The Latest: WHO says outbreaks add to childbirth death risk
LONDON — The head of the World Health Organization said that as the pandemic accelerates in developing countries, officials are particularly worried about the coronavirus’ disproportionate toll on certain populations, including women at “heightened risk” of dying in childbirth.
Secretary-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said at a press briefing on Friday that WHO is especially concerned about “the impact on people who struggle to access health services…women, children and adolescents.”
Tedros said the pandemic has overwhelmed health systems in many countries and warned many women have a “heightened risk” of dying in childbirth.
Tedros said the U.N. health agency recently investigated the risk of mothers spreading the coronavirus to their newborns and concluded that the benefits of breastfeeding outweigh the risks of transmitting the virus, including among women with suspected or confirmed COVID-19.
He says WHO is also concerned about young people who may be vulnerable to anxiety and depression, noting that in some countries, more than one-third of teens receive mental health help exclusively at school.
HERE’S WHAT YOU NEED TO KNOW TODAY ABOUT THE VIRUS OUTBREAK:
— Indian capital’s crematoriums overwhelmed with virus dead
— Wife of Ukraine’s president has coronavirus, isolated from family
— Downplaying virus risk, Trump gets back to business as usual
— More than two dozen international aid organizations have told the U.S. government they are “increasingly alarmed” that “little to no U.S. humanitarian assistance has reached those on the front lines” of the coronavirus pandemic as the number of new cases picks up speed in some of the world’s most fragile regions.
— Survivors of COVID-19 are donating their blood plasma in droves in hopes it helps other patients recover from the coronavirus. And while the jury’s still out, now scientists are testing if the donations might also prevent infection in the first place.
— Among the numerous rural areas across the U.S. that have recently experienced coronavirus outbreaks are migrant farmworker communities in Florida. Immokalee is one of them. The poor town of 25,000 north of the Everglades has become a hot spot, with cases more than doubling in the past two weeks.
Follow AP pandemic coverage at http://apnews.com/VirusOutbreak and https://apnews.com/UnderstandingtheOutbreak
HERE’S WHAT ELSE IS HAPPENING TODAY:
WASHINGTON — The State Department says it is starting to ramp up passport operations and is working on a backlog of about 1.7 million applications that have been delayed by the coronavirus outbreak.
U.S. passport operations were scaled back in March because of COVID-19. The State Department has been processing applications for health care workers, military personnel and people who needed to travel because of a life-or-death emergency.
Assistant Secretary of State for Consular Affairs Carl Risch told reporters Friday that more passport agency staff have begun returning to work and additional personnel will also be brought in to help process applications, some of which have been pending since February.
Risch said they hope to complete about 200,000 per week and eliminate the backlog, provided the virus does not surge again and the State Department is not required again to scale back operations. Passport agency employees can’t work from home for security reasons.
The U.S. typically processes about 18 million passports per year.
SALT LAKE CITY — Utah Republican Gov. Gary Herbert says he will “pause” the lifting of additional virus-related restrictions in most parts of the state after the rate of positive COVID-19 tests skyrocketed in recent weeks.
The longtime governor made clear, though, that he has no intention of reversing course and placing more restrictions on businesses such as gyms, restaurants and salons that were allowed to reopen in May.
Herbert said the earlier decision to ease restrictions was one reason why Utah’s 5.3% unemployment rate for the week ending May 30 was the second-lowest in the United States behind only South Dakota, according to U.S. Department of Labor data.
“We’ve not closed down the economy, and consequently our economy is much better off today than any other state in America,” he said Thursday.
COPENHAGEN, Denmark — Norway’s government says it is keeping travel restrictions in place for visitors from Sweden, which did not impose a lockdown during the coronavirus pandemic.
Norwegian Prime Minister Erna Solberg said Friday that the more than 1,600-kilometer-long (994-mile-long) border between the Scandinavian countries would remain closed.
Solberg said the sole exception would be Gotland, a Swedish island in the Baltic Sea where the reproduction rate of infections was low.
She said: “I realize this is a big disappointment. But the restrictions are based on objective criteria that are the same for everyone.”
Unlike in most European countries, Swedish authorities advised residents to practice social distancing and only banned gatherings of more than 50 people. The nation’s schools, bars and restaurants never closed during the pandemic.
MADRID — Spanish Health Minister Salvador Illa has announced that Galicia will become the country’s first region to scrap tough restrictions on movement that were adopted to stem the new coronavirus pandemic.
Illa said Friday that the northwestern region will move next week to what the government calls “the new normal,” when some rules, such as wearing face masks when social distancing is not possible, will remain in place.
The government hopes the entire country will be in the “new normal” by June 21. The rules will not be fully dropped until the pandemic is declared over.
