Global COVID-19 cases reach 5 million

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Global cases of COVID-19 topped 5 million early Thursday, according to data from Johns Hopkins University.

By Thursday night that number had passed 5.1 million, according to the university.

More than 332,900 people have died worldwide, according to that count. In the United States, more than 1.5 million cases have been reported and more than 95,000 deaths, according to NBC News' count.

President Donald Trump visited a Ford plant in Michigan on Thursday, and while he did wear a mask at one point, when he appeared before the media he did not. " I didn’t want to press to get the pleasure of seeing it,” Trump told reporters. The president also said he wasn't wearing one because he was making a speech.

Trump also tweeted that he will be ordering flags on federal buildings and monuments nationwide to fly at half-staff over the Memorial Day weekend to honor those who have died of COVID-19.

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

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NYC mayor says new hospitalizations down, positive cases increase slightly

New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio said new hospitalizations for the coronavirus are down in the city, although the percentage of people testing positive for the virus ticked up slightly.

At a news briefing on Thursday, the mayor said new hospital admissions of COVID-19 patients is down from 63 as of May 18 to 60, and the number of patients in intensive care units dropped from 483 to 477. 

However, among people tested for the virus, the number with positive results increased slightly to 9 percent from 8 percent. 

"It's a pretty good day," de Blasio said, adding, "I want us to get to great days."

Wuhan bans trade and consumption of wild animals, citing health concerns

The Chinese city of Wuhan, where the coronavirus pandemic was first detected, implemented a five-year ban Wednesday on the trade of illegal wildlife and the consumption of wild animals. 

While the precise source of COVID-19 remains a mystery, scientists have suggested that like many other coronaviruses, it was transmitted to humans from animals, sparking concern for the risks of live-animal markets. Genetic analysis of the virus by a group of Chinese scientists in February suggested it likely originated from pangolins — scaly, long-snouted anteaters that are poached for traditional medicinal purposes in both Asia and Africa

The ban — prohibiting the breeding, sale and consumption of wild animals including endangered species —  is intended to protect people's health and safety, according to a statement issued by the Wuhan government Wednesday. It will also be paired with public education around wildlife and improved supervision over wildlife protection and management. 

Another 2.4 million Americans filed for initial unemployment last week, bringing total to almost 40 million

Another 2.44 million Americans filed for initial unemployment benefits last week, bringing the total number of people who lost their job so far during the coronavirus pandemic to almost 40 million.

The weekly figures, released Thursday by the Department of Labor, come amid a slew of bankruptcies and as more companies announce layoffs.

While the month of May still represents a staggering total of job losses, the number of unemployment benefit claims has been in gradual decline after hitting a peak of 6.8 million for the week ending March 28.

America continues to face the worst labor market since the Great Depression, with the official unemployment figure already at over 20 million, representing a total loss of all jobs gained since the Great Recession. The current unemployment rate of 14.7 percent is the worst since the height of the Great Depression, when it hit 24.9 percent.

“I think the jobs numbers will be worse before they get better,” Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin warned on Tuesday, during a joint appearance before the Senate banking committee with Federal Reserve Chairman Jerome Powell.

Powell, who has estimated that unemployment could reach 25 percent, has said the economy can only fully recover once there is a vaccine.

AstraZeneca receives $1 billion in U.S. funding for virus vaccine

A British-Swedish pharmaceutical company has received more than $1 billion in funding from the U.S. Health Department’s Biomedical Advanced Research and Development Authority (BARDA) to develop a coronavirus vaccine in collaboration with the University of Oxford.

AstraZeneca has agreed to initially supply at least 400 million doses of the vaccine, according to a news release from the company on Thursday. In response to President Donald Trump’s call to develop 300 million doses of vaccine by January 2021 under Operation Warp Speed, the collaboration is working to deliver a vaccine called AZD1222 for as early as October 2020.

The agreement between AstraZeneca and BARDA will accelerate the development and manufacturing of the company’s vaccine to begin Phase 3 clinical studies this summer with approximately 30,000 volunteers in the United States, according to a statement from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.

