TOP OF THE HOUR:
—Trump hoping to resume campaign rallies without social distancing.
— Japan surpasses 10,000 virus cases; Abe stresses importance of social distancing.
— South Korea shows lowest daily jump in virus cases since Feb. 20.
SEOUL, South Korea -- South Korea has reported 18 new cases of the coronavirus, its lowest daily jump since Feb. 20, continuing a downward trend as officials discuss more sustainable forms of social distancing that allows for some communal and economic activity.
Figures released by South Korea’s Centers for Disease Control and Prevention on Saturday brought national totals to 10,653 cases and 232 virus-related deaths. The caseload continued to wane in the hardest-hit city of Daegu, where officials say the number of active cases dropped below 1,000 for the first time since a surge of infections in late February.
At least 993 of overall infections have been linked to arrivals from overseas. Most of these cases were detected in the densely populated Seoul metropolitan area over the past month as thousands of students and other South Korean nationals returned home amid worsening outbreaks and suspended school years in Europe and the United States.
While saying that a quick return to pre-COVID-19 normalcy would be impossible, Kim said officials as early as Sunday could announce essential parts of a new guideline that would replace the country’s weeks-long social distancing campaign. Officials have said they are looking for ways to allow people to engage in “certain levels of economic and social activity” while containing the risk of infection.
Government officials have yet to share specific details about the new guideline.
SEOUL, South Korea -- North Korea says it released all foreign nationals from coronavirus quarantine while it continues to strengthen anti-virus efforts.
The official Korean Central News Agency also said Saturday authorities released all citizens who had been quarantined in the provinces of South Phyongan and North Hwanghae, which are near capital Pyongyang, and the city of Rason at a tri-point bordering China and Russia.
The report didn’t specify how many people remained under the country’s 30-day quarantine. Figures from previous state media reports suggest the North would have released close to 10,000 people over the past weeks.
The North had initially placed 380 foreigners under quarantine. The North in March arranged a special government flight to fly out dozens of diplomats to Vladivostok, Russia.
The KCNA says officials are continuing to strengthen “medical monitoring” of its citizens while ensuring normal activity for those released from quarantine.
The North has said there hasn’t been a single virus case on its territory, but the claim is questioned by many outside experts.
Describing its anti-virus efforts as a “matter of national existence,” the North has banned foreign tourists, shut down nearly all cross-border traffic with China, intensified screening at entry points and mobilized health workers to monitor residents and isolate those with symptoms.
TOKYO — Japan had 556 new cases of the coronavirus, bringing a national total to 9,795, the country’s Ministry of Health, Labor and Welfare said Saturday.
With an addition of 712 others from a cruise ship quarantined near Tokyo earlier this year, Japan now has 10,507 cases altogether, surpassing the 10,000-mark about three months after the first case was found in the country.
Nearly one-third of the domestic cases come from Tokyo, where daily surge in the cases has overburdened hospitals, triggering fear of the collapse of medical system.
Prime Minister Shinzo Abe expanded his April 7 state of emergency, which was limited to Tokyo and six other urban prefectures, to all of Japan on Thursday. He expressed concern at a news conference Friday that people are not observing the government-requested social distancing as much as they should.
So far, additional requests of non-essential business closures are in place only in Tokyo and several other prefectures, and starting in few other areas. In Japan, the measures carry no penalties.
Abe’s nationwide stay-at-home request comes ahead of the weekend and an upcoming “golden week” holidays at the end of April, as official try to stop people from traveling and potentially spreading virus. Abe also announced a 100,000-yen ($930) cash handout to all residents to give them more incentive to comply.
BEIJING — China has reported 27 new confirmed cases of COVID-19, as it tries to stem an upsurge in infections in a northeastern province bordering Russia.
Twenty of the new cases were in Heilongjiang province, including 13 Chinese nationals who had returned recently from Russia. The land border with Russia has been closed.
China’s official death toll rose sharply to 4,632, reflecting a major upwards revision the previous day by authorities in Wuhan, the nation’s hardest-hit city.
The latest confirmed cases brought the total to 82,719, of which 77,029 have recovered and been discharged, the National Health Commission said.
Eighteen officials in Heilongjiang province have been punished for failures in their response to the outbreak, state media reported Friday. They include the deputy mayor of Harbin, the provincial capital, and a vice president of Harbin Medical University. They were given warnings, or demerits, in their personnel files.
CANBERRA, Australia — Prime Minister Scott Morrison says a mobile phone app to help trace people who have been in contact with a coronavirus case will not be made mandatory.
