Coronavirus: No Memorial Day flags in national cemeteries

The sight of thousands of tiny American flags precisely pegged against rows of symmetrically aligned headstones in the nation’s national cemeteries has been a rite of each Memorial Day for as long as can be remembered.

This year, that symphony of flags will not be seen, the casualties of a national pandemic leaving its own mark on history.

“That’s how it is, though. It’s very sad,” said Morrison Fussner, the founder of Flags for Fallen Vets, a Texas-based nonprofit that each year places about 650,000 of those tiny flags at the base of each veteran’s grave marker in 13 national cemeteries, including the three in Colorado.

“Our whole purpose to exist is to ensure those flags get placed,” Fussner said. “It is what we do. We place them for all in a cemetery.”

But the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs on May 13 made it clear: No en masse placing of flags this year. Individual families may do so during a private visit to the graves, including flowers. Social distancing is encouraged.

“This year, by necessity, will be different from past Memorial Day observances,” VA Secretary Robert Wilkie said in a press release, noting the traditional laying of wreaths will continue without a public audience.

At Fort Logan National Cemetery, that ceremony occurred on Thursday and was attended by cemetery staff.

In a nearby storage locker, about 100,000 small flags will remain until next year and the nearly 3,000 volunteers who place them in Fort Logan will remain at home, Fussner said.

“They just don’t want 3,000 people out there at the same time, and I get it,” said Fussner, himself a third-generation Marine Corps veteran. “Nothing stops us from remembering them on Monday and what that day really stands for.”

That’s how elementary school principal Ann Ramirez sees it. She and family will go to Fort Logan on Monday for the first time, to pay tribute to her late father, Korean War veteran Norman Harpole, and his wife, Vivian. The couple, married for 65 years, died just six weeks apart; Norman, 86, in March and Vivian, 84, in April.

The couple was interred on Saturday.

“For me, it is my first Memorial Day needing or desiring to visit somebody,” she said in a telephone interview. “It was getting close, and this is what you do on Memorial Day, especially because he’s a veteran. It’s a special time for families, whether there’s COVID or not.”

Like many of his generation, Norman wasn’t much to talk about his military service – he was an Army cook stationed in Japan – but came to understand the needs of veterans as a member of the American Legion, Ramirez said. He worked as its chaplain and ministered to veterans for many years, she said.

“He used to talk about the first time anyone had ever thanked him for his service,” she recalled. “He was tearful and grateful. For so many years he squelched that. If vets don’t take care of each other, who will? He took great honor to do that.”

At All Veterans Funeral & Cremation in Wheat Ridge, more than 60 families have chosen to delay burial at Fort Logan because of the continued restrictions on full military honors because of the pandemic.

“The entire mission of our company is to serve veterans and their families, and there’s not a time more reflective of that than Memorial Day,” said Al Kamm, who runs the business with his sister, Tommie. It was started by their late father, Vietnam veteran Tom Kamm.

“Here we are, months later (after stay-at-home orders were issued), with a holiday and nothing’s changed and it remains devastating,” he said. “It’s another layer of grief because they can’t honor them with that service they had hoped for.”

In an effort to assuage the emotions, the Kamms have begun offering cremations that include a donated retired flag. As a memorial, the Kamms also offer families several of the stars cut from those flags.

“We may not be able to do the service they deserve but we can do that,” he said, noting the preferred method of disposing of a retired flag is to burn it.

For Kay Corken of Parker, waiting to give a full military funeral to her father, Vernon Haas, is important.

The World War II veteran of the U.S. Navy hardly spoke of his time in the military, Corken said, but she understood the sacrifices he must have made and came to appreciate its significance.

A life-long Coloradan, Haas died on May 7 at the age of 94.

“Sure, we want closure, but I want him to have the service he so deserves,” Corken said. “I’m not sure when that will be and I’m not sure I won’t run out of patience. It’s hard to wait, but it’s not something we need right this second.”

A Memorial Day without the chance to visit a gravestone is different than what she had expected, Corken said, but paying homage to a proud veteran is a worthy sacrifice to make. The remains of her mother, Ruby, will be reinterred with him, Corken said.

“I want his two grandsons to understand and always remember that legacy, to have that (memorial) service embedded into their mind,” she said. “Over time people forget about the time of that great generation, the wars, and the veterans that are so important.”

She paused, her voice cracking.

“The whole thing, the ceremony, is to have that memory of him, of what he did and how he served,” Corken said. “It’s momentous.”

