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    Police are investigating a break-in at a Dutch art museum that is currently closed because of restrictions aimed at slowing the spread of the coronavirus, the museum and police said Monday. It wasn't immediately clear if any paintings or art were stolen in the raid in the early hours of Monday morning on the Singer Laren museum east of Amsterdam. The museum did not release any details. It scheduled a news conference for Monday afternoon. Before the closure, the museum was hosting an exhibition titled “Mirror of the Soul. Toorop to Mondriaan” in cooperation with Amsterdam’s Rijksmuseum. The museum houses the collection of American couple William and Anna Singer, with a focus on modernism such as neo-impressionism, pointillism, expressionism and cubism.
  • The outbreak of the coronavirus has dealt a shock to the global economy with unprecedented speed. Following are developments on Monday related to the global economy, the work place and the spread of the virus. ___ REPURPOSING STAFF: Britain’s health service is asking airline cabin crew who have been laid off during the coronavirus pandemic to go to work in temporary new hospitals being built to treat COVID-19 patients. The National Health Service says easyJet and Virgin Atlantic are writing to thousands of staff - especially those with first aid training - asking them to work at hospitals being built inside convention centers in London, Birmingham and Manchester. It said those who sign up will perform support roles under the supervision of doctors and nurses. ___ AIRLINES: European budget airline easyJet says it is grounding all of its 344 aircraft amid a collapse in demand. It said there was “no certainty of the date for restarting commercial flights.” The carrier based in Luton, England, had already canceled most of its flights and said it has reached an agreement with unions on furlough arrangements for its cabin crew. Many airlines around the world are negotiating or calling for financial rescue packages from governments. Easyjet said it was in talks with financial liquidity providers. Britain’s government has so far demurred from creating a rescue package for aviation but has said it is ready for negotiations with individual firms once they had “exhausted other options.” Scottish regional airline Loganair said it expects to ask for a government bailout. ___ HANDOUTS: South Korea will provide as much as 1 million won ($817) in gift certificates or electronic coupons to all but the richest 30% of households to help ease the financial shock of the coronavirus outbreak. The country will spend around 9.1 trillion won ($7.4 billion) on the one-time giveaways, which will reach 14 million households. Officials are ruling out handouts of cash. South Korea’s has employed a variety of financial tools to support its economy in face of the global health crisis, such as cutting its policy rate to an all-time low, expanding short-term loans for financial institutions and introducing a rescue package for companies totaling 100 trillion won ($81.7 billion).
  • In an abrupt turnaround, President Donald Trump extended lockdown measures across the United States as deaths in New York from the new coronavirus passed 1,000. Spain on Monday became the third country to surpass China in infections after the United States and Italy. With a population of only 47 million to China's 1.4 billion, Spain’s tally of infections reached 85,195, an 8% rise from the previous day. Spain also reported 812 new deaths, raising its overall virus death toll to 7,300. The health systems in Italy and Spain have been crumbling under the weight of caring for so many desperately ill patients at once. The two nations have more than half the world's 34,600 deaths from the virus that has upended the lives of billions of people and devastated world economies. At least six of Spain's 17 regions were at their limit of ICU beds and three more were close to it, authorities said, while crews of workers are frantically building more field hospitals. In hard-hit Madrid, flags were hoisted at half staff for an official mourning period. Even as the rate of new infections slows in Spain, Dr. Maria José Sierra said there's no end to the restrictions in sight yet. “Reducing the pressure on the ICUs will be important for considering de-escalation measures,” said Sierra, who took over Monday as the health emergency center's spokesperson after its director, Fernando Simón, tested positive. In a situation unimaginable only a month ago, Italian officials were cheered when they reported only 756 deaths in one day. ‘’We are saving lives by staying at home, by maintaining social distance, by traveling less and by closing schools,' Dr. Luca Richeldi, a lung specialist, told reporters. In a stark reversal of his previous stance, Trump extended federal guidelines recommending that Americans stay home for another 30 days until the end of April to slow the spread of the virus. The turnabout came after Dr. Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, said up to 200,000 Americans could die and millions become infected if lockdowns and social distancing did not continue. “We want to make sure that we don't prematurely think we're doing so great,” Fauci said. The U.S. now has more than 143,000 infections and 2,500 deaths, according to Johns Hopkins University, while around the world 732,000 people are infected. The true number of cases is thought to be considerably higher because of testing shortages and mild illnesses that have gone unreported. Moscow went on its own lockdown Monday as all of Russia braced for sweeping nationwide restrictions. The Russian capital of 13 million accounts for more than 1,000 of the country's 1,836 coronavirus cases. “The extremely negative turn of events we are seeing in the largest European and U.S. cities causes extreme concern about the life and health of our citizens,” Moscow Mayor Sergei Sobyanin said. An electronic monitoring system will be used to control residents' compliance with the lockdown, he said. In Italy, which has by far the most deaths from the virus worldwide, officials expressed cautious optimism that the drastic measures they have taken to keep people apart are having an impact. Italy has reported 97,689 infections and 10,779 deaths, but said the number of positive cases in the last day increased just 5.4%, and the number of deaths have dropped about 10% a day since Friday. Experts say the critical situations seen in hospitals in Italy and Spain will be soon heading toward the United States. Coronavirus patient Andrea Napoli, 33, told The Associated Press he didn't remotely expect that he would be hospitalized, struggling for his life, since he was young and fit. But what he saw at a Rome hospital shocked him. While he was being treated, three patients died in his ward. He saw doctors stressed and exhausted from the long hours, out of breath from pushing equipment around, dressed in protective masks, suits and gloves. ‘’What I saw was a lot, a lot of pain. It was very hard,’’ Napoli said. ‘’I heard screams from the other rooms, constant coughing from the other rooms.’’ For most people, the coronavirus causes mild or moderate symptoms, such as fever and cough. But for others, especially older adults and people with existing health problems, the virus can cause severe symptoms like pneumonia and can be fatal. More than 155,000 people have recovered, according to Johns Hopkins. China’s National Health Commission on Monday reported 31 new COVID-19 cases, among them just one domestic infection. At the peak of China’s restrictions, some 700 million people were ordered to stay home, but those rules are easing. New York state remained the epicenter of the U.S. outbreak, with the vast majority of the deaths in New York City. But infections were spiking not only in cities but in Midwestern towns and Rocky Mountain ski havens. West Virginia reported its first death, leaving only two states — Hawaii and Wyoming — with none linked to COVID-19. The virus is moving fast through nursing homes, assisted living facilities and other places for vulnerable people, spreading “like fire through dry grass,' New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo said. Britain's National Health Service said EasyJet and Virgin Atlantic were writing to cabin crew who have been laid off — especially those with first aid training — to ask if they would work in makeshift hospitals under the supervision of doctors and nurses. Britain's political elite have been hit hard by the coronavirus pandemic, with the country's prime minister, health minister, chief English medical director and Brexit negotiator all testing positive and in isolation, as well as the heir to the throne, Prince Charles. Cases across Africa rose close to 5,000 in 46 countries. Zimbabwe began a three-week lockdown Monday and more cities across the continent