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Coronavirus updates from April 15, 2020

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More than two million COVID-19 cases have been confirmed worldwide, according to data from Johns Hopkins University. The United States accounts for about 30% of them, with almost 640,000. The disease has killed 137,000 people, including nearly 31,000 in the U.S.

Here are the major stories from today:

Detailed information from the CDC on coronavirus treatment and prevention.

 

Rams' Brian Allen first NFL player known to test positive

The first active NFL player known to have tested positive for COVID-19 has been revealed. 

On Wednesday night, Jay Glazer of FOX Sports reported on "Fox Football Now" that center Brian Allen of the Los Angeles Rams tested positive for coronavirus three weeks ago. Rams coach Sean McVay confirmed the news on the program. 

Then the team did, in a tweet, adding Allen is "feeling good, he's healthy and he's on the road to recovery."

-- Jordan Dajani, CBSSports.com

 

Big banks could see $71 billion in loans sour after coronavirus shock

The novel coronavirus has already caused unemployment around the U.S. to surge and the stock market to tumble. Now the pain is spreading to the banking industry, with lenders this week reporting that they expect tens of billion in loans to sour.

The nation's four largest banks - Bank of America, Citigroup, JPMorgan Chase and Wells Fargo - say the financial stress caused by the pandemic could cause borrowers to default on upwards of $71 billion in debt. The disclosures came as part of the biggest banks' quarterly earnings announcements. Profits plunged at all four banks, another sign of the nation's financial troubles.

The banks said the projected loan losses were as of March 31 and that their estimates factor in the impact of the government's various economic relief plans. That means the current loan-loss estimates only reflect the economic damage of the first few weeks of the coronavirus shutdown, and have probably grown in the ensuing two weeks. New York, the worst-hit state, didn't officially shutter businesses until March 22.

Read more here. 

By Victoria Albert
 

16 federal inmates have died of COVID-19, BOP says

The Bureau of Prisons announced Wednesday that two more federal inmates have died of coronavirus, bringing the total to 16. One of the inmates was incarcerated at Federal Correctional Institution (FCI) Elkton in Ohio; the other was housed at FCI Terminal Island in San Pedro, California.

CBS News has learned from a union official that another inmate died at a federal prison in Oakdale, Louisiana, but that individual was not included in Wednesday's BOP report.

More than 450 inmates and 280 staff members have tested positive for COVID-19 nationwide, the BOP said.

The government's penitentiary in Lompoc, California, has the most open COVID-19 cases among inmates and staff, with 91. North Carolina's FCI Butner Medium I has 76, and FCI Elkton has 73.

By Clare Hymes
 

United Airlines says it faced a 97% drop in demand in the first two weeks of April, compared to the same time frame in 2019

United Airlines' president and CEO said in a joint letter to employees Wednesday that the company saw a 97% drop in demand in the first two weeks of April compared to the same time frame last year. 

"Travel demand is essentially zero and shows no sign of improving in the near-term," the pair wrote. "To help you understand how few people are flying in this environment, less than 200,000 people flew with us during the first two weeks of April this year, compared to more than 6 million during the same time in 2019, a 97 percent drop. And we expect to fly fewer people during the entire month of May than we did on a single day in May 2019." 

The company also said that while it will protect U.S. employees from involuntary furloughs and pay rate cuts through the end of September 2020, there will likely be job cuts in the months that follow. 

"The challenging economic outlook means we have some tough decisions ahead as we plan for our airline, and our overall workforce, to be smaller than it is today, starting as early as October 1," the executives wrote.

San Francisco Airport Terminal Serves Very Few Passengers During COVID-19 Pandemic
A food court in the United Airlines terminal sits empty at San Francisco International Airport on April 12, 2020 in San Francisco, California.  / Getty Images
By Victoria Albert
 

IRS "Get My Payment" site leaves some people confused and frustrated

People eager to find out when they would collect their federal stimulus check flocked to the IRS's new "Get My Payment" service after it launched on Wednesday. But many are expressing confusion and concern after the site told them that the status of their payment wasn't available.

Jason Hale, 25, of Oak Park, Illinois, went on the tax agency's website early this morning to check on the status of his payment after hearing from friends that they had received the funds. But instead of getting information on when it would be deposited, a message on the site read: "Payment status not available."

"I thought, 'Maybe try it a different way. Maybe lower case'," he said. But after a few attempts at entering information, the site locked him out, indicating that he could try again in 24 hours. "It was very frustrating."

Read more here. 

By Aimee Picchi
 

Justice Department watchdog to inspect prisons amid virus spread

The Justice Department's inspector general will conduct remote inspections of Bureau of Prisons facilities to ensure they are following best practices to mitigate the spread of the coronavirus, after hundreds of federal inmates tested positive for the virus.

