The Latest: South Africa prepares 1.5 million gravesites

JOHANNESBURG — A health official in South Africa’s new coronavirus hot spot of Gauteng province says authorities are preparing over 1.5 million gravesites as confirmed cases rise.

Bandile Masuku, a medical doctor and member of the province’s executive council, said it was the public’s responsibility to make sure the gravesites were not needed.

“It’s an uncomfortable discussion,” he said. Gauteng province includes Johannesburg and the capital, Pretoria.

The number of confirmed virus cases in Gauteng is now over 71,000, or 33% of South Africa’s cases. The country has more than 215,000 confirmed cases and is posting some of the world’s highest daily totals of newly reported cases.

Meanwhile, the easing of lockdown measures continues.

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HERE’S WHAT YOU NEED TO KNOW ABOUT THE VIRUS OUTBREAK:

— U.S. government to advise health care workers to reuse PPE

— Illinois Gov. J.B. Pritzker calls for national mandate on masks

— European Union urged to agree to ‘ambitious’ recovery fund

— Six months after COVID-19 started spreading around the globe, desperation rather than information is still driving many decisions about how to treat the disease. Two drugs have been shown to help but key questions remain about their use.

— Africa now has more than a half-million confirmed coronavirus cases. The continent-wide total is now over 508,000 after South Africa recorded another day of more than 10,000 confirmed cases as a new global hot spot.

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Follow all of AP’s pandemic coverage at http://apnews.com/VirusOutbreak and https://apnews.com/UnderstandingtheOutbreak

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HERE’S WHAT ELSE IS HAPPENING:

ANKARA — Turkey is preparing to appoint “observers” at weddings and engagement parties to ensure that social distancing practices are adhered.

Health Minister Fahrettin Koca told reporters following a weekly meeting of the country’s scientific advisory council on Wednesday that the decision was reached after several recent COVID-19 outbreaks were traced back to weddings.

Authorities in eight provinces have banned traditional send-off ceremonies for young men starting their military service—considered another source for coronavirus infections.

Meanwhile, religious authorities were considering measures to ensure social distancing at funerals gatherings, Koca said.

Turkey saw an uptick in daily confirmed infections and deaths in mid-June, after it eased restrictions aimed at curbing the virus’ spread.

On Wednesday, the total number of infections in Turkey rose to 208,938. The death toll now stands at 5,282.

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ATLANTA — Atlanta’s mayor says she will sign an executive order mandating masks in Georgia’s largest city, defying Gov. Brian Kemp’s decision to encourage voluntary masking.

Spokesman Michael Smith says Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms plans to sign an order requiring masks, which could set up a confrontation with the Republican Kemp.

Like several other local leaders in Georgia, Bottoms has unsuccessfully appealed to Kemp to change his order that local governments can’t exceed the state’s requirements. Bottoms announced she tested positive for the coronavirus on Monday.

“Other cities have taken the approach that they are going to defy the governor’s executive order. Savannah has done it, some other cities have done it, and Atlanta is going to do it today,” Bottoms told MSNBC in a Wednesday interview. “Because the fact of the matter is that COVID-19 is wreaking havoc on our cities, specifically black and brown communities with higher death rates.”

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ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. — Federal prosecutors say a Florida man and his three sons are facing federal charges that they illegally sold a bleach-like chemical mixture as a miracle cure for the coronavirus and other diseases.

Prosecutors say the substance was sold nationwide through an entity called the Genesis II Church of Health and Healing in Bradenton, Florida. A Miami federal judge in April ordered the self-styled church to stop selling the substance, but authorities say they ignored the order.

Charged in the criminal complaint are 62-year-old Mark Grenon and his sons with two conspiracy counts and criminal contempt. Court records didn’t list attorneys for them.

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PHOENIX — Arizona residents sat in cars up to 13 hours to get coronavirus testing. Others say they’ve waited weeks for results.