were shut down. The pandemic is also taking its toll economically around the world. A lockdown in India covering the country's 1.3 billion people has put day laborers out of work and left families struggling to eat. With no jobs, those living in the country's crowded cities are walking back to their native villages. In Europe, budget airline EasyJet grounded its entire fleet of aircraft — parking all 344 planes — amid a collapse in demand due to the COVID-19 crisis. Japanese automaker Toyota Motor Corp. announced that its auto plants in Europe will halt production at least until April 20. Toyota has facilities in France, Great Britain, Czechoslovakia, Poland, Turkey and Portugal. All its plants in China resumed normal production Monday. Asian markets started the week with fresh losses. Japan's benchmark fell nearly 3% and other regional markets were mostly lower. Shares in Australia, however, surged 7% after the government promised 130 billion Australian dollars ($80 billion) to pay up to 6 million workers the minimum wage for the next six months. “We want to keep the engine of our economy running through this crisis,' said Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison. ___ Rising reported from Berlin; Isachenkov reported from Moscow. Associated Press writers around the world contributed to this report. ___ Follow AP news coverage of the coronavirus pandemic at https://apnews.com/VirusOutbreak and https://apnews.com/UnderstandingtheOutbreak
  • “We are already ruined. What more harm can coronavirus do?' Irene Kampira asked as she sorted secondhand clothes at a bustling market in a poor suburb of Zimbabwe's capital, Harare. People in one of the world's most devastated nations are choosing daily survival over measures to protect themselves from a virus that “might not even kill us,” Kampira said. Even as the country enters a “total lockdown” over the virus on Monday, social distancing is pushed aside in the struggle to obtain food, cash, cheap public transport, even clean water. The World Health Organization's recommended virus precautions seem far-fetched for many of Zimbabwe's 15 million people. “It’s better to get coronavirus while looking for money than to sit at home and die from hunger,” Kampira said, to loud approval from other vendors. The southern African nation has few cases but its health system is in tatters, and the virus could quickly overwhelm it. Hundreds of public hospital doctors and nurses have gone on strike over the lack of protective equipment. Many Zimbabweans are already vulnerable from hunger or underlying health issues like HIV, which is present in 12% of the population. Last year a United Nations expert called the number of hungry people in Zimbabwe “shocking” for a country not in conflict. The World Food Program has said more than 7 million people, or half the country, needs aid. Harare, like most cities and towns across Zimbabwe, has an acute water shortage and residents at times go for months, even years, without a working tap. Many must crowd communal wells, fearing the close contact will speed the coronavirus' spread. “If the taps were working we wouldn’t be here, swarming the well like bees on a beehive or flies on sewage. We are busy exchanging coronavirus here coughing and spitting saliva at each other,” said 18-year old Annastancia Jack while waiting her turn. The government has closed borders and banned gatherings of more than 50 people while encouraging people to stay at home. But the majority of Zimbabweans need to go out daily to put food on the table. With inflation over 500% most industries have closed, leaving many people to become street vendors. Zimbabwe has the world’s second-largest informal economy after Bolivia, according to the International Monetary Fund. Police in recent days have tried to clear vendors from the streets, in vain. As in other African countries where many people rely on informal markets, a lockdown could mean immediate food shortages. Once-prosperous Zimbabwe was full of renewed promise with the forced resignation in late 2017 of longtime leader Robert Mugabe. But President Emmerson Mnangagwa has struggled to fulfil promises of prosperity since taking power. He blames the country's crisis in part on sanctions imposed on certain individuals, including himself, by the U.S. over rights abuses. Daily necessities in Zimbabwe make social distancing an elusive ideal. In downtown Harare, hordes of people congregate at banks for cash, which is in short supply. Others pack public transport. “We are the only ones practicing social distancing, we sit in our cars all day,” said Blessing Hwiribisha, a motorist in a fuel line snaking for more than a kilometer in the poor suburb of Kuwadzana. “Look at them,” he said. He pointed at a supermarket across the road where hundreds of people shoved to buy maize meal, which has become scarce due to a devastating drought and lack of foreign currency to import more. “What is happening in Zimbabwe is very scary. It’s like we are playing cards. Its either you win coronavirus or you win starvation,' said Tinashe Moyo at the supermarket. 'I am very scared.' Few health workers are available as doctors and nurses strike. “There is a difference between being heroic and being suicidal,” said Tawanda Zvakada, president of the Zimbabwe Hospital Doctors Association. Health workers described a lack of disinfectants, sanitizers and even water at hospitals. And yet Health Minister Obadiah Moyo repeatedly says Zimbabwe is “well prepared” to deal with COVID-19 cases. But frightened health workers cited the death of a prominent broadcaster at an ill-equipped isolation center specifically reserved for COVID-19 cases. “They didn’t have a ventilator to help him,” Zvakada said. “The inability of our system to manage one patient is worrying. What about when there are 50 patients?” Zimbabwe has has less than 20 ventilators to help people in severe respiratory distress, he said. He said the country needs hundreds to adequately deal with the virus. “We see a situation where Zimbabwe can become a graveyard if we are not careful,” said Itai Rusike, director of the Harare-based Community Working Group on Health.
  • Of a world in coronavirus turmoil, they may know little or nothing. Submariners stealthily cruising the ocean deeps, purposefully shielded from worldly worries to encourage undivided focus on their top-secret missions of nuclear deterrence, may be among the last pockets of people anywhere who are still blissfully unaware of how the pandemic is turning life upside down. Mariners aboard ballistic submarines are habitually spared bad news while underwater to avoid undermining their morale, say current and former officers who served aboard France's nuclear-armed subs. So any crews that left port before the virus spread around the globe are likely being kept in the dark about the extent of the rapidly unfurling crisis by their commanders until their return, they say. 'They won’t know,” said retired Adm. Dominique Salles, who commanded the French ballistic submarine squadron from 2003-2006. “The boys need to be completely available for their mission.” Speaking exclusively to The Associated Press, Salles said he believes submariners will likely only be told of the pandemic as they head back to port, in the final two days of their mission. “Those who are at sea don’t need this information,' said Salles, who also commanded the nuclear-armed French submarine “L'Inflexible.' “The commander, I think, is doubtless informed about what is happening. I don't think he'll have all the details,' he said. The French navy won't divulge what has or hasn't been said to submarine crews. Nor will it say whether any of the four French ballistic submarines, laden with 16 missiles that each can carry six nuclear warheads, left harbor before France instituted a nationwide lockdown on March 17. “Because the deterrent is wrapped in a bubble of protection and confidentiality, it is impossible to know whether the crews are informed or not of this situation,” French navy spokesman Lt. Cmdr. Olivier Ribard said. French submarine missions last 60 to 70 days, with about 110 crew members aboard. So a crew that left at the end of February wouldn't be expected back before the end of April. In that case, they will return to a world changed by the pandemic. On March 1, France had just 130 confirmed COVID-19 cases and two deaths. In under a month, those numbers have surged past 2,600 dead and over 40,000 sickened. For most people, the coronavirus causes mild or moderate symptoms, such as fever and cough that clear up in two to three weeks. But for some, especially older adults and people with existing health problems, it can cause more severe illness, including pneumonia, and death. For submariners, the return to land could be a shock. “They won’t have experienced the crisis as we did, with a bit of fear, the lockdown. So for them it will be