The Latest: WHO urges African governments to reopen schools
JOHANNESBURG -- The World Health Organization has urged African governments to accelerate the reopening of schools, saying that the continent’s youths will suffer from prolonged closures due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
WHO officials warned that poor nutrition, stress, increased exposure to violence and exploitation, and teenage pregnancies are among the problems faced by students remaining out of school in sub-Saharan Africa.
Only six African countries have fully opened schools, according to a survey of 39 countries by WHO and UNICEF. Many governments closed schools as part of measures to limit the transmission of the coronavirus. Some reopened and then had to close again when virus cases broke out in the schools.
HERE’S WHAT YOU NEED TO KNOW ABOUT THE VIRUS OUTBREAK:
— Rise in jobless claims reflects still-struggling US economy
— WHO seeks more information about Russia vaccine
— India reports record high of 69,000 new infections in past 24 hours
— Working families enlist grandparents to help with the kids. As the school year gets under way for many kids with working parents, more grandparents have moved into daily caregiver roles.
— Two players on the South Africa cricket squad have tested positive for COVID-19. The positive tests came at a team camp involving more than 30 of the country’s top players.
— As hospitals care for people with COVID-19 and try to prevent its spread, more patients are opting to be treated where they feel safest: at home.
HERE’S WHAT ELSE IS HAPPENING:
MADRID — Spain’s top coronavirus expert has delivered a stern call for people, especially the younger and social influencers, to be more responsible amid a surging number of infections mostly tied to nightlife and socialization during the summer holidays.
At a regular press briefing on Thursday, the head of Spain’s health emergency coordination center Fernando Simón said that younger people should take into account that they can infect older relatives that could suffer the consequences of COVID-19 more greatly.
“Nobody should be fooled, things are not going well,” Simón told reporters.
The Health Ministry on Thursday added 7,000 new cases to the total tally of nearly 378,000 infections since the beginning of the pandemic, the highest number in Europe. The total death toll rose to 28,813 with 16 new fatalities.
Simón said that the situation needs to be brought under control, by resorting to localized lockdowns if necessary, ahead of the beginning of the school year in mid-September.
ATLANTA -- New guidance from the President Donald Trump’s administration that declares teachers to be “critical infrastructure workers” could exempt teachers from quarantine requirements after being exposed to the coronavirus and send them back into the classroom.
Keeping teachers without symptoms in the classroom, as a handful of school districts in Tennessee and Georgia have already said they may do, raises the risk they’ll spread the coronavirus to students and fellow employees.
Multiple teachers can be required by public health agencies to quarantine for 14 days during an outbreak, which can stretch a district’s ability to keep providing in-person instruction.
South Carolina health officials also describe teachers as critical infrastructure workers, although it’s unclear if any district there is asking teachers to return before 14 days.
SAN TAN VALLEY, Ariz. — A suburban Phoenix school district forced by a teacher sickout to abandon plans for in-person learning this week is resuming virtual instruction only.
The J.O. Combs Unified School District board voted 4-1 Wednesday night to resume remote learning starting on Thursday. Superintendent Gregory Wyman says the district’s board will meet again Aug. 27 to review updated state coronavirus metrics on reopening schools and again consider whether to resume in-person instruction.
After teachers balked, the district dropped its plan to resume in-person learning this week and instead cancelled school for three days. Many say no Arizona counties met the state’s voluntary standards for in-person learning.
ROME — Italy has recorded another big increase in coronavirus infections, adding 845 new cases to its confirmed toll.
Nearly 77,500 virus tests were conducted in the last day, compared to the estimated 50,000 daily tests in the first half of August. The ramped-up testing to trying to catch new clusters before they increase.
The government has mandated testing for all people returning from Spain, Malta, Greece and Croatia and has set up testing sites at airports to try to inform infected passengers upon arrival.
Sardinia has become its own hotspot, after an entire resort was locked down and 26 infections reported. Many young Italians reported they got infected after partying at discos on the island and other beach destinations without masks.
There are concerns ahead of the reopening of public schools. However, education Minister Lucia Azzolina says the reopening of schools on Sept. 14 was on track, with protective masks, desks spaced apart and modified classrooms.
Italy’s confirmed cases stand at 256,118. Another six people died in the last 24 hours, bringing the confirmed death toll to 35,418.
TRENTON, N.J. — The agency that oversees high school sports in New Jersey has decided that indoor fall sports will be delayed until early next year, but outdoor sports will start in about a month.
The New Jersey State Interscholastic Athletic Association’s Sports Advisory Task Force released its “Return to Sports Plan” on Thursday. It features condensed schedules and will keep most contests local. The plan also prohibits out-of-state competition except for “exceptional circumstances” and states post-season play will be limited and local, with no statewide championships.
The task force noted if circumstances force the outdoor fall sports to be postponed, their seasons will be played during the spring.
THE HAGUE, Netherlands — Police in The Hague have arrested several people demonstrating outside the Dutch parliament against the government’s coronavirus containment measures.
National broadcaster NOS posted video on its website Thursday showing a riot officer hitting a woman twice with a baton and shoving her with his shield after she apparently ignored orders to move on.
