The Latest: Pope ends public audiences amid virus surge
VATICAN CITY — The Vatican is ending Pope Francis’ general audiences with the public amid a surge in coronavirus cases in Italy and a confirmed infection at last week’s encounter.
The Vatican says Francis would resume livestreaming his weekly catechism lessons from his library in the Apostolic Palace, as he did during the Vatican’s coronavirus lockdown during the spring and summer.
Francis resumed his Wednesday general audiences on Sept. 2 in a Vatican courtyard with limited numbers of faithful.
Francis’ decision to not wear a mask during his audiences has drawn criticism on social media, especially when he would greet prelates at the end of the audience. The Vatican said Thursday that someone who attended the Oct. 21 audience tested positive, though it didn’t say if that person was among those who greeted the pontiff.
HERE’S WHAT YOU NEED TO KNOW ABOUT THE VIRUS OUTBREAK:
— France prepares for monthlong partial lockdown
— Germany’s Merkel says to expect a “difficult winter”
— WHO concerned about coronavirus in Mideast
— Central Europe sounds the alarm as a surge of virus cases hit a region short of medical workers
— India’s cases surpass 8 million as concerns grow over Hindu festivals, winter and social distancing fatigue
— On the road in Mississippi, AP finds a story of love in the time of coronavirus
— Follow AP’s coronavirus pandemic coverage at http://apnews.com/VirusOutbreak and https://apnews.com/UnderstandingtheOutbreak
HERE’S WHAT ELSE IS HAPPENING:
MOSCOW — Russian President Vladimir Putin assured there’s no plans to impose a nationwide lockdown, despite reaching a daily record of 17,717 new infections on Thursday.
”(We) are not planning to impose all-out restrictive measures, launch a so-called nationwide lockdown, when the economy and businesses shut down completely,” Putin said at an investment forum. “Despite a difficult epidemiological situation, right now we’re much better prepared for working during an epidemic.”
Russia has had a resurgence of the coronavirus in the past two months, with new infections spiking from 5,000 a day in early September to more than 16,000 a day this week. Reports have surfaced about overwhelmed hospitals, drug shortages and inundated medical workers.
Russia has the world’s fourth-largest tally of confirmed coronavirus cases with more than 1.5 million. The government’s coronavirus task force has reported more than 27,000 deaths.
CAIRO — The World Health Organization says the coronavirus pandemic has reached “an alarming juncture” in Eastern Mediterranean countries.
Speaking at a virtual news conference in Cairo on Thursday, Rana Hajjeh, WHO Director of Program Management said: “There are about 3 million confirmed cases in the region and the number of COVID-19 associated deaths exceeds 75,000, with an overall death rate of 2.5%.”
She added the region has recently seen the highest weekly number of cases since the beginning of the pandemic.
“Our first and foremost line of defense in the battle against COVID-19 remains preventive public health and social measures,” said Hajjeh, noting the need for more wearing of masks and social distancing in the region.
The WHO Eastern Mediterranean comprises 21 states and the Palestinian territories, with a total population of more than 580 million.
Like Europe, these countries are bracing for a season where health care systems are expected to grapple with increasing cases of COVID-19 and the seasonal flu.
PRAGUE — The Czech Parliament has approved a government plan to allow up to 300 military medical personnel from NATO and EU countries to help with the coronavirus.
The first group of 28 medical staff is expected from the U.S. National Guard.
The Czech Republic’s daily increase in confirmed cases reached a record 15,663 on Tuesday.
There’s been 297,013 confirmed cases, including more than half — 157,000 — in the last two weeks.
Also, a new health minister was sworn in. Jan Blatny is replacing epidemiologist Roman Prymula who was dismissed after he was photographed visiting a restaurant.
Restaurants and bars are closed in the country as part of the tight regulations imposed to curb the surge. Prymula denied wrongdoing, saying he went through the restaurant to a private space for a meeting, but offered his resignation.
Blatny, a specialist in pediatric hematology, was deputy director of the University Hospital in the second largest Czech city of Brno.
The Czech Republic has reported 2,675 deaths in a country of 10 million.
PARIS — Doctors are expressing relief and business owners despair as France prepares to shut down for a month to try to put the brakes on a fast-moving fall coronavirus outbreak.
Shoppers at a Paris farmers’ market say they were ready to relinquish some freedom given the country’s rising number of virus-related deaths and COVID-19 patients filling French hospitals.
