By The Associated Press
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:
— Putin extends Russia’s shutdown to May 11.
— Britain working on virus contact tracing app.
— France aims for 700,000 tests each week starting May 11.
— France, Spain reveal lockdown exits.
MOSCOW — Russian President Vladimir Putin has extended the nation’s partial economic shutdown through May 11, saying the coronavirus outbreak is yet to reach a peak.
Speaking in a conference call with top officials Tuesday, Putin says the shutdown that began at the end of March and was to expire on April 30 has slowed contagion. Lockdowns imposed by Russian regions have kept most people, except those working in vital industries, at home.
Russia has recorded 93,558 coronavirus cases and 867 deaths. Moscow has accounted for about half of the cases.
Putin instructed the government to prepare a plan for gradually lifting the lockdown after May 11. He also promised new steps to support businesses and restore the economic damage from the outbreak.
ATHENS, Greece — Greek Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis has outlined the plan for a gradual lifting of the coronavirus lockdown.
“We accepted, as a society, the need for economic activity to be paralyzed in order to save human lives,” Mitsotakis said in a televised address to the nation Tuesday. “As we limited the first wave of the virus, we are ready to pass into the second phase of our plan: the gradual de-escalation of the measures.”
However, the prime minister noted, “nobody can rule out a possible rekindling of the threat.”
Mitsotakis says the lockdown would be lifted in stages starting May 4, when some retain stores reopen and Greeks won’t have to carry a self-written document certifying they are outdoors for one of six specific reasons. Travel restrictions outside of people’s home region will remain in place for two more weeks.
Churches will be accessible for private prayers and people can later attend services on May 17. Other retail businesses will reopen on May 11, with social distancing restrictions.
SOAVE, Italy – The mayor of Venice is inviting tourists to see the cleaner lagoon city as a result of shutdowns to contain the spread of coronavirus.
Luigi Brugnaro says, ‘’We have seen octopuses in the Grand Canal, we have seen fish return, the waters clean. These are spectacular moments.’
Brugnaro acknowledged tourism to the city of canals won’t reach the usual 30 million visitors. Italy is only starting to ease its two-month lockdown next week, although it remains unclear when travel between regions will be allowed.
The mayor is asking the government for financial help. He’s requested extending short-term unemployment coverage from nine weeks to a full year, guaranteed allowance of at least 600 euros ($650 dollars) to seasonal tourism workers through the first quarter of 2021 and increased state-backed loans to 50% of 2019 revenues for small- and medium-sized businesses.
PARIS — French Prime Minister Edouard Philippe has outlined a plan to fight the coronavirus by testing everyone who has come in contact with an infected person.
Philippe announced the plan while addressing lawmakers at the National Assembly. He says when a person tests positive, individuals that have been close contact with that person — regardless of whether they have any symptoms or not – will be tested.
Philippe says, “All these contact cases will be tested and will be asked to isolate themselves.”
He says France aims for at least 700,000 tests each week a when lock down restrictions begin to ease on May 11.
Philippe says junior high school students in France must wear masks when they return on May 18. High school students won’t return until June. Elementary school students won’t be required to wear masks.
(This item has been corrected to show junior high school students must wear masks, not high school students.)
WASHINGTON — Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin says any loan exceeding $2 million from the Paycheck Protection Program will result in an audit before the loan is forgiven.
The announcement stems from concern over large companies gaining access to a program designed to help small businesses weather the coronavirus pandemic. Mnuchin says on CNBC the Small Business Administration will conduct reviews that makes sure “the intent for the taxpayers is fulfilled here.”
Mnuchin says it was up to borrowers to certify they met the parameters for receiving a loan. He says the borrowers “have criminal liability” if they made a false certification.
Some companies, such as Shake Shack and the Los Angeles Lakers, have returned the loans.
CANBERRA, Australia — The Chinese Foreign Ministry has again dismissed Australia’s call for an independent inquiry into the coronavirus, saying a senior Australian diplomat agrees that it is not the time for such an investigation.
Australia’s call for an international inquiry independent of the World Health Organization into where the respiratory virus came from and the United Nations agency’s handling of the emerging pandemic is placing increasing strain on Australia-China relations.
Chinese Ambassador Cheng Jingye warned in a newspaper interview published on Monday that pursuing an inquiry could spark a Chinese consumer boycott of students and tourists visiting the country and sales of major exports, including beef and wine.
Australia’s Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade secretary Frances Adamson responded by calling Cheng to express Australia’s concerns about the interview.
The Chinese Embassy on Tuesday released a statement saying Adamson “admitted it is not the time to commence the review now and Australia has no details of the proposal.”
MINSK, Belarus — The UN has urged Belarusians to stay home amid the growing coronavirus outbreak, after the country’s health authorities registered 900 new infections in the biggest daily surge.
