The Latest: Switzerland to open shops, schools on May 11
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:
— As lockdowns ease, health officials urge virus vigilance.
— Switzerland to open shops, schools on May 11.
— Italy doubles ventilators for possible second wave.
— Germany extends its worldwide travel warning.
GENEVA — The Swiss government says shops, restaurants, museums, libraries and schools can reopen on May 11.
Switzerland’s executive Federal Council also announced measures to support airlines, allow resumption of sports practices and ease some immigration restrictions in place to slow the spread of the COVID-19 outbreak.
Social distancing rules, such as limits to public gatherings to no more than five people, will remain. Restaurants that reopen will be required to maintain spacing of at least 2 meters between tables.
Officials say bans on large gatherings such as concerts and professional sporting events will remain in place.
Authorities say they plan to resume contact-tracing for all coronavirus infections starting May 11 to monitor the spread. Such tracing had been suspended amid a surge of cases last month.
“The crisis is not yet over, for now, we cannot return to the way we lived our lives before,” said Swiss President Simonetta Sommaruga. “We are going to have to live with the virus for some time, and with the economic consequences,” she added. “There is no simple solution.”
Switzerland has recorded 29,407 confirmed COVID-19 cases and 1,408 deaths.
MADRID — The head of a Spanish coastal town has apologized after “disinfecting” nearly 2 kilometers of sandy beach with watered-down bleach in a misguided effort to avoid the coronavirus spread.
Agustín Conejo, head of the local council of Zahara de los Atunes, told local media the bleaching was ordered with the goal of protecting children, who were allowed Sunday to play outdoors for the first time in weeks of mandatory confinement.
Three tractors used for fumigating farming land combed a stretch of the beach while spreading 1,000 liters of water with a concentration of 2% of bleach, the regional Diario de Cádiz reported.
Conejo says he failed to assess the environmental damage of his initiative, calling it “a mistake,” and adds he’s willing to accept any fines.
Regional environmental authorities have opened a disciplinary report that could lead to fining the town.
Spain, with 24,000 confirmed deaths from coronavirus, is slowly reopening after a strict lockdown in place since mid-March.
NEW DELHI — India’s government will allow migrant workers, pilgrims, tourists, students and others stranded throughout the country to resume their journeys by road.
The decision announced by the Home Ministry will provide relief to hundreds of thousands of migrant workers who want to return to their villages from Indian cities and towns after they lost jobs following the imposition of the lockdown on March 25 to control the spread of coronavirus pandemic. Many can go back to farming in their villages during the current harvesting season in India.
They would be kept under watch with periodic health check-ups, a ministry statement said.
The government recently allowed reopening of neighborhood shops in cities and towns and resumption of manufacturing and farming in rural India to help millions of poor people who lost work.
The lockdown in India imposed March 25 is expected to end May 3. Prime Minister Modi will decide whether to extend or end restrictions or allow a gradual loosening in some areas.
India has reported more than 30,000 positive coronavirus cases and 1,008 deaths.
ISLAMABAD — A top health official in Pakistan says as many as 480 health workers have tested positive for coronavirus across the country.
“The safety of our front-line health workers is a matter of grave concern for us,” said Zafar Mirza, who advises prime minister on health issues, at the military-backed National Command and Operations Centre in Islamabad.
The National Command and Operations Centre was set up by the government recently amid increasing cases of coronavirus, which stands at 15,289 recorded cases and 335 deaths.
Mirza says they have supplied the required personal protection equipment to doctors and other paramedical staff handling cases of coronavirus at government hospitals.
There are more than 220,000 doctors and about 144,000 nurses in Pakistan, but Mirza said they will provide personal protection equipment to only those who are handling patients of coronavirus. He says any health worker who dies because of handling patients of coronavirus will be given the status of “martyr” apart from financially assisting their families.
About 8,500 people are tested a day in a country of 220 million.
BERLIN — Germany’s economy minister says the government is predicting a 6.3% drop in GDP this year because of the coronavirus pandemic, but a recovery in 2021.
Peter Altmaier says by the end of second quarter of 2020 the country was likely to see a contraction of about 11% of GDP due to the widespread lockdown measures meant to slow the spread of the coronavirus.
He says the country’s export-heavy economy has been significantly affected by the drop in demand for German products worldwide as other countries are also in deep recessions.
In 2021, Altmaier says Germany can look forward to economic growth of 5.2%, which will help make up much of the lost ground in 2020.
He says current projections are based upon Germany moving ahead with more economic activity in May and June.
ROME — Italy’s health police have uncovered more violations in the country’s coronavirus-ravaged nursing homes, including one that had no authorization to operate.
