TOP OF THE HOUR: —Trump halts US payments to World Health Organization. —Singapore requires everyone going outside to wear a mask. — NY Gov. Cuomo: We have a president, not a ‘king.’
China reported 46 new coronavirus cases on Wednesday, 36 from overseas.
Of the 10 domestic cases, eight were in the province of Heilongjiang that borders on Russia, where authorities have been rushing to stem a new outbreak among those traveling back to China.
Almost 1,100 people were also under quarantine and monitoring as suspected cases or for having tested positive for the virus without showing symptoms.
China now has recorded a total of 3,342 deaths among 82,295 cases.
Japan had 457 new cases of the coronavirus, bringing a national total to 8,100 as of Tuesday, as well as 712 others from a cruise ship quarantined near Tokyo earlier this year.
All combined, Japan has a total of 8,812 cases, with 231 deaths, the Ministry of Health, Labor and Welfare said Wednesday.
Tokyo, by far, has the biggest number of cases at 2,319, most of them still hospitalized. Officials are under pressure to expand space for more patients, while transferring those with no or slight symptoms to hotels to make room for others in serious conditions.
So far, 105 slightly sick patients moved into a hotel, and Tokyo plans to secure up to 3,500 single rooms by June.
Lack of space and equipment at ordinary hospitals that previously have not been equipped with infectious diseases treatment are being asked to take in patients.
Medical experts have warned that Tokyo’s healthcare system is on the brink of collapse amid surge of patients and shortage of protective gear.
WELLINGTON, New Zealand
New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern says she and some other top officials are taking a 20% pay cut for six months in acknowledgment of the community’s sacrifices in dealing with the coronavirus.
Ardern said Wednesday the pay cut is symbolic and won’t much affect the country’s overall financial position. She said it applies to government ministers, chief executives of government organizations, and also that Opposition Leader Simon Bridges had volunteered to join them in taking the cut.
She said it wouldn’t apply to any frontline staff like doctors or nurses.
Ardern’s salary is 471,000 New Zealand dollars ($286,000), a comparatively high amount for a country with a population of only 5 million people.
Australia’s prime minister has released a social media video urging teachers to keep schools open for the sake of children’s education and the economy.
Prime Minister Scott Morrison’s message comes as Victoria state schools resume on Wednesday after a term break and other states are considering how they respond to the coronavirus pandemic.
Morrison says learning at home is not an option for some children, and parents should not have to choose between holding down a job or caring for their families.
He says expert medical advice remains that the risk to children of going to school is low.
Australian Education Union Victoria President Meredith Peace says schools in the state are open despite most of the students and staff saying home.
Peace describes Morrison’s messaging as “a little confusing.” She says teachers cannot maintain social distancing in class rooms.
Singapore has made it mandatory for everyone to wear a mask outside of their homes in the latest bid to curb the coronavirus spread following a sharp spike in cases.
The health ministry said in a statement late Tuesday that anyone found without masks will be fined 300 Singapore dollars ($212), while repeat offenders could be prosecuted in court and face higher fines. It said exemptions will be made for children under two years old or those with special needs.
People can also remove their masks when engaging in strenuous exercise, but must put them back afterward.
Coronavirus cases in the tiny city-state has surged to 3,252 after two straight days of sharp increases.
Singapore reported its biggest daily jump of 386 new cases Monday, and another 334 new cases Tuesday, mostly linked to foreign workers living in crowded dormitories. Authorities expect cases to continue to rise amid more testing at the dormitories, which house over 200,000 migrant workers, but believe the situation will stabilize once its partial lockdown take effect.
Singapore has shut non-essential businesses and schools under its circuit-breaker measures until May 4. Officials said about a fifth of Singapore’s workforce, including foreign workers, are still working but the government is seeking to tighten the list of services considered essential.
SEOUL, South Korea
South Korea has reported 27 new cases of the coronavirus, its 14th day in a row in which the daily count came below 100, as infections continue to wane in the worst-hit city of Daegu and nearby areas.
Figures released by South Korea’s Centers for Disease Control and Prevention on Wednesday brought national totals to 10,591 cases and 225 deaths.
The KCDC says at least 955 of the cases were linked to passengers arriving from abroad, with most of such cases detected in recent weeks in the densely populated Seoul metropolitan area.
