TOP OF THE HOUR: — At least 20 employees at Afghanistan’s presidential palace test positive. — Tulips razed at Japanese park to prevent crowds. — Thousands of LA city workers must take 26 furlough days.
— Trump to use Defense Production Act to increase swab manufacturing.
At least 20 employees at Afghanistan’s presidential palace have tested positive for COVID-19, according to a senior government official who asked to remain anonymous because he was not authorized to comment on the subject.
It wasn’t clear whether President Ashraf Ghani had been in contact with any of the employees or whether he had been tested himself. The presidential palace has refused to comment.
Ghani has reportedly been self-isolating, although he still meets daily with some senior officials. At 70 and a cancer survivor, Ghani is considered in the higher risk category.
Afghanistan has reported only 993 positive cases even as the International Office of Migration, which monitors the movement of refugees, says more than 200,000 Afghans have returned from Iran in the last two months. Iran is one of the hardest-hit countries in the region with more than 82,000 confirmed cases and over 5,000 deaths.
Many of the returning refugees scattered throughout Afghanistan without testing, generating widespread fears of an outbreak of cases that could overwhelm the country’s war-ravaged health care facilities.
The United Nations has called for cease fires to conflicts around the world but, still the war goes on in Afghanistan as both sides in the conflict — the Taliban and the Afghan administration — squabble over details in an agreement signed between the United States and the Taliban in February.
— By Rahim Faiez
Tens of thousands of tulips in full bloom were razed at a Japanese park to prevent crowds from gathering amid worries about the coronavirus outbreak.
The 800,000 tulips have long been a centerpiece for an annual festival at picturesque Sakura Furusato Square east of Tokyo.
The April 1-26 festival attracts about 100,000 people every year. It was canceled after the Japanese government declared a state of emergency due to the pandemic earlier this month.
People still gathered to admire the flowers, making social distancing difficult. The tulips were chopped down April 14-15, Takahiro Kogo, a city official overseeing the park, said Monday.
“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,” he said.
Afterward, red and yellow petals lay smashed and scattered on the ground.
Deaths from COVID-19 in Japan number about 250, according to Johns Hopkins University, but reported cases have been growing lately.
WELLINGTON, New Zealand
New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern on Monday announced the country will remain in a strict lockdown for another week before easing the rules a little to allow some parts of the economy to reopen.
New Zealand has been in the lockdown for nearly four weeks, allowing nonessential workers to leave their homes only to buy groceries or get exercise. Beginning next week, workers at some businesses such as construction and manufacturing will be able to resume their jobs, and some schools will reopen, although parents will be encouraged to continue having their children learn from home.
New Zealand has reported 1,440 cases of COVID-19 and 12 deaths.
Thousands of Los Angeles city workers must take 26 furlough days — the equivalent of a 10% pay cut — over the course of the next fiscal year as the nation’s second-largest city deals with the economic fallout from the COVID-19 crisis.
Mayor Eric Garcetti made the announcement Sunday in his emotional State of the City address as he warned of an economic blow far worse than the 2008 recession, when city leaders laid off hundreds of workers and eliminated thousands of jobs.
“Our city is under attack. Our daily life is unrecognizable,” Garcetti said.
“We are bowed, and we are worn down. We are grieving our dead,” the mayor continued as he fought back tears. “But we are not broken, nor will we ever be.”
The news provided a glimpse of what cities across California can expect as the state copes with the loss of 100,000 jobs last month because the coronavirus outbreak shuttered nonessential businesses. The figure barely begins to account for damage done to the world’s fifth-largest economy.
Tax revenues will come in far short of projections because of a major decline in hotel reservations and airport passenger traffic, Garcetti said. The city has already tapped $70 million from its special funds and reserve fund to cover the costs of responding to the pandemic, he said.
President Donald Trump says he will use the Defense Production Act to increase manufacturing of swabs used to test for the coronavirus.
