The Latest: WHO regrets U.S. decision to halt funding

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:

— WHO regrets the U.S. decision to halt funding.

— Group of 20 nations agree to suspend debt payments.

— At 106, British woman is oldest known virus survivor.

— Amazon threatens to suspend activity in France over virus protection ruling.

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LONDON — The head of the World Health Organization says it regrets the U.S. decision to halt funding.

Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus says the U.S. has been “a longstanding and generous friend to WHO and we hope it will continue to be so.”

He made the comments after President Donald Trump announced a halt to U.S. funding, temporarily suspending millions of dollars from the U.N health agency’s biggest funder.

Tedros says WHO remained committed to slowing the spread of the COVID-19 pandemic and it would work with its partners to ensure that any funding shortfall could be met.

“COVID-19 does not discriminate between rich nations and poor, large nations and small,” Tedros said. “This is a time for all of us to be united in our common struggle against a common threat, a dangerous enemy. When we’re divided, the virus exploits the cracks between us.”

Tedros says WHO’s member countries and independent organizations will assess the U.N. health agency’s performance at a later day. But the focus must remain on ending the outbreak.

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DUBAI — The world’s wealthiest countries have agreed to immediately suspend billions of dollars in debt payments for the world’s poorest countries as nations race to spend money on health care and workers impacted by the pandemic.

The Group of 20 nations, which include the U.S., China, India, Germany, France and others, agreed unanimously Wednesday on the suspension of debt payments at a virtual summit of finance ministers that was presided over by Saudi Arabia.

Saudi Finance Minister Mohammed al-Jadaan said after the meeting, “All bilateral official creditors will participate in this initiative, which is an important milestone for the G-20.”

The G-20 didn’t say how many countries would be impacted, but French Finance minister Bruno Le Maire says 76 countries were eligible to the moratorium.

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WASHINGTON — Most states are paying out the extra $600 per week in unemployment benefits that was provided in the $2.2 trillion federal economic relief package approved last month.

At least 32 states, including California, Texas and New York, have started or will start making the payments this week.

Still, as of late Tuesday, many states were still scrambling to process the extra funds, including Washington state, Ohio, Wisconsin and Nevada.

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DORAL, Fla. — The Trump golf resort in South Florida where President Donald Trump initially wanted to host this year’s Group of Seven summit has temporarily laid off 560 workers.

A notice that the Trump National Doral Miami filed with the State of Florida at the end of last month says it had been forced to halt its business because of the spreading new coronavirus.

The resort in metro Miami has been closed since mid-March. Al Linares, the resort’s director of human resources, wrote to state and city officials that its unknown when it will resume regular operations.

The laid off workers are mostly food and beverage workers, golf attendants, housekeepers and bell hops. None of the workers are unionized.

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MOSCOW — Russian President Vladimir Putin has presented new measures to support business, including direct financial aid and state-supported loans.

Putin says the state will provide small- and medium business with direct financial support to help pay salaries to employees . The amount of aid will be calculated on official minimal wage, now equivalent to about $160 a month.

Also, businesses will be offered state-guaranteed loans for salary payments and government low-rate loans for companies to finance their operational costs.

The measures follow broad criticism of the Kremlin for the failure to shore up the businesses hurt by the partial economic shutdown through April 30.

Separately, the federal government will allocate 200 billion rubles (about $2.7 billion) in subsidies to the regions to help fund local programs supporting businesses. Putin also ordered the Cabinet to offer support to various industries, including $307 million to air carriers.

Russia has reported 24,490 coronavirus cases, including 198 deaths.

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WASHINGTON — The Navy says two of the four American sailors aboard the French nuclear-powered aircraft carrier FS Charles de Gaulle have tested positive for COVID-19.

The Navy says the two are being treated at French facilities. The four U.S. sailors are part of a U.S. Navy exchange program with the French Navy.

The aircraft carrier returned to a French port several days ago with dozens of sailors showing symptoms of coronavirus.

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LONDON – At 106, Connie Titchen feels lucky. The former department store sales assistant is Britain’s oldest known survivor of COVID-19.

Titchen was applauded by staff Tuesday at Birmingham’s City Hospital, leaving after three weeks as a patient.

In a statement released by the hospital, Titchen says “I feel very lucky that I’ve fought off this virus. I can’t wait to see my family.”

Granddaughter Alex Jones says Titchen “has had a really active life” and remains independent. She says her grandmother still cooked for herself but also enjoyed a trip to McDonald’s every now and then.

“I haven’t told her they are closed,” she added.

