TOP OF THE HOUR: — UN urgently appeals for $2.4 billion to help Yemen cope with war and virus. — State in Australia to allow as many people in churches as pubs after archbishop's complaint. — Philippine president relaxing lockdown in Manila next week.
— South Korea reports 58 new virus cases, China none.
The U.N. humanitarian chief is urgently appealing for $2.4 billion to help millions in war-torn Yemen cope with the conflict and COVID-19, saying programs are already being cut and the situation is “alarming.”
Mark Lowcock told a briefing Thursday that the U.N. has only received $516.6 million of the $3.4 billion it needs until the end of the year, amounting to just over 15%.
The United Nations and Saudi Arabia are co-hosting a virtual pledging conference for Yemen on Tuesday seeking $2.4 billion, including $80 million to respond to the pandemic.
Lowcock and the heads of 10 U.N. agencies and several U.N. officials and humanitarian organizations issued a joint statement Thursday saying “COVID-19 is spreading rapidly across the country already experiencing the world’s largest humanitarian crisis” as a result of the war, and expressing increasing alarm about the worsening situation.
“Tragically, we do not have enough money to continue this work,” they said. “Of 41 major U.N. programs in Yemen, more than 30 will close in the next few weeks if we cannot secure additional funds.”
“This means many more people will die,” they warned.
The 17 signatories said they have the skills, staff and capacity to meet the difficult challenges of delivering aid in Yemen, but no money. And time is running out.
“We ask donors to pledge generously and pay pledges promptly,” they said.
An Australian state government has announced that as many people will be allowed in churches as in pubs after an archbishop complained of unfair pandemic rules.
Sydney Archbishop Anthony Fisher on Thursday encouraged Catholics to sign a petition calling on the New South Wales government to treat churches the same as pubs by increasing capacity limits from 10 to 50 people beginning June 1.
State Premier Gladys Berejiklian announced Friday that churches will also be allowed to increase congregation sizes from 10 on Monday in line with relaxed restrictions on pubs, cafes and restaurants.
“It is crucial that worshippers remember to follow health advice. This is particularly important for people with co-morbidities aged over 50 and people aged over 70,” Berejiklian said.
The government had been wary of adjusting the restrictions on places of worship after COVID-19 outbreaks in churches and church choirs overseas.
The state’s chief health officer, Kerry Chant, said places of worship need to find alternatives to practices that might spread the virus, like singing, sharing books and passing around collection plates.
“Communal singing and chanting should not occur because of the high risk of transmission,” Chant said.
The Philippine president is relaxing a lockdown in the capital, the country’s epicenter of coronavirus infections, in a tightrope move amid an economic downturn and massive government spending to help feed millions of poor families restricted to their homes.
President Rodrigo Duterte said Thursday night that metropolitan Manila will be placed under a more relaxed quarantine Monday after more than two months of police- and military-enforced lockdown that restrained public mobility and most economic activities. The economy contracted in the first quarter in its weakest run in two decades.
Under the new arrangement, more work and business operations, along with public transport, will be allowed to resume, but physical distancing, face masks and other safeguards will continue to be required. Classes will remain suspended.
Duterte made the televised announcement hours after the Department of Health reported a single-day spike of 539 infections, more than 60% of them in the congested capital. That brought the total number of infections to 15,588, including 921 deaths.
Duterte warned the danger is far from over.
“Remember that the entire nation is still under quarantine,” Duterte said. “The state has every right to control your movement if you pass on a contagion to the population.”
SEOUL, South Korea
South Korea has reported 58 new cases of the coronavirus, all in the densely populated Seoul metropolitan area, as officials scramble to stem transmissions linked to a massive e-commerce warehouse near the capital.
The figures announced Friday by the Korea Centers for Disease Control and Prevention brought national totals to 11,402 infections and 269 deaths.
Prime Minister Chung Sye-kyun called for officials to examine working conditions at warehouses of online shopping companies, which have seen orders surge during the pandemic, and other congested workplaces where infection risks may be high.
Health authorities on Thursday said they found at least 82 infections linked to workers at a warehouse operated by local e-commerce giant Coupang in Bucheon, near Seoul. Officials had planned to complete testing on 4,000 workers and visitors to the warehouse.
South Korea has reported 177 new COVID-19 cases over the past three days, a resurgence that threatens to erase some of its hard-won gains against the virus and worsen a massive shock to the country's trade-dependent economy.
China on Friday again reported no new coronavirus cases or deaths.
Just 70 people remain hospitalized for treatment of COVID-19 and another 414 are being isolated and monitored as possible cases or after testing positive without showing symptoms. China has reported 4,634 deaths from the disease among 82,995 cases.
Yemen’s Houthi rebels have acknowledged for the first time that the coronavirus has spread to multiple governorates under their control.
The Houthi health ministry buried the admission in a muted statement Thursday, saying only that authorities are working to trace and isolate infected cases that have been recorded in the capital, Sanaa, and several provinces across the war-torn country.
The rebels have officially reported just four cases, including one fatality, and have muzzled doctors and journalists who try to speak out about a dramatic surge in deaths among those with COVID-19 symptoms.
The statement accused the World Health Organization of sending “inaccurate” and deficient tests, and said it would reveal the results in the coming days.
Yemen’s internationally recognized government has reported 278 cases and 58 deaths. A major outbreak is threatening to overwhelm the country’s health system, which has been devastated by five years of war.
Illinois Gov. J.B. Pritzker on Thursday announced the end of a 10-week stay-at-home order meant to stem the spread of the deadly coronavirus.
