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The Latest: WHO: Global cases decline, Europe deaths rise – Federal News Network

HELENA, Montana — Montana has set a new high for the number of people hospitalized with COVID-19 — 510.

The number reported Wednesday surpassed the previous high of 506 hospitalizations recorded Nov. 20, 2020, before any coronavirus vaccines were available.

Gov. Greg Gianforte issued a statement urging Montanans to get vaccinated, but added that “we will not mandate them.”

Meanwhile, the school district in Livingston, Montana, shifted its middle and high school classes to remote learning to slow the spread of the coronavirus among students. Officials said few students have used masks.

The school board voted Tuesday to have remote learning for its 740 middle and high school students until Oct. 25, because there are 17 coronavirus cases each at Park High School and Sleeping Giant Middle School.

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MORE ON THE PANDEMIC:

— U.S. border residents rejoice in lifting of travel ban

— FDA grapples with timing of booster for J&J COVID-19 vaccine

— Russia, WHO differ on when approval will come for Sputnik V

— Families of COVID-19 patients ask hospitals to rethink visitor policies

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See all of AP’s pandemic coverage at https://apnews.com/hub/coronavirus-pandemic

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HERE’S WHAT ELSE IS HAPPENING:

HONOLULU — Organizers are planning for the Honolulu Marathon even though it’s not clear government officials will allow it to be held in December.

Hawaii Public Radio reports marathon organizers are frustrated that Honolulu is easing pandemic-related restrictions on large events but neither Hawaii’s governor nor Honolulu’s mayor have provided clarity about whether the marathon can happen with the thousands of participants it normally draws.

In 2019, there were more than 33,000 runners in the Honolulu Marathon, including more than 16,000 from Japan.

Other large marathons in Boston and Chicago were held recently.

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SAN DIEGO — Beleaguered business owners and families separated by a nonessential travel ban are celebrating after the Biden administration says it will reopen U.S. land borders next month.

Travel across land borders from Canada and Mexico has been largely restricted to workers whose jobs are deemed essential. New rules will allow fully vaccinated foreign nationals to enter the U.S. regardless of the reason starting in early November.

Unlike air travel, for which proof of a negative COVID-19 test is required before boarding a flight to enter the U.S., no testing will be required to enter the U.S. by land or sea, provided the travelers meet the vaccination requirement.

The 19-month coronavirus restrictions had economic, social and cultural impact, preventing shopping and cross-border family gatherings when relatives live on different sides of the border.

In Del Rio, Texas, Mexican visitors account for about 65% of retail sales, said Blanca Larson, executive director of the chamber of commerce and visitors bureau in the city of 35,000 people. “Along the border, we’re like more of one community than two different communities,” she said.

Fully vaccinated U.S. citizens and permanent residents have been allowed into Canada since August, provided they have waited at least two weeks since getting their second vaccine dose and can show proof of a recent negative COVID-19 test. Mexico has not enforced coronavirus entry procedures for land travelers.

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PORTLAND, Maine — A federal judge declined Wednesday to intervene to stop Democratic Gov. Janet Mills’ requirement that health care workers be vaccinated against COVID-19 by the end of the month.

U.S. District Court Judge Jon Levy says none of the nine plaintiffs met the legal threshold for an injunction to halt the requirement to be fully vaccinated by Oct. 29 or lose their jobs.

Levy ruled the record indicates regular testing alone is not sufficient to stop the spread of the delta variant.

“The speed of the delta variant’s transmission outpaces test-result availability,” he wrote. Daily testing, he wrote, would require use of rapid tests that are both less accurate and in short supply.

The judge concluded the plaintiffs were unable to show an injunction was in the public interest or that they had a strong likelihood of prevailing if the lawsuit moves forward. The Liberty Counsel, which filed the lawsuit in August, vowed to appeal.

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BUCHAREST, Romania — Doctors in Bucharest issued an open letter titled “a cry of despair” as the country’s overwhelmed health care system copes with record cases, hospitalizations and deaths.

The College of Physicians of Bucharest wrote a letter addressed to Romanians that says the medical system has “reached the limit.”

On Wednesday, Romania confirmed 15,733 new infections and 390 deaths, bringing the total number of deaths to 40,461. Data from health authorities indicate that more than 90% of coronavirus patients who died last week were unvaccinated.

