The Latest: Serbia data questioned; recount for virus deaths
BELGRADE, Serbia — Serbia’s president says the Balkan country will do a recount of COVID-19 deaths after a chief epidemiologist said more people have died of the disease than officially reported.
President Aleksandar Vucic said Thursday that “Serbia will do a complete revision for each death, for each person.” Vucic insisted that the authorities did not hide the number of fatalities caused by the pandemic.
The comments came after epidemiologist Predrag Kon said three times more people died in Belgrade by June than officially registered. Kon wasn’t clear over who’s to blame for the discrepancy.
Serbian authorities have denied accusations they let the pandemic spin out of control ahead of the June 21 parliamentary election and altered the numbers of the infected at the time.
Tens of thousands of people attended a soccer game in early summer, while anti-virus rules were almost completely relaxed. Restrictions to counter the virus were reintroduced in July following days of violent protests over the government’s handling of the crisis.
Vucic’s populists won a landslide victory at the ballot that was boycotted by many opposition parties who insisted the vote was unfair.
Serbia has reported more than 30,000 infections and 749 deaths.
HERE’S WHAT YOU NEED TO KNOW ABOUT THE VIRUS OUTBREAK:
__ An ambitious humanitarian project to deliver coronavirus vaccines to the world’s poorest people is facing potential shortages of money, cargo planes, refrigeration and vaccines themselves
— Mild to severe: Immune system holds clues to virus reaction
— Study: Neanderthal genes may be liability for COVID patients
— British lawmakers have renewed the Conservative government’s sweeping powers to impose emergency restrictions to curb the coronavirus but many criticized the way it has used the powers
— House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin have wrapped up an “extensive conversation” on a huge COVID-19 rescue package.
— NBA Commissioner Adam Silver reiterates the league’s hope is to begin next season with teams in their home arenas and with fans, though cautioned that there are still numerous unknowns
HERE’S WHAT ELSE IS HAPPENING:
JOHANNESBURG — Africa’s top public health official says the continent is “watching in total dismay” as COVID-19 cases rise again in Europe.
Studies show that the virus largely entered Africa from Europe, and on Thursday one of the continent’s busiest entryways, South Africa, reopened to international commercial flights.
Africa’s rate of new virus cases continues to drop, down 7.6% from last week, Africa Centers for Disease Control and Prevention director John Nkengasong says.
The 54-nation continent has over 1.4 million confirmed virus cases including over 36,000 deaths, nowhere near the 300,000 to 3 million deaths once projected.
Africa nations are trying to determine their true number of cases, with antibody surveys expanding to 15 countries. In a boost to testing —15 million tests have been conducted — some 20 million antigen tests will be distributed.
LONDON — British scientists are reporting that the rate of coronavirus infection across England has jumped four-fold in the last month and even higher in regions like northwest England and London.
That’s according to a large government-commissioned study that randomly tested tens of thousands of people in the community. But the researchers also said the epidemic does not appear to be growing exponentially at the moment.
“There is some evidence of a deceleration,” said Paul Elliott, chair of epidemiology at Imperial College London, who led the study. Elliott said some of the recently imposed measures in the U.K., including banning gatherings of more than six people, may have helped slow the spread of COVID-19.
Elliott said about 1 in 200 people across England are infected with the coronavirus, an increase from about 1 in 800 people in early September.
“We need to get on top of this now so we don’t have an exponential increase,” he said.
Elliott and colleagues noted that the steep rise in cases began in August — when the U.K. government launched a month-long promotion offering people steep discounts to eat out at restaurants.
The study also noted that rates of infection are increasing among all age groups in England, with the highest prevalence among 18 to 24-year-olds. The scientists reported that Black people and those of Asian descent were twice as likely to have COVID-19 as white people.
MADRID — Madrid will carry out a national order restricting mobility in large Spanish cities with rapid virus spread but its regional president announced Thursday she will fight the Spanish government’s resolution in the courts because she deems it arbitrary.
Spain’s official gazette on Thursday published the Health Ministry order that gives the country’s 19 regions two days to implement limits on social gatherings and shop opening hours and restricts trips in and out of any large cities that have recorded a 2-week infection rate of 500 cases per 100,000 residents.
Countrywide, only Madrid and nine of its suburban towns met the criteria as of Thursday.
Spain’s central government and regional officials in Madrid have been at odds for weeks over how to respond to the pandemic while the spread of the virus in the Spanish capital surged to the highest level in Europe’s second wave of infections.
The center-right Madrid government has resisted the stricter measures in the city of 3.3 million and its suburbs for fears of damaging the economy.
LONDON — An ambitious humanitarian project to deliver coronavirus vaccines to the world’s poorest people is facing potential shortages of money, cargo planes, refrigeration and vaccines themselves — and running into skepticism even from some of those it’s intended to help most.
In one of the biggest obstacles, rich countries have locked up most of the world’s potential vaccine supply through 2021, and the U.S. and others have refused to join the project, called Covax.
“The supply of vaccines is not going to be there in the near term, and the money also isn’t there,” warned Rohit Malpani, a public health consultant who previously worked for Doctors Without Borders.
Covax was conceived as a way of giving countries access to coronavirus vaccines regardless of their wealth.
Yet Alicia Yamin, a global health expert at Harvard University, said she fears the “window is closing” for Covax to prove workable. She says that poor countries “probably will not get vaccinated until 2022 or 2023.”
LISBON, Portugal -- Portuguese authorities say 17 Moroccan migrants being held at an army barracks broke out and fled after two other migrants there tested positive for COVID-19.
The national immigration service said the group broke out at dawn Thursday. Two were recaptured by mid-morning. Police across Portugal and in neighboring Spain were on the lookout for the fugitives.
