The Latest: Tiny Belgium leads world in deaths per capita

BRUSSELS — Belgium leads the world with 129 deaths per 100,000 people, according to data by Johns Hopkins University.

Spain is next with 89, followed by Argentina (81), Brazil (79.5), Britain (79.4), Mexico (78), Italy (76.8) and the United States (76.0).

Belgium, a nation of 11 million people, has reported a daily average of 185 deaths, a slight decrease from its previous seven-day average.

Belgian virologist Steven Van Gucht says it’s a 5% decrease. He urged citizens to adhere to the government coronavirus advice and respect the rules of the partial lockdown in place across the nation.

The daily average of hospital admissions was 406 patients per day, a decrease of 24%.

Belgium has reported more than 504,000 total cases and 14,839 confirmed deaths.



— Pfizer seeks regulatory review of vaccine candidate within days

— Europe has half of world’s 4M new virus cases tallied last week

— FDA allows first prescription rapid coronavirus test that gives results at home

— Surge of coronavirus cases U.S. sends people back to stores to stockpile again, leaving shelves bare and forcing retailers to put limits on purchases.

— Watchdog says Britain spent billions for pandemic supplies without proper transparency

— Athletes at the postponed Tokyo Olympics won’t have the luxury of hanging around once they’ve wrapped up their event. No late-night parties or nights on the town.


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WASHINGTON — Iowa’s Chuck Grassley, the longest-serving Republican senator and third in the line of presidential succession, says he’s tested positive for the coronavirus.

The 87-year-old Grassley had been in quarantine awaiting test results after exposure to the virus. On Tuesday evening, he tweeted he’d tested positive.

Grassley says he looks forward to resuming his normal schedule soon. He hasn’t said how he was exposed but was in the Senate and voting Monday. By missing votes Tuesday, Grassley broke a 27-year streak of not missing a single Senate vote.

Grassley is third in line for the presidency, behind Vice President Mike Pence and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi. He is president pro tempore, the senator in the majority party who has served the longest. Grassley has been a senator for 40 years.


LISBON, Portugal — Authorities in Portugal say 85% of intensive care beds set aside for COVID-19 patients are occupied.

Health Minister Marta Temido says 432 COVID-19 patients are in intensive care units, where a total of 506 beds are earmarked for pandemic patients.

She says the public health service can expand the number of intensive care beds for coronavirus patients to 960 beds, but it will impact treatment for other illnesses.

Portuguese hospital admissions have been climbing since the end of September.

Portugal’s 14-day cumulative number of coronavirus cases per 100,000 of population is 785, close to the numbers for Italy and France, according to the European Centre for Disease Control.


NEW YORK — Pfizer announced more results in its ongoing coronavirus vaccine study that suggest the shots are 95% effective.

The company says the vaccine appears to protect older people most at risk of dying from COVID-19. The surprise announcement, just a week after it first revealed promising preliminary results, comes as the company is preparing within days to formally ask U.S. regulators to allow emergency use of the vaccine.

The company says it has accumulated 170 infections in the study and 162 of those were in volunteers who got a dummy shot. It says only eight cases occurred in volunteers who got the actual vaccine and one of those eight developed severe disease.

The company has not yet released detailed data on its study. The results will be analyzed by independent experts and the U.S. Food and Drug Administration.

The study has enrolled nearly 44,000 people in the U.S. and five other countries. The trial will continue to collect safety and efficacy data on volunteers for two more years.


LONDON — The World Health Organization says nearly 4 million new coronavirus cases were reported globally last week, with Europe accounting for nearly half of all cases.

In its latest epidemiological report on the COVID-19 pandemic, the U.N. health agency said for the first time in more than three months, cases in Europe have dropped about 10%, suggesting that recent lockdown measures across the continent are having an effect.

Still, WHO said that the number of deaths in Europe “increased substantially,” with more than 29,000 deaths last week. Significant spikes in cases and deaths were also seen in the Americas; Southeast Asia was the only region that saw a drop in cases and deaths.

In European countries, WHO said the sharpest rise in coronavirus cases was in Austria, which saw a 30% increase compared to the previous week. WHO also noted the U.K. was the first country in the region to record more than 50,000 deaths. Globally, the countries with the biggest number of cases were: the U.S., India, Italy, France, and Brazil.


GAZA CITY, Gaza Strip — Gaza’s Health Ministry has reported 600 new coronavirus cases and four deaths over the last 24 hours, the highest daily increase of both since the pandemic reached the isolated Palestinian territory.

Gaza has been under an Israeli and Egyptian blockade since the Islamic militant group Hamas seized power there in 2007, and its health system has been severely degraded by years of conflict and isolation.

Authorities have reported more than 12,000 coronavirus cases and 54 deaths so far.

Hamas has periodically ordered the closure of schools, businesses and mosques to contain the spread. A prolonged lockdown would compound the economic woes of the territory’s 2 million Palestinian residents.


LONDON — Dido Harding, who leads the National Health Service’s test and trace program in England, must self-isolate after potentially coming into contact with someone who has tested positive.

In a tweet Wednesday, Harding showed a screenshot of an app notification carrying the message “you need to self-isolate” through Nov. 26. She added: “Nothing like personal experience of your own products.”

Harding, a former chief executive of the British telecommunications company TalkTalk, has faced widespread criticism for apparent failings in the test and trace service.

Her husband, John Penrose, a Conservative Party lawmaker, had previously been told to self-isolate.

British Prime Minister Boris Johnson is also self-isolating after a meeting with another Conservative lawmaker who later tested positive.


