The Latest: Arrests in China for mask production violations
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:
— Chinese police arrest 42 for mask production violations.
— U.N. warns coronavirus pandemic putting many children “in jeopardy.”
— Singapore reports 728 new cases, China 26, South Korea 22.
— White House guidelines call for phased reopening.
— Trump to governors: “You’re going to call your own shots.”
BEIJING — Chinese police have arrested 42 people for hoarding and driving up the price of the cloth material used to make face masks, as well as illegally producing shoddy and inferior material for resale.
The Ministry of Public Security said in a statement Friday that a nationwide task force had been formed to crack down on crimes related to the production of masks, which almost all Chinese wear when in public and many in their offices and even homes as a safeguard against coronavirus.
That has led to scarcities in many places and severe price increases, especially in online sales. The ministry statement said raids in the southern industrial hub of Guangdong and three other provinces in early and mid-March resulted in the breaking of 20 cases and the seizure of material worth more than 34 million yuan (almost $5 million).
China has become a major exporter of masks and the raw material for making them, and sought to tighten quality standards following complaints from some countries about inferior products.
UNITED NATIONS — United Nations Secretary-General Antonio Guterres is warning that the coronavirus pandemic is putting many of the world’s children “in jeopardy” and is urging families everywhere and leaders at all levels to “protect our children.”
The U.N. chief said in a video statement Thursday that the lives of children “are being totally upended” by COVID-19, with almost all students out of school, family stress levels rising as communities face lockdowns, and reduced household income expected to force poor families to cut back on essential health and food expenditures, “particularly affecting children.”
Guterres said “children have so far been largely spared from the most severe symptoms of the disease.”
But with a global recession gathering pace, he said, “there could be hundreds of thousands additional child deaths in 2020.”
That estimate came from a 2011 paper by three economists who investigated the impact of “income shocks” on infant mortality, the U.N. children’s agency UNICEF said.
The secretary-general launched a report on risks children face which said 188 countries have imposed countrywide school closures, affecting more than 1.5 billion children and young people. It also said nearly 369 million children in 143 countries who rely on school meals for daily nutrition must now look to other sources.
SINGAPORE — Singapore has reported 728 new coronavirus cases, a record daily high for a second straight day that was broadly expected amid increased testing at foreign workers’ dormitories.
The health ministry said in a statement late Thursday that foreign workers accounted for 90 percent of the new cases, with five new clusters reported in the crowded dormitories housing up to 20 men in each room with shared facilities. It said the sharp rise in cases pushed total infections past the 4,000 mark to 4,427.
The city-state of nearly six million people is struggling to contain an explosion of cases among more than 200,000 migrant workers living in dormitories. Foreign workers now account for 60 percent of Singapore’s total infections, with one of the dorms accounting for about a fifth of cases. The government has quarantined tens of thousands of workers in their dorms, and moved some out to alternative sites to reduce crowding.
The city-state is under partial lockdown until May 4, and has made it mandatory for people to wear masks outside their homes as part of strict measures to halt the virus spread.
BEIJING — China on Friday reported 26 new coronavirus cases, 15 of them brought from outside the country, but no new deaths.
The southern industrial hub of Guangdong accounted for the bulk of new domestic cases with five. Another 1,100 were listed as suspected cases or people who had tested positive but were showing no symptoms and remained under isolation and observation.
In total, China has reported 3,342 deaths among 82,367 cases, with just over 1,000 people remaining hospitalized.
SEOUL, South Korea — South Korea has reported 22 new cases of the coronavirus, the fifth day in a row its daily jump was in the 20s, with no fresh cases reported in the hardest-hit city of Daegu where infections have waned in past weeks.
Figures released by South Korea’s Centers for Disease Control and Prevention on Friday brought national totals to 10,635 cases and 230 deaths.
Despite a slowing caseload, Prime Minster Chung Sye-kyun during an anti-virus meeting raised concerns that the country could be going through “a calm before the storm.”
He pointed to continuing cases of local transmissions that health workers have found difficult to trace, which he said could possibly be asymptomatic transmissions linked to passengers arriving from overseas, and easing attitudes on social distancing that have led to increased crowds at clubs and other leisure destinations.
