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.
TOP OF THE HOUR:
— World Health Organization leader gives details about virus deaths.
— Spain hits new record in virus deaths within 24 hours.
— Chinese government calls out U.S. officials and lawmakers for coronavirus comments
GENEVA — The head of the World Health Organization’s office in Europe says figures show that more than 95% of people who have died of coronavirus on the continent have been aged over 60.
But Dr. Hans Kluge said age is not the only risk factor for severe disease, adding: “The very notion that COVID-19 only affects older people is factually wrong.”
In an online news conference Thursday in Copenhagen, Kluge said “young people are not invincible” — echoing similar recent comments from WHO Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus.
The U.N. health agency says 10% to 15% of people under 50 with the disease have moderate or severe infection.
“Severe cases of the disease have been seen in people in their teens or 20s with many requiring intensive care and some unfortunately passing away,” Kluge said.
He said recent statistics showed 30,098 people have been reported to have died in Europe, mostly in Italy, France and Spain.
“We know that over 95 percent of these deaths occurred in those older than 60 years,” he said, with more than half aged over 80.
Kluge said more than four in five of those people had at least one other chronic underlying conditions, like cardiovascular disease, hypertension or diabetes.
“On a positive note, there are reports of people over the age of 100 who were admitted to hospital for COVID-19 and have now — since — made a complete recovery,” he said.
BEIJING — The Chinese government is hitting back at U.S. officials and lawmakers who are accusing it of suppressing and hiding information about the coronavirus outbreak.
Foreign ministry spokeswoman Hua Chunying said Thursday that “the words and actions of individual American politicians are really despicable and immoral” and that they should focus their energies on what they can do to protect their citizens and save as many lives as they can.
“We have said many times that to stigmatize, blame and shift responsibility to others cannot make up for the lost time,” she said. “Continued lying will only waste more time and cause more loss of life.”
American lawmakers and officials have accused China of a cover-up of the seriousness of the initial outbreak that allowed it to spread more widely. Some also allege that China is understating its number of cases and deaths.
Hua said that China has released the relevant information in a timely manner every day.
“We understand the current plight of the U.S. and the pressure facing some American officials,” she said.
MADRID — Spain has seen Thursday a new record in virus-related fatalities, with 950 deaths in 24 hours that came as the country is seeing the growth of contagion waning, health ministry data showed.
The total number of deaths were 10,003 on Thursday.
New coronavirus infections rose by nearly 8% overnight to 110,238, placing Spain neck to neck with Italy, the country that saw the worst outbreak in Europe.
Health authorities have been saying that the pace of contagion has dropped from a daily average of 20% until March 25 to less than 12% after that date, more than 10 days after Spaniards were ordered to stay at home. The government has acknowledged that the real number of infection could be much higher because Spain only has the capacity of doing between 15,000 to 20,000 tests per day.
BELGRADE, Serbia — Police in Serbia have briefly detained a journalist who wrote about a lack of protective equipment and “chaotic” conditions at a large hospital complex amid the spread of the coronavirus.
Ana Lalic, who writes for portal Nova.rs, was taken to a police station late Wednesday, her apartment in the city of Novi Sad was searched and her laptop and two mobile phones were impounded, her lawyer says. The independent online portal later said she was released on Thursday after protests by independent journalist unions.
The detention came after the clinical center in northern Serbia said Lalic’s article “disturbed the public and hurt the image of the health organization.”
Serbia’s government has adopted a regulation that allows only state emergency committee officials to speak about measures taken by authorities in the fight against the COVID-19 spread. Government officials say the order is intended to fight against the spread of fake news amid the pandemic.
Rights journalist groups say the regulation introduces censorship, jeopardizes investigative journalism and freedom of the press.
Following the protests, Serbia’s Prime Minister Ana Brnabic said Thursday the government will abolish the decree, although she thinks “the regulation protects everyone, the citizens, medical workers and families from fake news and unverified information.”
TOKYO — Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s pledge to deliver just two old-fashioned gauze masks per household as a latest coronavirus measure has backfired and many people even thought it was a April Fool’s Day joke.
“Today I’m wearing one too, and this cloth mask is not disposable,” he said as he unveiled the plan at a government task force meeting Wednesday, saying gauze masks are washable and reusable. The masks will be delivered in a mail to each of the country’s 50 million households, starting from areas with escalating infections, including Tokyo, Osaka and other major cities.
