The latest on the coronavirus pandemic.

WASHINGTON — President Trump said Wednesday that the federal government will not extend its social distancing guidelines once they expire Thursday, and his son-in-law and adviser, Jared Kushner, predicted that by July the country will be “really rocking again.”

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President Trump speaks during a meeting about the coronavirus with Louisiana Gov. John Bel Edwards, left, in the Oval Office of the White House on Wednesday. Evan Vucci/Associated Press

Meanwhile, Trump said he plans to resume official travel with a trip to Arizona next week. And he said he’s hoping to hold mass campaign rallies in the coming months with thousands of supporters, even though medical experts have said there is little hope of having a vaccine by then.

Putting a positive face on the latest grim numbers – the U.S. death toll has now surpassed American lives lost in the Vietnam War – Trump delivered his daily upbeat update and Kushner described the administration’s much-criticized response to the pandemic as “a great success story.”

Trump laid out a vision of a return to pre-coronavirus normalcy – “with or without” a vaccine – with packed restaurants and filled stadiums. That vision flies in the face of sober assessments from doctors who say the country will need to embrace a “new normal” that includes extended social distancing and mask-wearing.

“I don’t want people to get used to this,” Trump told reporters. “I see the new normal being what it was three months ago.”

Anti-virus measures to remain until vaccine found or herd immunity achieved

BERLIN — Four leading scientific research organizations in Germany say some measures imposed to curb the rate of coronavirus infections will need to remain in place until a vaccine is found or herd immunity is achieved.

They said in a joint statement that their mathematical models independently show the reproduction rate of the outbreak has been below 1 in Germany since the end of March. This means every person confirmed with COVID-19 infected fewer than one other person over the past month.

The Fraunhofer Society, the Helmholtz Association, the Leibniz Association and the Max Planck Society said the drop in new cases in Germany was thanks to restrictions and behavior changes. But they warned “the situation is not stable, even a small increase in the reproduction rate would lead us back into a phase of exponential growth.”

They said striving for herd immunity, where so many people acquire immunity that the virus is effectively stopped from spreading through the population, would require “several years” and some restrictions would need to be maintained. Experts say a vaccine likely won’t be available until next year.

Dirty money piling up as virus cripples international money laundering

LOS ANGELES — Dirty money is piling up in Los Angeles. In the last three weeks, federal agents made three seizures that each netted more than $1 million in suspected drug proceeds.

The reason, according to the city’s top drug enforcement official: The coronavirus pandemic has slowed trade-based money laundering systems that drug trafficking groups use to repatriate profits and move Chinese capital into Southern California.

With storefronts closed, supply chains in disarray and the global economy in peril, these complex schemes are hobbled and cash is backing up in Los Angeles, Bill Bodner, special agent in charge of the Drug Enforcement Administration’s Los Angeles field division, said in an interview.

The recent million-dollar interceptions were reminiscent of seizures the DEA made before drug traffickers embraced trade-based money laundering, said Bodner, a 28-year agent.

The shuttering of nonessential businesses has made a “tremendous impact” on a money laundering system dubbed the black market peso exchange, he said. In the fashion district in downtown Los Angeles — the exchange’s epicenter — drug trafficking groups from throughout the country use wholesalers to remit profits to Mexico, according to cases filed in federal courts in Los Angeles and elsewhere.

Steven Mygrant, a federal prosecutor in Oregon who charged six people with laundering heroin proceeds through Los Angeles businesses, said two primary factors drive the exchange: Drug trafficking groups need to convert dollars to pesos, which is expensive to do legitimately, and they need to move money from the United States to Mexico, which is risky to transport in cash.

To accomplish this, Mygrant said, a broker pays pesos for the drug traffickers’ dollars. The traffickers deliver cash to an exporter in Los Angeles, who ships goods — commonly clothing, cosmetics, jewelry or sportswear — to a retailer in Mexico. The retailer sells the goods for pesos and pays the broker.

Read more about disruptions to money laundering here.

WHO looking into safety of hugs for grandparents

GENEVA — A top World Health Organization official says the U.N. health agency is looking into whether grandparents can safely hug their grandchildren without risk of contracting the coronavirus.

The comments from Maria Van Kerkhove, technical lead of WHO’s emergencies program, come after a top Swiss health official this week suggested that grandparents could hold young grandchildren — under age 10 — close without risk of contracting COVID-19 disease.

