Here are the latest developments in the coronavirus pandemic from around the world.

UNITED NATIONS — World leaders gathering remotely Wednesday criticized a haphazard global response to a microscopic virus that has unleashed economic havoc and taken nearly 1 million lives in its march across the globe. In the words of Kazakhstan’s president, it was “a critical collapse of global cooperation.”

“Our world has been turned upside down,” said Ghana’s president, Nana Akufo-Addo. “We all fell together and looked into the abyss together.”

The pre-recorded message of Nana Addo Dankwa Akufo-Addo, president of Ghana, is played during the United Nations General Assembly on Wednesday. Eskinder Debebe/United Nations via AP

The coronavirus pandemic and its consequences topped the list of concerns on the second day of prerecorded speeches by world leaders at the General Assembly’s first virtual high-level meeting. Countries large and small spoke about struggling to deal with its impact without international coordination.

Pleas for the world to work together to combat the scourge and other global problems have taken the forefront at this week’s U.N. gathering that itself was altered by the virus.

“A pandemic is by definition a global challenge” and requires a global response, but COVID-19 “has unfortunately revealed how we are tempted to react to immediate threats — nationally, not internationally,” said Finland’s president, Sauli Niinisto.

Instead of uniting behind multilateral efforts to tackle the coronavirus, he said, “we witnessed a series of national responses,” which “raise concerns on how we will be able to combat other global challenges.”

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Missouri governor, opponent of mandatory masks, tests positive for COVID-19

JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. — Missouri Gov. Mike Parson, a Republican who has steadfastly refused to require residents to wear masks, tested positive for the coronavirus, his office said Wednesday.

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Missouri Gov. Mike Parson and his wife, Teresa, shown in 2018, both have tested positive for COVID-19. Jeff Roberson/Associated Press

Parson was tested after his wife, Teresa, tested positive earlier in the day. Teresa Parson had experienced mild symptoms, including a cough and nasal congestion, spokeswoman Kelli Jones said. She took a rapid test, which came back positive, and a nasal swab test later confirmed the finding. The governor’s rapid test showed he tested positive and he is still awaiting results from the swab test.

“I want everybody to know that myself and the first lady are both fine,” Parson said in a video posted on his Facebook page.

“Right now I feel fine. No symptoms of any kind,” Parson said in the video. “But right now we just have to take the quarantine procedures in place.”

Gov. Parson postponed several events through the remainder of the week. He and his wife had been traveling around the state this week for events that included a ceremonial bill signing in Cape Girardeau, where a photo posted Tuesday on the governor’s Facebook page showed both of them wearing masks.

On Friday, he and several other Missouri Republican candidates appeared together at an event called the “TARGET BBQ” in Springfield. A photo posted on Parson’s Twitter pages shows Parson on a stage with four other statewide officeholders seeking reelection: Treasurer Scott Fitzpatrick, Lt. Gov. Mike Kehoe, Secretary of State Jay Ashcroft and Attorney General Eric Schmitt. They appear to be a few feet apart from each other, but none are wearing masks.

Missouri Department of Health and Senior Services Director Randall Williams said contact tracing efforts have begun, seeking out people who have had close contact with the governor or his wife, but despite Parson’s many recent public appearances, it is believed that involves “a relatively small number of people.”

“Surprisingly it’s not as big a number as you might think because while they might be in a room with 1,000 people, the number of people who were literally with them for 15 minutes, right up next to them, is actually a smaller number,” Williams said at a news conference.

Study shows coronavirus is mutating, maybe becoming more contagious

Scientists in Houston on Wednesday released a study of more than 5,000 genetic sequences of the coronavirus, which reveals the virus’s continual accumulation of mutations, one of which may have made it more contagious.

That mutation is associated with a higher viral load among patients upon initial diagnosis, the researchers found.

