Latest world virus headlines — Greece to open some beaches ahead of heat wave
Here are summaries of the latest stories worldwide on the coronavirus pandemic, including:
• FBI cyber division warns against Chinese hackers;
• Tiny nation of Lesotho has virus, last of 54 African countries;
• France to thank health workers on Bastille day;
• Wuhan to test all residents after handful of new infections;
• Spain reports slight increase in daily virus infections.
ATHENS, Greece — Greece will allow the reopening of some beaches Saturday when a heat wave is expected to hit the country.
The Civil Protection Agency says the measure would affect 515 beaches in Greece, where shade umbrellas must be planted at least 4 meters (13 feet) apart, and a maximum 40 people will be allowed per 1,000 square meters of beach.
It’s part of the gradual easing of lockdown restrictions in the country.
On Wednesday, health officials announced 16 confirmed infections and three more deaths, bringing the total to 2,760 and 155, respectively.
BRATISLAVA, Slovakia — Slovakia’s Constitutional Court has suspended parts of legislation that gives health authorities a right to use data from mobile phone operators to trace people amid the outbreak of the coronavirus.
The law was supposed to be effective until the end of the year enables authorities to track the movements of virus carriers and possibly people they came in contact with.
The court says the suspended sections of the law missed guarantees to prevent abuse of personal data by the state and didn’t make possible an independent control. The court says it wants to prevent any unintended violation of the rule of law caused by the country’s response to the coronavirus pandemic.
Similar legislation in various countries concerns privacy advocates.
Slovakia has recorded 1,500 infections for COVID-19 and 27 deaths, according to government figures.
WASHINGTON — The FBI and the Department of Homeland Security’s cyber division are warning hackers backed by the Chinese government may be attempting to steal the work of U.S. researchers on the response to the COVID-19 pandemic.
The two agencies issued a public service announcement of the potential threat on Wednesday. They issued a similar alert earlier this month.
A joint statement says China’s efforts pose a “significant threat” to the health care, pharmaceutical and research sectors.
The FBI and the Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency says it would release technical details of the threat in the coming days and asked organizations to report any suspicious activity.
U.S. authorities have long complained that China has used hacking to steal academic and economic data to bolster its economy. This warning comes amid increased tensions between the two governments over the origins of the outbreak and China’s initial response.
LONDON — British media reports say a baby has died after his mother tested positive for coronavirus.
The BBC and others reported Coolio Carl Justin John Morgan, born on May 2, died three days later at a hospital in Swansea, Wales. The baby’s primary cause of death was due to lack of brain blood and oxygen and maternal Covid-19 was listed as a secondary cause.
No post-mortem examination was done. The coroner, Graeme Hughes, asked officials to investigate the circumstances of the death ahead of a final hearing next year.
GENEVA — The head of Switzerland’s justice and police department says it will reopen its borders with Austria, France and Germany to most traffic on June 15.
Karin Keller-Sutter, one of the seven members of Switzerland’s executive Federal Council, says a gradual easing could begin as early as this weekend. Switzerland currently limits entries mostly to cargo shipments and cross-border workers who have special exemptions.
Keller-Sutter says a date for a broader reopening of the Swiss border with Italy, whose government has limited domestic travel, was not immediately possible.
Switzerland is not a member of the European Union but is part of the Schengen area that allows for visa-free travel within Europe.
Switzerland recorded 33 infections in the last day, bringing the total confirmed at 30,413. That’s a significant decline from nearly 1,500 confirmed cases recorded in a single day in late March.
LONDON — The British government has announced 600 million pounds ($735 million) in funding to stop coronavirus infections in nursing homes, but opponents say the money comes too late.
More than 8,000 people with the coronavirus died in nursing homes from March 2 to May 1, according to Britain’s Office for National Statistics. The total is likely substantially higher.
Opposition Labour Party leader Keir Starmer say that until March 12, the official advice from Public Health England was it’s “very unlikely” people in nursing homes would become infected. He accused the government of being lax for releasing people from hospitals into nursing homes early in the outbreak without testing for the coronavirus.
Starmer also accused the government of trying to dodge scrutiny by ceasing to publish a daily chart comparing U.K. coronavirus deaths to other countries’ totals. Britain’s official death total stands at 33,186, the highest in Europe and second only to the United States.
Prime Minister Boris Johnson says the U.K. figures were “stark and deeply, deeply horrifying” but claimed it would be impossible to make international comparisons until “we have all the excess death totals for all the relevant countries.”
STOCKHOLM — Sweden has extended a request against nonessential trips until July 15.
Foreign Minister Ann Linde says, “closed borders (and) extensive restrictions are still a reality.”
