India’s coronavirus infections rise to 6.69 million

India’s total coronavirus cases rose by 61,267 in the last 24 hours to 6.69 million on Tuesday morning, data from the health ministry showed.

Deaths from COVID-19 infections rose by 884 to 103,569, the ministry said.

India’s death toll from the novel coronavirus rose past 100,000 on Saturday, only the third country in the world to reach that bleak milestone, after the United States and Brazil, and its epidemic shows no sign of abating.

Last week, India further eased restrictions and permitted states to open schools and movie theatres.

New York governor closes schools in coronavirus ‘hot spots’

NEW YORK (Reuters) – New York Governor Andrew Cuomo ordered schools to close beginning on Tuesday in several coronavirus “hot spots” in the New York City boroughs of Brooklyn and Queens.

The announcement brings forward a plan by New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio to close schools in 11 neighborhoods beginning on Wednesday after coronavirus test positivity rates rose above 3% in those areas for seven days in a row.

“I am not going to recommend or allow any New York City family to send their child to a school that I wouldn’t send my child,” Cuomo said at a news conference on Monday.

He said the state would take over enforcement of social distancing rules from local authorities in the hot spots.

Cuomo and de Blasio have repeatedly squabbled over government responses to the spread of COVID-19. Cuomo again chastised the mayor on Monday for what he said was lackluster enforcement of social distancing rules.

The two leaders have not appeared together in public in many months, although Cuomo said he spoke by phone with the mayor earlier on Monday.

De Blasio has defended his efforts.

“I think it goes far beyond the question of enforcement,” he told CNN on Monday in response to Cuomo’s comments. “I think here’s a case where we need to really work deeply with communities, with community leaders, to have a bigger turnaround in the way people are handling things.”

Cuomo said he was also concerned about similar rising coronavirus rates in Rockland and Orange counties north of New York City, and that he may consider closing schools there too.

Many of the affected neighborhoods include large, close-knit Orthodox Jewish communities. Cuomo said he planned to meet with community leaders again on Tuesday to seek their help with getting people to comply with the rules.

New York faced one of the nation’s earliest and most devastating outbreaks of the novel coronavirus in the spring, but has since managed to largely curtail its spread.

On Monday, 1.22% of coronavirus tests statewide were reported to be positive, including those from the hot spots, Cuomo said.

(Reporting by Jonathan Allen and Maria Caspani; Editing by Chizu Nomiyama and Bill Berkrot)

No clear link between school opening and COVID surge, study finds

By Kate Kelland

LONDON (Reuters) – Widespread reopening of schools after lockdowns and vacations is generally not linked to rising COVID-19 rates, a study of 191 countries has found, but lockdown closures will leave a 2020 “pandemic learning debt” of 300 billion missed school days.

The analysis, by the Zurich-based independent educational foundation Insights for Education, said 84% of those 300 billion days would be lost by children in poorer countries, and warned that 711 million pupils were still out of school.

“It’s been assumed that opening schools will drive infections, and that closing schools will reduce transmission, but the reality is much more complex,” said IfE’s founder and chief executive Randa Grob-Zakhary.

The vast majority – 92% – of countries that are through their first wave of COVID-19 infections have started to reopen school systems, even as some are seeing a second surge.

IfE found that 52 countries that sent students back to school in August and September – including France and Spain – saw infection rates rise during the vacation compared to when they were closed.

In Britain and Hungary, however, infection levels dropped after initial school closures, remained low during the holidays, and began rising after reopening.

Full analysis of these 52 countries found no firm correlation between school status and infections – pointing to a need to consider other factors, IfE said.

“The key now is to learn from those countries that are reopening effectively against a backdrop of rising infections,” Grob-Zakhary said.

The report said 44 countries have kept schools closed.

It found countries are developing strategies for schools during the pandemic – including some, such as Italy, France, which order temporary school closures on a case-by-case basis.

Other measures include policies on masks, class rotations and combining remote with in-school lessons.

“This first real global test highlights what school life looks like in a COVID-world,” said Grob-Zakhary. “Understanding how countries undergoing a massive second wave are dealing with this new reality in the classroom is essential to guide future reopening decisions and to help schools remain open.”

(Reporting by Kate Kelland; Editing by Giles Elgood)

New York City again delays in-person learning at public schools

NEW YORK (Reuters) – With only four days’ notice, New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio delayed the start of in-person learning at public schools for a second time for most students on Thursday as the city grapples to safely reopen during the coronavirus pandemic.

