The Latest: Azar credits masks for ‘plateauing’ of cases


WASHINGTON – Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar says people “stepping up to the plate” is the reason for some of the “plateauing” in coronavirus cases being seen in Arizona, California, Florida and Texas.

White House coronavirus task force coordinator Dr. Deborah Birx said last week that “we already are starting to see some plateauing,” or leveling off of cases, in these hard-hit states.

In an interview Monday on Fox News’ “Fox and Friends,” Azar said officials think “it’s due to the fact that people are actually wearing their masks.” He said they’re also social distancing and practicing good hygiene, and he complimented governors for closing bars, where it’s difficult to be socially distant and wear a mask.

“So people are stepping up to the plate and doing what we’re asking and what the governors are asking and we see it has an impact,” Azar said.



– WHO cites doubling of cases over the past six weeks

– Tourism, diplomacy facing pushback as virus caseloads surge

– White House, Senate GOP try again on $1 trillion virus aid

– Hanna ‘s rains bring flooding threat along US-Mexico border as virus surges

– Uncertainty over US-China tensions, pandemic pushes gold to record price

– Baseball’s return includes several comeback stories


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ATHENS, Greece – Authorities in Greece say they are likely to extend the mandatory use of masks at churches and shopping malls, citing the worsening public adherence to the government’s pandemic safety guidelines.

Greece has maintained a low infection rate since ending lockdown measures and opening up to tourism in recent weeks but has seen an increase in Summer infections in cities – reaching 4,193 total number of confirmed cases and 202 deaths by Sunday.

“We need to send out the message that complacency is the enemy and that’s what we must fight against,” government spokesman Stelios Petsas said.

Aug. 15 is a major holiday on the Orthodox Christian calendar, the Great Feast for the Dormition of the Mother of God, and is celebrated annually with pilgrimages, church fairs, and other public gatherings around Greece.


EFFIE, Minn. – Thousands showed up for what is known as Minnesota’s largest outdoor rodeo, packing the stands for the three-day event despite orders to limit crowds because of the coronavirus pandemic.

The state Department of Health and the Minnesota Attorney General’s Office imposed a spectator limit at the event. The latest order from Gov. Tim Walz limits outdoor events and entertainment to 250 people who are socially distanced.

The stands remained full or nearly full for the three days of the 65th annual North Star Stampede Rodeo in Effie in northern Minnesota, the Star Tribune reported.

The event’s organizer, Cimarron Pitzen, wrote on a Facebook post before the event that he would not stand in the way of people coming to protest what he describes as “ridiculous Government Over Reach” and their right to assemble.


MADRID — The head of Catalonia’s regional government says the Archbishop of Barcelona is being placed under investigation for possibly breaking hygiene rules by holding an unauthorized Mass.

Juan José Omella held a service Sunday at Antoni Gaudí’s La Sagrada Familia Basilica in memory of victims of the coronavirus.

Catalonia has implemented tight restrictions on gatherings as it tries to stem a growing outbreak of COVID-19. The region reported 133 new cases on Saturday, the second-highest increase across Spain.

Catalan chief Quim Torra said Monday that regional health authorities gave no prior permission for the ceremony, as required under the current rules.


GENEVA -The coronavirus pandemic “continues to accelerate”, with a doubling of cases over the last six weeks, the World Health Organization chief says.

WHO Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus says nearly 16 million cases have now been reported to the U.N. health agency, with more than 640,000 deaths worldwide.

Tedros will convene on Thursday WHO’s emergency committee, a procedural requirement six months after the agency’s declaration of a public health emergency of international concern, made on Jan. 30 for the coronavirus outbreak. The panel will advise him on the pandemic.

“COVID-19 has changed our world,” he told reporters from WHO’s Geneva headquarters on Monday. “It has brought people, communities and nations together – and driven them apart.”

He cited some factors that have proven effective in some countries, including political leadership, education, increased testing and hygiene and physical distancing measures.


LONDON – Budget airline Ryanair says the COVID-19 pandemic has wreaked havoc on its bottom line, with pandemic travel restrictions leading to a 99% drop in passengers in the first quarter compared to the same period last year.

The airline called the quarter the “most challenging’’ in its history, with a loss of 185 million euros ($216 million). It described a second wave of COVID-19 as its “biggest fear.”

Travel restrictions led to a contraction of travelers, with 500,000 passengers in the first quarter compared with 41.9 million in the same period last year.

The low-cost carrier expects air travel to be depressed in Europe for the next two to three years.


BRUSSELS – Belgian health authorities say cases of COVID-19 are growing at an alarming rate amid a surge of infections in the port city of Antwerp.

According to the latest figures released Monday, confirmed cases rose 71% for the week of July 17-23 compared to the previous week, with 47% of the cases detected in the Antwerp province. Numbers were also going up in the rest of the county, with an average of about 279 new confirmed cases per day.

Authorities also noted an increase of 30% in people admitted to hospital.

Belgium has been particularly hit by the virus, with more than 66,000 cases confirmed including 9,821 deaths. The government tightened restrictions last week, making the use of face masks mandatory in crowded outdoor spaces while requiring bar and restaurant owners to register contact details of customers.

Another meeting of the national security council is taking place Monday and Belgian Prime minister Sophie Wilmes is expected to announce further measures that could include reducing the so-called “social bubbles” to a maximum of 10 people from the current 15.


