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The Latest: U.S. State Department official dies from virus

Tuesday, March 31, 2020 | The Associated Press


People wearing face masks wait to cross a street in Beijing, Tuesday, March 31, 2020. China on Tuesday reported just one new death from the coronavirus and a few dozen new cases, all brought from overseas. (AP Photo/Mark Schiefelbein)

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:

— U.S. State Department official has died from virus.

— Top Moscow doctor positive, shook Putin's hand.

— With highest death toll, Italy holds minute of silence.

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WASHINGTON — Secretary of State Mike Pompeo says a State Department official has died from the coronavirus, the first American fatality among the U.S. diplomatic corps from the pandemic.

Pompeo didn't give details about the official who passed away or where the person contracted the disease. He says about four to five dozen State Department employees had tested positive for the virus, including locally employed staffers at a handful of the 220 U.S. embassies and consulates abroad.

On Monday, State Department health officials said at least two locally employed staff members had died from the virus.

Those officials say they were tracking 105 confirmed cases among the agency’s global workforce of about 75,000. Of those, 75 are overseas and 30 are at State Department offices in the United States in nine cities.

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ANKARA, Turkey — Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan had a phone call with President Donald Trump and the two leaders agreed to take steps to share information on best practices, data and experiences in their fight against the coronavirus epidemic.

They also agreed the fight against the epidemic "can only succeed through global solidarity and cooperation," according to a statement released by Erdogan's office.

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TOKYO — Tokyo reported 78 confirmed cases of the coronavirus on Tuesday, a record single-day increase that concerns Tokyo Gov. Yuriko Koike.

That exceeded 68 on Sunday and brings the total to 522. She is asking residents to stay at home as much as possible, specifically urging them to avoid hostess bars, clubs and karaoke bars as hotspots. Koike has also suggested a possibility of a lockdown of Tokyo if infections won’t slow.

Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s government enacted a special law enabling him to declare a state of emergency. That would allow local leaders to instruct a range of measures, including closures of schools and business operations.

Koike discussed Tokyo’s latest situation with Abe and says a “judgement by the government is now needed.”

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ANKARA, Turkey — Turkey's ruling party has submitted a package of draft amendments to Parliament that would free an estimated 90,000 prisoners and ease overcrowding in prisons.

Ruling party legislator Cahit Ozkan says prisoners convicted of drug-related charges, sexual abuse, murder, domestic abuse and terrorism would be exempt from the reform package designed to reduce the 280,000 prison population.

That would mean that dozens of journalists and human rights defenders would be excluded because many of them have been imprisoned on terror-related charges.

Amnesty International and other human rights groups had called on Turkey to ensure that the proposed legislation releases journalists, activists, opposition politicians and others imprisoned for expressing dissenting opinions under the country's vague anti-terrorism laws.

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ROME — Italy’s industrial lobby says the coronavirus crisis could provoke a depression with a dramatic spike in unemployment and collapse of social structures unless officials in Italy and Europe take decisive action.

Italy has idled all non-essential industry in a bid to keep more people at home and stop the spread of the virus, which has infected more than 100,000 people in Italy and killed more than 10,000.

Confindustria says measures to contain virus have impacted consumption and production, with no clear indication when measures would ease.

It forecast a drop in second-quarter GDP of 10%, assuming that production begins to resume in April, rising from 40% currently to 60% by the end of the month with a return to normal by the end of June.

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MOSCOW — The chief doctor of Moscow’s top hospital for coronavirus patients says he’s tested positive, a statement that comes a week after his encounter with President Vladimir Putin.

Putin visited the Kommunarka hospital a week ago and met with its chief doctor Denis Protsenko. The doctor says he’s feeling OK and self-isolated in his office.

There was no immediate comment from the Kremlin on whether Putin had undergone a coronavirus test following Protsenko’s announcement.

The president wore a business suit and shook hands with Protsenko before the meeting, drawing a buzz on social networks over his neglect of safety precautions.

Later that day, Putin put on a yellow protective suit and mask to visit the rooms with patients.

On Tuesday, Russia had 500 confirmed cases of the coronavirus in the biggest spike since the start of the outbreak. The country has 2,337 cases so far.

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PARIS — French President Emmanuel Macron visited a regional mask factory and reassured the quarantine-hit nation that France was urgently manufacturing masks.

Macron called for “sovereignty and solidarity” in a televised address as he touted advances in production of safety equipment. Critics of the government have said France has been too slow in providing masks for its 67 million inhabitants.

Macron says "the aim is to increase national production from 3.3 million masks per week to 10 million," suggesting this figure will reached in late April.

He says the government will inject 4 billion euros into the National Public Health organization to place “orders for masks, respirators and medicines."

