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Trump deems places of worship 'essential'

Here are the latest coronavirus updates from around the world.
Image: President Donald Trump holds a protective face mask with a presidential seal on it that he said he had been wearing earlier in his tour at the Ford Rawsonville Components Plant
President Donald Trump holds a protective face mask with a presidential seal on it that he said he had been wearing during his tour of a Ford plant in Ypsilanti, Michigan, on Thursday.Leah Millis / Reuters

Ongoing stay-at-home orders prompted President Donald Trump on Friday to deem houses of worship essential. He threatened to override governors who have ordered churches, synagogues and mosques not to reopen in the coming days.

With the coronavirus threat looming, the long Memorial Day weekend won't look anything like years past.

Meanwhile, the nation's most populous county is getting ready to reopen by the next big summer holiday - July 4.

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

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U.S. grants OK for 15 airlines to suspend service to 75 airports

WASHINGTON - The U.S. Transportation Department said late Friday it had granted tentative approval to 15 airlines to temporarily halt service to 75 U.S. airports because of the coronavirus pandemic.

Airlines must maintain minimum service levels in order to receive government assistance, but many have petitioned to stop service to airports with low passenger demand.

Both United Airlines and Delta Air Lines won tentative approval to halt flights to 11 airports, while JetBlue Airways Corp, Alaska Airlines and Frontier Airlines were approved to stop flights to five airports each. The department said all airports would continue to be served by at least one air carrier.

The Transportation Department said objections to the order can be filed until May 28.

U.S. air carriers are collectively burning through more than $10 billion in cash a month as travel demand remains a fraction of prior levels, even though it has rebounded slightly in recent weeks. They have parked more than half of their planes and cut thousands of flights.

Nevada eyes June 4 are reopening date for casinos

LAS VEGAS — Nevada Gov. Steve Sisolak has set a tentative June 4 date for reopening the state’s shuttered casinos, including the famous glitzy casinos of Las Vegas.

The Democratic governor says Nevada has continued to see decreasing cases of the coronavirus and COVID-19 hospitalizations after some businesses reopened and some restrictions began to be lifted nearly two weeks ago. Sisolak’s office says he plans to hold a press conference Tuesday to offer more details about the next phase of reopening, assuming the decreasing cases of the virus and hospitalizations continue through the Memorial Day weekend.

Nevada’s gambling regulators plan to meet Tuesday and will consider reopening plans submitted from casinos, which need to be approved at least seven days before reopening.

N.Y. allows groups of 10 or fewer to congregate

After months of strict stay-at-home orders and just in time for the Memorial Day weekend, New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo signed an executive order Friday allowing groups of 10 people or fewer to congregate.

Social distancing, cleaning and disinfection protocols must be followed as required by the state's Department of Health, according to the order.

Earlier in the day, New York joined the rest of the tristate area in opening its beaches with restrictions. Masks are required, visitors should maintain a 6-foot distance from others and concession stands will remain closed.

Hertz files for bankruptcy protection

Hertz filed for bankruptcy protection Friday, unable to withstand the coronavirus pandemic that has crippled global travel and with it, the heavily indebted 102-year-old car rental company’s business.

The Estero, Florida-based company’s lenders were unwilling to grant it another extension on its auto lease debt payments past a Friday deadline, triggering the filing in U.S. Bankruptcy Court in Delaware. Hertz and its subsidiaries will continue to operate, according to a release from the company.

By the end of March, Hertz Global Holdings Inc. had racked up $18.7 billion in debt with only $1 billion of available cash.

Read the full story here

Missouri hair stylist with coronavirus exposed dozens of clients

A hair stylist in Springfield, Missouri, exposed as many as 91 people to coronavirus after working at a salon for eight days while symptomatic, health officials said Friday.

The exposed include 84 Great Clips customers and, potentially, seven coworkers, said Clay Goddard, director of the Springfield-Greene County Health Department.

The condition of the stylist, who was not identified, was not revealed, but co-owners of the salon said in a statement the patient is "following medical advice and taking appropriate actions."

So far, no other positive case connected to the stylist has been confirmed, but the county is nonetheless facing "a glut of cases," Goddard said.

Read the full story here.

