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The Latest: WHO: Northern hemisphere at ‘critical juncture’

October 23, 2020 GMT
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In this photo released by WHO, World Health Organisation on Monday, Oct. 5, 2020, WHO Director-General, Dr Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, wearing a mask to protect against coronavirus, gestures during a special session on the COVID-19 respnse. The head of emergencies at the World Health Organization says its “best estimates” indicate that roughly 1 in 10 people worldwide may have been infected by the coronavirus. (Christopher Black/WHO via AP)
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In this photo released by WHO, World Health Organisation on Monday, Oct. 5, 2020, WHO Director-General, Dr Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, wearing a mask to protect against coronavirus, gestures during a special session on the COVID-19 respnse. The head of emergencies at the World Health Organization says its “best estimates” indicate that roughly 1 in 10 people worldwide may have been infected by the coronavirus. (Christopher Black/WHO via AP)

GENEVA — The head of the World Health Organization warns that countries in the Northern hemisphere are at a “critical juncture” with rising cases and deaths.

“The next few months are going to be very tough and some countries are on a dangerous track,” said WHO director-general Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus at a press briefing on Friday. “Many countries are seeing an exponential increase in cases,” and he called for immediate action.

Maria Van Kerkhove, WHO’s technical lead on coronavirus, says the U.N. health agency had recorded about 445,000 new coronavirus cases in the past 24 hours; nearly half of those were from Europe.

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She says in many cities across Europe, “the capacity for ICU is going to be reached in the coming weeks.”

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HERE’S WHAT YOU NEED TO KNOW ABOUT THE VIRUS OUTBREAK:

— Spain Prime Minister asks for unity during coronavirus surge

— Poland declares entire country a ‘red zone,’ just short of lockdown

FDA approves first COVID-19 drug: antiviral remdesivir

UN chief says G-20 leaders must coordinate to fight coronavirus. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres is frustrated leaders of 20 major industrialized countries didn’t do it in March as he proposed.

— Schools from New Jersey to California have been hit with teacher and staff layoffs. Urban areas lacking the property wealth of suburban communities are especially vulnerable to budget cuts, with many schools hoping for a new round of federal money.

— An online Japanese-language text messaging service for suicide prevention has grown to 500 volunteers since March.

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Follow all of AP’s coronavirus pandemic coverage at http://apnews.com/VirusOutbreak and https://apnews.com/UnderstandingtheOutbreak

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HERE’S WHAT ELSE IS HAPPENING:

ROME — Italy reached a new daily high of nearly 20,000 coronavirus cases.

The 9,143 infections were found during a record 182,000 swab tests, raising the confirmed total to 484,869 cases.

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The number of COVID-19 patients needing intensive care surpassed 1,000 on Friday. So far, hospitals say they can handle the case load.

Italy added another 91 deaths, bringing the confirmed total to 37,059 deaths since the beginning of the outbreak.

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ALFRED, Maine — Officials with a Maine county say a coronavirus outbreak that sickened more than 80 people at a jail is over.

The outbreak occurred at York County Jail in Alfred and was connected to a larger outbreak centered on a northern Maine wedding and reception. The Maine Center for Disease Control and Prevention has said an employee of the jail attended the wedding.

The outbreak connected to the Aug. 7 wedding event sickened a total of 178 people and killed eight. The case total includes the cases from the Alfred jail.

The County Commissioners of York County said in a statement Friday that no inmates are currently receiving treatment and all staff have returned to work. An inquiry by an outside examiner continues.

County Manager Gregory Zinser says the county has stepped up efforts to prevent the spread of coronavirus since the outbreak.

A Maine CDC spokesperson confirmed the facility met the criteria to close an outbreak investigation on Oct. 12.

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GENEVA — Swiss health authorities are reporting another record daily coronavirus count, crossing the 6,000 threshold for the first time.

The announcement of 6,600 new cases Friday comes amid rising concerns about hospital capacity.

Federal officials in the country have called on regional leaders to do more to fight the growing outbreak that has mostly hit the French speaking areas of the southwest and west the most.

Stefan Kuster, the head of infectious diseases at the Federal Office of Public Health, says the positivity rate has reached a worrying 21 percent in the most recent seven-day period.

Kuster said Switzerland now has 495 cases per 100,000 people, surpassing neighboring France at 450. The rate is twice that in Italy and Austria, and five times higher than in Germany, he said.

Overall, the nation of 8.5 million has 103,653 confirmed cases and 1,877 deaths.

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SOFIA, Bulgaria — Bulgarian Prime Minister Boyko Borissov will go into self-isolation after contact with an official who tested positive for the coronavirus.

Borissov was informed Friday that deputy construction minister Nikolay Nankov had tested positive earlier in the day.

Borissov says he was in contact with Nankov five days ago and a PCR test done Friday was negative. Before these events on Friday, Borissov had met with visiting U.S. Under Secretary of State Keith J. Krach.

Bulgaria hit record levels on Friday with 1,595 new infections. The Balkan nation of 7 million people has recorded 34,930 confirmed cases and 1,064 deaths.

