By The Associated Press
The Latest on the coronavirus pandemic, which has infected more than 428,000 people and killed over 19,000, according to Johns Hopkins University. The COVID-19 illness causes mild or moderate symptoms in most people, but severe symptoms are more likely in the elderly or those with existing health problems. More than 109,000 people have recovered so far, mostly in China.
TOP OF THE HOUR:
— Prince Charles tests positive for coronavirus.
— Putin orders military to help with virus outbreak.
— Environmentalists say air quality is improving.
MOSCOW — Russian President Vladimir Putin has postponed a nationwide vote on proposed constitutional amendments that include allowing him to seek another term in power.
Putin didn’t set a new date for the vote originally scheduled for April 22, saying it would depend on how the new coronavirus pandemic develops.
He also announced during a televised address to the nation that the government doesn’t want Russians, except those working in essential sectors, going to work next week. He says stores, pharmacies and banks will stay open.
“Health, life and safety of the people is an absolute priority for us,” Putin said.
Russian authorities reported 658 cases of the virus on Wednesday, with 163 new cases registered since the previous day. That marked a significantly larger daily increase from previous days.
NEW YORK — The U.N.’s top human rights official is calling on governments to ensure that prisoners aren’t put at risk by the coronavirus outbreak.
Michelle Bachelet. the U.N. High Commissioner for Human rights, says the virus could be “rampaging” through prisons, immigration detention centers and psychiatric hospitals
In a statement, she noted facilities in many countries are overcrowded, often unhygienic and have limited or non-existent access to health care. That makes it impossible for people to adequately distance themselves to avoid spreading the virus.
Outbreaks in prisons have been reported in several countries, including the United States. Many authorities have proposed limited, temporary prisoner releases to ease overcrowding in jails.
LONDON — One of the scientists advising the British government on the coronavirus pandemic says the outbreak will likely peak in Britain in about three weeks.
Imperial College London epidemiologist Neil Ferguson says he’s “reasonably confident” the country’s health system can cope.
Ferguson, who sits on the Scientific Advice Group for Emergencies, says without the lockdown measures imposed by the government this week, the demand for intensive care hospital beds would have exceeded the supply threefold — even with thousands more beds being set up in response to the pandemic.
But if the measures are adhered to, he says “we are reasonably confident — which is all we can be at the current time — that at the national level we will be within capacity.”
ROME — The head of Italy’s civil protection agency overseeing the response to the coronavirus pandemic has a fever and canceled his daily briefings to provide an update of infections and deaths.
The briefing will be suspended and replaced by a statement.
Angelo Borrelli’s televised press conference has become a central appointment for many Italians under lockdown and in the epicenter of the pandemic in Europe. Borrelli gives a rundown of new infections, deaths and Italy’s intensive care capacity and fields questions from journalists.
He’s also been joined by a member of the National Institutes of Health or the government’s scientific advisory committee.
BERLIN — Germany’s health minister says his country has about 1,000 COVID-19 patients in intensive care and its health system can cope with the numbers for now.
Germany has the fifth-largest number of infections in the world, with well over 30,000 people having tested positive. But officials say relatively wide testing has picked up a lot of mild cases, and the country’s death rate has been low so far compared with those in southern Europe.
Germany has 172 deaths, according to a tally by Johns Hopkins University.
Health Minister Jens Spahn says the number of patients in intensive care “is a figure that the health system can still deal with.” But he cautioned that it’s unclear how the situation will develop over the next two to four weeks.
Germany has largely shut down public life and banned gatherings of more than two people in public.
TORONTO — Canada’s House of Commons has passed emergency legislation to free up $82 billion Canadian (US $57.7 billion) to help Canadians during the pandemic.
The bill will go to the Senate, where Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s government is hoping for quick passage by signing the measures into law by the afternoon.
Parliament adjourned on March 13 until at least April 20 as part of a effort to curb the spread of the virus. But it was recalled Tuesday to deal with the emergency aid package.
The bill boosts employment insurance, delays tax deadlines and gives government the power to approve spending “all money required to do anything” to deal with a public health emergency.
WASHINGTON — U.S. Sen. Mitt Romney of Utah says he has tested negative for the coronavirus.
