World COVID-19 updates: Putin may be exposed; 30,000 prisoners released

FILE In this file photo taken on Monday, March 23, 2020, Russian President Vladimir Putin, right shakes hands with the hospital’s chief Denis Protsenko during his visit to the hospital for coronavirus patients in Kommunarka, outside Moscow, Russia. The chief doctor of Moscow’s top hospital for coronavirus patients says he has tested positive for the virus, a statement that comes a week after his encounter with President Vladimir Putin. Putin visited the Kommunarka hospital on March 23. (Alexei Druzhinin, Sputnik, Kremlin Pool Photo via AP, File)
Flags fly at half-staff during a minute of silence commemorating the Covid-19 virus victims, at the Vatican Sant’Anna Gate, Tuesday, March 31, 2020. Italy has observed a minute of silence and flown its flags at half-staff in a nationwide gesture to honor the victims of the coronavirus and their families. The new coronavirus causes mild or moderate symptoms for most people, but for some, especially older adults and people with existing health problems, it can cause more severe illness or death. (AP Photo/Andrew Medichini)
Flags fly at half-staff during a minute of silence commemorating the Covid-19 virus victims, at the Vatican’s Apostolic Palace, Tuesday, March 31, 2020. Italy has observed a minute of silence and flown its flags at half-staff in a nationwide gesture to honor the victims of the coronavirus and their families. The new coronavirus causes mild or moderate symptoms for most people, but for some, especially older adults and people with existing health problems, it can cause more severe illness or death. (AP Photo/Andrew Medichini)
FILE - In this file photo taken on Monday, March 23, 2020, Russian President Vladimir Putin, center, and the hospital’s chief Denis Protsenko, right, walk in to the hospital for coronavirus patients in Kommunarka, outside Moscow, Russia. The chief doctor of Moscow’s top hospital for coronavirus patients says he has tested positive for the virus, a statement that comes a week after his encounter with President Vladimir Putin. Putin visited the Kommunarka hospital on March 23. (Alexei Druzhinin, Sputnik, Kremlin Pool Photo via AP, File)
A health worker sprays disinfectant in an informal roadside market, in an attempt to halt the spread of the new coronavirus, in Lagos, Nigeria Tuesday, March 31, 2020 as the city faces a two-week lockdown with residents told to stay in their homes. The new coronavirus causes mild or moderate symptoms for most people, but for some, especially older adults and people with existing health problems, it can cause more severe illness or death. (AP Photo/Sunday Alamba)
A worker sprays disinfectant to sanitize Duomo square, as the city main landmark, the gothic cathedral, stands out in background, in Milan, Italy, Tuesday, March 31, 2020. The new coronavirus causes mild or moderate symptoms for most people, but for some, especially older adults and people with existing health problems, it can cause more severe illness or death. (Claudio Furlan/LaPresse via AP)
In this photo taken on Sunday, March 15, 2020, Hospital’s chief Denis Protsenko speaks to journalists at the hospital for coronavirus patients in Kommunarka, outside Moscow, Russia. The chief doctor of Moscow’s top hospital for coronavirus patients says he has tested positive for the virus, a statement that comes a week after his encounter with President Vladimir Putin. Putin visited the Kommunarka hospital on March 23. (Sergey Vedyaschkin, Moscow News Agency photo via AP)

The latest on the coronavirus pandemic. The new coronavirus causes mild or moderate symptoms for most people. For some, especially older adults and people with existing health problems, it can cause more severe illness or death.

TOP OF THE HOUR:

  • With highest death toll, Italy holds minute of silence.
  • Spain records its highest number of new deaths from virus.
  • Indonesia orders social distancing.

Infected doctor had shook Putin’s hand

MOSCOW — The chief doctor of Moscow’s top hospital for coronavirus patients says he’s tested positive, a statement that comes a week after his encounter with President Vladimir Putin.

Putin visited the Kommunarka hospital a week ago and met with its chief doctor Denis Protsenko. The doctor says he’s feeling OK and self-isolated in his office.

There was no immediate comment from the Kremlin on whether Putin had undergone a coronavirus test following Protsenko’s announcement.

The president wore a business suit and shook hands with Protsenko before the meeting, drawing a buzz on social networks over his neglect of safety precautions.

Later that day, Putin put on a yellow protective suit and mask to visit the rooms with patients.

On Tuesday, Russia had 500 confirmed cases of the coronavirus in the biggest spike since the start of the outbreak. The country has 2,337 cases so far.

France urgently manufacturing masks

PARIS — French President Emmanuel Macron visited a regional mask factory and reassured the quarantine-hit nation that France was urgently manufacturing masks.

Macron called for “sovereignty and solidarity” in a televised address as he touted advances in production of safety equipment. Critics of the government have said France has been too slow in providing masks for its 67 million inhabitants.

Macron says “the aim is to increase national production from 3.3 million masks per week to 10 million,” suggesting this figure will reached in late April.

