The Latest: Brazil health minister: lockdowns will be needed

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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:

– Brazil’s health minister for the first time has said that lockdowns will be needed to prevent the spread of the coronavirus.

– Trump says he did wear mask at Honeywell plant “for a period of time”.

– U.K. has become second country to record more than 30,000 deaths as a result of the coronavirus pandemic.

– Former CDC director: US will reach 100,000 virus deaths by the end of May.

– Republican-led Michigan Legislature suing Democratic Gov. Gretchen Whitmer.

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BRASILIA, Brazil – Brazil’s health minister for the first time has said that lockdowns will be needed to prevent the spread of the coronavirus in Latin America’s most populous country, where deaths have hit a new high of more than 600 two days in a row.

Nelson Teich told reporters that lockdowns will be important for parts of the country with high infection rates and crowded hospitals with more patients arriving. He didn’t name any specific cities or states.

Teich’s comments stood in stark contrast to comments over the past two months from President Jair Bolsonaro, who has called the virus a “little flu” and criticized business shutdowns ordered by governors as more damaging to the country’s economy than the virus itself.

Teich took office last month as virus cases started surging in Brazil. He pledged to save both lives and the economy and said at the time that he and Bolsonaro saw eye to eye.

Brazil is the hardest hit country in Latin America by the coronavirus. Experts fear that the situation will get worse, especially in the teeming slums called favelas where more than 11 million people live in cramped conditions.

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WASHINGTON – President Donald Trump said that schools should re-open in most of the country but that it would be understandable if older teachers with health issues stayed home.

Trump was asked about schools in the Oval Office during an appreciation ceremony for and with nurses.

Most schools around the country shut down in March and have shifted to remote learning through the end of the academic year. Reopening them is considered key to getting the economy moving again.

It was the second time in as many weeks Trump has endorsed the idea, citing how children have fared during the coronavirus pandemic.

On a call with governors last week, he said states should “seriously consider” reopening schools before the end of the academic year.

“It’s incredible,” he said Wednesday. “We realize how strong children are. Their immune system is maybe a little bit different, maybe it’s just a little bit stronger or maybe it’s a lot stronger. Could be a lot stronger. We’ve learned a lot by watching this monster.”

The comments have provoked backlash from teachers unions and others who say reopening too early would be dangerous for students and staff.

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HARTFORD, Conn. – Connecticut’s colleges and universities may open at their discretion, in a phased-in way between May 20 and September 1, with mass COVID-19 testing of students living on residential campuses, under a package of recommendations submitted to Gov. Ned Lamont.

The plan, however, depends on certain benchmarks being met, such as a steady decline in hospitalizations in Connecticut and colleges and universities having adequate supplies of tests, face masks and personal protective equipment.

Approximately 190,000 students are enrolled in higher education institutions across Connecticut. They employ about 45,000 people.

“For residential institutions, we are recommending that a screening of everyone, testing of everyone, when they come in the fall, and isolating those who test positive and depending on what the public health thinking is at that time,” said Rick Levin, former president of Yale University and co-chairman of the higher education subcommittee of Lamont’s reopening advisory committee.

Levin said there may be a second round of testing and more random screenings during the course of the school year.

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WASHINGTON – President Donald Trump has asked the Justice Department to investigate allegations of potential market manipulation and possible price fixing by meatpackers during the coronavirus pandemic.

Trump told reporters at the White House that he’s asked the Justice Department to launch an investigation.

Justice Department spokeswoman Kerri Kupec confirmed the president has asked the agency to investigate potential antitrust issues. Officials said the department has also received a number of inquiries from members of Congress about the matter.

Attorneys general for 11 Midwestern states also asked the Justice Department to pursue a federal investigation. They noted in a letter to William Barr on Tuesday that the domestic beef processing market is highly concentrated, with the four largest beef processors controlling 80 percent of the industry.

They said the meat market could be “particularly susceptible to market manipulation” especially during the coronavirus pandemic.

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ANNAPOLIS, Md. – Federal prosecutors have subpoenaed Maryland records relating to a $12.5 million contract for personal protective equipment that never arrived, a spokesman for Gov. Larry Hogan said Wednesday.

Michael Ricci, Hogan’s spokesman, confirmed in an email that Maryland has received subpoenas from federal prosecutors. The contract was with Blue Flame Medical, a company founded by two politically connected Republicans. Ricci declined to elaborate on the subpoenas.

