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:
— China lawmakers gather as doubts swirl over pandemic safety.
— Lebanon's prime minister warns of a major food crisis as the country struggles amid the virus outbreak.
— Spain looks toward reopening to foreign tourists in July.
— Drug maker AstraZeneca says it has secured the first agreements for a COVID-19 vaccine.
BEIRUT — Lebanon’s prime minister is warning of a major food crisis in the Mediterranean country which is facing an unprecedented economic and financial crisis made worse by the coronavirus pandemic.
In an opinion piece published in the Washington Post late Wednesday, Prime Minister Hassan Diab also warns of eventual “starvation” in the Middle East that he says may spark a new migration flow to Europe.
He urges the United States and the European Union to establish a dedicated emergency fund to help the conflict-prone region.
Lebanon, one of the most indebted nations in the world, defaulted for the first time in March on its sovereign debt. Anti-government protests that erupted in October over widespread corruption subsided during a nationwide lockdown since mid-March to blunt the spread of the coronavirus, but sporadic protests continue.
Diab’s government is seeking a rescue program from the International Monetary Fund while grappling to deal with the financial crisis that saw the local currency crash, people’s savings devastated and prices and inflation soar in the past few weeks.
In a stark warning, Diab says many Lebanese may soon find it difficult to afford even bread.
MADRID — The top official in charge of easing Spain’s lockdown says that the country will only reopen to foreign tourists in July, once safety for both locals and visitors can be guaranteed.
Wary of the competition from other Mediterranean countries already reopening borders, hoteliers and officials in tourist-magnet islands and coastal regions have been pressing Spanish central authorities to relax curbs in place to fight the coronavirus outbreak.
But Environment and Energy Minister Teresa Ribera has told EFE news agency that an early massive opening to visitors would be “irresponsible.”
“Our idea is to work on safe origins and destinations thinking on July rather on June,” Ribera told the state news agency.
She added that rebounds of the outbreak in China, South Korea and Singapore have been associated to imported infections.
Tourism contributes 12% of Spain’s 1.24 trillion-euro (1.4 trillion-dollar) gross domestic product. The country has recorded at least 27,800 deaths for the novel virus and over 232,000 confirmed infections.
LONDON — Drug maker AstraZeneca says it has secured the first agreements for 400 million doses of a COVID-19 vaccine that is now being tested.
The pharmaceutical company says in a statement Thursday that it plans to conclude further deals in order to expand capacity over the next few months.
The company says it has the capacity to manufacture 1 billion doses of the University of Oxford’s potential COVID-19 vaccine.
AstraZeneca CEO Pascal Soriot says the company “will do everything in our power to make this vaccine quickly and widely available.’’
TOKYO — Japan’s top government spokesman said Thursday that the country is considering attending the Group of Seven summit meeting, if the U.S. reschedules the canceled gathering.
Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga was responding to a question about President Donald Trump’s tweet Wednesday that he is considering rescheduling the canceled G-7 meeting with world leaders in the U.S., because it would be a “great sign to all” of things returning to normal during the coronavirus pandemic.
Trump had scheduled the G-7 summit for June 10-12 at Camp David, the presidential retreat in Maryland. The summit was canceled it in March because of the pandemic, and Trump said the leaders would confer by video conference.
Suga said Thursday that he interpreted Trump’s tweet as “an expression of the President’s intention to normalize the global economy quickly.”
He said his understanding is that details such as the dates and format of the meeting are still being studied by the U.S. as host nation.
Suga said Tokyo and Washington are in discussion, but declined to comment further.
Japan is still partially under a coronavirus state of emergency. Abe plans to announce lifting of the measure in three of the remaining eight prefectures later Thursday, while keeping it in place in Tokyo and four other areas.
TOKYO — Japan’s economy minister says experts have approved a government plan to remove a coronavirus state of emergency in Osaka and two neighboring prefectures in the west where the infection is deemed slowing, while keeping the measure in place in the Tokyo region and Hokkaido.
Economy Minister Yasutoshi Nishimura told reporters that experts at the meeting approved the plan to lift the measure in Osaka, Kyoto and Hyogo.
The measure will be kept in place in Tokyo and three neighboring prefectures, as well as Hokkaido, where the infections have slowed but need further improvement.
The three are among the eight prefectures still under the emergency status after Prime Minister Shinzo Abe lifted the measure last week in all but eight of the 47 Japanese prefectures. Abe declared the state of emergency on April 7 in parts of Japan including Tokyo and later expanded it to nationwide.
Under Japan’s state of emergency, which does not enforce lockdowns, many people have followed the social distancing requests but others had to continue commuting, while a sizeable minority continued to dine out or picnicked at parks. More stores, restaurants and bars have started to reopen recently, under new anti-infection guidelines.
Abe will formally announce the plan later Thursday after approval by parliamentary committees.
Japan has about 16,424 confirmed cases and 777 deaths as of Wednesday, according to the health ministry.
BEIJING — The central Chinese city of Wuhan, where the global coronavirus pandemic is believed to have originated, has issued a total ban on the hunting, breeding and human consumption of wild animals.
The move is in an apparent response to research showing the virus most likely originated among bats and was transmitted to people via an intermediary wild species sold for food at a market in the city.
The regulation issued Wednesday seeks to carry out measures passed at the national level covering protected land animals as well as sea life, promising financial relief to help dealers move into other lines of business.
However, it contains numerous exceptions, including for animals used for traditional Chinese medicine, as long as they are not consumed as food for humans. That left it unclear whether the ban would cover pangolins, small mammals whose scales are used for traditional Chinese medicine but which are thought to have been the intermediary carrier of the virus.
The regulation will be enforced immediately and will be in effect for five years.
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