The latest on the coronavirus pandemic.

WASHINGTON — President Trump on Wednesday threatened to hold up federal funds for two election battleground states that are trying to make it easier and safer to vote during the coronavirus pandemic.

Jocelyn Benson

Michigan Secretary of State Jocelyn Benson, seen on March 5, said Tuesday that absentee ballot applications will be mailed to all 7.7 million registered voters for the August primary and November general election. David Eggert/Associated Press

The president’s tweets targeting Michigan and Nevada marked an escalation in his campaign against voting by mail, a practice that he has publicly worried will lead so many people to vote that Republicans will lose in November. Even though the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends mail voting as a safe option during the pandemic, Trump has opposed the spread of the practice.

Wednesday marked the first time he has tried to use federal dollars to beat it back.

Trump began by targeting Michigan, with a false description of Democratic Secretary of State Jocelyn Benson’s announcement Tuesday that she would send applications for absentee ballots to every voter in the state.

“Michigan sends absentee ballots to 7.7 million people ahead of Primaries and the General Election,” Trump tweeted Wednesday morning. That brought strong criticism from Michigan and elsewhere, pointing out that the state was sending applications, not actual ballots.

About six hours after his original tweet, Trump corrected it to say “absentee ballot applications.”

Read the full story on the president’s funding threat here.

Brazil expands use of unproven drug as virus toll rises

RIO DE JANEIRO — President Jair Bolsonaro unveiled rules Wednesday expanding the prescription of chloroquine, the predecessor of an anti-malaria drug promoted by U.S. President Trump, for coronavirus patients despite a lack of clinical proof that it is effective.

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Relatives attend the burial of Vandelma Rosa de Almeida, 66, whose death certificate states she is suspected of having died of COVID-19, at the Caju cemetery in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, on Wednesday. Silvia Izquierdo/Associated Press

Chloroquine was already being used in Brazil for COVID-19 patients who are hospitalized in serious condition, and under the new regulations, it can be given to people with lighter symptoms such as abdominal pain, cough or fever, according to the Health Ministry.

“There is still no scientific evidence, but it is being monitored and used in Brazil and worldwide,” Bolsonaro, who has likened the virus to a “little flu” and feuded with local governments over their stay-at-home measures, said via his official Facebook page. “We are at war: ‘Worse than being defeated is the shame of not having fought.’”

More than 291,000 coronavirus cases have been confirmed in Brazil, the third most in the world after the United States and Russia, and the announcement came a day after the country’s single-day death toll from the virus hit a new high of more than 1,100. Officials said Wednesday that 888 more died in the subsequent 24 hours.

Trump has promoted treating COVID-19 with hydroxychloroquine, a variant considered less toxic and more effective than chloroquine, and he announced Monday that he was taking the drug as a precaution. No large, rigorous studies have found either drug safe or effective for preventing or treating the virus.

Bolsonaro, a conservative populist and nationalist, has long expressed admiration for Trump and enthusiasm for chloroquine. Brazil’s new guidelines were approved by interim Health Minister Gen. Eduardo Pazuello, who had no health experience prior to becoming the ministry’s No. 2 official in April.

Pazuello’s appointment to the top job came after then-Health Minister Luiz Henrique Mandetta was fired last month for publicly supporting state governors who shut down nonessential businesses and adopted other measures against the virus, and after Mandetta’s replacement, Nelson Teich, resigned last week. Teich did not explain why he left, but he had publicly disagreed with Bolsonaro over chloroquine.

Officials say nearly 19,000 people have died of the coronavirus in Brazil so far.

Health systems in various states have gone over capacity, with overwhelmed intensive care units unable to take in new COVID-19 patients, and experts say rising numbers of people are dying at home.

Cemeteries are using backhoes to dig hundreds of graves at a time, and Manaus in the heart of the Amazon rainforest is burying the dead in mass graves.

Japan approves lifting state of emergency in three prefectures

TOKYO — Japan’s economy minister says experts have approved a government plan to remove a coronavirus state of emergency in Osaka and two neighboring prefectures in the west where the infection is deemed slowing, while keeping the measure in place in the Tokyo region and Hokkaido.

Economy Minister Yasutoshi Nishimura told reporters that experts at the meeting approved the plan to lift the measure in Osaka, Kyoto and Hyogo.

The measure will be kept in place in Tokyo and three neighboring prefectures, as well as Hokkaido, where the infections have slowed but need further improvement.

The three are among the eight prefectures still under the emergency status after Prime Minister Shinzo Abe lifted the measure last week in all but eight of the 47 Japanese prefectures. Abe declared the state of emergency on April 7 in parts of Japan including Tokyo and later expanded it to nationwide.

