Category Archives: World News

COVID-19: Global death toll passes one million.

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More than one million people have died from coronavirus, according to an AFP toll, marking a grim milestone in the spread of the disease that has ravaged the world economy, inflamed diplomatic tensions and upended lives from Indian slums to New York City.

In the nine months since the virus was first detected in the Chinese city of Wuhan, schools, businesses, live entertainment, and international travel have been upended by strict stay-at-home measures designed to curb the contagion.

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Drastic controls that put half of humanity — more than four billion people — under some form of lockdown by April at first slowed the spread, but since restrictions were eased, infections have soared again.

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By 1100 GMT Monday, the disease had claimed 1,002,036 victims from 33,162,930 recorded infections, according to an AFP tally collected from official sources by journalists stationed around the world, and compiled by a dedicated team of data specialists.

The United States has the highest death toll with more than 200,000 fatalities, followed by Brazil, India, Mexico and Britain.

Behind the figures lie millions of lives shattered by an illness that still holds many mysteries and which cannot yet be effectively treated or prevented, despite a global race to develop drugs and a vaccine.

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For Italian truck driver Carlo Chiodi, the global mortality statistics include both his parents, whom he lost within days of each other.

“I saw my father walking out of the house, getting into the ambulance, and all I could say was ‘goodbye’,” Chiodi, 50, told AFP.

“I regret not saying ‘I love you’ and I regret not hugging him.”

‘A crisis like no other’
With new cases again surging worldwide, governments have been forced into an uneasy balancing act: virus controls slow the spread of the disease, but they hurt already reeling economies and businesses.

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The IMF has warned that the economic upheaval could cause a “crisis like no other”, though the Fund’s outlook appears brighter now than it did in June.

Europe, hit hard by the first wave, is now facing another surge, with Paris, London and Madrid all forced to introduce controls to slow infections threatening to overload hospitals.

A million Madrid residents are under partial lockdown, with the city and the surrounding region at the epicentre of Spain’s second wave.

In Germany, Chancellor Angela Merkel’s spokesman urged citizens to keep to strict hygiene measures.

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“The development of infection numbers is of great concern to us,” Steffen Seibert said. “We can see from some of our European friends where that could lead.”

Masks and social distancing in shops, cafes and public transport are now part of everyday life in many cities around the world.

Mid-September saw a record rise in cases in most regions and the World Health Organization has warned virus deaths could even double to two million without more global collective action.

(FILES) In this file photo taken on May 30, 2020 Relatives carry the coffin of a suspected COVID-19 victim at the Nueva Esperanza cemetery, one of the largest in Latin America, in the southern outskirts of Lima. – More than one million people have died from the coronavirus, according to an AFP toll, with no let-up in a pandemic that has ravaged the world economy, inflamed diplomatic tensions and upended lives from Indian slums and Brazilian jungles to America’s biggest city. (Photo by ERNESTO BENAVIDES / AFP)

Infections in India, home to 1.3 billion people, surged past six million on Monday, but authorities pressed ahead with a reopening of the battered South Asian economy.

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The virus initially hit major metropolises including financial hub Mumbai and capital New Delhi but has since spread to regional and rural areas where healthcare systems are even more fragile and patchy.

Santosh, a student in Delhi, said the virus was now “part of our lives”.

“You cannot shut down every business, because the economy cannot collapse… Covid-19 is not going to pay the rent.”

Currently, nine vaccine candidates are in last-stage clinical trials, with hopes some will be rolled out next year.

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Waking up to Covid-19
The SARS-CoV-2 virus that causes the illness known as Covid-19 made its first known appearance in the central Chinese city of Wuhan, ground zero of the outbreak.

How it got there is still unclear but scientists think it originated in bats and could have been transmitted to people via another mammal.

Wuhan was shut down in January as other countries looked on in disbelief at China’s draconian controls, even as they went about their business as usual.

By March 11, the virus had emerged in over 100 countries and the WHO declared a pandemic, expressing concern about the “alarming levels of inaction”.

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The least privileged around the globe have been the hardest hit by the breakneck spread of the virus, which has also infected some among the powerful, rich and famous.

British Prime Minister Boris Johnson spent a week in the hospital. Madonna and Tom Hanks also tested positive.

