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G24

Is Brazil the next big hot spot as other nations ease up?

Brazil is potentially becoming the next big hotspot for the coronavirus amid President Jair Bolsonaro’s insistence that it is just a “little flu” and that it is not necessary to establish severe restrictions that have slowed the spread of the infection. The USA And European countries gradually moved on Monday to ease their traffic and trade limits, with the epidemic escalating in Brazil’s largest Latin American country, with 211 million people pushing hospitals to the point of breaking and causing deaths at home.

“We have all the conditions to make the pandemic much more serious,” said Paulo Brando, a virologist at the University of Sao Paulo.

Brazil has officially declared around 4,500 deaths and almost 67,000 confirmed infections. But the real numbers there, as in many other countries, would be much higher given the lack of evidence and the number of people without severe symptoms who did not seek hospital care. And the crisis could worsen as the country approaches winter, which can worsen respiratory illness. The country’s health ministry said the death counting system is “robust” and has captured everything except a few cases, according to a count by Johns Hopkins University.

The announcement comes as the death toll in the United States exceeded 55,000 near the 58,000 American soldiers killed in the Vietnam War; Italy, Great Britain, Spain and France are responsible for more than 20,000 deaths each.

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G24

Virus pushes US unemployment to highest since Depression

NEW YORK (AP) — Unemployment in the U.S. has swelled to levels last seen during the Great Depression of the 1930s, with 1 in 6 American workers thrown out of a job by the coronavirus.

More than 4.4 million laid-off workers applied for unemployment benefits last week, the government said Thursday. In all, roughly 26 million people — more than the population of the six biggest U.S. cities combined — have now filed for jobless aid in five weeks, an epic collapse that has raised the stakes in the debate over how and when to lift the state-ordered stay-at-home restrictions that have closed factories and other businesses from coast to coast.

Abroad, there was mixed news about the epidemic. Some countries, including Greece, Bangladesh and Malaysia, announced extensions of their lockdowns. Vietnam, New Zealand and Croatia were among those moving to end or ease such measures.

In Africa, COVID-19 cases rose 43% in the past week, up from 16,000 to 26,000 cases, according to John Nkengasong, director of the Africa Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The figures underscored a recent warning from the World Health Organization that the virus could kill more than 300,000 people in Africa and push 30 million into desperate poverty.

Huge lines have formed at food banks from El Paso, Texas, to the Paris suburbs, and food shortages are hitting Africa especially hard.

The European Union has pledged 20 billion euros ($22 billion) to help vulnerable communities globally. EU leaders scheduled a virtual summit Thursday to take stock of the damage the crisis has inflicted on the bloc’s own citizens and to work out an economic rescue plan.

The coronavirus has killed over 184,000 people worldwide, including about 47,000 in the United States, according to a tally compiled by John Hopkins University from official government figures. The true numbers are almost certainly far higher.

In the U.S., the economic consequences of the shutdowns have sparked angry rallies in state capitals by protesters demanding that businesses reopen, and President Donald Trump has expressed impatience over the restrictions. Some governors have begun easing up despite warnings from health authorities that it may be too soon to do so without sparking new infections. In Georgia, gyms, hair salons and bowling alleys can reopen Friday. Texas has reopened its state parks.

The high unemployment levels of the Great Depression lasted for a decade and peaked at around 25%. U.S. officials hope for a quicker recovery this time, although there may be more layoffs to come from many small businesses that tried in vain to receive loans from a federal aid program.

While the health crisis has eased in places like Italy, Spain and France, experts say it is far from over, and the threat of new outbreaks looms large.

“The question is not whether there will be a second wave,” said Dr. Hans Kluge, the head of the WHO’s Europe office. “The question is whether we will take into account the biggest lessons so far.”

German Chancellor Angela Merkel criticized some German states for moving too briskly in trying to reopen their economies. Germany has been praised for its approach to the pandemic and has a much lower reported death toll than other large European countries.

“We’re not living in the final phase of the pandemic, but still at the beginning,” Merkel warned. “Let us not squander what we have achieved and risk a setback. It would be a shame if premature hope ultimately punishes us all.”

