U.S. calls Xinjiang an ‘open-air prison,’ decries religious persecution by China

WASHINGTON (Reuters) -The Chinese government has turned its western Xinjiang province into essentially an “open-air prison,” a U.S. State Department official said on Wednesday as the department published a report that criticized China’s persecution of religious minorities.

Former Secretary of State Mike Pompeo in January said that China’s actions in Xinjiang constitute crimes against humanity and genocide, a verdict his successor, Antony Blinken, has said he agrees with.

China rejects the claim and says it is countering extremism in Xinjiang.

Daniel Nadel, a senior official in the State Department’s Office of International Freedom, said the situation has shifted from the use of what China calls “vocational education and training centers” to detain ethnic Uyghurs and other Muslims, to the use of surveillance “to essentially turn the entire region into an open-air prison”.

“People’s movements are closely tracked. You have minders who have been assigned to live with Uyghurs to keep tabs on them. You have people going to the market who have to check in every time they go to a different market stall,” he said at a press briefing.

The oppression of Muslims was “the culmination of decades of repression of religious adherents” in China, Nadel added.

The State Department report, an annual update on religious freedom around the world, also detailed China’s persecution of the Falun Gong spiritual group.

Blinken announced that he was also imposing a visa ban on Chinese official Yu Hui and his family for Yu Hui’s involvement in arbitrary detentions of Falun Gong followers.

(Reporting by Simon Lewis, Humeyra Pamuk and Doina Chiacu; Editing by Chizu Nomiyama)

‘Want the COVID-19 vaccine? Have a U.S. visa?’ Latinos travel north for the shot

By Anthony Esposito, Cassandra Garrison and Marco Aquino

MEXICO CITY/LIMA (Reuters) – “Want the COVID-19 vaccine? Have a U.S. visa? Contact us,” reads a travel agency advertisement, offering deals to Mexicans to fly to the United States to get inoculated.

From Mexico to far-flung Argentina, thousands of Latin Americans are booking flights to the United States to take advantage of one of the world’s most successful vaccination campaigns, as rollouts in their own countries sputter.

Latin America is one of the regions worst affected by the coronavirus pandemic, with the death toll set to pass 1 million this month, and many do not want to wait any longer for their turn to get vaccinated.

Some people are going it alone, while others have tapped travel agencies, which have responded by offering packages that arrange the vaccine appointment, flights, hotel stay and even offer extras such as city and shopping tours.

Gloria Sanchez, 66, and her husband, Angel Menendez 69, traveled in late April to Las Vegas to get Johnson & Johnson’s single dose vaccine.

“We don’t trust the public health services in this country,” said Sanchez, now back in Mexico. “If we hadn’t traveled to the United States where I felt a little more comfortable I wouldn’t have gotten vaccinated here.”

A travel agent in Mexico City organized the trip for them and an associate in Las Vegas handled things on the U.S. side, Sanchez said.

The U.S.-based associate signed them up for a vaccine appointment, then drove them to a Las Vegas convention center where they presented their Mexican passports and received their shots.

“We decided to make it a vacation and we went for a whole week, walked like crazy, ate really expensive but good food, and did some shopping,” said Sanchez.

As demand has boomed, flight prices from Mexico to the United States have risen an average of 30%-40% since mid-March, said Rey Sanchez, who runs travel agency RSC Travel World.

“There are thousands of Mexicans and thousands of Latin Americans who have gone to the United States to get vaccinated,” he said, adding that the top destinations have been Houston, Dallas, Miami and Las Vegas.

Reuters was unable to find official data on how many Latin Americans are traveling to the United States to get vaccinated. Travelers do not generally state vaccination as a reason to travel.

But U.S. cities have caught on to the trend, which is ushering much needed business into cash-strapped hotels, restaurants and other service activities.

“Welcome to New York, your vaccine is waiting for you! We’ll administer the Johnson & Johnson vaccine at iconic sites across our city,” New York City’s government announced on Twitter on May 6.

The U.S. embassy in Peru recently advised residents on Twitter that travelers could visit the United States for medical treatment, including vaccinations.

Latin Americans who had traveled on a U.S. tourist visa that Reuters spoke to said they were able to obtain shots with IDs from their home countries.

As far south as Argentina, travel agencies are selling vaccination tourism trips.

