The Latest: Italy to start experimental immunity testing

National News

Leader of Fratelli d’Italia (Brothers of Italy) party, Giorgia Meloni, wears a mask in the colors of the Italian flag as she attends a session of the Italian Parliament in Rome, Thursday, April 16, 2020. Italy’s hardest-hit region of Lombardy is pushing to relaunch manufacturing on May 4, the day that the national lockdown is set to lift. Lombardy’s plan focuses on maintaining a one-meter distance between workers, mandating the use of masks, mobile working where possible and the use of anti-body blood testing, which is set to launch in the region on April 21, to get a better picture of where the virus is still active. (Roberto Monaldo/LaPresse via AP)

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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:

— Italy to start immunity tests in early May.

— Virus reaches “long plateau” in France, health agency chief says.

— British foreign secretary says China must explain virus’ origins.

— Illinois nursing home records 23 coronavirus deaths.

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ROME — Italy will begin administering experimental coronavirus immunity tests on an initial 150,000 people nationwide in early May as part of its efforts to reopen after a weekslong shutdown.

Italy’s commissioner for the pandemic, Domenico Arcuri, told state-run RAI news Thursday that the government hopes the first wave of tests will progressively grow in number and become the national standard.

Italy, the European epicenter of the pandemic, has imposed a lockdown and production shutdown through May 3.

Individual regions and even companies are already gunning to start antibody tests to accelerate the reopening. But Arcuri made clear the government wants a unified approach in testing, which he said would be one of the “fundamental pillars” of moving into the next phase of the emergency.

Arcuri said another pillar involved rolling out a voluntary contact-tracing cellphone application, to provide real-time data on movements of people and possible new clusters of infection. A pilot program would begin in some regions and then extend nationwide, he said.

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PARIS — French President Emmanuel Macron says China hasn’t been fully transparent about its handling of the coronavirus.

In an interview appearing Friday in the Financial Times, Macron said: “Let’s not be so naive as to say (China) has been much better at handling this.”

Macron continued: “We don’t know. There are clearly things that have happened that we don’t know about.” He didn’t elaborate.

The comments come amid growing international questions about how China released information about the virus. Internal documents obtained by The Associated Press show that China’s top health agency knew it was facing a likely pandemic but didn’t alert the public for six key days.

Macron is trying to rally international cooperation to fight the virus more effectively, but growing tensions with China may complicate that.

France’s foreign minister summoned China’s ambassador this week to express his “clear disapproval” of recent Chinese comments over how France is dealing with the virus crisis.

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MOSCOW — The Russian government has allowed the controversial medication hydroxychloroquine to be used in the treatment of coronavirus infection.

The antimalarial drug has been touted, notably by President Donald Trump, as potentially effective against the virus, but clinical studies are inconclusive.

The drug is not registered for use in Russia, but a Chinese pharmaceutical company provided a large supply to the National Medical Research Center for Cardiology, according to an order from Prime Minister Mikhail Mishustin reported by Russian news agencies on Thursday. The order authorizes the center to provide the medication free to institutions treating coronavirus infections.

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PARIS — The coronavirus appears to be receding in France, one of the world’s hardest-hit countries.

National Health agency chief Jerome Salomon said Thursday that the virus epidemic looks to have reached a “long plateau” that is “evolving slowly downward,” instead of hitting a peak followed by a sharp drop.

Two weeks ago, France saw a 58% weekly jump in deaths nationwide as COVID-19 claimed more and more lives.

Salomon said it was unclear how much of the “excess mortality” reported from March 30-April 5 in comparison to previous years was linked to the virus.

But the rise corresponded with an increase in deaths attributed to the virus in hospitals and care homes, which is now at 17,920. France has not been counting people who die with the virus at home.

More than 6,000 people are still in intensive care but the number has dropped every day for a week, and the number of people hospitalized fell Thursday for a second day.

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LONDON — British Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab says China will have some “hard questions” to answer about how the coronavirus pandemic started.

