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Sunday May 16th, 2021 11:31AM

The Latest: Hong Kong's mass testing finds only few cases

By The Associated Press
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HONG KONG — Only six people in Hong Kong have tested positive for the coronavirus out of a batch of 128,000 residents who had undergone the mass-testing program that began on Tuesday.

Four of the six were previous coronavirus patients who had been discharged last month, and still carried traces of the virus when they were tested.

As of Thursday, 850,000 people in the city of 7.5 million had registered to take part in the weeklong program that offers all residents a one-time, free coronavirus test as the city seeks to identify silent carriers of the virus.

The low number of positive cases found so far has drawn criticism that the government’s universal testing program was not cost effective amid privacy concerns and fears that DNA data could be sent to mainland China.

Hong Kong saw its third and worst surge of coronavirus infections in early July. At its peak, Hong Kong recorded more than 100 local cases a day, after going weeks without any in June. Cases have steadily dwindled following a raft of tough restrictions, including limiting dining-in hours and shuttering businesses such as bars and karaoke lounges.

Apart from the six people, Hong Kong reported eight other coronavirus infections on Thursday. In total, it has reported 4,839 confirmed cases with 93 deaths.

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

— CDC tells states: Be ready to distribute vaccines on Nov. 1

— Slammed by virus, France unveils huge economic rescue plan

— Afghans return to games, parks, weddings despite virus fears

— Amnesty International says Mexico leads the world in coronavirus deaths among its health care workers. The group says Mexico has reported 1,320 confirmed deaths from COVIID-19 so far, surpassing the United States at 1,077, the United Kingdom at 649, and Brazil at 634.

— New studies confirm that multiple types of steroids improve survival for severely ill COVID-19 patients, cementing the cheap drugs as a standard of care.

— Scientists are reporting that the antibodies people make to fight the new coronavirus do not fade quickly. The new study is the most extensive work yet on the immune system’s response to the virus and is good news for efforts to develop vaccines.

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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 — One of Europe’s biggest brothels has filed for bankruptcy after being unable to operate for months due to coronavirus restrictions.

German daily Express reported Thursday that the Pascha brothel in Cologne had used up all of its financial reserves paying for the upkeep of its 10-story building and 60 staff.

As part of a wide range of efforts to curb the spread of COVID-19, the German state of North-Rhine Westphalia, where Cologne is located, banned prostitution five months ago.

Organizations representing sex workers have warned that the closure of brothels will likely force prostitution underground, where women are at greater risk of exploitation.

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JOHANNESBURG — Africa’s top public health official says the rate of confirmed new coronavirus cases has fallen again, by 14% from the previous week.

John Nkengasong dismisses the idea of a “hidden pandemic” on the continent, telling reporters that testing has improved significantly in Africa’s 54 countries and close to 1% of the total population of 1.3 billion has been tested for the virus.

He says earlier concerns about testing shortages are disappearing as countries test more, and the easing curve “represents a sign of hope.”

Africa has a total of 1.2 million confirmed cases, roughly half in South Africa.

“In the coming weeks we’ll see dynamics begin to change with the introduction of antigen tests,” Nkengasong says. “We’re very encouraged it can transform the situation” as they can be easily decentralized for use beyond major cities and give a clearer picture of infections.

In response to the Trump administration saying it will not work with an international cooperative effort to develop and distribute a COVID-19 vaccine globally, Nkengasong says “we are in this together. No country will be safe if any country in the world still has cases of COVID.”

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LONDON — The families of dementia patients are demanding the British government ease restrictions on visiting care homes during the COVID-19 pandemic, saying they prevent people from getting the love and attention they need at the end of life.

Many care homes have curtailed visits during the pandemic, arguing that a lack of personal protection equipment and inadequate testing capacity have made it impossible to comply with government guidelines any other way.

But Julia Jones, co-founder of the dementia charity John’s Campaign, told the BBC that family visits are an important part of caring for people in care homes and shouldn’t be considered optional.

“These are not visitors,” she said. “These are people’s husbands, these are people’s children who have been their children for 60 years. This is a human rights matter. You can’t restrict people’s right to family life.”

