The Latest: Britain to stagger holiday travel for students

BRUSSELS — Decreasing hospitalizations, fewer confirmed cases and other major public health indicators show that the resurgence of the coronavirus in Belgium is abating.

Virologist Steven Van Gucht of the Sciensano government health group said Wednesday: “The decrease of infections and hospital admissions is continuing. And for the first time, the number of patients in intensive care units is no longer increasing,” said

The daily number of deaths caused by COVID-19 “continues to rise, but here, too, the pace seems to slow down,” he said.

It was welcome news for Belgium, which proportionally is among the worst-hit nations in Europe when it comes to confirmed coronavirus cases. Officials had feared that the nation’s maximum intensive care unit occupancy of 2,000 beds would be reached last Friday. ICU bed use is now plateauing and slightly tapering off at 1,470.

“Possibly, we have reached a peak and the number of ICU patients will no longer rise,” Van Gucht said.

Over the past month Belgium has taken increasingly stringent measures to contain the virus, with bar and restaurant closures capped by a partial lockdown, which started last week and put further restrictions on gatherings and forced non-essential shops to shut.

Belgium still had 7,834 new confirmed cases a day over the past week, but it amounted to a 46% decline from the previous 7-day period. The daily death toll for the past week stood at 190 people, a 35% increase.



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THE HAGUE, Netherlands — A security authority in the southern Netherlands says that nearly half of the workers at a meatpacking company are infected with the coronavirus.

The Verhey Vlees company closed its plant in the village of Nuth on Nov. 4 after 41 of the 225 workers at the facility near the Dutch borders with Germany and Belgium tested positive for the virus.

The South Limburg Security Region said in a statement Tuesday evening that the number of confirmed cases has since risen to nearly half of the workers.

The local health authority is attempting to trace all contacts of the infected workers, many of whom are migrants employed by staffing agencies.

Many meatpacking plants and slaughterhouses in Europe and the United States have seen coronavirus clusters during the pandemic.

In May, the German government agreed to ban the use of subcontractors and to increase fines for breaches of labor law in the meat industry starting next year following a series of outbreaks at slaughterhouses.


LONDON — Britain is planning a strategy to get hundreds of thousands of university students home for Christmas without sparking a new upsurge in coronavirus cases.

Scientists say students traveling from their hometowns to colleges in September was one of the drivers of the current wave of COVID-19 in the U.K. There have been multiple campus outbreaks, with students confined to residences and group activities canceled.

The British government said Wednesday that it plans to stagger students’ departures at the end of term to avoid a mass exodus. They want universities in England to send students home over a nine-day period after the current four-week lockdown in England ends on Dec. 2.

As many students as possible will get rapid-results COVID-19 tests before they travel, the government said — though it was unclear exactly how many would be tested.

Deputy Chief Medical Officer Jenny Harries said “the mass movement of students across the country at the end of term presents a really significant challenge within the COVID-19 response,” but that the measures would reduce the risk.

Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland are likely to bring in similar measures.


NAIROBI, Kenya — Ethiopia now has more than 100,000 confirmed coronavirus infections, joining a handful of countries across Africa that have surpassed that milestone as COVID-19 cases begin to creep up again in multiple places.

The Horn of Africa regional power faces multiple humanitarian crises and now has a growing deadly conflict in its northern Tigray region between federal forces and regional ones.

The United Nations is pleading for humanitarian access to Tigray as trucks with medical and other supplies are stranded outside the regional border.

Other African nations with over 100,000 confirmed virus cases on Wednesday are Egypt with over 109,000; Morocco with over 265,000 and South Africa with over 740,000. The 54-nation African continent is closing in on 2 million confirmed cases, with a little over 1.9 million.

The Africa Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says Ethiopia has more than 1,500 deaths from COVID-19.


HONG KONG — Hong Kong and Singapore will start an air travel bubble later this month, allowing travelers from each city to visit the other without entering quarantine.

The travelers must test negative for the coronavirus before they leave, when they arrive and before they return. The bubble starts Nov. 22 with one designated flight a day to each city carrying a maximum of 200 travelers each. It will expand to two flights Dec. 7.

The bubble will be suspended for two weeks if either Hong Kong or Singapore reports a seven-day moving average of more than five untraceable coronavirus infections, according to the Hong Kong government.

“Hong Kong and Singapore are similar in terms of epidemic control. Both are regional aviation hubs and international cities, enjoying strong trade, investment, finance, tourism and people-to-people ties,” said Hong Kong’s secretary for commerce and economic development Edward Yau. “The revival of cross-border air travel between the two places is of utmost importance.”

He said that he hopes the aviation, tourism, hotel and retail businesses will benefit from the bubble, and that it would gradually help Hong Kong’s economy to recover.


BEIJING — A leading Chinese health official has expressed confidence the country may avoid a second wave of coronavirus infections this winter if it maintains current precautions.

Feng Zijian, deputy director of the Chinese Center for Disease Control and Prevention, told leading financial magazine Caixin that China “will very likely prevent” a new round of infections given present trends.

China has largely eliminated new local outbreaks by requiring masks indoors and on public transport, requiring two-week quarantines for those entering the country and banning some foreign travelers entirely.

Authorities have quickly moved to address local outbreaks by tracing potential contacts, carrying out widespread testing and sometimes locking down entire communities.

While China was accused of suppressing information initially, its recent data have not been seriously challenged and local officials have moved swiftly to disclose new cases. That has allowed the world’s second-largest economy to largely recover.


WELLINGTON, New Zealand — The Pacific nation of Vanuatu has recorded its first case of the coronavirus after a citizen who had been repatriated from the United States tested positive while in quarantine.

Vanuatu had been among the last handful of countries to have avoided the virus.

Health authorities say the 23-year-old man was asymptomatic when he returned home Nov. 4. His infection was confirmed Tuesday after routine testing.

Officials say they plan to keep everyone from the same flight in quarantine and to trace the man’s close contacts, but they don’t plan to impose any broader measures in the nation of 300,000 people.

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