The Latest: Japan government holds virus task force meeting

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.


—Japan’s government holding coronavirus task force meeting.

—China reports 3 new coronavirus cases while moving toward opening businesses and schools.

— UN forecasts pandemic will shrink world economy by 3.2% this year.

— Los Angeles County reopens its beaches.

— New York City launching public service campaign to inform parents about rare syndrome thought to be linked to COVID-19.


TOKYO — Japan’s government is holding a coronavirus task force meeting Thursday to get experts’ approval on a plan to lift an ongoing state of emergency in most areas ahead of schedule, with the exception of Tokyo and several other high risk areas.

Prime Minister Shinzo Abe declared a month-long state of emergency on April 7 in Tokyo and six other urban prefectures and later expanded it to the whole country through May 31. With signs of the infections slowing, Abe is seeking to relax the measure while balancing disease prevention and the economy.

His government plans to lift the state of emergency in 39 of the country’s 47 prefectures, while keeping the measure in place for eight prefectures, including Tokyo, Osaka, Kyoto and Hokkaido.

Japan has more than 16,000 confirmed cases of coronavirus, with about 680 deaths. The number of new cases has significantly decreased nationwide.

Abe will explain details at a news conference later Thursday.

Economy Minister Yasutoshi Nishimura, in his opening remarks at the task force meeting, asked experts to provide basis for easing the measure, a well as its possible tightening, in case of a resurgence of the outbreak.

Experts and officials have urged people to adopt “new lifestyles” and continue practicing physical distancing measures such as remote-working and avoid out-of-town trips, even after the state of emergency is lifted.


BEIJING — China reported three new coronavirus cases Thursday while moving to reopen for business and schools.

The National Health Commission said 101 people remain in treatment for COVID-19, while 716 are isolated and being monitored for being suspected cases or for having tested positive for the virus without showing symptoms.

China plans to restart classes for most students on June 1, with other grades to resume at a later date, depending on conditions. No announcement has been made on when university classes will resume.

China has reported a total of 4,633 deaths among 82,929 cases of the virus.


SEOUL, South Korea __ South Korea has confirmed 29 coronavirus cases over a 24-hour period as it battles a spike in infections linked to nightlife spots in Seoul.

The additional cases reported Thursday by the Korea Centers for Disease Control and Prevention pushed the national total to 10,991 with 260 deaths. The agency says 26 of the 29 new patients were locally transmitted cases while the rest three came from overseas.

South Korea’s caseload has been on an upward trend in the past week, with about 120 new cases detected linked to nightclubs in Seoul’s entertainment Itaewon district as of Wednesday.

The new outbreaks in Itaewon are threatening South Korea’s progress in its anti-virus quarantine. The country reported hundreds of new cases every day between late February and early March.


MINNEAPOLIS — Minnesota Gov. Tim Walz said he will let his stay-at-home order expire as scheduled Monday, though he’ll leave key restrictions in place to keep up the state’s fight against the COVID-19 pandemic.

“Don’t get me wrong — we believe that the safest place we can be is at home,” Walz said in a televised address Wednesday. “But we know we can’t continue like this forever.”

Walz made the announcement after health officials released updated modeling — couched in caveats — that showed the potential effects of various scenarios he could have chosen. The Democratic governor has been under increasing political pressure to loosen up the restrictions, and some business owners have threatened defiance if they remain in place.

Walz said his new order brings back some of the social interactions “that are so important in life.”

While the stay-at-home order will expire, the changes he announced amount to only a gradual relaxation of the state’s restrictions. Bars, restaurants, and other places where people gather in large numbers won’t be allowed to reopen for business as usual just yet. But gatherings of 10 people or fewer, such as family celebrations, will be allowed. Retailers that had been shuttered as nonessential will be allowed to reopen with restrictions on how many people can be allowed inside.


CHEYENNE, Wyo. — Wyoming residents will be allowed to dine at restaurants, meet in bars and gather in larger numbers as part of new state public health orders that take effect Friday.

Gov. Mark Gordon announced the new orders Wednesday as the state continues to post some of the lowest coronavirus infection numbers in the nation.

