The Latest: Italy’s Red Cross calling for antibody tests

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A worker wearing a face mask to protect against coronavirus washes a city landmark, the equestrian statue of the Russian Tsar Peter the Great known as the Bronze Horseman by French sculptor Etienne Maurice Falconet, in St.Petersburg, Russia, Tuesday, May 26, 2020. (AP Photo/Dmitri Lovetsky)

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:

— British PM Johnson invites Putin to online vaccine summit.

— Spain declares 10-day mourning period for for nearly 27,000 dead.

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

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

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ROME — Italy’s health minister is appealing to citizens to answer the Red Cross call for a blood test to determine if they have antibodies to COVID-19.

Red Cross volunteers began making phone calls Tuesday to a representative sample of people throughout Italy. Minister Roberto Speranza told Sky TG24 TV the goal is to better understand how many people have developed antibodies.

Experts say many people without COVID-19 symptoms in the country where Europe’s outbreak began were likely infected but were never tested. Speranza says the blood test results of 150,000 people can be applied to the entire country.

Speranza says people with antibodies will quickly receive a test for COVID-19 to see if they have an active infection. Italy is considering a tentative lifting of restrictions of travel between regions in the country on June 3.

Scientists have cautioned they don’t know if antibodies guarantee immunity, and if they do, how long such immunity lasts.

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UNITED NATIONS — A report says Venezuela’s broken health system is “grossly unprepared” to deal with the COVID-19 pandemic, warning overcrowding and limited access to water in hospitals and homes make it likely the coronavirus illness will rapidly spread.

The report by Human Right Watch and Johns Hopkins University’s Centers for Public Health and Human Rights and for Humanitarian Health says the massive exodus of Venezuelans and crossing of the country’s borders due to the pandemic is increasing the risk of spread.

The report says on Monday, Venezuela had 1,121 confirmed cases of COVID-19 and 10 deaths. But “the real number is almost certainly much higher, given the limited availability of reliable testing, limited transparency, and the persecution of medical professionals and journalists who report on this issue.”

Human Rights Watch and Johns Hopkins urged U.N. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres and U.N. humanitarian chief Mark Lowcock to lead efforts to address this “humanitarian emergency.”

They called on the Lima Group of mostly conservative-run regional countries seeking to defuse the crisis in Venezuela as well as the United States and the European Union to press Maduro to “immediately open doors to a full-scale, U.N.-led humanitarian response to prevent catastrophic spread of COVID-19.”

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MOSCOW — British Prime Minister Boris Johnson has invited Russian President Vladimir Putin to attend an online summit on the development of a coronavirus vaccine.

The British Embassy says Johnson has officially invited Putin to attend the Global Vaccine Summit 2020 hosted by Britain on June 4.

The embassy statement indicates the summit will focus on securing the critical support required for Gavi, the Vaccine Alliance, to “continue its vital work and to help ensure that any vaccine developed for COVID 19 is available for the whole world.”

Several Russian labs have been developing anti-coronavirus vaccines and testing on humans was expected to start next month.

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O’FALLON, Mo. — Leaders in Kansas City and St. Louis are urging people who partied close together at Lake of the Ozarks over the Memorial Day weekend to self-quarantine for two weeks.

Big crowds were reported at swimming pools, bars and restaurants at the popular central Missouri lake. Postings showed people without masks partying and swimming together, seemingly ignoring guidance from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, and from the state, to keep at least 6 feet apart.

St. Louis County Executive Sam Page called it “reckless behavior.” He asked the county’s health department to issue a travel advisory, citing concerns raised by residents and employers just as the county was beginning to reopen after weeks of shutdown caused by the virus.

St. Louis Mayor Lyda Krewson and Kansas City Mayor Quinton Lucas, both Democrats, took to Twitter to express their disappointment with the crowds at the lake, which draws from the metropolitan areas on both sides of the state, along with neighboring Arkansas, Illinois, Kansas and Iowa.

“If you were part of a group that didn’t socially distance or wear masks, please, for the health of your family, coworkers and friends, stay home for the next 14 days,” Krewson said in a tweet.

