The Latest: Birx calls protests “devastatingly worrisome”

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.


— Birx: Protesters not socially distancing is “devastatingly worrisome.”

— Nearly 1,000 health personnel hired to work in Italy’s prisons during COVID-19 pandemic.

— Tanzania’s president questions imported testing kits but has faith in herbal concoction.

— Rome’s infectious diseases hospital admits 28 COVID-19 patients from a nursing home.


WASHINGTON — White House coronavirus coordinator Dr. Deborah Birx is calling it “devastatingly worrisome” to see protesters in Michigan and elsewhere not wear masks or practice social distancing as they demonstrate against stay-at-home orders.

Birx was responding to the hundreds of protesters who crowded the Michigan statehouse last week to push for a reopening of businesses.

She tells “Fox News Sunday” that people “will feel guilty for the rest of our lives” if they pick up the virus because they didn’t take precautions and then unwittingly spread it to family members who are especially vulnerable to severe illness due to preexisting conditions or older age.

Protests took place in several states over the weekend amid growing frustration over the economic impact from stay at home orders during the coronavirus outbreak.

Birx says: “We need to protect each other at the same time we’re voicing our discontent.”


ROME — Nearly 1,000 health personnel have been hired to work in Italy’s chronically overcrowded prisons during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Regional Affairs Minister Francesco Boccia told reporters Sunday if more health workers are needed, they will be added.

The staff starts on Monday and will work until July 31. Twenty-thousand people applied for the jobs. The initiative was presented at a news conference outside Rome’s Rebibbia prison, where 62 of the temporary health workers will be deployed.

At the start of Italy’s 10-week-old outbreak, inmates at several prisons in Italy rioted to protest their vulnerability for contagion during the pandemic. Some judges have authorized the transfer of inmates to temporary house arrest to reduce the risk of contagion in crowded conditions.


NAIROBI, Kenya — Tanzania’s president is questioning the quality of imported coronavirus testing kits but expressed faith in a herbal concoction that Madagascar’s president claims is a remedy for COVID-19.

While African nations have been largely praised for their efforts to counter the virus, Tanzanian President John Magufuli has been criticized for refusing to close markets and places of worship because he claims the virus “cannot sit on the body of Christ.”

His new comments Sunday are drawing another wave of skepticism. The country has 480 confirmed cases but some opposition members believe other cases haven’t been announced.

The president wants to investigate the national labs because he says some tests on samples from fruit and animals came back positive. He says that proves there are people without the virus who have tested positive.

Magufuli has sent representatives to Madagascar to bring home for testing the herbal concoction that medical experts have sharply questioned. There are no approved drugs for COVID-19.


ROME — Rome’s infectious diseases hospital has admitted 28 patients from a nursing home who were confirmed to have COVID-19.

Spallanzani Hospital, which is the hub for all coronavirus patients in the region that includes Italy’s capital, said the patients were admitted Saturday from the Latina Nursing Home Clinic.

Prosecutors have been investigating nursing homes both in the epicenter of the country’s outbreak since late February, as well as in the south and other less-stricken areas. In several cases, the majority of the homes’ residents contracted the illness and had many fatalities.

Relatives have complained they were kept in the dark about their loved one’s condition. Some nursing home workers, including at a 1,000-bed facility in Milan, have alleged they were told by management not to wear protective masks near residents so the elderly wouldn’t be frightened.

Spallanzani said in a statement Sunday that the hospital was beefing up nursing services to facilitate contact with the elderly patients’ families through video phone calls and adding personnel to the switchboard so they can keep relatives informed.


BERLIN — An international media rights group says the coronavirus pandemic is being used by governments around the world to increase restrictions on press freedoms.

The International Press Institute issued a report Sunday to coincide with World Press Freedom Day 2020, which concludes that in both democratic and autocratic states the “public health crisis has allowed governments to exercise control over the media on the pretext of preventing the spread of disinformation.”

It says authoritarian governments have been abusing emergency measures to “further stifle independent media and criminalize journalism,” while in democracies “efforts to control the public narrative and restrict access to information around the pandemic are on the rise.”

The Vienna-based organization said it has documented 162 press freedom violations related to coronavirus coverage over the past two and a half months. Almost a third of the violations have involved the arrest, detention or charging of journalists.

World Press Freedom Day was proclaimed by the United Nations in 1993.

Ahead of this year’s event, UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres said the COVID-19 crisis has underscored the importance of a robust and free press.

He says “As the pandemic spreads, it has also given rise to a second pandemic of misinformation, from harmful health advice to wild conspiracy theories. The press provides the antidote: verified, scientific, fact-based news and analysis.”


MADRID — The Spanish government has said three Spaniards, one Bolivian resident in Spain and two Bolivian air force pilots have died in a plane crash in Bolivia. The four passengers were on the way back to Spain as part of repatriation efforts amid the coronavirus pandemic.

Spanish government spokeswoman Jesús María Montero confirmed Sunday the nationality of the passengers of the plane crash that was reported by the Bolivian air force.

The Bolivian air force said the crash occurred Saturday when the small aircraft “on a humanitarian air mission” crashed during a flight between the Bolivian cities of Trinidad and Santa Cruz.

The air force said they will investigate the cause of the accident.


MOSCOW — Russia’s National Guard will deploy helicopters and drones in Moscow to monitor compliance with lockdown measures during holidays this week.

There is concern that warm spring weather and a string of holidays could draw people in large numbers to leave home and gather in woodland parks.

Monday and Tuesday are legal holidays and Saturday marks the 75th anniversary of the defeat of Nazi Germany, a day that usually sees huge outdoor gatherings.


LJUBLJANA, Slovenia — Slovenia on Sunday reported no new cases of infection with the new coronavirus for the first time since early March.

