TOP OF THE HOUR:
— India touts gains in curbing virus with lockdown, may relax some rules
— South Korea reports four new coronavirus cases, lowest in about two months
— NYPD called after overwhelmed funeral home stores bodies on ice in rented trucks
— Nevada governor extends stay-at-home order to May 15, eases some restrictions
— Germany experts say vaccine, herd immunity vital.
— US to let federal social distancing guidelines expire.
NEW DELHI — India says it has achieved tremendous gains and improvement in curbing the coronavirus infections through a stringent lockdown imposed across the country five weeks ago.
A Home Ministry statement late Wednesday said the government would give considerable relaxations in many districts as the lockdown comes for a review on Sunday.
India has so far reported more than 33,050 positive coronavirus cases with 1,074 deaths.
The government on Wednesday allowed migrant workers, pilgrims, tourists, students and other persons stranded at different places in the country to resume their journeys by road. The decision will provide relief to hundreds of thousands of workers who want to return to their villages from Indian cities and towns after they lost jobs following the imposition of a country-wide lockdown on March 25.
The government recently allowed reopening of neighborhood shops in cities and towns and resumption of manufacturing and farming activity in rural India to help millions of poor people who lost work.
SEOUL, South Korea —— South Korea has reported four more cases of the coronavirus over the past 24 hours, the first time that its daily jump has marked below five in about two months.
The Koreas Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said in a statement Thursday that the additional figures took the country’s total to 10,765 with 247 deaths. It says 9,059 of them have recovered and been released from quarantine.
It says the four new cases are all imported ones and that there were no newly reported cases of local infections.
Local media said it’s the first time for South Korea to have no daily increase of local infections since Feb. 15.
South Korea’s caseload has been slowing in recent weeks after it recorded hundreds of new cases every day between late February and early March.
South Korea has subsequently relaxed some of its social distancing guidelines. It expected to ease up on more restrictions in coming days if its caseload maintains a downward trend.
MALE, Maldives — Maldives has reported its first death to the new coronavirus with the total number of positive cases standing at 280.
Health Minister Abdulla Ameen said Thursday that the victim was an 83-year-old woman from the capital Male’.
First cases of COVID-19 were reported at tourist resorts in this Indian Ocean archipelago state and authorities for sometime kept it from spilling over into the community. However, there is now a sudden spike in the number of patients in the capital island as well as far off islands with no traceable source of infection.
NEW YORK -- Police were called to a Brooklyn neighborhood Wednesday after a funeral home overwhelmed by the coronavirus resorted to storing dozens of bodies on ice in rented trucks, and a passerby complained about the smell, officials said.
Investigators who responded to a 911 call found that the home had rented four trucks to hold about 50 corpses, according to a law enforcement official. No criminal charges were brought and the official, who was not authorized to speak publicly about the investigation, spoke to The Associated Press on condition of anonymity.
The Andrew T. Cleckley Funeral Home was cited for failing to control the odors. The home was able to obtain a larger, refrigerated truck later in the day, the official said.
New York City funeral homes have struggled as at least 18,000 people have died in the city since late March.
The NYPD notified the state Department of Health, which oversees funeral homes, about the situation at the Andrew T. Cleckley Funeral Home. It did not respond to an email seeking comment.
LAS VEGAS -- Nevada Gov. Steve Sisolak is extending his directive asking people to stay at home to limit the spread of coronavirus until May 15. But he will ease restrictions on other outdoor activities and some businesses starting Friday.
Sisolak’s office said Wednesday night that he would allow starting May 1 retail businesses and marijuana dispensaries to offer curbside pickup, as restaurants have been doing. He will also allow drive-in church and other religious services, as long participants stay in their cars and maintain at least 6 feet of distance from those outside their household.
The governor said he was also once again allowing golf courses, pickleball and tennis courts to open Friday, as long as they can do so safely.
