The Latest: Slovakia approves quarantine tracking app
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's Abe: world economy facing ‘once-in-a-century crisis’
— China says US ‘abused American people’s trust’ in virus fight
— WHO: Health vs economy debate is a ‘false dichotomy’
— Slovakia approves tracking app for those in quarantine
BRATISLAVA, Slovakia — Slovakia’s government has approved a tracking app designed to alert authorities if people break self-quarantine rules during the coronavirus pandemic.
Health Minister Marek Krajci says Slovaks returning home from abroad will not have to go to government quarantine facilities any longer but will be allowed to self-quarantine at home if they download the app.
To break self-quarantine rules will be punishable by up to 1,650 euros ($1,794). If approved by Parliament, the self-quarantine at home with the app might be possible as soon as next week.
The current practice that enforces a quarantine on the Slovaks arriving from other countries outside their homes until they are tested might take days. It has been criticized by the public and the country’s ombudsman.
Slovakia has under 1,500 tested positive for the coronavirus, according to government figures released Thursday. Twenty-seven have died.
CAPE TOWN, South Africa — South Africa’s main opposition party says it is taking the government to court over parts of the strict national lockdown.
The Democratic Alliance will challenge the “rationality” of a night curfew, restrictions on e-commerce and a three-hour window to exercise. South Africans have been under lockdown since March 27.
It has eased slightly, but many still can’t leave home except for essential business like getting food and medicine. Sales of cigarettes and alcohol are still banned. The DA says the lockdown is “tearing our society and economy to pieces.”
South Africa has the most COVID-19 cases in Africa with more than 12,000. President Cyril Ramaphosa has said infections would have “soared uncontrollably” in the country of 57 million without the strict lockdown and “many thousands” would have died.
NEW DELHI, India (AP) — India will distribute free grains to 80 million migrant workers for the next two months amid mounting pressure from critics who say the government is doing little for the country’s poor.
The announcement was made by Finance Minister Nirmala Sitharaman on Thursday as part of the federal government’s economic rescue package of $260 billion that Prime Minister Narendra Modi announced on Tuesday.
Sitharaman also said the government will introduce an affordable housing plan for the urban poor and migrant workers.
The coronavirus pandemic has exposed India’s deep economic divide and created a hunger crisis for tens of thousands. Millions of migrant workers have fled big Indian cities to their village homes as they could find no work.
India’s lockdown began in late March and is set to at least partially end May 18.
LONDON — The BBC says it is to restart filming of some its popular television programs that were put on hold because of the coronavirus outbreak, starting with international hit “Top Gear” and soap “EastEnders” at the end of next month.
In a blog on the BBC’s website, director of content Charlotte Moore also said the public broadcaster is exploring ways to re-start filming on more dramas and other major shows as soon as possible.
The BBC has mothballed most of its programming since the coronavirus lockdown restrictions were put in place since March 23.
Moore said crews will be “strictly limited” and cast members will “do their own hair and makeup” as social distancing measures remain in place.
HELSINKI — Finland is relaxing some of its COVID-19 travel restrictions.
The country now allows entry of citizens from nations belonging to the European Union’s open-border Schengen area for work-related and other necessary purposes with strict guidelines.
Gradual easing of travel and border traffic takes effect Thursday. It is particularly important for businesses and thousands of commuters between Finland and Nordic neighbors Sweden, Norway and the Baltic nation of Estonia.
Passenger ferries plying between Finland and Sweden and Helsinki and Tallinn, Estonia’s capital, partly resumed services Thursday after having carried cargo only in the past two months since Finland introduced partial border lockdown in mid-March.
Finland’s 1,340-kilometer (832-mile) border with Russia, one of the EU’s longest external borders, remains closed from both sides.
TOKYO — Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe says the world economy is facing a “once-in-a-century crisis.”
He made the remark Thursday while lifting a national coronavirus emergency except for Tokyo and seven other prefectures that remain at high risk. Abe declared a monthlong emergency in parts of Japan, including Tokyo, on April 7. He later expanded that move to nationwide and extended through May 31.
The state of emergency allows local leaders to legally take social distancing and other measures, such as requests for nonessential business closures, though they carry no penalties if violated.
