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UN chief: World should follow South Korea on COVID-19 fight

UNITED NATIONS — The UN chief said Thursday he hopes many countries in the world will follow the “remarkable example” of South Korea, which he said has been “extremely successful” in addressing the coronavirus pandemic and is planning to tackle climate change in its recovery from COVID-19.

Secretary General Antonio Guterres pointed to Thursday’s announcement “that there was no new case in the Republic of Korea,” its official name.

At the same time, he said, South Korea has presented plans for “a very ambitious green deal” for its recovery from the pandemic, including a ban on new coal-fired plants and a reduction of emissions from existing coal-fired plants.

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The Koreas Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said in a statement early Thursday that four cases in the previous 24 hours, all imported, took the country’s total to 10,765, with 247 deaths and 9,059 recoveries.

South Korea’s caseload has been slowing in recent weeks after it recorded hundreds of new cases every day between late February and early March.

It had its first confirmed coronavirus case Jan. 20, the same day as the United States.

But unlike the United States, officials in South Korea used a test focused on the same gene targets as the World Health Organization’s recommended test, according to the website of a test manufacturer. The government then quickly allowed private sector labs to produce it.

As a result, a nation with less than one-sixth the population of the United States mobilized to test more than 20,000 people a day. South Korea also instituted drive-through testing centers, allowing quicker identification of those who were infected but might not be displaying symptoms, thus slowing the emergence of new cases to a more manageable level.

Associated Press

Germany relaxes lockdown for playgrounds, churches

BERLIN — German authorities agreed Thursday to reopen playgrounds, churches, and cultural institutions such as museums and zoos that have been shuttered because of the coronavirus pandemic, but they postponed a decision on whether to relax the rules for restaurants, hotels, and kindergartens.

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Chancellor Angela Merkel said that while there would be regional differences because of Germany’s federal structure, the overall goal remains ensuring the health system can cope with the country’s outbreak.

Germany, a country of 83 million people, has recorded almost 162,000 confirmed cases of COVID-19 and 6,467 deaths, according to figures compiled by Johns Hopkins University.

Over the past week, Germany recorded between 1,000 and 1,500 new cases a day, down from 2,000 the previous week.

Associated Press

EU diplomat: Disinformation report not softened for China

BRUSSELS — Facing pointed criticism from lawmakers on Thursday, the European Union’s top diplomat denied that Chinese officials had pressured his team to soften language in a recent report on disinformation about the coronavirus pandemic.

The report, released late last week, described Chinese and Russian efforts to spread falsehoods and propaganda about the pandemic. But The New York Times reported that the language had been toned down amid criticism from China. The final report differed in key areas from both an internal version and an earlier draft that had been planned for public release, according to interviews, e-mails, and documents seen by the Times.

The EU’s senior diplomat, Josep Borrell, acknowledged Chinese officials had objected to the report, but said such objections are “are the daily bread of diplomacy.” He said the revisions had been part of the normal editing process. “There was no watering down of our findings,” Borrell said. Lawmakers appeared skeptical.

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New York Times

Britain celebrates WWII veteran’s 100th birthday

LONDON — A British army veteran shuffled the length of his garden 100 times — and walked away with the hearts of a nation.

Captain Tom Moore celebrated his 100th birthday on Thursday, having raised some 30 million pounds ($37 million) for the National Health Service after completing a challenge to mark the milestone, one garden lap at a time. His sunny attitude in a dark moment brought smiles to a country locked down amid the COVID-19 pandemic.

“My legs may be tired, but my mind is racing and I’m hoping to be back very soon with other ways in which I can help people, help others,’’ he said. “Please always remember, ‘Tomorrow Will Be A Good Day.’”

Moore’s family used social media to seek donations to support health care workers as a way to thank the doctors and nurses who took care of him when he broke his hip. But as he walked, the public watched and just kept donating.

As his birthday arrived, Moore celebrated his appointment as the first Honorary Colonel of the Army Foundation College, Harrogate, Queen Elizabeth II sent a card, among about 150,000 he has received.

And in the sky, the Royal Air Force organized World War II-inspired flypasts featuring a Spitfire and a Hurricane — which he observed from his garden. He waved as they thundered past.

“I’m one of the few people here who’ve seen Hurricanes and Spitfires flying past in anger,’’ he told the BBC. “Fortunately today they’re all flying peacefully.”

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Associated Press

Russian prime minister says he tested positive for virus

MOSCOW — Russian Prime Minister Mikhail Mishustin said Thursday that he has tested positive for the coronavirus, becoming the highest-ranking Russian official known to have gotten infected.

Mishustin told President Vladimir Putin during a video call that he would self-isolate but planned to stay in touch on key policy issues. It wasn’t immediately clear when the two men last met. Since early in the outbreak, the Russian president has minimized meetings and switched to holding daily video calls with officials.

First Deputy Prime Minister Andrei Belousov will temporarily perform Mishustin’s duties.

Mishustin, a 54-year old former tax chief, was named prime minister in January.

Associated Press

Grounded Thai airline staff, hit by pay cuts, work gigs

BANGKOK — Restrictions on air travel imposed on airlines in Thailand have brought a lot of turbulence into the lives of flight and cabin crews, but they’ve been trained to cope with emergencies. More than 200 furloughed staff, facing reduced incomes from big pay cuts, have formed a car and motorbike delivery service, earning vital money and winning fame on the doorstep.

Just a month ago, Kritee Youngfuengmont was flying commercial jets. No longer hauling passengers, he now jockeys a Honda scooter around town to deliver food, documents, and even hot cups of coffee.

It’s not glamorous, but for the 36-year-old pilot on half-pay who has debts, the work is a financial lifeline. The roughly 1,500 baht ($46) he earns per day should keep him going until the pandemic passes.

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“Life is unpredictable. The unexpected can happen anytime. You could be enjoying good times and all of a sudden, you’re falling apart,” he said. “When that happens, you have to figure out if you are going to give up, or fight and find something to hold on to while you figure a way out.”

Associated Press