The Democrat said that on Friday the state will move to the third phase of his five-stage recovery plan, meaning manufacturing and retail business will resume and there will be outdoor dining and small social gatherings.
Chicago, the nation’s third-largest city, which has been battered by the pandemic, will move more slowly. Mayor Lori Lightfoot says restrictions will be loosened next week, with city offices, parks and libraries to reopen in coming weeks.
A state lawmaker’s decision to keep his COVID-19 diagnosis a secret is dividing the Pennsylvania House of Representatives.
Democrats say the Republican legislator needlessly put people’s health at risk.
The fight spilled onto the House floor on Thursday as Democrats denounced how it was handled by the lawmaker and the majority Republican leadership.
Republicans defeated a Democratic effort to end the legislative session so there would be time to change policies on disclosing illnesses. And the state attorney general declined requests by fellow Democrats to criminally investigate how the diagnosis was handled. He urged lawmakers to “demonstrate common decency.”
Emergency management officials briefed President Donald Trump Thursday about the challenges of preparing for what is expected to be an above-average hurricane season amidst a coronavirus pandemic.
During an Oval Office meeting, officials reported that the Atlantic hurricane season is expected to have 13 to 19 named storms and six to 10 of those storms could develop into hurricanes.
Vice President Mike Pence says that when people are displaced by tropical storms or hurricanes, they are used to congregating at local schools or gyms. He says there will be “different challenges now” and that the Federal Emergency Management Agency has provided recommendations to local and state officials on how to respond to natural disasters during a pandemic.
Recommendations include encouraging evacuees to plan on staying with friends and families rather than end up in shelters.
San Francisco’s mayor has announced plans to reopen the city on June 15 for outdoor dining and indoor shopping, religious services, and sporting events without spectators.
Mayor London Breed says local coronavirus statistics are positive enough to restart the local economy, but she warned that residents must continue wearing masks and shelter in place.
Breed’s guideline allows for barbershops and hair salons to reopen in July, and nail salons, tattoo parlors, gyms and bars scheduled to reopen in August.
San Francisco is one of six Bay Area counties that coordinated a shutdown in mid-March. All reopening dates are tentative.
Georgia Gov. Brian Kemp on Thursday announced plans to allow bars and nightclubs to reopen, overnight summer camps and summer schools to begin and professional and amateur sports to resume operations and practices, all with social distancing and sanitation restrictions in place.
The Republican also extended a public health state of emergency, describing the road ahead as a “slow and careful transition to a new normal.”
The continued easing of restrictions comes as public health experts warn that new daily confirmed cases of the new coronavirus in Georgia are ticking upward after weeks of decline.
Sudan’s public prosecutor says that another two senior officials of ousted autocrat Omar al-Bashir’s regime have contracted the coronavirus in detention.
The attorney general said that former vice president Ali Muhamed Taha and former defense minister Abdel Raheem Muhammad Hussein tested positive while imprisoned in the capital of Khartoum.
Both are in their 70s and are the latest of four former party leaders to be infected, raising fears the virus is spreading rapidly through the cells of Kober prison. They were transferred to isolation centers for treatment.
Officials have ramped up testing of other political figures who landed in jail after a sweeping protest movement toppled al-Bashir in April last year.
Sudan has released over 4,000 low-risk prisoners to prevent a major outbreak. But freeing former leaders could prove politically explosive as the country makes a fragile transition to democracy.
ROME — Italy’s education minister is promising students they will return to school in September.
Minister Lucia Azzolina told RAI state TV Thursday evening that come September all the nation’s school children “will hear the school bell ring” again. She said students older than six will have to wear protective masks at school and stay a safe distance apart from classmates.
Schools were closed as a safety measure after Italy started seeing hundreds of cases before the entire nation went into lockdown in early March. The COVID-19 outbreak in Europe began in Italy.
While the Italian government eased restrictions this month on many sectors of daily life, including allowing museums and all retail shops to open, restaurants to resume dining-in service and people to frequent parks, school buildings will stay shuttered for the rest of the school year. The only exception is high school students in their final year. They will return to school on June 17 to have individual oral exams needed for graduation.
BOGOTÁ, Colombia — The U.N. children’s agency is warning that Latin America could see a devastating jump in childhood poverty.
UNICEF and Save the Children warned Thursday that 46% of children in the region could be living in poor households by the end of the year as a result of the new coronavirus pandemic. That would make Latin America the second hardest hit region in the world.
An additional 16 million children are projected to live in poor households this year.
Monica Rubio, UNICEF ’s social policy adviser, says such a rise would “significantly reverse” gains made in reducing childhood poverty in the past two decades.
The United Nations estimates that the region’s economy could contract 5.3% this year, a downturn that would be worse than the Great Depression.
The World Food Program says upward of at least 14 million people in Latin America and the Caribbean could go hungry this year.
RALEIGH, N.C. — North Carolina’s Democratic governor says his administration hasn’t received the written safety plan for the upcoming Republican National Convention that his health secretary asked for amid friction with President Donald Trump on the event’s capacity.
Gov. Roy Cooper said during a Thursday afternoon briefing that his administration has yet to see plans for how the RNC envisions safely holding the convention in Charlotte in August amid the COVID-19 pandemic.
Trump threatened in a tweet Monday to move the convention unless Cooper could guarantee a full-capacity gathering. Trump reiterated the idea by saying he wanted an answer from Cooper within a week, or he’d be forced to consider moving the convention somewhere else.
Cooper said his administration required a similar written plan from NASCAR ahead of its recent race in the Charlotte area that was run without fans. He said he’s in similar discussions with other sports teams, including the NFL’s Carolina Panthers.
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