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UK’s Johnson tests positive for virus, deaths soar in Spain

LONDON (AP) — British Prime Minister Boris Johnson said Friday he has tested positive for the coronavirus, while the number of infections in the United States surged to the most in the world and Spain announced a record number of virus deaths overnight.

Johnson’s office said the prime minister was tested after showing mild symptoms for the new coronavirus and is self-isolating and continuing to lead Britain’s response to the pandemic.

“Be in no doubt that I can continue, thanks to the wizardry of modern technology, to communicate with all my top team, to lead the national fightback against coronavirus,” Johnson said in a video message, adding that he had a temperature and persistent cough.

Several weeks ago, Johnson had pledged he would “go on shaking hands with everybody.”

Johnson, 55, was the first leader of a major nation known to have contracted COVID-19; German Chancellor Angela Merkel has been in isolation since her doctor tested positive for the virus, but her first two tests have been negative.

Earlier this week Britain’s Prince Charles said he had tested positive.

British Health Secretary Matt Hancock, who has been at the forefront of nation’s response to the outbreak, also was confirmed to have tested positive for the virus. Britain has 11,658 confirmed cases of the virus, and 578 people have died.

Spain’s Health Ministry reported another 7,800 infections overnight for a total of 64,059. Deaths climbed by 769 to 4,858 — the world’s second highest total after Italy’s 8,214 fatalities.

Spain says 9,444 health workers have contracted the coronavirus. That’s nearly 15% of the total number of cases.

“It’s true that we have more deaths than what we saw yesterday, but it’s also true that the percentage increase today is similar to that of he past three days and it appears there is a stabilization,” said Fernando Simón, the head of Spain’s health emergency coordination center.

In Washington, the House kicked off debate on a $2.2 trillion package to ease the pandemic’s devastating toll on the U.S. economy and health care system.

The chamber had appeared set to pass the measure after an extraordinary 96-0 Senate passage, but the vote ran into complications. A Republican lawmaker threatened to delay passage until most lawmakers return to Washington, which could make a Friday vote impossible.

The situation in countries with more fragile health care systems worsened with Russia, Indonesia and South Africa all passing the 1,000-infection mark. India launched a massive program to help feed hungry day laborers after a lockdown of the country’s 1.3 billion people put them out of work.

South Africa also announced its first two deaths from the virus as it began a three-week lockdown.

The U.S. now has 85,996 confirmed cases, and Italy was set to pass China’s 81,782 infections later Friday, according to a count kept by Johns Hopkins University. The three countries account nearly half the world’s nearly 549,604 infections and more than half of the 24,863 reported virus deaths.

Analysts warned that all those infection figures could be low for reasons that varied in each nation.

“China numbers can’t be trusted because the government lies,” American political scientist Ian Bremmer, president of the Euraisa Group think-tank, said in a tweet. “U.S. numbers can’t be trusted because the government can’t produce enough tests.”

Italian epidemiologists warn that the country’s numbers are likely much higher than reported — perhaps by five times — although two weeks into a nationwide lockdown the daily increase seems to be slowing, at least in northern Italy.

“It’s a horrible sensation, not being able to breathe,” said Fausto Russo, a 38-year-old fitness trainer who is one of 10,000 Italians whose infection has been cured. “Imagine putting your head under water.”

For most people, the coronavirus causes mild or moderate symptoms, such as fever and cough that clear up in two to three weeks. But for others, especially older adults and people with existing health problems, the virus can cause more severe illness, including pneumonia and death.

Johns Hopkins reported 127,531 people have recovered, about half in China.

New York state, the epicenter of the U.S. outbreak, reported 100 more deaths in one day, accounting for almost 30% of the 1,300 fatalities nationwide. Gov. Andrew Cuomo said the number of deaths will increase soon as critically ill patients who have been on ventilators for days succumb.

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