TOP OF THE HOUR:
— Hostess bars, night clubs, discos in Seoul shut down amid concerns over virus transmissions.
— Japan PM Abe urges cooperation with state of emergency in six prefectures
— Approximately 65,000 leave Wuhan as 11-week lockdown ends
— Venezuela president orders all infected with coronavirus to be hospitaized
— New York City records more deaths from virus than 9/11.
— France reaches 10,000 coronavirus deaths.
— U.N. estimates loss of 195 millon full-time jobs in 2nd quarter.
SEOUL, South Korea --- The South Korean capital of Seoul has shut down more than 400 hostess bars, night clubs and discos amid concerns over coronavirus transmissions.
The measures announced by Mayor Park Won-soon on Wednesday came a day after two female bar employees were found to have contracted the coronavirus after one of them contacted a pop-star customer who also tested positive, triggering public calls for stronger controls on entertainment venues.
Park says the temporary gathering bans imposed on the 422 venues through April 19 will shut down all such businesses in the city for now as 1,700 others had already closed or suspended operations under the city’s anti-virus recommendations.
Park says officials have placed 118 of the bar employees’ contacts under self-quarantine and are testing them for COVID-19. So far, 18 of them have tested negative.
The singer, Yoon Hak, of the K-pop boy band Supernova, had visited the southern Seoul bar in late March before testing positive on April 1.
South Korea’s government has shut schools and issued social-distancing guidelines for the public to slow the spread of the virus, but has not enforced lockdowns or broad business closures.
TOKYO — Japan’s Prime Minister Shinzo Abe repeated his request to the people to stay home and cooperate Wednesday, the day after he declared a monthlong state of emergency to Tokyo and six other prefectures.
The measure allows Tokyo Gov. Yuriko Koike and her counterparts in six prefectures to issue stricter requests to the residents to stay home and businesses and organizations to shut down, though there will be no penalties to violators.
“I hear many company workers are switching to working from home. Only your cooperation can allow us to get out of the state of emergency in a month,” Abe said. He asked everyone to reduce interactions with people by up to 80%.
Abe has been criticized for being too slow to take significant steps over concerns about the Tokyo Olympics and a possibility of a severe economic impact from social distancing measures. Abe said Tuesday he took the measure as a surge of untraceable cases has made Japan’s strategy of cluster analysis difficult and medical systems were facing a risk of collapsing
SEOUL, South Korea — South Korea plans to take further steps to tighten border controls to slow coronavirus infections imported from abroad as outbreaks worsen in Europe and the United States.
South Korean Prime Minister Chung Sye-kyun during an anti-virus meeting on Wednesday said Seoul will suspend visa-free entries and visa waivers with countries imposing entry bans on South Korean nationals and employ further restrictions to repel foreigners traveling on “unnecessary and non-urgent purposes.”
Officials were expected to formally announce the measures later Wednesday.
South Korea has been enforcing two-week quarantines on all passengers arriving from abroad since April 1.
South Korea’s Centers for Disease Control and Prevention on Wednesday reported 53 new cases of the coronavirus and 8 more deaths, bringing national totals to 10,384 infections and 200 fatalities.
At least 832 infections have been linked to passengers arriving from abroad, with most of the cases detected in the past three weeks in the densely populous Seoul metropolitan area, where about half of South Korea’s 51 million people live.
BEIJING — Within hours of China lifting an 11-week lockdown on the central city of Wuhan early Wednesday, roughly 65,000 people had left the city by train and plane alone, according to local media reports.
Highways, bridges and tunnels were also opened, allowing thousands of more to exit by car and bus, as long as they were able to show a mandatory smartphone application powered by a mix of data-tracking and government surveillance shows they are healthy and have not been in recent contact with anyone confirmed to have the virus.
Despite the new freedom, many prevention measures remain in force in the city and those leaving Wuhan — the epicenter of the global pandemic — face numerous hurdles when arriving at their destinations elsewhere. That includes being required to undergo 14-day quarantines and submit to nucleic acid tests.
China on Wednesday reported 62 new virus cases, 59 of them brought from outside the country, and two additional deaths.
