.
“Please quarantine politicizing COVID,” he said, alluding to the COVID-19 disease linked to coronavirus infections. He made a heartfelt appeal with personal narrative and story-recounting to make his point.
“Without unity, we can assure you, every country will be in trouble,” said Tedros. “Unity at national level — no need to use COVID to score political points. You have many other ways to prove yourself.”
Trump on Tuesday accused WHO of being “China-centric” and criticized its alleged missteps, notably faulting WHO recommendations against travel bans to help stop the spread.
LONDON — Britain’s Treasury chief says Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s condition is improving in the intensive care unit of a London hospital.
Rishi Sunak says Johnson has been sitting up in bed and engaging with his doctors at St. Thomas’ Hospital.
Johnson was admitted to the hospital on Sunday, 10 days after being diagnosed with COVID-19. He was transferred to the ICU on Monday when his condition deteriorated.
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