Pope Francis parallels virus and the environment



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:

— AP Exclusive: ER staff saves lives, suffers in hot spot

— Pope Francis uses the virus outbreak to speak out about environmental issues.

— India plans to use wristbands with a contact-tracing app to track the coronavirus.

— Small study in South Korea examines second-time virus infections.

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VATICAN CITY — Pope Francis is urging world leaders draw lessons from the coronavirus pandemic and work together to protect the planet and the most vulnerable from environmental destruction and exploitation.

Francis issued the appeal Wednesday as he marked the 50th anniversary of Earth Day.

Francis has made environmentalism one of the hallmarks of his papacy, dedicating an entire encyclical to the need to protect God’s Creation. He denounced how a “structurally perverse” economic system allowed the rich to exploit the poor and turn the Earth into an “immense pile of filth.”

On Wednesday, he said: “As the tragic coronavirus pandemic has taught us, we can overcome global challenges only by showing solidarity with one another and embracing the most vulnerable in our midst.” Francis has marked the lockdown period by praying each day for different sectors affected by the pandemic, from doctors and nurses to inmates and the elderly.

Francis cheered initiatives of young people to remind older generations of their failure to protect the planet, agreeing that: “We have no future if we destroy the very environment that sustains us.”

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DELHI, India — After rolling out a contact-tracing app, Arogya Setu, that is aimed at helping citizens identify their risk of infection, India is planning to use wristbands that will be fitted with the same app.

A government document detailing the specifications for the wristband says that it will “trace contacts & connections of infected persons” and also “identify unknowing contacts with infected persons”. This, officials said, would be used to monitor the movement and body temperature of quarantined patients, both at home and at hospitals and help in they don’t break quarantine.

Officials added that the wristband will ease challenges for health workers by letting them know if potential patients have been to high-risk areas. The wristband would also be used for those delivering essential services, such as groceries or medicines.

Although India has partially eased one of the world’s strictest lockdowns this week, public health officials fear a surge in cases. The wristband has been envisioned as a way of countering the drain of manpower in trying to track the contacts of patients. Officials are currently reviewing its design and said it is likely to be rolled out in May.

The Arogya Setu app, available in 11 Indian languages, was launched on April last month.

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SEOUL, South Korea — South Korea’s top infectious disease expert says patients can still test positive for the new coronavirus even after their bodies develop antibodies. The findings, based on a small sample of patients, came as officials explore why some COVID-19 patients relapse after their release from hospitals.

Jeong Eun-kyeong, director of South Korea’s Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, said Wednesday that officials have so far tested 25 patients who developed neutralizing antibodies to resist further infections, but that 12 of them still tested positive for the virus.

However, virus samples collected from the 12 cases could not be cultivated in isolation, indicating a loss of infectiousness.

Jeong said her agency will continue to investigate the level of immunity antibodies provide and how effective they are in fighting off the virus.

She stressed that the findings don’t necessarily mean that a significant proportion of patients would be vulnerable to reinfections even after developing antibodies.

South Korea has so far reported 207 cases of COVID-19 patients testing positive for a second time after being diagnosed as fully recovered.

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ISLAMABAD — Pakistani doctors with the Pakistan Medical Association have written a letter pleading with the country’s religious clerics and the prime minister to reverse a decision to leave mosques open during the fasting month of Ramadan warning it could result in an explosion of COVID-19 cases saying numbers are already on the rise at an increased rate throughout the country.

Large gatherings will only worsen the numbers and overwhelm the health care system that has less than 3,000 acute care beds for a population of 220 million people, says Dr. Qaiser Sajjad, secretary general of the Pakistan Medical Association and one of the authors of the letter. The numbers are escalating at roughly 500 a day, he said, and the large gatherings at mosques during Ramadan is certain to overcome doctors and paramedics, he warned in an interview.

Pakistan on Tuesday recorded its largest 24-hour increase of more than 700 new cases. On Wednesday, another 533 new cases were recorded, bringing the total positive cases in Pakistan to 9,749. There have been 209 deaths.

The Pakistan government has called for social distancing in mosques but has left it to the local clerics at each mosque to enforce the regulations, even as mosques have openly defied earlier orders to limit their congregation to just five. Television footage continues to show adherents at mosques praying side by side.

