TOP OF THE HOUR:
— Russian Prime Minister Mikhail Mishustin says he has tested positive and has told President Vladimir Putin he will self-isolate.
— Prime Minister Johnson: U.K. “past the peak” and “on a downward slope” in coronavirus outbreak.
— Germany, Portugal, Czech Republic set to start to loosen coronavirus restrictions.
— Turkey sending protective gear, equipment to help Palestinians.
MOSCOW — Russian Prime Minister Mikhail Mishustin says he has tested positive for the new coronavirus and has told President Vladimir Putin he will self-isolate.
First Deputy Prime Minister Andrei Belousov will temporarily perform Mishustin’s duties.
Mishustin, 54 was named prime minister in January.
Also, the mayor of Moscow says he doesn’t think the Russian capital is close to overcoming the spread of coronavirus.
Moscow accounts for half of Russia’s reported 106,000 infections and on Thursday recorded nearly 3,100 new cases.
“We’re not even at the midpoint, in my opinion; at best we have passed a quarter of this way,” Mayor Sergei Sobyanin said. Moscow quickly built one hospital to handle coronavirus cases and Sobyanin said the need for more could be filled by establishing treatment facilities at shopping malls, sports venues or the sprawling Stalin-era VDNKh exhibition complex.
LONDON — British Prime Minister Boris Johnson says the U.K. is “past the peak” and “on a downward slope” in its coronavirus outbreak.
In his first news conference in more than a month following his hospitalization with COVID-19 and his subsequent recuperation, Johnson said he would be presenting a “comprehensive plan” next week about how and when the U.K. will ease the lockdown restrictions, which are due to last at least until May 7.
Though he said it would provide a “roadmap,” Johnson is widely expected to extend the current lockdown further.
Johnson also voiced frustrations in getting personal protective equipment, and in ramping up the testing program, but he insisted that the government was throwing “everything at it, heart and soul, night and day, to get it right.”
Johnson, whose partner Carrie Symonds gave birth to a boy on Wednesday, said another 674 people with the coronavirus have died in all settings, taking the total to 26,711, the second highest in Europe behind Italy.
BERLIN — German Chancellor Angela Merkel says authorities will allow religious services to resume and let museums, zoos, galleries and playgrounds re-open as part of the gradual loosening of the pandemic lockdown.
Merkel said after meeting with governors of Germany’s 16 states that it was important to remain “disciplined” to ensure successful efforts to curb the coronavirus outbreak aren’t undone.
She acknowledged the impact that the lockdown measures have had on the economy and social life, but said officials wanted to wait until next week before considering lifting restrictions on kindergartens and most schools.
LISBON, Portugal — Portugal is starting to loosen its coronavirus restrictions, with small stores, hair salons, libraries, car showrooms and government tax departments allowed to reopen from next Monday.
Next week, means of public transport will be allowed to carry up to two-thirds of their capacity, but passengers must wear masks.
The government also announced Thursday that from May 18, kindergartens and school classes for students age 16-18 are to resume. Smaller restaurants and cafes and their terraces will also be able to accept customers if they restrict capacity to 50%.
On June 1, all other stores and shopping malls can open, as can cinemas and theaters.
The government set no date for the reopening of bars, nightclubs or gymnasiums.
Meanwhile, people must work from home if they can through the end of May, cannot come within 2 meters of other people, and no events are allowed to have more than 10 people.
Portugal attributes 989 deaths to the outbreak, with just over 25,000 cases.
PRAGUE — The Czech government is accelerating its relaxing of the restrictive measures adopted to contain the coronavirus pandemic.
Health Minister Adam Vojtech says cultural, sports and other public events will be allowed to take place as of May 11, two weeks earlier than previously planned, for a maximum of 100 people.
Theaters, cinemas, concert halls and circuses can get back to business that date as well with the same number of people attending. Originally, those venues were scheduled to operate, starting May 25.
The universities will re-open for all students, but only for groups not bigger than 15 in one place on May 11.
At the same time, the government has ruled out big summer music and other festivals.
