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As nationwide protests sparked by the death of a black man in police custody stretched into their sixth day, current and former government officials warned Sunday that the mass demonstrations could lead to new waves of coronavirus infections.

“There’s going to be a lot of issues coming out of what’s happened in the last week, but one of them is going to be that chains of transmission will have become lit from these gatherings,” former Food and Drug Administration commissioner Scott Gottlieb said in an interview on CBS News’s “Face the Nation."

Meanwhile, as the U.S. death toll from the coronavirus pandemic climbed above 100,000, President Trump spent the month of May desperate to change the subject from a crisis he could not control. “He’s been over coronavirus for a long time,” said one veteran Trump adviser.

Here are some significant developments:

  • Pockets of Americans across the country appeared to shrug off instructions to wear masks and practice social distancing over the weekend, gathering in large groups to protest, dine or enjoy the warm weather.
  • Dentists in New York may resume normal operations on Monday, Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo announced Sunday.
  • A physician who contracted with the state of Florida to provide coronavirus test results for thousands of people was removed from his post after officials realized he had been put on probation by the state medical board for improperly treating HIV patients.
  • In the first large-scale study examining coronavirus antibodies in children, researchers in Washington state found roughly 1 percent of children who visited a Seattle hospital in March and April were infected with the novel coronavirus, even though most were not symptomatic.
  • President Trump said Saturday he will postpone until at least September the annual Group of Seven meeting of world leaders. He had planned to hold the summit in-person by the end of June.

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May 31, 2020 at 11:37 PM EDT

Italian doctors say virus is weakening as country prepares to reopen travel

The novel coronavirus is losing potency, the top doctor at a major hospital in Milan said Sunday, as virus-stricken Italy reports some of its lowest daily infections and fatalities since the nation locked down in March.

Authorities are preparing to resume travel between regions and from other parts of Europe this week. That prospect has prompted nerves among elected officials in some lesser-hit parts of the country, who fear an uptick in travel could prompt a resurgence for the virus.

But Alberto Zangrillo, the head of Milan’s San Raffaele Hospital, said experts were being too alarmist and politicians needed to consider that the virus was weakening.

“In reality, the virus clinically no longer exists in Italy,” he told RAI state television, according to Reuters. “We’ve got to get back to being a normal country."

Swabs performed over the last 10 days, he said, showed a viral load that was “absolutely infinitesimal” in quantitative terms compared to samples taken more than a month ago.

The Lombardy region, which includes Milan, has been particularly hard-hit by the pandemic. For the past 10 days, it has been the only region in Italy with new daily infections in the triple digits. On Sunday, regional officials had reported 210 new infections in the previous 24 hours.

Matteo Bassetti, who leads the infectious-disease clinic at Genoa’s San Martino hospital, also said that “it is clear that today the covid-19 disease is different.”

But government officials said that with case totals still going up, it was far too soon to spread conflicting information. Many people with scant or no symptoms have not been tested, and others died without having received tests, too.

“We should instead invite Italians to maintain the maximum caution, maintain physical distancing, avoid large groups, to frequently wash their hands and to wear masks,” a health official said in statement to Reuters.

By Teo Armus
May 31, 2020 at 10:50 PM EDT

Trump’s May days: Distractions and grievances as nation marks bleak milestone

As the U.S. death toll from the coronavirus pandemic climbed toward the bleak milestone of 100,000 and nearly one-sixth of the nation’s workers were unemployed, President Trump’s mind on May 18 was elsewhere. He welcomed two of his 2016 political soldiers, Corey Lewandowski and David Bossie, to the White House for a nostalgia tour reminiscing about how he had vanquished Hillary Clinton.

When Trump did address public health issues that day, he alarmed officials by revealing that he had been taking the antimalarial drug hydroxychloroquine as a prophylactic — despite his own administration’s warning that doing so could cause severe heart problems.

A day later, when Trump journeyed to the Capitol for the first time during the pandemic, he again allowed his personal concerns to eclipse the crisis engulfing the nation. Over lunch with Republican senators, Trump complained about “criminal” Democrats who had “unmasked my children.” He accused his political opponents of “treason.” He implored his party to “stick together” and “be tough.” And he turned the floor over to his new White House press secretary, Kayleigh McEnany, to deliver a campaign polling presentation aimed at persuading the lawmakers that the president was more popular than public surveys had indicated.

Read more here.

