The Latest: British agency allows experimental virus drug

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.

TOP OF THE HOUR:

— WHO warns that 1st wave of pandemic not over; dampens hopes.

— Britain’s medicines agency authorizes the use of remdesivir for COVID-19 patients.

— Czech Republic, Hungary and Slovokia agree to reopen their shared borders.

— Restaurants and cafes in Russia’s Sakhalin region reopen.

— Indonesia to deploy troops to enforce health protocols.

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LONDON — Britain’s medicines agency has authorized the use of the experimental drug remdesivir for COVID-19 patients, in a move that may shorten the time some patients spend in the hospital.

Clinical trials testing the antiviral to determine whether or not it is effective are still under way globally, but initial results have suggested it can speed up the recovery time for people infected with the new coronavirus.

In a statement on Tuesday, the U.K.’s Medicines and Health Regulatory Agency said it would support the use of remdesivir, made by Gilead, to treat adults and teenagers hospitalized with severe COVID-19.

“We are committed to ensuring that patients can have fast access to promising treatments for COVID-19,” said Dr. June Raine, the agency’s chief executive.

Remdesivir will be provided to patients free of charge by Gilead and will be for patients with “high, unmet medical need” under a doctor’s supervision.

A study last month of more than 1,000 people severely sickened by the coronavirus found those who got the drug were discharged from the hospital several days earlier than those who got a placebo.

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PRAGUE — The Czech Republic, Hungary and Slovakia are set to start reopening their borders for their citizens to travel.

The Czech Republic and Slovakia announced on Monday a deal for their citizens to travel across their common border and not to face a mandatory quarantine and tests for the coronavirus if they return in 48 hours.

Czech Prime Minister Andrej Babis said Tuesday Hungary is joining the Czechs and Slovaks to allow free travel among them for that limited period of two days.

The measure will become effective on Wednesday.

The Czech Republic with another neighbor, Austria, previously said they are planning to reopen their common border for travelers in the middle of June.

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MOSCOW — Restaurants and cafes reopened in Sakhalin in the Russian Far East on Tuesday as the region moved to ease coronavirus-related lockdown restrictions in place since April 1.

According to local officials, restaurants are required to accommodate no more than 50 people, place tables 1.5 meters (5 feet) away from one another and allow just two seats at each. Buffets and big parties are not allowed.

Last week, malls and shops reopened in the region as well. Sakhalin authorities have so far reported 75 confirmed coronavirus cases among the region’s 488,000 population and zero deaths.

On May 11, Russian President Vladimir Putin announced ending the nationwide lockdown in place since late March, leaving the decision of which restrictions to lift and which to keep in place up to regional governors. Some have since started to gradually reopen certain businesses in their regions.

Russia has reported over 360,000 infections and 3,807 deaths on Tuesday.

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JAKARTA, Indonesia — Indonesia will deploy 340,000 security forces to enforce disciplinary of health protocols in place as the world’s fourth most populous nation prepares to reopen its economy.

Indonesia’s military chief Air Marshal Hadi Tjahjanto told a news conference in Jakarta that soldiers and police would be deployed gradually starting Tuesday in 1,800 locations such as markets, public transportation facilities and malls, ensuring the public observe health guidelines such as social distancing and wearing a mask.

Shopping centers and other economic sectors were expected to be able to resume operations in Jakarta on June 4.

President Joko Widodo on Tuesday inspected preparations for reopening subway in Jakarta and a shopping mall in its satellite city of Bekasi. He told reporters the goal is to remain productive but safe from the threat of COVID-19.

Indonesia has reported more than 23,000 COVID-19 cases with about 1,400 deaths, the most fatalities in Southeast Asia.

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

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BERLIN — International public broadcasters are highlighting their role in combating misinformation about the coronavirus.

In a joint statement Tuesday, seven public service media from the United States, Europe, Canada, Japan and Australia said “the fight against the proliferation, particularly on social networks, of fake news about the disease and its treatments has mobilized all our editorial offices.”

The broadcasters — France Médias Monde, Deutsche Welle, the BBC World Service, NHK World, CBC Radio-Canada, ABC Australia and the U.S. Agency for Global Media, whose networks include Voice of America and Radio Free Asia — said they have seen strong audience increases during the pandemic.

The seven outlets say they reach an audience of more than one billion people through their websites, TV and radio broadcasts every week.

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LONDON — A junior British government minister has quit over Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s failure to fire his top aide for breaching lockdown rules.

Johnson has stood by Dominic Cummings over his decision to drive 250 miles (400 kilometers) to his parents’ house, despite a national order for people to remain at home. Cummings says he traveled so that extended family could care for his 4-year-old son if he and his wife, who both had suspected coronavirus, fell ill.

But many Britons say Cummings made a mockery of the sacrifices of people who followed the rules even when it meant staying away from loved ones.

Scotland Minister Douglas Ross said in a resignation letter that “the vast majority of people” did not agree with Cummings’ interpretation of the rules.

He said “I have constituents who didn’t get to say goodbye to loved ones; families who could not mourn together; people who didn’t visit sick relatives because they followed the guidance of the government. I cannot in good faith tell them they were all wrong and one senior adviser to the government was right.”

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MADRID — Spain’s Foreign Minister says that European Union members should agree to a common approach to open borders, reestablish freedom of travel in the Schengen Area and define which countries outside it should be considered safe to travel from and to.

Arancha González Laya told Cadena SER radio that restarting cross-border travel should be decided collectively even if countries in the EU are phasing out lockdowns at different dates.

