Memorial Day weekend in lockdown as U.S. death toll nears 97,000

Here are the latest updates from around the world.
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An aerial view shows painted circles in the grass to encourage people to social distance at Washington Square Park in San Francisco, California, on Friday.Josh Edelson / AFP - Getty Images

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As the number of U.S. deaths nears 97,000 and the coronavirus lockdowns continue, the long Memorial Day weekend won't look anything like years past, but in some parts of the country the pandemic has stabilized enough for some to think about beginning the economic recovery.

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

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.

Meanwhile, ongoing stay-at-home orders also 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.

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

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Photo: A night at the movies

Moviegoers watch a film from their cars at a drive-in theater in Les Herbiers, western France, on Friday.Loic Venance / AFP - Getty Images

Japanese nightclubs get COVID instructions

The Japanese association representing workers at nightclubs and hostess bars is instructing people to wear masks and to disinfect doorknobs and tables every 30 minutes. 

The guidelines, issued by the Nihon Mizushobai Kyokai on Saturday, said karaoke microphones must be cleaned after each use, and workers should wash their hands and gargle every 30 minutes. A customer and worker can sit together, but one empty seat must be kept in between another customer. Visitors from abroad, who didn’t undergo a 14-day quarantine, will be refused at the door. 

Staff should not touch their hair or face, and must report health problems to authorities, according to the checklist. More than a million women are estimated to work at cabarets in Japan, and their income has plunged amid the outbreak as major companies instructed employees to work from home. 

The government’s stay-home request has been lifted in much of Japan but remains in Tokyo. Japan has more than 16,000 confirmed COVID-19 cases and 777 deaths, according to Johns Hopkins University.

Virus concerns show increased need, demand for home care, experts say

For people recovering from COVID-19, home care can be both essential and elaborate, involving a health care professional who provides additional oxygen, monitors vital signs, administers medication and helps with daily tasks such as eating, bathing and getting in and out of bed.

Home care professionals and nurses said the coronavirus pandemic shows how crucial the industry is. It provides life-saving services to people who are vulnerable while keeping them safe in their own homes.

“It’s been quite a dramatic challenge for all of us and certainly the public health challenge of our lifetime,” said Dr. Steven Landers, president and CEO of the Visiting Nurse Association Health Group, which serves New Jersey and Ohio.

Read more here.

South Korea reports 23 new cases, as authorities shut down nightclubs

South Korea reported 23 new cases of the coronavirus on Saturday, mostly from the densely-populated Seoul metropolitan area where authorities have shut down thousands of nightclubs, bars and karaoke rooms in an attempt to stem transmissions.

Figures on Saturday brought national totals to 11,165 cases and 266 deaths according to the Korea Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Thirteen of the new cases came from Gyeonggi province surrounding capital Seoul, which on Saturday issued an administrative order to ban gatherings at an additional 2,629 bars and karaoke rooms, bringing its number of shut-down entertainment venues to more than 8,000.

After the government used aggressive tracing and testing to stabilize its outbreak, more than 200 of the recent infections have been linked to club-goers in Seoul, who went out in early May as the country began easing on distancing.

Meanwhile, most high schools in South Korea remain open under strict COVID-19 disinfectant measures observed by school administrations.

Taliban leverages virus crisis to burnish its image as violence in Afghanistan surges

Afghan children sit on a grave on the outskirts of Kabul, Afghanistan on Wednesday. Rahmat Gul / AP

Decades of war, political chaos, desperate poverty, and now coronavirus.

A perfect storm has gathered over one of the world’s most benighted nations, Afghanistan, where ordinary citizens are facing a fresh form of misery.

Taliban militants have announced they will keep fighting since they say there have been no confirmed cases of COVID-19 in areas under the group’s control, a senior militant in the province of Ghazni has told NBC News.

Despite an uptick in violence, Taliban sources in Ghazni and four other provinces, Helmand, Paktika, Khost and Nangarhar, have told NBC News that there is now what they characterized as an unwritten understanding in place with the Afghan government and international groups like the World Health Organization to work together during the pandemic, particularly when it comes to testing.

Read the whole story here.

Brazil surpasses Russia in confirmed virus cases

Adenilson Souza Costa and his coworkers wearing protective gear bury a coffin during a burial at Vila Formosa Cemetery amidst the pandemic last week in Sao Paulo, Brazil.Alexandre Schneider / Getty Images

Brazil surpassed Russia in total number of confirmed coronavirus cases on Friday, with 330,890 cases according to Johns Hopkins University data.

The South American country now as the second-highest number of cases globally behind only the United States — which has reported 1.6 million cases as of Saturday.

The worst-hit nation in Latin America also reported 1,001 deaths over the previous 24 hours, bringing its total death toll to more than 21,000. The news came as states and cities across Brazil debate whether to loosen restrictive measures introduced to limit the spread of the virus, or implement stricter lockdowns.

This comes after 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.

UN warns cybercrime rising during pandemic

The United Nations disarmament chief said that while the pandemic is increasing technological innovation and online collaboration, “cybercrime is also on the rise, with a 600 percent increase in malicious emails during the current crisis.” 

Izumi Nakamitsu said “there have also been worrying reports of attacks against health care organizations and medical research facilities worldwide,” in a virtual briefing with the U.N. Security Council on Friday. 

Calling the threat of misusing information and communications technology “urgent,” she said that recent digital dependency has increased the vulnerability to cyberattacks, and “it is estimated that one such attack takes place every 39 seconds.”

According to the International Telecommunication Union, nearly 90 countries are still only at the early stages of making commitments to cybersecurity, Nakamitsu said. "It is concerning that we are not as yet collectively equipped to deal with the cyber threats at hand," she said. 

China reports no new cases for first time since start of the pandemic

China reported no new confirmed infections or deaths in the past 24 hours, marking the first time the country has registered zero new infections of the virus since they began reporting data in January.

China’s National Health Commission said 79 patients still were being treated as of Saturday and a total of 741,696 close contacts are being traced across the country. To date the country has reported a total of 4,634 deaths and 82,971 cases in total. 

The government still remains vigilant working to avoid a second wave, as all 11 million residents of Wuhan — where the outbreak was first detected — will be tested for the virus, officials said last week.

Queensland halts work on 2032 Olympics bid to deal with virus

A man is seen through the Olympic rings in front of the New National Stadium in Tokyo, Japan in March.Jae C. Hong / AP

 

The Australian state of Queensland has postponed work on its bid for the Olympic 2032 Games while they focus on the coronavirus outbreak.

Queensland Premier Annastascia Palaszczuk wrote that it would be "put on hold until further notice,” in The Australian newspaper. 

Senior international Olympic official John Coates said in a statement on Saturday that everyone understood there were pressing issues of public health and community wellbeing for governments to address.

Alaska State Fair canceled for first time since World War II

The Alaska State Fair was cancelled for the first time since World War II on Friday amid concerns surrounding coronavirus spread, organizers said in a statement Friday. Alaska has 404 confirmed virus cases as of Saturday, according to an NBC News tally. 

“We need to make decisions now based on what we know today, not how we hope things will be in August,” said the Alaska State Fair Board of Directors and CEO Jerome Hertel in the statement, citing uncertainty surrounding the pandemic. The fair was originally scheduled from Aug. 27 - Sept. 7.

While the staff is now instead working to offer some socially distant activities like drive-in movies and food trucks, the statement said, “We plan to come back next year with a 2021 Alaska State Fair that is even bigger and better than ever.”