The review, announced Wednesday, comes as the federal prison system struggles with a growing number of coronavirus cases and complaints from inmates, advocacy groups and correction officers about how officials are handling the pandemic among their 122 facilities.

Attorney General William Barr recently sent some of his closest advisers to federal prisons identified as coronavirus hot spots, including FCC Oakdale in Louisiana, where six inmates have died, a Justice Department official said.

The attorney general's counselors were sent to observe the conditions on the ground firsthand and report back to Barr. They also visited FCI Elkton in Ohio, where five inmates have died, and FCC Butner, a prison complex in North Carolina that has seen four inmate deaths, and are expected to visit other hot spot prisons in the near future, the official said. The official could not discuss the matter publicly and spoke to The Associated Press on condition of anonymity.

Health officials have been warning for more than a decade about the dangers of epidemics in jails and prisons, which are ideal environments for virus outbreaks.

As of Wednesday evening, 451 federal inmates and 280 Bureau of Prisons staff members had tested positive for the virus. Seventeen infected inmates have died at federal prisons across the U.S. since late March.

By Associated Press
 

Antibody tests could be the key to reopening Italy's economy

In the fight against coronavirus, this may be the next frontier: testing blood for crucial antibodies that could be a sign of immunity. It takes just 15 minutes to find out if a patient has antibodies, antibodies that could save a life.

They show that a person has been exposed to the virus, and is probably no longer in danger of getting sick or transmitting the disease.

Now, with Italy's economy under threat of collapse after a month-long lockdown, the government says it's working on solutions to getting people back to work.

Antibody testing could help Italy's economy r... 01:46

Read more here.

By Chris Livesay
 

Dr. Anthony Fauci on the "absolute thing" America needs before reopening the economy

There is a battle brewing across the country over how and when Americans can get back to work. As governors across the country wrestle with how best to ease restrictions, President Trump is pushing to move quickly. But experts warn that even a gradual reopening of the economy risks a wave of new coronavirus infections.

In an interview with "CBS Evening News" anchor and managing editor Norah O'Donnell, Dr. Anthony Fauci, the nation's top infectious disease expert, weighed in on the timeline for reopening the country and discussed how Americans may have to adapt to prevent a second wave of the disease.

Fauci explains key steps to reopening the U.S... 02:43

Read more here.

 

Trump says new coronavirus guidelines are coming Thursday

Trump plans to reopen U.S. economy in May 02:22

President Trump said he'll be releasing guidelines on Thursday on how to begin to reopen the economy. Mr. Trump added that data suggests the U.S. has "passed the peak" of new coronavirus cases. 

"The battle continues, but the data suggests that nationwide, we have passed the peak on new cases," Mr. Trump said at his daily coronavirus briefing. "Hopefully that will continue, and we will continue to make great progress." 

"These encouraging developments have put us in a very strong position to finalize guidelines for states on reopening the country, which we'll be announcing," he added.

Trump virus
President Trump on April 15, 2020, in Washington, D.C. Getty
By Victoria Albert
 

Many small businesses say Paycheck Protection Program is deeply flawed

Since the federal Paycheck Protection Program launched earlier this month, small businesses across the U.S. have tapped more than $300 billion in loans as they try to survive the devastating economic tempest caused by the coronavirus. It may not be enough.

Numerous small business owners contacted by CBS MoneyWatch complain that the design of the lending initiative is overly restrictive, hampering employers that need a measure of flexibility in deciding how - and when - loans are used.

"The important point here is that this program is being touted as aid for small businesses, but in the cases of many hospitality and service businesses, its usefulness as aid to the business is actually severely limited," said Joe Walsh of Green Clean Maine, the 35-employee housecleaning company he runs in Portland, Maine.

Lawmakers didn't create the Paycheck program as a bailout for small businesses; rather, it is designed to help businesses keep workers employed. The initiative lets businesses take out a low-interest loan up to a maximum of 2.5 times their monthly payroll. The loan and accrued interest is completely forgiven as long as businesses spend the bulk of the funds to retain or rehire workers.

While that sounds good in principle, the rules effectively force business owners to continue paying employees even when enterprises remain closed and unable to generate revenue. As a result, several kinds of small businesses are a poor fit for the lending initiative, owners say. 

Read more here.

 

States move forward with coordinating coronavirus responses after Trump backs down

President Trump's decision on Tuesday to back off his insistence that he would decide when states reopen their economies came after governors grew increasingly frustrated with the White House over his comments, and moved to coordinate their own efforts.

