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The Latest: Britain PM resists calls to extend worker wages

LONDON — British Prime Minister Boris Johnson is resisting calls to extend a government program that has paid the wages of millions of workers laid off during the coronavirus lockdown.

Since April, the government has paid 80% of the salaries of furloughed employees. The program has supported almost 10 million workers but is due to end on Oct. 31.

Opposition parties have called for its extention. Scottish National Party lawmaker Ian Blackford says failing to do so would bring “levels of unemployment last seen under (Prime Minister Margaret) Thatcher in the early 1980s.”

Answering questions in the House of Commons, Johnson says the government had spent 40 billion pounds ($53 billion) on the program but continuing it indefinitely would keep workers “in suspended animation.”

Johnson says, “indefinite furlough is just not the answer.” He says the government was helping people with other programs, including a “Kickstart scheme” that will subsidize companies to hire young people.

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

— Hong Kong to ease virus measures as cases slow

— U.S. government cancelling some orders for ventilators, after rushing to sign emergency contracts in spring

— The Sun Belt's coronavirus summer is easing after 35,000 deaths, but next question is impact of school and other events returning

Antibodies against virus last longer than earlier reports suggested, according to a scientific finding raising vaccine hopes

— 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:

LANSING, Mich. — A task force says Michigan should modify a system in which nursing home residents infected with the coronavirus can be treated and isolated in those facilities.

The group was created by Gov. Gretchen Whitmer to prepare for a potential second surge of the coronavirus. Nursing home residents account for 31% of Michigan’s confirmed or probable deaths related to the virus.

Of the 28 recommendations, nearly half involve ways to improve the quality of life inside homes that had to stop communal dining and restrict visits. The panel urged allowing outdoor and window visits, limited communal dining and optional “pod”-like arrangements where residents could spend time together in small groups.

Other recommendations include prioritizing nursing homes for personal protective equipment and testing supplies, lessening data-reporting requirements and designating labs that give priority to specimens from the homes.

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ST. PAUL, Minn. — A Ramsey County judge has dismissed a lawsuit challenging Gov. Tim Walz’s executive orders during the coronavirus pandemic.

Thirteen Republican legislators and a group of businesses contended the Democratic governor abused his power and interfered with the legislative process when he closed schools, issued a mask mandate and limited businesses’ operations.

District Court Judge Thomas Gilligan upheld the governor’s actions Tuesday. A group called Free Minnesota Small Business Coalition argued the governor is usurping the powers of the Legislature. The Walz administration and DFL legislators have maintained that an emergency declaration is necessary to deal with the pandemic.

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MIAMI — Officials say a cyberattack and a software glitch plagued Florida’s largest school district during the first two days of its virtual start to the school year.

Miami-Dade County Public Schools Superintendent Alberto Carvalho says the district suffered a distributed denial of service attack Monday morning as a software glitch blocked access to the district’s servers.

The Miami Herald reports the glitch and attack rendered multiple online school district features useless and teaching nearly impossible. Carvalho says the FBI and Secret Service have been called in and subpoenaed the school district’s internet provider.

He adds the glitch has been resolved and didn’t penetrate the district’s servers.

It wasn’t known who initiated the attack, but Carvalho says he wants those responsible prosecuted.

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MADRID — Thousands of Spanish teachers and auxiliary staff are standing in long lines in the street in Madrid after being told to take a coronavirus test just days before the start of classes.

Labor groups say some 100,000 teachers were informed less than 24 hours beforehand about five locations in the city where they had to take the coronavirus tests. The tests are mandatory for school employees.

The tests are taking place between Wednesday and next Monday. School re-openings are staggered, with preschool starting Thursday. Older children go back next week.

The Madrid region is a coronavirus hot spot, with almost 32,000 new cases officially recorded in the past two weeks.

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HONG KONG — Hong Kong will further relax social distancing measures from Friday, allowing gyms and massage parlors to reopen and extending dining-in hours at restaurants as new daily coronavirus infections dwindle to single digits.

Tough restrictions had been imposed in July when a new surge of coronavirus hit Hong Kong, temporarily shuttering such businesses and limiting public gatherings to two people. Daily infections have since steadily decreased from a peak of more than 100 in July to eight on Wednesday, the lowest number in two months.

Officials started easing measures last week, allowing cinemas and beauty salons to re-open with social distancing measures in place.

While gyms can operate from Friday, gym-goers must wear masks while exercising, and gym classes will only be restricted to four people, government officials said Wednesday.

Swimming pools, bars and karaoke lounges will remain closed.

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ATHENS, Greece — Greek authorities are imposing a 14-day quarantine on the Moria migrant camp on the island of Lesbos after one man who had been living outside the official camp tested positive for the coronavirus.

The overcrowded Moria camp houses 12,714 people, well over its capacity of 2,757.

The Migration Ministry said Wednesday that 40-year-old Somali man had been granted refugee status and a residence permit to live in Greece, and had left the camp on July 17. However, he had returned in recent days and had been living in a tent outside the camp fence. He is currently hospitalized in isolation on the island.

The migration ministry said no entry or exit from the camp would be allowed until Sept. 15, while police presence will be increased around the camp to ensure the lockdown is not breached.