quite a surprise. They will learn the history, but it will be a history that is related to them,' said a serving officer who was the doctor on the ballistic submarine “Le Triomphant' for four years. He spoke to the AP on condition that he be identified only by his first name and rank, in accordance with the rules of his branch of the French military. “All events that could affect or change the morale of the crew members are kept from them,' said the officer, Chief Doctor Gabriel. “Since there is no internet, no radio and no television on board, the only news you get comes from messages received by the commander, and the commander filters the messages to not give all of the information to everyone.” The doctor was underwater in 2012 when an Islamic extremist killed three French paratroopers and later killed a rabbi, his two young sons and grabbed an 8-year-old girl and shot her in the head. Only later did the officer learn of the attacks, “so when people talk to me about it, I find it impossible to imagine,” he said. “The only place where you are really cut off from all information is underwater, because even on a vessel in space there is still the radio, television, the internet,' he said. When bombings hit Madrid in 2004, Salles didn't inform submariners who were at sea for the ballistic flotilla that was then under his command. Salles said the situation now will be toughest for any crews that leave harbor in the weeks ahead, because they'll know they are leaving loved ones in the midst of the pandemic and, possibly, still living in lockdown. The French government has already extended its stay-home orders once, to April 15, and said it could do so again. Salles said he believes those crews will get regular coronavirus updates, but won't be told of any family deaths until they are returning to the l’Ile Longue submarine base near Brest in Brittany. Salles was at sea in a sub when his father died. The news was kept from him until he had finished his 60-day mission. “No matter how serious an event is, there is nothing a submariner can do about it. And since he cannot do anything, better that he know nothing,' Salles said. “They know that they won't know and accept it. It's part of our deal.” ___ Follow John Leicester on Twitter at http://twitter.com/johnleicester ___ Follow AP coverage of the virus outbreak at https://apnews.com/VirusOutbreak and https://apnews.com/UnderstandingtheOutbreak
  • 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: — Spain surpasses China in coronavirus infections tally. — British prime minister's chief adviser shows signs of coronavirus. — Burial agencies in Sweden decide to mark coffins with a deceased COVID-19 victim with a special symbol. ___ MADRID — Spain’s main spokesman in the coronavirus crisis has tested positive for the COVID-19 disease but the results need to be confirmed, authorities have announced as the country of 47 million became the third to surpass China in number of infections. Dr. Fernando Simón, who had become the Spanish government’s face and voice during the crisis, was replaced on Monday’s daily press conference by his deputy, Dr. María José Sierra. Simón had been initially praised for relaying calm and clarity in the early days of the crisis, but as infections and deaths for the virus mounted he was heavily criticized for having played down the severity of the outbreak. Sierra said that the increase of daily cases had dropped from an average of 20% before March 25, to 12% in the past five days. She said the drop was due to social distancing and confinement measures in place for the past two weeks. The official said that the main worry for the government now was the pressure on the country’s intensive care units because it could arrive 2 or 3 weeks after the infection. “Reducing the pressure on the ICUs will be important for considering de-escalation measures,” she said. ___ LONDON -- One of the scientists advising the British government on the coronavirus pandemic says there are signs that the effective lockdown of much of the country is working. Professor Neil Ferguson thinks the epidemic is “just about slowing” as a result of the social distancing measures the government has imposed over the past couple of weeks. That's evidenced by the number of new hospital admissions, he told BBC radio. “It's not yet plateaued so the numbers can be increasing every day but the rate of that increase has slowed,' he said. Ferguson, who had to self-isolate himself a couple of weeks ago after showing signs of the COVID-19 illness, said the number of deaths will continue to rise on a daily basis as it is a lagging indicator. Latest figures show that 1,228 people in the U.K. who have tested positive for the virus have died. The epidemiologist thinks that between 3% to 5% of people in London may have been infected, with between 2% and 3% in the country as a whole. ___ BANGKOK— The Southeast Asian nation of Laos, which detected its first COVID-19 cases last week, has instituted a nationwide lockdown to fight the disease's spread. The state news agency KPL reports that Prime Minister Thongloun Sisoulith issued an order effective Monday through April 19 prohibiting all citizens and foreigners from leaving their accommodations except for essential activity such as buying food or medical care. Those engaged in agricultural production are allowed out according to rules from their local authorities. All international checkpoints are closed except for transport of goods and to allow foreigners to return to their countries. Laos has nine confirmed cases of the coronavirus with no deaths reported. The country of about 7.4 million people is one of the poorest in Asia. Myanmar, which also reported its first COVID-19 cases last week, is closing its airports to all commercial passenger flights at midnight Monday through April 13. Exceptions are allowed with official permission for relief flights, all cargo flights and medical evacuations. Myanmar, with a population of more than 56 million, is also one of the region's poorer countries. It has 10 confirmed COVID-19 cases with no deaths. ___ LONDON — British Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s chief adviser, Dominic Cummings, is the latest senior government figure to show symptoms of the new coronavirus. Johnson’s office says Cummings developed symptoms over the weekend and is self-isolating at home. Johnson announced Friday that he has tested positive for COVID-19 and has mild symptoms. Health Secretary Matt Hancock has also tested positive, while the chief medical officer of England, Chris Whitty, says he is self-isolating after showing symptoms. Senior U.K. officials have been criticized for continuing to hold face-to-face meetings until recently, even while urging the rest of the country to stay home and avoid all but essential contact with others. Cummings is a controversial figure — a self-styled political disruptor who helped lead Britain’s pro-Brexit referendum campaign in 2016. He has been blamed for briefing journalists that the U.K. was seeking “herd immunity” against the coronavirus by letting most of the population get it. The government and its scientific advisers deny that was ever their strategy. ___ STOCKHOLM — Sweden’s funeral home association says that burial agencies across the country have decided that coffins with a deceased COVID-19 victim should be marked with a special symbol so that caskets are not opened because of fears the deceased could still be contagious. Ulf Lerneus, the association’s manager, tells Swedish daily Aftonbladet that there has been a confusion among his members after Sweden’s Public Health Authority earlier this month decided that deceased victims should no longer be in body bags. “Nobody can say there is no risk of infection,” Lerneus was quoted by the daily as saying. Caskets with the symbol showing three droplets “should not be opened” when transported from the mortuary, said Lerneus. The association gathers some 400 authorized, private funeral homes across the Scandinavian country. Sweden has reported some 3,700 cases where people have been tested positive, of which 255 of them are in intensive care. According to official figures, 110 people have died. ___ LONDON — Britain’s health service is asking airline cabin crew who have been laid off during the coronavirus pandemic to go to work in temporary new hospitals being built to treat COVID-19 patients. The National Health Service says easyJet and Virgin Atlantic are writing to thousands of staff — especially those with first aid training — asking them to work at hospitals being built inside convention centers in London, Birmingham and Manchester. It said those who sign up will perform support roles under the supervision of doctors and nurses. EasyJet announced Monday it was grounding all of its 344 planes amid a collapse in demand due to the COVID-19 crisis. It said there was “no certainty of the date