While You Were Sleeping: Coronavirus updates for September 22


INDIANAPOLIS — There were several developments in the coronavirus pandemic that you may have missed overnight.

Here’s a look:

Second wave in Europe. Political pressure grew Monday for European governments to tackle the rising number of coronavirus case without resorting to a spring-style lockdown that would hit the continent’s struggling economies.

Data released by the European Center for Disease Prevention and Control showed five countries in the region with more than 120 confirmed cases per 100,000 inhabitants in the last 14 days. Spain was ranked top of the grim table, with almost all of its regions colored crimson on a map that also showed swathes of dark red spreading across southern France, the Czech Republic, Croatia and Romania.

Spanish Prime Minister Pedro Sánchez met Monday with the president of the Madrid region, Isabel Díaz Ayuso, to coordinate a stronger response to the outbreaks as the country struggles to contain a second wave of the virus.

Madrid’s rate of infection of 683 cases per 100,000 inhabitants in the past two weeks is nearly three times higher than the national average.

Police in the Spanish capital and its surrounding towns began stopping people coming in and out of working-class neighborhoods that have seen 14-day transmission rates above 1,000 per 100,000 inhabitants. The measure has been met with protests from people who think the restrictions stigmatize the poor.

Some 860,000 residents are affected by the new restrictions, having to justify their trips out of their neighborhoods for work, study or medical reasons. Parks are closed and shops and restaurants must limit their occupancy to 50% in the affected zones.

Authorities say those unable to justify their trips will face fines starting Wednesday. COVID-19 has killed at least 30,000 people in Spain since the start of the outbreak, according to the country’s health ministry.

In the Czech Republic, Health Minister Adam Vojtech resigned Monday amid a record rise of coronavirus infections, saying his move should create space for a new approach to the pandemic.

The central European country coped well with the first infection wave in the spring but has now faced a record surge. On Thursday it recorded more than 3,000 new cases, almost the same number as it did in all of March.

The Czech Republic has had a total of 49,290 infected with 503 deaths since the start of the pandemic. Neighboring Poland is also seeing a spike in new cases that experts link to the return to schools and offices, with a record 1,002 reported Saturday, and almost 750 Monday.

Additional restrictions in UK. British Prime Minister Boris Johnson plans to announce new restrictions on social interactions as the government tries to slow the spread of COVID-19 before it spirals out of control.

Cabinet Office Minister Michael Gove told Sky News that pubs and restaurants across England will be ordered to close at 10 p.m. and people who can work from home will be encouraged to do so, reversing a government drive to get people back to their offices and other places of employment.

Gove said reducing “social mixing” was key to slowing the spread of the virus. He said it was impossible to say how long the restrictions would be in place.

“What we hope is we can take appropriate steps now, which mean that if we succeed in beating back the virus, then we will in the future be able to progressively relax them,” Gove told the BBC. “But what I can’t do is predict with absolute certainty.”

The prime minister is set to release further details when he speaks to the House of Commons at around 12:30 p.m. (1130 GMT) after meeting the Cabinet and the government’s COBRA emergency committee. He will later deliver a televised address to the nation.

Plans to have spectators return to sports stadiums are also likely to be put on hold as part of the new restrictions.

The news comes a day after the British government’s top scientific and medical advisers said coronavirus infections were doubling every seven days and could rise to 49,000 a day by mid-October if nothing is done to stem the tide. On Monday, the government reported 4,300 new confirmed cases, the highest number since May.

The U.K. has gradually been increasing restrictions as cases rise, including barring people from meeting in large groups. But the measures are likely to be far less stringent than a nationwide lockdown imposed in March that confined most of the population and closed most businesses. The lockdown was eased starting in June as cases began to fall, but that trend has now been reversed.

Olympic uncertainty. The only thing more difficult than staging next year’s Tokyo Olympics in a pandemic might be convincing sponsors to keep their billions of dollars on board in the midst of economic turbulence and skepticism.

To make the point this week, IOC President Thomas Bach will join a number of Japanese government and city officials, local organizers, and other top International Olympic Committee leaders in repeating a message they’ve failed to convey forcefully enough to deep-pocketed sponsors: Trust us, the Tokyo Olympics will open on July 23, 2021.

Bach and IOC Vice President John Coates — who oversees Tokyo preparations — are expected to speak remotely to Japanese officials as they meet on Thursday and Friday. The agenda includes plotting countermeasures against COVID-19: quarantines, rules for athletes entering the country, testing, vaccines, and the presence or absence of fans.

Few firm details are expected until late in the year or early in 2021, which accounts for the uncertainty.

The subtext is assuring sponsors that the Olympics will happen. Tokyo organizing committee CEO Toshiro Muto has acknowledged the word’s not getting out.

“The fact the Olympics are going to take place — the fact itself — is not fully distributed to the public,” Muto, speaking in Japanese, said last week. “People need to be more convinced that, yes, the Olympics will be taking place for sure.”

A former deputy governor of the Bank of Japan, Muto has been vague about how many domestic sponsors are renewing their contracts. He says of the 68 sponsors: “They are all positive.”

”We’re still in the middle of negotiations. We’re not in the phase of speaking about any concrete results.”

Surveys have shown a majority of Japanese companies and the public don’t think the Olympics will happen next year — or should happen. A poll published in June by Japanese broadcaster NHK said two-thirds of sponsors were undecided about extending for another year.

CDC mistake. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention updated its guidance on Monday for how COVID-19 spreads, going beyond just respiratory droplets and surfaces. However, the CDC issued a statement hours later that said the “draft version” of changes was published in error.

The CDC’s website updated late last week says, “it is possible that COVID-19 may spread through the droplets and airborne particles that are formed when a person who has COVID-19 coughs, sneezes, sings, talks, or breathes.” On Monday, the CDC included additional information about how long droplets can remain suspended in the air.

There is growing evidence that droplets and airborne particles can remain suspended in the air and be breathed in by others, and travel distances beyond 6 feet (for example, during choir practice, in restaurants, or in fitness classes). In general, indoor environments without good ventilation increase this risk.


Previously, CDC had said it just spread between people who are in close contact, and through “respiratory droplets or small particles,” plus surfaces where those droplets land.

Hours later, the CDC issued a statement that the “draft version” of the proposed changes were published in “error.”

“A draft version of proposed changes to these recommendations was posted in error to the agency’s official website. CDC is currently updating its recommendations regarding airborne transmission of SARS-CoV-2 (the virus that causes COVID-19). Once this process has been completed, the updated language will be posted.”

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