COVID-19 world update: Joy in Wuhan as lockdown lifted; Pope denounces profiteers

Chinese youths record a dance routine on the streets of Wuhan in central China’s Hubei province on Wednesday, April 8, 2020. Streets in the city of 11 million people were clogged with traffic and long lines formed at the airport, train and bus stations as thousands streamed out of the city to return to homes and jobs elsewhere. Yellow barriers that had blocked off some streets were gone, although the gates to residential compounds remained guarded. (AP Photo/Ng Han Guan)
A man looks out from a barricade in Wuhan in central China’s Hubei province on Wednesday, April 8, 2020. Streets in the city of 11 million people were clogged with traffic and long lines formed at the airport, train and bus stations as thousands streamed out of the city to return to homes and jobs elsewhere. Yellow barriers that had blocked off some streets were gone, although the gates to residential compounds remained guarded. (AP Photo/Ng Han Guan)
People wear face masks to help curb the spread of the coronavirus and visit at a night market in Taipei, Taiwan, Wednesday, April 8, 2020. (AP Photo/Chiang Ying-ying)
Commuters stand on a ferry that crosses the harbor of Mombasa, on the south coast of Kenya Wednesday, April 8, 2020. Kenya this week increased its restrictions to combat the coronavirus, announcing travel bans into and out of the capital city, Nairobi, the port of Mombasa and two counties. (AP Photo)
A member of the Military Emergencies Unit (UME) carries out a general disinfection at the Padre Zurita residence in Alcorcon, Spain, Wednesday, April 8, 2020. (AP Photo/Manu Fernandez)
Doctors tend to a coronavirus patient in the intensive care unit at ‘Ospedale di Circolo’ hospital, in Varese, Italy, Wednesday, April 8, 2020. (AP Photo/Luca Bruno)
A worker disinfects the street outside Congress during a government-ordered lockdown to curb the spread of the new coronavirus in Buenos Aires, Argentina, Wednesday, April 8, 2020. (AP-Photo/Natacha Pisarenko)

The latest news on the coronavirus pandemic from around the world. These files, from the Associated Press, were posted by Black Press Media at 6:30 a.m., Wednesday, April 8.

TOP OF THE HOUR

  • Pope Francis denounces people taking financial advantage during the pandemic.
  • British PM Boris Johnson stable, responding to treatment.
  • WHO leader in Europe: Not time to relax measures on virus spread.
  • Tokyo governor concerned about packed trains, shops.

Masked crowds fill Wuhan’s streets as lockdown lifted

WUHAN, China — Amid streets newly bustling with cars and pedestrians, Wang Chun celebrated the lifting of a virus lockdown on her hometown of Wuhan on Wednesday with a dance outdoors after 2 1/2 months largely cooped up at home.

“I’m so happy Wuhan has defeated the virus,” Wang said after recording a K-Pop-inspired duet with a male partner for posting on the internet. Neither of them wore face masks, at least for a brief few minutes.

After she put on the mask again, Wang confronted the question many of the city’s 11 million residents are asking themselves: When will they be going back to work?

“That’s a very good question,” Wang responded with a giggle.

Wuhan ended its 76-day lockdown Wednesday morning, allowing residents to again travel in and out of the city without special authorization through the use of a mandatory smartphone app powered by a mix of data-tracking and government surveillance showing they are healthy and have not been in recent contact with anyone confirmed to have the virus.

Long lines formed at the airport and train and bus stations as thousands streamed out of the city to return to their homes and jobs elsewhere. Yellow barriers that had blocked off some streets were gone, although the gates to residential compounds remained guarded.

Pope Francis denounces people taking financial advantage during the pandemic

VATICAN CITY — Pope Francis is denouncing the mafia and all those who are taking advantage of the coronavirus pandemic to make money.

Francis opened his morning Mass on Wednesday by praying that “all those who profit off the needs of others, and sell them” experience spiritual conversion.

Francis’ homily was dedicated to the biblical story of Judas betraying Jesus — a narrative Christians commemorate this week in the run-up to liturgical services marking Christ’s Last Supper, crucifixion and resurrection on Easter.

In his remarks, Francis said everyone has a “little Judas inside of us” who makes a choice between loyalty to others or self-interest. He said: “Each one of us has the capacity to betray, to sell others, to choose our own interests.”

