The Latest: Merkel urges discipline, ‘cautious optimism’

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

— Warnings multiply against Easter holiday travel, gatherings.

— Dr. Fauci: Don’t assume virus fades in warm weather.

— Germany to start antibody blood tests next week.

— British PM Boris Johnson ‘continues to improve’ in ICU.

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BERLIN — Chancellor Angela Merkel says Germany’s coronavirus figures give grounds for “cautious optimism” but the situation is “fragile.”

She is urging people to remain disciplined in respecting restrictions on public life during Easter.

Germany has shut schools, bars, most shops and banned gatherings of more than two people in public. Those restrictions will remain at least through April 19.

There are increasing calls in Germany for an exit strategy from the restrictions.

Merkel says, “We must keep this up over Easter and the days afterward, because we could very, very quickly destroy what we have achieved.”

Germany has more than 113,000 infections. About 2,300 people have died, a death rate lower than most countries.

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THE HAGUE, Netherlands — Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte says border crossings with Germany and Belgium could be temporarily closed over the Easter weekend if there is too much traffic.

Belgian and German tourists traditionally flock to the Netherlands over Easter. But the Dutch government is actively discouraging them from visiting amid restrictions and social distancing measures to slow the spread of the coronavirus.

Rutte says Dutch authorities are working with Belgian and German colleagues and “where necessary security authorities in the border regions can decide to completely close certain roads, if that is necessary.”

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MINSK, Belarus — The mayor of Ukraine’s capital says the coronavirus has hit the Pechersk Monastery, infecting more than half the monks at the renowned religious and tourist site.

Kyiv Mayor Vitaly Klitschko says 26 of the 44 monks at the monastery have been diagnosed with infections. No deaths have been reported.

The monastery is known for its extensive system of caves and tunnels, containing centuries-old cells for monks and burial places.

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BERLIN — Germany’s national disease control center says it plans to conduct a series of blood tests to determine how many people in the country are immune to COVID-19 and how many were infected without knowing it.

Lothar Wieler, the head of the Robert Koch Institute, says starting next week antibody tests will be carried out on blood given by donors around the country. His institute anticipates up to 5,000 samples conducted every 14 days, with results starting in early May.

A second survey will examine blood from about 2,000 people from each of four infection “hot spots” in Germany. And a third will look at a representative sample of some 15.000 people across the country, with results expected in June.

Germany has confirmed more than 113,000 infections, according to a tally by Johns Hopkins University. More than 2,300 people have died, a death rate lower than many countries.

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JOHANNESBURG — All members of Botswana’s parliament have been placed in mandatory quarantine.

That comes after one of the country’s coronavirus cases involved a health worker who attended the parliament session on Wednesday.

The government of the southern African nation says some of the lawmakers interacted with the health worker.

Botswana has 13 coronavirus cases and is under lockdown.

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WARSAW, Poland — Poland’s government is extending the nationwide isolation against the coronavirus until April 26.

It will keep the borders and schools closed, banning international flights and railway connections. It includes the quarantine for all entering Poland, except truck drivers.

Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki says steps the government has taken against the virus “have proven effective.”

Also, Health Minister Lukasz Szumowski announced Poland will introduce obligatory covering of the mouth and the nose in public places on April 16. Szumowski says given the shortage of masks, scarves and bandanas can be used.

The nation of 38 million has reported over 5,340 cases and 164 deaths.

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KAMPALA, Uganda — Four Ugandan government officials have been arrested over allegations of inflating prices of relief food.

An anti-corruption unit attached to the presidency reported Thursday the four, who include the top accounting officer in the office of the prime minister, are accused of “rejecting lower price offers from various suppliers of maize flour and beans.”

It says the arrests followed a special investigation ordered Wednesday by President Yoweri Museveni. The allegations underscore growing corruption concerns as Uganda’s government embarks on a fundraising campaign for the emergency response to the economic effects of COVID-19.

Authorities seek to provide food rations for about 1.5 million vulnerable people living in the metropolitan area surrounding the capital, Kampala.

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WASHINGTON — Dr. Anthony Fauci, the top U.S. infectious disease expert, says don’t assume the coronavirus will fade during warm weather.

Fauci told ABC’s “Good Morning America” there’s precedent with other infections like influenza that “when the virus gets warmer that the virus goes down in its ability to replicate, to spread.”

But Fauci added “having said that, one should not assume that we are going to be rescued by a change in the weather. You must assume that the virus will continue to do its thing. If we get some help from the weather, so be it, fine. But I don’t think we need to assume that.”