The study, which has not been peer-reviewed, was posted Wednesday on the preprint server MedRxiv. It appears to be the largest single aggregation of genetic sequences of the virus in the United States thus far. A larger batch of sequences was published earlier this month by scientists in the United Kingdom, and, like the Houston study, concluded that a mutation that changes the structure of the “spike protein” on the surface of the virus may be driving the outsized spread of that particular strain.

The new report, however, did not find that these mutations have made the virus deadlier. All viruses accumulate genetic mutations, and most are insignificant, scientists say.

Coronaviruses such as SARS-CoV-2 are relatively stable as viruses go, because they have a proofreading mechanism as they replicate.

But every mutation is a roll of the dice, and with transmission so widespread in the United States — which continues to see tens of thousands of new, confirmed infections daily — the virus has had abundant opportunities to change, potentially with troublesome consequences, said study author James Musser of Houston Methodist Hospital.

“We have given this virus a lot of chances,” Musser told The Washington Post. “There is a huge population size out there right now.”

Scientists from Weill Cornell Medicine, the University of Chicago, Argonne National Laboratory and the University of Texas at Austin also contributed to the study.

David Morens, a virologist at the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, reviewed the new study and said the findings point to the strong possibility that the virus, as it has moved through the population, has become more transmissible, and that this “may have implications for our ability to control it.”

Morens noted that this is a single paper, and “you don’t want to over-interpret what this means.” But the virus, he said, could potentially be responding — through random mutations — to such interventions as mask-wearing and social distancing, Morens said Wednesday.

“Wearing masks, washing our hands, all those things are barriers to transmissibility, or contagion, but as the virus becomes more contagious it statistically is better at getting around those barriers,” said Morens, senior adviser to Anthony S. Fauci, the director of NIAID.

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Finland tests coronavirus-sniffing dogs at Helsinki airport

HELSINKI  — Finland has deployed coronavirus-sniffing dogs at the Nordic country’s main international airport in a four-month trial of an alternative testing method that could become a cost-friendly and quick way to identify infected travelers.

Four dogs of different breeds trained by Finland’s Smell Detection Association started working Wednesday at the Helsinki Airport as part of the government-financed trial.

“It’s a very promising method. Dogs are very good at sniffing,” Anna Hielm-Bjorkman, a University of Helsinki professor of equine and small animal medicine, said.

“If it works, it will be a good (coronavirus) screening method at any other places,” she said, listing hospitals, ports, elderly people’s homes, sports venues and cultural events among the possible locations where trained dogs could put their snouts to work.

While researchers in several countries, including Australia, France, Germany the United States, are also studying canines as coronavirus detectors, the Finnish trial is among the largest so far.

Hielm-Bjorkman told The Associated Press that Finland is the second country after the United Arab Emirates – and the first in Europe – to assign dogs to sniff out the coronavirus. A similar program started at Dubai International Airport over the summer.

Passengers who agree to take a free test under the voluntary program in Helsinki do not have direct physical contact with a dog.

They are asked to swipe their skin with a wipe which is then put into a jar and given to a dog waiting in a separate booth. The participating animals – ET, Kossi, Miina and Valo – previously underwent training to detect cancer, diabetes or other diseases.

It takes the dog a mere 10 seconds to sniff the virus samples before it gives the test result by scratching a paw, laying down, barking or otherwise making its conclusion known. The process should be completed within one minute, according to Hielm-Bjorkman.

If the result is positive, the passenger is urged to take a standard polymerase chain reaction, or PCR, coronavirus test, to check the dog’s accuracy.

Timo Aronkyto,, the deputy mayor of Vantaa, the capital region city where the airport is located, said the program is costing 300,000 euros ($350,000) – an amount he called “remarkably lower” than for other methods of mass testing arriving passengers.

The four sniffer dogs are set to work at the airport in shifts, with two on duty at a time while the other two get a break.

“Dogs need to rest from time to time. If the scent is easy, it doesn’t wear out the dog too much. But if there are lots of new scents around, dogs do get tired easier,“ Anette Kare of Finland’s Smell Detection Association – also known as Wise Nose – said as she gently patted ET, her white shepherd.

