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The Latest: New Zealand reports no new coronavirus cases
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By The Associated Press undefined

The Latest on the coronavirus pandemic. The new coronavirus causes mild or moderate symptoms for most people. For some, especially older adults and people with existing health problems, it can cause more severe illness or death.

TOP OF THE HOUR:

— New Zealand reports no new coronavirus cases for first time since outbreak in mid-March. 

— Some businesses in Malaysia begin to reopen before lockdown ends. 

— Trump says he thinks COVID-19 vaccine will be available by end of year. 

— Northeastern states in the U.S. to form supply chain. 

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WELLINGTON, New Zealand — New Zealand reported no new coronavirus cases Monday, marking a significant moment that indicated the country's bold strategy of trying to eliminate the virus was working. 

It was the first time since the outbreak took hold in mid-March that the country reported zero new cases. Director-General of Health Ashley Bloomfield said the figures were clearly encouraging, but the result represented a moment in time and it won't be until later this week that officials will know if new cases are continuing to pop up in the community. He said the result was a cause for celebration and was symbolic of the efforts of the entire country. 

New Zealand closed its borders and imposed a strict monthlong lockdown after the outbreak began. The lockdown rules were eased a little last week to help reopen the economy, but many restrictions remain in place. 

Many businesses — including most retail stores and sit-down restaurants — remain closed, most school children are learning from home, and people are required to maintain social distancing. New Zealand has reported nearly 1,500 cases of the virus and 20 deaths.

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KUALA LUMPUR, Malaysia — Many business sectors reopened Monday in some parts of Malaysia for the first time since a partial coronavirus lockdown began March 18. 

The easing of restrictions, days before the lockdown was due to end May 12, came as Prime Minister Muhyiddin Yassin's government sought to balance between curbing the virus and reviving the hard-hit economy. But the move has split public opinion amid fears that the sudden reopening of economic activities could spark a new wave of infection. 

Nine of the country's 13 states have either refused to open up yet or restricted the list of businesses that can operate. More than half a million Malaysians have also protested by signing online petitions to call for a more gradual approach to rolling back the restrictions. 

Muhyiddin said Friday it was time to heal the economy, which has lost billions of dollars, but businesses must follow strict health measures and mass gatherings will still be banned. That means places such as schools, cinemas and worship houses will stay shut, group sports are prohibited, and interstate travel remains banned. 

Virus cases have dropped sharply in recent weeks but the number crept up with 227 infections reported over the weekend. Malaysia has confirmed 6,298 cases, with 105 deaths. 

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WASHINGTON — President Donald Trump says he believes a vaccine for COVID-19 will be available by the end of the year.

Trump also says the U.S. government is putting its "full power and might" behind remdesivir, a drug that has shown early promise as a treatment for the disease caused by the new coronavirus.

Trump commented Sunday night during a televised town hall sponsored by Fox News Channel.

Trump sat inside the Lincoln Memorial and fielded questions from two Fox hosts, as well as from people who submitted questions over Fox's social media platforms.

Trump responded to a Nebraska man who recovered from COVID-19 by saying: "We think we are going to have a vaccine by the end of this year."

He also said his administration was pushing hard for remdesivir.

U.S. public health officials have said a vaccine is probably a year to 18 months away. But Dr. Anthony Fauci said in late April that it's conceivable, if a vaccine is developed soon, it could be in wide distribution as soon as January.

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NEW YORK — After working with neighboring states on coronavirus-related closing and reopening plans, Gov. Andrew Cuomo said Sunday that New York will join with states from Massachusetts to Delaware to create a regional supply chain for masks, gowns, ventilators, testing supplies and other equipment vital to fighting the disease.

The states are joining together after months of dealing separately with what Cuomo said was a "totally inefficient and ineffective" purchasing process that pitted all 50 states against each other, as well as the federal government and other entities, driving up prices as supplies dried up.

New York buys about $2 billion worth of medical equipment supplies per year, Cuomo said. The other states joining the consortium together spend about $5 billion per year. Working together, they'll have stronger purchasing power and improve their clout with global suppliers, Cuomo said.

"It will make us more competitive in the international marketplace and I believe it will save taxpayers money," Cuomo said. "I also believe it will actually help us get the equipment, because we have trouble still getting the equipment."