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Latest on the spread of the coronavirus around the world

(Reuters) – Reported cases of the coronavirus crossed 2.05 million globally and more than 136,600 people have died, according to a Reuters tally as of 0200 GMT on Thursday.

DEATHS AND INFECTIONS

* For an interactive graphic tracking the global spread, open tmsnrt.rs/3aIRuz7 in an external browser.

* For a U.S.-focused tracker with state-by-state and county map, open tmsnrt.rs/2w7hX9T in an external browser.

AMERICAS

* Total confirmed cases in the United States stood at 636,604 and deaths at 30,885, according to the latest Reuters tally.

* Hospitalisations fell for a second day in New York, showing signs that the hardest-hit U.S. state is gaining some control over the outbreak, Governor Andrew Cuomo said.

* U.S. President Donald Trump’s move to halt funding to the WHO over its handling of the pandemic prompted condemnation from world leaders.

* U.S. Senate Democrats unveiled a $30 billion plan to vastly increase nationwide testing for the coronavirus.

* Mexico reported 448 new cases and 43 new deaths, bringing the total to 5,847 cases and 449 deaths.

* Haiti has decided to reopen its key textile industry next week, suggesting the nation had escaped the worst of the pandemic by imposing early on a state of emergency.

* A two-month-old baby born to Warao indigenous refugees from Venezuela has tested positive, the mayor’s office in the Brazilian city of Manaus said on Wednesday.

EUROPE

* WHO said countries that ease restrictions should wait at least two weeks to evaluate the impact, as some European countries including Spain and Austria have begun small-scale steps to reduce severe lockdowns.

* Nearly 700 sailors assigned to the French aircraft carrier Charles de Gaulle’s naval group have tested positive for the coronavirus, the armed forces ministry said.

* Britain’s virus outbreak is probably peaking, but it is too early to start relaxing restrictions, officials said.

* Northern Ireland will keep coronavirus restrictions in place for another three weeks, First Minister Arlene Foster said.

* Spain’s prime minister promised more testing to try to build on a decline in daily deaths.

* Belgium has extended measures to control the spread of the coronavirus to May 3, with a slight easing of restrictions to allow home improvement stores and garden centres to open.

* A 106-year-old great-grandmother, thought to be the oldest patient in Britain to beat the novel coronavirus, was discharged from hospital to applause from nurses and health workers.

* Portugal’s virus curve has flattened but the good news is not enough for the country to lift lockdown measures and reopen its economy, government ministers said.

ASIA AND THE PACIFIC

* China reported 46 new cases in the mainland, the same as a day earlier. Total cases stand at 82,341 as of Wednesday.

* U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo pressed China’s top diplomat on the need for full transparency and information sharing regarding the coronavirus outbreak.

* Japan urged its citizens to stay home, as media reports warned that as many as 400,000 could die without urgent action, and Prime Minister Shinzo Abe came under pressure to hand out more cash.

* Australian prime minister urged schools to reopen after Easter holidays so students do not lose a year of education and parents can work.

* India has agreed to sell hydroxychloroquine tablets to Malaysia, with New Delhi partially lifting its bar on exports of the anti-malarial drug.

* South Korea proposed a second supplementary budget for this year worth 7.6 trillion won ($6.2 billion) to fund cash payments promised to low- and middle-income families to ease the economic impact of the coronavirus outbreak.

* Australia’s Crown Resorts Ltd said it has stood down about 95% of its employees due to the suspension of gaming and other non-essential services at its Melbourne and Perth resorts.

MIDDLE EAST AND AFRICA

* Qatar detained dozens of migrant workers and expelled them last month after telling them they were being taken to be tested for the new coronavirus, human rights group Amnesty International said.

* Iran’s president said the outbreak had not hit the farm sector and citizens did not need to worry about food supplies.

* Yemen’s war-scarred hospitals are marshalling resources to face the outbreak which has yet to make clear inroads in the country, with the little testing that has been done uncovering just one case.

ECONOMIC FALLOUT

* World stock markets fell, while bonds and the dollar held on to hefty gains, after a coronavirus-driven plunge in U.S. retail sales and factory production and increasing gloomy economic outlooks for Asia. [MKTS/GLOB]

* Economic fallout from the coronavirus outbreak will cost Illinois $7.3 billion in revenue for the current and next fiscal year, Governor J.B. Pritzker said on Wednesday.

* Japanese business confidence plunged to fresh decade lows in April as firms reported widespread damage from the pandemic, the Reuters Tankan survey showed.

* Finance officials from the G20 major economies are set to finalise an agreement for some 76 countries to have debt payments worth a combined $20 billion suspended.

