Saturday 19 September, 2020

The Latest: Group says virus could push 500M into poverty

Big Ben's clock tower and the London Eye ferris wheel stand in the distance as the area around Royal Festival Hall is very quiet in London, Wednesday, April 8, 2020. The new coronavirus causes mild or moderate symptoms for most people, but for some, especially older adults and people with existing health problems, it can cause more severe illness or death. (AP Photo/Matt Dunham)

Big Ben's clock tower and the London Eye ferris wheel stand in the distance as the area around Royal Festival Hall is very quiet in London, Wednesday, April 8, 2020. The new coronavirus causes mild or moderate symptoms for most people, but for some, especially older adults and people with existing health problems, it can cause more severe illness or death. (AP Photo/Matt Dunham)

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

— Warnings multiply against Easter holiday travel, gatherings

— Oxfam warns that virus could push half a billion people into poverty.

— Croatia begins opening open-air markets.

— Portugal halts commercial flights at its five international airports.

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LONDON — Oxfam is warning that half a billion people in the developing world could be pushed into poverty as a result of the economic fallout from the coronavirus pandemic.

In the run-up to three key international economic meetings next week, the anti-poverty campaigning group has urged richer countries to step up their relief efforts.

In a report based on research at King's College London and the Australian National University, Oxfam is calling on world leaders to agree an 'Economic Rescue Package for All' to keep poor countries and poor communities afloat. Among the measures it is recommending is the immediate cancellation of $1 trillion worth of developing country debt payments in 2020.

Jose Maria Vera, Oxfam International Interim Executive Director said "for poor people in poor countries who are already struggling to survive there are almost no safety nets to stop them falling into poverty."

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ZAGREB, Croatia — Croatia has started reopening open air markets, in the first sign of easing of strict rules against the spread of the new coronavirus in the country.

Wearing protective masks, residents of Zagreb on Thursday lined up at one of the markets on a sunny day, keeping distance from one another as they waited to buy home-grown fruit, vegetables or other products.

Open-air markets are highly popular in Croatia, offering a chance for producers from small farms to sell their products. Those markets were closed for weeks as part of the anti-virus lockdown.

Buyers in Zagreb said they are happy that the markets were reopening, but contended it will be a while before life returns to normal. One woman says: "We must be patient."

Inside the small wooden houses, sellers offered their products through open windows. Authorities have said markets can open only if strict hygienic and distancing rules are respected.

Croatia has confirmed 1,343 cases of infections with the new coronavirus, while 19 people have died.

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LISBON, Portugal — Authorities in Portugal have halted commercial flights at the country's five international airports as part of the battle against the coronavirus.

Officials are concerned that over the Easter weekend people may be reluctant to stay at home, as they have been instructed to do for weeks under a national state of emergency.

Additional restrictions came into force Thursday for a four-day period, including a ban on people leaving their council area or more than five people gathering in one place, as well as a flight prohibition.

Police set up checkpoints on major roads and junctions.

The land border with Spain, which traditionally sends many tourists for the Easter break, has been closed for weeks.

Portugal has officially recorded 380 cases of coronavirus deaths, compared with Spain's more than 15,000 deaths.

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MADRID — Spanish health authorities say that reported coronavirus infections and deaths have gone down again after a two-day uptick, hopefully signaling a return to the overall slowdown in the pandemic growth under a national lockdown.

The Health Ministry said Thursday that authorities reported 5,756 new cases and 683 new deaths over the previous 24-hour period. That is compared to new 6,180 cases and 757 new deaths on Wednesday.

Overall, Spain has 152,446 infections and 15,238 fatalities since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, situating it as one of the world's hardest-hit countries along with the United States and Italy.

Over 52,000 patients have also recovered in Spain, as pressure has eased slightly on its hospitals.

Like many countries, Spain is struggling to gauge the true extent of the virus outbreak due to a lag in testing of the general population. Authorities have recognized that several thousand of elderly people have died in nursing homes without being tested. Only deaths of people who had tested positive are being included in the official statistics.

The latest figures were released as Spanish Prime Minister Pedro Sánchez appeared before the national Parliament to ask for its endorsement of a second two-week extension of Spain's state of emergency that permits the lockdown against the virus. Support is expected after the main opposition party said it would back the Socialist-led coalition government.

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Correction Note: Spanish health authorities have corrected the new deaths for today. The corrected version is above, and only changes death toll for the last 24 hours. The number is 683, not 728.

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BRATISLAVA, Slovakia — Slovakia's authorities have ordered a lockdown of five poor settlements where the Roma live separated from the majority population after 31 people there tested positive for the coronavirus.

