The Latest: NC judge orders race track to halt for pandemic
GRAHAM, N.C. — A North Carolina judge has ordered a small stock car track to halt racing after state health officials declared that large weekend crowds at recent races violated an executive order by Gov. Roy Cooper aimed at curbing the spread of the coronavirus.
The judge agreed Thursday to issue a temporary restraining order preventing Ace Speedway in Alamance County from holding further events for now.
Earlier this week, the state health secretary called the track an “imminent hazard,” ordered it closed and told the operators to announce the closure publicly. There was no evidence the owners did that, so officals asked the court to intervene.
The governor’s restrictions to curb the spread of the coronavirus limit outdoor gatherings to 25 people.
HERE’S WHAT YOU NEED TO KNOW TODAY ABOUT THE VIRUS OUTBREAK:
— Pakistan’s economy set to contract for the first time in 68 years due to pandemic
— The World Health Organization warns pandemic is ‘accelerating’ in Africa
— U.S. states, South Korea and Balkan nations see cases spike after easing lockdowns.
— The COVID-19 risk at U.S. homes for people with disabilities has gotten overlooked during the coronavirus pandemic. While nursing homes have come under the spotlight, little attention has gone toward facilities that house more than 275,000 people nationwidewith conditions such as Down syndrome, cerebral palsy and autism. Many residents have severe underlying medical issues that leave them vulnerable to the virus.
— One of Thailand’s major tourist attractions is barring entry to foreigners, professing fear that they could spread the coronavirus. Signs at the main gate of Wat Pho, the Buddhist temple adjacent to the Grand Palace in Bangkok, said in English: “Open for Thai only,” “ONLY THAI PEOPLE,” and “NOW NOT OPEN FOR FOREIGNERS.”
— A U.S. company says it’s on track to begin a huge study next month to prove whether its COVID-19 vaccine candidate really works. Moderna Inc. is developing the experimental shot with the National Institutes of Health. Moderna said Thursday it planned next month to test the vaccine in 30,000 volunteers. About a dozen candidates are in early stages of human testing in the global race for a vaccine.
Follow AP pandemic coverage at http://apnews.com/VirusOutbreak and https://apnews.com/UnderstandingtheOutbreak
HERE’S WHAT ELSE IS HAPPENING TODAY:
SAN JUAN, Puerto Rico — Puerto Rico’s governor says she will lift nearly all restrictions aimed at curbing coronavirus cases, which means beaches, churches and businesses across the U.S. territory will reopen after a three-month shutdown.
Gov. Wanda Vázquez said Thursday the changes will occur starting next week. She says businesses including gyms and movie theaters will be allowed to operate seven days a week.
However, she says an overnight curfew will remain in place for two weeks, with people required to be inside from 10 p.m. to 5 a.m.
The governor also says that Puerto Rico will begin welcoming tourists again starting July 15 and that airport screenings will continue.
GENEVA — Geneva’s most famous landmark, the towering fountain known as the Jet d’Eau, has fired back up after an 83-day stoppage amid broad lockdown measures for the coronavirus outbreak.
It was the longest such pause since the spray began operations in 1951. The head of the Geneva-based World Health Organization took part in a reopening ceremony Thursday that epitomized the recent easing of restrictive measures as case counts of COVID-19 have fallen dramatically in Switzerland.
The Geneva utility that operates the Jet d’Eau said it was switched off March 20 “to embody the lockdown and the associated sanitary measures as well as to protect staff involved in its proper functioning.”
The fountain shoots up a 140-meter (460-foot) plume of water onto Lake Geneva.
ROME — Sports lovers in Italy can soon play amateur contact games as the country where Europe’s devastating COVID-19 outbreak began continues to gradually lift more lockdown restrictions.
Premier Giuseppe Conte announced Thursday night that he has signed a decree allowing amateur contact sports to resume June 25, assuming authorities in Italy’s regions confirm that the rate of coronavirus contagion in their area continues to decline.
But those who like to dance will have to wait some more to practice that pastime. Conte says that for now discos and ballrooms are staying closed.
Italy is also limiting arrivals for tourism to those coming from most of Europe, with permission to enter Italy from Asia or North or South America limited to brief stays for work or other essential reasons.
ATHENS, Greece — Municipal authorities say operators of a beach bar near Athens have been fined 20,000 euros ($22,600) and had their license suspended for two months after hundreds of revelers allegedly packed into the site late Wednesday in violation of government health restrictions.
