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Thu. 10:54 a.m.: Latest world virus headlines — Lowered flags urged at 100,000 US virus deaths

A stranded Sri Lankan inquires about transportation from a government soldier in Colombo, Sri Lanka. Sri Lanka's government asked state and private sector workers to resume work Monday after a nearly two-month coronavirus lockdown. (AP Photo/Eranga Jayawardena)

Here are summaries of the latest stories worldwide on the coronavirus pandemic, including:

— Top Democrats urge half-staff flags at 100,000 US virus deaths;

— Scotland leader presents ‘map’ for easing lockdown restrictions;

— China lawmakers gather as doubts swirl over pandemic safety;

— Japan calls for international cooperation in combating virus;

— Indonesia working to contain virus ahead of Islamic holiday;

— Austria takes precautions as it awaits summer tourist season.

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WASHINGTON — The top Democratic leaders are urging President Donald Trump to fly flags at half-staff on public buildings across the country when the U.S. coronavirus death toll reaches 100,000.

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer made the request in a letter sent to Trump this morning. They say the gesture would “serve as a national expression of grief so needed by everyone in our country.”

There have been more than 93,000 COVID-19 deaths in the U.S., according to Johns Hopkins University.

The White House had no immediate response to the letter.

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LONDON — Scotland’s leader has presented a “route map” for easing coronavirus restrictions in the months ahead while observing social distancing guidelines.

First Minister Nicola Sturgeon told Scottish lawmakers the lockdown will be loosened in three-week intervals, subject to progress in virus control. But, she added, the proposals “cannot be set in stone.”

Starting May 28, two households may see each other in small groups in “outdoor spaces.” That’s more than what is now allowed in England, where only individuals from two households can meet outside.

Other planned changes in Scotland beginning next week include the reopening of gardening stores and allowing noncontact outdoor leisure activities, such as golf and fishing. Schools, though, will not reopen until Aug. 1. Some English schools may be reopening June 1.

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ROME — A new government report indicates there were 46,909 excess deaths in Italy in March and April compared to what would have been expected. The report says it would be accurate to attribute most of the deaths to the coronavirus.

Italy’s social security and welfare agency (INPS) concluded the official COVID-19 death toll reported by the civil protection department “isn’t very reliable” since it includes only those who tested positive for the virus, omitting those who died at home or in nursing homes without ever being tested.

By the end of April, Italy’s official COVID-19 death toll stood at 27,938. INPS said excess deaths at that point had reached 46,909 and said most of the 18,971 deaths making up the difference could be attributed to the pandemic.

The agency reached that conclusion by noting that the five Lombardy provinces with the most excess deaths were the same five provinces hardest hit by the virus. In addition, most of the excess deaths were among the elderly men who account for most COVID victims.

Italy was the first country in the West to be slammed by the virus and its official toll lags only that of the U.S. and Britain.

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VILNIUS, Lithuania — Restaurants and bars in Lithuania’s capital have found a way to pack the house while maintaining social distancing: mannequins in seats that must remain closed to customers.

The faux customers are dressed casually or with an artistic flair, sometimes even for a ball, and some wear masks. They sit at selected tables, ensuring that actual customers are kept at a proper distance during the pandemic.

“Empty tables inside our restaurant look rather odd,” said Bernie Ter Braak, the owner of the downtown restaurant “Cosy.” “We don’t have any way to remove them.”

Vilnius Mayor Remigijus Simasius today called the initiative a “perfect match of communal spirit and creativity working side by side”.

Lithuania, a nation of some 2.8 million, is one of the European Union countries least affected by the coronavirus. Social distancing is in force until May 31.

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WILKESBORO, N.C. — Meat producer Tyson Foods is reporting 570 cases of COVID-19 at a poultry processing complex in North Carolina.

Tyson said in a statement it tested more than 2,000 staff members and contractors who work at its facility in Wilkesboro. Tyson said that most of the 570 didn’t show symptoms.

The company said it is increasing testing and health care options at 30 of its facilities. Tyson said it’s also providing face masks, putting physical barriers between workstations and implementing social distancing.

Tyson had temporarily closed parts of the North Carolina complex that houses multiple plants for deep cleaning, including a multiday closure announced last week.

Surrounding Wilkes County health officials said that as of today the area had about 450 COVID-19 cases, including two deaths and 20 current hospitalizations.

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VIENNA — Austria is preparing for the summer tourist season while taking extra precautions to ensure the new coronavirus does not pick up again.

Chancellor Sebastian Kurz said today that people from countries where COVID-19 has stabilized could count on summer holidays with “maximum safety and maximum enjoyment.”

There is an agreement with Germany, Liechtenstein and Switzerland to fully open borders next month. Kurz was optimistic similar arrangements could be reached with Austria’s eastern neighbors in the coming week. He says negotiations have begun with Austrian Airline’s parent company Lufthansa for holiday flights.

