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Cases surge in Lebanon in aftermath of explosion

Lebanon started a two-week lockdown Friday as COVID-19 cases continued to surge in the aftermath of the devastating Aug. 4 explosion in the capital of Beirut that killed more than 170 people and displaced hundreds of thousands of others.

Nearly 11,000 coronavirus cases have been confirmed in Lebanon this year, with around half confirmed since the explosion. Cases were rising steadily before the blast but increased dramatically in the past two weeks, as public health experts warned that the crisis was likely to intensify transmission.

After the blast earlier this month, the World Health Organization said that more than half of Beirut’s health centers were “nonfunctional.” And the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs said that the chaotic aftermath of the explosion “has caused many COVID-19 precautionary measures to be relaxed, raising the prospects of even higher transmission rates and a large caseload in coming weeks.”

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On Thursday, an additional 605 people tested positive for the virus, according to the Ministry of Health. Under the terms of the lockdown, a curfew will be in place from 6 p.m. each evening until 6 a.m. the following day. Restaurants, clubs, and nonessential shops have also been ordered to close.

WASHINGTON POST

South Korea ramps up coronavirus-fighting efforts

South Korea threatened “maximum” criminal penalties and arrests for people who impede the government’s disease-control efforts, as it reported 324 new cases of the coronavirus on Friday, the highest daily total since early March.

A new outbreak spreading from Sarang Jeil Church in Seoul, the capital city of 10 million people, has raised fears of mass transmission across South Korea. Once proud of its earlier successful fight against the virus, South Korea has reported triple-digit daily increases in cases for eight consecutive days.

Although most of the new cases have been found in the Seoul metropolitan area, many other cities have also reported cases, indicating that the outbreak was spreading to the rest of the nation.

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Health officials were also seeking to test all of the thousands of people who joined an anti-government rally in downtown Seoul last Saturday, after dozens of participants, including church members, tested positive.

The church has been one of the most vocal conservative critics of President Moon Jae-in and has often organized large anti-government protests in recent months.

So far, 732 cases have been traced to the church.

NEW YORK TIMES

In Kenya, doctors strike over delayed salaries, poor PPE

More than 300 doctors in Nairobi went on strike on Friday over what they say are delayed salaries and substandard personal protective equipment, precipitating a health crisis in the Kenyan city that is hardest hit by the pandemic.

Besides persistent delays in the payment of salaries, doctors say they have been supplied with poor-quality protective gear that has led many of them to become infected in the course of caring for the sick. Many say they have gone weeks without medical insurance since a national fund stopped paying for the expense at the end of June, leaving doctors to foot the bill for their own care. Those who become infected are not given access to isolation facilities, they say.

The doctors, who work in Nairobi’s public health system, have now joined thousands of other medical workers nationwide who have gone on strike in recent weeks over what they say are dangerous and exhausting working conditions.

Across Kenya, more than 700 health workers have tested positive for the coronavirus and at least 10 have died, according to the Kenya Medical Practitioners, Pharmacists and Dentists Union.

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New cases of the virus have surged in recent weeks as the country has lifted a ban on international flights and slowly reopened the economy. As of Friday morning, Kenya had recorded at least 31,000 cases and 516 deaths, according to a New York Times database, with the area around Nairobi counting for more than half of the cases.NEW YORK TIMES

Hong Kong unveils massive voluntary testing program

Hong Kong will roll out voluntary coronavirus tests for all citizens over a period of two weeks starting on Sept. 1, Carrie Lam, the city’s pro-Beijing leader, said on Friday, crediting the Chinese government for making the large-scale testing possible.

The mainland authorities will provide staff and services to testing laboratories, Lam said. The free, one-time testing program has raised privacy concerns among Hong Kong’s activists and residents, who fear it could lead to the harvesting of DNA samples. The local government, grappling with public distrust after a year of protests, has denied the accusation.

One-hundred and fifty swabbing stations will be set up across Hong Kong for the citywide program, the South China Morning Post reported.

NEW YORK TIMES

More than 40 schools in Berlin have positive tests

At least 41 schools in Berlin have reported that students or teachers have become infected with the coronavirus not even two weeks after schools reopened in the German capital.

Daily Berliner Zeitung published the numbers Friday and city education authorities confirmed the figures to the Associated Press.

Hundreds of students and teachers are in quarantine, the newspaper reported. Elementary schools, high schools, and trade schools are all affected, the paper wrote. There are 825 schools in Berlin.

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The reopening of schools and the possible risks of virus clusters building up in educational institutions and then spreading beyond to families and further into society have been a matter of great concern and it’s an issue that’s hotly debated in Germany.

Education in Germany isn’t in the hands of the federal government, but under the auspices of the country’s 16 states and thus there are many differing COVID-19 rules in place depending on each state, especially when it comes to wearing masks.

While some states are still on summer vacation, others have been back to school for about two weeks.

ASSOCIATED PRESS