COVID-19 world update: Criminals rush t0 exploit virus; U.K. death toll likely higher than reported

Local seasonal workers work at a strawberry field in Bottrop, Germany, Friday, April 17, 2020. Thousands of seasonal workers from Eastern Europe arrive with special flights to work in in secured groups at German farms because of the new coronavirus outbreak. Farms across Europe are facing a labour deficit as a result of the closed borders due to the COVID-19 pandemic. (AP Photo/Martin Meissner)
In this Thursday, April 16, 2020 photo, medical staff receive training on how to put on and remove PPE, personal protective equipment, to avoid being infected or transmitting coronavirus, at the Nightingale Hospital North West set up in the Manchester Central Convention Complex in Manchester, northern England. The complex has been converted into a hospital to provide care for an increased number of patients requiring treatment during the coronavirus pandemic. (AP Photo/Jon Super)
In this Thursday, April 16, 2020 photo, Members of staff don their PPE, personal protective equipment to avoid being infected or transmitting coronavirus, during a training session at the Nightingale Hospital North West set up in the Manchester Central Convention Complex in Manchester, northern England. The complex has been converted into a hospital to provide care for an increased number of patients requiring treatment during the coronavirus pandemic. (AP Photo/Jon Super)
This picture taken Thursday, April 16, 2020 and made available Friday, April 17, 2020 shows the Rialto Bridge lit up with the colors of the Italian flag in honor of the medical staff working on COVID-19 and its citizens, in Venice, northern Italy. (Comune di Venezia via AP)
Workers receive relief money from railway officers as authorities suspended nation-wide railway service as a preventive measure against the outbreak of coronavirus, in Quetta, Pakistan, Friday, April 17, 2020. (AP Photo/Arshad Butt)
A man crosses Thamrin Street usually busy with traffic at the main business district during rush hour time in Jakarta, Indonesia, Friday, April 17, 2020. Indonesia’s capital kicked off a stricter restriction to slow the spread of the new coronavirus last week as the metropolitan area has become Indonesia’s coronavirus epicenter. (AP Photo/Dita Alangkara)
A police officer with a mouth mask salutes during the visit of Belgium’s King Philippe and Queen Mathilde to the Regional Hospital Center in Liege, Belgium, during the outbreak of the COVID-19 virus, Friday, April 17, 2020. While supermarkets and pharmacies remain open Belgium continues to be on partial lockdown to prevent the spread of the coronavirus. (Daina Le Hardic, Pool Photo via AP)
Belgium’s King Philippe, center, and Queen Mathilde, left, speak with medical staff during a visit to the Regional Hospital Center in Liege, Belgium, during the outbreak of the COVID-19 virus, Friday, April 17, 2020. While supermarkets and pharmacies remain open Belgium continues to be on partial lockdown to prevent the spread of the coronavirus. (Daina Le Hardic, Pool Photo via AP)
Belgium’s Queen Mathilde, center, speaks to medical staff while visiting the Regional Hospital Center in Liege, Belgium, during the outbreak of the COVID-19 virus, Friday, April 17, 2020. While supermarkets and pharmacies remain open Belgium continues to be on partial lockdown to prevent the spread of the coronavirus. (Daina Le Hardic, Pool Photo via AP)
FILE - In this July 18, 2018, file photo, former Marine Sgt. Jake Wood accepts the Pat Tillman award for service at the ESPY Awards in Los Angeles. Pat’s Run annually draws 30,000 people to run in honor former NFL player and soldier Pat Tillman. The coronavirus pandemic forced organizers join several other races in shifting it to a virtual event. (Photo by Phil McCarten/Invision/AP, File)

The latest on the coronavirus pandemic. These files from the Associated Press were posted by Black Press Media at 9 a.m., Friday, April 17.


  • Trump gives governors options on how to reopen the economy.
  • apan Prime Minister Abe wants more social distancing.
  • Spain implementing new guidelines to count virus deaths.

Nearly 15,000 dead from COVID-19 in the U.K., but death toll likely higher

LONDON — The U.K. has recorded another 847 coronavirus deaths in hospitals, raising the overall total to 14,576.

The increase is slightly down on the 861 released on Thursday. Last week, a daily high reached 980 deaths.

The figure, which is released daily by the government, has come under increasing scrutiny. It likely underestimates the true toll because it only includes deaths in hospitals and not in nursing homes or other settings within the community.

Britain’s Office for National Statistics has indicated the figure could be around 15% higher, though others think it will be more amid growing reports of a sharp increase in coronavirus outbreaks in nursing homes.

Virus kills seven percent of Italy’s nursing home residents

ROME — Italy’s national institutes of health says a partial survey of nursing homes during the coronavirus pandemic has found more than 6,000 residents have died since Feb. 1 or about 7% of residents nationwide.

