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The Latest: Merkel discusses pandemic with Pope Francis

May 7, 2020 GMT
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German Chancellor Angela Merkel attends a press conference in Berlin, Germany, Wednesday, May 6, 2020 after an online meeting of Merkel and the German state governors on the loosening of the restictions to reduce the spread of the new coronavirus. (AP Photo/Michael Sohn, pool)
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German Chancellor Angela Merkel attends a press conference in Berlin, Germany, Wednesday, May 6, 2020 after an online meeting of Merkel and the German state governors on the loosening of the restictions to reduce the spread of the new coronavirus. (AP Photo/Michael Sohn, pool)

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:

—Military member near Trump tests positive for virus.

—Japan approves remdesivir for coronavirus treatment.

—Moscow lockdown extended until end of month.

—British await ‘very limited’ easing of restrictions.

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BERLIN — Chancellor Angela Merkel’s office says the German leader has discussed the coronavirus pandemic with Pope Francis in a phone conversation.

Merkel spokesman Steffen Seibert says the chancellor and the pontiff advocated support for poor countries in the virus crisis during Thursday’s call. He says it centered on “the global humanitarian and political situation in view of the corona pandemic” and on the significance of solidarity in Europe and the world.

Merkel invited Francis to visit Germany when that is possible again.

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RIO DE JANEIRO — Brazil’s economy minister warns there could soon be product shortages in supermarkets if state quarantine measures are allowed to continue.

Paulo Guedes told an audience at the Supreme Court, including its chief justice, that Latin America’s largest market is at risk of “collapse” similar to what happened in neighboring Venezuela. He was joined by President Jair Bolsonaro and a group of industry leaders, who together walked to the top court to make their case for rollback of restrictions on gatherings and activity even as Brazil’s COVID-19 cases continue to surge. The Supreme Court ruled last month that local governments, not the federal government, have jurisdiction to adopt such measures.

Bolsonaro told reporters after the audience that several states’ decrees went beyond what was required, causing millions of job losses.

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DOVER, Del. — Democratic Gov. John Carney has postponed Delaware’s presidential primary for the second time because of the coronavirus and ordered state elections officials to mail absentee ballot applications to every Democratic and Republican voter in the state.

Carney also says the Department of Elections will be required to operate only a limited of polling places on election day. His directive calls for at least six polling places in each county to allow in-person voting for those choosing not to cast absentee ballots.

Delaware is a closed primary state, meaning only registered Democrats and Republicans can vote in primary elections.

In March, Carney ordered the scheduled April 28 primary to be pushed back to June 2.

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ROME — Italy’s confirmed coronavirus death toll is nearing 30,000.

The health ministry says there were 274 deaths in the 24-hour period ending Thursday evening, raising to 29,958 the number of people who have died with diagnosed COVID-19 infections.

Health authorities say the death toll is likely much higher, since some who died in nursing homes or in their own home, especially the elderly, might have had coronavirus infections but were never tested.

Italy registered 1,401 new cases, increasing the country’s overall count of confirmed COVID-19 infections to 215,858.

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BERLIN — German officials say they hope to launch an app to help trace coronavirus infection chains by mid-June.

The German government had initially suggested that such an app could be available by April, but the release was delayed in part by privacy and security concerns.

Federal officials, speaking on condition on anonymity because they weren’t authorized to be quoted by name, say the time frame was a “challenge” because of the “dynamic” nature of software projects, but “mid-June is a realistic time frame” for the release of a first version of the app.

Germany has tasked Deutsche Telekom and software company SAP with leading the project. The companies have said they will draw on Bluetooth technology being developed by Apple and Google to allow smartphones to register which other devices are in close proximity.

The app, which will be voluntary, can then be used to anonymously inform other smartphone users if they had close contact to someone who tested positive for the new coronavirus, giving them reason to also get a test.

—Frank Jordans reported.

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AUSTIN, Texas — Republican Texas Gov. Greg Abbott has removed jail as a punishment for violating his coronavirus restrictions following outcry by conservatives over a Dallas salon owner who was jailed for refusing to keep her business closed.

