The Latest: Virus pandemic changes shape of UN elections

UNITED NATIONS — The president of the United Nations General Assembly has banged his gavel to open U.N. elections under dramatically different voting procedures because of the coronavirus pandemic.

The U.N. headquarters complex in New York remains open for essential workers, but Secretary-General Antonio Guterres ordered staff members to work from home until July 31 as a health precaution.

So instead of ambassadors from the 193 U.N. member nations gathering in the horseshoe-shaped General Assembly chamber for the elections that include filling two seats on the U.N. Security Council., a new voting process using spaced time slots was adopted.

And instead of voting separately for the next General Assembly president, five new members of the Security Council, and 18 new members of the Economic and Social Council, the three elections are being held concurrently by secret ballot.

Among the early voters were U.S. Ambassador Kelly Craft and the ambassadors of Poland and Turkey.



— President of Honduras tests positive for coronavirus

— Putin spokesman confirms three tunnels were installed to protect Russian leader

— Philippine anti-graft prosecutor says his agency will investigate top health officials over the deaths of medical personnel, handling of virus outbreak.

— Some of London’s biggest West End shows, including “Hamilton” and “The Phantom of the Opera,” won’t reopen until next year. Arts organizations also are warning of a potential “cultural catastrophe” due to lost jobs and venues.

— China raised its emergency warning to its second-highest level and canceled more than 60% of the flights to Beijing amid a new coronavirus outbreak in the capital. It was a sharp pullback for the nation that declared victory over COVID-19 in March.

— 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 show it reduced deaths by up to one third in severely ill hospitalized patients.


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AUSTIN, Texas — Texas Supreme Court Justice Debra Lehrman says her COVID-19 symptoms were “quite severe” but she has recovered.

Lehrman is one of nine judges on the U.S. state’s highest court for civil law. She announced May 21 that she and her husband tested positive for the coronavirus despite being diligent about following social distancing guidelines. She is the highest-ranking state official in Texas known to have gotten the virus.

Texas set record highs for both new coronavirus cases and the number of COVID-19 patients hospitalized on Tuesday. Lehrman did not give details about her treatment but says she plans to donate blood plasma to help other patients.


BERLIN — The foreign minister of Germany says the impact of the coronavirus pandemic on developing countries could have security implications for Europe unless steps are taken to help struggling nations.

Foreign Minister Heiko Maas said Wednesday that Germany would try to use its presidency of the U.N. Security Council and of the European Union starting next month to help prevent a health crisis from becoming a humanitarian emergency.

Maas said Germany’s particular focus will be on Africa, the western Balkans, non-EU members in Eastern Europe and Central Asia, and the Middle East.

A German Cabinet paper obtained by The Associated Press says further destabilization of countries in Africa and the Middle East could fuel existing conflicts, terrorism and irregular migration with “serious consequences also for Germany and the EU.”

The paper stresses the importance of the World Health Organization in leading and coordinating the global response to the pandemic, and other agencies in helping develop vaccines and effective drugs.

--By Frank Jordans in Berlin.


MALE, Maldives— The Parliament of the Maldives was shut for decontamination after a staff member tested positive for the new coronavirus.

Officials say health authorities began sterilizing the building Wednesday and tracing those who came into contact with the staff member.

The Maldives capital of Male has been under a lockdown since April because of the virus. Lawmakers recently resumed meetings at the Parliament building after meeting online.

The archipelago state has reported 2,094 virus cases and eight deaths.


BERLIN — Authorities in the western German region of Guetersloh have ordered the closure of all schools and childcare centers after hundreds of workers at Germany’s biggest slaughterhouse tested positive for COVID-19.

Regional daily Westfalen-Blatt reported Wednesday that some 475 people tested positive for the new coronavirus, adding to 128 cases already known. A further 400 test results were still pending.

The outbreak at the Toennies slaughterhouse in Rheda-Wiedenbrueck has pushed the number of cases in the region far above the government’s threshold for emergency measures, which is set at 50 new infections in a week per 100,000 inhabitants.

Officials planned to announce later Wednesday whether further measures will be taken, such as closing stores and restaurants, to contain the outbreak.

Westfalen-Blatt reported that officials believe some of the cases were imported from other countries by migrant workers who took advantage of newly reopened European borders to visit their families.


