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Thursday May 28th, 2020 2:16PM

The Latest: FEMA pushes back on reports it diverted PPE

By The Associated Press
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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:

— FEMA pushes back on reports it confiscated PPEs.

— FDA investigates virus test used at White House for false negatives.

— Russian doctors say woman contracted virus twice.

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WASHINGTON — The U.S. Federal Emergency Management Agency is pushing back on reports it confiscated or diverted shipments of personal protective equipment during the COVID-19 pandemic.

FEMA Administrator Peter Gaynor calls such reports “absurd.” The agency has been coordinating the emergency import of millions of surgical masks, respirators, and other protective equipment and distributing the gear around the country.

Gaynor says FEMA doesn’t have the legal authority to seize or divert PPE shipments.

He blamed the reports on vendors playing customers against each other to get the best price. The FEMA administrator says they will quote a price to a buyer and then claim FEMA seized the shipment after finding someone willing to pay a higher price for scarce materials.

Gaynor says in a conference call, “FEMA has become a convenient scapegoat for malicious actors who are unable to deliver on the promises they have made or are engaging in illegal activity.”

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SAO PAULO — Brazil’s health minister, who took office less than a month ago, resigned on Friday.

It’s part of the upheaval in the nation’s battle with the COVID-19 pandemic and President Jair Bolsonaro’s pressure to prioritize the economy over health-driven lockdowns.

Nelson Teich’s resignation was confirmed by the Health Ministry. The oncologist, a former health care consultant, took the job on April 17 under pressure to align the ministry’s actions with the president’s view that the economy must not be destroyed by restrictions to control spread of the virus.

Bolsonaro fired Teich’s predecessor, Luiz Henrique Mandetta, after disagreements over efforts to contain the coronavirus. Mandetta was one of Brazil’s most popular ministers.

Officials say more than 13,000 people have died of COVID-19 in Brazil, though experts say the figure is significantly higher due to insufficient testing. Analysts say the peak of the crisis has yet to hit Latin America’s largest nation.

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BERLIN — A county in western Germany that recorded a large number of COVID-19 infections among slaughterhouse workers will be allowed to reopen restaurants and cafes Monday after authorities decided to separate those cases from the region’s overall tally.

North Rhine-Westphalia state’s top health official says without the slaughterhouses cases, the Coesfeld county had fewer than eight infections per 100,000 inhabitants in the past week. That’s below the threshold of 50 when tighter restrictions are needed.

Karl-Josef Laumann says the 268 confirmed COVID-19 infections involving mostly migrant workers from Eastern Europe would be considered a “local outbreak incident” that didn’t affect the rest of the county.

The slaughterhouse cases prompted calls for a reform of labor laws to prevent workers in the meat industry from being housed and transported in cramped conditions.

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SKOPJE, North Macedonia — North Macedonia’s president has extended for another two weeks a state of emergency imposed two months ago.

Stevo Pendarovski’s decision followed a government proposal for a 30-day extension.

Also Friday North Macedonia opened shopping malls to the public, although with restrictions on distancing and with use of masks by both staff and visitors.

North Macedonia has recorded 1,723 confirmed cases since mid-March and 95 deaths.

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TIRANA, Albania — Gay rights organizations in Albania held a virtual Tirana Pride 2020.

A statement says some 100 members of the organizations held a virtual online meeting ahead of May 17, the international day against homophobia and transphobia.

EU and Western ambassadors took part to raise public awareness on the LGBTI issues, saying they “cannot win equality unless Albania offers equal opportunities for all the others, too.”

Albania passed an anti-discrimination law in 2009. However, it doesn’t allow same-sex weddings.

The nation, which has been in a lockdown since mid-March due to the coronavirus pandemic, has 900 confirmed cases and 31 deaths.

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PODGORICA, Montenegro — A popular shopping mall in Montenegro reopened after weeks of lockdown and briefly closed because so many people showed up.

Huge lines formed outside and inside the Delta shopping mall in the Montenegrin capital Podgorica shortly after opening on Friday. Authorities shut it for almost 2 hours to manage the crowd. The mall later reopened.

The government has allowed the reopening of shops and cafes under rules that include distance between the visitors, wearing masks and use of hand sanitizers.

Montenegro has reported no new cases in several days. A country of some 620,000 people, Montenegro has confirmed more than 300 infections and nine deaths.

