The Latest: WHO leader in Europe warns of virus spread again

Dr. Hans Kluge says the largest proportion remains among adults ages 25 to 49 but noted increases in cases in older age groups, who tend to be more vulnerable to severe the deadly disease.

“This pandemic has taken so much from us in Europe: 4,893,614 cases of COVID-19 have been recorded and 226,524 deaths, and that tells only part of the story.

He also pointed to a “monumental” impact on mental health, economies, and livelihoods.

“Although these numbers reflect more comprehensive testing, it also shows alarming rates of transmission across the region,” he said.

He called for “regional coherence” and says Europe’s response has been effective when “prompt and resolute. But the virus has shown (to be) merciless whenever partisanship and disinformation prevailed.”

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

— As India’s virus cases rise, so do questions over death toll

— WHO: Stop using science as political football

— Africa CDC in talks with 9 manufacturers about virus vaccine trials

— President Donald Trump disputes health officials, sees mass vaccinations soon. Trump also disagreed with Dr. Robert Redfield about the effectiveness of protective masks.

— New companies face tough task overcoming pandemic, recession. Yet some are trying despite thousands of companies going under because of the coronavirus.

— British Prime Minister Boris Johnson says tougher measures might be needed to combat the spread of COVID-19 ahead of the holidays.

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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:

JOHANNESBURG — Africa’s top public health official says the Africa Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has been in talks with nine vaccine manufacturers about potential coronavirus vaccine clinical trials on the continent.

John Nkengasong says the talks include the Oxford University group that’s developing a vaccine with drug company AstraZeneca and already has a clinical trial in South Africa.

The African Union’s 54 member states want to secure more than 10 late-stage COVID-19 vaccine clinical trials in Africa. They’re motivated by memories of watching millions die while years passed before affordable drugs or vaccines for diseases reached the continent of 1.3 billion people.

Health experts say COVID-19 vaccine trials must include Africans to make sure any effective vaccine can be rolled out quickly in Africa along with the rest of the world.

Nkengasong warns that a vaccine will not be a “magic bullet,” saying the world has never been able to vaccinate even 500 million people in a single year. Africa has more than 1.3 million confirmed virus cases, including more than 33,000 deaths, and new cases have slowed in recent weeks.

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LONDON — The World Health Organization’s European director has warned countries against reducing the quarantine period for people potentially exposed to the coronavirus, even as he acknowledged that COVID-19 fatigue is setting in and people are increasingly resistant to the strict public health measures needed to control the pandemic.

In a press briefing on Thursday, Dr. Hans Kluge warned “even a slight reduction in the length of the quarantine” could have a significant effect on the virus’ spread, which he said had grown to “alarming” rates in Europe.

He said countries should only reduce the quarantine period if it was scientifically justified, and offered to convene scientific discussions on the issue if necessary.

Last week, France cut its required quarantine time for people who have been exposed to a potential COVID-19 case from 14 days to seven, saying many people did not respect the two-week period anyway.

Katie Smallwood, WHO Europe’s senior health emergency officer, said its recommendation that people quarantine themselves for 14 days after a possible exposure to coronavirus was based on their understanding of the disease’s incubation period and transmission patterns.

“We would only revise that on a basis of a change in our understanding of the science and so far that’s not the case,” she said.

Smallwood added that several countries are considering reducing their required quarantine periods. “We would really re-emphasize that our position is that a 14-day quarantine is important for patients that have been exposed to the virus.”

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BERLIN — Germany has recorded its largest single-day increase in new coronavirus infections since late April, underlining an upward trend over recent weeks.

The Robert Koch Institute, Germany’s national disease control center, said Thursday that 2,194 new cases were reported over the past day. That is still far below the figures of over 6,000 seen at the height of the pandemic’s first wave at the beginning of April, but new cases were down to a few hundred a day between May and July.

Germany has now recorded more than 265,000 cases in total, with over 9,300 deaths. It is still in a better position than several other European countries as infections rebound in many places.

On Wednesday evening, the Robert Koch Institute added the Austrian capital, Vienna, and the Hungarian capital, Budapest, along with more regions of France, Croatia, the Netherlands, Romania, Switzerland and the Czech Republic to a long list of “risk areas” that already includes the Belgian capital, Brussels, and the whole of Spain.

People arriving from those areas must undergo a COVID-19 test and quarantine until the results are in.

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LONDON — British Prime Minister Boris Johnson has warned that authorities will have to impose tougher measures to combat the spread of COVID-19 and “protect’’ the Christmas holidays.

Johnson’s comments come amid reports that the government is set to impose a 10 p.m. curfew on pubs and restaurants in northern England in response to a recent jump in infections.

Writing in the Sun newspaper on Thursday, Johnson says the only way to be certain the country can enjoy Christmas “is to be tough now.’’

He says that he wants to “stop the surge, arrest the spike, stop the second hump of the dromedary, flatten the second hump.”

Over the past two days, opposition lawmakers criticized Johnson’s handling of the COVID-19 crisis, accusing the government of lacking a cohesive plan to tackle the second wave of the pandemic.

Figures released late Wednesday showed 3,991 new confirmed U.K. infections during the previous 24 hours, up from 3,105 a day earlier.

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BERLIN — German pharmaceutical company BioNTech says it is buying a large manufacturing site to ramp up its production capacity for a future coronavirus vaccine.

BioNTech said Thursday that it will purchase the site in Marburg, Germany, from Swiss rival Novartis AG.

Once the site is fully operational in the first half of 2021 it hopes to be able to produce up to 750 million doses a year.