Speaking of mobsters and money lenders, he said: “May the Lord touch their hearts and convert them.”

Italian officials have warned that organized crime groups are manoeuvring to profit off the social and economic disruptions caused by Italy’s virus-induced nationwide shutdown.

Democrats want additions to Trump $250B emergency virus aid

WASHINGTON — Congressional Democratic leaders proposed Wednesday adding hundreds of billions of dollars for health care, state and local governments, and food stamps to $250 billion in fresh emergency aid President Donald Trump wants to help small businesses weather the coronavirus epidemic.

Trump requested an additional $250 billion for a just-launched small businesses payroll program and is looking to secure congressional passage this week. For that he will need Democratic support.

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Senate Democratic Leader Chuck Schumer outlined their own priorities in a Wednesday statement.

They say they will approve the $250 billion in assistance to small businesses, but want $125 billion of that channeled through community-based financial institutions that serve farmers, families, women, minorities and veterans.

They’re also calling for an additional $100 billion for hospitals and community health centres to provide testing supplies and protective equipment like masks and gowns. They are seeking another $150 billion for state and local governments to manage the coronavirus crisis

They also want a 15 per cent increase to the maximum Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program food stamp benefits, a proposal that could draw GOP opposition.

U.S. warns of second wave of infections

WASHINGTON — A leader of the White House’s coronavirus response team is warning there could be another wave of U.S. infections if people don’t stick with the health guidelines recommending they stay indoors and avoid social interactions.

Dr. Deborah Birx says “if people start going out again, socially interacting, we could see a very acute second wave very early.”

Birx told NBC’s “Today” show she’s “hopeful” the United States will have fewer than the projected 100,000 to 240,000 deaths. She says people have been following the 30-day recommendations to stay at least 6 feet away from others, wash their hands regularly with soap and water, use hand sanitizer and avoid gatherings of more than 10 people.

But she says what’s “really important” is people “don’t turn these early signs of hope into releasing from the 30 days to stop the spread.”

There have been about 400,000 U.S. cases and about 13,000 deaths.

British PM breathing without assistance

LONDON — Boris Johnson’s spokesman says the British prime minister is stable and responding to treatment for the coronavirus in the intensive care unit of a London hospital.

James Slack says Johnson continues to receive “standard oxygen treatment” and is breathing without any other assistance.

Johnson has spent two nights in the ICU of St. Thomas’ Hospital since being admitted Sunday. He was diagnosed with COVID-19 on March 26 and still had a cough and fever 10 days later.

His spokesman declined to provide further details of Johnson’s treatment, saying Wednesday’s update “was given to us by St. Thomas’ Hospital and it contains all of the information which the PM’s medical team considers to be clinically relevant.”

Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab is standing in for Johnson while he is hospitalized.

Concerns grow over crowded Tokyo trains and bars

TOKYO — Gov. Yuriko Koike say the Japanese capital has a record 144 new confirmed cases of the coronavirus, bringing the total to 1,339 on Wednesday, one day after a state of emergency was declared in the region.

Prime Minister Shinzo Abe declared a month-long state of emergency in Tokyo and six other hard-hit prefectures to bolster the fight against the coronavirus. Abe said he was expecting widespread compliance despite the lack of legal penalties for violating social distancing and other measures.

However, on Wednesday rush hour trains were still crowded and shops were open as usual. That concerned Koike, who said via internet live streaming that “Asking for the residents to use self-restraint and stay home is not enough. We should restrict use of cluster-causing facilities.”

She has repeatedly said hostess bars, karaoke and other nighttime entertainment spots are main sources of infections, urging the residents to stay away.

Japan has 4,257 confirmed cases and 92 deaths.

Czech: Cases exceed 5,000

PRAGUE — The Czech Republic’s health minister says the number of infected people in the Czech Republic surpassed 5,000.

Health Minister Adam Vojtech says there were 5,033 cases and 91 people have died.

The day-to-day increase reached 195 on Tuesday, the second lowest in more than a week. Health officials predicted about 11,000 Czechs will be infected by the end of April.

The government has already relaxed some restrictions on individual outdoor sports activities this week and allowed some stores to reopen on Thursday.

Severe border restrictions in Albania

TIRANA, Albania — Forty Albanian citizens waiting at the two border crossings with Greece were let in and sent to hotels under quarantine for 14 days, the health ministry reports on Wednesday.

