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The Latest: Americas behind new virus clusters in Spain

Posted on Wednesday, June 24th, 2020 By The Associated Press


A member of parliament wears a face mask with the state logo during a session of the state parliament of the German state of North Rhine-Westphalia in Duesseldorf, Germany, Wednesday, June 24, 2020. To meet in full session, the seats in the plenary were converted into transparent boxes due to the coronavirus. Topic of the meeting is the COVID-19 outbreak at the meat processor Toennies and the following lockdown in the Guetersloh district. (AP Photo/Martin Meissner)

MADRID — Imported coronavirus cases from the Americas are behind a series of new clusters in Spain.

Authorities on the Mediterranean island of Menorca said a young couple from the United States tested positive for the new virus and have self-isolated since their arrival last week.

Spanish authorities also believe that travelers from Bolivia are behind another cluster of infection in Spain’s southern Murcia region, where at least 19 cases have been reported.

The latest cases, and a small outbreak in the northwest that has been linked to a traveler from Brazil that has now come under control, demonstrate the challenges that nations face in enforcing travel restrictions as international flights slowly resume.

Spain is trying to host tourists again after a 3-month hiatus as it tries to recover from one of Europe's worst coronavirus outbreaks. Spain has recorded more 28,300 coronavirus-related deaths.

Also, in the northern Aragon region, over 80,000 people face new restrictions after an outbreak linked to a local fruit distribution factory. With 133 infected people isolated, the region’s authorities have declared the cluster “under control.”

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

— International aid group says data in some countries show sharp discrepancy between coronavirus cases in men and women

— US virus cases surge to highest level in 2 months

— Indian armed forces personnel to provide medical care for coronavirus patients kept in New Delhi railroad coaches

— The spread of the coronavirus is prompting soaring demand for medical oxygen, which is expensive and hard to get in much of the world. Scarce oxygen supplies are another basic marker of inequality both between and within countries from Peru to Bangladesh. Across Africa, only a handful of hospitals have direct oxygen hookups, as is standard across Europe and the United States.

— Americans are unlikely to be allowed into Europe when the continent reopens its borders next week, due to how the coronavirus pandemic is flaring in the U.S. and President Donald Trump’s ban on Europeans entering the United States. European nations appear on track to reopen their borders between each other by July 1, and their EU representatives are debating the criteria for lifting restrictions on visitors from outside Europe.

— Major League Baseball has issued a 60-game schedule that will start July 23 or 24 in empty ballparks as the sport tries to push ahead amid the coronavirus pandemic. It will be MLB’s shortest season since 1878. Each team will play 10 games against each of its four division rivals and four games against each of the five clubs in the corresponding division in the other league, according to details obtained by The Associated Press.

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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:

GENEVA — Switzerland’s federal government says it will start paying for all coronavirus tests in the country from Thursday.

The executive Federal Council also confirmed the SwissCovid mobile phone app to help trace coronavirus cases will be made operational for the public starting on Thursday. The app works by notifying people who have spent a certain time near a person who turns out to have been positive for the coronavirus, as long as they both have the app on their phones.

Up to now, the tests have been paid by Swiss regions and private health insurers. But the government said that set-up “meant that not all patients have been treated equally,” and carried the risk that some people might be “reluctant to get themselves tested if they had to bear the costs themselves."

The flat-rate reimbursements will be 169 Swiss francs (about $179) for coronavirus tests and 113 francs for antibody tests.

As of Wednesday, the country of about 8.2 million people had seen 31,376 people testing positive for coronavirus, with 44 new cases over the last 24 hours. Switzerland has recorded 1,682 coronavirus-related deaths.

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BRUSSELS — Theaters, cinemas and swimming pools in Belgium can reopen next month, the latest easing of the country’s coronavirus lockdown.

Speaking after a meeting of the national security council, Prime Minister Sophie Wilmes said “there are fewer and fewer rules, but they have to be followed.”

With a population of some 11 million inhabitants, Belgium has been hit hard by the coronavirus pandemic, with more than 60,000 confirmed cases and 9,722 deaths.

