The Latest: Australia prioritizes air service to 3 countries

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A man wearing a face mask walks past an outdoor photography exhibition of healthcare workers in Melbourne, Tuesday, Sept. 22, 2020. The photo essay created by photographer Phoebe Powell is to acknowledge the people working in the Parkville Biomedical Precinct which is home to some of the world's leading medical researchers, clinicians and academics keeping Victoria state safe during the coronavirus pandemic. (James Ross/AAP Image via AP)

CANBERRA, Australia — Australia’s prime minister said on Thursday his government was giving priority to reopening air services to Japan, Singapore and South Korea.

Prime Minister Scott Morrison said he had discussed reopening air routes with the leaders of all three countries.

He described Japan and South Korea as “two countries that have done particularly well” in dealing with the pandemic.

“There are a number of countries we’re looking at to see what we can do probably next year. We’re not going to rush into this,” Morrison said.

The three Asian countries “are my current priorities in how we would pursue that,” he added.

Australia will allow travelers from neighboring New Zealand to arrive without hotel quarantine from Friday. New Zealand has eradicated community transmission of COVID-19.

But New Zealand will continue to insist travelers from Australia quarantine for two weeks on arrival.

Australia reported only 12 new cases of community transmission of the virus on Thursday. Australia’s most populous states, New South Wales and Victoria, reported six each.



— French President Macron sets curfew, restores state of emergency

— Spain 1st European Union nation to reach 900,000 virus cases

— World Bank OKs $12B for coronavirus vaccines, tests

— Russian President Vladimir Putin announces regulatory approval for a second coronavirus vaccine after early-stage studies.

— Scientists say among 21 developed countries at start of the coronavirus pandemic, those with early lockdowns, solid national health systems avoided more deaths.

— Soccer star Cristiano Ronaldo is back in Italy after testing positive for the coronavirus in Portugal.

— Follow AP’s pandemic coverage at and



SEOUL, South Korea -- South Korea has reported 110 new cases of the coronavirus as a hospital in Busan emerged as the country’s latest cluster of infections.

The numbers released by the Korea Disease Control and Prevention Agency on Thursday brought the national caseload to 24,988, including 439 deaths.

Half of the new cases were reported from Busan, a southern port city where at least 54 infections were tied to a hospital for the elderly.

More than 40 cases were reported from the densely populated Seoul metropolitan area, where health workers have struggled to track infections tied to various places and groups, including hospitals, churches, schools and workers.

The steady rise in infections is a cause of concern in a country that has just lowered it social distancing measures, allowing high-risk venues like nightclubs and karaoke bars to reopen and spectators to return to professional sports.

Health officials are planning to test 160,000 employees at hospitals, nursing homes and welfare centers for senior citizens in Seoul and nearby areas in part of efforts to prevent outbreaks at these facilities.


MEXICO CITY — Mexico reported Wednesday that a total of 1,744 health-care workers have died so far of COVID-19, and another 164 are suspected to have died of it but their test results are still pending.

The number of doctors, nurses, technicians and hospital employees confirmed to have been infected with the novel coronavirus in Mexico now amounts to 127,053. That means health care professionals account for about 15% of all Mexico’s confirmed coronavirus cases, and about 18% of all COVID-19 deaths.

The Health Department said that of those who died, 42% were nurses, 26% were doctors, and 32% were technicians, cleaning staff or other hospital employees.

Mexico has one of the highest rates of medical-personnel deaths in the world, and hospital employees have staged a number of demonstrations in Mexico to protest insufficient personal protective equipment. But Health Department officials denied the death rates was because of a lack of protective gear.

To support its point, the department issued figures showing that furloughed workers — those granted leave because they had pre-existing conditions that put them at risk — had fallen ill and died with greater frequency than health care workers who remained on the job. Officials said that suggested exposure on the job did not translate into higher infection rates.

Active-service health care workers largely mirrored Mexico’s over-all fatality rate of almost 67 COVID-19 deaths per 100,000 inhabitants. But health professionals on leave died at a rate of about 126 per 100,000.


SWAMPSCOTT, Mass. — Housing activists marched to Gov. Charlie Baker’s home on Wednesday to call on him to support more robust protections against evictions and foreclosures during the ongoing coronavirus pandemic.

About 100 to 150 protesters said the Republican governor and Democratic leaders in the Massachusetts Legislature need to back a comprehensive eviction prevention measure intended to help stabilize renters, homeowners and small landlords for a year as Massachusetts weathers the ongoing crisis.