Ten governors, all but one of whom is a Democrat, have formed two multi-state coalitions on both coasts to determine how and when to ease restrictions put in place to slow the spread of the coronavirus, planning that state officials say has begun in earnest.

The governors of seven northeastern states announced Monday that they would join forces to develop plans to begin lifting restrictions on individuals and businesses.

The northeastern alliance — which for now includes New York, New Jersey, Connecticut, Rhode Island, Pennsylvania, Delaware and Massachusetts — could expand in the coming days to include other New England states like Maine, New Hampshire and Vermont. Massachusetts Governor Charlie Baker is the only Republican currently in the coalition.

The Democratic governors of California, Oregon and Washington also announced a "Western States Pact" on Monday to "work together on a shared approach for reopening our economies — one that identifies clear indicators for communities to restart public life and business."

Read more here.

By Grace Segers
 

Maryland governor requires face masks in all businesses and on public transit

Maryland Governor Larry Hogan signed an executive order Wednesday requiring that people wear face masks or coverings in all businesses and on public transit, according to CBS Baltimore. The order comes just hours after New York Governor Andrew Cuomo announced a similar measure. 

The order will take effect on Saturday morning, Hogan said, and will include interactions with Uber or Lyft drivers and delivery workers. Hogan added that all essential business owners must require their staff to cover their faces, CBS Baltimore reported. 

Earlier Wednesday, Governor Cuomo said he is signing his own executive order mandating that all New Yorkers must have a mask or face covering in situations where they can't maintain social distancing in public. Cuomo cited multiple examples of such situations, including using public transportation or walking in a busy neighborhood.

Maryland hospital coronavirus
Nurses administer coronavirus testing at a drive-up facility at MedStar St. Mary's Hospital on April 14, 2020, in Leonardtown, Maryland. Getty
 

Massachusetts becomes fifth state with more than 1,000 virus deaths

Massachusetts has become the fifth U.S. state to report more than 1,000 coronavirus deaths, following New York, New Jersey, Michigan and Louisiana. Governor Charlie Baker warned that the state was still "in the surge" of the pandemic.

Massachusetts has now confirmed 1,108 deaths from the virus, after reporting 151 new deaths on Wednesday. The state now has at least 29,918 confirmed cases overall, with more than 20% of them in Suffolk County, which includes Boston. 

Boston Mayor Marty Walsh said Wednesday that the city was only "at the beginning of the surge," with 4,286 coronavirus cases and 84 deaths confirmed. He said models showed the virus is expected to peak in Boston between April 26 and 28.

"I think that we're still in the beginning stages," Walsh said. "I think we're going to be, quite honestly, practicing and saying about social distancing and washing hands for quite some time."

Read more here.

By Jason Silverstein
 

California health officials working on digital tool to track coronavirus

San Francisco health officials have unveiled an innovative high-tech system for tracking residents who have had contact with someone infected with COVID-19, CBS San Francisco reported. The hope is to fulfill one of Governor Gavin Newsom's key requirements for lifting the shelter-in-place order in the coming months.

The new program, which is in a testing phase, is a partnership between multiple organizations that digitizes a workflow to support contact tracing and monitoring of people who are potentially infected with COVID-19.

Those who have come in contact with someone infected with the coronavirus will be able to receive daily text messages or phone calls checking in on their health and symptoms throughout the 14-day monitoring period. They will be able to self-report symptoms via text, immediately alerting public health officials that follow up or testing may be required.

Read more here.

 

Former President Jimmy Carter criticizes Trump's decision to halt WHO funding

Former President Jimmy Carter said Wednesday that he's "distressed" by President Trump's decision to halt funding to the WHO as the coronavirus spreads across the world.

"I am distressed by the decision to withhold critically needed U.S. funding for the World Health Organization, especially during an international pandemic," Mr. Carter said, according to a statement from The Carter Center. "WHO is the only organization capable of leading the effort to control this virus."

Cincinnati Bengals v Atlanta Falcons
Former president Jimmy Carter on September 30, 2018, in Atlanta. Getty
By Victoria Albert
 

Mayo Clinic says lab can soon meet testing requirement to reopen Minnesota

Within a day of Minnesota Governor Tim Walz requiring 5,000 COVID-19 tests per day before the state can start reopening businesses, Dr. William Morice, chair of the Mayo Clinic's Department of Laboratory Medicine, said his team can meet that capacity. He says the clinic can produce 8,000 swab tests and 10,000 blood tests within a few weeks of getting the green light from health officials.

"Really we started working on our first diagnostic testing in early February when we were getting signals from China that this was going to be difficult to manage," Morice said.

The swab test checks for a diagnosis, while the blood test checks for antibodies, which would suggest the patient has recovered from coronavirus, perhaps without showing any symptoms.