Another tourist arrested in Hawaii after quarantine violation

A tourist from California was arrested Friday for allegedly violating Hawaii's 14-day quarantine for visitors, the state officials said.

Misty Lynn Beutler, 51, of Moorpark, was collared by agents from the office of Hawaii's attorney general after her son's neighbor in Honolulu spotted her arrive May 9, unload luggage, and, a few days later, walk outside with a dog, according to the office of Gov. David Ige.

Agents spotted the pair leaving the son's building when she was arrested, the office said in a statement. She was booked in lieu of $2,000 bail.

Beutler's was at least the third high-profile quarantine-related arrest in the second half of May.

America's last Blockbuster gets a boost from film buffs staying at home

Chicago won't begin to loosen restrictions for several weeks

CHICAGO — Chicago cannot begin to loosen restrictions designed to limit the spread of the coronavirus before early June, officials in the United States’ third-largest city said.

Chicago, like the rest of Illinois, has been under a stay-at-home order since March 21. Gov. J.B. Pritzker has said all parts of the state are on track for restrictions to begin loosening on May 29. Chicago Mayor Lori Lightfoot, though, said she could not provide residents with a specific date when the city can loosen restrictions but she hopes it can move forward in early June.

The city’s multi-phase plan for reopening businesses, government buildings and lifting some restrictions on residents’ movement requires a decline in new cases and emergency room visits, along with a 15% average rate of positive tests among those performed by health care providers in a 14-day window.

At 20.5%, the rate of positive tests remained a concern Friday, but the head of the city’s public health department said that percentage has declined in recent days and that she feels confident the city can reach the target number.

“The bottom line is that we are on track but we need people to continue to stay home and save lives this weekend and next week,” Dr. Allison Arwady said.

Tanzania says virus defeated through prayer, but fears grow

NAIROBI, Kenya — On just one day this month, 50 Tanzanian truck drivers tested positive for the coronavirus after crossing into neighboring Kenya. Back home, their president insists that Tanzania has defeated the disease through prayer.

All the while, President John Magufuli has led a crackdown on anyone who dares raise concerns about the virus’s spread in his East African country or the government’s response to it. Critics have been arrested, and opposition politicians and rights activists say their phones are being tapped.

The country’s number of confirmed virus cases hasn’t changed for three weeks, and the international community is openly worrying that Tanzania’s government is hiding the true scale of the pandemic. Just over 500 cases have been reported in a country of nearly 60 million people.

While many African countries have been praised for their response to the coronavirus, Tanzania is the most dramatic exception, run by a president who questions — or fires — his own health experts and has refused to limit people’s movements, saying the economy is the priority.

Indiana moves to next reopening phase two days ahead of schedule

Medical worker fought COVID-19 with help from doctor who was former patient

This July 4, Independence Day could take on new meaning for L.A. residents

The nation's most populous county is aiming for a July 4 reopening as public health and policy experts say the coronavirus pandemic has stabilized enough to begin economic recovery.

Los Angeles County officials set the deadline this week to reopen restaurants, malls and retail stores by Independence Day as stay-at-home orders continue to take a toll on nearly every industry, from retail to TV and film production.

"We have the epidemic under control with these lockdown orders, and we can start thinking about relaxing those orders," said Neeraj Sood, a professor and vice dean for research at the University of Southern California's Price School of Public Policy. "I think the county is ready to open on July 4th."

Businesses must submit detailed proposals to the county by June 30 outlining the safety measures they plan to introduce to protect workers and customers, including social distancing rules and employee access to personal protective equipment.

Read the full story here.

Justice Department joins push against Illinois coronavirus restrictions

The Justice Department is adding its support to a lawsuit challenging the pandemic-related stay at home restrictions in Illinois.

On Friday, DOJ lawyers filed a statement of interest backing a lawsuit filed by Illinois state Rep. Darren Bailey, a Republican who charges Democratic Gov. J.B. Pritzker's emergency orders to help the state cope with the pandemic have exceed his authority.

“However well-intentioned they may be, the executive orders appear to reach far beyond the scope of the 30-day emergency authority granted to the governor under Illinois law,” Steven D. Weinhoeft, the U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of Illinois, said in a statement. “Even during times of crisis, executive actions undertaken in the name of public safety must be lawful."

