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AP News in Brief at 9:04 p.m. EDT

by Ezequiel Ashmore (2020-05-24)

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Economic figures show grim toll in Europe and US from virus

NEW YORK (AP) - Bleak new figures Thursday underscored the worldwide economic pain inflicted by the coronavirus: The number of Americans filing for unemployment benefits has climbed past a staggering 30 million, while Europe´s economies have gone into an epic slide.

And as bad as the numbers are, some are already outdated because of the lag in gathering data. The true economic picture is almost certainly much worse.

The statistics are likely to stoke the debate over whether to ease the lockdowns that have closed factories and other businesses. While many states and countries have pressed ahead, health officials have warned of the danger of a second wave of infection, and some employers and employees have expressed fear of going back to work when large numbers of people are still dying.

In the U.S., the government reported that 3.8 million laid-off workers applied for jobless benefits last week, raising the total to 30.3 million in the six weeks since the outbreak took hold. The layoffs amount to 1 in 6 American workers and encompass more people than the entire population of Texas.

Some economists say that when the U.S. unemployment rate for April comes out next week, it could be as high as 20% - a figure not seen since the Depression of the 1930s, when joblessness peaked at 25%.

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What you need to know today about the virus outbreak

The world´s economic pain was on full display Thursday with new bleak evidence from Europe and the United States of the mounting devastation wrought on jobs and economies by coronavirus lockdown measures.

The European economy shrank a record 3.8% in the first quarter as lockdowns turned cities into ghost towns and plunged nations into recession. The drop was the biggest since eurozone statistics began in 1995 and compares with a 4.8% contraction in the United States.

Here are some of AP´s top stories Thursday on the world´s coronavirus pandemic. Follow APNews.com/VirusOutbreak for updates through the day and APNews.com/UnderstandingtheOutbreak for stories explaining some of its complexities.

WHAT´S HAPPENING TODAY:

- More than 3.8 million laid-off workers applied for unemployment benefits last week as the U.S. economy slid further into a crisis that is becoming the most devastating since the 1930s.

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Trump harshly blames China for pandemic; a lab 'mistake'?

WASHINGTON (AP) - President Donald Trump on Thursday speculated that China could have unleashed the coronavirus on the world due to some kind of horrible "mistake," and his intelligence agencies said they are still examining a notion put forward by the president and aides that the pandemic may have resulted from an accident at a Chinese lab.

Trump even suggested the release could have been intentional.

The Office of the Director of National Intelligence, the clearinghouse for the web of U.S. spy agencies, said it had ruled out the virus being man-made but was still investigating the precise source of the global pandemic, which has killed more than 220,000 people worldwide.

Though scientists suggest the likeliest origin of the pandemic remains natural, that it spread from an infected animal to a human, Trump claimed to have seen evidence to support the theory that the origin was an infectious disease lab in Wuhan, the epicenter of the Chinese outbreak.

He said the U.S. now "is finding how it came out."

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Workers must risk infection or losing unemployment payments

ATLANTA (AP) - Some of the millions of American workers laid off because of the coronavirus are beginning to face a tough choice - return to work and risk infection, or stay home and risk losing unemployment payments.

The decision is most pressing in states where governors have started allowing businesses such as restaurants to reopen with social-distancing restrictions.

Tyler Price, 26, was called back to his job at Del Frisco´s Grille in the Nashville suburb of Brentwood. Tennessee allowed restaurants to open dining rooms at 50% capacity, with servers wearing masks and being tested for fever.

But Price, who has yet to receive any unemployment benefits, is wrestling with what do. He said he is "highly susceptible" to respiratory illness and was hospitalized with pneumonia as a child.

"I know what it feels like to be in a hospital, to be drowning in your own lungs," said Price, who moved in with his mother near St. Louis after getting laid off. "It´s horrifying. It´s terrible. I don´t want to find myself there."

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A coronavirus drug seems to work. What's next?

News that an experimental drug seems to be the first effective treatment for the new coronavirus has unleashed a flurry of interest - and a clamor to know how soon it might be available.

Talk turned Thursday to how quickly the federal Food and Drug Administration might act on Gilead Sciences´s remdesivir after preliminary results from a major study found it shortened the recovery time by an average of four days for people hospitalized with COVID-19.

"You do now have a drug that you have proven can actually work on the virus," the National Institutes of Health´s Dr. Anthony Fauci told The Associated Press.

"Will it be an overwhelming cure? No, of course not," Fauci said. But with its use, "you will free up hospital beds, you will take less stress on the health care system."

No drug currently is approved for treating the virus, which has killed more than 230,000 people worldwide since it emerged late last year.

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GOP rejects Michigan's virus order; Whitmer unfazed

LANSING, Mich. (AP) - The Republican-led Michigan Legislature refused Thursday to extend the state's coronavirus emergency declaration and voted to authorize a lawsuit challenging Democratic Gov. Gretchen Whitmer's authority and actions to combat the pandemic.

The governor, unfazed, responded with new orders stating under one law that an emergency still exists, while under another law declaring new 28-day states of emergency and disaster. The latter measure will ensure health care workers continue to have special legal protections, she said.

Whitmer accused GOP lawmakers of "putting their heads in the sand and putting more lives and livelihoods at risk. I´m not going to let that happen."