The updates Wednesday night came hours after the governor teased the announcements in an interview with ABC News.
Sisolak said in the interview that Nevada’s cases and deaths from COVID-19 have reached a plateau, but he wants to see declines before lifting his directive that people stay home outside of essential trips. He said the opening of Las Vegas casinos likely won’t happen until the third or fourth phase of his gradual reopening plan, but he has has not released any more details or timeline.
The governor’s office said Wednesday night that if the numbers “continues in a positive direction” then he may ease more restrictions after May 15.
LOS ANGELES — The city of Los Angeles will offer free coronavirus testing to all residents, whether or not they have symptoms.
People can sign up online for appointments starting immediately. Priority will still be given to people with symptoms, such as a fever, cough and shortness of breath.
People will be able to go back for tests several times: there is no limit.
BEIJING — China on Thursday reported no new deaths from coronavirus and four new cases, all brought from outside the country.
The National Health Commission said 619 people were hospitalized with COVID-19 and just over 1,000 were being monitored for possibly having the illness or for testing positive for the virus but showing no symptoms. China has reported a total of 4,633 deaths from the virus among 82,862 cases.
OLYMPIA, Wash. — Washington Gov. Jay Inslee says the state has to see more progress in several areas, including the daily number of new coronavirus cases and deaths, before social distancing restrictions can safely be lifted.
He says the state’s stay-at-home order that was enacted March 23 would remain in place beyond May 4 and said he would have more details Friday on a phased-in approach to open the state’s economy.
Washington state in January had the country’s first confirmed coronavirus case, the first deadly cluster in a Seattle-area nursing home and was among the first places to institute sweeping directives designed to slow the spread of COVID-19.
LOS ANGELES -- A coalition of marijuana companies, churches and advocacy groups is asking California Gov. Gavin Newsom for a temporary cut in the state’s hefty pot taxes.
The group that includes the California State Conference of the NAACP, Los Angeles Metropolitan Churches and the industry group Southern California Coalition warned in a letter to the governor that the coronavirus crisis and a crashing economy will take an especially heavy toll on businesses run by minorities who were disproportionately targeted during the decades-long drug war.
“If action is not taken now many of our business colleagues and friends may be pushed into the gray, or worse, back into the illicit market,” said the letter, dated April 23.
“At a time where unemployment is at a record high, the legal industry is seeing its customers flock to lower priced cannabis products in the illegal market regardless of quality or safety,” the group said.
“As COVID-19 continues to disproportionately impact communities of color, our social equity businesses and our customers will be impacted even more,” the group warned.
California kicked off broad legal sales in 2018. But the state’s legal marijuana industry has long blamed tax rates that can approach 50% in some areas for driving business into the illicit market. According to some estimates, consumers are spending roughly $3 in the state’s underground pot economy for every $1 in the legal one.
PHOENIX — Arizona Gov. Doug Ducey has extended his stay-at-home order through May 15, but he is partially ending his order closing non-essential businesses.
The Republican governor says the spread of the coronavirus appears to have slowed in the state, but there’s no clear sign deaths and new cases are trending down.
He’s allowing some retail businesses to open next Monday, with more openings by the end of next week. He’s expecting restaurants to be allowed to partially reopen in about two weeks, but hasn’t yet made that official.
The governor praised the public and business community for adhering to his stay-home and closure orders, saying they saved lives.
CHEYENNE, Wyo. — Gov. Mark Gordon says Wyoming will ease some of its coronavirus restrictions on Friday, with barbershops, gyms, nail salons and child care centers among the businesses that will be allowed limited re-openings.
The changes replace health orders that are set to expire Thursday. They are the first steps in the Republican governor’s plan to restart the state economy.
Gordon also says Wyoming residents would be allowed to camp at state parks starting May 15.
WINDOW ROCK, Ariz. -- Residents on the Navajo Nation will be under another lockdown this weekend as the tribe seeks to keep the coronavirus from spreading even further into communities.
