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Thursday December 3rd, 2020 10:59AM

The Latest: Texas Gov. Abbott again halts elective surgeries

By The Associated Press
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AUSTIN, Texas — Gov. Greg Abbott again halted elective surgeries in Texas’ biggest counties in a bid to free up hospital beds after the number of patients admitted with COVID-19 has more than doubled in two weeks.

Texas has emerged as one of the nation’s hotspots, reporting more than 11,000 new cases in the past two days.

By re-imposing a ban on elective surgeries, Abbott is returning to one of his first actions when the virus emerged in Texas in March. He later rescinded the order during an aggressive reopening of the state in May, which lifted lockdown orders ahead of most of the U.S.

This week, Abbott has taken a newly urgent tone about the worsening trends and is telling the public they should stay home. On Thursday, the number of hospitalizations climbed to more than 4,700 patients, setting a record for a 13th consecutive day.

The surgery ban applies to Dallas, Harris, Travis and Bexar counties, which includes the Dallas, Houston, Austin and San Antonio areas.

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

— France to test some 1.3 million near Paris. The Eiffel Tower reopens to visitors after 104 days.

— Court rules gyms will remain closed in Michigan.

— Masks, travel restrictions, testing as virus cases surge.

— Billionaire seeking test kits for South Africa says West cornering market.

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

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HERE’S WHAT ELSE IS HAPPENING:

KATHMANDU, Nepal — Nepal is increasing quarantine facilities and testing at border points to prepare for the expected return of thousands of workers from neighboring India.

Nepal has reported 11,162 cases and just 26 deaths in a population of 29 million. It was among the first countries in South Asia to report a case, but a lockdown imposed in March helped control the outbreak.

Deputy Prime Minister Ishwar Pokhrel says in an interview with The Associated Press that coronavirus cases are expected to increase as workers return home from India, where millions of Nepalese are believed to be employed and where coronavirus cases are surging.

“We are very aware of the number of coronavirus cases in India. That is why we are monitoring and controlling entry of people and at the same time increasing quarantine facilities and testing at border points,” Pokhrel says.

India has reported 473,105 cases and 14,894 deaths.

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LANSING, Mich. — A federal appeals court ruled gyms and fitness centers will remain closed under Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer’s shutdown order from months ago.

The 6th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, in a 3-0 decision late Wednesday, granted an emergency stay sought by the governor. After a lawsuit was filed by indoor fitness facilities, District Judge Paul Maloney in Kalamazoo said last week that gyms could reopen at 12:01 a.m. Thursday.

The appellate judges said while the gym owners who sued bear the risk of losing their businesses, the governor’s interest in combating the coronavirus “is at least equally significant.”

“To date, the disease has infected thousands of Michiganders, and it has shown the potential to infect many more. That the public interest weighs in favor of a stay is apparent for the same reason,” they wrote.

Whitmer planned to let gyms, movie theaters and places like bowling alleys, which closed March 16, reopen in much of Michigan by July 4 if COVID-19 case trends remain favorable.

However, she won’t make an announcement this week, citing concerns about some outbreaks. In the less-populous northern part of the state, gyms and fitness centers could open June 10 if they reduced class sizes and made other changes.

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RABAT, Morocco — Moroccans are reuniting with friends and family, attending cafés and restaurants open the first time in three months amid an easing of measures to combat the spread of the coronavirus.

The Moroccan government allowed cafés, restaurants, gyms, and salons to open with social distancing and at 50% seating capacity.

From the most reputable restaurants to the humblest small cafes in the Medina of Rabat, the social pulse of the capital is slowly beating back to life as customers return.

In Rabat, Hakim Tazi, the owner of Mazarine café greeted his customers with hand gels, paper tissues and with safety signs.

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STOCKHOLM — The medical authority for northern Sweden says some of the 300 new cases reported since early June likely started in the mining town of Gallivare.

The town experienced a surge, but the situation has improved, according to Anders Nysted of Region Norrbotten.

“It boils down to the people’s ability to follow advice and guidelines,” like social distancing or staying at home if one has a cold, Nysted said.

