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The Latest: Milan study shows virus circulating in February

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. For some, especially older adults and people with existing health problems, it can cause more severe illness or death.

TOP OF THE HOUR:

— ‘New normal’ anything but as countries continue to reopen.

— Milan study shows virus circulating in February.

— Indonesia tallies new record single-day increase in virus cases.

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MILAN — A study by Milan’s Polyclinic hospital indicates the coronavirus was circulating among a random sample of blood donors with no symptoms in Milan before the first domestically transmitted case was confirmed Feb. 21 in a town less than an hour away.

The study of blood samples by donors showed that 4.6% already had antibodies against the virus at the start of the epidemic. Researchers concluded only 1 in 20 asymptomatic carriers had developed immunity, ‘’clearly showing that herd immunity remains a long way off.’’

That percentage rose to 7% by the beginning of April, when Italy was under lockdown. As the lockdown wore on, longer-term immunity was more prevalent among younger donors, which researchers said indicates ‘’the social distancing practices seemed to have favored young people, who had time to develop long-term immunity.’’

The study, involving researchers at the Polyclinic, Milan University, Sacco Hospital and the European Oncological Institute, was released in a preliminary form before being submitted to scientific journals for peer review.

They analyzed random blood samples from Feb. 8 to April 24 of 800 donors at the Polyclinic, which runs a transfusion center with more than 40,000 annual donors. The researchers say all donors who tested positive showed changes in the cell count and lipid profiles, which could provide clues to identifying asymptomatic carriers.

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ADDIS ABABA, Ethiopia — Ethiopian health officials say 66 inmates of a prison in the capital, Addis Ababa, have tested positive for the coronavirus.

They say contact made between one inmate and his lawyer led to the mass infection. The country has just 389 cases, but health officials say the past two weeks has presented more cases than the previous months combined.

Officials say more people with no travel history are testing positive, indicating a rise in community spread.

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KYIV, Ukraine — Authorities in Ukraine has announced further easing of lockdown restrictions in place since mid-March.

Heath Minister Maxym Stepanov says the country will move into “an adjustable lockdown” on Saturday, with authorities in different regions deciding which restrictions to lift.

Starting Saturday, public transportion will resume in cities and towns, hotels will reopen but not restaurants within), and churches will be allowed to conduct public services for a limited number of people. The new measures will allow sports competitions with no more than 50 participants and no spectators.

Kindergarten and subway in Kyiv and other cities are to reopen on Monday. Ukraine was one of the first ex-Soviet countries to impose a strict nationwide lockdown in March, when it had just a handful of coronavirus cases. It has reported 19,230 confirmed infections and just 564 deaths.

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GENEVA — Switzerland’s government says it is adding more than 14 billion francs ($14.5 billion) into the state unemployment insurance system.

Requests from companies have poured in, seeking help for workers representing 37 percent of the country’s total workforce during the coronavirus pandemic.

Economy Minister Guy Parmelin says in the capital of Bern that “190,000 companies have requested indemnification and partial unemployment for more than 1.9 million workers.”

He says Switzerland’s unemployment rate, which is low by international standards, has risen to 3.4 percent from 2.5 percent in March, and is expected to top 4 percent next year.

“The good news is that the application for partial unemployment have since stabilized,” Parmelin says.

He says the government plans to gradually ease such support.

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NEW DELHI — India says its testing for coronavirus infections has reached 100,000 people per day this week and it has so far covered more than 2.5 million people in the country.

Health Ministry official Lav Kumar says though the number of active coronavirus cases in India exceeded 100,000, the highest in Asia, only 6.39% required hospitalization.

On Wednesday, India reported the largest single day increase of 5,611 active cases. The country is still far from the peak in coronavirus infections.

The spike has come with tens of thousands of migrant workers moving across the country in trains, buses, trucks or walking to reach their village homes as they have lost jobs in cities and towns.

The total number of deaths in India has risen to 3,303, including 140 in the last 24 hours.

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The Hague, Netherlands — The Dutch government has extended and expanded a multibillion-dollar support package for businesses hit by the coronavirus crisis.

The measures include loans, tax relief and help paying salaries. It's worth more than 13 billion euros ($14 billion).

The government says the aim is to protect as many jobs as possible for Netherlands businesses reeling from the economic fallout of the global pandemic. It follows a package announced in mid-March that’s been tapped by hundreds of thousands of businesses.

The government says it cannot prevent all job losses and bankruptcies and adds recovery of some sectors of the economy will take a long time.

