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US marks subdued Fourth of July as coronavirus cases surge

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The United States marked a subdued Fourth of July holiday with social distancing and restrictions on crowds preventing the typical gatherings and firework displays amid a surge in coronavirus infections in southern and western states. 

Racial justice protests were also planned in the US capital on Saturday, where President Donald Trump is set to deliver a speech on the National Mall.

Trump promised a “special evening” that could bring tens of thousands of spectators, despite warnings of the dangers of spreading the virus from Washington, DC Mayor Muriel Bowser, who is powerless over the event on federal land. 

Saturday’s commemoration of the declaration of US independence from Britain began on a grim note, with both Florida and Texas recording their highest daily new infections, 11,458 and 8,258 in a 24-hour period, respectively, since the coronavirus outbreak began in the United States.

To date, nearly 130,000 people have died from COVID-19 in the country, amid 2.8 million infections – the highest number of both deaths and infections in the world.

On Friday, North Carolina, South Carolina, Tennessee, Alaska, Missouri, Idaho and Alabama all registered daily highs for new cases, while Texas hit a new peak for hospitalisations related to the virus.

Beaches, normally packed over the holiday weekend, were widely shut on both coasts with Florida’s most populous county Miami-Dade shuttering the sand and imposing a curfew for residents.

Meanwhile in California, beach closures went from Los Angeles County northward through Ventura and Santa Barbara. To the south in Orange County, hugely popular beaches such as Huntington and Newport were closed.

Fireworks, events cancelled

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention cautioned that mass gatherings, such as the one scheduled by the president, present a high risk for spread of the virus.

On Friday during Trump’s speech at Mount Rushmore, Republican Governor Kristi Noem, an ally of the president, insisted social distancing was not necessary and masks were optional. 

On Saturday, officials said they would hand out 300,000 face coverings to spectators who gather on the National Mall. While Interior Department Secretary David Bernhardt said visitors would be encouraged to wear masks and keep two metre (6 foot) distance from one another, there was no indication that would be mandatory.

In a patchwork of restrictions across the country, parades were cancelled, boisterous backyard barbecues scaled down, and family reunions put off amid worries about air travel and concerns about spreading the virus.

joey chestnut

Nathan’s Famous July Fourth hot dog eating contest in New York City was moved inside amid coronavirus restrictions [John Minchillo/AP]

In New York City, the famous annual Nathan’s hotdog eating contest, normally held on the crowded Coney Island boardwalk, took place inside with no spectators and special precautions for officials and workers.

Meanwhile, Fireworks displays, a mainstay of the holiday that typically attracts crowds of thousands to locations across the country, have been put on hold this year, with an estimated 80 percent of those events cancelled. 

Other locales urged people to watch the displays from their cars.

Racial unrest

Saturday also comes amid a backdrop of heightened racial unrest in the country following the killing of George Floyd after a white police officer kneeled on his neck for nearly nine minutes in Minnesota on May 25. 

Demonstrations have since become a regular feature in many American cities, with several planned in the US capital.

black lives matter protest

Protests have continued across the US following the death of George Floyd on May 25 [File: Jacquelyn Martin/The Associated Press]

The largest protests on Saturday are expected to include a George Floyd memorial March beginning at the Lincoln Memorial, a Black Out March at the US Capitol, and a Black Lives Matter protest at the National Museum of African American History and Culture.

Public health officials have been bracing for a new spike in coronavirus cases after this weekend’s celebrations and protests.

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China floods: 100,000 on Yangtze evacuated, Leshan Buddha at risk

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Water intake at Three Gorges Dam expected to reach highest level since it was built in 2003 amid torrential rain.

More than 100,000 people have been evacuated from areas on the upper reaches of China‘s Yangtze river as flooding threatened a 1,200-year-old World Heritage Site.

Staff, police and volunteers used sandbags to try and protect the 71-metre (233-foot) Leshan Giant Buddha, a UNESCO World Heritage site in southwestern Sichuan province, as muddy water rose over its toes for the first time since 1949, state broadcaster CCTV reported.

Sichuan, situated along the Yangtze, raised its emergency response to the maximum level on Tuesday to cope with a new round of torrential rainfall.

The Yangtze Water Resources Commission, the government body that oversees the river, declared a red alert late on Tuesday, saying water at some monitoring stations was expected to exceed “guaranteed” flood protection levels by more than five metres (16.4 feet).

The Three Gorges Project, a massive hydroelectric facility designed in part to tame floods on the Yangtze, is expected to see water inflows rise to 74,000 cubic metres per second on Wednesday, the highest since it was built, the Ministry of Water Resources said.

Stranded residents in SW China’s Sichuan province were evacuated to safety on Tuesday. Sichuan activated the highest level of #flood control response for the first time on record, as rain ravaged parts of the province. pic.twitter.com/0GavAZAXVg

— China Daily (@ChinaDaily) August 19, 2020

The #ThreeGorges Dam in C China’s #Hubei has been ready to face the largest ever flood peak since it was built in 2003 by coordinating with dams at its upper stream in Yangtze River to retain the flood water. https://t.co/a9g6RNiIxT pic.twitter.com/3ux4aabM9I

— Global Times (@globaltimesnews) August 19, 2020

The project restricts the amount of water flowing downstream by storing it in its reservoir, which has been at least 10 metres (33 feet) higher than its official warning level for more than a month.

The facility was forced to raise water discharge volumes on Tuesday in order to “reduce flood control pressures”, the water ministry said.

Authorities have been at pains to show that the cascade of giant dams and reservoirs built along the Yangtze’s upper reaches have shielded the region from the worst of the floods this year, although critics say they might be making things worse.

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How disabled Americans are harmed by a system meant to help them

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Boston, United States – In 2015, I fell 25 feet (7.6 metres) from a Redwood tree and was in a coma for 10 days.

