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Boris Johnson, back on the job, urges caution in easing COVID-19 rules

LONDON — A pale but vigorous-sounding Prime Minister Boris Johnson returned to work Monday, declaring that the coronavirus that nearly killed him was like an “unexpected and invisible mugger” the British people had begun to wrestle to the floor but had not yet fully disabled.

For all his determined brio, Johnson’s message to his lockdown-weary nation was somber, underscoring the hard choices that Britain faces as the economy languishes and the death toll from the virus soars above 21,000.

Johnson, who was discharged from the hospital only two weeks ago, signaled that the government would keep some social-distancing measures in place for the foreseeable future. To lift them too soon, he warned, would mean “not only a new wave of death and disease but also an economic disaster.”

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The government has said it will reassess the lockdown May 7, and it is likely to relax some restrictions. But it is lagging badly in testing and contact tracing, which specialists view as a precondition for reverting to a more normal status, like in South Korea, which pioneered an ambitious national testing program.

New York Times

Europe relaxes virus curbs, hopes there’s no retreat

Italy and Spain — the epicenters of the continent’s outbreak — will soon permit people to leave their homes for the first time in weeks, joining countries including Germany, Austria, and the Netherlands in relaxing restrictions.

Switzerland on Monday allowed an array of retailers as well as tattoo studios to open their doors, and the Swiss flocked to gardening stores to catch up on spring planting. France and Spain may outline more steps toward relaxing restrictions on Tuesday.

European leaders are eager to restart economies after lockdown measures shuttered factories, halted travel, and kept millions of people largely confined to their homes. The fallout is spurring talk of reconstruction efforts on the scale of the post-World War II recovery.

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But after more than 110,000 deaths on the continent, policymakers are wary of decisions that could see them risking lives for the sake of securing jobs.

Bloomberg News

Notre Dame Cathedral site refitted for virus safety

PARIS — Workers are refitting the construction site at fire-damaged Notre Dame Cathedral to protect staff from the virus and allow cleanup efforts at the Paris landmark to resume.

More than a year after the blaze, workers still haven’t finished stabilizing the medieval cathedral, much less rebuilding it. And the coronavirus outbreak caused a new setback: Work on the cathedral halted in mid-March, when France imposed strict confinement measures.

On Monday, workers began to rearrange the construction site to make it virus-safe, according to an official with the state agency overseeing the project. The site is hidden from the public by high barriers.

That includes re-arranging showers and cloakrooms to allow more distance between workers, and installing a place to eat because restaurants in France are currently closed.

The cleanup work itself is scheduled to start gradually resuming next week.

Associated Press

More than 700 die in Iran, believe poison cures virus

TEHRAN — The false belief that toxic methanol cures the coronavirus has seen more than 700 people killed in Iran, an official said Monday.

That represents a higher death toll than so far released by the Iranian Health Ministry.

An adviser to the ministry, Hossein Hassanian, said that the difference in death tallies is that some alcohol poisoning victims died outside of hospital.

Alcohol poisoning has skyrocketed by 10 times over in Iran in the past year, according to a government report released earlier in April, amid the coronavirus pandemic.

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The national coroner’s authority said that alcohol poisoning killed 728 Iranians between Feb. 20 and April 7. Last year there were only 66 deaths from alcohol poisoning, according to the report.

Associated Press

Turkey detains hundreds for pandemic social postings

ANKARA, Turkey — Turkey has detained 402 people in the past 42 days for allegedly sharing “false and provocative” social media postings concerning the coronavirus outbreak, officials said Monday.

An Interior Ministry statement said officials have inspected more than 6,000 social media accounts and the 402 suspects were among a total of 855 account-holders sought by authorities for sharing posts deemed to be “provocative.”

A ministry official said the social media users were detained for allegedly attempting to “cause panic” over the pandemic with posts that, among other things, accuse the government of not doing enough to curb the outbreak or of lying about the numbers of deaths or infections.

Associated Press

Currency crash sparks riots in northern Lebanon city

BEIRUT — Clashes broke out between protesters and security forces in northern Lebanon Monday amid a crash in the local currency and a surge in food prices. Dozens of young men smashed the fronts of local banks and set fire to an army vehicle, as the protests turned into riots.

The Red Cross said its teams were working on evacuating wounded people in Tripoli, Lebanon’s second-largest city and one of the most neglected regions in Lebanon.

Scattered antigovernment protests resumed last week as the government began easing the weekslong lockdown to limit the spread of the coronavirus in Lebanon, which has reported 710 cases and 24 deaths so far.

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The virus outbreak has exacerbated a severe economic and financial crisis gripping the country since late last year, the most serious to hit Lebanon since the end of its 1975-90 civil war.

Earlier Monday, scattered anti-government protests broke out in several parts of the country, leading to road closures that prevented medical teams from setting out from Beirut to conduct coronavirus tests across the country.

Associated Press

Virus spreads fear through Latin America's prisons

SANTIAGO, Chile — The spreading specter of the coronavirus is shaking Latin America’s notoriously overcrowded, unruly prisons, threatening to turn them into an inferno.

The Puente Alto prison in downtown Santiago had the largest of Latin America’s largest prison virus outbreaks so far, with more than 300 reported cases. The prison’s 1,100 inmates are terrified. Social distancing is hard to practice in jail.

“They are all in contact with each other,” said prison nurse Ximena Graniffo.

Latin America’s prisons hold 1.5 million inmates, and the facilities are often quasi-ruled by prisoners themselves because of corruption, intimidation, and inadequate guard staffs. Low budgets also create ideal conditions for the virus to spread: There is often little soap and water and cell blocks are crowded.

National officials have reported close to 1,400 confirmed cases of COVID-19 among inmates and prison staff. The worst hit has been Peru, with 613 cases and at least 13 deaths.

Associated Press