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Thursday May 28th, 2020 3:31PM

The Latest: Air Canada laying off at least 20,000

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:

— Canada's largest airline laying off at least 20,000 because of pandemic.

— Trump hopeful to have virus vaccine on market by end of year or shortly after.

— Vice President Mike Pence is adding five new members to the government’s coronavirus task force.

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TORONTO — Canada’s largest airline plans to lay off at least 20,000 employees because of the pandemic.

Air Canada says the layoffs will impact more than half of the company’s 38,000 employees. The airline says COVID-19 has forced it to reduce its schedule by 95% and it doesn't expect normal traffic to return anytime soon.

The carrier says its workforce will be reduced by 50% to 60%. The move is effective June 7.

Air Canada announced in March it would lay off nearly half of its workforce under a cost reduction scheme. It proceeded to rehire some 16,500 laid-off flight attendants, mechanics and customer service agents in April under after the Canadian government announced a wage subsidy plan, but has not committed to maintain the program past June 6.

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LOS ANGELES -- A federal judge has ordered Los Angeles city and county to move thousands of homeless people who are living near freeways, saying their health is at risk from pollution and the coronavirus.

Judge David O. Carter issued a preliminary injunction Friday requiring relocation of an estimated 6,000 to 7,000 people camping near freeway ramps and under overpasses and bridges. The order would take effect on May 22.

Carter says those people are at risk from the coronavirus, lead and other pollutants, and from accidents and earthquakes.

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DENVER — A man suspected of killing a woman in Denver was released from prison three weeks before the slaying due to concerns over the coronavirus.

The Denver Post reports Cornelius Haney was released April 15 under powers granted to the Colorado Department of Corrections by Gov. Jared Polis. The governor’s order aims to speed up certain releases from the prison system to lower the population amid the pandemic. Police arrested Haney on Monday in the fatal shooting of a 21-year-old woman in an alley in east Denver on May 9.

Haney had a mandatory release date of Aug. 22. States across the country are trying to reduce their prison populations to prevent outbreaks of the virus.

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GAINESVILLE, Ga. — Community leaders say an effort to tamp down the spread of COVID-19 is succeeding in northeast Georgia, the site of a recent outbreak that threatened to level the state’s huge poultry processing industry.

Republican Gov. Brian Kemp visited Gainesville on Friday to highlight the effort, with local leaders saying they believed community outreach and infection-control efforts had begun to control the disease.

Norma Hernandez of the Northeast Georgia Latino Chamber of Commerce says that over the past two weeks, community leaders have worked to present a message from people that Spanish speakers will trust.

As poultry industry officials proudly noted Friday, Georgia is the nation’s largest chicken producer, a $41 billion industry that employs more than 45,000 people statewide and turns out 15% of U.S. production.

Kemp’s visit came as Georgia neared 37,000 overall infections and more than 1,550 deaths.

The state recently surpassed 300,000 tests, which Kemp hailed as a milestone in efforts to locate virus cases. The latest testing figure represents close to 3% of the state’s population.

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FLAGSTAFF, Ariz. -- Residents of the Navajo Nation will be under the strictest weekend lockdown yet. Grocery stores, gas stations and other businesses will be closed starting Friday night. Essential workers also are being told to stay home until Monday around dawn.

A frustrated Navajo Nation president made the announcement after a spike in deaths that he attributed to shifting traffic patterns in New Mexico. As of Thursday, the tribe reported 127 deaths and 3,632 positive cases since it first began tracking the figures. Tribal officials say more than 500 people have recovered.

The Navajo Nation has been hit harder by the coronavirus than any other Native American reservation.

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LISBON, Portugal — Portugal will transition to its second phase of scaling back confinement measures following the positive government assessment of the evolution of its COVID-19 outbreak.

The first stage of the reopening process began with small shops and businesses such as hairdressers. Phase two starting Monday will include restaurants, bars, cafes and other shops opening under capacity limitations and social distancing restrictions.

Portuguese Prime Minister Antonio Costa also unveiled the plan for the reopening of beaches on June 6. Social distancing restrictions will have to be in place, with a maximum capacity for each beach.

The government announced that citizens will be able to check online or via a mobile phone application the current capacity of each beach .

Portugal has 20,583 confirmed cases and 1,190 deaths from the pandemic.

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LAS VEGAS -- The city of Las Vegas has announced that downtown restaurants and businesses operating under the first two phases of state reopening orders are allowed to extend operations to the sidewalk during regular business hours.

The Las Vegas Review-Journal reported that outdoor dining and sidewalk sales are now permitted. But each business must continue implementing social distancing measures by keeping tables, chairs and other furniture six feet from pedestrian paths. City spokesman Jace Radke says Las Vegas is currently in the first stage of reopening, which went into effect Saturday. The second phase will allow establishments to expand operations outside with additional restrictions.

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WASHINGTON — Vice President Mike Pence is adding five new members to the government’s coronavirus task force as the White House increasingly focuses on efforts to reopen the country safely and hasten the development of vaccines for COVID-19.

The new members include two doctors focused on vaccine development: Dr. Peter Marks, director of the Center for Biologics Evaluation and Research at the Food and Drug Administration, and Dr. Francis Collins, director of the National Institutes of Health. Also joining the task force of about 20 members are Thomas Engels, director of the Health Resources and Services Administration, Labor Secretary Eugene Scalia and Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue.