* Canada’s economy shrank a record 9% in March from February, Statistics Canada said in a flash estimate.

* The Bank of Canada on Wednesday said the outbreak was set to trigger the biggest ever near-term domestic slump but expressed optimism the economy might be able to start reopening by June.

* U.S. electricity demand last week plunged to a near 17-year low as government travel and work restrictions caused businesses to shut, according to analysts and the Edison Electric Institute (EEI) trade group.

* Harley-Davidson Inc said it had temporarily laid off most of its global production employees and implemented salary cuts in a bid to lower costs.

* Countries in the Middle East and Central Asia region will see a contraction this year bigger than the one seen during the 2008 global financial crisis and the 2015 oil price shock, the International Monetary Fund said.

* Africa is expected to reverse an economic contraction next year as containment measures are eased, the IMF said, but the impact will be felt for years to come.

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AP FACT CHECK: Trump’s false hits on watchdogs, voting fraud – The Denver Post

EDITOR’S NOTE — A look at the veracity of claims by political figures.

WASHINGTON — Man bites watchdog.

In firing one inspector general, sidelining another and assailing a third, President Donald Trump in recent days has put his aversion to agents of federal accountability on stark display in a country consumed by the coronavirus.

Clearly displeased when inspectors general come to independent conclusions that don’t fit the stories he tells, Trump employs a tactic to mar their credibility. If public servants worked for the government in the Obama era, they are subject to being painted as Obama loyalists out to get him.

And they’re not insulated if they worked for Republican presidents, too, as the three targeted IGs found out.

With concerns raised about the safety of voting in a pandemic including the November general election, Trump spread falsehoods about the extent of mail-in voting fraud.

A look at the president’s recent distortions on key elements of the pandemic response and a few other political subjects:

GOVERNMENT WATCHDOGS

TRUMP, on his decision to remove Glenn Fine, acting Defense Department inspector general who was tapped to lead a special oversight board of the $2.2 trillion coronavirus stimulus package: “Well, we have IGs in from the Obama era.” — news briefing Tuesday.

THE FACTS: Fine is not a creature of the Obama era.

He is a career government official who had served both Republican and Democratic administrations and was selected by his peers for the virus oversight board. Trump distorts that record to make Fine and other public servants look like plants or holdovers from President Barack Obama.

Fine has been acting Pentagon inspector general for more than four years, and before that was inspector general at the Justice Department for a decade, including the entire duration of the George W. Bush administration. He now reverts to the position of principal deputy inspector general at the Pentagon.

Though inspectors general are presidential appointees, many serve presidents of both parties. All are expected to be nonpartisan. They operate as independent investigators in departments, shedding light on deficiencies in their agencies.

• • •

TRUMP, on a report from the Health and Human Services Department’s watchdog that found hospitals faced severe shortages of coronavirus test supplies: “Did I hear the word inspector general? Really? It’s wrong. … Could politics be entered into that?” — news briefing April 6.

TRUMP, referring to the HHS report: “Another Fake Dossier!” — tweet Tuesday.

TRUMP: “You didn’t tell me also that this inspector general came out of the Obama administration.” — news briefing on April 6.

THE FACTS: His claims are groundless. There is no evidence that the report was “wrong” or politically motivated. Again, he insinuates that a longtime civil servant is an Obama loyalist out to get him. The inspector general in charge of the report is a government employee whose tenure predates the Obama administration.

The report was based on a survey of 323 hospitals around the country in late March and reported conditions they described. It did not make any judgments about the federal health department or the Trump administration.

With coronavirus cases rocketing toward their expected peak, the inspector general’s office reported that a shortage of tests and long waits for results were at the root of mounting problems faced by hospitals.

Overseeing the report was Christi A. Grimm, who is acting as HHS inspector general. She is a career government manager who took over the position early this year in an interim capacity. Grimm began her career with the agency in 1999, serving both Republican and Democratic administrations.

A week ago Trump fired Michael Atkinson, the intelligence community inspector general who forwarded to Congress a whistleblower complaint that ultimately led to the president’s impeachment in the House. His career at the Justice Department dated back to the early Bush administration, and it was Trump who nominated him as inspector general for intelligence.

• • •

VOTING FRAUD

TRUMP: “Mail in ballots substantially increases the risk of crime and VOTER FRAUD!” — tweet Saturday.

TRUMP: “Mail ballots — they cheat. OK? People cheat. Mail ballots are a very dangerous thing for this country because they’re cheaters. They go and collect them. They’re fraudulent in many cases.” — briefing Tuesday.

