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The Latest: Director-general defends WHO's response to virus
test kit

By The Associated Press undefined

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:

— AP Exclusive: ER staff saves lives, suffers in hot spot.

—Britain's death toll reaches more than 18,000.

—Italy tops 25,000 coronavirus-related deaths.

—Germany to start trial for coronavirus vaccine.

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LONDON — The head of the World Health Organization says the agency declared the outbreak of COVID-19 to be a global emergency "early enough" and that the pronouncement was made when there were fewer than 100 cases outside China, where the new coronavirus was first detected.

In recent weeks, WHO has been criticized for moving too slowly to warn the rest of the world about the threat posed by COVID-19. Last week, U.S. President Donald Trump suspended funding to WHO, accusing it of mismanaging the response to the coronavirus epidemic. Despite declaring the outbreak a global emergency on Jan. 30, WHO declined to describe it as a pandemic until March 11.

"Looking back, I think we declared (an) emergency at the right time," WHO's director-general Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said, dismissing criticism that the U.N. agency acted too slowly. "The rest of the world had enough time to respond," he said at a press briefing.

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ALBANY, N.Y. — New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo says he has enlisted former New York City Mayor Mike Bloomberg to help create a "tracing army" that will find people infected with the coronavirus and get them into isolation. New York will work on the massive effort with neighboring New Jersey and Connecticut.

Wide-scale testing, tracing and isolation are considered crucial to taming the outbreak in the hard-hit region.

The governor says "we will literally need thousands" of people to trace the contacts of infected people. Cuomo says the state will start by asking 35,000 medical field students at state and city universities to get involved. The governor says Bloomberg will oversee the design of the program.

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ROME — Deaths in Italy related to the coronavirus pandemic topped 25,000 on Wednesday.

The number of dead and new positives continue to plateau for Italy, the first western country to be hit by the crisis. The civil protection agency reported 437 people had died with the virus in the last 25 hours, a 1.7% increase in the death toll to 25,085. The number of positive cases rose 1.5% to 183,857.

Pressure on health services continued to ease, with fewer people both hospitalized and in intensive care. Italy's interior minister, meanwhile, confirmed that none of some 150 migrants rescued by an aid group and quarantined at sea have tested positive for the virus.

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ATHENS, Greece — Greek health authorities say there have been no deaths and just seven new confirmed coronavirus infections in the country in the last 24 hours.

The health ministry's spokesman for the coronavirus, infectious diseases specialist Sotiris Tsiodras, says the total number of deaths in the country remained at 121, while there were 2,408 confirmed infections.

Tsiodras says 55 people were intubated in intensive care units in the country, down from 59 the previous day.

Greece imposed business closures and lockdown measures early in its outbreak, when only a few cases had been reported. The measures have been credited with keeping the number of deaths and critically ill patients low.

Current lockdown measures are in place until April 27.

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NICOSIA, Cyprus — Cyprus' president says the island nation has negotiated the coronavirus pandemic with one of the lowest per capita death rates globally because its government closely followed the advice of medical experts and moved quickly to impose a strict lockdown.

President Nicos Anastasiades tells the Associated Press that almost two months since the World Health Organization declared the coronavirus pandemic, Cyprus' infection curve is flattening with the government drafting plans to gradually lift tough restrictions.

Anastasiades says the death rate among those infected with the virus stands at almost 2% thanks to a health system that met the challenge in treating hospitalized patients despite a a tough transition to streamlining its operations under the newly instituted National Health Scheme. He says the country is also a world leader in the number of diagnostic tests relative to its population with 36 tests per 1,000 people.

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EVERETT, Wash. — The sheriff of Washington state's third-largest county says he won't enforce Gov. Jay Inslee's stay-at-home order to slow the spread of the coronavirus, saying it violates people's constitutional rights.

Snohomish County Sheriff Adam Fortney announced his position on Facebook on Tuesday night, following a statewide address by Inslee in which the governor said the state will not be able to lift many of the stay-at-home restrictions implemented to fight the coronavirus by May 4.

Snohomish County, which has about 800,000 residents, is part of the Seattle metro area. It has been particularly hard hit by COVID-19, with more than 2,100 confirmed cases and at least 99 deaths — the second-highest county fatality total in Washington. Fortney acknowledged the seriousness of the virus outbreak, but said "the impacts of COVID 19 no longer warrant the suspension of our constitutional rights."

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ROME — Italy's government is looking at ways to quickly legalize unregistered farm workers — both foreign migrants and Italians — so they can harvest fruit and vegetables in Italy's upcoming spring and summer harvest seasons.

Italian farm lobby Coldiretti has warned that harvests are at risk given the estimated 370,000 seasonal workers who usually travel to Italy at this time of year, mostly from Eastern Europe, are stuck at home due to coronavirus travel restrictions.

Interior Minister Luciana Lamorgese told reporters that the government was speeding up its study of proposed legalization of "irregular" workers and hoped to have a solution. She said: "We risk not having Italian products, or that they spoil."

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ATLANTA — Georgia Gov. Brian Kemp's decision to allow hair and nail salons, massage therapists and other businesses to reopen "really defies logic," says Atlanta Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms.

The mayor says the governor didn't tell her before he announced the decision publicly on Monday.

"He did not tell me directly, and he's the governor so I don't always expect to receive a call directly from the governor," she told NBC's "Today" show on Wednesday. "But something of this magnitude, I would have expected at least a call from someone on his team."

The mayor says with manicures, haircuts and massages, "the nature of the business is that you are in close contact with someone and that's what's most disturbing to me about the way this order has been lifted."

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PARIS — French President Emmanuel Macron has visited a farm in western France to show support for the French agriculture and food industry amid the virus crisis.

