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Coronavirus pushes US unemployment toward highest since Depression; Trump to sign $500B aid bill

Here is a look at some of the latest news on COVID-19 from the U.S. and around the world on Thursday.

WASHINGTON — This article contains ongoing U.S. and international updates on the COVID-19 pandemic and its effects. Here are some key updates for Thursday, April 23, 2020. You can find more details by scrolling through the story.

Key updates:

  • House sends President Trump nearly $500 billion package for small business and hospitals
  • The oldest brother of Sen. Elizabeth Warren, Donald Reed Herring, has died from the coronavirus
  • One in six Americans have been thrown out of a job by the coronavirus
  • Secretary of State Pompeo: China using virus to push territory claims
  • Africa has registered a 43% jump in reported COVID-19 cases in the last week
  • UN Secretary-General says pandemic is becoming a human rights crisis
  • Japan says 14 more crew members on Italian cruise ship test positive

There were more than 869,000 confirmed cases of COVID-19 in the United States around 1 a.m. EDT Friday, after there had been 843,000 Thursday around 11:45 a.m., according to Johns Hopkins University. There have been more than 49,000 deaths in the U.S., with 80,000 recoveries. Over 4.6 million tests have been conducted nationwide.

Worldwide, there have been 2.7 million cases and more than 190,000 deaths.

For most people, the virus causes mild or moderate symptoms, such as fever and cough, that clear up in two to three weeks. For some, especially older adults and people with existing health problems, it can cause more severe illness or death.

RELATED: US coronavirus deaths were earlier than first reported; Trump suspends immigration

Congress delivers nearly $500B more in aid, Trump to sign Friday

Congress has delivered a nearly $500 billion infusion of coronavirus spending, almost unanimously rushing new relief to employers and hospitals buckling under the strain of a pandemic that has claimed almost 50,000 American lives and one in six U.S. jobs. 

President Donald Trump is scheduled to sign the bill during a White House ceremony Friday. House lawmakers gathered in Washington for the first time since March 27, adopting stricter social distancing rules while aiming to prove they can do their work despite the COVID-19 crisis. Easy passage of the measure belies a potentially bumpier path ahead.

RELATED: Somber Congress, many in masks, pass almost $500B more in coronavirus aid

Denver meatpacking plant to reopen

A major meatpacking plant in Colorado that closed because of a coronavirus outbreak that claimed the lives of four workers is set to reopen Friday after a two-week disinfection, even as some question how employees can maintain social distancing inside the facility to curb the spread of the disease.

The JBS USA plant in Greeley was partially closed April 11 after health officials in Weld County cited the close proximity of workers to each other and employees working while they were sick as factors in the outbreak. At least 102 workers have tested positive for the coronavirus, according to state health officials.

A spokesman for JBS, which employs about 6,000 workers at the Greeley plant, did not immediately return a telephone call and an email seeking comment Thursday. But state health officials said JBS has made progress in sanitizing the plant.

“We feel that we are there,” Jill Hunsaker Ryan, executive director of Colorado’s health department, said during a news briefing.

Ryan said officials from the state and Weld County, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health have worked at the plant along with “industrial hygienists” hired by JBS.

South Korea to send 1 million face masks to Korean War veterans

South Korea says it will send one million face masks to foreign veterans of the 1950-53 Korean War as it expands efforts to help other countries deal with the coronavirus epidemics while its own caseload slows.

South Korean Prime Minister Chung Sye-kyun during a virus meeting on Friday said the country could send more masks overseas at a level that doesn’t disrupt domestic supply. South Korea since early March has banned the exports of masks and channeled most domestically produced masks to pharmacies, where people have been limited to buying two masks per week.

The nationwide rationing program was a drastic attempt at calming public anger over shortages and reduce hour-longs lines that formed in stores across the country in previous weeks as infections soared.

But Chung said supply has stabilized and that the government will increase the weekly allowance to three masks from next week.

South Korea’s Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reported six more cases but no new deaths, bringing national totals to 10,703 and 240 fatalities.

Mexico has more than 1,000 virus-related deaths

Mexico has reached 1,069 coronavirus deaths and 11,633 confirmed cases as lock-down measures were tightened Thursday and the country’s capital shut down 20% of subway stations and enforced a partial driving ban.

Mexico City has the largest number of cases and its closed over three dozen of its least-used subway stations. Authorities say that stopping at fewer stations would make trains run more frequently and thus reduce crowding. The city also banned one-fifth of cars from driving one day a week as part of an effort to keep people at home.

As deaths mounted, Mexican officials predicted an even greater toll. The federal government ordered public registry offices to stay open in order to quickly issue death certificates. That was to prevent unclaimed bodies from piling up at hospitals and morgues.

Tyson plant in Washington state temporarily closing for worker testing

A Tyson beef plant in eastern Washington state is temporarily shutting down to test workers for the coronavirus.

Tyson says health officials in surrounding counties will test the plant’s more than 1,400 employees. The plant is located in Wallula, near the city of Pasco.

