ROME — A study by Italy’s National Institute of Health has found that the new coronavirus was in circulation in wastewater in the northern cities of Milan and Turin in December 2019, at least two months before the virus was confirmed to have spread locally in the population.
The study, released Thursday, was based on 40 water samples collected as part of regular checks from sewage treatment plants in northern Italy from October 2019 to February 2020. It showed the virus that causes COVID-19 in Dec. 18 samples from Milan and Turin, while earlier samples were negative.
“This research can contribute to understanding the beginning of the circulation of the virus in Italy,” the institute said in a statement.
The research has so far not linked any confirmed cases to the virus’ earlier presence, but researchers have proposed using the system to monitor the presence of the new coronavirus in water systems in a bid to help identify any possible new outbreaks.
A pilot monitoring system will launch next month in tourist destinations, in preparation for wider monitoring ahead of a possible new spike in contagion next fall, the institute said.
— Virus was in wastewater in northern Italy before Christmas.
— A South African activist and doctor who died of COVID-19 spent his life fighting apartheid, the government’s denial of HIV/AIDS and rampant corruption. Loved ones say Clarence Mini knew the odds were against him but he was committed to what he believed was right. He died in May at age 69.
— The United Nations food agency i s warning that without immediate funding it will stop delivering masks, gloves and other critical equipment to tackle the pandemic to 132 countries by the third week of July.
— New York City restaurants will be allowed to open with outdoor seating on Monday as the city enters the second phase of easing coronavirus restrictions.
TOKYO — Japanese shoppers queued up in a long line at Uniqlo stores and others clogged up the company’s online shopping site Friday as they rushed to buy washable face masks made from the fashion brand’s popular underwear fabric.
Many people were waiting in the rain Friday even before stores opened. The breathable “Airism” masks that come in three sizes were sold out by early afternoon at both stores and the online shopping site.
Uniqlo apologized that the masks were sold out so quickly. The company said it is now increasing production and more will be available at a later date.
A three-piece pack is priced at 990 yen ($9.20).
Surgical masks have been in short supply and many Japanese are now encouraged to buy or make reusable cloth masks. In order to meet huge demand, electronics maker Sharp has also begun mask production.
NICOSIA, Cyprus — Cypriot government officials say random coronavirus tests will be carried out on a proportion of travelers arriving at the east Mediterranean island nation’s airports as an added layer of protection against the virus’ spread.
From Saturday, people arriving from 19 nations will no longer need to obtain a health certificate declaring them coronavirus-free.
Cyprus has managed a low coronavirus infection rate thanks to a nearly-three month lockdown imposed in mid-March that included a commercial flight ban and a stay-at-home order.
The country is keen to restart is vital tourism sector that directly accounts for 13% of its economy, but wants to avoid imported virus flare ups that could tarnish its image.
Health Minister Constantinos Ioannou said health officials at the airports are aiming to randomly test 10-15% of the 1,500 passengers who are estimated to arrive daily over the next few weeks.
ISLAMABAD — Pakistan is racing against time to arrange 1,500 more ventilators as part of a contingency plan to handle any emergency, as Islamabad reported 136 new deaths from coronavirus.
According to Pakistan’s National Command and Control Center, as many as 103 additional ventilators were recently provided to hospitals handling COVID-19 patients, bringing the total number of ventilators to 1,503.
The announcement comes amid a surge in COVID-19 deaths which critics blame on Prime Minister Imran Khan.
They say Khan eased restrictions last month at a time when there was a need to enforce a stricter lockdown to contain the spread of the virus.
As well as the 136 new deaths — for a total of 3,229 — Pakistan on Friday reported 4,944 new confirmed cases, increasing the total to 165,062.
LONDON — A meat processing plant in West Yorkshire has been shut down amid a localized outbreak of COVID-19, the third such site to shut down in the U.K. in recent days.
The shutdown of the Yorkshire plant follows further outbreaks in food processing sites in Anglesey and Wrexham in North Wales.
Asda confirmed that its subsidiary, Kober, had decided to close a plant in Cleckheaton.
It says that as soon as it became aware of the outbreak, it “responded swiftly and worked collaboratively with the local authority and Public Health England to test all colleagues.’’