The COVID-19 pandemic has taken a huge toll on the aged in Italy’s nursing homes, with hundreds of dead nationwide in the epicenter of the European pandemic. It has also exposed serious shortcomings in Italy’s patchwork of poorly regulated eldercare facilities, which are run by an assortment of public, private, religious and foundation managers.
Some of the homes are under criminal investigation because of the large number of virus-related dead. Others are being sanctioned, and their managers referred to law enforcement, for a series of violations that have emerged during inspections by the carabineri’s health care police.
The health ministry issued the results from the latest round of inspections, focusing mostly on southern facilities.
AMMAN, Jordan — After six weeks of curfew, Jordanians can drive again as authorities ease restrictions imposed to contain the coronavirus pandemic.
Public transportation and taxis will resume at 50% capacity, and passengers must wear masks and gloves.
Jordan, which has reported about 450 coronavirus cases and eight deaths, imposed one of the strictest lockdowns in the region.
Businesses in the governorates of Madaba, Jerash and Ajloun will be allowed to reopen, while all schools, universities, mosques and churches will remain closed.
The kingdom will impose a complete 24-hour curfew Friday to enable medical workers to conduct random tests to better understand the outbreak.
ROME — Italy’s head of the coronavirus pandemic strategy says the country is prepared for a second wave of infections “even bigger than the first” if its gradual reopening leads to a surge in new cases.
Domenico Arcuri told the lower Chamber of Deputies that Italy’s 20 regions now have twice as many ventilators than currently needed and the 5,200 intensive care beds Italy had before the pandemic had nearly doubled to 9,000.
Italy, the European epicenter of the pandemic with more than 27,000 dead, entered the crisis with a fraction of the ICU capacity compared to other developed nations.
Arcuri told lawmakers that beds in sub-intensive care had increased six-fold, the same increase in Italy’s bed capacity in infectious disease and pneumology wards.
Italy’s planned reopening begins May 4.
BERLIN — Germany’s health minister says the government is implementing new measures to help the country fight the coronavirus pandemic, including more testing and bonuses for workers at the front lines of the outbreak.
Jens Spahn says the elderly in care homes would be frequently tested. Nurses and other care workers, including volunteers and interns, will receive a one-time bonus of up to 1,000 euros ($1,100) in recognition of their work. Another 50 million euros will be distributed to the country’s public health care agencies.
Other measures include ordering extra flu vaccine to make sure enough is on hand for the next flu season. That would help reduce the possibility of dealing with a widespread flu outbreak along with a second wave of the coronavirus pandemic.
ATLANTA, Ga. — Two Georgia men were hospitalized after drinking cleaning products.
Georgia Poison Control Director Gaylord Lopez told the Atlanta Journal-Constitution the men had histories of mental health issues and were expected to recover after drinking the products over the weekend.
Lopez says he doesn’t know if the men ingested the cleaning solutions because of President Donald Trump’s musings on whether injecting disinfectants could treat the virus during a White House briefing on Thursday.
Lopez says the first man, in his 50s in Atlanta, drank about 16 ounces of bleach on Saturday. He was treated in a hospital and has since been discharged from a psychiatric ward.
A second man in his 30s was discharged after guzzling a mixture of Pine-Sol, pain medications and other liquids on Sunday.
According to the CDC, calls to poison centers about disinfectants have increased 20% in the first three months of this year.
TIRANA, Albania — Albania’s Defense Ministry reports three of its soldiers in a mission in neighboring Kosovo have been evacuated after testing positive with the COVID-19.
A statement says the three soldiers, part of the NATO-led Kosovo Force troops, were “infected during the mission” and brought home in line with the NATO guidance on repatriation of virus cases.
They have been hospitalized but “without problematic symptoms.” Albania has a 29-member unit in Kosovo.
KFOR has had two civilian workers deaths from the coronavirus and several troops infected.
KFOR, with some 3,500 troops from 28 countries, is led from NATO and supported by the United Nations, the European Union and the United States.
Both Albania and Kosovo have been in a lockdown following the virus outbreak in March. Both have low numbers of registered deaths and cases.
BERLIN — Germany is extending its worldwide travel warning until mid-June, saying the coronavirus situation is too dire to change the guidance.
Foreign Minister Heiko Maas says the warning, due to expire May 3, would be extended to June 14 because there has been no change to the danger posed by the pandemic. Maas says he will discuss the matter with European partners in the coming weeks.
He says, “naturally we all hope we won’t need this travel warning after June 14.”
Among other things, the official warning means that Germans who had booked vacations for the dates can get refunds, another likely blow to the European travel industry.
GENEVA — The United Nations’ main labor body again raised its prediction of job losses due to the coronavirus pandemic, estimating the equivalent of 305 million full-time jobs could be lost in the second quarter alone.
