May 21 coronavirus news

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2:39 a.m. ET, May 21, 2020

Global coronavirus cases surpass 5 million

At least 5,000,038 cases of Covid-19 have now been recorded globally, according to data compiled by Johns Hopkins University.

The global death toll stands at 328,172.

These 5 countries are reporting the highest number of cases:

  • United States: 1,551,853
  • Russia: 308,705
  • Brazil: 291,579
  • UK: 249,619
  • Spain: 232,555

CNN is tracking worldwide coronavirus cases here:

2:34 a.m. ET, May 21, 2020

Opinion: Is China the new leader on the world health stage?

Editor's note: Michael Bociurkiw is a global affairs analyst, former spokesman for the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe and host of the podcast Global Impact. The opinions expressed here are his.

The World Health Assembly (WHA) -- the biggest event on the global health agenda -- held on Monday and Tuesday this week, can be easily summed up: The Trump administration threatened to take the UN agency off life support as it fights a global pandemic -- and Chinese President Xi Jinping threw it a new lifeline.

Xi -- widely criticized for his government's failure to sound the alarm over the situation in Wuhan, where the novel coronavirus outbreak began -- was able to manipulate the 73rd WHA into a much-needed PR makeover for China.

Meanwhile, the United States walked away, threatening to pull funding and membership from the World Health Organization (WHO) -- potentially hobbling its ability to deliver a robust response to the ongoing Covid-19 pandemic.

Trump has already withdrawn the US from other UN agencies -- such as the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) and United Nations Human Rights Council (UNHCR) -- and from such landmark agreements as the Paris climate accord.

In a wider context, what we saw play out at the WHA was more proof of the Trump administration's abdication of America's traditional role as guarantor of globalization -- and the unwitting creation of a void for the Middle Kingdom to exploit.

Read the full op-ed here:

2:11 a.m. ET, May 21, 2020

Children in Asia are going back to school. But education looks different in the time of coronavirus

Senior students eat lunch at tables equipped with plastic barriers to prevent possible spread of the novel coronavirus in the cafeteria at Jeonmin High School in Daejeon, South Korea on May 20.
Senior students eat lunch at tables equipped with plastic barriers to prevent possible spread of the novel coronavirus in the cafeteria at Jeonmin High School in Daejeon, South Korea on May 20. Kim Jun-beom/Yonhap/AP

For the first time in three months, South Korean high school students are back in the classroom.

But in many ways, it's not schooling as usual.

As high school seniors returned to school Wednesday, they had their temperatures checked, wore masks on campus, and sat at desks that were spaced apart, in line with commonplace social distancing practices.

However, within hours of reopening, dozens of schools in Incheon, a city near the capital Seoul, were forced to shut again after two students tested positive for coronavirus.

South Korea -- which has reported more than 11,100 coronavirus cases and 264 deaths -- appears to have its outbreak largely under control. Now, the country is trying to get back to something approaching normal life.

But South Korea's experience shows that reopening schools doesn't mean a return to normal -- and carries continued risks.

School is also starting in other countries in Asia Pacific. In New Zealand, which has been praised for its swift approach to controlling the virus, students around the country headed back to school on Monday after eight weeks at home.

In parts of Australia, children are already back at school.

In China -- where the first coronavirus cases were reported last year -- students began going back to school in March, according to state news agency Xinhua. Earlier this month, the Education Ministry said that about 40% of students were back in the classroom.

Read the full story:

1:52 a.m. ET, May 21, 2020

Melania Trump to take part in CNN's coronavirus town hall

First Lady Melania Trump is seated as US President Donald Trump speaks during a presidential recognition ceremony in the Rose Garden of the White House on May 15 in Washington.
First Lady Melania Trump is seated as US President Donald Trump speaks during a presidential recognition ceremony in the Rose Garden of the White House on May 15 in Washington. Alex Brandon/AP

US first lady Melania Trump will take part Thursday evening in CNN's weekly global town hall on coronavirus.

Her remarks, which will be pre-recorded, are the first solo broadcast message from the first lady since the onset of the pandemic.

It is anticipated she will specifically address the nation's students, most of whom have had their academic lives altered by stay-at-home orders and other precautionary health measures.

This week's town hall, hosted by CNN's Anderson Cooper and Dr. Sanjay Gupta, is focused, in part, on education and the disruption to schools and colleges because of Covid-19.

How to watch: The town hall will air on CNN, CNN International and CNN en Español. It will stream live at 8 p.m. ET on CNN.com's homepage and across mobile devices via CNN's apps, without requiring a cable log-in. You can also watch on CNNgo, and subscribers to cable/satellite systems can watch it on-demand.

1:29 a.m. ET, May 21, 2020

Children have fewer coronavirus receptors in their noses, study finds

A pathologist holds a nasal swab from a Covid-19 test kit.
A pathologist holds a nasal swab from a Covid-19 test kit. Michael Nagle/Bloomberg/Getty Images

The receptors that let the coronavirus into our cells appear to be less common in children's noses -- which may be why kids are less likely to get sick with the virus, according to a new study.

The receptor is a kind of molecular doorway into cells called ACE2. The study, which looked at samples from more than 300 people between the ages of 4 and 60, found that older adults had more active receptors in their nose, while children under 10 had less.

“Lower ACE2 expression in children relative to adults may help explain why Covid-19 is less prevalent in children,” wrote researchers from the Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai in the Journal of the American Medical Association.

