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Top headlines:

  • U.S. trajectory akin to hard-hit Italy, Pence says.
  • UN: global economy could shrink by almost 1 per cent.
  • Another 540 troops headed to the U.S.-Mexico border.
  • Easter services in Greece to be behind closed doors.
  • Gov. Ron DeSantis issues stay-at-home order for Florida.
  • More than 110,000 positive tests in Italy.
  • Russia will begin vaccine tests in late June.
  • Washington, D.C., announces 91 new coronavirus cases.
  • Pakistan extends lockdown an additional two weeks.
  • Wimbledon cancelled for the first time since 1945.
  • Japan has banned entry from 49 more countries, Abe says.
  • Edinburgh International Festival cancelled.
  • Prince Charles applauds work of charities in video address.
  • Britain falls short of promised testing rate.

U.S. Vice President Mike Pence speaks about the coronavirus in the James Brady Press Briefing Room of the White House, in Washington, on March 31, 2020.Alex Brandon/The Associated Press

WASHINGTON – Vice-President Mike Pence says the White House’s models for the coronavirus outbreak show the country on a trajectory akin to hard-hit Italy.

Speaking to CNN, Pence says, “We think Italy may be the most comparable area to the United States at this point.”

Pence was referencing the prediction models unveiled by the White House on Tuesday that project 100,000 to 240,000 U.S. deaths in the coronavirus pandemic. Those figures assume that the country maintains rigorous social-distancing practices for the duration of the public health crisis.

Italy’s health system was stretched beyond capacity weeks ago leading to soaring death tolls. U.S. governors and local officials have warned their states need urgent federal help to avoid a similar fate.

UNITED NATIONS — The United Nations says the global economy could shrink by almost 1 per cent this year because of the coronavirus pandemic instead of growing at a projected 2.5 per cent.

A new report from the U.N. Department of Economic and Social Affairs on Wednesday warned that world output could contract even further from this year’s 0.9 per cent forecast if restrictions on economic activities extend to the third quarter of the year, and if fiscal responses fail to support income and consumer spending.

The report said the negative effects of current economic restrictions in richer developed nations will soon spill over into developing countries which will see lower trade and investment.

The severity of the economic impact — whether a moderate or deep recession — will largely depend on the duration of restrictions on the movement of people and economic activities in major economies, and the size and impact of fiscal responses, it said.

U.N. Undersecretary-General for Economic and Social Affairs Liu Zhenmin said: “Urgent and bold policy measures are needed, not only to contain the pandemic and save lives, but also to protect the most vulnerable in our societies from economic ruin and to sustain economic growth and financial stability.”

NEW YORK — New York City is enlisting its recently retired police commissioner as a coronavirus supply czar to ensure hospitals on the front lines of the fight have sufficient equipment.

James O’Neill, who left the New York Police Department in November, is taking the role on a voluntary basis and will remain a senior vice-president and global security chief at credit card giant Visa Inc.

Mayor Bill de Blasio said O’Neill will develop a system of checks to ensure supplies such as protective masks, gowns and gloves and vital pieces of equipment such as ventilators are where they need to be. New York City accounts for most of the state’s COVID-19 deaths, which doubled in 72 hours to more than 1,900.

O’Neill was with the police department for 36 years, the last three as commissioner. In that role, he led a move away from controversial policies, guided its response to terrorist attacks and oversaw continuing drops in crime.

WASHINGTON — U.S. military officials say they are sending another 540 troops to the U.S.-Mexico border to help the Department of Homeland Security bolster efforts to keep COVID-19-infected migrants from crossing the border.

Gen. Terrance O’Shaughnessy, commander of U.S. Northern Command, which is responsible for the defence of the United States, told reporters Wednesday that the extra troops would help “seal off” the flow of coronavirus. Mexico has far fewer reported cases of the virus than does the U.S.

Lt. Gen. Laura Richardson, who commands land forces under O’Shaughnessy, says the extra troops will be deployed “very soon.”

The U.S. already has about 2,700 active-duty troops and about 2,500 members of the National Guard on the border.

ATHENS, Greece — The Orthodox Church of Greece says this month’s Easter Week and Easter Sunday services will be held behind closed doors, with only a few priests allowed in and no members of the general public, to prevent the spread of the coronavirus pandemic.

Orthodox Easter is the most popular date on Greece’s religious calendar, with large crowds flocking to Easter Week -- which falls this year on April 12-19 -- services daily, attending candle-lit mourning processions on Easter Friday and often rowdy celebrations for the Resurrection at midnight on Easter Saturday.

