Coronavirus updates: 1,000 contact tracers to be hired in NYC

narvikk/iStockBy MORGAN WINSOR, ABC News

(NEW YORK) — A pandemic of the novel coronavirus has now killed over 207,000 people worldwide.

More than 2.9 million people across the globe have been diagnosed with COVID-19, the disease caused by the new respiratory virus, according to data compiled by the Center for Systems Science and Engineering at Johns Hopkins University. The actual numbers are believed to be much higher due to testing shortages, many unreported cases and suspicions that some governments are hiding the scope of their nations’ outbreaks.

Since the first cases were detected in China in December, the United States has become the worst-affected country, with more than 965,000 diagnosed cases and at least 54,877 deaths.

Here’s how the news is developing on Monday. All times Eastern:

10:41 a.m.: NYC to open up 40 miles of streets to pedestrians, will hire 1,000 disease detectives

New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio announced that he and the city council came to an agreement over a plan that would shut down 40 miles of streets to vehicular traffic and give people more free space as the weather gets warmer.

De Blasio said during his daily briefing on Monday that there has been concern about big crowds gathering in parks and said it was sensible to spread them out. The mayor said that he is committed to opening up to 100 miles of streets to pedestrians if need be.

“The focus here will be on … where the need is greatest. There are so many communities that have been hardest hit by COVID,” he said.

The exact locations will be determined by the mayor’s office, city council, police and transportation department, and de Blasio said one of the locations eyed for the program are the streets near parks.

“We will capture the natural flow of people,” he said “One of the most important places to open is where people are going anyways.”

The mayor also announced that the city will hire 1,000 contact tracers, or disease detectives, to help with the city’s coronavirus response. He called on any medical worker with relevant experience to apply at the city’s Fund for Public Health’s website

“If you had experience in health care field, if you want to lend your talents to the fight, we need you immediately,” de Blasio said.

9:27 a.m.: Russian military reports over 2,000 positive cases

The Russian military has reported more than 2,000 cases of COVID-19 among its servicemen, civilian employees and cadets.

Russia’s Ministry of Defense revealed on Sunday night that at least 874 military servicemen and 245 civilian employees have tested positive for the disease.

Another 971 positive cases were found among cadets and teachers at military schools across the country, according to the defense ministry.

More than 87,000 people in Russia have been diagnosed with COVID-19, and at least 794 of them have died, according to a count kept by Johns Hopkins University.

8:04 a.m.: USNS Comfort getting ready to depart New York City

The U.S. Navy is planning for its hospital ship to depart New York City on Thursday and return to the naval base in Norfolk, Virginia.

The USNS Comfort has been docked in the city for weeks to help area hospitals with the influx of patients amid the coronavirus pandemic. Medical staff were seen aboard the naval hospital ship Monday morning, breaking down the medical stations and taking inventory.

Before the vessel can depart, Navy officials must go through a checklist and make sure everything is functioning. Weather could also be a determining factor on whether the ship can leave Thursday.

Medical personnel who worked in the ship’s coronavirus ward will begin their 14-day isolation on board. It’s unclear where they will continue isolating once the ship arrives back in Norfolk.

7:12 a.m.: Volkswagen reopens Europe’s largest car factory after coronavirus shutdown

Volkswagen, the world’s largest automaker by sales, resumed production at its biggest factory on Monday.

Some 8,000 employees returned to the plant in the northern German city of Wolfsburg, the largest car factory in Europe, with “significantly expanded” measures to protect the health of the company’s workforce, according to a press release from Volkswagen.

The company said it expects some 1,400 cars to have been built at the Wolfsburg plant by the end of this week. Next week, production will be ramped up to more than 6,000 vehicles — approximately 40% of production prior to the start of the coronavirus pandemic.

“Step-by-step resumption of production is an important signal for the workforce, dealerships, suppliers and the wider economy,” Ralf Brandstaetter, chief operating officer of the Volkswagen Passenger Cars brand, said in a statement Monday. “In terms of managing the crisis, though, this is just the first step. Additional momentum is needed to stimulate demand in Germany and throughout Europe so that production volumes can be successively increased.”