The filing also urges that Bailey's suit, which was moved from state court to federal court earlier this week, be moved back to state court.

Click here for the full story.

Mom meets new baby after more than 2 months fighting COVID-19

DOJ warns L.A. against long-term lockdown

Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti and Los Angeles County Health Director Barbara Ferrer have been warned that long-term lockdowns because of the coronavirus "may be both arbitrary and unlawful."

A letter sent Friday from Assistant Attorney General of Civil Rights Eric Drieband references several "heavy-handed" statements the Southern California officials have made about stay-at-home requirements that may remain in place until vaccines are developed.

The DOJ said in its letter that it recognizes the duty to protect residents but cautioned that "governmental authority, however, is not limitless, and must be exercised reasonably."

The Justice Department said it will not dictate how cities and counties determine to what degree activity and personal interaction should be allowed to protect citizens, but that it is the department's role to protect the constitutional rights of citizens.

 "There is no pandemic exception to the U.S. Constitution and its Bill of Rights," the DOJ wrote. 

Remdesivir clinical trial results published in New England Journal of Medicine

The National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases published long-awaited results of its first study of remdesivir, an antiviral medication that Dr. Anthony Fauci previously said has a "clear-cut, significant, positive effect" on patients with COVID-19. 

On Friday, NIAID published the preliminary analysis of the drug in the New England Journal of Medicine. The analysis included data on 1,059 hospitalized patients. About half received remdesivir, and half received a placebo. 

Patients who received remdesivir were in the hospital for about 11 days, on average, compared with 15 days for those who received the placebo. 

Earlier this month, the Food and Drug Administration issued an emergency use authorization for remdesivir. The move was intended to increase physicians' access to the drug. It's not a cure, but it's the only treatment so far shown in clinical trials to have a moderate impact on the illness.

Jersey Shore and many other U.S. beaches reopen for a Memorial Day like no other

When the Jersey Shore reopens for Memorial Day weekend with the coronavirus still stalking the state and the rest of the land, not everything will be as “all right” as it used to be.

"SOCIAL DISTANCE TODAY -- START SPREADING THE NEWS” is the message Jersey Shore-bound masses will see on flashing billboards as they ford freeways that are expected to be packed. And once they reach their desired destinations, there will be more reminders that life on the shore is still a long way from normal.

No arcades. No rides. No concerts or special events. Closed playgrounds. Capacity limits on beaches. Long lines to use the few public bathrooms that will be open. Just takeout at most bars and restaurants. And drones flying overhead to help authorities monitor it all.

Police and other security will be out on the sand making sure people keep six-feet apart, and lifeguards will blow the whistle on anyone who does not follow the new rules.

Read the full story here.

Patrick Ewing in hospital after testing positive

Hall of Fame basketball player and Georgetown University coach Patrick Ewing announced Friday night that he was hospitalized after testing positive for coronavirus.

Ewing, 57, just completed his third season as head basketball coach at his alma mater. No other members of that team or staff have tested positive, Georgetown said.

Trump admin limits nursing home data collection effort

The Trump administration is not requiring nursing homes to provide data on COVID-19 deaths and cases that occurred prior to May 6, according to a public government document, limiting the accuracy of the federal data collection effort to measure the impact of the pandemic on older Americans.

The government encourages nursing homes to provide the data from before May 6, but does not mandate it. The limitations of the data collection effort were first reported by the Wall Street Journal.

"I think that is outrageous," said Charlene Harrington, nursing professor emerita from the University of California San Francisco, who said the administration was aiding the nursing home industry by "helping them cover up the death rates."

Read the full story here.

New Jersey predicts $10 billion revenue shortfall

New Jersey’s Office of the State Treasurer is calling the state’s financial condition for fiscal year 2020 and 2021 "sobering."

“We are watching revenues fall off the cliff with no assurance of additional federal aid in sight,” state Treasurer Elizabeth Muoio said in a call with reporters Friday.

The state is facing a revenue shortfall of $9.9 billion through 2021, assuming there is no resurgence of coronavirus. If there is another spike in infections later this year, New Jersey could experience a shortfall of $1.065 billion.

Muoio predicted the state’s GDP will not return to pre-COVID levels until mid-2022 at the earliest. She also emphasized the need for federal assistance and emergency borrowing, with the treasurer saying the situation will be “much worse” without the government's help.