A group of 24 Moroccan migrants who arrived last month in a wooden boat on Portugal’s southern coast were being kept in quarantine at the barracks due to rules on stemming the spread of the new coronavirus.
THE HAGUE, Netherlands — The Dutch government’s statistics office says the death toll from the peak of the coronavirus outbreak is significantly higher than the official figures published by the country’s public health institute.
The Central Bureau for Statistics reported Thursday that just over 10,000 people died of COVID-19 in March through June this year as the first wave of the pandemic swept across the Netherlands.
The official total for the entire outbreak stands at around 6,400 but the public health institute has always acknowledged that it includes only people who died after a positive coronavirus test and that many people died without being tested.
The statistics office says that based on doctors’ cause of death declarations, 7,797 died of COVID-19 from March to the end of June. A further 2,270 people died of suspected COVID-19.
The official death toll for those months, as reported to the public health institute by local health authorities, was 6,115.
The statistics office says that the figures differ because in some cases doctors reported the cause of death as COVID-19 based on clinical observations but without carrying out a test. It added that some local health authorities may have reported COVID-19 deaths later.
LONDON — Rolls-Royce Holdings plans to raise 2 billion pounds ($2.6 billion) by selling shares to existing investors after airlines around the world cut flights in response to the COVID-19 pandemic, slashing revenue for the jet-engine maker.
The London-based company said Thursday it also plans to raise at least 1 billion pounds by selling bonds, and it may increase borrowing by up to 2 billion pounds.
The financing package comes after the company earlier this year announced plans to cut at least 9,000 jobs and reduce costs by up to 1.3 billion pounds by the end of 2022. About 4,800 people had left the company by the end of August.
Chief Executive Warren East says, “the capital raise announced today improves our resilience to navigate the current uncertain operating environment.”
The company, which sells and maintains jet engines, has contracts with more than 400 airlines and leasing customers, as well as armed forces and navies around the world.
JERUSALEM — The Israeli government has approved a measure to limit protests and worship to within a kilometer (mile) of a person’s home, a controversial step to curb the spread of the coronavirus that critics say is aimed at quashing weekly protests against Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.
The Cabinet also approved late Wednesday a three-day extension of the country’s nationwide lockdown, imposed Sept. 18, until Oct. 14.
Defense Minister Benny Gantz defended the protest measure, telling Israel Radio that there was “a need for a postponement” in the demonstrations to halt the spread of the disease. He said the lockdown would likely remain for several more weeks.
Israel has seen a major increase in the number of new confirmed COVID-19 cases in recent weeks, and reached a new daily high of nearly 9,000 on Thursday. The Health Ministry has reported at least 248,000 confirmed cases and over 1,500 deaths from the coronavirus.
BEIJING — Tens of millions of Chinese are traveling during the combined National Day and Mid-Autumn Festival holidays, amid continued masking and other safety requirements aimed at preventing new virus outbreaks in a country that has seen no cases of local transmission in more than a month.
Fewer trips are expected, however, out of concern restrictions could be reimposed if new outbreaks occurred.
In Beijing, students and teachers are advised not to leave the city to ensure classes resume smoothly after the break. Partly to compensate, movie theaters and tourist attractions in the capital are being allowed to operate at 75% capacity. China has the world’s second-largest box office and movie-going is a major holiday activity.
Chinese usually travel abroad during the October holidays, but this year about 40% of the population is expected to make trips within the country.
NEW DELHI — India has reported 86,821 new coronaviruses cases and another 1,181 fatalities, making September its worst month of the pandemic.
The Health Ministry’s update raises India’s total to more than 6.3 million and 98,678 dead. India added 41% of its confirmed cases and 34% of fatalities in September alone.
India is expected to become the pandemic’s worst-hit country within weeks, surpassing the United States, where more than 7.2 million people have been infected.
The government announced further easing of restrictions Oct. 15. Cinemas, theaters and multiplexes can open with up to half of seating capacity, and swimming pools can also be used by athletes in training.
The government also said India’s 28 states can decide on reopening of schools and coaching institutions gradually after Oct. 15. However, the students will have the option of attending online classes.
International commercial flights will remain suspended until Oct. 31. However, evacuation flights will continue to and from the United States, Britain, Australia, Canada, France, Japan and several other countries.
WASHINGTON — Federal health officials are extending the U.S. ban on cruise ships through the end of October amid reports of recent outbreaks of the new coronavirus on ships overseas.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention announced Wednesday that it was extending a no-sail order on cruise ships with the capacity to carry at least 250 passengers.
The CDC said surveillance data from March 1 through Sept. 29 shows at least 3,689 COVID-19 or COVID-like illnesses on cruise ships in U.S. waters, in addition to at least 41 reported deaths. It said these numbers are likely an underestimate.
It cited recent outbreaks as evidence that cruise ship travel continues to transmit and amplify the spread of the novel coronavirus, even when ships sail at reduced passenger capacities. It said it would likely spread the infection in the U.S. communities if operations were to resume prematurely.
SINGAPORE -- Singapore will allow entry to travelers from Vietnam and Australia, excluding its coronavirus hot spot Victoria state, beginning next week.
The tiny city-state last month welcomed visitors from Brunei and New Zealand, and is cautiously reopening its borders after a virus closure to help revive its airport, a key regional aviation hub.
The aviation authority has said there is a low risk of virus importation from the two countries. Travelers must undergo a virus swab test upon arrival, travel on direct flights without transit and download a mobile app for contact tracing.
The Vietnam and Australia changes start from Oct. 8.
Singapore’s move is unilateral and not reciprocated by the other four countries.