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:
— Virus expands grip in many areas, as US nears 100,000 deaths.
— Spain begins 10 days of national mourning for victims of the coronavirus.
— Health officials in Belgium are now advising against the use of hydroxychloroquine; France stops using the drug.
— Poland plans to lift several virus restrictions starting Saturday.
MADRID — Flags are flying at half-staff on more than 14,000 public buildings in Spain as the European nation holds its first of 10 days of national mourning for the victims of the coronavirus.
Spanish King Felipe VI led a minute of silence held at noon local time on Wednesday for the more than 27,000 lives that have been confirmed to be lost to the COVID-19 pandemic. Prime Minister Pedro Sánchez and other lawmakers participated from the Parliament, while health workers and other citizens also stopped activity to honor the dead.
The 10-day period is the longest national mourning declared in Spain since the restoration of democracy in the late 1970s.
Felipe VI, as Spain’s head of state, is also planning to preside over a solemn ceremony to honor the dead once the country emerges from its strict lockdown rules.
BRUSSELS — Belgium’s institute for health is now advising against the use of malaria drug hydroxychloroquine in the treatment of COVID-19 patients after global studies suggested it is ineffective.
The announcement came after the World Health Organization said it would temporarily drop hydroxychloroquine from its global study into experimental COVID-19 treatments. A paper published last week in the Lancet showed people taking hydroxychloroquine were at higher risk of death and heart problems than those that were not.
In an update of the clinical guidance for adults diagnosed with the coronavirus, Sciensano said several studies did not find any benefit to the drug and even indicated a possible harmful effect.
“Overall, based on these recent observational findings which all consistently point to an absence of benefit related to hydroxychloroquine use, and possibly some harmful effect, it has been decided not to recommend its off-label use for COVID-19 in Belgium anymore, except within ongoing clinical registered trials after careful reassessment of the study-related risk/benefit,” the institute said.
Belgium, a country of 11.5 million inhabitants, has reported more than 57,000 virus cases including about 9,000 deaths.
PARIS — The French government has stopped the use of malaria drug hydroxychloroquine for treating COVID-19 patients after a new study suggested it doesn’t work and poses health risks.
A decree ending its use for the coronavirus in France was published Wednesday.
The World Health Organization did the same after a study of 100,000 patients worldwide published last week found that the drug was ineffective against the virus and tied to a greater risk of death and heart rhythm problems.
The drug has been popular and politically sensitive in France, where it was included in a trial of multiple treatments and used on hospitalized patients.
U.S. President Donald Trump started pushing hydroxychloroquine based on early research by prominent French virologist Dr. Didier Raoult suggesting it reduced virus symptoms.
Raoult shrugged off guidance from France’s High Council for Public Health to stop use of the drug, suggesting it’s not important now that the number of infected people is no longer at crisis levels. The council’s recommendation is “one opinion like any other, I don’t care much,” he told France’s LCI television Tuesday night.
WARSAW, Poland — Poland is lifting most of its anti-coronavirus restrictions in public life starting Saturday.
Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki said Wednesday that limits are being lifted on the number of customers in shops, restaurants and hair dressers. Open-air gatherings of up to 150 people will be allowed, under the condition of keeping the distance of at least 2 meters (6 feet) or wearing masks.
Limits are also being lifted on the number of people attending Mass in churches.
Culture Minister Piotr Glinski said that starting June 6 cinemas, theatres, concert halls are allowed to open, but can only fill 50% of the audience seats while the spectators must wear masks. Wedding parties of up to 150 guests will be allowed after June 6. In case of large gatherings, sanitary authorities must give their consent.
Health Minister Lukasz Szumowski said that the relaxing of rules is possible because COVID-19 transmission has been curbed, while 80% of hospital beds destined for patients with the disease remain empty. He said in most of Poland, except the southern industrial region of Silesia, has transmission rate, the R number, is below 1, meaning 1 person infects less than 1 other person.
SEOUL, South Korea — South Korea’s top infectious disease expert says the country may need to reimpose social distancing restrictions it eased in April, with coronavirus transmissions creeping up in the populated Seoul metropolitan area and elsewhere in recent weeks.
Jeong Eun-kyeong, director of South Korea’s Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, said during a virus briefing on Wednesday it’s becoming increasingly difficult for health workers to track the spread of COVID-19, which has coincided with increased public activity amid warmer weather and eased attitudes on social distancing.
South Korea reported 40 new cases on Wednesday, its biggest daily jump in nearly 50 days, as officials scrambled to trace hundreds of infections linked to nightspots, restaurants and a massive e-commerce warehouse near Seoul.
“We will do our best to trace contacts and implement preventive measures, but there’s a limit to such efforts,” Jeong said. “There’s a need to maximize social distancing in areas where the virus is circulating, to force people to avoid public facilities and other crowded spaces.”
South Korea was reporting around 500 new cases per day in early March before managing to stabilize its outbreak with aggressive tracking and testing, which allowed officials to relax social distancing guidelines and proceed with a phased reopening of schools.
But Seoul and nearby cities restored some controls in recent weeks by shutting thousands of bars, karaoke rooms and other entertainment venues to slow the spread of the virus. Education authorities in Seoul said Wednesday they delayed class openings in 111 schools due to virus concerns, but they couldn’t immediately confirm how many students were affected.
BANGKOK — Thailand’s Parliament has reconvened after a break of almost three months to debate the government’s stimulus packages enacted to combat COVID-19′s ill effects on the economy.
