Spain’s virus outbreak continues to slow down



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:

— Countries are facing pressure to loosen virus restrictions.

— Spain’s reported virus deaths continue to slow down.

— Indonesia’s president vows to be more transparent with information related to the new coronavirus.

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MADRID — The spread of the coronavirus outbreak in Spain continues to slow down, with 517 new deaths recorded overnight and with the lowest number of infections logged in more than three weeks, nearly 3,500.

The Spanish health ministry’s Monday figures bring the overall death toll of the pandemic in the country to 17,489 and the total positive cases to 169,496.

Heavy industry and construction workers are returning to work Monday after a two-week hiatus in economic activity, but the government is keeping most Spaniards under confinement for the fifth week in a row.

Retail stores and services are still required to stay closed, and the government is strongly encouraging office workers to keep working from home.

Some health experts and regional politicians argue that it’s premature to ease any part of the lockdown order. Police in Madrid handed out face masks to the few commuters taking public transportation to work in the early hours of Monday.

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JAKARTA, Indonesia — Indonesia’s president Joko Widodo has pledged to be more transparent for information related to the new coronavirus as infections spiked in the world’s fourth most populous country.

Last month, Widodo admitted that he deliberately held back information about the spread of the coronavirus to prevent the public from panicking.

Now, his view over data transparency has changed. In a cabinet meeting introduction which was televised nationwide on Monday, he asked his cabinet ministers and the COVID-19 task force to be well integrated and transparent to the public.

Indonesia confirmed 4,557 COVID-19 cases with 399 deaths, the highest number of recorded fatalities in Asia after China.

Widodo called on the Health Ministry and the COVID-19 task force to improve and accelerate PCR testing, which scientists say is crucial in the battle against the deadly pandemic.

Indonesia, a country of 270 million, had only tested 27,075 people using the polymerase chain reaction, or PCR, method so far; a low number that has prompted public scrutiny of the country’s testing capacity and confirmed cases, which many believed remain undetected.

The figure is expected to increase in the next few days as the government last week imported two automatic RNA extractors and 18 PCR detectors from Switzerland and will be distribute to 12 out of the country’s 34 provinces that have been classified as a “red zone” area of the new coronavirus.

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LONDON — Prime Minister Boris Johnson is recuperating at his country retreat after praising nurses who took care of him during the seven nights he spent in the hospital fighting the new coronavirus.

Dressed in a suit, Johnson said in a video posted on Twitter after his discharge from St. Thomas’ Hospital in London on Sunday that it was “hard to find the words” to express his debt of gratitude to the National Health Service for saving his life “no question.”

He listed a number of the frontline staff members who cared for him during his week-long stay at St. Thomas’ Hospital in London but singled out two nurses who stood by his bedside for 48 hours “when things could have gone either way.”

The pair were later identified as Jenny McGee from New Zealand and Luis Pitarma from Portugal.

After his release from the hospital, Johnson made his way to Chequers, the prime minister’s country retreat northwest of London, and on the advice of his medical team won’t be returning to work immediately, his office said in statement.

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TIRANA, Albania — Kosovo authorities report a significant increase of the COVID-19 cases and have taken other restrictive measures to contain the virus.

Health authorities said Monday there were 79 new virus cases, an almost one-third increase compared to a day earlier, reaching a total of 362. The virus also has killed seven people.

Most of the new cases, 35, were in the southern commune of Ferizaj, 40 kilometers (25 miles) south of the capital Pristina which also shelters the U.S. military base of Camp Bondsteel nearby.

The Health Ministry also put Pristina under quarantine limiting the movement of the people.

Kosovo is in a lockdown with all its land and air crossing blocked, schools, cafes, restaurants and gyms shut while shops supplying food, medicine and other basic items can open during the day.

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SEOUL, South Korea — South Korea’s president has vowed to focus on saving jobs and protecting the economy amid worries about a possible mass unemployment in the wake of the coronavirus pandemic.

President Moon Jae-in said during a meeting with presidential advisers on Monday that South Korea’s economy cannot help being affected by the coronavirus outbreak.

Moon says a latest progress in South Korea’s anti-virus quarantine campaign is easing the outbreak’s economic impact. But he says the biggest concern is an employment issue because the number of people seeking unemployment benefits is sharply rising.

Moon says “It may be the beginning of pains … We must work out special countermeasures.”

He also urged the South Korean people not to lower their guard against the coronavirus despite a recent slowdown of new infections in South Korea.

