World COVID-19 update: Six million U.S. jobless claims; Russia sends medical aid to U.S.

Workers erect a building which will be a new hospital, on the outskirts of Moscow, Russia, Thursday, April 2, 2020. (Denis Voronin, Moscow News Agency photo via AP)
A municipal vehicle and officer lead a tanker spraying disinfectant as a precaution against the coronavirus, in Beirut, Lebanon, Thursday, April 2, 2020. (AP Photo/Hussein Malla)
A municipal tanker sprays disinfectant as a precaution against the coronavirus, on a street in Beirut, Lebanon, Thursday, April 2, 2020. (AP Photo/Hussein Malla)
Visitors wearing mask against the coronavirus enjoy a quiet day at the East Lake park in Wuhan in central China’s Hubei province on Thursday, April 2, 2020. For most people, the new coronavirus causes mild or moderate symptoms, such as fever and cough, that clear up in two to three weeks. For some, especially older adults and people with existing health problems, it can cause more severe illness, including pneumonia, and death. (AP Photo/Ng Han Guan)

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.

This collection of Associated Press files was posted by Black Press Media at 5:45 a.m., Thursday, April 2.

TOP OF THE HOUR:

  • Russian Foreign Ministry: U.S. paid for half of medical supplies sent from Russia.
  • Portugal extends state of emergency another 2 weeks.
  • World Medical Association says China’s figures on the new coronavirus infections aren’t credible.

U.S. on track to lose 20 million jobs

WASHINGTON — More than 6.6 million Americans applied for unemployment benefits last week, far exceeding a record high set just last week, a sign that layoffs are accelerating in the midst of the coronavirus.

The job cuts are mounting against the backdrop of economies in the United States and abroad that have almost certainly sunk into a severe recession as businesses close across the world.

The figure for last week is much higher than the previous record of 3.3 million reported for the previous week. The surging layoffs have led many economists to envision as many as 20 million lost jobs by the end of April. The unemployment rate could spike to as high as 15% this month, above the previous record of 10.8% set during a deep recession in 1982.

Many employers are slashing their payrolls to try to stay afloat because their revenue has collapsed, especially at restaurants, hotels, gyms, movie theatres and other venues that depend on face-to-face interaction. Auto sales have sunk, and factories have closed.

Stay-at-home orders, imposed by most U.S. states, have intensified pressure on businesses, most of which face rent, loans and other bills that must be paid.

Russia sends shipment of medical supplies to U.S.

MOSCOW — The Russian Foreign Ministry says the United States paid for half of the medical supplies Russia sent as “humanitarian aid” this week amid the growing coronavirus pandemic.

The other half of the cost was sponsored by Russia’s state investment fund.

A military aircraft loaded with medical equipment and masks took off from Moscow early Wednesday morning following a phone call between Russian President Vladimir Putin and U.S. President Donald Trump. The two leaders discussed co-operation in the fight against the new coronavirus.

Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov called the shipment “humanitarian aid” and says Trump accepted it “with gratitude.”

The U.S. Department of State issued a statement Thursday saying it purchased the supplies from Russia. Russia’s Foreign Ministry clarified the U.S. only paid for half of the supplies.

Reports of Russia selling medical supplies to the U.S. elicited outrage among Kremlin critics as the number of coronavirus cases in Russia continues to grow. Hospitals across the country complained about shortages of protective gear and equipment needed to treat the coronavirus patients.

Portugal: State of emergency extended

LISBON, Portugal — Portugal’s parliament and government have extended by two weeks the country’s state of emergency.

Temporary legal changes have given authorities enhanced powers to help slow the spread of the new coronavirus and allows the declaration of a lockdown. There are government fears that people will be reluctant to stay at home during the approaching Easter weekend.

The new measures also will allow authorities to order nursing home staff to work and will be able to order the elderly into hotels for their safety.

Officials will be allowed to release some prisoners, while others may receive pardons.

Portugal has officially recorded 9,034 cases of COVID-19, with 209 deaths attributed to it.

U.K.: Bus company to suspend operations

LONDON — One of the U.K.’s biggest coach companies says it will suspend operations from midnight Sunday after a collapse in journeys during the coronavirus pandemic.

National Express says it is “no longer viable” to maintain a limited network of coach services to help people with essential travel.

The use of planes, trains and coaches has fallen to negligible levels. But concerns have been raised about a recent spike in car journeys.

Prime Minister Boris Johnson, who is self-isolating after testing positive for coronavirus, expressed his concern about that increase in a tweet: “Please do not leave your house unless absolutely necessary. It really will save lives.”

Syria: Mosque closure extended

BEIRUT — Syria’s government has extended the closures of mosques until April 16, which is nearly a week before the start of the holy month of Ramadan.

