TOP OF THE HOUR — Japanese leaders press prime minister to hasten emergency measures. — South Korea reports 27 new cases, 9th straight day below 100. — China reports 42 new cases of coronavirus. — California has first daily decrease in ICU hospitalizations during outbreak.
— British Prime Minister Boris Johnson out of intensive care.
Aichi, home to Toyota Motor Corp. in central Japan, has declared its own state of emergency, saying it cannot wait for a slow-moving decision by Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s government to add the prefecture to an ongoing emergency declared this week.
Aichi Gov. Hideaki Omura said one-third of about 300 new coronavirus cases in the prefecture have been confirmed in the past week as the infection spreads rapidly in the region, making it the fifth-most infected prefecture in the country.
“The situation is critical,” Omura said. “We decided to do everything we can to protect Aichi residents’ lives and health.”
Omura issued a request to all residents to stay home and work remotely until May 6, when the government-issued state of emergency is to end. Omura, however, did not request closures of non-essential businesses and facilities for now.
His announcement came just as Tokyo’s outspoken governor, Yuriko Koike, was to request closures of non-essential businesses and facilities in the city after agreeing with Abe’s government that had asked her to wait two weeks, apparently to avoid impact on the economy.
Earlier on Friday, leaders of Kyoto, Japan’s ancient capital, urged Abe to add that prefecture to part of the state of emergency to allow them to issue stricter social-distancing measures. Such actions by local leaders are unusual in Japan and come as Abe faces criticism for slow and lax measures.
Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga told reporters that additional state of emergency declarations in Aichi and Kyoto are not immediately planned.
Japan as of midday Friday had 5,246 confirmed coronavirus cases, as well as 712 from a cruise ship, with 99 deaths.
SEOUL, South Korea
South Korea has reported 27 new cases of the coronavirus, marking its ninth consecutive day below 100, as infections continue to wane in the worst-hit city of Daegu.
Figures released by South Korea's Centers for Disease Control and Prevention on Friday brought nationwide totals to 10,450 cases and 208 virus-related deaths.
While the country’s caseload has slowed from early March, when it was reporting around 500 new cases per day, KCDC director Jeong Eun-kyeong has raised the possibility of a broader “quiet spread,” pointing to recent transmissions at bars and other leisure facilities that could indicate eased attitudes toward social distancing.
There’s also concern over a steady rise in infections linked to passengers arriving from overseas and at least dozens of cases where patients who had been diagnosed as recovered from COVID-19 test positive for the second time after being released from hospitals.
South Korean Prime Minister Chung Sye-kyun on Friday urged health authorities to thoroughly investigate the possibility of re-infections, saying the 74 patients who tested positive again so far account for more than 1% of national recoveries.
Health authorities have been cautious about discussing whether people could get re-infected after making a full recovery.
They say the country’s standard RT-PCR tests, designed to amplify the genetic materials of the virus so that even small amounts are detected, may not reliably distinguish between remains of dead virus and infectious particles.
They also say infections could be re-activated after initially fading in patients whose bodies hadn’t fully developed immunity after experiencing mild symptoms.
China on Friday reported 42 new coronavirus cases, 38 of them imported, along with one additional death in the hardest-hit city of Wuhan.
Another 1,169 suspected cases or those who tested positive but were not showing symptoms, were being monitored under isolation. China now has reported a total of 81,907 cases and 3,336 deaths from the virus.
California saw its first daily decrease in intensive care hospitalizations during the coronavirus outbreak, a key indicator of how many health care workers and medical supplies the state needs, Gov. Gavin Newsom said Thursday.
The rate of all virus hospitalizations has slowed this week. Those in the ICU need the highest level of care, and so it was particularly encouraging that the number of patients in those rooms actually dropped 1.9% on Wednesday to 1,132.
The virus can cause severe breathing problems, and ventilators are a key tool in keeping the sickest patients alive.
Newsom has been building the state’s stockpile and earlier this week was confident enough of the supply to send 500 to other states.
California hospitals have more than 11,000 ventilators, and two-thirds aren’t being used, he said.
LONDON — British Prime Minister Boris Johnson has been moved out of intensive care, his office says.
In a statement Thursday, a spokesman at 10 Downing Street said Johnson “has been moved this evening from intensive care back to the ward, where he will receive close monitoring during the early phase of his recovery.”