By Robert Costa, Philip Rucker, Yasmeen Abutaleb and Josh Dawsey
May 31, 2020 at 10:18 PM EDT

Colorado man receives $840,000 bill after hospital stay for coronavirus

A Colorado man who survived after two weeks in an intensive care unit battling covid-19, the disease caused by the novel coronavirus, received a hefty bill as he recovers at home. Robert Dennis’s first statement showed a balance of $840,386.94, he told KMGH-TV in Denver.

Dennis spent two weeks intubated in the Sky Ridge Medical Center ICU, and the bill does not include three weeks at Spalding Rehabilitation Hospital or his wife Suzanne’s trips to the emergency room when she was symptomatic.

“Seeing that number yesterday for the first bill it kind of took your breath away again,” Suzanne told the station. “His meds just at the hospital are a quarter-million dollars.”

In early March, President Trump announced that health insurers would eliminate “all co-payments for coronavirus treatments” and “extend insurance coverage to those treatments.” A wide array of private health insurers agreed to waive the charges for a test, but not to cover the total cost of care.

Kristine Grow, a spokeswoman for America’s Healthy Insurance Plans, the industry’s main trade group, has previously said there was no agreement to waive out-of-pocket costs for treatment.

The Dennis’s are insured, but this widespread scenario of high hospital bills is expected to drive up insurance premiums by double digits for tens of millions of Americans next year, according to Peter Lee, director of California’s individual insurance marketplace. Hospital costs for care from the virus could reach between $29 billion and $216 billion for those on employer-sponsored or individual market coverage.

By Kareem Copeland
May 31, 2020 at 9:39 PM EDT

California, Texas, South Carolina report new highs for single-day case reports

New cases of the coronavirus reached daily highs in several states as the pandemic continues to pose a threat in the United States.

California, Texas and South Carolina all reported their highest numbers of daily infections on Sunday, with several other states having surges during the weekend, according to figures compiled by The Washington Post from state health departments. Even accounting for increased testing, the spikes show that the virus remains dangerous and continues to spread while businesses, houses of worship and other institutions reopen across the country.

California set its record with 3,705 new cases and has set new highs in three of the past four days.

In Texas, 1,949 new cases surpassed Thursday’s high of 1,855, while South Carolina reported 467 new cases Sunday to surpass 343 on Friday. Arizona posted its highest three days this weekend, with 790 new cases Saturday, 702 on Friday and 681 Sunday.

North Carolina has had its highest numbers in three of the past four days, with 1,185 new cases Saturday. Utah was in a similar spot with its highest four days of new cases coming Thursday to Sunday, with Friday holding the high of 343 cases.

Mississippi also experienced peaks this weekend, with a high of 439 on Saturday after reaching 418 on Friday.

Covid-19, the disease caused by the novel coronavirus, has killed at least 103,000 people in the United States since February.

By Kareem Copeland
May 31, 2020 at 8:49 PM EDT

Grandparents grieve over loss of visits with grandchildren

Before the pandemic, Nancy Chasen, 75, a retired public interest lawyer, and her husband, Don Spero, 80, a retired businessman, regularly drove the nearly 300 miles from their home in Bethesda, Md., to Chapel Hill, N.C., to visit their grandchildren, ages 8, 5 and 4.

“We’d go every month or so for at least a few days to consistently build those relationships,” Chasen says. “We didn’t want to be just faces in an electronic box.”

But the novel coronavirus now has them sheltering in place, stuck in that electronic box, and wondering when they can drive south again. Interestingly, they think the safest time to go may be now.

Read more here.

May 31, 2020 at 7:47 PM EDT

U.S. sends 2 million doses of hydroxychloroquine to hard-hit Brazil

The White House on Sunday said that it has sent Brazil 2 million doses of hydroxychloroquine, a drug President Trump promoted to prevent and treat covid-19.

According to a joint statement by the countries, the United States will also deliver 1,000 ventilators to Brazil, which is experiencing a rapid increase in coronavirus cases and has reported 28,834 deaths, fourth behind the United States, Britain and Italy.

Hydroxychloroquine, the statement said, “will be used as a prophylactic to help defend Brazil’s nurses, doctors, and healthcare professionals against the virus. It will also be used as a therapeutic to treat Brazilians who become infected.”

The countries also announced that they would conduct joint research that will include clinical trials, which, the statement said, “will help further evaluate the safety and efficacy of [hydroxychloroquine] for both prophylaxis and the early treatment of the coronavirus.”

Last week, the World Health Organization announced that it had temporarily stopped a global trial of the drug, citing a study that found a significantly higher risk of death among those taking hydroxychloroquine or the closely related drug chloroquine.

Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro is an ardent admirer of Trump and has played down the severity of the pandemic, calling it a “little flu.”

