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:
— Britain tops 20,000 deaths from coronavirus.
— WHO warns against idea of ‘immunity passports.’
— Spain reports nearly 3,000 daily virus cases.
— Italy to give free masks to nursing homes, transport workers, police.
LONDON — Britain’s confirmed tally of hospital deaths among people with the coronavirus has topped 20,000, making it the fifth country to reach the grim milestone.
The government says 20,319 people with COVID-19 have died in British hospitals, an increase of 813 from the day before. The figure doesn’t include deaths in nursing homes, which are likely to number in the thousands.
Britain is the fourth European country after Italy, Spain and France to reach 20,000 deaths. The United States has recorded more than 50,000 coronavirus fatalities.
There are signs the U.K. outbreak has peaked, with the number of people hospitalized with the coronavirus declining. But the government says it is too soon to ease a nationwide lockdown imposed on March 23 and extended to May 7.
Still, some businesses are planning to reopen after implementing social distancing measures. Several automakers say they will restart production in May.
MADRID — Spain’s health authorities say 2,944 new COVID-19 infections were confirmed in the previous 24 hours, taking the total to nearly 206,000 cases.
Authorities say the daily figure is a 1.5% increase from Friday, compared to over 20% from a month before. There were 378 reported deaths in the last 24 hours, taking the death toll since the start of the pandemic in Spain to nearly 23,000.
“The recent tendency of the evolution of the pandemic appears to hold true, each day improving a bit, but it is important to not fall into excessive euphoria,” Spanish health official Fernando Simón said. “We must be prudent. We have to develop ways to transition (out of lockdown), but first we must guarantee our security capabilities.”
On Sunday, Spanish children under 14 years old can go outside with a parent for a maximum of one hour and within one kilometer from home. They’ve been indoors since March 14. Parks and schools remain closed.
ROME — Italians celebrated the 75th anniversary of their country’s liberation from World War II occupation forces by emerging on balconies or rooftops to sing a folk song linked to resistance fighters.
Citizens played recordings of “Bella Ciao” or sang a cappella to mark Liberation Day, which is a national holiday. The traditional marches and other memorial gatherings are banned during the COVID-19 pandemic.
In Rome, Italian air force jets flew overhead, trailing smoke colored with the red, white and green hues of the Italian flag.
The government’s commissioner for the pandemic, Domenico Arcuri, cautioned Italians: “All must understand that we’re not fully liberated from the virus. Against this enemy, we haven’t regained our freedoms” yet.
TEHRAN, Iran – Iran says it registered 76 more deaths in the previous 24 hours.
That puts the reported death toll from Covid-19 at 5,650 and confirmed cases at over 89,000. Iran is the country hardest hit by the virus in the Middle East.
Health Ministry spokesman Kianoush Jahanpour says more than 1,100 new confirmed cases were detected from the previous day.
Jahanpour added nearly 3,100 patients are in critical condition.
ROME — Italy will start distributing free protective masks to nursing homes, many of which have been devastated by coronavirus infections and deaths.
Domenico Arcuri, the government’s commissioner for the pandemic, says doing so is a “gesture of solidarity and nearness and support to these places ever more at the epicenter of this great crisis.”
Arcuri says free masks also will be distributed to public officials, transport workers and police. Millions of Italians will be allowed to return to workplaces starting on May 4, when lockdown restrictions will be considerably eased.
Italy, with some 26,000 reported deaths, most of them of elderly persons, has Europe’s highest toll from COVID-19. In Lombardy, Italy’s most stricken region, prosecutors are investigating about two dozen homes, including one in Milan where some 200 residents died.
VATICAN CITY — Pope Francis has singled out funeral home workers for people’s prayers during the COVID-19 pandemic.
In Italy and some other countries, the deaths of people with coronavirus infections have meant funeral parlor workers must deal with the grief of families who aren’t allowed to hold public funerals as part of government-ordered measures to try to contain the pandemic.
Francis says, “What they do is so heavy and sad. They really feel the pain of this pandemic so close.”
The pope made the appeal for prayers during morning Mass on Saturday in the Vatican City hotel where he resides.