The number of dead is only a fraction of the total since the survey was based on data from a third of some 3,000 nursing homes contacted, which in turn are home to only a third of the estimated 280,000 elderly living in assisted care facilities nationwide.

The estimate is the best guess Italian authorities have about the huge toll of nursing home dead in the European epicenter of the pandemic, most of whom aren’t included in Italy’s official COVID-19 death toll because they were never tested. The institute’s Dr. Graziano Onder says about 40% were either positive or showed symptoms of COVID-19.

The scandal of the nursing home dead in Italy has sparked dozens of criminal investigations.

Criminals rush to cash in on COVID-19 with fake products

THE HAGUE, Netherlands — The European Union’s police agency is warning that counterfeiters are cashing in on the coronavirus by selling products ranging from fake tests to substandard face masks.

Underscoring the ability of organized crime gangs to quickly adapt to service new markets, Europol says they are exploiting “shortages of genuine products and the anxieties of regular citizens” across the continent.

The products, mostly sold from on websites or offered on messaging apps, come from countries within the 27-nation EU, but also from India and China.

Europol Executive Director Catherine de Bolle says the counterfeit products “do not meet the required quality standards and pose a real threat to public health and safety.”

Europol says along with personal protection gear, criminals are selling fake pharmaceuticals such as the malaria medication chloroquine.

Britain: Backlash against police for lack of distancing

LONDON — A round of applause for emergency workers prompted some criticism of London’s Metropolitan Police when social media images showed officers and members of the public ignoring rules of social distancing.

The tribute featured blinking blue lights from police cars lined up on central London’s Westminster Bridge to thank the National Health Service and other frontline workers.

Images shared on social media showed people leaning over the bridge beside one another and milling around while clapping.

The police say, “while many people adhered to social distancing guidance, it appears that some did not.”

The service says it regularly reminds “our officers of the importance of social distancing where practical and will continue do so.”

Japan tightens restrictions ahead of “golden week”

TOKYO — Japan’s Prime Minister Shinzo Abe says more social distancing is still needed after he declared a state of emergency in Tokyo and other urban areas 10 days ago.

Abe expanded the monthlong state of emergency to all of Japan on Thursday in a bid to reduce movement of people ahead of “golden week” holidays. Abe says Tokyo set a record of 201 daily increase of cases for a total of almost 3,000, calling the situation “severe.”

He says social interactions were reduced by 60% in downtown Tokyo and 70% in Osaka but fell short of an 80% target needed to slow the spread to a manageable level.

Japan has about 9,900 cases and 160 deaths.

Spain: Prosecutors probe nursing homes amid COVID-19 deaths

MADRID — Spain’s state prosecutor’s office says at least 38 probes have been launched into how nursing homes handled the coronavirus outbreak.

Half of the judicial investigations are looking into the situation of 19 nursing homes in Madrid, which has been the hardest-hit national capital amid the spread of the pandemic. The region’s authorities say nearly 5,000 elderly people have died since March 8 with the virus’ symptoms and only 781 were confirmed with a test.

The prosecutor’s office says there could be more probes in coming weeks. The office didn’t release information on what are the specific crimes that are being investigated.

Overall, Spain has recorded nearly 20,000 deaths of patients who tested positive for the virus and 190,000 confirmed infections.

Sweden: Government defends decision to keep bars open

STOCKHOLM — The Swedish government defended its relatively liberal policies to fight the coronavirus pandemic.

Ann Linde, the country’s foreign minister, says, “It is a myth that life goes on as normal in Sweden. There is no full lockdown of Sweden, but many parts of Swedish society have shut down.”

Johan Carlson, head of Sweden’ Public Health Agency says it was the tone that differed from other countries: “Rather than saying `you need to stay at home, you’re not allowed to do that and that,’ we are trying to explain to the population why this should be done, the reason for it.”

Swedish authorities have advised the public to practice social distancing. Schools, bars and restaurants are still open, and only gatherings of more than 50 people have been banned.

In neighbouring Denmark, another small step toward reopening the country was taken late Thursday when the government, backed by the opposition, agreed to allow hair salons, dentists, physiotherapists, among others, to reopen on Monday.

Pakistan: Worshippers defy ban on gatherings

ISLAMABAD — Worshippers around Pakistan have defied a ban on gatherings by attending prayers at mosques Friday. That’s despite the deployment of police and government warnings that people could become infected by the coronavirus.

Among those defying the ban was a radical cleric at the Taliban-linked Red Mosque in the capital, Islamabad.

Police are expected to file cases against prayer leaders who allow worshipers to gather in their mosques as the number of virus cases in the country increases. Figures released Friday brought national totals to 7,025 cases and 135 deaths.

Pakistan has extended a nationwide lockdown for two weeks to help curb the spread of the virus.

