The Latest: President vows to build health stockpile

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:

— President Trump vows to build health equipment stockpile

— Mall of America to partially reopen

— Spanish health workers observe moment of silence

— Cease-fire talks progress in war-torn Yemen as virus spreads

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WASHINGTON — President Donald Trump says he’s intent on building the nation’s stockpile of ventilators, masks and other equipment to meet future health threats.

Trump says his administration has awarded contracts for nearly 200,000 ventilators and 800,000 N95 respirators and facemasks. He says his goal is to produce “everything America needs for ourselves and then export to the world, including medicines.”

Trump’s comments came at a medical equipment distributor in Allentown, Pennsylvania, where he was thanking workers in a key battleground state. The comments came on the same day that a federal whistleblower testified before a House panel about his repeated efforts to jump-start U.S. production of respirator masks that he says went nowhere.

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BELMAR, N.J. — New Jersey Gov. Phil Murphy issued long-awaited guidance Thursday to officials in shore towns on reopening beaches, directing them to set occupancy limits, require 6 feet (2 meters) of space between beachgoers, except family members or couples, and prohibit groups of 10 or more from congregating on the beach.

Showers, changing pavilions and rest rooms should be open, but amusement rides and arcades will remain closed and beach fireworks prohibited. Murphy also urged towns to set limits on the amount of daily beach badges they sell.

The Democratic governor gave considerable leeway to local officials in reopening their beaches, refusing to set a uniform occupancy limit. He’s letting individual towns decide how much is enough.

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CAIRO — A former Sudanese minister close to ousted autocrat Omar al-Bashir has died of the new coronavirus while detained on corruption charges, according to a statement from public prosecutors.

Sharif Ahmed Omar Badr, former investment minister and leader in al-Bashir’s ruling Congress Party, was transferred from a Khartoum police station to quarantine at a hospital, where he died Thursday.

Sudan has reported 1,818 infections and 90 deaths caused by the virus.

Badr had been entangled in a number of financial scandals and suspicious business deals during al-Bashir’s rule, including as chairman of Sudan Airways.

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BLOOMINGTON, Minn. — The Mall of America will partially reopen June 1 in compliance with Minnesota’s new safety protocols for slowly reopening the economy amid the COVID-19 pandemic, mall management announced Thursday.

Gov. Tim Walz’s decision to allow his stay-at-home order to expire and allow retailers to start reopening on Monday was “promising news” for the mall and all retailers, the mall said in a statement.

The mall, which has more than 520 stores and restaurants that draw visitors from around the world, is the largest shopping and entertainment complex in North America. It shut down March 17, though some of its merchants recently began offering curbside service.

All dining venues and attractions will remain closed pending further guidance from the state, though food establishments can offer curbside and delivery service in the meantime. The complex will reopen with social distancing signage, specific doors for entering and exiting to redirect foot traffic, enhanced cleaning procedures, modified operating hours, capacity limits and reconfigured seating, among other safety measures.

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SALEM, Ore. — Oregon Gov. Kate Brown is allowing the vast majority of counties in the state to reopen in a first phase affecting restaurants, bars, hair salons and many other businesses, though just under half the population will be affected.

The order affects 28 of Oregon’s 36 counties, starting Friday. Three Portland-area counties comprising the state’s major population center did not request a reopening, and the applications to reopen of two counties in the area around the state capital of Salem were rejected. Three other mostly rural counties’ applications remain under review.

Just over half the state’s population live in those counties that either didn’t submit, or were denied, applications to reopen.

Brown says she hopes the entire state can reopen in the fall.

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HARTFORD, Conn. — Some Democratic state senators asked Gov. Ned Lamont to delay plans to begin phasing out Connecticut’s COVID-19 restrictions next week, noting some parts of the state are still seeing an increase in cases.

“Reopening is essential — but to do it while the first wave of the pandemic is still raging will not lead to a second wave, it will simply add fuel to the first wave, delaying our eventual recovery,” they wrote to the fellow Democrat.

The letter was released shortly after most of the same lawmakers released one containing a list of questions and recommendations about testing, contact tracing, plans to handle any COVID-19 flare-ups and other matters.

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MADRID — Health workers in Spain have held two minutes of silence to remember their colleagues who have fallen ill and died from the coronavirus pandemic.

Doctors and nurses held the observance at work or in front of medical centers across Spain on Thursday. Some held up homemade signs with black ribbons to remember their dead co-workers.

Spain has one of the highest infection rates for health workers in the world. Medical staff account for over 50,000 of its 272,000 coronavirus infections. At least 42 medical workers have died from COVID-19, according to Spain’s health ministry.

Especially in the first weeks of the outbreak in Spain, medical workers were forced to patch together homemade protection suits with plastics including garbage bags. They said that led to a higher impact of the virus in their ranks.

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VATICAN CITY — The Vatican is planning to check the temperatures of the faithful before they enter its basilicas for Sunday Mass in new hygiene measures announced ahead of the resumption of liturgical celebrations amid the coronavirus pandemic.

The measures announced Thursday for the Vatican’s four Roman basilicas — including St. Peter’s Basilica in Vatican City — are even more stringent than those adopted by Italian bishops for ordinary parishes around the country. Those churches on Monday will resume public masses for the first time in over two months, following a detailed hygiene and security protocol that prohibits anyone with a fever or who has been in contact with a COVID-19 patient from attending Mass.