He says the government will inject 4 billion euros into the National Public Health organization to place “orders for masks, respirators and medicines.”

More than 1 million Germans on reduced work

BERLIN — Germany’s labour minister says he expects people on a government-backed short-time work program to exceed the 1.4 million it reached during the financial crisis in 2009.

The government has recently made it easier for companies to put workers on the program, which was credited with limiting job losses during the financial crisis and speeding the rebound.

The federal labour agency picks up the expense of keeping workers who are working some or none of their usual hours on the payroll. Employees will receive at least 60-67% of their net salary.

Labour Minister Hubertus Heil says as of Saturday, 470,000 companies had registered for short-time work.

Heavy fines, up to seven years in prison for fake news, failure to distance

MOSCOW — Russian parliament approved harsher punishments for violating quarantine regulations and spreading “fake news.”

Evading quarantine will be punishable by heavy fines, and if it leads to two or more people dying, by up to seven years in prison.

Heavy fines are outlined for those who spread misinformation about the outbreak. If it results in a death, then the perpetrator faces up to five years in prison.

Russia has so far reported 2,337 confirmed cases of the new coronavirus. It reported 500 new cases on Tuesday, the biggest spike since the start of the epidemic.

Many regions and cities are ordering lockdowns and sweeping self-isolation protocols.

Italy: Hospital built at fairgrounds

MILAN — Italy constructed a 200-bed intensive care field hospital at the Milan fairgrounds to help relieve the pressure on northern Italy’s overwhelmed health care system.

The hospital, an outpost of Milan’s Polyclinic hospital, was constructed in 10 days by 500 workers with the help of 21 million euros (23 million U.S.) in donations, nearly half of which came from Lombardy native and former Premier Silvio Berlusconi.

Officials says it’s a specialized wing, with a pharmacy, radiology wards and other specialized pavilions. They say it could be replicated in central and southern Italy.

Late Monday, Lombardy accounted for 1,330 of Italy’s 3,981 ICU patients.

136 dead in Indonesia

JAKARTA, Indonesia — Indonesia’s President Joko Widodo has ordered a large-scale social restriction to ensure people obey the implementation of physical distancing.

He’s instructed the National Police to take legal measures to enforce the restriction and urged local leaders to follow the current regulation and not issue their own policy.

Indonesia’s death toll from COVID-19 has risen to 136 and1,528 cases. It’s prompted local leaders to impose partial lockdown in their regions.

COVID-19 reaches Sierra Leone

FREETOWN, Sierra Leone — Sierra Leone has announced its first coronavirus case.

The West African nation already announced a year-long state of emergency over the pandemic. Sierra Leone was one of the three nations hit hard from 2014-16 by the Ebola outbreak, which killed more than 11,000 people.

Forty eight of Africa’s 54 countries now have the coronavirus.

30,000 prisoners released

JAKARTA, Indonesia — Indonesia plans to release 30,000 prisoners to help prevent the spread of COVID-19.

Indonesia Law and Human Rights Ministry’s spokesman Bambang Wiyono says the Ministry has issued a Ministerial Decree to regulate the release of adult prisoners that had served two-thirds of their sentences and half of the sentences for children prisoners.

Indonesia Law and Human Rights Ministry recorded 270,386 prisoners across the country while the capacity of the prisons is only 131,931 prisoners.

Indonesia has reported 1,528 confirmed cases of COVID-19 and 136 deaths.

Slovakia predicts peak in mid-July

BRATISLAVA, Slovakia — A government health institute in Slovakia estimates the number of people ill with coronavirus could reach the peak by mid-July with some 170,000 infected.

Director Martin Smatana says the strict restrictions approved by the government seems to be helping to slow the spreading of the virus.

Smatana says if the country keeps complying, it has a chance to avoid what happened in the countries and places the worst hit by the pandemic.

Prime Minister Igor Matovic says the authorities are working to double the number of ventilators to 1,000.

Slovakia, the country of nearly 5.5 million, has 363 cases of COVID-19. No one has died.

Philippines looking a quarantine hospital ships

MANILA, Philippines — The Philippine government is studying the possibility of deploying ships that can serve as “floating quarantine hospitals” for people infected by the coronavirus after leading hospitals are filled up to capacity.

The government says in a report to Congress that ships could be fitted with medical equipment and deployed anywhere in the archipelago. At least six private metropolitan Manila hospitals have announced they were full and can no longer accept COVID-19 patients.

The Department of Public Works and Highway also created a special group to convert unused public buildings and evacuation shelters into treatment centres, containment areas and emergency food hubs.

Philippine health officials reported 538 new COVID-19 cases Tuesday, bringing the country’s total to 2,084 and 88 deaths. The number of infections is expected to spike after more testing laboratories open.

Italy takes a moment of silence as deaths approach 12,000

ROME — Italy has observed a minute of silence and flown its flags at half-staff in a nationwide gesture to honour the victims of the coronavirus and their families.

The Vatican also lowered its flags Tuesday to honour the dead in the country with the greatest toll from the virus, which stands at more than 11,500.

