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Friday April 3rd, 2020 6:19AM

The Latest: 8 countries want sanctions lifted to fight virus

By The Associated Press
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The Latest on the coronavirus pandemic. 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.

TOP OF THE HOUR:

— Eight countries ask for immediate lifting of sanctions to fight virus.

— Death toll in France nears 1,700, fifth-highest of any country.

— WHO director says “millions could die” without aggressive action.

— With more than 6,000 new infections in Italy, worldwide total exceeds 500,000.

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UNITED NATIONS — Eight countries under unilateral sanctions, mainly from the United States and European Union, urged U.N. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres on Thursday to request the immediate and complete lifting of these measures to enable the nations to respond to the coronavirus pandemic.

In a joint letter obtained by The Associated Press, the ambassadors from China, Cuba, North Korea, Iran, Nicaragua, Russia, Syria and Venezuela urged the U.N. chief to “reject the politicization of such a pandemic.”

The ambassadors, who said they were under instructions from their foreign ministers, did not name any countries responsible for what they called “illegal, coercive measures of economic pressure.” But the United States has imposed sanctions on all of the nations except China and the European Union has imposed sanctions on all but Cuba.

In a speech to the Group of 20 major industrialized nations on Thursday, secretary-general Guterres appealed “for the waiving of sanctions that can undermine countries’ capacity to respond to the pandemic.”

The ambassadors said their governments have “the political and moral will” to gear up to fight the pandemic, but they said “this is a hard — if not impossible — deed” for countries facing sanctions.

The eight countries said efforts to combat COVID-19 are hindered by “the destructive impact” of sanctions nationally “plus their extraterritorial implications, together with the phenomena of over-compliance and the fear for 'secondary sanctions,’” which impede governments from regularly accessing the international financial system or trading freely to procure medical equipment and supplies including testing kits for the virus.

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JOHANNESBURG — South Africa's president has appeared in full military uniform for the first time since the end of apartheid and urged troops to be a "force of kindness" as they enforce a lockdown that begins Friday.

President Cyril Ramaphosa earlier told police to show compassion as South Africans are “terrified right now.”

The country is nearing 1,000 coronavirus cases, the most in Africa, and the three-week lockdown is one of the strictest in the world. Alcohol sales are banned, as well as running and dog-walking.

South Africa's racist system of apartheid ended in 1994 with the election of Nelson Mandela as the country's first black president.

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WASHINGTON — Minnesota Sen. Amy Klobuchar said Thursday that her husband, John Bessler, had been released from the hospital and is recovering at home.

Klobuchar announced earlier this week that Bessler, a law professor, had COVID-19 and had needed hospitalization for pneumonia and low oxygen.

In a statement, Klobuchar thanked “those who cared for him and for all front line health care workers.”

Klobuchar, a Democrat, was among the candidates seeking the party's nomination for president before she dropped out and endorsed Joe Biden.

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PARIS — France’s virus death toll is continuing to climb fast, increasing 27% in one day Thursday to 1,696 victims, including a 16-year-old.

The overall number of confirmed cases grew 15% over the previous day to more than 29,000, according to national health agency chief Jerome Salomon.

But he acknowledged that the real number is much higher because France is only testing people with severe symptoms. He said doctors estimate another 42,000 people who have sought medical advice for milder symptoms recently also have the virus.

Salomon did not provide details about the 16-year-old who died, citing medical privacy. He noted that thousands of people with the virus in France have recovered, and expressed hope that confinement measures would start bringing deaths down soon.

France has reported the fifth-highest number of deaths from the virus of any country. France’s government has come under criticism for its limited number of tests, and for waiting until last week to impose nationwide confinement measures even as the virus spread rapidly in neighboring Italy and Spain.

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BATON ROUGE, La. — The number of known coronavirus cases in Louisiana jumped by more than 500 Thursday, surpassing 2,300, with 86 deaths, the state health department said.

A 17-year-old was among the latest deaths, the first in the state of someone under 18.

