Virus hotspot fears close Netherlands meat plant



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:

— New Zealand near eradication, but virus has grim global hold.

— Third meatpacking plant in the Netherlands closes over fear of virus spread.

— France reports highest one-day rise in virus cases since gradual reopening began.

— Latvian company launches virus tracing app.

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AMSTERDAM — Dutch authorities have closed a third meatpacking plant in a week for fear it would be source of coronavirus transmission.

The Van Rooi plant in the southern Netherlands was closed on health grounds after 16% of a sample of 130 workers tested positive.

“The test results show that there is a risk that the company can become a hotspot to spread the coronavirus within a short timespan,” the regional security authority said in a statement.

The plant will be closed until at least June 2. Over 30,000 people work in the Dutch meatpacking and slaughterhouse industry.

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PARIS — France has reported more than 3,000 new daily virus infections in the biggest such one-day rise in more than three weeks – and the first major increase since France started gradually reopening May 11.

The new figure was not included in the government’s daily virus press release Thursday night, but was put on a government virus tracking website.

The national public health agency and Health Ministry did not provide a reason for the rise Friday. It comes as testing has become more easily available in France, though it is unclear whether that is part of the reason.

The French government has gradually increased the number of tests it is conducting after widespread criticism early in the pandemic that it was not testing widely enough.

Scattered virus outbreaks have been reported since France’s reopening began, notably in some schools that were subsequently shut down.

France has now reported over 28,000 virus deaths in hospitals and nursing homes and more than 149,000 people who have tested positive with the virus.

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COPENHAGEN, Denmark — A Latvian company has launched a virus tracing app, one of the first with the joint Apple-Google operating system software — the newly released exposure notification API — saying the software that is using Bluetooth technology can detect and register other nearby mobile devices.

The country’s health ministry said in a press release that all data on the app, called ″Apturi Covid,″ Latvian for “Stop Covid,” is encrypted and stored directly on the device. It won’t be accessible to the phone owner or other users of the app that is voluntary to use.

The software “will give people the opportunity to return to their daily lives by ensure faster awareness of contact people, according to the app’s Facebook page.

The total number of confirmed Covid-19 cases in Latvia are of 1,064 with 24 people having died, the Baltic News Service said.

“With the use of modern technology, we can once again gain time and go a step further. The new app will allow epidemiologists to identify contacts more quickly,″ Elina Dimiņa, head of the Infectious Diseases Surveillance and Immunization, a government agency, said in the press release.

Due to the decentralized and encrypted nature of the app, it aligns with EU regulations on data protection.

API stands for application programming interface, which is a software tool that gives special access to some features of Apple’s iOS and Android mobile operating systems.

A Swiss coronavirus contact-tracing app was launched earlier this month but was limited to hospital workers, members of the Swiss army and civil servants. The Latvian app is estimated to initially be used by at least 1/5 of the country’s population of nearly 2 million.

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MOSCOW — Russia has reported the highest daily spike in coronavirus deaths once again on Friday, with health officials registering 232 deaths in the last 24 hours, which bought the country’s total to 4,374.

Russia’s comparatively low mortality rate continues to raise questions among experts both in Russia and in the West, with some suggesting that the country’s government may be underreporting virus-related deaths for political reasons. Russian officials vehemently deny the allegations and attribute the low numbers to the effectiveness of the measures taken to curb the spread of the outbreak.

Russia’s coronavirus caseload has exceeded 387,000 on Friday, with health officials reporting over 8,500 new infections.

Earlier this month President Vladimir Putin announced lifting some lockdown restrictions, saying that Russia was able to “slow down the epidemic” and it was time for gradual reopening. The vast majority of the country’s regions have been on lockdown since March 30.

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TOKYO — Tokyo will remove shutdown requests on more businesses from June when theaters, cinemas, fitness gyms and retailers in the Japanese capital can reopen after a coronavirus state of emergency ended this week.

Governor Yuriko Koike said Tokyo is now ready to move to Step 2 of a three-phase roadmap designed to gradually reopen businesses in the city.

Prime Minister Shinzo Abe declared an end to a seven-week emergency Monday, saying the infections have subsided enough to resume social and economic activity under a “new normal” requiring physical distancing and other disease prevention measures.

