The Latest: Michigan’s governor decries racism at protests

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:

— Pompeo says China has spread of disease in the past and must be held accountable for COVID-19.

— Michigan’s governor says protesters “depicted some of the worst racism” in U.S. history.

— Birx: Protesters not socially distancing is “devastatingly worrisome.”

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WASHINGTON -- Michigan’s governor says gun-carrying protesters who demonstrated inside her state’s Capitol “depicted some of the worst racism” and “awful parts” of U.S. history.

Democrat Gretchen Whitmer tells CNN that the protests featured “Confederate Flags, and nooses,” as well as swastikas.

Members of the Michigan Liberty Militia protested the state’s stay-at-home orders this week, some with weapons and tactical gear and their faces partially covered. They went inside the Capitol, where being armed is allowed, then demanded access to the House floor, which is prohibited.

Some went to the Senate gallery, where a senator said armed men shouted at her.

Michigan’s Republican-controlled Legislature has questioned Whitmer’s authority to extend stay-at-home orders amid the coronavirus pandemic. But the governor used an executive order to extend a state of emergency declaration and has directed most businesses statewide to remain closed.

Mentioned as a possible running mate for presumptive Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden, Whitmer said Sunday, “This isn’t something we just negotiate ourselves out of and it’s a political matter.”

“This is a public health crisis,” she said.

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WASHINGTON — Secretary of State Mike Pompeo says China has been responsible for the spread of disease in the past and must be held accountable for the coronavirus pandemic that originated in the country.

In comments likely to spark protests from Beijing and elsewhere, Pompeo said “China has a history of infecting the world.” He cited poor safety and security at epidemiological laboratories, including in the city of Wuhan where the virus was first reported.

He stressed that he had no reason to believe that the virus was deliberately spread but he ramped up already harsh U.S. criticism of the Chinese for their response to the outbreak.

“Remember, China has a history of infecting the world, and they have a history of running substandard laboratories,” Pompeo said Sunday on ABC’s “This Week” program.

“These are not the first times that we’ve had a world exposed to viruses as a result of failures in a Chinese lab. And so, while the intelligence community continues to do its work, they should continue to do that, and verify so that we are certain, I can tell you that there is a significant amount of evidence that this came from that laboratory in Wuhan.”

Pompeo appeared to be referring to previous outbreaks of respiratory viruses, like SARS, which started in China. But his remark may be seen as offensive in China given the history of U.S. discrimination against the Chinese and people of Chinese origin dating to the 19th century.

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LONDON — A former UK chief scientific advisor has assembled an independent group of advisers to consider a path out of the country’s lockdown and to offer advice to the government.

David King says the group was started to emphasize the need for transparency and that people should be given access to the science advice.

He says the group will be “running this on YouTube starting at midday tomorrow and the whole thing will be done in the public domain.”

King expressed concern that Dominic Cummings, a close adviser of Prime Minister Boris Johnson, sits on the UK Government’s Scientific Advisory Group for Emergencies (Sage).

King says that “if the prime minister’s strategic adviser is there, I worry that he’s got two advisers.’’

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LONDON — Britain’s Department of Health says 315 people have died after testing positive for COVID-19 in the last reporting period.

The figure reflects the tally as of 5 p.m. Saturday and brings the total number of people who have died in hospitals, care homes and the wider community to 28,446 up from 28,131 the day before.

Prime Minister Boris Johnson has said the country has passed the peak of infection following a national lockdown that began March 23.

He has pledged to offer a road map out of the lockdown later this week.

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ROME — The governor of Sardinia is easing some COVID-19 restrictions on both the Italian island’s spiritual and animal flocks.

The new rules signed by Gov. Christian Solinas on Saturday will allow resumption of public Masses. Popular ceremonies like first Communion will still be prohibited.

Italy’s bishops blasted Italian Premier Giuseppe Conte a week ago for not allowing faithful to atttend public Masses. Solinas said Sardinia’s bishops can decide physical distancing measures for safety in the pews.

Conte says the government is working out details for Masses to resume nationwide.

Sardinia’s new rules allow resumption of sheep-sheering. While nationwide hair salons can’t open before June 1, Solinas gave the OK for hairdressers in Sardinia to resume business on May 11 in towns where contagion rates have dropped to zero.

Many governors insist their economy must restart sooner.

Sardinia is a region of 1.6 million people and has had less than a dozen new coronavirus cases for several straight days now. Early in the outbreak, the Mediterranean island banned arrivals of all flights and ships.

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ATHENS, Greece — There was a single fatality in Greece from COVID-19 in the last 24 hours, raising the total to 144.

There were only six new confirmed cases and the total number is now 2,626 in figured released Sunday. There are 37 people on ventilators and 78 have exited intensive care.

The strict quarantine measures imposed on March 23 are being relaxed starting Monday, with residents no longer required to send a message stating their reason for leaving home.

Some shops, like bookstores and hairdressers, are opening, but there is also an enforced policy of wearing masks while using public transport.

The Greek government has repeatedly said that the relaxation will not last if cases spike; the ban on trips to the countryside or the islands is being maintained for the time being.

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MINSK, Belarus — The World Health Organization has called on Belarus to ban public events as coronavirus cases rise sharply but President Alexander Lukashenko says the country will go ahead with a parade to mark the 75th anniversary of the defeat of Nazi Germany.