The affected LKAB mining company has said it followed health authorities’ recommendations and emphasized individual responsibility. Health authorities have disagreed.

Last week, Gallivare shut down local bus lines and most non-essential public services like swimming pools, sport-halls, library and museum for the 8,500 inhabitants. The outbreak was reported in local retirement homes and among miners.

Sweden has declined to implement the strict lockdown measures used in Europe. Large gatherings were banned, but restaurants and schools for children have stayed open. The Swedish government has urged social distancing. Some 5,230 people have died from the virus.

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JOHANNESBURG — The billionaire tasked with speeding up Africa’s access to critical medical supplies in the COVID-19 pandemic says he turned to China for testing kits after manufacturers in the West said the continent would have to wait months.

Strive Masiyiwa tells an African vaccine conference that testing kits “were available but only to the Western countries. ... Abbott and them were saying, ‘You wait until September, wait until October.’ So I didn’t waste any time with them. I spent my time talking to the suppliers in China who were willing to supply immediately.”

Africa faces widespread shortages of medical supplies in the competition with richer countries. The pandemic on the continent is growing rapidly, with more than 335,000 cases.

The CEO of vaccines alliance GAVI, Seth Berkley, says “vaccine nationalism” is real. Initiatives in high-income countries are “essentially trying to corner the market in those countries.”

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LONDON — The European Medicines Agency has granted its first approval for a drug to treat the new coronavirus — remdesivir, which has been shown in trials to speed the recovery time of people hospitalized with COVID-19.

The regulatory agency says it was granting a conditional marketing authorization for remdesivir to be used in treating adults and adolescents older than 12 with pneumonia who require oxygen.

“Remdesivir is the first medicine against COVID-19 to be recommended for authorization in the EU,” the agency says. Last month, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration granted an emergency use authorization for the drug.

Although larger trials on remdesivir are still ongoing, preliminary results showed that patients hospitalized with severe illness were discharged quicker from the hospital than those who didn’t get the drug. No beneficial effect was seen in patients with mild or moderate disease.

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ATHENS, Greece — Greece has recorded a widening budget deficit because of the coronavirus, with the negative balance at 7.49 billion euros ($8.39 billion) in the first five months of the year.

The Finance Ministry says the primary deficit figure for the state budget, the balance before debt servicing costs, stood at 4.84 billion euros ($5.41 billion).

Greece has delivered primary budget surpluses for the past five years as part of its commitments to European Union bailout lenders, but creditors have agreed to relax those conditions this year due to the virus.

With its strong reliance on tourism, Greece is headed back into a major recession in 2020. Finance Minister Christos Staikouras said Wednesday the government expected a contraction of 8% of gross domestic product in 2020, with a whopping 16% downturn in the second quarter of the year.

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PARIS —The Eiffel Tower reopened to visitors after its longest closure in peace time: 104 days.

Tourists who are trickling back to Paris were delighted to find the landmark open while some other attractions remain closed. The Louvre Museum will open July 6.

“We’ve seen a lot Paris people enjoying their city, enjoying their parks without all the tourists,” said Annelies Bouwhuis, a 43-year-old visitor from the Netherlands.

Lifts that usually whisk visitors up the 324-meter (1,063-feet) tall wrought-iron Eiffel Tower remain closed, so people are taking the stairs. Of the tower’s three decks, only the first two reopened.

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THE HAGUE, Netherlands — The Dutch government is giving a 1,000 euro ($1,120) bonus to health care workers who helped the country tackle the coronavirus outbreak.

The health ministry says the payment is a way for Parliament and the ruling coalition government to express their gratitude to workers such as nurses, cleaners and other support staff in the health sector.

Health Minister Hugo de Jonge says during the coronavirus crisis “health professionals worked tirelessly, day and night, to help others. And that happened under unprecedented circumstances. The Netherlands could count on them.”

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Geneva — The health ministers of France and Germany say their countries are “fully aligned” in support of the World Health Organization both financially and politically.

Germany’s health minister Jens Spahn says the country remains a “critical friend” of the World Health Organization and is donating more than 500 million euros ($552 million) to the U.N. agency for various programs. Those include the response to the coronavirus pandemic, although some of those funds were already previously announced.

