The Latest: Retail founder apologizes for response to virus

The Latest on the coronavirus pandemic. The new coronavirus causes mild or moderate symptoms for most people, but for some, especially older adults and people with existing health problems, it can cause more severe illness or death.


— Sports Direct founder apologizes for virus response missteps.

— Russia reports over 1,000 coronavirus infections.

— China news agency says President Xi Jinping called U.S. President Donald Trump.


LONDON — Mike Ashley, the founder of the Sports Direct retail chain in the U.K., has apologized for a series of mistakes during the coronavirus outbreak.

Ashley, the majority owner of Frasers Group that also includes Evans Cycles among others, said in an open letter Friday he is “deeply apologetic about the misunderstandings of the last few days.”

Ashley has been criticized for his response to the pandemic. For example, he claimed that Sports Direct and Evans Cycles should stay open as they were essential for keeping the nation fit in the wake of Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s announcement on Monday that nonessential shops should close.

“In hindsight, our emails to the government were ill-judged and poorly timed,” he said. “On top of this, our communications to our employees and the public on this was poor.”

Ashley said he is offering the company’s “entire fleet of lorries” to the National Health Service to deliver medical supplies and equipment.


COPENHAGEN, Denmark — Police in southern Finland began Friday to enforce the new regulation aimed at ceasing all unnecessary human traffic to and from Uusimaa, the region that includes the Nordic nation’s capital, Helsinki.

Police will block access and exit from the region, which has been hit worst in the country by the coronavirus.

Social affairs minister Krista Kiuru said earlier this week that the decision was taken as the “risk of substantial spreading of the infection from the Uusimaa region to rest of Finland is high” through unnecessary traveling.

Nationwide, Finland has so far confirmed 958 coronavirus cases — the vast majority of them in Uusimaa — and five deaths. The exceptional move that is set to end April 19, affects the daily lives of some 1.7 million people, nearly a third of Finland’s population.


MOSCOW — Russia’s coronavirus caseload surpassed 1,000 on Friday, reflecting growing infection rate in the country which for weeks has reported comparatively low numbers.

The Russian government registered 196 new infections in the past 24 hours, bringing the country’s total to 1,036, and the third death. Forty-five people have recovered, officials said.

Russian authorities have ramped up testing this week after wide-spread criticism of insufficient screening.

Earlier this week Moscow Mayor Sergei Sobyanin, who leads a coronavirus task force, told President Vladimir Putin that Russia’s comparatively low caseload could reflect scare testing rather than the actual scale of the epidemic. As of Thursday, health officials conducted some 200,000 tests.


BEIJING — Chinese leader Xi Jinping has told President Donald Trump that China “understands the United States’ current predicament over the COVID-19 outbreak and stands ready to provide support within its capacity.”

The official Xinhua News Agency said Xi delivered the message in a call to Trump on Friday, in which he also urged the U.S. to “take substantive action in improving bilateral relations.”

Even before the virus outbreak, the U.S. and China were in the midst of a trade war and in sharpening conflicts over intellectual property, human rights, Taiwan and Beijing’s policies in Hong Kong and the South China Sea.

In the phone call, Xi “suggested that the two sides work together to boost cooperation in epidemic control and other fields, and develop a relationship of non-conflict, non-confrontation, mutual respect and win-win cooperation,” the official Xinhua News Agency reported.

The virus outbreak was first reported in China in December and now appears to have peaked in the country, even while the government remains on guard against imported cases.

Beijing has been particularly annoyed by U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo’s repeated references to the outbreak as the “Wuhan Flu,” after the Chinese city where it was first detected, saying that politicizes the issue and promotes bias against China and Chinese Americans.


BUDAPEST, Hungary — Hungary’s prime minister says that restrictions will be enforced for two weeks on people leaving their homes.

Prime Minister Viktor Orban said Friday on state radio that from Saturday, only going to work, essential trips like to buy food or medicines or taking children to daycare will be allowed until April 11.

Shopping in food stores and pharmacies will be restricted to those over the age of 65 from 9 a.m. until noon.

People will also be allowed outside for exercising while keeping distance from each other and for some other necessary activities like attending physical therapy sessions.

Hungary has 300 cases of the coronavirus, and 10 infected people have died.


JOHANNESBURG — South Africa has announced its first two deaths from the coronavirus as the country’s cases rise above 1,000.

The health minister says in a statement that the deaths occurred in Western Cape province.

South Africa has the most cases in Africa and as of midnight entered a three-week lockdown. The military is in the streets helping to enforce measures that include bans on alcohol sales. Concerns are high about water supply in crowded, low-income townships.


ANKARA, Turkey — Turkish Airlines says it is temporarily suspending flights to New York, the hardest-hit area in the United States from the coronavirus outbreak.

Bilal Eksi, the Turkish national carrier’s chief, said on Twitter early on Friday that flights to New York will be suspended starting from midnight until April 17.

