News briefs: Six key days in China

A farewell ceremony is held for the last group of medical workers who came from outside Wuhan to help the city during the coronavirus outbreak in Wuhan in central China's Hubei province on Wednesday, April 15, 2020. Wuhan the epicenter of China's coronavirus outbreak is coming out of more than two months of lockdown with authorities working hard to restore businesses and factories. (AP Photo/Ng Han Guan)

The Associated Press

Governments around the world dragged their feet for weeks and even months in addressing the virus

The Associated Press

In the six days after top Chinese officials secretly determined they likely were facing a pandemic from a new coronavirus, the city of Wuhan at the epicenter of the disease hosted a mass banquet for tens of thousands of people; millions began traveling through for Lunar New Year celebrations.

President Xi Jinping warned the public on the seventh day, Jan. 20. But by that time, more than 3,000 people had been infected during almost a week of public silence, according to internal documents obtained by The Associated Press and expert estimates based on retrospective infection data. 

Six days. 

That delay from Jan. 14 to Jan. 20 was neither the first mistake made by Chinese officials at all levels in confronting the outbreak, nor the longest lag, as governments around the world have dragged their feet for weeks and even months in addressing the virus. 

But the delay by the first country to face the new coronavirus came at a critical time — the beginning of the outbreak. China's attempt to walk a line between alerting the public and avoiding panic set the stage for a pandemic that has infected almost 2 million people and taken more than 126,000 lives.

US ambassador: China is not blocking medical supply exports

The U.S. ambassador to China said Wednesday that he doesn't believe Beijing is deliberately blocking exports of masks and other medical supplies to fight the coronavirus, and that the shipment of 1,200 tons of such products to the U.S. could not have been possible without Chinese support. 

Ambassador Terry Branstad also said the U.S. has concerns about how China initially handled the virus outbreak in the central city of Wuhan, but that such issues should be addressed after the pandemic has been brought under control. 

"Let's focus now on saving lives and helping people," Branstad told a small group of reporters. 

Chinese officials are believed to have delayed reporting the outbreak for several crucial days in January due to political concerns, allowing the virus to spread further. 

China has adamantly denied doing so, despite strong evidence, saying it has consistently provided accurate, timely information. 

Despite working with half their normal staff, U.S. diplomats and local employees in China have been able to facilitate 21 flights of supplies on behalf of the U.S. Federal Emergency Management Agency, along with multiple private chartered flights, Branstad said.

He said there had been a slowdown in the provision of supplies, but that it appeared to be caused by China's implementation of stricter quality standards following complaints it was sending shoddy equipment abroad. 

Chinese cooperation both in providing antivirus supplies and implementing the first phase of a trade deal aimed at ending disputes over tariffs and intellectual property may actually help ease friction between the world's two largest economies, said Branstad, a former long-term governor of the important agricultural state of Iowa.

Would you give up data to return to work?

WASHINGTON (AP) — Cameron Karosis usually strives to protect his personal information. But a scary bout of COVID-19 that began last month with headaches and fevers, progressed to breathing problems and led to a hospital visit has now left him eager to disclose as much as possible to help halt the virus' spread. 

Karosis has already shared personal details with Massachusetts health investigators. And if he was asked to comply with a disease-tracking phone app that monitored his whereabouts but didn't publicly reveal his name and Cambridge street address, he said he'd do that, too. 

"I'm sick and I'm under a quarantine -- hold me accountable for it," the 27-year-old software salesman said. "You have the potential to kill other people."

As countries around the world edge toward ending lockdowns and restarting their economies and societies, citizens are being more closely monitored, in nations rich and poor, authoritarian and free. 

New systems to track who is infected and who isn't, and where they've been, have been created or extended in China, South Korea and Singapore. And a range of other surveillance systems – some utilizing GPS location data, some gathering medical data – have been debated or piloted in Israel, Germany, the U.K., Italy and elsewhere. 

Governors grapple with relaxing virus restrictions

COLUMBUS, Ohio (AP) — After a month of draconian steps to minimize deaths and prevent hospital overload from the coronavirus pandemic, governors now face a new challenge: Deciding when and how to begin easing restrictions on businesses and social gatherings.

Many of the states' chief executives say they don't want to move too quickly and risk a public health crisis, despite pressure from Republican lawmakers, business leaders, professional sports leagues and some parents. 

"We all want to open up tomorrow, but people will die if we do that without having things in place," Democratic Minnesota Gov. Tim Walz said Monday. 

Governors have consistently said that before they can loosen social restrictions, they need to know where their states are in terms of infections. To do that, they need widespread testing and tracing procedures. 

Dr. Anthony Fauci, the government's top infectious disease expert, said Tuesday that the country is "not there yet."