Under Japan’s state of emergency, which does not enforce lockdowns, many people have followed the social distancing requests but others had to continue commuting, while a sizable minority continued to dine out or picnicked at parks. More stores, restaurants and bars have started to reopen recently, under new anti-infection guidelines.

Abe will formally announce the plan later Thursday after approval by parliamentary committees.

Japan had about 16,424 confirmed cases and 777 deaths as of Wednesday, according to the health ministry.

Reopening: It’s back to business, but not business as usual

NEW YORK  — This is what “normal” will look like for the foreseeable future.

In Connecticut, restaurants are reopening with outdoor-only dining and tables 6 feet apart. In Beverly Hills, California, the rich and glamorous are doing their shopping from the curb along Rodeo Drive. And preschools around the U.S. plan to turn social distancing into an arts-and-crafts project by teaching kids how to “create their own space” with things like yarn and masking tape.

As the U.S. and other countries loosen their coronavirus restrictions, it’s back to business, but not business as usual. In fact, it is becoming all too clear that without a vaccine against the scourge, the disruptions could be long-lasting and the economy won’t be bouncing right back.

In Italy, where good food is an essential part of life, once-packed restaurants and cafes are facing a huge financial hit as they reopen with strict social-distancing rules after a 10-week shutdown.

Experts warned that as many as one-third of the country’s restaurants and bars could go out of business, up to 300,000 jobs in the sector could vanish, and losses could reach 30 billion euros ($32 billion) this year.

“We have to turn upside down all the activity that we did before,” lamented chef Raffaele di Cristo, who must wear a mask and latex gloves as he prepares food at the popular Corsi Trattoria in Rome. “Everything is changed.”

Corsi reopened this week with half its tables removed to ensure the mandated 1-meter (3-foot) spacing between tables. Hand sanitizing gel was placed at the entrance, and a new ordering system was installed so that customers could read the menu on their phones instead of listening to waitresses recite the specials.

In Connecticut, restaurants that reopened Wednesday for outdoor dining are required to rearrange workstations so that employees don’t face one another, and stagger shifts and break times to minimize contact among them. Markers must be installed to encourage customers to keep their distance from one another.

Some of Connecticut’s rules echo reopening guidelines released by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. They are intended for childcare centers, schools, day camps, mass transit systems, restaurants, bars and other businesses and organizations.

For example, the CDC suggests restaurants might reopen dining rooms with customers spaced 6 feet apart. Mass transit systems might close every other row of seats and limit how many riders can be on a bus or train.

Amid the wave of reopenings, many Americans remain wary, according to a new survey from The Associated Press-NORC Center for Public Affairs Research. The poll finds that 83% of Americans are at least somewhat concerned that lifting restrictions in their area will lead to additional infections.

Fatality rate on U.S. roads is higher during the pandemic, safety group says

Very light traffic moves north on Interstate 405 near Los Angeles on April 23. Associated Press/Richard Vogel

U.S. highways have been emptier during the coronavirus pandemic, but they have also been more deadly, according to statistics released Wednesday.

The National Safety Council said preliminary data show that in March, when most Americans began to drive less because of pandemic-related stay-at-home orders, the fatality rate per mile driven went up by 14 percent compared with March 2019.

The traffic fatality data, compiled from all 50 states and the District of Columbia, confirm the alarming reports across the country that speeding and reckless driving during the health crisis are leading to a disproportionate number of crashes and fatalities.

Cycle of 50 days of shutdown followed by 30 days relaxation is best way to tackle pandemic, study finds

As countries start to reopen their economies, public-health experts are putting the situation in context by warning that more waves of the coronavirus are likely.

A European Union-backed study released Wednesday outlines what a response to that reality could look like: Fifty days of shutdown followed by 30 days of relative relaxation. Repeat until pandemic-free.

A customer sits with his laptop beside display mannequins at a cafe in Essen, Germany on Wednesday. The cafe set the mannequins as placeholders to create more distance between customers. Associated Press/Martin Meissner

In the study published in the European Journal of Epidemiology, researchers from nine countries examined various models for how to ensure a degree of economic activity and limit the spread of the novel coronavirus. They then simulated three options in 16 countries: no intervention, cycles of mitigation followed by easing of restrictions and “cycles of suppression measures followed by a relaxation period.”

They found that the second, middle-ground option was ineffective in reducing intensive care unit (ICU) hospitalizations to a manageable rate.

