The latest on the coronavirus pandemic

By Ben Westcott, Adam Renton, Amy Woodyatt, Ed Upright, Meg Wagner, Melissa Macaya and Veronica Rocha, CNN

Updated 2:18 a.m. ET, August 22, 2020
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7:12 a.m. ET, August 21, 2020

Voluntary mass Covid-19 testing to begin in Hong Kong in September

From CNN's Vanessa Yung in Hong Kong

Hong Kong Chief Executive Carrie Lam and other government officials arrive for a press conference at government HQ on August 21, to provide details on the citywide testing initiative.
Hong Kong Chief Executive Carrie Lam and other government officials arrive for a press conference at government HQ on August 21, to provide details on the citywide testing initiative. Anthony Wallace/AFP/Getty Images

Voluntary mass testing of citizens for coronavirus will begin in Hong Kong on September 1, Chief Executive Carrie Lam said on Friday. Tests will be free of charge.

Any Hong Kong citizens with no symptoms -- except children under the age of six and people with bad throat or nasal conditions -- can join the testing program, secretary for the civil service Patrick Nip said. The testing will last for seven days, and the government will review and announce whether to extend for another seven days.

We believe that the testing can find out the hidden patients and give them treatment,” Lam said in a press conference.
“Hong Kong will be much better equipped to deal with the possible next virus wave now.”

Community testing centers will be set up across 18 districts to collect samples, Nip explained. Citizens will have to register online before getting tested.

Lam added that China’s central government helped in launching the mass testing program. “Without the help from the Central government for the extra laboratory and assistants, HK gov may not launch this mass testing program,” she said.

Hong Kong confirmed 27 new cases of Covid-19 in the city on Friday, bringing its total number of confirmed cases to 4,631.

7:01 a.m. ET, August 21, 2020

Defying Bolsonaro, Brazilian congress orders mandatory mask wearing

From CNN's Rafael Romo

Brazil's congress voted for mandatory mask wearing in closed spaces, such as commercial establishments, offices, schools and places of worship, overturning President Jair Bolsonaro's previous veto.

WATCH:

6:51 a.m. ET, August 21, 2020

Europe's travel windows are slamming shut

From CNN's Tamara Hardingham-Gill

People are seen at Split International Airport after the United Kingdom removed Croatia from a list of "safe countries" to travel on August 20, due to the rising number of cases throughout the country.
People are seen at Split International Airport after the United Kingdom removed Croatia from a list of "safe countries" to travel on August 20, due to the rising number of cases throughout the country. Stringer/Anadolu Agency/Getty Images

The vacation lights are going out all over Europe.

Just weeks after many countries opened their borders to travelers within the continent, some are closing again, often at such short notice that people are left scrambling to get home before quarantine orders are put in place.

Such confusion, often coupled with acrimony and threats of reprisals from countries who feel unfairly added to so-called "red lists" of Covid-19 unsafe destinations, looks set to undermine efforts to salvage Europe's vital summer tourism economy well before the warm sunshine months have cooled into winter.

The latest casualty is Croatia, which on Thursday was removed from the UK's safe list, meaning that anyone arriving in the UK from that country will be subject to a mandatory 14-day quarantine from Saturday.

The move, a response to resurgence of Covid-19 cases now affecting many European countries, will potentially block tens of thousands of British tourists from enjoying the sparkling blue waters and pretty islands of the Dalmatian coast, and deprive Croatia of what is usually its sixth highest source of visitors.

Earlier this week Croatia was red-listed by Slovenia, its second largest tourist nationality, and Austria. This comes as Belgium adds Malta to its higher risk list, along with Denmark, Finland, Lithuania, Bulgaria and the UK. Norway has added a number of destinations including Greece, Ireland, and Austria.

France was last week added to the UK's unsafe list, prompting yowls of protest both from the legions of British vacationers who see sojourning in their neighbor as an annual rite of summer, but also from French authorities who threatened reciprocal quarantine measure on arrivals from the UK.

As a result, many holidaymakers traveling between Europe's once wide-open internal borders must now decide whether to postpone, cancel, or go ahead with their trips and resign themselves to two weeks of self-isolating on their return.

Meanwhile destinations buoyed by a resurgence of tourists now find themselves back at square one.

Read the full story here.

6:28 a.m. ET, August 21, 2020

Reopening poses a damned if you do, damned if you don't dilemma for colleges

From CNN's Leah Asmelash

Students walk through the campus of the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill on August 18, in Chapel Hill, North Carolina.
Students walk through the campus of the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill on August 18, in Chapel Hill, North Carolina. Melissa Sue Gerrits/Getty Images

It took just one week into the fall semester for multiple Covid-19 clusters to emerge at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill -- prompting the school to send students packing and make classes remote.