Read more at CBS Minnesota.

 

Protests break out in Michigan over state's stay-at-home order

Michigan residents who oppose Governor Gretchen Whitmer's stay-at-home order caused intentional gridlock on Wednesday by descending on the state's capitol in Lansing. Protesters in cars honked their horns and decorated their vehicles with flags in support of President Trump, and signs reading "let us work." 

Last week Whitmer extended the state's "stay home, stay safe" order through April 30. Michigan has the third-highest number of COVID-19 cases in the country, according to Whitmer. 

michigan coronavirus protest
People take part in a protest for "Michiganders Against Excessive Quarantine" at the Michigan State Capitol in Lansing, Michigan, on April 15, 2020. Getty

In response to the order's extension, a Facebook event titled "Operation Gridlock" called for people to drive around the capitol building in protest. 

"Everyone, every citizen, every business owner needs to get out of their house, out of their chair and get in their car, or truck, or anything that is legal to drive on taxpayer-funded roads," reads the Facebook event page, created by the Michigan Conservative Coalition and Freedom Fund. 

"Come prepared for a traffic jam in Lansing! We WANT gridlock. Do not park and walk - stay in your vehicles!"

In response to plans for the protest, Whitmer said earlier this week that she understands people's frustration, but asked protestors to remain safe. 

Read more here.

By Audrey McNamara
 

615 USS Theodore Roosevelt crew members test positive

The Navy said Wednesday that 615 USS Theodore Roosevelt crew members have tested positive for the coronavirus. Five sailors are being treated in the U.S. Naval Hospital Guam, including one in intensive care "due to shortness of breath."

The Navy said it has now tested 94% of the nuclear aircraft carrier's crew members for the virus. As of Wednesday, 4,046 of the ship's sailors have been moved ashore. It is unclear how many sailors remain on the ship, which is docked in Guam.

Roosevelt's former captain, Brett Crozier, alerted higher-ups of the outbreak through a memo in March. Crozier was fired after a copy of his alarming memo became public.  

By Audrey McNamara
 

Cuomo: New Yorkers must wear face coverings in public if they can't maintain social distancing

New York Governor Andrew Cuomo on Wednesday said he is signing an executive order stating all New Yorkers must have a mask or mouth and nose covering when they are not maintaining social distancing in public. Cuomo laid out several situations where people should wear masks, including riding public transit, standing on a subway platform or walking in a busy neighborhood. 

"[If] you're not going to be able to maintain social distancing, you must wear a mask or cloth or an attractive bandana or a color-coordinated bandana, but you have to wear it in those situations," Cuomo said. 

People who violate the order could eventually face a civil penalty. "You're not going to jail for not wearing a mask," Cuomo said.  

By Justin Carissimo
 

New York will conduct 2,000 antibody tests per day, Cuomo says

New York Governor Andrew Cuomo said Wednesday the best tool to reopen the economy is large-scale testing, to find out who has COVID-19 and who has coronavirus antibodies. 

He said the New York State Department of Health has developed its own antibody test – a test that is in the state's control. "We'll actually do those tests. We don't need a private lab," he said.

This week, the state will begin conducting 2,000 finger-prick antibody tests per day. First responders, healthcare workers and essential workers will be prioritized, he said.

State officials have also asked the FDA for expedited approval of an antibody test that could test up to 100,000 people per day, he said. "That's then 500,000 a week, if you don't work the weekends," Cuomo said.

"We've only done 500,000 to date, so you get a sense of how powerful that would be if the FDA approves that," he said. 

By Justin Carissimo
 

7 USNS Mercy crew members test positive for coronavirus

The U.S. Navy reports that seven crew members aboard the USNS Mercy docked in Los Angeles, California, have tested positive for the coronavirus. The crew, who were all working in the hospital ship's medical treatment facility, have been isolated off the ship, according to a Navy press release issued Wednesday. 

More than 100 other crew members "considered to have been in contact with the COVID-19 positive crewmembers" are also in quarantine off the ship. According to the Navy, only one of those crew members has tested positive for COVID-19.

The Navy said the positive cases "will not affect the ability for Mercy to receive patients at this time." 

By Audrey McNamara
 

Cuomo: "We're still in the woods"

New York Governor Andrew Cuomo said Wednesday that while New Yorkers have shown they can "change the curve" and control the spread of the coronavirus, there are still about 2,000 people a day who are being diagnosed with COVID-19 in the state. 

"We're still in the woods," he said.

He reported 752 new deaths due to the virus – close to the number of deaths the day before: 778 fatalities.

