The latest on the coronavirus pandemic from around the U.S. and the world.

COPENHAGEN, Denmark — A Norwegian cruise ship line halted all trips and apologized Monday for procedural errors after a coronavirus outbreak on one ship infected at least 5 passengers and 36 crew. Health authorities fear the ship also could have spread the virus to dozens of towns and villages along Norway’s western coast.

The confirmed virus cases from the MS Roald Amundsen raise new questions about safety on all cruise ships during a pandemic even as the devastated cruise ship industry is pressing to resume sailings after chaotically shutting down in March. In response to the outbreak, Norway on Monday closed its ports to cruise ships for two weeks.

The Hurtigruten cruise line was one of the first companies to resume sailing during the pandemic, starting cruises to Norway out of northern Germany in June with a single ship, then adding cruises in July to the Arctic archipelago of Svalbard.

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The Norwegian cruise ship MS Roald Amundsen was moored in Tromso, Norway, on Monday after 40 people on the ship tested positive for the coronavirus. The 40 people were admitted to the University Hospital of North Norway in Tromsoe. Terje Pedersen/NTB Scanpix via AP

The 41 people on the MS Roald Amundsen who tested positive have been admitted to the University Hospital of North Norway in Tromsoe, north of the Arctic Circle, where the ship currently is docked. The cruise line said it suspended the ship and two others – the MS Fridtjof Nansen and the MS Spitsbergen – from operating for an indefinite period.

“A preliminary evaluation shows that there has been a failure in several of our internal procedures,” Hurtigruten CEO Daniel Skjeldam said in a statement. He added the company that sails along Norway’s picturesque coast between Bergen in the south and Kirkenes in the north is “now in the process of a full review of all procedures.”

It has contacted passengers who had been on the MS Roald Amundsen for its July 17-24 and July 25-31 trips from Bergen to Svalbard, which is known for its polar bears. The ship had 209 guests on the first voyage and 178 on the second. All other crew members tested negative.

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At least 85 Vermont inmates housed in Mississippi prison are infected

At least 85 Vermont inmates housed in a Mississippi prison have been infected with COVID-19, the illness caused by the coronavirus, with about 90 tests still pending in what the head of the Vermont Corrections Department on Monday called “a very serious situation.”

Vermont, which has the lowest number of total coronavirus cases in the country, houses 219 inmates at the Tallahatchie County Correctional Facility in Tutwiler, Mississippi, because of a lack of capacity in its own prisons. After six inmates returning to Vermont from Mississippi tested positive when they arrived at the Marble Valley Regional Correctional Facility in Rutland, Vermont, the state Corrections Department on July 30 ordered that the remaining Vermont inmates in Mississippi be tested. Another Vermont inmate held there had already tested positive after having a fever.

Mississippi’s protocol is to test symptomatic inmates and the state had limited capacity for testing, said Vermont Interim Corrections Commissioner James Baker. After the tests came back positive, Vermont insisted on immediate separation of inmates who tested negative from those who tested positive in Mississippi, follow-up testing for those who tested negative, testing of staff and 24-hour nurse staffing on duty, he said.

“These folks have been victimized by the virus and they need to be treated as they’re victims and they need to be taken care of with the highest level of care we can give them,” Baker said.

No inmates have symptoms that would require the next level of care, he said. Eight inmates refused to be tested and have been medically isolated. The state is working to determine the most vulnerable Vermont inmates in Mississippi to create care plans for them and has been tracking nearby hospitals which currently have capacity, Baker said.

The Vermont inmates at the Tallahatchie County prison will now be tested regularly as inmates at Vermont prisons are, he said.

For inmate advocates, the testing came too late.

“This was predictable and preventable,” said James Lyall, executive director of the ACLU of Vermont. It was the direct result of Republican Gov. Phil Scott’s administration “stubbornly refusing to take a more proactive approach to the threat of COVID-19 in prison settings,” he said. “It reflects a callous indifference to the lives of people who live and work in our prison system, and the communities to whom they are connected.”

The Vermont Prisoners’ Rights Office filed a lawsuit early in the pandemic to bring the Vermont inmates back or have the facility adopt CDC guidelines for dealing with the virus, which they agreed to do, said Defender General Matt Valerio. But then the office was getting reports of staff not always wearing masks, inmates who did janitorial jobs moving freely within the facility without hand coverings or masks, people serving food who might be wearing masks but their hands weren’t covered or weren’t being washed, he said.

“There’s definitely a different culture and demeanor in Mississippi about the virus and how impactful it can be,” he said.