The Tokyo Olympics, Rio’s Carnival and the Muslim pilgrimage to Mecca are among the major events postponed or disrupted by the pandemic.

Some major sports tournaments have resumed but with empty stadiums — such as Premier League football in England — or highly restricted spectator counts. The French Open is limiting access to 1,000 tennis fans a day.

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As the restrictions tighten, protests and anger are rising as businesses worry about their survival and individuals grow frustrated about their jobs and families in the face of another round of curbs.

Authorities have clashed with anti-lockdown protesters around the world, while the blame for the disease and its consequences has led to increased tensions between the United States and China in particular.

Along with the turmoil, though, lies some hope, with Wuhan now appearing to have controlled the disease.

“Life has returned to the kind of flavour we had before,” resident An An said. “Everyone living in Wuhan feels at ease.”


#Newsworthy…

COVID-19: Vaccines could be ready in ‘a month’ – Trump

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United States President Donald Trump said Tuesday that a coronavirus vaccine may be available within a month — an acceleration of even his own optimistic predictions — but added that the pandemic could go away by itself.

“We’re very close to having a vaccine,” he told a town hall question-and-answer session with voters in Pennsylvania aired on ABC News.

“We’re within weeks of getting it you know — could be three weeks, four weeks,” he said.

Only hours earlier, speaking to Fox News, Trump had said a vaccine could come in “four weeks, it could be eight weeks.”

Democrats have expressed concern that Trump is putting political pressure on government health regulators and scientists to approve a rushed vaccine in time to help turn around his uphill bid for reelection against challenger Joe Biden on November 3.

Experts including top US government infectious diseases doctor Anthony Fauci say vaccine approval is more likely toward the end of the year.

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At the ABC town hall Trump was asked why he’d downplayed the gravity of the Covid-19 pandemic, which has now killed close to 200,000 people in the US.

Trump replied by saying: “I didn’t downplay it. I actually, in many ways, I up-played it in terms of action.”

US President Donald Trump poses with ABC New anchor George Stephanopoulos ahead of a town hall event at the National Constitution Center in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania on September 15, 2020. MANDEL NGAN / AFP

But Trump himself told journalist Bob Woodward during taped interviews for the new book “Rage” — published Tuesday — that he had deliberately decided to “play it down” to avoid alarming Americans.

‘Herd mentality’
Returning to one of his most controversial views on the virus, that has ravaged the economy and which government scientists say will remain a danger for some time, Trump insisted “it is going to disappear.”

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“It would go away without the vaccine but it’s going to go away a lot faster with it,” he said.

Challenged about how the virus would go away by itself, he said “you’ll develop like a herd mentality,” apparently meaning the concept of herd immunity, when enough people have developed resistance to the disease to effectively stop transmission.

“It’s going to be herd developed and that’s going to happen. That will all happen but with a vaccine, I think it will go away very quickly. But I really believe we’re rounding the corner,” he said.

The president, who is rarely seen wearing a mask in public and long refused to push Americans to adopt the habit, said “a lot of people don’t want to wear masks and people don’t think masks are good.”

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Asked what people he meant, Trump answered: “Waiters.”

“They come over and they serve you and they have a mask,” he said. “I saw it the other day when they were serving me and they’re playing with the mask. I’m not blaming them. I’m just saying what happens: They’re playing with the mask. So the mask is over, and they’re touching it, and then they’re touching the plate, and that can’t be good.”

Polls show that a majority of Americans disapprove of Trump’s handling of the health crisis.

The latest NBC News|SurveyMonkey Weekly Tracking poll Tuesday found that 52 percent of adults do not trust Trump’s statements about an upcoming coronavirus vaccine, compared to 26 percent who do.


#Newsworthy…

Oil slumps after China drops demand.

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Saudi Arabia cuts its oil prices to Asia amid falling energy demand as economies struggle to recover from coronavirus.

Oil prices were trading down more than 1 percent on Monday after hitting their lowest since July, as Saudi Arabia made the deepest monthly price cuts for supply to Asia in five months and optimism about demand recovery cooled amid the pandemic.

Brent crude was at $42.11 a barrel, down 55 cents or 1.3 percent by 06:42 GMT, after earlier sliding to $41.51, the lowest since July 30.

