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The Latest: WHO leader warns against herd immunity solution

A health worker takes a nasal swab sample at a COVID-19 testing center in Hyderabad, India, Sunday, Oct. 11, 2020. India's confirmed coronavirus toll crossed 7 million on Sunday with a number of new cases dipping in recent weeks, even as health experts warn of mask and distancing fatigue setting in.
Image Credit: AP Photo/Mahesh Kumar A.
October 12, 2020 - 1:00 PM

LONDON — The head of the World Health Organization warned against the idea that herd immunity might be a realistic strategy to stop the pandemic, calling such proposals “unethical.”

WHO director-general Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said at a press briefing on Monday that health officials typically aim to achieve herd immunity — where the entire population is protected from a virus when the majority are immune — by vaccination. Tedros noted that to obtain herd immunity from measles, for example, about 95% of the population must be vaccinated.

“Herd immunity is achieved by protecting people from a virus, not by exposing them to it,” he said. “Never in the history of public health has herd immunity been used as a strategy for responding to an outbreak,” he said, calling the strategy “scientifically and ethically problematic.”

Tedros said that WHO estimates less than 10% of the population has any immunity to the coronavirus, meaning the vast majority of the world remains susceptible.

Tedros also noted countries had reported record-high daily figures of COVID-19 to the U.N. health agency for the last four days, citing surges in Europe and the Americas in particular.

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

— Supreme Court nominee Amy Coney Barrett faces Senate despite virus

— Trump insists he’s free of virus, ready for campaign trail

— Britain expected to tighten restrictions on hard-hit northern cities like Liverpool

— EU nations gear up to adopt traffic-light system to identify outbreaks

— Four Swiss guards who protect 83-year-old Pope Francis have the virus

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

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HERE’S WHAT ELSE IS HAPPENING:

NICOSIA, Cyprus — Cyprus has brought back restrictions on public and private gatherings in its two most populous districts amid concerns over a spike in COVID-19 infections in workplaces and family get-togethers during the last few days.

Cyprus’ Health Ministry said Monday are gatherings in private homes and public areas in the Limassol and Nicosia districts are limited to 10 people, including children. Attendance at religious services is capped at 75 people, while spectators are prohibited from all sports events. Bars, restaurants, cinemas and theatres are limited to a maximum of 75 patrons indoors and 150 outdoors. Restaurant seating is also limited to 10 people at most per table. Wedding and baptism receptions are prohibited.

The restrictions are to last until Oct. 23. Cyprus has seen confirmed COVID-19 infections hover in the double digits in the last couple of weeks, relatively high for a country of 875,000 people.

The Mediterranean island nation has so far had a total of 2006 COVID-19 infections and 31 deaths virus-related deaths.

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LONDON — The emergencies chief of the World Health Organization said “appropriate measures” can be taken to ensure that in-person elections can be held safely and that the pandemic shouldn’t automatically scupper such plans.

“We’ve seen many examples over the last nine months where elections have actually been held very safely,” Dr. Michael Ryan said on Monday. He said WHO had worked with numerous countries to produce guidance that aims to minimize the spread of COVID-19 during any mass gathering, including an election.

“We don’t specify to any country what the proper choice is for the type of election (to be) run,” he said, adding that it is up to countries to conduct their own risk assessment to see how elections might be held safely.

Ryan said that it was entirely possible to reduce the risk of coronavirus spread to “an absolute minimum if everybody participates and if everybody adheres to what is an agreed method.” The problem, he pointed out, is when those practices are ignored. “And that’s essentially something that can’t be legislated for.”

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BEIRUT — Schools have resumed classes for the new school year in Lebanon starting grade 9 and above amid an increase of coronavirus cases in the tiny country.

The Ministry of Education said other classes will resume lessons over the coming three weeks.

On Monday, classes were split into morning and afternoon shifts in order to have a 50% capacity and abide by social distancing. Students had their temperature checked before entering schools and had to wear masks.

The move came as the Interior Minister ordered a lockdown in 169 towns and villages around Lebanon for a week to try limit the spread of the virus.

In those 169 towns and villages schools were closed.

Lebanon, a nation of 5 million, has registered 53,568 cases of coronavirus and 459 deaths.

Over the past three months, cases increased dramatically in Lebanon after the only international airport was reopened and a nationwide lockdown eased.

A massive explosion at Beirut’s port worsened the situation amid crowding at hospitals, funerals and anti-government protests.

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LONDON — The British government is giving 257 million pounds ($335 million) to help almost 1,400 arts and cultural organizations survive the coronavirus pandemic.

The money announced Monday is the first chunk of a Culture Recovery Fund totalling 1.57 billion pounds in all.

Recipients include major organizations such as the London Symphony Orchestra, which received 846,000 pounds, and tiny venues such as London’s 50-seat Finborough Theatre, which got just under 60,000 pounds. Liverpool’s Cavern Club, where The Beatles shot to fame, received a grant of 525,000 pounds.

Britain’s museums, galleries, theatres and music venues all closed when the country went into lockdown in March. Some have managed to reopen, with reduced capacity and at a financial loss, but coronavirus restrictions make most live performances impossible.

Many arts workers also have not been supported by government job-retention programs because they are freelancers.

Julian Bird, chief executive of umbrella body U.K. Theatre, said the news was “warmly welcomed, and will help create work and retain jobs.”

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BRUSSELS — European Union countries are getting ready to adopt a common traffic light system to co-ordinatetravelling across the 27-nation bloc amid the coronavirus pandemic.