Abbott says his new order should free Shelley Luther, who was booked in the Dallas County jail this week for keeping her salon open in defiance of the governor’s restrictions meant to slow the spread of the coronavirus.

Luther refused to apologize for repeatedly flouting the order, leading a judge to find her in contempt of court and sentence her to a week behind bars.

The reversal reflects the increasing pressure Abbott is under to reboot the state’s economy at a much faster pace.

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CHICAGO — The nation’s biggest union of airline pilots is pushing for federal regulations covering the cleaning of airplanes.

Joe DePete, president of the Air Line Pilots Association, tells The Associated Press there is a patchwork effort across the industry, with some airlines doing a good job while “others aren’t doing so well.” As long as the Federal Aviation Administration only gives airlines guidelines, not rules, crews and passengers face “exposure to unnecessary additional and preventable risk,” he says.

The union says three of its members have died and more than 300 pilots have tested positive for the virus that causes COVID-19.

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WALLA WALLA, Wash. - Officials in southeastern Washington state are retracting their claim that some people held parties in which they intentionally exposed themselves to the coronavirus.

Walla Walla County Department of Community Health Director Meghan DeBolt issued a statement late Wednesday saying her earlier remarks were incorrect.

“I formally call back my interview today,″ DeBolt said in the new statement. “After receiving further information, we have discovered that there were not intentional covid parties. Just innocent endeavors.”

DeBolt had told the Union-Bulletin newspaper this week that contact tracing has revealed some people were attending parties with the idea that it is better to get sick with COVID-19 and recover. She had called the parties irresponsible.

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WASHINGTON -- A military member working in close proximity to President Donald Trump tested positive for the new coronavirus Wednesday. The White House says Trump and Vice President Mike Pence have since tested negative for the virus and “remain in good health.”

Spokesman Hogan Gidley says in a statement the military member works “on the White House campus” and tested positive Wednesday. The White House instituted safety protocols nearly two months ago to protect the nation’s political leaders, including frequent temperature checks. Last month it began administering rapid COVID-19 tests to all those near the president, with staffers being tested about once a week.

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TOKYO -- Japan has approved Gilead Sciences’ antiviral drug remdesivir for coronavirus treatment in a fast-track review just four days after the U.S. company submitted an application.

The drug is the first approved in Japan for the coronavirus. It was originally developed for Ebola and could block the coronavirus from replicating itself in the human body.

It will mainly be used for seriously ill patients. It was authorized by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration for coronavirus treatment last Friday.

Japan is also testing a Japanese-made influenza drug, favipiravir, that is also designed to inhibit viral replication but could cause birth defects. Prime Minister Shinzo Abe is pushing for favipiravir and says he hopes to have it approved by the end of May for less serious patients.

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MOSCOW — Authorities in Moscow have extended a lockdown in the capital until the end of the month.

Moscow Mayor Sergei Sobyanin said while all industrial plants and construction sites in the city will be allowed to reopen starting Tuesday, other businesses will remain shut through May 31. Residents are allowed to shop at nearby stores, pharmacies, walk their dogs, visit doctors and make occasional trips for personal reasons.

Sobyanin said that reopening industrial plants and construction sites is essential to shore up the economy and preserve jobs, but emphasized that it’s too early to reopen retail stores, restaurants, hairdressers, beauty parlors and other enterprises in the services sector.

Moscow has registered 92,676 coronavirus cases, more than half of the nation’s total. But Sobyanin said that the real number of infections could be as high as 300,000 people, or about 2.5 percent of the city’s population of 12.7 million.

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ASHGABAT, Turkmenistan -- Turkmenistan, one of a handful of countries yet to report any cases of the new coronavirus, will hold a military parade Saturday to mark the 75th anniversary of the Allies’ victory over Nazi Germany, the country’s Foreign Ministry told The Associated Press on Thursday.

It will be the first Victory Day parade in Turkmenistan, where the holiday is usually marked with laying flowers to war memorials and events for the veterans. Veterans, diplomats, journalists and foreign delegations will be invited to the parade in the capital of Ashgabat.

Turkmenistan’s officials denied allegations that they were concealing information about coronavirus infections. The Central Asian nation has a long border with Iran, one of the countries hardest hit by the virus.

