The Latest: South Africa cases pass 35K, Cape Town a worry

The Latest on the coronavirus pandemic. COVID-19 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:

— Cases surpass 35,000 in South Africa, most around Cape Town

— Cathedrals open to parishioners in Russia’s capital

— Italy’s president underlines need to remember pandemic victims

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JOHANNESBURG — South Africa’s total confirmed coronavirus cases have jumped to more than 35,000 while the province anchored by Cape Town remains a worrying hot spot with more than 23,000.

South Africa has the most confirmed virus cases of any nation in Africa. The Africa Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says the total number across the continent is now above 152,000.

South Africa took another step in easing lockdown restrictions on Monday with alcohol sales allowed again. Authorities have warned that the rate of new cases is expected to quicken.

South Africa has seen cases double roughly every 12 days while cases in the Western Cape have been doubling every nine days.

A major test lies ahead this weekend as places of worship are allowed to operate with a limit of 50 people, despite warnings from some religious leaders about the risk of spreading the virus.

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MOSCOW — The two main Russian Orthodox cathedrals in Moscow have reopened their doors as officials take more steps to ease the country’s coronavirus lockdown.

The Christ the Savior Cathedral and the Epiphany Cathedral at Yelokhovo welcomed parishioners again on Tuesday.

The move was coordinated with federal and city officials. Church-goers are supposed to wear medical masks and maintain a proper distance from others during services.

Other churches in the Russian capital are scheduled to reopen on Saturday. Moscow churches have been closed to parishioners since April 13.

Orthodox churches in many other regions across the vast country already have reopened as provincial authorities started lifting restrictions intended to stem the outbreak.

Russian officials say that the nation is now past the peak of contagion, making it safe to gradually ease lockdown measures. Some experts warn that with new confirmed cases increasing by about 9,000 daily, lifting restrictions quickly is dangerous.

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CODOGNO, Italy — Italy’s president has laid a wreath of remembrance in the cemetery of the Lombardy region town where Italy’s first domestically transmitted case of coronavirus was confirmed on Feb. 21.

President Sergio Mattarella expressed solidarity with the families of people who have died during the pandemic, saying their ’’’wounds can only be healed with memory, recalling names, faces, stories.’’

He said a way must be found to preserve their memories.

Mattarella traveled to the town of Codogno on the occasion of Italy’s Republic Day celebration. Earlier Tuesday, he laid a wreath at the Victor Emmanuel II Monument in Rome, which functions as the nation’s Tomb of the Unknown Soldier.

Italy, the first western nation struck by the virus, has recorded 33,475 deaths and 233,197 confirmed cases.

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JOHANNESBURG — Africa’s coronavirus cases have surpassed 150,000 while the World Health Organization says the continent of 1.3 billion people is still the region least affected.

Concerns remain high as some of Africa’s 54 countries struggle with when to reopen schools and parts of their economies.

Rwanda, the first nation in sub-Saharan Africa to impose a lockdown, this week slowed the easing of it after reporting its first COVID-19 death.

More than 4,300 deaths have been confirmed across the continent as local transmission of the virus increases and testing materials and medical equipment remain in short supply in many places.

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Britain’s statistics agency says the number of coronavirus-related deaths in the U.K. up to the week ending May 22 was 48,106.

The updated figures from the Office for National Statistics come after it recorded a weekly 2,589 deaths involving the coronavirus in England and Wales. Although that was the lowest in the past seven weeks, the virus still accounted for 21.1% of all deaths.

The daily figures provided by the government have COVID-related deaths at just above 39,000. Those figures are based on initial cause of death assessments whereas those from the statistics agency are collated from death registrations, which can take a few weeks to be issued.

The agency also said there were 2,348 more deaths in England and Wales during the week than the five-year average. Excess deaths are widely considered to be the best gauge of the virus’s impact as they provide a clear guide over historical periods and include all-cause mortality.

Statistician Nick Stripe said there have been just under 62,000 excess deaths across the U.K.

