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The Latest: Special disinfection tunnels installed for Putin

MOSCOW — A special disinfection tunnel has been installed in the residence of Russian President Vladimir Putin outside Moscow and two more in the Kremlin, Putin's spokesman Dmitry Peskov confirmed to The Associated Press on Wednesday.

Reports about the tunnel spraying anyone passing through it with disinfectants appeared in Russian state media on Tuesday night. RIA Novosti news agency reported that the tunnel was manufactured by a Russian company based in Penza, some 550 kilometers (340 miles) southeast of Moscow.

The tunnels have been installed when the outbreak “was in full swing,” Peskov said. “When it comes to the head of the state, additional precautionary measures are justified.”

Last month, Putin said that Russia had passed the peak of the outbreak and urged the government to gradually start easing lockdown restrictions, in place since late March.

On Wednesday, Russian health officials reported 7,843 new coronavirus cases — the lowest daily number since late April. The country’s caseload – currently at 553,301 – remains the third largest in the world.

Kremlin critics question the official statistics and link reopening efforts to the Russian government’s desire to boost voter turnout in an upcoming constitutional referendum that would allow Putin to rule until 2036. The plebiscite is scheduled for July 1.

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HERE’S WHAT YOU NEED TO KNOW ABOUT THE VIRUS OUTBREAK:

Flights canceled as Beijing’s new outbreak raises concerns

— Months into virus, biggest one-day case spike worries Iran

Australia accuses China and Russia of virus disinformation

— Researchers in England say they have the first evidence that a drug can improve survival from COVID-19. The drug is a cheap, widely available steroid called dexamethasone. Results released Tuesday show it reduced deaths by up to one third in severely ill hospitalized patients.

— For Fort Bragg soldiers deploying to the Middle East, the usual predeparture fanfare has been replaced with a mandatory two-week quarantine amid the coronavirus pandemic. Married paratroopers assigned to the 82nd Airborne Division’s 2nd Brigade Combat Team are hunkering down at home before boarding a military transport to fly across the globe. Single soldiers, meanwhile, are quarantined in a secluded compound on base.

— U.S. officials say they expect health insurance companies will cover vaccines for COVID-19 without charging copays, once those vaccines are approved and become available. At a briefing for reporters Tuesday, a senior Trump administration official said the government has been talking with insurers about offering vaccines at no cost to patients.

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Follow AP pandemic coverage at http://apnews.com/VirusOutbreak and https://apnews.com/UnderstandingtheOutbreak

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HERE’S WHAT ELSE IS HAPPENING:

BERLIN — Authorities in western Germany say 400 people at a large meatpacking plant have tested positive for COVID-19.

The regional health authority in Guetersloh said Wednesday that the new cluster is linked to a slaughterhouse operated by the Toennies Group in nearby Rheda-Wiedenbrueck.

There have been several outbreaks at German abattoirs in recent weeks, prompting the government to impose stricter safety rules for the industry and ban the practice of using subcontractors.

Toennies Group says the slaughterhouse is its largest site and employs over 6,000 staff.

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AMSTERDAM — Dutch researchers who study sewage water say that illegal drug use in Amsterdam tailed off considerably in the first month of the coronavirus lockdown.

The KWR research institute said Wednesday that the reduction is possibly caused by the lack of tourists visiting the Dutch capital and the closure of night clubs, although it said further research is needed to better understand the effects of lockdown on drug use.

Amsterdam’s weed-selling coffeeshops are magnets for foreign visitors, although they also are widely used by the city’s residents, too, and researchers noted that cannabis use during lockdown remained stable compared to last year.

Drugs that are illegal and are not sold at coffeeshops showed marked reductions in Amsterdam, but not in two other Dutch cities where sewage was tested - Utrecht and Eindhoven. Those cities attract far fewer tourists than Amsterdam.

According to KWR measurements taken March 18-24, days after the Dutch lockdown began, ecstasy use in Amsterdam dropped by 50% compared to the same month a year ago. Amphetamine use was down by one third and cocaine showed a 25% reduction.

