Doctors across South Korea have gone on strike as coronavirus cases continue to rise, prompting the country’s Health Minister to threaten to jail or revoke the licences of those who do not return to work.
In the UK, secondary school students in areas under local lockdown rules, such as Greater Manchester, will have to don face masks when moving around corridors and communal areas.
This story will be updated throughout Wednesday.
Wednesday’s key moments:
Striking South Korean doctors threatened with jail
Health officials in South Korea have ordered thousands of striking doctors to return to work as the country counted its 13th straight day of triple-digit jumps in coronavirus cases.
Health Minister Park Neung-hoo said those who refuse could have their licenses suspended or revoked, or even face a prison term of less than three years.
Doctors in the greater Seoul area joined physicians in other parts of the country in a three-day strike, starting on Wednesday, against Government plans to boost the number of medical students.
The walkouts have forced major hospitals in Seoul to reduce working hours or delay some surgeries, while more than 2,000 medical facilities nationwide reported their intention to close during the strike.
The Government wants to increase the number of medical students by 4,000 over the next decade, saying it’s critical for dealing with crises like COVID-19 and reducing healthcare gaps between the highly developed Seoul area and the rest of the country.
But doctors’ groups say the country already has enough physicians competing in a cutthroat market.
They instead want the Government to pay trainees more to encourage them to move to areas outside Seoul where health professionals are more needed.
South Korea’s Centers for Diseases Control and Prevention reported 320 new cases of COVID-19, including 237 from the Seoul region, which has been the centre of a viral resurgence in recent weeks.
Health workers have struggled to stem transmissions linked to churches, schools, restaurants and door-to-door salespeople.
India’s coronavirus cases top 3.2 million
India has reported more than 67,000 new coronavirus cases in the past 24 hours, raising the country’s number of reported infections to 3.2 million.
About 1.5 million reported infections have come this month alone.
The Health Ministry on Wednesday also reported 1,059 deaths in the past 24 hours, taking total fatalities from the pandemic to 59,449.
India has been recording more than 60,000 new infections per day for the last two weeks, reaching a peak of 69,652 cases on August 19.
New reported infections dropped to around 61,000 on Monday and Tuesday, but picked up again in the past 24 hours.
The ministry said India’s recovery rate was now around 76 per cent with a fatality rate of 1.84 per cent.
Even though the country of nearly 1.4 billion people has been slowly opening up to restart the economy, areas identified as most affected by the virus continue to remain under lockdown.
The world’s second-most populous country is third behind the US and Brazil in terms of total caseload, and has recorded the world’s highest single-day caseload consistently since August 7, a Reuters tally showed.
England to enforce masks in some secondary schools
Following mounting pressure, the UK Government has decided to change a coronavirus-related policy to enforce mask-wearing in secondary schools in some areas.
The Government said students above 11 years of age in areas under local lockdown rules, such as Greater Manchester, would have to don face masks when moving around corridors and communal areas.
Elsewhere in England, the decision will be left up to the schools.
Masks will not have to be worn in classrooms.
“I hope these steps will provide parents, pupils and teachers with further reassurance,” Education Secretary Gavin Williamson said.
The change in guidance comes in the wake of new recommendations from the World Health Organization that children aged over 12 should wear masks if social distancing rules cannot easily be followed and where transmission rates of the virus are a cause for concern.
It also comes just hours after the Scottish Government changed its advice to require all secondary school students to wear face masks in communal areas.
It is the Westminster Government’s second sudden change in policy on the education front in as many weeks, following last week’s decision to drop a controversial system to award grades for key high school exams after they were cancelled because of the pandemic.
Experts credit masks for US decline in COVID-19 infections
The number of Americans newly diagnosed with the coronavirus is falling, even as the disease continues to claim nearly 1,000 lives in the US each day.
About 43,000 new cases are being reported daily across the country, down 21 per cent from early August, according to data compiled by Johns Hopkins University.
“It’s profoundly hopeful news,” said Monica Gandhi, an infectious diseases expert at the University of California, San Francisco.
She said the falling number of cases was down to the American public’s growing understanding of how the virus spreads, more mask-wearing and, possibly, an increasing level of immunity.
“Hopefully all those factors are coming into play to get this virus under control in this country that’s really been battered by the pandemic,” she said.
But insufficient testing is probably concealing the full extent of the crisis, said Jonathan Quick, who leads the pandemic response for the Rockefeller Foundation, which has recommended the US test 4 million people a day by the autumn.
“We’re grossly under-testing in some of the places that are still having high caseloads,” Dr Quick warned, singling out Mississippi, Texas, Georgia and North Dakota as hot spots with high rates of positive test results.
Even at 43,000 new cases per day, the US remains far above the numbers seen during the spring, when new daily cases peaked at about 34,000, he said.
“It’s a good trend, but nowhere near what we need to be,” Dr Quick said of the recent decline.
The US has recorded more than 5.7 million confirmed infections and 178,000 deaths, according to Johns Hopkins figures.
EU trade chief insists he broke no COVID-19 rules on Irish trip
The Irish Government says there were clear breaches of COVID-19 guidelines during European Trade Commissioner Phil Hogan’s recent trip to his native country.
Mr Hogan attended a golf dinner last week, a move which sparked anger and led to the resignation of an Irish minister and the disciplining of several MPs.
He insisted on Tuesday he had adhered to all rules during the trip.
