The Latest on the coronavirus pandemic in the U.S. and around the world. 

WASHINGTON — President Trump said he had a “really wonderful, warm conversation” with Joe Biden on Monday about the coronavirus outbreak.

“He gave me his point of view, and I fully understood that, and we just had a very friendly conversation,” Trump said at his daily press briefing.

The president said he and Biden agreed not to share the details of their conversation, but confirmed an earlier statement from the Biden campaign that the Democrat offered “suggestions” on how to address the pandemic. Biden had previously said he’d like to share with Trump some lessons he learned from dealing with similar crises during the Obama administration.

But Trump added: “It doesn’t mean that I agree with those suggestions.”

Biden said last week that he would “love” to speak to Trump and wanted to share with him his experiences from the Obama administration.

Read the full story about the conversation here.

Coronavirus patients rush to join studies of experimental drug

Coronavirus patients around the world are rushing to join studies of an experimental drug that opened in hospitals in the last few weeks.

Interest in remdesivir has been so great that the U.S. National Institutes of Health is expanding its study, which has nearly reached its initial goal of 440 patients. The drug’s maker, California-based Gilead Sciences, is quickly ramping up its own studies, too.

For most people, the new coronavirus causes mild or moderate symptoms, which can include fever and cough. But sometimes, it causes pneumonia requiring hospitalization. The risk of death is greater for older adults and people with other health problems.

There are no medicines approved to fight the new coronavirus, which has already killed 74,000 people around the world. The crisis has sparked a race to find a vaccine to prevent the disease it causes, COVID-19, along with medicines and therapies to make the disease less deadly.

Read the full story on remdesivir here.

Trump disputes federal watchdog report on hospital shortages

WASHINGTON — President Trump on Monday disputed the veracity of a federal survey that found hospitals face severe shortages of coronavirus test supplies, questioning whether its conclusions were skewed by politics.

With coronavirus cases rocketing toward their expected peak, the nonpartisan Health and Human Services inspector general’s office reported Monday morning that a shortage of tests and long waits for results were at the root of mounting problems faced by hospitals.

“Hospitals reported that severe shortages of testing supplies and extended waits for test results limited (their) ability to monitor the health of patients and staff,” the report said.

Three out of four U.S. hospitals told the inspector general’s office they are already treating patients with confirmed or suspected COVID-19, and they expect to be overwhelmed.

Asked by a reporter about the report’s finding on testing, Trump responded: “It’s just wrong.”

“Give me the name of the inspector general,” he added. “Could politics be entered into that?”

Acting in the role of HHS inspector general is Christi A. Grimm, a career government manager who took over the position early this year in an interim capacity. “When was she appointed?” Trump asked.

Trump’s comments carried an edge because last Friday he announced the firing of the inspector general of the intelligence community, Michael Atkinson, for reporting to Congress the whistleblower complaint that the president tried to enlist Ukraine in investigating Joe Biden’s son.

Grimm’s title is principal deputy inspector general. She began her career with the agency more than 20 years ago.

The HHS inspector general’s report was based on a telephone survey of 323 hospitals around the country, from March 23-27. With hundreds of new coronavirus cases daily, the situation is becoming more dire for many the nation’s 6,000 hospitals.

Trump maintains that virus testing has been a success story for his administration. Although testing is now ramping up, it’s been a major source of complaints for weeks.

Navy leader calls fired captain ‘too naive or too stupid’ to command

WASHINGTON — In an extraordinary broadside punctuated with profanity, the Navy’s top leader accused the fired commander of the COVID-stricken USS Theodore Roosevelt of being “too naive or too stupid” to be in charge of an aircraft carrier. He delivered the criticism to sailors who had cheered the departing skipper last week.

Acting Navy Secretary Thomas Modly harshly criticized Capt. Brett E. Crozier — and by implication those among the crew who had vocally supported him — in a lengthy and passionate speech aboard the ship, which is pier-side at Guam. Crew members are being taken off the ship to be tested for the coronavirus. At least 155 of the 4,865 members of the crew have tested positive, and the carrier is sidelined.

