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:
— Prince William opens new field hospital in Birmingham.
— Prime Minister Shinzo Abe issues state of emergency for Japan.
— Spain records sharp increase in virus infections; officials say due to broader testing.
LONDON — Prince William has praised the “selfless commitment” of doctors and nurses while opening a new field hospital in Birmingham, England.
The 500-bed Nightingale Hospital was built inside an exhibition center in just eight days. It will take patients recovering from the coronavirus, freeing up hospitals to care for the most critically ill. It has a mortuary and can increase capacity to take up to 4,000 patients.
The field hospital is the second of seven such temporary facilities to open, after the first became operational at London’s ExCel center.
Speaking by video link to about 50 health care workers and military staff, William said: “The building you are standing in is yet another example of how people across the country have risen to this unprecedented challenge.”
MOSCOW — Russian officials say the first coronavirus contagion has been registered at the spaceflight training facility outside Moscow.
The Moscow region’s coronavirus headquarters reported the Star City cosmonaut training center had its first infection, but didn’t identify the person.
The Star City serves as the main hub for training of U.S., Russian and other crew of the International Space Station.
The newest crew consisting of NASA’s Chris Cassidy and Russians Anatoly Ivanishin and Ivan Vagner arrived at the orbiting lab a week ago. Cassidy said before the blastoff that he and his crewmates had been in “a very strict quarantine” for a month before the flight and were feeling good.
Roscosmos director Dmitry Rogozin says the Russian space corporation had 30 coronavirus cases.
LONDON — British regulators have approved the first newly adapted ventilator design from the consortium seeking to quickly build the devices.
The model has been authorized by the Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency. The government has ordered 15,000 of the devices. The first 40 being sent to the military logistics hub in Donnington, southeast England, for distribution to the National Health Service on Thursday.
More than 10,000 ventilators are currently available and the government has some 2,000 on order from existing suppliers. Hundreds are expected to be built over the next week.
NICOSIA, Cyprus — Cyprus’ finance minister says plans are being drawn to gradually reopen businesses and shops next month.
But Minister Constantinos Petrides says it will depend on how well people stick to a strict stay-at-home order that includes a night-time curfew in force until April 30.
Cyprus has 715 confirmed coronavirus cases and 29 deaths related to the virus.
TIRANA, Albania — The Albanian Parliament passed Penal Code amendments covering the coronavirus pandemic.
The Parliament passed the laws with fines or imprisonment up to six months for violating the curfew hours.
Business’ owners violating the security health measures will be jailed up to two years, while those violating the quarantine up to three years. People knowingly spreading the virus can be jailed up to five years. Those causing death can face 5-10 years.
Prime Minister Edi Rama says the amendments are needed. The virus has infected 518 Albanians and killed 26.
MOSCOW — The Kremlin says Russia will gratefully accept U.S. President Donald Trump’s offer to provide ventilators for coronavirus patients.
Trump said Wednesday the U.S. was ready to send ventilators to Russia, saying “they’re having a hard time in Moscow. We’re going to help them.” He added the U.S. also stands ready to provide ventilators to other countries, including Italy, Spain and France.
President Vladimir Putin’s spokesman Dmitry Peskov hailed Trump’s offer as “very positive,” saying in Thursday’s call with reporters that “Russia will certainly accept the kind offer if necessary.”
Russia has registered 27,938 coronavirus cases and 232 deaths. Officials have scrambled to secure ventilators and other essential supplies amid an exponential growth in infections.
Earlier this month, Russia sent a planeload of medical supplies, including ventilators to the United States. Moscow says the U.S. paid for half of the medical supplies, while the other half was sponsored by Russia’s state investment fund.
TALLINN, Estonia — Estonia’s hardline interior minister is accusing the Baltic country’s health authorities and sport organizations of “criminal negligence” for allowing an Italian volleyball team to visit in March.
Estonian health officials have said an Italian volleyball team from Milan playing international Challenge Cup games on the island most likely brought the virus to Saaremaa, where some of Estonia’s first COVID-19 cases were recorded in early March.