The incident occurred days after another beach bar was also handed a 60-day shutdown order on the popular resort island of Mykonos which recently opened up for tourism.
Greece will officially launch its tourism season Monday with relaxed checks for travelers at airports in Athens and the second-largest city, Thessaloniki, before other airports reopen on July 1. But authorities have promised to take a tough line with businesses that ignore health restrictions while remaining ready to impose localized lockdowns to contain new infection clusters.
Weeklong restrictions were imposed Thursday in the northern region of Xanthi following a spike in cases, authorities said. The Health Ministry also reported 20 new cases of COVID-19 during the latest 24-hour reporting period, raising the confirmed total to 3,088 while the death toll remained unchanged at 183.
SKOPJE, North Macedonia — North Macedonia’s health minister says citizens suspected of being in contact with people infected with COVID-19 have been broadly reluctant to cooperate with government quarantine orders, complicating efforts to battle a recent resurgence in cases.
Venko Felipce said refusal to provide the ministry with contact numbers and addresses meant that two-week quarantine orders have often been violated. “We are facing another long battle and people must respect health authorities by providing correct data,” Felipce told a news conference.
Authorities Thursday announced 175 new confirmed infections — the second-highest daily total since the outbreak started — and five deaths. The total number of confirmed cases reached 3,538 and the death toll stood at 169.
TIRANA, Albania – Albania’s prime minister has threatened to restore lockdown measures after a sudden increase of new infections which he ascribed to people ignoring health guidelines.
Edi Rama urged Albanians Thursday to respect social distancing, wear masks and gloves and observe other precautions. He said otherwise authorities might reintroduce measures enforced during the lockdown, when all borders, cafes, restaurants, and other places where people gather were closed for about two months.
Restrictions were eased more than two weeks ago, but that was followed by a sudden increase in infections over the past three days.
“The economy falls and rises. The dead are not resurrected,” Rama said in a Facebook video message.
As of Thursday Albania had reported 35 deaths and 1,385 confirmed COVID-19 infections.
ISLAMABAD– Pakistan says its economy will contract in the fiscal year ending June 30, for the first time in 68 years, as a result of the global pandemic.
Prime Minister Imran Khan’s adviser on finance, Abdul Hafeez Sheikh, said Thursday GDP in the outgoing fiscal year will shrink 0.4%, instead of an initially projected 2.4% growth. The new fiscal year starts July 1.
Despite recently getting a $6 billion bailout plan from the International Monetary Fund, Pakistan’s economy has witnessed a steady decline since 2018 when Khan’s government came into power.
On Thursday, Pakistan recorded 5,834 new confirmed cases, the highest single-day number of infections.
That increased overall cases to 119,536 and COVID-19 deaths climbed to 2,356 with 101 new fatalities in the previous 24 hours.
Pakistan has witnessed a spike in deaths and infections since last month, when Khan’s government eased lockdown — despite warnings from experts and medical professionals. Khan insists he took the decision to save the economy from a possible collapse.
COLUMBUS, Ohio — The doctor who helped Republican Gov. Mike DeWine earn the praise of experts early in the pandemic for his politically sensitive but largely effective response has resigned, the governor said Thursday.
Dr. Amy Acton’s resignation as the state’s health director caps a contentious few months as the target of frustrations that included gun-carrying critics showing up at her home. Acton was most recently sued by organizers of music festivals and restaurant owners as the slow reopening unfolds.
Acton, who called her time as health director the “honor of a lifetime,” faced House Republicans seeking to restrict her authority last month as frustrations grew over aggressive stay-at-home orders.
The governor has defended Acton, saying his fellow Republicans should be focused on increasing testing, the budget deficit and reopening the economy. “I will always believe and know that many lives were saved because of her wise advice,” DeWine said.
WASHINGTON — A U.S. lawmaker who represents northern Virginia suburbs has criticized Vice President Mike Pence for meeting with dozens of Trump campaign staff packed into an Arlington office without social distancing or masks.
Pence tweeted a photo of the gathering on Wednesday but subsequently deleted it. In the tweet, Pence said he wanted to thank the staff members for their hard work and to keep it up.
Democratic Rep. Don Beyer says the fact that Pence deleted the tweet “shows that he knows the behavior was wrong.”
