Aug 06, 2020
Beirut explosions stoke fears of coronavirus spike as hospitals are overwhelmed
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Lebanese army bulldozers plowed through wreckage to reopen roads around Beirut's demolished port Thursday, a day after the government pledged to investigate this week's devastating explosion and placed port officials under house arrest.
The blast Tuesday, which appeared to have been caused by an accidental fire that ignited a stockpile of ammonium nitrate at the port, rippled across the Lebanese capital, killing at least 135 people, injuring more than 5,000 and causing widespread destruction.
It also may have accelerated the country's coronavirus outbreak, as thousands flooded into hospitals in the wake of the blast. Hundreds of thousands have been forced to move in with relatives and friends after their homes were damaged, further raising the risks of exposure. Race to rescue survivors after deadly Beirut ... 03:35
French President Emmanuel Macron arrived Thursday amid pledges of international aid, and tweeted that "Lebanon is not alone." He planned to visit the devastated port and meet with top officials.
But Lebanon, which was already mired in a severe economic crisis, faces a daunting challenge in rebuilding. It's unclear how much support the international community will offer the notoriously corrupt and dysfunctional government.
Losses from the blast are estimated to be between $10 billion to $15 billion, Beirut Gov. Marwan Abboud told the Saudi-owned TV station Al-Hadath on Wednesday, adding that nearly 300,000 people are homeless.
The tiny Mediterranean country was already on the brink of collapse, with soaring unemployment and a financial crisis that has wiped out people's life savings. Hospitals were already strained by the coronavirus pandemic, and one was so badly damaged by the blast it had to treat patients in a nearby field.
Dr. Firas Abiad, director general of Rafik Hariri University Hospital, the public hospital leading the coronavirus fight, said he expects an increase in cases in the next 10 to 15 days linked to crowding at hospitals and blood donation centers after the blast.
Authorities had largely contained the outbreak by imposing a sweeping lockdown in March and April, but case numbers have risen in recent weeks. A renewed lockdown was to go in effect this week but those plans were canceled after the explosion. The country has reported more than 5,400 coronavirus cases and 68 deaths since February.
"There is no doubt that our immunity in the country is less than before the explosion and this will affect us medium- to long-term," Abiad said. "We desperately need aid, not only us but all hospitals in Lebanon."
Anger is mounting against the political class that has dominated the country since the 1975-1990 civil war, which has long been seen as hopelessly corrupt and incapable of providing even basic services like electricity and trash collection.
The investigation into the explosion is focused on how 2,750 tons of ammonium nitrate, a highly explosive chemical used in fertilizers, came to be stored at the port facility for six years, and why nothing was done about it.
The Port of Beirut and customs office are notorious for being among the most corrupt and lucrative institutions in Lebanon, where various factions and politicians, including the Iran-backed Hezbollah militant group, hold sway.
Fueling speculation that negligence was to blame for the accident, an official letter circulating online showed the head of the customs department had warned repeatedly over the years that the stockpile of ammonium nitrate was a danger and had asked judicial officials for a ruling on a way to remove it.
The cargo had been stored at the port since it was confiscated from a ship years earlier. Based on the timeline and the size of the cargo, that ship could be the MV Rhosus. The ship was initially seized in Beirut in 2013 when it entered the port due to technical problems, according to lawyers involved in the case. It came from the nation of Georgia, and had been bound for Mozambique.
The stockpile is believed to have detonated after a fire broke out nearby.
It caused the most powerful blast ever seen in the city, which has survived decades of war and conflict. Several city blocks were left littered with rubble, broken glass and damaged vehicles.
Authorities have cordoned off the port itself, where the blast left a crater 200 yards across and shredded a large grain silo, emptying its contents into the rubble. Estimates suggested about 85% of the country's grain was stored there.
Lebanon is highly dependent on imports, and the destruction of the port, along with the worsening cash crisis, have raised fears of shortages.
Two planeloads of French rescue workers and aid were sent to Beirut, as Macron offered support for the former protectorate. The countries retain close political and economic ties.
Other countries, including Greece, Qatar, Kuwait, Turkey and the European Union, have dispatched medical supplies, humanitarian aid and search-and-rescue teams.
News Source: CBS News
The Latest: Nebraska nursing home virus toll relatively low
By The Associated Press
OMAHA, Neb.— More than 40% of the deaths linked to the coronavirus in Nebraska have been at nursing homes, but the overall rate of deaths in the state’s nursing homes has remained relatively low compared with national figures.
