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Thu. 9:23 a.m.: Latest worldwide virus headlines: China ushes back against ‘Wuhan virus’ label

Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, center, with Health Minister Katsunobu Kato, second from left, and other cabinet members, attends a special task force meeting today to discuss coronavirus measures and emergency responses at Abe's official residence in Tokyo. The meeting is backed by a special law enacted earlier this month to allow Abe to declare a state of emergency. (Hiroko Harima/Kyodo News via AP)

The latest on the coronavirus pandemic. The new coronavirus causes mild or moderate symptoms for most people, but for some, especially older adults and people with existing health problems, it can cause more severe illness or death.

TOP OF THE HOUR:

— China pushes back against “Wuhan virus” label.

— Health minister in Romania resigns.

— In Europe, coronavirus expanding fastest in Spain.

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BEIJING — China is strongly pushing back on U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo’s insistence on referring to the deadly novel coronavirus that has sparked a global pandemic as the “Wuhan virus” after the city in China where it was first detected.

Foreign Ministry spokesman Geng Shuang said today that it was an effort to “stigmatize China and discredit China’s efforts in an attempt to divert attention and shift responsibilities.”

“He has a very sinister motive,” Geng told reporters at a daily briefing.

Geng also defended China’s efforts at tackling the virus and denied it was seeking to place responsibility for the outbreak elsewhere. China has been accused of trying to squelch information about the outbreak during its early stages, and some of its diplomats have openly suggested that the virus may have been brought to China from the United States.

Pompeo’s call for the virus to be identified by name as the “Wuhan virus” at a virtual meeting of foreign ministers from the Group of 7 leading industrialized countries resulted in their opting against releasing a group statement.

The World Health Organization and others have cautioned against giving the virus a geographic name because of its global nature, and even President Donald Trump has steered away from those terms as critics have said they foster discriminatory sentiments and behavior against Asians and Asian Americans.

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BERLIN — Germany has increased its ability to test for the new coronavirus to 500,000 a week.

Lothar Wieler, the head of Germany’s Robert Koch disease control center, says the number of tests being conducted in the country was likely the highest worldwide, both in absolute numbers and per capita.

Christian Drosten, a leading virologist at Berlin’s Charite hospital, says about 6-7 percent of tests come back positive.

So far, there have been 39,500 cases in Germany and 222 deaths.

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PRAGUE — The Czech Republic is offering 10,000 protective suits to Italy and Spain to help the two countries hardest hit by the outbreak of the coronavirus in Europe.

Interior Minister Jan Hamacek says the country “can afford it and they desperately need them.”

Foreign Minister Tomas Petricek says he was in touch with the ambassadors of the two countries about how to transport the protective equipment.

The Czech Republic has 1,775 people infected with the coronavirus, six people have died.

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TOKYO — Japan’s Prime Minister Shinzo Abe convened a coronavirus task force meeting, instructing all 47 prefectural leaders to plan contingency measures to fight the virus in response to assessments that the coronavirus is now rampant in the country.

The task force is backed by a special law passed this month that allows Abe to declare a state of emergency, though top officials say such a declaration is not planned immediately.

The task force meeting today comes a day after Tokyo Gov. Yuriko Koike asked the 1.3 million residents in the Japanese capital to stay home this weekend, citing a spike of new cases, including those that cannot be traced. She added a lockdown of Tokyo is a possibility if the infections become explosive as in Europe and the U.S.

Abe says Japan will impose entry bans to 21 European countries and Iran and suspend visas from entrants from those countries until the end of April. He says similar measures for China and South Korea are also extended through end of next month.

Tokyo today had 47 cases, a record single-day increase surpassing 41 from the day before. Japan has about 2,000 cases, including 259 in Tokyo.

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JAKARTA, Indonesia — Indonesian government reported 20 new deaths in the previous 24 hours.

That brings the country’s death toll in the COVID-19 outbreak to 78, the highest in the Southeast Asia region.

There have been 103 new cases today to total 893 positive tests in the archipelago nation, mostly in the capital of Jakarta.

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MADRID — Spain has become the country in Europe where the coronavirus outbreak is expanding fastest. It’s second only to the United States in the number of new cases reported.

Spain’s Health Ministry reported 8,578 new infections and 655 deaths today, bringing the total infections to 56,188 and more than 4,000 fatalities.

Italy’s initial steep rise in confirmed cases has started to level off more than two weeks into a nationwide lockdown. On Wednesday, the country reported 5,210 new cases and 683 deaths.

The outbreak is straining Spain’s health care system, with medical staff struggling to treat the infected amid a shortage of protective gear and enough ventilator machines and other medical equipment.

One out of 10 of the country’s COVID-19 fatalities have been recorded in nursing homes.