Infections have fallen sharply over the past two months, giving the government room to relax the lockdown restrictions.

From July 1, Wilmes said Belgium’s residents will be allowed to meet with 15 different people each week, instead of 10 previously.

In theaters and cinemas, crowds of 200 people will be allowed, while the maximum capacity at outdoors events will be limited to 400.

Wilmes said wearing a mask is recommended and could become mandatory in public spaces if a second wave of infections hits the country.

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JOHANNESBURG — The World Health Organization chief says all 54 countries in Africa have lab capacity to test for the coronavirus.

Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus announced the news during an African Centers for Disease Control and Prevention conference on Africa’s role in pursuing a COVID-19 vaccine.

The continent, which saw its first virus infection on Feb. 14, has had nearly 325,000 cases, with more than 8,600 deaths.

Africa CDC chief John Nkengasong says the pandemic was delayed in Africa “but is picking up speed very quickly” as more countries ease their lockdowns.

Nkengasong warned that “unless we act now, Africa is at risk of being left behind on the global vaccine” and urged local manufacturing of one as well.

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STOCKHOLM — Sweden’s chief epidemiologist, who is largely behind the Scandinavian country’s approach of keeping large parts of the country open during the coronavirus pandemic, says he was surprised to see other European Union countries close their borders.

Anders Tegnell, chief epidemiologist for Sweden’s Public Health Agency, described his country’s strategy in a program by Swedish public radio channel Sveriges Radio P1 as a “classic pandemic model” that he had been discussing with international colleagues for some twenty years.

Tegnell said “it was as if the world went crazy, and everything we discussed seemed completely forgotten.”

Sweden, a nation of 10 million people, has so far recorded 62,324 coronavirus cases and 5,209 deaths.

Tegnell said the coronavirus is unpredictable and stressed it was difficult to know which methods have the best effect.

A recent survey in Dagens Nyheter, one of Sweden’s largest newspapers, showed that support for Sweden’s Public Health Agency falling.

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TOKYO — A city in northern Japan has reported new coronavirus cases in nine people linked to the same karaoke bar and advised the elderly to refrain from karaoke singing.

Otaru Mayor Toshiya Hazama said Wednesday that the COVID-19 patients range in age from their 60s to their 80s and include an owner of the karaoke bar, seven customers and a relative of one of them.

Health officials in Otaru are tracing dozens of people who had close contact with the nine patients. Daytime karaoke singing, or “hiru-kara,” is popular among senior citizens on Hokkaido, the island where the city is located, and available at coffee shops.

In nearby Sapporo, about 60 recent virus cases were linked to the popular activity.

Tokyo reported 55 new confirmed cases Wednesday, the largest since early May. Officials said the increase was largely due to and expanded testing and does not immediately require restrictions to be reimposed on businesses.

There were about 20 other new cases reported from elsewhere in Japan, bringing the national total to more than 18,100 cases, with about 960 deaths.

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PHNOM PENH, Cambodia — Cambodia has established a program to give cash handouts to the country’s poorest households to alleviate the financial burdens caused by the coronavirus crisis.

Prime Minister Hun Sen announced Wednesday that the government would spend $25 million a month on cash transfers to 560,000 households identified as the poorest in Cambodia. He says the transfers will be carried out in June and July, and extended or expanded in the following months according to economic conditions.

The 560,000 households account for 2.3 million Cambodians, about 14% of the country's population of almost 17 million.

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NAIROBI, Kenya- Kenya's education minister has said schools will reopen in September and announced the measures to be put in place to prevent the spread of the coronavirus among students.

Education Minister George Magoha made the announcement despite health experts predicting that coronavirus infections will peak in Kenya between August and September.

Kenya so far has reported 128 virus-related deaths from 4,952 confirmed cases.

Magoha says classes will be limited to 15 to 20 students and schools will provide two face masks to each student to prevent infections.