Beyer said the vice president and the Trump campaign “are setting the worst possible example.”
The Trump-Pence campaign did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
ROME — Italy has registered 379 new cases of COVID-19, most in Lombardy, the northern region where the outbreak first exploded in Europe.
The daily update provided by the Health Ministry on Thursday raised Italy’s overall total of known coronavirus infections to 236,142. Authorities say the country likely had far more cases, but that they went undetected since many with mild symptoms weren’t tested for COVID-19.
There were 53 deaths registered in the last 24 hours, increasing the overall known death toll to 34,167.
Many restrictions on daily activities were lifted in recent weeks.
BERLIN — A court in the German capital has ruled that travelers from outside Europe don’t automatically have to go into self-quarantine when arriving in Berlin, unless there are grounds to believe they may be infected with the new coronavirus.
Berlin state’s current pandemic restrictions had stipulated that travelers from outside the EU, the EFTA countries or Britain need to self-isolate for two weeks after landing in Berlin.
But the Berlin administrative court said Thursday that such a blanket rule was untenable, though persons who are infected or suspected of having COVID-19 can still be ordered into quarantine.
Separately, Foreign Minister Heiko Maas confirmed Thursday that Germany is lifting its travel warning for 29 European countries on June 15.
The warnings for Spain and Norway will be lifted later due to those countries’ own entry restrictions, and travel to Sweden is currently discouraged due to the high rate of infection there.
ROME — Italy is poised to launch nationwide a contact tracing app in its efforts to contain COVID-19’s spread.
Technological Innovation and Digitalization Minister Paola Pisano told The AP Thursday that so far 2 million people have downloaded the Immuni app.
Immuni uses Bluetooth technology to notify users they have come into close, prolonged contact with an app user who has tested positive. Italy has a large elderly population, and many of them don’t have the latest phone models with Bluetooth.
TORONTO — Canada’s largest city will make masks mandatory on public transit because of the pandemic.
Mayor John Tory said effective July 2 masks will be required on the TTC. Toronto has the third busiest transit system in North America behind New York City and Mexico City. Passenger traffic has plummeted.
LEDNICE, Czech Republic — Four central European prime ministers have welcomed a European Union plan to create a 750 billion-euro ($825 billion) recovery fund to help countries weather a painful recession triggered by the pandemic.
But the leaders of the Czech Republic, Hungary, Poland and Slovakia say the fund should be distributed more broadly than has been proposed.
The four countries have been less affected by the pandemic. Harder hit nations, including Italy and Spain, are expected to receive the biggest sums from the EU fund.
Czech Prime Minister Andrej Babis said Thursday that countries should not find themselves at a disadvantage “only because they coped well with the crisis.”
Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban added it would be “morally unacceptable” for richer countries to receive more than the poorer ones in central Europe.
EU leaders are set to discuss the issue next week.
JOHANNESBURG — The World Health Organization says the pandemic in Africa is “accelerating” and that while it took 98 days for the continent to reach 100,000 coronavirus cases it took just 18 days to get to 200,000.
WHO Africa chief Matshidiso Moeti said Thursday that community transmission has begun in more than half of Africa’s 54 countries and “this is a serious sign.”
The virus largely arrived on the continent via travelers from Europe and is spreading beyond capital cities and commercial hubs into more rural areas where many health systems are unequipped to handle cases that require intensive care.
TOKYO — Tokyo has decided to lift its coronavirus “alert” after seeing the number of new cases stabilize and will pursue further easing the rules for business operations as game centers and karaoke prepare to reopen Friday.
Governor Yuriko Koike said Thursday that the “Tokyo alert” will be lifted at midnight, about 10 days after it was issued when daily new cases jumped from 13 to 34.
With the lifting of the alert, “Our economic and social activity will fully resume and we are entering a new phase,” Koike said.
Prime Minister Shinzo Abe lifted a coronavirus state of emergency and businesses cautiously started to resume. Tokyo’s alert, issued only a week after the lifting of the emergency, was meant for the residents to use extra caution without returning to stay-home or business shutdowns.
The infections have stabilized since, Koike said. With 22 cases reported Thursday, the daily average of new cases during the past week was below 20, a threshold for an alert.
MIAMI — Two more Florida theme parks were opening Thursday after being closed since mid-March to stop the spread of the new coronavirus.
