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COVID-19 world update: Complete testing in Denmark; Booze ban in Bangkok extended

Comprehensive world update, including rapid surge in cases in Asia

The latest on the coronavirus pandemic. This collection of files from the Associated Press was posted at 8 a.m., Monday, April 20.


  • Demonstrators in Russia protest lockdown measures.
  • Police arrest 7 in northern Greece for planning to break into a church over Orthodox Easter holiday.
  • Denmark will now test every person with symptoms of the new coronavirus.

Bid to smuggle girlfriend ends in arrest

JOHANNESBURG — A man in South Africa was arrested for trying to smuggle his girlfriend from one province to another in the trunk of his car to evade coronavirus lockdown regulations, authorities said.

The woman “consented to be smuggled” and was also arrested, according to a provincial official.

The man was stopped by police at a roadblock on Friday night travelling from Gauteng, South Africa’s most populous province which includes the country’s largest city, Johannesburg, and which has the largest number of confirmed cases of COVID-19. The man was trying to take his girlfriend to the neighbouring Mpumalanga province, Faith Mazibuko, the official in charge of community safety in Gauteng, said in a Twitter post.

The moment when police discovered the woman in the trunk was caught on video and published by a South African media outlet. The woman, wearing jeans and a T-shirt, is seen lying in the trunk after police officers opened it.

One officer can be heard asking: “Are you OK?”

The woman then steps out the trunk with what appears to be her handbag in one hand and puts on her shoes.

South Africa has been in lockdown since March 27 to combat the spread of the virus and people are only allowed to leave their homes to buy food, medical supplies and other essentials, or if their job is classified as essential. Moving between cities and provinces is banned except for a small number of reasons, like attending a funeral, for which travel permits must be obtained.

Asia: Huge spike in COVID-19 cases

BANGKOK — India and Singapore announced their biggest single-day spikes in new coronavirus cases on Monday, as the crisis intensifies in parts of Asia.

India’s spike came after the government eased one of the world’s strictest lockdowns to allow some manufacturing and agricultural activity to resume.

An additional 1,553 cases were reported over 24 hours in India, raising its total past 17,000. At least 543 people have died in the country, and epidemiologists forecast the peak may not be reached before June.

India’s shelter-in-place orders imposed on March 24 halted all but essential services, sparking an exodus of migrant workers and daily labourers out of India’s cities to their home villages.

Starting Monday, limited industry and farming are allowed to resume where employers can meet social distancing and hygiene standards, and migrant workers are allowed to travel within states to factories, farms and other work sites.

Singapore’s confirmed cases shot to 8,014 after 1,426 new infections were reported Monday, a single-day high for the tiny Southeast Asian city-state.

Singapore now has the highest number of cases in Southeast Asia, a massive surge from just 200 on March 15. Authorities say most of the new cases were again linked to foreign workers.

More than 200,000 low-wage workers from Asia live in tightly packed dormitories that became virus hotspots after they were overlooked earlier by the government. Officials have said that cases are expected to rise as testing at the dorms continues, but are hoping that a partial lockdown until May 4, mandatory wearing of masks and strict social distancing will help curb the virus.

No new cases in Hong Kong

Hong Kong reported no new cases on Monday for the first time in nearly seven weeks. Prior to Monday, the city had eight consecutive days of single-digit infections, dwindling from a surge in March as overseas residents flocked home amid outbreaks in the U.S. and Europe. Hong Kong’s current tally is 1,026 cases, including four deaths.

South Korea: Only 13 more cases on Monday

South Korea reported 13 new virus cases Monday as infections continue to wane in the hardest-hit city of Daegu. The new figure brought the national total to 10,674 cases and 236 deaths. With its caseload slowing, South Korea has relaxed some of its social distancing guidelines, including administrative orders that advised churches, gyms and bars to close.

Japan Tulips razed

Tens of thousands of tulips in full bloom were razed at a Japanese park to prevent crowds from gathering. The flowers were the centerpiece of a popular annual festival in Sakura city, east of Tokyo, that was cancelled this year. People still gathered to admire the flowers, however, making social distancing difficult. “We, of course, wish for many people to see our flowers, but this situation is now about human life. It was a heart-wrenching decision, but we had to do it,” said Takahiro Kogo, a city official overseeing the park.

