The Latest: Turkish official says outbreak is under control

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:

— AP Exclusive: ER staff saves lives, suffers in hot spot.

—2 pet cats in New York test positive for virus.

—Italy tops 25,000 coronavirus-related deaths.

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ANKARA, Turkey — Turkey’s health minister has reported 117 additional COVID-19 fatalities in the past 24 hours, bringing the total death toll to 2,376.

Fahrettin Koca also reported 3,083 new confirmed infections in the country, raising the total to 98,674. The number of new cases was the lowest since April 4 and down from the 4,611 cases reported the previous day.

President Recep Tayyip Erdogan said this week that the number of daily infections is stabilizing and that the country could transition to normal life after a religious holiday at the end of May.

“The data indicates that the outbreak is under control,” Koca told reporters.

But he warned against any relaxation of measures to contain the spread, especially during the upcoming holy Muslim of month of Ramadan, when people traditionally hold fast-breaking dinners with family and friends.

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MADRID — Spain’s parliament has approved the government’s proposal to extend the country’s state of emergency for a further two weeks, through May 9.

The state of emergency was declared on March 14, granting the government extraordinary powers to maintain a lockdown to help control the coronavirus outbreak.

Spain will further relax its confinement rules next Monday when it lets children under 14 years old out for walks with a parent. Factory and construction workers have already been allowed back to their jobs.

The confinement has helped slow the daily contagion rate increase from more than 20% to less than 2%. Spain has had over 21,000 deaths, second only to the United States and Italy, and 208,000 infections, second only to the U.S.

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PARIS — The head of France’s national health agency says there’s no evidence that nicotine protects smokers from the virus — and warned that smoking remains the country’s No. 1 killer.

Jerome Salomon noted data released by the Paris hospital network suggesting an unusually low proportion of smokers among those hospitalized with the virus, compared to the 25% of smokers in the French population. French researchers have proposed further study, notably on nicotine and the virus.

But Salomon insisted that the data so far is based on observation only, and an eventual nicotine link is only an unproven hypothesis at this stage.

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HELENA, Mt. — Gov. Steve Bullock is easing coronavirus restrictions for Montana.

Bullock says Montana’s churches can hold services Sunday and some businesses will be able to reopen Monday as long as they practice social distancing.

Restaurants, bars and casinos can reopen on May 4 with reduced capacity and an 11:30 p.m. closure time. Schools have the option to return to in-classroom instruction on May 7, but districts can choose to continue distance learning, as well, Bullock says.

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GENEVA — The World Health Organization chief says he hopes the United States will reconsider its freeze in funding for his agency and vowed to keep working on “saving lives” despite calls for his resignation from some U.S. lawmakers.

WHO Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus says he hopes the U.S. believes WHO is “an important investment, not just to help others, but for the U.S. to stay safe” amid the coronavirus outbreak.

President Donald Trump last week announced a temporary halt to funding for the U.N. health agency from the United States — its biggest donor — alleging a WHO cover-up and missteps handling the outbreak.

On Wednesday, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo reiterated some of the U.S. allegations, while other U.S. officials said the halt involved new funding and was expected to continue for 60 to 90 days.

A group of Republican lawmakers in the House of Representatives last week suggested that Trump condition any voluntary U.S. contributions to the WHO this year on Tedros’ resignation.

Asked about whether he was considering that, Tedros said: “I will continue to work day and night because this is a blessed work, actually, and responsibility saving lives, and I will focus on that.”

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ASHGABAT, Turkmenistan — The foreign minister of Turkmenistan, one of a handful of countries that have not reported any cases of coronavirus infection, has denied that the country is hiding information.

“If there were even one confirmed case of coronavirus, we would immediately inform the World Health Organization about it in accordance with our obligations,” Foreign Minister Rashid Meredov said.

Health Minister Nurmukhammed Amannepesov said Turkmenistan is holding 151 people in quarantine to determine possible infection, most of them long-distance truck drivers and ship crew members. The secretive former Soviet republic shares a long border with Iran, one of the countries hardest hit by the virus.

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ISLAMABAD — A top Pakistani health official says Prime Minister Imran Khan has tested negative for the coronavirus.

The test results ended speculation Khan might have been infected after meeting with someone who tested positive this week.

Pakistan has more than 10,000 confirmed cases of the virus with 212 fatalities.

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NEW YORK — Two pet cats in New York state have tested positive for the coronavirus, marking the first cases in companion animals in the United States, federal officials say.

The cats, which had mild respiratory illnesses and are expected to recover, are thought to have contracted the virus from people in their households or neighborhoods, the U.S. Department of Agriculture and the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention say.

The finding, which comes after positive tests in seven tigers and lions at the Bronx Zoo, add to a small number of confirmed cases of the virus in animals worldwide. U.S. authorities say that while it appears some animals can get the virus from people, there’s no indication the animals are transmitting it to human beings.

The two cats live in different parts of the state; the USDA and CDC wouldn’t say where specifically.

Authorities are recommending that any pet owners with COVID-19 avoid contact with their animals as much as possible, including wearing a face covering while caring for them.

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UNITED NATIONS — The United Nations General Assembly has rejected two resolutions on the coronavirus pandemic, one from Russia and the other from Saudi Arabia. It was the second defeat for a Russian resolution on COVID-19 by the 193-member world body.