Hungary has agreed to provide care to several dozen COVID-19 patients from Romania in the coming days to help ease the burden on hospitals.

Dragos Zaharia, a primary care doctor at Bucharest’s Marius Nasta Institute of Pneumology, thinks Romanian authorities should have enlisted a “famous personality” to lead the country’s vaccination campaign.

“Only anonymous guys are leading this fight,” Zaharia told The Associated Press. “It’s heartbreaking for us when we know that a lot of those who died could have lived, if they would have been vaccinated.”

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BOSTON — More than 800 people who work for Boston have been suspended without pay for failing to comply with the city’s coronavirus vaccine mandate.

Acting Mayor Kim Janey announced in August the city’s roughly 18,000 employees would be required to either show proof of vaccination or submit to regular testing.

Janey says the suspended employees who didn’t meet Tuesday’s initial deadline came from five “public facing” agencies, including the public schools department, libraries, the center for youth and families, the disability commission and the age commission. Workers who continue to ignore the mandate face termination, she said. The school department alone has about 11,000 employees.

The city is making plans to deal with potential staffing shortfalls, which so far accounts for less than 1% of workers. Suspended employees can return to work by providing proof of a negative test.

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GENEVA — The World Health Organization says the number of global coronavirus cases fell in the last week, continuing a downward trend that began in late August.

In its latest weekly assessment of the pandemic published on Wednesday, the U.N. health agency says there were about 2.8 million new cases and 46,000 confirmed deaths in the last week, a drop of 7% and 10% respectively. Europe reported a 7% rise in cases, while all other world regions reported a decrease.

WHO says Europe also had the biggest rise in deaths in the previous week, with 11% more COVID-19 deaths. WHO says the highest numbers of new cases in Europe were reported in Britain, Turkey and Russia.

The biggest drops in cases came in Africa and the Western Pacific, where case numbers fell by 32% and 27%, respectively. Deaths in both regions fell by more than a third.

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WASHINGTON — The Food and Drug Administration is wrestling with how to decide on booster doses of the single-shot Johnson & Johnson COVID-19 vaccine.

Other manufacturers want to offer boosters six months after primary vaccination. But J&J proposed a range of times, from two months to six months. In a review posted Wednesday, FDA scientists didn’t reach a firm conclusion, citing shortcomings with J&J’s data.

On Thursday and Friday, an FDA advisory panel will recommend whether to back boosters of both the J&J and Moderna vaccines. An extra dose of Pfizer’s vaccine already is available to certain Americans.

Pfizer and Moderna have provided the majority of U.S. COVID-19 vaccines. More than 170 million Americans have been fully vaccinated with those two-dose shots while less than 15 million Americans got the J&J shot.

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MOSCOW — The head of the Russian sovereign fund bankrolling the shot says Russia is ready to provide up to 300 million doses of its Sputnik V vaccine to the U.N.-backed COVAX initiative.

That’s despite the lack of WHO approval and Sputnik V vaccine production issues that are drawing concerns worldwide. Russian Direct Investment Fund CEO Kirill Dmitriev and the World Health Organization had vastly different takes Wednesday on when the Russian vaccine would get WHO’s stamp of approval.

Sputnik V is already being used in 70 countries around the world despite not yet authorized by the U.N. health agency. Some officials in countries, especially in Latin America, have expressed concerns they aren’t getting the vaccine’s second shot in time to properly innoculate their people.

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MIAMI — Families of COVID-19 patients are asking hospitals to rethink visitor policies a year and a half into the pandemic, which has killed 716,000 people in the U.S.

The relatives say they’re being denied the right to be with loved ones at a crucial time. Doctors also are increasingly telling hospitals to relax restrictions to allow patients to see their families.

Hospitals in at least a half-dozen states have loosened restrictions governing visits to COVID patients. Others, however, are standing firm, backed by studies and industry groups that indicate such policies have been crucial to keeping hospital-acquired infections low.

The University of Utah Health this year announced its hospitals would allow up to two adult visitors for the entire hospital stay with protective equipment and recently vaccinated or recovered from the virus. Many hospitals have made exceptions only for coronavirus patients who are about to die.

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MOSCOW — Russia has reported a record 984 daily coronavirus deaths amid a slow vaccination rate.