Prime Minister Imran Khan has dismissed criticism, ordering law enforcement not to harass worshipers going to mosques even as other Muslim countries close mosques to stem the outbreak in their countries.

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SINGAPORE — Singapore’s coronavirus infections surged past 10,000 after it reported 1,016 new cases Wednesday.

The tiny city-state’s tally rose to 10,141, maintaining its position as the worst-hit nation in Southeast Asia. It marked a third day in a row of new cases above 1,000 but its death toll remained at 11.

The health ministry said the vast majority of the new cases are again linked to foreign workers’ dormitories, which have been locked down and virus testing ramped up to curb transmission.

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SACRAMENTO, Calif. — Health officials say two people died with the coronavirus in California weeks before the first reported death in the United States from the disease.

Santa Clara County officials said Tuesday the people died at home Feb. 6 and Feb. 17. The first reported death in the nation from the virus was on Feb. 29 in Kirkland, Washington.

The Medical Examiner-Coroner received confirmation Tuesday that tissue samples sent to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention tested positive for the virus, officials said.

The announcement came after California Gov. Gavin Newsom promised a “deep dive” update Wednesday of the state’s ability to test for the coronavirus and to track and isolate people who have it. That is one of the six indicators he says is key to lifting a “stay-at-home” order that has slowed the spread of the disease while forcing millions of people to file for unemployment benefits.

“This will go to the obvious questions and queries that all of us are asking: When? … When do you see a little bit of a release in the valve so that we can let out a little of this pressure,” Newsom said Tuesday.

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TOKYO — Japanese officials say 33 more crew members on an Italian-operated cruise ship docked in southern Japan have tested positive for the coronavirus, one day after the first case from the ship was reported.

The Costa Atlantica has been docked in Nagasaki since late January for repairs and maintenance by the Mitsubishi Heavy Industry. The potential for an outbreak surfaced Tuesday when a crew member, identified only as a foreign national, tested positive for the virus.

The ship carries 623 crew members, including a Japanese translator, and no passengers. So far 34 crew members have tested positive, while 25 others were negative. One result was pending.

None of the crew members had serious symptoms and they are being self-quarantined in single rooms on the ship, officials said.

Mitsubishi officials said only crew members without a record of traveling to high-risk countries such as China and Italy in the past two weeks who showed normal body temperature have been allowed to go on and off the ship. The company on Tuesday said no crew members had left the ship since mid-March.

Nagasaki officials said they are investigating how and where the crew members contracted the virus.

As infections in Japan continue to spread nationwide, the outbreak on the cruise ship adds to concerns about testing and hospital capacity in Nagasaki, where only 102 beds are available. All of Japan is now under a coronavirus state of emergency.

Earlier this year, a U.S.-operated cruise ship carrying more than 3,700 people quarantined in Yokohama, near Tokyo, had 712 cases in a massive on-board outbreak. Separately, Japan has about 11,500 cases, with 280 deaths.

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BEIJING — China on Wednesday again reported no new deaths from the coronavirus, but registered 30 more cases — 23 of them brought from abroad.

Of the domestic cases, all seven were reported in Heilongjiang province near the Russian border where a field hospital has been set up to deal with a new flare-up related to people coming home from abroad. Just over 1,000 people are hospitalized for treatment, while about the same number are under isolation and monitoring as either suspected cases or after testing positive but showing no symptoms.

China has reported a total of 4,632 deaths among 82,788 cases, the bulk of them in Wuhan where officials recently raised the death toll by 50% after a review of records.

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ATLANTA — Even with many former virus hotspots seeing a reduction in new deaths and hospitalizations, a flurry of cancellations of major events made it clear Wednesday that efforts to return to normal life could still be a long and dispiriting process.

In just the past day, the U.S. scrapped the national spelling bee in June, Spain called off the Running of the Bulls in July, and Germany canceled Oktoberfest five months away. Singapore, once a model of coronavirus tracking and prevention, saw an explosion of new cases and announced it would extend its lockdown into June.

Nevertheless there was growing impatience over virus-related shutdowns that have thrown tens of millions out of work, and more countries and U.S. states began taking steps to get back to business.

Business owners in the U.S. who got the go-ahead weighed whether to reopen, and some hesitated, in a sign that commerce won’t necessarily bounce back right away.

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