Doctors and local officials in the community have expressed frustration at the announcement because they say they first learned about it when Health Secretary Matt Hancock mentioned “as cluster of cases’’ in the Kirklees area during the daily Downing Street news conference on Thursday.
BEIJING — China says it has published the gene sequences for three strains of the coronavirus detected in the new outbreak that hit Beijing this month.
The Center for Disease Control said it has provided the sequences to the World Health Organization and the GISAID Initiative that helps disseminate such information around the world.
At least one of the strains tied to the Chinese capital’s largest wholesale food market had reportedly shown similarities to a strain found in Europe.
Also Friday, spokesperson for the National Health Commission Hu Qiangqiang said local confirmed infections had been recorded for five consecutive days in two areas, apparently referencing Beijing and the neighboring province of Hebei.
Meanwhile, CDC researcher Feng Luzhao said that while there so far is no evidence the virus can be transmitted other than the proven vectors of droplets expelled or left on surfaces, it would still be better not to eat uncooked foods.
However, international food and health bodies believe the possibility of transmission by food is extremely low and don’t suggest that countries introduce restrictions on the international trade in food items because of the coronavirus outbreak, Song Yuelian, deputy director of the Chinese customs’ health quarantine department, said.
Beijing has seen 183 confirmed cases since the outbreak last week at the Xinfadi market and the situation for prevention remains “very grave,” city government spokesperson Xu Hejian said. Facilities should be expanded to provide for all that need to be or wish to be tested, Xu said.
LONDON — Britain has lowered its coronavirus threat level by one notch, as public health officials say the outbreak is coming under control.
The U.K.’s Joint Biosecurity Center has recommended that the country move from the second-highest level, 4 — meaning transmission is high or rising exponentially — to level 3, where a COVID-19 epidemic is in general circulation.
The scale is modeled on Britain’s five-rung scale for terrorist threats.
The U.K.’s chief medical officers say there has been “a steady decrease in cases” across the country, but localized outbreaks are still likely.
Britain has suffered Europe’s deadliest coronavirus outbreak, with more than 42,000 confirmed fatalities. The real toll is likely higher because not everyone who died with COVID-19 was tested for it.
Health Secretary Matt Hancock said the lowering of the alert level was “a big moment for the country, and a real testament to the British people’s determination to beat this virus.”
TOKYO — Japan has launched a smartphone app that notifies users who have come into close contact with someone infected with the coronavirus.
The COVID-19 Contact Confirming Application, or COCOA, was created by the Health Ministry using technology developed by Apple and Google.
As Japan resumes social and economic activity, officials say contact tracing, along with aggressive testing, is key to quickly finding and isolating those infected. Less than a month after lifting its pandemic state of emergency, Japan on Friday reopened the remaining businesses that were shut, including nightclubs, though people are still asked to use physical distancing and other precautions.
The free app logs users’ data via phone Bluetooth when they are within a meter (yard) of each other for 15 minutes of longer. If any of them test positive and disclose their results in the app, other users are notified of an anonymous person’s infection.
Data will only be recorded and stored in each user’s phone, and will be deleted after 14 days.
Studies have shown that similar contact tracing apps can be effective when used by about 60% of the population. That means virtually all smartphone users in Japan have to register — an extremely ambitious goal to make it work.
The app is currently on a trial run for one month before a full version is available.
Japan has about 17,500 cases and 935 deaths.
THE HAGUE, Netherlands — Security authorities in The Hague have banned a planned protest against coronavirus restrictions, saying the demonstration Sunday forms a threat to public health.
The city’s mayor, Johan Remkes, wrote Friday that the planned event originally was to have drawn about 100 people but changes to the program to include performances by DJs have effectively turned it into a festival that could attract up to 10,000. Such large-scale events are banned until Sept. 1 under the government’s coronavirus measures.
Remkes says in a statement that the right to demonstrate in public is important, “but it is not unlimited.”
He adds that the event as planned for Sunday in the city’s large Malieveld park would create “an illegal and dangerous situation.”
Organizers called the event to protest the government’s lockdown measures.
BERLIN — Germany’s disease control center reported the highest daily increase in COVID-19 cases in a month, as positive tests from an outbreak at a slaughterhouse enter the statistics.