A total of 185 deaths linked to the virus have been confirmed at nursing homes in the state, which is reporting 442 deaths overall. The Omaha World-Herald reported Sunday that a federal database shows that 31 of the more than 200 nursing homes in the state have reported deaths linked to the coronavirus. Nationally, nursing home residents account for less than 1% of the U.S. population but more than 40% of the coronavirus deaths.
The rate of deaths in Nebraska nursing homes has remained relatively low overall. Nebraska reported 18 deaths for every 1,000 nursing home residents, which is well below the national rate of 47.8 deaths per 1,000 residents.
HERE’S WHAT YOU NEED TO KNOW ABOUT THE VIRUS OUTBREAK
— Sweden seems to be avoiding second wave of infections hitting other European nations
— Analysis: US to hit 200K dead; Trump sees no need for regret
— Italians in seven regions are voting in elections shaped by the COVID-19 pandemic. The contests were originally scheduled for the spring, but delayed due to the virus.
— Students in Iowa’s largest school system are facing the possibility that the school year could stretch into next summer, and the district could be hit with crippling bills due to a dispute with the governor over reopening classrooms during the coronavirus pandemic
Follow AP’s pandemic coverage at http://apnews.com/VirusOutbreak and https://apnews.com/UnderstandingtheOutbreak
HERE’S WHAT ELSE IS HAPPENING:
California’s death count from the coronavirus has surpassed 15,000 even as the state sees widespread improvement in infection levels.
A tally by Johns Hopkins University put California’s death toll at 15,027 on Sunday, the fourth-highest in the country. New York has suffered by far the most deaths — 33,087 — followed by New Jersey, which has about half as many. Texas is third.
California has had the most confirmed virus cases in the country with about 775,000, but key indicators have fallen dramatically since a spike that started after Memorial Day weekend prompted statewide shutdowns of businesses.
The state’s infection rate has fallen to 3% in the last week, the lowest level since the first days of the pandemic. Hospitalizations have dropped below 2,700, the lowest since early April, and the number of patients in the intensive care unit has dropped below 850.
With figures falling, California last month instituted a new four-tier system for counties to reopen more businesses and activities. Most counties remain in the most restrictive level but some could move to a lower level when the state updates the ratings on Tuesday.
JERUSALEM — Thousands of Israelis are protesting outside Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s official residence in Jerusalem. That’s despite a national lockdown order aimed at curbing a raging coronavirus outbreak.
The lockdown orders include an exception allowing people to hold public demonstrations. But many participants in Sunday night’s gathering appeared to ignore social-distancing rules.
Thousands of Israelis have participated in the protests throughout the summer. They’re calling on Netanyahu to resign while he is on trial for corruption charges. They also accusing him of bungling the country’s coronavirus crisis, after initial success containing it in the spring. The country now has one of the highest per-capita rates of coronavirus in the world.
MILWAUKEE — The Wisconsin Department of Health Services says more than 100,000 people in the state have tested positive for the coronavirus since the start of the pandemic.
Officials on Sunday confirmed 1,665 positive tests in the last day, for a total of 101,227 cases. One new death was reported, for a total of 1,242 fatalities due to complications from COVID-19.
Of the 8,320 test results processed in the last day, 20% were positive. The positivity rate on Saturday was more than 18%.
The update showed there are 362 patients currently hospitalized, including 105 in intensive care units.
Wisconsin ranks seventh in the country for new cases per capita in the last two weeks, according to The COVID Tracking Project.
BEIRUT — Lebanon registered a record 1,006 cases of COVID-19 over the past 24 hours, the government announced Sunday, amid a sharp increase in infections and deaths due to the new coronavirus.
Health Minister Hamad Hassan recommended a total lockdown for two weeks to stem the alarming rise in daily detected infections, but authorities will find it difficult difficult to impose another lockdown amid an unprecedented economic collapse.
The new cases registered by the Health Ministry bring the overall number of confirmed cases in Lebanon to 29,303, while deaths have reached 297 since the first case was reported in the country in late February.
It was the third consecutive record-breaking day of confirmed virus cases.
The rise began after a lockdown was eased and the country’s only international airport was reopened in early July. The surge continued after the massive Aug. 4 explosion in Beirut’s port that killed 193 people, injured at least 6,500 and devastated much of the city.
