Monday morning news – May 18, 2020

HHS secretary says reopening is successful this far, ambitious vaccine push is realistic » So far, so good for states reopening for business. Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar said Sunday that right now health authorities are not seeing spikes of COVID-19 cases in areas that are reopening. He told CBS’s Face the Nation…

AZAR: We certainly will be monitoring, but we’ve seen some initial instances of states like Georgia that’s reopened, Florida that’s reopening.  

He did caution that it’s still too early to draw any firm conclusions. But he said he believes the nation has the tools to manage the virus. 

He also discussed what the White House is calling “Operation Warp Speed.”

That’s a push to have 300 million doses of a successful coronavirus vaccine ready by the end of this year. Azar said that’s not a promise, but it’s also not an unrealistic goal. 

He said vaccines often take years to develop because of a slow and layered process and a lot of red tape. 

AZAR: The president said that’s not acceptable. So what we’re doing is wringing the inefficiency out of the development process to make the development side faster to get to safe and effective vaccines. 

Azar said the U.S. government will also begin mass producing vaccines before they’re proven safe and effective. That way if and when a vaccine gets the green light, officials can immediately begin shipping out doses. 

European leaders: The world can’t wait for a vaccine » But while the Trump administration expresses optimism that we could have a vaccine by the end of the year, some European governments are tamping down expectations.

In London, Business Secretary Alok Sharma said the first clinical trial of a vaccine at Oxford University is progressing well… 

SHARMA: The government has now committed over a quarter of a billion pounds towards developing a vaccine in the U.K. But there are no certainties. In spite of the tireless efforts of our scientists, it is possible that we many never find a successful coronavirus vaccine. 

And Prime Minister Boris Johnson echoed that warning on Sunday, stating—quote—“There remains a very long way to go, and I must be frank that a vaccine might not come to fruition.”

With economic pressure mounting around the world, Italian Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte said Italy could “not afford” to wait to be rescued by a vaccine.

Conte is allowing restaurants, bars, shops and beach facilities to reopen today. Church services can also resume. 

He said “We are facing a calculated risk, in the awareness” that the “curve could go back up.” But he added, “We are confronting this risk, and we need to accept it, otherwise we would never be able to relaunch.”

Judge blocks N.C. order limiting indoor religious services » A federal judge has blocked North Carolina Governor Roy Cooper’s order limiting indoor religious services to 10 people. 

Judge James C. Dever III said there is “no pandemic exception” to the U.S. Constitution. And he noted that the order places tighter restrictions on churches than on other gatherings. North Carolina now limits businesses, for example, to 50 percent capacity. 

In his ruling the judge stated—quote— “The record, at this admittedly early stage of the case, reveals that the governor appears to trust citizens to perform non-religious activities indoors (such as shopping or working or selling merchandise) but does not trust them to do the same when they worship together indoors.”

A spokesman for the governor said Cooper disagrees with the ruling, but they do not plan to appeal it.

Pelosi: State, local governments back $3 trillion bill » House Speaker Nancy Pelosi on Sunday said there is bipartisan demand for a $3 trillion relief package House Democrats passed two days earlier. 

PELOSI: Across the country, Republican and Democratic mayors, governors and the rest all want this bill to happen in terms of the investments in state and local, tribal and territorial governments, and also in terms of the testing.

Friday’s bill narrowly passed on a vote of 208 to 199. Fourteen Democrats voted against it. The measure would cost more than all of the previous coronavirus relief bills combined. 

Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy said Pelosi rammed it through a floor vote with very little input from anyone. 

MCCARTHY: This will be the largest bill in the history of the United States we have ever voted on. And not one hearing, not even input from committees or from people on the other side of the aisle. 

The bill sets aside $1 trillion for state and local governments and provides another round of cash payments to taxpayers. It also allocates funds for unemployment, housing, college debt relief, and the struggling U.S. Postal Service. 

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell said the bill is highly partisan, bloated with Democratic pet projects and that it’s dead on arrival in the Senate. 

NASCAR returns to action » Professional sports are back! Well, at least a couple of them are. Team sports are still sidelined for now. 

But a day after the UFC held its third mixed martial arts event in about a week, another sport sped into action in South Carolina Sunday. 

AUDIO: The pace care is in … green flag! NASCAR is back!

Familiar scenes were missing from Darlington Raceway. No flyovers, no sun-baked crowds, no smoke billowing from tailgate grills. But racing is back. 

With a strict new health protocol in place, NASCAR is planning an aggressive return with 19 more races across seven states in just five weeks.

(AP Photo/Alex Brandon) Department of Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar speaks about the coronavirus in the Rose Garden of the White House, Friday, May 15, 2020, in Washington. 

WORLD Radio transcripts are created on a rush deadline. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of WORLD Radio programming is the audio record.

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