CAPE TOWN — Africa registered a 43 percent jump in reported COVID-19 cases in the last week, highlighting a warning from the World Health Organization that the continent of 1.3 billion could become the next epicenter of the global outbreak.
Africa also has a ‘‘very, very limited’’ and “very, very strained” testing capacity, John Nkengasong, director of the Africa Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, said in his weekly briefing on Thursday.
The global outbreak of coronavirus has infected more than 2.6 million people and killed about 183,000, including more than 45,000 in the United States, according to a tally compiled by John Hopkins University from official government figures.
The surge in infections on the African continent is almost certainly underreported and even higher in reality, say medical experts.
WHO’s recent report painted a grim picture for Africa, one of the last continents to be hit by the pandemic. WHO warned the virus could kill more than 300,000 people and push 30 million into desperate poverty.
Special bracelets to be used to keep port workers apart
ANTWERP, Belgium — As the spread of the coronavirus eases and people gradually return to work pondering the impact it might have on their jobs, Europe’s second-biggest port is getting ready to test a device aimed at helping thousands of people employed there to respect social distancing.
At Antwerp in Belgium, where some 900 companies operate in an area the size of a small town, two teams of port workers next month will be wearing a bracelet originally designed to find tugboat crew members who have fallen overboard but which are now modified to help stop the spread of the disease.
The bracelets are worn like a watch. Coated in black plastic, they vibrate when they move to within 3 meters (about 10 feet) of each other. The vibration strength, similar to that of a mobile telephone but more obvious when attached to a wrist, increases the closer the bracelets get and warning lights flash.
The bracelets ensure physical distancing and collect no data.
China sends funds to World Health Organization
SEOUL — China has committed $30 million to the World Health Organization one week after President Trump halted US funding to the United Nations agency that has emerged as a battleground for influence between the two powers.
Trump last week announced his intention to freeze US contributions after slamming the global body as having ‘‘failed in its basic duty’’ to respond quickly to the coronavirus outbreak because of deference to Beijing.
In announcing the donation Thursday, Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Geng Shuang defended the WHO and said the agency under the leadership of Director General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus has been ‘‘actively fulfilling its duties and upholding an objective, scientific, and impartial stance.’’
With the gift, Geng said, China was ‘‘defending the ideals and principle of multilateralism and upholding the status and authority of the United Nations.’’
UN officials, including Tedros, have asked Trump to reconsider last week’s decision, which could be reversed after 60 to 90 days, for the sake of global public health in the middle of an unprecedented pandemic and ‘‘to save lives.’’
But a reversal appears distant after administration officials doubled down on their public criticism of the organization this week. National security adviser Robert O’Brien called the WHO ‘‘a bit of a propaganda tool’’ for Beijing, and Secretary of State Mike Pompeo declined in a Fox News interview to rule out the possibility of the United States seeking Tedros’s removal as a condition for resuming funding.
Infection cases still on the rise in Spain
Spain reported the most new coronavirus cases and fatalities in almost a week, a day after the government secured parliamentary approval to extend a state of emergency through May 9.
There were 4,635 new infections in the 24 hours through Thursday, taking the total to 213,024, according to Health Ministry data. The number of deaths rose by 440, compared to Wednesday’s increase of 435, to 22,157. Almost 90,000 have recovered from the disease in the world’s most extensive outbreak other than the United States.
EU cites side effects of malaria drugs
AMSTERDAM — The European Union group that regulates medicine is warning that malaria drugs used experimentally to treat the new coronavirus have potentially serious side effects, including seizures and heart problems.
The European Medicines Agency said in a statement Thursday that chloroquine and hydroxychloroquine — two medicines embraced by President Trump and others as a potential COVID-19 treatment — are known to cause heart rhythm problems, especially if combined with other drugs.
There is currently no licensed treatment for COVID-19 and dozens of trials are underway globally. Chloroquine and hydroxychloroquine have long been used to treat malaria and anti-inflammatory diseases like rheumatoid arthritis. In addition to the heart problems, the two drugs can also cause liver and kidney damage, seizures, and result in low blood sugar.
France sets virus testing goal
PARIS — French health authorities said France aims at being able to test 700,000 people for the virus each week when the country will start easing confinement restrictions on May 11.
The head of France’s national health agency, Jerome Salomon, told French lawmakers Thursday that France is now able to do about 200,000 tests a week.
He said the lockdown exit strategy will include testing all people presenting COVID-19 symptoms. Mobile teams will trace those people with whom they may have recently been in contact. People infected with the virus will be put into quarantine at home or in specific facilities like hotels.
Measures such as social distancing and working at home when possible will be maintained “for several months,” he said.
Finance minister Bruno Le Maire said he hopes that most businesses will be able to reopen on May 11, except for restaurants and cafes. France, one of the world’s hardest-hit countries, has been under lockdown since March 17.
North Korea says all latest tests were negative
SEOUL — North Korea has told the World Health Organization it tested 740 people for the new coronavirus as of April 17 but that all came out negative.
The North also said it so far released 25,139 people from quarantine since Dec. 31, according to Edwin Salvador, WHO’s representative to North Korea, in an e-mail to the Associated Press on Thursday.
Salvador said North Korea’s health ministry has been sharing weekly updates with the WHO on its antivirus efforts. He says the WHO is engaging with North Korea’s government to bring in the antivirus supplies, including protective gear and laboratory reagents, from the Chinese border town of Dandong.
The North has said there hasn’t been a single virus case on its territory, but the claim is questioned by many outside experts.
Tulips cut to prevent crowds from gathering
CHIBA, Japan — About 800,000 colorful tulips in bloom were cut from their stems at the Sakura Furusato Square in Sakura, Chiba Prefecture, Japan, to help deter visitors as a measure to prevent the spread of the new coronavirus.
Following the central government’s declaration of a state of emergency on April 7, the Sakura city government canceled its annual Sakura Tulip Festa for a week and closed the parking lot.
However, as people could freely enter the square, visitors flocked to the site anyway during the first weekend after the emergency declaration. This forced the city to make the tough decision to cut off the flowers on April 14 and 15 to discourage crowds and prevent close-contact settings.