China's Wuhan lockdown ends, but another begins as local coronavirus cases rise

WUHAN, China (Reuters) – The Chinese city where the coronavirus epidemic first broke out, Wuhan, ended a two-month lockdown on Wednesday, but a northern town started restricting the movement of its residents amid concerns of a second wave of infections in mainland China.

China sealed off Wuhan, a city of 11 million people, in late January to stop the spread of the virus. Over 50,000 people in Wuhan caught the virus, and more than 2,500 of them died, about 80% of all deaths in China, according to official figures.

The virus has since become a global pandemic that has infected over 1.4 million people and killed 82,000, wreaking havoc on the global economy as governments worldwide imposed sweeping lockdowns to rein in its spread.

Restrictions in Wuhan have eased in recent days as the capital of Hubei province reported just three new confirmed infections in the past 21 days and only two new infections in the past fortnight.

But even as people leave the city, new imported cases in the northern province of Heilongjiang surged to a daily high of 25, fuelled by an influx of infected travellers arriving from Russia, which shares a land border with the province.

Suifenhe City in Heilongjiang restricted the movement of its citizens on Wednesday in a similar fashion to that of Wuhan.

Residents must stay in residential compounds and one person from a family can leave once every three days to buy necessities and must return on the same day, said state-run CCTV.

In Jiaozhou City in the eastern province of Shandong the risk level had risen from low to medium, according to a post on an official website, but it gave no further details.

A county in central China with a population of about 600,000 went into a partial lockdown on April 1 following several new infections, including at least two asymptomatic cases.

LEAVING WUHAN

Around 55,000 people are expected to leave Wuhan by train on Wednesday. More than 10,000 travellers have left the city by plane so far as flights resume at Wuhan Tianhe airport. Flights to Beijing and international locations have not been restored.

“I’m very happy, I’m going home today,” migrant worker Liu Xiaomin told Reuters as she stood with her suitcases inside Wuhan’s Hankou railway station, bound for Xiangyang city.

Still, Wuhan residents have been urged not to leave the province, their city or even their neighbourhood unless absolutely necessary.

People from Wuhan arriving in the Chinese capital Beijing will have to undergo two rounds of testing for the virus.

China is maintaining strict screening protocols, concerned about any resurgence in domestic transmissions due to virus carriers who exhibit no symptoms and infected travellers arriving from overseas.

IMPORTED CASES

Authorities are chiefly concerned with imported infections and asymptomatic cases, people who have been infected with the virus but do not show any symptoms such as fever or a cough.

Mainland China’s new coronavirus cases doubled over the past 24 hours as the number of infected overseas travellers surged, while new asymptomatic infections more than quadrupled.

New confirmed cases rose to 62 on Tuesday from 32 a day earlier, the National Health Commission said, the highest since March 25. New imported infections accounted for 59 of the cases.

The number of new asymptomatic cases rose to 137 from 30 a day earlier, the health authority said on Wednesday, with incoming travellers accounting for 102 of the latest batch.

Chinese authorities do not count asymptomatic cases as part of its tally of confirmed coronavirus infections until patients show symptoms such as a fever or a cough.

As of Tuesday, 1,095 asymptomatic patients were under medical observation in China, with 358 of them travellers arriving from abroad.

To stem infections from outside its borders, China has slashed the number of international flights and denied entry to virtually all foreigners. It also started testing all international arrivals for the virus this month.

Screening of travellers arriving overland was also recently tightened.

As of Tuesday, the total number of confirmed cases in mainland China stood at 81,802, including 3,333 fatalities, the National Health Commission said.

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Coronavirus warning: Why scientists are telling cat owners to keep their pets indoors

The British Veterinary Association said “owners should not worry” about any risk of infection from their pets. But current evidence suggests cats may be able to catch the virus from other cats.

Dr Angel Almendros, from City University in Hong Kong, told BBC News: “There isn’t a single case of a pet dog or cat infecting a human with COVID-19.”

