The Latest: UK may miss today’s goal of 100,000 daily tests

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 economies stagger, pressures grow to ease virus lockdowns.

— British government says it may miss its goal to carry out 100,000 coronavirus tests by April 30.

— Spain faces criticism in relaxing of lockdown measures.

— Indonesia prepares for recovery stage of moving past the virus.

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LONDON — The British government acknowledges that it may miss a self-imposed goal of conducting 100,000 tests for coronavirus a day by Thursday, but insists it is on course to vastly expand the country’s testing capacity.

The government has been criticized for failing to catch most cases of COVID-19 and now says wide-scale testing will be key to controlling the virus and easing a nationwide lockdown.

Earlier this month it vowed to perform 100,000 tests a day by April 30. The number has been climbing steadily, but the highest daily total reached so far is 52,000.

Justice Secretary Robert Buckland said that “even if the target isn’t met today … we’re well on our way to ramping this up.”

On Wednesday, the U.K.’s official death toll from the virus leap to more than 26,000 after deaths in nursing homes were added to the hospital total. The tally is the world’s third-highest, surpassed only by the United States and Italy.

Prime Minister Boris Johnson, who spent a week in hospital with the virus, is under pressure to reveal when and how the government will ease a nationwide lockdown that was imposed on March 23. The restrictions are due to last at least until May 7.

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MADRID — Spain’s coronavirus death toll stood Thursday at about 24,500 after an increase of 268 in the last 24 hours, or 57 less than the increase the day before.

The caseload is officially more than 213,000, although Spain is not counting untested infections or those that are becoming known through antibody tests, which mostly identify patients after they have passed the COVID-19 disease.

Business groups and opposition parties are winding up criticism of the Spanish government for the handling of the coronavirus crisis and the newly announced 4-step rollback of a strict confinement. They say measures have not been previously consulted and are not in line with the reality of shops, restaurants and hotels on the ground.

Adding to the pressure, official data released Thursday showed that the economy shrank 5.2% in the first quarter of the year, the worst figure since record keeping began in the 1970’s.

The government is set to announce Thursday specific measures that could include time slots for adults to come out for exercise and strolls. Transport Minister José Luis Abalos said the goal was to avoid an “explosive” amount of people from crowding streets and parks when the ban lifts on Saturday.

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JAKARTA, Indonesia — Indonesia’s confirmed COVID-19 cases have surpassed 10,000.

The government reported nearly 350 new cases, bringing the country’s total over 10,000 with almost 800 deaths as of Thursday. The country also reported there are more than 1,500 patients who have recovered.

Indonesian President Joko Widodo said that even though Indonesia is currently still in the mitigation phase, 2021 will be the recovery year for Indonesia.

Widodo asked the regional leaders in Indonesia to prepare a strategy for the recovery phase; road maps to the stages that will be carried out after the COVID-19 ends.

“With these various scenarios, we will prepare mitigation measures for both health mitigation and economic impact mitigation. And at the same time also prepare recovery steps if the spread of COVID-19 is already under our control,” Widodo said.

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BERLIN — Germany’s health minister has warned against significantly relaxing restrictions imposed to curb coronavirus infections, saying this could “recklessly” endanger the country’s achievements in fighting the pandemic.

In an op-ed Thursday for daily Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung, Jens Spahn welcomed the public debate over loosening the lockdown. But he said that “especially because Germany has so far come through this crisis better than others it would be reckless to endanger this hard-won joint achievement.”

Germany has recorded almost 162,000 cases of COVID-19 and 6,467 deaths so far, according to figures compiled by Johns Hopkins University. That is about a quarter the number of deaths recorded in Britain and France, which have a similar number of confirmed cases.

Spahn said the government wanted to take “small steps, rather than risk a big step back.”

Chancellor Angela Merkel is holding talks with the governors of Germany’s 16 states Thursday to discuss the impact that existing measures have had on slowing the spread of the virus. Germany recently allowed stores to reopen and some students to return to school, but officials dampened expectations than any major loosening of the lockdown.