BANGKOK — Thailand’s leader says the country is beginning to see “the light at the end of the tunnel” in its fight against COVID-19 but is some distance away from declaring total victory.

Prime Minister Prayuth Chan-ocha said Wednesday in a televised speech that Thailand has been recognized for controlling the spread of the coronavirus and was now relaxing as many restrictions as possible, but had to stay alert against a second wave of the disease.

“We must be extremely careful, continuing to wear masks, practicing social distancing and hand hygiene, and generally being careful about gathering together,” he said.

Thai authorities earlier in the day announced no new cases of the disease, leaving the country’s total since January at 3,135 with 58 deaths.

Prayuth also addressed the economic devastation wreaked by the coronavirus crisis, saying “restoring people’s ability to earn a fair living” was an even bigger challenge.


VILNIUS, Lithuania — Lithuania has ended its three-month long lockdown regime imposed due the coronavirus pandemic but the government says the Baltic nation will continue its emergency declaration.

The quarantine that began March 16 was lifted Wednesday and the Lithuanian government hals halted most restrictions to curb the spread of COVID-19.

Among other things, larger public gatherings are allowed and protective facemasks are no longer required in public places. Most European citizens are allowed to enter the country except residents of Britain, Portugal and Sweden.

As of Tuesday, a total of 1,776 coronavirus cases and 76 deaths had been recorded in Lithuania, a nation of nearly 3 million.


DHAKA, Bangladesh — Bangladesh’s coronavirus caseload is nearing 100,000 as the country reported another 4,008 new positive cases and another 43 deaths.

Nasima Sultana of the Health Directorate said Wednesday the death toll from the virus reached 1,305 with the latest fatalities and the total number of infections stood at 98,489. The country’s Commerce Minister Tipu Munshi was among the new positive cases.

Bangladesh, a nation of 160 million people, has a weak healthcare system. that is being heavily tested during the pandemic.


MEXICO CITY -- Honduran President Juan Orlando Hernández has tested positive for the novel coronavirus.

A statement issued by the presidency late Tuesday said Hernández had followed recommended health precautions but “because of the nature of his work, it wasn’t possible to remain in total isolation.”

His office said Hernández began to feel ill over the weekend and his viral infection was confirmed on Tuesday. The statement said he was being treated with microdacyn, azithromycin, ivermectin and zinc.

It said the first lady has shown no COVID-19 symptoms.

Honduras has reported more than 9,100 confirmed virus cases and 322 deaths.


MANILA, Philippines - A Philippine anti-graft prosecutor says his agency will investigate the national Department of Health and its top officials over the deaths of medical personnel due to an alleged mishandling of the country's coronavirus outbreak.

Ombudsman Samuel Martires said Wednesday that investigators would look into the possible criminal liability of Health Secretary Francisco Duque III and other officials for delays in the procurement of protective suits and other lapses that led to the death of several doctors and other health professionals.

The Department of Health says it will cooperate in the investigation.

Martires told reporters there have been delays and confusion in the reporting of coronavirus cases and deaths in the Philippines and in the delivery of aid to infected medical personnel. The country has more than 27,000 confirmed cases and 1,108 reported virus-related deaths.

Philippine senators separately demanded Duque’s resignation in April, citing his “failure of leadership” in responding to the health crisis, but President Rodrigo Duterte kept him and ordered him to work harder.


LONDON — Arts bodies are warning that Britain faces a “cultural catastrophe” because of the coronavirus pandemic that could result in the loss of 400,000 jobs.

A study by think-tank Oxford Economics says the U.K.’s creative industries could lose 74 billion pounds ($92.8 billion) in revenue this year and one in five of the U.K.’s 2 million creative-sector jobs could be lost.

Music, theater, art, design, architecture and publishing generate billions for the British economy each year, but the country’s clubs, theaters, cinemas, concert halls and art galleries shut down in March as part of a nationwide lockdown. Indoor venues face remaining closed for many more months because of social distancing rules.

Chief executive Caroline Norbury of the Creative Industries Federation, which lobbies for arts and culture, said Wednesday that without government support “thousands of world-leading creative businesses are set to close their doors."

She called on the government to set up a “cultural renewal fund” and continue support programs that have supported self-employed people and furloughed workers during the lockdown.


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.


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.


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.


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.


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.


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.


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.


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.


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.


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.


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.


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.


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.


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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