GENEVA — A top World Health Organization expert has tried to clear up “misunderstandings” about comments she made that were widely understood to suggest that people without COVID-19 symptoms rarely transmit the coronavirus.
Maria Van Kerkhove, the UN health agency’s technical lead on the virus pandemic, insisted Tuesday that she was referring only to a few studies, not a complete picture, in the comments she made Monday.
Van Kerkhove’s remarks on Monday raised confusion and questions among outside experts and health officials who have recommended — and in some places, required — that people wear masks to try to prevent the virus from spreading.
The “clarification” she provided during a WHO social media chat showed many questions remain about whether infected people who don’t show symptoms of illness such as fever, dry cough, or difficulty breathing can transmit the virus to others.
Van Kerkhove said: “What I was referring to yesterday were very few studies, some two or three studies that have been published, that actually try to follow asymptomatic cases.”
“That’s a very small subset of studies,” she continued. “I used the phrase ‘very rare,’ and I think that that’s (a) misunderstanding to state that asymptomatic transmission globally is very rare. What I was referring to was a subset of studies.”
HERE’S WHAT YOU NEED TO KNOW TODAY ABOUT THE VIRUS OUTBREAK:
— In poorer regions of the world, easing virus restrictions brings new risks
— The pandemic marks the debut of Chinese companies as global humanitarian donors
— Yemen’s rebels crack down as COVID-19 and rumors spread
— Indian American surgeon and his daughter lost to virus were part of a New Jersey family of 5 doctors
— Where do the Tokyo Olympics stand, 2 1/2 months after cancellation?
Follow AP pandemic coverage at http://apnews.com/VirusOutbreak and https://apnews.com/UnderstandingtheOutbreak
HERE’S WHAT ELSE IS HAPPENING TODAY:
PARIS — The chief prosecutor of Paris has opened a preliminary investigation of alleged criminal negligence by French government agencies for their handling of the coronavirus crisis.
In a written statement Tuesday, Paris prosecutor Remy Heitz said 62 legal complaints alleging misconduct have been filed by individuals as well as trade unions and associations.
Heitz says the complaints focus on the criminal offenses of “endangering the life of others, failing to help someone in danger, voluntary abstention to fight a dangerous disaster, manslaughter and unintentional injuries.”
Some other legal complaints have been filed across France against care homes and are being investigated locally.
France has recorded the deaths of over 14,000 care home residents, or nearly half of the country’s total reported pandemic death toll of 29,209.
More than 70 complaints specifically targeting the government have been filed before the Court of Justice of the Republic, the French court in charge of offenses committed by sitting ministers.
MADRID — The Spanish government says authorities in Morocco and other countries share its concern that the more than 3 million residents of Europe who visit North Africa every summer could contribute to a dangerous spread of the new coronavirus.
Government spokeswoman María Jesús Montero says Spain is discussing with other governments how to best approach public health and the passenger ferries that turn the Strait of Gibraltar into a busy gateway to and from Africa.
Montero said at the end of a weekly Spanish Cabinet briefing on Tuesday: “Africa is a vulnerable continent with quite a lot of poverty and a total absence of a health system.”
Over 3.3 million people, most of them Moroccans residing in Spain, France, Belgium, Netherlands and Italy, traveled last year in some 760,000 vehicles to visit relatives and friends back home during the summer holiday.
The southern Spanish port of Algeciras and northern Morocco’s Tangier, where Europe and Africa come closest, see most of the ferry traffic.
While countries around the world closed their borders to foreigners to keep out the virus, Morocco also barred its own citizens from returning home.
LISBON, Portugal -- Portuguese authorities will allow shopping malls in the Lisbon region to reopen next Monday, even though most new coronavirus infections in recent days have emerged there.
Prime Minister Antonio Costa announced Tuesday that the shopping mall restriction will be lifted in the Lisbon metropolitan area two weeks after the rest of the country.
The health ministry said 92% of the country’s 421 new cases Tuesday were in the Lisbon area. In recent days, more than 70% of new cases have been recorded there.
Officials say they have identified the hot spots in low-income areas and that an increase in testing there is revealing new cases.
The prime minister said he expects the national state of calamity, introduced to help stem the outbreak, to end July 1.
Portugal has officially reported 35,306 cases and almost 1,500 deaths.
