The number of new COVID-19 cases continued to fall last week, with 3.6 million new cases reported globally, down from 4 million new infections the previous week, the World Health Organization said.
Last week’s drop marked the first substantial decline for more than two months, with falling COVID-19 cases in every world region. In its latest update on the pandemic released on Tuesday, WHO said there were major decreases in cases in two regions: a 22% fall in the Middle East and a 16% drop in Southeast Asia.
The U.N. health agency said there were just under 60,000 deaths in the past week, a 7% decline. It said that while Southeast Asia reported a 30% decrease in COVID-19 deaths, the Western Pacific region reported a 7% increase. The most coronavirus cases were seen in the U.S., India, Britain, Turkey and the Philippines. WHO said the faster-spreading delta variant has now been seen in 185 countries and is present in every part of the world.
The organization also revised its list of “variants of interest,” or those that it believes have the potential to cause big outbreaks; WHO said it’s tracking the lambda and mu variants, which both arose in Latin America but have yet to cause widespread epidemics. WHO has previously said that in all countries where the delta variant is circulating, it has become the predominant virus.
MORE ON THE PANDEMIC:
— Biden doubling vaccine purchase, calls for more global shots
— U.S. COVID-19 deaths are topping 1,900 a day
— Ravaged by war, Syrian rebel area struggles with virus surge
— See AP coverage at https://apnews.com/hub/coronavirus-pandemic
HERE’S WHAT ELSE IS HAPPENING:
DUBAI, United Arab Emirates — As coronavirus infections plummet and vaccinations accelerate in the United Arab Emirates, authorities have loosened a long-standing face mask mandate.
The Gulf Arab sheikhdom said Wednesday that residents no longer need to wear masks while exercising outdoors or visiting beaches and pools in the country. Those who receive medical or beauty treatments may also forgo the mask. However, face masks will still be required in indoor spaces like shopping malls and public transportation.
It’s the first time the Emirati government has relaxed the strict nationwide mask mandate, violations of which result in a hefty $800 fine.
Virus cases have steadily declined in recent weeks, with health authorities now recording some 300-400 cases a day. Over 80% of the population has been fully vaccinated.
The move comes just a week before Dubai hosts the long-awaited World Expo, which was pushed back a year because of the pandemic.
BRATISLAVA, Slovakia — Coronavirus infections in Slovakia are rising steeply, surpassing 1,000 people testing positive in one day for the first time since April.
The Health Ministry says the day-to-day increase in new cases reached 1,180 on Tuesday, the highest number since April 7. It was 474 a week ago.
Nine more people died of COVID-19 on Tuesday for a total of 12,589 in the nation of 5.5 million.
Some 2.3 million people in Slovakia have been fully vaccinated. The country has one of the slowest vaccination rates among the European Union countries.
BEIJING — Officials in the northeast China city of Harbin say national level health officials have been sent to the city to deal with what may be a coronavirus outbreak.
The city of 9.5 million people reported three infection cases Wednesday, a day after discovering a first case of community transmission.
After the initial finding, authorities started mass testing and closed schools. The city also ordered businesses like mahjong parlors, cinemas and gyms to shut. City authorities say residents must display a negative virus test to be able to leave for only essential travel. Otherwise, people are being told to stay home.
China has been able to keep the virus from transmitting widely within its borders through a costly and strict strategy that relies on lockdowns and mass testing.
HONOLULU — A man who helped organize a Hawaii group that opposes coronavirus vaccines and pandemic restrictions says he now has regrets after contracting COVID-19.
Chris Wikoff told Hawaii News Now this week that he helped start the Aloha Freedom Coalition last October. He says he believed government shutdowns and other restrictions were threatening liberties and harming businesses.
But then he and his wife contracted COVID-19, the disease that is sometimes caused by the virus. Wikoff says he thought he was going to die and he still has trouble breathing.
He is now considering getting vaccinated because his family and doctors recommend it.
Wikoff says he no longer wants to be associated with the Aloha Freedom Coalition. He is warning others in the group not to gather.
LOS ANGELES — California is seeing lower coronavirus transmission than other U.S. states as virus cases and hospitalizations for COVID-19 decline following a summer surge.
