COVID-19 world update: Austria plans May opening of shops; Turkey aims for June
The latest on the coronavirus pandemic. These files from the Associated Press were assembed and posted by Black Press Media at 8:30 a.m., Tuesday, April 21.
TOP OF THE HOUR:
- Countries and U.S. states are moving to reopen gradually amid warnings that acting too quickly could enable the virus to come back with a vengeance.
- President Recep Tayyip Erdogan says Turkey could “transition to a normal life” in June if measures aimed at curbing the new coronavirus’s spread are adhered to.
- The National Spelling Bee is cancelled for the first time since 1945.
European tourism faces staggering blow
HALLE, Belgium — The European Union says its vaunted tourist industry is facing “staggering” figures of decline because of the coronavirus crisis and the bloc’s internal market commissioner wants the sector to be first in line when it comes to recovery funds.
Thierry Breton mentioned figures that the tourism economy could slump up to 70% and will be among the last to recover as the 27-nation bloc is facing perhaps the toughest challenge since its inception.
Across Europe, desolation illustrates the tourism crisis, from empty squares like the Brussels Grand Place to deserted monuments like Rome’s Colosseum while idle gondolas await non-existent tourists in Venice. Arrival areas in airports stand empty and beaches, basking in the sunshine, are deserted.
“Venice is on its knees,” mayor Luigi Brugnaro said Tuesday.
Europe is hardly alone in facing hardship — what with the deserted waterfront under Cape Town’s Table Mountain and the closed-off pyramids outside Cairo. But Breton said the European market accounts for half of world tourism.
The unprecedented scenes since World War II are hitting anything from multinational airlines to family-owned hotels.
“Tourism was the first sector to be hit by the coronavirus and I am sure that it will be the slowest to recover and come out of this phase,” Breton told a European Parliament committee via videolink on Tuesday.
Based on information from international institutions and trade groups, Breton said that “we are looking at quite staggering figures,” adding that between 275 and 400 billion euros ($300 to $435 billion) would be lost for the tourism and travel industry because of the pandemic.
He said the estimate for international travel was a decline of up to 30% this year while tourism could be hit with a slump between 45% and 70% in its economy.
Stock markets plunge in morning trading as oil’s collapse gains momentum
NEW YORK — Oil’s chaotic collapse deepened, and stocks around the world dropped on Tuesday as markets remain upside down amid the economic carnage caused by the coronavirus pandemic.
A day after oil futures plunged below zero for the first time, traders in one corner of the U.S. crude market were still close to paying others to take it off their hands. That’s a market quirk created by a glut of oil, which has traders running out of places to store it in the near term.
Prices remain well above zero for oil elsewhere in the world and for deliveries further into the future, which analysts consider to be closer to the “true” price of crude. But they also slid sharply Tuesday on the same ultimate concern: A global economy incapacitated by the virus outbreak doesn’t need to burn as much fuel. Airplanes are parked, cars are garaged and factories are idled with millions of workers losing their jobs every week.
The crumbling oil market dragged on stocks, and energy producers around the world sank sharply from ConocoPhillips in Texas to Total in France. The S&P 500 was down 2.7%, as of 11 a.m. Eastern time, following similar losses across Europe and Asia.
The Dow Jones Industrial Average fell 538 points, or 2.3%, to 23,104, and the Nasdaq was down 3.4%.
British PM gradually re-engages with work, set to speak with Trump
LONDON — British Prime Minister Boris Johnson is gradually re-engaging with work as he recovers from the new coronavirus.
Johnson’s spokesman says the prime minister remains at his country residence and “isn’t formally doing government work.” But he is getting updates from his staff and is scheduled to speak to U.S. President Donald Trump later Tuesday.
Johnson also plans to hold his weekly audience with Queen Elizabeth II by telephone later this week — the first such conversation in three weeks.
Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab continues to stand in for Johnson as head of government.
Johnson spent a week in a London hospital earlier this month, including three nights in intensive care, after being diagnosed with COVID-19. He was released last week and thanked staff at St. Thomas’ Hospital for saving his life.
Turkey hopes to transition to “normal” in June
ANKARA, Turkey — President Recep Tayyip Erdogan believes Turkey has reached a plateau in cases of the new coranavirus.
In an address to officials from his ruling party on Tuesday, Erdogan said Turkey could “transition to a normal life” in June, following a holiday that marks the end of the holy Muslim month of Ramadan — as long as measures aimed at curbing the virus’ spread are adhered to.
