TOP OF THE HOUR: — Wuhan to test all residents after handful of new infections. — Religious procession leads to priests being detained in Montenegro. — Austria makes plans to fully reopen its border with Germany.
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.
SEOUL, South Korea __ South Korea has reported 26 additional cases of the coronavirus over the past 24 hours amid a new spike in infections linked to nightclubs in Seoul.
Figures released Wednesday by the Korea Centers for Disease Control and Prevention brought the national tally to 10,962 with 259 deaths. The agency says 9,695 of them have recovered from the illness.
It says 22 of the 26 new cases were locally infected patients while the rest four came from overseas.
South Korea’s caseload has been on a slight yet steady upward trajectory since last week, with most cases linked to nightlife establishments in Seoul. Earlier the country’s daily jump had been single digits or around 10 for many days, prompting authorities to ease up on social distancing guidelines.
BEIJING — China reported seven new cases of the coronavirus on Wednesday. Six of them were in the northeastern province of Jilin where authorities have raised alert levels and suspended rail connections to once county where a cluster of unknown origin has appeared over recent days.
Another 754 people are in treatment for being suspected cases or for having tested positive but not shown symptoms, while 104 people are in hospital undergoing treatment.
China has reported a total of 4,633 deaths among 82,926 cases.
On Tuesday, local media reported the government would conduct tests on all 11 million residents of Wuhan, the central industrial city where the virus was first detected late last year.
PORTLAND, Ore. — Portland Parks and Recreation says it will not open seasonal public swimming pools this summer and will cancel all camps and activities because of the coronavirus pandemic.
The Oregonian/OregonLive reports the department announced the measures Tuesday.
Parks, trails and nature areas remain open and park greeters will be deployed “to make sure people know how to use their park system safely during the pandemic.”
Portland Parks and Recreation Director Adena Long said in a statement they have had to layoff or not hire hundreds of seasonal employees.
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