I spent the rest of that year using an arm crutch and went through four months of outpatient rehabilitation. Nine months later, I had eye muscle surgery to correct double vision that resulted from damage to my occipital lobe.

Five years later, I still suffer from fine motor deficits, balance issues, and have trouble with my memory and speech.

My first application for Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI) – a government grant which provides health insurance and a monthly allotment of money for people with disabilities to live on – was filled out on my behalf by my parents.

I have no recollection of it and my short-term memory is still impaired.

I do recall the Social Security Administration (SSA) scheduling an initial assessment with a neuropsychologist – a full-time real estate agent who saw patients on the side – in 2015. He met with me in his tiny real estate office located in a business park with no medical facilities nearby. This was my first warning sign that the SSA’s disability operation was not what it should be.

Navigating the SSA’s disability process has never been easy, but if President Donald Trump is re-elected, many believe it is only going to get harder. His budget has already proposed cutting about $505bn from Medicare over the next decade and $35bn from SSDI and Supplemental Security Income (SSI), according to the Committee for a Responsible Federal Budget. (Democratic nominee Joe Biden has said he will not cut Social Security funding, although his voting record shows he has voted both for and against protecting Social Security over the course of his Senate career.)

This could leave an already poor and under-served population even more destitute than they already are.

“His proposed cuts to Social Security, Medicare, food-assistance programmes and more will only hurt those who are already struggling,” Congressman John Larson told CNBC in February. “The president should live up to his promise [not to touch Social Security], instead of breaking it.” 

About 75 percent of US workers live pay cheque to pay cheque, according to the CareerBuilder website. For people who are hurt or ill, the SSDI is imperative for them to support themselves and their families.

Most people assume applying for SSDI is a process they will never have to go through. But according to the Centers for Diseases Control and Prevention (CDC), the reality is that one in four US citizens live with a disability – cognitive disabilities being most common in younger people and physical disabilities in older people.

And as I personally discovered five years ago, everyone is one accident – one fluke – away from becoming disabled or chronically ill and unable to support themselves.

Rushed decisions, inaccurate data

In late 2018, after I moved from San Diego to Boston, the SSA sent a thick stack of documents to my parents’ address in San Diego to check up on my deficits and make sure I had not magically become able-bodied.

When the packet arrived it was already 10 days past the submission deadline. My parents forwarded it to Boston by mail, and it was three weeks late by the time I finally saw it in February 2019.

I wondered if the SSA had even bothered to read my file. Not only did they send my mail to the wrong address, it was a printed packet to be filled out by hand. Because of fine motor impairment caused by my traumatic brain injury, I cannot write by hand. This was noted in my file which they either failed to consult or ignored. Had I received the packet in time, I still would have had to take a day off work and wait in the office for an SSA employee to help me.

Instead, the SSA decided to deny me benefits based on the only medical records of mine they obtained: those of my psychiatrist – not my primary care physician nor my neurologist.

But making rushed decisions based on insufficient or inaccurate data is not an anomaly for the SSA.

A woman in a wheelchair on the grounds of the US Capitol in Washington [File: Reuters]

Rebecca Blanton, a former executive director of a state agency, who says she “had done everything right”, found herself at the mercy of the SSA’s whims from 2015 until the end of 2019. Even though she had been diagnosed with lupus, fibromyalgia and severe arthritis, and worked with a disability lawyer, Blanton’s application was denied multiple times by Social Security – but she continued to appeal.

“You should be ready for them to call you at any point to go into evaluations from a state physician,” Blanton says, describing the appeal process. She was told she would only be given “one to two days” notice to appear in-office, an impossibility for Blanton who cannot drive and needed to arrange for transportation.

But before she was able to see a Social Security physician, her application was denied based on a different physician’s notes – notes from a visit that had never happened.

“I had never seen that doctor,” Blanton explains. “I hadn’t released paperwork to that doctor. They were just in the network of doctors that my [insurance] plan took. I had never been evaluated by them.”

Like Blanton, I filed an appeal immediately after receiving a denial letter in early 2019 and desperately sent requests to Tufts Hospital in Boston to release my records to Social Security. When Tufts finally released my medical records, the SSA determined I still needed an in-office neuropsychology evaluation performed by one of their psychologists.

Not only does the SSA expect disabled applicants to cater to its scheduling, it expects applicants to have transportation readily available.

Facing rejection

Don Roberts, a certified SSI/SSDI Outreach, Access and Recovery (SOAR) navigator, helps individuals negotiate the process of applying for disability insurance. “The process for getting approved for Social Security Disability involves several interactions with Social Security and/or their doctors after the initial application is filed,” he says. “People who are disabled, in general, have difficulty following the procedure.”

A notable example is Lorraine Traylor’s, whose appeal hearing was scheduled in an entirely different state. In February 2016, Traylor, then 50, applied for disability following a traumatic brain injury she sustained while working as a paramedic the year before. The ambulance she was treating a cardiac patient in was hit by another vehicle on the freeway.

Traylor and her lawyer appealed multiple times before securing a court hearing in Cincinnati, Ohio – a decision the SSA made even though she was a resident of Kentucky. After her court hearing, Traylor was approved for disability in 2019 – three years after her initial application.

“It’s an incredible relief when it comes through,” Blanton says. “But I know so many people who’ve gone through similar fights, to be rejected at the end.”

That is exactly what happened to Kody, who only wanted his first name disclosed, when he was denied disability insurance in 2012, 2013 and again in 2015 after being diagnosed HIV-positive. The second and third appeal included psychiatric evaluations with SSA doctors but no physical examinations. His final appeal culminated in a court hearing with a judge in Dallas, Texas who has a more than 50 percent denial rate.