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WILKESBORO, N.C. — Tyson Foods is temporarily closing two plants at a North Carolina complex for cleaning amid the COVID-19 outbreak.

Tyson Foods spokesman Derek Burleson says in an email one of two fresh meat plants and a food-service plant at the Wilkesboro complex are closed from Thursday to Tuesday. A third Wilkesboro plant, which also processes fresh poultry, will continue limited operations.

The closures, following another temporary closure for cleaning, will allow “additional deep cleaning” due to sick workers and quarantine-related absences.

The company says staff will have additional virus testing, protective gear, symptom screening and access to nurse practitioners. The complex employs approximately 3,000 people.

It wasn’t clear exactly how many workers were sick. Wilkes County reported 286 residents testing positive overall, including 20 hospitalizations and one death. Earlier in the week, county officials said the plant was linked to most of its cases.

The Winston-Salem Journal reported health officials in nearby Forsyth County have said at least 70 cases there are either Tyson workers or people who were in contact with them.

Statewide, health officials reported more than 1,600 virus cases as of Thursday at meat-processing plants in 17 counties. The state has declined to release plant names, citing a health confidentiality law. But officials at Smithfield, Mountaire Farms and Butterball have confirmed positive cases at North Carolina plants.

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ISLAMABAD — A leading Pakistani pharmaceutical company has reached an agreement with the U.S.-based Gilead Sciences Inc., for mass-production of an experimental drug that showed promising signs in treating patients with COVID-19.

Health official Zafar Mirza says at a news conference, attended by the country’s prime minister Imran Khan, the antiviral drug Remdesivir will be exported to 127 countries. He hoped the drug will soon be available in this country of 220 million people, where 803 people have died because of coronavirus since February.

Mirza says authorities will train 100,000 Pakistani front-line health workers to ensure their safety and better treatment of COVID-19 patients.

Earlier, Khan defended his recent decision of easing the nationwide lockdown imposed in March to contain the coronavirus. He says he had to ease restrictions so people don’t die from hunger in Pakistan, where 150 million people were affected by the lockdown.

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BELGRADE, Serbia — Hungary’s prime minister says he’ll give up the extraordinary powers to rule by decree on matters related to the pandemic granted by Parliament in March.

Prime Minister Viktor Orban says he expects to do so near the end of May. He’s been criticized by international observers, the European Parliament and domestic opposition because no time limit was set on the state of emergency that granted him the vast powers.

Orban says during a visit to neighboring Serbia that he was convinced countries that gave their leaders “good powers” during the pandemic where more successful in combating the coronavirus than those that “could not step out of the usual political decision-making mechanism.”

He says once he returned his “special authorization,” he’d give his critics “the opportunity to apologize to Hungary for the false accusations.”

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GENEVA — Christian Bock, the director of the Swiss federal customs administration, says the governments of Switzerland, Germany and Austria have agreed to open their borders in a coordinated manner.

That will give some people authorization to cross, particularly those with a “self-declaration” such as for family gatherings.

“We are going to open all the border passage points with Germany and Austria,” Bock said in Bern, emphasizing crossings for shopping, gasoline, tourism and other unauthorized journeys are still banned.

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PARIS — France’s eight-week lockdown against the coronavirus worked wonders on air pollution and traffic fatalities.

Pollution watchdog Airparif says the French capital’s air quality improved markedly. Airparif registered a 30% drop in ultra-fine particles in the air. The decrease was less significant with slightly larger particles.

Depending on the week, Airparif also noted decreases of 20% to 35% for levels of pollutants from traffic, including nitrogen dioxide.

The stay-home rules from March 17 to May 11, which required people to have permits to go out, took most traffic off the roads.

The government says there were 103 road deaths in April, which was 130 fewer deaths than in the same month last year. Injuries were down by 76%.

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STOCKHOLM — The Baltic countries have launched when they’ve called a “travel bubble” that lifts restrictions on movement between Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania.

Latvia’s foreign minister attributed the move to efforts by health workers in all three countries to bring the epidemic under control. The region of six million inhabitants has seen fewer deaths than its Nordic neighbors, with about 130 deaths.

“Because of the discipline, because of the dedicated work, we are reaching the point where we can open up our travel, internal Baltic travel, we can open up our borders,” said Edgars Rinkevics, Latvia foreign minister.

