The Latest: Saudi Arabia to pay families of medical workers

RIYADH — Saudi Arabia says it is giving half a million riyals, the equivalent of $133,000, to the family of each medical worker who died fighting the coronavirus pandemic in the kingdom.

An announcement made Sunday said the financial award would apply to all health care workers who died as a result of the virus, including non-Saudis and personnel who worked in private sector settings.

The Health Ministry has not said publicly how many of the kingdom’s 8,320 pandemic deaths involved health workers.

Saudi Arabia, which has a population of 30 million, has administered nearly 30 million vaccine doses. The kingdom is currently reported fewer than 1,000 new cases a day.

Early on in the pandemic, King Salman ordered the government to cover the cost of medical treatment for COVID-19 patients in the country. The kingdom has recorded close to 533,000 confirmed cases overall, and currently has about 1,400 considered critical.

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MORE ON THE PANDEMIC:

To shake hands or not? An age-old human gesture now in limbo

— Once lagging, Europe catches up to the US in vaccinations

Iran reports most daily virus cases, death, of pandemic

— American motorists zooming along as summer highway travel peaks

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— Find more AP coverage at https://apnews.com/hub/coronavirus-pandemic and https://apnews.com/hub/coronavirus-vaccine

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HERE’S WHAT ELSE IS HAPPENING:

PORTLAND, Maine — American motorists put the pedal to the metal during the pandemic, and police are worried as roads get busy with the final stretch of summer travel.

The latest data shows the number of highway deaths in 2020 was the greatest in more than a decade even though cars and trucks drove fewer miles due to the pandemic.

“Summer is an incredibly dangerous time. And it culminates with Labor Day, that last hurrah,” said Pam Shadel Fischer of the Governors Highway Safety Association.

Traffic data indicates the higher death toll was related to higher average speeds in conjunction with more of those on the roads driving under the influence of drugs and alcohol and a slight decline in seatbelt use.

Tickets issued by the California Highway Patrol for speeding in excess of 100 mph from January to June were nearly double pre-pandemic levels.

In New York state, the percentage of fatalities for which speeding was the primary cause and the total number of speeding tickets grew from January through June, compared to the year before the pandemic, officials said.

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JERUSALEM – Israeli Prime Minister Naftali Bennett says people are rushing to get a third vaccine shot as protection from the surging delta variant of the coronavirus.

Bennett pointed to government statistics Sunday showing that more than 420,000 Israelis older than 60 have received a booster shot, more than a third of the total targeted population. Bennett said the number is expected to grow to half a million people by the end of the day.

The prime minister spoke after a weekly Cabinet meeting. Israel is seeing a rising number of people hospitalized with COVID-19, almost all of them infected with the highly contagious delta variant. The government has reinstituted its mask mandate for indoor settings and is weighing more restrictions.

Israel became a world leader in vaccinating against the virus during its initial public campaign, About 5.4 million of the country’s 9.3 million people have received two vaccine doses.

The World Health Organization in recent days called for a moratorium on administering booster shots to help preserve supplies so people in poorer countries can get their first doses.

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BRUSSELS — The European Union has caught up to the once-vaunted U.S. coronavirus vaccination effort despite a sluggish start.

In mid-February, less than 4% of people living in the 27-nation bloc were at least partially vaccinated against COVID-19, compared with nearly 12% in the United States.

Now, some 60% of EU residents have received at least one dose, compared to less than 58% of Americans.

European authorities attribute the success to the nationalized health care in some countries and public confidence in the safety of immunizations in general.

The EU’s slow process for approving the vaccinations set the bloc back at the beginning, but Dr. Peter Liese, a European Parliament member from Germany, said the deliberation paid off because it reassured people the rapidly developed COVID-vaccine formulas had been thoroughly evaluated.

Still, not all is well within the EU. Discrepancies between member nations are huge. For example, in the Netherlands, 85% of adults have received at least one dose. In Bulgaria, it is less than 20%.

