The latest on the coronavirus pandemic. 

Hertz filed for bankruptcy protection Friday, unable to withstand the coronavirus pandemic that has crippled global travel and with it, the heavily indebted 102-year-old car rental company’s business.

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A Hertz car rental office is closed May 6 in Paramus, N.J. Hertz filed for bankruptcy protection Friday, unable to withstand the pandemic that has crippled global travel. Associated Press/Ted Shaffrey

The Estero, Florida-based company’s lenders were unwilling to grant it another extension on its auto lease debt payments past a Friday deadline, triggering the filing in U.S. Bankruptcy Court in Delaware.

Hertz and its subsidiaries will continue to operate, according to a release from the company. Hertz’s principal international operating regions and franchised locations are not included in the filing, the statement said.

By the end of March, Hertz Global Holdings Inc. had racked up $18.7 billion in debt with only $1 billion of available cash.

Starting in mid-March, the company — whose car-rental bands also include Dollar and Thrifty — lost all revenue when travel shut down due to the coronavirus. The company made “significant efforts” but couldn’t raise money on the capital markets, so it started missing payments to creditors in April, the filing said. Hertz has also been plagued by management upheaval, naming its fourth CEO in six years on May 18.

“No business is built for zero revenue,” former CEO Kathryn Marinello said on the company’s first-quarter earnings conference call May 12. “There’s only so long that companies’ reserves will carry them.”

Read the full story on Hertz’s bankruptcy here.

Denver mail hub stays open despite coronavirus closure order

WHEAT RIDGE, Colo. — A U.S. Postal Service distribution facility in Denver that handles 10 million pieces of mail a day for Colorado and Wyoming remained open Friday despite being ordered to shut down by city health officials because of a coronavirus outbreak investigation.

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Employees meet Friday outside the U.S. Postal Service distribution facility in Denver. David Zalubowski/Associated Press

The agency said it is complying with federal safety guidelines and working with city officials to address their concerns.

The Denver Department of Public Health & Environment said it ordered the Postal Service to shut down the facility after the Postal Service refused to provide it with necessary information and inspectors were refused entry beyond the post office service counter on Wednesday.

“This was a measure of last resort, and the only remaining tool we have to get the facility management’s attention and secure public health compliance during a pandemic,” the department said in a statement.

The inspectors were turned away by a “random employee” because they turned up at the secure federal facility unannounced and did not try to arrange for access despite already being in talks with the Postal Service about the situation, USPS spokesman David Rupert said.

The 840,000-square-foot mail facility, the fourth largest in the United States, has about 2,000 workers who process incoming and outgoing mail for 6.3 million people in Colorado and Wyoming using about 900 trucks. The last time a worker there was confirmed to have COVID-19 was May 2, and there is no current outbreak there, Rupert said.

Read the full story about the shutdown order here.

Brazil surpasses Russia in confirmed coronavirus cases

RIO DE JANEIRO — Brazil’s health ministry said Friday there were 330,890 confirmed COVID-19 cases. That is more than Russia, the country that previously had the second-highest number of cases in the world on the Johns Hopkins University tally.

Brazil reported 1,001 deaths over the previous 24 hours, bringing its total death toll to more than 21,000. It is the hardest-hit nation in Latin America.

The news came as states and cities across Brazil debate whether to loosen restrictive measures introduced to limit the spread of the virus, or implement stricter lockdowns.

While the mayor of Rio de Janeiro said he wants to gradually reopen nonessential shops in the next few days, newspaper Folha de S. Paulo reported Friday that Sao Paulo was reevaluating its previously announced plans to reopen commerce and instead may enter lockdown.

Trump deems churches ‘essential,’ calls for them to reopen

WASHINGTON — President Trump said Friday that he has deemed churches and other houses of worship “essential” and called on governors across the country to allow them to reopen this weekend despite the threat of spreading the coronavirus.