TRUMP: “You get thousands and thousands of people sitting in somebody’s living room, signing ballots all over the place. … I think if you vote, you should go.” — briefing Tuesday.

THE FACTS: Voting fraud is rare. Trump’s push for in-person voting in a pandemic, such as in Wisconsin last week, also contradicts the guidance of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and his task force’s social distancing guidelines, which urge Americans to maintain 6 feet (1.8 meters) of separation and avoid crowds of over 10 people.

CDC specifically recommends states to “encourage mail-in methods of voting if allowed in the jurisdiction” given the coronavirus threat. Late last week, the Wisconsin Department of Health Services said it was monitoring the potential spread of the virus during Tuesday’s voting.

It’s true that some election studies have shown a slightly higher incidence of mail-in voting fraud compared with in-person voting, but the overall risk is extremely low. The Brennan Center for Justice said in 2017 the risk of voting fraud is 0.00004% to 0.0009%.

“Trump is simply wrong about mail-in balloting raising a ‘tremendous’ potential for fraud,” Richard L. Hasen, an elections expert at the University of California, Irvine, School of Law, wrote in an op-ed this week. “While certain pockets of the country have seen their share of absentee-ballot scandals, problems are extremely rare in the five states that rely primarily on vote-by-mail, including the heavily Republican state of Utah.”

Trump cast an absentee ballot by mail in last month’s Florida Republican primary.

When asked about that contradiction Tuesday, he told reporters that it was fine “because I’m allowed to” vote by mail and that he didn’t expect to get to Florida.

A commission Trump convened after the 2016 election to investigate potential voting fraud disbanded without producing any findings.

• • •

VIRUS TESTING

TRUMP: “Initially speaking, the tests were old, obsolete, and not really prepared. We have a brand-new testing system that we developed very quickly, and that’s your result.” — news briefing on April 6.

TRUMP: “This administration inherited a broken system, a system that was obsolete, a system that didn’t work.” — news briefing on March 30.

THE FACTS: His assertion that he inherited a “broken” and “obsolete” COVID-19 test from the Obama administration is false. The novel coronavirus did not exist until late last year, so there was no test to inherit.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention instead struggled to develop its own test for the coronavirus in January, later discovering problems in its kits sent to state and county public health labs in early February.

It took the CDC more than two weeks to come up with a fix to the test kits, leading to delays in diagnoses through February, a critical month when the virus took root in the U.S. Not until Feb. 29 did the Food and Drug Administration decide to allow labs to develop and use their own coronavirus diagnostic tests before the agency reviews them, speeding up the supply. Previously, the FDA had only authorized use of a government test developed by the CDC.

Meantime the U.S. bypassed a test that the World Health Organization quickly made available internationally. Trump has said that test was flawed; it wasn’t.

• • •

TRUMP: ““We are leading the world now in testing by far.” — news briefing Friday.

TRUMP: “America continues to perform more tests than any other nation in the world. … Now we’re performing them at a level that nobody has ever seen before.” — news briefing Tuesday.

TRUMP: “Nobody has done more testing. … If (other countries) did the kind of testing proportionally that we are doing, they’d have many more cases than us.” — briefing on April 6.

THE FACTS: He’s wrong to say the U.S. has done more tests “proportionally” than other countries. More broadly, his frequent boasts about testing mask what his own officials have called a failure of the system. The U.S. has notably lagged on this vital front.

As for proportional testing, South Korea is just one of the countries with better testing rates. It also has fewer known cases of COVID-19, both in absolute terms and as a percentage of its population.

One test has been done for every 100 South Koreans, compared with one for every 150 Americans, according to figures in recent days.

Altogether, South Korea has conducted nearly 500,000 tests; the U.S. has conducted over 2.2 million. But South Korea’s population is six times smaller.

The U.S. only recently surpassed South Korea in the total number of tests, even though both countries reported their first confirmed cases on the same day in January.

U.S. testing continues to be constrained by shortages of key supplies, including sampling swabs, and backlogs of unprocessed tests.

• • •

ECONOMIC RELIEF

TRUMP, with his daughter Ivanka in the Roosevelt Room of the White House: “She created over 15 million jobs.” — speaking Tuesday with bankers via video conference about virus aid for small businesses.

THE FACTS: That’s a complete illusion. Before the coronavirus became widespread, less than half that many jobs were added to the entire U.S. workforce during Trump’s presidency, and his daughter was not responsible for them.

The president is referring to a White House initiative led by Ivanka Trump that garnered nonbinding commitments from companies to provide 14 million or so training opportunities in the years ahead. Training for a job is not working at a job for money.

