Here are the latest developments in the coronavirus pandemic from around the world.
CONCORD, N.H. — New Hampshire restaurants will be allowed to move tables closer together starting Oct. 1 if they install barriers between them, Gov. Chris Sununu said Thursday.
Currently, tables must be placed at least 6 feet apart to reduce the risk of the coronavirus. With the weather getting colder, restaurants have been asking the state to loosen restrictions for indoor dining. Sununu said he rejected requests to allow bars and restaurants to resume the use of dart boards and other games as unsafe, given that they would put players in close proximity to each other. But he believes increasing the number of tables will be ok, with barriers installed.
“We’re very confident we can move forward with this model in a safe manner,” he said.
Earlier Thursday, the chair of the governor’s Economic Reopening Task Force said some restrictions on outdoor dining also will be adjusted in hopes of prolonging that option. Currently, restaurants that serve meals under tents are required to keep all sides open, but the new rules would allow them to drop two or three of the sides to increase warmth. They also would be allowed to use space heaters, pending approval of local fire officials, said D.J. Bettencourt.
The state has not seen outbreaks associated with restaurants, said Beth Daly, chief of the state Bureau of Infectious Disease Control. But based on contact tracing investigations, health officials are concerned that people are letting their guard down when it comes to gathering with friends and family.
“We can’t regulate these settings, backyard barbecues, birthday parties or other types of social gatherings,” she said. “But we want to emphasize that these types of events that occur are potentially high risk for covid-19 transmission.”
The world’s largest hedge fund is operating out of tents in a Connecticut forest
Dozens of employees at the world’s largest hedge fund have been working from tents in the Connecticut woods for months, Fortune magazine reports.
Bridgewater Associates, which manages roughly $140 billion in assets, attempted to reopen its offices this spring but found that constant mask-wearing and other safety protocols added a new layer of stress. So roughly 50 employees moved outdoors, setting up shop in a rustic pine grove outside the firm’s Westport, Conn., headquarters.
The open-sided tents were equipped with fast WiFi, furniture spaced at socially distanced intervals and noise-canceling software that drowns out the sound of birds during video calls, according to Fortune. Employees were given weather-resistant computer screens and webcams after nature began taking a toll on their electronics, and access to kayaks for occasional breaks.
The makeshift outdoor office had to briefly shut down in August when a hurricane approached New England and will probably be packed away by the end of October, when sitting outside in coats and hats ceases to be comfortable. But Nir Bar Dea, co-head of Bridgewater’s investment engine, told Fortune that the experiment had been such a success — even boosting productivity metrics — that the hedge fund will bring it back next summer, even if the pandemic is no longer a concern.
Bridgewater is famously well-prepared for any catastrophes, with rules preventing senior executives from traveling together or even gathering at all during especially bad flu seasons, the magazine notes. But although the firm typically has at least four alternative office sites readied in case of a natural disaster or cyberattack, those contingency plans proved unhelpful during a pandemic because all involved having employees work indoors.
France curbs city life in Europe’s battle to contain virus
France introduced new measures to fight the rapid resurgence of the coronavirus pandemic in major cities, adding to risks weighing on an already slowing economic recovery in Europe.
The first significant tightening of restrictions on French daily life since the end of the lockdown in May includes closing bars at 10 p.m. in Paris and several other large urban centers. The tougher restrictions follow similar moves in the U.K., while Austria banned apres-ski partying for the upcoming winter season, as Europe reemerges at a hot spot for the disease.
“If we don’t take measures rapidly, we risk being in a critical situation in some regions in a few weeks,” Health Minister Olivier Veran said in Paris late Wednesday, insisting that the government isn’t considering another nationwide lockdown.
France is the latest European country to change tack in the face of mounting infection rates as leaders try to avoid the widespread restrictions that tipped the continent into a deep recession earlier this year. U.K. Prime Minister Boris Johnson this week abandoned his appeal for Britons to return to offices as he warned of “many more deaths” unless people obey a raft of new restrictions.
The British government is due to set out a fresh round of policies to support jobs on Thursday after abandoning plans for a fall budget. A government official said Wednesday that now is not the right time to outline long-term strategy, a sign the Treasury is preparing for months of economic disruption.