The blast also overwhelmed Beirut’s hospitals and badly damaged two that had a key role in handling virus cases.
INDIANAPOLIS — Animal control officials in central Indiana are seeking a new home for an abandoned dog whose owner left a letter saying he lost his job and was about to lose his home due to COVID-19.
The dog was found tied to a tree with a note attached to the collar, according to WTHR-TV.
“I was a spoiled girl, my dad gave me my own couch to lay on and my own memory foam bed,” the note said. “My dad lost his job and soon his home from COVID.”
Johnson County Animal Control Director Michael Delp said he’s a seen an increase in the number of people surrendering pets during the pandemic, but pets should be taken to a shelter.
Meanwhile, Indiana officials on Sunday reported 756 new confirmed COVID-19 cases and three deaths. Overall, Indiana has had 111,505 confirmed cases and 3,281 deaths since the pandemic began.
RIO DE JANEIRO — A 3-ton memorial was dedicated on Sunday at a cemetery where many of Rio de Janeiro’s COVID-19 victims have been buried.
The 39-meter (128-foot) long steel Infinity Memorial was erected to pay tribute to those who died from coronavirus and provide families with a symbol of their loss in one of the worst affected cities in Brazil.
The memorial was designed by the Brazilian architect Crisa Santos, who had the idea of building the work at the peak of the pandemic after visiting several cemeteries in the country.
Rio de Janeiro state reached more than 17,600 deaths and more than 250,000 confirmed cases of COVID-19 on Saturday, second only to Sao Paulo state in Brazil.
The names of 4,000 of those who died will be inscribed on the structure.
WATERBURY, Conn. — Rep. Jahana Hayes of Connecticut has tested positive for the new coronavirus and will quarantine for 14 days, she announced Sunday on Twitter.
“After going to 2 urgent care centers yesterday, I finally got an appointment at a 3rd site and was tested this morning,” the first-term Democrat said. Hayes said she has no COVID-19 symptoms “except for breathing issues which are being monitored.”
Hayes sought testing after one of her staff members tested positive for the virus on Saturday.
Hayes, 47, said she contracted the virus despite taking “every possible precaution.” She said her experience underscores the need for a national testing strategy “with a coherent way to receive speedy, accurate results,” adding, “This level of anxiety and uncertainty is untenable.”
YANGON, Myanmar — Myanmar, faced with a rapidly rising number of coronavirus cases and deaths, has announced the tightest restrictions so far to fight the spread of the disease.
The measures announced Sunday by Health Minister Dr, Myint Htwe cover Yangon, the country’s biggest city and main transportation hub.
Measures effective Monday allow just one person per household out of their homes for shopping, and two for hospital visits, although a driver is also permitted when traveling by car. Wearing face masks is mandatory.
All office staffs must work from home, while factories, finishing and construction enterprises must halt operations from Sept 24 to Oct. 7.
Personnel of essential services, including banks, gas stations, food shops and pharmacies are exempt from the order.
Travel out of Yangon was already banned and all domestic flights grounded on Sept. 11.
Until an upsurge in coronavirus cases last month in the western state of Rakhine, Myanmar had appeared to have largely been spared from the pandemic, having recorded just 353 virus cases as of the beginning of August.
The country as of Sunday has 5,541, including 92 deaths.
ATHENS, Greece — Greek health authorities announced a further 170 coronavirus cases Sunday and seven deaths.
The total number of cases is now 15,142, with 338 deaths.
Monday will see further restrictions in the capital Athens and the surrounding region following a spike in cases. The measures include a ban on gatherings exceeding nine persons in both open and closed spaces, a ban on concerts and cinemas — but not theaters — and the obligation of 40% of employeesto work from home, which is combined with a ban on employers using cameras to check on employees.
Also, those over 65 are encouraged to refrain from leaving home, using public transport or meeting with anyone except close relatives for the next 14 days. The measures will be enforced at least until Oct. 3.
DUESSELDORF, Germany — Hundreds of people demonstrated in downtown Duesseldorf Sunday against government coronavirus restrictions and in support of a host of other causes.
People waved signs with slogans like “end to panic, corona pandemic is a lie” and “corona rebels” as songs decrying coronavirus restrictions were played.
They chanted “free Julian Assange” along with one speaker, and formed a “W” — symbolizing “we all” — with their hands, which they raised over their heads as the theme to Chariots of Fire played.
