The Latest: UN again urges global cease-fire to fight virus

International

A stranded Sri Lankan inquires about transportation from a government soldier in Colombo, Sri Lanka, Monday, May 11, 2020. Sri Lanka’s government asked state and private sector workers to resume work Monday after a nearly two-month coronavirus lockdown. (AP Photo/Eranga Jayawardena)

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:

— U.N. again urges global cease-fire to help tackle COVID-19 pandemic.

— South Korea reports 20 new coronavirus cases, China announces 4.

— Denver mail distribution center closed after employees test positive.

— Trump to order U.S. flag flown at half-staff over next 3 days as COVID-19 deaths approach 100,000.

— Michigan governor wins legal fight with lawmakers over virus.

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UNITED NATIONS — The United Nations secretary-general is again urging factions in conflict to heed his call for a global cease-fire to help tackle the COVID-19 pandemic.

In a report to the U.N. Security Council released Thursday, Antonio Guterres pointed to the more than 20,000 civilians killed or injured in 2019 attacks in 10 countries — and millions more forced from their homes by fighting. He said the pandemic is “the greatest test the world has faced” since the United Nations was established 75 years ago and has already had a severe impact on efforts to protect civilians, especially in conflict-affected countries where weak health care systems can be overwhelmed.

The U.N. chief said support for his March 23 cease-fire appeal from governments, regional organizations, armed groups, civil society and individuals throughout the world has been “encouraging” — but he said in many instances “challenges in implementing the cease-fire still need to be overcome.”

Guterres reiterated his global cease-fire call, saying “as the world confronts the monumental challenge of the COVID-19 pandemic, the need to silence the guns could not be more acute.”

He issued the appeal in his annual report to the Security Council on the protection of civilians where he stressed that the most effective way to protect them “is to prevent the outbreak, escalation, continuation and recurrence of armed conflicts.”

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SYDNEY — Leaders of Australia’s most populous state say they will lead the nation in reopening the economy, increasing the maximum number of customers restaurants can seat from 10 to 50 beginning June 1.

New South Wales Premier Gladys Berejiklian said Friday bookings will be limited to parties of 10 people when customer numbers are increased for restaurants, cafés and pubs.

Customers will have to be seated and each must be allowed four square meters (43 square feet) for social distancing.

Restrictions vary across Australia’s eight states and territories, but New South Wales is set to allow the most customers in restaurants.

Australian has reported 7,081 cases of COVID-19, and 100 patients have died.

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BEIJING — Chinese Premier Li Keqiang says China has made solid progress in fighting the coronavirus outbreak, but must “redouble our efforts to minimize the losses … and fulfill the targets and tasks for economic and social development this year.”

In his address Friday to the annual session of China’s ceremonial parliament, Li called the outbreak the “fastest spreading, most extensive, and most challenging public health emergency China has encountered since the founding of the People’s Republic” in 1949.

With the pandemic still lingering, “the tasks we face in promoting development are immense,” Li said. China, he said, wishes to strengthen cooperation with other countries on countering the virus, promoting stability in the global economy and “uphold the international system with the United Nations at its core and an international order based on international law.”

As with most countries, the outbreak has had a devastating effect on China’s economy and Li’s speech did not offer the usual target figure for economic growth, while saying the already heavily indebted government would run a deficit above 3.6 percent for the year as it seeks to mitigate the effects of the outbreak.

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SEOUL, South Korea — South Korea has reported 20 new coronavirus cases, including nine in the Seoul metropolitan area, as authorities scramble to stem transmissions while proceeding with a phased reopening of schools.

The figures announced Friday by the Korea Centers for Disease Control and Prevention brought national totals to 11,142 cases and 264 deaths. Nine other new cases were linked to international arrivals.

South Korea was reporting around 500 new cases a day in early March but has since managed to stabilize infections with aggressive tracing and testing. Officials have eased social distancing measures and began reopening schools, starting with high school seniors on Wednesday.

