The Latest: Hard-hit region in Italy shows virus growth

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:

— Virus cases grow in Italy’s hard-hit Lombardy region.

— Indonesia suspends all passenger flights until June 1.

— Armenia curtails commemoration of massacre.

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MILAN — The number of people testing positive for coronavirus in Italy grew by 2,646 in the last 24 hours, including 40% of those in the hard-hit Lombardy region where the first domestically transmitted case was confirmed just over two months ago.

That brings to 189,973 the total number of positives as of Thursday. Testing has been expanded but it still doesn’t reach every suspected case, including many at home who believe they may be infected but aren’t able to get tested. The number of positives in Italy grew by a rate of 1.4%, indicating a national slowing of infection, as the country prepares to ease a nationwide lockdown. Premier Giuseppe Conte is expected to announce details in the coming days.

Deaths of people with coronavirus reached 25,549, with 464 dying. Pressure on health care facilities continued to ease with 934 fewer people hospitalized and 117 fewer people in intensive care units.

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LONDON — Britain’s health secretary has announced that as part of a drive to test, track and trace the spread of the coronavirus, all essential workers who need one can now book a swab test for themselves and their family members.

The procedure will help workers in nursing homes, schools and many other key industries decide whether they can return to work safely. Thirty-one drive-through test centers are now operating across the U.K., and more mobile test centers are planned.

Health Secretary Matt Hancock says the government is testing a contact tracing app, as well as preparing to hire 18,000 people to work on contact tracing.

John Newton, coordinator of the country’s coronavirus testing program, says Britain is on track to reach the government’s target of 100,000 tests per day by the end of April.

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JAKARTA, Indonesia — The Indonesian government has totally suspended all domestic and international passenger flights until June 1, following restriction for people in the world’s most populous Muslim nation from traveling back home to celebrate the Islamic holiday during the coronavirus pandemic.

The transportation ministry’s director general of aviation, Novie Riyanto, says the ban applies to both commercial and charter travel.

Riyanto says there are exceptions for the leadership of state institutions, state representatives for international organizations as well as for the repatriation of Indonesian citizens, foreigners and those related to law enforcement and emergency services from flight officials after having the ministry’s permission.

President Joko Widodo previously banned people from traveling back home to celebrate Eid al-Fitr to mark the end of the dawn-to-sunset fasting during Ramadan. Health experts have warned of a chance Indonesia will face an outbreak of coronavirus cases that could infect 1 million people following Ramadan, unless the government takes stricter measures.

In the annual mass exodus, millions of Indonesians usually cram into trains, ferries, cars and planes, resulting in massive traffic jams and fully booked flights.

Last year, about 33 million Indonesians left big cities to visit relatives during the holiday.

Indonesia’s latest tally confirmed at least 7,418 infections, with 635 deaths from COVID-19.

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WASHINGTON — The U.S. Navy says that after weeks of work, all of the roughly 4,800 sailors on the coronavirus-stricken USS Theodore Roosevelt aircraft carrier have been tested for the virus. The ship has been sidelined in Guam since March 27, moving sailors ashore, testing them and isolating them for nearly a month.

The number of hospitalized sailors continues to decline. As of Thursday, 840 crew members have tested positive for the virus, four are in the hospital, and 88 have recovered. None are in intensive care and more than 4,200 have been moved ashore.

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YEREVAN, Armenia — Armenia is sharply curtailing this year’s commemoration of the massacre of 1.5 million Armenians by Ottoman Turks because of concerns about the spread of coronavirus.

The observances of the killings that began in 1915 are important civic events in Armenia, bringing large numbers of people to a torchlight procession and visiting the sprawling Tsitsernakaberd memorial complex in Yerevan.

Prime Minister Nikol Pashinian says there will be no procession on Thursday night, but urged the capital’s residents to shine flashlights from their windows. The public will not be allowed on Tsitsernakabersd on Friday, the commemoration day. Armenians and many historians consider the killings to be genocide, but Turkey, successor of the Ottoman Empire, vehemently denies the claim.

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BANGKOK — U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo has accused China of taking advantage of the global preoccupation with the coronavirus crisis to push forward with its territorial ambitions in the South China Sea.

Pompeo made the accusation Thursday at a virtual meeting to discuss COVID-19 with the foreign ministers of the 10-member Association of Southeast Asian Nations.

Beijing’s expansive territorial and fishing claims in the South China Sea conflict with those of ASEAN’s maritime members and are sharply contested by Washington. Most other meeting participants’ statements focused on the health, economic and social problems wrought by COVID-19.

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LONDON — The British government says another 616 more people with the coronavirus have died in U.K. hospitals, taking the total to nearly 19,000.

The daily increase reported was lower than the 759 in the previous 24-hour period.

The U.K.’s death toll is the fourth highest in Europe, behind Italy, Spain and France, all of whom have reported more than 20,000 deaths.