LONDON — The British government has abandoned plans to have all younger children return to school in England before the summer holidays after school principals raised concerns about coronavirus-related social distancing requirements.
Although many of England’s primary schools have remained open during the pandemic for the children of essential workers and students with special needs, the government had planned to get all younger children back to class in stages.
However, Education Secretary Gavin Williamson acknowledged Tuesday that’s not possible given the constraints related to classroom sizes, the need for social distancing and an inadequate numbers of teachers.
Last week, the very youngest schoolchildren were allowed to return as well as those in Year 6, who are due to go to secondary school come September. The plan was that all others would slowly return over the coming weeks.
Britain’s school year normally runs until late July.
ATHENS — Greece’s foreign minister says his country will gradually lift all restrictions on arriving Italian tourists.
The minister made the comments after meeting in Athens with his Italian counterpart. He said the decision was made based on the improving coronavirus situation in Italy.
Rome had been angered by its exclusion from Athens’ initial list of 29 countries whose citizens will be allowed into Greece from June 15 without compulsory coronavirus tests or quarantines.
Greece later clarified that entry would be allowed to tourists arriving from airports not considered high risk regarding the virus by the European air safety agency.
Visitors arriving from airports not on the European air safety agency list of at-risk regions will be subjected to random spot coronavirus tests but will not face the mandatory testing and quarantine currently in place for all international travelers.
BERLIN — An eastern German state has decided to lift binding personal contact restrictions imposed to check the spread of COVID-19 and to replace them with recommendations.
The Thuringia state Cabinet on Tuesday approved new rules under which it will be “recommended” rather than required for individuals to meet with no more than 10 other people or with members of their own and another household. The revision will apply from June 13.
A requirement to wear face masks on public transportation and in shops will remain in place.
The state’s governor, Bodo Ramelow, drew both criticism and support elsewhere in Germany last month when he floated a vaguely defined plan to lift blanket coronavirus restrictions.
In Germany, state governments are responsible for imposing and lifting lockdown measures. Those have become increasingly varied across the country as the shutdown imposed in March eases.
LARNACA, Cyprus — An Israeli airliner with 22 passengers aboard became the first commercial flight to touch down in Cyprus after the east Mediterranean country reopened its airports following an 11-week ban aimed at curbing the spread of COVID-19.
Nora Reich, a passenger aboard the Israir Airlines turboprop that arrived at Larnaca International Airport from Tel Aviv, said she had rushed to catch the first flight to Cyprus to see her newborn granddaughter.
“My daughter is with her family. They are diplomats here,” Reich told The Associated Press. “And now she have a baby, she delivered a baby girl. I come with the first flight to see her. “
Israel is among a group of 19 countries with low coronavirus infection rates from which Cyprus is now permitting commercial flights.
Arriving passengers must secure health certificates declaring them coronavirus-free three days before departure.
MADRID — Spain’s Balearic Islands will allow thousands of German tourists to fly in for a two-week trial that tests out how to balance the needs of Spain’s vital tourism industry with new regulations to battle the spread of the coronavirus.
The trial that begins June 15 comes before the archipelago and the rest of Spain re-open to international tourism on July 1. The government is under heavy pressure to re-activate an industry that generates 12% of Spain’s gross domestic product and provides 2.6 million much-needed jobs.
Through an agreement with German tour group TUI, other tour operators and several airlines, up to 10,900 Germans will be allowed in, authorities said.
BERLIN — Several German states have introduced a requirement for people arriving from Sweden to self-quarantine for 14 days because of rising coronavirus infections in the Scandinavian country.
Germany had a quarantine requirement for most people arriving from abroad for over a month until mid-May, when state governments started exempting people coming from European countries.
But several states are now reintroducing the requirement for arrivals from Sweden, on the grounds that new infections there have exceeded 50 per 100,000 residents over seven days. Inside Germany, that level of infections in a region is supposed to trigger action by local authorities.
Bavaria on Tuesday followed three northern states — Schleswig-Holstein, Mecklenburg-Western Pomerania and Lower Saxony — in imposing the quarantine.
Sweden has pursued a controversial strategy which avoided a lockdown but resulted in a high per capita COVID-19 death rate. Reported infection rates in Sweden have risen slightly recently because testing rules have changed slightly, allowing new groups of people to be tested.