There’s no telling how many workers were already going to be trained, absent the initiative. In many cases, the pledge simply confers a presidential seal of approval on what some companies were doing anyway. By having companies sign the pledge, the administration is relying on the private sector to take on more of the financial burden of training workers.

(And now, job gains under Trump have been more than wiped out by the pandemic.)

• • •

TRUMP, on a federal emergency lending program for small businesses: “I’m hearing it’s a very, very successful rollout.” — news briefing Thursday.

TRUMP: “As of today, Small Business (Administration) has processed more than $70 billion in guaranteed loans and will provide much-needed relief for nearly a quarter of a million businesses already … we’re way ahead of schedule.” — news briefing Tuesday.

THE FACTS: He’s glossing over reality. There have been substantial delays, with few loans issued.

The $349 billion emergency lending program just began operating April 3, but the rollout has been plagued by a host of problems. Small-business owners have complained that they are unable to get through to the SBA or the banks to apply for loans or that they are being rejected by banks that say they are accepting applications only from businesses that are already customers of the bank.

Two of the nation’s largest banks, JPMorgan Chase and Citibank, weren’t initially set up to take applications.

The SBA’s loan processing system then stopped working early in the week, making it impossible for loans to be approved and money distributed, while confusion spread about the documents that lenders needed from customers to complete loan transactions. That’s according to a trade group for community bankers and the CEO of an online lending marketplace.

Trump was actually citing the value of applications received at the time but yet to be fully administered.

Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin had predicted before the program started that loans could be turned around and money transferred to businesses’ bank accounts the same day as applications were received.

• • •

THE VIRUS THREAT

TRUMP, referring to his past comparisons of the coronavirus to the flu: “You said I said it was just like a flu. So the worst pandemic we ever had in this world was a flu. … It was in 1917, 1918. And anywhere from 50 to 100 million people died. That was a flu, OK? So, you could say that I said it was a flu, or you could say, ‘The flu is nothing to sneeze at.’” — briefing Tuesday.

THE FACTS: He’s revising history — both his own and that of the century-old pandemic.

Trump never suggested the coronavirus was akin to the pandemic Spanish flu, which spread from early 1918 to late 1920 and killed over 50 million worldwide. On the contrary, he repeatedly dismissed COVID-19 from January until mid-March as being less of a danger than the common flu and something that would mysteriously disappear soon enough.

In February, he asserted that coronavirus cases were going “very substantially down, not up,” and told Fox Business it will be fine because “in April, supposedly, it dies with the hotter weather.”

“It’s a little like the regular flu that we have flu shots for,” he told reporters on Feb. 26. “And we’ll essentially have a flu shot for this in a fairly quick manner.”

Two days before the WHO declared the coronavirus a pandemic, Trump still presented a sunny outlook on COVID-19.

“So last year 37,000 Americans died from the common Flu,” he tweeted March 9. “It averages between 27,000 and 70,000 per year. Nothing is shut down, life & the economy go on. At this moment there are 546 confirmed cases of CoronaVirus, with 22 deaths. Think about that!”

And in a Fox News virtual town hall March 24, Trump rejected likening the coronavirus to the 1918 pandemic. “You can’t compare this to 1918 where close to 100 million people died. That was a flu, which — a little different,” he said, overstating the likely death toll of that pandemic.

• • •

TRUMP, asked about the wisdom of freezing funding to the WHO during a pandemic: “I’m not saying I’m going to do it, but we’re going to look at it.” Told he had said minutes earlier he would freeze funding, he said, “No, I didn’t. I said we’re going to look at it.” — briefing Tuesday.

THE FACTS: Actually, he said earlier in the briefing that he was going to freeze U.S funding to the organization.

“We’re going to put a hold on money spent to the WHO,” he said. ”We’re going to put a very powerful hold on it.”

He’s unhappy with the organization’s coronavirus recommendations. The United States contributed nearly $900 million to its budget for 2018-19, according to information on the agency’s website, an amount that represented one-fifth of the WHO’s total budget for those years.

On Friday, Trump said he’ll make an announcement about WHO soon. “We’re going to be talking about that subject next week,” he told reporters. “We’ll have a lot to say about it. We’ll hold it.”

• • •

MALARIA DRUG

TRUMP, on the government’s decision to stockpile millions of doses of hydroxychloroquine to make it available for patients with COVID-19: “You’re not going to die from this pill. … I really think it’s a great thing to try, just based on what I know. Again, I’m not a doctor.” — news briefing Tuesday.

