The latest on the coronavirus pandemic from around the U.S. and the world.

LONDON — Scientists at Imperial College London say they are immunizing hundreds of people with an experimental coronavirus vaccine in an early trial after seeing no worrying safety problems in a small number vaccinated so far.

Dr. Robin Shattock, a professor at the college, told The Associated Press that he and colleagues had just finished a very slow and arduous process of testing the vaccine at a low dose in the initial participants and would now expand the trial to about 300 people, including some over age 75.

“It’s well tolerated. There aren’t any side effects,” he said, adding it was still very early in the study. Shattock, who is leading the vaccine research at Imperial, said he hopes to have enough safety data to start inoculating several thousand people in October.

Since COVID-19 infections have dropped dramatically in Britain, making it difficult to determine whether or not the vaccine works, Shattock said he and his colleagues are also looking to test their vaccine elsewhere.

“We’re looking very carefully at the pandemic, at the numbers where the hot spots are and talking to collaborators that have the facilities to do these kinds of studies,” he said.

The Imperial vaccine uses synthetic strands of genetic code based on the virus. Once injected into a muscle, the body’s own cells are instructed to make copies of a spiky protein on the coronavirus. That should in turn trigger an immune response so the body can fight off any future COVID-19 infection.

Earlier this week, the world’s biggest coronavirus vaccine study started in the United States, with the first of 30,000 planned volunteers getting immunized with shots created by the U.S. National Institutes of Health and Moderna Inc.

Several other vaccines made by China and by Britain’s Oxford University, based on different vaccine technologies, began smaller final-stage tests in Brazil and other hard-hit countries earlier this month.

The World Health Organization has said multiple vaccine approaches are necessary for COVID-19, noting that the usual success rate for vaccine development is about 10%.

Shattock said there were numerous coronavirus vaccines now in clinical trials, and he predicted that at least some of them would prove to be effective.

“We have 20 vaccines in clinical trials, (so) we can be pretty confident that at least two of those will work,” he said. “It really depends on how strong the immune response needs to be to provide protection.”

Shattock said he was optimistic the Imperial vaccine would work, but must await the scientific data from the trial.

“I’m just going to hold my breath and wait to see,” he said.

Senate leaders trade withering jabs as unemployment benefits set to expire

WASHINGTON — The two top Senate leaders on Thursday exchanged the most biting criticism yet of each other’s coronavirus relief proposals as negotiations continued to flounder – clouding the prospects of even a short-term deal as millions of Americans confront a sudden loss of expanded unemployment benefits.

In a floor speech, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., who released his party’s plan earlier this week, blasted the $3 trillion Democratic plan as a “totally unserious proposal” and accused Democratic leaders of refusing to allow their rank-and-file members to engage in discussions with Republicans. But McConnell has largely extricated himself from the primary negotiations on the next phase of coronavirus legislation, as internal divisions among Republicans weaken his leverage.

McConnell was quickly followed by Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., who noted that the majority leader said that about 20 GOP senators are expected to oppose any plan and that Republicans had wasted precious time in responding to the economic and public health crises caused by the novel coronavirus, which has killed more than 150,000 people in the United States.

The dueling speeches on the Senate floor appeared to be aimed at setting up political blame as Congress remained on the cusp of failure to reach a deal as expanded jobless benefits for about 20 millions Americans were set to expire Friday. The approaching deadline amounts to a financial cliff for consumers that could send the economy reeling. Republicans have increasingly talked up a potential short-term extension of the jobless benefits as negotiations continue on a larger deal, but Democrats have refused that option.

“The House speaker moves the goal posts while the Democratic leader hides the football,” McConnell said Thursday morning. “They won’t engage when the administration tries to discuss our comprehensive plan. They won’t engage when the administration floats a narrower proposal. They basically won’t engage, period.”

Schumer said Republicans “dithered for months” and then released a “half-baked, halfhearted proposal of half-measures.” He also noted that the main negotiations were among him; House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif.; White House Chief of Staff Mark Meadows and Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin – and not McConnell.

“I would remind him, he refuses to go into the room when Speaker Pelosi, Secretary Mnuchin, Chief of Staff Meadows and I sit in there,” Schumer said. “Once again, Senator McConnell engages in ‘Alice in Wonderland’ tactics and speeches and words. What he says is exactly the opposite of what is true.”

The political acrimony also came as statistics released Thursday showed the U.S. economy shrank 9.5% from April to June – the largest quarterly decline since the government began publishing the data seven decades ago.

