COVID-19 world update: 1,000 cases hit U.S. military; Good news in Spain, Portugal

The latest on the coronavirus pandemic. This collection of Associated Press files was posted by Black Press Media at 10 a.m., Monday, April 6.

TOP OF THE HOUR:

  • Merkel says too early to consider ending restrictive measures.
  • Serbian health officials say 67 medical staff and nine patients of main hospital test positive.
  • Italian region of Tuscany to distribute masks for its 3.7 million residents
  • Mass COVID-19 testing site opening at Georgia Institute of Technology in Atlanta.

More than 1,000 cases hit U.S. military; navy hit the hardest

WASHINGTON — The Pentagon says the number of COVID-19 cases in the active duty force topped 1,000 over the weekend.

There are a total of 1,132 confirmed cases as of Monday morning. The total was 978 on Friday.

There also have been 303 cases among members of the National Guard.

Among the military services, the Navy has the most cases, with 431. That includes more than 150 among the crew of the aircraft carrier USS Theodore Roosevelt.

Pearl Harbor moment for U.S. as 94 percent say they’re avoiding large gatherings

The United States is bracing for a painful week, with a wave of coronavirus deaths expected across the nation.

“This is going to be our Pearl Harbor moment, our 9-11 moment,” U.S. Surgeon General Jerome Adams said.

New York City, the U.S. epicenter, New Orleans and Detroit face especially worrying days ahead. Yet President Donald Trump and Vice-President Mike Pence are striking optimistic tones, insisting that hard weeks ahead will ultimately lead to the nation beginning to turn a corner..

A new poll from The Associated Press-NORC Center for Public Affairs Research found that 94% of Americans say they are staying away from large groups, up from 68% in mid-March.

Coronavirus patients around the world are rushing to join studies of an experimental drug that showed promise against some similar viruses in the past. Interest in the drug remdesivir has been so great that the U.S. National Institutes of Health is boosting the size of its study.

Meanwhile, millions of dollars in additional funds are being made available to agencies around the world that provide aid to Holocaust survivors, whose advanced age and health issues make them particularly vulnerable to the new coronavirus, the organization that handles claims on behalf of Jewish victims of the Nazis announced Monday.

Germany: Now isn’t the time to discuss an end date to restrictions

BERLIN — German Chancellor Angela Merkel says she’s as anxious as anyone for life to return to normal in the country.

Merkel says “we’re still living in the pandemic” and now isn’t the time to talk about an end date to restrictive measures.

Merkel says “we would be a bad government if we did not intensively, day and night, consider how we can take steps to return to ordinary life while still protecting health.”

But, she adds she would be considered `a bad chancellor, and we’d be a bad government,’ if she set an immediate date to end restrictions.

European officials are scheduled to hold a video conference Tuesday to discuss the crisis and Merkel said the European Union was “facing its greatest test since its founding” that has hit every nation.

“Everyone has been affected and therefore it is in everyone’s interest, and in Germany’s interest, that Europe emerges stronger from this test.”

Serbia: 67 health workers, including 11 doctors, infected at coronary hospital

BELGRADE, Serbia — Serbian health authorities say 67 medical staff and nine patients of Belgrade’s main coronary care hospital have tested positive for the new coronavirus.

Of the total positive cases 11 are doctors. All have been moved to other hospitals in the Serbian capital with mild symptoms.

This is the second COVID-19 outbreak in a major hospital in Belgrade. Nearly 50 medical staff and two pregnant women have tested positive in Belgrade’s main maternity ward.

Officials say over 160 medical workers have been infected in Serbia with the new coronavirus.

Serbia has recorded 2,200 infected people and 58 deaths.

Tuscany: Masks will be required when in public

ROME — The Italian region of Tuscany is starting to distribute masks for its 3.7 million residents.

Masks will be required when in public once they reach each household.

Civil Protection volunteers on Monday unloaded cartons of the first batch of some 620,000 masks from a warehouse to be distributed to towns and cities throughout the central region.

Volunteers are working around-the-clock to distribute three masks each to every resident. Once local authorities confirm everyone has received their share, the Tuscany governor’s order to wear them in public will go into effect as part of restrictions aimed at containing the spread of COVID-19 infections.

Lombardy is Italy’s most afflicted region and made a similar mandatory mask-wearing order last week. Tuscany has nearly 6,000 confirmed coronavirus cases.

D.C.: Cases surge past the 1,000 mark

WASHINGTON — The District of Columbia has passed 1,000 total positive infections of the new coronavirus.

