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Latest world virus headlines: WHO says Central, South America hard hit

Visitors admire the Gallery of Maps as the Vatican Museum reopened today in Rome. The Vatican Museums reopened to visitors after three months of shutdown following COVID-19 containment measures.

These are summaries of the latest stories worldwide on the coronavirus pandemic, including:

• Spain reports no deaths, in 1st since March;

• WHO official says Central, South America seeing worst transmission worldwide;

• Italy registers one of the lowest day-to-day infection increases;

• Pakistan relaxes more restrictions, including tourism ban;

• Mosques fully reopen in Gaza Strip;

• Vatican’s Sistine Chapel reopens after 3 months;

• Montenegro starts letting in foreign tourists;

• Protests spark virus fears in US; South Korea sees new cases;

• World Health Organization says high blood pressure, diabetes treatments disrupted;

• Japan is conducting antibody tests in three prefectures;

• Lithuania eases border restrictions for foreign visitors;

• Albania, Kosovo, Portugal and Slovakia lift some virus restrictions.

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LONDON– The emergencies chief of the World Health Organization said Central and South America are currently witnessing the most intense transmission of the coronavirus worldwide, but it’s difficult to predict when the epidemic might peak there.

In the last 24 hours, Dr. Michael Ryan said five of the 10 countries reporting the highest number of cases are in the Americas: the U.S., Brazil, Peru, Chile and Mexico. He said that while the growth of COVID-19 was not exponential in all those countries, officials were seeing a progressive increase in cases and that hospitals were starting to strain under the pressure.

“We’re particularly concerned about places like Haiti because of the inherent weaknesses in the system,” Ryan said at a press briefing today. “I think we now absolutely need to focus on supporting particularly Central and South America,” he said. He added that while officials previously had very serious concerns about COVID-19’s impact in South Asia and Africa, outbreaks in those regions, although difficult, were now stable.

“I don’t believe we’ve reached the peak” in the Americas, Ryan said, noting that several factors in the region, including the number of urban poor and fragile health systems, made outbreaks in those countries particularly dangerous.

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KYIV, Ukraine — Ukraine has further eased its coronavirus restrictions, allowing intercity travel and opening gyms.

Ukraine’s railways announced that intercity passenger trains and local commuter trains could resume starting today in 10 of Ukraine’s 25 regions. The authorities also allowed gyms and swimming pools to reopen across the country and permitted tourist visits to the tightly controlled zone around the Chernobyl nuclear power plant, the site of the world’s worst nuclear accident in 1986.

Ukrainian officials also said that transit across the borders with Moldova and Slovakia will also resume starting today.

Earlier, the country allowed non-food stores to reopen and lifted restrictions on city transportation.

Ukraine has registered over 24,000 infections, including 718 deaths. Despite a relatively low number of cases, the nation’s underfunded health care system has struggled to cope with the outbreak.

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ROME — Italy has registered one of the lowest day-to-day increases in coronavirus infections since the early days of March, before the strict national lockdown.

The Health Ministry said today there were 178 confirmed new COVID-19 cases since Sunday evening, raising to 233,197 the total number of known coronavirus cases in the nation. Authorities say the actual number is undoubtedly much higher, since many people with no or mild symptoms go untested.

The nation also saw one of its lowest daily death counts since early in the outbreak. There were 60 confirmed deaths in the 24-hour period ending this evening. Italy’s official death toll in the pandemic now stands at 33,475.

Italy on Wednesday will open its borders to tourism from most European countries as well as permit tourism travel between regions for the first time since lockdown began three months ago.

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MADRID — Spain says it’s reporting no deaths in a 24-hour period from the new coronavirus for the first time since March.

Emergency health response chief Fernando Simón said today the development is “very, very encouraging.”

He told a news conference there were only 71 new infection over the past 24 hours.

“We are in a very good place in the evolution of the pandemic,” Simón said. “The statistics are following a trend. They are going the right direction.”

Spain reported its first two deaths on March 3. On April 2, it recorded 950 deaths in 24 hours — the peak death toll.