The other states in the consortium are Connecticut, Rhode Island, New Jersey and Pennsylvania. One goal, the states' governors said, is to find suppliers within the region, instead of relying on swamped manufacturers in China and other faraway places.

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WASHINGTON — Michigan's governor says gun-carrying protesters who demonstrated inside her state's Capitol "depicted some of the worst racism" and "awful parts" of U.S. history. 

Democrat Gretchen Whitmer tells CNN that the protests featured "Confederate Flags, and nooses," as well as swastikas.

Members of the Michigan Liberty Militia protested the state's stay-at-home orders this week, some with weapons and tactical gear and their faces partially covered. They went inside the Capitol, where being armed is allowed, then demanded access to the House floor, which is prohibited. 

Some went to the Senate gallery, where a senator said armed men shouted at her.

Michigan's Republican-controlled Legislature has questioned Whitmer's authority to extend stay-at-home orders amid the coronavirus pandemic. But the governor used an executive order to extend a state of emergency declaration and has directed most businesses statewide to remain closed. 

Mentioned as a possible running mate for presumptive Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden, Whitmer said Sunday, "This isn't something we just negotiate ourselves out of and it's a political matter." 

"This is a public health crisis," she said.

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WASHINGTON — Secretary of State Mike Pompeo says China has been responsible for the spread of disease in the past and must be held accountable for the coronavirus pandemic that originated in the country.

In comments likely to spark protests from Beijing and elsewhere, Pompeo said "China has a history of infecting the world." He cited poor safety and security at epidemiological laboratories, including in the city of Wuhan where the virus was first reported.

He stressed that he had no reason to believe the virus was deliberately spread but he ramped up already harsh U.S. criticism of the Chinese for their response to the outbreak.

"Remember, China has a history of infecting the world, and they have a history of running substandard laboratories," Pompeo said Sunday on ABC's "This Week" program. 

"These are not the first times that we've had a world exposed to viruses as a result of failures in a Chinese lab. And so, while the intelligence community continues to do its work, they should continue to do that, and verify so that we are certain, I can tell you that there is a significant amount of evidence that this came from that laboratory in Wuhan."

Pompeo appeared to be referring to previous outbreaks of respiratory viruses, like SARS, which started in China. But his remark may be seen as offensive in China given the history of U.S. discrimination against the Chinese and people of Chinese origin dating to the 19th century.

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ROME — On the eve of the start in Italy of partially eased restriction on citizens' movements during COVID-19 lockdown, the nation received some encouraging news after weeks of grim daily tallies of caseload and deaths. 

Health Ministry figures put the number of deaths in the 24-hour period ending Sunday evening at 174, the lowest day-to-day number since 168 on March 10, at the start of national lockdown. 

The number of new cases, 1,389, was also the lowest the nation has seen in two months. Italy's number of known COVID-19 infections total is 210,717, although authorities say the number is likely higher as many infections in people with no or almost no symptoms are believed to have gone undetected. 

Italy's death toll stands at 28,884, but that number, too, could be much higher, since many elderly persons in recent weeks died in nursing homes but weren't tested to see if they had coronavirus infection.

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OLYMPIA, Wash. — More than 100 state parks, trails and boating sites across Washington state will re-open Tuesday as some coronavirus restrictions are eased, but many popular sites remain closed indefinitely, according to officials.

Parks that open will be limited to daytime use only and the number of parking spaces will be reduced at some urban parks to discourage crowding. Public lands managed by the Department of Natural Resources and Department of Fish and Wildlife also will reopen Tuesday.

All ocean beach parks and parks along the Columbia River Gorge on the Washington-Oregon border will remain closed to reduce impacts on rural communities and prevent crowds, according to Washington State Parks. 

Discussions on when those sites could open are ongoing and involve park administrators, local community leaders and Oregon officials, state parks officials said.

The parks have been closed more than a month and are being re-opened under the first phase of the Gov. Jay Inslee's plan to ease rules imposed to prevent the spread of the virus. Beaches and campgrounds would re-open under the second phase of the plan, although large gatherings would still be banned.

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WASHINGTON — The Justice Department has filed a statement of interest siding with a Virginia church suing the state's governor over restrictions because of the coronavirus.

The filing was made Sunday in support of the Lighthouse Fellowship Church.