The bill would ensure tenants cannot be evicted because of missed rent if the nonpayment was because of COVID-19, giving them time to get owed rental payments and other assistance in place.

It would also prevent “no fault” evictions and rent increases for 12 months following the state of emergency, guard against foreclosure and strengthen forbearance protections, allowing homeowners and landlords with up to 15 units to pause their mortgage and put missed payments on the end of the loan.

Baker on Monday unveiled a $171 million initiative that he said will help tenants and landlords cope with the fiscal challenges of the ongoing pandemic.

The goal of the initiative is to keep tenants in their homes and ease the ongoing expenses of landlords once the state’s pause on evictions and foreclosures expires on Saturday, Baker said.


MINNEAPOLIS — Minnesota health officials reported 29 new COVID-19 deaths on Wednesday, the state’s highest one-day death toll since early June, as the coronavirus spreads at high levels across the state.

The Minnesota Department of Health also reported 1,254 new coronavirus cases, a number boosted by the department’s decision to start reporting probable cases, as determined by newer technology antigen tests, in addition to confirmed cases identified by the more common and more accurate PCR tests, also known as molecular tests.

The grand case total reported Wednesday included 40 probable cases on top of 1,214 new confirmed cases, which raised Minnesota’s total case count since the pandemic began to 115,943, including 180 total probable cases to date. The state’s death toll rose to 2,180, including six deaths from probable cases.

The department said in its announcement that antigen tests are less accurate PCR tests, which are considered the gold standard. But antigen tests have the advantages of producing faster results and being usable by providers that don’t have full laboratories. Both technologies look at whether someone is actively infected with the virus.


BISMARCK, N.D. — Gov. Doug Burgum on Wednesday raised the coronavirus risk level in several North Dakota counties but issued no mandated restrictions, even as the state’s number of active COVID-19 cases has risen to record levels every day for the past week.

Burgum moved 16 counties from moderate risk to high under the state’s five-level plan to set coronavirus management protocols for everything from businesses to family gatherings. The guidance for high-risk counties includes limiting businesses occupancy to 25% with a cap of 50 people and encouraging businesses to require masks. The guidelines are only recommendations and not enforced.

Burgum said the goal is “decreasing transmissible moments.”

The guidance for moderate-risk counties includes cutting capacity at businesses to 50%, with a cap of 100 people.

Burgum has avoided statewide mandates such as mask-wearing, instead stressing a personal responsibility message. He has said the five-level color-coded guidelines are to be used by local leaders “as a baseline for their own policies.”

Earlier Wednesday, North Dakota health officials confirmed 713 new positive COVID-19 cases and 159 new active cases, along with eight additional deaths. There were 900.3 new cases per 100,000 people in North Dakota over the past two weeks, which ranks first in the country for new cases per capita.


BERLIN — Chancellor Angela Merkel and the governors of Germany’s 16 states have agreed to tighten mask-wearing rules and make bars close early in areas where coronavirus infection rates are high.

Wednesday’s meeting came hours after the country reported more than 5,000 infections in one day for the first time since mid-April. While Germany is still in better shape than many other European countries, infections have accelerated rapidly in recent weeks.

Officials recommended that mask-wearing -- already required since April on public transport and in shops -- should also be made obligatory in public places where people are packed closely together in districts where there are more than 35 new infections per 100,000 residents per week. They also called for bars in those districts to be closed early.

In areas where infections top 50 infections per 100,000 people over seven days -- until now the point at which local authorities have had to take action -- gatherings in public and private parties should be limited to 10 people.

Many of Germany’s major cities have exceeded the 50 mark in recent days, among them Berlin, Cologne, Duesseldorf, Frankfurt, Stuttgart and Munich. State governments are responsible for imposing and lifting virus-related restrictions.


PHOENIX — An Arizona State University public health expert has raised concerns after the average number of confirmed daily coronavirus cases in Arizona has risen over the last two weeks.

The state’s average number of confirmed COVID-19 cases increased from 476 cases a day on Sept. 29 to 685 cases on Oct. 13. Arizona averaged more than 4,000 additional cases a day in late June and early July when it was experiencing its most serious spread of the virus.

ASU Biodesign Institute Executive Director Dr. Joshua LaBaer said Wednesday that the current situation reminds him of June. Arizona has recorded 227,635 confirmed virus cases and 5,772 deaths since the pandemic began in March.


ST. LOUIS — Fifty-six residents of Missouri veterans homes have died of COVID-19 since Sept. 1, including 25 at one facility in southeast Missouri.