Authorities have closed the borders “to protect the life of the people inside and outside of Albania,” according to Prime Minister Edi Rama.

Only those coming for an emergency to check on families will be allowed to enter the country while Albanians with foreign citizenship are not allowed.

Spokeswoman Etiola Kola said 35 Albanians were quarantined at a hotel after crossing the southeastern Kapshtice border check point Tuesday evening.

The local media on Wednesday reported on five others crossing the border in southern Kakavia, both with neighbouring Greece where hundreds of thousands of Albanians live since immigrating after the fall of the communist regime in 1990.

Their expenses for 14 days of quarantine will be billed to their families.

Albania has 400 COVID-19 cases and 22 deaths. The relatively low figures are attributed to rigid restrictions in the country.

Amid crisis, Spain to revamp disease data requirements

MADRID — Spain’s Health Ministry reported Wednesday 757 new deaths of patients with coronavirus and 6,180 new confirmed infections.

Both figures were slightly higher than Tuesday’s, when the first increase in five days was explained by a backlog of test results and fatalities that had gone unreported over the weekend.

But doubts about the statistics are being heard louder as fresh data starts to emerge.

Authorities have already acknowledged that a scarcity of testing kits and a bottleneck in the number of tests that laboratories can conduct on a daily basis are giving an underestimated contagion tally, which rose to 146,000 on Wednesday. A nationwide survey of 30,000 households has been launched to figure out what is the more approximate extent of the epidemic beyond hospitals and nursing homes.

Health Minister Salvador Illa said Tuesday that his department can only account for those who die and were tested. There have been few instances of post-mortem testing.

To rein in the data divide, Spain’s Justice Ministry issued an order on Wednesday requiring more than 4,000 civil registries across the country to provide new and revised data.

African leaders bristle at attack on WHO chief

JOHANNESBURG — Some African leaders are bristling at President Donald Trump’s attack on the WHO chief, especially after Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus spoke up this week against “racist” comments by two French doctors who said a coronavirus vaccine could be tested in Africa.

Tedros condemned the remarks as leftovers of a “colonial mentality.” Tedros is from Ethiopia and is the first African to lead the World Health Organization.

“Surprised to learn of a campaign by the U.S. govt against WHO’s global leadership. The African Union fully supports WHO and Dr. Tedros,” the chair of the AU Commission, Moussa Faki Mahamat, tweeted.

“I agree with you, my brother. WHO, under the stewardship of Dr. Tedros, has shown itself to be a true flag-bearer of multilateralism when global solidarity has become critical,” Namibia’s President Hage Geingob responded in a tweet.

Progress in fighting virus is “extremely fragile”

GENEVA — The head of the World Health Organization’s Europe office says a trend of decline in the rate of increase in new coronavirus cases does not mean it’s time to relax measures aimed to stop its spread.

Dr. Hans Kluge, WHO’s regional director for Europe, also said some countries “are experiencing a rapid increase in cases or a fresh surge,” and called for continued vigilance. He noted measures taken in many countries to shut schools and businesses.

“We still have a long way to go in the marathon and the progress we have made so far in fighting the virus is extremely fragile,” he said. “To think we are coming close to an endpoint would be a dangerous thing to do. The virus leaves no room for error or complacency.”

He said countries that any prospect of easing lockdowns or physical distancing measures “requires very careful consideration,” such as by considering if health systems are prepared.

“Many of us are looking forward to celebrating Easter with better weather but this is not the time to lower our guard,” Kluge told a video news conference from Copenhagen. “We must soldier on.”

Slovakia: Huge delays as police and military block traffic

BRATISLAVA, Slovakia — Huge traffic disruptions have been reported across Slovakia amid the government’s new restrictions on movement to contain the epidemic of the coronavirus.

The restrictions were imposed for Wednesday till Monday to prevent people from travelling over Easter. Slovakia is a Roman-Catholic stronghold in central and eastern Europe.

People are only allowed to travel to work, do essential shopping or visit doctors. Only family members can stay together for outdoor activities that are restricted to take place only within one county.

Police teamed up with the military to enforce the measures on the borders of the counties, causing traffic jams.

Bratislava authorities say the traffic on all roads leading to the capital has collapsed, advising people to cancel their travel plans.

