The Latest: S. Korea eases restrictions as virus cases drop

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A woman arrives to sell vegetables in a market in Mumbai, India, Saturday, Sept. 12, 2020. Millions lost their jobs, and thousands, fearing starvation, poured out of cities to try and get back to their rural homes during India’s lockdown of 1.3 billion people earlier this year. The economy shrunk by nearly 24% in the last quarter, the most of any major country. (AP Photo/Rafiq Maqbool)

SEOUL, South Korea — South Korea has reported its lowest daily virus tally in about a month as it began easing its tough social distancing rules in the greater Seoul area.

The Korea Disease Control and Prevention Agency said on Monday that the 109 new cases added in the past 24 hours took the country’s total to 22,285 with 363 deaths.

It’s the 12th consecutive day for South Korea’s daily jump to stay in the 100s. The 109 additional cases are also the lowest daily tally since mid-August.

The government on Sunday relaxed its physical distancing guidelines in the Seoul metropolitan area, citing a downward trend in new infections and worries about public livelihoods.

Under new distancing rules that are formally effective from Monday for two-weeks, franchise cafes and bakeries are allowed to have customers drink and eat inside their shops while indoor gyms and after-school academics can reopen. A ban on dining at restaurants after 9 p.m. was also lifted.

These facilities are still required to impose some distancing rules like having visitors sit at least one seat apart from each other or wear masks.

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WELLINGTON, New Zealand — New Zealand will keep its virus restrictions in place for at least another week as the country continues to battle a small outbreak that began in Auckland last month. Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern said Monday the country had taken a cautious approach to the virus from the beginning, which had helped save lives and allowed the economy to reopen in a sustained way. Ardern said New Zealand will continue its strategy of trying to eliminate the virus. Under the restrictions, everybody must wear masks on public transport and planes, and the sizes of most gatherings are limited to 10 in Auckland and 100 elsewhere. Health authorities announced one more case of the virus on Monday, bringing the number of active cases to 96.

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HERE’S WHAT YOU NEED TO KNOW ABOUT THE VIRUS OUTBREAK

— Virus America, six months in: Disarray, dismay, disconnect

— Trump’s virus debate: Project strength or level with public

— Coronavirus complicates wildfire cvacuations on West Coast.

— With many teachers opting out of returning to the classroom because of the coronavirus, schools around the U.S. are scrambling to find replacements and in some places lowering certification requirements to help get substitutes in the door.

—Central Americans who’ve been cleared to reunite with their families in the U.S. are facing a major obstacle: the coronavirus pandemi c. Only about 338 of 2,700 people approved to come to the U.S. through a small refugee program have arrived since a court settlement more than a year ago.

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Follow AP’s pandemic coverage at http://apnews.com/VirusOutbreak and https://apnews.com/UnderstandingtheOutbreak

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HERE’S WHAT ELSE IS HAPPENING:

AUSTIN, Texas — Texas health officials on Sunday reported 1,840 new cases of the coronavirus and 47 additional deaths. The Texas Department of State Health Services said the total number of COVID-19 cases so far in the state is now at 659,434, while the death toll is now at 14,190. Health officials estimate that about 67,000 cases in the state are currently active. There were about 3,300 people with COVID-19 hospitalized in Texas on Sunday, health officials said. The number of hospitalizations has been decreasing since peaking July 22 at 10,893.

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LITTLE ROCK, Ark. — Arkansas health officials on Sunday reported 508 newly confirmed cases of the coronavirus and 12 additional deaths. The Arkansas Department of Health said the number of confirmed cases in the state is now at 69,050 and that there have been 976 deaths among those cases. As of Sunday there were about 370 people hospitalized with COVID-19 in the state, health officials said. And more than 62,000 people have recovered.

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JERUSALEM — Israel will reinstate a strict new countrywide lockdown this week amid a stubborn surge in coronavirus cases.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu made the announcement in a televised speech Sunday.

Beginning Friday, the eve of the Jewish New Year, schools, restaurants, malls and hotels among other businesses will shut down and restrictions on movement will be imposed. The lockdown is expected to last at least three weeks, when measures may be eased depending on morbidity.

Israel has seen a spike in cases over recent weeks that more tempered measures failed to bring down. It now has one of the world’s worst outbreaks, adjusted for population.

Israel earned praise earlier this year for its initial handling of the coronavirus domestically, moving quickly to seal the country’s borders and appearing to bring the outbreak under control. It has since been criticized for opening businesses and schools too quickly and allowing the virus to spread once again.