The Church of Greece on Wednesday urged the faithful to pray at home, in an act of “sacrifice.” The government has already warned Greeks that traditional Easter Sunday festivities, that include open-air family feasts with mass roasting of lambs, will not be allowed this year.

JACKSON, Miss. — Mississippi Gov. Tate Reeves planned to announce Wednesday that he is setting a statewide stay-at-home order to try to slow the spread of the new coronavirus, government employees with direct knowledge of the announcement told The Associated Press.

The order will take effect Friday and be in place for about two weeks, said the employees, who spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to discuss the governor’s announcement in advance.

Mississippi has surpassed 1,000 confirmed cases of the coronavirus, according to numbers released Wednesday.

Reeves has been among the minority of governors who had not issued a statewide stay-at-home order.

Despite his reticence to do so, an increasing number of Mississippi cities took it upon themselves to set tighter restrictions on people’s movements by closing fitness centres, tattoo parlours, nail salons and barber and beauty shops.

LAS VEGAS — Nevada Gov. Steve Sisolak issued a statewide directive telling Nevadans to stay at home, with an exception for essential trips.

The Democratic governor had already asked Nevada residents two weeks ago to stay home and ordered a closure of casinos and non-essential businesses, but on Wednesday he decided to formalize his request that Nevadans stay home with a written order.

Unlike the orders issued by some other governors, Sisolak’s directive does not include a penalty for those who violate it.

The governor’s order doesn’t apply to the homeless or people making essential trips such as to get groceries, receive health care or receive goods or services from businesses that have been allowed to stay open, such as pharmacies, hardware stores and restaurants that offer take-out only.

Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis issued a statewide stay-at-home order on Wednesday as federal and local pressure mounted for him to abandon the county-by-county approach he had implemented.

DeSantis told reporters that he is issuing the order after consulting with President Donald Trump and White House advisers, who have said that Americans need to stay home throughout April.

DeSantis’ move came hours after the U.S. surgeon general, Dr. Jerome Adams, said on NBC’s “Today” show that he would tell DeSantis that the federal guidelines for social distancing should be viewed as “a national stay-at-home order.”

The state’s confirmed cases are approaching 7,000, deaths have reached 86 and almost 900 are hospitalized with a university model cited this week at the White House showing an exponential growth in the coming weeks.

More than 30 other states had already issued such orders, including other large states such as California, New York and Illinois. Those all acted more than a week ago.

ROME – Italy added another 4,782 virus infections to bring its official total to 110,574. And Italy’s death toll, already the highest in the world, increased by another 727 victims to 13,155. But the rate of new infections continued its levelling off, and Lombardy officials reported continued easing of the pressure on intensive care units, where the numbers have fluctuated from 1,328 patients on Sunday to 1,342 on Wednesday.

Local officials and statisticians, however, have noted that Lombardy’s ICU numbers might not be rising because ICU are full and because many elderly people aren’t being brought to hospitals and are dying at home or in nursing homes where their deaths might not even be recorded as COVID-19 because they were never tested.

But if the trend of fewer hospital admissions continues and more ICU beds free up, “probably we’ll be able to admit patients who are being treated at home, because we can treat them at home, but just not in optimal safety” said Dr. Guido Marinoni, president of the order of doctors in hard-hit Bergamo.

MOSCOW – The Russian government said Wednesday that tests of a new coronavirus vaccine will begin in June.

Deputy Prime Minister Tatyana Golikova reported to President Vladimir Putin that the trials will involve 60 volunteers.

The vaccine is being developed by the state Vektor lab in Novosibirsk in Siberia. Golikova said that the government has allocated all the necessary resources to speed up its development.

She said that the preliminary research is set to be completed by early May and clinical tests are scheduled to start on June 29.

About three dozen labs across the world have been developing a vaccine against the new coronavirus.

MOSCOW – Russian President Vladimir Putin said that more than 20,000 Russians are waiting for a chance to come back amid the pandemic.

Speaking in a conference call with Cabinet officials, Putin noted that many of them are coming back because they found it difficult to get proper medical assistance abroad.

Deputy Prime Minister Tatiana Golikova said that the number of Russians allowed to return will be limited to 700 a day, including 500 in Moscow, due to a limited capacity to properly screen and isolate those arriving.

Russia has completely shut its borders this week and sharply limited the number of flights taking Russians home, and thousands have been left stranded abroad waiting for a flight home.

Putin emphasized that “the situation in the country is exacerbating” too, noting that nearly 293,000 are in self-isolation over possible infection. Russia has registered 2,777 coronavirus cases and 24 deaths.

ALGIERS, Algeria – Algeria plans to administer the anti-malaria medication chloroquine to treat citizens with confirmed cases of the coronavirus as well as those who appear to be infected.