Spahn says “this comes with the clear expectation that remaining challenges are adequately addressed and needed reforms are pushed forward.”

Germany will provide medical equipment including masks for countries struggling to deal with the virus.

Olivier Veran say France will donate 90 million euros to build a WHO academy in Lyon, in addition to 50 million announced by French President Emmanuel Macron.

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BERLIN — Authorities in one of two German districts under renewed pandemic lockdown say they are opening five new centers for people to get free coronavirus tests.

Sven-Georg Adenauer, the head of the regional administration in Guetersloh, says authorities want to conduct 10,000 tests per day but warned people to expect long wait times.

Guetersloh and neighboring Warendorf have become a hotspot after an outbreak at a local slaughterhouse that infected about 1,300 people.

Schools, bars and fitness clubs have been closed in the two districts, which have an estimated population of 670,000.

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BERLIN — A study indicated more than 40% of residents in the Austrian ski resort of Ischgl, an early European hotspot, likely were infected with the coronavirus.

The Austria Press Agency reported 1,473 people -- nearly four-fifths of Ischgl’s population -- took part in the survey conducted by the Medical University of Innsbruck between April 21-27.

It concluded that 42.4% of the town’s population have antibodies for the virus and 85% of those who were infected didn’t notice at the time.

Dorothee von Laer, who led the study, says it’s likely the virus was circulating in Ischgl in the second half of February. The first case in Ischgl wasn’t confirmed until early March. Skiers who picked up the virus there spread it as far afield as Iceland.

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PARIS — France is stepping up efforts to root out hidden clusters of coronavirus infections by offering tests to nearly 1.3 million people in the Paris region.

The expansion of France’s testing program was announced Thursday by the health minister, Olivier Véran, in an interview with the newspaper Le Monde. Health authorities will send out coupons that people can exchange for a test.

“The aim is to identify any sleeping clusters, that’s to say invisible concentrations of asymptomatic people,” Veran was quoted as saying.

The minister said France is also arming itself for the possibility of a second wave of infections, reconstituting its stocks of medicines and making plans to be able to treat 30,000 people in intensive care if necessary.

France had more than 7,000 patients in intensive care at the peak in April of its outbreak that has killed nearly 30,000 people. That figure is now down to under 700.

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JAKARTA, Indonesia — The number of coronavirus cases in Indonesia surpassed 50,000 on Thursday as the government allows businesses to reopen amid increasing economic pressure.

Skepticism remains over the ability of the government to conduct enough tests to determine the true spread of the virus in the Southeast Asian nation of more than 270 million people living on thousands of islands.

A government task force said Thursday the coronavirus is confirmed to have infected 50,187 people and killed at least 2,620, the highest number of cases and fatalities in the region, up from just two confirmed cases in early March.

Testing remains a major limitation of Indonesia’s fight against the virus. The country has tested fewer than 430,000 people, according to government data.

That’s far from the World Health Organization’s recommendation of testing 1% to 1.5% of the country’s population, said Laura Navika Yamani, an epidemiology expert at Airlangga University.

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PRAGUE — The Czech Republic has registered its highest day-to-day increase of COVID-19 cases in more than two months.

As the government has been easing its restrictive measures, the number of new coronavirus infections reached 127 on Wednesday.

It’s the biggest increase since April 21, when it was 133.

The Czech Republic has had 10,780 people infected since the pandemic started while 344 have died, according to Health Ministry figures released on Thursday.

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MANILA, Philippines — The Philippine government will seek to extend a law granting emergency powers to President Rodrigo Duterte to deal with the pandemic as the threat of future outbreaks remains.

Congress granted Duterte extra powers in March that included the authority to realign huge budgets to provide aid to millions of poor families and make emergency medical purchases under the law, which expired this week.

Presidential spokesman Harry Roque said Duterte plans to call a special session of Congress to pass a law extending his powers.

The Philippines has reported nearly 32,300 infections, including more than 1,200 deaths, among the highest in Southeast Asia.

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