TOP OF THE HOUR:
— Portugal to ease restrictions next month.
— British lawmakers urge government to tackle domestic violence.
— Italy first European Union country to apply for financial aid from a 800-million euros fund.
— After COVID-19: Anxious, wary first responders back on job
LISBON, Portugal -- Portugal’s prime minister says authorities are aiming to relax some of the measures devised to stem the spread of the coronavirus next month.
Prime Minister Antonio Costa says new rules on self-isolation and going back to work or school will be introduced every two weeks, as their impact is assessed.
The plan is due to be announced on Thursday.
Costa warned the changes don’t mean a return to normal and that will only happen once there is a vaccine.
Portugal was quick to enact a lockdown and has reported 903 deaths from COVID-19, far fewer than neighboring Spain’s more than 23,500.
LONDON — British lawmakers are urging the government to take urgent action to tackle domestic violence after a report found that calls to the national domestic abuse helpline surged 49% during the coronavirus lockdown.
The Home Affairs Committee also cited research that estimated at least 16 domestic abuse killings of women and children took place between Mar. 23 when lockdown measures were announced and April 12. It is double that of an average 21 day period in the last decade.
Yvette Cooper is chair of the committee and said Monday urgent action is needed to protect victims.
The committee called for new emergency funding for social services to protect vulnerable women and children, and measures to ensure victims can access urgent help during lockdown.
BRUSSELS — Italy has become the first European Union country to apply for financial aid from a 800-million euros fund set up by the 27-country bloc to tackle the crisis triggered by the new coronavirus pandemics.
Italy has been the hardest-hit EU country by the deadly virus so far with some 26,000 fatalities.
The European Commission said Monday that member states can request aid until June 24. Applications will then be assessed by the Commission, which will submit a proposal for financial aid to the Council and the Parliament.
The Commission will deal with all applications in one single package, not on a first come first served basis.
GENEVA — Businesses like hair salons, tattoo parlors, veterinarians’ offices and garden shops are reopening up across Switzerland.
It is part of a multi-tiered reopening as the Alpine country gradually eases restrictions aimed to prevent the spread of the new coronavirus.
Requirements from Swiss authorities say businesses must provide individual clients an average of at least 10 square meters in their shops and offices, set up lines outside their buildings and regularly clean their equipment and surfaces.
Service-providers like barbers and masseurs who come within 2 meters of customers were advised to wear masks and transparent-plastic face screens, and wash or disinfected hands before and after each client.
Pet-owners were expected to drop off their animals outside the vet offices, only to pick them up after the visits are over.
Long-lines snaked outside large garden shops and hardware stores in some areas as the easing took place on Monday.
Swiss authorities for weeks have forced the closure of all non-essential shops and services. Schools and a wider array of businesses are to resume operations on May 11, followed by a vastly expanded reopening on June 8.
No date has been set for the resumption of large gatherings such as sporting events and concerts.
ATHENS — Greece will announce detailed plans to ease coronavirus-related restrictions on Tuesday but authorities have already promised haircuts will be among the first services available.
Hair salons and barbershops will be included in the first stage of reopening businesses when restrictions begin to ease on May 4.
A recent opinion poll found that going to the hairdressers was top of Greeks’ post-lockdown wish list, followed by domestic travel, and buying clothes.
Strict lockdown measures have helped keep the spread of COVID-19 relatively contained in Greece. The death toll in Greece is 134, and there are 2,517 confirmed cases.
But police have reported an increase in violations in recent days as public anxiety over the pandemic eases and the weather improves.
COPENHAGEN, Denmark — A mother, her daughter and her friend, both aged 7, have been fined entering a playground in downtown Copenhagen that is part of a zone police closed after it was crowded in recent days because of the spring sun.
National police head Thorkild Fogde told Danish broadcaster DR on Monday that “one cannot enter the zone whether you’re a young man with a boom-box or a mother with her children.”
Majka Munk Michaelsen and the two girls were given the fine Sunday on Islands Brygge, a popular harbor front area with playgrounds, cafes, lawns, benches and baths. She told DR that they wouldn’t have entered the playground if there had been some people inside.
Munk Michaelsen told DR she was shocked and speechless for being fined for trespassing. The fine was 2,500 kroner ($362).
Danish police last week said they would issue fines on local gatherings in an attempt to stop people from clustering in parks and water fronts where people enjoy the spring weather.
ANKARA, Turkey — Turkey dispatched an air ambulance and repatriated a Turkish citizen who tested positive for the coronavirus in Sweden but allegedly failed to receive any treatment there.
Emrullah Gulusken, 47, was evacuated from his home in Malmo, Sweden, on Sunday after his daughter, Leyla, pleaded for help on social media. She said her father was sent back home despite his worsening condition, the state-run Anadolu Agency reported.
Gulusken and his three of his children were flown to Ankara where they were hospitalized, the agency reported.