To prevent any risk of pets carrying the virus from owners’ hands in their fur, British Veterinary Association (BVA), president Daniella Dos Santos encouraged owners to take “sensible precautions”.

She said: “Practise good hand hygiene, try and keep cats indoors.

“Avoid unnecessary contact with your pets, such a hugging or allowing them to lick your face, and do not touch other people’s dogs when on walks.”

Dr Angel Almendros, in a recent paper on the subject, cited the case of a 17-year-old pet dog in Hong Kong that tested positive for COVID-19.

Thought to be infected by its owner, the dog was later released from testing after being cleared of the virus.

Shortly after its release, the dog tragically passed away, likely as a result of the stress induced from the testing process, vets in Hong Kong claimed.

Dr Almendros said: “But even where we have these positive results, the animals are not becoming sick.

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“As in the previous Sars-Cov outbreak in Hong Kong, in 2003, where a number of pets were infected but never became sick, there is no evidence that dogs or cats could become sick or infect people.”

More research is being undertaken, looking into how the virus might spread from humans to animals.

It appears cats may be susceptible to infection from respiratory droplets – the particles that shoot out when people cough, sneeze or breath out.

Following a case in Belgium where a cat tested positive about a week after its owner showed symptoms associated with the virus, Chinese scientists carried out tests that provided evidence of infected cats transmitting the virus to other cats.

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More recently was news that tigers at the Bronx Zoo in New York had contracted the virus from a worker who was carrying the virus but was asymptomatic.

“It is interesting to note in the experimental evidence that cats can become infected, alongside the apparent infection of a tiger,” Prof Bryan Charleston, director of the UK’s Pirbright Institute, which specialises in the study of infectious disease, said.

All of this has led the “evidence on the transmissibility” building up a solid case.

Moreover, there is also evidence humans can transmit respiratory infections to wild great apes.

This makes the global spread of the virus a particular concern for conservationists working to protect endangered wildlife around the world.

In all of the mentioned cases, infected humans are the animal that pose the biggest threat to other species.

Prof Charleston said: “We know that the virus did make the jump from an animal into humans (at the beginning of this crisis) but that appears to be because people were eating those infected animals.”

Relating the information back to cats, the British Veterinary Association draws attention to how an animal’s fur could carry the virus for a time “if a pet were to have come into contact with someone who was sick”.

Thus the advice to keep pets indoors for the foreseeable future.

Dr Almendros advised: “Treat pets like other people in your household.

“So if you’re feeling sick, it’s better not to interact with them.”

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Peru found responsible for torture of LGBT person

The top human rights court in the Americas has found Peru responsible for the arbitrary detention and rape of an LGBT person.

Azul Rojas Marín was stripped, hit and raped with a truncheon by three officers while in custody in 2008, her legal team said.

The Inter-American Court of Human Rights said it was an act of torture.

It is the court’s first ruling on a complaint of torture against the LGBT community.

Peru’s government has not yet commented.

There has been growing acceptance of LGBT people in Peru, but many still face legal challenges and widespread prejudice. Same-sex couples are not allowed to marry or enter into civil unions, but trans people can change their gender legally.

In February 2008, Ms Rojas Marín – who is now a transwoman but was then living as a gay man – was detained late at night and taken to a police station in the northern town of Casa Grande.

According to Redress, the human rights group which represented her, she was beaten, verbally abused for her sexual orientation and robbed of her belongings.

Ms Rojas Marín filed a criminal complaint against the police officers, but the case was dismissed by state prosecutors. Activists then took it to the Inter-American Court on her behalf.

The court was established by the Organization of American States (OAS), and hears cases of human rights abuses in Latin America. It can order governments to investigate crimes and compensate victims.

In the 12 March ruling made public on Monday, it said Ms Rojas Marín’s detention was “without a motive”, based on “discrimination”, and therefore was “illegal and arbitrary”.

“[Ms Rojas Marín] was forcibly stripped naked, beaten on several occasions, tortured and raped… constituting an act of torture against the victim,” the court said in a statement. “Consequently, the Court has declared Peru’s international responsibility for the violation of [her] rights.”