The Robert Koch Institute listed 770 new cases Friday, taking its total tally since the start of the outbreak to 188,534. It was the biggest daily increase since May 20.
The German government has stuck to its course of gradually reopening the country while seeking to clamp down swiftly on local outbreaks.
Authorities in the western county of Guetersloh are testing thousands of workers at a slaughterhouse. At least 730 people have already tested positive for the new coronavirus there.
PRAGUE — The Czech Republic has registered a spike in COVID-19 cases as the country eases pandemic restrictions.
The daily increase surpassed 100 for the first time since May 18 to reach 118 on Thursday.
A total of 10,283 cases have been confirmed while 334 people have died.
PERTH, Australia — A livestock ship loaded with 35,000 sheep has left Australia for the Middle East three weeks behind schedule due to half the crew becoming infected with the coronavirus.
The Al Kuwait left the west coast port of Fremantle on Friday bound for Kuwait after the federal government granted it an exemption from a ban on live sheep exports during the Northern Hemisphere summer and a court later rejected an appeal by animal rights activists.
The Al Kuwait arrived at Fremantle from the United Arab Emirates on May 22 with plans to load the last shipment of sheep before the three-month export ban on animal welfare grounds took effect on June 1.
But more than 20 of its 48 crew members soon tested positive for the virus and were taken to a hospital and hotel rooms to recover. All have recovered and most left Fremantle with the ship.
Because of the higher risk to the sheep of heat stress during the summer, the number allowed to be exported under the ban exemption was slashed from the original cargo of 56,000 animals.
TOKYO — Japan and Vietnam have agreed to partially lift travel bans and ease restrictions as a way to reopen economic and bilateral exchanges between the two Asian nations where coronavirus infections have been largely under control.
Japanese Foreign Minister Toshimitsu Motegi told reporters Friday that Vietnam is one of four countries that Japan has been discussing resuming mutual visits in phases. Japan is also seeking similar arrangements with Thailand, Australia and New Zealand.
Japan and Vietnam are discussing final details such as timing of resumption, Motegi said.
Japan has imposed entry bans to 111 nations as part of coronavirus measures.
Japan lifted a seven-week pandemic emergency in late May and has started reopening social and business activities to minimize economic damage. All domestic restrictions were removed Friday and people can now start travel anywhere in Japan. Physical distancing and other preventive measures remain in place.
Prime Minister Shinzo Abe said aggressive virus testing is crucial as the country resumes social and economic activity safely. He said testing centers for foreign visitors are also being planned.
Vietnam has reported only 342 cases and no deaths. Japan has 17,740 cases and 935 deaths.
NEW DELHI — India has recorded the highest one-day spike of 13,586 coronavirus cases, raising the total to 380,532.
India’s death toll on Friday reached 12,573, a rise of 336. The number of recoveries touched 52% at 204,711.
India stands behind the United States, Brazil and Russia in the number of cases. But the country is continuing with unlocking the economy.
The lockdown, imposed on March 25, is now restricted to high-risk areas. The worst-hit states are Maharashtra, Tamil Nadu and New Delhi. They account for 60% of all cases.
SINGAPORE — Singaporeans can wine and dine at restaurants, work out at the gym and get together but no more than five people after most lockdown restrictions were lifted Friday.
The city-state has one of the highest infections in Asia with 41,473 confirmed cases, mostly linked to foreign workers’ dorms. The government says the infections have declined, with no new large clusters emerging.
Cases outside the dorms were also stable despite a partial economic reopening two weeks ago.
Malls, gyms, massage parlors, parks and other public spaces reopened Friday, with strict social distancing and health safety rules. Tuition classes also resumed, except singing. Minor prohibitions remain including on contact sports and mass religious congregations.
Entertainment venues such as cinemas, karaoke rooms and bars are still shut while big events including trade fairs and concerts are banned.
SEOUL, South Korea — The coronavirus continues to spread in South Korea, particularly in the densely populated Seoul metropolitan region, which is home to half the country’s 51 million people.
The Korea Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reported 49 new cases for the nation Friday, with 26 of them in Seoul and the nearby port city of Incheon. South Korea has had a total of 12,306 infections, including 280 deaths.
Officials have been reporting around 30 to 50 new cases a day since late May, inspiring second guessing on whether officials were too quick to ease social distancing guidelines in April after the country’s first wave of infections waned.
