The Latest: South Africa reports highest daily total cases
JOHANNESBURG — South Africa announced Thursday its highest daily number of confirmed coronavirus cases with 13,674.
Africa’s most developed country is now a hot spot in the global pandemic with 238,339 total confirmed cases. Gauteng province, which contains Johannesburg and the capital, Pretoria, is home to more than a third of the total cases.
Health Minister Zweli Mkhize said South Africa could run out of available hospital beds within the month.
The African continent has more than 523,000 confirmed virus cases after having passed the half-million mark on Wednesday. But shortages in testing materials mean the true number is unknown.
HERE’S WHAT YOU NEED TO KNOW ABOUT THE VIRUS OUTBREAK:
— Arizona death toll from coronavirus tops 2,000.
— UK reopens gyms, pools, as Treasury chief warns of recession.
— Israeli military says chief of staff in quarantine.
— WHO appoints 2 women to lead pandemic inquiry panel.
— The World Health Organization is acknowledging the possibility that COVID-19 might be spread in the air under certain conditions. It comes at urging of 200 scientists in a published letter.
Follow all of AP’s pandemic coverage at http://apnews.com/VirusOutbreak and https://apnews.com/UnderstandingtheOutbreak
HERE’S WHAT ELSE IS HAPPENING:
BEIRUT — A Syrian group that helps deliver assistance in the rebel-held part of the country’s northwest is reporting the first case of coronavirus in the region that borders Turkey.
The Assistance Coordination Unit says the person who tested positive in Idlib province is being isolated along with people who mingled with him.
The Idlib Health Directorate also confirmed the case and urged residents of Idlib on Thursday to take precautionary measures.
Experts have long warned that an outbreak in Idlib, an area packed with 3 million people, many of them living in tents and encampments would be catastrophic.
In government-held areas, 372 cases have been registered as well as 14 deaths related to the virus. In Kurdish-held areas in Syria’s northeast, about half a dozen cases have been reported.
JERUSALEM — Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who has faced growing public anger over a deepening economic crisis, has announced a series of measures meant to help Israel’s unemployed.
In a televised address Thursday, Netanyahu pledged to provide stipends in the coming year to self-employed and unemployed workers along with business owners hurt by the coronavirus-induced crisis.
Israel was widely praised for moving quickly to seal its borders and impose tight restrictions on the public to contain the virus.
Those measures sent unemployment soaring to 25%, and since reopening, the economy has struggled to recover.
Critics have accused Netanyahu of bungling the exit strategy. Virus cases have spiked in recent weeks and the country’s economic troubles are deepening.
PHOENIX — Arizona’s death toll from the coronavirus topped 2,000 as state health officials reported new highs for hospitalizations and use of ventilators.
The Department of Health Services reported 75 more deaths, increasing state’s confirmed total to 2,038. The additional 4,057 confirmed coronavirus cases reported Thursday brought the total to 112,671.
Arizona has emerged as a national hotspot since Republican Gov. Doug Ducey loosened stay-home restrictions in mid-May.
The state had a record 3,437 patients hospitalized Wednesday, with a record 575 on ventilators. The 861 patients in ICU beds and the 1,980 emergency room visits for the virus were just short of records set this week.
TALLAHASSEE, Fla. — Florida health officials reported 120 new deaths from the coronavirus, the highest one-day increase amid a surge in new infections.
The number of deaths announced Thursday was the highest since the 113 reported in early May. The total confirmed death toll has surpassed 4,000. New confirmed infections increased by nearly 9,000 to more than 229,000.
The seven-day average for deaths is about 56 per day, up from about 31 three weeks ago. It’s approaching the period in early May when that rate went as high as 60.
The state also reported Thursday the biggest 24-hour increase in hospitalizations, with more than 400 patients admitted.
LONDON — England has moved to further ease lockdown restrictions, announcing that the public can soon return to gyms, swimming pools and other sports facilities that have been shut down due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
Culture Secretary Oliver Dowden says that outdoor pools can begin re-opening beginning Saturday, with indoor pools, gyms and other sports facilities to follow on July 25.
The guidance will enable competitive grassroots team sports to resume, beginning with cricket this weekend.
