The Latest: WHO says reopening must be done cautiously
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:
— WHO official says reopening must be done cautiously and debate between ensuring health and reviving the economy is a “false dichotomy”
—Typhoon Vongfong slams into eastern Philippines during lockdown for coronavirus.
—Japan is preparing to end a state of emergency for most of the country.
—United Nations chief calls for mental health needs to be addressed.
A World Health Organization official says the debate between ensuring health and reviving the economy is a “false dichotomy” and that countries must remain vigilant even as they move to lift restrictions.
The WHO Western Pacific director Takeshi Kasai says the reopening of the economy shouldn’t be rushed and must be done cautiously. He says the world must “create a new normal in which we don’t have to choose between health and livelihood.”
Kasai said Thursday that countries must strengthen their health system and have measures in place for early detection, isolation and contact tracing, and ensure they are ready for the possibility of large-scale community outbreak.
If a resurgence occurs, Kasai said governments must also be prepared to reinstate strict health measures as everybody remains at risk until a vaccine is developed.
BRUSSELS — The European Union’s top rule of law official says the bloc is monitoring whether governments remove emergency powers enacted to combat the coronavirus, amid deep concern about measures in Hungary.
EU Values and Transparency Commissioner Vera Jourova said Thursday that as countries ease confinement, “the general states of emergency with exceptional powers granted to governments should gradually be removed or replaced by more targeted and less intrusive measures.”
Jourova told EU lawmakers that “the case of Hungary raises particular concerns” and that “on a daily basis, we are assessing whether we can take legal action.”
In late March, Hungary’s parliament endorsed a bill giving Prime Minister Viktor Orban’s government extraordinary powers during the pandemic, including a measure against the spread of false information about the virus, and setting no end date for them.
Orban was invited to take part in Thursday’s debate but declined. The assembly rejected an offer to hear Hungary’s justice minister instead.
ATHENS, Greece — Greece’s center-right government says it will install cameras in high school classrooms when schools reopen next week to provide live-streaming to allow for reduced classroom attendance. The move comes despite strong opposition from teaching unions and opposition parties on privacy grounds.
A powerful privacy watchdog says live-streaming is legal under special circumstances but that the material cannot be recorded or stored.
The online coverage will allow schools to rotate classroom attendance and allow distancing between students. But Greece’s main left-wing opposition party described putting cameras in schools as posing “a serious risk” to attending students and promised to raise the issue in the European Parliament.
Parents have until later Thursday to decide whether to let their children attend classes or rely only on online teaching material.
Schools have been closed since March 11.
MANILA, Philippines — A strong typhoon slammed into the eastern Philippines on Thursday after authorities evacuated tens of thousands of people while trying to avoid the virus risks of overcrowding emergency shelters.
The first typhoon to hit the country this year rapidly gained force as it blew from the Pacific then barged ashore in San Policarpio town in Eastern Samar province around noon. Video showed fierce rain and wind swaying coconut trees, rattling tin roofs and obscuring visibility. Some towns lost power.
Typhoon Vongfong was packing maximum sustained winds of 150 kilometers per hour (93 miles per hour) and was forecast to blow northwestward and barrel across densely populated eastern provinces and cities before exiting in the north Sunday.
The Philippines remains under a lockdown to fight the coronavirus.
Governors say social distancing will be nearly impossible in emergency shelters. Some shelters are now serving as quarantine facilities, and they may have to be turned back into emergency storm shelters.
The typhoon is forecast to largely bypass Manila, but authorities say tents being used as temporarily medical facilities in the capital might be damaged in strong winds.
COPENHAGEN, Denmark — Commuters in Denmark must practice social distancing in trains, subways and buses and sit at least one meter (3.3. feet) apart when on the same bench and avoid face-to-face seating.
Transportation Minister Benny Engelbrecht said Friday he expects the capacity in public transportation to reach up to 70% of normal capacity.
“Traffic companies, customers and workplaces share the responsibility for making public transport work efficiently and health-wise correctly now that we again expect more passengers,” he said.
Engelbrecht urged, among others, people that when possible to avoid rush hour, walk or bicycle “to give other travellers, who do not have the same opportunity, better space in public transport.”
Public transportation in Denmark has functioned during the lockdown that started March 11 but trains, subway and buses have been almost empty. In recent weeks, the Scandinavian country has slowed reopened.
TOKYO — Experts on the Japanese coronavirus task force approved a government plan Thursday lifting an ongoing state of emergency ahead of schedule in most areas, except for Tokyo and several other high-risk areas.
Economy Minister Yasutoshi Nishimura, after attending the task force meeting, said the experts approved a plan to lift the state of emergency in 39 of the country’s 47 prefectures, while keeping the measure in place for eight others, including Tokyo, Osaka, Kyoto and Hokkaido, where risks still remain high.
Prime Minister Shinzo Abe declared a month-long state of emergency on April 7 in Tokyo and six other urban prefectures and later expanded it to the whole country through May 31. With signs of the infections slowing, Abe is seeking to relax the measure while balancing disease prevention and the economy. Japan now has more than 16,000 confirmed cases, with about 680 deaths. The number of new cases has significantly decreased nationwide.
Abe is expected to explain details later Thursday. Experts are also expected to provide basis for easing the measure, as well as its possible tightening in case of a resurgence of the outbreak.
The Ehime prefecture in western Japan, which was hit by an in-hospital outbreak of about 20 nurses, patients and their families a day earlier, will have the state of emergency lifted on the condition containment measures are taken and the infections are closely investigated, Nishimura said.
Experts and officials have urged people to adopt “new lifestyles” and continue practicing distancing measures such as remote working and avoid out-of-town trips, even after the state of emergency is lifted.
UNITED NATIONS — United Nations Secretary-General Antonio Guterres is urging governments, civil society and health authorities to urgently address mental health needs arising from the coronavirus pandemic, warning that psychological suffering is increasing.
He pointed to “grief at the loss of loved ones, shock at the loss of jobs, isolation and restrictions on movement, difficult family dynamics, and uncertainty and fear for the future.”
The U.N. chief said in a video message late Wednesday launching a policy briefing that “after decades of neglect and under-investment in mental health services, the COVID-19 pandemic is now hitting families and communities with additional mental stress.”
Guterres said those most at risk and in need of help are front-line health care workers, older people, adolescents, young people, those with pre-existing mental health conditions, and those caught up in conflict and crisis.
He said “mental health services are an essential part of all government responses to COVID-19” and must be expanded and fully funded.
CANBERRA, Australia — Australia says it will continue to push for an inquiry into the origins of the coronavirus, even if it hurts trade relations with China.
Prime Minister Scott Morrison had been accused of playing “deputy sheriff” to the United States after calling for the inquiry. On Thursday, he brushed off the criticism.
“We have always been independent, we have always pursued our national interests, and we always will,” he told reporters. “We will always be Australians in how we engage with the rest of the world, and we will always stand our ground when it comes to the things that we believe in and the values that we uphold.”
China has suspended beef imports from four abattoirs and plans to impose tariffs on Australian barley, after warning the inquiry could harm two-way trade ties.
BEIJING — China reported three new coronavirus cases Thursday while moving to reopen for business and schools.
The National Health Commission said 101 people remain in treatment for COVID-19, while 716 are isolated and being monitored for being suspected cases or for having tested positive for the virus without showing symptoms.
China plans to restart classes for most students on June 1, with other grades to resume at a later date, depending on conditions. No announcement has been made on when university classes will resume.
China has reported a total of 4,633 deaths among 82,929 cases of the virus.
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