World COVID-19 update: NATO suspicious of Russian military drills; Cruise ships ordered to stay at sea

A driver gets tested for COVID-19 at a drive-through point in Zagreb, Croatia, Wednesday, April 1, 2020. (AP Photo/Darko Bandic)
A worker disinfects a window in affords to stem the spread of the new coronavirus in Prague, Czech Republic, Wednesday, April 1, 2020. (AP Photo/Petr David Josek)
Workers disinfect a playground to prevent the spread of the coronavirus in Nagykanizsa, Hungary, Wednesday, April 1, 2020. (Gyorgy Varga/MTI via AP)

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.

This collection of items from the Associated Press was posted by Black Press Media at 6 a.m., Wednesday, April 1.

TOP OF THE HOUR:

  • Stranded tourists from Australia and New Zealand board chartered flight out of Nepal.
  • India’s top court orders media to carry government’s “official version” of coronavirus pandemic.
  • Berlin city official was infected with COVID-19 so girlfriend wouldn’t quarantine alone.
  • Edinburgh International Festival cancelled for the first time since 1947.

COVID-19 deaths surge past 1,000 in NYC

NEW YORK — Deaths from the coronavirus topped 1,000 in New York City as officials warned that the worst of the virus’ toll is yet to come.

The city’s Health Department reported late Tuesday that nearly 1,100 people have died of the virus in the city. More than 1,500 deaths from COVID-19 have been recorded across New York state.

Data released by the city shows that the disease is having a disproportionate effect in certain neighbourhoods, mainly in Brooklyn and Queens.

The city’s ambulance system and police department are under increasing stress from the pandemic, with nearly a quarter of the city’s emergency medical service workers out sick, according to the Fire Department. In all, 2,800 members of the Fire Department are sidelined, including about 950 of the city’s 4,300 EMS workers.

Nearly 16 per cent of the New York Police Department’s uniformed force is now out sick. More than 1,000 officers have tested positive for the virus.

Authorities are racing to build temporary hospitals in locations including Central Park, the Jacob K. Javits Convention Center, a cruise ship terminal and a sports complex to handle an expected surge in patients.

The virus, which causes the disease COVID-19, has spread rapidly across the globe. It causes mild symptoms in many of those infected, but it can cause severe symptoms or death for some, including older adults and those with underlying medical conditions such as respiratory ailments.

NATO suspects Russia may use crisis to test alliance’s defences

BRUSSELS — NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg said Wednesday that the organization’s security capabilities have not been diminished by the coronavirus, amid suspicion that Russia might try to use the impact of disease to probe the military alliance’s defences.

NATO acknowledges that cases of the disease have surfaced among personnel deployed near Russia’s border as well as in its training operation in Afghanistan. Wargames have been scaled down and the coronavirus has forced the 30-country alliance to cut staffing and meetings at its Brussels headquarters.

Russia, meanwhile, has been conducting drills that its defence ministry says are aimed at checking troop readiness to deal with any contagion. Britain’s navy said last week that its vessels had been shadowing Russian warships “after unusually high levels of activity in the English Channel and North Sea.”

“We of course see significant military activities close to NATO borders with a new exercise in the western military district of Russia,” Stoltenberg told reporters. “We have seen significant Russian presence in the North Sea.”

“We have made some adjustments to exercises. We have cancelled some exercises, we have adjusted other exercises, but that doesn’t undermine our operational readiness. We continue to patrol the skies and defend our borders and continue our missions and operations,” he said.

Stoltenberg’s remarks came on the eve of a meeting of NATO foreign ministers, to be held by secure video-conference for the first time in the U.S.-led organization’s 70-year history, where the impact of the coronavirus will dominate discussion.

While the disease is hitting all its member countries and could yet raise security concerns, NATO itself has no front-line role to play against its spread, apart from co-ordinating and supporting national efforts with logistical, transport and communications help.