The court also said that in the country there were “strong prejudices” against the LGBT population and that, in certain cases, they are manifested in violent acts including by state agents.

The ruling ordered the Peruvian government to pay Ms Rojas Marín unspecified damages, provide her with psychological treatment, adopt new protocols for investigating attacks against LGBT people and track statistics of violence against the community.

Redress called the ruling “ground-breaking,” pointing out that it not only ordered Peru to redress the damage done to Ms Rojas Marín “but also prevent these crimes being repeated”, including providing training to state officials regarding LGBT rights.

Ms Rojas Marín said she had “no words to describe how I feel”. “After all that happened, a court finally believed in my word,” she said.

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Australia's parliament set to pass huge stimulus plan as S&P lowers 'AAA' outlook

SYDNEY (Reuters) – Australia’s coveted ‘AAA’ rating came under a cloud on Wednesday as the country’s parliament returned to pass an emergency A$130 billion ($80 billion) stimulus package to help cushion the blow to the economy from the coronavirus pandemic.

Australia’s government has so far pledged A$320 billion in fiscal support as the coronavirus pandemic shuts companies and leaves many unemployed.

“The COVID-19 outbreak has dealt Australia a severe economic and fiscal shock,” S&P said as it lowered the outlook on the country’s ‘AAA’ sovereign rating to “negative” from “stable”.

“We expect the Australian economy to plunge into recession for the first time in almost 30 years, causing a substantial deterioration of the government’s fiscal headroom at the ‘AAA’ rating level.”

A triple-A credit rating is given to only a select group of countries with the strongest finances in the world. The rating means a country can easily meet its financial commitments and have the lowest risk of default.

S&P’s decision came as a pared back version of Australia’s parliament votes on the government’s third tranche of fiscal measures on Wednesday. Fewer than normal lawmakers were present for the one-day sitting to minimise the risk of the virus spreading.

In his address to parliament, Prime Minister Scott Morrison said lawmakers were acting to “protect Australia’s sovereignty”.

“When Australian lives and livelihoods are threatened, when they are under attack, our nation’s sovereignty is put at risk, and we must respond,” he added.

The support measures come as economists predict the worst recession in Australia’s history, with the unemployment rate almost doubling to near 10%. The Reserve Bank of Australia on Tuesday predicted a “very large” economic contraction in the current quarter.

Restrictions on people movement and gatherings to curb the spread of infection have forced many businesses in the hospitality, retail, transport and education sectors to shut. Businesses that remain open face falling sales and increasing operational restrictions.

Australian police said they will ensure social distancing and travel restrictions are enforced during the upcoming long Easter weekend as the national death toll from the coronavirus reached 50.

Health Minister Greg Hunt warned abandoning social distancing rules and stay at home advice over the long weekend would undo the success Australia has had in fighting the virus.

“The virus doesn’t take a holiday,” he told the Ten Network.

The total number of cases across Australia is creeping toward 6,000, although the pace of infections has slowed dramatically in the past week.

The early success in controlling the spread of the virus has fanned speculation some of the mobility restrictions could be eased from the beginning of May.

The New South Wales (NSW) state premier Gladys Berejiklian said in a televised briefing in Sydney that “there could be a chance, if the health experts deem it appropriate”.

However, she warned lifting restrictions could lead to a second wave of infections. NSW is the country’s worst affected state accounting for almost half the total infections.

“Every time you relax a restriction, more people will get sick. More people will die. And it’s a horrible situation to be in, but they’re the choices and we need to be up-front about that.”

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Aerial survey shows Great Barrier Reef bleaching more widespread than ever

An aerial survey of the Great Barrier Reef shows coral bleaching is sweeping across the area off the east of Australia for the third time in five years.

Bleaching has struck all three regions of the world’s largest coral reef system and is more widespread than ever, scientists from James Cook University in Queensland state said Tuesday.

The air surveys of 1,036 reefs in the past two weeks found bleached coral in the northern, central and southern areas, James Cook University professor Terry Hughes said.