Phoenix Mayor Kate Gallego called the situation “desperate.” She told local and national outlets this week that FEMA dismissed her pleas for a testing blitz in the nation’s fifth-largest city.

So far, Arizona has reported more than 108,000 confirmed coronavirus cases in the state from more than 827,000 tests. Experts say more tests are needed beyond just the sickest people if Arizona wants to get a handle on its surge.

FEMA administrator Robert Fenton said Tuesday the agency is doubling the number of testing supplies it plans to ship to Arizona this month. The federal government plans to provide more manpower to do contact tracing and clinical care.

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SALT LAKE CITY — Utah Gov. Gary Herbert is considering issuing a statewide mask mandate after discussing the issue with state legislators this week.

The Republican governor raised the possibility of a statewide order last week because of a spike in coronavirus cases. He held a virtual meeting with House Speaker Brad Wilson and Senate President J. Stuart Adams on Tuesday to discuss a potential state measure.

Herbert is also facing mounting pressure from the Utah Hospital Association, which sent a letter urging the legislative leadership to require Utah residents to wear masks.

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SACRAMENTO, Calif. — California is planning to keep open several makeshift hospitals that have seen few coronavirus patients.

The “alternative case” facilities come with high costs whether they treat a high volume of patients or not.

The Associated Press requested an accounting of the first three months of operations, a period ending June 30. So far, Gov. Gavin Newsom’s administration has accounted for about 20% of the $252 million spent.

Critics say Newsom has clung to elevated projections of surge numbers of coronavirus patients when he could have shuttered the barely used facilities to save money.

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ATHENS, Greece — Greece’s government has eased more coronavirus restrictions, ending a six-person limit per table at restaurants and allowing visitors to shop at malls without wearing a mask.

The measures were announced as infection rates remain generally low in most of the country, despite some concern about the growing number of cases among tourists.

The Health Ministry on Wednesday reported 33 new cases, 24 from people visiting the country since tourism was allowed.

The total number of confirmed cases reached 3,622, while the death toll reached 193.

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WASHINGTON — Vice President Mike Pence says the U.S. government will issue guidance encouraging front-line health care workers to reuse personal protective equipment.

Pence, speaking at White House Coronavirus Task Force briefing on Wednesday, added that PPE supplies remain “very strong” but the Trump administration will be encouraging healthcare workers “to use some of the best practices” to “preserve and reuse” face masks and other protective equipment.

The head of the White House task force says Americans in states that have seen a recent spike in cases need to do more to clamp down on gatherings in order to stem spread of the virus.

Dr. Deborah Birx says in addition to closures of bars, ceasing indoor dining and wearing face coverings, Americans in hot spots should stop holding or cut down on the size of gatherings they hold in their homes.

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WASHINGTON — Illinois Gov. J.B. Pritzker is calling for a national mandate on masks, saying that it “might be the most important thing we can do to save lives.″

Illinois mandated masks in public spaces on May 1, one of the first U.S. states to do so. Pritzker, a Democrat and frequent critic of President Donald Trump, says his state’s move “aligns with our most significant downward shifts in our infection rate.″

The governor told a U.S. House committee on Wednesday: “It’s not too late for the federal government to make an impact – in fact, it’s more important than ever.″

Pritzker testified before the House Homeland Security Committee.

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WASHINGTON — Vice President Mike Pence says the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention will be issuing new guidance for the reopening of schools in the fall.

School districts across the United States are struggling with how to safely reopen as the coronavirus continues to surge in some states. The vice president, speaking after a meeting Wednesday of the White House coronavirus task force at the Education Department, called it “absolutely essential” for students to return to the classroom for in-person learning.

Pence announced plans for new CDC guidelines shortly after President Donald Trump took to Twitter to criticize the public health agency for asking schools “to do very impractical things.”

Arizona, Florida and Texas are among states in recent weeks that have seen some of the biggest spikes in coronavirus infections.