Interior Minister Mart Helme, chairman of the nationalist Estonian Conservative People’s Party, says in an interview with the Estonian broadcaster Kanal 2 that “someone should take responsibility.”
Saaremaa has registered 20 fatalities and 508 positive coronavirus cases. Estonia had recorded 36 deaths and 1,434 COVID-19.
The island is under lockdown, the first time since Estonia’s nearly fifty-year Soviet occupation ended in 1991.
TOKYO — Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe announced a state of emergency for all of Japan.
Abe says the measure takes effect Friday and lasts until May 6, the end of Japan’s “golden week” holidays.
He says the nationwide state of emergency is aimed at stopping cross-border movement of people and achieve as much as 80% of social distancing “to overcome this national crisis in an all-out national effort.”
Abe’s previous state of declaration on April 7 only covered Tokyo and six other prefectures deemed at highest risks of infection. He initially issued a stay home request only to the people in those areas, though later expanded the measure to the rest of the country.
Abe also announced 100,000-yen ($930) cash handouts to all 120 million Japanese citizens.
Japan has more than 9,000 virus cases and about 150 deaths.
COPENHAGEN, Denmark — Queen Margrethe II was serenaded for her 80th birthday.
People sang birthday songs from their homes, balconies, parks and public gardens to celebrate Denmark’s popular monarch. It was broadcast live on two national broadcasting channels.
They showed flag-waving people singing the Danish version of “Happy Birthday,” playing instruments and shouting “hurrah.”
A Facebook group started the initiate, saying despite the coronavirus isolation, they wanted to celebrate the monarch who ascended the throne in 1972.
“Thanks for the song. It went straight to the heart,” the queen said.
Earlier this month, Margrethe urged people not to give her flowers, but to send them to “older fellow citizens having difficulty at this time.” Flower shops reported many bouquets sent to retirement homes.
MILAN — Italy’s hardest-hit region of Lombardy is pushing to relaunch manufacturing on May 4, the day the national lockdown is set to lift.
Lombardy’s plan focuses on maintaining a one-meter distance between workers, mandating the use of masks, remote working where possible and the use of anti-body blood testing. That testing is set to launch in the region on April 21, to get a better picture of where the virus is still active.
Regional officials are considering mandating that offices and companies stagger their opening hours, to avoid congesting public transport.
Italy’s deputy economic development minister, Stefan Buffagni, called the plan premature.
‘’Lombardy’s request is a mistake,’’ Buffagni said, adding that it wasn’t clear based on what data Lombardy was seeking to reopen.
Lombardy has borne the brunt of the virus, with more than half of Italy’s deaths and one third of infections. The province of Milan — centered on Italy’s financial capital — continues to see notable daily increases in infections.
PARIS — The hotel group Accor says it will take in people with the COVID-19 who show no symptoms but risk contaminating others.
Sebastien Bazin told France Inter radio some of the group’s hotels in France have agreed to take in people to ensure they are isolated.
The public hospital system and local governments, including the Paris City Hall, worked on the initiative. The spread of the coronavirus in France has taken a toll on tourism, emptying hotels. The nation’s strict confinement measures last until May 11.
More than 17,000 people have died of the coronavirus in France since March 1.
LONDON — A leaked letter to a senior UK health official shows that leaders in social care are accusing the government of offering conflicting messages, creating confusion and adding to the workload of those on the frontlines of the coronavirus pandemic.
The letter seen by the BBC from the Association of Directors of Adult Social Services also raises concerns about funding, testing and personal protective equipment for nursing homes.
Leading British charities say the COVID-19 outbreak is causing “devastation” in nursing homes. Official statistics showed Tuesday that hundreds more people with the new virus have died than were recorded in the U.K. government’s daily tally.
Among those raising the alarm is Robert Kilgour, who owns Renaissance Care, which runs 15 care homes across Scotland.
Kilgour told the BBC Breakfast that the sector was facing a “tsunami wave” of coronavirus cases. He appealed for more testing of social care staff, and described the government response as “too little, too late.’’
Health Secretary Matt Hancock acknowledged in a BBC interview that the government needs to do more for the sector.
