TOP OF THE HOUR: — South Korea president says citizens shouldn't panic over rise in new virus cases. — 3 members of White House coronavirus task force place themselves in quarantine. — Obama criticizes Trump on handling of coronavirus.
SEOUL, South Korea
South Korea’s president is urging citizens not to lower their guard down, but said there’s no reason to be panicked amid worries about a new surge in the coronavirus outbreak in the country.
President Moon Jae-in made the comments in a speech Sunday as his health authorities detected a slew of new cases linked to nightclubs in Seoul’s Itaewon district in recent days. Earlier, South Korea’s caseload had been waning for weeks, prompting authorities to relax their social distancing rules.
“The infection cluster which recently occurred in entertainment facilities," Moon said, "has raised awareness that, even during the stabilization phase, similar situations can arise again anytime, anywhere in an enclosed, crowded space.”
Moon added that, “We must never lower our guard regarding epidemic prevention.” But he also said “there’s no reason to stand still out of fear. “
Moon says South Korea has “the right quarantine and medical systems combined with experience to respond quickly to any unexpected infection clusters that might occur.”
SEOUL, South Korea
South Korea reported 34 additional cases of COVID-19 over the past 24 hours as a spate of transmissions linked to clubgoers threatens the country’s hard-won gains in its fight against the virus.
Figures released Sunday by the Korea Centers for Disease Control and Prevention increased national totals to 10,874 with 256 deaths. The agency said 9,610 have recovered and 10,128 others were undergoing tests to determine whether they’ve contracted the virus.
The agency said a tentative assessment showed 26 of the 34 new patients were locally transmitted cases, while the rest were imported. South Korean media reported it was the first time that South Korea’s daily jump has marked above 30 in about a month.
The agency didn’t immediately provide further details. But most of the new cases in the past few days were linked to nightclubs in Seoul’s Itaewon entertainment neighborhood.
Officials on Friday said they detected at least 15 infections linked to a 29-year-old man who had visited three Itaewon clubs before testing positive Wednesday.
The infections raised worries about a new surge in South Korea, which had for weeks recorded a continuously declining number of new cases after having once had hundreds of new cases each day until early March.
Federal Health Minister Greg Hunt says the government supports a European Union motion for an independent investigation into the origins of COVID-19 in China.
The Australian government has called for such an inquiry for some weeks to better understand how the coronavirus started in Wuhan, China, to be able counter such pandemics in the future. The move has resulted in a critical response from China, Australia’s No. 1 trading partner.
“We support the EU motion which includes an independent investigation, regulatory work on wet markets and also the potential for independent inspection powers,” Hunt told Sky News on Sunday.
Ursula von der Leyen, the head of the EU’s executive arm, said last week she would like to see China work together with her organization, and others, to determine how the virus emerged.
China reported its first double-digit rise in new rises cases in 10 days Sunday, saying 14 new cases had been detected, 12 of them domestic infections and two brought from abroad.
Eleven of those domestic cases were in the northeastern province of Jilin and 1 in Hubei province, whose capital Wuhan is considered to have been the epicenter of the global pandemic. Jilin shares a border with North Korea, where the virus situation is unclear but whose vastly inadequate health system has been offered help by China in dealing with any outbreak.
No new virus deaths have been reported in China for almost 1 month and the number of people in treatment for COVID-19 nationwide fell to 148, with another 798 people under isolation and observation as either suspected cases or for having tested positive for the virus while showing no symptoms. China has reported a total of 4,633 total death 82,901 cases.
The jump in new cases could fuel concerns over how quickly to lift strict social distancing measures and re-open schools and other public institutions. Widely disseminated photos of people socializing in Shanghai’s bar district over the weekend drew some criticism online. China last reported more than 10 cases on May, with 12, half of them imported. Reports cover the number of new cases recorded over the previous 24 hours.
Having downgraded all counties in districts to low risk from the virus, China has raised one of them, Shulan, in Jilin, after the province on May 10 reported a jump in cases to 11, bringing a tightening of social distancing and quarantine measures.
Three members of the White House coronavirus task force, including Dr. Anthony Fauci, placed themselves in quarantine after contact with someone who tested positive for COVID-19, another stark reminder that not even one of the nation’s most secure buildings is immune from the virus.
Fauci, the director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases and a leading member of the task force, has become nationally known for his simple and direct explanations to the public about the coronavirus and COVID-19, the disease it causes. Also quarantining are Dr. Robert Redfield, director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, and the commissioner of the Food and Drug Administration, Stephen Hahn.
Fauci’s institute said he has tested negative for COVID-19 and will continue to be tested regularly. It added that he is considered at “relatively low risk” based on the degree of his exposure, and that he would be “taking appropriate precautions” to mitigate the risk to personal contacts while still carrying out his duties. While he will stay at home and telework, Fauci will go to the White House if called and take every precaution, the institute said.
Redfield will be “teleworking for the next two weeks” after it was determined he had a “low risk exposure” to a person at the White House, the CDC said in a statement Saturday evening. The statement said he felt fine and has no symptoms.
Just a few hours earlier, the Food and Drug Administration confirmed that Hahn had come in contact with someone who tested positive and was in self-quarantine for the next two weeks. He tested negative for the virus.
Vice President Mike Pence’s press secretary tested positive for the coronavirus Friday, making her the second person who works at the White House complex known to test positive for the virus this week. White House officials had confirmed Thursday that a member of the military serving as one of Trump’s valets tested positive for COVID-19 on Wednesday.
Opponents of Washington’s stay-at-home order to slow the coronavirus rallied again Saturday at the state Capitol.