A man who is blind feels his way down a hallway in Little Rock, Arkansas [File: Reuters]

Similarly, in 2014, Angie Ebba, 39, found herself attending three different court hearings as her judge requested more and more medical witnesses.

She was also going through a divorce at the time and says: “One of the questions that the judge asked me during my first court appearance was if my spouse had left me because I was disabled.”

“I was kind of shocked but answered the best I could – that while it wasn’t everything, it did contribute to the issues we had.”

Not all of the available support systems are as reliable as SOAR – or even state approved. After Blanton’s lawyer misfiled some of her documents, she filed a complaint with the state bar, and subsequently discovered her lawyer was not licensed in California – the state he was practising in on her behalf.

“He’s licensed in Washington State,” Blanton says. “He has multiple complaints against him [there], which is why he came to California – California allows lawyers, as long as they haven’t been disbarred, to practise without any specialty or knowledge of disability – and there’s no way to really prosecute them if they fail on the job.”

For those who do make it through the appeal process, the onslaught of paperwork and consistent monitoring does not end. The SSA is hypervigilant for any type of fraud – often to the detriment of the people they are purportedly helping.

When told by an SSA employee that they had to be wary of scams, Blanton replied, “I was making $100,000 a year at a government career. I literally was meeting with the Obama administration on policy work. And you’re thinking I’m gonna scam this for less than $2,000 a month? Really?”

A woman is pushed in a wheelchair past a US flag inflatable raft in Brooklyn, New York [File: Reuters]

“The last thing I wanted to do was lose my job,” Traylor says of her career as a paramedic.

Traylor continued to work for the year following her injury despite her inability to “remember where [she] was going or what [she] was doing”. Her coworkers noticed the change but did not want to hurt her feelings by mentioning it.

“I made good money – I made very good money. I loved my job,” she explains. “And there was no way I was going to give up a $75,000 a year job [when I was a paramedic] for $2,000 a month from disability. Why would I do that?”

Below poverty level

Many of the people receiving SSDI would like to return to work – but do not want to lose the health insurance they receive along with the monetary benefits. In the US, health insurance is secured via employment but many jobs do not offer health insurance until after a 90-day probationary period has passed. The SSA claims to aid disability recipients in this return to work via its “Ticket to Work” initiative, but the programme proves better in theory than practice.

After complications arose from the Harrington rods implanted to help in the treatment of her spinal deformity, Lenisha Brown applied for disability in 2008 with the help of a disability lawyer. But to qualify financially, Brown needed to “essentially ruin [my] credit. You can’t have savings. You can’t have assets.”

When Brown realised she was only allowed to have $2,000 worth of income, including her SSDI benefits, per month – below the poverty level – she wanted to find a way to re-enter the workforce. By signing up for the “Ticket to Work” programme, Brown thought she would be able to earn above her cap until she had some money saved.

Unfortunately, “Ticket to Work” does not account for those too disabled to work steady jobs. Brown began freelance writing, but a freelancer’s income changes from month to month and securing health insurance through an employer is impossible.

A trained service dog sleeps at the feet of a US soldier who was injured while on duty [File: Reuters]

“The issue is that they have no way to track freelance work,” Brown explains. “If they see that I made $3,000 one month, then they count it as ‘I make $3,000 per month’ [even if] I didn’t make anything the next month because I was sick.”

After only eight months in “Ticket to Work,” Brown’s disability benefits were terminated, as well as her Medicare, leaving her with no health insurance.

The “Ticket to Work” programme ignores people like Brown or myself, incapable of re-entering the traditional 9 to 5 work environment. But even those who would benefit from such a programme are not given the necessary information or guidance to take advantage of it.

‘Agencies have to talk to each other’

Ryan, 34, who asked to only be known by his first name due to his ongoing situation with the SSA, was such an individual.

With his parents’ help, Ryan, a wheelchair user, originally applied and was approved for SSDI when he first enrolled in college in 2004 at the age of 18. Every so often, he had phone calls with the SSA to check in on his disabled status, which were inconvenient but standard protocol. The real issues began after he finished graduate school.

After securing his first job post-school, Ryan updated his income with his local SSA office, but the cheques kept coming.

“I didn’t understand the whole ‘means-tested‘ portion at all – none of that was explained to me – so I just kind of thought there was some reason I still qualified,” Ryan says.

After digging into it further, of his own volition, Ryan informed the SSA that they had been overpaying him. In response, the SSA terminated his benefits and requested repayment of an unconscionable amount of money for Ryan – roughly $10,000.

“I had filed taxes here before,” Ryan says. “My young brain was like, ‘All these agencies have to talk to each other’.”

A man sits in his wheelchair in his home in Chicago, Illinois [File: Reuters]

At first, Ryan and a friend attempted to appeal as the error was not Ryan’s fault. Since the SSA failed to perform its function and ignored pertinent information, surely the responsibility for the mistake was theirs. But that is not how the SSA operates.

“I ended up having a friend of mine – who wasn’t actually a lawyer – [go] down with me to their office,” Ryan explains. “[He] got me on a payment plan after all of the appeals.”

Despite notifying them of his employment and filing the associated taxes for being employed, the SSA failed to acknowledge what Ryan had reported. Although Ryan still is repaying Social Security, the error worked in his favour when it came to health insurance.

Because Medicare (SSDI) is inextricable from the monetary component of SSA’s healthcare insurance, Ryan would have been without insurance while he waited to secure health insurance from his employer. If everything had been handled correctly by the SSA, he would have been a disabled person without health insurance during his probationary period.

The power of privilege

With all of these horror stories, many wonder whether the process to secure Social Security Disability Insurance can ever be easy? The answer is a tentative “yes” – if you have the right amount of privilege or connections.

Becky Meyers worked as a lawyer before she had a series of strokes and open-heart surgery. Her employer had a generous disability plan in place following another employee’s stroke a few years earlier. The policy allowed the insurer to subcontract to a company whose sole occupation was filling out and filing SSDI applications.