for restarting commercial flights.” Virgin Atlantic has cancelled most of its flights and has urged the British government to help keep struggling airlines aloft. ___ SOFIA, Bulgaria — Bulgaria is postponing its bid to adopt the euro in the wake of a global economic downturn due to the coronavirus pandemic. Bulgaria’s central bank governor said Monday that his country will delay its accession process until next year. Dimitar Radev told private Nova TV channel that “the timeline for joining the banking union and participation in the exchange rate mechanism are not realistic anymore”. The government had said earlier that Bulgaria wants to enter the two-year process that leads to joining the euro, called ERM II, this July. Its hope is that a swift entry into the eurozone would guarantee Bulgaria’s deeper integration in the EU. Radev said that a delay until 2021 would not be “fatal”. He warned, however, that the country should not wait for a new entry cycle as it did during the global financial crisis of 2008-2009. Bulgaria is one of the poorest EU members but has since 1997 kept a stable exchange rate between its currency, the lev, and the euro. ___ PARIS — Students at France’s most prestigious engineering school are engaging in remote tutoring to help high school pupils get their “Baccalaureat,” the state diploma awarded to pupils in their final lycée year. The world-renowned Ecole Polytechnique said Monday that 325 of its students will give one hour of their time every day to youngsters in need of support during the isolation period imposed by French authorities to limit the spread of the deadly novel coronavirus. “During this enduring quarantine period in France, many high school students feel they are lacking in family support when it comes to learning lessons on their own at home,” the school said in a statement. “This is either because their parents are directly implicated in the current pandemic, or because their parents may not have the academic level necessary to help.” Polytechnique said priority will be given to students whose parents are directly involved in the fight against the disease, including medical professionals, military personnel, police officers or firefighters. In addition, 25 English-speaking students from the school's Bachelor of Science program have offered to help with English tutoring lessons. The French government has ordered the closure of schools across the country but students will still be required to pass their baccalaureat tests in June unless it is postponed to a later date. ___ MADRID — Spain has become the third country to surpass China in coronavirus infections after the United States and Italy. With a population of 47 million, the country’s tally of infections reached 85,195 on Monday, a rise of 8% from a previous day. Monday also saw 812 fatalities to 7,300 since the outbreak started in earnest in early March, Spain’s Health Ministry said in a statement. In Madrid, where nearly half of the total deaths have been recorded, flags were hoisted at half-mast as authorities declared the official mourning, with a minute of silence expected at noon time. Authorities also step up the country’s half-a-month lockdown on Monday, beginning with a new two-week period of “hibernation,” as described by a Spanish Cabinet member in order to alleviate the pressure of the illness in the country’s health system. Only workers in hospitals, pharmacies, the food supply chain and other essential industries are required to work until the end of Easter, in mid-April, while the rest have been asked to scale back operations to weekend-level. At least six of Spain's 17 regions are at their limit of ICU beds and three more were close to it, authorities said, while frantic construction of field hospitals continues. ___ VIENNA — Austrian Chancellor Sebastian Kurz says that people will be obliged to wear face masks in supermarkets starting this week as the country battles to slow the spread of the coronavirus. Kurz announced the new measure on Monday, two weeks after Austria introduced restrictions on people’s movement. Austria borders Italy, Europe’s worst-hit country. So far, it has more than 9,000 confirmed cases, including over 100 deaths, according to the health minister. Kurz said that, likely starting on Wednesday, supermarket chains will start handing out simple face masks to people when they enter supermarkets and people will have to keep them on while they shop. He said that “in the medium term” the aim is for people to wear them in other public situations too. He emphasized that the new measure doesn’t lessen the need to people to keep their distance from others. ___ SEOUL, South Korea -- South Korea says nearly half of its 172,000 eligible voters overseas will be denied absentee voting for next month’s parliamentary elections after polling was ruled out in dozens of diplomatic offices worldwide amid broadening coronavirus outbreaks. South Korea’s National Election Commission said polling preparations were halted at 65 diplomatic missions in 40 countries as of Monday, affecting some 80,500 voters, including those in major U.S. cities such as Washington, New York and Los Angeles. The commission says more diplomatic offices could decide to close for the April 1-6 absentee voting. Voters in South Korea will be required to wear masks and use disposable gloves at ballot booths during the parliamentary elections on April 15. Election workers will conduct temperature checks and provide separate polling places for voters with fever or respiratory symptoms. Some politicians had called for the country to postpone the elections, which will be a crucial moment for President Moon Jae-in’s government amid concerns about the epidemic’s impact on public health and the economy. ___ Follow AP news coverage of the coronavirus pandemic at https://apnews.com/VirusOutbreak and https://apnews.com/UnderstandingtheOutbreak
  • Shopkeepers in the city at the center of the virus outbreak in China were reopening Monday but customers were scarce after authorities lifted more of the anti-virus controls that kept tens of millions of people at home for two months. “I’m so excited, I want to cry,” said a woman on the Chuhe Hanjie pedestrian mall who would give only the English name Kat. She said she was a teacher in the eastern city of Nanjing visiting her family in Wuhan when the government locked down the city in late January to stem the spread of the coronavirus. Some 70% to 80% of shops on the mall were open but many imposed limits on how many people could enter. Shopkeepers set up dispensers for hand sanitizer and checked customers for signs of fever. Wuhan’s bus and subway service has resumed, easing curbs that cut most access to the city of 11 million people on Jan. 23 as China fought the coronavirus. The train station reopened Saturday, bringing thousands of people to what is the manufacturing and transportation hub of central China. “After two months trapped at home, I want to jump,” said Kat, jumping up and down excitedly. “I want to revenge shop.” That will be a welcome sentiment to officials who are under orders to revive manufacturing, retailing and other industries while also preventing a spike in infections as people return to work. Travel controls on most of Hubei province, where Wuhan is located, were lifted on March 23. The final restrictions preventing people from leaving Wuhan are due to end April 8. China had suffered 3,186 coronavirus deaths, including 2,547 in Wuhan, as of midnight Sunday, according to the National Health Commission. The country had a total of 81,470 confirmed cases. Automakers and other manufacturers in Wuhan have reopened but say they need to restore the flow of components before production returns to normal levels. Some are waiting for employees who went to their hometowns for the Lunar New Year holiday and were stranded when plane, train and bus services were all but cut off to Hubei province. Some parents were on the street with their children but traffic was light. The owner of a candy shop on the Chuhe Hanjie mall said two of her four employees are back at work but she wasn’t sure whether the others were willing to come back. “We’ve only prepared a little stock,' said the owner, Li Zhen. “Most people are still afraid of the virus.” A poster at the entrance to the pedestrian mall asked customers to wear masks, cooperate with fever checks and show a code on a smartphone app that tracks a user’s health status and travel. A banner nearby said, “Wuhan We Are Coming Back. Thank You.” Two women who wore protective clothing that identified them as medical workers were surrounded by pedestrians who waved Chinese flags at them in a gesture of gratitude. Li gave them bags of candy. “We may have to wait for a while to see when things can return to normal,” said Li. ___ Associated Press producer Olivia Zhang and writer Joe McDonald in Beijing contributed to this report.