The number of new cases has significantly decreased in Japan. Abe urged a slow return to social and economic activity to avoid triggering a resurgence of the spread of the infections.
“The spread of global infection is never-ending. The world economy is facing a once-in-a-century crisis and is not even comparable to the Lehman shock,” Abe said, referring to the giant investment bank and the financial crisis of 2008. He added that even the world’s largest corporations are suffering significant damage and that it is “absolutely necessary to prevent chain bankruptcy.”
PARIS — France’s government announced an 18 billion euros ($19.4 billion) plan to support restaurants, hotels and other tourist facilities that have been closed since mid-March amid the coronavirus crisis.
With the country starting to lift its lockdown this week, Prime Minister Edouard Philippe promised the French on Thursday that they will be able to go on holiday in France in July and August, including in French overseas territories.
The government hopes local tourism will help offset the anticipated absence of foreign travelers this summer. Tourism in France represents about 8% of the country’s gross domestic product, 30% of which comes from international visitors.
For now, travel across France is limited to 100 kilometers (62 miles) from home unless for compelling professional or family reasons.
Philippe said restaurants and cafes may reopen June 2 in regions with less virus infections. The final decision will be made at the end of May.
BEIJING — China’s foreign ministry says U.S. authorities have failed to effectively fight the global coronavirus pandemic and “abused American people’s trust.”
Ministry spokesperson Zhao Lijian did not identify any officials by name but appeared to be firing back against accusations from the Trump administration that China mishandled or deliberately delayed releasing information about the outbreak first detected in the central Chinese city of Wuhan late last year.
U.S. officials were “engaged in political manipulation of buck-passing and shirking responsibilities,” Zhao said at a daily briefing Thursday. He dismissed discussion of legal action against the Chinese government as “frivolous” and said the U.S. should “focus more on fighting the epidemic and safeguarding the lives and health of the American people and stop playing such buck-passing game.”
COPENHAGEN, Denmark — The World Health Organization says it has seen an overall slowing of the pandemic” in its vast European region, but there is “no room for complacency” and people should “remain vigilant.”
Hans Kluge, head of the WHO’s Europe office, stressed at a news conference Thursday that the pandemic has not been stopped and an increase in cases has been reported in the eastern part of its region.
“The lesson here is: no time for celebration but time for preparation,” said Kluge.
It was not the first time the world faced a pandemic but “definitely, this has been a very, very devastating one.” He notes noting that “even if we have had few cases, we have seen the strongest health systems can be overwhelmed in a couple weeks.”
The regional office serves the body’s European region that comprises 53 countries, covering a vast geographical region from the Atlantic to the Pacific oceans.
MADRID — The Balearic Islands, a popular holiday spot in the Mediterranean, are taking a first step toward reopening tourism.
The head of the islands says the archipelago would like to fly in the first organized groups of foreign visitors at the end of June for trials before tourism renews in July
Regional chief Francina Armengol said Thursday she has requested Spain’s central authorities to allow the pilot trips and to exclude the tourists from having to quarantine for two weeks, as current regulations state.
Armengol favors “safe corridors” between areas of Europe that have controlled the coronavirus pandemic. She also said countries should adopt a voluntary European app that tracks close contacts between people via Bluetooth technology.
The archipelago, which includes the islands of Mallorca and Ibiza, received last year 16 million visitors, most from other European countries and peninsular Spain. The region is trying to reduce the economic impact of not having any visitors since mid-March.
BERLIN —- Germany’s parliament has approved plans to increase the amount paid to people who spend months in a government-backed short-time work program during the coronavirus crisis.
Companies are making extensive use of the program, which was credited with keeping down unemployment in the financial crisis more than a decade ago. It allows them to keep employees on the payroll while they await better times.
The federal labor agency pays 60% of the salary of employees who are on reduced or zero hours, or 67% in the case of people with children.
Lawmakers on Thursday approved a government plan to increase the proportion paid to 70 or 77% from the fourth month, and 80 or 87% from the seventh month. The new rule will apply until the end of this year.
More than 10.1 million people were registered for the program by the end of April, when 2.64 million people were registered as jobless -- an unemployment rate of 5.8%. Germany has a population of 83 million.
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.
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.
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.