Many governors have for weeks urged the White House to further evoke federal powers to increase private industry’s production of medical supplies as health officials work to slow the spread of the virus. Trump has generally been reluctant to do so.
But the president said during a briefing Sunday evening that he would use the measure to increase production of swabs and that he would soon announce that production reaching 10 million per month.
To emphasize the point, Trump waved a swab in front of reporters. Trump also said Vice President Mike Pence would hold a call with governors on Monday to discuss testing and send a list of lab facilities in their states.
China on Monday reported 12 new coronavirus cases, eight of them brought from outside the country, and no new deaths.
Another 992 people were being isolated and monitored for suspected cases or positive tests without showing symptoms. Wuhan, once the epicenter of the global pandemic, reported no new cases. China has now reported a total of 4,632 deaths and 82,747 cases.
SEOUL, South Korea
South Korea has reported 13 more cases of the coronavirus, its 19th day in a row with a daily jump below 100, as infections continue to wane in the hardest-hit city of Daegu.
Figures from South Korea’s Centers for Disease Control and Prevention on Monday brought national totals to 10,674 cases and 236 deaths. At least 1,006 cases were linked to arrivals from abroad, mostly students and other South Korean nationals who returned home in recent weeks amid outbreaks in Europe and the United States.
With its caseload slowing, South Korea has relaxed some of its social distancing guidelines, including lifting administrative orders that advised churches, gyms and bars to close. Schools remain shut while providing children remote learning.
Prime Minister Chung Sye-kyun on Monday called for vigilance to maintain hard-won gains against the virus while instructing officials to draw up “delicate anti-virus measures” to contain the risk of transmissions as people increase their social and economic activities.
The Trump administration has announced new guidelines requiring nursing homes nationwide to report to patients, their families and the federal government when they have cases of coronavirus.
Seema Verma, head of the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services, said during a Sunday evening White House press briefing that the new rules will mandate that nursing homes report cases to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. She said the moves are aimed at increasing transparency about the spread of the virus at facilities where populations can be especially vulnerable to its effects.
There have been 7,121 deaths at long-term care facilities nationwide, according to an Associated Press tally.
Verma also discussed plans to allow elective surgeries to resume after being placed on hold during the pandemic.
That move is coming as part of larger Trump administration guidelines to reopen the economy and Verma said lifting restrictions would be gradual — not like flipping on a light switch, but “more like a sunrise.”
California corrections officials announced Sunday the first prison inmate death from complications related to COVID-19.
The inmate died at a hospital after contracting the coronavirus at the California Institution for Men in San Bernardino County, the state Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation said in a statement.
No further details were released to protect the inmate’s medical privacy, and next of kin was notified, the statement said.
Statewide, 115 inmates and 89 corrections employees have tested positive for the coronavirus as officials work to prevent outbreaks among California’s most vulnerable populations, including people living in nursing homes, on the streets or in homeless shelters.
COLOMBO, Sri Lanka
Sri Lanka has partially lifted a monthlong curfew in an effort to restore normal public life disrupted by the spread of the coronavirus.
The government lifted the curfew in more than two-thirds of the country Monday. The curfew had been in effect throughout the entire nation since March 20.
In the remaining seven districts, including the capital of Colombo, the curfew will stay in effect until Wednesday.
The government’s decision comes as the country’s top health official, Dr. Anil Jasinghe, declared that COVID-19 is “under control” in Sri Lanka.
Despite the curfew being relaxed, schools and cinemas will remain closed until further notice. But state departments, corporations and banks would operate as usual.
The government has ordered that buses, vans and rail carriages should transport only half the passengers of full capacity in order to ensure social distancing, and asked to disinfect all the vehicles.
The number of confirmed cases rose to 271 by Sunday in Sri Lanka. Seven people have died from the virus since it was first reported in January, while 96 patients have recovered.
The European Center for Disease Control says the continent now has more than 1 million confirmed cases and almost 100,000 deaths from the new coronavirus.
According to a tally posted on the ECDC website Sunday, Spain had the most cases in the region with 191,726, followed by Italy, Germany, Britain and France.
