The Latest: Japan task force recommends caution

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Trucks are jammed on the motorway D5 in front of the Czech-German border crossing in Rozvadov, Czech Republic, Wednesday, April 15, 2020. The trucks are piling up for a length of 15 kilometres due to border controls as part of efforts to curb the spread of the Coronavirus. (AP Photo via CTK/Miroslav Chaloupka) SLOVAKIA OUT

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:

— Japan task force recommends social distancing measures stay in place.

— Malaysia to reopen most businesses ahead of schedule Monday.

— Beijing parks and museums reopened to public.

— Russian Prime Minister tests positive, will self-isolate.

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TOKYO — Economy Minister Yasutoshi Nishimura, tasked with Japan’s coronavirus measures, met with a panel of experts Friday and said social distancing efforts under the state of emergency should be kept in place for a while to prevent a resurgence of infections.

Nishimura quoted experts on the government-commissioned task force as saying the spread has slowed — but not enough.

“If we relax the measures with insufficient decrease, infections will immediately bounce back and our effort so far will entirely go to waste,” Nishimura said. “The experts recommended that the current measures should be kept in place.”

Prime Minister Shinzo Abe declared a month-long state of emergency on April 7 in Tokyo and six other urban areas, requesting residents stay at home. He later expanded the guidelines to the entire country. Requests for nonessential business closures were also issued in Tokyo and several other prefectures.

Abe said Thursday he planned to extend the state of emergency beyond its scheduled end on May 6 because infections are spreading and hospitals are overburdened. He is expected to announce a decision within days.

Local governors in hard-hit areas and health experts concerned about the collapse of medical systems have called for a month-long extension.

Japan has 14,281 confirmed cases, up 182 from the day before, with 432 deaths, according to the health ministry tally Friday.

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KUALA LUMPUR, Malaysia — Malaysia will allow most economic sectors and business activities to reopen Monday, days before a two-month lockdown is scheduled to end.

After coronavirus infections fell sharply in recent weeks, Prime Minister Muhyiddin Yassin says there is a need to revive the economy as the country has lost 63 billion ringgit ($14.7 billion) since a partial lockdown began March 18. It is due to end May 12, but Muhyiddin says most businesses, including restaurants, can open their doors beginning Monday with strict social distancing rules and health guidelines in effect.

That includes health screening for staff and customers, and registering details of visitors. In a televised May Day speech, Muhyiddin said mass gatherings will still be banned, which means places such as schools, cinemas and worship houses will stay shut, and group sports are prohibited.

Muhyiddin also said Muslims cannot return to their villages to celebrate the end of the fasting month, as interstate travel will remain banned. He urged Malaysians to embrace the new norm of life amid a cautious approach to ending the lockdown.

Daily infections have dropped to double digits in the past two weeks, with Malaysia now reporting 6,002 infections and 102 deaths.

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TOKYO — Japan’s Emperor Naruhito marked the first anniversary of his enthronement Friday with a prayer at palace shrines for the people’s peace and happiness amid the coronavirus pandemic.

Naruhito, wearing a white surgical mask, greeted well-wishers on the sidewalk from a royal car on the way to the palace for the closed ritual.

Naruhito, 60, ascended to the Chrysanthemum throne on May 1 last year, the day after his father, Akihito, abdicated.

Some of Naruhito’s scheduled events, including part of his birthday celebration in February and a trip to Britain that was supposed to be his first overseas visit as the monarch, have been canceled due to the pandemic.

Naruhito and his wife, Emperor Masako, have been receiving information from coronavirus experts about the latest developments.

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BEIJING — Beijing’s parks and museums, including the ancient Forbidden City, reopened to the public Friday after being closed for months due to the coronavirus pandemic.

The Forbidden City, past home to China’s emperors, is permitting just 5,000 visitors daily, down from 80,000. And parks are allowing people to visit at 30% of the usual capacity.

Large-scale group activities remain on hold and visitors must book tickets in advance online, according to Gao Dawei, deputy director of the Beijing Gardening and Greening Bureau.

Beijing on Thursday downgraded its level of emergency response to the virus from first to second tier, but temperature checks and social distancing remain in force.

The change comes at the start of the five-day May 1 holiday and in advance of China’s rescheduled gathering of the National People’s Congress on May 22.

China reported 12 new virus cases Friday, six brought from overseas, and no new deaths for the 16th consecutive day.

