Topic: COVID-19

Let’s developments about the 2019-nCoV coronavirus.

French theater, cinema workers protest against virus closure

PARIS (AP) — Thousands of people working in the French theater and cinema industries demonstrated in Paris on Tuesday against the prolonged closure of entertainment facilities amid the coronavirus pandemic.France earlier Tuesday lifted a partial lockdown imposed on Oct. 30, but will still maintain strict measures at least until Jan. 7, including a curfew from 8 p.m. to 6 a.m., as numbers of infections remain high.Theatres, cinemas and other performance halls, together with bars and restaurants, will remain shut over the holidays. Workers in the cultural sector gathered at Place de La Bastille, in front of the modern opera house that has been closed for weeks. Among them, Veronique Bellin, deputy director of the new theatre of Montreuil in the eastern suburbs of Paris, said health measures had been in place before the lockdown to protect spectators. "Today we see that the government accepts that churches reopen, and these are the exact same conditions, but people can’t go to the theater or cinema. We don’t understand,” she said.The government announced last week a 35-million euro ($42 million) additional support package for the cultural sector. Yet protesters expressed fears that many jobs won't survive the crisis. Stage set designer Thibault Sinay said: “We hear about big money being announced but, for theatre productions and creations, we don’t see any money coming. It’s really hard for us.”It is the second time French theatres and cinemas have been closed down to slow the spread of Covid-19. They were shut from March to June, during the first lockdown. Health authorities said they registered over 10,000 new confirmed daily infections last week. On Monday, they reported 372 deaths from COVID-19 in hospitals, bringing the country's overall death toll to more than 58,000.___Follow AP’s coverage at https://apnews.com/hub/coronavirus-pandemic and https://apnews.com/UnderstandingtheOutbreak

British army helps clear backlog of virus-stranded drivers

LONDON (AP) — Around 1,000 British soldiers were spending Christmas Day trying to clear a huge backlog of truck drivers stuck in southeast England after France briefly closed its border to the U.K. then demanded coronavirus tests from all amid fears of a new, apparently more contagious, virus variant.Even as 4,000 international truck drivers spent yet another day cooped up in their cabs, some progress was evident Friday, with traffic around the English Channel port of Dover moving in an orderly fashion towards the extra ferries that were put on to make the short crossing across to Calais in northern France. The military personnel were directing traffic and helping a mass testing program for the drivers, who must test negative to enter France. French firefighters have also been drafted to help the military test drivers for coronavirus.Officials from Britain's Department for Transport said all but three of the 2,367 coronavirus tests conducted so far have been negative.France closed its border for 48 hours to the U.K. last Sunday after British Prime Minister Boris Johnson said a variant of the virus that is 70% more transmissible is driving the rapid spread of infections in London and surrounding areas. As a result, the capital and many other parts of England have seen lockdown restrictions tightened and family holiday gatherings cancelled.Most of the testing is being conducted at a disused airfield at Manston Airport, 20 miles (33 kilometers) from Dover. Free food and drink was being sent to the stranded truck drivers and more than 250 portable toilets were put in at Manston, with 32 others placed along the gridlocked M20 highway.“The most reassuring thing is that food is getting through at Manston, and I have to say a big thank you to everyone who volunteered to help drivers stick it out in cold conditions in the days leading up to Christmas," said Duncan Buchanan of Britain's Road Haulage Association.The mood among the stranded drivers appeared to be mostly sanguine, especially compared to their anger earlier this week at the situation and the lack of facilities.“I know it’s been hard for many drivers cooped up in their cabs at this precious time of year, but I assure them that we are doing our utmost to get them home," said British Transport Secretary Grant Shapps.The virus has been blamed for over 1.7 million confirmed deaths worldwide, including nearly 70,000 in Britain, the second-highest death toll in Europe behind Italy. On Saturday, Britain is extending tighter lockdown restrictions to more areas as authorities try to stem the spread of the new variant. Over the past two days, the U.K. has recorded its two highest daily infection numbers, at just below 40,000. That is stoking fears that the country's beloved National Health Service will face acute capacity issues in its hospitals soon and thousands more people will die from the virus.In a video message to the nation, Johnson said this Christmas was “not about presents, or turkey, or brandy butter” but about hope, in the form of coronavirus vaccine shots being delivered and more vaccines being developed.“We know there will be people alive next Christmas, people we love, alive next Christmas precisely because we made the sacrifice and didn’t celebrate as normal this Christmas," the prime minister said.Johnson said Thursday that more than 800,000 people in Britain have received the first dose of the vaccine developed by American pharmaceutical firm Pfizer and German biotechnology company BioNTech. The U.K. was the first country in the world to approve the vaccine and began inoculations for health workers and those over 80 on Dec. 8. ___Follow AP coverage of the coronavirus pandemic at https://apnews.com/hub/coronavirus-pandemic and https://apnews.com/hub/coronavirus-vaccines and https://apnews.com/UnderstandingtheOutbreak