As the number of COVID-19-infected workers at the plant climbed to over 100 this week, family and friends of employees joined together to urge the plant to shut down. Tyson says workers will be paid during the closure.

RELATED: Tyson meat plant near Tri-Cities closes due to coronavirus outbreak

Las Vegas hotel-casino making plans to reopen

A major hotel-casino on the Las Vegas Strip is making plans to reopen in three weeks if the governor lifts his closure order because of the coronavirus pandemic.

Treasure Island says it will accept reservations for arrivals starting May 15. It has nearly 3,000 rooms.

The hotel’s announcement on its website comes as a record wave of Nevada residents filed new claims for jobless benefits for a fifth straight week, bringing to more than 343,000 the total since casinos and other businesses were closed in mid-March.

Gov. Steve Sisolak says Nevada will take a gradual approach to easing business closures and stay-at-home rules, but he didn’t give any date for how soon that might occur.

Credit: AP
President Donald Trump listens as Bill Bryan, head of science and technology at the Department of Homeland Security, speaks about the coronavirus in the James Brady Press Briefing Room of the White House, Thursday, April 23, 2020, in Washington. (AP Photo/Alex Brandon)

US military declares public health emergency at Africa base

The U.S. military has declared a public health emergency at its only permanent base in Africa as coronavirus cases in host country Djibouti climb near 1,000.

A statement calls the declaration a precautionary measure and says it affects all personnel, including contractors, at Camp Lemonnier and Chabelley Airfield.

The emergency means any facility can be repurposed for the virus response and health workers can be supplemented with volunteers. More than 4,000 U.S. personnel are based in the Horn of Africa nation.

US unemployment moves toward highest since Great Depression

Unemployment in the U.S. is swelling to levels last seen during the Great Depression of the 1930s, with 1 in 6 American workers thrown out of a job by the coronavirus.

More than 4.4 million laid-off Americans applied for unemployment benefits last week, the government said Thursday. In all, roughly 26 million people — the population of the 10 biggest U.S. cities combined — have now filed for jobless aid in five weeks, an epic collapse that has raised the stakes in the debate over how and when to ease the shutdowns of factories and other businesses.

In the hardest-hit corner of the U.S., evidence emerged that perhaps 2.7 million New York state residents have been infected by the virus — 10 times the number confirmed by lab tests.

A small, preliminary statewide survey of around 3,000 people found that nearly 14% had antibodies suggesting they had been exposed, Gov. Andrew Cuomo said. Just in New York City, with a population of 8.6 million, Health Commissioner Oxiris Barbot said as many as 1 million may have been exposed.

Pompeo: China using virus to push territory claims 

U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo has accused China of taking advantage of the global preoccupation with the coronavirus crisis to push forward with its territorial ambitions in the South China Sea.

Pompeo made the accusation Thursday at a virtual meeting to discuss COVID-19 with the foreign ministers of the 10-member Association of Southeast Asian Nations.

Beijing’s expansive territorial and fishing claims in the South China Sea conflict with those of ASEAN’s maritime members and are sharply contested by Washington. Most other meeting participants’ statements focused on the health, economic and social problems wrought by COVID-19.

Elizabeth Warren's oldest brother dies of coronavirus

The oldest brother of Sen. Elizabeth Warren, Donald Reed Herring, has died from the coronavirus.

The former Democratic presidential candidate said Thursday that her brother died Tuesday evening. She tweeted that he spent his career in the military after joining the Air Force at the age of 19 and was “charming and funny, a natural leader."  

The Boston Globe reported that Reed died in Norman, Oklahoma, about three weeks after testing positive for the virus. He was 86. Warren thanked the nurses and staff who took care of him.

RELATED: Sen. Elizabeth Warren's oldest brother dies of coronavirus

4.4 million Americans file for unemployment benefits 

More than 4.4 million laid-off workers applied for U.S. unemployment benefits last week as job cuts escalated across an economy that remains all but shut down, the government said Thursday.

Roughly 26 million people have now filed for jobless aid in the five weeks since the coronavirus outbreak began forcing millions of employers to close their doors. About one in six American workers have now lost their jobs since mid-March, by far the worst string of layoffs on record. 

Economists have forecast that the unemployment rate for April could go as high as 20%.   

RELATED: 26 million have sought US jobless aid since virus hit

Report: Amazon not planning to extend 'unlimited unpaid time off' policy 

Amazon's policy offering "unlimited unpaid time off" during the coronavirus pandemic will not be extended beyond April 30, the company confirmed to Business Insider

Amazon initially offered unpaid time off for workers through the end of March, then extended the policy through the end of April. 

Africa's 43% jump in COVID-19 cases in week worries experts

Africa has registered a 43% jump in reported COVID-19 cases in the last week, highlighting a warning from the World Health Organization that the continent of 1.3 billion could become the next epicenter of the global outbreak.

John Nkengasong, director of the Africa Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said in his weekly briefing on Thursday that Africa also has a “very, very limited” and “very, very strained” testing capacity. 

He said that means the surge in infections on the continent is likely to be even higher in reality. WHO’s recent report painted a grim picture for Africa. It warned the virus could kill more than 300,000 people. 

