The Latest: Outcry leads Australia state to ease virus ban

MELBOURNE, Australia — Australia’s coronavirus hot spot of Victoria state has backed down in the face of a public backlash against a decree that barred residents of Melbourne from taking a short drive to get to an exercise place.

The Victoria government said late Wednesday that residents of Australia’s second-largest city can now drive up to 5 kilometers (3 miles) from their homes to exercise. Those who have been fined for doing that since lockdown restrictions were increased this month can apply to police to have their cases reviewed.

The government’s retreat followed a public argument between a Victoria Premier Daniel Andrews and Melbourne resident angry that she was restricted to walking in her own neighborhood.

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

— Florida virus deaths surpass 10,000 as teachers, state argue

— Spain’s records 3,700 infections in single day, most since mid-June

— Trail of bubbles leads scientists to coronavirus clue about lung issues

— Iran passes 20,000 coronavirus deaths, the health ministry says. It’s the highest death toll for any Middle East country in the pandemic.

— Governments around the world are taking advantage of the coronavirus pandemic to justify crackdowns on press freedom. Some regimes have moved to curb alleged misinformation about the coronavirus that doesn’t align with official proclamations.

__ Poll: Pandemic shifts how consumers use gig companies. It shows how consumer attitudes have changed about using ride-hailing and delivery services for groceries.

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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:

NEW ORLEANS — Louisianan Noel Alexander helped build the Pine Hill Baptist Church in the west-central town of Leesville. He had been its music minister, served on numerous committees and he and his wife kept the church’s books. After he died from COVID-19 at age 79, his visitation and funeral were scheduled for the church he loved.

But his family says that when they arrived, they were told they couldn’t hold either the visitation or the funeral in the spacious building currently used for services because of the coronavirus pandemic. They say the funeral director had been told he would be met with a gun if he tried to bring the body inside.

Donna Hunt is one of Alexander’s six children and says “it was scary devastating.”

The church’s pastor, Tri Evans, had approved the service for Alexander but was not there when it was supposed to take place. Instead, two church officials were on site and told the family the funeral couldn’t take place.

In an interview with The Associated Press, Evans says the church voted Sunday to apologize to the family and create a memorial fund in Alexander’s honor to provide funeral flowers and food — something Alexander often helped with.

Evans did not want to go into specifics about what happened but suggested the church officials who made the decision to bar the funeral services were scared. In Evans’ words: “There was a lot of fear. Unfortunately, on many levels, that’s the world we live in now. (People) try to navigate it and sometimes make big mistakes.”

Family members say they don’t blame the church as a whole.

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ATLANTA — Georgia’s governor is defending his administration’s handling of the coronavirus pandemic after a report from the White House coronavirus task force said Georgia led the nation last week in new cases per capita.

The White House report recommends several steps to curb the virus that Gov. Brian Kemp has declined to take, including closing bars and requiring the use of face masks in counties with 50 or more active cases.

Kemp insisted Wednesday that other markers he is watching paint a different picture.

Georgia was among the first states to ease pandemic restrictions this spring, and while infections declined for weeks afterwards, they began to rise in June and peaked in late July.

The report from the White House coronavirus task force says Georgia had 216 new cases per 100,000 residents last week, compared to the national average of 112 new cases per 100,000 residents.

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CHICAGO — Illinois Gov. J.B. Pritzker is touting a University of Illinois saliva test as a potential “game changer” in the fight against the new coronavirus.

The test involves spitting into a test tube and can yield results in hours. University officials say the test has received emergency use authorization from the U.S. Food and Drug Administration.

The university has performed more than 50,000 tests since making it available to faculty, staff and students last month. The university expects to test 20,000 people daily when the fall semester begins next week.

Pritzker says there is potential to use it statewide, particularly for K-12 schools.

The news came as Illinois reported 2,295 new confirmed coronavirus cases and 25 deaths. Overall, the state’s tally of confirmed cases is 211,889, including 7,806 deaths.

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PHOENIX — Arizona’s former state health director says the downward trend of coronavirus cases means parts of the state could meet all three metrics set for at least a partial reopening of schools by Labor Day.

Will Humble says bars and nightclubs in at least some counties could meet the parameters for reopening shortly after that. But he says enforceable rules are needed for that to happen.

State health officials reported 637 additional confirmed coronavirus cases and 105 more deaths Wednesday. That is well below the peak of nearly 5,000 new cases a day in early July.

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BATON ROUGE, La. — Louisiana lawmakers are plowing ahead with a contested emergency plan to run the state’s fall elections during the pandemic despite Gov. John Bel Edwards’ intention to jettison the plan if it reaches his desk.

Republicans on the House and Governmental Affairs Committee voted in a near-bloc Wednesday to advance the emergency plan offered by GOP Secretary of State Kyle Ardoin to the full House for consideration. It eliminates most of the coronavirus-related reasons for a person to request an absentee ballot, requiring most people to vote in person despite the virus outbreak unless they have recently tested positive for COVID-19.

