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Wuhan Plan to Test All 11 Million Residents for Coronavirus Raises Doubts -- 8th Update

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05/15/2020 | 05:57pm EDT

By Rebecca Ballhaus, Jimmy Vielkind and Tarini Parti

Coronavirus-related restrictions eased further Friday in parts of the U.S., as new data showed the economic damage caused by lockdowns designed to limit the contagion, and the White House detailed an effort to pursue a vaccine.

There have been more than 4.5 million cases of infection since the virus was detected in Wuhan, China, late last year, according to data compiled by Johns Hopkins University. More than 306,000 deaths world-wide have been linked to Covid-19, the respiratory disease caused by the virus, with reported U.S. fatalities nearly 87,000, according to the data. Experts say the official numbers probably understate the extent of the pandemic.

In a sign of the coronavirus's economic impact, U.S. retail spending fell a record 16.4% in April, the Commerce Department reported Friday, as consumers pulled back on shopping and eating out. Industrial production plunged 11.2%, its steepest monthly decline on records dating back more than a century.

Stocks edged higher Friday but notched weekly declines, as investors weighed the data and the possibility of renewed trade tensions with China.

President Trump said the administration was pushing ahead to produce millions of vaccine doses by year's end. He said a former pharmaceutical executive and a four-star general would lead the effort, dubbed Operation Warp Speed.

Moncef Slaoui, former chairman of vaccines at GlaxoSmithKline PLC, who will be helping lead the initiative, called that goal "credible" and said the administration would "do the utmost" to meet those objectives.

Government scientists have said that developing and producing a vaccine in mass quantities could take at least 12 to 18 months, but experts are looking for ways to speed up the process.

Mr. Trump also said the virus would "go away" at some point regardless of the development of a vaccine and reiterated his support for easing coronavirus lockdowns. "I just want to make something clear. It's very important. Vaccine or no vaccine, we are back" he said.

Vice President Mike Pence on Friday added five new members to the coronavirus task force: Secretary of Agriculture Sonny Perdue, Secretary of Labor Gene Scalia, National Institutes of Health director Francis Collins, FDA Director of the Center for Biologics Evaluation and Research Peter Marks and Health Resources and Services Administration administrator Thomas Engels.

Mr. Trump said last week that the task force would shift its focus to reopening the country and developing a vaccine, reversing course a day after administration officials said they were planning to disband the group by the end of May.

Meanwhile, the House was expected to pass a $3 trillion coronavirus-relief bill, largely along party lines. Democrats say more spending is needed to prop up businesses and households while many Republicans have taken a wait-and-see approach, hoping reopenings in some states will revive the economy.

Inadequate testing, varied reporting standards and a lack of coordination have made it difficult for states to get a handle on case counts and national trends, complicating efforts to reopen.

Without a clear picture of the national outlook, states easing out of shutdowns are taking different approaches. Indiana and some other states have allowed nonessential businesses adhering to hygiene and social-distancing guidelines to reopen, while in California and Illinois they remain closed.

Parts of New York state reopened Friday, allowing agriculture, construction, forestry and modified retail operations to resume.

The Oakdale Mall in Johnson City, N.Y., just outside Binghamton, was directing customers to a single entrance, where employees of some of its 70 stores were bringing their wares for pickup. Courtney Rozen, a spokeswoman for the mall, said many stores would need more time to prepare and get approvals from corporate offices.

Luke Silver, who owns a small contracting business near Binghamton, said he was excited to get back to work. He said he was frustrated and at times confused by the state's closure orders. Home Depot stores were able to remain open, but a roofing supplier his business uses wasn't.

New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo said Friday that local officials would closely monitor infection rates where restrictions have been lifted and could reimpose parts of the closure order.

Outdoor dining at restaurants in parts of Virginia resumed Friday, but some owners in Charlottesville weren't in a rush to expand beyond takeout and delivery services.

Many don't have the type of outdoor seating that would meet Gov. Ralph Northam's reopening criteria, which includes setting tables 6 feet apart and having enough space for people to socially distance on sidewalks while waiting.

