Baltic states travel bubble bursts
Iraq confirms 4,254 new cases
Netherlands reports near-record rise in daily cases
Austria extends mask rules amid rise in cases
90 people test positive in two of Switzerland’s largest care home outbreaks
India reports 96,551 new cases – another daily record
New Zealand records one new case
Greece’s death toll from the virus has reached 300, the state health agency said, as the total number of infections topped 12,700, AFP reports.
The Eody agency said 287 new cases were confirmed on Friday, a day after an all-time record of 372 infections in 24 hours was announced. More than half of the country’s 12,734 infections since the pandemic began were recorded in August, mostly among Greeks.
The increase has been attributed to large gatherings in violation of social distancing rules.
Greece’s civil protection agency has made masks compulsory in all indoor public areas.
The government has ruled out a general lockdown after gradually reopening the economy in May, while foreign visitors have been allowed in since June in hopes of salvaging part of the economically vital tourism season.
Armenia has said its land borders would remain closed until January, AFP reports.
Foreign nationals will not be able to cross Armenia’s land borders until 11 January and public gatherings of more than 60 people will also be banned into the new year. Mask-wearing will also remain mandatory in enclosed public spaces, the government said in a statement.
The restrictions are being imposed to halt the “spread of the disease in Armenia” and protect public health, the government said.
But the former Soviet country did not extend a state of emergency, which was declared in March and ended on Friday.
With a population of about 3 million, Armenia has registered 45,503 coronavirus cases and 909 deaths. In June, the prime minister, Nikol Pashinyan – who has himself tested positive and later recovered – denounced widespread quarantine violations.
Armenia’s neighbour Georgia – among the world’s least affected countries – postponed on Friday the reopening of schools in big cities until 1 October after registering a surge in the number of new coronavirus cases.
Baltic states travel bubble bursts
The first European pandemic “travel bubble”, created in May by Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania, has burst after Latvia said it was mandating a 14-day quarantine on everyone arriving from Estonia, Reuters reports.
Estonia has had 21 infections per 100,000 population over the previous two weeks, according to the European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control, passing the 16 threshold set by Latvia for mandatory quarantine.
Latvia, which has one of the lowest levels of infection in the European Union, has rejected the European commission’s recommendation to raise threshold for quarantine to 25 new cases per 100,000 population over two weeks.
Prime minister Krisjanis Karins said:
This is a decision I am not ready for … I do not think that society is ready to allow more people to enter Latvia.
In a bid to curb the rising spread of the virus, Lithuania reintroduced the requirement to wear face masks inside public buildings and announced restrictions on public gatherings.
“We relaxed and began travelling, gathering together, interacting more. Since the virus was never totally exterminated, so it began spreading”, Lithuanian minister of health Aurelijus Veryga said.
In about 15 minutes, France’s prime minister, Jean Castex, is due to announce new measures to tackle the spread of the virus after a record surge in infections.
AFP has this preview:
Officials have been increasingly concerned about the high number of infections in France, even if the death toll and admissions to intensive care are way below the highs recorded in March and April.
However, there is no indication Castex will announce restrictions as severe as the nationwide two-month lockdown France experienced from March to May at the peak of the epidemic.
The health ministry said 9,843 new coronavirus infections were recorded on Thursday, the highest number since large-scale testing began. France’s total death toll from the pandemic stands at 30,813.
Jean-Francois Delfraissy, the head of the scientific council advising the government on the pandemic, said Wednesday that “tough” decisions may be required at the meeting.
People at high risk because of old age or health problems including diabetes, obesity and respiratory issues may require a protective “bubble” around them.
There was the danger of a “very rapid, exponential rise” in some places, Delfraissy said, singling out the French Riviera and Provence regions.
Castex himself is in a seven-day period of self-isolation, having spent part of last weekend with the boss of the Tour de France Christian Prudhomme, who tested positive for Covid-19.