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KUALA LUMPUR, Malaysia — Amnesty International has urged Malaysia not use the current virus lockdown to round up immigrants living in the country illegally.

Senior Minister Ismail Sabri Yaakob was reported by national news agency Bernama as saying Wednesday that immigrants without any documentation found in eight areas placed under a full lockdown would be taken away once the lockdown ends. It appears to contrast an earlier government move to encourage these immigrants to seek virus testing and health care without recrimination.

Amnesty’s Malaysian chapter says sending the migrants to detention, where centers are known for being overcrowded and filthy, will expose them to increased risk of contracting the virus and could accelerate the spread of the disease. It said in a statement Thursday that the move was “outrageous” and unjustifiable in a time of pandemic.

Malaysia, which has 5,945 infections and 100 deaths, has imposed a partial lockdown until May 12. Eight areas with viral clusters, including places with a heavy migrant population, are under a full lockdown with residents barred from leaving home.

Amnesty voiced concerns that minority Muslim Rohingya refugees could be detained and face the risk of being deported back to Myanmar. Rather than locking them up, Amnesty said authorities should seek to process migrant claims.

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LONDON — Pharmaceutical giant AstraZeneca is partnering with the University of Oxford to make and distribute a COVID-19 vaccine that is now being tested — a move that would make it possible to quickly offer vaccinations globally if it works.

The agreement announced Thursday will be finalized in the coming weeks.

The university’s Jenner Institute began human trials last week.

John Bell, a professor of medicine at Oxford, told the BBC he hoped that some results from a human trial of the vaccine would be available by the middle of June.

He says the challenge would be to manufacture at scale after regulatory approval.

Bell says “we also want to make sure that the rest of the world will be ready to make this vaccine at scale so that it gets to populations in developing countries, for example, where the need is very great.’’

Dozens of vaccines are currently in development. The World Health Organization estimates it will take 12 to 18 months to actually find one that works.

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ANKARA, Turkey — A second Turkish military plane took off from an air base near Ankara carrying more medical aid to the United States which has been hit hard by the coronavirus pandemic.

The state-run Anadolu Agency said Thursday the cargo plane is carrying a second batch of protective equipment, including masks, hazmat suits and disinfectants, as part of Turkish efforts to the United States as it grapples with the outbreak. Turkey also dispatched a plane with medical supplies on Tuesday.

A message attached to the boxes of supplies read: “From Turkey to the United States with love,” according to the private DHA news agency.

Turkey’s deputy foreign minister, Selim Yavuz Kiran and the US Ambassador to Turkey, David Satterfield, were at a military airbase to see the plane off.

Separately, a Turkish military plane carrying medical supplies, including masks and disinfectants, also left for South Africa late on Wednesday, Anadolu reported.

Turkish officials say the country has donated medical supplies to a total of 55 countries — including Britain, Italy and Spain.

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MOSCOW — Russia’s coronavirus caseload surpassed 100,000 on Thursday, with the number of deaths exceeding 1,000.

Russian health officials reported a record daily spike of 7,099 new confirmed cases on Thursday morning, which brought the country’s total to 106,498. The number of infections is likely to be much higher, as not everyone is being tested and many carry the disease without exhibiting any symptoms.

The vast majority of Russian regions have been on lockdown since late March, with people ordered to stay at home and only essential businesses, such as grocery shops, pharmacies and banks, operating.

On Tuesday, Russian President Vladimir Putin extended the lockdown until May 11 and tasked the government with putting together a plan for gradually reopening the country. Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov pointed out that the timeline for the reopening will be contingent on how the outbreak continues to unfold.

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BRUSSELS — The European Union’s asylum agency says that the number of asylum applications in Europe plummeted by almost half last month as measures to combat the spread of the coronavirus kicked in.

The European Asylum Support Office said Thursday that just 34,737 applications for asylum were lodged in the 31 European countries it collects data for in March, a 43% drop over the previous month.