Travel within Sweden of up to one to two hours by car is allowed, according to Swedish Prime Minister Stefan Lofven.
Anders Tegnell, the chief epidemiologist with Sweden’ Public Health Agency, says there is “a fairly stable situation across the country.”
Tegnell says Sweden recorded 147 deaths over the past days, with the total at 3,460.
Sweden has taken a relatively soft approach to fighting the coronavirus. Large gatherings were banned but restaurants and schools for younger children have stayed open. The government has urged social distancing, and Swedes have generally complied.
PARIS — French President Emmanuel Macron wants Bastille day to show the nation’s gratitude toward health workers and others who help fight the spread of the coronavirus.
Government spokesperson Sibeth Ndiaye says the tribute was announced during a Cabinet meeting at the Elysee palace on Wednesday. Details about July 14 celebrations will be disclosed later depending on the evolution of the epidemic.
France’s national holiday is traditionally marked by a military parade on Paris’ Champs-Elysees avenue.
Ndiaye says an honorary medal will be awarded to those who dedicated themselves to fight the disease.
France has reported at least 140,227 infections and 26,991 deaths.
SAN JUAN, Puerto Rico — Puerto Rico officials say they are closing more than 30 public school cafeterias and several food warehouses after dozens of workers tested positive for the coronavirus.
Education Secretary Eligio Hernández says the temporary closures come after 50 employees tested positive and another 278 were placed under quarantine. The closures hit places including Caguas and Mayaguez, two of the largest cities in a U.S. territory where nearly 70 percent of public school students are poor.
Several mothers and nonprofit organizations have sued the island’s Department of Education, accusing it of dodging its responsibility to feed the island’s nearly 300,000 public school children. A judge was expected to rule in the case on Friday.
Education officials initially refused to open the department’s 854 school cafeterias during the lockdown that began in mid-March, citing health concerns, noting that 64 percent of workers are elderly. Instead, they offloaded the food to nonprofits and a food bank, but it soon ran out.
Two weeks ago, officials abruptly changed their stance and have since reopened more than 100 school cafeterias for one meal.
MEXICO CITY — Mexican President Andrés Manuel López Obrador says the country is moving to “the new normality,” after 51 days of lockdown.
Economy Secretary Graciela Marquez says the reopening would be “gradual, orderly and cautious.” By Monday, industries such construction, mining, and car and truck manufacturing would be allowed to resume.
Mexico’s top advisory body on the coronavirus pandemic, the General Health Council, says it had decided to classify those industries as “essential activities.”
Mexico has been under pressure from U.S. officials to reopen auto plants because without an integrated supply chain, it would make it hard for plants in the U.S. and Canada to reopen.
WARSAW, Poland — Poland is extending anti-coronavirus checks at its land, sea and airport borders through June 12.
On Monday, it will open the hairdressers and restaurants, with use of social distancing and masks.
High school and vocational school students can have some individual classes.
Health Minister Lukasz Szumowski says the virus reproduction rate has dropped to below 1 and the pandemic parameters are at a “safe level.”
JOHANNESBURG — The United States says Tanzania has not publicly released any data on COVID-19 in two weeks as concerns rise about the true number of cases there.
The World Health Organization also has openly worried about Tanzania, whose president has questioned his own government’s virus testing and refused to close churches in the belief that the virus can’t survive in the body of Christ.
A new U.S. Embassy statement warns that the risk of being infected in Tanzania’s commercial hub Dar es Salaam is “extremely high” and says many hospitals in the city have been overwhelmed.
It says “all evidence points to exponential growth” in cases in the East African nation. The country has more than 500 confirmed cases and 21 deaths, according to the Africa Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
LISBON, Portugal — Portuguese health authorities have published plans for the resumption of preschool next week.
Nursery schools must reduce the number of children they normally have in a room and place them far apart.
Staff members will be dedicated to a single group, and groups should be kept in separate rooms.
Parents’ groups have expressed concern it will be impossible to ensure social distancing at school between small children. Experts say its required to stem the spread of the new coronavirus.
School classes for students ages 16-18 also are expected to resume next week.
Portugal has officially recorded just over 28,000 cases and 1,175 deaths from the coronavirus.
ANKARA, Turkey — A lawyer in Turkey has filed a lawsuit against China on behalf of a private company, seeking compensation for financial losses due to the coronavirus outbreak.
Lawyer Melih Akkurt says he filed the lawsuit at the Ankara Court of First Instance on behalf of a company that was forced to suspend operations during lockdowns. He says it is the first commercial lawsuit in Turkey against China, where the coronavirus pandemic began.