To ensure that member states do not close their borders to one another and avoid a repeat of the cacophony witnessed in March when the virus first struck, the EU commission came up with proposals that have been amended before their scheduled approval by EU nations on Tuesday.

The key measure is a common map of infections drawn up by the European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control. It will sort European regions into green, orange and red zones according to the severity of coronavirus outbreaks. Under the latest proposal, red zones should be areas where the total number of newly notified COVID-19 cases is more than 50 per 100,000 people during a 14-day period and the percentage of positive tests reaches at least 4%.

Regions with a lower positive rate but where the total number of cases is more than 150 per 100,000 will also be classified red.

In light of the very high level of infections across the continent now, most of the bloc should be classified as red or orange.

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VATICAN CITY — The Vatican says four Swiss Guards have tested positive for the coronavirus, as the surge in infections in surrounding Italy enters the Vatican walls.

The four are all symptomatic and are in isolation while their contacts are being traced, the Vatican said Monday. They join three other Vatican residents who tested positive in recent weeks plus the dozen or so Holy See officials who tested positive during the first wave of the outbreak.

Despite the positive cases among his own bodyguards, 83-year-old Pope Francis continued Monday to shun a mask. He was seen warmly greeting Cardinal George Pell in his private studio, and neither man wore a mask.

Francis decision to shun a mask during his Wednesday audience, held last week indoors, drew criticism on social media.

Italy is seeing a sharp surge in COVID-19 cases, with the Lazio region around the Vatican among the worst-hit in this second wave of the pandemic.

The Vatican last week amended its mask mandates to conform to that of Italy, requiring them indoors and out. The Vatican didn’t immediately respond when asked why Francis wasn’t wearing one to receive Pell.

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MADRID — Supporters of Spain’s far-right Vox party have staged protests by car across Spain against restrictions introduced to help stem the spread of COVID-19.

The protests Monday coincided with the Fiesta Nacional de España and aimed to “turn our National Day into a cry for freedom.”

Scores of cars jammed traffic in Madrid on the Paseo de la Castellana, one of the capital’s main roads. Protesters, wearing face masks, honked horns and waved Spanish flags out of their car windows.

Vox has lawmakers in the Spanish and European parliaments, as well as many town councillors across Spain.

Spain has officially recorded more than 861,000 COVID-19 cases and has attributed almost 33,000 deaths to the new coronavirus, making it one of Europe’s worst-hit countries.

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BRUSSELS — Organizers of the Brussels auto show, which was scheduled to be held in January, say the event will be postponed by a year due to the coronavirus pandemic.

According to organizers, the event draws some 500,000 visitors every in Belgium’s capital city. The 99th edition of the show will now take place from Jan. 14-23, 2022.

Several other auto shows have been cancelled or postponed due to the COVID-19 outbreak, including those in New York and Geneva.

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BRUSSELS — Authorities in Belgium, one of the European countries hit hardest by the coronavirus, are warning that the number of cases is rising at a “quite alarming” rate and that 10,000 people could be catching the virus each day by the end of the week.

Yves Van Laethem, a spokesman for Belgium’s COVID-19 crisis centre, says that “all the indicators continue to rise, it must be said, in a quite alarming way, in all provinces and all age groups.”

An average of 4,145 new cases were being recorded every day in Belgium in the week of Oct. 2-8, an increase of 89% over the previous week, according to data released Monday. Van Laethem said “if this rise continues at the same rate, we could see 10,000 new cases a day at the end of this week.”

Since the start of the pandemic, more than 162,200 people have been infected with the virus in Belgium, which has a population of around 11.5 million. As of Monday, 10,191 people were reported to have died from the disease in Belgium.

Last week, the government tightened its coronavirus restrictions. Close contacts are limited to a maximum of three people outside of a household. In the capital, Brussels, which is seeing more than 800 new cases each day, bars and cafes were ordered to close for at least a month.

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LONDON — British health officials have ordered three temporary COVID-19 hospitals in northern England that were mothballed when the outbreak receded over the summer to prepare to reopen as new infections surge.

Stephen Powis, medical director of the National Health Service in England, said Monday that the “Nightingale” hospitals in Manchester, Sunderland and Harrogate were being readied to admit new patients if needed.

The temporary facilities were set up rapidly inside conference centres and other venues earlier this year to treat coronavirus patients if hospitals became overwhelmed. Most were not needed during the initial peak of the U.K. outbreak in the spring.

Coronavirus infections are on the rise again across the U.K., with northwest and northeast England seeing the biggest surges.

Prime Minister Boris Johnson is due to announce new restrictions for the worst-hit areas later Monday.

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PARIS — French Prime Minister Jean Castex has warned that France could impose further restrictions as the coronavirus is spreading rapidly and the situation in hospitals is deteriorating in the country.

Speaking on French news broadcaster France Info on Monday, Castex said that “there can be no more slackening” to face the COVID-19 epidemic. Nine big cities, including Paris and Marseille, have been placed under maximum virus alert.

Castex called on French people to limit private gatherings in their homes. He said a “general lockdown” of the country “must be avoided by all means.”

French health authorities reported about 43,000 new infections over the weekend.

The director of the Paris region public health agency, Aurelien Rousseau, said that COVID-19 patients now occupy more than 42% of ICU beds in the capital and its suburbs. Speaking on BFM TV, he said that the rate of positive tests reached 17% in the region.

France is one of Europe’s hardest-hit countries, with at least 32,730 virus-related deaths.

News from © The Associated Press, 2020
The Associated Press

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