Governments are bearing that risk in mind with the onset of Ramadan, the holy month of daytime fasting, overnight festivities and communal prayer that begins for the world’s 1.8 billion Muslims with the new moon this week. Many Muslim leaders have closed mosques or banned collective evening prayer to ward off new infections.

The virus has already disrupted Christianity’s Holy Week, Passover, the Muslim hajj pilgrimage and other major religious events.

Authorities in the capital of Indonesia, the world’s most populous Muslim-majority nation, extended its disease-fighting restrictions to cover all of Ramadan, Turkey banned communal eating during the holiday.

Pakistani Prime Minister Imran Khan bowed to the country’s religious clerics, refusing to close the mosques despite a warning from the nation’s doctors that such gatherings are like a petri dish for spreading the virus in a country with a fragile health care system.

___

Charlton reported from Paris and Gannon from Islamabad, Pakistan. Associated Press reporters from around the world contributed.

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INSTA

Virus forces cancellation of iconic events like Oktoberfest

ATLANTA (AP) — Spain called off the Running of the Bulls in July, the U.S. scrapped the national spelling bee in June and Germany canceled Oktoberfest five months away, making it clear Tuesday that the effort to beat back the coronavirus and return to normal could be a long and dispiriting process.

Amid growing impatience over the shutdowns that have thrown tens of millions out of work, European countries continued to reopen in stages, while in the U.S., one state after another — mostly ones led by Republican governors — outlined plans to gradually get back to business.

All indications are that some businesses won’t necessarily spring back to life once they get the all-clear.Mark Lebos, owner of Strong Gym in Savannah, Georgia, where Gov. Brian Kemp announced plans to let gyms reopen this week, said it would be professional negligence to do so right now.

“We are not going to be a vector of death and suffering,” he said.

With deaths and infections still rising around the world, the push to reopen has set off warnings from health authorities that the crisis that has killed well over 170,000 people globally is far from over and that relaxing the stay-at-home restrictions too quickly could enable the virus to come surging back.

The economic damage mounted as stocks dropped around the world and oil prices suffered an epic collapse.

A barrel of U.S. oil to be delivered in May was $5.38 in morning trading, or a little more than the cost of a fancy latte. A day earlier, the price was negative for the first time ever, with the market so glutted with oil and running out of places to store it that sellers were essentially offering to pay buyers almost $38 a barrel just to take it off their hands.

Meanwhile, U.N. leaders called for efforts to ensure that all people have access to testing, medical supplies, drugs and future vaccines, especially in developing countries where virus cases are rising.

African officials have been outspoken about the need for medical supplies across the 54-nation continent, where health care systems are weak and could become overwhelmed.Even under a best-case scenario, Africa will need $44 billion for testing, personal protective equipment and treatment of coronavirus, according to a U.N. report. The worst-case scenario estimates $446 billion. The continent has recorded more than 1,100 deaths.

In Europe, Denmark, Austria, Spain and Germany began allowing some people back to work, including hairdressers, dentists and construction workers, and some stores were cleared to reopen or will soon get the OK.

Austrian Chancellor Sebastian Kurz said the government will be watching carefully and will “pull the emergency brake” if necessary.

Spain, among the worst-hit countries, will also begin allowing children out of their homes for brief periods next Monday. Denmark’s Tivoli Gardens, the Copenhagen amusement park that inspired Walt Disney, will reopen on May 11.

But in an indication that it will be a long time before life returns to normal, Spain canceled its Running of the Bulls in Pamplona, the more than 400-year-old event made world-famous by Ernest Hemingway’s 1926 novel “The Sun Also Rises.” It was also called off during the Spanish Civil War in the 1930s.

The U.S. canceled the Scripps National Spelling Bee. The competition has been held since 1925 and was last scrubbed in 1945, during World War II.

“Our hearts go out to the spellers who won’t get their final shot at winning,” said Paige Kimble, executive director.

The U.S. has recorded more than 42,000 deaths — the highest in the world — and nearly 800,000 infections. according to a Johns Hopkins University count, though the true figures around the world are believed to be much higher, in part because of limited testing, difficulties in counting the dead and efforts by some governments to hide the extent of their outbreaks.

