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The Latest: 4 countries table counterproposal recovery fund

Posted on Saturday, May 23rd, 2020 By The Associated Press

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:

— Chancellor Angela Merkel defends Germany’s coronavirus restrictions.

— France allowing religious services to resume after a legal challenge to government ban.

— Seven restaurant goers appear to have been infected in northwestern Germany.

— UN warns cybercrime on rise during pandemic.

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BERLIN — Austria, the Netherlands, Denmark and Sweden have put forward a counterproposal for a European coronavirus recovery fund with a two-year time limit and a concentration on loans.

The Austria Press Agency reported that the countries issued their position paper on Saturday. It follows a French-German proposal for a fund of 500 billion euros ($550 billion) that would make outright grants to help countries and endorses common borrowing.

The agency states that the four countries must not agree to “instruments or measures that lead to a mutualization of debt or significant increases" in the European Union’s budget.

The proposal didn’t put a figure on the aid that should be given, but APA reported that the Austrian chancellery said the money must be used for “the rebuilding and resilience of the health sector and the economy.” Research, innovation and climate-related investments could be backed.

The EU’s executive commission is expected to unveil its own proposal for a recovery fund next week, from which the EU member states must then find a compromise.

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BERLIN — German Chancellor Angela Merkel is defending her country’s coronavirus restrictions and calling on her compatriots to keep respecting social distancing rules.

Germany started loosening its lockdown restrictions on April 20 and since then has at least partly reopened many sectors. At the same time, the country has seen frequent protests against lockdown measures.

Merkel said in her weekly video message Saturday that the measures were necessary, and that officials must continue to justify why some restrictions can’t be lifted while ensuring that they are proportionate.

Merkel said that Germany has "succeeded so far in achieving the aim of preventing our health system being overwhelmed.”

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PARIS — France is allowing religious services to resume starting Saturday after a legal challenge to the government’s ban on such gatherings.

Religious leaders welcomed the decision but said it will take time to put the necessary safety measures in place.

To prevent further spread of the virus, visitors to French places of worship must wear masks, wash their hands upon entering, and keep a distance of at least one meter (three feet) from other people.

The French government had banned religious services until June 2 even though stores and other businesses started reopening last week. The Council of State, the country’s highest administrative body, struck down the ban, and the government published a decree Saturday allowing services to resume.

The French Bishops Conference said it would work with church leaders to prepare for reopening, notably for Pentecost Sunday services May 31.

The rector of the Grand Mosque of Paris said that it will not be ready to reopen for services Sunday marking Eid al-Fitr, the end of the holy month of Ramadan.

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BERLIN — Authorities say seven people appear to have been infected with the coronavirus at a restaurant in northwestern Germany, in what would be the first known such case since restaurants started reopening in the country two weeks ago.

The local government in Leer county said Friday night that the cases, reported between Tuesday and Friday, led to at least 50 people being quarantined.

Previously, no new cases had been confirmed in the area for over a week.

Germany started loosening its coronavirus restrictions on April 20 and that process has gathered pace recently. Lower Saxony state, where Leer is located, allowed restaurants to reopen May 11 with hygiene precautions.

Those currently include a 2-meter (6 ½-foot) distance between tables, masks for waiters and an obligation to take the name, address and phone number of guests so that possible infections can be traced.

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UNITED NATIONS — The U.N. disarmament chief says the COVID-19 pandemic is moving the world toward increased technological innovation and online collaboration, but “cybercrime is also on the rise, with a 600% increase in malicious emails during the current crisis.”

Izumi Nakamitsu told an informal meeting of the U.N. Security Council on Friday that “there have also been worrying reports of attacks against health care organizations and medical research facilities worldwide.”

She said growing digital dependency has increased the vulnerability to cyberattacks, and “it is estimated that one such attack takes place every 39 seconds.”

According to the International Telecommunication Union, “nearly 90 countries are still only at the early stages of making commitments to cybersecurity,” Nakamitsu said.

The high representative for disarmament affairs said the threat from misusing information and communications technology “is urgent.” But she said there is also good news, pointing to some global progress at the United Nations to address the threats as a result of the development of norms for the use of such technology.

Estonia’s Prime Minister Juri Ratas, whose country holds the Security Council presidency and organized Friday’s meeting on cyber stability and advancing responsible government behavior in cyberspace, said “the COVID-19 crisis has put extra pressure on our critical services in terms of cybersecurity.”

He said the need for “a secure and functioning cyberspace” is therefore more pressing than ever and he condemned cyberattacks targeting hospitals, medical research facilities and other infrastructure, especially during the pandemic.

“Those attacks are unacceptable,” Ratas said. “It will be important to hold the offenders responsible for their behavior.”

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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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