During a news conference Wednesday afternoon on developments related to the state’s coronavirus response, the governor discussed his decision last week to cancel the contract and to direct the state’s attorney general to investigate.

Hogan also noted media reports of a federal investigation into this company’s interactions with multiple states, including California.

“It is unconscionable that anyone would try to exploit this pandemic for profit or for personal gain, which is why I’m so pleased we were able to act so swiftly to uncover Blue Flame’s potential wrongdoings and to alert the authorities,” Hogan said.

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The Pentagon says Defense Secretary Mark Esper will travel to the headquarters of U.S. Northern Command in Colorado Springs, Colorado, on Thursday to meet with senior military officials about the Pentagon’s response to the coronavirus pandemic.

Esper also will communicate virtually with military members deployed around the country in support of civilian authorities.

It will be Esper’s first trip outside of Washington since late March.

Northern Command is responsible for defense of the American homeland and is taking the lead for coronavirus operations with more than 13,000 active-duty troops deployed.

Esper’s trip comes as President Donald Trump pushes for a reopening of the country.

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Louisiana Gov. John Bel Edwards says he expects to announce Monday whether the state will be able to begin a phased reopening of businesses shuttered by the fight against the new coronavirus.

His current stay-at-home order runs through May 15. Edwards said Wednesday the overall trends appear positive. But data isn’t yet available on whether all regions of Louisiana meet criteria issued last month in White House guidelines on reopenings.

The number of people hospitalized for COVID-19 in Louisiana continues to trend downward – dropping below 1,500 Wednesday. The number of confirmed coronavirus infections is over 30,000 as testing increases. More than 20,000 are presumed to have recovered. There have been 2,094 deaths.

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President Donald Trump says he did wear a face mask Tuesday at a Honeywell plant in Phoenix that makes them, but did so backstage, out of view of the press, for “not too long” a time.

Trump told reporters in the Oval Office as he signed a proclamation honoring nurses, that, “I actually did have one. I had a mask on for a period of time.”

He added that he couldn’t “help it” if reporters didn’t see him and that the head of Honeywell had told him that he didn’t need to wear one during the public portions of his visit.

Guidelines posted in the factory advise that masks be worn at all times.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has recommended that all Americans wear cloth masks when they can’t socially distance to avoid spreading the virus, but Trump and his senior aides are tested regularly, as is everyone he comes into close contact with.

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LONDON – The U.K. has become the second country to record more than 30,000 deaths as a result of the coronavirus pandemic.

Robert Jenrick, the communities secretary, said at the government’s daily briefing that another 649 people in the U.K. have died in all settings, including hospitals and care homes, after testing positive for the coronavirus.

That takes the U.K.’s official death toll to 30,076, only behind the United States, which has more than 71,000 coronavirus-related deaths.

The British government is expected to extend the lockdown restrictions on Thursday when they come up for review, partly because deaths remain elevated despite falling when measured over a seven-day period.

Jenrick also said that just under 70,000 tests for the coronavirus were conducted on Tuesday. That’s short of the 100,000 target the government had set for the end of April, which it managed to achieve twice.

On Wednesday, Prime Minister Boris Johnson set a new target for testing capacity of 200,000 tests a day by the end of May.

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Tom Frieden, a former director of the CDC, testified at a House hearing that there will be 100,000 deaths in the United States by the end of May.

As bad as the crisis has been, “It’s just the beginning,” he said.

“Our war against COVID will be long and difficult.”

Republican Rep. Andy Harris of Maryland, a hearing participant, said reopening the economy can’t wait. “We’re safer from death if we’re not born,” he said.

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LANSING, Mich. – The Republican-led Michigan Legislature is suing Democratic Gov. Gretchen Whitmer, asking a judge to declare invalid and unenforceable her stay-at-home order and other measures issued to combat the coronavirus pandemic.

The lawsuit, filed Wednesday in the state Court of Claims, says a 1945 law that gives the governor broad emergency powers to order such restrictions governs local, not statewide, declarations such as the one that has been in place since March.

It contends Whitmer needs legislative approval to extend the declaration and effectively keep intact the stay-home directive.

The order is in place at least through May 15 and generally requires people to shelter in place except to do critical jobs, exercise outdoors and buy groceries or other items.