The new lockdown is gentler than the one the French government ordered in the spring, but restaurants and other non-essential businesses have been ordered to close their doors in one of the world’s biggest economies.
French schools will stay open this time to reduce learning gaps and allow parents to keep working. Farmer’ markets, parks and factories can continue operating, officials say.
BERLIN — Germany has begun taking in COVID-19 patients from neighboring countries like it did during the height of the pandemic’s first wave in the spring.
Germany has seen a sharp rise in confirmed virus cases in recent weeks, but the number of new daily infections remains below those even in smaller neighboring countries.
The Foreign Ministry said in a statement to The Associated Press on Thursday that two patients from the Netherlands and two from Belgium have been transferred to hospitals in western Germany in recent days.
In the spring, Germany took in 232 patients requiring intensive care from France, Italy and the Netherlands.
Foreign Minister Heiko Maas has stressed that the country remains ready to help allies again, including through a new European coordination office that’s received 220 million euros ($258 million) in funding.
WARSAW, Poland — Poland has registered another sharp spike in confirmed coronavirus cases and reported a new daily record of over 20,100.
The new cases reported Thursday, an increase from almost 19,000 reported a day earlier,
The spike, from almost 19,000 Wednesday, raised the possibility of the government further tightening restrictions that already call for masks to be worn outdoors and restrict shopping, restaurantsand fitness activities.
The most affected regions in the nation of 38 million were that of Poznan, in the west, Warsaw, in central Poland, and Silesia, in the south.
The country also reported 301 more virus-related deaths on Thursday, including 46 people who died of COVID-19 alone and 255 of the disease combined with other health problems. Health Ministry figures show that since the start of the pandemic, Poland has registered a total of 320,000 confirmed cases and almost 5,150 deaths.
NAIROBI, Kenya — Africa’s top public health official says the time is now to prepare for a second wave of COVID-19 on the continent as countries such as Kenya see infections creep up.
John Nkengasong with the Africa Centers for Disease Control and Prevention told reporters that Africa is at a “pivotal period and a very trying moment” as confirmed cases surge again in Europe and elsewhere.
He says Africa has made many gains against the coronavirus since the pandemic began and now faces a delicate balance as African nations aren’t rapidly locking down like they earlier in the year.
“We cannot be saving lives and not the economy,” Nkengasong said, adding that the only way to avoid further lockdowns is by increasing public health measures.
Testing for the virus in Africa’ remains relatively low, however, with just 18 million tests conducted so far. The 54-nation continent now has over 1.7 million confirmed virus cases – an increase of less than 1% from the previous week – and more than 42,000 virus-related deaths.
BERLIN — Switzerland’s top spy has contracted COVID-19.
The NDB intelligence service says its head, Jean-Philippe Gaudin, tested positive Wednesday and is self-isolating.
The agency said Thursday that Gaudin isn’t displaying any symptoms and is continuing to work from home.
Earlier this month, the head of Germany’s domestic intelligence agency, his two deputies and other staff members tested positive for COVID-19.
LONDON — The British government is insisting that a national lockdown would not be the right approach to deal with the resurgence of the coronavirus even as other countries in Europe are choosing variations of that route.
A day after France and Germany ratcheted up their national responses to contain surges in new infections, hospitalizations and deaths, Britain’s Communities Secretary Robert Jenrick said it is “right we try everything in our powers to avoid a blanket national lockdown.”
He said the virus is “very concentrated in some places” so the correct approach is to target restrictions on those areas with the worst outbreaks.
The British government, which is responsible for public health in England, has set out a three-tiered approach to the virus’ resurgence. In addition to national restrictions such as limiting public gatherings, there are tighter measures in parts of the country where the virus is most prevalent, such as large sections of northern England.
BERLIN — Chancellor Angela Merkel told Germans to expect a “difficult winter” as the number of newly reported coronavirus cases in the country hit a new high.
Merkel spoke Thursday in Parliament a day after she and the governors of Germany’s 16 states agreed upon far-reaching restrictions to curb the spread of the virus, including the closure of bars and restaurants, limits on social contacts and bans on concerts and other public events.
Germany’s disease control agency said local health authorities reported 16,774 new positive tests for COVID-19 in the past day, pushing the country’s total close to half a million. The Robert Koch Institute also recorded 89 additional deaths, taking the total to 10,272.
Merkel told lawmakers that Germany is in a “dramatic situation” as it goes into winter, which she said would be “four long, difficult months. But it will end.”
