The latest on the coronavirus pandemic from around the U.S. and the world.

HONG KONG — Hong Kong Disneyland will re-open June 18, as the city looks to gradually restart its economy amid a dwindling of coronavirus infections.

Hong Kong Disneyland, which has been closed since January due to the coronavirus pandemic, will reopen with limited visitor capacity. It will also introduce social distancing measures in restaurants, rides and other facilities, while suspending activities that require close interaction such as photo sessions with Disney characters, the park said in a press release Monday.

Visitors to the park will also be asked to wear masks, as well as fill out health declaration forms and have their temperature taken upon arrival.

It is the second Disney-branded theme park to re-open globally, following Shanghai Disneyland which opened its doors to guests last month.

Hong Kong’s social distancing measures, which prohibits gatherings of more than eight individuals and limits the capacity of restaurants and eateries, are currently in place until June 18. The city has reported 1,110 cases of coronavirus infections so far, with four deaths.

China’s capital re-institutes virus measures

BEIJING — China has reported 49 new confirmed coronavirus cases as the capital Beijing re-instituted measures to contain a new outbreak.

Of the new cases, 36 were reported Monday in Beijing, traced to a wholesale market that supplies much of the city’s meat and vegetables.

Ten of the other cases were brought from outside the country and three were found in Hebei province just outside Beijing. The National Health Commission reported 177 people in treatment for COVID-19, while 115 were in isolation and under monitoring for showing signs of the illness or having tested positive without giving off symptoms.

China has reported a total of 4,634 deaths from the virus among 83,181 confirmed cases.

Beijing has closed the Xinfadi market, ordered testing of all its workers and is requiring anyone who traveled there to self-isolate for two weeks.

The new cases reported over the weekend mark China’s highest daily total of coronavirus cases in two months, prompting Beijing to suspend the restart of some classes and reverse the relaxation of some social isolation measures.

Gov. Cuomo threatens to ‘reverse’ reopening amid NYC social violations

NEW YORK — Stir-crazy New Yorkers may ruin the planned reopening for the rest of the city.

Areas including Manhattan and the Hamptons where businesses have been widely reported for violating social distancing rules could see their reopening plans “reversed,” Gov. Andrew Cuomo threatened Sunday, even as Saturday marked the lowest number of new COVID-19 deaths in the state since its peak in April.

The state has received a whopping 25,000 complaints about establishments that are serving customers and allowing drinking on the streets, he said, noting Manhattan and the Hamptons are “leading areas in the state with violations.”

“I am warning today in a nice way: consequences of your actions,” Cuomo said at an Albany news conference, noting businesses can lose their liquor licenses for breaking social-distancing rules. “We have 25,000 complaints statewide. I’m not going to turn a blind eye to them.”

The threat came as social media have been flooded with photos of revelers congregating in Greenwich Village, the Upper East Side and Hell’s Kitchen – areas that typically draw well-to-do diners and drinkers. The images depict a city gone stir crazy after nearly three months of lockdown orders in which bars and restaurants have been prohibited from serving customers on their premises. Read the story here.

Ghana’s health minister contracts COVID-19

ACCRA, Ghana — Ghana’s president has announced that Health Minister Kwaku Agyemang-Manu has contracted COVID-19 and is undergoing treatment at a hospital.

In a state broadcast Sunday night, President Nana Akufo-Addo said the health minister had “contracted the virus in his line of duty” leading the West African nation’s fight against COVID-19.

Ghana has one of highest number of confirmed cases in Africa because of its robust testing, with more than 11,400 cases. Health authorities have reported 51 deaths.

News of the health minister’s illness further fueled worries as Ghana’s universities prepared to reopen Monday so students in their final year of study can take exams.

“If the health minister is contracting the disease, what is the guarantee that my son will be safe?” said Peter Owusu, who son studies at the University of Cape Coast.

Tulsa health chief says he wishes Trump would postpone rally

TULSA, Okla. — The director of the Tulsa Health Department says he wishes President Trump would postpone a planned campaign rally in Tulsa because of recent increases in the number of coronavirus cases.

Bruce Dart told the Tulsa World that it’s an honor for the president to want to come to the city, but said he’s concerned about protecting anyone attending a large indoor event.

“I wish we could postpone this to a time when the virus isn’t as large a concern as it is today.” Dart told the Tulsa World.

“I think it’s an honor for Tulsa to have a sitting president want to come and visit our community, but not during a pandemic,” Dart said.

Trump plans a rally at the 19,000-seat BOK Center on Saturday. The Oklahoma State Department of Health on Sunday reported 158 new cases of the coronavirus to bring the confirmed total in the state to 8,231 cases.

Read the story here.

