The Latest: South Africa easing bans on alcohol, church

International

Indians wearing masks stand next to a signage that urges people to wash their hands and wear masks to protect against the COVID-19 pandemic in Kochi, Kerala state, India, Thursday, May 28, 2020. India sees no respite from the coronavirus caseload at a time when the two-month-old lockdown across the country is set to end on Sunday. (AP Photo/R S Iyer)

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.

— South Africa eases bans on alcohol sales, church services.

— Moscow tries to dispel doubts over nation’s low virus deaths.

— British police say Boris Johnson adviser likely violated rules.

— ‘Historic’ rise: French unemployment claims jump 22% in April.

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CAPE TOWN, South Africa — The South African government says it will allow people to buy alcohol and attend church services starting Monday as part of its phased relaxation of the coronavirus lockdown.

Both activities will be subject to restrictions in a country with the highest number of cases in Africa.

Alcohol sales, banned since March 27, will be allowed four days a week. No alcohol can be purchased on Fridays and over the weekend and bars remain closed. Alcohol may be consumed only at home.

Churches can reopen but must limit congregation size to 50 people. Churchgoers and officials must wear masks and maintain social distancing. For those entering church, hand sanitizing and screening will be compulsory.

Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma, the minister of Cooperative Governance and Traditional Affairs, also said cigarette sales remain banned but a national night curfew will be lifted, and outdoor exercise will be allowed at any time.

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MILAN — The governor of Sardinia is urging Italy’s government to back a coronavirus testing regime that would give domestic tourists a greater sense of safety.

Borders between Italian regions are to reopen Wednesday after three months, and Sardinia is one of Italy’s most popular tourist destination. Italy’s minister for regional affairs opposes such a system of ‘’immunity passports,’’ saying none of the tests so far offers clarity.

But Gov. Christian Solinas said Thursday that while neither nasal tests to determine if someone is positive nor antibody tests indicating exposure offer ‘’certainty,’’ the island region would like an alternative ‘’to nothing.’’ He said testing arriving tourists’ body temperatures was not enough.

Sardinia’s insistence on a standardized testing regime has rubbed some the wrong way, with Milan’s mayor saying when he considers where to go for a break he will look elsewhere.

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BERLIN — Authorities in northern Germany say at least 72 workers at a UPS center near Hannover have tested positive for the new coronavirus.

Officials said Thursday that COVID-19 cases at a daycare center and a school in Hannover were also linked to the outbreak at the logistics center.

Separately, authorities in Frankfurt say the number of COVID-19 cases linked to a Baptist church service on May 10 has grown to 200.

Despite loosening numerous restrictions amid falling case numbers, German Chancellor Angela Merkel warned Wednesday that “we are still living at the start of the pandemic.” She cited the cluster linked to the church service as an example of “how quickly infections can break out again.”

Germany’s Robert Koch Institute, the country’s disease control center, said there have been almost 180,000 confirmed cases of COVID-19 since the start of the pandemic and 8,411 deaths.

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LONDON — Since March, Britons have stood on balconies, doorsteps and sidewalks once a week to applaud care workers on the front lines of the pandemic.

But Thursday’s 10th weekly “Clap for Our Carers” could be the last. The woman who founded the ritual says that “to have the most impact I think it is good to stop it at its peak.”

Annemarie Plas, a 36-year-old Londoner, was inspired by an idea from her native Netherlands. The event quickly took off, with Prime Minister Boris Johnson and members of the royal family taking part, and news channels broadcasting the applause live from around the country.

But there was criticism as some people broke social distancing to take part. And some say the gesture deflects attention from serious government failings in providing testing and protective equipment to medics and care workers.

Plas also was concerned the gesture was becoming “politicized.” She hopes it will become an annual event on the last Thursday in March each year.

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NICOSIA, Cyprus — Cyprus is advising doctors to curtail the use of chloroquine and hydroxychloroquine on some coronavirus patients amid renewed concerns the drugs could trigger heart problems and put lives at risk.

