Coronavirus: What’s happening around the world on Tuesday

The latest:

  • Tens of millions of pupils return to school in Europe with coronavirus precautions in place.
  • Vancouver Aquarium closing to the public until further notice as COVID-19 losses continue.
  • Quebec’s rising COVID-19 cases could prompt another lockdown, premier warns.
  • High proportion of coronavirus infections among U.S. health-care personnel appear to go undetected, report says.
  • Russia’s coronavirus cases surpass one million.
  • Hong Kong begins mass testing for virus amid public doubts.
  • India’s coronavirus surge eases slightly as millions take exams.
  • Brazil’s Bolsonaro says nobody will be forced to get coronavirus vaccine.

Tens of millions of pupils returned to school in France, Poland and Russia on Tuesday, their backpacks loaded with exercise books, geometry sets and, for many, face masks to protect them from a resurgent coronavirus pandemic.

Handwashing stations, physical distancing and staggered play time will become the new normal as countries across Europe seek ways to get children back into the classroom safely and their economies functioning once again.

But they do so at a time when infection rates are spiralling upward across the continent and there are widespread concerns that the return to schools and offices, the autumn flu season and excess mortality in winter could drive a second wave.

Students with protective masks stand in the courtyard in Brequigny high school in Rennes, western France, on the first day of school Tuesday. In France, only schoolchildren above the age of 11 have to wear a face mask. (Damien Meyer/AFP/Getty Images)

Countries are taking different approaches to minimize contagion in schools. Spain’s 17 regions are responsible for their own back-to-school plan, though they must follow national regulations such as mandatory masks for children over six.

At the Immaculate and St. Joseph of the Mountain centre, a Catholic school in Ronda, southern Spain, staff were spacing out desks and setting up a one-way system through corridors ahead of reopening on Sept. 10.

“We’ve put in gel, we can take their temperature, we’ve got spacing in all the classrooms,” explained the school’s director, Mother Marta, dressed in a starched white habit and matching white mask. “We’re doing everything we can.”

Teachers measure the distance between desks last week as they prepare a classroom for the return of students at the Immaculate and St. Joseph of the Mountain school in Ronda, southern Spain. (Jon Nazca/Reuters)

The French government said the crisis must not put citizens’ lives on hold, while British Prime Minister Boris Johnson said it was crucial schools in England reopen this week. Schools in Scotland reopened earlier this month, with face masks mandatory for secondary school students except in classrooms.

Johnson is under pressure to show he can oversee a full return to school after his Conservative government made a hash of how school-leavers would be graded for exams that were cancelled during the lockdown.

But unions have complained of chaos caused by last-minute changes and stressed the importance of a “Plan B” should a second wave hit.

“You don’t need a crystal ball to see that local restrictions will be a feature of the autumn and winter,” said Paul Whiteman, general secretary of head teachers’ union NAHT.

At the height of coronavirus lockdowns globally in April, some 1.5 billion children were affected by school closures, according to UNESCO. School closures widened the inequality gap, experts have said.

The risk of coronavirus transmission within schools depends on what is happening in the local community as well as the safety measures put in place, according to epidemiologists.

Global data on the spread of the coronavirus shows that children and young people make up only one to two per cent of cases of COVID-19 worldwide. Most reported infections in children are mild or asymptomatic, with few recorded deaths.

WATCH | Back-to-school shopping in the COVID-19 era:

As kids prepare to go back to school in September, masks and sanitizer are essential shopping items. One family shares how they are adapting, and a mask maker on how they’re trying to make the experience more kid-friendly. 2:16

Germany and Sweden may offer some reassurance.

In Germany, where schools have been reopening since early August, the proportion of coronavirus cases among under-20s has remained stable.

In Sweden, keeping schools open through the pandemic did not lead to higher infection rates among students compared with neighbouring Finland, where schools temporarily closed.

What’s happening with coronavirus in Canada

As of 8 a.m. ET on Tuesday, Canada had 128,948 confirmed and presumptive coronavirus cases. Provinces and territories listed 114,158 of those as recovered or resolved. A CBC News tally of deaths based on provincial reports, regional health information and CBC’s reporting stood at 9,163.

The Vancouver Aquarium announced Monday that more than 200 staff members are being laid off, primarily from the operations sector, as the aquarium closes to the public in an effort to save money after months of financial loss.

The Ocean Wise Conservation Association, which runs the facility, said in a statement all public programming will be “paused” until further notice as of Sept. 7.

The statement said specialized staff, such as veterinarians and biologists, will remain on staff to care for animals at the facility.

Terry Beech, Burnaby North-Seymour MP, visits the Vancouver Aquarium with his wife and daughter after announcing a $2-million grant to the aquarium in June. (Maggie MacPherson/CBC)

The layoffs announced Monday are in addition to more than 330 people who already lost their jobs at the aquarium in the early spring. 

The aquarium reopened in June with $2 million in federal emergency funding after a three-month closure at the start of the pandemic.

A reduced number of guests were allowed back over the summer, per public health guidelines, but the drop in revenue meant the aquarium couldn’t recoup its losses.

In Quebec, Premier François Legault sounded the alarm Monday about the increasing number of COVID-19 cases in the province and warned Quebecers that he will be forced to re-impose lockdown measures if they don’t start obeying public-health rules more diligently.

