Antibody tests are 'days away'
The Associated Press
The Associated Press
TOP OF THE HOUR
— Good Friday observed at home ahead of Easter weekend.
— Dr. Fauci: Antibody tests expected next week in US.
— France aircraft carrier has 50 coronavirus cases.
— Notre Dame Cathedral will have its Good Friday ceremony with no crowd.
WASHINGTON — The top U.S. infectious disease official says coronavirus antibody tests are just days away.
Dr. Anthony Fauci says at the last White House coronavirus task force meeting, the people responsible for developing, validating and disseminating the tests were saying "a rather large number of tests" will be available within a week.
Fauci told CNN on Friday he's "certain that that's going to happen."
An antibody test could show whether a person was recently exposed to the coronavirus. Fauci says the test would say "that you were infected and if you're feeling well you very likely recovered."
Fauci says medical experts could then try to determine how deeply the virus "has penetrated the society" and whether previously infected people would be vulnerable to reinfection, which is particularly "important for health care workers."
Fauci says testing for an antibody doesn't mean medical experts are shifting away from testing for the virus to see who's infected. He says, "those things are done in parallel."
French aircraft carrier confirms cases
PARIS — France's only aircraft carrier has confirmed 50 cases of the virus aboard and is heading back to port.
The French military says three of those aboard the Charles de Gaulle with the virus have been flown to a French hospital for treatment. Medics are staying aboard to track the infections and prevent further spread among the 1,700 crew after 50 of the 66 tests were positive.
U.S. aircraft carrier USS Theodore Roosevelt experienced a similar outbreak, leading to a major controversy after its captain was fired.
Amid suspicions of an outbreak aboard the Charles de Gaulle, a medical team equipped with tests was flown to the French aircraft carrier on Wednesday while it was on a mission in the Atlantic Ocean.
Desperate for food
NAIROBI, Kenya — Kenyans desperate for a planned food distribution to those suffering under coronavirus-related restrictions have briefly rushed through a gate in the capital of Nairobi.
An Associated Press journalist saw the crowd push through a gate at a district office in Kibera slum. Police fired tear gas and left several people injured.
Movement restrictions or lockdowns in many African countries are creating widespread pain for low-income workers, who often have little or no savings.
SKOPJE, North Macedonia — The leaders of the two largest political parties in North Macedonia have been ordered to observe a two-week self-isolation after coming into contact with a television journalist who has tested positive for COVID-19.
The Health Ministry says former prime minister Zoran Zaev, who leads the Social Democrats, and conservative opposition leader Hristijan Mickoski have both received isolation orders and would remain at home.
The restrictions were imposed despite test results that were negative for Mickoski. Results for Zaev were expected later Friday.
Former interior minister Oliver Spasovski is the country's current caretaker prime minister as North Macedonia heads to an early general election.
North Macedonia has 663 confirmed infections and a death toll of 30.
Some workers coming back in Spain
MADRID — Spanish authorities say they believe plans to allow the return of non-essential workers to their factories and construction sites next week won't cause a significant surge in coronavirus infections.
"We are not under the impression that these measures will increase in an important way the transmission (of the virus)," the spokeswoman of Spain's health emergency coordination center María José Sierra said Friday. "We wouldn't be adopting them otherwise."
Some experts had warned that the relaxing of the two-week "hibernation" of economic activity comes too early.
Who exactly returns to work will be outlined in Friday's Cabinet meeting although authorities have said that heavy industry and construction will be part of those returning to work. Shops are meant to remain closed and office workers are encouraged to work from home.
There were 605 new deaths recorded overnight, the lowest increase since March 24.
The COVID-19 has claimed at least 15,843 lives among the 152,446 confirmed cases in Spain. However, officials acknowledge the true scale could be much higher.
Easter on TV
BRUSSELS — Worship places in Belgium will remain open over the Easter weekend but health authorities are advising residents to watch religious services remotely as the death toll of the novel coronavirus has now surpassed 3,000 cases.
Benoit Ramacker, a spokesman for the COVID-19 crisis center, said on Friday that officials in charge of the worship places must ensure that social distancing measures will be implemented in religious premises.
"All other religious services are prohibited, except unfortunately for funerals, but also weddings," he said. "We also see that several of you, many religious communities, have planned in the coming days an alternative religious service via Internet radio and television. Thank you and congratulations also for this creativity."
According to the latest figures released by the health ministry, 40 percent of the 3,019 people who have died in Belgium because of the epidemics lived in nursing homes.
Mortality rates improving
MADRID — The coronavirus has claimed at least 15,843 lives in Spain and has officially infected 152,446 people, although both the rate of contagion and mortality are dropping, official health ministry data shows Friday.