It listed Italy as having the most deaths in Europe, with 23,227, followed by Spain, France, Britain and Belgium.
According to the tally, Europe accounts for almost half the global case load and more than half the total deaths.
NEW YORK — The coronavirus death toll in New York dropped again, a sign that Gov. Andrew Cuomo said Sunday means the state is “on the other side of the plateau” and that ongoing social distancing practices are working to stem the spread of the virus.
Cuomo said 507 people died on Saturday, down 33 from the previous day. Hospitalizations and other medical indicators are trending downward.
But Cuomo and Mayor Bill de Blasio maintained their warnings that people in New York City and the rest of the state need to stay vigilant.
De Blasio blasted President Donald Trump, saying Sunday that the president is betraying his fellow New Yorkers by failing to push for billions of dollars in additional federal aid needed to help the city deal with the coronavirus economic crisis.
De Blasio referenced an infamous tabloid headline — “FORD TO CITY: DROP DEAD” — from 1975 when then-President Gerald Ford denied assistance to spare New York from bankruptcy.
“Are you going to save New York City,” the mayor said, “or are you saying to New York City 'drop dead?’”
France’s prime minister warned Sunday that his compatriots will need to “learn to live with the virus” after the country lifts its lockdown.
People will probably be required to wear masks in public transport, and those who can work from home should continue doing so, even after France starts easing confinement rules May 11, Prime Minister Edouard Philippe said.
And he suggested that no one should be planning faraway summer vacations.
The virus has hit France especially hard, killing nearly 20,000 people as of Sunday and overwhelming its renowned health system.
While the virus appears to have peaked in France earlier this month and is now receding “slowly but surely,” Philippe warned: “Our life after May 11 will not be the same as before. ... And probably not for a long time.”
He warned that the economic crisis, France’s worst since World War II, “will be brutal.”
Philippe said France is “far from herd immunity,” citing estimations that about 2 million to 6 million French people have been infected with the virus, or about 3% to 9% of the population. He did not elaborate on the projections.
BERLIN — The head of the World Health Organization has warned countries that are moving to ease their pandemic lockdowns to be prepared to respond rapidly to any resurgence.
Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus told a virtual meeting of health ministers from the G-20 group of major developed and emerging economies Sunday that he was “encouraged” by the fact that several are “starting to plan how to ease social restrictions.”
But he said “it is critical that these measures are a phased process.”
Tedros told ministers that “lifting so-called lockdown restrictions is not the end of the epidemic in any country; it’s just the beginning of the next phase.”
He said that “it’s vital in this next phase that countries educate, engage and empower their people to prevent and respond rapidly to any resurgence; to ensure they have the capacity to detect, test, isolate and care for every case, and trace every contact; and to ensure their health systems have the capacity to absorb any increase in cases.”
Tedros also expressed concern about the growing pace of the pandemic in poor countries that lack the resources to cope with a major outbreak.
In an apparent retort to leaders such as U.S. President Donald Trump, who slammed the organization’s response to the pandemic, Tedros insisted that “since the beginning, WHO has sounded the alarm bell loud and clear.”
He also urged ministers “to continue to fight the pandemic with determination, guided by science and evidence.”
MILAN — Italy on Sunday registered the lowest number of deaths of people with coronavirus in a month, with the death toll rising by 433 in the past 24 hours.
That brings the national total to 23,660, still the second-highest in the world after the United States. The number of positives rose by just over 3,000 to 178,972 — the lowest increase in more than a month.
Because of the lack of comprehensive testing, health authorities estimate that the number of cases and deaths have been significantly underestimated.
Italy was the first western country to be hit by the coronavirus, in late February. While the epidemic curve continues to plateau, authorities have begun discussions on how to ease a nationwide lockdown, which has been extended through May 3.
Pressure on Italian hospitals continues to ease, but by just 26 beds on Sunday, with 25,033 people hospitalized and 2,635 in intensive care.
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