Kenyans reacted furiously to the announcement. Some wondered where students will study if classes are limited to 15, noting that classes in public schools have more than 40 students and some even 100.

They also wondered how children will maintain social distance on school buses and during recess breaks.

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NEW DELHI — India’s home minister says armed forces personnel will be providing medical care and attention for coronavirus patients kept in railroad coaches in the Indian capital, which has emerged as the second worst hit state in the country.

Home Minister Amit Shah says 8,000 additional beds have been placed at the Delhi government’s disposal for COVID care centers. The Indian capital is facing bed shortages as the number of cases in the city has jumped to 66,603 with 2,301 deaths.

The Indian Railways said that it has deployed more than 500 railroad coaches at nine locations to meet bed shortages.

India recorded the highest spike of 15,968 new coronavirus cases in the last 24 hours, taking the total to 456,183 with 14,476 deaths.

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ROME — Sicily’s governor says 28 migrants who were rescued at sea have tested positive for the coronavirus, confirming a new complication in Italy’s efforts to manage waves of migrants smuggled across the Mediterranean from Africa.

The migrants were being held on a ship off Porto Empedocle where they’re taken to quarantine after being rescued.

Sicily Governor Nello Musumeci said in a Facebook post Wednesday that the positive tests confirmed that he was right to demand special at-sea quarantine measures for migrants to prevent new clusters from forming in Italy, the onetime European epicenter of the COVID-19 pandemic.

The positive tests come as an Italian parliamentary commission is visiting Porto Empedocle precisely to check on migrant and health care issues.

Summertime has traditionally been peak season for migrant smugglers operating in lawless Libya, and officials have predicted an increase in efforts to reach Europe with the easing of the health emergency in Italy and the resumption of activities of humanitarian rescue ships in the Mediterranean.

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JOHANNESBURG — Health workers in Burundi are warning that the coronavirus is more serious there than the government admits.

Several workers spoke anonymously to Human Rights Watch, which is urging the country’s new president to make the pandemic a priority.

Former President Pierre Nkurunziza died this month of what the government called a heart attack, though concerns remain that COVID-19 killed him.

His government recently kicked out the World Health Organization’s country director and allowed massive campaign rallies ahead of the May election, and new President Evariste Ndayishimiye was sworn in last week in front of a crowd with few face masks in sight.

Speaking to Human Rights Watch, health workers alleged that the National Institute for Public Health is refusing to conduct virus tests or properly inform the public on the extent of infections. They also alleged that a national hotline for COVID-19 often goes unanswered, and that supervisors tell them to keep quiet about shortages of medical equipment.

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LONDON — Airport ground-services firm Swissport says it may have to cut half its British staff because of the collapse in airline travel caused by the coronavirus pandemic.

The company, which operates baggage handling and check-in services at U.K. airports including Heathrow and Gatwick, said Wednesday that 4,556 jobs may be cut as it faces a loss of 50% of its revenue this year.

Chief Executive James Holt said in a message to staff that “we’ve seen tough times before - volcanic cloud, 9/11, the financial crisis - and we’ve weathered these. But this time it’s different. We have never seen anything like COVID-19 in our lifetimes.”

He said “there is no escaping the fact that the industry is now smaller than it was, and it will remain so for some time to come.”

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JOHANNESBURG — An international aid group says coronavirus data in some countries show a sharp discrepancy between cases in men and women amid concerns that women lack proper access to testing and health care.

The International Rescue Committee highlights several socially conservative countries including Somalia and Afghanistan, where health ministry data this week show 72% of cases are male and 28% are female.

In Yemen, 75% of cases are male and in Pakistan and Chad, it’s 74%. The global breakdown is roughly 50%.

An IRC emergency health advisor, Stacey Mearns, says in a statement that “while men in these places have more freedom of movement and tend to be out in the community socializing more, many go home to women. Also, women are usually caretakers of the sick and elderly in these cultures and therefore exposed to COVID-19.”

She adds that “what we are seeing is a situation in which women are potentially being left out of testing and their health deprioritized.”