Restaurant and bar tables must be adequately spaced, and employees must wear face coverings. They will need to be screened for COVID-19 symptoms.

Up to 25 people will be allowed to gather, up from 10 currently. Gordon urged people to continue to be careful, saying “the virus is not yet gone.”


DENVER — Colorado Gov. Jared Polis said that President Donald Trump has committed to sending 96,000 tests for the coronavirus to the state.

Polis met with the president in the White House on Wednesday to seek federal support for Colorado’s response to the coronavirus and to try to secure additional testing supplies and personal protective equipment.

“I need to pursue all possible options that can provide lifesaving supplies for the people of Colorado and make sure that our president is not just sequestered in the White House and really has the knowledge of what’s really going on in the states on the ground,” Polis said after the meeting.

The Democratic governor said the supplies will help the state reach its goal of testing at least 8,500 people a day.


SANTA FE, N.M. — New Mexico is allowing nonessential businesses, including retailers and service providers, to reopen Saturday while requiring that face masks be worn in public, with few exceptions.

New Mexico Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham said Wednesday that the next public health order will allow businesses to reopen at 25% of ordinary occupancy to avoid crowding and guard against coronavirus transmission. Large retailers have a 20% limit.

New Mexico health officials cautioned that infections among children are surging. New Mexico health officials have announced 12 more deaths and 155 newly confirmed infections from the coronavirus.

Tighter business restrictions will remain in place in northwestern New Mexico, where high rates of infection continue to afflict Native American communities including the Navajo Nation.


UNITED NATIONS — The United Nations is forecasting that the coronavirus pandemic will shrink the world economy by 3.2% this year, the sharpest contraction since the Great Depression in the 1930s.

The U.N.’s mid-year report released Wednesday said COVID-19 is expected to slash global economic output by nearly $8.5 trillion over the next two years, wiping out nearly all gains of the past four years.

In January, the U.N. forecast a modest growth of 2.5 percent in 2020.

The United Nations World Economic Situation and Prospects report said the pandemic is also “exacerbating poverty and inequality,” with an estimated 34.3 million people likely to fall below the extreme poverty line in 2020 — 56 percent of them in Africa.

It said an additional 130 million people may join the ranks of people living in extreme poverty by 2030, dealing a “huge blow” to global efforts to eradicate extreme poverty and hunger by the end of the decade.


The World Health Organization’s emergencies chief said it’s possible the new coronavirus may be here to stay, warning it’s impossible to predict when the pandemic might be controlled.

“This virus may never go away,” said Dr. Michael Ryan, in a news briefing on Wednesday. He said that the number of people infected by COVID-19 so far is relatively low.

Without a vaccine, he said it could take years for the population to build up sufficient levels of immunity to it.

“I think it’s important to put this on the table,” he said. “This virus may become just another endemic virus in our communities,” he said, noting that other previously novel diseases such as HIV have never disappeared, but that effective treatments have been developed to allow people to live with the disease.

Ryan said there remains hope that an effective vaccine will be developed, but even then, it would require a huge amount of work to produce the shots and distribute them worldwide to people willing to be immunized.

“Every single one of those steps is fraught with challenges,” he said.

Maria Van Kerkhove, WHO’s technical lead for COVID-19, added that she recognized some people were “in a state of feeling quite some despair,” but pointed out that stopping the virus even without medical interventions was possible.

“The trajectory of this outbreak is in our hands,” she said. “We have seen some countries bring the virus under control.”


MADRID — Spanish health officials say large-scale testing for the new coronavirus has demonstrated there is no herd immunity in the country.

The head of the National Epidemiology Centre, Marina Pollán, says that a major, ongoing survey shows so far that about 5% of the population — around 2 million people — have been infected by the virus.

Officials presented Wednesday preliminary results from the survey, which started in the last week of April and is scheduled to last eight weeks, of 30,000 households which were tested for the virus.

Authorities hope the survey will reveal the true scale of the outbreak, help them monitor its dynamics and steer health policy.

Pollán, said it has revealed deep regional differences, with the worst-hit areas showing a number of infections five times higher than in the least-affected parts of the country.

She said no great difference in infection rates has been detected between age groups or sexes.

Spain has recorded at least 27,000 COVID-19 deaths and almost 229,000 cases.


