October 28, 2021

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French PM reduces self-isolation time to 7 days

PARIS — French Prime Minister Jean Castex warned that the virus situation is “obviously worsening” in the country as health authorities recorded the biggest one-day jump in new cases since the pandemic began.

Castex announced Friday that the self-isolation time for COVID-19 is reduced from 14 days to seven days because it is the period “when there is a real risk of contagion” and in order to better ensure the enforcement of the measure.

French health authorities argued this week that the 14-day quarantine was not well respected by many in the country who considered it too long.

Castex himself is on self-isolation this week after he was in close contact with a person infected with the virus.

He also announced that specific testing centers will be set up to provide results in priority to people who have symptoms or have been in close contact with someone tested positive or are medical staff. People around France have reported long queues to get tested and several days to get the results.

French authorities have reported 9,843 new cases Thursday and a steady increase in virus-related hospitalizations in recent days.

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LUSAKA, Zambia — Zambia’s bars have been closed since March because of coronavirus restrictions, but now the president says they will reopen on a limited basis on weekends.

President Edgar Lungu in a speech to lawmakers warns that “should there be any flouting of these public health guidelines, I will be left with no option but to close them again.”

Zambia has been among a number of southern African nations restricting alcohol sales, including South Africa and Zimbabwe.

Lungu also says all schools and universities will reopen starting Monday after students lost a half-year of studies.

The president expressed concern about the “vices” such as teenage pregnancies that have increased with schools closed for so long. The southern African nation has more than 13,000 confirmed virus cases.

MADRID — Spain, the European country where the new coronavirus is currently spreading faster, on Friday added 12,183 new confirmed infections to a total tally of 566,326.

Although the day-to-day increase was the highest since the beginning of the pandemic, more than 7,000 of those were cases diagnosed earlier and only reported on Friday.

The Health Ministry recorded 48 new fatalities for COVID-19, bringing the total death toll to 29,747.

Spain’s cumulative incidence, a variable closely watched by epidemiologists, showed nearly 240 coronavirus infections per 100,000 inhabitants in the past two weeks, the highest in Europe.

The high figure comes a day after the top official designing the response to the pandemic hailed that the curve of contagion was “possibly stabilizing.”

On Friday, Health Minister Salvador Illa told Spain’s public broadcaster TVE that barring some specific regions with high levels of spread, “the situation is being brought under control.”

THE HAGUE, Netherlands — The Dutch public health institute says that 1,270 people tested positive for COVID-19 in the last 24 hours, the highest number since mid-April.

The rise Friday marks the second time this week that Dutch daily infections have topped 1,000 and are the latest sign that the virus is making a resurgence in the Netherlands.

The increase comes despite a bottleneck at testing stations around the country due to delays at laboratories that process the tests.

More than 6,200 people are confirmed to have died in the pandemic in the Netherlands, though the true number is higher because not everybody who died of suspected COVID-19 was tested.

On Tuesday, the public health institute reported that 5,427 people tested positive in the previous week, an increase of 1,830 compared to the week earlier.

The percentage of positive tests also rose to 2.8% from 2.2% earlier in the week.

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NEW ORLEANS — Louisiana Gov. John Bel Edwards is scheduled to give details Friday on how he will ease statewide business restrictions imposed in July to combat the spread of COVID-19 in the state.

The Democratic governor announced Thursday that the state would move from “Phase Two” restrictions imposed in July, and which expire Friday, to a new “Phase Three.” He said a statewide mask mandate will remain in place but otherwise withheld details, including whether the change will mean bars can reopen for in-person service, rather than just takeout or delivery.

Whatever Edwards announces won’t apply to New Orleans, where Mayor LaToya Cantrell has maintained local restrictions that surpass the state’s, including a ban on even takeout drinks at bars.

State regulations set to expire Friday, limit restaurants to 50% capacity for in-person dining, restrict bars to takeout and delivery only and place occupancy limits on gyms, salons and other businesses deemed nonessential. Indoor gatherings above 50 people are banned.

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COPENHAGEN, Denmark — Norwegian health authorities say the Scandinavian country must “plan for a new, national wave” of the coronavirus as Norway sees a spike in the number of cases.

