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Saturday March 28th, 2020 4:04PM

The Latest: Germany approves aid package for small companies

By The Associated Press
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The Latest on the coronavirus pandemic, which has infected more than 343,400 people and killed over 14,700. The COVID-19 illness causes mild or moderate symptoms in most people, but severe symptoms are more likely in the elderly or those with existing health problems. More than 98,800 people have recovered so far, mostly in China.

TOP OF THE HOUR:

— German government approves aid package for small companies and self-employed.

— Czech Republic establishes air bridge to get supplies from China.

— Egyptian senior military officer dies from the coronavirus.

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BERLIN — The German government has approved another large aid package to help companies and individuals affected by the coronavirus pandemic.

The aid package breaks six years of balanced budgets by borrowing 156 billion euros ($167 billion) to finance it.

The government announced Monday that it will give small companies and self-employed people aid of up to 15,000 euros each over three months.

The decision was made at a Cabinet meeting that Chancellor Angela Merkel joined by telephone.

Merkel went into home quarantine on Sunday evening after learning that a doctor who administered a vaccination to her had tested positive for the coronavirus.

The new package comes on top of a previous pledge of at least 460 billion euros in loan guarantees to help Europe’s biggest economy handle the fallout from running down public life to a minimum.

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PRAGUE — Czech authorities have established an air bridge with China to acquire medical equipment. The effort was done with help from NATO and Czech and Chinese airlines.

NATO provided a giant transport An-124 Ruslan plane as part of its program to help participating allies transport heavy and outsized cargo.

The first flight from the city of Shenzhen in south-eastern China delivered over 106 metric tons (117 tons) of equipment. Two more NATO backed flights are expected later in March.

Also, two planes by the China Eastern airline arrived on Friday and Sunday while the first plane by Czech airline CSA landed in Prague early Monday.

They all have been loaded with millions of face masks and respirators, protective googles and suits as well testers for the virus much needed by the health sector.

Interior Minister Jan Hamacek said three flights a week will be landing with the supplies for at least six weeks.

The Czech Republic has 1,165 cases of COVID-19, and one death.

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CAIRO — Egypt’s state-run television has reported the death of a senior military officer from the coronavirus.

Major General Safea Abdel-Halim Dawood tested positive to the virus following his participation in sterilization efforts which the military. He was head of major projects at the engineering authority of the Egyptian armed forces.

Dawood was the second highest official infected by the virus to date in Egypt, which has around 330 cases and 16 deaths.

On Sunday, the military announced the death of Major General Khaled Shaltout, who was infected also while taking part in sterilization.

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WARSAW, Poland — The coronavirus pandemic is hitting some of Catholic Poland’s best loved traditions like the blessing of food in churches on Holy Saturday.

Poland’s bishops have advised against holding the tradition this year to avoid drawing the usual crowds to churches. People bring baskets of food to church that are placed together on a large table, the foods get a blessing and a sprinkle of Holy Water from the priest, as do the families gathered around the table.

With a “national quarantine” currently in place in the fight against the spreading virus, the bishops advise against the blessing and against the use of Holy Water in Easter liturgies in April.

Poland has 649 confirmed cases of the coronavirus and seven fatalities.

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SAN JUAN, Puerto Rico — The second death from COVID-19 in Puerto Rico is a tourist from the United States.

The Health Department says the victim is a 73-year-old man who was vacationing in the U.S. territory with his wife and had other health problems.

The island has 31 confirmed coronavirus cases and at least 69 pending test results. Police have detained and cited more than 200 people for violating a two-week curfew imposed last week.

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MADRID — The number of new infections of the coronavirus in Spain rose for the second day in a row.

Spain's new 4,517 new Monday brought the overall number since the beginning of the outbreak to 33,089. The day-to-day increase of around 15% is similar to the one seen the day before.

The exponential growth of infection was lower than in previous days, but the number of deaths jumped by 462. Spain now has 2,182 fatalities.

The Spanish government says deputy prime minister Carmen Calvo has been hospitalized with a respiratory infection and doctors are testing her for the coronavirus.