While virtual lessons via the internet are already underway, in-person learning had previously been delayed from Sept. 10 to Monday, Sept. 21, for those students who opted in.

Now, only pre-kindergarten children and students with special learning needs will start on Monday, the mayor said at a news conference. Elementary school students will begin Tuesday, Sept. 29. Middle school and high school students will start Oct. 1.

“This is a huge undertaking,” said de Blasio, who oversees the largest school district in the United States, serving more than 1.1 million children. “It is difficult. It’s challenging.”

Most other major school districts in the United States have scrapped plans to resume in-person learning for now. Efforts in New York City, which in the spring was the U.S. epicenter of the global pandemic, are being closely watched.

The mayor was joined by leaders of teachers’ unions, who had expressed concerns about efforts to mitigate the spread of the coronavirus. De Blasio has sought to reassure school staff that ventilation systems are being upgraded, nurses are being hired, protective equipment is being stockpiled and access to testing is being improved.

“If we’re going to do this, we must make sure that we get this right,” Michael Mulgrew, president of the United Federation of Teachers, said at the news conference.

De Blasio said a total of 4,500 additional educators have been hired.

The city had previously agreed with the unions that there would be monthly coronavirus testing of students and staff, with systems in place to send home classrooms or shut down entire schools if new COVID-19 cases are found.

(Reporting by Jonathan Allen and Maria Caspani in New York; Editing by Bill Berkrot)

COVID-19 cases rise in Canada, schools to put pressure on testing system

By Allison Martell and Moira Warburton

TORONTO/VANCOUVER (Reuters) – Canada’s three biggest provinces are seeing a pick-up in new COVID-19 cases, as officials do little to slow the virus beyond urging people to be more careful, and doctors warn school reopenings will boost demand for testing.

The country reported no deaths for one day on Friday, an echo of earlier success in controlling the virus that may already be slipping away, even before the impact of school reopenings is clear.

Demand for tests is already up in some Ontario hot spots, and will rise further as more children return to school. Students with symptoms will generally have to isolate at home until they are well and have a negative test, so any backlogs will trap families at home.

McMaster University infectious disease expert Dr Zain Chagla said assessment centers need to stop testing asymptomatic people who have no known exposure to the virus, before labs become overwhelmed.

Canada’s 5 million school children average about eight upper respiratory tract infections a year, said Chagla. Even if that falls to two this year, some 27,000 will need to be tested on any given day.

Last week, Canada averaged 47,807 tests per day.

“It’s not minor, the actual demands that are going to be put on the system as part of children going back to school,” he said. “It’s going to be paramount that the turnaround time be relatively quick.”

Ontario Premier Doug Ford said he discussed testing with Canada’s Deputy Prime Minister Chrystia Freeland on Monday morning.

“All provinces, not just Ontario, are going to start ramping up for more testing,” he said.

Federal officials have said they are aiming for a “slow burn” of infection.

Dr. Irfan Dhalla, vice president of physician quality at Unity Health, which operates two hospitals in Toronto, has argued that the country should instead try to come as close as possible to eliminating the virus, following New Zealand and Canada’s own Atlantic provinces, with testing, tracing, isolation and support.

“It’s only a matter of time before we start seeing hospitalizations increase, and before we start seeing more people dying again,” said Dhalla.

Infections in Ontario, the most populous province, charged through the 300 mark on Monday, after dropping to below 100 a day in early August with the government blaming the spread on private social gatherings like weddings.

British Columbia, which imposed fresh curbs on nightclubs last week, reported its highest-ever case count of 139 on Sept. 10. Cases are also rising in Quebec, where classes resumed first.

Quebec teachers’ union Fédération autonome de l’enseignement (FAE) filed a lawsuit on Monday, seeking more information about a promised plan to ensure teachers and students have access to accelerated testing, and on the number of COVID-19 cases in schools.

“The government is currently giving the impression that it is improvising, while the virus doesn’t give second chances,” FAE president Sylvain Mallette said in a statement.

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau reiterated his message on Monday, asking people to remain vigilant: “The last thing anyone wants is to go into this fall and lock down, similar to this spring,” he said.

(Additional reporting by Mahad Arale in Toronto, Allison Lampert in Montreal and Steve Scherer in Ottawa; Editing by Andrea Ricci)

U.S. to send millions of rapid COVID-19 tests to states to support school reopening, other tasks

By Carl O’Donnell and Vishwadha Chander

(Reuters) – The U.S. government will send an “overwhelming majority” of the rapid COVID-19 tests it purchased from Abbott Laboratories last week to governors of states and territories to support school re-openings and other critical tasks, an administration official said at a press briefing.

