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Latest Coronavirus News: Live Updates

2020-08-21 18:12:14
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U.S. universities have been trying to prepare for months, but outbreaks are forcing last-minute changes.

As college students return to U.S. campuses, some schools are already hastily rewriting their plans for the fall. The University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, Michigan State and Drexel University will now hold most fall classes online, and Notre Dame and the University of Pittsburgh are among several that have abruptly suspended in-person classes for the coming weeks.

Some of these schools have already had sizable coronavirus outbreaks. The New York Times has identified more than 17,000 cases at more than 650 American colleges and universities over the months.

The last-minute changes left many students scrambling. Some had already moved to campus or signed leases for off-campus housing. Others said they would have rather returned to class when in-person instruction resumed.

“I think I probably would have taken a gap year, but just because everything was so last minute, it’s really hard to make plans,” said Karthik Jetty, an incoming freshman at Stanford, where plans to bring freshmen to campus were recently scuttled.

Universities have been preparing for this for months, but some factors are out of their control.

At Oberlin College, administrators postponed in-person classes because of virus testing delays. At Notre Dame, large outbreaks blamed on student gatherings drove the school to suspend in-person classes and restrict student gatherings. But a newspaper, run by students at Notre Dame, St. Mary’s and Holy Cross, criticized the three institutions in a front-page editorial under the stark headline “Don’t make us write obituaries.”

And at Drexel, where coursework was moved online, officials said local school districts’ decisions not to hold classes would have made it difficult for university employees with children to come to campus.

“Despite all of our preparation,” said John Fry, Drexel’s president, “we have always understood that our approach would need to be continually assessed, taking into account new data and changing conditions.”

Europe’s initial strategy against the coronavirus — nearly universal, strictly enforced lockdowns — eventually worked. And in the two months since most European countries reopened, testing and tracing have largely kept new outbreaks in check. With basic rules on wearing masks and social distancing, life has been able to resume with some semblance of normality.

But in recent days France, Germany and Italy have each experienced their highest daily case counts since the spring, and Spain finds itself in the midst of a major outbreak. Government authorities and public health officials are warning that the continent is entering a new phase in the pandemic.

To be sure, the new cases in Europe are still quite low compared to parts of the United States, according to a New York Times database. For example, Florida has reported an average of 147 new cases a day per 100,000 people over the past week, whereas Italy is seeing an average of six new cases a day per 100,000 people. Germany is seeing nine new cases a day per every 100,000 and France is seeing 14.

But there are growing concerns that with the summer drawing to a close, the virus could find a new foothold as people move their lives indoors and the fall flu season begins.

The increase in cases in Europe, as in many other parts of the world, is being driven in part by young people: The proportion of people age 15 to 24 who are infected in Europe has risen from around 4.5 percent to 15 percent in the last five months, according to the World Health Organization.

Dr. Hans Kluge, its director for Europe, said on Thursday that he was “very concerned” that people under age 24 were regularly appearing among new cases.

“Low risk does not mean no risk,” he said. “No one is invincible, and if you do not die from Covid, it may stick to your body like a tornado with a long tail.”

“We can say ​that ​this is the biggest crisis we’ve faced since the Covid-19 pandemic started in our country,” President Moon Jae-in said on Friday while urging the Seoul city government ​to become more aggressive​ in tracking down members of Sarang Jeil ​Church ​and their contacts for testing. “If​ disease-control efforts fail in Seoul, the entire ​disease-control system of the nation could collapse.”

“​We must exercise stern law enforcement, including ​detaining offenders on site or seeking arrest warrant​s​,” he said.

Health officials were also seeking to test all ​of the ​thousands of people who joined an anti-government rally in downtown Seoul last Saturday, ​after dozens of participants, including church members, tested positive.

The church has been one of the most vocal conservative critics of Mr. Moon​ and has often organized large anti-government protests in recent months.

Officials accused the church and its members of hampering their disease-control efforts by ​hiding a complete roster of congregants or refusing to be tested or running away from government-run quarantine facilities for patients.

