NEW DELHI — India’s confirmed coronavirus caseload surpassed 8 million on Thursday with daily infections dipping to the lowest level this week, as concerns grew over a major Hindu festival season and winter setting in.

India’s trajectory is moving toward the worst-hit country, the United States, which has over 8.8 million cases.

The Health Ministry reported another 49,881 infections and 517 fatalities in the past 24 hours, raising the death toll to 120,527.

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An election officer checks the temperature of a voter before allowing voters to pass at a polling station Wednesday in the eastern Indian state of Bihar. With a declining coronavirus trend, Indian authorities decided to hold the first state legislative election since the outbreak of COVID-19. Associated Press/Aftab Alam Siddiqui

Life in India is edging back to pre-virus levels with shops, businesses, subway trains and movie theaters reopening and the country’s third-largest state of Bihar with a population of about 122 million people holding elections. But health experts warn that mask and distancing fatigue is setting in and can lead to a fresh wave of infections.

India had a steep rise in cases in July and added more than 2 million in August and another 3 million in September. But it is seeing a slower pace of coronavirus spread since mid-September, when daily infections touched a record of 97,894 and the highest number of deaths at 1,275.

Dr. T. Jacob John, a retired virologist, said that in most parts of India the infection curve was never flattened and the number of people who are now susceptible to the virus had decreased.

He warned that the ongoing festival season is likely to increase the speed of the viral spread, resulting in localized outbreaks where people gathered without masks and didn’t adhere to social distancing.

South Dakota hospitalizations hit record for 4th straight day

SIOUX FALLS, S.D. — Hospitalizations from COVID-19 in South Dakota reached new heights for the fourth straight day on Wednesday.

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South Dakota Gov. Kristi Noem has made it clear she will not issue any requirements to wear masks in public. Erin Bormett/The Argus Leader via Associated Press

The number of daily new cases also set a record, with 1,270 people testing positive for the virus. The virus has surged in the state and region, sending South Dakota to the nation’s second-worst ranking in new cases per capita over the last two weeks. Johns Hopkins researchers report that one out of roughly every 77 people in the state has tested positive in the last two weeks.

The wave of cases has resulted in 412 people who are currently hospitalized with the virus. Health officials also reported nine new deaths. October has become the state’s deadliest month of the pandemic, with 189 deaths so far.

The outbreak has been particularly severe in the state’s prisons, where one out of roughly every three people incarcerated statewide has an active coronavirus infection.

Gov. Kristi Noem has made it clear she will not issue any requirements to wear masks in public. She has cast her approach to the pandemic — foregoing government restrictions to keep economic activity humming — as an example of Republican leadership. She spent the day at several Trump campaign events in Maine and New Hampshire.

Meanwhile, South Dakota health officials attempted to offer some hope to the state’s virus outlook, saying they will be ready by the middle of next month to distribute coronavirus vaccinations. But it is not clear when coronavirus vaccinations will receive regulatory approval and actually arrive in the state.

Europe looks to more limits to curb rebounding virus

BERLIN  — German officials agreed to impose a four-week partial lockdown and the French government prepared to announce its own new restrictions Wednesday as European governments sought to stop a fast-rising tide of coronavirus cases sweeping the continent.

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A pedestrian walks over a reminder to wear face masks sprayed on the sidewalk at the Karl-Marx-Strasse at the district Neukoelln in Berlin, Germany, on Tuesday. Karl-Marx-Strasse is one of the streets in the German capital where face masks are mandatory to prevent the spread of the coronavirus. Markus Schreiber/Associated Press

The World Health Organization says the European region — which includes Russia, Turkey, Israel and Central Asia, according to its definition — accounted for almost half of the 2.8 million new coronavirus cases reported globally last week. The U.N. health agency said virus-related deaths were also on the rise in Europe, with about a 35 percent spike since the previous week, as well as hospitalizations due to COVID-19.