“As summers grow hotter and hotter, we no longer need an El Nino event to trigger mass bleaching at the scale of the Great Barrier Reef,” Hughes said. “Of the five events we have seen so far, only 1998 and 2016 occurred during El Nino conditions.”

El Nino is a climate pattern that starts with a band of warm ocean water in the central and east-central Pacific around the equator and affects global weather.

The Great Barrier Reef is made up of 2,900 separate reefs and 900 islands. It is unable to recover because there is not enough time between bleaching events.

“We have already seen the first example of back-to-back bleaching — in the consecutive summers of 2016 and 2017,” Hughes said, adding that the number of reefs spared from bleaching is shrinking as it becomes more widespread.

He said underwater surveys will be carried out later in the year to assess the extent of damage.

In early March, David Wachenfeld, chief scientist at the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority, said the reef was facing a critical period of heat stress over the coming weeks following the most widespread coral bleaching the natural wonder has ever endured.

The authority, the government agency that manages the coral expanse off northeast Australia, said ocean temperatures over the next month would be crucial to how the reef recovers from heat-induced bleaching.

“The forecasts … indicate that we can expect ongoing levels of thermal stress for at least the next two weeks and maybe three or four weeks,” Wachenfeld said in a weekly update on the reef’s health.

“So this still is a critical time for the reef and it is the weather conditions over the next two to four weeks that will determine the final outcome,” he said.

Ocean temperatures across most of the reef were 0.5 to 1.5 degrees Celsius (0.9 to 2.7 degrees Fahrenheit) above the March average.

In parts of the marine park in the south close to shore that avoided the ravages of previous bleachings, ocean temperatures were 2 to 3 degrees Celsius (3.6 to 5.4 degrees Fahrenheit) above average.

The authority had received 250 reports of sightings of bleached coral due to elevated ocean temperatures during an unusually hot February.

The 345,400-square kilometre (133,360-square mile) World Heritage-listed colorful coral network has been devastated by four coral bleaching events since 1998. The most deadly were the most recent, in those consecutive summers of 2016 and 2017.

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Quebec doctor concerned by hydroxychloroquine shortage after patients denied treatment

It’s been touted as a “miracle drug” in the fight against COVID-19. But experts across Canada are now warning against the use of hydroxychloroquine in the treatment of the disease until further scientific research proves that it helps.

Still, thousands of Quebec patients are now being denied treatment due to an anticipated shortage of the prescription drug.

“Is it really being used in studies on COVID-19 patients, which I think would be very appropriate?” said rheumatologist Dr. Michel Zummer. “Or is it being stockpiled or used otherwise?” he asked, after 300 of his patients were contacted by their pharmacists and told they can no longer fill prescriptions for hydroxychloroquine.

Quebec pharmacists are now restricting the use of chloroquine and hydroxychloroquine after Quebec’s national institute of excellence in health and social services (INESSS) issued a collective prescription to prepare for a possible shortage of the drug.

It’s currently being used to treat patients with COVID-19 despite it not being approved by Health Canada for this purpose.

“The issue is we don’t know is how long there will be this shortage of medication, if there really is a shortage of medication because we really don’t know what happened to this medication, where it went,” said Zummer.

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The former Chief of Rheumatology at the Maisonneuve-Rosemont hospital and current co-chair of the Arthritis Alliance of Canada is demanding answers from the Quebec government after an estimated 300 of his patients had been denied treatment.

“Personally I have asked questions and my association has asked questions,” said Zummer. “We don’t know what the government is doing about trying to secure more medication and when this medication will be available for our patients.”

A 58-year old mother of three who was diagnosed with rheumatoid arthritis nearly two decades ago claims it’s the only drug that alleviates her excruciating pain. She’s desperately trying to reach her doctor since the available alternatives for her condition don’t sound promising.

“It’s about $1,000 a month so it’s not an option for me.”

According to Zummer,  patients may not have access to other promising medications since some require “special-access criteria,” meaning patients need to have active disease and symptoms which many do not when the disease is under control.