Virus challenges: How to protect elderly, educate young

COPENHAGEN, Denmark (AP) — The challenges of caring for the elderly and educating the young amid the devastating coronavirus pandemic were on full display Wednesday as Italian police investigated scores of deaths at the country's biggest nursing home and Denmark began reopening schools for its youngest students.

Alarming death tolls in nursing homes, often unreported in official coronavirus tallies because residents are not tested for the virus, are emerging around the world. In the United States, an Associated Press tally indicates at least 4,300 deaths have been linked to the virus in nursing homes and long-term care facilities nationwide.

The World Health Organization was on the hot seat as U.S. President Donald Trump announced a halt to American payments to the group, pending a review of its warnings about the coronavirus and China. Trump, whose own response to the virus has been called into question, criticized the U.N. health agency for not sounding the alarm over the coronavirus sooner. 

An investigation by The Associated Press has found that six days of delays by China — from Jan. 14 to Jan. 20 — in alerting the public to the growing dangers of the virus set the stage for a pandemic that has upended the lives of millions, sideswiped the global economy and cost nearly 127,000 lives.

Police in Milan on Tuesday searched the 1,000-bed Pio Albergho Trivulzio facility, where 143 people have reportedly died in the past month. Prosecutors began a probe after staff complained that management prohibited doctors and nurses from wearing protective masks, for fear of alarming residents. The facility has insisted it followed all security protocols and says it is cooperating with the investigation.

Virus choking off supply of Africa's food

HARARE, Zimbabwe (AP) — In a pre-dawn raid in food-starved Zimbabwe, police enforcing a coronavirus lockdown confiscated and destroyed 3 tons of fresh fruit and vegetables by setting fire to it. Wielding batons, they scattered a group of rural farmers who had traveled overnight, breaking restrictions on movement to bring the precious produce to one of the country's busiest markets.

The food burned as the farmers went home empty-handed, a stupefying moment for a country and a continent where food is in critically short supply.

It was an extreme example of how lockdowns to slow the spread of the coronavirus may be choking Africa's already-vulnerable food supply. 

Lockdowns in at least 33 of Africa's 54 countries have blocked farmers from getting food to markets and threatened deliveries of food assistance to rural populations. Many informal markets where millions buy their food are shut.

About one in every five people in Africa, nearly 250 million, already didn't have enough food before the virus outbreak, according to the Food and Agriculture Organization. A quarter of the population in sub-Saharan Africa is undernourished.

A year after blaze, Notre Dame restoration halted by virus

PARIS (AP) — The Cathedral of Notre Dame stands crippled and alone, locked in a dangerous web of twisted scaffolding one year after a cataclysmic fire gutted its interior, toppled its famous spire and horrified the world.

Some of the 40,000 prickly metal bars — erected for an earlier renovation project — melted in the intense blaze on April 15, 2019. The unstable scaffolding now endangers the Gothic jewel 

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Lives Lost: Brazilian mom loved dance, jokes and work

From the time she was a young teenager, Rafaela de Jesus Silva had numerous jobs: selling fruit and clothes in the streets, pumping gas, working as a receptionist and walking the sands of Brazilian beaches in sweltering heat to sell homemade foods. 

"She was always working somewhere, always looking for more jobs," said sister Luana de Jesus Silva. "One way or another, she always found a way" to achieve things.

That hustle was in part because of necessity: Silva had grown up poor, raised by an aunt when her parents couldn't provide for her. But friends and family say the passion for toil was more than just for material needs. The 28-year-old worked to be able to afford to attend university — she was just a year away from her teaching degree — and make sure her daughter, Alice, born on March 25, would have an easier upbringing than she did.

A week after giving birth, Silva died of complications related to the coronavirus.

"My heart is broken," said Antonia Souza, her aunt. "Her child will never even sit on her lap."

California schools will look very different when they reopen

SAN FRANCISCO (AP) — Staggered school start times. Class sizes cut in half. Social distancing in the hallways and cafeteria. These are a few of the possible scenarios for California schools that Gov. Gavin Newsom laid out as part of a roadmap for reopening the state amid the coronavirus.

The timeline for reopening schools remains unclear, as it does for reopening California society at large. But Newsom said Tuesday that when the state's 6 million students do return, things will look dramatically different.

"We need to get our kids back to school," Newsom said. "And we need to do it in a safe way."

The outline he presented for what it will take to lift coronavirus restrictions in the nation's most populous state asked more questions than it answered. He sought to temper the expectations of a restless, isolated public.

For schools, the biggest challenge officials will face is how to continue physical distancing among children and adults to ensure that "kids aren't going to school, getting infected and then infecting grandma and grandpa," Newsom said.

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