Prime Minister Igor Matovic announced the lockdown, the first in Slovakia, on Thursday, saying "I'll be glad if you understand the necessity of the decision."

The military health personnel started the testing on Friday in 33 such settlements where the poorest of the poor Roma live, often without access to running water and without sewage systems. Authorities fear such conditions would result in a rapid spreading of the infection.

The testing in the settlements was requested by Roma activists.

Initially, authorities were focusing on over a thousand of those Roma who recently returned from abroad from countries seriously hit by the epidemic, including Britain. A total of 816 had been tested as of Wednesday. Slovakia has 682 infections, and two people have died.

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TEHRAN, Iran — Iran's supreme leader is suggesting that mass gatherings in the Islamic Republic may be barred through the holy Muslim fasting month Ramadan amid the coronavirus pandemic.

Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei made the comment Thursday as Iran is trying to restart its economic activity after suffering one of the world's worst outbreaks. Ramadan is set to begin in late April and last through most of May.

Khamenei urged Shiite faithful to pray in their homes during Ramadan. Shiite typically pray communally, especially during Ramadan.

Iran has reported over 67,000 confirmed cases of the new virus, with nearly 4,000 deaths. However, experts have repeatedly questioned those numbers, especially as Iran initially downplayed the outbreak in February amid the 41st anniversary of its 1979 Islamic Revolution and a crucial parliamentary vote.

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BRUSSELS — Authorities in the French-speaking Walloon region have requested the support of Belgian armed forces to tackle the worrying situation at nursing homes, where several hundred residents have died because of COVID-19.

According to official figures released this month, a third of the deaths linked to the deadly virus in the region of southern Belgium have been registered in resting homes.

Christie Morreale, the Walloon health minister, said Thursday that her request for help has been granted by Belgian federal authorities. A total of 116 nursing homes in the region have been hit by a COVID-19 cluster, a situation where at least 10 cases of the new coronavirus have been confirmed.

Morreale said the military personal could help cater to residents or decontaminate premises infected with the deadly virus. She also asked doctors to volunteer to attend to patients in resting homes.

The situation is concerning too in the neighboring Flanders region, where more than 600 nursing home residents are suspected to have died as a result of the coronavirus crisis.

Since the beginning of the pandemic, more than 2,000 virus-related deaths have been recorded in the country with a population of approximately 11.5 million people.

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MOSCOW — The number of coronavirus cases in Russia has surpassed 10,000.

The country's health officials reported 1,459 new cases on Thursday, bringing Russia's total to 10,131, with 76 deaths. Moscow accounted for 6,698 infections, authorities said.

The outbreak in Russia has picked up speed in recent weeks, with the number of cases growing exponentially and doubling every few days.

Russian President Vladimir Putin earlier this month ordered most Russians to stay off work until the end of April as part of a partial economic shutdown to curb the spread of the coronavirus. He said some essential industries will keep operating, and grocery stores and pharmacies will remain open. All Russian regions have been on lockdown since the beginning of the month.

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JOHANNESBURG — The World Bank says sub-Saharan Africa is expected to fall into recession for the first time in a quarter-century amid the coronavirus pandemic.

The bank's new report projects growth across the nearly 50-country region to fall this year from 2.4% to at least minus 2.1% or even up to minus 5%. It says countries that depend heavily on oil production and mining will be hit especially hard. And the largest economies — South Africa, Nigeria and Angola — which already were sluggish, will see even more pain.

Africa has had some of the world's fastest-growing economies in recent years. The World Bank says African nations will require a "debt service standstill" and other financial assistance.

African leaders have been calling for debt relief, warning the pandemic will continue to threaten the world if any region goes without needed support.

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SEOUL, South Korea — South Korea says at least 74 people who had been diagnosed as recovered from the new coronavirus tested positive for the second time after they were released from hospitals.

Jeong Eun-kyeong, director of South Korea's Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, said Thursday health authorities were testing virus and serum samples to determine whether patients who tested positive again would be capable of transmitting the virus to others and whether their bodies had properly created antibodies.

She said some of the patients didn't show any symptoms before their follow-up tests turned positive, while others were tested again because they were exhibiting respiratory symptoms. She said none of these patients so far have seen their illness worsen to serious conditions.

South Korean officials have been cautious about discussing the possibility that people could get re-infected with the virus after making a full recovery.

Lee Hyuk-min, a professor from Seoul's Yonsei University College of Medicine, said it's more likely that infections were re-activated after initially fading in patients whose bodies hadn't fully developed an immunity.

"Some people who had recovered from mild cases may not fully develop immunity, and in such cases of course, (infections) could re-activate after a certain period of time," Lee said.

"The other possibility is people being exposed to environments that affect their immune systems following their release from hospitals, which could also result in re-activation."

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