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Saturday May 15th, 2021 12:29AM

The Latest: Dr. Birx: Stem virus surge so it doesn't travel

By The Associated Press
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WASHINGTON — White House coronavirus response coordinator Dr. Deborah Birx says recent surges in cases in the southern U.S. could make their way north.

Birx told NBC’s “Today” show: “We have to change our behavior now before this virus completely moves back up through the north.”

The densely packed New York metropolitan area had been the hardest-hit section of the country, but the daily number of cases and deaths declined after a strict lockdown. The number of cases has been growing in southern states, including South Carolina, Georgia and Florida, where hospital officials say they desperately need medication to treat the patients filling up beds.

Birx says it’s difficult for people to understand “how deeply you have to clamp down” with social distancing, hand washing, mask wearing and avoiding crowds to stem the spread of the deadly virus. Birx says that’s why health professionals have “called out the next set of cities” where they see early warning signs. If those cities make changes now, they “won’t become a Phoenix.”

In a stretch of 10 days last month, Arizona health officials reported on seven occasions more than 3,000 daily cases.

Arizona’s Maricopa County, which includes Phoenix, has more than 100,000 confirmed cases and more than 1,600 deaths.

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

— Britain PM Boris Johnson dismisses anti-vaxxers as ‘nuts’

— The global march of face masks: A mirror on humanity

— Nearly half of Americans whose families experienced a layoff during the coronavirus pandemic now believe those jobs are lost. That’s according to a new poll from The Associated Press- NORC Center for Public Affairs Research.

— China’s ruling Communist Party says a former chairman of a state-owned real estate company who publicly criticized President Xi Jinping’s handling of the coronavirus pandemic has been expelled from the party and will be prosecuted on corruption charges.

— Even before the coronavirus hit, Argentina’s health care workers were struggling, most of them working more than 12 hours a day at multiple jobs to make ends meet amid economic inflation.

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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:

BERLIN — German authorities plan to set up testing stations at airports to prod people arriving from high-risk countries to get tested for the coronavirus.

They also will allow people arriving to get tested elsewhere for free within three days.

The decision by the health ministers of Germany’s 16 states came amid mounting concern that people could bring back the virus from their summer vacations. There also is concern that not everyone returning from a long list of countries designated as high-risk will self-quarantine for 14 days unless they test negative.

Berlin’s state health minister Dilek Kalayci says “in the end we want to call on all people returning to Germany to get tested.”

Kalayci says authorities intend to reintroduce “disemarbarkation cards” for people arriving by air and also for people arriving by ship or cross-border train or bus. The aim is to conduct spot checks on new arrivals to ensure rules are upheld on arrivals from high-risk areas.

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Green Bay, Wis. — Green Bay police are investigating threats made against city officials over a new mandate requiring face coverings in public buildings because of the coronavirus.

Alderman Randy Scannell, who first proposed the mask ordinance, says one email calls him a traitor and the sender would make sure Scannell would die. He says it appears multiple people are sending threatening emails to council members and city officials, including the mayor.

Police Chief Andrew Smith says all 12 council members, regardless of how they voted on the ordinance, received at least one of the threats. Smith emailed all city officials, telling them to be vigilant, WLUK-TV reported.

The council spent close to six hours taking public comments and deliberating the ordinance before it passed 7-5 on Tuesday night.

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MOSCOW — Russia will resume international flights with three countries starting Aug. 1, the government announced Friday.

Air traffic will resume with Britain, Turkey and Tanzania, and Russia is working to expand the list, according to Deputy Prime Minister Tatyana Golikova. Flights will resume in airports in Moscow, the surrounding Moscow region, St. Petersburg and Rostov-on-Don, a city in southern Russian.

Russia halted all international flights and shut down its borders in late March to help stem the coronavirus outbreak. Russian authorities started easing restrictions in May.

Health officials have reported more than 800,000 confirmed cases of the virus and 13,046 deaths in the country.

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LONDON — U.K. Prime Minister Boris Johnson has dismissed campaigners seeking to oppose vaccinations, describing so-called anti-vaxxers as “nuts.’’

Johnson asked staff at a London medical center what they thought of anti-vaxxers while adding, “There’s all these anti-vaxxers now. They are nuts, they are nuts.”