The church denied the accusations, saying that it had been cooperating the best it could, and it instead accused the government of a “witch-hunt” to silence its vocal critics. During a telephone interview on Friday, the Rev. Jun Kwang-hoon​, the chief pastor of the church, who is under quarantine after testing positive, reiterated that the outbreak in his church was caused by a “​terrorist attack​ with the virus from the outside​.”

So far, 732 cases have been traced to the church.

This weekend’s Mets-Yankees series has been canceled as the Mets grapple with two infections.

Now, the slender stretch of land in far western Myanmar is the beachhead for the virus, which had appeared to largely spare the Southeast Asian nation.

At least 18 people in Sittwe, the capital of Rakhine, have tested positive over the past few days, state officials said. The confirmed cases in the state include a surgeon and nurse at Sittwe General Hospital, bank employees, market vendors, a government official and an aid worker who had a history of visiting camps for internally displaced Rohingya in Rakhine, local health officials said.

With a decrepit health system, Myanmar, which has reported about 400 cases, is ill-equipped to deal with a pandemic. Rakhine is one of the least developed states in the union with an ongoing battlefield between an ethnic militia and the national army, a conflict that has caught impoverished civilians in the crossfire. While the country’s borders have officially been closed for months, save for exceptions like returnees who are quarantined, officials say that illegal immigration could be a viral vector.

Rakhine’s neighbor on the western border is Bangladesh, which has been hit hard by the virus and is currently seeing a rise in new daily cases, according to a Times database.

“There are business people doing illegal border crossings everyday,” said Dr. Soe Win Paing, the deputy director of the Rakhine State public health department. “It’s one of the possible ways to spread the virus here.”

On Friday, the Rakhine government imposed a two-month curfew, shutting schools and suspending flights and some buses. A stay-at-home notice has been issued.

GLOBAL ROUNDUP

Hong Kong to roll out testing services and makeshift hospitals, courtesy of Beijing.

Hong Kong will roll out voluntary coronavirus tests for all citizens over a period of two weeks starting on Sep. 1, Carrie Lam, the city’s pro-Beijing leader, said on Friday, crediting the Chinese government for making the large-scale testing possible.

The mainland authorities will provide staff and services to testing laboratories, Mrs. Lam said. The free, one-time testing program has raised privacy concerns among Hong Kong’s activists and residents, who fear it could lead to the harvesting of DNA samples. The local government, grappling with public distrust after a year of protests, has denied the accusation.

“Our objective is to encourage as many Hong Kong people to come forward to receive this free-of-charge testing, so that they can be assured of their own situation and they can help us and help society to recover as soon as possible,” Mrs. Lam said, calling it a “civic responsibility of every Hong Kong citizen.”

One-hundred and fifty swabbing stations will be set up across Hong Kong for the citywide program, the South China Morning Post reported.

Other projects facilitated by the Chinese government include converting parts of a major exhibition center near Hong Kong’s airport into makeshift health facilities, Mrs. Lam said. A temporary hospital will also be built over the next four months.

Hong Kong is currently battling its most severe wave of infections yet, although the daily tally has gradually eased after a peak in July, with 27 new cases reported on Friday.

In other developments around the world:

U.S. Roundup

The pandemic has pushed the U.S. across a line that debt hawks have warned of for decades.

Economists and deficit hawks have warned for decades that the United States was borrowing too much money. The federal debt was ballooning so fast, they said, that economic ruin was inevitable: Interest rates would skyrocket, taxes would rise and inflation would probably run wild.

The death spiral could be triggered once the debt surpassed the size of the U.S. economy — a turning point that was probably still years in the future.

It actually happened much sooner: sometime before the end of June.

The pandemic, and the economic collapse that followed, unleashed a historic run of government borrowing: trillions of dollars for stimulus payments, unemployment insurance expansions and loans to prop up small businesses and to keep big companies afloat.

But the economy hasn’t drowned in the flood of red ink — and there’s a growing sense that the country could take on even more without any serious consequences.

“At this stage, I think, nobody is very worried about debt,” said Olivier Blanchard, a senior fellow at the Peterson Institute for International Economics and a former chief economist for the International Monetary Fund. “It’s clear that we can probably go where we are going, which is debt ratios above 100 percent in many countries. And that’s not the end of the world.”

