India's disaster hangs over countries facing COVID-19 surges

SOHAG, Egypt (AP) — Countries worldwide wrestling with new coronavirus surges are trying to ensure they aren't hit by an India-style disaster. They face many of the same risks, including large populations that have shirked restrictions and fragile health systems shaken under the strain.

In a province along the Nile in southern Egypt, hospitals have been flooded with COVID-19 patients, a main hot spot in a third spike swelling across the country. Doctors in Sohag province warn the health system there could collapse, even as the government rushes in new supplies.

"My estimate is that there is no family in Sohag that does not have a corona case," said Dr. Mahmoud Fahmy Mansour, head of the province's doctors' union. "We lost five physicians in one week."

He said a scenario like India was a possibility, but "God willing, it is a very far possibility."

Long reluctant to impose new lockdowns, Egypt's government announced its strictest restrictions in months on Wednesday. It ordered cafés, restaurants, stores and malls to close at 9 p.m. and banned large gatherings for two weeks, as well as shutting down beaches and parks during the upcoming Eid el-Fitr holiday at the end of the holy month of Ramadan. 

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India cases hit new record as calls grow for strict lockdown

NEW DELHI (AP) — With coronavirus cases surging to record levels, Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi is facing growing pressure to impose a harsh nationwide lockdown amid a debate whether restrictions imposed by individual states are enough. 

Many medical experts, opposition leaders and some of the Supreme Court judges have suggested the lockdown seems to be the only option with the virus raging in cities and towns, where hospitals are forced to turn patients away while relatives scramble to find oxygen. Crematoriums and burial grounds are struggling to handle the dead.

On Friday, India recorded a new record of 414,188 confirmed cases in the past 24 hours, Its tally has risen to more than 21.4 million since the pandemic began with faint hopes of the curve going down quickly. The Health Ministry also reported 3,915 additional deaths, bringing the total to 234,083. Experts believe both figures are an undercount.

The official daily death count has stayed over 3,000 for the past 10 days.

Over the past month, nearly a dozen out of India's 28 federal states have announced less stringent restrictions than the nationwide lockdown imposed for two months in March last year. 

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In booting Cheney, 'My Kevin' leads GOP back to Trump

WASHINGTON (AP) — Republican Kevin McCarthy is leading his party to an inflection point, preparing to dump Rep. Liz Cheney from the No. 3 House leadership position and transform what's left of the party of Lincoln more decisively into the party of Trump.

The GOP leader argues that ousting Cheney has less to do with her very public criticism of the former president's lies about his 2020 election loss to President Joe Biden than her inability to set aside personal convictions and do her job. As conference chair responsible for communicating a unified party message, Cheney has lost the confidence of rank-and-file lawmakers, he said this week. 

But in tossing aside Cheney, the daughter of the former vice president and as close as it gets to GOP royalty, and promising a "big tent" to win back power, McCarthy is hollowing out a cadre of lawmakers intent on governing while he is elevating the people and personalities most loyal to Donald Trump. In one stroke, he is amplifying the former president's false claims about the election and seeking to mend his own tattered relationship with Trump, reasserting himself as Trump's man in the House.

It's a transformational moment for McCarthy, who resurrected his political career by attaching himself to Trump — who called him "My Kevin" — and is now on a glidepath to become House speaker, second in line to the presidency, if Republicans win control in next year's elections.

"There's a complete changing of the guard here," said Adam Brandon, president of the conservative FreedomWorks, a tea party group aligned with Trump's rise.

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Big US job gain expected, if employers found enough workers

WASHINGTON (AP) — With viral cases declining, consumers spending again and more businesses easing restrictions, America's employers likely delivered another month of robust hiring in April, reinforcing the economy's steady rebound from the pandemic recession.

Economists have forecast that the nation added 975,000 jobs last month, according to a survey by FactSet, after adding 916,000 in March, and that the unemployment rate slipped from 6 percent to 5.8 percent. The size of such job gains was essentially unheard-of before the pandemic. 

The government will issue the April jobs report at 8:30 a.m. Eastern time Friday.

Yet most of the hiring represents a bounce-back after tens of millions of jobs were lost when the pandemic flattened the economy 14 months ago. Even if economists' estimate for April hiring proves accurate, the economy would remain about 7 million jobs short of its pre-pandemic level.

At the same time, optimism about a sustained recovery is rising. Americans are, on average, flush with cash, thanks in part to $1,400 stimulus checks that have gone to most adults and to savings that many affluent households managed to build up during the pandemic. Fueled by that extra money, Americans are buying more homes and cars, boosting restaurant and retail sales and filling more airline seats.

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Asian American health workers fight virus and racist attacks

NEW YORK (AP) — Medical student Natty Jumreornvong has a vaccine and protective gear to shield her from the coronavirus. But she couldn't avoid exposure to the anti-Asian bigotry that pulsed to the surface after the pathogen was first identified in China.

Psychiatry patients have called her by a racist slur for the disease, she said. A bystander spat at the Thai-born student to "go back to China" as she left a New York City hospital where she's training.

And as she walked there in scrubs Feb. 15, a man came up to her, snarled "Chinese virus," took her cellphone and dragged her on a sidewalk, said Jumreornvong, who reported the attack to police. The investigation is ongoing.

For health care workers of Asian and Pacific Islander descent, "it seems like we're fighting multiple battles at the same time — not just COVID-19, but also racism," says Jumreornvong, a student at the Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai.

Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders have faced a tide of harassment and attacks in many settings during the pandemic. But those in health care are feeling the particular, jarring anguish of being racially targeted because of the virus while toiling to keep people from dying of it.

