Some states ease restrictions as protestors call for reopening economy

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This weekend marked the beginning of several states easing restrictions related to the outbreak, which continues to take an unprecedented number of lives.

Residents in Florida and other states returned to the beach Saturday despite an increase in COVID-19 deaths and infections. Meanwhile, three Northeastern states reopened boatyards and marinas for personal use only.

The loosening of stay-at-home orders come amid a growing chorus to reopen economies throughout the U.S. But advisers are warning President Donald Trump that his push to restart business as usual comes with political risks.

Saturday also brought the star-studded "One World: Together at Home" benefit concert to support health care workers in the fight against COVID-19.

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

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Live coverage has ended. Continue reading April 19 coronavirus news here.

Unexpected impact of stay-at-home orders: Cleaner air and wild animals reclaiming habitats

At least 20 Afghan presidential palace staff test positive for virus

At least 20 officials working at Afghan President Ashraf Ghani's palace have tested positive for coronavirus, prompting the 70-year-old leader to limit most of his contact with staff to digital communication, government sources said on Saturday. The president himself has not officially been tested for the virus.

"A contaminated document was sent to an office inside the palace from another government department and that's how the employees were infected," a senior official told Reuters, speaking on condition of anonymity.

"Some of the employees were still working in their offices when the results came out, and we had to quarantine them and their families, but the numbers could be higher," the official added.

Afghanistan has reported more than 900 cases as of Saturday, according to Johns Hopkins University data.

Pope Francis prays for health care workers assisting disabled patients

Pope Francis said on Saturday to a small audience at his Vatican morning mass that he was praying for health care workers helping disabled COVID-19 patients.

He said that he had received a letter from a nun detailing the difficult situation facing nurses and doctors treating disabled people.

"We pray for those who are always at the service of people with with different abilities, who don't have the abilities we have," he said.

Italy's healthcare system has been hit particularly hard by the outbreak, but the country, along with others in Europe are now consider lifting lockdown measures.

Kurdish-led region in northeast Syria reports first case

The Kurdish-led administration in Syria's northeast reported the area's first case of coronavirus on Friday. It said samples had been tested in Damascus earlier this month.

The regional administration said in a statement that a 53-year-old man had died on Apr. 2 and that a sample sent to Syria's capital Damascus had tested positive for COVID-19. Health authorities in the northeast — a region ruled autonomously from Damascus — had not until now been made aware of the results, which emerged on the same day as the patient's death, it added. 

A World Health Organization regional spokesperson said that active surveillance was being carried out in northeast Syria to probe for other potential cases. The Kurdish-led administration said in a statement it was "dangerous" that their health authorities had not been informed directly when the case was first confirmed.

Relief organizations have expressed concern about the pandemic reaching northeast Syria, where health infrastructure has been shattered by war and medical supplies are limited. 

Nigerian president's chief of staff dies as Africa’s death toll surpasses 1,000

The Nigerian president’s chief of staff Abba Kyari died on Friday after contracting the coronavirus, a presidential spokesman said on Twitter.

Kyari — who was in his 70s and had underlying health problems including diabetes — was the top official aide to 77-year-old Nigerian President Muhammadu Buhari and was considered one of the most powerful men in the country.

As of Saturday, Africa now has more than 1,000 deaths from COVID-19, the Africa Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said. A total of 52 of the continent’s 54 countries have reported the virus, with the overall number of cases nearing 20,000.

WHO Director-General Tedros Adhanom warned on Friday, however, that because of a shortage of testing on the continent “it’s likely the real numbers are higher than reported.”

U.S. 'concerned' by threat of cyber attack against Czech Republic healthcare

The United States is concerned by the threat of a cyber attack against the Czech Republic’s healthcare sector, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said Friday, adding that anybody engaged in such activity should “expect consequences.”

Two hospitals in the Czech Republic reported attempted attacks on their computer systems on Friday, a day after the country’s cybersecurity watchdog said it expected a wave of cyberattacks on the country’s critical infrastructure.

“We call upon the actor in question to refrain from carrying out disruptive malicious cyber activity against the Czech Republic’s healthcare system or similar infrastructure elsewhere,” Pompeo said in a statement, without naming anyone.

A Czech official speaking on condition of anonymity said it was not clear who was responsible for the activity the watchdog had identified but it was thought to be the work of a “serious and advanced adversary.”

South Korea maintains downward trend in virus cases

South Korea has reported 18 new cases of the virus on Saturday — its lowest daily jump since Feb. 20 — continuing a considerable downward trend since the beginning of the month. 

Figures released by South Korea’s Centers for Disease Control and Prevention on Saturday brought national totals to 10,653 cases and 232 virus-related deaths. Korean officials are now beginning to discuss more sustainable forms of social distancing that allows for some communal and economic activity, according to the Associated Press.

It comes after a nationwide election was held in the country earlier this week, which saw President Moon Jae-in's ruling party win in a landslide victory propelled by successes in the country's efforts to contain the virus.

South Korea has largely managed to bring its epidemic under control due to an extensive testing campaign and intensive contact tracing, earning praise from the World Health Organization and other nations.

U.K. scientists to make 1 million potential vaccines before tests to prove it works

A million doses of a potential COVID-19 vaccine being developed by British scientists are already being manufactured and will be available by September, even before trials prove whether the shot is effective, the team said Friday.

The Oxford University team’s experimental product — called “ChAdOx1 nCoV-19” — is a type known as a recombinant viral vector vaccine and is one of at least 70 potential virus vaccines under development by biotech and research teams around the world.

The scientists said in an online briefing they were recruiting volunteers for early stage human trials of their shot, and large-scale production capacity was being put in place “at risk.” This means the shots will be produced in large numbers at risk of being useless if trials show they do not work.

“The aim is to have at least a million doses by around about September, when we also hope to have efficacy trial results,” Adrian Hill, a professor and director of the Jenner Institute at Oxford University, told reporters. He said three of the manufacturing partners were in Britain, two in Europe, one in India and one in China.

Tennessee can’t prevent abortions during coronavirus, judge rules

NASHVILLE, Tenn. — A federal judge Friday night ruled that Tennessee has to continue allowing abortions amid a temporary ban on nonessential medical procedures that’s aimed at slowing the spread of COVID-19.

U.S. District Judge Bernard Friedman said the defendants didn’t show that any appreciable amount of personal protective equipment, or PPE, would be saved if the ban is applied to abortions.

In a hearing by phone Friday, attorneys representing several state abortion clinics argued that Tennessee women will face immediate harm if the ban on abortions is not lifted.

Alex Rieger, arguing for the Tennessee attorney general’s office, said abortions are not being singled out but treated like any other procedure that is not necessary to prevent death or serious bodily injury. Gov. Bill Lee issued an emergency order on April 8 banning those procedures for three weeks.

The goal of the ban is to preserve the limited supply of PPE for doctors fighting COVID-19 and to help prevent the community spread of the disease by limiting patient-provider interactions, Rieger said. 

Several other states are grappling with similar issues. Judges in the past week have ruled to allow abortions to continue in Arkansas, Oklahoma, Ohio and Texas.