MADRID — Spain is recording another sharp increase of over 5,183 new reported coronavirus infections and 551 new confirmed deaths, but authorities say that’s because of broader testing.
Health Minister Salvador Illa says at least 1,312, or a quarter of Thursday’s new infections, were identified by the new rapid antibody tests that can identify those who already had the illness or show no symptoms.
The contagion and fatality tallies increased around 3% from 24 hours earlier, health ministry data showed. Some 40% of the 182,816 total infections have already been released from treatment.
The official fatality toll rose to 19,130. But Spain this week started to extend the tests, which for weeks have been under 20,000 per day.
BERLIN — Austria plans to test all residents and staff in nursing homes for the coronavirus to help curb the spread of infections among the most vulnerable.
Care facilities worldwide have been hard hit by the virus, with elderly and disabled patients dying in disproportionately high numbers compared to the rest of the population.
Austria’s health minister, Rudolf Anschober, said Thursday that nursing homes will be “a very big, central focus” of future testing in the Alpine nation, which has so far recorded 14,420 confirmed cases of COVID-19 and 355 deaths. The number of new infections in Austria has slowed sharply in recent weeks and the government is slowly relaxing lockdown measures.
Separately, Austria began a second study Thursday to determine the number of undetected infections in its population. Together with the Austrian Red Cross and Vienna’s University Hospital, the country’s statistics office is testing 2,800 randomly selected people over 16. The results are expected toward the end of April.
GENEVA — The head of the World Health Organization’s European office is hailing a show of support, including some “commitments” from around the world, for the U.N. health agency after U.S. President Donald Trump announced a halt to funding for it.
Amid an increasingly fraught financial situation for the WHO as it battles the coronavirus outbreak, Dr. Hans Kluge said: “We have been overwhelmed by the support of European countries.”
In an online briefing, the WHO’s regional director for Europe credited the United States for its historic support for the agency. The U.S. is WHO’s top donor, contributing between $400 million to $500 million annually in recent years. Trump on Tuesday ordered a temporary halt to U.S. funding pending a review of its alleged missteps in managing and responding to the COVID-19 outbreak.
“We are looking at the finance situation. Some commitments have come in,” Kluge said, without elaborating. “But for the time, we’re in the midst of the crisis. So what we focus on is to save lives.”
Kluge said some countries like France, Germany, Italy, Spain and Switzerland have shown “optimistic signs in terms of declining numbers” in recent weeks, but the “small positive signals in some countries are tempered by sustained or increased levels of incidents in other countries, including the U.K., Turkey, Ukraine, Belarus and the Russian Federation.”
“The storm clouds of this pandemic still hang heavily over the European region,” Kluge said, noting that case numbers are still rising — and have doubled to nearly 1 million over the last 10 days.
He said the WHO’s European region is facing “about 50 percent of the global burden of COVID-19.”
BERLIN — Budget airline Eurowings says more than 30,000 people have registered for special flights that will bring them from Romania to Germany to help with the harvest season.
German farms rely heavily on Eastern European laborers for sowing, planting and harvesting crops and there have been concerns that restrictions imposed due to the coronavirus pandemic might stop workers from coming.
Lufthansa’s subsidiary Eurowings said Thursday that it has already flown more than 3,000 workers from Romania to seven German airports and more than 100 further flights are planned in the coming weeks.
Meanwhile, German weekly Der Spiegel reported that a 57-year-old Romanian farm worker who died in southwestern Germany was tested positive for COVID-19. Authorities are trying to trace anybody the man, who reportedly arrived in Germany on March 20, had contact with.
BEIJING — China is rejecting allegations that the coronavirus pandemic may have originated in a laboratory near the city of Wuhan where contagious samples were being stored.
Foreign Ministry spokesman Zhao Lijian cited the head of the World Health Organization and other unidentified medical experts as saying there was no evidence that transmission began from the lab and there was “no scientific basis” for such claims.
“We always believe that this is a scientific issue and requires the professional assessment of scientists and medical experts,” Zhao told reporters at a daily briefing on Thursday.
“Only with reasonable response can the international community win this fight,” Zhao said. “China will continue to work together with other countries to help and support each other.”
