The Latest: Mississippi city allows drive-up church services

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:

— Mississippi city allows drive-up church services with windows rolled up.

— UN Mideast envoy warns about Israeli moves to annex parts of the West Bank.

— Germany’s Merkel says substantial investments needed for Europe to tackle virus economic impact.

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JACKSON, Miss. — A Mississippi city facing freedom-of-religion lawsuits and pressure from the U.S. attorney general has revised its policy that banned drive-up church services during the coronavirus pandemic, now saying the services are OK with windows rolled up.

The Greenville City Council’s new policy erases any distinction between drive-up church services and other types of drive-up interactions, including picking up food at restaurants. It says, for example, that customers may roll windows down to get food but must roll them up while sitting in the car to eat.

The Justice Department took the rare step last week of backing a church that sued over the city’s restrictions on worship.

Conflicts have arisen in several places over religious practices as officials set limits on people’s movements because of COVID-19.

A federal judge in California denied a request by three churches to have in-person services during the pandemic. A Louisiana pastor has continued to hold in-person services in defiance of public health orders. A Kentucky church that held in-person services on Easter filed a federal lawsuit challenging restrictions on gatherings in that state.

Ryan Tucker is an attorney for Alliance Defending Freedom, one of the groups representing the Baptist church that sued Greenville over the original policy. He says the group commends Greenville “for dropping its unconstitutional ban.”

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MINNEAPOLIS — Gov. Tim Walz has ordered Minnesota schools to stay closed through the rest of the academic year amid the COVID-19 crisis.

Walz is a former teacher who calls it “a heartbreaking decision.” The Democratic governor says he feels sorry for all the students who will miss out on graduations, tournaments and end of year celebrations. But Walz says the health and safety of Minnesotans is his top priority, so distance learning will continue through the end of this school year.

The governor closed public and charter schools just over a month ago, affecting nearly 900,000 students.

Minnesota’s death toll from COVID-19 hit 200 on Thursday. The state health department says 21 new deaths were reported, the highest one-day death toll from the pandemic. The department also reported 221 new confirmed cases, another one-day high, raising Minnesota’s total to 2,942.

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RALEIGH, N.C. — North Carolina’s governor is extending the state’s stay-at-home order by about a week while also creating a phased plan to gradually reopen businesses.

Gov. Roy Cooper says his stay-at-home order that also restricts non-essential businesses goes until May 8. It was previously set to run through April 29.

The Democrat is resisting pressure to move faster even as some other southern states have already taken steps to allow businesses to resume.

Cooper says the phased plan for reopening would depend on increased testing and contact tracing, along with a downward trend in COVID-19 cases. He says the state is flattening the curve but that it’s not time to lift restrictions yet.

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UNITED NATIONS — The United Nations’ Mideast envoy is warning that Israeli moves to annex parts of the West Bank and accelerate settlement expansion, combined with the coronavirus pandemic’s devastating impact, can “ignite” the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and “destroy any hope of peace.”

Nickolay Mladenov told the U.N. Security Council on Thursday that annexation would also “constitute a serious violation of international law, deal a devastating blow to the two-state solution, close the door to a renewal of negotiations, and threaten efforts to advance regional peace.”

He urged Israelis and Palestinians to support U.N. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres’ call for a global cease-fire to all conflicts to tackle the pandemic.

Earlier this week, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and his main rival Benny Gantz signed a coalition agreement that includes a clause to advance plans to annex parts of the West Bank, including Israeli settlements, starting on July 1.

Riyad Mansour, the Palestinian U.N. ambassador, told the council that “whatever technical coordination has been achieved between the two sides in recent weeks to combat COVID-19 has been undercut by incessant violations,” most flagrantly Israei’s annexation push which he claimed is being done in full coordination with the United States.

U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo says annexation is “an Israeli decision.”

Mansour also warned that the U.S. plan for Mideast peace and Israel’s decision to proceed with annexation “will destroy the two-state solution and entrench Israel’s military control over the Palestinian people and land.”

He said the Palestinians are urging the international community to enforce concrete measures “to hold Israel accountable for its perverse impunity” and salvage prospects for peace.

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BERLIN — German Chancellor Angela Merkel says“substantial investments will be necessary” for Europe to tackle the economic impact of the coronavirus pandemic, but she refused to comment on whether she would support a trillion euro-package suggested by some European Union members.

As leader of Europe’s biggest economy and the bloc’s biggest net contributor, Merkel says she told fellow EU leaders Thursday that all numbers being floated should be supported arguments.

Asked about international cooperation beyond Europe, particularly the United States which has stopped its funding for the World Heath Organization, Merkel says other leaders recognize the need to work together on developing drugs and vaccines for the new coronavirus.

But she says “the assessment of the WHO’s abilities differs” and that the U.S. has expressed “strong criticism” of the U.N. health agency. Merkel says she agrees that “where there are weaknesses they need to be analyzed” but expressed her support for WHO’s work.

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COLOMBO, Sri Lanka — A Sri Lankan official says 30 navy sailors involved in a recent search for persons who had contact with a COVID-19 patient are infected with the coronavirus.

Army Commander Shavendra Silva says the camp where the sailors have been living is isolated. Silva says the infected sailors had been involved in locating a group of narcotic addicts who had contacts with a COVID-19 patient and were evading quarantine. They were found by the navy and sent to a quarantine center where many of them tested positive for the virus.

Sri Lanka reported 38 coronavirus positive cases Thursday after results of 29 sailors were returned. It is the highest number recorded in a single day. The country now has a total 368 confirmed cases, with seven deaths and 107 recovered.