US West Texas Intermediate crude skidded 64 cents, or 1.6 percent, to $39.13 a barrel after earlier dropping to $38.55, the lowest since July 10.

The world remains awash with crude and fuel despite supply cuts by the Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC) and its allies, known as OPEC+, and government efforts to stimulate the global economy and oil demand. Refiners have reduced their fuel output as a result, causing oil producers such as Saudi Arabia to cut prices to offset the falling crude demand.

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“Sentiment has turned sour and there might be some selling pressure ahead,” Howie Lee, an economist at Singapore’s OCBC bank said.

The Labor Day holiday on Monday marks the traditional end of the peak summer demand season in the US, and that renewed investors’ focus on the current lacklustre fuel demand in the world’s biggest oil user.

China, the world’s biggest oil importer which has been supporting prices with record purchases, slowed its intake in August and increased its products exports, according to customs data on Monday.

Demand for oil in China fell in August, customs data released on Monday showed, adding to the downward pressure on crude oil prices and the economies of the world’s top oil exporters including Saudi Arabia [File: LM Otero/AP]

‘So many uncertainties’
“There are so many uncertainties with regard to the Chinese economy and their relationship with key industrialized countries, with the US and, these days, even Europe,” Keisuke Sadamori, director for energy markets and security at the International Energy Agency told the Reuters news agency.

“It’s not such an optimistic situation – that casts some shadow over the growth outlook.”

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Saudi Arabia, the world’s top oil exporter, cut the October official selling price for Arab Light crude it sells to Asia by the most since May, indicating demand remains weak. Asia is Saudi Arabia’s largest market by region.

In August, the OPEC+ group eased production cuts to 7.7 million barrels per day after global oil prices improved from historic lows caused by the coronavirus pandemic cutting fuel demand.

Oil is also under pressure as US companies increased their drilling for new supply after the recent recovery in oil prices.

US energy firms last week added oil and natural gas rigs for the second time in the past three weeks, according to a weekly report by Baker Hughes Co on Friday.


#Newsworthy…

As school resumes: Public schools suffer reduction as kids move to Private.

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By the time the school year ended this spring, Clara Obermeier knew remote learning was not a good option for her two children.

Her 13-year-old daughter had grown withdrawn after going months without seeing her friends. Her 11-year-old son had struggled academically, and due to a Zoom glitch, was frequently blocked from the virtual breakout rooms where the rest of his classmates were assigned to work in small groups. And neither Obermeier, an engineer, nor her husband, an active-duty officer in the U.S. Coast Guard, have jobs that will allow them to work from home full-time this fall.

“I waited and waited to figure out what the plan was from the school system,” Obermeier says. On July 21, Montgomery County Public Schools in Maryland announced that the district would offer virtual-only instruction at least through January. “At that point, we were like, OK, this is definitely not going to work out for us,” she says.

So Obermeier pulled her children from the public school district and enrolled them in St. Bartholomew School, a private Catholic school in Bethesda, Md., that charges $13,600 in tuition and is planning to bring all students back to campus by Sept. 21 after a phased reopening beginning Sept. 8.

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Such decisions are playing out across the country ahead of the first day of school, as districts announce reopening plans and individual families craft ad-hoc solutions in preparation for what will be, at best, an unusual school schedule. But the solutions available to wealthier families — from private schools to pricey learning pods — have highlighted the ways the pandemic is exacerbating educational inequities. While many students struggled through the spring to access the most basic remote learning opportunities, often without home Internet service and computers, others had the benefit of private tutors or all-day virtual instruction provided by their schools.

“Schools are highly unequal. But the ability of families to provide education is even more unequal,” says Richard Kahlenberg, director of K-12 equity at The Century Foundation, a progressive think tank.

That’s a fact acknowledged even by parents who can afford private tutoring or private school for their children, and who struggle with the question of how to help their own kids without exacerbating educational inequity. Mayssoun Bydon, the managing partner at the Institute for Higher Learning, which offers test prep and admissions consulting, expects the coming school year to reveal an educational divide “like we’ve never seen before.” And yet, Bydon hired a private tutor for her own son, who attends a private school. “I felt like I couldn’t afford to just fail him personally,” she says.