Belarus has not imposed social distancing or other restrictions to fight the virus’spread even though its 16,705 recorded cases are more than neighboring Ukraine and Poland, each of which has a population about four times larger.

Lukashenko said the May 9 commemoration would include war veterans, who are 90 years old or over.

“There are very few war participants left and they were the first to demand that they be brought to this event,” he said.

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WASHINGTON -- White House coronavirus coordinator Dr. Deborah Birx is calling it “devastatingly worrisome” to see protesters in Michigan and elsewhere not wear masks or practice social distancing as they demonstrate against stay-at-home orders.

Birx was responding to the hundreds of protesters who crowded the Michigan statehouse last week to push for a reopening of businesses.

She tells “Fox News Sunday” that people “will feel guilty for the rest of our lives” if they pick up the virus because they didn’t take precautions and then unwittingly spread it to family members who are especially vulnerable to severe illness due to preexisting conditions or older age.

Protests took place in several states over the weekend amid growing frustration over the economic impact from stay at home orders during the coronavirus outbreak.

Birx says: “We need to protect each other at the same time we’re voicing our discontent.”

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ROME — Nearly 1,000 health personnel have been hired to work in Italy’s chronically overcrowded prisons during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Regional Affairs Minister Francesco Boccia told reporters Sunday if more health workers are needed, they will be added.

The staff starts on Monday and will work until July 31. Twenty-thousand people applied for the jobs. The initiative was presented at a news conference outside Rome’s Rebibbia prison, where 62 of the temporary health workers will be deployed.

At the start of Italy’s 10-week-old outbreak, inmates at several prisons in Italy rioted to protest their vulnerability for contagion during the pandemic. Some judges have authorized the transfer of inmates to temporary house arrest to reduce the risk of contagion in crowded conditions.

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NAIROBI, Kenya — Tanzania’s president is questioning the quality of imported coronavirus testing kits but expressed faith in a herbal concoction that Madagascar’s president claims is a remedy for COVID-19.

While African nations have been largely praised for their efforts to counter the virus, Tanzanian President John Magufuli has been criticized for refusing to close markets and places of worship because he claims the virus “cannot sit on the body of Christ.”

His new comments Sunday are drawing another wave of skepticism. The country has 480 confirmed cases but some opposition members believe other cases haven’t been announced.

The president wants to investigate the national labs because he says some tests on samples from fruit and animals came back positive. He says that proves there are people without the virus who have tested positive.

Magufuli has sent representatives to Madagascar to bring home for testing the herbal concoction that medical experts have sharply questioned. There are no approved drugs for COVID-19.

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ROME — Rome’s infectious diseases hospital has admitted 28 patients from a nursing home who were confirmed to have COVID-19.

Spallanzani Hospital, which is the hub for all coronavirus patients in the region that includes Italy’s capital, said the patients were admitted Saturday from the Latina Nursing Home Clinic.

Prosecutors have been investigating nursing homes both in the epicenter of the country’s outbreak since late February, as well as in the south and other less-stricken areas. In several cases, the majority of the homes’ residents contracted the illness and had many fatalities.

Relatives have complained they were kept in the dark about their loved one’s condition. Some nursing home workers, including at a 1,000-bed facility in Milan, have alleged they were told by management not to wear protective masks near residents so the elderly wouldn’t be frightened.

Spallanzani said in a statement Sunday that the hospital was beefing up nursing services to facilitate contact with the elderly patients’ families through video phone calls and adding personnel to the switchboard so they can keep relatives informed.

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BERLIN — An international media rights group says the coronavirus pandemic is being used by governments around the world to increase restrictions on press freedoms.

The International Press Institute issued a report Sunday to coincide with World Press Freedom Day 2020, which concludes that in both democratic and autocratic states the “public health crisis has allowed governments to exercise control over the media on the pretext of preventing the spread of disinformation.”

It says authoritarian governments have been abusing emergency measures to “further stifle independent media and criminalize journalism,” while in democracies “efforts to control the public narrative and restrict access to information around the pandemic are on the rise.”

The Vienna-based organization said it has documented 162 press freedom violations related to coronavirus coverage over the past two and a half months. Almost a third of the violations have involved the arrest, detention or charging of journalists.

World Press Freedom Day was proclaimed by the United Nations in 1993.

Ahead of this year’s event, UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres said the COVID-19 crisis has underscored the importance of a robust and free press.

He says “As the pandemic spreads, it has also given rise to a second pandemic of misinformation, from harmful health advice to wild conspiracy theories. The press provides the antidote: verified, scientific, fact-based news and analysis.”

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MADRID — The Spanish government has said three Spaniards, one Bolivian resident in Spain and two Bolivian air force pilots have died in a plane crash in Bolivia. The four passengers were on the way back to Spain as part of repatriation efforts amid the coronavirus pandemic.

Spanish government spokeswoman Jesús María Montero confirmed Sunday the nationality of the passengers of the plane crash that was reported by the Bolivian air force.

The Bolivian air force said the crash occurred Saturday when the small aircraft “on a humanitarian air mission” crashed during a flight between the Bolivian cities of Trinidad and Santa Cruz.

The air force said they will investigate the cause of the accident.

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Follow AP news coverage of the coronavirus pandemic at https://apnews.com/VirusOutbreak and https://apnews.com/UnderstandingtheOutbreak.

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