The number of new cases has been rising for two weeks in Quebec. According to Legault, public-health officials have not been able to identify a single cause.

But he also said that too many Quebecers have been taking a lax approach to following health and safety guidelines in recent weeks.

He pointed to several potential contributing factors for the spike, including the resumption of sports and the reopening of bars and indoor private gatherings.

Legault raised the prospect of closing schools if the number of new cases continues to rise. Most schools are just reopening now for the first time since March.

WATCH | Isolating new COVID-19 cases as schools reopen is key, epidemiologist says:

Schools are doing the best they can within some practical limitations, but isolating new cases is paramount, says Montreal epidemiologist Dr. Christopher Labos. 3:04

There have been a few outbreaks in schools since classes started last week. By the second day back for thousands of students, 20 teachers were in quarantine in the Laurentians, one school was temporarily shut down and students in several schools were sent home. 

Here’s what’s happening around the world

According to the tally kept by Johns Hopkins University, the global total of confirmed coronavirus cases is now more than 25.5 million. More than 851,000 people have died, while 16.8 million have recovered.

In the United States, a high proportion of novel coronavirus infections among health-care personnel appear to go undetected, according to a report included Monday in the Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report of the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Between April and June, among more than 3,000 frontline workers in 12 states, roughly 1 in 20 had antibody evidence of a previous novel coronavirus infection, but 69 per cent of those infections had never been diagnosed.

A sign promotes a new rapid coronavirus test at a ProHEALTH centre in the Brooklyn borough of New York City last week. (Spencer Platt/Getty Images)

Infections among frontline health-care personnel may be going undetected, the study authors say, because some infections may be only minimally symptomatic or asymptomatic and also because personnel with symptoms may not always have access to testing.

Russia’s tally of confirmed coronavirus cases surpassed one million on Tuesday as authorities reported 4,729 new cases.

With a total of 1,000,048 reported cases, Russia has the fourth largest caseload in the world after the U.S., Brazil and India. Over 815,000 people have so far recovered, authorities said, and more than 17,000 have died.

Students at the Moscow State Institute of International Relations wear protective masks as they attend a meeting with the Russian foreign minister on the first day of the academic year on Tuesday. (Dimitar Dilkoff/AFP/Getty Images)

Experts say the true toll of the pandemic is much higher than all reported figures, due to limited testing, missed mild cases and concealment of cases by some governments, among other factors.

As of Tuesday, Russia has lifted most lockdown restrictions in the majority of the country’s regions.

Hong Kong tested thousands of people for coronavirus Tuesday at the start of a mass-testing effort that’s become another political flashpoint in the semi-autonomous Chinese region.

Volunteers stood in lines at some of the more than 100 testing centres, though many residents are distrustful over the resources and staff being provided by China’s central government and some have expressed fear DNA could be collected.

Health-care professionals conduct swab tests at a makeshift testing site in the Queen Elizabeth Stadium in Hong Kong on Tuesday. (Anthony Kwan/Getty Images)

The Hong Kong government has dismissed such concerns, and leader Carrie Lam urged the public to see the program in a fair and objective light and appealed to critics to stop discouraging people from being tested since participation was crucial to the program’s success.

India’s tally of coronavirus infections rose to nearly 3.7 million on Tuesday, as millions of masked students sat for college admission exams after the government refused to defer them.

India, the world’s third most affected country by the pandemic after the United States and Brazil, reported 69,921 new coronavirus infections on Tuesday, the lowest in six days.

A health worker collects a swab sample from a woman to test for the coronavirus from an ambulance in front of a municipal market in Kolkata, India, on Tuesday. (Dibyangshu Sarkar/AFP/Getty Images)

It took the overall number of cases to 3.69 million, while the death toll from COVID-19 rose by 819 to 65,288. On Sunday, India reported 78,761 new cases, the world’s biggest, single-day tally.

More than two million masked students filed into exam centres across India on Tuesday to take tests for admission to medical and engineering schools, with physical distancing guidelines, hand sanitization stations and temperature checks in place.

Brazil’s President Jair Bolsonaro, who has consistently downplayed the severity of the coronavirus outbreak, said on Monday that nobody will be forced to get a vaccine once it is developed.

The comments come after the government earmarked millions of dollars for the purchase and future production of vaccinations as Brazil suffers the second worst outbreak of the pandemic outside the United States.

WATCH | The controversial push to fast track a COVID-19 vaccine:

Human challenge trials could make finding a COVID-19 vaccine faster, but the controversial approach involves exposing volunteers to the virus to see if a potential vaccine works. The National’s Andrew Chang finds out more about this process and the people volunteering to be test subjects. 9:01

“No one can force anyone to get a vaccine,” he said in response to a question from a supporter, according to a video posted on social media.

His government earmarked 1.9 billion reais ($450 million Cdn) in early August in funding to buy 100 million doses of the vaccine candidate being developed by Oxford University and AstraZeneca PLC and to eventually produce it in Brazil.

The Sao Paulo state government is also working on a potential vaccine with China’s Sinovac Biotech. Brazil hopes distribution of doses of either vaccine can begin at the start of next year.

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