Meanwhile, Pakistani officials say a team of physicians from China who came to assist Pakistan in fighting the virus will return home. China has provided critical medical supplies, including face masks, testing kits, ventilators and thermal scanners to Pakistan.

Tanzania launches national prayers, seeks divine intervention

NAIROBI, Kenya — Tanzania has started three days of national prayers, announced by the president, to seek divine intervention for the country to be spared from the deadly impact of the coronavirus

President John Magufuli previously said the government will not ban religious gatherings because the coronavirus will be combated by faith.

Four people have died and 88 have been confirmed infected by the virus in Tanzania.

Iran: Official death toll approaches 5,000

TEHRN, Iran — Iran put the country’s death toll from the coronavirus at 4,958 out of 79,494 confirmed cases.

Health Ministry Kianoush Jahanpour says 89 more people died from the virus since Thursday and 1,499 new cases were confirmed.

Montreux Jazz Festival cancelled

GENEVA — Organizers of the Montreux Jazz Festival have cancelled the world-renowned event scheduled from July 3-18 because of the coronavirus outbreak, the first such cancellation in its 53-year history.

Organizers say the enhanced hygiene measures and physical distancing in Switzerland to fight COVID-19 mean it’s not possible to hold the event that draws nearly 250,000 spectators each year.

Organizers are working to reschedule many of the planned performances to next year, including ones by Lionel Richie, Brittany Howard, Lenny Kravitz and Black Pumas.

Spain’s death toll revised upwards

MADRID — Spain says there are now 19,478 deaths of patients who tested positive for the new coronavirus, nearly 350 more than the number reported one day earlier, and 188,068 confirmed infections with over 5,000 new ones.

Health authorities are reshuffling the way to track the pandemic’s impact in the country with new guidelines to count the dead, while an effort to make more tests is counting hundreds of patients cured or without symptoms that weren’t recorded before.

The government says that it’s following World Health Organization guidance and insists on counting only those who die having tested positive for the virus, whether they show symptoms or not and no matter where the death takes place.

The director of the health emergency co-ordinationcentre, Fernando Simon, says that an effort to rein in a diversity of data from 17 Spanish regions is leading to corrections in past statistics.

“If the data is distorted it becomes difficult to take scientific decisions,” Simon has said in a televised press conference.

Spain is mulling how to safely implement an incremental way out of one of Europe’s strictest lockdown imposed in mid-March to spread the impact of the new virus.

Mass clean-up event for Belarus, which isn’t locked down

MINSK, Belarus — The government of Belarus announced a mass community clean-up event next Saturday that will be attended by hundreds of thousands of state employees despite the growing coronavirus outbreak.

The announcement on Friday came as health officials reported the country’s coronavirus caseload surpassing 4,200, which is twice more than a week ago.

Saturday community clean-ups are a Soviet tradition revived by the Belarus’ leader Alexander Lukashenko. Every year, these events attract hundreds of thousands of government officials and employees of state-run companies.

Belarus remains one of the few countries affected by the coronavirus pandemic that hasn’t gone into lockdown or imposed restrictions on public life in order to halt the spread of the virus.

Factories, stores and restaurants conduct business as usual in Belarus, stands at sports events are filled with spectators and masks are a rare sight in the capital of Minsk.

Lukashenko, who has ruled Belarus with an iron fist for more than two decades, dismissed concerns around the pandemic as “mass psychosis” and appeared more worried about the economic impact of a lockdown on the country’s struggling economy.

Maldives extends lockdown

MALE, Maldives — The Maldives authorities have extended a lockdown of its capital island and two other nearby islands by two more weeks after officials found four more COVID-19 patients with no trace of their possible sources of infection.

The extension comes in addition to a two-day lockdown announced on Thursday after three patients were found from the capital Male, showing signs of community spreading of the new coronavirus.

Maldives, an Indian Ocean archipelago is known for its luxury resort islands, had reported several patients from the resorts. However, a spillover into the society had been prevented by converting resorts into quarantine centres.

There were 23 COVID-19 patients found in resorts including 15 foreigners before the outbreak in the capital.

There are more than 100,000 people packed in Male island which is only one square mile (2.5 square kilometres) in extent.

China accuses U.S. of misinformation

BEIJING — China is accusing the U.S. administration of attempting to shift the focus from its own defects in dealing with coronavirus by talking-up a theory that the global pandemic was started by a pathogen that escaped from a Chinese laboratory.

“Anyone discerning can tell at a glance that the purpose of the U.S. is simply to confuse the public, divert attention, and shirk responsibility,” Foreign Ministry spokesman Zhao Lijian told reporters at a daily briefing on Friday. “We have said many times that tracing of the virus’ origin is a serious scientific issue and requires scientific and professional assessment.”

