The Latest: S.Korea: Rules stay relaxed despite virus spike
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:
— South Korea: No plans to backtrack on relaxed rules despite spike in virus cases
— Mexico advisory board issues guidelines on reopening businesses
— Pakistan tops 2,000 for a single-day total of new virus cases for 1st time
— China reports seven new virus cases, including six in Jilin province
— 23 die from new coronavirus at Alabama veterans nursing home.
— Venezuela extending lockdown another month.
— Texas starting widespread coronavirus testing in state prisons.
SEOUL, South Korea — South Korea says it has no immediate plans to revive strict social distancing rules despite a spike in coronavirus cases linked to nightclubs in Seoul.
Vice Health Minister Kim Gang-lip told reporters Wednesday the government needs more time to analyze details of recent outbreaks before determining whether to maintain relaxed social distancing guidelines.
South Korea has eased up on much of its strict social distancing rules last week before it has about roughly 30 new cases each day in the past several days. On Wednesday, South Korea recorded 26 new cases, 20 of them associated with clubs in Seoul’s Itaewon entertainment district.
Health officials say in principle they would maintain relaxed social distancing rules if the country’s daily jump is below 50 and the number of untraceable cases account for less than 5% of all confirmed cases.
MEXICO CITY — Mexico’s top advisory body on the coronavirus pandemic says it has issued guidelines that would allow for the re-opening of construction, mining, and car and truck manufacturing.
The General Health Council said that following a Tuesday meeting it had decided to classify those industries as “essential activities” that are allowed to continue working during a lockdown aimed at fighting the spread of the novel coronavirus.
The council did not set a timeline for when the reopening would begin. But it said that by June 1, a ‘stoplight’ system should be in place to tell local populations what activities are allowed.
The council also said that restrictions on schools and businesses should be lifted in townships that have no cases of COVID-19 and whose neighboring townships also have no cases.
President Andrés Manuel López Obrador is set to announce a plan for the “gradual” resumption of economic activities Wednesday.
WELLINGTON, New Zealand — New Zealand reported zero new cases of the coronavirus on Wednesday, the second day in a row without any and the fourth such day since early last week.
Director-General of Health Ashley Bloomfield said it was encouraging news as the country prepares to ease many of its lockdown restrictions from midnight. Most businesses, including malls, retail stores and sit-down restaurants, will be able to reopen. Social distancing rules will remain in place and gatherings will be limited to 10 people.
“The sense of anticipation is both palpable and understandable,” Bloomfield said.
The lifting of restrictions will coincide with the release of the government’s annual budget on Thursday. Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern said the country faced the most challenging economic conditions since the Great Depression because of the virus.
“New Zealand is about to enter a very tough winter,” she said. “But every winter eventually is followed by spring, and if we make the right choices we can get New Zealanders back to work and our economy moving quickly again.”
ISLAMABAD — Pakistan crossed 2,000 new positive coronavirus cases in a single day for the first time since the outbreak earlier this year.
The increase comes just days after Prime Minister Imran Khan eased lockdown restrictions and stepped up the return of Pakistanis stranded overseas, ignoring please for stricter controls by Pakistan’s medical professionals.
Scenes of crowds of people crammed into markets throughout the country greeted the let up in restrictions despite the government’s call for safe distancing, which has been largely ignored by many of Pakistan’s 220 million people. The latest figures show 34,312 positive cases following a 24-hour high of 2,255 new cases.
Khan has been criticized for downplaying the severity of the pandemic, refusing to close down mosques particularly since the start of Islam’s fasting month of Ramadan which ends in two weeks with the holiday of Eid-ul-Fitr. Islamic clerics in Pakistan wield considerable control, often frightening political leaders with their ability to bring angry mobs onto the street.
Khan has argued the lockdown has hurt the country’s poorest the hardest. A vast majority of Pakistanis earn barely $75 a month mostly doing construction and daily wage work.
SEOUL, South Korea __ South Korea has reported 26 additional cases of the coronavirus over the past 24 hours amid a new spike in infections linked to nightclubs in Seoul.
Figures released Wednesday by the Korea Centers for Disease Control and Prevention brought the national tally to 10,962 with 259 deaths. The agency says 9,695 of them have recovered from the illness.
It says 22 of the 26 new cases were locally infected patients while the rest four came from overseas.
South Korea’s caseload has been on a slight yet steady upward trajectory since last week, with most cases linked to nightlife establishments in Seoul. Earlier the country’s daily jump had been single digits or around 10 for many days, prompting authorities to ease up on social distancing guidelines.
BEIJING — China reported seven new cases of the coronavirus on Wednesday. Six of them were in the northeastern province of Jilin where authorities have raised alert levels and suspended rail connections to once county where a cluster of unknown origin has appeared over recent days.
Another 754 people are in treatment for being suspected cases or for having tested positive but not shown symptoms, while 104 people are in hospital undergoing treatment.
China has reported a total of 4,633 deaths among 82,926 cases.
On Tuesday, local media reported the government would conduct tests on all 11 million residents of Wuhan, the central industrial city where the virus was first detected late last year.
