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The Latest: Faithful return to St. Peter's Square

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:

—Russia reports its highest single-day death toll but fewer infections

—China's foreign minister says virus lawsuits are ‘illegal’

— France relaxing border restrictions and allowing migrant workers

— South Korea reports 25 new virus cases as small outbreaks continue

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VATICAN CITY — Well-spaced faithful have gathered in St. Peter’s Square for the first time in months for the traditional Sunday papal blessing.

They cast their gaze at the window where the pope normally addresses the faithful.

Pope Francis has been delivering the blessing from inside the Apostolic library during the epidemic.

Francis recalled his scheduled visit on Sunday to the Naples area to draw attention to environmental damage caused by toxic-waste dumping by the mob.

The visit — canceled during the pandemic — was timed to mark the fifth anniversary of his ecological manifesto, and the pope announced a year of reflection on his 2015 environmental encyclical, ‘’Praised Be.’’

Francis came to the window and waved to the people in the piazza at the end of the blessing.

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MOSCOW — Russia has reported its highest one-day coronavirus death toll but also the lowest number of new infections in three weeks.

The national coronavirus task force said Sunday that 3,541 people have died from the virus, an increase of 153. The previous high was 150.

The number of new infection cases was 8,599. Daily infection tallies of more than 11,000 were reported for several days in May. Overall, Russia has recorded 344,481 infection cases.

Russia’s comparatively low mortality rate has raised eyebrows in the West, with some suggesting the country’s government may be under-reporting virus-related deaths and manipulating the statistics. Russian officials deny the allegations and attribute the low numbers to the effectiveness of the measures taken to curb the spread of the outbreak.

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PARIS — Some 2,000 Muslims gathered for Eid al-Fitr prayers Sunday at a sports complex in the Paris suburb of Levallois-Perret.

They were carefully spaced 1 meter apart and wearing masks, according to France-Info radio. Volunteers spread the faithful out around a football field and a track field, and traditional embraces were not allowed.

France announced Friday night it would allow religious services to resume for the first time since March, but France’s leading Muslim organization CFCM advised mosques to stay closed for Sunday’s celebrations marking the end of Ramadan.

The CFCM said the government decree didn’t give mosques enough time to procure enough masks and hand gel to ensure that gatherings don’t turn into super-spreading events.

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BEIJING — Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi says any lawsuits brought against China over the COVID-19 have “zero factual basis in law or international precedence.”

Wang told reporters at a news conference on Sunday that China was a victim of the global pandemic alongside other countries and had reached out to assist other governments in need.

“To our regret, in addition to the raging of the new coronavirus, a political virus is also spreading in the U.S. which is to take every chance to attack and discredit China," Wang said.

“Some U.S. politicians, heedless of basic facts, have fabricated too many lies and plotted too many conspiracies,” Wang said.

Raising such lawsuits “tramples on the international rule of law and abandons the human conscience. It’s untrue, unjustifiable and illegal,” Wang said.

Those who would bring such litigation against China are “living in a daydream and will humiliate themselves,” Wang said.

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MOSCOW — Chechen President Ramzan Kadyrov has released a video calling for divine help in overcoming the pandemic after Russian media reported he had been hospitalized for suspected COVID-19 symptoms.

But the video, posted Saturday on the Telegram messaging app and marking the end of the Muslim fasting month of Ramadan, does not show Kadyrov and uses only his voice, Russian news reports said.

However, state news agency Tass cited Akhmed Dudayev, the head of Chechnya’s broadcasting company, as saying Kadyrov took the video himself.

Russian news media last week cited unnamed medical sources as saying Kadyrov had been flown to Moscow for coronavirus treatment, but Chechen officials denied the reports.

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LONDON — Lawmakers from Britain’s governing Conservative party are joining opposition calls for Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s top aide to quit for traveling 250 miles (400 kilometers) to his parents’ home during a nationwide lockdown while he was coming down with the coronavirus.