CoreCivic said it has “rigorously followed the guidance of local, state and federal health authorities, as well as our government partners,” even before any confirmed cases in its facilities, said Ryan Gustin, public affairs manager. The Tallahatchie County Correctional Facility has followed CDC guidelines, which have evolved over time, since the onset of the pandemic and is continuing to work closely with Vermont officials “to enhance procedures as needed,” he said.

CoreCivic’s two-year contract to house the inmates ends in October. The prison can house up to 2,700 inmates, though CoreCivic would not say how many are currently there.

CEOs tell Congress many more small businesses will fail without new aid

WASHINGTON — The top executives of more than 100 companies – including Starbucks, Microsoft and Mastercard – and trade groups are calling on Congress to backstop small businesses facing economic calamity.

In a letter dated Monday and addressed to congressional leaders of both parties, the executives painted a dire picture: mass business closures as coronavirus cases surge and the recession deepens.

The effort spearheaded by former Starbucks chairman and CEO Howard Schultz calls for federally guaranteed loans to last into 2021; flexibility in how that money is put to use; at least partial loan forgiveness for the hardest-hit companies; and heightened attention on businesses owned by people of color, who historically have less access to business funding.

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Two people walk past a closed retail store in Chicago. Almost one-third of the loans approved in the first week of PPP ranged from $150,000 to $10 million. Nam Y. Huh/Associated Press

More than 4 million businesses have received emergency loans from the Small Business Administration after Congress approved $700 billion to support them in May. But for the nation’s 30 million small businesses, the relief was too limited and short-lived, business leaders say. The letter calls for a more robust and sustained effort from the federal government.

“We cannot stress enough the urgent need to act,” the letter states. “Every day that passes without a comprehensive recovery program makes recovery more difficult.”

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Antibody tests reveal 1.5 million Italians have had coronavirus

ROME — The results of nationwide antibody tests conducted on nearly 65,000 Italians indicate that some 1.5 million individuals or 2.5% of the population have had the coronavirus, health officials said Monday.

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Italian scientist Paola Muti Paola Muti poses after an interview in her home at the Giglio Island, Italy, Tuesday, June 23. AP Photo/Paolo Santalucia

That figure is six times the number of confirmed cases in Italy’s official virus tally. The results — viewed with the country’s overall death toll of close to 35,000 —align with the 2.3% estimated mortality rate of the virus.

Dr. Franco Locatelli, a key scientific government adviser, said the tests were designed to understand the virus’ circulation nationwide and not whether Italians with antibodies were safe from the virus.

The huge geographic variability in the results — some 7% of residents in hard-hit Lombardy had the virus versus 0.3% in Sicily — showed that Italy’s three-month nationwide lockdown was critical to sparing parts of the country the devastation experienced in the north, he said.

White House explores Trump acting on his own on coronavirus relief

WASHINGTON _ The White House is exploring whether President Donald Trump can act on his own to extend enhanced unemployment benefits and eviction protection if lawmakers fail to act, people familiar with the matter said.

The White House is concerned about the economic impact of the $600-a-week supplemental benefits having expired on Friday, the people said, as Democrats and Republicans have been unable to reach an agreement over a new coronavirus stimulus package.

It wasn’t immediately clear how Trump would be able to accomplish either goal without Congress acting. The White House didn’t immediately respond to a request for comment.

Talks to break an impasse have become increasingly urgent with millions of jobless Americans left without additional aid, and the Senate scheduled to leave for an extended break on Friday.

Republicans and Democrats remain far apart on some of the biggest sticking points, including extending the supplemental unemployment insurance, despite claims of some progress on other issues following a weekend meeting between House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, Senate Democratic leader Chuck Schumer, Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin and Trump’s chief of staff, Mark Meadows.

“We’ll be meeting again tomorrow,” Meadows said Sunday on CBS’s “Face the Nation.” “But I’m not optimistic that there will be a solution in the very near term.”

The four negotiators are set to meet at 1 p.m. in Washington at Pelosi’s office.

Informal White House adviser Stephen Moore, in a Sunday Wall Street Journal opinion piece, called on Trump to use executive action to suspend collection of the payroll tax. The Washington Post earlier reported on the discussions.

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Tahiti cruise ship hit with coronavirus

PARIS — Some 340 passengers and crew are confined on a cruise ship in Tahiti after one traveler tested positive for the virus, the commissariat for French Polynesia said late Sunday.

All those aboard the Paul Gauguin cruise ship are being tested, and will be kept in their cabins pending the results, it said in a statement.

