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Covid-19 Live Updates

2020-08-26 15:05:04
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In Germany, early results of school reopenings are hopeful, but it’s ‘messy and imperfect.’

As Americans anxiously debate how to reopen schools, and more campuses cancel in-person lessons, Europe is a living laboratory. Despite a sharp increase in coronavirus cases in recent weeks, even countries that were badly hit last spring, like Italy, Spain, Britain and France, are determined to return to regular classes this fall.

Germany, which was far less affected at the peak of the pandemic, shuttered schools early on, then moved to a hybrid model of remote and in-classroom learning. Class sizes were smaller, and strict social-distancing rules helped keep infection numbers in check.

But now a new experiment is underway: Teachers and students have been summoned back to classes, testing whether the new vigilance is enough.

Social distancing and face masks are mandatory on most school grounds, but rarely inside classrooms, despite recent advice from the World Health Organization that children 12 and over wear masks when distancing is impossible. If students had to wear masks for several hours a day, the argument in Germany goes, their ability to learn would suffer.

Instead, schools aim to better ventilate classrooms and keep classes separate so that each student has contact with only a few dozen others, and outbreaks can be contained.

Germany’s departure from the more cautious, part-time reopening strategy is rooted partly in resource constraints: Like most countries, it has too few teachers to split students into smaller classes and allow for social distancing.

But several weeks into returning to school, educators and even virologists who were skeptical about reopening say that early results look hopeful. Despite individual infections popping up in dozens of schools, there have been no serious outbreaks — and no lasting closures.

Berlin is a case in point: By the end of last week, 49 infections had been recorded among teachers and students across the city. But thanks to fast testing and targeted quarantines, no more than 600 students out of some 366,000 have had to stay home on any given day. Of 803 schools, only 39 have been affected.

“It’s messy and imperfect and I would have liked to see more precautions, but the main takeaway so far is: It’s working,” said Sandra Ciesek, a virologist at the University Hospital of Frankfurt who signed a statement by leading German virologists supporting the reopenings.

“Completing the fall semester together is our goal,” Mr. Bell said. “The margin for error is shrinking.”

The World Economic Forum is pushing back its annual summit in Davos, Switzerland, from January to early next summer, it announced on Wednesday.

The annual gathering of the global elite in the Alps brings together about 3,000 of the world’s most prominent executives and political leaders to discuss the pressing issues facing the world economy — and to do deals on the sidelines (and the ski slopes).

In a statement to the media, Adrian Monck, a managing director of the forum, said the decision “was not taken easily, since the need for global leaders to come together to design a common recovery path and shape the ‘Great Reset’ in the post-COVID-19 era is so urgent.”

Organizers made the decision to postpone on the advice of experts, who said the gathering could not convene safely in January. Instead, a virtual event dubbed “Davos Dialogues” will run during the week of Jan. 25, 2021, the forum’s originally scheduled time.

The event’s organizers previously said they would hold a “twin summit” for the 2021 edition, with about half the number of official delegates that attended in person last year and a simultaneous online event.

At the Republican convention, Melania Trump acknowledges the pandemic’s human toll.

The findings, published on Wednesday in Nature, suggest that men, particularly those over 60, may need to depend more on vaccines to protect against the infection.

“Natural infection is clearly failing” to spark adequate immune responses in men, said Akiko Iwasaki, an immunologist at Yale who led the work.

The results are consistent with what’s known about sex differences following various challenges to the immune system. Women mount faster and stronger immune responses, perhaps because their bodies are rigged to fight pathogens that threaten unborn or newborn children.

The findings underscore the need for companies pursing vaccines to parse their data by sex and may influence decisions about dosing, said Dr. Marcus Altfeld, an immunologist at the Heinrich Pette Institute and at the University Medical Center Hamburg-Eppendorf in Germany, and other experts.

“You could imagine scenarios where a single shot of a vaccine might be sufficient in young individuals or maybe young women, while older men might need to have three shots of vaccine,” Dr. Altfeld said.

Dr. Iwasaki’s team analyzed immune responses in 17 men and 22 women who were admitted to the hospital soon after they were infected. The researchers collected blood, nasopharyngeal swabs, saliva, urine and stool from the patients every three to seven days. The analysis excluded patients on ventilators and those taking drugs that affect the immune system.

