The Latest: South Korea links 162 cases to clubgoers
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:
— Democrats power massive $3 trillion response bill through House.
— Canada's largest airline laying off at least 20,000 because of pandemic.
— Trump hopeful to have virus vaccine on market by end of year or shortly after.
SEOUL, South Korea — South Korean officials say they so far confirmed 162 coronavirus cases linked to club goers in the densely populated Seoul metropolitan area, but also expressed cautious hope that infections are beginning to wane.
Health Ministry official Son Young-rae on Saturday said the country may have ducked a major surge in transmissions in a region where half of its 51 million people live, pointing out that the daily increase in infections have been within 30 over the past days despite a jump in tests.
Son said 46,000 have so far been tested after health workers earlier this month detected a slew of infections linked to clubs and other nightspots in Seoul’s Itaewon entertainment district.
“It’s notable there were no new transmissions in churches, call centers and gyms where virus carriers went to,” Son said.
He said this was a sign that facilities and businesses are properly practicing hygiene and enforcing distance between people, which he said would be crucial as the country explores a more sustainable form of social distancing.
Authorities had expanded what they call “anonymous testing,” which allows people to provide only their phone numbers and not their names for COVID-19 tests. Some South Korean media have described the Itaewon clubs linked to infections as catering to sexual minorities, which raised concern of discouraging sick people from coming forward in fear of homophobic backlash.
South Korea’s Centers for Disease Control and Prevention on Saturday reported 19 new cases of the coronavirus, but 10 were linked to passengers arriving from abroad.
WASHINGTON — Democrats have powered a massive $3 trillion coronavirus response bill through the House, over Republican opposition.
The 1,815-page measure is aimed at propping up a U.S. economy in freefall and a health care system overwhelmed by a pandemic that’s still ravaging the country. It’s also an election-year statement of priorities by Democrats.
The measure has no chance of passing the GOP-controlled Senate and has already drawn a White House veto threat. Passage sets up difficult negotiation with the White House and Senate Republicans over what’s likely to be the last major COVID-19 response bill before November’s presidential and congressional elections.
CANBERRA, Australia — Restrictions put in place to stop the coronavirus from spreading across Australia have eased, but the public was warned to take their new-found freedoms carefully in order to prevent a second wave of the pandemic.
States and territories have begun the first stage of a three-stage process to lift restrictions on outdoor and indoor gatherings and business operations. Australians will get to sit in pubs, cafes and restaurants for the first time in weeks after isolation and social distancing measures kept the lid on infections and COVID-19 deaths.
But Australian Medical Association president Tony Bartone urged people to remain vigilant because the virus is still present in the community and could flare up as hot spots or small outbreaks.
“If we do the wrong things, we risk undoing all the gains that we’ve made,” Batone said. “So, the message is, yes, appreciate all the efforts, appreciate the opportunity to release some of those measures, but let’s not have a party, let’s not go to town.”
He said people must still maintain social distancing, cough etiquette, washing hands regularly and staying away from others if they are not well.
“Those messages are really the backbone as we progressively lift those restrictions,” he said.
The number of active cases breached 7,000 on Friday, but the death toll from the pandemic remains at 98, extremely low by international standards.
JUNEAU, Alaska -- An Alaska lawmaker on Friday defended asking whether stickers that individuals may be asked to wear as part of a Capitol coronavirus screening process will be “available as a yellow Star of David.”
Republican Rep. Ben Carpenter of Nikiski said he was serious in making the comment in an email chain with other legislators. He was responding to proposed protocols aimed at guarding against the virus as lawmakers prepare to reconvene Monday. The protocols suggest stickers be worn to confirm someone at the Capitol had been screened.
“The point is, tying it to the Star of David shows, who amongst the human population has lost their liberties more than the Jewish people?” he said in an interview. “And if there were more people standing up for the loss of liberties prior to World War II, maybe we wouldn’t have had the Holocaust.
“This is about the loss of liberties within our people, and we’re just turning a blind eye to it,” he said, adding that virus fears are “causing us to have policies that don’t make any sense.”
In his email, Carpenter asked about the screening process. “If my sticker falls off, do I get a new one or do I get a public shaming too? Are the stickers available as a yellow Star of David?”
Rep. Grier Hopkins, a Fairbanks Democrat, responded to Carpenter’s email by calling the remark “disgusting. Keep your Holocaust jokes to yourself.”
The state has reported 388 cases of COVID-19 involving Alaska residents and eight cases involving nonresidents. There have been 10 deaths related to COVID-19, the disease caused by the virus, according to the state health department.
HONOLULU — A tourist from New York who allegedly posted photos on Instagram of himself at the beach has been arrested for violating Hawaii’s traveler quarantine.
The state says 23-year-old Tarique Peters of the Bronx arrived in Honolulu on Monday. People who saw his social media posts reported him to authorities. He was arrested Friday. He couldn’t immediately be reached for comment.
Hawaii mandated a 14-day quarantine on travelers arriving to the islands in an attempt to curb the spread of the coronavirus. Authorities have been cracking down on travelers allegedly defying the quarantine.
TORONTO — Canada’s largest airline plans to lay off at least 20,000 employees because of the pandemic.