Fauci says scientists may know if vaccine is safe, effective by December

WASHINGTON — Dr. Anthony Fauci says by the end of this year government scientists should know whether they have a safe and effective vaccine for COVID-19.

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Dr. Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, speaks about the coronavirus, as President Donald Trump listens in April. Associated Press/Alex Brandon

Fauci is among top officials testifying before the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions committee on Wednesday.

As the government’s leading infectious disease expert, Fauci has been a realist about the dangers of the coronavirus but also optimistic about the prospects for a vaccine. Fauci says people who recover from the virus develop antibodies against it, which gives him confidence a vaccine that triggers the immune system will work.

Fauci says several kinds of vaccines are in final-stage testing in the U.S. A single-dose candidate is the most recent trial, which requires thousands of volunteers.

Early data show fewer COVID outbreaks in schools than first feared

Thousands of students and teachers have become sick with COVID-19 since schools began opening last month, but so far, public health experts have found little evidence that the disease is spreading inside buildings, and the rates of infection are far below what is found in the surrounding communities.

This early evidence, experts say, suggests that opening school may not be as risky as many have feared and could guide administrators as they charter the rest of what is already an unprecedented school year.

“Everyone had a fear there would be explosive outbreaks of transmission in the schools. In colleges, there have been. We have to say that to date, we have not seen those in the younger kids and that is a really important observation,” said Michael Osterholm, director of the Center for Infectious Disease Research and Policy at the University of Minnesota.

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Students arrive for classes at the Immaculate Conception School in The Bronx on Sept. 9. Associated Press/John Minchillo

This does not mean the risk of contracting COVID-19, the disease caused by the coronavirus, is zero. Poor and inconsistent reporting in many parts of the country means experts do not yet have a full view of the situation, and most schools have only been open for a matter of weeks. It’s also not yet clear how closely the incidence of COVID in schools is tied to policies inside schools such as mandatory mask-wearing.

Most of the nation’s largest districts opened with fully remote teaching, so the data to date is largely from smaller communities. And the pandemic may grow worse as flu season and winter approaches.

But the fact that large swaths of the country opened for in-person school while others did not offers the more cautious districts a chance to observe how things have gone elsewhere in charting their next steps.

On Wednesday, researchers at Brown University, working with school administrators, released their first set of data from a new National COVID-19 School Response Data Dashboard, created to track COVID cases. It found low levels of infection among both students and teachers.

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Lufthansa to roll out rapid coronavirus testing for passengers, a move industry leaders hope could save air travel

German airline Lufthansa plans to start offering rapid coronavirus testing for passengers in October, a company executive said Tuesday, according to Reuters.

The new antigen tests will initially be available for first-class and business-class passengers only because supplies are limited, Bjoern Becker, the company’s senior director for product management, told reporters. He added that Lufthansa is also considering the possibility of opening testing sites at airports in the United States and Canada.

Rapid antigen tests are inexpensive to produce but typically less accurate than polymerase chain reaction (PCR) tests and may produce false negatives. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration has said that all negative antigen test results should be confirmed with a PCR test.

As demand for international travel has dried up, some in the industry hope that a quick test before hopping on a flight will prove more palatable than the prospect of 14 days in isolation. The International Air Transport Association on Tuesday called for rapid, affordable testing for all passengers, noting that many would-be travelers are deterred by quarantine requirements and a constantly changing patchwork of restrictions.

An employee processes Lufthansa passengers at a coronavirus testing center at the Frankfurt airport in August. Associated Press/Michael Probst

“Quarantine measures are killing the industry’s recovery,” Alexandre de Juniac, the organization’s director and CEO, said Tuesday. “Some 83% of travelers in a recent 11-market survey said that they will not travel if there is a chance of being quarantined at their destination. That is a very clear signal that this industry will not recover until we can find an alternative to quarantine.”