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PINE RIDGE, S.D. — The Oglala Sioux Tribe is locking down the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation for one week in response to surging coronavirus cases in the state.

The lockdown begins at 10 p.m. Friday and lasts until 6 a.m. Oct. 30 when all non-critical travel is barred. The tribe says non-essential businesses should close to the public and travel to non-essential work or non-emergency medical appointments to or from the reservation should stop.

Tribes nationwide have taken an aggressive approach to preventing infections amid concerns Native Americans could be particularly vulnerable to the coronavirus.

The lockdown comes as South Dakota surpassed 9,000 coronavirus cases on Thursday and reported an all-time high of 973 cases and 14 deaths in one day. October has been South Dakota’s deadliest month, with 124 of the 347 deaths.

The Oglala Sioux Tribe posted on its Twitter page there were 391 active cases on the reservation, which has a population of nearly 20,000 people.

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BOSTON — Massachusetts has ordered the shutdown of all indoor ice skating facilities in the state for two weeks in response to several coronavirus clusters linked to ice hockey games and practices.

The order takes effect Friday and lasts until Nov. 7, the state Department of Public Health announced. College and professional programs are exempt from the order.

There have been at least 30 coronavirus clusters associated with organized ice hockey activities, involving residents from more than 60 cities and towns in the state, the department says.

Each included two or more confirmed or probable virus cases, totaling 108 cases.

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Bucharest, Romania — Romania’s daily tally of coronavirus infections rose above 5,000 for the first time and patients in intensive care units also reached a new high.

Health officials report 5,028 cases and 82 deaths in the last 24 hours. Intensive care units across the country were treating 782 people for the coronavirus.

Authorities have stepped up protective measures in localities where the rate of infection exceeded 3 people per 1,000 inhabitants, ordering the closure of schools, theaters, bars and restaurants.

The eastern European nation of 19 million has recorded a total of 201,032 confirmed infections and 6,245 deaths.

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LISBON, Portugal — Portugal’s parliament has passed a law making it mandatory to wear face masks in many outdoor situations.

The law approved Friday means anyone age 10 or older must wear a mask in public spaces whenever it is “impractical” to keep at least a 2-meter distance from others.

Police will enforce the measure. Failure to comply entails a fine of up to 500 euros ($591).

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MADRID — Spanish Prime Minister Pedro Sánchez appealed to Spaniards to pull together and defeat the coronavirus, warning: “The situation is serious.”

Sánchez, in a televised address to the nation Friday, acknowledged public fatigue with restrictions to contain the spread. But he added: “We have to step up the fight.”

This week, Spain became the first European country to surpass 1 million confirmed cases. Sánchez says the actual number could be more than 3 million because of gaps in testing.

The current pressure on the health system, including hospitalizations, is not as acute as it was in the spring, he says. Even so, he asked for the public’s cooperation, discipline and unity during the winter months.

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ZAGREB, Croatia — Croatia, Slovenia and Bosnia report soaring numbers of daily coronavirus infections.

Croatia on Friday reached another record as 1,876 people tested positive in the past 24 hours and seven people died. Authorities say the positivity rate was more than 25 percent, which means every fourth person tested had the virus.

Neighboring Slovenia has announced the closure of non-essential shops, hotels and kindergartens after previously imposing an overnight curfew. The country on Friday reported 1,656 new cases and the positivity rate in tests of more than 25 percent.

Bosnia on Friday exceeded 1,000 daily cases for the first time since the start of the pandemic. The crisis-stricken Balkan nation says 1,179 people tested positive in the past 24 hours and 14 people died.

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COPENHAGEN, Denmark — The Finnish government has recommended public sector employees work remotely “to the extent possible.”

It urged the private sector to do the same but added “the decision is up to the workplace.” That would mean fewer people using public transportation.

In a statement, the government warned if the flare-up reached “the acceleration phase,” public events and meetings, outdoor and indoor, may be restricted, regardless of the number of participants. Higher education institutions should also “seriously consider switching to distance learning.”

In neighboring Norway, Prime Minister Erna Solberg says “the fewer people we meet, the less the virus will spread.”

Her government will announce restrictions next week so “there is a greater probability of a normal Christmas celebration with the family at home.”

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WARSAW, Poland — Poland’s government has announced the entire country will become a “red zone” of strict anti-COVID-19 restrictions starting Saturday, just short of a lockdown.

Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki appealed Friday to Poles to strictly observe the restrictions in order to protect lives. The appeal came as the nation of 38 million hit another daily record of new registered infections — over 13,600 and 153 deaths.

The measures, expanded from local red zones, include wearing masks at all times outdoors and switching all primary schools to remote learning. Morawiecki says the goal is to limit social contacts and the number of passengers on public transport. In other measures, restaurants and other eateries can provide takeout only for another two weeks and gatherings cannot exceed five people, except for professional activity.

People over 70 are asked to stay home, and a system of support in delivering supplies is being put in place.

“We absolutely must cut the means of transmission of infection,” Morawiecki said.

Poland’s government is also appealing to Poles to stay home and refrain from observing the national tradition of visiting graves on All Saints’ Day, Nov. 1.