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SEOUL, South Korea — South Korea has reported nine new coronavirus cases as infections continue to wane.

The figures released by South Korea’s Centers for Disease Control and Prevention on Friday brought national totals to 10,774 infections and 248 deaths.

None of the new cases were from the hardest-hit city of Daegu, where more than 6,800 people have been sickened since February.

The KCDC says at least 1,073 cases have been linked to passengers arriving from overseas, but such infections have also slowed in recent weeks amid stronger border controls.

The country was reporting around 500 new cases a day in early March, but it hasn’t seen a daily jump above 100 since April 1.

The slowing caseload has allowed the government to relax social distancing guidelines as it shifts focus to easing the shock on the economy.

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MOSCOW — Russian Prime Minister Mikhail Mishustin says he has tested positive for the new coronavirus and has told President Vladimir Putin he will self-isolate.

First Deputy Prime Minister Andrei Belousov will temporarily perform Mishustin’s duties.

Mishustin, 54, was named prime minister in January.

Also, the mayor of Moscow says he doesn’t think the Russian capital is close to overcoming the spread of coronavirus.

Moscow accounts for half of Russia’s reported 106,000 infections and on Thursday recorded nearly 3,100 new cases.

“We’re not even at the midpoint, in my opinion; at best we have passed a quarter of this way,” Mayor Sergei Sobyanin said. Moscow quickly built one hospital to handle coronavirus cases and Sobyanin said the need for more could be filled by establishing treatment facilities at shopping malls, sports venues or the sprawling Stalin-era VDNKh exhibition complex.

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LONDON — British Prime Minister Boris Johnson says the U.K. is “past the peak” and “on a downward slope” in its coronavirus outbreak.

In his first news conference in more than a month following his hospitalization with COVID-19 and subsequent recuperation, Johnson said he would be presenting a “comprehensive plan” next week about how and when the U.K. will ease lockdown restrictions, which are due to last at least until May 7.

Though he said it would provide a “road map,” Johnson is widely expected to extend the current lockdown further.

Johnson also voiced frustrations in getting personal protective equipment, and in ramping up the testing program, but he insisted the government was throwing “everything at it, heart and soul, night and day, to get it right.”

Johnson, whose partner Carrie Symonds gave birth to a boy on Wednesday, said another 674 people with the coronavirus have died in all settings, taking the total to 26,711, the second-highest in Europe behind Italy.

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PARIS — French health authorities released a map showing the country’s areas that are the most affected by the virus which will serve as a reference when the country will ease confinement measures after May 11.

The northeastern part of France, including the whole Paris region, has been placed in “red zone” as the map is based on an estimation of the virus circulation and the burden over intensive care units in local hospitals.

The government said “green zones” will be able to lift some restrictions more rapidly.

Health minister Olivier Veran said final decisions will be made based on the evolution of the map next week.

National health agency director Jerome Salomon said the spreading of the virus continues to slow down in the country with the number of COVID-19 patients in intensive care decreasing for the third straight week.

France, one of the world’s hardest-hit countries, has reported 24,376 deaths from the disease at hospital and in nursing homes.

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BERLIN — German Chancellor Angela Merkel says authorities will allow religious services to resume and let museums, zoos, galleries and playgrounds re-open as part of the gradual loosening of the pandemic lockdown.

Merkel said after meeting with governors of Germany’s 16 states that it was important to remain “disciplined” to ensure successful efforts to curb the coronavirus outbreak aren’t undone.

She acknowledged the impact that the lockdown measures have had on the economy and social life, but said officials wanted to wait until next week before considering lifting restrictions on kindergartens and most schools.

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LISBON, Portugal — Portugal is starting to loosen its coronavirus restrictions, with small stores, hair salons, libraries, car showrooms and government tax departments allowed to reopen from next Monday.

Next week, means of public transport will be allowed to carry up to two-thirds of their capacity, but passengers must wear masks.

The government also announced Thursday that from May 18, kindergartens and school classes for students age 16-18 are to resume. Smaller restaurants and cafes and their terraces will also be able to accept customers if they restrict capacity to 50%.

On June 1, all other stores and shopping malls can open, as can cinemas and theaters.

The government set no date for the reopening of bars, nightclubs or gymnasiums.

Meanwhile, people must work from home if they can through the end of May, cannot come within 2 meters of other people, and no events are allowed to have more than 10 people.

