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Lockdowns ease across the world as U.S. protests continue

Here are the latest coronavirus updates from around the world.
Image: FRANCE-HEALTH-VIRUS
Costumers take drinks at the terrace of a cafe-restaurant in Paris on June 2, 2020, as cafes and restaurants reopen in France, while the country eases lockdown measures taken to curb the spread of the COVID-19.Christophe Archambault / AFP - Getty Images

Protests over the death in police custody of George Floyd in Minneapolis continued throughout the U.S. overnight, raising fears of a wave of new infections. According to NBC News' tally there have been 1.8 million coronavirus infections in the U.S. and 105,000 related deaths, the highest of any country on both counts.

Meanwhile, countries across the world were lifting lockdown measures, with schools and businesses opening as a new way of life after the coronavirus pandemic emerges. Paris' famous street-side cafes will reopen Tuesday, while restrictions are also being eased in parts of Latin America.

Schoolchildren returned to classes in Singapore Tuesday, all wearing face masks, following the United Kingdom on Monday and several other European and Asian countries last month.

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

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Trump says he's yanking RNC from North Carolina over potential pandemic restrictions

President Donald Trump said Tuesday said that he will be seeking another state to host the Republican National Convention because the North Carolina Gov. Roy Cooper had refused to guarantee that coronavirus restrictions wouldn’t affect the party’s nominating convention.

“Governor Cooper is still in Shelter-in-Place Mode, and not allowing us to occupy the arena as originally anticipated and promised,” he wrote in a string of tweets. “We are now forced to seek another state to host the 2020 Republican National Convention.”

Earlier today, Cooper said he would not provide the president and his party with a "guarantee" that the party could hold a full-scale convention in Charlotte this summer, citing public health concerns.

Read the full story here. 

Fauci asked about mass gatherings, protests

Dr. Anthony Fauci — arguably the most well-known and well-respected U.S. public health figure in the COVID-19 pandemic — spoke out Tuesday afternoon about large public gatherings across the country, stopping short of specifically addressing protesters taking a stand against the death of George Floyd.

"Pictures, photos and TV clips of people very much congregated, no masks together, very closely congregated on a boardwalk, on a beach, in a pool, has been and continues to be a concern to me," Fauci said.

Fauci, the director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Disease, made the comment during an interview with Dr. Howard Bauchner, the editor of the Journal of the American Medical Association. The interview was posted on the journal's YouTube account.  

Bauchner touched on the the death of Floyd and mass protests across the country in the interview, but Fauci did not specifically speak about those demonstrations, which have occurred in hundreds of cities.

Fauci added that it won't be known for several more weeks whether the impact of large public gatherings of people will fuel the spread of COVID-19

Senate confirms Trump pick for pandemic recovery watchdog

The Senate voted 51-40 on Tuesday to confirm President Trump's pick to be the special inspector general for pandemic recovery.

The nomination of Brian Miller, who'd been working for Trump in the White House Counsel's office, was opposed by most Senate Democrats, who questioned whether he was independent enough to oversee the $500 billion economic relief fund. 

Sen. Doug Jones, D-Al., was the only Democrat to join all Republicans in confirming Miller, a former inspector general for the General Services Administration. 

After Miller's nomination, Sen. Richard Blumenthal, D-Conn., said Trump put "a fox in charge of the henhouse." 

Concerns mount about two studies on drugs for coronavirus

Concerns are mounting about studies in two influential medical journals on drugs used in people with coronavirus, including one that led multiple countries to stop testing a malaria pill.

The New England Journal of Medicine issued an "expression of concern" Tuesday on a study it published May 1 that suggested widely used blood pressure medicines were not raising the risk of death for people with COVID-19.

