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The Latest: Britain releasing 4,000 inmates to stop spread

Posted on Saturday, April 4th, 2020 By The Associated Press


Police officers restrict a rickshaw driver defying the nation-wide lockdown to curb the spread of the coronavirus in Hyderabad, Pakistan, Friday, March, 3, 2020. (Some mosques were allowed to remain open in Pakistan on Friday, the Muslim sabbath when adherents gather for weekly prayers, even as the coronavirus pandemic spread and much of the country had shut down. (AP Photo/Pervez Masih)

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:

— Britain temporarily releasing 4,000 inmates to ease crowding during pandemic.

— Italy defends government response of distribution of ventilators and PPE for health care workers.

— Serbian streets have empty as weekend curfew begins.

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LONDON — Britain is temporarily releasing about 4,000 inmates to ease crowding and try to slow the spread of the new coronavirus in prisons.

The Ministry of Justice says “low-risk” offenders will be freed with electronic tags. People guilty of violent or sexual offenses or terrorism will not be eligible for release.

Pregnant prisoners or those with infants have also been approved for release.

Britain has one of the largest prison populations in western Europe with more than 80,000 people behind bars. Many prisons hold far more inmates than they were built for.

According to official figures, 88 inmates and 15 prison staff have tested positive for COVID-19. Three prisoners are reported to have died.

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ROME — Italy’s commissioner for the new coronavirus crisis has defended the government’s response amid criticism of slow and insufficient distribution of ventilators and personal protective equipment for health care workers.

Domenico Arcuri insisted the civil protection agency had accelerated its distribution of protective masks in recent days and deliveries had reached regions in sufficient quantities.

Arcuri on Saturday defended the decision to prioritize the hard-hit north first because the epidemic is centered there. He added central and southern Italy are receiving the necessary equipment in time to cope with their slowly increasing caseload.

Regional officials and associations of doctors and health care workers denounced the shortages of PPE early on in the crisis. It has been blamed as a contributor to more than 11,000 health care workers getting infected and more than 70 doctors dying.

Arcuri also noted that Italy had made an “enormous effort” to increase its intensive care capacity. The number of ICU beds nationwide at the start of the emergency was 5,179 and now is at more than 9,000.

Italy had only 8.6 ICU beds per 100,000 people before the pandemic. That is well below the OECD average of 15.9 and a fraction of Germany’s 33.9 ICU beds per 100,000 people.

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BELGRADE, Serbia — Serbian streets have emptied as a tightened curfew took effect on Saturday as part of measures designed to curb the spread of the new coronavirus.

The government extended the ban from 1 p.m. Saturday until 5 a.m. on Monday to prevent people from leaving their homes. Previously the curfew was imposed from 5 p.m. until 5 a.m daily.

Children’s playgrounds and entrances into Belgrade parks have been blocked with plastic tape and police are patrolling the main streets to ensure people stay inside. Police have used loudspeakers to disperse citizens from recreation areas in the city.

Serbian citizens have not obeyed the strict measures despite government warnings to stay indoors to avoid being infected with the new coronavirus.

Serbia has reported around 1,500 confirmed cases and 39 fatalities.

Doctors have warned they are expecting a rise in the numbers of cases in the Balkan country of around 7 million people. Authorities have banned all people over 65 years old from leaving their homes.

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MOSCOW — The U.S. Embassy in Russia says it is trying to arrange a charter flight to repatriate Americans but warns it could be the last flight for some time.

A planned Aeroflot flight to New York was cancelled while on the taxiway on Friday. Russia has banned all international airline flights, including those bring Russians back to their homeland in an attempt to stop the spread of the coronavirus.

Embassy spokeswoman Rebecca Ross advised Americans that if the charter flight happens “this will likely be the final charter opportunity to depart Russia.”

As of Saturday, Russia has reported 4,731 coronavirus infections and 44 deaths.

