The latest on the coronavirus pandemic around the U.S. and the world.

WASHINGTON — At the White House, aides now routinely flout internal rules requiring face masks. The president’s campaign is again scheduling mass arena rallies. And he is back to spending summer weekends at his New Jersey golf club.

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President Trump speaks during a roundtable discussion Thursday about “Transition to Greatness: Restoring, Rebuilding, and Renewing,” at Gateway Church Dallas. Associated Press/Alex Brandon

Three months after President Trump bowed to the realities of a pandemic that put big chunks of life on pause and killed more Americans than several major wars, Trump is back to business as usual — even as coronavirus cases are on the upswing in many parts of the country.

While the nation has now had months to prepare stockpiles of protective gear and ventilators, a vaccine still is many months away at best and a model cited by the White House projects tens of thousands of more deaths by the end of September.

Amid renewed fears of a virus resurgence, financial markets — frequently highlighted by Trump as a sign of economic recovery — suffered their worst drop since March on Thursday.

At the White House, though, officials played down the severity of the virus surge, which they sought to blame on factors beyond Trump’s forceful push to reopen the economy, which he is counting on to help him win reelection.

“The data shows that we are moving in the right direction as a nation,” said Surgeon General Jerome Adams, who stressed that the country has a positive testing rate under 6%.

Read the full story about the White House view on the coronavirus here.

U.S. surpasses 2 million COVID-19 cases

More than 2 million people have been infected by the novel coronavirus in the United States, according to data tracked by The Washington Post, pushing the nation over a threshold it has taken less than five months to reach.

As of Thursday, the United States had least 2,001,609 cases of COVID-19, the disease caused by the coronavirus, with patients testing positive in all 50 states.

Pedestrians wearing face masks walk past art featuring falling tears painted by Patricia Rovzar on her boarded-up art gallery in downtown Seattle in May. Associated Press/Ted S. Warren

Officials believe the first known case of the disease emerged on Jan. 17 in Snohomish County, Wash.; four days earlier, the 35-year-old patient had returned from visiting family in Wuhan, China, where virus was first reported.

New cases have declined in places such as Illinois, Michigan, New York and Washington — states that recorded higher infection rates in the first wave of the U.S. outbreak. But a new wave has emerged, largely in states that previously had lower rates of infection. Cases in states such as Arizona, Arkansas, California, Florida, North Carolina, Oregon, South Carolina, Texas and Utah have been on the rise since just before Memorial Day, when many states started to ease stay-at-home restrictions. The same states have also had a rise in hospitalizations at the same time.

Since the start of the outbreak, more than 111,000 people in the United States have died of COVID-19.

U.S. budget deficit widened to $1.88 trillion amid spending blitz to combat coronavirus downturn

The federal response to the coronavirus outbreak is pushing the U.S. government’s budget deficit to unprecedented levels.

On Wednesday, the Treasury Department said the gap between what the U.S. government spends and what it collects in taxes widened to $1.88 trillion for the first eight months of this fiscal year — an all-time high. America’s federal deficit for all of 2019 was $984 billion, which was already considered unusually large.

The soaring deficit reflects the huge spending increases approved by Congress in response to the economic downturn caused by the coronavirus outbreak. Most economists say the spending was necessary to stabilize an economy rocked by double-digit unemployment and a severe contraction in economic growth.

Those efforts are exacerbating America’s fiscal imbalance. The nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office has estimated that the federal deficit will hit $3.7 trillion by the end of this fiscal year. The Committee for a Responsible Federal Budget pegged the number at $3.8 trillion.

“If policymakers had spent the past five years addressing the debt rather than passing massive tax cuts and spending hikes, we could have offered more economic support and still had lower deficits,” said Marc Goldwein, senior vice president at the Committee for a Responsible Federal Budget, which supports lower deficit spending.

In April, the monthly budget deficit rose to a record $738 billion, due to both a large drop in tax revenue and a surge in federal spending. The monthly deficit for May came in at about $400 billion, a substantial decrease from April but still far beyond normal levels. These estimates do not include the impact of the federal government’s approximately $600 billion rescue effort for small businesses, Treasury officials said. That funding is classified as a loan rather than an expenditure, but most of the loans are expected to be forgiven, meaning the real deficit number is likely higher.