The British government said Wednesday that 12,868 people have died in U.K. hospitals after testing positive for coronavirus, up 761 from the day before. The figure doesn’t include deaths in nursing homes and other settings.

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BERLIN — Some German lawmakers are calling on other Western countries to fill the funding gap left by U.S. President Donald Trump’s decision to stop payments to the World Health Organization.

Conservative lawmaker Norbert Roettgen told daily Sueddeutsche Zeitung that European Union members and Britain should make up the shortfall.

But Roettgen, a member of Chancellor Angela Merkel’s party who chairs Parliament’s foreign policy committee, echoed Trump’s claim that the WHO had made mistakes in its response to the coronavirus pandemic.

Separately, a leading member of the opposition Free Democratic Party called on the German government and other European countries to bridge WHO’s funding gap.

Alexander Graf Lambsdorff told German news agency dpa the WHO work will be required, particularly in poor countries.

Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Maria Adebahr noted that Germany has already given WHO an additional 5 million euros to tackle the outbreak, but would consider additional support as part of the U.N.’s overall funding request for the pandemic.

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MOSCOW — Russian veterans’ groups have asked President Vladimir Putin to postpone the upcoming elaborate Red Square parade that commemorates the defeat of Nazi Germany.

The parade on May 9 is the 75th anniversary of the victory. But the prohibition of mass gatherings to slow the spread of coronavirus has thrown the parade’s future into doubt.

A letter to Putin from veterans’ groups reported Wednesday by Russian news agencies called for postponement to a date “when, in accordance with the epidemiological situation, the parade will not be a threat, but truly a triumph of peace and security for all its participants.”

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TOKYO — Tokyo Gov. Yuriko Koike announced an 800 billion yen ($7.5 billion) emergency economic package to fund measures against the coronavirus as the infections increase in the Japanese capital.

Koike says the emergency fund will cover measures to help stop the spread of the virus and reinforce safety nets for people and businesses. She says the emergency package is the largest ever for the city.

Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, whose coronavirus measures were criticized as inadequate, was under pressure Wednesday from within his ruling coalition to do more to encourage people to cooperate with social distancing and non-essential business closure requests.

Abe was pushed to consider a possibility of 100,000-yen ($930) cash handout per person, which was not part of a 108 trillion yen ($1 trillion) economic stimulus he announced last week.

Japan has 8,812 cases of the virus and 131 deaths. Tokyo has 2,446 cases and 53 deaths.

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PRAGUE — Waiting trucks have formed lines of 20 kilometers (12 miles) at major crossings on the Czech Republic’s borders with Germany and Poland.

The lines are caused by the new measures adopted by the Czech government.

The longest lines occurred at the Czech-German crossing on the highway that links Prague with the German city of Dresden.

On Tuesday, the government relaxed some restrictions imposed to contain the pandemic of the coronavirus, allowing some Czech citizens to travel abroad for business trips, visiting relatives and seeing doctors.

Those who spent more than two weeks abroad, including truck drivers, have to be quarantined. Border guards have been checking every vehicle, causing long delays.

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COPENHAGEN, Denmark — Sweden has reported a spike in deaths in recent days.

The number of reported deaths related to the coronavirus on Wednesday was 1,203. The 170 new fatalities were spread out over the last five days.

Swedish authorities have advised the public to practice social distancing. But schools, bars and restaurants are still open, and only gatherings of more than 50 people have been banned.

Anders Wallensten of Sweden’s Public Health Agency says 1,064 people were in intensive care as of Wednesday, about the same number as Tuesday.

Health authorities in Sweden have pursued relatively liberal policies to fight the coronavirus pandemic. They are “cautiously positive” after figures show the number of people in intensive care has not increased.

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BRUSSELS — The head of the European Trade Union Confederation says he’s concerned workers returning to their place of employment might be exposed to dangerous conditions because of the coronavirus.

ETUC General Secretary Luca Visentini wrote to European Union leaders, saying the EU roadmap to get the economy going again would sell the health of workers short.

Visientini says he’s worried the EU Commission “seems not to have given consideration to practical issues like health and safety at work as part of the lifting of containment measures.”

He added trade unions should be involved in assessing safety at work. In many EU nations, trade unions have sizable power in the work place.

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PARIS — French Prime minister Edouard Philippe announced all staff working in French public hospitals in the regions hardest hit by the corona virus will get a 1,500-euro ($1,637) bonus from the state.

Philippe says France’s emergency package has been more than doubled to reach 110 billion euros ($120 billion) in aid for businesses and workers hard-hit by the virus crisis.

