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The Latest: WHO scientist says coronavirus is containable

April 17, 2020 GMT
A man reads a medical report while holding CT scans between his legs near a hospital in Wuhan in central China's Hubei province Thursday, April 16, 2020.  (AP Photo/Ng Han Guan)
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A man reads a medical report while holding CT scans between his legs near a hospital in Wuhan in central China's Hubei province Thursday, April 16, 2020. (AP Photo/Ng Han Guan)
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A man reads a medical report while holding CT scans between his legs near a hospital in Wuhan in central China's Hubei province Thursday, April 16, 2020. (AP Photo/Ng Han Guan)

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:

— WHO concerned by increase in COVID-19 cases across Africa.

— French officials say no reason to suspect China set loose coronavirus.

— Mexico seeks older doctors, nurses to care for non-coronavirus patients.

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GENEVA — A top World Health Organization scientist says countries, especially those in Africa, shouldn’t give up hope in the fight against the coronavirus outbreak.

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Maria Van Kerkhove is technical lead for WHO’s emergencies program. She says several countries in Europe and Asia have succeeded in bringing the outbreak under control.

Van Kerkhove says, “Containment is possible. It’s going to be a hard fight.“

She says much more needs to be done, including more testing, treatment centers, physical distancing measures and hand-washing stations in places with no running water to help stem the spread of the COVID-19 outbreak.

Many scientists believe the novel coronavirus is more infectious than the flu.

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TIRANA, Albania — The COVID-19 virus is bringing positive warming up signs in the ties between former war foes Kosovo and Serbia.

Kosovo has had help in fighting the virus from the European Union, the United States, Turkey and many other countries, including Serbia. Health Ministry spokesman Faik Hoti says Serbia has donated 1,000 virus tests.

Health Minister Arben Vitia initiated an online call with colleagues from Western Balkan countries, including his Serb counterpart, to coordinate joint efforts in fighting the virus.

A tally from Johns Hopkins University shows Serbia has 5,690 virus cases, and 110 people have died. Kosovo has 449 cases and 12 deaths.

Kosovo-Serbia ties remain tense and the EU-mediated talks on normalizing their ties have stalled since the end of 2018.

Kosovo, a former part of the old Yugoslavia, was liberated in 1999. Kosovo unilaterally declared independence from Serbia in 2008, but Belgrade doesn’t recognize it.

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ROME — Citizens in Italy are being encouraged to use an app to help authorities trace persons who have come in contact with someone infected with COVID-19.

The head of a group of consultants advising the Health Ministry says the tracing app is “an instrument of great usefulness.” It can be downloaded for use on cell phones.

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Officials believe the app will help authorities to better manage the coronavirus outbreak in the weeks ahead, when restrictions on movements are expected to be gradually eased.

The app tracks down persons who use the app and who have come in contact with another user who has tested positive. The app will pinpoint persons who have been within a certain distance and for a certain time near the infected person. The infected person’s anonymity will be protected and they can authorize a doctor to send a message to users that have come in contact with him or her.

It was developed by Milan-based tech company.

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LONDON — The head of the World Health Organization says he’s concerned by a recent jump in COVID-19 cases across Africa.

Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus says in the last week there has been a 51% increase in cases and a 60% jump in deaths. He says due to a lack of testing “it’s likely the real numbers are higher than reported.” Tedros says WHO and partners are working to boost Africa’s testing capacity and that 1 million test kits would be rolled out across the continent starting next week.

Tedros says WHO has been in recent talks with leaders including French President Emmanuel Macron, U.K. Prime Minister Boris Johnson, philanthropist Bill Gates and others to speed vaccine production and figure out how the shots might be equitably distributed among the world’s population.

Tedros also clarified WHO’s guidance on “wet markets,” the markets across Asia where live animals and wildlife are often sold for food.

Although the origin of COVID-19 has not yet been identified, many scientists suspect the virus jumped to humans from animals at a wet market in Wuhan, China. Tedros says the markets are “an important source for food and livelihoods for millions of people around the world” but that they have often been poorly regulated. Tedros says WHO is recommending that these markets only be reopened “on the condition that they conform to stringent food safety and hygiene standards.”

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GOLDSBORO, N.C. — A COVID-19 outbreak at a North Carolina state prison has spread to approximately 150 inmates.

The Wayne County Health Department says 149 inmates have tested positive for the virus at Neuse Correctional Institution in Goldsboro. State prison officials had previously announced about 80 of the cases.

The county health officials say the number of positive results is expected to rise as the prison completes testing on all of its 700 inmates.

Newly positive inmates are being put into isolation, and the state is sending additional medical and security staff to the facility. Prison staff are also being offered tests, and since April 1, their temperatures have been screened upon arrival.

Statewide, some nonviolent offenders have been released early to complete their sentences under community supervision.

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ALBANY, N.Y. -- Nineteen nursing homes in New York state have each had 20 deaths or more linked to the coronavirus pandemic.

According to a survey the state released, one Brooklyn home reported having 55 deaths. Four homes, in the Bronx, Queens and Staten Island, were listed as having over 40.

The survey’s release came after days of media reports about homes so stricken by the virus that bodies had to be stacked inside storage rooms while families struggled to get information about isolated loved ones. Connecticut released a similar list, reporting that eight nursing homes had at least 10 residents die.

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SAN DIEGO — This year’s San Diego Comic-Con has been canceled due to coronavirus-related restrictions around large gatherings in California. Organizers say they are planning a return for July 2021.