The lawyer wouldn’t name the company. The lawsuit holds China responsible for economic losses, accusing of failing to provide timely and accurate data to the World Health Organization, concealing information on the virus’ infectiousness, silencing doctors and not preventing its spread.
China rejects accusations of a coverup or not responding to the outbreak in a timely manner.
VIENNA — Austria’s agreed to a plan to open its border with Germany and expects something similar soon with Switzerland and Liechtenstein, but Chancellor Sebastian Kurz says it’s too early to talk about such measures with Italy.
Italy has been one of the European countries hardest hit by the coronavirus with more than 220,000 infections and 30,000 deaths.
Austria already announced an agreement with Germany to open their border from June 15. Kurz says work is under way on a similar solution with its other Western European neighbors, Switzerland and Liechtenstein.
Austria has recorded some 16,000 coronavirus infections and more than 600 deaths.
LESOTHO — Southern Africa’s tiny mountain kingdom of Lesotho has confirmed its first positive case of COVID-19, making it the last of 54 African countries to report the disease.
The Lesotho health ministry says one person, who recently arrived in the country, had tested positive without showing signs of illness. The patient is isolated.
Lesotho, a country of 2 million people, is surrounded by South Africa, which has the highest confirmed cases in Africa at 11,350.
The coronavirus has been slow to spread in Africa, but cases are rising. More than 69,500 cases have been confirmed and more than 2,400 deaths, according to the Africa Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
TOKYO — Japan is considering a partial lifting a coronavirus state of emergency, currently in place nationwide through May 31.
Prime Minister Abe Shinzo is expected to make an announcement Thursday.Abe declared a monthlong state of emergency on April 7 in Tokyo and six other urban prefectures and later expanded it nationwide.
Japanese media says lifting is expected in more than 30 prefectures where new cases of COVID-19 have decreased. Restrictions will remain in place in Tokyo and its neighboring areas, as well as Osaka, where medical systems are still under pressure.
Economy Minister Yasutoshi Nishimura says work from home should continue and residents should avoid trips after the state of emergency is lifted.
Tokyo Gov. Yuriko Koike says it is too early for people to put their guards down, even though the number of new cases in the capital has decreased. She says it is unknown when the second wave of infections will occur and whether the ongoing wave of infections has subsided.
Meanwhile, Japan’s health ministry approved a new type of coronavirus test. Antigen test kits developed by Fujirebio can detect virus proteins in samples swiped inside the nose of a suspected patient, with results in 30 minutes. Ministry officials and experts say it is faster than the PCR test, which takes several hours.
Japan has nearly 16,000 confirmed cases and more than 680 deaths.
WARSAW, Poland — U.S. and Polish defense officials say an element of the DEFENDER-Europe 20 exercise in Poland will move from May to June 5-19 to ensure the safety of the troops during the coronavirus pandemic.
A communique by the U.S. Army Europe command and Poland’s Defense Ministry says the decision to move the Allied Spirit exercise was taken “after careful assessment and planning.” The exercise at the test range in Drawsko Pomorskie has been modified from its original design.
The deployment exercise will involve some 4,000 U.S. troops and 2,000 Polish troops in an airborne operation and a division-size river crossing.
Some 5,000 U.S. troops are stationed in Poland to enhance security at a time of increased military activity by neighbor Russia.
FATIMA, Portugal — The Catholic shrine at Fatima in Portugal has held its annual celebrations without worshippers for the first time in its more than 100-year history.
Hundreds of thousands of people traditionally hold candles as they attend masses at the small town’s huge shrine on the night of May 12 and morning of May 13. The ceremonies mark the day when three illiterate shepherd children first reported seeing visions of the Madonna.
Like the shrine at Lourdes, France, Fatima draws about six million pilgrims from around the world every year to give thanks to Our Lady of Fatima, or to pray for help.
Authorities this year asked people not to travel to Fatima due to the coronavirus outbreak. Police cordoned off roads leading to the shrine.
Ceremonies were broadcast live and streamed. The dean of the shrine asked people to place a lighted candle in a window of their home and “make a pilgrimage of the heart.”
ANKARA, Turkey — Parks filled with the sound of children as Turkey allowed kids aged 14 and under to leave homes for the first time in 40 days.
The country’s youngest population were allowed to venture out for four hours between 11:00 am and 3:00 pm today as Turkey eased some restrictions in place to fight to coronavirus outbreak. Youngsters aged between 15 and 20 will be able to leave homes for a few hours on Friday, while senior citizens were briefly allowed out for the first time in seven weeks on May 10.
In the capital Ankara’s main park, Kugulu Park (or Swan Park), young children wearing masks took turns down slides while some elder kids took selfies.
