The Latest: Italy has few thousand new coronavirus cases

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:

— Italy registers a few thousand new coronavirus cases daily.

— French officials say no reason to suspect China set loose coronavirus.

— Mexico seeks older doctors, nurses to care for non-coronavirus patients.

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ROME — Even as authorities in parts of Italy’s hardest-hit areas seek to ease lockdown restrictions, the nation continues to register a few thousand new cases of COVID-19 daily.

According to numbers supplied by the Health Ministry, there were nearly 3,500 new cases Friday since a day earlier, raising Italy’s overall tally of known infections to 172,434. Since Thursday, deaths of 575 persons infected with coronavirus were registered.

Still, the numbers are showing a stark improvement, especially of patients in intensive care beds, since the first weeks of the outbreak.

Italy has Europe’s highest death toll of 22,745. The country is in its sixth week of nationwide lockdown.

By far, Italy’s region with the most cases and deaths is Lombardy, one of the nation’s most economically productive areas. Its governor has been insisting Lombardy’s factories must return to action starting on May 4, following the end of the national government’s current lockdown decree.

But virus experts and epidemiologists have cautioned that any easing of restrictions must be gradual. With far fewer cases in the south, experts are afraid immunity to COVID-19 is relatively low among the population there, and the virus outbreak could flare up anew.

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PARIS — France’s leadership says there is no reason to believe that China set loose the virus from a lab in Wuhan that French researchers helped build.

French President Emmanuel Macron’s office said in a statement: “There is no factual proof at this stage … establishing a link between the origin of COVID-19 and the work of the P4 laboratory in China.”

President Donald Trump and some U.S. officials have suggested the coronavirus escaped from a Chinese lab. China accuses the U.S. administration of shifting the focus away from its own missteps in handling the virus.

French government researchers and engineers helped design the lab in question at the Wuhan Institute of Virology, so the outlier theory is raising questions in France.

Defense Minister Florence Parly said that “there are things that happened in China that we don’t know about,” but dismissed suggestions that China unleashed the virus to “neutralize our military operational capacity.”

While the virus is still being studied, the leading theory among scientists is that infection among humans began at an animal market in Wuhan, probably from an animal that got the virus from a bat.

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MEXICO CITY — As pressure on Mexico’s health care system increases, the government is asking healthy doctors and nurses between the ages of 60 and 65 to sign up for work at hospitals that are not treating coronavirus patients.

The appeal is open to medical workers who are active, unemployed or retired, but also considered more vulnerable to the COVID-19 disease because they are older. Their deployment would free up younger doctors and nurses to focus on coronavirus patients in separate facilities as Mexico braces for an expected peak in infections in May.

President Andrés Manuel López Obrador announced the initiative, saying older workers who respond would be assigned for one month ending on May 23. Those workers would receive a 30% increase on top of salaries commensurate with their experience and skill. The goal is to boost the medical work force by about 20,000 people.

At least 486 people in Mexico are confirmed to have died after contracting the new coronavirus.

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TORONTO — Prime Minister Justin Trudeau says the Canadian government is sending military assistance to Quebec’s long-term care homes.

Trudeau says 125 members of the Canadian Armed Forces with medical expertise will travel to the province to support them. He also says more can be done with the Red Cross and volunteers.

About 2,000 doctors responded to the premier of Quebec’s request to help overburdened long-term care homes. About 90% of COVID-19 deaths registered in Quebec involve victims 70 and older, and 70% of all deaths reported are in long-term care and senior homes.

More than half of all of Canada’s more than 31,408 confirmed cases of COVID-19 are in Quebec. Canada has more than 1,250 deaths.

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PRAGUE — The Czech Republic will allow religious services to start up again as the country has been easing restrictions imposed to contain the coronavirus pandemic.

Health Care Minister Adam Vojtech says the religious gatherings in churches will restart on April 27 with a maximum of 15 people. But they will have to keep a distance from one another. The number of worshippers will be allowed to grow in the following weeks.

The Czech government unveiled a plan this week to gradually relax the strict measures adopted in response to the outbreak.

Vojtech says the plan originally omitted religious services that have now been included at the request of Prague Archbishop Dominik Duka.

The Czech Republic is considered one of the most atheist countries in Europe.

The country has 6,499 people who have tested positive for the virus and 173 have died.

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CONAKRY, Guinea — Guinea’s electoral commission says its president Salif Kebe has died from COVID-19. He had self-quarantined after showing symptoms and asked that all staff of the electoral commission also stay at home. Kebe organized a vote on March 22 amid COVID-19 on legislative seats and a disputed referendum that will allow President Alpha Conde to run for office again despite his original constitutional mandate expiring in December. After announcing the provisional results of the referendum on March 27 and those of the legislative elections April 2, Kebe had not been seen in public.

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JACKSONVILLE, Fla. — Some North Florida beaches are re-opening, becoming among the first in the state since coronavirus concerns forced beach-goers away.

Mayor Lenny Curry said Duval County’s beaches will have restricted hours, and they can only be used for walking, biking, hiking, fishing, running, swimming, taking care of pets and surfing.

Gatherings of 50 or more people are prohibited and people must still practice social distancing.

Florida officials were criticized for leaving beaches open during spring break last month. Most counties closed their beaches in response or kept them open under very restrictive conditions.

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NASHVILLE, Tenn. — A Tennessee church is challenging a local ban on drive-in church services, joining a growing list of lawsuits seeking to push back against limitations on religious gatherings that have been enacted to help prevent the spread of coronavirus.