The country where the virus first emerged now has recorded 3,333 deaths and 81,802 total cases, with 1,190 people remaining in treatment, 189 in serious condition. Another 83 suspected cases and 1,095 people who have tested positive but show no symptoms remain under isolation and monitoring.
CARACAS, Venezuela — Venezuela’s President Nicolás Maduro has ordered anybody sick with the new coronavirus to be hospitalized in a measure aimed at stopping the illness from spreading.
Maduro said Tuesday he fears that people can too easily catch the illness from relatives living together. Until now, patients showing mild symptoms were mostly told to stay at home in isolation.
So far officials in Maduro’s government have confirmed 166 cases with seven deaths.
The first cases of the virus were announced in mid-March, and Maduro quickly ordered the entire nation to stay home on quarantine. Schools were closed and international flights suspended.
Medical workers fear the coronavirus could spread in the crisis-stricken nation with many hospitals lacking basics like soap and water.
BRUSSELS — The chief of the European Union’s top science organization has resigned at the height of the Coronavirus crisis.
Mauro Ferrari had only become president of the European Research Council on Jan. 1, but EU Commission spokesman Johannes Bahrke confirmed early Wednesday that Ferrari had resigned. He did not elaborate.
The news was first announced by the Financial Times. In a statement released to the paper, Ferrari said he has “been extremely disappointed by the European response” to the pandemic. He complained about running into institutional and political obstacles as he sought to swiftly set up a scientific program to combat the virus.
“I have seen enough of both the governance of science, and the political operations at the European Union,” he wrote in the statement to the FT. “I have lost faith in the system itself.”
Bahrke said he hoped the Commission would “be able to share more information very soon” on the circumstances of the resignation but did not elaborate further.
As the Coronavirus spread from China to Italy, Austria, Spain and other EU nations, the bloc was criticized for not acting forcefully enough to set up a coordinated response even though health issues are still primarily a member state responsibility.
Over the past month specifically, the member states have been trying to work closer together and EU leaders have committed to better coordination to try to alleviate the human and economic suffering.
UNITED NATIONS — The U.N. Security Council held its first open meeting in nearly four weeks using video conferencing because of the coronavirus pandemic, and its members later expressed solidarity with the West African nation of Mali in tackling COVID-19.
For the first time since March 12, members of the media and the public were able to watch a video briefing by the U.N. envoy for Mali, Mahamat Saleh Annadif, who said the country had recorded 46 positive cases of COVID-19, including one in the U.N. peacekeeping force, and five deaths.
After Annadif’s briefing, the public part of the meeting ended and the 15 council members — whose pictures had appeared on the screen from their remote locations — went into a private session with the U.N. special representative.
The Security Council statement issued afterward called on Mali’s government and the United Nations “to continue working together to prevent the spread of the virus.”
WASHINGTON — President Donald Trump said he would “put a hold” on U.S. funding for the World Health Organization, before backtracking and claiming, “I’m not saying I’m going to do it.”
Trump made the comments at a White House press briefing as deaths and infections across the country continue to rise.
Trump at first announced he would be cutting off U.S. funding to the organization. But when pressed on whether it was the right time, given the current crisis, he told reporters he was only looking at the prospect.
Still, he criticized the organization, saying they “they missed the call” on the pandemic and claiming that they seem to be “very China-centric.”
He claimed, “They should have known and they probably did know.”
The WHO has praised China for its transparency on the virus, even though there is there is reason to believe that more people died of COVID-19 than the country’s official tally.
Throughout his presidency, Trump has voiced skepticism of many international organizations.
WASHINGTON — President Donald Trump says the coronavirus is hitting African Americans harder, according to data on the pandemic.
Trump says his administration is trying to address what he termed a “tremendous challenge.” He says COVID-19 has been showing up in a disproportional way in African American communities.
Speaking at the White House daily briefing, Dr. Anthony Fauci says the medical community has known for a long time that diseases like diabetes, hypertension, obesity and asthma hit minority populations, especially African Americans.
He says the coronavirus hits these people suffering from these underlying conditions hard and often require intubation, intensive care and sometimes death.
Fauci, the nation’s top infectious disease expert, says it's “very sad,” but there is not much that can be done right now except to try to give these people the best care possible.