Tokyo reported 22 new cases Friday, triggering concerns of an underlying risk and a possible second wave of infections. Koike said infections are not accelerating and hospitals now have space.

Libraries, museums and schools, considered to be lowest risk, reopened in Tokyo this week. Under Step 2, theaters, cinemas, fitness gyms, cram schools and retailers can resume businesses. Night clubs, karaoke and live music houses, which are considered more prone to infections, will be last and their safety guidelines are still being worked out.

Even though its emergency measures only involved requests for social distancing and some business closures, Japan so far has about 16,700 cases and 870 deaths, significantly fewer than many other countries.

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JOHANNESBURG — South Africa says it has a backlog of nearly 100,000 unprocessed tests for the new coronavirus.

A health ministry statement overnight puts the backlog as of Monday at 96,480. The ministry says “this challenge is caused by the limited availability of test kits globally.” It says priority is being given to processing tests from patients admitted to hospitals and health workers.

South Africa has conducted more tests for the virus than any other country in Africa — more than 655,000 — and has more confirmed cases than any other country on the continent with 27,403. The ministry says one of the latest people to die in South Africa was an employee with the National Health Laboratory Services.

“We understand this tragedy will certainly test you,” the ministry said in a message to her colleagues, adding that the government is committed to providing proper protective gear that also faces shortages.

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JAKARTA, Indonesia — Muslims in some parts of Indonesia attended Friday prayers as mosques closed by the coronavirus for weeks were allowed to start reopening in the world’s most populous Muslim nation.

The guidelines for worship facilities released by religious affairs minister Fachrul Razi on Friday change many traditions in mosques. Worshippers usually pray shoulder to shoulder, and they huddle, hug and shake hands once the prayer ends, with cheek-to-cheek kisses common.

Muslims in the Jakarta satellite city of Bekasi were expected during Friday’s prayers to stay at least 1 meter (yard) apart from one another without shaking hands and would hear shorter sermons. No children were allowed to join the prayers, and police and soldiers were there to ensure health protocols such as social distancing and wearing a mask were observed.

Similar scenes were seen in another satellite city of Bogor, and Makassar, one of Indonesia’s big cities on Sulawesi island.

President Joko Widodo said his administration wants Indonesia to remain productive economically but also safe from the virus. He said any measures to start the so-called “new normal” would be based on epidemiological data.

The government has been deploying 340,000 security forces gradually to enforce the health rules as the country prepares to reopen its economy.

Indonesia had recorded more than 24,500 COVID-19 cases as of Thursday with nearly 1,500 deaths, the most fatalities in Southeast Asia.

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BANGKOK — Authorities in Thailand are relaxing restrictions imposed two months ago to combat the spread of the coronavirus.

Venues allowed to reopen Monday include cinemas, theaters, zoos and aquariums, but they must limit admissions. Cinemas will be allowed to hold a maximum of 200 people at a time, seated at a safe social distance from each other — with the exception of couples.

Other establishments permitted to reopen include massage parlors, gyms, bowling alleys and sports venues.

Restaurants were already allowed to reopen earlier this month but under conditions ensuring social distancing. Malls were previously allowed to reopen, and the new rules change their mandatory closing time from 8 p.m. to 9 p.m.

Commercial passenger flights from abroad remain banned until at least the end of June.

Thailand has had just single-digit increases in the number of confirmed COVID-19 cases for most of May. It announced 11 new cases Friday, bringing the total to 3,076 including 57 deaths.

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WELLINGTON, New Zealand — New Zealand reported just a single person in the entire nation of 5 million people is known to still have the coronavirus after no new cases have been detected for the past week.

In total, 1,504 people were found to have contracted the virus. Of those, 1,481 have recovered and 22 died. About 275,000 people have been tested.

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ISLAMABAD — Pakistan reported 57 coronavirus-related deaths in the past 24 hours, its most in one day since the outbreak began in February.

The latest figure increased the country’s COVID-19 death toll to 1,317. The government also reported 2,636 new infections on Friday, raising the total number of cases to 64,028.

