The Latest: US vice president scolded over packed meeting
WASHINGTON — A U.S. lawmaker who represents northern Virginia suburbs is criticizing Vice President Mike Pence for meeting with dozens of Trump campaign staff packed into an Arlington office without social distancing or masks.
Pence tweeted a photo of the gathering on Wednesday but subsequently deleted it. In the tweet, Pence said he wanted to thank the staff members for their hard work and to keep it up. But it was the photo that raised concerns.
Democratic Rep. Don Beyer says the fact that Pence deleted the tweet “shows that he knows the behavior was wrong.”
Beyer said the vice president and the Trump campaign “are setting the worst possible example” He said the kind of gathering in the picture was “reminiscent of ‘super spreader’ events earlier in the pandemic” and could put people at risk.
The Trump-Pence campaign did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
Under an executive order issued by Virginia Gov. Ralph Northam, patrons in indoor places shared by groups near each other must wear face coverings. However, the order does not apply to employees, employers and independent contractors in the workplace unless they are working in customer facing areas.
HERE’S WHAT YOU NEED TO KNOW TODAY ABOUT THE VIRUS OUTBREAK:
— The World Health Organization warns pandemic is ‘accelerating’ in Africa
— Pakistan’s prime minister defends policy as infections surge
— U.S. states, South Korea and Balkan nations see cases spike after easing lockdowns.
— The COVID-19 risk at U.S. homes for people with disabilities has gotten overlooked during the coronavirus pandemic. While nursing homes have come under the spotlight, little attention has gone toward facilities that house more than 275,000 people nationwidewith conditions such as Down syndrome, cerebral palsy and autism. Many residents have severe underlying medical issues that leave them vulnerable to the virus.
— One of Thailand’s major tourist attractions is barring entry to foreigners, professing fear that they could spread the coronavirus. Signs at the main gate of Wat Pho, the Buddhist temple adjacent to the Grand Palace in Bangkok, said in English: “Open for Thai only,” “ONLY THAI PEOPLE,” and “NOW NOT OPEN FOR FOREIGNERS.”
— A U.S. company says it’s on track to begin a huge study next month to prove if its COVID-19 vaccine candidate really works. Moderna Inc. is developing the experimental shot with the National Institutes of Health. Moderna said Thursday it planned next month to test the vaccine in 30,000 volunteers. About a dozen candidates are in early stages of human testing in the global race for a vaccine.
Follow AP pandemic coverage at http://apnews.com/VirusOutbreak and https://apnews.com/UnderstandingtheOutbreak
HERE’S WHAT ELSE IS HAPPENING TODAY:
ROME — Italy has registered 379 new cases of COVID-19, most in Lombardy, the northern region where the outbreak first exploded in Europe.
The daily update provided by the Health Ministry on Thursday raised Italy’s overall total of known coronavirus infections to 236,142. Authorities say the country likely had far more cases, but that they went undetected since many with mild symptoms weren’t tested for COVID-19.
There were 53 deaths registered in the last 24 hours, increasing the overall known death toll to 34,167.
Many restrictions on daily activities were lifted in recent weeks, as authorities concluded that the pressure on the nation’s hospital system eased with a steady drop in the number of those needing intensive care.
While some two months ago more than 4,000 ICU beds were occupied by COVID-19 patients on any one day, the number on Thursday stood at 236.
ISLAMABAD — Pakistan’s prime minister is defending his policy of avoiding a complete lockdown that experts say caused a surge in COVID-19 infections and deaths across the country.
Imran Khan’s comments came hours after Pakistan for the second time recorded more than 100 COVID-19 deaths in a single day since May when his government eased lockdown.
On Thursday, Pakistan recorded 5,834 new confirmed cases, the highest single-day number of infections.
It increased overall cases to 119,536 and COVID-19 deaths climbed to 2,356 with 101 new fatalities in the previous 24 hours.
In a televised speech, Khan said Pakistan’s economy would have collapsed if he had not eased lockdown last month.
However, he urged people to adhere to social distancing regulations, warning that a further rise in coronavirus-related fatalities could be expected in coming days.