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PARIS — French authorities say they observe no signs of increase in the numbers of people infected with the coronavirus 10 days after the country ended its lockdown.

French Health minister Olivier Veran says the number of COVID-19 patients arriving each day at hospitals is decreasing, along with people treated in intensive care units.

He cautioned “this doesn’t mean the virus isn’t there” as the country gradually lifts restrictions. New clusters of COVID-19 cases have been recently discovered among slaughterhouse workers in western France and police officers in northern France.

Veran also promised that health workers in hospitals and nursing homes will see their salary increase as part of a new government plan for the public health system.

France has reported at least 143,400 cases of the virus and more than 28,000 deaths.

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LONDON — The leader of Britain’s House of Commons says members of Parliament should return to London to work in person on June 2.

Jacob Rees-Mogg told Parliament the decision recognizes “the need for business to continue,’’ and the lawmakers with underlying health conditions wouldn’t be forced to attend.

Not all lawmakers think it is a good idea during the coronavirus pandemic. Tommy Sheppard of the Scottish National Party says lawmakers were being forced to risk their own health in order to stand up for their constituents.

He says the position taken by Rees-Mogg “is reckless, cavalier and downright dangerous.’’

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NEW DELHI — India says it will commence domestic flights on Monday after nearly two months of suspension under a country-wide lockdown extended through the end of May.

Civil Aviation Minister Hardeep Singh Puri didn’t give details in a tweet on Wednesday. International flights will remain suspended.

India imposed a lockdown on March 25 to contain the spread of coronavirus infections. Chartered flights have operated in and out of India to carry stranded passengers from various countries.

Puri says all airports and air carriers in the country were informed to be ready for operations on Monday.

India eased the lockdown earlier this month by reopening shops and manufacturing. However, schools and colleges, shopping malls, movie theaters and religious places remain closed.

India has 106,750 confirmed COVID cases and 3,303 deaths.

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LONDON — A UK lawmaker says British-Iranian charity worker Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe’s temporary release from an Iranian jail has been extended amid the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic.

Tulip Siddiq, who has campaigned for the Zaghari-Ratcliffe’s release, tweeted she had heard from the prisoner’s husband, Richard, that the furlough had been extended and she wasn’t returning to Evin prison.

Siddiq asked the government to step up efforts to make Zaghari-Ratcliffe’s furlough permanent.

Zaghari-Ratcliffe was arrested during a holiday with her toddler daughter in April 2016. Her family has denied she was plotting against Iran.

Zaghari-Ratcliffe worked for the Thomson Reuters Foundation, the charitable arm of the news agency.

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LONDON — British Prime Minister Boris Johnson says the U.K. will have a “test, track and trace” system for the coronavirus in place by June 1.

Johnson told lawmakers in Parliament the government was making “fast progress.” He says there will be 25,000 trackers in place by June 1 who will can trace the contacts of 10,000 new cases a day. The current level is 2,400 daily cases.

Keir Starmer, the leader of the main opposition Labour Party, criticized Johnson and his government for not having an effective track and trace system in place nearly 10 weeks into the coronavirus crisis. He says that has been a “huge hole” in the country’s defense against the coronavirus.

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BERLIN — Chancellor Angela Merkel’s Cabinet has passed new measures on slaughterhouses and travel packages.

Slaughterhouses are required to directly employ workers, rather than rely upon subcontractors, after several outbreaks brought to light poor working conditions. The bill doubles the fine if companies breach the labor regulations.

Travelers who booked package tours before March 8 are entitled to a refund. They’re encouraged to accept vouchers from operators in an effort to aid the industry.

Separately, Germany’s federal and state culture ministers published a proposal on safety measures for the reopening of art galleries, museums, theaters and other facilities.

It recommends contact details for visitors be recorded and people be kept at least 1.5 meters apart by leaving theater seats empty and other measures.

The guidelines seek to provide continuity across Germany’s 16 states, which have been opening museums and other cultural institutions.

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PHNOM PENH, Cambodia — Cambodia is lifting a ban of the entry of visitors from six foreign countries who had been barred since mid-March.

The Health Ministry says the ban was issued after Cambodia when the number of COVID-19 cases was surging in six countries: Germany, the United States, France, Iran, Spain and Italy.

Visitors from the six countries must have medical certificates issued no more than 72 hours ahead of their arrival affirming they have tested negative for COVID-19. They must have a health insurance policy valued at no less than $50,000 covering them during their stay.

On arrival, they must submit to a new test for the disease. They will be quarantined at a government facility while waiting for the result.