A conservative legal group called Alliance Defending Freedom has filed a federal lawsuit on behalf of Metropolitan Tabernacle Church, based in Chattanooga. The complaints follow Chattanooga Mayor Andy Berke’s declaration that drive-in religious services would violate the city’s shelter-in-place directive that has been in place since April 2.

Chattanooga’s order comes as Gov. Bill Lee issued a statewide stay-at-home order until April 30. However, the Republican governor’s order does not restrict types of worship.

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BANGKOK — Thailand’s leader says he’ll appeal to the country’s 20 wealthiest people for advice and assistance in overcoming the crisis caused by the COVID-19 pandemic.

Prime Minister Prayuth Chan-ocha says in a televised address the government alone could not overcome the health and economic challenges posed by the coronavirus. He’s asking other sectors to join “Team Thailand.”

A business council advising his government this week predicted as many as 10 million Thais could lose their jobs in the next few months if the coronavirus crisis doesn’t ease up.

Thailand’s royal family controls the country’s biggest fortune, but Prayuth is calling on the business community. The Chearavanont family own the CP Group, one of the world’s biggest conglomerates.

Thai health authorities announced 28 new confirmed cases of COVID-19, bringing the total to 2,700 and 47 deaths.

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CAMILLA, Ga. — Four employees of Tyson Foods in Georgia have died from the coronavirus.

Tyson Foods spokesman Gary Mickelson says three of the employees worked at the company’s chicken processing plant in Camilla, while the fourth person worked in a supporting job outside the plant. He declined to say how many workers there have tested positive for COVID-19.

Mickelson says two other Tyson Foods workers died from the virus at its plant in Columbus Junction, Iowa.

The Retail, Wholesale and Department Store Union, which represents 2,000 workers at the Georgia chicken plant, identified the three who died as women who had worked there for 13 to 35 years.

The union wants poultry processors to require employees quarantine themselves for 14 days and get paid sick leave when they’re exposed to co-workers testing positive. It also wants individual departments shut down for 72 hours and cleaned after a positive test.

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ISTANBUL — Turkey’s health minister says 126 more people have died from COVID-19, bringing the death toll to 1,769.

Fahrettin Koca says 4,353 new cases were identified, putting the total infections at 78,546. The minister urged people with symptoms to seek help before their conditions worsen.

“We are not a Spain or a United States, we have the power for early intervention,” says Koca, citing hospital capacity, the use of high frequency oxygen and drugs to delay the need for intubation.

He says Turkey has succeeded in bringing down cases requiring intubation and intensive care and expressed hope the rate of infections will reach its peak in the coming days.

Koca’s press statement came hours before 31 major provinces head into a second round of weekend lockdown. Last week, the lockdown order came just two hours before the curfew, prompting panic shopping by an estimated 250,000 people.

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ATHENS, Greece — Greece’s Health Ministry says it had recorded 17 new coronavirus cases and three new deaths.

The country’s total confirmed positive cases stand at 2,224 and 108 deaths. The ministry says 71 people are intubated in intensive care units.

Greece’s government imposed a lockdown early in the country’s outbreak, shutting schools after the first few reported cases. It quickly followed with closures of most businesses.

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MOSCOW — Russian President Vladimir Putin is prodding top officials to move faster to prepare for a surge in coronavirus cases.

Speaking Friday on a conference call with top federal official and regional governors, Putin told them to “act faster and more energetically” to secure ventilators, protective gear and other essential supplies.

He warned Russia is yet to see a peak of infections, adding Moscow was the first to face soaring numbers of infections and “the problem is spreading into the regions.”

Russia has registered 32,008 coronavirus cases and 273 deaths.

Putin says Russia so far has secured 72% of the 95,000 specialized hospital beds for coronavirus patients the Kremlin ordered to prepare until April 28.

Russian Defense Ministry Sergei Shoigu reported the military is building 16 specialized hospital for coronavirus patients, half of which will be completed this month.

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PARIS — At least 940 people aboard a French aircraft carrier and its escort ships have been infected with the new virus.

The total number of positive cases is expected to grow because some test results are still pending, the head of the military health service, Maryline Gygax Genero, told a Senate hearing Friday.

Among those infected are two of four U.S. sailors serving on the Charles de Gaulle as part of the U.S. Navy’s Personnel Exchange program.

Those infected represent more than a third of the 2,300 military personnel aboard the Charles de Gaulle and its escort ships.

Gygax Genero says twenty people on the aircraft carrier have been hospitalized, including one in intensive care.

Two investigations are under way into the virus outbreak on the ship.

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MADRID — An epidemiologist on Spain’s top advisory panel for the coronavirus says it will take at least six months to gather data that shows the real global death rate of the pandemic.

Hermelinda Vanaclocha is in charge of health vigilance for the Spanish Valencia region. She warns Spain “remains in the epidemic stage,” despite the arc of contagion plateauing in recent weeks.

Vanaclocha says mortality rates will reflect deaths recorded with an international standard that requires a doctor to certify every death. The coronavirus morbidity rates, or the prevalence of disease, are proving to be vastly different among countries and difficult to compare.

In Spain, a decentralized model has resulted in 17 different health systems for as many regions. It’s more effective in planning assistance on the ground but lacking in unity for the national reporting of statistics. Vanaclocha says years of austerity have undermined the systems for gathering information and much of the public health system.

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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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