“If it should come, it is more likely that it will happen in the autumn and winter when people gather to a greater extent indoors,” the Norwegian Institute of Public Health said in a report published Friday.

Line Vold of the government agency said that there are several local outbreaks, chiefly among young adults, adding “This is expected, and we think we will see more such outbreaks in the future.”

Norway has recorded 11,866 cases and 265 deaths.

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ROME — The Vatican says one of Pope Francis’ top collaborators, Filipino Cardinal Luis Antonio Tagle, has tested positive for the coronavirus.

The Vatican said that Tagle, who heads the Holy See’s powerful office in charge of the Catholic Church in Asia, Africa and other mission territories, last saw the pope in an official audience Aug. 29. He tested negative as recently as Sept. 7 but tested positive upon his arrival Thursday in Manila.

In a statement Friday, the Vatican press office said Tagle doesn’t have any symptoms and is self-isolating in the Philippines. In the meantime, the Vatican is tracing his recent contacts.

Francis brought the 63-year-old Tagle, the former archbishop of Manila, to Rome earlier this year to take over one of the biggest and most important Vatican congregations, the Congregation for the Evangelization of Peoples. Francis subsequently made him a cardinal-bishop, a ranking that made clear the pope’s esteem for him.

Both moves have boosted Tagle’s visibility within the church hierarchy and have given him experience working within the Holy See bureaucracy — two factors that, despite his relatively young age, help make Tagle a possible papal contender in a future conclave.

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MIAMI — Florida officials have announced that bars will be allowed to reopen at 50% capacity starting Monday.

At the direction of Gov. Ron DeSantis, Florida Department of Business and Professional Regulation Secretary Halsey Beshears issued an emergency order on Thursday night rescinding a previous order that halted the sale of alcohol at bars.

“In meetings with hundreds of owners of bars and breweries across the state, I’ve heard their stories of struggle, and I’ve observed their serious commitment to making health and safety a continuing priority in their businesses,” Beshears said in a statement. “It’s time that we take this step, and it’s vital that we start moving forward with this sector of our hospitality industry who have endured one of the toughest paths for sustaining a business during this pandemic.”

DeSantis said earlier Thursday he was planning to soon ease restrictions imposed on the state’s restaurants. He told a meeting of restaurant industry executives in Fort Myers that the current limitation of 50% capacity for indoor dining and requiring that tables be kept 6 feet (2 meters) apart seems arbitrary.

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LONDON — A study of coronavirus infection in England indicates that the epidemic is doubling every seven to eight days.

The finding came in a study of over 150,000 volunteers, who were tested between Aug. 22 and Sept. 7, by Imperial College London and polling firm Ipsos MORI.

Health Secretary Matt Hancock said the pandemic is “not over, and everyone has a role to play to keep the virus at bay.”

Separately, the Scientific Advisory Group for Emergencies, which advises the government, said the transmission rate was increasing across the whole of the U.K.

It said the reproduction rate is now between 1.0 and 1.2, meaning anyone with the virus is infecting, on average, a little more than one other. During the summer, the R number fell below 1, meaning the epidemic was getting smaller.

Earlier this week, the British government tightened restrictions in England on social gatherings as a result of a recent spike in new confirmed coronavirus cases. Gatherings will be limited to six people from Monday both indoors and outdoors.

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BANGKOK — Health officials in Thailand say a 29-year-old player from Uzbekistan who is a member of the Buriram United Football Club has tested positive for the coronavirus.

Dr. Yong Poosvorawan, an expert from Chalulongkorn University, said Friday that there is a high chance that the player, whose name was not released, contracted it outside of Thailand. The incubation period for the disease can sometimes be longer than 14 days.

Dr. Sophon Iamsirithaworn, director of the Communicable Disease Control Department, said the team’s 44 players and staff have been put under a 14-day quarantine. The player, who has shown no symptoms, was admitted to a Bangkok hospital.

The player arrived in Thailand a month ago and tested negative three times during his initial 14-day quarantine period in Bangkok ending Aug. 27. He traveled to the northeastern province of Buriram, and then tested positive on Sept. 8 ahead of the planned season opener.

The other Buriram personnel tested negative, but the team’s match for this Sunday was postponed, as were matches of two teams with which they warmed up.

A prison inmate earlier this month became Thailand’s first locally transmitted coronavirus case shortly after the country marked 100 days without one.

