The Latest: WHO chief pledges probe of virus response

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.


— WHO chief pledges independent evaluation of virus response.

— Italian steelworkers protest layoffs, furloughs.

— Germany’s Merkel: “No country can solve this problem alone.”

— Japan plunges into recession as US states start opening up.


GENEVA — The head of the World Health Organization says he will begin an independent evaluation of the U.N. health agency’s response to the coronavirus pandemic “at the earliest appropriate moment.”

WHO Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus made the pledge Monday after an independent oversight advisory body published its first interim report about the U.N. health agency’s response to COVID-19 from January to April.

The 11-page report raised questions such as whether WHO’s warning system for alerting the world to outbreaks is adequate, and suggested member states might need to “reassess” WHO’s role in providing travel advice to countries.

The advisory body’s review and recommendations appeared unlikely to appease the United States administration, which has been scathing in its criticism of WHO — in part over President Donald Trump’s allegation that it had criticized a U.S. travel ban that he ordered on people arriving from China, where the outbreak first appeared late last year.

Trump ordered a temporary suspension of funding for WHO from the United States — the health agency’s biggest single donor — pending a review of its early response. But the review panel, echoing comments from many countries, said such a review during the “heat of the response” could hurt WHO’s ability to respond to it.


BRUSSELS — A senior European Union official is warning EU countries that they face legal action if they do not lift restrictive measures on the movement of medicines and food products inside Europe’s single market.

Internal Market Commissioner Thierry Breton told EU lawmakers Monday that he is “concerned by recent measures introduced by certain member states, notably on food products and medicines.”

Breton says he’s been talking to ministers and officials from 18 countries concerning around 30 restrictive measures that have been put in place during the coronavirus pandemic.

Vowing a “zero-tolerance” policy, Breton says such restrictions are “not acceptable, and the commission will not hesitate to act.”

He did not name any countries, but the EU commission launched infringement proceedings last week against Bulgaria for obliging retailers to favor local food producers.


GENOA, Italy — Hundreds of steelworkers protested outside a factory in the port city of Genoa on Monday in what they billed as Italy’s first industrial protest since the country locked down due to the coronavirus in early March.

As restrictions eased significantly, workers gathered to protest ArcerlorMittal’s decision to put another 1,000 workers at plants throughout the country on short-term unemployment schemes at a fraction of usual pay. The company has already put more than 3,000 workers in its beleaguered Taranto plant in southern Italy on temporary unemployment.

Many Italian steelmakers stopped producing during the lockdown, although ArcelorMittal’s plant in Taranto — Italy’s largest — remained open throughout.


SARAJEVO, Bosnia-Herzegovina — Thousands of people in Bosnia who lost their jobs over the past two months due to the coronavirus lockdown in the country have been blocked by cumbersome and lengthy application procedures from accessing unemployment benefits they had been promised by the government.

Hundreds can bee seen daily waiting in long queues outside the government employment offices around the country. The offices are where all who had lost their jobs must report to start the application procedure.

According to the incomplete official statistics, over 30,000 people have lost their jobs in Bosnia since March when the authorities ordered all nonessential businesses, schools and public venues to close as part of measures to stem the spread of the virus.

Experts warn that many of those jobs will be lost for good, dealing a heavy blow to the country of some 3.5 million people where nearly 40% percent of the labor force was unemployed prior to the pandemic. So far, the economic upheaval has not hit public-sector jobs in Bosnia. But this could become a source of popular outrage since Bosnia’s oversized public sector is funded by a relatively small, but highly taxed private sector. Almost a quarter of government spending in Bosnia is used on salaries of nearly 100,000 public administration workers.


GENEVA — German Chancellor Angela Merkel says countries need to work together to overcome the coronavirus pandemic.

In a video address Monday to the annual World Health Assembly, Merkel said that “no country can solve this problem alone.”

She backed the World Health Organization’s efforts to combat the outbreak but added that countries should “work to improve procedures” at the global body and ensure its funding is sustainable.

Merkel made no direct reference to U.S. President Donald Trump’s decision to cut funding for WHO over its handling of the coronavirus outbreak.