Read the full story here

NIH director say warm weather unlikely to stop spread of coronavirus

Warmer weather is unlikely to slow or stop the spread of coronavirus, Dr. Francis Collins, director of the National Institutes of Health, said in a blog post on Tuesday

Dr. Collins’ post on the NIH website was based on a new study published in Science, by scientists with the Princeton Environmental Institute. In this study, researchers developed three mathematical models to simulate how temperature changes may affect the spread of COVID-19, the disease caused by coronavirus, in cities around the world. All three scenarios showed that climate would only be an important factor when large proportions of a community are already immune to COVID-19.

“The team found that, even if one assumes that SARS-CoV-2 is as sensitive to climate as other seasonal viruses, summer heat still would not be enough of a mitigator right now to slow its initial, rapid spread through the human population,” Dr. Collins explained, referencing the rapid spread of the virus in warm tropical climates like Brazil and Ecuador. 

There is, however, one glimmer of hope in one of the group’s models, the blog post said. One of the models included control effects, most notably, social distancing in its study, which showed that a combination of warm weather and social distancing may slow the spread of the virus.

Protesting in a pandemic: COVID-19 testing sites shut down amid national unrest

Just as access to COVID-19 tests was ramping up in many areas across the country, some testing sites have been forced to suspend operations because of violence and protests in recent days.

The temporary closures — from California to Florida — are sure to hamper efforts to control the spread of the coronavirus, particularly as social distancing has given way to mass gatherings of potentially contagious people who don't know they're infected.

Read more. 

Group of attorneys general ask Walmart to step up protection for workers and public

Walmart is under pressure from a group of state attorneys general to improve paid time off rules for staff and prevent overcrowding in stores in order to help prevent the spread of COVID-19. 

California’s Xavier Becerra is the latest to add his name to a letter to Walmart CEO Doug McMillon asking the country's largest employer to improve protections against the coronavirus.

Walmart only offers half pay to workers who are infected, according to the letter, which also claims employees are not being informed about their potential exposure to people who have tested positive. The letter asks Walmart to install shields to separate cashiers, have employees wipe down carts and hand baskets, reduce customer counts, and inform state officials about the number of cases in each store. 

The states backing Becerra’s letter include: Illinois; Connecticut, Delaware, Maryland, Massachusetts, Michigan, Minnesota, New Mexico, Pennsylvania, Washington and the District of Columbia.

Walmart did not immediately respond to an email for comment.

How China blocked WHO and Chinese scientists early in coronavirus outbreak

Throughout January, the World Health Organization publicly praised China for what it called a speedy response to the new coronavirus. It repeatedly thanked the Chinese government for sharing the genetic map of the virus “immediately,” and said its work and commitment to transparency were “very impressive, and beyond words.”

But behind the scenes, it was a much different story, one of significant delays by China and considerable frustration among WHO officials over not getting the information they needed to fight the spread of the deadly virus, The Associated Press has found.

Read more. 

Whitmer slams Trump's use of Defense Production Act, calls for national testing plan

Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer on Tuesday blasted the Trump administration for its response to the coronavirus pandemic, saying that the U.S. "lost valuable time in the early days of COVID-19."

"When we could have been planning, when there could have been a national strategy, when the use of the DPA could have been used not for meat production, but for swabs, which we still don’t have enough of," Whitmer said at a House Energy and Commerce subcommittee hearing on the states' responses to the pandemic, referring to President Donald Trump's use of the Defense Production Act to ensure continued operation of meat production plants.

Whitmer, a Democrat, said supply shortages "continue to significantly restrict Michigan's testing capability." Right now, the state is able to conduct about 15,000 tests a day, but the goal is 30,000 a day. In March, the federal government made several allocations of personal protective equipment, but they were "dangerously insufficient," Whitmer said. 

The governor called on the White House to "create a specific, long-term plan outlining how the federal government will ensure we've got adequate testing supplies." 

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NYC mayor worried about potential spike in coronavirus cases if protests continue

New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio said Tuesday he was concerned that more days of protests would lead to an increased spread of coronavirus as the city looks to begin the first phase of reopening next week. 