But students at dozens of schools in Incheon, near Seoul, were sent back home after some tested positive after visiting a karaoke room or taking private classes from a virus carrier.

Health Minister Park Neung-hoo pleaded with people Friday to avoid visiting karaoke rooms or computer gaming centers near schools to lower infection risks for students.

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BEIJING — China has reported four new confirmed cases of the coronavirus.

Another 372 people are in isolation and undergoing monitoring for being suspected cases or after testing positive without showing symptoms, and 82 remain in the hospital for treatment of COVID-19.

The new cases come as China opens the annual session of its ceremonial parliament, the National People’s Congress, which is being held largely behind closed doors in Beijing to avoid cross-infections as the country looks to avoid a second wave of cases.

China has reported 4,634 deaths among 82,971 cases since the virus was first detected late last year in Wuhan. The central Chinese industrial city moved this week to completely ban the raising and sale for human consumption of wild animals that are considered a key vector for transmission of the virus from bats to people.

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CANBERRA, Australia — Australia has extended its ban on cruise ship visits for three months until Sept. 17 in response to the coronavirus pandemic.

Australian Border Force on Friday announced the extension of the ban, which has been in place since March 27 when there were 28 cruise ships in Australian waters.

Any cruise ship capable of carrying more than 100 passengers is prohibited from operating cruises in the country.

Outbreaks linked to cruise ships and aged care homes have proven the most deadly in Australia.

The country recorded its first coronavirus death on March 1 when 78-year-old James Kwan died in a Perth hospital. He had been a passenger on the Diamond Princess cruise ship off Japan.

Australia has reported 7,081 cases of COVID-19, and 100 patients have died.

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DENVER — Denver health officials have ordered the closure of a United States Postal Service distribution center that handles all mail for Colorado and Wyoming, saying the facility has multiple confirmed cases of the coronavirus among its employees.

KUSA-TV reports state health officials confirmed five workers have tested positive for the virus at a facility that employs about 1,800. The Denver Department of Public Health and Environment issued the order Thursday, the day after investigators said they were denied full access to the facility.

The USPS said in a statement the closure notice did not cite any adverse findings and could affect the delivery of stimulus checks, prescription medications, personal correspondence and other vital goods delivered to more than 6.5 million customers in Colorado and Wyoming.

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WASHINGTON — President Donald Trump says he will order the U.S. flag to be flown at half-staff over the next three days as the death toll from COVID-19 surpasses 95,000.

Trump tweeted Thursday: “I will be lowering the flags on all Federal Buildings and National Monuments to half-staff over the next three days in memory of the Americans we have lost to the CoronaVirus.”

He said the flags will continue to be flown at half-staff on Memorial Day in honor of those in the military who died serving their country.

The move follows a request from Democratic leaders to do so to recognize a “sad day of reckoning when we reach 100,000 deaths.”

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer wrote to Trump that an order to fly the U.S. flag at half-staff would “serve as a national expression of grief so needed by everyone in our country.”

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DETROIT — Gov. Gretchen Whitmer prevailed Thursday in a high-stakes challenge from Republican lawmakers who sued over her authority to declare emergencies and order sweeping restrictions during the coronavirus outbreak.

A 1945 law cited by Whitmer, a Democrat, is not limited to local and regional emergencies only and can have no end date, said Judge Cynthia Stephens of the Court of Claims.

The lawsuit by the House and Senate grew out of frustration with Whitmer’s one-size strategy to stop the spread of the coronavirus by keeping people at home statewide and shutting down businesses, even if some regions were not harmed much by the virus or COVID-19.

The Legislature did not extend Whitmer’s disaster emergency declaration in late April but she acted anyway, pointing to the ’45 law.

The Legislature preferred a 1976 statute that gives it a say in emergency declarations after 28 days. Indeed, the judge said the governor can’t use that law to extend emergencies without input from lawmakers.

The decision was a third time that a Court of Claims judge ruled in favor of Whitmer. The other lawsuits were brought by residents, a business owner and a new group that has organized protests at the Capitol.