Iraq confirms 4,254 new cases
Iraq has recorded another 4,254 new cases and 67 more deaths from the virus. Despite the recent surge in cases, thousands of supporters of Iraqi shia cleric Moqtada al-Sadr gathered at a mosque in east Baghdad for the first time since March (see earlier).
Switzerland has announced that people travelling from part of France and Austria will need to be quarantined because of rising coronavirus cases there, but exempted immediate border regions, AFP reports.
Switzerland considers that countries that count more than 60 new daily Covid-19 cases per 100,000 inhabitants for 14 consecutive days are at-risk, and reserves the right to impose restrictions, including a 10-day quarantine.
Neighbouring France passed that bar at the end of August, sparking concern that border closures could be looming.
Swiss health minister Alain Berset told a news conference that the government had decided to place nine of 13 French regions, including Paris, on its at-risk list, as well as Vienna in neighbouring Austria.
“We have seen a number of new infections in France, which are today already higher that the numbers in March and April,” he said, stressing that “this is a situation to take seriously … We’re trying to keep the pandemic under control.”
At the same time, he said, the government had sought a “pragmatic” approach and thus exempted the border regions in France and other neighbouring countries from the order, set to take effect from Monday.
Switzerland has recorded a steady rise in cases in recent months. The country of 8.5 million people has counted more than 46,000 cases of coronavirus and over 1,700 deaths.
Daily case numbers regularly topped 1,000 in March, before dropping to single digits in mid-June. Since then, they have steadily risen, and on Friday topped 500 for the first time since April.
A Black man who is going to trial for murder in the US must wear a mask even though he thinks it could prejudice jurors against him, a judge ruled, AP reports.
Carine Reeves, of New York, contended that a mask would subject him to racial profiling and stereotyping by jurors who associate masks with criminals.
Court rules require everyone in a courtroom to wear a mask during the coronavirus pandemic.
Justice Harold Stewart II said jurors will understand why Reeves and all others in the courtroom are wearing masks. And Reeves could be subjected to undue attention if he were the only one without a mask, the judge said.
“During this pandemic, the court cannot think of a greater state interest than taking measures that prevent the spread of the virus, for everyone’s health and safety,” the judge wrote on Thursday in his decision.
Reeves is charged with murder in the 2017 killing of Sally Shaw, who was shot in the head and left on the side of a road in Cherryfield, in eastern Maine. The trial, scheduled to begin later this month, is the first murder trial in Maine since the pandemic reduced courthouse hours and delayed trials.
Reeeves’ attorney, Stephen Smith, had pointed to a study by North Carolina researchers who wrote, African Americans are particularly prone to racial profiling solely due to the fact that they are wearing masks.
Netherlands reports near-record rise in daily cases
The National Institute for Public Health in the Netherlands has announced 1,270 new infections, the highest daily rise since the second week of April.
The news site De Volkskrant says there have only ever been two days, on 10 and 11 April, when there has been a higher daily increase in the number of confirmed infections. It adds that the number of new infections recorded this week was 6,573 compared with 4,077 last week.
Health authorities in Thailand have confirmed another coronavirus infection in an Uzbek professional footballer, eight days after the virus resurfaced following a more than three-month absence, Reuters reports.
The unnamed man tested positive after a mandatory pre-match test on Tuesday, despite having completed quarantine on 27 August after three prior negative tests, health officials said.
The 29-year-old player arrived in Thailand on 13 August.
Yong Poovorawan, a virology expert from Bangkok’s Chulalongkorn University, said the virus incubation period in the man would have been longer than 14 days and it was unlikely to have been domestically transmitted.
“I believe he was infected abroad,” Yong said.
By sealing off the country to all but returning Thai nationals and approved foreigners, and requiring all arrivals to quarantine, Thailand has kept the number of coronavirus cases to 3,461, the vast majority of which have recovered.
The country has reported 58 deaths.
It had been more than 100 days without a domestic infection until a mysterious case appeared in Bangkok last week, with no travel history or known exposure to the virus. Authorities have since tested hundreds of people who may have come in contact with the man, a DJ who was recently imprisoned.