There has been increasing scrutiny of the U.K. figures in recent days for understating the actual number of people having died of COVID-19. They don’t include those who have died in care homes or elsewhere in the community.

The government also said the number of daily tests increased slightly to more than 23,000. The number remains well shy of the government’s target of 100,000 a day by the end of the month, an ambition that has met with widespread skepticism.

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ZAGREB, Croatia — Croatia’s prime minister has announced a phased easing of lockdown measures against the new coronavirus. He says the situation in the European Union country appears under control but caution remains necessary.

Andrej Plenkovic said Thursday that small trading businesses will reopen first next week along with bookstores, museums and art galleries. Individual sports training and some public transit will resume, he said.

The second phase in two weeks will include full restoration of the public health system and private clinics, as well as such services as beauty parlors. Plenkovic insisted that social distancing and hygienic measures will stay in place.

The third phase, on May 11, will pave the way for the reopening of shopping malls, pre-schools and primary education, as well as some universities. Smaller groups of up to 10 people will be allowed to gather. Parks may open as well as restaurants and cafes, but only outdoors.

“This is not the return to life before the epidemics,” Plenkovic said.

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KUALA LUMPUR, Malaysia — Malaysia will extend its partial lockdown by another two weeks until May 12.

Although daily infections have dropped to double-digit in the past week, Prime Minister Muhyiddin Yassin says “we have not won the battle against the COVID-19 outbreak.”

Muhyiddin said the six-week closure of nonessential services and schools, that is due to end April 28 will continue until the government is confident of fully containing the virus.

In a in a televised speech Thursday he said if the number of cases continue to drop drastically, the government may lift the restrictions in phases. Malaysia has reported more than 5,600 infections.

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SINGAPORE — Singapore has recorded more than 1,000 new cases Thursday to bring its total past 11,000. It has now overtaken South Korea to be the fourth worst-hit nation in Asia after China, India and Japan.

Fatality is low at 12. The numbers have consistently breached 1,000 daily since Monday because of aggressive testing of foreign workers locked down in crowded dormitories across the city-state.

The upsurge has forced Singapore to extend its partial lockdown by another four weeks until June 1.

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MOSCOW — Russia’s reported coronavirus caseload has surpassed 60,000.

The government registered 4,774 confirmed cases on Thursday, which brought the country’s total to 62,773. The official death toll rose to 555, with 42 people dying since the Wednesday.

Russia has been in lockdown since the first week of April, with the vast majority of regions ordering residents to stay home and not go out unless it’s to buy groceries and medicines or to take out the trash.

As the outbreak picked up speed, President Vladimir Putin indefinitely postponed a nationwide vote on the constitutional reform that would allow him to stay in power until 2036, as well as the traditional military parade on Red Square marking the 75th anniversary of World War II victory. The events had been scheduled for late April and early May and had dominated the Kremlin’s political agenda for months.

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BERLIN — Chancellor Angela Merkel says Germany is committed to helping other European countries weather the coronavirus crisis and has the finances to do so.

Speaking to parliament before a European summit, Merkel told lawmakers Thursday that Germany was already contributing to a 500 billion euro European Union rescue package. She says it is important to ensure those funds were available by June 1 for “member states that don’t have the financial resources” to help citizens out of work because of lockdown measures.

Germany has run a balanced budget for a half-dozen years. Merkel noted that the pandemic has hit us during a time of healthy budgets and strong reserves.”

She says “we should be prepared, in the spirit of solidarity, to make significantly higher contributions to the European budget for a period of time.”

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LONDON — The Scottish leader has outlined strategies for how Scotland will begin to ease the coronavirus lockdown, saying “a return to normal as we knew it is not on the cards in the near future.”

First Minister Nicola Sturgeon said Thursday that social distancing will be “a fact of life for a long time to come,” possibly for the rest of the year and beyond. Large gatherings at pubs and public events will likely be banned or restricted for some time.

She stressed that lockdown conditions will not be lifted like flicking a switch. Rather, she said, cautious steps will be taken and lockdown may be reintroduced when necessary. Options to relax restrictions include phased openings of parts of the economy.

Sturgeon’s comments echoed those of England’s chief medical officer. Chris Whitty said Wednesday “very socially disruptive” measures will likely have to remain in force for the rest of the year.

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ATHENS, Greece — Greece’s government is extending the country’s lockdown measures by one week to May 4. They had been due to expire April 27.

The measures have shut down most economic activity in the country. Government spokesman Stelios Petsas said Thursday they will gradually be relaxed over the course of May and June. He said the plan for how businesses would be reopened will be announced by Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis early next week.

Greece imposed lockdown measures early in its outbreak, a move that has been credited with keeping coronavirus-related deaths at low levels. The number of critically ill who require mechanical support to breathe also has been falling.

The country on Wednesday announced zero daily deaths for the first time since March. Greece’s death toll currently stands at 121 people while another 55 people are intubated in intensive care units. Confirmed infections stand at 2,408.

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