Authorities say that there were no positive results among the 500 tested samples. But they say two people have died to put the death toll at 96.

Slovenia recorded the first case of the new coronavirus infection on March 4th. The European Union nation then introduced strict lockdown measures which the authorities have started gradually to ease in the past days.

The total reported number of infections in Slovenia stands at 1,439. More than 55,000 people have been tested in the country of around 2 million people that borders Italy.


ROME — Opposition politicians are expressing exasperation with Italy’s limited and complicated easing of lockdown rules, especially one stipulating whom Italians are permitted to visit in their regions starting on Monday.

Veneto Gov. Luca Zaia, from the right-wing League party, on Sunday briefed citizens on what they can and cannot do. His region in northeast Italy is one of the areas where COVID-19 infections first surfaced.

One rule specifies that cousins of one’s spouse or children of one’s cousin can be visited. Zaia noted that joggers don’t have to use a protective mask, “but when you stop running, you put it on.”

Zaia took to task those who don’t wear masks.

Italy, with nearly 29,00 deaths of confirmed infected persons, has Europe’s highest toll of victims.

Premier Giuseppe Conte, in an interview in La Stampa daily, acknowledged there was “disappointment” in the economic sector that many businesses must remain closed until May 18 or longer. Among the few exceptions is stores for children’s clothing and shoes.


STOCKHOLM — The Swedish national drug and medicine supervision agency says the European Union is investigating on a rapid schedule whether the use of the drug remdesivir could be allowed for treating the coronavirus within the 27-nation bloc following a similar decision in the United States.

The Swedish Medical Products Agency’s infection department director, Charlotta Bergqvist, told Swedish broadcaster TV4 that the introduction of remdesivir with is now being studied with a high priority within the EU and a decision may be reached “in a few days.”

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration recently authorized emergency use of remdesivir on people hospitalized with severe COVID-19. The drug was originally developed for treatment of Ebola and produced by the California-based Gilead Sciences Inc.

Clinical trials have showed the drug has helped to shorten the recovery time for people who were seriously ill.


ROME — Italians are counting down the hours until they regain some measures of personal freedom after two months of nationwide lockdown to contain Europe’s first outbreak of COVID-19.

Starting Monday, parks and public gardens can reopen for strolling, jogging or biking. But people will have to stay a meter apart, ruling out picnics and playgrounds.

Italians were already outside in large numbers Sunday, walking down streets and chatting on sidewalks. Many were equipped with masks, but in Rome, some lowered them to talk.

Experts advising the government have warned citizens against lowering their guard, and Premier Giuseppe Conte cautioned that freedoms could be curtailed if the rate of contagion starts rising again.

Restaurants and cafes will be allowed to offer customers takeout. Takeout coffee in Italy never really caught on in a big way, since knocking down a tiny espresso at the cafe’s counter is a time-honored social tradition. So bars might have to scramble to order more plastic cups.

Brief funerals services are now allowed, but no more than 15 masked mourners can attend.

In Milan, some seats on trams had stenciled warnings saying they must be left open. Cash-strapped transit systems are pleading for aid from the central government to ensure enough drivers and vehicles to meet safety distancing rules.


SEOUL, South Korea — South Korea says it’ll further relax its social distancing guidelines amid a continued slowdown of new coronavirus cases there.

Health Minister Park Neung-hoo said Sunday the government will allow public facilities to reopen in phases starting Wednesday.

He says public parks, outdoor sports and leisure facilities and museums will reopen earlier than welfare centers, public theaters and concert halls.

Park says schools will have students back to their classrooms in phased steps. Currently, South Korean students are taking classes online.

Earlier Sunday, South Korea reported 13 additional cases, taking the country’s total to 10,793 with 251 deaths.


VATICAN CITY — Pope Francis is calling for international collaboration in the search for a vaccine and treatment for COVID-19.

Speaking from the Apostolic Palace library on Sunday after delivering his blessing, Francis stressed the importance of guaranteeing “universal access to the essential technologies that allow every infected person, in every part of the world, to receive the necessary health care.”

Some cross-country research is already underway to develop a safe, effective vaccine, and scientists and doctors in various nations have been sharing experiences in using different drugs to treat patients.

The pope also invited faithful of all religions to spiritually unite in prayer, fasting and works of charity on May 14 to “implore God to help humanity to overcome the coronavirus pandemic.”


MADRID — Spaniards are enjoying their second day of outdoor exercise while preparing for further loosening of lockdown measures.

Spanish health officials reported the lowest daily death toll in six weeks on Sunday and new confirmed infections dropped to a low not seen since a state of emergency was declared March 14.

Government expert Fernando Simón says Spain now has the lowest number of new cases among Europe’s seven hardest-hit countries, but insists the virus isn’t defeated.

Barcelona’s beachfront promenade was again packed, making it impossible in some spots to maintain the 2-meter social distancing rule.

Spain will majorly rollback lockdown measures Monday. Eateries will be able to serve customers who have placed takeaway orders. Shops under 400 square meters can reopen for appointments as long as there is always a 1-to-1 ratio of customer to worker. Face masks will be obligatory on public transport.

In total, Spain has reported more than 217,400 cases and more than 25,260 deaths.


BANGKOK — Residents of the Thai capital Bangkok strolled in its parks, booked haircuts and stocked up on beer as they enjoyed their first day of eased restrictions that were imposed weeks ago to combat the spread of COVID-19.

The top perk in a city famous for its eateries may have been the reopening of restaurants. But it was not clear how many were actually serving seated customers again, since guidelines would make it hard for many to turn a profit.

There was also a partial lifting on the sale of beer and other alcoholic drinks that will allow takeaway purchases, even while bars remain closed.


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