TOP OF THE HOUR:
— Beijing parks and museums reopened to public.
— South Korea reports 9 new cases, none in hard-hit city of Daegu.
— Russian Prime Minister tests positive, will self-isolate.
— Prime Minister says U.K. is past peak, on downward slope in outbreak.
— Germany, Portugal, Czech Republic to loosen coronavirus restrictions.
BEIJING — Beijing’s parks and museums, including the ancient Forbidden City, reopened to the public Friday after being closed for months due to the coronavirus pandemic.
The Forbidden City, past home to China’s emperors, is permitting just 5,000 visitors daily, down from 80,000. And parks are allowing people to visit at 30% of the usual capacity.
Large-scale group activities remain on hold and visitors must book tickets in advance online, according to Gao Dawei, deputy director of the Beijing Gardening and Greening Bureau.
Beijing on Thursday downgraded its level of emergency response to the virus from first to second tier, but temperature checks and social distancing remain in force.
The change comes at the start of the five-day May 1 holiday and in advance of China’s rescheduled gathering of the National People’s Congress on May 22.
China reported 12 new virus cases Friday, six brought from overseas, and no new deaths for the 16th consecutive day.
SEOUL, South Korea — South Korea has reported nine new coronavirus cases as infections continue to wane.
The figures released by South Korea’s Centers for Disease Control and Prevention on Friday brought national totals to 10,774 infections and 248 deaths.
None of the new cases were from the hardest-hit city of Daegu, where more than 6,800 people have been sickened since February.
The KCDC says at least 1,073 cases have been linked to passengers arriving from overseas, but such infections have also slowed in recent weeks amid stronger border controls.
The country was reporting around 500 new cases a day in early March, but it hasn’t seen a daily jump above 100 since April 1.
The slowing caseload has allowed the government to relax social distancing guidelines as it shifts focus to easing the shock on the economy.
MOSCOW — Russian Prime Minister Mikhail Mishustin says he has tested positive for the new coronavirus and has told President Vladimir Putin he will self-isolate.
First Deputy Prime Minister Andrei Belousov will temporarily perform Mishustin’s duties.
Mishustin, 54, was named prime minister in January.
Also, the mayor of Moscow says he doesn’t think the Russian capital is close to overcoming the spread of coronavirus.
Moscow accounts for half of Russia’s reported 106,000 infections and on Thursday recorded nearly 3,100 new cases.
“We’re not even at the midpoint, in my opinion; at best we have passed a quarter of this way,” Mayor Sergei Sobyanin said. Moscow quickly built one hospital to handle coronavirus cases and Sobyanin said the need for more could be filled by establishing treatment facilities at shopping malls, sports venues or the sprawling Stalin-era VDNKh exhibition complex.
LONDON — British Prime Minister Boris Johnson says the U.K. is “past the peak” and “on a downward slope” in its coronavirus outbreak.
In his first news conference in more than a month following his hospitalization with COVID-19 and subsequent recuperation, Johnson said he would be presenting a “comprehensive plan” next week about how and when the U.K. will ease lockdown restrictions, which are due to last at least until May 7.
Though he said it would provide a “road map,” Johnson is widely expected to extend the current lockdown further.
Johnson also voiced frustrations in getting personal protective equipment, and in ramping up the testing program, but he insisted the government was throwing “everything at it, heart and soul, night and day, to get it right.”
Johnson, whose partner Carrie Symonds gave birth to a boy on Wednesday, said another 674 people with the coronavirus have died in all settings, taking the total to 26,711, the second-highest in Europe behind Italy.
The northeastern part of France, including the whole Paris region, has been placed in “red zone” as the map is based on an estimation of the virus circulation and the burden over intensive care units in local hospitals.
The government said “green zones” will be able to lift some restrictions more rapidly.
Health minister Olivier Veran said final decisions will be made based on the evolution of the map next week.
National health agency director Jerome Salomon said the spreading of the virus continues to slow down in the country with the number of COVID-19 patients in intensive care decreasing for the third straight week.
France, one of the world’s hardest-hit countries, has reported 24,376 deaths from the disease at hospital and in nursing homes.
BERLIN — German Chancellor Angela Merkel says authorities will allow religious services to resume and let museums, zoos, galleries and playgrounds re-open as part of the gradual loosening of the pandemic lockdown.
Merkel said after meeting with governors of Germany’s 16 states that it was important to remain “disciplined” to ensure successful efforts to curb the coronavirus outbreak aren’t undone.
She acknowledged the impact that the lockdown measures have had on the economy and social life, but said officials wanted to wait until next week before considering lifting restrictions on kindergartens and most schools.
LISBON, Portugal — Portugal is starting to loosen its coronavirus restrictions, with small stores, hair salons, libraries, car showrooms and government tax departments allowed to reopen from next Monday.
