The Latest: Australia offers building sector pandemic help

The Latest on the coronavirus pandemic. COVID-19 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.

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CANBERRA, Australia — Australia’s government has thrown the residential building sector a lifeline from a pandemic downturn by offering 25,000 Australian dollar ($17,323) grants to people who want to build new homes or substantially renovate existing dwellings.

Prime Minister Scott Morrison said on Thursday the grants were expected to cost AU$680 million ($471 million) by the end of the year.

The grants would “support those families and those Australians whose dream it was to build their home or to do that big renovation — a dream that they thought might have been crushed by the coronavirus,” Morrison told reporters.

Master Builders Australia chief executive Denita Wawn, a spokeswoman for the residential building sector, said the program would be a lifeline for the embattled industry.

The opposition Labor Party said the money would be better spent on public housing.

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HERE’S WHAT YOU NEED TO KNOW TODAY ABOUT THE VIRUS OUTBREAK:

— Malaria d rug fails to prevent COVID-19 in a rigorous study

— Tourist towns balance fear, survival in make-or-break summer

— Navajo Nation reports 54 new COVID-19 cases, 4 more deaths

— Theater chains are announcing reopenings and restaurants are starting to allow people into dining rooms, with restrictions. Applications to buy homes are soaring. There were plenty of signs Wednesday of a push to return to something resembling normal. But economic activity is picking up in a tumultuous time, with stores still being looted daily in racial justice protests that have spread globally.

— Contact tracers in New York City hired to contain the spread of coronavirus reached more than half the 600 or so people who tested positive for the virus there. Dr. Ted Long, head of the city’s program, said tracers getting through to that many “shows that the system we’re setting up is working.”

— Sweden’s chief epidemiologist showed contrition as criticism mounted over the Scandinavian country’s method of fighting the coronavirus, which has resulted in one of the highest death rates per capita in the world. Sweden did not shut down the country or economy, relying on citizens’ sense of duty. Tegnell later defended what the country did, saying there’s always room for improvement.

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HERE’S WHAT ELSE IS HAPPENING TODAY:

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GENEVA — The top U.N. human rights official is urging some Asia-Pacific governments to be proportionate in their efforts to stop the spread of misinformation about the coronavirus outbreak and warning of a “clampdown” against freedom of expression in the region.

The office of Michelle Bachelet, the U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights, cited a “further tightening of censorship in several countries” and the arbitrary arrest and detention of people who had either criticized their governments or shared information about the pandemic.

Her office said arrests for expressing discontent or allegedly spreading false information had been reported in a dozen countries: Bangladesh, Cambodia, China, India, Indonesia, Malaysia, Myanmar, Nepal, the Philippines, Sri Lanka, Thailand and Vietnam.

It cited information from China about more than a dozen cases of medical workers, academics and other citizens who “appear to have been detained, and in some cases charged” for publishing their views on the outbreak or airing criticism of the government’s response.

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COLUMBIA, S.C. — South Carolina health officials have acknowledged that reopening the state may have caused a recent increase in COVID-19 cases.

But they also said the state likely won’t shut down businesses again, saying damaging the economy doesn’t help anyone. Instead, people need to take their own safety into their own hands by following the now well-known guidelines of wearing masks.

“There are steps we can be taking without having government come in and say we are going to shut everything down,” said state Director of Public Health Dr. Joan Duwve.

State health officials had been blaming South Carolina’s COVID-19 spike on an increase in testing, so Wednesday’s acknowledgement that recent high school graduation ceremonies, weekend parties and open businesses and restaurants could be causing more infections was a change in message.

Three of the daily highest case counts since the pandemic started have been reported in the past week in South Carolina. The two highest death counts have occurred in the past week – 20 deaths on May 27 and 17 deaths on Wednesday.

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PIGEON FORGE, Tenn. __ The Dollywood Theme Park and Dollywood’s Splash Country Water Park in East Tennessee are preparing to open June 15 and June 16 for season pass guests and June 17 for the general public.

Visitors will be required to reserve tickets by date to allow the park to limit capacity and maintain social distancing. Both workers and visitors will be required to have a touchless temperature screening and wear a mask. Only children under three are not required to wear masks.

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GLENDALE, Ariz. — Arizona officials are reporting nearly 1,000 new coronavirus cases amid a recent surge in hospitalizations, a little over two weeks after Gov. Doug Ducey ended his stay-at-home order.

The state has now tallied more than 22,000 cases and 981 deaths, including 40 reported Wednesday. The surge of new cases is a troubling sign for former state health director Will Humble, who said the timing is just too close to be coincidence.

“The one thing it does is it shows us that the stay-at-home order worked,” Humble said. “Because when it ended you see an increase in cases on the 26th, which is 10 days after it ended. You can look at it county by county by county and see the same thing.”

