TOP OF THE HOUR: — Japan, U.S. agree to cooperate closely in COVID-19 fight. — U.N. chief calls for end to virus hate speech. — South Korea infections linked to Seoul nightclubs. — EU promises Pakistan 150 million euros ($163 million) to fight COVID-19.
— China reports 1 new coronavirus case.
Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe and U.S. President Donald Trump have agreed to cooperate closely in developing COVID-19 vaccines and drugs, and in their efforts to boost their economies.
The two leaders held telephone talks as they seek to reopen businesses in their respective countries.
Japan’s Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga told reporters the leaders exchanged views on the COVID-19 situation, measures to prevent further spread of the virus, development of drugs and vaccines, and steps for reopening the economies in their countries. He said Abe proposed the talks.
“It was extremely meaningful to be able to reassure Japan-U.S. cooperation via telephone talks between the two leaders just as the international society is expected to unite and tackle the (pandemic),” Suga said.
The Japanese health ministry, in a rare fast-track process, approved Gilead Sciences Inc.’s antiviral drug remdesivir on Thursday to treat COVID-19 patients. The approval was granted under a special fast-track process only four days after the company filed an application.
Japan is still under a coronavirus state of emergency, which was extended this week until the end of May, though there have been no hard lockdowns.
The United States has more than 1.2 million reported infections, with deaths exceeding 75,000, while Japan has about 15,500 cases and 580 deaths.
United Nations Secretary-General Antonio Guterres says the coronavirus pandemic keeps unleashing “a tsunami of hate and xenophobia, scapegoating and scare-mongering.”
The U.N. chief said Friday that “anti-foreigner sentiment has surged online and in the streets, anti-Semitic conspiracy theories have spread, and COVID-19-related anti-Muslim attacks have occurred.”
Guterres said migrants and refugees “have been vilified as a source of the virus — and then denied access to medical treatment.”
“With older persons among the most vulnerable, contemptible memes have emerged suggesting they are also the most expendable,” he said. “And journalists, whistleblowers, health professionals, aid workers and human rights defenders are being targeted simply for doing their jobs.”
Guterres appealed “for an all-out effort to end hate speech globally.”
The secretary-general called on political leaders to show solidarity with all people, on educational institutions to focus on “digital literacy” at a time when “extremists are seeking to prey on captive and potentially despairing audiences.”
He called on the media, especially social media, to “remove racist, misogynist and other harmful content,” on civil society to strengthen their outreach to vulnerable people, and on religious figures to serve as “models of mutual respect.”
Australia plans to reopen its economy in three stages by July, but there are no plans to open the country to general international travelers in the foreseeable future.
Prime Minister Scott Morrison said Friday the states will set their own pace in easing coronavirus restrictions, and details of the second and third stages of the plan had yet to be finalized.
Australia’s two most populous states, New South Wales and Victoria, are continuing to record new cases daily while the other states and territories have gone multiple days without finding new infections despite ramped up testing.
Queensland will relax its social distancing rules for Mother’s Day on Sunday by allowing up to five people from one household to visit another household, and the Northern Territory will open pubs next week for the service of alcohol with meals.
Under stage one of a national plan agreed upon by federal and state leaders on Friday, small cafes and restaurants will open as long as each patron has at least 4 square meters (43 square feet) of space.
Children will return to classrooms and groups of 10 people will be allowed to gather outdoors. Playgrounds, golf courses, swimming pools and libraries will reopen.
Nightclubs and other drinking venues without seated dining will not reopen until stage 3.
Morrison said he was open to the possibility of international students returning to Australian universities on charter flights, but general international travel will not open up “in the foreseeable future.”
SEOUL, South Korea
South Korean officials are concerned after finding more than a dozen coronavirus infections linked to clubgoers in the densely populated Seoul metropolitan area.
The new infections raised fears about another surge in transmissions after the country had eased social distancing measures amid a slowing caseload the past few weeks.
South Korea’s Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reported 12 new cases of COVID-19 in the 24 hours before midnight Thursday, the first time in five days the daily jump was more than 10.
Vice Health Minister Kim Gang-lip said the country detected at least 13 more cases in the following hours, all linked to a 29-year-old patient who visited three nightclubs in Seoul’s Itaewon district Saturday before testing positive on Wednesday.
Kim said there was a “very high possibility” more infections will be confirmed as health workers scramble to trace the patient’s contacts. He said the clubs’ visitor lists show more than 1,500 customers combined on Saturday.
Of the 13 new cases confirmed on Friday, Kim says 12 were clubgoers, including three foreign nationals and one soldier. The other was an office colleague of the patient who was first detected.
“A drop of ink in clear water spreads swiftly,” Kim said during a briefing, urging vigilance to maintain hard-won gains against the virus. “Anyone can become that drop of ink that spreads COVID-19.”
The country has not reported a daily jump above 100 since April 1, which allowed officials to ease social distancing guidelines, schedule the re-opening of schools and allow professional sports to return to action without fans in the stands.