It said that “just before the COVID-19 outbreak in Europe, applications had increased compared to the same period in 2019, with 65 300 applications lodged in January and 61 100 in February.”

To halt the spread of the coronavirus, many European Union countries have temporarily closed parts of their borders, making it increasingly difficult for migrants to enter without authorization.

Greece, a main entry point for people seeking refuge or better lives in Europe, suspended all asylum applications for a month at the beginning of March after Turkey began waving migrants through to their common border.

Nationals from Syria, Afghanistan, Colombia and Venezuela continue to file the most asylum applications.

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MADRID — Spain’s government says the country’s economy shrunk by 5.2% in the first trimester of the year as the country was stricken by the coronavirus pandemic.

That breaks with 25 consecutive semesters of positive economic activity going back to 2013 for Spain, the eurozone’s fourth largest economy.

Spain’s National Institute of Statistics said Thursday that the drop in economic activity came after a 0.4% growth in the final trimester of 2019. The measurement was based on preliminary data.

The institute said that the coronavirus crisis and lockdown measures have “introduced an extraordinary difficulty in measuring the economic evolution of the trimester.”

Spain applied strict stay-at-home rules on March 14 when it declared a state of emergency that is still in effect. Hundreds of thousands of workers have been furloughed.

Spain has confirmed over 24,000 deaths and 230,000 infections from the new virus.

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The above item has been corrected to show Spain’s National Institute of Statistics made the announcement Thursday, not Wednesday.

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CANBERRA, Australia — The Australian Capital Territory has become the first of the country’s eight states and mainland territories to declare itself free of all known cases of the coronavirus.

Chief Health Officer Kerryn Coleman said the territory surrounding the capital city Canberra was free of any recorded infection on Thursday for the first time in seven weeks after the last patient recovered.

There have been 106 confirmed COVID-19 cases in Canberra and three patients have died. The capital territory has a population of only 420,000, the second-smallest of the states and territories, and its infection rate per head of population ranks in the middle of the field.

Everyone with cold or flu symptoms have been offered free COVID-19 testing in Canberra for the past week and the government said that offer will be extended for another week. One in 49 of the territory’s population had been tested by Thursday.

Health Minister Rachel Stephen-Smith said a government announcement will be made on Friday on the future of lockdown measures that will take into account the risk of a second wave of infections.

Lawmakers and their staff from across Australia will converge on Canberra on May 12 for the first regular sitting of Parliament since early March.

Australia has recorded 6,746 virus infections, 90 of whom have died. Eight new cases were reported since Wednesday.

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NEW DELHI — India says it has achieved tremendous gains and improvement in curbing the coronavirus infections through a stringent lockdown imposed across the country five weeks ago.

A Home Ministry statement late Wednesday said the government would give considerable relaxations in many districts as the lockdown comes for a review on Sunday.

India has so far reported more than 33,050 positive coronavirus cases with 1,074 deaths.

The government on Wednesday allowed migrant workers, pilgrims, tourists, students and other persons stranded at different places in the country to resume their journeys by road. The decision will provide relief to hundreds of thousands of workers who want to return to their villages from Indian cities and towns after they lost jobs following the imposition of a country-wide lockdown on March 25.

The government recently allowed reopening of neighborhood shops in cities and towns and resumption of manufacturing and farming activity in rural India to help millions of poor people who lost work.

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SEOUL, South Korea __ South Korea has reported four more cases of the coronavirus over the past 24 hours, the first time that its daily jump has marked below five in about two months.

The Koreas Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said in a statement Thursday that the additional figures took the country’s total to 10,765 with 247 deaths. It says 9,059 of them have recovered and been released from quarantine.

It says the four new cases are all imported ones and that there were no newly reported cases of local infections.

Local media said it’s the first time for South Korea to have no daily increase of local infections since Feb. 15.

South Korea’s caseload has been slowing in recent weeks after it recorded hundreds of new cases every day between late February and early March.

South Korea has subsequently relaxed some of its social distancing guidelines. It expected to ease up on more restrictions in coming days if its caseload maintains a downward trend.

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