The Latest: New Zealand prepares to ease lockdown rules
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:
— New Zealand prepares to ease rules on strict lockdown.
— South Korea mulls reopening schools after 26th straight day under 100 new cases.
— China reports just 3 new virus cases, no new deaths.
— Family of U.S. Marine killed in Iraq surprised with parade outside California home.
WELLINGTON, New Zealand — New Zealand reported five new coronavirus cases Monday as the nation got ready to ease the rules on a strict lockdown from midnight.
Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern said there hasn’t been widespread community transmission of the virus and the country has so far managed to avoid the worst scenarios for an outbreak. She said it would continue to hunt down the last few cases.
From midnight, certain businesses such as construction will be allowed to reopen, but social distancing rules will still apply. Ardern said the nation was opening up the economy, but not people’s social lives.
SEOUL, South Korea — South Korea reported only 10 new cases of the coronavirus, its 26th straight day below 100 as officials mulled reopening schools amid the slowing caseload.
The figures released by the Korea Centers for Disease Control and Prevention on Monday brought the national totals to 10,738 cases and 243 deaths.
At least 1,044 infections have been linked to international arrivals, but such cases have also declined in recent weeks amid tightened border controls.
Using an active test-and-quarantine program, South Korea has so far managed to slow its outbreak without imposing lockdowns or business bans. But schools remain shut while providing children remote learning.
Prime Minster Chung Sye-kyun during a virus meeting Monday instructed education officials to prepare measures to ensure hygiene and enforce distance between students at schools so the government could announce a timeline for reopening schools no later than early May.
BEIJING — China reported just three new coronavirus cases Monday, and no new deaths for the 12th day in a row.
A total of 723 people remain hospitalized and just under 1,000 were being kept in isolation and under monitoring for being suspected cases or for having tested positive for COVID-19 without showing symptoms.
Beijing added one additional postmortem death to its count, raising China’s overall death toll to 4,633 among 82,830 cases. Of the new cases, two were imported and one was detected in the province of Heilongjiang bordering Russia, according to the National Health Commission.
SIMI VALLEY, Calif. — The family of a U.S. Marine killed in Iraq last month had to postpone his memorial service because of restrictions on large gatherings in California to slow the spread of the coronavirus.
On Sunday morning, they were surprised with a parade outside their Simi Valley home that began with a police helicopter flyover, followed by about 1,500 law enforcement vehicles, fire engines and cars.
The Ventura County Star reports the huge turnout to honor Gunnery Sgt. Diego D. Pongo was orderly.
Pongo’s sister-in-law helped organize the parade to surprise his parents and brothers. The city’s police department helped with traffic control.
Community members kept the parade going for more than two hours, and many of their cars blasted music while kids hung out of windows waving flags. People who gathered on the sidewalk to watch the parade followed social distancing measures, Sgt. Patrick Zayicek told the newspaper.
“It was a great show of support in our community.,” he said.
CANBERRA, Australia — China’s ambassador to Australia has told a newspaper that the Australian government’s pursuit of an independent international inquiry into the coronavirus outbreak could spark a Chinese consumer boycott of students and tourists visiting the country, as well as sales of major exports including beef and wine.
Ambassador Cheng Jingye told The Australian Financial Review in an interview published Monday that Australia’s push for an inquiry was “dangerous” and predicted it would fail to gain traction among global leaders.
“Resorting to suspicion, recrimination or division at such a critical time could only undermine global efforts to fight against this pandemic,” Cheng said.
Cheng did not accept that the virus had started in a “wet market” in the city of Wuhan, saying the scientific jury was still out on its origins.
Australian Health Minister Greg Hunt said such an independent inquiry was in the interests of Australia and the world.
The Australian government has called for an inquiry into the virus and for changes to the World Health Organization.
Education is Australia’s third largest export industry and China is the largest source of students studying in Australia. China is also Australia’s largest trading partner.
The Chinese Embassy did not immediately respond to a request for comment on the accuracy of the newspaper story.
LOS ANGELES — A lingering heat wave lured people to Southern California beaches, rivers and trails again Sunday, prompting warnings from officials that defiance of stay-at-home orders could reverse progress and bring the coronavirus surging back.
Tens of thousands of people packed the sand at Newport Beach in Orange County, where residents compared weekend crowds to the Fourth of July and lifeguards reminded people to stay apart if they were in groups of six or more.
Neighboring Huntington Beach also saw big gatherings, despite the closure of parking lots and metered parking restricted along Pacific Coast Highway. Temperatures were close to 90 degrees.
Robin Ford surveyed the crush of visitors with concern.
“Unless all these people are in one household, it does look like they are not social distancing,” Ford told the Orange County Register. “They could be spread out more.”
ROME — After Italy’s bishops complained that the latest lockdown rules still don’t allow public Masses, Premier Giuseppe Conte’s office has promised to come up with a plan that would let the faithful attend services while respecting social distancing during the COVID-19 pandemic.
Since a national lockdown began in early March, churches in Italy haven’t been allowed to hold Masses for the public, although they can keep their doors open for those wanting to pray individually.
Conte on Sunday announced some easing of containment measures for the nation, starting May 4.
In response, the Italian bishops conference quickly put out a sharply worded statement, saying bishops “cannot accept seeing the exercise of freedom of worship be compromised” and insisting that the faithful must have access especially to the sacraments.
ROME — After seven weeks in lockdown to contain one of the world’s worst outbreaks of COVID-19, Italians are regaining some freedoms.
Premier Giuseppe Conte says that starting May 4, public parks and gardens will re-open and people will be able to visit relatives who live in the same region.