Hundreds of cases in the Seoul area have been linked to leisure and religious activities and low-income workers who can’t afford to stay home.
OKLAHOMA CITY — Oklahoma has a big surge in new coronavirus cases, to a new daily high double the previous record-setting number two days earlier.
State health officials listed 450 new cases Thursday, compared to the previous one-day high of 229 reported Tuesday. The additional cases increased the state’s overall total 5.1% to 9,354 since the outbreak began.
Two deaths Thursday brought the Oklahoma COVID-19 death toll to 366.
Tulsa County continues as the state’s leading COVID-19 hot spot with 120 new cases, for a total of 1,945. Second-place Oklahoma County reported 107 new cases, bringing its total to 1,861.
The new wave comes amid demonstrations to protest police killings of black citizens and ahead of Juneteenth celebrations and a Saturday rally planned by President Donald Trump
BEIJING — New coronavirus cases remained stable in China’s capital Friday, a day after a public health official declared Beijing’s latest outbreak under control.
Beijing recorded 25 new cases, up by just four from Thursday, out of a total of 32 cases reported nationwide.
Beijing has confirmed 183 new cases over the past week, but an official of the Chinese Center for Disease Control and Prevention said Thursday that the daily numbers should begin to decline soon. Wu Zunyou said such outbreaks are inevitable, though this one was larger than expected because it spread from Beijing’s main wholesale market.
Classes in the city have been suspended and opening-up plans for everything from sports events to art exhibitions are hold.
UNITED NATIONS — The United Nations’ food agency says ít needs immediate funding to prevent a shutdown in late July of the global transport system that has been delivering tons of masks, gloves and other critical equipment for the coronavirus pandemic in 132 nations.
The World Food Program’s director of operations said Thursday that the agency also would have to ground aircraft that have transported 2,600 humanitarian and health workers free of charge to 40 destinations across Africa, Asia and the Middle East since the pandemic began.
Amer Daoudi says the WFP requested $965 million to sustain its transport services through 2020 but so far has received only $132 million even though “the entire humanitarian and health community is relying on WFP’s logistic services now more than ever.”
SACRAMENTO, Calif. — California will require people to wear masks in most indoor settings and outdoors when distancing isn’t possible under a statewide order issued Thursday.
The order comes as California broadly reopens the economy; in most counties, people can now shop, dine in at restaurants, get their hair done and go to church, among other things. Meanwhile, coronavirus cases are increasing, something the state says is expected as more people get tested. More than 3,400 people were in the hospital as of Wednesday, the most patients hospitalized since April.
The order will require people to wear masks when inside or in line for any indoor public spaces, in healthcare settings like hospitals and pharmacies, while waiting for or riding public transportation and in outdoor spaces where its not possible to stay 6 feet (1.8 meters) apart from other people.
Until now, the Democratic governor had let local governments decide whether to mandate masks, an issue that’s become politically fraught as some Americans resist orders to wear them. He said he’s issuing the order now because too many people are going out in public without face coverings as businesses, restaurants and other sectors of the economy reopen.
There are exceptions for children under age two, people who can’t wear masks for medical reasons and if it would violate workplace safety guidelines.
NEW YORK — Restaurants, a key part of New York City’s identity, will be allowed to open with outdoor seating Monday as the city enters the second phase of easing coronavirus restrictions, Mayor Bill de Blasio said Thursday.
The outdoor seating plan will provide a lifeline for New York’s crucial restaurant industry as the city emerges cautiously from lockdown.
“We have to save this industry,” he said. “It’s part of our identity.”
Restaurateurs will be able to go online starting Friday to apply to open with seating on the sidewalk, in a backyard patio or using parking spaces. He estimated that 5,000 restaurants employing 45,000 workers would be able to open starting next week.
Offices, hair salons, retail stores and playgrounds in public parks will also be allowed to open during Phase 2 of the reopening, de Blasio said. He said 150,000 to 300,000 more people should be back at work.
Gov. Andrew Cuomo had indicated that the city would be ready for Phase 2 on Monday, but de Blasio had said previously that he thought it might take longer. De Blasio said Thursday that he has spoken with the governor’s office about the reopening plan and that “there’s been a high degree of unity.”