BERLIN — A court in the German capital has ruled that travelers from outside Europe don’t automatically have to go into self-quarantine when arriving in Berlin, unless there are grounds to believe they may be infected with the new coronavirus.
Berlin state’s current pandemic restrictions had stipulated that travelers from outside the EU, the EFTA countries or Britain need to self-isolate for two weeks after landing in Berlin.
But the Berlin administrative court said Thursday that such a blanket rule was untenable, though persons who are infected or suspected of having COVID-19 can still be ordered into quarantine. It noted that the quarantine rule failed to discern between countries where the pandemic is at very different stages, such as New Zealand — which has contained the outbreak — and the United States, which currently has the highest number of recorded cases worldwide.
Separately, Foreign Minister Heiko Maas confirmed Thursday that Germany is lifting its travel warning for 29 European countries on June 15.
The warnings for Spain and Norway will be lifted later due to those countries’ own entry restrictions, and travel to Sweden is currently discouraged due to the high rate of infection there.
ROME — Italy is poised to launch nationwide a contact tracing app in its efforts to contain COVID-19’s spread.
Technological Innovation and Digitalization Minister Paola Pisano told The AP Thursday that so far 2 million people have downloaded the Immuni app.
Immuni uses Bluetooth technology to notify users they have come into close, prolonged contact with an app user who has tested positive. Italy has a large elderly population, and many of them don’t have the latest phone models with Bluetooth.
Scientific experts advising the government say at least 60 percent of Italy’s 60 million people must use Immuni for it to be effective for contact tracing.
Pisano said that if everyone else does use the app then the elderly would indirectly benefit.
TORONTO — Canada’s largest city will make masks mandatory on public transit because of the pandemic.
Mayor John Tory said effective July 2 masks will be required on the TTC. Toronto has the third busiest transit system in North America behind New York City and Mexico City. Passenger traffic has plummeted.
LEDNICE, Czech Republic — Four central European prime ministers have welcomed a European Union plan to create a 750 billion-euro ($825 billion) recovery fund to help countries weather a painful recession triggered by the pandemic.
But the leaders of the Czech Republic, Hungary, Poland and Slovakia say the fund should be distributed more broadly than has been proposed.
The four countries that form an informal group known as Visegrad Four have been less affected by the pandemic. Harder hit nations, including Italy and Spain, are expected to receive the biggest sums from the EU fund.
Czech Prime Minister Andrej Babis hosted a meeting of the Visegrad Four on Thursday. He said, “It should not happen that some countries would be disadvantaged only because they coped well with the crisis.”
Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban added it would be “morally unacceptable” for richer countries to receive more than the poorer ones in central Europe.
EU leaders are set to discuss the issue next week.
JOHANNESBURG — The World Health Organization says the pandemic in Africa is “accelerating” and that while it took 98 days for the continent to reach 100,000 coronavirus cases it took just 18 days to get to 200,000.
WHO Africa chief Matshidiso Moeti said Thursday that community transmission has begun in more than half of Africa’s 54 countries and “this is a serious sign.”
The virus largely arrived on the continent via travelers from Europe and is spreading beyond capital cities and commercial hubs into more rural areas where many health systems are unequipped to handle cases that require intensive care.
Moeti pointed out South Africa, where the virus has spread from Western Cape province centered on Cape Town into the more rural Eastern Cape. South Africa has the continent’s highest number of cases with more than 55,000.
TOKYO — Tokyo has decided to lift its coronavirus “alert” after seeing the number of new cases stabilize and will pursue further easing the rules for business operations as game centers and karaoke prepare to reopen Friday.
Governor Yuriko Koike said Thursday that the “Tokyo alert” will be lifted at midnight, about 10 days after it was issued when daily new cases jumped from 13 to 34.
With the lifting of the alert, “Our economic and social activity will fully resume and we are entering a new phase,” Koike said.
Prime Minister Shinzo Abe lifted a coronavirus state of emergency and businesses cautiously started to resume. Tokyo’s alert, issued only a week after the lifting of the emergency, was meant for the residents to use extra caution without returning to stay-home or business shutdowns.
The infections have stabilized since, Koike said. With 22 cases reported Thursday, the daily average of new cases during the past week was below 20, a threshold for an alert.