The European Union promised Pakistan 150 million euros ($163 million) to fight the spread of COVID-19 as the country's daily infection rate continues to climb steadily along with its death rate.
Pakistan recorded another daily high Friday with 1,574 new cases in the last 24 hours, bringing the total number of infections nationwide to 25,837 — one of the highest rates in the region after Iran, which has reported more than 103,000.
Pakistan, with a population of 220 million people, has suffered 594 deaths due to COVID-19. Despite the climbing figures, Prime Minister Imran Khan has said the country will ease its lockdown beginning Saturday. Shops will be allowed to open for five days a week but social distancing will be enforced — although that has proven nearly impossible in the teeming markets of Karachi in the south with 14 million people and Lahore in the east with 8 million.
Khan has also refused to close mosques during the Islamic fasting month of Ramadan, which will end later this month with the festival of Eid-ul Fitr.
Pakistan’s chief immunologist and the man leading the government’s COVID-19 battle, Dr. Rana Mohammad Safdar, told The Associated Press he expects cases to multiply significantly by the end of May.
China reported one new coronavirus case Friday and 16 additional positive tests for people not showing symptoms.
No new deaths were reported. There are 260 people who remain hospitalized because of the virus and 890 under isolation as suspected cases or after testing positive without showing symptoms.
China has reported a total of 4,633 deaths among 82,886 cases.
BEIJING — The European Union delegation to China says it allowed a Chinese state newspaper to publish an op-ed even after it removed a reference to the Chinese origins and spread of the coronavirus.
The delegation said in a news release that it had been informed the foreign ministry would not allow the article to appear unless part of a sentence relating to what has become a hugely sensitive topic for China was removed.
“The EU Delegation to China made known its objections to the Chinese Ministry of Foreign Affairs in no uncertain terms,” the delegation said in a statement Friday.
However, it said it decided to proceed with publication because the op-ed “passed key messages on a number of our priority areas to a potential audience of more than 1 billion readers,” including on climate change and sustainability, human rights, the importance of multilateralism and debt relief for highly indebted countries.
Only the English-language China Daily published the editorial, although the original agreement had also called for it to be published in the ruling Communist Party’s Chinese-language flagship People’s Daily.
While the virus was first detected in the Chinese city of Wuhan late last year, China insists the true origins have yet to be determined and has angrily fired back at suggestions by U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and others that it escaped from a high-security lab in Wuhan.
NEW YORK — The Brooklyn district attorney’s office released data late Thursday showing that of the 40 people arrested for social distancing violations in the New York City borough since mid-March, 35 were black and four were Hispanic. One was white.
Some of the arrests were caught on video, including one from Monday in which an officer knocked a man to the ground with his arm in Brooklyn. Police said he took a “fighting stance” as officers wrestled his stepbrother against a squad car. Another video from Saturday shows an officer pulling a stun gun on a man and violently taking him to the ground.
The arrests stand in sharp contrast to photos and video tweeted by the NYPD showing friendly officers handing out face masks and gently reminding people to stay 6 feet apart.
Mayor Bill de Blasio, despite mounting pressure to stop using police to enforce social distancing and the data showing that such arrests disproportionately affect people of color, stood by the practice on Thursday, saying: “We’re not going to sideline the NYPD.”
Police Commissioner Dermot Shea said the incidents should be evaluated on a case-by-case basis.
All the charges in the arrests were dropped.
SEOUL, South Korea — North Korea says leader Kim Jong Un has sent a personal message to Chinese President Xi Jinping praising what he described as China’s success in getting its coronavirus epidemic under control.
The report by North Korea’s state media on Friday came amid outside observations that the pandemic is taking a toll on an economy already crippled by decades of policy failures and U.S.-led international sanctions over its nuclear weapons program.
China is seen as North Korea’s most significant ally and economic lifeline, accounting for about 90% of the country’s external trade. With China’s COVID-19 caseload easing, some experts say the North could reach out to China to reinvigorate cross-border trade that had been significantly reduced in past months.
The Korean Central News Agency says Kim in the message to Xi “congratulated him, highly appreciating that he is seizing a chance of victory in the war against the unprecedented epidemic.” It did not specify when the message was sent.
South Korea’s spy agency recently told lawmakers in a closed-door briefing that trade volume between North Korea and China in the first quarter declined 55% from a year earlier. In March, the bilateral trade volume suffered a 91% drop, lawmakers cited the agency as saying.
TOKYO — The annual Tokyo Game Show, which highlights the latest video game software and machines, is moving online, organizers said Friday, to prevent the spread of the new coronavirus.
Details of the event will be disclosed starting in late May, Computer Entertainment Supplier’s Association and other organizers said in a joint statement.
“We are making this decision out of concern for the health and safety of the visitors, exhibitors and other participants,” the statement said.
The Tokyo Game Show was scheduled to be held in sprawling Makuhari Messe, outside Tokyo, from Sept. 24-27. In the past, Microsoft Corp. and Sony Corp., as well as game developers from around the world, set up about 2,000 booths that have drawn crowds of more than 250,000 people.
