- Associated Press - Monday, April 20, 2020

The Latest on the coronavirus pandemic. The new coronavirus causes mild or moderate symptoms for most people. For some, especially older adults and people with existing health problems, it can cause more severe illness or death.

TOP OF THE HOUR:

- Japan PM asks citizens to be more diligent about social distancing.

- WHO doctor: “This is not the time to be lax.”

- U.N. General Assembly approves coronavirus resolution.



- China reports 11 new cases, South Korea 9.

- Trump criticizes governors who have pushed for expanded testing.

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TOKYO - Prime Minister Shinzo Abe expressed concerns Tuesday that Japanese people haven’t followed social distancing measures as much as they’re supposed to under a state of emergency he declared two weeks ago to fight the spread of the coronavirus.

Abe asked citizens to do more to prevent Japanese health care systems from collapsing.

Abe made a stay-at-home request on April 7 to reduce social interactions by as much as 80% in an effort to limit infections. But surveys show movement of people was not down that much at major train stations, and even less in downtown areas where restaurants and grocery stores are still operating.

“Please avoid making out-of-town trips,” Abe said Tuesday. He said hospitals are overburdened already and infections must be slowed. “I seek further cooperation from all of you,” he added.

Abe noted that many people in urban areas made trips out of town last weekend, posing risks of spreading the virus and putting elderly people in jeopardy.

Criticized for being too slow and lax in responding to the COVID-19 crisis, Abe expanded a state of emergency that was initially limited to Tokyo and six urban areas to all of Japan last week to prevent people from traveling as the nation approaches its extended “golden week” holidays later this month.

The number of cases in Japan has topped 11,000, and Tokyo is still reporting more than 100 daily.

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JAKARTA, Indonesia - The World Health Organization has advised that governments and societies must remain vigilant to stop transmission of the coronavirus, saying the lifting of lockdowns and other measures needs to be done gradually.

“This is not the time to be lax. Instead, we need to ready ourselves for a new way of living for the foreseeable future,” said Dr. Takeshi Kasai, WHO Regional Director for the Western Pacific.

Takeshi also said that rushing to ease or lift restrictions would “likely lead to a resurgence of diseases” and that individuals and societies need to be ready for a new way of living that “strikes the right balance” between virus measures and allowing for national and regional economies to start functioning once more.

“As we move forward in this difficult time, our lives, our health system and approach to stopping transmission must continue to adapt and evolve along with the epidemic, at least until a vaccine or very effective treatment is found. This process will need to become our new normal,” he said.

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CANBERRA, Australia - Australia will resume non-urgent surgeries beginning next week as health authorities grow more confident that hospitals won’t be overwhelmed by COVID-19 patients.

Prime Minister Scott Morrison said state and federal leaders agreed at a meeting on Tuesday that elective operations and medical procedures including in vitro fertilization would restart gradually for the first time since March 27.

The reasons for lifting the suspension of all but emergency procedures include the amount of personal protective equipment available to hospital staff, a slowing coronavirus infection rate and an improving testing system.

Only 13 new infections were detected in Australia over the 24 hours leading into Tuesday morning. There have been 6,625 patients who tested positive, and 71 have died. More than 434,000 people have been tested among Australia’s population of 25.5 million people.

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UNITED NATIONS - The United Nations General Assembly has approved a resolution calling for global action to rapidly scale up development, manufacturing and access to medicine, vaccines and medical equipment to confront the coronavirus pandemic.

The Mexican-drafted resolution requests Secretary-General Antonio Guterres work with the World Health Organization and recommend options to ensure timely and equitable access to testing, medical supplies, drugs and future coronavirus vaccines for all in need, especially in developing countries.

It reaffirms the fundamental role of the United Nations system in coordinating the global response to control and contain the spread of COVID-19 and in supporting the 193 U.N. member states, “and in this regard acknowledges the crucial leading role played by the World Health Organization.”

General Assembly President Tijjani Muhammad-Bande sent a letter to the 193 U.N. member states Monday night saying there were no objections to the resolution and it was therefore adopted.

It is the second resolution on COVID-19 approved by the world body. On April 2, the General Assembly approved a resolution recognizing “the unprecedented effects” of the pandemic and calling for “intensified international cooperation to contain, mitigate and defeat” the virus.

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HONG KONG - Hong Kong has implemented a second two-week extension on social distancing measures in the city, which includes banning public gatherings of more than four as well as keeping entertainment venues closed.

The extension will shutter businesses such as bars, pubs, beauty salons and karaoke bars until at least May 7. Restaurants, which have been allowed to operate, can only do so at half their capacity with tables spaced approximately 5 feet apart.

The measures, first implemented for two weeks at the end of March, had already been extended once through April 23.

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BEIJING - China reported another 11 coronavirus cases Tuesday, including six in the province of Heilongjiang that borders Russia.

No new deaths were reported, with the total remaining at 4,632 among 82,758 cases. Nearly another 1,000 people were under quarantine and monitoring as suspected cases or people who had tested positive for the virus but were showing no symptoms.

Despite the dramatic drop in cases, China has maintained strict social distancing rules, including a ban on foreign travelers.

