World update: Orange exports surge; Nations pan U.S. decision to de-fund WHO

A mural decorates a closed store, where a pedestrian using a face mask walks by in Buenos Aires, Argentina, Wednesday, April 15, 2020. The use of face masks became mandatory in the capital starting Wednesday, to help contain the spread of the new coronavirus. (AP Photo/Natacha Pisarenko)
Residents of the Alexandra township in Johannesburg wait for a distribution of food organized by the municipality Wednesday, April 15, 2020 downtown Johannesburg. Some waited in vain for over 6 hours, their names not being on the list or recipients provided by the municipality. South Africa is under a strict five-week lockdown credited with slowing the rate of COVID-19 infections and reducing overall crime.(AP Photo/Jerome Delay)

The latest on the coronavirus pandemic. This collection of world news items from the Associated Press was posted by Black Press Media at 8:30 a.m., Wednesday, April 15.

TOP OF THE HOUR:

  • At 106, British woman is oldest known virus survivor.
  • Amazon threatens to suspend activity in France over virus protection ruling.
  • Italy hospital would welcomes Dr. Fauci with open arms.
  • China didn’t warn public of likely pandemic for 6 key days.

She’s 106 and a coronavirus survivor

LONDON — At 106, Connie Titchen feels lucky. The former department store sales assistant is Britain’s oldest known survivor of COVID-19.

Titchen was applauded by staff Tuesday at Birmingham’s City Hospital, leaving after three weeks as a patient.

In a statement released by the hospital, Titchen says “I feel very lucky that I’ve fought off this virus. I can’t wait to see my family.”

Granddaughter Alex Jones says Titchen “has had a really active life” and remains independent. She says her grandmother still cooked for herself but also enjoyed a trip to McDonald’s every now and then.

“I haven’t told her they are closed,” she added.

The British government said Wednesday that 12,868 people have died in U.K. hospitals after testing positive for coronavirus, up 761 from the day before. The figure doesn’t include deaths in nursing homes and other settings.

Germany calls on other nations to fill in WHO funding gap

BERLIN — Some German lawmakers are calling on other Western countries to fill the funding gap left by U.S. President Donald Trump’s decision to stop payments to the World Health Organization.

Conservative lawmaker Norbert Roettgen told daily Sueddeutsche Zeitung that European Union members and Britain should make up the shortfall.

But Roettgen, a member of Chancellor Angela Merkel’s party who chairs Parliament’s foreign policy committee, echoed Trump’s claim that the WHO had made mistakes in its response to the coronavirus pandemic.

Separately, a leading member of the opposition Free Democratic Party called on the German government and other European countries to bridge WHO’s funding gap.

Alexander Graf Lambsdorff told German news agency dpa the WHO work will be required, particularly in poor countries.

Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Maria Adebahr noted that Germany has already given WHO an additional 5 million euros to tackle the outbreak, but would consider additional support as part of the U.N.’s overall funding request for the pandemic.

Veterans ask Putin to postpone massive military celebration

MOSCOW — Russian veterans’ groups have asked President Vladimir Putin to postpone the upcoming elaborate Red Square parade that commemorates the defeat of Nazi Germany.

The parade on May 9 is the 75th anniversary of the victory. But the prohibition of mass gatherings to slow the spread of coronavirus has thrown the parade’s future into doubt.

A letter to Putin from veterans’ groups reported Wednesday by Russian news agencies called for postponement to a date “when, in accordance with the epidemiological situation, the parade will not be a threat, but truly a triumph of peace and security for all its participants.”

$7.5 billion in aid for Tokyo alone

TOKYO — Tokyo Gov. Yuriko Koike announced an 800 billion yen ($7.5 billion) emergency economic package to fund measures against the coronavirus as the infections surge in the Japanese capital.

Koike says the emergency fund will cover measures to help stop the spread of the virus and reinforce safety nets for people and businesses. She says the emergency package is the largest ever for the city.

Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, whose coronavirus measures were criticized as inadequate, was under pressure Wednesday from within his ruling coalition to do more to encourage people to co-operate with social distancing and non-essential business closure requests.