“We are deep in the second wave,” European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen told reporters in Brussels. “I think that this year’s Christmas will be a different Christmas.”

The European Union, Britain, Norway, Switzerland and Iceland alone accounted for 1.1 million cases over the past seven days, she said, “and we expect this number to keep rising in the next two to three weeks, and rapidly.”

German officials have agreed to a four-week shutdown of restaurants, bars, cinemas, theaters and other leisure facilities in a bid to curb a sharp rise in coronavirus infections, Chancellor Angela Merkel said.

In France, more than half of the country’s intensive care units are already occupied by COVID-19 patients. French military and commercial planes are ferrying critically ill virus patients to other regions as hospitals fill up and French doctors have called on the government to impose a new nationwide lockdown.

Read the full story about Europe here.

Wisconsin cancels Nebraska game; 12 on football staff, including coach, test positive

MADISON, Wis.  — No. 9 Wisconsin has canceled its game at Nebraska on Saturday and paused all team activities for at least seven days after a dozen people within the program including coach Paul Chryst tested positive for COVID-19.

School officials said athletic director Barry Alvarez and chancellor Rebecca Blank made the decision in consultation with Big Ten officials. The game with Nebraska won’t be rescheduled.

“This morning I received the news that I had tested positive via a PCR test I took yesterday,” Chryst said in a statement. “I informed my staff and the team this morning and am currently isolating at home. I had not been experiencing any symptoms and feel good as of this morning.”

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Wisconsin head coach Paul Chryst talks to his players during the first half of an NCAA college football game against Illinois on Oct. 23. Associated Press/Morry Gash

Wisconsin said six players and six staff members had tested positive over the last five days.

The announcement followed reports that starting quarterback Graham Mertz had tested positive twice – which would require him to sit out at least 21 days under Big Ten protocols – and that backup quarterback Chase Wolf had tested positive at least once.

Wisconsin already had lost 2019 starting quarterback Jack Coan to foot surgery that has left him out indefinitely. The Badgers’ only other scholarship quarterback is junior Danny Vanden Boom.

“I am disappointed for our players and coaching staff who put so much into preparing to play each week,” Chryst said. “But the safety of everyone in our program has to be our top priority and I support the decision made to pause our team activities.”

Some refuse to wear masks even as their hometowns become virus hot spots

Resistance to mask-wearing and other efforts to control the spread of the coronavirus has hardened in the final days before the presidential election, demonstrating how the pandemic has been politicized and posing a daunting challenge to the nation’s medical experts.

The refusal to go along with expert health guidance has persisted even in parts of the country that are seeing soaring caseloads and hospitalizations. That was driven home this week when the coordinator of the White House coronavirus task force, Deborah Birx, toured North Dakota, which has had more coronavirus infections per capita than any other state and over the past month has experienced a stunning surge in hospitalizations and deaths.

What Birx witnessed dismayed her.

“Over the last 24 hours, as we were here and we were in your grocery stores and in your restaurants and frankly, even in your hotels, this is the least use of masks that we have seen in retail establishments of any place we have been,” Birx told reporters Monday after participating in a round table with Republican Gov. Doug Burgum, according to the Bismarck Tribune.

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Dr. Deborah Birx, left, White House Coronavirus Response Coordinator, during a round table discussion with state and local government and medical leaders in Bismarck, North Dakota on Monday. Mike McCleary/The Bismarck Tribune via AP

Burgum has endorsed masks but declined to impose a statewide mandate, saying Monday that the decision to wear a face covering is a personal one. He did join Birx in calling for more widespread testing, and on his Twitter account, he cited her view that “more people need to wear masks, socially distance & slow the spread.”

The state reported 889 new infections Tuesday and 15 additional deaths, bringing the cumulative death toll to 481, three-fourths of them in the past eight weeks.

“North Dakota has the highest covid death rate per capita in the world right now,” said Christopher Murray, director of the Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation at the University of Washington, referring to deaths in the past week. At the same time, he said, data compiled from Facebook indicates that the state has the lowest mask-wearing rate in the United States, between 45 and 49 percent.

