The Latest: Japan lifts state of emergency in most regions
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:
— Japan lifts state of emergency ahead of schedule in most regions, but restrictions are kept in place in Tokyo and seven other high-risk areas.
— WHO official says reopening must be done cautiously and debate between ensuring health and reviving the economy is a “false dichotomy”
— The leaders of South Africa and Pakistan and dozens of former world leaders call for a “people’s vaccine” against the coronavirus that will be made available for everyone, everywhere, and for free.
—Typhoon Vongfong slams into eastern Philippines during lockdown for coronavirus.
TOKYO — Japan’s prime minister has announced the end of the state of emergency for most regions of the country, but restrictions are being kept in place in Tokyo and seven other high-risk areas, including Osaka, Kyoto and Hokkaido.
Prime Minister Shinzo Abe on Thursday lifted the measure ahead of schedule in 39 of the country’s 47 prefectures, effective immediately.
Abe declared a month-long state of emergency on April 7 in Tokyo and six other urban prefectures, later expanding it to the whole country through May 31.
With signs of the infections slowing, Abe is seeking to relax restrictions while balancing disease prevention and the state of the economy.
Abe said: “Today is the new beginning for our daily lives, a new normal.” He warned of a likely resurgence of the infections, urging people to keep their guards up.
He said experts will meet again next week to decide if the measure in the remaining areas can be lifted, pledging to bring the coronavirus outbreak under control by the end of May.
Japan now has more than 16,000 confirmed cases, with about 680 deaths. The number of new cases has significantly decreased nationwide.
JOHANNESBURG — The leaders of South Africa and Pakistan, along with dozens of former world leaders, are calling for a “people’s vaccine” against the coronavirus that should be made available for everyone, everywhere, and for free.
South African President Cyril Ramaphosa and Prime Minister Imran Khan of Pakistan signed the letter dated Thursday and coordinated by UNAIDS, an advocate for global action on the HIV/AIDS pandemic, and Oxfam, an anti-poverty charity, amid growing fears that richer countries will get first access to any vaccine.
The letter, also signed, among others, by former British Prime Minister Gordon Brown and Helen Clark, a former prime minister of New Zealand, also urges equitable access to COVID-19 testing materials and treatments as countries around the world compete for scarce supplies, saying that “now is not the time to allow the interests of the wealthiest corporations and governments to be placed before the universal need to save lives.”
The World Health Organization and a number of countries, but not the United States, have also called for equitable access to a vaccine.
LONDON — British health authorities have for the first time approved an antibody test that shows whether people have previously been exposed to the new coronavirus.
The test, manufactured by Swiss pharmaceutical firm Roche, has already been approved for use in the United States and the European Union.
Public Health England says government scientists found the test to be 100% accurate. It shows whether people have been exposed to the virus that causes COVID-19 and have developed antibodies against it, which may provide some immunity.
The British government says it is working on plans to offer antibody tests to health care workers and the public.
Prime Minister Boris Johnson has said an antibody test could be a “game changer” in allowing the U.K. to end its national lockdown. But attempts to find a reliable test have been troubled. Some 17.5 million tests ordered from various suppliers all failed to meet U.K. standards.
HELSINKI — Finland has reopened elementary and secondary schools after a two-month hiatus amid the government’s strict distancing and hygiene guidelines for students and teachers in efforts to avoid a rise in COVID-19 infections.
The Nordic country introduced a lockdown in mid-March, including the mandatory closure of schools for all children older than 10 and a recommendation for younger children to stay home.
After weeks of remote classes and distance learning, schools reopened Thursday for two weeks before the summer break starts in early June.
Students are being kept at a safe distance from each other in classrooms, frequent hand-washing is required and only one class at a time is allowed to stay outside during breaks.
Principal Jorma Kauppila from the Katariina school in the southern city of Turku told Finnish news agency STT that “kids and youngsters have been happy to return here. Arrangements have worked out as planned.”
MADRID — Spanish authorities are calling for people to respect social distancing after a dozen protesters against the central government’s handling of the coronavirus pandemic refused to disband late on Wednesday.
Clad in Spanish flags and banging pots, a few hundred protesters took to the streets shouting “Freedom! Freedom!” and demanding the resignation of Prime Minister Pedro Sánchez.
Videos of the gathering in an upscale Madrid neighborhood showed protesters demanding the end of lockdown measures.
Spain’s far-right political party, Vox, has been calling for pot-banging protests against Spain’s left-wing government’s response to the new virus, which has claimed at least 27,000 lives since early March.
The Spanish government’s top security official in Madrid, José Manuel Franco told Cadena SER radio, that the crackdown was against illegal gatherings during the pandemic, not to repress criticism against officials.
Spain’s daily coronavirus death toll rose above 200 for the first time in five days, with 217 fatalities reported Thursday. It brings the outbreak death toll to 27, 321, with nearly 230,000 total cases.
KUALA LUMPUR, Malaysia — A World Health Organization official says the debate between ensuring health and reviving the economy is a “false dichotomy” and that countries must remain vigilant even as they move to lift restrictions.
The WHO Western Pacific director Takeshi Kasai says the reopening of the economy shouldn’t be rushed and must be done cautiously. He says the world must “create a new normal in which we don’t have to choose between health and livelihood.”
Kasai said Thursday that countries must strengthen their health system and have measures in place for early detection, isolation and contact tracing, and ensure they are ready for the possibility of large-scale community outbreak.
