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Almost 3 million students returned to schools Monday in Romania after a summer break and face restrictions as COVID-19 infections rapidly rise in the country.

Authorities have mandated that children wear protective masks inside schools and implemented social distancing to try to curb the spread of the virus.

(backslash)“The resumption of the school year takes place, unfortunately, under the spectrum of the pandemic,” President Klaus Iohannis said Monday. “It is important to strictly follow the measures set by the authorities to protect us and our loved ones.”

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Throughout the pandemic, Romanian students have faced long, periodic schools closures with lessons moved online. While authorities want to avoid a repeat of remote learning, schools will be forced to move lessons online if an area surpasses an infection rate of 6 per 1,000 residents.

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In recent weeks, daily COVID-19 infections in Romania — a country of 19 million, which has the second-lowest vaccination uptake in the European Union at 27% — have risen dramatically from around 300 a day a month ago to more than 2,500 infections a day last week.

Romania’s education ministry says about 61% of education workers have been vaccinated.

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MORE ON THE PANDEMIC:

— UK to vaccinate 12-to-15-year-olds despite opposition from some scientists

— School starts for 1 million New York City kids amid new vaccine rules

— Northern Idaho’s anti-government streak hampers COVID fight

— West Virginia sets 2 daily records for positive virus cases

 

HERE’S WHAT ELSE IS HAPPENING:

ROME — Italy will begin administering a third dose of the COVID-19 vaccine to people who are considered at greater risk for exposure to the virus or at higher risk for developing a severe form of the illness.

The office of the Italian general leading the government’s COVID-19 vaccination program announced the decision after a meeting on Monday with the health minister. Those who have compromised immune systems will be the first group to receive the booster shots starting on Sept. 20. Which of the more fragile populations will next get a booster vaccine is being worked out with Italy’s regions.

A day earlier, the governor of Lazio, the region which includes Rome, said Lazio will shortly start contacting transplant recipients to get a third COVID-19 vaccine dose. As of Monday, some 74% of people in Italy 12 or older and thus eligible for COVID-19 vaccines are fully vaccinated.

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ROME — Some 4 million students in Italy have returned to the classroom after summer break, with the Italian government determined to avoid any replay of remote learning. Schools in 10 of the nation’s 20 regions began the academic year on Monday.

Students in the Alpine Alto Adige region started classes last week, and other regions, including Campania in the Naples area, begin the school year later this week.

Italian students in the last 1 1/2 years have seen relatively little in-classroom time. Starting this month, all teachers and administrative staff must have a Green Pass. That means they received at least one vaccine dose, have recovered from COVID-19 in the last six months or tested negative for the virus in the previous 48 hours.

Education Minister Patrizio Bianchi says school reopening went smoothly on Monday, with 93% of teachers presenting Green Passes, and some others provided certification that they cannot be vaccinated for health reasons.

One critical area is transport. Many regions and cities have warned there aren’t enough buses, including local public transport, to avoid crowding during the trips to and from school.

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LONDON — Britain’s chief medical officers say children aged 12 to 15 should be vaccinated against coronavirus, despite a ruling by the government’s vaccine advisors that the step would have only marginal health benefits.

England Chief Medical Officer Chris Whitty and his counterparts in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland, said Monday that the children should be given a single dose of the Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine. They have yet to decide on a second dose.

The government has said it will follow the medical officers’ recommendations. Expanded vaccinations are expected to be part of a “tool kit” for dealing with the coronavirus in the fall and winter that Prime Minister Boris Johnson is due to announce on Tuesday.

Earlier this month Britain’s Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunization said the vaccine should be given to 12- to 15-year-olds with underlying health conditions. But it did not back a rollout to healthy children in that age group, saying the balance of benefit and risk was unclear.

However, it said there might be wider societal factors to consider, such as on education or children acting as sources of transmission.

Countries including the United States, Canada, France and Italy already offer coronavirus vaccines to people aged 12 and up.

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NICOSIA, Cyprus – The leader of Cyprus’ influential Orthodox Christian Church says he’ll withhold the monthly salary of any cleric who tells members of his congregation not to get vaccinated against COVID-19 or to avoid complying with health protocols.

Archbishop Chrysostomos II told the state broadcaster on Monday that he’ll ask his secretary to call each of these clerics and compel them to pledge that they’ll never do anything of the sort again and offer a clear apology or else he’d dock them their pay.

“We won’t spare anyone,” the archbishop said, adding that there’s only a few such clerics.

One senior cleric, Morphou Bishop Neophytos, who has openly opposed COVID-19 vaccinations and measures such as mask wearing, said he would keep his opinions to himself from now on after being warned.

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ROME — The pregnant mayor of Turin, Italy, has posted an image from a sonogram of her unborn son urging other expectant women to follow her example and get vaccinated against COVID-19.

Mayor Chiara Appendino in Twitter and Facebook posts wrote: “He’s Andrea, and when he will be born, he’ll already have antibodies for COVID-19.”

The mayor added that she received the vaccine in her sixth month of pregnancy, followed by the second dose. “Two doses, no symptom after the first, a half-day of tiredness after the second. Today we’re in the eighth month and we’re doing fine.”

The mayor made the posts after an unvaccinated pregnant woman in the Naples area died of COVID-19 last week, shortly after her baby was safely delivered prematurely by cesarean section.

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LISBON, Portugal — Wearing face masks outdoors to help prevent COVID-19 infection is no longer mandatory in Portugal, though it is still recommended when social distancing is not possible.

The rule on outdoor mask-wearing came into force last October and ended on Monday. The easing of the rule comes as Portugal’s 14-day cumulative COVID-19 cases per 100,000 people has dropped to 240. At the end of January, it was 1,668.

Almost 80% of the Portuguese population is fully vaccinated.

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BERLIN — Health workers are visiting kebab stalls, hockey games and hardware stores across Germany in a push to reach people who have yet to get a coronavirus shot as the country’s vaccination sputters.

It is part of a special week-long vaccination drive during which people will be offered the shots without appointments at easily accessible sites listed on a national website and promoted on social media with the hashtag “Hier wird geimpft,” meaning “Vaccinations offered here.”

“It’s never been easier to get a vaccine,” Chancellor Angela Merkel said.

Germany wants 75% of the population to be immunized against the coronavirus, but so far only 62.2% have received all the necessary shots.

Health Minister Jens Spahn on Monday defended growing pressure on unvaccinated people, including an end to free testing next month and — in some German states — no more sick pay for people in quarantine.

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LONDON — The head of a south London church on Monday denied a charge of fraud for allegedly selling “plague protection kits” as a bogus cure for COVID-19.

Bishop Climate Wiseman, 46, is said to have offered the package, containing a small bottle of oil and piece of red yarn, for 91 pounds ($125), hailing it as a being able to “treat, prevent, protect against or cure” coronavirus.

He appeared at Inner London Crown Court wearing a white robe embroidered with gold crosses, a dog collar and crucifix. He confirmed his identity and date of birth before pleading not guilty to a single charge of fraud and two unfair trading offenses.His lawyer, Nargees Choudhary, said Wiseman was not an “anti-vaxxer,” had been double jabbed and denied being “dishonest” or “acting in a deceitful way.”

Wiseman is the head of the Kingdom Church in Camberwell. He pumped his fist in the air as he left the court to cheers from 50 supporters who chanted: “We shall not, we shall not, be moved.”

Wiseman was released on bail ahead of his trial at the same court on July 11 next year.

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PHOENIX — A judge is set to hear arguments in a case seeking to overturn several new Arizona laws that restrict the power of local governments and school districts to impose COVID-19 restrictions such as mask mandates.

The coalition of educators, parents and children’s advocacy groups argue that the provisions were unconstitutionally tucked into unrelated budget bills.

The attorney representing Attorney General Mark Brnovich says how the Legislature writes measures and chooses the content are questions for lawmakers, not for the courts.