"The message has been heard loud and clear ... but I’m very worried, also, that protest is leading to the potential of the spread of the coronavirus," de Blasio said. 

"This is not a minor matter at this point. One day, two days — that’s one thing. As it continues, that danger is increasing ... particularly if people are not keeping distance, particularly if people are not wearing face coverings. You're endangering yourself and your family. Please think about that now."

New York City has "a lot to do on criminal justice reform" and "healing wounds," de Blasio acknowledged. "But the pandemic is still here, and we must address that."

A citywide curfew from 8 p.m. to 5 a.m. will be in place until Sunday. The city is supposed to enter phase one of reopening the next day.

Filming to resume for "Mission: Impossible" — with 'limited contact between actors'

The seventh installment of "Mission: Impossible,” starring Tom Cruise, is set to resume production in September, according to comments made by the film’s first assistant director, Tommy Gormley, to BBC Radio 4 on Tuesday.

News that the Paramount Pictures series is returning to production will give the motion picture industry a boost. Many TV and movie producers have been without work after a COVID-19 related shutdown. It’s not clear where filming would resume, though shooting was interrupted in Venice in February. Paramount Pictures was not immediately available to comment. 

Meanwhile, the production business submitted labor safety plans to California Gov. Gavin Newsom and New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo. The plans include limiting crowd sizes, testing crew as a condition of employment and minimizing “close contact” between performers, leaving questions open about how directors will execute fight scenes and kissing between co-stars.

Two Americans facing charges for violating Singapore's social distance rules

An American man and woman accused of violating social distancing regulation designed to limit the spread of the coronavirus in Singapore faced the charges in court on Tuesday. 

Court documents identified Jeffrey Brown, 52, and Bao Nguyen Brown, 40, for allegedly meeting at a restaurant with Austrian citizen Michael Czerny, 45, who does not live in their household, to socialize on May 16. 

Four other foreigners faced similar charges for meeting at another restaurant the same evening. If convicted, they face up to 6 months in jail and a fine up to $7,100. 

British lawmakers criticize plans forcing them to vote in person

Image: Members of parliament spaced out on the benches in the House of Commons in London on June 2, 2020 to maintain social distancing as parlaiment reconvened.
Members of parliament spaced out on the benches in the House of Commons in London on June 2, 2020 to maintain social distancing as parlaiment reconvened.Parliamentary Recording Unit / AFP - Getty Images

Many British lawmakers returned to parliament Tuesday after the government put an end to arrangements — in place since April — that had allowed them to debate and vote in a "virtual" parliament.

But social distancing requirements mean that just 50 out of 650 parliamentarians will be allowed to be present in the House of Commons chamber at any one time, and MPs will be asked to form a long queuing system to vote.

The opposition Labor Party condemned the plans to force MPs with "shielding responsibilities" to vote in person, while opposition lawmaker Tulip Siddiq tweeted that the situation in parliament was "chaos."

"Westminster has been the seat of our democracy for centuries. It will take more than the coronavirus to change that," said Jacob Rees-Mogg, the ruling-Conservative party lawmaker responsible for the changes.

Report: Ethnic minorities in England up to twice as die from COVID-19 as white people

Black and Asian ethnic minorities in England are up to twice as likely to die after contracting COVID-19 than white British people, the country's health authority said Tuesday.

After accounting for sex, age, deprivation and region, people of Bangladeshi descent faced twice the risk of death when compared to white British people, Public Health England said in a delayed report. People of Chinese, Indian, Pakistani and Caribbean ethnicity were at between 10 percent to 50 percent higher risk of death, the report said.

The report does not account for occupation, which may help explain the disparity: Pakistani, Indian and black African men are vastly more likely to work in health care than white British men.

CBO projects virus impact could trim GDP by $15.7 trillion

The Congressional Budget Office said Monday that the U.S. economy could be $15.7 trillion smaller over the next decade than it otherwise would have been if Congress does not mitigate the economic damage from the coronavirus.