More than 400 lawmakers wore face masks and sat one seat apart Wednesday as they launched a five-day session to debate three packages amounting to 1.9 trillion baht ($60 billion) implemented through executive decrees by the government of Prime Minister Prayuth Chan-ocha. One trillion baht ($31 billion) would be funded by borrowing for which the government is seeking approval, and the Bank of Thailand would provide the remainder.
Prayuth said at the session’s opening that the packages are necessary because Thailand’s economy shrunk 1.8% in the first quarter and is expected to shrink 5-6% for the whole fiscal year.
The stimulus packages include income subsidies for individuals and loans and financial aid to businesses affected by the pandemic.
The Opposition has criticized the government for providing inadequate details on how the money is spent, charging that the lack of transparency could lead to corruption.
NICOSIA, Cyprus — Cyprus is pledging to cover costs for anyone testing positive for the coronavirus while vacationing in the east Mediterranean island nation.
The Cypriot government says it will cover lodging, food, drink and medication for COVID-19 patients and their families. Patients will only have to pay for the taxi ride to the airport and the flight back home.
A 100-bed hospital will cater exclusively to foreign travelers who test positive. Some 112 intensive care units equipped with 200 respirators will be reserved for critically ill patients.
A 500-room “quarantine-hotel” will host exclusively patients’ family members and other close contacts.
The pledge came in a five-page letter sent to governments, airlines and tour operators outlining strict health and hygiene protocols that Cyprus is enacting to woo visitors to the tourism-reliant country.
Tourism directly accounts for 13% of Cyprus’ economy. The country expects to lose as much as 70% of 2.6 billion euros in tourism-generated revenue this year.
The letter, signed by Cyprus’ foreign affairs, transport and tourism ministers, boasts that the country has one of the lowest coronavirus ratios per capita in Europe after having tested more than 10% of its population.
International air travel to Cyprus begins June 9 initially from 19 countries, with passengers required to undergo a COVID-19 test three days prior to departure. That measure will be lifted June 20 for 13 countries, including Germany, Finland, Israel, Greece and Norway.
NEW DELHI — India’s coronavirus caseload has surpassed 150,000, with another single-day high of more than 6,000 reported on Wednesday.
The spike comes as Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s government prepares a new set of guidelines, with the fourth phase of the two-month-old lockdown across the country set to end on Sunday.
The Health Ministry reported 151,767 cases on Wednesday, a jump of 6,387, with 4,337 deaths — an increase of 170 in the past 24 hours. It said 64,426 people have recovered from the virus.
Most of the cases are concentrated in five of India’s 28 states. An increase has also been reported in some of the country’s poorest eastern states as migrant workers returning to native villages from large cities have begun arriving home on special trains.
India eased lockdown restrictions earlier this month, allowing shops to reopen and manufacturing to resume. Some trains and domestic flights began operating again.
Metro services, schools and colleges, and hotels and restaurants are shuttered nationwide.
LAS VEGAS — Nevada Gov. Steve Sisolak announced Tuesday night that he will allow casinos to reopen June 4, welcoming tourists to return to the glitzy gambling mecca of Las Vegas.
The Democratic governor told reporters that Nevada will welcome visitors from across the country to come to Las Vegas and have a good time. Sisolak closed the casinos 10 weeks ago as part of a broad shutdown to slow the spread of the coronavirus.
The casinos typically draw millions of tourists to Las Vegas and power the state’s economy. The governor said he would also allow in-person religious services of up to 50 people starting Friday.
SEOUL, South Korea — South Korea has reported 40 new coronavirus cases for its biggest daily jump in nearly 50 days, causing alarm in a country where millions of children are returning to school.
Figures from the Korea Centers for Disease Control and Prevention on Wednesday brought national totals to 11,265 cases and 269 deaths.
All but four of the new cases came from the densely populated Seoul metropolitan area, where officials have been scrambling to stem transmissions linked to nightclubs, karaoke rooms and an e-commerce warehouse.
Three cases were linked to international arrivals.
A steady rise in cases in the greater capital area over the past few weeks has raised concern as officials proceed with a phased reopening of schools, which began with high school seniors last week. More than 2 million high school juniors, middle school seniors, first and second graders and kindergarten students were expected to return to school on Wednesday.
MEXICO CITY — Mexico’s health department has reported 501 more deaths from the coronavirus — the first time the country’s one-day figure has exceeded 500.
The number of new cases reported Tuesday also set a daily high, with 3,455 additional infections confirmed. Mexico has recorded nearly 74,560 confirmed cases and 8,134 deaths, though officials acknowledge the number of cases is probably several times higher due to the country’s extremely low testing rate.
Mexico’s daily death toll is now approaching that of the United States, at around 620. Brazil leads in daily deaths with over 800.
BEIJING — China reported one imported case of coronavirus Wednesday and no new deaths as legislators meeting for the ceremonial parliament’s annual session pushed for improvements in the public health system.
The national Health Commission said in its daily report that 79 people remain in treatment, while another 410 are under isolation and monitoring for possibly having the virus or after testing positive without showing any symptoms. China has reported 4,634 COVID-19 deaths among 82,993 cases.
Public health has been discussed more than usual at the National People’s Congress session, which was delayed more than two months and cut from two weeks to one because of the virus outbreak that began in the central city of Wuhan late last year.
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