He hopes the Quebec government will soon provide answers and affordable alternatives for patients before they relapse. 

“Usually if the medication is stopped for a week or two there should not be a problem. Hydroxychloroquine is stored in the body for quite a long time,” said Zummer.

“But sooner or later, patients’ arthritis will flare.”

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Acting US Navy chief resigns over ship virus row

The acting US Navy secretary has submitted his resignation amid criticisms of his response to a ship with a Covid-19 outbreak, US media say.

Thomas Modly had ousted the captain of the USS Roosevelt aircraft carrier after he pleaded for help in a letter leaked to the public.

Mr Modly had apologised on Monday after he called Captain Brett Crozier’s actions “naïve” and “stupid”.

Army Undersecretary James McPherson is expected to replace Mr Modly.

Mr Modly told the crew of the USS Theodore Roosevelt on Monday that what their former captain did “was very, very wrong” and amounted to “a betrayal of trust with me, with his chain of command”, according to recordings leaked to US media.

“If he didn’t think that information was going to get out into the public…then he was A) too naïve or too stupid to be the commanding officer of a ship like this,” Mr Modly said. “The alternative is he did it on purpose.”

Amid criticisms from lawmakers, Mr Modly issued an apology the same day, saying: “I do not think Captain Brett Crozier is naïve nor stupid. I think, and always believed him to be the opposite.”

Captain Crozier sent a letter to defence officials on 30 March begging for assistance with a coronavirus outbreak on his vessel, which has more than 4,000 crewmembers.

“We are not at war. Sailors do not need to die,” he wrote, requesting that nearly the entire crew be quarantined.

Captain Crozier was fired last week, and footage of his crew sending him off with cheers and applause went viral.

President Donald Trump weighed in on Monday, telling reporters he may get involved in the row.

“You have two good gentlemen and they’re arguing. I’m good at resolving arguments,” he said.

The president said he “heard very good things” about Captain Crozier and did not want his career to be ruined “for having a bad day”, but added that “the letter should not have been sent to many people unclassified”.

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NYC virus deaths exceed 3,200, topping toll for 9/11 attacks – The Denver Post

NEW YORK — New York City’s death toll from the coronavirus eclipsed the number of those killed at the World Trade Center on 9/11, health officials said Tuesday. In Britain, Prime Minister Boris Johnson lay in intensive care with the virus.

At least 3,202 people have died in New York from COVID-19, according to the count released by the city. The deadliest terror attack on U.S. soil killed 2,753 people in the city and 2,977 overall, when hijacked planes slammed into the twin towers, the Pentagon and a Pennsylvania field on Sept. 11, 2001.

New York state recorded 731 new coronavirus deaths, its biggest one-day jump yet, for a statewide toll of nearly 5,500, Gov. Andrew Cuomo said.

“Behind every one of those numbers is an individual. There’s a family, there’s a mother, there’s a father, there’s a sister, there’s a brother. So a lot of pain again today for many New Yorkers,” he said.

But in an encouraging sign, Cuomo reported that hospital admissions and the number of those receiving breathing tubes are dropping, indicating that measures taken to force people to keep their distance from one another are succeeding.

And alarming as the one-day increase in deaths might sound, the governor said that’s a “lagging indicator,” reflecting severely ill people who had been hospitalized before this week. Over the past several days, in fact, the number of deaths in New York appeared to be leveling off.

“You see that plateauing — that’s because of what we are doing. If we don’t do what we are doing, that is a much different curve,” he said. “So social distancing is working.”

Across the U.S., the death toll neared 12,000, with around 380,000 confirmed infections. Some of the deadliest hot spots included Detroit, New Orleans and the New York metropolitan area, which includes parts of Long Island, New Jersey and Connecticut.

In London, the 55-year-old Johnson, the world’s first head of government known to have fallen ill with the virus, was in stable condition and conscious at a hospital, where he was receiving oxygen but was not on a ventilator, said his spokesman James Slack. Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab was designated to run the country in the meantime.