MIAMI — Two more Florida theme parks were opening Thursday after being closed since mid-March to stop the spread of the new coronavirus.
SeaWorld Orlando and Busch Gardens Tampa Bay are opening their gates with new restrictions.
Reservations are now required to enter the parks in order to limit capacity to comply with social distancing requirements. But SeaWorld Orlando will be closed on future Tuesdays and Thursdays and Busch Gardens will be closed on Tuesdays and Wednesdays for the foreseeable future.
Visitors age 2 and up will be required to wear face masks and everyone will have a temperature screening at the parks’ entrances.
KABUL, Afghanistan — Afghanistan’s acting health minister is warning that the coronavirus has spread to “each and every house” in the country.
Officially, Afghanistan has about 22,800 confirmed cases of the virus with 426 fatalities, but tens of thousands of people have not been tested. The country has a population of 36.6 million.
Ahmad Jawad Osmani also said Thursday he has ordered all private hospitals to resume testing and treating COVID-19 patients. He said it will take years and cost millions if the Afghan government has to fight the virus on its own.
The World Health Organization says it has secured $70 million to help Afghanistan fight the virus.
Although the government has not announced any easing of quarantine measures, the streets of the capital Kabul are crowded with people, few of whom wear masks or gloves.
BEIJING — China’s Foreign Ministry has criticized a European Union report alleging that Beijing was spreading disinformation about the coronavirus pandemic.
Spokesperson Hua Chunying told reporters Thursday that “the EU evades many obvious facts but specifically mentions China. This undermines the credibility and authority of this report.” Hua called the accusations against China “false.”
According to the European commission, Russia and China have mounted “targeted influence operations and disinformation campaigns in the EU, its neighborhood and globally.”
Hua also criticized Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison for saying that Australia wouldn’t respond to Chinese coercion. The two countries have been sparring over Australia’s calls for an inquiry into the coronavirus pandemic.
LONDON — The U.K. Department of Health and Social Care says 67% of those who tested positive for COVID-19 have provided details of their recent contacts to the new test and trace program.
The department says 5,407 out of 8,117 people who tested positive provided details from May 28 to June 3. Of the 31,794 contacts who were identified, 26,985 were reached and advised to self-isolate.
The efforts of the program are being closely watched in the U.K. as a way to ease the nation out of its lockdown while still controlling the virus. Britain has the second-highest confirmed virus death toll in the world — over 41,000 — behind only the United States.
The head of the program, Dido Harding, said “we’re not at the gold standard yet that we want to be” of identifying and contacting all ties to new cases within 48 hours “but you can absolutely see the path of how we’re going to get there.”
BANGKOK — One of Thailand’s major tourist attractions is barring entry to foreigners, professing fear that they could spread COVID-19.
Signs at the main gate of Wat Pho, the Buddhist temple adjacent to the Grand Palace in Bangkok, say in English: “Open for Thai only” and “Now Not Open for Foreigners.”
The temple, one of the country’s grandest, is best known for housing the 46-meter (151-foot) long Reclining Buddha. The temple complied with a government closure of gathering places to fight the coronavirus by barring all visitors for two months, and reopened last Friday.
JOHANNESBURG — The head of the Africa Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says “we continue to remain hopeful” that Tanzania will cooperate by sharing its COVID-19 data even as the country’s president declared victory over the pandemic.
John Nkengasong says “they understand exactly what is at stake” in the East African nation, which has not updated its virus data since late April.
Tanzania’s number of cases remains frozen at 509, while opposition leaders have asserted there are actually tens of thousands.
President John Magufuli at a church service on Sunday declared that “corona in our country has been removed by the powers of God,” and he praised the congregation for not wearing face masks.
HELSINKI — Finland says it will ease coronavirus travel restrictions and lift internal border controls for passenger traffic with Nordic neighbors Denmark, Iceland and Norway as well the Baltic countries of Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania effective June 15.
Interior Minister Maria Ohisalo told reporters on Thursday the measure will for the time being exclude close neighbor Sweden, where the coronavirus situation is the worst in the Nordic region.
She said the Finnish government’s decision to leave Sweden out “wasn’t easy as Sweden is a very important neighbor for us. We hope this won’t affect our relations.”