The airline had halted most international flights amid the global pandemic and New York was one of the few destinations it was flying to.

Currently, only services to Chicago, Washington, Hong Kong, Moscow and Addis Ababa, Ethiopia will continue.


JAKARTA, Indonesia — The largest textile market in Southeast Asia, Tanah Abang Market, temporarily closed as part of the measures to prevent the spread of COVID-19.

Arif Nasrudin, President Director of PD Pasar Jaya, as the city-owned market operator, said the market closed for 10 days starting from Friday through an agreement with traders.

The market temporarily stopped trading activities when the number of the visitors rose sharply one month before the month of Ramadan. These visitors are not only from Greater Jakarta areas, but from other regions in Indonesia and from other countries, such as Malaysia, and some other Asian, European and African countries.

Nasrudin said Tanah Abang Market recorded daily transactions up to 500 billion rupiah ($31,455). There are 13,000 traders that will stop their transaction as the market closes until April 5.

Tanah Abang is the first city-owned market to close amid the COVID-19 outbreak in Jakarta. Before that, five big shopping centers in Jakarta have also been temporarily closed until early April. They only open some stores that provide basic needs.

The Indonesian government announced Thursday there were 893 COVID-19 confirmed cases in the country. Jakarta is the province with the highest number of cases and the deaths. Jakarta Governor Anies Basewedan previously announced the closing of all entertainment places and tourist destinations in Indonesia’s capital.


MANILA, Philippines — The Philippine military chief of staff has tested positive for the coronavirus and the country’s defense chief will also go on self-quarantine after being exposed to him in developments that came as the military is helping impose a massive lockdown to contain the viral outbreak.

Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana said he would go on home quarantine starting Friday after having been in two recent meetings with Gen. Felimon Santos Jr., who disclosed that he has been infected with the virus. Both said they were in fine condition.

Lorenzana and Santos have had meetings in recent weeks with President Rodrigo Duterte, who aides said has tested negative for the virus two weeks ago. Most of Duterte’s elite guards have also been ordered to go on quarantine in the Malacanang presidential palace complex.

Lorenzana and other top officials leading an inter-agency group that’s enforcing a lockdown of the main northern Philippine region of Luzon have gone on home quarantine after exposure to infected people. Tourism Secretary Bernadette Romulo Puyat said the group continues to hold meetings online as a health precaution.

Several legislators have also tested positive for the virus or gone on home quarantine, including Sen. Aquilino Pimentel III, who has been threatened with a lawsuit after he went out of home quarantine Tuesday night to take his wife, who was due to deliver a baby, to a hospital, where he got a phone call informing him that a test showed he was infected.


CANBERRA, Australia — Australia’s government says all travelers will be isolated in hotels for two weeks on arrival in an escalation of precautions against the new coronavirus.

Prime Minister Scott Morrison said on Friday the new rules go into effect Saturday. State governments will pick up the hotel bills.

Around 85% of Australian COVID-19 patients were infected overseas or were infected by someone who contracted the virus overseas. By Friday, 13 had died.


ISLAMABAD — Authorities in southern Pakistan banned congregational prayers while the country’s President Arif Alvi and several clerics in other parts of the country urged people to pray at home instead of gathering at mosques to avoid the spread of coronavirus.

In one month, nearly 1,200 people have tested positive in Pakistan. There was only one case in February.

It has forced the government to enforce a nationwide lockdown.

In the latest measure, the provincial government in the southern Sindh province banned congregational prayers at mosques. However, it turned down a suggestion about closing mosques.

Government officials have been urging people since the outbreak of the virus to avoid praying at mosques, but the appeals have largely been ignored.

Nine people have died so far because of virus and four are listed in critical condition.

Most of the people who tested positive have a history of traveling abroad, including Iran. However, about 200 people who had no travel history has also been infected, raising fears that the virus will infect more people.


SEOUL, South Korea — South Korea says it’s considering enforcing self-quarantines on all passengers arriving from overseas as it scrambles to block the coronavirus from re-entering the country amid broadening outbreaks in Europe, the United States and beyond.

Health Ministry official Yoon Tae-ho made the comments on Friday as the country began enforcing 14-day quarantines on South Korean nationals and foreigners with long-term stay visas arriving from the United States while selectively testing those with symptoms.

South Korea is enforcing similar quarantines for passengers arriving from Europe but testing all of them for COVID-19.

There’s concern about a rise in infections in the populous Seoul metropolitan area brought from students and other South Korean nationals returning from the West amid broadening outbreaks and suspended school years.

South Korea’s Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says at least 309 of the country’s 9,332 infections have been linked to recent arrivals, with most of the cases being detected in the past two weeks.

The island province of Jeju says it’s considering pushing criminal charges against a 19-year-old student who returned from the United States last week and her mother for traveling the island for five days through Tuesday although the student was exhibiting chills and other symptoms. The student tested positive for COVID-19 after returning to Seoul on Wednesday.


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