The 605 new deaths recorded overnight were the lowest increase since March 24. There were 4,576 more recorded infections than a day earlier, bringing down the daily rate of contagion to percent.
The Spanish government is meeting Friday to establish a 20 billion-euro ($21.9 billion) fund to help small businesses and the self-employed cope with the economic fallout of the outbreak, but it's also discussing what comes next for 47 million Spaniards who have been quarantined for four weeks.
After a two-week freeze of all nonessential economic activity, factories and construction sites are set to resume work on Monday. Schools, most shops and offices will remain closed, with people encouraged to work from home.
Experts have warned that the return of certain activity will increase contagion and that health authorities need to scrutinize any new cases.
A three-week survey of 30,000 households should help understand how many people are or have been infected and guide future "de-escalation" of the confinement measures, the government has said.
The state of emergency has been extended to April 26 for now, although Prime Minister Pedro Sánchez has said that he will most likely be asking parliament for further extensions.
Japanese quarantine plan
TOKYO — Cardboard boxes are being readied at Tokyo's Narita international airport for quarantine as arriving people wait for test results for the coronavirus.
Shotaro Tajima, a Japanese Health Ministry official in the contagious diseases section, said Friday people are now at nearby hotels and have not had to stay in the boxes.
If cases grow, people may need to wait longer for test results, which usually come back within several hours. Japan is requiring tests for people who fly in from dozens of nations, including the U.S., China and Italy.
Japan has about 5,500 coronavirus cases, but worries are growing about a surge in cases. The government's state of emergency declared this week requests people to stay home. It also asks businesses to shut down but allows exceptions, such as small "izakaya" counter-bar restaurants, which can be open from 5 a.m. to 8 p.m. in Tokyo.
Notre Dame celebration
PARIS — Although still damaged and scarred by fire, Notre Dame Cathedral is — if only for an instant — coming back to life as a center for prayer in a Paris locked down against the coronavirus.
Just days before the first anniversary of the April 15, 2019, inferno that ravaged the beloved Paris landmark, the French capital's archbishop is leading Good Friday celebrations unlike any others that have gone before inside the centuries-old jewel of Gothic architecture.
Archbishop Michel Aupetit will venerate a crown of thorns that survived the flames that brought down the cathedral's roof and spire and horrified Parisians and believers across the world.
There will be prayers, readings and music during the Friday morning ceremony but no crowd. With the cathedral closed to the public, only a tiny handful of people are taking part. But the proceedings are to be broadcast live.
UK officials flout rules
LONDON — A senior British official is being accused of flouting the government's advice against all but essential travel outside the home.
U.K. media have reported that Housing Secretary Robert Jenrick traveled from London to his house in central England, then made another 40-mile (60-kilometer) journey to visit his parents.
Opposition Labour Party lawmaker Nick Thomas-Symonds said "it's very important for public confidence that Robert Jenrick explains himself and why exactly that journey was necessary."
Jenrick said he went to his parents' house to deliver "essentials -- including medicines" to his parents, who are self-isolating. Delivering medicines to vulnerable people is permitted under the U.K. lockdown rules.
Scotland's Chief Medical Officer Catherine Calderwood was forced to resign earlier this week after traveling to her second home, in violation of her own rules.
Authorities are imploring people not to travel to see relatives or visit second homes over the Easter holiday weekend as Britain sees the number of deaths from COVID-19 continue to rise.
Turkey sends supplies to Britain
ANKARA, Turkey — Turkey is sending a planeload of surgical masks, N95 masks and hazmat suits to Britain to help the country battle the coronavirus outbreak.
State-run Anadolu Agency said a military cargo plane carrying the medical supplies took off from an air base near the capital Ankara on Friday.
A second plane carrying more equipment would depart on Saturday, the agency reported.
There was no information on the quantity of the supplies sent.
In the past weeks, Turkey has similarly donated medical supplies to Italy, Spain as well as five countries in the Balkans.
The items were sent in boxes displaying the words of 13th century Sufi Poet Jalaluddin Rumi: "There is hope after despair and many suns after darkness."
Africa nations lockdown
ACCRA, Ghana — Some African nations are trying to ease the pain of coronavirus lockdowns even as they extend them.
In Ghana, President Nana Akufo-Addo says the lockdowns in the greater Accra and Ashanti regions have been extended for a week, but he pledges that the government will fully absorb the cost of electricity bills for the "poorest of the poor" and 50% of the cost for all other consumers.
In South Africa, which has announced a two-week lockdown extension, President Cyril Ramaphosa says he and his Cabinet will take a one-third salary cut for the next three months, with the money going to a fund to help vulnerable countrymen.
