The Latest: Hong Kong offers free testing to all residents
HONG KONG — Hong Kong will offer free, universal testing to its residents starting Sept. 1.
The testing program, which will last a maximum of two weeks, is on a voluntary basis.
Hong Kong leader Carrie Lam said that universal testing was possible due to support from Beijing, which provided resources such as laboratory staff to boost capacity in the semi-autonomous city.
The program is aimed at identifying individuals who are infected but have exhibited no symptoms. The city, with a population of 7.5 million, has conducted over 1.2 million tests so far.
Critics of the universal testing program say that there may be potential privacy concerns, given that the program is supported by the Chinese Communist Party.
Lam brushed aside such concerns, stating that no matter what the government did, there will always be people who come up with conspiracy theories.
HERE’S WHAT YOU NEED TO KNOW ABOUT THE VIRUS OUTBREAK:
— Papua New Guinea questions Chinese company claim to use COVID-19 vaccine
— 1 in 5 nursing homes short on PPE and staff in virus rebound
— Pandemic’s toll among journalists in Peru is especially high
— As hospitals care for people with COVID-19 and try to prevent its spread, more patients are opting to be treated where they feel safest: at home.
— Governments around the world are taking advantage of the coronavirus pandemic to justify crackdowns on press freedom.
— France’s president insisted that the country will send millions of students back to school starting Sept. 1 despite seeing the biggest weekly spike in confirmed coronavirus cases since the height of its outbreak in the spring.
— Follow AP’s pandemic coverage at http://apnews.com/VirusOutbreak and https://apnews.com/UnderstandingtheOutbreak
HERE’S WHAT ELSE IS HAPPENING:
BERLIN — At least 41 schools in Berlin have reported that students or teachers are infected with the coronavirus — not even two weeks after they reopened in the German capital.
The daily Berliner Zeitung published the numbers on Friday and the city’s senate for education confirmed them to The Associated Press.
Hundreds of students and teachers are in quarantine, the newspaper reported. Elementary schools, high schools and trade schools are all affected. There are 825 schools in Berlin.
The reopening of schools and the risk of virus clusters building up there and spreading to families and further into communities has been a matter of great concern.
Berlin was one of the first places in Germany to reopen schools after summer holidays. Children are obliged to wear masks in hallways, during breaks, and when entering the classroom, but they can take them off once they sit down.
Some critics say the measures in Berlin are too relaxed and both students and teachers should wear masks. Such is the case in the western state of North Rhine-Westphalia, Germany’s most populous, where some 2.5 million students went back to school a couple of days after Berlin.
Coronavirus cases in Germany have been going up again since late July, driven by returning vacationers and social events.
German Chancellor Angela Merkel said Thursday there are too many different regulations in place across the country and “people simply don’t understand” why they’re allowed to do one thing in Berlin that may be banned in Bavaria.
On Friday, Germany’s disease control center registered 1,426 new cases.
LISBON, Portugal — Portuguese President Marcelo Rebelo de Sousa has welcomed as “great news” the U.K.’s decision to lift from Saturday the mandatory quarantine for travelers arriving from Portugal.
British authorities made the announcement on Thursday, adding Portugal to a safe list of destinations. The southern European country is reporting between 200 to 300 new daily cases this week, although the spread of contagion seems to have receded since early July.
Rebelo de Sousa, who is on a work holiday tour visiting all Portuguese regions to show his support for the tourism sector, told reporters on Friday that the move will benefit the industry, especially in the southern Algarve region where he expects that U.K. citizens will make bookings for the late summer season in September and October.
The president said that the measure would also benefit some 300,000 Portuguese citizens who live and work in the U.K.
Portugal acted swiftly in the pandemic’s early days but experienced significant clusters when it ended its lockdown. Since the beginning of the pandemic, the country has recorded nearly 55,000 infections and 1,788 fatalities attributed to the virus.
TOKYO — The governor of Iwate in northern Japan has criticized the national government’s “GoTo” campaign to encourage travel with discounts, noting the growing number of coronavirus cases.
Gov. Takuya Tasso told reporters that to start it in July was “a bit too soon” as preparations weren’t complete. He says the tourism campaign “was carried out too soon, and so I think it can be called a failure.”
Iwate has had the fewest cases of COVID-19 among Japan’s prefectures at 11 confirmed cases. The first case was reported just a month ago.
Since then, worries have been growing about the infection being brought in from outside Iwate, as well as about discrimination toward infected people.
Tasso credited low population congestion, lack of travel from abroad and the rest of Japan, and the cautious nature of residents for Iwate’s success.
Tasso says the experience of the 2011 tsunami made the Iwate people more in tune with crisis management.
Japan, which has never imposed a lockdown, has had about 1,100 deaths and 60,000 confirmed cases of COVID-19. It is trying to keep the outbreak under control while keeping the economy going. Tokyo has reported several hundred confirmed cases by the day.
DUBAI, United Arab Emirates — A health official in the United Arab Emirates is warning nighttime curfews and lockdowns could resume in parts of the country as coronavirus case numbers spike.
Dr. Saif al-Dhaheri of the UAE’s National Emergency Crisis and Disasters Management Authority made the comments late Thursday in an interview aired on a state-owned television channel.