Testing overall in many of these countries remains low because of a shortage of materials, with conflict often complicating health responses.

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PARIS — The French government is sending medics and aid to the South American territory of French Guiana amid a surge in virus infections there.

The French military has ferried patients from Guiana, which borders Brazil, to hospitals in the French Caribbean island of Martinique.

The minister for overseas territories, Anick Girardin, traveled to Guiana on Tuesday and promised more aid, saying “the state will be there for you,” according to local broadcaster Guyane 1er.

She said she would discuss the possibility of reimposing confinement measures for the territory’s 300,000 people and canceling upcoming elections to stem the spread.

The R number, which indicates how many people will be contaminated on average by an infected person, is above 2 in French Guiana, according to the national health agency, which called the situation “very worrying.”

Guiana has reported more than 2,500 infections, compared to 161,000 in all of France. The number of virus patients hospitalized in Guiana has been rising steadily in recent days even as the number on the mainland and in other territories steadily falls.

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BRATISLAVA, Slovakia — Slovakia’s President Zuzana Caputova has canceled her meeting with her Austrian counterpart Alexander Van der Bellen to get quarantined after a member of her office met with a person who tested positive for the coronavirus.

The presidential office says Caputova will stay quarantined at her home until Friday and in the meantime canceled all her scheduled appointments.

Slovakia is one of the least hit countries by the coronavirus pandemic in Europe. It has had a total of 1,607 cases with 28 deaths.

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New cases of the coronavirus in the United States have surged to the highest level in two months.

According to figures compiled by Johns Hopkins University, the U.S. on Tuesday reported 34,700 new cases of the virus. That’s more than on any single day since the outbreak began with the exception of April 9, when 34,800 cases were reported, and April 24, when a record 36,400 cases were reported.

New cases in the U.S. have been surging for more than a week, after they had been trending down for more than six weeks.

While early hot spots like New York and New Jersey have seen cases steadily decrease, the virus has been hitting the south and west. Several states on Tuesday set single-day records, including Arizona, California, Mississippi, Nevada and Texas.

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JOHANNESBURG — South Africa has recorded its highest daily death toll from the coronavirus: 111.

More than 2,100 people have died in the country that makes up nearly one-third of the virus cases across Africa with more than 106,000.

South Africa on Wednesday will begin vaccinating people in the first vaccine trial for COVID-19 on the continent, while the World Health Organization chief joins the African Centers for Disease Control for a conference to discuss the race for a vaccine.

Africa now has nearly 325,000 virus cases as countries loosen restrictions under economic pressure from citizens who say they have to feed their families.

Shortages of testing materials and medical supplies remain a problem as Africa could become the world’s next hot spot.

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NEW DELHI — India has recorded the highest spike of 15,968 new coronavirus cases in the last 24 hours, taking the total to to 456,183, with Mumbai and New Delhi as the worst-hit cities in the country.

The Health Ministry on Wednesday also reported a record 24-hour increase of 465 deaths due to COVID-19, driving fatalities to 14,476.

The ministry said the recovery rate was continuing to improve at 56.38%.

The actual numbers, like elsewhere in the world, are thought to be far higher due to a number of reasons, such as limited testing.

Maharashtra, New Delhi and Tamil Nadu states are the worst-hit states, accounting for nearly 60% of all cases in the country.

New Delhi is emerging a cause of concern for the federal government and is being criticized for its poor contact tracing and a lack of hospital beds. With infections in New Delhi set to surge, the government estimates it will have nearly 550,000 cases by the end of July.

India is the fourth hardest-hit country by the pandemic in the world after the U.S., Brazil and Russia.

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SEOUL, South Korea __ South Korea has reported 51 additional cases of the coronavirus over the past 24 hours, a continuation of an upward trend in new infections.

The figures released Wednesday by the Korea Centers for Disease Control and Prevention took the country’s total to 12,535 with 281 deaths.

It says 10,930 of them have recovered while 1,324 people remain in treatment for the COVID-19 illness.

