The Latest: Italians regaining some freedoms

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.


— Italian citizens, sports teams regaining some freedoms.

— Ontario, Canada, to keep schools closed until May 31.

— Virus patients down, ICU patients up in France.

ROME — After seven weeks in lockdown to contain one of the world’s worst outbreaks of COVID-19, Italians are regaining some freedoms.

Premier Giuseppe Conte says that starting May 4, public parks and gardens will re-open and people will be able to visit relatives who live in the same region.

However, Conte told the nation in a televised address Sunday night that citizens must practice social distancing. In the case of parks, mayors can impose limits, such as how many people enter, to avoid crowding.

During family visits, people will have to wear masks and can’t hold parties. If people don’t follow the new measures, Conte says “the curve of contagion can rise again, it will go out of control, deaths will climb and we’ll have irreparable damage” to the economy.

Conte says professional sports teams can resume training on May 18 and athletes in individual sports can resume training on May 4.

That means the Serie A soccer league could resume playing games in June. It has been suspended since March 9. Twelve rounds remain in Serie A, plus four other games that were postponed from the 25th round. The Italian Cup was suspended after the first leg of the semifinals.

Also on May 18, libraries, museums and art exhibitions can re-open.

Factories, construction sites and wholesale supply businesses can resume activity as soon as they put safety measures into place aimed at containing COVID-19.

But Conte says that if the epidemiological curve of contagion starts to rise again, the government will quickly intervene and shut down such industrial activity again.

Conte offered a new mantra for the about-to-begin second phase: “If you love Italy…. keep the social distance.”

Health ministry figures indicate that Italy had seen its lowest day-to-day increase in deaths – 260 – since mid-March, during the first week of lockdown. Starting May 4, funerals will be allowed, but preferably should be held in the open, no more than 15 persons can participate and mourners must wear masks. If all goes well, retail shops will reopen on May 18, and restaurants, cafes, barber shops and hair salons on June 1.


FISHERS, Ind. — A church in suburban Indianapolis resumed in-person services for the first time in a over a month.

The iTown Church in Fishers limited the number of attendees to 10 on Sunday in order to adhere to a state order that prohibits gatherings of over 10 people. According to the Indianapolis Star, the 40-minute services began on the hour, with each service followed by a 20-minute period to allow cleaning crews to sterilize the area.


PARIS — While the number of COVID-19 patients in intensive care in France is continuing to trend downward, the overall number of ICU patients is increasing, with more people needing emergency care for other ailments.

The build-up of patients in French ICUs comes amid concerns that people with long-term medical problems have been delaying or not getting treatment during the outbreak, while hospitals have been struggling with huge flows of patients seriously ill with the new coronavirus.

The Health Ministry said hospital ICUs were treating 7,553 people on Sunday, 28 more than on Saturday.

But the proportion of COVID-19 patients in ICUs was again down, at 4,682. That was 43 fewer than the day before.

The ministry said the increase of non-COVID patients in ICUs “underscores the necessity of tracking and treating patients with chronic illnesses as well as the urgent need to care for serious acute illnesses.”

The overall death toll from France’s virus outbreak is now up to 22,856, behind only Italy and Spain in Europe. More than one-third of France’s victims died in care facilities, mostly for the elderly.


LAUREL, Mont. — Montana took its first, halting step toward reopening as churchgoers returned to services after a month-long hiatus and a general stay-at-home order expired.

While other states have been extending restrictions amid the continuing spread of the coronavirus, Montana is among those that are beginning to loosen rules in hopes of restoring battered economies and regaining some normalcy.

Roughly 100 people streamed into St. Anthony Catholic Church in Laurel on Sunday, where ushers tried to keep families separate from one another and large bottles of hand sanitizer were on offer at the sanctuary’s entrance. Church member Jack Auzqui says being unable to attend had been spiritually difficult for him and his wife. Returning, he said, was akin to a family being reunited.

Rev. Bart Stevens opened with an instruction for attendees “not to linger” after the Mass to minimize social interactions.

At Christ the King Lutheran Church in Billings, Pastor Ryan Wendt said the church was mixing faith with common sense precautions. Every other pew was kept empty to comply with social distancing guidelines, while elderly and medically-vulnerable members of the congregation were advised to stay home.


TORONTO — Canada’s most populous province says all publicly-funded schools will remain closed until May 31 to keep students and staff safe amid the pandemic.

Ontario Education Minister Stephen Lecce says the decision was based on advice from medical experts. Lecce says the school closure could be further extended. Students have already transitioned to learning online over the past month.

The Ministry of Education says it has already distributed 20,000 iPads to students whose families don’t have the means to access online learning.


CENTRAL, La. — A Louisiana pastor is holding services in his church, defying house arrest orders that followed an assault charge related to his decision to hold mass gatherings in defiance of public health orders during the coronavirus pandemic.