Missouri Veterans Commission spokesperson Jamie Melchert told the St. Louis Post-Dispatch Wednesday that the deadliest outbreak was in Cape Girardeau, where 20 residents died in September and five more have died in October, through Monday.

Melchert said 13 residents died at another veterans home in the southwestern Missouri town of Mt. Vernon, 12 others died in St. James and six more died in Warrensburg.

He said 38 of the deaths occurred in September. Before then, the only confirmed coronavirus death in a Missouri veterans home was in April in north St. Louis County.

Republican Gov. Mike Parson called for an external review of operations at the veterans homes on Oct. 2, but didn’t say how many veterans had died. Melchert said the St. Louis law firm Armstrong Teasdale will handle the review.


WASHINGTON — First lady Melania Trump says Barron Trump tested positive at one point for the coronavirus but has subsequently tested negative.

The first lady says in a post on the White House website that “my fear came true” when 14-year-old Barron tested positive for the virus. She says “luckily he is a strong teenager and exhibited no symptoms.”

President Donald Trump announced nearly two weeks ago that he and the first lady had tested positive for the virus. The president ended up going to Walter Reed National Military Medical Center for treatment and has since returned to the White House and to the campaign trial, while the first lady quarantined at the White House.

The first lady says that in one way she was glad “the three of us went through this at the same time so we could take care of one another and spend time together.”

The first lady said she’s happy to report she has tested negative and that she hopes to resume her duties as soon as she can, adding that “along with this good news, I want people to know that I understand just how fortunate my family is to have received the kind of care that we did.”


TOPEKA, Kan. — Kansas has reported its largest seven-day increases in both COVID-19-related deaths and new coronavirus cases.

The state Department of Health and Environment said Wednesday that Kansas had another 67 deaths since only Monday, an increase of 8.7%, to bring the total for the pandemic to 838. But it wasn’t clear how many of those fatalities were older and just being reported now as local and state health officials examine death certificates from previous months.

The state also said it had 1,293 new confirmed or probable cases over two days, a 1.9% increase that brought the total for the pandemic to 69,155.

The state averaged 743 new cases a day for the seven days ending Wednesday, surpassing the record of 736 set for the seven days ending Monday.


OMAHA, Neb. — Nebraska officials say Halloween celebrations may need to be tweaked this year because of the coronavirus pandemic as the state continues to set records for the number of COVID-19 hospitalizations.

Gov. Pete Ricketts said Wednesday that he thinks children will still be able to go trick-or-treating for Halloween but people may decide to leave candy on their porches for kids to pick up instead of handing it out themselves this year.

Ricketts, who eliminated most of the state’s restrictions related to the virus last month, isn’t likely to impose new rules for Halloween, but he encouraged people to follow the recommendations of public health officials who have called traditional trick-or-treating a high risk activity.

In the state’s most populous county, Douglas County health officials said Wednesday that people can reduce the risks associated with trick-or-treating by setting out goodie bags for families to grab while maintaining a safe distance and staying in small groups. Foregoing trick-or-treating altogether in favor of planning scavenger hunts or other activities only with your own family would reduce the risk further.

Douglas County Health Department Director Adi Pour recommended that people avoid large indoor parties or big gatherings at haunted houses to limit risks.


GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. — U.S. Rep. Bill Huizenga said he tested positive for the coronavirus before he was scheduled to appear Wednesday at a Michigan campaign rally with Vice President Mike Pence.

Huizenga said on Twitter that he took a rapid test and was isolating himself while awaiting results from a second test.

Pence spoke for about an hour outdoors at Lacks Enterprises in Cascade Township, near Grand Rapids. Peter Meijer, a Republican running for Congress, greeted and introduced Pence.

“The road to victory runs right through Michigan,” Pence said.


OKLAHOMA CITY — The White House Coronavirus Task Force says Oklahoma remains in the red zone for newly reported coronavirus cases, which recommends residents wear masks among the ways to slow the virus’ spread.

“Community spread continues in Oklahoma in both rural and urban areas,” according to the task force report released Wednesday by the Oklahoma State Department of Health. “Mitigation efforts should ... include mask wearing, physical distancing, hand hygiene, and avoiding crowds in public and social gatherings in private to stop the increasing spread among residents of Oklahoma.”

The health department said there were 749 people hospitalized Wednesday, down from a record high 760 reported Tuesday. There were an additional 1,121 confirmed cases, bringing the total to 102,614 since the pandemic began.

Health officials also reported 13 additional deaths from COVID-19, the illness caused by the disease, bringing the death toll to 1,132.