An advertisement in Buenos Aires details the estimated cost of getting vaccinated in Miami: air ticket $2,000, hotel for a week $550, food $350, car rental $500, vaccine $0. For a total of $3,400.

NO HOPE OF A VACCINE SOON

While initially it was mostly wealthy Latin Americans looking to travel, increasingly people with more modest means are making bookings. For many, the cost of lengthy flights makes it a major undertaking.

“I’m getting money together to travel to California in June,” said a worker at a car parts store in Lima, who asked not to be named for fear it could jeopardize his travel plans. “Considering how things are going here, there’s no hope of a vaccine shot soon.”

The slow rollout of vaccinations in most Latin American countries was a common reason cited for traveling to the United States, said Sanchez.

With little to no infrastructure to make vaccines domestically, campaigns in Latin America have been hampered by supply delays and shortages. The United States has administered nearly 262 million vaccine doses, some 2.3 times the number of shots given in all of Latin America, which has roughly twice the population, according to figures from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and Our World in Data.

Distrust in vaccination campaigns in Latin America is also a factor, said Sanchez.

Reports of batches of fake doses being seized by authorities or the required second dose not being available when it was time are some of the reasons Latin Americans gave for their distrust.

Vaccine tourism has fueled a jump in air travel to the United States, with fares for some last-minute flights doubling or even tripling since January, even as airlines increase capacity, according to Rene Armas Maes, commercial vice president at MIDAS Aviation, a London-based consultancy.

LATAM Airlines Group, the region’s largest carrier, said on Thursday it was seeing increased demand from South Americans seeking to travel to the United States to get vaccinated against the coronavirus.

Aeromexico said passenger traffic between Mexico and the United States increased 35% from March to April.

And American Airlines also said it had seen demand growing rapidly from parts of Latin America in recent months and it had increased capacity, particularly to Colombia, Ecuador and Mexico.

“We’re matching the increased demand in many of these markets, with additional frequencies, new routes or with the use of widebody aircraft, resulting in more capacity,” said American Airlines.

For 29-year-old Giuliana Colameo, the chance to get vaccinated was a relief after she and her boyfriend in Mexico City were both infected by the coronavirus in 2020.

They traveled to New York City where they got vaccinated at a pharmacy last month. She said they were the only two people getting the shots.

“When they give you the vaccine it’s like you almost cry. It’s a relief: it gives you hope,” said Colameo. “I feel very happy I did it and hopefully more people can do it.”

(Reporting by Anthony Esposito and Cassandra Garrison in Mexico City and Marco Aquino in Lima; Additional reporting by Carolina Mandl in Sao Paulo and Anthony Boadle in Brasilia; Writing by Anthony Esposito; Editing by Rosalba O’Brien)

Canada says U.S. ties could be undermined if Michigan shuts pipeline

By Nia Williams and David Ljunggren

CALGARY, Alberta (Reuters) -A day before Michigan’s deadline to close down a key crude oil pipeline, Canada on Tuesday issued its strongest remarks so far about the move, warning that it could undermine relations with the United States, its closest ally and trading partner.

Canadian company Enbridge Inc is preparing for a legal battle with Michigan and courting protests from environmental groups, betting it can ignore the state’s Wednesday deadline to shut down Line 5, which runs under the Straits of Mackinac.

The Canadian government, intervening in the case to back Enbridge, said in a U.S. federal court filing that Michigan had no right to act unilaterally since a 1977 Canada-U.S. pipeline treaty guarantees the free flow of oil between the two nations.

“This case raises concerns regarding the efficacy of the historic framework upon which the U.S.-Canada relationship has been successfully managed for generations,” Ottawa said.

Michigan’s move “threatens to undermine important aspects of that cooperative international relationship”, it added.

The brief said Canada would suffer “massive and

potentially permanent disruption” from a shutdown. Line 5 brings 540,000 barrels-per-day of oil from western Canada to Ontario, Quebec, Michigan, Ohio and Indiana.

Canada has been lobbying Washington officials to keep the pipeline open in what is likely to be an election year in Canada. The White House has so far kept quiet.

“We don’t weigh in on that … it will be decided in court,” U.S. Secretary of Energy Jennifer Granholm told reporters on Tuesday when asked about the White House’s position on Line 5.

In November, Michigan Governor Gretchen Whitmer gave Enbridge six months to shut down the pipeline that runs four miles (6.4 km) along the bottom of Lake Michigan-Huron, citing fears it could rupture.

