SAN JUAN, Puerto Rico — As Puerto Rico considers lifting pandemic quarantine restrictions, health officials say the U.S. territory passed its peak of coronavirus cases and related deaths more than two months ago. However, independent experts said those numbers are in doubt.
Health Department consultant Miguel Valencia said at a news conference Wednesday that Puerto Rico’s confirmed COVID-19 cases peaked at 84 cases on March 31 and deaths at six on April 6. Overall, Puerto Rico has reported more than 5,300 confirmed cases and at least 143 deaths on the island of 3.2 million people.
Health Secretary Lorenzo González says the data will be taken into account when Gov. Wanda Vázquez decides whether to allow curfew and quarantine restrictions to expire on Monday. Those orders bar everyone except essential workers from being outside from 7 p.m. to 5 a.m.
But critics complain the island has done too little testing and most of what has been done used the wrong sort of tests.
Roberta Lugo, a Puerto Rico-based epidemiologist and consultant, told The Associated Press that the official statistics are based on a very limited number of reliable molecular tests that look for current infections.
She says most confirmed cases were detected by serological testing, which checks for antibodies and indicate someone was exposed at some undetermined point. She said 80% of detections should come from the tests for a current infection.
HERE’S WHAT YOU NEED TO KNOW TODAY ABOUT THE VIRUS OUTBREAK:
— Police in Brazil raid governor’s home for investigation of faulty ventilators
— U.S. expert Fauci explains where World Health Organization expert got it wrong
— British ‘support bubbles’ will allow couples not living together to get together
— America’s Black Belt is an agricultural region first known for the color of its soil and then for its mostly black population. Life can be tough even on a good in the crescent-shaped slice of the southern U.S. that stretches from Louisiana to Virginia. It’s where some of the poorest people in America live. They are, as usual, depending on each other to survive with unemployment intensifying and coronavirus infections raging.
— More than 30,000 indigenous people live in the Brazilian state capital hardest hit by the coronavirus pandemic. Many among them are sick with fever, straining for air and dying. Just how many, no one knows. The AP interviewed and photographed more than a dozen indigenous people in and around Manaus. They wore the traditional dress of their tribes and masks they made to protect themselves from the virus.
— An unemployed mother of three used whatever money her family had to help out the countless number of other Filipinos in Dubai who have lost jobs during the coronavirus pandemic. Feby Dela Peña saw people lining up for free meals and founded a project she calls Ayuda. Each day, she offers 200 free meals to the hungry of Dubai, all of them foreigners. She is driven by their stories and determined to keep going.
HERE’S WHAT ELSE IS HAPPENING TODAY:
SAO PAULO — Retail shops reopened on Wednesday after a two-month pandemic shutdown in Brazil’s biggest city, leading to crowded buses and subways from early in the day — and with many people ignoring social distancing rules.
Sao Paulo Mayor Bruno Covas authorized the restart of commerce between 11 a.m. and 3 p.m. as long as shops required customers to use masks and limit the number allowed inside. Stores in malls were to remain closed until Thursday.
Brazil is among the Latin American countries hit hardest by the coronavirus pandemic, with about 38,000 deaths. Sao Paulo state is approaching 10,000 COVID-19 deaths, about half of which took place in the metropolis of 12 million residents.
On Wednesday, the state reported a record 24-hour death toll increase of 340 people, surpassing a record set the previous day.
Sao Paulo city has seen a slight decrease in its intensive care unit bed occupancy rate, to around 70%. But many health specialists advised against the reopening, saying contagion is still growing in the city, though at a slower rate.
MILAN — Dozens of hospital nurses have protested in downtown Milan to demand better pay and the hiring of more colleagues.
Nurses have been hailed as Italy’s heroes during the country’s COVID-19 outbreak. Organizers of the protest on Wednesday noted that nurses in Italy are among the lowest paid in Europe.
Recently, three nurses, including one who collapsed on a keyboard from exhaustion while caring for infected patients, were among those honored by the Italian president for special service to the nation. At least 40 nurses with the virus have died in Italy.