Despite the slowing caseload, officials have warned about the possibility of a broader “quiet spread” with people easing up on social distancing.
There’s also concern over patients who test positive for the coronavirus for a second time after an initial release from hospitals. Officials say there have been 124 such patients so far, and that they are examining the causes and infectiousness of such cases.
SEOUL, South Korea
Wearing masks and moving slowly between lines taped on the ground, millions of South Koreans flocked to polling stations on Wednesday to elect lawmakers amid the shadows of a spreading coronavirus.
The national parliamentary elections on Wednesday have been billed as a midterm referendum for liberal President Moon Jae-in, who enters the final years of his term grappling with a historic public health crisis that has sickened more than 10,500 people while unleashing massive economic shock.
The long lines that snaked around public offices and schools across the country, which followed record-high participation in early voting held on Friday and Saturday, seemed to defy expectations of a low voter turnout.
Experts had earlier predicted a voter turnout of around 50% or even smaller as the country is in the middle of an active campaign to minimize social contact to slow infections, including shutting schools, banning rallies and restricting church gatherings on weekends.
Voters were asked to wear face masks and stand at least a meter (3 feet) apart while waiting in lines, a distance marked by duct tape or stickers.
Poll workers, also masked, checked temperatures at the gates and whisked voters exhibiting fever or arriving without masks to separate areas to vote.
All voters were asked to wash their hands with sanitizing gel and handed disposable plastic gloves before entering booths to cast their ballots.
The government also prepared a voting process for thousands of citizens under self-quarantine, who will be escorted by public servants or monitored through tacking apps on their phones so that officials could alert police if they wander around or don’t return home in time.
President Donald Trump says he is halting U.S. payments to the World Health Organization pending a review of its warnings about the coronavirus and China.
Trump says the outbreak could have been contained at its source and spared lives had the U.N. health agency done a better job investigating reports coming out of China.
The president says the world depends on the World Health Organization to work with countries to make sure accurate information about health threats are shared in a timely manner.
Trump claims the organization failed to carry out its “basic duty” and must be held accountable.
But Trump says the U.S. will continue to engage with the organization in pursuit of what he calls meaningful reforms.
President Donald Trump has announced a new public-private partnership aimed at making as many as 60,000 ventilators available to patients in coronavirus hot spots.
Trump says the partnership will allow hospitals to lend unused ventilators to other hospitals with greater need. He says that more than 20 of the nation’s largest health systems have pledged to lend more than 4,000 ventilators where needed.
Trump was joined by executives from several health systems around the country to tout the new program during a press briefing at the White House.
Governors have expressed concerns about the availability of ventilators as their states experienced a surge in critically ill patients. Trump says some governors requested far more than what they ultimately needed. He also asserts that the federal government has smartly rationed ventilators and that there are currently about 10,000 ventilators in a federal stockpile should they be needed.
Oregon Gov. Kate Brown, asked at a news conference what she thought of President Donald Trump’s insistence he has “total authority” to order states to open their economies, said it has been the states at the front lines of combating the COVID-19 pandemic: addressing the needs around personal protective equipment, testing capacity and hospital bed capacity.
“Governors were also the folks that had to make the very tough and hard decisions to shutter parts of our economy,” Brown said. “And I think it’s really important that those of us who are co-located regionally, that we work together, that we align our efforts as we work to make this hard task of reopening our economy.”
A flattening of the number of coronavirus cases in Oregon should persist until at least mid-May, but modeling that shows what to expect beyond then is uncertain and it's too soon to tell when the stay-home restrictions can be relaxed, top officials said.
NEW YORK — Pope Francis is keeping New York in his prayers as the city grapples with the coronavirus crisis.
The Roman Catholic Archdiocese of New York said the pontiff called Cardinal Timothy Dolan from the Vatican to express his love and concern for the city and hard-hit boroughs of Queens and Brooklyn, where two priests have died of the disease.
Dolan said the pope told him New Yorkers were “in his prayers in a special way at this time” and asked him to relay his “prayerful best wishes to the sick, the doctors, nurses, EMT’s, medical professionals, and caregivers who are tending to them, our civic leaders, as well as our priests, religious, and lay people.”
Pope Francis visited New York City in 2015, addressing the United Nations, parading through Central Park and celebrating Mass at Madison Square Garden.