“We have to start working with our European partners to retake the freedom of movement in European territories,” González Laya said on Tuesday, adding that she would like to see a European definition of which countries should be deemed as safe.

The minister said that Spain is eager to welcome tourists to shore up an industry that amounts to 12% of the country’s GDP but that it plans to do it with “health, sustainability and safety.”

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MOSCOW — The Russian government has reported a record daily spike of 174 deaths on Tuesday, which brought the country’s death toll to 3,807.

Russia’s coronavirus caseload surpassed 360,000 on Tuesday, with almost 9,000 new infections registered in the past 24 hours.

The country’s comparatively low mortality rate raises questions among experts both in Russia and in the West, with some suggesting the government may be manipulating the statistics and underreporting virus-related deaths.

Russian officials vehemently deny the allegations and attribute the low numbers to the effectiveness of the measures taken to curb the spread of the outbreak.

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NEW DELHI — For a seventh consecutive day, India has reported its biggest jump in coronavirus cases.

The country’s health ministry reported 145,380 total infections, an increase of 6,535 from the day before, and 4,167 deaths.

Most of the cases are concentrated in two neighboring states in central India, Maharashtra, home to financial hub Mumbai, and Gujarat, Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s home state. An uptick in cases has also been reported in some of India’s poorest eastern states as migrant workers returning to native villages from India’s largest cities have begun arriving home on special trains.

India’s virus caseload has been climbing as lockdown restrictions have eased. Domestic flights resumed Monday after a two-month hiatus, though at a fraction of normal.

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The above item has been corrected to show that India’s health ministry reported 145,380 total infections, not new infections.

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SEOUL, South Korea — South Korean rights groups have criticized government plans to require some businesses to register their customers with smartphone QR codes as part of new anti-virus measures.

They say the country’s technology-driven approach to COVID-19 has reached a point where an increase in state surveillance powers is a legitimate concern. South Korea’s Health Ministry has said beginning in June “high-risk” businesses such as bars, nightclubs, gyms, karaoke rooms and concert halls will be required to use QR codes to register their customers so they could be found more easily when transmissions occur.

In a joint statement Tuesday, groups including privacy watchdog Jinbo Net said such a move would be excessive.

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CANBERRA, Australia — Tensions are rising between federal and state leaders in Australia over differing approaches to lifting pandemic restrictions.

Australia recorded nine new coronavirus cases in the latest 24-hour period. The nation has reported 7,118 infections, and 102 deaths.

Nearby neighbor New Zealand has had similar success in slowing the virus spread. New Zealand has gone four days without detecting a new infection and has recorded a single new case in the past week.

New Zealand has treated 1,504 cases, including 21 deaths.

Australia’s population is five times larger than New Zealand’s 5 million people.

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MANILA, Philippines — The Philippine president has ordered about 24,000 workers who have lost their jobs abroad due to the COVID-19 pandemic to be transported by land, sea or air to their provincial homes and warned local officials not to refuse them entry.

The workers returned to the country in recent months but had to undergo two weeks of quarantine in hospitals, hotels and makeshift isolation centers in metropolitan Manila in a chaotic situation that delayed their trip home and sparked a myriad of complaints. Some had to wait weeks to be tested for the coronavirus and receive results.

President Rodrigo Duterte said in televised remarks Monday night that some provincial officials have refused entry to returning workers from abroad as a precaution and warned them of possible lawsuits. Authorities have been scrambling to unclog quarantine facilities in the capital with about 300,000 more displaced Filipino workers slated to come home soon.

“I’m ordering you to accept them, open the gates of your territories,” Duterte said. “Do not impede it. Do not obstruct the movement of people because you run the risk of getting sued criminally.”

Thousands of workers who have tested negative for the virus began boarding buses, ships and planes back to their provinces on Monday in homecomings that are expected to be completed in a week.

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SEOUL, South Korea — South Korea has reported 19 new cases of the coronavirus, most from the densely populated Seoul metropolitan area, where officials have been actively tracing transmissions linked to nightclubs and other entertainment venues.

South Korea’s Centers for Disease Control and Prevention on Tuesday also reported two more deaths, bringing national totals to 11,225 cases and 269 fatalities. Officials linked three of the new cases to international arrivals.

South Korea has been reporting around 20 new cases per day over the past two weeks after health workers found hundreds of infections linked to club goers who went out in early May as the country eased social distancing measures.

The new infections in the greater capital area have caused concern as authorities proceed with a phased reopening of schools, which began with high school seniors last week.

Around 2.4 million high school juniors, middle school seniors, first and second graders and kindergarten students will be returning to school on Wednesday.

Health Minister Park Neung-hoo urged school officials to double check their preventive measures. He called for authorities to strengthen monitoring on some 390,000 undocumented foreign nationals who may have poor access to medical services and tests, but related measures weren’t immediately announced.

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BEIJING — China reported seven new coronavirus cases Tuesday, all brought into the country by Chinese citizens returning from abroad.

Just 81 patients remain hospitalized with COVID-19, and another 408 are in isolation and being monitored for either suspected cases or after testing positive for the virus without showing any symptoms. China has reported a total of 4,634 deaths from the disease among 82,992 cases.

With the decline in numbers, students have gradually returned to class and some international schools in the capital Beijing are preparing to re-open on June 1. China is proceeding this week with the annual session of its ceremonial parliament, which is being held under social distancing restrictions.

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