Germany called off the centuries-old Oktoberfest beer festival in Munich, which draws about 6 million visitors each year. It was previously canceled during the two world wars; during a period of hyperinflation in Germany in 1923; and because of cholera outbreaks in the 1800s.

“We agreed that the risk is simply too high,” Bavarian governor Markus Soeder said.

In Italy, Premier Giuseppe Conte confirmed that businesses can start reopening on May 4 but doused any hopes of a full end to the country’s strict lockdown.

“Many citizens are tired of the efforts that have been made so far and would like a significant loosening of these measures, or even their total abolition,” Conte said on Facebook. ”A decision of that kind would be irresponsible.’’

Full Coverage: Virus Outbreak
In the U.S., some states, including South Carolina, Tennessee, West Virginia and Colorado, announced plans to begin reopening in stages in the coming days. Governors and local officials from many other states said they need help from Washington in ramping up testing first, warning they could get hit by a second wave of infections.

Political tensions were high. Some sheriffs in Washington state, Michigan and Wisconsin said they won’t enforce stay-at-home orders. The governors of those states have faced mounting calls to ease restrictions and have been targeted by protesters egged on by President Donald Trump, frustrated over the tanking economy.

Kristin Allin, who with her husband owns Bread and Butterfly restaurant and Proof Bakeshop in Atlanta, said they were caught off guard when Georgia’s governor announced that restaurants could reopen for dine-in service within a week. They said they may remain closed for a month or more.

“I think most of our customers are not ready to venture out yet,” she said.

New York Mayor Bill de Blasio said that governors easing off restrictions had better have the facts on their side or they could trigger a resurgence of the virus beyond their states’ borders.

“If some of these reopenings are done the wrong way, it’s going to affect all of us,” de Blasio said on CNN.

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G24

Oil price plummets to historic lows; Wall Street dips

NEW YORK (AP) — Stocks are slipping in afternoon trading on Wall Street, as the price of oil cratered to historic lows Monday, cheaper than bottled water.

The S&P 500 was down 0.8%, as of 1:30 p.m. Eastern time, after wavering between sharper and milder losses. But the market’s most dramatic action was in oil, where benchmark U.S. crude for May delivery plummeted to a record low below $1.50 per barrel, a 90% drop in just one day.

Much of the plunge was chalked up to technical reasons — the May delivery contract is close to expiring so it was seeing less trading volume, which can exacerbate swings. But prices for deliveries even further into the future, which were seeing larger trading volumes, also plunged. Demand for oil has collapsed so much due to the coronavirus pandemic that facilities for storing crude are nearly full.

Benchmark U.S. crude oil for June delivery fell 12.9% to $21.69 per barrel, as factories and automobiles around the world remain idled. Big oil producers have announced cutbacks in production in hopes of better balancing supplies with demand, but many analysts say it’s not enough.

“Basically, bears are out for blood,” analyst Naeem Aslam of Avatrade said in a report. “The steep fall in the price is because of the lack of sufficient demand and lack of storage place given the fact that the production cut has failed to address the supply glut.”

Halliburton swung between gains and sharp losses, even though it reported stronger results for the first three months of 2020 than analysts expected. The oilfield engineering company said that the pandemic has created so much turmoil in the industry that it “cannot reasonably estimate” how long the hit will last. It expects a further decline in revenue and profitability for the rest of 2020, particularly in North America.

Brent crude, the international standard, was down $1.78 to $26.30 per barrel. Big oil-producing countries have agreed to cut production to help balance supplies with demand, but many analysts say the cuts are not sharp enough to lift prices.

In the stock market, the mild drops ate into some of the big gains made since late March, driven lately by investors looking ahead to parts of the economy possibly reopening as infections level off in hard-hit areas. Pessimists have called the rally overdone, pointing to the severe economic pain sweeping the world and continued uncertainty about how long it will last.

The Dow Jones Industrial Average was down 283 points, or 1.2%, to 243,958. The Nasdaq was close to flat.