“There is no human way, left to my own devices, I would have been able to pull the documents together,” Meyers says. “My story … is a story of how privilege makes everything different in this world.”

Because Meyer’s condition was thought to be stress-induced, had she been forced to undergo the standard Social Security process without any help, she feels the effort and strain would have been life-threatening.

“I know it sounds incredibly histrionic, but I honestly think the stress of having to do that myself … probably would have killed me,” Meyers confides. “And I doubt I’m the only person who is in that situation [when applying].”

But Meyers still feels the repercussions of SSDI even if her initial application process was relatively painless. After all, the SSA still checks in to make sure she has not recovered.

“It’s just constant,” she says. “And that’s not fair. Nobody else has to keep running around proving they have a right to exist with documentary evidence.”

A wounded soldier with prosthetic legs uses a treadmill in Bethesda, Maryland [File: Reuters]

As for me, my appeal was approved following my neuropsychology evaluation (during which the neuropsychologist referred to me as “damaged goods”). Now, I am walking the delicate line between making enough to feed myself but not enough to lose my health insurance. I would like to pull myself out of this hole. I would like to save. But I need health insurance and none of my employers provide benefits nor enough money for me to pay for it myself – much like Lenisha Brown’s predicament. It does not help when the people who are supposed to help you do not believe or trust you.

“It was a really frustrating process,” Brown says. “It’s really bad. In the offices, people have this vibe like ‘You’re faking it.’ Even with all my paperwork and my doctor’s diagnosis and everything.”

And with Trump’s proposed changes, it may become even more difficult for disabled people to “prove” they are disabled and need help. The Social Security Administration has already released a missive stating they intend “to revise our regulations regarding when and how often we conduct continuing disability reviews (CDR), which are periodic reviews of eligibility required for benefit continuation.”

“Whatever the future holds for us,” Meyers concludes, “as far as the Trump administration’s plans … it’s terrible – just every day [we are] waiting for another shoe to drop.”

Al Jazeera contacted the Social Security Administration for a response to this article but received no reply.

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WHO says younger people now driving coronavirus pandemic: Live

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  • The World Health Organization has said the world is nowhere near the amount of coronavirus immunity needed to induce herd immunity, a situation where enough people would have antibodies to stop the spread.

  • South Africa has relaxed lockdown restrictions allowing bars, restaurants, gyms and places of worship to reopen.

  • The number of people diagnosed with COVID-19 around the world now exceeds 21.8 million, and more than 774,000 people have died, according to Johns Hopkins University. Nearly 13.9 million people have recovered from the disease.

Here are the latest updates:

Tuesday, August 18

23:30 GMT – Turkey ferries COVID-19 aid to Venezuela as foreign minister visits

Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu visited Caracas on Tuesday as his country delivered medical equipment to help crisis-stricken Venezuela deal with the novel coronavirus pandemic.

Turkey has been one of the key backers of Venezuela’s socialist President Nicolas Maduro, who has overseen a six-year economic crisis in the once-prosperous OPEC nation but has so far withstood an 18-month effort by the United States to oust him through sanctions on the country’s oil sector.

“Neither sanctions, nor a blockade, nor any type of situation will prevent us from deepening our economic and commercial relationships,” Venezuelan Foreign Minister Jorge Arreaza said in a state television broadcast after meeting with Cavusoglu.

As tensions between Caracas and Washington have grown in recent years, Turkey has deepened economic ties with Venezuela, exporting products for a state-run food distribution program and purchasing the South American country’s gold.

20:15 GMT – New York University students queue up for coronavirus tests

Hundreds of New York University students and staff have waited in line outside a white tent for coronavirus testing in advance of some classes resuming in early September, a scene expected to unfold on many US campuses in the coming weeks.

NYU is testing students who have chosen in-person learning, with classes for undergraduates beginning on September 2. The university, housed in hundreds of buildings across lower Manhattan, is also giving students the options of remote learning or a blended program between the two.

20:00 GMT – Millions return to schools lacking handwashing facilities: UN

More than 800 million children around the world lack basic handwashing facilities at their schools, putting them at an increased risk of catching the new coronavirus when schools reopen, the World Health Organization (WHO) has warned.

A joint report published last week by the WHO and UNICEF, the UN children’s fund, revealed that 43 percent of schools worldwide lacked facilities for basic handwashing with soap and water in 2019, affecting 818 million children – more than a third of them in sub-Saharan Africa. 

Read more here

19:40 GMT – Brazil indigenous protesters suspend roadblock

Indigenous protesters in Brazil have agreed to suspend their roadblock of a key highway amid a court battle, but pledged to fight on for more help against COVID-19 and an end to deforestation.

Brandishing bows and wearing traditional feather headdresses and body paint, dozens of protesters from the Kayapo Mekranoti ethnic group had been blocking highway BR-163 through the Amazon rainforest since Monday morning.

The highway is an important artery for farmers in Brazil’s agricultural heartland to ship corn and soybeans, two of the country’s main exports, to the river ports of the Amazon and beyond.

19:25 GMT – Canada’s hardest-hit province for COVID-19 launches plan to combat second wave

The Canadian province of Quebec has announced plans to tackle earlier mistakes in fighting the COVID-19 pandemic, while preparing its health sector against a possible second wave of coronavirus.

Quebec, once the country’s hardest-hit province for COVID-19, will boost public health sector hiring, reduce screening delays, and ensure staff like orderlies can no longer work at multiple long-term care facilities, a practice previously blamed for spreading the virus, Health Minister Christian Dube told reporters.

19:10 GMT – Boeing seeks more voluntary layoffs

Boeing has launched a second round of voluntary layoffs to trim its workforce, the company said, as it navigates a brutal commercial aviation market and seeks to return the 737 MAX to service.

