AP News in Brief at 12:04 a.m. EDT

April 8, 2020 Off By The Wall of Law

NYC virus deaths exceed 4,000, topping toll for 9-11 attacks

NEW YORK (AP) — New York City’s death toll from the coronavirus rose past 4,000 on Tuesday, eclipsing the number killed at the World Trade Center on 9-11. In Britain, Prime Minister Boris Johnson lay in intensive care, believed to be the first major world leader hospitalized with the virus.

The twin developments came even as the crisis seemed to be easing or at least stabilizing, by some measures, in New York and parts of Europe, though health officials warned people at nearly every turn not to let their guard down. After 76 days, China finally lifted the lockdown on Wuhan, the city of 11 million where the outbreak began.

COVID-19’s toll in New York City is now more than 1,000 deaths higher than that of the deadliest terror attack on U.S. soil, which killed 2,753 people in the city and 2,977 overall, when hijacked planes slammed into the twin towers, the Pentagon and a Pennsylvania field on Sept. 11, 2001.

New York state recorded 731 new coronavirus deaths, its biggest one-day jump yet, for a statewide toll of nearly 5,500, Gov. Andrew Cuomo said.

“A lot of pain again today for many New Yorkers,” he said.

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Trump blasts world health group, defends early virus steps

WASHINGTON (AP) — President Donald Trump on Tuesday threatened to freeze U.S. funding to the World Health Organization, saying the international group had “missed the call” on the coronavirus pandemic.

Trump also played down the release of January memos from a senior adviser that represented an early warning of a possible coronavirus pandemic, saying he had not seen them at the time. But he turned his anger on the WHO, first declaring that he would cut off U.S. funding for the organization, then backtracking and saying he would “strongly consider” such a move.

Trump said the international group had “called it wrong” on the virus and that the organization was “very China-centric” in its approach, suggesting that the WHO had gone along with Beijing’s efforts months ago to minimize the severity of the outbreak. The WHO has praised China for its transparency on the virus, even though there has been reason to believe that more people died of COVID-19 than the country’s official tally.

“They should have known and they probably did know,” Trump said of WHO officials.

Throughout his presidency, Trump has voiced skepticism toward many international organizations and has repeatedly heaped scorn on the WHO. In its most recent budget proposal, in February, the Trump administration called for slashing the U.S. contribution to the WHO from an estimated $122.6 million to $57.9 million.

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China’s virus pandemic epicenter Wuhan ends 76-day lockdown

WUHAN, China (AP) — After 11 weeks of lockdown, people went outdoors and by the thousands boarded the first trains and planes leaving Wuhan as the last restrictions on movement were lifted Wednesday in the Chinese city where the coronavirus pandemic began.

Wuhan’s unprecedented lockdown was a model for countries trying to stop the coronavirus. With the restrictions ending, Hubei’s provincial capital begins another experiment: resuming business and ordinary life while preventing more illnesses.

The city’s 11 million residents are now permitted to leave without special authorization as long as a mandatory smartphone application powered by a mix of data-tracking and government surveillance shows they are healthy and have not been in recent contact with anyone confirmed to have the virus.

The occasion was marked with a light show on either side of the broad Yangtze River, with skyscrapers and bridges radiating animated images of health workers aiding patients, along with one displaying the words “heroic city,” a title bestowed on Wuhan by president and Communist Party leader Xi Jinping. Along the embankments and bridges, citizens waved flags, chanted “Wuhan, let’s go!” and sang a capella renditions of China’s national anthem.

“I haven’t been outside for more than 70 days,” said an emotional Tong Zhengkun, who was watching the display from a bridge. Residents in his apartment complex had contracted the virus, so the entire building was shut down. He couldn’t go out even to buy groceries, which neighbourhood workers brought to his door.

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Wisconsin voters wait for hours, others stay home amid virus

MADISON, Wis. (AP) — Despite federal health recommendations, thousands of Wisconsin voters waited hours in long lines outside overcrowded polling stations on Tuesday so they could participate in a presidential primary election that tested the limits of electoral politics in the midst of a pandemic.

Thousands more stayed home, unwilling to risk their health even as Republican officials pushed forward with the election amid a stay-at-home order. But many of the potential voters who remained in their homes complained that the absentee ballots they had requested never showed up.

Pregnant and infected with the coronavirus, 34-year-old Hannah Gleeson was still waiting Tuesday for the absentee ballot that she requested last week.

“It seems really unfair and undemocratic and unconstitutional,” said Gleeson, who works at an assisted-living centre in Milwaukee. “I think it’s voter suppression at its finest.”

Polls closed Tuesday night, but a court ruling appeared to prevent results from being made public earlier than next Monday to ensure absentee ballots are counted.

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Trump upends virus oversight, removing key official

WASHINGTON (AP) — President Donald Trump is moving aggressively to challenge the authority and independence of agency watchdogs overseeing his administration, including removing the inspector general tasked with overseeing the $2.2 trillion coronavirus rescue package that passed Congress with bipartisan support.

In four days, Trump has fired one inspector general tied to his impeachment, castigated another he felt was overly critical of the coronavirus response and sidelined a third meant to safeguard against wasteful spending of the coronavirus funds.

