Wednesday 21 October, 2020

London at second-highest coronavirus alert level

People walk down the steps of the main entrance of Waterloo train station, at which point they are allowed to remove their face coverings, in London, Thursday, Oct. 15, 2020. London Mayor Sadiq Khan says he expects the government will move the UK capital to a higher level of COVID-19 restrictions later Thursday. (AP Photo/Matt Dunham)

People walk down the steps of the main entrance of Waterloo train station, at which point they are allowed to remove their face coverings, in London, Thursday, Oct. 15, 2020. London Mayor Sadiq Khan says he expects the government will move the UK capital to a higher level of COVID-19 restrictions later Thursday. (AP Photo/Matt Dunham)

Britain's health secretary says London has moved to the second-highest coronavirus alert level amid a rise in cases.

Health Secretary Matt Hancock told the House of Commons the government acted because infection rates are rising rapidly in the capital and swift action was necessary to control the virus.

The move comes as millions of people in northern England are waiting to learn if they'll be placed under the government's tightest restrictions, like Liverpool.

The "high risk" category in the government's new three-tier regional COVID-19 strategy would require closing bars and banning social gatherings outside one's own home.

London Mayor Sadiq Khan says he'll continue to lobby the government for further financial assistance for those affected.

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HERE'S WHAT YOU NEED TO KNOW ABOUT THE VIRUS OUTBREAK:

— WHO: European cases rocket, says strong coronavirus limits needed

— Germany reports more than 6,600 new coronavirus cases

— India reports 67,708 new infections, total more than 7.3 million

— London moves to second-highest  coronavirus alert level amid rise in cases.

— French police search homes of the former prime minister, the current and former health ministers in probe of government response  to coronavirus pandemic.

— Nominations for the Tony Awards will have just 18 eligible plays and musicals because of the coronavirus interrupting on the Broadway season.

 

HERE'S WHAT ELSE IS HAPPENING:

LISBON, Portugal — Portugal is restricting social gatherings to a maximum of five people.

It's also making masks mandatory outdoors and will impose fines on those disregarding measures against the record numbers of coronavirus infections.

Some of the new measures will last initially 15 days and come under a state of calamity that came into force in the early hours of Thursday, a day after it was adopted by the Portuguese Cabinet.

Prime Minister Antonio Costa has called the surge in coronavirus cases as "serious" but has rejected imposing a strict lockdown.

Attendance at weddings, baptism ceremonies and other family functions will be limited to 50 people. Businesses that break rules on opening times and on serving of alcohol will face fines up to 10,000 euros ($11,700), twice as much as the current amount.

Portugal has more than 90,000 confirmed infections and 2,100 deaths.

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LONDON — The exponential surge of coronavirus cases across Europe has warranted the restrictive measures being taken in numerous countries, making them "absolutely necessary," the head of the World Health Organization's Europe office says.

In a press briefing Thursday, Dr. Hans Kluge warned even more drastic steps could be taken if the pandemic does not recede.

He called for countries to be "uncompromising" in their attempts to control the virusm saying most of the COVID-19 spread is happening in homes, indoor spaces and communities not complying with protection measures.

"These measures are meant to keep us all ahead of the curve and to flatten its course," Kluge said, while wearing a mask. "It is therefore up to us to accept them while they are still relatively easy to follow."

Kluge cited epidemiological models that suggested if 95 per cent of people wear masks and other social distancing measures are applied, Europe could avoid about 281,000 deaths by February. But he warned that relaxing measures could lead to a five-fold increase in deaths by January.

"The evolving epidemic in Europe raises great concern," he said. "But we should not hold back with relatively smaller actions in order to avoid the same very painful damaging actions we saw in the first peak."

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PRAGUE — The Czech Republic's military will establish a hospital at Prague's exhibition center to treat COVID-19 patients, the first such facility in one of the hardest-hit European countries.

Thursday's announcement by Interior Minister Jan Hamacek comes amid a record surge of new coronavirus cases in the country that reached a record high of 9,544 a day earlier.

