Coronavirus live updates: UN fears possible ‘hunger pandemic’; vaccine official decries dismissal; Trump disagrees with Georgia reopening

The head of the United Nations World Food Program warned that the coronavirus pandemic could lead to a global food shortage creating a "hunger pandemic." In U.S. communities where there are fewer grocery stores, finding healthy food has become difficult.

"If we don’t prepare and act now – to secure access, avoid funding shortfalls and disruptions to trade – we could be facing multiple famines of biblical proportions within a short few months," David Beasley, the program's executive director, said Wednesday during a virtual session of the U.N. Security Council.

On Thursday, the House will take up the legislation primarily aimed at providing assistance to small businesses suffering from the economic impact of the coronavirus pandemic.

The bill's potential passage comes as states, like Georgia and Florida, are slowly beginning to reopen their economies. President Trump was critical of Georgia's aggressive plans to reopen some businesses including spas, salons and tattoo parlors.

"I told the governor of Georgia, Brian Kemp, that I disagree, strongly, with his decision to open certain facilities,” Trump told reporters Wednesday. But Trump also said Kemp "must do what he thinks is right."

The virus has killed more than 183,000 people globally. More than 2.6 million confirmed cases have been reported, including over 842,000 in the U.S., according to Johns Hopkins University data. There are over 46,000 deaths reported in the U.S..

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HHS vaccine official says he was ousted over drugs Trump touted as treatment

A Health and Human Services official helping to develop a coronavirus vaccine said Wednesday he was removed from his post because he questioned the value of drugs being pushed by President Donald Trump.

"Sidelining me in the middle of this pandemic and placing politics and cronyism ahead of science puts lives at risk and stunts national efforts to safely and effectively address this urgent public health crisis," Rick Bright said in a statement calling for an Inspector General's investigation.

Bright, who until this week was director of the HHS Biomedical Advanced Research and Development Authority (BARDA), said he "resisted efforts to fund potentially dangerous drugs promoted by those with political connections," according to the statement issued by the law firm Katz, Marshall & Banks.

– David Jackson

CDC chief: Next round of COVID-19 could be 'more difficult'

The director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention warns that a second wave of the coronavirus outbreak in the fall could be create more challenges than the current situation sweeping the nation because it would come at the opening of flu season. The outbreak has strained the capacity of hospitals, and states hit hardest have scrambled for respirators, ventilators and protective gear.

"There's a possibility that the assault of the virus on our nation next winter will actually be even more difficult than the one we just went through," CDC Director Robert Redfield told The Washington Post. "We’re going to have the flu epidemic and the coronavirus epidemic at the same time."

Redfield later clarified his comments at Wednesday's White House briefing by saying that being "more difficult" didn't imply that there would a higher rate of deaths than the country is currently experiencing.

– William Cummings

Trump disagrees with Georgia governor's reopening plan

President Donald Trump was critical of Georgia Gov. Brian Kemp's decision to move quickly to reopen parts of the state's economy, but said the final call belongs to the governor.

"I told the governor of Georgia, Brian Kemp, that I disagree, strongly, with his decision to open certain facilities,” Trump told reporters, saying the state's coronavirus case numbers don't meet the threshold needed to reopen certain businesses under the White House's guidelines.

However, Trump added that Kemp must do "what he thinks is right."

A spokesman for Kemp did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

Kemp, a Trump ally, announced a plan this week that would allow nail salons, massage parlors, bowling alleys and gyms to open Friday. Church services can resume this weekend, and restaurants and movie theaters can follow suit in limited ways starting on Monday.

Disputing that plan during a news briefing at the White House, Trump said it's "just too soon" for places like "spas and beauty salons and tattoo parlors and barber shops."

"They can wait a little bit longer," Trump said. "Just a little bit, not much."

– David Jackson and John Fritze

Outbreak could prompt 'hunger pandemic'

The coronavirus outbreak threatens to exacerbate existing global food shortage crises to create a "hunger pandemic," the head of the United Nations World Food Program warned. David Beasley, the program's executive director, said during a virtual session of the U.N. Security Council that the COVID-19 pandemic will leave more than a quarter of a billion people facing acute hunger by the end of the year. Beasley called for a "global ceasefire" and for the parties engaged in conflicts around the world to give the WFP "swift and unimpeded humanitarian access" to all vulnerable populations.

"If we don’t prepare and act now – to secure access, avoid funding shortfalls and disruptions to trade – we could be facing multiple famines of biblical proportions within a short few months," Beasley said.

– William Cummings

Stocks surge as oil prices continue decline

U.S. stocks closed higher Wednesday, shaking off the continued decline in oil prices that had pushed markets lower earlier in the week. The S&P 500 rose 2.3% to 2,799.31, following milder gains in Europe and Asia. Treasury yields inched higher in a sign of a bit less pessimism in the market. The Dow Jones Industrial Average gained 456.94 points, or 2%, to 23,475.82, and the Nasdaq was up 2.8%.

Asian shares opened higher Thursday following the rally on Wall Street. Japan’s benchmark Nikkei 225 added 1.2% to 19,370.42 in morning trading, while South Korea’s Kospi rose 06% to 1,907.92. Australia’s S&P/ASX 200 also added 0.6% to 5,252.20. Hong Kong’s Hang Seng edged up 0.7% to 24,066.68, while the Shanghai Composite inched up 0.2% to 2,850.80.

- The Associated Press

Bloomberg to lead contact tracing for New York, New Jersey, Connecticut

Former New York City mayor Michael Bloomberg has volunteered to help develop and implement a three-state contact tracing program for Connecticut, New Jersey and New York, New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo said Wednesday. The program requires significant manpower to identify infected patients and trace new potential cases. Cuomo said the state effort “will literally need thousands” of tracers. New York will also partner with Johns Hopkins and Vital Strategies for the tracing operation.

“He has tremendous insight both governmentally and from the private sector,” Cuomo said. “Remember his company, Bloomberg, they went through the China closedown, the European closedown, opened up, so he has had quite a bit of experience in this area.”

More coronavirus news and information from USA TODAY:

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Pet cats in New York have first known cases among domestic animals in U.S.

Two pet cats in New York state have tested positive for the coronavirus, marking the first confirmed cases in companion animals in the U.S., federal officials said Wednesday.

The cats, which had mild respiratory illnesses and are expected to recover and are in different parts of the state, are thought to have contracted the virus from people in their households or neighborhoods, the U.S. Department of Agriculture and the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said. There had previously been cases of infected tigers and lions at the Bronx Zoo.

U.S. authorities say that while it appears some animals can get the virus from people, there's no indication the animals are transmitting it to humans.

Source: https://www.usatoday.com/story/news/health/2020/04/23/coronavirus-updates-vaccines-georgia-trump-covid-19/3005625001/

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