Thu. Oct 1st, 2020

LONDON — Hospitals in England say a shortage of tests in Britain is jeopardizing efforts to restore medical services and prepare for a potential surge in coronavirus cases this winter.

National Health Service Providers says inadequate testing is leading to increased absences among NHS workers as they are forced to self-isolate while waiting for test results after possible exposures.

The shortage comes amid a surge in COVID-19 cases across the U.K. Last week, the U.K. recorded more than 3,000 new cases of the virus for three straight days for the first time since May. In response, the government has imposed new limits on public gatherings.

The government says it can process about 243,000 coronavirus tests a day, up from 220,000 at the end of August. The problem is the “second wave″ of the virus is hitting Britain earlier than anticipated, said John Bell, a professor of medicine at the University of Oxford.

The U.K. is No. 14 in coronavirus cases in the world with 373,559 and No. 5 in deaths with 41,726, according to the Johns Hopkins. On Aug. 20, the reported death count in the U.K. was 41,483.

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

— 1.8M people tested in massive Hong Kong testing program

— Bill Gates expects a coronavirus vaccine to get regulatory approval by early 2021

— Thailand considers reopening plan for tourists with special visas

— India confirmed more than 83,000 new coronavirus cases on Tuesday, bringing its total caseload to nearly 5 million.

— What are the different types of coronavirus tests? Two use nasal or saliva swabs to diagnose whether you have an active infection, and a blood test indicates if you previously had the virus.

— The pandemic has forced news organizations to rethink how they cover the presidential campaign and some journalists say that’s not necessarily a bad thing.

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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:

ANN ARBOR, Mich. — The University of Michigan is suing to stop a strike by graduate-student instructors after they voted to extend their walkout.

The lawsuit, filed Monday in Washtenaw County court, seeks an injunction that would stop the strike by the Graduate Employees’ Organization, which represents 2,000 graduate-student instructors and graduate-student assistants. The university said a strike is illegal under the contract.

The strike began Sept. 8. Union members said the university isn’t doing enough to prevent the spread of COVID-19. It also wants the campus police budget cut by 50% and an end to cooperation with Ann Arbor police, among other demands.

Approximately 90% of all undergraduate students are enrolled in at least one course that is led wholly or partly by a graduate student, the university said.

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BERLIN — Germany says it is providing up to $892 million to support three domestic pharmaceutical companies developing vaccines for the coronavirus.

Science Minister Anja Karliczek says the government has already agreed to pay BioNTech and CureVac to develop their mRNA-based vaccines. Talks with a third company are expected to conclude soon, she says.

IDT Biologika is developing a vaccine that delivers a coronavirus protein into cells to stimulate the body’s immune response.

The agreement with the three companies would guarantee Germany 40 million doses of vaccine. The amount comes on top of other vaccine supply agreements concluded through the European Union, of which Germany is a member.

Karliczek says Germany wouldn’t cut safety corners when it comes to testing vaccines, meaning most of the population may have to wait until mid-2021 to be inoculated.

“We need 55-60% of the population to be vaccinated,” he said. “I’m firmly convinced we will achieve this voluntarily.”

Health Minister Jens Spahn added Germany intends to share vaccines it doesn’t need.

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BANGKOK — Thailand’s Cabinet has approved in principle a plan to reopen the country to tourists by issuing special renewable 90-day visas and limiting their numbers to 1,200 a month.

Deputy Government Spokeswoman Traisulee Traisaranakul says the program, proposed to begin next month, is an effort to boost the coronavirus-battered economy, especially the tourism sector.

Under the plan, visitors would stay in quarantine at a hotel or hospital for 14 days on arrival and show confirmation they’ve made arrangements for long-term accommodations. The cost of the “special tourist visa” would be 2,000 baht ($64), with the same charge for each of two allowed renewals.

Thai health officials on Tuesday reported five new cases, from people arriving from abroad. That brings the confirmed total to 3,480 cases and 58 dead.

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CHARLOTTE, N.C. — A county in North Carolina incorrectly told nearly 7,000 residents they had tested positive for the coronavirus.

The Charlotte Observer reports the messages were sent by text messages to more than 6,700 residents in Mecklenburg County on Friday. More than 500 people also received a county email with the notice.

The county said Friday on Twitter the messages went out due to a technical glitch. The county’s manager told county commissioners on Monday they were sent through HealthSpace Data System, a company based in Canada. The county has been using the company’s software to help with contact tracing efforts in the pandemic.

HealthSpace CEO Silas Garrison apologized for “any alarm this caused citizens who were not supposed to be sent an alert or survey.”

A corrected text or email was sent to those who received the incorrect messages, Diorio said.

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COPENHAGEN, Denmark —Danish Health Minister Magnus Heunicke says face masks will become mandatory Thursday in restaurants, cafes and bars in greater Copenhagen after a recent coronavirus spike.