By Steven Goff
May 31, 2020 at 6:44 PM EDT

Desperate retailers to ask Fed, Treasury for emergency help

The nation’s retail industry is swamped with stuff and short of cash.

As they reopen stores full of merchandise from March that no one will want in June, retailers are struggling to make room for summer goods trapped in overstuffed warehouses.

With five big retailers having filed for bankruptcy in May, some of the industry’s survivors can’t get financial backing for their holiday season orders — prompting an urgent appeal to the Treasury Department and the Federal Reserve for help.

Weakness in the roughly $3.8 trillion retail sector could ripple across the wounded U.S. economy, hobbling prospects for a rapid recovery from the unprecedented economic shutdown put in place to combat the pandemic, economists said.

Read more here.

By David Lynch and Abha Bhattarai
May 31, 2020 at 5:51 PM EDT

Cuomo allows dental offices to reopen in New York state

Dentists in New York may resume normal operations on Monday, Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo (D) announced Sunday, another step in the state’s gradual return from the coronavirus shutdown.

Dental offices will be subject to health and safety guidelines, such as social distancing, use of masks and taking customers’ temperature. For more than two months, patients were allowed to see dentists for emergencies only.

Cuomo’s announcement came about a week after the New York State Dental Association, which represents 12,000 members, sent a letter to the governor saying restrictions were adversely affecting general health and dentistry’s financial viability, the Albany Times Union reported.

The American Dental Association said that, as of the week of May 18, 65 percent of dental practices nationally were open, and 38 percent of those reported that patient volume had returned to pre-pandemic levels. The ADA also said 27 states had allowed practices to reopen. Almost 60 percent of practices were fully paying their employees.

By Steven Goff
May 31, 2020 at 5:12 PM EDT

Trump is pushing churches to open. In St. Louis, black pastors preach caution.

On any given Sunday, the soaring sanctuary of St. Louis’s Church of God in Christ echoes with thundering sermons, joyful music and ecstatic professions of faith.

Just not this week. Or next.

Silent since March, the church will stay that way until Bishop Elijah H. Hankerson III deems it safe — even though local authorities have authorized places of worship to reopen, and Trump has prodded them to do it fast. Much as Hankerson wants to get back to preaching the gospel face-to-face, rather than online, he knows through tragic experience exactly what is at stake.

“I have a more personal view of the devastation than many people,” Hankerson said.

Read more here.

By Griff Witte
May 31, 2020 at 4:21 PM EDT

Shut out at Bristol Motor Speedway, NASCAR fans set up camp next door

As is custom in the run-up to NASCAR’s annual races at Bristol Motor Speedway, the lampposts along the downtown’s historic State Street were adorned with banners last week celebrating what’s billed as the world’s fastest half-mile track.

And in Social Circle, Ga., Mike Deehan revved up his 32-foot motor home for the five-hour drive north, as he does each spring and fall, to be on hand for Sunday’s 500-lap stock-car race.

No spectators will be allowed, as has been the case since NASCAR began its tightly regulated resumption May 17 after a two-month shutdown triggered by the novel coronavirus pandemic.

But Deehan’s decision to come anyway, along with the city’s decision to roll out its traditional welcome mat, attests to the pull of sports, in which fans are willing to settle for something that falls between attending in person and cheering from home.

For Deehan and dozens of other NASCAR fans, a partial remedy to the loss of community during two months of relative isolation is converging at Bristol’s Earhart Campground.

Read more here.

By Liz Clarke
May 31, 2020 at 3:41 PM EDT

AIPAC cancels 2021 conference over concerns about pandemic

The American Israel Public Affairs Committee, a pro-Israel lobbying group better known as AIPAC, announced Sunday that it would cancel its 2021 conference in Washington because of “uncertainties created by the COVID-19 pandemic.”

“Without a predictable avenue to safely bring together thousands of pro-Israel Americans, we have been forced to cancel the 2021 AIPAC Policy Conference,” the group said in a statement released on Twitter.

The event, generally held in March, tends to draw high-ranking U.S. politicians from both major parties and their Israeli counterparts.

At this year’s conference in early March, attendees included Vice President Pence, Sen. Cory Booker (D-N.J.) and former New York mayor Mike Bloomberg, who at the time was a Democratic presidential candidate. Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu also appeared via video link.

By Adam Taylor
May 31, 2020 at 3:36 PM EDT

Running into trouble: Eager pandemic exercisers rack up injuries

For people faced with more free time but fewer athletic options, overuse injuries are the painful flip side to the noble pursuit of “quarantoning,” as getting toned during quarantine is known.

