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Live Coronavirus Updates: Global Tracker

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As the pandemic took hold, most epidemiologists have had clear proscriptions in fighting it: No students in classrooms, no in-person religious services, no visits to sick relatives in hospitals, no large public gatherings.

So when conservative anti-lockdown protesters gathered on state capitol steps in places like Columbus, Ohio and Lansing, Mich., in April and May, epidemiologists scolded them and forecast surging infections.

And then the brutal killing of George Floyd by police in Minneapolis on May 25 changed everything.

Soon the streets nationwide were full of tens of thousands of people in a mass protest movement that continues to this day, with demonstrations and the toppling of statues. And rather than decrying mass gatherings, more than 1,300 public health officials signed a May 30 letter of support, and many joined the protests.

That reaction, and the contrast with the epidemiologists’ earlier fervent support for the lockdown, gave rise to an uncomfortable question: Was public health advice in a pandemic dependent on whether people approved of the mass gathering in question. To many, the answer seemed to be, “Yes.”

Of course, there are differences: A distinct majority of George Floyd protesters wore masks in many cities, even if they often crowded too close together. By contrast, many anti-lockdown protesters refused to wear masks — and their rallying cry ran directly contrary to public health officials’ instructions.

And in practical terms, no team of epidemiologists could have stopped the waves of impassioned protesters, any more than they could have blocked the anti-lockdown protests.

Still, the divergence in their own reactions left some of the country’s prominent epidemiologists wrestling with deeper questions of morality, responsibility and risk.

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The Latest: Africa CDC begins study into virus antibodies | World News

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JOHANNESBURG — The Africa Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says a continent-wide study has begun into antibodies to the coronavirus after evidence indicated that more people have been infected than official numbers show.

Director John Nkengasong told reporters the study will include all African countries, but the ones showing interest to start in the coming weeks are Liberia, Sierra Leone, Zambia, Zimbabwe, Cameroon, Nigeria and Morocco.

That’s after surveys in Mozambique found antibodies in 5% of households in the city of Nampula and 2.5% in the city of Pemba. And yet Mozambique has just 2,481 confirmed cases.

Nkengasong says, “What is important is far fewer people are coming down with the disease. How many people are infected and asymptomatic on our continent? We don’t know that.”

Africa’s young population, with a median age of 19, has been called a possible factor.

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HERE’S WHAT YOU NEED TO KNOW ABOUT THE VIRUS OUTBREAK:

— Virus exposes economic, racial divide in French health care

— ‘Impossible’: School boards are at heart of reopening debate

— Experts warn Spain is losing the 2nd round in virus fight

— Like many countries, Rwanda is finding it impossible to test each of its citizens for the coronavirus amid shortages of supplies. But researchers there have created an approach that’s drawing attention beyond the African continent.

German authorities worked through the night to clear a backlog of coronavirus tests from travelers after it emerged 900 people who were positive for COVID-19 had yet to be informed.

— A puzzling new outbreak of the coronavirus in New Zealand’s largest city has grown to 17 cases, with officials saying the number will likely increase further. And a lockdown in Auckland designed to extinguish the outbreak could be extended well beyond an initial three days.

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— Follow AP’s pandemic coverage at http://apnews.com/VirusOutbreak and https://apnews.com/UnderstandingtheOutbreak

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HERE’S WHAT ELSE IS HAPPENING:

THESSALONIKI, Greece – A Greek prosecutor has ordered an investigation into a string of infections at a retirement home in northern Greece, where 33 of the 150 residents and three staff members have tested positive for COVID-19.

Authorities say 20 people from the home at Asvestochori, a village outside the northern city of Thessaloniki, were taken to a hospital Wednesday with mild symptoms. The disease is believed to have been spread by a staff member who caught it from a relative who had visited a popular holiday resort.

The investigation was ordered Thursday.

Greece has seen a major rise in COVID-19 infections, which reached 262 on Wednesday — the highest since the virus outbreak.

The country of 11 million has registered about 6,200 confirmed cases, and 216 deaths.

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THIMPU, Bhutan — The Himalayan kingdom of Bhutan has imposed its first nationwide lockdown due to a virus infection in a returning traveler who had been released from quarantine.

The government issued a stay-at-home order for its approximately 750,000 people, and all schools, offices and commercial establishments were closed.

The government’s statement said the lockdown would be enforced from five to 21 days “to identify and isolate all positive cases, immediately breaking the chain of transmission.”

The 27-year-old Bhutanese woman returning from Kuwait tested negative in mandatory quarantine for arriving travelers. But between her discharge from quarantine and her positive test result Monday, she is believed to have traveled extensively in Bhutan.