There were 43 other people potentially exposed to the Uzbek footballer but all had tested negative for the virus and were undergoing quarantine, said Sophon Iamsirithaworn, the director of the bureau of general communicable diseases, adding that a further 27 individuals would be tested.
Cases of coronavirus in England are doubling every seven to eight days, research has revealed in the latest figures to show a resurgence of Covid-19.
The study, known as React-1, is a population surveillance study that began in May and uses swabs from about 120,000 to 160,000 randomly selected people in England across 315 local authority areas each month to track the spread of coronavirus using PCR analysis – the “have you got it now” test.
“The prevalence of the virus in the population is increasing. We found evidence that it has been accelerating at the end of August and beginning of September,” said Steven Riley, professor of infectious disease dynamics at Imperial College London and a co-author of the work.
Finland will allow holidaymakers to visit the country for up to three days in order to help the struggling tourist industry, ministers have announced, AFP reports.
Under the new measures, travel restrictions will be eased to allow visitors from Germany, Sweden and other countries with fewer than 25 new cases per 100,000 inhabitants in the past fortnight.
Arrivals from countries with higher levels of infection, such as France and the UK, will also be admitted without quarantine requirements if they are travelling with a charter flight or organised tour group, and if their stay does not exceed 72 hours.
In recent years, tourist numbers in Lapland, in Finland’s far north, have grown to record levels. Among 3m overnight stays in 2018, British tourists were the largest group.
The Finnish government has come under pressure to ease travel restrictions to help businesses in Lapland, where tourism generated €1bn ($1.1bn) of revenue in 2018 according to the area’s regional council.
Finland’s tight border restrictions ban arrivals from all but a handful of EU countries in an attempt to slow the spread of the coronavirus.
The economic affairs minister, Mika Lintila, told a press conference on Friday the new policy “will bring clarity to the business and tourism sectors”.
“The decision takes into account safety and the needs of business.”
The extradition case against WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange will resume on Monday after a Covid-19 scare turned out to be a false alarm, PA Media reports.
On Thursday, a hearing at the Old Bailey was brought to a halt amid fears a lawyer for the US government may have been exposed to the virus. Judge Vanessa Baraitser adjourned until Monday so the barrister could be tested for coronavirus.
On Friday, it emerged the test result was negative, meaning the case could continue on Monday with the next witness, US lawyer Eric Lewis.
Assange is fighting extradition to the US following leaks of hundreds of thousands of classified documents in 2010 and 2011 exposing alleged war crimes and abuse.
The 49-year-old, who has been in high-security Belmarsh prison for 16 months, is facing 18 charges – including plotting to hack computers and conspiring to obtain and disclose national defence information.
His defence claim the prosecution under the Donald Trump administration has been politically motivated.The extradition case is due to go on for up to four weeks.
- India has set another global one-day record for coronavirus infections. The country reported 96,551 new cases. Deaths have remained relatively low in the country, but are seeing an upward trend, with more than 1,000 deaths being reported every day for the last ten days. The country’s total reported cases are 4,562,414, according to Johns Hopkins University data, and deaths stand at 76,271.
- Global infections have passed 28.2m and deaths stand at 910,134, according to Johns Hopkins data. The first four countries in terms of infections, the US, India, Brazil and Russia, account for nearly 58% of all cases.
- Austria has expanded mandatory mask-wearing and imposed restrictions on events in response to a surge in new cases. Announcing the rules, chancellor Sebastian Kurz said: “It is getting serious again. The numbers have kept rising in recent weeks.”
- The Covid-19 smartphone app will be launched across England and Wales on 24 September. The health secretary, Matt Hancock, said the launch would be a “defining moment” in the fight against the virus.
- France recorded almost 10,000 new Covid-19 infections on Thursday, its highest ever single-day total, a day before a cabinet meeting that might consider imposing fresh, local lockdowns to curb the spread of the disease.
