The Latest: Antibody tests: 1.5 million Italians had virus

ROME — The results of nationwide antibody tests conducted on nearly 65,000 Italians indicate that some 1.5 million individuals or 2.5% of the population have had the coronavirus, health officials said Monday.

That figure is six times the number of confirmed cases in Italy’s official virus tally. The results — viewed with the country’s overall death toll of close to 35,000 —align with the 2.3% estimated mortality rate of the virus.

Dr. Franco Locatelli, a key scientific government adviser, said the tests were designed to understand the virus’ circulation nationwide and not whether Italians with antibodies were safe from the virus.

The huge geographic variability in the results — some 7% of residents in hard-hit Lombardy had the virus versus 0.3% in Sicily — showed that Italy’s three-month nationwide lockdown was critical to sparing parts of the country the devastation experienced in the north, he said.

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

— Parents struggle as schools reopen amid coronavirus surge

— COVID relief bill remains up in air as negotiations resume

— Debate begins for who’s first in line for COVID-19 vaccine

— Follow AP’s pandemic coverage at http://apnews.com/VirusOutbreak and https://apnews.com/UnderstandingtheOutbreak

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HERE’S WHAT ELSE IS HAPPENING:

WASHINGTON — The White House announced Monday that random coronavirus testing of its staff is becoming mandatory.

The White House said the measure was “part of our ongoing efforts to protect the health and safety” of the White House Complex.

It says such testing had previously been handled on a voluntary basis.

Last week, the White House disclosed that National Security Adviser Robert O’Brien had tested positive for the virus, making O’Brien the highest-ranking official to test positive so far.

President Donald Trump and Vice President Mike Pence are tested regularly for the coronavirus, as are any guests who will be physically close to the president or vice president whether they are at the White House or on travel around the country.

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SUWANEE, Ga. — Officials for Georgia’s largest public school district say more than 250 employees have reported testing positive for the coronavirus or being exposed to it about a week before the school year is set to begin.

The Atlanta Journal-Constitution reports that Gwinnett County Public Schools teachers began in-person planning Wednesday at facilities.

Officials confirmed to news outlets that one day later, some 260 employees had called in to report a positive COVID-19 test or possible exposure and are now excluded from work.

The system’s superintendent announced last month that all classes will be taught online for the 180,000-student district in suburban Atlanta when instruction begins Aug. 12.

The county, the state’s second-most populous, had more than 17,780 confirmed coronavirus cases as of Sunday, and nearly 240 deaths.

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BERLIN — Children have returned to school in the northeastern German state of Mecklenburg-Western Pomerania, the first in the country to start the new school year following nationwide shutdowns at the height of the coronavirus pandemic in March.

Federal Education Minister Anja Karliczek has advocated mask requirements inside school buildings. But the school system is largely a matter for the 16 state governments in Germany, and as students returned to class in cities like Rostock and Schwerin on Monday, regional officials had not yet implemented such a rule.

Since schools largely closed down in mid-March, parents, teachers and children have eyed the reopenings warily.

Many children voluntarily wore masks Monday as school began, and several schools implemented their own mask rules and handed them out to children who forgot them.

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ROME — The number of new confirmed cases of the coronavirus in Italy fell below 200 for the first time in a week, with 159 cases registered on Monday, according to Health Ministry figures.

That brings the total number of cases in Italy to 248,229 and deaths to 35,166.

Lazio, the central region that includes Rome, now has the highest number of patients hospitalized for COVID-19 in Italy’s 20 regions. Health officials said nine of the region’s new cases were brought by travelers from Romania, Ukraine, the Dominican Republic, Iran, India and Bangladesh.

Two clusters of infections have also been traced to popular seaside areas near Rome. Monday figures tend to be lower since they often don’t include tallies from the weekend.

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WASHINGTON — President Donald Trump said White House coronavirus task force leader Dr. Deborah Birx hurt the Trump administration when she said widespread virus infections in urban and rural America mark a “new phase” for the pandemic.