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SEOUL, South Korea - South Korea has reported nine new infections of the coronavirus and one more death, bringing its totals to 10,683 cases and 237 deaths.

South Korea’s Centers for Disease Control and Prevention on Tuesday said at least 1,011 cases were linked to recent arrivals from overseas.

The country’s caseload has slowed from early March when it was reporting around 500 fresh cases a day. Infections continued to wane in the hardest-hit city of Daegu, which reported two new cases.

While calling for vigilance to maintain hard-won gains against the virus, officials have relaxed social distancing guidelines, such as lifting administrative orders advising churches, gyms and bars to close, as they discuss more sustainable forms of distancing.

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TOKYO - A crew member on an Italian-operated cruise ship docked in southern Japan has tested positive for the coronavirus, officials said.

The Costa Atlantica has been docked in Nagasaki since late January for repairs and maintenance by the Mitsubishi Heavy Industry. The infected person is among the ship’s 623 crew members. Three others also tested Monday were not infected, officials said.

On Tuesday, 56 others who had contact with the infected crew member are set to be tested for the virus. The ship carries no passengers and crew members have not left the ship since mid-March.

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DENVER - Colorado’s governor says the statewide stay-at-home order will expire next week.

Democratic Gov. Jared Polis also said he allow a gradual reopening of nonessential businesses and permit surgical procedures and other activity suspended by the coronavirus fight as long as strict social distancing and other individual protective measures continue.

Polis credited widespread compliance with statewide social distancing and shelter-in-place orders for an apparent leveling off of COVID-19 hospitalizations, allowing the most severe restrictions imposed last month to expire on April 27.

The governor urged residents who can work at home to keep doing so, to stay at home as much as possible, avoid large gatherings and wear masks and other protective gear.

Details on specific measures will be released this week, the governor said at a news briefing. State and local authorities are empowered to reimpose restrictions in response to health crises, he said.

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SALEM, Ore. - The Oregon governor’s office on Monday indicated it would adopt many points of a three-phase federal road map to reopen the state, while making provisions for sparsely populated counties.

The Trump administration plan says there first needs to be downward trajectories, during a 14-day period, of influenza-like illnesses, COVID-19-like cases, documented cases or positive tests as a percent of total tests, as well as “robust testing and contact tracing.” Oregon, however, has some counties where there are few if any COVID-19 cases.

The draft circulating among state leaders says Oregon will likely use modified metrics, especially for rural counties that have small numbers.

Under phase one in the federal guidelines, non-emergency medical procedures in hospitals would be allowed, and restaurants, sports venues, theaters and churches could open, with strict physical distancing and sanitation protocols. But the Oregon draft plan says sports venues, theaters and churches would likely remain closed. (CORRECTS that Oregon will adopt some points of federal road map to reopen states, but make specific provisions for rural areas and differ on things like sports venues.)

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HARTFORD, Conn. - Connecticut has teamed up with a group of scientists from Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Harvard University and other research institutions who’ve created a new app that will provide state officials more information about the spread of COVID-19 as they prepare to eventually reopen the state.

Gov. Ned Lamont said Connecticut is the first state to officially partner with the developers of the HowWeFeel.org app, which enables residents to report daily about how they’re feeling and their symptoms, information useful in determining the spread of coronavirus and possible new flare-ups. He encouraged people to download the app, noting it does not require logging in or sharing any personal information, such as name or email address.

It’s one of several ways the state plans to use technology to help inform officials on how and when to slowly restart parts of society. For example, Lamont said the state has received 3,500 “smart thermometers” that will upload data about residents’ temperatures to a cloud-based system. The state’s current stay-at-home order tentatively ends May 20.

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CHARLESTON, W.Va. - West Virginia Gov. Jim Justice pushed to ease coronavirus restrictions on hospitals even as state officials sent mixed messages about West Virginia’s testing capacity.

The Republican governor said he will allow hospitals to begin performing elective procedures if the facilities meet an unspecified set of criteria, saying it would be the first step to restarting the economy.

Clay Marsh, a West Virginia University health official tapped as the state’s coronavirus czar, and Bill Crouch, secretary of the state health department, said new facilities are beginning to test and that the state has partnered with LabCorp, a major lab testing company.

Marsh, who on Friday said the state could do up to 3,000 tests a week, offered dramatically different figures Monday, some in contradiction with numbers he had said minutes prior. First, he said the state could do between 4,000 to 6,500 tests in a day. Moments later, he said, “so currently we do about 2,500 tests a day, 17,000 a week, our potential in-state is 4,566 a day and 31,900 a week, and that’s not with LabCorp.”

There have only been 22,357 tests done so far statewide since the outbreak began, according to health officials. The death toll has jumped from 16 people on Friday to 26 people on Monday. At least 908 people have tested positive for the virus.

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WASHINGTON - President Donald Trump has criticized governors who’ve said they don’t have enough tests for the new coronavirus to ease restrictions on economic activity.

Many of the nation’s governors have expressed concerns about returning to a more normal course of business without greatly expanding testing.