PORTLAND, Ore. — Portland Parks and Recreation says it will not open seasonal public swimming pools this summer and will cancel all camps and activities because of the coronavirus pandemic.
The Oregonian/OregonLive reports the department announced the measures Tuesday.
Parks, trails and nature areas remain open and park greeters will be deployed “to make sure people know how to use their park system safely during the pandemic.”
Portland Parks and Recreation Director Adena Long said in a statement they have had to layoff or not hire hundreds of seasonal employees.
CARACAS, Venezuela — Venezuela President Nicolás Maduro says the nationwide lockdown aimed at curbing the spread of the new coronavirus will last another month.
Maduro said Tuesday the measure is necessary to protect the nation. He says one new case had been diagnosed for the day, bringing Venezuela’s reported illnesses amid the pandemic to 423. Officials say 10 people have died since the first coronavirus cases were discovered in mid-March.
Venezuela, with an estimated population of 25 million, is gripped by a political and social crisis. Most residents don’t have access to running water and regular electrical service. Health care workers warn that the country’s broken hospitals could easily be overwhelmed by the spread of the virus.
NEW ORLEANS — Dining in restaurants can resume in New Orleans beginning Saturday — with reservations.
Mayor LaToya Cantrell on Tuesday announced a loosening of restrictions on businesses adopted to combat the spread of the new coronavirus. Restaurants, which have been limited to take-out orders in New Orleans, will be able to provide outside table service and dine-in service at 25% of capacity. But diners will have to make reservations, providing a name and phone number.
Walk-in diners will be allowed to enter, but they will have to provide a name and number for an on-the-spot reservation. The information will have to be kept by the restaurant for 21 days to aid in contact tracing if needed.
AUSTIN, Texas — Texas is starting widespread coronavirus testing in state prisons, where at least 30 people have died and inmates have tested positive at far higher rates than outside one of the nation’s largest prison systems.
The Texas Department of Criminal Justice announced Tuesday that tens of thousands of COVID-19 tests are on the way to the state’s prisons. More than 1,700 inmates have tested positive in Texas.
Agency spokesman Jeremy Desel says the tests are designed to be self-administered and a dozen “strike teams” are receiving training this week.
It’s the second announcement of widespread testing in Texas in as many days. On Monday, Republican Gov. Greg Abbott ordered coronavius testing for every nursing home resident and staff member in the state.
HOUSTON — A budget deficit of $169 million that’s been exacerbated by the coronavirus pandemic will force Houston to briefly furlough around 3,000 workers and empty its rainy-day fund, the city’s mayor said Tuesday.
Due to the economic shutdown instituted to stop the spread of the disease, Houston is expected to lose about $107 million in sales tax revenue this year and the same amount in the upcoming fiscal year, which begins in July, Mayor Sylvester Turner said.
Houston, which has more than 237,000 energy workers, is also being hit hard by the dramatic drop in oil prices due to plummeting demand from virus-related lockdowns worldwide.
Furloughs will be for a maximum of 10 days within the upcoming fiscal year, Turner said.
The rainy-day fund typically has about $20 million for emergency spending with hurricane season beginning in June.
OLYMPIA, Wash. — More than 1,300 people in Washington state have been trained and are ready to work with local health departments to do contact tracing once a case of the coronavirus has been confirmed in a county.
At a news conference Tuesday, Gov. Jay Inslee said that of those already trained, 351 are from the National Guard, 390 are from the Department of Licensing, and 630 are state or local health professionals. He said that number could be expanded even more in the coming weeks.
Inslee said that while the social distancing efforts that have been in place since March have been frustrating, they have been “significantly effective.”
More than 17,330 people in the state have tested positive for the virus and at least 962 have died.
ALEXANDER CITY, Ala. — Nearly two dozen people have died at an Alabama veterans nursing home from the new coronavirus.
The Alabama Department of Veterans Affairs said Tuesday that 23 deaths from the disease occurred at the Bill Nichols State Veterans Home in Alexander City. The state-owned facility has a capacity of 150 residents, and 91 have tested positive for the virus.
The agency says a worker at the home wasn’t allowed to enter after testing positive for COVID-19 on March 30, and that the first resident tested positive nine days later.
The home has since been decontaminated and residents who test positive are being isolated.
LITTLE ROCK, Ark. — Arkansas has ordered a large theater to abandon plans to hold a concert in defiance of the state’s coronavirus restrictions on public gatherings.
Gov. Asa Hutchinson said Tuesday that the state Health Department was sending a cease-and-desist letter to the venue TempleLive to postpone or cancel the concert Friday night by country rock singer Travis McCready.
The event is expected to draw more than 200 people and would be held three days before Arkansas allows large indoor entertainment venues to reopen. Such venues are limited to 50 people in the audience unless a different total is approved by the state.
Concert organizers have said they’re reducing capacity at the venue from 1,100 people to 229 and implementing other safety rules, including requiring audience members to wear masks and have their temperature checked at the door.
CINCINNATI — Ohio elections officials say 318 voters in Butler County won’t have their ballots counted for the April 28 primary because of a U.S. Postal Service delivery delay.