Distancing measures in Austria will remain in place and hotel staffers will be tested regularly for COVID-19.

“We need to ensure that the infection rate remains low,” Kurz said. “The lower the infection numbers the more people will go out.”

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NICOSIA, Cyprus — Cyprus is lifting most restrictions of a two-month stay-at-home order.

The decision allows for the reopening of primary schools, hair salons and outdoor cafes.

People will no longer need permission forms or electronic approval to move outside their home or heed a night curfew. Public parks and squares are now open, but groups of more than 10 are prohibited.

Beginning Saturday, sunbathers may go to the beaches on this east Mediterranean island, and the faithful can attend services at churches, mosques and other places of worship.

Libraries, museums and archaeological sites reopen June 1 when ports will also resume operations, although cruise ship passengers won’t be permitted to disembark.

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ISTANBUL — Japan’s Prime Minister Shinzo Abe is urging international cooperation in combating the new coronavirus, saying any drug or vaccine must be “fairly” accessible and nations must assist less developed countries.

The prime minister spoke by videoconference today during a ceremony led by Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan to mark a hospital opening.

The 2,600-bed Basaksehir Pine and Sakura City Hospital in Istanbul was built by Turkey’s Ronesans Holding in partnership with Japan’s Sojitz Corporation.

Turkey is separately constructing two other hospitals in Istanbul, including one on the site of the now-closed Ataturk Airport, as part of plans to turn the nation into a major destination for medical tourism.

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JAKARTA, Indonesia — Indonesia’s number of confirmed coronavirus cases surpassed 20,000 as the world’s most populous Muslim nation is entering a critical period in its fight against the COVID-19 outbreak during its most important Islamic holiday.

Health ministry official Achmad Yurianto announced 973 new infections, the biggest daily increase since the start of the pandemic, bringing the total number of confirmed cases to 20,162.

Yurianto said the outbreak has been growing significantly in the East Java province in the past 24 hours with 502 confirmed cases, which has contributed the most to the country’s biggest single-day spike today.

Indonesia’s COVID-19 Task Force chief Doni Monardo told a news conference the virus spread has been growing at its fastest speed during the last nine days as the country is entering a critical moment before and after its Eid al-Fitr celebration to mark the end of the fasting month of Ramadan.

Ramadan exodus was banned this year to contain the spread of the disease, but Monardo said some people had managed to leave big cities.

Monardo said his team is asking help from the military and the police to prevent arrivals in the capital, Jakarta until a full reopening of the capital.

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TOKYO — Japan’s Prime Minister Shinzo Abe announced today he is removing a coronavirus state of emergency in Osaka and two neighboring prefectures in the west where the infection is deemed slowing, while keeping the measure in place in the Tokyo region and Hokkaido.

Abe told reporters that experts at the meeting earlier today approved the plan to lift the measures in Osaka, Kyoto and Hyogo, effective immediately.

The measure stays in place in Tokyo and three neighboring prefectures, as well as Hokkaido, where the infections have slowed but need further improvement.

Abe said he plans to summon experts again on Monday to consider possible removal of the measure in the capital region and Hokkaido.

Japan has taken a soft approach to coronavirus social distancing as Abe’s government tried to take disease prevention measures while minimizing damage to the economy.

Japanese business and industry groups are setting up new guidelines to resume operations while observing physical distancing and other preventive measures recommended by experts.

Japan has about 16,500 confirmed cases and nearly 800 deaths as of Wednesday, according to the health ministry.

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COLOMBO, Sri Lanka — Sri Lankan police say three women died in a stampede today when residents of a Colombo neighborhood scrambled to receive aid being distributed for people who have lost their livelihood because of the new coronavirus restrictions.

Police spokesman Jaliya Senaratne said there were few more people injured and hospitalized. He said police arrested six private individuals who organized the aid distribution.

The Maligawatte area of capital Colombo is a crowded neighborhood where most people drove three-wheeler taxies, ran mobile kiosks or engaged in daily-wage labor for a living.

Sri Lanka has reported just more than 1,000 COVID-19 cases with nine deaths.

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ROME — Italy’s government is seeking to turn the coronavirus emergency into an opportunity to pass “the mother of all reforms” to simplify the country’s notoriously bulky bureaucracy, invest in education and research and make Italy more attractive to foreign investment.

Premier Giuseppe Conte told parliament’s lower chamber today that an upcoming “simplification” decree aims to provide a “shock” to the economy, which was heading toward recession even before the pandemic turned Italy into the onetime European epicenter. He said it aims to make Italy more competitive and transparent, while maintaining checks to prevent organized crime from infiltrating public and private contracts.

He said: “If we don’t succeed in simplifying now, in this state of absolute emergency, I frankly doubt we’ll be able to do it in the future.”