SKOPJE, North Macedonia – North Macedonia has recorded its highest number of COVID -19 deaths in more than a month, as authorities warned that citizens were ignoring warnings to wear masks and to observe social distancing.
The European nation’s Health Ministry said Wednesday it recorded 125 new infections and seven deaths in the past 24 hours. The total number of confirmed cases in the country with about 2.1 million people now stands at 3,364, including 164 deaths.
Health authorities said that the new spike is related to mass gatherings three weeks ago, during the celebrations of religious holidays, particularly in the capital of Skopje and three other regions.
The government says new movement restrictions are unnecessary but it ordered police to be strict in enforcing remaining controls and to issue fines, when merited. .
Police said Wednesday they fined a total 1,143 people in 24 hours who were found without protective masks.
GENEVA — The head of the World Health Organization says he and U.S. Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar have discussed cooperation in responding to a new Ebola outbreak in Congo even as the Trump administration has announced plans to pull the United States out of the U.N. health agency.
WHO Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said Wednesday he had a “very good discussion” with Azar last week and the American official “assured me of U.S. continued commitment” to support the fight against Ebola.
The hopes for continued cooperation between the U.S. and the WHO come in the wake of President Donald Trump’s repeated criticism of the health agency over its handling of the coronavirus outbreak. Late last month, Trump said he was “terminating” the U.S. relationship with the WHO.
Tedros’ comments to reporters in Geneva suggested joint work was continuing, a least in the Democratic Republic of Congo.
He said: “We have discussed with Secretary Azar to cooperate in helping DRC, but … we’re not receiving funding directly from the U.S.”
Tedros added: “But I have said it many times: I think in our relationship with the U.S., it’s not about the money.”
RIO DE JANEIRO — Brazilian federal police raided the government palace of Para state in the Amazon region as well the governor’s home as part of an investigation into alleged fraud in the purchase of ventilators for COVID-19 patients.
A police statement issued Wednesday said the alleged fraud stemmed from the acquisition of ventilators worth millions of dollars, done so without a call for bids as allowed by state of emergency protocols during the pandemic. The equipment was delayed and ultimately useless for treating people with COVID-19.
The statement says police are investigating alleged money laundering and corruption.
Para Gov. Helder Barbalho is the second governor to be investigated in relation to suspect medical expenditures during the pandemic.
Like Rio de Janeiro’s governor, whose residence was raided last month, Barbalho has been a critic of President Jair Bolsonaro’s rejection of quarantine measures to contain spread of the virus.
Both governors have denied any wrongdoing.
BERGAMO, Italy — Some 50 families who lost loved ones in the coronavirus epidemic have presented formal legal complaints to Italian prosecutors to seek clarityabout whether there was wrongdoing in any of the cases.
Stefano Fusco, who helped organize a Facebook group at the peak of Italy’s epidemic to collect stories of loss, said Wednesday that the complaints involve cases where facts surrounding the deaths remained unclear.
He said that they are not seeking the prosecution of individual health care workers but to reveal where the system might have failed.
Lawyer Consuelo Locati said about 50 complaints were presented to prosecutors in Bergamo and another 150 were being evaluated.
Bergamo prosecutors are separately investigating whether there is criminal liability in the decision not to create a red zone around the towns of Nembro and Alzano after an outbreak was discovered in the Alzano hospital on Feb. 23. The area was closed down on March 8, with the rest of the Lombardy region.
Prosecutors have questioned the Lombardy governor and top health official.
ROME — Both the number of people infected with COVID-19 in intensive care or otherwise hospitalized in Italy continued to decline, according to daily figures released on Wednesday by the Health Ministry.
In the nation of more than 60 million, 249 coronavirus patients occupied intensive care beds, while during the height of the pandemic in Italy, several thousand infected patients needed ICU treatment on any given day. Italy registered 202 new cases in the 24 hours ending Wednesday evening, all but a couple dozen of those occurring in northern regions.
The latest cases raised the overall number of known coronavirus infections in the outbreak to 235,763. In the same one-day period, there were 71 known deaths of infected persons, bringing the death toll to 34,114. Authorities say both the number of cases and deaths in the pandemic are certainly much higher, but many in nursing homes or with mild symptoms never received testing.