PARIS – Morocco is banning all travel to and from some of its major cities to try to stem a small spike in coronavirus cases, even though the North African country has remained less impacted than its European neighbors to the north.

As of Monday morning, a joint statement from the Moroccan Health and Interior Ministries quoted by MAP state news agency said that there is a “ban” on travel affecting the cities of Tangier, Tetouan, Fez, Meknes, Casablanca, Berrechid, Settat and the popular tourist destination of Marrakech.

The ministries said the decision was made because many Moroccans were not complying with measures encouraged by the governments to fight the spread of the coronavirus, such as social distancing, the wearing of masks and the use of disinfectants.

Morocco has confirmed 20,278 cases and a relatively low 313 deaths from the virus.


HONG KONG – Hong Kong will ban dining at restaurants completely and mandate masks in all public places, as the city battles a worsening coronavirus outbreak that has infected over 1,000 people in the last two weeks.

The tightened measures will be effective for one week from Wednesday. They are an extension of a previous ban on eating at restaurants and eateries after 6 p.m., as well as making it mandatory to wear masks on public transport.

A ban on public gatherings of more than four people has also been furthered tightened, with gatherings limited to two people.

Bars, beauty salons and amusement game centers will remain closed, and swimming pools and sports venues will be closed from Wednesday. Eateries and restaurants will be allowed to provide takeout services to customers.

The city has reported 2,634 infections as of Sunday. The government on Monday announced that two more patients had died, taking the coronavirus death toll in Hong Kong to 20.

Over the last two weeks, 1,164 people were infected with the coronavirus, a majority of which were locally transmitted. The surge in cases is the highest in Hong Kong so far, after the city reported several weeks of no locally transmitted cases in the months of May and June.


ISLAMABAD – Pakistan hit another low in COVID-19 deaths with 20 in the last 24 hours, the lowest daily increase since mid-June.

“This is 87% reduction in COVID-19 related deaths,” Dr. Zafar Mirza, special assistant to Prime Minister Imran Khan, tweeted Monday.

Pakistan’s daily infections also continued to drop with just 1,176 new cases reported in the past 24 hours. Since records began in March, Pakistan has recorded 274,288 infections with 241,026 people having recovered from COVID-19.

Still with the Muslim holy day of Eid-ul Adha later this week, Mirza said despite the encouraging and consistent drop in infections there is “no place for complacency.” Pakistan saw its last spike in cases following the earlier holiday of Eid-al Fitr.


NEW DELHI – As India recorded nearly 50,000 new cases of the coronavirus, Prime Minister Narendra Modi prepared to launch facilities in three major cities to significantly ramp up testing capacity.

The 49,931 cases reported on Monday brought India’s tally to beyond 1.4 million. India has the world’s third-highest caseload after the United States and Brazil. The 32,771 reported deaths from the disease in India, however, mark a far lower fatality rate than in the other two countries.

Modi’s office says the testing facilities that will begin operating on Monday will help authorities track the virus. They will be put in Noida, a suburb of the capital New Delhi, and in the cities of Mumbai and Kolkata. Each is capable of analyzing as many as 10,000 tests per day.

India’s chief medical research agency says the country tested about 515,000 samples for COVID-19 on Sunday.


JOHANNESBURG – South Africa is reporting more than 11,000 new confirmed coronavirus cases as the country now has more than 445,000 in all, including more than 6,700 deaths.

South Africa has the world’s fifth largest caseload and makes up more than half the cases across the African continent. President Cyril Ramaphosa says the recovery from the pandemic will be “long and difficult” but experts say the worst is yet to come.

A growing concern is poorly resourced Eastern Cape province, which makes up 16% of the country’s cases but more than 20% of deaths. South Africa’s public labs continue to face testing delays, with the average turnaround time for results at just over a week.


MELBOURNE, Australia – Australia’s hard-hit Victoria state on Monday posted a new daily record of 532 new COVID-19 cases, and the government leader warned that a lockdown in the city of Melbourne would continue while infected people continued to go to work.

Melbourne is almost half way through a six-week lockdown aimed at curbing community spread of coronavirus. Mask-wearing in Australia’s second-largest city became compulsory last week.

The new cases and six deaths reported on Monday surpasses a previous record of 484 new infections reported on Wednesday last week.

Victoria Premier Daniel Andrews said the biggest driver of the new infections was people continuing to go to work after showing symptoms.


WASHINGTON – President Donald Trump won’t be throwing out the first pitch at Yankee Stadium next month after all.

Trump tweeted Sunday that he won’t be able to make the trip because of his “strong focus” on the coronavirus, vaccines and the economy. Trump said in the tweet: “We will make it later in the season!”

He had announced at a briefing Thursday on Major League Baseball’s opening day that he’d be at Yankee Stadium on Aug. 15 to throw out the first pitch.

Trump has been trying to show voters that he is taking the virus seriously by holding briefings and canceling Republican convention events set for Jacksonville, Florida. Florida is among several states where the virus is raging.

A man wearing a face mask and a shield walks past a bank’s electronic board showing the Hong Kong share index at Hong Kong Stock Exchange Monday, July 27, 2020. Asian stock markets were mixed Monday amid U.S.-China tension and concern a recovery from the coronavirus pandemic might be weakening. (AP Photo/Vincent Yu)