Read the full story here.

Former Republican presidential candidate Herman Cain dies of COVID-19

ATLANTA — Former GOP presidential candidate Herman Cain has died after battling the coronavirus. He was 74.

Virus_Outbreak_Cain_96811

Herman Cain

A post on Cain’s Twitter account on Thursday announced the death. Cain had been ill with the virus for several weeks. It’s not clear when or where he was infected, but he was hospitalized less than two weeks after attending President Donald Trump’s campaign rally in Tulsa, Oklahoma, in June.

The former pizza company executive has been an outspoken backer of the president and was named by the campaign as a co-chair of Black Voices for Trump.

“We knew when he was first hospitalized with COVID-19 that this was going to be a rough fight,” read an article posted on the Twitter account. “He had trouble breathing and was taken to the hospital by ambulance. We all prayed that the initial meds they gave him would get his breathing back to normal, but it became clear pretty quickly that he was in for a battle.”

Read the full story about Herman Cain here.

Democrats trim convention hours amid coronavirus pandemic

MILWAUKEE — Democrats will meet for just two hours each night of their national convention next month in Milwaukee, according to preliminary schedule for the event that has been scaled down due to the coronavirus pandemic.

Joe Biden is expected to accept the party’s presidential nomination on the final night of the convention, which runs Aug. 17-20, the schedule released late Wednesday said. Biden’s vice presidential pick will be nominated Aug. 19 and is scheduled to address the mainly virtual gathering.

The pandemic has delegates casting ballots remotely, beginning next week. A safety plan announced Monday says everyone attending will have to wear a face mask, consent to daily testing for COVID-19, fill out questionnaires and maintain a physical distance from others.

“We are looking forward to a historic convention anchored in Milwaukee, and through the leadership of the permanent officers who will help oversee this convention Democrats will come together to continue the work to elect Joe Biden as the next President of the United States,” DNC Chair Tom Perez said in a statement.

Typically, the party holds meetings during the day with delegates gathering for several hours each night to listen to speeches. This time, plans call for Democrats to meet from 8 to 10 p.m. Central Time each night.

The convention will be led by honorary chairwoman House Speaker Nancy Pelosi of California and honorary chairman U.S. Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer of New York.

Spain wants UK to list some areas as virus safe

MADRID — Spain is trying to persuade the British government to put some Spanish regions on its safe travel list.

Spanish Foreign Minister Arancha González Laya says the U.K. decision last weekend to require people arriving from Spain to self-isolate for 14 days was based on Spain’s recent national surge in coronavirus cases.

González Laya told Radio Euskadi in an interview Thursday that some Spanish regions are not badly affected, and suggested Britain could allow “travel corridors” between those regions and the U.K.

Spain on Wednesday reported the highest daily number of new coronavirus infections in almost three months, with 1,153.

But the Balearic Islands, including vacation hotspots such as Ibiza and Mallorca, had just one new case while the Canary Islands, another popular destination for British tourists, had only seven.

Spain is the top holiday destination for British tourists, with around 18 million people heading there last year, and their absence is a heavy blow to Spain’s key tourism industry.

Trump scorns giving help to cities, as virus aid talks hit stalemate

WASHINGTON — President Trump on Wednesday dismissed Democratic demands for aid to cash-strapped cities in a new coronavirus relief package and lashed out at Republican allies as talks stalemated over assistance for millions of Americans. Another lawmaker tested positive for the virus.

Donald Trump, Steven Mnuchin, Mark Meadows

President Trump, Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin and White House Chief of Staff Mark Meadows talk before Trump speaks with reporters on the South Lawn of the White House on Wednesday in Washington. Alex Brandon/Associated Press

Republicans, beset by delays and infighting, signaled a willingness to swiftly approve a modest package to revamp a $600 weekly unemployment benefit that’s running out. But House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., roundly rejected that approach as meager, all but forcing Republicans back to the negotiating table. Without action, the aid expires Friday.

“We’re nowhere close to the deal,” said White House chief of staff Mark Meadows. He said they’re “miles apart.”

Stark differences remain between the $3 trillion proposal from Democrats and $1 trillion counter from Republicans, a standoff that is testing Trump and Congress ahead of the November election and putting aid for communities nationwide at risk.

Pelosi said the best way to reopen schools and the economy is to defeat the virus, and that can’t be done with the “skinny” bill Republicans are rushing to cobble together. “They still don’t get it,” Pelosi said.

