The Latest: Repair work at Notre Dame resumes amid virus
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:
— Some countries and US states move to ease virus lockdowns.
— Repair work at the Notre Dame Cathedral is being made virus-safe.
— Opposition group in Serbia calls for daily noisy protests.
PARIS — Work began Monday to refit the construction site at fire-damaged Notre Dame Cathedral to protect workers from the virus and allow cleanup efforts to resume.
More than a year after the fire, workers still haven’t finished stabilizing the medieval cathedral, much less rebuilding it. And the coronavirus outbreak caused a new setback: Work on the cathedral halted in mid-March, when France imposed strict confinement measures.
On Monday, workers began to rearrange the construction site to make it virus-safe, according to an official with the state agency overseeing the project. The site is hidden from the public by high barriers.
Notre Dame rector Mgr Patrick Chauvet told reporters that includes rearranging showers and cloakrooms to allow more distance between workers, and installing a place to eat because all restaurants in France are currently closed. He said the workers will stay in nearby vacant hotels so they won’t have to take public transport.
The cleanup work itself is scheduled to start gradually resuming next week.
BELGRADE, Serbia — An opposition group is calling for daily noisy protests from windows and balconies after thousands banged pots and blew whistles during an evening curfew on Sunday against Serbia’s populist authorities.
The Let’s Not Drown Belgrade group says in a statement that the demonstrations in the capital and other Serbian cities are meant to show that the daily and weekend curfew cannot stop the struggle for democracy in the Balkan country which formally seeks European Union membership.
Serbia’s autocratic President Aleksandar Vucic has faced accusation of curbing democracy and media freedoms with the state of emergency that has been imposed as part of measures against the new coronavirus.
The authorities have started partial easing of the strict rules by reopening some businesses and allowing people over 65 years old limited movement, but they have also announced an 83-hour curfew for the upcoming May Day weekend.
Serbia has reported more than 8,000 infections and 156 deaths. Experts have said the situation has stabilized in the past days but that caution is still necessary.
NEW DELHI, India — Indian prime minister Narendra Modi has said the monthlong ongoing lockdown has yielded positive results and that the country has managed to save “thousands of lives.”
Modi, who had a videoconference with various heads of the states on Monday, said the impact of the coronavirus, however, will remain visible in the coming months, according to a press statement released by his office.
During the meeting with state heads, Modi advocated for social distancing of at least two yards (6 feet) and the use of face masks as a rapid response to tackle COVID-19.
He said that states should put their efforts of converting hotspots, or red zones, into “orange and thereafter green zones.”
India last week eased the lockdown by allowing shops to reopen and manufacturing and farming activities to resume in rural areas to help millions of poor, daily-wage earners. But the economic costs of the nationwide lockdown continue to mount in a country of 1.3 billion people.
Modi, who put India under a strict lockdown on March 25, did not say if the lockdown restrictions will extend after May 3.
India has confirmed over 27,000 cases of the coronavirus, including 872 deaths.
MADRID — Spain is recording 331 new deaths with coronavirus in the past 24 hours, up from Sunday’s 288, while the political and social debate focuses on the way out of one of Europe’s strictest lockdowns.
The total death toll stands on Monday over 23,500, while the number of infections is over 200,000 according to the latest count of the Health Ministry, which records only cases confirmed through lab tests.
With supervised children under 14 allowed to enjoy one hour out every day since Sunday, Spaniards are now setting eyes on the next relaxation of the confinement, now entering its seventh week. From Friday on, people of all ages will be allowed to go on walks or practice sports outdoors, Prime Minister Pedro Sánchez has announced.
Details on this and other new measures are expected to be ironed out on Tuesday, when the Cabinet holds a weekly meeting. Further loosening that could help activate the economy, such as the reopening of nonessential shops or restaurants, is still under discussion.
Health authorities are rolling out on Monday an 8-week survey among 36,000 Spanish households with a series of tests that should shed light on what’s the share of the population that has overcome the COVID-19 illness.
THE HAGUE, Netherlands — The Dutch national birthday party for their king is a muted affair, dubbed King’s Day at Home because of coronavirus restrictions.
King Willem-Alexander was celebrating his 53rd birthday Monday with his family at their palace in a forest on the edge of The Hague after a mass celebration in the southern city of Maastricht was canceled due to the coronavirus.
In a nationally televised speech to the nation, he paid tribute to health care workers and others battling the virus and hoped for better times ahead.
Flanked by his wife Maxima and their three daughters, Willem-Alexander said the annual holiday would be unique, “especially unique because I hope it will be absolutely the last King’s Day at Home in history.”
King’s Day is usually a nationwide celebration involving street parties and children selling secondhand toys in makeshift garage sales known as “free markets” throughout the country.