Russia: Demonstrators protests lockdown as nation grapples with 47,000 cases

MOSCOW — Several hundred demonstrators in southern Russia have protested a strict lockdown amid the new coronavirus pandemic.

The protesters rallied Monday outside the regional government’s headquarters in Vladikavkaz, the regional capital of the province of North Ossetia in the North Caucasus mountains.

They booed a local official who spoke to the crowd and argued that the quarantine measures are necessary to stem the spread of infections.

Police detained several organizers of the rally.

Russia so far has 47,121 coronavirus cases, including 405 deaths.

Russian President Vladimir Putin has ordered a partial economic shutdown through April 30 and authorities in most of Russia’s 85 regions have introduced strict lockdown measures.

Plot to break in to church thwarted

KATERINI, Greece — Police in northern Greece say seven people have been arrested and accused of planning to break into a church over the Orthodox Easter holiday weekend in violation of restrictions.

Authorities seized 11 gasoline bombs, a crowbar, and firecrackers outside the church in the northern city of Katerini, 350 kilometres (220 miles) north of Athens.

Police said Monday they tracked activity on social media where the attack was allegedly planned.

Greek authorities have banned public attendance of church services, including the popular liturgy for Easter at midnight Saturday, fearing religious gatherings could undermine the general success of restrictive measures credited with limiting the spread of COVID-19.

The death toll in Greece is at 113.

The arrests were made outside a church shortly before midnight Saturday. Police say they believed the gasoline bombs were made to try and repel any intervention by the authorities.

Four more people are wanted for questioning.

Denmark: Anyone with symptoms to be tested

COPENHAGEN, Denmark — Denmark will now test every person with symptoms of the new coronavirus.

Denmark’s Health Minister Magnus Heunicke says the nation has gotten control of the epidemic, but he says if a person has a dry cough, fever or respiratory problems, they should call the doctor to be tested.

Soeren Brostroem is head of the Danish Health Authority. He says it is up to the doctors to gauge whether a person should be tested. More precise guidelines will be issued later this week.

“There now is available capacity to test more people,”

Heunicke says Denmark has the capacity to increase testing and tests can be done in the tents that have been put up near hospitals in Denmark’s five regions.

Denmark reopened Monday hair salons and tattoo parlours, among others, and some school children have been able to return to class last week.

According to Danish official figures, 7,515 people have tested positive for the new coronavirus and 364 people have died.

37,000 to be tested at Puerto Rico long-term care facilities

SAN JUAN, Puerto Rico — More than 28,000 residents and 9,000 employees in Puerto Rico’s long-term care facilities will be tested for COVID-19 as part of a federal and local initiative.

The U.S. Attorney’s Office says more than 1,000 facilities will be targeted in the next three weeks to help curb coronavirus cases in the U.S. territory.

The government on Monday reported at least 63 deaths and more than 1,250 confirmed cases with 1,886 pending test results.

The island of 3.2 million people has the lowest per capita testing rate compared with any U.S. state with some 11,630 people tested.

Fauci to protesters: “You’re gonna set yourself back”

WASHINGTON — The top infectious-disease expert in the United States has a message for protesters who are ignoring their governors’ stay-at-home orders and calling for him to be fired over his guidelines.

Dr. Anthony Fauci says the message is “this is something that is hurting from the standpoint of economics, from the standpoint of things that have nothing to do with the virus.”

He added on ABC’s “Good Morning America” that “unless we get the virus under control, the real recovery economically is not gonna happen. So what you do if you jump the gun and go into a situation where you have a big spike, you’re gonna set yourself back.”

Fauci says as painful as it is to follow guidelines of gradually phasing into a reopening “it’s gonna backfire. That’s the problem.”

Most Russian businesses shut until April 30

MOSCOW — Russian President Vladimir Putin says Russia has slowed the outbreak of the coronavirus but warns the nation has yet to see the peak of infections.

Putin conferred with top medical officials in a Monday call and said the government would only move to ease a partial economic shutdown if medical experts rule it safe.

The Russian leader has ordered most businesses except essential industries shut through April 30, and most Russian regions have ordered rigid quarantine measures.

Moscow Mayor Sergei Sobyanin says the tight lockdown and broader screening in the capital have helped prevent an explosive influx of patients in grave condition and reduced the load on the healthcare system.