Next week, means of public transport will be allowed to carry up to two-thirds of their capacity, but passengers must wear masks.
The government also announced Thursday that from May 18, kindergartens and school classes for students age 16-18 are to resume. Smaller restaurants and cafes and their terraces will also be able to accept customers if they restrict capacity to 50%.
On June 1, all other stores and shopping malls can open, as can cinemas and theaters.
The government set no date for the reopening of bars, nightclubs or gymnasiums.
Meanwhile, people must work from home if they can through the end of May, cannot come within 2 meters of other people, and no events are allowed to have more than 10 people.
Portugal attributes 989 deaths to the outbreak, with just over 25,000 cases.
PRAGUE — The Czech government is accelerating its relaxing of the restrictive measures adopted to contain the coronavirus pandemic.
Health Minister Adam Vojtech says cultural, sports and other public events will be allowed to take place as of May 11, two weeks earlier than previously planned, for a maximum of 100 people.
Theaters, cinemas, concert halls and circuses can get back to business that date as well with the same number of people attending. Originally, those venues were scheduled to operate, starting May 25.
The universities will re-open for all students, but only for groups not bigger than 15 in one place on May 11.
At the same time, the government has ruled out big summer music and other festivals.
The day-to-day increase of the new cases COVID-19 has been under 100 for the eighth day in the Czech Republic while less than 10 died daily since April 13.
ANKARA, Turkey — The number of confirmed COVID-19 cases in Turkey surpassed 120,000 after the country’s health minister announced 2,615 new cases in the past 24 hours.
Fahrettin Koca on Thursday also reported 93 new deaths on Thursday, bringing the total to 3,174. The total number of infections now stands at 120,204.
Turkey ranks seventh in the world for the number of confirmed infections, according to Johns Hopkins University, although experts believe the actual toll of the pandemic is higher than the tally.
ATLANTA — Georgia Gov. Brian Kemp will allow his statewide shelter-in-place order to expire at midnight Thursday but is extending his emergency powers to June 12 and telling the elderly and medically fragile to stay at home until then.
The first-term Republican governor had already carved sizable loopholes in his order that applied to all 10 million Georgians and signaled it would end when he allowed some businesses to reopen last week and Monday. Social distancing requirements and bans on large gatherings remain in place.
Kemp told The Associated Press in a Thursday interview that he’s been pleased with how his effort to reopen some businesses — among the most aggressive in the nation — has gone in the face of a continuing COVID-19 pandemic that has sickened 26,000 people in the state and killed more than 1,100.
UNITED NATIONS -- Secretary-General Antonio Guterres says he is looking into alternatives for the largest annual gathering of world leaders at the United Nations in late September, an event that is supposed to commemorate the 75th anniversary of the global organization this year but may undergo significant changes because of the COVID-19 pandemic.
He told a news conference Thursday that the U.N. Secretariat is conducting “research of the different technical possibilities that exist” and he planned to discuss the annual high-level meeting of the General Assembly with its president, Tijjani Muhammad Bande, “very soon.”
The U.N. calendar of events calls for the assembly’s General Debate — the official name of the high-level meeting — to open on Sept. 22, with a kickoff event for world leaders the previous day to commemorate the 75th anniversary of the United Nations, which was founded after World War II.
SANTA FE, N.M. — The governor of New Mexico expressed concern that President Donald Trump's planned trip to neighboring Arizona might increase the risk of COVID-19 transmission in the region amid surging infections across the Navajo Nation.
Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham, a Democrat, held a videocast news conference from the Statehouse on Thursday.
“I will welcome President Trump with open arms in New Mexico if he is masked, he is wearing gloves for anything that we are going to attend, there are no mass gatherings or rallies, and he’s bringing Air Force One with the supplies that we need in the state of New Mexico,” she said.
Public gatherings of more than five people are prohibited in New Mexico through at least May 15, but that doesn’t stop residents from traveling to states with different health guidelines.
A new Trump campaign ad highlights supportive comments by Lujan Grisham about the federal response to the coronavirus.
“It is the political season,” Lujan Grisham said. “All fair, but that travel and that mass gathering creates risk.”
HARTFORD, Conn. — The first step in a gradual, multi-stage process of lifting restrictions on businesses and activities in Connecticut, including allowing outdoor dining at restaurants, is expected to begin on May 20, Gov. Ned Lamont announced Thursday.
Remaining retail establishments, hair and nail services, outdoor exhibits at zoos and museums, outdoor recreation such as camping and mountain biking, and university research programs will also be allowed to open on that date with certain restrictions, barring any major flareups of COVID-19 or major issues with testing and contact tracing.
Employees at offices will still be encouraged to continue working from home where possible.
