The Latest: South Korea reports 23 new coronavirus cases

The Latest on the coronavirus pandemic. The new coronavirus causes mild or moderate symptoms for most people. For some, especially older adults and people with existing health problems, it can cause more severe illness or death.

TOP OF THE HOUR:

—South Korea reports 23 new coronavirus cases, mostly from Seoul metro area.

—Colombia sees biggest increase in new coronavirus cases.

—Brazil surpasses Russia in confirmed virus cases.

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

Figures announced by the Korea Centers for Disease Control and Prevention on Saturday brought national totals to 11,165 cases and 266 deaths. Thirteen of the new cases came from Gyeonggi province surrounding capital Seoul, which on Saturday issued an administrative order to ban gatherings at an additional 2,629 bars and karaoke rooms, bringing its number of shut-down entertainment venues to 8,363.

The country was reporting around 500 new cases a day in early March before using aggressive tracing and testing to stabilize its outbreak. But there’s growing concern over the steady rise of infections in the greater capital area, where about half of South Korea’s 51 million people live, which came after health authorities relaxed social distancing guidelines and allowed a phased reopening of schools, starting with high school seniors on Wednesday.

More than 200 of the recent infections have been linked to club-goers in the Seoul metropolitan area, who went out in early May as the country began easing on distancing.

At least 1,204 cases have been traced to international arrivals, although such infections have slowed after the country strengthened border controls in April, enforcing two-week quarantines on all passengers coming from overseas.

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UNITED NATIONS — The United Nations says there have been 75 cases of COVID-19 in the U.N.’s 13 far-flung peacekeeping missions, which have a total of 110,000 troops, police and personnel.

U.N. peacekeeping chief Jean-Pierre Lacroix told a group of reporters Friday that preventive measures taken early on in the coronavirus crisis appear to have prevented the spread of the virus, with the exception of conflict-torn Mali, where 58 cases were reported. He said there have been no deaths and none of the cases have been serious.

The U.N. peacekeeping department said there were 10 cases of COVID-19 in the U.N. peacekeeping mission in Congo, three cases in the Cyprus mission, two in Central African Republic, and one each in Lebanon and the U.N. Truce Supervision Organization, which was established in 1948 to help supervise a truce after the Arab-Israeli war following the breakup of Palestine into two states.

Because of the pandemic, U.N. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres suspended the rotation of peacekeepers and international police until June 30 but Lacroix said he expects some easing starting in July. He hopes to finalize guidance for “what we call extraordinary transitional measures” in the coming days, which will allow the partial resumption of the rotation of uniformed personnel.

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LOS ANGELES — The U.S. Department of Justice sent a letter to the mayor of Los Angeles warning that an extension of the coronavirus stay-at-home orders may be unlawful.

The vague letter sent Friday from the assistant attorney general for the civil rights division said recent comments by Mayor Eric Garcetti suggest a prolonged shutdown may be arbitrary and heavy-handed.

The letter comes as the federal government has sided with churches that want to resume services in the face of policies in many states that forbid such gatherings until the spread of the virus is under control.

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BOGOTA, Colombia — Colombia reported its biggest daily increase in new coronavirus cases and deaths Friday as the South American nation’s Ministry of Health confirmed 801 new infections and 30 fatalities.

Over a quarter of the new cases are in the capital city of Bogota, which has the highest number of COVID-19 infections in the country. Nationwide, Colombia has diagnosed nearly 20,000 people with the virus.

The dead ranged in age from 34 to 95.

The nation has been on lockdown for nearly two months, though authorities recently began allowing some manufacturing businesses to begin operating. A wider economic opening is expected to take place throughout June.

The nation’s caseload has been comparatively smaller to other nations in the region.

Brazil has confirmed over 300,000 cases and Peru over 110,000.

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CAIRO — Yemen’s Houthi rebels have announced strict antivirus measures targeted specifically at Eid al-Fitr, the festival that concludes the Muslim fasting month of Ramadan.

The health ministry’s restrictions ask citizens to wear masks in public and not leave their homes unless absolutely necessary. The ban on social gatherings will prevent multi-generational families and friends from feasting together, and children from visiting their neighbors’ homes for gifts and sweets, as is traditional.

The new guidelines also point to heightened anxiety about the rapid spread of the virus in the war-torn country’s north, where doctors say that rebel authorities have sought to aggressively suppress any information about the scale of the outbreak.

The Houthis have reported just four cases, including one death, due to COVID-19, among 206 infections nationwide. The outbreak threatens to overwhelm the country’s public health system, devastated by years of war.

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TOKYO — The Japanese association representing workers at night clubs and “hostess” bars is instructing people to wear masks, except when drinking and eating, and to disinfect doorknobs and tables every 30 minutes amid the coronavirus pandemic.

The detailed guidelines, issued recently by the Nihon Mizushobai Kyokai, says microphones for karaoke must be cleaned after each use, and workers should wash their hands and gargle every 30 minutes.

Each customer and worker, called “cast,” will sit together, but one empty seat must be kept in between another customer and cast for social distancing. The workers are also told to bathe or shower as soon as coming home and send their evening gowns to the cleaners often.

Visitors from abroad, who didn’t undergo a 14-day quarantine, will be refused at the door. The women should not touch their hair or face, and they must report health problems to local health authorities, according to the checklist.

