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WHO head hails first weekly decline worldwide in COVID-19 cases

Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said the “welcome news” still should be taken with caution and warned that death counts were still rising across the world.Salvatore di Nolfi/Associated Press

GENEVA — The World Health Organization chief is hailing the first weekly decline in global COVID-19 cases since September, citing the impact of measures mainly in hard-hit Europe and warning that “this is no time for complacency.”

Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said the “welcome news” still should be taken with caution and warned that death counts were still rising across the world — and cases were still rising in other parts of the world outside of Europe.

“This is no time for complacency, especially with holiday season approaching in many cultures and countries,” he said.

Tedros, an Ethiopian who goes by his first name, urged people to be careful during the festive season and said COVID-19 will “change the way we celebrate.


“But it doesn’t mean we can’t celebrate,” he added, asking people to assess whether they “really need to travel” and advising shoppers to visit stores during lower-traffic times or favor online shopping. He advised avoiding gatherings with many different households — or meeting outdoors, wearing masks, or keeping physical distance if such gatherings do occur.


Turkey announces weeknight curfew, full weekend lockdown

ISTANBUL — Turkey’s president on Monday announced the country’s most widespread lockdown so far amid a surge in COVID-19 infections, extending curfews to weeknights and putting a full lockdown in place over the weekends.

Speaking after a Cabinet meeting Monday, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan said a curfew would be implemented on weekdays between 9 p.m. and 5 a.m. He also announced total weekend lockdowns from 9 p.m. on Friday to 5 a.m. on Monday.

With strong pressure from the medical community and the public, Turkey last week resumed reporting all positive tests for the virus, after releasing only the number of symptomatic cases for four months. That caused daily cases to shoot up to around 30,000 and put Turkey among the hardest-hit nations in Europe during the pandemic.


Health Ministry statistics on Monday showed 31,219 confirmed new infections and 188 new deaths. Daily fatalities in Turkey have hit record numbers for eight consecutive days, bringing the country’s acknowledged virus death toll to 13,746.

The new curfews begin Tuesday. Sectors including production, logistics, health care, agriculture, and forestry would be exempt from the curfews, while grocery stores and food delivery services would be allowed to operate within certain hours during the weekend lockdowns.


Hong Kong limits public gatherings to two people

HONG KONG — Hong Kong on Monday imposed sweeping curbs to stop a fresh spike in coronavirus infections, closing government offices and swimming pools and limiting public gatherings to two people.

The announcement follows Sunday’s decision to close schools for in-person teaching the rest of the year.

The territory’s leader, Chief Executive Carrie Lam, announced 76 new confirmed cases on Monday, including nine that were untraceable. That was on top of 115 infections reported Sunday.

The upsurge is “very severe,” Lam told reporters.

“I don’t want the public to mistakenly reckon that the peak of the epidemic is over already,” she said.

Lam said government employees, except those in emergency services, would work from home. She appealed to private employers to do so as well if they could.

That marks the third time government employees have been told to stay home this year in an attempt to control repeated surges of the virus.


The government will take over two hotels with a total of 800 rooms for use as quarantine centers, Lam said. She said three government facilities with 600 to 700 beds that were used earlier for quarantine would be reopened.

Restaurants were ordered to limit diners to two people per table and move up mandatory closing to 10 p.m. from midnight. Gyms will be limited to two people at one time.

Fines for violations will increase, Lam said, but she gave no details.

“We are now closing everything, almost everything, except the restaurants because we are meeting the daily needs of the people, Lam said.


COVID-19 cases surge among US military in Japan

Surging coronavirus cases in the United States have translated into record numbers of infections among American military personnel in Japan’s Okinawa Prefecture, according to local media reports.

Authorities announced Monday that 72 new cases had been detected among military personnel who underwent PCR testing after arriving from overseas — the highest number to date. Due to a mandatory two-week quarantine for all new arrivals, no Okinawa-based troops or members of the public have been exposed, according to officials.

The US Marine Corps, which has a base in Okinawa, stopped reporting individual coronavirus cases in early November, according to Stars and Stripes. Whether cases are found among service members, civilian employees, or family members of military personnel is also not disclosed.

Most infections reported by the US military in Japan are typically found in people who have recently arrived from the United States, the paper reported. Although Japan is one of several Asian nations reimposing restrictions as colder weather and “pandemic fatigue” lead to a rise in cases, community transmission is still nowhere near the levels of the United States.


According to data compiled by Johns Hopkins University, Japan added 11 new cases for each 100,000 people last week, compared to 297 in the United States.


WHO says skiing poses minimal threat to spreading coronavirus

GENEVA — As several European countries have suspended access to the ski slopes to stop the spread of the coronavirus pandemic, the World Health Organization’s emergencies chief said the risk of COVID-19 while skiing is likely minimal.

“I suspect many people won’t be infected barreling down the slopes on their skis,” said Dr. Michael Ryan at a WHO news briefing on Monday.

The UN health agency has said the virus transmits much less readily outside because it is dispersed in the fresh air. Restrictions to slow the spread of COVID-19 have kept ski lifts closed in Italy, France, Germany, Austria, and elsewhere.

“The real issues are going to come at airports, tour buses taking people to and from ski resorts, ski lifts ... and places where people come together,” Ryan said.


Thailand launches large-scale contact tracing effort

Thai authorities said Monday that they have launched a large-scale contact tracing effort after three recent travelers tested positive for the coronavirus in the north of the country.

Provincial governor Prachon Pratsakul said the three women are Thai nationals who had skipped border controls and the mandatory quarantine upon their return to Thailand from neighboring Myanmar, Reuters reported.


Overall, more than 300 people could have been exposed to the virus, including in restaurants and a shopping mall. About 150 people have already been identified, authorities said, adding that officials are seeking to identify an additional 200 people who may have come into contact with the three women.

Thailand has managed to keep the number of coronavirus infections and deaths low because of a combination of rigorous tracing protocols and border restrictions, with fewer than 4,000 cases confirmed in the country so far. According to official statistics, 60 people have died of the virus in Thailand, a country of around 70 million residents.

Meanwhile, neighboring Myanmar is facing a surge in new cases, with more than 1,500 new infections reported Sunday.

The Bangkok Post reported that Thai authorities are working to reinforce controls along the Thailand-Myanmar border in response to the incidents.