The Latest: US sends Russia 50 ventilators, more to follow
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:
— US sends 50 ventilators to Russia, with 150 more to follow
— Top Democrats urge half-staff flags at 100,000 US virus deaths.
— China lawmakers gather as doubts swirl over pandemic safety.
— Japan calls for international cooperation in combating virus.
MOSCOW -- The United States has delivered 50 ventilators to Russia as part of a $5.6 million humanitarian donation to help the country cope with the pandemic.
The U.S. Embassy said the first shipment of U.S.-manufactured breathing machines arrived in Moscow on Thursday, and another 150 will follow next week.
U.S. Ambassador John Sullivan emphasized that “particularly in times of crises we must work together,” adding “we must set aside policy differences and focus on the needs of our people.”
Russia has reported more than 317,000 infections and more than 3,000 deaths. Officials have scrambled to secure ventilators and other essential supplies as COVID-19 spread.
Russia sent a planeload of medical supplies, including ventilators, to the U.S. last month. Russia’s state investment fund said this week it has fully funded the delivery.
NICOSIA, Cyprus -- The rival sides in ethnically divided Cyprus have agreed to partially reopen crossing points for Turkish Cypriots in the breakaway north as part of a rollback of COVID-19 restrictions.
Starting June 8, Turkish Cypriots who work, study or receive medical care in the internationally recognized south will be permitted to cross through vehicular points, government spokesman Kyriakos Koushos said Thursday.
The announcement came after Cypriot President Nicos Anastasiades contacted Turkish Cypriot leader Mustafa Akinci.
In recent weeks, some of the estimated 1,500 Turkish Cypriots who hold jobs in the south staged protests over closures they said denied them income for months.
Cyprus was split 46 years ago when Turkey invaded following a coup aimed at union with Greece.
HOLLY SPRINGS, Miss. -- A Mississippi church was destroyed by a suspected arson fire about a month after its pastor sued the city over gathering restrictions amid the pandemic.
First Pentecostal Church in Holly Springs burned down Wednesday, news outlets reported. Investigators from the Marshall County Sheriff’s Office found graffiti in the church parking lot that read: “Bet you stay home now you hypokrites” (sic).
“We’ve kind of racked our brains and we have no idea,” said Jerry Waldrop, the church pastor. “No enemies that we know of.”
Waldrop filed a lawsuit against the city of Holly Springs last month, alleging police officers disrupted a bible study and Easter service. The city said nearly 40 parishioners inside the church were not practicing social distancing on April 10 when a citation was issued.
BELGRADE, Serbia -- Tests for the new coronavirus are no longer required to enter Serbia.
The government made the decision Thursday as part of an easing of lockdown measures. Previously, a negative test no older than 72 hours was necessary to avoid self-isolation for two weeks.
Serbia closed its borders during a state of emergency when infections surged in March. Experts say the situation has stabilized despite clusters in the south of the country.
The Balkan country Thursday reported 86 new cases. Authorities say 10,919 have been infected and 253 have died.
Critics have warned that the government has been too quick to lift protection measures. Some rules remain, such as a ban on large gatherings.
LONDON -- Budget airline EasyJet says it will start flying again beginning June 15 after being grounded during the pandemic.
The airline says it will resume a small number of domestic flights and a minimal number of international ones in the UK, France, Switzerland, Portugal and Spain.
EasyJet expects to increase its schedule as restrictions are relaxed.
Company CEO Johan Lundgren says in a statement enhanced safety measures will be put in place, including disinfecting the aircraft and asking customers to wear masks on board.
LONDON -- Scotland’s leader has presented a “route map” for easing coronavirus restrictions in the months ahead while observing social distancing guidelines.
First Minister Nicola Sturgeon told Scottish lawmakers the lockdown will be loosened in three-week intervals, subject to progress in virus control. But, she added, the proposals “cannot be set in stone.”
Starting May 28, two households may see each other in small groups in “outdoor spaces.” That’s more than what is now allowed in England, where only individuals from two households can meet outside.
Other planned changes in Scotland beginning next week include the reopening of gardening stores and allowing noncontact outdoor leisure activities, such as golf and fishing. Schools, though, will not reopen until Aug. 1. Some English schools may be reopening June 1.
ROME -- A new government report indicates there were 46,909 excess deaths in Italy in March and April compared to what would have been expected. The report says it would be accurate to attribute most of the deaths to the coronavirus.
Italy’s social security and welfare agency (INPS) concluded the official COVID-19 death toll reported by the civil protection department “isn’t very reliable” since it includes only those who tested positive for the virus, omitting those who died at home or in nursing homes without ever being tested.
By the end of April, Italy’s official COVID-19 death toll stood at 27,938. INPS said excess deaths at that point had reached 46,909 and said most of the 18,971 deaths making up the difference could be attributed to the pandemic.
The agency reached that conclusion by noting that the five Lombardy provinces with the most excess deaths were the same five provinces hardest hit by the virus. In addition, most of the excess deaths were among the elderly men who account for most COVID victims.
Italy was the first country in the West to be slammed by the virus and its official toll lags only that of the U.S. and Britain.
WASHINGTON -- The top Democratic leaders are urging President Donald Trump to fly flags at half-staff on public buildings across the country when the U.S. coronavirus death toll reaches 100,000.
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer made the request in a letter sent to Trump on Thursday. They say the gesture would “serve as a national expression of grief so needed by everyone in our country.”
There have been more than 93,000 COVID-19 deaths in the U.S., according to Johns Hopkins University.
The White House had no immediate response to the letter.
VILNIUS, Lithuania -- Restaurants and bars in Lithuania’s capital have found a way to pack the house while maintaining social distancing: mannequins in seats that must remain closed to customers.
