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Monday May 17th, 2021 9:29PM

The Latest: WHO scientist: Trial suspension a 'wake-up call'

By The Associated Press
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LONDON — The World Health Organization’s chief scientist says the agency isn’t overly worried about the pause in the clinical trials for a coronavirus vaccine developed by Oxford University and AstraZeneca.

Dr. Soumya Swaminathan called the pause in Oxford’s clinical trial “a wake-up call” to the global community to realize “there are ups and downs in research.”

Swaminathan says early data in human vaccine candidates so far has been “quite promising,” showing the shots trigger an immune response. But she says trials must be conducted in tens of thousands of people to determine whether a vaccine can safely protect people from infection.

“It could be that we see some results end of the year, it could be next year,” she said. “We have to be a little bit patient and wait for the results.”

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

— UN Secretary General appeals to donor countries for $35B for WHO virus initiatives

— Scotland joins England on social gathering limit of 6 people

— India has record spike of 95K new virus cases, infections spread outside cities

— The number of Americans applying for unemployment benefits was unchanged last week at 884,000, a sign that layoffs remain stuck at a historically high level six months after the coronavirus pandemic flattened the economy.

— Health experts have expressed strong skepticism about the British government’s ambitious plans to carry out millions of coronavirus tests daily. They say the strategy is “fundamentally flawed” and based on technology that doesn’t yet exist.

— The coronavirus pandemic is reshaping how the U.S. is observing the anniversary of 9/11. The terror attacks’ 19th anniversary will be marked Friday by dueling ceremonies at the Sept. 11 memorial plaza and a corner nearby in New York.

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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:

MADISON, Wis. — The University of Wisconsin-Madison is moving all classes online and quarantining students in two of its largest dorms amid rising cases of coronavirus.

Colleges across the country have been grappling with outbreaks in recent weeks after choosing to return to in-person instruction. System President Tommy Thompson decided to open campuses this fall despite the warning signs.

According to UW-Madison data, 1,044 students and 26 employees have tested positive for the virus since Aug. 6. The city-county public health department says there are at least 46 separate outbreaks currently tied to UW-Madison.

Chancellor Rebecca Blank ordered the 2,230 residents living in Sellery Hall and Witte Hall to quarantine for 14 days starting Wednesday, the State Journal reported.

Blank ordered an end to in-person classes through at least Sept. 25, saying, “before we started this semester, we knew that no plan would be risk-free in the current environment.”

Dane County Executive Joe Parisi wants the university send all undergraduates living on campus home to contain the coronavirus. UW-Madison says it doesn’t believe such a step is warranted at this time.

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LONDON — Scotland has joined England in limiting social gatherings to six people after a recent spike in coronavirus cases.

First Minister Nicola Sturgeon told Scottish lawmakers the new regulations will start Monday, along with England, and apply to gatherings in and out of the home.

Scotland’s restriction is perhaps more onerous as it applies to a maximum of two households. In England, six individuals from six different households can meet.

Sturgeon says there will be some limited exceptions, including sports and places of worship. Children under 12 will not count toward the limit.

The U.K.’s four nations, including Wales and Northern Ireland, moved into lockdown together in March. They’ve gone different ways in the past few months on an array of virus-related policies.

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ROME — Italy added another 1,597 coronavirus infections to its official tally as the health system ramps up testing of Italians returning from vacation.

Another 10 people with COVID-19 died in the past day, bringing Italy’s official toll to 35,587, the second highest in Europe after Britain.

While Italy is experiencing an increase in infections and hospitalizations like other European countries, the number of people needing intensive care has remained limited: On Thursday, 164 people were in the ICU nationwide, a four-fold increase over the lows of late July but still a fraction of the 4,000 people who were in the ICU during the springtime peak of Italy’s outbreak.

Spain, also facing a rebound in infections, had more than 1,100 people in the ICU on Wednesday.

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DUBAI, United Arab Emirates — The United Arab Emirates has recorded 930 new infections, a fivefold increase from the same time last month.

Dr. Farida al-Hosani, a spokeswoman at the Ministry of Health and Prevention, delivered a warning to residents Thursday to show more discipline, wear masks and keep social distance. The trend in infections comes after months of increased testing.

Schools in the UAE started in-person instruction last week. The coastal emirate of Dubai, under financial strain, welcomed back tourists to reopened hotels and restaurants.

The day’s figures, the highest in four months, brought the total numbers to 76,911 confirmed cases and 398 deaths.