Erdogan described the pandemic as the “biggest crisis since the Second World War in terms of the economic impact.”
Turkey has reported 90,980 coronavirus cases and 2,140 deaths. The country is imposing weekend curfews and among other measures has banned people above the age of 65 and below the age of 20 from leaving homes.
Britain obtains medical equipment from Turkey
ISTANBUL — A Turkish media report says a British air force plane has arrived in Istanbul to transport medical equipment back to Britain.
The DHA news agency said the military cargo plane landed at Istanbul Airport on Tuesday and is scheduled to take off after a consignment of medical equipment is loaded onto it.
British officials have been scrambling to source much-needed personal protective equipment for medical staff and said a consignment of 84 tons, including 400,000 gowns, would arrive from Turkey.
Spain: Children 14 and younger to be allowed out of homes
MADRID — Spain will begin allowing children age 14 and younger out of their homes starting next week, though they must be accompanied by an adult they live with and their movements will be limited.
Government spokeswoman María Jesús Montero says that beginning Monday, younger children can go along on family errands to the supermarket, pharmacy or bank. Those between the ages of 15 and 17 already were allowed. There will be no time limit, and the children won’t be required to wear masks.
Montero said Tuesday after the government’s weekly Cabinet meeting that the children have been inside for the past five weeks and are unlikely to be infected with the new coronavirus. Restrictions on movement are part of the country’s state of emergency rules.
Spain’s official coronavirus death toll stands at more than 21,200, behind only the United States and Italy, and the country has imposed one of Europe’s strictest lockdowns.
Can you spell “cancelled”?
WASHINGTON — This year’s Scripps National Spelling Bee has been cancelled after U.S. organizers concluded there is “no clear path to safely set a new date in 2020” because of the coronavirus pandemic.
The decision announced Tuesday by Scripps means kids who are in eighth grade this year will miss their final opportunity to compete in the national finals. Scripps won’t change eligibility requirements for next year’s bee, which is scheduled for June 1-3, 2021, at a convention centre outside Washington.
Televised by ESPN since 1994, the bee had only previously been cancelled in 1943-45 because of World War II. The first Scripps bee was held in 1925.
Scripps had announced on March 20 that this year’s bee would be postponed but did not commit to a new date.
WHO urges Belarus to lock down
MINSK, Belarus — The World Health Organization is urging the government of Belarus to cancel public events and implement measures to ensure physical and social distancing amid the growing coronavirus outbreak.
In a statement released Tuesday, a team of WHO experts who had assessed the country’s response to the pandemic said the country “needs to introduce community-wide steps to increase physical distancing,” postpone “large gatherings, including sports, religious and cultural events,” introduce options “for teleworking, and distance learning for schools, universities and other educational institutions” and suspend nonessential business.”
Belarus has registered 6,264 coronavirus cases and 51 deaths and remains one of the few countries affected by the 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.
President Alexander Lukashenko, who has ruled the ex-Soviet nation with an iron fist for more than two decades, has repeatedly dismissed concerns about the pandemic as “coronapsychosis.” On Monday, he allowed the country’s schools to reopen after an extended spring break. On Sunday, he attended an Easter church service with his 15-year-old son.
The government has also refused to evacuate its stranded citizens from abroad unless they pay the air fare and cover state costs of organizing flights. Several thousands of Belarusians are currently stuck abroad, unable to return home amid worldwide closure of border and flight halts.
India: Arrests over Islamic missionary meeting
NEW DELHI, India — Indian authorities say they have arrested 29 people, including 16 foreign nationals who participated in an Islamic missionary meeting last month in New Delhi that resulted in a large cluster of coronavirus cases in the country.
The foreigners include nationals from Indonesia and Thailand.
A local university professor who had arranged the shelter for Indonesians in a mosque in the Indian city of Allahabad was also arrested, police officer Brijesh Kumar Shrivastava said Tuesday.
He said the arrested have been booked on charges of violating the Foreigners Act and colluding with one another on providing shelter to foreign nationals and shielding information about them from the police.
One of the Indonesians had earlier tested positive for COVID-19 and the arrested have been kept in isolation, police said.
In India, the global Muslim missionary movement Tablighi Jamaat came under fire when the government blamed it for a surge in the number of coronavirus cases.
India has 18,601 confirmed cases of the virus, and authorities have linked more than 4,200 cases to the missionary meeting.