It was a rare rebuke of Birx. Trump accused her of taking “the bait” by responding to House Speaker Nancy Pelosi who told ABC’s “This Week” that she had lost confidence in Birx because Trump appointed her and the president has been spreading disinformation about the virus.

Trump, in a tweet Monday, described Birx’s response to Pelosi as “pathetic.”

On CNN’s “State of the Union,” Birx said her comments are driven by data and that she would stake her 40-year career on using data to implement programs to save lives.

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ELWOOD, Ind. — A central Indiana school is shutting down two days after opening after at least one staffer tested positive for the coronavirus, while other districts in the state also are reporting positive tests among students and employees.

Elwood Junior Senior High School temporarily is closing this week, the Indianapolis Star reported Monday.

Several other people are in quarantine. No students were believed to have been in close contact with the staff members, according to the school district.

The Elwood district is northeast of Indianapolis and has about 1,500 students. The district started its academic year Thursday. Students will receive instruction virtually this week before resuming their normal schedules

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PARIS — Some 340 passengers and crew are confined on a cruise ship in Tahiti after one traveler tested positive for the virus, the commissariat for French Polynesia said late Sunday.

All those aboard the Paul Gauguin cruise ship are being tested, and will be kept in their cabins pending the results, it said in a statement.

The South Pacific archipelago started reopening to tourists last month and required that all visitors get tested before arriving and test themselves four days after entering the territory.

A passenger aboard the Paul Gauguin reported a positive self-test last week, and a second test carried out by medics confirmed the infection Sunday, the statements said.

The person traveling with the sick passenger tested negative, and both were taken off the boat, the commissariat said.

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BRANDON, S.D. — Thousands of fans packed the stands at a race track in South Dakota despite a rising number of coronavirus cases in the state.

The fans came Sunday night to Huset’s Speedway for the reopening of the track that has been closed for several years. The 9,000-seat speedway was at near capacity, with face masks nearly obsolete, the Argus Leader reported.

The popular All Star Circuit is owned by NASCAR legend Tony Stewart.

South Dakota health officials reported 88 newly confirmed cases of the coronavirus and one new death on Sunday.

The death toll from COVID-19 in South Dakota rose to 135 with the newly reported death. The number of confirmed virus cases has risen to 8,955 in the state.

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CAIRO — Egypt’s churches are reopening their doors to the faithful on Monday for the first time in more than four months due to a coronavirus lockdown.

The Coptic Orthodox Church said in a statement that it would receive the faithful in its churches with restrictions that include social distancing and wearing masks.

Other churches are also reopening across the Arab World’s most populous county, which has seen a steady decline in coronavirus infections in the past two weeks.

Christians constitute around 10% of Egypt’s predominantly Muslim 100 million people.

Egypt on Sunday reported its lowest daily confirmed cases of coronavirus in more than two months, with 167 infections and 31 deaths.

Overall, Egypt has reported around 94,450 confirmed cases including 4,865 fatalities.

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GENEVA — The World Health Organization says an advance team looking into the origins of the coronavirus outbreak has concluded its mission in China, and the U.N. health agency has agreed to details of the deployment of a larger team — notably to the suspected outbreak zone.

WHO Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus says the “international team” will deploy to Wuhan, the city where the COVID-19 pandemic is believed to have erupted late last year. Tedros said “terms of reference” have been drawn up by the WHO and China, but he did not specify.

Dr. Michael Ryan, the WHO’s emergencies chief, noted “gaps in the epidemiological landscape” and said the proper studies and data to collect would be assessed.

“The real trick is to go to the human clusters that occurred first and then to work your way back systematically looking for that first signal at which the animal human species barrier was crossed,” Ryan said.

“Once you understand where that the barrier was breached, then you move into the studies in a more systematic way on the animal side,” he added.

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PARIS — Beach resorts along France’s Atlantic coast, picturesque promenades on the Loire River, farmers markets in the Alps — they’re among scores of spots around France where everyone is now required to wear a mask outdoors.

The outdoor mask rules taking effect Monday are on top of a nationwide decree last month requiring people to wear masks in all stores and other indoor public places. Pressure is growing on the government to mandate outdoor mask use on a national level, too.

