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:
— South Korea’s voting precautions highlight challenges of reopening.
— Russia’s new pass system to curb COVID-19 causes crowds.
— Germany’s foreign minister criticizes U.S. President Donald Trump’s decision to halt payments to the World Health Organization.
MOSCOW — Russian social media users and news outlets reported crowds of people queuing at metro stations and traffic jamming up highways leading into Moscow on Wednesday morning after a new system of passes controlling the movement of people within Russia’s capital was introduced to curb the spread of the coronavirus.
Police officers were reported to be manually checking IDs and passes of each person driving into Moscow or entering the metro, prompting long queues.
The pass system in Moscow came into effect on Wednesday as the coronavirus outbreak in Russia continued to grow exponentially, with the number of cases doubling every five days. On Wednesday, Russian authorities reported 3,388 new infections, which brought the country’s total to 24,490. Moscow accounted for 14,776 of them.
Russia’s capital has been in lockdown since late March, with residents ordered to stay home except to buy food and medicine, walk pets or go to jobs at essential workplaces. In order to travel somewhere by car or on public transport, Muscovites need to apply for scannable QR-code passes online, listing their destination and purpose of travel.
BERLIN — Germany is pushing back against U.S. President Donald Trump’s criticism of the World Health Organization over its handling of the coronavirus pandemic.
German Foreign Minister Heiko Maas commented Wednesday on Trump’s decision to halt payments to WHO, saying: “Placing blame doesn’t help.”
In a tweet, Maas said that “the virus knows no borders. We must work closely together against COVID-19. Strengthening the U.N., in particular the underfunded WHO, is a better investment, for example to develop and distribute tests and vaccines.”
BANGKOK — Thailand has extended through April 30 a ban on international passenger flights landing in the country as part of its effort to control the spread of COVID-19.
The ban was initially ordered April 4 after chaos broke out at Bangkok’s international airport when more than 100 returning Thai citizens reportedly refused to abide by regulations requiring them to go directly to state-run quarantine centers. The original three-day ban has already been extended once.
Thai authorities even before the airport incident had announced that the return of Thais from abroad would have to be delayed because there were not enough facilities to properly monitor and quarantine them.
Strict regulations requiring prior certification from foreigners that they do not have the coronavirus have effectively banned the entry of most foreign visitors.
Exceptions to the ban renewal announced Wednesday by the Civil Aviation Authority of Thailand include state or military aircraft, emergency landings, technical landings without disembarkation, humanitarian, medical or relief flights, repatriation flights and cargo flights. All who do enter are subject to health crisis regulations, including a 14-day state quarantine.
Thailand has a huge tourism industry and last year welcomed about 40 million visitors.
There were 30 new confirmed cases of COVID-19 announced Wednesday, bringing the total to 2,643. Two more deaths were announced, bringing the total to 43, while 1,497 infected people have recovered.
PRAGUE — The Czech Republic has registered less than 100 new cases of people infected with the coronavirus for the third straight day.
The Health Ministry says 82 people tested positive on Tuesday. It was 89 on Sunday and 68 on Monday.
It is the first time since March 17 the country has less than 100 new cases. The first three people were found infected on Mach 1.
Seven people died on Tuesday while 84 were at intensive care.
Health authorities expected Wednesday the number of people ill with COVID-19 might reach 9,900 by the end of April.
A total of 6,151 people have tested positive in the Czech Republic; 163 have died.
On Tuesday, the Czech government unveiled a plan to gradually relax its restrictions imposed to contain the pandemic.
COPENHAGEN, Denmark — Denmark is beginning to relax its strict coronavirus lockdown measures by allowing some classes to return nationwide Wednesday to school.
The measure applies only to preschool to fifth grade, while students above that must continue to study online from home.
Gatherings of more 10 people are still banned. Dentists, tattoo parlors, hairdressers and other trades that have close physical contacts with patrons remain closed. Restaurants and cafes can only serve takeaway. Other shops, including supermarkets and grocery stores have remained open for weeks but have urged customers to keep a distance from each other and have put a limit on the number of people allowed inside.
On March 11, Prime Minister Mette Frederiksen began a gradual lockdown of the country, which means that, among others, celebrations marking the popular figurehead monarch Queen Margrethe’s 80th birthday on Thursday — have been canceled.
Frederiksen said Tuesday that Denmark can open “much faster” than expected citing figures showing a stabilization of the virus crisis in the Scandinavian country. Frederiksen also said that “it should not go too fast because should there be a setback, it will not be too severe.”
CANBERRA, Australia — The Australian prime minister expects a tracking app under development in Australia will massively boost health authorities’ ability to trace coronavirus contacts if the government can overcome privacy concerns.
Prime Minister Scott Morrison told Perth Radio 6PR on Wednesday his government is carefully working through privacy issues because at least 40% of Australians will need to download the app on their smart phones if it is to effective.
The Australian app is based on Singapore’s COVID-19 contact tracing app, TraceTogether. When TraceTogether users are diagnosed with the virus, they can upload the app’s encrypted data logs which identify other users who have been in close proximity for 15 minutes or more.