Abe repeated Thursday that Japan is barely holding on and the coronavirus infections are on the brink of turning explosive. His government has enacted a special law and convened a task force to pave the way for Abe’s possible state of emergency declaration.
In a country where surgical masks are staple household items as protection for pollen allergy, common cold or any facial issue, masks have been out of stock for weeks now, and stocks were low even at medical institutions.
Still, the plan quickly proved unpopular and people mocked on Twitter and other social media by calling it “Abenomask,” or “Abe’s mask,” a play on his economic and financial policy of “Abenomics.”
SOAVE, Italy — A new study quantifying the hidden toll from coronavirus in the province of Bergamo, at the epicenter of Italy’s epidemic, has found that the number of deaths linked to the virus is double the official tally.
The study by the daily L’Eco di Bergamo with the InTwig data analysis agency puts the number of virus deaths last month at 4,500, compared with the official toll of 2,060, in the province of 1.1 million people.
Mayors have warned that the official numbers fail to take into account the many people dying at home or in rest homes who have never been tested for the virus. Under current policies, only those who arrive at hospitals manifesting strong symptoms are tested.
Lombardy accounts for 40% of Italy’s cases and more than half of its deaths, with Bergamo the hardest-hit province in the heavily populated industrial northern region.
Italy, which as recorded the most deaths of any nation, has extended a strict nationwide lockdown, including a shutdown of at least 60% of heavy industry, until April 13. But authorities caution that any return to normal movement will be a slow process.
BRUSSELS — More than a thousand people have now died from the new coronavirus in Belgium.
Emmanuel Andre, a scientist and a spokesman at the COVID-19 crisis center, said on Thursday that 93 percent of the 1,011 people who died after getting infected by the virus were older than 65.
A total for 15,348 persons have tested positive for the deadly virus in Belgium, a country of around 11.5 million people.
The occupancy rate of intensive care beds stood at 52 percent, meaning that 1,145 beds remained available as 5,376 patients were hospitalized Thursday.
TAIPEI, Taiwan — Taiwan has announced it is planning to donate 10 million face masks, plus medicine, to medical staff in countries that are fighting coronavirus.
The self-governed island claimed by Beijing has been seeking to showcase its own handling of the outbreak as it pushes back against China’s efforts to isolate it diplomatically.
The Japanese electronics maker Sharp, which is owned by Taiwan’s Honhai Precision Industry, a major maker of iPhones, has meanwhile said it was expanding production of surgical masks to locations in Europe, China and India. Sharp earlier announced it was launching production of surgical masks in Japan.
As of Wednesday, Taiwan had reported 329 confirmed cases and five deaths.
BANGKOK — The Thai owner of delicatessen chain Dean & Deluca has filed for bankruptcy in a U.S. court.
The company said in an notice Thursday that the restructuring of its U.S. operation would not affect its business in other countries and was aimed at minimizing the impact on its staff, customers and partners.
Bangkok-based Pace Development bought the New York gourmet foods chain in 2014 and expanded overseas. It has closed most of its outlets in Bangkok.
The company said it had delayed its financial report due to the coronavirus crisis.
CANBERRA, Australia — Australia is sending doctors by helicopter to cruise ships anchored off Sydney to assess who needs medical evacuation rather than bring 8,500 crew members ashore and risk overrunning hospitals with COVID-19 cases.
Eight foreign cruise ships off Australia’s east coast plus a German ship birthed at the west coast port of Fremantle have defied an Australian Border Force order on March 29 to leave the country. The ships fear their crews will become dangerously ill at sea.
New South Wales state Police Commissioner Mick Fuller said on Thursday he won’t allow crew members ashore in Sydney unless they need medical attention.
Fuller told reporters: “If a small percentage end up with the virus, it will overwhelm our health system and everything we’ve done to date will be wasted.”
LONDON — Around 950,000 people have applied for welfare benefits amid the COVID-19 crisis — nearly 10 times the usual number for a two-week period.
The Department of Work and Pensions says the surge is unprecedented and that it is moving 10,000 staff to the frontlines to help process the applications. It says more will also be hired.
The grim news comes as British Airways continues talks with unions over the fate of thousands of employees who face being laid off because of the crisis.
The airline has grounded much of its fleet and cabin crew, ground staff and engineers are among those facing job suspensions.
The Unite union says has been “working around the clock to protect thousands of jobs and to ensure the UK comes out of this unprecedented crisis with a viable aviation sector.’’
Aviation has been particularly hard-hit in the crisis, as travel restrictions keep people close to home.
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