TRUMP: “What do you have to lose? I’ll say it again: What do you have to lose? Take it. I really think they should take it. But it’s their choice and it’s their doctor’s choice, or the doctors in the hospital. But hydroxychloroquine — try it, if you’d like.” — news briefing on April 4.

TRUMP: “They say taking it before the fact is good. … It can help them but it’s not going to hurt them.” — news briefing on April 5.

THE FACTS: He’s making unverified claims about a drug that can have serious side effects and may not work. The drug has not been approved as a treatment for COVID-19, and Trump’s own health experts say more studies are needed to know whether it’s safe and effective to use.

The president has been talking up hydroxychloroquine, a drug long used to treat malaria, rheumatoid arthritis and lupus, after very small preliminary studies suggested it might help prevent coronavirus from entering cells and possibly help patients clear the virus sooner.

Doctors can already prescribe the malaria drug to patients with COVID-19, a practice known as off-label prescribing. Research studies are now beginning to test if the drugs truly help COVID-19 patients, and the FDA has allowed the drugs into the national stockpile as an option for doctors to consider for patients who cannot get into one of the studies.

But the drug has major potential side effects, especially for the heart, and large studies are underway. The FDA says people should not take it without a prescription and emphasizes that the malaria drugs being explored “are not FDA-approved for treatment of COVID-19.”

The American Medical Association, the American Pharmacists Association and the American Society of Health-System Pharmacists in a joint statement warned against “prophylactically prescribing medications currently identified as potential treatments for COVID-19.” That means prescribing a medicine for the purpose of warding off a disease or preventing its spread.

• • •

TRAVEL RESTRICTIONS

TRUMP, explaining his hesitancy to suspend U.S. domestic flights to stem spread of the virus: “They’re generally very, very empty planes. … There’s also testing done when people get onto those planes and also when people get off the planes.” — news briefing on April 6.

THE FACTS: False. There’s no evidence to support his suggestion that travelers at U.S. airports are being regularly tested, let alone when they both get on and off the planes.

There are coronavirus screenings of some passengers arriving at 13 major U.S. airports on international flights, which involve temperature checks and questioning by U.S. agents about possible symptoms. Some states are also screening passengers who are arriving from hard-hit coronavirus areas in the U.S. and asking them to self-isolate. None of that is the same as getting a COVID-19 test, and there are plenty of gaps in containment.

The screenings, for instance, can miss people who don’t yet show symptoms of COVID-19; while symptoms often appear within five or six days of exposure, the incubation period is 14 days.

The checks on international travelers are primarily conducted for American citizens, legal permanent residents, and their immediate families who recently visited certain countries — many parts of Europe, as well as China and Iran.

Sourcing & Methodology

Associated Press writers Eric Tucker, Christoper Rugaber, Josh Boak, Matthew Perrone, Ricardo Alonso-Zaldivar, Lauran Neergaard and Colleen Long in Washington and Ken Sweet in New York contributed to this report.

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Latest on the spread of the coronavirus around the world

(Reuters) – More than 1.7 million people have been reported to be infected by the novel coronavirus globally and 108,252 have died, according to a Reuters tally, as of 0200 GMT.

DEATHS AND INFECTIONS

* For an interactive graphic tracking the global spread, open tmsnrt.rs/3aIRuz7 in an external browser.

* U.S.-focused tracker with state-by-state and county map, open tmsnrt.rs/2w7hX9T in an external browser.

EUROPE

* British Prime Minister Boris Johnson has been discharged from hospital and will continue his recovery from COVID-19 at Chequers, his official country residence, his office said on Sunday.

* Pope Francis called for global solidarity in fighting the pandemic and its economic fallout, urging the relaxation of international sanctions, debt relief for poor nations and ceasefires in all conflicts.

* Spain’s coronavirus death toll rose for the first time in three days on Sunday, as some businesses prepared to reopen under an easing of the country’s strict lockdown regime.

* Italian Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte extended a nationwide lockdown until May 3, though he said a few types of shops would be allowed to re-open next week.

AMERICAS

* The United States surpassed Italy on Saturday as the country with the highest reported coronavirus death toll, recording more than 20,000 deaths since the outbreak began, according to a Reuters tally.

* The two top Republicans in the U.S. Congress vowed to oppose Democrats’ demands to match a $250 billion proposal to aid small businesses with the same amount for hospitals and state and local governments.

ASIA AND THE PACIFIC

* Chinese cities near the border with Russia said they would tighten border controls and quarantine measures on arrivals from abroad after the number of imported cases of COVID-19 hit a record high.

* Indonesia imposed curbs on public transport ahead of the annual exodus to home villages that marks the end of the Muslim fasting month, in a bid to slow the spread of the coronavirus in the world’s fourth most populous country.