In a tweet, Morrison said the government will be seeking the “cooperation and support” of Australians to download the app to help health workers and protect the community.
In an interview on Friday, the prime minister appeared not to rule out making the software mandatory if not enough Australians signed up to make it effective. Media reports suggested the app needed 40% of Australian users to sign up to make it work effectively.
The government is planning to launch the app within several weeks. It will trace every person who has been in contact with a mobile phone owner who has tested positive for coronavirus in the previous few weeks, in a bid to automate coronavirus contact tracing, and allow the easing of restrictions.
WASHINGTON — The federal Bureau of Prisons say a case worker at a federal prison in Atlanta has died after testing positive for coronavirus.
An agency spokesman says Robin Grubbs is the first staff member in the federal prison system to have died after testing positive for the virus.
As of Friday, 465 inmates and 296 staff members have tested positive at federal prisons around the U.S.
Grubbs was found dead in her home on Tuesday by fellow prison staff member who went to check on her. Officials say she last worked as a case manager at USP Atlanta on April 10 and appeared to be asymptomatic.
They say the medical examiner’s office notified the Bureau of Prisons that she had tested positive for coronavirus posthumously, though a cause of death is undetermined.
WASHINGTON — President Donald Trump says he remains hopeful that he will be able to resume campaign rallies ahead of the November election.
Trump said that he does not want social distancing at his rallies, which typically draw big crowds, because doesn’t want attendees to miss the “flavor” of the experience. Trump stopped holding his big stadium rallies in early March because of the coronavirus pandemic.
The president predicted that when the rallies resume they’ll be “bigger than ever.”
Trump has only left Washington once over the last month as he’s dealt with the pandemic.
But the president announced Friday that he plans to travel to the U.S. Military Academy in New York next month for its commencement ceremony.
BUENOS AIRES, Argentina -- In a time when people are being told to keep their distance, Argentina’s government is suggesting its citizens might express their passions virtually.
A government health advisor, Dr. José Barletta, warned against sex with people outside one’s household during the government’s daily briefing on the COVID-19 pandemic on Friday.
“When we speak of social distancing, that includes sexual encounters with people we don’t live with,” he said.
“The tools such as videocalls, virtual sex or sexting can be good alternatives,” he suggested.
Barletta said “it’s very clear that the virus can be transmitted by acts such as kissing, and it’s very probable that it can be transmitted by way of sex.”
SACRAMENTO, Calif. — California officials say the state lost nearly 100,000 jobs in March, signaling an abrupt end to a record 10-year streak of growth because of the coronavirus outbreak.
The unemployment rate in the nation’s most populous state was 5.3% in March, a 1.4 percentage point increase. That's the largest jump on record since 1976, when state officials began using the current formula for tracking job losses.
Gov. Gavin Newsom says California is now “in a pandemic-induced recession.”
The job losses were based on a survey taken the week that included March 12. That was one day after the NBA suspended its season and Newsom banned gatherings of more than 250 people, prompting the closure of Disneyland and other California landmarks.
Most of the state’s job losses occurred after that date, accelerating once Newsom issued a mandatory stay-at-home order on March 19. Newsom says 3.1 million Californians have filed for unemployment benefits since mid-March.
WASHINGTON — President Donald Trump says his administration is launching a $19 billion program to help farmers struggling from the coronavirus pandemic.
Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue says the program includes $16 billion in direct payments to farmers, ranchers, and producers who experienced “unprecedented losses” during the pandemic.
Perdue says the Department of Agriculture will spend another $3 billion to purchase fresh produce, dairy, and meat products that will be distributed through food bank networks.
NEW YORK — The U.S. government hasn't been releasing a count of its own, but an Associated Press tally from media reports and state health departments indicate 6,912 deaths have been linked to coronavirus outbreaks in nursing homes and long-term care facilities nationwide.
NEW YORK — A large study of hospitalized COVID-19 patients in New York City found 1 in 3 were put on breathing machines. That's a rate more than 10 times higher than seen in China.
The study's authors say that of the patients studied, 36% were obese, which may have contributed to severe breathing problems and the need for ventilators.
Published online Friday in the New England Journal of Medicine, the report involves 393 patients admitted to two unidentified hospitals from March 5-27. Patients were aged 62 on average and 60% were men. Almost 40% were white but the report had no other racial breakdown. Overall, 6% were health care workers.