Medical professionals say eager exercisers often overestimate how much of a new activity their musculoskeletal systems can handle.

And they might do it again when they return to their gyms and studios after weeks or months away, expecting to be at the same level they were in March.

Health-care professionals say they are seeing more injuries from bad home-office setups than from bad fitness forays, but physical therapists in particular say they are seeing both — and occasionally some creative person will combine the two.

Read more here.

By Bonnie Berkowitz
May 31, 2020 at 2:38 PM EDT

3 protesters arrested outside U.S. Embassy in London for purported breaches of coronavirus laws

London’s Metropolitan Police announced they had made five arrests during protests outside the U.S. Embassy on Sunday, with two made for alleged assault on a police officer and three made for purported “breaches of COVID legislation.”

The arrests came as thousands of people marched to the embassy in London in solidarity with demonstrations in the United States sparked by George Floyd’s death in Minneapolis.

The crowd broke lockdown rules in place in London amid the coronavirus pandemic. “LONDON: lockdown has not been lifted,” Mayor Sadiq Khan tweeted Sunday morning. “The virus is still out there.”

The breach of coronavirus laws has been a subject of political controversy in Britain after it was revealed last month that Dominic Cummings, an influential adviser to Prime Minister Boris Johnson, had made a 260-mile family road trip while he and his wife were infected with the coronavirus.

Durham police later said Cummings may have broken rules, but he has not faced criminal charges and has retained his high-level position.

By Adam Taylor
May 31, 2020 at 1:47 PM EDT

Former FDA chief, other officials warn mass protests could cause virus to spread

As nationwide protests sparked by the death of a black man in police custody stretched into their sixth day, former and current government officials warned Sunday the mass demonstrations could lead to new waves of coronavirus infections.

“There’s going to be a lot of issues coming out of what’s happened in the last week, but one of them is going to be that chains of transmission will have become lit from these gatherings,” former Food and Drug Administration commissioner Scott Gottlieb said in an interview on CBS News’s “Face the Nation."

He noted that Minnesota, which has been hit hard by the pandemic, had seen an uptick in cases and hospitalizations in recent days.

“We still have pockets of spread in communities that aren’t under good control,” said Gottlieb, who is advising state governors and the Trump administration on their coronavirus response.

He also called attention to the virus’s outsize impact on black and Hispanic people, who are contracting and dying from it at disproportionate rates. Low incomes, overcrowded housing, limited access to health care and high rates of underlying conditions were all factors that put those communities at greater risk, he said.

“I think it’s a symptom of broader racial inequities in our country that we need to work to resolve,” Gottlieb said.

In an interview with CNN, Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan (R) said he was worried the demonstrations could lead to spikes in cases.

“There’s no question that when you put hundreds or thousands of people together in close proximity when we’ve got this virus all over the streets it’s not healthy,” Hogan said.

Atlanta Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms (D) said on CNN on Sunday morning that she, too, was “extremely concerned” about the spread of the coronavirus during the protests.

“It’s a pandemic, and people of color are getting hit harder,” she said. “We’re going to see the other side of this in a couple of weeks.”

By Derek Hawkins and Laura Stevens
May 31, 2020 at 1:40 PM EDT

From the Andes to Tibet, the coronavirus seems to be sparing populations at high altitudes

When tourists from Mexico, China and Britain became the first covid-19 fatalities in Cusco, Peru, it seemed as if the international tourist destination might be headed for a significant outbreak.

Yet since those three deaths, between March 23 and April 3, at the start of Peru’s strict national lockdown, there has not been another covid-19 fatality in the entire Cusco region, even as the disease has claimed more than 4,000 lives nationally. Infections have also remained low. Just 916 of Peru’s 141,000 cases come from the Cusco region, meaning its contagion rate is more than 80 percent below the national average.

The relative dearth of cases and deaths in the internationally connected but high-elevation region has prompted speculation here that the coronavirus gets soroche, the Quechua word for altitude sickness. Similar results have been seen elsewhere in the Andes, and in Tibet. Scientists warn that the apparent pattern might not last, but the as-yet-unexplained phenomenon has them intrigued. Researchers are starting to investigate a possible relationship between the coronavirus and altitude.

Read more here.

By Simeon Tegel
May 31, 2020 at 1:40 PM EDT

Here’s what you need to know about paying your June rent or mortgage

Amid record unemployment, millions of Americans are expected to struggle to pay their rent or mortgage in June.