WASHINGTON — The Federal Emergency Management Agency says a federal employee working at its headquarters has tested positive for COVID-19.
FEMA says it has done contracted tracing to determine if the unidentified employee had any contact with any of the principals on the White House coronavirus task force in recent days. The employee tested positive Monday.
The agency says the employee and any others who were in contact with that person did not come within six feet of members of the task force. Members of the task force include Vice President Mike Pence and Dr. Deborah Birx.
The agency also says the areas visited by task force members were disinfected before any of their visits to FEMA headquarters.
HOUSTON — U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement says it may release people from detention considered to be especially vulnerable to the coronavirus.
ICE says it has instructed local field offices to review the cases of people considered at greater risk of infection. That may include people 60 years old and older, pregnant women, or others with higher risk factors like underlying medical conditions.
The agency has faced pressure for weeks to reduce its detainee population from advocates and medical experts who warn the coronavirus is particularly dangerous in jails. ICE holds about 36,000 people in civil detention for immigration violations, though it says about half are convicted criminals or have pending charges.
So far, ICE says it has released more than 160 people and identified 600 detainees as “vulnerable.” It’s unclear how many of those people were released under court order.
ATLANTA — Georgia Rep. Doug Collins announced that Amneal Pharmaceuticals, Inc. had donated 200,000 doses of hydroxychloroquine sulfate to Georgia’s Department of Public Health for potential use in treating hospitalized coronavirus patients.
Collins, a Republican and strong backer of President Donald Trump, said the medication “could potentially save thousands of lives across our state.”
The drug is not officially approved for fighting the new coronavirus and scientists say more testing is needed before it’s proven safe against COVID-19. The Trump administration has promoted it nonetheless. Collins is running for U.S. Senate and will face off in November against Sen. Kelly Loeffler, a fellow Republican.
MOSCOW — The US Embassy in Russia says a plane carrying Americans home has taken off from Moscow.
U.S. Embassy spokeswoman Rebecca Ross tweets that “the Aeroflot’s commercial flight to NYC has left Moscow filled with US citizens who purchased tickets to return home.”
On its way back, the Aeroflot plane is expected to carry Russians who had been waiting for days for a chance to fly back home.
On Friday, an Aeroflot flight to New York was canceled while the plane already was on the taxiway as Russia abruptly halted all international commercial flights. The Russian government cited the need to make preparations for isolating Russians who return to prevent the spread of contagion. It allowed flights repatriating Russians to resume starting Monday.
GUATEMALA CITY — Guatemala announced that a third deportee has tested positive for COVID-19 after being flown home by the United States.
It came a day after authorities announced they would suspend deportation flights from the U.S. over concerns about spreading the coronavirus.
The Health Ministry said that its latest positive case was a 37-year-old man who was deported March 26 from Mesa, Arizona, and had been in quarantine since his return.
Two other deportees, ages 29 and 31, from the same flight had already tested positive. The plane had carried 41 Guatemalans, including 10 children.
Upon arrival the migrants were isolated for a day in an Air Force installation. One person who arrived sick and tested positive for COVID-19 was quarantined, but the rest had been released and asked to quarantine in their homes without supervision.
The Foreign Affairs Ministry on Monday announced the suspension of deportation flights from the U.S. during Holy Week. It said Guatemala also asked the U.S. government that when the flights resume, each plane only carry 25 passengers, not the usual 100, and for certification that no one is showing any coronavirus symptoms.
PARIS — France’s national health director announced that France has reached the grim milestone of 10,000 coronavirus deaths.
Jerome Salomon addressed reporters in the daily COVID-19 briefing to emphasize that “we are in the epidemic’s ascendant stage... we have not yet reached the peak.”
He recorded a total death toll of 10,328 since the start of the epidemic — with 7,091 hospital deaths and 3,237 fatalities in old people’s homes.
There were 597 fatalities in hospitals since Monday.
Over 30,000 people are currently hospitalized with COVID-19 nationwide, with 7,131 in intensive care.
He did offer one moment for hope, acknowledging that the virus rate “is slowing a little.”