The move comes on top of a 10 percent staff cuts earlier this year as commercial airline customers defer deliveries and cancel orders, hitting Boeing’s profits.

“While we have seen signs of recovery from the pandemic, our industry and our customers continue to face significant challenges,” the aerospace giant said in a message to AFP.

18:55 GMT – Ireland ramps up restrictions as cases surge

Ireland has significantly tightened its nationwide coronavirus restrictions to try to rein in a surge in cases, urging everyone to restrict visitors to their homes, avoid public transport and older people to limit their contacts.

A spike in cases over the last three weeks, after Ireland had one of Europe’s lowest infection rates for several weeks, pushed its 14-day cumulative cases per 100,000 of population to 26, and led to the first local lockdown last week.

18:40 GMT – Pelosi: Democrats willing to cut COVID-19 bill in half to get a deal

US House of Representatives Speaker Nancy Pelosi has said that Democrats in Congress are willing to cut their coronavirus relief bill in half to get an agreement on new legislation with the White House and Republicans.

“We have to try to come to that agreement now,” Pelosi said in an online interview with Politico. “We’re willing to cut our bill in half to meet the needs right now. We’ll take it up again in January. We’ll see them again in January. But for now, we can cut the bill in half.”

18:25 GMT – S Korea tightens restrictions in Seoul area to tackle virus surge

South Korea has ordered nightclubs, museums and buffet restaurants closed and banned large gatherings in and around the capital as a burst of new coronavirus cases sparked fears of a major second wave.

The country’s “trace, test and treat” approach to curbing the virus has been held up as a global model, but it is now battling several clusters that are mostly linked to Protestant churches.

18:10 GMT – Zimbabwe shortens coronavirus curfew

 Zimbabwe has shortened an overnight curfew imposed to combat the coronavirus pandemic and extended business hours despite rising cases, the government has said after a weekly cabinet meeting.

President Emmerson Mnangagwa last month announced a 6pm to 6am curfew, but Information Minister Monica Mutsvangwa said this had left commuters stranded without transport.

17:55 GMT – France reports over 2,000 new infections

The French health ministry has reported 2,238 confirmed new coronavirus infections, less than recent daily highs but still at levels last seen during the March-May lockdown imposed to stem the spread of the disease.

The seven-day moving average of the case count, which smooths out daily reporting irregularities, has now been above 2,000 for five consecutive days, a level that was last seen around the middle of April.

17:40 GMT – Australia to manufacture ‘promising’ virus vaccine 

Australia has secured access to a “promising” potential coronavirus vaccine, the prime minister announced, saying the country would manufacture it and offer free doses to the entire population.

Prime Minister Scott Morrison said Australia had reached a deal with Swedish-British pharmaceutical company AstraZeneca to receive the COVID-19 vaccine it is developing with Oxford University.

17:25 GMT – Montenegro delays start of school over coronavirus

Montenegro will postpone the start of the school year by one month due to the the “uncertain” status of the coronavirus pandemic, the education ministry has said.

Countries across the Balkans have been debating how to safely resume classes after a summer of rising coronavirus infections.

17:10 GMT – Turkey’s coronavirus death toll exceeds 6,000

Turkey’s death toll from the coronavirus has risen by 20 to 6,016, health ministry data showed, with the total number of identified cases rising to 251,805.

The data showed that 1,263 new cases were identified in the last 24 hours, rising from 1,233 a day earlier.

People wearing face masks as a preventive measure against the COVID-19 walk on a street in Ulus district in Ankara [File: AFP]

16:55 GMT – COVID-19 pandemic causes mental health crisis in Americas: WHO official

The COVID-19 pandemic has caused a mental health crisis in the Americas due to heightened stress and use of drugs and alcohol during six months of lockdowns and stay-at-home measures, the World Health Organization’s regional director said.

“It is urgent that mental health support is considered a critical component of the pandemic response,” Carissa Etienne said in a virtual briefing from the Pan American Health Organization in Washington.

16:40 GMT – Pandemic-hit Chile GDP plunges 14 percent

Chile’s GDP plunged 14.1 percent in the second quarter, the Central Bank has said, after the coronavirus pandemic mauled economic activity with the exception of the vital mining sector.

Among the worst-hit sectors were manufacturing, construction and the hotel and restaurant sector. In the first quarter, Chilean GDP had increased slightly by 0.2 percent.

“In the second quarter of the year, economic activity decreased by 14.1 percent compared to the same period last year,” the Central Bank said.

16:25 GMT – Poland’s health minister resigns after virus response criticised

Poland’s Health Minister Lukasz Szumowski has said he was resigning from his post, the second resignation in two days from the ministry, which has faced growing criticism for its handling of the coronavirus crisis.

Szumowski’s approach in the early stages of the pandemic made him Poland’s most trusted politician in April, but his image has been dented by scandals surrounding the purchase of ventilators and masks.

Szumowski has denied any wrongdoing.

16:10 GMT – Lebanon reimposes lockdown amid COVID-19 spike: ministry

Lebanese authorities have announced a new lockdown and an overnight curfew to rein in a spike in coronavirus infections.

The new measures will come into effect on Friday and last just over two weeks, the interior ministry said, adding that they would not affect the clean-up and aid effort following the devastating August 4 Beirut port blast.

The airport is expected to remain open and all traffic to and from is allowed if passengers can show authorities a ticket from their trip.

Lebanese authorities have announced a new lockdown [File: Joseph Eid/AFP]

15:55 GMT – Tennis-individual tests positive for COVID-19 at US Open bubble

A non-player has tested positive for COVID-19 within the controlled environment that will host this year’s Western & Southern Open and US Open in New York over the next month, the United States Tennis Association (USTA) has said.

