Nearly 3 million more Americans file jobless claims

Here are the latest coronavirus updates from around the world.

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Around 2.98 million Americans filed for first-time unemployment claims last week, more than economist expectations of 2.7 million, and the eighth straight week of numbers in the millions. More than 36.5 million unemployment claims have been filed since the COVID-19 pandemic struck two months ago.

Meanwhile, a Health and Human Services whistle blower, Dr. Rick Bright, warned Congress on Thursday that "2020 will be the darkest winter in modern history" without clear action against the coronavirus.

Here's what to know about the coronavirus, plus a timeline of the most critical moments:

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This live coverage has ended. Continue reading May 15 coronavirus news.

Pandas in Canada zoo to return to China after shortage of their favorite bamboo

Female panda Er Shun is one of two giant pandas being returned to China by Canada's Calgary Zoo due to the difficulty of obtaining fresh bamboo.Calgary Zoo / Reuters

The Calgary Zoo in Canada is sending two giant pandas back to China years ahead of schedule after difficulties importing the bamboo they eat due to coronavirus-related disruptions. 

The pandas, Er Shun and Da Mao, who arrived in Canada in 2014, will return to China where bamboo is abundant. Giant pandas consume 88 pounds of bamboo a day and it makes up 99 percent of their diet, the zoo said. Before the pandemic, bamboo was flown directly from China to Calgary. Now shipments are now often delayed, resulting in poor quality bamboo that the pandas refuse to eat.

The early return of the pandas has raised concerns among Chinese netizens using the hashtag "Pandas in Canada will return," who fear pandas in other foreign countries would also face short supply of their favorite food, according to local news reports.

Japan lifts state of emergency in most areas, but not in Tokyo

Japan lifted its state of emergency around much of the country on Thursday with the exception of certain areas, including the country’s capital Tokyo, Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe confirmed in a news conference.

The new decision was made with cooperation from experts, Abe said, after taking into account the declining rate of infections, and improved availability of medical services and monitoring capabilities. The world's third-largest economy declared a nationwide state of emergency a month ago. The country recorded 57 new cases on Thursday, bringing its total to 16,079.

Yuriko Koike, the governor of Tokyo said that while Abe will lift the state of emergency in 39 of Japan's 47 prefectures, “Tokyo is far away from it. Nothing has changed much here yet.” The number of infections in the city is still not yet stable, she said in a news conference.

Arctic explorers stranded amid coronavirus lockdowns

With only reindeer and polar bears for neighbors, two women Arctic explorers are enduring the world’s most extreme lockdown conditions with no clear end in sight as the coronavirus pandemic leaves them stranded.

Sunniva Sorby, 59, and Hilde Fålulm Strøm, 52, co-founders of the Hearts in the Ice polar education campaign, set off in August to the Svalbard archipelago, located between Norway’s mainland and the North Pole, to collect environmental data and raise awareness about climate change. They were due to return this month but the vessel designated to pick them up was canceled amid global travel restrictions.

“There have been tears,” Strøm told NBC News during a video call from her post in the Arctic Circle. “You are scared and you feel small in this big environment.”

Read the full story here.

South Korea to increase contact tracing after infection spike

South Korea is aggressively working to increase its contact tracing efforts, health authorities said after a recent spike in new coronavirus infections. The country reported 29 new cases on Thursday after weeks of seeing nearly no new domestic cases.

The spike comes as the number of infections linked to the capital’s nightclub district increased after lockdown measures eased. Officials scrambled on Monday, searching for thousands of people who may have been in the clubs.

South Korea has been lauded for its quick and effective action on its epidemic, significantly reducing the rate of new infections in recent weeks, but the resurgence of cases has raised worries about a second wave.

'This virus may never go away,' WHO says

The coronavirus outbreak may become endemic, the World Health Organization warned on Wednesday, saying “there’s a long, long way to go before there will be any bells un-rung in this response.”

“This virus may become just another endemic virus in our communities, and this virus may never go away,” Mike Ryan, a WHO emergencies expert, said in an online briefing. "I think there are no promises in this and there are no dates. This disease may settle into a long problem, or it may not be."

However, he said the world had some control over how it coped with the disease, although this would take a "massive effort" even if a vaccine was found — a prospect he described as a "massive moonshot". Governments around the world are working to reopen their economies while still containing the virus, which has infected more than 4.3 million people globally, according to Johns Hopkins University data.

Another assault over mask rule, this time in Indiana

Police in Mishawaka, Indiana, are looking for a man who beat a 7-Eleven employee after being refused service for not wearing a mask.

Police said in a statement that the aggravated assault happened around 9 a.m. Wednesday when a customer with a cup of coffee was refused service because he wasn't wearing a mask, NBC affiliate WNDU of South Bend reported.

The suspect threw the coffee on the worker and left. He returned, was asked to leave and then punched the worker and knocked her to the ground. He punched and kicked her, police said. 

It was one of at least two incidents across the country this week in which people were accused of assaulting others over mask rules.

The Los Angeles Police Department on Monday announced the arrest of two men in a fight that started when one suddenly punched a store employee as the pair was being escorted out for not wearing masks. One worker suffered a broken arm in the incident, which occurred May 1 in Van Nuys, police said.

Health authorities say that masks can help prevent the spread of the coronavirus illness COVID-19, and they are recommended by the CDC in confined areas like stores, in part because people may have the virus and not know it but they can still spread it to others.

New Zealand barber snips away at midnight as nation reopens

WELLINGTON, New Zealand — The raggedy hairstyles and scruffy beards have been there for all to see on video calls, so barber Conrad Fitz-Gerald decided to reopen his shop at midnight Wednesday — the moment New Zealand dropped most of its lockdown restrictions as the nation prepared itself for a new normal.

Malls, retail stores and restaurants are all reopening Thursday in the South Pacific nation of 5 million, and many people are returning to their workplaces. But most gatherings will be limited to 10 people and social distancing guidelines will remain in place.

The reopening reflects the success New Zealand has experienced in its bold goal of eliminating the virus. The country reported no new cases of the virus for a third straight day on Thursday. More than 1,400 of the nearly 1,500 people who contracted the virus that causes COVID-19 have recovered, while 21 have died.

Fitz-Gerald said he’d had about 50 inquiries for midnight haircuts, but limited the initial customers to a dozen, starting with his 18-year-old son. He planned to then go home and return at 6 a.m. for another round of cuts.

“People are saying their hair is out-of-control, they can’t handle it anymore,” he said.