TOP OF THE HOUR: — China’s foreign minister lashes out and says outbreak under control. — First virus case reported in crowded camps for Rohingya refugees. — Mexico reports 2,409 new coronavirus cases, largest 1-day rise.
— Colombia steps up measures to halt infections near Brazil border. — China hits 1-month mark since last reported virus death.
China’s foreign minister says the country has brought the coronavirus outbreak under control and he lashed out at foreign politicians he accused of having “insisted on politicizing the epidemic, labeling the virus, and smearing the World Health Organization.”
Wang Yi’s comments carried by the official Xinhua News Agency appeared directed at the United States, where President Donald Trump’s administration has repeatedly castigated China for allegedly covering up the initial outbreak and has suspended payments to the WHO over what it calls a pro-China bias and failure to effectively deal with the pandemic.
Other countries, including Australia, have also urged an independent investigation into the origin of the pandemic, calls that China has furiously rejected.
Under head of state and ruling Communist Party leader Xi Jinping’s leadership, China has been able to “put the outbreak under control through arduous efforts and has been gradually resuming economic and social life while undertaking prevention and control measures on a regular basis,” Wang was quoted as saying in a phone call Thursday with the foreign ministers of Hungary, Estonia and Bosnia and Herzegovina.
China has “overcome its own difficulties, offered support and assistance to relevant countries, shared prevention and control experiences and treatments without reservation, and facilitated various countries’ purchase of anti-epidemic supplies in China,” Wang said.
Attempts to politicize the pandemic and smear the WHO are “a serious violation of international moral principles and undermine international anti-epidemic efforts,” Wang added.
Authorities have reported the first coronavirus case in the crowded camps for Rohingya refugees in southern Bangladesh, where more than 1 million people are sheltered.
The person from the Rohingya community and a local person who lives in the Cox’s Bazar district who also tested positive have been isolated, Mahbub Alam Talukder, the country’s refugee commissioner, said Thursday.
Teams have been activated for treatment of the patients as well as tracing people they might have encountered and quarantining and testing of those contacts, Louise Donovan, a spokeswoman for the U.N. refugee agency, told The Associated Press.
Aid workers have been warning of the potential for a serious outbreak if the virus reached the camps. The dense crowding with plastic shacks standing side by side housing up to 12 residents each mean the refugees would be dangerously exposed to the virus.
Mexico reported its largest one-day rise in coronavirus cases, with 2,409.
Assistant Health Secretary Hugo López-Gatell said Thursday the country is at “the most difficult” moment in the pandemic. It was the first time in Mexico that the number of new cases exceeded 2,000 in one day.
In percentage terms, the 6% increase was not the biggest one-day jump.
Officials also reported 257 more deaths from COVID-19, for a total of 4,477 since the pandemic began. There have been higher one-day death tolls this week.
López-Gatell said there are “tendencies of decline” in some parts of the country. But there also are signs that hospital capacity is nearing its limit in Mexico City, the country’s hardest-hit area.
The increase in cases comes four days before Monday’s scheduled partial reopening of key industries such as mining, construction and automobile assembly.
Authorities in Colombia are stepping up measures aimed at halting coronavirus infections near the border with Brazil as hospitals grow overwhelmed and cases rise in a vulnerable part of the Amazon home to many indigenous groups.
President Iván Duque announced Thursday that all residents in the Amazonas department are being ordered to stay inside except to buy food or seek medical attention. The military has also dispatched troops to strengthen border security.
“Once more, we find ourselves in a situation that could turn critical,” Duque said.
Colombia has taken some of the region’s strictest measures against the virus, implementing an early nationwide lockdown that remains in effect in much of the country. That stands in stark contrast to Brazil, where President Jair Bolsonaro has criticized attempts by governors and mayors to close non-essential businesses.
The river port city of Leticia and the giant Amazonas department have seen a spike in cases recently, swelling from 105 at the start of the month to 924. Doctors report the region’s poorly equipped hospitals are crowded, and local officials say they might need to construct a new cemetery to handle the number of bodies.
Thus far, 30 people in the department have died.
Many cafes and restaurants opened again Friday in Sydney as some coronavirus restrictions were lifted, although rainy weather and ongoing fears appeared to keep patronage relatively low.
Australia’s most populous state of New South Wales began allowing cafes, restaurants and places of worship to reopen with up to 10 people on the condition they adhere to social distancing rules. Pubs and clubs were also permitted to open, but only for dining.
State Premier Gladys Berejiklian warned people to take personal responsibility, saying that easing restrictions in some other countries had backfired.
“Let’s please do our part in keeping everybody safe so that all of us can keep moving forward so that we never, ever go backwards,” Berejiklian told reporters in Sydney. “That’s really, really critical.”
Many Catholic churches across the state opened for private prayer, confession and small-scale masses.
“The celebration of mass is the highest form of Catholic worship and to not be able to physically gather these past two months has been very difficult for Catholics,” Sydney’s Archbishop Anthony Fisher said in a statement.
Many Jewish synagogues and other Christian churches decided to keep their doors closed.
New South Wales on Friday reported eight new cases of the virus, bringing the state total to a little over 3,000. Australia has reported a total of about 7,000 cases and 98 deaths.
SEOUL, South Korea
South Korea has reported 27 new coronavirus cases, including 22 in the Seoul metropolitan area, where health authorities have been scrambling to test and isolate potential virus carriers after discovering dozens of infections linked to club goers.
Figures released by South Korea’s Centers for Disease Control and Prevention on Friday brought national totals to 11,018 cases and 260 virus-related deaths.
Around 1,100 infections have been linked to international arrivals, but such cases have declined since April when the country stepped up border controls, including enforcing 14-day quarantines on all passengers arriving from abroad.
The transmissions linked to night spots shocked a country that had been relaxing social distancing guidelines and forced authorities to push back the reopening of schools, which is now scheduled to start with high school seniors on May 20.
During a virus briefing, Health Minister Park Neung-hoo expressed hope that the country could keep the outbreak under control, pointing out that the number of active cases was now below 1,000.
China has gone a month without announcing any new deaths from the coronavirus.
The National Health Commission reported four new cases of the virus Friday, all local cross-infections in the northeastern province of Jilin where a cluster of uncertain origin has been detected in recent days. The last time the commission reported a death was on April 14.
Just 91 people remain in treatment for COVID-19 and 623 others are under isolation and monitoring for being suspected cases or for having tested positive without showing symptoms, including 11 newly detected.
In total, China has reported 4,633 deaths among 82,933 cases since the virus was first detected late last year in the central city of Wuhan.
China has maintained social distancing and bans on foreigners entering the country, but has increasingly opened up the world’s second-largest economy to allow both large factories and small businesses to resume production and dealings with customers. The government plans to hold the ceremonial parliament’s annual session later this month, but with highly limited access for journalists and others.
The United Kingdom is urging Myanmar’s military to extend its recently announced cease-fire to include the escalating conflict in northern Rakhine and Chin states where civilians are taking a heavy toll at the time of a global COVID-19 crisis.
The UK Mission to the United Nations made the appeal after a closed meeting of the U.N. Security Council on Thursday which it called because of growing concern about fighting in the two states between government forces and the Arakan Army, a well-armed guerrilla force representing the Buddhist Rakhine minority.
A mission statement said the coronavirus pandemic is putting vulnerable people “at risk of a humanitarian emergency,” especially refugees, the displaced and the Rohingya Muslim minority which faces additional restrictions.
The council did not issue a statement after the meeting but four European Union countries — Estonia, Belgium, France and Germany — also expressed concern about the military escalation in Rakhine and Chin states and called for “an immediate, comprehensive and nationwide cease-fire.”
The EU members emphasized “the importance of an inclusive response to the COVID-19 pandemic that protects all communities and takes into account the vulnerability of refugees and internally displaced persons.”
In late April, the U.N. human rights investigator on Myanmar, Yanghee Lee, called for a new investigation into allegations and crimes against humanity during the recent fighting in Rakhine and Chin. She accused Myanmar’s military of “inflicting immense suffering” on ethnic minorities in the two states.
RIO DE JANEIRO
Teenage climate activist Greta Thunberg appeared in an online video asking for countries around the world to help Manaus, Brazil’s biggest city in the vast Amazon rain forest whose health system has been overwhelmed by the coronavirus pandemic.
“The Amazon rainforest needs your help,” Thunberg pleaded in a video shared Thursday by the city’s mayor. The Swedish activist was responding to a call for help sent to her by the mayor earlier this month. In the video, she and several other young people draw attention to the collapse of the city’s health care system and ask for countries that have passed the peak of their pandemic to help Manaus.
According to official data, 809 people have died so far in Manaus and 9,410 have contracted the virus. Throughout Brazil, 844 deaths were reported over the past 24 hours, data from the Health Ministry showed.
Members of the Washington National Guard helped hand out about 200,000 pounds of potatoes Thursday that had been donated by farmers who were unable to sell to their regular restaurant customers due to the coronavirus outbreak.
Cars lined up near the Tacoma Dome to receive bags of potatoes as part of a mission to get 1 million pounds of potatoes into the hands of people in need.
The giveaway was organized by the Washington State Potato Commission.
The potatoes were meant to be sold to restaurants and other food service establishments, but then the COVID-19 pandemic hit.
“With so many restaurants closed due to COVID-19 restrictions, our potato farmers have storages full of these potatoes that were scheduled to be turned into french fries, tater tots, hash browns and many other frozen potato products,” the farmers said in a statement.
Denver Mayor Michael Hancock says thousands of city employees, including himself, will be furloughed for eight days this year to help close what is expected to be a $226 million budget gap caused by the coronavirus.
Denver has seen steep declines in sales, lodging and other taxes since the pandemic hit Colorado two months ago, and the state is still under a safer-at-home order that has placed restrictions on businesses. City leaders say the drop in tax revenue is affecting the fund that pays for police and fire services, as well as street maintenance.
Several American cities, large and small, have already furloughed employees to save money in the face of dire economic forecasts.
The Mississippi Gaming Commission said Thursday that casinos in the state can start reopening in a week, more than two months after the commission closed them because of the coronavirus pandemic.
The reopening comes just before the Memorial Day weekend, which normally marks the beginning of the summer tourist season.
Gaming Commission executive director Allen Godfrey said the commission will release an order Friday with safety guidelines. Those are expected to include requirements for social distancing between customers and frequent cleanings of slot machines and other equipment.
The commission closed Mississippi’s state-regulated casinos March 16. Republican Gov. Tate Reeves has closed other types of businesses to try to slow the spread of the highly contagious virus, and he has allowed many to reopen.
A renowned Virginia restaurant will feature mannequins to add a touch of whimsy and help with social distancing when customers return to its grand dining room later this month.
Mannequins dressed in fine 1940s-style attire were already theatrically staged Thursday at The Inn at Little Washington, tucked in the foothills of the Blue Ridge Mountains about 90 minutes from Washington, D.C.
Chef and proprietor Patrick O’Connell said in a statement that the mannequins are a way to allow plenty of space between real guests and elicit a few smiles and provide some fun photo ops.
Although business restrictions are set to begin easing in some parts of Virginia on Friday, restaurants can only serve dine-in customers in an outdoor space. The three-Michelin-star restaurant has opted to wait until May 29 to resume dining service indoors.
SANTA FE, N.M.
New Mexico Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham says the state is woefully short of professionals devoted to contact tracing aimed at alerting people who are exposed unknowingly to the new coronavirus.
The state has about 100 workers devoted to tracing exposure to the disease through interviews with people who have tested positive. It needs at least 670 professionals.
The state last month embarked on a contact-tracing pilot program but little has been said publicly about the effort. The congressional delegation says New Mexico is in line for more than $77 million in federal funding for testing and contact tracing.
New Mexico has more than 5,500 cases, with 11 new deaths reported Thursday.
Hundreds of people angry or frustrated over Michigan’s coronavirus stay-at-home order protested again outside the state Capitol, braving heavy rain to call for a loosening of restrictions and for business owners to reopen in defiance of Gov. Gretchen Whitmer.
Thursday’s demonstration numbered about 200 and was smaller than previous rallies. The Senate canceled session so the Capitol could be closed weeks after some armed protesters entered the building during a rally.
The latest protest was led by Michigan United for Liberty, a conservative activist group that has sued the governor and organized or participated in several rallies since early April.
Germany’s president is urging citizens to have more faith in science than conspiracy theories if they want to avoid getting the new coronavirus.
Frank-Walter Steinmeier expressed concern Thursday at the declining acceptance for measures intended to slow the spread of the virus, such as social distancing, and the growing protests in Germany against pandemic restrictions.
Germany has seen numerous and, at times, violent demonstrations against government-imposed restrictions in recent days. Officials have warned that the protests are attracting far right and anti-government extremists, as well as people who claim the pandemic is part of a secretive global conspiracy.
More than 7,700 people have died of COVID-19 in Germany, which has recorded over 170,000 cases.
WINDOW ROCK, Ariz.
The president of the Navajo Nation says additional deaths and COVID-19 cases reported on the tribe’s sprawling reservation indicate it’s still not safe for residents to go out in public.
The tribal health department late Wednesday reported 147 more confirmed COVID-19 cases with 16 additional deaths from the coronavirus outbreak. The increases put the number of cases at 3,392 with a total of 119 deaths.
Tribal President Jonathan Nez said residents should still should stay home and only go out in public when necessary.
The reservation includes large areas of Arizona and New Mexico and a small part of Utah.
London’s mayor is warning that the British government must quickly come up with a rescue package to stop the capital’s mass transit systems from running out of money amid the coronavirus pandemic.
Sadiq Khan said Transport for London may be forced to cut services because the government hasn’t given it the funding it desperately needs. He called for a bailout to be finalized by the end of Thursday.
The network has lost most of its income during the coronavirus lockdown and thousands of staff have been furloughed.
Downing Street said negotiations were in an “advanced stage” and its priority was reaching a funding deal with the transport network.
The government also said Thursday that another 428 people died in the U.K. after testing positive for the coronavirus across all settings, including hospitals and care homes. That increases the total to 33,624, second globally to the United States.
Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro says his administration will ease rules for use of an anti-malaria drug to treat people infected with the coronavirus.
The government’s health ministry previously allowed the use of chloroquine only for coronavirus patients hospitalized in serious condition. Bolsonaro said Thursday said he was permitting expanded use of the treatment despite a warning earlier this week by the health minister about the drug’s side effects.
Brazilian scientists last month stopped part of a chloroquine study after heart rhythm problems were detected in 25% of the people given the higher of two doses being tested.
Johns Hopkins University reports that there have been more than 13,000 COVID-19 deaths in Brazil, Latin America’s hardest-hit country.
President Donald Trump says he's intent on building the nation’s stockpile of ventilators, masks and other equipment to meet future health threats.
Trump says his administration has awarded contracts for nearly 200,000 ventilators and 800,000 N95 respirators and facemasks. He says his goal is to produce “everything America needs for ourselves and then export to the world, including medicines.”
Trump’s comments came at a medical equipment distributor in Allentown, Pennsylvania, where he was thanking workers in a key battleground state. The comments came on the same day that a federal whistleblower testified before a House panel about his repeated efforts to jump-start U.S. production of respirator masks that he says went nowhere.
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