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BANGKOK — Aviation authorities in Thailand have banned passenger flights from landing for three days after chaos broke out when more than 100 returning Thai citizens reportedly refused to abide by regulations requiring them to go directly to state-run quarantine centers.

The ban by the Civil Aviation Authority of Thailand exempts other flight categories. It appears special flights to take foreign tourists back to their countries is still allowed.

The unrest at Bangkok’s Suvarnabhumi Airport occurred Friday night. A security official allowed the travelers to proceed home. Thai media reports said the security official was removed from duty Saturday and errant travelers were ordered to report to the authorities.

A bureaucratic tangle appeared to contribute to the problem. Regulations for returning Thai nationals that had allowed them to self-isolate were changed Thursday to require them to go to a state quarantine facility.

Most, if not all, had completed travel arrangements before the change, which included approval by the relevant Thai embassy.

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ROME — The government is demanding Italians stay home and not take the leveling off of new coronavirus infections as a sign the emergency is over.

The demand follows evidence that more and more Italians are relaxing restrictions.

Top government and regional officials took to national television Saturday after photos were published in leading daily Corriere della Sera and La Stampa showing huge crowds of people out shopping in Naples, Rome, Genoa and even the Veneto city of Padua.

Lombardy vice governor Fabrizio Sala claimed cell phone date showed 38% percent of the region’s people were out and about. That’s the highest figure since March 20.

Health Minister Roberto Speranza told RAI state television that the sacrifices Italians have made since the nationwide lockdown went into effect March 10 risked being reversed if they don’t adhere to the lockdown.

He warned that wrong behavior now risks compromising all the good Italians have achieved so far.

Italy for nearly a week has seen a leveling off in its new coronavirus infections. But Italy hasn’t yet seen any dropoff after three weeks of lockdown and each day still counts hundreds more dead.

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MADRID — Spain’s Health Ministry says it has 18,324 infected health care workers as of Saturday. That represents 15% of the total number of infections in the country.

Spain’s government has hired 356 foreign health workers living in Spain to help boost its ranks. It has also hired medical and nursing students to help.

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JOHANNESBURG — The World Health Organization director-general has warned African leaders of an “imminent surge” in coronavirus cases on the continent.

Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus in a teleconference with several heads of state also urged African nations to open humanitarian corridors to allow the delivery of badly needed medical supplies.

More than half of Africa’s 54 countries have closed air, land and sea borders to prevent the virus’ spread. But that measure has delayed some aid shipments.

Virus cases in Africa are now over 7,700. The head of the Africa Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has said some nations will have more than 10,000 cases by the end of April.

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MANILA, Philippines — A Philippine senator and head of the local Red Cross was moved to tears in a news conference while discussing the enormity of the coronavirus crisis in one of the world’s most disaster-prone countries.

Sen. Richard Gordon has dealt with major catastrophes, including the Mount Pinatubo eruption and the closure of the largest American naval base in the early 1990s. As a Red Cross leader, he discussed the gargantuan work of helping fight the COVID-19 disease in a video conference Saturday.

Gordon shed tears while attempting to reassure Filipinos they can surmount the pandemic. He called the coronavirus pandemic “a monumental, world-class disaster.”

He says residents are hungry, asking for milk and diapers and complaining of delays in receiving supplies. Gordon also warned that local officials will be arrested if they steal from the massive government aid for poor families.

A monthlong lockdown of the northern Philippine region has hit millions of poor families hard. At least 3,094 infections, including 144 deaths, have been reported in the Philippines and officials expect the toll to spike with planned massive tests.

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BUDAPEST, Hungary — The Hungarian government says it will impose new taxes on multinational retail chains and banks to boost state budget revenues needed to fight the coronavirus pandemic.

Retailers will pay about $106 million and banks about $162 million, while a vehicle tax totaling $100 million normally paid by car owners to municipalities will be transferred to the central budget.

Gergely Gulyas, Prime Minister Viktor Orban’s chief of staff, also said Saturday that political parties will lose 50% of their state funding, saving the budget about $3.5 million.