TOKYO — Authorities in Tokyo have announced nearly 500 new cases of the coronavirus, the biggest daily increase in the Japanese capital since the pandemic began, amid a nationwide spike in infections and as the country discusses with Olympic officials how to safely host next summer’s games.

The Tokyo metropolitan government reported 493 new cases on Wednesday, surpassing the city’s previous high of 472 recorded on Aug. 1.

International Olympic Committee President Thomas Bach ended his visit to Japan to discuss with Japanese Olympic officials how to safely host the games, which were postponed until next July due to the pandemic.

Japan has seen a steady climb in new cases nationwide in recent weeks, and experts have urged officials to step up preventive measures. Japan has confirmed 120,815 cases and 1,913 deaths.


LONDON — Britain’s public spending watchdog says the government spent billions of pounds, without proper transparency, in a scramble to secure protective equipment early in the coronavirus outbreak.

The National Audit Office said in a report published Wednesday that companies with links to politicians were fast-tracked and had more chance of getting a contract than other applicants.

Like many countries, the U.K. was caught without enough masks, gowns, gloves and other equipment to keep health care workers and the public safe as coronavirus cases skyrocketed.

In the push to build up stocks, the government awarded 8,600 contracts worth18 billion pounds ($24 billion) between March and July, most without a competitive tender process.

The auditor said in a sample of cases it studied, “departments failed to document key decisions, such as why they chose a particular supplier or used emergency procurement, and failed to document their consideration of risks, including how they had identified and managed any potential conflicts of interest.”


HARARE, Zimbabwe — Zimbabwe has closed a school after 100 students tested positive for the coronavirus, state media reports, as authorities warn of the risk of a new wave of infections in a country that has so far recorded few cases.

The John Tallach Secondary School in the country’s west has been turned into a quarantine center, the Herald newspaper quotes Oppah Muchinguri-Kashiri, chair of the country’s COVID-19 taskforce, as saying. She says 73 students are asymptomatic and 27 show mild symptoms. An undisclosed number of teachers also tested positive.

Authorities suspect that a pupil who recently traveled to neighboring South Africa infected the others, the paper reports. South Africa, with more than 750,000 recorded infections, has the highest confirmed COVID-19 cases in Africa.


BEIJING — China reported one new local coronavirus infection on Wednesday as the country increasingly focuses on the possibility the virus might be spread on frozen food packaging.

The National Health Commission said the new case was detected in the northern port city of Tianjin just east of Beijing. The confirmed case, along with another person who tested positive without showing symptoms, were both previously quarantined under suspicion of having the virus.

Another seven cases were brought from outside the country, the commission reported, raising China’s total to 86,369 with 4,634 deaths since the virus was first detected in the central Chinese city of Wuhan late last year.

Authorities in several cities and provinces have reported detecting the virus on packaging of frozen seafood and meat imported from countries ranging from Germany to India.


SYDNEY — The Australian state of South Australia will begin a six-day lockdown at midnight Wednesday, with schools, universities, bars and cafes closed.

Only one person from each household will be allowed to leave home each day, and only for specific reasons. The restrictions also require most factories to close, nursing home facilities to go into lockdown, and weddings and funerals to be put on hold. Outdoor exercise is banned, and wearing masks is mandatory.

Officials announced the severe move Wednesday after a cluster of new coronavirus cases grew to 22. Premier Steven Marshall says he believes the lockdown will act as a “circuit-breaker” and reduce the risk of the outbreak spreading further.

Officials plan a further eight days of restrictions following the lockdown.


SEOUL, South Korea — South Korea has recorded its largest daily rise in coronavirus infections in about 80 days as officials prepare to tighten social distancing rules around Seoul.

Officials on Wednesday reported 313 new daily virus cases, the first time the daily caseload exceeded 300 since late August.

South Korea is struggling to contain a spike in new cluster infections since it eased stringent physical distancing rules last month.

Under rules taking effect Thursday for two weeks, no more than 100 people can attend rallies, festivals and concerts. People will have to sit at least one seat apart at theaters, concert halls and libraries, while sporting events are limited to 30% capacity.


LOS ANGELES — Los Angeles County has imposed new restrictions on businesses and is readying plans for a mandatory curfew for all but essential workers if coronavirus cases keep spiking.

The county of 10 million people has seen daily confirmed cases more than double in the last two weeks to nearly 2,900.

On Tuesday, officials ordered non-essential retail businesses to limit indoor capacity to 25% and restaurants to 50% capacity outdoors. All such businesses must close by 10 p.m. The changes take effect Friday.

If daily cases rise to 4,500 and hospitalizations top 2,000, the county will impose a three-week lockdown that will restrict people to their homes for all but essential trips. A nighttime curfew would run from 10 p.m. to 6 a.m.


WASHINGTON — The White House coronavirus task force is warning of the “aggressive” and “unrelenting” spread of the coronavirus as the nation heads into the Thanksgiving holiday.

A senior administration official said Tuesday that scientists and public health experts sounded alarm about the spread of the virus, which is on the upswing across the entire nation.

In its weekly report, the task force says there is “aggressive, unrelenting, expanding broad community spread across the country, reaching most counties, without evidence of improvement but rather, further deterioration.”

It says existing efforts to slow the spread “are inadequate and must be increased to flatten the curve.” The panel also says Thanksgiving travel and gatherings could “amplify transmission considerably.”

The guidance is a departure from the public comments of President Donald Trump and Vice President Mike Pence, who have emphasized progress in vaccine development. But experts warn that tens of thousands of Americans will die before there is widespread distribution of a vaccine.


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