Romney posted on Twitter, “Thankfully I’ve tested negative for COVID-19.”
Romney says guidance from his physician is consistent with guidelines from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and requires him to remain in quarantine. He says the test “does not rule out the onset of symptoms during the 14-day period.”
Romney was the 2012 Republican presidential nominee. He was the only Senate Republican to vote against President Donald Trump at Trump’s Senate impeachment trial.
CANBERRA, Australia — Two Australians infected with the coronavirus aboard cruise ships have died on consecutive days, bringing the nation’s death toll to nine and focusing attention on the health threat posed by cruises.
Queensland Health says a 68-year-old man died in hospital in Toowoomba on Wednesday and had a serious underlying medical condition.
The man was a passenger aboard the cruise ship Voyager of the Seas that docked in Sydney on March 18, the day the Australian government banned cruise ship arrivals for a month.
A 77-year-old woman who died on Tuesday arrived in Sydney a day later aboard the cruise ship Ruby Princess. It’s 2,700 passengers were allowed to disembark without health warnings because the 11-day cruise to New Zealand was considered low risk. That ship has become Australia’s largest source of infections, with at least 133 passengers testing positive.
A dozen cruise ships that set out before the Australian cruise ban are due to dock soon. New South Wales state Premier Gladys Berejiklian says no passengers will be allowed to disembark in Sydney before new public health measures are agreed upon.
KIYV, Ukraine — Ukraine’s government declared the state of emergency due to the coronavirus outbreak.
Prime Minister Denys Shmyhal announced the decision at a cabinet meeting. He says its effective until April 24 and could be extended.
Ukraine has reported 113 cases of the coronavirus and four deaths.
Earlier this month the country’s government closed the borders for foreigners, suspended air traffic in other countries, shut down schools and banned public events. The state of emergency was declared in several regions of the country on Monday.
HARARE, Zimbabwe — Zimbabwe’s public hospital doctors are going on strike over what they call a lack of adequate protective gear as the coronavirus begins to spread in a country whose health system has almost collapsed.
The Zimbabwe Hospital Doctors Association president, Tawanda Zvakada, says doctors are at “high risk” of contracting the virus: “Right now we are exposed and no one seems to care.”
He says doctors have an inadequate stocks of gloves, masks and gowns.
The southern African nation has reported three cases of COVID-19 and recorded its first death this week.
THE HAGUE, Netherlands — The Dutch public health institute says the coronavirus has been discovered in sewage in the Netherlands.
The institute says DNA tests confirmed the virus in waste water from the southern city of Tilburg and a nearby town, which are in the hardest-hit Dutch region, as well as from the capital Amsterdam.
It says symptoms of the disease caused by the virus can include diarrhea in some patients and the virus can be detected in human waste of some infected patients.
Dutch sewage workers already wear protective clothing that shield them from the coronavirus.
ANKARA, Turkey — Turkey’s foreign minister says at least 32 Turkish nationals have died from the coronavirus abroad, most of them in European countries.
Mevlut Cavusoglu says the government was assisting families wanting to return their loved ones’ bodies back home.
He says Turkey overnight flew back 2,721 Turkish students stranded in eight countries, following the cancellation of flights over the outbreak. They are being quarantined in student dormitories in three cities.
Turkey has reported 44 COVID-19 deaths and a total of 1,872 infections.
MOSCOW — Russian President Vladimir Putin has ordered the military to train to help handle the coronavirus outbreak.
The Defense Ministry says the four-day exercise that began Wednesday will check the troops’ readiness to deal with contagion. The military will run drills on how to deal with the outbreak at its bases and check the military’s ability to quickly deploy its forces across the vast country.
The government has reported 658 cases of the coronavirus in Russia and no deaths. Officials say the low number of cases in Russia compared to Europe could be due to insufficient screening and called for action to brace up for the worst.
VATICAN CITY — Pope Francis has reaffirmed the need to protect all life, rallying Christians around the world to pray together for those sick with the coronavirus and the medical personnel who are caring for them.
Francis presided over a global noontime prayer Wednesday, in which he begged for God’s mercy amid the pandemic.
The prayer fell on the 25th anniversary of a landmark Vatican document reaffirming the inviolability of all human life from conception to natural death. Francis dedicated his comments to the document, which strongly reaffirmed church teaching opposing abortion and euthanasia.
