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.

Major companies signaled a new wave of economic distress Monday, sending hundreds of thousands of workers home without pay, as the Trump administration scrambled to get stimulus money to Americans already feeling the weight of unpaid bills.

Macy’s announced it will furlough most of its 125,000 workers as sales evaporated with the closure of 775 stores. Kohl’s and Gap announced furloughs of about 80,000 each. Media giant Gannett announced furloughs for newspaper employees who earn more than $38,000 a year and pay cuts across the company. Sysco, the country’s largest food distributor, also confirmed thousands of furloughs and layoffs of undisclosed number of workers worldwide.

The massive cuts have prompted some economists to predict that the unemployed could top 40 million by mid-April, with deep economic consequences for workers struggling to make rent and mortgages amid public health isolation orders. A new forecast from IHS Markit estimates that “it will likely take two to three years for most economies to return to their pre-pandemic levels of output.”

The tanking economy has ratcheted up the pressure on the Trump administration to turn the largest stimulus package in American history into immediate relief for businesses and workers. The Treasury Department, in particular, faces a staggering list of tasks as it tries to rapidly create massive new federal programs aimed at shielding Americans from the economic impact.

The congressional package signed into law by President Trump on Friday includes a massive increase in unemployment benefits and direct checks of $1,200 to more than 100 million American taxpayers. It also includes close to $400 billion in loans to small businesses, as well as more than $500 billion in a fund that can go to corporations, cities and states.

Read the full story about the economic crisis here.

China’s virus hot spot reopens after 2-month lockdown

WUHAN, China — The city at the center of China’s virus outbreak was reopening for business Monday after authorities lifted more of the controls that locked downs tens of millions of people for two months. Customers were still scarce, though, as those who did venture out were greeted by shop employees who wore masks and carried signs that told them to “keep a safe distance.”

While governments worldwide are tightening travel and other controls, the ruling Communist Party has rolled back curbs on Wuhan and other areas as it tries to revive the world’s second-largest economy after declaring victory over the outbreak.

Wuhan is the last major population center still under travel controls. Residents were allowed to go to other parts of Hubei province but could not leave it. Restrictions on other Hubei residents were lifted March 23. The final curbs on Wuhan end April 8.

Wuhan became the center of the most intensive anti-disease controls ever imposed after the virus emerged in December. Some researchers suggest it may have jumped to humans from a bat at one of the city’s wildlife markets.

Read the full story about China’s coronavirus measures here.

Florida pastor arrested after services draw hundreds

TAMPA, Fla. — Florida officials have arrested the pastor of a megachurch after detectives say he held two Sunday services with hundreds of people and violated a safer-at-home order in place to limit the spread of the coronavirus.

According to jail records, Pastor Rodney Howard-Browne turned himself in to authorities Monday afternoon in Hernando County, where he lives. He was charged with unlawful assembly and violation of a public health emergency order. Bail was set at $500, according to the jail’s website, and he was released after posting bond.

Hillsborough Sheriff Chad Chronister said in a news conference Monday that he negotiated with the attorney of Howard-Browne to turn himself in to authorities in Hernando County. His church is located in Tampa.

Howard-Browne isn’t alone in refusing to curtail in-person worship services despite public health orders designed to stop the virus from spreading. Churches in Ohio, Kentucky and Louisiana have continued to invite worshippers in recent days as at least a half-dozen states offer some degree of exemption for faith in their orders to shutter nonessential activity during the pandemic.

Chronister said his command staff met with The River at Tampa Bay Church leaders about the danger they are putting themselves — and their congregation — in by not maintaining appropriate social distancing, but Howard-Browne held the services. The Sheriff’s Office also placed a digital sign on the road near the church driveway that said “practice social distancing.”

“Shame on this pastor, their legal staff and the leaders of this staff for forcing us to do our job. That’s not what we wanted to do during a declared state of emergency,” Chronister said. “We are hopeful that this will be a wakeup call.”

The church has said it sanitized the building, and the pastor said on Twitter that the church is an essential business. He also attacked the media for “religious bigotry and hate.”

Read the full story about the Tampa church here.