Johnson was touring the east London center to promote a campaign for flu vaccinations ahead of winter.

The anti-vaccination movement was fueled by a now-discredited article in the medical journal Lancet by Andrew Wakefield, which alleged the measles, mumps and rubella vaccine was linked to autism. The article was later retracted and Wakefield lost his medical license.

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MADRID — Spain’s farm minister says authorities are pressing agricultural employers to provide decent accommodation and transport for seasonal migrant workers, amid fears that poor living conditions are creating coronavirus hot spots.

Farm Minister Luis Planas says “infections in rural areas don’t happen on farms or in fields, they happen in transport and accommodation.”

He said that, as in Germany and France, officials are concerned the movement of tens of thousands seasonal workers spreads COVID-19. He adds in an interview with Cadena Ser radio that employers must provide “dignified living conditions.”

Spain’s Health Ministry reported Thursday 971 new coronavirus infections over the previous 24 hours — the country’s biggest daily increase since a lockdown ended.

Planas’ comments came on the same day that a United Nations report demanded that Spain improve the “deplorable” living conditions some of its seasonal workers endure.

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BRUSSELS — Belgian health authorities say a 3-year old girl has died after testing positive for the coronavirus amid a surge of infections in the country.

The announcement Friday came a day after Belgium decided to reinforce restriction measures to slow the spread of the virus, including mandatory masks in crowded outdoor public spaces.

The girl suffered from several severe associated diseases, according to a statement released by health authorities. She is believed to be the youngest person to die from COVID-19 complications in Belgium after a 12-year-old passed away in March.

Belgium has reported 64,847 confirmed cases and 9,812 deaths.

The average infection rate has largely increased over the past two weeks and the number of new infections went up 89% from the previous week from July 14-20.

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BERLIN — The company that runs a German slaughterhouse at the center of a major outbreak last month says 30 employees have tested positive for the coronavirus in new tests — but most of them were old cases.

Authorities have linked more than 2,000 cases to the outbreak at the Toennies slaughterhouse in the western town of Rheda-Wiedenbrueck, which led last month to a partial lockdown of the surrounding area. Those restrictions have since been lifted and the facility has reopened after a four-week closure.

Toennies spokesman Andre Vierstaedte says the 30 employees, along with all other workers, were tested on their return to work and sent into quarantine once the results arrived.

The company says in most cases the employees had previously tested positive for the coronavirus and it was still detectable, news agency dpa reported. In the case of eight employees, it had yet to be determined whether or not they had previously been infected.

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LONDON — The chief scientist at the World Health Organization estimates that about 50% to 60% of the population will need to be immune to the coronavirus for there to be any protective “herd immunity” effect.

Herd immunity is usually achieved through vaccination and occurs when most of a population is immune to a disease, blocking its continued spread.

During a social media event on Friday, Dr. Soumya Swaminathan said that studies done from some countries hit hard by COVID-19 show about 5% to 10% of people now have antibodies, though in some countries, it has been as high as 20%.

She says: “As there are waves of this infection going through countries, people are going to develop antibodies and those people will hopefully be immune for sometime so they will also act as barriers and brakes to the spread.”

Other experts have estimated that as much as 70% to 80% of the population need to have antibodies before there is any herd immunity effect.

In the pandemic’s earlier stages, countries including Britain proposed achieving herd immunity as an outbreak response strategy. But Swaminathan pointed out that achieving this effect with a vaccine is much safer than letting the virus rip through the population.

She says that to achieve herd immunity through natural infection, you need to have several waves and you will see the morbidity and mortality that we see now.

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LONDON — New rules on wearing masks in England have come into force, with people going to shops, banks and supermarkets now required to wear face coverings.

Police can hand out fines of 100 pounds ($127) if people refuse, but authorities are hoping that peer pressure will prompt compliance.

The move had been controversial, with the government offering mixed signals on the matter for weeks before coming up with a policy.

Guidance was issued Thursday, which says people should “assume” it is standard to wear a face covering when visiting a hospital, care home or community health care setting.

The are some exceptions to the new rules, with venues like restaurants, pubs, gyms and hairdressers exempt. Other exemptions to face coverings include children under 11, people with breathing problems and people who can’t wear a mask because of a disability.

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BERLIN — The German government says a new update to the country’s coronavirus tracing app has addressed a problem on many smartphones that reportedly resulted in some users receiving infection warnings late or not at all.