The tourism-dependent country closed its borders to foreign travelers in March after an American tourist was hospitalized with COVID-19. Bhutan’s 113 reported infections were all quarantined travelers, except for one with conflicting test results.

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MELBOURNE, Australia — The coronavirus outbreak centered in Australia’s second-largest city showed a decline in new infections Thursday, though the state’s leader urged continued vigilance.

Victoria state Premier Daniel Andrews said there were 278 new infections and eight new deaths, down from around 700 daily at the peak of the outbreak.

Daniels said the lower numbers indicate the lockdown restrictions in Melbourne are working but urged people to stay the course.

“We would just caution against any Victorian thinking that we aren’t in the midst of a real marathon,” Daniels said. “This is an endurance race, and we need to stay the course on this. We need to be as vigilant each and every day.”

Meanwhile, neighboring New South Wales state, which includes Australia’s largest city Sydney, recorded 12 new cases and one death.

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SEATTLE — The Seattle school board has voted unanimously to begin the academic year with remote teaching only.

The Seattle Times reports the state’s largest school district approved the plan Wednesday.

The remote learning plan passed with a wide-ranging amendment from school board members that directs the superintendent to explore creating outdoor classes. It also reinforces teaching of Black studies and curricula developed by Indigenous communities.

But the district’s plans are far from set because it is still bargaining with the teachers union. Those discussions will set the parameters for how teachers spend their time and for the support the district will provide in an online learning environment.

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BEIJING — New locally transmitted cases of the coronavirus reported in China have fallen into the single digits, but Hong Kong is seeing another rise in hospitalizations and deaths.

China’s National Health Commission said Thursday that eight new cases were registered in the last 24 hours in the northwestern region of Xinjiang, whose main city of Urumqi has enacted lockdown measures and travel restrictions. An additional 11 cases were brought by Chinese returning from overseas.

Hong Kong, meanwhile, has 62 new cases, up from 33 on Wednesday, along with an additional five deaths.

The semi-autonomous southern Chinese city has required masks be worn in all public settings and limited indoor dining among other measures to curb a new outbreak.

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SEOUL, South Korea — South Korea has reported 56 new cases of the coronavirus as clusters continue to pop up in cities.

The figures announced by South Korea’s Centers for Disease Control and Prevention on Thursday brought the caseload to 14,770 infections, including 305 deaths. Forty-three of the new cases were from the Seoul area and two were from Busan, the country’s second-largest city, where infections have been reported at schools and among foreign cargo ship workers.

South Korean authorities have employed an aggressive test-and-quarantine campaign against COVID-19, using mobile-phone location data and credit-card records to trace contacts and smartphone tracking apps to monitor tens of thousands quarantined at home.

Visitors at nightclubs, baseball stadiums and other facilities deemed as “high-risk” must register with smartphone QR codes so they can be easily located when needed.

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UNITED NATIONS — U.N. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres says the cordonavirus pandemic not only threatens gains in fighting poverty and building peace but risks exacerbating existing conflicts and generating new ones.

The U.N. chief told a Security Council meeting Wednesday that his March 23 call for an immediate cease-fire in conflicts to tackle the virus led a number of warring parties to deescalate or stop fighting. But, he added, “regrettably, in many instances, the pandemic did not move the parties to suspend hostilities or agree to a permanent ceasefire.”

Guterres predecessor as secretary-general, Ban Ki-moon, told the council it is astonishing that the world has locked down billions of people, closed borders and suspended trade, but has failed to put conflicts on hold.

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British holiday home owners in France tell of quarantine worries | World news

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British tourists cancelling trips to France because they may have to quarantine for 14 days on their return might be upset, but the owners – often British too – of the places they had booked to stay are losing more than just a holiday.

“For every potential visitor, there’s an owner who depends on that rental for their livelihood,” said Gavin Quinney, who runs a large farmhouse gîte in Créon near Bordeaux and is now staring at a blank late August and a very shaky September.

“You can understand people hesitating, for all sorts of reasons. But we’re going to have to work out what the rules are, what’s fair, because there are people who are really suffering from the permanent stop-start uncertainty of this summer.”

France is reportedly “on the cliff-edge” of being removed from the British government’s list of quarantine-exempt destinations amid a continuing rise in infections, with a decision expected by the end of the week.

The country, visited by 12 million Britons a year, has a rolling weekly average of nearly 1,700 new infections a day and an infection rate of 30.4 per 100,000 inhabitants. Boris Johnson has said the UK will “not hesitate” to impose fresh quarantine restrictions if the government deems them necessary.

In its latest update on Tuesday, the French national health agency said the circulation of the virus was “progressing and intensifying in mainland France”, with infections “affecting all age groups, particularly young adults”. The prime minister, Jean Castex, said the country had to “get a grip of itself again”.