Asia Today | 6 dead in pandemic unrest at Sri Lanka prison

COLOMBO, Sri Lanka (AP) — Inmates unhappy about the coronavirus threat at an overcrowded prison near Sri Lanka's capital have clashed with guards who opened fire, leaving six prisoners dead and 35 others injured, officials said Monday. Two guards were critically injured, they said.Pandemic-related unrest has been growing in the country's prisons. Inmates have staged protests in recent weeks at several prisons as the number of coronavirus cases surges in the facilities. More than a thousand inmates in five prisons have tested positive for the coronavirus and at least two have died. About 50 prison guards have also tested positive.Senaka Perera, a lawyer with the Committee for Protecting Rights of Prisoners, said the inmates at Mahara prison near Colombo had been frustrated because their pleas for coronavirus testing and separation of infected prisoners had been ignored by officials for more than a month.Sri Lanka has experienced an upsurge in coronavirus cases since last month when two clusters — one centered at a garment factory and other at a fish market — emerged in Colombo and its suburbs.Confirmed cases from the two clusters have reached 19,449. Sri Lanka has reported a total number of 22,988 coronavirus cases, including 109 fatalities.In other developments in the Asia-Pacific region:— Cambodia’s Education Ministry is ordering all schools to close after a rare local outbreak of the coronavirus. It says public schools will remain shut until until Jan. 11, the start of the next school year, while private schools must close for two weeks. Officials said over the weekend that a family of six and another man tested positive for the coronavirus. Eight more cases were reported Monday among residents of Phnom Penh who were in contact with the family. Prime Minister Hun Sen expressed concern that the woman believed to be the source of the outbreak had traveled extensively in the country. About 3,300 people in seven provinces who were found to have had contact with the family are having themselves tested, the ministry said. Also on Monday, the Culture and Fine Arts Ministry announced the closure of all theaters and museums and the prohibition of public concerts for the next two weeks. Cambodia has reported only 323 cases of the virus since the pandemic began, most of them acquired abroad, with no confirmed deaths.— India has recorded 38,772 new coronavirus cases in the past 24 hours, driving its overall total to 9.43 million. The health ministry on Monday also reported 443 deaths in the same period, raising the death toll to 137,139. India continues to have one of the lowest deaths per million population globally, the health ministry said in a statement. It also said that focused measures to ensure a low and manageable fatality rate have resulted in daily mortality figures of less than 500. For more than three weeks now India’s single-day cases have remained below the 50,000 mark. The capital, New Delhi, has also seen a dip in daily infections. It reported fewer than 5,000 new cases for the second consecutive day. On Sunday, it recorded 68 deaths, driving the capital’s total to 9,066. India is second behind the U.S. in total coronavirus cases. In an effort to slow the virus’s spread, the home ministry has allowed states to impose local restrictions such as night curfews but has asked them to consult before imposing lockdowns at state, district or city levels.___Follow AP’s coverage at https://apnews.com/hub/coronavirus-pandemic and https://apnews.com/UnderstandingtheOutbreak