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JOHANNESBURG — South Africa already has the most confirmed cases of COVID-19 in Africa. Now the country says its number rose sharply by 318 to more than 3,900, with 75 deaths.

Minister of Health Zweli Mkhize announced the country’s biggest daily increase in recent weeks as it ramps up mass testing in communities.

South African health workers have screened more than 3.6 million people and conducted more than 143,500 tests. Nearly 10,000 of those tests were carried out in the last 24 hours. South Africa is currently under a lockdown that has closed most businesses.

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TIRANA, Albania — The Albanian Parliament has extended its state of natural calamity because of the coronavirus until June 23, two months after it was first declared.

The measure increases the rights of government authorities to enter people’s homes to check for virus cases, put them under quarantine and prohibit public gatherings, demonstrations and strikes, or free movement by the public.

Albanian authorities, however, are offering a significant ease of restrictions next week. They’re allowing longer walking time during the curfew hours from the current 90 minutes to 150 minutes.

Since mid-March the country has been in a total lockdown with all border crossing routes shut. All schools, cafes, restaurants, gyms and shops are closed, except those offering food items and medicine.

In Albania, there have been 663 total COVID-19 cases and 27 deaths. Authorities say 385 have recovered and 34 are still hospitalized.

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CROSS LANES, W.Va. — A newly opened restaurant during the coronavirus pandemic caused quite a stir among cooped-up residents in a small town in West Virginia.

Cook Out’s first full day on Thursday had cars competing to get to the drive-thru window in Cross Lanes, a community of about 10,000 that, until now, had not seen traffic like this in weeks. Cars took about 45 minutes to move a half-mile.

Opening a restaurant during a pandemic has its risks. Like other states, West Virginia Gov. Jim Justice has ordered residents to stay home unless they have a pressing need to go somewhere. And when they do, people aren’t supposed to gather in crowds of five or more.

A dozen people at times stood outside the restaurant’s walk-up window. Resident Dreama Watson says, “That’s nuts.”

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This item has been corrected to show resident’s last name is Watson, not Wilson.

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VATICAN CITY — A Vatican official says the Holy See is relying on emergency financial reserves to weather the loss of its main source of income during the coronavirus pandemic which are ticket sales from the shuttered Vatican Museums.

The Rev. Augusto Zampini, a key member of Pope Francis’ coronavirus task force, says Vatican City is no different than any company and is losing income as a result of the lockdown. He says some high-ranking Vatican officials have offered to take salary cuts, while the Vatican has put a halt on signing any new contracts.

The Vatican followed Italy’s lead and shuttered the famous museum, which funds the Holy See bureaucracy, on March 8.

Zampini says donors have come forward to sustain the COVID-19 task force, a multi-faceted group working with the Vatican’s Caritas charity office and local churches to respond to virus-related needs around the world.

Pope Francis celebrated his feast day Thursday by donating five ventilators to a hospital in Romania.

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MEXICO CITY — Mexican President Andrés Manuel López Obrador says he will try to schedule another conversation with U.S. President Donald Trump, because their two countries should coordinate the restarting of their economies.

López Obrador says both countries hope “to little by little return to the normal production at the border” and he predicts, “The time is going to come when we will reach an agreement.”

The supply chain for many industries, especially automotive, wind throughout North America. Social distancing measures have idled plants in Mexico and the U.S. disrupting manufacturing.

The president’s comments echoed those of U.S. Ambassador to Mexico Christopher Landau, who launched a Twitter campaign urging efforts to keep supply chains intact.

Landau is concerned about virus lockdowns damaging the flow of parts and goods that feed businesses in the three nations of the North American free trade zone — United States, Mexico and Canada — and warned that “if we do not coordinate our response, these chains can evaporate.”

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PRAGUE — The Czech government is speeding up its plan to relax the restrictive measures it adopted to contain the coronavirus pandemic.

Industry and Trade Minister Karel Havlicek says stores with space up to 2,500 square meters (26,910 square feet) could reopen as soon as Monday, along with fitness centers and driving schools. That’s two weeks sooner than originally planned.

That will be followed by shopping malls and hair salons on May 11 before restaurants and hotels can return to business two weeks later.

Havlicek says the move was made possible by the positive developments regarding the outbreak in the Czech Republic.

Health Ministry figures show over 7,100 tested positive for the virus and 210 have died.

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NEW YORK — Further evidence is emerging that far more New Yorkers have had the coronavirus than the number confirmed by lab tests.

Gov. Andrew Cuomo says a state survey of around 3,000 people found that 13.9% had antibodies suggesting they had been exposed to the virus.

In hard-hit New York City, 21% of the people tested had antibodies.

Cuomo cautions the data is preliminary. The sample of people tested was small and people were recruited for the study at shopping centers and grocery stores, which meant they were healthy enough to be out in public.

Experts also say having antibodies is not necessarily proof someone is immune from the virus.

But Cuomo says knowing how many people have antibodies could potentially help set policy on when to reopen parts of the state.

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MILAN — The number of people testing positive for coronavirus in Italy grew by 2,646 in the last 24 hours, including 40% of those in the hard-hit Lombardy region where the first domestically transmitted case was confirmed just over two months ago.

That brings to 189,973 the total number of positives as of Thursday. Testing has been expanded but it still doesn’t reach every suspected case, including many at home who believe they may be infected but aren’t able to get tested. The number of positives in Italy grew by a rate of 1.4%, indicating a national slowing of infection, as the country prepares to ease a nationwide lockdown. Premier Giuseppe Conte is expected to announce details in the coming days.

Deaths of people with coronavirus reached 25,549, with 464 dying. Pressure on health care facilities continued to ease with 934 fewer people hospitalized and 117 fewer people in intensive care units.

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