Currently 4,615 people with infections are being treated at 726 hospitals across the country, and other patients have been quarantined at their homes or government facilities. So far, 22,305 patients have recovered.

In the past 24 hours, 11,931 tests were conducted in Pakistan, bringing the overall total of tests to 520,017.

Coronavirus-related deaths and cases have increased in various parts of Pakistan, including Islamabad, in recent weeks as the government eased lockdown restrictions — ignoring warnings from medical professionals. Pakistan has barely 3,000 intensive care beds in the entire country and doctors often warn that continued spikes in infections could overwhelm its poor health care system.

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NEW DELHI — India has registered another single-day high of 7,466 coronavirus cases, surpassing China both in terms of confirmed cases and deaths from COVID-19.

The Health Ministry on Friday put the total number of cases in India at 165,799, with 4,706 deaths. China has reported 4,634 deaths among 82,995 cases.

The spike in infections in India comes at a time when the two-month-old lockdown across the country is set to end on Sunday. Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s government is expected to issue a new set of guidelines this weekend, possibly extending the lockdown in the worst-hit areas as it promotes economic activity.

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UNITED NATIONS — The U.N. humanitarian chief is urgently appealing for $2.4 billion to help millions in war-torn Yemen cope with the conflict and COVID-19, saying programs are already being cut and the situation is “alarming.”

Mark Lowcock told a briefing Thursday that the U.N. has only received $516.6 million of the $3.4 billion it needs until the end of the year, amounting to just over 15%.

The United Nations and Saudi Arabia are co-hosting a virtual pledging conference for Yemen on Tuesday seeking $2.4 billion, including $80 million to respond to the pandemic.

Lowcock and the heads of 10 U.N. agencies and several U.N. officials and humanitarian organizations issued a joint statement Thursday saying “COVID-19 is spreading rapidly across the country already experiencing the world’s largest humanitarian crisis” as a result of the war, and expressing increasing alarm about the worsening situation.

“Tragically, we do not have enough money to continue this work,” they said. “Of 41 major U.N. programs in Yemen, more than 30 will close in the next few weeks if we cannot secure additional funds.”

“This means many more people will die,” they warned.

The 17 signatories said they have the skills, staff and capacity to meet the difficult challenges of delivering aid in Yemen, but no money. And time is running out.

“We ask donors to pledge generously and pay pledges promptly,” they said.

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SYDNEY — An Australian state government has announced that as many people will be allowed in churches as in pubs after an archbishop complained of unfair pandemic rules.

Sydney Archbishop Anthony Fisher on Thursday encouraged Catholics to sign a petition calling on the New South Wales government to treat churches the same as pubs by increasing capacity limits from 10 to 50 people beginning June 1.

State Premier Gladys Berejiklian announced Friday that churches will also be allowed to increase congregation sizes from 10 on Monday in line with relaxed restrictions on pubs, cafes and restaurants.

“It is crucial that worshippers remember to follow health advice. This is particularly important for people with co-morbidities aged over 50 and people aged over 70,” Berejiklian said.

The government had been wary of adjusting the restrictions on places of worship after COVID-19 outbreaks in churches and church choirs overseas.

The state’s chief health officer, Kerry Chant, said places of worship need to find alternatives to practices that might spread the virus, like singing, sharing books and passing around collection plates.

“Communal singing and chanting should not occur because of the high risk of transmission,” Chant said.

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SEOUL, South Korea — South Korea says it will partially lift its export ban on face masks, allowing domestic companies to sell 10% of their production overseas beginning in June.

At the height of its COVID-19 crisis in March, the country banned the export of masks and channeled most of the domestically made products to pharmacies, where people are currently limited to buying three masks per week.

While the nationwide rationing program was a drastic attempt at calming public anger over shortages, the supply has now stabilized, with local companies driving up their production capacity to more than 100 million masks per week, Food and Drug Safety Minister Lee Eui-kyung said Friday.

She said the relaxed export restrictions would help ease global shortages and “facilitate the spread of K-quarantine,” a term coined by the government to internationally promote its gains against the virus.

South Korea is already in the process of providing 1 million masks to foreign veterans of the 1950-53 Korean War and 370,000 others to tens of thousands of South Korea-born adoptees living in the West.

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