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Trump urges US reopening as China premier warns of challenges

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President Donald Trump pressed for a further reopening of the United States as job losses mount from coronavirus shutdowns, while China’s premier warned of “immense” economic challenges even as the Asian giant emerges from the worst of the pandemic.

Calls to kickstart the world’s two largest economies came as large parts of Europe continued to resume normal life as the crisis there abates, with more shops opening and beaches welcoming tourists.

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But the lifting of restrictions in some places comes despite virus cases passing five million globally, with the disease continuing its march in Latin America and Russia.

Trump, with an eye on his re-election prospects in November, made it clear he hoped more US state governors would move towards a loosening of anti-virus restrictions.

“We did the right thing but we now want to get going… you’ll break the country if you don’t,” he told African-American leaders in Michigan.

AFP / ERNESTO BENAVIDES A worker sweeps the floor next to coffins for Covid-19 victims at El Angel cemetery, in Lima, Peru

Another 2.43 million Americans were put out of work last week, the Labor Department said Thursday, bringing the total of newly jobless to 38.6 million since lockdowns were put in place.

The Republican incumbent also talked about reopening places of worship, something he had initially hoped would be done by Easter Sunday, saying it was important to the nation’s healing.

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“People want to be in their churches,” Trump said. “They’re so important in terms of the psyche of our country.”

AFP / Brendan Smialowski US President Donald Trump speaks during a tour of the Ford Rawsonville Plant, that has been converted to making personal protection and medical equipment, in Ypsilanti, Michigan

The president has adopted the theme of “Transitioning Back to Greatness” as states reopen at different speeds.

Deaths are still mounting in the US, with the total surpassing 94,000, and Trump ordered flags at federal buildings be flown at half-staff for three days for the victims.

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– Return to normal –

Across the Atlantic, much of Europe pressed on with work to get life rolling again, with Cyprus lifting curfews and allowing outdoor restaurants, barber shops and beaches to reopen.

AFP / Philip FONG A visitor wearing a face mask points at masked statues at Yasaka Shrine in Kyoto, Japan

But the Mediterranean island’s airports and hotels remain closed.

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“I want my work back and my life back,” said Sakis Siakopoulos, a restaurant owner in the capital Nicosia.

In Denmark, the exit from lockdown also picked up pace as museums and zoos began reopening and health officials said the spread of the virus was slowing.

AFP / Iakovos Hatzistavrou A man drinks coffee outside a hairdresser’s salon in the Cypriot capital Nicosia

France, one of the countries hit hardest by the outbreak, saw its daily death toll dip to 83, providing a cause for optimism.

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A closely watched survey by IHS Markit indicated the eurozone economy has now “likely bottomed out”, sparking hope that a recovery is to follow.

– ‘It doesn’t stop’ –

But while many European countries have significantly curbed the contagion, Latin America is becoming a new hotspot with cases on the rise.

AFP / Mohammed HUWAIS Yemeni children cheer as a worker wearing a protective gear sprays disinfectant on a car in the capital Sanaa

Brazil — now home to the third-highest number of cases in the world after the US and Russia — has recorded more than 20,000 deaths and hit a record 24-hour toll of 1,188.

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Grave diggers at a cemetery outside Sao Paulo are scrambling to keep up.

“We’ve been working 12-hour days, burying them one after the other. It doesn’t stop,” said one worker at Vila Formosa, wearing a white protective suit, mask and face shield.

AFP / TAUSEEF MUSTAFA Relatives wearing protective gear carry the coffin of a woman who died from COVID-19 into a graveyard in Srinagar

Peru, Mexico and Chile have also seen steady increases in infections.

“It’s like a horror film,” Miguel Armas, a nurse at the Hipolito Unanue hospital in the Peruvian capital, told AFP.

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The death toll worldwide has now surpassed 330,000, according to an AFP tally based on official sources.

– War of words –

Recriminations over the pandemic have continued to fly between the United States and China — where the outbreak first erupted last year — with Trump blaming Beijing’s “incompetence” for the extent of the global crisis.

AFP / THOMAS COEX Police ask to people to follow physical distancing rules in front of the Hotel des Invalides in Paris

China has rejected that criticism, insisting it has been forthright with the world about the origins of the virus and its work to tackle its spread.

“It is neither responsible nor moral to cover up one’s own problems by blaming others,” said Zhang Yesui, a spokesman for China’s legislature.

On Friday Chinese Premier Li Keqiang took the rare step of not setting an annual economic growth target for the country in light of the “great uncertainty” created by the pandemic.

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AFP / Paul ELLIS Medical staff signal from behind a door as they participate in a national “clap for carers” to show thanks for the work of Britain’s NHS at Aintree University Hospital in Liverpool, northwest England

At the opening of the National People’s Congress he only said Beijing will “give priority to stabilizing employment and ensuring living standards”.

“At present, the epidemic has not yet come to an end, while the tasks we face in promoting development are immense,” he said.

Virus cases in the Asian giant are now down to a trickle, and Beijing insists its efforts to curb the spread have been a success, but questions remain about whether it underreported the numbers affected by the contagion.

– Second surge –

Governments around the world are testing ways to live long- term with the threat of the virus amid fears of a second wave of infections.

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Already a common sight in Spain, masks were officially made mandatory Thursday for anyone over the age of six in public places where social distancing is not possible.

“The more tools we use, the better,” said Miguel Domingo, a 49-year-old architect taking his two dogs for a walk in Madrid, which is emerging from one of the toughest lockdowns.

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Fresno city councilman accuses colleague of ‘bullying and abusive behavior’ over rule mandating COVID-19 masks

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During a press conference on Thursday, a Fresno City Council member railed at one his colleagues for a proposal -- since passed -- that would require members to wear masks during meetings.

According to Councilmember Garry Bredefeld he finds the masks -- used to stem the spread of the deadly COVID-19 virus -- "uncomfortable" and he feels he is being bullied by fellow Councilmember Miguel Arias.

Addressing the resolution to mandate wearing masks, Bredefeld told reporters that Arias, "Put on the agenda was it just the latest example of a pattern for him that includes bullying, abusive, belligerent and bullying behavior."

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COVID-19

‘No benefit’ from hydroxychloroquine for virus: UK trial

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A major British clinical trial has found hydroxychloroquine has "no benefit" for patients hospitalized with COVID-19, scientists said Friday, in the first large-scale study to provide results for a drug at the centre of political and scientific controversy.

Hydroxychloroquine, a decades-old malaria and rheumatoid arthritis drug, has been touted as a possible treatment for the new coronavirus by high profile figures, including US President Donald Trump, and has been included in several randomized clinical trials.

The University of Oxford's Recovery trial, the biggest of these so far to come forward with findings, said that it would now stop recruiting patients to be given hydroxychloroquine "with immediate effect".

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COVID-19

France’s Versailles to re-open Saturday after COVID-19 lockdown ease

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France's sumptuous Palace of Versailles, built in the 17th century by the "Sun King" Louis XIV, throws its doors open to the public again on Saturday but with little certainty over when tourists will return as lockdown curbs are slowly eased.

Workers on Friday dusted the Hall of Mirrors and polished its gilded statues ahead of the reopening, which will see visitors required to wear face masks and follow a one-way route through the opulent 2,300-room complex.

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