Coronavirus live news: France curfew extended to affect 46m people; Greece imposes curfew in high-risk areas

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Greece will impose a curfew in areas most affected by Covid-19, t..... measures.

Greece to impose night-time curfew in high-risk areas, including Athens

Greece will impose a curfew in areas most affected by Covid-19, the prime minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis said on Thursday, announcing restrictions on movement in several areas of the country including Athens.

Mitsotakis said movement would be banned from 12.30am to 5am in locations deemed high-risk and where elevated surveillance was necessary, based on a four-tier risk assessment by authorities. The measure would be in force from Saturday.

Two regions in northern Greece, Kozani and Kastoria, are at the highest risk and regional lockdowns have already been announced, followed by other provinces of elevated surveillance in northern Greece and the region of Attica, where Athens is located.

Earlier, authorities announced 882 new cases of coronavirus, a new peak, after 865 were reported on Wednesday. Greece has recorded significantly lower numbers of Covid-19 than other countries in Europe, though cases started to rise in early October. Testing has also increased.

Mitsotakis said:

The objective is to restrict movement and night-time gatherings which are conducive to the spread of the virus. Perhaps it’s less fun for a while, but it would mean more health in the longer term.

Young people had a responsibility to help curb the spread, Mitsotakis said, adding that the state would be relentless in prosecuting businesses breaking the rules.

Now is not the time for secret parties, when this virus is having a party at the expense of our lives.

The data is clear, the spread of the virus is particularly among young people, and at the times and locations where they gather. But from there, on it spreads into family units, affecting older people disproportionately.

Fifteen more deaths were registered on Thursday, authorities said, bringing the total to 549, many of them elderly. More than 90% of those who died had underlying health issues.

A Greek Presidential Guard wearing a protective face mask stands in front of the Unknown Soldier Tomb in Athens.
A Greek Presidential Guard wearing a protective face mask stands in front of the Unknown Soldier Tomb in Athens. Photograph: Reuters

Updated

Berlin has cancelled one of its most popular Christmas markets - which normally attracts almost a million visitors each year - as Germany registered a record 11,827 new Covid-19 infections within 24 hours, the Times (paywall) reports, as the city steels itself for a second lockdown.

Dilek Kalayci, the city’s health minister, warned that her government was running out of targeted measures and said the contact-tracing system was overwhelmed. There are now nearly a thousand infections a day in the capital and half of its districts have detected more than 100 new cases for every 100,000 people over the past seven days.

Rules on wearing face masks in hospitality and sports have been toughened in Spain’s southern Andalucía region, according to local reports.

The junta announced on Thursday that under the new guidelines anyone practising individual sports - including running, cycling and skating - must now wear a mask if in a densely populated area. The rules for group sports remain unchanged.

In hospitality settings including bars and restaurants, customers must now wear a face mask unless they are eating or drinking, which suggests the mask must worn between courses while seated.

The junta also said it was considering implementing a regional curfew to curb the spread of the virus in the area.

I’m grateful to reader Alex for flagging this to me.

Updated

The UK transport secretary, Grant Shapps, has announced that Spain’s Canary Islands, the Maldives, Denmark and the Greek island of Mykonos have been added to England’s travel corridor list.

Effective from 4am on 25 October (this Sunday), travellers coming into England from these destinations will no longer need to self-isolate for 14 days.

Meanwhile, travellers from Liechtenstein will need to self-isolate, as the country has been removed from the travel corridor list.

It looks like the full list of travel corridors has yet to be updated to reflect this, but in any case, it can be found here.

Updated

France extends curfew to more regions as cases surge

The French prime minister, Jean Castex, has announced that Covid-19 curfew measures will be extended to a further 38 departments for six weeks because of the rapid spread of the virus across the country.

“The second wave is here” and “the situation is grave”, Castex told a news conference as he announced the curfew would now affect 46 million people - two-thirds of the French population - and would include some overseas territories.

Taking affect from midnight on Friday, people in the affected areas will have to stay at home between 9pm and 6am. Certain activities like travelling for work or seeking medical attention will be permitted, and those who don’t comply with the rules face a fine of €135.

With the R rate now at 1.35 in France, Castex said November would be a tough month regarding Covid-19, adding that the situation would be evaluated next week and more strict curfew measures may be imposed if necessary.

A second wave of the coronavirus epidemic is now under way in France and Europe. The situation is very serious. The coming weeks will be hard and the number of deaths will continue to rise.

Six days ago, the country declared a state of emergency and imposed a curfew in Paris and eight other major cities, impacting around 20 million French citizens, after daily new infections reached record levels.

Speaking with the prime minister at the news conference, the health minister, Olivier Veran, said he was hoping to see next week the first positive signs of the curfew put in place almost a week ago in those nine cities. Restrictive measures generally take two to three weeks to produce some effects, health experts say.

France has reported a seven-day average of more than 20,000 new cases over the past six days and the total number of confirmed infections is now over 957,000. More than 34,000 people have died.

Updated

Italy registers 16,079 new infections, highest daily cases since outbreak began

Italy has registered 16,079 new coronavirus infections over the past 24 hours, the health ministry said on Thursday, the highest daily tally since the start of the country’s outbreak and up from the previous record of 15,199 posted on Wednesday.

The ministry also reported a further 136 deaths on Thursday, up from 127 the day before, but still far fewer than at the height of the pandemic in Italy in March and April, when a daily peak of more than 900 fatalities was reached.

So far, a total 36,968 deaths have been confirmed in Italy, while 465,726 cases of the disease have been registered.

After declining over the summer, infections have accelerated in the last few weeks. They are now far more widely distributed around the country than during Italy’s first wave, but the hardest hit region is once again Lombardy, around the country’s financial capital Milan.

On Thursday, Lombardy accounted for 4,125 of the country’s new cases. The neighbouring region of Piedmont was the second-worst hit with 1,550 infections.

Updated

In the UK, the prime minister, Boris Johnson, has started a press conference with Rishi Sunak, the chancellor, and Sir Patrick Vallance, the government’s chief scientific adviser. You can follow that at our UK live blog.

Updated

After Poland’s deputy health minister warned earlier that the country could pass 10,000 new infections for the second day running, more than 12,100 cases and 170 new deaths have been announced.

The Polish prime minister, Mateusz Morawiecki, suggested that starting on Saturday, he would like all Poland to be placed under the highest level of restrictions short of a full lockdown.

That would include mandatory use of masks in all open public spaces, limits on the number of people allowed in shops and public transport, and closing gyms and swimming pools.

Updated

In India, Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s party promised free doses of any future Covid-19 vaccine for the residents of eastern Bihar state if it wins local elections there, drawing accusations of playing politics with the pandemic.

Reuters reports that the federal finance minister, Nirmala Sitharaman, said that Modi’s BJP would ensure that “everyone in Bihar will get a vaccine for free, that’s our first manifesto promise.”

The Jawahar Lal Nehru Medical College and Hospital in Bhagalpur, Bihar.
The Jawahar Lal Nehru Medical College and Hospital in Bhagalpur, Bihar. Photograph: Danish Siddiqui/Reuters

After the BJP’s announcement, chief minister Edappadi K Palaniswami of the southern state of Tamil Nadu which holds elections next year, said his government would also distribute any vaccine for free. The state is ruled by Palaniswami’s regional All India Anna Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam party, a BJP ally.

“To make this an election-related issue over a humanitarian crisis is highly immoral and unethical,” Priyanka Chaturvedi, a lawmaker and spokeswoman for the Shiv Sena party, a former ally of the BJP, said on Twitter.

Updated

Portugal imposes partial lockdown on three northern municipalities

The Portuguese government announced on Thursday that three municipalities in the northern region will be put under a partial lockdown to contain a surge in coronavirus cases there.

From Friday, around 161,000 residents in the municipalities of Felgueiras, Lousada and Pacos de Ferreira will only be able to leave home for work, school or other essential activities such as buying food and medicine.

“These measures are due to the evolution of the pandemic in these three municipalities,” Cabinet Minister Mariana Viera da Silva told a news conference.

Portugal, with just over 10 million people, has recorded a comparatively low 106,271 cases and 2,229 deaths. But, like in most European countries, infection have risen in recent weeks.

A so-called state of calamity is in place across the country, meaning gatherings are limited to five people, weddings and baptisms can be attended by a maximum of 50 and university parties are banned.

Denmark has recorded a further 760 coronavirus cases, its highest ever 24-hour figure, according to the latest health authority figures.

