The Latest: Spain PM asks for unity during coronavirus surge
MADRID — Spanish Prime Minister Pedro Sánchez appealed to Spaniards to pull together and defeat the coronavirus, warning: “The situation is serious.”
Sánchez, in a televised address to the nation Friday, acknowledged public fatigue with restrictions to contain the spread. But he added: “We have to step up the fight.”
This week, Spain became the first European country to surpass 1 million confirmed cases. Sánchez says the actual number could be more than 3 million because of gaps in testing.
The current pressure on the health system, including hospitalizations, is not as acute as it was in the spring, he says. Even so, he asked for the public’s cooperation, discipline and unity during the winter months.
HERE’S WHAT YOU NEED TO KNOW ABOUT THE VIRUS OUTBREAK:
— Poland declares entire country a ‘red zone,’ just short of lockdown
— FDA approves first COVID-19 drug: antiviral remdesivir
— UN chief says G-20 leaders must coordinate to fight coronavirus
— Promise of free coronavirus vaccination becomes an issue in key state elections in India.
— Restrictions tightened, but no new virus lockdown in Belgium.
— An online Japanese-language text messaging service for suicide prevention has grown to 500 volunteers since March.
Follow all of AP’s coronavirus pandemic coverage at http://apnews.com/VirusOutbreak and https://apnews.com/UnderstandingtheOutbreak
HERE’S WHAT ELSE IS HAPPENING:
ZAGREB, Croatia — Croatia, Slovenia and Bosnia report soaring numbers of daily coronavirus infections.
Croatia on Friday reached another record as 1,876 people tested positive in the past 24 hours and seven people died. Authorities say the positivity rate was more than 25 percent, which means every fourth person tested had the virus.
Neighboring Slovenia has announced the closure of non-essential shops, hotels and kindergartens after previously imposing an overnight curfew. The country on Friday reported 1,656 new cases and the positivity rate in tests of more than 25 percent.
Bosnia on Friday exceeded 1,000 daily cases for the first time since the start of the pandemic. The crisis-stricken Balkan nation says 1,179 people tested positive in the past 24 hours and 14 people died.
COPENHAGEN, Denmark — The Finnish government has recommended public sector employees work remotely “to the extent possible.”
It urged the private sector to do the same but added “the decision is up to the workplace.” That would mean fewer people using public transportation.
In a statement, the government warned if the flare-up reached “the acceleration phase,” public events and meetings, outdoor and indoor, may be restricted, regardless of the number of participants. Higher education institutions should also “seriously consider switching to distance learning.”
In neighboring Norway, Prime Minister Erna Solberg says “the fewer people we meet, the less the virus will spread.”
Her government will announce restrictions next week so “there is a greater probability of a normal Christmas celebration with the family at home.”
WARSAW, Poland — Poland’s government has announced the entire country will become a “red zone” of strict anti-COVID-19 restrictions starting Saturday, just short of a lockdown.
Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki appealed Friday to Poles to strictly observe the restrictions in order to protect lives. The appeal came as the nation of 38 million hit another daily record of new registered infections — over 13,600 and 153 deaths.
The measures, expanded from local red zones, include wearing masks at all times outdoors and switching all primary schools to remote learning. Morawiecki says the goal is to limit social contacts and the number of passengers on public transport. In other measures, restaurants and other eateries can provide takeout only for another two weeks and gatherings cannot exceed five people, except for professional activity.
People over 70 are asked to stay home, and a system of support in delivering supplies is being put in place.
“We absolutely must cut the means of transmission of infection,” Morawiecki said.
Poland’s government is also appealing to Poles to stay home and refrain from observing the national tradition of visiting graves on All Saints’ Day, Nov. 1.
MADRID — A grim year for the Spanish tourism industry due to the COVID-19 pandemic stretched into September, when overnight hotel stays were down 78% on the same month last year.
Spain is the world’s second most popular vacation destination, after France, but hotel stays in the first nine months of 2020 were down 71% from 2019, the national statistics agency said Friday.