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Sheriff: Girl shoots 3 at Idaho school; teacher disarms her

BOISE, Idaho (AP) — A sixth-grade girl brought a gun to her Idaho middle school, shot and wounded two students and a custodian and then was disarmed by a teacher Thursday, authorities said.

The three victims were shot in their limbs and expected to survive, officials said at a news conference. Jefferson County Sheriff Steve Anderson says the girl pulled a handgun from her backpack and fired multiple rounds inside and outside Rigby Middle School in the small city of Rigby, about 95 miles southwest of Yellowstone National Park. 

A female teacher disarmed the girl and held her until law enforcement arrived and took her into custody, authorities said, without giving other details. Authorities say they're investigating the motive for the attack and where the girl got the gun.

"We don't have a lot of details at this time of 'why' — that is being investigated," Anderson said. "We're following all leads."

The girl is from the nearby city of Idaho Falls, Anderson said. He didn't release her name.

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EU leaders attend summit in person for 1st time this year

LISBON, Portugal (AP) — On the list of things not to do during a pandemic, holding big international gatherings is close to the top. 

But European Union leaders and their large following of diplomats and advisers are meeting in Portugal on Friday for two days of talks, sending a signal that they see the threat from COVID-19 on their continent as waning, amid a quickening vaccine rollout.

Their talks hope to repair some of the damage the coronavirus has caused in the bloc, in such areas as welfare and employment. In a late addition to their agenda, EU leaders will also discuss Thursday's U.S. proposal to share the technology behind COVID-19 vaccines to help speed the end of the pandemic. 

The leaders will also take part in an unprecedented meeting, via videoconference, with Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi, whose country needs more help with a devastating virus surge — and who can smooth the path to an elusive bilateral trade deal. 

Like across much of the world, COVID-19 forced high-level political talks to move online over the past year in Europe. This is the 27-nation bloc's first face-to-face summit in five months, after an exceptional meeting in Brussels last December to discuss post-pandemic spending. Another in-person summit, in Brussels, is planned for later this month.

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Packed trains, drinking: Japanese impatient over virus steps

TOKYO (AP) — Trains packed with commuters returning to work after a weeklong national holiday. Frustrated young people drinking in the streets because bars are closed. Protests planned over a possible visit by the Olympics chief. 

As the coronavirus spreads in Japan ahead of the Tokyo Olympics starting in 11 weeks, one of the world's least vaccinated nations is showing signs of strain, both societal and political. 

The government — desperate to show a worried public it is in control of virus efforts even as it pushes a massive sporting event that a growing number of Japanese oppose hosting in a pandemic — on Friday announced a decision to expand and extend a state of emergency in Tokyo and other areas through May 31.

For Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga, the emergency declaration is both a health measure and a political tightrope walk as domestic criticism rises of Japan's seeming determination to hold the Olympics, at any cost. 

Japan has avoided implementing a hard lockdown to curb infections, and past states of emergency have had little teeth, with people and businesses free to ignore the provisions. These measures have since been toughened, but they come as citizens show increased impatience and less desire to cooperate, making it possible that the emergency declaration will be less effective.

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Rio's deadly police shootout prompts claims of abuse

RIO DE JANEIRO (AP) — A bloody, hourslong gunbattle in a Rio de Janeiro slum echoed into Friday, with authorities saying the police mission successfully eliminated two dozen criminals, while residents and activists claimed human rights abuses.

It was just after sunrise Thursday when dozens of officers from Rio de Janeiro state's civil police stormed Jacarezinho, a working-class favela in the city's northern zone. They were targeting drug traffickers from one of Brazil's most notorious criminal organizations, Comando Vermelho, and the bodies piled up quickly.

When the fighting stopped, there were 25 dead — one police officer and 24 people described by the police as "criminals."

Rio's moniker of "Marvelous City" can often seem a cruel irony in the favelas, given their stark poverty, violent crime and subjugation to drug traffickers or militias. But even here, Thursday's clash was a jarring anomaly that analysts declared one of the city's deadliest police operations ever.

The bloodshed also laid bare Brazil's perennial divide over whether, as a common local saying goes, "a good criminal is a dead criminal." Fervent law-and-order sentiment fueled the successful presidential run in 2018 by Jair Bolsonaro, a former army captain whose home is in Rio. He drew support from much of society with his calls to diminish legal constraints on officers' use of lethal force against criminals.

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Red meat politics: GOP turns culture war into a food fight

DES MOINES, Iowa (AP) — Conservatives last week gobbled up a false news story claiming President Joe Biden planned to ration red meat. Colorado Rep. Rep. Lauren Boebert suggested Biden "stay out of my kitchen." Texas Gov. Greg Abbott tweeted out a headline warning Biden was getting "Up in your grill."

The news was wrong — Biden is planning no such thing — but it was hardly the first time the right has recognized the political power of a juicy steak. Republican politicians in recent months have increasingly used food — especially beef — as a cudgel in a culture war, accusing climate-minded Democrats of trying to change Americans' diets and, therefore, their lives.

"That is a direct attack on our way of life here in Nebraska," Gov. Pete Ricketts, a Republican, said recently. 

The pitched rhetoric is likely a sign of the future. As more Americans acknowledge the link between food production and climate change, food choices are likely to become increasingly political. Already, in farm states, meat eating has joined abortion, gun control and transgender rights as an issue that quickly sends partisans to their corners.

"On the right, they are just going for the easiest applause line, which is accusing the left of declaring war on meat. And it's a pretty good applause line," said Mike Murphy, a Republican consultant. "It's politically effective, if intellectually dishonest."

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