The virus toll continued to mount in the U.S., with 4.4 million confirmed cases and deaths passing 150,000. Outspoken Rep. Louie Gohmert, R-Texas, who often objects to mask-wearing, became the latest lawmaker at the Capitol to test positive for the virus.

Money for states and cites is a crucial dividing line as local governments plead for help to shore up budgets and prevent deeper layoffs as they incur COVID-19 costs and lost tax revenue in shutdown economies.

Trump complained about sending “big bailout money” to the nation’s cities, whose mayors he often criticizes.

“It’s a shame to reward badly run radical left Democrats with all of this money they’re looking for,” he said at the White House.

Democrats proposed nearly $1 trillion for the local governments, but Trump and Republicans are resisting sending the states and cities more cash.

Instead, the GOP offers states flexibility to use $150 billion previously allotted for the virus on other needs. At one point this year, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., said states could just declare bankruptcy.

Read more on the impasse here.

Virus misinformation is highly contagious, as U.S. hits 150,000 deaths 

PROVIDENCE, R.I. — As the world races to find a vaccine and a treatment for COVID-19, there is seemingly no antidote in sight for the burgeoning outbreak of coronavirus conspiracy theories, hoaxes, anti-mask myths and sham cures.

The phenomenon, unfolding largely on social media, escalated this week when President Donald Trump retweeted a false video about an anti-malaria drug being a cure for the virus and it was revealed that Russian intelligence is spreading disinformation about the crisis through English-language websites.

Experts worry the torrent of bad information is dangerously undermining efforts to slow the virus, whose death toll in the U.S. hit 150,000 Wednesday, by far the highest in the world, according to the tally kept by Johns Hopkins University. Over a half-million people have died in the rest of the world.

Hard-hit Florida reported 216 deaths, breaking the single-day record it set a day earlier. And South Carolina’s death toll passed 1,500 this week, more than doubling over the past month.

“It is a real challenge in terms of trying to get the message to the public about what they can really do to protect themselves and what the facts are behind the problem., said Michael Osterholm, head of the University of Minnesota’s Center for Infectious Disease Research and Policy.

He said the fear is that “people are putting themselves in harm’s way because they don’t believe the virus is something they have to deal with.”

Rather than fade away in the face of new evidence, the claims have flourished, fed by mixed messages from officials, transmitted by social media, amplified by leaders like Trump and mutating when confronted with contradictory facts.

“You don’t need masks. There is a cure,” Dr. Stella Immanuel promised in a video that promoted hydroxychloroquine. “You don’t need people to be locked down.”

The truth: Federal regulators last month revoked their authorization of the drug as an emergency treatment amid growing evidence it doesn’t work and can have deadly side effects. Even if it were effective, it wouldn’t negate the need for masks and other measures to contain the outbreak.

None of that stopped Trump, who has repeatedly praised the drug, from retweeting the video. Twitter and Facebook began removing the video on Monday for violating policies on COVID-19 misinformation, but it had already been seen more than 20 million times.

Many of the claims in Immanuel’s video are widely disputed by medical experts. She has made even more bizarre pronouncements in the past, saying that cysts, fibroids and some other conditions can be caused by having sex with demons, that McDonald’s and Pokemon promote witchcraft, that alien DNA is used in medical treatments, and that half-human “reptilians” work in the government.

Read the full story here.

House virus oversight panel demands documents from 4 states

NASHVILLE, Tenn. — The head of a congressional coronavirus oversight panel on Wednesday demanded Tennessee’s Gov. Bill Lee and three other Republican governors provide documents showing how their states are combating the pandemic.

“I am writing to request information about the private guidance the Administration has provided to Tennessee and whether you plan to implement those recommendations and take other critical actions to slow the spread of the coronavirus across the state,” wrote South Carolina Rep. James Clyburn, a Democrat and chairman of the House Oversight and Reform subcommittee.

Similar letters were sent to governors Brian Kemp of Georgia, Ron DeSantis of Florida and Kevin Stitt of Oklahoma, according to the subcommittee’s spokeswoman.

Bill Lee

Tennessee Gov. Bill Lee answers questions during a news conference Wednesday, July 1 in Nashville, Tenn. AP Photo/Mark Humphrey

Clyburn’s request comes days after White House coronavirus task force leader Dr. Deborah Birx traveled to Nashville to implore leaders to close bars and residents to wear masks. However, Lee has rebuffed calls to roll back the state’s reopening efforts and refused to issue a statewide mask mandate even as virus case numbers and hospitalizations continue to rise statewide.