Pence made the changes barely a week after the White House bowed to public pressure and shelved plans to begin to shut down the task force, which has been managing the U.S. response to the coronavirus since late January.

The task force announcement comes as Trump named a former pharmaceutical executive to lead his administration’s all-out effort to produce and distribute a coronavirus vaccine by the end of the year.

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CHARLESTON, W.Va. __ West Virginia Gov. Jim Justice on Friday stressed that medical experts are leading his plan to lift coronavirus restrictions, days after he widened his strategy at the request of business owners.

The Republican governor has expanded the most aggressive stage of his reopening plan to allow the reopening of gyms and tanning salons next week after he said the businesses bombarded his office with calls. Still, he said it’s “way out in left field” to suggest he is making decisions based on political pressure.

“That noise or that pressure is not going to influence a decision in any way, no possibility,” he said.

The governor has timed several reopenings around Memorial Day weekend. Gyms can open Monday. On Thursday, tanning salons, restaurants at half-capacity, big box stores and all-terrain vehicle rental businesses can reopen. Campgrounds can open for in-state residents Thursday, as can the Hatfield-McCoy trails, whitewater rafting and zipline businesses. The Greenbrier, a private resort Justice owns, is also set to reopen May 22.

It is unclear exactly what criteria Justice is using to decide when certain businesses resume operations.

A visibly frustrated Justice also railed against Democrats, including state lawmakers and U.S. Sen. Joe Manchin, for requesting that he spend the $1.25 billion the federal government sent West Virginia to cover medical expenses for the pandemic.

“I am absolutely not going to put this pandemic up with politics,” he said in an aside that referenced House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, who has become a frequent target during Justice’s daily news briefings.

Justice has said he wants to use the federal aid package to backfill the state’s ailing budget, though rules prevent such spending.

At least 62 people in West Virginia have died from the virus and around 1,400 have tested positive, health officials said.

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VANCOUVER, British Columbia. Canada’s Pacific Coast province of British Columbia is allowing schools to reopen on June 1 but on an optional and part time basis. British Columbia Education Minister Rob Fleming says kindergarten through grade five will be open two or three days. Fleming says there will be staggered lunches and recesses.

Fleming says grade six through 12 students will likely only attend school once a week. Parents will be given the choice to allow their children to attend. British Columbia Premier John Horgan says these steps will pave the way for a full start in September if it is safe. The province has roughly 2,392 of Canada’s 74,532 confirmed cases.

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LOS ANGELES -- A Navy hospital ship that came to the Port of Los Angeles to help the region during the coronavirus crisis has departed. Tugs pulled the Mercy away from its dock shortly after 7 a.m. Friday.

The 1,000-bed ship arrived in Los Angeles harbor at the end of March to provide beds for non-coronavirus cases to take the load off regional medical centers preparing for a potential surge of COVID-19 patients. However, Los Angeles hasn’t been overrun with virus cases, and so the Mercy didn’t play a huge role as a safety net. The ship is returning to San Diego.

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HARRISBURG, Pa. — Another 2.6 million people across western Pennsylvania began to emerge from pandemic restrictions Friday as Gov. Tom Wolf prepared to announce that 12 more counties soon would join them in a partial easing.

Wolf planned to announce that Adams, Beaver, Carbon, Columbia, Cumberland, Juniata, Mifflin, Perry, Susquehanna, Wyoming, Wayne and York will be the next batch of counties moving to the “yellow” phase of his reopening plan, effective May 22, The Associated Press has learned. They are primarily in the south-central and northeast regions of the state.

They’ll join residents of 13 lightly impacted counties — including the cities of Pittsburgh, Johnstown and Altoona — where Wolf lifted his stay-at-home orders on Friday and gave permission for retailers and other types of businesses to reopen. Twenty-four counties across a vast swath of primarily rural northern Pennsylvania were the first to see a partial reopening last week.

All told, by the end of next week, more than 40% of Pennsylvania’s population of 12.8 million will have seen an easing of pandemic restrictions that were intended to prevent hospitals from becoming overwhelmed with very ill COVID-19 patients.

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SANTIAGO, Chile -- Chile’s capital is increasing restrictions on movement as of Friday night to battle an upsurge in COVID-19 cases.

The 8 million people in metropolitan Santiago have accounted for more than 80% of the 39,542 confirmed casess in the country of 18 million people. Cases have almost duplicated over the past week. There have been nearly 400 deaths in all.

Under the new restrictions, people will have to receive a police permit to leave home — though the online system allows as many as seven per week. Food markets and pharmacies will remain open and workers in fields such as health, water and energy services are exempt. Violators can be fined the equivalent of thousands of dollars.

The Ministry of Health said critical care units for COVID-19 at hospitals in the region are at at 90% to 95% capacity.

Hours before the new restrictions were to take effect, highways were crowded with people trying to have the city for the coast in spite of prohibitions on people using second homes to ride out the quarantine. Long lines formed at supermarkets.

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WASHINGTON — President Donald Trump said Friday that he’s hopeful to have a coronavirus vaccine on the market by the end of the year or shortly thereafter.

Moncef Slaoui, a former pharmaceutical executive who Trump has tapped to serve as the administration’s virus czar, said that early trial data suggests that “a few hundred million doses of vaccine” will be delivered by late 2020.

Trump, speaking at a Rose Garden event, reiterated that he wants to see states move forward with reopening their economies.

“We are back, vaccine or no vaccine,” Trump said.

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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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