May 31 coronavirus news

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4:12 p.m. ET, May 31, 2020

Faithful return to St. Peter's Square to hear Pope Francis' words

From CNN's Delia Gallagher in Rome

Pope Francis delivers a blessing from his studio window overlooking St. Peter's Square at the Vatican on May 31.
Pope Francis delivers a blessing from his studio window overlooking St. Peter's Square at the Vatican on May 31. Vatican News via AP

In a small sign of life getting back to normal, crowds returned to St. Peter’s Square in the Vatican City on Sunday as Pope Francis resumed his traditional greeting from his window, for the first time since lockdown began in Italy nearly three months ago.

The Pope said he hoped people would “have the courage to change, to be better than before and to positively build the post-pandemic world.”

He appealed for everyone, including the world's poorest people, to have access to health care and prayed particularly for those affected in the Amazon region of South America. “People are more important than the economy,” he said.

Tourists were noticeably absent and only several hundred people, mainly Italians, wearing masks and social distancing, gathered to listen to the Pope and receive his blessing. 

“You know that from a crisis like this, you don’t come out of it the same as before. You come out either better or worse,” he said.

“The human family needs to come out of this crisis more united and not more divided.“

Italian and Vatican Police were stationed at all entrances and people entering St. Peter’s Basilica had their temperatures checked.

The Vatican museums will open on Monday, by online reservation only. Museums and other cultural sites throughout Italy will also reopen this week.

7:53 a.m. ET, May 31, 2020

Bars, gyms and restaurants in South Korea to keep a QR-code log of customers

From CNN's Jake Kwon in Seoul

People walk past a restaurant in the Itaewon district in Seoul, South Korea, on April 24.
People walk past a restaurant in the Itaewon district in Seoul, South Korea, on April 24. SongJoon Cho/Bloomberg via Getty Images

Recreational venues in South Korea, including bars, nightclubs and indoor gyms, will be required to keep a QR code-based customer log from June 10, Health Minister Park Neung-hoo said Sunday.

This data will be automatically erased after four weeks to safeguard customer information.

The minister also outlined several other disease prevention guidelines required from June 2. Operators must regularly disinfect the premises, check customers for symptoms and ensure customers wear masks.

Those who violate the guidelines, including customers, could be subject to fines, and businesses could be forced to close.

As of 12 p.m. local time on Sunday, 111 cases were linked to the Coupang logistics center cluster and 270 cases were linked to the Itaewon nightclub cluster in Seoul, according to the Health Ministry.

The total number of confirmed cases in the country stands at 11,468, according to the Korea Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. There have been 270 deaths in total.

Some context: South Korea has used technology to help it contain the coronavirus pandemic through aggressive testing, contact tracing and quarantine measures, without ordering a widespread lockdown.

After cases emerged linked to three venues in Seoul's Itaewon nightlife district, city authorities tried to trace those who were potentially exposed. But they found that some clubgoers avoided calls or had given false details on the door, the mayor said.

The city had to use phone signal tower records and credit card records instead to track some people down.

6:24 a.m. ET, May 31, 2020

UK at "sensitive moment" as it relaxes coronavirus measures

From CNN's Simon Cullen and Martin Goillandeau

Tourists enjoy the hot weather at Bournemouth beach on May 25, after some coronavirus restrictions were eased.
Tourists enjoy the hot weather at Bournemouth beach on May 25, after some coronavirus restrictions were eased. Finnbarr Webster/Getty Images 

The UK is at a “sensitive moment” as it eases coronavirus restrictions, the country’s Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab said Sunday, adding that not all scientists will agree with the government’s decisions.

England is relaxing some restrictions from Monday, including allowing groups of up to six people to meet in outdoor settings.

Schools will also begin to reopen to some pupils, and extremely vulnerable people who have been "shielding" -- staying at home at all times and avoiding any face-to-face contact -- have been told they can go outdoors again from Monday.

“If we had a second peak in the virus, we would end up back in lockdown and that would be bad for public health reasons but also for the economy,” Raab told Sky News on Sunday.

“So we’re taking measures now which are based on both on the public health considerations, but they’re also crucial for the economy. But it’s true to say -- the scientists do not always agree.

“In fact that's not what we want. We don’t want them all to agree. We want them to test the evidence. That’s the way we get better advice from them.”

Raab said that if new restrictions were needed to control a second outbreak, the government had the capacity to “target very carefully” different localities or situations.

Prominent scientists have voiced skepticism in recent days about the steps the government is taking.

