Steve September 17, 2020
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ANN ARBOR, Mich. — Graduate students who teach at the University of Michigan returned to classes Thursday after voting to end a nine-day strike.

The Graduate Employees’ Organization, which represents about 2,000 students who teach or assist, says it achieved “critical progress” on childcare options during the coronavirus pandemic, testing protocols and concerns about campus police operations.

The union says the vote Wednesday was 1,074-239, ending a strike that began Sept. 8.

The deal ends legal action taken by the university, which sued this week to try to end the strike.

“By withholding our labor, building coalitions, and making our power impossible to ignore, we forced the university to give us an offer with substantive progress toward a safe and just campus,” the union said.

The university said the strike disrupted many online undergraduate classes taught by graduate students.

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

— Ex-CDC director concerned about White House politics involved in science

— As India’s virus cases rise, so do questions over death toll

— Africa CDC in talks with 9 manufacturers about virus vaccine trials

— Americans applying for unemployment benefits fell last week to 860,000, a historically high figure that reflects economic damage from the coronavirus outbreak.

— President Tweety McTreason disputes health officials, sees mass vaccinations soon. Trump also disagreed with Dr. Robert Redfield about the effectiveness of protective masks.

— College towns across the U.S. have emerged as virus hot spots in recent weeks. In many cases, surges have been blamed on off-campus parties.

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

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HERE’S WHAT ELSE IS HAPPENING:

ATHENS — Greece reported 135 cases of coronavirus infections among migrants and refugees on the island of Lesbos after several thousand people were tested Thursday.

Notis Mitarachi, the migration affairs minister, says the infections were discovered after some 5,000 migrants made homeless by a fire at a large refugee camp last week. They were escorted by police to a temporary new site and given rapid tests for the coronavirus.

A spike in cases nationwide has prompted the government to impose additional restrictive measures in greater Athens through Sept. 30.

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MILAN — Italy counted another 1,585 people with the coronavirus on Thursday, with tests reaching 101,000.

Italy has recorded an uptick in new positives for the last six weeks, mostly from people returning from holidays. All regions reported new positives, with the most in Lombardy at nearly 300 cases.

The number of deaths remain well below peak levels, with the toll rising by 12 on Thursday to a confirmed total of 35,658.

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COPENHAGEN, Denmark — Denmark officials advised against travelling to the Netherlands, Portugal, Switzerland, Hungary and Austria.

Denmark made the move because of a flare-up of coronavirus cases, with the countries crossing the threshold of 30 cases per 100,000 inhabitants per week.

The other nations on the list against unnecessary travel are Andorra, Belgium, France, Croatia, Luxembourg, Malta, Monaco, the Netherlands, Portugal, Romania, Switzerland, Spain, the Czech Republic, Hungary and Austria.

Denmark has confirmed 21,393 cases and 635 deaths.

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LISBON, Portugal — Portugal is reporting its biggest daily increase in new coronavirus cases in five months.

The General Directorate for Health says 770 new infections and 10 deaths were recorded Thursday.

The deaths are the highest daily number in two months. The increases came in the week when classes resumed.

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NEW YORK — New York City has delayed again the planned start of in-person learning for most of the more than 1 million students in its public school system.

Mayor Bill de Blasio announced Thursday that most elementary school students will do remote-only learning until Sept. 29. Middle and high schools will stay remote through Oct. 1. The original in-school return date was Sept. 21.

Pre-kindergarten students and some other special education students will resume in-person instruction on Monday as planned.

De Blasio and union leaders say the city needed more time to prepare for the safe return of students and staff to school buildings.

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WASHINGTON — Former CDC Director Tom Frieden says he’s concerned about political pressure on the science of the coronavirus pandemic.

Frieden told “CBS This Morning” the FDA and the CDC have been “unduly influenced by politics, when it comes to the emergency approvals, when it comes to recommendations.”

He says its “very problematic, because we want to have a safe, effective, acceptable and trusted vaccine.”

President Tweety McTreason disagreed on Wednesday with current CDC Director Dr. Robert Redfield about how soon a vaccine would be accessible, if one becomes available, and the effectiveness of protective masks.