U.S. Coast Guard says cruise ships must remain at sea indefinitely

FORT LAUDERDALE, Fla. — The U.S. Coast Guard has directed all cruise ships to remain at sea where they may be sequestered “indefinitely” during the coronavirus pandemic and be prepared to send any severely ill passengers to the countries where the vessels are registered.

For most of the South Florida’s cruise ships, that means the Bahamas, where people are still recovering from last year’s hurricanes.

The rules, which apply to any vessel carrying more than 50 people, were issued in a March 29 safety bulletin signed by Coast Guard Rear Admiral E.C. Jones, whose district includes Florida, Georgia, South Carolina and Puerto Rico.

More than two dozen cruise ships are either lined up at Port Miami and Port Everglades or waiting offshore, the Miami Herald reported. Most have only crew aboard, but several still carry passengers and are steaming toward South Florida ports. Carnival notified the SEC Tuesday that it has more than 6,000 passengers still at sea.

Stranded tourists airlifted to Australia, New Zealand

KATHMANDU, Nepal — Stranded tourists from Australia and New Zealand have boarded a chartered flight out of Nepal.

The Nepal Airlines flight had 222 Australians and 28 New Zealand nationals and permanent residents aboard and is scheduled to arrive in Brisbane on Thursday. Passengers will face a 14-day quarantine upon arrival.

Nepal’s government has imposed a lockdown until April 7 halting flights, ordering vehicles off the roads, shutting down businesses and shuttering major markets.

Similar flights have rescued stranded Germans, French and American nationals out of Nepal in the past few days. Nepal has reported five confirmed cases including one person who has recovered from it.

Philippines: Police arrest food protesters

MANILA, Philippines — Police have arrested 21 slum dwellers in the Philippines who were demanding government food aid for staging an “unauthorized protest” during the lockdown to fight the coronavirus.

Those arrested in suburban Quezon City included six women. Police Brig. Gen. Ronnie Montejo said they will face face criminal charges of violating a new law that requires millions of people to stay home under quarantine. The residents ignored an appeal by the police to return home.

Urban poor group Kadamay says desperate residents gathered spontaneously to ask for food and medical aid. The group denied it was a left-wing move to undermine President Rodrigo Duterte’s administration.

Other residents later held a rally to demand the release of those arrested, holding posters that read, “mass tests not mass arrests.”

The main northern Philippine region of Luzon is home to more than 50 million people and under a month-long lockdown. Health officials reported 227 new infections Wednesday, bringing the country’s total to 2,311, with 96 deaths.

India: Media must report government’s official pandemic messages

NEW DELHI — India’s top court has ordered media to carry the government’s “official version” of developments in the new coronavirus pandemic. It echoes actions in other countries to curb independent reporting.

The Supreme Court said it was acting to prevent false news from causing panic in India but did not intend to interfere with free speech.

The order came in response to a petition claiming that an exodus of thousands of migrant workers last week from New Delhi and other Indian cities heading home to rural villages was spurred by false reports that the government’s declared 21-day lockdown would in fact stretch on for months.

The News Broadcasters Association represents India’s private television news and current affairs broadcasters and welcomed the Supreme Court order. It said media should report responsibly on the pandemic and weed out any “fake news” on social media.

Berlin politician deliberately infects himself

BERLIN — A Berlin city official says he let himself get infected with the new coronavirus so his girlfriend wouldn’t have to undergo quarantine for her own infection alone.

But Stephan von Dassel, mayor of the German capital’s Mitte district, says the sickness was much worse than he expected. He said that after his girlfriend tested positive for the virus he “consciously” became infected to join her in isolation.

The 53-year-old says the coronavirus knocked him out for two weeks. He says he hopes now to be back to work later this week.

73 countries, including Canada, banned from entering Japan

TOKYO — Japan’s Prime Minister says Japan has banned entry from 49 more countries, including the U.S., Canada, all of China, South Korea and seven Southeast Asian countries.

That brings the total number of countries banned from entering Japan to 73.

Shinzo Abe says the government has tightened visa restrictions and will require a two-week quarantine to visitors and returnees from places Japan has designated as eligible for non-essential trips.

