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The Latest: Merkel criticizes quick relaxing of restrictions

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:

— AP Exclusive: VA medical facilities struggle to cope with coronavirus.

— German chancellor Angela Merkel criticizes some states for relaxing virus restrictions too quickly.

— South Korea plans to conduct antibody tests and other measures to study the coronavirus outbreak.

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BERLIN — German Chancellor Angela Merkel says she understands the urge to relax coronavirus restrictions as soon as possible, but is criticizing some states for moving too quickly, saying that they’re risking setting back what the country has achieved.

In an address to parliament on Thursday, to lawmakers sitting apart from one another in line with the country’s strict social distancing guidelines, Merkel said even though the numbers of new infections in Germany were starting to slow, there is still much work to be done.

She says “we’re not living in the final phase of the pandemic, but still at the beginning. We will be living with this virus for a long time.”

Without naming names, she said some state governments had moved “in part very briskly, if not to say too briskly” with the process.

In an apparent reference to U.S. President Donald Trump’s announcement he would be halting funds to the World Health Organization, Merkel lauded the work of the international agency.

She says “for the German government, I emphasize the WHO is an indispensable partner and we support them in their mandate.”

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SEOUL, South Korea — South Korean health authorities are planning to soon begin antibody tests to learn how widespread the coronavirus infection is within the population. They are also researching how long people maintain immunity after recovering from COVID-19.

Kwon Joon-wook, a senior official from South Korea’s Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, said Thursday officials are considering a variety of options, such as testing groups of people in the worst-hit city of Daegu and nearby areas or obtaining blood samples from military conscripts.

He says such tests would be crucial in understanding how the virus spreads and preparing for another surge in infections, which he says could happen in the autumn or winter when cold temperatures move more people indoors.

South Korea on Thursday reported eight new infections and two more deaths, bringing its totals to 10,702 cases and 240 fatalities. Its caseload has slowed from early March, when it was reporting around 500 fresh cases a day. More than 8,200 of the cases were reported from Daegu and nearby towns.

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UNITED NATIONS — United Nations Secretary-General Antonio Guterres says the coronavirus pandemic is “a human crisis that is fast becoming a human rights crisis.”

The U.N. chief said in a video message Thursday that there is discrimination in the delivery of public services to tackle COVID-19 and there are “structural inequalities that impede access to them.”

Guterres said the pandemic has also seen “disproportionate effects on certain communities, the rise of hate speech, the targeting of vulnerable groups, and the risks of heavy-handed security responses undermining the health response.”

And he warned that with “rising ethno-nationalism, populism, authoritarianism and a pushback against human rights in some countries, the crisis can provide a pretext to adopt repressive measures for purposes unrelated to the pandemic.”

The secretary-general did not name any countries or parties but stressed that governments must be “transparent, responsive and accountable,” and that press freedom, civil society organizations, the private sector and “civic space” are essential.

He stressed that any emergency measures — including states of emergency — must be “legal, proportionate, necessary and non-discriminatory, have a specific focus and duration, and take the least intrusive approach possible to protect public health.”

Guterres released a report on how human rights must guide the response to COVID-19 and recovery from the pandemic.

He said: “The message is clear: People — and their rights — must be front and center.”

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ISLAMABAD — Pakistan’s new cases of COVID-19 are slowly creeping up, recording more than 700 new cases a day for the second time in one week.

With 10,513 cases and 16 deaths in the last 24 hours bringing the confirmed death toll from the new virus to 224, Pakistan’s adviser on health is warning that the next three or four weeks will be critical. Still, Prime Minister Imran Khan has bowed to the country’s powerful religious clerics, refusing to close mosques during the fasting month of Ramadan which begin this week.

The Pakistan Medical Association has written Khan and the country’s clerics and open letter pleading with them to close the mosques, warning they are like a petrie dish for the spread of the virus in a country that has a fragile health care system, barely 3,000 intensive care beds for a population of 220 million. But Pakistan’s clerics who can bring mobs onto the streets and have previous engaged in violent protests to impose their decisions have demanded mosques remain open.

Khan has rejected his critics, saying adherents are being told to socially distance in mosques. But Khan has also left it to clerics to ensure that worshipers adhere to a 20-point protocol even as some of those same clerics have urged adherents to pack mosques.

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TOKYO — Japanese officials said Thursday that 14 more crew members on an Italian-operated cruise ship docked in southern Japan have tested positive for the coronavirus, bringing the total of the on-board outbreak to 48.

The Costa Atlantica has been docked in Nagasaki since late January for repairs and maintenance by the Mitsubishi Heavy Industry. The ship has 623 crew members, including a Japanese translator, and no passengers. One of the infected crew members has since become seriously ill and was sent to a hospital, where he is currently on a ventilator, Nagasaki officials said.