While skewing Crozier, Modly also admonished the crew. He suggested that by cheering Crozier when he departed the carrier last week, they were overlooking their most basic duty to defend U.S. interests.

“So think about that when you cheer the man off the ship who exposed you to that,” he said. “I understand you love the guy. It’s good that you love him. But you’re not required to love him.”

Modly urged the crew to stop complaining about their predicament, which he said made the Navy look weak. He suggested that some aboard the Roosevelt, including Crozier, had forgotten what matters most.

“It is the mission of the ship that matters,” he said. “You all know this, but in my view your Captain lost sight of this and he compromised critical information about your status intentionally to draw greater attention to your situation.”

Read the full story about the USS Theodore Roosevelt here.

Pelosi is seeking at least $1 trillion for next virus bill

WASHINGTON — Speaker Nancy Pelosi is telling House Democrats another $1 trillion is needed for the next coronavirus rescue package.

Pelosi told Democrats on a Monday afternoon conference call that the current aid to Americans is not enough, according to a person unauthorized to discuss the call and granted anonymity.

Congress is considering more aid after passing a sweeping $2.2 trillion health care and economic package last month, the largest of its kind in U.S. history.

The centerpieces of that package included one-time $1,200 direct payments to Americans, along with forgivable small business loans for companies to keep making payroll. But Pelosi said they are not enough and more needs to be done, the person said.

The California Democrat has vowed to put the next package together in time for a House vote this month.

Both the House and Senate are adjourned through mid-April as the nation shuts down to grapple with the global pandemic.

Britain’s prime minister, sick with COVID-19, is moved to ICU

LONDON — Britain’s Prime Minister Boris Johnson was moved to the intensive care unit at St. Thomas’s Hospital, according to a Downing Street statement, The Washington Post is reporting on Monday.

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Britain’s Prime Minister Boris Johnson chairs the morning COVID-19 meeting remotely while self-isolating after testing positive for the coronavirus, at 10 Downing Street, London, on Saturday. Johnson was admitted to a hospital on Sunday and moved to the intensive care unit on Monday. Andrew Parsons/10 Downing Street via Associated Press

A report earlier in the day said he was in good spirits after spending the night in a London hospital after being admitted with the new coronavirus.

Johnson’s spokesman said Johnson had spent a comfortable night and remained in charge of government despite being admitted to St Thomas’ Hospital after COVID-19 symptoms of a cough and fever persisted, 10 days after he was diagnosed.

Johnson sent out a tweet thanking the National Health Service for taking care of him and others in this difficult time.

“On the advice of my doctor, I went into hospital for some routine tests as I’m still experiencing coronavirus symptoms,” Johnson said in the tweet. “I’m in good spirits and keeping in touch with my team, as we work together to fight this virus and keep everyone safe.”.

Johnson’s spokesman, James Slack, refused to say what kind of tests Johnson was undergoing.

“The PM remains in charge of the government,” Slack said. “He is receiving updates in hospital and is continuing to receive a (ministerial red) box” of files and briefing papers.

The 55-year-old leader had been quarantined in his Downing Street residence since being diagnosed with COVID-19 on March 26 — the first known head of government to fall ill with the virus.

Read the full story about Boris Johnson here.

Tiger at Bronx Zoo tests positive for coronavirus, raising new questions  

NEW YORK — A tiger at the Bronx Zoo has tested positive for the new coronavirus, in what is believed to be the first known infection in an animal in the U.S. or a tiger anywhere, federal officials and the zoo said Sunday.

The 4-year-old Malayan tiger named Nadia — and six other tigers and lions that have also fallen ill — are believed to have been infected by a zoo employee who wasn’t yet showing symptoms, the zoo said. The first animal started showing symptoms March 27, and all are doing well and expected to recover, said the zoo, which has been closed to the public since March 16 amid the surging coronavirus outbreak in New York.

The test result stunned zoo officials: “I couldn’t believe it,” director Jim Breheny said. But he hopes the finding can contribute to the global fight against the virus that causes COVID-19.