Belarus starts COVID-19 vaccinations with Russian shots

MOSCOW (AP) — Belarus on Tuesday announced the start of mass coronavirus vaccinations with the Russian-developed Sputnik V shot, becoming the second country after Russia to roll out a vaccine that is still undergoing late-stage studies to ensure its safety and effectiveness. The first batch of Sputnik V arrived in the former Soviet republic on Tuesday, according to a joint statement by the Belarusian Health Ministry, the Russian Health Ministry and the Russian Direct Investment Fund that bankrolled development of the jab. The health ministry posted pictures of people getting the shots on social media."A new stage starts in Belarus today with mass vaccinations against COVID-19. Medical staff, teachers, and those who come into contact a lot of people due to their jobs will be the first to get vaccinated. Vaccination will be entirely voluntary,” Health Minister of Belarus Dmitry Pinevich was quoted in the statement as saying. Belarus conducted its own trial of Sputnik V among 100 volunteers and gave the shot regulatory approval on Dec. 21. The Russian-made vaccine was also approved on an emergency basis in Argentina, where vaccinations are expected to start Tuesday as well. Russia has been widely criticized for giving the domestically developed Sputnik V regulatory approval in August after the vaccine only had been tested on a few dozen people. An advanced study among tens of thousand started shortly after the vaccine received the Russian government's go-ahead. Despite warnings to wait for the results of the study, Russian authorities started offering it to people in high-risk groups — such as medical workers and teachers — within weeks of approval. This month, mass vaccinations with Sputnik V started in Russia, even though it is still undergoing the late-stage trial. Belarus has reported nearly 190,000 confirmed coronavirus cases and about 1,400 deaths since the start of the pandemic, but many in the Eastern European nation of 9.4 million people suspect that authorities are manipulating statistics to hide the true scope of the country’s outbreak. President Alexander Lukashenko, who has faced months of demands by protesters to step down after an August election they say was fraudulent, has cavalierly dismissed the coronavirus. He shrugged off the fears and national lockdowns the new virus had caused as “psychosis” and advised citizens to avoid catching it by driving tractors in the field, drinking vodka and visiting saunas. His attitude has angered many Belarusians, adding to the public dismay over his authoritarian style and helping to fuel months of post-election protests. Opposition figures say Lukashenko's government has allowed COVID-19 to run rampant in jails where it has detained thousands of protesters.___Follow all the developments in Belarus at https://apnews.com/Belarus.___Follow AP’s coverage at https://apnews.com/hub/coronavirus-pandemic, https://apnews.com/hub/coronavirus-vaccine and https://apnews.com/UnderstandingtheOutbreak_

UnitedHealth overcomes pandemic hit and tops 4Q expectations

MINNETONKA, Minn. (AP) — UnitedHealth is reporting a fourth-quarter profit of $2.21 billion, easily beating most expectations despite costs affiliated with the COVID-19 pandemic. Per-share earnings were $2.30, but if one-time costs and charges are taken into account, earnings from the Minnetonka, Minnesota, company were $2.52 per share.That's well above the $2.39 that Wall Street had expected, according to a survey of analysts by Zacks Investment Research.Revenue at the largest U.S. health insurer reached $65.47 billion, also surpassing forecasts. UnitedHealth affirmed its full-year earnings expectations of between $17.75 and $18.25 per share. That projection includes a per-share hit of about $1.80 due to rising costs from things like testing and treatment for COVID-19, as well as procedures that are being put off due to the pandemic. Shares of UnitedHealth Group Inc. are essentially flat before the opening bell. _____A portion of this story was generated by Automated Insights (http://automatedinsights.com/ap) using data from Zacks Investment Research. Access a Zacks stock report on UNH at https://www.zacks.com/ap/UNH

