TOP OF THE HOUR — Worldwide coronavirus death toll hits 100,000. —WHO leader concerned about plans to lift restrictions. —South Korea government says it will put electronic wristbands on those who defy self-quarantine.
SEOUL, South Korea -- In a controversial step, South Korea’s government says it will strap electronic wristbands on people who defy self-quarantine orders as it tightens monitoring to slow the spread of the new coronavirus.
Senior Health Ministry official Yoon Tae-ho on Saturday acknowledged the privacy and civil liberty concerns surrounding the bands, which will be enforced through police and local administrative officials after two weeks of preparation and manufacturing.
But he said authorities need more effective monitoring tools because the number of people placed under self-quarantine has ballooned after the country began enforcing 14-day quarantines on all passengers arriving from abroad on April 1 amid worsening outbreaks in Europe and the United States.
Lee Beom-seok, an official from the Ministry of the Interior and Safety, admitted that the legal grounds for forcing people to wear the wristbands were “insufficient” and that police and local officials will offer consent forms for the devices while investigating those who were caught breaking quarantine.
Under the country’s recently strengthened laws on infectious diseases, people can face up to a year in prison or fined as much as $8,200 for breaking quarantine orders. Lee said those who agree to wear the wristbands could be possibly considered for lighter punishment.
Federal elected officials say more than 2,500 health care providers and hospitals in Nevada were expected to begin receiving $241.5 million in federal coronavirus response aid on Friday. Washoe County’s health district officer also ordered owners of all short-term rental properties to inform renters they must remain in isolation in self-quarantine for 14 days upon their arrival. It applies to Reno-Sparks and the Nevada side of Lake Tahoe’s north shore straddling the California-Nevada line. Confirmed cases of the virus reported in Nevada topped 2,500, with at least 86 deaths. The number of people filing for unemployment benefits in Nevada reached 245,000 in three weeks.
California newspapers are asking the state to help rescue their industry, as the economic crisis from the coronavirus slashes print advertising revenues, causing layoffs in an already battered industry, even as reporters are deemed essential workers during the pandemic.
In a dire request this week from the California News Publishers Association to the governor and state lawmakers, the newspapers asked for tailored grants and loans, sales tax exemptions for local papers and tax deductions for subscribers and advertisers.
“The COVID-19 virus has left the newspaper industry, already struggling financially, gasping for air,” wrote the group’s president, Simon Grieve, the publisher of Gazette Newspapers in Long Beach.
It comes after 33 daily newspapers reported losing an average of $1 million in print ads in March. That has forced several papers to cut printing schedules and staff. Nationwide, readers have been turning to local news sites for information about coronavirus in their communities. But hundreds of journalists have already been laid off or furloughed.
Health officials are investigating working conditions at a beef plant in northern Colorado where dozens of employees have tested positive for COVID-19.
Weld County’s health department said Thursday that concerns at the JBS USA facility include the proximity of workers to each other and employees working while they are sick. If the plant does not comply with the county’s public health order, it could be closed, but compliance is the “preferred solution,” the statement said.
On Tuesday, JBS USA CEO Andre Nogueira told The Greeley Tribune he was confident workers inside the plant were safe from the virus and strongly disputed claims by employees that people were going to work sick.
Telephone and email messages to a company spokesman were not immediately returned Friday. JBS USA is a subsidiary of Brazil-based JBS S.A., one of the world’s largest meat processors, and holds a majority interest in Pilgrim’s Pride, the United States’ second largest poultry company.
The first known plant employee to die from the virus, Saul Sanchez, died Tuesday night, according to his daughter, Beatriz Rangel. The company denied that Sanchez was at work while he was sick or that he contracted the virus while at work.
People rushed into the streets in parts of Turkey, forming long lines outside grocery stores minutes after the government announced a two-day curfew in 31 cities to help curb the spread of the coronavirus.
Just hours before the curfew came into effect, people were seen queuing outside stores in panic, many ignoring social distancing rules, the private DHA news agency reported.
Fighting erupted in at least one district in Istanbul, the Halk TV television station reported.
The government later announced that bakeries, pharmacies and other stores selling basic goods would remain open despite the curfew.
The curfew was announced amid concerns that with fine weather predicted over the weekend, many would ignore a government advice to stay at home.
The International Monetary Fund says it is helping Albania with $190.5 million (174 million Euro) to cope with the impact of the coronavirus pandemic.
A statement on Friday said the money would address its urgent balance of payments resulting from the ongoing global outbreak of the COVID-19 causing “significant losses and disruptions to Albania’s economy.”
Last November Albania also had a strong earthquake that killed 51 people and destroyed tens of thousands of buildings.
The IMF said that “Due to two consecutive shocks ... activity in Albania may be significantly contracted in 2020 ... the outlook is subject to large uncertainty and serious downside risks.”
FALLS CHURCH, Va.
Nearly 2,000 prisoners with a year or less remaining on their sentences could be eligible for early release under a proposal from Virginia Gov. Ralph Northam designed to combat the spread of the coronavirus.
Northam says he is adding an amendment to the state budget that would give the Department of Corrections authority to release inmates with one year or less remaining on their sentences. Northam says only inmates who exhibited good behavior and do not pose a threat to the public would be released.
The plan would not go into effect unless the General Assembly approved the amendment at its upcoming April 22 session.
BATON ROUGE, La.
Louisiana will try to combat the racial disparities in coronavirus deaths with a task force aimed at educating at-risk minority communities and conducting long-term research about how to address underlying health gaps between blacks and whites in the state, Gov. John Bel Edwards announced.