“It is time for immediate, and extensive, measures to reinforce physical distancing,” said Joanna Kazana-Wisniowiecki, the UN Resident Coordinator in Belarus. “Stay home to stop the spread of COVID-19. It will help medical workers and all of us to cope with the crisis.”
Belarus has reported 12,208 cases of the virus and remains one of the few countries that hasn’t imposed a lockdown despite repeated calls to do so from international organizations.
Tuesday is a national holiday in Belarus, when hundreds of thousands of people flock to cemeteries to honor the deceased. President Alexander Lukashenko refused to ban the tradition this year and says he’d visit the graves of his ancestors.
Lukhasenko has ruled the country with an iron fist for more than two decades. He has repeatedly dismissed concerns around the pandemic as “mass psychosis,” saying Belarus can handle the outbreak without a lockdown.
LONDON — An official says the British government’s virus contact tracing app will be ready in two to three weeks.
Britain and many other countries are developing mobile apps to help reduce infections after they ease lockdown restrictions.
Matthew Gould, CEO of the National Health Service’s digital transformation unit, says a San Francisco-based software company Pivotal Labs has done most of the work building the app.
He told Parliament’s science and technology select committee the rollout will be part of a wider post-lockdown strategy that includes expanded testing.
The app will use Bluetooth signals to anonymously log when a user comes into close contact with others. The data is kept on devices. But if users later develop COVID-19 symptoms or get positive test result, they can choose to upload the data to a central server so those contacts can be alerted.
Gould says such an approach would maintain user privacy while allowing authorities to see any patterns in the movement of the virus.
WARSAW, Poland — Authorities in Poland say a 100-year-old World War II veteran and former fire fighter has recovered from COVID-19.
Iwona Soltys, a spokeswoman for a government hospital in Warsaw, tweeted that Stanislaw Bigos has recovered. She wished him plenty of health, positive thinking and energy in the future.
Deputy Interior Minister Blazej Pobozy tweeted it was “super news coming from our hospital.” He sent greeting to Bigos and congratulations to the doctors.
A nation of 38 million, Poland has reported more than 12,000 COVID-19 cases and 570 deaths.
THE HAGUE, Netherlands — A small group chanting “freedom now” and holding banners gathered outside the Dutch parliament building.
The demonstration was one of the first in the Netherlands against the government’s measures to contain the coronavirus. Bars, restaurants and museums have been closed since mid-March and people have been urged to stay home as much as possible and observe social distancing if they go outside.
The majority of the population has adhered to what Prime Minister Mark Rutte has called the “intelligent lockdown.”
Many shops closed their doors voluntarily because customers were staying indoors. Dutch branches of home furnishing giant Ikea opened their doors Tuesday for the first time since March 17 amid strict social distancing measures. Restaurants and children’s play areas in the stores remained closed.
KYIV, Ukraine — Authorities in Ukraine have started to ease lockdown restrictions enacted since March 12 to curb the spread of the coronavirus.
Government officials in Chernivtsy, a city 500 kilometers (300 miles) west of Kyiv, allowed food markets to reopen Tuesday while requiring customers to wear masks and observe social distancing.
In Kyiv, authorities plan to lift some of the restrictions on May 12 to allow beauty parlors, shops and parks to reopen if there isn’t a spike of new infections. Prime Minister Denys Shmyhal says similar gradual measures may be taken throughout the country.
Ukraine has reported 9,410 coronavirus cases and 239 deaths.
BERLIN — The German government is counting on Deutsche Telekom and software giant SAP to develop its coronavirus infection tracing app.
Germany’s Health Ministry says the main feature of the app will be swiftly informing users about contact they had with people who tested positive for the new virus, allowing them to self-isolate and thereby interrupt the chain of transmission.
Officials say the app will use Bluetooth technology to detect other devices in the vicinity. Anyone who tests positive can voluntarily inform contacts via the app that they might have been exposed to the virus, without revealing their identity.
German officials have warned that privacy concerns among users might hamper uptake of the app.
TALLINN, Estonia — Estonia says it will lift lockdown restrictions on the Baltic nation’s populated islands on May 18.
Justice Minister Raivo Aeg says movement restrictions will be eased for the residents of Saaremaa, the largest island with some 32,000 inhabitants, on May 4. Mainland Estonian residents are free to move between islands two weeks later, providing the COVID-19 situation in the country is “showing signs of easing.”
Saaremaa became the hotspot of coronavirus infection after an Italian volleyball team visited the island early March. Estonian health authorities have said the Italian team likely spread the virus.
Saaremaa has registered more than 20 deaths and 541 coronavirus cases. Nationwide, Estonia has confirmed 50 deaths and 1,660 cases.