The official death toll now stands at 27,127, with 240,000 cases.

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LONDON — The World Health Organization’s director-general declined to address in detail the significance of U.S. President Donald Trump’s recent announcement that he would be pulling the country out of WHO, saying only that he hoped the relationship would continue.

Trump announced Friday that he was not satisfied with the level of substantial reform he had demanded from the U.N. health agency in the wake of the coronavirus pandemic and would be taking the U.S. out of WHO — an unprecedented move by any member country.

In recent weeks, Trump has repeatedly accused WHO of colluding with China to cover up the extent of the coronavirus outbreak and labeled WHO a “puppet” of China.

WHO has dismissed the accusations.

At a press briefing today, WHO chief Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said the U.S. government’s contribution to global public health over the past few decades has been “immense” and has made a great difference to public health. “It is WHO’s wish for this collaboration to continue,” he said.

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KEY LARGO, Fla — The Florida Keys reopened for visitors today after the tourist-dependent island chain was closed for more than two months to prevent spread of the coronavirus.

As the Keys took down barriers, Miami-Dade County decided to keep its beaches closed because of protests over the death in Minneapolis of George Floyd, a black man who pleaded for air as a white police officer pressed a knee on his neck.

Roadblocks were taken down shortly after midnight near Key Largo. Almost half of all workers in the Keys are employed by hotels, bars and other hospitality industries, and many of the rest are involved in commercial and sport fishing.

Also opening today in Florida was Legoland in Winter Haven. Universal Orlando and Walt Disney World are planning to reopen in the coming days.

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ISLAMABAD — Pakistan’s prime minister says he is relaxing more coronavirus restrictions implemented in March, including a ban on tourism, as authorities reported 60 more COVID-19-related deaths.

Imran Khan said today Pakistanis must learn how to live with the coronavirus, as lockdown is not a treatment for the disease.

His blunt televised remarks drew criticism on social media when he said the virus would continue to spread, causing more deaths if people did not observe social distancing rules.

Pakistan has registered 1,543 fatalities amid 72,460 cases.

The country has witnessed an increase in coronavirus-related deaths since it eased lockdown ahead of the holiday of Eid-ul Fitr that marks the end of Ramadan.

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GAZA CITY, Gaza Strip — Gaza’s Hamas rulers are fully reopening mosques in the Palestinian enclave after nearly two months of closure to contain the coronavirus.

The announcement today adds to a series of easing measures the Islamic group has taken after succeeding so far to keep the virus at bay. Mosques are set to reopen Wednesday after Hamas allowed for a partial reopening last month for one weekly prayer.

It has already lifted a ban on restaurants, cafes and markets. The Gaza Strip, blockaded by Israel and Egypt since Hamas took power in 2007, has 61 confirmed cases and one death — all inside quarantine centers where people from outside the territory must remain upon arrival.

Experts fear an outbreak in the impoverished territory could overwhelm its already under-resourced health care system.

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VATICAN CITY — Some 1,600 people reserved tickets in advance to see the Sistine Chapel on the first day the Vatican Museums opened to the public after a three-month coronavirus shutdown.

Museum employees measured the temperature of visitors at the entrance, and everyone was required to wear masks throughout their visits.

Museum director Barbara Jatta said today was a day of “great joy” and a return to a semblance of normalcy after so many weeks of fear in the onetime epicenter of the European virus outbreak.

She said it was “a very pleasant surprise” so many reserved tickets to visit. During peak summer months, the Vatican Museums routinely would have an hours-long line of tourists waiting to enter since the Vatican didn’t have an advance reservation system to schedule visit times.

Jatta said museum staff used the weeks of closure to ensure the safety of visitors as well as the art. She said: “We want to share this patrimony but we want to share in safety.”

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PODGORICA, Montenegro — Montenegro, the first country in Europe to declare itself “coronavirus-free,” has started letting in foreign tourists as of today as it seeks to salvage the tourism season following the virus outbreak. But there’s a catch.

The tiny Adriatic state’s authorities have listed 131 countries whose citizens can enter without any restrictions, if they currently have at most 25 active COVID-19 cases per 100,000 people.