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LONDON — The U.K., which has suffered Europe’s deadliest coronavirus outbreak, has recorded more than 3,000 new cases of COVID-19 for the third day running for the first time since May.

The Department for Health and Social Services reported a further 3,330 cases on Sunday, taking the three-day tally above 10,000.

Though a ramp up in testing accounts for some of the increase, it’s clear that the U.K. has seen the virus spread in recent weeks. Daily cases are more than double those reported a couple of weeks ago, a change that has stoked concerns of a second wave of the virus.

To get on top of the flare-up, authorities have tightened a number restrictions to everyday life. For example, the British government said social gatherings in England will be limited to six people from Monday, both indoors and outdoors, and that rule-breakers will face fines.

Daily deaths remain very low but the worry is that the rise in cases, even if confined to younger people, will lead to a rise in hospitalizations in coming weeks and potentially of more people dying.

The U.K. has an official virus-related toll of over 41,600 people who died within 28 days of testing positive.

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OKLAHOMA CITY — Oklahoma health officials reported six additional deaths from the coronavirus on Sunday as the state’s death toll surpassed 900.

The Oklahoma State Department of Health said the state’s death toll is now at 905. Health officials also reported 695 new cases of COVID-19, the illness caused by the virus. The total number of reported cases so far is now at 69,354. Health officials say more than 58,000 people have recovered from COVID-19 in Oklahoma. There are currently almost 10,000 active cases in the state.

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CHICAGO — Chicago schools reported roughly 84% citywide attendance for the first day of remote classes, but some schools had fewer than half of the students log in. The Chicago Tribune reported that attendance went up citywide at more than 500 schools for the first three days of remote classes, including 90.2% on Thursday.

Some schools reported 100%, but others lagged behind. Teachers say students who didn’t show didn’t have devices or reliable internet access. Chicago school officials say they’re still trying to close the digital divide by offering 100,000 devices for students.

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ROME — Italy added another 1,458 coronavirus infections to its official tally on the eve of the return to school for most Italian students for the first time since March.

Another seven people died over the past 24 hours, bringing Italy’s official COVID-19 toll to 35,610, the highest number in Europe after Britain.

The Health Ministry issued its daily update Sunday as Premier Giuseppe Conte urged Italian students to embrace the new school year with enthusiasm but responsibility. Italian schools closed nationwide on March 5 and never reopened as Italy became the epicenter of the pandemic in Europe.

Most of Italy’s recent infections during its six-week spike in cases have been among young Italians returning from vacation. The average age of those infected, which had dropped to the low 30s in recent weeks, is beginning to rise again, presumably as young people infect more vulnerable older relatives.

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ATHENS, Greece — Greek health authorities announced 207 new coronavirus cases Sunday, including 29 international arrivals. There were also three deaths.

Total confirmed cases now stand at 13,240, about two-thirds of them since the beginning of August. Deaths are 305. The median age of those falling sick is 39, while that of those dying is 78.

Monday marks an important step towards a return to a kind of normal, with the opening of schools. Teachers and students will be wearing masks. In the face of some parents protesting against masks and a few rallies against their use, Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis said he would not hesitate to go after conspiracy theorists.

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DES MOINES, Iowa — Iowa officials said the number of coronavirus cases in the state increased by 814 Sunday and two additional deaths were reported.

Health officials said that as of 10 a.m. Sunday 74,361 confirmed cases of coronavirus have been reported since the pandemic began. Of that total, 1,218 people have died and 53,120 have recovered, according to the state’s online virus tracker.

The state said Iowa had an 8.9% positivity rate over the past 14 days, but six Iowa counties reported positivity rates over 15% over the past 14 days. The high rate means that public schools in Sioux, Lyon, Bremer, Plymouth, Carroll and Chickasaw counties may be able to apply for a state waiver to provide instruction entirely online.

State officials said 274 people were hospitalized with COVID-19 Sunday, down from 290 on Saturday. The number of patients battling COVID-19 in intensive care also decreased to 79 on Sunday from Saturday’s 90 patients.

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BEIRUT — More than 3 million Syrian students started school in government-held areas Sunday, marking the first school day amid strict measures to prevent the spread of the coronavirus, state media reported.