Gulyas said health sector employees will get a bonus of about $1,500 at the start of summer.

Measures totaling 18-20% of GDP to counter the economic effects of the pandemic will be announced early next week.

Hungary has reported a total of 678 confirmed virus cases and 32 deaths.

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MADRID — Spain has reported 809 more deaths over the last 24 hours, for a new tally of 11,744 fatalities from the pandemic.

Spain’s Health Ministry says Saturday that its total number of infections has reached 124,736. That is an increase of 7,026 infections from Friday, which is slightly down from the previous 24-hour period as the rate of the outbreak decreases in the country.

The daily increase puts Spain ahead of Italy as the country with the second-most infections behind the United States. Italy will update its figures later on Saturday.

Spain is completing its third week of a state of emergency, which the government has used to apply stay-at-home rules and a shutdown of all non-essential industries.

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BELGRADE, Serbia — The Russian military has flown 11 planeloads of equipment and medical experts to Serbia to help it fight the coronavirus spread.

The Serbian Defense Ministry says the last of the Russian cargo planes landed early Saturday at a military airport near Belgrade, delivering disinfection experts and their gear.

Serbia, which formally seeks European Union membership, has maintained close political and economic ties with Russia and Moscow has provided it with weapons.

Serbia’s Defense Minister Aleksandar Vulin has thanked Moscow for sending the aid, saying it shows “that we are not alone, that the Russian Federation and the Russian people will always be with us whenever it is needed.”

The transport follows last month’s deployment of a similar Russian coronavirus task force to Italy and the delivery of medical supplies to the United States.

Russian officials have angrily rejected claims that the Kremlin was seeking political gains by providing medical aid to other countries.

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LONDON — The first case of COVID-19 has been confirmed in the Falkland Islands, a remote British territory in the South Atlantic.

The islands’ government says the patient was admitted to a hospital on Tuesday from the Mount Pleasant Complex, a Royal Air Force base. The patient, who has not named, is in stable condition and is not on a ventilator.

The Falklands’ chief medical officer Dr. Rebecca Edwards, said authorities were working with the British military on tracing people who may have come into contact with the patient.

The U.K., which maintains a permanent military presence on the islands, has sent in extra army medics to help with the fight against the new coronavirus.

The islands have a population of about 3,000 and lie off the coast of South America. Britain and Argentina fought a 1982 war over the islands, known to the Argentines as the Malvinas.

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LONDON — A scientist advising the British government on the coronavirus pandemic says it might be possible to loosen some lockdown measures by the end of May.

The U.K. has been in effective lockdown since March 23, with schools, bars, many shops and gathering places shut and people told to go out only for essentials or exercise.

Imperial College London epidemiologist Neil Ferguson, who sits on the government’s scientific advisory committee, says “we want to move to a situation where at least by the end of May that we’re able to substitute some less intensive measures, more based on technology and testing, for the complete lockdown we have now.”

He told the BBC that if the number of cases began to fall soon, then “we will be able to move to a regime which will not be normal life, let me emphasize that, but will be somewhat more relaxed in terms of social distancing and the economy, but relying more on testing.”

Authorities are imploring Britons not to flout the lockdown rules on what’s expected to be a warm, sunny weekend.

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KATHMANDU, Nepal — Hundreds of stranded tourists have been flown out of Nepal days after complete lockdown was imposed in the country.

According to Tribhuvan International Airport, planes chartered by German, French and Malaysian governments have transported their citizens back home.

Two Qatar Airways jets flew 305 Germans and 303 French nationals out of Kathmandu. A Malaysian Airlines plane transported 66 passengers who were Malaysians, Singapore, British and Indian nationals.

Nepal’s government has halted all flights and ground transportation, shutting down offices and shuttering businesses since last month to control the spread of the coronavirus.

Nepal has six confirmed cases including one person who has recovered.

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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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