Most statistics show the elderly and people with pre-existing health conditions have been the overwhelming majority of victims who have died from the pandemic.

At a WHO news conference, Van Kerkhove acknowledged that many grandparents “are dying to hug their children, grandchildren” and said the issue was one of the “living reviews” conducted by WHO.

Governor of Washington state not ready to ease social-distancing restrictions

OLYMPIA, Wash. — Washington Gov. Jay Inslee says the state has to see more progress in several areas, including the daily number of new coronavirus cases and deaths, before social distancing restrictions can safely be lifted.

He said the state’s stay-at-home order that was enacted March 23 would remain in place beyond May 4 and said he would have more details Friday on a phased-in approach to open the state’s economy.

Washington state in January had the country’s first confirmed coronavirus case, the first deadly cluster in a Seattle-area nursing home and was among the first places to institute sweeping directives designed to slow the spread of COVID-19.

China reports no new deaths, four new cases

BEIJING — China on Thursday reported no new deaths from coronavirus and four new cases, all brought from outside the country.

The National Health Commission said 619 people were hospitalized with COVID-19 and just over 1,000 were being monitored for possibly having the illness or for testing positive for the virus but showing no symptoms.

China has reported a total of 4,633 deaths from the virus among 82,862 cases.

Fifty-two people who worked or voted in Wisconsin election have COVID-19 

MADISON, Wis. — There are no plans to postpone or otherwise alter a special congressional election in Wisconsin that is less than two weeks away, even though more than 50 people who voted in person or worked the polls during the state’s presidential primary this month have tested positive for COVID-19.

Democratic Gov. Tony Evers tried to change the April 7 election so that it would be conducted entirely by mail, but he was blocked by the Republican-led Legislature and conservative Wisconsin Supreme Court. Evers and others had warned that allowing in-person voting would cause a spike in coronavirus cases, but so far the impact appears to be limited.

Several of the 52 people who have tested positive and were at the polls on April 7 also reported other ways they may have been exposed to the virus, the Wisconsin Department of Health Services said Tuesday. Because of that, it’s unclear if those people contracted the virus at the polls.

The 52 positive cases were in people who tested positive in the two weeks after the election, so by April 21. Most people show symptoms within 14 days of exposure, though some people who have the virus don’t show symptoms.

After next week, the state will no longer ask people who test positive for the virus whether they were at the polls on April 7 because of how much time has passed, said Julie Willems Van Dijk, who heads the state health agency.

“We’re getting to the point where the door will be closing on those,” she said.

Most of the positive cases were in Milwaukee County. The city’s health commissioner has said the data was being analyzed and an update was expected next week.

Statewide, there have been more than 6,200 confirmed cases and 300 deaths since the outbreak began.

Navy to widen carrier probe, delaying decision on commander

WASHINGTON  — The Navy will conduct a wider investigation of circumstances surrounding the spread of the coronavirus aboard the aircraft carrier USS Theodore Roosevelt, a move that effectively delays a decision on whether to reinstate the ship’s captain.

The investigation was announced Wednesday by James E. McPherson, the acting Navy secretary, who said in a brief written statement that an initial inquiry was insufficient. “I have unanswered questions that the preliminary inquiry has identified and that can only be answered by a deeper review,” he said.

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The aircraft carrier USS Theodore Roosevelt (CVN 71) in the western North Pacific Ocean on March 18. Mass Communication Specialist 3rd Class Nicholas V. Huynh/U.S. Navy

The decision comes several days after McPherson and Adm. Mike Gilday, the chief of naval operations, met with Defense Secretary Mark Esper and Gen. Mark Milley, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, to discuss the Navy’s recommendation that Capt. Brett Crozier be restored to command of the ship.

“I am directing Adm. Gilday to conduct a follow-on command investigation,” McPherson said. “This investigation will build on the good work of the initial inquiry to provide a more fulsome understanding of the sequence of events, actions, and decisions of the chain of command surrounding the COVID-19 outbreak aboard USS Theodore Roosevelt.”

The wider investigation is intended to last no longer than 30 days, according to one defense official who discussed the matter on condition of anonymity to provide details before McPherson issued his statement.

More than 900 sailors from the Roosevelt have contracted the coronavirus; one has died.

Read the full story about the Roosevelt here.

