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Lowered flags honor virus victims in US

China Daily | Updated: 2020-05-23 08:59

Circles designed to help prevent the spread of the coronavirus keep visitors socially distanced in San Francisco's Dolores Park on Thursday. NOAH BERGER/ASSOCIATED PRESS

US President Donald Trump on Thursday ordered US flags to be lowered to half-staff for three days in honor of those who have died from the coronavirus in the United States.

The announcement came as the country's COVID-19 death toll approaches the 100,000 mark, and followed calls by Democrats to lower the flag when it reaches that grim milestone.

"I will be lowering the flags on all Federal Buildings and National Monuments to half-staff over the next three days in memory of the Americans we have lost to the Coronavirus," Trump tweeted.

The Republican president added that flags would remain at half-staff on Monday for the country's Memorial Day, honoring those who died while serving in the US military.

The US recorded 1,255 coronavirus deaths in the 24 hours to 8 pm local time on Thursday, bringing the total to 94,661, according to the latest real-time tally reported by Johns Hopkins University.

The country hit hardest hit by the pandemic has now confirmed 1,576,542 cases, the Baltimore-based university reported.

Globally, as of Friday afternoon, there have been 4,962,707 confirmed cases of COVID-19, including 326,459 deaths, according to the World Health Organization.

During a tour of a Ford manufacturing plant in the state of Michigan on Thursday, Trump said the US would not close in the event of a second wave of the virus.

"People say that's a very distinct possibility. It's standard. And we're going to put out the fires. We're not going to close the country. We're going to put out the fires," Trump told reporters when asked if he was concerned about a second wave.

The number of US citizens applying for unemployment benefits in the two months since the coronavirus took hold in the US has swelled to nearly 39 million, the government reported on Thursday, even as states from coast to coast gradually reopen their economies and let people go back to work.

Nearly 2.4 million people filed for unemployment benefits last week in the latest wave of layoffs from the business shutdowns that have brought the economy to its knees, the Labor Department said.

Also on Thursday, the US Transportation Security Administration, or TSA, revised airport screening procedures to limit the risk of spreading the novel coronavirus among its employees and air travelers.

Effective immediately, passengers will be asked to observe social distancing and place their boarding passes on computer scanners themselves rather than handing them to TSA agents.

The agency said it now will require travelers to remove wallets, keys, belts and phones and place them in a carry-on bag rather than in a bin "to reduce touch-points during the screening process".

In Brazil, the death toll surpassed 20,000 on Thursday, after a record number of fatalities in a 24-hour period, the Health Ministry said.

The country is the epicenter of the outbreak in Latin America, and its highest one-day toll of 1,188 pushed the overall death tally to 20,047. Brazil has now recorded more than 310,000 cases, with experts saying a lack of testing means the real figures are probably much higher.

Brazil's President Jair Bolsonaro on Thursday said he would sign off on a federal assistance program "as soon as possible", which will distribute 60 billion reais ($10.7 billion) in federal money to states and municipalities hit by the coronavirus outbreak, but he asked governors for support freezing public-sector pay increases.

Scott Reeves in New York, Xinhua and agencies contributed to this story.

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