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AMMAN, Jordan — The U.N. refugee agency says it has detected the first coronavirus case inside the largest Syrian refugee camp, which is home to some 80,000 people.

UNHCR says a refugee and two Jordanian employees working in Jordan’s sprawling Zaatari camp have tested positive. On Tuesday, the agency reported two cases in the Azraq camp, home to some 40,000 Syrian refugees.

The refugees who have tested positive have been relocated to isolation centers on the Dead Sea and their contacts are being isolated and tested.

More than 5.5 million Syrians have fled the country during its nearly decade-long civil war. Jordan is home to more than 650,000 Syrian refugees, most of whom live outside the camps.

An outbreak in one of the world’s many refugee camps could escalate quickly, as people often live in close quarters with poor access to sanitation and health care.

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LISBON, Portugal — Portugal is imposing new curbs in the sale and consumption of alcohol and limits on socialization amid a recent increase of coronavirus infections the past three weeks.

Official health data shows 585 new cases Thursday and 646 the day before, the highest number since mid-April.

Prime Minister António Costa says the increase “is not translating into an aggravation on admissions in hospitals.”

But Costa announced the 10-person limit on gatherings in the capital will be extended to the entire country and only four people will be allowed in food establishments close to schools. Authorities are also banning alcohol sales after 8 p.m., when it’s not in a restaurant, and drinking in public spaces.

Costa said the curbs start Sept. 15 and are required for public health. There’s been 1,852 confirmed deaths in Portugal.

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LONDON — The Secretary-General of the United Nations appealed to donor countries and others to pitch in $35 billion for a World Health Organization-led initiative that aims to speed the research and development of tests, treatments and vaccines for the coronavirus.

“Without an infusion of $15 billion over the next three months, beginning immediately, we will lose the window of opportunity” to advance research, increase manufacturing and start delivering new tests and drugs for COVID-19, said Antonio Guterres at the start of a WHO-led meeting on the initiative, known as the Act Accelerator.

He called for a “quantum leap” in funding to increase the chances of a global solution that could restore normality to the world. So far, the mechanism has received less than $3 billion.

WHO chief Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus warned the numerous deals struck by countries with pharmaceuticals to secure their own coronavirus vaccine doses “could compromise equitable access and halt progress in bringing the COVID-19 pandemic to an end.”

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JOHANNESBURG — Africa’s top public health official says the continent has seen an average 10% decrease in the number of new coronavirus cases over the past four weeks.

John Nkengasong with the Africa Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, says “these are only trends ... we still have a long way to go.” The challenges on data include low testing levels and poor collection in some places.

Nkengasong also says the continent will scale up antigen testing at several countries so authorities can quickly know when someone is infected. He says a faster turnaround will help in contact tracing and isolation.

However, there has been questions about the accuracy of the tests. It’s not clear which countries will receive the tests first via the partnership with the Geneva-based Foundation for Innovative New Diagnostics.

Africa’s 54 countries have more than 1.3 million confirmed virus cases. South Africa has roughly half the cases, with more than 642,000, and 15,000 confirmed deaths.

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TOKYO — Tokyo is lowering its coronavirus alert by one notch from the highest “red” on the four-level alert scale to “orange” for the first time in two months.

That comes after a decrease in the number of weekly new cases. However, Governor Yuriko Koike urged residents to continue preventive measures.

Koike says the decision is based on findings by experts on Tokyo’s Tokyo metropolitan government panel that the average number of new cases in the past week fell to 149 from 183 the prior week.

Health experts cautioned against a resurgence because the slowing of infection is still modest.

Tokyo confirmed 276 new cases Thursday for a total 22,444 and 379 confirmed deaths. Nationwide, Japan has 73,221 confirmed cases and 1,406 deaths, according to the health ministry.

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COPENHAGEN, Denmark — Norwegian Prime Minister Erna Solberg says it may be necessary to discourage travel to particularly infected areas of Oslo in Norway after reports of an increase in cases.

“The last two weeks has shown that we are still on very insecure ground,” Solberg said.

She noted the country had passed the threshold of 20 new coronavirus cases per 100,000 inhabitants, a limit that Norwegian authorities have set to red list other European countries.

On Wednesday, Norway added Slovakia and Hungary to the list of European nations where non-essential travels are not recommended. People coming from these countries must self-isolate for 10 days.

