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Latest world virus headlines: Putin says virus stabilized in Russia

People shop in preparation of the upcoming Eid al-Fitr holiday that marks the end of the holy fasting month of Ramadan amid fears of the new coronavirus outbreak today at a market in Jakarta, Indonesia. (AP Photo/Achmad Ibrahim)

Here are summaries of the latest Associated Press stories worldwide on the coronavirus pandemic, including:

• President Putin says virus stabilized in Russia;

• Virus accelerates across Latin America, India, Pakistan;

• Italy drug agency leader warns of anti-malaria drug use;

• German politician suggests helping Russian patients with virus;

• Portugal says tourists welcome with no quarantine if arrive by plane;

• Malaysia’s prime minister tests negative for virus;

• Cyprus to resume commercial flights next month.

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NICOSIA, Cyprus — Cyprus plans to resume commercial flights next month from select countries with low COVID-19 infections.

Cyprus’ Transport Minister Yiannis Karousos says flights will begin from countries, selected by a team of medical experts, on June 9 and June 20.

The first group includes Greece, Malta, Bulgaria, Norway, Austria, Finland, Slovenia, Hungary, Israel, Denmark, Germany, Slovakia and Lithuania. The second group includes Switzerland, Poland, Romania, Croatia, Estonia and the Czech Republic.

Karousos says starting June 9, passengers arriving from countries in either group must get a health certificate confirming they virus-free three days before departure.

Starting June 20, passengers from the first group of countries won’t need health certificates, but those from second group will still be required to produce.

Hotels will open on June 1.

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JACKSONVILLE, Fla. — Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis says summer camps and youth activities can open without restrictions.

He says local organizations and governments can set rules and guidelines. The state won’t pre-empt those rules.

DeSantis says there have been no deaths in Florida of people under age 25.

Also, Miami Beach city commissioners agreed to open beaches and hotels on June 1, a week after the Memorial Day holiday weekend. Officials say they didn’t want large crowds at the beach over the long holiday weekend that unofficially kicks off the summer season.

Today, there was more than 49,000 reported cases in Florida, with more than 2,100 deaths. The median age of people infected was 54 years old.

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GAZA CITY, Gaza Strip — Gaza’s Hamas rulers have allowed mosques to reopen for Friday prayers for the first time since March despite a spike in coronavirus cases.

Worshippers brought their own prayer rugs, wore masks and kept space between themselves. They were given hand sanitizer at the entrances to mosques. The opening came ahead of the Eid al-Fitr holiday, marking the end of the holy month of Ramadan.

Authorities in Gaza have reported 35 new cases in recent days, bringing the total number to 55. All the new cases were detected in quarantine facilities. But they have renewed concerns about a wider outbreak that could overwhelm the depleted health care system in the impoverished territory, which is home to 2 million people.

Hamas says it would bar the entry of returnees until the end of June to allow health workers to deal with the new cases.

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ATHENS, Greece — Greece’s government has backed a plan to impose major traffic restrictions in central Athens over the summer.

The restrictions were proposed by Athens and include a ban for most vehicles along several central streets close to Parliament. City authorities say they hoped to launch the ban in mid-June for three months with a possible extension to follow.

Traffic was limited during the lockdown imposed in late March that was eased earlier this month, prompting many city residents to take up cycling and jogging in the downtown area.

Authorities reported one new death and 21 new infections today, bringing the death toll to 169 and the total confirmed cases to 2,873.

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MADRID — Spain’s foreign ministry says more than 700 Spaniards and Moroccans residents in Spain are returning by ferry from Morocco after a two-month wait.

They had been stranded in Morocco since the COVID-19 pandemic hit Europe and northern Africa in early March.

The ferry is leaving from Tangier and will arrive in Málaga this evening.

It’s the first ferry Spain’s government has sent to recover nationals and residents from Morocco during the health crisis. Spain’s government had previously arranged flights to return home from Morocco.

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YANGON, Myanmar — A court in Myanmar has sentenced a journalist to two years in prison for a story that erroneously reported a death from COVID-19.