If a resurgence occurs, Kasai said governments must also be prepared to reinstate strict health measures as everybody remains at risk until a vaccine is developed.
BRUSSELS — The European Union’s top rule of law official says the bloc is monitoring whether governments remove emergency powers enacted to combat the coronavirus, amid deep concern about measures in Hungary.
EU Values and Transparency Commissioner Vera Jourova said Thursday that as countries ease confinement, “the general states of emergency with exceptional powers granted to governments should gradually be removed or replaced by more targeted and less intrusive measures.”
Jourova told EU lawmakers that “the case of Hungary raises particular concerns” and that “on a daily basis, we are assessing whether we can take legal action.”
In late March, Hungary’s parliament endorsed a bill giving Prime Minister Viktor Orban’s government extraordinary powers during the pandemic, including a measure against the spread of false information about the virus, and setting no end date for them.
Orban was invited to take part in Thursday’s debate but declined. The assembly rejected an offer to hear Hungary’s justice minister instead.
ATHENS, Greece — Greece’s center-right government says it will install cameras in high school classrooms when schools reopen next week to provide live-streaming to allow for reduced classroom attendance. The move comes despite strong opposition from teaching unions and opposition parties on privacy grounds.
A powerful privacy watchdog says live-streaming is legal under special circumstances but that the material cannot be recorded or stored.
The online coverage will allow schools to rotate classroom attendance and allow distancing between students. But Greece’s main left-wing opposition party described putting cameras in schools as posing “a serious risk” to attending students and promised to raise the issue in the European Parliament.
Parents have until later Thursday to decide whether to let their children attend classes or rely only on online teaching material.
Schools have been closed since March 11.
MANILA, Philippines — A strong typhoon slammed into the eastern Philippines on Thursday after authorities evacuated tens of thousands of people while trying to avoid the virus risks of overcrowding emergency shelters.
The first typhoon to hit the country this year rapidly gained force as it blew from the Pacific then barged ashore in San Policarpio town in Eastern Samar province around noon. Video showed fierce rain and wind swaying coconut trees, rattling tin roofs and obscuring visibility. Some towns lost power.
Typhoon Vongfong was packing maximum sustained winds of 150 kilometers per hour (93 miles per hour) and was forecast to blow northwestward and barrel across densely populated eastern provinces and cities before exiting in the north Sunday.
The Philippines remains under a lockdown to fight the coronavirus.
Governors say social distancing will be nearly impossible in emergency shelters. Some shelters are now serving as quarantine facilities, and they may have to be turned back into emergency storm shelters.
The typhoon is forecast to largely bypass Manila, but authorities say tents being used as temporarily medical facilities in the capital might be damaged in strong winds.
COPENHAGEN, Denmark — Commuters in Denmark must practice social distancing in trains, subways and buses and sit at least one meter (3.3. feet) apart when on the same bench and avoid face-to-face seating.
Transportation Minister Benny Engelbrecht said Friday he expects the capacity in public transportation to reach up to 70% of normal capacity.
“Traffic companies, customers and workplaces share the responsibility for making public transport work efficiently and health-wise correctly now that we again expect more passengers,” he said.
Engelbrecht urged, among others, people that when possible to avoid rush hour, walk or bicycle “to give other travellers, who do not have the same opportunity, better space in public transport.”
Public transportation in Denmark has functioned during the lockdown that started March 11 but trains, subway and buses have been almost empty. In recent weeks, the Scandinavian country has slowed reopened.
UNITED NATIONS — United Nations Secretary-General Antonio Guterres is urging governments, civil society and health authorities to urgently address mental health needs arising from the coronavirus pandemic, warning that psychological suffering is increasing.
He pointed to “grief at the loss of loved ones, shock at the loss of jobs, isolation and restrictions on movement, difficult family dynamics, and uncertainty and fear for the future.”
The U.N. chief said in a video message late Wednesday launching a policy briefing that “after decades of neglect and under-investment in mental health services, the COVID-19 pandemic is now hitting families and communities with additional mental stress.”
Guterres said those most at risk and in need of help are front-line health care workers, older people, adolescents, young people, those with pre-existing mental health conditions, and those caught up in conflict and crisis.
He said “mental health services are an essential part of all government responses to COVID-19” and must be expanded and fully funded.
CANBERRA, Australia — Australia says it will continue to push for an inquiry into the origins of the coronavirus, even if it hurts trade relations with China.
Prime Minister Scott Morrison had been accused of playing “deputy sheriff” to the United States after calling for the inquiry. On Thursday, he brushed off the criticism.
“We have always been independent, we have always pursued our national interests, and we always will,” he told reporters. “We will always be Australians in how we engage with the rest of the world, and we will always stand our ground when it comes to the things that we believe in and the values that we uphold.”
China has suspended beef imports from four abattoirs and plans to impose tariffs on Australian barley, after warning the inquiry could harm two-way trade ties.
BEIJING — China reported three new coronavirus cases Thursday while moving to reopen for business and schools.
The National Health Commission said 101 people remain in treatment for COVID-19, while 716 are isolated and being monitored for being suspected cases or for having tested positive for the virus without showing symptoms.
China plans to restart classes for most students on June 1, with other grades to resume at a later date, depending on conditions. No announcement has been made on when university classes will resume.
China has reported a total of 4,633 deaths among 82,929 cases of the virus.