The lockdown is the fourth the tribe has implemented. It comes around the first of the month when tribal members often travel to towns bordering the reservation to shop for food and other supplies.
Tribal officials say they are working with businesses on the reservation to create safeguards for Navajo elders, such as extending shopping hours exclusively for them and others who are at high risk for contracting the coronavirus.
Anyone who doesn’t need to leave their homes for food, medicine or in the case of an emergency is being told to stay home.
As of Tuesday, the tribe’s health officials reported 1,873 positive cases of COVID-19 and 60 deaths. The 27,000 square-mile (70,000 square-kilometer) reservation stretches into Arizona, New Mexico and Utah.
LOS ANGELES — More than half the inmates at a federal prison in Los Angeles have tested positive for the coronavirus and two of them have died, officials said.
As of Wednesday, 570 of the 1,055 inmates at Federal Correctional Institution, Terminal Island had the virus, as did 10 staff members, according to the U.S. Bureau of Prisons. Two inmates have died of complications related to COVID-19, the agency said.
Many of the inmates are asymptomatic, said Los Angeles County Public Health Director Barbara Ferrer. Prison officials began testing inmates for the virus on April 23 at the facility in Los Angeles Harbor, she said.
To the north in Santa Barbara County, 36 inmates and 10 staff have tested positive at Federal Correctional Institution, Lompoc, according to the prisons bureau. At nearby U.S. Penitentiary, Lompoc, 83 inmates and 15 staff have the virus and one inmate has died, the agency said.
“The Bureau of Prisons and the Department of Justice must act immediately to reduce the incarcerated population and to protect those in BOP custody — as well as correctional officers and staff — from this deadly virus,” U.S. Sen. Kamala Harris said in a statement.
WASHINGTON — President Donald Trump says he is planning to travel to Arizona next week and is looking forward to resuming campaign rallies after spending more than a month mostly cooped up at the White House because of the coronavirus.
Trump says he is looking forward to his Arizona trip next week and also hopes to visit Ohio soon despite the fact that much of the nation remains on some sort of lockdown as the virus continues to spread.
He says: “We’re going to start to move around and hopefully in the not-too-distant future, we’ll have some massive rallies and people will be sitting next to each other.”
Trump wouldn’t say exactly when he expects to be able to resume his rallies, but said it will depend, in part, on the state.
UNITED NATIONS — The United Nations humanitarian chief says 44 cases of COVID-19 and four deaths have been announced in Syria.
Mark Lowcock tells the U.N. Security Council that a health care system decimated by nine years of war can’t be expected “to cope with a crisis that is challenging even the wealthiest nations.”
Lowcock says 43 confirmed cases and three deaths have been announced by Syrian authorities in Damascus and its surroundings, and a first case and death has been confirmed in Syria’s northeast.
He says “testing capacity remains very limited,” efforts are being made to set up isolation areas in camps, and measures aimed at containing the spread of COVID-19 are already hurting the most vulnerable.
MOSCOW — Russian officials say more than 1,000 coronavirus cases have been found among workers building a liquefied natural gas facility in the far northern Murmansk region.
The Interfax news agency cited regional officials as saying 80 cases were found Wednesday at the Belokamenka work site, bringing the total there to 1002 — more than 1% of all the cases reported in Russia.
The infections were found in a camp housing about 4,500 construction workers working for a project contractor.
There also are concerns about a similar outbreak among workers at a gas field under construction in the far-northeast Sakha region. The regional governor, Aisen Nikolayev, said this week that all the workers had been tested and the number of infections was significant, although he did not give figures.
TALLAHASSEE, Fla. — Gov. Ron DeSantis says Florida’s restaurants and retail stores will be allowed to reopen Monday at 25% capacity, if the local government allows it.
The governor specifically excluded hard-hit, heavily populated Miami-Dade, Broward and Palm Beach counties, saying their businesses will begin phase one when it is safer.
