MELBOURNE, Australia — Australia’s hard-hit Victoria state is reporting its lowest tally of new coronavirus cases in more than six weeks, following two weeks of unprecedented lockdown of the state capital, Melbourne.
Victoria’s Health Department reported on Saturday that the state had 179 new infections and nine deaths in the latest 24-hour period. That is the lowest count since 131 new infections were reported July 8. Victoria had recorded 240 new cases Thursday and 216 Wednesday.
State authorities say the daily infection rate will have to fall to single digits or low double digits before Melbourne’s lockdown is relaxed.
HERE’S WHAT YOU NEED TO KNOW ABOUT THE VIRUS OUTBREAK:
— Rise in jobless claims reflects still-struggling US economy
— WHO seeks more information about Russia vaccine
— India reports record high of 69,000 new infections in past 24 hours
— Working families enlist grandparents to help with the kids. As the school year gets under way for many kids with working parents, more grandparents have moved into daily caregiver roles.
— Two players on the South Africa cricket squad have tested positive for COVID-19. The positive tests came at a team camp involving more than 30 of the country’s top players.
— As hospitals care for people with COVID-19 and try to prevent its spread, more patients are opting to be treated where they feel safest: at home.
— Follow AP’s pandemic coverage at http://apnews.com/VirusOutbreak and https://apnews.com/UnderstandingtheOutbreak
HERE’S WHAT ELSE IS HAPPENING:
ROME — The Venice Film Festival is requiring participants at the first in-person cinema showcase of the COVID-19 era to wear facemasks during screenings and take a coronavirus test if they’re arriving from outside Europe.
According to guidelines published Thursday, fans and the general public will be kept away from the red carpet during the Sept. 2-12 festival, and movie-goers will have to buy tickets and reserve seats online to ensure every other seat is left vacant. Nine gates set up at various points around the Venice Lido will take temperatures of movie-goers and media. Festival-goers attending indoor events will be tracked to guarantee contact tracing if necessary.
Venice is the first film festival to get under way since the pandemic, and is one of the first major international events Italy is hosting after becoming the onetime COVID-19 epicenter in Europe. After getting infections under control with a strict, 10-week national lockdown that ended in May, Italy is now dealing with a rebound in cases as a result of summer vacation travel.
Biennale organizers said the guidelines were worked out with local health care officials.
BATON ROUGE, La. — U.S. Sen. Bill Cassidy of Louisiana says he has tested positive for the coronavirus and is experiencing some symptoms of COVID-19. The Republican senator made the announcement Thursday and said he is quarantining in Louisiana.
His spokesperson says the 62-year-old senator is experiencing “mild symptoms that began this morning.” Cassidy, a physician, said in a statement that he was tested after being notified Wednesday night that he’d been exposed to someone infected with the coronavirus.
The senator says he is adhering to medical guidance and notifying people with whom he may have come into contact. Cassidy is running for reelection on Nov. 3.
Cassidy’s announcement came a day after he was in north Louisiana, visiting a veterans hospital in Shreveport.
OLYMPIA, Wash. — Washington will apply to join a federal coronavirus program providing an additional $300 a week in unemployment benefits. The Employment Security Department said in a news release Thursday that it will apply for the assistance through the Federal Emergency Management Administration no later than Friday.
The program came about through an executive order by President Donald Trump after a federally funded $600 boost to weekly state unemployment benefits ended at the end of July. To date, more than two dozen states have decided to take the funding.
The program cuts the weekly benefit to $300 or $400 a week, depending on which plan governors choose. States are required to chip in $100 per claimant to be able to send out the higher amount, something few — including Washington — have agreed to do. So far, most states that have said they are taking Trump up on his offer have chosen the $300 version. Some have not decided which plan to take.
BOISE, Idaho — The number of Idaho residents applying for unemployment increased 12% last week after three weeks of declines. The Idaho Department of Labor said Thursday it received 3,644 new claims as the state’s recovery during the coronavirus pandemic remains fitful.
The agency says the overall number of people collecting unemployment dropped 7% to 18,772. That’s the 15th week of consecutive declines since the pandemic entered Idaho in March and Republican Gov.
Brad Little issued a stay-at-home order as infections surged. That order ended April 30, and most businesses are open under current guidelines. Johns Hopkins University reports that Idaho has more than 28,000 coronavirus infections and 291 deaths.
PHOENIX — COVID-19 conditions in Arizona have improved to the point where it is safe for four largely rural counties to reopen schools for partial in-person learning, state health officials said Thursday.
The counties given the green light to reopen schools for a mix of virtual and in-person instruction were Apache, Cochise, Coconino and Yavapai. Cities in those counties include Flagstaff, Prescott and Sierra Vista. Apache County includes part of the Navajo Nation, which was a national virus hotspot in the spring.