UNC-Chapel Hill is not alone. Across the nation, many colleges and universities that have reopened amid a global pandemic have experienced a similar fate: They opted for in-person learning, with safety precautions in place, but were still hit by Covid.

Some colleges and universities have opted to stick to virtual learning. Yet, others have said they still plan on going forward with their plans for in-person learning, or do a hybrid model that consists of a mixture of in-person and remote classes.

And students -- some who are enthusiastic about being back, others who are worried about the safety risks -- are still showing up.

Although states across the US are now seeing a decline in coronavirus cases, health officials have warned that "could turn around very quickly." Those outside these colleges and universities have wondered: Why are they taking the risk?

The answer, according to education experts, is simple: their options are limited. They can reopen, and impose safety measures to try and curb the spread of the virus, or they can continue to conduct remote learning only, and risk financial devastation.

Read the full story here.

6:04 a.m. ET, August 21, 2020

It's 11 a.m. in London and 7 p.m in Tokyo. Here's the latest on the pandemic.

More than 794,000 people have died from coronavirus and there have been 22.6 million confirmed cases of Covid-19 worldwide. Here’s the latest on the pandemic. 

New Zealand PM schools Trump on his "big outbreak" claims: New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern made a pointed comparison between New Zealand's coronavirus situation and the epidemic in the United States today, two days after US President Donald Trump said the island nation had a "big outbreak." There were 11 new coronavirus cases reported in New Zealand on Friday, Ardern said, adding that the country has "one of the lowest death rates," from the virus, especially compared to the US. 

New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern speaks to media during a press conference at Parliament on August 21, in Wellington, New Zealand.
New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern speaks to media during a press conference at Parliament on August 21, in Wellington, New Zealand. Hagen Hopkins/Getty Images

South Korea reports more than 300 daily cases for first time in months: South Korea recorded 315 new local virus cases in the past 24 hours, marking the first time the country has identified more than 300 new daily cases since March 8. The country has now seen new infections in the triple digits for eight consecutive days, with infections reported in every province except for Jeju island, according to the Health Ministry.

Japan battles second wave of infections: There have now been more than 60,000 confirmed cases of the novel coronavirus in Japan, according to the country's Health Ministry. The country has recorded at least 23,600 Covid-19 cases since August 1, more than a third of its nationwide total since the pandemic began. Earlier this week, the president of the Japan Infectious Diseases Association, Kazuhiro Tateda, said Japan is in the midst of a second wave and warned that the strain on the healthcare system needed to be minimized.

Cubicles are pictured at the Nippon Foundation's temporary treatment facility for Covid-19 coronavirus patients on August 21, in Tokyo, Japan.
Cubicles are pictured at the Nippon Foundation's temporary treatment facility for Covid-19 coronavirus patients on August 21, in Tokyo, Japan. Carl Court/Getty Images

Australian minister says "No Jab, No Play" vaccine policy is on the table: Australia's Health Minister Greg Hunt said Thursday that a "No Jab, No Play" coronavirus vaccine policy -- which would mean that people would be excluded from certain public events or services unless they had received a vaccination -- is being discussed. When asked whether a refusal to take a coronavirus vaccine would impact a citizen's welfare payments, school attendance or travel, Hunt said it was possible.

Citizens in China's capital don't have to wear masks outside anymore: Beijing residents going out in public won't have to wear a mask from Thursday, according to new government guidelines, as long as they aren't in close contact with other people.

5:36 a.m. ET, August 21, 2020

Covid-19 deaths should start dropping across US by next week, CDC chief says

From CNN's Maggie Fox and Christina Maxouris

Robert Redfield, director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, speaks during a House Subcommittee on the Coronavirus Crisis hearing on Capitol Hill in Washington, DC on July 31.
Robert Redfield, director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, speaks during a House Subcommittee on the Coronavirus Crisis hearing on Capitol Hill in Washington, DC on July 31. KEvin Dietsch/Pool/AFP/Getty Images

Covid-19 deaths in the US should start dropping around parts of the country by next week, the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention director said, as Americans stick to mitigation efforts that help curb the spread of the virus.

So far, more than 5.5 million Americans have been infected and at least 174,255 have died, according to Johns Hopkins University. The country's seven-day average for daily deaths has topped 1,000 for at least 24 days in a row.

Mitigation measures like controlling crowds and shutting down bars work, CDC Director Dr. Robert Redfield said Thursday, but it takes time until they're reflected in the numbers.

"It is important to understand these interventions are going to have a lag, that lag is going to be three to four weeks," Redfield said in an interview with the Journal of the American Medical Association. "Hopefully this week and next week you're going to start seeing the death rate really start to drop."

New cases on the decline: The daily average of new cases in the US has been on the decline for weeks. Redfield's message comes as one Trump administration official said Covid-19 case trends are now "going in the right direction."

But Redfield warned that while officials have observed cases fall across red zones in the country, cases in yellow zones across the heart of the US aren't falling.