The laws would prohibit public school districts from imposing mask requirements, bar universities from requiring vaccinations for students and forbid communities from establishing so-called vaccine passports. A judge is hearing arguments Monday.

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WELLINGTON, New Zealand — New Zealand’s largest city, Auckland, will remain in the strictest type of lockdown until Sept. 21 after the government on Monday reported 33 new COVID-19 infections.

Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern said lockdown restrictions were working to eliminate the outbreak of the highly transmissible delta variant.

“We don’t want to risk the sacrifices everyone has made and all the hard work you’ve put in by moving to Alert Level 3 too quickly,” Ardern said, referring to a relaxation of Auckland’s Alert Level 4 restrictions.

The rest of New Zealand will remain on Alert Level 2 until next week because of the risk of COVID-19 spreading from Auckland, she said.

“While there is an outbreak in Auckland that continues to produce cases, there is risk,” Ardern said.

The nation since last month has been battling an outbreak that came from Australia. The outbreak had grown to 955 cases by Monday with 21 infected patients in hospital and four in intensive care.

The government is pursuing an unusual strategy of trying to eliminate the virus entirely.

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BEIJING — A southeastern Chinese province has reported 22 more COVID-19 cases, bringing the total to 43 in a fresh outbreak driven by the highly transmissible delta variant.

Health authorities said Monday that 15 cases were confirmed in Putian city in the latest 24-hour period. Another six were found in Quanzhou city, and one more in Xiamen, suggesting the virus may be moving south from Putian.

All the infections are in Fujian province, which is across from Taiwan on China’s east coast.

Schools have been closed in Putian and anyone leaving the city must have proof of a negative COVID-19 test in the previous 48 hours. The city suspended bus and train service on Saturday and has closed cinemas, bars and other facilities.

China has largely stopped the spread of COVID-19 but has sporadic outbreaks. One outbreak driven by the delta variant spread to multiple provinces in July and August, raising concern about new and more contagious variants.

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CHARLESTON, W.Va. — West Virginia set two daily records in the past week for positive coronavirus cases as the pandemic continues to ravage the state.

Thursday’s total of confirmed cases was a record 1,738, only to be broken by Saturday’s total of 1,821, according to state health data. The previous one-day high of more than 1,700 was set on Dec. 31.

The statewide total of 7,849 positive cases for the six days ending Saturday has already passed the seven-day total for the previous week, which had been the second-highest during the pandemic. Sunday’s figures will be released on Monday.

The highest for one week was nearly 8,200 cases in early January, a time when virus vaccines were being offered only for people ages 65 and older.

The amount of weekly virus deaths statewide has gone up steadily since early August, when six deaths were reported for the week of Aug. 9. There have been 83 deaths in the past week and 3,207 overall.

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LINCOLN, Neb. — Nebraska Gov. Pete Ricketts says he plans to join other Republican governors in challenging President Joe Biden’s sweeping new vaccine requirement in court.

Ricketts said on “Fox News Sunday” that Nebraska’s attorney general has been consulting with other attorneys general who believe the federal government is overstepping its authority by mandating that all employers with more than 100 workers require them to be vaccinated or test for the virus weekly, affecting about 80 million Americans. The roughly 17 million workers at health facilities that receive federal Medicare or Medicaid also will have to be fully vaccinated.

“This is really going to create huge problems for all small businesses and for our American workers. and again, you shouldn’t have to make the choice of keeping your job or getting a jab in the arm,” Ricketts said.

In Nebraska, Ricketts has encouraged people to get vaccinated and wear masks but he has resisted mandates to do either.

The seven-day rolling average of daily new cases in Nebraska has risen over the past two weeks from 715.14 new cases per day on Aug. 27 to 822.86 new cases per day on Friday as the highly contagious delta variant of the virus spreads.

Ricketts said he is focused on making sure hospitals have enough capacity to handle the surge in COVID-19 cases.

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