The Latest: US expert Fauci calls WHO comments 'not correct'

The U_S_ government’s top infectious-disease expert says the World Health Organization had to backtrack on its statement about asymptomatic spread of the coronavirus being rare because that simply “was not correct.”

WASHINGTON — Dr. Anthony Fauci, the U.S. government’s top infectious-disease expert, says the World Health Organization had to backtrack on its statement about asymptomatic spread of the coronavirus being rare because that simply “was not correct.”

WHO's technical lead on the pandemic has tried to clear up “misunderstandings” about comments she made that were widely understood to suggest that people without COVID-19 symptoms rarely transmit the virus. Maria Van Kerkhove insisted Tuesday that she was referring only to a few studies, not a complete picture.

Weighing in on Wednesday, Fauci said the range of ways symptoms manifest is “extraordinary” in that some infected people have no or barely noticeable symptoms while others have more severe symptoms that require them to be hospitalized in intensive care.

Fauci said on ABC’s “Good Morning America” : “What happened the other day is that a member of the WHO was saying that transmission from an asymptomatic person to an uninfected person was very rare."

He continued: “They walked that back because there’s no evidence to indicate that’s the case. And, in fact, the evidence that we have, given the percentage of people, which is about 25, 45% of the totality of infected people, likely are without symptoms. And we know from epidemiological studies that they can transmit to someone who is uninfected, even when they’re without symptoms. So to make a statement — to say that’s a rare event — was not correct. And that’s the reason why the WHO walked that back.”

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HERE’S WHAT YOU NEED TO KNOW TODAY ABOUT THE VIRUS OUTBREAK:

— Virus pummels global economy, jobs - even without 2nd wave of infections

In Pakistan, COVID-19 is just the latest epidemic amid chronic poverty, malnutrition, violence

— Easing restrictions in Indonesia’s capital triggers concerns

— It’s an issue that’s been argued about for months: Can people who don’t feel sick spread the coronavirus and if so should we all be wearing masks? Even the World Health Organization can’t seem to get it straight. The U.N. health agency has scrambled to explain seemingly contradictory comments it has made about the two related issues.

Moscow has emerged from a strict lockdown after the city cited a slowdown in its coronavirus outbreak. Critics, however have expressed concerns over the potential for a new wave of infections in the Russian capital. The move comes weeks before a nationwide vote on the constitutional reform that would allow President Vladimir Putin to stay in power until 2036.

— Experts worry that a further surge of coronavirus in under-developed regions with shaky health systems could undermine efforts to halt the pandemic. Brazil, Mexico, South Africa, India and Pakistan are those easing lockdowns before their outbreaks have peaked.

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Follow AP pandemic coverage at http://apnews.com/VirusOutbreak and https://apnews.com/UnderstandingtheOutbreak

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HERE’S WHAT ELSE IS HAPPENING TODAY:

MAKASSAR, Indonesia — Indonesian authorities have arrested dozens of people suspected of snatching the bodies of COVID-19 victims from several hospitals so the dead could be buried according to their wishes.

Provincial police spokesman Ibrahim Ponto said Wednesday that at least 33 suspects have been detained by police in South Sulawesi province in the past week. Ponto said charges against 10 of them will proceed to prosecutors.

He says if convicted, the suspects face up to seven years in prison and $7,000 in fines for violating health laws and resisting officers.

Tompo said: “What they have done could harm the wider community.”

Videos of several incidents have circulated widely on social media in Indonesia, the world’s most populous Muslim nation.

In one instance, a mob is seen breaking into a hospital’s isolation room and taking away a body on a stretcher.

Tompo said religious faith and funeral traditions are motives for people who see public health restrictions on burials as unacceptable.

The arrests came as Indonesia’s Health Ministry reported the highest single-day increase in confirmed coronavirus cases on Wednesday. The 1,241 new cases bring the country’s total to 34,316. The figures include 36 people who died in the last 24 hours, taking the country’s COVId-19 death toll to 1,923.

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PARIS — The French government has included in its new budget law for this year 460 billion euros ($523 billion) in emergency funding to support the country’s economy as it feels the effects of the coronavirus pandemic.

Following a Cabinet meeting on Wednesday, Finance Minister Bruno Le Maire praised the government's effort to save jobs as part of a “massive and effective response to the crisis.”

France’s budget deficit is estimated to reach a record-high of 11.4% in 2020, with debt representing 120.9% of gross domestic product by the end of the year.

The budget revision reinforces measures to support the state-funded partial activity scheme, tax cuts and other financial aids for businesses.

It includes rescue plans for sectors affected the most by the pandemic, such as 18 billion euros ($20.4 billion) for tourism, 8 billion euros ($9 billion) for the auto industry and 15 billion euros ($17 billion) for aviation.

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VIENNA — Austria has announced it will open its borders to most European neighbors beginning June 16 with the exceptions of Spain, Portugal, Sweden and Britain.

Foreign Minister Alexander Schallenberg also said Wednesday that the border with Italy to the south would be open without conditions, but that a travel warning for Austrian citizens is in place for Lombardy. The northern Italian region has been the epicenter of Italy’s epidemic, showing triple-digit growth in daily infections while much of the rest of the country counts a handful or fewer.

