The Latest: FDA authorizes antigen tests

The Latest: FDA authorizes antigen tests
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The Latest on the coronavirus pandemic. The new coronavirus causes mild or moderate symptoms for most people. For some, especially older adults and people with existing health problems, it can cause more severe illness or death.

TOP OF THE HOUR:

— Drug remdesivir being shipped to six states.

— Italy releases near-record number of people from hospitals.

— British government to promote cycling and walking.

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WASHINGTON — U.S. regulators have approved a new type of coronavirus test that administration officials have promoted as a key to opening the country.

The Food and Drug Administration on Saturday announced emergency authorization for antigen tests developed by Quidel Corp. of San Diego. The test can rapidly detect fragments of virus proteins in samples collected from swabs swiped inside the nasal cavity, the FDA said in a statement.

The antigen test is the third type of test to be authorized by the FDA. Antigen tests can diagnose active infections by detecting the earliest toxic traces of the virus rather than the genetic code of the virus itself.

Currently, the only way to diagnose active COVID-19 is to test a patient’s nasal swab for the genetic material of the virus. While considered highly accurate, the tests can take hours and require expensive, specialized equipment mainly found at commercial labs, hospitals or universities.

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ROME — Italy says a near-record 4,008 people were released from hospitals in the past day after testing negative for COVID-19 as the country continues its cautious reopening after a two-month national lockdown.

Another 1,083 people tested positive, half of them in hard-hit Lombardy, bringing Italy’s confirmed number of cases to 218,268. Officials say the real number is as much as 10 times that.

Another 194 people died, one of the lowest day-to-day death tolls in recent weeks. The confirmed COVID-19 toll in the onetime European epicenter is 30,395.

Another 134 intensive care beds were freed up, bringing the total number close to 1,000. At the height of the outbreak, there were more than 4,000 people in ICUs, and the wards in Lombardy were nearly saturated.

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LONDON — The British government is making $3.1 billion (2 billion pounds) available to boost cycling and walking once lockdown restrictions are eased.

Transport Secretary Grant Shapps said at the government’s daily briefing that the package to put cycling and walking at “the heart of our transport policy” will be necessary, even after public transport networks get back to normal during the coronavirus pandemic. He said that because of the ongoing social distancing guidelines, trains and buses will operate at only 10% of capacity.

Shapps also said another 346 people who tested positive for COVID-19 have died in the U.K. in all settings, including hospitals and care homes. That increases the death toll in the U.K. to 31,587, the highest in Europe.

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ISTANBUL — Turkey reported 50 new COVID-19 deaths and 1,546 fresh cases Saturday as it prepared steps to return to normal life.

Total fatalities stand at 3,739, while infections number 137,115. According to figures posted on Twitter by Health Minister Fahrettin Koca, 89,480 patients have recovered.

Shopping malls, barber shops, hairdressers and beauty salons will open for business on Monday as Turkey starts easing restrictions.

Meanwhile, one of Turkey’s biggest soccer clubs, Besiktas, announced a player and a club employee had tested positive for the new coronavirus. Earlier this week, the Turkish Football Federation said matches behind closed doors would resume next month, prompting the resumption of limited training sessions.

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WASHINGTON — The federal government is sending supplies of the first drug that appears to help speed the recovery of some COVID-19 patients to six states, where it will be distributed by health departments.

The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services announced Saturday that it is delivering 140 cases of the drug remdesivir to Illinois, 110 cases to New Jersey, 40 cases to Michigan, 30 cases each to Connecticut and Maryland and 10 cases to Iowa. Each case contains 40 vials of the drug, the department said in a statement.

“State and local health departments have the greatest insights into community-level needs in the COVID-19 response,” the statement said.

Earlier this week the government sent 565 cases to New York, 117 to Massachusetts, 94 to New Jersey, 38 to Indiana, 33 to Virginia, 30 to Rhode Island, and seven to Tennessee.

The company that makes the antiviral drug, California-based Gilead Sciences, has said it is donating its entire current stockpile to help in the U.S. pandemic response.

Remdesivir was cleared for emergency use by the Food and Drug Administration last week.

The department says the doses have to go to more critical patients including those on ventilators or in need of supplemental oxygen.

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WASHINGTON — FDA Commissioner Stephen Hahn, a member of the White House coronavirus task force, is in self-quarantine for the next two weeks after coming in contact with a person who has tested positive for COVID-19.

Stephanie Caccomo, a spokeswoman for the Food and Drug Administration, says Hahn tested negative for the virus after he learned of the contact. He wrote a note to staff on Friday to alert them to the contact.

Hahn was scheduled to testify before a Senate panel on Tuesday, along with infectious disease expert Dr. Anthony Fauci and CDC Director Robert Redfield.

The administration is not confirming the person Hahn had contact with that tested positive for the virus. But the news follows the confirmation that two people who work in the White House complex are known to have tested positive for the virus this week.

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BERLIN — A Germany union that represents workers in the food industry says recent coronavirus outbreaks in slaughterhouses were the result of “a sick system.”

Freddy Adjan, a senior NGG union official, says the meat industry has for years been relying on “dubious subcontractors” that exploit workers. “The employers aren’t just outsourcing the work, but handily also all responsibility to the subcontractors.”

The union wants comprehensive checks and rules for the industry, including for workers’ accommodation.

Adjan didn’t name specific companies. But a major meat producer in western Germany has come under fire after 180 workers in the town of Coesfeld tested positive for the virus. There’s also been a large outbreak at a slaughterhouse in northern Germany.

Adjan says “this crisis makes clear how overdue it is to press the stop button and end the ruinous price battle over meat.”