Whether the state-home order needs to be revisited is another issue, Humble said, because of other public health and economic effects.

Ducey, a Republican, faces pressure from businesses and GOP lawmakers not to clamp down again on the economy.

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SALT LAKE CITY — Utah is experiencing a spike in new COVID-19 cases about a month after many businesses were allowed to reopen.

That has led the state’s epidemiologist to issue a renewed plea Wednesday for people to maintain social distancing and exercise caution.

Protests over the death of George Floyd have brought hundreds of people together in downtown Salt Lake City. That has added to concerns about increasing cases.

State figures show an average of about 200 new cases a day last week. That was highest weekly average by far since the pandemic began. State Rep. Joel Briscoe says he’s worried these figures are a reflection of people valuing economic interests over the lives of more vulnerable populations.

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LOS ANGELES — California is sending every registered voter a mail-in ballot for the November election, but the state will also establish hundreds of locations for people who want — or need — to vote in-person.

The decision to send every voter a mail-in ballot was prompted last month by health concerns tied to the coronavirus.

Democratic Gov. Gavin Newsom says the state will also have a range of options for in-person voting. Counties must open a minimum of one, in-person voting location for every 10,000 voters beginning the Saturday before Election Day. Republicans have been critical of the state’s plans for November.

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MORGANTOWN, W.Va. — West Virginia University will require testing of all students, faculty and staff for the coronavirus before they can return to campus for the start of fall classes.

The university said Wednesday that in setting Aug. 19 as the start of fall classes students must wear masks on campus, including in classes. The fall semester will finish up with students going home for Thanksgiving and finishing up with online classes.

The move is seen as a crucial step toward launching football and other fall sports. Conference commissioners nationwide have stressed to Vice President Mike Pence that college athletics cannot resume until campuses reopen. Big 12 schools have all announced their intentions to have students on campus this fall.

“We have given careful consideration to the wisdom of returning to campus while the COVID-19 pandemic is still with us,” West Virginia President Gordon Gee said in a statement. “However, it is clear our students want to be with their professors and fellow Mountaineers. We are taking every precaution and making every preparation possible so they can do that safely.”

Faculty, staff and students must complete a coronavirus education course before Aug. 11, the statement said.

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UNITED NATIONS — The United Nations and the International Red Cross and Red Crescent Movement are urging governments, the private sector, international organizations and civil society to unite to scale up efforts to develop, test and produce “a people’s vaccine” against COVID-19 that is available to all people around the world.

They said in a joint statement Wednesday that COVID-19 affects people everywhere, with a disproportionately higher impact on vulnerable groups and individuals, and “the spirit of global solidarity must prevail: no one should be left behind.”

The U.N. and Red Cross and Red Crescent said “a people’s vaccine” should protect the affluent, the poor, the old and young, stressing that this is “a moral imperative that brings us all together in our shared humanity.”

Their appeal came ahead of Thursday’s global vaccine summit in London organized by the Global Vaccine Alliance, known as GAVI, which is seeking to mobilize billions of dollars of funding for a COVID-19 vaccine.

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LAS VEGAS — After 58 days of historic quiet, cards will be cut, dice will roll and jackpots can jingle again at 12:01 a.m. Thursday in casinos in Las Vegas and Nevada.

There will be big splashes — even amid ongoing protests over the death of a man in police custody in Minnesota that resulted in tear gas on the neon-lit Las Vegas Strip. There are big hopes for recovery from an unprecedented and expensive shutdown prompted by the coronavirus pandemic.

Officials are balancing health concerns against the economic loss of billions of dollars per month in gambling revenue and 475,000 newly unemployed workers.

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LONDON — A senior member of the British government is being tested for the coronavirus after falling ill in the House of Commons.

Business Secretary Alok Sharma has been tested and is heading home to self-isolate after becoming unwell while delivering a speech on the Corporate Governance and Insolvency Bill, his office said.

Several senior officials and government ministers fell sick with COVID-19 in March and April — most seriously including Prime Minister Boris Johnson, who spent three nights in intensive care at a London hospital.

Sharma was seen wiping his brow in Parliament on Wednesday, a day after lawmakers voted to end a system of remote voting that had allowed them to work from home during a nationwide lockdown.

The government said members of Parliament should be setting an example by returning to the office as the country gradually eases restrictions imposed to stem the outbreak. Social distancing measures have been introduced around the vast neo-Gothic building.

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SKOPJE, North Macedonia — North Macedonia has reintroduced stringent movement restrictions in the capital Skopje and another three parts of the country, after registering a record number of new COVID-19 infections.