BERLIN — Germany’s disease control center says the country’s rate of corona virus infections has slightly increased but the number of new infections remains at a manageable level.
Lothar Wieler, the head of the Robert Koch Institute says the “R” factor — the number of people infected by every person with COVID-19 — is now 0.96. Authorities have said they want to try to keep it below 1 to keep the pandemic manageable for the health care system.
It had been around 0.7 before Germany eased lockdown restrictions on April 20 to allow smaller businesses to open, while keeping social distancing in place. It’s too early to say whether that move has led to the increase.
Wieler is urging Germans to keep abiding by social distancing, wearing masks while on public transportation or shopping and staying at home when possible.
He says Germany currently has about 1,000 new infections reported per day, down from a high of some 6,000. The virus has infected a total of nearly 160,000 people and killed about 6,000.
VIENNA — Austrian officials say the rate of coronavirus infections has steadied and it can soon enter a phase of relaxing lockdown measures.
Health Minister Rudolf Anschober says the country will begin winding down restrictions, starting May 1 through the end of June.
Tourism minister Elisabeth Koestinger says restaurants will reopen on May 15. She says there will still be restrictions, including shortened business hours and no more than four adults at one table and a minimum of one meter (3.3 feet) between tables.
Austria has reported more than 15,000 coronavirus cases and nearly 600 deaths. The number of new infections has slowed significantly, according to a tally by Johns Hopkins University.
NEW DELHI — The Chinese embassy in India says it was “unfair and irresponsible” to “label” Chinese testing kits procured by India as “faulty.”
On Monday, India canceled orders to procure rapid antibody testing kits from two Chinese companies after quality issues and controversies over its price.
Chinese Embassy spokesperson Ji Rong said, “The quality of medical products exported from China is prioritized. It is unfair and irresponsible for certain individuals to label Chinese products as ‘faulty’ and look at issues with preemptive prejudice.”
The order was canceled after a New Delhi Court revealed that India had been asked to pay more than twice of what it would cost to import them. The government maintains it had not made any payment yet.
But Ji Rong says the two companies had “stressed” their kits met quality standards in China and had been “validated and approved” by Indian authorities.
Chinese exporters are required to show that they are approved for sale in their destination market, under rules imposed on March 30 after complaints from several countries about faulty and sub-standard goods. On April 10, China said that it would inspect each shipment to confirm medical supplies met quality standards.
LONDON — Official figures show the number of deaths recorded in England and Wales in the week to April 17 was around double the usual amount.
The Office for National Statistics says a total of 22,351 of people in England and Wales died in the week, the highest since comparable records began in 1993. The total was 11,854 more than the rolling five-year average.
In its analysis of death certificates, which take longer to compile than deaths recorded in hospitals, the statistics agency said the coronavirus was mentioned as one of the causes of death in 8,758 cases, nearly 40% of the total.
It says 4,316 deaths involving COVID-19 had been registered up to April 17 outside of hospitals, with 3,096 in care homes. The equivalent figure for hospital deaths over the period is 14,796.
The daily figures presented by the government only show the number of people dying in U.K. hospitals, including those in Scotland and Northern Ireland. As of Monday, 21,092 deaths were reported in U.K. hospitals.
KUALA LUMPUR, Malaysia — Malaysian businesses have urged the government to end a weekslong virus lockdown following a sharp decline in infections.
Daily cases have dropped to double-digits in the past two weeks with 31 new infections reported Tuesday, the lowest since a partial lockdown began March 18. Malaysia now has 5,851 cases with 100 fatalities.
The Malaysian International Chamber of Commerce and Industry said the lockdown, which has been extended until May 12, should be lifted immediately to revive the economy and save jobs. Its president Tan Cheng Kiat said in a statement that a decision to end the lockdown must be based “not on fear but on facts.”
Tan said the lockdown was intended to flatten the curve, not eradicate the disease. He said vigilance can continue after the lockdown with strict border controls, sealing up areas with viral clusters, social distancing and good health practice.
Health officials conceded that the country has entered a recovery phase but were reluctant to end the restrictions too early until the virus can be fully curbed.
BERLIN — German industry group BDI says an app to trace possible coronavirus contacts should be make available “as soon as possible.”
The powerful lobby group called Tuesday on the German government to ensure “clarity” over the app’s data protection measures so that it can be rolled out soon.
Iris Ploeger, a senior BDI official, said that “the app needs to be made available as soon as possible now so that the economic return of the industrial nation Germany can quickly succeed. Every further day of stagnation is a massive challenge for the German economy.”
Ploeger called the debate over data protection “counter-productive,” adding that scientists, officials and businesses should be encouraging as many Germans as possible to download and use the new app.
Germany recently backtracked on plans for centralized storage of data amid concerns that this might conflict with the country’s cherished notion of privacy.
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