Virus cases drop to zero in China but surge in Latin America

TOKYO (AP) — The coronavirus pandemic continued to drop in much of Asia on Saturday even as the outbreak surged in Latin America, as the world grappled with balancing the urge to restart economies with fears about health risks.

China, where the outbreak began late last year, reported no new confirmed cases for the first time. In South Korea, there were 23 fresh infections, mostly from the densely populated Seoul area where authorities shut down thousands of nightclubs, bars and karaoke rooms to stem transmissions.

The encouraging signs are likely to set off a much awaited thrust to get back to business as governments have been readying social-distancing measures to reopen economies.

In Japan, a group representing bar hostesses and other nightlife workers issued guidelines to protect employees as outfits reopen, telling them to wear masks, gargle every 30 minutes and disinfect karaoke microphones after each use.

The Bank of Japan, which recently announced measures to ensure easy lending in the world’s third largest economy, said in a joint statement with the government that both sides “will work together to bring the Japanese economy back again on the post-pandemic solid growth track.”

Trump declares churches 'essential,' calls on them to reopen

WASHINGTON (AP) — President Donald Trump has labeled churches and other houses of worship as “essential" and called on governors nationwide to let them reopen this weekend even though some areas remain under coronavirus lockdown.

The president threatened Friday to “override” governors who defy him, but it was unclear what authority he has to do so.

“Governors need to do the right thing and allow these very important essential places of faith to open right now — for this weekend," Trump said at a hastily arranged press conference at the White House. Asked what authority Trump might have to supersede governors, White House press secretary Kayleigh McEnany said she wouldn't answer a theoretical question.

Trump has been pushing for the country to reopen as he tries to reverse an economic free fall playing out months before he faces reelection. White evangelical Christians have been among the president's most loyal supporters, and the White House has been careful to attend to their concerns throughout the crisis.

Following Trump's announcement, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention released new guidelines for communities of faith on how to safely reopen, including recommendations to limit the size of gatherings and consider holding services outdoors or in large, well-ventilated areas.

What you need to know today about the virus outbreak

Public health officials are warning Americans to follow social distancing and other measures that aim to stop the spread of the coronavirus as they head into the long Memorial Day weekend with millions of others emerging from lockdowns to celebrate the holiday at beaches and cookouts.

At the same time, President Donald Trump said Friday he has deemed churches and other houses of worship “essential” and called on governors across the country to allow them to reopen this weekend.

The three-day weekend begins even as the coronavirus pandemic is accelerating across Latin America, Russia, India and Pakistan. So far, number of cases are flattening elsewhere as businesses start to reopen in much of Europe, Asia and the United States.

India saw its biggest single-day spike since the pandemic began, and Pakistan and Russia recorded their highest death tolls. Even so, many governments say they need to shift their focus to saving jobs.

In the United States and China, the world’s two largest economies, the unemployment numbers are staggering. The Federal Reserve chairman has estimated that 25% of Americans could be jobless by June, while in China analysts estimate about a third of the urban workforce is unemployed.

Biden says he was too 'cavalier' about black voters' choices

ATLANTA (AP) — Joe Biden says he “should not have been so cavalier” after he told a prominent black radio host that African Americans who back President Donald Trump “ain’t black.”

The presumptive Democratic presidential nominee quickly moved to address the fallout from his Friday remark, which was interpreted by some as presuming black Americans would vote for him. In a call with the U.S. Black Chamber of Commerce that was added to his public schedule, Biden said he would never “take the African American community for granted.”

“I shouldn’t have been such a wise guy,” Biden said. “No one should have to vote for any party based on their race or religion or background.”

That was an acknowledgement of the stinging criticism he received in response to his comments, which he made earlier in the day on “The Breakfast Club,” a radio program that is popular in the black community.

The rebukes included allies of Trump's reelection campaign — anxious to go on the offense after weeks of defending the Republican president's response to the coronavirus pandemic — and some activists who warned that Biden must still court black voters, even if African Americans overwhelmingly oppose the president.

Debt and coronavirus push Hertz into bankruptcy protection

Hertz filed for bankruptcy protection Friday, unable to withstand the coronavirus pandemic that has crippled global travel and with it, the heavily indebted 102-year-old car rental company's business.

The Estero, Florida-based company's lenders were unwilling to grant it another extension on its auto lease debt payments past a Friday deadline, triggering the filing in U.S. Bankruptcy Court in Delaware.

Hertz and its subsidiaries will continue to operate, according to a release from the company. Hertz's principal international operating regions and franchised locations are not included in the filing, the statement said.

By the end of March, Hertz Global Holdings Inc. had racked up more than $24 billion in debt, according to the bankruptcy filing, with only $1 billion of available cash.

Starting in mid-March, the company — whose car-rental bands also include Dollar and Thrifty — lost all revenue when travel shut down due to the coronavirus. The company made “significant efforts” but couldn’t raise money on the capital markets, so it started missing payments to creditors in April, the filing said. Hertz has also been plagued by management upheaval, naming its fourth CEO in six years on May 18.

Virus spread feared where water is scarce around the world

HARARE, Zimbabwe (AP) — Violet Manuel hastily abandoned her uncle’s funeral and grabbed two empty containers when she heard a boy running down the dirt road shouting, “Water, water, water!”