The government has defended Dominic Cummings after the revelation that he had driven from London to Durham, northeast England, with his wife and son at the end of March. A lockdown that began March 23 stipulated that people should remain at their primary residence, leaving only for essential local errands and exercise.

The government said Cummings made the trip because he wanted to ensure his 4-year-old son was looked after while he and his wife were ill. But critics of the government expressed outrage that Cummings had broken stringent rules saying people should “Stay Home ... Save Lives.”

Conservative lawmaker Steve Baker said Cummings must go for not “abiding by the spirit, at least, of the slogans which he has enforced on the rest of the country.” Another Tory legislator, Simon Hoare, tweeted: “With the damage Mr Cummings is doing to the Government’s reputation he must consider his position.”

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PARIS — France is relaxing its border restrictions as the virus gradually recedes, allowing migrant workers and family visitors from other European countries – but is requiring quarantine for people arriving from Britain and Spain.

Starting Monday, France is abandoning border checks installed in March and switching to spot checks in various places, according to a government statement.

It is also broadening the categories of people allowed from other countries in Europe’s border-free travel zone to include migrant workers and people coming for family reasons.

However, since Britain and Spain are requiring quarantine for those arriving from elsewhere in Europe, France is doing the same. It will be a voluntary 14-day quarantine, based on reciprocity for measures taken by Britain and Spain in an “uncoordinated” manner, the French government said.

Travelers from outside Europe are still banned until at least June 15, except for French citizens.

Any traveler arriving in France must fill out a permission form justifying the trip and a signed paper declaring that they don’t have symptoms.

The government said France is working with other European countries on standard Europe-wide travel rules.

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SEOUL, South Korea __ South Korea has reported 25 additional cases of the coronavirus over a 24-hour period, amid a continuation of small-scale outbreaks in the country.

The Korea Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says the additional figures released Sunday took the country’s total to 11,190 with 266 deaths. The agency says 10,213 of them have recovered and been released from quarantine.

It says 17 of the 25 new patients were locally infected while the rest eight came from overseas.

South Korea eased much of its strict social distancing rules in early May before it saw a sudden uptick in the number of cases associated with nightclubs in Seoul’s Itaewon entertainment district. Health authorities say they’ve confirmed a total of 225 cases linked to Itaewon cubs as of Sunday noon.

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HILO, Hawaii — Hawaii County Mayor Harry Kim says the Big Island will allow places of worship, restaurants, hair salons, barber shops and a variety of personal-service businesses to reopen starting June 1.

Kim says in his order that the establishments have to follow guidelines on sanitation and social distancing as outlined by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the Hawaii Health Department.

Restaurants can resume in-dining services as long as they follow the CDC’s Interim Guidance for Restaurants and Bars and National Restaurant Association Guidelines. The other personal services that are allowed to reopen are tutoring, music lessons, massages, yoga and personal training.

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HAMILTON, Mont. — An outbreak of COVID-19 in western Montana is tied to an exclusive golf and country club developed by financial executive Charles Schwab.

Stock Farm Club General Manager Steve Buck says the eight people who tested positive for COVID-19 in Ravalli County are employees of the club near Hamilton. One person had been hospitalized and seven others remained in isolation on Saturday.

The health department has said it was believed the first person who tested positive had contracted the respiratory virus outside the county.

Montana reported no new positive COVID-19 tests from samples run on Friday. The state has had 479 confirmed cases.

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ANCHORAGE, Alaska -- The Alaska Baseball League has canceled its summer season, as the future of sports worldwide remains uncertain during the coronavirus pandemic.

The summer league season was scheduled to begin on June 29. The league website says this season will be canceled to keep everyone safe from exposure to COVID-19.

KTVA-TV reported that if competition resumed on time there would have been travel and housing challenges during the seven weeks of play. The five-team league is made up of college players from mostly the Lower 48 but also from places as far away as Taiwan.