BioNTech is working with Pfizer to develop a COVID-19 vaccine based on mRNA technology. Five candidate vaccines are currently being tested on volunteers in the United States, Europe, South America and China.

The company didn’t disclose a purchase price for the site.

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LONDON — The emergencies chief of the World Health Organization says scientific disagreements over COVID-19 interventions — like masks and vaccines — shouldn’t be treated as “some kind of political football,” but acknowledged that “it isn’t easy for everyone to be on message all the time.”

Asked to respond to the open disagreements between U.S. President Donald Trump and the director of the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention over the effectiveness of masks and when a coronavirus vaccine might be available, Dr. Michael Ryan said “it is important that we have consistent messaging from all levels.”

“This is complicated stuff,” Ryan said at a press briefing on Thursday. “What is important is that governments (and) scientific institutions step back, review the evidence and give us the most comprehensive, easy-to-understand…information so that people can take the appropriate action.” He warned against turning scientific messaging into “some kind of political football.”

WHO has previously said it is possible there may be enough data from ongoing trials into coronavirus vaccines to know by the end of the year if one of the experimental shots is safe and effective enough to use globally. On Wednesday, Trump predicted this could happen next month and that a mass vaccination campaign in the U.S. could start shortly afterward. He called the U.S. CDC director Dr. Robert Redfield “confused” for projecting a longer timeline.

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ISLAMABAD — Pakistani authorities have closed as many as 22 schools across the country after detecting violation of social distancing regulations amid a steady decline in COVID-19 cases.

The government action comes two days after authorities allowed the reopening schools.

Thursday’s announcement by the military-backed command and control center came after health officials alerted the government that students at some schools were violating social distancing guidelines.

Schools in Pakistan were closed in March when the government enforced a nationwide lockdown to contain the spread of coronavirus.

Authorities lifted curbs on most of the businesses in May, but schools remained closed across the country.

On Thursday, Pakistan reported six new deaths from COVID-19 in the past 24 hours, one of the lowest number of daily fatalities in more five months. Pakistan has reported 303,634 infections and 6,399 deaths since the pandemic began in February in the country, which has a fragile health system. But fatalities and infections from the new virus have witnessed a steady decline, prompting government to open schools and most of the businesses.

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PRAGUE — The number of new confirmed coronavirus infections have hit a record in the Czech Republic, surpassing 2,000 cases in one day for the first time.

The Health Ministry said a total of 2,139 cases were registered on Wednesday, more than 450 more than the previous record a day earlier.

The ministry says 388 people are hospitalized with COVID-19, 55 more than the previous day, with 81 of them in serious condition.

The government has imposed restrictive measures to fight the virus, making it mandatory again to wear masks in interior spaces and limiting the number of people in bars and restaurants.

Health authorities say more restrictions are likely to be adopted soon.

The ministry said Thursday that the Czech Republic has reported 41,032 people infected since the pandemic began, with 482 deaths.

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COPENHAGEN, Denmark — A Norwegian cruise company that saw two coronavirus outbreaks on one of its ships in July, says it has decided to suspend all “expedition operations” through the end of the year.

The Hurtigruten cruise line was one of the first companies to resume sailing during the pandemic. It started cruises to Norway out of northern Germany in June with a single ship and then added cruises in July to the Arctic archipelago of Svalbard.

On two of its journeys, a total of 29 passengers and 42 crew members tested positive for the virus.

The company said Thursday that the suspension was “due to the increase in COVID-19 cases” globally.

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NEW DELHI — India has confirmed another record jump in coronavirus cases, logging 97,894 cases in the past 24 hours.

The Health Ministry said Thursday that the new cases raised the nation’s confirmed total to more than 5.1 million since the pandemic began. It said 1,132 more people died in the past 24 hours, for a total of 83,198.

At the current rate of infection, India is expected within weeks to surpass the 6.6 million reported cases in the United States, currently the country with the most reported infections.

Nationwide, India is testing more than 1 million samples per day.

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UNITED NATIONS — The U.N. humanitarian chief says reports from inside Syria point to “a much broader spread” of COVID-19 cases than the 3,628 confirmed cases conveys.

Mark Lowcock told the U.N. Security Council on Wednesday that the extent of the outbreak won’t be known until laboratory testing is increased across the country.

He said: “We do know that community transmission is widespread, as almost 90% of newly confirmed cases cannot be traced to a known source.”

He added: “Infection rates among health workers have also been rising.”

Lowcock said even before the pandemic, Syria had a shortage of health workers, and supply shortages and temporary shutdowns have added “even more pressure to the decimated health system.”

He said on Aug. 27 the first confirmed cases of COVID-19 were reported among residents at two camps for the displaced in the northeast, al-Hol and Areesha. He said five health care workers at a field hospital in al-Hol had tested positive in the previous weeks.

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HONOLULU — Hawaii’s governor says that starting Oct. 15, travelers arriving from out of state may bypass a 14-day quarantine requirement if they test negative for the coronavirus.

Gov. David Ige said Wednesday that travelers will have to take the test within 72 hours before their flight arrives in the islands. Ige says drug store operator CVS and healthcare provider Kaiser Permanente will conduct the tests.

The state has previously delayed the start of the pre-travel testing program twice as COVID-19 cases spiked on the U.S. mainland and in Hawaii.

Leaders hope pre-travel testing will encourage tourists to return while keeping residents safe. Tourism traffic to the state has plunged more than 90% during the pandemic, closing hundreds of hotels and putting many people out of work.

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