California launches contact-tracing program

California is launching a new contact-tracing and public awareness program in its ongoing fight against coronavirus, which has infected more than 88,000 people across the state.

Through the program, called California Connected, public health workers will work with people who test positive for COVID-19 and with their close contacts to help ensure confidential coronavirus testing and medical care if necessary. It will be led by the state's public health department in collaboration with local health officials and universities of San Francisco and Los Angeles.

All information shared through the program is confidential. Contact tracers will not ask for financial information, social security numbers or immigration status, according to Gov. Gavin Newsom's office.

Campus Pride, PFLAG to host virtual Lavender Graduation

With the coronavirus pandemic canceling graduation ceremonies, LGBTQ college seniors will have the opportunity to participate in a virtual Lavender Graduation on Saturday, the 25th anniversary of an in-person event that began in 1995 at the University of Michigan.

At the first Lavender Graduation, “LGBTQ+ students were largely unseen — and unsafe — on college campuses," said Shane Windmeyer, executive director of Campus Pride, in an email. "There has been tremendous progress since, but COVID-19 has made many LGBTQ+ students again invisible and unsafe.”

Read the full story here.

Pandemic halts vaccination for nearly 80 million children

LONDON — The coronavirus pandemic is interrupting immunization against diseases including measles, polio and cholera that could put the lives of nearly 80 million children under the age of 1 at risk, according to a new analysis from the World Health Organization and partners.

In a new report issued on Friday, health officials warned that more than half of 129 countries where immunization data were available reported moderate, severe or total suspensions of vaccination services during March and April.

“Disruption to immunization programs from the COVID-19 pandemic threatens to unwind decades of progress against vaccine-preventable diseases like measles,” said WHO director-general Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus in a statement. The report was also produced by UNICEF, the Sabin Vaccine Institute and GAVI.

UNICEF reported a significant delay in planned vaccine deliveries due to lockdown measures and a dramatic reduction in the number of available flights. More than 40 of Africa’s 54 nations have closed their borders, though some allow cargo and emergency transport.

Multiple vaccine efforts show promise

Multiple vaccine efforts appear to show promise, although all are still in early stages.

Massachusetts-based Moderna reported Monday that phase 1 clinical trials show its vaccine candidate prompted an immune response in the human body and was safely tolerated among a small group of volunteers.

Dr. Anthony Fauci, the nation’s top infectious disease expert, said in an interview with NPR, “Having looked at the data myself, it is really quite promising."

Read the full story.

Massive testing for vaccines planned

A massive project that aims to compress what is typically 10 years of vaccine development and testing into a matter of months is being planned.

The U.S. effort involving more than 100,000 volunteers and a half dozen or so of the most promising vaccine candidates aims to deliver a safe and effective vaccine by the end of 2020, scientists leading the program said.

To get there, leading vaccine makers have agreed to share data and lend the use of their clinical trial networks to competitors if necessary, the scientists said.

Read the whole story here.

Arizona woman, 18, arrested in Hawaii after allegedly violating quarantine

Alyza Alder, of Gilbert, Ariz.
Alyza Alder, of Gilbert, Ariz.Courtesy Dept. of Public Safety

An Arizona woman visiting Hawaii was arrested after allegedly violating the state's mandatory order that tourists and returning residents self-isolate for 14 days.

Alyza Alder, 18, of Gilbert, was taken into custody on Wednesday at a fast-food restaurant in Laie where she was working, according to a press release from the governor's office. She's being held on a $2,000 bail and faces charges of violating the order and for "unsworn falsification to authority," according to the release.

Alder arrived in O‘ahu on May 6 and days later began posting photos of herself at beaches in Laie and Hauula. Investigators said that during the time she should have been under quarantine, Alder got a job at a local restaurant.

Read the full story here.

Class of 2020 shares what it's like to graduate during a pandemic

Graduation season is full of traditions: caps and gowns, signs and advertisements, "Pomp and Circumstance."

However, this graduation season is unlike any other for both high school and college seniors as they prepare to celebrate their milestones amid the COVID-19 pandemic.

NBC News’ Social Newsgathering team spoke with 10 high school and 10 college graduates about what it's like to graduate during the pandemic, and how their celebrations are different than they initially planned.

