COVID-19 world update: U.S. to start antibody tests; drones enforce lockdown in Italy

The latest on the coronavirus pandemic. This file of news items from the Associated Press was posted by Black Press Media at 8:30 a.m., Friday, April 10.

TOP OF THE HOUR

  • Good Friday observed at home ahead of Easter weekend.
  • Dr. Fauci: Antibody tests expected next week in US.
  • France aircraft carrier has 50 coronavirus cases.
  • Notre Dame Cathedral hosts its Good Friday ceremony without crowd.

Fauci: COVID-19 antibody tests just days away

WASHINGTON — The top U.S. infectious disease official says coronavirus antibody tests are just days away.

Dr. Anthony Fauci says at the last White House coronavirus task force meeting, the people responsible for developing, validating and disseminating the tests were saying “a rather large number of tests” will be available within a week.

An antibody test could show whether a person was recently exposed to the coronavirus. Fauci told CNN on Friday the test would say “that you were infected and if you’re feeling well you very likely recovered.”

Fauci says medical experts could then try to determine how deeply the virus has spread in the country and whether previously infected people would be vulnerable to reinfection, which is particularly “important for health care workers.”

Fauci says testing for an antibody doesn’t mean medical experts are shifting away from testing for the virus to see who’s infected. He says, “those things are done in parallel.”

Spain: Non-essential workers to begin returning to jobs

MADRID — Spanish authorities say they believe plans to allow the return of non-essential workers to their factories and construction sites next week won’t cause a significant surge in coronavirus infections.

“We are not under the impression that these measures will increase in an important way the transmission (of the virus),” the spokeswoman of Spain’s health emergency co-ordination centre Maria Jose Sierra said Friday. “We wouldn’t be adopting them otherwise.”

Some experts had warned that the relaxing of the two-week “hibernation” of economic activity comes too early.

Who exactly returns to work will be outlined in Friday’s Cabinet meeting although authorities have said that heavy industry and construction will be part of those returning to work. Shops are meant to remain closed and office workers are encouraged to work from home.

There were 605 new deaths recorded overnight, the lowest increase since March 24.

The COVID-19 has claimed at least 15,843 lives among the 152,446 confirmed cases in Spain. However, officials acknowledge the true scale could be much higher.

Italy: Police uses drones, helicopters to enforce lockdown

ROME — Italian authorities are using helicopters, drones and stepped-up police checks to make sure Italians don’t slip out of their homes for the Easter holiday weekend.

Millions of Italians normally head to second homes by the sea, in the mountains or countryside, especially since Monday is an official holiday.

With remote classes for millions of school children suspended for the long weekend, police on Thursday stopped some 300,000 motorists or pedestrians nationwide to demand proof they can be on highways or local streets.

The interior ministry say 10,000 summonses were issued on Thursday. In Lombardy, the northern region with the most cases of COVID-19 and deaths in Italy, Deputy Gov. Fabrizio Sala, says traffic had nudged up since the same time a week ago. That means tens of thousands of more people were on the move.

Malta: We will no longer help migrants in peril on the sea

VALLETTA, Malta — About 70 migrants were brought ashore after drifting into Maltese waters while stranded at sea for five days.

After the rescue mission, the Malta government announced it could no longer help to migrants in distress at sea trying to reach Europe from northern Africa.

Malta says the resources of law enforcement and armed forces are focused on combatting the spread of the virus, which has infected about 350 people on the Mediterranean island nation since March 7. It noted the port and airports had been closed to passenger traffic due to the emergency.

Spain: Good Friday celebrations curtailed

MADRID — In Spain, Good Friday is traditionally a day of celebrations and especially in the country’s South, when people flock to the streets to watch processions of elaborately decorated platforms bearing statues.

But the country’s lockdown to fight the virus, which has killed 15,000 people, means this year there will be no festivities because of stay-at-home orders. Many churches are holding liturgies online this week for the faithful to follow.

$30 billion released to U.S. health care system

WASHINGTON — The federal Health and Human Services department says it’s releasing the first $30 billion in grants provided by the stimulus bill to help keep the U.S. health care system operating during the coronavirus outbreak.

Congress provided $100 billion for the health care system in the $2 trillion stimulus bill.

Officials say the relief funds will go to hospitals and doctors through Medicare and will be based on their billings to the program last year. Hospitals are supposed to use some of the money to cover COVID-19 treatment for the uninsured, although an independent study earlier this week suggests it may not be enough.

EU to meet April 23 to ratify $550 billion US support package

BRUSSELS — European heads of state and governments will meet by videoconference April 23 to confirm the agreement of the Eurogroup to support Europe’s economies amid the global economic crisis.

The 19 European countries that use the euro currency overcame weeks of divisions to agree Thursday on more than half a trillion euros ($550 billion) of support programs to cushion the recession caused by the deadly coronavirus.

European Council president Charles Michel says the package will help European Union countries, workers and businesses by shouldering “the burden of the crisis together.” The compromise is aimed “at quick targeted relief.”