“By contrast, dynamic cycles of 50-day suppression followed by a 30-day relaxation kept the ICU demands below the national capacities,” the researchers wrote in the abstract. “Additionally, we estimated that a significant number of new infections and deaths, especially in resource-poor countries, would be averted if these dynamic suppression measures were kept in place over an 18-month period. … Such a “schedule” of social distancing might be particularly relevant to low-income countries, where a single, prolonged suppression intervention is unsustainable.”

The study’s findings offer a path forward that clashes with the warlike rhetoric of many political leaders eager to restart economies.

On Wednesday, however, the director of the European Center for Disease Prevention and Control warned that Europe needs to prepare for the next wave.

“The question is when and how big, that is the question in my view,” Andrea Ammon told the Guardian.

“Looking at the characteristics of the virus, looking at what now emerges from the different countries in terms of population immunity — which isn’t all that exciting between 2 percent and 14 percent, that leaves still 85 percent to 90 percent of the population susceptible. … I don’t want to draw a doomsday picture but I think we have to be realistic. That it’s not the time now to completely relax.”
10 days after lockdown ends, France sees no increase in coronavirus cases

PARIS — French authorities say they observe no signs of increase in the numbers of people infected with the coronavirus 10 days after the country ended its lockdown.

French Health minister Olivier Veran says the number of COVID-19 patients arriving each day at hospitals is decreasing, along with people treated in intensive care units.

He cautioned “this doesn’t mean the virus isn’t there” as the country gradually lifts restrictions. New clusters of COVID-19 cases have been recently discovered among slaughterhouse workers in western France and police officers in northern France.

Veran also promised that health workers in hospitals and nursing homes will see their salary increase as part of a new government plan for the public health system.

France has reported at least 143,400 cases of the virus and more than 28,000 deaths.

Trump gets blowback for calling world-leading number of cases ‘a badge of honor’

President Trump’s contention that the United States leading the world in confirmed coronavirus cases is “a badge of honor” drew condemnation and ridicule, with critics from both parties dismissing his claim that the still-increasing figure is a reflection of the nation’s testing capacity.

Trump made his assertion Tuesday in response to a question from a reporter at a White House event, saying that he sees the more than 1.5 million confirmed cases in the United States “in a certain respect as being a good thing because it means our testing is much better.”

President Donald Trump met with Senate Republicans at their weekly luncheon on Tuesday. Standing behind Trump is Sen. John Barrasso, R-Wyo. Associated Press/Patrick Semansky

“So, I view it as a badge of honor. Really, it’s a badge of honor,” he said.

The United States has more than 30 percent of the world’s known coronavirus infections but accounts for less than 5 percent of the global population.

Harvard law professor Laurence H. Tribe was among the Trump critics who pounded on the president’s assertions, calling him “a ghoul and an idiot.”

“This is like calling a trail of corpses a badge of honor for the police department that let the serial murderer run free for months before shutting him down,” Tribe said on Twitter.

The president’s comments were widely highlighted on social media, including by former Republican National Committee chairman Michael Steele. “Folks, I have no head left to shake,” he said in a tweet quoting the Republican president.

Joe Walsh, a former Illinois congressman who aborted a GOP primary challenge to Trump earlier this year, also weighed in, saying the president’s words showed “how ignorant & dishonest Trump is.”

“If the US had the fewest confirmed cases in the world, Trump would say THE EXACT SAME THING,” Walsh tweeted.

A worker in a newly opened Ford plant tested positive for coronavirus, sending thousands home early

Chicago’s Ford assembly plant sent thousands of workers home early on Wednesday only two days after reopening because an employee tested positive for the novel coronavirus, CBS Chicago reported.

The unexpected dismissal came after the automaker reopened Monday. Production was set to resume Tuesday night, CBS Chicago reported.

The company had implemented temperature checks, installed social distancing reminders and redesigned work stations for safety.

A spokesperson for Ford told the station that the company has been cleaning and disinfecting all areas that the ill employee might have touched. Some plant employees told CBS Chicago that they were delighted to be working again, while others expressed concerns about whether their return-to-work decision was a good idea.

Michael Hopper, an employee at the plant, told the station that people are still close to one another in the facility. “I cleaned my own workstation myself,” he told CBS Chicago. “How our jobs are set up, if one person gets in the hole, that would affect the person behind him.”

Indonesia sets new daily virus case record

JAKARTA, Indonesia — Indonesia has recorded its highest single-day rise in COVID-19 cases as the government is preparing a “new normal” by July.