“Dear Leyla, we have heard your voice... Our air ambulance is taking off at 6 am we are coming to Sweden,” Health Minister Fahrettin Koca tweeted on Sunday. “Our hospital, our doctors are ready waiting for your father.”
Turkey has repatriated some 40,000 nationals from 75 countries since the start of the outbreak in March, according to Foreign Ministry figures.
MADRID — Health authorities in Spain are urging parents to be responsible and abide by social distancing rules a day after some beach fronts and city promenades filled with families eager to enjoy the first stroll out in six weeks.
Fernando Simón, head of Spain’s health emergency coordination center, said Monday that rules to keep a 2-meter (6.5-foot) distance from other families and for going outdoors only once a day, for one hour, and at most three children at a time accompanied by one adult, were generally respected on Sunday.
But he said that some images of crowds were “concerning.”
“The impact in the epidemic can be a step backwards that can be much harder than what we have seen until now,” Simón warned.
The top health official said that staying at home for weeks “was hard but easy,” and that “the difficult part comes now.”
“Now is when each of us needs to show the personal, individual and family responsibility that avoids turning the progressive opening up into a risk for all population,” he said.
ISLAMABAD — Pakistan’s ban on international and domestic air travel has been extended until May 25 as the country seeks to curb the spread of the coronavirus.
In the federal capital of Islamabad a local television station shut down its office after eight staff tested positive for COVID-19, owner of ARY Television Salman Iqbal tweeted Monday. Only two have shown symptoms but Iqbal said the office was closing until all the staff could be tested and the offices were disinfected.
Even as the numbers of confirmed cases continue a steady upward climb, Pakistan’s Prime Minister Imran Khan has refused to close mosques in the country during the Islamic fasting month of Ramadan leaving it to clerics to enforce social distancing.
Frontline health care workers have protested his decision pleading with both the religious clerics and the government to close mosques until the virus has been brought under control.
NEW ORLEANS — At least eight of the 800 members of the Zulu Social Aid and Pleasure Club have been confirmed to have died of COVID-19, while others may have been killed by the coronavirus, and still more are fighting for their lives, said the club’s board chairman, Jay H. Banks, who also is a New Orleans city councilman.
The toll on the club, a mainstay of Mardi Gras parades that was formed more than a century ago in part to provide funeral services to black people, reflects the outsized impact that the pandemic is having on black people. African Americans represent more than 56% of Louisiana’s 1,670 coronavirus deaths, the state public health department reported Sunday.
Banks said he spoke from the pulpit at the funeral on Friday of Bobby Gray, captain of the Soulful Warriors, who serve as escorts to the Zulu king in club ceremonies. “The people were spread out in the pews in a twisted checkerboard, and everyone was wearing a mask,” he said.
“I think that’s the point that people need to understand, the cruelty of this thing is ongoing. It’s not only taking life; it’s killing the living too. Because how do you mourn by yourself? Think about it — we ain’t got nobody to lean on."
JOHANNESBURG — More than 200 doctors from Cuba have arrived in South Africa to help fight the COVID-19 pandemic.
The doctors, including community health and infectious disease specialists, arrived early Monday morning.
South Africa requested assistance from the Cuban government, which is sending more than 1,000 doctors to 22 countries, including Togo, Cape Verde and Angola in Africa. South Africa has the highest number of confirmed COVID-19 infections in Africa, with at least 4,546 cases and 87 deaths.
The Cuban medical personnel will stay in a two-week quarantine before starting work. They have arrived as South Africa is increasing community testing, especially in poor, crowded neighborhoods.
COPENHAGEN, Denmark — Courts of law across Denmark reopened Monday as the Scandinavian country continued phase one of what it has called a “controlled reopening” of society.
“We are looking forward to coming back to the court rooms but it must be done in a health-responsible way, both for our users and employees,” said Kristian Hertz, head of the Danish Court Administration.
According to the administration’s guidelines, a judge can limit the number of people inside a court room if he or she gauges that there are too many people.
Because the number of cases has piled up over the last weeks, cases involving serious penal code offenses will be handled first and followed by lesser offenses and civil cases.
Denmark already has allowed some people back to work, including hairdressers, dentists, tattoo parlors, physiotherapists, among others, and some classes were allowed to return to school.
PARIS — Work began Monday to refit the construction site at fire-damaged Notre Dame Cathedral to protect workers from the virus and allow cleanup efforts to resume.
More than a year after the fire, workers still haven’t finished stabilizing the medieval cathedral, much less rebuilding it. And the coronavirus outbreak caused a new setback: Work on the cathedral halted in mid-March, when France imposed strict confinement measures.
On Monday, workers began to rearrange the construction site to make it virus-safe, according to an official with the state agency overseeing the project. The site is hidden from the public by high barriers.
Notre Dame rector Mgr Patrick Chauvet told reporters that includes rearranging showers and cloakrooms to allow more distance between workers, and installing a place to eat because all restaurants in France are currently closed. He said the workers will stay in nearby vacant hotels so they won’t have to take public transport.
The cleanup work itself is scheduled to start gradually resuming next week.
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