LONDON — Britain’s statistics agency says the number of coronavirus-related deaths in the U.K. has risen to 50,107.
The updated figures from the Office for National Statistics are up to the week ending May 29 and are collated from death certificates, which can take a couple of weeks to be issued.
The statistics differ from the daily figures provided by the government, which has virus-related deaths across the U.K. at 40,597. Those are based on initial cause of death assessments by doctors.
The statistics agency also said there were 1,653 more deaths in England and Wales during the week than the five-year average, taking the U.K.'s excess total since the pandemic started to around 64,000.
Excess deaths are widely considered to be the best gauge of the virus’ impact as they provide a clear guide over historical periods and include all-cause mortality.
NEW DELHI — New Delhi has reversed orders that limited the scope of coronavirus testing and reserved hospital beds for city residents as the Indian capital’s caseload continues to surge.
The city’s numbers of infected jumped to 29,943 on Tuesday, out of India’s 266,598 cases, the fifth-most in the world.
Since coming to power in 2013, the government led by chief minister Arvind Kejriwal has prioritized investing in health care. The capital has the best health care in India, drawing patients from across the country.
But as lockdown restrictions have eased, the number of people infected with the coronavirus has soared in the capital. On Sunday, Kejriwal announced that hospital beds for COVID-19 patients would be reserved for city residents and testing limited to those with symptoms.
But the central government of Prime Minister Narendra Modi strongly objected to the rules, and late Monday the city government set them aside, with Kejriwal tweeting that “making arrangements for treatment for people from across the country during the Covid-19 pandemic is a major challenge. But maybe it’s God’s will that we have to serve everyone in the country.”
DUBAI, United Arab Emirates — The capital of the United Arab Emirates has extended an emirate-wide lockdown for another week over the coronavirus pandemic.
Government officials announced late Monday the extension of the lockdown, that has prevented people from leaving their area in Abu Dhabi.
Movement also has been restricted into Abu Dhabi from the rest of the UAE, a federation of seven U.S.-allied sheikhdoms also home to Dubai.
The lockdown comes as the rest of the UAE is trying to reopen its non-oil economy after the pandemic devastated its tourism and airline industry.
There have been nearly 40,000 cases and 280 deaths from COVID-19 in the UAE, with 22,000 of those infected now recovered.
ADELAIDE, Australia — South Australia state's government says it will allow 2,000 fans to attend an Australian rules football match but won’t allow a Black Lives Matter rally on the same day.
South Australia is the first state or territory to allow a crowd to return to professional sport.
State Police Commissioner Grant Stevens said a crowd will be allowed at Adelaide Oval on Saturday for a match between local teams Port Adelaide and the Adelaide Crows.
But police would not allow a second exemption for a protest against George Floyd's death, saying those that had been allowed in Adelaide last week despite social distancing rules were due to unique circumstances.
“To continually allow people to disregard the restrictions we have in place would make a mockery of the good efforts of everybody else who are doing their best to abide by those restrictions,” Stevens added.
South Australia has no COVID-19 patient in any hospital. Australia has 559 cases that are still active among more than 7,000 total.
BRATISLAVA, Slovakia — Slovakia is easing its border restrictions, allowing travel to 16 more European countries.
Prime Minister Igor Matovic said Tuesday that the countries are Germany, Liechtenstein, Switzerland, Slovenia, Croatia, Bulgaria, Greece, Cyprus, Malta, Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania, Finland, Norway, Denmark and Iceland.
Matovic said the countries are considered safe for Slovak travelers and their citizens don’t pose a threat for Slovakia.
Last week, Slovakia reopened its borders with neighboring Czech Republic, Austria and Hungary.
Slovakia has not been hit as hard by the pandemic as some other European countries. It says 1,531 people have tested positive for the coronavirus and 28 have died.
THE HAGUE, Netherlands — The official opening of the Dutch parliamentary year will take place in a church in The Hague in September because the usual venue is not big enough to accommodate all 225 lawmakers with social distancing.
The chair of the lower house of the Dutch parliament, Khadija Arib, informed lawmakers of the change on Tuesday.
Traditionally, the Dutch monarch delivers a speech to lawmakers from the upper and lower houses of parliament at the historic Knights Hall on the third Tuesday in September.
Arib said a new venue was chosen because Knights Hall cannot accommodate all lawmakers if they adhere to the government’s social distancing guidelines.