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BERLIN — Germany’s labor minister says he expects people on a government-backed short-time work program to exceed the 1.4 million it reached during the financial crisis in 2009.

The government has recently made it easier for companies to put workers on the program, which was credited with limiting job losses during the financial crisis and speeding the rebound.

The federal labor agency picks up the expense of keeping workers who are working some or none of their usual hours on the payroll. Employees will receive at least 60-67% of their net salary.

Labor Minister Hubertus Heil says as of Saturday, 470,000 companies had registered for short-time work.

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MOSCOW — Russian parliament approved harsher punishments for violating quarantine regulations and spreading "fake news."

Evading quarantine will be punishable by heavy fines, and if it leads to two or more people dying, by up to seven years in prison.

Heavy fines are outlined for those who spread misinformation about the outbreak. If it results in a death, then the perpetrator faces up to five years in prison.

Russia has so far reported 2,337 confirmed cases of the new coronavirus. It reported 500 new cases on Tuesday, the biggest spike since the start of the epidemic.

Many regions and cities are ordering lockdowns and sweeping self-isolation protocols.

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MILAN — Italy constructed a 200-bed intensive care field hospital at the Milan fairgrounds to help relieve the pressure on northern Italy’s overwhelmed health care system.

The hospital, an outpost of Milan’s Polyclinic hospital, was constructed in 10 days by 500 workers with the help of 21 million euros (23 million U.S.) in donations, nearly half of which came from Lombardy native and former Premier Silvio Berlusconi.

Officials says it's a specialized wing, with a pharmacy, radiology wards and other specialized pavilions. They say it could be replicated in central and southern Italy.

Late Monday, Lombardy accounted for 1,330 of Italy’s 3,981 ICU patients.

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JAKARTA, Indonesia -- Indonesia's President Joko Widodo has ordered a large-scale social restriction to ensure people obey the implementation of physical distancing.

He's instructed the National Police to take legal measures to enforce the restriction and urged local leaders to follow the current regulation and not issue their own policy.

Indonesia's death toll from COVID-19 has risen to 136 and1,528 cases. It’s prompted local leaders to impose partial lockdown in their regions.

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FREETOWN, Sierra Leone — Sierra Leone has announced its first coronavirus case.

The West African nation already announced a year-long state of emergency over the pandemic. Sierra Leone was one of the three nations hit hard from 2014-16 by the Ebola outbreak, which killed more than 11,000 people.

Forty eight of Africa's 54 countries now have the coronavirus.

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JAKARTA, Indonesia -- Indonesia plans to release 30,000 prisoners to help prevent the spread of COVID-19.

Indonesia Law and Human Rights Ministry’s spokesman Bambang Wiyono says the Ministry has issued a Ministerial Decree to regulate the release of adult prisoners that had served two-thirds of their sentences and half of the sentences for children prisoners.

Indonesia Law and Human Rights Ministry recorded 270,386 prisoners across the country while the capacity of the prisons is only 131,931 prisoners.

Indonesia has reported 1,528 confirmed cases of COVID-19 and 136 deaths.

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BRATISLAVA, Slovakia — A government health institute in Slovakia estimates the number of people ill with coronavirus could reach the peak by mid-July with some 170,000 infected.

Director Martin Smatana says the strict restrictions approved by the government seems to be helping to slow the spreading of the virus.

Smatana says if the country keeps complying, it has a chance to avoid what happened in the countries and places the worst hit by the pandemic.

Prime Minister Igor Matovic says the authorities are working to double the number of ventilators to 1,000.

Slovakia, the country of nearly 5.5 million, has 363 cases of COVID-19. No one has died.

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MANILA, Philippines — The Philippine government is studying the possibility of deploying ships that can serve as “floating quarantine hospitals” for people infected by the coronavirus after leading hospitals are filled up to capacity.

The government says in a report to Congress that ships could be fitted with medical equipment and deployed anywhere in the archipelago. At least six private metropolitan Manila hospitals have announced they were full and can no longer accept COVID-19 patients.

The Department of Public Works and Highway also created a special group to convert unused public buildings and evacuation shelters into treatment centers, containment areas and emergency food hubs.

Philippine health officials reported 538 new COVID-19 cases Tuesday, bringing the country’s total to 2,084 and 88 deaths. The number of infections is expected to spike after more testing laboratories open.

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ROME — Italy has observed a minute of silence and flown its flags at half-staff in a nationwide gesture to honor the victims of the coronavirus and their families.

The Vatican also lowered its flags Tuesday to honor the dead in the country with the greatest toll from the virus, which stands at more than 11,500.

The noon minute of silence was observed in cities and towns around the country.