Students like Freja-Jane Kjeldseth of Yankton High School in South Dakota tried to remain positive despite changing plans and a cloud of uncertainty about the future. “Keep your head up, keep a positive mindset because it sucks, but it’s a unique experience," she said. "Nobody else has ever had this kind of thing...and it’s a story you can tell your kids and grandkids when you're old."

Read the full story here.

Trump announces new CDC guidelines for places of worship

WASHINGTON — The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention planned to release guidelines Friday for reopening places of worship amid the coronavirus crisis that were to include recommendations for face coverings, basic hygiene and avoiding shared materials like hymnals, said a White House official.

“Our big push has been, don’t be overly prescriptive,” the official said. “And keep in mind, these are recommendations.”

The guidelines were being finalized and circulated around the White House ahead of President Donald Trump's announcement Friday.

Read more here.

Two cases of rare COVID-19-linked illness in Washington state

Two children in Washington State were diagnosed with a rare and potentially deadly COVID-19-linked condition.

The illness is known as Multisystem Inflammatory Syndrome in Children, or MIS-C.

The children, one under the age of 10, are being treated at Seattle Children's Hospital, state officials announced Friday.

Those diagnosed with MIS-C are under 21 with a fever, laboratory evidence of inflammation, and severe illness, with no other plausible diagnoses, who've tested positive for COVID-19 or exposure to a confirmed case. Hundreds of children and young adults have been diagnosed with MIS-C in the United States.

Gay beach destinations plan for summer, with pandemic in mind

Image: Provincetown
A jogger along an empty Commercial Street in Provincetown, Mass., on May 13, 2020.John Tlumacki / Boston Globe via Getty Images

From New York’s Fire Island to Massachusetts’ Provincetown, the Northeast’s LGBTQ beach destinations are planning for a new normal this summer.

Read more here.

Another large study finds no benefit to hydroxychloroquine for COVID-19

Hydroxychloroquine does not help COVID-19 patients, and indeed may increase deaths, according to a large, international study published Friday in The Lancet.

The research is the latest to show the drug — which President Donald Trump this week said he was taking as a preventive strategy — can lead to potentially deadly heart problems.

Read more. 

This might be the best weekend ever to buy a new car

Memorial Day weekend is typically one of the busiest times of the year for car dealerships — and this year's deals are expected to be some of the best ever.

Automakers have been offering incentives averaging about $5,000 on the typical new vehicle, with the givebacks on full-size pickups running well above $7,000, whether in the form of rebates, zero-interest loans or other deals.

With consumers locked down at home and auto plants shuttered, sales of new cars plunged last month to barely half what they were last April. But with most states easing up on lockdowns, “Dealers in most of the country will be open again,” whether online or in their showrooms, “and we expect to see the (big sales) carried forward,” said Nick Woolard, director of analytics with online auto site TrueCar.com.

"We're seeing far more generous incentives and deals out there than we typically would for Memorial Day weekend, and since more consumers might be looking at vehicles for summer road trips instead of airline travel, things might look up a bit for the industry," said Jessica Caldwell, Edmunds' executive director of insights.

New York's hospitalizations, new cases and deaths are declining, governor says

New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo said that the number of new hospitalizations in the state is down as well as the number of new cases and deaths. 

The governor said at a news briefing on Friday that the state had 109 deaths from the coronavirus, down from 105 on May 20. 

Cuomo said that if the number of deaths in the Long Island and mid-Hudson regions of the state continue to decline and if those areas get their contact tracing for the virus online, they could reopen next week.

The Week in Pictures: Tentative reopenings and a world behind masks

The Week in Pictures

See more photos as all 50 states begin to reopen. 

Trump administration to start distributing $4.9 billion to nursing homes

The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services will begin distributing $4.9 billion in CARES Act funding to nursing homes in an effort to help the hard-hit facilities curb the spread of the coronavirus, officials said Friday.

Each nursing home will receive "a fixed distribution of $50,000, plus a distribution of $2,500 per bed," according to HHS.

Nursing home providers and industry associations have been asking for $100 billion, but several groups said Friday they were still grateful for the government funding.  