September was the seventh straight month to record a sharp drop.
Before the pandemic, tourism generated 12% of Spain’s GDP and provided 2.6 million jobs.
BRATISLAVA, Slovakia — Slovakia has started a trial as part of a plan to test almost the entire population of the country for the coronavirus amid a record surge in infections.
Prime Minister Igor Matovic previously said health authorities have acquired 13 million rapid antigen tests for the massive testing of everyone aged 10-65. The tests will be voluntary and free of charge, and the military has been called in to help.
The trials will be carried out from Friday to Sunday in the four hardest-hit counties. The testing is set to continue in the rest of the country on the following two weekends.
Antigen tests are less accurate than PCR tests, which are considered the gold standard but have the advantage of producing faster results.
The nation of 5.4 million has been facing a record spike, with the number of confirmed positive cases in one day setting a new record of 2,581 on Thursday. The previous record of 2,202 was set two days earlier.
The Slovak authorities have conducted a relatively low number of tests compared with other European countries. The country has a total of 37,911 confirmed cases while 134 people have died.
PRAGUE — The health minister of the hard-hit Czech Republic has been under fire to resign after a media report that he broke strict government restrictions and visited a Prague restaurant.
The Blesk tabloid daily said Health Minister Minister Roman Prymula met with Jaroslav Faltynek, deputy head of the senior government ANO (YES) movement led by Prime Minister Andrej Babis, on Wednesday night.
Amid tight restrictions, restaurants, bars, schools are closed. The meeting took place just hours after Prymula announced the latest series of regulations, including a limit on movement and the closure of many stores.
The junior government coalition party, the Social Democrats, joined the opposition to demand Prymula’s resignation, calling his behavior “absolutely unacceptable.” In photographs, Prymula didn’t wear a mandatory mask.
Faltynek said he asked Prymula to meet to discuss an extraordinary parliament session that is set to approve a plan for NATO military medical personnel to come to the Czech Republic to help with the outbreak.
Prymula didn’t immediately comment.
The Czech Republic has been facing record coronavirus infections that put the health system under pressure. The Health Ministry says daily confirmed cases reached 14,151 on Thursday, after the record of almost 15,000 the day earlier.
The country has had 223,065 cases, about a third of them in the last seven days while 1,845 people have died.
BERLIN — Germany’s disease control center says the number of new daily coronavirus cases remains near a record high, as the pandemic continues to spread.
The Robert Koch Institute said Friday that 11,242 new cases were reported over the last 24-hour period, just shy of the record 11,278 mark set the day before. The nationwide infection rate over the last seven days rose to 60.3 cases per 100,000 residents, up from 56.2 the day before.
Some hot spots, like the capital, are much higher than that, with Berlin reporting a rate of 110.6 cases per 100,000 residents, with the district of Neukoelln at more than double that with a rate of 236.7 per 100,000.
The Health Ministry, which said earlier this week that Health Minister Jens Spahn had tested positive for the coronavirus and was in quarantine at home exhibiting cold-like symptoms, said Friday his husband, Daniel Funke, had also tested positive.
It said Funke tested positive on Thursday morning and was symptom free, but had been in quarantine with Spahn since Wednesday afternoon.
NEW DELHI — India has reported below 60,000 new coronavirus cases for a fifth day as the promise of a free COVID-19 vaccine turned into a key state election issue.
The Health Ministry says 54,366 new cases have taken the overall tally past 7.7 million on Friday. It also reported 690 deaths in the past 24 hours, raising total fatalities to 117,306.
India recorded a daily average of more than 61,000 cases last week. The ministry also said India’s active caseload was below 700,000.
A political row erupted after Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s Hindu nationalist party promised free vaccination to people in eastern Bihar state where voting is scheduled to begin next week. Bihar is India’s third largest state with a population of about 122 million people.
Finance Minister Nirmala Sitharaman, releasing the party’s election manifesto, said every Bihar resident will be given free vaccination when it becomes available. She said at least three vaccines have reached the last trial stage and are on the cusp of production.