While Italy opened its borders on June 3, Austria’s reluctance to open the shared border has been a sore spot between the neighbors, especially as the summer tourism season gets under way.

Austria’s opening means that visitors from 31 countries no longer are required to undergo a two-week quarantine.

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PARIS - The virus crisis has triggered the worst global recession in nearly a century -- and the pain is not over yet even if there is no second wave of infections, an international economic report warned Wednesday.

Hundreds of millions of people have lost their jobs, and the crisis is hitting the poor and young people the hardest, worsening inequalities, Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development said in its latest analysis of global economic data.

“It is probably the most uncertain and dramatic outlook since the creation of the OECD,” Secretary General Angel Gurria said. “We cannot make projections as as we normally do.”

In the best-case scenario, if there is no second wave of infections, the agency forecast a global drop in economic output of 6% this year, and a rise of 2.8% next year.

If the coronavirus re-emerges later in the year, however, the global economy could shrink 7.6%, the OECD said.

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COLOMBO, Sri Lanka — Sri Lanka’s health officials say places of worship that have remained closed for the past three months can reopen starting Friday subject to social distancing guidelines.

Director General of Health Services Anil Jasinghe said Wednesday that 50 people can congregate at any place of worship keeping their distance both indoors and outdoors. Sri Lanka says no COVID-19 patients have been reported outside known clusters for the past month. The country has reported 1,859 patients with 11 deaths.

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SOFIA, Bulgaria — Bulgaria’s coronavirus infections have been on the rise in the last few days, prompting the government to impose a two-week extension of the epidemic emergency until the end of June.

Prime Minister Boyko Borissov said Wednesday that no new restrictions were planned but urged people to keep social distancing and to wear face masks while in indoor public spaces like shops and public transport.

As of June 1, the Balkan country dropped a mandatory two-week quarantine for people arriving from most European countries and reopened restaurants, bars and coffee shops. Theatres and opera houses also have been opened for public, as well as kindergartens.

Bulgaria has recorded 2,889 confirmed cases and 167 deaths.

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DHAKA, Bangladesh — Bangladesh’s coronavirus death toll has surpassed 1,000 and economic growth is only 1.6% in the current fiscal year ending this month, the World Bank said.

The global lending agency said Bangladesh’s growth was expected to slow to 1.6% because the pandemic has created serious disruptions in industrial production and caused a plunge in global exports and a drop in remittances sent home by workers overseas.

Industry leaders of Bangladesh’s export-earning garment sector say orders worth $3.18 billion have either been cancelled or suspended by global brands, affecting the industry that earns about $35 billion a year from exports.

Bangladesh’s health authorities said Wednesday that 37 more people died of COVID-19, raising the total death toll to 1,012. Bangladesh has a fragile healthcare system for its 160 million people.

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MOSCOW — Moscow’s mayor says it will take the Russian capital about two months to lift all coronavirus restrictions.

Sergei Sobyanin the situation in Moscow is improving, but the outbreak hasn’t been completely eradicated. He said restrictions on mass gatherings remain, including theaters, cinemas, concert halls and sporting events. A decision whether to lift them will be made the beginning of July.

Starting Tuesday, Moscow residents are no longer required to stay at home or obtain electronic passes to travel around the city. All restrictions on taking walks, using public transportation or driving have been lifted as well.

Beauty parlors can reopen while outdoor terraces of cafes and restaurants, as well as museums and dental clinics, are set to open on June 16. Kindergartens, gyms and indoor restaurants will be allowed to operate starting June 23.

On Wednesday, health officials in the city reported a record low number of 1,195 new infections after weeks of numbers ranging from over 6,000 a day to under 2,000. In total, Moscow has registered 199,785 confirmed coronavirus cases, 40% of Russia’s caseload of over 493,000.

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LONDON — Britain is planning to reopen zoos, safari parks and drive-in theaters as part of the easing of lockdown measures from the COVID-19 pandemic.

But the move by Prime Minister Boris Johnson is facing criticism amid the failure to reopen schools for all primary school students before summer, as had been planned.

Although many English primary schools have been open for children of key workers, the Conservative government had wanted to give all pupils the chance to return following months of home learning. But schools didn’t have enough space to address social distancing requirements.

Johnson is expected to make the announcement later Wednesday.

His Downing Street Office says it hopes that reopening of safari parks and zoos will help families spend time outdoors, where the chance of catching the virus is much lower.

London Zoo and other attractions across the country had warned they faced permanent closure if something weren’t done soon.

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BERLIN — Germany is prolonging its travel warning for more than 160 countries outside Europe until the end of August.

The government agreed Wednesday to extend the guidance introduced on March 17 due to the coronavirus pandemic to almost all non-EU countries, with the exception of some that have successfully contained the outbreak.

Last week, Germany downgraded its travel warning for the rest of the 27-nation EU, Switzerland, Liechtenstein, Norway, Iceland and Britain.