NEW ORLEANS — Mayor LaToya Cantrell said major New Orleans spring and summer festivals that have already been postponed to later this year because of the virus should not be held in 2020.
Cantrell said she had begun talking with organizers about further delays. She stopped short of calling for a delay in the professional football season.
“The NFL is struggling with that right now,” Cantrell said. She said she has not discussed the season with NFL officials or New Orleans Saints owner Gayle Benson.
CHICAGO — Officials say dozens of immigrant children living in three Chicago-area shelters have tested positive for COVID-19 and the number could increase as test results come back.
The Chicago Tribune reports 37 of 69 children, who are all under 18 years old, are positive. Heartland officials say the children’s prognosis is “very good” and staff members are taking precautions.
The Chicago-based Heartland Alliance runs the shelters where children in the custody of the federal Office of Refugee Resettlement are waiting to be released to a relative or legal guardian.
UNITED NATIONS — The United Nations envoy for Colombia says former combatants are now making face masks to respond to the coronavirus pandemic, but COVID-19 hasn’t stopped violence against social leaders, human rights defenders and ex-fighters despite a nationwide stay-at-home order.
Carlos Ruiz Massieu told the U.N. Security Council that three social leaders and three former combatants were killed in recent weeks, bringing the total number of ex-combatants killed since the government signed a peace agreement with Colombia’s main rebel group, the FARC, in 2016 to 195.
In response to Secretary-General Antonio Guterres’ call for a global cease-fire to tackle COVID-19, the U.N. envoy said the National Liberation Army, known by its Spanish acronym ELN, which is one of Colombia’s last remaining rebel groups, declared a month-long unilateral cease-fire in April.
However, Ruiz Massieu said, “armed clashes continue between illegal armed groups in several departments.”
BATON ROUGE, La. — Gov. John Bel Edwards is pushing back Louisiana’s presidential primary again because of the coronavirus, this time to July 11. The state’s chief elections officer is asking lawmakers to expand mail-in balloting and early voting.
The primary originally had been scheduled for April 4. Edwards, a Democrat, has delayed the election twice at the request of Republican Secretary of State Kyle Ardoin as Louisiana continues to grapple with the virus outbreak, which has hit the state especially hard.
In the past month, more than a dozen states have postponed their primaries to give them time to adjust and plan.
Ardoin also is asking lawmakers to approve emergency procedures for the election. The secretary of state wants to expand early voting from one week to two weeks, allow mail-in ballots for more people and change some precinct locations.
RIO DE JANEIRO — Rio de Janeiro’s Gov. Wilson Witzel says he has tested positive for the new coronavirus after a month of pushing for confinement measures in the Brazilian state.
In a video posted to his official Twitter account, Witzel says he has experienced fever and sore throat since Friday. His positive test results came back on Tuesday, he says, adding that he feels well.
“I will continue working,” he says. “I request once again that you stay at home. This sickness, as you can all perceive, does not choose and contagion is rapid.”
Witzel, 52, has been one of Brazil’s foremost proponents of self-quarantine, and last month he imposed restrictions on business, transit and gatherings to contain the spread of COVID-19. This week he extended shutdown measures through the end of the month.
That stance has put him at odds with President Jair Bolsonaro, who has played down the severity of the virus that has thus far killed more than 1,500 people in Latin America’s largest country.
NASHVILLE, Tenn. — Tennessee corrections officials are looking into whether to test all state inmates for the new coronavirus after positive tests have come back for staffers and inmates, a Department of Correction spokeswoman said.
On Friday, the department mass tested 1,145 workers at Northwest Correctional Complex and Bledsoe County Correctional Complex, finding that 13 department staff and six contract workers tested positive after showing no symptoms at the time of testing. The widespread testing came in reaction to six workers previously testing positive at the facilities.
The department’s website says five inmates have tested positive, including confirmed cases at Trousdale Turner Correctional Center and Turney Center Industrial Complex. As of Tuesday, only 55 state inmates had been tested, the department said.
TORONTO — All non-essential businesses in Canada’s most populous province will be closed until at least May 12 after Ontario extended its state of emergency for another 28 days.
Ontario Premier Doug Ford also says Ontario’s schools will not re-open on May 4. Ford says it is too soon to relax measures as the province continues to fight the COVID-19 pandemic.
WASHINGTON — The U.S. has released nearly 700 people from immigration detention around the country amid concerns about the spread of the new coronavirus.
