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:
— Bleak figures from China and US show economic hit from virus.
— South Korea reports rise in patients who test positive for COVID-19 for a second time after being diagnosed as recovered.
— German officials agree to allow some students to return to school soon.
SEOUL, South Korea — South Korea says it’s continuing to see a rise in patients who test positive for the coronavirus for a second time after being diagnosed as recovered. However, the risk of transmissions from such cases so far appears to be low.
Jeong Eun-kyeong, director of the country’s Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, said Friday at least 163 people have tested positive again after their initial release from hospitals, accounting for more than 2% of the country’s 7,829 recoveries.
She says the patients on average were 13.5 days removed from their release when they tested positive again, although the longest gap was 35 days.
Jeong says none of the patients were in serious condition although 61 of them were exhibiting mild symptoms. Officials are monitoring about 300 people who contacted the patients but have so far detected no transmissions of the virus.
While health authorities are investigating the causes of such cases, including whether they are linked to virus mutations, they have so far downplayed the possibility that people could get re-infected after making a full recovery.
They say it’s more likely that infections were re-activated after remaining dormant in patients whose bodies hadn’t fully developed immunity after experiencing mild symptoms.
BERLIN — Germany’s official statistical office said Friday that some 2.6 million students will soon return to schools as the country relaxes its pandemic lockdown rules.
Authorities in Germany’s 16 states agreed this week to allow a staggered reopening of schools, with students in their final two years of high school and the final year of primary returning first.
Germany, a country of 83 million people, has so far recorded almost 137,700 confirmed infections of the new coronavirus, according to a tally by Johns Hopkins University.
Compared to other countries Germany has had relatively few deaths — 4,052 so far — less than a third the number seen in Britain, which has fewer confirmed cases.
MADRID — Spain’s official gazette has published Friday a government order for the country’s 17 autonomous regions to unify the criteria on counting the dead in the coronavirus pandemic.
The government says that it’s following World Health Organization guidance and insists on counting only those who die having tested positive for the virus, whether they show or not symptoms and no matter where the death takes place.
That figure on Thursday rose above the 19,000 mark, with a total of more than 182,000 infections. But the accounting system leaves out the patients who died with symptoms but not tested.
The difference is significant.
The northeastern Catalonia region, for example, had 3,700 fatalities recorded earlier this week with tests but only in hospitals, not at centers for pensioners or private homes. And when it looked at the data of death certificates in funeral houses it found 3,200 additional fatalities that could potentially be linked to the COVID-19.
The scale of the tragedy at nursing homes is also a source of confusion. Regional governments are reporting that over 11,000 have died with the virus or its symptoms in these supervised facilities, a figure that is also believed to be inconsistent because each of the Spanish regions has different criteria when it comes to include or not cases unconfirmed by tests, or how to count those who die at day-care centers for the disabled.
LONDON — London Mayor Sadiq Khan says wearing face coverings, such as bandannas and scarves, could provide people with another layer of protection against the coronavirus and is lobbying the British government to change its advice.
Khan told BBC radio that the evidence he has seen is that wearing a non-medical facial covering “reduces the chances” of those who have the virus of giving it to somebody else. However, he did concede that it “doesn’t necessarily limit your changes of catching the virus.”
He said changing the advice would be helpful for those in public transport or in shops, where some people may find it difficult to abide by the social distancing guidelines of staying two meters (6 feet) apart.
Khan said it’s important that there’s a “consistent approach” across the country and that’s why he’s lobbying the government and its advisers.
The government’s chief medical adviser, Professor Chris Whitty, said Thursday that the evidence around masks being helpful in preventing the spread of the coronavirus is “weak,” while conceding it was a “live issue.”
BERLIN — Germany’s health minister says the coronavirus outbreak in the country has become “manageable,” with new data showing the rate of new infections has slowed significantly.
Jens Spahn told reporters in Berlin on Friday that the increase in COVID-19 cases isn’t exponential anymore, but linear.
Figures released by the Robert Koch Institute, Germany’s disease control center, show that the number of people infected by every person with COVID-19 has fallen to 0.7, from over 1 just a few days ago.
German Chancellor Angela Merkel said this week that this so-called reproduction rate was a key indicator the government would take into account when deciding whether to relax the lockdown.
Spahn noted that since April 12, the country has also had more people recovered from COVID-19 than active cases.
Experts say early and widespread testing has helped Germany keep a lid on the outbreak. Spahn said the country has so far conducted 1.7 million tests and is able to carry out 700,000 a week if necessary.
TOKYO — Tokyo had 201 new cases of the coronavirus Friday, setting a new record of daily rise, bringing a prefectural total to 2,796, with 56 deaths, according to Gov. Yuriko Koike. The Japanese capital has seen its new cases shoot up since late March, raising concerns about the infections becoming explosive.
Friday’s rise in the cases comes 10 days after Prime Minister Shinzo Abe declared a month-long state of emergency in Tokyo and six other urban prefectures, a measure he expanded to all of Japan on Thursday.