Republican Gov. Larry Hogan of Maryland announced Monday that he had secured 500,000 tests from South Korea after more than 20 days of negotiations. He said states had been forced to fend for themselves and compete against each other for tests.

But Trump said at his daily briefing on Monday that Hogan did not understand “too much about what was going on.” Trump also says Democratic Gov. J.B. Pritzker of Illinois “did not understand his capacity.”

Trump says the administration provided governors on Monday with a list of labs where they could find additional testing capacity. The president says “we’re in very good shape on testing.”

Trump also says ”it is a complex subject,” and noted that the states should lead.

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NASHVILLE, Tenn. - Tennessee Gov. Bill Lee announced Monday that businesses across the majority of the state will begin reopening as early as next week.

The Republican governor says his mandatory safer-at-home order will expire on April 30, which will pave the way for 89 out of the state’s 95 counties to begin opening businesses.

Lee’s announcement does not apply to the state’s largest cities, including Nashville and Memphis. Those areas have their own public health districts and are not overseen by Tennessee’s Department of Health.

“While I am not extending the safer at home order past the end of April, we are working directly with our major metropolitan areas to ensure they are in a position to reopen as soon and safely as possible,” Lee said.

Some businesses will be allowed to reopen as early as April 27, but it’s unclear exactly which ones will be granted such clearance. Lee told reporters that such details would be finalized by his economy recovery team later this week.

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WASHINGTON - Social Security recipients who don’t usually file income taxes and care for dependent children have just a couple of days left to provide information so they can quickly obtain an additional $500 per child from the recently passed coronavirus bill.

Social Security officials on Monday urged beneficiaries who have children under age 17 to go to the IRS website for non-filers and enter their details by Wednesday.

The official advice applies to people who get retirement, survivors or disability benefits, who have dependent children, and who did not file 2018 or 2019 taxes. The $500 payment per eligible child is on top of the automatic $1,200 individual payment the legislation provides.

People who miss the April 22 deadline will still get the $1,200 individual payment. But they’ll have to take an extra time-consuming step and file a 2020 tax return to get the additional $500 per child.

Low-income people who get Supplemental Security Income will also need to take action to get additional payments for their children. The deadline for that group will be announced later this month.

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WASHINGTON - The Trump administration says the Department of Defense is finalizing negotiations under the Defense Production Act with a company to increase nasal swab production.

Several governors have said they need more swabs to ramp up testing for the novel coronavirus. They say greater testing is necessary to return to a more normal course of business.

Peter Navarro, who oversees efforts to incorporate the Defense Production Act in combating the spread of the virus, says the contract is being negotiated with Puritan Medical Products of Guilford, Maine.

He did not get into specifics about the amount, but he says the contract would allow Puritan to increase machine tooling and staffing with the “broader goal of increasing nasal swab production from 3 million a month to more than 20 million within 30 days of the contract award.”

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AUSTIN, Texas - The lifting of coroanvirus restrictions in Texas is underway, starting with state parks reopening.

Hikers arrived early Monday at one of Texas’ most popular outdoor spots, a giant granite dome called Enchanted Rock, for the first time since Republican Gov. Greg Abbott shuttered state parks earlier this month to curb the spread of the coronavirus. Signs instructed visitors to wear masks and stay at least 6 feet away from other hikers.

The parks are the first phase of what Abbott says will be a gradual reopening of Texas. Doctors this week will also be allowed to resume nonessential surgeries, and retail stores will be allowed to sell items curbside.

Abbott says more relaxed restrictions are coming next week. Texas has more than 19,000 cases of coronavirus and nearly 500 deaths.

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LINCOLN, Neb. - Nebraska will take a first step toward relaxing its statewide coronavirus restrictions on May 4 by allowing hospitals to resume elective surgeries if they meet certain conditions, Gov. Pete Ricketts announced Monday.

The Republican governor said he will lift the state’s ban on elective surgeries for hospitals that have at least 30% of their beds, intensive-care unit space and ventilators available. Hospitals must also have at least two weeks worth of personal protective equipment in stock for employees before can resume surgeries. The order also applies to veterinary and dental services, Ricketts said.

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ATLANTA - Georgia Gov. Brian Kemp has rolled out aggressive plans to reopen the state’s economy, saying many businesses shuttered to mitigate the spread of the coronavirus may reopen their doors as early as Friday.

The Republican governor announced that gyms, hair salons, bowling alleys and tattoo parlors are among the businesses allowed to reopen Friday - as long as owners follow strict social distancing and hygiene requirements. By Monday, movie theaters may resume selling tickets and restaurants limited to takeout orders can go back to limited dine-in service.

“In the same way that we carefully closed businesses and urged operations to end to mitigate the virus’s spread, today we’re announcing plans to incrementally and safely reopen sectors of our economy,” Kemp said.

In addition to calls from President Donald Trump, Kemp has heard scattered public calls in Georgia to lift restrictions.

At least 733 deaths statewide have been linked to the virus, the Georgia Department of Public Health said. Infections have been confirmed in nearly 19,000 people.

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Follow AP news coverage of the coronavirus pandemic at https://apnews.com/VirusOutbreak and https://apnews.com/UnderstandingtheOutbreak

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