LONDON — A scientist whose modelling helped set Britain’s coronavirus strategy says that the country’s death toll could have been cut in half if lockdown had been introduced a week earlier.
Neil Ferguson, an epidemiologist at Imperial College London, told lawmakers that when key decisions were being made in March, scientists underestimated how widely the virus had spread in the U.K.
He told Parliament’s Science and Technology Committee that “the epidemic was doubling every three to four days before lockdown interventions were introduced,” rather than the five to six days estimated at the time.
Britain went into lockdown on March 23. Ferguson said that “had we introduced lockdown measures a week earlier, we would have reduced the final death toll by at least a half.”
Meanwhile, British Prime Minister Boris Johnson announced that adults living alone or single parents adults can form “support bubbles” with another household in England starting Saturday.
Members in the same two-household bubble can meet, indoors or out, without remaining two meters (6 ½ feet) apart. It’s an exception to social distancing rules that will allow some grandparents to hug their grandchildren again and couples that don’t live together to be intimate without breaking the law.
MOSCOW — Moscow officials have updated the number of coronavirus-linked deaths in the Russian capital last month, reporting a total of 5,260 in May.
Moscow’s Health Department said in a statement on Wednesday that 2,757 deaths were caused by COVID-19, including 433 cases in which a test didn’t confirm the presence of the virus. THe department said 2,503 other people who tested positive for the virus died from other causes.
Russian officials have started giving detailed reports on virus-related deaths in an effort to dispel doubts about the country’s low pandemic death toll and to counter allegations numbers were manipulated for political reasons.
Russia currently has the third-highest number of 493,000 confirmed virus cases and only 6,358 officially reported deaths. According to experts, only deaths directly caused by COVID-19 and confirmed by a positive test make the official count.
BRUSSELS — The European Union’s top diplomat says travel restrictions implemented during the coronavirus pandemic at the EU’s external borders should be partially lifted as of July 1.
Josep Borrell said Wednesday that the European Commission will discuss a coordinated plan with member nations and “put forward an approach for the gradual and partial lifting of these restrictions as of the 1st of July, with certain third countries.”
All but essential travel from outside Europe is restricted until June 15. Many ministers from the 27-nation EU suggested earlier this month that they wanted this deadline extended until early July.
As for the EU’s internal borders, Borrell said the executive commission took note that several countries are in the process of lifting internal border controls imposed to keep out people from other member states.
PARIS — Contract workers from France’s all-important food, catering and events industry have held a protest between the Louvre Museum and Champs-Elysees to spread the message that the virus pandemic is killing their jobs.
The flash mob-style demonstration included about 30 people dressed in black simulating strangulation with their ties and putting signs reading “sentenced to death” into a coffin.
France’s government spent billions on temporary unemployment benefits for workers, but contract workers in the food, catering and special events industry were not included.
Although restaurants and national borders are gradually reopening in France, tourism is expected to remain muted. Large gatherings are banned until at least the end of the summer, making it difficult for people in the hospitality industry to find employment.
WASHINGTON — Dr. Anthony Fauci, the U.S. government’s top infectious-disease expert, says the World Health Organization had to backtrack on its statement about asymptomatic spread of the coronavirus being rare because that simply “was not correct.”
WHO’s technical lead on the pandemic has tried to clear up “misunderstandings” about comments she made that were widely understood to suggest that people without COVID-19 symptoms rarely transmit the virus. Maria Van Kerkhove insisted Tuesday that she was referring only to a few studies, not a complete picture.
Weighing in on Wednesday, Fauci said the range of ways symptoms manifest is “extraordinary” but “there’s no evidence” to suggest that individuals with the virus but no signs of illness can’t infect others.
Fauci said on ABC’s “Good Morning America” : “And, in fact, the evidence that we have, given the percentage of people, which is about 25, 45% of the totality of infected people, likely are without symptoms. And we know from epidemiological studies that they can transmit to someone who is uninfected, even when they’re without symptoms. So to make a statement — to say that’s a rare event — was not correct. And that’s the reason why the WHO walked that back.”
