The Latest: EU urged to agree to 'ambitious' recovery fund
MADRID — The leaders of Italy and Spain, the two countries first affected by the coronavirus in Europe and among the worst-hit globally, are urging fellow members of the European Union to agree next week on “ambitious terms” for a recovery fund to shore up the pandemic’s economic fallout.
Southern European countries are pressing for a no-strings-attached approach in the EU’s recovery fund that will be discussed at a meeting of the bloc’s 27 members on July 17-18.
The 750 billion-euro ($849 billion) fund drawn up by the EU’s executive Commission is made up mostly of grants, something opposed by countries dubbed as the “Frugal Four” -- Austria, Denmark, the Netherlands and Sweden -- which are reluctant to give money away without strings attached.
Italian Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte says the EU can’t take a cautious path in its response to the pandemic because that would endanger the union’s common market and economy.
HERE’S WHAT YOU NEED TO KNOW ABOUT THE VIRUS OUTBREAK:
— Window into virus surge: Death, recovery at Houston hospital
— Australia isolates virus-prone state, Serbs oppose lockdown
— Trump pushes state, local leaders to reopen schools in fall
— Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro says he is confident that he will swiftly recover from the new coronavirus thanks to treatment with hydroxychloroquine, the anti-malaria drug that has not been proven effective against COVID-19.
— Six months after COVID-19 started spreading around the globe, desperation rather than information is still driving many decisions about how to treat the disease. Two drugs have been shown to help but key questions remain about their use.
— Africa now has more than a half-million confirmed coronavirus cases. The continent-wide total is now over 508,000 after South Africa recorded another day of more than 10,000 confirmed cases as a new global hot spot.
HERE’S WHAT ELSE IS HAPPENING:
BUCHAREST, Romania — Romania has registered a new high in the daily total of coronavirus cases, with 555 cases reported in the past 24 hours. The previous one-day high was 523 on April 11.
The new record comes on the back of a ruling last week by the Constitutional Court that banned the government from forcing people infected with the coronavirus to quarantine or stay in hospital for treatment.
The government is working on legislation that would address the court’s concerns and set new regulations for people affected by COVID-19.
So far, Romania has 30,175 confirmed cases and 1.817 deaths.
LONDON — UK Treasury chief Rishi Sunak wants people in Britain can to go out for dinner and he’s willing to pick up part of the tab.
In delivering an economic update amid the coronavirus pandemic, Sunak offered what he described as the “Eat Out to Help Out,’’ discount for August. Meals at participating restaurants will be 50 percent off, up to a maximum discount of 10 pounds ($12.50) per person.
The idea is to protect the jobs of some 1.8 million people who work in restaurants, cafes and pubs.
He told the House of Commons “This moment is unique. We need to be creative.’’
ROME — Italy is urging the European Commission to develop better, coordinated measures to prevent passengers with coronavirus from arriving in the EU after at least 36 of 274 passengers on a flight from Bangladesh tested positive upon arrival in Rome.
Health Minister Roberto Speranza proposed “new rigorous precautionary measures” in a letter sent Wednesday to the European commissioner for health, Stella Kyriakides, and to the health minister of Germany, which holds the rotating EU presidency.
Speranza wrote that better EU-coordinated prevention measures would “more efficiently guarantee the objective of containing the diffusion of contagion caused by foreign clusters.”
Italy, the onetime European epicenter of the outbreak, suspended flights from Bangladesh on Tuesday after at least three-dozen of the passengers on Monday’s flight tested positive. Tests on another 160 passengers are still pending. Another cluster linked to a returning Bangladeshi worker now counts around a dozen cases outside Rome.
BERLIN — The German Red Cross says it fears more people will drown this summer due to a number of factors arising from the coronavirus pandemic.
The group said Wednesday that more people are likely to go swimming in lakes and rivers this year because public swimming pools have limited visitor numbers to ensure social distancing.
The Red Cross, which provides lifeguard services at pools, lakes and seaside beaches in Germany, also noted that many children didn’t have swimming lessons this spring due to the pandemic.