The deficit increase includes about $300 billion in spending on the $1,200 stimulus checks allocated to more than 100 million Americans. It also reflects hundreds of billions of dollars spent to dramatically increase unemployment benefits, as well as hundreds of billions in aid for hospitals, states and cities, and other federal relief efforts.

Many forces behind alarming rise in virus cases in 21 states

NEW YORK — States are rolling back lockdowns, but the coronavirus isn’t done with the U.S.

Cases are rising in nearly half the states, according to an Associated Press analysis, a worrying trend that could worsen as people return to work and venture out during the summer.

Visitors to the River Walk pass a restaurant that has reopened in San Antonio. Coronavirus cases are rising in nearly half the U.S. states, as states are rolling back lockdowns. Associated Press/Eric Gay

In Arizona, hospitals have been told to prepare for the worst. Texas has more hospitalized COVID-19 patients than at any time before. And the governor of North Carolina said recent jumps caused him to rethink plans to reopen schools or businesses.

There is no single reason to explain all the surges. In some cases, more testing has revealed more cases. In others, local outbreaks are big enough to push statewide tallies higher. But experts think at least some are due to lifting stay-at-home orders, school and business closures, and other restrictions put in place during the spring to stem the virus’s spread.

The virus is also gradually fanning out.

“It is a disaster that spreads,” said Dr. Jay Butler, who oversees coronavirus response work at the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. “It’s not like there’s an entire continental seismic shift and everyone feels the shaking all at once.”

The virus first landed on the U.S. coasts, carried by international travelers infected abroad. For months, the epicenter was in northeastern states. More recently, the biggest increases have been in the South and the West.

Read the full story here.

Dow slides 900 points on fears of coronavirus resurgence, more economic pain

U.S. markets pointed toward heavy losses Thursday as the Federal Reserve’s gloomy economic outlook, coupled with fears of a second wave of coronavirus infections, rattled investors.

The Dow Jones industrial average fell 900 points, or 3 percent, while the Standard & Poor’s and Nasdaq composites also fell sharply. The slide contrasted sharply with the optimism earlier this week that propelled Nasdaq to a record high and above 10,000 for the first time, and pushed the S&P 500 into positive territory.

That optimism was slashed Wednesday after Fed Chair Jerome H. Powell made plain that a slow recovery was to come and that more aid would be needed from Congress and the central bank to lessen the pain, particularly as millions of Americans may never see their jobs return. The Fed plans to keep the benchmark U.S. interest rate at zero, most likely through 2022. But critics say that approach widens economic inequality and lifts Wall Street over Main Street.

Concerns about a second surge of infections have taken on new urgency since states eased restrictions on gatherings and commercial business. Hospitalizations rose sharply in several states after Memorial Day, and nearly 2 million cases have been reported in the U.S.

“Fears of a second wave are beginning to cause anxiety in the stock market,” said Torsten Slok, chief economist at Deutsche Bank Securities. “Powell did what he could to be dovish but there is nothing the Fed can do about the risk of a second wave of the virus.”

Investors may also be selling stocks after prices went up to lock in their gains and offset past loses, or pull out of the market altogether to dodge the continued uncertainty. Airlines, cruise lines trading down double digits in pre-markets on worries that those industries will get back on their feet more slowly because of the virus spread.

Moderna on track for large COVID-19 vaccine test in July

The first experimental COVID-19 vaccine in the U.S. is on track to begin a huge study next month to prove if it really can fend off the coronavirus, its manufacturer announced Thursday — a long-awaited step in the global vaccine race.

The vaccine, developed by the U.S. National Institutes of Health and Moderna Inc., will be tested in 30,000 volunteers — some given the real shot and some a dummy shot.

Moderna said it already has made enough doses for the pivotal late-stage testing. Still needed before those injections begin: results of how the shot has fared in smaller, earlier-stage studies.

But Moderna’s announcement suggests those studies are making enough progress for the company and the NIH to get ready to move ahead.