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MADRID — Spain says that the daily coronavirus infection count has doubled up in the past 24 hours amid dozens of small outbreaks.

Contagion was up Wednesday with 257 confirmed infections, from 124 the day before and to more than 252,500 since the pandemic hit the country, official Health Ministry statistics showed. There have been at least 28,300 confirmed deaths, nine of them recorded since Tuesday.

Admissions into hospitals and intensive care units are increasing, the data showed, especially in parts of the northeastern Spanish region of Catalonia. That’s where authorities have made mandatory the use of face masks even when social distancing can be maintained.

Infection clusters around the Catalan city of Lleida, population 200,000, have led to the first localized lockdown since Spain emerged from a nationwide stay-at-home order.

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BAGHDAD — Iraq’s Ministry of Health says the country has recorded 2,741 new cases of the coronavirus, its highest daily total yet.

The number of cases has risen dramatically despite a prolonged lockdown followed by weekly weekend curfews.

The country with a long history of conflict and fragile health system is gripped by a severe economic crisis brought on by plummeting oil prices, and its hospitals are now overflowing with coronavirus patients.

Doctors are running low on medical equipment, including key protective gear and large numbers of medical staff have reportedly been infected.

Field hospitals have been set up throughout Baghdad, where infections are highest, to cope with the exponentially rising number of virus patients.

The total number of confirmed cases in the conflict-torn country stands at 67442 , with 2,779 deaths.

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ROME — Rome airport authorities have refused to let 112 Bangladeshi passengers off a plane that landed from Qatar as Italy tightens restrictions on people arriving from coronavirus hotspots.

The 112 Bangladeshis were among 205 passengers who arrived Wednesday aboard a Qatar Airways flight that originated in Pakistan and stopped in Doha, Qatar. A spokesman for Rome’s Leonardo da Vinci airport said the 112 refused entry were being sent back. The other passengers were being tested and quarantined.

Italy on Tuesday had suspended flights from Bangladesh after at least 37 Bangladeshi passengers aboard a charter flight that landed Monday tested positive for the virus upon arrival in Rome. Italy went on alert about possible infections in the Bangladeshi immigrant community in Rome after a cluster of about a dozen cases was traced to a recently returning worker.

Health Minister Roberto Speranza has urged the European Union to beef up measures to prevent infected people from arriving in the EU.

Italy on Wednesday added another 193 confirmed positive coronavirus cases. Another 15 died in the past day, bringing Italy’s official death toll to 34,914.

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PINE RIDGE, S.D. — The Oglala Sioux Tribe has locked down its South Dakota reservation for three days to stop the potential spread of the coronavirus.

Tribal President Julian Bear Runner ordered the 72-hour lockdown prohibiting nonessential travel to or from the reservation through Thursday. The population of the reservation is 32,152, according to the Department of the Interior.

The Rapid City Journal says all tribal employees have been placed on administrative leave except for emergency personnel.

The Oglala and Cheyenne River Sioux have been at odds with Republican Gov. Kristi Noem over highway checkpoints on their reservations. Noem demanded that the tribes remove the checkpoints from federal and state highways, calling them illegal.

The tribes began monitoring their borders several months ago to stop unnecessary visitors who could be carrying the coronavirus.

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NEW YORK — Most New York City students will return to their physical schools two or three days a week and learn online the rest of the time under a plan announced by Mayor Bill de Blasio.

He says schools can’t accommodate all students at one time and maintain safe social distancing. The city public school system, with 1.1 million people, is the nation’s largest.

De Blasio says parents will have the option of online-only instruction for their children, while adding 75% of parents who answered a survey want their children in school in September.

Gov. Andrew Cuomo has said its his decision to open schools. De Blasio says the city would work closely “every step of the way with the state of New York.”

New York City’s school buildings were closed in March when nonessential businesses were shuttered to halt the spread of the coronavirus.

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DOVER, Del. — A university in Delaware has announced it will hold a hybrid of in-person and online classes for the fall semester due to the coronavirus pandemic.

