The Latest: UN chief warns pandenic threatens Africa

International

Stranded migrant workers wait to board buses before taking a special train to their destination during extended lockdown to curb the spread of new coronavirus, in Bangalore, India, Monday, May 18, 2020. India has recorded its biggest single-day surge in new cases of coronavirus. The surge in infections comes a day after the federal government extended a nationwide lockdown to May 31 but eased some restrictions to restore economic activity and gave states more control in deciding the nature of the lockdown. (AP Photo/Aijaz Rahi)

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:

— UN Secretary-General warns virus pandemic threatens Africa’s progresss

— Trump again says he is considering barring flights from hard-hit Brazil

— WHO members OK evaluation of virus response.

— Russian prime minister returns to work after bout with coronavirus.

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UNITED NATIONS — The United Nations secretary-general is warning that the coronavirus pandemic threatens Africa’s progress and could push millions into extreme poverty.

Antonio Guterres said in a video message Wednesday launching a policy briefing on “The Impact of COVID-19 in Africa” that countries on the continent have responded swiftly to the crisis, “and as of now reported cases are lower than feared,” with more than 2,500 deaths.

But the U.N. chief said “much hangs in the balance,” and he called for “international action to strengthen Africa’s health systems, maintain food supplies, avoid a financial crisis, support education, protect jobs, keep households and businesses afloat, and cushion the continent against lost income and export earnings.”

To help address the devastating economic and social consequences of the pandemic, Guterres said Africa needs more than $200 billion and “an across-the-board debt standstill for African countries.”

He said in recent years economic growth in Africa has been strong, the digital revolution “has taken hold” and agreement has been reached on a free trade area.

But Guterres said “already, demand for Africa’s commodities, tourism and remittances are declining” and “the opening of the trade zone has been pushed back.”

And the secretary-general said the pandemic “will aggravate long-standing inequalities and heighten hunger, malnutrition and vulnerability to disease.”

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SINGAPORE — Singapore, which has one of the highest infection rate in Asia, plans to exit a partial lockdown that ends June 1 in a controlled approach over three phases.

Officials say businesses that do not pose high risk of transmission can reopen from June 2 but some retail shops, personal services and dine-in restaurants will still be barred. Schools will reopen in phases and families can visit each other, but limited to one visit a day and not more than two guests in a household.

The city-state has reported 28,794 cases with 22 deaths. Most of the cases are linked to foreign workers, who remained locked down in their crowded dormitories. Earlier this month, the city-state allowed select businesses to open doors after infections dropped in the local community, away from the dorms.

The government said in a statement Tuesday that it expects infections to rise with the increased activity next month. If transmission remains low and stable, and the dorm situation under control, it said more activities will gradually resume including gyms, tuition centers and retail outlets in phase two.

It said all restrictions will eventually be eased in phase three but with strict health guidelines in a “new normal” until an effective vaccine for COVID-19 is developed.

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NEW DELHI — In a major relief to tens of thousands migrant workers eager to return to their village homes from cities and towns, Indian Railways will be doubling the number of special trains for them and also run 200 new trains across the country from June 1.

Indian Railways in a statement says that it has operated more than 1,600 trains for migrant workers and transported over 2.1 million of them to their home states in the past 19 days.

Passengers are required to wear masks and undergo health screenings before being permitted to board. The return of these workers in huge numbers has raised fears of many of them carrying infections to their home states from cities and towns.

Thousands of workers have been crowding rail stations, bus stations and highways with their wives and children in blazing heat anxious to return to their homes. They say the they can resume farming and also take up jobs like building roads, water harvesting in drought-hit areas and construction of animal shelters under a government program that guarantees 100 days of employment a year in rural India for 200 rupees ($2.65) per person per day.

The Railways statement on Tuesday appealed to the migrants not to panic.

The number of coronavirus cases in India have surged past 100,000 with nearly 4,000 deaths. Almost 39,000 people have recovered from the illness. India’s two-month-old lockdown has been extended until May-end.

The railway system is often described as India’s lifeline, transporting 23 million people across the vast subcontinent each day, some 8.4 billion passengers eac

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ANCHORAGE, Alaska (AP) — Alaska Gov. Mike Dunleavy is lifting restrictions put into place because of the coronavirus.

“It’s time to get Alaska back on its feet,” he said at a Tuesday evening news conference. “Friday, we’re open for business across the state of Alaska.”

Low case numbers and death totals in the nation’s largest but sparsely populated state led Dunleavy, a first-term Republican facing a recall effort, to his decision. Alaska has had 399 COVID-19 cases and 10 deaths.

All businesses, including bars and gyms, will be allowed to reopen without restrictions or capacity limits, as will churches, libraries and museums. Recreational and sports activities will also be allowed to resume.

“It will all be open just like it was prior to the virus,” he said.

There will be some guidelines in place, however. Alaskans will be advised to still practice social distancing, clean touch screens before use, stay home if sick and wear a face covering in public if near other people.