Francis says it is imperative to “relaunch this teaching in the context of a pandemic that threatens human life and the global economy.”
Some conservative Christian commentators, as well as U.S. President Donald Trump, have warned the consequences of the financial shutdown aimed at preventing the virus’ spread and protecting the elderly and sick are worse than the virus itself.
TOKYO — Japan’s foreign ministry says it has raised its travel warning to its people and urged them not to make any non-essential trips outside of the country.
The measures follow similar caution for most of Europe and the U.S. amid the rapid increase in the number of cases in those areas.
Also, the ministry says two employees at its embassy in Washington have contracted the virus and isolated themselves. One has no notable symptoms, while the other has a fever. A Japanese official at Japan’s embassy in Macedonia also tested positive for the virus after traveling to Greece to help in the Olympic Flame handover ceremony.
DHAKA, Bangladesh — Authorities in Bangladesh say another 65-year-old man died of coronavirus and the total death toll rose to five while the total number of cases of infection remained at 39.
Meerjady Sabrina Flora, director of the Institute of Epidemiology, Disease Control and Research, says the man with diabetes and hypertension tested positive on March 18 and was being treated in a hospital in Dhaka.
She says no new cases of infection were reported over last 24 hours. But experts say Bangladesh is at the high risk of community transmission as hundreds of thousands of Bangladeshis, including many expatriate workers, returned home from Italy and other affected countries in recent weeks.
The government is asking the people to stay at home and military soldiers have been called into some big cities to enforce the social distancing
LONDON — Prince Charles, the heir to the British throne, has tested positive for the new coronavirus.
The prince’s Clarence House office says the 71-year-old is showing mild symptoms of COVID-19 and is self-isolating at a royal estate in Scotland.
It says his wife Camilla has tested negative.
The palace says Charles “has been displaying mild symptoms but otherwise remains in good health and has been working from home throughout the last few days as usual.”
MADRID — Spain has now the world’s second highest tally of coronavirus deaths after a 738 spike was recorded Wednesday, the highest so far in one day. With 3,434, Spain surpassed China’s 3,285 and has more than half of Italy’s 6,820.
Infections also rose on Wednesday by 20% from a day earlier to 47,610, Spain’s Ministry of Health announced. More than 5,000 people have recovered, the ministry said.
The outbreak has hit Spain and put a tragic strain on its healthcare system, especially in the central region around Madrid, with one third of the positive cases and roughly half of the casualties.
BRATISLAVA, Slovakia — Slovakia’s new prime minister says a government plane arrived with much-needed sophisticated masks from Turkey.
Igor Matovic says the 100,000 masks will be distributed to hospitals across the country. They will be used by doctors and nurses directly treating patients infected with COVID-19.
“The Slovak health sector has been desperately waiting for them for a month,” Matovic said.
Since his four-party coalition government was sworn in Saturday, Matovic repeatedly criticized the previous Cabinet for a failure to secure protective equipment.
Slovakia has 216 infected with the coronavirus but has tested only 4,200 people. The new government wants to increase the number of people tested daily.
BRUSSELS — A renowned Belgian university is launching a cross-border study in three European countries to assess the nefarious psychological effects of lockdown measures on individuals.
Researchers from the Louvain university say they want to find out to what extent the quarantine measures imposed to fight the novel coronavirus epidemics have changed people’s way of life, and to analyze their impact on mental health.
Fearing a rise in the number of suicides, health sociologist Vincent Louvain said that governments are often overlooking the side effects of the quarantine measures as they try to stop the spreading of the deadly virus.
“Governments are currently putting their energy on managing the epidemic. As a result, other risks are forgotten,” he said, insisting that a large part of the population is psychologically fragile and in need of health care. “The situation could deteriorate in terms of mental health”.
The survey will analyze data collected in Belgium, France and the Netherlands. It will be piloted by the Louvain university in collaboration with a French institute specialized in health economy and the Antwerp university.
BRUSSELS — With a soaring infection rate, steadily growing death toll and enforced quarantine, it’s hard to see the positive side of the coronavirus, but the European Environment Agency says that air quality is improving.