  • Before the Olympics were postponed, Japan looked like it had coronavirus infections contained, even as they spread in neighboring countries. Now that the games have been pushed to next year, Tokyo’s cases are spiking, and the city's governor is requesting that people stay home, even hinting at a possible lockdown. The sudden rise in the number of virus cases in Tokyo and the government's strong actions immediately after the Olympic postponement have raised questions in parliament and among citizens about whether Japan understated the extent of the outbreak and delayed enforcement of social distancing measures while clinging to hopes that the games would start on July 24 as scheduled. With the Olympics now off, many are voicing suspicion that the numbers are rising because Japan suddenly has no reason to hide them. “In order to make an impression that the city was taking control of the coronavirus, Tokyo avoided making strict requests and made the number of patients look smaller,' former Japanese Prime Minister Yukio Hatoyama said in a tweet. “The coronavirus has spread while they waited. (For Tokyo Gov. Yuriko Koike) it was Olympics first, not Tokyo's residents.” Experts have found a rise of untraceable cases mushrooming in Tokyo, Osaka and other urban areas — signs of an explosive increase in infections. Prime Minister Shinzo Abe said Saturday that Japan is now on the brink of a huge jump in cases as it becomes increasingly difficult to trace and keep clusters under control. “Once infections overshoot, our strategy ... will instantly fall apart,” Abe warned. “Under the current situation, we are just barely holding up.” He said a state of emergency is not needed just yet, but that Japan could at any time face a situation as bad as in the United States or Europe. There was less of a sense of urgency displayed recently when many people visited parks for cherry blossom viewing, and Abe was only hinting at an Olympic postponement. But in a phone call with International Olympic Committee President Thomas Bach last Tuesday, Abe agreed to postpone the games until around the summer of 2021 because of the coronavirus pandemic. A day later, Koike asked Tokyo residents to stay home weekends until mid-April, saying confirmed cases of the coronavirus had shot up to 41 in a day from 16 earlier in the week. On Saturday, Tokyo reported 63 new cases, another single-day record. Koike said that infections in Tokyo were on the brink of an explosive increase, and that stronger measures, including a lockdown, could be needed if the spread of the virus doesn't slow. ”Is this just a coincidence?' Maiko Tajima, an opposition lawmaker from the Constitutional Democratic Party of Japan, said during a parliamentary session last Wednesday, citing Tokyo's sudden spike. Health Minister Katsunobu Kato said there is “absolutely no relationship” between the Olympic postponement and the number of confirmed cases. Abe cited experts as saying a big reason for the recent rise is the growing number of cases that can't be linked and a jump in infections from abroad. The prime minister told people to “be prepared for a long battle.” A day after Koike's warning, Abe convened a new task force under a recently enacted special law that would allow him to declare a state of emergency in specific areas, including Tokyo. Japan's strategy has been to focus on clusters and trace infection routes rather than testing everyone. A guideline issued Saturday still says that tests will be conducted per clinical doctors' advice. Experts set a high bar for testing eligibility, allowing them only for those linked to clusters or those with symptoms, because they fear massive testing will fill up beds that are needed for patients in severe need, and cause a collapse of medical systems. From Feb. 18 to March 27, Japan tested about 50,000 people, a daily average of 1,270 — fewer than the national daily capacity of several thousand. There was only a slight increase in the number of tests in the past week. In Tokyo, fewer than 2% of those who sought advice on a government hotline had been tested, according to health ministry figures. South Korea, by contrast, had tested about 250,000 people by mid-March. Abe denied allegations that Japan had manipulated the numbers by limiting tests, or combined COVID-19 deaths with other pneumonia fatalities. “I'm aware that some people suspect Japan is hiding the numbers, but I believe that's not true,” he said. “If there is a cover-up, it will show up in the number of deaths.” He said doctors told him that pneumonia patients with COVID-19 can be detected by CAT-scan or X-rays. Many Japanese experts say testing is not for everyone and should be conducted selectively in an attempt to save hospital beds for those who really need them. “Tests are primarily for people who are suspected of having the virus, and should be based on clinical judgment by doctors,” said Shigeru Omi, a former World Health Organization public health expert who is on the government-commissioned panel. Aki-Hiro Sato, a professor of information sciences at Yokohama City University, said in a recent report that Japan is now likely facing a second or third wave of the virus coming from Europe and the United States. Tokyo has about 430 cases, but Sato estimated an additional 1,000 might have been infected in Tokyo by late March if infections are accelerating at a pace similar to what's happening in other countries. Including asymptomatic or light infections, about 10,000 people might be infected, he said. As of Sunday, Japan had 2,578 confirmed cases, including 712 from a cruise ship, with 64 deaths, according to the health ministry. About 1,000 have recovered. Under the current law, COVID-19 is designated as an infectious disease and whoever tests positive is routinely hospitalized, but a new government guideline would allow a triage of patients, which would include self-quarantine at home. Right now, Japan has 2,600 hospital beds designated for infectious disease treatment, including 118 in Tokyo, but about one-third of them are already occupied by COVID-19 patients, according to Satoshi Kutsuna of the Disease Control and Prevention Center. Citing the recent spike, Kutsuna said that an “overshooting of infections is just about to begin, unfortunately.” Abe has said the government would secure 12,000 beds and 3,000 ventilators to prepare for a worst case scenario. “We fear a situation where severe patients start dying when the medical system collapses, and we must prevent that situation,” Kato, the health minister, said Sunday on a talk show on public broadcaster NHK. ___ Follow Mari Yamaguchi on Twitter at https://www.twitter.com/mariyamaguchi
  • President Donald Trump on Sunday extended the country's voluntary national shutdown for a month, significantly changing his tone on the coronavirus pandemic only days after musing about the country reopening in a few weeks. He heeded public-health experts who told him the virus could claim over 100,000 lives in the U.S., perhaps more, if not enough is done to fight it. COVID-19 continues its relentless spread, as the daily number of infections worldwide continues to jump sharply. World Health Organization figures show the increase in new infections is now about 70,000 per day - up from about 50,000 just days ago. More than 32,000 people have died worldwide. The U.S. had over 139,000 infections and 2,400 deaths, a running tally by a prominent university showed Sunday evening. Italy reported more than 750 new deaths Sunday, bringing the country’s total to nearly 10,800 - vastly more than any other country. But the number of new infections showed signs of narrowing again. Officials said more than 5,200 new cases were recorded in the last 24 hours, the lowest number in four days, for a total of almost 98,000 infections. Here are some of AP's top stories Saturday on the world's coronavirus pandemic. Follow APNews.com/VirusOutbreak for updates through the day and APNews.com/UnderstandingtheOutbreak for stories explaining some of its complexities. WHAT'S HAPPENING TODAY: — The mammoth, $2.2 trillion stimulus package to shore up the U.S. economy during the coronavirus pandemic doesn't provide what doctors, nurses and other health care providers need most: protective equipment. — New York state's death toll from the outbreak climbed above 1,000 on Sunday, less than a month after the disease was first detected in the state. New York state accounts for more than 40% of U.S. deaths from COVID-19. — Risk factors