The government’s stay-home request has been lifted in much of Japan, but remains in Tokyo. Some businesses, including sushi shops and cafes, are open. Expectations are high for the economy to reopen, with social distancing in place, even as new coronavirus cases gets reported by the day. Japan has more than 16,000 confirmed COVID-19 cases and 777 deaths, according to Johns Hopkins University.

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RIO DE JANEIRO — Brazil’s health ministry said Friday there were 330,890 confirmed COVID-19 cases. That is more than Russia, the country that previously had the second-highest number of cases in the world on the Johns Hopkins University tally.

Brazil reported 1,001 deaths over the previous 24 hours, bringing its total death toll to more than 21,000. It is the hardest hit nation in Latin America.

The news came as states and cities across Brazil debate whether to loosen restrictive measures introduced to limit the spread of the virus, or implement stricter lockdowns.

While the mayor of Rio de Janeiro said he wants to gradually reopen non-essential shops in the next few days, newspaper Folha de S. Paulo reported Friday that Sao Paulo was reevaluating its previously announced plans to reopen commerce and instead may enter lockdown.

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HARRISBURG, Pa. — Gov. Tom Wolf said Friday he is easing some pandemic restrictions in Philadelphia and the heavily populated suburbs on June 5, while lifting them almost entirely in 17 rural counties next week as Pennsylvania continues to emerge from a shutdown imposed nearly two months ago to help slow the spread of the new virus.

Wolf is accelerating his reopening plan even though more than 20 Pennsylvania counties remain above the state’s target for new infections that were supposed to qualify them for an easing of pandemic restrictions — and eight counties are more than three times over.

Wolf and his health secretary said the closely watched metric is no longer as important, citing dropping numbers of new virus infections and hospitalizations and increased testing capacity.

With the shutdown about to enter its third month, sustained Republican pressure to lift more restrictions more quickly had begun to pick up support from local Democratic officials and lawmakers. Small business owners struggling to keep afloat have also clamored for relief, with a few of reopening in defiance of the governor’s shutdown orders.

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LAS VEGAS — Nevada Gov. Steve Sisolak has set a tentative June 4 date for reopening the state’s shuttered casinos, including the famous glitzy casinos of Las Vegas.

The Democratic governor says Nevada has continued to see decreasing cases of the coronavirus and COVID-19 hospitalizations after some businesses reopened and some restrictions began to be lifted nearly two weeks ago. Sisolak’s office says he plans to hold a press conference Tuesday to offer more details about the next phase of reopening, assuming the decreasing cases of the virus and hospitalizations continue through the Memorial Day weekend.

Nevada’s gambling regulators plan to meet Tuesday and will consider reopening plans submitted from casinos, which need to be approved at least seven days before reopening.

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LANSING, Mich. — Gov. Gretchen Whitmer has extended Michigan’s stay-at-home order by slightly more than two additional weeks, through June 12, while keeping theaters, gyms and other places of public accommodation closed until at least then.

A day after a judge ruled in her favor in a lawsuit filed by the Republican-led Legislature, the Democratic governor also extended her coronavirus emergency declaration through June 19. Both the stay-at-home measure and state of emergency had been set to expire late next Thursday, though Whitmer said extensions were likely.

The state on Friday reported 5,158 confirmed deaths due to COVID-19 complications, which is the fourth-most of any state. The daily death toll rose by 29 and the number of new confirmed cases in the state increased by 403, to nearly 54,000 since the pandemic started.

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JACKSON, Miss. — Mississippi Gov. Tate Reeves says he is adding another week to his statewide “safer at home” order because of the coronavirus pandemic. But the Republican also says he is easing restrictions on water parks and other outdoor sports and leisure venues.

The home order had been set to expire Monday. The new expiration date is June 1.

Reeves is asking people to limit the size of gatherings during Memorial Day weekend. Mississippi has had more than 12,600 confirmed cases of the virus and nearly 600 deaths.

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CHICAGO — Chicago cannot begin to loosen restrictions designed to limit the spread of the coronavirus before early June, officials in the United States’ third-largest city said.

Chicago, like the rest of Illinois, has been under a stay-at-home order since March 21. Gov. J.B. Pritzker has said all parts of the state are on track for restrictions to begin loosening on May 29. Chicago Mayor Lori Lightfoot, though, said she could not provide residents with a specific date when the city can loosen restrictions but she hopes it can move forward in early June.

The city’s multi-phase plan for reopening businesses, government buildings and lifting some restrictions on residents’ movement requires a decline in new cases and emergency room visits, along with a 15% average rate of positive tests among those performed by health care providers in a 14-day window.

At 20.5%, the rate of positive tests remained a concern Friday, but the head of the city’s public health department said that percentage has declined in recent days and that she feels confident the city can reach the target number.

“The bottom line is that we are on track but we need people to continue to stay home and save lives this weekend and next week,” Dr. Allison Arwady said.

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WASHINGTON — President Donald Trump has called for the reopening of houses of worship, declaring them “essential” services.

The president wants governors to allow them to reopen this weekend.

“If they don’t do it, I will override the governors,” Trump says. “In America, we need more prayer not less.”

Trump says the Centers of Disease Control and Prevention also was issuing guidance for communities of faith to hold safe gatherings.

The president’s comment came one day after he prodded the agency to issue guidelines, so congregations can restart gatherings for worshipers.

The CDC previously sent the Trump administration documents outlining steps for religious facilities to reopen, but the White House shelved them at the time out of concerns about the propriety of government making specific dictates to places of worships.

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