The virus emerged in Wuhan, China, at the end of 2019. Raab said Thursday the world will need to find out what happened in China in the early days of the pandemic.

Raab is filling in for Prime Minister Boris Johnson, who is convalescing after a weeklong hospital stay to be treated for COVID-19. The foreign secretary said there will have to be a “deep dive” review of the crisis, including how the outbreak came about.

He said the review of all aspects of the pandemic, including its origins, will have to be based on the science and conducted in a “balanced way,” and added that there “is no doubt we can’t have business as usual after this crisis.”

Raab did credit cooperation from Beijing in relation to bringing home stranded Britons in Wuhan and in supplying equipment to deal with the pandemic.

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CAIRO — Egypt’s government will introduce movement restrictions targeted specifically at the holiday of Sham el-Nessim on Monday.

The holiday traditionally includes a festival of social gatherings in parks and gardens that signals the arrival of spring.

Egyptian Prime Minister Mostafa Madbouly announced on Thursday that all public transportation, public spaces and stores will close for the occasion to encourage the country’s 100 million people to stay indoors.

The holiday follows Orthodox Easter on Sunday, which will see muted celebrations in Egypt as the Coptic Orthodox Church decided to suspend Easter prayers and gatherings at churches nationwide. Christians constitute around 10% of Egypt’s predominately Muslim population.

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MALE, Maldives — The Maldives government has placed the archipelago state’s capital island, Male, and two nearby islands under a two-day lockdown after authorities found signs of community spread of the new coronavirus.

Officials said three people tested positive for COVID-19 in Male on Wednesday and Thursday and it was not clear how the virus entered the community.

The Indian Ocean country is known for its luxury tourist resort islands. Before this week, the Maldives had only found positive cases of COVID-19 at the resorts. There have been 23 confirmed cases overall, including 15 foreigners.

Some resorts and hotels have been converted into quarantine centers.

The capital island is tiny, with more than 100,000 people packed into 1 square mile (2.5 square kilometers).

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ISTANBUL — Turkey’s health minister has reported 125 new COVID-19 fatalities in the past 24 hours.

That’s the highest number of daily deaths in the country since the start of the coronavirus pandemic and brings the total death toll to 1,643.

Health minister Fahrettin Koca also tweeted Thursday that the number of infections in the country has increased by 4,801 and the total number of confirmed cases is 74,193.

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JOLIET, Ill. — A nursing home in northern Illinois became the latest such facility in the United States to see its death toll climb past 20.

Symphony of Joliet said a death toll that stood at three as recently as last week had jumped to 23. A spokeswoman for the facility where 22 residents and one staff member have died said the surge occurred despite its efforts to follow government guidelines and despite moving healthy residents to other facilities.

But siblings of one resident who died said the care was woefully inadequate and that they were not even told that their 65-year-old sister had contracted the virus until a representative of a hospital where she was taken told them.

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SARAJEVO — Services were held in several Orthodox Christian churches in Bosnia despite strict social-distancing rules imposed by authorities amid the coronavirus pandemic.

Several dozen parishioners were filmed Thursday attending a communion service in Vasilije Ostroski Church in a Serb-run eastern suburb of Sarajevo.

Cameras captured a priest dipping a shared spoon into a chalice of wine and giving it to parishioners during the service.

The episode has raised fears that authorities in the Serb-run Republika Srpska which, along with a Bosniak-Croat federation, makes up multiethnic Bosnia, would turn a blind eye on mass gatherings in churches in the run-up to Orthodox Easter on April 19.

Bosnia was put on an almost total lockdown more than four weeks ago as the coronavirus begun creating clusters of illness around the impoverished country.

On Thursday, it registered 1,167 coronavirus infections and 43 deaths.

According to the 2013 census, Orthodox Christian Serbs make up around one-third of Bosnia’s 3.5 million residents.

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ATHENS, Greece — Greek authorities are doubling fines and ramping up checks for breaches of the country’s coronavirus lockdown over the coming Orthodox Easter holiday weekend.