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ATHENS, Greece — Greek authorities announced one death from COVID-19 in the past 24 hours, bringing the total to 151.

There were 19 confirmed new infections to total 2,710. There are 28 people on ventilators and 86 people have exited intensive care.

Authorities are concerned about people flocking to beaches during the first weekend of relaxed quarantine measures. Young people also are congregating in public squares despite the ban on large groups and have occasionally clashed with police.

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MADRID — Spain’s Prime Minister Pedro Sánchez says loosening the nearly two-month lockdown will be for naught if people don’t obey social distancing rules.

He reminded Spaniards on Saturday, two days before 51% of the nation of 47 million will be allowed to sit at outdoor cafes, “the virus has not disappeared.”

On Monday, many regions not as hard hit by the virus will permit gatherings of up to 10 people and reopen churches, theaters, outdoor markets and other establishments with limits on occupancy.

Madrid and Barcelona will stay under stricter confinement. Two-meter social distancing rules remain in effect.

“The struggle goes on and will last until we find a vaccine,” Sanchez said. “Meanwhile, we have to live with the virus, that is why we must reinforce our health care system and strengthen its capabilities.”

Sánchez and Spain’s army have warned of possible surges in the coming months.

Spain’s health ministry reported 179 new confirmed deaths on Saturday, increasing the death toll to 26,478. A month ago, Spain was averaging 900 daily deaths.

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VATICAN CITY — The Vatican Museums are gearing up to resume visits to the Sistine Chapel, Vatican Gardens and papal estate outside Rome after a two-month coronavirus lockdown.

New protocols will require reservations in advance, protective masks and likely afternoon and evening visiting to stagger crowds.

The Vatican hasn’t announced a reopening date for the museums. The head of the Vatican City State that oversees the museums, Bishop Fernando Vérgez Alzaga, suggested Saturday it might not be ready to coincide with the May 18 reopening of Italian museums.

But he says the Vatican was finishing the installation of scanners to check temperatures of museum visitors and preparing protocols for tours of the Vatican Gardens and the papal summer residence in Castel Gandolfo on Lake Albano.

The Vatican Museums usually receive 7 million visitors a year and are the main source of income funding the Holy See bureaucracy. Vergez says the museums have a “solid” economic foundation.

The Vatican, a city state in the center of Rome, imposed a lockdown in tandem with the rest of Italy, which was the first European country hit hard by COVID-19. This week, Italy began a cautious and gradual reopening.

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PATNA, India — About 70 people fled from a quarantine center in the Indian state of Bihar’s Nawada district, alleging poor facilities and lack of food.

They are among the tens of thousands of migrant workers who left India’s cities when a nationwide virus lockdown was imposed March 25, walking toward their home villages fearing starvation if they remained.

Local TV broadcast images of the migrants running from the center with their belongings on Saturday. As many as 150 migrants are quarantined at Aadarsh Inter School at Sirdala block in Nawada district, about 90 kilometers (56 miles) from the state capital of Patna.

District magistrate Yashpal Meena says 50 of the migrants fled after one of the occupants tested positive for COVID-19. He says at least 15 were found and brought back to the center.

India’s pace of infection has spread in recent days since Prime Minister Narendra Modi partly lifted the lockdown to ease the economic hardships on migrant workers. The government is running special trains to give immigrants rides back home after 14 days in quarantine.

India has reported just under 60,000 positive cases of COVID-19 and 1,981 deaths.

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LONDON — The U.K.’s coastguard says it received the highest number of calls for assistance since the coronavirus lockdown began on March 23.

It says there were 97 incidents or 54% more than the average of 63 recorded for the previous month. The coastguard is typically used to help rescue swimmers or people in boats.

Matt Leat, duty commander with the Coastguard, says he understood why people may have been “tempted” to go seaside on a recent warm public holiday. But he adds it’s “really vital” to observe stay-at-home orders and social distancing.

He urged people to exercise locally and “stretch your legs, not our resources.”

British Prime Minister Boris Johnson is expected to extend most of the coronavirus lockdown restrictions for another three weeks when he addresses the nation on Sunday.

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MINSK, Belarus — Tens of thousands of people have turned out in the capital of Belarus despite sharply rising coronavirus infections to watch a military parade celebrating the defeat of Nazi Germany in World War II.

Belarus has not imposed wide-ranging restrictions to halt the virus’ spread. Authoritarian President Alexander Lukashenko has dismissed concerns about it as a “psychosis.”

At Saturday’s parade of some 3,000 soldiers, Lukashenko says Belarus’ ordeal in the war “is incomparable with any difficulties of the present day.”

Some aged war veterans in the stands at the parade wore masks, but in general there were few masks seen among the throng of spectators. Belarus, a country of about 9 million, has recorded more than 21,000 cases of coronavirus infection.

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BERLIN — German Foreign Minister Heiko Maas says Europe must acknowledge that it “wasn’t well-prepared” for the coronavirus pandemic.

In a statement marking Europe Day, Maas says initially most countries, including Germany, were focused on coping with the outbreak at home.

While defending the national response as “necessary, in order to safeguard our ability to act and then also help other,” Maas says the European Union had “grown in the crisis.”

The EU’s sluggish response has given way to cross-border medical aid, a massive financial support package and coordinated scientific research programs.

Maas called the solidarity provided by EU member states “unique in the world,” adding Germany wants the bloc to emerge from the crisis stronger. Berlin takes over the six-month rotating presidency of the 27-nation EU on July 1.

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Follow AP news coverage of the coronavirus pandemic at https://apnews.com/VirusOutbreak and https://apnews.com/UnderstandingtheOutbreak.

Copyright 2020 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed without permission.

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