Wednesday saw 630 new cases of the virus, the country’s second-highest ever daily total. The previous record of 678 was set on 25 September.

The health minister Magnus Heunicke has already warned that the country will see new restrictions if Covid-19 infections do not slow this week. Earlier on Thursday, he said:

The next two to three days will be decisive. I will not rule out any tightened restrictions or rules at all. We are following closely and authorities have increased alert levels.

I’m grateful to readers Pat and Jesper who flagged this to me.

Sweden’s government said on Thursday it would tighten rules for nightclubs to force them to limit the number of partygoers to 50 amid a rise in cases in recent weeks.

“The parties at the nightclubs are over now,” the prime minister, Stefan Löfven, told reporters at a news conference.

At the same time, the government said it would ease rules for sporting and other events where the public could be seated at a safe distance from each other, allowing up to 300 spectators from the current maximum of 50.

The change in rules for public events will come into force from 1 November.

Updated

Ethiopia can jail people for up to two years if they deliberately violate restrictions aimed at curbing the spread of Covid-19, the attorney general’s office said, amid concern that citizens were becoming lax after a state of emergency was lifted.

The restrictions prohibit shaking hands, not wearing a mask in a public place, seating more than three people at a table or not keeping around six feet apart.

“Now it is as if Covid is no longer there, the public is not taking care,” the health minister Lia Tadesse tweeted on Thursday. “This will cause a possible increase in the spread of the disease and might be a threat to the nation.”

Africa’s second-most populous nation and regional powerhouse declared a state of emergency in April to curb the spread of the pandemic. It was lifted in September. The health ministry has recorded 91,118 Covid-19 cases, 1,384 deaths and 44,506 recoveries so far.

The disease peaked in Ethiopia toward the end of August, but testing has been also scaled back due to limited resources. At least 79 people died of Covid-19 in the past week, the health ministry said, but less than 2% of deaths are formally recorded.

The new law permits fines and imprisonment for up to two years for anyone who breaks the restrictions, the attorney general’s office said in a statement on its Facebook page on Wednesday.

Ethiopia also postponed its regional and parliamentary elections scheduled for August due to the outbreak. They are expected to be held next year.

Africa has mostly not seen the huge wave of infections and deaths that have swept across Europe and the Americas. Experts say a much younger population, immediate measures to contain the virus and having a more rural population have all helped keep cases down.

But many African leaders are urging vigilance, concerned that any surge in cases could overwhelm rickety public health systems.

Updated

Medics in a Siberian city have confirmed that the corpses of dozens of coronavirus victims are lying in the basement of a local hospital because there are not enough doctors to perform autopsies on them.

Local officials have confirmed what was first shown in a ghastly video leaked onto social media from the city of Barnaul in Russia’s Altai region: more than 25 bodies wrapped in black plastic lying on gurneys in a windowless hospital corridor.

“We have bodies here, they all had Covid,” said the anonymous author of the video, who said he was filming on 17 October. Some of the bodies are lying on the floor. At one point during the video an arm is visible.

The video emerged as coronavirus deaths in Russia have risen to record highs with an unprecedented 317 deaths reported on Wednesday, and a further 290 deaths reported on Thursday. New diagnoses have risen to nearly 16,000 cases, the highest daily increase in the country since the outbreak began.

Barnaul has officially tallied less than 300 deaths from coronavirus since the outbreak began, a number that critics say is artificially low.

In a statement, health ministry officials said that 98 people had died at this hospital in Barnaul this month, which has been converted into a treatment point for coronavirus patients.

The bodies in the basement of Barnaul’s hospital number 12 may not appear in official Russian tallies because they had not yet been autopsied.

In a statement, officials cited a “significant increase in the number of deaths per day” and “the need for pathological and anatomical research in all cases”.

Updated

The majority of residents at a nursing home in Galway, Ireland, have tested positive for Covid-19, Galway Daily reports.

Of the home’s 28 residents, 26 have tested positive and a number of staff have also contracted the virus.

A local doctor tweeted this morning:

It comes as Ireland closed much of its economy and society in a second Covid-19 lockdown on Wednesday, which saw non-essential shops close and people asked to stay at home, with a 5km (3 mile) travel limit for exercise, to curb surging infection rates.

I’m grateful to my colleague Ben Quinn for flagging this.

Updated

Cyprus makes masks obligatory outdoors and imposes curfews

The wearing of face masks will become mandatory in all areas in Cyprus and a curfew will be imposed in two districts that have had a steep rise in Covid-19 cases, the Cyprus Mail reports.

The health minister Constantinos Ioannou said the use of masks will now be obligatory in all outdoor areas, except while exercising. They are already so in all indoor areas where two or more people are present.

He also announced an 11pm curfew in the Limassol and Paphos districts. Between 11pm and 5am, movement will be banned except for people going to work, visiting pharmacies or in the event of medical emergencies. People will be required to present proof of their reason for being outside.

Under the measures, hospitality venues must close by 10.30pm but can continue to deliver. All sports and social activities of children under 18 are suspended.

The measures will be in effect from Friday until 9 November.

I’m grateful to reader Philip for flagging this to me.

Updated

Germany has issued travel warnings for popular ski regions in Austria, Italy and Switzerland, scrambling to contain the spread of the coronavirus as new infection numbers rose above 10,000 a day for the first time.

While infection rates in Germany are lower than in much of Europe, they have been accelerating, and the daily number of confirmed cases rose by 11,287 to 392,049. The death toll stands at 9,905.

“The situation has become very serious overall,” Lothar Wieler, head of the Robert Koch Institute (RKI) for infectious diseases, said. “We still have a chance to slow the spread of the pandemic.” But he said people must stick to the rules and that Germany must prepare for an uncontrolled spread of the virus.

On Wednesday, the German health minister, Jens Spahn, became the latest prominent politician to test positive for the virus. His spokesman said he had symptoms of a cold but no fever. Government sources said he was fit for work.

Berlin issued new travel warnings for Switzerland, Ireland, Poland, most of Austria and some Italian regions including the popular skiing region of South Tyrol. The UK (not including the Channel Islands, the Isle of Man and the overseas territories) is also seen as a high-risk area.

Under the warnings, which take effect from Saturday, travellers returning to Germany must quarantine for 10 days. Quarantine can be lifted early if a test taken after five days comes back negative.

The move could significantly impact the Alpine countries’ ski season, especially Austria, which reported a record 2,435 new daily infections on Thursday and is a popular destination for Germans.

However, there was positive news for Spain’s Canary Islands as the RKI removed it from its risk list, lifting hopes there for German tourists over Christmas and new year.

Updated

Cristiano Ronaldo is set to miss Juventus’ Champions League clash against Barcelona next week after testing positive for coronavirus for a second time, according to reports.

The 35-year-old initially tested positive for Covid-19 on 13 October and was forced to withdraw from Portugal’s squad during the international break.

He subsequently returned to Italy for his quarantine period and had to miss Juventus’ last two matches against Crotone in Serie A and Dynamo Kyiv in the Champions League.

Ronaldo is set to miss Barcelona clash after receiving a second positive coronavirus test.
Ronaldo is set to miss Barcelona clash after receiving a second positive coronavirus test. Photograph: Alberto Lingria/Reuters

The Czech government is likely to ask parliament to extend state of emergency powers that are currently due to run out on 3 November, the health minister Roman Prymula said.

The government on Wednesday announced the closing of most retail shops along with further restrictions to cut social contact as it battles a surge in Covid-19 cases, which have grown at one of the fastest rates in the world over the last week.

Updated

The number of coronavirus cases reported in the Netherlands rose by more than 9,000 in 24 hours, a new record, data released by the National Institute for Public Health (RIVM) on Thursday showed.

The RIVM registered 9,271 new Covid-19 cases in one of Europe’s second-wave hotspots, roughly a week after the government imposed “partial lockdown” measures including the closure of bars and restaurants.

We asked Guardian readers to pose questions about the UK government’s response to coronavirus for our science team to answer. Here our science correspondents Nicola Davis and Linda Geddes have answered some of your most pressing questions, from unpicking England’s north-south divide in infection rates to examining why it’s taking so long to develop a vaccine.

Updated

The Indian state of West Bengal has reported its biggest daily tally of new Covid-19 infections as thousands of people thronged the streets for a major Hindu festival that began last week, Reuters reports.

India has seen a sharp drop in infections since a September peak, but experts have warned it could see a resurgence during Durga Puja this week, and Diwali, the festival of light, in mid-November.