Syria, which had a population of 23 million before its conflict began in March 2011, has registered 3,506 confirmed coronavirus cases as well as 152 deaths in government-held areas. The actual number of cases is believed to be much higher, as the number of tests being done in the country is very low and many people in rural areas are unaware they are carrying the virus.

Coronavirus tests at private clinics cost around $60, far to expensive for most Syrians, whose average salary is less than $100 a month. The government conducts about 300 free tests each day for people showing symptoms.

Among the precautionary measures taken by the Ministry of Education were the sanitizing of all classrooms, walls, floors, stairs and bathrooms of schools, state news agency SANA said. Students’ temperatures will be checked as well.

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SEOUL, South Korea — South Korea says it will ease social distancing rules in the densely populated Seoul metropolitan area following a declining number of new coronavirus cases.

Health Minister Park Neung-hoo told an online briefing Sunday that the greater Seoul area recorded about 80-110 new virus cases each day last week, down from 110-180 in the previous week.

Under eased rules that are effective from Monday for two weeks, Park says authorities will lift a ban on dining at restaurants after 9 p.m. in the Seoul area. They’ve been allowed to provide only takeouts and deliveries after 9 p.m. since late August.

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BEIRUT — The U.N. peacekeeping force in southern Lebanon along the border with Israel said Sunday that 90 of its troops have tested positive for COVID-19.

The force, known as UNIFIL, said in a statement that 88 of the troops are from the same contingent and two others are from another country. Only four presented symptoms. It said the 90 troops are in complete isolation and it is carrying out contact tracing.

It said the coronavirus cases did not affect activities of the force.

UNIFIL, which has some 10,300 peacekeepers, said last month that 22 soldiers had tested positive for the coronavirus.

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PARIS — France’s health agency says that the country crossed the threshold of 10,000 new cases of COVID-19 in 24 hours — the most since widespread testing began in May.

Public Health France reported 10,561 new cases Saturday, compared to 9,406 fresh cases the day before.

France is one of European countries that has been the hardest hit by the virus, with a total of 30,910 people having died.

Prime Minister Jean Castex pledged on Friday that there would be a reduction in waiting times for tests, faced with what he described as a “manifest deterioration” of the situation. Around 10 millions tests have so far been carried out.

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BERLIN — Austria’s leader says his country is seeing the start of a “second wave” of coronavirus infections. He is appealing to his compatriots to comply with newly reinforced rules to keep down infections.

Chancellor Sebastian Kurz announced Friday that the government would reimpose measures such as an obligation to wear masks in shops to curb a rise in new infections. Austria recorded 859 new infections on Friday, the highest daily figure since late March.

Kurz stepped up his rhetoric on Sunday. He told the Austria Press Agency in a written statement that “what we are experiencing at the moment is the beginning of a second wave.” He added that developments in the capital, Vienna, are “particularly dramatic,” with the city accounting for around half of new cases.

Kurz said that Austria will soon hit the 1,000 per day mark. He called on Austrians to reduce social contacts, wear masks and keep their distance “as well as possible.”

He predicted “a tough autumn and winter,” though he stuck to his assessment that things should be largely normal by next summer.

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PRAGUE — Coronavirus infections continue to grow in the Czech Republic, reaching a record level for the fourth day this week.

The Health Ministry says the day-to-day increase in new cases reached 1,541 on Saturday, a record high for the country.

Health Minister Adam Vojtech said “nobody expected” such a spike.

The Czech Republic has had 35,401 cases overall, including 453 deaths.

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NEW DELHI — India has registered a single-day spike of 94,372 new confirmed coronavirus cases, driving the country’s overall tally to 4.75 million.

The Health Ministry on Sunday also reported 1,114 deaths in the past 24 hours, taking total fatalities up to 78,586.

Even as infections are growing faster in India than anywhere else in the world, the number of people recovering from the virus has also risen sharply. The country’s recovery rate stands at 77.77% and nearly 70,000 recoveries have been reported every day in the month of September, according to the Health Ministry.

The ministry attributed India’s COVID-19 recovery pace to aggressive testing and prompt surveillan, but experts say India needs to test more due to its huge population. It’s climbed to the second worst-hit country behind the United States, and is now testing more than 1 million people every day.

India’s Parliament is expected to resume work on Monday with strict physical distancing. Parliament adjourned in March just before a nationwide lockdown was announced to contain the pandemic.

The harsh lockdown caused a severe economic crisis, with India’s economy contracting nearly 24% in the second quarter, the worst among the world’s top economies.

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