The remaining crew members are without serious symptoms and are being self-quarantined in single rooms on the ship, except for those on duties essential to keep the ship functions, including cooking and delivering food for their colleagues, officials said. The new cases were among those on essential duties, the officials said. Officials plan to test all the remaining crew members by Friday.

The case surfaced Tuesday when a crew member was tested after developing cough and fever, becoming the first known case on the ship.

Nagasaki officials are investigating how and where the crew members contracted the virus. Crew members who passed body temperature and other requirement had been allowed to go in and out of the ship.

As infections in Japan continue to spread nationwide, the outbreak on the cruise ship has raised concerns about testing and hospital capacity in Nagasaki. All of Japan is now under a coronavirus state of emergency.

Nagasaki officials have said they plan to have the rest of the crew members quarantine themselves on board unless they develop serious symptoms, and seek ways to let others who tested negative return to their countries.

Earlier this year, a U.S.-operated cruise ship carrying more than 3,700 people quarantined in Yokohama, near Tokyo, had 712 cases in a massive on-board outbreak. Separately, Japan has confirmed about 12,000 cases, with 300 deaths.

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JAKARTA, Indonesia — Authorities in Indonesia’s capital have extended the enforceable restrictions as Muslims start their monthlong fasting season.

Jakarta Gov. Anies Baswedan announced that a large-scale social restriction which initially slated to end Thursday, will be extended to May 22 after consulting with health experts.

In a streamed-live media conference late Wednesday, Baswedan urged Muslims to suspend religious activities in mosques during Ramadan in an attempt to break the coronavirus transmission chain.

Ramadan, the holiest month for Muslims in which they fast from dawn to sunset, is expected to fall on Friday after Islamic clerics agreed on the sighting of the moon. Faithful Muslims usually congregate for night prayers, called as Tarawih, and share iftar and meals at mosques and among communities.

Jakarta has become the epicenter of the COVID-19 outbreak in Indonesia, had recorded 3,383 confirmed cases with 301 fatalities as of Wednesday. Nationwide, 7,418 cases have been recorded with 635 fatalities.

President Joko Widodo has ruled out a total lockdown for the country, which is home to nearly 270 million, citing Indonesia’s cultural characteristics, its unique demography and the potential crippling economic damage.

The new measures in Jakarta, which started April 10 and to be reevaluated every two weeks, give authorities more power to press people to stay at home and force businesses to close. Police have the power to dismiss any event with more than five participants. Violators will face up to one year in jail and a 100 million rupiah ($6,350) fine.

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WELLINGTON, New Zealand — Officials announced just three new cases of the coronavirus on Thursday as the number of new infections in New Zealand continues to trend downward.

Health officials also announced two additional deaths, bringing the total number of confirmed infections to 1,451 and total deaths to 16. The country has been in a strict lockdown for the past month, which officials plan to begin easing a little next week.

The government also announced measures to help news media companies which have seen advertising levels plummet since the coronavirus outbreak. The measures totaling 50 million New Zealand dollars ($30 million) include temporarily cutting transmission fees for broadcasters and increased spending on news subscriptions.

Broadcasting Minister Kris Faafoi said there would likely be a second round of media support measures announced in May. Earlier this month, German company Bauer Media announced it was closing its New Zealand operation and would no longer publish many of the country’s magazines.

The country also marked an unusual milestone on Wednesday when no commercial flights arrived from abroad, the first time that has happened in decades, according to a report by news outlet RNZ. A handful of international flights are continuing to arrive and leave each week but their number has been dwindling since the country closed the border to everyone but citizens and residents.

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BEIJING — China again reported no additional deaths from the coronavirus and just 10 new cases, six of them brought from outside the country.

Numbers in hospital have dropped to 959, only 63 of which are considered serious cases, while just over 1,000 are under isolation and monitoring as suspected cases or for having tested positive for the virus without showing any symptoms.

The epicenter of the global pandemic, the central city of Wuhan that accounted for the bulk of China’s cases and deaths, now has just 69 people in treatment for COVID-19, just two of them listed in serious condition.

China has reported a total of 4,632 deaths among 82,798 cases, although, as in many countries, those figures are considered to have been underreported. China also stands accused by the U.S. and others of initially minimizing the extent of the outbreak after it was first detected late last year.

As new confirmed cases drop close to zero, China has re-opened many businesses and permitted middle and high school seniors preparing for exams to return to class. However, a ban on foreign arrivals and strict quarantine measures remain in place as China seeks to avoid an influx of new cases from abroad or a second wave of infections among those thought to have recovered or who have not come down sick but could still be spreading the virus.

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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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