The Latest: Staff quarantined over slaughterhouse virus toll
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:
— China focus on jobs, fighting virus as layoffs sweep globe.
— Slaughterhouse in the Netherlands says 45 workers tested positive for the coronavirus.
— Denmark study estimates up to 1.8% of its population has had the virus.
— Russia reports highest spike in daily virus death toll.
— The European Union says its transactions with the rest of the world declined amid virus lockdowns.
THE HAGUE, Netherlands — The owner of an abattoir in the eastern Netherlands says that health authorities have placed all 600 staff in home quarantine for two weeks after 45 workers tested positive for the coronavirus.
The meatworks is in Groenlo, close to the Dutch border with Germany. Authorities in Germany agreed this week to crack down on labor conditions in slaughterhouses following the discovery of clusters of COVID-19 cases.
Ronald Lotgerink, CEO of Vion Food Group that owns the abattoir said he was surprised by the infections. Vion is an international food company with production locations in the Netherlands and Germany.
“As a crucial company, we took all necessary measures to ensure the protection and health of our staff,” Lotgerink said in a statement Friday.
He added that the company and meat sector “must learn from this quickly and change our behavior and share that with each other.”
COPENHAGEN, Denmark — A Danish government agency that maps the spread of the coronavirus in Denmark said between 0.5% and 1.8% of the country’s 5.8 million people have had the COVID-19 infection, according to early results.
Statens Serum Institut, or SSI, said the figures, based on 2,600 people that were randomly chosen in Denmark’s five cities and who were given the anti-body tests, must be “interpreted with great caution.”
“Furthermore, whether the figures can be transmitted to the entire Danish population can also be influenced by whether groups with different patterns of infection choose or not choose to accept the offer to be tested,” said Steen Ethelberg who heads the project group behind the SSI study.
He added that the results were “the first part of the gradual roll-out of the study” and more results are expected in the coming weeks.
He said to get a full picture, 6,000 people “have to be tested to achieve the desired precision” across the country.
Danish media, citing an SSI report distributed to lawmakers only, have speculated that the virus’ strength might be decreasing.
Denmark ordered a lockdown March 11 and has in recent weeks slowly opened up society with museums and cinemas reopening, and hospitals winding down their coronavirus units.
MOSCOW — Russia has reported the highest daily spike in coronavirus deaths on Friday, as health officials registered 150 deaths in the last 24 hours, bringing the country’s toll to 3,249.
Russia’s comparatively low mortality rate has raised eyebrows in the West, with some suggesting that the country’s government may be underreporting virus-related deaths and manipulating the statistics. Russian officials vehemently deny the allegations and attribute the low numbers to the effectiveness of the measures taken to curb the spread of the outbreak.
Russia’s coronavirus caseload has exceeded 326,000 on Friday, with health officials reporting almost 9,000 new infections.
Earlier this month President Vladimir Putin announced gradually lifting lockdown restrictions, saying that Russia was able to “slow down the epidemic” and it was time for gradual reopening. The vast majority of the country’s regions have been on lockdown since March 30.
BRUSSELS — The European Union’s transactions with the rest of the world fell from 252 billion euros ($274.8 billion) to 228 billion ($248.6 billion) in March compared with the first month of the year as the lockdown measures implemented to limit the spread of the coronavirus impacted the international exchanges of goods.
According to figures released by the bloc’s statistical office Eurostat, the machinery and vehicles sector was heavily hit, with a decrease of 20% of extra-EU exports amounting to 14 billion euros ($15.3 billion) compared with January. Imports of vehicles, other manufactured goods and energy products also decreased.
Despite the general downturn, exports of chemicals however increased by 4%, the equivalent of four billion euros ($4.4 billion), the agency said.
NEW DELHI, India — India has reported 6,088 new coronavirus cases in the last 24 hours for its biggest single-day spike, increasing the country's total number of infections to 118,447.
The death toll due to the pandemic rose to 3,583 on Friday. More than 48,000 people have recovered, according to health ministry data.
Maharashtra remains the worst-affected state in India with more than 41,000 cases after it added over 2,000 new infections for the fourth straight day. The number of fatalities in the state rose to 1,454, highest in the country.
India has the 11th-most cases in the world.
The nationwide surge comes ahead of the “calibrated” re-opening of domestic flights beginning Monday.
SEOUL, South Korea — South Korean health authorities say they’re reviewing the possible use of new smartphone technology from Apple and Google that automatically notifies users when they come close to people infected with the coronavirus.
But officials also say it isn’t clear whether the Bluetooth-based apps would meaningfully boost the country’s technology-driven fight against COVID-19, where health workers have aggressively used cellphone data, credit card records and surveillance footage to trace and isolate potential virus carriers.
Vice Health Minister Kim Gang-lip said Wednesday that the U.S. tech giants in a message conveyed through South Korean cellphone carrier KT recommended that the Korea Centers for Disease Control and Prevention consider using their technology.