The long-time German leader said authorities had no choice but to drastically reduce social contacts as three-quarters of infections can’t be traced be traced anymore.
“If we wait until the ICUs are full, then it will be too late,” she said.
BRUSSELS — The number of patients in Belgian hospitals is now higher than during the first wave of the coronavirus crisis.
The latest figures showed that 5,924 patients were in hospital, surpassing the previous April 6 record of 5,759. The figures by the Sciensano center underscored the seriousness of the situation, which already pushed authorities to reinforce measures which they had relaxed only a month ago.
Patients in intensive care units reached 993, and virologists have said that unless tougher measures having a quick impact the saturation point of 2,000 patients will be reached on Nov. 6.
On Wednesday, Prime Minister Alexander De Croo promised tougher measures across the nation to avoid a breakdown of the country’s health system.
MADRID — As more of Spain’s 17 regions apply border travel restrictions, the Spanish government is seeking parliamentary approval to extend the country’s newly declared state of emergency to rein in resurging coronavirus infections until May.
The issue is being debated Thursday in the lower house of parliament and will be voted on later in the day but some opposition parties are against it. Still, the government is expected to win enough support as a rejection could send a message of chaos across the country and to fellow European Union members.
Spain announced its second nationwide state of emergency Sunday to try to stem a strong flare-up in infections and deaths, which is putting the health system under pressure again.
Spain last week became the first European country to surpass 1 million officially recorded COVID-19 cases, though authorities say the true figure could be three times higher. The death toll is at least 35,000.
ISLAMABAD — Pakistani authorities have ordered all businesses, including restaurants, wedding halls and markets, be closed after 10 p.m. to contain a coronavirus resurgence that began this month.
Also, authorities in the capital, Islamabad, asked police to arrest anyone violating social distancing rules by not wearing masks at public places.
The government Thursday reported some of its highest single-day totals, more than 900 new cases and 16 deaths. The numbers are almost double those reported some days last month.
Pakistan has reported 311,108 confirmed coronavirus infections, including 6,775 deaths.
PARIS — Struggling plane maker Airbus says new European virus lockdown measures are making its life “a bit more difficult,” as it announced 1 billion euros ($1.18 billion) in pandemic-related losses for the third quarter Thursday amid a slower-than-expected recovery in air travel.
CEO Guillaume Faury said Airbus has already repeatedly adapted its operations to cope with the virus and is not predicting major disruptions from the new restrictions, notably those announced in France and Germany on Wednesday.
“We will have to live with the circulation of the virus for long period of time,” he said. “Yes, it’s making our life a bit more difficult, but these kind of measures – which by the way, are necessary — are part of what we have to deal with.”
BEIJING — Officials in the northwestern China region of Xinjiang say they believe they have contained the country’s latest coronavirus outbreak.
Xinjiang reported 23 new confirmed cases Thursday, all involving people who had initially tested positive but displayed no symptoms. It was the second consecutive day in which newly confirmed cases emerged entirely among such people.
Officials say that development appears to show new infections have been curbed in Kashgar prefecture, where the outbreak appeared Saturday. They say all the cases seem to be linked to a garment factory that employs 252 people and has since being sealed off.
More than 4.7 million people in Kashgar have been tested for the virus.
ANCHORAGE, Alaska — Officials in Anchorage, Alaska, say the city is on a “dangerous path” as coronavirus cases rise and are urging people to avoid gatherings and follow orders to wear masks in public.
Acting Mayor Austin Quinn-Davidson says she has been meeting with business leaders, health officials and others to make decisions that protect health but also impose minimal restrictions so businesses can stay open.
The mayor says that “none of us wants another hunker-down” order.
The city’s health director says that after months of dealing with the pandemic, some people may have let down their guard. She says people should stay home except to get food, exercise outside or go to work. She says it is important to wear masks and social distance in public and to avoid contact with those at higher risk for severe illness.
WELLINGTON, New Zealand — The Marshall Islands has reported its first cases of the coronavirus after two people who flew from Hawaii to a U.S. military base tested positive.
The small Pacific nation had been among the last places in the world to have no reported cases of the virus.
The Office of the Chief Secretary says a 35-year-old woman and a 46-year-old man tested positive this week after flying directly from Honolulu to the base on Kwajalein Atoll. The office says that the two cases weren’t connected and that both people are in quarantine. The office says all businesses and government operations will continue as normal.
Home to about 78,000 people, the Marshall Islands maintains close military and civilian ties with the U.S. under a compact of free association.