West Bengal’s health ministry reported 4,069 new Covid-19 cases late on Wednesday. India currently has a total of 7.71m cases, the second highest in the world.

During the nine-day festival of Durga Puja, Hindus worship the goddess Durga and visit a series of neighbourhoods to see large idols put up in big tents and other makeshift structures.

The high court in West Bengal, a state in eastern India, has issued orders to restrict the entry of worshippers into tents and makeshift structures, but that has not deterred people from turning out in large numbers.

The next four days of the festival will be crucial, health officials said.

“Many people were behaving irrationally and crowding markets,” said Abhijit Chowdhury, a doctor who advises the state government. “Some of them were not even taking basic safety measures.”

Separately, the federal government on Thursday said it would relax some visa and travel restrictions for those who want to travel to India for medical, business and employment purposes.

Updated

Croatia, Slovenia and Bosnia have all reported their highest one-day rise in cases, Reuters reports.

Croatia reported its biggest rise in daily new Covid-19 infections on Thursday with 1,563 new cases, nearly half of which were in Zagreb, where they more than doubled. The capital recorded a high of 705 new infections compared with the previous day’s 337 infections. So far, Croatia, a country of some 4 million people, has recorded 29,850 cases with 406 deaths. There are currently 7,380 active cases.

Neighbouring Slovenia, with 2 million people, also reported a record-high number of daily cases on Thursday, reaching 1,663 infections.

Meanwhile, Croatia’s south-eastern neighbour, Bosnia, also reported on Thursday a record 999 new infections, bringing the total number of cases in the country of about 3.3 million people to 37,314, with 1,051 deaths.

Updated

The head of Germany’s leading public health body has insisted it is still possible to control the spread of the coronavirus if people abide by basic rules such as social distancing and mask wearing.

Lothar Wieler of the Robert Koch Institute said “we are not powerless”, arguing the most important measure people could take was to avoid private gatherings.

He said statistics gathered in Germany showed clearly that the majority of infections were taking place in private settings, especially parties, where the virus spread most effectively, when people were in close proximity to each other, and laughing and speaking, after which they then returned home and infected others in their respective households.

Where people like to gather and share each other’s company, that is where the infection is being spread most. We see from studies how the aerosols spread more intensively the more people laugh and are happy, and the closer they are to each other ... private celebrations are the decisive point in this.

The number of infections in Germany jumped overnight to almost 11,300, a higher number than at any time in the pandemic. The rise on the previous day was about 7,600. So far, 9,911 people have died in the country.

Wieler said that contrary to reports, it was not the case that the rise was due to more testing being carried out: “The rate is rising, and in every age group.”

He said more than 1m tests were being carried out in Germany every day, and the percentage of positive test results among them had risen from under 1% just weeks ago, to 3% now.

Wieler stressed the importance of track and tracing. He pointed to the “mistake” made by countries which he said had abandoned track and trace systems early on in the pandemic after being unable to cope with the task.

Some countries [Sweden, the UK] stopped their track-and-trace services because they couldn’t keep up. But we know that it is better to track and trace somewhat than not to track and trace at all, because quintessentially, every contact that you find, reduces the spread of the infection ... [Those countries] gave up their contact tracing in the spring because they were overwhelmed. That proved not to be the right way.

He said that the RKI did not support so-called “circuit breakers” to interrupt the spread of the virus.

It obviously depends on the local, epidemiological situation, but we don’t recommend that. Our advice is that we want people to keep a distance and to wear a face covering.

Wieler urged the public to continue to wear masks in shops, and spaces where people were gathered close together, as well as to air rooms regularly. He also encouraged people to keep a diary about where they had been, to assist tracking and tracing if they became infected.

Updated

Italy evaluating fresh lockdown if ICU patients top 2,300, reports say

According to the Italian national newspaper il Corriere della Sera, which is citing government sources, Rome could evaluate the possibility of a new lockdown, if the number of patients admitted to the ICU exceeds 2,300.

The alleged decision to reconsider the restrictive measures came on Wednesday, after Italy registered a record of 15.199 new Covid-19 infections, within the previous 24 hours – its highest daily increase in coronavirus cases since the beginning of the pandemic.

Even the national newspaper la Repubblica spoke of the threat of a new lockdown if the daily cases were to exceed 20,000.

After the summer, the prime minister Giuseppe Conte ruled out a new lockdown being imposed. However, in recent weeks, with the increase in new coronavirus cases, the prime minister may change his mind.

On Thursday, Conte told the lower house that his government was ‘’ready to take further action if necessary’’.

Italy’s concern is the lack of hospital beds, which were already on the brink of collapse during the first wave.

There are currently three regions set to introduce a curfew, from midnight to 5am, to try to curb their surging Covid-19 infections. After Lombardy and Campania, on Wednesday Lazio also introduced a curfew that includes the capital Rome.

Updated

Austria’s daily tally of coronavirus cases rose to a new daily high of 2,435 on Thursday, newspapers Kronen Zeitung and Österreich reported before the figures were officially published. The daily number of cases has been rising steadily, repeatedly setting new records since exceeding the first wave’s peak of 1,050 this month.

Updated

Malaysia’s health ministry reported 847 new coronavirus cases on Thursday, raising the total to 23,804. The country, which imposed targeted lockdowns this month amid a surge in cases, also recorded five new deaths, raising total fatalities to 204.

A health worker collecting a swab sample inside a non-contact chamber called the 'Cov-shield' at Sunway medical center in Subang Jaya, on the outskirts of Kuala Lumpur.
A health worker collecting a swab sample inside a non-contact chamber called the “CoV SHIELD” at Sunway Medical Center in Subang Jaya, on the outskirts of Kuala Lumpur. Photograph: Mohd Rasfan/AFP/Getty Images

Updated

Good morning from London. I’m Lucy Campbell, I’ll be bringing you all the latest global developments on the coronavirus pandemic for the next eight hours. Please feel free to get in touch with me as I work if you have a story or tips to share! Your thoughts are always welcome.

Email: [email protected]
Twitter: @lucy_campbell_

The numbers of new coronavirus infections in Zagreb, the capital of Croatia, has nearly doubled since a day earlier, as the country recorded its biggest rise in daily new infections.

Zagreb recorded a new high of 705 new cases on Thursday compared to the previous day’s 337 infections. Overall, the Croatia recoded 1,563 new cases on Thursday.

So far Croatia, the country of some 4 million people, has recorded 29,850 cases with 406 deaths, according to Reuters. There are currently 7,380 active cases.

Neighbouring Slovenia, with 2 million people, also reported on Thursday a record-high number of daily cases so far, reaching 1,663 infections.

Updated

Former Belgian PM Sophie Wilmès in intensive care

Sophie Wilmès, who was Belgium’s caretaker prime minister during the first wave of the coronavirus outbreak, has been admitted to intensive care with Covid-19.

Wilmès, who is now foreign minister, tested positive for coronavirus last week and had been self-isolating. She was admitted to a Brussels hospital on Wednesday night, according to AFP, the French state-backed news agency.

“She is conscious and she can communicate,” her spokeswoman said, confirming that Wilmès was receiving intensive care. A source in her office said her condition was “stable”.

Sophie Wilmès, Belgium’s foreign minister, who is in intensive care with Covid-19.
Sophie Wilmès, Belgium’s foreign minister, who is in intensive care with Covid-19. Photograph: Olivier Hoslet/EPA

The prime minister, Alexander de Croo, who succeeded Wilmès on October 1, wished her a “speedy recovery” on his Twitter account.

“No one is immune from this dangerous virus. Together as one, we will beat Covid-19!” he said.

Belgium is experiencing one of the worst second waves of the epidemic in the world, and with 10,539 deaths in a country of 11.5 million people, one of the deadliest outbreaks per capita. A renewed partial lockdown has seen pubs and restaurants close.

The number of confirmed infections has doubled in a month to 253,386, and there are 3,274 patients currently in hospital.

Government ministers and scientists will hold an emergency meeting on Friday and are expected to announce still tighter measures to stem the spread of the virus.

Updated

Russia has reported 15,971 new coronavirus infections and 290 deaths, as it was announced that the health minister, Mikhail Murashko, will self-isolate after a member of his family tested positive for the virus.

On Wednesday, Russia reported 15,700 new cases and 317 deaths. The official death toll from the outbreak in the country is now 25,242.

Hungary is to look east for a potential Covid-19 vaccine, despite having also committed to buying 6.5 million doses of the AstraZeneca jab currently being developed by researchers from Oxford University.

