The Latest: WHO Europe: Up to half of deaths in care homes

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.


— AP Exclusive: VA medical facilities struggle to cope with coronavirus.

— WHO Europe official says up to half of the virus deaths in the region were in nursing homes.

— Study out of Spain suggests the coronavirus was spreading in the country weeks before the first clusters were identified.

— China fires back at Australia for seeking an independent investigation into the virus’s origin.


LONDON — The head of the World Health Organization’s Europe office said up to half of coronavirus deaths across the region have been in nursing homes, calling it an “unimaginable tragedy.”

In a press briefing on Thursday, WHO Europe director Dr. Hans Kluge said a “deeply concerning picture” was emerging of the impact of COVID-19 on long-term homes for the elderly, where care has “often been notoriously neglected.” Kluge said health workers in such facilities were often overworked and underpaid and called for them to be given more protective gear and support, describing them as the “unsung heroes” of the pandemic.

Kluge said that while the coronavirus outbreaks in some European countries appear to be stabilizing or decreasing, the pandemic was far from over.

Kluge also noted that about half of the global burden of COVID-19 cases and deaths are in Europe and that in the last week, numbers have increased in the east, citing Russia, Turkey and Ukraine. He said WHO was soon sending teams to Belarus, Turkmenistan and Tajikistan to boost their control efforts.


MADRID — Spain has recorded 440 new deaths overnight for the new coronavirus, bringing the total confirmed fatalities to 22,157, official data is showing on Thursday. With more than 4,600 new positive infections tested, the reported cases are now over 200,000, although the real number is thought to be far higher because many people have not been tested and studies suggest that people can be infected without feeling sick.

On Thursday, a new genetic study published by the Carlos III Institute, Spain’s main epidemiology research center, suggested that the new coronavirus was spreading in the country since mid-February, weeks before the first local contagion clusters were identified.

The country was celebrating an atypical World Book Day on Thursday, which is marked in the United Kingdom and Spain on the date in 1616 of the death of William Shakespeare and Miguel de Cervantes, but this year away from outdoor bookstands.

In Barcelona, where the tradition brings people to gift each other a rose and a book to mark the patron saint of Catalonia, St. George, the Red Cross is delivering books to hundreds of children.


BEIJING — China says Australian calls for an independent investigation into the cause of the coronavirus outbreak are politically motivated and unhelpful in dealing with global pandemic.

Australia is among a number of countries and localities that are calling for more information from China about where the virus originated and whether all efforts were made to stop it spreading across China and then around the globe.

“At this critical moment, it is quite irresponsible to raise unfounded suspicious and unwarranted accusations for political purpose,” Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Geng Shuang said at a daily briefing on Thursday.

Australian Foreign Minister Marise Payne has been among officials who have called for a review of the virus’s origins.

Most scientists believe the virus originated among bats and was transferred through an intermediary mammal to people via the handling and consumption for food of wild animals. However, some in the media and government, including President Donald Trump and members of his administration, have urged further investigations into theories saying the virus escaped from a laboratory in the city of Wuhan where it was first detected late last year.

The top prosecutor in the U.S. state of Missouri on Tuesday announced a lawsuit alleging that Chinese officials are to blame for the pandemic. Geng on Wednesday denounced the legal action as “very absurd.”


LONDON — One of the two nurses singled out by British Prime Minister Boris Johnson when he was discharged from the hospital after his treatment for COVID-19, has admitted he was “nervous at first” when hearing who he was assigned to care for.

Luis Pitarma, 29, who is originally from Aveiro in Portugal, said it was “quite overwhelming” but that his matron at St. Thomas’ Hospital in London told him to be himself.

Pitarma, who has worked at the hospital for nearly four years, said in an interview published on the hospital’s website, that Johnson made him “feel less nervous” when he asked to be called Boris.

Pitarma said he was by Johnson’s side during his three nights in the intensive care unit and that he was “extremely proud” Johnson thanked him.

Johnson spent a week in hospital, leaving on April 12. On his discharge, he highlighted the care he received from Pitarma and his New Zealand colleague Jenny McGee.

Johnson is still convalescing at his country retreat.


SEOUL, South Korea — North Korea has told the World Health Organization it tested 740 people for the new coronavirus as of April 17 but that all came out negative.

The North also said it so far released 25,139 people from quarantine since Dec. 31, according to Edwin Salvador, WHO’s representative to North Korea, in an email to the Associated Press on Thursday.

Salvador said North Korea’s health ministry has been sharing weekly updates with the WHO on its anti-virus efforts. He says the WHO is engaging with North Korea’s government to bring in the anti-virus supplies, including protective gear and laboratory reagents, from the Chinese border town of Dandong.