It is unusual to see a place where the virus is having such a dire impact making such limited efforts to stop it, he said.

Canada’s Trudeau says out loud what many think about the coronavirus second wave

Offering an unusually blunt assessment of the pandemic, Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau spoke for more than just Canadians when he said Tuesday that the second wave of the coronavirus “sucks.”

Trudeau’s tone contrasted sharply with that of his counterpart to the south, who has downplayed the danger of the virus and suggested that, contrary to surging numbers worldwide, the pandemic will soon be over.

“We are in an unprecedented global pandemic that really sucks,” he said in televised remarks. “It’s tough going through this second wave. It’s frustrating having shut down all of us, our lives, through the spring and now be forced to make more difficult choices, and knowing it’s going to be a tough winter ahead as well.”

He acknowledged the difficulty of telling children in many parts of the country that there will be no trick-or-treating on Halloween this weekend and that “unless we [are] really, really careful, there may not be the kinds of family gatherings we want to have at Christmas.”

Yet while acknowledging the difficulty and frustrations of the new restrictions the country faces this winter, Trudeau urged Canadians to come together, help one another and listen to public health advice.

“We will get through this. Vaccines are on the horizon. Spring and summer will come, and they will be better than this winter,” he said.

Canada saw a major drop in new cases over the summer, with only a few hundred a day. But as the cold weather came, the virus spread again, and now the country routinely sees between 2,000 and 4,000 new cases a day.

White House testing czar says cases are surging, countering Trump’s claims

Data show a resurgence of the pandemic across the country, despite President Trump’s repeated claims to the contrary, Adm. Brett Giroir, the White House’s coronavirus testing czar, said Wednesday.

In a tweet Monday, Trump blamed the rise in coronavirus infections on increased testing. But in an interview, Giroir broke with the president and emphasized that the surge is real, citing climbing case numbers, hospitalizations and deaths across the country.

“It’s not just a function of testing,” Giroir said on NBC’s “Today” show. “Yes, we’re getting more cases identified, but the cases are actually going up. And we know that, too, because hospitalizations are going up.”

The seven-day rolling average of new coronavirus cases in the U.S. topped 70,000 on Tuesday, eclipsing previous records set at the height of the pandemic’s first wave — although Giroir said testing was insufficient in the spring and infections then may not actually have been much lower than current levels.

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In this Sept. 16, 2020 file photo, Assistant Secretary of Health and Human Services for Health Adm. Brett Giroir speaks at a Senate Appropriations subcommittee hearing on a “Review of Coronavirus Response Efforts” on Capitol Hill in Washington. A day after White House Chief of Staff Mark Meadows said “we’re not going to control the pandemic,” a top Trump administration health official says Americans have already proven they can do that through basic safeguards shown to work. “I think we can control the pandemic,” Assistant Secretary for Health Adm. Brett Giroir said Monday on a call with reporters. (AP Photo/Andrew Harnik, Pool)

Giroir warned that the coming winter poses more opportunities for transmission as people retreat indoors and host small gatherings during the holidays.

“Americans have defeated this before in July and August,” he said. “We have to do the same thing now.”

As the presidential election draws near, Trump has repeatedly characterized evidence of a pandemic resurgence as a conspiracy, even as infections crop up among White House staffers. Vice President Pence’s chief of staff and four of his other aides and advisers recently tested positive for the virus.

White House chief of staff Mark Meadows confirmed Sunday that he sought to keep these infections out of the public eye and said in a CNN interview that “we are not going to control the pandemic.”

Kansas governor and legislative leaders agree to encourage local mask mandates

TOPEKA, Kan. — Kansas Gov. Laura Kelly and leaders in the legislature have agreed to try for now to encourage counties to adopt local mask mandates rather than consider a statewide rule as the state experiences its biggest surge in coronavirus infections.