The U.S. Virgin Islands, which registered almost no cases in the early days of the pandemic, is now dealing with nearly 1,000 new cases a day, pushing its per capita infection numbers higher than those of several states. The authorities are shutting nonessential businesses and imposing stay-at-home orders, checking all visitors’ temperatures and conducting aggressive testing of residents.

One exception to the crisis unfolding on U.S. islands: American Samoa, an archipelago in the Pacific, remains the only territory or state in the country without a single confirmed case.

In other news from around the United States:

  • Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin is scheduled to testify next week before the House Select Subcommittee on the Coronavirus Crisis in what the committee described as a “hybrid in-person/remote hearing.” The hearing will address the urgent need for more economic relief for Americans, including children, workers and families. Mr. Mnuchin has been one of the lead negotiators for the Trump administration to reach an agreement with Democrats over the next round of economic stimulus funds. Next week’s hearing will be the first time Mr. Mnuchin will testify before Congress since negotiations on more stimulus were halted this month.

  • Gyms in New Jersey can reopen on Tuesday with 25 percent capacity and rules requiring masks, Gov. Philip D. Murphy said on Twitter on Wednesday. Health clubs in the state have been closed since March for everything other than personal training sessions. But martial arts, dance and gymnastics classes have been permitted indoors, and pressure mounted as gyms in New York could start reopening this past Monday. Mr. Murphy’s announcement is certain to increase the clamor from owners of restaurants, which remain closed for indoor dining in New Jersey.

  • The Trump administration on Tuesday threatened hospitals with revoking their Medicare and Medicaid funding if they do not report coronavirus patient data and test results to the Department of Health and Human Services.

  • Protesters flooded the Idaho State Capitol in Boise this week, many of them without wearing masks, to express frustration during a special legislative session called to address voting and liability laws amid the pandemic. Among the demonstrators was Ammon Bundy, once the leader of an armed takeover of an Oregon wildlife refuge, who was arrested on Tuesday by Idaho State Police after refusing to leave the space.

  • A cluster of cases in rural Maine that has been linked to a wedding reception held in early August in the town of Millinocket has spread to a county jail elsewhere in the state, infecting 18 inmates and employees, according to the Maine Center for Disease Control and Prevention.

The audience will be “open to anyone who wishes” to participate, the Vatican said in a statement. A Vatican spokesman said the number would be capped at 500 people “in keeping with health regulations.”

As he has in the past, on Wednesday, Francis spoke about the toll that the pandemic was taking, especially on the most vulnerable, as a result of the prevailing global economic model that concentrates wealth in the hands of a few, “an injustice that cries out to heaven,” he said. “The pandemic has exposed and aggravated social problems, above all that of inequality,” he said.

A ban on dancing, aimed at the young, has swept up older Italians.

In an attempt to limit a resurgence of the coronavirus, Italy has banned dancing in nightclubs and outdoor dance halls.

As in other countries, new cases in Italy are being driven by young people, with several clusters traced to nightclubs crowded with maskless patrons. Yet the new rules aimed at stopping young people from gathering en masse have also swept up older Italians for whom an evening at the dance hall is a cherished part of life.

The Italian government’s decree on dancing, issued on Aug. 16, made no distinction between packed, sweaty clubs blaring reggaeton and sedate community centers where people swirl in pairs to accordion-driven waltzes.

Many regulars at Caribe, an outdoor dance hall in Legnago that caters to an older clientele, said they understood that the government was trying to protect the country — and people their age in particular. But they didn’t understand why they could no longer hold their partners on the dance floor while bars, beaches, amateur soccer courts and gyms stayed open.

“It was good to close down nightclubs — teenagers just don’t get it,” said Raffaele Leardini, 72, who was so happy when the club reopened in July that he cried. “But here you have people with a brain and a mask.”

For the first time in three months, virus infections in South Africa have fallen below 2,000 per day. The country saw a peak of 13,944 daily cases in July, but recorded 1,677 on Monday and 1,567 on Tuesday.

But as confirmed cases are decreasing, fewer tests are being carried out, the minister of health said this week.

“The people who are presenting for tests have declined,” the minister, Zweli Mkhize, said in a webinar on Monday.

Despite this, South Africa’s health regulatory body this week approved a rapid antibody test to help track virus outbreak patterns and hot spots. The test, which gives results in a matter of minutes, can now be administered by health care professionals across the country.

Andrea Julsing-Keyter, a senior manager at the South African Health Products Regulatory Authority, had a warning for people seeking the test.

