The Latest: N Korea again claims no coronavirus infections
SEOUL, South Korea — North Korea has told the World Health Organization that it has tested 25,986 people for the coronavirus through April but still has yet to find a single infection.
The WHO said in a weekly monitoring report that North Korea’s testing figures include 751 people who were tested during April 23-29, of which 139 had influenza-like illnesses or severe respiratory infections.
Experts have expressed skepticism about North Korea’s claim of a perfect record in keeping out COVID-19, given its poor health infrastructure and a porous border it shares with China.
North Korea has described its anti-virus efforts as a “matter of national existence.” It has barred tourists, flown out diplomats and severely restricted cross-border traffic and trade.
The North has stopped providing the number of people it quarantines this year, but previously said it had quarantined tens of thousands who had exhibited symptoms.
THE VIRUS OUTBREAK:
— In coastal Senegal, beginning of the fishing season renews hope for industry ravaged by COVID-19
— While wealthier nations stockpile vaccines, some of the poorest countries have yet to receive any, even for medical staff
— Joyful reunions among vaccinated parents and children marked this year’s Mother’s Day
— Concert advocating vaccine equity pulls in $302 million, exceeding its goal
HERE’S WHAT ELSE IS HAPPENING:
SAN SALVADOR El Salvador — The president of El Salvador says he will donate coronavirus vaccines to seven towns in Honduras even though his own country’s vaccination effort is still struggling.
El Salvador has administered about 1.25 million shots, not nearly enough for the country’s 6.5 million people.
But President Nayib Bukele was apparently touched by appeals from mayors of seven towns in neighboring Honduras who asked El Salvador for help, claiming their own government has abandoned them. He said Monday the donations will not affect El Salvador’s vaccination drive.
Bukele has been known for staking out populist positions in the past.
DUBAI, United Arab Emirates — The United Arab Emirates and Bahrain have established a travel corridor for tourists who have been vaccinated against the coronavirus.
The Gulf sheikhdoms jointly announced Monday that fully vaccinated travelers will be able to fly between the two countries without having to undergo mandatory quarantines.
The deal starts with Eid al-Fitr, one of Islam’s biggest holidays, at the end of this week. Travelers must demonstrate their vaccine status with approved COVID-19 health pass apps.
Similar quarantine-free travel bubbles are in effect elsewhere in the world, like Australia and New Zealand.
Daily infection rates in the UAE and Bahrain are similar, hovering around 1,500 infections per day — still far above last year’s levels.
LANSING, Mich. — Michigan has passed a 55% coronavirus vaccination rate, a benchmark that will lead to the easing of in-office work restrictions in two weeks.
Employers currently must prohibit onsite work if an employee’s job can feasibly be done remotely. With Monday’s announcement, state officials say they anticipate lifting the rule May 24.
Under the state’s pandemic system, when the vaccination rate reaches 60%, sports stadiums, banquet halls, conference centers and funeral homes will be allowed to raise their capacity to 25% of normal — and gyms will go to 50%. Restaurants and bars will no longer have an 11 p.m. curfew.
After 65%, all limits on indoor capacity will be lifted. At 70%, the state will rescind its mask and gatherings rules.
Authorities, however, can delay easing restrictions in any area with a high infection rate.
JACKSON, Miss. — Mississippi will stop accepting supplemental unemployment benefits for pandemic relief from the federal government next month.
Gov. Tate Reeves said Monday that the weekly supplement of $300 per person was intended to help people “who are unemployed through no fault of their own” because of the coronavirus pandemic. He says that conversations with small business owners and employees indicate the aid is no longer needed.
Reeves says Mississippi will opt out of the additional federal unemployment benefits June 12, the earliest date allowed by federal law. Without the federal supplement, the maximum weekly unemployment benefit in Mississippi is $235.
The governor also says he has told the Department of Employment Security to resume requiring that a person document they are looking for a job in order to receive unemployment benefits.
MONTGOMERY, Ala.—Alabama Gov. Kay Ivey announced Monday that Alabama will be the latest U.S. state to halt pandemic-related unemployment boosts, including the additional $300 benefit from the federal government.
Ivey cites an increase in job postings and complaints from businesses that they are unable to hire workers. She says she believes the increased unemployment assistance intended to bring emergency relief during the pandemic is now contributing to a labor shortage.
That view is echoed by conservative groups but disputed by some advocates for low-income families.
“As Alabama’s economy continues its recovery, we are hearing from more and more business owners and employers that it is increasingly difficult to find workers to fill available jobs, even though job openings are abundant,” Ivey said in a statement.
Ivey says Alabama will end its participation in all federally funded pandemic unemployment compensation programs effective June 19. That includes the additional $300 weekly payment to recipients of unemployment compensation and benefits to gig and part-time workers who would not usually qualify.
LOS ANGELES -- Los Angeles County expects to reach so-called community immunity by mid-to-late July, officials said Monday.
According to Barbara Ferrer, the county’s public health director, the county expects to administer 400,000 shots weekly.
The county has administered nearly 8.5 million doses as of May 7 and needs to put an additional 1.5 million first doses in arms to hit the goal of 80% of county residents vaccinated.
The county reported four deaths on Monday and there is a lag in weekend reporting, Ferrer said. The county has had just over 24,000 pandemic-related deaths in total.