Health ministry official Achmad Yurianto announced Wednesday that confirmed cases of COVID-19 infections spiked by 693, taking the total number of infections nationwide over 19,000, including more than 1,200 deaths and about 4,500 recoveries.

The previous highest daily increase in COVID-19 cases was recorded a week ago with 689 new cases.

President Joko Widodo has said the country must be ready for a “new normal” by July. However, Indonesians are worrying over little commitment from the government and citizens to fight the virus as the numbers of COVID-19 cases and deaths continue to rise across many provinces outside the capital, Jakarta.

So far, only four out of 34 provinces and dozens of cities have applied the restrictions — all with a low-level of public compliance and a low testing rate, at 154,000 for a population of about 270 million, compared to other countries.

Many areas in the country’s most populous island of Java have not formally implemented the restrictions, despite the fact that more than 60% of cases and about 80% of total the deaths in the country have been recorded on the island.

Cruise ship finally allowed to dock, crew to disembark

ZAGREB, Croatia — Croatian authorities say a cruise ship with 756 crew members has docked in the country’s Adriatic Sea town of Dubrovnik after weeks of being stranded at sea because of the new coronavirus.

The Carnival Magic cruise ship will remain at Dubrovnik’s port of Gruz Wednesday and Thursday when the crew members will gradually disembark and head to their home countries.

Authorities say they will check the temperature of each crew member coming out of the ship but don’t expect any infections.

The state Croatian television HRT said Wednesday that five Croatian nationals are among the crew in addition to people from Ukraine, Romania, Slovakia and other countries in the region. Authorities say their return will be organized to home countries.

The report says Carnival Magic previously has docked in Gibraltar before arriving to Dubrovnik.

Many cruise ships had outbreaks at sea, with some passengers and crew members dying on board or after disembarking from international trips.

Thai scientists report promising vaccine results

BANGKOK — Thai health officials say scientists in Thailand have had promising results in testing a COVID-19 vaccine candidate on mice, and will begin testing it on monkeys next week.

Dr. Taweesin Visanuyothin, spokesman for Thailand’s Center for COVID-19 Situation Administration, said Wednesday that Prime Minister Prayuth Chan-ocha has ordered the development effort be sped up in the hope of the country becoming one of the first with adequate amounts of a vaccine for its people.

The vaccine candidate being tested by Bangkok’s Chualongkorn University and two public sector partners harnesses mRNA, or messenger RNA, technology, which unlike older types of vaccine does not contain any of the virus it seeks to attack. It instead utilizes part of the virus’ genetic code to ultimately produce antibodies inside the human body.

Thailand has several active COVID-19 vaccine development projects, including separate cooperative efforts with China and the United States.

Scores of vaccine development projects are underway around the world, with several already having reached the stage where trials are carried out on human subjects.

Chinese say their handling of the coronavirus showcases the advantages of Chinese socialism

BEIJING — A Chinese spokesperson says the nation’s success in stemming the spread of coronavirus has “showcased the country’s institutional advantages of socialism with Chinese characteristics,” while lashing out at U.S. and other foreign politicians who have criticized Beijing.

Guo Weimin told reporters Wednesday that “concerted efforts of the whole country” were responsible for bringing the virus under control.

“Certain politicians from a number of countries including the United States will not succeed in blaming and smearing China over COVID-19 as they did these out of political needs to shift the blame at home,” said Guo, spokesperson for the Chinese People’s Political Consultative Conference, an advisory body to the country’s ceremonial parliament, which opens its annual session this week after a more than two-month delay while the country battled the virus.

China reported just five new virus cases on Wednesday and no deaths.

The global pandemic is believed to have originated in the central Chinese industrial city of Wuhan, although China insists a definitive conclusion can only be made following a World Health Organization-led investigation to be held after the worldwide outbreak is brought under control.

Cambridge is first British university to say all lectures in the 2020-21 academic year will be virtual

LONDON — Cambridge has become the first university in Britain to cancel all face-to-face lectures for the 2020-21 academic year because of the coronavirus pandemic.

The university says all lectures will be held virtually and streamed online until summer 2021. Cambridge says it may be possible to hold tutorials and other teaching in small groups — a key part of the university’s system — when the new academic year starts in October, as long as social distancing can be followed.

The pandemic has already upended student life. Cambridge moved all its teaching online in March, and exams are being held remotely.

British universities are warning they will face a financial crisis if students decide they don’t want to pay tuition fees — currently 9,250 a year ($11,300) in England — for a virtual experience. Lockdowns and travel restrictions imposed because of the pandemic have also cut off the flow of international students, who pay higher fees and form a major source of income for U.K. universities.

 


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