He says North Korea is currently bringing in all outside supplies, including COVID-19 related, by ship through Nampo port as all borders remain closed. Goods received are disinfected and quarantined in the port for 10 days. They are additionally disinfected and quarantined for another four days if headed for capital Pyongyang.

The North has said there hasn’t been a single virus case on its territory, but the claim is questioned by many outside experts.

Describing its anti-virus efforts as a “matter of national existence,” the North has banned foreign tourists, shut down nearly all cross-border traffic with China, intensified screening at entry points and mobilized health workers to monitor residents and isolate those with symptoms.


BEIJING — China will contribute an additional $30 million dollars to the World Health Organization to help fight the global coronavirus pandemic, on top of an earlier $20 million contribution, the foreign ministry said Thursday, amid plans by the U.S. to suspend its contributions to the United Nations body.

The announcement at a daily briefing on Thursday came amid criticism from the Trump administration and others that the WHO has not shown sufficient leadership in the fight against the virus, and has uncritically supported China, despite allegations the communist leadership initially suppressed news of the outbreak that was first detected in the central Chinese city of Wuhan late last year.


PRAGUE — Czechs have been forming long lines to get tested in a study to determine undetected infections with the coronavirus in the population.

Some 27,000 people aged 18-89 across the country will be tested in the next two weeks, starting on Thursday, in different parts of the Czech Republic. In the capital of Prague and the second-largest city of Brno, children aged eight and older also will be included.

A significant number of people infected with the coronavirus suffer no or only mild symptoms, but there is concern that they might unwittingly spread the virus to others. At the same time, those people are expected to be immune to COVID-19 for some time in the future.

The results that will be known in early May should help authorities to adjust the plans to relax restrictive measures adopted to contain the pandemic.

The tests conducted on people who have symptoms detected over 7,000 people positive for the coronavirus in the Czech Republic while 210 have died, according to Health Ministry figures Thursday.

On Wednesday, a day-to-day increase of infected people dropped for third straight day to 99 as a record of 8,807 tests were conducted.


ISTANBUL — A Turkish Airlines plane has flown over central Turkey, on a path drawing out the Turkish flag to mark centennial celebrations for the founding of the Turkish parliament.

Celebrations for Turkey’s National Sovereignty and Children’s Day were changed due to the coronavirus pandemic, replacing parades and school ceremonies with observances in line with social distancing efforts.

Flight tracking website Flightradar24 showed a crescent and a star over Turkey outlined by a Boeing 777. Turkish televisions showed children with flags on their neighborhood streets. The government has also asked Turkish citizens to sing the national anthem in the evening.

Turkey ranks seventh in the world in the number of confirmed infections, which are nearing 100,000, according to Johns Hopkins University. The latest health ministry figures show 2,376 people have died.


The above item has been corrected to show the reported death toll is 2,376.


BERLIN — German Chancellor Angela Merkel says she understands the urge to relax coronavirus restrictions as soon as possible, but is criticizing some states for moving too quickly, saying that they’re risking setting back what the country has achieved.

In an address to parliament on Thursday, to lawmakers sitting apart from one another in line with the country’s strict social distancing guidelines, Merkel said even though the numbers of new infections in Germany were starting to slow, there is still much work to be done.

She says “we’re not living in the final phase of the pandemic, but still at the beginning. We will be living with this virus for a long time.”

Without naming names, she said some state governments had moved “in part very briskly, if not to say too briskly” with the process.

In an apparent reference to U.S. President Donald Trump’s announcement he would be halting funds to the World Health Organization, Merkel lauded the work of the international agency.

She says “for the German government, I emphasize the WHO is an indispensable partner and we support them in their mandate.”


SEOUL, South Korea — South Korean health authorities are planning to soon begin antibody tests to learn how widespread the coronavirus infection is within the population. They are also researching how long people maintain immunity after recovering from COVID-19.

Kwon Joon-wook, a senior official from South Korea’s Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, said Thursday officials are considering a variety of options, such as testing groups of people in the worst-hit city of Daegu and nearby areas or obtaining blood samples from military conscripts.

He says such tests would be crucial in understanding how the virus spreads and preparing for another surge in infections, which he says could happen in the autumn or winter when cold temperatures move more people indoors.

South Korea on Thursday reported eight new infections and two more deaths, bringing its totals to 10,702 cases and 240 fatalities. Its caseload has slowed from early March, when it was reporting around 500 fresh cases a day. More than 8,200 of the cases were reported from Daegu and nearby towns.


Follow AP news coverage of the coronavirus pandemic at and

Categories: National & International News