Health officials said Monday 99 new cases had been identified. That brings the total up to 1,097 with 24 deaths.

Mayor Muriel Bowser has issued a stay-home order for Washington’s approximately 700,000 residents.

Neighbouring Maryland and Virginia have done the same.

Bowser has declared a state of emergency, shuttered all schools and ordered all non-essential businesses to close.

White House and Capitol tours have been cancelled and the National Zoo, Smithsonian museum network and Kennedy Center have closed. On Sunday, officials shutdown a popular fish market at the city’s Wharf boardwalk after crowds ignored social distancing guidelines and packed the area on Saturday.

Europe considers loosening restrictions on medicines

LONDON — The European Medicines Agency says it will consider loosening some of its regulatory restrictions on essential medicines needed to treat COVID-19 patients to avoid future shortages.

The European regulator said in a Monday statement that some countries have reported shortages of drugs used for ICU patients hospitalized with the new coronavirus. The shortages include muscle relaxants, anesthetics, antibiotics and experimental treatments.

The regulator noted the crisis has been worsened by export bans, quarantined factories, and stockpiling by hospitals and individuals.

The agency said EMA and the EU network are considering mitigation measures such as regulatory actions to support increased manufacturing capacities. Discussions are ongoing with drugmakers to boost production of all medicines used for COVID-19 patients.

First deaths in Slovakia

BRATISLAVA, Slovakia — Slovakia has registered the first two deaths linked to the new coronavirus infection.

Health Minister Marek Krajci says an autopsy confirmed that a 60-year-old man who died last week had pneumonia caused by the virus.

Krajci says the second victim was a woman who was over 65. He says she had more health issues and died on Monday in Bratislava.

Slovakia has 534 confirmed cases of COVID-19.

Germany: Small companies can get $540,000 rescue package

BERLIN — The German government has launched another rescue package to try to ease the flow of financial aid to small and medium-size companies squeezed by the coronavirus crisis.

Finance Minister Olaf Scholz says companies that were in good health last year can apply for loans totalling as much as three months of revenue. The maximum is 500,000 euros ($540,000) in total for companies with 10 to 50 employees. It goes up to 800,000 euros for those with more employees.

Liability for the loans will ultimately lie with the government.

The government already has rolled out packages potentially offering a total of more than 1 trillion euros in aid to support businesses and shore up the German economy, Europe’s biggest.

Battle erupts with Fauci over anti-malaria drug and COVID-19

WASHINGTON — The debate over using an anti-malaria drug that has not yet officially been approved for fighting COVID-19 has erupted.

Trump administration adviser Peter Navarro on Monday emphatically promoted using the drug even though scientists say more testing is needed before it’s clear it’s safe and effective against the virus.

Navarro is a trade adviser who is on the White House coronavirus task force. He acknowledged on CNN that he had a heated debate over the drug with top infectious disease expert Dr. Anthony Fauci during a weekend meeting in the Situation Room.

Fauci says the current studies provide only anecdotal findings that the drug works. Navarro says he responded: “I would have two words for you `second opinion.”’

The drug hydroxychloroquine is officially approved for treating malaria, rheumatoid arthritis and lupus, but not COVID-19.

Small, preliminary studies have suggested it might help prevent coronavirus from entering cells and possibly help patients clear the virus sooner. Doctors can already prescribe the malaria drug to patients with COVID-19, a practice known as off-label prescribing.

But Fauci says more testing is needed before it’s clear that the drug works against the coronavirus.

Navarro told “Fox & Friends” that doctors in New York hospitals are already giving out the drug to COVID-19 patients and that health care workers are taking it in hopes it will protect them from being infected.

He says the confrontation in the Situation Room was over whether the administration should take 29 million doses of the drug in FEMA warehouses and surge them into hard-hit cities. It was unanimous that it should be done.

Asked on CNN why he thinks he’s qualified to dispute Fauci, Navarro cited his doctorate degree in social science.

Albania blocks its own citizens from returning

TIRANA, Albania — Albania’s prime minister has called on Albanian immigrants to only come home to check on families.

Prime Minister Edi Rama says 19 vehicles have been blocked at a border crossing point with neighbouring Greece. He says the arrival of Albanians who live in other countries is unacceptable. He added the borders are closed to protect the life of the people inside and outside of Albania.

Only those coming for an emergency will be allowed to enter the country. But they must immediately shelter at a quarantine hotel after crossing the borde. Their expenses for 14 days of quarantine will be billed to their families.