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BERLIN — Berlin’s top health official says she is appalled by a weekend gathering in support of the city’s shuttered clubs that brought up to 1,500 people together and which organizers ended because participants weren’t keeping to distancing rules.

The demonstrators gathered on a city canal Sunday in 300 to 400 small boats and on the banks, with loud music. The city’s health minister, Dilek Kalayci, said Tuesday she understands nightclubs’ financial difficulties but noted that aid is available and said the weekend event was “grossly negligent” while the pandemic continues. She said “this is not the time for parties.”

Germany started easing its coronavirus restrictions in late April and is continuing to do so despite some concern over local outbreaks linked to slaughterhouses, a church service and a restaurant.

In the latest case, at least 68 people tested positive in the central city of Goettingen after private family parties.

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HARARE, Zimbabwe — State media say Zimbabwe has confirmed its first coronavirus cases in prisons, with four inmates and two guards testing positive.

The Herald newspaper says authorities declared the prisons in Plumtree, which borders Botswana, and in Beitbridge, which borders South Africa, as “no-go areas.” Authorities also have suspended movement out of prisons countrywide, resulting in some prisoners failing to attend court hearings.

Zimbabwe’s cases more than doubled in the past week to over 200, with most new infections at centers where people crossing the border are quarantined. Most are returning from Botswana and South Africa, which host millions of Zimbabweans who fled economic turmoil in recent years.

South Africa has more than 34,000 virus cases, the most in Africa. Zimbabwe’s health ministry says the returnees pose the biggest virus threat. Those arrested for illegal border crossings are put into the prisons in Plumtree and Beitbridge. Zimbabwe earlier released more than 4,000 prisoners to ease overcrowding in facilities where health systems are weak. About 18,000 people are still behind bars.

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LAHORE, Pakistan — A leaked government document reveals authorities ignored experts who wanted a monthlong lockdown in Pakistan’s Punjab province and who estimated 670,000 might have been infected in the provincial capital of Lahore.

After media published the experts’ report Tuesday, residents criticized the government for easing the restrictions last month instead of heeding the recommendation.

The report was based on a sample survey done in Lahore, which had 245 deaths through May 15. Since then, Punjab has reported nearly 200 more fatalities related to COVID-19.

The document surfaced hours before Prime Minister Imran Khan relaxed more coronavirus restrictions implemented in March, saying Pakistanis must learn how to live with the virus since lockdowns don’t treat the disease.

Pakistan has registered 1,621 fatalities amid 76,398 cases.

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WELLINGTON, New Zealand — South American countries at the epicenter of the coronavirus pandemic are choosing to reopen even as case numbers rise, ignoring the example set by Europe in which nations waited for the worst to pass.

Meanwhile in the U.S., there are concerns that protests over the death of George Floyd, a black man pinned at the neck by a white police officer, could cause new outbreaks in a nation where the virus has disproportionately affected racial minorities.

And a new estimate by the Congressional Budget Office cautioned the damage to the world’s largest economy could amount to nearly $16 trillion over the next decade if Congress doesn’t work to mitigate the fallout.

Experts are concerned about what’s happening in South America.

“There is a rapid increase in cases, and those (health) systems are coming under increasing pressure,” said Mike Ryan, the executive director of the World Health Organization’s emergencies program.

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SINGAPORE — Singapore has reopened 75% of its economy as part of a three-phase controlled approach to end a virus lockdown in place since early April.

Finance, electronics manufacturing and logistics are among sectors that resumed operations after a two-month closure with strict safety requirements. Schools will also reopen in stages this month. But most retail shops, personal services, dining in at restaurants and social gatherings are still banned.

“It feels like it has come back to where it should be. Like you know, people start to see people again, and working again. It feels good,” said Firman Hanif, who works in a security firm.

The affluent city-state has more than 35,000 cases, one of the highest in Asia. More than 90 percent of cases involved foreign workers living in crowded dormitories. The government says it will only lift further restrictions if infections remain low.

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SEOUL, South Korea — South Korea has reported 38 new cases of COVID-19, all but one in the densely populated Seoul metropolitan area.