Johnson has been in intensive care for three days after his symptoms for coronavirus worsened. He tested positive for the virus two weeks ago and at first had only “mild” symptoms.
SEATTLE — The city of Seattle will close its largest and most popular parks this weekend, fearful that sunny weather will draw crowds and expose people to COVID-19.
Mayor Jenny Durkan said Thursday the city will close 15 parks Friday at 11 p.m. through Monday morning. The parks with gates will be locked, and Seattle Parks and Recreation employees will be present.
The city’s more than 400 neighborhood parks will remain open, with social distancing regulations in effect.
WINDOW ROCK, Ariz. — The president and vice president of the Navajo Nation were self-quarantined Thursday after coming into proximity earlier in the week with a first responder who later tested positive for COVID-19.
Navajo Nation President Jonathan Nez and Vice President Myron Lizer said in a news release that they have been wearing gloves and masks as they visit Navajo communities afflicted by the pandemic and they showed no obvious symptoms of infection. Confirmed coronavirus infections climbed to 558 with 22 related deaths as of Thursday across the sprawling Navajo Nation that overlaps portions of Arizona, Utah and New Mexico.
WASHINGTON — Men are not getting tested as much for the coronavirus as women.
Yet, when men do get tested, a higher percentage test positive for the virus.
Dr. Deborah Birx used the numbers to remind men “about the importance of health care” during a briefing Thursday at the White House.
So far, Birx says, 56% of the people tested for COVID-19 are female, and 16% of them tested positive for the virus.
But for men, 23% tested positive.
Birx made a plea for men experiencing symptoms that could be a result of the virus to get tested, saying “we appreciate you engaging in that.”
Birx serves as the White House’s coronavirus response coordinator.
NEW ORLEANS — Warner Thomas, CEO of the New Orleans-based Ochsner Health System, and Ochsner’s chief medical officer, Robert Hart, said they expect antibody testing to be available in a couple of weeks.
“We look forward to being one of the first centers in the country that will be doing antibody testing,” Thomas said during a telephone news conference Thursday.
“Which basically will allow us to test without someone necessarily having symptoms. We’ll be able to tell whether they have or have had COVID-19.”
“That’s going to be a huge benefit,” Hart said. “It’s going to tell us if someone has had the disease in the past and already has immunity to the disease.”
Hart said it’s of major importance given that some never suffer symptoms after being infected.
“We’re having everyone take precautions right now, and there is a subset of people who already had the disease that do not have to be worried about contracting the disease again,” said Hart, although he added the length of time such immunity would last is uncertain.
Such testing will help ease the minds of any Ochsner employees found to have already had the disease as they continue to work with patients, Hart said.
“We’ve been told it may be the middle of the month, a couple of weeks before we have that available,” Hart added later. “That’s going to help us, certainly, as we think about our population and the social distancing, to begin to do other things,” Hart said, while stressing that social distancing must continue for now.
It was not immediately clear how many tests would initially be available.
UNITED NATIONS — United Nations Secretary-General Antonio Guterres is warning the U.N. Security Council that the coronavirus pandemic is threatening international peace and security — “potentially leading to an increase in social unrest and violence that would greatly undermine our ability to fight the disease.”
He said that especially pressing risks to global security range from the pandemic hindering efforts to resolve conflicts, to terrorists seeing an opportunity to strike and groups seeing how a bioterrorist attack might unfold.
The U.N. chief spoke at a closed council meeting on COVID-19 — the first by the U.N.’s most powerful body which has made no statement on the pandemic.
Gutteres, whose remarks were released by the U.N. spokesman, said the engagement of the Security Council will be “critical to mitigate the peace and security implications of the COVID-19 pandemic.” He added that “a signal of unity and resolve from the Council would count for a lot at this anxious time.”
But diplomats said the 15 council members could not immediately agree on a statement to the media.
The secretary-general reiterated that the United Nations faces “its gravest test” since the organization was founded 75 years ago and concluded saying: “This is the fight of a generation — and the raison d’être of (the reason for) the United Nations itself.”
Other threats to global peace cited by Guterres were: the erosion of trust in public institutions, economic instability, political tensions from postponing elections or referenda, uncertainty leading parties in some countries to promote further division and turmoil, and the pandemic “triggering or exacerbating various human rights challenges.”