The government on Thursday said it had asked health experts to look into the effectiveness of vaccines developed by Russia and China for possible later purchases. Russia has so far licensed two coronavirus vaccines, and is on its way to licensing a third. Four Chinese vaccines are reportedly in phase 3 trials.

Gergely Gulyas, the chief of staff of the prime minister, Viktor Orban, told a press briefing that Hungary was ready to buy from the vaccines if they provide efficient protection against coronavirus, according to Reuters.

He said Hungary had also committed to buy 6.5m vaccines from AstraZeneca at a cost of 13 billion forints (£32m or $42m)under a wider European Union agreement.

Gulyas also said the government would keep schools open after the autumn break next week.

Updated

The head of Germany’s disease control centre has said the country is facing a “very serious” rise in coronavirus cases, after the country earlier reported a record 11,287 new infections.

Lothar Wieler, head of the Robert Koch institute, was quoted as saying by AFP, the French state-backed news agency, that it was still possible to bring the virus under control through “systematic compliance with restrictive measures”, but that “the overall situation has become very serious.”

Thursday’s rise in cases far exceeded the previous record of 7,830 recorded last Friday, and was a steep jump from the 7,595 cases reported on Wednesday.

Wieler blamed private gatherings, especially among young people, for the rise.

“The more people gather in private circles, the more the numbers will increase and the further the virus will spread,” he said, noting that “the young are currently the most exposed to this virus”.

He urged people to observe the rules but cautioned that an “uncontrolled” spread could be unavoidable in some regions.

A team of doctors have denied claims that mild cases of Covid-19 are putting young, otherwise healthy patients at increased risk of strokes. The claims, which emerged in April, were widely publicised, including in the Guardian, and backed up at the time by a number of scientific papers.

But in a letter to the journal Neurosurgery, the doctors from St Barnabas hospital in the Bronx, New York, have said that, on the contrary, their stroke unit had “experienced significant reductions, rather than increases in the rates of strokes, large vessel occlusions (LVOs), and thrombectomies.”

They go on:

A recent study found a 39% nationwide reduction in neuroimaging for acute stroke, a surrogate measure of endovascular thrombectomy for LVO. Likewise, a 38% nationwide drop in ST-elevation myocardial infarction catheterization lab activations has been documented during this period.

According to the doctors, stroke is a well-known complication of sepsis and respiratory infections, but, they say, “there is no evidence that mild (Covid-19) disease is associated with coagulopathy, thrombosis, or stroke. The doctors claim that the initial study which linked stroke to mild cases of Covid-19 was “tiny” and “lacks scientific rigour”, adding that “the arbitrary selection of a 16-day period, extending from a Monday to a Tuesday, raises concern for convenient cherry-picking.”

In a subsequent study which made similar claims, most of the patients had been older than 50 and had cardiovascular risk factors.

They warn:

Such scientifically unfounded claims can potentially exacerbate the current state of collective anxiety surrounding this pandemic. As a result, young people with other illnesses may decide to stay home, seeking to avoid hospitals at all costs, ultimately suffering harmful delays in medical care ...

In summary, there is currently no evidence supporting Covid-19 as a risk factor for stroke, independently of sepsis. Such unsubstantiated and potentially harmful claims should not be widely publicised.

Updated

Covid-19 cases are increasing across the United States and surging in the upper midwest, in what appears to be a third pandemic peak, writes Jessica Glenza for the Guardian US.

In North Dakota, cases are increasing at a higher and faster rate per capita than in any other state throughout the pandemic so far.

Experts have long predicted cooler weather and pandemic fatigue would increase the spread of Covid-19 this fall. That now appears to be coming to pass, coupled with the longer and higher levels of death and disease the US has seen throughout the pandemic compared to peer countries.

“Everyone who knew anything about infectious disease and epidemiology predicted this six to eight months ago,” said Dr Ezekiel Emanuel, vice-provost for global initiatives at the Perelman School of Medicine at the University of Pennsylvania.

“Yes, it will surge in the fall, and the reason it will surge is because we are moving indoors,” said Emanuel. “Our surge is much higher than the surges in general,” he said, because the US has started, “from a higher baseline”.

A restaurant separating diners with table partitions as a preventive measure against the Covid-19 coronavirus in Ningbo, in eastern China’s Zhejiang province.
A restaurant separating diners with table partitions as a preventive measure against the Covid-19 coronavirus in Ningbo, in eastern China’s Zhejiang province. Photograph: AFP/Getty Images

International Airlines Group (IAG), the owner of British Airways, has slashed its flight schedule for the rest of the year as it reported a €1.3bn loss over the third quarter, writes Joanna Partridge for the Guardian’s business desk.

In an unscheduled trading update, the group said it was cutting flights between October and December to just 30% of normal levels, blaming the reintroduction of travel restrictions by many European governments.

The loss was significantly worse than analysts’ forecasts of €920m and compares with a profit of €1.4bn in the same period last year. Third-quarter revenues plummeted by 83% and the group, which also owns Iberia, Vueling and Aer Lingus, warned the capacity cutbacks meant it would no longer reach breakeven in terms of net cash flows during the fourth quarter.

Updated

Hospitals in Liverpool, north west England, are treating more coronavirus patients than they were during the peak of the first wave of the pandemic, according to the city’s medical director.

Dr Tristan Cope, medical director of Liverpool University hospitals NHS trust, which runs the Royal, Aintree and Broadgreen hospitals in the city, said the numbers were continuing to rise.

Liverpool, which currently has the third highest coronavirus infection rate in the country, became the first area to become subject to England’s new tier 3 restrictions, which include the closure of bars and pubs which are not serving food, last week.

Updated

More drastic measures are on the cards for Spain as it tries to control a resurgent coronavirus outbreak.

The health minister, Salvador Illa, said on Thursday that the country’s coronavirus pandemic was not under control and his administration was discussing more restrictions on mobility with regional authorities, according to Reuters.

He expected the pandemic to make life tough for the next five or six months.

On Wednesday, Spain became the first country in western Europe to surpass 1 million cases.

Updated

People in Germany are once again stripping the supermarket shelves bare of toilet paper and disinfectant, as the country enters its second wave of the coronavirus pandemic.

“Hamster purchases are starting again,” Germany’s statistics office said on Twitter, using a German phrase for panic-buying, according to Reuters.

Sales of toilet paper increased by 89.9% last week when compared to pre-crisis levels, while disinfectants (up 72.5%) and soap (up 62.3%) were also in high demand, it said in a separate statement.

Earlier on Thursday, Germany reported more than 10,000 new daily coronavirus infections for the first time.

Data released in April showed that stocking up on daily essentials ahead of anticipated lockdown and quarantine measures caused German retail sales to surge far beyond expectations in February.

Updated

The Czech Republic, Europe’s current Covid blackspot, is this morning waking up into what is effectively its second lockdown a day after recording yet another new peak in cases, just under 15,000 – remarkable for a country of 10.7 million, writes Robert Tait in Prague.

All but essential shops – defined as supermarkets, pharmacies and bizarrely, florists and tobacconists, plus a few others such as locksmiths – are closed at least until the present state of emergency, which expires on 3 November. Only essential trips, such as to work and for food or for walks in “nature”, are allowed and people are limited to groups of two outside of family members.

A woman wearing a face mask walks across the Charles Bridge in Prague on Wednesday.
A woman wearing a face mask walks across the Charles Bridge in Prague on Wednesday. Photograph: Petr David Josek/AP

The new restrictions, resembling but still less complete than spring’s successful lockdown, come a day after the regulation to wear masks outdoors was reintroduced – although this time with the potential get-out clause of “when 2 metres separation cannot be ensured”, a proviso not present in the earlier shutdown.

The country’s situation is now so parlous that the US national guard is dispatching 28 doctors here in the next week to help deal with the crisis. Perhaps nothing so much crystallises Czech disarray as Wednesday’s announcement by the head of the Covid task force, Jan Hamacek, who is also interior minister, that he had tested positive for the virus.

There were also 101 Covid-related deaths reported on Wednesday, bringing the death toll in October alone to 999. Compare this to the figure for the period March to September, when 671 died.

Updated

Responding to comments by a top UK police officer that England’s new three-tier system of coronavirus regulations was confusing, the minister for crime and policing has said it is important that people inform themselves about restrictions in their areas.