The actions have sent shock waves across the close-knit network of watchdog officials in government, creating open conflict between a president reflexively resistant to outside criticism and an oversight community tasked with rooting out fraud, misconduct and abuse.

The most recent act threatens to upend scrutiny of the $2.2 trillion coronavirus rescue effort now underway, setting the stage for a major clash between Trump, government watchdogs and Democrats who are demanding oversight of the vast funds being pumped into the American economy.

“We’re seeing since Friday a wrecking ball across the IG community,” said Danielle Brian, executive director of the Project on Government Oversight, a government watchdog group.

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Navy boss resigns amid uproar over firing of ship captain

WASHINGTON (AP) — Acting Navy Secretary Thomas Modly resigned Tuesday, bringing to a climax an extraordinary drama that he advanced by delivering a profanity-laced upbraiding of the officer he fired as captain of the coronavirus-stricken USS Theodore Roosevelt.

In announcing the resignation, Defence Secretary Mark Esper said Modly quit on his own accord, “putting the Navy and the sailors above self,” so the Navy and the Roosevelt can move forward. The Roosevelt is sidelined in port at Guam as members of the crew are tested for the coronavirus and moved ashore.

“His care for the sailors was genuine,” Esper said.

Esper said he briefed President Donald Trump on his conversation with Modly, and with the president’s approval he is appointing James McPherson as acting Navy secretary. McPherson, a Navy veteran, is currently serving as undersecretary of the Army. He was confirmed in that position by the Senate last month.

Esper called McPherson a “smart, capable and professional leader who will restore confidence and stability in the Navy during these challenging times.”

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Court drops rape, other charges against megachurch leader

LOS ANGELES (AP) — A California appeals court ordered the dismissal of a criminal case Tuesday against a Mexican megachurch leader on charges of child rape and human trafficking on procedural grounds.

Naasón Joaquín García, the self-proclaimed apostle of La Luz del Mundo, has been in custody since June following his arrest on accusations involving three girls and one woman between 2015 and 2018 in Los Angeles County. Additional allegations of the possession of child pornography in 2019 were later added. He has denied wrongdoing.

While being held without bail in Los Angeles, García has remained the spiritual leader of La Luz del Mundo, which is Spanish for “The Light Of The World.” The Guadalajara, Mexico-based evangelical Christian church was founded by his grandfather and claims 5 million followers worldwide.

It was not clear when he would be released.

The attorney general’s office said it was reviewing the court’s ruling and did not answer additional questions.

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Celebrated singer-songwriter John Prine has died at 73

John Prine, the ingenious singer-songwriter who explored the heartbreaks, indignities and absurdities of everyday life in “Angel from Montgomery,” “Sam Stone,” “Hello in There” and scores of other indelible tunes, died Tuesday at the age of 73.

His family announced his death from complications from the coronavirus; he died at Vanderbilt University Medical Center in Nashville, Tennessee.

His wife Fiona said last month that she had tested positive for COVID-19 and she has since recovered, but her husband was hospitalized on March 26 with coronavirus symptoms. He was put on a ventilator and remained in the intensive care unit for several days.

Winner of a lifetime achievement Grammy earlier this year, Prine was a virtuoso of the soul, if not the body. He sang his conversational lyrics in a voice roughened by a hard-luck life, particularly after throat cancer left him with a disfigured jaw.

He joked that he fumbled so often on the guitar, taught to him as a teenager by his older brother, that people thought he was inventing a new style. But his open-heartedness, eye for detail and sharp and surreal humour brought him the highest admiration from critics, from such peers as Bob Dylan and Kris Kristofferson, and from such younger stars as Jason Isbell and Kacey Musgraves, who even named a song after him.

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AP PHOTOS: Wuhan a city in slumber before the lockdown’s end

WUHAN, China (AP) — Wuhan was released from coronavirus lockdown on Wednesday, and it’s as if the Chinese city where the pandemic started late last year has awakened from a long slumber.

For more than two months, the once-bustling city of 11 million people was all but silent. Its borders were sealed, businesses closed and communities kept behind barriers.

During the 76-day lockdown, Wuhan’s residents seemed to live in a crepuscular world of neither night nor day, with time passing slowly, each day blurring into the next.

Now, residents of central China’s largest city are eager to reawaken and for life to flow back to its streets and factories.

It’s a cycle many places will experience as the coronavirus sweeps through.

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Iconic sports cities turn eerie during coronavirus shutdown

They are cities defined by iconic sporting events.

When Augusta comes up, one instantly thinks of the Masters. If Omaha is mentioned, it’s often in the same breath with the College World Series. It’s hard to imagine Louisville without the Kentucky Derby.

In the coming weeks, The Associated Press will look at those cities and others like them — from Williamsport to Oklahoma City to Cheyenne — to examine how the shutdown caused by the coronavirus pandemic is an especially wrenching blow.

“This is who we are,” said Jason Fink, the chamber of commerce president in Williamsport, Pennsylvania, which has been synonymous with the Little League World Series since it was founded in 1947.

They can certainly relate to that sentiment in Augusta.

The Associated Press

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