China has also strongly denied claims it delayed reporting on the virus outbreak in Wuhan late last year and underreported case numbers, worsening the impact on the U.S. and other countries. The virus is widely believed to have originated with bats and have passed via another animal species to humans at a wildlife and seafood market in Wuhan, although a firm determination has yet to be made.
Allegations about a leak of the virus from the lab have been made in the U.S. media without direct evidence, and President Donald Trump has vowed to suspend funding for the World Health Organization, partly because of what he claims is its pro-China bias.
BELGRADE, Serbia — Police in Serbia have opened an investigation into one of their officers beating of a man who has allegedly flouted a curfew imposed to curb the coronavirus spread.
Amateur footage of a police officer repeatedly and violently slapping an unidentified person sitting at the back of a police car parked at a Belgrade street has triggered outrage on social media.
Serbia’s Interior Minister Nebojsa Stefanovic said in a statement Thursday that the footage “which shows inappropriate behavior of a policeman is not the picture of the police we would like to see.” He says he asked for an internal police investigation.
Serbia has introduced some of the toughest lockdown measures in Europe that include a daily 12-hour curfew and a complete ban on all those older than 65 from leaving their homes. Further tightening the restrictions, the authorities have imposed an Orthodox Easter weekend curfew starting Friday and ending next Tuesday.
Those who are caught violating those measures could face hefty fines as well as up to three years in jail.
THE HAGUE, Netherlands — Cargo traffic at the Port of Rotterdam sank by 9.3% in the first quarter to 112.4 million metric tons from the same period a year ago as the coronavirus crisis hammered economies around the world and led to tougher border checks.
The port’s CEO, Allard Castelein, said Thursday: “We are facing unprecedented disruptions.” And he expects the situation to get worse.
Castelein says the impact of falling demand on the port will become clearer in April numbers and a “10-20% drop in throughput volume on an annual basis would seem to be very likely.”
He says the impact will depend on how long lockdown measures and other restrictions remain in place and how quickly production and trade recovers.
A fall off in container traffic was only felt in a limited way in the first quarter in the Dutch port because ships from China, where the virus originated, take four to five weeks to reach Rotterdam.
In the container segment, capacity between Asia and Europe is being cut by around 25% due to a reduction in demand. “This will also be clearly seen in the port of Rotterdam in the coming quarter,” the port said in a statement.
The main falls in throughput in the first quarter were in coal, crude oil and oil products.
LONDON — The British government is set to extend a nationwide lockdown for several more weeks, as health officials say the coronavirus outbreak in the country is peaking.
Authorities are expected to announce an extension of restrictions on movement and business activity after a meeting Thursday of the government’s crisis committee, COBRA.
Health Secretary Matt Hancock said “it is too early to make a change” to the lockdown introduced on March 23 in an attempt to slow the spread of the virus.
But as other European countries cautiously ease their measures, U.K. authorities face pressure to explain when and how the country will reopen.
As of Wednesday, 12,868 people had died in U.K. hospitals after testing positive for coronavirus. The figure does not include deaths in nursing homes and other settings.
Chief Medical Officer Chris Whitty said the U.K. is “probably reaching the peak overall” but that officials are “not yet at the point where we can say confidently and safely this is now past the peak.”
TOKYO — Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe is considering expanding an ongoing state of emergency to all of Japan from just Tokyo and other urban areas as the virus continued to spread.
He convened a meeting Thursday to get approval from experts — a step he needs to clear before issuing a declaration. An approval is expected later in the day.
In his opening remarks at the experts meeting, Economy Minister Yasutoshi Nishimura said the ongoing partial state of emergency cannot effectively slow the infections because people move in and out of the designated areas.
Abe’s April 7 state of declaration only covers Tokyo and six other prefectures deemed at highest risks of infection explosion. He initially issued a stay home request only to the people in those areas, though later expanded it to the rest of the country.
Additional measures, including nonessential business closures, are in place only in Tokyo and six other prefectures. In Japan, those measures do not carry penalties.
Abe’s coronavirus measures have been criticized for being too slow and too lax. Several local leaders have asked Abe to include their prefectures as part of the emergency, others have launched their own.