Cough, fever and shortness of breath were the main symptoms, but diarrhea, nausea and vomiting were also common.
Dr. Parag Goyal of Weill Cornell Medicine and the report authors say that compared with China, hospitalization for COVID-19 in the U.S. is generally limited to more severely ill patients, another likely reason for the greater use of ventilators.
The authors say 40 patients or 10% died and 260 were discharged from hospitals.
BOISE, Idaho — More than 1,000 protesters gathered at the Idaho Statehouse in defiance of Gov. Brad Little’s extension of the statewide stay-at-home order.
The governor has extended the order to the end of April in an attempt to slow the spread of coronavirus.
The was met with derision by some members of the far-right in Idaho, and some libertarian, gun-rights and anti-vaccine organizations began directing members to defy the order. Most at the Boise protest were standing shoulder-to-shoulder and not wearing face masks.
Some carried signs claiming the coronavirus is a hoax, while others held signs with slogans like, “All workers are essential” and “Freedom not fear.” Similar protests have been held across the U.S., with groups pushing back against stay-at-home orders in places like Michigan, Texas and Virginia. Dozens circled Oregon’s state Capitol in their vehicles to protest that state’s stay-at-home order.
MEXICO CITY — Mexico’s president says U.S. President Donald Trump has promised Mexico will be able to buy 1,000 ventilators and other intensive-therapy equipment used in treating severe cases of COVID-19.
Andrés Manuel López Obrador says he spoke with Trump about Mexico’s request to purchase the machines, relatively few of which are available in Mexico.
López Obrador says on Twitter that Trump “guaranteed me that by the end of this month" Mexico could buy 1,000 ventilators and possibly more.
López Obrador calls it a “new gesture of solidarity with Mexico.” He says he suggested a meeting with Trump in June or July to personally express the country's appreciation.
Such a visit would be unusual, especially if it implied the Mexican leader would travel to the United States. López Obrador has eschewed trips abroad since he took office in December 2018.
MINNEAPOLIS — President Donald Trump tweeted his support for a protest of physical distancing rules by conservatives outside Minnesota Gov. Tim Walz’s official residence in St. Paul.
His “LIBERATE MINNESOTA!” tweet was followed by similar tweets about Michigan and Virginia. Walz says he tried calling the White House about Trump’s tweet but couldn’t get through to the president or vice president.
Democratic Washington Gov. Jay Inslee says Trump is encouraging “illegal and dangerous acts.”
At least 400 people gathered outside the Minnesota governor’s mansion to demand relief. Many wore pro-Trump gear but very few practiced social distancing or wore masks. Dozens carried American flags or signs bearing messages such as “Reopen MN.” Others drove by in vehicles bearing signs against the restrictions.
Walz recently extended Minnesota's stay-at-home order to May 4. He has said the state needs to significantly expand its testing capacity before it can begin relaxing restrictions, even as he has begun coming under increasing pressure from Republicans to move more quickly.
SEATTLE — An influential modeling institute is forecasting specific reopening dates for states shut down by the coronavirus. The recommendations are based on projections for when each state’s infections will drop below one per 1 million people.
The University of Washington's Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation says Hawaii, Montana, Vermont and West Virginia could open by May 4, if they restrict large gatherings, test widely and quarantine the contacts of people who test positive.
According to the model, Arkansas, Iowa, Nebraska, North Dakota, Oklahoma, South Dakota and Utah are among states that would need to wait until late June or early July.
The institute says state decisions on reopening should be made based on the situation closer to the hoped-for date of reopening. Its projections have varied widely over time, drawing criticism from researchers with other types of models.
The Seattle model is the one most often mentioned by U.S. health officials at White House briefings.
It uses U.S. hospitalization and death data, along with observed trends in China, Italy and Spain to project what will happen next in the United States. Uncertainty is built into any mathematical model that tries to predict the future.
WASHINGTON — Even people who work for FEMA can’t get protective gear.
The union that represents 5,000 employees of the Federal Emergency Management Agency is warning Congress about a “desperate lack” of personal protective equipment.
Steven Reaves of the unit of the American Federation of Government Employees that represents the FEMA workers asks members of Congress in a letter to urge the administration to get and distribute adequate supplies.
Reaves tells The Associated Press that 25 of his members have tested positive for COVID-19. The FEMA workforce includes emergency managers, contract officers and safety officials, as well as police and firefighters.
FEMA distributes protective gear to people around the country but Reaves says the people who work for the agency can be vulnerable as well and should be provided with adequate protection.