The higher infection numbers reflect the increase in testing. In Thursday's figures, the number tested rose nearly 6600, to 18,000.

Coronavirus has now been found in 53 of 64 parishes, although Gov. John Bel Edwards has said he believes it's present in every parish, even as statewide mandates banning crowds and closing businesses continue.

"We won’t see the impact of the distancing and the closing of schools and people staying home for a couple of weeks. ... We are not near the peak of this yet," said Dr. Catherine O'Neal, an infectious disease expert and chief medical officer at Our Lady of the Lake Regional Medical Center in Baton Rouge.

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WASHINGTON — U.S. Army leaders said Thursday that two field hospitals are on their way to New York City and will be able to begin treating patients at the Javits Center on Monday.

The Army combat units from Fort Hood, Texas, and Fort Campbell, Kentucky, will include as many as 700 personnel and almost 300 beds. Those medical personnel will also be able to help staff additional beds and medical equipment that are being brought in by state and local authorities.

Gen. James McConville, chief of staff of the Army, said they will begin setting up the units this weekend at the center. Officials expect there will be a couple thousand beds in the center to treat patients that do not have the virus.

An Army combat hospital from Fort Carson, Colorado, will be heading to Seattle. McConville said advance staff are already there, and are working with local officials to review several potential locations to set up the unit.

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JOHANNESBURG — South Africa’s economy, the most industrialized in Africa, is expected to be hard hit by the coronavirus.

Already in recession and carrying an unemployment rate of 29%, South Africa goes into a three-week lockdown Friday. Many firms are trying to avoid shedding more jobs, but some are laying off workers.

If the lockdown is extended beyond 21 days, significant job losses can be expected. South African President Cyril Ramaphosa announced the creation of a Rand 3.8 billion ($220 million) fund to help distressed firms and affected workers, including a temporary employee relief scheme.

A group of concerned citizens has started a relief scheme for household workers who are being laid off because of the lockdown.

The economic downturn caused by the virus is expected to reduce GDP growth of Africa’s three largest economies — Nigeria, South Africa and Egypt — from an expected 3.8% to 2.8%, according to NKC African Economics.

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WARSAW, Poland — Poland’s lawmakers have voted to approve extraordinary measures allowing them to attend sessions and vote remotely.

The temporary move is intended to prevent the spread of the coronavirus by avoiding bringing the 460 members of the lower house together. As a precaution against the virus, the vote Thursday was held in 12 different parliament halls so as not to divide the lawmakers into small groups.

The new rules of remote attendance and voting will be applied in a vote Friday on the government “anti-crisis shield” for business, worth tens of billions of euros and intended to cushion the negative effects of the pandemic on Poland’s economy and to save jobs. It is to take effect immediately after approval from the Senate and from President Andrzej Duda, expected next week.

Many of the lawmakers Thursday were wearing masks and gloves to protect against the virus, but the leader of the ruling party, 70-year-old Jaroslaw Kaczynski, was not. A nation of 38 million, Poland has confirmed 1,163 cases of coronavirus infections. Fourteen people have died.

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WASHINGTON — A 52-year-old man detained in New Jersey has become the second person in U.S. immigration detention to test positive for COVID-19.

The unidentified man was being held at the Essex County Correctional Facility in Newark.

A statement Thursday from the county says the man was admitted to a local hospital on March 22 for an issue unrelated to the outbreak. But the county says the man started to show symptoms of the coronavirus. A test came back positive for the virus.

U.S. Immigration Customs and Enforcement had no immediate comment.

The agency previously reported a positive test of a 31-year-old man held in Bergen County, New Jersey.

It comes as immigrant advocates around the country urge the government to release migrants from detention centers because of the risk of a potential outbreak among detainees.

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FRANKFURT, Germany — Volkswagen says it is extending the shutdown of its German car, truck and parts plants for another four days until April 9.

At the same time, the company said it is working “a comprehensive package of measures” to restart production when that becomes possible.