“It is clear that breaches of public health guidelines were made by Commissioner Phil Hogan since he travelled to Ireland,” Prime Minister Micheal Martin and Deputy Prime Minister Leo Varadkar said in a statement.
“The government guidelines clearly required him to restrict his movements for 14 days.
“He should also have limited his movements to and from Kildare for essential travel only, and he should not have attended the Oireachtas Golf Society dinner.”
The commissioner, who oversees trade policy for the world’s biggest trading bloc, has apologised three times for attending the event with some 80 others, but said the dinner did not technically come within the remit of rules announced the previous day to restrict events.
He arrived in Ireland from Belgium, which has a relatively high rate of coronavirus infections and is not on Ireland’s travel “green” list.
Travellers from Belgium are legally obliged to self-isolate for 14 days on arrival in Ireland.
KFC says hold off on the ‘Finger Lickin’
Kentucky Fried Chicken is temporarily suspending its long-time advertising slogan “it’s finger lickin’ good”, calling it inappropriate in the current COVID-19 pandemic where personal hygiene has become top priority to stem transmission.
In an era when face masks and hand-washing have become the norm and health officials are recommending people to stop touching their faces, KFC said the slogan “doesn’t feel quite right”.
The slogan, used on and off by the chain for 64 years, will be paused in advertising around the globe from this week, the company said.
The restaurant chain unveiled a short video clip on its KFC UK and Ireland YouTube channel on Monday, showing various KFC chicken buckets with the “Finger Lickin'” words blurred out from its captions.
The ad then ends with the tagline: “That thing we always say? Ignore it. For now.”
The move comes after the chain pulled down one of its advertisements in the UK featuring the catchphrase, which showed people licking their own fingers as well as those of their companions after eating its chicken.
Gaza in lockdown to try to contain its first COVID-19 outbreak
A lockdown has been imposed in Gaza after the Palestinian enclave confirmed its first cases of COVID-19.
Health authorities in the Hamas Islamist-run territory of 2 million people are concerned over the potentially disastrous combination of poverty, densely populated refugee camps and limited hospital facilities.
A government spokesperson said four cases of coronavirus were confirmed in a single family in a refugee camp, the first in Gaza that did not involve people quarantined in border facilities after entering from Egypt or Israel.
Both Egypt and Israel maintain tight restrictions at the Gaza frontier, leaving Gazans with little access to the outside world.
Hospitals often complain of shortages in medical supplies.
With businesses, schools and mosques ordered closed for at least 48 hours, Gaza’s streets were largely deserted but some people scrambled to buy essentials in groceries and bakeries.
The health crisis comes amid heightened tensions fuelled by the launching of sporadic rocket attacks and incendiary balloons at Israel, which has responded with air strikes against Hamas positions.
Gaza’s health ministry said the four COVID-19 cases were uncovered after a woman travelled to the West Bank, where she tested positive.
The ministry said there have been 110 cases of coronavirus inside border quarantine facilities and one death since the pandemic began.
Last month, the Gaza director of the World Health Organization, Abdelnaser Soboh, said the territory’s health system could only deal with 500 positive cases at one time.
Two European patients reinfected with coronavirus
Two European patients have been reinfected with the coronavirus, according to regional public broadcasters, raising concerns about immunity.
The news follows a report this week by researchers in Hong Kong about a man there who had been reinfected four and a half months after recovering.
Local media said a patient in the Netherlands and another in Belgium had been reinfected with the virus.
Dutch broadcaster NOS cited virologist Marion Koopmans as saying the patient in the Netherlands was an older person with a weakened immune system.
“That someone would pop up with a reinfection, it doesn’t make me nervous,” she said.
“We have to see whether it happens often.”
India’s new cases top global tally for 18th straight day
India has reported the highest number of new coronavirus cases globally for the 18th straight day.
It took India from the end of January, when the country’s first case was reported, until July to reach around 1.6 million cases, a period when the Government imposed a strict lockdown.
However, infections have risen by another 1.5 million since the start of August, taking the total to around 3.1 million, behind only Brazil and the United States.
The rate of new cases in India is increasing rapidly, climbing by 60,975 in the latest 24-hour period, according to the federal health ministry.
But deaths remained comparatively low at 58,390, or 1.84 per cent of total cases, lower than the global mortality percentage of 3.4 per cent.
India reported its first COVID-19 fatality in mid-March, with the death toll rising to around 35,700 by the end of July.
In August so far, around 22,600 deaths have been recorded. Deaths are considered a lagging indicator, given the two-week incubation period of the disease.
Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s Government said it was reassured by the high recovery rate of around 75 per cent of the total 3.1 million cases.
Spain ready to send in troops to tackle coronavirus resurgence
Spanish Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez says troops will be made available to help regions overcome a resurgence of coronavirus.
He also said regional administrations could make their own decisions on how to fight the epidemic, rather than have the central government take charge.
“The pandemic data curve is worrying and has to be contained. We have to be calm and vigilant,” Mr Sanchez said, adding that an initial 2,000 troops would be made available to help.
“The army’s specific training in early detection and epidemiological tracking includes procedures for identifying risk factors and contact tracing.”
Spain’s cumulative tally of coronavirus cases — already Western Europe’s highest — hit 405,436 after a surge last week, the worst week for infections since the epidemic’s peak in late March, health ministry figures showed.
Infections have risen sharply since Spain lifted a three-month state of emergency and lockdown in late June, but daily deaths have been much lower than in March, April and May.
Spain’s total death toll stands at 28,872.