Cuomo said, however, that the healthcare system has basically stabilized and the "infection spread" is down to a "manageable number."

By Sarah Lynch Baldwin
 

Latino lawmakers call for farmworkers to be shielded from deportation during pandemic

Latino lawmakers on Wednesday asked Democratic and Republican congressional leaders to include protections for the nation's farmworkers in the next coronavirus relief package, urging them to grant agricultural laborers additional economic support, as well as a temporary reprieve from deportation for those without legal status.

As workers who are critical to the nationwide response to the deadly pandemic, which has killed more than 26,000 people in the U.S., undocumented farmworkers should be shielded from immigration enforcement until Congress places them on a pathway towards legalizing their status, 36 lawmakers in the Congressional Hispanic Caucus said in a letter to the top Democrats and Republicans in the House and Senate. 

According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture, about 50% of the nation's farmworkers are undocumented. Estimates by advocacy groups place that number higher, closer to 75%. Last month, the U.S. Department of Homeland Security designated agricultural workers as part of the nation's "essential critical infrastructure" workforce. President Trump said the workers have a "special responsibility" to continue their "normal work schedule."

Read more here.

By Camilo Montoya-Galvez
 

America's top infectious disease doctor explains how sports could return amid pandemic

Dr. Anthony Fauci, America's top infectious disease doctor, gave some hope to sports fans who are worried about missing out on baseball and football this year. 

In an interview on Snapchat's "Good Luck America," Fauci said major sports could possibly return by holding events without fans in arenas and by keeping players in hotels and "very well surveilled."

"There's a way of doing that. Nobody comes to the stadium. Put them in big hotels, you know, wherever you want to play, keep them very well surveilled. Have them tested like every week and make sure they don't wind up infecting each other or their family and just let them play the season out," Fauci said. 

"I mean people say, 'Well, you know you can't play without spectators.' Well, I think you'd probably get enough buy-in from people who are dying to see a baseball game, particularly me! I'm living in Washington, we have the world champion Washington Nationals, I want to see them play again."  

Peter Hamby Interviews Dr. Anthony Fauci | Good Luck America | Snap Originals by Snap Originals on YouTube
By Justin Carissimo
 

New Zealand prime minister takes 20% pay cut

In a time of global crisis, many world leaders are taking unique steps to handle the unprecedented situation. New Zealand Prime Minsiter Jacinda Ardern is now in the spotlight after announcing Wednesday that she and other top government officials would take a 20% pay cut during the coronavirus pandemic.

"Today I can confirm that myself, government ministers and public service chief executives will take a 20% pay cut for the next six months as we acknowledge New Zealanders who are reliant on wage subsidies, taking pay cuts and losing their jobs as a result of COVID-19's global pandemic," Ardern said during a press briefing.

Read more here.

By Sarah Lynch Baldwin
 

Report claims Russian state-run news agency boss behind fabricated story on U.K. prime minister's hospitalization

A new report claims it was the senior management of Russia's state-run news agency RIA-Novosti that fabricated an April 5 story claiming British Prime Minister Boris Johnson was to be put on a ventilator while hospitalized with COVID-19.

Latvia-based Meduza, a highly-regarded independent online media outlet that covers Russia — and has had run-ins with Russian officials previously — reported Wednesday that RIA Novosti's story was initiated by the agency's editor-in-chief Margarita Simonyan, who also runs the pro-Kremlin television network RT.

The RIA article cited an unnamed source "close to the leadership of England's NHS" after Johnson was hospitalized for COVID-19. It was published from Moscow by senior management despite carrying a "London" dateline, Meduza said, adding that the Russian agency's journalists in Britain didn't even know about it before it was published.

The story, which was shared widely online, was never confirmed and Johnson's office at 10 Downing Street dismissed it as disinformation.

Johnson was discharged on Sunday, and British officials say he was given oxygen, but never intubated to be put on a ventilator. Simonyan hasn't commented on Meduza's report.

By Alexandra Odynova
 

Several states postpone or cancel primaries in response to pandemic

Former Vice President Joe Biden is considered the presumptive Democratic nominee for president, but several states have yet to hold primary elections. Some states have either postponed or canceled their primaries, due to concerns about in-person voting in the midst of the coronavirus pandemic.

In March, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommended that no gatherings with 50 people or more take place for two months, and the White House has also recommended that individuals not gather in groups larger than 10 people. Nonetheless, Wisconsin held its primary on April 7, after state Republicans blocked efforts to postpone the election. Biden won the Wisconsin primary.

For the most part, however, states have taken action to ensure the safety of its citizens while voting. June 2 could be considered the new Super Tuesday, as six states have moved their primaries to that date. Other states have canceled in-person voting entirely in favor of vote-by-mail. Puerto Rico postponed its March 29 primary, but a new date has not yet been selected.