"Middle America right now is getting stuck," he said. "That is why it's so important for Middle America to recognize the mitigation that we talked about ... it's for Middle America too, the Nebraskas, the Oklahomas."

Superspreading events help drive pandemic: In rural areas, superspreading events have been especially important in helping drive the pandemic, researchers in Georgia said this week.

Superspreading events like parties, conferences and large gatherings have been cautioned against by leaders throughout the country. Earlier this month, experts raised concern about a motorcycle rally in a small South Dakota town which was expected to bring tens of thousands of visitors.

Up to 60 million Americans likely infected: Experts have for long said the true number of infections throughout the country is likely many times higher than the cases reported.

On Thursday, Redfield said as many as 60 million Americans could have contracted the virus -- more than 10 times the number of cases recorded.

"I think if you're going to do a crude estimate, somewhere between 30 and 60 million people -- but let's let the data come out and see what the data shows," he said.

Read the full story here.

4:20 a.m. ET, August 21, 2020

Quarantine hotel security staff given no protective training before outbreak, inquiry hears

Medical professionals perform coronavirus testing at a drive-through clinic on August 21, in Ballarat in Victoria, Australia.
Medical professionals perform coronavirus testing at a drive-through clinic on August 21, in Ballarat in Victoria, Australia. Darrian Traynor/Getty Images

An inquiry in Australia into Victoria state's hotel quarantine system following a fresh coronavirus outbreak that's infected thousands of people heard today that security guards at the hotels were given little to no training.

Firefighter Luke Ashford said that he signed up as an an authorized officer after he received an email from the government requesting help with monitoring the quarantine hotels.

But apart from some brief online training on how to use the government's Covid-19 app, Ashford said he received no major help preparing for his job as an authorized officer.

Ashford told the inquiry he received no training in infection control, in how to properly apply protective gear, or even what his job would be.

"There was really no level of detail so as to provide instruction on how I should perform my role with regard to how the program operated or even what my role was," Ashford said.

The inquiry is ongoing.

Fresh outbreak: Victoria and its state capital Melbourne are now on lockdown amid a major second wave of Covid-19. To date, 17,852 people have been infected across the state.

3:43 a.m. ET, August 21, 2020

The odds of catching Covid-19 on an airplane are slimmer than you think, scientists say

From CNN's Tamara Hardingham-Gill

Sitting squeezed between a number of strangers on board an aircraft might feel like a risky position during these uncertain times.

But according to some experts who point to the very few documented cases of in-flight transmission, the chances of catching Covid-19 while on board a flight are actually relatively slim.

Fear of flying during the pandemic has drastically reduced global air traffic, which has also been restricted due to border closures. If new scientific claims are borne out, the perceived heightened risk of boarding an airplane could be unfounded.

In one case, about 328 passengers and crew members were tested for coronavirus after it was learned that March 31 flight from the US to Taiwan had been carrying 12 passengers who were symptomatic at the time. However, all the other passengers tested negative, as did the crew members.

And while there have certainly been cases of infected passengers passing the virus on to an airplane's crew or fellow travelers in recent months, the transmission rates are low.

Read more:

3:11 a.m. ET, August 21, 2020

Australia's Health Minister says "No Jab, No Play" coronavirus vaccine policy is on the table

From journalist Isaac Yee in Hong Kong and Angus Watson in Sydney

Australia's Health Minister Greg Hunt said on Thursday that a "No Jab, No Play" coronavirus vaccine policy is being discussed, after Prime Minister Scott Morrison announced that every Australian would be able to receive a potential Covid-19 vaccine for free.

Hunt said in a radio interview on Thursday that Australia had one of the highest childhood immunization rates in the world and that he would like to see 95% of the population receive a coronavirus vaccine once it becomes available.

A "No Jab, No Play" policy would mean that people would be excluded from certain public events or services unless they had received a vaccination. 

When asked whether a refusal to take a coronavirus vaccine would impact a citizen's welfare payments, school attendance or travel, Hunt said it was possible.

"Our first goal is to encourage as many Australians as possible, and I'm confident that with a vaccine that can save lives and protect lives, that can give people hope, that can give people their freedoms back," he said.

Hunt said he would "certainly be taking the vaccine" once it becomes available.

Vaccine controversy: Australia has secured a deal with the drugmaker AstraZeneca to supply a potential Covid-19 vaccine to its entire population free of charge, the government announced Tuesday.

Speaking about the plan, Prime Minister Morrison sparked controversy when he said he would "expect it to be as mandatory as you could possibly make it," with some exemptions on medical grounds.

He later clarified his comments after a backlash from anti-vaccination groups in Australia and around the world, saying: "No one is going to force anybody to do anything as a compulsory measure, but we certainly will encourage people to take this up."

Read more about the reaction to Morrison's comments: