The Latest: New Zealand reports 3 new virus cases, 2 deaths
The Latest on the coronavirus pandemic. The new coronavirus causes mild or moderate symptoms for most people. For some, especially older adults and people with existing health problems, it can cause more severe illness or death.
TOP OF THE HOUR:
— New Zealand announces just three new virus cases, two deaths
— China again reports no new virus deaths
— South Korea says its economy shrank 1.4% during 1st quarter of 2020
— UN Secretary-General repeats appeal for global cease-fire during pandemic
— Federal judge to reject bid by 3 California churches to hold in-person services
— AP Exclusive: ER staff saves lives, suffers in hot spot.
WELLINGTON, New Zealand — Officials announced just three new cases of the coronavirus on Thursday as the number of new infections in New Zealand continues to trend downward.
Health officials also announced two additional deaths, bringing the total number of confirmed infections to 1,451 and total deaths to 16. The country has been in a strict lockdown for the past month, which officials plan to begin easing a little next week.
The government also announced measures to help news media companies which have seen advertising levels plummet since the coronavirus outbreak. The measures totaling 50 million New Zealand dollars ($30 million) include temporarily cutting transmission fees for broadcasters and increased spending on news subscriptions.
Broadcasting Minister Kris Faafoi said there would likely be a second round of media support measures announced in May. Earlier this month, German company Bauer Media announced it was closing its New Zealand operation and would no longer publish many of the country’s magazines.
The country also marked an unusual milestone on Wednesday when no commercial flights arrived from abroad, the first time that has happened in decades, according to a report by news outlet RNZ. A handful of international flights are continuing to arrive and leave each week but their number has been dwindling since the country closed the border to everyone but citizens and residents.
BEIJING — China again reported no additional deaths from the coronavirus and just 10 new cases, six of them brought from outside the country.
Numbers in hospital have dropped to 959, only 63 of which are considered serious cases, while just over 1,000 are under isolation and monitoring as suspected cases or for having tested positive for the virus without showing any symptoms.
The epicenter of the global pandemic, the central city of Wuhan that accounted for the bulk of China’s cases and deaths, now has just 69 people in treatment for COVID-19, just two of them listed in serious condition.
China has reported a total of 4,632 deaths among 82,798 cases, although, as in many countries, those figures are considered to have been underreported. China also stands accused by the U.S. and others of initially minimizing the extent of the outbreak after it was first detected late last year.
As new confirmed cases drop close to zero, China has re-opened many businesses and permitted middle and high school seniors preparing for exams to return to class. However, a ban on foreign arrivals and strict quarantine measures remain in place as China seeks to avoid an influx of new cases from abroad or a second wave of infections among those thought to have recovered or who have not come down sick but could still be spreading the virus.
SEOUL, South Korea -- South Korea says its economy shrank 1.4% during the first three months of the year, the worst contraction since late-2008.
It is a reflection of the massive shock the coronavirus unleashed on domestic demand and trade. The Bank of Korea on Thursday said domestic consumption decreased 6.4% from the previous quarter as people, while staying at home to avoid virus transmissions, spent less on restaurants, leisure activities, clothing and cars.
Amid worldwide lockdowns, exports shrank 2% despite a seasonal rebound in shipments of semiconductors, one of the country’s major export items.
South Korea was one of the first nations outside mainland China to be hard-hit by the virus, but its caseload has been slowing in recent weeks, allowing government officials to relax social distancing guidelines.
The country on Thursday reported eight new infections and two more deaths, bringing its confirmed totals to 10,702 cases and 240 fatalities.
UNITED NATIONS — Secretary-General Antonio Guterres is repeating his appeal for an immediate cease-fire to all conflicts in the world to tackle the coronavirus pandemic as millions of Muslims begin observing the holy month of Ramadan.
The U.N. chief sent “warm wishes” to Muslims in a statement Wednesday night that noted that this would be a very different Ramadan because many traditional community activities will not be possible as a result of COVID-19.
Ramadan begins with the new moon this week and Muslims now find themselves cut off from much of what makes the month special as authorities fight the pandemic. Muslims will fast from sunrise-to-sunset fast, but traditional communal meals for the poor, large dinners with family and friends, and cultural events in some countries after sunset have been canceled.
Guterres stressed that “many people in conflict zones will once again be tragically marking this month with war and insecurity all around.”
He repeated his March 23 appeal for a global cease-fire “to focus on our common enemy — the virus — recalling the words of the Holy Quran `and if they incline to peace, then incline to it.’”
The secretary-general said Ramadan is also about supporting the most vulnerable, and he thanked people in the Muslim world who support “those fleeing conflict in the best Islamic tradition of hospitality and generosity — a remarkable lesson in this world where so many doors have been closed to those in need of protection, even before COVID-19.”
SANTA FE, N.M. -- New Mexico will extend an emergency public health order through May 15 as it convenes mayors and businesses leaders to consider the first minor changes to restrictions on economic activity.
Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham, a Democrat in her first term, said Wednesday the state will forge its own path toward stamping out infections through increased testing to uncover asymptomatic cases, rapid contact tracing to notify and isolate residents who were exposed, and new testing methods that can detect antibodies.
She warned that the state is not yet ready to lift most restrictions on nonessential businesses and that a large-scale reopening of the economy is still far away. New Mexico is likely to insist that people wear masks in public until broad immunity is established through a vaccine — a solution unlikely to arrive this year.
Lujan Grisham said her administration will continue to enforce uniform statewide health guidelines, without exceptions for several counties with no confirmed cases. That is a response to increasing evidence that the virus is spreading among people without symptoms and is still highly infectious, she said.
“The virus is in every community,” she said. “We are not going to be pressured by nuances in other states. We are going to focus on what’s right for New Mexico.”
SACRAMENTO, Calif. -- A federal judge on Wednesday said he will deny a bid by three Southern California churches to hold in-person church services during the pandemic, saying that government’s emergency powers trump what in normal times would be fundamental constitutional rights.
U.S. District Judge Jesus Bernal in Los Angeles said he will reject the temporary restraining order the churches sought against Gov. Gavin Newsom and other officials. They argued that the state’s stay-at-home orders violate the First Amendment right to freedom of religion and assembly.
“During the state of emergency the executive powers are in effect, in that they are empowered to provide for emergency remedies which may infringe on fundamental constitutional rights,” Bernal said the the end of the hourlong hearing. He said he will soon issue a formal ruling.
Many churches have been holding online services. California officials on Friday said religious organizations can have drive-in services so long as congregants don’t have personal contact.
UNITED NATIONS — The United Nations special envoy for Africa’s Great Lakes region says the number of COVID-19 cases is growing, though at “a moderate rate compared to other regions in the world."
Huang Xia told the U.N. Security Council that according to the World Health Organization, “more than 4,766 cases and nearly 131 deaths have been reported in the region.” It includes Burundi, Central African Republic, Congo, Rwanda and South Sudan.
Huang said countries in the region are taking similar measures to limit the spread: restricting movements, imposing quarantine measures, implementing social distancing and curfews, and closing borders except for movement of cargo.
He said “at this stage, these measures seem to have enabled the region to curb the progression of the pandemic.”
But Huang cited significant economic repercussions, including almost a complete cessation in air transport, tourism, agriculture and oil production, mining and other minerals.
WASHINGTON — President Donald Trump has signed an executive order that will temporarily suspend the issuance of certain green cards for 60 days as the country continues to combat the coronavirus.
Trump announced the signing during a White House briefing.
He says the order will “ensure that unemployed Americans of all backgrounds will be first in line for jobs as our economy re-opens.”
The order signed by Trump includes a long list of exceptions, including for those who are currently in the country, those who have valid immigrant visas, people seeking entry to work as physicians and nurses, and the spouses and unmarried children of U.S. citizens.
Trump has said he will reassess whether to extend the order in 60 days
HARRISBURG, Pa. — Residents of north central and northwestern Pennsylvania are projected to be the first in the state to be released from Gov. Tom Wolf’s stay-at-home order, and many retail stores in those areas should be able to reopen under a statewide plan to be released Wednesday night.
Wolf wants to begin easing some pandemic restrictions on May 8 in areas of Pennsylvania that have been lightly impacted by the new coronavirus.
His reopening plan sets a target of fewer than 50 positive cases of the virus per 100,000 residents for 14 days. Many counties in rural Pennsylvania have reported just a few cases total, though the hardest-hit counties have reported hundreds of virus cases per 100,000 residents.
The virus has infected more than 35,000 people in Pennsylvania and killed more than 1,600, but Wolf, a Democrat, says the state has made sufficient progress in its fight against COVID-19 to begin a gradual loosening of restrictions. Republicans are pressing for a more aggressive timetable.
UNITED NATIONS — U.N. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres has called on people on the 50th anniversary of Earth Day to “act decisively to protect our planet from both the coronavirus and the existential threat of climate disruption.”
The U.N. chief is urging a shift from “the gray to green economy,” an end to fossil fuel subsidies, and for polluters to start paying for their pollution.
Guterres says: “On this International Mother Earth Day, all eyes are on the COVID-19 pandemic – the biggest test the world has faced since the Second World War.”
The secretary-general says nations and people must work together to save lives and ease suffering “but there is another deep emergency — the planet’s unfolding environmental crisis.”
He says “biodiversity is in steep decline” and “climate disruption is approaching a point of no return.”
WASHINGTON — President Donald Trump is taking issue with Georgia Gov. Brian Kemp’s decision to begin reopening businesses like hair salons and tattoo parlors when the coronavirus continues to spread.
Trump says at a White House briefing that he disagrees “strongly” with the Republican governor’s decision to allow the reopening of businesses like barber shops where social distancing is impossible, saying they stand “in violation of the phase one guidelines” his administration released last week.
While Trump says he wants Kemp to do what he thinks is right, Trump says he thinks opening beauty salons and barber shops during phase one ’is just too soon.”
“They can wait a little bit longer,” he says, “Just a little bit not much, because safety had to predominate.”
SAO PAULO — Brazil’s new health minister is expressing doubts about projections that have guided governors’ decisions on how to handle the coronavirus outbreak.
Nelson Teich says it is impossible that estimates for total death counts vary so much, adding there needs to be a standard model of analysis.
Teich took office on Friday after President Jair Bolsonaro fired his prior minister, whose repeated support for governors’ stay-at-home measures ran counter to Bolsonaro’s position that the Brazilian economy needs to keep moving. Teich, who made his career on the business side of health care, says Brazil is already looking at ways to ease social isolation despite the fact the crisis’ peak is yet to come.
MINNEAPOLIS — Minnesota has struck a deal with the University of Minnesota and the Mayo Clinic to test as many as 20,000 people per day for the coronavirus.
Gov. Tim Walz calls the partnership a breakthrough for rapid and widespread testing for COVID-19, which is seen as a key across the country for reopening businesses amid the pandemic. He says everyone with symptoms of the coronavirus can get tested once the plan ramps up.
Walz adds the plan should allow Minnesota to test at a higher rate than any other state, and potentially any other country. The state will tap $36 million to cover the costs from a fund the Legislature has already approved.
Neither the governor nor other officials who briefed reporters would give a firm timetable for reaching 20,000 tests per day except to say that they were aiming to do it in the next few weeks.
BATON ROUGE, La. — Gov. John Bel Edwards says masks will be recommended attire for Louisiana residents even when stay-at-home orders and restrictions on business activity are eased.
He noted medical experts’ guidance saying proper masks keep patients infected with coronavirus from spreading it to others.
“Think of wearing a mask in public as just being polite to others,” Edwards said at his daily news conference, calling mask-wearing part of “new normal” of life when restrictions are lifted.
It remained unclear exactly how and when restrictions will be lifted but Edwards said he expects to deliver more information as early as Monday.
BOSTON — Google’s security team says it has identified more than a dozen government-backed malicious groups using COVID-19 related themes for phishing and hacking.
The company’s Threat Analysis Group says in a blog post that some have tried to trick people into downloading malware by impersonating international health organizations. It said one South American group, known as Packrat, spoofed the World Health Organization’s login page.
Google says people who work at public health agencies are becoming targets due to the new coronavirus and it’s proactively adding extra security for such people — more than 50,000 high-risk accounts in all.
One campaign Google highlighted targeted personal accounts of U.S. government employees — the specific employers were not named — with phishing lures. Senders posing as American fast-food franchises offering free meals and coupons tried to get recipients to enter their Google account credentials.
While Google said it has not seen an overall increase in phishing attacks by government-backed groups, the use of COVID-19 themes represents a change in tactics.
BOSTON — The Massachusetts death toll in the coronavirus pandemic has surged past 2,000, about doubling in seven days as the state becomes a hot spot.
There were 221 new deaths, pushing the overall toll to 2,182, officials said. It was the most virus deaths reported in a single day in Massachusetts, and the first time the state has recorded more than 200 in a day.
There were more than 1,700 new cases reported, bringing the number of confirmed cases close to 43,000. More than half the deaths — 1,205 — were reported in long-term care centers, such as nursing homes. The average age of people who have died of confirmed COVID-19 is 82, officials said.
Vice President Mike Pence recently said the White House is closely watching the Boston area, and the coordinator of the federal coronavirus task force said officials are “very much focused” on Massachusetts.
SACRAMENTO, Calif. — California hospitals are allowed to resume scheduled surgeries.
Gov. Gavin Newsom calls it the first significant change to the state’s stay-at-home order that has been in place for more than a month due to the coronavirus outbreak.
The change covers surgeries that are not emergencies. Newsom says examples include procedures for tumors, heart valves and chronic disease. The change does not include purely cosmetic surgeries.
Newsom says state officials will be monitoring hospitals closely to make sure they are not overwhelmed. If there is a surge of coronavirus cases, the scheduled surgery ban could be put back in place.
SACRAMENTO, Calif. — The California Highway Patrol says it is temporarily banning rallies at the state Capitol and other state facilities because of the pandemic.
The change in policy came after hundreds of protesters gathered on the Capitol grounds in Sacramento on Monday, many without wearing masks or following recommendations to remain more than six feet apart to slow the spread of the coronavirus.
The same group had planned additional rallies in coming days against Gov. Gavin Newsom’s orders that people remain at home except for essential activities. Additional similar rallies have been happening across California and the nation, with more planned.
GENEVA — The World Health Organization chief says he hopes the United States will reconsider its freeze in funding for his agency and vowed to keep working on “saving lives” despite calls for his resignation from some U.S. lawmakers.
WHO Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus says he hopes the U.S. believes WHO is “an important investment, not just to help others, but for the U.S. to stay safe” amid the coronavirus outbreak.
President Donald Trump last week announced a temporary halt to funding for the U.N. health agency from the United States — its biggest donor — alleging a WHO cover-up and missteps handling the outbreak.
On Wednesday, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo reiterated some of the U.S. allegations, while other U.S. officials said the halt involved new funding and was expected to continue for 60 to 90 days.
A group of Republican lawmakers in the House of Representatives last week suggested that Trump condition any voluntary U.S. contributions to the WHO this year on Tedros’ resignation.
Asked about whether he was considering that, Tedros said: “I will continue to work day and night because this is a blessed work, actually, and responsibility saving lives, and I will focus on that.”
NEW YORK — Two pet cats in New York state have tested positive for the coronavirus, marking the first cases in companion animals in the United States, federal officials say.
The cats, which had mild respiratory illnesses and are expected to recover, are thought to have contracted the virus from people in their households or neighborhoods, the U.S. Department of Agriculture and the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention say.
The finding, which comes after positive tests in seven tigers and lions at the Bronx Zoo, add to a small number of confirmed cases of the virus in animals worldwide. U.S. authorities say that while it appears some animals can get the virus from people, there’s no indication the animals are transmitting it to human beings.
The two cats live in different parts of the state; the USDA and CDC wouldn’t say where specifically.
Authorities are recommending that any pet owners with COVID-19 avoid contact with their animals as much as possible, including wearing a face covering while caring for them.