The announcement on Tuesday by Health Minister Abderrahmane Benbouzid follows another a week ago by the Communications Ministry which signalled the go-ahead for the medication.

The ministry statement said the medication, also used to treat other maladies such as the autoimmune disease lupus, is produced locally and in sufficient quantities for use during the current health crisis.

The health minister, speaking on the national radio, said that the Scientific Committee, “noting the opinion of other specialists and experts, decided to start the chloroquine treatment on all those declared positive with COVID-19 as well as those who have signs of contamination.”

He did not say when treatments would start.

Some European countries such as France recently decided to administer a variant of the medication under controlled circumstances and with a doctor’s prescription. Chloroquine or hydroxychloroquine combined with the antibiotic azithromycinare are being held out by some as a hope for combatting the coronavirus pandemic. Algeria has 716 cases of the virus and 44 deaths, according to the Johns Hopkins site

The U.S. Capitol stands in the background as Pennsylvania Avenue is mostly empty, in Washington, on April 1, 2020.Drew Angerer/Getty Images

WASHINGTON – The District of Columbia announced 91 new positive infections of the new coronavirus. That brings the total cases of COVID-19 to 586.

There have been two new deaths, bringing the total to nine.

Mayor Muriel Bowser has issued a stay-home order for Washington’s approximately 700,000 residents. Neighbouring Maryland and Virginia have done the same.

CUBA, Missouri – An eastern Missouri man has been charged with making a terrorist threat after he allegedly coughed toward customers and wrote COVID on a cooler at a Dollar Tree store.

John Swaller of Cuba was charged Tuesday and was being held on $25,000 bail in the Crawford County jail.

An employee of a the store called police because the 33-year-old man was intentionally coughing toward customers and had breathed on a cooler before writing COVID on the inside of the cooler.

The store was closed and sanitized. Cuba is about 80 miles southwest of St. Louis.

Swaller’s father told The St. Louis Post-Dispatch his son does not have COVID-19. Police still used protective gear to transport Swaller to jail.

ATHENS – Greek health authorities have announced another 101 confirmed cases of the new coronavirus, including 20 people on board a passenger ship anchored off the country’s main port of Piraeus.

That brings the total number of cases in Greece to 1,415.

Another 20 positive cases from the ship were announced Tuesday. The ferry has just over 380 people on board and had been chartered to take workers of various nationalities from Turkey to Spain for a shipbuilding project.

It set sail in early March but headed back due to the virus outbreak in Europe and was allowed to resupply in Greece. All on board have been tested, and authorities were awaiting all the results.

Greece also reported one new death, bringing the total number of people who have died due to COVID-19 to 50. Ninety people are hospitalized in intensive care on respirators.

The country has carried out 17,350 tests so far.

ISLAMABAD – Pakistan extended its nationwide lockdown another two weeks to contain the spread of the coronavirus. The number of confirmed cases rose Wednesday to more than 2,100, with 26 fatalities.

Asad Umar, federal minister for planning and development, said the country will start special flights beginning April 4 to bring home Pakistanis stranded in various countries. However, a ban on both domestic and international flights was extended until April 11.

Pakistan Prime Minister Imran Khan also said China was supplying much needed medical equipment to the country.

Khan has opposed ordering a curfew but authorities are enforcing a nationwide lockdown, which has badly affected the country’s ailing economy.

BERLIN – Chancellor Angela Merkel says it is far too early for Germany to consider loosening restrictions on public life. She says officials will review the situation just after Easter.

Merkel held a telephone conference Wednesday with German state governors and said they agreed the closure of non-essential shops and a ban on gatherings of more than two people in public will remain in place until at least April 19.

Merkel says authorities will review the situation the Tuesday after Easter.

Germany had more than 73,000 confirmed coronavirus infections as of Wednesday, including 802 deaths, according to a tally by Johns Hopkins University.

BUDAPEST, Hungary – The Hungarian government says it no longer try to curb the autonomy of mayors nationwide during the coronavirus pandemic.

The about-face came just hours after the government presented legal amendments which would have tied mayors’ decisions to approval from government-appointed administrators.

The plan had drawn swift condemnation from opposition parties, which said it would unnecessarily slow the decision-making process.

TIRANA, Albania – Albania has extended its lockdown indefinitely during the COVID-19 pandemic.

A statement from the Health Ministry says all “restrictive measures aiming at limiting the COVID-19 spread” are extended to an undetermined time.

The restrictive measures cover the closing of schools, kindergartens and other public educative institutions, cafes, restaurants, shops and fast food service and other accommodating structures like hotels.