Profit at Chinese state industry rises with virus recovery

BEIJING (AP) — Profit at state-owned companies that dominate China’s banking, oil and most other industries rose by as much as 25% last year as the country recovered from the coronavirus pandemic, the government said Tuesday.Total revenue for national-level companies rose 2.2% over 2019 to 30.3 trillion yuan ($4.7 trillion), according to Peng Huagang, secretary general of the State-Owned Assets Supervision and Administration Commission. Speaking at a news conference, Peng said profit rose 2.1% to 1.4 trillion yuan ($215 billion). The ruling Communist Party has built up such “national champions” over the past two decades, but their monopolies and multibillion-dollar subsidies prompt complaints by the public that they are a waste of money and gouge consumers with high prices. Peng’s agency oversees 97 companies directly under the Cabinet including PetroChina Ltd., Asia’s biggest oil producer; China Mobile Ltd., the world’s biggest phone carrier by number of subscribers, and Industrial and Commercial Bank of China Ltd., the world’s biggest bank by assets. SASAC companies also dominate air travel, insurance, securities, shipping, internet access, power generation, construction, nuclear power technology and coal and steel production. Chinese industries benefited from the economy’s relatively early reopening starting in March after the ruling party declared victory over the virus that emerged in the central city of Wuhan in late 2019. Total economic activity rose 2.3% in 2020, possibly making China the only major economy to grow while the United States, Europe and Japan struggled with rising infections. Growth accelerated to a two-year high of 6.5% over a year earlier in the three months ending in December. Profit at 24 national-level state companies rose by more than 25% over 2019 and two had profit of more than 100 billion yuan ($15.4 billion), Peng said, without identifying them or giving other details. Total profit at top state-owned companies grew by at least double digits over a year earlier in each month after June, according to Peng. Revenue growth accelerated to 11.7% over a year earlier in December as China’s economy rebounded, reaching a record 3.7 trillion yuan ($570 billion), Peng said. State-owned companies stepped up investment as part of the ruling party’s effort to support flagging economic activity. Telecom carriers spent 373.1 billion yuan ($57.5 billion) on next-generation networks and other investments, according to Peng. He said spending by power suppliers on hydro, wind and solar technology rose 27.4% over 2019 to 481.5 billion yuan ($74 billion). ___State-Owned Assets Supervision and Administration Commission: http://en.sasac.gov.cn/

Syracuse returning after weeks-long, virus-related hiatus

Barring another last-minute change, Syracuse will return to the basketball court on Wednesday night after a COVID-19 pause that lasted nearly three weeks. Coach Jim Boeheim is ready to roll.“It’s no fun not playing," Boeheim said on a Zoom call with reporters. "It is what it is and we just have to do the best we can right now.” The last time the Orange (6-1, 1-0 Atlantic Coast Conference) departed the Carrier Dome court, they left as overtime victors over Buffalo on Dec. 19. The 107-96 win over the Bulls marked the second time in a three-game span that Syracuse had eclipsed the 100-point mark, something the Orange hadn't done since December 1993. Syracuse opened ACC play with a 101-63 win at Boston College a week earlier. Sandwiched between those two high-scoring wins was a difficult 62-56 triumph over Northeastern. Syracuse shot 31.7% (19 of 60), hit just 11.1% (2 of 18) from beyond the arc, and led by only a basket with 2:31 to play before closing with a 7-2 spurt.Still, the Orange had played and won three games in a seven-day span after suffering their only loss of the season, a 10-point setback at then-No. 21 Rutgers, and sophomore forward Quincy Guerrier was emerging as a key player. He had 59 points and 32 rebounds in the three games and converted 19 of 26 free throws. Then COVID-19 issues surfaced after the Buffalo program returned positive tests and the Orange had to pause. A home game against Notre Dame and road contests against Wake Forest and North Carolina were postponed while the players awaited the next move.The team returned to practice on Sunday to get ready to face Pittsburgh (5-2, 1-1 ACC) instead of No. 25 Florida State. The teams agreed to move their game scheduled for mid-February after the Seminoles had to pull out because of a positive COVID-19 test within their program. The Panthers also haven't played in a while — since losing to Louisville just before Christmas.Boeheim, in his 45th year as head coach at his alma mater, said players who tested negative worked out individually with a coach and called that a good thing.“That’s helpful, certainly helpful for conditioning, but obviously it’s not the same thing as having basketball practices," he said. "I don’t even want to count the number — we’ve missed 25-30 practices since the start of the basketball season, which is an incredible number. I’m sure it’s right up there probably with the most missed practices in the country. “Our players have had to adjust to this already a couple of times and I would just say that they’ve come through it as well as I could hope. Our practices have been good, but there’s nothing like playing games.”Boeheim said he would have a full roster for Pitt, which means 6-foot-10 senior center Bourama Sidibe will be available. He's been out since tearing a meniscus four minutes into the season opener against Bryant and undergoing surgery.“He’s worked hard individually," Boeheim said. "He’s had a couple of practices. Obviously, his conditioning is a long ways away, but he’s participating in full practices.”For sophomore point guard Joe Girard, just watching television, playing video games and maybe tackling a puzzle gets old fast. At least he's found a silver lining in all the disruptions.“It’s been fun doing classes online. I think it’s helped our GPA,” he said. ___ More AP college basketball: https://apnews.com/hub/college-basketball and https://twitter.com/AP_Top25