Kelly issued a statewide mask mandate July 2, but a state law enacted only the month before allowed the state’s 105 counties to opt out, and most did.

Participants in Tuesday’s virtual meeting say they agreed to work with the Kansas Association of Counties and Kansas League of Municipalities to encourage local officials to consider mask mandates in coronavirus hot spots.

The governor issues a statement calling it “a strategy of engagement.”

White House coronavirus task force member says the increase in U.S. cases isn’t just because of more testing

WASHINGTON — A member of the White House coronavirus task force says the increase in U.S. cases isn’t just because of more testing.

Admiral Brett Giroir says the proof of the increase is the uptick in hospitalizations and deaths nationwide from COVID-19, the disease caused by the coronavirus.

President Donald Trump has been saying the U.S. is “rounding the turn” on the pandemic. The president also contends the news media are spending too much time focusing on the health crisis.

Giroir, who was put in charge of coronavirus testing by Trump, says the nation is at “another critical point” in the response to the pandemic.

He is urging people to keep wearing masks, wash their hands and practice social distancing. Giroir says a safe and effective vaccine is “around the corner.”

WHO: Europe accounts for biggest proportion of new cases

LONDON — The World Health Organization said countries globally reported more than 2 million confirmed coronavirus cases last week — the shortest time ever for such an exponential increase since the pandemic began.

In a weekly analysis of COVID-19, WHO said for the second consecutive week, the European region accounted for the biggest proportion of new cases, with more than 1.3 million reported cases or about 46% of the worldwide total. The U.N. health agency said deaths were also on the rise in Europe, with about a 35% spike since the previous week.

“Although the number of deaths is gradually increasing, the proportion of deaths to cases remains relatively low, compared to the early phase of the pandemic in the spring,” WHO said.

The agency also noted that hospitalizations and ICU occupancy due to COVID-19 increased in 21 countries across Europe. It estimated about 18% of COVID-19 were hospitalized, with about 7% needing ICU support or breathing machines.

Globally, WHO said the countries reporting the highest numbers of cases remain unchanged as for the past three weeks: India, the U.S., France, Brazil, and the U.K.

Germany, France gear up for new lockdowns as virus surges

BERLIN — Germany and France were bracing for new lockdowns Wednesday, as governments sought to stop the fast-rising tide of coronavirus cases that are beginning to fill European hospitals.

French markets opened lower on expectations that President Emmanuel Macron will announce tough measures during a televised evening address to the nation.

Doctors in France are calling on the government to impose a new nationwide lockdown, noting that more than half of the country’s intensive care units are now occupied by COVID-19 patients and medical staff are under increasing strains.

Most parts of France were colored deep red on a map representing COVID-cases from the European Centers for Disease Prevention and Control, signifying more than 240 cases per 100,000 people in the past two weeks. On Tuesday alone, the country had a big spike in the number of daily deaths from COVID-19, recording an additional 523 deaths and another 33,417 new infections.

Belgium, the Netherlands, most of Spain and the Czech Republic are seeing similarly high rates of infection, while Germany was still colored in orange — indicating that the average number of new cases there is still under 120 per 100,000 over the last 14 days.

Still, German Chancellor Angela Merkel was pressing governors of the country’s 16 states to quickly agree a partial lockdown Wednesday that could include further restrictions on public gatherings and the closure of bars and restaurants.

Czech Republic continues to see record levels of virus

PRAGUE — Coronavirus infections in the Czech Republic have again jumped to record levels amid new restrictive measures imposed by the government to curb the spread.

The Health Ministry says the day-to-day increase hit a new record high of 15,663 on Tuesday in the nation of over 10 million. It’s over 400 more than the previous record set on Friday.

The hard-hit country had 284,033 confirmed cases, with over a half of them registered in the last two weeks. So far, 2,547 have died — with a record 139 deaths registered Monday.