Health Minister Venko Filipce says an almost blanket curfew will be imposed from 9 p.m. Thursday till 5 a.m. on Monday in these areas. People will be allowed out to visit hospitals or pharmacies.

The health ministry said 101 new infections — a record since the country’s first case in late February — and four deaths were recorded in the previous 24 hours. That brings the total of infections to 2,492, with 145 deaths.

More than half the new infections were in Skopje.

Filipce said the tiny Balkan country of 2.1 million people is seeing new infections as a result of people ignoring warnings to wear protective masks and gloves, and to adhere to social distancing.

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SALEM, Ore. – Oregon’s phase 2 coronavirus reopening plan will begin as early as Friday and includes loosening current restaurant restrictions, opening pools and expanding outdoor gatherings to 100 people.

Gov. Kate Brown on Wednesday discussed the next steps to ease restrictions from her stay-at-home directives.

Thus far, 20 counties in Oregon are under review by the governor’s office to enter phase 2. Under phase 2, gatherings will be increased to 50 people indoors and 100 people outdoors. As of Tuesday, at least 157 people in Oregon have died from the coronavirus and more than 4,300 in the state have tested positive for the disease.

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UNITED NATIONS — The United Nations chief says the COVID-19 pandemic is hitting the most vulnerable people the hardest, especially millions of people on the move such as migrants and refugees forced to flee their homes because of violence or disasters.

Secretary-General Antonio Guterres said in a video message accompanying a policy briefing on Wednesday that refugees, displaced people and migrants “face three crises rolled into one.”

First, he said, they face a health crisis and the threat of becoming exposed to the coronavirus in crowded conditions where social distancing is “an impossible luxury.” Guterres said people on the move also face a socioeconomic crisis, especially those working in the informal economy without any social safety nets.

He says their third difficulty is “a protection crisis.” Guterres pointed to the more than 150 countries that have imposed border restrictions to slow the spread of the coronavirus.

Guterres said fear of the virus has led “to skyrocketing xenophobia, racism and stigmatization” and greater risks of gender-based violence.

Despite these challenges, the U.N. chief said refugees and migrants “are contributing heroically on the front lines in essential work” during the pandemic. He noted that one in eight nurses globally work outside their home country.

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NASHVILLE, Tennessee — A small county in the northwest corner of Tennessee is once again leading the U.S. in active coronavirus cases per capita after an outbreak at a state prison.

An analysis by The Associated Press on Wednesday shows Lake County, with a population of just over 7,500, has reported 352 new cases over the past seven days. Online records posted by the state showed Lake with 360 active cases on Wednesday morning.

Health Department spokesperson Shelley Walker said in an email that the high case count is attributable to an outbreak at the Northwest Correctional Complex there, although online records for the prison show only 230 inmates as positive for the virus.

Walker and a spokesperson for the Correction Department were not able to immediately explain the discrepancy.

Last month, Tennessee’s Trousdale County had the highest per-capita coronavirus infection rate in the U.S. and Bledsoe County had the fifth, according to an Associated Press analysis. In both counties, the high infection rates were attributable to their local prisons.

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LARAMIE, Wyoming — University of Wyoming officials have drafted a plan to resume classes on campus with a modified schedule next school year.

Under the proposal, classes would begin Aug. 24 and end Dec. 4, but students wouldn’t return to campus after Thanksgiving. Courses would shift entirely online after Nov. 23. Final exams would be given remotely.

The Laramie Boomerang reports the spring semester would start Jan. 25, a week later than planned, and spring break would be eliminated. School officials say they want to discourage students from leaving school for periods when they could contract the coronavirus and bring it back to campus.

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HARARE, Zimbabwe — A Zimbabwean judge has ordered the government to improve conditions at mandatory quarantine centers, where people returning to the country are kept for 21 days to confirm they are not carrying the coronavirus. The conditions are so bad that scores are escaping.

The southern African nation has reported more than 200 cases of coronavirus, with the majority recorded at the quarantine centers. More than 100 people have escaped from the centers, leading the health minister to describe them as “our source of danger.”

The Zimbabwe Association of Doctors for Human Rights, which took the matter to court, described conditions at the centers as “deplorable” and putting “seriously at stake” the lives of people living there, health professionals and security agents enforcing the isolation.

People detained at the centers are forced to share “some few dirty ablution and bathing facilities while others have no access to medication,” said the association in its court application. Social distancing is nonexistent, the doctors said.

High Court Judge Philda Muzofa granted the application, and ordered Zimbabwe’s ministry of health to improve conditions by supplying running water and providing “segregated sanitary and hygienic conditions with proper control and protection.”

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Follow AP pandemic coverage at http://apnews.com/VirusOutbreak and https://apnews.com/UnderstandingtheOutbreak

Categories: National News

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