The figures released by the Korea Centers for Disease Control and Prevention on Tuesday brought national totals to 11,541 cases and 272 deaths.

Hundreds of cases have been linked to workplaces, including call centers and a massive warehouse operated by local e-commerce giant Coupang, which officials say failed to properly enforce preventive measures. At least two dozen cases have been linked to churches near capital Seoul, including a death of a follower in his 70s.

Incheon, a port city west of Seoul, banned gatherings at more at some 4,200 churches and other religious facilities. Gyeonggi province, which surrounds the capital, issued an administrative order to shut down warehouses, funeral homes and wedding halls.

Health Minister Park Neunghoo during an anti-virus meeting on Tuesday pleaded churchgoers and employees of hospitals and nursery homes to avoid unnecessary gatherings to reduce infection risks for senior citizens and others who are medically vulnerable.

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BEIJING — China is reporting five new cases of the coronavirus, all brought by Chinese citizens from outside the country.

No new deaths were reported on Tuesday while 73 people remain in treatment for COVID-19 and 373 are under monitoring and isolation for showing signs of the virus or having tested positive for it without showing symptoms. China has recorded a total of 4,634 deaths among 83,022 cases of the disease.

China further re-opened schools this week and much of the economy is back on a regular footing, albeit with social distancing and other measures in place to prevent a second wave of the virus outbreak that was first detected late last year in the central Chinese city of Wuhan.

On Monday, China’s foreign ministry again defended the country’s handling of the outbreak against charges of incompetence from the Trump administration focusing on its failure to prevent people leaving Wuhan earlier than Jan. 23 when the city was put on lockdown.

“This statement is totally inconsistent with the facts, which is extremely disrespectful of the Chinese people’s tremendous efforts and sacrifice in the epidemic control and prevention,” ministry spokesperson Zhao Lijian told reporters.

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SACRAMENTO, Calif. — California’s state prison system has had its first known staff death due to the coronavirus.

California Rehabilitation Center Correctional Officer Danny Mendoza died Saturday in Riverside County after recently testing positive for the coronavirus.

The prison department says more than 300 state corrections department employees have tested positive, but more than half of those have returned to work.

An inmate at the California Institution for Men in San Bernardino County died Sunday at an outside hospital from what appear to be coronavirus complications. It would be the 10th such inmate death, all at the same prison.

Officials did not release more information on the inmate, citing medical privacy rules.

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LANSING, Mich. — Gov. Gretchen Whitmer has lifted Michigan’s nearly 10-week coronavirus stay-at-home order, letting restaurants reopen to dine-in customers next week and immediately easing limits on outdoor gatherings while keeping social-distancing rules intact.

The governor on Monday moved regions comprising 93% of the state’s population to phase 4 — “improving” — two weeks after she announced that northern Michigan could advance to that stage. Businesses where close contact is necessary, such as gyms, hair salons, theaters and amusement parks, will remain closed under a new order.

Retailers can reopen to customers without an appointment on Thursday and restaurants can offer dine-in service on June 8, with capacity limits. Children’s day camps, pools, libraries and museums can also reopen June 8. Groups of up to 100 can gather outside if they stay 6 feet apart, up from a threshold of 10 people. In-home services such as housecleaning can resume.

People must continue to wear face coverings in enclosed public spaces.

___ LONDON — The emergencies chief of the World Health Organization said Central and South America are witnessing the most intense transmission of the coronavirus, but it’s difficult to predict when the pandemic might peak there.

Dr. Michael Ryan said five of the 10 countries reporting the most new cases are in the Americas: the U.S., Brazil, Peru, Chile and Mexico. He said hospitals were starting to strain under the pressure.

“We’re particularly concerned about places like Haiti because of the inherent weaknesses in the system,” Ryan said at a press briefing on Monday. “I think we now absolutely need to focus on supporting particularly Central and South America,” he said.

He said the outbreaks in South Asia and Africa, although difficult, were now stable.

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