PRAGUE — The Czech Republic is launching a regular testing program in all its nursing and pensioner homes amid a surge in coronavirus infections among the elderly.
The program that involves testing up to 100,000 residents and over 80,000 staff members will used rapid antigen tests. It starts on Wednesday and the tests will be repeated every week.
The measure comes as the number of people aged 65 and older has been higher than 20% of all tested positive.
The Czech Republic had 362,985 confirmed cases since the beginning of the pandemic with almost 170,000 registered in last two weeks. Nearly one-third of the country’s 3,913 deaths have taken place in last seven days.
The country was facing a record surge in new cases since late August. But in a positive sign, the day-to-day increase has slightly fallen since hitting a record of 15,664 a week ago. It reached 12,088 on Tuesday.
HERE’S WHAT YOU NEED TO KNOW ABOUT THE VIRUS OUTBREAK:
— Russia reports records in new daily coronavirus infections, daily deaths
— Pope Francis urges people to follow public health recommendations
— India’s capital reports a record 6,725 new coronavirus cases in the past 24 hours
— South Korea approves single test for COVID-19 and flu
— Hungary’s foreign minister tests positive for the coronavirus after arriving in Thailand
— Michigan’s largest county postpones jury trials until January due to surge in COVID-19 cases
HERE’S WHAT ELSE IS HAPPENING:
MOSCOW — Russian officials on Wednesday reported 19,768 new coronavirus infections and 389 new deaths, both the highest since the beginning of the pandemic.
Russia’s tally of confirmed coronavirus cases — currently the fourth largest in the world — is nearing 1.7 million amid a rapid resurgence of the outbreak that has been sweeping the vast country since September. The government’s coronavirus task force has also reported over 29,000 deaths since March.
Despite the number of daily new infections in Russia hitting new records every week this month, authorities have so far shunned imposing a second lockdown or shutting down businesses nationwide, insisting that the health care system is able to cope with the surge.
However, in recent weeks alarming reports have surfaced about overwhelmed hospitals, drug shortages and inundated medical workers, in a sign that Russia’s health system is under a significant strain.
GENEVA — The World Health Organization says there has been a “further acceleration” in the speed of COVID-19′s spread in Europe, which was responsible for about half of the globe’s new cases reported last week.
The U.N. health agency said in a weekly report published late Tuesday that European countries also recorded a 46% increase in deaths compared with the previous week. Although deaths also rose in the Americas, the rate of increase there was only 2%.
In Europe, France, Italy and the U.K. reported the highest numbers of new cases while Andorra, the Czech Republic and Belgium reported the highest rate per capita.
WHO said the numbers of coronavirus cases in Italy jumped by 72% last week, with about 175,000 new cases. In Switzerland — where WHO’s headquarters is based — the agency said that test positivity rates were about 23%, suggesting that many people with the disease are going undetected.
WHO also reported that the proportion of COVID-19 deaths among people aged 25-64 increased from about 10% in the early stages of the pandemic to about 30% in the summer. About 75% of coronavirus deaths in recent weeks are in people older than 65.
BRUSSELS — Belgium, proportionally still the worst-hit nation in Europe when it comes to coronavirus cases, said Wednesday there are increasing signs that a turning point in the crisis was drawing close.
“The high-speed train is slowing down,” said virologist Steven Van Gucht of the Sciensano government health group. “The infection center is stabilizing and hospital admissions are increasing at a slower pace.”
The announcement came in the wake of increased measures over the past few weeks with bar and restaurant closures capped by a partial lockdown that began Monday, putting further restrictions on gatherings and forcing non-essential shops to shut.
Belgium has the highest proportional incidence of coronavirus cases in the European Union with 1,753 per 100,000 people, while countries like Spain, Britain and Italy have less than a third of that concentration.
Van Gucht said that for the first time in a month, statistics on new infections on a weekly basis were going down.
WARSAW, Poland – Poland on Wednesday registered record numbers of new COVID-19 infections and related deaths, despite being covered by “red zone” restrictions limiting people’s movements and activities during the pandemic.
The Health Ministry said almost 24,700 new cases were registered, up from previous record of almost 22,000 last week, figures that the ministry had earlier said would mean “worse than the worst scenario.” Over 370 people died in the past 24 hours.
The ministry noted a spike in cases in big cities, including in Warsaw, the capital, where massive anti-government protests have been held daily for almost two weeks against the tightening of the abortion law, already one of Europe’s strictest. The government is expected to announce new restrictions later Wednesday.