Kansas City Health Director Rex Archer echoed the call for a 14-day self-quarantine.

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VATICAN CITY — Pope Francis will resume reciting prayers and giving his blessing to the faithful in St. Peter’s Square.

The Vatican says starting Sunday, Francis will again appear at his studio window overlooking the vast square for his weekly public appearances that generally draw tens of thousands of people.

Last week, Italy and the Vatican gradually ease lockdown measures. The square was reopened to the public, along with St. Peter’s Basilica. The Vatican says people will be required to social distance and police will make sure those at the noon appointment “respect the necessary inter-personal difference.”

Francis will celebrate Mass to mark Pentecost on Sunday inside the basilica but without the faithful. Italy, an early hotspot of the coronavirus in Europe, has reported more the 32,000 deaths.

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RIO DE JANEIRO — Brazil’s Federal Police raided the official residence of Rio de Janeiro Gov. Wilson Witzel to carry out searches, part of an investigation into the embezzlement of public resources in the state’s response to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Police didn’t say whether Witzel, a former federal judge, was personally targeted by any of the 12 search and seizure warrants in Rio and Sao Paulo states. An ongoing investigation pointed to irregularities in contracts awarded for the construction of emergency field hospitals in Rio, and involved health officials, police said.

“There is absolutely no participation on my part in any type of irregularity,” Witzel said. He also implied he was the target of political revenge.

Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro has challenged many governors’ measures for containing the spread of the coronavirus, with Witzel a primary focus.

Bolsonaro has accused governors of inciting panic among the population with allegedly excessive stay-at-home recommendations and restrictions on commerce that he says will wreck the economy and produce worse hardship than the virus.

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MADRID — The Spanish government is declaring a 10-day mourning period to pay tribute to nearly 27,000 confirmed deaths from the coronavirus.

Starting Wednesday until June 5, flags will be at half-mast in more than 14,000 public buildings across the nation as well as on the navy’s vessels, the government announced on Tuesday. King Felipe VI, as Spain’s head of state, will preside over a solemn ceremony to honor the dead once the country emerges from its strict lock-down rules.

The victims were “men and women whose lives have been suddenly cut short, leaving friends and family in great pain, both from the sudden loss and from the difficult circumstances in which it has occurred,” the Spanish government’s spokeswoman, Minister María Jesús Montero, said.

Opposition parties had criticized the left-wing coalition of Prime Minister Pedro Sánchez for not paying homage to the victims. Health officials on Monday corrected the pandemic’s official death toll, reducing 1,918 official deaths, saying some unconfirmed deaths had been erroneously counted.

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MOSCOW — Russian President Vladimir Putin says the military parade marking the 75th anniversary of the defeat of Nazi Germany in World War II will take place on June 24.

“We will do this… on the day of the legendary, historical victory parade in 1945,” Putin said during a videoconference with Russia’s Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu.

Putin last month postponed the parade, traditionally held May 9 on the iconic Red Square in Moscow, because of the coronavirus outbreak.

Russia has passed the peak of the outbreak, “according to specialists,” Putin said. He tasked Shoigu with ensuring safety at the event and minimizing risks of infection.

Russia reported more than 360,000 confirmed coronavirus cases on Tuesday and more than 3,800 deaths.

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BANGKOK — Thailand’s Cabinet has agreed to extend until the end of June a nationwide state of emergency that was imposed to combat the spread of COVID-19.

The extension proposed by the Center for COVID-19 Situation Administration was approved amid mounting criticism that its real purpose is to curb political activity.

The emergency decree giving the government powers above those normally granted under law started March 26.

Political and human rights activists have warned the broad powers authorized under the emergency decree, such as limitations on speech and gatherings, could be used to silence critics of the government.

Thailand has had single-digit increases in virus patients for several weeks and gradually eased restrictions on gatherings and travel. On Tuesday, it announced two new cases, bringing the total to 3,042 and 57 deaths.

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BRUSSELS — A top European Union official says now is not the time to examine the actions of the World Health Organization in response to the coronavirus, but a review should be launched when the worst is over.

European Council President Charles Michel says, “right now we are in the crisis and we think that we will need some time, in the next weeks, in the next months, in order to make a review.”