The EEA said Wednesday that new data confirms “large decreases in air pollutant concentrations — of nitrogen dioxide concentrations in particular — largely due to reduced traffic and other activities, especially in major cities under lockdown measures.”
Nitrogen dioxide is mainly emitted by road transport, and the agency says levels of the pollutant in northern Italy, the epicenter of the country’s coronavirus outbreak, are ranging from 21-47% lower this month than in March 2019.
Similar trends have been seen in other parts of Europe under lockdown. Levels in Barcelona and Madrid in Spain dropped by 40-55% in the week of March 16-22, while NO2 levels in the Portuguese capital Lisbon also dropped 40% over the same week.
The agency notes that air pollution contributes to respiratory and heart disease but that it’s not yet clear whether exposure to such gases might worsen the condition of people with COVID-19.
However, EEA chief Hans Bruyninckx insists that crisis measures are not the way to tackle air pollution. “Addressing long-term air quality problems requires ambitious policies and forward-looking investments,” he says.
BANGKOK — Thailand’s prime minister says he will take sole charge of the country’s battle against COVID-19, warning the outbreak may get much worse.
Prime Minister Prayuth Chan-ocha’s government issued a 16-point order for the national state of emergency set for Thursday until April 30 that forbids most foreigners from entering the country and bans rallies and other gatherings in crowded places.
It does not include a curfew that had been expected as a measure to enforce social distancing and uninfected people are not confined to their homes.
Prayuth declared that strict measures would be taken against anyone violating the regulations and officials who do not carry out their duties.
He emphasized control of information, calling on the mass media not to interview officials who aren’t authorized to make announcements and warning that social media users spreading ‘fake news’ would be strictly dealt with.
The chief of defense forces will be in charge of national security and deal with violations of the law, Prayuth said. Violations are punishable by a prison term of up to two years and a 40,000 baht ($1,220) fine.
MOSCOW — Russia’s prime minister ordered provincial governors Wednesday to move more quickly to ready hospital beds for coronavirus patients as the outbreak has spread across the vast country.
The government reported 658 cases of the new coronavirus in Russia, up from 495 a day before. That marked a significantly bigger daily increase compared to previous day when the number of infections increased by several dozens.
The warning to governors came a day after the mayor of Moscow told Russian President Vladimir Putin that the Russian regions weren’t acting energetically enough to prepare for the outbreak. Mayor Sergei Sobyanin warned that the low number of cases in Russia compared to Europe could be explained by insufficient screening and called for quicker action to brace up for the worst.
Deputy Prime Minister Tatyana Golikova reported that 112,000 people are currently in self-isolation being monitored for coronavirus after return from abroad. Earlier this month, the government has requested all those who returned from the countries plagued by the outbreak to self-quarantine for two weeks.
RAMALLAH, West Bank — Tens of thousands of Palestinian workers are expected to return to the occupied West Bank from Israel following orders from the Palestinian Authority.
Prime Minister Mohammad Shtayyeh late Tuesday ordered the workers to return and go into 14-day quarantine, the latest in a series of measures to contain the coronavirus outbreak.
He says those disregarding the orders will face unspecified legal consequences.
Israel has reported more than 2,000 cases and five deaths. The Palestinian Authority, which governs parts of the West Bank, has reported 58 cases.
Israel had allowed 65,000 Palestinian workers to remain in the country during the crisis, but many are expected to return as Israel tightens its own restrictions. Most work in construction, agriculture and manufacturing.
Working in Israel pays much better than in the West Bank, where decades of Israeli military rule has hindered economic development.
TIRANA, Albania – Albania has declared the natural calamity emergency because of the virus.
The government late Tuesday issued the decision at the official gazette saying that the rights are limited “to the level considered necessary to protect the citizens’ health.” That means that all public gatherings, including demonstrations and strikes are prohibited.
The government authorities have increased rights, including entering people’s homes to check for virus cases. People are also obliged to report virus symptoms or cases.
That situation is to continue for an unspecified time “during the period of infection.”
As of Tuesday, Albania had 5 deaths and 123 cases.
The country is in a lockdown with all border crossing routes shut, but one flight to Turkey. Schools, cafes, restaurants, gyms and shops are closed, except those offering food items and medicine. Only a limited number of public and private employees can work during an eight-hour time a day while all people may only get out to buy food and medicine.
