The Latest: China orders pangolin protection amid pandemic
BEIJING — China is ordering its highest level of protection for the armadillo-like pangolin as part of its crackdown on the wildlife trade following the global coronavirus pandemic.
While the virus is believed to have originated in the central Chinese city of Wuhan, most scientists say it was most likely transmitted from bats to humans via an intermediary animal such as the pangolin.
The order Friday from the National Forestry and Grassland Administration does not explicitly mention the virus outbreak as a reason for the measure, but the timing appears to indicate that was a consideration.
Pangolin meat is considered a delicacy by some Chinese and its scales are used in traditional Chinese medicine.
Other animals protected at China’s top level include giant pandas, Tibetan antelopes and red-crowned cranes.
HERE’S WHAT YOU NEED TO KNOW TODAY ABOUT THE VIRUS OUTBREAK:
— U.S. unemployment makes a surprise 13.3% drop amid the pandemic.
— The U.K. became the second country after the United States with more than 40,000 virus deaths.
— WHO widens recommendations for use of masks.
— The coronavirus pandemic has forced missionaries from The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints to do their outreach online. The church hastily brought home more than 26,000 young people from overseas missions aimed at recruiting new members. Many are taking their work to social media in their own countries.
— Saturday’s D-Day anniversary will be one of the loneliest remembrances ever for the June 6, 1944 landings in Normandy. The coronavirus pandemic is keeping almost everyone away — from world leaders to frail veterans who might not get another chance for a final farewell to their comrades.
— Japan has kept its deaths from the new coronavirus low despite a series of missteps that beg the question of whether it can prevent future waves of infections. Authorities have conducted only a fraction of the tests needed to find and isolate patients.
Go to https://apnews.com/VirusOutbreak for updates throughout the day.
HERE’S WHAT ELSE IS HAPPENING TODAY:
BEIJING — China’s capital is lowering its emergency response level to the second-lowest starting Saturday for the coronavirus pandemic.
That will lift most restrictions on people traveling from Wuhan and the surrounding province of Hubei, where the virus first appeared late last year. They will no longer face 14-day mandatory quarantines and other forms of monitoring, and those currently in such situations will be allowed to return to their normal lives.
Beijing residential compounds will not be required to conduct temperature checks and masks no longer must be worn for outdoor activities. Kindergartens will reopen and other grades still suspended will restart classes.
Beijing has reported no new cases of local transmission in at least 50 days and as many as 90 days in some districts.
SANTA FE, N.M. — The New Mexico Supreme Court is temporarily suspending consumer debt collection such as garnishing wages and seizing assets in response to the coronavirus pandemic and its related economic downturn.
The court on Friday ordered the temporary suspension in a new effort to alleviate economic hardship amid a surge in unemployment and uncertainties.
The decision comes as a virus outbreak continues to race through privately run prison facilities for state and federal inmates in Otero County. There have been 583 positive tests among inmates there.
MINNEAPOLIS — The president of the University of Minnesota is recommending the school resume in-person classes this fall after shifting to online offerings during the coronavirus pandemic.
President Joan Gabel also will recommend to the Board of Regents next week that the university reopen residence halls in the fall.
The Star Tribune reports Gabel announced her recommendations Friday after weeks of deliberations with university leaders and public health experts.
Gabel also will suggest each campus adjust its academic calendars to conclude in-person instruction by Thanksgiving, or earlier if state health officials deem it necessary.
Her plan must be approved by regents.
HARRISBURG, Pa. — Gov. Tom Wolf will allow 12 more counties that are home to 1.3 million people to join the nearly 4 million who are now in the least-restrictive phase of his three-step pandemic reopening plan, even as he warned Friday of an outbreak in northwestern Pennsylvania.
Wolf said that the 12 counties can join the “green” phase of his stoplight-colored reopening plan next Friday. Sixteen more counties entered the “green” phase Friday, joining 18 others.
At that level, gyms, barbers and hair salons can reopen as can indoor dining at restaurants and bars. Overnight camps and organized youth sports can begin and gatherings of up to 250 people are allowed.
Wolf adds that while Pennsylvania’s total count of new coronavirus cases has declined recently, Erie County in the state’s northwest and home to the state’s fourth-most populous city is seeing a rise in cases.
ST. PAUL, Minn. — Minnesota Gov. Tim Walz has announced that a gradual reopening will begin Wednesday for indoor dining, gyms and entertainment venues during the coronavirus pandemic.
Walz said Friday that despite the easing, customers and employees still will be either strongly recommended or required to wear masks to help prevent the spread of the virus.
Restaurants can offer indoor dining while maintaining social distancing, requiring reservations and seating no more than 50% occupancy. Gyms, yoga studios, theaters, concert halls, bowling alleys and museums may open at 25% occupancy. Places of worship can increase their occupancy to 50%.
Minnesota Chamber President Doug Loon welcomes the move move, but he is urging the Democratic governor to accelerate the process and reopen all Minnesota businesses by June 19.