Nearly 4,200 people in Michigan have died of complications from COVID-19.

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BELGRADE, Serbia – Serbian lawmakers voted to end a state of emergency that was imposed in mid-March to help curb the spread of the new coronavirus.

The decision was backed by 155 lawmakers in the 250-member parliament. A number of opposition lawmakers have boycotted assembly session.

The parliamentary vote means that a daily and weekend curfew will no longer be in place and that people over 65 years old will be able to go out of their homes freely.

The authorities have said that the outbreak has slowed and there is no longer need for strict lockdown measures.

The state of emergency also had allowed the authorities to deploy the army at the borders and outside the hospitals and to guard the Balkan country’s centers for asylum seekers that are hosting thousands of migrants seeking to reach Western Europe.

Strident measures have led to tensions among the citizens who argued the lockdown was too harsh. Tens of thousands have been banging pots and blowing whistles from their windows during the curfew in protest.

Serbia’s populist authorities have rejected claims they were using the state of emergency to strengthen grip on power. Serbia has reported 9,791 cases while 203 people have died.

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PORTLAND, Ore. – Teachers in the largest school district in Oregon are voting on a proposal to furlough all staff for one day a week through July to save money during the pandemic and then use money from a little-known provision in the federal bailout package to backfill their pay.

Portland’s school board approved the plan late Tuesday and the district has gotten approval from the Oregon Employment Department.

Labor unions for other school staff, including custodians and bus drivers, have already approved the idea.

The plan will allow the district to save 20% on employee pay – money that can be used next year.

The plan, however, has drawn ire from some parents who feel it’s an unfair use of the federal bailout dollars to boost pay for furloughed teachers while so many people are unemployed and struggling.

Critics took to social media after the school board vote, calling it a “gross abuse of the system” and a fleecing of taxpayers.

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OWOSSO, Mich. — A 77-year-old barber who was in “despair” over Michigan’s business shutdown said he was given a ticket Wednesday that could cost him $1,000 or more after reopening his shop and cutting hair this week.

“I’m not trying to prove some point. I needed to get back to work,” Karl Manke said.

Manke’s shop in Owosso has been crowded with people who drove from as far as Traverse City, three hours away, for a $15 haircut.

Salons and barber shops were closed in late March by Gov. Gretchen Whitmer, who said they’re not essential during the coronavirus outbreak and could put people at risk through close contact.

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MILAN – The number of people who have recovered from coronavirus in Italy is higher than the number of people who are actually positive for the first time since Italy created the first red zones on Feb. 21.

As of Wednesday, a total of 93,245 people have been dismissed from hospitals after recovering from the virus, while 91,528 people are currently positive, according to the civil protection agency.

Meanwhile, both the number of deaths and new positives made their biggest jumps since Sunday.

Authorities recorded 369 deaths in the past 24 hours, bringing Italy’s total deaths to 29,684, while the number of new infections rose by 1,444, hitting 214,457.

Italy began easing the strict lockdown measures on Monday, but it is expected to be a couple of weeks before it is apparent whether the greater freedoms result in an increase in infections and deaths.

Italians are being told to wear masks and gloves when outside the house, as some 4.4 million people returned to work this week as more manufacturing was open and some more businesses, including coffee bars for take-out orders only.

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WINDOW ROCK, Ariz. – Navajo Nation officials report six additional deaths from COVID-19, raising the total on the tribe’s reservation to at least 79 as of Tuesday.

Tribal officials also reported 85 additional positive COVID-19 cases, raising the total on the reservation to at least 2,599 as of Tuesday.

The Navajo Nation has been hit hard by the coronavirus outbreak, with the tribe implementing curfews to try to stop the spread of the disease among residents of its far-flung communities.

The reservation includes parts of Arizona, New Mexico and Utah.

The counties with the most reported positive cases as of Tuesday were New Mexico’s McKinley County with 705 cases and Arizona’s Apache and Navajo counties with 622 cases and and 556 cases, respectively.

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

Australian Murray Higgs stands outside the Kranji War Memorial cemetery in his exercise outfit during ANZAC Day, in Singapore Saturday, April 25, 2020. Higgs has lived in Singapore for 20 years and has been attending the annual ANZAC Day dawn service at the cemetery, but this year’s commemorative events have been cancelled due to COVID-19 circuit breaker measures being enforced at the city state. (AP Photo/YK Chan)
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