BERLIN — Austrian authorities are warning against travel to Bulgaria, Romania and Moldova amid increasing concern about travelers infected with the coronavirus coming to Austria.
Wednesday’s decision follows last week’s travel warning for six countries in the western Balkans — Bosnia, Kosovo, North Macedonia, Albania, Montenegro and Serbia -- in view of high coronavirus figures.
The Austria Press Agency reported that Chancellor Sebastian Kurz said his country “is experiencing more and more importations (of the virus) from abroad -- hence the urgent appeal not to travel to these countries.” People who do enter Austria from countries subject to a travel warning are required to self-quarantine for 14 days.
Kurz said that Austria will step up checks on its eastern borders for people arriving from the Balkans in particular.
JAKARTA, Indonesia — Indonesia has reported another record high of 1,863 coronavirus cases, exceeding the national total of 68,000 while the government expects to slowly reopen the tourist island of Bali.
Fifty people died in the last 24 hours, bringing the death toll to 3,359, the highest in Southeast Asia.
Bali Governor I Wayan Koster says the island will gradually reopen its spots to local and foreign tourists who have been stranded there since the outbreak starting Thursday. It will open to Indonesians from other parts of the country on July 31 and foreigners on Sept. 11.
Bali has reported 1,971 confirmed cases and 25 deaths.
MADRID — Spain’s northeastern Catalonia region will make mandatory the use of masks outdoors even when social distancing is maintained.
Regional chief Quim Torra says the measure will be implemented from Thursday following outbreaks in and around the city of Lleida that have led to the lockdown of more than 200,000 residents since Saturday.
Some 500 infections in Lleida have so far been linked to the summer fruit harvest, which attracts many migrant laborers.
Spain has made masks mandatory in shared indoor spaces and also outdoors when a social distance of 1.5 meters (5 feet) can’t be kept. Catalonia, population 7.5 million, is the first region to mandate the use of masks regardless of distancing.
Nationwide there have been 118 small outbreaks since May 11, 67 of them currently active. Spain has had 252,130 confirmed infections and at least 28,300 people have died.
LONDON — In the wake of America’s official departure from the World Health Organization, a former senior director at the U.N. health agency predicted that other countries, particularly Germany, would likely to step in to fill any void left by the single-biggest financial contributor.
At a briefing on Wednesday morning, Dr. David Heymann, a former assistant WHO director-general and an American, said he was “very disappointed” at the U.S. decision to exit the agency.
He says the U.S. has been behind incredibly important activities at WHO, noting it was the U.S. and its Cold War enemy Russia that spearheaded the global initiative to eradicate smallpox.
Heymann said, however, that WHO would likely just get on with its work.
He says Germany has become an important partner in global health recently and other countries are stepping up as well.
He says: “As much as it would be terrible if the U.S. leaves WHO and leaves (with) that expertise it has provided throughout the years, the WHO would continue to function.”
WHO Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus had also been scheduled to appear at the briefing, but pulled out moments before it began. Heymann dismissed the idea that Tedros was unwilling to face questions over the U.S. departure.
JERUSALEM — Israeli Defense Minister Benny Gantz says he is going into quarantine over concerns he was recently exposed to a COVID-19 carrier.
Gantz, who also serves as alternative prime minister, says he feels well and is isolating out of a sense of responsibility. He says he will work remotely until he receives his coronavirus test result and an epidemiological investigation is concluded.
The announcement comes as Israel is coping with a fresh wave of infections. The government this week reimposed new restrictions on the public to quell contagion. Gatherings have been limited and reception halls, restaurants, bars, theaters, fitness centers and pools have been ordered to shut down again.
Just weeks ago, Israel appeared to have contained its initial outbreak after imposing strict measures early on during a first wave of infections. But after reporting just a handful of new cases a day in early May, it has experienced a steady uptick in cases following an easing of restrictions. Currently, Israel is reporting upward of 1,000 new cases a day, higher than its peak during the previous wave.
