The White House has released eight new recommendations for United States schools as they prepare to reopen, but has stopped short of making the wearing of face masks mandatory.
Meanwhile, France and Germany announced tests on arrival at airports after a surge in daily coronavirus case numbers, and Norway and the Belgian capital Brussels brought in new measures to curb the spread.
This story will be regularly updated throughout Thursday.
Thursday’s key moments
Trump pushes US schools to reopen
US President Donald Trump is repeating his call for students to go back to class, again pressing Congress to steer future coronavirus funding away from schools that do not reopen next month.
Mr Trump made the remarks on Wednesday at a White House discussion with parents, teachers and doctors who said they supported a full return to the classroom.
Also joining the President were Education Secretary Betsy DeVos and Vice-President Mike Pence, who said the health risks tied to keeping children at home are greater than those associated with COVID-19.
Most of the nation’s largest school districts are planning to start the academic year with remote instruction as cases continue to rise.
The White House released eight new recommendations for schools, which are similar to coronavirus mitigation efforts across the the US.
The recommendations encourage the use of masks, but do not mandate students, teachers or staff to wear them.
They also “require students, teachers and staff to socially distance around high-risk individuals.”
The President said one of the reasons he wants students to return to school is because there are very few fatalities among younger Americans compared to the elderly.
“College-age students also continue to be one of the lowest-risk demographics,” Mr Trump said, adding that most COVID-19 deaths “occur in people over 24 years of age”.
Infections surge throughout Europe
France and Germany have announced tests-on-arrival at airports after their daily case numbers of the new coronavirus surged, with officials saying people returning from holidays were partly to blame for the increase.
France had 2,524 new cases in 24 hours, the highest daily rise since its lockdown was lifted in May.
Germany recorded its biggest daily increase in cases in more than three months with over 1,200 cases reported in the past 24 hours.
In Italy, where the virus first erupted in Europe in February, new cases are hovering around 300-500 per day and authorities are weighing whether to impose tests or quarantines on Italian vacationers returning from coronavirus hotspots.
Italy has 251,713 confirmed infections. The total confirmed death toll stands at 35,225.
Norway last week put on hold a plan to further reopen society and urged its citizens to refrain from foreign travel after recording their highest weekly number of cases since April.
Wearing a face mask became compulsory in all public areas in Brussels on Wednesday amid a rise in cases.
Meanwhile, health authorities in Greece have announced the country’s highest daily number since the outbreak began with 262 new coronavirus infections.
Brazilian state agrees to produce Russian COVID-19 vaccine
A Brazilian technology institute says it expects to produce a controversial Russian coronavirus vaccine by the second half of 2021, shortly after the state of Parana signed a memorandum of understanding with Moscow.
Russia has touted it as the world’s first registered coronavirus vaccine, although experts have also raised safety concerns for going to market while other pharmaceutical companies are still carrying out mass testing.
Parana’s Technology Institute, known as Tecpar, said it may import the vaccine earlier than the production date if Brazil’s federal health regulator Anvisa approves the vaccine.
Tecpar signed the cooperation agreement with the Russian Direct Investment Fund (RDIF), which said in a statement from Moscow that its goal was to “organise the production of the Sputnik V vaccine and its distribution in Brazil and other Latin American countries”.
Brazilian public health experts and former senior regulatory officials said they had safety concerns about the vaccine, which has not passed the usual mass testing required of vaccinations.
Jewellers commissioned to craft $2.1 million face mask
As many around the world struggle with unemployment during the global pandemic an Israel-based jeweller has been commissioned to make a $US1.5 million ($2.1 million) coronavirus mask made out of 18-carat gold and studded with 3,600 black and white diamonds.
Isaac Levy, owner of the Yvel jewellery brand, said the mask would also be fitted with an N99 filter to offer a high level of protection.
He described the client as a Chinese art collector living in the US.
“He is a young-old customer of ours, very charming, very outgoing, very wealthy and he likes to stand out,” Mr Levy said.
The jeweller plans to deliver the mask personally when it is completed, in October.
The mask, which a team of around 25 artisans is working on, was not only a work of art but a way of keeping his staff in jobs.
“For a lot of people around the world it may be the most expensive mask in the world and maybe that’s a really big thing,” he said.
Brazilian President’s grandmother-in-law dies after contracting virus
The grandmother of Brazil’s first lady has died after more than a month fighting COVID-19 in a public hospital on the outskirts of Brasilia.