 

Massive Navy hospital ship docks off New York to provide help

NEW YORK — The USNS Comfort – an enormous Navy hospital ship last dispatched to New York City in the wake of 9/11 — arrived in the Big Apple on Monday to assist in the battle against coronavirus, but Mayor Bill de Blasio stressed that much more help will be needed as the crisis deepens.

Speaking at Pier 90 on Manhattan’s west side after the Comfort docked, de Blasio said the ship’s 1,000 beds are a critical “boost” to the city’s overcrowding hospital system. Still, he noted New York needs to “triple” its hospital bed capacity by May.

“It’s a daunting task,” de Blasio said, as his administration reported 790 people have now died in the five boroughs from the respiratory infection, with more than 36,000 confirmed cases. “But we got a big boost with the arrival of the Comfort. This is like adding a whole other hospital to New York City.”

The Comfort will accommodate non-coronavirus patients to help alleviate hospitals at capacity amid terrifying spikes in COVID-19 cases.

De Blasio said the Comfort will have 750 beds available by Tuesday morning, with the possibility of adding 250 more.

In addition to beds, the Comfort has 12 operating rooms that could be up and running within 24 hours.

Read the full story about the USNS Comfort here.

Japan urges WHO to speed coronavirus medicines, vaccine

TOKYO — Japan’s Prime Minister Shinzo Abe urged the head of the World Health Organization to help accelerate development of medicine and vaccines for the coronavirus by promoting information sharing and cooperation among countries.

Abe told Director-General Tedros Adhanom in a phone call that Japan is pursuing clinical research on flu drug Favipiravir with several other countries.

Japan’s Foreign Ministry says Tedros pledged WHO’s leadership in the development of medicine, vaccines and diagnostics.

Abe asked Tedros to make use of Japan’s $46 million contribution to the WHO to effectively provide technical assistance for health workers in developing countries where COVID-19 cases are sharply on the rise.

Tokyo Olympics rescheduled

TOKYO — The Tokyo Olympics will open next year in the same time slot scheduled for this year’s games.

Tokyo organizers said Monday the opening ceremony will take place on July 23, 2021 — almost exactly one year after the games were due to start this year.

“The schedule for the games is key to preparing for the games,” Tokyo organizing committee president Yoshiro Mori said. “This will only accelerate our progress.”

Last week, the IOC and Japanese organizers postponed the Olympics until 2021 because of the coronavirus pandemic.

This year’s games were scheduled to open on July 24 and close on Aug. 9. But the near exact one-year delay will see the rescheduled closing ceremony on Aug. 8.

There had been talk of switching the Olympics to spring, a move that would coincide with the blooming of Japan’s famous cherry blossoms. But it would also clash with European soccer and North American sports leagues.

Read the rest of this story here.

Spain’s main virus spokesman tests positive

MADRID — Spain’s main spokesman in the coronavirus crisis has tested positive for the COVID-19 disease but the results need to be confirmed, authorities have announced as the country of 47 million became the third to surpass China in number of infections.

Dr. Fernando Simón, who had become the Spanish government’s face and voice during the crisis, was replaced on Monday’s daily press conference by his deputy, Dr. María José Sierra.

Simón had been initially praised for relaying calm and clarity in the early days of the crisis, but as infections and deaths for the virus mounted he was heavily criticized for having played down the severity of the outbreak.

Sierra said that the increase of daily cases had dropped from an average of 20% before March 25, to 12% in the past five days. She said the drop was due to social distancing and confinement measures in place for the past two weeks.

The official said that the main worry for the government now was the pressure on the country’s intensive care units because it could arrive 2 or 3 weeks after the infection.

“Reducing the pressure on the ICUs will be important for considering de-escalation measures,” she said.

Scientist says British lockdown is working

LONDON — One of the scientists advising the British government on the coronavirus pandemic says there are signs that the effective lockdown of much of the country is working.

Professor Neil Ferguson thinks the epidemic is “just about slowing” as a result of the social distancing measures the government has imposed over the past couple of weeks.

That’s evidenced by the number of new hospital admissions, he told BBC radio.

“It’s not yet plateaued so the numbers can be increasing every day but the rate of that increase has slowed,” he said.

Ferguson, who had to self-isolate himself a couple of weeks ago after showing signs of the COVID-19 illness, said the number of deaths will continue to rise on a daily basis as it is a lagging indicator. Latest figures show that 1,228 people in the U.K. who have tested positive for the virus have died.

