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Coronavirus not waiting until fall for comeback

BEIRUT — An unforeseen summer surge of coronavirus cases in countries that had seemingly quelled their outbreaks is helping to drive the unrelenting growth of the global pandemic, undercutting predictions that a ‘‘second wave’’ would not occur until the fall.

Japan, Israel, Lebanon, and Hong Kong are among dozens of places reporting record numbers of new cases in recent days, many weeks after they had crushed the curve of infections, reopened their economies, and moved on.

And in some countries that had brought numbers down, notably in Europe, the reopening of borders, bars, and nightclubs is being blamed for a small but noticeable increase in cases.

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In Belgium and Spain, the number of daily infections has surpassed levels not seen since early May, prompting authorities to reimpose some recently lifted restrictions.

The United States, Brazil, and India are still fueling the bulk of the pandemic’s growth, accounting for nearly two-thirds of the new cases reported globally over the past week. Many other countries, including in Africa, Latin America, and the Middle East, have not yet reached a peak in infections, officials at the World Health Organization say.

Most places experiencing new waves of cases still lag far behind the United States, Brazil, and some other parts of the world in per capita rates of infection. Japan, for instance, has only around 230 infections per 1 million people, compared with more than 13,000 infections per 1 million people in the United States.

But since the beginning of July, the number of new cases in Japan has climbed by more than 60 percent, a growth rate equivalent to the United States’, alarming a country that had trumpeted the ‘‘Japanese model’’ for containing the virus.

In Australia and some other places such as Hong Kong and Israel, all of which had appeared to defeat the virus, infections are growing twice as quickly as in the United States, or even faster, suggesting there is no end in sight to the virus’s spread. A million new infections are now being reported every four days worldwide, pushing the total to well over 16 million cases.

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Some of the countries where the case numbers are rising or raging are in the Southern Hemisphere, now experiencing midwinter, such as Brazil and Australia. But the new increases are also afflicting regions that had been bracing for a fall wave, predicted as people spend more time crowded together indoors and lower humidity facilitates the transmission of the virus, said Tim Spector, a professor of genetic epidemiology at King’s College in London.

A worrying question now, Spector said, is how much worse the virus spread will become when winter does arrive in the Northern Hemisphere.

Washington Post

US jabs Russia over claim of spreading disinformation

MOSCOW — US officials say Russian intelligence officers are spreading disinformation about the coronavirus pandemic through English-language websites, trying to exploit a crisis that America is struggling to contain before the presidential election in November.

Two Russians who have held senior roles in Moscow’s military intelligence service known as the GRU have been identified as responsible for a disinformation effort meant to reach American and other Western audiences, according to US government officials.

Russian officials on Wednesday rejected the accusations as “conspiracy theories” and a “persistent phobia.” One of the sites posted a response denouncing as “categorically false” the American assertions that it was linked to the Russian military intelligence service or was involved in propaganda.

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The information had previously been classified, but US officials said it had been downgraded so they could more freely discuss it. Officials said they were doing so now to sound the alarm about the particular websites and to expose what they say is a clear link between the sites and Russian intelligence.

Between late May and early July, one of the officials said, the websites published about 150 articles about the pandemic response, including coverage aimed either at propping up Russia or denigrating the United States.

Officials did not say whether the effort behind these particular websites was directly related to the November election, though some of the coverage appeared to denigrate Trump’s Democratic challenger, Joe Biden.

Associated Press

Saudi Arabia hosts symbolic, very different hajj this year

DUBAI, United Arab Emirates — Muslim pilgrims, donning face masks and moving in small groups after days in isolation, began arriving at Islam’s holiest site in Mecca on Wednesday for the start of a historically unique and scaled-down hajj experience reshaped by the pandemic.

The hajj is one of Islam’s most important requirements, performed once in a lifetime. It follows a route the Prophet Muhammad walked nearly 1,400 years ago and is believed to ultimately trace the footsteps of the prophets Ibrahim and Ismail, or Abraham and Ishmael as they are named in the Bible.

The hajj, both physically and spiritually demanding, is intended to bring about greater humility and unity among Muslims.

Rather than standing and praying shoulder-to-shoulder in a sea of people from different walks of life, pilgrims this year are social-distancing — standing apart and moving in small groups of 20 to limit exposure and the potential transmission of the coronavirus.

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The pilgrimage is a journey that Muslims traditionally experience with relatives. In past years, it was common to see men pushing their elderly parents around on wheelchairs in order to help them complete the hajj, and parents carrying children on their backs. The communal feeling of more than 2.5 million people from around the world has long been part of what makes hajj both a challenging and rewarding experience like none other.

This year, however, pilgrims are eating prepackaged meals alone in their hotel rooms and praying at a distance from one another.

Associated Press

Guatemala burying dozens of unidentified COVID-19 dead

GUATEMALA CITY — Guatemalan hospitals say they have had to bury dozens of victims who have never been identified, and one hospital is creating archives in hopes that once the pandemic passes, their relatives will come looking for them.

Workers at one of the country’s largest public hospitals have started photographing patients who arrive alone and too ill to give their personal details. Those who die unidentified are placed in body bags with transparent windows over the faces in case relatives finally arrive.

Protocols that call for rapidly burying the dead during a pandemic only make the situation more difficult, officials say.

The government has reported more than 47,000 confirmed infections and more 1,800 deaths nationwide.

Byron Fuentes, director of the Public Health Ministry’s Public Cemetery Administration, said that so far no one has come forward seeking any of the 41 men and 22 women they have buried, identified only as “XX.”

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Associated Press