Already, more than 8 percent of U.S. homeowners, about 4.7 million households, have signed up for mortgage relief programs, according to the Mortgage Bankers Association. That is up more than 2,000 percent since early March.

The crisis facing the country’s 40 million renters is even more dire, sparking calls for rent strikes across the country and a $100 billion bailout. The number of tenants not paying their rent on time has doubled since the crisis, industry officials say. Amherst, a data and analytics real estate firm, estimates up to 28 million renters, or 22.5 percent of all U.S. households, are at risk of eviction or foreclosure because of the coronavirus.

Read more here on what you need to know to about paying your rent or mortgage.

By Renae Merle
May 31, 2020 at 12:09 PM EDT

Sweden announces zero newly recorded coronavirus deaths for first time since March 13

The Swedish government, whose relaxed response to the coronavirus pandemic has drawn attention and skepticism worldwide, announced Sunday it had not recorded any deaths in the previous 24 hours.

It is the first time since March 13 that the country had not recorded a new death from the coronavirus, press officer Henrik Josefsson of Sweden’s Public Health Office told reporters, though he added there was usually a lag in the reporting of some deaths.

Unlike many of its neighbors, Sweden did not implement a strict lockdown as the pandemic spread around the world. Instead, it imposed relatively lax restrictions on public gatherings and promoted public knowledge about the virus.

But international interest in the strategy shifted toward criticism as the country’s death toll mounted. In total, 37,542 people have been confirmed as infected in Sweden, while 4,395 had died — a considerably higher toll compared with neighboring countries that had imposed lockdowns. Per capita, Sweden’s was among the highest death rates in the world.

By Adam Taylor
May 31, 2020 at 11:01 AM EDT

Doctor hired by Florida to handle coronavirus test results was on probation by medical board

A Florida physician who handled coronavirus test results for thousands of people was removed from his post recently after officials realized he had been put on probation by the state medical board for improperly treating HIV patients, the Sun Sentinel reported.

The doctor, Eric Pantaleon, was also listed in a Drug Enforcement Administration database of Florida doctors who bought large amounts of opioids, according to the Sun Sentinel.

State officials contracted with Pantaleon and his company, Medical Associates Network, to deliver results from 12 coronavirus testing sites in southeast Florida.

Officials may not have noticed he was on probation initially because he was a third party that worked downstream from labs that run tests for the state, the Sun Sentinel reported.

The sites that Pantaleon was involved with have been plagued by delays, with some patients waiting weeks or even months to receive results, according to local media.

Residents who got tested were instructed to call Pantaleon if they did not receive their results within five days. Many told local media he never returned their calls.

Pantaleon did not immediately respond to a request for comment Sunday.

By Derek Hawkins
May 31, 2020 at 10:12 AM EDT

Divided Supreme Court still gives guidance on virus-related worship restrictions

The Supreme Court’s deeply divided order rejecting an emergency challenge to California’s pandemic-related restrictions on places of worship still provides a guide for lower courts balancing government rules intended to preserve public health with parishioners’ constitutional religious rights.

Just before midnight Friday, the court on a 5-to-4 vote rejected a challenge from South Bay Pentecostal Church near San Diego. The church had argued that Democratic Gov. Gavin Newsom’s reopening orders violated the Constitution by placing fewer restrictions on some secular businesses than houses of worship.

But Chief Justice John G. Roberts Jr. joined with the court’s four consistent liberals to reject the church’s call to stop enforcement of the restrictions.

“California’s guidelines place restrictions on places of worship, those restrictions appear consistent with the Free Exercise Clause of the First Amendment,” Roberts wrote in his opinion.

By Robert Barnes
May 31, 2020 at 9:30 AM EDT

‘It was me. I know it was me’: Francene Bailey on passing the coronavirus to her mother.

“Voices from the Pandemic” is an oral history of covid-19 and those affected:

They keep telling me it’s not my fault, and I’d give anything to believe that. The doctor called after my mom went to the hospital and said: “Don’t blame yourself. You didn’t do anything wrong.” The pastor said basically the same thing at her funeral. “Let it go. You had nothing to do with this.”

I know they’re trying to make me feel better, but it’s a lie. I had everything to do with it. This virus doesn’t just appear in your body out of nowhere. It has to pass from one person to the next. It has to come from somebody, and this time I know it came from me.

Read more here.

By Eli Saslow
May 31, 2020 at 8:50 AM EDT

Study of hospitalized children in Seattle area shows 1 percent had coronavirus antibodies

In the first large-scale study examining coronavirus antibodies in children, researchers in Washington state found that roughly 1 percent of children who visited a Seattle hospital in March and April were infected with the novel coronavirus, even though most were not symptomatic.