Illa said more regions will move next week into Phase 3 of easing restrictions — the final step before the “new normal.” He said that 70% of the Spanish population will be in Phase 3.
Spain has staggered the lifting of its lockdown as different regions meet targets such as a falling number of new infections and hospital capacity.
KYIV, Ukraine — The wife of Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy says she is infected with the novel coronavirus.
First lady Olena Zelenska wrote in an Instagram post on Friday that her husband and their children have tested negative.
She said she feels good, is receiving outpatient treatment and is isolated from her family “in order not to put them in danger.”
Ukraine has so far reported over 29,000 confirmed coronavirus cases, including 870 deaths. The government started gradually easing lockdown restrictions in late May with the resumption of public transportation and the reopening of malls and gyms.
TALLAHASSEE, Fla. — Florida has more than 69,000 confirmed COVID-19 cases after a one-day jump of almost 1,700 that is so far the state’s biggest single-day increase.
The state also reported a total of almost 2,850 coronavirus-related death as of Thursday. While some of the increase in cases is due to expanded testing, the percentage of positive tests has grown from 2.3% two weeks ago to more than 4% this week.
The new caseload was announced the same day that Jacksonville was officially named the new site of this year’s GOP convention.
MALE, Maldives – The Maldives will further relax coronavirus restrictions from Monday, allowing people to leave their homes during daytime.
The Indian Ocean archipelago known for high-end resorts has reported 1,976 cases and eight deaths.
So far, the government had issued three passes per family, each for two hours of outgoing every week. The relaxed rules allow people to go out without permits from 5 a.m to 10 p.m.
Parks, public spaces and shops will reopen while restaurants can only deliver food.
The government plans to reopen for international travel as well as schools, offices, mosques and dine-in restaurants next month.
LONDON — Families who have lost loved ones in the COVID-19 pandemic are demanding an independent public inquiry into the way the British government handled the crisis.
Matt Fowler, of the COVID-19 Bereaved Families for Justice UK group, told the BBC that his father’s death could have been prevented “if things were handled in a different manner.’’
He says that his father was “only 56, so he has gone way, way before his time.”
The group with some 450 members has written to Prime Minister Boris Johnson and to Health Secretary Matt Hancock demanding an inquiry.
The lawyer for the group, Elkan Abrahamson, says a limited inquiry was needed as soon as possible because the crisis is still ongoing.
He says, “in this case, if it does take a long time more lives will be lost.”
BEIJING — China’s capital is suspending plans to restart classes for the first three years of elementary school next week amid reports of new cases of community transmission in the city.
Beijing’s municipal government said it wants to ensure the health and safety of students and teachers.
Local authorities on Thursday announced a 52-year-old man had become the city’s first confirmed case of local transmission in weeks after he arrived alone at a clinic complaining of fever.
The official Xinhua News Agency said another two cases of COVID-19 were confirmed in Beijing on Friday.
The man whose diagnosis was announced Thursday had reportedly visited a market on June 3. The hall where he shopped has now been closed for disinfection, state media reported. It wasn’t clear if there was a connection between the three new cases.
YEREVAN, Armenia — Authorities in Armenia have extended the state of emergency for another month until July 13, saying the coronavirus continues to remain a threat.
The country’s health officials have reported a total of 15,281 confirmed cases and 258 deaths among its population of nearly 3 million. So far only 5,639 people have recovered.
Last month, despite the ongoing state of emergency, Armenian authorities eased some of the virus-related restrictions, reopening public transport, gyms, kindergartens and restaurants.
In late May, Prime Minister Nikol Pashinian said the outbreak was getting worse. A week later he announced that he and his family got infected with the virus. Last week, Pashinian said they had recovered.
BANGKOK — Thailand has announced further easing of restrictions that were imposed to fight the spread of COVID-19, including allowing some schools to reopen and scrapping a curfew.
The new measures taking effect Monday follow more than six weeks in which the daily increase in COVID-19 cases was usually less than 10, and almost all new infections originated abroad.
Socializing will become easier because restaurants will no longer be banned from serving alcohol, though bars remain shut.
International flights remain suspended until the end of the month while the government ponders how to gradually reopen the tourism sector, a major pillar of the economy.
ROME — Premier Giuseppe Conte is being questioned by prosecutors investigating the lack of a lockdown of two towns in Lombardy’s Bergamo province at the start of Italy’s coronavirus outbreak.
Doctors and virologists have said the two-week delay in quarantining Alzano and Nembro allowed the virus to spread in Bergamo, which saw a 571% increase in excess deaths in March compared to the average of the last five years.