When the Dutch government announced its lockdown, it included coffeeshops in the establishments that were closed down. The measure led to a brief spate of panic buying of pot and long queues outside coffeeshops before authorities said that takeaway sales would be permitted.

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LISBON, Portugal -- Small outbreaks are piling up for Portuguese authorities as they try to keep a lid on what so far has been a relatively successful battle against the coronavirus pandemic.

The latest hot spot is in Alcobaca, a town about 100 kilometers (60 miles) north of the capital Lisbon, where 29 elderly people and 10 staff, as well as several of the staff’s family members, have tested positive for COVID-19 at a nursing home.

Police were evacuating the home Wednesday in preparation for disinfection.

Also, officials were still trying to trace some of the about 100 people who attended an illegal weekend party in Lagos, on the southern Algarve coast. The popular vacation region is hoping to draw foreign tourists this summer.

Officials have so far confirmed 16 cases among the partygoers, some of whom reportedly danced together without wearing masks.

With the number of hospitalizations and ICU patients remaining stable, the government says there is no immediate cause for alarm.

By Tuesday, Portugal had officially recorded 37,336 confirmed cases and 1,522 deaths.

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STOCKHOLM — Sweden’s Parliament held a 15-minute remembrance for the victims of the pandemic in a country that has seen nearly 5,000 COVID-19 deaths.

Parliament Speaker Andreas Norlen said “this particular moment is for all of them. Those who lost their jobs, their health, their lives. But also, for those who remained when a relative’s life ended.”

Norlen told the dark-clad, somber-looking lawmakers who stood for a minute’ silence in the Riksdagen: “Before we continue our fight against the pandemic, we stop together and acknowledge their suffering, their sacrifice. ... And we say to all those who now mourn and suffer: You are not alone.”

Sweden, which is an outlier in the way it is handling the outbreak, has one of the world’s highest death rates per capita.

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BERLIN — The German government is celebrating a successful start for its coronavirus tracing app, which is says has been downloaded 6.5 million times in just over a day.

Health Minister Jens Spahn wrote on Twitter Wednesday that it was a “strong start” and “should motivate even more citizens to join in.”

He added that “containing corona is a team game” and everyone who uses the app makes a difference.

Use of the app is voluntary and the app in Germany, where people are particularly sensitive about data protection, is designed to store data only on people’s phones rather than centralized servers.

The app was launched with great fanfare on Tuesday.

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MADRID — Spanish Prime Minister Pedro Sánchez says a state ceremony will be held on July 16 to honor more than 27,000 people who have died in the pandemic.

Speaking to lawmakers, Sánchez said Wednesday that the ceremony will be presided over by King Felipe VI, Spain’s head of state, and attended by top officials from the European Union and the World Health Organization.

It will take place four months after Spain imposed one of the strictest lockdowns. Confining the population at home and halting most of the economic activity, it took nearly two months to curb the outbreak.

Spain has had more than 244,000 confirmed cases. Although daily deaths are believed to have dropped to a single digit, the government has kept the fatality toll at 27,136 for two weeks as it revises inconsistencies on reporting from different regional authorities.

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COPENHAGEN, Denmark — The Danish government is urging participants in a large racial justice demonstration earlier this month to get tested after a person in the crowd tested positive for the coronavirus.

Health Minister Magnus Heunicke said 15,000 people attended the June 7 rally in downtown Copenhagen and “some of them stood very close to each other.”

He urged them to get tested “whether you have symptoms or not.”

He says “as long as we have the virus in Europe and in Denmark, it will flare up. We are dealing with a very, very contagious disease.”

Two other outbreaks have been reported in Denmark, including a nursing home in the north where at least 26 persons have tested positive. Six people on a June 6 flight from Pakistan also have been diagnosed with COVID-19 and more may have been exposed. Authorities are currently tracking other passengers.

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ISLAMABAD — A top health official says Pakistan will consider the use of Britain’s new drug that experts say reduces death risk in seriously ill COVID-19 patients.

Wednesday’s announcement by Zafar Mirza, who advises Prime Minister Imran Khan on health issues, came as Pakistan reported 136 more COVID-19 deaths, the highest single-day number of fatalities.

The government has moved to seal off hot spots across the country to contain the rising trajectory of infections.