MAKASSAR, Indonesia — Indonesian authorities have arrested dozens of people suspected of snatching the bodies of COVID-19 victims from several hospitals so the dead could be buried according to their wishes.
Provincial police spokesman Ibrahim Tompo said Wednesday that at least 33 suspects have been detained by police in South Sulawesi province in the past week. Ponto said charges against 10 of them will proceed to prosecutors.
He says if convicted, the suspects face up to seven years in prison and $7,000 in fines for violating health laws and resisting officers.
Videos of several incidents have circulated widely on social media in Indonesia, the world’s most populous Muslim nation.
In one instance, a mob is seen breaking into a hospital’s isolation room and taking away a body on a stretcher.
Tompo said religious faith and funeral traditions are motives for people who see public health restrictions on burials as unacceptable.
The arrests came as Indonesia’s Health Ministry reported the highest single-day increase in confirmed coronavirus cases Wednesday. The 1,241 new cases bring the country’s total to 34,316. The figures include 36 people who died in the last 24 hours, taking the country’s COVID-19 death toll to 1,923.
This item has been corrected to show that spokesman’s surname is Tompo, not Ponto.
PARIS — The virus crisis has triggered the worst global recession in nearly a century — and the pain is not over yet even if there is no second wave of infections, an international economic report warned Wednesday.
Hundreds of millions of people have lost their jobs, and the crisis is hitting the poor and young people the hardest, worsening inequalities, Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development said in its latest analysis of global economic data.
“It is probably the most uncertain and dramatic outlook since the creation of the OECD,” Secretary General Angel Gurria said. “We cannot make projections as as we normally do.”
In the best-case scenario, if there is no second wave of infections, the agency forecast a global drop in economic output of 6% this year, and a rise of 2.8% next year.
If the coronavirus re-emerges later in the year, however, the global economy could shrink 7.6%, the OECD said.
DHAKA, Bangladesh — Bangladesh’s coronavirus death toll has surpassed 1,000 and economic growth is only 1.6% in the current fiscal year ending this month, the World Bank said.
The global lending agency said Bangladesh’s growth was expected to slow to 1.6% because the pandemic has created serious disruptions in industrial production and caused a plunge in global exports and a drop in remittances sent home by workers overseas.
Industry leaders of Bangladesh’s export-earning garment sector say orders worth $3.18 billion have either been cancelled or suspended by global brands, affecting the industry that earns about $35 billion a year from exports.
Bangladesh’s health authorities said Wednesday that 37 more people died of COVID-19, raising the total death toll to 1,012. Bangladesh has a fragile healthcare system for its 160 million people.
MOSCOW — Moscow’s mayor says it will take the Russian capital about two months to lift all coronavirus restrictions.
Sergei Sobyanin the situation in Moscow is improving, but the outbreak hasn’t been completely eradicated. He said restrictions on mass gatherings remain, including theaters, cinemas, concert halls and sporting events. A decision whether to lift them will be made the beginning of July.
Starting Tuesday, Moscow residents are no longer required to stay at home or obtain electronic passes to travel around the city. All restrictions on taking walks, using public transportation or driving have been lifted as well.
Beauty parlors can reopen while outdoor terraces of cafes and restaurants, as well as museums and dental clinics, are set to open on June 16. Kindergartens, gyms and indoor restaurants will be allowed to operate starting June 23.
On Wednesday, health officials in the city reported a record low number of 1,195 new infections after weeks of numbers ranging from over 6,000 a day to under 2,000. In total, Moscow has registered 199,785 confirmed coronavirus cases, 40% of Russia’s caseload of over 493,000.
JOHANNESBURG — Africa’s confirmed coronavirus cases have surpassed 200,000.
That’s according to the Africa Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The 54-nation continent has 202,782 cases and 5,516 deaths.
While Africa still represents a tiny percentage of the world’s total COVID-19 cases, well under 5%, officials in South Africa and elsewhere have expressed concern because the number of infections continues to climb.