Officials also say it will take a week or two to assess the impact of Wednesday’s national parliamentary elections, which showed the highest turnout in nearly 30 years despite the coronavirus.
WASHINGTON — President Donald Trump said Thursday his new guidelines for states to restore normal activity offers governors “freedom” to act as they see fit.
Trump called his phased approach for states to begin returning to semblance of normalcy a “science-based approach.”
The new guidelines ease restrictions in areas with low transmission of the coronavirus, while holding the line in harder-hit locations.
Earlier this week, Trump said he had “total” authority to reopen the economy. But he told governors Thursday he’ll leave it up to them to “call the shots” in their states. Trump also called on governors to coordinate by region as they work on relaxing social distancing rules. States in the Northeast, West and Midwest have already formed pacts to coordinate their efforts to restart economic activity.
MANILA, Philippines — The Philippine president has threatened a martial law-style enforcement of a monthlong lockdown in the main northern region of millions of people as violations soared.
President Rodrigo Duterte said in a late-night televised speech Thursday he would order the military and police to strictly enforce social distancing and curfews if compliance did not improve. Police said they have accosted about 120,000 quarantine violators since last month, including people who engaged in cockfighting and drinking sprees.
“The police and military will enforce social distancing and curfews. They will. It’s like martial law. You choose. I don’t like it,” Duterte said, but added that he may be forced to “if the country gets compromised and you won’t show discipline.”
Duterte, who took office in mid-2016, has been in the crosshairs of human rights groups long before the pandemic started for his bloody anti-drugs crackdown that has left thousands of mostly poor drug suspects dead.
Some irate local officials have taken enforcement to extremes, including a village guard who locked up five drunk curfew violators in a dog cage and others who paraded violators to shame them in public or made them sit under the scorching sun for hours, prompting Human Rights Watch to raise an alarm.
SEOUL, South Korea — Officials say South Korea lost nearly 200,000 jobs in March from a year earlier, ending a decade-long run in payroll gains, as the coronavirus took its toll on the country’s economy and labor markets.
Statistics Korea said Friday that the 195,000 jobs lost last month was the largest monthly decline since May 2009, when the country was weathering a global financial crisis. Job losses were greatest in wholesale and retail businesses and accommodation, food and education services.
While the unemployment rate slightly dropped from last year to 4.2%, Statistics Korea official Eun Sun-hyun said that was because fewer people were in search of jobs as they looked to avoid social contact amid fears of virus transmissions.
The number of people deemed economically inactive — not having a job, nor looking for one — rose by more than half a million to 16.9 million people.
SACRAMENTO, Calif. — California Gov. Gavin Newsom expects to spend up to $7 billion this year battling the coronavirus and the economic disruption it has unleashed, as state budget experts warn lawmakers to prepare for revenue loss akin to the Great Recession.
Newsom has already authorized spending more than $2 billion on things like hotel rooms for the homeless, loans to small businesses and cash payments to adults living in the country illegally who are not eligible for federal stimulus benefits.
The virus’ spread in California has not been as devastating as public health officials had feared, with the growth in hospitalizations slowing as the state has been under a mandatory stay-at-home order for nearly a month that has closed schools and nonessential businesses. But Newsom warned earlier this week that the steady presence of the virus would likely continue to disrupt public life well into the summer and beyond.
Unemployment data reflecting the coronavirus restrictions won’t be available until next month. But Legislative Analyst Gabriel Petek said the number of people who have filed for unemployment benefits — more than 2.7 million as of Wednesday — indicate between 12% and 15% of Californians have lost their jobs.
“The pace of job losses that we are seeing, caused by an abrupt halting of economic activity, make it clear the economy has entered a recession, and possibly a quite severe one,” he said, adding that the Legislature should prepare for a “very substantial” decline in revenue.
The $7 billion Newsom plans to spend does not include other increased costs for things like Medicaid and other social safety net programs that have been affected by the virus. So far, the money Newsom has spent came from an emergency reserve fund and $1 billion the state Legislature gave to him just before they recessed on March 16.
TOPEKA, Kan. — Two Kansas churches and their pastors have filed a federal lawsuit against Gov. Laura Kelly over an order banning religious gatherings with more than 10 people to help slow the spread of the new coronavirus.