Albania has 377 COVID-19 cases and 21 deaths as of Monday. Those low figures are attributed to the rigid restrictions in the country.

Albania is in a total lockdown with all its land, sea and air routes shut. Schools, shops, cafes, restaurants and gyms also closed and public gatherings prohibited.

One person per family may go shopping a day during specific hours.

Drivers or any small business violating the restriction rules are heavily fined and the vehicle is sequestered or the offender even imprisoned.

Spain: Pace of infection slows, but it’s no time for complacency

MADRID — Spanish Health Minister Salvador Illa says authorities aim this week to consolidate the slowdown in the country’s number of new coronavirus cases. But he warned against complacency.

Spain’s latest figures showed the increase in new cases has slowed to 3% from 22% on March 16.

Illa says authorities have been working for several days on how to eventually scale back the measures, which include self-isolation. He indicated there would be a transition period, as measures are gradually eased.

Transport, Mobility and Urban Affairs Minister Jose Luis Abalos says the data shows Spain is entering “a new phase of the battle.”

Spain last weekend extended its national state of emergency through April 26.

Portugal records its lowest daily rise in infections

LISBON, Portugal — Portugal has recorded its lowest daily rise in the coronavirus infection rate since the outbreak started.

The total of 11,730 official cases reported Monday was up just 4% from the previous day.

The General Directorate for Health says the total coronavirus related deaths rose just over 5% from Sunday to 311.

Vatican to provide $750,000 for hospitals and more in poor countries

VATICAN CITY — Pope Francis has earmarked an initial $750,000 for a new fund for hospitals, schools, nursing homes and other structures run by the Catholic Church in poor countries to use to battle the coronavirus pandemic.

Francis on Monday urged church entities around the world to contribute to the fund being run by the Pontifical Mission Societies, which is the pope’s official outreach arm to 1,110 mostly poor dioceses in Asia, Africa, Oceania and the Amazon region.

The fund is the latest example of papal charity amid the pandemic. The Vatican in late March purchased 30 ventilators to be distributed to hard-hit Italian hospitals.

And Francis’ chief alms-giver hand-delivered milk, yogurt and other products from the papal gardens outside Rome to two communities of nuns in Rome who were put in quarantine after several of them tested positive.

Francis also sent special rosaries to medical personnel at Rome’s Gemelli hospital who have been caring for COVID-19 patients.

Death rate in Netherlands is slowing

THE HAGUE, Netherlands — The Dutch public health institute says the country’s coronavirus death toll saw the lowest daily increase in a week. The number of deaths rose by 101 to 1,867.

The institute says the number of people who have tested positive for the virus rose by 952 to 18,803. That is also a smaller rise than the increase of 1,224 reported on Sunday.

The number of people suffering the effects of the virus who were admitted to a hospital rose by 260, slightly higher than Sunday’s 253 increase.

Hospitalized British PM in good spirits

LONDON — Britain Prime Minister Boris Johnson is reportedly in good spirits following his first night in the hospital for what his office described as a “precautionary step” after contracting the new coronavirus.

Johnson remains in charge of government despite being sent to St Thomas’ Hospital after COVID-19 symptoms of a cough and fever persisted. His spokesman James Slack says he remains in hospital under observation.

The 55-year-old leader had been quarantined in his Downing Street residence since being diagnosed with COVID-19 on March 26. He is the first known head of government to fall ill with the virus.

He has released several video messages during his 10 days in isolation.

Strain on Spain’s hospitals is easing

MADRID — Health officials in Madrid say the strain of incoming patients is easing in hospitals and allowing authorities to think about how to start reverting those facilities to normal operations.

Patients awaiting treatment in emergency wards across the region of 6.6-million that has been hard hit by the new coronavirus went down Monday to 390 cases. That’s one tenth of the arrivals that were seen one week ago.

The number of people being treated for the coronavirus in intensive care units had fluctuated but stabilized at around 1,500 for five straight days.

Regional health minister Enrique Ruiz Escudero says officials are considering returning beds that have been used for positive COVID-19 patients to beds used for normal activity in hospitals.

The development follows a week of social media postings showing patients resting on the floor and in chairs at the suburban hospital.

Ireland’s premier to return to medicine

LONDON — Ireland’s premier will directly assist with the new coronavirus pandemic by returning to the health service for one shift a week.

Leo Varadkar is a qualified medical doctor and has rejoined the medical register.

He is one of thousands across Ireland who have answered the call to return to the health sector during the pandemic.

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