Acting Deputy Homeland Security Director Ken Cuccinelli says the 693 people who were deemed eligible for release are people who are considered medically vulnerable to the virus and are not considered to pose a security or flight risk if the U.S. seeks to take them into custody later.
Cuccinelli told reporters Tuesday that U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement screened detainees for risks such as age, pregnancy or underlying health conditions.
ICE says 77 detainees have tested positive at detention centers around the country. Activists have pushed for significantly more releases given the potential danger to people held in close quarters.
TIRANA, Albania — Following two weeks of almost total lockdown, Albania will allow its residents who have remained abroad to come back on flights from a local airline.
Transport Minister Belinda Balluku says starting Saturday Air Albania airline would start to bring back home Albanians around Europe.
Foreign citizens who have remained in the country also may use it to fly away.
The minister said the newcomers should first agree that upon landing they will be under quarantine for 14 days accommodated in hotels they pay themselves.
PARIS — The French foreign minister summoned China’s ambassador to France to express his “clear disapproval” of recent comments over how France is dealing with the coronavirus crisis.
In a statement Tuesday, Jean-Yves Le Drian said some public remarks from Chinese officials were not in line with the relation of “trust and friendship” between French President Emmanuel Macron and Chinese President Xi Jinping.
A long statement in French was released Sunday on the website of China’s embassy to France in an apparent response to criticism from Western media, experts and politicians over China’s handling of the virus outbreak.
The statement, presented as written by an unnamed Chinese diplomat in Paris, notably stated that caregivers in French nursing homes have “collectively deserted, letting their residents dying from starvation and disease.”
It also criticized the firing of the captain of the U.S. coronavirus-infected aircraft carrier USS Theodore Roosevelt.
ANKARA, Turkey — Turkey’s health minister has reported 107 COVID-19 fatalities in the past 24 hours, bringing the total death toll to 1,404.
Fahrettin Koca also told reporters that the number of infections in the country has increased by 4,062, pushing the total number of confirmed cases to 65,111.
At least 4,799 patients have recovered, he said.
Koca said the infection rate in Turkey is slowing down and the country could reach a peak in the coming weeks. But he insisted physical distancing efforts should be maintained.
“I believe we will reach the peak in one or two weeks unless there is a new wave,” Koca said.
ROME — Police have searched Italy’s biggest nursing home, where 143 people have reportedly died in the past month, as multiple criminal investigations kick into gear over allegations of negligence and homicide in elderly facilities in the coronavirus pandemic.
RAI state television said financial police seized clinical files and other documents from the 1,000-bed Pio Albergho Trivulzio facility in Milan.
Prosecutors launched an investigation following complaints from staff that management prohibited doctors and nurses from wearing protective masks for fear of alarming residents. The facility has insisted it followed all security protocols and says it is cooperating with the investigation.
The region of Lombardy has launched an independent commission to investigate nursing home deaths — most of them uncounted in official tolls because they were never tested for COVID-19.
The National Institutes of Health also has started a survey on nursing home deaths.
ATLANTA — Between 10% and 20% of U.S. coronavirus cases are health care workers, though they tended to be hospitalized at lower rates than other patients, health officials reported Tuesday.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reported the first national data on how the pandemic is hitting doctors, nurses and other health care professionals. Medical staff have also been hit hard in other countries: Media reports said about 10% of cases in Italy and Spain were health care workers.
The data is important new information but not necessarily surprising, said Dr. Anne Schuchat, who is running the U.S. agency’s response to the outbreak.
Compared with U.S. cases overall, larger proportions of diagnosed health care workers were women, were white, and were young or middle-aged adults. That’s consistent with the demographics of who works in health care, researchers said.
PARIS — The COVID-19 death toll in France has risen to 15,729 as the spreading of the coronavirus in the country appears to be stabilizing.
National health agency chief Jerome Salomon says France registered 762 deaths over the past 24 hours in hospitals and nursing homes.
The number of people admitted to a hospital every day is slowing down and the number of COVID-19 patients in intensive care units slightly dropped for the sixth straight day, he says.
More than 6,700 patients are still in critical care.
France also passed 100,000 people testing positive for the virus since the outbreak began, one day after French President Emmanuel Macron announced the lockdown in the country will be extended until May 11.
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