ISLAMABAD-- Pakistan’s prime minister has told his country’s people that he does not want to reimpose a lockdown that was eased last month, saying the nation cannot afford to because of its ailing economy.
In a televised speech Friday, Prime Minister Imran Khan urged Pakistanis to adhere to social- distancing guidelines, saying it was the only way to slow the spread of virus.
His comments came hours after Pakistan reported 68 virus-related deaths in the previous 24 hours, raising its death toll in the pandemic to 1,838.
Another 4,896 new confirmed cases of the virus also were reported Friday, Pakistan’s highest number in a single day.
NEW ORLEANS -- Some Louisiana businesses have been slammed after reopening for the first time in 2 1/2 months while others are waiting for customers or taking another week to emerge from a nationwide virus lockdown.
Bars, massage facilities, bowling alleys, swimming pools and tattoo shops in Louisiana were allowed to reopen Friday under an order signed by Gov. John Bel Edwards.
At Bodyworks Massage And Spa in Monroe, owner Donna Laseter had no time to give an interview, saying. “We’ve got everybody coming in and our phone’s ringing off the hooks.”
New Orleans, the state’s original outbreak hot spot, isn’t participating in the wider reopening. City officials said more time and data is needed to decide when that is safe.
Lake Charles bowling alley supervisor Ashley Gunderson said nobody had shown up during Friday’s first hour at Petro Bowl, but several people had called to say they would be coming.
LANSING, Mich. — Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer says barbershops and other personal-care businesses can reopen across the state on June 15.
Those businesses and places like gyms and movie theaters that were shut down to curb the coronavirus are being allowed to restart in northern Michigan next week, with restrictions. The governor is expected to move the rest of the state’s more populated areas to that stage in coming weeks.
In 32 northern counties, indoor social gatherings and organized events of up to 50 people will be permissible, subject to distancing and other safety rules. Outdoor gatherings of up to 250 will be allowed.
Indoor facilities such as bowling alleys, cinemas, convention centers and sports arenas will open at 25% capacity or hold up to 250 people, whatever is smaller.
Michigan has the sixth-most COVID-19 deaths in the U.S., and the Detroit area was once considered a national hot spot.
LONDON — The U.K. has become the second country to officially record more than 40,000 coronavirus-related deaths as more than 100 scientists wrote to the British government to urge it to reconsider lifting virus lockdown restrictions.
The government said Friday that another 357 people who had tested positive for the virus have died in the U.K. across all settings, including hospitals and care homes. That takes the total to 40,261, the world’s second-highest pandemic death toll behind the United States.
The U.K.’s actual COVID-19 death toll is widely considered to be higher as the total only includes those who have tested positive for the virus.
In an open letter, the scientists urged the government to postpone further easing of the lockdown given the still-high level of daily virus-related deaths and new infections.
“Despite a two-month lockdown, we are still experiencing unacceptable daily numbers of deaths, still in the hundreds, and an estimated 8,000 new infections a day in England alone,” they wrote.
PHOENIX -- Arizona has reported a new daily high for confirmed coronavirus cases as the number of virus-related deaths in the state topped 1,000.
The state Department of Health Services on Friday reported 16 new deaths, bringing Arizona’s total to 1,012. The department said 1,578 new cases were tallied, by far the highest daily count since the outbreak began.
The number of people confirmed to be infected with COVID-19 in Arizona is now at 24,332. The surge in cases began about 10 days. Gov. Doug Ducey lifted his stay-at-home order on May 15.
SIOUX FALLS, S.D. — South Dakota has dropped plans to test an anti-malaria drug to prevent COVID-19, the partners in the study announced Friday.
The statewide tests were called off after a University of Minnesota study found that the drug hydroxychloroquine had no benefit over a placebo as a way to prevent COVID-19 in people exposed to the coronavirus.
Hydroxychloroquine has attracted controversy after U.S. President Donald Trump promoted it as an antidote to COVID-19, but the drug was shown in studies not to help in some studies even to be harmful to people hospitalized with the virus.
Sanford Health, Avera Health and Monument Health were collaborating on the tests, which were sponsored by the state of South Dakota. The South Dakota trial was in the early stages and had just recently opened for enrollment.
MADRID — Spain’s top government virus expert says that fear of being infected with the coronavirus may have played a role in the huge spike in deaths that has yet to be explained.
Spain’s Health Ministry reports just over 27,000 confirmed COVID-19 deaths. They were people who tested positive for the virus before the died.
But Carlos III University, which runs the nation’s mortality observatory, has registered more than 43,000 deaths since March beyond the number expected based on the rates in recent years.
Coordination Center for Health Alerts and Emergencies Director Fernando Simón said Friday that the discrepancies between the Health Ministry’s number and the mortality figures could be due to other factors indirectly related to the virus.
He said one could be “those people with chronic illnesses who were too scared or waited too long to go to the hospital” when they needed care at the height of the outbreak in Spain.