The day-to-day increase of the new cases COVID-19 has been under 100 for the eighth day in the Czech Republic while less than 10 died daily since April 13.
Fahrettin Koca on Thursday also reported 93 new deaths on Thursday, bringing the total to 3,174. The total number of infections now stands at 120,204.
Turkey ranks seventh in the world for the number of confirmed infections, according to Johns Hopkins University, although experts believe the actual toll of the pandemic is higher than the tally.
PRISTINA, Kosovo — The European Union on Thursday delivered the first aid to Kosovo to fight COVID-19.
A statement from the EU’s office in Kosovo said the 5 million-euro ($5.4 million) assistance comprised of different protective medical gloves, face shields, protective goggles, hand disinfectants, sets of single-use bed sheets and boxes for transporting laboratory samples.
“Despite the difficult situation in the EU member states, the EU is committed to help Kosovo, and what we see today is just a start,” said EU Ambassador Nataliya Apostolova, pledging more aid with other medical supplies such as ventilators, infusion pumps, ambulance vehicles and more in the next weeks.
The EU is also preparing 63 million euro ($68.4 million) as mid-term measures for socio-economic grant assistance as well as 100 million euro ($108.5 million) loan as macro-economic assistance to Kosovo.
Following the outbreak of the virus in mid-March, Kosovo is in a total lockdown after having 22 dead and at least 799 cases since then.
UNITED NATIONS — The United Nations chief says he hopes many countries in the world will follow the “remarkable example” of South Korea which has been “extremely successful” in addressing the coronavirus pandemic and is planning to tackle climate change in its recovery from COVID-19.
Secretary-General Antonio Guterres pointed to the announcement Thursday “that there was no new case in the Republic of Korea,” the country’s official name.
At the same time, he said, South Korea has presented plans for “a very ambitious green deal” for its recovery from the pandemic including no new coal-fired plants and a reduction of emissions from existing coal-fired plants.
Guterres told a news conference Thursday: “We hope that this example of the Republic of Korea will be followed by many other countries in the world.”
The Koreas Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said in a statement early Thursday that four cases in the previous 24 hours, all imported, took the country’s total to 10,765 with 247 deaths and 9,059 recoveries.
South Korea’s caseload has been slowing in recent weeks after it recorded hundreds of new cases every day between late February and early March. It has subsequently relaxed some of its social distancing guidelines and is expected to ease up on more restrictions in coming days if the downward trend continues.
South Korea had its first confirmed case of COVID-19 on Jan. 20, the same day as the United States. But unlike the U.S., officials there used a test focused on the same gene targets as the World Health Organization’s recommended test, according to the website of a test manufacturer. The government quickly allowed private sector labs to produce it.
As a result, a nation with less than one-sixth the population of the United States mobilized to test more than 20,000 people a day. South Korea also instituted drive-thru centers, allowing quicker identification of those who were infected but might not be displaying symptoms, thus slowing the emergence of new cases to a more manageable level.
MADRID — Spain’s health minister has announced strict conditions for a relaxation of movement and isolation measures from next Saturday.
Health Minister Salvador Illa said Thursday that people can practice sports or go for walks with one other person from their home between 6 a.m. and 10 a.m. and between 8 p.m. and 11 p.m.
Team sports are not allowed, and people cannot go further than 1 kilometer from their home.
People over 70 years old and people who need someone’s assistance to walk have a separate time period for going out.
Children under 14 years old can leave the house for an hour between midday and 7 p.m.
People must stay at least 1.5 meters apart.
Illa said easing lockdown measures will happen gradually.
WASHINGTON — D.C. health officials announced Thursday morning that 217 positive new COVID-19 infections had been identified, bringing the total up to 4,323 with 19 new deaths for a total of 224.
Mayor Muriel Bowser declared a state of emergency on March 11 and issued a stay-home order on March 30 for Washington’s approximately 700,000 residents.
Bowser has also announced plans to turn Washington DC’s convention center into a 1,500-bed field hospital.
WASHINGTON — A union that represents U.S. airport security officers wants to require travelers to wear face masks when they go through checkpoints.
American Federation of Government Employees President Everett Kelley said in an online forum with members of Congress that such a requirement should be a “priority” to protect security screening officers.