In past remarks, the pope has cited others for doing what he called heroic work during the pandemic, including doctors, nurses, supermarket clerks and transport workers.
The Vatican has its own lockdown, barring the public from its museums and religious ceremonies. It has reported nine coronavirus cases among the residents or employees of the walled, independent Vatican City State.
LONDON — British medical authorities are urging people not to ignore symptoms of conditions other than the coronavirus. The move comes amid fears that cancer and other illnesses are going untreated as the health system focuses on fighting the pandemic.
Public Health England says visits to hospital emergency departments have fallen by almost 50% in April from the same month last year. The charity Cancer Research UK has estimated that 2,250 new cases of the disease could be going undetected each week, partly because people are reluctant to go to hospitals for fear of catching the virus or overburdening the system.
The National Health Service is launching a public information campaign urging people to seek urgent help if needed and to continue to attend services such as cancer screening and maternity appointments. It says the system still has capacity to treat other conditions.
NHS chief executive Simon Stevens said “ignoring problems can have serious consequences — now or in the future.”
BERLIN — Chancellor Angela Merkel is looking forward to a German presidency of the European Union that will be dominated by the coronavirus crisis. But she says that other questions such as climate policy won’t be neglected.
Germany will take over the 27-nation EU’s rotating presidency from Croatia for six months starting July 1. In her weekly video podcast Saturday, Merkel pointed to the dramatic economic fallout from the pandemic and said it will be important “to show in the coming weeks and months that we belong together.”
EU leaders have agreed on the need for a massive recovery plan and also face the task of agreeing on the EU’s next regular seven-year budget.
Merkel said that during the EU presidency, “we must see that we do something for strengthening Europe economically, that we do something for social cohesion and that we think of the future – and that means climate and environmental questions.”
Merkel also said that “the question will arise of how we can build an efficient European health system in all member states.” She said she wants there to be “more Europe” at the end of the German presidency.
LONDON — Britain’s government has defended the independence of the group of scientists advising on the coronavirus pandemic after it emerged that Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s controversial chief aide had attended meetings of the panel.
After a report in The Guardian, the government confirmed that Dominic Cummings had attended several meetings of the Scientific Advice for Emergencies, or SAGE, and listened to discussions. But it denied Cummings —- who is not a scientist — was a member of the group. The government said “SAGE provides independent scientific advice to the government. Political advisers have no role in this.”
SAGE is a little-known group headed by Chief Scientific Adviser Patrick Vallance and Chief Medical Officer Chris Whitty. The government has declined to publish its full membership, saying that could leave the scientists open to lobbying or pressure.
As Britain’s official toll from the virus approaches 20,000 dead, the government’s response is under increasing scrutiny, especially its perceived slowness in imposing a nationwide lockdown.
BERLIN — The World Health Organization is cautioning against the idea of “immunity passports.” It says there is currently no evidence that people who have recovered from COVID-19 and have antibodies are protected against a second infection.
The concept of “immunity passports” or “risk-free certificates” has been floated as a way of allowing people protected against reinfection to return to work.
But the Geneva-based U.N. health agency says in a scientific brief released Saturday that more research is needed. It says “at this point in the pandemic, there is not enough evidence about the effectiveness of antibody-mediated immunity to guarantee the accuracy of an ‘immunity passport’ or ‘risk-free certificate.’”
It argues that people who assume they are immune to reinfection may ignore public health advice, and such certificates could raise the risks of continued virus transmission.
WHO adds that tests for antibodies of the coronavirus also “need further validation to determine their accuracy and reliability.”
BEIJING — For the 10th straight day, China reported no new deaths from the coronavirus.
Twelve new cases were reported on Saturday, 11 of them brought from overseas and one local transmission in the northeastern province of Heilongjiang bordering on Russia, according to the National Health Commission.
Just 838 people remain hospitalized with COVID-19 while another 1,000 people are undergoing isolation and monitoring for being either suspected cases or having tested positive for the virus while showing no symptoms.
China, widely believed to be the source of the global pandemic, has reported a total of 4,632 deaths among 82,816 cases.