LJUBLJANA, Slovenia — Slovenia says 29 people have died from COVID-19 in the past 24 hours in the highest daily death toll since the start of the outbreak.
Authorities on Wednesday said new daily infections with the new coronavirus have reached 2,027 in the small country of 2 million after falling briefly in the past days.
Slovenia has introduced an overnight curfew and a set of other restrictions to combat the surge. Populist Prime Minister Janez Jansa has said the country is facing at least a month of “tough battle.”
Also Wednesday, authorities said Slovenia’s Environment Minister Anton Vizjak has tested positive on the virus. Previously Slovenia’s Foreign Minister Anze Logar also has confirmed he was positive.
ROME — Pope Francis is urging people follow recommendations from government and public health authorities to prevent coronavirus infections as he held his weekly general audience in private amid a surge of infections in Europe.
The Vatican announced last week that Francis was suspending public audiences and would celebrate all upcoming liturgies without throngs of faithful present, after someone who attended his Oct. 21 audience tested positive.
Francis held his audience Wednesday in his private library with around 10 priests on hand to translate summaries of his catechism lesson. The livestreamed audience is the same setup Francis used during the Vatican’s nearly three-month COVID-19 lockdown in the spring and summer.
In his opening remarks, Francis said “unfortunately” it was necessary to return to the library for the audience to prevent infections.
COPENHAGEN, Denmark — Danish Prime Minister Mette Frederiksen will be tested for the coronavirus because she attended a meeting with Justice Minister Nick Haekkerup, among others, who later tested positive.
She attended a meeting Friday “where all guidelines for distance, etc. were followed,” the prime minister’s office said.
Frederiksen, who will be tested as soon as possible, “is currently showing no symptoms of COVID-19 and will, as far as possible, continue her work with virtual meetings,” her office said.
Several government members, including the foreign, finance, defense and health ministers, also took part in Friday’s meeting. At least five other ministers have self-isolated after another meeting Friday attended by a lawmaker who later tested positive.
NEW DELHI — India’s capital reported a record 6,725 new coronavirus cases in the past 24 hours, hit by its worst wave of infections since March.
New Delhi had previously reported a high of 5,891 cases on Oct. 30, averaging more than 5,200 cases a day this past week. It now has 403,096 confirmed cases and 6,604 deaths reported.
India’s overall positive caseload rose by 46,253 in the past 24 hours after dipping to 38,310 on Tuesday. The Health Ministry on Wednesday reported another 514 fatalities in the past 24 hours across the country, raising the overall death toll to 123,611.
The ministry has attributed the surge in New Delhi to the festival season and warned that the situation can worsen due to people crowding markets for festival shopping.
SEOUL, South Korea — South Korea approved a new test that’s designed to detect both COVID-19 and seasonal influenza from the same samples, which they say would help prevent disruption at hospitals as the pandemic stretches into the flu season.
The country has struggled to stem the spread of the coronavirus, which some experts say could spread more broadly during cold weather when people spend longer times indoors.
“It’s not easy to distinguish between COVID-19 and seasonal influenza as they share similar symptoms, but this test could diagnose them both in three to six hours,” senior Health Ministry official Yoon Taeho said during a briefing.
The new test, which targets genes that are specific to both COVID-19 and seasonal flu, is an evolved version of PCR.
BANGKOK — Hungary’s foreign minister tested positive for the coronavirus after arriving in Thailand for an official visit, officials said Wednesday.
Peter Szijjarto and his 12-member delegation were tested after their arrival Tuesday from Cambodia, but only the foreign minister was found to be infected, Thai Health Minister Anutin Charnvirakul said.
He said Szijjarto, who was tested twice, was sent to Thailand’s Bamrasnaradura Infectious Diseases Institute for treatment pending his planned evacuation later Wednesday by plane back to Hungary. The 42-year-old foreign minister will return on one plane and the other members of his party in a separate aircraft, Anutin said.
The Hungarian delegation was supposed to have a two-day visit aimed at strengthening ties, especially in economic matters.
DETROIT — Michigan’s largest county is postponing jury trials until January.
Coronavirus cases are on an “upward spiral,” making it unsafe to hold trials, said Tim Kenny, chief judge at Wayne County Circuit Court.
Trials had resumed in late September. In the Grand Rapids area, Kent County also has halted jury trials until January.
“It is important that we do not expose any people when our numbers are as high as they are right now,’’ Judge Mark Trusock said last week.
Kent County prosecutor Chris Becker said cases are piling up. There hasn’t been a jury trial since March.
“The backlog is tremendous. … They’re coming into the system, but they’re not necessarily going out,” Becker said.