The order needs a confirmatory order from a judge to enforce it, and Enbridge and Michigan are disputing whether the issue should be heard in state or U.S. federal court.

The sides are in court-ordered mediation, with the next session scheduled for May 18.

“We will not stop operating the pipeline unless we are ordered by a court or our regulator, which we view as highly unlikely,” Enbridge spokeswoman Tracie Kenyon said in a statement this week.

Joe Comartin, Canada’s consul general in Detroit who is arguing on behalf of Ottawa, said litigation could drag on until at least 2024.

“I don’t see a court jumping the gun and ordering it closed … until the litigation and constitutional issues are resolved,” he said by phone.

Ontario estimates the city of Sarnia, across the border from Michigan, could lose 5,000 refinery and chemical plant jobs. Industry lobbyists say thousands of U.S. jobs are in danger.

Environmentalists and indigenous groups opposed to Line 5 say the potential job losses are exaggerated. They plan “Evict Enbridge” rallies in Mackinaw City, Michigan, on Wednesday and Thursday.

Michigan is reviewing what it could do if Enbridge ignores the order, said a spokeswoman for the Michigan Attorney General.

Canadian crude market forward prices suggest most traders do not expect a shutdown in coming months, but the uncertainty is concerning, said one Calgary-based market source.

(Reporting by David Ljunggren and Nia Williams; Editing by David Gregorio and Marguerita Choy)

U.S. approves first major offshore wind farm off Massachusetts coast

(Reuters) -The Biden administration on Tuesday said it would approve the nation’s first major offshore wind farm, a critical milestone in its goal to launch a new domestic energy industry and eliminate emissions from the power sector.

The Vineyard Wind project off the coast of Massachusetts will create enough electricity to power 400,000 homes in New England, the administration said in a statement.

It will also create 3,600 jobs, delivering on U.S. President Joe Biden’s promise that fighting climate change by expanding clean energy sources will boost employment, it said.

The approval is a major win for Vineyard Wind’s joint project owners Avangrid Inc and Copenhagen Infrastructure Partners. The project began its federal permitting process more than three years ago and endured a string of delays in part due to concerns that the wind turbines would interfere with commercial fishing.

“Today’s offshore wind project announcement demonstrates that we can fight the climate crisis, while creating high-paying jobs and strengthening our competitiveness at home and abroad,” Commerce Secretary Gina Raimondo said in a statement.

Last month, the Biden administration unveiled a goal to deploy 30 gigawatts of offshore wind energy by 2030 by opening new areas to development, accelerating permits and boosting public financing for projects.

Vineyard Wind’s 800 megawatts would account for less than 3% of the administration’s 2030 target, though there are more than 20 GW of proposed projects in earlier stages of development.

The United States, with just two small offshore wind facilities, has lagged European nations in developing the renewable energy technology.

Vineyard Wind’s will be built 14 miles southeast of Martha’s Vineyard. It is expected to begin construction this year and be completed in 2024. The project will install up to 84 of General Electric’s Haliade-X turbines, the world’s most powerful.

(Reporting by Nichola Groom and Susan Heavey; editing by John Stonestreet and Chizu Nomiyama)

U.S. expands effort to allow in vulnerable migrants at Mexico border

By Kristina Cooke, Mica Rosenberg and Ted Hesson

SAN FRANCISCO (Reuters) – The United States has begun rolling out a new system to identify and admit the most vulnerable migrants at ports of entry along the U.S.-Mexico border, according to three people briefed on the matter.

The new system, which started at the port of entry in El Paso, Texas, this week, creates a more formal process that allows pre-screened asylum seekers to enter the United States on humanitarian grounds, despite a broad policy of expulsions at the border.

The expulsion policy was put in place under former Republican President Donald Trump in March 2020 citing public health concerns amid the COVID-19 pandemic. President Joe Biden has not revoked it.

By next week, the effort to streamline exemptions is expected to expand to other Texas ports in Brownsville, Laredo and Hidalgo, as well as in Nogales, Arizona, U.S. officials said on a call with advocates on Wednesday, according to two people familiar with the discussion.

As of Wednesday, roughly two dozen migrants had been admitted through the program, the two sources said, and the number of people allowed to enter going forward will depend on capacity to safely process them at the ports. The numbers will likely be limited, however, because of the non-profit groups’ capacity to screen migrants who might be eligible.