“The announcement of relaxed measures for those most at risk from severe Covid-19, the shielders, seems to lack any obvious rationale other than to add to an ongoing 'good news' narrative that appears to have little grounding in reality," Dr. Stephen Griffin, Associate Professor in the School of Medicine, University of Leeds, told the UK's Science Media Centre.

Professor Sally Bloomfield, of the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine, warned that relaxing several measures at the same time was risky.

"If the situation deteriorates it will be impossible to know which measures need to be re-imposed and we will just have to go back to lockdown," she told the Science Media Centre. 

"This does not look like gently lifting the lid -- and from what I have seen these past three days, I fear that our desire to socialize means that the critical nature of our situation is being forgotten."

8:57 p.m. ET, May 31, 2020

Scotland’s First Minister warns coronavirus still poses “significant risk” as England prepares to lift restrictions

From CNN's Nada Bashir, London

Nicola Sturgeon attends First Minister's Questions at Holyrood on May 13 in Edinburgh, Scotland.
Nicola Sturgeon attends First Minister's Questions at Holyrood on May 13 in Edinburgh, Scotland. Fraser Bremner/Pool/Getty Images

Scotland’s First Minister Nicola Sturgeon has warned that coronavirus still poses a “significant risk,” calling on citizens to not become complacent as the UK government prepares to lift some lockdown restrictions in England on Monday. 

“We have got to be very cautious. The virus has not gone away, there is still a significant risk that it could run out of control again,” Sturgeon said Sunday during an interview with Sky News.

“In Scotland, we are moving very slowly, very cautiously. We’ve just gone into Phase 1 of our route map out of lockdown, and that expressly recognizes that, in that phase, there is a significant risk that the epidemic is not fully contained,” she added. 

On Thursday, UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson announced that Britain would begin the gradual process of easing the lockdown restrictions on Monday, despite concerns expressed by members of SAGE, the government’s scientific advisory board. Some fear transmission rates remain too high and that the government's new test and trace system is still being rolled out.

"We're entering a period where there is a risk of increasing transmission, but we don't have that safety net yet fully in place,” Professor Peter Horby said during an interview with BBC Radio 4 on Saturday.  

During her interview with Sky News, Sturgeon urged citizens in Scotland to continue to follow the guidance issued by the government, including continued social distancing measures.

“The virus has not gone away, and it’s important that we do not become complacent,” she added. 

9:45 p.m. ET, May 31, 2020

India's Modi urges caution as country gets ready to relax lockdown

From Rishabh Pratap in New Delhi

A policeman stands guard at a road checkpoint in New Delhi on March 25, as India's lockdown begins.
A policeman stands guard at a road checkpoint in New Delhi on March 25, as India's lockdown begins. Sajjad Hussain/AFP/Getty Images

Prime Minister Narendra Modi has called on India's people to be careful and take precautions such as using face masks and maintaining social distancing in public as the country prepares to ease its nationwide lockdown from Monday.

Modi, giving his monthly radio address, praised India's tackling of Covid-19, especially in light of its large population. India is the world's second most populous nation after China.

The country has endured suffering, but everyone is resolved to continue handling it, Modi said.

He also applauded charity groups, including NGOs and volunteer organizations, saying a commitment to serving people in need was part of India's ethos and that the country had displayed this, especially amid the pandemic.

Modi also addressed the migrant crisis that the country has faced amid the nationwide lockdown, saying no section of the country was untouched by the current situation. Migrants, poor people, and laborers are the worst impacted.

The victory over coronavirus pandemic will also depend on innovation, the Prime Minister said. The road to victory over coronavirus is long and the world has not experienced anything like this ever before, Modi added.

He also mentioned other crises to have impacted the nation, including Cyclone Amphan and locust swarms, and promised all possible assistance to those affected.

India's Ministry of Home Affairs has issued a three-phase plan to lift current lockdown restrictions starting Monday.

1:31 a.m. ET, May 31, 2020

Pakistan makes face masks mandatory in public

From CNN’s Sophia Saifi in Islamabad

It is now mandatory to wear a mask in crowded public spaces across Pakistan, according to a statement released by the Ministry of Health on Sunday. Such spaces include mosques, bazaars, shopping malls and public transport.

The mandate comes as the country recorded its highest increase in cases to date, with 3,039 cases reported in the past 24 hours. Testing has not increased.

Pakistan has recorded 69,496 cases and 1,483 deaths, according to its health ministry.