Those places, private parties and gatherings must close at 10 p.m. instead of midnight. Justice Minister Nick Haekkerup added that police could hand out fines to those who fail to follow the rules.

Heunicke says the spike was chiefly reported among young people between the ages of 20-29.

The announcement came hours after Prime Minister Mette Frederiksen said that medical authorities in Denmark “are warning that we stand on the brink of something that could develop into another wave.”

Earlier this month, authorities lowered the size of gatherings from 100 to 50 in greater Copenhagen.

Denmark has seen 20,237 cases — up 347 — and reported 633 deaths.

Meanwhile, Sweden is lifting a national ban on visiting elderly care home as of next month.

Sweden has recorded 87,345 cases and 5,851 confirmed deaths, mostly those over age 70 and in nursing homes.

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HONG KONG — Nearly 1.8 million Hong Kong residents took voluntary coronavirus tests as part of a massive community testing program, resulting in 42 cases being identified, the government said Tuesday.

The two-week testing program, which ended Monday, was aimed at identifying silent carriers of the coronavirus to cut the transmission chain in a wave of cases that began in July.

Although the total number of people tested fell short of the government’s initial estimate of four to five million, officials say the program met its objectives.

Hong Kong leader Carrie Lam says, “We have identified confirmed cases, we’ve isolated them and given them treatment to cut the transmission chain.”

China’s central government provided resources and staff for the testing program in the city, and many Hong Kong residents expressed fear that DNA might be collected despite the Hong Kong government dismissing such concerns.

Since the outbreak’s peak in July, cases have steadily dwindled. Hong Kong reported no new local coronavirus infections on Tuesday for the first time in more than two months.

The government also said it would further relax social-distancing measures, allowing bars, amusement parks and swimming pools to re-open. Restaurants will be allowed to serve customers until midnight. However, a ban on public gatherings of more than four people remains in place.

Hong Kong has recorded 4,976 infections and 101 confirmed deaths.

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LONDON — The group that represents hospitals in England says a shortage of COVID-19 testing is jeopardizing efforts to restore medical services and prepare for a potential surge in coronavirus cases this winter.

NHS Providers said Tuesday that inadequate testing is leading to increased absences in the National Health Service as staff members are forced to self-isolate while they and their family members wait for test results after possible exposure to the virus.

CEO Chris Hopson said that last weekend hospital leaders in Bristol, London and Leeds all raised concerns about the lack of testing.

He said hospitals “are working in the dark – they don’t know why these shortages are occurring, how long they are likely to last, how geographically widespread they are likely to be and what priority will be given to healthcare workers and their families in accessing scarce tests.’’

Home Secretary Priti Patel told the BBC it was “unacceptable” that some people were struggling to get tests, and “much more work needs to be undertaken with Public Health England.”

She says more testing slots and home testing kits were being made available as demand had risen.

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COPENHAGEN, Denmark — Danish Prime Minister Mette Frederiksen said Tuesday that medical authorities in Denmark “are warning that we stand on the brink of something that could develop into another wave.”

“Right now, we are dancing with the corona. And there is no indication that it will be easy,” she said on Facebook. “The (overall) infection numbers are at a high level. The number of people being admitted has increased.”

Her comments come as Copenhagen has seen a recent spike and her government is expected to present new measures for the Danish capital that “will include a special look at the nightlife” but also is likely to make face masks in crowded places like supermarkets mandatory.

Denmark has reported 20,237 cases including 633 deaths.

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LISBON, Portugal — Portugal is adopting new nationwide restrictions to contain a rising number of coronavirus infections.

From Tuesday, social gatherings are limited to a maximum of 10 people. Drinking alcohol in the street — which young people have done in groups because bars are closed — is banned.

Health authorities said Monday that 51% of the 613 new infections over the previous 24 hours were in people between 20 and 49 years old, with just 10% among people over 70.

Under the new rules, rapid response teams are on standby to attend outbreaks at nursing homes, while sports events are still not allowed to have spectators.

The daily number of new cases in Portugal dropped below 100 at the end of May, following a lockdown, but has risen significantly this month.

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BERLIN — Billionaire philanthropist Bill Gates expects a coronavirus vaccine to get regulatory approval by early next year.

In a series of interviews with German media published Tuesday, the Microsoft co-founder suggested several vaccines might be available in 2021, but cautioned that the pandemic may not be over until 2022.

Gates, whose foundation supports vaccine development efforts, told the weekly Der Spiegel that he sees a slim chance that drugmakers Pfizer and Moderna might get enough data by the end of October to apply for emergency approval for their COVID-19 vaccines.

But he expressed confidence that of the vaccines being developed by the two companies and rivals AstraZeneca, Johnson & Johnson, Novavax and Sanofi, “three or four” would get emergency regulatory approval by the beginning of 2021.

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MELBOURNE, Australia — Australia’s virus hot spot, Victoria state, says it will relax pandemic restrictions in most areas from Wednesday night.

