The Latest: Japan approves largest budget for combined $2.1T
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 expands grip in many areas, US nears 100,000 deaths.
— Lawmakers in Japan approve another coronavirus budget.
— Spain begins 10-day mourning period for virus victims.
— India surpasses 150,000 virus cases with another one-day high.
TOKYO — Japan’s Cabinet approved the largest supplementary budget of 32 trillion yen ($296 billion) to fund stimulus projects aimed at softening the economic damage from the coronavirus pandemic.
The extra budget for fiscal year 2020 is the second in a month. It will partly finance projects providing support for small businesses affected by the outbreak, funding to strengthen medical systems and for medical workers, and subsidies for local governments to step up regional coronavirus measures. The budget also will provide money for a possible second or third wave of infections.
Cabinet approval brings the combined total of the stimulus worth more than 230 trillion yen ($2.1 trillion).
Prime Minister Shinzo Abe declared an end to a coronavirus state of emergency Monday in hopes of resuming the economy while taking disease prevention measures. With soft social distancing measures and business closures, Japan has 16,000 confirmed virus cases and about 800 deaths, much fewer than many other countries.
He says the combined size of the stimulus package accounts to 40% of the gross domestic product of the world’s No. 3 economy.
“I will defend the Japanese economy at any cost against the once-in-a-century crisis,” Abe said during a meeting of ruling and government officials.
GENEVA — The International Labor Organization says more than one in six young people have stopped working during the coronavirus pandemic.
The U.N. labor agency, in its fourth edition of a report on the impact of the pandemic on jobs, says the equivalent of 305 million full-time jobs has been lost due to COVID-19. It says the impact is strong in the Americas, which the World Health Organization calls the new epicenter of the outbreak.
ILO Director-General Guy Ryder says young workers age 15-28 may face a tougher time getting proper training or access to jobs that could extend into their working careers. ILO says nearly one in four have seen their working hours cut.
MADRID — Flags are flying at half-staff on more than 14,000 public buildings in Spain as the European nation holds its first of 10 days of national mourning for the victims of the coronavirus.
Spanish King Felipe VI led a minute of silence held at noon for the more than 27,000 lives that have been confirmed to be lost to the COVID-19 pandemic. Prime Minister Pedro Sánchez and other lawmakers participated from the Parliament, while health workers and other citizens also stopped activity to honor the dead.
The 10-day period is the longest national mourning declared in Spain since the restoration of democracy in the late 1970s.
Felipe VI, as Spain’s head of state, is also planning to preside over a ceremony to honor the dead once the country emerges from its lockdown rules.
BRUSSELS — Belgium’s institute for health is advising against the use of malaria drug hydroxychloroquine in the treatment of COVID-19 patients after global studies suggested it is ineffective.
The announcement came after the World Health Organization said it would temporarily drop hydroxychloroquine from its global study into experimental COVID-19 treatments. A paper published last week in the Lancet showed people taking hydroxychloroquine were at higher risk of death and heart problems than those that were not.
In an update of the clinical guidance for adults diagnosed with the coronavirus, Sciensano said several studies didn’t find any benefit to the drug and indicated a possible harmful effect.
“Overall, based on these recent observational findings which all consistently point to an absence of benefit related to hydroxychloroquine use, and possibly some harmful effect, it has been decided not to recommend its off-label use for COVID-19 in Belgium anymore, except within ongoing clinical registered trials after careful reassessment of the study-related risk/benefit,” the institute said.
Belgium, a country of 11.5 million inhabitants, has reported more than 57,000 virus cases and about 9,000 deaths.
PARIS — The French government has stopped the use of malaria drug hydroxychloroquine for treating COVID-19 patients after a study suggested it doesn’t work and poses health risks.
A decree ending its use for the coronavirus in France was published Wednesday.
The World Health Organization did the same after a study of 100,000 patients worldwide published last week found the drug was ineffective against the virus and tied to a greater risk of death and heart rhythm problems.
The drug has been popular and politically sensitive in France, where it was included in a trial of multiple treatments and used on hospitalized patients.
U.S. President Donald Trump pushed hydroxychloroquine based on early research by prominent French virologist Dr. Didier Raoult suggesting it reduced virus symptoms.
Raoult shrugged off guidance from France’s High Council for Public Health to stop use of the drug, suggesting it’s not important now that the number of infected people is no longer at crisis levels. The council’s recommendation is “one opinion like any other, I don’t care much,” he told France’s LCI television Tuesday night.
WARSAW, Poland — Poland is lifting most of its coronavirus restrictions in public life starting Saturday.
Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki says limits are being lifted on the number of customers in shops, restaurants and hair dressers. Open-air gatherings of up to 150 people will be allowed, under the condition of keeping the distance of at least 2 meters (6 feet) or wearing masks.
Limits are lifted on the number of people attending Mass in churches.
Culture Minister Piotr Glinski says starting June 6 cinemas, theaters, concert halls can open, but only fill 50% of the audience seats while the spectators must wear masks. Wedding parties of up to 150 guests will be allowed after June 6. With large gatherings, hygiene authorities must give their consent.