Kit Malthouse told BBC Breakfast the different rules do bring some “complexity”. He added:

There’s plenty of information out there on the internet where people can go and inform themselves about what the regulations are in their area and that fundamentally is what we would recommend everybody has to do. We all need to recognise we have an individual duty towards our collective health and that means informing ourselves about what the regulations are in our area and complying with the rules.

As cases rise people had to “grit their teeth” and do their best to get through the current wave of the virus, Malthouse said.

I think everybody is fed up, we are all fed up, nobody is enjoying this experience. But in truth this is the moment, as we see the numbers mounting, that we all have to grit our teeth and do our best to get through it.

Malthouse said the majority of people were complying with the rules and the number of fines issued by police for breaches was “tiny really”.

What we are seeing across the country, the polling is telling us there’s strong support for the measures being put in place and we are seeing high levels of compliance.

Calls to suspend South Korea flu jab rollout after 13 deaths

South Korea’s medical association said on Thursday the government should suspend a flu vaccine programme following the deaths of at least 13 people who received a shot in recent days.

Health authorities said they have found no direct links between the deaths and the vaccines, but Choi Dae-zip, president of the Korean Medical Association, told a news conference that the inoculation programme should be put on hold until the government secured the safety of the vaccines.

Countries have been rolling out flu vaccination programmes with renewed vigour this winter, amid fears of a “twindemic” of Covid-19 and flu. In June it was reported that demand for the vaccines had soared as national health authorities scrambled to secure enough doses to ensure enough coverage to ensure that hospitals were not overburdened by flu cases while they tried to handle a second wave of coronavirus infections.

The deputy health minister in Poland has said that new coronavirus infections in his country could pass 10,000 for a second day in a row on Thursday, according to Reuters. The country registered a record high of 10,040 on Wednesday.

Waldemar Kraska told private broadcaster Polsat News that the number of new daily infections may remain high until mid-November. The government is introducing new restrictions aimed at fighting the disease’s spread in coming days, with new curbs to be announced on Thursday.

Ukraine has registered a daily record of 7,053 coronavirus infections, the national security council said, up from a previous record of 6,719 on Wednesday, Reuters reports.

The total number of people who have tested positive for the virus climbed to 322,879.

The council said 116 new coronavirus-related deaths were registered in the past day. On Wednesday, the toll hit a record 141.

Ukraine has recorded over 5,000 new coronavirus cases almost every day since the start of October. The spike in infections has prompted the government to extend lockdown measures until end-2020.

The officer in charge of leading the UK policing response to the pandemic has admitted that even he doesn’t know England’s lockdown rules, the Daily Mail reports this morning.

The UK’s complicated lockdown rules have been the source of confusion in the criminal justice system, with hundreds of fines previously ruled unlawful.

According to this morning’s Mail:

Owen Weatherill told MPs the new three-tier system was too confusing and the public needed simpler messages.

The assistant chief constable proved his point by failing to clarify that households must not mix indoors in Tier Two areas.

Questioned on the issue, he could only reply: ‘I have not got the regulations in front of me so I cannot give you a definitive answer on that.

‘There are so many different variations – I am not conversant with every set of regulations.’

Updated

Hi this is Damien Gayle picking up the liveblog now from London. If you have any comments, tips or suggestions for what we could be covering then do feel free to drop me a line, either via email to [email protected], or via Twitter direct message to @damiengayle.

Updated

That’s it from me, Helen Sullivan, for today. If there’s one bit of news you need to know about, it’s this:

Updated

In Northern Ireland, one MLA has tested positive for Covid-19 and six more MLAs are self-isolating as cases of coronavirus continue to surge, PA media reports.

Ulster Unionist John Stewart tweeted on Wednesday night that he had been tested after feeling ill and suffering symptoms of a headache, as well as fatigue.

“Sadly I have tested positive for Covid-19 today. Felt really unwell Monday, booked a test Tuesday & result today,” he said.

“Very fast & efficient. Feeling ill, head pounding & really fatigued.”

Health minister Robin Swann confirmed in a tweet on Wednesday night that he had come in contact with someone with Covid-19.


The Department of Health said Mr Swann was self-isolating after receiving a notification via the StopCovidNI proximity app that he had come in contact with someone who tested positive.
A statement from the department said he will fulfil his ministerial responsibilities from home for 14 days.

The North Antrim MLA has no symptoms of the virus and the department said he will only require a test if he develops one of the symptoms of coronavirus.

On Twitter he urged people to download the app to halt the spread of the virus. An exposure notification from the app means the user had been close to another user who has tested positive.

Self-isolation is required for 14 days after a person receives a notification.

Updated

Summary

Here are the key developments from the last few hours:

  • France passed 1m cases. France has become the second country in Western Europe to record more than 1m coronavirus infections, according to the Johns Hopkins University tracker. The current total is 1,000,357. France has recorded 34,075 deaths.There are now seven countries worldwide with more than one million cases.
  • Six US states reported record day-over-day increases in Covid-19 deaths on Wednesday, as infections rose across the Midwest and elsewhere, prompting new clampdowns on residents, schools and businesses. Deaths attributed to Covid-19 hit daily records in Iowa, Minnesota, Montana, Kansas, Hawaii and Wisconsin. Wisconsin, Illinois, Kentucky, Colorado and Ohio reported record daily increases in new infections.
  • The number of confirmed coronavirus cases in Germany rose by more than 10,000 in a single day for the first time, data from the Robert Koch Institute for infectious diseases showed on Tuesday. The institute recorded 11,287 new cases in its daily update for a total of 392,049. The previous day’s increase was 7,830.The previous highest one-day total was on 20 October, according to Johns Hopkins University, with over 8,500 new cases.The reported death toll rose by 30 to 9,905, the tally showed.
  • All of Puerto Rico’s 911 call centers were shut down Wednesday night after several employees tested positive for the coronavirus, officials announced. Public Safety Secretary Pedro Janer said people should call the island’s emergency management agency at 787-724-0124 or police at 787-343-2020 in an emergency. He said both agencies are operating 24 hours a day. However, people calling the first number that Janer provided get a recording asking them to call 911 for an emergency. Then the recording provided callers with a directory.
  • AstraZeneca COVID-19 vaccine trial Brazil volunteer dies, trial to continue. Brazilian health authority Anvisa said on Wednesday that a volunteer in a clinical trial of the Covid-19 vaccine developed by AstraZeneca and Oxford University had died but added that the trial would continue. A source familiar with the matter told Reuters the trial would have been suspended if the volunteer who died had received the Covid-19 vaccine, suggesting the person was part of the control group that was given a meningitis jab.
  • New Zealand reported just two new cases of the virus on Thursday, a day after recording its highest number of new Covid-19 cases in a single day for more than six months – most of them diagnosed in border quarantine facilities. Both new cases were diagnosed in travellers returning to the country, who must spend two weeks in government-run quarantine, where they are tested twice for the coronavirus.
  • Alabama lieutenant governor tests positive for coronavirus. Alabama’s lieutenant governor, who has called the state’s mask order a government overstep, announced Wednesday that he has tested positive for Covid-19.
  • Trump says he doesn’t see agreement with Democrats on stimulus. Donald Trump has said he does not see any way house speaker Nancy Pelosi and senate Democratic leader Chuck Schumer “will be willing to do what is right for our great American workers, or our wonderful USA itself, on stimulus.”
  • Italy’s Lazio region, including the capital Rome, is set to introduce a curfew on Friday from midnight to 5am to try to curb its surging Covid-19 infections, a regional government source told Reuters.
  • It comes as Italy registered a record of 15,199 new Covid-19 infections in the last 24 hours, its highest daily increase in coronavirus cases since the beginning of the pandemic.
  • Greek authorities announced a regional lockdown of the northern region of Kastoria, after declaring the region an elevated risk, the highest of a four-tier risk assessment. Restrictions will be imposed from 23 October. It comes as the country reported 865 new cases of Covid-19, a new high since the outbreak began in late February.
  • Spain became the first western European country to surpass a million coronavirus cases. The unwelcome milestone comes as the government considers a curfew and as political bickering threaten to jeopardise efforts to control the second wave of the virus.

In non-coronavirus news, here are this year’s Luminar bug photo of the year winners:

Make sure to read the captions, lest you think these bugs are all sweetness and good lighting:

Updated

In more cheerful news from India, businesses are stocking up more ahead of this year’s big festival season than at any time in the last five years, expecting people whose earnings were relatively unaffected by the pandemic to spend the money they saved during months of lockdowns, Reuters reports.