The epidemiologist thinks that between 3% to 5% of people in London may have been infected, with between 2% and 3% in the country as a whole.

Laos institutes nationwide lockdown

BANGKOK— The Southeast Asian nation of Laos, which detected its first COVID-19 cases last week, has instituted a nationwide lockdown to fight the disease’s spread.

The state news agency KPL reports that Prime Minister Thongloun Sisoulith issued an order effective Monday through April 19 prohibiting all citizens and foreigners from leaving their accommodations except for essential activity such as buying food or medical care. Those engaged in agricultural production are allowed out according to rules from their local authorities.

All international checkpoints are closed except for transport of goods and to allow foreigners to return to their countries.

Laos has nine confirmed cases of the coronavirus with no deaths reported. The country of about 7.4 million people is one of the poorest in Asia.

Myanmar, which also reported its first COVID-19 cases last week, is closing its airports to all commercial passenger flights at midnight Monday through April 13. Exceptions are allowed with official permission for relief flights, all cargo flights and medical evacuations.

Myanmar, with a population of more than 56 million, is also one of the region’s poorer countries. It has 10 confirmed COVID-19 cases with no deaths.

Boris Johnson’s chief adviser shows coronavirus symptoms

LONDON — British Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s chief adviser, Dominic Cummings, is the latest senior government figure to show symptoms of the new coronavirus.

Johnson’s office says Cummings developed symptoms over the weekend and is self-isolating at home.

Johnson announced Friday that he has tested positive for COVID-19 and has mild symptoms. Health Secretary Matt Hancock has also tested positive, while the chief medical officer of England, Chris Whitty, says he is self-isolating after showing symptoms.

Senior U.K. officials have been criticized for continuing to hold face-to-face meetings until recently, even while urging the rest of the country to stay home and avoid all but essential contact with others.

Cummings is a controversial figure — a self-styled political disruptor who helped lead Britain’s pro-Brexit referendum campaign in 2016. He has been blamed for briefing journalists that the U.K. was seeking “herd immunity” against the coronavirus by letting most of the population get it. The government and its scientific advisers deny that was ever their strategy.

Sweden moves to mark coronavirus victim’s coffins

STOCKHOLM — Sweden’s funeral home association says that burial agencies across the country have decided that coffins with a deceased COVID-19 victim should be marked with a special symbol so that caskets are not opened because of fears the deceased could still be contagious.

Ulf Lerneus, the association’s manager, tells Swedish daily Aftonbladet that there has been a confusion among his members after Sweden’s Public Health Authority earlier this month decided that deceased victims should no longer be in body bags.

“Nobody can say there is no risk of infection,” Lerneus was quoted by the daily as saying. Caskets with the symbol showing three droplets “should not be opened” when transported from the mortuary, said Lerneus.

The association gathers some 400 authorized, private funeral homes across the Scandinavian country.

Sweden has reported some 3,700 cases where people have been tested positive, of which 255 of them are in intensive care. According to official figures, 110 people have died.

Britain sends airline cabin crews to hospitals

LONDON — Britain’s health service is asking airline cabin crew who have been laid off during the coronavirus pandemic to go to work in temporary new hospitals being built to treat COVID-19 patients.

The National Health Service says easyJet and Virgin Atlantic are writing to thousands of staff — especially those with first aid training — asking them to work at hospitals being built inside convention centers in London, Birmingham and Manchester.

It said those who sign up will perform support roles under the supervision of doctors and nurses.

EasyJet announced Monday it was grounding all of its 344 planes amid a collapse in demand due to the COVID-19 crisis. It said there was “no certainty of the date for restarting commercial flights.”

Virgin Atlantic has cancelled most of its flights and has urged the British government to help keep struggling airlines aloft.

Bulguria postpones move to Euro

SOFIA, Bulgaria — Bulgaria is postponing its bid to adopt the euro in the wake of a global economic downturn due to the coronavirus pandemic.

Bulgaria’s central bank governor said Monday that his country will delay its accession process until next year.

Dimitar Radev told private Nova TV channel that “the timeline for joining the banking union and participation in the exchange rate mechanism are not realistic anymore”.