It’s marked several record daily death tolls in the past few weeks. Infections have soared to near all-time highs, with 28,717 confirmed cases reported Wednesday.

The Kremlin has attributed the mounting contagion and deaths to slow vaccinations. Prime Minister Mikhail Mishustin said Tuesday about 29% of the country’s nearly 146 million people were fully vaccinated.

President Vladimir Putin emphasized the need to speed up the vaccination rate on Tuesday, but he also has cautioned against forcing people to get the shots. Health experts have attributed the slow pace of vaccination to widespread vaccine skepticism and disinformation.

The Kremlin has ruled out a new nationwide lockdown similar to the one during the first months of the pandemic that badly crippled the economy and dented Putin’s ratings. It has delegated the power to enforce coronavirus restrictions to regional authorities.

The increased infections have increased the pressure on Russia’s health care system. Speaking at a Cabinet meeting Tuesday, Health Minister Mikhail Murashko said 11% of Russia’s 235,000 hospitalized COVID-19 patients are in serious or critical condition.

Russia’s coronavirus task force has confirmed more than 7.8 million cases and 219,329 deaths — the highest death toll in Europe. Russia trails the U.S (718,000), Brazil (601,000) India (451,000) and Mexico (283,000) in confirmed global deaths.

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GENEVA — The World Health Organization released a proposed list of 25 experts to advise it on the next steps in searching for the origins of the coronavirus after its earlier efforts were slammed for accommodating China, where the first human cases were detected in late 2019.

In a statement on Wednesday, the U.N. health agency says its proposed experts — including some who were on the original team that went to Wuhan to probe the origins of COVID-19 — would be subject to a two-week public consultation period. Among the suggested members of the new team are Marion Koopmans of the Netherlands and Thea Fischer of Denmark, who were on the WHO team that visited China in February. In a recent commentary, Koopmans, Fischer and others said the search for the origins of COVID-19 had “stalled” and Chinese officials were still refusing to hand over some raw data.

After the WHO-led team completed its China visit, the experts released a report concluding the possibility the coronavirus leaked from a Wuhan lab was “extremely unlikely,” prompting criticism from outside scientists that the theory had not been properly vetted. WHO director-general Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus later acknowledged it had been “premature” to dismiss the lab theory.

Numerous health experts and scientists have called for an independent investigation to be conducted beyond WHO, pointing out the agency has no authority to compel countries, including China, to cooperate. China has said it welcomes further investigations of the coronavirus’ origins, but in other countries. A recent review of U.S. intelligence ordered by President Joe Biden found inconclusive evidence whether the coronavirus originated in a laboratory.

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Chartered Flight For MPs To Vic Falls For 2022 National Pre-Budget Seminar – New Zimbabwe.com


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By Anna Chibamu


PARLIAMENT will avail a chartered flight for MPs to attend the 2022 annual pre-budget seminar in the resort city of Victoria Falls.

House of Assembly Speaker Jacob Mudenda confirmed the 2022 pre-budget seminar will be held this weekend.

Mudenda told National Assembly members Tuesday all MPs residing from provinces furthest Victoria Falls, such as Harare, Mashonaland East, West, Central, Manicaland will fly to the resort city Friday morning.

However, MPs from Masvingo, Midlands, Bulawayo, Matabeleland North, Matabeleland South province will use their parliamentary-issued vehicles to travel for the all-paid weekend seminar.

The seminar follows public consultations carried out countrywide by Parliament ahead of the 2022 national budget to be presented by Finance Minister Mthuli Ncube next month.

However, previous national budgets have come under fire from citizens who feel the budgets have become documents filled with figures with no meaning as the country’s economy continues to worsen.

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US Congress Approves Zimbabwe's $213.2m HIV Response Support – New Zimbabwe.com

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By Staff Reporter


MORE than 1.2 million Zimbabweans living with HIV will continue receiving life-saving treatment and health services enabling them to lead long and healthy lives.

Thousands of health care workers will also continue carrying out their critical work under the latest country plan approved by the United States.

The US Congress approved $213.2 million for the U.S. President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief (PEPFAR) 2021 country plan for Zimbabwe, reflecting strong coordination between the United States and key partners, including the Ministry of Health and Child Care, the Global Fund, UNAIDS, and civil society.