Fall reopening plans vary widely among schools. About half of the country’s public school districts are planning on full in-person instruction, but 41% of the highest-poverty districts are beginning the year with entirely remote learning, according to an analysis by the Center on Reinventing Public Education. That means many of the students who are most likely to need the academic, social and emotional support of in-person instruction won’t receive it.

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As of late July, 40% of private schools were planning on full in-person reopening, 19% were preparing for entirely virtual instruction, and 41% were offering a mix of both, according to a survey by the National Association of Independent Schools, which represents 1,600 private schools across the U.S.

Many of the private schools that are planning to bring students back for in-person learning have the advantage of small class sizes and large outdoor spaces that make social distancing easier, in addition to endowments and donations that have made it possible to upgrade air filtration systems, revamp nurses’ offices, set up tented classrooms outside, secure COVID-19 testing and hire more staff.

“Schools are highly unequal. But the ability of families to provide education is even more unequal.”

In Brooklyn, Poly Prep Country Day School— a 166-year-old private school where families pay as much as $53,000 in tuition and fees — will reopen for in-person learning on Sept. 8, setting up 70 “socially distanced tents” across its 25-acre campus. Younger students will be divided into pods that will be kept separate from one another, and the average lower-school class size has shrunk to 12 students. The school will require a negative COVID-19 test for everyone returning to school, and one family’s anonymous donation will cover testing costs for faculty.

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At Boston Trinity Academy, a pop-up on the school’s website asks visitors for patience “as we are experiencing an unusually high number of applications.” Compared to a typical summer, the small Christian school saw a 40% increase in applications this summer, mostly from public school families. But social distancing requirements led the school to cap some classes at nine or 12 students, limiting how many new students they can accept. Admissions Director Bisi Oloko said the school’s seventh grade was full, but two students transferring there from other schools were willing to repeat sixth grade to get a spot at Boston Trinity. Boston Public Schools, a district that serves more than 53,000 students across 125 schools, will begin the year remotely until Oct. 1, when the district plans to begin a hybrid model. Boston Trinity Academy, which enrolls about 230 students at a tuition rate of $20,700, will begin classes in person on Sept. 8, with about 10% of students choosing a virtual option instead.

“There are disgruntled parents out there,” says Headmaster Frank Guerra. “There are people who felt like their school systems let them down, and their kids were almost like on a three-month vacation, and that’s devastating.”

That’s why, for parents who can afford it, private schools with unique reopening plans have become an attractive solution.

Roxana Reid, founder of the New York City educational consulting firm Smart City Kids Inc, saw a “ridiculous uptick” in business beginning in June, as she heard from families looking to transfer from public to private schools. Bydon, of the Institute for Higher Learning, has seen a 38% increase in her business since March as parents seek private tutors or ask the company to develop personal curricula for their children.

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The experience has left Bydon worried about the growing divide between students at elite private schools and those at underfunded public schools.

“We’re going to end up with a real educational divide between the haves and the have-nots and without a way to reverse it,” Bydon says. “Who’s going to fail are the kids who don’t have the money.”

But Bydon, who lives in New York City, can also relate to her clients who have sought out expensive help for their kids. When schools shut down in March, her son was in kindergarten and had just been learning to read, so she hired a private tutor to make sure he didn’t fall behind. “Nobody imagined that there was going to be another full academic year of this,” she says.

In Vienna, Va., Colleen Ganjian withdrew her daughter from Fairfax County Public Schools after the district announced it would begin the school year remotely, enrolling her in a private Catholic school instead.

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“I just want her to have consistency,” says Ganjian, an educational consultant and founder of DC College Counseling. “The bottom line is I am so busy. I own a business, and I can’t be that person. I can’t provide her with the consistency that she needs. That’s kind of why I feel I needed to look for an alternative.”

On Aug. 26, she dropped her daughter off at her new school “bright and early” for the first day of third grade, in person and wearing a mask. “I think she was excited to just get out of the house,” Ganjian says.

Exacerbating inequity
The role of private schools has become a hot button issue within the contentious debate over whether it’s safe to send kids back to class. President Donald Trump has called on public schools to fully reopen in person, and if they don’t, he said school funding “should follow students so parents can send their child to the private, charter, religious or home school of their choice.” Education Secretary Betsy DeVos issued a rule for more coronavirus relief funding to be directed to private schools, prompting lawsuits from states and school districts in response.