Visitor restrictions remain in place for senior centers, prison and institutions. And organizers with large gatherings and festivals should consult with public health officials before scheduling the event. A 14-day mandatory quarantine for those arriving in Alaska remains in place until June 2.

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SEOUL, South Korea — South Korean students have begun returning to schools as their country prepare for a new normal amid the coronavirus outbreak in the Asian country.

Wednesday’s reopening of schools come as South Korea reported 32 new cases over a 24-hour period, the first time its daily jump has marked above 30 in nine days.

Hundreds of thousands of high school seniors in South Korea were allowed to go back to their schools earlier Wednesday. The education ministry says lower-level students are set to go back to schools in phased steps in coming weeks.

Students and teachers are required to have temperature checks before entering schools and wear masks at classrooms. The education ministry says some schools installed plastic partitions at each student’s desk.

South Korea’s new school year was supposed to start in early March, but it had been delayed several times due to worries about the spread of the coronavirus. About 5.4 million students in South Korea have been subsequently taking classes online.

South Korea relaxed much of its social distancing rules in early May. But it quickly saw a small but sudden spike in new infections linked to nightclubs in Seoul. Those latest outbreaks had been on a downward trend until Tuesday.

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U.S. President Donald Trump has said he is considering barring entry to flights coming from Brazil due to the spread of COVID-19 in Latin America’s hardest-hit country. It was the second time Trump has said he is studying such a measure.

“I don’t want people coming in here and infecting our people. I don’t want people over there sick either. We’re helping Brazil with ventilators. We’re sending them ventilators,” Trump told reporters during a Cabinet meeting at the White House.

Hours later Brazil reported more than a thousand deaths from the disease for the first time in a 24-hour period. The health ministry’s announcement of 1,179 deaths on Tuesday boosted the nation’s death toll to 17,971. Brazil has 271,628 confirmed cases, the third most in the world after Russia and the U.S.

Brazil’s President Jair Bolsonaro, who like Trump has previously downplayed the disease and encouraged supporters to go back to work, neither responded to Trump’s remarks nor commented on the record daily figure.

Also on Tuesday, the U.S. government announced it was offering Brazil $3 million to mitigate the impact of COVID-19. The Trump administration has already pledged $950,000 to Brazil in efforts against the pandemic. The resources will be used in 79 emergency centers for COVID-19, laboratories and in the health care system of 13 border cities.

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BEIJING — China is continuing to combat a cluster of new coronavirus infections in its northeastern province of Jilin, with four out of five new cases reported Wednesday located in the region north of Beijing.

Authorities believe the outbreak may have begun among a group of family members and friends who gathered for dining and drinking without maintaining the social distancing regulations that have been increasingly relaxed nearly four months after they were imposed over much of the country.

No deaths were reported on Wednesday and just 87 people remained in treatment, while 375 others were under isolation and monitoring for being suspected cases or for having tested positive without showing symptoms.

China has recorded a total of 4,634 deaths from the virus among 82,965 cases.

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TALLAHASSEE, Fla. — The chief architect of Florida’s coronavirus website was fired after an apparent disagreement over what information should be made public, raising questions about the integrity of Florida’s public health data.

Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis has said his decision to begin reopening his state has been driven by science, and federal epidemiologists have praised his administration’s daily release of COVID-19 related data.

But Rebekah Jones, an information systems manager with the Florida Department of Health, announced in an email to researchers Friday that she was no longer in charge of the dashboard that provides daily snapshots of Florida’s COVID-19 infections, testing and deaths. She said she would not expect “the same level of accessibility and transparency” in the data presented there, adding that her “commitment to both is largely (arguably entirely) the reason I am no longer managing it.”

Jones was more pointed in an email to an Orlando television station, CBS12 News, when she said she was removed from her role because she would not “manually change data to drum up support for the plan to reopen.” It was unclear what data she was asked to change.

Jones could not be reached for comment.

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WASHINGTON — The U.S. Department of Homeland Security says a public health order that imposes strict regulation of the country’s borders has been extended.

The new order announced Tuesday by Acting Homeland Security Secretary Chad Wolf does not put a 30-day limit on the restrictions as before. It says instead that the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention will review the latest health data every 30 days to ensure the restrictions are still needed.

Homeland Security officials had signaled in recent days that the order should be extended but that the decision would be up to health authorities. It had been scheduled to expire May 20.

The order enables U.S. Customs and Border Patrol to immediately expel anyone stopped trying to enter the country without authorization, including people seeking asylum. DHS officials say the COVID-19 pandemic makes it too dangerous to hold people in their detention facilities.

Immigrant advocates say it deprives people of the legal right to seek asylum under international law.

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NEW ORLEANS — Coronavirus fears closed a Louisiana Office of Motor Vehicles location near New Orleans the same morning that it reopened after a two-month pandemic closure.

