PARIS — France’s president insisted Thursday that the country will send millions of students back to school starting Sept. 1, despite the biggest weekly spike in confirmed coronavirus cases since the height of its national outbreak in March and April.
President Emmanuel Macron and German Chancellor Angela Merkel also pledged during a news conference that European nations would work more closely in the coming weeks to coordinate virus protection measures and vaccine supplies. A wave of chaotic border closures followed when the virus first swept the continent.
France’s national health agency reported 4,771 new infections Thursday, and more than 18,000 new cases over the past week — the biggest weekly rise since April. Authorities attributed the increase to summer vacation parties and family gatherings, and to workplace clusters emerging as people returned to their jobs from a strict lockdown.
Concerns are mounting among teachers and parents in France that schools won’t be able to keep the virus at bay with children in classrooms. A leading teachers’ union asked the government this week to delay starting the school year.
“The return to school will happen” in the coming days, Macron said. “We will not bring our countries to a halt, but we will have to learn to live with the virus.”
Germany reported 1,707 new daily cases Thursday. Its death toll in the pandemic, at 9,253, remains much lower than the 30,480 virus-related deaths reported in France.
Several German states have reopened schools, and several schools had to shut down classes or their entire buildings again because students or teachers subsequently tested positive with the virus.
WHO urges African countries to reopen schools safely
JOHANNESBURG — African governments should accelerate the reopening of schools, the World Health Organization has urged, saying that youths will suffer from prolonged closures due to the pandemic.
Poor nutrition, stress, increased exposure to violence and exploitation, and teenage pregnancies are among the problems faced by students remaining out of school in sub-Saharan Africa, WHO officials warned Thursday.
Only six African countries have fully opened schools, according to a survey of 39 countries by WHO and UNICEF.
Many governments closed schools as part of measures to limit transmission of the virus. Some reopened and then had to close again when virus cases broke out in the schools.
This has hurt school feeding programs, which provided meals to more than 10 million children in Africa. Online learning is almost impossible, as 80 percent of students don’t have access to the Internet and electricity can be unreliable.
Cases rise in England as it prepares to reopen schools
The number of coronavirus cases in England increased by more than a quarter in the week through Aug. 12, underscoring the risks facing Boris Johnson’s government as it tries to boost economic activity without triggering a new peak in the pandemic.
The UK Department of Health reported 6,616 new cases during the period, a 27 percent rise, even as the total number of people tested fell by 2 percent. Positive cases rose by 34 percent, the biggest rise since the government began its test and trace program at the end of May.
Johnson’s ministers have been steadily reopening parts of the British economy, and are trying to shift the focus toward dealing with new outbreaks with targeted local lockdowns rather than national measures.
But there is little margin for error. The government has pledged to reopen all schools in England in September, a measure a top medical official has suggested may require restrictions to remain in place in other parts of the economy.
India has record high of 69,000 more infections
NEW DELHI — India counted another record high of new coronavirus infections Thursday as it ramped up testing to more than 900,000 a day.
The 69,652 new cases pushed India’s total past 2.8 million, of which 2 million have recovered, the Health Ministry said. The country also recorded 977 virus fatalities in the past 24 hours, raising total deaths to 53,866, the ministry said.
India has conducted 3 million tests for the virus, but specialists have urged increasing its testing capacity greatly, given India has the world’s second-highest population of 1.4 billion people.
It has the third-most cases in the world, behind the United States and Brazil, and has the fourth-highest number of deaths behind the United States, Brazil, and Mexico.
India’s lockdown imposed in late March began easing in May and is now largely being enforced in high-risk areas.
Virus toll among journalists in Peru is especially high
MEXICO CITY — Dozens of journalists have died from COVID-19 in Peru since the pandemic began, in the highest reported death toll of media workers from the new coronavirus in Latin America, according to journalists’ groups that are monitoring available data.
As in many countries, the coronavirus has hit virtually all sectors of society and areas in Peru. But emerging data on fatalities among journalists show Peru’s is among the highest in the world, although it is extremely difficult to confirm in many cases how they got sick.
On Wednesday, a Catholic priest held a virtual Mass at a church for 22 journalists — 19 men and three women — that the College of Journalists of Lima said had died in the Lima area alone. At least 82 reporters in Peru died from the disease between March 16, when Peru imposed a lockdown because of the health crisis, and Aug. 17.
UN: Discussions with Russia on vaccine under way
LONDON — The World Health Organization’s Europe office said it has begun discussions with Russia to try to obtain more information about the experimental COVID-19 vaccine the country recently approved.
Last week, Russia became the first country in the world to license a coronavirus vaccine when President Vladimir Putin announced its approval. But the vaccine has not yet passed the advanced trials normally required to prove it works before being licensed, a major breach of scientific protocol. Russian officials claimed the vaccine would provide lasting immunity to COVID-19 but offered no proof.
Catherine Smallwood, a senior emergency official at WHO Europe said that the agency had begun “direct discussions” with Russia and that WHO officials have been sharing “the various steps and information that’s going to be required for WHO to take assessments.”
The WHO’s Europe director, Dr. Hans Kluge, said that the agency welcomed all advances in vaccine development but that every vaccine must submit to the same clinical trials.
Russia’s vaccine has so far only been tested in a few dozen people.