* India said its hospital network is adequately prepared to tackle the spread of the virus, with over 100,000 beds ready to cater to a potential surge in patient numbers.

* North Korea called for tougher and more thorough countermeasures to keep citizens safe from the coronavirus at a meeting where leader Kim Jong Un presided, state media said.

* Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe on Sunday prompted an angry response from some Twitter users after sharing a video of himself lounging on a sofa with his dog, drinking tea and reading, along with a message telling people to stay at home.

MIDDLE EAST AND AFRICA

* African ambassadors in China have written to the country’s foreign minister over what they call discrimination against Africans as the country seeks to prevent a resurgence of the coronavirus.

* South Africa, which banned the sale of all alcohol and cigarettes under a lockdown that triggered a wave of lootings of liquor shops, said on Sunday it had caught police officers who were complicit in illegal alcohol sales.

* With Jerusalem under lockdown, Easter Sunday was marked at the traditional site of Jesus’ death and resurrection by just a handful of Christian clerics.

* Iran’s death toll from COVID-19 has risen by 117 in the past day to 4,474, health ministry spokesman Kianush Jahanpur said on Sunday.

ECONOMIC FALLOUT

* India and other South Asian countries are likely to record their worst growth performance in four decades this year due to the pandemic, the World Bank said on Sunday.

* JPMorgan Chase & Co (JPM.N), the largest lender in the United States by assets, is raising borrowing standards this week for most new home loans as the bank moves to mitigate lending risk stemming from the coronavirus disruption.

* Brazil’s 2020 deficit is approaching 500 billion reais ($96 billion), or 7% of gross domestic product, even before a state aid proposal of up to 222 billion reais to tackle the coronavirus is factored in, the economy ministry said.

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Factbox: Latest on the spread of the coronavirus around the world

(Reuters) – Global cases of the new coronavirus have passed 1 million and more than 64,000 people have died, a Reuters tally showed on Sunday, in a pandemic that has hammered the world economy.

DEATHS AND INFECTIONS

* Reuters tally of reported cases and deaths.

* For an interactive graphic tracking the global spread, open tmsnrt.rs/3aIRuz7 in an external browser.

* U.S.-focused tracker with state-by-state and county map, open tmsnrt.rs/2w7hX9T in an external browser.

ASIA

* Mainland China reported 30 new coronavirus cases on Saturday, up from 19 a day earlier as the number of cases involving travelers from abroad as well as local transmissions increased, highlighting the difficulty in stamping out the outbreak.

* India is restricting the export of most diagnostic testing kits, as coronavirus cases topped 3,350 on Sunday. The country has imposed a three-week nationwide lockdown to slow the spread of the disease.

* Australian health officials said they were cautiously optimistic about the slowing spread of the coronavirus but warned social distancing restrictions are to stay in place for months.

EUROPE

* The total number of deaths from the coronavirus in France reached a new high – 7,560 – on Saturday as the government included more previously unreported deaths in nursing homes.

* Queen Elizabeth will call on Britons to take on the challenge and disruption caused by the outbreak with good-humored resolve when she makes an extremely rare address to rally the nation on Sunday.

* Spanish Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez said on Saturday he would ask parliament to extend lockdown measures by 15 days until April 26, as the rate of new coronavirus infections and deaths slowed again in one of the world’s worst-hit countries.

AMERICAS

* President Donald Trump told Americans to brace for a big spike in coronavirus fatalities in the coming days, as the country faces what he called the toughest two weeks of the pandemic.

* More than 306,000 people have tested positive in the United States and over 8,300 have died, according to a Reuters tally.

* The number of crew on the USS Theodore Roosevelt aircraft carrier who have tested positive for the coronavirus has risen 13% in the past 24 hours to 155, the Navy said on Saturday, in the wake of the firing of the carrier’s captain.

* Brazil’s lower house of Congress approved a constitutional amendment for a “war budget” to separate coronavirus-related spending from the government’s main budget and shield the economy as the country surpassed 10,000 confirmed cases.

MIDDLE EAST AND AFRICA

* Dubai imposed a two-week lockdown and Saudi Arabia sealed off parts of the Red Sea city of Jeddah as Gulf states tightened measures in big cities to contain the spread of the coronavirus.

* Egyptian President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi postponed the launch of mega-projects including the Grand Egyptian Museum and moving civil servants to a planned new capital city to 2021 from 2020 due to the coronavirus outbreak, the presidency said.