The governor also will allow hospitals and surgical centers to restart nonessential, elective procedures — but only if they have sufficient medical supplies and agree to help nursing homes and assisted living facilities prevent and respond to coronavirus outbreaks. Parks, golf courses and other outdoor recreation areas already began reopening in some counties Wednesday.
DeSantis, a Republican, is being more cautious than the neighboring state of Georgia, as well as the task force DeSantis formed last week to study how to get people back to work.
UNITED NATIONS — Climate activist Greta Thunberg is launching a campaign with a Danish foundation to help finance the U.N. childrens’ agency’s emergency program to fight the coronavirus pandemic.
Thunberg said in a statement that “like the climate crisis, the coronavirus pandemic is a child-rights crisis” that will affect youngsters now and in the long-term, especially the most vulnerable.
She urged people everywhere “to step up and join me in support of UNICEF’s vital work to save children’s lives, to protect health and continue education.”
The campaign is being launched with $100,000 from the Greta Thunberg Foundation and $100,000 from Denmark’s Human Act Foundation.
GENEVA — A top World Health Organization official says the U.N. health agency is looking into whether grandparents can safely hug their grandchildren without risk of contracting the coronavirus.
The comments from Maria Van Kerkhove, technical lead of WHO’s emergencies program, come after a top Swiss health official this week suggested that grandparents could hold young grandchildren — under age 10 — close without risk of contracting COVID-19 disease.
Most statistics show the elderly and people with pre-existing health conditions have been the overwhelming majority of victims who have died from the pandemic.
At a WHO news conference, Van Kerkhove acknowledged that many grandparents “are dying to hug their children, grandchildren” and said the issue was one of the “living reviews” conducted by WHO.
WASHINGTON — President Donald Trump says the federal government will not be extending its social distancing guidelines when they expire Thursday at the end of the month.
Trump told reporters in the Oval Office that the coronavirus guidelines will be “fading out” because of work that governors are doing in their states.
Vice President Mike Pence said the guidelines issued 45 days ago have been incorporated into guidance provided to the states on how they can begin the process of gradually reopening their economies.
The guidelines – which were originally supposed to last 15 days and were then extended another 30 - included encouraging Americans to work from home and avoid restaurants and discretionary travel as well as telling older Americans and those with serious underlying health conditions to isolate themselves.
LONDON — Britain’s official death toll from the coronavirus has jumped to more than 26,000, after deaths in nursing homes were added to the daily total for the first time.
The government says 3,811 more people died after testing positive for the coronavirus than had been previously reported.
The death toll now stands at 26,097, up from the 21,678 announced Tuesday.
Until now, hospital deaths have been reported daily, while deaths in nursing homes and other settings were reported separately on a weekly basis.
The new total is the second-highest official toll in Europe after Italy, although countries do not use exactly the same measures.
It is still likely is an underestimate because testing has not been routinely carried out in nursing homes until recently.
BERLIN — Four leading scientific research organizations in Germany say some measures imposed to curb the rate of coronavirus infections will need to remain in place until a vaccine is found or herd immunity is achieved.
They say in a joint statement that their mathematical models independently show the reproduction rate of the outbreak has been below 1 in Germany since the end of March. This means every person confirmed with COVID-19 infected fewer than one other person over the past month.
The Fraunhofer Society, the Helmholtz Association, the Leibniz Association and the Max Planck Society say the drop in new cases in Germany was thanks to restrictions and behavior changes. But they warned “the situation is not stable, even a small increase in the reproduction rate would lead us back into a phase of exponential growth.”
They say striving for herd immunity, where so many people acquire immunity that the virus is effectively stopped from spreading through the population, would require “several years” and some restrictions would need to be maintained. Experts say a vaccine likely won’t be available until next year.
The institutions urged a focus on three areas: continued hygiene measures; expanded testing and tracing capacity; and adjusted contact restrictions.
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