Walking near rows of tomatoes in a farm in the village of Saint-Pol-de Leon, Macron thanked the farmers and employees who "may have been scared but came to work to feed the French."

With the country under lockdown since March 17, many seasonal workers from Southern or Central Europe were unable to travel to French farms for the harvest. The French government has encouraged local people who lost their jobs due to the restrictions to work in the fields while keeping their unemployment benefits.

The government also asked people to eat more French food products to support farmers and fishermen who can no longer sell to restaurants, hotels and other closed venues.

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SACRAMENTO, Calif. — Health officials say two people died with the coronavirus in California weeks before the first reported death in the United States from the disease. 

Santa Clara County officials said Tuesday the people died at home Feb. 6 and Feb. 17. Before this, the earliest known U.S. deaths from the virus happened Feb. 26 in Washington. 

The Medical Examiner-Coroner received confirmation Tuesday that tissue samples sent to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention tested positive for the virus, officials said.

The announcement came after California Gov. Gavin Newsom promised a "deep dive" update Wednesday of the state's ability to test for the coronavirus and to track and isolate people who have it. That is one of the six indicators he says is key to lifting a "stay-at-home" order that has slowed the spread of the disease while forcing millions of people to file for unemployment benefits.

"This will go to the obvious questions and queries that all of us are asking: When? ... When do you see a little bit of a release in the valve so that we can let out a little of this pressure," Newsom said Tuesday.

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THE HAGUE, Netherlands — The official Dutch COVID-19 death toll has passed 4,000, with the public health institute reporting a daily increase of 138.

The total dead rose to 4,054 and the number of confirmed infections with the coronavirus rose by 708 to 34,842. 

Authorities say the true toll is higher as the official count only includes people who have been tested and many people have died without being tested.

However, authorities say the country is past its peak of infections and deaths. Hospital admissions coordinators say the number of patients treated in intensive care units fell by 37 to 1,050.

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GENEVA — Switzerland's government says it won't require people to wear masks in public as it eases lockdown measures, diverging from neighbors Austria and Germany.

However, the Swiss seven-member executive branch, says the government next week will begin providing millions of masks to leading retail businesses across the country. The Federal Council says masks are mostly effective in protecting other people -- not the people wearing them.

In Austria, people are required to wear masks in shops and public transportation, and Germany will do the same next week. 

Switzerland hasn't required people to stay home but banned gatherings of over five people in public and closed offices, schools, and nonessential shops across the country.

Switzerland, with 8.2 million people, has recorded 26,268 cases and 1,217 deaths.

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SARAJEVO, Bosnia-Herzegovina — Bosnia's top court has ruled that the country's authorities were violating human rights of elderly and underage citizens by denying them freedom of movement amid the coronavirus outbreak

Authorities in Sarajevo and numerous other urban centers in Bosnia are banning people over 65 and under 18 years of age from leaving their homes. The 24-hour bans imposed over a month ago were eased just for a few days at the end of March to allow elderly to collect their pensions.

The Constitutional Court says the ban did not "meet the request of proportionality" as authorities didn't consider more lenient measures or disclosed the basis for the assessment that the groups affected by it were carrying a greater risk of contracting or spreading the coronavirus.

Authorities were given five days to reconsider the controversial orders and bring them in compliance with the European Convention on Human Rights.

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LONDON — The British government says 759 more people with the coronavirus have died in U.K. hospitals, taking the total to 18,100.

The daily increase reported was lower than the 823 in the previous 24-hour period. 

The U.K.'s death toll is the fourth highest in Europe, behind Italy, Spain and France, all of whom have reported more than 20,000 deaths.

However, there has been increasing scrutiny of the U.K. figures in recent days for understating the actual number of people having died of COVID-19. The numbers don't include those who have died in care homes or elsewhere in the community. 

Earlier, British Health Secretary Matt Hancock said the country was at the "peak" but that it was too early to start considering a relaxation of the lockdown measures in place since March 23.

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MADRID — Spain's prime minister says confinement rules for the coronavirus outbreak will be relaxed gradually but according to scientific targets and not calendar dates.

Prime Minister Pedro Sánchez told parliament the government has been working on the plan for the past three weeks.

Sánchez foresees restrictions lifted at different speeds in different places, such as urban or rural areas, because the pandemic is "asymmetrical."

Epidemiologists will help determine the pace, based on how the pandemic ebbs. Sánchez says the criteria include the capacity of the public health system in the area and the local number of infections and deaths.

Spain has recorded more than 208,000 infection cases and 21,700 deaths.

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BERLIN — Germany's health minister has regulatory approval for the first trial in the country of a vaccine for the coronavirus.

Jens Spahn says the trial will involve 200 people ages 18-55. He cautioned the process of fully testing the vaccine would take months.

Germany's regulatory authority, the Paul Ehrlich Institute, approved the trial for an RNA-based vaccine being jointly developed by BioNTech and Pfizer. Regulatory approval for trials is also being sought in the United States and China.

Numerous companies are racing to develop a vaccine for the coronavirus that has infected more than 2.5 million people worldwide and caused at least 178,000 deaths in the past four months.

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LONDON — Acting British Prime Minister Dominic Raab says the government is still targeting 100,000 tests a day for coronavirus by the end of this month — even though it's more than 80,000 short with just eight days to go.

In the first hybrid prime minister's questions in the House of Commons with a maximum 50 lawmakers allowed in the legislature, Raab conceded there will need to be an "exponential" increase in tests in coming days.

The most recent daily figures show that only 18,206 tests were conducted, even though the government has ramped up capacity to a potential 40,000.

Raab is filling in for British Prime Minister Boris Johnson while he recovers from COVID-19. 

Keir Starmer, the new leader of Britain's main opposition Labour Party, criticized the government for being slow in putting Britain into lockdown and getting the necessary personal protective equipment for front-line staff.