GENEVA — The head of the World Health Organization says former Liberian President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf and former New Zealand Prime Minister Helen Clark will lead a new panel to give an “honest assessment” of the global response to the coronavirus pandemic.
WHO Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus announced the appointments to the newly created Independent Panel for Pandemic Preparedness and Response.
“I cannot Imagine two more strong-minded, independent leaders to help guide us through this critical learning process to help us understand what happened — an honest assessment and to help us understand also what we should do to prevent such a tragedy in the future,” he said Thursday.
The announcement comes after the WHO’s general assembly in May called for a comprehensive evaluation of the WHO and the world response to the outbreak. It comes after repeated criticism by U.S. president Donald Trump’s administration of the U.N. health agency over its handling of the pandemic and alleged deference to China, where COVID-19 first emerged.
HERE’S WHAT YOU NEED TO KNOW ABOUT THE VIRUS OUTBREAK:
— Trump to U.S. schools: Reopen or you may lose federal funds.
— Getting children back to school safely could mean keeping high-risk spots like bars and gyms closed.
— Americans face testing delays as virus surges.
— China defends WHO, lashes out at U.S. move to withdraw
Follow all of AP’s pandemic coverage at http://apnews.com/VirusOutbreak and https://apnews.com/UnderstandingtheOutbreak
HERE’S WHAT ELSE IS HAPPENING:
BRUSSELS — Belgium government’s health advisers are recommending wearing mandatory masks in shops to keep the spread of the coronavirus at its current low level.
The health ministry’s scientific advisory body says face masks play a crucial role in limiting the diffusion of droplets of respiratory secretions potentially carrying the deadly virus.
Belgium has confirmed 9,778 deaths in the country with 11 million inhabitants. The number of infections has decreased over the past two months, with about 85 new cases confirmed every day.
Among the measures adopted to fight the virus, the Belgian government has made the use of masks compulsory on public transportation, but customers still have the option to run errands without any protection.
The Health superior council says it recommends masks in shops because physical distancing is difficult in stores.
ATHENS, Greece — Greek authorities say they are ready to re-impose public and travel restrictions next week, warning that safety guidance for the coronavirus is being frequently ignored.
Stelios Petsas, the government spokesman, said authorities were “determined to protect the majority from the frivolous few,” adding that the government was likely to announce new restrictions if needed on Monday.
Greece, which imposed strict lockdown measures, has kept infection rates low. But cases have crept up since restrictions were lifted and international travel resumed in recent weeks.
Pestas said authorities were focused on the rising number of cases in nearby, Balkan countries and tourists who traveled to Greece over the land border with Bulgaria, at the single crossing point that has been opened to non-essential travel.
JAKARTA, Indonesia — Indonesia’s daily reported new infections have surpassed the 2,000 mark for the first time.
The world’s fourth most populous nation has now reported more than 70,000 coronavirus infections.
National COVID-19 Task Force spokesman Achmad Yurianto announced 2,657 new confirmed cases on Thursday in another record high for the second consecutive day. Indonesia has reported 3,417 deaths.
Both are the most in Southeast Asia.
MADRID — Authorities in the Balearic Islands off eastern Spain plan to make the wearing of masks mandatory outdoors from this weekend.
The island group in the Mediterranean Sea is a popular European vacation destination. It includes the islands of Ibiza, Mallorca and Menorca.
Throughout Spain, masks are mandatory in shared indoor spaces and outdoors when distance can’t be maintained.
Authorities in the Balearic Islands are tightening restrictions after detecting three new outbreaks this week in Mallorca. Previously, officials reported five other outbreaks on that island and another in Ibiza.
The islands’ health chief, Patricia Gómez, said in an interview Thursday with Cadena SER radio station that officials are putting final touches to the new rules and hoped to implement them from Friday or Saturday.
Gómez said officials may limit the number of people who can gather in one place. Exceptions are likely to include people on beaches, at swimming pools and practicing sport.
PARIS — The French government’s leading coronavirus adviser is warning that his compatriots have become too complacent, ignoring protection measures and raising the risk of a new wave of infections.