ECONOMIC FALLOUT

* The job losses suffered in March as the U.S. economy shut down were widespread but still were disproportionately felt in a handful of employment sectors and by women, the young and the less educated.

* The pandemic has brought the global economy to a standstill and plunged the world into a recession that will be “way worse” than the global financial crisis a decade ago, the head of the International Monetary Fund said on Friday.

* Global stock markets sank on Friday following more signs that the pandemic would take a massive toll on economic growth. [MKTS/GLOB]

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Airbnb lowers internal valuation to $26 bln as coronavirus hits bookings: FT

(Reuters) – Airbnb lowered its internal valuation by 16% to $26 billion, as the home rental firm deals with a sharp drop in bookings due to the global spread of the coronavirus pandemic, the Financial Times reported on Thursday.

The staff were informed of the new valuation by Chief Executive Officer Brian Chesky at a company-wide meeting on Thursday, the newspaper said, citing one person familiar with the presentation.

Airbnb was valued at $31 billion in its most recent private fund-raising round, according to data provider PitchBook.

Airbnb did not immediately respond to a Reuters’ request for comment.

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Gangs call curfews as coronavirus hits Rio favelas

RIO DE JANEIRO (Reuters) – The “baile funk” dance parties have been called off. Some open-air drug markets are closed for business. Gangs and militias have imposed strict curfews. Coronavirus is coming, and Rio de Janeiro’s lawless favelas are gearing up for the onslaught.

City of God, a sprawling complex of slums made famous in a hit 2002 movie of the same name, registered the first confirmed case of coronavirus in Rio’s favelas over the weekend.

Now, with the state government woefully underfunded and Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro widely criticized for a slow response to the outbreak, criminal gangs that have long held sway across Rio’s favelas are taking their own precautions against the virus, according to residents and press reports.

According to well-sourced Rio newspaper Extra, City of God gangsters have been driving round the slum, blaring out a recorded message to residents.

“We’re imposing a curfew because nobody is taking this seriously,” the message said, according to Extra’s Tuesday story. “Whoever is in the street screwing around or going for a walk will receive a corrective and serve as an example. Better to stay home doing nothing. The message has been given.”

Reuters was unable to confirm the veracity of the recorded message, but City of God residents, who declined to give their names for fear of retribution, confirmed an evening curfew and other restrictions.

The gangs’ concern over the outbreak echoes fears nationwide about the fate of Brazil’s nearly 15 million favela residents confronting what some have dubbed “the disease of the rich.”

The coronavirus landed in the country with wealthier Brazilians returning from Europe, but is quickly migrating into poorer communities, where crowded quarters, informal labor and weak public services threaten to accelerate its spread.

Drug gangs or rival paramilitaries often act as de facto authorities in the favelas. With little or no government presence in the neighborhoods, gangs enforce social contracts. They also engage in regular shootouts with each other and police forces.

Across Brazil, some 40 million people lack access to the public water supply, while 100 million – nearly half the population – live without a connection to sewage treatment, according to the country’s National Water Agency.

“Basic sanitation is terrible,” said Jefferson Maia, a 27-year-old resident of the City of God. “Sometimes, we don’t even have water to wash our hands properly. We are very concerned with the coronavirus issue.”

Thamiris Deveza, a family doctor working in Rio’s Alemao complex of slums, said residents had been complaining for the last two weeks about a lack of water in their homes, making it difficult for them to clean their hands and protect themselves from the fast-spreading virus.

She said many pharmacies in the neighborhoods had run out of hand sanitizer. When available, it was prohibitively expensive.

FAST SPREAD

Coronavirus cases are expanding quickly in Brazil. The country had 2,201 confirmed cases on Tuesday, with 46 related deaths, according to the Health Ministry.

Rio state, where around a fifth of the population lives in favelas, now has 305 cases. Governor Wilson Witzel warned on Friday that the state’s public health system was in danger of “collapse” within 15 days.

Rio Mayor Marcelo Crivella has said that officials will deposit free soap at entrances of the city’s favelas and relocate older people with health problems to hotels. The city has already signed a deal to secure 400 rooms, he said.

“Those most at risk need to be protected as soon as possible,” Crivella told journalists on Saturday.

On Tuesday, Rio’s urban sanitation unit Comlurb kicked off a more comprehensive cleaning of some of the city’s most transited areas, including around hospitals, the mayor added.

But the favelas are still likely to be a major public health challenge, said Edmilson Migowski, an infectologist at Rio’s Federal University.

“The entry of the coronavirus into denser, less planned and less culturally assisted areas could be devastating,” he said. “Where water, soap and detergent are lacking, it will be difficult to stop the spread.”

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