By The Associated Press
VATICAN CITY — Pope Francis is encouraging people to try to take away something good “even from the difficult situation that the pandemic forces on us.”
Addressing faithful gathered a safe distance apart in vast St. Peter’s Square on Sunday, Francis offered these suggestions: “greater sobriety, discrete and respectful attention to neighbors who might be in need, some moments of prayer in the family with simplicity.”
Francis said that “these three things will help us a lot.” During the COVID-19 pandemic, the pontiff has often highlighted the economic and social suffering of many.
HERE’S WHAT YOU NEED TO KNOW ABOUT THE VIRUS OUTBREAK:
— With no action by Washington, states race to offer virus aid
— North Korea toughens rules of entry to sea to fight virus
—When Turkey changed the way it reports COVID-19 infections, it confirmed what many long suspected: The country faces an alarming surge of cases.
—The European plazas where people gather at Christmas are new just empty squares due to the pandemic..
Follow AP’s coverage at https://apnews.com/hub/coronavirus-pandemic and https://apnews.com/UnderstandingtheOutbreak
HERE’S WHAT ELSE IS HAPPENING:
PARIS — France’s highest administrative court on Sunday ordered a rethink of a 30-person attendance limit for religious services put in place by the government to slow down the spread of coronavirus.
The measure took effect this weekend as France relaxes some virus restrictions, but it faced opposition by places of worship and the faithful who called it arbitrary and unreasonable. Even before the ruling, several bishops had announced they would not enforce the restrictions and some churches were expected defy it.
The Council of State has ordered that Prime Minister Jean Castex modify the measure within three days.
French churches, mosques and synagogues started opening their doors again to worshippers this weekend — but only a few of them, as France cautiously starts reopening after its latest virus lockdown.
Many people expressed irritation outside several Paris churches where priests held services for groups that numbered over 30.
BAGHDAD — Iraq has reopened its schools amid a raging pandemic that has claimed more than 12,000 lives across the country, with kids returning to socially-distanced classrooms and other safety measures Sunday.
Students will be attending school only one day per week according to a rotation system meant to prevent crowding and the spread of the new coronavirus, according to the Education Ministry.
Iraq, like much of the rest of the world, has resorted to distance learning after schools closed in February due to the virus outbreak. But online education is out of reach for many in a country with poor infrastructure that has suffered decades of war.
Iraq has the second-highest outbreak and number of deaths in the Middle East region after Iran, with more than 500,000 confirmed cases, according to Health Ministry figures.
Daily infection rates average 2,400 cases per day — a slower rate than in previous weeks — but health workers say the number may be higher as many Iraqis with symptoms choose to stay home and avoid hospitals to get tested.
ISLAMABAD — Pakistan has recorded 43 more deaths and 2,829 new COVID-19 cases.
With the new figures, Pakistan’s tally of COVID-19 deaths is now 7,985.
HONG KONG — Hong Kong has reported 115 new coronavirus infections, the first time it has seen cases in the triple digits since Aug. 2.
The government on Sunday also announced that classes at kindergarten, primary and secondary schools will be shut for the rest of the year in light of the worsening coronavirus situation in the city.
Of the 115 infections reported Sunday, 24 were untraceable. Another 62 were linked to recent outbreaks in dance studios across the city, taking the total number of infections in that cluster to 479, health officials said.
Employees and recent guests at three restaurants in the city have also been ordered to undergo compulsory testing after multiple positive cases had been linked to the venues.
Hong Kong has reported 6,239 coronavirus infections since the pandemic began, with 109 deaths.
PRAGUE — The Czech government has announced it is easing measures imposed to contain coronavirus infections.
Sunday’s move was made possible by the falling numbers of new confirmed cases.
Health Minister Jan Blatny says all stores, restaurants and bars can reopen on Thursday while a ban on Sunday’s sales is lifted.
Restaurants can be opened 6 a.m.-10 p.m. with their capacity limited to 50%. Stores and shopping canters still have to limit the number of shoppers.
An overnight curfew and a ban on drinking alcohol in public are also lifted.