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BAGHDAD — Iraq has extended a government-imposed curfew for another two weeks, prohibiting large gatherings and non-essential businesses to stem the spread of the coronavirus, according to a cabinet statement.

It is the second extension since the first curfew was imposed on March 17.

Iraqis have struggled to adhere to the curfew, prompting senior Iraqi officials and prominent religious figures to call for the public to stay at home and avoid congregating in crowds.

At least 29 people have died of coronavirus in Iraq amid 346 confirmed cases, according to the Health Ministry.

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STOCKHOLM — Sweden’s reigning Social Democrats have decided to call off all May Day parades and mark the International Workers’ Day digitally because of the coronavirus.

Under the slogan “a stronger society,” thousands were expected to rally on May 1 across the Scandinavian country. It has kept primary and elementary schools, restaurants and bars open and encouraged people to enjoy the spring sun. So far, only gatherings of over 500 people are banned.

In a statement, party secretary Lena Radstrom Baastad says the message this year “will become even more important.”

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BUCHAREST, Romania — Romania’s prime minister has announced the resignation of the health minister, whose announcement that everyone in the capital city of Bucharest would be tested for the coronavirus had been strongly criticized.

Prime Minister Ludovic Orban said today in a statement that while he regretted Victor Costache’s departure, “on the other hand, I understand it and I thank him.”

Orban said the government’s priority was to acquire protective equipment for hospitals to protect medical staff.

Romania has registered 906 coronavirus cases, with 17 deaths.

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PARIS — France has begun evacuating its citizens infected with the coronavirus from the Alsace epicenter onboard a special medicalized high-speed train.

France’s health minister said that the TGV train-cum-hospital is a “first in Europe.”

Around 20 patients are being evacuated from Strasbourg to hospitals in the Pays-de-la-Loire and other regions this morning, thanks to the medical locomotive.

It consists of five cars, each one kitted out with medical material and attended by an anesthesiologist-resuscitator, an intern, a nurse anesthetist and three nurses.

The train has been employed to relieve the French region worst hit by the coronavirus that has already claimed over 1,300 lives in France — almost half of whom have died in the Grand Est region’s hospitals.

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MOSCOW — Russia’s Defense Ministry promised to build 16 medical centers for treating infectious diseases by mid-May amid the growing coronavirus outbreak in the country. The centers will be spread across a range of Russian regions, Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu said at a government meeting today.

“We need to ensure the fastest construction of these centers in order for our military medicine to be ready to deal with the (coronavirus) infection,” Prime Minister Mikhail Mishustin said.

Russia has ramped up measures to prevent the new virus from spreading further as its caseload grew at an increasing pace. Earlier today, the government announced halting all international flights except for those bringing Russian nationals home from abroad. On Wednesday, President Vladimir Putin declared next week a holiday, during which only essential businesses – such as grocery shops, pharmacies and banks – will operate.

Russian authorities reported 840 cases of the new coronavirus today, with 182 new cases registered since the day before.

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ANKARA, Turkey — Turkey’s trade minister says the country is restricting the export of respirator-related medical equipment in order to meet domestic needs.

Ruhsar Pekcan said on Twitter today that the export of equipment including ventilators, intubation devices and intensive care monitors would be subject to government authorization.

The measure aims to ensure that a “disruption to the health services does not occur and the existing capacity is used effectively,” the minister said.

Turkey has reported 59 COVID-19 deaths and at least 2,433 infections.

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MOSCOW — Moscow officials today ordered to close restaurants, cafes, bars, shopping malls and some parks in the city for nine days starting from Saturday.

The move, aimed at keeping people at home amid the coronavirus outbreak, comes a day after Russian President Vladimir Putin declared next week a holiday, during which only essential businesses — such as pharmacies, grocery stores and banks — will continue to operate.

The number of coronavirus cases in Russia has been growing rapidly this week. Russian authorities reported 840 cases of the new coronavirus today, with 182 new cases registered since the day before.

On Tuesday, Moscow Mayor Sergei Sobyanin told Putin that the situation is “serious.” Russia’s comparatively low caseload could reflect insufficient screening rather than the actual scale of the epidemic, he said, and urged Putin to ramp up testing all across the country.

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STOCKHOLM — Sweden saw a surge in the number of deaths that could change the Scandinavian’s rather lax approach keeping primary and elementary schools, restaurants and bars open and even encouraging people to go out and enjoy the spring sun.

Health officials have within the past 24 hours seen an increase of 18 deaths since Wednesday, bringing the total to 62 deaths in the country of 10 million that has had 2,510 people tested positive of which 176 are in intensive care.

The head of Stockholm’s health service Bjorn Eriksson said “the storm is over us,” hours after Anders Tegnell of the Public Health Agency of Sweden told a news conference that the situation was “stable.”