The company said it would use its experience from China, where its plants have resumed production “and the market seems to be gradually returning to normal.” The company said it had no cases of coronavirus among its employees in China.

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COLOMBO, Sri Lanka — Sri Lanka’s police chief on Thursday ordered the cancellation of leave for all police officers for two weeks, the latest measure intended to enhance the fight against the coronavirus in the island nation.

There have been 102 confirmed cases of COVID-19 in Sri Lanka.

Leave will be canceled for police officers until April 10.

Police have already set up about 600 special roadblocks across the country to prevent nonessential travels. The government is urging people to stay home to prevent the disease being spread.

A nationwide curfew has been in effect since March 20 and the government has banned nonessential travel between Sri Lanka's 25 districts. The Indian Ocean island nation is divided into 25 districts for administrative purposes.

Police are strictly enforcing the curfew. During the last six days, police have arrested 3,296 people and seized 794 vehicles for violations.

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MEXICO CITY — More than a year into his term, Mexico President Andrés Manuel López Obrador attended his first international summit Thursday, though the topic — the coronavirus pandemic — meant he didn't have to leave home to get there.

López Obrador, who has not left Mexico since taking office in December 2018, urged the online gathering of the world's top 20 industrialized economies to help those with fewer resources. He proposed that the United Nations take control of “everything related to medicine and equipment” to combat the virus so that there is an even playing field.

“When these things occur, he with the greatest economic possibilities hoards,” he said at his daily news conference, which followed the G20 session.

López Obrador specifically noted the ability of the neighboring United States to spend billions of dollars on in-demand items like ventilators for those in most critical need, making them harder for other countries to find and driving up the cost.

López Obrador has long maintained that he has too much to do in Mexico to spend time traveling abroad like other heads of state. He has delegated that work to his foreign secretary while at the same time sharply curtailing international travel by other government officials as part of his austerity measures.

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GENEVA — The head of the World Health Organization has warned G20 leaders that “without aggressive action in all countries, millions could die” from the new coronavirus outbreak.

WHO Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, in a video message to the leaders of the world’s top powers, said “only time will tell” what the full economic, political and social fallout will be.

“But we know that the price we end up paying depends on the choices we make now,” Tedros said. “This is a global crisis that demands a global response.”

He noted “sacrifices” made by some countries including “drastic social and economic restrictions” like shutting schools and businesses and urging people to stay home.

“These measures will take some of the heat out of the epidemic, but they will not extinguish it,” he said. “We must do more.”

Tedros called for training and deployment of health workers to test, isolate and treat cases — and trace their contacts. He decried a global shortage of personal protective equipment that endangers front-line responders. He urged countries to boost output of such items, and lift export bans and boost distribution of them.

“The actions we take now will have consequences for decades to come,” he said. “We are at war with a virus that threatens to tear us apart — if we let it.”

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BERLIN — Germany's central state of Hesse says it is taking in 14 patients from Italy and France who are seriously ill with the new coronavirus.

Authorities said Thursday that 10 patients from Italy's Emilia-Romagna region and four from Grand-Est in France would be transferred to Hesse.

At least five of Germany's 16 states have made similar offers, with some already taking in patients.

Hesse's governor, Volker Bouffier, said that "in the crisis we stand together." He said the patients would be distributed across several hospitals in the state of about 6.2 million.

Germany's foreign ministry tweeted that the country has so far offered to take in 47 patients from Italy. The number of patients from France wasn't provided.

Germany has confirmed more than 43,000 cases of COVID-19 but so far just 239 deaths, a far lower rate than most European countries.

Experts said Thursday that the country has prepared a large number of specialist hospital beds for what is expected to be a continued rise in the number of patients requiring intensive treatment.

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ROME — Italy has reported 6,153 new coronavirus infections, pushing the global total over half a million, based on a count kept by Johns Hopkins University.

Italy now has 80,539 cases, almost as many as China. Italy’s Civil Protection Agency reported 662 deaths on Thursday, bringing the country’s death toll to 8,165, which is the highest in the world.

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