Lead prosecutor Maria Cristina Rota arrived with a team of aides Friday morning at the premier’s office in Rome, Palazzo Chigi. In addition to Conte, she is expected to question the health and interior ministers.
Italy registered its first domestic case Feb. 21 in the Lombardy province of Lodi, and 10 towns in the province were immediately locked down to try to contain the spread.
Alzano and Nembro registered their first cases two days later, on Feb. 23, but the government didn’t quarantine them for two weeks until all of Lombardy was locked down March 7. Conte told La Stampa daily that he acted based on “science and conscience.”
SEOUL, South Korea — South Korea’s top infectious disease expert has raised alarm over the speed of coronavirus transmissions in the densely populated capital area, where around 30 to 50 new infections have been reported each day since late May.
Jung Eun-kyeong, director of the Korea Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, says the average infectiousness of virus carriers in the Seoul metropolitan area was about three times higher than in the rest of the country.
She said the basic reproduction number of virus carriers — which measures the number of infections caused by an individual — in the capital area reached as high as 1.7 or 1.8 in recent weeks. Any number above 1 indicates a growing epidemic.
She pleaded with Seoul residents to stay home over the weekend, saying there was “high concern” that increased public activity would lead to a massive circulation of the virus.
Health workers have struggled to trace hundreds of infections linked to e-commerce workers, church gatherings, elderly door-to-door sellers and clubgoers.
LONDON — Three airlines have launched legal action against the British government, describing the country’s plan to quarantine most incoming travelers as “flawed.’’
British Airways, easyJet and Ryanair say in a statement Friday that the quarantine will have a “devastating effect’’ on tourism and the wider economy. The airlines want the government to readopt its previous policy, where quarantine was limited to passengers from high risk countries.
Quarantine measures imposed this week stipulate that all passengers — bar a handful of exceptions like truckers or medical workers — must fill in a form detailing where they will self-isolate for two weeks. The requirement applies regardless whether they are U.K. citizens or not, and those who fail to comply could be fined.
The quarantine was imposed after a heated debate on whether it would help British efforts to tamp down the outbreak or simply stamp out any hopes that the tourism industry will recover following months of lockdown.
MANILA, Philippines — President Rodrigo Duterte has been promised by his Chinese counterpart that the Philippines “as a friendly neighbor” will be prioritized when China is able to develop a vaccine against COVID-19.
Presidential spokesman Harry Roque said Friday that Duterte got the assurance from Chinese leader Xi Jinping in a late Thursday telephone call that lasted 38 minutes.
Roque said Xi assured Duterte of “his country’s commitment to make the vaccine available for all, adding that the Philippines, as a friendly neighbor, would certainly be a priority.”
ISLAMABAD — Pakistan has reported 107 more COVID-19 deaths and 6,397 new cases, the highest single-day increase.
It brought Pakistan’s tally to 2,463 deaths among 125,933 confirmed cases.
The government said Friday that 40,247 patients have recovered.
Experts say Pakistan may witness a further rise in COVID-19 cases. They say the disease has spread across the country since last month when Prime Minister Imran Khan eased lockdown, saying he was doing it to save the ailing economy and people from hunger and poverty.
Pakistan’s economy will contract in the fiscal year ending June 30, for the first time in 68 years as a result of the global pandemic.
LONDON — Official figures show that the British economy shrank by a colossal 20.4% in April, the first full month that the country was in its coronavirus lockdown.
The Office for National Statistics said Friday that all areas of the economy were hit, in particular pubs, education, health and car sales.
Jonathan Athow, deputy national statistician for economic statistics, said April’s fall is “the biggest the U.K. has ever seen,” and “almost 10 times larger than the steepest pre-COVID-19 fall.”
April’s decline follows a 5.8% contraction in March. In April, the economy was about a quarter smaller than it was in February.
The U.K. was put into lockdown on March 23 and restrictions are slowly being eased. On Monday, nonessential shops, such as department stores and electronic retailers, are due to reopen.
CANBERRA, Australia — Australia’s prime minister expects international students will begin returning in July despite warnings of racism from China.
Prime Minister Scott Morrison said after meeting federal state leaders on Friday that international students would be allowed to come to Australia under approved plans to study at nominated institutions.
Morrison said he expected all state borders to reopen in July, with the possible exception of Western Australia.
International students have been Australia’s most lucrative industry after mining, with China the largest source of foreign students.
China this week warned its citizens of the risk of pandemic-related racism if they traveled to Australia. Last month, China banned beef imports from Australia and ended trade in Australian barley through massive tariffs in what is widely regarded as retaliation for Australia calling for an investigation into the pandemic.