A livestream from Life Tabernacle Church on Sunday showed Tony Spell walking among more than 100 congregants, often repeating the phrase, “I’ve just got to get to Jesus. … Come on America, let’s get back to Jesus.” Nearly all parishioners were not wearing face masks, and social distancing was not being practiced.

The police department in Central, a suburb Baton Rouge, says on their Facebook page that Spell turned himself into the department last week on charges of aggravated assault and improper backing.

Trey Bennett has kept up a one-man demonstration in front of the church since Easter Sunday, when he noticed hundreds of parishioners still attending services in defiance of the state’s stay-at-home mandate, which bans gatherings of more than 10 people. Houses of worship across Louisiana have turned to online services instead.

Last Sunday, Spell drove a church bus in reverse in the direction of the sign-holding protester. Spell already faces misdemeanor charges for holding in-person church services despite the ban on gatherings.

Dozens of Spell’s parishioners met him at the East Baton Rouge Parish prison, dressed in their Sunday best, arrived in church buses to show support. In a livestream from the church, images including photos from Spell’s arrest, as well as information for a GoFundMe account to help with his legal costs, played over music being performed at the church.


TOPEKA, Kan. — Kansas Gov. Laura Kelly says she’s reached a deal that could resolve a lawsuit brought by two churches challenging her order banning religious gatherings of more than 10 people to help slow the spread of the coronavirus.

Under the deal, the two churches and the Democratic governor agreed to the extension of a federal judge’s temporary restraining order that allows those churches to disregard the 10-person limit as long as they complied with social-distancing measures.

The extension essentially allows the two Kansas churches to continue their in-person services while the governor finalizes her plans for new re-opening restrictions that would take effect May 4.

Kansas has traced five coronavirus clusters that resulted in seven deaths to church gatherings.


NEW YORK — Gov. Andrew Cuomo says the 367 deaths from the coronavirus that he reported Sunday were “horrific,” but the number was less than half the nearly 800 deaths that occurred in a single day during the pandemic’s peak in New York.

It is the first time this month that the statewide daily death toll has been below 400.

Cuomo also reports that the number of hospitalizations, which still topped 1,000, and the number of individuals put on a ventilator had dropped as well.

The deaths include 349 patients who died in hospitals and 18 individuals who died in nursing homes, the Democratic governor said.

On Saturday, Cuomo said there were 437 deaths on Friday.


WASHINGTON — U.S. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi says the nation’s governors are rightfully feeling impatient about getting financial help from Congress during the coronavirus outbreak and insists the aid will come.

The California Democrat tells CNN’s “State of the Union” that governors “should be impatient. Their impatience will help us get an even bigger number” in the next congressional relief package. Pelosi has already pledged to provide them billions in aid.

With much of the American economy shuttered during the pandemic, state and local governments are reeling from declining sales tax revenues and surging unemployment benefit costs.

Several governors, including Democrat Andrew Cuomo of New York, say federal aid should have been approved in the last relief package. Republican Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell has since expressed opposition to providing more local help.

But Pelosi says people should judge the latest federal aid package “for what it does. Don’t criticize it for what it doesn’t, because we have a plan for that. And that will happen.”


ROME — Italy has registered its lowest day-to-day increase in deaths of those infected with COVID-19 since the country was in its first week of lockdown in mid-March.

The Health Ministry released new figures, including 260 deaths, for the 24-hour period ending Sunday. That daily grim statistic was last lower on March 14, when 175 deaths were registered.

Premier Giuseppe Conte says on Facebook that later Sunday he will address the nation, eager to learn which restrictions will be eased in Italy’s lockdown, which expires May 3.

Overall, Italy has registered 26,644 deaths of those with known coronavirus infections.

But the toll could be considerably higher, since many persons who died in their homes or in care residences for the elderly in recent weeks didn’t receive COVID-19 tests.

By late March, when the outbreak was raging, most devastatingly in the north, Italy’s day-to-day tally of new deaths had soared to nearly 1,000. Italy now has totaled 197,675 known cases, after 2,324 new cases were registered on Sunday.


DUBAI, United Arab Emirates — Saudi Arabia signed a deal worth more than $264 million with China to provide the kingdom with the ability to conduct 9 million COVID-19 tests.

The deal signed Sunday and announced by Saudi Arabia also provides the kingdom with 500 personnel to conduct the tests in six laboratories that will be established across the country.

Saudi Arabia says the agreement with China’s BGI Group indicates the kingdom is “in a race against time to diagnose cases and to work to isolate them.” The contract also includes conducting comprehensive community testing, genetic mapping of a number of samples in the kingdom, and analysis of immunity mapping from 1 million samples.

Saudi Arabia has also signed agreements with companies in the U.S., South Korea and Switzerland with the aim of testing 40% of people in the country. More than 17,000 confirmed cases of the virus have been reported in Saudi Arabia, including more than 130 deaths.


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