“We are working around the clock to protect the people who are most vulnerable to COVID-19," Mark Parkinson, CEO of American Health Care Association, the industry group for for-profit nursing homes. "That work makes this funding more important than ever."

LeadingAge CEO Katie Smith Sloan, who represents 5,000 non-profit senior living facilities, said they were "especially pleased. "

As of May 11, 27,333 nursing home residents have died from COVID-19, according to an NBC News tally.

This young elected official draws political heat for her tough coronavirus stance

Image: Harris County Judge Lina Hidalgo speaks after a tour of medical shelter in Houston, Texas, on April 11, 2020.
Harris County Judge Lina Hidalgo speaks after a tour of medical shelter in Houston, Texas, on April 11, 2020.David J. Phillip / AP file

After being tested by massive chemical fires and a rash of destructive floods, Lina Hidalgo, the 29-year-old top government executive of Harris County, Texas, is now facing a killer virus and the protests of how she's tried to contain it.

Hidalgo, the surprise victor in a 2018 election, has been the inspiration for fellow Democrats hoping to turn Texas blue. Her victory, coupled with her youth and immigrant background, made her a constant target of criticism that intensified as she moved aggressively against COVID-19 in Harris County, which includes Houston.

"It's understandable that, it's an election year, folks want to pull this apart ... but there's a time and place for that," Hidalgo said in an interview. "When I'm running for re-election, all bets are off. They'll comment on why I did that, and criticize and complain and I'm sure say things that aren't true and I'll correct the record. But right now, to politicize things for the sake of it, is not good."

Read our full story here.

Anti-violence groups, not police, will enforce social distancing in NYC

New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio announced Friday that members of the city's "Cure Violence movement," not police officers, would focus on the "day-to-day work" of ensuring that people are following social distancing guidelines.

Eighteen organizations with the Cure Violence movement, which is also called the crisis management system, will be dispersed across 21 neighborhoods to "use the trust that they have built in communities ... to educate people about the coronavirus," de Blasio said. The effort will be "of and by and for each community," he added. 

The mayor said last week that the New York City Police Department would no longer enforce mask-wearing by the public unless there is "serious danger."

He made that announcement amid outrage over a video showing officers handcuffing and pinning down a 22-year old mother who was not wearing a mask properly. The department had also drawn scrutiny over its enforcement of social distancing guidelines after police data showed the vast majority of those receiving summonses were people of color.

The NYPD will now focus on breaking up gatherings, particularly over Memorial Day weekend, and concentrate on neighborhoods that have seen congregations at restaurants.

Georgia logs 1,783 coronavirus deaths, surpassing more than 41,000 cases

The Department of Public Health in Georgia logged a total of 41,427 confirmed cases and 1,783 deaths as of Friday morning.

That's an increase of 464 new cases and 8 deaths in the past 24 hours.

Georgia also reported 7,294 hospitalizations and 1,655 ICU admissions, administering a total of 427,249 tests statewide.

Secretary of Defense says coronavirus vaccine 'absolutely' possible by end of year

Secretary of Defense Mark Esper said on TODAY Friday that a coronavirus vaccine to treat Americans is "absolutely" possible by the end of the year.

Esper expanded on his comments from a White House press conference in which he said the Department of Defense "will deliver" a vaccine by the end of the year for an illness that has so far infected more than 1.5 million Americans and caused 94,729 deaths in the U.S., according to Johns Hopkins University.

"Absolutely it's possible, and I've spoken to our medical experts about this," Esper told Savannah Guthrie. "We are completely confident that we can get this done.

Read the full story at TODAY.com.

Photo: 'Cyber-graduation' in Manila

Image: Cyber graduation
A picture of a student is seen on a tablet that is placed on a robot during an event they called "cyber-graduation" at a school at Taguig in Manila, Philippines, on May 22, 2020. Robots were used to represent some 179 highschool students during an online graduation ceremony that was beamed live on Facebook to avoid mass gatherings as the school's measure to prevent the spread of the new coronavirus.Aaron Favila / AP

Experimental virus vaccine reaches advanced trial stages

An experimental vaccine for COVID-19 under development at Oxford University hit a milestone Friday with researchers announcing it will be progressing to advanced stages of human trials.