The approved plan will advance client-centered services, support Zimbabwe health care workers, and implement resilient programmes designed to mitigate the impacts of Covid-19.

More than US$9.4 million of the total comes from the American Rescue Plan Act to strengthen health systems, such as the electronic health record and national surveillance systems, already helping screen and track Covid-19 at Zimbabwe’s ports of entry.

U.S. Embassy Chargé d’ Affaires Thomas Hastings has recognised the enormous contributions to the HIV response by civil society organizations, people living with HIV, health workers and implementing partners during an especially challenging year due to the Covid-19 pandemic.

“I commend the Zimbabwean communities for continuing to work despite challenges posed by Covid-19.  Support under the PEPFAR program couldn’t have come at better time to ensure people continue to receive HIV treatment and other lifesaving services,” he said.

More than 1.27 million people live with HIV in Zimbabwe, including 1.19 million adults and nearly 76,000 children.

The PEPFAR 2021 plan supports 100 percent treatment coverage within every district and across all ages, ensuring people like 46-year-old Patricia Padzura, a Harare resident diagnosed with HIV 20 years ago, remain on treatment and continue to live healthy lives.

“Getting onto HIV treatment is the best thing that ever happened to my life,” Padzura said. “I am healthy and most importantly, I am happy that the virus in my blood is now undetectable.”

In the year ahead, PEPFAR will invest more than $40 million to support nearly 200,000 vulnerable girls and young women aged 10-24 in Zimbabwe under the DREAMS (Determined, Resilient, Empowered, AIDS-free, Mentored, and Safe) programme.

Since 2015, DREAMS has reached more than 785,000 girls with HIV and violence prevention education and services, educational assistance, economic strengthening, and post-violence care.

About $9 million of support will benefit nearly 53,000 Zimbabwean LGBTQI+ community members, targeting men who have sex with men and transgender people.

While no PEPFAR assistance goes directly to the Government of Zimbabwe, it does support thousands of health care workers through implementing partners and non-government organizations who carry out the work under close Embassy oversight.

PEPFAR supports these health care workers, as well as key staff in district and regional health offices and laboratories, with salary supplements, stipends, travel expenses, and other forms of support.

PEPFAR’s support to Zimbabwe, including the $1.7 billion cumulative investment since 2003, has vastly and positively changed the direction of the HIV epidemic.

The second Zimbabwe Population-based HIV Impact Assessment (ZIMPHIA 2020) reflected this impact, noting that among all Zimbabweans on HIV treatment, 90.3% had achieved viral load suppression, meaning they effectively have no risk of transmitting HIV to others.

Continued PEPFAR investment will ensure Zimbabwe remains on track to attaining epidemic control and ending AIDS by 2030.

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OPINION | Maynard Manyowa: South Africa's lax border controls played a role in the red list issue – News24

The slow pace to move South Africa off the UK’s red list could have been as a result of South Africa’s lax border controls, writes Maynard Manyowa.


At midnight, on 11 October, The United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland removed South Africa from its ‘red list’, but only when it had relaxed most of its own rules surrounding travel, and life in the country had returned to normal. Currently only seven countries remain on the red list, most of them being South American Spanish speaking countries where the UK is not a prime destination anyway – the United States is. In truth, South Africa was only removed at the same time as Afghanistan, and when the UK was taking the final steps to abolish the traffic light system altogether.

What was the red list?

Under the three-tier travel traffic light system, passengers arriving in the UK from a green list country or passengers who had spent ten days in a green list country didn’t have to self-quarantine on arrival. All they required was a negative Covid test taken days before arrival. 

Passengers from amber list countries were required to take a test before coming to the UK, self-quarantine at home, and book for a test on day two and day eight of their arrival. This was largely seen as inconvenient but tolerable. 

However, passengers from the red list were subject to some of the harshest health screening protocols in recent times. They were required to book and pay for an 11-night quarantine in a managed hotel at the cost of £2 285 (R46,000). They were also required to pay for pre-departure Covid tests. 

The entire scheme was scandalous, and the experience was torrid. I flew back to the UK on 20 August through South Africa. I landed to an effective prison. I could only leave my hotel for 15 minutes supervised exercise a day – way less than the 30 minutes to an hour that death row inmates receive in the United States. 