Andrew Centofante, 37 years old, owner of North American Sake Brewery, said he was still working on getting his patio in order. He also wants to wait a week and assess how willing customers are to venture out.

Next door to Mr. Centofante's business, at Three Notch'd Brewing and Craft Kitchen, a few people were already waiting in line Friday afternoon to get an open table.

Hair salons and barbershops that chose to open said they were seeing a steady business so far.

"Normally, we're probably booked like a week or two out, and we're booked through the month," said Anna Woodie, 37, owner of The Cutting Edge Salon, a hair salon in Charlottesville.

Florida's two hardest-hit counties will be allowed to begin reopening Monday. Miami-Dade and Broward counties have the state's highest number of confirmed cases of Covid-19, according to the Florida Department of Health. Bars won't be open, but Gov. Ron DeSantis said gyms and restaurants could operate with some restrictions.

In Orlando, a Florida tourist destination that relies on the 75 million visitors a year who produce $75 billion in revenue, the Disney, Universal and SeaWorld theme parks could be among the last businesses in the state to reopen given the complexity of social distancing and cleaning.

Tennessee on Friday laid out an ambitious reopening plan for most of the state. Gov. Bill Lee said next week the state would lift all capacity restrictions at restaurants and retail businesses.

It will also release guidelines that would pave the way for larger "non-contact" attractions, such as racetracks and amusement parks, to reopen as soon as May 22. The changes apply to most of the state, though counties that are home to Tennessee's biggest cities, including Nashville, have been reopening at different rates.

Protesters gathered in Pennsylvania's capital Friday, a day after Mr. Trump, visiting a medical-distribution company in the state, remarked, "We've got to get your governor in Pennsylvania to start to open up here." Gov. Tom Wolf, a Democrat, has threatened to withhold federal aid to counties that open before the state changes its guidance.

Two months of restrictions designed to curb the virus have battered economies world-wide.

Germany's economy fell into recession in the first quarter, shrinking at its second-fastest pace since reunification. In China, the first major country to chart a path out of lockdown, there were signs that parts of the economy were recovering, though rising joblessness continued to weigh heavily on consumer spending.

The government of the Chinese city of Wuhan, where a new cluster of infections has raised fear of a second wave of transmission, said it would test all 11 million residents.

The city government said it has tested three million so far, with priority given to residents who haven't previously been tested, the elderly and people who live in densely populated housing estates.

China marked its first 30-day period without new reported deaths from the coronavirus, with the tally unchanged at 4,633 since April 14. The number of reported cases in mainland China rose to 82,933 on Friday, after the National Health Commission reported four new infections, all related to a recent cluster of unknown origin in the northeastern province of Jilin, which raised its alert level to medium from low on Friday.

Write to Rebecca Ballhaus at Rebecca.Ballhaus@wsj.com, Jimmy Vielkind at Jimmy.Vielkind@wsj.com and Tarini Parti at Tarini.Parti@wsj.com


Stocks mentioned in the article
ChangeLast1st jan.
AT HOME GROUP INC. -2.99% 21.12 Delayed Quote.284.00%
GLAXOSMITHKLINE PLC -0.82% 1398.4 Delayed Quote.-21.50%
JUST GROUP PLC 1.74% 44.48 Delayed Quote.-43.70%
MEMBERS CO., LTD. 4.60% 2161 End-of-day quote.-5.09%
NEXT PLC 2.22% 6166 Delayed Quote.-12.14%
SHIFT, INC. 2.80% 16860 End-of-day quote.111.28%
SILVER 0.41% 24.4778 Delayed Quote.35.77%
SPACE CO.,LTD. 2.50% 780 End-of-day quote.-38.92%
THE LEAD CO., INC. 2.11% 388 End-of-day quote.-0.51%
THE NEW HOME COMPANY INC. -1.58% 5.59 Delayed Quote.19.96%
WILL GROUP, INC. 2.10% 877 End-of-day quote.-29.95%
WORLD CO., LTD. 3.49% 1363 End-of-day quote.-49.35%
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