The study, which was released Saturday and has not been peer reviewed, also found that most of the children’s immune systems neutralized the virus quickly, offering hope for researchers working to develop a vaccine.

“If children can respond to the virus, then children can respond to a vaccine,” the study’s co-author, Janet Englund, an infectious-disease specialist at Seattle Children’s Hospital, told the Seattle Times. “And vaccines that are given to children are one of the most effective ways to stop the spread of disease in the community.”

“This is just a baby step,” Englund added. “But this is, to my knowledge, the first study of seroprevalence in children.”

The Seattle area was one of the first parts of the country hit hard by the coronavirus, which killed dozens of residents of a nursing home in the city’s suburbs following the emergence of the first cases in late February.

Researchers conducted serology tests on 1,076 children who were admitted to the Seattle Children’s Hospital between March 3 and April 24, during which time confirmed cases spiked in Washington state and subsequently tapered off. Most were admitted for reasons unrelated to the coronavirus.

One child tested positive for the antibodies in March, the other nine in April, according to the study. Eight out of the 10 were not suspected of having covid-19, the disease caused by the virus.

By Derek Hawkins
May 31, 2020 at 8:16 AM EDT

British government defends its plan to ease lockdown

Britain’s foreign secretary, Dominic Raab, went on the Sunday morning talk shows to defend his government’s plan to unlock the lockdown in England, even as some top scientific advisers warn there may be too much loosening, too soon.

Britain, like most of Europe, is seeing plummeting hospital admissions and deaths due to the novel coronavirus, but the number of new infections — with symptoms and no symptoms — remains relatively robust.

Late last week, some top British scientists who advise the government warned that England might be moving too fast to relax strict measures to restart the economy — especially since Britain’s delayed “test, trace and isolate” system is only now being cranked up.

“I think at the moment, with relatively high incidence and relaxing the measures and also with an untested track and trace system, I think we are taking some risk here,” John Edmunds, a professor of infectious-disease modeling at the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine, told the Guardian newspaper.

“We can’t just stay in lockdown forever. We have got to transition,” Raab told Sky News.

Over considerable resistance by parents and teachers, England will reopen classes in elementary schools on Monday. The government is also allowing barbecues and for six people from six different households to meet outdoors. The government has also announced that nonessential shops can open doors again on June 15.

Scottish First Minister Nicola Sturgeon told Sky News that Prime Minister Boris Johnson may be taking England out of lockdown too quickly.

“This virus has not gone away,” she said. “That is why in Scotland we are moving very slowly.”

The various nations making up the United Kingdom — England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland — are all operating at different speeds to loosen strict measures to contain the contagion.

By William Booth
May 31, 2020 at 7:55 AM EDT

Saudi Arabia allowing mosques to reopen as restrictions ease

DUBAI — Mosques in Saudi Arabia, shuttered for the past two months to stem the spread of the coronavirus, reopened Sunday under new social distancing guidelines.

Some 10 million text messages were sent out to citizens and residents of this country of 33 million in several languages explaining the guidelines. Among the country’s 90,000 mosques, the revered Prophet’s Mosque in the city of Medina was reopened at 40 percent capacity.

The measure is part of a gradual opening in Saudi Arabia which has been the hardest hit country by the coronavirus in the Arab world with more than 83,000 cases and 1,618 new ones announced on Saturday alone.

Health Minister Tawfiq al-Rabiah said Saturday in a television interview that any major increase of cases or lack of adherence to regulations would bring a return to the harsh lockdowns in place for the past two months.

Family gatherings have been increased to 50 people, curfews have been reduced to nighttime hours, offices will be reopened, restaurants can resume dine-in services and there will be domestic flights once more.

Face masks, however, will still be required in public.

The exceptions to these new measures will be the holy city of Mecca, focus of the annual hajj pilgrimage, which remains locked down, suggesting it is still a major center of the outbreak. The government also announced new drive-through testing centers in the city.

By Paul Schemm
May 31, 2020 at 7:28 AM EDT

Prayers resume in Jerusalem’s al-Aqsa mosque, Islam’s third-holiest site

The al-Aqsa Mosque reopened for prayers on Sunday in Jerusalem as hundreds of worshipers thronged into the compound in Jerusalem for the first time in two months.

Worshipers wore masks and carried their own prayer rugs as they entered the gates to the Temple Mount, known to Muslims as the Noble Sanctuary, which also contains the golden Dome of the Rock shrine.