NYC: Public events cancelled through June
NEW YORK — New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio says that if governors of states such as Georgia start to ease coronavirus restrictions, they had better have the facts on their side or they could enable a resurgence of the virus beyond their states’ borders.
“If some of these reopenings are done the wrong way, it’s going to affect all of us,” de Blasio said Tuesday on CNN’s “New Day.” He said that if any state or city “jumps the gun” on reopening businesses “that could lead to the disease reasserting in a lot of other places.”
The Democratic mayor announced Monday that all public events will be cancelled in New York City through June. The ban was announced the same day that Georgia Gov. Brian Kemp said he would allow some businesses including gyms, hair salons and bowling alleys to reopen later this week.
Bosnia: Tent camp built for migrants and refugees
SARAJEVO, Bosnia-Herzegovina — Police in Bosnia have begun moving hundreds of migrants and refugees off the streets of the northwestern city of Bihac and transferring them into a nearby emergency tent camp speedily set up amid the coronavirus pandemic.
The tent camp Lipa, where migrants and refugees were being bused Tuesday, can accommodate up to 1,000 people, according to the International Organization for Migration, which manages all such facilities in Bosnia.
The tent camp was “equipped with all necessary infrastructure to provide the beneficiaries with … accommodation, food, hygiene, sanitation and medical care,” IOM said in a statement.
The organization previously reported serious overcrowding in six migrant centres it has been running in the country since 2018, when previous migration routes to Western Europe from the Balkans closed off and the migration shifted toward Bosnia.
The six camps were housing 6,200 people, or nearly 20% more than they were before the coronavirus outbreak in Bosnia in mid-March.
Despite strict social distancing measures imposed by the authorities, some 1,500 migrants and refugees were estimated last week to be sleeping in squalid and insanitary conditions in Bihac and several other cities in the northwestern Krajina region bordering the European Union member Croatia.
As of Tuesday, Bosnia’s coronavirus caseload reached 1,342, with 51 deaths.
$500 billion aid package expected to be approved today
WASHINGTON — Senate Democratic Leader Chuck Schumer says agreement has been reached on “every major issue” of a nearly $500 billion coronavirus aid package for small businesses, as well as additional help for hospitals and COVID-19 virus testing.
Schumer says overnight talks among Democratic and Republican leaders, along with top Trump administration officials, produced a breakthrough agreement on the package.
“We have a deal and I think we’ll pass it today,” Schumer said Tuesday morning on CNN. He cautioned that staff are still “dotting the I’s and crossing the T’s.”
A Tuesday afternoon Senate session could provide an opportunity to quickly pass the legislation if it comes together quickly, though the Democratic-controlled House is planning on calling lawmakers to Washington for a vote later in the week.
Most of the funding, more than $300 billion, would go to boost a small-business payroll loan program that ran out of money last week. Additional help would be given to hospitals, and billions more would be spent to boost testing for the virus, a key step in building the confidence required to reopen state economies.
The emerging draft measure has grown into the second largest of the four coronavirus response bills so far.
Tivoli Gardens to reopen on May 11
COPENHAGEN, Denmark — Copenhagen’s famed Tivoli Gardens, the amusement park that inspired Walt Disney to create his theme parks, says it is reopening for its summer season on May 11 after its April 16 opening was postponed.
Created in 1843 by Georg Carstensen, the park was built on the city ramparts and last year saw 4.58 million visitors, a 6% drop compared with the previous year.
The park said its popular Friday Rock concerts with open-air gigs showcasing local and international performers, drawing thousands every week, cannot be held “in the usual form until September.”
The park that shut down on Feb. 24 after its winter season was often visited by Danish fairy tale writer Hans Christian Andersen. It is known for its scenery with exotic architecture, historic buildings and rides with thousands of colored lights at night that create a magical atmosphere.
Hunger expected to rise across the globe
JOHANNESBURG — The U.N. World Food Program says the number of people with acute hunger could almost double this year amid the coronavirus pandemic.
A new report says 265 million people could face food insecurity by the end of this year, a jump of 130 million. WFP senior economist Arif Husain says in a statement that virus-related lockowns and the global economic recession have already “decimated” the savings of millions in low- and middle-income nations.
The WFP says the 10 countries with the worst food crises last year were Yemen, Congo, Afghanistan, Venezuela, Ethiopia, South Sudan, Syria, Sudan, Nigeria and Haiti.
Austria: All shops and restaurants to open in May
VIENNA — Chancellor Sebastian Kurz says Austria intends to go ahead with plans to open all shops at the beginning of May and restaurants in mid-May.
