The Latest: WHO denies report of pressure to withheld info

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:

— World Health Organization: report it withheld information about coronavirus following pressure from China is “false allegations”.

— Italy has its lowest total of daily new COVID-19 cases since start of nationwide lockdown in early March.

— Public health expert warns coronavirus still has a long run.

— Head of Egypt’s Doctors’ Union calls for a full lockdown.

— Mnuchin says U.S. jobless numbers probably going to get worse.

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BERLIN — The World Health Organization has dismissed as “false allegations” a media report that it withheld information about the new coronavirus following pressure from China.

The U.N. agency said in a statement late Saturday that a German magazine’s report about a telephone conversation between WHO chief Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus and Chinese President Xi Jinping on Jan. 21 was “unfounded and untrue.”

Weekly Der Spiegel reported that Xi asked Tedros during the call to hold back information about human-to-human transmission of the virus and delay declaring a pandemic. The magazine quoted Germany’s foreign intelligence agency, BND, which declined to comment Sunday.

Der Spiegel also claimed that the BND concluded up to six weeks of time to fight the outbreak had been lost due to China’s information policy.

The U.N. agency said Tedros and Xi “have never spoken by phone” and added that “such inaccurate reports distract and detract from WHO’s and the world’s efforts to end the COVID-19 pandemic.”

It said that China confirmed human-to-human transmission of the new coronavirus on Jan. 20.

WHO officials issued a statement two days later saying there was evidence of human-to-human transmission in Wuhan, but more investigation was necessary. The global body declared COVID-19 a pandemic on Feb. 11.

U.S. President Donald Trump has been among the strongest critics of WHO’s handling of the pandemic, accusing it of deference to China and ceasing payments to the agency.

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ROME — Italy has registered its lowest total of daily new COVID-19 cases since the start of the nationwide lockdown in early March.

According to Health Ministry data, 802 coronavirus infections were confirmed in the 24-hour period ending Sunday evening.

That’s also the first time daily new cases have dropped below the 1,000-mark since very early in the country’s outbreak. Italy now totals 219,070 known cases.

There were 165 deaths because of the virus since Saturday evening, raising the number of known deaths of infected patients to 30,560.

Authorities say the real total is surely much higher, as deaths at home or nursing care facilities or personal residence aren’t counted if COVID-19 testing isn’t done, although many of those deceased may well have had the illness.

Helping to account for such a lower daily new case total was Lombardy, Italy’s most stricken region. That northern region registered 282 infections in the 24-hour period. In recent days it had registered several hundred fresh cases daily.

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ATHENS, Greece — There were no deaths from COVID-19 and only six new cases over the past 24 hours, Greek authorities announced Sunday.

The number of confirmed coronavirus cases in the country is now 2,716. The death toll is 151 and 30 people are on ventilators.

On Monday, most retail shops will open and high school seniors will return to school to prepare for the country-wide university entrance exams, which will take place sometime in July.

A government deputy minister said about 25 percent of all businesses forced to close in mid-March will re-open tomorrow, with about 155,000 people reporting back to work. Many of the shops will have late opening hours and all will have to enforce crowd distancing measures.

Shopping malls, restaurants and bars remain closed.

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WASHINGTON — A public health expert says the new coronavirus still “has a long way to run” despite President Donald Trump’s claim last week that it will go away without a vaccine.

Dr. Tom Inglesby says it’s likely that only a small portion of the country has been infected, “so most of us are still susceptible to this virus.” Inglesby is the director of the Center for Health Security of the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health.

He says the nation does not have sufficient testing or tracing the contacts of people who do test positive for what he described as a “really nasty virus.” Inglesby says the danger is that as businesses reopen and Americans start to resume normal activities “with increased social interaction, we will again see increased transmission and rising number of cases.”

Reacting to Trump’s assertion that the virus simply will disappear, Inglesby says, “No, this virus isn’t going to go away. Hopefully, over time, we’ll learn to live with it and we’ll be able to reduce the risk of transmission. But it’s going to stay as a background problem in the country and around the world until we have a vaccine.”

Inglesby made the comments on Fox News Sunday.

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DAMASCUS, Syria — Syria has resumed public transport within provinces for the first time in nearly two months as the country eases the lockdown because of coronavirus.

Syrian state media said thousands of public and private buses resumed work on Sunday with precautionary measures taken including repeatedly spraying the buses with disinfectants and keeping a safe distance between passengers.

Buses were only working within provinces as travels between regions is still restricted.

Also Sunday, masses were held in churches around Syria for the first time since mid-March and worshippers were sprayed with disinfectants before they entered churches and kept a safe distance.

Syria has registered 47 cases of coronavirus and three deaths so far.

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CAIRO — The head of Egypt’s Doctors’ Union has called for a full lockdown across the country to help fight the new coronavirus pandemic. It comes amid a spike in infections in the Arab World’s most populous country.

Dr. Hussein Khairy told local media Sunday that he sent a letter to Prime Minister Mustafa Madbouly last week urging for the proposed lockdown to last for two weeks or until the end of the Muslim holy month of Ramadan.

He argued that the lockdown would deal a “swift and massive blow” to the virus and “flatten” the curve of infections.

Egypt has halted international air travel and shuttered schools, universities, mosques, churches and archaeological sites, including the famed Giza pyramids. A curfew is in place from 9 p.m. to 6 a.m.

The partial lockdown is to continue until the end of the Muslim holy month of Ramadan.

The country of 100 million people has experienced a surge in infections in the past couple of days, with the daily reported new cases around 500.