Read more here.

By Grace Segers
 

New York City mayor urges caution in reopening economy

New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio urged a cautious and deliberative approach to reviving the economy, pushing that moving too quickly could create an opportunity for the coronavirus to come roaring back. De Blasio, whose city is the epicenter of the U.S. outbreak, said Wednesday that some parts of Asia have experienced a virus resurgence after reopening.

"We cannot allow that," the Democrat told "Fox and Friends" a day after President Trump said he'd work with governors on a plan to return things to normal nationwide by the end of the month or even sooner. "We get one chance to get it right."

"I think we have to be smart about doing it in stages, making sure that we can confirm that we're containing the disease more and more, getting it back to where it was a month or two ago, before we start to open up a lot," he said.

De Blasio spoke after the city's health department revised its death toll by adding 3,778 "probable" coronavirus deaths among people who showed coronavirus symptoms but were never tested, raising the city's virus toll to more than 10,000. 

By Associated Press
 

As coronavirus hits South America, Brazil's president continues mocking the threat

South America is struggling to stop the spread of the new coronavirus, and cases in countries including Brazil and Ecuador are likely being underreported, researchers say. Brazil has reported more than 25,000 cases, but researchers believe the real number could be 10 times higher.

Protecting Brazil's poorest neighborhoods is often a do-it-yourself project. Locals have been seen fumigating on their own, and makers of costumes for Rio de Janeiro's renowned Carnaval are now sewing medical scrubs instead.

Even as cases spike, the country's autocratic president Jair Bolsonaro continues to mock the threat posed by the virus, posting on YouTube cheery appearances at doughnut shops and glad-handing with supporters.

In Ecuador, meanwhile, nearly 2,000 bodies have reportedly been collected for burial in the largest city of Guayaquil, some put into cardboard caskets amid shortages of wooden ones. Many were left in the streets for days.

Latin America struggles with coronavirus 02:17
 

Pompeo thanks South Korea for shipment of thousands of COVID-19 test kits

Secretary of State Mike Pompeo thanked South Korea for making thousands of COVID-19 test kids available for purchase by the U.S. government on Wednesday, as the desperately needed supplies made their way from Asia to the U.S.

Pompeo said the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) had purchased the test kits, which are a vital tool in building a clear picture of how far-spread the new corona virus is in the U.S., and one which has been in short supply.  U.S. officials have said that about 600,000 COVID-19 tests are coming from South Korean companies.

As the Trump administration faces condemnation from around the world over President Trump's sharp criticism of the World Health Organization and his decision to suspend funding for the U.N. agency, Pompeo lauded the South Korean government and said in a tweet: "Partners and allies stand together. #WeAreInThisTogether."  

The test kits were expected to arrive in the U.S. this week.

By Tucker Reals
 

Iran point's to Trump's halting WHO funds as evidence that U.S. policy "kills people"

Iran said Wednesday the world is learning that the United States "kills people," after President Donald Trump suspended U.S. funding for the World Health Organization amid the coronavirus pandemic.

The U.S. president on Tuesday ordered that payments amounting to $400 million be halted pending a review of the WHO's role in allegedly "severely mismanaging and covering up the spread of the coronavirus."

Trump says WHO funding will be halted 08:16

The death toll from the COVID-19 pandemic has topped 125,000 around the world, with more than two million people infected by the disease since December.

Iran's Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif likened the funding freeze to Washington's "maximum pressure" campaign against his country.

"The shameful defunding of WHO amid a pandemic will live in infamy," Zarif wrote on Twitter. "The world is learning what Iran has known & experienced all along... US regime's bullying, threatening & vainglorious blathering isn't just an addiction: it kills people."

— AFP

 

Stimulus check tracking site goes live in bid to speed emergency payments

With millions eagerly awaiting their federal stimulus checks to help them weather the the coronavirus recession, Americans can now find out when they can expect to get their money after the government on Wednesday launched a tracking tool called "Get My Payment."

The first batch of stimulus checks — or "economic impact payments," as they're officially known — started hitting consumers' bank accounts on Saturday, the Internal Revenue Service said. But millions remain unsure of when their payments will arrive because it depends on personal income level and whether the IRS has direct-deposit information for individual tax payers. Consumers can also use the site to update their mailing address if they've moved since they last filed tax returns.  

The "Get My Payment" service went live Wednesday at IRS.gov. It allows consumers to check their payment status, confirm whether they prefer direct deposit or a paper check, and enter their bank account information for direct deposit if the IRS doesn't have it yet. 