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MELBOURNE, Australia — A pregnant woman says she didn’t know she had broken any law when she was handcuffed by police in front of her children in her Australian home and led away in pajamas for allegedly inciting activists to demonstrate against pandemic lockdown.

Zoe Buhler’s partner helped her livestream the arrest on Wednesday at her home where she lives with two children aged 3 and 4 in the Victoria state city of Ballarat. The video has been viewed millions of times.

The 28-year-old has since been charged with using social media platforms to incite others to break pandemic restrictions by attending weekend rallies.

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LONDON — The British government says it is investing in a coronavirus test that gives results in as little as 20 minutes, as critics say tests for the virus are being rationed because the system can’t cope with demand.

Health Secretary Matt Hancock says the government is expanding trials of two new tests — a no-swab saliva test and another that gives results in minutes. It’s also running a trial on the benefits of repeat testing of people without symptoms.

Britain has hugely expanded its testing capacity since the start of the pandemic, but critics say it is still not doing enough to find and isolate people with the coronavirus.

Anyone with symptoms is eligible for a test, but the BBC reported Thursday that people who enter their postcode into the government’s website are sometimes being directed to drive-through centers hundreds of miles away.

Hancock insisted the system was working well despite some “operational challenges.”

The government says it has the capacity to perform almost 350,000 tests a day, though only abut 180,000 are actually being processed daily.

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LONDON — Sanofi and GlaxoSmithKline say they are beginning human trials of a potential vaccine for COVID-19 after positive results from preclinical testing.

The drugmakers said Thursday they plan to test the vaccine on 440 adults at 11 sites in the U.S., with the first results expected in early December. If these tests are successful, the companies plan to begin large-scale trials later that month.

Sanofi and GlaxoSmithKline say they plan to seek regulatory approval for the vaccine in early 2021 if data from the trials supports it.

The two companies in July announced plans to collaborate with the U.S. government to produce up to 100 million doses of the vaccine, with the government taking an option to purchase up to 500 million more doses in the future. The British government has agreed to buy up to 60 million doses.

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ANKARA, Turkey — Turkey is expanding restrictions imposed on social gatherings such as wedding and engagement parties and henna nights in more than a dozen provinces to the entire country.

An Interior Ministry circular sent to Turkey’s 81 provinces late Wednesday says such social gatherings will banned from Friday. Marriage registration ceremonies will be allowed but will be restricted to one hour only.

The decision came after the health minister said the country is experiencing the second peak of the first wave of the coronavirus outbreak and blamed gatherings at weddings and holidays.

The number of daily infections have tipped above 1,500 — levels previously seen in mid-June. More than 273,000 people have tested positive for the virus in Turkey since March.

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PRAGUE — The Czech Republic has registered the biggest day-to-day increase in the new confirmed cases of COVID-19.

The Health Ministry says a record 650 people tested positive on Wednesday, up from 504 on Tuesday.

Health Minister Adam Vojtech says new restrictions are likely to be imposed.

Vojtech is currently quarantined after a senior official in his department tested positive for COVID-19.

The Czech Republic has had 25,773 confirmed infections with 425 deaths.

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LOS ANGELES -- The Los Angeles City Council has declared a fiscal emergency because of the coronavirus pandemic, paving the way to furlough about 15,000 employees.

Wednesday’s declaration comes as the city looks at a tax shortfall this year of up to $400 million.

Mayor Eric Garcetti is expected to approve the measure.

The furloughs, which would begin Oct. 11, would require civilian employees to take up to 18 days off from work. But a labor union official tells the Los Angeles Daily News that the furloughs violate labor contracts and will be vigorously fought.

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BEIJING — Beijing’s main international airport on Thursday began again receiving international flights from a limited number of countries considered at low risk of coronavirus infection.

Passengers flying in from Cambodia, Greece, Denmark, Thailand, Pakistan, Austria, Canada and Sweden, must have first shown a negative nucleic acid test for coronavirus before boarding, city government spokesperson Xu Hejian told reporters.