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He was asked about the New York Times story that research indicates the coronavirus that began circulating in New York in mid-February came mainly from Europe, not Asia.

“I think that’s probably correct,” Fauci said. He notes that “Europe became the epicenter pretty quickly after China really exploded with their cases.”

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WASHINGTON — The U.S. Navy says a member of the crew of the USS Theodore Roosevelt who tested positive for coronavirus on March 30 was admitted to the intensive care unit at U.S. Naval Hospital Guam.

The carrier has been docked at Guam since March 27 with a coronavirus outbreak that has sidelined the warship and infected 416 members of its 4,860-member crew.

The sailor who is in ICU had been in 14-day isolation. As recently as Wednesday, the Navy said there had been zero hospitalizations among the coronavirus-infected crew members.

The Navy says the number of COVID-positive cases among the Roosevelt crew stood Thursday at 416, up from 286 on Wednesday.

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LONDON — British prime minister Boris Johnson “continues to improve” in the intensive care unit of a London hospital where he is being treated for the new coronavirus.

Spokesman James Slack says Johnson “had a good night” at St. Thomas’ Hospital, his third night in intensive care. Johnson is receiving oxygen but is not on a ventilator.

Johnson was diagnosed with COVID-19 on March 26 and taken to hospital on Sunday with a persistent cough and fever. He was moved to the ICU Monday after his condition worsened.

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TOKYO — Tokyo reported 181 new coronavirus cases Thursday, setting another record daily increase.

The total exceeds 1,500, with infections accelerating in the Japanese capital under a state of emergency.

Tokyo Gov. Yuriko Koike urged companies to more quickly shift to remote working and cooperate with the stay-at-home request.

Prime Minister Shinzo Abe recently declared the state of emergency in Tokyo and six other prefectures, allowing Koike and other leaders to take tougher steps to ensure social distancing. He urged the people to reduce human interactions by as much as 80%, a level that experts say can help control the outbreak in about a month if strictly observed.

Many people still commuted to work Thursday. Japanese companies have been slow to allow their employees to work remotely. Subway operators say their ridership was less than half. But mobile phone carriers showed crowd sizes in downtown Tokyo were only reduced by 30-40%.

On Wednesday, Japan had 4,768 confirmed cases and 96 deaths.

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ATHENS, Greece — Authorities in Greece say they are seeking help from other European Union members to create medical isolation facilities on islands where large refugee camps are considered potentially vulnerable to the spread of the coronavirus.

George Koumoutsakos, the deputy minister for migration affairs, says 28 confirmed cases of the virus have been recorded at two camps on the Greek mainland. But none so far at camps on Lesbos and other Greek islands near the coast of Turkey where more than 40,000 migrants and refugees are located.

The minister says Austria had offered 180 container homes, adding building space had been located on Lesbos and the nearby island of Chios to create isolation and treatment facilities.

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BERLIN — Germany’s health minister says more than 100 companies have submitted promising responses to the government’s call for offers to manufacture protective medical equipment.

Health Minister Jens Spahn didn’t identify the companies. The government plans to award contracts for companies from mid-August at the latest through the end of 2021.

Germany wants to reduce its dependence on Asian manufacturers because demand has surged worldwide during the coronavirus pandemic. That makes the market for imports increasingly competitive as countries struggle to get supplies to health workers.

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BANGKOK — Sales of alcoholic beverages will be banned in Thailand’s capital Bangkok for a 11-day period starting Friday as part of the effort to contain the spread of COVID-19 infections. Bars and restaurants were ordered to stop onsite services last month.

Officials said the alcohol ban was necessary because people were flouting social distancing rules by holding drinking parties even as the number of coronavirus cases keeps rising.

Thailand’s annual Songkran Lunar New Year festival falls within the no-sales period. The holiday is usually celebrated by raucous merrymaking and much drinking, which contributes to a spike in traffic deaths.

The official April 13-15 holiday has already been postponed and organized celebrations canceled because of the crowds they would attract.

At least 11 other provinces have already ordered temporary bans on alcohol sales, including the major tourist destination of Chiang Mai in the north.

Health officials on Thursday confirmed 54 new cases of the disease, bringing the nation’s total to 2,423, with Bangkok accounting for about half. Nationwide, the death toll increased by two to 32.

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JAKARTA, Indonesia — Indonesia’s President Joko Widodo has officially banned all civil servants, police officers, military personnel and employees of state-owned companies from returning to their hometowns to celebrate the end of Ramadan with families in an attempt to curb the coronavirus spread.