The lawyer for Zaw Ye Htet, an editor with the Karen State-based news agency Dae Pyaw, says his client was sentenced Wednesday under the Penal Code. It deems it an offense to publish or circulate any rumor or report that can cause fear or alarm among the public that may induce unrest.

The lawyer, Myint Thu Zar Maw, says this his client was arrested on April 13, the same day he published the incorrect report of the death in Myawaddy, a city on the border with Thailand.

Zaw Ye Htet’s wife, Phyu Phyu Win, says her husband acknowledged the error after being summoned by police. He posted a correction online, but was arrested.

Myanmar and international rights groups say the government uses the broadly worded Section 505(b) to stifle criticism and political dissent.

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MOSCOW — Russian President Vladimir Putin says the coronavirus has stabilized in the country, with the number of new infections abating.

Putin, speaking during today’s video conference with top officials, says “the positive dynamic is not so fast as we would like it to be, sometimes even unstable, but it does exist.”

Russia currently ranks second behind the United States in the number of infections with more than 326,400 reported cases and more than 3,200 deaths. The U.S. has more than 1.5 million cases and leads the world with more than 90,000 deaths.

The Russian leader says the positive trends set the stage for further lifting restrictions, but he emphasized the need to preserve the hospital capacity for a possible new wave of contagion.

Officials have reported to Putin the hospitals treating COVID-19 patients are currently filled by just over half and the influx of patients, particularly those in grave condition, has been decreasing.

The coronavirus mortality rate in Russia has remained remarkably low at about 1 percent, drawing suspicions in the West that the country was under-reporting its death toll. Russian officials have rejected the claim, saying the low death toll reflected efficient preventative measures and broad testing.

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GENEVA — The United States says it wants the World Health Organization to start work “now” on a planned review of the WHO’s coordinated international response to the COVID-19 outbreak.

The U.N. health agency is facing a Trump administration threat to cut off funding.

Adm. Brett Giroir, an assistant secretary in the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, sent a written letter to the U.N. health agency’s executive board meeting today saying the United States believes the WHO can “immediately initiate organizational processes for the review,” such as by bringing together independent health experts and setting up guidelines for it.

Giroir is one of the board’s 34 international members but didn’t participate in person in the board’s first virtual meeting today.

He alluded to a resolution passed Tuesday by the WHO’s assembly calling on its director-general, Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, to launch “comprehensive evaluation” of the WHO-coordinated international response to the outbreak to begin “at the earliest appropriate moment.”

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TOPEKA, Kan. — Republicans have pushed a sweeping coronavirus measure through the GOP-controlled Kansas Legislature, aiming to shield businesses and health care providers from coronavirus-related lawsuits.

The bill approved by lawmakers today would take control over the state’s pandemic response from Democratic Gov. Laura Kelly and give much of it to the Legislature’s mostly Republican leaders.

Some Democrats predicted Kelly would veto the bill, but her office stopped short of promising that. Democrats objected to curbing Kelly’s power and predicted substandard nursing homes and manufacturers of defective personal protective equipment would be shielded from being held accountable in the state’s courts.

The Republican plan would require Kelly to get permission from legislative leaders to keep businesses closed for more than 15 days or to exercise other broad powers granted to governors during emergencies after May 31. Legislative leaders also would have the final say in how $1.25 billion in federal relief funds are spent.

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PARIS — French Prime Minister Edouard Philippe says France will hold the second round of municipal elections on June 28, nearly four months after the first round in March was interrupted by the coronavirus lockdown.

The voting will take place in the 5,000 districts in which the first round was not decisive, including the French capital where Mayor Annie Hidalgo, a Socialist, held a strong lead in March voting.

Some 30,000 other districts elected their municipal councils, which designate their mayors, outright. The prime minister says the June 28 date “is reversible” if it’s deemed that health concerns are too important a week before the vote.

France counts more than 28,000 deaths from COVID-19.