The promise angered the Congress and other opposition parties, which accused Modi’s party of politicizing the pandemic and playing on people’s fears.
UNITED NATIONS — The U.N. chief says it’s “very frustrating” that leaders of the 20 major industrialized nations didn’t come together in March and establish a coordinated response to grapple with the coronavirus in all countries as he proposed.
The result, he says, is every country is taking its own sometimes contradictory actions, and the virus is moving “from east to west, north to south,” with second waves of infections now affecting many countries.
Ahead of the Group of 20 summit next month, Secretary-General Antonio Guterres said in an interview with The Associated Press that he hopes the international community now understands “they need to be much more coordinated in fighting the virus.”
Guterres says the United Nations also will be “strongly advocating” during the G-20 summit for a guarantee that when a vaccine is available, “it becomes indeed available and affordable for everyone, everywhere.”
SEOUL, South Korea — South Korea has reported 155 new confirmed cases of the coronavirus, its highest daily jump in more than 40 days as officials struggle to stem transmissions at hospitals and nursing homes.
The figures announced Friday brought the national caseload to 25,698, including 455 deaths. Officials say most of the new cases were local transmissions and primarily in the Seoul region, where hundreds of infections have been tied to a handful of hospitals and nursing homes.
A nursing home in Namyangju, east of Seoul, has emerged as the latest cluster of infections, with officials putting the facility under isolation after more than 30 workers and residents tested positive. Around 120 infections have been linked to a hospital in nearby Gwangju.
Friday’s daily jump was the highest since Sept. 11 when 176 new infections were reported.
BOISE, Idaho — A regional health board in northern Idaho has voted narrowly to repeal a local mask mandate, acting moments after hearing how the region’s hospital has been overwhelmed with COVID-19 patients and is looking at sending people as far away as Seattle for care.
The board heard Thursday that the hospital in Coeur d’Alene reached 99% capacity the previous day, even after doubling up patients in rooms and buying more beds. The board in Kootenai County then voted 4-3 to end the mask mandate. Kootenai is the third most populous county in conservative Idaho.
Gov. Brad Little has left it up to local health departments and school districts to decide on what restrictions, if any, are needed for the coronavirus pandemic.
SEATTLE — Health officials in Washington state say the number of people in the state who have been confirmed with coronavirus infections during the pandemic has surpassed 100,000.
The Department of Health reported 651 new virus cases and three new COVID-19 deaths Thursday. The latest numbers increased the state’s confirmed cases to 100,525 and the total number of people who have died to 2,289.
Gov. Jay Inslee tweeted about the cases topping 100,000, saying, “Every choice you make right now matters.”
Inslee says cases are on the rise again in Washington, and he urges people to have fewer and shorter interactions with others.
AUSTIN, Texas — Texas Gov. Greg Abbott is sending more medical reinforcements to the El Paso area in response to a surge of coronavirus infections and cases of COVID-19, the illness the virus can cause.
The Texas Department of State Health Services and the Texas Division of Emergency Management will provide more medical personnel and equipment this week.
The move comes during the same week that El Paso County reported 3,750 new coronavirus infections, including 1,161 on Thursday. That number accounts for 17.5% of the 21,321 cases reported this week by the state’s 254 counties.
Active coronavirus cases in El Paso rose 864 Thursday to 9,569. The 558 confirmed COVID-19 patients hospitalized in El Paso, Culberson and Hudspeth counties account for more than one-third of all of that region’s hospitalized patients
HELENA, Mont. — Montana Gov. Steve Bullock says the state health department is pursuing legal action against several businesses in northwestern Montana for not following a mask mandate and other restrictions meant to prevent the spread of the coronavirus.
The announcement came Thursday as the state reported 932 newly confirmed coronavirus cases. That was far above the previous one-day high of 734.
The new cases include 173 in Yellowstone County and 112 in Flathead County, where the governor says businesses face legal action.
State officials also have launched a new website to allow people to submit complaints against businesses and events that are not complying with health directives.