Nevertheless, Montenegro’s government tweeted today that “tourists mostly from Western European countries started arriving as of midnight.”

In a bid to attract wary European tourists looking for a safe place to spend their holidays, Montenegro has been advertising itself as a “corona-free” destination since it officially has had no new cases of COVID-19 infections for the past several weeks.

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LONDON — The World Health Organization says that about half of countries surveyed in a new analysis have had partial or complete disruption of services for people with high blood pressure and diabetes treatment during the ongoing coronavirus pandemic.

In a survey of 155 countries last month, the U.N. health agency found worrying problems in the provision of health care for people with non-communicable diseases, many of whom are at higher risk of severe complications from COVID-19.

The survey also found that 42 percent of countries had interrupted services for cancer patients and 31 percent for heart emergencies. In more than 90 percent of countries, health care staff had been partially or fully reassigned to pandemic duties.

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TOKYO — Japan’s health ministry started blood tests today in three areas including Tokyo in an effort to check what percentage of its people have developed antibodies, a sign of their coronavirus infections in recent past.

The tests will be conducted on 10,000 randomly selected people at age 20 or older from Tokyo and Osaka to represent Japan’s two most-infected prefectures, while Miyagi in the north is one of least infected in the country.

Some 3,000 people will be tested in each area and results will be expected at the end of June.

Japan, due to its lack of testing capability and resources, has until recently begun carefully limiting access to testing mainly to reduce the number of severe cases and fatalities. The strategy, however, has prompted doubts that many people may have been undetected.

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TIRANA, Albania — Both Albania and Kosovo have allowed nearly all movement and operation of businesses except for a few activities that usually collect groups of people.

Land borders have opened, and incoming visitors are not obliged to self-quarantine themselves. A long line of vehicles was seen at some border crossing points today and businesses at one of them were complaining about an added 22-euro tax ($24.4) for disinfection of their cargo vehicles.

Hotels in Albania also opened today while public beaches will be free for the people a week later. Tourism is one of the most negatively impacted businesses.

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LISBON, Portugal — Portugal is allowing movie theaters, shopping malls, gymnasiums and kindergartens to reopen from today, but the capital Lisbon isn’t seeing all those restrictions lifted because some hot spots of the new coronavirus have emerged there.

On Sunday, officials reported that the Lisbon metropolitan area represented 268 of the country’s 297 new daily infections.

Health authorities say they are stepping up controls in some of Lisbon’s low-income zones, and especially at construction sites and for temporary workers regarded as most at risk.

Lisbon shopping malls and mega stores must stay closed, and people can gather in groups of no more than 10 people, at least until a government review on June 4.

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ROME — A long line of masked visitors is snaking outside the Vatican Museums as one of Italy’s biggest tourist draws reopens after a three-month coronavirus shutdown.

Across town, Rome’s other big attraction — the Colosseum — also opened its doors, but it appeared there were more television crews than tourists on hand.

Italy on Wednesday will further loosen travel restrictions in the onetime epicenter of Europe’s pandemic in a bid to reboot the tourism industry that accounts for some 13 percent of the national GDP. Italians will be allowed to freely move about the country and European Union visitors will be welcomed without quarantine requirements.

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MOSCOW — The Russian capital has eased the restrictions intended to stem the coronavirus outbreak, allowing all non-food retailers and some other businesses to reopen.

Today’s reopening of retail stores along with dry cleaners and repair shops comes as the pace of contagion has stabilized in Moscow, which has accounted for about half of the nation’s infections. Residents are also allowed now to walk in the parks and engage in sports activities with time restrictions. Restaurants, cafes, hairdressers and gyms remain closed and people are still required to obtain electronic passes for traveling.

Most Russian regions were in lockdown since late March, but many already have eased the restrictions to ease the economic pain.

Russia has registered nearly 415,000 infections, the world’s third-highest caseload behind the United States and Brazil. Some experts in Russia and abroad have voiced doubts about the nation’s relatively low death toll of 4,855, alleging that the authorities might have underreported coronavirus mortality for political reasons. Officials have rejected the claims.