Passenger arrivals will be limited to roughly 500 per day during an initial trial period and all will need to undergo additional testing for the virus on arrival, followed by two weeks of quarantine. The first flight under the new arrangement, Air China 746, arrived from Pnom Penh, Cambodia just before 7 a.m.

Beginning in March, all international flights to Beijing had been redirected to a dozen other cities where passengers were tested and processed before being allowed to travel on to the Chinese capital.

China has gone weeks without new cases of local infection and on Thursday recorded 11 cases brought from outside the country. China has recorded a total of 4,634 deaths from COVID-19 among 85,077 cases since the virus was first detected in the central Chinese city of Wuhan late last year, sparking the global pandemic.

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LOS ANGELES -- Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson says he and his family tested positive for the coronavirus.

Johnson announced their diagnosis in an 11-plus minute video on Instagram on Wednesday.

The actor says he was shocked after hearing their positive tests. He called the ordeal “one of the most challenging and difficult things we’ve had ever to endure.”

The actor said he along with wife, Lauren Hashian, and two young daughters contracted the virus, but have now recovered.

He says his daughters “bounced back” after having sore throats for a couple days. But for Johnson and his wife, he says they both had a “rough go.”

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SAN DIEGO -- San Diego State University has halted in-person classes for a month after dozens of students were infected with the coronavirus.

The school announced Wednesday that about 200 course offerings, some of them lab classes, will move to virtual learning. On-campus housing will remain open.

San Diego County health officials say there have been 64 confirmed or probable cases of COVID-19 among SDSU students since classes resumed last week. Some, but not all, of the infections were linked to other cases at the university. Some involve students who live off-campus.

California State university at Chico also halted classes this week.

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SANTA FE, N.M. -- A top state health official is warning that COVID-19 infections are far more prevalent in low-income areas of the New Mexico, potentially straining Medicaid health care.

Human Services Secretary David Scrase said Wednesday that an analysis of infection rates by census tract shows that highly impoverished areas have infection rates seven times higher than the most affluent zones.

Scrase and Children Youth and Families Secretary Brian Blalock gave a briefing on public health trends and the state’s coronavirus response.

State health officials are wary that festivities over the Labor Day holiday weekend could lead to renewed surges in COVID-19 infections.

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URBANA, Ill. — The University of Illinois is ramping up enforcement of restrictions on student activity after more than 330 COVID-19 cases in two days on the school’s Urbana-Champaign campus, school officials said Wednesday.

In an email to students, Chancellor Robert Jones said he expects all undergraduates to "limit their in-person interactions to only the most essential activities” for the next two weeks starting Wednesday evening.

“These include things like taking twice weekly COVID-19 tests, attending class, purchasing groceries and food, going to work, engaging in individual outdoor activity, attending religious services and seeking medical attention,” Jones wrote.

The University of Illinois isn’t the only university in the state seeing a spike in COVID-19 cases. Illinois State University in Normal is reporting about 1,025 students have tested positive since the start of the fall semester two weeks ago, nearly 5% of the student body.

Since students returned to the Urbana-Champaign campus Aug. 16, more than 1,000 people on campus have tested positive. University officials say about 800 people are currently in quarantine.

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ATLANTA — With more than 3,000 public university students and employees across Georgia testing positive for COVID-19 since Aug. 1, some schools are taking action to slow the spread of the respiratory illness.

Georgia Tech is encouraging students to convert to single rooms, moving out roommates over coming weeks to reduce exposure to the coronavirus. Both Georgia Tech and the University of Georgia announced they are renting more off-campus rooms to isolate or quarantine students who have been infected or exposed to the virus.

The University of Georgia reported 821 new infections for the week ended Saturday, a number that President Jere Morehead said Wednesday is “concerning.” He urged students to “continue to make every effort to prioritize their health and safety by taking the proper steps to avoid exposure to this virus.

Around 4% of all cases recorded in Georgia in the last month have been associated with university campuses, according to figures kept by The Associated Press. The number could be higher because some schools, including the state’s largest — Georgia State University — are not posting full reports publicly.

The rising campus infection numbers come as new cases in the rest of Georgia decline. The total number of cases rose to near 275,000 Wednesday, according to state data, but the average number of cases has fallen below 2,000 a day.

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