More gains from companies that are winners in the new stay-at-home economy helped buoy the market. Amazon rose 1.4%, and Netflix jumped 3.8% as people shut in at home buy staples and look to fill their time. Clorox likewise rose toward a new record and was up 1% as households and businesses that remain open look to stay clean.

In Tokyo the Nikkei 225 fell 1.1% after Japan reported that its exports fell nearly 12% in March from a year earlier as the pandemic hammered demand in its two biggest markets, the U.S. and China.

The Hang Seng index in Hong Kong lost 0.2%, and South Korea’s Kospi fell 0.8%.

European markets were modestly higher The German DAX was up 0.5%, the French CAC 40 was up 0.7% and the FTSE 100 in London gained 0.7%.

In a sign of continued caution in the market, Treasury yields remained extremely low. The yield on the 10-year Treasury slipped to 0.64% from 0.65% late Friday. It started the year near 1.90%. Bond yields drop when their prices rise, and investors tend to buy Treasurys when they’re worried about the economy.

Stocks have been on a generally upward swing recently, and the S&P 500 just closed out its first back-to-back weekly gain since the market began selling off in February. Promises of massive aid for the economy and markets by the Federal Reserve and U.S. government ignited the rally, which sent the S&P 500 up as much as 28.5% since a low on March 23.

Full Coverage: Financial markets
More recently, countries around the world have tentatively eased up on business-shutdown restrictions put in place to slow the spread of the virus.

But health experts warn the pandemic is far from over and new flareups could ignite if governments rush to allow ”normal” life to return prematurely.

The S&P 500 remains about 15% below its record high in February as millions more U.S. workers file for unemployment every week amid the shutdowns.

Many analysts also warn that a significant part of the recent recovery in stocks is due to the expectation among some investors that the economy will rebound sharply once economic quarantines are lifted. They’re essentially predicting that a line chart of the economy will ultimately resemble the letter “V,” with a wild ride down but then a quick pivot to a vigorous recovery.

That may be to optimistic. “We caution that a U-shaped recovery is also quite likely,” where the economy bottoms out and stays at that low level for a while before recovering, strategists at Barclays warned in a recent report.

Without strong testing programs for COVID-19, businesses likely won’t feel comfortable bringing back their full workforces for a while.

”With risk assets now overbought, the chance for a correction has increased,” Morgan Stanley strategists wrote in a report.

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G24 INSTA

Pledge brings Ohio neighborhood together — at a distance

KETTERING, Ohio (AP) — The idea came about because Jennifer Stamper was trying to make her family’s “new normal” feel a little bit more like their old one.

Now, just before 9 a.m. on school days she and her children join others on their street who come to the end of their driveways — no closer because of social-distancing guidelines — and together, hands over hearts, recite the Pledge of Allegiance.

That’s how 9-year-old son Zach and 7-year-old daughter Juliette would start the day if they were in the classroom, but schools were ordered closed March 12 to try to stop the spread of COVID-19. Now the siblings take turns holding the flag at the end of the driveway.

The kids usually are out on the porch at 8:45, to see who’s joining them that day. Most days there are at least a couple dozen people.

“My kids, when this first started, they were having trouble sleeping at night,” said Stamper, 49. “The whole purpose of this fleeting thought of mine was let’s just have something that we do every morning at 9 o’clock that’ll be normal. And it wasn’t in any way going to be a platform, nothing political, nothing else. It was just, we love our kids and we want them to have some sense of normal.”

When schools first closed last month, Stamper floated the Pledge proposal via text to neighbors who also were establishing new routines and looking for ways to cope.

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G24

5 things to know today – that aren’t about the virus

Your daily look at late-breaking news, upcoming events and the stories that will be talked about today:

1. ISRAELI PRESIDENT ASKS PARLIAMENT TO CHOOSE PRIME MINISTER

Israel’s president asks the Knesset to choose a new prime minister, giving parliament three weeks to agree upon a leader or plunge the country into an unprecedented fourth consecutive election.

2. NORTH DEFECTOR WINS SOUTH KOREAN PARLIAMENT SEAT

A former senior North Korean diplomat wins a constituency seat in South Korea’s parliamentary elections.