Volkswagen said it has imposed new measures at the factory for hygiene and physical distancing. Employees are expected to take their temperatures at home every morning and go through a health checklist before they leave for work. Walkway diversions have been set up at the plant to avoid contacts, while markers on the floors will help employees maintain a 1.5-meter distance from one another. Face masks must be worn in areas where this is not possible.

The company said employees are also being given more time to disinfect their tools, and several hundred additional hand-washing facilities are being installed throughout the Wolfsburg plant.

Volkswagen was forced to halt production at the factory and several others in mid-March due to the coronavirus pandemic.

6:27 a.m.: France reports major drop in daily death toll

France has reported a major drop in its daily death toll from the novel coronavirus.

The European country recorded 242 more deaths on Sunday, down from 369 new deaths the previous day, bringing the national tally to 22,856, according to health officials.

The number of new deaths that occurred in hospitals — 152 — was the lowest daily toll so far in the country’s battle against the outbreak.

France is one of the worst-affected countries in the coronavirus pandemic, with more than 162,000 diagnosed cases of COVID-19, according to a count kept by Johns Hopkins University.

The country and several others in Europe are preparing to loosen restrictions after several weeks of total lockdowns.

6:08 a.m.: Italy unveils plan for life after lockdown

Italian Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte laid out a plan on Sunday night for gradually easing restrictions across the country after seven weeks of lockdown.

Construction sites, factories and wholesale supply businesses can resume work Monday or as soon as they implement safety measures against the novel coronavirus, Conte said.

Starting May 4, parks will reopen, people will be allowed to visit relatives within the same region, restaurants can provide takeaway services and athletes will be able to resume training for individual sports. However, Conte insisted that social distancing must remain at all times and large gatherings will not be permitted.

“If you love Italy, keep your distance,” Conte said in a televised address to the nation on Sunday night.

Then if all goes well, shops, museums and libraries will reopen on May 18, followed by bars, restaurants, cafes and beauty salons on June 1. Schools, however, will not reopen before September, Conte said.

Italy, one of the worst-hit countries in the coronavirus pandemic, has been under a nationwide lockdown since March 9. More than 197,000 people in the European country have been diagnosed with COVID-19, and over 26,000 have died, according to a count kept by Johns Hopkins University.

4:42 a.m.: UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson returns to work after recovery

U.K. Prime Minister Boris Johnson returned to work Monday after recovering from COVID-19.

A week after being admitted to a London hospital for worsening coronavirus symptoms, Johnson was discharged on April 12 and continued to recuperate at home. He had spent three days in intensive care.

The prime minister delivered a statement Monday morning for the first time since his battle with the novel coronavirus.

“I’m sorry I’ve been away from my desk for much longer than I would have liked,” Johnson told reporters outside his official residence and office in London, 10 Downing Street. “If this virus were a physical assailant, an unexpected and invisible mugger — which I can tell you from personal experience it is — then this is the moment when we have begun together to wrestle it to the floor.”

More than 154,000 people in the United Kingdom have been diagnosed with COVID-19, and at least 20,795 have died from the disease, according to a count kept by Johns Hopkins University. Johnson said the country is making progress in its efforts to control the virus outbreak and there are “real signs now that we are passing through the peak,” with the number of admissions to National Health Service hospitals down and fewer COVID-19 patients in intensive care.

“And that’s why we are now beginning to turn the tide,” he said. “We collectively flattened the peak.”

The prime minister acknowledged the impact the nationwide lockdown has had on the U.K. economy and its citizens, but he indicated it would be premature to start lifting the restrictions now.

“I can see the longterm consequences of lockdown as clearly as anyone,” he said. “And yet we must also recognize the risk of a second spike, the risk of losing control of that virus.”

Johnson told reporters a new wave of infections and death would be an “economic disaster” for the country.

“I refuse to throw away all the effort and sacrifice of the British people and to risk a second major outbreak and huge loss of life and the overwhelming of the NHS,” he said. “I ask you to contain your impatience because I believe we are coming now to the end of the first phase of this conflict.”

Once officials are certain the first phase is over, the prime minister said, then it will be time to move onto the “second phase” in which the country continues to suppress the disease while beginning to gradually ease restrictions and reopen the economy.

“And in that process, difficult judgments will be made,” he added, “and we simply cannot spell out now how fast or slow or even when those changes will be made, though clearly the government will be saying much more about this in the coming days.”

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