It will be tested in 10,260 volunteers across the United Kingdom to determine how effective it is at preventing infection, the university said in a statement. If successful, it could be on the market as early as September, according to British-Swedish drugmaker AstraZeneca, which partnered with the university in April to manufacture and distribute the vaccine.

"We're thrilled," Adrian Hill, one of the researchers leading the project, told NBC News.

AstraZeneca received more than $1 billion from the U.S. Department of Health’s Biomedical Advanced Research and Development Authority on Thursday.

Read the whole story here.

Tanzania says virus defeated through prayer, but fears grow

Image: Truck drivers are seen near their parked vehicles as they await test results, amid the spread of the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) outbreak at the Namanga one stop border crossing point between Kenya and Tanzania in Namanga, Keny
Truck drivers are seen near their parked vehicles as they await test results, amid the spread of the coronavirus outbreak at the Namanga border crossing point between Kenya and Tanzania earlier this month.Thomas Mukoya / Reuters

On just one day this month, 50 Tanzanian truck drivers tested positive for the coronavirus after crossing into neighboring Kenya. Back home, their president insists that Tanzania has defeated the disease through prayer.

All the while, Tanzanian President John Magufuli has led a crackdown on anyone who dares raise concerns about the virus’ spread in his East African country or the government’s response to it. Critics have been arrested, and opposition politicians and rights activists say their phones are being tapped.

The country's number of confirmed virus cases hasn't changed for three weeks, and the international community is openly worrying that Tanzania's government is hiding the true scale of the pandemic. Just over 500 cases have been reported in a country of nearly 60 million people.

While many African countries have been praised for their response to the coronavirus, Tanzania is the most dramatic exception, run by a president who questions — or fires — his own health experts and has refused to limit people's movements, saying the economy is the priority.

Biological diversity key to preventing pandemics, U.N. says

The COVID-19 pandemic has shown how human health is intimately connected to the natural world, the United Nations said on its International Day of Biological Diversity on Friday.

"Our solutions are in nature," said U.N. Secretary-General António Guterres in a video statement. Preserving and sustainably managing biodiversity is not only necessary for mitigating climate disruption and guaranteeing water and food security, but is also crucial in preventing pandemics, he said. 

Biological diversity — meaning a wide variety of plants, animals and microorganisms — “are the pillars upon which we build civilizations,” the U.N. said in a statement. It has been proven that biodiversity loss could expand zoonoses — diseases transmitted from animals to humans — while, on the other hand, “if we keep biodiversity intact, it offers excellent tools to fight against pandemics like those caused by coronaviruses,” the U.N. said.

DJs play to a socially distant crowd at German club

Party goers longing to escape to the dance floor in the midst of the coronavirus pandemic got an insight into socially distant raving on Thursday night, when DJs at a German venue played to a socially distant, face mask-wearing audience that was limited to 100 people. 

The organizers of the TakaTuka event, held at the CoconutBeach club in Münster, said that to make up for the loss of revenue  caused by limited attendees, they would have had to increase the cover charge of the event 20 fold, but realized that this would have excluded many music fans. Instead, they sold packages to the event for €70 ($76.26), which included vouchers for drinks and hot food from the venue's grill.

Attendees were told to bring their own masks to the event, and that a vendor would be selling masks branded with club logos and imagery on site. DJ Steve Stix shared images of the socially distant event on his Instagram story, with clubbers limited to moving inside individual circles spaced out on the dance floor. The loosening of restrictions in Germany has seen some parts of life resume, but many precautions have been kept in place.

Moscow to expand antibody testing program to all residents next week

Moscow will offer free antibody testing to anyone who wants it as early as next week, Mayor Sergei Sobyanin said on state television. Currently, the city is offering free antibody testing to randomly selected residents. The program launched a week ago and is designed to help inform decisions on lifting lockdown restrictions, according to the mayor.

Russia on Friday surpassed 325,000 confirmed cases, and though the daily case growth is down from last week, the rate appears to have settled around 9,000 confirmed cases per day. Meanwhile, a record 150 fatalities were reported Friday.

Sobyanin also said Thursday that Moscow will resume government services and will allow car sharing starting on May 25. It will also ease entry and exit from the city. However, he said passes will still be required for movement around Moscow, suggesting the lockdown may continue past May 31, when it is currently scheduled to be lifted.