On Wednesday, Pakistan reported 5,839 new cases for a total of 154,760, including 2,975 deaths.

Britain reported that clinical trial found that a cheap, widely available steroid called dexamethasone, reduced deaths by up to one third in hospitalized patients who needed oxygen.

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NEW DELHI, India — India has added more than 2,000 COVID-19 deaths to its tally, after Delhi and Maharashtra states included 1,672 unreported fatalities, increasing the total number to 11,903.

The Health Ministry on Wednesday reported 10,974 new coronavirus cases for a total of 354,065. Of the 2,003 newly added fatalities, 331 were reported in the last 24 hours.

India has been reporting some 10,000 new infections and more than 300 deaths each day over the last two weeks. The previously unreported deaths have driven India’s fatality rate from 2.9% to 3.4%.

Earlier, health experts had warned that India was undercounting fatalities as some states used different criteria. Like elsewhere, the actual numbers are thought to be higher as testing remains limited.

India is the fourth hardest-hit country by the pandemic after the U.S., Russia and Brazil.

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WELLINGTON, New Zealand — New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern has assigned a top military leader to oversee the nation’s border quarantine measures after what she described as an “unacceptable failure” by health officials in allowing two women who had recently returned from London to leave quarantine before they had been tested for the virus.

The women, who are New Zealand citizens, had flown home to visit a dying parent and were granted an exemption to leave their mandatory 14-day quarantine early on compassionate grounds. They then traveled by car from Auckland to Wellington, where they tested positive for the virus.

Health officials said the women had no contact with other people on their road trip. However, officials said they are contacting 320 people who may have come into contact with the women on their flight or in the hotel they stayed at during their time in quarantine.

Before the two new cases were announced Tuesday, New Zealand had gone more than three weeks without reporting any new cases and was considered virus-free.

Ardern has advocated tough border measures to prevent another outbreak and has cancelled quarantine exemptions on compassionate grounds while the case is investigated further.

She said she had appointed Air Commodore Digby Webb, the assistant chief of defense, to oversee all quarantine and managed isolation facilities.

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CANBERRA, Australia — Australia’s Foreign Minister Marise Payne says China and Russia are using the heightened anxiety around the coronavirus pandemic to undermine Western democracies by spreading disinformation online.

Payne said in a speech at the Australian National University that the disinformation contributed to a “climate of fear and division” when the world needed cooperation and understanding.

She said “it is troubling that some countries are using the pandemic to undermine liberal democracy to promote their own more authoritarian models.” Payne referred to a Europe Union commission report Russia and China are flooding Europe with disinformation campaigns.

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BEIJING — China’s capital reported a slight increase in the numbers confirmed new coronavirus cases Wednesday as it seeks to battle the recent outbreak with strict measures aimed at reducing human contact and the chances of a new wave of infections across the country.

The capital, which had seemed to have the outbreak under control, reported 31 cases, up from 27 the day before, primarily linked to the city of 20 million’s largest wholesale market in its southwest.

Nationwide, China reported 44 new cases, around the average for recent days. Eleven of those were brought from abroad by Chinese travelers, while one other local case was from Hebei province adjacent to Beijing and one in the eastern province of Zhejiang further south.

No new deaths were reported and just 252 people are currently in treatment for COVID-19, with another 113 being isolated and observed for being suspected cases or for testing positive for the virus without showing any symptoms.

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MEXICO CITY — Even as Mexico announces plans for reopening churches and religious events, the country is posting near-record numbers of newly confirmed cases and deaths from COVID-19.

The Health Department reported on Tuesday that confirmed cases rose by 4,599, the second-highest daily increase to date, to reach an accumulated total of 154,863.

Deaths rose by 730, the third-highest daily confirmation number, after one-day increases of 1,092 and 816 earlier this month. Those death tolls rivaled those of the United States.

Both case and death total — which now stands at 18,310 — are clearly undercounts, because Mexico does very little testing.

Health officials acknowledged Mexico is on a plateau with sustained rates of transmission and deaths, with few if any signs of a decrease. Despite that, business are beginning to reopen after mandatory lockdowns due to the coronavirus.

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