Other top priorities for the newly purchased tests include day care centers, first responders, and “critical infrastructure,” said Admiral Brett Giroir, assistant secretary for health at the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.

The U.S. government purchased 150 million rapid antigen tests for COVID-19 from Abbott in a roughly $750 million deal.

The portable tests can deliver results within 15 minutes and will sell for $5. They require no additional equipment, and can use a less invasive nasal swab than traditional lab tests.

Antigen tests are cheaper and faster than molecular diagnostic tests, but somewhat more likely to fail to identify positive cases of the virus than lab-based diagnostic tests.

U.S. President Donald Trump has repeatedly pushed for schools to reopen, but most of the country’s largest school districts have said they would start the school year with online classes, as states across the country have battled a spike in cases over the summer.

Girior also said the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) still supports testing asymptomatic individuals for COVID-19 who are prioritized by local health officials or in high risk populations. Last week, the CDC sparked outcry among many public health officials when it said testing some asymptomatic people may not be necessary.

The U.S. government has conducted 85 million COVID-19 tests so far with a positivity rate of just over 5%, Girior said. The mean turnaround time is 2.27 days.

(Reporting by Carl O’Donnell; Editing by Chris Reese and David Gregorio)

New York City schools to delay class start under safety deal with unions

NEW YORK (Reuters) – New York City public schools, the largest U.S. school system, will delay the start of classes by 11 days to Sept. 21 under an agreement with education unions that had pushed for additional coronavirus safety measures, Mayor Bill de Blasio said on Tuesday.

Unions, led by the United Federation of Teachers, had expressed concern that the city was rushing into its Sept. 10 scheduled start of the school year without taking adequate steps to protect teachers, students and staff from infections.

But in announcing the agreement, de Blasio was joined by union leaders who said their health and safety concerns had been met.

“What we’ve agreed to is to make sure that the health measures are in place, to make sure there is time for the appropriate preparation for our educators,” de Blasio said at a briefing.

UFT President Michael Mulgrew last month threatened to strike, which would be illegal under state law, unless schools implemented a rigorous COVID-19 testing plan and other safety measures.

Joining de Blasio, however, Mulgrew hailed the agreement.

“Our medical experts have stamped this plan, and we now can say that the New York City public school system has the most aggressive policies and greatest safeguards of any school system in America,” said Mulgrew whose union represents 133,000 teachers and other education workers.

(Reporting by Peter Szekely in New York; Editing by Chizu Nomiyama and Richard Chang)

New York City ahead of curve on COVID-19, but faces risks going into fall: experts

By Carl O’Donnell

NEW YORK (Reuters) – New York City, once an epicenter of the novel coronavirus outbreak, has managed to contain the virus as it reopens, but faces risks of an uptick in cases in the fall, public health experts told Reuters.

The city’s success comes from a mix of high rates of compliance with local and federal public health guidance and also substantial immunity among the general population, a result of the severity of the outbreak in March and April, according to public health experts based in New York City.

“There was an alignment in New York with the state government, the healthcare system and the media on what to do – namely, lock everything down,” said Mark Jarrett, chief quality officer at Northwell Health. “The lockdown didn’t please everyone but was really well accepted.”

That contrasts with other parts of the country, where political opposition to mask wearing and lockdowns is more widespread, Jarrett added.

The rate of contagion also declined more quickly because the initial outbreak left between 25% and 50% of New Yorkers with some level of immunity, said Maria Lima, associate dean for research at the City University of New York School of Medicine.

New York is at risk for an uptick in cases as schools reopen and cold weather pushes more people indoors, the experts said.

“The big challenge is schools reopening, recreating that density anew,” which had been reduced by social distancing, said Troy Tassier, a professor of economics at Fordham University who specializes in epidemiology.

After peaking in early April at a seven day average of more than 5,000 cases per day, New York City has reduced its daily case count to an average of less than 200, according to city data.

The percentage of people tested who turned out to have the virus declined from around 70% in late March to less than 1%, and confirmed deaths have declined from over 500 per day in April to the low single digits.

The United States as a whole continues to struggle to contain the virus, clocking upwards of 45,000 cases per day. Total cases have surpassed 5.5 million and more than 170,000 people have died.