Also Wednesday, the government announced the end of border controls for EU citizens coming to Germany. Almost all German states require travelers arriving from countries that have 50 new cases per 100,000 inhabitants in the past seven days to quarantine for two weeks. This is currently the case for fellow EU member state Sweden.

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JOHANNESBURG — Africa’s confirmed coronavirus cases have surpassed 200,000.

That’s according to the Africa Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The 54-nation continent has 202,782 cases and 5,516 deaths.

While Africa still represents a tiny percentage of the world’s total COVID-19 cases, well under 5%, officials in South Africa and elsewhere have expressed concern because the number of infections continues to climb.

South Africa leads the continent with 52,991 cases, with almost two-thirds of them in the Western Cape province centered on the city of Cape Town.

Egypt has 36,829 cases and Nigeria has 13,464.

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ISLAMABAD — Pakistan’s coronavirus infections soared past 5,000 as the World Health Organization urged the government to impose a two-week lockdown to stem the relentless spike in new cases.

Pakistan has recorded 113,702 confirmed cases and 2,255 deaths.

Until now, Pakistan’s daily testing rate has hovered around 25,000, but the WHO says it should be double that.

Prime Minister Imran Khan has come under criticism from political opponents and health professionals for easing lockdowns despite soaring numbers and no progress in tracking COVID-19 outbreaks.

Khan, who has reprimanded Pakistanis for not wearing masks and keeping social distance, says the economy cannot survive a total lockdown and the poorest in Pakistan would be the hardest hit.

Pakistan was slow to rein in radical religious leaders who were initially allowed to invite Islamic missionaries to attend a massive gathering in mid-March, which was blamed for spreading infection as far as the Gaza Strip.

Khan also refused to shut down mosques during Ramadan and eased restrictions ahead of the Eid-al Fitr holiday. Since then the number of cases has continued to rise and medical workers worry the weak health system that has barely 3,000 ICU beds for a population of 220 million will be overwhelmed.

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KUALA LUMPUR, Malaysia — Malaysia reopened nearly all economic and social activities Wednesday after a nearly three-month lockdown successfully brought down viral infections.

Malaysians can now travel for domestic holidays, get haircuts and shop at street markets. Schools and religious activities also will gradually resume.

While happy to be back at work, hairstylist Shirley Chai she is nervous about the strict health rules for hairdressers, especially the one-hour limit for each client.

“I couldn’t sleep at all last night. Very excited because everything is changing,” she said at her salon in a Kuala Lumpur shopping mall.

Malaysia has entered a “recovery” phase until the end of August with certain prohibitions still in place, but officials warn restrictions will be reinstated if infections soar again. Nightclubs, pubs, karaoke bars, theme parks and reflexology centers will stay shut. Contact sports or those with many spectators, and activities involving mass groups, are still banned.

Malaysia has had 8,336 confirmed infections and 117 deaths. Daily cases have dropped to only seven since Monday, the lowest since the lockdown started March 18.

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NEW DELHI: India reported a new rise of nearly 10,000 coronavirus infections Wednesday, with a total caseload of 276,583, the fifth highest in the world.

The Health Ministry confirmed 9,985 new cases and 274 deaths in the last 24 hours. Total fatalities have reached 7,745. Maharashtra, Tamil Nadu and New Delhi are the worst-hit states.

The spike comes as the government reopened restaurants, shopping malls and places of worship in most of India after a more than 2-month-old lockdown. Subways, hotels and schools remain closed.

India has so far tested more than 4.9 million people with a daily capacity crossing 140,000.

The number of new cases has soared since the government began relaxing restrictions. There has also been a surge in infections in rural India following the return of hundreds of thousands of migrant workers who lost their jobs during the lockdown.

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SEOUL, South Korea -- South Korea has reported 50 new cases of COVID-19 as officials begin requiring nightclubs, karaoke rooms and gyms to register their customers with smartphone QR codes so they could be easily located when needed.

The figures from the Korea Centers for Disease Control and Prevention on Wednesday brought national totals to 11,902 cases and 276 deaths. At least 41 of the cases were reported from the densely populated Seoul metropolitan area, where officials have struggled to trace transmissions linked to entertainment venues, church gatherings and low-income workers who couldn’t afford to stay home.

Since late May, the country has been reporting around 30 to 50 new cases per day, a resurgence that has threatened to erase some of the hard-won gains against the virus as people begin to ease on distancing.

The nationwide requirement of QR codes at “high-risk” venues come after a trial run in the cities of Seoul, Incheon and Daejeon, where some 300 businesses used an app developed by internet company Naver to collect the information of some 6,000 customers. The government is also encouraging churches, libraries, hospitals and movie theaters to voluntarily adopt the technology.

South Korea has aggressively mobilized technological tools to trace contacts and enforce quarantines.

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BEIJING — With much of the country reopened under safety measures, China has announced three new confirmed cases of coronavirus, all brought from outside the country.

No new deaths were reported Wednesday and just 55 people remain in treatment for COVID-19, while another 157 were being monitored in isolation for showing signs of having the virus or having tested positive for it without showing symptoms.

China has reported a total of 4,634 deaths among 83,046 cases of COVID-19 since the virus was first detected in the central Chinese city of Wuhan late last year.