The Health Ministry urged doctors Thursday to be “particularly vigilant” and to even stop administering the drugs to COVID-19 patients with pre-existing heart conditions.

The announcement came after the World Health Organization said it would temporarily drop hydroxychloroquine from its global study into experimental COVID-19 treatments.

Cyprus’ health minister said last month the country was among the first nations to approve use of the anti-malaria drug to treat COVID-19 patients.

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MOSCOW — Health officials in the Russian capital have updated numbers on coronavirus deaths, trying to dispel doubts about the nation’s remarkably low COVID-19 mortality.

Moscow’s Health Department said Thursday the coronavirus mortality index for April varies from 1.4% to 2.8% depending on the calculation. The results are significantly lower than those from London, New York and other capitals.

On top of previously reported 636 deaths directly caused by the coronavirus, it added 756 deaths of those who tested positive for the virus but died of other causes and 169 deaths of those who tested negative but likely died of the virus according to autopsies.

Previously, the department counted only deaths directly resulting from the virus, leaving other “excess” deaths that represented a hike over the same period last year unexplained.

That has drawn suspicions from Russian and Western experts, who contend authorities in Moscow and other parts of Russia may have been under-reporting coronavirus deaths for political needs.

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ZAGREB, Croatia — Croatia plans to reopen borders for the citizens of 10 European Union nations as part of efforts to revive tourism after the new coronavirus lockdown.

Prime Minister Andrej Plenkovic said at a government session Thursday that travel restrictions will be lifted for citizens of Austria, Czech Republic, Estonia, Germany, Hungary, Latvia, Lithuania, Poland, Slovakia and Slovenia. He says the list of countries will be expanded.

Croatia, with one of the weakest economies in the EU, is largely dependent on tourism along the country’s stunning Adriatic Sea coast. The country hopes to salvage as much as possible the summer tourism season after suffering losses the past months.

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MOSCOW — Residents of Russia’s capital will be able to go for a stroll under relaxed coronavirus regulations, but they’ll have to check an online map to find out when they can do it.

The mayor’s office said Thursday that it is developing an interactive for the walks that can start on June 1. It says a resident will have to enter his home address and the map will show days and times that walks are allowed.

Under current restrictions, residents are supposed to stay home except for going to grocery stores, pharmacies, doctors or jobs that require their presence.

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LONDON — British police say Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s adviser Dominic Cummings likely violated rules by traveling from home during lockdown, but the force has “no intention” to pursue the matter.

Cummings has acknowledged driving 250 miles (400 km) to his parents’ house in Durham, northeast England, during the lockdown, and later taking another drive to a scenic town 30 miles (50 kms) away.

Durham Constabulary said Thursday that the second drive, to the town of Barnard Castle, was probably a “minor breach” of lockdown rules that would have “warranted police intervention had he been caught in the act.” But police say there is “no intention to take retrospective action.”

Johnson has resisted calls to fire Cummings for apparently flouting restrictions the government imposed on the rest of the country.

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NEW DELHI — India’s top court has ordered free train rides and food and water for hundreds of thousands of migrant workers returning to villages in blazing heat after losing city jobs because of the pandemic.

The Supreme Court on Thursday ordered that state governments shall oversee the registration of migrant workers and ensure that they board the train or bus at an early date.

Television images have shown desperate and hungry migrants looting food carts on railroad stations and highways. Several migrants have died while travelling on the trains this week, with day temperatures rising to 113 degrees (45 Celsius).

After imposing a countrywide lockdown March 25 to contain the spread of COVID-19, the government stopped trains, buses and other transit.

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NAIROBI, Kenya — Kenyan President Uhuru Kenyatta said he scolded one of his sons for violating curfew by going out at night and endangering his grandmother’s health.

Kenyatta’s son is staying at his home in Mombasa. The coastal city, the nation’s second largest, is a center of infections, with a dusk-to-dawn curfew and ban on social gatherings.