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SPOKANE, Wash. — A pasta company has announced there was a coronavirus outbreak at its Spokane factory as Washington state prepares to reopen parts of its economy.

The Spokesman-Review reported that Philadelphia Macaroni Company Inc. said in a statement Friday that 72 workers were tested for COVID-19 and 24 were positive. Health officials say there was an increase in Spokane County with 31 new positive cases between Thursday and Friday.

Company officials say all of the factory employees have since been tested and the facility was disinfected. The company is working with the Spokane Regional Health District to conduct contact tracing and determine further prevention measures.

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BEIJING — China on Sunday reported three new confirmed cases of coronavirus.

Two of the cases were brought from outside the country and one locally transmitted in the northeastern province of Jilin that has experienced a minor outbreak now apparently largely contained.

No new deaths were reported and 79 people remain in treatment, with another 380 under isolation and monitoring for being suspected cases or having tested positive for COVID-19 without showing any symptoms.

China has reported a total of 4,634 COVID-19 deaths out of 82,974 cases.

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CANBERRA, Australia — Government officials says six million Australians have downloaded a mobile telephone app that helps health authorities trace coronavirus infections

Federal Health Minister Greg Hunt said the COVIDSafe app is playing a strong role in Australia’s response to the pandemic and several countries have expressed interest in learning from its positive impacts. If a user is diagnosed, the app works to identify other users who have been in close proximity for 15 minutes or more in the previous three weeks.

The government has said at least 40% of Australia’s 26 million people need to use the app for it to be effective. There are approximately 17 million mobile phones in Australia.

The government and states have been easing restrictions on travel and increased use of restaurants and bars in the past few weeks. Australia has recorded more than 7,100 cases of COVID-19, with 102 deaths.

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NEW YORK — The New York Times has devoted Sunday’s entire front page to a long list of names of people who have died in the coronavirus pandemic.

The names and brief descriptions culled from obituaries from around the country fill six columns under the headline “U.S. Deaths Near 100,000, an Incalculable Loss,” with a subheadline reading: “They Were Not Simply Names on a List. They Were Us.”

The all-text list takes the place of the usual articles, photographs and graphics in an effort to convey the vastness and variety of lives lost, according to Simone Landon, assistant editor of the graphics desk.

A tally kept by Johns Hopkins University says more than 96,000 people have died of COVID-19 in the United States.

Tom Bodkin, chief creative officer of The Times, said he did not remember any front pages without images, though there have been pages with only graphics, during his 40 years at the newspaper.

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SANTA FE, N.M. — A New Mexico state official says gatherings of more than 100 people may not be possible for more than a year because of the coronavirus pandemic.

Tourism Secretary Jen Paul Schroer said it could be a year or 18 months before there’s either a vaccine or herd immunity. That creates the prospect that sports stadiums, concert halls and conference centers in the state could remain empty for months.

The Santa Fe New Mexican reports that Schroer spoke during a webinar Thursday on reopening the state’s hospitality industry.

The state had nearly 6,800 cases of COVID-19 with 308 deaths as of Saturday.

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SACRAMENTO, Calif. — Hundreds of protesters rallied outside California’s state Capitol on Saturday to protest stay-at-home orders even as residents entered the Memorial Day weekend with newly expanded options for leisure.

California Highway Patrol officers closed the Capitol lawn to demonstrators, so speakers addressed the crowd from the back of a flatbed truck as an airplane flew above towing a banner with a picture of Gov. Gavin Newsom and the words “End his tyranny!”

Protesters waved dozens of flags and signs, many in support of President Donald Trump. Few people wore masks and there was little room for social distancing.

The protest came as restrictions eased across much of the state. Some 45 of 58 counties have received permission to reopen most stores and many public spaces by meeting state standards for controlling the novel coronavirus.

Authorities continue to warn people to practice social distancing and other anti-virus measures, noting that the number of COVID-19 cases and deaths continues to rise.