Austria allowed small shops to open a week ago. Kurz said Tuesday that coronavirus infections have continued to drop, so the government can move ahead with the reopening plan it already sketched out. He said the government will review the situation at two-week intervals, “so as always to have the opportunity to pull the emergency brake if that is necessary.”
The plan calls for the remaining shops, along with services such as hairdressers and manicurists, to open at the beginning of May. Schools are scheduled to start opening in May and religious services resuming May 15.
The government also plans to allow the catering industry to restart on May 15, with all staff required to wear masks. There will be restrictions on how many customers can be present.
Kurz advised Austrians against “prematurely” expecting unlimited freedom to travel around Europe. He said that he will take his summer vacation in Austria, and “can only recommend to Austrians that they do the same.”
India: Testing problems as poor return to work
NEW DELHI, India — A day after India partially relaxed lockdown restrictions to allow India’s poor to go back to work, the government was forced to advise states to not use rapid testing kits for the next two days.
The advice came after several states told the Indian Council of Medical Research, the apex medical research body, that the kits were faulty and inaccurate.
ICMR’s Dr. R. R. Gangakhedkar said: “Too much variations were being reported in results of rapid test kits. In next two days, kits will be tested and validated in the field by our teams,” adding that an advisory would be issued afterward.
India’s health ministry says the country has 18,601 confirmed cases and 590 deaths.
Pregnant woman dies of COVID-19
PRISTINA, Kosovo — The coronavirus pandemic has claimed the first pregnant woman in Kosovo, according to the Health Ministry.
A statement says the 40-year-old woman from the Gjakova city, 100 kilometres (60 miles) west of the capital, Pristina, died Tuesday after being treated for six days at the infectious clinic in Pristina.
The virus has infected 598 people in Kosovo and killed 16 as of Tuesday. Authorities claim the low figures are due to the restriction measures they have imposed to contain the virus’s spread.
Kosovo has been in a total lockdown since mid-March, with all its land border crossing and air routes shut. Schools, cafes, restaurants and other small retail shops are closed and only those offering food and other basic items have remained open during the day.
Infections ravage refugee shelter
ATHENS, Greece — The heads of Greece’s pandemic response effort are visiting a refugee shelter in the south of the country after authorities confirmed a high number of COVID-19 infections at the site.
The shelter at Kranidi hosts 470 asylum-seekers and was placed in isolation Monday after a pregnant resident tested positive for the new coronavirus during a hospital visit.
The government did not immediately confirm reports by state-run media that some 150 asylum seekers had since tested positive.
“It is a worrying development,” government spokesman Stelios Petsas said Tuesday. “There has been a high number of cases given the (crowded) conditions that exist at the facility.”
The outbreak at the shelter occurred after the government launched an effort to relocate some 2,380 asylum-seekers considered the most vulnerable to the virus from crowded camps on the Greek islands to smaller facilities on the mainland.
No cases of COVID-19 have so far been confirmed by Greek authorities at the island camps, which currently host some 40,000 migrants and refugees.
Italy now has more respirators than patients in ICU
ROME — Italy’s extraordinary commissioner for the COVID-19 emergency says that for the first time during the pandemic the nation has more respirators than patients with coronavirus infections in intensive care beds.
“This gives us the strength to go forward,” Domenico Arcuri told reporters on Tuesday. There are currently some 2,500 patients receiving intensive care for coronavirus infections.
Arcuri spoke of the “anguish, with which, each night, we had to decide where to send these instruments, which, in the end, save lives” when there weren’t enough respirators for those all needing them.
“I’ll keep that with me for all my life, and I wouldn’t wish anyone else to experience” the dilemma of choosing which hospital received them, he said.
For several days running now in Italy, the number of patients in intensive care wards have been diminishing. Italy has Europe’s highest number of deaths — more than 24,000 — in the outbreak, which in the early weeks overwhelmed hospitals, especially in the north where most known cases were registered.
Running of the bulls cancelled
MADRID — Spain’s famous running of the bulls in Pamplona is the latest major European event to be called off due to the coronavirus pandemic.
Pamplona city hall announced Tuesday that the nine-day San Fermin festival held in July won’t take place this year.
It said in a statement that though the decision was expected, “it still brings sadness.”
Pamplona mayor Enrique Maya is infected with the virus.
The San Fermin fiesta was made famous internationally by Ernest Hemingway in his 1926 novel “The Sun Also Rises.”