“Today I’m identifying houses of worship — churches, synagogues and mosques — as essential places that provide essential services,” Trump said during a hastily arranged press conference at the White House, where he didn’t take questions.

He said if governors don’t abide by his request, he will “override” them, though it’s unclear what authority he has to do so.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention had prepared a draft of reopening guidelines for churches and other houses of worship weeks ago that included measures like maintaining distance between parishioners and limiting the size of gatherings.

But that guidance had been delayed for more than a month by the administration until Trump abruptly changed course Thursday.

“I said, ‘You better put it out.’ And they’re doing it,” Trump said Thursday at a Ford Motor Co. plant repurposed to make ventilators in Michigan. “And they’re going to be issuing something today or tomorrow on churches. We’ve got to get our churches open.”

Trump on Friday stressed the importance of churches in many communities and took issue with some of the businesses that had been allowed to reopen.

“Some governors have deemed liquor stores and abortion clinics as essential” but not churches, he said. “It’s not right. So I’m correcting this injustice and calling houses of worship essential.”

“These are places that hold our society together and keep our people united. The people are demanding to go to church and synagogue, go to their mosque,” he said.

Read the full story about church reopenings here.

Coronavirus pandemic claims another victim: Robocalls

Have you been missing something amid the lockdowns and stay-at-home orders? No, not human contact. Not even toilet paper.

Robocalls.

Industry experts say robocalls are way down — scam calls as well as nagging from your credit-card company to pay your bill. The coronavirus pandemic has inflicted millions of job losses, and scammers have not been immune.

YouMail, which offers a robocall-blocking service, says 2.9 billion robocalls were placed in April in the U.S., down from 4.1 billion in March and 4.8 billion in February. That’s a daily average of 97 million calls in April, down from 132 million in March and 166 million in April.

The main reason: many global call centers have closed or are operating with fewer workers, said YouMail CEO Alex Quilici. While it may be odd to think of scams being run out of call centers rather than a dark, creepy basement or a garage, that’s often the case, particularly in countries such as India and the Philippines, experts said.

After a lockdown order went into effect in India in late March, “we saw the volume of calls basically half the next day,” Quilici said.

That means scammers will probably be back in force once the call centers come back online. Stepped-up enforcement from industry groups and the U.S. government could nibble around the edges of those call volumes when the scammers are back, however. In recent months, federal agencies have focused on going after the small telecom providers that were allowing calls from COVID-19 scammers, citing the urgency of the pandemic.

80 million children at risk of disease as immunization programs stall, global health bodies warn

The global pandemic caused by the novel coronavirus is disrupting immunization services around the world, putting at least 80 million children under the age of 1 at risk of preventable diseases, global health bodies warned Friday.

According to data collected by the World Health Organization, UNICEF and Gavi, the Vaccine Alliance, immunization programs for diseases such as diphtheria, measles and polio have been disrupted on an unprecedented global scale, with services substantially hindered in at least 68 countries.

“Disruption to immunization programs from the COVID-19 pandemic threatens to unwind decades of progress against vaccine-preventable diseases like measles,” Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, the WHO director-general, said in a statement.

Measles and polio vaccination campaigns are among those hit worst. The groups said that measles campaigns had been suspended in 27 countries, while polio campaigns were on hold in 38 countries. It has also disrupted routine immunization programs that are given regularly to children under the age of 2.

The spread of COVID-19, the disease caused by the novel coronavirus, has given renewed attention to vaccine research as scientists around the world race to develop a program to provide immunity to a virus that has resulted in at least 333,000 deaths.

But while vaccination programs have seen considerable successes since they were expanded in the 1970s, they also face practical hurdles. The current outbreak has made some aspects of these worse as parents in many nations have been under lockdown and scared to visit medical facilities.

UNICEF has also reported that there has been a substantial delay in planned vaccine deliveries due to international travel restrictions and other disruptions.