The lawsuit alleges the church's pastor, Kevin Wilson, was issued a criminal citation because he held a service with 16 people on April 5.

Authorities allege the church violated the state's ban on gatherings of more than 10 people.

The Justice Department's filing, citing the lawsuit, says the church had maintained social distancing and had extensive sanitizing of common surfaces. The church said attendees had to stay 6 feet apart and use hand sanitizer before entering the building.

The Justice Department says Virginia "cannot treat religious gatherings less favorably than other similar, secular gatherings."

A judge had denied the church's motion for a temporary restraining order and preliminary injunction on Friday.

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NEW YORK — A New York City police officer who was caught on video Saturday pointing a stun gun at a man and violently taking him to the ground over an alleged social distancing violation has been stripped of his gun and badge and placed on desk duty pending an internal investigation.

Bystander video showed the plainclothes officer, who was not wearing a protective face mask, slapping 33-year-old Donni Wright in the face, punching him in the shoulder and dragging him to a sidewalk after leveling him in a crosswalk in Manhattan's East Village.

"There will unquestionably be a careful look at what happened there," Mayor Bill de Blasio said Sunday.

Police spokeswoman Sgt. Mary Frances O'Donnell said Wright "took a fighting stance against the officer" when he was ordered to disperse and was arrested on charges including assault on a police officer and resisting arrest. Wright had not been arraigned as of Sunday afternoon, prosecutors said.

A message seeking comment was left with the police officers' union.

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PHOENIX — Two Arizona sheriffs are refusing to enforce Gov. Doug Ducey's stay-at-home order as the state continues to deal with the coronavirus.

Mohave County Sheriff Doug Schuster and Pinal County Sheriff Mark Lamb both said they aren't going to hand out fines, citations or arrest people who disobey the governor's mandate that has been extended through May 15.

Mohave County is in northwestern Arizona with Pinal County located south of Phoenix. Of Arizona's 15 counties, the state's two most populous -- Maricopa and Pima -- have the most COVID-19 cases by far.

"I'm not going to make criminals out of law-abiding citizens," Schuster told Phoenix TV station KTVK. "As a sheriff, I cannot in good conscience issue citations or arrest people for not social distancing."

"It's unfortunate that we're here but I need to make a stand for the people and for freedom," Lamb said. "I don't want to cite, fine or arrest fine people."

Ducey already has laid out consequences for violating his stay-at-home order: a $2,500 fine and up to six months in jail.

But Schuster and Lamb said they will not enforce the mandate.

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MEXICO CITY — Mexico is turning its Formula 1 course into a temporary hospital for COVID-19 patients.

Zoe Robledo, director general of Mexico's Social Security Institute, said Sunday that authorities in Mexico City expect cases to peak next week, and some hospitals have already reported they're unable to take more coronavirus patients.

The paddocks and suites along the front straight at the Hermanos Rodriguez course are being fitted out with eight hospital modules with 24 beds in each. The pits will be used as offices for consultations with people reporting symptoms of the disease.

Lucila Olvera, who heads medical infrastructure for the agency, said the temporary hospital should be ready to receive patients by May 13.

The next Formula 1 event at the track isn't until Nov. 1.

As of midday Sunday, Mexican authorities had reported 22,088 confirmed cases of COVID-19 and 2,061 deaths, though they acknowledge that because of limited testing, the actual number of infections is a multiple of the confirmed figure.

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BATON ROUGE, La. — Louisiana lawmakers are restarting their legislative session Monday in a state reshaped by the coronavirus pandemic.

They are grappling with new budget troubles, squabbling over what bills should take priority and feuding over whether they should return at all.

Republicans want to resume the final four weeks of a session that began March 9 -- the same day Louisiana had its first positive coronavirus test. 

Democrats say it's unsafe to bring hundreds of people into the Capitol.

Nearly 2,000 Louisianans have died from the virus, including a House lawmaker. Senate President Page Cortez and House Speaker Clay Schexnayder, both Republicans, are pledging intense cleaning and protective measures. 

But while masks are "encouraged" for the building, they won't be required.

Democratic Rep. Ted James of Baton Rouge was hospitalized for days with COVID-19. He announced on Twitter he wouldn't attend session Monday "and do not see myself going to the Capitol in the foreseeable future." He called the return irresponsible and said "there is no safe way to practice social distancing."