U.S. President Donald Trump wants an immediate review and is threatening to make permanent a temporary freeze on U.S. funding for the WHO unless it commits to “substantive improvements” within the next 30 days. He has repeatedly criticized the agency’s early response to the outbreak and its praise for China.

Michel acknowledged “it’s important to have clarity and to see how it is possible to learn the lessons.”

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ZAGREB, Croatia — A cruise ship has docked in Dubrovnik after being stranded at sea for weeks because of the coronavirus.

Croatian media says the Carnival Breeze cruise ship has the capacity of 3,700 passengers. It has carried crew members from various countries, including 93 Croats.

Wearing face masks, Croatian port authority workers greeted those who disembarked from the cruiser amid waving and cheers of those still on the ship.

The transfer of foreign nationals from the cruiser will be organized to their home countries.

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MOSCOW — Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov has resumed his duties after treatment for the coronavirus in a Moscow hospital.

Peskov thanked the staff and says he’s self-isolating and working from home after being discharged on Monday.

The 52-year-old Peskov was hospitalized after testing positive for the virus two weeks ago. He was later diagnosed with a double-side pneumonia. He was the fifth senior Russian official to contract the virus. Prime Minister Mikhail Mishustin announced on April 30 that he was infected. Three cabinet ministers tested positive as well.

The announcement of Peskov’s hospitalization came a day after President Vladimir Putin said Russia was slowing down the outbreak and announced easing of some nationwide lockdown restrictions.

Russia has reported more than 360,000 confirmed coronavirus cases on Tuesday and 3,800 deaths.

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MILOS, Greece — Greece will reduce prices for ferry tickets from the mainland to the Greek islands on June 1, with a sales tax cut aimed at stimulating domestic tourism.

Giannis Plakiotakis, the merchant marine minister, says the sales tax rate on ferry tickets would be lowered from 24% to 13%.

Ferry travel was opened Monday with strict capacity limits and distancing guidelines. On the island of Milos, a popular resort with Italian and French tourists, local business owners say Greek travelers still appear cautious.

“Very few people came yesterday and that’s to be expected because the circumstances are so different,” Filio Grili, who runs a local holiday apartment booking service, told the AP.

He says the summer season will be tough and hopes “the state helps us with an ad campaign.”

Greece will open for international tourism on June 15. Domestic tourism is likely to decline, with 27% of Greeks saying they will skip their summer vacation this year, according to a poll published Monday by an Athens-based consumer group.

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TALLINN, Estonia — Estonia has started piloting a digital immunity passport that enabes a person to share one’s COVID-19 status with a third party, such as an employer or authorities.

The ImmunityPass mobile and web application collects coronavirus testing data. It’s created by a non-governmental organization supported by Estonian start-up entrepreneurs and medical officials.

Developers say on the app’s webpage it is compliant with Estonian and international data privacy regulations but acknowledge “we are well aware of possible ethical, societal and other bottlenecks and why this solution could not work” in some countries.

The World Health Organization has warned against issuing such immunity passports to people who have recovered from COVID-19 because there is no evidence they’re protected from a second infection.

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BERLIN — German sex workers are calling for the government to allow brothels to reopen.

Prostitution is legal in Germany, but sex work has been banned since mid-March as part of nationwide measures to slow the spread of the coronavirus.

German states have begun to reopen restaurants, shops, swimming pools and massage parlors. Some lawmakers wrote a letter this month urging state governors to extend the ban on brothels indefinitely, warning that prostitutes and their mostly male customers could become “super spreaders” of the virus.

“The spread would be quickly be introduced from the customers to their partners, families, friends and colleagues. This contact would often be kept secret in tracking the infection,” the lawmakers wrote.

In an open letter to the lawmakers published Tuesday, Germany’s Federal Association of Sex Services objected to the characterization and says it has presented proposals for the safe reopening of brothels and other establishments.

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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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Follow AP news coverage of the coronavirus pandemic at https://apnews.com/VirusOutbreak and https://apnews.com/UnderstandingtheOutbreak

Copyright 2020 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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