By Aimee Picchi
 

German zoo warns it may have to "slaughter animals to feed other animals" as virus blocks visitors

The shutdown of businesses over the coronavirus pandemic has plunged German zoos into a financial crisis as visitors are banned, leading one to consider drastic measures.

The spring sunshine would normally see German zoos and animal parks packed, but with no visitors, the Neumünster Zoo in northern Germany is begging for more donations, and warning that it might have to feed some of its animals to others in the park to keep them alive.

Plans for such a last-straw slaughter have already been drawn up, the zoo said.

Like all zoos in Germany, the Neumünster Zoo is currently relying entirely on donations. 

"Worst case scenario, if I no longer have any money to buy food, or if it should happen that my food supplier is no longer able to supply me due to new restrictions, then I would slaughter animals to feed other animals," zoo director Verena Caspari told German daily Berliner Morgenpost.

The Association of Zoological Gardens, to which 56 zoos and animal parks in Germany belong, has approached Chancellor Angela Merkel with a request for about 100 million euros in emergency aid. — Anna Noryskiewicz 

Read more here.

 

2 McDonald's in Hawaii linked to a dozen coronavirus cases

Hawaii officials said Tuesday a cluster of 12 COVID-19 cases had been linked to two McDonald's locations in Kailua Kona, a town on the Big Island. The state Health Department said seven workers and five of their family members had tested positive for COVID-19.

Officials said they don't believe any customers were affected.

The eateries are in a mall and inside a Walmart. Both have been closed for a deep cleaning but their owner said workers had been wearing protective gear and following proper social distancing protocols to protect customers.

Click here to read more.

 

Senior EU diplomat says "no reason justifying" Trump's decision to halt WHO funding

A senior European Union official joined the growing chorus of condemnation Wednesday of President Trump's decision to halt U.S. funding for the World Health Organization. 

EU High Representative for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy Josep Borrell Fontelles said there was "no reason justifying this move at a moment when their [WHO's] efforts are needed more than ever to help contain & mitigate the #coronavirus pandemic." 

By Tucker Reals
 

Moscow digital travel permit system meant to curb COVID-19 leads to dangerous crowding

The first day of Moscow's new digital travel permit system, meant to limit the spread of the coronavirus, brought traffic jams and crowds of people outside subway stations, raising criticism and health concerns. Moscow has been hit hardest by Russia's COVID-19 outbreak, which by Wednesday had seen almost 24,500 confirmed cases.  

This week the government mandated travel permits for all people using public or private transport in the Moscow region in a bid to enforce a nationwide lockdown. The Kremlin has ordered all non-essential business closed until the end of the month, and all non-essential workers are only allowed to leave their homes to walk their dogs, get groceries nearby or visit pharmacies or doctors offices.

But on Wednesday morning, photos and videos posted to social media showed scores of people standing close to each other outside subway entrances as they waited for their newly-required permits to be checked by security officers.

"Those who are not sick yet will definitely get sick now," one commuter said on Twitter, with a photo of a long line.

On the roads, traffic police were checking all cars driving into the city, causing massive traffic jams at nearly all entryways to the capital. 

Moscow Mayor Sergei Sobyanin blamed the lines on the police, and promised to work out an automated system to check travelers' permits.

By Alexandra Odynova
 

Russia says U.S. should "refrain from further attacks" on WHO, stop finding "someone to blame"

Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Sergei Ryabkov on Wednesday defended the World Health Organization as a respected global body, a day after President Trump blamed the U.N. agency for the dizzying death toll caused by the new coronavirus and accused it of mishandling the world response to the crisis.

"We are calling on the U.S. to refrain from further attacks on the WHO and pursue a responsible policy, which would not ruin the basis of international cooperation in the medical and biological field, but on the contrary would enhance this cooperation and create a basis for its further development," Ryabkov said, according to Russia's TASS news agency.

Russian officials said the decision by Mr. Trump showed the White House's priority was to scapegoat other institutions as the U.S. grapples with the world's deadliest COVID-19 outbreak.  

"Politicians in that country always have someone to blame," Foreign Ministry Spokeswoman Maria Zakharova told TASS. "The most important thing is to find a fictitious 'test tube' and present it to the world as evidence of the guilt of others, and its own flawlessness."  

By Tucker Reals
 

Germany slams Trump's WHO payment freeze

Germany slammed Wednesday the U.S. decision to suspend payments to the World Health Organization (WHO), as Foreign Minister Heiko Maas warned against "blaming others" for the coronavirus crisis. 

"Blaming others won't help. The virus knows no borders," Maas wrote on Twitter. "One of the best investments is to strengthen the UN, above all the under-financed WHO... in the development and distribution of tests and vaccines." 