India’s biggest shopping season is at the time of the festivals of Durga Puja and Diwali, which fall 20 days apart in October-November each year. Traditionally, this is a time when houses are re-decorated, big-ticket items purchased, feasts held and gifts exchanged.

Businesses and shopkeepers expect more purchases than usual this year, beginning with Durga Puja on Thursday, because the months of lockdowns have resulted in pent-up demand.

Farmers and traders negotiate prices at a wholesale vegetable market in Hyderabad on 9 October 2020.
Farmers and traders negotiate prices at a wholesale vegetable market in Hyderabad on 9 October 2020. Photograph: Noah Seelam/AFP/Getty Images

Recent data shows that demand for diesel, power and cars has already picked up, and any resurgence of retail buying of everything from phones to furniture would bode well for India’s economy that shrank 23.9% in the quarter ended June - its steepest decline.

Brokerage firm Nomura said its India business-resumption index for the week that ended on 18 October hit its highest level since the country first imposed a lockdown in late March to contain the coronavirus.

Big retailers such as Croma and Vijay Sales, both dealing mainly in electronics and home appliances, told Reuters sales in recent days indicated that this holiday season could be better than last year and that they were actually worried about tightening inventory in certain categories like entry-level laptops and high-end televisions.

The Confederation of All India Traders said its 70 million small businesses on average were planning for a buffer stock of around 14% this season compared with last year’s 10%, to ensure they don’t run out of goods should demand surge.

India cases pass 7.7m

India’s coronavirus infections rose by 55,839, taking its tally to 7.71 million, health ministry data showed on Thursday.

Cases in India have dipped since a peak in September, but experts warn that infections could surge as the peak festival season approaches.

India has the world’s second highest number of infections after the United States, which has a tally of 8.3 million.

Virus deaths in the south Asian nation rose by 702 in the last 24 hours, taking the toll to 116,616, the ministry added.

Indian sex workers wearing face masks as a precaution against coronavirus gather to worship Hindu goddess Durga at a worship place set up at Sonagachhi, a red light district, in Kolkata, India.
Indian sex workers wearing face masks as a precaution against coronavirus gather to worship Hindu goddess Durga at a worship place set up at Sonagachhi, a red light district, in Kolkata, India. Photograph: Dipa Chakraborty/Pacific Press/REX/Shutterstock

Charlotte Graham-McLay reports:

Jacinda Ardern won New Zealand’s election with a commanding majority, in part attributed to her handling of the Covid-19 pandemic in her country. But a veteran epidemiologist is exhorting the prime minister to use the political capital gained in her decisive victory to scrutinise the coronavirus response by her government and officials, and adopt strategies proposed by her opponents before Saturday’s vote.

“New Zealand has shown it can be quite smart and flexible, but we can see we’ve got these blind spots and we need to have no blind spots,” said Nick Wilson, a University of Otago epidemiologist. “This is such an unforgiving disease and very few countries are doing it right so we need to smarten up our act quite substantially.”

Ardern’s government has been commended internationally for its pandemic response, in which one of the world’s strictest lockdowns in March and April resulted in a death toll of 25, and fewer than 2,000 confirmed cases in the nation of 5 million:

Japanese researchers showed that masks can offer protection from airborne coronavirus particles, but even professional-grade coverings can’t eliminate contagion risk entirely, Reuters reports.

Scientists at the University of Tokyo built a secure chamber with mannequin heads facing each other. One head, fitted with a nebuliser, simulated coughing and expelled actual coronavirus particles. The other mimicked natural breathing, with a collection chamber for viruses coming through the airway.

A cotton mask reduced viral uptake by the receiver head by up to 40% compared to no mask. An N95 mask, used by medical professionals, blocked up to 90%. However, even when the N95 was fitted to the face with tape, some virus particles still sneaked in.
When a mask was attached to the coughing head, cotton and surgical masks blocked more than 50% of the virus transmission.

“There was a synergistic effect when both the virus receiver and virus spreader wore masks,” the researchers wrote in a study published on Wednesday.

There has been a growing consensus among health experts that the Covid-19 virus can be spread through the air. The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention revised its guidance this month to say the pathogen can linger in the air for hours.

A separate team of Japanese researchers used supercomputer simulations to show that humidity can have a significant effect on the airborne dispersion of virus particles.

Podcast: How do we save society?

With the coronavirus pandemic continuing to highlight health and economic inequalities, and the US election fast approaching, this week we return to the archive to explore how divisions in society arise and what we can do about them. In this episode from 2017, Ian Sample investigates where group splits come from, how we can connect to those we disagree with, and what could happen if we fail:

Britain on Thursday said it would partner with an Oxford-based firm to provide testing for the T-cell response of coronavirus vaccine candidates to try to assess their immune responses, Reuters reports.

T cell immunity is thought to be essential to protection against infection from the SARS-COV-2 coronavirus, and could provide longer term immunity than antibodies.
The UK Vaccine Taskforce has chosen Oxford Immunotec to supply T cell testing for its assessment of different vaccine candidates.

“It is important to be able to assess the different vaccines head-to-head and the T cell response is part of our portfolio of accredited assays that we are employing for cross comparisons,” Kate Bingham, chair of the UK Vaccines Taskforce, said in a statement.
Britain has signed supply deals for six different coronavirus vaccine candidates, including those being made by AstraZeneca and Pfizer and BioNTech, seen as among the frontrunners in the race for a vaccine.

Oxford Immunotec said its techonology platform enabled the centralisation of fresh blood samples from different locations to measure the T cell response in a standardised way.

It said the platform, known as T-SPOT, was being used to identify the T cells made in response to the pathogen that causes tuberculosis.

This is not strictly coronavirus related (or joyful) but:

Russia and Iran have obtained some US voting registration information and are attempting to sow unrest in the upcoming election, the government’s national intelligence director said in a rare news conference Wednesday night.

“We have already seen Iran sending spoofed emails, designed to intimidate voters, incite social unrest and damage President Trump,” said John Ratcliffe, the director of national intelligence.

The FBI director, Chris Wray, also spoke, saying the US will impose costs on any foreign countries interfering in the 2020 US election:

Asian shares fell on Thursday and US Treasury yields ticked lower as investors fretted over the slow pace of US stimulus talks and a surge in global cases of Covid-19.

Reuters: Global investor sentiment took a fresh hit over talks to boost the world’s largest economy after US President Donald Trump on Wednesday accused Democrats of being unwilling to craft an acceptable compromise on stimulus, following reports of progress earlier in the day.

It remains unclear whether stimulus negotiations would continue ahead of the US presidential and congressional elections on 3 November.

“We still think that this deal will remain elusive in the sense that this amount that we are talking about, $1.88 trillion, that’s about 9% of GDP, and 2.2 trillion which is Speaker Pelosi’s package, is even higher at around 10% of GDP,” said Anthony Chan, chief Asia investment strategist at Union Bancaire Privee (UBP) in Hong Kong.

“Even if both sides do manage to reach an agreement, given the tight deadline ahead of the election it’s unlikely that something like that would be able to go through the Senate smoothly.”

In morning trade, MSCI’s broadest index of Asia-Pacific shares outside Japan was down 0.63%.

Australian shares gave up 0.6%, Seoul’s Kospi was off 0.59% and and Chinese blue-chips dropped 1.1%.

The Nikkei was 0.69% lower.

France passes 1m cases

France has become the second country in Western Europe to record more than 1m coronavirus infections, according to the Johns Hopkins University tracker.

The current total is 1,000,357. France has recorded 34,075 deaths.

There are now seven countries worldwide with more than one million cases:

  1. US: 8,329,044
  2. India: 7,651,107
  3. Brazil: 5,273,954
  4. Russia: 1,438,219
  5. Argentina: 1,037,325
  6. Spain: 1,005,295
  7. France: 1,000,357

Updated

German cases rise by over 10,000 for first time in pandemic

The number of confirmed coronavirus cases in Germany rose by more than 10,000 in a single day for the first time, data from the Robert Koch Institute for infectious diseases showed on Tuesday.

The institute recorded 11,287 new cases in its daily update for a total of 392,049. The previous day’s increase was 7,830.

The previous highest one-day total was on 20 October, according to Johns Hopkins University, with over 8,500 new cases.

The reported death toll rose by 30 to 9,905, the tally showed.

While Germany’s infection rates are lower than in much of Europe, they have been accelerating rapidly since the onset of cooler weather, with politicians warning that stricter social distancing rules may be needed if the trend continues.

Health Minister Jens Spahn tested positive for the coronavirus on Wednesday.

