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The Latest: South Africa surpasses 500,000 COVID-19 cases

August 1, 2020
Associated Press

JOHANNESBURG — South Africa on Saturday surpassed 500,000 confirmed COVID-19 cases, representing more than 50% of all reported coronavirus infections in Africa’s 54 countries.

Health Minister Zwelini Mkhize announced 10,107 new cases Saturday night, bringing the country’s cumulative total to 503,290, including 8,153 deaths.

South Africa, with a population of about 58 million, has the fifth-highest number of cases in the world, behind the U.S., Brazil, Russia and India, all countries with significantly higher populations, according to a tally by Johns Hopkins University. Experts say the true toll of the pandemic worldwide is much higher than confirmed cases, due to limited testing and other reasons.

South Africa’s Gauteng province — which includes Johannesburg, the country’s largest city and Pretoria, the capital — is the country’s epicenter with more than 35% of its confirmed cases. Local hospitals have been struggling to cope, and health experts say the country could reach the peak of its outbreak in late August or early September.

Cape Town, a city beloved by international tourists at the country’s southern tip, was the first epicenter and reached its peak last month, according to health experts.

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

— Florida reaches 7,000 deaths, preps for hurricane, virus safety

— South Africa surpasses 500,000 cases of COVID-19

— Arizona congressman tests positive for virus; 2nd this week

— Mexico 3rd in global pandemic deaths, Vietnam struggles anew

— Tens of thousands of coronavirus test kits went unused during a 12-day testing blitz in Phoenix’s hardest-hit Latino neighborhoods. It indicates a failure to spread the word to a community that’s often distrustful of government or the National Guard posted at sites.

— Small groups of pilgrims have performed one of the final rites of the Islamic hajj as Muslims worldwide mark the start of the holiday of Eid al-Adha amid a global pandemic.

— Zoos and aquariums from Florida to Alaska are struggling financially because of closures due to the coronavirus pandemic. Yet animals still need expensive care and food.

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

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WASHINGTON — Rep. Raul Grijalva of Arizona says he has the coronavirus.

The Democrat says he tested positive for the coronavirus days after he sat close to another member, Texas Rep. Louie Gohmert, who announced a positive test this week.

The 72-year-old Grivalva is at least the 11th member of Congress known to have tested positive for the virus.

Gohmert, a Republican, has questioned the use of masks and often walked around the Capitol without one.

Grijalva released a statement, saying in part: “This week has shown that there are some members of Congress who fail to take this crisis seriously. Numerous Republican members routinely strut around the Capitol without a mask to selfishly make a political statement at the expense of their colleagues, staff, and their families.”

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ATHENS, Greece — Greek authorities say there were 110 new confirmed coronavirus cases in the past 24 hours, the fourth-highest daily figure and highest since April.

Authorities say 23 of the cases concerned employees at a meat processing factory in the northern city of Kavala. Tests on all 140 employees are still ongoing. Another 10 cases involved people who attended a wedding in the northern city of Thessaloniki, Greece’s second largest.

Only nine of the cases involved incoming travelers.

Greece has 4,587 total confirmed cases and 206 deaths, with no deaths reported Saturday.

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HEREBATON ROUGE, La. — Two Louisiana federal judges have refused to immediately stop enforcement of Gov. John Bel Edwards’ coronavirus order prohibiting bars from letting customers drink onsite.

U.S. District Judge Robert Summerhays in Lafayette on Friday denied the temporary restraining order requested by 11 Acadiana area bar owners who filed a lawsuit challenging Edwards’ decision limiting bars to takeout and delivery.

U.S. District Judge Martin Feldman in New Orleans rejected a similar restraining order sought by 22 southeast Louisiana bar owners who filed the same lawsuit in their regional federal court.

Feldman set an Aug. 14 hearing to consider further arguments in the New Orleans case. Summerhays set an Aug. 17 Lafayette hearing.

The bar owners argue the Democratic governor’s restrictions are unconstitutional, unlawfully targeting one business sector without enough evidence to back up Edwards’ assertion that bars are driving the spread of the COVID-19 disease more than any other businesses.

The governor and his health advisers say bars have shown to be specifically problematic because people tend to huddle closely together inside without masks while drinking and lapse in their virus precautions the more alcohol they consume.

The White House coronavirus task force recommended Louisiana close bars to reduce public health risks and lessen the spread of the virus.’S WHAT ELSE IS HAPPENING:

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ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. — Florida health officials have reported 179 new deaths from the coronavirus, bringing the state’s total to more than 7,000.

The latest numbers came Saturday as Hurricane Isaias threatened Florida’s eastern coast, but no evacuations were immediately announced. The National Hurricane Center’s latest prediction had the storm scraping past Florida but not making landfall.