Mali's opposition leader and ex-hostage dies with COVID-19

BAMAKO, Mali (AP) — Mali's opposition leader Soumaila Cisse, who was held hostage for six months earlier this year by jihadists and was considered a leading contender in 2022 elections, has died in Paris, his family said Friday.Cissé, 71, died after contracting COVID-19, his eldest son Bocar told The Associated Press.“The doctors did everything to keep him alive, but that’s the way of God’s will,” he said.The news throws Malian politics into new uncertainty. Cissé was the runner-up in the past three presidential elections and many thought he had the best chances of finally winning in 2022.He was taken hostage by jihadists in March while campaigning for legislative elections in his hometown of Niafunke in northern Mali. He was abducted by a group affiliated with al-Qaida. Amid public pressure, the Malian government obtained his liberation in October, along with that of French and Italian hostages in exchange for the release of some 200 jihadists from Malian prisons.Mali's interim leader Sem Ba N'Daw expressed his condolences to Cisse's family and supporters on Friday, saying millions of Malians “are in shock” at the news. Describing a meeting with Cisse after he was freed, he said Cisse's “optimism had remained intact," and said “the country still needed his experience and wisdom to face today's challenges.”No immediate funeral plans were announced.

Biden hopes virus deal is glimpse of deal-making to come

WASHINGTON (AP) — For President-elect Joe Biden, Washington’s year-end burst of deal-making brought renewed hope for a productive, successful first 100 days in office. The city’s fever broke, at least momentarily, as longtime combatants finally forged a COVID-19 relief deal that carried with it dozens of smaller bills, offering proof that Capitol Hill's damaged systems and norms can still produce meaningful legislation — at least when backed up against the wall.Most of Biden's 36 years in the Senate came in an era when Washington functioned far better. As president he will be seeking to restore at least the veneer of good faith and bipartisanship that defined those times and cast aside the divisions of the tea party era and four years of President Donald Trump.In that context, the year-end deal — powered by the imperative to deliver pandemic relief to a struggling nation — is a good omen. At the end, it featured good-faith negotiation among Capitol Hill's skilled but battling leaders as well as a productive role for moderates and pragmatists in both parties whose efforts are often brushed aside.“We have our first hint and glimpse of bipartisanship,” Biden said Tuesday. “In this election, the American people made it clear they want us to reach across the aisle and work together." The demand for bipartisanship is a common refrain that often comes as a throwaway line from Washington pols who have little experience in delivering it. But Biden has made it the centerpiece of his transition message — and he has a track record in the Senate and in the Obama administration of following through.He also has no choice. The election delivered Democrats the narrowest House majority of the modern age and a narrowly divided Senate that demands bipartisanship, even if Democrats win control of a 50-50 chamber after next month's twin Georgia runoff elections. Biden said there is much more work to do and spoke optimistically of lawmakers coming together again in January or February to pass another package — and the template for success is there.There are few measures of success greater than a big, bipartisan vote. By that metric, the 5,593-page, end-of-session behemoth — combining a $900 billion COVID-19 relief deal, a $1.4 trillion catchall spending bill, and dozens of late-session add-ons — was a smash hit. The 92-6 Senate vote and a pair of lopsided House tallies on the final bill came after months of indecision and deadlock were replaced with frenzied deal-cutting and compromise.Yet there are those in Biden's party deeply skeptical that bipartisanship can take root in such a starkly polarized country. Republicans are certain to feel the pull of their far-right flank in the coming era, shifting the party to a debt-and-deficits focus that may well be incompatible with much of Biden's agenda.And then there's the Capitol itself. The pain-inducing process that led to the final virus package offered almost daily lessons in Congress' capacity for dysfunction and wheel-spinning. And enormous power remains concentrated in the hands of only a few leaders.Top Republicans, like Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., who will be a critical power broker during Biden's first two years in office, credited Biden with getting Democratic leaders such as House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., to accept a bill that was smaller than those she rejected in the summer and fall.“The new president was helpful in suggesting that we ought to go ahead now and I think that may have had an impact on the speaker," McConnell told reporters Monday. Biden and McConnell have a long relationship and worked out several deals on taxes and spending during President Barack Obama's first term. The polarization of the parties and the scorched-earth politics of the past decade won't make that success easy to replicate, but Biden is all-in.“They know I level with them," Biden said of Republicans. “They know I never mislead. They know I tell them the truth, and they know I don’t go out of my way to try to embarrass.”Bipartisanship and deals with McConnell were hardly the message voiced by most Democrats during a campaign in which liberals schemed to get rid of the Senate filibuster to power through their agenda. But when Pelosi pulled back from demands for more than $2 trillion in COVID-19 relief earlier this month, there was little public backlash from arch progressives. Instead, Democrat after Democrat issued praise for the legislation even though it offered less direct aid to struggling people than they wanted.The optimistic take is that COVID-19 relief, with its near-universal support in Congress, amounts to training wheels for a post-Trump Washington to find its way. While topics like immigration and taxes may be too tough to tackle, there's genuine hope in areas like infrastructure. Pelosi is Biden's most powerful asset but she will have her hands full managing the smallest House majority of modern times. Her caucus increasingly tilts to the left and it sustained deep losses in swing districts and Trump country in the fall. But there's no sense, it seems, in catering to the left under the looming balance of power — and a mid-term election in 2022 that will determine whether Biden's Democrats lose control of the House.Pelosi and McConnell have a strained relationship, but when their interests align and when they work in tandem, they are an unstoppable force. The pending new agreement started out as one to work out the annual appropriations bills. It quickly became clear that momentum could be sustained as senior lawmakers were given opportunities to find agreement on taxes, education, energy, and appropriations.The skill is there. Finding the will and the way is the challenge.Democratic lobbyist Steve Elmendorf said Biden and his team are going to be highly engaged and that gives him reason for optimism."These people are obviously dysfunctional and have some challenging relationships,” he said of Trump and his team and allies. “The fact that it took so long to get them in a room is everybody's fault. Well, Joe Biden's not going to let that happen." Washington, however, rarely rewards those who suspend their cynicism. Democrats who give grudging respect to McConnell say the best hope for bipartisanship may be his desire to do what's best for the GOP's hopes to hold the Senate — just as they detect the politics of the Georgia runoff races as a reason for McConnell's flexibility now on pandemic relief.“We're accustomed to each other but he's got a pretty big job," McConnell said of Biden. “So we'll see how that works out.”