Maria Aparecida Firmo Ferreira, 80, was the grandmother of Michelle Bolsonaro, who is married to Brazil’s President Jair Bolsonaro.
She had been hospitalised since July 1, having tested positive for the coronavirus.
The health secretariat of Brazil’s federal district confirmed her death on Wednesday.
Mr Bolsonaro and his wife were diagnosed with COVID-19 last month. The President, who has recovered, has consistently downplayed the severity of the virus.
Brazil has more than 3.1 million confirmed cases of coronavirus and more than 103,000 deaths, ranking second highest in the world behind the United States.
Vietnam enters ‘critical’ period in new outbreak
Vietnam’s Prime Minister says the next 10 days will be critical in the Southeast Asian country’s fight against a new coronavirus outbreak, which resurfaced late last month after three months of no domestic cases.
Vietnam was lauded for suppressing an earlier contagion through aggressive testing, contact-tracing and quarantining, but it is now racing to control infections in multiple locations linked to the popular holiday city of Da Nang, where a new outbreak was detected on July 25.
“Note that the period from this week to the middle of next week is critical,” Prime Minister Nguyen Xuan Phuc said on Wednesday, according to a Government statement.
Vietnam reported 17 new coronavirus infections on Wednesday, taking its total cases to 880, with 17 deaths. All fatalities stemmed from the new outbreak.
One of the new infections was in the capital Hanoi and had no clear link to Da Nang, the health ministry said, in a development that could complicate efforts to track and control the spread.
Coronavirus reportedly found on Ecuadorean shrimp packaging
A city in China’s eastern Anhui province has discovered coronavirus on the packaging of shrimp from Ecuador, in the latest instance of the virus being detected on imported products.
State television network CCTV said the virus was detected on the outer packaging of frozen shrimp bought by a restaurant in Wuhu city when local authorities carried out a routine inspection.
On Tuesday, the virus was reported to have been discovered in a port city in eastern Shandong province on the packaging of imported frozen seafood, although in that case it was not revealed where the products originated.
Since July, several other Chinese cities have also reported cases, including the port cities of Xiamen and Dalian, prompting China to suspend imports from three Ecuadorean shrimp producers.
Brussels makes masks mandatory
Authorities in the Belgian capital of Brussels have introduced mandatory mask rules across the city to combat the spread of the coronavirus.
Belgian Crisis Centre spokeswoman Frederique Jacobs said the capital region had seen an “alarming” 57 per cent rise in infections over the previous week.
Brussels Minister-President Rudi Vervoort’s office said this increase had taken the city past Belgium’s red line of 50 cases per 100,000 inhabitants on average over the last seven days.
A statement said “the wearing of masks covering the nose and mouth is from now on obligatory for all people aged 12 and over in all public places and in private places accessible to the public”.
Grounded Japanese going on virtual foreign holidays
Japanese businessman Katsuo Inoue chose Italy for this year’s summer vacation, and he enjoyed the trimmings of a business class cabin and soaked up the sights of Florence and Rome — without ever leaving Tokyo.
Mr Inoue, 56, and his wife “flew” as clients of Tokyo entertainment company First Airlines, which is tapping into a growing virtual reality travel market for Japanese holidaymakers grounded by coronavirus restrictions.
Grounded travellers sit in first or business class seats in a mock airline cabin where they are served in-flight meals and drinks, with flat panel screens displaying aircraft exterior views including passing clouds.
Virtual reality goggles provide immersive tours at destinations including Paris, New York, Rome and Hawaii.
At First Airlines, where “passengers” are even given a pre-flight safety demonstration with a life vest and oxygen mask, bookings are up about 50 per cent since the pandemic began, according to the company.
Jordan seals land border with Syria
Jordan is closing its land trade border crossing with Syria for a week after a spike in COVID-19 cases coming from its northern neighbour.
Officials said the Interior Minister’s decision to close the Jaber crossing would come into effect on Thursday morning.
The move, which also puts officials working at the crossing under quarantine, comes after 12 cases were reported on Wednesday in addition to 13 on Tuesday in the first such surge for several weeks.
The country’s other land crossings with Saudi Arabia, Israel and the Palestinian territories are only open for commercial goods since the tight lockdown in March to stem the pandemic.
Prime Minister Omar al Razzaz said the spike was a “source of concern” and officials have said most cases came from truck drivers arriving from Syria, where NGOs say a significant rise in cases has been recorded by humanitarian workers.