NEW DELHI — As the United States and Europe grapple with fresh surges in coronavirus cases, the outbreak in India is slowing for the first time since the pandemic began. Epidemiologists and doctors say the virus is in retreat — at least for now — in this country of more than 1.3 billion people.
After seven straight months in which cases increased relentlessly, culminating in a devastating September surge, the number of new infections per day in India dropped sharply in October.
India is home to one of the largest outbreaks on the planet. Last month, the country hit a peak of nearly 100,000 cases in a single day, a record in the pandemic. Since then, however, daily cases have fallen by about half and deaths by about a third. The downward trend in India’s cases means it is no longer on track to overtake the United States as the country with the most coronavirus cases in the world. India has 7.7 million cases compared with 8.3 million in the United States. Each day this week, India has reported fewer new cases.
Czech minister under fire after restaurant trip
PRAGUE — The health minister of the hard-hit Czech Republic has been under fire to resign after a media report that he broke strict government restrictions and visited a Prague restaurant.
The Blesk tabloid daily said Health Minister Minister Roman Prymula met with Jaroslav Faltynek, deputy head of the senior government ANO (YES) movement led by Prime Minister Andrej Babis, on Wednesday night.
Amid tight restrictions, restaurants, bars, schools are closed. The meeting took place just hours after Prymula announced the latest series of regulations, including a limit on movement and the closure of many stores.
The junior government coalition party, the Social Democrats, joined the opposition to demand Prymula’s resignation, calling his behavior “absolutely unacceptable.” In photographs, Prymula didn’t wear a mandatory mask.
Faltynek said he asked Prymula to meet to discuss an extraordinary parliament session that is set to approve a plan for NATO military medical personnel to come to the Czech Republic to help with the outbreak.
Prymula didn’t immediately comment.
The Czech Republic has been facing record coronavirus infections that put the health system under pressure. The Health Ministry says daily confirmed cases reached 14,151 on Thursday, after the record of almost 15,000 the day earlier.
The country has had 223,065 cases, about a third of them in the last seven days while 1,845 people have died.
Massachusetts shuts rinks after 30 virus clusters are linked to hockey games, practices
In New England, the onset of long, dark winter nights typically also marks the beginning of hockey season. But this year, health officials are beginning to worry that the combination of strenuous physical activity, enclosed rinks and face-to-face contact could result in new coronavirus clusters.
On Thursday, Massachusetts became the latest state to order all indoor rinks and ice skating facilities to shut down for two weeks. Officials said that at least 30 coronavirus clusters across the state — totaling 108 probable or confirmed cases in 60 municipalities — had been linked to hockey games and practices.
The announcement came one week after a similar move by New Hampshire, where health officials said they had identified 158 cases linked to the sport in a two-month period, with outbreaks occurring in nearly two dozen teams. Benjamin Chan, the state epidemiologist, said at the time that other sports did not appear to have similar levels of transmission.
A study released last week by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reinforced those concerns, noting that 14 out of 22 hockey players developed COVID-19 symptoms after a June game at a Florida indoor arena, and at least a dozen of them later tested positive for the coronavirus.
“The indoor space and close contact between players during a hockey game increase infection risk for players and create potential for a superspreader event, especially with ongoing community COVID-19 transmission,” the researchers concluded.
In Maine, youth hockey games have been canceled for the past two weekends. After discovering that a single referee potentially exposed 400 people to the coronavirus during one weekend, organizers received a strongly worded warning from state health officials, the Portland Press Herald reported.
Meanwhile, Vermont has traced at least 30 coronavirus cases to one Montpelier arena. Last Friday, Gov. Phil Scott (R) banned rinks from accepting any new reservations for a two-week period and hinted that more restrictions could be on the way. Rather than cancel the season entirely, Vermont may prohibit teams from playing against out-of-state competitors, according to the Boston Globe.
UN secretary general frustrated by lack of coordinated global response to virus
UNITED NATIONS — The U.N. chief says it’s “very frustrating” that leaders of the 20 major industrialized nations didn’t come together in March and establish a coordinated response to grapple with the coronavirus in all countries as he proposed.