Simón acknowledged that Spain’s actual COVID-19 death toll could be higher than the current official count. Spain, like most hard-hit countries, had enormous difficulties in providing virus tests to all the sick at the start of its outbreak.
MILAN — No deaths were recorded in nine Italian regions on Friday as the coronavirus’s grip on Italy continues to ease. The number of deaths nationwide grew by 85 in 24 hours, in line with recent days, for a total of 33,774.
New data from the civil protection agency showed a sharp increase in the number of confirmed coronavirus cases — with 518 new positives, more than double a day earlier, bringing Italy’s total to date to 234,531.
The increase was attributed to huge jump in the number of tests in Lombardy to more than 19,000 in one day, up from just over 3,400 a day earlier. That revealed more than 400 new positives in the region that has born the brunt of Italy’s epidemic.
Pressure on hospitals continued to ease with 200 fewer people hospitalized and 22 fewer people in intensive care. Officials say most intensive-care patients are long-standing cases that have proven hard to treat.
SKOPJE, North Macedonia — North Macedonia has registered a new record number of daily coronavirus infections for the third consecutive day, with more than half the country’s 2.1 million people under an 80-hour near-total lockdown.
Health Minister Venko Filipce announced that 180 newly infected people and two deaths were recorded over the past 24 hours, a new record since the first case was registered in late February. The total confirmed cases in the country now stand at 2,790, and 149 people have died.
Filipce said about 90% of newly infected people are members and relatives of 15 families, and that the second wave of the epidemic in North Macedonia was the result of people ignoring the ban on mass gatherings. More than a half of the new cases are from the capital, Skopje.
North Macedonia’s government has imposed almost a near-complete curfew in four regions that started at 9 p.m. Thursday and will end at 5 a.m. Monday. People can only leave their houses to go to a hospital or pharmacy. Supermarkets and food stores are closed.
Filipce said he is confident that the new spike in infections is under control and announced that authorities would discuss on Sunday the next steps for dealing with the epidemic.
LONDON — The World Health Organization is changing its recommendations for the use of masks during the coronavirus pandemic and is now recommending that in areas where there is widespread transmission, people should wear masks when social distancing is not possible, such as on public transport and in shops.
In a press briefing on Friday, WHO director-general Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus also said people over age 60 or those with underlying medical conditions should wear a medical mask in situations where social distancing cannot be maintained. WHO has previously only recommended that health care workers, those sickened by COVID-19 and their care givers wear masks.
Tedros emphasized that “masks on their own will not protect you from COVID-19” and emphasized the importance of hand-washing, social distancing and other measures. He added that health workers in areas with widespread transmission should now wear medical masks in all areas of health facilities and not just those with confirmed COVID-19 patients, saying that doctors working in cardiology or other wards, for example, should continue to wear a medical mask even if there are no known coronavirus patients.
BAGHDAD — The number of confirmed coronavirus cases reported daily in Iraq has reached 1,000 for the first time and the country has seen its cases more triple in the last two weeks due to increased testing.
A Health Ministry statement issued on Friday said at least 1,006 new coronavirus cases had been reported in the previous 24 hours, bringing the nationwide total to 9,846. Ministry figures showed the death toll remained at 285.
Health Ministry teams have been doing random virus tests of the population, and Iraqi officials have said that is why confirmed cases are spiking. Iraq has conducted nearly 10,000 tests per day in recent days.
But the rising numbers are concerning for health workers who cite a scarcity of medical supplies and trained staff. Officials have said a flareup in the number of cases could be catastrophic for the country’s floundering health sector.
Doctors have told patients who have tested positive to stay at home unless their symptoms worsen.
BERLIN — Switzerland says it plans to lift restrictions on travel from European Union countries and Britain on June 15.
The Swiss government previously had announced that it would completely reopen the country’s borders with three of its neighbors -- Austria, Germany and France – in mid-June.
On Friday, a government statement said “in view of the current epidemiological situation” it can now expand that to all countries in the EU and the European Free Trade Association, as well as Britain.
Switzerland is not a member of the EU but is part of Europe’s usually passport check-free Schengen travel area.
KUALA LUMPUR — Malaysia’s government has announced a 35 billion ringgit ($8.2 billion) stimulus to bolster short-term economic recovery as the country emerges from more than two months of virus lockdown.
The package, which is in addition to a $60 billion stimulus announced earlier, centers on increasing employment, wooing foreign investment and revitalizing key sectors of the economy.
Prime Minister Muhyiddin Yassin said Friday it included 10 billion ringgits ($2.3 billion) in wage subsidies, training programs and supporting small and medium-sized enterprises. Tax breaks and rebates have been given to bolster the manufacturing, real estate auto, palm oil, airline and tourism sectors.
He said this includes a zero tax rate for up to 15 years for foreigners investing more than 500 million ringgits ($117 million) in manufacturing and fixed property sector. Malaysia, which has nearly 8,300 infections and 116 deaths, eased virus restrictions last month.