Moderna launched its vaccine test in mid-March with an initial 45 volunteers. The company said it has finished enrolling 300 younger adults in its second stage of testing, and has begun studying how older adults react to the vaccine. These initial studies check for side effects and how well people’s immune systems respond to different doses. But only the still-to-come huge trial can show if the vaccine works.

Worldwide, about a dozen COVID-19 potential vaccines are in early stages of testing. The NIH expects to help several additional shots move into those final, large-scale studies this summer, including one made by Oxford University.

There are no guarantees any of them will pan out.

But if all goes well, “there will be potential to get answers” on which vaccines work by the end of the year, Dr. John Mascola, who directs NIH’s vaccine research center, told a meeting of the National Academy of Medicine on Wednesday.

Governments are beginning to stockpile hundreds of millions of doses of different vaccine candidates so they can be ready to start vaccinating as soon as scientists learn that one works. In the U.S, a program called “Operation Warp Speed” aims to have 300 million doses on hand by January.

Resurgence of virus threatens South Korea’s success story

SEOUL, South Korea  — Just weeks ago, South Korea was celebrating its hard-won gains against the coronavirus, easing social distancing, reopening schools and promoting a tech-driven anti-virus campaign President Moon Jae-in has called “K-quarantine.”

But a resurgence of infections in the Seoul region where half of South Korea’s 51 million people live is threatening the country’s success story and prompting health authorities to warn that action must be taken now to stop a second wave.

South Korea’s Centers for Disease Control and Prevention on Thursday reported 45 new cases, a daily rise that has been fairly consistent since late May. Most have been in the Seoul metropolitan area, where health authorities have struggled to trace transmissions.

“Considering the quick transmission of COVID-19, there’s limits to what we can do with contact tracing alone to slow the spread,” said Yoon Taeho, a senior Health Ministry official during a virus briefing on Thursday, where he repeated a plea for residents in the capital area to stay at home.

Despite the concerns over the spike in infections, government officials have so far resisted calls to reimpose stronger social distancing guidelines after they were relaxed in April, citing concerns over hurting a fragile economy.

Their stance seems in contrast with the urgency conveyed by health experts, including KCDC director Jung Eun-kyeong, who has warned that the country could be sleepwalking into another huge COVID-19 crisis, but this time in its most populous region.

She has said health workers are struggling more and more to track transmissions that are spreading quickly and unpredictably as people increase their activities and practice less social distancing.

Jung’s concerns were echoed by Kwon Jun-wook, director of the National Institute of Health, who in a separate briefing on Thursday acknowledged that health authorities were only managing to “chase transmissions after belatedly discovering them.”

While South Korea saw a much larger surge of infections in February and March, when hundreds of new cases were reported every day, those had been easier to track. The majority then were concentrated in a single church congregation in Daegu, South Korea’s fourth-largest city with 2.5 million people.

The recent clusters have popped up just about everywhere around the capital.

The spike of infections in the capital area has inspired second-guessing on whether officials were too quick to ease on social distancing.

The government in mid-April decided to lift administrative orders that advised entertainment and sports venues to close, allow professional sports to return to action without spectators and green-light a phased reopening of schools.

But Seoul and nearby cities restored some of the controls in recent weeks by shutting thousands of nightclubs, hostess bars and karaoke rooms. Resisting criticism from privacy advocates, officials have also started requiring entertainment venues, gyms and concert halls to register their customers with smartphone QR codes so they could be easily located when needed.

Health authorities have aggressively mobilized technological tools to trace contacts and enforce quarantines, with an infectious disease law strengthened after a 2015 outbreak of a different coronavirus, MERS, allowing them quick access to cellphone data, credit-card records and surveillance camera footage.

But since the easing of distancing, there has been a clear erosion in citizen vigilance, which, along with the highly effective contact tracing, has been credited for allowing the country to weather the epidemic without lockdowns.

Africa CDC calls on Tanzania to share virus data

JOHANNESBURG — The head of the Africa Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says “we continue to remain hopeful” that Tanzania will cooperate by sharing its COVID-19 data even as the country’s president declared victory over the pandemic.

John Nkengasong says “they understand exactly what is at stake” in the East African nation, which has not updated its virus data since late April.

Tanzania’s number of cases remains frozen at 509, while opposition leaders have asserted there are actually tens of thousands.