The result, he says, is every country is taking its own sometimes contradictory actions, and the virus is moving “from east to west, north to south,” with second waves of infections now affecting many countries.
Ahead of the Group of 20 summit next month, Secretary-General Antonio Guterres said in an interview with The Associated Press that he hopes the international community now understands “they need to be much more coordinated in fighting the virus.”
Guterres says the United Nations also will be “strongly advocating” during the G-20 summit for a guarantee that when a vaccine is available, “it becomes indeed available and affordable for everyone, everywhere.”
Idaho community lifts mask mandate despite hospital hitting capacity
An Idaho health district voted Thursday to overturn a mask mandate for one of the state’s main hot spots, one day after the local hospital warned that it was at 99 percent capacity and might have to send some patients as far as Seattle or Portland.
First instituted in Kootenai County in late July, the mandate was initially followed by a drop in the number of new coronavirus infections, according to the Spokesman-Review. But the rule was never enforced by the Kootenai County Sheriff’s Office, and over time, compliance declined, the paper reported. The county has now entered the Panhandle Health District’s highest risk category due to the rising number of infections and is considered one of the worst hot spots in Idaho.
Kootenai Health, the main hospital in the area, said Wednesday that it was seeing its highest rate of positive tests since the start of the pandemic and had reached 99 percent of its capacity. Community members’ willingness to wear masks and practice social distancing could determine whether local hospitals “will have the ability to continue providing care for all types of patients in our region,” a message on its website stated. As of Thursday evening, the hospital was at 90 percent capacity.
Nonetheless, the Panhandle Health District board, which oversees five counties in northern Idaho, voted 4 to 3 to strike down the mask mandate for Kootenai County. Some of the members who supported rescinding the order acknowledged that masks could help stop the spread of the virus, but they insisted that wearing one should be a matter of personal choice. Another member, Allen Banks, claimed without evidence that something else was making people sick, the Spokesman-Review reported.
The decision to overturn the mandate appears to have led to significant backlash. Later on Thursday, the Panhandle Health District issued a public statement alerting people that its coronavirus hotline “is mainly staffed with volunteers that have nothing to do with the Board’s decisions.”
“They manage their fair share of angry callers with grace and patience, but please direct comments about the board meeting to the board,” the notice said.
Washington governor: ‘Every choice you make right now matters.”’
SEATTLE — Health officials in Washington state say the number of people in the state who have been confirmed with coronavirus infections during the pandemic has surpassed 100,000.
The Department of Health reported 651 new virus cases and three new COVID-19 deaths Thursday. The latest numbers increased the state’s confirmed cases to 100,525 and the total number of people who have died to 2,289.
Gov. Jay Inslee tweeted about the cases topping 100,000, saying, “Every choice you make right now matters.”
Inslee says cases are on the rise again in Washington, and he urges people to have fewer and shorter interactions with others.
Texas governor sends medical aid to hard-hit El Paso
AUSTIN, Texas — Texas Gov. Greg Abbott is sending more medical reinforcements to the El Paso area in response to a surge of coronavirus infections and cases of COVID-19, the illness the virus can cause.
The Texas Department of State Health Services and the Texas Division of Emergency Management will provide more medical personnel and equipment this week.
The move comes during the same week that El Paso County reported 3,750 new coronavirus infections, including 1,161 on Thursday. That number accounts for 17.5% of the 21,321 cases reported this week by the state’s 254 counties.
Active coronavirus cases in El Paso rose 864 Thursday to 9,569. The 558 confirmed COVID-19 patients hospitalized in El Paso, Culberson and Hudspeth counties account for more than one-third of all of that region’s hospitalized patients
Montana taking legal action against businesses flouting health directives
HELENA, Mont. — Montana Gov. Steve Bullock says the state health department is pursuing legal action against several businesses in northwestern Montana for not following a mask mandate and other restrictions meant to prevent the spread of the coronavirus.
The announcement came Thursday as the state reported 932 newly confirmed coronavirus cases. That was far above the previous one-day high of 734.
The new cases include 173 in Yellowstone County and 112 in Flathead County, where the governor says businesses face legal action.
State officials also have launched a new website to allow people to submit complaints against businesses and events that are not complying with health directives.