LONDON — Britain’s Parliament is set to shut down for at least four weeks because of the coronavirus pandemic.
Lawmakers have continued to attend — though in smaller numbers — despite the spread of COVID-19, which has reached 8,077 confirmed cases and 422 deaths in the U.K. Visitors have been banned from the Parliament buildings and some staff have been working from home.
With Britons now ordered to stay home and all but essential shops shut, Parliament is expected to shut down once lawmakers have approved an emergency law on Wednesday giving the government more powers to fight the coronavirus.
Lawmakers will vote on a motion suspending Parliament until April 21. They had previously been due to take an Easter break from April 1-20.
Communities Secretary Robert Jenrick said “Parliament has to lead by example, follow the guidelines wherever it can, and ensure that we protect the staff that work in Parliament as well.”
JOHANNESBURG — Coronavirus cases across Africa are now above 2,400, and South Africa has more cases than any other African nation with 709. The continent’s most developed country enters lockdown first thing Friday.
BERLIN — Germany’s parliament is meeting to approve an enormous package drawn up by the government to cushion the economic impact of the coronavirus outbreak.
Lawmakers were to vote Wednesday on a series of measures that will allow the government to offer aid totaling more than 1 trillion euros ($1.1 trillion).
As a precaution, members of parliament were spaced widely apart in Berlin’s Reichstag building for the session.
The government is breaking with six years of balanced budgets to borrow what Finance Minister Olaf Scholz called the “gigantic sum” of 156 billion euros to finance the packages and cover an expected shortfall in tax revenue. Parliament’s approval is needed to loosen legal limits on running up debt.
Scholz, who is Germany’s vice chancellor, presented the package in place of Chancellor Angela Merkel, who is in quarantine at home after a doctor who gave her a vaccination tested positive for the coronavirus.
Scholz said that “we as the German government are doing everything necessary and everything possible to cushion the economic and social consequences of managing the crisis.”
COLOMBO, Sri Lanka — Sri Lanka police on Wednesday warned of strict legal action against the people who violate a countrywide curfew.
In a statement, police said those who violate the curfew will be immediately arrested, even without a warrant, and legal action will be taken against them. The statement did not elaborate on the possible punishment.
Within the last 24 hours, police have arrested 420 people who violated the curfew and seized 97 vehicles.
The government has imposed the curfew since Friday (March 20), as the Indian Ocean island nation has been struggling to contain the spreading of the virus. The number of positive cases has now jumped to 101.
Since Friday, police have detained 2,682 persons for violating the curfew and detained 786 vehicles, police said.
Police urged people to stay at home during the curfew, except those who engage in essential services such as health and supply of essential commodities.
The government has asked the pharmacies to be kept open during the curfew and allow people to use their prescription as a curfew pass.
SEOUL, South Korea — South Korea says it plans to provide coronavirus testing materials to the United States in response to President Donald Trump’s request for help.
Jeong Eun-kyeong, director of South Korea’s Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, said the country is willing to send chemical reagents used to extract genetic material during COVID-19 tests, but at a level that doesn’t affect its own testing capacity.
She didn’t provide a detailed estimate on the size of supplies that could be shipped to the United States.
The office of South Korean President Moon Jae-in earlier said Trump during a telephone conversation between the leaders asked whether South Korea could send medical equipment and supplies to help the United States cope with its outbreaks.
South Korea is pushing an aggressive test-and-quarantine program that some experts say possibly contributed to its lower death toll in comparison with mainland China and hard-hit European nations.
As of Wednesday, South Korea had tested around 358,000 people while reporting 9,137 infections and 126 deaths.
WASHINGTON — The White House and Senate leaders of both U.S. political parties have struck an agreement on a sweeping $2 trillion measure to aid workers, businesses and a health care system strained by the rapidly spreading coronavirus outbreak.
Top White House aide Eric Ueland announced the agreement in a Capitol hallway shortly after midnight. The agreement comes after days of often intense haggling and mounting pressure and still needs to be finalized in detailed legislative language.
The unprecedented economic rescue package would give direct payments to most Americans, expand unemployment benefits and provide a $367 billion program for small businesses to keep making payroll while workers are forced to stay home.
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