The government had said earlier that Bulgaria wants to enter the two-year process that leads to joining the euro, called ERM II, this July. Its hope is that a swift entry into the eurozone would guarantee Bulgaria’s deeper integration in the EU.

Radev said that a delay until 2021 would not be “fatal”. He warned, however, that the country should not wait for a new entry cycle as it did during the global financial crisis of 2008-2009.

Bulgaria is one of the poorest EU members but has since 1997 kept a stable exchange rate between its currency, the lev, and the euro.

Students tutoring younger students in France

PARIS — Students at France’s most prestigious engineering school are engaging in remote tutoring to help high school pupils get their “Baccalaureat,” the state diploma awarded to pupils in their final lycée year.

The world-renowned Ecole Polytechnique said Monday that 325 of its students will give one hour of their time every day to youngsters in need of support during the isolation period imposed by French authorities to limit the spread of the deadly novel coronavirus.

“During this enduring quarantine period in France, many high school students feel they are lacking in family support when it comes to learning lessons on their own at home,” the school said in a statement. “This is either because their parents are directly implicated in the current pandemic, or because their parents may not have the academic level necessary to help.”

Polytechnique said priority will be given to students whose parents are directly involved in the fight against the disease, including medical professionals, military personnel, police officers or firefighters.

In addition, 25 English-speaking students from the school’s Bachelor of Science program have offered to help with English tutoring lessons.

The French government has ordered the closure of schools across the country but students will still be required to pass their baccalaureat tests in June unless it is postponed to a later date.

Spain is third country to surpass China

MADRID — Spain has become the third country to surpass China in coronavirus infections after the United States and Italy. With a population of 47 million, the country’s tally of infections reached 85,195 on Monday, a rise of 8% from a previous day.

Monday also saw 812 fatalities to 7,300 since the outbreak started in earnest in early March, Spain’s Health Ministry said in a statement.

In Madrid, where nearly half of the total deaths have been recorded, flags were hoisted at half-mast as authorities declared the official mourning, with a minute of silence expected at noon time.

Authorities also step up the country’s half-a-month lockdown on Monday, beginning with a new two-week period of “hibernation,” as described by a Spanish Cabinet member in order to alleviate the pressure of the illness in the country’s health system.

Only workers in hospitals, pharmacies, the food supply chain and other essential industries are required to work until the end of Easter, in mid-April, while the rest have been asked to scale back operations to weekend-level.

At least six of Spain’s 17 regions are at their limit of ICU beds and three more were close to it, authorities said, while frantic construction of field hospitals continues.

Austria mandates face masks at supermarkets

VIENNA — Austrian Chancellor Sebastian Kurz says that people will be obliged to wear face masks in supermarkets starting this week as the country battles to slow the spread of the coronavirus.

Kurz announced the new measure on Monday, two weeks after Austria introduced restrictions on people’s movement. Austria borders Italy, Europe’s worst-hit country. So far, it has more than 9,000 confirmed cases, including over 100 deaths, according to the health minister.

Kurz said that, likely starting on Wednesday, supermarket chains will start handing out simple face masks to people when they enter supermarkets and people will have to keep them on while they shop. He said that “in the medium term” the aim is for people to wear them in other public situations too.

He emphasized that the new measure doesn’t lessen the need to people to keep their distance from others.

Closed offices impact absentee voting in South Korea

SEOUL, South Korea — South Korea says nearly half of its 172,000 eligible voters overseas will be denied absentee voting for next month’s parliamentary elections after polling was ruled out in dozens of diplomatic offices worldwide amid broadening coronavirus outbreaks.

South Korea’s National Election Commission said polling preparations were halted at 65 diplomatic missions in 40 countries as of Monday, affecting some 80,500 voters, including those in major U.S. cities such as Washington, New York and Los Angeles.

The commission says more diplomatic offices could decide to close for the April 1-6 absentee voting.

Voters in South Korea will be required to wear masks and use disposable gloves at ballot booths during the parliamentary elections on April 15. Election workers will conduct temperature checks and provide separate polling places for voters with fever or respiratory symptoms.

Some politicians had called for the country to postpone the elections, which will be a crucial moment for President Moon Jae-in’s government amid concerns about the epidemic’s impact on public health and the economy.

 


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