4:14 p.m. ET, May 31, 2020

India announces 3-phase plan to lift restrictions outside containment zones

From CNN's Vedika Sud in Delhi and Sol Han in Hong Kong

Passengers arrive from Mumbai at the railway station in Allahabad, India on May 30.
Passengers arrive from Mumbai at the railway station in Allahabad, India on May 30. Sanjay Kanojia/AFP/Getty Images

India is introducing a phased re-opening of public spaces in some areas and a shortening of the night time curfew, according to India's Ministry of Homes Affairs.

The nationwide lockdown in containment zones, however, will be extended to June 30, but the three-phase easing of restrictions elsewhere -- called "Unlock 1" -- will begin on June 8.

Phase one will allow for the re-opening of places of worship to the public, along with hotels, restaurants, shopping malls and other hospitality services.

Prior to that, starting June 1, restrictions on the inter-state and intra-state movement of persons and goods will be lifted, unless the state or union territory decides otherwise. The curfew prohibiting the movement of individuals between 7 p.m. and 7 a.m. will be shortened to 9 p.m. to 5 a.m. nationwide.

These decisions come as India recorded 8,380 new confirmed coronavirus cases Sunday, its biggest 24-hour increase to date.

Educational, training and coaching institutions including schools and colleges will be opened after consultations with states and union territories under phase two.

Dates for restarting international air travel for passengers, except as permitted by the Ministry of Home Affairs, resuming metro rail services and reopening movie theaters, gyms, swimming pools, entertainment parks, bars, auditoriums, assembly halls and similar places will be decided in phase three.

No exact dates were provided for the start of phases two and three.

11:28 p.m. ET, May 30, 2020

World Health Organization releases new guidance for outdoor events and mass gatherings

From CNN's Arman Azad

The World Health Organization headquarters sign seen here in Geneva, Switzerland, on May 29.
The World Health Organization headquarters sign seen here in Geneva, Switzerland, on May 29. Fabrice Coffrini/AFP/Getty Images

The World Health Organization on Saturday released new guidance for mass gatherings amid the coronavirus pandemic, recommending a number of possible changes to large events -- once they’re allowed to take place.

Holding gatherings outdoors, limiting attendance to healthy people and staggering arrivals could all help limit the spread of the virus, according to the guidance.

“In the context of Covid-19, mass gatherings are events that could amplify the transmission of the virus and potentially disrupt the host country’s response capacity,” the guidance said. But it said large events offered benefits, too, such as providing employment and boosting psychological well-being.

“Since mass gatherings have substantial political, cultural, social, and economic implications, authorities should assess the importance and necessity of an event and consider the option that it may take place, provided all associated public health risks are adequately addressed and mitigated,” the guidance said.

The WHO called on public health authorities and event organizers to perform a risk assessment before any gathering and listed a number of steps organizers could take if large events do occur, such as:

  • Staggering arrivals
  • Increasing the frequency of transport
  • Designating seating
  • Venue capacity could also be adjusted
  • Events could be held virtually or outdoors

Some recommendations focused on participants, reminding people to observe physical distancing, cough etiquette and hand hygiene practices.

People at risk of developing severe illness – including those over the age of 65 or with pre-existing medical conditions – could be advised to stay away, or special arrangements could be made for them.

The WHO recommendations included a number of other measures as well, such as limiting the duration of events and providing on-site isolation facilities for people who become sick.

4:13 p.m. ET, May 31, 2020

Venezuela announces five days on, ten days off partial reopening plan

From CNN's Stefano Pozzebon in Bogota and Taylor Barnes in Atlanta

Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro speaks in a TV address in Caracas, Venezuela, March 16.
Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro speaks in a TV address in Caracas, Venezuela, March 16. Xinhua/Sipa USA

Venezuela will begin a partial reopening of nine economic sectors on June 1, which will see them open for five days and then observe quarantine for the next ten, the country's President Nicolas Maduro announced on Saturday.

Border towns will not be part of the measure and the Venezuelan border will remain shut for the foreseeable future, Maduro said.

During the ten days of quarantine, the food provision and health care sectors will be able to perform essential activities, according to the official Venezuelan News Agency.

Venezuela has so far reported 1,459 cases of the novel coronavirus and 14 deaths, according to a tracker from Johns Hopkins University.

However, a recent report said that the real number is "almost certainly much higher," citing the limited availability of reliable testing, poor transparency, and the "persecution of medical professionals and journalists who report on this issue.”

The report also said that overcrowded prisons, packed living arrangements, malnutrition, limited access to water in homes and hospitals, and frequent migration across Venezuela’s borders increased the risk of spreading the virus.

The report was published by Human Rights Watch and Johns Hopkins University’s Centers for Public Health and Human Rights and for Humanitarian Health.