Dowden also told a virtual news conference at Downing Street that outdoor arts performances — including theatres, opera, dance and music — can perform outside, though audiences will be subjected to social-distancing rules.
ROME — Italy’s health minister has issued an ordinance barring entry of people who have stayed in or traveled through 13 countries in the past two weeks.
The ordinance applies to travelers from the following countries: Armenia, Bahrain, Bangladesh, Brazil, Bosnia-Herzegovina, Chile, Kuwait, North Macedonia, Moldova, Oman, Panama, Peru and the Dominican Republic.
Minister Roberto Speranza says the ordinance he signed aims to safeguard the “enormous sacrifices” Italians have made to reduce spread of coronavirus infection in their country, where Europe’s devastating outbreak began in February.
On Thursday, 12 deaths were confirmed and 229 new infections.
SOFIA, Bulgaria — Bulgarian authorities say they need to bring back some infection-control measures because coronavirus cases are rising.
Health Minister Kiril Ananiev announced all night clubs, piano bars and indoor discos must close. The minister says patrons may frequent any open-air establishments but only at up to 50% of capacity.
All sporting events will be played behind closed doors and the number of participants in public events will be limited to 30.
Ananiev says huge crowds at Premier League soccer matches and large gatherings at events such as school proms where social distancing and masks were widely ignored led to a new daily high for confirmed cases in Bulgaria.
As of Thursday, the country of 7 million had a total of 6,342 confirmed virus cases and 259 deaths.
ISTANBUL — The World Health Organization and Turkey have signed an agreement to launch a WHO office in Istanbul.
Speaking in the capital Ankara, Turkey’s health minister says the new office personnel would work to guide needs in combating the COVID-19 pandemic. Fahrettin Koca says he expects the WHO to have a more “proactive” structure to respond to future emergencies.
Hans Kluge, the regional director of WHO for Europe, says his visit to Turkey was his first mission abroad since February. He praised Turkey for its health infrastructure, increased testing capacity, contact tracing and the production of protective equipment and ventilators to combat the pandemic and lower death rates.
Kluge also said Turkey was successful in protecting the elderly and called the higher death rate of senior citizens in Europe a “catastrophe.” Turkey imposed a full lockdown for people above 65 for several weeks and relaxed the measures in June, for some outdoor hours.
WHO already has a country office in Ankara. On Wednesday, the official statistics confirmed nearly 209,000 people tested positive for COVID-19 and 5,282 people have died in Turkey.
ATHENS, Greece — Greece is reporting a spike in the number of new coronavirus cases detected, with 50 reported in the last 24-hour reporting period and nearly half from incoming travelers.
Greek health authorities say 24 of the newly confirmed cases were detected at entry points. Greece recently banned visitors from Serbia after a flare-up of coronavirus cases in that country and several positive cases reported among Serb tourists arriving in Greece.
The country’s overall confirmed cases now stand at 3,672 and 193 deaths — none within the last three days.
Government spokesman Stelios Petsas says authorities could re-impose public and travel restrictions, warning that safety guidance for the coronavirus has been frequently ignored.
ROME — The number of deaths in May in Italy was slightly lower when compared to average number of deaths from 2015-2020.
Italy’s national statistics bureau ISTAT issued in a joint report with the Superior Health Institute. It says the slight dip in the number of deaths in May was remarkable because it held true in nearly all northern Italy. That’s where a majority of the country’s COVID-19 cases and deaths occurred this year.
According to the report, from the start of the outbreak in late February through May, the median age of COVID-19 patients was 60-64 years and remained unvaried. A third of those with confirmed infections were older than 75. It noted of Italy’s COVID-19 deaths through May, 1% occurred in patients younger than 50.
Although women accounted for 54.2% of all those confirmed cases, men accounted for 52% of COVID-19 deaths. According to Health Ministry, Italy counts 242,363 confirmed cases. With 12 more deaths, the toll nationwide stands at 34,926.
JERUSALEM — The Israeli military says its chief of staff, Lt. Gen. Aviv Kochavi, has gone into quarantine after possible exposure to the coronavirus.
In a statement Thursday, the army says Kochavi was in the presence of an officer last week who later tested positive for the virus. Israel has been grappling in recent weeks with a surge in coronavirus cases.