Germany’s Corona-Warn-App has been downloaded more than 15.5 million times since its launch last month. If someone using it tests positive for COVID-19, they can inform others who were in close proximity for at least 15 minutes that they, too, might be infected.

On Thursday evening, the Bild newspaper reported that automatic warning notifications didn’t work properly on some Android phones in the first five weeks because the app’s background update function switched off automatically to save power when the app wasn’t open.

The Health Ministry says the latest version of the app allows users to more easily activate the background update function.

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PHNOM PENH, Cambodia — Cambodia’s Health Ministry has confirmed four new cases of the coronavirus, all members of a Cambodian military force stationed in the African nation of Mali on a peacekeeping mission for the United Nations.

The three men and a woman were members of a team that had worked on land mine clearance. They were among 80 members who arrived back in Cambodia on July 10. The four were confirmed on Thursday to be infected.

Cambodia since 2006 has sent more than 6,000 soldiers to participate in demining and engineering work in U.N. peacekeeping operations in the Middle East and Africa.

Cambodia has confirmed 202 cases of coronavirus and no deaths. There have been no recent cases of local transmission. All new cases have involved arrivals from abroad, nearly all Cambodians but including two U.S. diplomats.

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NEW DELHI — India has surpassed 30,000 coronavirus deaths and now ranks sixth in the world.

The Health Ministry on Friday added 740 deaths due to COVID-19 in the last 24 hours, increasing the toll to 30,601. The total exceeds France, according to a tally by Johns Hopkins University.

India also registered a record 49,310 new cases, taking the country’s tally to 1,287,945, third most in the world behind the United States and Brazil.

As cases surge, the Home Ministry advised all government offices, states and officials to avoid congregations for Independence Day celebrations on Aug. 15.

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SEOUL, South Korea — South Korea will allow baseball fans to return to the stands on Sunday as health authorities outlined a phased process to bring back spectators in professional sports amid the COVID-19 epidemic.

Senior Health Ministry official Yoon Tae-ho says fans will be allowed at professional soccer games starting on Aug. 1. However, professional golf tournaments will continue without galleries at least until late August.

Both baseball and soccer teams will be allowed to sell only 10% of seats for each game and fans must register with smartphone QR codes for contract-tracing purposes, if necessary. There will be no food and beer, and fans will be discouraged from excessive shouting, singing and cheering during the game.

South Korea’s baseball and soccer leagues returned to action in May without fans in the stands. Seats have been covered with cheering banners, dolls or pictures of fans as teams tried to mimic a festive atmosphere.

South Korea reported 41 new virus cases Friday, 28 local infections and 13 from overseas. South Korea has been reporting roughly 20-60 cases every day since it eased rigid social distancing rules in early May.

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MELBOURNE, Australia — The premier of Australia’s COVID-19 hot spot, Victoria state, says the military will be used to bolster contact-tracing efforts.

Premier Daniel Andrews says if someone who is a newly diagnosed coronavirus case doesn't answer after being telephoned twice, soldiers will accompany a health official to the infected person’s home for a contact-tracing interview on the doorstep.

Anyone who is not at home will likely be fined for failing to home quarantine while awaiting a negative test result. Previously, failure to contact an infected person by phone was not followed up with a house call.

Australia’s Prime Minister Scott Morrison says all states and territories had eradicated community transmission except for the most populous, New South Wales and Victoria states.

“There will always be cases that come because Australia has not completely shut itself off from the world. To do so would be reckless,” Morrison said.

Victoria recorded 300 new cases on Friday and New South Wales seven, both declines from the previous day.

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BEIJING — Chinese officials have reported two confirmed coronavirus cases in a northeastern province as China continues to see infection clusters develop even though it has largely contained the virus in most of the country.

Authorities in Liaoning province have closed theaters, night clubs and indoor tourist attractions trying to stem further infections.

The Liaoning infections mark China’s latest cluster after one in the far northwestern region of Xinjiang earlier this month. That outbreak, focused on the regional capital of Urumqi, has infected dozens of people and officials have curbed travel and ordered widespread testing.

Elsewhere, China has largely contained the virus, with major cities such as Beijing and Shanghai opening up to increased economic activity and social interaction.

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