NEW YORK — As New York City deals with a mounting coronavirus death toll and dwindling morgue space, the city has shortened the amount of time it will hold unclaimed remains before they are buried in the city’s public cemetery.
Under the new policy, the medical examiner’s office will keep bodies in storage for just 14 days before they’re buried in the city’s potter’s field on Hart Island.
Normally, about 25 bodies a week are interred on the island, mostly for people whose families can’t afford a funeral, or who go unclaimed by relatives.
In recent days, though, burial operations have increased from one day a week to five days a week, with around 24 burials each day, said Department of Correction spokesman Jason Kersten.
Aerial images taken Thursday by The Associated Press captured workers digging graves on the island, a one-mile, limited-access strip off the Bronx that’s the final resting place for more than a million mostly indigent New Yorkers.
About 40 caskets were lined up for burial on the island on Thursday, and two fresh trenches have been dug in recent days.
BATON ROUGE, La. — Gov. John Bel Edwards said he’s likely to keep Louisiana’s K-12 public schools shuttered for the rest of the school year due to the coronavirus, in response to calls from state education leaders not to reopen them because of public health risks.
Edwards’ school closure order remains in place through the end of April. Louisiana’s top education board, school superintendents and school boards have sent requests to the Democratic governor, asking him to extend the closures through the end of the school year, which runs until the final weeks of May.
UNITED NATIONS -- The head of the United Nations children’s agency says 99% of children and young people under the age of 18 — totaling 2.34 billion — live in the 186 countries which have imposed some form of movement restrictions because of the coronavirus pandemic.
And UNICEF Executive Director Henrietta Fore said in a statement Thursday that according to the agency’s analysis 60% of them — 1.4 billion — live in the 82 countries with a full or partial lockdown because of COVID-19.
She said “not only are children and young people contracting COVID-19, they are also among its most severely impacted victims.”
Fore urged governments at a time of potential global recession to resist the temptation “to deprioritize investment in our future.”
She urged increased investments now in education, child protection, health and nutrition, and water and sanitation.
Fore said UNICEF is launching a global “agenda for action” this week to protect the most vulnerable children from harm.
Its six pillars are: keep children healthy and safe; reach vulnerable children with water, sanitation and hygiene; keep children learning; support families to cover their needs and care for their children; protect children from violence, exploitation and abuse; and protect refugee and migrant children, and those affected by conflict.
UNITED NATIONS — More than 60 U.N. agencies and international organizations are urging governments to take immediate steps to address the unfolding global recession and financial crisis wrought by the coronavirus pandemic, especially in the world’s poorest countries.
The United Nations-led Inter-Agency Task Force on Financing for Development said: “Billions of people live in countries teetering on the brink of economic collapse due to the explosive mix of financial shocks fueled by the COVID-19 pandemic, heavy debt obligations and declining official development assistance.”
The 207-page report launched Thursday by the task force said before the COVID-19 crisis one in five countries — home to billions of people living in poverty — were likely to see incomes stagnate or decline in 2020 and the pandemic is now likely to affect billions more.
To prevent a debt crisis, the task force called for an immediate suspension of debt payments by the least developed countries and low-income countries that make requests.
The task force, which includes the International Monetary Fund and World Bank, called for urgent action to re-establish financial stability including by providing sufficient liquidity and strengthening the global financial safety net, promoting trade, increasing access to international financing, and expanding public health spending.
MADRID — Spain’s parliament has endorsed a government request to extend by two more weeks the current state of emergency that allows it to enact confinement rules amid the coronavirus outbreak.
Spain has been under lockdown since March 14. The Congress of Deputies voted Thursday in favor of extending it until April 26. It is the second two-week extension.
Strict rules that keep people at home except for shopping for food and medicine, and the shutting down of all non-essential industry have helped Spain reduce its daily rate of contagion growth from more than 20% two weeks ago to around 4%.
With 152,446 infections and 15,238 fatalities, Spain is alongside the United States and Italy as the hardest-hit countries by the COVID-19 pandemic.
Spanish Prime Minister Pedro Sánchez told lawmakers he didn’t expect the crisis to end soon.
“I’m sure that in two weeks’ time I’ll have to extend the state of emergency again,” he said.