The Legislature's moves came as hundreds of conservative activists, including some who were openly carrying rifles, returned to the Capitol to denounce her stay-at-home order.

Whitmer wanted legislators to extend her emergency declaration by 28 days before it was to expire late Thursday. But at the same time, she believes she has other powers to respond to the crisis and does not need a legislatively-approved extension - which Republicans dispute and plan to challenge in court.

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Brazilians start defying isolation, egged on by Bolsonaro

RIO DE JANEIRO (AP) - Divina Baldomero awoke, looked out the window at Rio de Janeiro´s Copacabana beach under a cloudless sky, and decided to take her first stroll in 40 days.

The 75-year-old restaurant owner, like most Brazilians, had been adhering to her governor's call to stay home to contain the spread of the coronavirus. But on this day she decided to ignore that, urged on by the view of President Jair Bolsonaro that the shutdown is wrongheaded, will wreck the economy and that anyway, the virus isn´t all it´s cracked up to be.

"At first I thought (the shutdown) was viable. Later, I came to think we will have more economic difficulties, with the poverty there is. There should be a different way so we can be free of this," said Baldomero, speaking Wednesday in front of the shuttered Copacabana Palace hotel. Her legs, virtually unused for more than a month, began trembling after seven minutes of standing.

Egged on by Bolsonaro, who has routinely scoffed at both the virus and stay-at-home policies, Brazilians are heeding his call for revolt. Support for isolation is faltering, particularly among the wealthy, and more people are milling and mixing. From the sun-worshipers to the Instagram influencers and pro-Bolsonaro protesters, denial is spreading and quarantine is coming apart. But, unlike other countries looking to ease restrictions, Latin America´s largest nation is still weeks from the peak in its viral curve.

Bolsonaro first staked out his argument that the economy needs to get back to work in a national address at the end of March, when he referred to the coronavirus as "a little flu" and said his history as an athlete would protect him.

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Navy hospital ships, once thought critical, see few patients

About a month ago, with Los Angeles girding for a potentially crippling surge of coronavirus cases, a massive white Navy hospital ship chugged into port: a powerful symbol of the government's response to the pandemic.

The USNS Mercy, with 1,000 hospital beds and giant red crosses on its sides, was welcomed by California Gov. Gavin Newsom and Mayor Eric Garcetti. Both officials were making grim predictions that LA could soon look like New York City, the epicenter of the U.S. outbreak, and Garcetti noted the ship immediately became his city´s largest hospital.

That day may have been the high-water mark for the Mercy, which suffered a virus outbreak among its crew and was the target of a train engineer who hijacked a locomotive and crashed it near the ship. He told investigators the vessel was part of a government plot.

Ultimately, Los Angeles hasn´t been overrun with virus cases, and so the Mercy has not had to play its envisioned role of being a safety net in order to allow hospitals to focus on treating those infected with the virus.

The Mercy is not alone: As virus infections have slowed or fell short of worst-case predictions, the globe is dotted with unused or barely used temporary hospitals. The Navy´s other hospital ship, the USNS Comfort, left New York on Thursday as the outlook improves there. It treated 182 patients.

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'And then, thác bản giốc boom': Outbreak shows shaky ground as Texas opens

PARIS, Texas (AP) - Barely a week ago, rural Lamar County could make a pretty good argument for Texas' reopening on Friday.

Only a handful of the 50,000 residents here, right on the border with Oklahoma, had tested positive for the coronavirus. None had died. The mayor of Paris, Texas - a pit stop for drivers passing through to snap a selfie with the city's miniaturized Eiffel Tower - had drive-thru virus testing in the works, just to give locals peace of mind. Some wore masks but many saw little reason to bother.

Then an outbreak at a nursing home turned up over the weekend.

Now at least 65 people are infected, and everything has changed. A courier drove 11 hours through the night to pick up testing kits and stores are second-guessing reopening as Lamar County becomes a cautionary tale of the fragility of Republican Gov. Greg Abbott's plan to get Texas back in business faster than many states. And on the eve of every retailer, restaurant and movie theater being allowed to let customers back in the door, Texas set a single-day record high for COVID-19 fatalities Thursday with 50.

"We don´t know what it´s going to do here," said Taylor Wright, owner of Aden Ann's, a women's boutique in Paris. Word of the sudden outbreak at Paris Healthcare Center, she said, shelved her plans to reopen over fears of exposing her staff and family.

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Little League World Series canceled for first time

WILLIAMSPORT, Pa. (AP) - This year's Little League World Series and the championship tournaments in six other Little League divisions have been canceled because of the coronavirus pandemic.

Little League President Stephen Keener announced the cancellations in a Facebook Live broadcast Thursday afternoon from league headquarters in Williamsport, Pennsylvania, saying it would be "impossible" to hold the events amid ongoing restrictions on large gatherings and travel.

The Little League World Series has been held every August since 1947 and had never been canceled before. Next year was to be the 75th playing of the tournament; that milestone has been pushed back to 2022.

"Let me tell the folks in all those communities and all the sites where we have regional qualifying tournaments how disappointed we are to have to do this, but it was inevitable," Keener said. "It would be irresponsible and impossible to bring teams and thousands of people from all over the world into the community of Williamsport as well as those six other communities that have been such great friends and supporters of ours over the years."

He added that travel restrictions would make it equally impossible to hold qualifying tournaments for international teams and to bring those teams safely to the United States.

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