Meanwhile, older people and those with pre-existing conditions are still encouraged to remain at home as of May 20.
Lamont said an announcement will be made next week about when schools might reopen and restrictions on social gatherings might be lifted.
The governor’s advisory committee has been working plans for four levels of reopening the state, which become less and less restrictive over time.
SALEM, Oregon — Oregon is planning to allow its famed microbreweries and wine tasting rooms to reopen when it starts loosening stay-home orders, rejecting a federal recommendation that bars remain closed.
Oregonians will be able to hoist a glass at their neighborhood watering holes under Gov. Kate Brown’s draft plan released on Thursday for the state’s first phase of reopening.
That puts this Pacific Northwest state, which is among two dozen states that have thus far resisted President Donald Trump’s entreaties to reopen now, in the position of going beyond his recommendations when it eventually decides to do so.
NEW ORLEANS — A few Louisiana parishes are bucking the governor’s continued coronavirus order by letting churches and other establishments open their doors to more people Friday.
LaSalle Parish in central Louisiana and East and West Feliciana parishes near Baton Rouge all said churches and businesses may open Friday at 25% of occupancy limits — a change Edwards has said he hopes to make in mid-May. The Felicianas also are reopening libraries and some other establishments.
Local elected officials may set restrictions tougher than the state’s but cannot be less restrictive, Edwards said at his daily news briefing in Baton Rouge.
UNITED NATIONS — The United Nations chief says he hopes many countries in the world will follow the “remarkable example” of South Korea, which has been “extremely successful” in addressing the coronavirus pandemic and is planning to tackle climate change in its recovery from COVID-19.
Secretary-General Antonio Guterres pointed to the announcement Thursday “that there was no new case in the Republic of Korea,” the country’s official name.
At the same time, he said, South Korea has presented plans for “a very ambitious green deal” for its recovery from the pandemic including no new coal-fired plants and a reduction of emissions from existing coal-fired plants.
Guterres told a news conference Thursday: “We hope that this example of the Republic of Korea will be followed by many other countries in the world.”
South Korea had its first confirmed case of COVID-19 on Jan. 20, the same day as the United States. But unlike the U.S., officials there used a test focused on the same gene targets as the World Health Organization’s recommended test, according to the website of a test manufacturer. The government quickly allowed private sector labs to produce it.
As a result, a nation with less than one-sixth the population of the United States mobilized to test more than 20,000 people a day. South Korea also instituted drive-thru centers, allowing quicker identification of those who were infected but might not be displaying symptoms, thus slowing the emergence of new cases to a more manageable level.
UNITED NATIONS — United Nations Secretary-General Antonio Guterres says 16 armed groups have responded positively to his appeal for a global cease-fire to tackle the coronavirus pandemic but mistrust remains high and turning intentions into an end to hostilities is difficult.
He told a news conference that his March 23 call “has resonated widely, with endorsements from 114 governments, diverse regional organizations, religious leaders and more than 200 civil society groups spanning all regions.”
According to an informal tally kept by the U.N. based on various sources, the 16 armed groups that responded positively are from Yemen, Myanmar, Ukraine, Philippines, Colombia, Angola, Libya, Senegal, Sudan, Syria, Indonesia and Nagorno-Karabakh.
TOKYO — Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe plans to extend the ongoing coronavirus state of emergency beyond its scheduled end on May 6.
Abe said Thursday that hospitals are still overburdened and medical workers are under severe pressure to deal with a patient count still on the rise.
“I believe it will be difficult to return to our normal daily lives after May 7,” Abe said. “We must expect an endurance race to a certain extent.”
Abe said he will consult with experts to decide how long the measures should be extended. Local officials and medical experts have called for an extension for another month nationwide.
The rise in cases somewhat slowed in the last few days. But Japan still had more than 200 new cases overnight, bringing a national total to some 14,000 cases, with 415 deaths.
BEIJING — China says any claims that the coronavirus was released from a laboratory are “unfounded and purely fabricated out of nothing.”
Foreign Ministry spokesman Geng Shuang said Thursday the Wuhan Institute of Virology at the center of the allegations “does not have the ability to design and create a new coronavirus, and it has never done so.”
Geng cited the institute’s director, Yuan Zhiming, as saying the lab strictly implements bio-security procedures that would prevent the release of any pathogen.
“I would like to point out again that the origin of the virus is a complex scientific issue, and it should be studied by scientists and professionals,” Geng said.
Geng also criticized U.S. politicians who have suggested China should be held accountable for the global pandemic, saying they should spend their time on “better controlling the epidemic situation at home.”
Follow AP news coverage of the coronavirus pandemic at https://apnews.com/VirusOutbreak and https://apnews.com/UnderstandingtheOutbreak