Data released by the state health department this week showed the COVID-19 disease caused by the virus has disproportionately hit black residents in the state. While African Americans account for one-third of Louisiana’s population, they represent more than 70% of the state’s deaths from COVID-19.
Edwards attributed the disproportionate rate of deaths in the black community to the state’s existing health gap between African Americans and white residents. He’s also noted that Louisiana’s earliest virus hot spots, particularly the New Orleans area, have a disproportionate number of blacks living there compared with other parts of the state.
Twenty-four residents of a central Indiana nursing home hit hard by COVID-19 have died, the state’s health commissioner said.
Sixteen of the residents at the Bethany Pointe Health Campus in Anderson had tested positive for the disease caused by the coronavirus pandemic and the other eight had compatible symptoms, Commissioner Dr. Kristina Box said during a state news briefing on the pandemic.
President Donald Trump is bemoaning the “horrible” number of Americans who have died due to the coronavirus, while pointing to signs of hope.
Trump says “in the midst of grief and pain” the country is seeing “clear signs that our aggressive strategy” is working. That includes a decrease in hospital admissions in some places.
Trump's comments come on the same day as Johns Hopkins University’s worldwide death toll hit 100,000.
Trump, who is now weighing when to re-open the country’s economy, is pointing to models that are now forecasting U.S. death rates far lower than originally estimated.
He says, “We’re saving so many lives compared to what it could have been.”
But experts warn that re-opening the country too soon could cause a devastating new spike in infections.
The Turkish health minister says Turkey and Israel are discussing an Israeli request to purchase protective medical equipment to combat the coronavirus, despite a rift in ties.
Fahrettin Koca says negotiations would be completed in the coming days, adding that “Turkey is willing to help” Israel during the pandemic. The minister says Turkey also would send medical aid to Gaza.
Once close allies, ties between Israel and Turkey have been tense since 2010, when 10 Turkish citizens were killed by Israeli forces as a Turkish-led flotilla tried to break Israel’s blockade on the Gaza Strip.
The countries agreed to a U.S.-brokered reconciliation agreement in 2016, but ties broke down again two years ago over a U.S. decision to recognize Jerusalem as Israel’s capital.
ROME — Italian Premier Giuseppe Conte has extended a nationwide lockdown and suspension of non-essential industrial production for another three weeks, through May 3.
Conte says in a nationally broadcast address that the sacrifices being made ‘’were having results,’’ and that for this reason ‘’we can not render vain the efforts taken. If we give in, we risk that all the positive results could be lost. It would be a great frustration for all, and we would have to start again, also with an increase in the number of dead.’’
The extension comes as the number of people in Italian hospitals and intensive care wards eases and the growth in the number of new cases and deaths narrows. Experts have said it will take a decrease in the number of cases to enter a so-called Phase II, allowing more freedom of movement to individuals but with precautions to guard against any new outbreaks.
PARIS — France’s national health agency is noticing a slight slowdown of the spreading of the virus in the country, which has reported the fourth-highest number of deaths from the COVID-19 in the world.
For the second consecutive day, the number of patients in French intensive care units slightly dropped, national health agency chief Jerome Salomon said, describing a “dim ray of sunshine” for French health care workers. More than 7,000 people remained in intensive care Friday.
ANKARA, Turkey — Turkey’s COVID-19 death toll has passed the 1,000 mark while the number of infections in the country reached 47,029.
Turkish Health Minister Fahrettin Koca reported 98 fatalities in past 24 hours, bringing the total death toll to 1,006. He also reported an additional 4,747 confirmed cases.
A total of 1,667 patients are being treated in intensive care, including 1,062 who are intubated, he also told reporters at the end of a meeting of Turkey’s scientific council. At least 2,423 people have recovered, he said.
JOHANNESBURG — South Africa’s health minister says the nation has “parted ways with the countries with rapid spread” of the coronavirus.
South Africa has Africa’s most cases with just over 2,000, but the rate of new confirmed cases has slowed during the first two weeks of lockdown.
Minister Zweli Mkhize spoke a day after the lockdown was extended another two weeks. “Let’s be ambitious and say together we want to part ways with the trends of the West and Europe,” he said, but warned that Africa’s most industrialized nation must keep up the hard work.
CHARLESTON, W.Va. — West Virginia nursing homes could run out of masks, gloves and medical gowns in as soon as two weeks amid a nationwide shortage caused by the coronavirus pandemic, a trade group leader says.
Marty Wright, CEO of the West Virginia Health Care Association, says the supply of personal protective equipment is dwindling as facilities rush to buy gear in a crowded marketplace marred by skyrocketing markups and delayed shipments.
He says he has heard stories of masks that were less than $1 now going for $5, facilities being supplemented by homemade items and nursing homes reaching out to overseas vendors as stateside suppliers are swamped.
NEW YORK — New national data shows how large the differences have been across the United States in coronavirus hospitalizations.
The report says that across the country, about 119 out of every 100,000 people were hospitalized with the infection. But that ranged from a low of 21 per 100,000 in Minnesota to 915 per 100,000 in New York City.
Researchers attribute the differences to a list of possible factors, including how early the virus may have first appeared in a given locale, the timing of school closures and other steps to prevent infection, and the number of old or frail people who might suffer severe illness.
The report by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention covers what was reported by about 60 state, city, and territorial health departments from Feb. 12 through April 7.
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