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This undated photo provided by the Wildlife Conservation Society shows Nadia, a Malayan tiger at the Bronx Zoo in New York. Nadia has tested positive for the new coronavirus, in what is believed to be the first known infection in an animal in the U.S. or a tiger anywhere, federal officials and the zoo said Sunday. Julie Larsen Maher/Wildlife Conservation Society via Associated Press

“Any kind of knowledge that we get on how it’s transmitted, how different species react to it, that knowledge somehow is going to provide a greater base resource for people,” he said in an interview.

The finding raises new questions about transmission of the virus in animals. The U.S. Department of Agriculture, which confirmed Nadia’s test result at its veterinary lab, said there are no known cases of the virus in U.S. pets or livestock.

“There doesn’t appear to be, at this time, any evidence that suggests that the animals can spread the virus to people or that they can be a source of the infection in the United States,” Dr. Jane Rooney, a veterinarian and a USDA official, said in an interview.

The USDA said Sunday it’s not recommending routine coronavirus testing of animals, in zoos or elsewhere, or of zoo employees. Still, Rooney said a small number of animals in the U.S. have been tested through the USDA’s National Veterinary Services Laboratories, and all those tests came back negative except Nadia’s.

The coronavirus outbreaks around the world are driven by person-to-person transmission, experts say.

Read the full story about the positive animal tests at the Bronx Zoo here.

Japan to declare state of emergency

TOKYO — Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe said that he will declare a state of emergency for Tokyo and six other prefectures as early as Tuesday to bolster measures to fight the coronavirus, but that there will be no hard lockdowns.

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Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe said he will declare a state of emergency for Tokyo and six other prefectures as early as Tuesday. Yoshitaka Sugawara/Kyodo News via Associated Press

Abe also told reporters Monday that his government will launch a $1 trillion stimulus package — Japan’s largest ever and nearly twice as much as expected — to help counter the economic impact of the pandemic, including cash payouts to households in need and financial support to protect businesses and jobs.

Abe said experts on a government-commissioned task force urged him to prepare to declare a state of emergency, with the COVID-19 outbreak rapidly expanding in major cities including Tokyo, and hospitals and medical staff overburdened with patients. He said the state of emergency will cover Tokyo, Osaka, Fukuoka and four other hard-hit prefectures, and will be in effect for about a month.

Measures are expected to include a stay-at-home request for residents, but there will be no penalties for objectors. Public transportation, banks, groceries and other essential services will continue operating.

Abe said the state of emergency is intended to further reinforce social distancing between people to slow the spread of the virus, while maintaining as much social and economic activity as possible.

The government had enacted a special law in March that paved the way for Abe to declare a state of emergency. The law, however, is a divisive one because it could limit civil rights.

The economic package — which amounts to about 20% of the GDP of Japan, the world’s third-largest economy — will pay out 300,000 yen ($2,750) to each household with severe income loss due to the outbreak, and will include 26 trillion yen ($238 billion) to address delays in taxes and social welfare payments, Abe said.

Pope Francis earmarks initial $750,000 aid fund

VATICAN CITY — Pope Francis has earmarked an initial $750,000 for a new fund for hospitals, schools, nursing homes and other structures run by the Catholic Church in poor countries to use to battle the coronavirus pandemic.

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Pope Francis holds a palm branch as he celebrates Palm Sunday Mass behind closed doors in St. Peter’s Basilica, at the Vatican, Sunday. AP Photo/pool/Alberto Pizzoli

Francis on Monday urged church entities around the world to contribute to the fund being run by the Pontifical Mission Societies, which is the pope’s official outreach arm to 1,110 mostly poor dioceses in Asia, Africa, Oceania and the Amazon region.

The fund is the latest example of papal charity amid the pandemic. The Vatican in late March purchased 30 ventilators to be distributed to hard-hit Italian hospitals.

And Francis’ chief alms-giver hand-delivered milk, yogurt and other products from the papal gardens outside Rome to two communities of nuns in Rome who were put in quarantine after several of them tested positive.

