Morning world update: Cases surge past 600,000; positive news in Germany

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.

These Associated Press items were posted by Black Press Media at 7:30 a.m., Saturday, March 28.

TOP OF THE HOUR:

  • Spain’s deadliest day has over 800 deaths, over 8,000 news cases.
  • Finnish police, military enforce blockade of key southern region.
  • Tourists at Mount Everest flown to safety.
  • Germany accepts more patients from Italy

New cases climb past 600,000 globally; Germany eyes April 20 as possible date to relax restrictions

BERLIN — The number of confirmed coronavirus infections worldwide topped 600,000 on Saturday as new cases stacked up quickly in Europe and the United States and officials dug in for a long fight against the pandemic.

The latest landmark came only two days after the world passed half a million infections, according to a tally by John Hopkins University, showing that much work remains to be done to slow the spread of the virus. It showed more than 607,000 cases and over 28,000 deaths.

While the U.S. now leads the world in reported infections — with more than 104,000 cases — five countries exceed its roughly 1,700 deaths: Italy, Spain, China, Iran and France.

“We cannot completely prevent infections at this stage, but we can and must in the immediate future achieve fewer new infections per day, a slower spread,” German Chancellor Angela Merkel, who is in quarantine at home after her doctor tested positive for the virus, told her compatriots in an audio message. “That will decide whether our health system can stand up to the virus.”

The virus already has put health systems in Italy, Spain and France under extreme strain. Lockdowns of varying severity have been introduced across Europe, nearly emptying streets in normally bustling cities, including Paris where drone photos showed the city’s landmarks eerily deserted.

Merkel’s chief of staff, Helge Braun, said Germany — where authorities closed nonessential shops and banned gatherings of more than two in public — won’t relax its restrictions before April 20.

Germany accepts more patients from Italy’s worst hit region

BERLIN — The German military is flying six COVID-19 patients from Italy’s worst-hit region to western Germany for treatment.

A German air force plane landed in Bergamo in northern Italy early Saturday. It was due to return to Cologne after taking the Italian patients, who will be treated at various hospitals in the region.

Several German state governments have offered to take in patients from Italy. Some have already arrived. Germany also has taken in some patients from hard-hit eastern France.

Germany has a large number of coronavirus cases but a relatively low death rate compared with Italy’s. Its health system hasn’t been overwhelmed by severe cases so far.

Deadliest day yet for Spain

MADRID — Spain has seen its deadliest day yet during the coronavirus crisis with 832 deaths reported on Saturday for a total of 5,690 fatalities. Infections have increased by over 8,000 in 24 hours to reach a national total of 72,248.

Spain is approaching two weeks of its stay-at-home restrictions and store closings but its infections and deaths keep rising. On Friday, Spain reported a total of 64,059 cases and 4,858 deaths.

The medical system is being pushed to the limits in the hot spots in Madrid and northeast Catalonia with doctors, nurses and ambulance drivers falling ill at an alarming rate and working non-stop.

Pablo Rojo, an ambulance medic at Barcelona’s Dos de Maig hospital, says the average age is decreasing. He says: “They’re not 80 years old anymore, they are now 30 and 40 years old.”

Finnish police, military enforce blockade

HELSINKI — Finnish police and assisting military forces and border guard officials have started to enforce a blockade of a key southern region that includes the Nordic nation’s capital, Helsinki.

The exceptional order by Prime Minister Sanna Marin’s government to block the movement of citizens into and out of the Uusimaa entered into force on Saturday.

The region is home to some 1.7 million people including Helsinki’s 650,000 residents.

Police have set up road blocks to main entry and exit points in Uusimaa and are checking each arriving or departing vehicle for a legitimate reason for movement. Finnish conscript soldiers are patrolling on local trains for possible regulation dodgers.

Albanians must apply for permit before leaving their homes

TIRANA, Albania — The Albanian government has announced that people will have to apply for a permit to go out for necessities following stricter measures to contain the virus outbreak.

Prime Minister Edi Rama says people can apply online via e-albania.al or with a text message. Only one person per family may go out.

The only shops open are those selling food, medicine and other basic items and people may only go out between 5 a.m. and 1 p.m. from Monday to Saturday.

No movement or business activity will be allowed from Saturday at 1 p.m. to Monday at 5 a.m., with police and military forces patrolling the streets.

Albania has reported 186 cases of the new coronavirus with 10 deaths.

Tourists evacuated from foothills of Mount Everest

KATHMANDU, Nepal — Scores of tourists on the foothills of Mount Everest have been flown to safety days after being stranded on the only airstrip serving the world’s highest mountain.

Dhurba Shrestha, an official at the Tenzing Hillary Airport in Lukla, says that 174 foreign tourists and four Nepali nationals left the mountain by air on Saturday in 12 small planes and two helicopters.

The airport at Lukla, located at an altitude of 2,800 metres (9,184 feet), is the only airport in the Mount Everest region.

Foreign embassies and local travel agents have been urging Nepal’s government to allow these rescue flights to the Everest region since the country imposed a lockdown last week.

Nepal’s government has halted all flights and ground transportation, shutting down offices and shuttering businesses to control the spread of the coronavirus. Nepal has four confirmed cases including one person who has recovered.

China to aid Pakistan in COVID-19 fight

ISLAMABAD — The foreign ministry says China is sending a plane containing medical personnel and supplies to aid Pakistan in the fight to contain the spread of COVID-19.

Pakistan is a key link in China’s ambitious multi-billion dollar, one-road project linking South and Central Asia to China.

China is also a key military supplier for Pakistan, having supplied the country with missiles capable of carrying nuclear weapons.

Pakistan currently has 1,321 confirmed cases, 10 deaths and 23 patients who have recovered. Most of the infected people returned from Iran where the confirmed cases are more than 30,000 with more than 2,300 deaths.

Police arrest worshippers

COLOMBO, Sri Lanka — Sri Lanka police say they have arrested thousands, including many who were praying in a mosque, for violating a countrywide curfew imposed as a part of stringent measures designed to contain the spread of coronavirus.

The number of positive cases has risen to 106 and the government has ordered police to strictly impose the curfew to ensure social distancing across the country.

On a tip that a group of people were praying in a mosque in the town of Horowpathana, about 124 miles (200 kilometres) north of Capital Colombo, police and health officials went to the mosque and arrested 18 while several dozens have fled.

The government has banned nonessential travel. Police have arrested 4,600 and seized 1,125 vehicles for violating curfew since March 20.

86 UN staffers report having coronavirus

UNITED NATIONS — The United Nations says 86 staff members around the world have reported cases of COVID-19.

U.N. spokesman Stephane Dujarric said most of the infected staff members are in Europe, but there are also staffers in Africa, Asia, the Middle East and the United States that have the coronavirus.

To try to reduce transmission, he said the vast majority of U.N. staffers are working from home.

At U.N. headquarters in New York, where a normal day would see staffers’ passes swiped 11,000 times, the number of swipes Friday morning stood at 140, Dujarric said.

In Geneva, he said, the number of staff at the U.N. office has dropped from around 4,000 people on a regular day to just about 70 on Thursday. In Vienna, more than 97% of U.N. staff are now working remotely, he said. And, in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, 99% of staff are working from home.

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