The announcement means that both Israel’s military chief and its defense minister, Benny Gantz, are in isolation. Gantz, who is also Israel’s “alternate prime minister,” announced Wednesday that he was going into quarantine after possible exposure to the virus.
The army says Kochavi feels healthy but will be tested. He plans to maintain his regular schedule “whenever possible” while in isolation. Kochavi previously went into protective quarantine in March after attending a meeting with someone who was infected.
THESSALONIKI, Greece — Police in northern Greece say a 24-year-old train passenger has been detained after allegedly assaulting a railway staff member who instructed him to wear a mask.
The man was detained Thursday while traveling to the northern city of Thessaloniki from the town of Florina, also in northern Greece. Police and the Greek Railways say the 56-year-old staff member was taken to a hospital to receive first aid after being punched in the face.
Greece has relaxed most pandemic-related restrictions in recent weeks, but passengers are still obliged to wear a mask while using public transportation or face a fine of 150 euros ($170).
GENEVA — The head of the World Health Organization says former Liberian President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf and former New Zealand Prime Minister Helen Clark will lead a new panel to give an “honest assessment” of the global response to the coronavirus pandemic.
WHO Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus announced the appointments to the newly created Independent Panel for Pandemic Preparedness and Response.
“I cannot Imagine two more strong-minded, independent leaders to help guide us through this critical learning process to help us understand what happened — an honest assessment and to help us understand also what we should do to prevent such a tragedy in the future,” he said Thursday.
The announcement comes after the WHO’s general assembly in May called for a comprehensive evaluation of the WHO and the world response to the outbreak. It comes after repeated criticism by U.S. president Donald Trump’s administration of the U.N. health agency over its handling of the pandemic and alleged deference to China, where COVID-19 first emerged.
BRUSSELS — Belgium government’s health advisers are recommending wearing mandatory masks in shops to keep the spread of the coronavirus at its current low level.
The health ministry’s scientific advisory body says face masks play a crucial role in limiting the diffusion of droplets of respiratory secretions potentially carrying the deadly virus.
Belgium has confirmed 9,778 deaths in the country with 11 million inhabitants. The number of infections has decreased over the past two months, with about 85 new cases confirmed every day.
Among the measures adopted to fight the virus, the Belgian government has made the use of masks compulsory on public transportation, but customers still have the option to run errands without any protection.
The Health superior council says it recommends masks in shops because physical distancing is difficult in stores.
ATHENS, Greece — Greek authorities say they are ready to re-impose public and travel restrictions next week, warning that safety guidance for the coronavirus is being frequently ignored.
Stelios Petsas, the government spokesman, said authorities were “determined to protect the majority from the frivolous few,” adding that the government was likely to announce new restrictions if needed on Monday.
Greece, which imposed strict lockdown measures, has kept infection rates low. But cases have crept up since restrictions were lifted and international travel resumed in recent weeks.
Pestas said authorities were focused on the rising number of cases in nearby, Balkan countries and tourists who traveled to Greece over the land border with Bulgaria, at the single crossing point that has been opened to non-essential travel.
JAKARTA, Indonesia — Indonesia’s daily reported new infections have surpassed the 2,000 mark for the first time.
The world’s fourth most populous nation has now reported more than 70,000 coronavirus infections.
National COVID-19 Task Force spokesman Achmad Yurianto announced 2,657 new confirmed cases on Thursday in another record high for the second consecutive day. Indonesia has reported 3,417 deaths.
Both are the most in Southeast Asia.
MADRID — Authorities in the Balearic Islands off eastern Spain plan to make the wearing of masks mandatory outdoors from this weekend.
The island group in the Mediterranean Sea is a popular European vacation destination. It includes the islands of Ibiza, Mallorca and Menorca.
Throughout Spain, masks are mandatory in shared indoor spaces and outdoors when distance can’t be maintained.
Authorities in the Balearic Islands are tightening restrictions after detecting three new outbreaks this week in Mallorca. Previously, officials reported five other outbreaks on that island and another in Ibiza.
The islands’ health chief, Patricia Gómez, said in an interview Thursday with Cadena SER radio station that officials are putting final touches to the new rules and hoped to implement them from Friday or Saturday.
Gómez said officials may limit the number of people who can gather in one place. Exceptions are likely to include people on beaches, at swimming pools and practicing sport.