Other video posted to social media showed demonstrators briefly clashing with police near parliament.
Hague police couldn’t immediately say exactly how many protesters were arrested.
Infections have been rising fast in the Netherlands in recent weeks. The Dutch public health agency says 529 people tested positive for the coronavirus in the last 24-hour period. The Netherlands has confirmed more than 6,000 deaths from the coronavirus.
LONDON — Scotland’s leader says it has recorded 77 more coronavirus cases, its highest daily number in almost three months.
First Minister Nicola Sturgeon says Scotland will remain in Phase Three of her four-part plan for easing lockdown restrictions.
She says moving to the next stage can only occur when her government is satisfied the virus is “no longer considered a significant threat to public health.”
Sturgeon will allow the reopening of gyms, swimming pools and indoor sports courts on Aug. 31.
BRUSSELS — The Belgian government has decided to relax some measures to contain the corona virus but maintain others.
While avoiding close contact, officials say shopping can happen with two people instead of alone and scrapping a time limit of 30 minutes in a shop.
Events indoors can be extended to 200 people instead of 100 and to 400 outdoors instead of 200 if social distancing rules can be respected.
Belgium has one of the highest COVID-19 death rates per capita in the world. About 10,000 people have died in a nation with a population of some 11.5 million.
LONDON — The World Health Organization’s Europe office says it has begun discussions with Russia to try to get more information about the coronavirus vaccine that Russia approved last week before the shot had passed the advanced trials normally required to prove it works.
Catherine Smallwood, a senior emergency official at WHO Europe, said “this concern that we have around safety and efficacy is not specifically for the Russia vaccine, it’s for all of the vaccines under development.”
She acknowledged WHO was taking an “accelerated approach” to try to speed development of coronavirus vaccines but said “it’s essential we don’t cut corners in safety or efficacy.”
Smallwood said WHO has begun “direct discussions” with Russia and that WHO officials have been sharing “the various steps and information that’s going to be required for WHO to take assessments.”
BERLIN — Germany’s foreign ministry has issued a travel warning for parts of Croatia as coronavirus risk areas.
That follows the Robert Koch Institute declaring the Croatian regions of Sibenik-Knin and Split Dalmatia as risk areas.
Risk areas means people returning from there to Germany are required to get tested for the virus.
Croatia is a popular vacation destination for Europeans. Last week, Austria already issued a travel warning for Croatia, which led to a mass exodus of Austrian vacationers.
Inside Germany, another 1,707 new cases were reported Thursday, reflecting similar spikes across Europe after a period of less virus activity in June and early July.
The spike in new cases in Germany is mostly related to travelers returning from abroad, but also to bigger crowds of people getting together for family gatherings and other celebrations. In addition, several German states have gone back to school again.
LONDON — The head of the World Health Organization’s Europe office said the region is “on a trajectory of its own” and noted that coronavirus cases have been steadily increasing every week in the last two months even as the epicenter of the pandemic has shifted to the Americas.
At a press briefing on Thursday, Dr. Hans Kluge said that while European countries had made “phenomenal efforts” to contain the virus after being hit hard earlier in the year, there were now about 26,000 cases every day across Europe.
Kluge said new clusters of the virus are mainly occurring in localized settings, like long-term nursing homes, food production facilities or sparked by travelers.
Kluge noted the region was in a “much better position to stamp out these localized virus flare-ups” and ”can manage the virus differently now than we did when COVID-19 first emerged.”
Kluge also called for schools to be reopened where possible and said WHO Europe would be convening a virtual meeting of its 53 member countries on August 31 to discuss how schools across the region might be reopened safely.
BERLIN — The conductor of a high-speed train in Germany called police after a far-right lawmaker refused to wear a mask, then locked himself in the bathroom.
Wearing simple mouth and nose coverings is mandatory on public transport, but rail firm Deutsche Bahn has struggled to enforce the rule with a small number of travelers who object to wearing masks.
Stephan Brandner, a member of the Alternative for Germany party, confirmed the incident took place on Aug. 12 but mocked reports that he tried to hide on the toilet.
German news agency dpa quoted a police spokesman Wednesday confirming that officers responded to a request for help from the conductor after two travelers on a train from Berlin to the Baltic town of Binz refused to put on masks.
Brandner wrote on Twitter that he had been enjoying a pastry when the conductor asked him to put on a mask, whereupon he responded: “Can’t, I’m eating right now, I’ll think about it afterward.”
CAIRO — The Egyptian government announced worshipers can soon attend mosque for Friday prayers now that the daily tally of confirmed new virus cases is plateauing at below 200.
Egypt’s Minister of Religious Endowment Mohamed Mokhtar Gomaa says weekly congregational prayers may be held starting Aug. 28. The gatherings have been suspended for nearly five months.
Worshipers are expected to observe social distancing and wear face masks to prevent another viral outbreak, Gomaa said in a statement Wednesday.
He says the Friday sermon, which usually lasts for nearly an hour, will be reduced to 10 minutes.
Starting in August, the number of new cases in Egypt has dropped significantly to less than 200 new cases a day.