Francis also sent special rosaries to medical personnel at Rome’s Gemelli hospital who have been caring for COVID-19 patients.

Spain reporting lowest numbers of new cases in 2 weeks

Spain reported the lowest number of new coronavirus cases in more than two weeks, a sign that Europe’s biggest outbreak is slowing.

New infections were 4,273, taking the total to 135,032, according to Health Ministry data on Monday. The death toll rose by 637 to 13,055 in the past 24 hours, a smaller gain than Sunday’s 674 and the lowest number of daily fatalities since March 24.

With more fatalities from the disease than China, where the pandemic originated, public opinion of the government’s management of the crisis has consistently deteriorated. Just 27.7% of voters approve the administration’s actions, compared with 35.1% three weeks ago, according to a GAD3 poll published Monday by Spanish newspaper ABC.

With the entire country under lockdown since March 14, Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez announced over the weekend that he will seek parliamentary approval to extend the current state of emergency by two weeks to April 25.

Under the extension, certain activities, such as construction, will be able to restart as part of government efforts to ease the strain on the battered economy, which is particularly hard-hit by widespread travel restrictions.

Restrictions are likely to be prolonged even further, though the Spanish leader said there will be changes to manage the return to normal life.

To bolster the overwhelmed health service, Spain’s government has called on the armed forces, deploying some 7,000 personnel in the military’s biggest peace-time operation. Soldiers are setting up 16 temporary hospitals, flying medical gear in from China and transporting patients, according to Defense Minister Margarita Robles.

To cushion the economic impact of the pandemic, Sanchez’s administration announced a 100 billion-euro ($108 billion) stimulus package and has temporarily waved certain payment obligations for self-employed workers and small- and medium-sized companies.

The government is also looking at putting in place some form of guaranteed basic income “soon” that will remain even after the crisis subsides, Economy Minister Nadia Calvio said Sunday.

Dutch officials see rise slowing

THE HAGUE, Netherlands — The Dutch public health institute says the country’s coronavirus death toll saw the lowest daily increase in a week. The number of deaths rose by 101 to 1,867.

The institute says the number of people who have tested positive for the virus rose by 952 to 18,803. That is also a smaller rise than the increase of 1,224 reported on Sunday.

The number of people suffering the effects of the virus who were admitted to a hospital rose by 260, slightly higher than Sunday’s 253 increase.

Human rights group calls for protections for prisoners

PARIS — Europe’s leading human rights body is calling on governments to safeguard the rights and health of people in prison during the COVID-19 pandemic.

The Council of Europe’s Commissioner for Human Rights urged the organization’s member states to make use of all available alternatives to detention whenever possible.

Dunja Mijatović says any restrictions imposed on detainees should be “non-discriminatory, necessary, proportionate, time-limited and transparent.”

Restrictions to family visits should “imperatively” be mitigated by alternative arrangements such as extended access to phone or video communications.

Many European countries have initiated the release of certain categories of prisoners or adapted their criminal justice policies to reduce their prison population.

The Council of Europe is based in Strasbourg, France and gathers 47 European countries, regardless of whether they are in the EU or not.

At least 12 prison inmates died of drug overdoses earlier this month in Italy and 16 others escaped during riots at more than two-dozen prisons sparked by coronavirus containment measures.

Irish premier back to practicing medicine

LONDON — Ireland’s premier will directly assist with the new coronavirus pandemic by returning to the health service for one shift a week.

Leo Varadkar is a qualified medical doctor and has rejoined the medical register.

He is one of thousands across Ireland who have answered the call to return to the health sector during the pandemic.

Group making funds available for Holocaust survivors

BERLIN — The organization that handles claims on behalf of Jewish victims of the Nazis says it is making millions of extra dollars available for elderly Holocaust survivors who are particularly vulnerable to the new coronavirus.

The New York-based Conference on Jewish Material Claims Against Germany says the $4.3 million in initial funding would be made available to agencies around the world providing care for some 120,000 survivors.

All survivors are elderly and many suffered from illness, malnutrition and other deprivations either at the hands of the Nazis or as they hid from them. Those early ailments continues to affect their health today.