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ROME — The head of Italy’s pharmacological agency says there is little data about the effectiveness of the anti-malaria drug promoted by U.S. President Donald Trump to treat coronavirus.

Dr. Nicola Magrini offered a briefing on the various trials the Italian Pharmacological Agency had approved during the coronavirus crisis, including one involving hydroxychloroquine.

Magrini says while the drug was being used in Italy, the agency recommended it only in some patients, preferably on its own or in association with other drugs only in clinical trial settings.

While the science is still out on hydroxychloroquine’s effectiveness, Magrini said: “We are fairly certain about the possible harm and absence of security of using it in some limited sub-groups of patients.”

Trump has said he is taking hydroxychloroquine to protect against the coronavirus, even though his administration has warned it can have deadly side effects.

Magrini adds he didn’t expect a vaccine before spring or summer of next year. Italian researchers are collaborating on the Oxford University vaccine.

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MADRID — The Spanish government is allowing Madrid and Barcelona to ease their lockdown measures.

Most of Spain has begun to slowly reopen since May 11, but those two areas combine for nearly half of the country’s 233,000 officially recorded cases. Spain’s COVID-19 death toll of almost 28,000 is the world’s fifth highest.

The government is allowing the country’s 17 autonomous regions to gradually lift restrictions on movement and social distancing. The loosening of limits is staggered over four stages, with a requirement that certain targets, including the number of cases and hospital capacity, are met before moving onto the next stage.

Health Minister Salvador Illa says the Madrid region and city of Barcelona are moving into Phase 1 on Monday. That permits outdoor-only seating for restaurants and bars up to 50 percent of capacity, gatherings of families and friends of up to 10 people. It also allows the reopening of small shops, museums, cinemas and places of worship, all with restrictions on capacity.

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BERLIN — A German regional politician is reportedly suggesting taking in COVID-19 patients from Russia, which is seeing a spike in cases.

German weekly Der Spiegel reported Saxony’s governor, Michael Kretschmer, says it would be a “strong sign” if the European Union treated Russian patients, too. Germany has taken in scores of coronavirus patients from other EU countries, particularly France and Italy, in recent months.

Kretmscher told Spiegel that “we should also show solidarity with Russia.”

Russian health officials reported more than 326,000 cases of COVID-19 today and more than 3,200 deaths.

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MADRID — Spanish authorities say 300 Moroccans will return to their country after being stranded in one of Spain’s two north African enclaves for more than two months.

The representative of Spain’s government in Ceuta says the Moroccan nationals are leaving by bus across the border into Morocco throughout the day.

They were stranded when Morocco closed its borders with Ceuta and Melilla, Spain’s two African enclaves, to foreigners and nationals in early March to contain the COVID-19 spread.

Once on the Moroccan side, they will be confined to hotels for 14 days, according to Spanish authorities. Of the 300 people, 130 had been staying in a municipal sports facility turned into a shelter, while others found lodging in hotels or homes.

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JAKARTA, Indonesia — Indonesian Vice President Ma’ruf Amin apologized to all Indonesians as the threat of COVID-19 in the country is not over yet.

As of today, the government announced there are 634 new COVID-19 cases, bringing the total number of confirmed cases to 20,796. About 1,300 deaths and more than 5,000 recoveries have been recorded.

“We, the government, apologizes as the danger of coronavirus is not over yet. It is not easy to eliminate it. Besides it is difficult to fight the coronavirus, Indonesia has a high population number, compared to other ASEAN countries, and a wide region from Sabang to Merauke. Some of the Indonesians are also lacking discipline and not following the healthy protocol,” Amin said today.

In the recorded video published at the daily video conference, Amin said the country is still dealing with the threat of COVID-19 and working on preventing the virus transmission, especially during the Eid al-Fitr holiday. People were asked to avoid mass gatherings during the celebration of the end of Ramadan, the holiest month for Muslims.

“The government appeals to people to stay home during the Eid al-Fitr and not to go to the mosque or the open fields since we are still facing the danger of the COVID-19,” he said.