Poland: Priest fined for celebrating Palm Sunday

WARSAW, Poland — Poland’s media says authorities have fined a priest the equivalent of euro 2,200 ($2,400) for celebrating Palm Sunday Mass for 60 people.

The mass took place in the southern mountain church in Sromowce Wyzne. No more than five people can attend Mass under Poland’s strict anti-coronavirus measures.

Cycling and long walks are also forbidden. Last weekend in Krakow, a cyclist and a strolling woman were each fined euro 2,600 ($2,800).

Cyprus: Peacekeeper struck with COVID-19

NICOSIA, Cyprus — A soldier serving with the United Nations peacekeeping force in Cyprus is the first confirmed coronavirus case among UN personnel stationed there.

The UN says the soldier reported mild symptoms on Monday and was put into isolation after testing positive for the virus.

The UN says its following Cyprus government restrictions, including a stay-at-home order to help contain the spread.

Civilian UN staff are working from home, while the rotation and deployment of all soldiers has been put on hold in line with the UN Chief’s suspension April 4 of deployments across all peace operations until Jun 30.

The UN’s Cyprus mission of 802 soldiers, 69 police and 140 staff is one of the world body’s oldest peacekeeping operations.

They patrol a 120-mile buffer zone separating a breakaway Turkish Cypriot north from an internationally recognized Greek Cypriot south.

France: Nation’s sole aircraft carrier headed to port as 50 on board have COVID-19

PARIS — France’s only aircraft carrier has confirmed 50 cases of the virus aboard and is heading back to port.

The French military says three of those aboard the Charles de Gaulle with the virus have been flown to a French hospital for treatment. Medics are staying aboard to track the infections and prevent further spread among the 1,700 crew after 50 of the 66 tests were positive.

U.S. aircraft carrier USS Theodore Roosevelt experienced a similar outbreak, leading to a major controversy after its captain was fired.

Amid suspicions of an outbreak aboard the Charles de Gaulle, a medical team equipped with tests was flown to the French aircraft carrier on Wednesday while it was on a mission in the Atlantic Ocean.

Kenya: Police fire on food line

NAIROBI, Kenya — Kenyans desperate for a planned food distribution to those suffering under coronavirus-related restrictions have briefly rushed through a gate in the capital of Nairobi.

An Associated Press journalist saw the crowd push through a gate at a district office in Kibera slum. Police fired tear gas and left several people injured.

Movement restrictions or lockdowns in many African countries are creating widespread pain for low-income workers, who often have little or no savings.

Top political leaders to self-isolate after possible infection by TV journalist

SKOPJE, North Macedonia — The leaders of the two largest political parties in North Macedonia have been ordered to observe a two-week self-isolation after coming into contact with a television journalist who has tested positive for COVID-19.

The Health Ministry says former prime minister Zoran Zaev, who leads the Social Democrats, and conservative opposition leader Hristijan Mickoski have both received isolation orders and would remain at home.

The restrictions were imposed despite test results that were negative for Mickoski. Results for Zaev were expected later Friday.

Former interior minister Oliver Spasovski is the country’s current caretaker prime minister as North Macedonia heads to an early general election.

North Macedonia has 663 confirmed infections and a death toll of 30.

Belgium: Churches remain open, but authorities urge remote worship

BRUSSELS — Worship places in Belgium will remain open over the Easter weekend but health authorities are advising residents to watch religious services remotely as the death toll of the novel coronavirus has now surpassed 3,000 cases.

Benoit Ramacker, a spokesman for the COVID-19 crisis centre, said on Friday that officials in charge of the worship places must ensure that social distancing measures will be implemented in religious premises.

“All other religious services are prohibited, except unfortunately for funerals, but also weddings,” he said. “We also see that several of you, many religious communities, have planned in the coming days an alternative religious service via Internet radio and television. Thank you and congratulations also for this creativity.”

According to the latest figures released by the health ministry, 40% of the 3,019 people who have died in Belgium because of the epidemics lived in nursing homes.

Infection and mortality rate drops in Spain as deaths approach 16,000 people

MADRID — The coronavirus has claimed at least 15,843 lives in Spain and has officially infected 152,446 people, although both the rate of contagion and mortality are dropping, according to official health ministry data.

The 605 new deaths recorded overnight were the lowest increase since March 24. There were 4,576 more recorded infections than a day earlier, bringing down the daily rate of contagion to 3%.

The Spanish government is meeting Friday to establish a 20 billion-euro ($21.9 billion) fund to help small businesses and the self-employed cope with the economic fallout of the outbreak. But it’s also discussing what comes next for 47 million Spaniards who have been quarantined for four weeks.

After a two-week freeze of all nonessential economic activity, factories and construction sites are set to resume work on Monday. Schools, most shops and offices will remain closed, with people encouraged to work from home.

Experts have warned that the return of certain activity will increase contagion and health authorities need to scrutinize any new cases.