The noon minute of silence was observed in cities and towns around the country.

The office of Premier Giuseppe Conte says the gesture was a sign of national mourning and solidarity with the victims, their families “and as a sign of collective participation in mourning with the hardest-hit communities.”

Battle against virus still daunting in China

BEIJING — Chinese officials say the coronavirus epidemic isn’t over in their country and daunting challenges remain.

Foreign ministry spokeswoman Hua Chunying says authorities need to make sure that infected people arriving from abroad don’t spread the disease and start new outbreaks.

She hit back at U.S. criticism of her country’s handling of the epidemic, saying China and the U.S. should work together to fight it.

“We also hope that some U.S. officials can follow through in the spirit of the two heads of states’ call and create more favourable conditions for the two countries to co-operate in the fight against the disease,” she said. The two leaders talked late last week.

Hua noted that some local Chinese governments and companies have provided virus-related medical supplies to the United States, even as the demand for those supplies remains high in China.

Emirates airline to receive bailout

DUBAI, United Arab Emirates — Dubai’s government says it will inject equity into Emirates airlines as the Middle East’s largest carrier grounds nearly all of its flights due to coronavirus restrictions on travel at its hub in the world’s busiest airport for international travel.

Dubai’s Crown Prince Sheikh Hamdan bin Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum says liquidity would be given to the state-owned airline “considering its strategic importance” to Dubai and the economy of the United Arab Emirates. He did not say how much credit would be pumped into the airline.

Emirates carried around 58 million passengers last year, helping to transform Dubai’s airport into the world’s busiest for international travel for several years running.

Also Tuesday, low-cost carrier flydubai became the latest airline to announce pay cuts of its staff of nearly 4,000.

The company told The Associated Press it was reducing salaries between 25-50% for a three-month period starting in April.

Highest daily death toll hits Spain

MADRID — Spain recorded on Tuesday 849 new coronavirus deaths, the highest number since the pandemic hit the southern European country, according to the country’s health ministry.

With both new infections and deaths up around 11% each, to a total of 94,417 confirmed cases and 8,189 fatalities, Spain is seeing a slight rebound in the outbreak.

That’s despite an overall timid slowdown in its spread for the past week, allowing authorities to focus on avoiding the collapse of the health system. At least one third of Spain’s 17 regions were already at their limit of capacity in terms of intensive care unit usage, while new beds are being added in hotels, exhibition and sports centres across the country.

At least 14% of those infected are much-needed medical personnel. Many of them lack proper protective gear.

The government also wants to cushion the social effects of a major economic slowdown. Spain is officially “hibernating,” with new measures halting all but essential economic activity coming into full force on Tuesday.

Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez’s left-wing Cabinet is expected to add a new 700-million-euro aid package, including zero interest loans, as well as suspend evictions for families who can’t afford to pay their home rent.

British death toll higher than thought

LONDON — More people with the coronavirus have died in Britain than previously announced, according to newly published figures that include deaths both in and out of hospitals.

The Office for National Statistics says that 210 deaths recorded England and Wales up to March 20 mentioned COVID-19 on the death certificate. That is 40 more than the 170 deaths among people with the virus reported by the Department of Health for the same period.

The two sets of figures use different reporting methods and timing. The Department of Health statistics record hospital deaths. Tuesday’s higher figure includes people who died in nursing homes and other settings. Some of those are people were not tested for the virus but were suspected of having it.

12-year-old girl dies in Belgium

BRUSSELS — Belgian authorities say a 12-year-old girl has died of the coronavirus, by far the youngest person among the more than 700 victims in the country.

National crisis-centre coronavirus spokesman Emmanuel Andre says it is “an emotionally difficult moment, because it involves a child, and it has also upset the medical and scientific community.”

No details about the girl were provided.

He says 98 people had died from the disease over the last 24 hours, bringing the total toll to 705 in a country of around 11.5 million people. More than 12,705 cases have been confirmed in total so far.

Cases in Russia begin to spike

MOSCOW — Russia registered 500 confirmed cases of the coronavirus on Tuesday in the biggest spike since the beginning of the outbreak that brought the country’s total to 2,337 cases.

The report comes as Russia edges closer to declaring a state of emergency, with many regions and cities ordering lockdowns and sweeping self-isolation protocols.

Moscow, the country’s capital, has been on lockdown since Monday, with most businesses closed and residents not allowed to leave their apartments except for grocery shopping, buying medicines, taking out trash or walking their dogs. Similar regimes are in place in more than 30 Russian regions.

Human rights advocates and lawyers in Russia argue that, in accordance with the Russian legislation, such lockdowns can’t be legally enforced until the state of emergency is declared by the president. The Kremlin has so far said that Moscow authorities have been within their rights to impose a lockdown.

On Tuesday, the State Duma, Russia’s lower parliament house, hastily adopted a law allowing the Cabinet to declare the state of emergency, rubber-stamping it through all three required readings in one day.

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