France announces reopening of its economy

PARIS — President Emmanuel Macron announced that France is fully reopening its economy, including all restaurants, to accelerate the country’s recovery after virus crisis.

Macron said restaurants in the Paris region will be allowed to open indoor seating starting on Monday. Until then, only outdoor seating was permitted.

Restaurants in other French regions have already reopened.

From June 22, all nursery schools, primary schools and junior high schools will be open and mandatory for all students — instead of classes capped to small groups and many children staying at home.

Macron also confirmed that the second round of local elections that have been interrupted by the virus lockdown will take place on June 28.

“We must relaunch our economy,” Macron said.

France is reopening its borders with other European countries at midnight and will start allowing visitors from other continents on July 1st.

The country, which has reported at least 29,398 deaths from the virus in hospitals and nursing homes, has been under strict lockdown from March 17 to May 11, before gradually easing restrictions.

British PM calls for a review of country’s social distancing guidelines

LONDON — British Prime Minister Boris Johnson has ordered a review of the government’s two-meter (6.5-feet) social distancing rule, saying the falling number of coronavirus cases gives the government “more margin for manoeuvre” in easing the guideline.

Johnson said that “probably” fewer than one in 1,000 people now have the virus, and the chance of coming in contact with someone who’s infected are increasingly remote.

Treasury chief Rishi Sunak said that officials will be drawing on advice on the issue from economists as well as the government’s scientific and medical advisers.

Conservative lawmakers and businesses have been putting increasing pressure on the government to ease the two-metre rule, arguing that it will make it extremely difficult for many pubs and restaurants to operate.

They say that the government in the U.K. can follow other countries and ask people to socially distance at one meter or 1.5 meters.

Health experts warn of coronavirus risks at Trump’s upcoming rally

With President Trump’s rally in Tulsa, Okla., less than a week away, health experts warned that the indoor venue and potentially large crowd could help spread the coronavirus, putting attendees and others at risk.

“I’m concerned about our ability to protect anyone who attends a large, indoor event,” Bruce Dart, director of the Tulsa city and county health department, told the Tulsa World. “And I’m also concerned about our ability to ensure the president stays safe as well.”

The scheduled rally comes as new infections are trending upward in at least 21 states across the South and the West, prompting some governors to rethink reopening plans and renewing concerns that the country could be a long way from containing the pandemic. Alabama, Oregon and South Carolina are among the states with the biggest increases. Alabama saw a 92 percent increase in its seven-day average, while Oregon’s seven-day average was up 83.8 percent and South Carolina’s was up 60.3 percent.

The indoor venues and large crowds anticipated for Trump’s rally Saturday in Tulsa and the Republican National Convention in August could help spread the coronavirus, putting attendees and others at risk, infectious-disease expert Michael T. Osterholm told Fox News.

Osterholm, director of the Center for Infectious Disease Research and Policy at the University of Minnesota, said in an interview with Chris Wallace on “Fox News Sunday” that chanting and shouting can help aerosolize the virus, exposing the thousands expected to attend both events.

“Would I want my loved ones in a setting like that? Absolutely not,” Osterholm said. “And it wouldn’t matter about politics, I wouldn’t want them there.”

The venue for Saturday’s rally, the BOK Center, has a capacity to seat more than 19,000, but Trump campaign manager Brad Parscale tweeted Sunday that 800,000 have signed up.

Read the full story here.

Accuracy of many rushed-out coronavirus tests still unknown

WASHINGTON — How accurate are the coronavirus tests used in the U.S.?

Months into the outbreak, no one really knows how well many of the screening tests work, and experts at top medical centers say it is time to do the studies to find out.

When the new virus began spreading, the Food and Drug Administration used its emergency powers to OK scores of quickly devised tests, based mainly on a small number of lab studies showing they could successfully detect the virus.

That’s very different from the large patient studies that can take weeks or months, which experts say are needed to provide a true sense of testing accuracy.

The FDA’s speedy response came after it was initially criticized for delaying the launch of new tests during a crisis and after the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention stumbled in getting its own test out to states.

Virus_Outbreak_Utah_43007

A woman receives a coronavirus test from Salt Lake County Health Department public health nurse Lee Cherie Booth outside the Salt Lake County Health Department Friday, June 12, 2020, in Salt Lake Ci. AP Photo/Rick Bowmer

But with the U.S. outbreak nearly certain to stretch on for months or even years, some experts want the FDA to demand better evidence of the tests’ accuracy so doctors know how many infections might be missed.

In recent weeks, preliminary findings have flagged potential problems with some COVID-19 tests, including one used daily at the White House. Faulty tests could leave many thousands of Americans with the incorrect assumption that they are virus-free, contributing to new flare-ups of the disease as communities reopen.