Hospitalizations for the coronavirus have been declining for the past week and a half, with fewer than 8,000 treated for the coronavirus on Saturday. That’s down from highs of more than 9,500 last week.

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WASHINGTON — Talks on a huge coronavirus relief measure resumed on Saturday, focused on restoring a newly expired $600-per-week supplemental unemployment benefit and hundreds of billions of dollars in other aid to states, businesses and the poor.

The Trump administration is willing to extend the $600 jobless benefit, at least in the short term. But it’s balking at other demands of Democratic negotiators like aid for state and local governments, food stamp increases, and assistance to renters and homeowners.

Unemployment insurance is a principal element of the COVID-19 relief bill, which is expected to grow considerably from a $1 trillion-plus GOP draft released this week.

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ROME — Italy’s daily coronavirus infections has dipped under 300 cases for the first time in three days, after a recent flurry of clusters throughout the nation raised concern among health experts.

The Health Ministry says Italy registered 295 cases in the last 24 hours, raising the total to 247,832.

The ministry’s weekly report says there were 123 clusters of infection throughout Italy in the previous seven days.

Meanwhile, Health Minister Roberto Speranza ordered the railways to resume leaving empty seats so passengers can be at least one meter (3 ½ feet) apart during summer travel.

With five more deaths, the total confirmed deaths in Italy reached more than 35,000 on Saturday.

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MIAMI — Hurricane Isaias is heading toward the Florida coast, where officials say they were closing coronavirus testing centers and navigating safety measures for evacuation facilities.

Officials in Miami have 20 evacuation centers on standby with social distancing in mind.

Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis says the state was “fully prepared for this and any future storm during this hurricane season,” with stockpiles of personal protective equipment, generators, bottled water and meals ready to be distributed.

The U.S. National Hurricane Center in Miami says Isaias had maximum sustained winds of 85 mph Saturday morning and some strengthening was possible later in the day.

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LONDON — A scientist advising the British government on the coronavirus pandemic says pubs in England may have to close to allow schools to reopen in September.

Graham Medley, a member of the government’s Scientific Advisory Group for Emergencies, told the BBC that there may have to be a “trade off” between the opening of schools — which he says is considered a priority by most people — and activities like going to pubs.

His comments on Saturday came after chief medical officer Chris Whitty warned the country was “near the limits” of loosening restrictions introduced to curb the spread of the coronavirus.

On Friday, Prime Minister Boris Johnson announced that some measures to ease the lockdown, such as the reopening of casinos and bowling alleys and fans at sporting events, will be delayed because of an increase in virus cases. ___

ROME — Several small boats filled with Tunisian migrants have reached a tiny Italian island that has run out of room to quarantine them as required by Italy’s anti-coronavirus measures.

Lampedusa Mayor Toto’ Martello says the island is waiting for the government to send a chartered ferry where the migrants can be held for 14 days to fulfill the country’s quarantine requirement.

The island’s migrant holding center was built for a maximum capacity of 95 people and was already holding 950 when the latest passengers arrived, Martello says in the Sicilian daily newspaper Giornale di Sicilia.

The 250 who arrived between Friday night and Saturday must stay on the dock for now, until the promised ferry arrives or some other solution is found.

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BERLIN — Authorities say an employee at the Austrian chancellery has tested positive for the coronavirus, but didn’t work directly with Chancellor Sebastian Kurz.

The Austria Press Agency reported the chancellery says people who were in contact with the employee have tested negative and the office’s work wasn’t affected by the support worker’s infection. Kurz is tested regularly for the virus.

Austria’s handling of the pandemic has generally been viewed as relatively successful. The country recently toughened rules on wearing masks after an increase in new infections.

Austria has 718 confirmed deaths, according to a tally by Johns Hopkins University.

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PARIS — Travelers entering France from 16 countries where the coronavirus is circulating widely must have virus tests upon arrival at French airports and ports.

French Prime Minister Jean Castex announced last month the tests would be required starting Aug. 1 for the arriving passengers, unless they present proof of a negative test within 72 hours of their departure.

Those who test positive in France must quarantine for 14 days.

France is not permitting general travel to and from the 16 countries, which include the hotspots of the United States and Brazil. The testing requirement only applies to people entering under limited circumstances: “French citizens who live in these countries or citizens of these countries with an established residence in France,” Castex has said.

Health authorities say the number of confirmed coronavirus cases has increased on the French mainland in recent weeks. So far, the French government has ruled out imposing another nationwide lockdown.

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BERLIN — Protesters against coronavirus restrictions gathered in Berlin for a demonstration titled “The end of the pandemic — freedom day.” It comes amid increasing concern about an upturn in infections in Germany.

A crowd of people whistling and cheering — and with few masks in sight — held up homemade placards featuring slogans that included “Corona, false alarm,” “We are being forced to wear a muzzle” and “Natural defense instead of vaccination.”