TRENTON, N.J. — U.S. hospitals are so desperate for sterile gowns to protect workers that some are resorting to having staff wear coveralls, Tyvek suits and ponchos. That’s according to a new survey from hospital consultant Premier Inc. illustrating how fighting a shortage of protective face masks can exacerbate another.
The survey finds companies that make personal protective equipment recently boosted manufacturing of N95 and surgical masks so much in response to pleas from hospital workers that now hospitals are having more trouble getting sterile gowns than masks. That’s because they’re often made from the same type of textiles.
Premier helps its 4,000 hospital members get medicines and supplies at discounts. It said 700 hospitals replied to the survey conducted April 11-15.
ROME — Migrants rescued by a German-flagged charity vessel have been transferred to an unused passenger ferry off Palermo, Sicily, for quarantine in case any are infected with COVID-19.
The Italian coast guard says 146 migrants were taken off the Alan Kurdi and put on the ferry, which has Italian Red Cross personnel aboard to monitor their health conditions.
Four migrants were evacuated previously for health reasons from the Alan Kurdi, which had conducted the rescues in the Mediterranean Sea on April 6. The day after the rescue, Italy banned any foreign-flagged rescue vessels from docking at Italian ports.
Under government policy, rescued migrants who reach Italy are to be distributed to the European Union countries which have previously agreed to share the burden of caring for them. The migrants set out in dinghies or fishing boats launched by Libya-based human traffickers. Italy has one of Europe’s worst coronavirus outbreaks.
AUSTIN, Texas — Texas Gov. Greg Abbott has begun a slow reopening of the state's economy with orders that allow retail shops to sell items curbside, open state parks to visitors and puts doctors back in operating rooms after they were banned for weeks from performing nonessential surgeries.
The eased restrictions will be phased in starting next week. The Republican governor announced them after President Donald Trump gave governors a road map for recovering from the economic pain of the coronavirus pandemic.
Abbott says he’ll announce another phase of reopening April 27 but didn’t detail what criteria would be used or what kind of businesses would be allowed to resume.
Texas schools will remain closed at least until summer. Abbott said broader stay-at-home orders designed to increase social distancing remain in effect through April.
At least 17,300 people in Texas have tested positive for the virus, and more than 400 have died.
RICHMOND, Va. — The American Civil Liberties Union is asking a federal court to block Virginia election officials from requiring that absentee voters find a witness to watch them sign their ballots during the COVID-19 pandemic.
The ACLU filed a lawsuit on behalf of three voters and the League of Women Voters. The lawsuit says the witness requirement could cause “massive disenfranchisement” of Virginia voters.
According to state law, any voter who submits an absentee ballot by mail must open the envelope containing the ballot in front of another person, fill out the ballot and then ask the witness to sign the outside of the ballot envelope before it is mailed.
GENEVA — A top World Health Organization scientist says countries, especially those in Africa, shouldn’t give up hope in the fight against the coronavirus outbreak.
Maria Van Kerkhove is technical lead for WHO’s emergencies program. She says several countries in Europe and Asia have succeeded in bringing the outbreak under control.
Van Kerkhove says, "Containment is possible. It's going to be a hard fight.“
She says much more needs to be done, including more testing, treatment centers, physical distancing measures and hand-washing stations in places with no running water to help stem the spread of the COVID-19 outbreak.
Many scientists believe the novel coronavirus is more infectious than the flu.
TIRANA, Albania — The COVID-19 virus is bringing positive warming up signs in the ties between former war foes Kosovo and Serbia.
Kosovo has had help in fighting the virus from the European Union, the United States, Turkey and many other countries, including Serbia. Health Ministry spokesman Faik Hoti says Serbia has donated 1,000 virus tests.
Health Minister Arben Vitia initiated an online call with colleagues from Western Balkan countries, including his Serb counterpart, to coordinate joint efforts in fighting the virus.
A tally from Johns Hopkins University shows Serbia has 5,690 virus cases, and 110 people have died. Kosovo has 449 cases and 12 deaths.
Kosovo-Serbia ties remain tense and the EU-mediated talks on normalizing their ties have stalled since the end of 2018.
Kosovo, a former part of the old Yugoslavia, was liberated in 1999. Kosovo unilaterally declared independence from Serbia in 2008, but Belgrade doesn’t recognize it.
Follow AP news coverage of the coronavirus pandemic at https://apnews.com/VirusOutbreak and https://apnews.com/UnderstandingtheOutbreak