Moscow has accounted for nearly two thirds of the nation’s total of 47,121 cases, including 405 deaths.

Germany continues to accept patients from other countries

BERLIN — Germany says it has now treated more than 200 COVID-19 patients from other European Union countries at its hospitals and will pay for their treatment.

Chancellor Angela Merkel’s spokesman Steffen Seibert didn’t specify the costs after a meeting Monday of top German officials. He says paying for the care was a matter of “European solidarity.”

Unlike those of some other European countries, Germany’s health system hasn’t been overwhelmed by the coronavirus pandemic. It has been taking in patients from elsewhere for weeks.

Foreign Ministry spokesman Christofer Burger says that Germany has taken in 229 patients from elsewhere in the EU so far. Of those, 130 are from France, 44 from Italy and 55 from the Netherlands.

Germany: Shops open, officials decide on how to open schools

BERLIN — Germany’s health minister says authorities will monitor changes in the course of the new coronavirus as it begins to slowly relax some restrictions across the country.

Germany began allowing smaller shops to reopen Monday after a weeks-long shutdown. Strict social distancing rules remain in place.

Health Minister Jens Spahn says officials will evaluate the consequences of the looser restrictions. The current phase runs through May 3 and officials will review the situation again on April 30.

Germany is also recommending people wear face masks on public transport and when shopping, and social distancing measures remain in place.

Spahn commended the country’s health care workers for their work and the public for following restrictions. The relaxation of the measures now is only possible because Germany had been able to successfully slow the spread of the virus and had the capacity to treat people who were infected.

German schools have been closed since mid-March and the government hopes to be able to reopen them in steps next month with the oldest students returning first.

Germany has confirmed more than 145,000 coronavirus infections. It has recorded more than 4,600 deaths.

Bangladesh: Death toll climbs amid lax enforcement of social distancing

DHAKA, Bangladesh — The total death toll from coronavirus in Bangladesh has passed 100 people and the total infections are at 2,948 .

Nasima Sultana is an additional director general of the Directorate General of Health Services. She says 492 people have tested positive over last 24 hours. That is the highest in a single day after the first case of infection was confirmed on March 8.

She says 10 people died in the last 24 hours to raise the total death toll to 101.

Since the first case, only 85 people recovered and returned home. A total of 26,604 samples have been tested for COVID-19 infections until Monday in the densely populated South Asian country of 160 million people.

Experts say community transmission has taken place because of lax enforcement of social distancing guidelines. A nationwide lockdown has been in place in the country until Apr. 25.

Bosnia: Some in quarantine start hunger strike

SARAJEVO, Bosnia-Herzegovina - Several dozen people in Bosnia are on a hunger strike to protest being quarantined in a hotel on suspicion they might be carrying the new coronavirus.

The group of some 80 Bosnians work abroad and when they returned to the country they were placed under a 28-day quarantine in a hotel in the central town of Zenica. They began refusing food Monday to pressure authorities into allowing them to self-isolate in their homes.

The hunger strikers also say they will no longer allow health care professionals who visit the hotel daily to take their temperature.

“Here, we all mix in hallways and if one of us is infected, we will all get infected,”

Mirsad Susic told The Associated Press by phone that the group congregates in hallways and is a greater risk for catching or passing on the new coronavirus than they would be if they were allowed to self-isolate at home.

Prince Philip praises medical and science professionals

LONDON — Queen Elizabeth II’s husband has made a rare public statement praising those tackling the new coronavirus pandemic and keeping essential services running.

Prince Philip, who turns 99 in June, said he wanted to recognize the “vital and urgent” work of medical and science professionals.

He also gave thanks to key workers including people working in food production, garbage collection, and postal and delivery services.

The royal, who retired from public duties in 2017, signed off simply with “Philip.”

Philip has been staying with the queen at Windsor Castle with reduced staff for their safety.

60 percent of Turkey’s cases are in Istanbul

ANKARA, Turkey — Turkey’s president has inaugurated parts of a 2,600-bed public hospital in Istanbul that is under expedited construction to aid in treatment of patients the new coronavirus outbreak.

Recep Tayyip Erdogan took part in Monday’s inauguration of the Basaksehir City Hospital by teleconference. He also witnessed the hospital taking delivery of 100 Turkish-made ventilators, whose production was also expedited to help health officials manage the outbreak.