3. GRAHAM CHALLENGER RAISES MORE CASH — In his pursuit of a fourth term representing South Carolina, U.S. Sen. Lindsey Graham has been outraised for the first time by his Democratic challenger, setting up a competitive campaign.

4. CACTUS EAGLES NEST – For the first time in decades, bald eagles have been found nesting in an Arizona saguaro cactus.

5. JORDAN’S LAST SEASON – Michael Jordan describes his final NBA championship season with the Chicago Bulls as a “trying year.”

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G24

Trump readies roadmap for economic recovery from virus

WASHINGTON (AP) — President Donald Trump prepared to unveil national guidelines Thursday on when and how the country starts to recover from the sharp economic pain of the coronavirus pandemic as a bipartisan panel of lawmakers urged him to heed the advice of public health experts.

The new guidelines are aimed at clearing the way for an easing of restrictions in areas with low transmission of the coronavirus, while keeping them in place in harder-hit places. Ultimately, decisions on when to ease up will rest with governors.

The recommendations also will make clear that the return to normalcy will be a far longer process than Trump initially envisioned, with federal officials warning that some social distancing measures may need to remain in place through the end of the year to prevent a new outbreak.

“We’ll be opening some states much sooner than others,” Trump said Wednesday.

Trump held conference calls Thursday with lawmakers he named to a new congressional advisory task force as he aims for a swift rebound. The economic costs were clear in new federal data showing that at least 22 million Americans have been thrown out of work in the last month. But the legislators repeatedly urged the president not to sacrifice public health in an effort to reopen the economy.

“My highest priority on this task force will be to ensure the federal government’s efforts to reopen our economy are bipartisan, data-driven, and based on the expertise of public health professionals,” said Democratic Sen. Mark Warner of Virginia.

Business leaders, too, raised concerns to the president in a round of calls Wednesday, warning that a dramatic increase in testing and wider availability of protective equipment will be necessary before they can safely revive operations.

The federal government envisions a gradual recovery from the virus, in which disruptive mitigation measures may be needed in some places at least until a vaccine is available — a milestone unlikely to be reached until sometime next year.

“It’s not going to immediately be a situation where we have stadiums full of people,” said Housing and Urban Development Secretary Ben Carson on Thursday. “We’re Americans. We will adapt,” he added.

Trump said Wednesday that data indicates the U.S. is “past the peak” of the COVID-19 epidemic. He said the numbers have “put us in a very strong position to finalize guidelines for states on reopening the country.”

Dr. Deborah Birx, the White House coronavirus task force coordinator, added that data from across the country showed the nation “improving,” but that Americans had to recommit to social distancing to keep up the positive momentum.

She said nine states have fewer than 1,000 cases and just a few dozen new cases per day. She said those would likely be the first to see a lifting in social distancing restrictions at the direction of their governors under the guidelines set to be released Thursday.

Birx said the White House was particularly concerned about Rhode Island, noting it is now seeing a surge in cases from the Boston metro area after seeing a spike several weeks ago from cases from New York.

But participants in a Wednesday call with Trump that included executives of dozens of leading American companies raised concerns about the testing issue, according to one participant who spoke on condition of anonymity to describe the private discussion.

Another participant said it was stressed to Trump that expansion of testing and contact tracing was crucial, as well as guidelines for best practices on reopening businesses in phases or in one fell swoop.

The participant said those on the call noted to the administration that there was about to be a rush on personal protective equipment. Many businesses that are now shuttered will need the protective equipment to keep their employees and customers safe.

Trump was told “the economy will look very different and operations will look very different,” one participant said.

The panel, which Trump dubbed the new Great American Economic Revival Industry Groups, also could help give him a measure of cover. If cases surge once restrictions are lifted, as many experts have warned, Trump will be able to tell the public he didn’t act alone and the nation’s top minds — from manufacturing to defense to technology — helped shape the plan.

Rich Nolan, president and CEO of the National Mining Association, who participated in one of the calls with Trump, said there was also discussion about tax relief as well as “making sure that people are optimistic about the economy and they feel safe coming back to work.”

“I think you’ll see steps to reopen the country at different rates in different states in the not too distant future,” Nolan said.

Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan said Trump has appointed some “smart people” to his task force who could offer state leaders helpful guidelines as they negotiate the way forward.

“There are certain roles that only the federal government can play and should play, but I think the governors are going to make their own decisions within those recommended guidelines,” Hogan said.

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G24

Coronavirus could erode global fight against other diseases

NEW DELHI (AP) — Lavina D’Souza hasn’t been able to collect her government-supplied anti-HIV medication since the abrupt lockdown of India’s 1.3 billion people last month during the coronavirus outbreak.

Marooned in a small city away from her home in Mumbai, the medicine she needs to manage her disease has run out. The 43-year-old is afraid that her immune system will crash: “Any disease, the coronavirus or something else, I’ll fall sick faster.”

D’Souza said others also must be “suffering because of the coronavirus without getting infected by it.”

As the world focuses on the pandemic, experts fear losing ground in the long fight against other infectious diseases like AIDS, tuberculosis and cholera that kill millions every year. Also at risk are decadeslong efforts that allowed the World Health Organization to set target dates for eradicating malaria, polio and other illnesses.

With the coronavirus overwhelming hospitals, redirecting medical staff, causing supply shortages and suspending health services, “our greatest fear” is resources for other diseases being diverted and depleted, said Dr. John Nkengasong, head of the Africa Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

That is compounded in countries with already overburdened health care systems, like Sudan. Doctors at Al-Ribat National Hospital in Sudan’s capital, Khartoum, shared a document detailing nationwide measures: fewer patients admitted to emergency rooms, elective surgeries indefinitely postponed, primary care eliminated for non-critical cases, and skilled doctors transferred to COVID-19 patients.

Similar scenes are unfolding worldwide. Even in countries with highly developed health care systems, such as South Korea, patients seeking treatment for diseases like TB had to be turned away, said Hojoon Sohn, of Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health, who is based in South Korea.

About 30% of global TB cases — out of 10 million each year — are never diagnosed, and the gaps in care are concentrated in 10 countries with the most infections, Sohn said.

“These are people likely not seeking care even in normal circumstances,” he said. “So with the COVID-19 pandemic resulting in health systems overload, and governments issuing stay-at-home orders, it is highly likely that the number of TB patients who remain undetected will increase.”

In Congo, already overwhelmed by the latest outbreak of Ebola and years of violent conflict, the coronavirus comes as a measles outbreak has killed over 6,000 people, said Anne-Marie Connor, national director for World Vision, a humanitarian aid organization.

“It’s likely we’ll see a lot of ‘indirect’ deaths from other diseases,” she said.

The cascading impact of the pandemic isn’t limited to treatment. Other factors, like access to transportation during a lockdown, are threatening India’s progress on TB. Patients and doctors can’t get to clinics, and it’s difficult to send samples for testing.

India has nearly a third of the world’s TB cases, and diagnosing patients has been delayed in many areas. Dr. Yogesh Jain in Chhattisgarh — one of India’s poorest states — and other doctors fear that means “TB cases would certainly increase.”

Coronavirus-related lockdowns also have interrupted the flow of supplies, including critical medicine, protective gear and oxygen, said Dr. Marc Biot, director of operations for international aid group Doctors Without Borders.

“These are difficult to find now because everybody is rushing for them in the same moment,” Biot said.

The fear of some diseases resurging is further aggravated by delays in immunization efforts for more than 13.5 million people, according to the vaccine alliance GAVI. The international organization said 21 countries are reporting vaccine shortages following border closures and disruptions to air travel — mostly in Africa — and 14 vaccination campaigns for diseases like polio and measles have been postponed.

The Measles & Rubella Initiative said measles immunization campaigns in 24 countries already are delayed, and it fears that more than 117 million children in 37 countries may miss out.

Dr. Jay Wenger, who heads polio eradication efforts for the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, said recommending the suspension of door-to-door polio vaccinations was difficult, and while it could lead to a spurt in cases, “it is a necessary move to reduce the risk of increasing transmission of COVID-19.”