Abe was pushed to consider a possibility of 100,000-yen ($930) cash handout per person, which was not part of a 108 trillion yen ($1 trillion) economic stimulus he announced last week.

Japan has 8,812 cases of the virus and 131 deaths. Tokyo had 127 new cases for a total of 2,446.

Huge line ups at Czech borders

PRAGUE — Waiting trucks have formed lines of 20 kilometres (12 miles) at major crossings on the Czech Republic’s borders with Germany and Poland.

The lines are caused by the new measures adopted by the Czech government.

The longest lines occurred at the Czech-German crossing on the highway that links Prague with the German city of Dresden.

On Tuesday, the government relaxed some restrictions imposed to contain the pandemic of the coronavirus, allowing some Czech citizens to travel abroad for business trips, visiting relatives and seeing doctors.

Those who spent more than two weeks abroad, including truck drivers, have to be quarantined. Border guards have been checking every vehicle, causing long delays.

Deaths spike in Sweden

COPENHAGEN, Denmark — Sweden has reported a sharp spike in deaths.

The number of deaths related to the coronavirus on Wednesday was 1,203, up from 1,033 the previous day.

Swedish authorities have advised the public to practice social distancing. But schools, bars and restaurants are still open, and only gatherings of more than 50 people have been banned.

Anders Wallensten of Sweden’s Public Health Agency says 1,064 people were in intensive care as of Wednesday, about the same number as Tuesday.

Health authorities in Sweden have pursued relatively liberal policies to fight the coronavirus pandemic. They are “cautiously positive” after figures show the number of people in intensive care has not increased.

EU trade union boss worries about return to work

BRUSSELS — The head of the European Trade Union Confederation says he’s concerned workers returning to their place of employment might be exposed to dangerous conditions because of the coronavirus.

ETUC General Secretary Luca Visentini wrote to European Union leaders, saying the EU roadmap to get the economy going again would sell the health of workers short.

Visientini says he’s worried the EU Commission “seems not to have given consideration to practical issues like health and safety at work as part of the lifting of containment measures.”

He added trade unions should be involved in assessing safety at work. In many EU nations, trade unions have sizable power in the work place.

France bonuses all public hospital workers

PARIS — French Prime minister Edouard Philippe announced all staff working in French public hospitals in the regions hardest hit by the corona virus will get a 1,500-euro ($1,637) bonus from the state.

Philippe says France’s emergency package has been more than doubled to reach 110 billion euros ($120 billion) in aid for businesses and workers hard-hit by the virus crisis.

This plan, adopted during a Cabinet meeting, includes 24 billion euros ($26 billion) for workers on partial unemployment because their companies have shut down amid the country’s lockdown since March 17. It also includes 8 billion euros (8.7 billion) for emergency health expenses, including masks and medical equipment, and a special aid allocated to French poorest households.

France is forecasting an 8% drop in growth this year because of virus confinement measures as it faces its worst recession since World War II.

Germany grapples with adjusting restrictions

BERLIN — The German government says it is seeing a “cautiously positive” trend on a number of coronavirus indicators, as senior officials meet to discuss adjusting the restrictions.

Government spokesman Steffen Seibert says Germany should avoid “overconfidence,” noting that the country has recorded more than 3,400 deaths from COVID-19. Germany’s death rate remains lower than most comparable countries with about 132,000 confirmed cases.

Seibert says it was important “not to put at risk what’s been achieved and fall back into an uncontrolled, exponential spread of the virus.”

He says the decision about reopening kindergartens and schools “is certainly the most difficult,” noting this is largely within the prerogative of Germany’s 16 states.

Also, Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Maria Adebar says Germany has repatriated about 230,000 people who were stranded abroad due to the pandemic.

Netherlands backs WHO amid U.S. funding fracas

THE HAGUE, Netherlands — The Netherlands has thrown its support behind the World Health Organization after U.S. President Donald Trump announced a halt to American payments to the group, pending a review of its warnings about the coronavirus and China.

Minister for Foreign Trade and Development Cooperation Sigrid Kaag says in a tweet the health agency is a critical part of the international response to the virus.

Kaag says, “Now is not the time to hold back funding. Once the pandemic is under control, lessons can be learned. For now, focus on overcoming this crisis.”