BELGRADE, Serbia — Serbian police say 23 people have been detained and scores of police officers and demonstrators injured in clashes that erupted over announced return of lockdown measures against the new coronavirus.
Police director Vladimir Rebic told the state RTS television that police are working to identify more people who took part in the rioting in central Belgrade that left 43 police officers and 17 demonstrators injured.
Thousands of people came out in the streets on Tuesday evening after autocratic President Aleksandar Vucic announced that a curfew will be imposed for the entire weekend in Belgrade. Serbia on Tuesday reported the highest single-day death toll of 13 amid 299 new COVID-19 cases.
Clashes erupted after some supporters of right-wing groups stormed the parliament during protests. Police responded by throwing loads of tear gas.
Vucic has described the virus situation in Belgrade as “alarming,” saying hospitals in Belgrade were full. But many in Serbia blame the populist strongman for lifting the previous lockdown measures just so he would cement his grip on power after parliamentary elections. He has denied those claims.
Rebic says “hooligans” threw rocks, bottles and other objects at police and set on fire five police vehicles. Videos from the scene showed police beating up some of the demonstrators and detaining them.
NEW DELHI — Authorities in Mumbai, one of India's worst-hit cities, are allowing people to get tested for COVID-19 without a doctor’s prescription.
Other major Indian cities are still requiring a prescription, even though low testing rates have been a concern in the country that now has the third most cases in the world.
“We want to test as many people as possible,” said Iqbal Singh Chahal, a senior administrative official in Mumbai.
More than 5,000 people have died because of the virus in Mumbai, a western coastal city known as India’s financial capital and home to the Bollywood film industry.
India has started to improve its testing rates though it still needs to do more as its outbreak surges. A country of 1.3 billion people, India has been conducting a little less than 7,400 tests per million population.
More than 200,000 samples are being tested every day now, compared to just a few hundred when the exercise had begun in March, according to the Indian Council of Medical Research, India’s top medical research body.
India reported 482 new deaths in the last 24 hours, taking the toll to 20,642. It also recorded 22,752 new infections, increasing the total to 742,417. Only the United States and Brazil have more.
ISLAMABAD — Pakistan’s daily infection rate dropped below 3,000 for the second straight day, though medical experts caution it may be due to less testing.
Barely 21,000 tests for the coronavirus are carried out each day, compared to a peak of nearly 33,000. Still some medical professionals, particularly in the eastern city of Lahore, the capital of Pakistan’s Punjab province where nearly 60% of the country’s 220 million people live, are suggesting the virus may have peaked in June.
Pakistan’s prime minister has mandated masks but enforcement and use are erratic and social distancing is limited. Still the government has implemented lockdowns on at least 800 markets, businesses and residential areas where hospots of the infection have emerged.
As of Wednesday, Pakistan has recorded 237,489 infections with 2,980 new cases recorded in the last 24 hours among 21,951 tests conducted. So far 4,922 people have died of the virus, with 80 deaths recorded in the last 24 hours.
Prime Minister Imran Khan has resisted complete lockdowns, saying they would hit the poorest hardest. The poverty rate in Pakistan has climbed from around 30% to 40%, according to economists.
CANBERRA, Australia — Prime Minister Scott Morrison says a shutdown of Australia’s second-largest city is necessary and promised continuing financial support for businesses that fear they won’t survive a second lockdown.
The Victoria state government said Melbourne and part of its surrounds will lock down for six weeks from Wednesday night because the rate of coronavirus spread was unsustainable. The state also reported another 134 coronavirus cases.
Morrison said the federal government’s medical advice concurred the move was necessary but he hoped the time frame could be shorter.
Australia’s seven other states and territories would continue to relax pandemic restrictions, the prime minister said.
“Let’s remember that seven states and territories around the country remain in a very strong position when it comes to our response to COVID-19,” Morrison said. “That’s what we’re seeking to continue to protect.”
Breaches of infection controls at Melbourne hotels where international travelers are required to isolate for 14 days have been blamed for much of the disease spread. Morrison said he wanted to reduce the numbers of exemptions from Australia’s travel ban because of the strain on hotel quarantine.