Beginning next week, WHO will issue new advice to countries on how to provide vaccines safely during the coronavirus, while world leaders will meet virtually in London next month for the Global Vaccine Summit on June 4. Tedros said he hoped they would fully fund Gavi, a public-private global health partnership for increasing access to vaccines.

“Not only will maintaining immunization programs prevent more outbreaks, it will also ensure we have the infrastructure we need to roll out an eventual COVID-19 vaccine on a global scale,” Seth Berkley, the chief executive of Gavi, said.

Americans stopped paying mortgages in record numbers in April

Record unemployment caused by the coronavirus pandemic led to the largest one-month increase in mortgage delinquencies ever recorded. The number of borrowers who stopped paying their home loans spiked by 1.6 million last month, according to Black Knight, a real estate data and analytics company.

Not even during the Great Recession did delinquencies rise this fast.

The national delinquency rate soared to 6.45 percent in April, up from 3.06 percent in March and three times the previous single-month record set in 2008. The 3.6 million borrowers now past due on their payments are the most since 2015.

The states that had the biggest increases in delinquent mortgages include Nevada (5.2 percent increase), New Jersey (5.1 percent) and New York (4.9 percent). Miami (7.2 percent), Las Vegas (6.2 percent) and New York City (5.4 percent) topped the metropolitan areas.

Ex-FDA commissioner urges nuanced read of CDC’s updated guidelines on transmission via surfaces

Humans may not as easily contract the novel coronavirus from touching hard surfaces as once thought, but people should still take precautions and practice good hygiene and sanitation, former FDA commissioner Scott M. Gottlieb said Friday in response to recently revised guidance from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention on how easily the disease spreads.

“Most of the transfer here is probably from respiratory droplets and sustained human contact with people, but I wouldn’t discount the probability that there is some spread through contaminated surfaces,” Gottlieb said when asked by CNBC’s “Squawk Box” host Joe Kernan whether the CDC “downgraded” the risk of virus transmission through hard surfaces.

The confusion Kernan expressed Friday is exactly what one scientist feared would come from the CDC making the revision without a formal announcement or explanation of the change.

“A persistent problem in this pandemic has been lack of clear messaging from governmental leadership, and this is another unfortunate example of that trend,” Angela L. Rasmussen, a virologist at the Columbia University Mailman School of Public Health, told The Post on Thursday. “It could even have a detrimental effect on hand hygiene and encourage complacency about physical distancing or other measures.”

On CNBC, Gottlieb said he doesn’t read the study that informed the CDC’s revision as “definitively saying the disease can’t be spread through inert surfaces,” and he stressed that mass transit, offices and any surface that numerous people touch throughout the day should still be diligently disinfected.

Asked whether Kernan needs to be “wiping individual avocados down” when returning from the grocery, Gottlieb said that surfaces might be “a lot less risk, but still a risk.”

He added: “I think we all decide where we’re going to draw the line.”

Virus ‘does not spread easily’ from contaminated surfaces or animals, revised CDC website states

The coronavirus primarily spreads from person to person and not easily from a contaminated surface. That is the takeaway from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, which this month updated its “How COVID-19 Spreads” website.

The revised guidance now states, in headline-size type, “The virus spreads easily between people.” It also notes that the coronavirus, which causes the disease COVID-19, “is spreading very easily and sustainably between people.”

The CDC made another key change to its website, clarifying what sources are not major risks. Under the new heading “The virus does not spread easily in other ways,” the agency explains that touching contaminated objects or surfaces does not appear to be a significant mode of transmission. The same is true for exposure to infected animals.

CDC spokeswoman Kristen Nordlund said Thursday that the revisions were the product of an internal review and “usability testing.”

“Our transmission language has not changed,” Nordlund said. “COVID-19 spreads mainly through close contact from person to person.”

Trump lashes out at scientists whose findings contradict him

WASHINGTON — “A Trump enemy statement,” he said of one study.

“A political hit job,” he said of another.

