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Friday April 3rd, 2020 7:41AM

The Latest: Italy reports 683 more deaths as cases level off

By The Associated Press
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The Latest on the coronavirus pandemic, which has infected more than 440,000 people and killed over 19,000, according to Johns Hopkins University. 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 111,000 people have recovered so far, mostly in China.

TOP OF THE HOUR:

— Nearly 700 more deaths in Italy, but cases leveling off

— Canada orders returning travelers to self-isolate, offers cash to affected workers.

— Cuomo: 3,800 hospitalized in New York.

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ROME — Italy has added 683 more dead and 5,210 infections to its coronavirus toll, but its initial steep rise in cases has continued to level off two weeks into a nationwide lockdown.

The new figures brought the number of infections to 74,386 and placed Italy on track to overtake China in the next day or two in having the most reported cases in the world. Italy last week reported more dead than China and on Wednesday registered a total of 7,503 dead with the virus, confirming its place as the European epicenter of the pandemic.

Dr. Massimo Galli of Milan’s Sacco Hospital said that the infections being verified in these days result from before many of the containment measures went into effect March 11. He told SKY TG24 that in his estimation the restrictions won’t be lifted any time soon.

“This is hard, but the numbers and facts say it,” Galli said.

His team at the Sacco Hospital has determined that the virus has been circulating in Italy since Jan. 25-26, and that it took almost a month for it to become recognized, around Feb. 20-21. That puts Italy as of March 3 at the same place Wuhan, China was on Jan. 25, he said, noting that China is only coming out of tight restrictions now, two months later.

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PRAGUE — The Czech Republic’s government is tightening restrictions in efforts to curb the spread of the coronavirus, banning gatherings of more than two people in public.

The Health Ministry said Wednesday that people from the same household are still allowed to go out together.

The only other exceptions includes the mourners at funerals and business activities.

People should also keep a distance of 2 meters (7 feet) between one another.

The government already banned travels across the country except going to and from work and shopping, attending funerals, visiting hospitals or going out for a walk or sports.

Three men infected with the coronavirus died on Wednesday, bringing the death toll in the Czech Republic to six. A total cases of COVID-19 reached 1,654.

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MEXICO CITY — Mexico has suspended the 45-day period that its asylum agency has to process asylum applications due to the coronavirus.

In a statement, the Interior Ministry said that application materials would still be accepted, but the 45-day clock would not start until the suspension is lifted on April 20. The agency also suspended the requirement that those with active applications sign in weekly at local agency offices.

It was not immediately clear what the impact would be on asylum-seekers other than a more drawn out process for people in a precarious situation. The agency made a similar suspension after the 2017 earthquake when its offices were damaged.

Mexico already faced a significant backlog as the number of asylum applications soared in recent years in large part due to the United States making it more difficult for people to seek asylum there.

Last year, more than 70,000 people applied for asylum in Mexico. In the first two months of this year, more than 12,000 more did, according to agency data.

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MADRID — Spain's Deputy Prime Minister Carmen Calvo, who is 62, has contracted the coronavirus and remains hospitalized to be treated for her respiratory infection.

A statement from the prime minister's office said Wednesday that Calvo's latest diagnosis had turned positive after previous tests during the past two days were deemed inconclusive by doctors.

At least two other members of the Spanish Cabinet are also recovering from the COVID-19 that is caused by the new virus, as well as the wife of Prime Minister Pedro Sánchez.

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TORONTO — Canada announced Wednesday it is imposing mandatory self-isolation for those returning to the country under the Quarantine Act.

Health Minister Patty Hajdu said on Twitter that the government is making it mandatory to better protect Canada's most vulnerable.

Deputy Prime Minister Chrystia Freeland said the requirement will begin at midnight Wednesday and last for 14 days.

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LONDON — London City Airport, which is widely by business people for short-haul journeys to Europe, will suspend operations for commercial and private flights until the end of April but said it is ready to help out in the coronavirus relief effort.

The airport, which handles around 5.1 million passengers a year, said it has made the decision after a dramatic collapse in demand. It said it could remain open to support emergency flights or the military or other government agencies.

"At this time of national crisis, we stand ready to keep the aerodrome open and to work with the emergency services and government to support the relief effort in any way we can to ensure that people and communities get the vital care they need,” CEO Robert Sinclair said.