President John Magufuli at a church service on Sunday declared that “corona in our country has been removed by the powers of God,” and he praised the congregation for not wearing face masks. He has warned that masks not approved by the government could be infected with the virus.

Russia lifts restrictions as infections rise

MOSCOW — Russia’s coronavirus caseload surpassed 500,000 on Thursday, after health officials reported 8,779 new infections.

The nation’s total currently stands at 502,436 confirmed cases, including 6,532 deaths.

Experts both in Russia and abroad expressed doubts about the country’s remarkably low pandemic death toll, with some alleging that numbers were manipulated for political reasons. The Russian government repeatedly denied the allegations.

Despite recording almost 9,000 new cases daily for the past month, Russian authorities have started easing lockdown restrictions in many regions — including Moscow, which accounts for about 40% of all virus cases and almost half of officially reported deaths.

This week the Moscow mayor lifted the stay-at-home order in place since late March, allowing residents to travel freely around the city, and gave a green light for a wide range of businesses — such as beauty parlors, restaurants and museums — to reopen in the next two weeks.

Kremlin critics condemn the reopening as premature and link them to the vote on the constitutional reform that would allow President Vladimir Putin to stay in power until 2036, scheduled for July 1.

Turkey restarts some international flights

ANKARA, Turkey — Turkey has restarted international flights for the first time since planes were grounded on March 28 to stem the coronavirus pandemic.

A plane belonging to Anadolu Jet, a subsidiary of Turkish Airlines, left Istanbul’s Sabiha Gokcen airport for London at 08:40 a.m. Thursday. It was followed by flights to Amsterdam and Dusseldorf, Germany. Meanwhile, a Turkish Airlines flight also departed for Dusseldorf from the city’s other airport, Istanbul Airport.

Only nationals of the destination countries or those with residence permits were allowed on the flights.

Entry into the terminals was also strictly regulated, with officials checking temperatures at the entrance and only allowing passengers with valid tickets to step inside.

Turkey resumed domestic flights on June. 1.

10,000 new coronavirus cases in one day in India

NEW DELHI: India reported a record of nearly 10,000 new coronavirus cases on Thursday with health services in the worst-hit cities of Mumbai, New Delhi and Chennai swamped by the rising infections.

India’s tally has reached 286,579 confirmed cases, the fifth highest in the world, with 8,102 deaths, including 357 in the last 24 hours.

The spike comes as the government moved ahead with the reopening of restaurants, shopping malls and places of worship in most of India after lockdown of more than two months. Subways, hotels and schools remain closed.

The actual infection numbers are thought to be higher because of limited testing.

The Health Ministry said it was ramping up the capacity with daily testing of more than 145,000 people. The number of tests in India crossed 5 million on Wednesday.

It also said that the total number of recovered patients has exceeded the active cases for the first time with the recovery rate of nearly 49%.

China reports small spike

BEIJING — China has reported a small spike in imported confirmed cases of the coronavirus to 11. There were no new deaths or cases of local transmission in Thursday’s report.

Chinese officials say just 62 people remain in treatment for COVID-19.

In addition, 130 people are under observation and isolation for showing signs of the illness or testing positive for the virus without showing any symptoms, as a safeguard against them possibly spreading it to others.

China has reported a total of 4,634 deaths from COVID-19 — a figure that hasn’t changed in weeks — among 83,057 cases recorded since the virus was first detected in the central industrial city of Wuhan late last year.

Trump to hold first rally since the pandemic struck

WASHINGTON — President Donald Trump says he’s planning to hold his first rally of the COVID-19 era next Friday in Tulsa, Oklahoma. And he says he’s planning more events in Florida, Texas and Arizona as well.

Trump made the announcement during a roundtable with African American supporters Wednesday afternoon that did not appear on his public schedule.

His signature rallies often draw tens of thousands of people but have been on hiatus since March 2 because of the coronavirus pandemic, which has now killed more than 110,000 people in the U.S.

Trump’s campaign has been planning to resume rallies as it tries to move past the pandemic, even as cases continue to rise in some parts of the country.

A Trump campaign spokesperson tweeted a movie trailer-style video earlier Wednesday that advertised: “This month we’re back.”

 


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