The CBO, which had already issued a report forecasting a severe economic impact over the next two years, expanded that forecast to show that the severity of the economic shock could depress growth for far longer.

The new estimate said that over the 2020-2030 period, total GDP output could be $15.7 trillion lower than CBO had been projecting as recently as January. That would equal 5.3% of lost GDP over the coming decade. After adjusting for inflation, CBO said the lost output would total $7.9 trillion, a loss of 3% of inflation-adjusted GDP.

The office forecasts that the GDP, which shrank at a 5% rate in the first three months of this year, will fall at a 37.7% rate in the current April-June quarter, the biggest quarterly decline on record.

Read more about the economic impact.

Humanitarian disaster looms in Afghanistan, charity warns

A humanitarian crisis is brewing in Afghanistan with the number of confirmed COVID-19 cases increasing almost seven-fold in May, according to the International Rescue Committee, which works across the country.

The charity said in a statement Monday that cases in Afghanistan had increased 684 percent in the last month and warned that many more were going undetected due to poor testing facilities. The charity said the Ministry of Health only had capacity to test 2,000 people a day, but was receiving between 10,000 and 20,000 samples per day.

“Four decades of war has devastated the health care system in Afghanistan and left more than five million Afghans, especially women and children, living in fear of abuse, neglect, conflict, exploitation and violence, " said Vicki Aken, Afghanistan Country Director at the IRC. "The COVID-19 outbreak is making the already terrible situation much worse."

Africa passes 150,000 confirmed cases

There are now over 150,000 confirmed coronavirus infections on the African continent, the World Health Organization confirmed. 

Almost 35,000 of those are in South Africa — the continent's worst affected nation — followed by Nigeria which has reported over 10,000 cases to date. 

4,200 people have now died from COVID-19 in Africa, the WHO said, with 63,000 making a full recovery. 

Cafes reopen for business in Paris

Image: A waiter wearing a face mask serves at Cafe de Flore, as restaurants and cafes reopen following the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) outbreak, in Paris, France
A waiter wearing a face mask serves at Cafe de Flore, as restaurants and cafes reopen following the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) outbreak, in Paris, France, on Wednesday.Christian Hartmann / Reuters

QR codes to trace cases after South Korea nightclub outbreak

South Korea is trialing a new QR code system to better track and trace visitors to high-risk locations including nightclubs, restaurants and churches. 

The decision to use the system follows authorities concern after struggling to trace a number of people who had visited nightclubs and bars at the center of a virus outbreak in the capital Seoul last month. The outbreak centered on a number of LGBTQ venues and, as homosexuality is still taboo in the east Asian nation, entries to the handwritten visitor logs were often found to be false or incomplete. 

Starting June 10, visitors to these high-risk locations will be required to use their phone to generate a one-time, personalized QR code that is scanned at the door. The information will be logged in a database for four weeks before being automatically deleted, according to South Korea's Ministry of Health. 

Wuhan tests 60,000 people and finds no new asymptomatic cases

Wuhan has registered no new asymptomatic infections for the first time following tests of over 60,000 people, the city's municipal health commission reported. 

The city, in Hubei Province, was the epicentre of China's initial coronavirus outbreak. Just five new cases were confirmed across China Monday, according to official figures, and all were attributed to foreign travelers.

China has officially recorded 4,634 deaths from COVID-19 to date, with no new deaths reported since the middle of last month. 

New Zealand may remove all coronavirus restriction next week

WELLINGTON — New Zealand could lift all remaining restrictions to limit the spread of the coronavirus next week, after the country all but eliminated the virus domestically.

Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern said New Zealand could move to alert level 1 next week, which means all social distancing measures and curbs on mass gatherings will be lifted. Borders will remain closed, she said.

"Our strategy of go hard, go early has paid off... and in some cases, beyond expectations," Ardern said at a news conference.