Ohisalo stressed the government would reassess the situation with Sweden in two weeks.
Finland, a nation of 5.5 million, has reported 7,064 confirmed coronavirus cases with over 325 deaths. Sweden, a country of 10 million, currently has 46,814 confirmed cases and 4,795 deaths.
DUBAI, United Arab Emirates — Human Rights Watch has called on the United Arab Emirates to urgently address an outbreak of the coronavirus in at least three prisons.
The rights group said that relatives of prisoners near Abu Dhabi as well as another in Dubai say that prisoners have been denied adequate medical care and that authorities are not providing information to inmates or their families about the outbreaks of the coronavirus inside the detention centers. They reported overcrowding and unsanitary conditions in the prisons.
Family members say prison authorities transferred those exhibiting symptoms to unknown locations without testing or medical care for weeks. Relatives also said Emirati prison authorities did not increase supplies of soap or hand sanitizer and did not distribute gloves or masks to detainees.
Human Rights Watch said it wrote to the UAE’s Interior Ministry on June 7 and has received no response. It noted that in April, Emirati authorities released over 4,000 detainees, but not political detainees held for peaceful dissent.
MOSCOW — Russia’s coronavirus caseload surpassed 500,000 on Thursday, after health officials reported 8,779 new infections.
The nation’s total currently stands at 502,436 confirmed cases, including 6,532 deaths.
Experts both in Russia and abroad expressed doubts about the country’s remarkably low pandemic death toll, with some alleging that numbers were manipulated for political reasons. The Russian government repeatedly denied the allegations.
Despite recording almost 9,000 new cases daily for the past month, Russian authorities have started easing lockdown restrictions in many regions — including Moscow.
This week the Moscow mayor lifted the stay-at-home order in place since late March, allowing residents to travel freely around the city, and gave a green light for a wide range of businesses to reopen in the next two weeks.
Kremlin critics condemn the reopening as premature and link them to the vote on the constitutional reform that would allow President Vladimir Putin to stay in power until 2036, scheduled for July 1.
ANKARA, Turkey — Turkey has restarted international flights for the first time since planes were grounded on March 28 to stem the coronavirus pandemic.
Only nationals of the destination countries or those with residence permits were allowed on the flights.
Entry into the terminals was also strictly regulated, with officials checking temperatures at the entrance and only allowing passengers with valid tickets to step inside.
Turkey resumed domestic flights on June. 1.
NEW DELHI: India reported a record of nearly 10,000 new coronavirus cases on Thursday with health services in the worst-hit cities of Mumbai, New Delhi and Chennai swamped by the rising infections.
India’s tally has reached 286,579 confirmed cases, the fifth highest in the world, with 8,102 deaths, including 357 in the last 24 hours.
The spike comes as the government moved ahead with the reopening of restaurants, shopping malls and places of worship in most of India after lockdown of more than two months. Subways, hotels and schools remain closed.
The actual infection numbers are thought to be higher because of limited testing.
SEOUL, South Korea — South Korea is reporting 45 new cases of COVID-19, all but two of them in the capital region, continuing a weekslong resurgence that health authorities fear could develop into a huge wave.
The figures announced Thursday bring national totals to 11,947 cases and 276 deaths. The capital of Seoul has 21 new infections, while 22 other cases are in nearby Incheon and Gyeonggi.
South Korea has been reporting around 30 to 50 new cases a day since late May, mostly in the densely populated Seoul area where about half of South Korea’s 51 million people live.
Despite expressing concern over the steady rise in infections, government officials are resisting calls to reimpose stronger social distancing measures. They cite concerns over hurting a fragile economy.
BEIJING — China has reported a small spike in imported confirmed cases of the coronavirus to 11. There were no new deaths or cases of local transmission in Thursday’s report.
Chinese officials say just 62 people remain in treatment for COVID-19.
In addition, 130 people are under observation and isolation for showing signs of the illness or testing positive for the virus without showing any symptoms, as a safeguard against them possibly spreading it to others.
China has reported a total of 4,634 deaths from COVID-19 — a figure that hasn’t changed in weeks — among 83,057 cases recorded since the virus was first detected in the central industrial city of Wuhan late last year.