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Widodo said in a video conference Thursday that his administration is still evaluating whether a similar prohibition to be imposed to the rest of people in the world’s most populous Muslim nation. He said the decision will be announced within days.

Indonesia, with a population of nearly 270 million, has more Muslims than any other country in the world.

The annual mass exodus usually involves tens of millions of Indonesians crisscrossing the vast archipelago for Eid al-Fitr, which marks the end of the Islamic holy month. The holiday is expected to fall on May 24.

Those travelers, mostly crammed into trains, ferries, buses and in greater numbers of cars and motorcycles, could play a role in disease transmission from urban density to rural areas. But Widodo said there are some groups of travelers who may be allowed to return to their villages for economic reasons.

“We cannot ban those who lost their jobs and income in this pandemic crisis from returning to their villages,” he said.

Indonesia recorded new 337 COVID-19 cases on Thursday, its biggest daily jump since the start of the pandemic, bringing the country’s total to 3,293.

Indonesia has the highest death toll in Asia after China, with 280 deaths.

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LONDON — Oxfam is warning that half a billion people in the developing world could be pushed into poverty as a result of the economic fallout from the coronavirus pandemic.

In the run-up to three key international economic meetings next week, the anti-poverty campaigning group has urged richer countries to step up their relief efforts.

In a report based on research at King’s College London and the Australian National University, Oxfam is calling on world leaders to agree an ‘Economic Rescue Package for All’ to keep poor countries and poor communities afloat. Among the measures it is recommending is the immediate cancellation of $1 trillion worth of developing country debt payments in 2020.

Jose Maria Vera, Oxfam International Interim Executive Director says “for poor people in poor countries who are already struggling to survive there are almost no safety nets to stop them falling into poverty.”

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ZAGREB, Croatia — Croatia has started reopening open air markets, in the first sign of easing of strict rules against the spread of the new coronavirus in the country.

Wearing protective masks, residents of Zagreb on Thursday lined up at one of the markets on a sunny day, keeping distance from one another as they waited to buy home-grown fruit, vegetables or other products.

Inside the small wooden houses, sellers offered their products through open windows. Authorities have said markets can open only if strict hygienic and distancing rules are respected.

Croatia has confirmed 1,343 cases of infections of the coronavirus and 19 deaths.

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MADRID — Spanish health authorities say that reported coronavirus infections and deaths have gone down again after a two-day uptick, hopefully signaling a return to the overall slowdown in the pandemic growth under a national lockdown.

The Health Ministry said Thursday that authorities reported 5,756 new cases and 683 new deaths over the previous 24-hour period. That is compared to new 6,180 cases and 757 new deaths on Wednesday.

Overall, Spain has 152,446 infections and 15,238 fatalities since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, situating it as one of the world’s hardest-hit countries along with the United States and Italy.

Over 52,000 patients have also recovered in Spain, as pressure has eased slightly on its hospitals.

Like many countries, Spain is struggling to gauge the true extent of the virus outbreak due to a lag in testing of the general population. Authorities have recognized that several thousand of elderly people have died in nursing homes without being tested. Only deaths of people who had tested positive are being included in the official statistics.

The latest figures were released as Spanish Prime Minister Pedro Sánchez appeared before the national Parliament to ask for its endorsement of a second two-week extension of Spain’s state of emergency that permits the lockdown against the virus. Support is expected after the main opposition party said it would back the Socialist-led coalition government.

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Correction Note: Spanish health authorities have corrected the new deaths for today. The corrected version is above, and only changes death toll for the last 24 hours. The number is 683, not 728.

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TEHRAN, Iran — Iran’s supreme leader is suggesting that mass gatherings in the Islamic Republic may be barred through the holy Muslim fasting month Ramadan amid the coronavirus pandemic.

Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei made the comment Thursday as Iran is trying to restart its economic activity after suffering one of the world’s worst outbreaks. Ramadan is set to begin in late April and last through most of May.

Khamenei urged Shiite faithful to pray in their homes during Ramadan. Shiite typically pray communally, especially during Ramadan.

Iran has reported over 67,000 confirmed cases of the new virus, with nearly 4,000 deaths. However, experts have repeatedly questioned those numbers, especially as Iran initially downplayed the outbreak in February amid the 41st anniversary of its 1979 Islamic Revolution and a crucial parliamentary vote.

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Follow AP news coverage of the coronavirus pandemic at https://apnews.com/VirusOutbreak and https://apnews.com/UnderstandingtheOutbreak


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