“In the beginning, the FDA was under a lot of pressure to get these tests onto the marketplace,” said Dr. Steven Woloshin of Dartmouth College. “But now that there are plenty of tests out there, it’s time for them to raise the bar.”

The FDA said in a statement that it has already asked multiple test makers to do follow-up accuracy studies, although it didn’t say for how many of the more than 110 authorized screening tests. The agency also said it is tracking reports of problems. Accuracy has also been an issue with blood tests that look for signs of past infections.

Read the full story here.

Europe reopens many borders but not to Americans, Asians

BERLIN — Europe is taking a big step toward a new normality as many countries open borders to fellow Europeans after three months of coronavirus lockdowns — but even though Europeans love their summer vacations, it’s not clear how many are ready to travel again.

Tourists from the U.S., Asia, Latin American and the Mideast will just have to wait, for now.

The European Union home affairs commissioner, Ylva Johansson, told member nations last week that they “should open up as soon as possible” and suggested Monday was a good date.

Many countries are doing just that, allowing travel from the EU, Britain and the rest of Europe’s usually passport-free Schengen travel area, which includes non-EU countries like Switzerland.

Europe’s reopening won’t be a repeat of the chaotic free-for-all in March when panicked, uncoordinated border closures caused traffic jams that stretched for miles. Still, it’s a complicated, shifting patchwork of different rules. And although tourist regions are desperately counting on them, a lot of Europeans may decide to stay close to home this summer.

That’s something tourism-dependent Mediterranean countries such as Greece are keen to avoid. Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis acknowledged Saturday that “a lot will depend on whether people feel comfortable to travel and whether we can project Greece as a safe destination.”

Greece has emphasized its handling of its outbreak, which saw only 183 deaths. Overall, Europe has seen more than 182,000 virus-linked deaths this year, according to a tally by Johns Hopkins University that also shows Europe has had 2.04 million of the world’s 7.8 million infections.

Spain, which isn’t ending restrictions on domestic travel for another week and will restart foreign tourism in full on July 1, is allowing thousands of Germans to fly to its Balearic Islands for a two-week trial run starting Monday — waiving its 14-day quarantine for the group.

Border checks in some places have already wound down. Italy opened its borders on June 3 and towns on the German-Polish border celebrated early Saturday as Poland opened the gates. At midnight, the mayors of Goerlitz, Germany and Zgorzelec, Poland cut through chains on a makeshift fence that had divided the towns.

Germany, like France and others, is lifting remaining border checks on Monday and scrapping a requirement that arrivals must prove they have a good reason to enter. It also is easing a worldwide warning against nonessential travel to exempt European countries – except, probably, Finland, Norway and Spain, where travel restrictions remain, and Sweden, where the level of new coronavirus infections is deemed too high.

Care-free days at theme parks giving way to virus safeguards

TOLEDO, Ohio — Hugs from Mickey Mouse are out at Walt Disney World. So is bunching up at Six Flags to snag a front-seat roller coaster ride. But the season won’t be completely lost for thrill-seekers.

Carefree days of sharing cotton candy on crowded midways will give way this year to temperature scans at the gates, mandatory masks at many parks, hand-sanitizing stations at ride entrances and constant reminders to stay 6 feet apart.

Amusement parks of all sizes are adjusting everything from selling tickets to serving meals while trying to reassure the public and government leaders that they’re safe to visit amid the coronavirus crisis.

While a handful of small U.S. amusement parks have been open since Memorial Day weekend, most are looking to restart their seasons either later this month or by mid-July. Universal Orlando became the first of Florida’s major theme park resorts to reopen in early June. Disney’s nearby parks will wait until next month, but there won’t be any parades, firework shows or character greetings.

Disneyland in California said this past week it will welcome back visitors on July 17 if it gets government approval. Theme parks in many states have been among the last businesses allowed to reopen because of worries over crowds. Ohio’s two biggest amusement parks filed a lawsuit last week challenging the government’s authority to shut them down.

Park operators insist they’re better suited to handle crowds — albeit smaller ones — than ballparks and museums because they have more space to spread out and can better control the movements of their customers. But there is also a lot more to consider in order to reopen safely. There’s collecting parking fees and selling souvenirs. Shows and hotels. Arcades and playgrounds.

“We have restaurants that are walk-up, grab and go, catering, and sit-down. And that’s just the food department,” said Leah Koch, owner of Holiday World in southern Indiana. “We have to go ride by ride through this process. We have to go game by game. We have to look at each and every situation.”

At most theme parks, the “new normal” will be apparent before visitors arrive, starting with online admission reservations to manage the daily crowds. Many will start out allowing no more than half their normal capacity.

