The Latest: Virus infections continue steady rise in S Korea
SEOUL, South Korea — South Korea has reported 59 COVID-19 cases as infections steadily rise in the capital area where half the country’s 51 million people live.
The figures announced Thursday by South Korea’s Centers for Disease Control and Prevention bring the national caseload to 12,257, including 280 deaths.
The agency says 39 of the new cases are in Seoul and the surrounding region, where authorities are trying to stem transmissions amid increased economic activity and eased attitudes on social distancing.
Eight new cases were linked to international arrivals. Officials are concerned the resurgence of the virus in China could bring more imported cases. South Korea has tied at least 1,379 cases to international arrivals and is requiring two-week quarantines on all passengers arriving from abroad.
HERE’S WHAT YOU NEED TO KNOW ABOUT THE VIRUS OUTBREAK:
— World Health Organization says more understanding needed on steroid that was shown in a British trial to reduce deaths among critically ill patients.
— Germany says the impact of the pandemic on developing countries could have security implications for Europe unless steps are taken to help struggling nations.
— President of Honduras tests positive for coronavirus.
— Pakistan announces plans to repatriate tens of thousands of citizens stranded around the world.
HERE’S WHAT ELSE IS HAPPENING:
CANBERRA, Australia — The two universities in Australia’s capital plan to fly in 350 foreign students as the country’s international education sector reopens after the coronavirus lockdown.
Australian National University and Canberra University said Thursday they expect the chartered aircraft to fly to Canberra from Singapore in late July.
Priority will be given to students involved in research that can’t be done online. The students will be quarantined at a hotel for two weeks. They are likely to be the first foreign students to return to Australian campuses since the lockdown.
Prime Minister Scott Morrison told Sydney Radio 2GB he supports the universities’ plan. Tourism Minister Simon Birmingham says it’s likely Australia won’t allow general international travel before next year.
BEIJING — China’s capital has reported a decline in newly confirmed coronavirus cases as the city continues to press stricter measures to contain a new outbreak.
Beijing reported 21 cases Thursday, down from 31 a day earlier.
Officials reported 28 new cases in all nationwide. Of the cases outside Beijing, four were brought by Chinese travelers from outside the country and three were reported in the city of Tianjin and Hebei province, both of which border Beijing.
No new deaths were reported, leaving the total number of fatalities at 4,634.
Beijing this week moved to suspend classes and restrict tourism and travel in and out of the city to stem any further spread in the latest outbreak traced to the city’s largest wholesale market.
AUSTIN, Texas — Texas Gov. Greg Abbott says local governments are free to mandate that businesses require customers and workers to wear face masks because of the coronavirus pandemic.
His comment Wednesday comes after one the state’s most populous counties ordered such a measure amid record numbers of new cases of coronavirus and hospitalizations. The order for Bexar County, which includes San Antonio, takes affect Monday and businesses could face fines up to $1,000 for failing to comply.
The governor has declined to issue a statewide order for individuals to wear masks, preferring to leave it to local leaders.
Texas set new daily highs for new cases with 3,129 and for COVID-19 hospitalizations with 2,793. The hospitalization mark sets a daily record for the 10th time in 11 days.
ASPEN, Colo. — A national trade association for the U.S. ski industry says ski businesses lost at least $2 billion over the winter because of the economic collapse caused by the coronavirus pandemic.
The Aspen Times reports that the Denver-based National Ski Areas Association announced Wednesday that skier visits fell 14% during the latest season, compared with the 2018-2019 season. There were about 51.1 million visits in the shortened season.
Resorts were forced to closed in March following state restrictions intended to limit the spread of the coronavirus.
It is unclear how the pandemic will affect the 2020-2021 season. But the economic loss tied to the pandemic could increase to about $5 billion if the downtown continues.
ST. PETERSBERG, Florida — Miami-Dade County Mayor Carlos Gimenez says that due to a rise COVID-19 cases enforcement will be stepped up to shut down businesses not following rules put in place to safely reopen during the pandemic.
St. Petersburg Mayor Rick Kriseman, meanwhile, said Wednesday that all employees who have contact with the public will be required to wear masks. That is something that some South Florida cities hard hit by the virus have been doing for weeks.
Kriseman is also preparing a second ordinance to require residents to wear masks when inside businesses or other public spaces.
He criticized Flordia Gov. Ron DeSantis for only encouraging people to use masks rather than requiring their use.
PHOENIX — Arizona hospitals are treating a record number of coronavirus patients amid a surge of new cases that has made the state a U.S. virus hotspot.
The state’s Health Services Department reported a record number of emergency room visits for the virus as well.
The agency confirmed 1,827 new cases and 20 new deaths Wednesday, bringing the total confirmed cases to 40,924 and deaths to 1,239.
Hospitals were treating 1,582 patients on Tuesday, an increase of more than 500 from two weeks earlier.
Emergency room visits for patients with virus symptoms soared to nearly 1,100.
On June 3, hospitals reported seeing 638 patients in the ER. The new records come as Republican Gov. Doug Ducey is under increasing pressure to take steps to stop a major increase in cases. Health providers and Democratic politicians are urging him to require people to wear masks in public, but so far he has rejected a mandate while suggesting mask-wearing.