The country’s hospitals have been under pressure, with the number of COVID-19 patients higher than 6,000, and almost 900 of them in serious condition.

A woman wears a Czech flag as a mask at a protest against COVID-19 preventative measures in Prague on Wednesday. Associated Press/Petr David Josek

The government has further tightened its regulations, imposing nationwide curfew between 9 p.m. and 6 a.m., starting Wednesday.

Previously, the government limited free movement, closed stores, schools and restaurants, made it mandatory to wear face masks indoors and in cars and banned sport competitions, but the number of infections has still risen.

Several demonstrations against the restrictions are planned in the capital of Prague for Wednesday, a national holiday.

The seven-day rolling average of daily new cases has risen over the past two weeks from 52.99 new cases per 100,000 people on Oct. 13 to 120.18 new cases per 100,000 people on Tuesday.

Pope Francis continues to avoid wearing a mask

VATICAN CITY — Pope Francis has blamed “this lady called COVID” for forcing him to keep his distance from the faithful during his general audience, which was far smaller than usual amid soaring coronavirus infections in Italy.

Francis again eschewed a protective mask Wednesday even when he greeted a few maskless bishops at the end of his audience. While the prelates wore masks throughout the hour-long audience, they took them off when they lined up to shake Francis’ hand and speak briefly with him one-on-one.

A Vatican official who is a key member of Francis’ COVID-19 response commission, the Rev. Augusto Zampini, acknowledged Tuesday that at age 83 and with part of his lung removed, Francis would be at high risk for complications if he were to become infected.

Zampini said he hoped Francis would don a mask at least when he greeted people during the general audience. “We are working on that,” he said.

Francis has only been seen wearing a mask in public twice: On Sept. 9 as he entered and exited his general audience, and last week during a two-hour interfaith prayer service in downtown Rome.

Sweden about to reach ‘a critical point’ 

STOCKHOLM — Coronavirus is spreading in 17 of Sweden’s 21 counties, according to Swedish tabloid Aftonbladet.

Worst hit is Scania, Sweden’s southern region around Malmo, the country’s third-largest city, where national authorities have urged people to avoid shopping centers and shops and stay away from public transportation.

Anders Tegnell, Sweden’s chief epidemiologist who is credited with being behind Sweden’s much-debated COVID-19 approach of keeping large parts of society open, said the country is about ”to reach a critical point,” as he announced the restrictions for Malmo, which took effect immediately for at least a three weeks.

Also, the counties of Orebro, west of Stockholm, and Kronoberg in southern Sweden have been warnings of strains on hospitals due to the number of COVID-19 patients.

Number of virus cases in India nearing 8 million

NEW DELHI — India’s tally of confirmed coronavirus cases is moving closer to 8 million, with 43,893 new cases reported for the latest 24-hour period.

The total reported Wednesday includes the highest single-day number of cases for the Indian capital of New Delhi — 4,853.

The Health Ministry also reported 508 fatalities from COVID-19 across India in the past 24 hours, raising the total for the pandemic to 120,010.

India’s caseload is second in the world behind the United States, which has over 8.7 million positive cases.

In September, India hit a peak of nearly 100,000 positive cases in a single day, but since then daily infections have fallen by more than half and deaths by about a third.

NYC bus, subway workers to be tested weekly for virus

NEW YORK — The Metropolitan Transportation Authority is embarking on a first-in-the-nation testing program to test thousands of workers weekly to guard against a second wave of the coronavirus.

MTA Chairman Patrick Foye said Tuesday that the goal will be to test 15% of frontline workers weekly.

Transport Workers Union Local 100 President Tony Utano said in an email that would amount to roughly 6,000 bus and subway workers. Overall, the nation’s largest public transit system has more than 70,000 employees. More than 120 MTA employees have died from COVID-19 this year.

The testing will be done at field sites, including bus depots and subway and train yards, and at several medical assessment and operational health centers. Results will be available within 24 to 48 hours.


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