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As workers return to the office, friends reunite and more church services shift from Zoom to in person, the question of whether to shake hands is befuddling growing numbers of people.

The handshake has been around for centuries. A widely held belief is that it originated to prove to someone that a person was offering peace and not holding a hidden weapon.

These days, a handshake can symbolize connection, particularly after a long period of no touching. But hands can be germy. And that’s where the conflict lies. Is the handshake ever coming back? The answer depends on who you ask.

As the pandemic took hold in the United States, a Kansas City-area meeting and event planning business began hawking “I Shake Hands” stickers to help ease awkward social encounters.

Dr. Anthony Fauci, the ’leading infectious disease expert in the U.S., cautioned last year, “I don’t think we should ever shake hands ever again, to be honest with you.”

On the other side is Dr. Amesh Adalja, an infectious disease specialist at Johns Hopkins University. He thinks the whole shaking controversy is overblown.

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TEHRAN — Iran has reported more new infections and deaths across the country than any other single day since the pandemic began.

Health authorities logged over 39,600 new cases and 542 deaths from the virus. The daily death toll on Sunday shattered the previous record, set in November. The new all-time highs push Iran’s total number of infections over 4.1 million and pandemic deaths to over 94,000, the most in the Middle East.

The crush of new cases, fueled by the fast-spreading delta variant, have overwhelmed hospitals. The country has never seen so many COVID-19 patients in critical condition, with 6,462 more severe cases reported Sunday.

Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei last week ordered officials to discuss the possibility of a total national shutdown. The government has been loath to enforce such a lockdown, fearing the damage it would do to an economy reeling from years of American sanctions.

Only 3.3% of the total population of some 80 million has been fully vaccinated, according to the Our World in Data project at the University of Oxford.

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HARERE, Zimbabwe — Zimbabwe’s Victoria Falls usually teems with tourists who come to marvel at the roaring Zambezi River as it tumbles down more than 350 feet (108 meters) to the gorge below, sending up a mist that is visible from miles away.

“The Smoke That Thunders” – the English translation of what the waterfall is called in the Sotho language – is still mighty, but the COVID-19 pandemic has reduced visitors to a trickle. Ordinarily, Victoria Falls attracts 350,000 tourists a year, but their numbers have dropped to almost none as a result of travel restrictions.

To promote Victoria Falls as a safe destination, President Emmerson Mnangagwa’s government has made vaccines available to all 35,000 residents of the town that shares a name with the waterfall. An estimated 60% of the people there have been vaccinated with either the Sinopharm or Sinovac vaccines, both from China.

Although tourists have not returned in large numbers, Victoria Falls mostly has been spared the current wave of COVID-19 that has swept across the rest of Zimbabwe and southern Africa, which health officials attribute to the town’s relatively high level of vaccinations.

On the strength of the vaccination rate in Victoria Falls, the government last week reopened two land borders that link the town to the neighboring countries of Zambia, Namibia and Botswana.

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TORONTO — An Italian tennis pro was dropped from the qualifying rounds at a tournament in Toronto because he left the “controlled environment” meant to keep players and their team members from getting COVID-19.

Tennis Canada and the ATP men’s tour announced Saturday that 60th-ranked Lorenzo Musetti will not be allowed to compete at the National Bank Open.

Musetti is a 19-year-old who reached the fourth round at the French Open in June in his Grand Slam debut.

He even took a two-set lead against No. 1 Novak Djokovic at that stage before eventually stopping because of lower back pain and cramps while trailing 6-7 (7), 6-7 (2), 6-1, 6-0, 4-0.

Tennis Canada and the ATP said that the letter of approval from the Public Health Agency of Canada that allowed the tournament to go forward amid the coronavirus pandemic stated that “any individual leaving the controlled environment is in breach of COVID-19 protocol and will be unable to re-enter to compete at the event.”

Musetti was replaced in the qualifying bracket by Max Purcell.

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