Jared Kushner derides ‘eternal lockdown crowd’

White House senior adviser and presidential son-in-law Jared Kushner on Wednesday derided the “eternal lockdown crowd” as he claimed during a morning television interview that “extraordinary” strides have been made in developing coronavirus testing capacity.

President Trump’s son-in-law Jared Kushner at the White House on Wednesday morning. Associated Press/Evan Vucci

Appearing on Fox News’s “Fox & Friends,” Kushner offered an optimistic scenario about the expansion of testing, which health experts say remains among the greatest challenges in reopening the economy safely in coming months.

“The hardest work is really developing the tests, and we needed to engage the commercial market to do that,” Kushner said. “Now that the tests are out there, it’s really about scaling supply chain, really in a historic manner and pace.”

“Somebody asked me why it took so long,” he added. “I actually said, ‘You should look at how did we do this so quickly.’ ”

Kushner said the Trump administration is actively working with governors to develop short- and longer-term plans for expansion of testing.

“The goal here is to get people back to work,” he added. “The eternal lockdown crowd can make jokes on late-night television, but the reality is that the data is on our side, and President Trump has created a pathway to safely open up our country, and make sure that we can get our economy going, and get Americans back to a place where it will be even stronger than it was.”

Kushner’s reference to an “eternal lockdown crowd” prompted a sharp rejoinder from Rep. Bobby L. Rush (D-Ill.).

“There is no ‘eternal lockdown crowd,’ ” Rush wrote on Twitter. “There are people who put human health over the health of our economy, and then there are people like you.”

Two men hospitalized for drinking cleaning products

ATLANTA, Ga. — Two Georgia men were hospitalized after drinking cleaning products.

Georgia Poison Control Director Gaylord Lopez told the Atlanta Journal-Constitution the men had histories of mental health issues and were expected to recover after drinking the products over the weekend.

Lopez says he doesn’t know if the men ingested the cleaning solutions because of President Donald Trump’s musings on whether injecting disinfectants could treat the virus during a White House briefing on Thursday.

Lopez says the first man, in his 50s in Atlanta, drank about 16 ounces of bleach on Saturday. He was treated in a hospital and has since been discharged from a psychiatric ward.

A second man in his 30s was discharged after guzzling a mixture of Pine-Sol, pain medications and other liquids on Sunday.

According to the CDC, calls to poison centers about disinfectants have increased 20% in the first three months of this year.

U.S. economy shrank at 4.8% annual rate last quarter, its worst showing since 2008

WASHINGTON  — The U.S. economy shrank at a 4.8% annual rate last quarter as the coronavirus pandemic shut down much of the country and began triggering a recession that will end the longest expansion on record.

The Commerce Department says the gross domestic product, the total output of goods and services, posted a quarterly drop for the first time in six years. And it was the sharpest fall since the economy shrank at an 8.4% annual rate in the fourth quarter of 2008 in the depths of the Great Recession.

Forecasters say the drop in the January-March quarter will be only a precursor of a far grimmer GDP report to come on the current April-June period, with business shutdowns and layoffs striking with devastating force. The Congressional Budget Office has estimated that GDP will plunge this quarter at a 40% annual rate.

That would be, by a breathtaking margin, the bleakest quarter since such records were first compiled in 1947. It would be four times the size of the worst quarterly contraction on record set in 1958.

Read the full story.

EU governments ponder how to save tourism industry’s critical summer season

BERLIN — European governments are discussing new proposals on how to save the European Union’s estimated 2.3 million tourism businesses amid bleak warnings that the coronavirus pandemic could change vacationing habits for years to come.

Already strained by prolonged lockdowns, many businesses are unlikely to survive if summer holidays are axed over virus fears, industry associations say. As an alternative, they are proposing an easing of restrictions to allow more domestic travel in the coming months, as well as bilateral agreements to remove travel bans between nations.

View of the deserted Rue de Rivoli in Paris on Monday during France’s nationwide lockdown. Associated Press/Thibault Camus

Without eased restrictions, the collapse of Europe’s tourism sector would exacerbate the continent’s recession. More than 12 million people were employed in the travel and tourism industry in 2018, according to the European Union, contributing almost 4 percent to the bloc’s gross domestic product. If associated sectors are taken into account, the GDP contribution rises to more than 10 percent.