Delaware State University unveiled its reopening plan for the fall semester Tuesday. The Delaware News Journal reports the hybrid formula will limit those on the school’s campus to 3,000 people. The university says face coverings will be required, and students and staff will have to complete a daily questionnaire before coming to the school or leaving their residence halls when classes resume on Aug. 25.

The reopening plan indicates coronavirus testing kits will be mailed to students and staff prior before the semester and on-campus testing will be conducted on a weekly and bi-weekly basis. Courses will transfer online after the school’s Thanksgiving break, similar to the case at the University of Delaware. Wilmington University, another school in the state, has decided to hold only online classes during the fall semester.

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BURLINGTON, Iowa —An eastern Iowa summer school program has been moved from in-person to online after several students screened for coronavirus symptoms registered fevers this week.

The Hawk Eye reported that North Hill Elementary School in Burlington suspended it’s in-person summer school program on Tuesday after eight students showed up with temperatures of 100.4 degrees or higher. About 60 students attended the program, which began Monday.

Principal Mark Taylor said students were screened for symptoms and temperatures upon arrival to the building before getting out of the car.

The district is working closely with Des Moines County Public Health to determine if or when the summer program can resume in-person instruction, school officials said.

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BERLIN — Germany’s health minister lamented a formal U.S. notification that the United States is withdrawing from the World Health Organization as a “setback for international cooperation,” saying Europe will step forward to reform the U.N. health agency.

The comments from Berlin epitomized concerns in Europe that the U.S., the WHO’s largest contributor for decades, was on the way out over Trump administration allegations the agency has been too accepting of China’s explanations of its handling of the early stages of the pandemic.

German Health Minister Jens Spahn tweeted that the “US withdrawal from @WHO is a setback for international cooperation,” saying more global cooperation, not less, is needed to fight pandemics.

“European states will initiate #WHO reforms,” he added.

Juergen Hardt, a foreign policy spokesman for German Chancellor Angela Merkel’s center-right bloc, says the U.S. withdrawal “leaves a big vacuum” that China could try to fill.

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MADRID — The leaders of Italy and Spain, the two countries first affected by the coronavirus in Europe and among the worst-hit globally, are urging fellow members of the European Union to agree next week on “ambitious terms” for a recovery fund to shore up the pandemic’s economic fallout.

Southern European countries are pressing for a no-strings-attached approach in the EU’s recovery fund that will be discussed at a meeting of the bloc’s 27 members on July 17-18.

The 750 billion-euro ($849 billion) fund drawn up by the EU’s executive Commission is made up mostly of grants, something opposed by countries dubbed as the “Frugal Four” — Austria, Denmark, the Netherlands and Sweden — which are reluctant to give money away without strings attached.

Italian Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte says the EU can’t take a cautious path in its response to the pandemic because that would endanger the union’s common market and economy.

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BUCHAREST, Romania — Romania has registered a new high in the daily total of coronavirus cases, with 555 cases reported in the past 24 hours. The previous one-day high was 523 on April 11.

The new record comes on the back of a ruling last week by the Constitutional Court that banned the government from forcing people infected with the coronavirus to quarantine or stay in hospital for treatment.

The government is working on legislation that would address the court’s concerns and set new regulations for people affected by COVID-19.

So far, Romania has 30,175 confirmed cases and 1.817 deaths.

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LONDON — UK Treasury chief Rishi Sunak wants people in Britain can to go out for dinner and he’s willing to pick up part of the tab.

In delivering an economic update amid the coronavirus pandemic, Sunak offered what he described as the “Eat Out to Help Out,’’ discount for August. Meals at participating restaurants will be 50 percent off, up to a maximum discount of 10 pounds ($12.50) per person.

The idea is to protect the jobs of some 1.8 million people who work in restaurants, cafes and pubs.

He told the House of Commons “This moment is unique. We need to be creative.’’

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Categories: AP National News