Austria sought to save its ski season by imposing a ban on partying off the slopes after lax controls at the Ischgl resort this spring sparked lawsuits against Chancellor Sebastian Kurz’s government. Restaurants and bars will only be allowed to serve seated customers under the new rules.
“Hundreds of thousands of jobs directly or indirectly depend on tourism,” Kurz said. “For all fans of winter sport, one thing is clear: there will be fun on the slopes, but without apres ski.”
There are signs the prospect of harsher curbs has already hit confidence in France, which improved less than expected in September. While business leaders are more upbeat about recent activity, they are losing optimism about the outlook for their own companies and the entire services sector, national statistics agency Insee said.
“Today’s measures are an extra shock to confidence as it reminds consumers that it isn’t over,” said Julien Manceaux, an economist at ING. While some sectors could be hit, “it’s not a general shock.”
Like other European countries, the virus has gathered force in France after tailing off at the start of the summer. Daily infections in the country have recently hit fresh highs of more than 13,000 positive tests.
Parents are sending coronavirus-infected kids to school, officials warn
As authorities in suburban Milwaukee gamed out the complex preparations to allow children back into classrooms amid the coronavirus pandemic, they didn’t plan for one scenario: Parents deliberately sending infected kids to school.
Yet that’s exactly what’s happened multiple times in Washington and Ozaukee counties, Wisconsin health officials said this week.
“Something that happened and continued to happen … which I never in my wildest dreams imagined it would happen, is people sent their known positive kids to school,” Washington Ozaukee Public Health Department Officer Kirsten Johnson told WISN.
As health officials investigate cases in more than two dozens schools in the counties, some are demanding harsh repercussions for any parent caught sending a child to class after they test positive.
“When you have parents lying to contact tracers, refusing to get kids tested, that’s just beyond the pale,” said Washington County Board member Don Kriefall, the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel reported. “That becomes very problematic for the health department to manage this whole situation. The hammer may have to be dropped.”
Wisconsin, which has recorded more than 1,200 COVID-19 deaths, isn’t the only place struggling to cope with parents who purposely evade the safety systems set up to prevent school outbreaks of a virus that has now killed at least 201,000 Americans. In Massachusetts last week, a student attended the first day of high school despite a positive test, sending dozens of classmates into quarantine. A similar situation in Oklahoma forced 17 students into quarantine.
A Massachusetts teenager tested positive for the coronavirus. His parents sent him to school anyway.
In Washington and Ozaukee counties, which sit just north of Milwaukee, a patchwork of school districts have adopted a range of back-to-school plans, but many have offered students the option of going to school in-person five days a week.
Health officials already know of at least three cases where students have tested positive and showed up to class anyway, Johnson told the Journal Sentinel. One COVID-positive student felt so sick after coming to school that they went to the school nurse.
In several other cases, Johnson said, parents have lied to contract tracers about test results and about whom their child had contact with. Other parents have also refused to test children, even when they are obviously ill.
At least 201,000 people have died from coronavirus in the U.S.
“The biggest challenge for us that we’re experiencing right now is people are just being dishonest,” Johnson told the Journal Sentinel. “They don’t want their children to be quarantined from school. They don’t want to have to miss work. In doing that, they’re jeopardizing the ability to have school in person and other people’s health.”
Swiss university’s undergrads all quarantined
Swiss health authorities have ordered a quarantine for 2,500 students at a prestigious hospitality management school after “significant outbreaks” of the coronavirus that are a suspected byproduct of off-campus partying.
Authorities in Switzerland’s Vaud canton, or region, said all undergraduates at the Ecole Hoteliere de Lausanne, known as the Lausanne Hospitality Management University in English, have been ordered to quarantine both on- and off-campus because the number of COVID-19 outbreaks meant targeted closures were not possible.
School administrators were taking “all necessary measures” to ensure that classes were continuing online, the regional office said in a statement.
University spokesman Sherif Mamdouh said Thursday that the situation was “not ideal” but that the university took precautions in recent months. He said that 11 students had tested positive for the coronavirus and none required hospitalization.