As President Donald Trump pushes to reopen the country despite warnings from doctors about the consequences of moving too quickly during the coronavirus crisis, he has been lashing out at scientists whose conclusions he doesn’t like.

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Donald Trump listens during a briefing about the coronavirus at the White House on May 11. Associated Press/Alex Brandon

Twice this week, Trump has not only dismissed the findings of studies but suggested — without evidence — that their authors were motivated by politics and out to undermine his efforts to roll back coronavirus restrictions.

First it was a study funded in part by his own government’s National Institutes of Health that raised alarms about the use of hydroxychloroquine, finding higher overall mortality in coronavirus patients who took the drug while in Veterans Administration hospitals. Trump and many of his allies had been trumpeting the drug as a miracle cure and Trump this week revealed that he has been taking it to try to ward off the virus — despite an FDA warning last month that it should only be used in hospital settings or clinical trials because of the risk of serious side effects, including life-threatening heart problems.

“If you look at the one survey, the only bad survey, they were giving it to people that were in very bad shape. They were very old, almost dead,” Trump told reporters Tuesday. “It was a Trump enemy statement.”

He offered similar pushback Thursday to a new study from Columbia University’s Mailman School of Public Health. It found that more than 61% of COVID-19 infections and 55% of reported deaths — nearly 36,000 people — could have been been prevented had social distancing measures been put in place one week sooner. Trump has repeatedly defended his administration’s handling of the virus in the face of persistent criticism that he acted too slowly.

”Columbia’s an institution that’s very liberal,” Trump told reporters Thursday. “I think it’s just a political hit job, you want to know the truth.”

Trump has long been skeptical of mainstream science — dismissing human-made climate change as a “hoax,” suggesting that noise from wind turbines causes cancer and claiming that exercise can deplete a body’s finite amount of energy. It’s part of a larger skepticism of expertise and backlash against “elites” that has become increasingly popular among Trump’s conservative base.

Read the full story.

Visitors to UK must quarantine of face fine

LONDON — The British government says people flying into the U.K. will have to self-isolate for 14 days and could be fined 1,000 pounds ($1,220) if they fail to comply.

Home Secretary Priti Patel will announce details of the quarantine plan on Friday. The government has already said it is likely to start in early June and will apply to arrivals from everywhere except Ireland, which has a longstanding free-movement agreement with the U.K.

There are likely to be exemptions for some travelers, including truckers and medics.

Britain did not close its borders during the worst of the coronavirus outbreak and is introducing its quarantine just as many other European countries are starting to open up again. Airlines have warned that the British move could hobble their efforts to recover from the devastation wreaked by pandemic-related travel restrictions.

There has also been confusion about the U.K. policy, after the government initially said it would not apply to people arriving from France. That prompted a rebuke from the European Union, which wants a coordinated policy across the 27-nation bloc.

Britain later said France would not be exempt.

Preliminary data show fewer than 2% of Danes have had COVID-19

COPENHAGEN, Denmark — A Danish government agency that maps the spread of the coronavirus in Denmark said between 0.5% and 1.8% of the country’s 5.8 million people have had the COVID-19 infection, according to early results.

Statens Serum Institut, or SSI, said the figures, based on 2,600 people that were randomly chosen in Denmark’s five cities and who were given the anti-body tests, must be “interpreted with great caution.”

“Furthermore, whether the figures can be transmitted to the entire Danish population can also be influenced by whether groups with different patterns of infection choose or not choose to accept the offer to be tested,” said Steen Ethelberg who heads the project group behind the SSI study.

He added that the results were “the first part of the gradual roll-out of the study” and more results are expected in the coming weeks.

He said to get a full picture, 6,000 people “have to be tested to achieve the desired precision” across the country.

Danish media, citing an SSI report distributed to lawmakers only, have speculated that the virus’ strength might be decreasing.

Denmark ordered a lockdown March 11 and has in recent weeks slowly opened up society with museums and cinemas reopening, and hospitals winding down their coronavirus units.