Since the 2008 financial crisis, traditional thinking about borrowing by governments — at least those that control their own currencies — has weakened as central banks in major developed markets became enormous buyers in government bond markets.

In other news around the country:

  • Postmaster General Louis DeJoy is defending his first three months of overseeing the Postal Service before the Senate Homeland Security Committee on Friday, and denouncing what he described as a “false narrative” that had emerged about his tenure. Mr. DeJoy contends that a series of cost-cutting measures intended to help improve efficiency have been misconstrued “into accusations that we are degrading the service provided to election mail.”

  • The Tony Awards ceremony will be online this year, theater officials said on Friday — a decision that was months in the making after the season was cut short in March because of the virus. The suite of eligible awardees have not yet been finalized. Before pandemic interruptions, the ceremony was initially scheduled for June 7 at Radio City Music Hall.

More than 300 doctors in Nairobi went on strike on Friday over what they say are delayed salaries and substandard personal protective equipment, precipitating a health crisis in the Kenyan city that is hardest hit by the pandemic.

Besides persistent delays in the payment of salaries, doctors say they have been supplied with poor-quality protective gear that has led many of them to become infected in the course of caring for the sick. Many say they have gone weeks without medical insurance since a national fund stopped paying for the expense at the end of June, leaving doctors to foot the bill for their own care. Those who become infected are not given access to isolation facilities, they say.

The doctors, who work in Nairobi’s public health system, have now joined thousands of other medical workers nationwide who have gone on strike in recent weeks over what they say are dangerous and exhausting working conditions.

Across Kenya, more than 700 health workers have tested positive for the coronavirus and at least 10 have died, according to the Kenya Medical Practitioners, Pharmacists and Dentists Union.

New cases of the virus have surged in recent weeks as the country has lifted a ban on international flights and slowly reopened the economy. As of Friday morning, Kenya had recorded at least 31,000 cases and 516 deaths, according to a New York Times database, with the area around Nairobi counting for more than half of the cases.

The strike began on Friday after talks between the authorities in Nairobi and the doctors collapsed the day before.

“Doctors are not martyrs,” said Thuranira Kaugiria, the secretary general of the Nairobi branch of the doctor’s union. “Doctors are not children of a lesser God.”

Dr. Kaugiria said that he had been threatened for calling for the strike and had moved his children out of his home as a precaution.

“We deserve to be treated better, and we deserve to be given what is rightfully ours,” he said.

Older New Yorkers sweat it out, waiting for promised air-conditioners during the pandemic.

During the pandemic, many older people have been afraid to leave their apartments. Senior centers, where residents could gather to cool off and play bingo or mahjong, closed in March. In the United States, heat kills older people more than any other extreme weather event, including hurricanes, and the problem is part of an ignominious national pattern: Black people and Latinos are far more likely to live in the hottest parts of American cities.

The mayor’s administration has faced criticism over its ability to roll out other key initiatives, including meal deliveries, virus testing and a contact-tracing program.

But in some ways, the air-conditioner program could be viewed as a success: The city mobilized relatively quickly to help improve the lives of some of its neediest residents. The mayor’s office defended the program and said another 11,600 units would be installed in the coming weeks.

The practice of establishing a second nationality has risen in the past few months.

“I see how European people have really stepped up to take a collective problem and work together toward achieving the goal, i.e. of getting rid of the virus,” said Susan Periharos, who began her application process for Greek citizenship about four weeks ago. “The pandemic pretty much clinched it for me.”

Reporting was contributed by Reed Abelson, Hannah Beech, Alan Blinder, Alexander Burns, Emily Cochrane, Choe Sang-Hun, Abdi Latif Dahir, Nicholas Fandos, Emma G. Fitzsimmons, Hailey Fuchs, Katie Glueck, Mike Ives, Tyler Kepner, Gwen Knapp, Alex Lemonides, Apoorva Mandavilli, Richard C. Paddock, Elian Peltier, Matt Phillips, Valeriya Safronova, Anna Schaverien, Somini Sengupta, Kaly Soto, Matt Stevens, Eileen Sullivan, James Wagner, Marina Varenikova and Elaine Yu.

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