The office of Premier Giuseppe Conte says the gesture was a sign of national mourning and solidarity with the victims, their families “and as a sign of collective participation in mourning with the hardest-hit communities.”

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BEIJING — Chinese officials say the coronavirus epidemic isn’t over in their country and daunting challenges remain.

Foreign ministry spokeswoman Hua Chunying says authorities need to make sure that infected people arriving from abroad don’t spread the disease and start new outbreaks.

She hit back at U.S. criticism of her country’s handling of the epidemic, saying China and the U.S. should work together to fight it.

“We also hope that some U.S. officials can follow through in the spirit of the two heads of states’ call and create more favorable conditions for the two countries to cooperate in the fight against the disease,” she said. The two leaders talked late last week.

Hua noted that some local Chinese governments and companies have provided virus-related medical supplies to the United States, even as the demand for those supplies remains high in China.

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DUBAI, United Arab Emirates — Dubai's government says it will inject equity into Emirates airlines as the Middle East's largest carrier grounds nearly all of its flights due to coronavirus restrictions on travel at its hub in the world's busiest airport for international travel.

Dubai's Crown Prince Sheikh Hamdan bin Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum says liquidity would be given to the state-owned airline “considering its strategic importance” to Dubai and the economy of the United Arab Emirates. He did not say how much credit would be pumped into the airline.

Emirates carried around 58 million passengers last year, helping to transform Dubai's airport into the world's busiest for international travel for several years running.

Also Tuesday, low-cost carrier flydubai became the latest airline to announce pay cuts of its staff of nearly 4,000.

The company told The Associated Press it was reducing salaries between 25-50% for a three-month period starting in April.

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MADRID — Spain recorded on Tuesday 849 new coronavirus deaths, the highest number since the pandemic hit the southern European country, according to the country’s health ministry.

With both new infections and deaths up around 11% each, to a total of 94,417 confirmed cases and 8,189 fatalities, Spain is seeing a slight rebound in the outbreak.

That's despite an overall timid slowdown in its spread for the past week, allowing authorities to focus on avoiding the collapse of the health system. At least one third of Spain's 17 regions were already at their limit of capacity in terms of intensive care unit usage, while new beds are being added in hotels, exhibition and sports centers across the country.

At least 14% of those infected are much-needed medical personnel. Many of them lack proper protective gear.

The government also wants to cushion the social effects of a major economic slowdown. Spain is officially “hibernating,” with new measures halting all but essential economic activity coming into full force on Tuesday.

Prime Minister Pedro Sánchez’s left-wing Cabinet is expected to add a new 700-million-euro aid package, including zero interest loans, as well as suspend evictions for families who can’t afford to pay their home rent.

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LONDON — More people with the coronavirus have died in Britain than previously announced, according to newly published figures that include deaths both in and out of hospitals.

The Office for National Statistics says that 210 deaths recorded England and Wales up to March 20 mentioned COVID-19 on the death certificate. That is 40 more than the 170 deaths among people with the virus reported by the Department of Health for the same period.

The two sets of figures use different reporting methods and timing. The Department of Health statistics record hospital deaths. Tuesday’s higher figure includes people who died in nursing homes and other settings. Some of those are people were not tested for the virus but were suspected of having it.

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BRUSSELS — Belgian authorities say a 12-year-old girl has died of the coronavirus, by far the youngest person among the more than 700 victims in the country.

National crisis-center coronavirus spokesman Emmanuel Andre says it is “an emotionally difficult moment, because it involves a child, and it has also upset the medical and scientific community."

No details about the girl were provided.

He says 98 people had died from the disease over the last 24 hours, bringing the total toll to 705 in a country of around 11.5 million people. More than 12,705 cases have been confirmed in total so far.

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MOSCOW — Russia registered 500 confirmed cases of the coronavirus on Tuesday in the biggest spike since the beginning of the outbreak that brought the country's total to 2,337 cases.

The report comes as Russia edges closer to declaring a state of emergency, with many regions and cities ordering lockdowns and sweeping self-isolation protocols.

Moscow, the country's capital, has been on lockdown since Monday, with most businesses closed and residents not allowed to leave their apartments except for grocery shopping, buying medicines, taking out trash or walking their dogs. Similar regimes are in place in more than 30 Russian regions.

Human rights advocates and lawyers in Russia argue that, in accordance with the Russian legislation, such lockdowns can't be legally enforced until the state of emergency is declared by the president. The Kremlin has so far said that Moscow authorities have been within their rights to impose a lockdown.

On Tuesday, the State Duma, Russia's lower parliament house, hastily adopted a law allowing the Cabinet to declare the state of emergency, rubber-stamping it through all three required readings in one day.

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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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