The International Labor Organization says the expansion of longer lockdown measures has underpinned the increase from its previous estimate of losses 195 million full-time job equivalents — based on an average 48-hour work week — in the current quarter.
The agency, which unites business, labor groups and governments, estimated how many work hours are likely to be lost, and calculated how many full-time jobs that would make.
The ILO also projects that 1.6 billion workers in the “informal economy,” which includes work without proper contracts or oversight by government regulation and taxes, “stand in immediate danger of having their livelihoods destroyed.”
That’s nearly half the global workforce of 3.3 billion people.
WARSAW, Poland — Poland is lifting some of its anti-COVID-19 restrictions, with the Monday opening of shopping malls, hotels, libraries and museum.
It will maintain the requirement of wearing masks and of social distancing of at least 2 meters. Restaurants, also those in hotels, and cinemas, remain closed. Starting May 6, nurseries and kindergartens can be opened. But gatherings larger than 50 people remain banned and social gatherings are still advised against.
Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki says more restrictions will be lifted after another two weeks, but has appealed to the people to observe the rules, saying the pace of reopening the economy depends on that. Health Minister Lukasz Szumowski advised the reopening of out-patient wards and routine medical procedures.
The nation of 38 million has reported more than 12,400 coronavirus cases and 606 deaths.
STOCKHOLM — The southern Swedish city of Lund says it is spreading stinking chicken manure on the grounds of a central park to discourage a public celebration there on Thursday.
It’s traditionally a big festive day among Swedish students and youth.
Gustav Lindblad from Lund’s environmental committee tells Swedish newspaper Sydsvenskan that “we get the opportunity of fertilizing the lawns in the park and, at the same time, it will stink and it may not be so nice to sit and drink beer in the park.”
The city says up 30,000 people from different parts of Sweden — mostly students from Lund University — have in previous years gathered to the Stadspark to celebrate Valborg, a spontaneous fest that marks the arrival of spring for Swedes.
Sweden has maintained relatively relaxed approach to public restrictions amid the coronavirus outbreak. But the government is strongly urging citizens to practice proper social distancing.
Sweden, a nation of 10 million, has confirmed 19,621 coronavirus cases and 2,355 deaths.
KYIV, Ukraine — Several hundred Ukrainian entrepreneurs protested in Kyiv on Wednesday, demanding the government to ease lockdown restrictions enacted on March 12 to stem the spread of the coronavirus.
The protesters blocked a street near Ukraine’s government offices, demanding state support for businesses and permission to reopen small enterprises on May 1 – otherwise companies would go under, the entrepreneurs argued.
Ukraine’s authorities, which have reported 9,866 confirmed coronavirus cases, started to ease lockdown restrictions this week and plan to gradually lift the lockdown after May 11 if virus cases don’t spike.
Government officials in Chernivtsy, a city 500 kilometers (300 miles) west of Kyiv, allowed food markets to reopen Tuesday while requiring customers to wear masks and observe social distancing. In Kyiv, authorities plan to allow beauty parlors, shops and parks to reopen on May 12.
MADRID — With 325 new confirmed deaths from coronavirus, Spain is seeing Wednesday a slight rebound in fatalities for a total of 24,275 since the beginning of the pandemic.
Infections stand over 212,000, although the Health Ministry’s figure only includes the cases confirmed by the most reliable laboratory tests that are not being conducted massively.
Authorities want to come out from a near total freeze of social and economic life in stages and at different speeds depending on how its provinces and islands respond to the health crisis.
Prime Minister Pedro Sánchez on Tuesday announced his plan and called it “a road to a new normal,” but one “without a GPS system.”
Individual exercise will be allowed from Saturday, as well as haircuts and other personalized services with an appointment. In most places, some shops will open on May 11, and socializing will be permitted in outdoor cafés, bars, as well as services in churches and mosques at one third of their capacity.
Territories that by that point keep the epidemic at bay will be granted further relaxation of restrictions in restaurants, cinemas, theatres and museums by the end of May. Preschools will reopen then but only for parents who need to work, since in-classroom education won’t resume until the new school year in September.
Barring any worsening of the outbreak, capacity in venues will be increased toward mid-June and beaches will open before gradually settling into a “new normal” that will allow domestic travel. International travel still needs to be sorted out by the European Union, Spain says.
BERLIN — German pharmaceutical company BioNTech says it has begun testing a potential vaccine for the new coronavirus on volunteers.
BioNTech, which is working with U.S.-based Pfizer, said Wednesday that 12 participants of a clinical trial in Germany have received doses of the vaccine candidate BNT162 since April 23.