UNITED NATIONS — United Nations Secretary-General Antonio Guterres has suspended the rotation and deployment of U.N. peacekeepers and international police until June 30 to mitigate the risk of transmitting COVID-19.
U.N. spokesman Stephane Dujarric made the announcement, saying the U.N.’s 13 far-flung peacekeeping missions “are working full time to contain and mitigate the spread of COVID-19” and to ensure that incoming uniformed personnel don’t have the coronavirus.
He said “a few, limited exceptions may be considered ... but only in extenuating circumstances on the basis of strict conditions to prevent the spread of the virus.”
A U.N. peacekeeping spokesman said the secretary-general’s order applies to all U.N. uniformed personnel worldwide — about 85,000 police and military.
OSLO, Norway — Norway says it plans to open kindergartens from April 20 in the first stage of a gradual lifting of the country’s lockdown.
The government says pupils in the first four years of school would return to school a week later on April 27 and higher grades “before summer.”
Prime Minister Erna Solberg tells reporters “it has now been 26 days since we changed the way we live our lives” in reference to the lockdown and “we can see that (government’s) anti-infection measures are working ”
Norway, which has so far recorded 89 deaths and 5,903 confirmed COVID-19 infections, joins Austria and Denmark as the first European nations to emerge from a lockdown.
THE HAGUE, Netherlands — Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte has appealed to his nation to keep sticking to social distancing rules to slow the spread of the coronavirus. He also is warning it will take a long time for the country to return to normal.
Rutte says “it is much to soon to speculate” about a possible exit strategy from what the premier calls the “intelligent lockdown” in the Netherlands, where bars, restaurants, museums, schools and universities are closed until at least April 28.
Ahead of the Easter weekend, when the Netherlands usually draws large numbers of tourists from neighboring Germany and Belgium, Rutte is urging people — in Dutch, German and French — to stay home.
The country’s public health institute reported that the virus outbreak death toll had risen by 234 to 2,101. So far, nearly 20,000 people in the Netherlands have tested positive to the virus.
ROME — Italy’s number of new coronavirus cases has continued to drop.
Civil Protection authorities said Tuesday there were 3,039 new cases in a 24-hour period. Italy hasn’t seen such a low daily number since the early weeks of the outbreak.
Said Giovanni Rezza, director of the infectious disease division of the national health institute: “Finally it seems we are beginning to see a lessening of new cases” after a plateau phase. He expressed satisfaction that even Italy’s most stricken region, Lombardy, is also witnessing the same trend.
Italy has 135,586 cases confirmed cases. After some 600 additional deaths were registered on Tuesday, Italy has counted 16,523 deaths in the COVID-19 outbreak.
NEW YORK — More people have died from the coronavirus in New York City than perished in the Sept. 11 attack on the World Trade Center.
At least 3,202 people have been killed in the city by the virus, according to a new count released by city health officials Tuesday.
The deadliest terror attack on U.S. soil killed 2,753 people in the city and 2,977 overall, when hijacked planes slammed into the World Trade Center, the Pentagon and a field near Shanksville, Pennsylvania, on Sept. 11, 2001.
The coronavirus has made New York ground zero again in a national tragedy and the center of a crisis that is reshaping Americans’ lives and liberties.
New York City recorded its first coronavirus death on March 13, less than two weeks after confirming its first infection.
GENEVA — The U.N.’s labor organization estimates the equivalent of 195 million full-time jobs could be lost in the second quarter alone from the COVID-19 outbreak, with businesses and plants shuttered worldwide.
The projection from the International Labor Organization is based on an emerging impact of the virus, and it amounts to a big increase from its March 18 prediction for an extra 25 million jobs losses for all of 2020.
ILO Director-General Guy Ryder says, “These figures speak powerfully for themselves: That the world of work is suffering an absolutely extraordinary fall."
The agency says full or partial lockdown measures now affect nearly 2.7 billion workers or about 81 percent of the global workforce.
Some 1.25 billion are in hard-hit sectors such as hotel and food services, manufacturing and retail.
Follow AP news coverage of the coronavirus pandemic at https://apnews.com/VirusOutbreak and https://apnews.com/UnderstandingtheOutbreak