The president told local media he asked his son if he would able to live with his actions if his grandmother became ill with COVID-19. Kenyatta said that as the East African country considers lifting restrictions, everyone must exercise responsibility.

Other Kenyans have not escaped curfew punishment lightly. At least 18 people have been killed by police for violating curfew, according to human rights activist Wilfred Olal of the Dandora Community Justice Center.

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PARIS — French unemployment claims jumped 22% in April, with 843,000 more people seeking work and the virus lockdown preventing companies from hiring.

The national employment office announced the “historic” rise Thursday, saying it’s “because in the current context, companies are not hiring, not because they are conducting massive layoffs.”

The jobless ranks in France do not include 8 million people who received government-funded temporary unemployment in April and are gradually returning to work, the employment office said.

While the temporary unemployment scheme is credited with stabilizing the French economy during the virus crisis, the country is still facing its worst recession since World War II and permanent job cuts are likely.

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MILAN — The governor of the Lombardy region, the epicenter of Italy’s coronavirus epidemic, has been placed under police protection after receiving threats related to the health emergency.

Gov. Attilio Fontana confirmed in a Facebook post that authorities assigned him the protection, and not at his request. Officials cited a “climate” around the governor that has become “incandescent,’’ including graffiti labeling him a killer and internet threats regarding the region’s handling of the epidemic.

Fontana has been called for questioning as part of an investigation into his failure to create a red zone around two small cities next to Bergamo after the first case was identified in a hospital Feb. 23 — two days after 11 towns in Lombardy and Veneto were declared hot spots.

Other Italian officials dealing with the virus also have been placed under police escort because of threats.

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JAKARTA, Indonesia — Indonesia’s number of confirmed coronavirus cases is rising as the country braces to gradually reopen its economy next week.

The nation recorded 687 new coronavirus cases in its daily report Thursday, bringing the total number of infections to 24,538. It also reported the country’s death toll at nearly 1,500, the highest in Southeast Asia.

Several regions reportedly have been preparing to reopen businesses. Among them is the resort island of Bali, where hotels have been drafting guidelines for health protocols.

Health experts have warned that reopening the economy prematurely could trigger a second wave of infections. Still, the government has insisted the country must try to get back to normal by the end of July amid growing economic pressures.

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COPENHAGEN, Denmark — The World Health Organization is concerned countries will respond to the pandemic as it did to the recession last decade by making public health spending cuts.

Hans Kluge, head of the WHO’s Europe office, said “many countries in Europe” made cuts after the 2008 recession. He did not identify any country.

“Today, our priority must be to invest in health, invest in social protection and above all, avoid austerity which has devastated the lives of so many in Europe,” Kluge told a news conference.

He stressed that “there is no economy without people. There is no economic recovering without COVID-19 being under control.”

The regional office serves the U.N. body’s European region that comprises 53 countries, covering a vast region from the Atlantic to Pacific oceans.

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BANGKOK — Thailand’s main planning agency says that 8.4 million people are at risk of losing their jobs this year due to the COVID-19 pandemic, with the tourism sector being most badly affected.

The National Economic and Social Development Council estimated Thursday that the fall in the number of foreign and domestic tourists could mean 2.5 million people, or 64% of the approximately 3.9 million workers in the tourism sector, could become unemployed.

It said in a report that 1.5 million, or 25% of the 5.9 million person industrial workforce, also could be laid off due to the coronavirus crisis reducing demand that was already weakened by trade wars. Possibilities for expansion still exist where domestic demand is high, such as for food and beverages, and for products considered necessary, including electronics.

The jobs of 4.4 million people, or 43% of 10.3 million people working in the service sector outside of tourism, are also at risk. Retail jobs were especially affected by restrictions imposed to combat the spread of COVID-19, many of which have now been lifted.

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Follow AP news coverage of the coronavirus pandemic at https://apnews.com/VirusOutbreak and https://apnews.com/UnderstandingtheOutbreak

Copyright 2020 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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