Trump rally called ‘dangerous move’ in age of coronavirus

WASHINGTON — After months away from the campaign trail, President Donald Trump plans to rally his supporters this coming Saturday for the first time since most of the country was shuttered by the coronavirus. Trump will head to Tulsa, Oklahoma — a state that has seen relatively few COVID-19 cases.

But health experts question the decision, citing the danger of infection spreading among the crowd and sparking outbreaks when people return to their homes. The Trump campaign itself acknowledges the risk in a waiver attendees must agree to absolving them of any responsibility should people get sick.

Trump’s rally will be held indoors, at a 19,000-seat arena that has canceled all other events through the end of July. Scientists believe the virus spreads far more easily in crowded enclosed spaces than it does outdoors, where circulating air has a better chance of dispersing virus particles.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention outlines the highest risk events for transmission of the coronavirus this way: “Large in-person gatherings where it is difficult for individuals to remain spaced at least 6 feet apart and attendees travel from outside the local area.” The CDC recommends cloth masks in places where people might shout or chant.

Trump’s rallies typically draw tens of thousands of supporters. They usually stand outside in line for hours before passing through airport-style security and cramming into an arena, where they sit side by side or stand shoulder to shoulder. The rallies are typically raucous, with much shouting, cheering and chanting. Some people dance and jeer at reporters. Sometimes protesters are met with violence before they are removed by security.

Many attendees are older, which would put them at higher risk of severe complications from COVID-19. It’s not unusual for several individuals in the crowd to require medical attention when the temperature rises.

The rallies also typically draw supporters from surrounding towns and states. Some die-hard fans travel across the country from rally to rally like groupies for a band.

The Trump campaign, in recognition of the risk, has tried to protect itself from lawsuits with waiver language on its registration website.

Dr. Ashish Jha, director of Harvard’s Global Health Institute, called the upcoming Trump rally “an extraordinarily dangerous move for the people participating and the people who may know them and love them and see them afterward.”

Trump supporters coming from neighboring cities and states could carry the virus back home, Jha said. “I’d feel the same way if Joe Biden were holding a rally.”

The Trump campaign has declined to respond to repeated questions about whether it will require attendees to wear masks, socially distance or take other measures to reduce the risk of virus transmission.

Trump has made clear that he believes empty seats are bad optics. “I can’t imagine a rally where you have every fourth seat full. Every — every six seats are empty for every one that you have full. That wouldn’t look too good,” he said in April.

Some tribes reopen their casinos despite state opposition

MASHANTUCKET, Conn. — Drivers heading down state roads leading to Foxwoods Resort Casino and Mohegan Sun in Connecticut are greeted by flashing warnings: “Avoid Large Crowds” and “Don’t Gamble With COVID.”

Despite having authority to shutter thousands of businesses during the coronavirus pandemic, Connecticut Gov. Ned Lamont has been constrained when dealing with the sovereign tribal nations that own two of the world’s largest casinos. After pleading with tribal leaders not reopen and even raising the possibility of pulling their state-issued liquor licenses, he ultimately settled for ordering state transportation workers to put up the signs.

“People over the age of 65 should not be in large, congregate settings. We think that’s dangerous, even now,” said Lamont, a Democrat, after the casinos partly reopened on June 1, weeks ahead of the state’s timetable for large indoor events. “So, we tried to put some good, strong advice in place as people are on their way to taking a gamble.”

Connecticut’s two federally recognized tribes, the Mashantucket Pequot Tribal Nation and fthe Mohegan Tribe who say they are managing the reopening safely, are not alone in reopening doors early as the nation reemerges from the shutdown — though both say they are being careful. Facing pressure to bring back employees and start generating revenue, tribes in Washington, Oregon, California, Florida, North Carolina, New York and elsewhere have decided to welcome back gamblers even though their states haven’t allowed large gatherings.

Other businesses have bristled at shutdown orders and restrictions, and some have pushed the limits. But the tribes that run the casinos are different because the U.S. Constitution recognizes them as sovereign nations with full authority within their reservations — so state and local leaders have no say in reopening their casinos.

“Tribal nations are just that, they’re nations. So they are not bound by state laws,” New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo said recently.

New York state officials haven’t decided yet when to allow commercial casinos to reopen, but the Oneida Indian Nation announced it will partly reopen three casinos on Wednesday, and the Cayuga Nation reopened its casino on May 15. Both are upstate, where similar large gathering places are not yet open.


Only subscribers are eligible to post comments. Please subscribe or to participate in the conversation. Here’s why.

Use the form below to reset your password. When you've submitted your account email, we will send an email with a reset code.

filed under:

Kennebec Journal & Morning Sentinel news

Get news and events from your towns in your inbox every Friday.
  • This field is for validation purposes and should be left unchanged.