The cabinet will decide on June 8, earlier than the planned date of June 22, she said. New Zealand recorded no new cases of coronavirus for a 11th consecutive day on Tuesday, and has just one active case in the country.

As protests sweep nation, research finds social distancing most effective at slowing coronavirus spread

Demonstrators sit in an intersection during a protest over the death of George Floyd on May 30, 2020, in Los Angeles.
Demonstrators sit in an intersection during a protest over the death of George Floyd on May 30, 2020, in Los Angeles.Mark J. Terrill / AP

Social distancing is the most effective way to slow the spread of the coronavirus — more so than face coverings and eye protection — according to a meta-analysis published Monday in The Lancet.

The findings have new significance as thousands of Americans are gathering alongside strangers in the midst of the pandemic, demonstrating against the death of George Floyd and demanding an end to social injustice.

"We just spent 93 days limiting behavior, closing down, no school, no business, thousands of small businesses destroyed," New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo said Monday, "And now? Mass gatherings, with thousands of people, in close proximity?"

"What sense does this make?"

Read the full story here. 

WHO chief wants collaboration with U.S. to continue despite Trump terminating relationship

Image: SWITZERLAND-HEALTH-VIRUS-WHO
WHO Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus during an event in Geneva, Switzerland on Wednesday, May 27. Christopher Black / orld Health Organization via AFP - Getty Images

The head of the World Health Organization said Monday the U.S. role in the health agency's work has been "immense," and he wants that collaboration to continue despite President Donald Trump announcing last week that the U.S. would be “terminating” its relationship with the WHO over the organization's response to the coronavirus pandemic.  

“The world has long benefited from the strong collaborative engagement with the government and the people of the United States," Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said in an online briefing with reporters from Geneva. “The U.S. government’s and its people's contribution and generosity towards global health over many decades has been immense and it has made a great difference in public health all around the world.”

“It is WHO’s wish for this collaboration to continue,” Tedros added. 

He deflected further questions on whether there is a formal process for a country to withdraw from the WHO. Tedros also indicated that the WHO first heard that the U.S. was ending its relationship through news media reports on Friday.  

N.Y. Gov. Cuomo floats possibility of NYC curfew

New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo on Monday said he will speak with Mayor Bill de Blasio about putting the country's biggest city under a curfew after some weekend protests over George Floyd's death turned violent.

"Legally, I can impose a curfew," Cuomo said. "I'm not at that point, but I know something has to happen because last night was not acceptable and the night before was not acceptable."

At his coronavirus briefing Monday, de Blasio said that he does not believe a curfew is needed but it is being considered as an option.

De Blasio said he will consult with Police Commissioner Dermot Shea and the governor.

Earlier Monday, Shea said he did not think a curfew would work.

"The problem is: People need to listen to a curfew, and that’s not going to happen," he said on the “TODAY” show. "If people think it will, they don't understand what's going on."

Spain records no deaths for first time in 3 months

MADRID — Spain said Monday it's reporting no deaths in a 24-hour period from the new coronavirus for the first time since March.

Emergency health response chief Fernando Simón said the development is “very, very encouraging.”

He told a news conference there were only 71 new infections over the past 24 hours.

Spain reported its first two deaths on March 3. Another was reported two days later. Spain’s number of infections and death jumped exponentially. On April 2, it recorded 950 deaths in 24 hours — the peak death toll. The official death toll now stands at 27,127, with 240,000 confirmed cases.

Eli Lilly starts first antibody treatment trial in humans

Eli Lilly has started the first COVID-19 antibody treatment trials in humans, the company said in a statement Monday. 

The treatment uses what are known as monoclonal antibodies made from people who were sick with the coronavirus. They are meant to work as natural antibodies do in the body by blocking the virus.

The first trial will look at the drug's safety, Lilly said. Later trials will test whether the drug works in hospitalized patients. The company will also study whether the antibody has protective properties, meaning it could be given to healthy people so they don't get sick.