(Reporting by Carl O’Donnell in New York; Editing by Daniel Wallis)

U.S. official sees ‘real desire’ for smaller coronavirus relief bill

ABOARD AIR FORCE ONE (Reuters) – Some Democrats and Republicans have a “real desire” to reach agreement on a smaller coronavirus relief bill that could be worth around $500 billion, a senior Trump administration official said late on Tuesday.

The official said the agreement could include funding for the U.S. Postal Service, additional funding for loans to small- and medium-sized businesses to keep workers on their payrolls and potentially added money for schools.

“I think there’s a real desire by some in the Democratic caucus and some in the Republican conference, both in the House and the Senate, to do a smaller deal on the things we can agree upon,” the official said. “It could be about $500 billion.”

That amount still falls far short of what Democrats have been seeking in protracted discussions with the administration.

U.S. House of Representatives Speaker Nancy Pelosi on Tuesday said Democrats in Congress are willing to cut their relief bill in half to get an agreement on new legislation.

“We have to try to come to that agreement now,” Pelosi said in an online interview with Politico. “We’re willing to cut our bill in half to meet the needs right now.”

The Democratic-led House passed legislation with over $3 trillion in relief in May. Democrats offered this month to reduce that sum by $1 trillion, but the White House rejected it.

The two sides remain about $2 trillion apart, with wide gaps on funding for schools, aid to state and local governments, and enhanced unemployment benefits.

The senior administration official said while a narrow agreement was possible on some issues, he did not see aid to state and local governments and a fresh round of stimulus checks as possible at the moment.

(Reporting by Andrea Shalal; Editing by Clarence Fernandez & Shri Navaratnam)

U.S. surpasses 160,000 coronavirus deaths as school openings near

By Aurora Ellis and Maria Caspani

NEW YORK (Reuters) – More than 160,000 people have died from the coronavirus pandemic in the United States, nearly a quarter of the global total, according to a Reuters tally on Friday, as the country debates whether schools are ready to reopen in coming weeks.

The country recorded 160,003 deaths and 4.91 million cases, the highest caseload in the world, caused in part by lingering problems in making rapid testing widely available and resistance in some quarters to masks and social distancing measures.

Coronavirus deaths are rising in 23 states and cases are rising in 20 states, according to a Reuters analysis of data the past two weeks compared with the prior two weeks.

On a per-capita basis, the United States ranks 10th highest in the world for both cases and deaths.

Friday’s grim milestone marks an increase of 10,000 deaths in nine days in the United States.

Many of those died in California, Florida and Texas, the top three U.S. states for total cases. While new infections appear to be declining in those states, new outbreaks are emerging coast to coast.

Dr. Deborah Birx, the lead coordinator for the White House coronavirus response, warned of worrying upticks in the rate of tests coming back positive in several cities, including Boston, Chicago, Detroit and Washington.

Nearly 300,000 U.S. residents could be dead from COVID-19 by Dec. 1, University of Washington health experts said on Thursday, although they said 70,000 lives could be saved if Americans were scrupulous about wearing masks.

Throughout the country, U.S. officials, teachers’ unions, parents and students were debating how to reopen schools safely.

President Donald Trump has urged states to resume in-person classes, saying the virus “will go away like things go away,” but health officials have told states with rising counts to be on guard.

New York Governor Andrew Cuomo said on Friday some 700 school districts in the state could reopen classrooms, but insisted schools do extensive consultation with teachers, students and parents beforehand.

“If you look at our infection rate we are probably in the best situation in the country right now,” Cuomo told reporters. “If anybody can open schools, we can open schools.”

In New York City, where 1.1 million children attend the country’s largest network of public schools, Mayor Bill de Blasio has said students’ attendance will be limited to between one and three days each week. Parents in New York City have until Friday to request all-remote learning for their children.

Chicago Public Schools, which make up the country’s third largest school district, reversed course this week, saying students would stick with remote learning when the school year begins.

Some states, including Florida and Iowa, are mandating schools provide at least some in-person learning, while the governors of South Carolina and Missouri have recommended all classrooms reopen.

Texas had initially demanded that schools reopen but has since allowed districts to apply for waivers as the state grapples with a rising caseload. The Houston Independent School District has said that the school year will begin virtually on Sept. 8, but will shift to in-person learning on Oct. 19.

(Reporting by Aurora Ellis and Maria Caspani in New York; Additional reporting by Jonathan Allen in New York; Editing by Lisa Shumaker and Howard Goller)