The government also extended its ban on visits to prison and detention facilities to stop the spread of the new coronavirus. Rights groups have called on governments in the region to release thousands of political detainees held in crammed and unhygienic facilities.

In government controlled Syria, 10 cases of the coronavirus and two deaths have been reported but there are concerns the virus may be more widespread.

In rebel-controlled northwest Syria, the World Health Organization says it is increasing preparedness and testing capacities.

The region is home to nearly 4 million people but most have been displaced by the war and health facilities have been targeted in repeated government military offensives. Testing facilities were only delivered to the war-battered region late last month. There are up to 900 tests are available in the northwest.

World Medical Association calls Chinese COVID-19 reporting “nonsense”

BERLIN — The chairman of the World Medical Association says China’s figures on the new coronavirus infections aren’t credible.

But German doctor Frank Ulrich Montgomery says the numbers aren’t credible in many other countries, either.

Montgomery says the recent low Chinese numbers were “nonsense” and suggested Beijing was intentionally providing false figures. The radiologist and former head of the German Medical Association says other countries are also working with uncertain figures because better data often isn’t available.

Montgomery cited the lack of proper testing as one reason why many developing countries are reporting low infection rates.

He called for the World Health Organization to do more to impress on governments in poorer nations the need to take measures to restrict the spread of the pandemic.

Montgomery warned that if the virus takes hold in megacities such as Cairo, “then it’s going to get really dangerous.”

Fauci: Healthy cruise ship passengers must get off ships ASAP

WASHINGTON — Dr. Anthony Fauci says those on cruise ships who are not sick need to disembark “as quickly as possible” to prevent further spread of the virus.

The top U.S. infectious disease official says those on the ships who are sick with the new coronavirus obviously need medical attention.

Fauci told “CBS This Morning” on Thursday that some of those passengers on cruise are Americans and the others need to be safely returned to their home countries.

Dozens of cruise ships are either lined up at Port Miami and Port Everglades or waiting offshore due to the coronavirus pandemic.

Federal, state and local officials have been negotiating over whether Carnival’s Holland America cruise ships, the Zaandam and Rotterdam, would be allowed to dock at Port Everglades this week.

But the company’s Coral Princess is coming, too, with what that ship’s medical centre called a higher-than-normal number of people with flu-like symptoms.

NYC: Poorest neighbourhoods hit the hardest

NEW YORK — New data shows the new coronavirus is hitting every part of New York City but especially hard in neighbourhoods that tend to be poorer and are more likely to have several people living under one roof.

Data released by city health officials show that residents in the immigrant-rich Jackson Heights, Elmhurst and Corona sections of Queens have tested positive for the virus in far greater numbers and at higher rates per capita than in wealthy in mostly white parts of Manhattan and Brooklyn.

People living in one Queens zip code just south of LaGuardia Airport were roughly four times as likely to have tested positive as people in the gentrified section of Brooklyn that Mayor Bill de Blasio calls home.

Four year old girl tests positive

SAN JUAN, Puerto Rico — The U.S. territory of Puerto Rico is reporting its first underage cases of COVID-19.

The Health Department says a 4-year-old girl and a 17-year-old teen are among the more than 300 people who have tested positive for the coronavirus.

The government has reported 12 deaths as health officials warn the peak of cases is not expected until early May.

Greece bans recreational water sports

ATHENS, Greece — Greece’s Coast Guard has banned swimming in the sea, speargun fishing and recreational water sports as part of lockdown measures to prevent the spread of the new coronavirus.

The country is in the second week of a lockdown. People are allowed to leave their homes for essential reasons including walking a pet or exercising.

But the Coast Guard says swimming, underwater fishing and water sports are not permitted.

Greece has thousands of kilometres of coastline and access to the sea and beach activities are massively popular.

Greece has 1,415 confirmed cases of COVID-19 and 50 deaths.

Thailand: National airline suspends flights until May 31

BANGKOK — Thailand has taken more measures to cut arrivals from abroad, with its national airline suspending all flights until May 31 and the trickle of people qualified for entry into the country further slowed to fight the spread of COVID-19.

Thai Airways International announced that in addition to suspending all flights from abroad, its staff would take salary cuts while being put on leave from this Saturday until the end of May to help practice social distancing. The airline had already cut most of its flights.

The government late last month instituted rules that foreigners travelling to Thailand must have certificates guaranteeing they are not infected with COVID-19 and have $100,000 in medical insurance. Thai citizens need a ‘fit-to-fly’ certification, and both groups must self-isolate for 14 days after arrival. Thai embassies have to endorse the certifications.

Prime Minister Prayuth Chan-ocha on Thursday ordered the Foreign Ministry to take measures to have the embassies slow new endorsements until April 15 because the pace of arrivals was making it hard to enforce isolation rules.