The lawsuit filed Thursday in the U.S. District Court for Kansas argues that Kelly’s directive violates the churches and pastors’ religious, assembly and free-speech rights.
The lawsuit comes eight days after top Republican legislative leaders attempted to revoke Kelly’s order themselves, only to see the Democratic governor thwart their efforts by contesting their action before the Kansas Supreme Court. The state’s highest court let her order stand on technical grounds, without deciding whether it violated freedoms guaranteed by the U.S. or Kansas constitutions.
The lawsuit was filed by First Baptist Church in Dodge City and Pastor Stephen Ormond and Calvary Baptist Church in Junction City and Pastor Aaron Harris. The lawsuit said both churches held indoor services Sunday with 20 or more members of the congregation present, celebrating Easter, often the busiest day of the year for Christian churches.
Kelly spokeswoman Dena Sattler said: “This is not about restricting religion, it is about keeping people safe and saving Kansans’ lives.”
NEW ORLEANS — This year’s New Orleans Jazz and Heritage Festival has been canceled, the latest economic and entertainment industry casualty in Louisiana’s fight to halt the spread of the new coronavirus.
Organizers had already postponed the festival, which usually spans two spring weekends, until the fall. But they announced Thursday on the festival website that they would not attempt this year to hold the event.
The festival, which celebrated its 50th anniversary last year, draws more than 400,000 visitors to the Fair Grounds Race Course for music on multiple stages, a variety of cuisines at dozens of food booths and an arts and crafts fair.
The announcement came as Gov. John Bel Edwards announced the creation of an 18-member commission to help the state plot a course for eventually reopening businesses shuttered during the fight against the coronavirus.
WASHINGTON — The Trump administration has announced it will provide $5 million to the Palestinians to help them combat the coronavirus pandemic.
It’s the first new U.S. assistance to the Palestinians since the administration slashed and then virtually eliminated all aid to them as it moved to coordinate its policy with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.
U.S. Ambassador to Israel David Friedman announced the move in a tweet on Thursday. He said the money would go to Palestinian hospitals and households to “meet immediate, life-saving needs in combating COVID-19.” He said the United States “is committed to assisting the Palestinian people” during the crisis.
Friedman has been a main proponent of the administration’s pro-Israel stance, promoting the recognition of Jerusalem as Israel’s capital, moving the U.S. embassy there from Tel Aviv, eliminating American assistance to the Palestinian Authority and ending funding for the U.N. agency responsible for Palestinian refugees.
WASHINGTON — The Trump administration has issued new guidelines for states, individuals and employers on how to ease up on social distancing to deal with the coronavirus in areas where COVID-19 are on the decline.
The guidelines distributed to governors are published under the headline “Opening Up America Again.”
The guidelines say states or regions should meet certain criteria before moving to a phased opening. For example, there needs to be a downward trajectory of documented COVID-19 cases within a 14-day period and a robust testing program in place for at-risk health care workers.
For states and regions that satisfy the criteria for a “phase one” opening, the guidelines recommend that vulnerable individuals should continue to shelter in place. Others who go out should avoid socializing in groups of more than 10 people in places that don’t provide appropriate physical distancing. Trade shows are cited as an example.
For specific types of employers, it’s recommended that bars remain closed as part of phase one. However, theaters, sporting venues and churches can open “under strict physical distancing protocols.”
TIRANA, Albania — Health ministers of the Western Balkan countries have agreed to facilitate any joint action in the fight against the coronavirus, according to the Kosovo Health Ministry.
A statement Thursday said Kosovar Health Minister Arben Vitia had telephone calls with his colleagues in the region in which they agreed that “transport routes for goods, health personnel and medical equipment remain free.”
All countries are in a lockdown and only goods can cross their borders.
COVID-19 has infected 8,801 people and killed 233 in the six Western Balkan countries — Kosovo, Albania, Montenegro, North Macedonia, Bosnia-Herzegovina and Serbia — as of Thursday, according to John Hopkins University figures.
The six countries are at different stages of integration into the European Union, which already has offered financial and material support in their fight against the virus.
WASHINGTON — President Donald Trump has told the nation’s governors “you’re going to call your own shots” as he prepared to unveil national guidelines on when and how the country starts to recover economically from the coronavirus pandemic.