Abe cited views presented by a panel of experts at a meeting earlier Wednesday that new cases are rapidly on the rise in Japan and that its medical system is increasingly under pressure. He has faced calls for a declaration of a state of emergency, but his government is assessing the situation due to concerns of an economic impact.

Tokyo reported 65 new cases Wednesday, after reporting a record 78 daily new cases Tuesday. Nationwide, Japan has about 3,000 cases including 712 from a cruise ship, with 78 deaths.

EU proposes short-time work

BRUSSELS — The European Commission will propose a plan supporting short-time work across the continent in a move aimed at helping businesses and workers weather the economic shock of the new coronavirus.

European Commission president Ursula von der Leyen said the bloc’s executive arm will unveil the new tool dubbed “Sure” — an initiative she said will be supported by the EU’s 27 member states and will help the countries affected by the crisis.

Von der Leyen said the plan will mitigate the effects of the economic downturn by helping workers keep their jobs. She says companies should not lay off workers, even if duties have decreased because of the coronavirus.

Von der Leyen said the plan will also help the economy restart “without delay” once lockdown measures will be lifted across the continent.

Smartphone app can track disease contact without violating privacy

BERLIN — European researchers say it’s possible to create apps for tracing contacts to curb the coronavirus outbreak without ditching cherished privacy standards.

A group of some 130 researchers from eight countries say they have devised a way to detect whether a smartphone was close to one belonging to someone who later tested positive for COVID-19.

Governments across the world are examining ways to use technology to track the spread of the virus and trace those who may have become infected. Human rights activists have warned of the dangers of mass smartphone surveillance.

The new project is dubbed Pan-European Privacy-Preserving Proximity Tracing. It is backed by dozens of universities like the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology in Lausanne and companies such as cellular provider Vodafone.

Scotland grapples with jury trials

LONDON — The Scottish government has dropped controversial plans to temporarily bring an end to trial by jury during the coronavirus lockdown.

Constitution Secretary Mike Russell told Scottish lawmakers that the government was withdrawing the proposals from emergency legislation, and that “intensive and wide-ranging” discussions with interested parties, including victims, about alternatives will now take place. Other measures within the emergency legislation include the early release of prisoners and a ban on evictions.

Russell said new proposals over the justice system will be brought forward this month.

Scottish First Minister Nicola Sturgeon had said that bringing a temporary end to jury trials was necessary so serious criminal trials did not halt entirely.

The proposals regarding trial by jury met with criticism across Scotland, which has a wide array of devolved powers from the U.K., particularly on legal matters.

The Scottish Criminal Bar Association said they included attacks on “principles that have been built over more than six hundred years and are the very cornerstone of not just Scotland’s Criminal Justice System, but those of almost every advanced liberal democracy in the developed world.”

Prison workers create masks

TALLINN, Estonia — Estonian authorities say inmates at the Baltic country’s penitentiaries have been ordered to produce protective face masks for themselves and prison employees as the two groups remain under high risk of getting the coronavirus.

Prisoners working for the state-owned AS Eesti Vanglatoostus production company are currently able to produce some 400 face masks a day, the region’s main news agency Baltic News Service reported Wednesday.

Many of the hundreds of drug addicts and HIV-positive carriers in the nation of 1.3 million have been diagnosed with infectious diseases ahead of their imprisonment. That may have seriously weakened their immune system, and COVID-19 may pose a high risk to their lives, the news agency reported.

Former president of French soccer club dies

DAKAR, Senegal — Pape Diouf, a former president of French soccer club Marseille, has died in Senegal after contracting the coronavirus, the West African country’s first COVID-19-related death. He was 68.

Senegalese health officials said Diouf died Tuesday. He had been treated since Saturday in intensive care at Fann Hospital in Dakar, said Abdoulaye Diouf Sarr, the minister of health.

Relatives say he was meant to be moved to France. He had recently travelled to several countries in the region, including Ivory Coast.

Senegal President Macky Sall offered condolences to Diouf’s family in a message posted on Twitter.

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