One potential use could be helping out the nearby 4,000-bed NHS Nightingale Hospital, which will open next week at the Excel Centre. The military is helping in its construction.

London is the hotspot of the pandemic in the U.K.

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CANNES, France — The French Riviera city of Cannes has opened the doors of the site of the city's world-famed film festival to the homeless. Converting the Palais des Festivals into a shelter is aimed at helping those without a roof respect confinement measures in France to fight the spread of the coronavirus.

The ground floor of the Palais des Festivals, home of the annual gathering of stardust and glitter, can hold up to 80 homeless people. There, they can shower, sleep, eat and even keep their dogs in a kennel in a hall. The homeless center opened Friday, and the town hall said that 61 people were present on Tuesday.

Social distancing and sanitary considerations are assured at the center, according to a statement.

The homeless are particularly challenged by the confinement orders, which risk continuing for weeks. Empty streets mean that handouts vital to many homeless people to survive have evaporated.

The Cannes Film Festival originally set for May 12-23 has been postponed.

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LOS ANGELES — Immigrant advocates on Wednesday asked a federal court in Los Angeles to order the Office of Refugee Resettlement to release unaccompanied immigrant children held in government-contracted shelters for more than 30 days to eligible sponsors to help protect them, and the public, from the coronavirus.

Two staff members from such facilities in New York have already tested positive for the virus, and children typically share rooms, participate in required group activities and eat together, advocates said in court papers.

Advocates said about a third of the 3,600 children currently in custody have been there for at least 30 days and want the court to order them released to fitting sponsors who can take them.

“The urgency here cannot be overstated,” Leecia Welch, senior director of child welfare and legal advocacy at the National Center for Youth Law. “Without immediate steps to reduce the population of youth in congregate care and strict adherence to social distancing, many ORR facilities could become sites of massive infection.”

The Office of Refugee Resettlement declined to comment on the litigation but said in a statement that its priority is to unify children with suitable sponsors as quickly and safely as possible. Facilities that house unaccompanied children are required to check their temperatures twice daily and have received guidance regarding the coronavirus, the statement said.

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THE HAGUE, Netherlands — World-renowned Dutch flower garden Keukenhof will not open this year after the Dutch government extended its ban on gatherings to June 1 in an attempt to slow the spread of the coronavirus.

"This means that Keukenhof cannot open in 2020," the popular attraction, which only opens during the flowering season in spring, announced Wednesday.

The garden in the middle of the Dutch bulb fields had been due to open March 21, but that date was canceled due to restrictions that initially were put in place until early April.

"The park is already blooming beautifully and will become even more beautiful in the coming weeks," the garden said in a statement. Instead of opening, it will allow people to virtually visit its colorful floral displays through its social media and online channels.

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SANTA FE, N.M. — New Mexico health officials on Wednesday announced the state’s first death related to the coronavirus.

The man in his late 70s was hospitalized in southeastern New Mexico on Sunday and died the same day as his condition deteriorated rapidly.

The state Health Department said he had multiple underlying conditions. Confirmed infections in New Mexico have climbed past 100 with schools shut down and a stay-at-home order in effect.

Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham called it a tragic day and urged residents to stay home and take precautions to limit the spread of the COVID-19 disease.

“For anyone in our state who had not yet acknowledged this virus as the urgent public health crisis that it is, who has not accepted the extremely compelling need to stay home, today lays bare the very real, very life-or-death consequences of this disease,” she said.

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MOSCOW — Russia has reported its first deaths from the novel coronavirus infection, two elderly patients who also had underlying conditions.

The commission directing Russia's response to the virus said Wednesday the patients died of pneumonia and were 88 and 73 years old.

Russia has reported 658 cases of infection nationwide. Last week an infected patient died, but doctors said that was due to a blood clot rather than the virus itself.

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TALLINN, Estonia — Health officials in Estonia have confirmed the Baltic nation's first coronavirus death. Officials said an 83-year-old woman treated with other illnesses died in a hospital in western Estonia.

Estonia, a small nation of 1.3 million, has reported over 400 coronavirus cases so far.