READ | Scrapping UK travel red list might just save SA’s peak tourism season

But if it was scandalous, it was absurd too. My wife, a South African national, flew out of South Africa on 4 September, first to Dubai and then to London Heathrow. She had to pay £2,285 (R46,000) as well. On top of that, Emirates Airlines required her to test the day before departure at the cost of R800 and then six hours before boarding at the cost of R1400. On arrival, those who had spent ten days in Dubai were allowed to leave and go home, those who departed from South Africa were sent to the hotel, even though these passengers had been in the same flight for nearly nine hours. In fact my wife sat in the middle seat and next to two passengers who were allowed to go home. I found that self-defeating, but that is a story for another day. 

Throughout the year, the UK has moved several countries through different tiers. But South Africa, along with Zimbabwe, Malawi, and pretty much all Southern Africa debuted in the red list and remained there – much to the annoyance of South Africa’s Minister of Foreign Affairs, Naledi Pandoor.

Why did South Africa remain in the red list? 

The UK never offered an official position as to why South Africa remained on the red list. For some time, it stood to reason that South Africa was not in control of infection rates, and the beta variant (also known as 501.V2 or B.1.351 and first identified in SA), was at one point thought to be the most infectious SARS Cov2 variants was out of control. After all, when the UK’s infection numbers were rocketing, South Africa was swift in banning passengers from the UK entirely.

But this explanation seemed to fall flat when India was moved from the red list to the amber list. India’s delta variant is straight from the pits of hell. It is more infectious than any other variant, affects the young as well as the elderly, spreads quickly, and is responsible for repeat infections among people who are already vaccinated. India’s own numbers were horrendous, at one point consistently registering more than a quarter million cases a day. 

READ | ‘Definitely not rooted in science’ – health experts slam UK’s decision to keep SA on red list

The United States led the list of confirmed active cases. India followed closely. At that time, South Africa was not even in the top 10. Its neighbours, Zimbabwe, and Malawi all had under 10,000 cases. They were off the red list. South Africa puzzlingly remained.

But there may have been one other reason that South Africa remained on the red list longer than it should have. A contact at Public Health England, told me that during several cluster meetings held by different Covid-19 response portfolios, security issues had been raised. 

What were these security issues? 

South Africa’s borders are gleefully ajar. It is a well-known and open secret that people from different countries can bribe their way past border officials without producing a passport, and that many illegal immigrants, especially from neighbouring countries, often pay border officials to have their passports “stamped out”. 

What is “stamping out”?

Stamping out is a practice where an immigrant in danger of overstaying their visitor visa will pay a border official to have their passport issued an exit stamp. Accordingly, that person will have left South Africa on paper, even though they remain in the country. In some instances, passports are stamped in, when the immigrant wants to exit the country. Perhaps critical is that people who overstay their visas can often get this fixed by paying officials to backdate entry and exit dates on passports.

South Africa’s law enforcement is aware of this practice and its priority crime police (HAWKS) have arrested border officials several times. 

According to my contacts, there were grave concerns raised that South Africa could be used as a gateway country, that, if it was placed on the amber list, people from countries that do not require a visa to enter South Africa could simply show up at the border, and have their passports stamped to indicate that they entered the country 11 days before the day they actually did – meaning they could board a plane to the UK the very same day and before spending ten days in the amber list country.

It is a plausible explanation that will surface again when vaccine passports become acceptable for international travel. As it is, anyone can get their passports backdated for as little as R300. South Africa’s police have already arrested people for issuing bogus vaccine documents. Zimbabwe has arrested several travellers for arriving with fake Covid tests from South Africa. The passengers make it past South Africa’s port health officials without notice. 

“It is one of those things that happens in Mzansi”, my wife Boipelo said to me as I penned this article. She is correct. But the whole world is watching, and they are catching up and catching on. So, while I ought to be angry for being left £4,570 (R92,544) out of pocket, I also understand that British authorities, like Zimbabwean authorities, have the right to step in and protect the public where South Africa’s lax border attitudes pose a danger to everyone else. 

– Maynard Manyowa is a Journalist and Documentary Film Maker based in Manchester, England. You can follow him on Twitter @iAmKudaMaynard

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