The move illustrates the struggle Biden is facing – while his administration is declaring the southern border closed to hopeful migrants, the number of apprehensions has reached a 20-year high. Border patrol picked up nearly 170,000 migrants between ports of entry in March and made a similar number of arrests in April, according to two people briefed on preliminary figures.

Migrant advocates have pressured Biden to do more to allow in asylum seekers to submit asylum claims.

The new process tasks a handful of non-profits working in Mexico with identifying and referring the neediest asylum seekers to U.S. officials, including those with medical issues, the people briefed on the matter said.

Migrants who have experienced long periods of displacement, sexual minorities and victims of crime, trafficking and sexual violence will also be among those considered for the program.

Those approved through the process will be given COVID-19 tests and a date and time to go to a port of entry. They will be released into the United States and given a notice to appear in immigration court to present their asylum claims.

A State Department spokesperson said on Wednesday that the “border remains closed” but that the government was working to streamline the system to identify and lawfully process “particularly vulnerable individuals who warrant humanitarian exception under the order.”

A spokeswoman for the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) said the United States requested the agency channel U.S. funds to the non-profit groups involved.

EXPULSIONS CONTINUE

Biden early on in his presidency exempted unaccompanied children from the Trump-era expulsions order, issued by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and known as Title 42. But his administration has continued to expel tens of thousands of single adults and some families.

The expulsions have left many migrants stranded in dangerous border cities in Mexico. Since Biden took office, the non-profit group Human Rights First has documented at least 492 violent attacks, including rapes and kidnappings of migrants blocked from entry under the policy.

The new system builds on admissions that have been happening in recent weeks through the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), one of several organizations that sued the U.S. government to end the expulsions policy.

Since late March, the ACLU has been able to get up to 35 families per day admitted at ports of entry along the border and expects to continue its process in parallel with efforts from other non-profit groups.

Advocates, however, say they are dismayed that Biden has left the border expulsion policy in place, even with exceptions, arguing that it cuts off access to the U.S. asylum process.

“It’s just a continuation of a process that’s illegal at the end of the day,” said Eleanor Acer, senior director of refugee protection with Human Rights First.

(Reporting by Kristina Cooke in San Francisco and Mica Rosenberg in New York and Ted Hesson in Washington D.C., editing by Ross Colvin and Aurora Ellis)

U.S. stands by Ukraine against ‘reckless’ Russian actions – Blinken

By Matthias Williams and Natalia Zinets

KYIV (Reuters) -U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken said on Thursday Washington could increase security assistance for Ukraine after what he called Russia’s “reckless and aggressive” actions in massing troops near its border.

During a visit to Kyiv intended to show support for Ukraine, Blinken said Russia had left behind significant numbers of troops and equipment despite announcing a withdrawal of its forces from close to the border after a standoff that alarmed the West.

Blinken also said President Joe Biden was keen to visit Ukraine and meet President Volodymyr Zelenskiy, but gave no details on that or on Ukraine’s aspirations to join the NATO military alliance.

“We are aware that Russia has withdrawn some forces from the border of Ukraine, but we also see that significant forces remain there, significant equipment remains there,” Blinken said, speaking alongside Zelenskiy.

“We are monitoring the situation very, very closely,” he said. “And I can tell you, Mr President, that we stand strongly with you, partners do as well. I heard the same thing when I was at NATO a couple of weeks ago and we look to Russia to cease reckless and aggressive actions.”

Washington is “actively looking at strengthening even further our security cooperation and our security assistance”, he said, without giving details.

Zelenskiy said Russia had withdrawn only about 3,500 of the tens of thousands of troops deployed to the Crimea peninsula which it annexed from Ukraine in 2014.

“There may be a threat. Nobody wants these surprises,” he said.

Blinken mixed solidarity with calls for Ukraine to stick to a path of reforms and fighting corruption and the influence of oligarchs. The State Department expressed concern about the firing of a reformist energy official last week.

TALK ABOUT FUTURE, NOT PAST

Biden had pledged “unwavering support” to Zelenskiy in April as Kyiv and Moscow traded blame for clashes in Ukraine’s eastern Donbass region and Russia’s troop deployment.

Moscow announced a withdrawal of its forces on April 22, helping pave the way for a summit between Biden and Russian President Vladimir Putin, possibly as early as June.