The annual confab was scheduled to take place July 23-26 in and around the San Diego Convention Center. Gov. Gavin Newsom has said he’s not optimistic about a return of mass gatherings for sports events, concerts and fairs this year.

Comic-Con attracts over 135,000 people who are often elaborately costumed every year for the convention that includes movies and television.

The event is a huge money-maker for the restaurants and hotels of San Diego, and an important promotional stop for Hollywood television and films. It is estimated to generate over $147 million for the local economy each year.

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ROME — Even as authorities in parts of Italy’s hardest-hit areas seek to ease lockdown restrictions, the nation continues to register a few thousand new cases of COVID-19 daily.

According to numbers supplied by the Health Ministry, there were nearly 3,500 new cases Friday since a day earlier, raising Italy’s overall tally of known infections to 172,434. Since Thursday, deaths of 575 persons infected with coronavirus were registered.

Still, the numbers are showing a stark improvement, especially of patients in intensive care beds, since the first weeks of the outbreak.

Italy has Europe’s highest death toll of 22,745. The country is in its sixth week of nationwide lockdown.

By far, Italy’s region with the most cases and deaths is Lombardy, one of the nation’s most economically productive areas. Its governor has been insisting Lombardy’s factories must return to action starting on May 4, following the end of the national government’s current lockdown decree.

But virus experts and epidemiologists have cautioned that any easing of restrictions must be gradual. With far fewer cases in the south, experts are afraid immunity to COVID-19 is relatively low among the population there, and the virus outbreak could flare up anew.

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PARIS — France’s leadership says there is no reason to believe that China set loose the virus from a lab in Wuhan that French researchers helped build.

French President Emmanuel Macron’s office said in a statement: “There is no factual proof at this stage ... establishing a link between the origin of COVID-19 and the work of the P4 laboratory in China.”

President Donald Trump and some U.S. officials have suggested the coronavirus escaped from a Chinese lab. China accuses the U.S. administration of shifting the focus away from its own missteps in handling the virus.

French government researchers and engineers helped design the lab in question at the Wuhan Institute of Virology, so the outlier theory is raising questions in France.

Defense Minister Florence Parly said that “there are things that happened in China that we don’t know about,” but dismissed suggestions that China unleashed the virus to “neutralize our military operational capacity.”

While the virus is still being studied, the leading theory among scientists is that infection among humans began at an animal market in Wuhan, probably from an animal that got the virus from a bat.

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MEXICO CITY — As pressure on Mexico’s health care system increases, the government is asking healthy doctors and nurses between the ages of 60 and 65 to sign up for work at hospitals that are not treating coronavirus patients.

The appeal is open to medical workers who are active, unemployed or retired, but also considered more vulnerable to the COVID-19 disease because they are older. Their deployment would free up younger doctors and nurses to focus on coronavirus patients in separate facilities as Mexico braces for an expected peak in infections in May.

President Andrés Manuel López Obrador announced the initiative, saying older workers who respond would be assigned for one month ending on May 23. Those workers would receive a 30% increase on top of salaries commensurate with their experience and skill. The goal is to boost the medical work force by about 20,000 people.

At least 486 people in Mexico are confirmed to have died after contracting the new coronavirus.

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TORONTO — Prime Minister Justin Trudeau says the Canadian government is sending military assistance to Quebec’s long-term care homes.

Trudeau says 125 members of the Canadian Armed Forces with medical expertise will travel to the province to support them. He also says more can be done with the Red Cross and volunteers.

About 2,000 doctors responded to the premier of Quebec’s request to help overburdened long-term care homes. About 90% of COVID-19 deaths registered in Quebec involve victims 70 and older, and 70% of all deaths reported are in long-term care and senior homes.

More than half of all of Canada’s more than 31,408 confirmed cases of COVID-19 are in Quebec. Canada has more than 1,250 deaths.

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PRAGUE — The Czech Republic will allow religious services to start up again as the country has been easing restrictions imposed to contain the coronavirus pandemic.

Health Care Minister Adam Vojtech says the religious gatherings in churches will restart on April 27 with a maximum of 15 people. But they will have to keep a distance from one another. The number of worshippers will be allowed to grow in the following weeks.

The Czech government unveiled a plan this week to gradually relax the strict measures adopted in response to the outbreak.

Vojtech says the plan originally omitted religious services that have now been included at the request of Prague Archbishop Dominik Duka.

The Czech Republic is considered one of the most atheist countries in Europe.

The country has 6,499 people who have tested positive for the virus and 173 have died.

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CONAKRY, Guinea — Guinea’s electoral commission says its president Salif Kebe has died from COVID-19. He had self-quarantined after showing symptoms and asked that all staff of the electoral commission also stay at home. Kebe organized a vote on March 22 amid COVID-19 on legislative seats and a disputed referendum that will allow President Alpha Conde to run for office again despite his original constitutional mandate expiring in December. After announcing the provisional results of the referendum on March 27 and those of the legislative elections April 2, Kebe had not been seen in public.

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JACKSONVILLE, Fla. — Some North Florida beaches are re-opening, becoming among the first in the state since coronavirus concerns forced beach-goers away.

Mayor Lenny Curry said Duval County’s beaches will have restricted hours, and they can only be used for walking, biking, hiking, fishing, running, swimming, taking care of pets and surfing.

Gatherings of 50 or more people are prohibited and people must still practice social distancing.

Florida officials were criticized for leaving beaches open during spring break last month. Most counties closed their beaches in response or kept them open under very restrictive conditions.

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