Overnight, restrictions were lifted on all movement among the three countries, although people must still follow health recommendations in case of illness. However, people arriving from outside the Baltic states still face 14 days of quarantine.

“The Baltic travel bubble means that we will have a secure zone of movement,” said Urmas Reinsalu, Estonia foreign minister during a press conference held in Riga, Latvia, and attended in person by all three foreign ministers.

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MOSCOW — Russian doctors say they are treating a woman who may have contracted coronavirus for the second time after recovering from it.

The woman was discharged from a hospital in the Siberian city of Ulan-Ude after receiving treatment for coronavirus and testing negative for it in early April. But two weeks later she started having respiratory symptoms again and tested positive for the virus for the second time.

She was readmitted to the hospital and is currently being treated, says its chief doctor Tatyana Symbelova.

“The question is whether it’s a re-infection, because 15-16 days passed between discharged and respiratory symptoms appearing, or the disease she had earlier coming back. It is not entirely clear for us at this point,” Symbelova says.

According to the World Health Organization, no studies have shown people who have recovered from the coronavirus are immune to becoming infected again.

Russia reported over 262,000 coronavirus cases on Friday and 2,418 deaths.

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PARIS — France’s national health agency announced a 9-year-old child had died in France with symptoms of a rare inflammatory condition likely linked to coronavirus.

Doctor Fabrice Michel of the La Timone hospital in Marseille, where the child was hospitalized, confirmed to Associated Press on Friday “the child had tested positive in serological tests to SARS-CoV-2,” the virus that causes COVID-19. But he says the child had not developed any symptoms of COVID-19.

The child died of brain damage relating to cardiac arrest with a form of Kawasaki disease. About 125 children in France have developed symptoms similar to those of Kawasaki disease and some French doctors believe it is linked to coronavirus.

Doctors in Britain, Italy and Spain have been warned to look out for this rare inflammatory condition in children. Last month, Britain’s Paediatric Intensive Care Society issued an alert to doctors noting there has been an increase in the number of children with “a multi-system inflammatory state requiring intensive care” across the country.

The group says there was “growing concern” that either a COVID-19 related syndrome was emerging in children or a different, unidentified disease might be responsible.

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LONDON — Wales’s leader has urged people from England mulling a trip across the border this sunny weekend to reconsider.

The coronavirus lockdown rules between the two nations will remain different for at least another two weeks.

First Minister Mark Drakeford says, “now is not the right moment” for English people to travel to Wales and anyone doing so would be “on the wrong side of the law.”

Both nations are part of the U.K. but have slightly different lockdown restrictions. In England, people can travel anywhere in the country for recreation purposes. In Wales, they are not allowed to travel beyond their locality.

The full lockdown also remains in place in Scotland and Northern Ireland, the other two nations of the U.K.

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JAKARTA, Indonesia — Jakarta Governor Anies Baswedan announced a ban on travel outside the greater Jakarta areas.

This regulation also applies to people who want to enter the greater Jakarta area. Baswedan says exceptions, including those who work in the fields of health, food, energy, communication and information technology, finance and others.

The exceptions include government employees and others involved in handling COVID-19. They’ll need documentation permitting travel outside or to enter greater Jakarta areas.

Jakarta has 5,774 COVID-19 cases among the total of 16,496 cases in Indonesia. There are 460 reported deaths in Jakarta and 1,076 in the nation.

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WASHINGTON — Food and Drug Administration Commissioner Steve Hahn says it will be up to the White House to determine whether it continues to use a coronavirus test that has falsely cleared patients of infection.

Hahn Told CBS on Friday the FDA will keep “providing guidance to the White House regarding this test” but whether to keep using the test “will be a White House decision.”

The test is used daily at the White House to test President Donald Trump and key members of his staff, including the coronavirus task force. The FDA said late Thursday it was investigating preliminary data suggesting Abbott Laboratories’ 15-minute test can miss COVID-19 cases, producing false negatives.

Hahn told CBS the test is on the market and the FDA continues to “recommend its use or to have it available for use.” But he suggested if doctors or patients suspect they’ve received a false negative, they should do another test.

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Follow AP news coverage of the coronavirus pandemic at https://apnews.com/VirusOutbreak and https://apnews.com/UnderstandingtheOutbreak.

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