There are no statistics yet as to how many Holocaust survivors have been infected by the new coronavirus. Israel’s first reported COVID-19 fatality was an 88-year-old survivor. About a third of the elderly population in Israel are survivors.

The additional funds will be used to “address critical gaps” in providing survivors help with homecare, food, medicine and other assistance as it is needed.

It is in addition to approximately $350 million in direct compensation, the Claims Conference is providing to more than 60,000 survivors in 83 countries this year and some $610 million in grants to more than 300 social service agencies.

Since 1952 through the Claims Conference the German government has paid more than $80 billion in Holocaust reparations.

Pakistan opens drive-thru test facility

KARACHI, Pakistan — Pakistan opened its first drive-thru COVID-19 test facility in the southern Sindh provincial capital of Karachi.

A team of doctors and medical staff are operating the first drive-thru facility in Pakistan’s latest attempt to stem the spread of the virus.

Pakistan has carried out 35,875 tests countrywide and has 3,277 positive cases, 881 of them in southern Sindh province.

The majority of the cases are in eastern Punjab province, where 60 percent of Pakistan’s 220 million people live.

According to news reports, a team of visiting Chinese doctors has recommended the Punjab province remain under lock down for another 29 days. Pakistan is in a countrywide lock down until April 16, when it will be reviewed.

There have been 50 reported deaths from the coronavirus.

Hungary announces second round of stimulus

BUDAPEST, Hungary — Hungary’s prime minister has announced a second package of economic measures meant to protect the country’s economy from the effects of the coronavirus pandemic.

Prime Minister Viktor Orban said Monday that the measures would reallocate some 18-20% of Hungary’s state budget, or as much as around $32 billion, while raising the budget deficit from 1% of GDP to 2.7%.

Orban said that “the aim is for us to create as many jobs as the virus ruins.”

Orban said the state will help pay some wages in the private sector and spend about $1.33 billion to support investments targeting job creation.

Hungary will also make available loans totaling some $5.9 billion for businesses and gradually boost pension payments from February 2021.

Opposition parties called for extending unemployment benefits and for immediate extra payments to pensioners and workers in the health sector.

Hungary has registered 744 coronavirus cases, with 38 deaths linked to COVID-19.

Lebanon asks for international aid

BEIRUT — Lebanon’s President Michel Aoun has appealed for the international community to help the country that is passing through its worst economic and financial crisis in decades, made worse in recent weeks by the new coronavirus.

Aoun said in a speech Monday in front of ambassadors of the International Support Group for Lebanon that includes the U.N., U.S., China, France, Germany, Italy, Russia, Britain, EU and the Arab League that Beirut was getting ready to launch work to revive the economy when coronavirus hit the world.

“We are facing all these challenges and welcome any international assistance,” Aoun said adding that the presence of a million Syrian refugees is adding to the crisis.

Lebanon has reported 541 cases of coronavirus and 19 deaths.

Also in Lebanon, which has been imposing a lockdown for weeks, security forces began implementing strict measures that allow vehicles with even or odd plate numbers to drive for three days a week each. Driving will be banned on Sundays to try limit the spread of the virus.

Czech government set to gradually relax lockdown

PRAGUE — Czech government ministers say the country is set to gradually relax some restrictions imposed to contain the spread of the coronavirus.

Interior Minister Jan Hamacek, who heads the government’s crisis committee that deals with the outbreak, says that he is proposing to cancel the ban for the Czechs to travel abroad as of April 14. Hamacek says that the border checks would remain in place and people would be allowed to travel only under specific rules that still have to be finalized.

Currently, the Czechs are barred from leaving the country and foreigners are barred from entering it.

Hamacek, however, says that all tough restrictions on movement within the country won’t be relaxed for Easter.

Health Minister Adam Vojtech says the government is also set to discuss a proposal to allow more small stores to reopen, depending on the development of the epidemic.

The Cabinet will decide on all those measures later this week.

The Czech Republic has 4,591 people infected with the virus, 72 have died, according to the Health Ministry figures released on Monday.


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