Easter is the biggest event on the Orthodox calendar, and traditionally a time for Greeks to congregate in churches and then feast on roast lamb with family and friends in country homes. All those activities have been banned.

Between Saturday night and midnight on Monday, the fines will reach 300 euros ($325), up from the current 150 euros. Greece reported just 15 new coronavirus infections Thursday and three new deaths, bringing total infections to 2,207 and deaths to 105.

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SOFIA, Bulgaria — Bulgaria registered a record increase of confirmed coronavirus cases on Thursday as health officials said the number climbed by 65 to 800.

The Balkan country of 7 million has imposed strict social-distancing measures that have worked well but so far it has tested only a limited number of people who are suspected to be infected.

It is probably one of the reasons why Bulgaria has the lowest number of confirmed cases and the third-lowest number of fatalities from the coronavirus per 100,000 inhabitants in the European Union, according to latest data by the European Center for Disease Prevention and Control.

The government started on Thursday massive testing hoping that it will provide a better picture of the virus’ spread that could help to shape future steps to revive the economy.

Thirty-eight people have died from COVID-19 in Bulgaria.

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ROME — Deaths and new infections in Italy continued to plateau Thursday, showing no significant easing nearly a month after a peak.

The number of deaths of people infected with the coronavirus in Italy grew by 525 in the last 24 hours to 22,170, the smallest increase in four days. At the same time, new cases grew by 3,786 cases to 168,941, the largest jump in four days.

Pressure on hospitals eased with 750 fewer beds occupied, including 143 fewer in intensive care units — with ICU beds dropping below 3,000 for the first time since March 21.

Virologist Andrea Crisanti, who is leading the Veneto region’s efforts to contain the virus, said Thursday that it will be another couple of weeks of strict measures before deaths and infections are expected to drop off significantly.

“We are still seeing the results of what happened four or five weeks ago” in terms of virus circulation, he told foreign journalists.

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LISBON, Portugal — Portugal’s government and parliament have approved a request from the country’s president to extend the national state of emergency for another two weeks.

The special limits on movement and the closure of nonessential services will remain in place until May 2 amid the coronavirus pandemic.

But officials offered some hope for easing the restrictions next month. The bill said that “depending on how the pandemic develops and taking into account the experiences of other European countries” there may be a gradual and calibrated reopening of companies and services in May.

Portugal has recorded 629 deaths from COVID-19 and almost 19,000 confirmed cases. Neighboring Spain has more than 19,000 dead from the virus.

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JERUSALEM — The Islamic trust managing a contested holy site in Jerusalem said Thursday that it would remain closed during the upcoming Muslim holy month of Ramadan due to the coronavirus crisis.

The Islamic Waqf had suspended worship at the shrine, known to Muslims as the Noble Sanctuary and to Jews as the Temple Mount, last month in response to recommendations of religious and medical authorities.

Ramadan is expected to begin next week.

The site is considered the holiest in Judaism, where two Jewish temples stood in antiquity, and the third holiest in Islam after Mecca and Medina. It is the emotional epicenter of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

The coronavirus outbreak forced the suspension of mass gatherings for the Jewish holiday of Passover and the Christian holiday of Easter this week.

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TORONTO — Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau says the border between Canada and the United States isn’t opening any time soon for nonessential travel.

Trudeau says it will be “many weeks” before Canada can loosen such a restrictions.

U.S. President Donald Trump said Wednesday the U.S.-Canada border will be among the first borders to open and says the U.S. and Canada are doing well in handling the pandemic. The U.S. has more confirmed cases and deaths from COVID-19 than any country in the world.

The U.S. and Canada agreed last month to limit border crossings to essential travel amid the pandemic, but that agreement is due to expire April 19. Nearly 200,000 people cross that border daily in normal times.

Truck drivers and Canadian snowbirds, who live in the U.S. for part of the year and are returning to Canada, are among those who are exempted from the current travel ban. Canada sends 75% of its exports to the U.S. and about 18% of American exports go to Canada.

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

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