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HAGATNA, Guam — The Department of Agriculture in Guam has invited hunters to participate in a pig-hunting derby to provide food for families in need during the coronavirus pandemic.

The Pacific Daily News reported that the department announced that the two-day derby is scheduled to begin next Saturday. The department released a statement saying the derby is intended to feed families, foster familial hunter development and reduce the feral pig population.

Event organizers are working with mayors to distribute pigs whole and unprocessed to residents within their villages and provide safe handling guidelines.

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RALEIGH, N.C. — Coronavirus outbreaks at meat processing plants are forcing North Carolina farmers to euthanize 1.5 million chickens, according to a state official.

Assistant Agriculture Commissioner Joe Reardon told The News & Observer that this is the first time during the pandemic that farmers in the state have had to euthanize their animals. Roughly a third of the 1.5 million chickens already had been killed, Reardon said.

Chicken and hog farmers in other states also have been euthanizing millions of animals during the COVID-19 pandemic. North Carolina hog farmers have not taken steps to euthanize their animals, Reardon said.

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FORT CAMPBELL, Ky. — Eighteen soldiers assigned to the U.S. Army’s 101st Airborne Division have returned to Fort Campbell after spending more than a month in New Jersey helping with COVID-19 response operations.

Fort Campbell officials say the soldiers deployed April 14 to help provide logistical support for the response to the new coronavirus outbreak throughout the Northeast. The troops helped receive, process and move supplies, equipment and personnel in critical areas affected by the virus outbreak.

The soldiers will undergo a precautionary quarantine under medical supervision. An official welcome-home event is being planned, officials said.

The Fort Campbell Army post is located along the Kentucky-Tennessee border.

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MINNEAPOLIS — Minnesota Gov. Tim Walz is scrapping his 10-person limit on group gatherings and allowing churches to open at 25% occupancy if certain safety guidelines are met.

Walz’s decision comes after the state reported a record number of COVID-19 cases. He says the issue has been “a challenging one” because large gatherings raise the risk of spreading the virus.

Walz says he understands the toll the pandemic has taken on the spiritual health of residents. His new executive order applies only to religious gatherings and not receptions.

While the leader of the Catholic Archdiocese of St. Paul and Minneapolis welcomed the change, the governor said parishes should not open if they don’t feel they can meet safety measures.

Archbishop Bernard Hebda said in a letter to parishioners that limiting gatherings to 10 people had “burdened the Church’s ability to fully meet the sacramental needs of our faithful.”

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SPRINGFIELD, Mo. — A hairstylist served 84 clients over eight days recently while experiencing symptoms of coronavirus, Missouri health officials say.

The Springfield-Greene County Health Department said in a news briefing that the stylist worked between May 12-20 and announced in a Facebook post Saturday that 56 other clients were potentially exposed by a second stylist who worked five shifts from May 16-20 while experiencing very mild symptoms of the coronavirus.

All clients of the two stylists wore masks and will be tested. The owner of the business said in a statement that the salon will be closed until it goes through sanitizing and deep cleaning

The state health department reported 218 new confirmed cases of the new coronavirus, bringing the total to 11,558 since the pandemic began. That was the largest one-day total since 319 cases were reported May 1. Ten new deaths brought that total to 671.

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STURGIS, S.D. — The mayor of Sturgis says city officials can’t stop people from coming to the annual motorcycle gathering in the Black Hills of South Dakota, regardless of the new coronavirus.

The 80th Sturgis Motorcycle Rally is scheduled for Aug. 7-16. The City Council has said it would make an official decision in mid-June on whether to go forward with hosting the event, the Rapid City Journal reported.

Mayor Mark Carstensen said in a Facebook video that “tourism is coming” to the Black Hills and Sturgis. A manager with The Hotel Sturgis said all 22 rooms have been booked for the week of the rally and there is a waiting list.

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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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