Spaniards are beginning their second week of confinement as worry spreads for the collapse of the country’s healthcare system amid an influx of COVID-19 patients requiring assisted respiration.

The Spanish government is seeking parliament approval to extend the state emergency for two more weeks until April 11, but harsher measures like halting overall industrial production have been ruled out.

No incoming travellers from outside Europe’s Schengen border area are allowed into the country starting from Monday.

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LONDON — British Health Secretary Matt Hancock has said people ignoring the government's social distancing advice are “very selfish."

Hancock warned on BBC radio the government may have to take “more action” if people continue to ignore the government's advice to help stop the spread of the coronavirus.

His comments came after a series of images over the weekend showing crowds congregating in open spaces.

Snowdonia National Park in Wales, which experienced “its busiest ever visitor day” on Saturday, urged the government to be more explicit in its advice.

Prime Minister Boris Johnson is due to hold his daily news conference Monday and has warned that Britain may soon have to endure an Italy-style lockdown if people continue to disregard the advice.

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DHAKA, Bangladesh — Bangladesh now has three deaths from the coronavirus. The number of confirmed infections is 33.

Meerjady Sabrina Flora, director of the Institute of Epidemiology, Disease Control and Research, said that six new infections were reported Monday. The new infections include two children under 10 years, a doctor and two nurses.

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BUDAPEST, Hungary — Hungarian lawmakers will discuss a government proposal to extend the state of emergency declared on March 11 because of the coronavirus epidemic.

The bill would allow Prime Minister Viktor Orban's government to rule by decree. The government would not need parliament to approve new or amended laws as long as it considers it necessary because of the epidemic.

The government also has asked the opposition to agree to the urgent passage of the legislation, which would require support from four-fifths of lawmakers. Orban's Fidesz party and a small ally control two-thirds of the seats.

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LISBON, Portugal -- A community of nuns living in silence at a Portuguese convent have offered tips on how to make the best of being stuck at home during the COVID-19 outbreak.

The nuns living in central Portugal say people should take the opportunity to develop their creative side and eat meals together as a family.

They say in an article for the Roman Catholic news agency in Portugal, Ecclesia, that people should place value on the simple things in life -- a friendly word, a tender gesture, taking time to listen to others.

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TOKYO — Japan's health ministry said Monday that two former passengers of a cruise ship died, becoming the ninth and 10th fatalities from the Diamond Princess.

The two men had tested positive for the virus while on board and were treated at hospitals. The ministry didn't disclose the direct cause of their deaths.

Japan now has 1,801 confirmed cases, including 712 from the ship. The death toll now totals 51, including 10 from the ship.

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KRAKOW, Poland — One of Poland’s biggest hospitals, the University Hospital in Krakow, has closed almost all wards to new patients after a few of its employees tested positive for coronavirus.

Only the contagious diseases ward, dedicated to treating COVID-19, remains open. All patients in the hospital will be tested for coronavirus during the week, or some seven days after they had contact with the infected medics. Experts say that to be effective, the tests need to be taken about a week after potential exposure to the virus.

The hospital provides educational and practical base to medicine students of the Jagiellonian University. All schools and universities in Poland were closed earlier this month in an effort to fight the spreading virus.

A nation of 38 million, Poland has confirmed 649 cases of coronavirus infection. Seven patients have died.

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VATICAN CITY — Pope Francis has canceled his planned day trip to Malta on May 31 due to the coronavirus.

The Vatican on Monday made official what was widely expected, given Italy’s nationwide lockdown to try to contain the virus and Malta’s decision to bar air traffic from Italy. Italy is the epicenter of COVID-19 in Europe, registering nearly 60,000 infections and more than 5,400 deaths.

The May 31 trip had been Francis’ only confirmed foreign trip of 2020. The Vatican said it would be rescheduled.

He had hoped to travel to Iraq this year, but those hopes were dashed after the security situation deteriorated following a U.S. airstrike that killed an Iranian general. Francis was also rumored to be planning a trip to Indonesia, East Timor and Papua New Guinea. But local church officials in East Timor said that trip too, was off.