COPENHAGEN, Denmark — The Danish health minister said Monday that adults in Denmark over the age of 18 can now be tested for the coronavirus.

“It is imperative that there are no hidden pockets of infection that can cause the infection to rise again. Every single chain of infection is one too many and can potentially turn into several,” Magnus Heunicke said.

“So, if one has the slightest suspicion that you have been infected with COVID-19, then one should be able to be tested,” he added.

People can book a time online and tests will be carried out in makeshift centers that have been erected across the country near hospitals, or in mobile unit for people living in remote areas.

He said the first 600,000 to be allowed to be tested would be those between 18 and 25. After that, other age groups will be able book time online and about 50,000 tests can be conducted per week.

The ministry didn’t give a number for how many who could potentially get the test, saying they presently have enough capacity. Denmark has a population of 5.8 million.

People with symptoms of the disease, medical staff, residents and employees at retirement homes, among others, will automatically be tested.


GENEVA — Chinese President Xi Jinping says China will provide $2 billion over two years to help with the response to the coronavirus pandemic.

XI’s announcement by videoconference at the start of the World Health Organization’s annual assembly marks a sharp contrast to the United States: The Trump administration has announced a suspension of its funding for WHO over its alleged mishandling of the outbreak and praise of China’s response.

Xi did not specify where the injection of Chinese funds would go, but said “China will provide $2 billion over two years to help with COVID-19 response.”

Xi also said that vaccine development and deployment of vaccines in China will be made a “global public good” and said that China supported a review of the global response to the outbreak after it is brought under control.


MILAN — The tony Montenapoleone district of luxury boutiques in Milan reopened Monday — but no shoppers were in sight.

The shopping district is home to such Milan fashion mainstays as Armani, Versace, Ferragamo, Fendi and Bottega Veneta, but most sales are to foreigners — primarily Arabs and Americans, according to official figures — who still are not able to travel to Italy.

Air traffic remains severely limited and a 14-day quarantine on arrivals in place until June 3.

Meanwhile, nearby at city hall, hundreds of open-market vendors were protesting the failure of the city to come up with rules for non-food stands to reopen.

“They haven’t worked for three months. What are they going to do if they can’t reopen — steal, go ask charity?’’ said Nicola Zarrella, the vice president of Euroimprese, which represents 22,000 market vendors in Lombardy. “They want to work, not get handouts.”


LONDON — The Secretary-General of the United Nations has called the ongoing coronavirus pandemic “the greatest challenge of our age” and said it’s still unclear when we will have effective treatments or vaccines against the disease.

In a virtual address to the World Health Organization’s decision-making body on Monday, Antonio Guterres echoed the WHO’s repeated calls for global solidarity, saying “we are all paying a heavy price” for the sometimes contradictory national responses to the pandemic.

“Many countries have ignored the recommendations of the World Health Organization,” he said. “As a result, the virus has spread across the world and is now moving into the global south, where its impact may be even more devastating and we are risking further spikes and waves.”

Guterres said it was a “false dichotomy” to assume governments would be choosing between saving their citizens or their economies.

“Unless we control the spread of the virus, the economy will never recover,” he warned. He called for the G20 countries to urgently consider a large-scale stimulus package that would amount to a “double-digit percentage of global GDP.”


LONDON — British health officials are adding a loss or change of taste or smell to the list of symptoms of COVID-19.

The decision announced Monday came amid pressure from experts that cases were being missed under a more narrow symptom list, which includes fever and persistent cough.

In a statement, UK health officials say they had been “closely monitoring the emerging data and evidence on COVID-19 and after thorough consideration, we are now confident enough to recommend this new measure.’’

The health officials say that people should self-isolate if they develop anosmia — the loss or a change in a normal sense of smell. The sense of taste can also be affected, as they are closely linked.


LISBON, Portugal — Portugal’s prime minister has taken his morning coffee at his local Lisbon cafe and is having lunch at a restaurant with the speaker of parliament, as officials encourage people to emerge from a lockdown.