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THE HAGUE, Netherlands — The Netherlands has taken a major step to relax the coronavirus lockdown, with bars, restaurants, cinemas and museums reopening under strict conditions.

The move happens on a major public holiday and with the sun out blazing, there were immediate fears for overcrowding like in popular beach resorts like Scheveningen close to The Hague.

Under the new rules, bars and restaurants will be allowed to cater to up to 30 patrons inside if they keep social distancing. There will be no standing room in the bars and reservations will be necessary. There are no crowd limits for terraces outside if distance is kept.

Museums, such as the world-famous Rijksmuseum will be reopening too but need to keep to strict rules on reservations and crowding.

Public transport will also be expanding to resume regular schedules as of Tuesday but will bar people sitting close to one another.

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LONDON — Britain has begun cautiously easing lockdown restrictions despite warnings from some health officials that the risk of spreading COVID-19 was still too great.

Some schools are reopening and some social restrictions have been relaxed, allowing people to have limited contact with family and friends as long as it is done outdoors and with social distancing. Restrictions on some of society’s most vulnerable have also been eased as the government moves to restore some normalcy in daily life and to revive the economy.

Business Secretary Alok Sharma told the BBC that the government is taking action in phases to ease restrictions in place since March 23. He says “this is not a dash.”

The Association of Directors of Public Health has warned that experts are worried that the government is moving too fast.

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YEREVAN, Armenia — Armenia’s Prime Minister Nikol Pashinian and his entire family have been infected with the coronavirus.

In a Facebook statement today, Pashinian said he didn’t have any symptoms, but decided to get tested ahead of visiting military units, and the test came back positive.

Armenia has so far reported over 9,000 confirmed cases of the virus among its population of nearly 3 million, with around 130 deaths. Last week, Pashinian said the outbreak was getting worse.

SEOUL, South Korea — South Koreaás top infectious disease expert has pleaded people over 65, pregnant women and other medically vulnerable individuals to stay at home as officials struggle to trace and stem the spread of the coronavirus amid increased public activity.

Jeong Eun-kyeong, director of the Korea Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, made the comments today while addressing 24 new cases linked to a group of churches near capital Seoul.

She also raised concern over the hundreds of transmissions linked to workplaces, including call centers and at least one massive warehouse.

âWe have been seeing an increased number of high-risk patients, who have been infected through family members or religious gatherings,ã Jeong said. âThereás a particular need for people over 65 years in age, pregnant women and those with chronic medical conditions to be alert,ã she added, recommending that they avoid face-to-face gatherings with others.

South Korea has so far reported more than 11,000 cases and around 270 deaths.

Christian churches have been campaigning for worshippers to return since authorities eased social distancing guidelines in mid-April, but the resurgence in COVID-19 cases in the greater capital area in past weeks has pushed officials to restore some controls.

Incheon, a port city west of Seoul, today banned gathering at more at some 4,200 churches and other religious facilities. Gyeonggi Province, which surrounds the capital, issued an administrative order to shut down warehouses, funeral homes and wedding halls, but city officials didnát immediately confirm how many businesses were affected.

ATHENS, Greece — Greece today lifted lockdown measures for hotels, open-air cinemas, golf courses, and public swimming pools as the country ramped up preparations for the tourism season starting in two weeks.

Primary school children also returned to classes in the country where strict public safety measures were believed to have kept the COVID-19 infection rate low, with the death toll at 175, according to Health Ministry figures announced Sunday.

International flights with relaxed screening procedures will resume to Athens and Greeceás second-largest city Thessaloniki starting June 15 and expanding to the rest of the country on July 1.

Screening for arriving passengers will be based on an assessment by a European Union flight safety authority, with arrivals from low-infection countries being subjected only to random testing.

Hotels with a 12-month operating license were allowed to reopen today but many chose to remain closed until closer to the start of the tourism season, citing low bookings.

Also allowed to restart today are campsites, wedding reception services, tattoo parlors, and dating agencies.

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