“It can only tell you, at that point of time, do you have antibodies, yes or no,” she said. “That’s all it can tell you — it is not to be used as an immunity passport.”

The downward trend in new cases comes as almost all grades returned to school this week, most for the first time since March.

And while things are looking up for the country, Salim Abdool Karim, an epidemiologist and widely respected government adviser, warned that a second surge was still possible.

“If we let our guard down or for a short while, get complacent about our prevention strategies, our social distancing, mask-wearing and hand washing, the second surge is waiting to pounce,” said Mr. Karim, who heads the Covid-19 ministerial advisory committee. “It is possible to overcome — these predictions do not have to be true,” he added.

In other news from around the world:

The 15th anniversary of Hurricane Katrina will be understated because of the virus.

New Orleans has been slammed by the virus, which has killed nearly 600 New Orleans residents so far, and sickened thousands more. Mardi Gras, the city’s signature event, fell in the early days of the pandemic and has been blamed for an eruption of cases in Louisiana.

The mayor, LaToya Cantrell, is planning to attend a wreath-laying ceremony at the site of one of the places where the city’s levees were breached by Katrina, swamping much of New Orleans, but there is nothing else formally planned by the city.

An annual ceremonial march that usually ends in a large rally is going forward, but will be livestreamed so “if you’re sick or have Covid you can stay home and just watch it online,” said Sess 4-5, a hip-hop artist who organized the march.

Robert Green Sr., who lives in the Lower Ninth Ward neighborhood and lost his mother and a granddaughter in the floods from Katrina, planned processions in past years and initially had ambitious ideas for this year’s edition. He invited people from across the country who had come to New Orleans over the past decade and a half to help rebuild homes.

The procession is still happening, but without the out-of-own guests.

“Weather’s not going to be an issue,” Mr. Green said. “Covid is going to change the way that we do it.” Still, he added, “every family that lost something is going to remember that day. It’s not going go by the wayside.”

As countries work to contain fresh coronavirus outbreaks, some are making good on threats of heavy fines and even jail time for those who breach quarantine rules or border restrictions.

In the latest example, a Kentucky man accused of breaking Canadian quarantine rules faces six months in prison, a $569,000 fine or perhaps both.

The man, John Pennington, was fined about $900 by the police in late June, after staff members at an Alberta hotel grew suspicious that he was breaking the province’s quarantine rules. The police later charged him with doing just that, after finding him at Sulphur Mountain, a tourist attraction.

Though the Canadian border is closed to the United States, a loophole allows Americans to travel to and from Alaska, providing they use a direct route, quarantine at hotels and refrain from visiting national parks, leisure sites or tourist attractions.

Separately, a 28-year-old woman in Australia was sentenced to six months in jail on Tuesday after she hid in the back of a truck on a cross-country journey of more than 1,800 miles from the state of Victoria, a coronavirus hot spot, to Western Australia. The police said that she was picked up by her partner at a gas station.

The woman had traveled to Victoria to care for her sister and had received an exemption to fly back to Western Australia, which has closed its borders to travelers, her lawyer told a court. But the exemption did not apply to travel by road, and she pleaded guilty to breaking the order.

Western Australia’s pandemic rules include a 14-day mandatory quarantine for most travelers in a hotel, and the penalties for breaking them range from prison terms as long as 12 months to as much as $35,000 in fines.

Australia has had 549 deaths and more than 25,000 confirmed cases as of Wednesday, according to a Times database. Many of its state borders are closed because of the recent outbreak in Victoria, where the state capital, Melbourne, remains under lockdown.

Victoria’s latest outbreak has been linked to breaches in a quarantine hotel, but people around the country have been trying to circumvent virus-related restrictions anyway.

Last month, four men in their 20s were found hiding on an interstate freight train heading from Melbourne to Perth, on the country’s west coast. The police have also issued citations to travelers from hot spots like Sydney for lying on border declaration forms.

Reporting was contributed by Katrin Bennhold, Aurelien Breeden, Alexander Burns, Lauren Hirsch, Choe Sang-Hun, Mike Ives, Andrew Jacobs, Isabella Kwai, Alex Lemonides, Apoorva Mandavilli, Jonathan Martin, Patricia Mazzei, Heather Murphy, Elian Peltier, Elisabetta Povoledo, Campbell Robertson, Simon Romero, Anna Schaverien, Sheryl Gay Stolberg, Eileen Sullivan, Tracey Tully and Katherine J. Wu.


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