ANNAPOLIS, Md. — Maryland residents will no longer be required to stay at home, but they will be strongly advised to continue to do so, especially if they are older and more vulnerable to the coronavirus, Gov. Larry Hogan said Wednesday as he announced a statewide order that will take effect later this week.

The Republican governor said the state is gradually moving into stage one of the state’s recovery plan at 5 p.m. Friday, after 14 days of plateauing of key hospital metrics. He also said the decision came after consultation with a state team of public health experts and business leaders.

Retail stores may reopen at up to 50% capacity, with curbside pickup and delivery strongly encouraged and all public health precautions in place.

Examples of businesses that may reopen include clothing and shoe stores, pet groomers, animal adoption shelters, car washes, art galleries and bookstores.

All manufacturing may resume operations, with multiple shifts encouraged.

Churches and houses of worship may start holding religious services, at up to 50% capacity, with outdoor services strongly encouraged.


LOS ANGELES — Los Angeles County has reopened its beaches in the latest easing of coronavirus restrictions that have closed most California public spaces and businesses for nearly two months.

County beaches and many city-owned beaches along the 75 miles of coastline reopened Wednesday but with social distancing rules. The move comes as California tentatively eases some stay-at-home restrictions.

Gov. Gavin Newsom last week permitted many retail businesses to reopen under restrictions. On Tuesday, he said some business offices can reopen. Meanwhile, seven rural Northern California counties have received state permission to reopen their economies more quickly.


NEW YORK — New York City is launching a public service campaign to inform parents about a rare syndrome that is thought to be linked to COVID-19 and has been diagnosed in more than 80 children in the city, Mayor Bill de Blasio said.

Digital ads alerting parents to the symptoms of the inflammatory condition in children will start Wednesday, de Blasio said, and ads on radio and TV, on bus shelters, and in community newspapers will follow.

“We have to rapidly inform families all over the city,” the mayor said. The syndrome affects blood vessels and organs and has symptoms including prolonged fever, abdominal pain and vomiting.

Three children diagnosed with the syndrome have died in New York state, including one in New York City. Of the 82 children diagnosed in the city with what the medical world is calling pediatric multisystem inflammatory syndrome, 53 have tested positive for COVID-19 or its antibodies, de Blasio said.


BATON ROUGE, Louisiana — Gov. John Bel Edwards’ administration will start releasing the names of nursing homes where residents have tested positive for the coronavirus and where there have been deaths from COVID-19.

The administration initially released that information early in the outbreak, but later stopped providing details, offering only numbers of nursing home residents statewide who have tested positive and who have died.

That raised questions about whether family members of nursing home residents who aren’t infected were told what was happening in the facility.

Dr. Alex Billioux, leader of Louisiana’s public health office, says the state will resume offering the details Monday. The information will include which nursing homes have seen residents or staff test positive for the coronavirus, how many have recovered and how many residents have died at a facility.

The state health department says nursing home residents account for 37% of all virus deaths in Louisiana.


ROME — The Italian government has approved a massive package of tax cuts and financial aid to help citizens ranging from hotel and restaurant owners to working parents who are struggling with the economic devastation of the pandemic.

Said Premier Giuseppe Conte, addressing the nation, after a cabinet meeting Wednesday night: “Your cry of alarm didn’t escape us.”

The relief measures, aimed at reducing the damage to Italy’s economy, which was already stagnant before the COVID-19 outbreak, have been estimated to cost some 55 billion euros ($60 billion).

Under the package, parents would receive 1,200 euros ($1,325) to pay for babysitting or for summer recreation centers, since schools have been shut since March by lockdown for contagion containment and won’t reopen till September.

With Italy’s major tourism industry devastated by travel bans, hotel owners and beach establishments won’t have to make the next payment of real estate taxes, and restaurants and cafes will be allowed to use more sidewalk space for tables in line with safety distancing rules without having to pay taxes for occupying public property.


CHEYENNE, Wyo. — Access to the southern half of Yellowstone National Park will resume Monday by way of Wyoming.

Park officials are also talking with Montana officials about reopening the rest of the park following a seven-week closure because of the coronavirus.