Conte also updated lawmakers on the status of Italy’s reopening, which began May 4 and accelerated this week. He said Italy now leads the world in per capita virus testing, and that antibody tests would begin May 25 on a sample 150,000 people — three weeks later than planned.

He said Italy’s contact-tracing app would begin tests “in the coming days” but he made no mention of whether Italy had hired teams of contact-tracers to actually conduct interviews and get in touch with people who had been in contact with COVID-19 patients, as other European countries have done.

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JOHANNESBURG — The African continent needs to test about 10 times the number of people it has already tested for the coronavirus. That’s according to the Africa Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Director John Nkengasong says Africa should strive to test at least 1 percent of the population of 1.3 billion people, or 13 million people, but so far 1.3 million to 1.4 million tests have been conducted. Africa’s number of virus cases is above 95,000 and could surpass 100,000 by the weekend. The continent has seen roughly the same number of new cases in the past week as the week before, and Nkengasong says that “we hope that trend continues.”

While early lockdowns delayed the pandemic, he says “that doesn’t mean Africa has been spared.” But he says health officials are not seeing a lot of community deaths or “massive flooding of our hospitals” because of COVID-19.

Countries with fragile health systems and a recent history of conflict like Somalia and South Sudan, however, remain “very concerning” as cases rise quickly. Somalia has reported more than 1,500 cases but aid groups worry the real number is far higher. South Sudan has more than 280 cases.

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MILAN — Italian authorities are warning that young people gathering without respecting physical distancing rules and not wearing masks are risking Italy’s hard-won efforts to control the coronavirus outbreak.

Milan Mayor Giuseppe Sala said today that he is asking local police to increase patrols of night spots, be more severe in handing out fines and close any bars or restaurants in flagrant violation of the rules.

He said in a Facebook message that Milan has a problem now, like many Italian cities: “I understand the young people — and they are not only young people — who need to socialize. But the risk is very high.”

Cases in Milan, the seat of hard-hit Lombardy, continue to rise as Italy continues to relax its long lockdown. Since Sunday, there have been 137 new cases in the city of 1.4 million residents.

Premier Giuseppe Conte echoed the concern in a speech to parliament’s lower chamber, saying that while it was “entirely understandable” that young people are excited about going out again, now more than ever it was important to wear masks outdoors and maintain social distancing.

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MADRID — Spaniards are going about their restricted lives wearing masks in compliance with a government order that comes into force today.

Masks are now mandatory for people over 6 years old in all public spaces, including outdoors when they can’t keep a distance of 2 meters (6.5 feet) between them.

The new ruling affects approximately 45 million people. It departs from earlier recommendations to make the masks compulsory only for health workers and those with COVID-19 compatible symptoms.

Last month the government extended their obligatory use to public transport.

Bank employee Carlos García in Madrid welcomed the new regulation but said it was coming too late.

“It has been very confusing: one day yes, one day no. I think we are going slowly with this, like with so many other things,” the 23-year-old said.

Spain has recorded more than 27,800 deaths for the new coronavirus and over 230,000 infections confirmed by laboratory tests.

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BEIRUT — Lebanon’s prime minister is warning of a major food crisis in the Mediterranean country which is facing an unprecedented economic and financial crisis made worse by the coronavirus pandemic.

In an opinion piece published in the Washington Post late Wednesday, Prime Minister Hassan Diab also warns of eventual “starvation” in the Middle East that he says may spark a new migration flow to Europe.

He urges the United States and the European Union to establish a dedicated emergency fund to help the conflict-prone region.

Lebanon, one of the most indebted nations in the world, defaulted for the first time in March on its sovereign debt. Anti-government protests that erupted in October over widespread corruption subsided during a nationwide lockdown since mid-March to blunt the spread of the coronavirus, but sporadic protests continue.

Diab’s government is seeking a rescue program from the International Monetary Fund while grappling to deal with the financial crisis that saw the local currency crash, people’s savings devastated and prices and inflation soar in the past few weeks.

In a stark warning, Diab says many Lebanese may soon find it difficult to afford even bread.

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MADRID — The top official in charge of easing Spain’s lockdown says that the country will reopen to foreign tourists in July only when safety for both locals and visitors is guaranteed.

Wary of the competition from other Mediterranean countries already reopening borders, hoteliers and officials in tourist-magnet islands and coastal regions have been pressing Spanish central authorities to relax curbs in place to fight the coronavirus outbreak.

But Environment and Energy Minister Teresa Ribera has told EFE news agency that an early massive opening to visitors would be “irresponsible.”

“Our idea is to work on safe origins and destinations thinking on July rather on June,” Ribera told the state news agency.

She added that rebounds of the outbreak in China, South Korea and Singapore have been associated to imported infections.

Tourism contributes 12 percent of Spain’s gross domestic product. The country has recorded at least 27,800 deaths for the novel virus and more than 232,000 confirmed infections.

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