The United States is the biggest contributor to the WHO, making payments of $400 million last year. Mr. Trump accused the Geneva-based body of putting "political correctness above life-saving measures." 

The move sparked criticism across the world, and Maas joined the chorus on Wednesday, stressing the need for countries to "work together closely against COVID-19." 

Maas has previously taken aim at the Trump administration's reaction to the virus crisis. In an interview with Der Spiegel magazine last week, he said the United States had "played down the virus for a very long time." 

"There really isn't any dispute, even in the USA, that many of the measures were taken too late," he told Spiegel. 

AFP

 

India to start easing some lockdown measures in 5 days in bid to salvage its economy

A day after Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi extended the nationwide lockdown aimed at curbing the coronavirus until May 3, his government has announced plans to relax the measures in some areas less affected by the COVID-19 disease in a bid to revive the failing economy. 

The government said that in rural areas where the virus is slowing, from April 20 all farm activity and construction work, and some industry, would be allowed to resume. The inter-state transport of goods and e-commerce would also be allowed to resume throughout the country to help maintain supply chains for food and essential items.

However, in "hotspots" and "red zones" — areas where a high number of coronavirus cases have been found — no economic activity will be permitted to restart yet. India has reported nearly 11,500 cases of COVID-19 and 377 deaths.  

The relaxation of the lockdown measures will help some of the 450 million members of the nation's informal workforce, most of whom have been out of work since the lockdown began on March 25, find work again.

By Arshad R. Zargar
 

Bill Gates calls Trump's decision to withhold WHO funding "as dangerous as it sounds"

Billionaire philanthropist and Microsoft co-founder Bill Gates has said President Trump's decision to suspend hundreds of millions of dollars of U.S. funding for the World Health Organization in the midst of a global coronavirus pandemic "is as dangerous as it sounds."

Gates has been warning about the threat of a global pandemic since 2015 and has committed $100 million to fight the coronavirus through the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation.    

Mr. Trump announced the halt in U.S. funding Tuesday, accusing the U.N. health agency of deliberately misleading the world about the gravity of the COVID-19 outbreak in China and blaming it for the high death tolls around the world. 

In a tweet sent hours later, Gates said the WHO's "work is slowing the spread of COVID-19 and if that work is stopped no other organization can replace them. The world needs @WHO now more than ever."

By Tucker Reals
 

Search for vaccine heats up in U.S. and China

Three potential COVID-19 vaccines are making fast progress in early-stage testing in volunteers in China and the U.S., but it's still a long road to prove if they'll really work.

China's CanSino Biologics has begun the second phase of testing its vaccine candidate, China's Ministry of Science and Technology said Tuesday.

In the U.S., a shot made by the National Institutes of Health and Moderna Inc. isn't far behind. The first person to receive that experimental vaccine last month returned to a Seattle clinic Tuesday for a second dose. NIH infectious disease chief Dr. Anthony Fauci told The Associated Press there are "no red flags" so far and he hoped the next, larger phase of testing could begin around June.

A third candidate, from Inovio Pharmaceuticals, began giving experimental shots for first-step safety testing last week in the U.S. and hopes to expand its studies to China.

By Associated Press
 

South Koreans vote in national elections amid virus fears

South Korean voters are wearing masks and moving slowly between lines of tape at polling stations to elect lawmakers in the shadows of the coronavirus. 

The government has resisted calls to postpone the parliamentary elections billed as a midterm referendum for President Moon Jae-in. He enters the final years of his term grappling with a historic public health crisis that is unleashing massive economic shock.

South Koreans are deeply divided along ideological and generational lines and regional loyalties. But recent surveys showed support for Moon and his liberal party, reflecting the public's approval of an aggressive test-and-quarantine program so far credited for lower fatality rates compared to areas worse hit by the virus. 

By Associated Press
 

UN chief speaks out after Trump halts U.S. funding for WHO: "Now is the time for unity"

United Nations Secretary-General António Guterres urged unity among world powers Tuesday, hours after President Trump said he would halt funding for the World Health Organization.

Guterres reiterated a statement he made on April 8, in which he wrote, "Once we have finally turned the page on this epidemic, there must be a time to look back fully to understand how such a disease emerged and spread its devastation so quickly across the globe, and how all those involved reacted to the crisis. The lessons learned will be essential to effectively address similar challenges, as they may arise in the future. But now is not that time."

"It is not that time," he stressed on Tuesday. "It is also not the time to reduce the resources for the operations of the World Health Organization or any other humanitarian organization in the fight against the virus."

"As I have said before, now is the time for unity and for the international community to work together in solidarity to stop this virus and its shattering consequences," Guterres said.

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