Officials including President Donald Trump and Secretary of State Mike Pompeo have suggested the lab theory may be valid, with Pompeo saying, “The mere fact that we don’t know the answers — that China hasn’t shared the answers — I think is very, very telling.”

Scientists say the virus arose naturally in bats. They say the leading theory is that infection among humans began at an animal market in Wuhan, China, probably from an animal that got the virus from a bat.

The Wuhan Institute of Virology specializes in research on animal-to-human transmission of such viruses but there is no evidence to backup the theory that the virus came from the lab.

French women arrested in Israel after selling non-existent wares

PARIS — Two French women have been arrested in Israel in an investigation into alleged fraud over protective masks, now in demand in France and elsewhere due to the spread of the coronavirus.

The prosecutor’s office in the French city of Rennes said in a statement Friday that fraudsters had used a counterfeit email address similar to that of the largest French maker of masks, Kolmi Hopen, near the city of Angers, to sell their apparently non-existent wares. An investigation showed that emails of other makers of protective equipment also were used.

The same alleged fraud team, posing as the French Treasury, also contacted individuals to collect unpaid taxes.

On Tuesday, Israeli police, working with French investigators, arrested two French women, aged 37 and 70 and from the same family, in Netanya. They are suspected of being at the centre of the fake efforts to sell masks and hydroalcoholic gel in France, according to a statement from Philippe Astruc, prosecutor in the western city of Rennes.

Israeli police were questioning the two French women, and French judicial officials in Rennes formally opened an investigation into fraud and attempted fraud, money laundering and association with criminals.

The fraud ploy came to light earlier this month after Kolmi Hopen, whose masks have been requisitioned by France, received numerous queries from France and overseas for prices of its masks.

Professor predicts 40,000 U.K. deaths in first virus wave

LONDON — A leading public health expert says “system errors” have led to Britain having likely the highest coronavirus death rate in Europe, as the U.K. government comes under pressure over its record in fighting the pandemic.

Anthony Costello, a professor at the Institute for Global Health at University College London, said the U.K. “could see 40,000 deaths” by the time the first wave of the outbreak is over.

As of Thursday, 13,729 people had died in U.K. hospitals after testing positive for the coronavirus. The number does not include hundreds, and maybe thousands, of virus-related deaths in nursing homes and other settings.

Costello has been a prominent critic of the government’s strategy, saying it has not been testing enough people for the virus and has failed to trace and isolate people who have been in contact with the infected.

Britain was slower than many other European countries to impose mandatory restrictions on business and daily life to slow the spread of the coronavirus. A lockdown was imposed March 23 and on Thursday was extended for at least three more weeks.

Stressed over COVID-19? Talk, says Prince William

LONDON — Prince William says the “most important thing” to do to deal with the mental stress of the coronavirus lockdown is to talk.

In an online video chat with the BBC with his wife Catherine, the Duchess of Cambridge, William said it’s “always underestimated” how much talking can help in maintaining mental health especially in an environment like this.

The royal couple have supported an initiative by Public Health England’s Every Mind Matters platform, by voicing a new film which signposts people to access tips and support for their mental health and well-being during the coronavirus pandemic. The film is set to be broadcast from April 20.

Catherine said “we mustn’t forget our mental well-being as well.”

William said members of the royal family have “really appreciated” being able to talk to each other online, though he conceded that the younger generation are a “little bit more tech-savvy.”

Williams also said he was initially “quite concerned” when he heard his father, Prince Charles, contracted the coronavirus given he is 71, and in the “fairly risky” category. Charles ended up having mild symptoms and came out of self-isolation on March 30.

William also laid out his hope that the world comes out of the pandemic in a better place, that it “recenters, refocuses and brings us all together.”

Serbia enacts curfew during Orthodox Christian Easter

BELGRADE, Serbia — Serbs are set this weekend to celebrate Orthodox Christian Easter inside their homes because an 84-hour curfew will be in place as part of measures against the spread of the new coronavirus.

The government-imposed curfew will start at 5 p.m. on Friday and last until 5 a.m. on Tuesday. This means that only people will special permits will be allowed to go out of their homes.

The Serbian Orthodox Church has asked the authorities to revoke the curfew early on Sunday to allow for the believers to attend Easter liturgies, but this has been rejected from fear of the virus spreading through the crowds.

The Head of the church, Patriarch Irinej, then urged the flock to stay at home with their families and follow the advise of the epidemiologists. Patriarch Irinej says “this is an opportunity for us to think carefully about ourselves and the whole world.”

Nonetheless, dozens of citizens have visited churches in Serbia that are open before the start of the curfew.

Serbia has imposed some of the harshest measures in Europe to contain the outbreak. They include banning people over 65 years old from leaving their homes and a daily and weekend curfews.

Serbia has reported 103 deaths from the new coronavirus.


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