South Africa leads the continent with 52,991 cases, with almost two-thirds of them in the Western Cape province centered on the city of Cape Town.
Egypt has 36,829 cases and Nigeria has 13,464.
ISLAMABAD — Pakistan’s coronavirus infections soared past 5,000 as the World Health Organization urged the government to impose a two-week lockdown to stem the relentless spike in new cases.
Pakistan has recorded 113,702 confirmed cases and 2,255 deaths.
Until now, Pakistan’s daily testing rate has hovered around 25,000, but the WHO says it should be double that.
Prime Minister Imran Khan has come under criticism from political opponents and health professionals for easing lockdowns despite soaring numbers and no progress in tracking COVID-19 outbreaks.
Khan, who has reprimanded Pakistanis for not wearing masks and keeping social distance, says the economy cannot survive a total lockdown and the poorest in Pakistan would be the hardest hit.
Pakistan was slow to rein in radical religious leaders who were initially allowed to invite Islamic missionaries to attend a massive gathering in mid-March, which was blamed for spreading infection as far as the Gaza Strip.
Khan also refused to shut down mosques during Ramadan and eased restrictions ahead of the Eid-al Fitr holiday.
KUALA LUMPUR, Malaysia — Malaysia reopened nearly all economic and social activities Wednesday after a nearly three-month lockdown successfully brought down viral infections.
Malaysians can now travel for domestic holidays, get haircuts and shop at street markets. Schools and religious activities also will gradually resume.
Malaysia has entered a “recovery” phase until the end of August with certain prohibitions still in place, but officials warn restrictions will be reinstated if infections soar again. Nightclubs, pubs, karaoke bars, theme parks and reflexology centers will stay shut.
Malaysia has had 8,336 confirmed infections and 117 deaths. Daily cases have dropped to only seven since Monday, the lowest since the lockdown started March 18.
NEW DELHI — India reported a new rise of nearly 10,000 coronavirus infections Wednesday, with a total caseload of 276,583, the fifth highest in the world.
The Health Ministry confirmed 9,985 new cases and 274 deaths in the last 24 hours. Total fatalities have reached 7,745. Maharashtra, Tamil Nadu and New Delhi are the worst-hit states.
The spike comes as the government reopened restaurants, shopping malls and places of worship in most of India after a more than 2-month-old lockdown. Subways, hotels and schools remain closed.
India has so far tested more than 4.9 million people with a daily capacity crossing 140,000.
The number of new cases has soared since the government began relaxing restrictions. There has also been a surge in infections in rural India following the return of hundreds of thousands of migrant workers who lost their jobs during the lockdown.
SEOUL, South Korea — South Korea has reported 50 new cases of COVID-19 as officials begin requiring nightclubs, karaoke rooms and gyms to register their customers with smartphone QR codes so they could be easily located when needed.
The figures from the Korea Centers for Disease Control and Prevention on Wednesday brought national totals to 11,902 cases and 276 deaths. At least 41 of the cases were reported from the densely populated Seoul metropolitan area, where officials have struggled to trace transmissions linked to entertainment venues, church gatherings and low-income workers who couldn’t afford to stay home.
Since late May, the country has been reporting around 30 to 50 new cases per day, a resurgence that has threatened to erase some of the hard-won gains against the virus as people begin to ease on distancing.
The nationwide requirement of QR codes at “high-risk” venues come after a trial run in the cities of Seoul, Incheon and Daejeon, where some 300 businesses used an app developed by internet company Naver to collect the information of some 6,000 customers. The government is also encouraging churches, libraries, hospitals and movie theaters to voluntarily adopt the technology.
BEIJING — With much of the country reopened under safety measures, China has announced three new confirmed cases of coronavirus, all brought from outside the country.
No new deaths were reported Wednesday and just 55 people remain in treatment for COVID-19, while another 157 were being monitored in isolation for showing signs of having the virus or having tested positive for it without showing symptoms.
China has reported a total of 4,634 deaths among 83,046 cases of COVID-19 since the virus was first detected in the central Chinese city of Wuhan late last year.