Kelley said the threat to officers will increase as travel volume returns to normal levels.
More than 500 Transportation Security Administration employees have tested positive for COVID-19 and five have died from the virus.
The Transportation Security Administration has imposed social distancing at airport checkpoints and says that travelers who choose to wear a mask should be prepared to move it so officers can confirm their identity.
ANCHORAGE, Alaska — ConocoPhillips Alaska will cut production on the North Slope by 100,000 barrels a day, or nearly half its total output, beginning in June but no layoffs are anticipated with the reduction, the company announced.
The company decided to curtail production “in response to unacceptably low oil prices resulting from global oil demand destruction caused by the impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic, combined with a global oversupply of oil,” according to a statement announced the reduction.
The company will ramp down production in late May. Any extensions past June will be determined on a monthly basis, the Houston-based company said. Operations of the 800-mile trans-Alaska pipeline are not expected to be affected, it said.
ConocoPhillips had been averaging production of about 218,000 barrels a day during the first quarter of this year.
ATHENS, Greece — Greek authorities have appealed to unions and political parties to respect social distancing during Friday’s May Day celebrations, when protest marches are normally held.
Also Thursday, health officials said they have registered one more death from COVID-19 over the past 24 hours and 15 new infections, bringing the total of deaths to 140 and of infections to 2,591. Some 75,000 tests have been carried out in the country of about 10 million, while 38 people remain intubated in intensive care units.
ANKARA, Turkey — Turkey is sending personal protective gear and other medical equipment to help Palestinians in Gaza and the West Bank fight the COVID-19 outbreak.
Presidential spokesman Ibrahim Kalin said the supplies will be dispatched later on Thursday. He wrote on Twitter that “Turkey will continue to stand by the Palestinian people.”
Another official said the aid, consisting of testing kits and devices, N95 masks, protective overalls, gloves, oxygen masks, hand disinfectants and goggles, will be sent aboard a Turkish Airlines cargo plane.
Earlier, a Turkish military cargo plane carrying a second consignment of personal protective equipment, left for the U.S. Turkey says it has donated medical supplies to 55 countries.
WASHINGTON — The nation’s top infectious diseases expert says he expects the U.S. Food and Drug Administration to quickly approve a new experimental drug that showed promising signs in treating patients with COVID-19.
Anthony Fauci tells NBC’s “Today” show Thursday that he anticipates the go-ahead for the emergency use of Remdesivir to happen “really quickly.”
He says he spoke with FDA Commissioner Stephen Hahn on Wednesday, and while Hahn had yet to make a final decision, “I would project that we’re going to be seeing that reasonably soon.” The drug was shown in a major study to shorten recovery time of hospitalized patients.
Fauci said the drug’s manufacturer has committed to scaling production of the drug as quickly as possible as the world hunts for an effective treatment and ultimately a vaccine.
Fauci has been working on a project to fast track the development of a vaccine by mass producing formulas that appear safe and effective before coronavirus case has been confirmed among Somalia’s more than 2.5 million internally displaced people.
Experts have worried about the virus’ spread among such places in the Horn of Africa nation. Somalia has one of the world’s most fragile health systems after nearly three decades of conflict.
The U.N. agency says the spread could be “catastrophic.” The U.N. does not say in which of the more than 2,000 overcrowded settlements of displaced people the virus case was confirmed.
Somalia only recently obtained the means to carry out testing for the virus inside the country, and it is ill-equipped to treat infected people.
WASHINGTON — The Emory University medical school doctor leading the Remdesivir drug trials says the drug provides a “glimmer of hope” for coronavirus treatment.
Aneesh Mehta said Thursday on ABC’s “Good Morning America” that “we are looking to find a medication that helps patients get better more rapidly, get them home to their families and make more room for other patients for us to take care of.”
He adds: “I think now we have the first glimmer of hope of something that can do that.”
Mehta cautions that the Remdesivir data is “very preliminary.” He says most antivirals tend to work better earlier in the course of disease.