On Wednesday, Egypt reported 161 confirmed cases and 13 deaths. Overall, Egypt has reported nearly 97,000 confirmed cases and more than 5,000 deaths.
COPENHAGEN, Denmark — The Norwegian government is advising against traveling to Britain, Ireland, Greece, Austria and parts of Sweden and Denmark, the latest European nations where the government doesn't recommend non-essential travel.
Norwegian health officials said these countries have now passed the threshold of 20 new coronavirus cases per 100,000 inhabitants in recent days.
As of Saturday, people from the countries on Norway’s red list will have to self-isolate for 10 days.
The other nations on the list where Norway advises against unnecessary travel are the Netherlands, Poland, Cyprus, Iceland, Malta, France, Spain, Portugal, Belgium, Switzerland, Romania and Bulgaria.
Norway has reported 10,162 coronavirus cases and 262 deaths.
NEW DELHI — India has recorded another record number of new coronavirus infections over the past 24 hours as it ramps up testing to more than 900,000 a day.
The 69,652 new cases reported Thursday push India’s total reported cases past 2.8 million, of which 2 million have recovered.
The Health Ministry says another 977 coronavirus fatalities were recorded in the past 24 hours, raising total deaths to 53,866.
India has conducted 3 million tests for the virus, but experts have urged increasing its testing capacity greatly, given India has the world’s second-highest population of 1.4 billion people.
It has the third-most reported cases in the world, behind the United States and Brazil, and has the fourth highest number of reported deaths behind the U.S., Brazil and Mexico.
India’s nationwide lockdown imposed in late March began easing in May and is now largely being enforced in high-risk areas.
CANBERRA, Australia — Australian lawmakers will for the first time attend Parliament remotely due to new rules introduced in response to the coronavirus pandemic.
Attorney-General Christian Porter on Thursday announced the new rules ahead of Parliament resuming for two weeks on Monday.
Lawmakers can participate in debates and ask ministers questions by video. They need to persuade House of Representatives Speaker Tony Smith that they can’t come to Canberra because the pandemic had made it “essentially impossible, unreasonably impracticable, or would give rise to an unreasonable risk” for the lawmaker to attend.
But they won't be able to vote on legislation, second motions or move amendments to legislation.
Most states and territories have closed their borders to non-essential interstate travelers to slow the spread of coronavirus which is concentrated in the cities of Melbourne and Sydney.
SEOUL, South Korea — South Korea has reported 288 new confirmed cases of the coronavirus — its third straight day of over 200 as health authorities scramble to slow an outbreak in the region around the capital.
The Korea Centers for Disease Control and Prevention figures brought the national caseload to 16,346 and 307 deaths.
The agency says 230 of the new cases are in the densely populated Seoul metropolitan region, home to half of the country’s 51 million people.
Health workers there have struggled to track transmissions tied to various places and groups, including churches, restaurants, schools and workers. Officials have banned large gatherings and shut down nightspots and churches in the capital area amid fears that the outbreak could spread nationwide.
MEXICO CITY — Mexico’s point man on the coronavirus epidemic says three weeks of continuing decline in the number of new coronavirus cases means the country is seeing a reduction in the pandemic.
Assistant Health Secretary Hugo López says “we now see a sustained tendency.”
Still, he warned that “the risk is not over” as his office reported still-high levels of confirmed infections and deaths. Confirmed cases rose by 5,792 to 537,031, and 707 more deaths were confirmed, bringing Mexico’s total to 58,481.
López Gatell cautions Mexicans that the health emergency will probably last until October, when the regular flu season begins.
LOS ANGELES — The mayor of Los Angeles says he authorized shutting off utility services at a home in the Hollywood Hills that has been the site of raucous parties despite a ban on large gatherings during the coronavirus pandemic.
Mayor Eric Garcetti said Wednesday that “this house has turned into a nightclub in the hills, hosting large gatherings in flagrant violation of our public health orders.”
The city has not identified the home’s address or the owner.
Garcetti warned earlier that such action would be taken against houses and businesses for hosting parties. He says big parties can be “superspreaders” of the coronavirus.
His warning came days after hundreds attended a party at a mansion without masks or social distancing. That party ended in a shooting that killed a woman and wounded two other people.
MELBOURNE, Australia — The Victoria government says residents of Australia’s second-largest city can now drive up to 5 kilometers (3 miles) from their homes to exercise.
Those who have been fined for doing that since lockdown restrictions were increased this month can apply to police to have their cases reviewed.
The government’s retreat followed a public argument between a Victoria Premier Daniel Andrews and a Melbourne resident angry she was restricted to walking in her own neighborhood.
Andrews says “if walking your local streets is boring, well, being bored is better than being in intensive care.”
Meanwhile, Victoria Deputy Chief Health Officer Allen Cheng says the daily new coronavirus tally need so be “substantially lower that it is now” before authorities would consider easing the Melbourne lockdown.
The numbers are in the low 200s, but Andrews says the "trend is good.”
“We have to acknowledge that even at that number — even at half that number — if you opened up, you wouldn’t have defeated the second wave. You’d just be beginning the process of a third wave,” Andrews says.