The faux customers are dressed casually or with an artistic flair, sometimes even for a ball, and some wear masks. They sit at selected tables, ensuring that actual customers are kept at a proper distance during the pandemic.
“Empty tables inside our restaurant look rather odd,” said Bernie Ter Braak, the owner of the downtown restaurant “Cosy.” “We don’t have any way to remove them.”
Vilnius Mayor Remigijus Simasius on Thursday called the initiative a “perfect match of communal spirit and creativity working side by side”.
Lithuania, a nation of some 2.8 million, is one of the European Union countries least affected by the coronavirus. Social distancing is in force until May 31.
VIENNA -- Austria is preparing for the summer tourist season while taking extra precautions to ensure the new coronavirus does not pick up again.
Chancellor Sebastian Kurz said Thursday that people from countries where COVID-19 has stabilized could count on summer holidays with “maximum safety and maximum enjoyment.”
There is an agreement with Germany, Liechtenstein and Switzerland to fully open borders next month. Kurz was optimistic similar arrangements could be reached with Austria’s eastern neighbors in the coming week. He says negotiations have begun with Austrian Airline’s parent company Lufthansa for holiday flights.
Distancing measures in Austria will remain in place and hotel staffers will be tested regularly for COVID-19.
“We need to ensure that the infection rate remains low,” Kurz said. “The lower the infection numbers the more people will go out.”
ISTANBUL -- Japan’s Prime Minister Shinzo Abe is urging international cooperation in combating the new coronavirus, saying any drug or vaccine must be “fairly” accessible and nations must assist less developed countries.
The prime minister spoke by videoconference Thursday during a ceremony led by Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan to mark a hospital opening.
The 2,600-bed Basaksehir Pine and Sakura City Hospital in Istanbul was built by Turkey’s Ronesans Holding in partnership with Japan’s Sojitz Corporation.
Turkey is separately constructing two other hospitals in Istanbul, including one on the site of the now-closed Ataturk Airport, as part of plans to turn the nation into a major destination for medical tourism.
JAKARTA, Indonesia — Indonesia’s number of confirmed coronavirus cases surpassed 20,000 as the world’s most populous Muslim nation is entering a critical period in its fight against the COVID-19 outbreak during its most important Islamic holiday.
Health ministry official Achmad Yurianto announced 973 new infections, the biggest daily increase since the start of the pandemic, bringing the total number of confirmed cases to 20,162.
Yurianto said the outbreak has been growing significantly in the East Java province in the past 24 hours with 502 confirmed cases, which has contributed the most to the country’s biggest single-day spike on Thursday.
Indonesia’s COVID-19 Task Force chief Doni Monardo told a news conference the virus spread has been growing at its fastest speed during the last nine days as the country is entering a critical moment before and after its Eid al-Fitr celebration to mark the end of the fasting month of Ramadan.
Ramadan exodus was banned this year to contain the spread of the disease, but Monardo said some people had managed to leave big cities.
Monardo said his team is asking help from the military and the police to prevent arrivals in the capital, Jakarta until a full reopening of the capital.
JOHANNESBURG — The African continent needs to test about 10 times the number of people it has already tested for the coronavirus. That’s according to the Africa Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Director John Nkengasong says Africa should strive to test at least 1% of the population of 1.3 billion people, or 13 million people, but so far 1.3 million to 1.4 million tests have been conducted. Africa’s number of virus cases is above 95,000 and could surpass 100,000 by the weekend. The continent has seen roughly the same number of new cases in the past week as the week before, and Nkengasong says that “we hope that trend continues.”
While early lockdowns delayed the pandemic, he says “that doesn’t mean Africa has been spared.” But he says health officials are not seeing a lot of community deaths or “massive flooding of our hospitals” because of COVID-19.
Countries with fragile health systems and a recent history of conflict like Somalia and South Sudan, however, remain “very concerning” as cases rise quickly. Somalia has reported more than 1,500 cases but aid groups worry the real number is far higher. South Sudan has more than 280 cases.
MILAN — Italian authorities are warning that young people gathering without respecting physical distancing rules and not wearing masks are risking Italy’s hard-won efforts to control the coronavirus outbreak.
Milan Mayor Giuseppe Sala said Thursday that he is asking local police to increase patrols of night spots, be more severe in handing out fines and close any bars or restaurants in flagrant violation of the rules.
He said in a Facebook message that Milan has a problem now, like many Italian cities: “I understand the young people — and they are not only young people — who need to socialize. But the risk is very high.”
Cases in Milan, the seat of hard-hit Lombardy, continue to rise as Italy continues to relax its long lockdown. Since Sunday, there have been 137 new cases in the city of 1.4 million residents.
Premier Giuseppe Conte echoed the concern in a speech to parliament’s lower chamber, saying that while it was “entirely understandable” that young people are excited about going out again, now more than ever it was important to wear masks outdoors and maintain social distancing.
BEIRUT — Lebanon’s prime minister is warning of a major food crisis in the Mediterranean country which is facing an unprecedented economic and financial crisis made worse by the coronavirus pandemic.
In an opinion piece published in the Washington Post late Wednesday, Prime Minister Hassan Diab also warns of eventual “starvation” in the Middle East that he says may spark a new migration flow to Europe.
He urges the United States and the European Union to establish a dedicated emergency fund to help the conflict-prone region.
Lebanon, one of the most indebted nations in the world, defaulted for the first time in March on its sovereign debt. Anti-government protests that erupted in October over widespread corruption subsided during a nationwide lockdown since mid-March to blunt the spread of the coronavirus, but sporadic protests continue.
Diab’s government is seeking a rescue program from the International Monetary Fund while grappling to deal with the financial crisis that saw the local currency crash, people’s savings devastated and prices and inflation soar in the past few weeks.
In a stark warning, Diab says many Lebanese may soon find it difficult to afford even bread.