Deaths in Britain rose to nearly 6,200, after a one-day increase of almost 800.

“We’re desperately hoping that Boris can make the speediest possible recovery,” said Cabinet minister Michael Gove, who is among scores of British officials in self-isolation.

Stocks rose during the day on Wall Street after a big rally the day before on news that the crisis may be easing in some of the world’s hardest-hit places. The S&P 500 was up nearly 2.5% at midday.

Elsewhere around the world, there were contrasting developments.

Chinese authorities lifted the lockdown on Wuhan after 76 days, allowing residents to travel in and out of the industrial city of 11 million where the worldwide outbreak began. China, which officially recorded more than 82,000 infections and over 3,300 deaths, listed no new cases on Tuesday, though the country’s figures are regarded with suspicion by some public health experts.

In Japan, Prime Minister Shinzo Abe declared a month-long state of emergency in Tokyo and six other prefectures because of a spike of infections in the country with the world’s oldest population. The order will close hostess bars and other night entertainment.

“My lifestyle will change. These are difficult times” said Yoshiyuki Kataoka, 44, a nightlife industry worker. “Maybe I’ll become a recluse.”

In some European hot spots, as in New York, authorities saw signs that the outbreak was turning a corner, based on slowdowns in new deaths and hospitalizations.

In Spain, new deaths Tuesday rose to 743 and infections climbed by 5,400 after five days of declines, but the increases were believed to reflect a weekend backlog. Authorities said they were confident in the downward trend.

In Italy, the hardest-hit country of all, with over 16,500 deaths, authorities appealed to people ahead of Easter weekend not to lower their guard and to abide by a lockdown now in its fifth week, even as new cases dropped to a level not seen since the early weeks of the outbreak.

“Finally it seems we are beginning to see a lessening of new cases” after a plateau, said Giovanni Rezza, director of the infectious-disease division of Italy’s national health institute.

New cases were also slowing in France and Portugal. To keep up social distancing, Paris banned daytime jogging just as warm spring weather settled in.

U.S. Surgeon General Jerome Adams said that if Americans continue to practice social distancing for the rest of April, “we will be able to get back to some sense of normalcy.”

“I want the American people to know there is a light at the end of this tunnel, and we feel confident that if we keep doing the right thing for the rest of this month, that we can start to slowly reopen in some places,” he said on ABC’s “Good Morning America.”

One lockdown exception in the U.S. was Wisconsin, which asked hundreds of thousands of voters to ignore a stay-at-home order to participate in its presidential primary Tuesday.

Lines were particularly long in Milwaukee, the state’s largest city and a Democratic stronghold, where just five of 180 traditional polling places were open. Many voters across the state did not have facial coverings in line with public health recommendations.

In Madison, city workers erected hard plastic barriers to protect poll workers, and voters were encouraged to bring their own pens to mark their ballots.

Worldwide, more than 1.3 million people have been confirmed infected and over 75,000 have died, according to Johns Hopkins University. The true numbers are almost certainly much higher, because of limited testing, different rules for counting the dead and deliberate underreporting by some governments.

For most people, the virus causes mild to moderate symptoms such as fever and cough. But for some, especially older adults and the infirm, it can cause pneumonia. Close to 300,000 people have recovered worldwide.

One of the main models on the outbreak, from the University of Washington, is projecting about 82,000 U.S. deaths through early August, with the highest number on April 16.

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Spain's coronavirus deaths tick up again to near 14,000

MADRID (Reuters) – Spain’s pace of coronavirus deaths ticked up for the first time in five days on Tuesday, with 743 people succumbing overnight, but there was still hope the national lockdown might be eased soon.

Tuesday’s toll from the health ministry compared to 637 deaths registered during the previous 24 hours, taking the total to 13,798, the second highest in the world after Italy.

Still, the proportional daily increase of 5.7% was about half that reported a week ago.

“It is normal to have some oscillations … What matters is to see the trend and the cumulative data,” said Maria Jose Sierra, deputy chief of health emergencies, adding that latest data included some delayed notifications from the weekend.