The individual is asymptomatic and has been advised that they must isolate for at least ten days, while contact tracing has been initiated to determine if anyone else must go into quarantine, the USTA said in a statement.

15:30 GMT – WHO: Herd immunity requires effective vaccine

The World Health Organization says the planet is nowhere near the amount of coronavirus immunity needed to induce herd immunity, where enough of the population would have antibodies to stop the spread.

Herd immunity is typically achieved with vaccination and most scientists estimate at least 70 percent of the population must have antibodies to prevent an outbreak. But some experts have suggested that even if half the population had immunity, there might be a protective effect.

WHO’s emergencies chief Dr. Michael Ryan largely dismissed that theory at a press briefing, saying we should not live “in hope” of achieving herd immunity.

“As a global population, we are nowhere close to the levels of immunity required to stop this disease transmitting,” he said. “This is not a solution and not a solution we should be looking to.”

15:40 GMT – UAE sees ‘alarming’ increase in coronavirus cases

An increase in the number of coronavirus cases over the past two weeks is “alarming” and may herald further increases in the near future, the United Arab Emirates’ health minister has said.

The UAE registered 365 new cases and two deaths over the last 24 hours, the government said, bringing the total number of COVID-19 infections in the Gulf state since the start of the pandemic to 64,906 with 366 deaths.

15:25 GMT – Merkel rules out easing coronavirus rules as German cases spike

Chancellor Angela Merkel has warned there could be no further relaxation of coronavirus restrictions while Germany grapples with a surge in new infections.

She urged Germans to follow the rules on hygiene precautions and reminded travellers returning from risk areas that quarantine was not an option “but a must” so long as they could not show a negative test.

“We are seeing that an increase in mobility and closer contacts are leading to a higher number of cases,” Merkel told a press conference in Duesseldorf.

15:10 GMT – UK records 1,089 new COVID-19 cases

The United Kingdom has recorded 1,089 new positive cases of COVID-19, up from 713 on Monday, government figures showed.

A further 12 people died after testing positive for the coronavirus within 28 days. The UK has recorded more than 1,000 daily cases on eight out of the last 10 days.

14:55 GMT – Dozens of Kenyan doctors strike over lack of PPE, delayed pay

Dozens of doctors in at least two of Kenya’s 47 counties have gone on strike over delayed salaries, inadequate personal protective equipment (PPE) for handling COVID-19 patients and lack of medical insurance, a union official told Reuters.

Kenya has a total 30,636 confirmed infections, with 487 deaths, according to health ministry data.

Healthcare workers say they have not been given adequate PPE, but the government has said it has distributed enough to go round.

14:40 GMT – Brazil greenlights human trials for J&J’s potential vaccine

Brazil has approved human clinical trials for a potential COVID-19 vaccine developed by Johnson & Johnson, the fourth candidate to trial in the Latin American country that has become key to the global race for a vaccine.

Health regulator Anvisa said it had given the green light to the study which will see 6,000 people in Brazil volunteer to trial the vaccine contender of Johnson & Johnson’s pharmaceutical subsidiary Janssen.


14:35 GMT

Hello, this is Elizabeth Melimopoulos taking over the live updates from my colleague Hamza Mohamed in Doha.


Tuesday, August 18

12:35 GMT – France says masks to be made compulsory in most workplaces

Masks will be compulsory in workplaces in France, apart from individual offices where only one employee is present, the French employment ministry said on Tuesday, as the government looks to fight against a resurgence of the COVID-19 pandemic.

The ministry added in a statement that working from home would remain its recommended option for employees.

12:05 GMT – Namibia warns about elephant dung cure for coronavirus

The Namibian government is warning its citizens not to trust claims on social media that elephant dung can cure COVID-19, as coronavirus infections rise more rapidly.

The Ministry of Environment, Forestry and Tourism spokesman, Romeo Muyunda, told Reuters the government had observed that elephant dung was increasingly being touted as a COVID-19 cure.

Health Minister Kalumbi Shangula said COVID-19 currently has no known cure.

Some traditional healers say elephant dung has healing properties, including for treating headaches, toothaches and blocked sinuses, but claiming it can cure COVID-19 is a new trend [Getty Images]

11:25 GMT – Study links COVID-19 to rise in childhood type 1 diabetes

Cases of type 1 diabetes among children in a small UK study almost doubled during the peak of country’s COVID-19 epidemic, suggesting a possible link between the two diseases that needs more investigation, scientists said on Tuesday.

While the study is based on only a handful of cases, it is the first to link COVID-19 and new-onset type 1 diabetes in children, and doctors should be on the lookout, the Imperial College London researchers said.

Karen Logan, who co-led the study, said previous reports from China and Italy had noted that children were being diagnosed in hospitals with new-onset type 1 diabetes during the pandemic.

The study, published in the Diabetes Care journal, analysed data from 30 children in London hospitals diagnosed with new-onset type 1 diabetes during the first peak of the pandemic – around double the cases seen in this period in previous years [Radu Sigheti/Reuters]

10:30 GMT – South Africa eases coronavirus restrictions

South Africa, which had one of the world’s strictest anti-coronavirus lockdowns for five months, relaxed its restrictions on Tuesday in response to a decrease in new cases.

The country loosened its regulations to permit the sale of alcohol and cigarettes, and the reopening of bars, restaurants, gyms and places of worship, all limited to no more than 50 people.

Schools will reopen gradually starting August 24.

South Africa has recorded more than 589,880 cases and at least 11,982 deaths [Siphiwe Sibeko/Reuters]

09:55 GMT – Philippines reports 4,836 new coronavirus cases

The Philippines’ health ministry on Tuesday confirmed 4,836 novel coronavirus infections, the seventh straight day of reporting more than 3,000 cases, and seven additional deaths.

In a bulletin, the ministry said total confirmed cases had increased to 169,213, while deaths had reached 2,687.

Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte on Monday eased the strict coronavirus lockdown in the capital Manila and nearby provinces to reopen the economy and help struggling businesses, despite the country having the highest number of infections in Southeast Asia.

09:20 GMT – French side Marseille confirm three more coronavirus cases

Olympique Marseille have confirmed three more cases of coronavirus at the club, taking the total to four before they open the new Ligue 1 season at home to St Etienne on Friday.

Marseille said in a statement on Tuesday that testing on Monday did not reveal new cases but confirmed three suspected cases from Sunday.

Marseille cancelled a pre-season friendly with Bundesliga side VfB Stuttgart last week due to a positive test for COVID-19 [Christof Stache/Reuters]

Last season’s Ligue 1 was abandoned due to the global pandemic though Paris Saint-Germain were declared champions.

08:45 GMT – Indonesia reports 1,673 new coronavirus infections

Indonesia reported 1,673 new infections on Tuesday, bringing the total number of cases in the Southeast Asian nation to 143,043, data from the country’s health ministry showed.

The data recorded an additional 70 deaths, taking the total to 6,277.

08:15 GMT – Foreign residents still need permission to return to Dubai

Foreign residents of Dubai who have been overseas still need permission to return to the city, the emirate said.

The United Arab Emirates in March suspended the entry of non-citizens as part of measures to curb the spread of the coronavirus disease. Residents have since gradually been allowed to return, either after being granted a special exemption or by registering online, though many still remain overseas.

Last week, a federal policy requiring overseas residents to seek approval before they returned to the Gulf state was lifted. However, Dubai still requires residents to apply for an entry permit, the emirate said in a statement.

Those travelling to the UAE need to obtain a negative COVID-19 test before arriving.

The UAE has recorded 70,805 infections and 384 deaths from coronavirus [Francois Nel/Getty]

07:45 GMT – Russia confirms 4,748 new cases

Russia reported 4,748 new coronavirus cases on Tuesday, pushing its nationwide tally to 932,493, the fourth largest in the world.

The country’s coronavirus crisis response centre said 132 people had died of the disease in the last 24 hours, bringing the official coronavirus death toll to 15,872.

Only the US, Brazil and India have recorded more cases than Russia [Pavel Golovkin/AP]

07:30 GMT – UK retailer Marks and Spencer to axe 7,000 jobs

Marks and Spencer, the British retail chain selling clothing and food, is to cut about 7,000 jobs as the coronavirus pandemic keeps shoppers away from its stores, it announced on Tuesday.

The job cuts, to be carried out over the next three months, include losses from its central support centre, in regional management and in its UK stores, M&S said in a statement.

07:20 GMT – Indian minister back in hospital after recovering from COVID-19

India’s Home Minister Amit Shah was hospitalised again on Tuesday after complaining of fatigue and body ache, four days after he said he had recovered from COVID-19.

Shah, a close aide of Prime Minister Narendra Modi and the virtual number-two in his cabinet, was admitted to the government-run All India Institute for Medical Sciences in the capital New Delhi, the hospital said in a statement.

“He is comfortable and continuing his work from the hospital,” it said, adding he had now tested negative for COVID-19.

Shah is the highest-profile Indian politician to have been infected with the coronavirus [File: Prakash Singh/AFP]

India has reported the world’s third-largest number of infections after the United States and Brazil, with cases topping 50,000 every day since July 30.

07:00 GMT – Russian minister to join OPEC meeting after testing positive for COVID-19

Russian Energy Minister Alexander Novak will join an OPEC ministers’ video meeting on Wednesday despite testing positive for coronavirus while on a work trip in Russia’s far east, the energy ministry said.

“The minister feels good. He has no symptoms,” a ministry spokeswoman told Reuters news agency.

Novak is in Russia’s far east as part of a government delegation headed by Prime Minister Mikhail Mishustin, who had contracted the novel coronavirus in late April.

Novak will continue working remotely for the time being, energy ministry spokeswoman Olga Golant said [Maxim Shemetov/Reuters]

06:15 GMT – More than 680 people die of COVID-19 in Brazil

Brazil recorded 684 coronavirus deaths in the last 24 hours, bringing the death toll to 108,536, the country’s health ministry said.

At least 19,373 more people have contracted the virus, the ministry added, taking the total to 3,359,570.

With a population of 46 million, Sao Paulo remains the hardest-hit region in the country with 702,655 cases and 26,899 deaths.

More than 2.48 million people have recovered from the disease in the South American country [Tarso Sarraf/AFP] 

05:45 GMT –

Hello, this is Hamza Mohamed in Doha, Qatar, taking over from my colleague Kate Mayberry in Kuala Lumpur.

05:30 GMT – South Korea braces for second wave, with cases linked to church services

South Korea reported 246 more cases of coronavirus – 235 of them locally acquired – on Tuesday, its fifth day of triple-digit increases.

Of the new cases, 131 were reported in Seoul and 52 in the surrounding Gyeonggi province. 

Scores of cases have been traced to the Sarang Jeil Church in the north of the capital, and authorities have urged people who attended an anti-government rally on Saturday to get tested because some church followers known to have the virus were at the protest.

05:15 GMT – Hongkong Post to test front-line workers

Hongkong Post says it will arrange COVID-19 testing for about 3,800 staff responsible for mail delivery, outdoor duties and counter service.

The tests are scheduled for August 20 and 21 and Hongkong Post expects the process will be completed within two days of taking a specimen. 

04:55 GMT – China’s Sinopharm promises vaccine will be affordable 

China’s state media is reporting that a potential vaccine being developed by a unit of China National Pharmaceutical Group (Sinopharm), will cost no more than 1,000 yuan ($144.27) for two shots.

Sinopharm says its vaccine – currently in late-stage human trials in the United Arab Emirates – could be ready for public use by the end of this year.