Most E.U. nations have imposed travel restrictions or border controls in response to the crisis, and borderless travel appears unlikely to fully resume this summer. Some nations, however, are pondering bilateral agreements to establish “travel corridors,” allowing citizens of less virus-stricken countries to vacation in countries with similarly small outbreaks, without having to spend two weeks in quarantine.

Industry bodies have recently proposed such a solution between the Czech Republic and Croatia, which relies on tourism for about 20 percent of its GDP.

A similar idea has gained traction among Austrian government officials. Austrian Tourism Minister Elisabeth Köstinger and Chancellor Sebastian Kurz have both publicly discussed the possibility of bilateral tourism agreements, specifically with the Czech Republic and Germany.

German Foreign Minister Heiko Maas expressed doubts over the proposal, countering that there should be no “European race for who will be the first to once again allow tourism travel.”

Democratic lawmakers propose bill to force Trump to invoke Defense Production Act for medical equipment

Democratic lawmakers in Congress will propose legislation Wednesday that would force U.S. manufacturers to make medical supplies such as gowns, masks and swabs for testing, they said.

The bill would require the president to invoke the Defense Production Act to ramp up the manufacture of protective equipment and put supply chains under federal oversight.

As hospitals and state governments have decried supply shortages and a lack of widespread testing, Trump has repeatedly expressed his reluctance to use the DPA.

Last month, he claimed that factories were making enough equipment until ordering General Motors to manufacture ventilators. On Tuesday, he used the drastic wartime tool to order meatpacking plants to remain open, even as many experience outbreaks.

Sen. Chris Murphy (D-Conn.), one of the bill’s sponsors, said the Trump administration’s response has left health workers and local officials scrambling for supplies “in a Lord of the Flies environment in the middle of a global pandemic.”

“Governors are forced to compete against each other while suppliers price-gouge. There’s zero transparency from the White House,” he said. “And above all, we still don’t know who’s in charge.”

Democrats have also charged that the White House has offered few clues about the production and allocation — or sale — of what medical equipment is being manufactured. DPA orders are not public documents.

The bill’s sponsors, who also include Sen. Tammy Baldwin (D-Wis.) and Senate Minority Leader Charles E. Schumer (D-N.Y.), said they hoped it would be included as part of future coronavirus response packages. Similar legislation will be introduced by Democrats in the House.

Japanese prime minister says holding Olympics will be ‘impossible’ if coronavirus is not contained

Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe warned Wednesday that hosting the Tokyo Olympics next year will be out of the question if the coronavirus pandemic is not contained.

Originally slated to take place this summer, the Olympic Games have been postponed until July 2021. A growing chorus of Japanese scientists has warned that even a one-year delay might not be enough, and Abe on Wednesday became the most prominent voice to echo those concerns.

“We’ve been saying the Olympic and Paralympic Games must be held in a complete form, in that athletes and spectators can all participate safely,” Abe said, according to Reuters. “It would be impossible to hold the Games in such a complete form unless the coronavirus pandemic is contained.”

The prime minister’s remarks came one day after Yoshitake Yokokura, chief of the Japan Medical Association, said it would be “exceedingly difficult” to hold the Olympics if a coronavirus vaccine has not been developed by next summer. Experts say that such a vaccine could be a long way off and that making sure it is distributed widely could present a separate set of challenges.

Organizers of the Tokyo Olympics have said that there is no Plan B if the event needs to be postponed again and that the Games will be “scrapped” if they cannot take place next year. Canceling would be a major blow to Abe, who had hoped that an economic boost from the Games would be one of his major achievements.

Before the global pandemic hit, Japan had already spent nearly $13 billion on preparations for the Tokyo Olympics. The country has reported more than 13,700 coronavirus cases and nearly 400 deaths.

Coronavirus vaccine testing begins

BERLIN — German pharmaceutical company BioNTech says it has begun testing a potential vaccine for the new coronavirus on volunteers.

BioNTech, which is working with U.S.-based Pfizer, said Wednesday that 12 participants of a clinical trial in Germany have received doses of the vaccine candidate BNT162 since April 23.

Numerous pharmaceutical companies are racing to deliver a vaccine for the virus that has caused a pandemic and led to more than 215,000 deaths worldwide and sickened at least three million people.

BioNTech said in a statement that in a next step, it will begin increasing the dose of BNT162 in a trial involving about 200 participants aged 18 to 55.

The company said it expects to receive regulatory approval to begin trials in the United States soon.


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