Frieden says he’s alarmed some information on the CDC website isn’t “scientifically justifiable” and “written not at the CDC headquarters in Atlanta but in Washington by people with no special experience in public health.

“And it’s unfortunate because there are thousands of really good documents on that website. It’s had 1.6 million clicks and you need to be able to trust it.”

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WOONSOCKET, R.I. — CVS Health plans to have more than 4,000 coronavirus testing sites running at store locations around the country by mid-October.

A company spokesman says the drugstore chain is doubling its locations to prepare for a potential second wave of the virus and to be ready to deliver a vaccine, once one is approved by federal regulators.

The tests involve self-swab test kits the customer uses while being monitored by a pharmacy employee. Most results will be available in two-to-three days.

The Woonsocket, Rhode Island-based CVS Health Corp. has more than 9,900 locations. The company says it can support testing in 33 states and Washington, D.C.

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BANGKOK — Thai Prime Minister Prayuth Chan-ocha has issued a public call for people not to gather for an anti-government rally this weekend because of the risk of spreading the coronavirus.

Prayuth made the appeal in a televised speech about what he considers a second wave of infections sweeping through other countries.

Thailand has been relatively successful in containing the disease. The Health Ministry on Thursday announced no new coronavirus cases, leaving the total at 3,490 and 58 deaths.

“When you gather in mobs you are creating an enormous risk of new infections,” Prayuth said. “And with that, you also create enormous risk to the livelihoods of tens of millions of fellow Thais.”

Prayuth said he respects the opinions of those with political grievances, but restoring the economy battered by the coronavirus is a priority.

More than 10,000 people are expected to attend the protests on Saturday and Sunday to call for new elections, among other issues.

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GENEVA — The European head for the World Health Organization is warning of “alarming rates of transmission” of the coronavirus in parts of the continent.

Dr. Hans Kluge says the largest proportion remains among adults ages 25 to 49 but noted increases in cases in older age groups, who tend to be more vulnerable to severe the deadly disease.

“This pandemic has taken so much from us in Europe: 4,893,614 cases of COVID-19 have been recorded and 226,524 deaths, and that tells only part of the story.

He also pointed to a “monumental” impact on mental health, economies, and livelihoods.

“Although these numbers reflect more comprehensive testing, it also shows alarming rates of transmission across the region,” he said.

He called for “regional coherence” and says Europe’s response has been effective when “prompt and resolute. But the virus has shown (to be) merciless whenever partisanship and disinformation prevailed.”

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JOHANNESBURG — Africa’s top public health official says the Africa Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has been in talks with nine vaccine manufacturers about potential coronavirus vaccine clinical trials on the continent.

John Nkengasong says the talks include the Oxford University group that’s developing a vaccine with drug company AstraZeneca and already has a clinical trial in South Africa.

The African Union’s 54 member states want to secure more than 10 late-stage COVID-19 vaccine clinical trials in Africa. They’re motivated by memories of watching millions die while years passed before affordable drugs or vaccines for diseases reached the continent of 1.3 billion people.

Health experts say COVID-19 vaccine trials must include Africans to make sure any effective vaccine can be rolled out quickly in Africa along with the rest of the world.

Nkengasong warns that a vaccine will not be a “magic bullet,” saying the world has never been able to vaccinate even 500 million people in a single year. Africa has more than 1.3 million confirmed virus cases, including more than 33,000 deaths, and new cases have slowed in recent weeks.

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LONDON — The World Health Organization’s European director has warned countries against reducing the quarantine period for people potentially exposed to the coronavirus, even as he acknowledged that COVID-19 fatigue is setting in and people are increasingly resistant to the strict public health measures needed to control the pandemic.

In a press briefing on Thursday, Dr. Hans Kluge warned “even a slight reduction in the length of the quarantine” could have a significant effect on the virus’ spread, which he said had grown to “alarming” rates in Europe.

He said countries should only reduce the quarantine period if it was scientifically justified, and offered to convene scientific discussions on the issue if necessary.

