The Latest: Germany cases uptick after lockdown easing
The head of the Robert Koch Institute, Germany's federal government agency and research institute responsible for disease control and prevention, Lothar Wieler, addresses a news conference on the coronavirus and the COVID-19 disease in Berlin, Germany, Tuesday, April 28, 2020. (Christian Mang/Pool via AP)
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:
— Slight uptick of Germany infections, deaths remain relatively low.
— India cancels testing kit order from China; embassy defends quality.
— France, Spain reveal lockdown exits.
BERLIN — Germany's disease control center says the country's rate of corona virus infections has slightly increased but the number of new infections remains at a manageable level.
Lothar Wieler, the head of the Robert Koch Institute says the "R" factor -- the number of people infected by every person with COVID-19 -- is now 0.96.
Authorities have said they want to try to keep it below 1 to keep the pandemic manageable for the health care system.
It had been around 0.7 before Germany eased lockdown restrictions on April 20 to allow smaller businesses to open, while keeping social distancing in place. It's too early to say whether that move has led to the increase.
Wieler is urging Germans to keep abiding by social distancing, wearing masks while on public transportation or shopping and staying at home when possible.
He says Germany currently has about 1,000 new infections reported per day, down from a high of some 6,000. The virus has infected a total of nearly 160,000 people and killed about 6,000.
VIENNA — Austrian officials say the rate of coronavirus infections has steadied and it can soon enter a phase of relaxing lockdown measures.
Health Minister Rudolf Anschober says the country will begin winding down restrictions, starting May 1 through the end of June.
Tourism minister Elisabeth Koestinger says restaurants will reopen on May 15. She says there will still be restrictions, including shortened business hours and no more than four adults at one table and a minimum of one meter (3.3 feet) between tables.
Austria has reported more than 15,000 coronavirus cases and nearly 600 deaths. The number of new infections has slowed significantly, according to a tally by Johns Hopkins University.
NEW DELHI — The Chinese embassy in India says it was "unfair and irresponsible" to "label" Chinese testing kits procured by India as "faulty."
On Monday, India cancelled orders to procure rapid antibody testing kits from two Chinese companies after quality issues and controversies over its price.
Chinese Embassy spokesperson Ji Rong said, "The quality of medical products exported from China is prioritized. It is unfair and irresponsible for certain individuals to label Chinese products as 'faulty' and look at issues with pre-emptive prejudice."
The order was cancelled after a New Delhi Court revealed that India had been asked to pay more than twice of what it would cost to import them. The government maintains it had not made any payment yet.
But Ji Rong says the two companies had "stressed" their kits met quality standards in China and had been "validated and approved" by Indian authorities.
Chinese exporters are required to show that they are approved for sale in their destination market, under rules imposed on March 30 after complaints from several countries about faulty and sub-standard goods. On April 10, China said that it would inspect each shipment to confirm medical supplies met quality standards.
LONDON — Official figures show the number of deaths recorded in England and Wales in the week to April 17 was around double the usual amount.
The Office for National Statistics says a total of 22,351 of people in England and Wales died in the week, the highest since comparable records began in 1993.
The total was 11,854 more than the rolling five-year average.
In its analysis of death certificates, which take longer to compile than deaths recorded in hospitals, the statistics agency said the coronavirus was mentioned as one of the causes of death in 8,758 cases, nearly 40% of the total.
It says 4,316 deaths involving COVID-19 had been registered up to April 17 outside of hospitals, with 3,096 in care homes. The equivalent figure for hospital deaths over the period is 14,796.
The daily figures presented by the government only show the number of people dying in UK hospitals, including those in Scotland and Northern Ireland. As of Monday, 21,092 deaths were reported in UK hospitals.
KUALA LUMPUR, Malaysia — Malaysian businesses have urged the government to end a weeks-long virus lockdown following a sharp decline in infections.
Daily cases have dropped to double-digits in the past two weeks with 31 new infections reported Tuesday, the lowest since a partial lockdown began March 18. Malaysia now has 5,851 cases with 100 fatalities.