On July 31, Montgomery County Health Officer Dr. Travis Gayles issued an order directing all non-public schools to remain closed for in-person instruction until at least Oct. 1, saying “at this point the data does not suggest that in-person instruction is safe for students or teachers.” That prompted backlash from private school parents. Many of them signed petitions, arguing that private and parochial schools should be allowed to develop plans in line with CDC and state guidance “without arbitrary and capricious interference from county officials.”

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Obermeier was one of several parents who sued the county to reverse Gayles’s decision. The lawsuit argued that private schools had spent time and “millions of dollars” to ensure safe environments for children and staff, and it accused Gayles of being driven more by concerns over equity than public health.

“It appears to be a political response, an answer to complaints by some public school parents about ‘why their schools are closed and private schools are not,’” the lawsuit stated.

Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan, a Republican, issued an executive order overruling the county’s directive, giving school districts and private schools across the state the authority to decide when and how to reopen. (An attorney representing the parents said their lawsuit has not been dismissed but that they’re focusing on “promoting collaboration between Montgomery County and nonpublic schools.”) While all public school districts in Maryland are beginning the year virtually, Hogan encouraged schools to reopen in person, announcing on Aug. 27 that all districts had met state benchmarks to offer some in-person instruction.

In California, Gov. Gavin Newsom, a Democrat, announced that any school—public or private— in a county on the state’s coronavirus watchlist cannot reopen in-person. But schools can apply for waivers to reopen early for kindergarten through sixth grade. Informal surveys by the California Association of Independent Schools (CAIS) found that “most CAIS schools that include grades K-6 are keen to re-open on campus” and many have applied for waivers. The association said it believes that “on-campus schooling is better for kids than distance learning, provided it can be done safely.”

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It’s not yet clear whether families are withdrawing from public schools in significant numbers. A survey by the National Association of Independent Schools conducted in August found that 51% of private schools either maintained or grew enrollment for the coming school year, and 58% reported a “larger than average” number of admission inquiries from families in other types of schools — a category that could include traditional public schools, charter schools and parochial schools. Some private schools have also faced financial challenges during the pandemic, reporting a drop in international student enrollment and fewer fundraising opportunities. More than 100 private schools — mostly private Catholic schools — have permanently closed this year because of pandemic-related challenges, according to the libertarian Cato Institute.

Education experts warn that moving children from public to private schools would have a negative effect on public schools in the long run.

“I can’t say that I fault individual parents for doing what they think is best for their own kids. But the secession of upper middle class families from public school to private school is very bad for the country and for educational equality,” Kahlenberg says.

And the very thing that is drawing some parents to private schools is also cause for concern among private school teachers. While teachers’ unions have opposed plans for in-person learning, threatening to strike if teachers and other school staff aren’t protected, most private school teachers are not unionized and have less leverage to object to their schools’ plans.

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As of Aug. 30, nearly 3,000 teachers and other employees at more than 350 private schools had signed two anonymous petitions, calling for their schools to pursue virtual-only instruction to protect students’ and educators’ health. In interviews with Media (known to Noble Reporters Media), several private school teachers said they are worried about the virus spreading when in-person classes begin but fear retaliation for raising concerns about school plans.

“There may be fears around enrollment numbers dropping that are driving people to be back on campus, fears around losing families who are paying pretty enormous tuitions,” said a teacher who organized one of the petitions and who requested anonymity for fear of being fired. “At schools that can offer a robust, successful remote program, it feels irresponsible not to take that route. Our hearts go out to underfunded public schools that do not have the luxury of making this choice that many private schools can make.”

That’s something that Erica Turner has been thinking about a lot, as both a parent and an associate professor at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, where she studies racism and inequity in educational policy. She recently published a guide for Equity in Pandemic Schooling, intended to be a resource for communities and families as they make plans for the coming school year.

When families abandon public schools and turn to private options, Turner wrote, “they undermine the schools upon which less privileged families depend,” making it harder for other students, especially low-income children of color, to get good educations. The guide encourages parents to advocate for more school funding from Congress, demand the resources to make remote learning accessible for all students—including those who are homeless or have disabilities—and keep their own children enrolled in public schools.