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WASHINGTON — Treasure Secretary Steven Mnuchin says the jobless numbers in the United States “are probably going to get worse before they get better,” but the bigger risk to the country is keeping businesses’ closed rather than states allowing some to reopen.

Mnuchin spoke as most states begin to loosen their restrictions on businesses after extended shutdowns designed to slow the spread of the new coronavirus. He says that if re-openings are not allowed it would have permanent economic damage to the American public.

Another 3.2 million U.S. workers applied for jobless benefits last week, bringing the total over the last seven weeks to 33.5 million.

Mnuchin says that increased testing and the prospect of better treatments will give businesses and workers the confidence to reopen in a careful way. He says, ”you are going to have a very, very bad second quarter. And then I think you’re going to see a bounce-back from a low standpoint.”

Mnuchin spoke on Fox News Sunday.

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BERLIN — Germany’s interior minister is making an exception for cross-border entry to allow children who live outside Germany to enter the country for a Mother’s Day visit.

The country’s pandemic restrictions currently forbid entry into the country except for “compelling reasons” such as work. This would have prevented families that live across the border from visiting Sunday on Mother’s Day.

But Interior Minister Horst Seehofer approved a decision by border police to include filial visits on Mother’s Day to the list. Like cross-border commuters, they will also be exempt from the rule that requires people entering Germany to quarantine for two weeks.

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BERLIN — The number of workers who tested positive for COVID-19 at a slaughterhouse in western Germany has risen to 205.

Authorities in Coesfeld county near the Dutch border say they have so far received results for half of the 950 staff at the slaughterhouse. Most of the workers are migrants from Eastern Europe and living in shared accommodation.

The outbreak in Coesfeld, at a sister plant in a neighboring county and a separate slaughterhouse in norther Germany, have contributed to a spike in new cases in Germany.

The country’s public health agency said 1,251 new infections had been recorded over the past 24 hours. It said the so-called reproduction rate that reflects the number of people each person with COVID-19 infects has risen to 1.1 from 0.65 on Wednesday.

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MADRID — Roughly half of Spain’s 47 million inhabitants will be able to enjoy their first drink or meal at an outdoor terrace on Monday, but residents of Madrid and Barcelona have to wait.

The two major cities have been hardest hit by the coronavirus outbreak. Spain’s government is allowing other areas to further loosen restrictions that have been in place for nearly two months.

Bar and restaurant owners in cities like Seville and Bilbao will be able to open 50% of their outdoor seating for customers, while residents there will be allowed meet in groups of up to 10 people, and go to church, theaters and museums in limited numbers. Small shops will be able to open without the requirement for an appointment.

Officials are under pressure to revive a flagging economy amid rocketing unemployment.

Spain’s health minister reported 143 new confirmed fatalities from the virus on Sunday, the lowest daily increase since March 19. The total death toll for Spain is 26,621 since the start of the outbreak. More than 136,000 have recovered.

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SEOUL, South Korea — The mayor of a city near Seoul has ordered the temporary closing of clubs, discos and other nightlife establishments amid concerns of a second wave of coronavirus cases in the country.

Mayor Park Namchoon of Incheon city to the west of Seoul says the closing of nightlife facilities will last for two weeks and that anyone violating the order can be punished by up to two years in prison or a 20 million won ($16,380) fine.

Seoul and its surrounding Gyeonggi province have already taken similar steps after new cases associated to nightclubs in Seoul’s Itaewon entertainment district were detected in recent days.

South Korea reported 34 new virus cases on Sunday, the first day that its daily tally was over 30 in about a month. Officials said that 24 out the 34 cases were linked to Itaewon nightclubs.

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ISTANBUL — Turkey’s senior citizens have been allowed to leave their homes for the first time in seven weeks under relaxed coronavirus restrictions.

Those aged 65 and over, deemed most at risk from the virus, had been subjected to a curfew since March 21, but they were permitted outside Sunday for four hours as part of a rolling program of reduced controls. Under-20s will be allowed outside for a similar period later in the week.

Health Minister Fahrettin Koca tweeted his thanks to the elderly for their “great support” in fighting the outbreak by staying at home, and he reminded them to wear masks outside.

The government announced a “normalization plan” as the number of new cases dropped last week, but warned of tougher measures if infections go up again.

Entry and exit restrictions have been lifted for seven provinces where the outbreak is under control. They remain in place for 24 other provinces, including Istanbul and Ankara.

Shopping malls, barbers, hairdressers and beauty salons can open under strict conditions on Monday, while domestic and some international flights will resume at the end of May.

Turkey has recorded 137,115 cases of the virus and 3,739 deaths attributed to COVID-19, according to a tally by John Hopkins University. The true number is likely much higher because many people have not been tested, and studies suggest people can be infected with displaying symptoms.

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VATICAN CITY — Pope Francis is calling on leaders of European Union countries to work together to deal with the social and economic consequences of the coronavirus pandemic.

The pope noted in his Sunday blessing that 75 years have passed since Europe began the challenging process of reconciliation after World War II. He said the process spurred both European integration and “the long period of stability and peace which we benefit from today.”

He prayed that the same spirit that inspired European integration efforts “not fail to inspire all those who have responsibility in the European Union” to deal with the coronavirus emergency in a “spirit of harmony and collaboration.”

Throughout his papacy, the pope has urged European countries to resist nationalism and instead pull together on issues like migration.

During the pandemic, hard-hit countries like Italy and Spain have that insisted EU leaders demonstrate solidarity.

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