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ANKARA, Turkey — Turkey is getting tough on people who flout self-isolation rules despite testing positive for the coronavirus.

An Interior Ministry circular sent to the country’s 81 provinces on Friday said people caught leaving their homes despite isolation orders will be quarantined and supervised at state-owned dormitories or hostels. The circular said they would also be penalized for breach of a law regulating infectious diseases and quarantine.

Meanwhile, in the capital Ankara — which officials say has overtaken Istanbul as the nation’s coronavirus hotspot — civil servants will start work at varying hours of the day to ease overcrowding on public transportation.

The measures come as the number of daily COVID-19 cases and fatalities have jumped to levels last seen in May —before restrictions in place to curb the spread of the virus were eased.

Turkish media have reported several cases of COVID-19 positive people ignoring orders to isolate at home to attend weddings and other social gatherings.

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PESHAWAR, Pakistan — Pakistani authorities have announced the shutdown of a 250-bed COVID-19 hospital which was set up months ago in the country’s northwest amid increasing fatalities and infections from the coronavirus.

The medical facility for handling COVID-19 patients was set up at Lady Reading Hospital in the city of Peshawar after Pakistan reported its first confirmed case in February.

Hospital spokesman Mohammad Asim said Friday they recorded 270 deaths and handled thousands of patients since April.

He said currently they had only nine COVID-19 patients who will be moved to a new 25-bed ward at the hospital.

Other hospitals in Pakistan also plan to convert special COVID-19 wards of hospitals into other medical facilities.

The announcement comes hours after the government reported one of the fewest five fatalities from COVID-19 in the past 24 hours, raising hopes that Pakistan is on the right path to fully containing the new virus despite having a fragile health system.

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PRAGUE — The number of people infected with the coronavirus is surging in the Czech Republic, setting a record for the second time this week.

The Health Ministry says the day-to-day increase in the COVID-19 cases reached 1,382 on Thursday.

In the two previous days, the number of infected in one day surpassed 1,160.

In reaction to the spike, the Czech Republic has returned to mandatory wearing of face masks in interior spaces.

The Czech Republic has had a total of 32,413 COVID-19 cases and 448 people have died, according to government figures on Friday.

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BANGKOK — Myanmar on Friday reimposed tough measures to control the spread of the coronavirus, banning travel out of the country’s biggest city, Yangon, and grounding all domestic flights. Both measures, announced just hours before taking effect, will be in place until Oct. 1.

An upsurge in coronavirus cases that began in August in the western state of Rakhine has since spread to other parts of the country. Health authorities had already ordered partial lockdowns in 29 of Yangon’s 44 townships, and roadblocks were set up Friday closing some smaller streets in the city.

State Counsellor Aung San Suu Kyi, the country’s de facto leader, said in a televised speech Thursday night that while the new regulations might appear too restrictive, if they are strictly obeyed for two or three weeks, the outbreak would be under control.

The Health Ministry on Friday announced 115 new confirmed cases of COVID-19, bringing the total to 2,265, including 14 dead. Until the latest outbreak, Myanmar appeared to have largely been spared from the pandemic, having recorded just 353 virus cases as of the beginning of August.

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LISBON, Portugal — Portugal’s president says the United Kingdom’s decision to require quarantines for people traveling from the southern European country is unfair and punishes tourism-dependent regions.

Portugal, which is seeing a steady increase in coronavirus infections, was put back on Britain’s quarantine list on Thursday, three weeks after it had been taken off it.

British transport secretary Grant Shapps said the 14-day self-isolation rule only applies to those arriving from mainland Portugal, excluding the Azores or Madeira.

“We have a certain feeling of unfairness because we don’t close our doors to entries,” Portugal President Marcelo Rebelo de Sousa said late Thursday, according to public broadcaster RTP. “There are other countries that have much more difficult and complicated situations.”

He said the decision punished regions like Algarve, in the south, which is a magnet for tourists from Britain and where the spread of the virus is lower than in big cities.

Tourism, which accounts for 15% of Portugal’s gross domestic product and roughly 9% of its jobs, has taken a big hit from border restrictions.

Portugal has reported more than 62,000 cases, including 1,852 deaths, from the virus.

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