The Health Ministry announced Saturday all of Cambodia’s 122 confirmed cases of COVID-19 had recovered and no new cases had been discovered for more than a month.

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BERLIN — Switzerland has approved emergency aid for media outlets suffering a decrease in ad revenues because of the coronavirus pandemic.

The government approved a 57.5 million Swiss francs ($59.5 million) package proposed by lawmakers for “the special significance that the media have for democracy.”

Radio and TV stations will receive 30 million francs, while newspaper deliveries will be subsidized for six months with 17.5 million francs. Publishers who take relief must pledge not to pay dividends to shareholders in 2020.

The government says it will set aside 10 million francs to pay electronic media subscription fees for Swiss news agency Keystone-SDA for six months.

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BRATISLAVA, Slovakia — Slovakia’s government has agreed to extend the checks on the borders with neighboring Austria, the Czech Republic, Hungary and Poland until June 26.

The move comes as some other Europeans countries, including Austria, have been reopening their borders for all travelers.

Slovakia allows only limited numbers of foreigners, such as truck drivers, people with residency and those who commute to work across the border to enter the country as part of restrictive measures adopted to contain the coronavirus pandemic.

To cross the border, they need to use a limited number of border crossings. The Slovak citizens need to be quarantined at state facilities on arrival from abroad until they are tested for the virus.

Slovak Foreign Minister Ivan Korcok expects to decide by the middle of June if it reopens its borders with Austria and the Czech Republic.

Slovakia has recorded 1,496 positive cases of COVID-19 and 28 deaths.

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JAKARTA, Indonesia — Indonesia has recorded its highest single-day rise in COVID-19 cases as the government is preparing a “new normal” by July.

Health ministry official Achmad Yurianto announced Wednesday that confirmed cases of COVID-19 infections spiked by 693, taking the total number of infections nationwide over 19,000, including more than 1,200 deaths and about 4,500 recoveries.

The previous highest daily increase in COVID-19 cases was recorded a week ago with 689 new cases.

President Joko Widodo has said the country must be ready for a “new normal” by July. However, Indonesians are worrying over little commitment from the government and citizens to fight the virus as the numbers of COVID-19 cases and deaths continue to rise across many provinces outside the capital, Jakarta.

So far, only four out of 34 provinces and dozens of cities have applied the restrictions — all with a low-level of public compliance and a low testing rate, at 154,000 for a population of about 270 million, compared to other countries.

Many areas in the country’s most populous island of Java have not formally implemented the restrictions, despite more than 60% of cases and about 80% of total deaths in the country have been recorded on the island.

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ZAGREB, Croatia — Croatian authorities say a cruise ship with 756 crew members has docked in the country’s Adriatic Sea town of Dubrovnik after weeks of being stranded at sea because of the new coronavirus.

The Carnival Magic cruise ship will remain at Dubrovnik’s port of Gruz Wednesday and Thursday when the crew members will gradually disembark and head to their home countries.

Authorities say they will check the temperature of each crew member coming out of the ship but don’t expect any infections.

The state Croatian television HRT said Wednesday that five Croatian nationals are among the crew in addition to people from Ukraine, Romania, Slovakia and other countries in the region. Authorities say their return will be organized to home countries.

The report says Carnival Magic previously has docked in Gibraltar before arriving to Dubrovnik.

Many cruise ships had outbreaks at sea, with some passengers and crew members dying on board or after disembarking from international trips.

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BANGKOK — Thai health officials say scientists in Thailand have had promising results in testing a COVID-19 vaccine candidate on mice, and will begin testing it on monkeys next week.

Dr. Taweesin Visanuyothin, spokesman for Thailand’s Center for COVID-19 Situation Administration, said Wednesday that Prime Minister Prayuth Chan-ocha has ordered the development effort be sped up in the hope of the country becoming one of the first with adequate amounts of a vaccine for its people.

The vaccine candidate being tested by Bangkok’s Chualongkorn University and two public sector partners harnesses mRNA, or messenger RNA, technology, which unlike older types of vaccine does not contain any of the virus it seeks to attack. It instead utilizes part of the virus’ genetic code to ultimately produce antibodies inside the human body.

Thailand has several active COVID-19 vaccine development projects, including separate cooperative efforts with China and the United States.

Scores of vaccine development projects are underway around the world, with several already having reached the stage where trials are carried out on human subjects.

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Follow AP news coverage of the coronavirus pandemic at https://apnews.com/VirusOutbreak and https://apnews.com/UnderstandingtheOutbreak

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