Moon says it’s not time to feel relieved yet though “a confidence is growing” regarding the prospect for a quarantine victory over the coronavirus.

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ISLAMABAD — Pakistan Prime Minister Imran Khan issued a global plea directed at the world’s richer countries and international financial institutions to provide debt-relief to poor countries who are being devastated by the battle against the coronavirus, where forced lockdowns to stem its rapid transmission are crippling already wretched economies and causing widespread hunger and misery for the poor.

In Pakistan the government has launched an ambitious program to help the millions of daily wage earners who barely rise to poverty level. The program provides 12,000 rupees (roughly $75) to 10.2 million low income families hit hardest by the countrywide lockdown that has been in effect in Pakistan for nearly one month.

Khan last week relaxed the lockdown to allow the reopening of the construction industry, which employs the vast majority of the country’s daily wage earners. His call for debt-relief made late on Sunday in a televised address was a repeat of a warning he issued last month in an interview with The Associated Press when he said the world’s rich countries will have to look at writing off the back-breaking debts carried by much of the third world.

Pakistan’s total debt load and liabilities according to the independent financial newspaper The Dawn is 41 trillion rupees or roughly $246 billion. Khan said his reliefp ackage to deal with the virus amounts to roughly $8 billion for a population of 220 million. This compares, he said to countries like the United States that announced a $2 trillion package or Germany with a 1 trillion Euro package.

Pakistan so far has 5,374 confirmed cases of the coronavirus with 93 deaths but testing has been slow and so far the country is carrying out about 3,500 tests each day and plans to increase that to 5,500 as more tests become available. That includes thousands from China which has sent plane loads of protective equipment to Pakistan as well as testing machines, ventilators and medical personnel.

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COLOMBO, Sri Lanka — Sri Lanka’s government has announced plans to reopen schools and universities in May saying that it is confident by present trends that the island nation will be safe from the coronavirus.

Authorities have announced that schools will reopen on May 11 while universities will begin to function gradually from May 4.

It is part of a gradual exit plan from a prolonged countrywide curfew.

Sri Lanka has been under curfew for most part since March 20 to stop the spread of the virus.

The country now has 210 confirmed patients with seven deaths. However doctors say community spreading has so far been prevented because security forces and field health workers have been able to trace and isolate nearly all the people who have been in contact with the patients.

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SEOUL, South Korea — South Korea’s vice health minister has pleaded people to maintain alertness amid a slowing coronavirus spread, saying a quick return to pre-COVID-19 normalcy is “virtually impossible” considering a constant threat of new transmissions.

Kim Gang-lip’s comments during a government briefing on Monday came as officials discuss converting the country’s weekslong social distancing campaign into a more sustainable guideline that Prime Minister Chung Sye-kyun said would allow people to engage in “certain levels of economic and social activity.”

Kim stressed that the new guideline, which will be announced as early as this week, doesn’t necessarily mean the end of social distancing and that a premature easing of distancing could possibly come at the “irrevocable cost” of triggering a new round of massive transmissions.

South Korea on Monday reported 25 fresh cases of the new coronavirus, its 12th day in a row of below 100 cases, as infections continue to wane in the worst-hit city of Daegu.

While Kim said the slowing caseload was a positive sign, he said the country will have to monitor the affect of Easter weekend and the national parliamentary election that takes place on Wednesday. There has also been concern over transmissions at leisure venues and increased crowds at parks and mass transit, which possibly indicate loosened attitudes toward distancing.

“When the outbreak hit Daegu, it took just one day for daily jumps in fresh cases to increase from 50 to 100 and just about a week until the numbers hit 800 to 900,” Kim said.

“A premature easing (of social distancing) would come at an irrevocable cost, so we should approach the issue very carefully, and invest deep thought into when and how to transition (into a new guideline).”

Government officials have yet to share specific details about the new guideline, but have revealed some basic principles, such as people taking three or four days off from work when sick. Critics say such recommendations would be meaningless unless enforced by law.

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BEIJING — China on Monday reported 108 new cases of coronavirus infection, 98 of them imported.

Of the new domestic cases, seven were recorded in the province of Heilongjiang bordering on Russia and three in the southern business bub of Guangzhou. Two more deaths were reported in the former epicenter city of Wuhan, bringing China’s totals since the illness emerged in December to 3,341 deaths among 82,160 official cases.

Most patients in China have recovered and the final travel restrictions in Wuhan were lifted last week. But China has continued to see new cases in travelers arriving from abroad.

Social distancing, temperature checks and other measures remain in effect while businesses are reopening and people resume work and other activities.

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