WHO: Almost half of the virus deaths in Europe in nursing homes

The head of the World Health Organization’s Europe office said up to half of coronavirus deaths across the region have been in nursing homes, calling it an “unimaginable tragedy.”

In a press briefing on Thursday, WHO Europe director Dr. Hans Kluge said a “deeply concerning picture” was emerging of the impact of COVID-19 on long-term homes for the elderly, where care has “often been notoriously neglected.” Kluge said health workers in such facilities were often overworked and underpaid and called for them to be given more protective gear and support, describing them as the “unsung heroes” of the pandemic.

Kluge said that while the coronavirus outbreaks in some European countries appear to be stabilizing or decreasing, the pandemic was far from over.

Kluge also noted that about half of the global burden of COVID-19 cases and deaths are in Europe and that in the last week, numbers have increased in the east, citing Russia, Turkey and Ukraine. He said WHO was soon sending teams to Belarus, Turkmenistan and Tajikistan to boost their control efforts.

South Korea plans tests for virus research

South Korean health authorities are planning to soon begin antibody tests to learn how widespread the coronavirus infection is within the population. They are also researching how long people maintain immunity after recovering from COVID-19.

Kwon Joon-wook, a senior official from South Korea’s Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, said Thursday officials are considering a variety of options, such as testing groups of people in the worst-hit city of Daegu and nearby areas or obtaining blood samples from military conscripts.

He says such tests would be crucial in understanding how the virus spreads and preparing for another surge in infections, which he says could happen in the autumn or winter when cold temperatures move more people indoors.

South Korea on Thursday reported eight new infections and two more deaths, bringing its totals to 10,702 cases and 240 fatalities. Its caseload has slowed from early March, when it was reporting around 500 fresh cases a day. More than 8,200 of the cases were reported from Daegu and nearby towns.

UN Secretary-General: Pandemic nearing 'human rights crisis'

United Nations Secretary-General Antonio Guterres says the coronavirus pandemic is “a human crisis that is fast becoming a human rights crisis.”

The U.N. chief said in a video message Thursday that there is discrimination in the delivery of public services to tackle COVID-19 and there are “structural inequalities that impede access to them.”

Guterres said the pandemic has also seen “disproportionate effects on certain communities, the rise of hate speech, the targeting of vulnerable groups, and the risks of heavy-handed security responses undermining the health response.”

And he warned that with “rising ethno-nationalism, populism, authoritarianism and a pushback against human rights in some countries, the crisis can provide a pretext to adopt repressive measures for purposes unrelated to the pandemic.”

The secretary-general did not name any countries or parties but stressed that governments must be “transparent, responsive and accountable,” and that press freedom, civil society organizations, the private sector and “civic space” are essential.

He stressed that any emergency measures — including states of emergency — must be “legal, proportionate, necessary and non-discriminatory, have a specific focus and duration, and take the least intrusive approach possible to protect public health.”

Guterres released a report on how human rights must guide the response to COVID-19 and recovery from the pandemic.

He said: “The message is clear: People — and their rights — must be front and center.”

14 more on cruise ship off Japan test positive

Japanese officials said Thursday that 14 more crew members on an Italian-operated cruise ship docked in southern Japan have tested positive for the coronavirus, bringing the total of the on-board outbreak to 48.

The Costa Atlantica has been docked in Nagasaki since late January for repairs and maintenance by the Mitsubishi Heavy Industry. The ship has 623 crew members, including a Japanese translator, and no passengers. One of the infected crew members has since become seriously ill and was sent to a hospital, where he is currently on a ventilator, Nagasaki officials said.

The remaining crew members are without serious symptoms and are being self-quarantined in single rooms on the ship, except for those on duties essential to keep the ship functions, including cooking and delivering food for their colleagues, officials said. The new cases were among those on essential duties, the officials said. Officials plan to test all the remaining crew members by Friday.

The case surfaced Tuesday when a crew member was tested after developing cough and fever, becoming the first known case on the ship.

Nagasaki officials are investigating how and where the crew members contracted the virus. Crew members who passed body temperature and other requirement had been allowed to go in and out of the ship.

As infections in Japan continue to spread nationwide, the outbreak on the cruise ship has raised concerns about testing and hospital capacity in Nagasaki. All of Japan is now under a coronavirus state of emergency.

Nagasaki officials have said they plan to have the rest of the crew members quarantine themselves on board unless they develop serious symptoms, and seek ways to let others who tested negative return to their countries.

Earlier this year, a U.S.-operated cruise ship carrying more than 3,700 people quarantined in Yokohama, near Tokyo, had 712 cases in a massive on-board outbreak. Separately, Japan has confirmed about 12,000 cases, with 300 deaths.

RELATED: Trump issues new immigration limits amid virus fight

Credit: AP
A man wears a face mask as he walks through a mostly closed downtown San Antonio, Wednesday, April 22, 2020. San Antonio remains under stay-at-home orders due to the COVID-19 outbreak and residents are required to wear face coverings or masks whenever in public. (AP Photo/Eric Gay)