Economy Minister Richard Sulik apologized for the delays on Wednesday, saying he would like to relax the restrictions. Prime Minister Igor Matovic was against it.

France: Aircraft carrier recalled amid COVID-19 fears

PARIS — France’s defence ministry announced that French aircraft carrier Charles de Gaulle is heading back to port amid a possible virus outbreak onboard.

The ministry said in a statement Wednesday that around 40 troops are presenting symptoms compatible with the COVID-19 disease. They have been placed under strict medical observation.

A medical team equipped with tests will get onboard Wednesday in order to confirm the potential cases and prevent the virus from further spreading, the ministry said.

The aircraft carrier, which was on a mission in the Atlantic Ocean, is returning immediately to its base in the port of Toulon, on the Mediterranean coast, where it was initially expected to dock on April 23. Its crew is composed of about 1,900 troops.

The announcement comes after a coronavirus outbreak hit U.S. aircraft carrier USS Theodore Roosevelt, now at port in Guam. As of Tuesday, the U.S. Navy said at least 230 crew had been tested positive. The firing last week of the Roosevelt’s captain created a combustible controversy in the country.

Access to abortions urged in Europe by 100 NGOs

BRUSSELS — A hundred non-governmental organizations including human and women’s rights groups are urging European governments to implement measures safeguarding access to abortion during the COVID-19 epidemics.

In a statement released Wednesday, they asked governments to recognize abortion as an essential care.

Their call came as Poland’s parliament prepares to put on the agenda a strict new abortion law. The eastern European country already has some of the the continent’s most restrictive abortion laws.

“European governments must act urgently to guarantee safe and timely access to abortion care during the COVID-19 pandemic,” said Leah Hoctor, the regional director for Europe at the Center for Reproductive Rights. “They should move swiftly to eradicate all medically unnecessary requirements that hamper access to abortion care and should authorize women to access early medical abortion from their homes.”

The groups said the current health crisis has affected reproductive health services at hospitals and clinics because of staff shortages or reassignments of affected personnel to tasks related to the deadly virus.

“In many places, accessing normal clinical services has become extremely difficult,” they said. “Restrictions to reproductive health services disproportionately affect women living in poverty, women with disabilities, Roma women, undocumented migrant women, adolescents, trans and gender non-binary people, and women at risk of or who are survivors of domestic and sexual violence.”

China: “Co-operation is the only correct choice”

BEIJING — China says the struggle against the global coronavirus pandemic provides a “platform for China-U.S. co-operation,” despite sniping between the sides over blame and responsibility.

Citing recent comments between Chinese leader Xi Jinping and President Donald Trump, Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Zhao Lijian told reporters at a briefing Wednesday that the sides would “benefit from co-operation and stand to lose from conflict, and co-operation is the only correct choice.”

Some in Congress are calling for China to be held accountable for initially covering up the outbreak, an accusation Beijing strongly denies despite growing evidence. Anticipating a backlash, China’s official Xinhua News Agency has suggested Beijing could retaliate against the U.S. by banning the export of medical products that would leave the U.S. stuck in the “ocean of viruses.”

Zhao drew attention last month when he suggested without evidence that the U.S. military transported the virus to Wuhan or that the virus was released from a U.S. lab.

“It might be US army who brought the epidemic to Wuhan. Be transparent! Make public your data! US owe us an explanation!” Zhao tweeted March 12.

Asked about the tweet on Tuesday, Zhao said it had been “a response to the stigmatization some US politicians made against China previously, and it also reflected the indignation of many Chinese people about these practices.”

Japan takes steps to prevent literary hoarding of “The Plague”

TOKYO — The printing of Albert Camus’ “The Plague” in Japanese shot above the cumulative million mark, with 154,000 copies going into extra printing seven times since February.

People have been snatching up copies since the coronavirus pandemic hit, and a bookstore chain limited purchases to one copy per buyer to curtail literary hoarding.

“The book is offering insight for people on the basic question of how we must live life when we are all faced with these insular times,” publisher Shinchosha spokesman Morito Mamiya said Wednesday.

The novel, first published in French in 1947, and in Japanese in 1969, portrays the dilemma of human existence as a North African city gets overtaken by the plague. On a regular year, about 5,000 copies of the classic get sold in Japan, but it’s now No. 1 for literature at major Japanese bookstores.

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