Reacting to growing number of coronavirus hospitalizations, Prime Minister Andrej Babis says the government is planning to buy 4,000 extra hospital beds. The country's hospitals currently treat 2,678 coronavirus patients and the government says the hospitals could reach their full capacity by the end of October.

"We have to build extra capacity as soon as possible," Babis said Thursday. "We have no time, the prognosis is not good," Babis told reporters ahead of his trip to Brussels for an EU summit.

Health Minister Roman Prymula said sports grounds and other venues can also be used for treating coronavirus patients.

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ATHENS, Greece — Greek civil servants have walked off the job in a 24-hour strike demanding, among other things, better pay for health and education workers and more hiring during the coronavirus pandemic.

The strike Thursday shut down public services across the country, while the participation of air traffic controllers forced airlines to cancel or reschedule flights until 8 a.m. Friday.

Hundreds of health care workers marched through central Athens ahead of the main strike demonstration set for the center of the capital later Thursday.

The country's main civil servants' union, ADEDY, called the strike over a series of demands, including an increase in health spending, more intensive care unit beds and new permanent hirings in education to let school classes be limited to 15 pupils.

Greece has been experiencing a resurgence in the pandemic that has increased pressure on the health system. The government has increased the number of intensive care unit beds available for coronavirus patients.

The country of around 11 million people has seen new daily coronavirus cases hovering around the 300 to 400 mark. It currently has a total of 23,495 confirmed cases, with 469 deaths.

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BRATISLAVA, Slovakia — Slovakia is registering a new record high in coronavirus infections with the new confirmed cases in one day almost reaching 2,000.

The Health Ministry says the day-to-day increase of those tested positive was 1,929 on Wednesday. The previous record of 1,887 was set on Friday.

Slovakia imposed new restrictive measures on Thursday, making it mandatory again to wear face masks outdoors and banning all public events. Fitness and wellness centers, public swimming pools, theaters and cinemas will be closed. Restaurants are banned from serving meals indoors and the number of people in stores is limited.

Slovakia has seen 24,225 confirmed infections with 71 deaths.

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ZAGREB, Croatia — Croatia is reporting record numbers of new infections for the second day in a row amid alarm over the rise in cases.

Authorities said Thursday that 793 people have tested positive in the past 24 hours while 10 people have died. On Wednesday, Croatia reported 748 new cases and four deaths.

The confirmed new cases are the highest in the European Union country of some 4.2 million people since the start of the outbreak. Authorities have tightened preventive measures to try and curb the spread.

Most of the new cases have been recorded in the capital of Zagreb.

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TIRANA, Albania — Fearing a resurgence of COVID-19 cases with the winter and flu ahead, the Albanian government has ordered the mandatory use of masks outdoors starting Thursday.

The rules, which likely run until February, also impose a 3,000 lek ($28) fine on those who flout the law. Mask use has been mandatory indoors, too. Only homes, restaurants and cafes will be where people are allowed not to wear a mask.

Albania, with 2.8 million people, had 203 new confirmed virus cases on Wednesday.

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PRAGUE — Coronavirus infections in the Czech Republic have hit a new record high, surpassing 9,000 confirmed cases in one day for the first time.

The Health Ministry says the day-to-day increase registered on Wednesday reached 9,544, more than 900 more than than the previous record set on Friday in the nation of over 10 million.

The Czech Republic has had a total of 139,290 cases since the beginning of the pandemic with 1,172 deaths.

The record surge is followed by the growing number of COVID-19 patients in hospitals. Of the 77,217 currently ill with the virus, 2,678 needs hospitalization while 518 are in serious condition.

The government says the hospitals could reach its full capacity by the end of October while working to increase the number of beds available to 10,000.

The Health Ministry has imposed a series of restrictive measures in efforts to contain the spike with schools and restaurants closed and public events banned.

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HONG KONG — Hong Kong and Singapore say they have agreed to a bilateral air travel bubble, re-establishing travel links as coronavirus infections in both cities decline.

Under the air travel bubble, travelers from Hong Kong and Singapore will not be restricted on their travel purposes, Hong Kong commerce minister Edward Yau said Thursday. This means that tourists from each city will be able to visit the other.