Updated

Puerto Rico shuts down 911 call centres after several staff test positive for Covid

All of Puerto Rico’s 911 call centers were shut down Wednesday night after several employees tested positive for the coronavirus, officials announced.

AP reports that Public Safety Secretary Pedro Janer said people should call the island’s emergency management agency at 787-724-0124 or police at 787-343-2020 in an emergency. He said both agencies are operating 24 hours a day.

However, people calling the first number that Janer provided get a recording asking them to call 911 for an emergency. Then the recording provided callers with a directory.

“This is serious,” Nazario Lugo, president of Puerto Rico’s Association of Emergency Managers, told The Associated Press. He said he was shocked at the government’s temporary plan to handle emergencies in the U.S. territory of 3.2 million people.

Lugo said officials should patch 911 calls through to another number, rather than forcing people to call a long number that they would have to read read or hear about on the news.

Updated

And now a quick break from coronavirus news:

Two “masked” intruders broke into a California bank using a method straight out of the movies: crawling along air ducts – only to fall through the ceiling tiles and onto the floor.

The raccoons were caught on camera by a customer who noticed the heist while he was withdrawing money outside the bank in Redwood City on Wednesday, ABC Eyewitness News reported.

In photographs, the raccoons can be seen prowling the halls and sitting at a desk. In one image, one of the raccoons – who appears to be the leader – holds out a paw, apparently directing his accomplice to the next target within the bank.

Unfortunately for them, someone raised the alarm and called the Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (SPCA).

Number of US states seeing record one-day deaths rises to six

The number of US states that reported record day-over-day increases in Covid-19 deaths on Wednesday has now risen to six, according to a Reuters analysis, as infections rose across the Midwest and elsewhere, prompting new clampdowns on residents, schools and businesses.

Deaths attributed to Covid-19 hit daily records in Iowa, Minnesota, Montana, Kansas, Hawaii and Wisconsin, Reuters found. Wisconsin, Illinois, Kentucky, Colorado and Ohio reported record daily increases in new infections, the tally showed.

The number of patients in U.S. hospitals suffering from the virus hit 40,000 for the first time since August on Wednesday, according to the analysis.

“Folks, please stay home,” Wisconsin Governor Tony Evers said in a statement on Wednesday. “Help us protect our communities from this highly-contagious virus and avoid further strain on our hospitals.”

Evers said a week-old field hospital in the Milwaukee suburbs had admitted its first patient.

Wisconsin is a pivotal battleground state in the 3 November election between President Donald Trump and Democrat Joe Biden.

The coronavirus pandemic has killed more than 221,000 people in the United States and thrown millions out of work. Opinion polls show Trump’s handling of the pandemic has hurt his re-election prospects.

Podcast: US election 2020 – can we trust the polls?

The Guardian US data editor, Mona Chalabi, casts a sceptical eye over the US polling industry that is once again predicting defeat for Donald Trump. Has it learned lessons from 2016?

Barack Obama has delivered a stinging rebuke of president Donald Trump in a speech delivered in Philadelphia while campaigning for Joe Biden. Obama criticised Trump’s handling of the coronavirus crisis as well as divisive behaviour including retweeting conspiracy theories that you wouldn’t tolerate from anyone “except from a crazy uncle”.

The former president also praised the positivity shown during the pandemic and recent Black Lives Matter movement . “We see that what is best is us is still there, but we’ve got to give it voice.”

Magda Szubanski was targeted by a coordinated “avalanche of hate” from rightwing extremists online after appearing in a Victorian government ad encouraging mask use, Australia’s e-safety commissioner, Julie Inman-Grant, has said.

In late August, when Victoria was reporting Covid-19 cases of close to 200 a day, Szubanski was one of several celebrities to appear in ads encouraging social distancing and compliance with mask rules.

Szubanski brought back her Kath & Kim character Sharon Strzelecki for the promotion, and quickly found herself on the receiving end of an online trolling campaign:

Barack Obama returned to the campaign trail on Wednesday to deliver a scathing – and occasionally humorous – condemnation of his successor while envisioning an America led by his former vice-president, Joe Biden.

Sleeves rolled and wearing a black mask that read VOTE, Obama assailed Donald Trump over his response to the coronavirus pandemic, which has killed more than 220,000 Americans and infected millions more, including the president.

“Eight months into this pandemic, cases are rising again across this country” Obama said at a drive-in rally in Philadelphia less than two weeks before election day. “Donald Trump isn’t suddenly going to protect all of us. He can’t even take the basic steps to protect himself.”

Declaring this “the most important election of our lifetime”, Obama stressed the importance of voting and urged Americans to make a plan for casting their ballots. “What we do now these next 13 days will matter for decades to come,” he said:

Residents in five suburbs in Australia’s second-largest city have been put on alert and people living in a public housing block urged to self-isolate after a new coronavirus case in a school sparked fears of a fresh outbreak, Reuters reports.

Melbourne, the capital of Victoria state, is just emerging from a second wave after a hard lockdown since July helped bring down daily Covid-19 cases to single digits in recent days from a peak of 700 in early August.

Authorities have asked people in the affected suburbs and 120 residents living in a public housing block to get tested if they experienced any flu-like symptoms.

Coronavirus cases could spread rapidly in the densely populated public housing buildings and in early July, nine high-rise housing blocks in Melbourne were placed on a hard lockdown for several days.

Federal Health Minister Greg Hunt said Victoria health authorities were responding effectively to the new virus clusters in the state.

Former Masters champion Adam Scott has tested positive for Covid-19 and withdrawn from the Zozo Championship at Sherwood, becoming the second high-profile golfer in as many weeks to do so.

Dustin Johnson, the world No 1, tested positive last week at the CJ Cup at Shadow Creek in Las Vegas.

Scott has not played since the US Open, and the Australian has played only four times – two majors and two FedEx Cup playoff events – in the four months since the PGA Tour returned from the Covid shutdown:

New Zealand reports two new coronavirus cases, both returned travellers in quarantine

Charlotte Graham-McLay reports for the Guardian:

A day after recording its highest number of new Covid-19 cases in a single day for more than six months – most of them diagnosed in border quarantine facilities – New Zealand reported just two new cases of the virus on Thursday.

Both new cases were diagnosed in travellers returning to the country, who must spend two weeks in government-run quarantine, where they are tested twice for the coronavirus.

Neither of the new cases were related to the 18 instances of the virus reported yesterday, after being diagnosed in fishing crews recently arrived from Russia. All of the 235 Russian and Ukraine workers are in isolation.

There were no new cases diagnosed in the community on Thursday; New Zealand currently has three active cases of domestic spread, and 55 cases in the border quarantine facilities.

In total, the country has recorded 1,558 cases of the virus and 25 deaths. A strict, early lockdown when the virus first emerged in New Zealand has resulted in one of the world’s lowest death tolls to date.

AstraZeneca COVID-19 vaccine trial Brazil volunteer dies, trial to continue

Brazilian health authority Anvisa said on Wednesday that a volunteer in a clinical trial of the Covid-19 vaccine developed by AstraZeneca and Oxford University had died but added that the trial would continue, Reuters reports.

Oxford confirmed the plan to keep testing, saying in a statement that after careful assessment “there have been no concerns about safety of the clinical trial.”

AstraZeneca declined to comment immediately.

A source familiar with the matter told Reuters the trial would have been suspended if the volunteer who died had received the Covid-19 vaccine, suggesting the person was part of the control group that was given a meningitis jab.

The Federal University of Sao Paulo, which is helping coordinate phase 3 clinical trials in Brazil, said an independent review committee had also recommended the trial continue. The university earlier confirmed the volunteer was Brazilian but gave no further personal details.

“Everything is proceeding as expected, without any record of serious vaccine-related complications involving any of the participating volunteers,” the Brazilian university said in a statement.

So far, 8,000 of the planned 10,000 volunteers in the trial have been recruited and given the first dose in six cities in Brazil, and many have already received the second shot, said a university spokesman.

CNN Brasil reported that the volunteer was a 28-year-old man who lived in Rio de Janeiro and died from Covid-19 complications.

Updated

Hospitals across the United States are starting to buckle from a resurgence of Covid-19 cases, with several states setting records for the number of people hospitalised and leaders scrambling to find extra beds and staff. New highs in cases have been reported in states big and small — from Idaho to Ohio — in recent days.

The rise in cases and hospitalizations was alarming to medical experts, AP reports.

“By the time we see hospitalizations rise, it means we’re really struggling,” said Saskia Popescu, an epidemiologist at George Mason University.