The Vatican hasn’t said when Pope Francis would preside over his first post-lockdown celebration in St. Peter’s, but it has agreed with the prelates who run its basilicas to adopt necessary safety guarantees, including checking the temperatures of the faithful at least on Sundays and feast days when larger crowds are expected.

Italy was the first European country to be hit by the COVID-19 pandemic and has registered more than 31,000 dead.

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UNITED NATIONS — The United Nations special envoy for Yemen is reporting “significant progress” in negotiations toward a nationwide cease-fire in the war-torn country but frustration that differences on humanitarian and economic measures remain unresolved as COVID-19 is spreading at an unknown rate.

Martin Griffiths urged Yemen’s internationally recognized government and Houthi Shiite rebels who control most of the country’s north to quickly resolve their differences, saying the humanitarian and economic measures are also needed to help the country counter the new coronavirus.

He told a video briefing of the U.N. Security Council on Thursday that the measures include the creation of a joint operations body by the warring parties to counter the virus, and to enable medical supplies and personnel to reach vulnerable people, calling it “a very, very urgent priority indeed.”

Acting Assistant Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs Ramesh Rajasingham said the number of confirmed COVID-19 cases jumped to 72 as of Thursday morning, including 13 deaths, from just one confirmed case a month ago. He said 62 cases were reported in the last 10 days and humanitarian agencies believe the disease is being transmitted across the country.

Rajasingham called it “shocking” that in the midst of a pandemic all but 10 of 41 major U.N. programs in Yemen will start closing down in the next few weeks if more funding isn’t secured.

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ROME — More than half of Italy’s 20 regions registered fewer than 10 new cases of COVID-19 on Thursday, according to Health Ministry figures.

In the entire country, 992 new cases were reported in the 24-hour period since Wednesday evening, raising Italy’s overall number of known coronavirus infections to 223,096.

For several days now, only two northern regions have registered daily increases topping 100. Lombardy remains Italy’s heaviest stricken region, adding 522 cases on Thursday, while neighboring Piedmont registered 151.

Italy’s known death toll in the pandemic stood at 31,368, with the addition of 262 deaths in the daily tally. Since many people died at home or in care facilities without being tested for COVID-19, authorities say the death toll in the nation where Europe’s outbreak began is doubtlessly considerably higher.

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ATLANTA — Atlanta’s zoo plans to reopen this weekend as more Georgia businesses attempt to get back to normal amid the coronavirus outbreak.

Outdoor areas of the zoo will reopen to the public on Saturday, with employees wearing masks and the number of visitors limited, zoo officials said.

“We are pleased to welcome our members and guests back to the outdoor experiences and connections to wildlife that can only be found at Zoo Atlanta,” Raymond King, the zoo’s president and CEO, said in a statement.

“As important as this is to us, it was essential that we not reopen the zoo until we could do so confidently, with the safety of our visitors, team members and the animals in our care as the number one priority,” he added. “Many weeks of planning have gone into our reopening, and everything we have done or will do is being done with this in mind.”

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RIO DE JANEIRO — Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro warned of looming “chaos” as he once again lambasted governors and mayors who introduced lockdowns in cities to limit spread of the new coronavirus.

Bolsonaro told journalists in Brasilia the lockdowns and closing everything “is the path to failure. It will break Brazil.”

Meanwhile, local news website G1 reported Thursday that 900 people in Rio de Janeiro were waiting for an intensive care bed in one of the state’s overwhelmed units. And Alagoas joined the growing list of states whose intensive-care units are full in several hospitals.

In Rio and neighboring Minas Gerais state, Federal Police served dozens of arrest warrants targeting businessmen who paid bribes to win public tenders over the past decade, and recently used their connections to secure contracts for work linked to the pandemic. They took advantage of the state of calamity that allowed state governments to award contracts worth millions without bids, a Federal Police statement said.

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LOS ANGELES — Everyone in Los Angeles must wear a mask when outside their homes.

The new order is intended to slow the spread of the coronavirus as easing of other restrictions allows more people to return to work and recreation. Mayor Eric Garcetti announced the requirement Wednesday evening, saying “every reasonable precaution” must be taken as steps are slowly being taken to reopen the economy.

Easing of the “safer at home” orders issued by the city and Los Angeles County began last week with the reopening of some retail using curbside pickup, hiking trails and golf courses. Beaches reopened Wednesday, and there is now further opening of retail, manufacturing and logistics.

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BERLIN — Researchers in Germany plan to test an entire village that was put into two-week coronavirus quarantine in March to see if there were more cases than officially recorded.

Scientists at the University of Jena said Thursday they have begun testing residents of Neustadt am Rennsteig, with a population of almost 1,000, because of the village’s “unique situation.”

Neustadt is one of a few places in Germany that were fully isolated because of a large number of cases. From March 22 on, residents weren’t permitted to leave the village for two weeks, with few exceptions.

Forty-nine COVID-19 cases and two deaths were recorded. Using blood tests and questionnaires, researchers hope to learn whether more people were actually infected, possibly without displaying symptoms.

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