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Obermeier, the mother in Maryland, says the issue of equity weighed heavily on her when she decided to pull her kids from public school. “It was hard to think that, ‘OK I can solve it for myself,” while many others in the district would be left without a solution, she says.

As an immigrant from Ecuador, she also worries that the challenges of this school year will disproportionately affect low-income families or immigrants who don’t speak English and who can’t easily help their children learn at home. “To me, the most equitable thing to have done was to open the schools and give priority to precisely the kids who need it,” she says.

But as more school districts fail to reopen, families will continue to find individual, if inequitable, solutions.

“In the end, we just have to make sure we have our priorities straight,” Obermeier says, “and for us right now, it’s stability and the least amount of disruption for our kids.”


#Newsworthy…

COVID-19: World cases crosses 25 million milestone.

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Global coronavirus infections soared past 25 million on Sunday, as countries around the world further tightened restrictions to try to stop the rampaging pandemic.

A million additional cases have been detected globally roughly every four days since mid-July, according to an AFP tally, with India on Sunday setting the record for the highest single-day rise in cases with 78,761.

The surge in India, home to 1.3 billion people, came as the government further eased lockdown restrictions on the weekend to help ease pressure on the reeling economy.

Even nations such as New Zealand and South Korea, which had previously brought their outbreaks largely under control, are now battling new clusters of infections.

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On the other side of the world, Latin America — the worst-hit region — was still struggling with its first wave, with Covid-19 deaths in Brazil crossing 120,000, second only to the United States.

Brazil’s curve “has stabilised now, but at a very dangerous level: nearly 1,000 deaths and 40,000 cases per day,” said Christovam Barcellos, a researcher at public health institute Fiocruz.

“And Brazil still isn’t past the peak.”

Nearly 843,000 people have died of Covid-19 globally, and with no vaccine or effective treatment available yet, governments have been forced to resort to some form of social distancing and lockdowns to stop the spread of the virus.

Masks will become mandatory from Monday on public transport and flights in New Zealand, which went more than 100 days without local transmission before the current cluster emerged.

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And tightened virus curbs kicked in on Sunday in South Korea, which is also battling fresh clusters — including in the greater Seoul region, home to half the country’s population.

‘Anti-corona’ rallies in Europe
Despite the grim numbers, there has been steady opposition to lockdowns and social distancing measures in many parts of the world, often because of their crushing economic cost.

But resistance has also come from the extreme right and left of the political spectrum, as well as conspiracy theorists and anti-vaccine campaigners.

In Berlin on Saturday, around 18,000 people gathered to march against coronavirus restrictions — but police later stopped the rally because many were not respecting social distancing measures.

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Protesters waved German flags and shouted slogans against Chancellor Angela Merkel often used by the far-right Alternative for Germany (AfD) party.

Many carried placards promoting widely debunked conspiracy theories about vaccines, face masks and 5G communications.

Similar protests were held in London and Zurich, where some carried signs supporting the far-right QAnon movement, which promotes bizarre theories about Satan-worshipping cabals and “deep state” plots — without any credible evidence.

‘A big first step’
The pandemic has upended economies and societies around the world, and halted most large gatherings — from sport and music to religion and politics.

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The Tour de France set off from the French Riviera on Saturday, two months later than planned and with the French sport minister not ruling out the cancellation of the event because of the coronavirus.

Under the Tour rules, a team with two positive tests in its entourage would be expelled. A virus testing cell will travel with the teams throughout the race.

The world’s top sport, culture and music events are struggling with the challenge of hosting spectators while reducing the risk of virus transmission.

But there was some cheer on Saturday in New York, once among the world’s biggest coronavirus hotspots.

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Visitors raised their arms, clapped and lined up to get tickets as New York’s Metropolitan Museum of Art reopened its doors to the public in a festive atmosphere after a six-month closure.

Tracy-Ann Samuel, who came with her daughters aged four and nine, said she couldn’t wait to again be “surrounded by beautiful art”.

“It means that there is some semblance of normalcy,” Samuel said.

“The Met has been a part of New York history for over 150 years… So this is a big first step.”


#Newsworthy…