Air Canada says the layoffs will impact more than half of the company’s 38,000 employees. The airline says COVID-19 has forced it to reduce its schedule by 95% and it doesn't expect normal traffic to return anytime soon.
The carrier says its workforce will be reduced by 50% to 60%. The move is effective June 7.
Air Canada announced in March it would lay off nearly half of its workforce under a cost reduction scheme. It proceeded to rehire some 16,500 laid-off flight attendants, mechanics and customer service agents in April under after the Canadian government announced a wage subsidy plan, but has not committed to maintain the program past June 6.
LOS ANGELES -- A federal judge has ordered Los Angeles city and county to move thousands of homeless people who are living near freeways, saying their health is at risk from pollution and the coronavirus.
Judge David O. Carter issued a preliminary injunction Friday requiring relocation of an estimated 6,000 to 7,000 people camping near freeway ramps and under overpasses and bridges. The order would take effect on May 22.
Carter says those people are at risk from the coronavirus, lead and other pollutants, and from accidents and earthquakes.
DENVER — A man suspected of killing a woman in Denver was released from prison three weeks before the slaying due to concerns over the coronavirus.
The Denver Post reports Cornelius Haney was released April 15 under powers granted to the Colorado Department of Corrections by Gov. Jared Polis. The governor’s order aims to speed up certain releases from the prison system to lower the population amid the pandemic. Police arrested Haney on Monday in the fatal shooting of a 21-year-old woman in an alley in east Denver on May 9.
Haney had a mandatory release date of Aug. 22. States across the country are trying to reduce their prison populations to prevent outbreaks of the virus.
GAINESVILLE, Ga. — Community leaders say an effort to tamp down the spread of COVID-19 is succeeding in northeast Georgia, the site of a recent outbreak that threatened to level the state’s huge poultry processing industry.
Republican Gov. Brian Kemp visited Gainesville on Friday to highlight the effort, with local leaders saying they believed community outreach and infection-control efforts had begun to control the disease.
Norma Hernandez of the Northeast Georgia Latino Chamber of Commerce says that over the past two weeks, community leaders have worked to present a message from people that Spanish speakers will trust.
As poultry industry officials proudly noted Friday, Georgia is the nation’s largest chicken producer, a $41 billion industry that employs more than 45,000 people statewide and turns out 15% of U.S. production.
Kemp’s visit came as Georgia neared 37,000 overall infections and more than 1,550 deaths.
The state recently surpassed 300,000 tests, which Kemp hailed as a milestone in efforts to locate virus cases. The latest testing figure represents close to 3% of the state’s population.
FLAGSTAFF, Ariz. -- Residents of the Navajo Nation will be under the strictest weekend lockdown yet. Grocery stores, gas stations and other businesses will be closed starting Friday night. Essential workers also are being told to stay home until Monday around dawn.
A frustrated Navajo Nation president made the announcement after a spike in deaths that he attributed to shifting traffic patterns in New Mexico. As of Thursday, the tribe reported 127 deaths and 3,632 positive cases since it first began tracking the figures. Tribal officials say more than 500 people have recovered.
The Navajo Nation has been hit harder by the coronavirus than any other Native American reservation.
LISBON, Portugal — Portugal will transition to its second phase of scaling back confinement measures following the positive government assessment of the evolution of its COVID-19 outbreak.
The first stage of the reopening process began with small shops and businesses such as hairdressers. Phase two starting Monday will include restaurants, bars, cafes and other shops opening under capacity limitations and social distancing restrictions.
Portuguese Prime Minister Antonio Costa also unveiled the plan for the reopening of beaches on June 6. Social distancing restrictions will have to be in place, with a maximum capacity for each beach.
The government announced that citizens will be able to check online or via a mobile phone application the current capacity of each beach .
Portugal has 20,583 confirmed cases and 1,190 deaths from the pandemic.
LAS VEGAS -- The city of Las Vegas has announced that downtown restaurants and businesses operating under the first two phases of state reopening orders are allowed to extend operations to the sidewalk during regular business hours.
The Las Vegas Review-Journal reported that outdoor dining and sidewalk sales are now permitted. But each business must continue implementing social distancing measures by keeping tables, chairs and other furniture six feet from pedestrian paths. City spokesman Jace Radke says Las Vegas is currently in the first stage of reopening, which went into effect Saturday. The second phase will allow establishments to expand operations outside with additional restrictions.
WASHINGTON — Vice President Mike Pence is adding five new members to the government’s coronavirus task force as the White House increasingly focuses on efforts to reopen the country safely and hasten the development of vaccines for COVID-19.
The new members include two doctors focused on vaccine development: Dr. Peter Marks, director of the Center for Biologics Evaluation and Research at the Food and Drug Administration, and Dr. Francis Collins, director of the National Institutes of Health. Also joining the task force of about 20 members are Thomas Engels, director of the Health Resources and Services Administration, Labor Secretary Eugene Scalia and Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue.
Pence made the changes barely a week after the White House bowed to public pressure and shelved plans to begin to shut down the task force, which has been managing the U.S. response to the coronavirus since late January.
The task force announcement comes as Trump named a former pharmaceutical executive to lead his administration’s all-out effort to produce and distribute a coronavirus vaccine by the end of the year.