TOP OF THE HOUR: — Wuhan to test all residents after handful of new infections. — First known virus death of a sumo wrestler is reported in Japan. — Drone use rules in China may be signaling a shorter-than-usual political meeting.
— No new COVID-19 cases reported in Thailand.
A 28-year-old Japanese sumo wrestler died Wednesday from the coronavirus.
The Japan Sumo Association said Shoubushi, whose real name was Kiyotaka Suetake, died of multiple-organ failure after developing COVID-19 pneumonia.
He is the first sumo wrestler known to die from the virus, and among the youngest victims in Japan.
The wrestler developed a fever on April 4 but could not get a test or find a hospital until four days later, when he was in worse condition, the association said. He was moved to an intensive care unit at a Tokyo hospital on April 19.
Japan, under a coronavirus state of emergency since April 7, is preparing to partially lift the measures amid signs of slowing infections. Experts, however, urge people to keep avoiding close contacts, which has been a challenge for sumo.
Wrestlers in Japan’s ancient sport of sumo traditionally live together like a big family, or a group known as “stables,” usually headed by retired champions, and they train and eat together and often share food, typically hot-pot dish called Chanko. Several other wrestlers have also been infected.
Although they still live in stables, they had to stop sharing food, and stop parts of training that involve physical contacts.
The Summer Grand Sumo Tournament scheduled to take place from May 24 to June 7 at Tokyo’s Ryogoku Kokugikan was canceled earlier this month over fears of further spreading the virus.
Japan has recorded almost 16,000 cases of COVID-19 and 670 deaths, according to a tally by Japan’s health ministry.
A shorter-than-usual ban on drone use in the Chinese capital is being interpreted as a signal that China will curtail its major political meeting of the year because of COVID-19.
Beijing police announced Wednesday that the use of drones, balloons, gliders and other low-flying objects will be banned for nine days, from May 20 to May 28. Such bans are common during major events.
The National People’s Congress usually happens over two weeks in March but was postponed this year because of the coronavirus outbreak. It is scheduled to start on May 22, so the flying ban suggests it may last just one week.
Province-level meetings held in advance of the Congress were curtailed and with fewer delegates in attendance. Some participants in a recent preparatory meeting for the Congress joined by video conference, sparking speculation that some of the 3,000 delegates to the Congress may do so too.
Health authorities in Thailand have reported no new confirmed cases of COVID-19 for the first time in more than two months.
There were also no new deaths reported Wednesday, leaving the country’s total just over 3,000 cases with nearly 60 fatalities, while almost 3,000 of the patients have recovered.
Since the beginning of May, Thailand has reported single-digit daily increases, with the exception of May 4, when a cluster pushed the number to 18.
The last time Thailand reported no new cases was on March 9, when there were 50 cases in total with a single death.
Thai authorities have been gradually and selectively easing restrictions meant to combat the spread of the coronavirus.
Restaurants in Bangkok last week were allowed to reopen for sit-in dining under rules mandating social distancing, and the city’s popular shopping malls, whose supermarkets and drug stores have remained in operation, may get permission Friday to restart many of their other activities as soon as this weekend.
Authorities in Montenegro have detained eight Serbian Orthodox Church priests after a few thousand people attended a religious procession despite a ban on gatherings because of the new coronavirus.
Prosecutors said Wednesday that the priests are facing charges of violating health regulations during the virus outbreak by organizing the procession on Tuesday in the western town of Niksic.
People participating in the procession did not wear face masks nor keep distance from each other.
The detentions could heighten tensions between the Montenegrin government and the Serbian Orthodox Church which earlier this year led weeks of protests against a religious law that it says would strip the church of its property.
A country of 620,000 people, Montenegro has reported nine deaths caused by the new coronavirus and more than 300 infections.
Austrian authorities say that the country’s border with Germany will reopen fully next month.
The Austria Press Agency reported Wednesday that the chancellery in Vienna said the border will be open completely on June 15 and that checks will be reduced starting on Friday.
It said Austria is aiming for similar agreements with Switzerland, Liechtenstein and its eastern neighbors.
Austria has been pressing for a reopening of some borders in hopes of attracting tourists to the country this summer.
Germany’s interior minister scheduled a news conference later Wednesday to set out how his country will proceed on border checks. Those checks were imposed on Germany’s borders with France, Switzerland, Austria, Luxembourg and Denmark on March 16 and people “without a valid reason to travel” haven’t been allowed to cross.
Greek health and civil protection authorities have launched an operation for widespread testing and contact tracing in an area in central Greece where an outbreak of coronavirus infections have been detected.
The civil protection authority said Wednesday that consecutive positive infections had been recorded in a Roma settlement in the central city of Larissa. Ten new confirmed infections were recorded on Tuesday, including seven people in the same family.
The local outbreak led authorities to implement a plan that will conduct widespread repeated testing in three phases, with the first tests on Wednesday, then repeated on the seventh day and on the 14th day. Positive cases will lead to quarantines of city blocks or neighborhoods, or to people being transferred for quarantine in a medical center set up in the area for this purpose, the civil protection authority said.