Under new voting rules instituted because the assembly isn’t holding meetings during the pandemic, a draft resolution is circulated to member nations. If a single country objects before the deadline — in this case noon EDT on Wednesday — the resolution is defeated. Normally, assembly resolutions are adopted by majority votes or by consensus.

General Assembly spokeswoman Reem Abaza confirmed objections had been raised against the Russian and Saudi draft resolutions.

The original Russian resolution, which failed to win approval on April 2, called for abandoning trade wars and protectionist measures and said no unilateral sanctions should be applied without approval from the U.N. Security Council.

The revised resolution, which was defeated Wednesday, kept the reference to ending protectionist practices and dropped the reference to unilateral sanctions. But it welcomed an April 3 statement by the main group of developing countries at the United Nations which includes a call on the international community “to adopt urgent and effective measures to eliminate the use of unilateral coercive economic measures against developing countries.”

Saudi Arabia currently chairs the Group of 20 major global economies and its draft would have welcomed their March 26 summit call for “effective and coordinated action” to fight COVID-19, and their statement “on injecting 5 trillion United States dollars into the global economy, as part of targeted fiscal policy, economic measures and guarantee schemes to counteract the social, economic and financial impacts of the pandemic.”

The General Assembly previously approved two resolutions on COVID-19, but the more powerful Security Council has not taken any action so far.

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LONDON — The British government’s chief medical adviser has warned that social distancing measures in the U.K. may well have to stay in place for the rest of the year.

Professor Chris Whitty says at the government’s daily briefing that he’s confident a vaccine will have “proof of concept” well within a year. But he says the probability of having that, or a treatment, any time this calendar year is “incredibly small.”

As a result, he says “we’re going to have to rely on other social measures, which of course are very socially disruptive as everyone is finding at the moment.”

He says ministers will have to decide what mix of measures will have to remain in place once the U.K. goes through the peak of the coronavirus and beyond.

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BERLIN — People across Germany will be required to wear face masks or some other form of facial covering in public transport, and in many cases in shops, starting next week.

The country’s smallest state, Bremen, became the last to announce the measure. The eastern state of Saxony on Monday became the first to make wearing masks obligatory on public transports and when shopping. The other 15 states followed over the past two days.

In Germany, state governments are ultimately responsible for imposing and loosening lockdowns.

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LONDON — The head of the World Health Organization says the agency declared the outbreak of COVID-19 to be a global emergency “early enough” and that the pronouncement was made when there were fewer than 100 cases outside China, where the new coronavirus was first detected.

In recent weeks, WHO has been criticized for moving too slowly to warn the rest of the world about the threat posed by COVID-19. Last week, U.S. President Donald Trump suspended funding to WHO, accusing it of mismanaging the response to the coronavirus epidemic. Despite declaring the outbreak a global emergency on Jan. 30, WHO declined to describe it as a pandemic until March 11.

“Looking back, I think we declared (an) emergency at the right time,” WHO’s director-general Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said, dismissing criticism that the U.N. agency acted too slowly. “The rest of the world had enough time to respond,” he said at a press briefing.

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ALBANY, N.Y. — New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo says he has enlisted former New York City Mayor Mike Bloomberg to help create a “tracing army” that will find people infected with the coronavirus and get them into isolation. New York will work on the massive effort with neighboring New Jersey and Connecticut.

Wide-scale testing, tracing and isolation are considered crucial to taming the outbreak in the hard-hit region.

The governor says “we will literally need thousands” of people to trace the contacts of infected people. Cuomo says the state will start by asking 35,000 medical field students at state and city universities to get involved. The governor says Bloomberg will oversee the design of the program.

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ROME — Deaths in Italy related to the coronavirus pandemic topped 25,000 on Wednesday.

The number of dead and new positives continue to plateau for Italy, the first western country to be hit by the crisis. The civil protection agency reported 437 people had died with the virus in the last 25 hours, a 1.7% increase in the death toll to 25,085. The number of positive cases rose 1.5% to 183,857.

Pressure on health services continued to ease, with fewer people both hospitalized and in intensive care. Italy’s interior minister, meanwhile, confirmed that none of some 150 migrants rescued by an aid group and quarantined at sea have tested positive for the virus.

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SACRAMENTO, Calif. — Health officials say two people died with the coronavirus in California weeks before the first reported death in the United States from the disease.

Santa Clara County officials said Tuesday the people died at home Feb. 6 and Feb. 17. Before this, the earliest known U.S. deaths from the virus happened Feb. 26 in Washington.

The Medical Examiner-Coroner received confirmation Tuesday that tissue samples sent to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention tested positive for the virus, officials said.

The announcement came after California Gov. Gavin Newsom promised a “deep dive” update Wednesday of the state’s ability to test for the coronavirus and to track and isolate people who have it. That is one of the six indicators he says is key to lifting a “stay-at-home” order that has slowed the spread of the disease while forcing millions of people to file for unemployment benefits.

“This will go to the obvious questions and queries that all of us are asking: When? … When do you see a little bit of a release in the valve so that we can let out a little of this pressure,” Newsom said Tuesday.

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