Erdogan says the rest of the hospital will be inaugurated on May 20. The government is separately constructing two additional hospitals in Istanbul, including one on the site of the now-closed Ataturk Airport.

Turkey has reported 86,306 cases of coronavirus and 2,017 deaths.

Authorities say 60% of the confirmed cases are located in Istanbul. The number of cases in Turkey has surpassed those in China and in neighbouring Iran.

Dutch privacy watchdog frets over smartphone tracking

THE HAGUE, Netherlands — A Dutch privacy watchdog says it can’t evaluate if seven smartphone coronavirus apps the government tested over the weekend sufficiently protect users’ personal data.

The Dutch Data Protection Agency said Monday that terms given to developers were so unclear that it is not possible to work out if apps under consideration will work while safeguarding users’ data.

The announcement is a setback for the government, which wants to use a contact-tracking app to safeguard the public when coronavirus restrictions are gradually eased.

Prime Minister Mark Rutte is set to announce Tuesday evening whether restrictions he calls an “intelligent lockdown” will be partially lifted.

Chairman of the authority, Aleid Wolfsen, says that while he understands the wish to return to normality “we must avoid using a solution if it’s unclear whether it really works, with the risk that it will cause other problems.”

Spain: Police official sparks fracas

MADRID — Spanish authorities have gone into damage control mode after a high ranking police official said in an apparent gaffe that one of the goals of fighting misinformation was to rein in on negative coverage of the government’s handling of the coronavirus crisis.

During a daily press conference on Sunday, the chief of the Civil Guard police force Gen. Jose Manuel Santiago said that in addition to avoid the “social stress” created by false information related to the COVID-19 pandemic, law enforcement was also fighting to “minimize that climate contrarian to the government’s management of the crisis.”

The Civil Guard later issued a statement saying that battling disinformation was being conducted respecting the freedom to criticism. Late on Sunday, Interior Minister Fernando Grande-Marlaska also told La Sexta television that the general’s remarks were “erroneous.”

Grande-Marlaska also accused the conservative leading opposition PP party and the far-right Vox of being “disloyal” to the government. The two parties, together with the centre-right Citizens party, want the interior minister to answer questions in parliament regarding the government’s handling of the state of emergency, now on its sixth week.

On Monday, without referring to his previous statement, Gen. Santiago said that during four decades of career he had prioritized the well being of people and had not been at any time moved by ideology.

Bangkok booze ban extended

BANGKOK — City authorities in the Thai capital Bangkok have extended a ban on the sale of alcoholic beverages to the end of April as efforts continue to contain the spread of COVID-19.

A ban was originally imposed for April 10-20, during which Thais would normally celebrate the annual Songkran Lunar New Year festival with drinking-fueled merrymaking at large public gatherings. Official celebrations of the holiday were postponed until a date to be decided.

Sales bans were separately ordered in all 76 of Thailand’s provinces with different ending dates, according to the Interior Ministry.

Pongsakorn Kwanmuang, a spokesman for the Bangkok Metropolitan Administration, announced the extension, and said other provinces were expected to follow suit.

He also said people with alcohol dependency problems could be treated for free at the city’s medical facilities.

Health officials on Monday confirmed 27 new cases of the disease, bringing the nation’s total to 2,792, including 1,999 recoveries and 47 deaths. New cases have dropped from a March 22 high of 188 to 45 or less for the past 10 days.

Britain’s government slammed over lack of equipment

LONDON — Hospital organizations are slamming Britain’s government for its failure to give medical staff appropriate clothing and equipment to deal with the COVID-19 outbreak.

With so many promises dashed, Chris Hopson of the NHS Providers told the BBC there is “relatively low confidence” that a shipment of 400,000 surgical gowns due to arrive last weekend from Turkey will arrive Monday.

The NHS Confederation, which represents organizations across healthcare, described the failed delivery at a time of critically low stocks as making “a difficult situation worse.”

The confederation’s CEO Niall Dickson, says it “would have been better had the government not made the announcement in the first place.”

Culture Secretary Oliver Dowden says he’s hopeful “that later today that flight will take off and we will get those gowns.”

British medical personnel have been arguing for weeks that the ongoing debacle in getting the right equipment to the right people is forcing doctors to put their own lives in danger to treat the sick and hurting medical care across the board.