Premier Daniel Andrews said Tuesday that people who live outside the state capital, Melbourne, would have no restrictions on leaving their homes and all shops will be able to reopen.

Andrews also urged Melbourne residents not to get discouraged about staying in lockdown as the rest of the state opens up.

People are not allowed to leave Australia’s second-largest city without approved reasons and police would tighten checkpoints on routes from Melbourne as the rest of the state opens up.

Australia on Tuesday recorded its first day without a single reported COVID-19 death since July 13.

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ISLAMABAD — Millions of Pakistani schoolchildren have returned to their classrooms as education institutions reopen after a closure of about six months to fight COVID-19.

Students in wearing masks were seen entering school buildings Tuesday, greeting each other from a reasonable distance instead of shaking hands or hugging.

The government has asked teachers, school staff and students to wear masks and regularly use sanitizers.

Pakistan closed schools in March when the government enforced a nationwide lockdown to contain the spread of coronavirus.

Authorities lifted curbs on most businesses in May, but schools remained closed across the country.

On Tuesday, Pakistan reported six new deaths from COVID-19 in the past 24 hours, one of the lowest number tolls in more than five months. Pakistan has reported 302,424 infections and 6,389 deaths since the pandemic began.

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NEW DELHI — India has reported its lowest daily jump in new coronavirus infections in a week, logging another 83,809 infections in the past 24 hours.

The Health Ministry on Tuesday also reported 1,054 deaths, driving total fatalities up to 80,776 since the pandemic began.

With 4.93 million confirmed infections, India has reported the second most cases in the world behind the United States. India also has the highest number of recovered patients in the world, according to Johns Hopkins University. The country’s recovery rate stands at 77.8% and nearly 3.8 million people have recovered from the virus so far, according to the Health Ministry.

Maharashtra state with more than 1 million cases remains the worst affected region in India, followed by Andhra Pradesh, Tamil Nadu, Karnataka and Uttar Pradesh.

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BEIJING — China has reported eight new coronavirus cases after going a month without reporting any new domestic infections of people displaying symptoms of the illness.

As of Tuesday there were just 142 people in treatment for COVID-19, while another 363 people were under observation in isolation for being suspected cases or for testing positive for the virus without displaying any symptoms.

Among recent cases were two Myanmar nationals who had crossed the land border at the Chinese city of Ruili, the National Health Commission reported on Monday. It said one of them was previously diagnosed as testing positive without showing symptoms.

Those who had been in close contact with the two had been placed under quarantine.

China has reported 4,634 deaths among 85,202 reported cases of COVID-19 since the virus that set off the global pandemic was first detected in Wuhan late last year.

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SEOUL, South Korea — South Korea’s daily tally of new coronavirus infections has stayed in the low 100s for a third consecutive day, maintaining a downward trajectory.

The 106 cases added Tuesday by the Korea Disease Control and Prevention Agency brought the country’s total reported cases to 22,391 with 367 deaths since the pandemic began.

South Korea’s daily increase has remained in triple digits for more than a month, but the number has gone down recently in the wake of stringent social distancing rules.

The government on Monday relaxed physical distancing guidelines in the greater Seoul area, the heart of a recent viral resurgence. A ban on a late-night dining at restaurants has been lifted, while cafes and bakeries can have customers eat and drink inside their shops, and indoor gyms and after-school academics reopened.

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MADISON, Wis. — The University of Wisconsin-Madison have decided to eliminate spring break next semester in an effort to curb the spread of the coronavirus.

The university’s Faculty Senate voted 140-7 on Monday to erase the nine-day break from the 2021 spring calendar. Officials said the move is designed to discourage students and staff from traveling long distances and bringing the virus that causes COVID-19 back to campus, officials said.

Provost John Karl Scholz said: “I realize the slog of going through a full 15 week semester with no break would be challenging, but given the vagaries of the pandemic, particularly in cold weather when people are indoors and the like. … I’m enthusiastically supportive.”

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CARSON CITY, Nev. — Nevada health officials say they expect to see an uptick in new coronavirus cases after President Donald Trump held rallies in the state over the weekend.

Thousands of mostly maskless supporters attended the rallies in Minden on Saturday and Henderson on Sunday, which violated Nevada directives capping at 50 the number of people who can attend public gatherings.

The rally in Henderson was the first indoor event Trump has held since a mid-June arena event in Tulsa, Oklahoma.

Nevada has reported more than 73,800 coronavirus cases and nearly 1,460 deaths since the start of the pandemic.

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SAO PAULO, Brazil — Brazil’s Supreme Court says its chief justice as contracted COVID-19 and is feeling well.

On the top court since 2011, Luiz Fux assumed its top position five days ago from José Dias Toffoli. The 67-year-old will remain in the post for the next two years.

The Supreme Court said in a statement Monday that Fux will remain in isolation for 10 days. Brazil’s top court is meeting online due to the pandemic and, while the chief justice normally presides over hearings from the court’s main chamber, Fux is expected to chair Wednesday’s session from home.

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