- In South Korea, the Korea Center for Disease Control and Prevention reported 176 new cases of Covid-19 as of midnight on Thursday, bringing the total number of infections to 21,919, with 350 deaths.
- Intensive care medics were significantly less likely to have been infected with Covid-19 than cleaners and other healthcare workers in departments deemed lower risk, according to a study of several British hospitals at the peak of the pandemic.
Austria extends mask rules amid rise in cases
Austria has responded to an increase in infections by making face-masks compulsory in more places including all shops and school corridors, and limiting the size of private events indoors to 50 people, Reuters reports.
Austria quickly brought its first wave of infections under control with an early lockdown in mid-March that it began lifting a month later. However, daily cases have been rising since late June and hit their highest level since late March on Thursday.
“It is getting serious again. The numbers have kept rising in recent weeks,” Chancellor Sebastian Kurz, told a news conference outlining the new measures. “I ask you to be more careful again.”
Face masks, currently required on public transport and in shops considered essential such as supermarkets and post offices, will have to be worn in all shops and in schools but not in classrooms. Waiters will also be required to wear them, Kurz said. The new measures take effect from Monday.
Events without assigned seating, including private parties, will be limited to 50 people indoors and 100 outdoors.
Professionally organised events with assigned seating will be capped at 1,500 people indoors and 3,000 outdoors, slashing the current limits of 5,000 and 10,000.
“Our clear aim as a government is to avoid a second lockdown for Austria. We will, however, only succeed if everyone does their part,” Kurz said, adding that measures would be tightened further if infections keep rising.
The Covid-19 app will be launched across England and Wales on 24 September, said the Department of Health and Social Care.
Ahead of the roll-out, businesses including pubs, restaurants, hairdressers and cinemas are being urged to ensure they have NHS QR code posters visible on entry so customers who have downloaded the app can use their smartphones to check in.
DHSC said ongoing trials in the east London borough of Newham, on the Isle of Wight and with NHS volunteer responders showed the app was “highly effective when used alongside traditional contact tracing to identify contacts of those who have tested positive for coronavirus”.
Thousands of supporters of Iraqi shia cleric Moqtada al-Sadr have gathered at a mosque in east Baghdad for the first weekly prayers since the onset of the pandemic, AFP reports.
Iraq’s mosques have been closed to gatherings for close to six months, but Sadr said on Wednesday he would hold open-air prayers in his stronghold.
In east Baghdad’s Sadr City, worshippers put on medical masks and gloves and had their temperatures taken before being allowed into the courtyard of the main mosque, where volunteers were spraying disinfectant.
“We urge everyone to abide by social distancing and protect themselves against this virus,” the imam said in the opening to his brief sermon.
Sadr had issued a list of restrictions on Twitter this week, including that worshippers must stand exactly 75cm apart and sermons must last only 15 minutes.
One worshipper, Qassem al-Mayahi, 40, said he was “happy to finally be able to pray on Fridays, as this is one of the five pillars of Islam.
We need to figure out how to live” with the virus, “we may as well pray.”
Other prayers at Sadrist mosques were expected in the Shia holy city of Najaf on Friday.
The coronavirus pandemic has hit Iraq hard, with nearly 280,000 confirmed cases and more than 7,800 deaths. In March, Iraqi authorities shut down airports and imposed total lockdowns to halt the virus’s spread. Top Shia authority Grand Ayatollah Ali Sistani halted his weekly sermons, and they have yet to resume.
But rules have generally been relaxed, with most airports reopening in July and curfews now only in place overnight.
On Monday, the Iraqi government’s coronavirus crisis cell announced restaurants could seat customers – rather than just providing takeaway services – if they abide by health ministry protocols and that sports events could resume, but in the absence of spectators.
The loosening of restrictions came just a few days after Iraq recorded its highest daily caseload yet, with more than 5,000 new Covid-19 infections recorded on 4 September.
The United Arab Emirates has announced 931 new cases, its second highest rise in daily cases since a first peak of 994 on 22 May.