WASHINGTON -- When the Great Smoky Mountains National Park becomes one of the country’s first national parks to reopen Saturday, some of its most popular trails will remain off limits.
Major roadways, most trails and some restroom facilities will be accessible, but it’s unclear when the Laurel Falls, Chimney Tops and Alum Cave trails will reopen, park spokeswoman Dana Soehn says. She says safety will be stressed as officials seek to follow federal and state guidelines to prevent the spread of the coronavirus.
“We think that access to the three most heavily used trails just simply wouldn’t be possible with CDC social distancing guidelines,” Soehn said.
The push to restore access to some of the country’s most treasured spaces comes six weeks after the park abruptly shut its gates after visitors weren’t following social distancing guidelines.
Located on the Tennessee-North Carolina border, the Great Smoky Mountains is the nation’s most visited national park.
JACKSON, Miss. — Mississippi Republican Gov. Tate Reeves did a dramatic about-face Thursday, saying state legislators will have a role in deciding how to spend $1.25 billion the state is receiving from the federal government as part of a massive coronavirus relief package.
“They’ve assured me that they want what I want, which is to get this money to those people that need it,” Reeves said at a news conference with Lt. Gov. Delbert Hosemann and House Speaker Philip Gunn. The fellow Republicans had challenged Reeves’ assertion that the governor has the power to spend money without legislative consent during emergencies.
The majority-Republican state House and Senate met Friday and voted nearly unanimously to pass a bill that puts most of the money into funds that they control. They cited the Mississippi Constitution’s provisions that say lawmakers have the power to spend money. Reeves harshly criticized Hosemann and Gunn during multiple public appearances in the past week, accusing legislators of a power grab. But Reeves said Thursday that he had invited them to the Governor’s Mansion on Wednesday to make peace.
CARSON CITY, Nev. — Nevada will begin allowing restaurants, salons and other non-essential businesses to open starting Saturday.
Democratic Gov. Steve Sisolak says he’s still encouraging people to get takeout or food delivery, but restaurants may open if they limit capacity to 50% and keep customers seated 6 feet apart. Salons and barbershops cannot except walk-in appointments and must keep customers spaced apart, while stores may reopen but must limit customers to 50% of the building’s capacity.
Sisolak says casinos, nightclubs, spas and gyms must remain closed until further notice.
LANSING, Mich. — Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer says auto and other manufacturing workers can return to the job next week, further easing her stay-at-home order while extending it through May 28 because of the coronavirus pandemic.
Manufacturers — which account for 19% of the state’s economy — can resume operations on Monday. It is key for auto parts makers a week ahead of automakers’ planned phased-in May 18 restart. Factories must adopt measures to protect their workers, including daily entry screening and, once they are available, the use of no-touch thermometers.
OKLAHOMA CITY — Authorities in Oklahoma say three McDonald’s employees suffered gunshot wounds when a woman opened fire because she was angry that the restaurant’s sit-down dining area was closed because of the coronavirus pandemic.
Police Capt. Larry Withrow says a 16-year-old employee was shot in in the arm, another 16-year-old and an 18-year-old suffered shrapnel wounds while a second 18-year-old suffered a head injury.
All are expected to recover.
Withrow said Gloricia Woody, 32, whose first name is spelled Glorica in jail records, was arrested for assault and battery with a deadly weapon.
Woody entered the restaurant’s lobby and was told the dining room was closed for safety reasons, Withrow said
“The suspect was forced out of the restaurant by employees. She reentered the restaurant with a handgun and fired approximately three rounds in the restaurant,” Withrow said.
The shooting comes amid tensions over restrictions in efforts to curb the coronavirus pandemic that have escalated into violence elsewhere in the country.
WASHINGTON — U.S. officials say fewer illegal immigrants are trying to enter the country from Mexico amid new enforcement rules imposed in response to the coronavirus outbreak.
Acting U.S. Customs and Border Protection Commissioner Mark Morgan says agents are encountering about half the number of migrants along the southwest border than in the month before President Donald Trump authorized the rapid expulsion of migrants under a March 21 public health order.
Total encounters in April were about 16,700.
The public health order was initially renewed for 30 days and is scheduled to expire this month. But Morgan and Deputy Commissioner Robert Perez suggested Thursday that the public health restrictions may have to stay in place longer even as the U.S. starts to ease quarantine restrictions.
Morgan also said border agents have encountered their first two migrants with confirmed cases of COVID-19. The first was from India and was captured near Calexico, California, on April 23. The second was a man from Mexico captured this week as he tried to enter the U.S. to seek medical attention for his illness.
WASHINGTON — A military member working in close proximity to President Donald Trump tested positive for the new coronavirus Wednesday. The White House says Trump and Vice President Mike Pence have since tested negative for the virus and “remain in good health.”
Spokesman Hogan Gidley says in a statement the military member works “on the White House campus” and tested positive Wednesday. The White House instituted safety protocols nearly two months ago to protect the nation’s political leaders, including frequent temperature checks. Last month it began administering rapid COVID-19 tests to all those near the president, with staffers being tested about once a week.
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