Last week, France cut its required quarantine time for people who have been exposed to a potential COVID-19 case from 14 days to seven, saying many people did not respect the two-week period anyway.

Katie Smallwood, WHO Europe’s senior health emergency officer, said its recommendation that people quarantine themselves for 14 days after a possible exposure to coronavirus was based on their understanding of the disease’s incubation period and transmission patterns.

“We would only revise that on a basis of a change in our understanding of the science and so far that’s not the case,” she said.

Smallwood added that several countries are considering reducing their required quarantine periods. “We would really re-emphasize that our position is that a 14-day quarantine is important for patients that have been exposed to the virus.”

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BERLIN — Germany has recorded its largest single-day increase in new coronavirus infections since late April, underlining an upward trend over recent weeks.

The Robert Koch Institute, Germany’s national disease control center, said Thursday that 2,194 new cases were reported over the past day. That is still far below the figures of over 6,000 seen at the height of the pandemic’s first wave at the beginning of April, but new cases were down to a few hundred a day between May and July.

Germany has now recorded more than 265,000 cases in total, with over 9,300 deaths. It is still in a better position than several other European countries as infections rebound in many places.

On Wednesday evening, the Robert Koch Institute added the Austrian capital, Vienna, and the Hungarian capital, Budapest, along with more regions of France, Croatia, the Netherlands, Romania, Switzerland and the Czech Republic to a long list of “risk areas” that already includes the Belgian capital, Brussels, and the whole of Spain.

People arriving from those areas must undergo a COVID-19 test and quarantine until the results are in.

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LONDON — British Prime Minister Boris Johnson has warned that authorities will have to impose tougher measures to combat the spread of COVID-19 and “protect’’ the Christmas holidays.

Johnson’s comments come amid reports that the government is set to impose a 10 p.m. curfew on pubs and restaurants in northern England in response to a recent jump in infections.

Writing in the Sun newspaper on Thursday, Johnson says the only way to be certain the country can enjoy Christmas “is to be tough now.’’

He says that he wants to “stop the surge, arrest the spike, stop the second hump of the dromedary, flatten the second hump.”

Over the past two days, opposition lawmakers criticized Johnson’s handling of the COVID-19 crisis, accusing the government of lacking a cohesive plan to tackle the second wave of the pandemic.

Figures released late Wednesday showed 3,991 new confirmed U.K. infections during the previous 24 hours, up from 3,105 a day earlier.

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BERLIN — German pharmaceutical company BioNTech says it is buying a large manufacturing site to ramp up its production capacity for a future coronavirus vaccine.

BioNTech said Thursday that it will purchase the site in Marburg, Germany, from Swiss rival Novartis AG.

Once the site is fully operational in the first half of 2021 it hopes to be able to produce up to 750 million doses a year.

BioNTech is working with Pfizer to develop a COVID-19 vaccine based on mRNA technology. Five candidate vaccines are currently being tested on volunteers in the United States, Europe, South America and China.

The company didn’t disclose a purchase price for the site.

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LONDON — The emergencies chief of the World Health Organization says scientific disagreements over COVID-19 interventions — like masks and vaccines — shouldn’t be treated as “some kind of political football,” but acknowledged that “it isn’t easy for everyone to be on message all the time.”

Asked to respond to the open disagreements between U.S. President Tweety McTreason and the director of the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention over the effectiveness of masks and when a coronavirus vaccine might be available, Dr. Michael Ryan said “it is important that we have consistent messaging from all levels.”

“This is complicated stuff,” Ryan said at a press briefing on Thursday. “What is important is that governments (and) scientific institutions step back, review the evidence and give us the most comprehensive, easy-to-understand…information so that people can take the appropriate action.” He warned against turning scientific messaging into “some kind of political football.”

WHO has previously said it is possible there may be enough data from ongoing trials into coronavirus vaccines to know by the end of the year if one of the experimental shots is safe and effective enough to use globally. On Wednesday, Trump predicted this could happen next month and that a mass vaccination campaign in the U.S. could start shortly afterward. He called the U.S. CDC director Dr. Robert Redfield “confused” for projecting a longer timeline.

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