The government has announced a “normalization plan” as the number of confirmed coronavirus cases have dropped, but warned of tougher measures if infections go up again.
Turkey has recorded more than 140,000 cases of the virus and nearly 4,000 deaths attributed to COVID-19, according to a tally by John Hopkins University. The true number is likely much higher because many people have not been tested, and studies suggest people can be infected with displaying symptoms.
MADRID — Spain is reporting a slight increase in new daily coronavirus deaths and infections, as officials watch closely the curves to see if the relaxation of confinement rules is leading to a significant rebound.
Spain’s recorded fatality toll has surpassed the 27,000 mark today with 184 new deaths in the past 24 hours, eight more than Tuesday’s increase.
There were also about 400 new coronavirus cases confirmed by the most reliable laboratory tests today, bringing the country’s total over 228,600. At least 42,000 more infections have emerged with tests that track antibodies that appear after the contagion.
More than 140,000 have overcome the COVID-19 illness.
BERLIN — The German government is recommending that a requirement for people arriving from other countries in Europe to self-quarantine for 14 days be dropped.
Germany last month imposed a requirement for all people arriving in the country to go straight home and stay there for two weeks, except those who were on very short trips, commuting to their jobs, transporting goods or in some other essential functions.
A court in the northern state of Lower Saxony suspended the rule for that region this week.
Interior Minister Horst Seehofer said today he is recommending that state governments, which are responsible for quarantines, drop the requirement for travelers from other European countries but maintain it for arrivals from other nations such as the United States and Russia.
The comment came as Seehofer said Germany will start loosening checks on its borders with some neighbors this weekend — though he said controls will be stepped back up if infections rise strongly in neighboring countries.
BERLIN — Germany’s foreign minister says his country will be able to lift a blanket warning against foreign travel for European destinations before other places, but he isn’t specifying when.
Germany’s warning against all nonessential tourist travel abroad is currently set to run until at least June 14.
Foreign Minister Heiko Maas said today that “it will certainly be possible to lift the travel warning earlier for Europe than for other destinations — so long as the current positive trend in many countries solidifies.”
Maas said in a statement that “freedom to travel is part of the foundation of the European project, but in times of corona Europe must ensure more: the freedom to travel safely.”
He said European Union guidelines presented today are an important basis for talks with other European countries. Maas plans to invite many of his colleagues in the coming days to participate in a “neighbourhood dialog” on how to lift restrictions safely.
He said that Europe must coordinate as well as possible even if the situation differs from country to country — “we don’t all have to proceed at the same speed, but we also shouldn’t do it as a race, and we should do it in such a way that we don’t tread on each other’s feet.”
BERLIN — The coronavirus reproduction factor in Germany has again dropped below 1, after three days above the key number.
The Robert Koch-Institute, Germany’s public health agency, reported today that the so-called R-rate had dropped to 0.94 — meaning that for every 100 people infected, they would infect another 94 people, indicating a slowing of the pandemic spread.
Though health authorities focused closely on the R-rate early on in the pandemic, they say now that daily infections in Germany are quite low so it has to be viewed in context with other factors. That’s because there is a lag in the data for the R-rate and with very few new cases it is particularly volatile, with even small increases or decreases in the daily numbers causing it to jump up or down.
Germany is watching the numbers very carefully, after embarking on a plan in late April to relax restrictions in stages.
The RKI said Germany registered almost 800 new cases overnight for a total of over 171,000 total infections. At the same time, some 1,500 people were added to the recovered total, which is now almost 150,000. About 100 people died from the virus, for a total over 7,600.
BERLIN — Germany plans to start loosening its border controls this weekend after two months of restrictions.
Interior Minister Horst Seehofer said today that checks on the border with Luxembourg will be dropped after Friday. On the borders with France, Switzerland and Austria, all border crossings will be opened — rather than selected ones at present — and authorities will switch to spot rather than systematic checks.
Seehofer said that the aim is to restore free travel across those three borders on June 15, so long as coronavirus infections allow.
Germany imposed checks on its borders with France, Switzerland, Austria, Luxembourg and Denmark on March 16 and people “without a valid reason to travel” haven’t been allowed to cross. Eastern neighbors Poland and the Czech Republic closed their own borders.
Seehofer said Germany is prepared to relax controls on the Danish border, but Denmark is in the process of consulting with its other neighbors.
LONDON — Golf courses in England are reopening as part of some modest socially distanced easing of the coronavirus lockdown restrictions.