The Malaysian International Chamber of Commerce and Industry said the lockdown, which has been extended until May 12, should be lifted immediately to revive the economy and save jobs. Its president Tan Cheng Kiat said in a statement that a decision to end the lockdown must be based "not on fear but on facts."
Tan said the lockdown was intended to flatten the curve, not eradicate the disease. He said vigilance can continue after the lockdown with strict border controls, sealing up areas with viral clusters, social distancing and good health practice.
Health officials conceded that the country has entered a recovery phase but were reluctant to end the restrictions too early until the virus can be fully curbed.
BERLIN — German industry group BDI says an app to trace possible coronavirus contacts should be make available "as soon as possible."
The powerful lobby group called Tuesday on the German government to ensure "clarity" over the app's data protection measures so that it can be rolled out soon.
Iris Ploeger, a senior BDI official, said that "the app needs to be made available as soon as possible now so that the economic return of the industrial nation Germany can quickly succeed. Every further day of stagnation is a massive challenge for the German economy."
Ploeger called the debate over data protection "counter-productive," adding that scientists, officials and businesses should be encouraging as many Germans as possible to download and use the new app.
Germany recently backtracked on plans for centralized storage of data amid concerns that this might conflict with the country's cherished notion of privacy.
BELGRADE, Serbia — Serbia's parliament has met for the first time since the coronavirus outbreak in the Balkan country, following criticism from home and abroad that a nationwide state of emergency has been adopted without an approval from the legislature.
Most of the opposition parties have boycotted the session on Tuesday which is to retroactively approve the harsh lockdown and other measures since the emergency decree was introduced in mid-March.
Serbia's autocratic President Aleksandar Vucic has faced accusations from the European Union and Serbia's opposition groups of curbing democracy and media freedoms with the state of emergency. Despite formally seeking EU membership, Serbia has steadily been drifting toward Russia and China.
The authorities have started partial easing of the strict rules by reopening some businesses and allowing people over 65 years old limited movement, but they have also announced an 83-hour curfew for the upcoming May Day weekend.
Serbia has reported more than 8,000 coronavirus infections and 85 deaths.
MADRID — Spain has recorded 301 new deaths of patients infected with the new coronavirus to a total of 23,822, official data released on Tuesday showed.
The figure was down from the day before, when 331 new fatalities were recorded. The country has 210,773 infections for COVID-19 that have been confirmed by the most reliable lab tests, but the real number is believed to be much higher because many patients don't show signs of the illness or are not being tested.
Spain's Cabinet is outlining on Tuesday how to allow people to come out of their homes for exercise from Friday and further easing of a 7-week lockdown, one of the world's strictest during the coronavirus pandemic.
The announcement comes in the heels of a new order that is allowing children to take supervised strolls around their house for one hour per day. Officials have made a public call to be responsible and avoid crowds after people were seen in promenades and beach fronts closer than experts recommend to avoid contagion.
Discussions are under way as well on how to reactivate the economy.
KABUL, Afghanistan — War-ravaged Afghanistan has conducted barley 9,000 tests for COVID-19 and has recorded more than 1,800 positive cases, meaning one in nine Afghans tested were positive.
The government ordered a lockdown in several cities earlier this month.
However, Afghanistan's feuding political leaders have come under sharp criticism from the United States for bitter infighting that has raged for months.
The US has urged President Ashraf Ghani and his rival Abdullah Abdullah, who also declared himself president, to set aside their differences to fight against the pandemic.
The US has also urged the Taliban to reduce violence, also to battle the spread of the disease. It is feared an explosion in the number of COVID-19 cases could overwhelm a health care system that is woefully inadequate and largely destroyed by four decades of war.
The inadequate testing is particularly troubling because more than 200,000 Afghan refugees have returned in recent months from Iran, which is reeling from the pandemic.