Superintendent Cam Sholly announced the partial reopening Wednesday as several national parks begin or prepare to open.

Complicating Yellowstone’s reopening, Wyoming recently lifted a 14-day self-quarantine order for out-of-state visitors on nonessential business, but one remains in place in Montana. Sholly nonetheless describes Yellowstone’s approach as a good way to prepare for social distancing.


MONTGOMERY, Ala. — The Republican leader of the Alabama Senate said that the state’s coronavirus relief funds will not be used to build a new statehouse, putting to rest the idea that drew an immediate backlash.

Spending $200 million for new statehouse was on a list, along with telemedicine and expenses related to the pandemic, that legislative leaders sent the governor of potential uses for the state’s $1.8 billion in CARES Act funding.

A spokesman for Senate President Pro Tem Del Marsh said the idea is now off the table. Marsh spokesman Will Califf said in a statement they have guidance that makes it clear the money can’t be used for statehouse construction.


MOSCOW — Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov says he has got double-sided pneumonia caused by the coronavirus.

Speaking in an interview with the business daily Kommersant, Peskov said that he initially had only a small fever and was undergoing treatment at home. He said he was hospitalized after he had a computer tomography that showed both of his lungs were affected.

The 52-year-old Peskov said Monday that he contracted the virus but didn’t give details of his condition.

He is the fourth senior Russian official to test positive for the virus. Prime Minister Mikhail Mishustin announced that he was infected on April 30, and in the following days Construction Minister Vladimir Yakushev and Culture Minister Olga Lyubimova also tested positive.

It wasn’t clear when those officials last met with President Vladimir Putin, who has limited his public appearances and held most of his meetings online.

Russia has ranked second after the United States in the number of infections, with over 242,000 cases, including 2,212 deaths.


BRUSSELS — Belgium’s residents will be able to get haircuts and visit some cultural attractions again next week when barber shops and museums are allowed to reopen.

But Belgian Prime Minister Sophie Wilmes warned following a national security council meeting that the ongoing threat from the coronavirus means there’s “probably not going to be a return to normal this summer.”

Wilmes announced that under the country’s lockdown exit plan, museums, historical buildings and zoos can reopen on May 18, but need to set up online ticketing systems and make arrangements to avoid big crowds.

A date has yet to be announced for the reopening of hotels, bars and restaurants in Belgium, which will remain closed until at least June 8. All sporting and cultural events remain suspended until June 30.

Belgium started lifting lockdown measures this week with the reopening of a range of shops and permission for residents to meet up with a maximum of four other people from a different household.


RIO DE JANEIRO — Brazil’s President Jair Bolsonaro has submitted his COVID-19 test results to the Supreme Court after several appeals that landed in the country’s highest court.

The attorney general’s office said in an emailed statement that the tests show the president did not contract the virus, but the documents have yet to be published.

A standoff involving Bolsonaro’s tests began with a request from the O Estado de S.Paulo newspaper, and resulted in several judges ordering the far-right leader to present the results.

Citing medical privacy, Bolsonaro fought the orders until the Supreme Court sided with federal courts. He has consistently downplayed the coronavirus pandemic and shaken hands with supporters.

Bolsonaro said in the capital Brasilia that he would discuss with his health minister the expanded use of chloroquine in hospitals, an anti-malarial drug widely touted by the Brazilian leader as well as U.S. President Donald Trump for treating the new coronavirus.

The prior day, Health Minister Nelson Teich warned on his official Twitter account against chloroquine’s side effects.


WASHINGTON — The FBI and the Department of Homeland Security’s cyber division are warning hackers backed by the Chinese government may be attempting to steal the work of U.S. researchers on the response to the COVID-19 pandemic.

The two agencies issued a public service announcement of the potential threat on Wednesday. They issued a similar alert earlier this month.

A joint statement says China’s efforts pose a “significant threat” to the health care, pharmaceutical and research sectors.

The FBI and the Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency says it would release technical details of the threat in the coming days and asked organizations to report any suspicious activity.

U.S. authorities have long complained that China has used hacking to steal academic and economic data to bolster its economy. This warning comes amid increased tensions between the two governments over the origins of the outbreak and China’s initial response.


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