Total cases rose to 140,510 – the highest in Europe and second in the world after the United States.

As officials worked on a plan to lift some of the tough restrictions in place that have shut down non-core firms, the Spanish unit of Germany’s Volkswagen said it may partially reopen a plant in Navarra region on April 20.

Employment rules for farms were eased to bring in temporarily up to 80,000 migrants and jobless people to cover a shortfall of foreign seasonal labourers. That, officials hope, will prevent food shortages and preserve Spain’s status as the European Union’s biggest exporter of fruit and vegetables.

QUESTIONS OVER DEATH NUMBERS

For lockdown restrictions to be lifted, officials say testing has to be widened, to find carriers who may have mild or no symptoms.

The government is planning mass, quick antibody tests in coming days. Cadena Ser radio said about 62,000 people would be tested twice with an interval of 21 days to see the effect of any easing of measures on contagion.

Some Spanish media have reported in recent days that insufficient testing means the real death toll could be much higher.

Asked about that, government spokeswoman Maria Jesus Montero told a news conference it was possible there could be time lags between the report of a death and its attribution to the virus, but that she had no further information.

Thirteen of Spain’s 17 regions have registered more deaths than usual, and in 11 of those, the number of extra fatalities is higher than the number confirmed to have died from the coronavirus, according to Reuters calculations based on data collected by the health and justice ministries.

In the central region of Castilla La Mancha, around 2,000 more people died than usual between March 15 and April 3, but fewer than 1,000 coronavirus deaths were registered during those three weeks.

Care homes for the elderly have been among the worst-hit by the pandemic, accounting for a third of all deaths, according to some estimates. But not all were the source of bad news.

In the northern Basque city of Guernica, relatives, neighbours and the local fire brigade applauded care staff at the Juan Calzado nursing home, dancing to the sound of loud pop music played via loudspeakers. The staff decided to move in with its virus-free residents for 15 days so as not to expose them to contagion from the outside, Reuters footage showed.

“I am staying home, with my other family!” said home director Visi Garcia.

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Pell says he holds ‘no ill will’ over abuse claim

Cardinal George Pell has said he “holds no ill will” towards his accuser after Australia’s highest court overturned his conviction for child sexual abuse.

The former Vatican treasurer, 78, was the most senior Catholic figure ever jailed for such crimes.

In 2018, a jury found he abused two boys in Melbourne in the 1990s.

But the High Court of Australia quashed that verdict on Tuesday, bringing an immediate end to Cardinal Pell’s six-year jail sentence.

The Vatican said it welcomed the decision, adding that it was committed to preventing and pursuing all cases of abuse against minors.

Cardinal Bell has maintained his innocence since he was charged by police in June 2017.

His case rocked the Catholic Church, where he had been one of the Pope’s most senior advisers.

“I do not want my acquittal to add to the hurt and bitterness so many feel,” he said in a statement.

“However, my trial was not a referendum on the Catholic Church; nor a referendum on how Church authorities in Australia dealt with the crime of paedophilia in the Church.”

Why was Cardinal Pell jailed?

In December 2018, a jury found him guilty of sexually abusing two 13-year-old choir boys in St Patrick’s Cathedral in the mid-90s – when the cleric was Archbishop of Melbourne.

Cardinal Pell appealed against the verdict last year, but judges in another court upheld the decision by a 2-1 majority.

His conviction was based on the testimony of a man alleged to be the sole surviving victim. Dozens of other witnesses provided alibis and other evidence.

In his appeal to the High Court, the cleric argued that the jury’s verdict had relied too heavily on evidence from the surviving victim. His lawyers didn’t try to discredit that testimony, but argued that other evidence had not been properly considered.

The court’s seven judges ruled unanimously in Cardinal Pell’s favour, and said in their verdict that other testimonies had introduced “a reasonable possibility that the offending had not taken place”.

Cardinal Pell has since been released from jail – 400 days into his initial six-year sentence – and cannot be retried on the charges.

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