The 72-year-old joined dozens of people seeking their daily ration in Zimbabwe's densely populated town of Chitungwiza.

“Social distancing here?” Manuel asked tartly. She sighed with relief after getting her allotment of 40 liters (10.5 gallons) but worried about the coronavirus.

“I got the water, but chances are that I also got the disease,” she told The Associated Press. And yet her plans for the water did not include hand-washing but “more important” tasks such as cleaning dishes and flushing the toilet.

Such choices underscore the challenges of preventing the spread of the coronavirus in slums, camps and other crowded settlements around the world where clean water is scarce and survival is a daily struggle.

After weeks of COVID-19 cases, Russian doctor craves quiet

MOSCOW (AP) — As he strides down the sidewalk outside Moscow's Filatov Hospital in blue jeans and garish crimson shoes, Dr. Osman Osmanov shows no signs of the rigors he's just been through.

But behind the veneer of calm is a yearning for relief from countless days of laboring to save the lives of the stream of coronavirus victims who come into the hospital on gurneys, frightened and struggling to breathe.

“Frankly speaking, I just want to be in silence for a couple of days. I would like to go somewhere in the mountains where there is no cellphone signal, so I can sit quietly and have some air," the 40-year-old intensive care physician told The Associated Press at the end of yet another long shift at the epicenter of Russia's coronavirus outbreak.

He smiles hesitantly when he expresses the wish, as if confessing a secret.

Moscow accounts for about half of all of Russia's 326,000 coronavirus cases and 3,249 deaths, a deluge that strains the city's hospitals and has forced Osmanov to to work every day for the past two months, sometimes for 24 hours at a time.

Trump's disconnect with DC widens during viral pandemic

WASHINGTON (AP) — District of Columbia Mayor Muriel Bowser’s cellphone rang earlier this week from an unfamiliar number: It was the White House calling to say President Donald Trump wanted to talk.

The president congratulated Washington's mayor on $876 million in federal coronavirus relief going to the Washington-area Metro system — money that was welcome but not under the mayor's jurisdiction, instead going to a regional transportation authority.

Bowser used the moment to remind Trump that the District — a city of 700,000 people that includes more than 150,000 federal workers— got $700 million less in coronavirus relief money than each of the 50 states because it was classified as a territory at Senate Republicans' insistence in the first round of federal relief passed by Congress.

As a candidate, Trump spoke warmly of the nation’s capital and said he wanted “whatever is best” for its residents. But over the course of his more than three years in office a disconnect between the president and District of Columbia has emerged. The public differences have only become more stark during the pandemic.

“It is very important that the District is made whole, and that the District gets what it’s owed,” Bowser said this week after her talk with Trump.

Britain divided over reopening schools as virus rules ease

LONDON (AP) — David Waugh is putting down barrier tape and spraying yellow lines on the ground outside the main door of his school near Manchester.

Waugh, who oversees five schools in northwestern England, already has painted yellow arrows to ensure that children follow a one-way path around the building when they return next month from an extended break due to the coronavirus pandemic.

Soft furniture and play equipment have been cordoned off, and desks have been spread apart. Waugh has stocked up on 7,500 face masks, hundreds of pairs of gloves, hand sanitizer and other supplies.

“The government says we don’t need them, but I certainly couldn’t have risked not having them,” he told The Associated Press. “It’s the unknown, the utter unknown. We’re taking baby steps forward at the moment, trying to win the hearts and minds of parents and teachers.”

Since March 20, the coronavirus has forced British schools to close to all but a small number of key workers’ children and those under social care. The government wants children to start returning to primary schools in stages from June 1. Those going back first include the youngest — ages 4 to 6. Daycare providers also have been told to start welcoming back babies and toddlers from June.

FBI director orders internal review of Flynn investigation

WASHINGTON (AP) — FBI Director Christopher Wray has ordered an internal review into possible misconduct in the investigation of former Trump administration national security adviser Michael Flynn, the bureau said Friday.

The after-action review will examine whether any current employees engaged in misconduct during the course of the investigation and evaluate whether any improvements in FBI policies and procedures need to be made.

In announcing the review, the FBI, a frequent target of President Donald Trump’s wrath, is stepping into a case that has become a rallying cry for Trump supporters — and doing so right as the Justice Department pushes back against criticism that its recent decision to dismiss the prosection was a politically motivated effort to do Trump's bidding.

The announcement adds to the internal scrutiny over one of special counsel Robert Mueller's signature prosecutions during his investigation into ties between Russia and Trump's 2016 presidential campaign. It underscores how a case that was seemingly resolved by Flynn's 2017 guilty plea has instead given way to a protracted, politically charged debate about FBI and Justice Department tactics during that investigation and the Russia probe more broadly.

The unusual review will be led by the bureau's Inspection Division, which conducts internal investigations into potential employee misconduct. Trump has recently been sharply critical of the FBI, and suggested earlier this month that Wray's fate as director could be in limbo. An FBI official said Friday that the review had been contemplated for some time and that the FBI has cooperated with multiple Russia-related internal inquiries.

Copyright 2020 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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