Another Victory Day parade will be held Belarus, one of the few countries that have not imposed lockdown despite the growing virus outbreak. Last month, Russia indefinitely postponed its parade.

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CAIRO — The Egyptian government has decided to extend for another 15 days the nighttime curfew and other precautionary measures aimed at curbing the spread of the coronavirus.

The country’s prime minister, Mustafa Madbouly, announced the decision Thursday on national television, saying the government has been doing its best “to prevent an outbreak like the one witnessed in other countries.”

He urged Egyptians to “shoulder the responsibility” and comply with the measures. In recent weeks, Egypt’s has seen an upward trajectory of new infections, a development that officials have blamed on people’s laxness in observing social distancing and other measures. Egypt has reported more than 7,500 cases of COVID-19, including 469 deaths.

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LONDON -- The British government says people should expect only a “very limited” easing of lockdown restrictions when Prime Minister Boris Johnson announces new steps in the country’s coronavirus response on Sunday.

Johnson is to make a statement to the country laying out plans for “phase two” of the outbreak, with some measures taking effect as soon as Monday.

But Johnson spokesman James Slack said “any easement to the guidelines next week will be very limited. We are at a critical moment in the fight against the virus.”

Johnson told Cabinet colleagues on Thursday that the government would “advance with maximum caution” to avoid a new spike in virus cases.

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MILAN -- Law enforcement has been cracking down on Milan residents who do not follow proper social distancing in city parks, which just reopened this week.

Freed from their two-month lockdown, residents have been swarming to parks that had been closed for weeks. Families had been obligated to remain indoors except for necessities like grocery shopping or medical emergencies.

Physical fitness was restricted to the immediate vicinity of one’s residence. It is still forbidden to gather in groups, for children to use playground equipment and for people to play pickup basketball or soccer.

The city’s deputy mayor, Anna Scavuzzo, warns: ”We understand the desire to return to normality. ’But it is not the moment for everyone to do as they please.‘’

Coronavirus cases in the city continue to rise, going up by nearly 100 on Wednesday to 8,680 in the city of 1.4 million people.

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JOHANNESBURG -- The United Nations says 85 children have been released from prison in South Sudan to reduce crowding as the coronavirus begins to spread in the country.

The U.N. children’s agency says 11 children remain behind bars because of the severity of their alleged crimes. Thousands of prisoners around the world have been released to help prevent the spread of the virus in often crowded and squalid conditions.

UNICEF says South Sudan’s prisons have poor access to hygiene and nutrition and children are vulnerable to neglect, with many serving alongside adults.

South Sudan has no juvenile justice system, meaning some children are imprisoned for minor offenses. About 200 children across South Sudan are behind bars.

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ROME -- After an outcry from the nation’s Roman Catholic bishops, Italian Premier Giuseppe Conte says he has signed an accord with church officials to allow resumption of public Masses during the pandemic.

Under Italy’s two-month lockdown decree, no Masses for rank-and-file faithful have been permitted, although some churches could stay open for individual prayer.

Faithful in the predominantly Roman Catholic nation will be able to attend Mass starting on May 18, the same day that many more retail shops are tentatively scheduled to reopen.

The Italian Catholic Bishops Conference said the protocol reached on Thursday includes measures aimed at protecting Mass-goers from COVID-19 contagion, including the sanitizing of churches and objects used in them.

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HELSINKI -- A study published in Finland shows that the COVID-19 crisis has hit particularly hard for young women working in the nation’s service industries. Unemployment claims by the group have more than doubled in a year.

The analysis by the Helsinki Graduate School of Economics on Thursday indicated that women from 20 to 24 filed for most claims in March and April.

Finland is known egalitarian society and championing women’s cause along with its Nordic neighbors. Women working in the nation’s service industries where they make up around 80% of workforce. Young women typically work as sales clerks and hairdressers as well as in jobs within the health care sector.

Finland and its Nordic neighbors rank among the top countries in the world according to the Gender Equality Index by the European Institute for Gender Equality.

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Follow AP news coverage of the coronavirus pandemic at https://apnews.com/VirusOutbreak and https://apnews.com/UnderstandingtheOutbreak.