Under the air travel bubble, travelers will also not be subject to compulsory quarantine, provided they have taken coronavirus tests mutually recognized by both cities, with a negative test result.

Additionally, travelers are required to fly on dedicated flights, which will only serve air travel bubble travelers between Hong Kong and Singapore. The launch date has yet to be announced.

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BERLIN — Germany has reported more than 6,600 new coronavirus cases, its highest recorded daily total since the pandemic began.

The national disease control center, the Robert Koch Institute, said early Thursday that 6,638 infections were reported over the past 24 hours. That is about 1,500 higher than a day earlier, and exceeds the previous high of nearly 6,300 seen in late March. Testing has been expanded considerably over recent months.

While Germany is still in better shape than many other European countries, the latest figures underscore concern about a rapid rise in infections over recent weeks.

On Wednesday night, Chancellor Angela Merkel and the country's 16 state governors agreed to tighten mask-wearing rules, make bars close early and limit the number of people who can gather in areas where coronavirus infection rates are high.

In total, Germany has reported more than 341,000 cases of COVID-19, including 9,710 deaths. On Thursday, 33 new deaths were reported.

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BRUSSELS — One of Belgium's main universities is moving to online education whenever possible because the coronavirus is continuing to soar across the nation and another is preparing to follow suit.

Ghent University said the measure will enter into force on October 26 and Dutch-speaking Free University of Brussels said it already prepared its staff and facilities to do likewise if necessary.

Belgium has said keeping its schools open was a key goal while it took other measure to counter the resurgence of the virus, but the main indicators are spiking at a sustained rate.

Over the week ending October 11, new cases increased by 101 per cent compared to the previous week and stood at 5,421. The total of confirmed cases since the pandemic began stood at 181,511 in the nation of 11.5 million. The cases per 100,000 inhabitants stood at 494, one of the highest in Europe.

The virus has killed 10,278 people in Belgium.

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NEW DELHI — India has reported its lowest daily increase in coronavirus deaths in nearly three months.

The Health Ministry on Thursday reported 680 fatalities in the past 24 hours, the lowest in 11 weeks, raising the country's death toll since the pandemic began to 111,266. The country was seeing more than 1,000 virus deaths per day last month.

The ministry also reported 67,708 new infections, raising India's total to more than 7.3 million.

According to the ministry, India's average number of daily cases dropped to 72,576 last week from 92,830 during the week of Sept. 9-15, when the virus peaked. Over the last month, the country has been seeing a trend of declining cases on a week-to-week basis.

Health experts have warned about the potential for the virus to spread during the religious festival season beginning later this month, which is marked by huge gatherings of people in temples and shopping districts.

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COLOMBO, Sri Lanka — Authorities in Sri Lanka will impose a curfew on a key industrial town, after a surge of COVID-19 cases centered around a garment factory in the capital's suburbs.

Police spokesman Ajith Rohana says a curfew will be imposed in Katunayake from Thursday until further notice.

Katunayake houses the country's flagship industrial zone where more than 50,000 workers are employed. The country's main international airport is also located there.

Authorities say the factories in the zone will continue their operations despite the curfew.

The Indian Ocean island nation last week reported its first locally transmitted infection in more than two months when a garment factory worker tested positive.

By Thursday, the number of infections linked to the cluster had climbed to 1,723, and more than 2,000 other people have been asked to quarantine at home.

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MEXICO CITY — Mexico has reported that 1,744 health-care workers have died so far of COVID-19, and another 164 are suspected to have died of it but their test results are still pending.

The number of doctors, nurses, technicians and hospital employees confirmed to have been infected with the novel coronavirus in Mexico now amounts to 127,053. That means health care professionals account for about 15 per cent of all Mexico's confirmed coronavirus cases, and about 18 per cent of all COVID-19 deaths.

The Health Department said that of those who died, 42 per cent were nurses, 26 per cent were doctors, and 32 per cent were technicians, cleaning staff or other hospital employees.

Mexico has one of the highest rates of medical-personnel deaths in the world, and hospital employees have staged a number of demonstrations in Mexico to protest insufficient personal protective equipment. But Health Department officials denied the death rates was because of a lack of protective gear. 

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