Morrison says people need to understand that if Australia can track down coronavirus contacts quicker and save people’s lives, the economy can become more open.
Morrison said he discussed the app with Singapore Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong in a video conference last month after the Singaporean leader cancelled an Australian visit due to COVID-19 concerns.
Digital Rights Watch chair Lizzie O’Shea, a human rights lawyer, said people should be wary of a location-tracking app with no guarantees about how data would be used. She says the take up rate was less than 20% in Singapore because of privacy concerns.
TOKYO — Japan may see some 850,000 COVID-19 patients in serious conditions and about half of them dying if no social distancing or other measures are taken, experts on a government-commissioned response team said in an estimate released Wednesday.
Hokkaido University professor Hiroshi Nishiura, an expert on cluster analysis, projected a 49% fatality rate, or about 420,000 deaths, among those who develop serious conditions requiring respiratory care or treatment in intensive care units, due to an imminent shortage of ventilators if no preventive measures are taken, according to a report provided by the health ministry.
“If we are unprepared and hit by the pandemic, we will run out of respirators,” Nishitani told reporters. The projection is a worst case scenario, he said, and urged people to cooperate in the social distancing effort. “We can stop the transmission if all of us change our activity and significantly reduce interactions.”
Prime Minister Shinzo Abe declared a state of emergency in Tokyo and six other prefectures on April 7, asking people to keep social distancing as much as 80%, but many people are still seen commuting as tele-working is slow to come. Nishiura expressed concerns and said it would take much longer to slow the infections at lower levels of social distancing.
An estimated 652,000 elderly people, age 65 or older, will be in serious condition under a hypothesis of one patient infecting 2.5 others and without preventive measures, Nishiura said. The remaining estimated 201,000 people are ages from 15 to 64.
NEW DELHI — India has announced some easing of lockdown restrictions, beginning April 20, to restart manufacturing and farming activity in rural areas to ease the suffering of millions of poor people.
India’s Home ministry issued guidelines on Wednesday that will also permit construction of roads and buildings in the rural areas. The inter-state transport of goods, essential and non-essential, will be allowed.
The announcement came a day after India’s Prime Minister Narendra Modi announced extension to the country’s three-week lockdown until May 3 to fight the coronavirus epidemic which has, so far, claimed 377, with more than 10,000 positive cases. The lockdown has restricted people to their homes for all but essential trips to places like markets or pharmacies.
Tens of thousands of migrant workers surviving on daily wages have been protesting the government lockdown. More than 60% of India’s 1.3 billion people live in villages and are largely dependent on farming.
The new guidelines said that coal, mineral and oil production will also be allowed and manufacture of information technology hardware and of essential goods and packaging can resume.
PERTH, Australia — A man who repeatedly sneaked out of a hotel to visit his girlfriend has become the first person in Australia to be jailed for breaching a coronavirus quarantine order.
Jonathan David, 35, was sentenced in the Perth Magistrates Court on Wednesday to six months and two weeks in prison, but will likely only spend one month behind bars. He was also fined 2,000 Australian dollars ($1,280).
David returned home to Perth from the Australian east coast on March 28 and was directed to spend the next two weeks in quarantine in a hotel, a standard requirement for interstate travelers.
But he continually sneaked out and used public transport to visit his girlfriend. He wedged open a fire exit door so that he could come and go without hotel staff seeing him.
But he was caught out by security cameras and was taken into custody on April 5. He pleaded guilty to failing to comply with a direction.
Magistrate Elaine Campione told David he “chose to roll the dice with other people’s lives and that was breathtakingly arrogant,” during a state of emergency.
After David spends a month in prison, the balance of his sentence will be suspended for 12 months unless he commit another offense.in that time.
BEIJING — China reported 46 new coronavirus cases on Wednesday, 36 from overseas.
Of the 10 domestic cases, eight were in the province of Heilongjiang that borders on Russia, where authorities have been rushing to stem a new outbreak among those traveling back to China.
Almost 1,100 people were also under quarantine and monitoring as suspected cases or for having tested positive for the virus without showing symptoms.
China now has recorded a total of 3,342 deaths among 82,295 cases.
TOKYO — Japan had 457 new cases of the coronavirus, bringing a national total to 8,100 as of Tuesday, as well as 712 others from a cruise ship quarantined near Tokyo earlier this year.
All combined, Japan has a total of 8,812 cases, with 231 deaths, the Ministry of Health, Labor and Welfare said Wednesday.
Tokyo, by far, has the biggest number of cases at 2,319, most of them still hospitalized. Officials are under pressure to expand space for more patients, while transferring those with no or slight symptoms to hotels to make room for others in serious conditions.
So far, 105 slightly sick patients moved into a hotel, and Tokyo plans to secure up to 3,500 single rooms by June.
Lack of space and equipment at ordinary hospitals that previously have not been equipped with infectious diseases treatment are being asked to take in patients.
Medical experts have warned that Tokyo’s healthcare system is on the brink of collapse amid surge of patients and shortage of protective gear.
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