Virus challenges: How to protect elderly, educate young
COPENHAGEN, Denmark (AP) — The challenges of caring for the elderly and educating the young amid the devastating coronavirus pandemic were on full display Wednesday as Italian police investigated scores of deaths at the country’s biggest nursing home and Denmark began reopening schools for its youngest students.
Alarming death tolls in nursing homes, often unreported in official coronavirus tallies because residents are not tested for the virus, are emerging around the world. In the United States, an Associated Press tally indicates at least 4,300 deaths have been linked to the virus in nursing homes and long-term care facilities nationwide.
The World Health Organization was on the hot seat as U.S. President Donald Trump announced a halt to American payments to the group, pending a review of its warnings about the coronavirus and China. Trump, whose own response to the virus has been called into question, criticized the U.N. health agency for not sounding the alarm over the coronavirus sooner.
An investigation by The Associated Press has found that six days of delays by China — from Jan. 14 to Jan. 20 — in alerting the public to the growing dangers of the virus set the stage for a pandemic that has upended the lives of millions, sideswiped the global economy and cost nearly 127,000 lives.
Police in Milan on Tuesday searched the 1,000-bed Pio Albergho Trivulzio facility, where 143 people have reportedly died in the past month. Prosecutors began a probe after staff complained that management prohibited doctors and nurses from wearing protective masks, for fear of alarming residents. The facility has insisted it followed all security protocols and says it is cooperating with the investigation.
Caroline Abrahams, director of the charity Age U.K., said the government’s daily coronavirus death toll updates “are airbrushing older people out like they don’t matter.”
The situation in Italian nursing homes is so dire that the region of Lombardy launched an independent investigative commission. Lombardy, the epicenter of the Italian outbreak, is home to 28% of all Italian elderly care facilities.
Italy’s National Institutes of Health has also launched a survey on nursing home deaths, which in its latest update found that 3,859 people had died in facilities nationwide through April 6, or 8.4% of the residents, though there’s no indication how that compares to previous years.
Pope Francis dwelled on their plight Wednesday at his morning mass in the Santa Marta Residence where he lives.
“We pray today for the elderly, especially for those who are isolated in elderly homes,” he said. “They are afraid, afraid of dying alone, the feel this pandemic as something aggressive. They are our roots, our history, they gave us faith, traditions, a sense of belonging to a nation.
While schools in many countries remain closed, Denmark on Wednesday allowed some of its youngest students, from preschool to fifth grade, to return to classrooms. Older students must still study online from home.
“I’m very impressed. The children are very happy to see their buddies again,” Danish Prime Minister Mette Frederiksen told the TV2 channel as she attended the first school day in Valby, suburban Copenhagen.
“Many children feel just like cows going to grass. They feel like jumping and dancing and being with their pals, but there are some safety rules,” said Claus Hjortdal, head of Denmark’s school principals’ association.
Signe Wilms Raun, whose son Hugo returned to preschool at the Langhoej school in Hvidovre, hoped that the school day is more than washing hands and social distancing.
“Can they play football in the schoolyard or will it all be about keeping their distances?” Wilms Raun asked.
In Australia, Prime Minister Scott Morrison urged teachers to keep schools open for the sake of children and their parents. His message came as Victoria state schools resumed after a break and other states considered how to reopen amid the pandemic.
But fears of the virus kept many students and their teachers at home. Australian Education Union Victoria President Meredith Peace said while schools in the state are open, most of the students and staff are staying home amid fears that teachers can’t maintain social distancing in classrooms.
In Brussels, European Union’s executive commission was meeting to tentatively plot an exit strategy rolling back economically damaging lockdowns and restrictions across the 27-nation bloc. The EU was seeking to create a roadmap for its members, based on scientific advice, so as to avoid the chaos of each nation creating its own patchwork of rules and reopenings.
A discussion paper for the the European Commission meeting said restrictions can only be eased once it becomes clear the spread of the virus has “significantly decreased for a sustained period of time” and pressure has eased on overstretched health services.
In Europe’s economic powerhouse of Germany, Chancellor Angela Merkel was meeting with her “corona Cabinet” and then her country’s 16 state governors to discuss their next steps. Germany has received high praise for its aggressive testing, which experts say is the reason the country’s virus death toll of 3,495 is so low compared to its European neighbors.
In South Korea, a parliamentary election on Wednesday gave a glimpse of a possible post-lockdown future as voters cast ballots under the watchful eyes and supervision of masked poll workers armed with thermometers and sanitizing spray.
“I was worried about the coronavirus,” Seoul resident Chung Eun-young said. “They checked my temperature and handed me gloves, but it wasn’t as bothersome as I thought it would be.”
The European Commission said exiting lockdowns would need to go hand in hand with expanded testing, “harmonized data” including from mobile phone apps and increased public health capacity to tackle virus flare-ups that emerge as people’s lives return to a new normal.
The U.S. has by far been the hardest-hit country in the global pandemic, with more than 26,000 deaths and over 609,000 confirmed infections, according to Johns Hopkins University. Still, scenarios predicting a far greater number of deaths and hospitalizations have not come to pass, raising hopes from coast to coast.
Dr. Anthony Fauci, the U.S. government’s top infectious-disease expert, told The Associated Press that the U.S. does not yet have the testing and tracing procedures needed to begin reopening the U.S. economy.
Worldwide, infections are approaching 2 million and virus deaths are close to 127,000, according to the Johns Hopkins University. The figures understate the true size of the pandemic, because of limited testing, uneven counting of the dead and concealment by some governments.
Winfield reported from Rome and Corder from The Hague, Netherlands. Associated Press journalists around the world contributed to this report.
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