Portugal attributes 989 deaths to the outbreak, with just over 25,000 cases.

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PRAGUE — The Czech government is accelerating its relaxing of the restrictive measures adopted to contain the coronavirus pandemic.

Health Minister Adam Vojtech says cultural, sports and other public events will be allowed to take place as of May 11, two weeks earlier than previously planned, for a maximum of 100 people.

Theaters, cinemas, concert halls and circuses can get back to business that date as well with the same number of people attending. Originally, those venues were scheduled to operate, starting May 25.

The universities will re-open for all students, but only for groups not bigger than 15 in one place on May 11.

At the same time, the government has ruled out big summer music and other festivals.

The day-to-day increase of the new cases COVID-19 has been under 100 for the eighth day in the Czech Republic while less than 10 died daily since April 13.

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ANKARA, Turkey — The number of confirmed COVID-19 cases in Turkey surpassed 120,000 after the country’s health minister announced 2,615 new cases in the past 24 hours.

Fahrettin Koca on Thursday also reported 93 new deaths on Thursday, bringing the total to 3,174. The total number of infections now stands at 120,204.

Turkey ranks seventh in the world for the number of confirmed infections, according to Johns Hopkins University, although experts believe the actual toll of the pandemic is higher than the tally.

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ATLANTA — Georgia Gov. Brian Kemp will allow his statewide shelter-in-place order to expire at midnight Thursday but is extending his emergency powers to June 12 and telling the elderly and medically fragile to stay at home until then.

The first-term Republican governor had already carved sizable loopholes in his order that applied to all 10 million Georgians and signaled it would end when he allowed some businesses to reopen last week and Monday. Social distancing requirements and bans on large gatherings remain in place.

Kemp told The Associated Press in a Thursday interview that he’s been pleased with how his effort to reopen some businesses — among the most aggressive in the nation — has gone in the face of a continuing COVID-19 pandemic that has sickened 26,000 people in the state and killed more than 1,100.

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UNITED NATIONS — Secretary-General Antonio Guterres says he is looking into alternatives for the largest annual gathering of world leaders at the United Nations in late September, an event that is supposed to commemorate the 75th anniversary of the global organization this year but may undergo significant changes because of the COVID-19 pandemic.

He told a news conference Thursday that the U.N. Secretariat is conducting “research of the different technical possibilities that exist” and he planned to discuss the annual high-level meeting of the General Assembly with its president, Tijjani Muhammad Bande, “very soon.”

The U.N. calendar of events calls for the assembly’s General Debate — the official name of the high-level meeting — to open on Sept. 22, with a kickoff event for world leaders the previous day to commemorate the 75th anniversary of the United Nations, which was founded after World War II.

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SANTA FE, N.M. — The governor of New Mexico expressed concern that President Donald Trump’s planned trip to neighboring Arizona might increase the risk of COVID-19 transmission in the region amid surging infections across the Navajo Nation.

Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham, a Democrat, held a videocast news conference from the Statehouse on Thursday.

“I will welcome President Trump with open arms in New Mexico if he is masked, he is wearing gloves for anything that we are going to attend, there are no mass gatherings or rallies, and he’s bringing Air Force One with the supplies that we need in the state of New Mexico,” she said.

Public gatherings of more than five people are prohibited in New Mexico through at least May 15, but that doesn’t stop residents from traveling to states with different health guidelines.

A new Trump campaign ad highlights supportive comments by Lujan Grisham about the federal response to the coronavirus.

“It is the political season,” Lujan Grisham said. “All fair, but that travel and that mass gathering creates risk.”

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HARTFORD, Conn. — The first step in a gradual, multi-stage process of lifting restrictions on businesses and activities in Connecticut, including allowing outdoor dining at restaurants, is expected to begin on May 20, Gov. Ned Lamont announced Thursday.

Remaining retail establishments, hair and nail services, outdoor exhibits at zoos and museums, outdoor recreation such as camping and mountain biking, and university research programs will also be allowed to open on that date with certain restrictions, barring any major flareups of COVID-19 or major issues with testing and contact tracing.

Employees at offices will still be encouraged to continue working from home where possible.

Meanwhile, older people and those with pre-existing conditions are still encouraged to remain at home as of May 20.

Lamont said an announcement will be made next week about when schools might reopen and restrictions on social gatherings might be lifted.

The governor’s advisory committee has been working plans for four levels of reopening the state, which become less and less restrictive over time.

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