Meanwhile, some residents who reported stay-at-home violators said they’ve received threats after far-right groups posted their personal information on Facebook.
Some of the complainants who reported to the state businesses allegedly violating the order say the Facebook posts have generated threats of violence and harassment against them, The Seattle Times reported. One group publicizing the names, the far-right Washington Three Percenters, has promoted the stay-at-home protests and one of its leaders spoke at Saturday’s demonstration.
State officials said the groups likely acquired the information through public records requests. Saturday’s rally drew roughly 1,500 people, according to the Washington State Patrol. That was fewer than the more than 2,000 who attended a similar protest last month.
Gov. Jay Inslee has extended stay-at-home restrictions, but has been allowing some retail and recreational activity to resume with modifications designed to impede the spread of COVID-19.
Hiking to the Hollywood sign and hitting the links is being allowed Saturday as the California county hardest hit by the coronavirus cautiously reopened some sites to recreation-starved stay-at-homers.
Los Angeles County permitted the reopening of trails and golf courses, but with social distancing restrictions. For those interested in retail therapy, there was even better news as Gov. Gavin Newsom on Friday allowed tens of thousands of stores to reopen, including florist shops, just in time for Mother’s Day.
The city of Los Angeles announced it also was reopening some public spaces, including sprawling Griffith Park, which includes popular paths to the Hollywood sign.
But mounted police and park rangers would be keeping hikers to small, distant groups wearing face coverings. Mayor Eric Garcetti urged “good judgment” and said the city would rely on education and encouragement rather than heavy-handed enforcement.
It was “not our vision to make this like a junior high school dance with people standing too close to each other,” he said.
County beaches could reopen next week with restrictions designed to keep people from thronging the shore and possibly spreading COVID-19.
Colorado has reached 967 deaths from the coronavirus, and more than 19,300 people have tested positive for the illness, state health officials said.
The state Department of Public Health and Environment said Saturday more than 100,000 have been tested for COVID-19.
State data show more than 3,600 have been hospitalized since the outbreak. Fewer than 600 people were in Colorado hospitals with symptoms of the illness as of Friday.
On Saturday, a host of Denver businesses — from clothing stores to hair salons — opened their doors for the first time in nearly two months as Mayor Michael Hancock’s stay-at-home order expired, The Denver Post reported. Business owners who have been hard hit financially say it’s the only way to stay afloat as they try to recoup lost sales while giving their employees a much-needed paycheck.
But despite the go-ahead from city leaders, many business owners are choosing to keep their stores shut for now. Those who have made the choice not to resume walk-in business say there is simply not enough evidence yet that bringing workers and customers back into their spaces is safe and won’t contribute to the spread of COVID-19.
RIO RANCHO, N.M.
New Mexico Republicans and sheriffs are asking U.S. Attorney General William Barr to look into Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham’s health orders aimed at stopping the spread of COVID-19.
State Republican Party Chairman Steve Pearce and New Mexico Sheriffs’ Association President Tony Mace each sent letters to Barr last week seeking a review into the health orders that have shuttered some businesses since late March. They say the orders, which have closed several small businesses, violate residents’ civil rights.
“We want to express our fears and frustrations regarding New Mexico Gov. Lujan Grisham’s public health order, a policy many in our state believe to be a blatant violation of peoples’ civil rights, liberties and their right to conduct free commerce,” Pearce wrote. “The situation in New Mexico is one that is unjust and inequitable.”
Mace, the Cibola County sheriff and a frequent critic of fellow Democrat Lujan Grisham, said the health order was unfairly hurting residents.
“The governor has been discriminatory in her policies, keeping big box corporate giants open — draining New Mexico dollars out of state — while shutting down mom and pop locally owned establishments,” Mase wrote. “This is not only preferential treatment for the big box stores but a violation of the civil rights of our small business owners whose livelihoods are now in free fall.”
In an interview with The Associated Press, Pearce said he wanted Barr to look at New Mexico to see if the U.S. Constitution “is being respected” during the health order.
A spokeswoman for Lujan Grisham declined to comment.
The reopening of the Great Smoky Mountains National Park was a little too tempting a draw Saturday as scores of nature lovers from dozens of states crowded trails and trekked into blocked-off areas, a spokeswoman said.
Even with some of the most popular trails closed, parking lots were packed and lines of cars snaked down tree-lined streets, in one case for about a mile leading up to a waterfall path, according to park spokeswoman Dana Soehn. Many people did not wear masks.
“It seemed like people were not respecting our suggestion that they avoid crowded areas,” said Soehn, adding that she counted license plates from 24 states in one visitor center parking lot.
Visitors also walked past heavy barricades on one of the park’s most trafficked trails, Laurel Falls, which was closed off to heed federal social distancing guidelines, she said.
On the Tennessee-North Carolina border, the Great Smoky Mountains is the county’s most visited national park. It was closed March 24 after officials said it was becoming too congested during the coronavirus pandemic.
Former President Barack Obama harshly criticized President Donald Trump’s handling of the coronavirus pandemic as an “absolute chaotic disaster” during a conversation with ex-members of his administration, according to a recording obtained by Yahoo News.
Obama’s comments Friday came during a call with 3,000 people who served in his administration. He said combating the virus would have been bad even for the best of governments, but it’s been “an absolute chaotic disaster” when the mindset of “what’s in it for me” infiltrates government.
White House press secretary Kayleigh McEnany said that President Trump’s response “has been unprecedented and saved American lives.”
The United States has suffered nearly 80,000 deaths from COVID-19, the most of any nation.
Follow AP news coverage of the coronavirus pandemic at https://apnews.com/VirusOutbreak and https://apnews.com/UnderstandingtheOutbreak.