No masks were to be seen, aside from on journalists covering the rally, and a few children mingled among the crowd.
Before breaking away to walk along a route through the western city, the crowd swayed to Louis Armstrong’s “What a Wonderful World” and a man in a Superman costume sang along.
Police reported no incidents.
MADRID — Spaniards are protesting in Madrid against the handling of the coronavirus pandemic by the city’s regional head, who has placed new restrictions on neighborhoods with the highest contagion rates.
Wearing face masks and trying to maintain social distancing, protestors clapped in unison while shouting for regional President Isabel Díaz Ayuso to step down. The protesters gathered at noon Sunday around the city, making it difficult to estimate the size of the protest.
In the Vallecas neighborhood, protesters chanted “For everyone or no one!” in a criticism of the restrictions Díaz Ayuso announced Friday for some of the poorest areas of Madrid where local authorities say the virus is spreading the fastest.
The restrictions affect around 860,000 people who won’t be able to leave their neighborhoods except for work, study or a medical appointment. Parks in the area are closed and shops and restaurants have to limit occupancy to 50%,
Spain is struggling to contain a second wave of the virus, which has killed at least 30,400 people according to the Spanish Health Ministry. Madrid’s rate of transmission is more than double the national average, which already leads European contagion charts.
LONDON — Britain’s government will fine people who refuse an order to self-isolate up to 10,000 pounds ($13,000) as the country sees a sharp surge in coronavirus infections.
The new rule obliges people to self-isolate if they test positive for the coronavirus or are traced as a close contact. The rule comes into effect on Sept. 28.
The government will help those on lower incomes who face a loss of earnings as a result of self-isolating with a one-time support payment of 500 pounds ($633).
The latest figures show that new daily coronavirus cases for Britain have risen to 4,422, the highest since early May. An official estimate also shows that new infections and hospital admissions are doubling every seven to eight days in the U.K.
The Conservative government is widely expected to impose further restrictions after Prime Minister Boris Johnson confirmed that Britain is seeing a second wave of infections, following the trend elsewhere in Europe. London’s mayor has also said tighter restrictions could be needed soon in the British capital.
NEW DELHI — India has registered 92,605 new coronavirus cases in the past 24 hours and is expected to surpass the United States as the pandemic’s worst-hit country within weeks.
The Health Ministry on Sunday also reported 1,133 additional deaths for a total of 86,752.
Sunday’s surge raised the country’s virus tally to over 5.4 million. India, however, also has the highest number of recovered patients in the world, according to Johns Hopkins University. Its recovery rate stands at about 80%.
Over 60% of the active cases are concentrated in five of India’s 28 states — Maharashtra, Karnataka, Andhra Pradesh, Tamil Nadu and Uttar Pradesh.
Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s government has faced scathing criticism for its handling of the pandemic amid a contracting economy that left millions jobless.
MELBOURNE, Australia — Australia’s second-largest city, Melbourne, has moved close to easing severe lockdown restrictions after recording only 14 new COVID-19 cases on Sunday.
It was the second day in a row new infections fell below 30. There were also five deaths recorded Sunday.
Melbourne’s lockdown restrictions are due to be eased next weekend when child care centers will be allowed to reopen and gatherings of up to five people from two different households will be permitted. But that depends on the rolling 14-day average of new cases being below 50. It now stands at 36.2.
Victoria state Health Minister Jenny Mikakos praised residents for adhering to lockdown rules, saying, “The huge sacrifices made by Victorians are saving many lives.”
Meanwhile, Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison described an unexpected fall in Australia’s unemployment rate to 9.3% — down 14 percentage points from its peak during the pandemic — as “pleasant encouragement.”
The figures show about 400,000 Australians recently have returned to work.
SEOUL, South Korea __ South Korea’s new coronavirus tally has fallen below 100 for the first time in more than a month.
The Korea Disease Control and Prevention Agency said Sunday that the newly counted 82 cases took the country’s total to 22,975 with 383 deaths.
The drop is likely partly driven by the fact that authorities conduct fewer tests on weekends. But even before Sunday, South Korea’s daily tally has held in the 100s for more than two weeks, down from 400 in late August.
Health officials say the downward trend is a result of stringent social distancing rules imposed on the densely populated Seoul metropolitan area. Those rules were recently relaxed.
The government is urging the public not to lower their guard as small-scale clusters are still being reported.