It also prohibits all gatherings.

Albania has also closed its land, sea and air borders.

Albania has 15 deaths and 259 positive cases. Authorities say that 80 people are hospitalized and 67 people have recovered from the virus.

BERLIN – German authorities won’t introduce rules requiring people to wear face masks in public. The government is hopeful that tracing apps can be a useful tool.

Neighbouring Austria has ordered people to wear simple masks when in supermarkets. The eastern German city of Jena wants to make them obligatory in shops and public transport.

But Bavarian governor Markus Soeder said after a telephone conference with Chancellor Angela Merkel that state leaders “agreed not to declare an obligation to wear protective masks now.”

He said there are reservations about whether simple masks would achieve “resounding medical success.”

German authorities are exploring ways of developing tracing apps to alert people to potential infection with COVID-19 that comply with the country’s strict data privacy rules.

BEIRUT, Lebanon – Syria’s Health Ministry has called on security forces to isolate a village northwest of the capital Damascus because the family of a person who died of the coronavirus has refused to self-quarantine.

The ministry said isolating the village of Mneen was aimed at protecting other citizens. Mneen is just south of Saydnaya, where a notorious military prison holding thousands of detainees is located.

Syria has only 10 confirmed cases of the virus and two deaths, including a woman from Mneen village. But the lengthy civil war in Syria has led to rampant poverty and barely functioning medical facilities.

The Syrian government has imposed a nighttime curfew and barred travelling between provinces to prevent the spread of the virus.

The Wimbledon emblem is seen at The All England Tennis Club in a July 1, 2019, file photo.DANIEL LEAL-OLIVAS/AFP/Getty Images

WIMBLEDON, England – Wimbledon has been cancelled for the first time since the Second World War because of the coronavirus pandemic.

The All England Club announced after an emergency meeting that the oldest Grand Slam tournament in tennis would not be held in 2020.

Wimbledon was scheduled to be played on the outskirts of London from June 29 to July 12.

It now joins the growing list of sports events scrapped in 2020 because of the COVID-19 outbreak.

That includes the Tokyo Olympics, the NCAA men’s and women’s college basketball tournaments and the European soccer championship.

The last time Wimbledon was called off was 1945.

WASHINGTON – The Bureau of Prisons says a second inmate has died at a federal prison complex in Louisiana from the new coronavirus.

A Bureau of Prisons spokeswoman confirmed the death at FCC Oakdale to The Associated Press. The agency said it could not provide additional information pending notification of next of kin.

Another inmate died at the same facility last week.

The death comes the same day the Bureau of Prisons is enacting a new policy to slow the spread of the coronavirus. The agency said all inmates at its 122 correctional facilities will be locked in their cells for 14 days in an effort to slow the spread of the virus.

So far, 29 inmates and 30 staff members in the federal prison system have tested positive for COVID-19.

STOCKHOLM – The Swedish military says it is against cancelling a major military exercise in May even after several allies have pulled out.

The Aurora 20 military drill is scheduled to be held from May 11 through June 4 on air, land and sea in the southern Skane region with some 3,000 international troops.

Swedish public broadcaster SVT reports Canada and Germany have cancelled participation and Austria is considering not coming. Britain will substantially scale down contribution. The United States and Nordic neighbour Finland have said they will attend Aurora 20.

Spokesman Marcus Nilsson from the Swedish Armed Forces told SVT it was utterly important for Sweden to arrange the drill in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic to show that “when the society is in a crisis, the defence must be at its strongest.”

Many national and international military exercises in Europe have been called off in the past weeks due to the coronavirus situation.

BERLIN – The UN weather agency says the coronavirus pandemic is affecting global efforts to monitor climate change and collect meteorological data for forecasting.

The World Meteorological Organization says most monitoring is automated, but some data in developing countries is still collected by hand. That process is now slowed by lockdowns.

It said observations in Bolivia, Uganda and Papua New Guinea have dropped by more than half over the last week compared to the average in January.

The reduction in air travel is also having an impact. Sensors on planes collect information on temperatures and wind speeds, which they transmit to meteorological stations on the ground.

With far fewer planes in the air, weather services have seen a sharp drop in available data.

SOFIA, Bulgaria – Bulgaria has confirmed at least 412 cases of the new coronavirus and nine deaths.

Officials say 20 people have recovered from COVID-19.

The government has extended the nationwide state of emergency by a month until May 13 to contain the spread of the outbreak.

The Balkan country of 7 million has already closed schools, restaurants, parks and sports facilities, and banned intercity travel and holiday trips.

The extension must be approved by the 240-member parliament, which must also vote on a government-proposed budget update on Apr. 2.