The rules have little chance of being used for the Nov. 3 presidential election or a Dec. 5 state election because Edwards, a Democrat, intends to block it.

The impasse likely will leave a federal judge to determine how Louisiana runs its fall elections, because of a pending lawsuit filed by voting rights advocates that seeks to widen mail-in voting options.

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CHARLESTON, W.Va. — President Donald Trump’s top coronavirus adviser said Wednesday that other states could adapt West Virginia’s color-coded map for public schools during the coronavirus pandemic.

The map, which will use four colors to classify the opening status of each of the 55 county school systems, “was very remarkable to me,” Dr. Deborah Birx said at a news conference. “I’m worried that West Virginia is going to get a call from another 49 governors.”

The map is based on the seven-day average of new daily cases per 100,000 population and range in color from minimal community transmission in green to substantial transmission in red. Red counties must suspend in-person instruction and activate remote learning plans.

Birx, coordinator of the White House coronavirus task force, said the school alert system map on the state’s website offers “very clear guidance of what to do depending upon what your category is.

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DAHLONEGA, Ga. — A north Georgia school system that refused to provide current numbers of coronavirus cases to the local newspaper now reports that 85 of its students are being quarantined. The Lumpkin County School System says on its website that 10 students and 9 employees have tested positive for COVID-19.

The dispute between the school system and the local media comes amid heated debate in Georgia over whether schools should be open for in-person learning. One of the state’s biggest school districts — Cherokee County in the Atlanta suburbs — has temporarily closed three large high schools after the virus led to the quarantines of more than 2,000 of its students.

The Dahlonega Nugget reports that the school superintendent wouldn’t give out the numbers so they could be printed in the newspaper amid a dispute over its news coverage. Lumpkin County Superintendent Rob Brown said in an email to school board members the newspaper had created “unnecessary fear and panic” with an earlier headline. The school system serves about 3,830 students.

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BOISE, Idaho — Idaho Gov. Brad Little is calling the part-time Legislature back into a special session due to the coronavirus pandemic.

The Republican governor in a news release Wednesday said the special session will start Monday. He said lawmakers will consider election law changes as well as establishing temporary civil liability standards related to the pandemic. Lawmakers have been calling for a special session to address those two issues.

Lawmakers say polling places for the November election could be limited due to a lack of volunteers. Some lawmakers also say that a liability shield law is needed to protect government, schools and private businesses from frivolous lawsuits from people who get COVID-19.

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SALEM, Ore. — Oregon residents waiting for unemployment benefits can now apply for a $500 relief check.

People eligible for the one-time payment must have made less than $4,000 before taxes per month before losing your job, be an Oregon resident, be 18 or older and the employer must have closed or the person’s income “decreased significantly because of executive actions by Gov. Kate Brown to slow the spread of COVID-19.”

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PARIS — France recorded more than 3,700 new cases of coronavirus in the last 24 hours.

Health authorities say that’s 1,500 more than the previous day. The number hospitalized and in ICUs was slightly down. But health authorities say “the transmission of the virus is accentuating” among all age groups, especially young adults.

President Emmanuel Macron told Paris-Match magazine that “we can’t bring the country to a halt.” But he’d consider “targeted reconfinement … if the situation calls for it.”

French officials have confirmed nearly 30,500 deaths from COVID-19, seventh highest in the world.

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ANKARA, Turkey — Turkey has reported 1,303 new cases of the coronavirus, the highest daily increase in more than a month.

The figures announced by Health Minister Fahrettin Koca on Wednesday brought the total number of confirmed infections in the country to 253,108. Koca also reported 23 deaths in the past 24 hours, raising the total since the start of the outbreak to 6,039.

The number of infections was the highest since June 29 when the country had reported 1,374 cases.

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan said Wednesday the outbreak is “under control” despite the increase in cases.

The wearing of masks in public spaces is mandatory in much of the country of 82 million. Turkey is restricting people 65 and over, and people with chronic illnesses, from attending crowded public gatherings in more than a dozen provinces.

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CONCORD, N.H. — Republican Gov. Chris Sununu says New Hampshire will pay just under $10 million in accepting President Donald Trump’s plan to boost unemployment benefits during the coronavirus pandemic.

A federally funded $600 weekly benefit expired in July and Congress hasn’t agree to a broader new coronavirus relief plan. Trump signed an executive order Aug. 8 to extend the benefit but cut it to $300 or $400 a week, depending on which plan governors choose.

States are required to pay $100 per claimant to send out the higher amount. Sununu says anyone who already is getting $100 from the state will get an additional $300 without the state having to pay more. That amounts to about 95% of recipients, and for the rest, the state will bring them up to $100 so they can qualify for the additional money, he says.

The payments will be retroactive to Aug. 1 but will take some time to process. Sununu says most recipients should get checks in two to three weeks, but others might wait five weeks.

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