Norway has 11,746 confirmed cases, up 123 since Wednesday, and 265 deaths.

In neighboring Denmark, 317 new cases were reported, the highest number since 408 on April 8.

Denmark has 18,924 cases and 629 confirmed deaths.

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YANGON, Myanmar — Myanmar is accelerating efforts to control the spread of the coronavirus, which has led campaigning for November’s general election in some lockdown areas to be suspended.

The Ministry of Health and Sport issued a stay-at-home order for 20 Yangon townships effective Thursday as cases of the coronavirus continued to rise, with 120 new cases and two deaths. The order calls for a partial lockdown, with limited trips out of the house allowed for necessary activities, such as the purchase of food.

Seven other Yangon townships were put under similar partial lockdowns Sept. 1, along with all of Rakhine state last month, after a surge of new cases there.

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BERLIN — The German government has issued travel warnings for Prague, Geneva and parts of France, Croatia and Romania because of the high number of new coronavirus infections.

The Foreign Ministry say the French regions of Nouvelle-Aquitaine, Auvergne-Rhone-Alpes, Occitanie and Corsica were affected, while in Croatia the warning concerned the regions of Dubrovnik-Neretva and Pozega-Slovonia.

The decision to issue travel warnings means people arriving in Germany from there will have to take a coronavirus test and go into quarantine for 14 days or until they have a negative test result.

Germany has seen its own case numbers rise in recent weeks. The country’s disease control center says Thursday it registered 1,892 additional cases and three deaths in the past 24 hours.

Germany, a country of 83 million, has confirmed 255,366 cases since the start of the outbreak and 9,341 deaths.

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LONDON — The epidemiologist whose modelling heavily influenced the British government to impose a lockdown in March has warned that new restrictions may have to be re-imposed in coming weeks to deal with a rise in coronavirus cases.

Neil Ferguson from Imperial College London said he was “encouraged” that the government is banning social gatherings of more than six people starting Monday, noting that “one of the mistakes” in the early days of the pandemic this year was an overly “cautious” approach.

Still, he told BBC radio that “all the analysis” suggested there would be an “uptick in deaths in the coming weeks, so now is the time to respond.”

The U.K. has seen Europe’s deadliest virus outbreak, with around 41,600 deaths.

Ferguson added that if the transmission rates don’t fall markedly so the epidemic starts shrinking again, then “we may need to clamp down in other areas.”

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PARIS — France is extending temporary virus-related unemployment benefits until next summer, amid prolonged economic fallout from lockdown.

Labor Minister Elisabeth Borne said Thursday on BFM television that the government will continue paying up to 84% of salaries for workers at struggling companies. She said the idea is “so that companies can keep jobs and skills” while they restructure or retrain people.

France’s government has already spent tens of billions of euros on this temporary unemployment system since the country’s strict lockdown in spring to try to avoid mass joblessness.

Most companies have resumed activity but the economy is still struggling, and the government announced a 100 billion euro ($118 billion) stimulus plan last week.

France’s virus infections have been rising again in recent weeks, following summer holidays and then a return to work and school en masse. The Marseille region is a new hotspot, with doctors warning that intensive care units dedicated to COVID-19 patients are filling fast.

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PRAGUE — The Czech Republic is returning to mandatory mask wearing in interior spaces amid a steep rise in new coronavirus cases.

Starting Thursday, people across the country need to cover their face in all public places, including stores, shopping malls, post offices and others but also in private companies where employees cannot keep a distance of 2 meters (yards) from one another.

Students will have to have masks in all shared spaces of elementary and high schools.

The daily increase in cases surpassed 1,160 for the second straight day on Wednesday.

The Czech Republic has 31,036 cases since the pandemic began and 44 deaths.

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NEW DELHI — India has recorded another one-day record increase in new coronavirus infections, logging 95,735 new cases.

According to the Health Ministry, India’s number of recorded infections since the pandemic began reached 4,465,863 on Thursday, while total fatalities rose to 75,062 after another 1,172 deaths in the past 24 hours.

The ministry says the surge in new infections is due to ramping of daily testing, with more than 1 million tests now being run each day. India’s recovery rate from the illness is now 77.7%.

Experts caution that India’s outbreak is entering a more dangerous phase as the virus spreads to smaller towns and villages.

With the economy contracting by a record 23.9% in the April-June quarter leaving millions jobless, the Indian government is continuing with relaxing lockdown restrictions that were imposed in late March.

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