Numerous pharmaceutical companies are racing to deliver a vaccine for the virus that has caused a pandemic and led to more than 215,000 deaths worldwide and sickened at least three million people.
BioNTech said in a statement that in a next step, it will begin increasing the dose of BNT162 in a trial involving about 200 participants aged 18 to 55.
The company said it expects to receive regulatory approval to begin trials in the United States soon.
BANGKOK — Officials in Thailand’s capital city Bangkok say they are preparing to ease restrictions that were imposed to fight the spread of COVID-19, including the reopening of restaurants under strict conditions.
The Bangkok Metropolitan Administration announced Wednesday that it hopes to lift restrictions on eight kinds of establishments it had ordered closed through April 30. It will allow the reopenings if they are in accord with guidelines to be set by the national Center for COVID-19 Situation Administration by the end of this week.
The city’s plans call for the reopening of restaurants, markets, exercise venues, parks, hairdressers and barbers, clinics and nursing homes, animal hospitals and pet salons, and golf courses and driving ranges.
Restaurants will have to keep their seats at least 1.5 meters (5 feet) apart and practice a wide range of sanitary measures, beginning with taking the temperature of customers and staff and including the circulation of fresh air.
Thai health authorities confirmed nine new COVID-19 cases Wednesday, bringing the total to 2,947, including 54 deaths.
ANKARA, Turkey — Turkey has extended the shutdown of its schools until the end of May amid the coronavirus pandemic.
Education Minister Ziya Selcuk said Wednesday that the remote schooling system through television broadcasts and the internet would continue until May 31.
Turkey closed down schools across the country on March 12, a day after it reported its first confirmed COVID-19 infection.
The country now has nearly 115,000 cases and 2,992 deaths.
NEW DELHI — With Chinese industries ramping up production, competing Indian businesses are urging Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s government to loosen the five-week lockdown in the country when it comes up for a review on May 3.
Gurcharan Das, former head of Proctor and Gamble in India, said on Wednesday that key infrastructure, information technology, automobiles and pharmaceutical industries which employ millions of people can resume manufacturing at half or even one-third of their capacities in large area unaffected by the coronavirus infections. The manufacturers should ensure safeguards like wearing masks and safe distancing by the workers.
If India is unable to bring the economy back on track, it could lose 30-40 million jobs by this year-end and a pandemic will snowball into a devastating economic crisis, said Kiran Mazumdar Shaw, executive chairperson of Biocon, a biopharmaceutical company.
India earlier this month changed rules to block the Chinese foreign direct investment into India through the automatic routes. Chinese goods flood Indian markets ranging from cars, mobile phones, accessories, toys and furniture.
India also is getting ventilators, testing kits and other medical equipment from China.
NEW DELHI, India — Public health officials in India have shelved their plan to administer hydroxychloroquine or HCQ, an untested anti-malarial, to thousands in Mumbai’s crowded slums as a way of preventing infections in healthy people.
Health officials in Mumbai said that the plan to “conduct a test” was still on the cards but had not yet been approved by the Indian government. For now, they will follow federal guidelines that say that the drug can only be used for “high-risk” groups: health care workers taking care of COVID-19 patients, contacts of confirmed patients and those in quarantine centers.
Experts have pointed out that there is little evidence to show that HCQ can help treat COVID-19 infections and none to justify its use to prevent infections.
India has reached the grim milestone of over a thousand deaths. There are over 30,000 cases in the country and cases are doubling in roughly 10 days.
The malaria drug had been widely touted by President Donald Trump for treating the new coronavirus and has, since, been advised by India for frontline healthcare workers. But a large analysis of its use in U.S. veterans hospitals last week found that more death was recorded among those given the drug, versus standard care.
SEOUL, South Korea — South Korean infectious disease experts have downplayed concerns that patients could get reinfected with the new coronavirus after fully recovering.
While hundreds in South Korea have tested positive again after their release from hospitals, Oh Myoung-don, who heads the country’s central clinical committee on new infectious diseases, told a news conference on Wednesday there was a “high possibility” that such test results were flawed.
He said South Korea’s standard real-time PCR tests, designed to amplify the genetic materials of the virus so that even tiny quantities are detected, doesn’t reliably distinguish between remains of dead virus and infectious particles. He said lab tests on animals suggest that COVID-19 patients would maintain immunity for at least a year after their infections.
He also said it was unlikely that the virus could be reactivated after remaining dormant when it doesn’t seem to be a type that causes chronic illnesses.
As of Tuesday, 277 people in South Korea tested positive for the virus for a second time after being diagnosed as recovered. Health authorities have tested some of their samples, but none so far have been successfully cultivated in isolation, indicating a loss of infectiousness.
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