He adds that his team is working with the National Institutes of Health to adapt the clinical trial to look at other medications in combination with Remdesivir.
BRUSSELS — The European Union hopes to raise 7.5 billion euros ($8.2 billion) next week to fund research into a vaccine for the coronavirus as well as to develop new treatments and more efficient testing.
European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen said Thursday the May 4 conference aims “to bring the world together to deliver on prevention, diagnostics and treatments against coronavirus.”
Leaders from Britain, Italy, France, Germany, Norway and Saudi Arabia are expected to speak at the videoconference. The commission would like the U.S. to take part but has not received a reply.
The commission says the goal is to develop a vaccine, treatment and tests that are available to all who need it and at an affordable price.
TOKYO — Japan’s Prime Minister Shinzo Abe plans to extend the ongoing coronavirus state of emergency beyond its scheduled end on May 6.
Abe said Thursday that hospitals are still overburdened and medical workers are under severe pressure to deal with the patients still on the rise.
“I believe it will be difficult to return to our normal daily lives after May 7,” Abe said. “We must expect an endurance race to a certain extent.”
Abe said he will consult with experts to decide how long the measures should be extended. Local officials and medical experts have called for an extension for another month nationwide.
The rise in the cases somewhat slowed in the last few days. But Japan still had more than 200 new cases overnight, bringing a national total to some 14,000 cases, with 415 deaths.
PRAGUE — Nobody died of COVID-19 in the Czech Republic on Wednesday, the second day without a fatality this month after April 15.
So far, 227 people have died in the Czech Republic, according to Health Ministry figures released Thursday, after more than 7,500 have been tested positive.
The day-to-day increase of the new cases has been under 100 for the eighth day and less than 10 died daily since April 13.
It is now possible for the government to gradually ease its restrictive measures adopted to contain the pandemic.
BEIJING — China says any claims that the coronavirus was released from a laboratory are “unfounded and purely fabricated out of nothing.”
Foreign Ministry spokesman Geng Shuang said Thursday the Wuhan Institute of Virology at the center of the allegations “does not have the ability to design and create a new coronavirus, and it has never done so.”
Geng cited the institute’s director, Yuan Zhiming, as saying the lab strictly implements bio-security procedures that would prevent the release of any pathogen.
“I would like to point out again that the origin of the virus is a complex scientific issue, and it should be studied by scientists and professionals,” Geng said.
Geng also criticized U.S. politicians who have suggested China should be held accountable for the global pandemic, saying they should spend their time on “better controlling the epidemic situation at home.”
BERLIN — The head of Germany’s disease control center says he expects the actual number of deaths in the country from the new coronavirus to be higher than those currently reported.
Lothar Wieler of the Robert Koch Institute told reporters Thursday that early figures from two of Germany’s 16 states — Berlin and Hesse — indicate that the number of people dying is higher than average for the time of year.
In other countries, this so-called excess mortality has been higher than the reported COVID-19 death toll, indicating some deaths from the pandemic are going undetected, though it is unclear whether these result directly from infection or other factors, such as health system overload.
Wieler said his agency “is working on the assumption that more people likely died of (COVID-19) than have been officially reported.” He said the wide range of complications now linked to the disease could be one explanation.
GENEVA — The head of the World Health Organization’s European office is warning the continent remains “in the grip” of the coronavirus pandemic even as about three-fourths of the region’s countries are easing restrictive measures.
Dr. Hans Kluge noted a reduction of cases in the region thanks to social distancing measures, adding: “We must monitor this positive development very closely.”
He said Italy, Britain, France, Germany and Spain still have high numbers of cases, and pointed to increases in cases in Belarus, Russia, Kazakhstan and Ukraine.
Of the 44 countries in WHO Europe’s region that have enacted domestic restrictions, 21 have already started easing those measures and another 11 plan to do so in the coming days, Kluge said.
“This virus is unforgiving. We must remain vigilant, persevere and be patient, ready to ramp up measures as and when needed,” he said. “COVID-19 is not going away anytime soon.
“The European region accounts for 46 percent of cases and 63 percent of deaths globally,” he added. “The region remains very much in the grip of this pandemic.”
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