France is seeing an uptick in coronavirus infections, with hundreds of new clusters in recent weeks, notably as young people gather at waterside cafes or dance parties and families get together for summer vacation.

Several sites around France have started requiring masks outdoors in recent days. Starting Monday, 69 towns in the Mayenne region of western France imposed outdoor mask rules, as did parts of the northern city of Lille and coastal city of Biarritz in French Basque country.

France has reported 7,000 new cases in the last week, after bringing the virus nearly under control with a strict two-month nationwide lockdown, and has confirmed 30,265 virus-related deaths since the pandemic began.

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COPENHAGEN, Denmark — A Norwegian cruise ship line has halted all trips and apologized Monday for procedural errors after an outbreak of the coronavirus on one ship infected at least four passengers and 36 crew members.

The 40 people on the MS Roald Amundsen who tested positive were admitted to the University Hospital of North Norway in Tromsoe, north of the Arctic Circle, where the ship is currently docked.

“A preliminary evaluation shows that there has been a failure in several of our internal procedures,” Hurtigruten CEO Daniel Skjeldam said. He said the company, which sails along Norway’s picturesque western coast, is “now in the process of a full review of all procedures, and all aspects of our own handling.”

The cruise line has contacted passengers who were on the MS Roald Amundsen for its July 17 and July 24 departures from Bergen to the Arctic archipelago of Svalbard, known for its polar bears.

All 158 crew members on MS Roald Amundsen have been tested and 122 were negative. There were 209 guests on the first voyage and 178 on the second voyage. But since the cruise ship line often acts like a local ferry, traveling from port to port along Norway’s western coast, the virus may not have been contained onboard. Some passengers disembarked along the route and may have spread the virus to their local communities.

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BRUSSELS — Belgian authorities say the number of coronavirus infections in the country continues to rise sharply and that it remains unclear just how strong a second wave of infections might be or how long it will last.

On average, around 491 people tested positive each day last week, a rise of 68% over the previous week. Belgium — a small European country with a population of around 11.5 million — has been hit hard by the virus. Almost 10,000 people have died.

“The virus is circulating intensively on our territory. The numbers continue to rise,” Frederique Jacobs, the government’s COVID-19 crisis spokeswoman, told reporters Monday.

She said the number of people admitted to hospitals is rising, although the entries remain manageable, while “the number of people in intensive care has doubled since the beginning of July.”

Most new infections are occurring in densely populated, poorer neighborhoods and among people aged 20-40, many of whom fail to recognize the dangers because their friends often don’t have heavy symptoms of the disease, Jacobs said.

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LONDON — The British government says it will begin issuing coronavirus tests that give results within 90 minutes and can tell whether someone has COVID-19 or another virus such as the flu.

The government said the two U.K.-made tests will go to hospitals, nursing homes and laboratories starting next week. The government says they will help medics differentiate between COVID-19 and other seasonal respiratory viruses.

Health Secretary Matt Hancock said Monday that the tests “will be hugely beneficial as we head into winter, so patients can follow the right advice to protect themselves and others.”

One of the tests, made by Oxford Nanopore, analyses swab and saliva samples. The other is a DNA test that uses a machine from London-based firm DnaNudge to give results without the need to send them to a lab. The government says thousands of the machines will be sent to hospitals starting in September.

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ISLAMABAD — Even as Pakistan recorded one of its lowest 24-hour infection rates with just 330 new cases reported on Monday, the government announced a new countrywide lockdown through Aug. 17, with grocery stores and pharmacies allowed to open.

Mosques and churches will also be allowed to stay open, but with social distancing and masks.

The new lockdown follows the Muslim holiday of Eid ul Adha, which ended Monday in Pakistan. The lockdown was imposed to avoid a spike in cases that occurred in June after Pakistanis celebrated the earlier Muslim holiday of Eid ul Fitr.

In mid-June, Pakistan recorded more than 6,000 new daily cases of the virus. Since then, it has been on a steady decline. The death rate has also dropped, with only eight fatalities reported Monday.

Overall, Pakistan has confirmed 280,029 cases, including 5,984 deaths.

Categories: National/World