The office in Harvey was notified that someone in the building might have been in contact with somebody who had COVID-19, the disease caused by the novel coronavirus, Deputy Commissioner Keith Neal said Tuesday.

Neal said he did not know whether the notification was from a state Department of Health contact tracer. The health department reported Tuesday that more than 35,000 people have been diagnosed with the disease, 1,004 of them are hospitalized and 2,458 have died. About 26,200 are presumed recovered.

He said the office — one of 11 that reopened statewide Monday after being closed since March 20 — will be sanitized before reopening.

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SALEM, Ore. — Oregon’s unemployment rate soared to 14.2% in April, marking the deepest recession the state has experienced since it began keeping records in 1939.

State officials say the numbers released Tuesday don’t reflect the full effect of the economic downturn brought on by a statewide stay-at-home order and the closure of schools and most businesses.

The state lost 266,600 jobs in the first two months of the pandemic, going from a near-record-low unemployment rate of 3.5% in March to the current 14.2%. More than half of all jobs in the leisure and hospitality industry have dried up.

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MIAMI — A children’s hospital in Miami has reported what could be the first cases in Florida of a rare inflammatory syndrome affecting some children with the coronavirus.

Both patients are in the pediatric ICU but showing signs of improvement, Jackson Health System said in an email statement.

COVID-19 is far less common in children than adults, and doctors say most infected children develop only mild symptoms. But New York State has been seeing more cases of this mysterious syndrome, which affects blood vessels and organs and has symptoms similar to Kawasaki disease and toxic shock syndrome.

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CAIRO — Egypt has announced further anti-virus measures to follow Eid al-Fitr, the three-day festival that marks the end of the Islamic holy month of Ramadan.

Prime Minister Mustafa Madbouly says that starting May 30, the government will require people to wear face masks in public places, with violators fined 4,000 pounds (around $250) by police.

As Egypt’s curve accelerates, calls for tighter movement restrictions in the Arab world’s most populous country are growing. The number of detected cases in the state jumped by 720 on Tuesday to 13,484 infections and 659 deaths, the highest single-day increase.

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THE HAGUE, Netherlands — The Dutch prime minister says the country’s bars and restaurants can reopen on June 1, with limited numbers of guests and social distancing.

Prime Minister Mark Rutte says the country can begin the next phase of emerging from what he has called an intelligent lockdown, while stressing people should continue practicing social distancing and work from home whenever possible.

The number of new deaths and coronavirus infections has been falling for weeks in the Netherlands, where the official death toll stands at 5,715, although it is thought to be much higher since it only includes people who have tested positive.

Bars and restaurants will be allowed a maximum of 30 clients inside, and people on terraces outside will have to sit at tables.

Cinemas, theaters and concert halls also will be allowed to reopen with a maximum of 30 visitors and social distancing. Museums also can reopen with the number of visitors based on the size of the buildings.

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FAIRLESS HILLS, Pa. — Six drugmakers that manufacture generic hydroxychloroquine report the drug is in short supply, while three others reported in the last week that their product is available, according to the Food and Drug Administration’s drug shortages website.

The companies cite increased demand as the cause, with some stating they expect to next ship the drug at the end of May.

President Donald Trump said Monday he has been taking hydroxychloroquine and a zinc supplement daily “for about a week and a half now,” after two White House staffers tested positive for the coronavirus. Trump has spent months pushing hydroxychloroquine as a potential cure or preventive drug for COVID-19 against the cautionary advice of many of his administration’s top medical professionals.

One of the companies, Concordia Pharmaceuticals, also makes the brand-name version, called Paquenil. It says that drug is completely unavailable but is expected to be available again at the end of this month.

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HOUSTON — A catholic church in Houston has closed its doors after five of its leaders tested positive for COVID-19, including two priests who helped celebrate public masses after they resumed earlier this month.

The closure and positive tests come after a priest from Holy Ghost parish, 79-year-old Donnell Kirchner, died last week. He was diagnosed with pneumonia, but officials are determining whether he might have contracted the virus before he died May 13.

Kirchner went to an urgent care clinic and later to a hospital emergency room. But after being released, he went back to the home he shared with members of his religious order, the Archdiocese of Galveston-Houston said.

The members of Kirchner’s religious order are asymptomatic but are being quarantined.

The diocese encouraged anyone who attended masses at Holy Ghost to get tested as a precaution.

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TORONTO — Canada and the United States have extended their agreement to keep the border closed to non-essential travel to June 21 during the coronavirus pandemic.

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau says the border is a source of vulnerability so the agreement will be extended by another 30 days. The restrictions were announced on March 18 and were extended in April.

Trudeau says Canada’s provincial leaders clearly wanted to continue the measures. Many Canadians fear a reopening. The U.S. has more confirmed cases and deaths from COVID-19 than any country in the world, though its per-capita numbers are well below many other nations.

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