British PM lambasted over pace of COVID-19 testing

LONDON — Political opponents, scientists and even usually supportive newspapers are lambasting British Prime Minister Boris Johnson over his government’s broken promises on testing for the new coronavirus.

Johnson’s Conservative government vowed to rapidly increase the number of tests for COVID-19 to 10,000 tests a day, then 25,000 a day by mid-April. So far the 10,000-a-day target has not been met.

Johnson, who is working from isolation after being diagnosed with COVID-19, promised in a video message that the government was “massively increasing testing.”

He said testing “is how we will unlock the coronavirus puzzle, this is how we will defeat it in the end.”

But as the number of deaths in the U.K. soars to more than 2,300, the fragile unity behind the government’s response is shattering.

The right-leaning Daily Mail slammed the “testing fiasco” on its front page. “Questions without Answers,” said the Conservative-supporting Daily Telegraph, accusing the government of being unable to say why Britain lagged behind its European neighbours on testing.

WHO: 95 per cent of COVID-19 dead are over 60

GENEVA — The head of the World Health Organization’s office in Europe says figures show that more than 95% of people who have died of coronavirus on the continent have been aged over 60.

But Dr. Hans Kluge said age is not the only risk factor for severe disease, adding: “The very notion that COVID-19 only affects older people is factually wrong.”

In an online news conference Thursday in Copenhagen, Kluge said “young people are not invincible” — echoing similar recent comments from WHO Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus.

The U.N. health agency says 10% to 15% of people under 50 with the disease have moderate or severe infection.

“Severe cases of the disease have been seen in people in their teens or 20s with many requiring intensive care and some unfortunately passing away,” Kluge said.

He said recent statistics showed 30,098 people have been reported to have died in Europe, mostly in Italy, France and Spain.

“We know that over 95 per cent of these deaths occurred in those older than 60 years,” he said, with more than half aged over 80.

Kluge said more than four in five of those people had at least one other chronic underlying conditions, like cardiovascular disease, hypertension or diabetes.

“On a positive note, there are reports of people over the age of 100 who were admitted to hospital for COVID-19 and have now — since — made a complete recovery,” he said.

China refutes accusations that it suppressed and hid virus information

BEIJING — The Chinese government is hitting back at U.S. officials and lawmakers who are accusing it of suppressing and hiding information about the coronavirus outbreak.

Foreign ministry spokeswoman Hua Chunying said Thursday that “the words and actions of individual American politicians are really despicable and immoral” and that they should focus their energies on what they can do to protect their citizens and save as many lives as they can.

“We have said many times that to stigmatize, blame and shift responsibility to others cannot make up for the lost time,” she said. “Continued lying will only waste more time and cause more loss of life.”

American lawmakers and officials have accused China of a coverup of the seriousness of the initial outbreak that allowed it to spread more widely. Some also allege that China is understating its number of cases and deaths.

Hua said that China has released the relevant information in a timely manner every day.

“We understand the current plight of the U.S. and the pressure facing some American officials,” she said.

Spain sees 950 deaths in 24 hours

MADRID — Spain has seen Thursday a new record in virus-related fatalities, with 950 deaths in 24 hours that came as the country is seeing the growth of contagion waning, health ministry data showed.

The total number of deaths were 10,003 on Thursday.

New coronavirus infections rose by nearly 8% overnight to 110,238, placing Spain neck to neck with Italy, the country that saw the worst outbreak in Europe.

Health authorities have been saying that the pace of contagion has dropped from a daily average of 20% until March 25 to less than 12% after that date, more than 10 days after Spaniards were ordered to stay at home. The government has acknowledged that the real number of infection could be much higher because Spain only has the capacity of doing between 15,000 to 20,000 tests per day.

Serbia: Police detain journalist reporting on “chaotic” hospital conditions

BELGRADE, Serbia — Police in Serbia have briefly detained a journalist who wrote about a lack of protective equipment and “chaotic” conditions at a large hospital complex amid the spread of the coronavirus.

Ana Lalic, who writes for portal Nova.rs, was taken to a police station late Wednesday, her apartment in the city of Novi Sad was searched and her laptop and two mobile phones were impounded, her lawyer says. The independent online portal later said she was released on Thursday after protests by independent journalist unions.

The detention came after the clinical centre in northern Serbia said Lalic’s article “disturbed the public and hurt the image of the health organization.”

Serbia’s government has adopted a regulation that allows only state emergency committee officials to speak about measures taken by authorities in the fight against the COVID-19 spread. Government officials say the order is intended to fight against the spread of fake news amid the pandemic.

Rights journalist groups say the regulation introduces censorship, jeopardizes investigative journalism and freedom of the press.

Following the protests, Serbia’s Prime Minister Ana Brnabic said Thursday the government will abolish the decree, although she thinks “the regulation protects everyone, the citizens, medical workers and families from fake news and unverified information.”

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