Italy: We’ll take Fauci if Trump fires him

ROME — The scientific director of Italy’s leading infectious disease hospital has written to the Italian president formally suggesting that Dr. Anthony Fauci be invited to work here if U.S. President Donald Trump removes him from the White House conronavirus task force.

In the letter released Wednesday, Dr. Giuseppe Ippolito of Rome’s Lazzaro Spallanzani hospital says removing Fauci from the task force “would be disastrous news not only for the United States, but for the whole international community.”

Ippolito praised Fauci’s expertise, experience, leadership and “generous and selfless help” to Spallanzani and other hospitals around the world.

Speculation about Fauci’s fate swirled over the weekend after Fauci told CNN the U.S. would have “obviously” saved lives if virus mitigation efforts had begun earlier.

Trump responded by reposting a tweet that included the line, “Time to .FireFauci.” But on Monday, Trump insisted Fauci’s job was safe.

Airline performs blood tests on all passengers

DUBAI — Emirates Air says it tested the blood of passengers for the virus on a flight to Tunisia before departing from Dubai, becoming the first airline to conduct on-site rapid tests for passengers.

The blood test was conducted by Dubai’s health authority with results available within 10 minutes, according to the airline. Passengers were tested upon check-in at the gate in Dubai’s international airport.

Passengers are required to wear their own masks when at the airport in Dubai. The emirate has imposed a 24-hour curfew on residents for at least two weeks to contain the virus.

There are multiple drive-through testing centres in Abu Dhabi and Dubai, where people are encouraged to get tested even if they do not have COVID-19 symptoms.

German border checks extended

BERLIN — Germany is extending border checks until May 4 due to the coronavirus.

Interior Ministry spokesman Bjoern Gruenewaelder announced the temporary measures. The controls were introduced a month ago to ensure only people with “good reason” entered Germany.

Normally, there are no border checks in Europe’s passport-free Schengen travel area. The affected borders are those with Austria, Switzerland, France, Luxembourg and Denmark, as well as for airport arrivals from Italy and Spain.

Also, patrols have been stepped up in the frontier regions with Belgium and the Netherlands.

Amazon threatens to suspend all activity in France

PARIS — Amazon threatened to suspend all activity in France after a French court found it wasn’t doing enough to protect its workers.

The online giant also announced plans to appeal Tuesday’s emergency ruling, which requires Amazon to stop selling nonessential goods for a month while it works out new worker safety measures.

Sales of food, medicine and hygiene supplies are still allowed under the ruling. However, Amazon France says the decision is so disruptive that it could prompt the company to suspend all activity at its six French warehouses.

The company stressed the importance of its services to the “thousands of French companies that sell on Amazon” and “millions of people around the country who want to have access to products they need during the crisis.”

Amazon insisted it is providing adequate security measures for staff, noting the implementation of temperature checks and mask distribution.

But the court found Amazon didn’t do enough to enforce social distancing, to ensure that turnstiles and locker rooms were virus-free or to increase cleaning of its warehouses. Unions say one worker infected with the virus is in intensive care.

Italian police shut down 15 nursing homes

ROME — Italy’s health police say 100 of some 600 Italian nursing homes inspected since February aren’t up to norm, amid reports of hundreds of elderly people dying in facilities across the country amid the coronavirus pandemic.

The carabinieri police’s health squad issued a detailed rundown of their virus-related inspections on Wednesday. They reported that 15 facilities were closed outright because they posed such a grave threat to the elderly, and their residents moved elsewhere. It said 61 people were reported to judicial authorities, while another 157 were fined for infractions including lack of safety norms at the facility, and lack of protective equipment and training for staff.

Italian prosecutors have launched criminal investigations into at least a dozen nursing homes, following reports that elderly were abandoned or left unprotected from the virus.

In the biggest case, concerning the 1,000-bed Pio Albergho Trivulzio facility in Milan, staff complained that management prohibited doctors and nurses from wearing protective masks, for fear of alarming residents. The facility has insisted it followed all security protocols and says it is co-operating with the investigation.

Kenya: Police will arrest those not wearing masks in public

NAIROBI, Kenya — The Inspector General says police will arrest those found not wearing masks in public places, vehicles and private cars.