CHICAGO — The Illinois county that includes Chicago is setting up new places to store bodies in preparation for a likely surge in the number of coronavirus deaths that could overwhelm hospital morgues.
Cook County Board President Toni Preckwinkle’s office said in a news release Thursday that a 66,000-square-foot refrigerated warehouse located 5 miles from the medical examiner’s office would be up and running by the end of the day.
The facility, according to the release, will be able to hold more than 2,000 bodies.
The British government’s two chief advisers on the coronavirus pandemic voiced cautious optimism that the country’s outbreak may be near its peak even as the COVID-19 death toll rose sharply to just shy of 8,000.
In the government’s daily press briefing, chief scientific adviser Patrick Vallance noted signs that the rise in new coronavirus cases and the increase in the number of people going into hospital maybe levelling off as a result of the social distancing measures imposed. He also said the transmission of the coronavirus within the community may now be “shrinking.”
And Professor Chris Whitty, the government’s chief medical adviser, also noted that the time it takes for the number of people in intensive care to double has got steadily longer over the past couple of weeks, from three days to six or more now and “extending in time.”
However, the number of people dying after testing positive for COVID-19 disease is set to carry on an upward trajectory for a couple of weeks in light of the lags involved, Vallance said.
Government figures earlier showed that the U.K. recorded 881 new coronavirus-related deaths, down from 938 in the previous 24-hour period. In total, 7,978 patients have died in hospital after testing positive for coronavirus.
TORONTO — Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau says Canadians will need to stay at home and practice physical distancing for months as the first wave of cases in the country won’t end until the summer and Canada won’t return to normal until there is vaccine.
Trudeau says a vaccine could take a year or a year and a half. He made the comments as Canada’s top public health officer predicted the coronavirus pandemic could cost at least 4,500 lives and a government agency announced the Canadian economy lost 1,011,000 jobs in March.
Trudeau says the country is in the early stage of the outbreak because the virus came to Canada later and says the first wave won’t reach its peak until late spring. Trudeau calls it the “challenge of our generation.”
UNITED NATIONS — United Nations Secretary-General Antonio Guterres says the coronavirus pandemic is deepening already existing inequalities and is having “devastating social and economic consequences for women and girls” that could reverse limited progress toward gender equality over the past 25 years.
The U.N. chief said in a video message and policy paper that “across every sphere, from health to the economy, security to social protection, the impacts of COVID-19 are exacerbated for women and girls simply by virtue of their sex.”
While early data indicates that the mortality rates from COVID-19 may be higher for men, Gutterres said “nearly 60 percent of women around the world work in the informal economy, earning less, saving less, and at greater risk of falling into poverty.”
He said millions of women’s jobs have been lost at the same time that their unpaid work has “increased exponentially” as a result of school closures and children being at home and the increased needs of older people.
BERLIN — Germany’s national disease control center says it plans to conduct a series of blood tests to determine how many people in the country are immune to COVID-19 and how many were infected without knowing it.
Lothar Wieler, the head of the Robert Koch Institute, says starting next week antibody tests will be carried out on blood given by donors around the country. His institute anticipates up to 5,000 samples conducted every 14 days, with results starting in early May.
A second survey will examine blood from about 2,000 people from each of four infection “hot spots” in Germany. And a third will look at a representative sample of some 15.000 people across the country, with results expected in June.
Germany has confirmed more than 113,000 infections, according to a tally by Johns Hopkins University. More than 2,300 people have died, a death rate lower than many countries.
WASHINGTON — Dr. Anthony Fauci, the top U.S. infectious disease expert, says don’t assume the coronavirus will fade during warm weather.
Fauci told ABC’s “Good Morning America” there’s precedent with other infections like influenza that “when the virus gets warmer that the virus goes down in its ability to replicate, to spread.”
But Fauci added “having said that, one should not assume that we are going to be rescued by a change in the weather. You must assume that the virus will continue to do its thing. If we get some help from the weather, so be it, fine. But I don’t think we need to assume that.”
He was asked about the New York Times story that research indicates the coronavirus that began circulating in New York in mid-February came mainly from Europe, not Asia.
“I think that’s probably correct,” Fauci said. He notes that “Europe became the epicenter pretty quickly after China really exploded with their cases.”
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