Full or partial lockdowns in Africa have affected more than 20 countries, severely hurting the livelihoods of millions of informal workers and others.
Malaysia extends lockdown
KUALA LUMPUR, Malaysia — Malaysia will extend its lockdown for another two weeks but let selected industries reopen in stages.
Nonessential businesses and schools have been shuttered for a month until April 14 but Prime Minister Muhyiddin Yassin announced Friday the restricted movement order will be extended until April 28. Even though the country has reported a reduction in cases in recent days, he said it was premature to lift the control measures as "the war on COVID-19 is not yet over."
Malaysia reported 118 new infections on Friday, bringing its total to 4,346, the highest in Southeast Asia.
Muhyiddin said selected economic sectors can reopen in phases but must follow strict hygiene guidelines and movement restrictions.
He warned the lockdown could stretch up to a few months for the government to be entirely sure that the chain of transmission has been broken.
Russia will treat without test results
MOSCOW — Russian doctors will start treating patients with pneumonia for the new coronavirus without waiting for test results to confirm the diagnosis, the country's Health Minister Mikhail Murashko said.
"We're seeing that the disease progresses fast, and it has specific clinical presentation, (allowing) to diagnose (it) without confirming in the lab based on the clinical presentation," Murashko said in a TV interview that aired on Thursday night.
Murashko's statement echoes earlier comments from Moscow doctors involved in treating coronavirus patients, saying that the vast majority of pneumonia cases in Russia are most likely caused by the new virus and should be treated as such.
"Existing tests for confirming COVID-19 are 70-80% accurate," Denis Protsenko, chief doctor of a top Moscow hospital treating coronavirus patients, said Thursday.
Russian health officials reported 1,786 new cases of the coronavirus on Friday, bringing the country's total to 11,917. The outbreak has picked up speed in Russia in recent weeks, with the number of cases growing exponentially and doubling every few days. Kremlin critics have been questioning the official statistics, pointing to a growing number of pneumonia cases and suggesting that Russia's coronavirus case count might be much higher.
Hungary expects more health workers to be ill
BUDAPEST, Hungary — Hungary's prime minister says the country now has about 2,000 of the 8,000 ventilators it expects to need at the peak of the coronavirus pandemic.
Prime Minister Viktor Orban also said Friday on state radio that he expects around 20 percent of Hungary's health workers to be infected with the coronavirus.
Orban, who has extended indefinitely restrictions put in place two weeks ago to make people stay home, said Hungary was learning from measures implemented in neighboring Austria, which he called "our large laboratory," where the pandemic is at a more advanced stage.
Hungary has 1,190 cases of the coronavirus, and 77 people with have died.
Prime minister needs time
LONDON — Boris Johnson's father says the British prime minister needs time to recover from the new coronavirus and is unlikely to be back at work imminently.
The U.K. leader spent three nights in the intensive care unit at St. Thomas' Hospital in London after his COVID-19 symptoms worsened. He was moved back to a regular ward on Thursday evening, and his office says he is in "the early phase of his recovery."
His father Stanley Johnson said the prime minister needed to "rest up."
"He has to take time," Stanley Johnson told the BBC. "I cannot believe you can walk away from this and get straight back to Downing Street and pick up the reins without a period of readjustment."
Johnson was diagnosed with COVID-19 two weeks ago, the first world leader confirmed to have the illness. Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab is standing in for Johnson while he is in hospital.
Regional fund for Southeast Asia
MANILA, Philippines — Southeast Asian foreign ministers have endorsed in a video conference the setting up of regional fund to respond to the coronavirus pandemic and discussed a planned meeting of their leaders with counterparts from China, Japan and South Korea.
The Department of Foreign Affairs in Manila said Friday that the top diplomats of the 10-member Association of Southeast Asian Nations linked up by video Thursday in a meeting led by Vietnam. The ASEAN ministers could not hold an actual meeting due to the pandemic.
The ministers endorsed several collective steps to fight the pandemic, including the establishment of a COVID-19 ASEAN response fund, sharing of information and strategies and ways to ease impact of the global health crisis on people and the economy, the department said but did not provide details.
They also discussed a planned meeting of their leaders with counterparts from China, Japan and Korea in a video conference on April 14 to talk about the pandemic, three Southeast Asian diplomats told The Associated Press.
In Thursday's discussion, Philippine Foreign Secretary Teodoro Locsin Jr. stressed the importance of maintaining peace and stability in the South China Sea amid the contagion, the department said.
The Philippines has expressed solidarity with Vietnam after a Vietnamese fishing boat was reportedly rammed and sank by a Chinese coast guard ship in the disputed waters.