In neighboring Denmark, the government allegedly was planning to further tighten the law so that smaller groups — less than 10 — can be banned.

And in Finland, the government says it will in an exceptional move block the movement of citizens into and out of a key southern region that includes the Nordic nation’s capital, Helsinki, to prevent the spreading of coronavirus to other areas. The Uusimaa region includes Helsinki and affects the daily lives of some 1.7 million people, nearly a third of Finland’s population.

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LONDON — Britain’s government has ordered 10,000 ventilators to grapple with the COVID-19 crisis.

Billionaire inventor James Dyson told his staff in an email that a team of engineers had been working on a design for the last 10 days since receiving a request for help from Prime Minister Boris Johnson.

Dyson says the device draws on technology used in the company’s air purifier ranges and is powered by a digital motor.

The device was created in partnership with Cambridge-based science engineering firm TTP and still must face regulatory approval.

Britain wants to increase the availability of ventilators from 8,000 to 30,000.

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TOKYO — Tokyo Olympic organizers announced today that they are canceling a cultural event featuring collaborative performances of kabuki and opera next month due to the spreading of the coronavirus.

The event already had a setback last year after world-famous tenor Placido Domingo withdrew following his sexual harassment allegations.

The cancellation follows Tuesday’s agreement between Tokyo’s Organizing Committee and the International Olympic Committee to postpone the Tokyo Games until the summer of 2021 due to the ongoing global pandemic.

The revised “Tokyo 2020 Nippon Festival” scheduled for April 18, was to feature Japanese kabuki actor Ebizo Ichikawa and opera singers — Italian soprano Anna Pirozi and Uruguayan bass-baritone Erwin Schrott — in a performance aimed at bringing together the east and the west and contrasting the traditional and the modern.

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KUALA LUMPUR, Malaysia — Malaysia’s king and queen are under quarantine after seven palace staff members tested positive for COVID-19.

The palace said today that seven staff were hospitalized Tuesday and health authorities were trying to identify the source of the transmission. It said King Sultan Abdullah Sultan Ahmad Shah and his wife Tunku Azizah Aminah Maimunah Iskandariah were tested for the virus, but both were negative. It said the royal couple decided to observe a 14-day self-quarantine from Wednesday, with deep cleansing to be carried out in the palace.

Malaysia, which has 21 deaths and the highest total of cases in Southeast Asia at 1,796, has extended its lockdown by another two weeks to April 14.

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COLOMBO, Sri Lanka: — Sri Lanka’s president Gotabaya Rajapaksa has requested international donor agencies to provide a debt moratorium or debt deferment facility to all developing nations facing the risk of being severely affected by coronavirus.

Rajapaksa had urged Director General of the World Health Organization to forward this request to multi-lateral and bilateral lending agencies.

He has pointed out that such “a relief would be helpful to manage COVID-19 Social Distancing, Public Health and Social Security Systems in those countries.”

His statement comes as Sri Lanka will have to repay a US $4.8 billion external debt this year amid an economy that performed poorly last year. The island nation’s economy suffered a severe blow last year due to the Easter Sunday bomb attacks by Islamic militants.

Sri Lanka’s economic growth is estimated to hit an 18-year low of 2.7 to 2.8 percent in 2019.

However, the International Monetary Fund said in February that Sri Lanka’s economy is gradually recovering from the terrorist attacks last April. The IMF said the real GDP growth is estimated at 2.6 percent in 2019 and that the GDP growth in 2020 is projected at 3.7 percent.

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MOSCOW — Russian government officials announced the halting of all international flights starting from Friday amid the coronavirus pandemic.

An exception will be made for flights bringing Russians home from abroad, according to a statement published today on the cabinet’s website.

Earlier this month, Russian authorities limited its air traffic to regular flights to world capitals and charter flights.

The new measure comes as the number of coronavirus cases in Russia rapidly grows. On Wednesday, the government reported a total of 658 cases, with 163 new cases registered since the previous day. That is a significantly bigger daily increase than in previous weeks, when the number of cases was growing by several dozens a day.

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SEOUL, South Korea — South Korea’s central bank says it will temporarily provide an “unlimited” amount of money to eligible banks and other financial institutions for three months through repurchase agreements as it tries to calm financial markets rattled by the global coronavirus crisis.

The Bank of Korea today said the measure was unprecedented but didn’t provide an estimate on how much money would be supplied to financial markets through the short-term borrowings.

The bank last week executed an emergency rate cut of 0.5 percentage points to help ease the economic fallout from the coronavirus, which brought its policy rate to an all-time low of 0.75 percent.

Some experts say it’s unclear whether traditional financial tools to boost money supplies would be effective now when the global pandemic has damaged both supply and demand, decimating industrial hubs in China and Italy and forcing millions to stay at home under tightened quarantines.

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