Demonstrations against restrictions this year have drawn a variety of people, including some conspiracy theorists and right-wing populists. People came from various parts of Germany for Saturday’s protest.

Saskia Esken, a co-leader of the Social Democrats and the junior party in Germany’s governing coalition, wrote a Tweet against the protest. “They are not just endangering our health, they are endangering our success against the pandemic and for the revival of the economy, education and society. Irresponsible!”

Unlike the U.S., Brazil and Britain, Germany’s government has been praised worldwide for its management of the pandemic. It's been easing lockdown measures since late April. Social-distancing rules remain in place, along with wearing masks on public transportation and shops.

Germany has 210,670 confirmed virus cases and 9,150 deaths.

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TOKYO — Japan’s capital recorded 472 new coronavirus cases on Saturday, the third straight day of record numbers.

Tokyo Gov. Yuriko Koike issued a warning Saturday in an online video, urging people to wash their hands, wear masks and visit those businesses that display the special city-backed stickers with the image of a rainbow, which indicates good social distancing.

Most people getting sick are in their 20s and 30s, highlighting how they may be putting their guard down and going out partying, according to officials.

Nationwide, the daily count of coronavirus cases in Japan totaled a record 1,579 on Friday.

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NEW DELHI — India recorded the steepest spike of 57,118 new cases in the past 24 hours, taking its coronavirus caseload close to 1.7 million. In July alone, there were nearly 1.1 million infections.

The Health Ministry on Saturday also reported 764 additional deaths for a total of 36,511.

India’s Civil Aviation Ministry delayed resumption of international flights by another month until Aug. 31. But it will continue to allow several international carriers from the United States, Europe and the Middle East to operate special flights to evacuate stranded nationals.

Health Minister Harsh Vardhan says India achieved more than 1 million recoveries, with active cases only one-third of the total. He says India is conducting more than 640,000 tests in 24 hours, taking cumulative tests across the country to nearly 1.9 million.

Lockdown remains in places across all containment zones, while subways, cinema halls, swimming pools, entertainment parks, bars, theaters, auditoriums and other social gathering places will remain closed until Aug. 31.

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SEOUL, South Korea — South Korean prosecutors have arrested the elderly leader of a secretive religious sect as part of an investigation into allegations the church hampered the government’s anti-corfonavirus response after thousands of worshipers were infected in February and March.

Prosecutors are questioning 88-year-old Lee Man-hee over charges that the Shincheonji Church of Jesus hid some members and under-reported gatherings to avoid broader quarantines.

More than 5,200 of the South Korea’s 14,336 confirmed virus cases have been linked to the church.

South Korea’s Centers for Disease Control and Prevention on Saturday reported 31 more confirmed cases of COVID-19. At least 23 of the cases were tied to international arrivals.

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MEXICO CITY — Mexico has become the country with the third most COVID-19 deaths in the world, behind the United States and Brazil.

Mexican health officials said Friday there were 688 deaths for the latest 24-hour reporting period, pushing the country’s confirmed total to 46,688. That put Mexico just ahead of the United Kingdom, which has 46,119, according to the tally by Johns Hopkins University. Mexico’s population is double that of Britain.

The health officials also said Mexico now has had more than 424,000 confirmed coronavirus cases during the pandemic.

Nine state governors from opposition parties criticized what they called the federal government’s “confusing messages” on measures to curb the spread of the coronavirus.

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BEIJING — China is reporting a more than 50% drop in newly confirmed coronavirus cases in a possible sign that its latest major outbreak in the northwestern region of Xinjiang may have run its course.

Officials on Saturday say there were 45 new cases over the previous 24 hours, with 31 in Xinjiang, where the outbreak has been focused on the regional capital and largest city of Urumqi. That is down from 127 cases nationally and 112 in Xinjiang reported Friday.

No new deaths reported, leaving China’s confirmed total at 4,634 dead and 84,337 cases.

In China's semi-autonomous city of Hong Kong, infections continue to surge, with more than 100 new cases reported Saturday. That put its total at 2,273 for the pandemic. Two deaths also were reported, giving the city a total of 27.

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CARACAS, Venezuela — Venezuela’s president has unveiled hundreds of hospital beds set up inside a sports dome in the capital of Caracas as his government prepares for a possible wave of coronavirus infections.

President Nicolás Maduro went on state TV to show off the converted complex Friday as he urged Venezuelans to stop throwing parties and wash their hands to prevent the virus’ spread.

Inside, the dome’s floor is walled off with beds. Outside, dozens of tents in the parking lot hold even more. A Cuban medical team presented their nation’s flag, saying they are ready.

Venezuelan officials have reported 164 deaths from COVID-19 so far, among more than 18,000 confirmed infections. The official daily count Friday hit an all-time high with 715 new reported illnesses.

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