other than age are becoming more apparent. As much as 10% to 15% of people under 50 have moderate to severe symptoms, according to the World Health Organization. — German Chancellor Angela Merkel's handling of the coronavirus crisis meets with strong approval in her country. — Coronavirus pandemic causes tensions in the hard-hit European Union. — Impoverished Somalia has little in the way of health care to battle the coronavirus should the limited number of cases there rise. — The family of John Prine says the American singer-songwriter is critically ill and has been placed on a ventilator while being treated for COVID-19-type symptoms. — Parents who have to report to work are scrambling to find adequate child care. ___ WHAT YOU NEED TO KNOW: For most people, the coronavirus causes mild or moderate symptoms, such as fever and cough that clear up in two to three weeks. For some, especially older adults and people with existing health problems, it can cause more severe illness, including pneumonia and death. The vast majority of people recover. Here are the symptoms of the virus compared with the common flu. One of the best ways to prevent spread of the virus is washing your hands with soap and water. The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends first washing with warm or cold water and then lathering soap for 20 seconds to get it on the backs of hands, between fingers and under fingernails before rinsing off. You should wash your phone, too. Here’s how. Misinformation overload: How to separate fact from fiction and rumor from deliberate efforts to mislead. TRACKING THE VIRUS: Drill down and zoom in at the individual county level, and you can access numbers that will show you the situation where you are, and where loved ones or people you’re worried about live. ___ ONE NUMBER: 33: That's Andrea Napoli's age. The Rome lawyer was in top physical shape, thanks to regular workouts, including water polo training, when he tested positive for the coronavirus. He spent two days in intensive care and nine days breathing with an oxygen mask. ___ IN OTHER NEWS: SONG FOR AFRICA: Bobi Wine, a Ugandan pop singer and opposition leader, releases song to urge the continent of 1.3 billion people to wash their hands. PIZZERIA HAILED: New Jersey pizzeria takes out a loan to pay workers' salaries, then finds more people eager to help. ___ Follow AP coverage of the virus outbreak at https://apnews.com/VirusOutbreak and https://apnews.com/UnderstandingtheOutbreak
  • Andrea Napoli didn’t fit the usual profile of a coronavirus patient. At 33, he was in perfect health, with no history of respiratory disease. And he was in top physical shape, thanks to regular workouts, including water polo training. Still, Napoli, a lawyer in Rome, developed a cough and fever less than a week after Italy's premier locked down the entire nation, including the capital which had continued life as usual while the virus raged in the north. Until that day, Napoli was following his routine of work, jogging and swimming. He received a positive diagnosis for COVID-19 three days later. Initially, Napoli was told to quarantine at home with the warning that his condition could deteriorate suddenly, and it did. By the next day, he was hospitalized in intensive care, with X-rays confirming he had developed pneumonia. ‘’Unfortunately, you have to live these things to really understand them totally,’’ Napoli said in a Skype interview. ‘’I am 33 years old, in great health, and I found myself suddenly in less than a day and a half in intensive care.’’ For most people, the new coronavirus causes mild or moderate symptoms, such as fever and cough that clear up in two to three weeks. For some, especially older adults and people with existing health problems, it can cause more severe illness, including pneumonia and death. The vast majority of people recover. Napoli spent the next nine days breathing with an oxygen mask. During two days in intensive care, three patients in his ward died. He recalled that doctors were out of breath from pushing equipment around, dressed in protective masks, suits and gloves, and exhausted from the long hours and strain. ‘’What I saw was a lot, a lot of pain. It was very hard,’’ Napoli said. ‘’I heard screams from the other rooms. The constant coughing from the other rooms.’’ After another week on a COVID-19 ward, he was moved Friday to a hotel being used for patients recovering from the virus, where he is checked twice a day by a doctor. He still can't breathe properly and oxygen levels in his blood haven't yet returned to normal. ‘’I get tired very easily,’’ he said. ‘’If I simply go from the toilet to the bed, I get out of breath. My muscles hurt because I was actually in bed for nine days, without the possibility of moving. So it wasn’t very simple.’’ Napoli's first concern when the virus struck Italy was for his parents, in their mid-60s, never himself. With two weeks of quarantine still ahead, he is looking forward to the day he can go out for a simple walk with them — something that is still not allowed under Italy's strict containment measures. Authorities on Sunday expressed cautious optimism that the measures were having an impact two weeks on. The number of positive cases in the previous 24 hours increased by just 5.4%, to a total of 97,689. Significantly, the number of patients in intensive care nationwide rose by just 50, less than half of recent days, to 3,906, and the number of deaths are on a downward trend of about 10% a day since Friday, to 756 reported Sunday. Italy still has the most deaths of any country, now at 10,779. ‘’These are big changes, that reflect the fact the health system is responding and of the impact of the measures that have been put in place,'' said Dr. Luca Richeldi, a lung specialist, told the daily civil protection agency briefing. ‘’We are saving lives by staying at home, by maintaining social distance, by traveling less and by closing schools.'' ___ Follow AP news coverage of the coronavirus pandemic at https://apnews.com/VirusOutbreak and https://apnews.com/UnderstandingtheOutbreak
  • After talking for days about relaxing federal calls for Americans to drastically restrict their social activities in order to curb the spread of the Coronavirus, President Donald Trump said on Sunday that he would be extending those guidelines through the end of April, after new estimates showed the threat of a huge number of deaths from the virus outbreak. 'The peak in death rate is likely to hit in two weeks,' the President told reporters gathered in the Rose Garden. 'Nothing would be worse than declaring victory before the victory is won.' 'We will be extending our guidelines to April 30, to slow the spread,' Mr. Trump said, urging Americans to help by limiting their social activities.  'The better you do, the faster this whole nightmare will end,' the President added. The President said the decision was made after new modeling made available to the White House estimated the death totals from the Coronavirus could run over 1 million unless strong mitigation efforts were taken by Americans. At the White House, top federal experts endorsed the President's course change. 'We feel that the mitigation we are doing right now is having an effect 'The decision to prolong - not prolong, but extend - this mitigation process until the end of April, I think was a wise and prudent decision,' said Dr. Anthony Fauci. White House Coronavirus expert Dr. Deborah Birx said the 'growing number of potential fatalities' shown by the models made clear the need for more action to hold down the spread of the virus. Birx told reporters it is 'not a simple situation when you ask people to stay home for another 30 days, so they have to know that we really built this on scientific evidence and the potential to save hundreds of thousands of American lives.' “To every metro area out there, we have to do better,' Dr. Birx said at the Sunday briefing.
  • The mayors of OKlahoma's two largest cities have announced they will expand and more closely enforce “stay at home” measures for the general public as part of the response to the coronavirus pandemic. Tulsa Mayor G.T. Bynum enacted a 'Shelter in Place' order on Saturday for all age groups in the city to last from March 28 to April 16.  The 'Safer at Home' order mirrors the executive order made by Governor Stitt on Tuesday.   Mayor Bynum's order was announced hours after 7 more COVID-19 deaths were reported by the Oklahoma State Department of Health.