Quinney, who with his wife, Angela, runs a successful vineyard producing red and white wines also mainly for the UK market, had “as good as written off” the 2020 season but has been fully booked since early July when the UK lifted its previous quarantine requirement for travellers returning from France.

Coronavirus deaths in France – graph

“There was massive demand,” Quinney said. “But the possibility of a new quarantine is a real issue. It clearly doesn’t bother some – they work from home, or don’t believe it will be enforced. But for many others it’s a major concern. And everyone’s rolling their eyes at what people definitely see as government ineptitude.”

Several late summer and early autumn bookings have been cancelled, he said, or people are holding off making the final payment. “We’re having to call up, ask them to commit, and return their money if they can’t,” he said. “If there’s a possibility of replacing a booking we can’t afford a last-minute no-show.”

Many owners have no alternative source of income. Phil Davies runs a small, specialist complex of six apartments near Perpignan aimed at families with young children. Despite the fact a proportion of his bookings are from continental European customers, he reckons earnings are at least 50% down.

“Our customers tend to be quite careful people,” he said. “So this year has been specially hard. Among British customers at least, there’s a real ‘once bitten, twice shy’ mentality. A feeling that the government did it before with quarantine, with very little notice, so it can do it again.”

Davies said the British government’s communication had been neither clear, reassuring nor timely. “People are confused, some are frightened, and many are ashamed,” he said, adding that rather than a blanket quarantine the government should consider the regional approach to infection risk adopted, for example, by Germany.

“That would make a really massive difference,” he said. “The Germans say: ‘Avoid Brittany’, and they test people on the day they come back then again six days later. That way your family life isn’t ruined; your work life isn’t ruined. Where we are here – the Pyrénées-Orientales – has been very little affected.”


Davies said customers had pulled out, or tried to put off paying the balance of their bill until the last possible moment. “For a small business, that can cause real cashflow problems,” he said. “Even if they postpone and move their deposit on to next year, that’s income lost for this year. It’s made customer relations very hard.”

For some families, he said, the possibility of having to quarantine was not as alarming as a potential Foreign Office warning against all but essential travel to France, which would invalidate their travel insurance. “But in general, the list of worries is really quite extensive,” he said.

“People are concerned about their travel insurance; about whether their kids will be able to go back to school on time; about having to take annual holiday or unpaid leave to cover any quarantine … You can understand. But for us, it’s really not easy.”

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US Commander: Islamic State Threat in West Syria Growing | World News

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By LOLITA C. BALDOR, Associated Press

WASHINGTON (AP) — Elements of the Islamic State group are working to rebuild in western Syria, where the U.S. has little visibility or presence, the top U.S. commander for the Middle East warned on Wednesday.

In the region west of the Euphrates River where the Syrian regime is in control “conditions are as bad or worse” than they were leading up to the rise of the Islamic State, said Gen. Frank McKenzie. “We should all be concerned about that.”

McKenzie said insurgents are operating with some degree of freedom, and he said the U.S. and its allies have little hope the Syrian regime will do anything to tamp down the group there.

Speaking online to a United States Institute of Peace from his U.S. Central Command office in Tampa, McKenzie said that the slow-moving effort to transfer people out of Syrian refugee camps has been further complicated and delayed by the coronavirus pandemic. And that, he said, fuels concerns about the radicalization of people — particularly the youth — in the camps, which officials worry are breeding grounds for IS insurgents.

The al-Hol camp in northeastern Syria is home to as many as 70,000 people — mostly women and children — who were displaced by the ongoing civil war in Syria and the battle against IS. Many fled as the U.S.-backed Syrian Democratic Forces cleared out the last pockets of land held by IS last year.

Leanne Erdberg Steadman, the USIP director for countering violent extremism, said getting people out of the camps is key to having them abandon violence and secure a new future. Officials said that there have now been the first few reported cases of COVID-19 at al-Hol.

McKenzie said concerns about blocking the spread of the virus among European allies and other nations in the region has complicated efforts to repatriate camp residents to their home nations.

Repatriation is the key to clearing out the refugee camps, and the U.S. has aggressively pushed to get allies to take their own citizens back. Most nations, however, are reluctant to take in potential IS insurgents. And the potential spread of COVID-19 is now an added fear.

Humanitarian groups say many of the women and children are not risks, but officials also note that there are a lot of women who were radicalized and active in the insurgency.

McKenzie said that unless political leaders find a way to deradicalize and repatriate the displaced people in the camps, there will be another IS resurgence in the future.

“As young people grow up, we’re going to see them again unless we can turn them in a way to make them productive members of society,” he said. “We can either deal with this problem now or deal with it exponentially worse a few years down the road.”

Copyright 2020 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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