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LISBON, Portugal — Portugal’s foreign minister says tourists are welcome in his country and no quarantine will be imposed on people arriving by plane.

Foreign Minister Augusto Santos Silva said today that “minimal health controls,” which he did not specify, will be enacted at airports. Other European countries, including Spain, Italy and the United Kingdom, have preferred a 14-day self-isolation rule for arrivals.

Santos Silva said in an interview with Observador radio station that Portugal’s public health system has coped well with the new coronavirus outbreak, though doctors and nurses have complained of shortcomings.

Also, Portugal has issued rules so that beaches, hotels, restaurants and national monuments can reopen, Santos Silva noted.

Tourism accounts for 15 percent of Portugal’s GDP and 9 percent of the country’s jobs, and authorities are striving to salvage some part of the summer vacation season following a lockdown.

Portugal has officially attributed 1,277 deaths to COVID-19 and recorded almost 30,000 cases.

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KUALA LUMPUR, Malaysia — Malaysian Prime Minister Muhyiddin Yassin had a virus scare after an official at Wednesday’s post-cabinet meeting that he chaired was diagnosed with COVID-19.

The prime minister’s office said Muhyiddin, a cancer survivor, underwent a virus test this morning and was negative. But it said in a statement that Muhyiddin will observe a 14-day quarantine.

It said all other officials at the meeting have also been ordered to test for the virus and to quarantine themselves. The statement said strict health measures and social distancing were practiced in all meetings at the prime minister’s office.

Malaysia has reported over 7,000 infections and more than 100 deaths. The government has reopened most businesses, but still bans mass gatherings and inter-state travel.

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MADRID — The latest report from Spain’s National Statistics Institute makes grim reading for the country’s tourism sector.

The report published today said that in April hotel occupancy was “nil,” as establishments locked down due to the new coronavirus outbreak.

The institute, which is a government body, published columns of zeros for overnight stays, average length of stays and occupancy rates.

Spain is Europe’s second most popular tourist destination, after France.

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LONDON — The British government says people flying into the U.K. will have to self-isolate for 14 days and could be fined 1,000 pounds ($1,220) if they fail to comply.

Home Secretary Priti Patel will announce details of the quarantine plan today. The government has already said it is likely to start in early June and will apply to arrivals from everywhere except Ireland, which has a longstanding free-movement agreement with the U.K.

There are likely to be exemptions for some travelers, including truckers and medics.

Britain did not close its borders during the worst of the coronavirus outbreak and is introducing its quarantine just as many other European countries are starting to open up again. Airlines have warned that the British move could hobble their efforts to recover from the devastation wreaked by pandemic-related travel restrictions.

There has also been confusion about the U.K. policy, after the government initially said it would not apply to people arriving from France. That prompted a rebuke from the European Union, which wants a coordinated policy across the 27-nation bloc.

Britain later said France would not be exempt.

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LONDON — UK government borrowing swelled to 62.1 billion pounds ($75.7 billion) last month as programs meant to cushion the blow of the COVID-19 pandemic hit the public purse.

The UK Office of National Statistics says the figure was the highest for any month on record.

The ONS also cautioned that its estimate could be significantly revised as the full impact of the outbreak becomes clearer.

Michael Hewson of CMC Markets says that “none of these numbers should be a surprise to anybody … as every other country is in the same leaky boat.”

He says the numbers are expected to go even higher because of Treasury chief Rishi Sunak’s decision to extend a program for furloughed employees into the fall.

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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 today.

He added that the company and meat sector “must learn from this quickly and change our behavior and share that with each other.”

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COPENHAGEN, Denmark — A Danish government agency that maps the spread of the coronavirus in Denmark said between 0.5 percent and 1.8 percent 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.

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MOSCOW — Russia has reported the highest daily spike in coronavirus deaths today, 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 today, 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.

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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 percent 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 percent, the equivalent of four billion euros ($4.4 billion), the agency said.

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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 today. 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.

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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.

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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.”

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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 today 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.

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