Jerusalem is central to three of the world’s religions but all its holy sites, including Judaism’s Western Wall and the Church of the Holy Sepulchre, were restricted to worshipers to stop the spread of the coronavirus.

The mosque, which is considered the third-holiest place in Islam and revered by Muslims as the site where the prophet Muhammad ascended to heaven, remained closed during the holy fasting month of Ramadan as well as the Eid al-Fitr holiday ending it — times it would normally host packed prayers.

Worshipers chanted “God is greatest,” kissed the ground as they entered for dawn prayer, according to Reuters news agency, which added that more than 700 people attended.

Tensions have been high around the Old City of Jerusalem after Israeli forces shot dead on Friday an autistic Palestinian they mistakenly believed to be armed.

Israeli police said they mobilized extra units to oversee the reopening of the mosque compound and arrested eight men for chanting “nationalistic calls” against certain visitors to the site. Israeli Army Radio reported that 150 Jews went to the Temple Mount Sunday.

The spread of the coronavirus in Israel and Palestinian territories appears to have been substantially slowed in recent weeks, with some 17,000 recorded cases in Israel but fewer than 300 deaths. The Palestinians have only reported 386 cases.

By Paul Schemm
May 31, 2020 at 7:11 AM EDT

Pope warns against pessimism and calls for action to ‘end pandemic of poverty’

In sermons over the weekend, Pope Francis warned against pessimism in this time of coronavirus and urged followers to believe in hope and build a new world that tackles the “pandemic of poverty.”

On Saturday, the pope said “all the suffering will be of no use” if the world does not build a “more just and equitable society.

“Once we emerge from this pandemic, we will not be able to keep doing what we were doing, and as we were doing it. No, everything will be different,” Francis said in a video message, according to AFP news agency.

“From the great trials of humanity — among them this pandemic — one emerges better or worse. You don’t emerge the same. I ask this of you: How do you want to come out of it? Better or worse?” he said.

Francis prayed for an end to the coronavirus pandemic and the development of a vaccine as he presided over an outdoor gathering in Rome. He was joined in the Vatican Gardens by a doctor, a nurse, a hospital chaplain, a pharmacist, a journalist and a civil protection official, all of whom represented a sampling of people on the front lines.

He also called for the “enormous sums of money used to grow and perfect armaments be instead used to fund research to prevent similar catastrophes in the future.”

On Pentecost Sunday, the pope performed mass in St. Peter’s Basilica before just a few dozen worshipers wearing masks and widely spaced among the pews and he called on all to remember the importance of hope.

“At this moment, in the great effort of beginning anew, how damaging is pessimism, the tendency to see everything in the worst light and to keep saying that nothing will return as before!” he said, according to Reuters. “When someone thinks this way, the one thing that certainly does not return is hope.”

By Samantha Pell and Paul Schemm
May 31, 2020 at 7:06 AM EDT

Alaska to require incoming travelers get tested before flights

Alaska Gov. Mike Dunleavy (R) during the weekend announced plans to end mandatory quarantines for incoming travelers, requiring instead that people get tested for the novel coronavirus before boarding flights into the state.

Dunleavy said out-of-state travelers will have to be tested within 72 hours of flying to Alaska and must submit their results to health authorities when they arrive.

“If you test negative, you’ll go on and enjoy your trip,” Dunleavy said in a news conference. “If you test positive, we’ll work with you on how we can deal with your health issue.”

Those who do not get tested before arriving will be provided a test at the airport, Dunleavy said, or can opt instead to enter quarantine for two weeks.

Under a health mandate issued in March, the state required people spend 14 days in quarantine after arriving. That mandate is set to expire next week.

Dunleavy said he hoped the changes would reverse some of the economic damage the state has experienced in the pandemic while also boosting testing.

“We do believe that this will open up Alaska more to travel coming to Alaska,” he said, “which is going to help folks come see Alaska, help our local businesses get some of the business back that we’ve lost, but also test people because that’s been one of the big things we’ve all talked about nationwide.”

Alaska has one of the lowest infection rates in the country, with 59 cases per 100,000 residents, according to tracking by The Washington Post. Ten Alaskans have died from the virus and 434 have tested positive.

By Derek Hawkins
May 31, 2020 at 6:51 AM EDT

UAE camels to race once more even as beaches reopen across the Emirates

DUBAI — Over the weekend, beaches have been reopened, curfews pushed back until late at night and now camel racing tracks will be restarted during the overnight hours: Life is returning to normal in the United Arab Emirates.

The wealthy collection of emirates was hit hard by the coronavirus, especially the commercial center of Dubai which was one of the busiest international travel hubs and had an economy relying heavily on tourism and the service sector, especially restaurants and hotels.