The county also reported 179 new cases on Monday.
LOS ANGELES -- The superintendent of the Los Angeles Unified School District said Monday there are disparities in the return of students to classrooms in the nation’s second-largest district.
Elementary schools have higher in-person enrollment in more affluent communities than in low-income communities while the opposite is true in high schools, Superintendent Austin Beutner said in his weekly video briefing to the school community.
Beutner cited the example of West Los Angeles, where median household incomes exceed $115,000 and nearly 70% of elementary school students have returned to campus for in-person learning. In the city of Bell, however, where incomes are about $44,000, fewer than 20% of students are at schools.
At the high school level, COVID-19 safety protocols keep most instruction on-line, even for those who attend in person.
In the city of Huntington Park, where the median income is about $44,000, 12% of high school students have returned to in-person learning. In the Woodland Hills area of Los Angeles, where the median is nearly $100,000, only 5% have returned.
Beutner stressed the extensive safety measures put in place on campuses, the district’s massive COVID-19 testing program and commitment to make vaccinations available.
IRVINE, Calif. -- Prosecutors say a Southern California man has pleaded not guilty to charges he obtained $5 million in federal coronavirus-relief loans for phony businesses and then used the money for lavish vacations and to buy a Ferrari, a Bentley and a Lamborghini.
Mustafa Qadiri was arrested last week on suspicion of scheming to defraud the Paycheck Protection Program.
The 38-year-old will stand trial in June on multiple charges including bank fraud, wire fraud, aggravated identity theft and money laundering.
Prosecutors say his loan applications included altered bank records, fake tax returns and false information about employees.
He was released on $100,000 bond.
Qadiri’s attorney, Bilal A. Essayli, declined further comment Monday.
SEATTLE -- Washington state’s Department of Health says preliminary data shows more people died of drug overdoses in 2020 than any other year in at least the last decade.
Authorities say the effects of the coronavirus pandemic likely led to a drug use surge.
The Seattle Times reports fatal drug overdoses increased by more than 30% last year compared to 2019. That’s an increase more than twice as large as any other year over the last decade.
Officials are still analyzing the preliminary data and causes of death in specific cases and expect the number of overdose deaths to grow even higher.
SACRAMENTO, Calif. -- Millions of Californians would get tax rebates of up to $1,100 under a proposal unveiled by Democratic Gov. Gavin Newsom as part of a broader pandemic recovery plan made possible by an eye-popping $75 billion budget surplus.
Individuals and households making between $30,000 and $75,000 annually would get a $600 payment under Newsom’s plan announced Monday. All households making up to $75,000 with at least one child, including immigrants who file taxes, would get an extra $500 payment.
The payments are part of what Newsom is calling a $100 billion plan to drive the state’s economic recovery. It also comes as Newsom faces a recall election.
The massive budget surplus is largely due to taxes paid by rich Californians who generally did well during the pandemic, and marks a major turnaround after officials last year said they feared a deficit of more than $50 billion.
The payments will total an estimated $8.1 billion, said H.D. Palmer, a spokesman for the state Department of Finance. The proposal also includes $5.2 billion to pay back rent and $2 billion for overdue utility bills for people who fell behind during the pandemic.
PORTLAND, Ore. — Portland’s mass vaccination site will close on June 19 after giving hundreds of thousands of COVID-19 inoculations.
The All4Oregon site has been running since Jan. 20 at the Oregon Convention Center. The site began offering walk-in appointments last week but organizers say a drop in volume makes it clear that demand for a mass vaccination site is waning as shots become more widely available elsewhere.
All4Oregon will offer stop offering first doses of the two-dose Pfizer vaccine on May 27 and will offer second doses only in June. As of Friday, the site had administered 465,000 shots.
NEW ORLEANS -- Organizers of a New Orleans vaccination event on Thursday will offer a free jab in the arm — and a free pound of boiled crawfish.
The Times-Picayune/The New Orleans Advocate reports that the vaccine promotion is being arranged by local business incubator Propeller, City Councilman Jay Banks, the city health department and longtime local seafood dealer Cajun Seafood.
It’s one of numerous vaccination events held day to day in New Orleans, where as of late April roughly 43% of city residents had received at least one vaccine dose.
MADRID — Spain’s top coronavirus expert has delivered a stern warning to people who are acting as if the pandemic had ended just because the government has relaxed measures amid an accelerating rollout of vaccines.
Fernando Simón said Monday that he was unable to predict how the contagion rate in Spain will evolve in coming days following scenes of revelers partying in mass over the past weekend, in many cases without social distancing or masks.
The street celebrations followed the end of a state of emergency, a blanket national rule that allowed authorities take strict measures such as travel bans, curfews and curbs on social gatherings, which collide with fundamental freedoms.
Spain’s rate of contagion fell to 188 new cases in two weeks per 100,000 residents from 198 on Friday and, way down from a peak of nearly 900 at the end of January. The country accumulates over 3.5 million confirmed cases since the beginning of the pandemic and over 78,000 deaths.
Simón said that he expected that new infections would hit harder people under 60 years ago, an age group that barring those in essential jobs is not being vaccinated yet. The expert said that the impact in older people could be lower among the elderly.
Nearly one third of Spain’s 47 million residents has received at least one coronavirus vaccine shot and 6 million people, most of them above 70, are fully vaccinated.