World Marks Another Milestone in COVID-19 Pandemic    

The world has now surpassed 40 million confirmed cases of COVID-19 infections. According to Johns Hopkins Coronavirus Resource Center, 40,050,902 people have been infected with the disease as of early Monday morning, and more than 1.1 million have died.  The most recent cases include Saeb Erekat, the veteran Palestinian negotiator and secretary-general of the Palestinian Liberation Organization, who was rushed to a Jerusalem hospital Sunday, where he has been placed on a ventilator.FILE – Palestinian Chief Negotiator Saeb Erekat meets with Jordanian Foreign Minister Ayman Safadi (not pictured) in Amman, Jordan, Sept. 6, 2020. The 65-year-old Erekat, who was diagnosed with COVID-19 earlier this month, underwent a lung transplant in the United States in 2017, which compromised his immune system and  made him especially vulnerable to the virus.   A spokesperson at Hadassah Medical Center said Monday that Erekat “had a quiet night” but his condition eventually deteriorated and is “now defined as critical.” Another prominent person infected with COVID-19 IS South African health minister Zweli Mkhize.  Mkhize issued a statement Sunday that he and his wife tested positive for the virus the day before after experiencing mild symptoms.  Mkhize’s news comes days after South Africa officially surpassed 700,000 infections.   According to the Associated Press, Iran has confirmed 337 new coronavirus deaths, breaking the country’s single-day death toll record of 279, set just on Sunday. As scientists around the world race to develop therapies and an eventual vaccine against the novel coronavirus, U.S.-based biotechnology firm Vaxart, one of the many companies working on the vaccine, is under federal investigation for allegedly exaggerating its involvement in the Trump administration’s multi-billion vaccine development program.   The company claimed in a press release in June that its experimental oral vaccine had been selected by Operation Warp Speed, which sent its shares skyrocketing from $3 to $17 a share.  A hedge fund that partly controlled the company sold all of its shares in Vaxart, reaping $200 million profit. But the government later revealed that Vaxart had not received any funding from Operation Warp Speed, and that its vaccine was only involved in preliminary studies on animals.  The company is being investigated by the Securities and Exchange Commission and the U.S. Justice Department, and is also facing numerous lawsuits from shareholders.   The U.S. continues to lead the world in COVID cases, with 8.1 million infections, and nearly 220,000 deaths. FILE – Medical staffers take swabs as they test for COVID-19 at a drive-through, in Rome, Oct. 13, 2020.While cities in Italy, France and Britain are imposing new restrictions to blunt a second wave of COVID-19, the southern Australian city of Melbourne is slowly coming out of three months of strict lockdown orders.   As of midnight Sunday local time, the city’s 5 million residents will be able to spend as much time away from home as they wish for exercising or school, and the distance they can travel away from home has been increased from five to 25 kilometers.  Outdoor gatherings have an increased limit from five people to 10 from two households, while facilities such as skate parks, golf courses and tennis courts will reopen. The relaxed rules come as the capital city of Victoria state reported just two new coronavirus cases on Sunday and no deaths.  Authorities had reported more than 700 new daily infections at the peak of the resurgence in July.     

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