Koike has requested the residents to stay at home and nonessential businesses to shut down. But social distancing was not fully followed, with many people still commuting on trains to work in Japan where remote working is slow to come.
“We are continuing to face a critical situation,’’ Koike said. She also said she secured a third hotel for slightly-sick patients to stay and make room at overburdened hospitals as Tokyo faces fear of the collapse of medical systems.
Abe expanded the state of emergency to step up measures ahead of a major holiday week coming up in early May so that people won’t travel around and possibly spread the virus. The ongoing state of emergency runs through May 6.
Nationwide, Japan has nearly 9,900 cases including about 700 from a cruise ship quarantined earlier this year, with about 160 deaths.
CANBERRA, Australia — An Australian government minister has called on China to be transparent about the origins of the coronavirus and predicted the world will rethink relations with Australia’s most important trading partner because of the pandemic.
Home Affairs Minister Peter Dutton recently recovered from COVID-19 which he apparently contracted during a trip to Washington D.C.
Dutton told Nine Network on Friday: “I do think there will be a reset about the way in which the world interacts with China. We do want more transparency.”
Chinese interference in other countries and involvement in cyber spying “need to, I think, be looked at again,” Dutton said.
“When you’ve got a communist party that doesn’t have the transparency that other comparable economies have, then that is a problem,” Dutton said.
Dutton’s call for transparency comes after U.S. officials revealed intelligence agencies were assessing whether the respiratory virus escaped from a biological laboratory in the Chinese city of Wuhan, where the pandemic began.
“Hopefully you can have China answering these questions that are reasonably put and people can have more confidence,” Dutton said.
BEIJING — Bleak figures from the world’s two largest economies underscore how quickly the coronavirus is delivering a massive economic blow.
China on Friday reported GDP shrank 6.8% from a year ago in the quarter ending March, its worst contraction since before market-style economic reforms began in 1979. And in the U.S., the world’s largest economy, the ranks of the unemployed swelled toward levels last seen during the Great Depression.
Still, the economic data from China was not as bad as some had feared, prompting shares in Asia to surge. That was after Wall Street also rose, powered by buying of Amazon, health care stocks and other market niches that are thriving in the coronavirus crunch.
The recovery for workers is likely to take a long time, however. Some forecasters earlier said China might rebound as early as this month, but they have been cutting growth forecasts and pushing back recovery timelines as negative trade, retail sales and other data pile up.
The U.S. government reported 5.2 million more Americans applied for unemployment benefits last week, bringing the four-week total to 22 million — easily the worst stretch of U.S. job losses on record. The losses translate to about 1 in 7 American workers.
BEIJING — The central Chinese city of Wuhan has raised its number of COVID-19 fatalities by 1,290, with state media saying Friday the undercount had been due to the insufficient admission capabilities at overwhelmed medical facilities at the peak of the outbreak.
Wuhan’s revised death toll of 3,869 is the most in China. Numbers of total cases in the city of 11 million were also raised by 325 to 50,333, accounting for about two-thirds of China’s total 82,367 announced cases.
Questions have long swirled around the accuracy of China’s case reporting, with Wuhan in particular going several days in January without reporting new cases or deaths. That has led to accusations that Chinese officials were seeking to minimize the impact of the outbreak and wasting opportunities to bring it under control in a shorter time.
WASHINGTON — President Donald Trump has given governors a road map for recovering from the economic pain of the coronavirus pandemic, laying out “a phased and deliberate approach” to restoring normal activity in places that have strong testing and are seeing a decrease in COVID-19 cases.
“We’re starting our life again,” Trump said during his daily press briefing. “We’re starting rejuvenation of our economy again.”
He added, “This is a gradual process.”
The new guidelines are aimed at easing restrictions in areas with low transmission of the coronavirus, while holding the line in harder-hit locations. They make clear that the return to normalcy will be a far longer process than Trump initially envisioned, with federal officials warning that some social distancing measures may need to remain in place through the end of the year to prevent a new outbreak. And they largely reinforce plans already in the works by governors, who have primary responsibility for public health in their states.
“You’re going to call your own shots,” Trump told the governors Thursday afternoon in a conference call, according to an audio recording obtained by The Associated Press. “We’re going to be standing alongside of you.”
Places with declining infections and strong testing would begin a three-phase gradual reopening of businesses and schools.
UNITED NATIONS — The U.N. General Assembly has until Monday to consider a draft resolution calling for global action to rapidly scale up development, manufacturing and access to medicine, vaccines and medical equipment to confront the coronavirus pandemic.
The proposed resolution obtained by The Associated Press requests Secretary-General Antonio Guterres to work with the World Health Organization and recommend options to ensure timely and equitable access to testing, medical supplies, drugs and future coronavirus vaccines for all in need, especially in developing countries.
The measure, drafted by Mexico and co-sponsored by about 75 countries, encourages all countries to work in partnership to increase research and funding for vaccines and medicine, and to strengthen international scientific cooperation to combat the coronavirus.
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