Programs to prevent mosquito-borne diseases also have been hampered. In Sri Lanka, where cases of dengue nearly doubled in 2019 over the previous year, health inspectors are tasked with tracing suspected COVID-19 patients, disrupting their “routine work” of destroying mosquito breeding sites at homes, said Dr. Anura Jayasekara, director of Sri Lanka’s National Dengue Control Unit.

During a pandemic, history shows that other diseases can make a major comeback. Amid the Ebola outbreak in Guinea, Liberia and Sierra Leone in 2014-16, almost as many people died of HIV, tuberculosis and malaria because of reduced access to health care.

Rashid Ansumana, a community health expert in Sierra Leone who studied the Ebola outbreak, said the coronavirus’s “impact will definitely be higher.”

Health providers are trying to ease the crisis by giving months of supplies to people with hepatitis C, HIV and TB, said Biot of Doctors Without Borders.

As countries face difficult health care choices amid the pandemic, Nkengasong of the Africa CDC warns that efforts to tackle other diseases can’t fall by the wayside.

“The time to advocate for those programs is not when COVID is over. The time is now,” he said.

___

Milko reported from Jakarta. Associated Press journalists Cara Anna in Johannesburg, Bharatha Mallawarachi in Colombo, Sri Lanka, Isabel DeBre in Cairo, and Maria Cheng in London contributed to this report.

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HEALTH

Leave doping ban in past amid virus outbreak, Russia says

MOSCOW (AP) — International authorities should “turn a new page” and forget Russia’s Olympic doping ban because of the coronavirus pandemic, the country’s sports minister said Friday.

The World Anti-Doping Agency barred Russia from the Olympics for four years after ruling last year that doping data from a Moscow laboratory had been manipulated. The Court of Arbitration for Sport is to rule on whether the ban is valid, but hearings have been delayed because of the health crisis.

Sports Minister Oleg Matytsin said the virus outbreak means the parties in the legal proceedings should avoid a ruling against Russia because it would fracture the Olympic movement.

“The leaders of the International Olympic Committee, the World Anti-Doping Agency and the judges who will decide the ruling should understand that now we’re living in completely different conditions and this crisis which has been created, including the crisis in relationships, should probably come to an end, turn a new page and understand that the main thing right now is to be together,” he said.

“When you see that everyone is isolated and everyone is at home, the consciousness changes, the mentality changes and people understand that now there are priorities and there are issues which go on the backburner,” Matytsin added. “The priority is the future of the Olympic movement, it’s the consolidation of the whole international sporting community.”

Matytsin said sanctioning Russia would damage the Olympic movement. He added that, once the virus outbreak recedes, Russia will offer to hold more international sports events if their current hosts can’t do it.

Matytsin took over as sports minister in January and is well connected with Olympic sports officials from his leadership of the International University Sports Federation.

During the virus outbreak, he said Friday, there should be “respect for the rights of the countries which are among the main actors on the international arena. Russia has always been, is and will remain that sort of partner.”

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TSC

FDA warns Alex Jones to stop pitching bogus virus remedies

WASHINGTON (AP) — U.S. health officials are warning conspiracy theorist and radio host Alex Jones to stop pitching bogus remedies for the coronavirus.

The Food and Drug Administration sent a warning letter Thursday ordering Jones to stop falsely claiming that toothpaste, mouth wash and other products sponsored by his show can help prevent COVID-19.

Jones, known for pushing conspiracy theories about school shootings and the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks, touted the products on multiple shows last month, according to the letter.

The agency states that by making these claims Jones is promoting illegal, unapproved drugs, which can carry financial penalties and risk product seizures by government agents.

The letter gives Jones’ company, Infowars.com, 48 hours to remove or correct the false material. FDA warnings are not legally binding, but the agency can take individuals to court if they are ignored.

An email seeking comment from Jones’ website was not immediately returned Friday morning.

The FDA has not approved any treatments or vaccines against the coronavirus, and the National Institutes of Health says no scientific evidence exists to suggest alternative remedies help.

The FDA warning follows earlier government warnings against Jones last month. New York’s attorney general Letita James sent a cease-and-desist letter March 12 demanding Jones stop promoting many of the same phony products.