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Sharp rise in virus cases in Lebanon after deadly port blast

BEIRUT — Lebanon is facing a surge in coronavirus cases after a devastating blast at the Beirut port earlier this month killed scores and wounded thousands, prompting medical officials on Monday to call for a two-week lockdown to try to contain the pandemic.

Virus numbers were expected to rise following the Aug. 4 explosion of nearly 3,000 tons of ammonium nitrate stored at the port. Around 180 people were killed, more than 6,000 wounded, and a quarter of a million left with homes unfit to live in. The blast overwhelmed the city’s hospitals and also badly damaged two that had a key role in handling virus cases.

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Medical officials had warned of the dangers of crowding at hospitals in the aftermath of the explosion, at funerals, or as people searched through the rubble. Protests and demonstrations also broke out after the blast as Lebanese vented their anger at authorities.

On Monday, the Health Ministry registered 456 new cases and two deaths, a new daily record after Sunday’s 439 virus cases and six fatalities. The new infections bring to 9,337 the total number of cases in the small country of just over 5 million. Lebanon has reported a total of 105 fatalities.

The UN force deployed in Southern Lebanon along the border with Israel reported 22 of its peacekeepers have tested positive. Separately, the UN agency for Palestinian refugees, UNRWA, said four Palestinians died of the virus over the weekend — doubling to eight the number of fatalities in Palestinian refugee camps.

Associated Press

New Zealand vote postponed amid a new outbreak

New Zealand on Monday said it would postpone its national election by four weeks as a cluster of new coronavirus cases continued to spread through the city of Auckland despite a lockdown.

Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern, who has the sole authority to determine when people cast ballots, said she had consulted with all the major parties before delaying the vote, originally scheduled for Sept. 19, to Oct. 17.

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Ardern called the decision a compromise. She also ruled out further change. Even if the outbreak worsens, she said, “we will be sticking with the date we have.”

The shift keeps Election Day within the time frame allowed under the law — the latest possible date is Nov. 21 — but it also highlights the national concern as a cluster of at least 58 new cases frustrates investigators, clears the streets of Auckland and suspends scheduled campaign events.

New York Times

S. Korea pastor tests positive after spike at church

SEOUL — A conservative South Korean pastor who has been a bitter critic of the country’s president has tested positive for the coronavirus, health authorities said Monday, two days after he participated in an antigovernment protest in Seoul that drew thousands.

More than 300 virus cases have been linked to the Rev. Jun Kwang-hun’s huge church in northern Seoul, which has emerged as a major cluster of infections amid growing fears of a massive outbreak in the greater capital region.

Officials are concerned that the virus’s spread could worsen after thousands of demonstrators, including Jun and members of his Sarang Jeil Church, marched in downtown Seoul on Saturday despite pleas from officials to stay home.

Associated Press

South Africa reopens as cases fall, allows liquor sales

JOHANNESBURG — South Africa, which imposed one of the world’s strictest anticoronavirus lockdowns five months ago, will significantly relax its restrictions Tuesday, including allowing the sales of liquor and cigarettes, as it appears the country has weathered its first peak of COVID-19 cases.

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With numbers of cases and hospitalizations declining, the country will further loosen its regulations to permit the opening of bars, restaurants, gyms, places of worship, and entertainment, all with distancing restrictions.

Schools will reopen gradually from Aug. 24, starting with grades 12 and 7 and a phased opening of other grades.

With more than 580,000 confirmed cases, South Africa has more than half of all reported cases in Africa.

The 54 countries of the continent reported a total of more than 1.1 million cases on Monday, according to the Africa Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

South Africa has recorded more than 11,800 deaths from COVID-19, while overall the continent has reported just over 25,600 deaths.

Associated Press

Indigenous protesters in Brazil demand protection

NOVO PROGRESSO, Brazil — Dozens of Indigenous people, many daubed in black paint representing their grief and fighting spirit, blocked a major highway in Brazil’s Amazon on Monday to pressure the government for help in protecting them from COVID-19.

The Kayapo Mekragnotire people blame authorities for the deaths of four of their elders and infections of dozens more on their land in southern Para state, near the city of Novo Progresso.

Leaders said people from outside their territory spread the new coronavirus among them because there were no restrictions on entry to their land.

About 400 Kayapos Mekragnotire people live in 15 separate groups in the region.

Associated Press

Italy shutters nightclubs, mandates masks

ROME — With daily coronavirus case numbers rising, Italy on Monday imposed its first new restrictions on daily life since coming out of lockdown nearly four months ago, ordering the closure of nightclubs and mandating mask-wearing, even outdoors, in areas with nightlife.

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The new measures come as Italy faces its most precarious moment of the summer.

School is due to start in less than a month, Italians are moving en masse for their August holidays, and tourists are coming in from other European countries that have seen even greater increases.

Although the Italian restrictions are modest, they amount to a test of whether a country can keep the virus at bay without resorting to the blunt-force lockdown strategy used earlier in the pandemic.

Washington Post

Britain scraps controversial exam grading system

LONDON — In a U-turn after days of criticism, the British government on Monday scrapped an exam-grading policy that was set to deprive thousands of graduating high school students — especially more disadvantaged ones — of places at universities.

Roger Taylor, chairman of UK exam regulator Ofqual, said the use of an algorithm to predict the results of exams that were canceled by the coronavirus pandemic had caused “real anguish and damaged public confidence.”

Universities in the UK offer final-year high school students places based on grades predicted by their teachers. Admission is contingent on the results of final exams, known as A Levels.

This year, with schools largely shut since March and no exams, education authorities in England ran the predicted grades through an algorithm, intended to standardize results, that compared them with schools’ past performance.

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Hundreds of students have held protests, calling the results an injustice, and lawmakers were inundated with complaints from angry parents.

Associated Press

France deploying riot police to enforce masks

PARIS — The French government is sending riot police to the Marseille region to help enforce mask requirements, as more and more towns and neighborhoods are imposing mask rules starting Monday to slow rising infections.

Government spokesman Gabriel Attal announced Monday that 130 police officers are being sent to the Marseille region, which expanded its outdoor mask requirements to all farmers’ markets and more neighborhoods Friday.

France has seen scattered incidents of violence by people refusing to wear masks. Paris expanded its mask requirements Saturday, and other towns around France started requiring masks outdoors on Monday.

Infections have been speeding up around France in recent days, with 3,015 new cases Sunday. More than 30,400 people have died with the virus in France, one of the highest death tolls in the world.

Associated Press