It is not immediately clear if the meeting will be held because all lawmakers have to undergo a test for the coronavirus after one tested positive for the disease.

BRATISLAVA, Slovakia – Slovakia is launching a project to test for the new coronavirus in its embattled Roma population that lives separated from the majority in poor settlements across the country.

Prime Minister Igor Matovic says the one-week testing with the help of the military and Roma activists will start on Friday in 33 such settlements.

The poorest of the poor Roma live in settlements that often lack access to running water and sewage systems.

Authorities will at first focus on 1,000 residents who recently returned from abroad or have shown symptoms of the virus.

Matovic said the virus would spread more quickly there than at any other places.

HAVANA – Cuban authorities say they are cancelling the island’s trademark May Day parade because of the new coronavirus. Cuba is also tightening air and sea travel restrictions that already bar the arrival of tourists.

Exceptions in travel restrictions that allow residents of Cuba to return to the island could be eliminated, although officials did not provide details.

The May Day parade often draws hundreds of thousands of mostly state workers to the Plaza of the Revolution in Havana.

Cuba has also barred travel in and out of a Camilo Cienfuegos in Pinar del Rio province in western Cuba. Seven people have tested positive for COVID-19 there and officials believe the outbreak began by the return of a local couple from Mexico.

Cuba has 186 confirmed COVID-19 cases and six deaths.

Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe attends an upper house committee meeting at the parliament in Tokyo, on April 1, 2020.STR/AFP/Getty Images

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.

BERLIN – Adidas has backed off a move to defer rent payments for closed shops after facing persistent criticism from the German government and others.

The Germany-based spots apparel maker apologized in an open letter Wednesday and said it had paid its landlords the rent for April.

It acknowledged that many people felt that its decision to seek the deferral of April rents had lacked solidarity, adding: “your opinion is clear: you are disappointed by Adidas.”

Non-essential shops have been closed in much of Europe and beyond in an effort to slow the coronavirus pandemic.

German Justice Minister Christine Lambrecht said over the weekend that it was “indecent and unacceptable” for financially strong companies not to pay their rent.

BERLIN – The United Nations’ atomic watchdog agency says it’s sending equipment to more than 40 countries to give them the capability to use a highly accurate, nuclear-derived, coronavirus detection technique.

The International Atomic Energy Agency says 4 million euros ($4.4 million) worth of supplies will help countries use the technique to detect in real time the coronavirus in samples sent to their labs.

The test is known as RT-PRC, or “real time reverse transcription-polymerase chain reaction.”

The Vienna-based agency says dozens of labs in Africa, Asia, Europe, Latin America and the Caribbean will receive diagnostic machines and kits as well as other supplies to speed up national testing.

IAEA Director General Rafael Grossi says the assistance is part of the agency’s response to requests for support from around 90 member states. The IAEA is also drawing from extra money provided by member states, including $6 million from the U.S., $3.5 million from Canada and $550,000 from the Netherlands.

ANKARA, Turkey – A Turkish government decision to block fundraising campaigns by opposition-run municipalities aiming to help households impacted by the coronavirus outbreak has caused outrage on social media.

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s government declared fundraising campaigns by the municipalities of Istanbul and Ankara as illegal. The government has blocked bank accounts and urged citizens to channel donations to a campaign he launched this week.

Many took to Twitter to denounce the move largely seen as the latest among a series of political manoeuvres by Erdogan’s government to obstruct opposition municipalities.

Erdogan accused the municipalities of trying to act like a “state within a state.” The mayors have said they will challenge the decision at Turkey’s administrative court.

Erdogan’s party lost control of the municipalities of Ankara and Istanbul in local elections last year.

Prince Charles is seen in a framegrab taken from a video provided by Clarence House, on April 1, 2020.Clarence House/The Associated Press

LONDON – Prince Charles has applauded the work of charities helping the elderly during the new coronavirus outbreak.

His video remarks on royal social media accounts are the prince’s first appearance since he self-isolated after contracting the virus.

The video was made at Birkhall, the prince’s home in Scotland. Charles said he finds himself “on the other side of the illness but still in no less a state of social distance and general isolation.”

The 71-year-old went into self-isolation last week with mild symptoms of COVID-19. His wife, the Duchess of Cornwall, tested negative.

Charles is patron of Age U.K., while his wife is the patron of Silver Line, a helpline offering support to the elderly.

He said their “hearts go out to all those older people throughout this country who are experiencing great difficulty.”

BUDAPEST, Hungary – Hungary’s government wants to strip autonomy from mayors across the country by tying their decisions to approval by appointed administrators during the new coronavirus outbreak.