Despite the virus, Francis is continuing to meet daily with his top advisers.

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PARIS — Yves Saint Laurent and Balenciaga are the latest luxury fashion labels ramping up supplies of surgical masks to help the fight against COVID-19.

The Kering Group, which owns the labels, says French workshops that usually make luxury clothes for Yves Saint Laurent and Balenciaga will switch over to manufacturing masks. It says production will begin “as soon as the manufacturing process and materials have been approved by the relevant authorities.” It did not say how many masks the workshops will be able to make.

Kering said it will also buy and import 3 million surgical masks from China for donation to the French health service.

The world’s largest luxury group — Paris-based LVMH — has also said it has reached a deal with a Chinese industrial supplier to deliver 10 million masks to the French population.

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GENEVA — The World Health Organization says criminals are increasingly posing as WHO officials in an effort to swipe information or money from people during the coronavirus crisis.

Spokesman Tarik Jasarevic said Monday that attackers are using “multiple impersonation approaches” such as fraudulent phone calls and phishing on email and through social media.

The U.N. health agency said it is working to confirm and debunk such attempts and alert local authorities. It has set up a website to help people prevent fraud during the coronavirus outbreak.

"Always take time to think about a request for your personal information, and whether the request is appropriate," WHO said.

WHO says its official emails come from the “who.int” domain.

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BEIJING — China's foreign ministry says the U.S. is "completely wasting the precious time" Beijing had won in attacking the global coronavirus outbreak that originated in the Chinese city of Wuhan.

Ministry spokesman Geng Shuang said at a daily briefing Monday that the U.S. has attempted to “discredit others and look for a scapegoat to shift its responsibilities.”

He added that the U.S. should “stop politicizing the epidemic, stop stigmatizing and defaming China and other countries.”

China's health ministry says Wuhan has now gone five consecutive days without a new infection, showing the effectiveness of draconian travel restrictions that are slowly being relaxed around the country.

At the same time, China is stepping up measures to prevent the virus from being brought back from overseas, requiring international flights into Beijing to first stop at airports outside the capital for inspection.

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TIRANA, Albania — Albania has reported three more deaths from the coronavirus. The country did not report a single case until two weeks ago, and had said that it expected a surge in cases this week.

The Health Ministry has reported the deaths of a 71-year-old late Sunday night and a 43-year old and a 61-year-old Monday morning, raising Albania's death toll to four. The country has confirmed 89 cases.

Albania is in a lockdown, with all borders closed, and schools, cafes, restaurants, gyms, and public and private transport shut. All shops except for groceries and pharmacies are also closed.

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WARSAW, Poland — Polish police say they have carried out inspections of nearly 80,000 people subjected to forced quarantine because of the coronavirus pandemic and found 318 cases of people violating the quarantine.

The Polish government has enacted increasingly firm measures in order to slow the spread of COVID-19. Last week the government increased penalties for quarantine non-compliance from 5,000 zlotys ($1,180) to 30,000 zlotys ($7,075). The authorities also extended an initial two-week closure of all schools in the country for an additional two weeks, lasting through Easter.

Additionally, they introduced a phone app to track those in home quarantine.

So far, Poland, with a population of 38 million people, has 649 confirmed cases of the coronavirus and seven deaths.

National police spokesman Mariusz Ciarka said that over the last day police inspected 79,196 people in quarantine and discovered 318 irregularities.

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LONDON — British justice officials have put new jury trials on hold as the court system places safety measures in place amid the coronavirus crisis.

Lord Chief Justice Ian Burnett said in a statement Monday that jurors summoned this week are being contacted to ask them to remain at home.

Burnett said ongoing jury trials will also be paused to make sure arrangements are in place to make certain they can continue to operate safely.

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The Associated Press receives support for health and science coverage from the Howard Hughes Medical Institute’s Department of Science Education. The AP is solely responsible for all content.

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