  • With some public friction over the federal Coronavirus response, President Donald Trump on Friday again singled out the Governor of Michigan and the Governor of Washington State for criticism, telling reporters that he had discouraged Vice President Mike Pence from calling either one to discuss the virus response. 'When they're not appreciative to me, they're not appreciative to the Army Corps (of Engineers), they're not appreciative to FEMA. It's not right,' President Trump said at a Friday White House briefing. 'All I want them to do, very simple, I want them to be appreciative,' the President added. 'We've done a great job,' the President said. 'I think the media and governors should appreciate it.' The President's comments came as he continued to spar long distance with Gov. Jay Inslee (D) of Washington State, and Gov. Gretchen Whitmer (D) of Michigan. Inslee has already been a frequent target of the President - who referred to him in one briefing as a 'snake' - acknowledging that he has urged Vice President Pence not to call the Washington Democrat. 'I say Mike, don't call the Governor of Washington, you're wasting your time with him,' Mr. Trump said. 'Don't call the woman in Michigan.' In an interview Thursday night with Sean Hannity on Fox News, the President took aim at Whitmer, who has complained of troubles in getting medical supplies for hospitals to combat the virus outbreak. 'We’ve had a big problem with the young, a woman governor, you know who I’m talking about from Michigan,' the President said. While Gov. Whitmer went on TV to respond to the President, Inslee used Mr. Trump's favored mode of social media. 'I’m not going to let personal attacks from the president distract me from what matters: beating this virus and keeping Washingtonians healthy,' Inslee tweeted. While Inslee avoided barbs from the White House on Friday night, Whitmer did not. “Governor, Gretchen “Half” Whitmer is way in over her ahead, she doesn’t have a clue,” the President tweeted. Michigan has become a flash point in recent days in the fight to stop the Coronavirus; 32 deaths were announced on Friday, almost as many as the two previous days combined. 28 deaths were announced on Friday in Washington State, raising the death toll there to 175 people, second most of any state.
  • It was a scary day on Friday for Oklahoma Congressman Markwayne Mullin, who sent a message on Twitter that his son Jim took a bad fall while playing with his brothers at the family's ranch and hit his head. “He was unconscious and his vitals were very weak.  They had to life-flight him to Tulsa,” Mullin said in a video clip that he posted to Twitter as he was on his way back to Tulsa from Washington D.C. Since he first got word about the accident from his wife, he says his son has improved and was due released soon, Mullin citing the need to free up beds at the hospital for the Covid-19 crisis. He also voiced his appreciation for the prayers that were sent to him by friends and supporters.
  • With the backing of the White House and leaders in both parties, the U.S. House on Friday approved an emergency economic rescue plan to help the economy deal with the negative impact of the Coronavirus outbreak, as lawmakers on both sides put aside their differences on the details of the over $2 trillion package.  President Trump signed it into law several hours later. 'We need to support this bill now,' said Rep. Donna Shalala (D-FL). 'The coronavirus has been a nuclear bomb to our economy,' said Rep. Bill Johnson (R-OH). 'We've never faced a public health crisis of this magnitude,' said Rep. Sylvia Garcia (D-TX). The main theater in the House Chamber during debate was not about who was for or against the bill, but whether Rep. Tom Massie (R-KY) would follow through on his threat to force a recorded vote on the measure, amid questions about whether enough lawmakers were present for a quorum. Under the rules, Massie - who did not speak during the debate - needed the support of several dozen lawmakers to force a vote. But Massie did not get that backing, and the bill was approved on a voice vote, to the applause of lawmakers, who sat both on the House floor, and in the galleries above. In debate, lawmakers of both parties expressed concerns about how their local hospitals might not be able to deal with an outbreak of the virus. 'For those from rural districts like mine, our hospitals cannot handle the onslaught of patients,' said Rep. Mike Rogers (R-AL). 'Hospitals in my district face a situation as dire as it has been in my 18 years in Congress.' Lawmakers who flew back to Washington for the debate said the impact on the airline industry was obvious. 'There were two members of Congress on the plane out of a total of four passengers,' said Rep. Rodney Davis (R-IL), who flew from St. Louis.  'You don't think that industry is on the brink of collapse - use it right now, and you will see,' Davis added. The House vote came as a third member of the House announced that he had tested positive, Rep. Joe Cunningham, a freshman Democrat from South Carolina. The package includes direct checks to Americans, billions in emergency aid for businesses big and small, money for state and local governments, and help for hospitals fighting the Coronavirus. “This is the biggest economic and health crisis the country has ever faced,” said Rep. Rosa DeLauro (D-CT).

Washington Insider

  • After talking for days about relaxing federal calls for Americans to drastically restrict their social activities in order to curb the spread of the Coronavirus, President Donald Trump said on Sunday that he would be extending those guidelines through the end of April, after new estimates showed the threat of a huge number of deaths from the virus outbreak. 'The peak in death rate is likely to hit in two weeks,' the President told reporters gathered in the Rose Garden. 'Nothing would be worse than declaring victory before the victory is won.' 'We will be extending our guidelines to April 30, to slow the spread,' Mr. Trump said, urging Americans to help by limiting their social activities.  'The better you do, the faster this whole nightmare will end,' the President added. The President said the decision was made after new modeling made available to the White House estimated the death totals from the Coronavirus could run over 1 million unless strong mitigation efforts were taken by Americans. At the White House, top federal experts endorsed the President's course change. 'We feel that the mitigation we are doing right now is having an effect 'The decision to prolong - not prolong, but extend - this mitigation process until the end of April, I think was a wise and prudent decision,' said Dr. Anthony Fauci. White House Coronavirus expert Dr. Deborah Birx said the 'growing number of potential fatalities' shown by the models made clear the need for more action to hold down the spread of the virus. Birx told reporters it is 'not a simple situation when you ask people to stay home for another 30 days, so they have to know that we really built this on scientific evidence and the potential to save hundreds of thousands of American lives.' “To every metro area out there, we have to do better,' Dr. Birx said at the Sunday briefing.
  • With some public friction over the federal Coronavirus response, President Donald Trump on Friday again singled out the Governor of Michigan and the Governor of Washington State for criticism, telling reporters that he had discouraged Vice President Mike Pence from calling either one to discuss the virus response. 'When they're not appreciative to me, they're not appreciative to the Army Corps (of Engineers), they're not appreciative to FEMA. It's not right,' President Trump said at a Friday White House briefing. 'All I want them to do, very simple, I want them to be appreciative,' the President added. 'We've done a great job,' the President said. 'I think the media and governors should appreciate it.' The President's comments came as he continued to spar long distance with Gov. Jay Inslee (D) of Washington State, and Gov. Gretchen Whitmer (D) of Michigan. Inslee has already been a frequent target of the President - who referred to him in one briefing as a 'snake' - acknowledging that he has urged Vice President Pence not to call the Washington Democrat. 'I say Mike, don't call the Governor of Washington, you're wasting your time with him,' Mr. Trump said. 'Don't call the woman in Michigan.' In an interview Thursday night with Sean Hannity on Fox News, the President took aim at Whitmer, who has complained of troubles in getting medical supplies for hospitals to combat the virus outbreak. 'We’ve had a big problem with the young, a woman governor, you know who I’m talking about from Michigan,' the President said. While Gov. Whitmer went on TV to respond to the President, Inslee used Mr. Trump's favored mode of social media. 'I’m not going to let personal attacks from the president distract me from what matters: beating this virus and keeping Washingtonians healthy,' Inslee tweeted. While Inslee avoided barbs from the White House on Friday night, Whitmer did not. “Governor, Gretchen “Half” Whitmer is way in over her ahead, she doesn’t have a clue,” the President tweeted. Michigan has become a flash point in recent days in the fight to stop the Coronavirus; 32 deaths were announced on Friday, almost as many as the two previous days combined. 28 deaths were announced on Friday in Washington State, raising the death toll there to 175 people, second most of any state.