But early Monday, streets were still largely deserted apart from queues of shoppers, observing social distancing guidelines, outside bakeries selling traditional King’s Day pastries decorated with orange frosting.
BEIJING — China is fighting back against calls for an investigation into its role in the global coronavirus pandemic, citing faults with the U.S. response to the outbreak and calling for Washington itself to admit error.
“We hope the U.S. will respond to people’s concern from the U.S. and the international community. Perhaps the World Health Organization can also be invited in to assist in the investigation,” Foreign Ministry spokesman Geng Shuang said at a daily briefing on Monday.
President Donald Trump says he is suspending payments to the WHO, of which the U.S. is the largest funder, saying it has responded weakly to the pandemic and shown a pro-China bias.
China, where the virus was first detected late last year, has strenuously denied accusations from the U.S. and others that it suppressed information about the outbreak, allowing it to spread far wider than it might have, and delaying responses from other countries.
Also Monday, the official Xinhua News Agency ran a commentary accusing U.S. Republican politicians of seeking to gain political points by attacking China over the pandemic.
“The U.S. conservatives’ moves to cover up their own failures by shifting blame and public attention will only harm those still struggling in the pandemic and render the global fight much harder,” Xinhua said.
MOSCOW — Russia surpassed China with its total number of confirmed coronavirus cases on Monday.
The Russian government reported 87,147 cases on Monday, which is almost 4,000 more than China’s official toll of 83,912. Almost 6,200 new infections were registered in the past 24 hours.
The actual number of infections in both countries is thought to be far higher because many people have not been tested, and studies suggest people can be infected with the virus without feeling sick. Many also believe that governments in both Russia and China could be manipulating the statistics for political purposes.
Russia had been reporting comparatively low numbers of coronavirus cases until April, and the Kremlin insisted the situation was under control. In mid-April, Russians were supposed to vote for a constitutional reform that would allow President Vladimir Putin to stay in power until 2036, and Kremlin critics argued the government was downplaying the crisis ahead of the vote. In late March, Putin postponed the vote indefinitely. The number of confirmed coronavirus cases has been growing exponentially since then.
LONDON — Prime Minister Boris Johnson says Britain has reached the moment of “maximum risk” in the coronavirus outbreak, arguing that lifting the nationwide lockdown too soon would allow a second spike of infections.
Speaking outside 10 Downing St. on his first day back at work after three weeks off sick with the virus, Johnson said the country was beginning to “turn the tide.”
Johnson’s Conservative government is under mounting pressure to set out a blueprint for easing the lockdown that has hobbled business activity and daily life since March 23. The restrictions are due to last until at least May 7.
Johnson said he understood people and businesses were eager to get back to work, but “I ask you to contain your impatience because I believe that we are coming to the end of the first phase of this conflict and in spite of all the suffering we have so nearly succeeded.”
Johnson spent a week in St. Thomas’ Hospital in London, including three nights in intensive care. When he was discharged on April 13, Johnson thanked medics at the hospital for saving his life. He has been recovering for the past two weeks at his Chequers country retreat.
MOSCOW — A total of 874 servicemen in the Russian military have tested positive for the new coronavirus since March, Russia’s Defense Ministry said Sunday. Almost half of them — 379 people — are isolated at home; others are being treated in various medical facilities. Four people are in grave condition, including one on a ventilator.
Russia has so far reported 80,949 confirmed cases of the virus and 747 deaths. The vast majority of the country’s regions have been on lockdown since late March, with only essential businesses — grocery shops, pharmacies, banks — operating and people ordered to stay at home.
Earlier this month, Russian President Vladimir Putin indefinitely postponed the traditional May 9 military parade marking the 1945 defeat of Nazi Germany in World War II because of the growing outbreak.
Military units have already rehearsed the parade — footage of these rehearsals showed hundreds of servicemen drilling outside Moscow without observing social distancing. Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said that the military had their own isolation and distancing protocols which allowed them more freedom.
PRAGUE — The Czech Republic has entered another phase of relaxing restrictive measures adopted to contain the coronavirus pandemic, opening stores with a surface of up to 2,500 sq. meters (26,900 sq. feet).
At the same time, the zoo and botanical parks, fitness centers and driving schools are back to business. Public gatherings of up to 10 people are allowed, up from two.
The government rules on social distancing and mandatory face masks remain in place.
In a boost for the economy, the three Czech plants of Skoda Auto that belong to Germany’s carmaker Volkswagen renewed production on Monday. The company employs some 34,000 jobs.
One person died of COVID-19 on Sunday for a total of 221, while 73 patients with the disease needed intensive care in hospitals, the second lowest number from April 1.
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