JOHANNESBURG — South Africa’s president has reminded China that African nations are seeking significant debt relief as they battle the coronavirus pandemic.
South African President Cyril Ramaphosa addressed Chinese President Xi Jinping during an online China-Africa summit to discuss the virus that has infected more than 260,000 people across Africa.
African nations early in the pandemic called for a two-year suspension of debt payments and other relief that would allow them to focus resources on the health crisis.
But China, Africa’s biggest creditor, has not indicated it will offer a sweeping solution and experts say it will focus instead on bilateral arrangements with countries.
South Africa’s president urged China to offer more relief “or to propose alternative solutions,” warning that “the worst is still to come” for Africa in the pandemic.
The Chinese president in his speech said he hopes the international community, “especially developed countries and multilateral financial institutions, will act more forcefully on debt relief and suspension for Africa.”
ISLAMABAD — Pakistan is announcing plans to repatriate all of its those citizens stranded around the globe, including in the Middle East, as a result of the pandemic.
Syed Zulfiqar Bukhari, who advises Prime Minister Imran Khan about Pakistanis living abroad, told a news conference Wednesday that between 40,000 and 45,000 of their nationals will be brought home every week, starting June 20.
He said all international passenger flights are being allowed to resume their operations at 25 percent capacity as per social distancing regulations. About 120,000 Pakistanis are expected to return in the coming weeks and they will have to quarantine themselves at homes for 14 days.
In recent months, about 75,000 Pakistanis have already returned home through special and regular flights amid a surge in COVID-19 deaths and infections. On Wednesday, Pakistan reported 116 more COVID-19 deaths, the highest single-day number of fatalities from the new coronavirus, raising its total of cases to 154,760, including 2,975 deaths.
In a bid to contain the virus, Pakistan has sealed off high risk residential areas across the country.
LONDON — The emergencies chief of the World Health Organization welcomed the news this week that dexamethasone, a cheap steroid, was shown in a British trial to reduce deaths among patients critically ill with the coronavirus, but said it was too soon to change how patients are treated.
“It’s one of the breakthroughs we’re going to need to effectively deal with COVID-19, but it’s still preliminary data,” said Dr. Michael Ryan at a press briefing on Wednesday. “We will pull together the necessary expert group... and come to a decision around our clinical advice to countries.”
Ryan said that “this is not the time to rush to change clinical practice” and that it was crucial to understand issues like what dose should be used on patients, how patients would be assessed and if there were adequate supplies of the drug.
On Tuesday, when the British researchers announced their findings, the department of health said the dexamethasone had been approved to treat all hospitalized COVID-19 patients, effectively immediately.
WHO director-general Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus noted that in the last two months, more than 6 million coronavirus cases have been logged and said cases were still accelerating globally. In the first two months, only 85,000 cases were reported, mostly from China.
WASHINGTON — U.S. health regulators have pulled their authorization of a COVID-19 blood test after determining it could deliver inaccurate results.
The Food and Drug Administration said late Tuesday that the problems with the test from Chembio Diagnostic System could mislead patients about whether they have had COVID-19.
The move comes as FDA regulators attempt to verify the accuracy of dozens of antibody tests that the agency allowed onto the market earlier this year without evidence that they worked. Critics said that approach created a ‘Wild West’ of unregulated tests. Last month the FDA said testing companies must submit testing data to remain on the market.
Antibody tests are different from the nasal swab tests currently used to diagnose active infections. Instead, the tests look for blood proteins called antibodies, which indicate someone had a previous infection but fought off the virus. Most of the tests use a finger-prick of blood on a test strip.
The Chembio test was one of the first tests that the FDA authorized as meeting federal standards. However, the FDA said follow-up data submitted by the company showed the test delivered an unacceptable number of false results. As a result, the test can no longer be sold.
The FDA has granted emergency authorization to 21 other antibody tests. Meanwhile, roughly 190 antibody tests launched under the agency’s previous policy are awaiting FDA review.
ATHENS, Greece — Authorities in Greece have reported 55 new confirmed cases of COVID-19 and two new deaths — a relatively high number of new infections compared with the average seen in recent weeks.
Authorities are keeping a close eye on the daily tally after the country formally launched its tourism season Monday, relaxing restrictions for air travelers and reopening the airport in Greece’s second-largest city, Thessaloniki.
The Health Ministry Wednesday did not provide any details on the new infections. The death toll has reached 187 while the total number of confirmed infections is 3,203.
More travel restrictions are due to be lifted on July 1 when airports on the Greek islands and other regional destinations are due to be lifted.
ROME — As it has since the first days of Italy’s COVID-19 outbreak in late February, the northern region of Lombardy accounted for by far the biggest share of the country’s daily new cases.
According to Health Ministry figures Wednesday evening, 242 of the 329 coronavirus infections confirmed in the nation in the last 24 hours were registered in Lombardy.
In comparison, the region with the next highest daily new case figure was neighboring Piedmont, with 41 confirmed new infections.