In a survey of Dubai businesses carried out in April by the local chamber of commerce, 70 percent of respondents predicted their business would go bankrupt within six months.

Beginning Saturday, the Health Ministry pushed the start of curfew for the whole country to 10 p.m. (11 p.m. in Dubai) and announced that camel racing tracks could operate from 10 p.m. to 5 a.m. Summer temperatures in the Persian Gulf can easily reach 120 degrees, requiring most sporting activities to take place at night.

Camel racing (with robot jockeys) is a favorite sports in the UAE with some 15 tracks around the country and, while most races occur between October and April, there can even be events during the offseason.

Beaches also reopened on Saturday and witnessed a flood of residents enjoying the water. Museums will be reopening on Monday. Restaurants and malls opened over the past two weeks but remained closed to children under 12 and adults over 60 years of age.

Hundreds of new cases of the coronavirus continue to be reported every day in UAE, though they have fallen off from a peak of nearly 1,000 new cases on May 22. On Saturday, 726 new cases were reported and the government maintains that it is carrying out tens of thousands of tests a day.

By Paul Schemm
May 31, 2020 at 6:39 AM EDT

Belgian prince breaches lockdown rules at party in Spain and then tests positive for coronavirus

A young Belgian royal named Prince Joachim who traveled to Spain last week and attended a large party in violation of lockdown rules has now tested positive for the novel coronavirus.

El Pais newspaper reported Saturday that the 28-year-old aristocrat — ninth in line to the Belgian throne — flew to Madrid, then traveled by high-speed train to Córdoba, where he and others flouted Spain’s strict virus control measures by attending the gathering.

Prince Joachim and 26 others who were at the party are now all in quarantine as police investigate the breach, the newspaper said. Spain currently limits gathering to 15 people, so now Belgian royal could face a fine as high as $11,000.

The Royal Household confirmed to the BBC that the prince had tested positive for the virus, but did not say whether Joachim was infected in Belgium or Spain.

The prince joins a growing list of prominent people who have been caught for alleged violations of lockdown measures, including British Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s chief strategist, Dominic Cummings, who fled London to drive with his sick wife and child 260 miles north to a second home in northeast England.

Regarding the prince, the national government’s sub-delegate in Córdoba, Rafaela Valenzuela, told El Pais, “I feel surprised and indignant, given that at a moment of national mourning for so many dead, an incident of this type stands out.”

She called the royal’s partying “completely irresponsible” and said such a gathering could cause another outbreak in her city. “That is unforgivable,” Valenzuela said. “The police are investigating not just the observance of confinement measures, but also the breaking of other rules, given that we are still under a state of alarm. The virus is still out there.”

By William Booth
May 31, 2020 at 6:24 AM EDT

Trump postpones the annual Group of Seven meeting of world leaders until September at the earliest, wants to include Russia

President Trump said Saturday that he will postpone until at least September the annual Group of Seven meeting of world leaders, which he had wanted to hold in-person by the end of June at the White House as the administration tries to project a return to normalcy amid the coronavirus pandemic.

But German Chancellor Angela Merkel declined Trump’s invitation to come to Washington for the meeting, citing concerns about the pandemic, which has killed more than 100,000 Americans and more than 365,000 worldwide.

Trump also said he plans to invite Russia, South Korea, Australia and India — all already part of the Group of 20, which was conceived as a larger and more inclusive gathering than the G-7.

Read more here.

By Anne Gearan and Seung Min Kim
May 31, 2020 at 6:23 AM EDT

Social distancing strictures fall away as crowds gather to party and protest

Melissa Shapiro, 26, sat in the sun at the Redhead Lakeside Grill on Saturday, as dozens stood shoulder-to-shoulder in waist-deep water at the Lake of the Ozarks before her. “We’re millennials, we’re healthy,” she said as, adding that she and her friends planned to isolate themselves for 14 days after returning home to St. Louis.

Proprietors at a number of the bars and eateries that line the Missouri vacation spot said the crowds were about normal for an early summer weekend.

Similar scenes played out around the country as many Americans, eager to recapture a sense of normalcy and seemingly confident that the risk was low, enjoyed public recreation and seemed unbothered by the crowds.

Crowds of another sort gathered in a number of cities, where thousands took to the streets, at times amid violence, in protests sparked by the killing of George Floyd, a black man, by white police in Minneapolis.

Read more here.

By Karen DeYoung, Chelsea Janes, Gregory S. Schneider and Scott Farwell