Argentina to fly in rabbis to certify kosher meat

BUENOS AIRES — Argentina, which has enforced one of the world's toughest travel bans against the coronavirus, plans to help charter a private flight to bring in rabbis from Israel to certify meat at the country's packing plants for kosher markets around the world.

The trip is key to Argentina being able to maintain beef exports to key buyer Israel, which has become increasingly important with exports stalled to the European Union and sharply down to major buyer China.

Argentina is the world's fifth-largest beef exporter and Israel is the No. 3 buyer of its famed cuts, snapping up over $100 million each year, said Mario Ravettino, head of Argentina's ABC meat export consortium.

The rabbis normally make the trip twice a year and stay for a few months, as many as 15 rabbis in plants at a time. They ensure the cattle are slaughtered and the meat processed in accordance with Jewish law.

Grand Canyon announces 'limited recreation access' for Memorial Day weekend

Recent Baylor University graduates at the Grand Canyon on Friday.Matt York / AP

The Grand Canyon National Park's South Rim will be open to the public starting Friday to May 25 for “limited entry and recreational access,” following guidance from the White House, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, and state and local public health authorities. The South Rim section partially re-opened last weekend, then closed again from May 20-21 for public health concerns. 

The U.S. National Park Service said it is closely monitoring the pandemic and using a phased approach to increase access on a park-by-park basis, according to a news release. The South entrance will be open again Friday from 4-10 a.m. for visitors to enter the park, but will close at 10 a.m. Park-goers on the Memorial Day weekend will be able to hike, cycle and visit museums.

This comes after the CDC quietly released detailed plan for reopening America on Wednesday, and nearly every state in the country has already reopened parts of their economies — including access to beaches, restaurants and hair salons.

U.S. scientist warns coronavirus vaccine not guaranteed

A top U.S. scientist behind groundbreaking research in cancer and HIV/AIDS warned that a vaccine for the coronavirus may never be found, as the number of global COVID-19 infections surged past 5 million on Thursday.

William Haseltine, who has also worked on human genome projects, said that while a COVID-19 vaccine could be developed, “I wouldn’t count on it.” Instead, he told Reuters, countries beginning to reverse lockdown measures need to lean on careful tracing of infections and strict isolation measures to control the spread.

Such an approach has proved successful in some countries that have minimized the spread, but worldwide, the numbers continue to climb. More than 328,000 people have died due to the virus while 5,001,494 have been infected, according to Johns Hopkins University as of Thursday morning.

Read the full story here.

IOC chief says he agrees that 'summer 2021 is the last option' for Games

The Olympic rings at the waterfront at Odaiba Marine Park in Tokyo in March.Issei Kato / Reuters file

International Olympic Committee President Thomas Bach said that he agrees the rescheduled Tokyo 2020 Olympics would have to be cancelled if the Games cannot take place next summer.

The IOC, jointly with the Japanese government, had postponed the Olympics to next July due to the coronavirus pandemic, but Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe said last month that the Games could not take place next year unless the coronavirus pandemic is contained.

"[Abe] made it very clear from the beginning that summer 2021 is the last option an quite frankly I have some understanding for this because you cannot forever employ 3,000 to 5,000 people in an organizing committee," Bach told British broadcaster BBC on Wednesday. Staging the Tokyo Olympics behind closed doors was "not what we want," he said, but added that he needed more time to consider whether that was feasible.

Brazil expands use of unproven drug as virus toll rises

Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro unveiled rules on Wednesday expanding the prescription of chloroquine — the predecessor of an anti-malaria drug promoted by President Donald Trump — for coronavirus patients despite a lack of clinical proof that it is effective.

Chloroquine was already being used in Brazil for COVID-19 patients who are hospitalized in serious condition, and under the new regulations, it can be given to people with lighter symptoms such as abdominal pain, cough or fever, according to Brazil's Health Ministry.

“There is still no scientific evidence, but it is being monitored and used in Brazil and worldwide,” Bolsonaro, who has likened the virus to a “little flu” and feuded with local governments over their stay-at-home measures, said via his official Facebook page. More than 291,000 cases have been confirmed in Brazil — the third most in the world after the U.S. and Russia — and the announcement came a day after the country's single-day death toll from the virus hit a new high of more than 1,100.