South Korea has been reporting roughly 40-50 cases every day over the past two weeks amid increased public activity and eased attitudes on social distancing. There has also been an uptick in imported cases.

The KCDC says 20 of the 51 newly reported cases came from overseas while 31 patients were infected locally.

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MELBOURNE, Australia — Australia has recorded its first death from COVID-19 in a month, increasing the national toll from the new coronavirus to 103.

Authorities in Victoria state say a man in his 80s died overnight, lifting the state’s total to 20.

It comes as the state recorded double-digit increase in cases for an eighth consecutive day, with 20 new cases confirmed on Wednesday. There have been more than 7,500 infections in Australia.

Victoria state Premier Daniel Andrews on the weekend said large family gatherings had been the catalyst for the virus taking off again in some areas after lockdown rules were eased.

Nine of the state’s new cases on Wednesday were identified through routine testing, seven were linked to known outbreaks, one was a returned traveler in hotel quarantine and three cases remained under investigation.

Victoria’s Chief Health Officer Brett Sutton says 241 cases in the state have been identified as community transmission, an increase of eight since Tuesday.

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PHOENIX — Hundreds of young supporters of President Donald Trump packed a megachurch for a Students for Trump event.

Ahead of Tuesday’s event, the Democratic mayor of Phoenix, Kate Gallego, made clear that she did not believe the speech could be safely held in her city — and urged the president to wear a face mask.

But only a smattering of attendees -- young conservatives from around the country -- wore masks and there was little room for the participants to practice social distancing.

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MEXICO CITY — Mexico has posted another record one-day increase in confirmed coronavirus cases, with 6,288, while 793 more deaths have been reported.

The Health Department on Tuesday said Mexico now has seen 191,410 cases and 23,377 deaths from COVID-19. Officials acknowledge both are undercounts due to extremely low testing rates. Mexico has performed only about half a million tests, or about one for every 250 inhabitants.

Officials claim the pandemic has stabilized and may have even started a downward trend this week, but they have made that claim several times before.

Mexico has also had an extremely high rate of infections among health care professionals. About 39,000 of the country’s confirmed cases are health care workers, about 20% of the total. There have been 584 deaths among doctors, nurses, technicians and hospital workers.

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BEIJING — China has announced a further decline in newly confirmed coronavirus cases both nationwide and in the capital Beijing where a roughly two-week old spike in cases appears to now be firmly on the wane.

A total of 12 cases were reported Wednesday for the country, down from 22 the day before. Beijing reported seven cases, down from 13, while the two other cases were reported in neighboring Hebei province and three were listed as having been brought from abroad by Chinese travelers.

No new deaths were reported and 359 remained in treatment for COVID-19, with another 118 in monitoring and isolation for testing positive for the virus while showing no symptoms or being suspected cases. China has reported a total of 4,634 deaths from among 83,430 cases of COVID-19 since the virus was first detected in the central Chinese city of Wuhan late last year.

Beijing’s June outbreak saw more than 200 cases, most linked to the city’s biggest wholesale market, and led to some new lockdowns and the cancellation of classes. Since then, 3 million test samples have been taken from 2.43 million people in the city, a senior municipal health official said on Tuesday. A total of 249 people have been infected in Beijing since June 11.

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CAIRO — War-ravaged Libya has reported its biggest daily increase yet in coronavirus infections and deaths, raising fears that a major outbreak could overwhelm its health system, left in shambles by nine years of conflict.

Libya’s National Center for Disease Control announced 639 total virus cases, including 17 fatalities, after recording

44 new virus cases and four deaths on Tuesday. With such little testing, experts believe the number could be higher.

The North African country has become split between rival administrations in the east and west, each supported by an array of fractious militias and foreign powers. The National Center for Disease Control is one the few state institutions to bridge the country’s divide.

Libya’s case count has more than quadrupled in the last few weeks, largely due to its repatriation of stranded citizens from abroad. An alarming hot spot is the city of Sabha in the remote southern desert, where health facilities are drastically under-equipped and many citizens remain uninformed.

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