Kansas State latest to skip bowl game due to COVID-19

Kansas State became the latest team to withdraw from bowl consideration Wednesday when the school paused all football activities indefinitely amid an outbreak of positive COVID-19 tests and contact tracing that would have prevented them from fielding enough players to play.The First Responders Bowl was the likely destination for the Wildcats, who beat then-No. 3 Oklahoma on the road early in the season but slid to a 4-6 finish after losing quarterback Skylar Thompson and several other players to injuries.Kansas State lost its last five games but was in line for a bowl game because it finished seventh in the Big 12. The NCAA has also waived minimum wins required for bowl eligibility."It certainly is a bittersweet ending to the season, but playing 10 regular-season games throughout all of this uncertainty was nothing short of a miracle,” Wildcats coach Chris Klieman said. “This season was difficult and frustrating, but I think it is also one that we will remember for the rest of our lives.”Klieman had hoped to play in a bowl game because of the extra month of practice it would have given his team.The Wildcats are the first Big 12 team to withdraw from bowl consideration. Three Atlantic Coast Confernce teams — Boston College, Pittsburgh and Virginia — have also announced they will not participate in a postseason game. Neither will Stanford in the Pac-12.More than 125 games since late August have been postponed or canceled because of the pandemic, including the Frisco Bowl scheduled for Saturday when SMU withdrew because of an outbreak within the Mustangs' program. Its opponent, UTSA, switched to the First Responders Bowl — likely against Kansas State before its own outbreak.The Frisco Bowl is among a dozen bowl games that have been canceled. The Redbox, Hawaii, Bahamas, Holiday, Quick Lane, Pinstripe, Sun, Fenway, Celebration, Las Vegas and LA bowls also shut down for the 2020 season.