The standoff prompted Ukraine to call for the United States and Europe to help accelerate Kyiv’s NATO entry. Zelenskiy asked Blinken for support in securing a Membership Action Plan at a NATO summit in June.

Washington has been Kyiv’s most powerful backer since Russia annexed Crimea and the conflict between Ukrainian soldiers and Russian-backed separatists began. Kyiv says the fighting has killed 14,000 people in seven years.

The relationship was tested in 2019 when then-President Donald Trump asked Zelenskiy to investigate Biden and the business activities of his son Hunter in Ukraine, and the Trump administration temporarily froze security aid to Kyiv.

The fallout from those events, which led to Trump’s impeachment trial, continued last week as federal agents raided the apartment and office of Trump’s former personal lawyer, Rudy Giuliani, in relation to his activities in Ukraine.

“I don’t want to waste your time on the past, let’s talk about the future,” Zelenskiy said when asked about Giuliani.

Kyiv would like Washington to supply more military hardware to Ukraine. Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba told Reuters last month that this included equipment to counter Russia’s capacity to jam Ukrainian communications.

In a CNN interview, Kuleba said Ukraine was also asking for air defense systems and anti-sniper technology.

After meeting Blinken on Thursday, Kuleba said he had been assured that nothing would be decided at a meeting between Putin and Biden without taking into account Ukraine’s interests.

(Reporting by Matthias Williams, Natalia Zinets and Pavel Polityuk; writing by Matthias Williams, Editing by Angus MacSwan and Timothy Heritage)

PAHO warns younger people filling up intensive care COVID-19 wards

BRASILIA (Reuters) – COVID-19 infections continue to spread fast across the Americas as a result of relaxed prevention measures and intensive care units are filling up with younger people, the director of the Pan American Health Organization (PAHO) Carissa Etienne said on Wednesday.

In Brazil, mortality rates have doubled among those younger than 39, quadrupled among those in their 40s and tripled for those in their 50s since December, she said.

Hospitalization rates among those under 39 years have increased by more than 70% in Chile and in some areas of the United States more people in their 20’s are now being hospitalized for COVID-19 than people in their 70’s.

(Reporting by Anthony Boadle)

Exclusive-Canada taken to court over COVID policy that pushes asylum-seekers to U.S

By Anna Mehler Paperny

TORONTO (Reuters) – Canada’s pandemic-era policy of turning back asylum-seekers trying to enter between official border crossings is unlawful and violates their rights, a legal action filed on Tuesday alleges.

The Canadian Association of Refugee Lawyers filed the legal action in federal court claiming the policy is unlawful because it fails to consider the situation of asylum-seekers and whether they have reasonable alternatives available.

The policy also denies asylum-seekers their right to a hearing, according to a copy of the legal action seen by Reuters.

It is the first legal action against this policy since it was instituted in response to COVID-19 in March 2020.

Between March 21, 2020, and April 20, 2021, Canada turned back 387 asylum-seekers trying to cross between ports of entry, according to the Canada Border Services Agency.

Even though Canada said they could return at a later date to make refugee claims, the legal action argues Canada is not ensuring that the turning away of refugees is temporary.

Canada has previously said the turn-back policy, which it has been renewing monthly, is a necessary public health measure. Canada also says it has assurances from the United States that “most” asylum-seekers will be returned to Canada to pursue refugee claims.

But the United States deported at least one asylum-seeker turned back under this policy, according to the man’s lawyer and correspondence seen by Reuters. Others were held in a detention center.

Canada’s Public Safety Minister could not immediately be reached for comment.

Burundian Apollinaire Nduwimana tried to cross into Canada in October at Roxham Road, which has become a common destination for asylum-seekers skirting the Safe Third Country Agreement (STCA).

Under the STCA, asylum-seekers crossing at a formal port of entry along the Canada-U.S. border are turned around and are often held in U.S. immigration detention. Last month, the Federal Court of Appeal upheld the contested agreement after a lower court ruled the pact violated asylum-seekers’ fundamental rights under the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms.

Nduwimana aimed to avoid being turned back under the STCA, only to be turned back under the new policy. Canadian border officers handed him to U.S. authorities, who, he says, brought him to the immigration detention center at Batavia, New York.

According to his lawyers, U.S. authorities tried multiple times to deport him to Burundi, to which Canada has deferred deportations for reasons of humanitarian crisis.