“It will not be priced very high,” Sinopharm chairman Liu Jingzhen was quoted as saying by the Guangming Daily.

More than 200 vaccines are currently in development with more than 20 in human trials.

04:00 GMT – WHO says younger people increasingly driving pandemic

The World Health Organization’s regional director for the Western Pacific says younger people – those in their 20s, 30s and 40s – are increasingly driving the pandemic.

Takeshi Kasai told a virtual briefing that many were unaware they had the disease.

“This increases the risk of spillovers to the more vulnerable: the elderly, the sick people in long-term care, people who live in densely populated areas and underserved areas,” he said.

Low risk isn’t no risk. Follow your national health advisory to protect yourself and others from #COVID19

Learn more 👉 https://t.co/X5UBBwGY1q#StaySafe pic.twitter.com/5ka0geiz2n

— World Health Organization Western Pacific (@WHOWPRO) August 17, 2020

03:40 GMT – Mutation of virus could be a ‘good thing’

A prominent expert in infectious diseases says the mutation of the coronavirus into a more infectious strain could be a “good thing” because it appears to be less deadly.

Paul Tambyah, a senior consultant at the National University of Singapore and president-elect of the International Society of Infectious Diseases, says the D614G strain increasingly found in Europe – and this week reported in Malaysia – told Reuters viruses tended to become less deadly as they mutated.

You can read more on that story here.

03:20 GMT – Shenzhen steps up procedures to check frozen goods

While New Zealand may have ruled out frozen food imports as the source of its latest outbreak of coronavirus, Chinese state media reports the southern city of Shenzhen is setting up a warehouse specifically to handle such imports.

All imported frozen foods will have to go through the facility, where they will be disinfected, before they can be processed, stored or sold in Shenzhen. Samples will also be taken for nucleic acid testing.

Shenzhen will set up a warehouse for the supervision of #ImportedFrozenFoods starting from Tue as concerns rise over the risk of cold-chain supplies carrying #COVID19. A worker said it will take 5-8 hours for containers to finish the process. https://t.co/2MzrgWvXyj pic.twitter.com/hJ9naKbvvb

— Global Times (@globaltimesnews) August 18, 2020

02:50 GMT – New Zealand rules out link to frozen food and freight in recent outbreak

New Zealand has ruled out frozen food and freight as the cause of the recent coronavirus outbreak in Auckland.

Director General of Health Ashley Bloomfield told the media that investigations showed the virus did not come through chilled foods or materials arriving from overseas at a cold storage facility where one of the people diagnosed with the virus worked.

Auckland is in lockdown until August 26 and investigations into the origin of the outbreak are continuing.

02:20 GMT – Coronavirus on agenda as Democrats open convention in US

The Democrats in the US have begun the convention that will officially nominate Joe Biden as the party’s candidate in November’s presidential election.

Actress Eva Longoria opened the event – held virtually because of COVID-19 – by saying that the pandemic had “affected us all”.

Later, New York Governor Andrew Cuomo addressed the convention saying that the administration of incumbent President Donald Trump was “dysfunctional and incompetent” and had failed to tackle the coronavirus. 

‘Our current federal government is dysfunctional and incompetent. It couldn’t fight off the virus. In fact, it didn’t even see it coming,’ says @NYGovCuomo. Live #DemConvention updates: https://t.co/8mtXh0wSov pic.twitter.com/Eb9Ig45ReV

— Reuters (@Reuters) August 18, 2020

You can follow our live updates on the convention here.

02:00 GMT – Rio mayor scraps beach app reservation plan

Rio de Janeiro’s mayor has scrapped plans to launch an app for people to reserve their space on the beach after public ridicule.

Marcelo Crivella was inundated with criticism and a flood of memes on social media after announcing the proposal last week.

The mayor’s office now says the app will be scrapped and sitting on the beach will remain banned.

People have been allowed to swim in the ocean since the end of last month. 

An installation on Rio’s Copacabana Beach to honour the people who have died from COVID-19 in Brazil [Antonio Lacerda/EPA]

01:30 GMT – New Zealand reports 13 new cases

New Zealand’s reported 13 new cases of coronavirus over the past 24 hours.

Twelve of the cases are linked to an existing cluster that forced the lockdown of Auckland – the country’s biggest city.

00:30 GMT – Protests in Argentina against extension of coronavirus restrictions

Thousands of people have taken to the streets in cities across Argentina to show their opposition to President Alberto Fernandez and his plans to extend coronavirus restrictions in the region around Buenos Aires.

Demonstrators gathered in the centre of the city shouting “freedom, freedom”, waving flags and chanting anti-government slogans. 

Argentina has recorded nearly 300,000 cases of the disease and 5,750 deaths. About 90 percent of the cases have been in Buenos Aires where the coronavirus curbs have been extended until August 30. 

00:10 GMT – Hopes rise in Victoria that outbreak easing after lowest cases in a month

The Australian state of Victoria has reported its lowest number of coronavirus cases in a month, raising hopes that the second wave outbreak in the state is slowing.

Victoria reported 222 cases of the disease in the last 24 hours.

It also reported a further 17 deaths.

A man walks past a billboard in Melbourne reminding people that face masks are compulsory [William West/AFP] 

00:00 GMT – Museum of Modern Art in New York to reopen on August 27

New York’s Museum of Modern Art (MoMA) will reopen – with fewer visitors allowed, timed ticketing and mandatory face masks – on August 27.

MoMA has been closed for five months because of the coronavirus pandemic.

The Metropolitan Museum of Art is due to open on August 29, while the Whitney Museum of American Art will reopen on September 3.

—-

Hello and welcome to Al Jazeera’s continuing coverage of the coronavirus pandemic. I’m Kate Mayberry in Kuala Lumpur.

Read all the updates from yesterday (August 17) here.

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