The proposal is part of an extensive draft bill on changes in public administration. It came a day after Prime Minister Viktor Orban’s government gained powers to rule during the coronavirus crisis.

The measure has been widely criticized for not including an end-date to the emergency powers.

Opposition parties that made significant gains in nationwide municipal elections last year decried the proposal as unnecessary meddling and retaliation by Orban.

ANKARA, Turkey – Turkey’s president says his government is expediting the opening of a new public hospital in Istanbul amid the new coronavirus outbreak.

Recep Tayyip Erdogan told the regional heads of his ruling party in a video conference the new hospital will be inaugurated on April 20. Some sections will open a month later.

The new Ikitelli City Hospital would increase Turkey’s capacity by 2,000 beds and 500 ventilators.

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.

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 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.

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 – 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.

In this file photo taken on Aug. 21, 2013, a Scottish Saltire hangs during the annual Edinburgh Fringe Festival.ANDY BUCHANAN/AFP/Getty Images

LONDON – The Edinburgh International Festival has been cancelled for the first time since it launched in 1947 in an attempt to bring arts to the community after the Second World War.

The event has been held every August in Edinburgh. The festivals comprises all the arts, including stand-up comedy, theatre, music and books.

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.

ATHENS – Greece’s main opposition party has urged the government to protect refugees and migrants at the country’s largest camp from the spread of the new coronavirus.

Some 22,000 people are currently at the camp at Moria on the island of Lesbos. Most live in crowded tents outside the grounds.

The letter to the Health Ministry was signed by nine parliament members from the left-wing Syriza party. It follows similar warnings from human rights groups and public health campaigners.

The government has imposed movement restrictions at the camp and is creating isolation areas. Plans to rehouse the migrants have been delayed by disputes between the government and local authorities over alternatives.

Severe conditions of overcrowding also exist at other Greek island camps. There have been no confirmed cases of coronavirus at any of the island refugee camps.

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.

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.”

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.

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.

MADRID – Spain reports a new record of 864 deaths in one day while total infections broke the 100,000 mark, making it the third country to surpass that milestone behind the United States and Italy.

Spanish health authorities said Wednesday that the total number of deaths reached 9,053 since the beginning of the outbreak.

Total infections hit 102,136. But the 24-hour increase of 7,719 was 1,500 fewer than the increase from the previous day, offering hope that the contagion rate is stabilizing.

Spain is two-and-a-half weeks into a national lockdown with stay-at-home rules for all workers except those in health care, food production and distribution, and other essential industries.

The country is frantically working to add to the number of intensive care units in hospitals which are quickly filling up in the country’s hardest-hit regions.

Spanish authorities are bringing into the country 1,500 purchased ventilator machines and asking local manufacturers to ramp up production, with some creative solutions employed, such as snorkelling masks repurposed as breathing masks.

Two children play over a boundary wall of a house during the curfew in Colombo, Sri Lanka, April 1, 2020.DINUKA LIYANAWATTE/Reuters

COLOMBO, Sri Lanka – Sri Lanka’s president Gotabaya Rajapaksa is requesting that international financial organizations provide debt moratorium or debt deferment facilities to developing nations such as Sri Lanka, which are adversely affected due to the new coronavirus.

Rajapaksa made the request on Wednesday during a telephone discussion with the Director-General of the World Health Organization, Dr. Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus.

Rajapaksa requested Ghebreyesus to speak with the managing director of the International Monetary Fund, president of the World Bank, president of the Asian Development Bank and leaders of the leading bilateral lending nations “to provide debt moratorium or debt re-profiling facilities for vulnerable developing countries like Sri Lanka whose economies depend on tourism, exports, remittances and foreign investment in debt and equity markets.”

Ghebreyesus said on Twitter that he discussed with Rajapaksa the health and economic impacts COVID-19 can have on Sri Lanka and the whole region.

“I thanked him for mobilizing the whole-of-government in the fight against the coronavirus.” he added.

Sri Lanka has imposed a curfew since March 20, locking down the whole country and banning non-essential travel. Police are strictly enforcing the law and have arrested thousands who have violated the curfew regulations.

Two people have so far died due to COVID-19 while there are 142 positive cases.

The coronavirus has dealt a severe blow to the country’s lucrative tourism and garment industries.

LONDON – The British government is under fire for failing to keep its promise to increase the number of tests performed for COVID-19.

The U.K. has restricted testing to hospitalized patients, leaving many people with milder symptoms unsure whether they have had the new coronavirus. Many scientists have urged wider testing to allow medics who are negative to remain at work, and to better understand how the virus spreads.