Services such as hair salons, fitness centers and gyms are allowed to reopen together with zoo parks, museums and galleries.
The day-to-day increase of new cases reached 2,667 on Saturday.
The country of almost 10.7 million has had 518,649 confirmed cases since the pandemic began, with 8,054 fatalities.
SEOUL, South Korea — South Korea is shutting down indoor gyms offering intense workout classes and banning year-end parties at hotels in the greater Seoul area to fight the virus.
Prime Minister Chung Sye-kyun said Sunday authorities will also ban the operation of private music institutes teaching singing and wind instruments and saunas at public bath houses in the capital area. He said fitness centers, cafes and libraries operating inside apartment complexes will also be closed. The new steps will be effective from Tuesday.
The country reported 450 new cases on Sunday. South Korea on Thursday registered more than 500 new virus cases for the first time in eight months.
PHOENIX — University of Arizona researchers say the current surge in the coronavirus outbreak will present the state with a hospital crisis that could become a disaster unless the state takes steps such as ordering a three-week stay-home shutdown and implementing a statewide mask mandate.
Members of the university’s COVID Modeling Team said failing to take such steps would be like facing a major forest fire without evacuation orders. It also recommends providing economic aid to affected small businesses and families and preventing evictions and foreclosures.
The team has tracked the outbreak since last spring and made its recommendations in a letter Friday to the state Department of Health Services.
Many local governments have imposed mask mandates since Gov. Doug Ducey last summer lifted a prohibition on such orders. The local mandates cover an estimated 90% of the state’s population but enforcement is lax or nonexistent in some places.
Arizona on Saturday reported 4,136 additional known COVID-19 cases and 36 more deaths.
SALEM, Oregon — The Oregon Health Authority reported 1,669 new confirmed COVID-19 cases Saturday, the state’s largest daily case count since the start of the pandemic.
The total number of coronavirus cases in Oregon has now surpassed 72,000 and the death toll stands at 896.
The number of COVID-19 related hospitalizations also continues to surge with 529 people hospitalized — a 209% increase since the start of the month.
In an effort to slow down the spread of the virus, Gov. Kate Brown implemented a statewide two-week “freeze.” Until Dec. 3, restaurants are limited to take-out only, social gatherings can not be more than six people and gyms, among other facilities, are closed.
CARSON CITY, Nevada — Nevada on Saturday reported nearly 3,000 additional known COVID-19 cases as related hospitalizations continued in large numbers.
The state’s coronavirus dashboard reported 2,912 additional cases and 24 more deaths, elevating the statewide totals to more than 146,000 cases and nearly 2,100 deaths.
As of Friday, 1,338 people confirmed or suspected to have COVID-19 were hospitalized in Nevada. The state set a record Wednesday with 1,414 COVID-19 patients. Concerned by the virus’ continued spread, Gov. Steve Sisolak on Nov. 22 announced the state’s most expansive mask mandate to date and reduced the capacity at casinos, restaurants, bars and many other businesses from 50% to 25%.
OKLAHOMA CITY — Oklahoma health officials reported a one-day record of more than 6,000 newly confirmed coronavirus cases Saturday as experts warned the Thanksgiving holiday may make testing numbers erratic.
The Oklahoma State Department of Health reported 6,257 new cases of COVID-19 and 13 more deaths linked to the disease caused by the novel coronavirus.
The record daily case count comes as the pandemic has grown worse across the state.
Infectious diseases experts have warned the holiday could cause spikes in testing and delays in processing that may make the resulting figures difficult to interpret.
PHOENIX — Arizona reported 4,136 additional known COVID-19 cases and 36 more deaths on Saturday.
That increases the state’s totals to 322,774 cases and 6,624 deaths.
The Department of Health Services’ coronavirus dashboard also reports that hospitalizations related to COVID-19 reached 2,383 as of Friday, including 553 patients in beds in intensive care units.
Seven-day rolling averages of daily new cases, daily deaths and COVID-19 testing positivity in Arizona all increased in the past two weeks. That’s according to data from The COVID Tracking Project and Johns Hopkins University.