Jean-Francois Delfraissy, head of the government’s scientific council for the virus, gave interviews to French daily Liberation, Le Monde and France-Info radio Thursday laying out his concerns.
“The French in general have abandoned protective measures,” he said.
Since France started gradually emerging from strict lockdown measures in May, much of French life has returned practically to normal.
Restaurants and schools have reopened, and even in government offices and courthouses few people seem to wear masks or practice social distancing. Many people have resumed the French tradition of multiple cheek kisses every time they greet an acquaintance.
Delfraissy said France’s summer could be nearly virus-free “if social distancing measures continue. However I’m struck to see that it is not the case.”
Unlike during France’s lockdown, when police fined people who traveled more than 1 kilometer (half a mile) from their homes, there is limited enforcement now of virus protection rules or recommendations.
France now reports hundreds of new positive tests per day, and has recorded more than 300 new virus clusters since reopening began May 11.
HONG KONG — Hong Kong will tighten its social-distancing measures again after it reported 42 new infections on Thursday, sparking fears of a new wave of coronavirus infections in the city.
Of the 42 cases, 34 cases were locally transmitted. While most were related to known clusters, such as an elderly home and several restaurants in Kowloon, the source of infection for two patients could not be traced.
From Saturday, social-distancing measures for restaurants, bars and fitness centers will be tightened for two weeks. Restaurants will only be allowed to operate at 60% of their seating capacity, with a maximum of eight people per table.
Bars and clubs will only be allowed to have four people per table, and a cap of eight people will be imposed for other venues like fitness centers and karaoke bars.
The new spate of cases takes Hong Kong’s total number of infections to 1,366, with seven deaths reported.
PRISTINA, Kosovo — Kosovar authorities are urging people to respect social distancing and mask wearing after daily infection hit a new high.
Following the relaxing of the lockdown in May, Kosovo with a 1.8 million population has had higher daily new cases reaching the highest number of 214 on Wednesday.
“Please always respect physical distancing and mandatory mask wearing and also do not stand in groups, even in your courtyards or supermarkets so that you do not endanger yourself and your families,” said a repeated call from the Health Institute.
Though saying they have the situation under control, authorities fear the increasing numbers may challenge the limited number of beds and intensive care units available.
JOHANNESBURG — With painful memories of many dying in Africa while waiting for accessible HIV drugs years ago, the Africa Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has launched a consortium aimed at securing more than 10 late-stage COVID-19 vaccine clinical trials on the continent as early as possible.
“We want to be sure we don’t find ourselves in the 1996 scenario where HIV drugs were available but it took almost seven years for those drugs to be accessible on the continent,” Africa CDC director John Nkengasong told reporters.
With any COVID-19 vaccine, a “delay in Africa of even one year would be catastrophic,” he said.
He said the consortium of African institutions will engage with the GAVI vaccine alliance and others outside the continent amid efforts to ensure that a vaccine is distributed equitably from the start. And with misinformation around vaccine trials spreading in Africa, the trials would help build community trust, he said.
ISLAMABAD — Pakistan’s education minister has announced that schools, colleges and universities will reopen in September with measures in place to prevent the spread of the coronavirus.
Thursday’s announcement by Shafqat Mahmood came shortly after Prime Minister Imran Khan said COVID-19 infections have started decreasing after peaking last month.
Pakistan has now 240,848 confirmed cases. Experts say the decrease in infections is mainly the result of a substantial reduction in testing.
Authorities reported 61 more virus deaths and 3.359 new cases in the past 24 hours, increasing fatalities to 4,983.
At a news conference, Mahmood said all schools will take temperatures and everyone will wear face masks.
Schools in Pakistan were closed in March amid a nationwide lockdown that was lifted in May.
TOKYO — The Japanese capital has confirmed more than 220 new coronavirus infections, exceeding its previous record.
The number reported Thursday exceeds 206 daily cases recorded on April 17 when Tokyo’s infections were at their peak.
Health officials say the majority of recent cases are linked to night clubs, but they are raising the alarm about an increase of infections inside households, workplaces and drinking parties.