That has happened in Germany, which has the capacity to do 500,000 tests a week.

The U.K. initially performed about 5,000 tests a day, but the government promised to increase that number to 10,000 by the end of last week. The target has not been met, with just over 8,000 tests performed Monday, the last day for which figures are available.

Officials have blamed a shortage of the chemicals needed to perform the tests.

Communities secretary Robert Jenrick said Wednesday that the number of tests should hit 15,000 a day “within a couple of days” and rise to 25,000 a day by mid-April. He conceded, “We do need to go further and we need to do that faster.”

He told ITV that “it isn’t easy to procure the tests in a global pandemic because there is a great deal of demand.”

SEOUL, South Korea – South Korean health officials say 43 patients have been placed under isolation in one of the biggest hospitals in the capital of Seoul after a hospitalized 9-year-old girl tested positive for the coronavirus.

Jeong Eun-kyeong, director of South Korea’s Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, on Wednesday said around 50 medical staff who worked at the Asan Medical Center’s pediatric department will be quarantined at their homes although they tested negative.

Jeong and Seoul City officials say the girl was tested for the virus after doctors found she had previously been treated for a headache at another hospital in Euijeongbu, near Seoul, where a dozen patients and medical staff have been infected with COVID-19.

Officials didn’t release specific details about the girl’s conditions.

South Korea’s nationwide caseload has slowed from early March when it reported around 500 new infections a day, but the country has struggled to stem infections at hospitals, psychiatric wards, nursing homes and other live-in facilities.

Hundreds of patients and medical staff have been infected in hospitals in the worst-hit city of Daegu, where more than 6,700 of the country’s 9,887 infections have been reported.

Medical staff embark a patient infected with the COVID-19 onboard a TGV high speed train at the Gare d'Austerlitz train station in Paris, April 1, 2020.POOL/AFP/Getty Images

PARIS – France is evacuating on Wednesday 36 patients infected with the coronavirus from the Paris region onboard two medicalized high-speed TGV trains.

The patients, all treated in intensive care units, are being transferred to several hospitals in Britany, as western France is less impacted by the epidemic.

The operation aims at relieving hospitals in the Paris region, hardly hit by the coronavirus that has claimed more than 3,500 lives in France.

The country has already operated several transports of patients by train, helicopter, military aircraft and onboard a Navy ship. Some patients from eastern France have also been transferred to hospitals in neighbouring Germany, Luxemburg and Switzerland.

France has increased its capacity of 5,000 ICU beds before the crisis to 8,000 now and is aiming at getting 14,000 ICU beds in the coming weeks, according to health authorities.

In the Paris region alone, the number of ICU beds has risen from 1,200 to 2,000 now, with almost the same number of patients needing intensive care.

BRATISLAVA, Slovakia – Slovakia’s plant that belongs to Korea’s car maker Kia says it is planning to renew production as planned on April 6.

Kia halted its production lines located near the northwestern city of Zilina on March 21 amid the outbreak of the coronavirus.

It says that workers are coming back to work “under strict preventive measures.” The plant creates some 3,800 jobs.

Slovakia has 363 cases of COVID-19, according to the government figures available on Wednesday morning.

Across the border in the Czech Republic, Kia’s affiliate Hyundai said on Wednesday it extended the closure of its Czech plant by one week until April 14.

In another Slovak neighbour, Hungary, Suzuki announced that it is extending its plant’s closure by two weeks, until April 17. Earlier, Hungary’s Mercedes-Benz plant also extended its factory’s closure, until April 21.

People watch swans and ducks in a public garden despite a government call to stay at home amid the coronavirus outbreak, in Ankara, Turkey, March 31, 2020.Burhan Ozbilici/The Associated Press

ANKARA, Turkey – Turkey has sent a planeload of masks, hazmat suits, goggles and disinfectants to Italy and Spain to help the countries combat the new coronavirus outbreak.

State-run Anadolu Agency said a military cargo plane carrying the medical equipment took off from an air base near Ankara on Wednesday.

The equipment was produced by military-owned factories and sewing workshops.

The items were being sent in crates displaying – in Italian and Spanish – the words of 13th century Sufi Poet Jalaluddin Rumi: “There is hope after despair and many suns after darkness.”

The report did not say how many masks and other equipment were dispatched.

LONDON – Britain’s largest banks are scrapping dividend payments amid pressure to secure cash for businesses struggling with the fallout of the COVID-19 crisis.

The Bank of England’s Prudential Regulation Authority requested the suspension of all plans to return money to shareholders. All outstanding dividend payments from last year will also be cancelled.

Barclays, Lloyds and NatWest are among the banks accepting the move.