The state is currently the only one experiencing “substantial” coronavirus transmission, the second-highest level on the CDC’s color-coded map. So is Puerto Rico. In all other U.S. states, virus transmission is rated as “high.”
State health experts say relatively high vaccination rates in California ahead of the arrival of the delta variant of the coronavirus made a difference. They say additional measures, such as masking, also helped stem the surge.
State data say nearly 70% of eligible Californians are fully vaccinated.
HONOLULU — Hawaii health care providers are receiving half the number of monoclonal antibody treatments for COVID-19 that they requested amid a shortage of the drugs.
The Honolulu Star-Advertiser reports the federal government has capped Hawaii’s weekly allocation at 680 treatments. The state will have to see whether it can get more supply in the coming weeks.
There has been a spike in demand for the drugs in states where surging hospitalizations among the unvaccinated have overwhelmed hospitals.
The treatments have been shown to reduce death and hospitalization if given early. The drugs are laboratory-made versions of virus-blocking antibodies that help fight infections.
CHEYENNE, Wyo. — Wyoming’s governor has activated the Wyoming National Guard to provide temporary assistance to hospitals that are dealing with a surge of patients with COVID-19.
Gov. Mark Gordon activated 95 soldiers and airmen Tuesday to serve at 24 sites in 17 Wyoming cities.
The Guard members will help with cleanup, food service, coronavirus screening, management of personal protective equipment and other support tasks.
Guard members will serve 14- to 30-day rotations, with the potential to extend through the end of the year.
On Tuesday, 190 people were hospitalized in Wyoming with COVID-19, the sometimes deadly disease that can be caused by the coronavirus. That is down from a recent high of 223 on Sept. 8.
WINSTON-SALEM, N.C. — A North Carolina-based health care provider says nearly 400 of its workers face firings for failing to comply with a mandatory coronavirus vaccination program.
The Winston-Salem Journal reports that Novant Health said Tuesday that 1.4% of its overall workforce, or 375 employees, are not being allowed to work.
Novant announced its mandatory vaccination policy July 22, saying then that it would require full compliance by Sept. 15.
In a news release, Novant Health says the affected workers will have five days to comply with the vaccine mandate. If they don’t get the shot before the deadline, they will be fired.
NEW YORK — A new study of Texas prison inmates provides more evidence that coronavirus can spread even in groups where most people are vaccinated.
A COVID-19 outbreak at a federal prison in July and August infected 172 male inmates in two prison housing units, according to a Centers for Disease Control and Prevention report released Tuesday.
About 80% of the inmates in the units had been vaccinated. More than 90% of the unvaccinated inmates wound up being infected, as did 70% of the fully vaccinated prisoners.
Severe illness, however, was more common among the unvaccinated. The hospitalization rate was almost 10 times higher for them compared with those who got the shots.
It echoes research into a July outbreak in Provincetown, Massachusetts, where several hundred people were infected — about three-quarters of whom were fully vaccinated.
Such reports have prompted a renewed push by health officials for even vaccinated people to wear masks and take other precautions. They believe the delta variant, a version of coronavirus that spreads more easily, and possibly waning immunity may be playing a role.
The authors did not identify the prison, but media reports in July detailed a similar-sized outbreak at the federal prison in Texarkana.
OKLAHOMA CITY — Fans of the NBA’s Oklahoma City Thunder will be required to provide proof of a COVID-19 vaccination or a negative coronavirus test to attend games in person, the team announced Tuesday.
“As we continue to face serious health challenges from COVID-19, we must remain committed to protecting the health and safety of our community,” Thunder Chairman Clay Bennett said.
The policy will be in effect for the first 12 games of the preseason and continuing into the start of the regular season.
The Oklahoma State Department of Health on Tuesday reported 484 new virus cases and a seven-day average of 1,834 new cases daily, down from a seven-day average of 2,114 new daily cases one week ago.
The number of hospitalizations has declined from a three-day average of nearly 1,600 on Sept. 1 to 1,327 on Tuesday, according to the health department, which announced a virtual career day on Sept. 29 in an effort to hire 70 nurses statewide.
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