Foreign Minister Marise Payne on Friday accused China of “disinformation” through its racism warning. Morrison said he was not concerned that Chinese government warnings could deter Chinese students.
NEW DELHI— India’s coronavirus caseload has become the fourth-highest in the world, overtaking Britain, by adding 10,956 new cases in yet another biggest single-day spike.
India’s two-month lockdown kept transmission low but in a large population of 1.3 billion, people remain susceptible and the campaign against the virus is likely to go on for months, Balram Bhargava, director-general of the Indian Council of Medical Research, said.
India’s lockdown was imposed nationwide in late March but has eased since, and it is now largely being enforced in high-risk areas. The new cases rose after India reopened shops, shopping malls, manufacturing and religious places.
Subways, schools and movie theaters remain closed.
The increase reported Friday raised India’s confirmed cases to 297,535 with 8,498 deaths.
SEOUL, South Korea — South Korea is reporting 56 new cases of COVID-19 as the country continues to see a resurgence of the virus concentrated in the capital area.
Figures released by South Korea’s Centers for Disease Control and Prevention on Friday brought national totals to 12,003 cases and 277 deaths. It says 10,699 people have so far been released from hospitals after recovery, but 1,057 others remain in treatment.
At least 45 of the new cases were reported from the Seoul metropolitan area, where about half of South Korea’s 51 million people live. Health officials have struggled to track transmissions linked to entertainment and leisure activities, church gatherings and low-income workers who couldn’t afford to stay home.
RENO, Nevada — Nevada health officials are closely monitoring a recent uptick in confirmed COVID-19 cases statewide, including the biggest one-day increase to date in the Reno area reported Thursday.
But the state’s response director isn’t convinced a second wave of the coronavirus outbreak has arrived.
Nevada COVID-19 Response Director Caleb Cage says the state has seen an above-average rise in daily positive cases this week and experienced six consecutive days of an increase in the number of cases requiring hospitalization. He says the most recent spike is the fourth highest since the pandemic was declared in mid-March in Nevada, which now has nearly 10,400 cases and 458 deaths.
But Cage adds that “our assessment based on this data is that we are not seeing evidence of a second wave of COVID-19 in the state of Nevada yet.”
BEIJING — China has reported seven new coronavirus cases, including the first instance of local transmission in Beijing in weeks.
Authorities said Friday that the other six cases were all brought into the country by Chinese citizens arriving from abroad. No new deaths were reported.
Officials in Beijing say the locally transmitted case involves a 52-year-old man who arrived alone at a clinic displaying an intermittent fever but no other symptoms. He was swiftly diagnosed as having COVID-19, prompting authorities to isolate family members and reinstate anti-virus measures in his neighborhood.
The man said he had not left Beijing Beijing for more than two weeks and had not been in contact with anyone from outside the city.
GRAHAM, N.C. — A North Carolina judge has ordered a small stock car track to halt racing after state health officials declared that large weekend crowds at recent races violated an executive order by Gov. Roy Cooper aimed at curbing the spread of the coronavirus.
The judge agreed Thursday to issue a temporary restraining order preventing Ace Speedway in Alamance County from holding further events for now.
Earlier this week, the state health secretary called the track an “imminent hazard,” ordered it closed and told the operators to announce the closure publicly. There was no evidence the owners did that, so officals asked the court to intervene.
The governor’s restrictions to curb the spread of the coronavirus limit outdoor gatherings to 25 people.
SAN JUAN, Puerto Rico — Puerto Rico’s governor says she will lift nearly all restrictions aimed at curbing coronavirus cases, which means beaches, churches and businesses across the U.S. territory will reopen after a three-month shutdown.
Gov. Wanda Vázquez said Thursday the changes will occur starting next week. She says businesses including gyms and movie theaters will be allowed to operate seven days a week.
However, she says an overnight curfew will remain in place for two weeks, with people required to be inside from 10 p.m. to 5 a.m.
The governor also says that Puerto Rico will begin welcoming tourists again starting July 15 and that airport screenings will continue.
GENEVA — Geneva’s most famous landmark, the towering fountain known as the Jet d’Eau, has fired back up after an 83-day stoppage amid broad lockdown measures for the coronavirus outbreak.
It was the longest such pause since the spray began operations in 1951. The head of the Geneva-based World Health Organization took part in a reopening ceremony Thursday that epitomized the recent easing of restrictive measures as case counts of COVID-19 have fallen dramatically in Switzerland.
The Geneva utility that operates the Jet d’Eau said it was switched off March 20 “to embody the lockdown and the associated sanitary measures as well as to protect staff involved in its proper functioning.”
The fountain shoots up a 140-meter (460-foot) plume of water onto Lake Geneva.