  • With the backing of the White House and leaders in both parties, the U.S. House on Friday approved an emergency economic rescue plan to help the economy deal with the negative impact of the Coronavirus outbreak, as lawmakers on both sides put aside their differences on the details of the over $2 trillion package.  President Trump signed it into law several hours later. 'We need to support this bill now,' said Rep. Donna Shalala (D-FL). 'The coronavirus has been a nuclear bomb to our economy,' said Rep. Bill Johnson (R-OH). 'We've never faced a public health crisis of this magnitude,' said Rep. Sylvia Garcia (D-TX). The main theater in the House Chamber during debate was not about who was for or against the bill, but whether Rep. Tom Massie (R-KY) would follow through on his threat to force a recorded vote on the measure, amid questions about whether enough lawmakers were present for a quorum. Under the rules, Massie - who did not speak during the debate - needed the support of several dozen lawmakers to force a vote. But Massie did not get that backing, and the bill was approved on a voice vote, to the applause of lawmakers, who sat both on the House floor, and in the galleries above. In debate, lawmakers of both parties expressed concerns about how their local hospitals might not be able to deal with an outbreak of the virus. 'For those from rural districts like mine, our hospitals cannot handle the onslaught of patients,' said Rep. Mike Rogers (R-AL). 'Hospitals in my district face a situation as dire as it has been in my 18 years in Congress.' Lawmakers who flew back to Washington for the debate said the impact on the airline industry was obvious. 'There were two members of Congress on the plane out of a total of four passengers,' said Rep. Rodney Davis (R-IL), who flew from St. Louis.  'You don't think that industry is on the brink of collapse - use it right now, and you will see,' Davis added. The House vote came as a third member of the House announced that he had tested positive, Rep. Joe Cunningham, a freshman Democrat from South Carolina. The package includes direct checks to Americans, billions in emergency aid for businesses big and small, money for state and local governments, and help for hospitals fighting the Coronavirus. “This is the biggest economic and health crisis the country has ever faced,” said Rep. Rosa DeLauro (D-CT).
  • As Congress pushes ahead with a landmark economic stimulus plan to offset the negative impact of the Coronavirus, lawmakers not only put in provisions to funnel money to Americans and help businesses stay afloat, but also structured oversight for the billions in loans going to big businesses, and helped out a few specific players along the way. First, if you want to read through the text of the bill as approved by the Senate on Wednesday night, you can find the 880 page bill here. For those who want the short version, the table of contents for the bill gives you a good preview of what's to come. Now let's jump in and find a few interesting items in the bill. + 1. Restrictions aimed squarely at President Trump and his family. Section 4019 of the bill is titled, 'Conflicts of Interest,' and is intended to prohibit top government officials from benefiting in any way from the emergency aid being delivered in this bill. It lists the President, Vice President, member of Congress, top Executive Branch officials as people covered by this prohibition. But it goes further - adding, 'spouse, child, son-in-law, or daughter-in-law' as well. One GOP Senator pointed out the 'son-in-law' provision. 'I wonder who that could be targeted towards,' said Sen. James Lankford (R-OK) in a mocking tone, referring to Jared Kushner, as Lankford said Democrats were wrong to pursue such provisions. 'A lot of this fight that we've had over the last three days is because they were demanding that there was no way the President, or any member of his family could get any benefit from this loan program at all,' Lankford said. Democrats won those provisions. + 2. Temporary tax break for makers of hand sanitizer. With various alcohol producers switching over some of their production in recent weeks to make hand sanitizer, this bill also provides a temporary exception to the excise tax on the alcohol used to make hand sanitizer products. To an outsider, it shouldn't be any big deal for a liquor producer to shift into production of hand sanitizer, but in reality - it can have pretty big tax implications in how the federal government deals with the process. For example, after a company makes over 100,000 gallons of alcohol, the tax goes from $2.70 per gallon to over $13 per gallon. This provision on page 212 would allow those hand sanitizer products to be made without being hit by those higher taxes. Here was the social media appeal from one company in Maryland. 3. Special oversight for economic recovery spending. As part of provisions providing public insight into what companies get what kind of aid from the federal government, this bill sets up a special Inspector General inside the Treasury Department dealing with the 'Pandemic Recovery.' The internal watchdog would be charged with 'audits and investigations of the making, purchase, management, and sale of loans, loan guarantees, and other investments made by the Secretary of the Treasury under any program established by the Secretary under this Act.' There is also a new 'Congressional Oversight Commission,' with members appointed by various parts of the government, to oversee the operations of this economic recovery effort - all to guide against favoritism, and any questionable financial awards - much like there was with the Obama stimulus in 2009. 4. Postal Service gets special loan help. Just like after the anthrax attacks following Nine Eleven, the U.S. Postal Service finds itself in a crunch with the Coronavirus. Not only are some employees getting sick, but mail volume is going down - and that's leading to an even bleaker financial outlook. The Coronavirus rescue bill does not give a blank check to the Postal Service, but instead allows it to borrow up to $10 billion from the U.S. Treasury. Page 607 of the bill specifically says the money can only be used to pay for operating expenses - and not any outstanding debt of the Postal Service. The bill also orders the Postal Service to prioritize the delivery of medical products related to the Coronavirus, and also gives the Postal Service the right to establish 'temporary delivery points' during the outbreak, in order to shield employees from the virus. 5. Miscellaneous Provisions. Any reporter who has gone through Congressional spending bills starts to get a little excited when you get to the section labeled 'Miscellaneous Provisions' - and this bill does not disappoint. Starting on page 609, there is a laundry list of extra money sent to various government agencies to deal with the Coronavirus. Some, like money for food safety won't raise any eyebrows. But others were quickly getting the thumbs down from some GOP lawmakers who actually read their way through the details of the bill. 6. There is no Congressional Pay Raise. Let me say it again. There is no pay raise for members of the House and Senate, no matter what you read on Twitter or Facebook. The troublemakers on Twitter didn't take long in spreading fake news about the details of this bill, accusing lawmakers of voting themselves a pay raise. Let me be very clear - that did *not* happen in this bill. There is no reference to the underlying federal code which governs the pay of lawmakers (section 601(a) of the Legislative Reorganization Act of 1946 (2 U.S.C. 4501)).  Is there extra money for Congress in this bill? Yes, there is. The Senate gets $10 million, and the House gets $25 million. Where would that money go? It doesn't take too much imagination to come up with items like extra medical, safety, and security precautions for 435 members of the House. Expanded telework with laptops, servers, and more. Cleaning crews to deal with any outbreaks that might touch Congressional offices or the Capitol complex. And finally, even if lawmakers voted themselves a pay raise, they would not be allowed to get any extra money until the new Congress. That's not a law - that's in the Constitution.
  • The morning after the U.S. Senate unanimously approved an unprecedented $2 trillion economic rescue package to confront the negative impact of the Coronavirus outbreak, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi told reporters that she was already thinking ahead to the next Congressional move to spur economic growth. 'We have to do more,' the Speaker said at a U.S. Capitol news conference, as she told reporters about a phone conversation with Jerome Powell, the Chairman of the Federal Reserve. 'The Chairman of the Fed, Mr. Powell said to me, interest rates are low, think big,'  'There's no question that more money will be needed,' Pelosi added, as she indicated there would be support to funnel more money directly to Americans. 'I don't think we've seen the end of direct payments,' the Speaker said. Pelosi said the House would vote Friday to approve the $2 trillion economic package, most likely by a voice vote. 'We will have a victory tomorrow for America's workers. If somebody has a different point of view they can put that in the record,' the Speaker said.