People in England can now exercise more than once a day and with one person from outside their household, provided they stay two meters apart (around 6.5 feet). In addition, outdoor tennis and basketball courts can be used, and people will also be able to swim in lakes and the sea. Garden centers can also reopen, while potential house buyers can visit properties in person. And people who cannot work from home, such as those in construction and manufacturing, are being encouraged to return if they can do so in a COVID-secure way.
The lifting of some restrictions, first announced by U.K. Prime Minister Boris Johnson on Sunday, applies only in England. The semi-autonomous governments of Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland are going more slowly and sticking with the “Stay Home” message.
JAKARTA, Indonesia — Indonesia has reported more than 600 new cases of COVID-19 for the first time since the country confirmed its first cases in early March, making the national total exceed 15,000 today.
There were 689 new confirmed cases in the past 24 hours to bring the total to 15,438. The cumulative figure includes about 1,000 deaths and nearly 3,300 recoveries.
The highest spike in a day came as the government is mulling over a plan to start easing social restrictions next month to allow businesses to resume operations gradually.
The plan, which is still under development, aims to restore “business as usual” by the end of July, where shopping malls will be allowed to resume limited operations on June 8, schools allowed to reopen on staggered schedules and exercising outdoors allowed with social distancing.
But the draft also stressed that the plan was contingent on fulfilling the public health metrics first, including flattening the daily curve of new COVID-19 cases.
COPENHAGEN, Denmark — Norway is opening its borders to allow people from other European countries enter the Scandinavian country if the have a residence there or have family they want to visit.
Justice Minister Monica Maeland said today that Norway, which is not part of the European Union, is opening up for citizens from the European Economic Area that includes EU member states, the United Kingdom, Iceland, Liechtenstein. The last three countries have together with Norway signed the agreement that gives EU non-members access to the EU’s huge single market.
Maeland said in a statement that it also means, among other things, that seasonal workers will have the opportunity to enter Norway.
TOKYO — A 28-year-old Japanese sumo wrestler died today from the coronavirus.
The Japan Sumo Association said Shoubushi, whose real name was Kiyotaka Suetake, died of multiple-organ failure after developing COVID-19 pneumonia.
He is the first sumo wrestler known to die from the virus, and among the youngest victims in Japan.
The wrestler developed a fever on April 4 but could not get a test or find a hospital until four days later, when he was in worse condition, the association said. He was moved to an intensive care unit at a Tokyo hospital on April 19.
Japan, under a coronavirus state of emergency since April 7, is preparing to partially lift the measures amid signs of slowing infections. Experts, however, urge people to keep avoiding close contacts, which has been a challenge for sumo.
Wrestlers in Japan’s ancient sport of sumo traditionally live together like a big family, or a group known as “stables,” usually headed by retired champions, and they train and eat together and often share food, typically hot-pot dish called Chanko. Several other wrestlers have also been infected.
Although they still live in stables, they had to stop sharing food, and stop parts of training that involve physical contacts.
The Summer Grand Sumo Tournament scheduled to take place from May 24 to June 7 at Tokyo’s Ryogoku Kokugikan was canceled earlier this month over fears of further spreading the virus.
Japan has recorded almost 16,000 cases of COVID-19 and 670 deaths, according to a tally by Japan’s health ministry.
BEIJING — A shorter-than-usual ban on drone use in the Chinese capital is being interpreted as a signal that China will curtail its major political meeting of the year because of COVID-19.
Beijing police announced today that the use of drones, balloons, gliders and other low-flying objects will be banned for nine days, from May 20 to May 28. Such bans are common during major events.
The National People’s Congress usually happens over two weeks in March but was postponed this year because of the coronavirus outbreak. It is scheduled to start on May 22, so the flying ban suggests it may last just one week.
Province-level meetings held in advance of the Congress were curtailed and with fewer delegates in attendance. Some participants in a recent preparatory meeting for the Congress joined by video conference, sparking speculation that some of the 3,000 delegates to the Congress may do so too.
BANGKOK — Health authorities in Thailand have reported no new confirmed cases of COVID-19 for the first time in more than two months.
There were also no new deaths reported today, leaving the country’s total just over 3,000 cases with nearly 60 fatalities, while almost 3,000 of the patients have recovered.
Since the beginning of May, Thailand has reported single-digit daily increases, with the exception of May 4, when a cluster pushed the number to 18.
The last time Thailand reported no new cases was on March 9, when there were 50 cases in total with a single death.
Thai authorities have been gradually and selectively easing restrictions meant to combat the spread of the coronavirus.
Restaurants in Bangkok last week were allowed to reopen for sit-in dining under rules mandating social distancing, and the city’s popular shopping malls, whose supermarkets and drug stores have remained in operation, may get permission Friday to restart many of their other activities as soon as this weekend.