Dr. Jay Butler, deputy director for infectious diseases for the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, said Wednesday the United States is seeing a “distressing trend” with Covid-19 cases growing in nearly three-quarters of the country.

Surges in coronavirus cases have led hospitals in Rocky Mountain states to raise concerns as their intensive care bed space dwindles. Utah, Montana and Wyoming have all reported record highs this week for the number of people hospitalized with Covid-19.

Seven of 10 intensive care beds were filled in Utah hospitals and about six in 10 in Montana.

Alabama lieutenant governor tests positive for coronavirus

Alabama’s lieutenant governor, who has called the state’s mask order a government overstep, announced Wednesday that he has tested positive for Covid-19.

AP reports:

Republican Lt. Gov. Will Ainsworth said he had a positive test result but so far, he has no symptoms. He said he took the test after being notified Wednesday that a member of his Sunday school church group had acquired the coronavirus. Ainsworth has criticised mandatory mask orders, although he says he personally wears one.

Ainsworth said he “will quarantine for the appropriate period and seek follow-up tests to ensure the virus has run its course before resuming public activities.”

Ainsworth has been critical of the state’s Covid-19 response under Republican Gov. Kay Ivey. In March, he criticized what he said at the time was the state’s slow response to prepare for a possible “tsunami of hospital patients.” He has also been critical of the state’s mandatory mask order. He said last month that “masks should be voluntary, not mandatory.”

Numbers show the coronavirus pandemic appears to be worsening again in Alabama after weeks of improvement.

Nearly 175,000 people in Alabama have contracted the virus since the pandemic began and at least 2,805 have died.

The virus has been spreading at a quickened pace since early October, figures show, and around 840 people have been hospitalised a day over the past week, compared to around 750 a day in late September.

While the virus causes only mild or moderate symptoms for most people, it can be deadly for the elderly and people with other health problems.

The UK government is to make the recording of ethnicity on birth certificates mandatory in an effort to tackle the unequal impact of Covid-19 on people from minority ethnic groups.

A series of measures to better understand why people from ethnic minorities are more likely to contract Covid-19 and die as a result are due to be put in place, after the prime minister accepted recommendations from the government’s Race Disparity Unit (RDU) advisory group:

Here is a clip from Barack Obama’s appearance in Pennsylvania.

“Look, I get that this president wants full credit for the economy he inherited and zero blame for the pandemic that he ignored. But you know what, the job doesn’t work that way”:

France nears 1m cases

As Spain becomes the first Western European country to cross 1m cases, France is nearing the toll, too. There are currently 999,744 confirmed infections in the country, and 34,072 deaths.

On Wednesday, France recorded more than 25,000 new infections for the sixth time in 12 days, with the government likely to announce a geographical extension of the curfews currently in place in Paris and eight other major cities.

Several more regions are to enter red-alert status, which means that they will have to impose curfews, the government said on Wednesday. It came as hospitals in several cities including Paris moved into emergency mode to cope with the influx of patients with the virus.

Four US states see record deaths

Four US states reported a record one-day increase in Covid-19 deaths on Wednesday including Wisconsin, a hotly contested state in the 3 November election, as infections keep rising across the Midwest and beyond.

Coronavirus deaths hit daily records in Iowa, Minnesota, Montana and Wisconsin, according to a Reuters analysis. Wisconsin also reported a record daily increase in new cases together with Illinois and Ohio, the analysis showed.

There were 66 deaths in Illinois, the state’s highest single-day increase since mid-June, as governor JB Pritzker imposed fresh restrictions in some counties this week.

On Wednesday, Wisconsin governor Tony Evers said 48 people had died from the virus as he announced that a week-old field hospital in the Milwaukee suburbs has admitted its first patient.

“Folks, please stay home,” Evers said in a statement. “Help us protect our communities from this highly contagious virus and avoid further strain on our hospitals.”

Summary

Hello and welcome to today’s live coverage of the coronavirus pandemic.

My name is Helen Sullivan and I’ll be bringing you the latest for the next few hours – and I’ll try my best to include a little good news (even when not strictly Covid-related).

Seen anything you think we should be covering – get in touch on Twitter @helenrsullivan. Anything joyful welcome, too.

As Spain becomes the first Western European country to cross 1m cases, France is nearing the toll, too. There are currently 999,744 confirmed infections in the country, and 34,072 deaths.

On Wednesday, France recorded more than 25,000 new infections for the sixth time in 12 days, with the government likely to announce a geographical extension of the curfews currently in place in Paris and eight other major cities.

Meanwhile, Four US states reported a record one-day increase in Covid-19 deaths on Wednesday including Wisconsin, a hotly contested state in the 3 November election, as infections keep rising across the Midwest and beyond.Coronavirus deaths hit daily records in Iowa, Minnesota, Montana and Wisconsin, according to a Reuters analysis.

Here are the other key developments from the last few hours:

  • Trump says he doesn’t see agreement with Democrats on stimulus. Donald Trump has said he does not see any way house speaker Nancy Pelosi and senate Democratic leader Chuck Schumer “will be willing to do what is right for our great American workers, or our wonderful USA itself, on stimulus.”
  • Italy’s Lazio region, including the capital Rome, is set to introduce a curfew on Friday from midnight to 5am to try to curb its surging Covid-19 infections, a regional government source told Reuters.
  • It comes as Italy registered a record of 15,199 new Covid-19 infections in the last 24 hours, its highest daily increase in coronavirus cases since the beginning of the pandemic.
  • Greek authorities announced a regional lockdown of the northern region of Kastoria, after declaring the region an elevated risk, the highest of a four-tier risk assessment. Restrictions will be imposed from 23 October. It comes as the country reported 865 new cases of Covid-19, a new high since the outbreak began in late February.
  • Spain became the first western European country to surpass a million coronavirus cases. The unwelcome milestone comes as the government considers a curfew and as political bickering threaten to jeopardise efforts to control the second wave of the virus.
  • The UK reported a daily record of 26,688 coronavirus cases, bringing the tally of lab-confirmed infections to 789,229.
  • Russia is not planning to impose any blanket restrictions to contain the Covid-19 pandemic, the president Vladimir Putin said, even as the country reported a record new daily death toll from the respiratory disease. Russia needs keep on carrying out tests for Covid-19, observe safety measures and start vaccinations, Putin said.
  • The German health minister Jens Spahn tested positive for the coronavirus, the health ministry said. He took part in a cabinet meeting earlier in the day but other ministers do not need to go into quarantine, a government spokesman said.
  • Poland will announce fresh restrictions on Thursday after coronavirus infections doubled in less than three weeks, possibly including moving some primary school students to distance learning. On Wednesday, it reported a daily record of 10,040 new cases, taking its tally past 200,000.
  • The Netherlands hit a new record for daily coronavirus cases, with more than 8,500 infections in the 24 hours, nearly a week after the government imposed “partial lockdown” measures including the closure of bars and restaurants.
  • Scotland will introduce a five-tier system of coronavirus restrictionson Friday that will partly mirror England’s three-tier traffic light system of controls, as infections and fatalities climbed sharply to levels not seen since May.
  • Turkey is considering reimposing some measures to stem rising coronavirus cases, such as stay-home orders for younger and older people or even weekend lockdowns, but will avoid hurting the economic recovery.
  • Iran reported its highest daily number of cases since February,recording 5,616 new coronavirus cases for the previous 24 hours, bringing the national tally to 545,286 in the Middle East’s hardest-hit country. Authorities have urged people to avoid unnecessary trips and stay home, warning that hospitals in Tehran and some other major cities are overflowing with patients with coronavirus.
  • The Czech Republic shut most shops and services and sought to limit all movement to essential trips such as for work and medical visits to curb Europe’s fastest growth in new coronavirus infections. The country recorded a record daily rise of 11,984 new coronavirus infections on Tuesday, amid a surge in recent weeks, and the health minister said the health system would soon reach the limits of its capacity and that hospitals would run short of beds in November without immediate action.
  • People who host house parties in Ireland can be fined up to €1,000 or jailed for up to one month to ensure compliance with a new Covid-19 lockdown. The government is fast-tracking legislation to give police new powers to levy on the spot fines for breaches of the new restrictions, which come into effect on Thursday.
  • Slovenia and Croatia both reported record daily highs in new infections. This week Slovenia introduced a curfew from 9pm to 6am and a 30-day state of emergency to cope with the coronavirus, while Croatia isn’t yet considering such measures.

Updated

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