The Latest: Iraq reopens airports even as cases rise

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BAGHDAD – Iraq opened its airports to commercial flights following months of lockdown as part of the government’s plan to ease restrictions despite record numbers of coronavirus cases expected to exceed 100,000 this week.

Airports were shut in March along with full-day curfews. Cases have risen exponentially since then and in particular following the Eid holiday in June.

The curfew has been extended many times amid rising case numbers, which has exacerbated a severe economic crisis spurred by falling oil prices and crippled Iraq’s private sector.

Iraq’s Health Ministry reported 2,700 new cases over a 24-hour period on Wednesday, bringing the country’s total to 99,865 cases. Over 4,000 people have died.

Flights to Beirut and Cairo were scheduled to take off 10 a.m. on Thursday.

The curfew will also be lifted following the Eid al-Adha holiday one July 30.

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

– In struggle against pandemic, populist leaders fare poorly

– US labs buckle amid testing surge; world virus cases top 15M

– ‘Just got to suck it up:’ Masks mandatory in Australian city

– For as long as Mexicans have gone north to find work, money has gone in the opposite direction. Remittances from expatriates have been the life blood of many Mexican villages. But these days, fear accompanies the money that crosses the border.

– Senate Republicans and the White House have reached tentative agreement for more testing funds in the next COVID-19 relief package.

– The small, neighboring sheikhdoms of Bahrain and Qatar have the world’s highest per capita rates of coronavirus infections. In the two Mideast countries, COVID-19 epidemics initially swept undetected through camps housing healthy and young foreign laborers.

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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:

JOHANNESBURG – South Africa’s confirmed coronavirus cases have nearly reached 400,000 as the country reports a new daily high of 572 deaths.

South Africa is now one of the world’s top five countries in terms of reported virus cases, and it makes up more than half of the cases on the African continent with 394,948. Deaths are at 5,940.

Public hospitals are struggling as patient numbers climb, and more than 5,000 health workers have been infected.

The struggles by Africa’s most developed country in coping with the pandemic are a worrying sign for other, far less resourced countries across the continent as the spread of infections picks up speed.

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NEW DELHI – India has recorded 685 virus deaths in the past 24 hours, as well as 444 previously unreported fatalities, bring the nationwide death toll from the pandemic to 29,861.

The Health Ministry on Thursday also reported a new record surge of 45,720 new coronavirus cases, taking the total tally of infections to 1,238,635.

Many states in India have started reimposing lockdowns as health authorities struggle to trace transmissions.

Late Wednesday, the Himalayan region of Kashmir announced a five-day complete lockdown in areas that have been categorized as red zones. A two-day complete lockdown also started Thursday in West Bengal state.

India has record the third most virus cases in the world after the United States and Brazil.

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MELBOURNE, Australia – Wearing masks became compulsory in Australia’s second-largest city of Melbourne on Thursday as coronavirus hot spot Victoria state reported 403 newly confirmed COVID-19 cases and five deaths.

The daily infection tally for the state was down from a record 484 posted Wednesday.

Much of the spread is blamed on sick workers who do not take time off while they wait for coronavirus test results. The state government announced Thursday that workers who do not have sick leave will be eligible for a support payment of 300 Australian dollars while they await test results.

A large majority of Melbourne residents appeared to be complying with the new face covering regulation.

For the first week of the mask mandate, police will “exercise discretion” in imposing fines.

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BEIJING – China continues to see newly confirmed coronavirus cases in its northwestern region of Xinjiang, with 18 reported Thursday.

More than 50 people have been infected in China’s latest outbreak focused on Xinjiang’s regional capital and largest city of Urumqi. City leaders have restricted travel, locked down some communities and ordered widespread testing to contain the spread.

An additional three confirmed cases brought from outside China were reported by the National Health Commission.

China has reported a total of 83,729 cases of COVID-19, with 4,634 deaths.

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SEOUL, South Korea — South Korea has reported 59 new confirmed COVID-19 cases following a dual rise in local transmissions and imported infections.

The figures by South Korea’s Centers for Disease Control and Prevention on Thursday brought the national caseload to 13,938, including 297 deaths.

The agency says 43 of the new cases were in the densely populated Seoul area, which has been at the center of a virus resurgence since late May. Authorities have struggled to trace transmissions and predict infection routes as people increasingly venture out in public. New clusters have been tied to office buildings, churches, live-in facilities and door-to-door salespeople.

Officials say at least 20 cases were imported infections. South Korea mandates tests and enforces two-week quarantines on all people arriving from overseas.

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BRASILIA, Brazil – Brazil’s health ministry has reported a record 67,860 confirmed coronavirus cases over the last 24 hours.

The previous mark for one day was 54,771, set June 19.

The new high reported Wednesday comes as some regions of the South American nation are partially reopening for business while others that had previously controlled the spread of the virus are seeing increases.

Brazil has counted more than 82,700 deaths from COVID-19 and 2.2 million confirmed infections.

One of the infected is President Jair Bolsonaro, who said earlier Wednesday that he has tested positive for the virus for the third time in two weeks.

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TALLAHASSEE, Fla. – Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis says there is a strong need to reopen schools. He says keeping them closed will lead to depression, social isolation and a higher dropout rate. However, he adds that parents should be able to keep children at home if they fear the coronovirus.

In an address on a state-run television channel Wednesday, DeSantis also said that if school districts want to delay opening, or allow teachers to work remotely, they should be allowed to do so.

A Florida teachers union has filed a lawsuit seeking to block what it calls “reckless and unsafe reopening” of public schools for face-to-face instruction.

The governor acknowledged there are worries about returning children to school, but added that “it should also be asked how safe it is to keep schools closed.”

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PHOENIX — Arizona’s top education official says the state’s school districts should be empowered to reopen campuses for the new school year based on public health data instead of committing now to specific reopening dates.

Superintendent of Public Instruction Kathy Hoffman says she has outlined her priorities to Gov. Doug Ducey. He is expected to announce the next steps for school reopenings this week.

Ducey previously announced that schools would not reopen until Aug. 17, weeks after they normally open. Hoffman says schools need guarantees of full funding for distance learning.

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WASHINGTON – President Donald Trump is casting wide blame for a nationwide surge in coronavirus cases, pointing to racial justice protests, travelers from Mexico and young bar-goers.

Holding his second briefing on the virus in as many days after a three-month hiatus, Trump sought on Wednesday to explain the rise in confirmed cases across the nation’s South, Southwest and West.

Trump says cases among young Americans first started to rise “shortly after demonstrations.” He says the protests following the death of George Floyd “presumably triggered a broader relaxation of mitigation efforts nationwide.”

He also says a “substantial increase in travel” around Memorial Day and summer vacations was also a driver of new cases.

Further, he says, “Young people closely congregating at bars and probably other places, maybe beaches,” likely also led to new cases.

Trump also blames travelers crossing the U.S.-Mexico border for spikes, saying cases in Mexico are surging.

A woman wears a face mask to help curb the spread of the new coronavirus past a coronavirus awareness mural at Rawa Pasung village in Bekasi on the outskirts of Jakarta, Indonesia, Thursday, July 23, 2020. (AP Photo/Achmad Ibrahim)
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