Arizona’s other 11 counties, including Maricopa, which includes Phoenix, and Pima, where Tucson is located, still haven’t cleared benchmarks based on case numbers, testing positivity and hospital visits.
Arizona became a national hotspot in June and July, with new infections rampant, hospitals nearing capacity and deaths soaring.
NEW YORK — Pfizer and its German partner BioNTech will take its COVID-19 vaccine candidate with the fewest side effects into final-stage testing.
In an online report Thursday, Pfizer researchers compared data from early-stage testing of two vaccine candidates. Both revved immune systems similarly, and neither caused severe side effects.
But one candidate caused considerably fewer injection reactions, particularly in older adults — symptoms such as fever, headache, chills or muscle pain that are temporary but unpleasant, Pfizer reported.
Final testing of Pfizer’s lead candidate has begun as researchers recruit about 30,000 people in the U.S. and other countries. It’s one of a handful of experimental vaccines to reach end-stage tests around the world.
It generally takes years to develop a safe and effective vaccine for widespread use and distribution. U.S. health officials hope to start offering vaccinations sometime next year.
PARIS — France President Emmanuel Macron say the country will send millions of students back to school starting Sept. 1, despite the biggest weekly spike in virus infections in months.
France’s national health agency reported 4,771 new infections Thursday, and more than 18,000 new cases in the past week – the biggest weekly rise since April. The increase is attributed to summer vacation parties, family gatherings and clusters in workplaces as people returned to work.
Concerns are mounting among teachers and parents that schools can’t keep the virus at bay. A leading teachers’ union asked the government this week to delay the start of the school year.
LAWRENCE, Kansas — The University of Kansas says early testing of students and staff returning to the campus has turned up 89 coronavirus cases, with a majority in fraternities and sororities.
KMBC-TV reports 87 students and two faculty or staff members tested positive. Entry testing upon return to campus before the start of activities and classes showed a positivity rate of 1.25% for the 7,088 tests conducted so far.
Testing is mandatory for students, faculty, and staff on the university’s campuses in Lawrence or Overland Park before Sept. 7. The university plans targeted testing and random sampling later.
GREELEY, Colo — Two students at a Colorado high school have tested positive for coronavirus, prompting a two-week shutdown of the school just days after the start of the academic year.
The Greeley Tribune reports the Weld Re-8 School District announced the first confirmed case on its Facebook page and sent an email to parents announcing the second case.
Fort Lupton High School officials say the students were in separate groups on campus with more than 500 students combined, requiring a complete school shutdown. The high school has moved to remote learning and is scheduled to be closed through at least Sept. 7.
OMAHA, Neb. — Thirty-five confirmed cases of coronavirus have been reported in Omaha-area schools in the early weeks of the school year, Douglas County health director Adi Pour says.
Seventeen students and 18 school staff members have tested positive. Another 152 students, staff and faculty who had close contact with those testing postiive were in quarantine, The Omaha World-Herald reported.
JOHANNESBURG — The World Health Organization has urged African governments to accelerate the reopening of schools, saying the continent’s youths will suffer from prolonged closures due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
WHO officials warned that poor nutrition, stress, increased exposure to violence and exploitation and teenage pregnancies are among the problems faced by students remaining out of school in sub-Saharan Africa.
Only six African countries have fully opened schools, according to a survey of 39 countries by WHO and UNICEF. Many governments closed schools as part of measures to limit the transmission of the coronavirus. Some reopened and then had to close again when virus cases broke out in the schools.
MADRID — Spain’s top coronavirus expert is warning about surging infections mostly tied to nightlife and socialization during the summer holidays.
The head of Spain’s health emergency coordination center Fernando Simón says younger people should know they can infect older relatives who suffer more the consequences of COVID-19.
“Nobody should be fooled, things are not going well,” Simón says.
The Health Ministry added 7,000 new cases to the tally Thursday, bringing it to nearly 378,000 confirmed infections since the start of the pandemic. It’s the highest number in Europe.
The total death toll rose to more than 28,800, with 16 new deaths.
ATLANTA — New guidance from the President Donald Trump’s administration that declares teachers to be “critical infrastructure workers” could exempt teachers from quarantine requirements after being exposed to the coronavirus and send them back into the classroom.
Keeping teachers without symptoms in the classroom, as a handful of school districts in Tennessee and Georgia have already said they may do, raises the risk they’ll spread the coronavirus to students and fellow employees.
Multiple teachers can be required by public health agencies to quarantine for 14 days during an outbreak, which can stretch a district’s ability to keep providing in-person instruction.
South Carolina health officials also describe teachers as critical infrastructure workers, although it’s unclear if any district there is asking teachers to return before 14 days.