Some cafes and restaurants are reopening in Portugal on Monday. Nursery schools also reopened their doors, while school classes resumed for students age 16-18. Social distancing, masks and temperature checks at entrances are among the establishments’ new rules.

The government is gradually easing measures introduced to stem the spread of the new coronavirus. The country has officially recorded just over 1,200 deaths and about 29,000 confirmed cases.

Prime Minister Antonio Costa told reporters that “we can’t return to our old life as long as the virus is around” but noted that the economy has to come back to life.


JAKARTA, Indonesia — The coming Eid-al Fitr holiday looks set to be a somber one for millions of people in Indonesia, the world’s most populous Muslim nation.

Indonesia’s COVID-19 tally exceeded 18,000 cases with nearly 1,200 deaths as of Monday.

The figure prompted President Joko Widodo to reiterate that he will not relax nationwide restriction during the Islamic holiday, which will fall on May 23 or 24, depending on the moon sighting by religious authorities.

Confirmed cases of coronavirus infections in Indonesia spiked by 496 on Monday to take the total cases to 18,010, including 1,191 deaths and 4,324 recoveries.


COPENHAGEN, Denmark — Arnold Schwarzenegger has urged Norwegians to wash their hands and observe other measures to fight the coronavirus pandemic as the Scandinavian country marked its National Day.

In an online message on Sunday, Prime Minister Erna Solberg spoke of the importance of new limitations to fight the pandemic before switching over to someone she said is “good at getting things back.”

The actor and former California governor then appeared on the screen wearing a cowboy hat. He said that parades and other events that normally take place on May 17 “will be back,” as using a catchphrase made famous in his 1984 film “The Terminator.”

“But make sure to wash your hands every day, over and over, and over again. And do the social distancing. Then we are all gonna be back,” he said flashing a thumbs up. “Hasta la vista,” he said, using a phrase from the 1991 sequel “Terminator 2.”


PARIS — France has reported about 70 cases of people infected with the virus in the country’s schools since they started reopening last week, after two months of lockdown.

French Education minister Jean-Michel Blanquer said the affected schools have been closed again. He did not break down the numbers by students or teachers.

Given that the incubation period for the virus is several days, people are “likely” to have been infected before the reopening of the schools, he said, speaking on French radio RTL on Monday.

France reopened about 40,000 preschools and primary schools last week, with classes capped to 15 students. About 30% of children went back to school, Blanquer said, as the government allowed parents to keep children at home.

This week France is reopening junior high schools in regions less affected by the virus.


LONDON — The boss of budget airline Ryanair slammed the UK government’s plan to impose a 14-day quarantine on international travelers, claiming the proposals have no scientific basis.

Michael O’Leary told the BBC on Monday that using face masks instead would “eliminate” the risk of spreading coronavirus. His comments come days after the airline announced plans to ramp up its schedule starting in July.

Britain’s government has outlined plans for visitors to have a two-week quarantine either in accommodation of their choice or provided by the government as a last resort, but an implementation date has not yet been announced.

O’Leary described the idea as “idiotic” and “unimplementable.”


BELGRADE, Serbia — Limited commercial air traffic has resumed at Serbia’s main airport after authorities eased the lockdown against the new coronavirus.

One flight is scheduled on Monday with Wizz Air flying from London’s Luton Airport to Belgrade’s Nikola Tesla airport and back.

The airport has said that travel will resume gradually and under strict rules. Only passengers with tickets are allowed into the airport building and the use of protective gear and hand sanitizers is mandatory.

The country of 7 million people has reported 10,610 cases and 230 deaths.


BERLIN — German authorities say an outbreak of the coronavirus at a home for asylum seekers in a western town is under control after more than half the residents tested positive for COVID-19.

Vanessa Nolte, a spokeswoman for city of Cologne, said Monday all 312 residents of the home in nearby Sankt Augustin have been tested since the virus was first detected there late last week.

The facility was home to primarily younger people and families of various nationalities seeking asylum. A total of 170 tested positive for the virus, but none have required hospitalization.


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