Nduwimana is not directly affected by this legal action. But his case demonstrates the potential repercussions of this policy, lawyers say.

He was allowed to enter Canada under an exemption to the turn-back policy after being detained for five months. He has now filed a refugee claim.

He was one of nine turned-back asylum-seekers granted a national interest exemption letter by Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Minister Marco Mendicino. According to the government, seven have come to Canada.

(Reporting by Anna Mehler Paperny in Toronto; Editing by Denny Thomas and Matthew Lewis)

Sticking with remote work? Businesses are betting on it

By Ann Saphir

SAN FRANCISCO (Reuters) – U.S. businesses have been spending more on technology than on bricks and mortar for more than a decade now, but the trend has accelerated during the pandemic, one more sign that working from home is here to stay.

As spending on home-building has risen, spending on nonresidential construction has dropped, with that on commercial, manufacturing and office space slumping to under 15% of total construction outlays in March, Commerce Department data showed Monday.

Business spending on structures fell in the first quarter, data from the Bureau of Economic Analysis showed last week. It was the sixth straight quarterly decline, showcasing one of the few weak spots in the economy as it regains steam amid a receding pandemic.

Meanwhile, spending on technology rose, with investments in software and information processing equipment contributing more than 1 percentage point to the economy’s overall 6.4% annualized rise in economic output in the quarter, the BEA data showed. Technology spending has added to growth in all but two of the past 32 quarters, back to 2013. Spending on structures has pulled GDP downward in 14 of those quarters.

The implications of the shift are broad: the economy emerging from the depths of the pandemic will be more technology-driven and less reliant on in-person transactions, leaving jobs permanently changed and potentially fewer in number.

Accelerated by the pandemic, the divergence between the two types of business spending is here to stay, says Stanford economics professor Nicholas Bloom.

“This is the surge in (work-from-home) which is leading firms to spend heavily on connectivity,” Bloom said.

He and colleagues have been surveying 5,000 U.S. residents monthly, and found that from May to December about half of paid work hours were done from home.

Workers’ own spending to equip their home offices with computer connectivity, desks and other necessities comes to the equivalent of 0.7% of GDP, their surveys found, suggesting the business investment data likely underestimates what’s actually being spent on technology.

Those sunk costs are one reason that on average Americans will work one day a week from home even after the pandemic, up from about one day a month before, Bloom says.

American firms’ reliance on hybrid working should continue to lift business spending on technology for the foreseeable future, said ING chief international economist James Knightley.

Spending on office buildings particularly will likely remain weak at least until the end of the summer, he predicted, when the return of most kids to school should allow more parents to return to work.

Even then, he said, businesses will need to continue to spend more than ever on connectivity and computers to support the remote, or partially remote, workforce.

“I think there’s still a lot more to do there,” he said.

(Reporting by Ann Saphir, Howard Schneider, Dan Burns; Editing by Chizu Nomiyama)

New U.S. COVID cases fall for third week, deaths lowest since July

(Reuters) – New cases of COVID-19 in the United States fell for a third week in a row, dropping 15% last week to 347,000, the lowest weekly total since October, according to a Reuters analysis of state and county data.

Nearly a third of the country’s population has been fully vaccinated as of Sunday, and 44% has received at least one dose of a COVID-19 vaccine, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Michigan again led the states in new cases per capita, though new infections fell 26% last week compared with the previous seven days, the Reuters analysis showed. New cases also fell in Colorado and Minnesota, the states with the next highest rates of infection based on population.

Health officials have warned that more contagious variants of the coronavirus are still circulating, such as the B.1.1.7 variant first detected in the United Kingdom and partly responsible for the surge in Michigan.

In Oregon, where the B.1.1.7 variant is now the dominant strain, the governor last week placed nearly half the state’s counties in the extreme risk category for COVID-19, banning indoor dining and restricting capacity at other businesses.

Oregon reported a 1.2% rise in new cases last week to about 5,600, double the weekly cases seen in early April.

Nationally, deaths from COVID-19 fell 3% to 4,819 in the week ended May 2, the fewest deaths in a week since July.

The average number of COVID-19 patients in hospitals fell 8%, the first weekly decrease after rising or holding steady for four weeks.

Vaccinations fell for a second week in a row, dropping 12% after falling 14% in the previous week.

(Graphic by Chris Canipe, writing by Lisa Shumaker, editing by Tiffany Wu)