Their research only looked at the cells that line the inside of the nose, which they described as the “first point of contact for (the novel coronavirus) and the human body.”

However, the receptor in other places like the respiratory tract could have different effects -- perhaps even protecting against disease. The new study didn’t look for the receptors there or elsewhere in the body. 

1:09 a.m. ET, May 21, 2020

Beijing needs to create jobs fast. Here's what it could do

China's biggest political gathering of the year is finally taking place after a two-month delay. At the top of the agenda: how to tackle the country's biggest economic challenge in decades.

One of the most pressing issues Beijing policymakers face is how to create jobs for tens of millions of people who have been left unemployed after the coronavirus all but shut down China for several weeks.

This year's "Two Sessions" meeting kicks off Thursday with a gathering of top political advisers to the ruling Communist Party. Then on Friday, the National People's Congress -- the country's rubber-stamp parliament -- will meet. Premier Li Keqiang is also expected to set out some economic goals for 2020, as well as policies needed to achieve them.

Creating jobs has a lot of political significance for China's Communist Party leaders, who see employment as key to ensuring social stability. Some experts estimate that roughly 80 million people could already be out of work in the country, equivalent to nearly double the official rate of unemployment.

The government could take several approaches to dealing with that issue, as well as work toward its goal of eliminating poverty by the end of 2020. For example, major national projects, such as plans to build new roads or railways, could prioritize employing the poor, according to economists at BNP Paribas.

Read the full story:

12:50 a.m. ET, May 21, 2020

Pakistan's coronavirus death toll passes 1,000 as it continues reopening

Passengers wearing face masks as a precaution against coronavirus arrive at Rawalpindi railway station in Pakistan on Wednesday.
Passengers wearing face masks as a precaution against coronavirus arrive at Rawalpindi railway station in Pakistan on Wednesday. Muhammed Reza/Anadolu Agency/Getty Images

Pakistan's coronavirus death toll has passed the 1,000 mark, according to the country's health ministry.

The country has now recorded at least 48,091 confirmed cases and 1,017 deaths, the ministry said.

Pakistan reported its first Covid-19 death on March 18, and implemented a nationwide lockdown soon after.

It was eased earlier this month, with restrictions lifting in several phases. Though some shops and manufacturers have already resumed business, all schools remain closed until July 15.

"We are doing this because the people of our country our suffering economically," said Prime Minister Imran Khan when announcing the measures would be lifted.
12:30 a.m. ET, May 21, 2020

More than 200 coronavirus cases linked to South Korea nightclub cluster

People wearing masks walk by a closed nightclub in the Itaewon district of Seoul.
People wearing masks walk by a closed nightclub in the Itaewon district of Seoul. Simon Shin/SOPA Images/LightRocket/Getty Images

In South Korea, 201 coronavirus cases have now been linked to a nightclub cluster in the capital Seoul, health officials said today.

The cluster, which was identified on May 9, has been traced to the entertainment district of Itaewon.

After cases began emerging, authorities used credit card records, cell phone data, and other methods to identify people who had visited the affected area. Tens of thousands of people have now been tested in relation to the cluster.

The cluster is sparking other closures. A patient linked to the cluster used a coin-operated karaoke room in the city of Incheon. Two high school students then used that room, contracted the virus and passed it onto their families, said health official Yoon Tae-ho.

Incheon is now closing all such coin-operated karaoke rooms.

A total of 66 Incheon high schools closed yesterday, and will conduct classes online while authorities carry out epidemiological studies.

Meanwhile, in the southern city of Daegu, a high school sent all students home and closed after a student tested positive for the virus this morning, said an official at the Daegu Metropolitan Office of Education.

In February, when South Korea's case numbers exploded, Daegu was at the heart of the country's outbreak. Many of the cases were linked to the Shincheonji religious group, a branch of which was based in the city.

12:09 a.m. ET, May 21, 2020

US could have prevented majority of deaths and cases if it shut down sooner, new model finds

Seating is closed off at a restaurant in Linden, New Jersey.
Seating is closed off at a restaurant in Linden, New Jersey. Spencer Platt/Getty Images

If the United States had implemented social distancing policies just a week sooner, it could have prevented more than half the number of coronavirus deaths and infections, according to new research from Columbia University. 

And if the country had locked down two weeks earlier than it did, it could have prevented 84% of deaths and 82% of cases, said the the research team, led by epidemiologist Jeffrey Shaman.

“Our findings underscore the importance of early intervention and aggressive response in controlling the Covid-19 pandemic,” the researchers wrote in the report, published online in the pre-print server MedRxiv.

Their findings have not been reviewed by other experts for accuracy.

The US timeline: The first US case was reported at the end of January. It wasn’t until mid-March that the Trump administration urged Americans to avoid groups and limit travel. That’s also when cities like New York started to close schools. 

The study used epidemiologic modeling to gauge transmission rates from March 15 to May 3 and determine the impact social distancing could have.

The first days were crucial. “During the initial growth of a pandemic, infections increase exponentially. As a consequence, early intervention and fast response are critical,” the researchers wrote.

But they admitted it’s also true that they could not account for how people would have responded to earlier policies.

“Public compliance with social distancing rules may also lag due to sub-optimal awareness of infection risk,” they said.

All 50 states are now in some stage of reopening. If local leaders detect a growth in new cases, they should respond quickly, the Columbia team said -- a longer response time results in a stronger rebound of infections and death.