Trump is set to issue new guidelines aimed at clearing the way for an easing of restrictions in areas with low transmission of the coronavirus, while keeping them in place in harder-hit places. Ultimately, decisions on when to ease up will rest with governors.
Trump talked to governors before he unveils the guidelines to the public in the evening. The announcement comes on the same day the government said 5.2 million more Americans applied for unemployment benefits last week.
Trump said on Monday that his “authority is total” to reopen states but has since backed away from that claim after governors pointed out the Constitution does not grant the president that power.
Trump told the governors some of them are in good shape to open their states quickly, but others are in tough shape. He remarked that requests for ventilators have gone away, adding, “I say that respectfully.” He also asserted that “we’re in excellent shape” on testing, which many health care officials have disputed.
LANSING, Mich. — Seven Midwestern governors announced Thursday that they will coordinate on reopening their state economies, after similar pacts were made earlier this week in the Northeast and on the West Coast.
Thursday’s announcement covers Michigan, Ohio, Wisconsin, Minnesota, Illinois, Indiana and Kentucky.
The governors say they will work with experts and take a “fact-based, data-driven approach to reopening our economy in a way that protects families from the spread of COVID-19.”
Altogether, the 17 states covered by the three pacts are home to nearly half the U.S. population.
ROME — Italy will begin administering experimental coronavirus immunity tests on an initial 150,000 people nationwide in early May as part of its efforts to reopen after a weekslong shutdown.
Italy’s commissioner for the pandemic, Domenico Arcuri, told state-run RAI news Thursday that the government hopes the first wave of tests will progressively grow in number and become the national standard.
Italy, the European epicenter of the pandemic, has imposed a lockdown and production shutdown through May 3.
Individual regions and even companies are already gunning to start antibody tests to accelerate the reopening. But Arcuri made clear the government wants a unified approach in testing, which he said would be one of the “fundamental pillars” of moving into the next phase of the emergency.
Arcuri said another pillar involved rolling out a voluntary contact-tracing cellphone application, to provide real-time data on movements of people and possible new clusters of infection. A pilot program would begin in some regions and then extend nationwide, he said.
PARIS — French President Emmanuel Macron says China hasn’t been fully transparent about its handling of the coronavirus.
In an interview appearing Friday in the Financial Times, Macron said: “Let’s not be so naive as to say (China) has been much better at handling this.”
Macron continued: “We don’t know. There are clearly things that have happened that we don’t know about.” He didn’t elaborate.
The comments come amid growing international questions about how China released information about the virus. Internal documents obtained by The Associated Press show that China’s top health agency knew it was facing a likely pandemic but didn’t alert the public for six key days.
Macron is trying to rally international cooperation to fight the virus more effectively, but growing tensions with China may complicate that.
France’s foreign minister summoned China’s ambassador this week to express his “clear disapproval” of recent Chinese comments over how France is dealing with the virus crisis.
MOSCOW — The Russian government has allowed the controversial medication hydroxychloroquine to be used in the treatment of coronavirus infection.
The antimalarial drug has been touted, notably by President Donald Trump, as potentially effective against the virus, but clinical studies are inconclusive.
The drug is not registered for use in Russia, but a Chinese pharmaceutical company provided a large supply to the National Medical Research Center for Cardiology, according to an order from Prime Minister Mikhail Mishustin reported by Russian news agencies on Thursday. The order authorizes the center to provide the medication free to institutions treating coronavirus infections.
PARIS — The coronavirus appears to be receding in France, one of the world’s hardest-hit countries.
National Health agency chief Jerome Salomon said Thursday that the virus epidemic looks to have reached a “long plateau” that is “evolving slowly downward,” instead of hitting a peak followed by a sharp drop.
Two weeks ago, France saw a 58% weekly jump in deaths nationwide as COVID-19 claimed more and more lives.
Salomon said it was unclear how much of the “excess mortality” reported from March 30-April 5 in comparison to previous years was linked to the virus.
But the rise corresponded with an increase in deaths attributed to the virus in hospitals and care homes, which is now at 17,920. France has not been counting people who die with the virus at home.
More than 6,000 people are still in intensive care but the number has dropped every day for a week, and the number of people hospitalized fell Thursday for a second day.