According to the letter, Tennessee is failing to follow at least five different recommendations provided by the White House Coronavirus Task Force — ranging from failing to adopt a statewide mask mandate, allowing indoor dining without strict restrictions and permitting gyms to remain open without limitations in counties with high virus numbers.

“The Task Force report privately recommended that Tennessee implement these health measures to help reverse the dangerous spike in cases across the state and to prevent unnecessary deaths,” Clyburn wrote. “Failure to comply is allowing the virus to spread, prolonging and exacerbating the public health crisis facing the state.”

Lee’s office did not immediately return a request for comment. The office of the Florida governor confirmed the receipt of the letter but did not have an immediate reaction. There was no immediate response from the other governors.

In Georgia, Clyburn noted six recommendations which he said the state was not following. The letter said the state was not only failing to implement a statewide mask mandate but also noted Kemp had filed a lawsuit against Atlanta officials to prevent a mask requirement. Kemp and Atlanta officials are now in mediation.

According to the letter sent to Stitt, Oklahoma is not following five recommendations from the White House task force. The 12-member House Oversight panel, with a 7-5 Democratic majority, has the power to subpoena Trump administration officials and conduct depositions.

“You made clear on July 15 that you have no plans to roll back the state’s reopening or impose a statewide mask requirement,” Clyburn wrote.

Each state was asked to provide guidance documents and public health recommendations on how to stop the spread of the virus provided by the White House task force; detailed description on any public health measures rescinded or implemented after receiving the task force guidance; and any plans on how to control the spread of the coronavirus.

The four states have until Aug. 12 to respond.

South Africa virus cases top 471,000

JOHANNESBURG — South Africa’s confirmed coronavirus cases are now above 471,000 as the country with the world’s fifth-largest confirmed caseload makes up well over half the recorded infections on the African continent.

Africa’s 54 countries have a total of more than 891,000 cases as local transmission of the virus is underway in many countries. Severe testing shortages mean the real number of cases is likely much higher. South Africa is also seeing far more “excess deaths” than in recent years.

A new report by the South African Medical Research Council shows more than 22,000 excess deaths from natural causes between May 6 and July 21. Those could be unrecorded COVID-19 deaths or deaths from other diseases as some South Africans, scared by the pandemic, hesitate to seek care. Strained health resources are also being redirected to fighting COVID-19.

China steps up testing as outbreaks occur

BEIJING — China is stepping-up testing for the coronavirus in an attempt to get a handle on new outbreaks that have defied the country’s considerable success in containing the virus that was first detected in Wuhan late last year.

In the northeastern city of Dalian, local authorities have issued a letter to citizens urging all 5.6 million of them to be tested following consecutive days of new cases being reported, largely in the single digits.

As of midnight Wednesday, samples had been collected from more than 4 million people in the scenic port city in Liaoning province and a second round of tests was being launched targeting people living in what have been categorized as high-risk areas.

Victoria, Australia makes masks mandatory

MELBOURNE, Australia — Australia’s coronavirus hot spot of Victoria state is making mask wearing compulsory statewide after reporting a new daily high of 723 confirmed COVID-19 cases.

Masks have been compulsory in the state capital of Melbourne and a neighboring semi-rural district for the past week. Victoria Premier Daniel Andrews said Thursday that masks or other face coverings will be compulsory for the whole state beginning late Sunday.

In addition, residents around the city of Geelong will not be allowed to have visitors in their homes beginning late Thursday.

The 723 new cases exceeded the previous high of 532 cases posted Monday. The state also reported a new daily high of 13 deaths.

Melbourne and neighboring Mitchell Shire are halfway through a six-week lockdown, which Andrews says could be extended.

China battles new confirmed cases

BEIJING — China is reporting 105 more confirmed cases of COVID-19, almost all of them in the northwestern region of Xinjiang.

Xinjiang accounted for 96 of the cases, with five others in the northeastern province of Liaoning and one in the capital of Beijing.The remaining three were brought by Chinese travelers arriving rom outside the country.

No new deaths were reported, leaving China’s official toll for the pandemic at 4,634, among 84,165 cases.

While China has largely contained the virus in other parts of the country, the Xinjiang outbreak centered on the regional capital and largest city of Urumqi continues to grow. Authorities have locked down some residential neighborhoods in the city, restricted public transit and ordered widespread testing.


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