European aviation agency recommends face masks and physical distancing

As countries across Europe begin to ease travel restrictions, the European Union Aviation Safety Agency updated their recommendations for airports and airlines following the severe disruption of the industry from the coronavirus. 

New guidelines recommend that access to airport terminals should be limited to only passengers, crew members and staff, and that physical distancing should be in place.

The wearing of face masks was recommended for all passengers “from the moment they enter the terminal building at the departure airport until they exit the terminal building at the destination airport,” according to the guidelines. Airport and airline operators should also provide personal protective equipment to staff members, it said.

Brazil records another new record in daily death toll

Image: A nurse holds the arm of a patient infected with COVID-19 at the Gilberto Novaes Municipal Field Hospital on Thursday in Manaus, Brazil.
A nurse holds the arm of a patient infected with COVID-19 at the Gilberto Novaes Municipal Field Hospital on Thursday in Manaus, Brazil.Andre Coelho / Getty Images

Brazil suffered a record of 1,188 daily coronavirus deaths on Thursday and is fast approaching Russia to become the world's No. 2 COVID-19 hot spot behind the United States.

Brazil also passed 20,000 deaths on Thursday and has 310,087 confirmed cases, up over 18,500 in a single day, according to Health Ministry data. The true numbers are likely higher but Brazil has not carried out widespread testing, the ministry said.

President Jair Bolsonaro is under growing pressure for his handling of the outbreak, which looks set to destroy the Brazilian economy and threatens his re-election hopes. He strongly opposes social distancing measures and has repeatedly pushed for greater usage of chloroquine as a remedy for the virus, despite health experts' warnings about risks.

Female boxers in Gaza train on the beach after gym closure

Image: A Palestinian girl is instructed by coach Osama Ayob on Thursday during a boxing training session on the sidewalk of a beach as sports clubs are closed due to coronavirus fears in Gaza City.
A Palestinian girl is instructed by coach Osama Ayob on Thursday during a boxing training session on the sidewalk of a beach as sports clubs are closed due to coronavirus fears in Gaza City.Suhaib Salem / Reuters

A team of young female boxers — some as young as four — trained on the beach in Gaza this week after their club was closed due to COVID-19. Gaza has reported 55 coronavirus cases, all of them in quarantine centers, and no deaths.

The sight of over a dozen girls boxing on the beach while wearing face masks caught the eye of passersby in the Mediterranean coastal enclave, where the sport is mostly popular with men. The girls' coach, Osama Ayob, said the public training sessions could help get more girls involved in the sport. Women make up half of the strip's two million people.

"Some families walking by us liked the idea and they asked if they could send their girls so I can train them," said Ayob, 34. One of the boxers, 15-year-old Malah Mesleh, said she would rather train in public than miss out on sessions — or, worse yet, risk contagion by practicing in the team's gym.

Mississippi governor outraged after church fighting virus rules burned to ground

Mississippi Gov. Tate Reeves said he's "heartbroken and furious" after a fire this week at a church that has challenged coronavirus restrictions. The fire is being investigated as arson.

The fire Wednesday in Holly Springs destroyed the First Pentecostal Church, and investigators found graffiti in the church parking lot that reads, “Bet you stay home now you hypokrits," NBC affiliate WMC of Memphis reported.

The church was "burned to the ground" and had been trying to open services, Reeves tweeted Thursday.

First Pentecostal filed a lawsuit last month against the city over its public health order on in-person worship services, the station reported.

"This is not who we are," the governor said at a daily news conference on the coronavirus epidemic and the state's response.

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Pentagon starts planning for military's post-COVID-19 future

WASHINGTON — The Pentagon's Joint Staff has launched a planning group focused on the U.S. military's long-term plans for operating during and after the COVID-19 pandemic, taking into account the likelihood that the defense budget may be cut and that troops may come home, according to three defense officials.

The group is examining how the military is postured around the world, whether it needs to focus more personnel or assets domestically, and where it needs to invest personnel and money to operate during and after COVID-19.

The group will look at possible vulnerabilities the U.S. may face during the pandemic and where adversaries could try to take advantage of the U.S. focus on COVID-19. At the same time, the group will determine what strategic advantages the U.S. can leverage as adversaries are also focused on the outbreak.

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