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MADRID — A grim year for the Spanish tourism industry due to the COVID-19 pandemic stretched into September, when overnight hotel stays were down 78% on the same month last year.

Spain is the world’s second most popular vacation destination, after France, but hotel stays in the first nine months of 2020 were down 71% from 2019, the national statistics agency said Friday.

September was the seventh straight month to record a sharp drop.

Before the pandemic, tourism generated 12% of Spain’s GDP and provided 2.6 million jobs.

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BRATISLAVA, Slovakia — Slovakia has started a trial as part of a plan to test almost the entire population of the country for the coronavirus amid a record surge in infections.

Prime Minister Igor Matovic previously said health authorities have acquired 13 million rapid antigen tests for the massive testing of everyone aged 10-65. The tests will be voluntary and free of charge, and the military has been called in to help.

The trials will be carried out from Friday to Sunday in the four hardest-hit counties. The testing is set to continue in the rest of the country on the following two weekends.

Antigen tests are less accurate than PCR tests, which are considered the gold standard but have the advantage of producing faster results.

The nation of 5.4 million has been facing a record spike, with the number of confirmed positive cases in one day setting a new record of 2,581 on Thursday. The previous record of 2,202 was set two days earlier.

The Slovak authorities have conducted a relatively low number of tests compared with other European countries. The country has a total of 37,911 confirmed cases while 134 people have died.

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PRAGUE — The health minister of the hard-hit Czech Republic has been under fire to resign after a media report that he broke strict government restrictions and visited a Prague restaurant.

The Blesk tabloid daily said Health Minister Minister Roman Prymula met with Jaroslav Faltynek, deputy head of the senior government ANO (YES) movement led by Prime Minister Andrej Babis, on Wednesday night.

Amid tight restrictions, restaurants, bars, schools are closed. The meeting took place just hours after Prymula announced the latest series of regulations, including a limit on movement and the closure of many stores.

The junior government coalition party, the Social Democrats, joined the opposition to demand Prymula’s resignation, calling his behavior “absolutely unacceptable.” In photographs, Prymula didn’t wear a mandatory mask.

Faltynek said he asked Prymula to meet to discuss an extraordinary parliament session that is set to approve a plan for NATO military medical personnel to come to the Czech Republic to help with the outbreak.

Prymula didn’t immediately comment.

The Czech Republic has been facing record coronavirus infections that put the health system under pressure. The Health Ministry says daily confirmed cases reached 14,151 on Thursday, after the record of almost 15,000 the day earlier.

The country has had 223,065 cases, about a third of them in the last seven days while 1,845 people have died.

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BERLIN — Germany’s disease control center says the number of new daily coronavirus cases remains near a record high, as the pandemic continues to spread.

The Robert Koch Institute said Friday that 11,242 new cases were reported over the last 24-hour period, just shy of the record 11,278 mark set the day before. The nationwide infection rate over the last seven days rose to 60.3 cases per 100,000 residents, up from 56.2 the day before.

Some hot spots, like the capital, are much higher than that, with Berlin reporting a rate of 110.6 cases per 100,000 residents, with the district of Neukoelln at more than double that with a rate of 236.7 per 100,000.

The Health Ministry, which said earlier this week that Health Minister Jens Spahn had tested positive for the coronavirus and was in quarantine at home exhibiting cold-like symptoms, said Friday his husband, Daniel Funke, had also tested positive.

It said Funke tested positive on Thursday morning and was symptom free, but had been in quarantine with Spahn since Wednesday afternoon.

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NEW DELHI — India has reported below 60,000 new coronavirus cases for a fifth day as the promise of a free COVID-19 vaccine turned into a key state election issue.

The Health Ministry says 54,366 new cases have taken the overall tally past 7.7 million on Friday. It also reported 690 deaths in the past 24 hours, raising total fatalities to 117,306.

India recorded a daily average of more than 61,000 cases last week. The ministry also said India’s active caseload was below 700,000.

A political row erupted after Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s Hindu nationalist party promised free vaccination to people in eastern Bihar state where voting is scheduled to begin next week. Bihar is India’s third largest state with a population of about 122 million people.

Finance Minister Nirmala Sitharaman, releasing the party’s election manifesto, said every Bihar resident will be given free vaccination when it becomes available. She said at least three vaccines have reached the last trial stage and are on the cusp of production.

The promise angered the Congress and other opposition parties, which accused Modi’s party of politicizing the pandemic and playing on people’s fears.

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UNITED NATIONS — The U.N. chief says it’s “very frustrating” that leaders of the 20 major industrialized nations didn’t come together in March and establish a coordinated response to grapple with the coronavirus in all countries as he proposed.

The result, he says, is every country is taking its own sometimes contradictory actions, and the virus is moving “from east to west, north to south,” with second waves of infections now affecting many countries.

Ahead of the Group of 20 summit next month, Secretary-General Antonio Guterres said in an interview with The Associated Press that he hopes the international community now understands “they need to be much more coordinated in fighting the virus.”

Guterres says the United Nations also will be “strongly advocating” during the G-20 summit for a guarantee that when a vaccine is available, “it becomes indeed available and affordable for everyone, everywhere.”

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