Health Minister Lukasz Szumowski says relaxing of rules is possible because COVID-19 transmission has been curbed, with 80% of hospital beds for coronavirus patients empty. He says in most of Poland, except the southern industrial region of Silesia, has a transmission rate R number below 1, meaning 1 person infects less than 1 other person.
SEOUL, South Korea — South Korea’s top infectious disease expert says the country may need to reimpose social distancing restrictions it eased in April, with coronavirus transmissions creeping up in the populated Seoul metropolitan area and elsewhere in recent weeks.
Jeong Eun-kyeong, director of South Korea’s Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, said during a virus briefing it’s becoming increasingly difficult for health workers to track the spread of COVID-19, which has coincided with increased public activity amid warmer weather and eased attitudes on social distancing.
South Korea reported 40 new cases on Wednesday, its biggest daily jump in nearly 50 days, as officials scrambled to trace hundreds of infections linked to nightspots, restaurants and a massive e-commerce warehouse near Seoul.
Jeong stressed the importance of social distancing and avoiding crowded spaces, saying, “we will do our best to trace contacts and implement preventive measures, but there’s a limit to such efforts.”
South Korea was reporting around 500 new cases per day in early March before managing to stabilize its outbreak with aggressive tracking and testing, which allowed officials to relax social distancing guidelines and proceed with a phased reopening of schools.
But Seoul and nearby cities restored some controls in recent weeks by shutting thousands of bars, karaoke rooms and other entertainment venues to slow the spread of the virus. Education authorities in Seoul say they delayed class openings in 111 schools due to virus concerns.
BANGKOK — Thailand’s Parliament has reconvened after a break of almost three months to debate the government’s stimulus packages enacted to combat COVID-19′s ill effects on the economy.
More than 400 lawmakers wore face masks and sat one seat apart as they launched a five-day session to debate three packages amounting to 1.9 trillion baht ($60 billion) implemented through executive decrees by the government of Prime Minister Prayuth Chan-ocha. One trillion baht ($31 billion) would be funded by borrowing for which the government is seeking approval, and the Bank of Thailand would provide the remainder.
Prayuth says the packages are necessary because Thailand’s economy shrunk 1.8% in the first quarter and is expected to shrink 5-6% for the fiscal year.
The stimulus packages include income for individuals and loans and financial aid to businesses affected by the pandemic.
The Opposition has criticized the government for providing inadequate details on how the money is spent, charging the lack of transparency could lead to corruption.
NICOSIA, Cyprus — Cyprus is pledging to cover costs for anyone testing positive for the coronavirus while vacationing there.
The Cypriot government says it will cover lodging, food, drink and medication for COVID-19 patients and their families. Patients will need to pay for the taxi ride to the airport and the flight back home.
A 100-bed hospital will cater exclusively to foreign travelers who test positive. Some 112 intensive care units equipped with 200 respirators will be reserved for critically ill patients.
A 500-room “quarantine-hotel” will host exclusively patients’ family members and other close contacts.
The pledge came in a five-page letter sent to governments, airlines and tour operators outlining strict health and hygiene protocols that Cyprus is enacting to woo visitors to the tourism-reliant country.
Tourism directly accounts for 13% of Cyprus’ economy. The country expects to lose as much as 70% of 2.6 billion euros in tourism-generated revenue this year.
The letter, signed by Cyprus’ foreign affairs, transport and tourism ministers, boasts the country has one of the lowest coronavirus ratios per capita in Europe after having tested more than 10% of its population.
International air travel to Cyprus begins June 9 from 19 countries, with passengers required to undergo a COVID-19 test three days prior to departure. That measure will be lifted June 20 for 13 countries, including Germany, Finland, Israel, Greece and Norway.
NEW DELHI — India’s coronavirus caseload has surpassed 150,000, with another single-day high of more than 6,000 reported on Wednesday.
The spike comes as Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s government prepares a new set of guidelines, with the fourth phase of the two-month-old lockdown across the country ending Sunday.
The Health Ministry reported 151,767 cases on Wednesday, an increase of 6,387, with 4,337 deaths — a jump of 170 in the past 24 hours.
Most of the cases are concentrated in five of India’s 28 states. An increase has also been reported in some of the country’s poorest eastern states as migrant workers returning to native villages from large cities have begun arriving home on special trains.
India eased lockdown restrictions this month, allowing shops to reopen and manufacturing to resume. Some trains and domestic flights began operating again.
Metro services, schools and colleges, and hotels and restaurants are shuttered nationwide.
LAS VEGAS — Nevada Gov. Steve Sisolak says casinos will reopen June 4, welcoming tourists to return to the glitzy gambling mecca of Las Vegas.
The Democratic governor says Nevada will welcome visitors from across the country to Las Vegas. Sisolak closed the casinos 10 weeks ago as part of a broad shutdown to slow the spread of the coronavirus.
The casinos typically draw millions of tourists to Las Vegas and power the state’s economy. The governor said he would also allow in-person religious services of up to 50 people starting Friday.
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