Iran is the hardest hit country in the region recording 91,472 positive cases and more than 5,800 deaths since it first surfaced earlier this year.
VATICAN CITY — Pope Francis is calling for "prudence and obedience" to government protocols dictating the easing of coronavirus shutdowns to prevent infections from surging again.
Francis made the appeal Tuesday after Italian bishops bitterly complained that the Italian government's reopening schedule contained no provisions for Masses to be resumed.
At the start of his morning Mass Tuesday, Francis said: "As we are beginning to have protocols to get out of quarantine, let us pray that the Lord gives his people, all of us, the grace of prudence and obedience to the protocols so that the pandemic doesn't return."
The government announced Sunday that funerals could resume starting May 4, but there was no information on when the faithful could attend Mass.
In a statement, Italian bishops said they "cannot accept that the exercise of the freedom of worship is compromised."
The office of Premier Giuseppe Conte's hastily responded that it was working on protocols to allow the resumption of Masses as soon as possible but "in conditions of maximum security."
The clash was an unusual public display of tensions between church and state over the virus-imposed curbing of public religious observance, which has been blamed for helping to spread the infection in some parts of the world.
PARIS — French Prime Minister Edouard Philippe is presenting a nationwide plan to parliament Tuesday on how the country will gradually reopen schools, stores and some other businesses.
The plan is expected to include guidelines for public use of masks, and what to do on public transport as more people start going back to work.
Lawmakers are also scheduled to discuss a tracing app the French government is working on to help track the virus after the lockdown eases, and which has raised privacy concerns.
Tuesday's plan will have a key blank spot, however: the government still doesn't know yet when it plans to reopen restaurants, hotels, museums, which are central to France's all-important tourism economy.
Authorities say more than 23,000 people have died with the virus in French hospitals and nursing homes, more than any other country except the US, Italy and Spain.
SEOUL, South Korea — South Korea has repeated calls for joint efforts with North Korea to stem the spread of the coronavirus, which it sees as a potential opportunity to improve strained bilateral relations.
A South Korean presidential official, who refused to be named during a background briefing on Tuesday, said Seoul doesn't expect the possible anti-virus efforts to clash with international sanctions against North Korea over its nuclear program.
South Korean President Moon Jae-in, who held three rounds of peace talks with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un in 2018, earlier said joint anti-virus efforts could provide a "new opportunity" for inter-Korean engagement.
But the North has been ignoring the South's calls after it virtually shut down all cooperation with its rival in past months amid faltering nuclear talks with the Trump administration. The North in late January closed an inter-Korean liaison office in the border town of Kaesong over virus concerns.
The North has said there hasn't been a single virus case on its territory, but the claim is questioned by many outside experts.
Edwin Salvador, the World Health Organization's representative to North Korea, said in an email to AP last week that the country reported that it tested 740 people for COVID-19 as of April 17 but that all came out negative. He said the North also said it so far released more than 25,000 people from quarantine since Dec. 31.
TOKYO — Japan said it will approve remdesivir, a closely watched antiviral drug made by Gilead Sciences Inc., for the treatment of COVID-19 patients in the country.
The drug is expected to be the first approved COVID-19 drug in Japan, ahead of a Japanese-developed anti-flu drug favipiravir.
Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga told reporters Tuesday that Japan has been part of a multinational joint testing of remdesivir since March and it was moving ahead overseas. Japan has a fast-track permit for emergency use of drugs approved overseas.
Remdesivir was originally developed to treat Ebola. A leak by the World Health Organization of a Chinese clinical trial suggesting the drug was not effective in severe cases, cast doubts over its effectiveness. The drug has been also used for SARS and MERS, but it is still under investigation for COVID-19.
Japan is currently testing favipiravir, jointly developed by Fujifilm and Toyama Chemical Co., at Japanese hospitals. Experts say both remdesivir and favipiravir can be effective when used in an early stage of COVID-19.
"We will do our utmost to deliver effective drugs for the patients as soon as possible," Suga said.