Overall, Italy counts 237,828 confirmed cases, but since many persons who aren’t hospitalized or have only mild symptoms aren’t tested, the total number is presumed to be much higher. There were 43 deaths of infected patients in the same 24-hour period ending Wednesday, raising to 34,448 the number of those who died with confirmed COVID-19 infections.
SKOPJE, North Macedonia — Authorities in North Macedonia have introduced a rotation system for medical staff on a nationwide basis following a spike in COVID-19 cases.
Doctors and other staff from regional public hospitals were brought to the capital Wednesday to replace exhausted colleagues who have been grappling with a post-lockdown increase in cases.
Health Minister Venko Filipce On Wednesday announced 193 new confirmed infections and nine deaths in the latest 24-hour recording period, bringing the total number of confirmed infections to 4,482 and the death toll to 210.
UNITED NATIONS — The president of the United Nations General Assembly has banged his gavel to open U.N. elections under dramatically different voting procedures because of the coronavirus pandemic.
The U.N. headquarters complex in New York remains open for essential workers, but Secretary-General Antonio Guterres ordered staff members to work from home until July 31 as a health precaution.
So instead of ambassadors from the 193 U.N. member nations gathering in the horseshoe-shaped General Assembly chamber for the elections that include filling two seats on the U.N. Security Council., a new voting process using spaced time slots was adopted.
And instead of voting separately for the next General Assembly president, five new members of the Security Council, and 18 new members of the Economic and Social Council, the three elections are being held concurrently by secret ballot.
Among the early voters were U.S. Ambassador Kelly Craft and the ambassadors of Poland and Turkey.
AUSTIN, Texas — Texas Supreme Court Justice Debra Lehrman says her COVID-19 symptoms were “quite severe” but she has recovered.
Lehrman is one of nine judges on the U.S. state’s highest court for civil law. She announced May 21 that she and her husband tested positive for the coronavirus despite being diligent about following social distancing guidelines. She is the highest-ranking state official in Texas known to have gotten the virus.
Texas set record highs for both new coronavirus cases and the number of COVID-19 patients hospitalized on Tuesday. Lehrman did not give details about her treatment but says she plans to donate blood plasma to help other patients.
BERLIN — The foreign minister of Germany says the impact of the coronavirus pandemic on developing countries could have security implications for Europe unless steps are taken to help struggling nations.
Foreign Minister Heiko Maas said Wednesday that Germany would try to use its presidency of the U.N. Security Council and of the European Union starting next month to help prevent a health crisis from becoming a humanitarian emergency.
Maas said Germany’s particular focus will be on Africa, the western Balkans, non-EU members in Eastern Europe and Central Asia, and the Middle East.
A German Cabinet paper obtained by The Associated Press says further destabilization of countries in Africa and the Middle East could fuel existing conflicts, terrorism and irregular migration with “serious consequences also for Germany and the EU.”
The paper stresses the importance of the World Health Organization in leading and coordinating the global response to the pandemic, and other agencies in helping develop vaccines and effective drugs.
--By Frank Jordans in Berlin.
MALE, Maldives — The Parliament of the Maldives was shut for decontamination after a staff member tested positive for the new coronavirus.
Officials say health authorities began sterilizing the building Wednesday and tracing those who came into contact with the staff member.
The Maldives capital of Male has been under a lockdown since April because of the virus. Lawmakers recently resumed meetings at the Parliament building after meeting online.
The archipelago state has reported 2,094 virus cases and eight deaths.
VILNIUS, Lithuania — Lithuania has ended its three-month long lockdown regime imposed due the coronavirus pandemic but the government says the Baltic nation will continue its emergency declaration.
The quarantine that began March 16 was lifted Wednesday and the Lithuanian government hals halted most restrictions to curb the spread of COVID-19.
Among other things, larger public gatherings are allowed and protective facemasks are no longer required in public places. Most European citizens are allowed to enter the country except residents of Britain, Portugal and Sweden.
As of Tuesday, a total of 1,776 coronavirus cases and 76 deaths had been recorded in Lithuania, a nation of nearly 3 million.
DHAKA, Bangladesh — Bangladesh’s coronavirus caseload is nearing 100,000 as the country reported another 4,008 new positive cases and another 43 deaths.
Nasima Sultana of the Health Directorate said Wednesday the death toll from the virus reached 1,305 with the latest fatalities and the total number of infections stood at 98,489. The country’s Commerce Minister Tipu Munshi was among the new positive cases.
Bangladesh, a nation of 160 million people, has a weak healthcare system. that is being heavily tested during the pandemic.
MEXICO CITY -- Honduran President Juan Orlando Hernández has tested positive for the novel coronavirus.
A statement issued by the presidency late Tuesday said Hernández had followed recommended health precautions but “because of the nature of his work, it wasn’t possible to remain in total isolation.”
His office said Hernández began to feel ill over the weekend and his viral infection was confirmed on Tuesday. The statement said he was being treated with microdacyn, azithromycin, ivermectin and zinc.
It said the first lady has shown no COVID-19 symptoms.
Honduras has reported more than 9,100 confirmed virus cases and 322 deaths.