Greece implemented a lockdown early on in its outbreak, a move which has been credited with keeping the number of coronavirus deaths low. The country’s death toll currently stands at 152, with 2,744 confirmed infections and 32 people hospitalized on respirators in intensive care units.
Saudi Arabia says it will go into a full lockdown during the days of celebration that follow the Muslim holy fasting month of Ramadan.
The Interior Ministry made the announcement early Wednesday morning, saying the lockdown would be in effect from May 23 through May 27.
Those days mark the start of Eid al-Fitr, the holiday that comes at the end of Ramadan. That holiday typically sees families invite loved ones over for meals and go out to eat and drink during the day.
Meanwhile, in the neighboring United Arab Emirates, the federation of seven sheikhdoms says it will offer free coronavirus testing for all citizens beginning next week. Foreigners in the country with coronavirus symptoms, pregnant women, those over 50 and those in contact with those who fell ill with COVID-19 also will be among those able to be tested for free.
Private beaches at hotels also are beginning to reopen in Dubai, even as the number of confirmed cases and deaths continue to rise in the country. (edited)
BERLIN— Travel company TUI says it expects to cut thousands of jobs as it works to cut its costs amid the fallout from the coronavirus pandemic.
The Germany-based tour, travel and hotel operator said Wednesday that it is “prepared for a resumption of its operational activities” and its first hotels on the German coast will reopen in the coming days.
TUI was granted a German government-backed bridging loan of 1.8 billion euros ($1.95 billion) to help cushion the effects of shutdowns. The company said it will have to cut investments and costs in a globally weakened market and is aiming for a permanent 30% reduction in its overhead cost base.
CEO Fritz Joussen said in a statement that “this will have an impact on potentially 8,000 roles globally that will either not be recruited or reduced.” He added that “we must now implement the realignment quickly.”
SEOUL, South Korea — South Korea says it has no immediate plans to revive strict social distancing rules despite a spike in coronavirus cases linked to nightclubs in Seoul.
Vice Health Minister Kim Gang-lip told reporters Wednesday the government needs more time to analyze details of recent outbreaks before determining whether to maintain relaxed social distancing guidelines.
South Korea has eased up on much of its strict social distancing rules last week before it has about roughly 30 new cases each day in the past several days. On Wednesday, South Korea recorded 26 new cases, 20 of them associated with clubs in Seoul’s Itaewon entertainment district.
Health officials say in principle they would maintain relaxed social distancing rules if the country’s daily jump is below 50 and the number of untraceable cases account for less than 5% of all confirmed cases.
MEXICO CITY — Mexico’s top advisory body on the coronavirus pandemic says it has issued guidelines that would allow for the re-opening of construction, mining, and car and truck manufacturing.
The General Health Council said that following a Tuesday meeting it had decided to classify those industries as “essential activities” that are allowed to continue working during a lockdown aimed at fighting the spread of the novel coronavirus.
The council did not set a timeline for when the reopening would begin. But it said that by June 1, a ‘stoplight’ system should be in place to tell local populations what activities are allowed.
The council also said that restrictions on schools and businesses should be lifted in townships that have no cases of COVID-19 and whose neighboring townships also have no cases.
President Andrés Manuel López Obrador is set to announce a plan for the “gradual” resumption of economic activities Wednesday.
WELLINGTON, New Zealand — New Zealand reported zero new cases of the coronavirus on Wednesday, the second day in a row without any and the fourth such day since early last week.
Director-General of Health Ashley Bloomfield said it was encouraging news as the country prepares to ease many of its lockdown restrictions from midnight. Most businesses, including malls, retail stores and sit-down restaurants, will be able to reopen. Social distancing rules will remain in place and gatherings will be limited to 10 people.
“The sense of anticipation is both palpable and understandable,” Bloomfield said.
The lifting of restrictions will coincide with the release of the government’s annual budget on Thursday. Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern said the country faced the most challenging economic conditions since the Great Depression because of the virus.
“New Zealand is about to enter a very tough winter,” she said. “But every winter eventually is followed by spring, and if we make the right choices we can get New Zealanders back to work and our economy moving quickly again.”
ISLAMABAD — Pakistan crossed 2,000 new positive coronavirus cases in a single day for the first time since the outbreak earlier this year.
The increase comes just days after Prime Minister Imran Khan eased lockdown restrictions and stepped up the return of Pakistanis stranded overseas, ignoring please for stricter controls by Pakistan’s medical professionals.
Scenes of crowds of people crammed into markets throughout the country greeted the let up in restrictions despite the government’s call for safe distancing, which has been largely ignored by many of Pakistan’s 220 million people. The latest figures show 34,312 positive cases following a 24-hour high of 2,255 new cases.
Khan has been criticized for downplaying the severity of the pandemic, refusing to close down mosques particularly since the start of Islam’s fasting month of Ramadan which ends in two weeks with the holiday of Eid-ul-Fitr. Islamic clerics in Pakistan wield considerable control, often frightening political leaders with their ability to bring angry mobs onto the street.
Khan has argued the lockdown has hurt the country’s poorest the hardest. A vast majority of Pakistanis earn barely $75 a month mostly doing construction and daily wage work.
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