The PRA says the decisions “are a sensible precautionary step given the unique role that banks need to play in supporting the wider economy through a period of economic disruption, alongside the extraordinary measures being taken by the authorities.”

The authority also expects bonuses to be cancelled for senior staff members.

The move may offer a moment of redemption for the big banks, many of whom suffered reputational damage following the 2008 financial crisis.

Royal Bank of Scotland CEO Alison Rose says the institution is “focused on ensuring we support our customers and help them to navigate the immediate and longer-term challenges they are facing as a result of COVID-19.”

SINGAPORE – Singapore will introduce a new bill aimed at offering temporary relief to businesses and individuals who cannot fulfill contractual obligations, such as rent payments and scheduled events, because of COVID-19.

The bill, which will be introduced in parliament next week and will be in place for at least six months, will prevent contracting parties from taking legal action such as forfeiting a deposit placed for a wedding that will be postponed, or terminating leases on commercial property for rent that has gone unpaid.

For individuals, the minimum amount of debt before filing for bankruptcy has been raised from S$15,000 to S$60,000. The threshold for companies to apply for insolvency has also been raised tenfold to S$100,000.

The relief measures come as Singapore has imposed further stringent social distancing rules on its residents. Gatherings have been limited to 10 persons or fewer, and people in Singapore who intentionally do not abide by the 1-meter (3-foot) social-distancing rule in a public place could be fined and jailed.

As of March 31, Singapore has a total of 926 cases of COVID-19 cases, and has since had three deaths.

Police officers patrol on the empty Red square, with the St. Basil's Cathedral (C) and Kremlin's Spasskaya Tower (R) in the background, in Moscow on March 31, 2020.DIMITAR DILKOFF/AFP/Getty Images

MOSCOW – Russia has sent a planeload of medical aid to the United States amid the growing coronavirus pandemic.

A military aircraft loaded with medical equipment and masks took off from Moscow early on Wednesday morning, according to the Defence Ministry.

Footage from the Russian Defence Ministry showed boxes of equipment inside an Antonov An-124 Ruslan aircraft at Moscow’s Chkalovsky Airbase.

The delivery follows a phone call between Russian President Vladimir Putin and U.S. President Donald Trump on Monday, when the two leaders discussed co-operation in the fight against the new coronavirus. A Kremlin statement said the call took place at Washington’s initiative.

Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said Tuesday that Trump accepted Russia’s aid “with gratitude.”

“Offering aid to the American colleagues, the president (Vladimir Putin) is assuming that when American production of medical equipment and materials picks up speed, they will be able to reciprocate if necessary,” Peskov was quoted by the Interfax news agency as saying.

NEW YORK – As the number of coronavirus deaths continues to surge in the United States, officials are warning the disease could kill between 100,000 and 240,000 Americans, even if people continue to stay home and limit their contact with others.

Experts made the prediction at a Tuesday media briefing with President Donald Trump. But they said they hope the figure won’t soar that high if everyone does their part to prevent the virus from spreading.

“I want every American to be prepared for the hard days that lie ahead,” said Trump, who also extended social distancing guidelines until April 30. “We’re going to go through a very tough two weeks.”

The U.S. recorded a big daily jump of 26,000 new cases, bringing the total to more than 189,000. The death toll leaped to over 4,000, including more than 1,000 in New York City.

NEW DELHI – Police in New Delhi have filed a criminal case against clerics of an Islamic religious sect for organizing a gathering last month in violation of COVID-19 safety measures such as social distancing.

Police said Wednesday they will question Maulana Saad and others of Tablighi Jamaat who have also been booked under India’s Epidemic Disease Act that restricts religious gatherings. They could be punished with six months in prison.

New Delhi state Health Minister Saytendra Jain told reporters the sect’s headquarters in the Indian capital has been sealed off from outsiders after police evacuated more than 1,500 people believed to have been exposed to the new coronavirus during the religious gathering.

Jain told reporters that paramedics have admitted 441 Muslim worshippers to hospitals in the Indian capital and more than 1,100 have been quarantined for testing. He said that of the capital’s 97 new coronavirus cases, 24 are traced to the religious gathering.

India has 1,238 confirmed cases of the new coronavirus, including 35 deaths.

A 21-day nationwide lockdown that began March 24 has resulted in the suspension of train and airline service and effectively kept 1.3 billion Indians home for all but essential trips to places like markets or pharmacies.

The religious sect said in a statement Tuesday that due to the sudden cancellation of rail services across the country a large group of visitors who had to depart by way of railways got stuck on the group’s premises. It said it had stopped the religious discourse on March 22, two days before the countrywide lockdown began.

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