Kenya’s government had published the law last week which slaps a fine of $200 for anyone found not wearing a mask in public as a preventative measure against the spread of the coronavirus.

Hillary Mutyambai says the grace period for people to acquire and get used to wearing masks is over and police will take action. He was speaking to journalists Wednesday.

Police recruits face firing over party

CANBERRA, Australia — Several Australian police recruits face losing their jobs for holding a party in breach of social distancing rules.

Australian Federal Police Commissioner Reece Kershaw told reporters on Wednesday that “a number of officers” had been served with notices to explain why they should not be fired over the noisy party at a residential training college in Canberra on April 3.

Australian Broadcasting Corp. cited an unnamed police source saying 14 recruits could be fired.

Alcohol had been banned from the college since neighbours complained about the party noise, ABC reported.

Australian social distancing rules require people to keep 1.5 metres (5 feet) apart and to move in groups no larger than two unless in the company of direct family members.

EU pans U.S. decision to freeze WHO funding

BRUSSELS — The European Union says US President Trump has “no reason” to freeze World Health Organization funding at this critical stage and called for measures to promote unity instead of division.

EU foreign policy chief Josep Borrell said that the 27-nation group “deeply” regrets the suspension of funds and the WHO is now “needed more than ever” to combat the pandemic.

Borrell said that “only by joining forces can we overcome this crisis that knows no borders.”

Even though the group has been traditional allies with the U.S. for decades, the EU has increasingly been critical of the Trump administration over the past years.

China “seriously concern” about U.S. suspension of WHO funding

BEIJING — A Chinese foreign ministry spokesman says the country is “seriously concerned” about the U.S. government’s decision to suspend payment to the World Health Organization.

“As the most authoritative and professional international institution in the field of global public health security, the WHO plays an irreplaceable role in responding to the global public health crisis,” ministry spokesman Zhao Lijian told reporters at a daily briefing on Wednesday.

President Donald Trump said Tuesday that he was cutting off U.S. payments to the organization, accusing it of failing to do enough to stop the virus from spreading when it first surfaced in China.

“The WHO failed in its basic duty and must be held accountable,” Trump said at a briefing, adding that the U.S. would be reviewing the WHO’s actions to stop the virus before making any decision on resuming aid.

China wields major influence in the WHO, allowing it to elect its favoured candidate Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus as director-general, blunt any criticism and block participation by rival Taiwan.

Zhao said the U.S. decision will “weaken the WHO’s capabilities and undermine international co-operation in fighting the epidemic. It will affect all countries in the world, including the US, especially those vulnerable to crisis.”

Infections in Spain spike as restrictions eased

MADRID — Spain has recorded 523 new deaths attributed to the coronavirus in the past 24 hours while infections shot up again for the first time in five days.

Wednesday’s new 5,092 infections, or a 3% day-to-day increase, brought the total of confirmed cases to 177,633. The country’s overall death toll stood at 18,579, the world’s third-worst after the United States and Italy, Health Ministry data showed.

Spain has eased this week the conditions of Europe’s strictest lockdown, allowing manufacturing, construction and other nonessential activity in an attempt to cushion the economic impact of the pandemic.

The International Monetary Fund is forecasting a sharp recession for Spain this year, with its 1.2-trillion-euro (1.3-trillion-dollar) gross domestic product expected to shrink by 8% and unemployment to increase from 14% to 21% before a slow recovery in 2021.

Amid sharp criticism for its handling of the coronavirus crisis, Spanish Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez on Wednesday told lawmakers that the government’s measures have worked in slowing down the spread of the virus and called for political unity to launch the country’s “rebuilding.”

New Zealand police develop humorous videos

WELLINGTON, New Zealand — New Zealand police have been working with some creative folks on a series of humorous videos about life in lockdown.

There’s the one about those awkward Zoom meetings, complete with the person who can’t figure out the sound, the one who turns into a donut thanks to a random screen filter and the one whose partner walks past in pyjamas.

There is another video featuring a song about keeping a distance of two meters please because “I don’t want your covid if you start to sneeze.”

Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern’s partner Clarke Gayford even appears on one of the videos, a little crazed after baking too much bread.

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