The state of emergency has been extended to April 26.

Notre Dame services to be broadcast online

PARIS — Although still damaged and scarred by fire, Notre Dame Cathedral is the centre for prayer in a Paris locked down against the coronavirus.

Just days before the first anniversary of the April 15, 2019, inferno that ravaged the beloved Paris landmark, the French capital’s archbishop is leading Good Friday celebrations unlike any others that have gone before inside the centuries-old jewel of Gothic architecture.

There will be prayers, readings and music during the Friday morning ceremony but no crowd.

Archbishop Michel Aupetit will venerate a crown of thorns that survived the flames that brought down the cathedral’s roof and spire and horrified Parisians and believers across the world.

With the cathedral closed to the public, only a tiny handful of people are taking part. But the proceedings are to be broadcast live.

Housing Secretary accused of violating travel advice

LONDON — A senior British official is being accused of flouting the government’s advice against all but essential travel outside the home.

U.K. media have reported that Housing Secretary Robert Jenrick travelled from London to his house in central England, then made another 40-mile (60-kilometre) journey to visit his parents.

Opposition Labour Party lawmaker Nick Thomas-Symonds said “it’s very important for public confidence that Robert Jenrick explains himself and why exactly that journey was necessary.”

Jenrick said he went to his parents’ house to deliver “essentials — including medicines” to his parents, who are self-isolating. Delivering medicines to vulnerable people is permitted under the U.K. lockdown rules.

Scotland’s Chief Medical Officer Catherine Calderwood was forced to resign earlier this week after travelling to her second home, in violation of her

Lockdowns in 20 African countries impacts millions of workers

ACCRA, Ghana — Some African nations are trying to ease the pain of coronavirus lockdowns even as they extend them.

In Ghana, President Nana Akufo-Addo says the lockdowns in the greater Accra and Ashanti regions have been extended for a week, but he pledges that the government will fully absorb the cost of electricity bills for the “poorest of the poor” and 50% of the cost for all other consumers.

In South Africa, which has announced a two-week lockdown extension, President Cyril Ramaphosa says he and his Cabinet will take a one-third salary cut for the next three months, with the money going to a fund to help vulnerable countrymen.

Full or partial lockdowns in Africa have affected more than 20 countries, severely hurting the livelihoods of millions of informal workers and others.

Moscow changes pneumonia treatment protocols

MOSCOW — Russian doctors will start treating patients with pneumonia for the new coronavirus without waiting for test results to confirm the diagnosis, the country’s Health Minister Mikhail Murashko said.

“We’re seeing that the disease progresses fast, and it has specific clinical presentation, (allowing) to diagnose (it) without confirming in the lab based on the clinical presentation,” Murashko said in a TV interview that aired on Thursday night.

Murashko’s statement echoes earlier comments from Moscow doctors involved in treating coronavirus patients, saying that the vast majority of pneumonia cases in Russia are most likely caused by the new virus and should be treated as such.

“Existing tests for confirming COVID-19 are 70-80% accurate,” Denis Protsenko, chief doctor of a top Moscow hospital treating coronavirus patients, said Thursday.

Russian health officials reported 1,786 new cases of the coronavirus on Friday, bringing the country’s total to 11,917. The outbreak has picked up speed in Russia in recent weeks, with the number of cases growing exponentially and doubling every few days. Kremlin critics have been questioning the official statistics, pointing to a growing number of pneumonia cases and suggesting that Russia’s coronavirus case count might be much higher.

Hungary: 20% of health workers expected to be infected

BUDAPEST, Hungary — Hungary’s prime minister says the country now has about 2,000 of the 8,000 ventilators it expects to need at the peak of the coronavirus pandemic.

Prime Minister Viktor Orban also said Friday on state radio that he expects around 20% of Hungary’s health workers to be infected with the coronavirus.

Orban, who has extended indefinitely restrictions put in place two weeks ago to make people stay home, said Hungary was learning from measures implemented in neighbouring Austria, which he called “our large laboratory,” where the pandemic is at a more advanced stage.

Hungary has 1,190 cases of the coronavirus, and 77 people with have died.

Father of U.K’s prime minister says Boris Johnson must delay return to office

LONDON — Boris Johnson’s father says the British prime minister needs time to recover from the new coronavirus and is unlikely to be back at work imminently.

The U.K. leader spent three nights in the intensive care unit at St. Thomas’ Hospital in London after his COVID-19 symptoms worsened. He was moved back to a regular ward on Thursday evening, and his office says he is in “the early phase of his recovery.”

His father Stanley Johnson said the prime minister needed to “rest up.”

“He has to take time,” Stanley Johnson told the BBC. “I cannot believe you can walk away from this and get straight back to Downing Street and pick up the reins without a period of readjustment.”

Johnson was diagnosed with COVID-19 two weeks ago, the first world leader confirmed to have the illness. Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab is standing in for Johnson while he is in hospital.

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