Russian cases spike, reported death toll questioned

MOSCOW — Russia has reported the highest daily spike in coronavirus deaths on Friday, as health officials registered 150 deaths in the last 24 hours, bringing the country’s toll to 3,249.

Russia’s comparatively low mortality rate has raised eyebrows in the West, with some suggesting that the country’s government may be underreporting virus-related deaths and manipulating the statistics. Russian officials vehemently deny the allegations and attribute the low numbers to the effectiveness of the measures taken to curb the spread of the outbreak.

Russia’s coronavirus caseload has exceeded 326,000 on Friday, with health officials reporting almost 9,000 new infections.

Earlier this month President Vladimir Putin announced gradually lifting lockdown restrictions, saying that Russia was able to “slow down the epidemic” and it was time for gradual reopening. The vast majority of the country’s regions have been on lockdown since March 30.

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NEW DELHI, India — India has reported 6,088 new coronavirus cases in the last 24 hours for its biggest single-day spike, increasing the country’s total number of infections to 118,447.

The death toll due to the pandemic rose to 3,583 on Friday. More than 48,000 people have recovered, according to health ministry data.

Maharashtra remains the worst-affected state in India with more than 41,000 cases after it added over 2,000 new infections for the fourth straight day. The number of fatalities in the state rose to 1,454, highest in the country.

India has the 11th-most cases in the world.

The nationwide surge comes ahead of the “calibrated” re-opening of domestic flights beginning Monday.

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SEOUL, South Korea — South Korean health authorities say they’re reviewing the possible use of new smartphone technology from Apple and Google that automatically notifies users when they come close to people infected with the coronavirus.

But officials also say it isn’t clear whether the Bluetooth-based apps would meaningfully boost the country’s technology-driven fight against COVID-19, where health workers have aggressively used cellphone data, credit card records and surveillance footage to trace and isolate potential virus carriers.

Vice Health Minister Kim Gang-lip said Wednesday that the U.S. tech giants in a message conveyed through South Korean cellphone carrier KT recommended that the Korea Centers for Disease Control and Prevention consider using their technology.

Lee Kang-ho, another health ministry official, said officials were discussing whether the apps would be useful, but added “our methods in anti-virus efforts differ from methods and goals pursued over there.”

The software released by Apple and Google — a product of a rare partnership between the industry rivals — relies on wireless Bluetooth technology to detect when someone who downloaded the app has spent time near another app user who later tests positive for COVID-19.

Following a 2015 outbreak of a different coronavirus, MERS, South Korea rewrote its infectious disease law to allow health authorities quick access over a broad range of personal information when fighting epidemics, which includes medical and credit card records and location information provided by police and cellphone carriers.

Health workers have been vigorously using these powers while carrying out an aggressive test-and-quarantine program.

UN chief repeats call for global cease-fire

UNITED NATIONS — The United Nations secretary-general is again urging factions in conflict to heed his call for a global cease-fire to help tackle the COVID-19 pandemic.

In a report to the U.N. Security Council released Thursday, Antonio Guterres pointed to the more than 20,000 civilians killed or injured in 2019 attacks in 10 countries — and millions more forced from their homes by fighting. He said the pandemic is “the greatest test the world has faced” since the United Nations was established 75 years ago and has already had a severe impact on efforts to protect civilians, especially in conflict-affected countries where weak health care systems can be overwhelmed.

The U.N. chief said support for his March 23 cease-fire appeal from governments, regional organizations, armed groups, civil society and individuals throughout the world has been “encouraging” — but he said in many instances “challenges in implementing the cease-fire still need to be overcome.”

Guterres reiterated his global cease-fire call, saying “as the world confronts the monumental challenge of the COVID-19 pandemic, the need to silence the guns could not be more acute.”

He issued the appeal in his annual report to the Security Council on the protection of civilians where he stressed that the most effective way to protect them “is to prevent the outbreak, escalation, continuation and recurrence of armed conflicts.”

 


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