The experts also advised Tokyo to speed up efforts to expand hospital capacity and prepare for more patients expected in the coming weeks.
Tokyo Gov. Yuriko Koike urged residents to stay away from nightlife districts and use extra-caution to protect themselves.
JOHANNESBURG — South Africa has reported another 8,810 confirmed coronavirus cases for 224,665 overall.
Gauteng province, which includes Johannesburg, now has the country’s most cases with 33% of the total.
A provincial health official on Wednesday said 1.5 million gravesites are being prepared and it’s the public’s responsibility “to make sure that we don’t get there.”
South Africa is now posting some of the world’s highest daily numbers of confirmed cases as Africa’s most developed country makes up 43% of the continent’s total. Lockdown easing continues in much of Africa as economies have suffered.
NEW DELHI — India has reported nearly 25,000 new coronavirus infections and 487 new deaths.
The new infections announced by the Health Ministry on Thursday bring the nationwide total to 767,296, the third most reported by any country.
The surge in infections comes as the Institute of Mathematical Sciences in Chennai says its calculated transmission rate for the virus rose during the first week of July to 1.19 after steadily falling from a peak of 1.83 in March. A transmission rate is the number of new infections estimated to stem from a single case.
India’s infection numbers have skyrocketed since the government eased lockdown restrictions and as testing has ramped up to more than 200,000 samples a day, compared to just a few hundred a day in March.
Health experts say the true extent of the virus’s spread in India is unknown and that the country must test more given its population of nearly 1.4 billion people.
MELBOURNE, Australia — The Australian state worst effected by coronavirus has recorded 165 new COVID-19 cases in the past 24 hours, as an outbreak at a Melbourne high school becomes the state’s largest cluster.
Victoria state Chief Health Officer Brett Sutton said Thursday that six of the new cases are linked to an outbreak at Al-Taqwa College, a cluster now totaling 113 people.
The first case at the school was identified on June 27, with more than 2,000 students and hundreds of staff sent into quarantine since then.
The virus detections were up from 134 on Wednesday and down from a single-day record of 191 on Tuesday.
Another 17 cases were reported elsewhere in Australia on Thursday.
BEIJING — China says it has nine new confirmed coronavirus cases, all of them brought from outside the country, and no new deaths.
Thursday’s report buttresses growing signs the virus has been essentially contained inside the nation in which it first appeared late last year.
The near elimination of local virus transmission has allowed the reopening of most businesses and resumption of some social activities, including the holding of the crucial annual college entrance exams. Sports, tourism and cultural activities are also slowly starting to return.
The wearing of masks remains obligatory in most indoor spaces and a proof of health is required for entrance to many venues.
China has reported a total of 4,634 deaths among 83,581 cases of COVID-19 during the pandemic.
SEOUL, South Korea — South Korea has reported 50 new cases of the coronavirus as new clusters continue to emerge across the country.
The figures announced by South Korea’s Centers for Disease Control and Prevention on Thursday brought the national total to 13,293 cases, including 287 deaths.
Nineteen of the new cases came from the densely populated Seoul metropolitan area, which has been at the center of a virus resurgence since late May. Fifteen were reported from the southern city of Gwangju, where infections have been tied to various places, including a Buddhist temple, Christian churches and office buildings.
Twenty-two of the new cases were linked to international arrivals as the COVID-19 continues to spread in southern Asia, the United States and elsewhere.
BRISBANE, Australia — An Australian state has closed its doors to people fleeing a second lockdown in Australia’s second-largest city.
Queensland Health Minister Steven Miles said Thursday that a number of people were willing to pay for their own 14-day hotel quarantine to be allowed to escape Melbourne and other parts of Victoria state, where a six-week lockdown began Wednesday night because of spreading coronavirus infections.
Miles said that beginning Friday, anyone who has been in Victoria in the previous two weeks will be barred from entering Queensland. However, the state will let in residents of Queensland who are coming home and a few other exceptions.
Miles says that “we need to reserve hotel accommodation for people who need to be quarantined.”