The South Pacific archipelago started reopening to tourists last month and required that all visitors get tested before arriving and test themselves four days after entering the territory.

A passenger aboard the Paul Gauguin reported a positive self-test last week, and a second test carried out by medics confirmed the infection Sunday, the statements said.

The person traveling with the sick passenger tested negative, and both were taken off the boat, the commissariat said.

Crowds pack 9,000-seat race track with few masks

BRANDON, S.D. — Thousands of fans packed the stands at a race track in South Dakota despite a rising number of coronavirus cases in the state.

The fans came Sunday night to Huset’s Speedway for the reopening of the track that has been closed for several years. The 9,000-seat speedway was at near capacity, with face masks nearly obsolete, the Argus Leader reported.

The popular All Star Circuit is owned by NASCAR legend Tony Stewart.

South Dakota health officials reported 88 newly confirmed cases of the coronavirus and one new death on Sunday.

The death toll from COVID-19 in South Dakota rose to 135 with the newly reported death. The number of confirmed virus cases has risen to 8,955 in the state.

Retail rout goes on, Lord & Taylor, Tailored Brands falter

NEW YORK — Lord & Taylor, America’s oldest retailer, is seeking bankruptcy protection, as is the owner of Men’s Wearhouse and Jos. A. Bank, lengthening the list of major retail chains that have faltered in the pandemic.

Companies, some with roots dating to the early 19th century, were already suffering with the things that people buy, and where they buy them, underwent a radical reformation.

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Women peer in the front door of Lord & Taylor’s flagship Fifth Avenue store which closed for good in New York in 2019. AP Photo/Kathy Willens

Thousands of store closures forced by the arrival of COVID-19 has proved too much.

Lord & Taylor, which began as a Manhattan dry goods store in 1824, was sold to the French rental clothing company Le Tote Inc. last year. Both filed for bankruptcy protection, separately, in the Eastern Court of Virginia on Sunday.

Lord & Taylor says it’s looking for a buyer.

Read the rest of this story here.

Egypt begins reopening churches

CAIRO — Egypt’s churches are reopening their doors to the faithful on Monday for the first time in more than four months due to a coronavirus lockdown.

The Coptic Orthodox Church said in a statement that it would receive the faithful in its churches with restrictions that include social distancing and wearing masks.

Other churches are also reopening across the Arab World’s most populous county, which has seen a steady decline in coronavirus infections in the past two weeks.

Christians constitute around 10% of Egypt’s predominantly Muslim 100 million people.

Egypt on Sunday reported its lowest daily confirmed cases of coronavirus in more than two months, with 167 infections and 31 deaths.

Overall, Egypt has reported around 94,450 confirmed cases including 4,865 fatalities.

French beachgoers must wear masks

PARIS — Beach resorts along France’s Atlantic coast, picturesque promenades on the Loire River, farmers markets in the Alps — they’re among scores of spots around France where everyone is now required to wear a mask outdoors.

The outdoor mask rules taking effect Monday are on top of a nationwide decree last month requiring people to wear masks in all stores and other indoor public places. Pressure is growing on the government to mandate outdoor mask use on a national level, too.

France is seeing an uptick in coronavirus infections, with hundreds of new clusters in recent weeks, notably as young people gather at waterside cafes or dance parties and families get together for summer vacation.

Several sites around France have started requiring masks outdoors in recent days. Starting Monday, 69 towns in the Mayenne region of western France imposed outdoor mask rules, as did parts of the northern city of Lille and coastal city of Biarritz in French Basque country.

France has reported 7,000 new cases in the last week, after bringing the virus nearly under control with a strict two-month nationwide lockdown, and has confirmed 30,265 virus-related deaths since the pandemic began.

British tests will give results in 90 minutes

LONDON — The British government says it will begin issuing coronavirus tests that give results within 90 minutes and can tell whether someone has COVID-19 or another virus such as the flu.

The government said the two U.K.-made tests will go to hospitals, nursing homes and laboratories starting next week. The government says they will help medics differentiate between COVID-19 and other seasonal respiratory viruses.

Health Secretary Matt Hancock said Monday that the tests “will be hugely beneficial as we head into winter, so patients can follow the right advice to protect themselves and others.”

One of the tests, made by Oxford Nanopore, analyses swab and saliva samples. The other is a DNA test that uses a machine from London-based firm DnaNudge to give results without the need to send them to a lab. The government says thousands of the machines will be sent to hospitals starting in September.

 


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