She said parliamentarians will not be able to bring guests to this year’s event on Sept. 15.
The pageant-filled event features King Willem-Alexander being driven in a horse-drawn carriage through the tree-lined streets of The Hague.
Following the monarch’s speech outlining the government’s policy goals for the coming year, the country’s finance minister unveils his budget plans in the lower house of parliament.
TEHRAN, Iran — Iran’s health minister has replaced the spokesman of the ministry who in March described China’s early reporting on the new coronavirus outbreak as a “bitter joke.”
Chinese authorities have been heavily criticized for secrecy and delays in responding to the virus that emerged in central China in December.
Iran’s official IRNA news agency said Health Minister Saeed Namaki issued an order replacing the ministry’s spokesman, Kianoush Jahanpour, with Sima Sadat Lari.
Following criticism by Iranian hard-liners, Jahanpour -- who has been the public face of the authorities’ struggle against the pandemic -- removed his “bitter joke” tweet and instead praised China’s support for Iran in fighting COVID-19, the illness caused by the coronavirus.
Namaki urged Sadat to run her statements by the minister before issuing them since all remarks by the ministry’s spokesperson are considered the official position of the minister.
ISLAMABAD — Pakistan recorded more than 100 deaths in a single day from COVID-19 for the first time since keeping statistics in mid-March, when the country imposed a partial lockdown.
As of Tuesday, Pakistan recorded 108,316 coronavirus infections, with 4,646 new cases and a death toll that has climbed to 2,172 amid warnings from Prime Minister Imran Khan that Pakistan is not likely to see a peak in infections before August.
Despite criticism from medical professionals and opposition politicians, Khan has continued to ease lockdown restrictions saying the country’s ailing economy would collapse and the poorest would suffer most.
Pakistan’s poverty level hovers around 30%. Pakistanis have not taken precautions like wearing masks and social distancing even as Khan went on television late to reprimand the population and plead with them to wear masks.
LONDON — Britain’s government is backing away from plans to have all children return to primary school before the summer, even as the country moves to ease restrictions imposed because of the coronavirus.
Education Secretary Gavin Williamson is expected to acknowledge on Tuesday that not all students will return after schools argued they were constrained by classroom sizes, the need for social distancing and inadequate staff numbers.
Geoff Barton, general secretary of the Association of School and College Leaders, said he isn't surprised by the decision and that the “ambition" to bring back all primary students for a month before the end of the term was “a case of the government over-promising something that wasn’t deliverable.’’
ATHENS, Greece — Greece’s prime minister met with health and civil protection officials to discuss a sharp spike in coronavirus cases over the past few days, his office said Tuesday.
During the meeting, officials stressed “the need for the strict implementation of the measures that have been decided upon in view of the gradual return to the new normality,” the prime minister’s office said in a statement. It said checks would be intensified and the health ministry would make new announcements in coming days.
On Monday, Greece announced 97 new confirmed infections, including 30 people who entered the country from abroad and 29 in a northeastern town where there were previous outbreaks. Total confirmed cases now number 3,049 with 182 deaths.
Greece imposed a lockdown early in its outbreak, a move which has been credited with keeping the death toll and number of infections low. The country has been gradually lifting restrictions over the past several weeks, and nearly all businesses are now open.
But health authorities are warning that the virus still exists in the country and are urging people to continue social distancing.
MANILA, Philippines — A Philippine peace award has been canceled this year due to the coronavirus pandemic, marking only the third disruption in six decades for the annual prize regarded as an Asian Nobel.
The Manila-based foundation that hands out the Ramon Magsaysay awards said Tuesday it has no choice “with the COVID-19 pandemic practically immobilizing the world.”
The awards were also cancelled due to a financial crisis in 1970 and a disastrous earthquake in 1990. They are named after a popular Philippine president who died in a 1957 plane crash and honor “greatness of spirit in selfless service to the peoples of Asia.”
The five recipients last year included a South Korean who helped fight suicide and bullying; a woman who became a human rights defender after losing her husband to violence in southern Thailand; journalists from India and Myanmar; and a musician credited with helping to shape modern Philippine musical culture.
The Philippines has confirmed about 22,400 infections, including more than 1,000 deaths. It has eased lockdowns for millions of people in a tightrope move to bolster its economy, which contracted in the first quarter.