The Estonian government led by Prime Minister Juri Ratas on Tuesday imposed new coronavirus-related restrictions for citizens. They include a requirement to keep a 2-meter (7-foot) distance from each other in public spaces, a ban of meetings of more than two people and a closure of shopping malls and limits to opening hours of bars and restaurants.

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UNITED NATIONS — U.N. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres has launched a $2 billion appeal to help vulnerable and conflict-torn countries in the Middle East, Asia, Africa and South America tackle the coronavirus pandemic and prevent COVID-19 from again circling the globe.

The U.N. chief called the amount a “drop in the ocean,” noting Wednesday that the U.S. Senate is seeking $2 trillion for the U.S. economy.

U.N. humanitarian chief Mark Lowcock announced a $60 million contribution from the U.N.’s emergency relief fund to kick-start the appeal.

Guterres said $2 billion is essential to keep economies and health systems in the developing world afloat to deal with the COVID-19 pandemic. He said it will also help countries already in the midst of a humanitarian crisis caused by conflicts, natural disasters and climate change.

He said, “The worst thing that could happen is to suppress the disease in developed countries and let it spread like fire in the developing world.”

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BERLIN — German Chancellor Angela Merkel has again tested negative for the new coronavirus.

Merkel went into quarantine Sunday after learning that a doctor who had administered a vaccination to her two days earlier was tested positive for COVID-19.

Merkel's office said Wednesday that the 65-year-old has now tested negative twice and will receive a further test next week.

Her spokesman, Steffen Seibert, said Merkel is continuing her work from home, including taking part in video meetings with other world leaders.

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ALBANY, N.Y. — New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo says the number of people hospitalized with COVID-19 in the state has climbed to 3,800, with close to 900 in intensive care.

New York officials are keeping a close eye on already-stressed hospitals as the number of cases is projected to rise for perhaps three more weeks.

Cuomo said Wednesday that as many as 140,000 hospital beds may be needed in a state with 53,000. The state has more than 30,000 confirmed cases and 285 deaths. The nation-high figures are driven mostly by New York City.

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TORONTO — Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau says his government will offer $2,000 Canadian (U.S. $1,395) a month, for the next four months, for workers who lose their income as a result of the coronavirus pandemic.

Trudeau says Canada is facing a once-in-a-generation challenge and noted that one million Canadians applied for employment insurance in a week.

Trudeau says if a Canadian loses their job because of COVID-19 — whether they are full-time, contract, or self-employed — the new benefit is available. He says if you are sick or quarantined, or looking after someone sick, the benefit is available. And he says even if a worker is still employed, but not receiving income because of the crisis, the benefit is available.

The prime minister also says his government will also announce supports to keep journalists working.

Trudeau made the remarks outside his residence where he is self-isolating after his wife tested positive for the virus. He says his wife is doing "much much better" and he and his kids have no symptoms.

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MOSCOW — Russian President Vladimir Putin has postponed a nationwide vote on proposed constitutional amendments that include allowing him to seek another term in power.

Putin didn't set a new date for the vote originally scheduled for April 22, saying it would depend on how the new coronavirus pandemic develops.

He also announced during a televised address to the nation that the government doesn't want Russians, except those working in essential sectors, going to work next week. He says stores, pharmacies and banks will stay open.

“Health, life and safety of the people is an absolute priority for us,” Putin said.

Russian authorities reported 658 cases of the virus on Wednesday, with 163 new cases registered since the previous day. That marked a significantly larger daily increase from previous days.

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VATICAN CITY — Pope Francis has reaffirmed the need to protect all life, rallying Christians around the world to pray together for those sick with the coronavirus and the medical personnel who are caring for them.

Francis presided over a global noontime prayer Wednesday, in which he begged for God’s mercy amid the pandemic.

The prayer fell on the 25th anniversary of a landmark Vatican document reaffirming the inviolability of all human life from conception to natural death. Francis dedicated his comments to the document, which strongly reaffirmed church teaching opposing abortion and euthanasia.

Francis says it is imperative to “relaunch this teaching in the context of a pandemic that threatens human life and the global economy.”

Some conservative Christian commentators, as well as U.S. President Donald Trump, have warned the consequences of the financial shutdown aimed at preventing the virus’ spread and protecting the elderly and sick are worse than the virus itself.

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