SeaWorld Orlando and Busch Gardens Tampa Bay are opening their gates with new restrictions.
Reservations are now required to enter the parks in order to limit capacity to comply with social distancing requirements. But SeaWorld Orlando will be closed on future Tuesdays and Thursdays and Busch Gardens will be closed on Tuesdays and Wednesdays for the foreseeable future.
KABUL, Afghanistan — Afghanistan’s acting health minister is warning that the coronavirus has spread to “each and every house” in the country.
Officially, Afghanistan has about 22,800 confirmed cases of the virus with 426 fatalities, but tens of thousands of people have not been tested. The country has a population of 36.6 million.
Ahmad Jawad Osmani also said Thursday he has ordered all private hospitals to resume testing and treating COVID-19 patients. He said it will take years and cost millions if the Afghan government has to fight the virus on its own.
The World Health Organization says it has secured $70 million to help Afghanistan fight the virus.
BEIJING — China’s Foreign Ministry has criticized a European Union report alleging that Beijing was spreading disinformation about the coronavirus pandemic.
Spokesperson Hua Chunying told reporters Thursday that the accusations against China are “false.”
According to the European commission, Russia and China have mounted “targeted influence operations and disinformation campaigns in the EU, its neighborhood and globally.”
LONDON — The U.K. Department of Health and Social Care says 67% of those who tested positive for COVID-19 have provided details of their recent contacts to the new test and trace program.
The department says 5,407 out of 8,117 people who tested positive provided details from May 28 to June 3. Of the 31,794 contacts who were identified, 26,985 were reached and advised to self-isolate.
The efforts of the program are being closely watched in the U.K. as a way to ease the nation out of its lockdown while still controlling the virus. Britain has the second-highest confirmed virus death toll in the world — over 41,000 — behind only the United States.
BANGKOK — One of Thailand’s major tourist attractions is barring entry to foreigners, professing fear that they could spread COVID-19.
Signs at the main gate of Wat Pho, the Buddhist temple adjacent to the Grand Palace in Bangkok, say in English: “Open for Thai only” and “Now Not Open for Foreigners.”
The temple, one of the country’s grandest, is best known for housing the 46-meter (151-foot) long Reclining Buddha. The temple complied with a government closure of gathering places to fight the coronavirus by barring all visitors for two months, and reopened last Friday.
JOHANNESBURG — The head of the Africa Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says “we continue to remain hopeful” that Tanzania will cooperate by sharing its COVID-19 data even as the country’s president declared victory over the pandemic.
John Nkengasong says “they understand exactly what is at stake” in the East African nation, which has not updated its virus data since late April.
Tanzania’s number of cases remains frozen at 509, while opposition leaders have asserted there are actually tens of thousands.
President John Magufuli at a church service on Sunday declared that “corona in our country has been removed by the powers of God,” and he praised the congregation for not wearing face masks.
HELSINKI — Finland says it will ease coronavirus travel restrictions and lift internal border controls for passenger traffic with Nordic neighbors Denmark, Iceland and Norway as well the Baltic countries of Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania effective June 15.
Interior Minister Maria Ohisalo told reporters on Thursday the measure will for the time being exclude close neighbor Sweden, where the coronavirus situation is the worst in the Nordic region.
She said the Finnish government’s decision to leave Sweden out “wasn’t easy as Sweden is a very important neighbor for us. We hope this won’t affect our relations.”
Finland, a nation of 5.5 million, has reported 7,064 confirmed coronavirus cases with over 325 deaths. Sweden, a country of 10 million, currently has 46,814 confirmed cases and 4,795 deaths.
DUBAI, United Arab Emirates — Human Rights Watch has called on the United Arab Emirates to urgently address an outbreak of the coronavirus in at least three prisons.
The rights group said that relatives of prisoners near Abu Dhabi as well as another in Dubai say that prisoners have been denied adequate medical care and that authorities are not providing information to inmates or their families. They reported overcrowding and unsanitary conditions in the prisons.
Family members say prison authorities transferred those exhibiting symptoms to unknown locations without testing or medical care for weeks. Relatives also said Emirati prison authorities did not increase supplies of soap or hand sanitizer and did not distribute gloves or masks to detainees.
Human Rights Watch said it wrote to the UAE’s Interior Ministry on June 7 and has received no response. It noted that in April, Emirati authorities released over 4,000 detainees, but not political detainees held for peaceful dissent.