Health authorities said the man’s contacts were being traced and all would be quarantined, while extensive coronavirus tests were being conducted on the camp’s residents.

Moria, by far the largest of the camps, had been free of confirmed COVID-19 cases until now.

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BERLIN — Berlin prosecutors have thrown out hundreds of criminal complaints against a leader of one of Germany’s governing parties over her use of the word “covidiots” to describe protesters who demonstrated against coronavirus restrictions without masks or social distancing.

Saskia Esken, a co-leader of the center-left Social Democrats, used the term in a tweet on Aug. 1 as around 20,000 people demonstrated in Berlin. Police ultimately ended the rally because organizers failed to get participants to keep their distance or wear masks.

Berlin prosecutors on Wednesday said they had decided against opening an investigation after receiving several hundred criminal complaints alleging slander.

They said Esken’s use of the expression was covered by constitutionally protected freedom of expression.

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VATICAN CITY — Pope Francis has held his first public general audience after a pause of nearly six months due to the coronavirus outbreak.

Francis used Wednesday’s audience to call for solidarity as the way to exit the crisis.

Francis said: “The current pandemic has highlighted our interdependence: We are all linked to each other, for better or for worse.”

He added: “To come out of this crisis better than before, we have to do so together, all of us, in solidarity.”

About 500 faithful attended the audience in the Vatican’s San Damaso courtyard.

Under strict safety rules, faithful kept social distances as they sat in the courtyard and were all required to wear masks. The Pope didn’t wear one as he met the crowd, but kept a safety distance from the faithful, who were cheering and waving at him.

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DUBAI, United Arab Emirates —The United Arab Emirates says several schools across the country will switch to remote learning in response to suspected coronavirus outbreaks oamong employees, just days after schools reopened for in-person instruction.

The country’s National Emergency Crisis and Disaster Management Authority made the announcement Wednesday as the UAE reported 541 new coronavirus infections, its biggest one-day jump in almost two months. Virus cases in the Gulf country have been steadily rising in recent weeks, with 70,231 infections, including 384 deaths, reported by health authorities since the pandemic began.

Schools welcomed students back across the seven emirates on Sunday with conditions, including mandatory masks, social distancing and temperature checks.

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LONDON — Some families of those who died in the pandemic are accusing British Prime Minister Boris Johnson of being “heartless” for refusing to meet with them.

Covid-19 Bereaved Families for Justice, which represents more than 1,400 families, wants a public inquiry into the government’s handling of the pandemic.

Organizers say Johnson previously agreed to meet with them, but on Wednesday they shared a letter in which the prime minister declined to do so.

Campaign co-founder Jo Goodman, who lost her father to the virus, says Johnson dodged five letters requesting a meeting and now he is "telling us he’s too busy. It’s heartless.”

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NEW DELHI — India registered 78,357 new coronavirus cases in the past 24 hours, raising its total over 3.7 million as the government eases pandemic restrictions nationwide to help the battered economy.

India, a nation of 1.4 billion people, is fast becoming the world’s coronavirus epicenter. It has been reporting the highest daily increases in new cases for more than three weeks, and at its current rate is likely to soon pass Brazil and ultimately the United States in total reported cases.

The Health Ministry on Wednesday also reported 1,045 deaths in the past 24 hours, taking total fatalities up to 66,333. It now has the third-most deaths after recently passing Mexico’s toll, according to a Johns Hopkins University tally.

Infections have been spreading fast from people in India’s big cities to smaller towns and rural areas.

Its testing capacity of nearly 100,000 per day has been increasing but experts say it is not enough.

On Wednesday, the Indian Council of Medical Research, India’s top medical research body, said the country had conducted nearly 44 million tests for the virus since the pandemic began.

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SEOUL, South Korea — South Korea has recorded 267 additional cases of the coronavirus, marking a triple-digit daily jump for the 20th straight day that has forced local authorities to impose tough social distancing rules.

The Korea Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said Wednesday the additional figures took the country’s tally to 20,449 that includes 326 deaths.

The agency says 253 of the new cases were locally infected patients, 187 of them in the densely populated Seoul metropolitan area.

South Korea has seen a spike in infections since early last month, many associated with churches, restaurants, schools and a public rally. Authorities have recently restricted dining at restaurants and ordered the shutdowns of churches, fitness centers and night establishments in the Seoul area as it struggles to track many of the new infections.

The caseload has trended slightly downward in recent days, but health officials have urged the public to keep following strengthened social distancing guidelines.

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MELBOURNE, Australia — Australia’s hot spot Victoria state on Wednesday extended its state of emergency for another six months as its weekly average of new COVID-10 infections dipped to 95.

The Victorian Parliament’s upper chamber passed legislation by a 20-19 vote to extend the state of emergency, which enhances the government’s powers to impose pandemic restrictions.

The government had wanted a 12-month extension.

The state health department reported 90 new infections and six deaths in the latest 24-hour period. There were only 70 new infections on Tuesday.

But the latest seven-day average has dropped into double-digits for the first time in weeks. The previous week’s average was 175 infections a day.

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