However, Conte told the nation in a televised address Sunday night that citizens must practice social distancing. In the case of parks, mayors can impose limits, such as how many people enter, to avoid crowding.
During family visits, people will have to wear masks and can’t hold parties. If people don’t follow the new measures, Conte says “the curve of contagion can rise again, it will go out of control, deaths will climb and we’ll have irreparable damage” to the economy.
Conte says professional sports teams can resume training on May 18 and athletes in individual sports can resume training on May 4.
That means the Serie A soccer league could resume playing games in June. It has been suspended since March 9. Twelve rounds remain in Serie A, plus four other games that were postponed from the 25th round. The Italian Cup was suspended after the first leg of the semifinals.
Also on May 18, libraries, museums and art exhibitions can re-open.
Factories, construction sites and wholesale supply businesses can resume activity as soon as they put safety measures into place aimed at containing COVID-19.
But Conte says that if the epidemiological curve of contagion starts to rise again, the government will quickly intervene and shut down such industrial activity again.
Conte offered a new mantra for the about-to-begin second phase: “If you love Italy…. keep the social distance.”
Health ministry figures indicate that Italy had seen its lowest day-to-day increase in deaths – 260 – since mid-March, during the first week of lockdown. Starting May 4, funerals will be allowed, but preferably should be held in the open, no more than 15 persons can participate and mourners must wear masks. If all goes well, retail shops will reopen on May 18, and restaurants, cafes, barber shops and hair salons on June 1.
FISHERS, Ind. — A church in suburban Indianapolis resumed in-person services for the first time in a over a month.
The iTown Church in Fishers limited the number of attendees to 10 on Sunday in order to adhere to a state order that prohibits gatherings of over 10 people. According to the Indianapolis Star, the 40-minute services began on the hour, with each service followed by a 20-minute period to allow cleaning crews to sterilize the area.
PARIS — While the number of COVID-19 patients in intensive care in France is continuing to trend downward, the overall number of ICU patients is increasing, with more people needing emergency care for other ailments.
The build-up of patients in French ICUs comes amid concerns that people with long-term medical problems have been delaying or not getting treatment during the outbreak, while hospitals have been struggling with huge flows of patients seriously ill with the new coronavirus.
The Health Ministry said hospital ICUs were treating 7,553 people on Sunday, 28 more than on Saturday.
But the proportion of COVID-19 patients in ICUs was again down, at 4,682. That was 43 fewer than the day before.
The ministry said the increase of non-COVID patients in ICUs “underscores the necessity of tracking and treating patients with chronic illnesses as well as the urgent need to care for serious acute illnesses.”
The overall death toll from France’s virus outbreak is now up to 22,856, behind only Italy and Spain in Europe. More than one-third of France’s victims died in care facilities, mostly for the elderly.
LAUREL, Mont. — Montana took its first, halting step toward reopening as churchgoers returned to services after a month-long hiatus and a general stay-at-home order expired.
While other states have been extending restrictions amid the continuing spread of the coronavirus, Montana is among those that are beginning to loosen rules in hopes of restoring battered economies and regaining some normalcy.
Roughly 100 people streamed into St. Anthony Catholic Church in Laurel on Sunday, where ushers tried to keep families separate from one another and large bottles of hand sanitizer were on offer at the sanctuary’s entrance. Church member Jack Auzqui says being unable to attend had been spiritually difficult for him and his wife. Returning, he said, was akin to a family being reunited.
Rev. Bart Stevens opened with an instruction for attendees “not to linger” after the Mass to minimize social interactions.
At Christ the King Lutheran Church in Billings, Pastor Ryan Wendt said the church was mixing faith with common sense precautions. Every other pew was kept empty to comply with social distancing guidelines, while elderly and medically-vulnerable members of the congregation were advised to stay home.
TORONTO — Canada’s most populous province says all publicly-funded schools will remain closed until May 31 to keep students and staff safe amid the pandemic.
Ontario Education Minister Stephen Lecce says the decision was based on advice from medical experts. Lecce says the school closure could be further extended. Students have already transitioned to learning online over the past month.
The Ministry of Education says it has already distributed 20,000 iPads to students whose families don’t have the means to access online learning.
CENTRAL, La. — A Louisiana pastor is holding services in his church, defying house arrest orders that followed an assault charge related to his decision to hold mass gatherings in defiance of public health orders during the coronavirus pandemic.
A livestream from Life Tabernacle Church on Sunday showed Tony Spell walking among more than 100 congregants, often repeating the phrase, “I’ve just got to get to Jesus. … Come on America, let’s get back to Jesus.” Nearly all parishioners were not wearing face masks, and social distancing was not being practiced.
The police department in Central, a suburb Baton Rouge, says on their Facebook page that Spell turned himself into the department last week on charges of aggravated assault and improper backing.
Trey Bennett has kept up a one-man demonstration in front of the church since Easter Sunday, when he noticed hundreds of parishioners still attending services in defiance of the state’s stay-at-home mandate, which bans gatherings of more than 10 people. Houses of worship across Louisiana have turned to online services instead.
Last Sunday, Spell drove a church bus in reverse in the direction of the sign-holding protester. Spell already faces misdemeanor charges for holding in-person church services despite the ban on gatherings.
Dozens of Spell’s parishioners met him at the East Baton Rouge Parish prison, dressed in their Sunday best, arrived in church buses to show support. In a livestream from the church, images including photos from Spell’s arrest, as well as information for a GoFundMe account to help with his legal costs, played over music being performed at the church.
Follow AP news coverage of the coronavirus pandemic at https://apnews.com/VirusOutbreak and https://apnews.com/UnderstandingtheOutbreak