Lee Kang-ho, another health ministry official, said officials were discussing whether the apps would be useful, but added “our methods in anti-virus efforts differ from methods and goals pursued over there.”
The software released by Apple and Google — a product of a rare partnership between the industry rivals — relies on wireless Bluetooth technology to detect when someone who downloaded the app has spent time near another app user who later tests positive for COVID-19.
Following a 2015 outbreak of a different coronavirus, MERS, South Korea rewrote its infectious disease law to allow health authorities quick access over a broad range of personal information when fighting epidemics, which includes medical and credit card records and location information provided by police and cellphone carriers.
Health workers have been vigorously using these powers while carrying out an aggressive test-and-quarantine program.
UNITED NATIONS — The United Nations secretary-general is again urging factions in conflict to heed his call for a global cease-fire to help tackle the COVID-19 pandemic.
In a report to the U.N. Security Council released Thursday, Antonio Guterres pointed to the more than 20,000 civilians killed or injured in 2019 attacks in 10 countries — and millions more forced from their homes by fighting. He said the pandemic is “the greatest test the world has faced” since the United Nations was established 75 years ago and has already had a severe impact on efforts to protect civilians, especially in conflict-affected countries where weak health care systems can be overwhelmed.
The U.N. chief said support for his March 23 cease-fire appeal from governments, regional organizations, armed groups, civil society and individuals throughout the world has been “encouraging” — but he said in many instances “challenges in implementing the cease-fire still need to be overcome.”
Guterres reiterated his global cease-fire call, saying “as the world confronts the monumental challenge of the COVID-19 pandemic, the need to silence the guns could not be more acute.”
He issued the appeal in his annual report to the Security Council on the protection of civilians where he stressed that the most effective way to protect them “is to prevent the outbreak, escalation, continuation and recurrence of armed conflicts.”
SYDNEY — Leaders of Australia’s most populous state say they will lead the nation in reopening the economy, increasing the maximum number of customers restaurants can seat from 10 to 50 beginning June 1.
New South Wales Premier Gladys Berejiklian said Friday bookings will be limited to parties of 10 people when customer numbers are increased for restaurants, cafés and pubs.
Customers will have to be seated and each must be allowed four square meters (43 square feet) for social distancing.
Restrictions vary across Australia’s eight states and territories, but New South Wales is set to allow the most customers in restaurants.
Australia has reported 7,081 cases of COVID-19, and 100 patients have died.
BEIJING — Chinese Premier Li Keqiang says China has made solid progress in fighting the coronavirus outbreak, but must “redouble our efforts to minimize the losses ... and fulfill the targets and tasks for economic and social development this year.”
In his address Friday to the annual session of China’s ceremonial parliament, Li called the outbreak the “fastest spreading, most extensive, and most challenging public health emergency China has encountered since the founding of the People’s Republic” in 1949.
With the pandemic still lingering, “the tasks we face in promoting development are immense,” Li said. China, he said, wishes to strengthen cooperation with other countries on countering the virus, promoting stability in the global economy and “uphold the international system with the United Nations at its core and an international order based on international law.”
As with most countries, the outbreak has had a devastating effect on China’s economy and Li’s speech did not offer the usual target figure for economic growth, while saying the already heavily indebted government would run a deficit above 3.6 percent for the year as it seeks to mitigate the effects of the outbreak.
SEOUL, South Korea — South Korea has reported 20 new coronavirus cases, including nine in the Seoul metropolitan area, as authorities scramble to stem transmissions while proceeding with a phased reopening of schools.
The figures announced Friday by the Korea Centers for Disease Control and Prevention brought national totals to 11,142 cases and 264 deaths. Nine other new cases were linked to international arrivals.
South Korea was reporting around 500 new cases a day in early March but has since managed to stabilize infections with aggressive tracing and testing. Officials have eased social distancing measures and began reopening schools, starting with high school seniors on Wednesday.
But students at dozens of schools in Incheon, near Seoul, were sent back home after some tested positive after visiting a karaoke room or taking private classes from a virus carrier.
Health Minister Park Neung-hoo pleaded with people Friday to avoid visiting karaoke rooms or computer gaming centers near schools to lower infection risks for students.
BEIJING — China has reported four new confirmed cases of the coronavirus.
Another 372 people are in isolation and undergoing monitoring for being suspected cases or after testing positive without showing symptoms, and 82 remain in the hospital for treatment of COVID-19.
The new cases come as China opens the annual session of its ceremonial parliament, the National People’s Congress, which is being held largely behind closed doors in Beijing to avoid cross-infections as the country looks to avoid a second wave of cases.
China has reported 4,634 deaths among 82,971 cases since the virus was first detected late last year in Wuhan. The central Chinese industrial city moved this week to completely ban the raising and sale for human consumption of wild animals that are considered a key vector for transmission of the virus from bats to people.