Asked if those measures could be taken, al-Dhaheri said: “Yes. If we found that the number of cases is increasing in a specific area, we could.”
Returning to lockdowns could hurt Dubai, the skyscraper-studded city that’s reopened for tourists just a few weeks ago. It also could affect the UAE’s efforts to host the Indian Premier League beginning next month.
On Wednesday and Thursday, the UAE discovered over 400 confirmed cases of the virus, its highest numbers in about a month amid an aggressive testing campaign. Officials have blamed the rise in infections on the public not taking wearing masks and social distancing seriously.
CANBERRA, Australia — Australia’s prime minister says his government has avoided a major second wave of coronavirus infections on the scale of France, Germany or Britain by limiting international travel.
Prime Minister Scott Morrison described infection rates in those three countries as “rather alarming.”
He says they occurred because “people left, went to areas on leave, on holiday, where the virus was moving again and now they’re bringing it back.”
He says the Australian government has created “some real hardship” by restricting numbers of Australians allowed to come and go.
The government is blocking three out of four applications for Australians to leave the country for fear they could spread COVID-19 when they return.
Australians who want to return home are limited to 4,000 a week.
Morrison says, “As we’ve just seen in Europe, I think the wisdom of that approach has been borne out. That is not one problem that we have at the moment.”
Australia’s main coronavirus hot spot, Victoria state, on Friday recorded its lowest daily tally of new infections in more than six weeks.
SEOUL, South Korea — South Korea has reported 324 new cases of the coronavirus, its highest single day total since early March as the recent surge of COVID-19 in the greater capital area now appears to be spreading nationwide.
Friday was the eighth consecutive day that South Korea has reported a triple-digit daily increase, for an eight-day total of 1,900 infections.
Most of the recent new cases have been in the densely populated Seoul metropolitan region. But officials said Friday the latest new infections were recorded in practically all major cities nationwide.
The daily jump was the highest since 367 cases were reported March 8. The country’s caseload is now at 16,670, including 309 deaths.
HONOLULU — Hawaii’s unemployment rate declined slightly last month but large numbers of people continue to be out of work because of the coronavirus pandemic.
The state Department of Labor and Industrial Relations said Thursday that Hawaii had a seasonally adjusted unemployment rate of 13.1% in July, down from 13.4% in June.
The state’s jobless rate was just 2.4% in March.
The pandemic has forced many hotels to close, crippling the tourism industry that is Hawaii’s biggest employer. The labor department says the tourism industry continued to shed jobs in July but the education and health services sectors added workers.
SACRAMENTO, Calif. — California has begun approving applications to reopen elementary schools for in-person instruction under special waivers approved by counties that were put on a state monitoring list because of high numbers of coronavirus infections.
The state hasn’t said how many have been approved statewide. But data from San Diego and Orange counties on Thursday showed that together they have had 50 schools approved. All of them are private and mostly religious, along with two small public school districts.
Orange County’s acting health officer says he has concerns about the reopenings but knows staying home causes hardship for children and parents.
MELBOURNE, Australia — Australia’s hard-hit Victoria state is reporting its lowest tally of new coronavirus cases in more than six weeks, following two weeks of unprecedented lockdown of the state capital, Melbourne.
Victoria’s Health Department reported on Saturday that the state had 179 new infections and nine deaths in the latest 24-hour period. That is the lowest count since 131 new infections were reported July 8. Victoria had recorded 240 new cases Thursday and 216 Wednesday.
State authorities say the daily infection rate will have to fall to single digits or low double digits before Melbourne’s lockdown is relaxed.
ROME — The Venice Film Festival is requiring participants at the first in-person cinema showcase of the COVID-19 era to wear facemasks during screenings and take a coronavirus test if they’re arriving from outside Europe.
According to guidelines published Thursday, fans and the general public will be kept away from the red carpet during the Sept. 2-12 festival, and movie-goers will have to buy tickets and reserve seats online to ensure every other seat is left vacant. Nine gates set up at various points around the Venice Lido will take temperatures of movie-goers and media. Festival-goers attending indoor events will be tracked to guarantee contact tracing if necessary.
Venice is the first film festival to get under way since the pandemic, and is one of the first major international events Italy is hosting after becoming the onetime COVID-19 epicenter in Europe. After getting infections under control with a strict, 10-week national lockdown that ended in May, Italy is now dealing with a rebound in cases as a result of summer vacation travel.
Biennale organizers said the guidelines were worked out with local health care officials.
BATON ROUGE, La. — U.S. Sen. Bill Cassidy of Louisiana says he has tested positive for the coronavirus and is experiencing some symptoms of COVID-19. The Republican senator made the announcement Thursday and said he is quarantining in Louisiana.
His spokesperson says the 62-year-old senator is experiencing “mild symptoms that began this morning.” Cassidy, a physician, said in a statement that he was tested after being notified Wednesday night that he’d been exposed to someone infected with the coronavirus.
The senator says he is adhering to medical guidance and notifying people with whom he may have come into contact. Cassidy is running for reelection on Nov. 3.
Cassidy’s announcement came a day after he was in north Louisiana, visiting a veterans hospital in Shreveport.