The World Health Organization, national health authorities and others have cautioned that young people have been a key driver for the continued spread of the coronavirus in recent weeks, particularly in Europe.
Israeli govt moves to limit prayers, protests
JERUSALEM — Israel has moved to further tighten its second countrywide lockdown as coronavirus cases continue to soar.
The Cabinet voted early Thursday to close all nonessential businesses, including open-air markets. It agreed that prayers and political demonstrations should be limited to open spaces and no more than 20 people, and that participants would not be able to travel more than a kilometer (0.6 miles) from home to attend either.
The measures are set to go into force on Friday afternoon, as the country shuts down for the weekly Sabbath.
The restrictions on demonstrations are subject to approval by the Knesset, Israel’s parliament, and the limits on both prayers and protests could spark a backlash.
Israel is currently reporting nearly 7,000 new cases daily, making the outbreak in the country of 9 million people among the worst in the world on a per capita basis.
Belgian official says European Union countries should have vaccine in March
BRUSSELS — Belgium’s health minister said Thursday that a COVID-19 vaccine should be available in the country and other European Union member countries in March.
Speaking to La Premiere radio, Health Minister Maggie De Block said the vaccine will be provided by French pharmaceutical company Sanofi. The EU’s executive commission announced a deal last week with Sanofi and GSK that allows its 27 members to buy up to 300 million doses of a potential COVID-19 vaccine.
“Normally, the first vaccine will be Sanofi’s and will arrive in March,” De Block said, adding that the shots will be delivered in monthly batches.
She says health authorities are recommending that caregivers and people considered vulnerable to COVID-19 be given priority for vaccinations.
Belgium, which has a population of 11.5 million, has reported more than 100,000 confirmed virus cases and almost 10,000 deaths.
Danes urged to cancel children’s get-togethers in effort to keep schools open
COPENHAGEN, Denmark — Denmark’s education minister is urging parents and schools to cancel “all social events,” including camps but also private gatherings like birthday parties to which classmates are invited.
Education Minister Pernille Rosenkrantz-Theil said in a letter on Wednesday the children’s social activities should be suspended because “an active effort is needed to ensure that we can keep up schools open.”
Rosenkrantz-Theil said that of the increasing number of coronavirus cases Denmark is seeing, a large proportion of them are in children and young people aged 10-29.
“Only by helping each other, we can slow down the infection again,” the minister said. “We did it in the spring. Now is the time for us to roll up our sleeves again.”
Denmark has reported a total of 24,357 confirmed virus cases, including 558 new ones from the previous day, and 643 deaths in the pandemic.
Modi against lockdowns as India reports over 86,000 new cases
NEW DELHI — India reported another 86,508 new coronavirus cases, but Prime Minister Narendra Modi sees little merit in imposing even short local lockdowns.
India now has confirmed more than 5.7 million cases, the second-most in the world. The Health Ministry also said Thursday that 1,129 more people have died, for a total of 91,149.
India’s junior Railways Minister Suresh Angadi died on Wednesday, nearly two weeks after he was admitted to a New Delhi hospital with COVID-19. He was the first federal minister and the fourth Indian lawmaker to die from the disease.
Modi on Wednesday decried short, local lockdowns imposed in some places and said the country needs to not only keep fighting the virus, but also move ahead boldly on the economic front.
He asked states to focus on testing, tracing, treatment and surveillance. He said lockdown restrictions hit smooth movement of goods and services, including medical supplies.
Some foreigners may return to China, with quarantine
BEIJING — Foreigners holding certain types of visas and residence permits will be permitted to return to China starting next week as the threat of coronavirus continues to recede.
The new regulation lifts a months-long blanket suspension covering most foreigners apart from diplomats and those in special circumstances.
Beginning Monday, foreign nationals holding valid Chinese visas and residence permits for work, personal matters and family reunions will be permitted to enter China without needing to apply for new visas, according to the regulation.
Those whose permits have expired can reapply.
Returnees must undergo two weeks of quarantine. The announcement was made by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and the National Immigration Administration on Wednesday.
China has confirmed 85,314 cases of COVID-19 since the virus was detected in Wuhan late last year. The seven new cases reported Thursday were all imported, marking 39 days since the country has reported a case of domestic transmission.
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