Although the ballots were postmarked by the April 27 deadline, they didn’t get to the county elections board until this week, days after the May 8 deadline to be counted.
Republican Secretary of State Frank LaRose has written to Postal Service headquarters calling for an investigation and steps to make sure the issue doesn’t happen in the fall.
Ohio’s March 17 primary was extended after in-person voting that day was canceled for public health reasons amid the coronavirus spread. The vast majority of votes cast were by mail.
OKLAHOMA CITY — Collections to Oklahoma’s main government operating fund missed projections by 44% last month, the worst in modern history, state finance officials said Tuesday.
Office of Management and Enterprise Services Director Steve Harpe said missing this month’s estimate is not a surprise but called the magnitude “notable.” Harpe said postponing the income tax deadline from April to July, plummeting energy prices, and the coronavirus-related shutdown of businesses across the state amounted to a “threefold economic gut punch.”
April is historically the month with the largest revenue collections. Harpe said general revenue collections haven’t missed the estimate by more than 40% in recent history.
Individual and corporate income taxes, sales taxes and gross production taxes on oil and natural gas were all well below projections. The one bright spot was motor vehicle tax collections, which exceeded the estimate last month by more than 23%.
LONDON -- The British government says another 627 people who tested positive for the coronavirus have died, increasing the U.K.’s total to 32,692, second only to the United States worldwide.
The big increase Tuesday in the daily death toll was expected because of a weekend reporting lag. The figure represented a spike from the 210 deaths reported Monday and ended a three-day streak of declining totals.
Since mid-April, Britain’s seven-day rolling average of deaths has fallen, but since last Wednesday citizens have been able to exercise as often as they want while still observing social distancing guidelines.
WARSAW, Poland — Poland’s Health Ministry has reported 595 new cases of coronavirus infection, the highest daily increase since testing began in March.
Ministry officials said Tuesday the spike was due to the intensive testing taking place among thousands of coal miners and their families in the southern coal mining region of Silesia that has become a hotbed of infections. The ministry said 288 cases were reported there Tuesday and 15,000 tests are now planned.
The nation of 38 million has reported almost 17,000 cases and almost 840 deaths.
ATHENS — Greek officials say two migrants in a special quarantine facility for new arrivals on the eastern island of Lesbos have tested positive for the new coronavirus.
Authorities said Tuesday the two had arrived on the Aegean Sea island last week, when a boat with 51 people on board from Afghanistan and African countries crossed over from Turkey. All 51 were placed in two-week quarantine in the northern part of the island and far from the main, congested migrant camp of Moria where nearly 18,000 people live. A total 70 people are in quarantine, including 19 who arrived Sunday.
Officials say the two who tested positive did not display symptoms of COVID-19. Other migrants in the facility and people who come in contact with them are being tested.
No coronavirus infections have been registered so far in Greece’s island migrant camps, where almost 40,000 people live in cramped, often squalid conditions.
FORT LAUDERDALE, Fla. — Florida’s two largest counties appear to be heading toward a partial reopening of their economies next week from the new coronavirus shutdown under a plan that would impose severe restrictions that mirror the rest of the state.
Miami-Dade and Broward counties are finishing a plan that would allow retailers, restaurants and personal care businesses like barber shops and salons to reopen on Monday, about two months after they closed. The two counties account for almost half of the state’s confirmed coronavirus cases.
While details aren’t finalized, current plans call for restaurants and retail stores reopening under the state’s rules that limit them to to 25% capacity indoors. Restaurants with outdoor seating would have to keep tables 6 feet apart. The rest of the state began reopening last week.
The plan also calls for Broward and Miami-Dade beaches to remain closed, but several Broward commissioners said they would like them to also reopen Monday.
NASHVILLE, Tenn. — Fear of contracting the coronavirus doesn’t meet the criteria to vote by mail due to illness in Tennessee, state officials said Tuesday.
Coordinator of Elections Mark Goins told The Associated Press in a statement that the fear of getting ill does not fall under the definition of ill. Still, state officials recommended preparing as though all 1.4 million registered voters who are at least 60 will cast ballots by mail in the August primary election.
The guidance comes after the release of Tennessee’s COVID-19 election contingency plan, which doesn’t contemplate a shift to allow all voters to cast ballots by mail due to fears of contracting or unknowingly spreading COVID-19 at the polls.
About a third of states require an excuse to vote absentee, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures.
ALAMEDA, Calif. — Tesla CEO Elon Musk has emerged as a champion of defying stay-home orders intended to stop the coronavirus from spreading, picking up support as well as critics on social media.
Among supporters was President Donald Trump, who on Tuesday tweeted that Tesla’s San Francisco Bay Area factory should be allowed to open despite health department orders to stay closed except for basic operations. Trump wrote that the plant can be reopened safely.
Tesla’s factory reopened Monday with Musk daring authorities to arrest him. The company submitted a plan to protect worker safety, which the Alameda County Public Health Department is reviewing.
The plant in Fremont, a city of more than 230,000 people south of San Francisco, had been closed since March 23. It employs about 10,000 workers.