Public opinion polls show that an overwhelming majority of travelers are willing to undergo testing as part of the travel process and believe that a negative coronavirus test should be mandatory for all travelers, de Juniac said. He noted that two pharmaceutical companies, Roche and Abbott, have developed rapid antigen tests that deliver results in minutes.

“The speed at which testing capabilities are advancing tells us that we will have deployable options in the coming weeks,” he said.

Some countries have already established their own testing programs for travelers, but they will need to agree on common standards to ensure that tests conducted in one country are accepted in another, de Juniac said.
Ensuring that testing takes place before departure “will also boost passenger confidence,” he predicted.

Dubai sees spike in cases

DUBAI, United Arab Emirates — The United Arab Emirates has recorded 1,083 new coronavirus infections, marking a four-month peak after schools and businesses reopened across the country.

That brings the total number of confirmed cases in the UAE to 87,530 and 406 deaths.

While the spike follows an aggressive coronavirus testing campaign, the country hasn’t seen such high infection rates since mid-May.

In the months since, authorities have relaxed restrictions. Dubai, the region’s business hub, reopened its airport for international travelers and schools resumed in-person instruction.

Heightened restrictions in Spains capital may be extended to more areas

MADRID — Health authorities in Madrid may extend to more communities the restrictions on movement it imposed on areas of the Spanish capital with high coronavirus infection rates.

About 860,000 Madrid residents already are required to justify trips out of 37 neighborhoods, mostly working-class areas. People have complained that the restrictions stigmatize the poor.

The region’s deputy health chief, Antonio Zapatero, says a decision on additional measures, including possible customer limits in restaurants, would be announced Friday,

Zapatero says the outbreak situation in the Madrid region, which has a population of 6.6 million, was one of “sustained increase.”

Madrid had a contagion rate of 772 cases per 100,000 inhabitants in 14 days, nearly three times Spain’s national average of 287 cases per 100,000.

Spain recorded 241 more virus-related deaths on Tuesday, bringing the total confirmed death toll to 30,904.

British government criticized after announcement of modest new restrictions for England

LONDON — Prime Minister Boris Johnson faced criticism on Wednesday, after he introduced new curfews on pubs and restaurants in England and encouraged remote working — restrictions that could remain in place for six months.

In his announcement on Tuesday, Johnson outlined a raft of new constraints for England. Starting Thursday, pubs and restaurants will offer table service only and have to close by 10 p.m. Johnson also said that if people can work from home, they should — an about-face from a previous push by the government for people to return to their workplaces and help revive city centers.

The measures were more modest than many that reportedly had been under discussion, including a two-week mini-lockdown, but they still faced criticism from business groups and the hospitality sector, which are bracing for the economic fallout.

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People eat and drink outside in London, on Tuesday. Associated Press/Alberto Pezzali

Some said Wednesday that the measures are insufficient. Speaking to the BBC, epidemiologist John Edmunds called the early closure of pubs and restaurants “fairly trivial.”

“Overall, I don’t think the measures have gone anywhere near far enough,” he said.

Rising infection numbers and hospitalization rates have raised concerns over a second surge in novel coronavirus cases. On Monday, top government scientists predicted the country could face 50,000 coronavirus cases a day by mid-October if it stays on its current trajectory.

New coronavirus cases decline somewhat in India

NEW DELHI — India added 83,347 new coronavirus cases in the past 24 hours, showing some decline after a record 97,000 a week ago.

The past six days have shown some drop in the new cases. Wednesday’s increase reported by the Health Ministry raised the nation’s total to more than 5.6 million, which is on pace to pass the U.S. total within weeks.

The ministry said 1,085 more people died in the past 24 hours, for a total of 90,020.

The Health Ministry says more than 80% of people infected have recovered, leaving less than 1 million active cases.

Balram Bhargava, director-general of the Indian Council for Medical Research, said vaccines with 50% efficacy will be approved for use against the coronavirus.

That’s the benchmark set by the World Health Organization as no vaccine for respiratory diseases has a 100% efficacy, he told reporters on Tuesday.

 


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