This plan, adopted during a Cabinet meeting, includes 24 billion euros ($26 billion) for workers on partial unemployment because their companies have shut down amid the country’s lockdown since March 17. It also includes 8 billion euros (8.7 billion) for emergency health expenses, including masks and medical equipment, and a special aid allocated to French poorest households.

France is forecasting an 8% drop in growth this year because of virus confinement measures as it faces its worst recession since World War II.

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BERLIN — The German government says it is seeing a “cautiously positive” trend on a number of coronavirus indicators, as senior officials meet to discuss adjusting the restrictions.

Government spokesman Steffen Seibert says Germany should avoid “overconfidence,” noting that the country has recorded more than 3,400 deaths from COVID-19. Germany’s death rate remains lower than most comparable countries with about 132,000 confirmed cases.

Seibert says it was important “not to put at risk what’s been achieved and fall back into an uncontrolled, exponential spread of the virus.”

He says the decision about reopening kindergartens and schools “is certainly the most difficult,” noting this is largely within the prerogative of Germany’s 16 states.

Also, Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Maria Adebar says Germany has repatriated about 230,000 people who were stranded abroad due to the pandemic.

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THE HAGUE, Netherlands — The Netherlands has thrown its support behind the World Health Organization after U.S. President Donald Trump announced a halt to American payments to the group, pending a review of its warnings about the coronavirus and China.

Minister for Foreign Trade and Development Cooperation Sigrid Kaag says in a tweet the health agency is a critical part of the international response to the virus.

Kaag says, “Now is not the time to hold back funding. Once the pandemic is under control, lessons can be learned. For now, focus on overcoming this crisis.”

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ROME — The scientific director of Italy’s leading infectious disease hospital has written to the Italian president formally suggesting that Dr. Anthony Fauci be invited to work here if U.S. President Donald Trump removes him from the White House conronavirus task force.

In the letter released Wednesday, Dr. Giuseppe Ippolito of Rome’s Lazzaro Spallanzani hospital says removing Fauci from the task force “would be disastrous news not only for the United States, but for the whole international community.”

Ippolito praised Fauci’s expertise, experience, leadership and “generous and selfless help” to Spallanzani and other hospitals around the world.

Speculation about Fauci’s fate swirled over the weekend after Fauci told CNN the U.S. would have “obviously” saved lives if virus mitigation efforts had begun earlier.

Trump responded by reposting a tweet that included the line, “Time to #FireFauci.” But on Monday, Trump insisted Fauci’s job was safe.

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DUBAI — Emirates Air says it tested the blood of passengers for the virus on a flight to Tunisia before departing from Dubai, becoming the first airline to conduct on-site rapid tests for passengers.

The blood test was conducted by Dubai’s health authority with results available within 10 minutes, according to the airline. Passengers were tested upon check-in at the gate in Dubai’s international airport.

Passengers are required to wear their own masks when at the airport in Dubai. The emirate has imposed a 24-hour curfew on residents for at least two weeks to contain the virus.

There are multiple drive-through testing centers in Abu Dhabi and Dubai, where people are encouraged to get tested even if they do not have COVID-19 symptoms.

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BERLIN — Germany is extending border checks until May 4 due to the coronavirus.

Interior Ministry spokesman Bjoern Gruenewaelder announced the temporary measures. The controls were introduced a month ago to ensure only people with “good reason” entered Germany.

Normally, there are no border checks in Europe’s passport-free Schengen travel area. The affected borders are those with Austria, Switzerland, France, Luxembourg and Denmark, as well as for airport arrivals from Italy and Spain.

Also, patrols have been stepped up in the frontier regions with Belgium and the Netherlands.

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PARIS — Amazon threatened to suspend all activity in France after a French court found it wasn’t doing enough to protect its workers.

The online giant also announced plans to appeal Tuesday’s emergency ruling, which requires Amazon to stop selling nonessential goods for a month while it works out new worker safety measures.

Sales of food, medicine and hygiene supplies are still allowed under the ruling. However, Amazon France says the decision is so disruptive that it could prompt the company to suspend all activity at its six French warehouses.

The company stressed the importance of its services to the “thousands of French companies that sell on Amazon” and “millions of people around the country who want to have access to products they need during the crisis.”

Amazon insisted it is providing adequate security measures for staff, noting the implementation of temperature checks and mask distribution.

But the court found Amazon didn’t do enough to enforce social distancing, to ensure that turnstiles and locker rooms were virus-free or to increase cleaning of its warehouses. Unions say one worker infected with the virus is in intensive care.

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