Also, Whitmer has further relaxed stay-at-home restrictions, saying a ban on nonessential health procedures would be lifted next week and that groups of up to 10 people can gather immediately ahead of the Memorial Day weekend.

Retailers can reopen by appointment only, starting Tuesday, as long as there are no more than 10 customers inside at a time. People also can make an appointment to visit an auto dealer showroom. Social distancing requirements remain in place.

She said Thursday that the stay-home order, which remains in effect through May 28, will likely be extended.

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LOS ANGELES — Los Angeles County’s death toll from the coronavirus has passed 2,000 even as other figures pointed to progress in slowing the spread of the infection.

The largest county in California recorded 46 more COVID-19-related deaths on Thursday for a total of 2,016.

That represents about 60% of all virus-related deaths in California. Public Health Director Barbara Ferrer calls it “a very sad milestone.”

But she also notes the average recent rates of hospitalizations and deaths in the county are decreasing and one study suggests the rate of COVID-19 prevalence didn’t rise between March and April. The county has seen more than 42,000 cases.

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OLYMPIA, Wash. — Impostors have used the stolen information of tens of thousands of people in the state to fraudulently receive hundreds of millions of dollars in unemployment benefits, the head of Washington’s Employment Security Department said Thursday.

Commissioner Suzi LeVine said that the state is currently working with federal law enforcement, financial institutions and the U.S. Department of Labor to investigate the fraud and to try and recover the money paid out during the coronavirus crisis.

LeVine said she can’t release specific numbers or details of the ongoing investigation. But she said that countermeasures taken by the state have “prevented hundreds of millions of additional dollars from going out to criminals and have prevented thousands of fraudulent claims being filed.”

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MINNEAPOLIS — Minneapolis Mayor Jacob Frey signed an emergency regulation Thursday requiring people to wear masks or other cloth face coverings starting Tuesday when they’re inside stores, hotels, recreation centers, the skyway system and other government buildings.

“With more commercial activity set to resume, it’s important that we right-size our approach to public health regulations given our city’s outsized footprint in the state,” the Democratic mayor said.

Minneapolis businesses won’t be required to provide masks to customers or employees, though employers will be required to mandate the use of masks by their workers. Violations could be punished by fines up to $1,000.

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U.S. health officials are planning to draw blood from people in 25 cities over the next year as part of one of the government’s largest studies yet to better understand how widely the coronavirus has spread.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention is partnering with two other federal agencies and other organizations to expand a study of blood donation specimens from Boston, Los Angeles, Minneapolis, New York City, San Francisco, and Seattle. The list of 19 additional metro areas has not been finalized, CDC officials said Thursday.

The researchers will be looking for antibodies that signal past coronavirus infection.

Nearly 300,000 blood samples will be tested over the next year, the CDC said. Specimen collection is supposed to begin next month and continue every month until May 2021, with one final collection in October 2021.

The goal is to see how widely the coronavirus has spread in different parts of the country.

The CDC’s partners in the project include the National Institutes of Health, The U.S. Food and Drug Administration, Vitalant Research Institute, and a number of large blood collection agencies.

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RIO DE JANEIRO — Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro said he would ratify a financial package worth 60 billion reais ($10.8 billion) to help states and cities during the pandemic and asked them in return to back his plan to freeze public servant salaries.

His video conference with governors was something of an olive branch after a tense few months. Bolsonaro has repeatedly clashed with local leaders who have introduced measures to limit the spread of the new coronavirus, such as shutting down businesses or recommending that people stay home.

The Brazilian leader says the measures could have a deadly impact on the economy and end up hurting the population more than the virus itself.

The interim health minister, Gen. Eduardo Pazuello, also held his first meeting with state and municipal health secretaries to discuss the country’s COVID-19 response.

Federal health officials said in a news conference Thursday that the number of municipalities that have registered COVID-19 cases has surged over the past two months to 3,488, which represents 60 percent of Brazilian cities.

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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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