By MORGAN WINSOR, ABC News

(NEW YORK) — A pandemic of the novel coronavirus has now killed more than 977,000 people worldwide.

Over 31.9 million people across the globe have been diagnosed with COVID-19, the disease caused by the new respiratory virus, according to data compiled by the Center for Systems Science and Engineering at Johns Hopkins University. The criteria for diagnosis — through clinical means or a lab test — has varied from country-to-country. Still, the actual numbers are believed to be much higher due to testing shortages, many unreported cases and suspicions that some national governments are hiding or downplaying the scope of their outbreaks.

Since the first cases were detected in China in December, the virus has rapidly spread to every continent except Antarctica.

The United States is the worst-affected country, with more than 6.9 million diagnosed cases and at least 202,247 deaths.

California has the most cases of any U.S. state, with more than 796,000 people diagnosed, according to Johns Hopkins data. California is followed by Texas and Florida, with over 742,000 cases and over 690,000 cases, respectively.

Nearly 170 vaccine candidates for COVID-19 are being tracked by the World Health Organization, at least six of which are in crucial phase three trials.

Here’s how the news is developing Thursday. All times Eastern:

Sep 24, 1:02 pm
Contact tracing app launched in England, Wales

The United Kingdom’s long-awaited contact tracing app launched in England and Wales on Thursday.

The app, available to download for free on iPhones and Androids, alerts users if they’ve come into contact with anyone diagnosed with COVID-19.

“The app will advise you to self-isolate if you have been in close contact with a confirmed case,” the Department of Health and Social Care said. “It will also enable you to check symptoms, book a free test if needed and get your test results.”

The BBC reported that over 1 million people have already downloaded the app.

ABC News’ Mike Trew contributed to this report.

Sep 24, 12:15 pm
Africa sees steady decline of new cases

Africa has seen a steady decline in the number of new COVID-19 cases being reported across the continent since July 20, the World Health Organization said Thursday.

Over the past four weeks, there were 77,147 new cases recorded in Africa, down from 131,647 reported in the previous four weeks. Some of the continent’s most-affected countries including Algeria, Cameroon, Cote d’Ivoire, Ethiopia, Ghana, Kenya, Madagascar, Nigeria, Senegal and South Africa have all seen infections drop every week over the past two months. Deaths attributed to COVID-19 have also remained low in the region.

Africa was the only region in the world to report a decline in both new COVID-19 cases and deaths for the week of Sept. 14-20.

The WHO credited the decline to “a variety of socio-ecological factors as well as early and strong public health measures taken by governments across the region.” The socio-ecological factors include low population density and mobility, hot and humid climate and lower age group.

“The downward trend that we have seen in Africa over the past two months is undoubtedly a positive development and speaks to the robust and decisive public health measures taken by governments across the region,” Dr. Matshidiso Moeti, the WHO’s regional director for Africa, said in a statement Thursday. “But we must not become complacent. Other regions of the world have experienced similar trends only to find that as social and public health measures are relaxed, cases start ramping up again.”

Africa’s COVID-19 cases have largely been among a younger age group and more pronounced in a few nations rather than continent-wide, suggesting country-specific aspects are driving the pattern of disease and death. About 91% of infections in sub-Saharan Africa are among people below the age of 60, while over 80% of cases are asymptomatic, according to the WHO.

Although African governments have made efforts to improve COVID-19 testing, the level remains low. Nevertheless, the WHO said missed COVID-19 cases are largely because they are asymptomatic and that there is no evidence of miscalculation of death figures.

“Africa has not witnessed an exponential spread of COVID-19 as many initially feared,” Moeti said. “But the slower spread of infection in the region means we expect the pandemic to continue to smolder for some time, with occasional flare-ups.”

Sep 24, 10:40 am
Russia sees highest daily caseload since July

Russia confirmed 6,595 new cases of COVID-19 over the last 24 hours, the country’s highest single-day increase since July.

An additional 149 coronavirus-related deaths were also recorded in the past day, according to Russia’s coronavirus response headquarters.

Meanwhile, Moscow reported more than 1,000 new cases over the last 24 hours for the first time since June. The Russian capital also registered 15 new deaths.

Russia’s cumulative total now stands at over 1.12 million confirmed cases — the fourth highest caseload in the world — and nearly 20,000 deaths.

Last month, Russia became the first country in the world to officially register a COVID-19 vaccine and declare it ready for use. The Russian government approved the vaccine before completing its final Phase III trial, and no scientific data has been released from the early trials so far.

ABC News’ Alina Lobzina contributed to this report.

Sep 24, 10:09 am
870,000 more Americans filed for 1st-time unemployment last week

Another 870,000 Americans filed for first-time unemployment benefits last week, the U.S. Department of Labor said Thursday.

While the number of people filing for unemployment insurance in the United States has stagnated in recent weeks, the latest figure shows a concerning uptick of 4,000 compared with the previous week’s revised figure. It is also the 27th straight week of historically high weekly jobless claims.

Despite the number falling significantly since March, when 6.9 million people applied for unemployment benefits in a single week, the latest figure also shows that workers are continuing to be laid off at an unprecedented rate some six months into the coronavirus pandemic.

More than 26 million Americans are still receiving some sort of unemployment insurance benefits as of the week ending Sept. 5, according to the U.S. Department of Labor. For the same period last year, that figure was 1.5 million.

ABC News’ Catherine Thorbecke and Zunaira Zaki contributed to this report.

Sep 24, 8:17 am
Swiss authorities quarantine university’s undergraduate students

Swiss authorities have ordered a quarantine for the entire undergraduate student population of a prestigious hospitality management school after “significant outbreaks” of COVID-19.

Health officials in Switzerland’s Vaud canton, or region, announced Wednesday that all 2,500 undergraduate students at the “Ecole hoteliere de Lausanne” (EHL) must self-quarantine until at least Monday, whether they live on- or off-campus. Those who develop symptoms are advised to get tested for COVID-19, if necessary.

“Significant outbreaks of infection have appeared in several levels of training, making it impossible to close more targeted than that of the 2,500 students concerned,” health officials said in a statement, adding that student parties are suspected to “be at the origin of these numerous outbreaks of infection.”

Classes will continue online in the meantime.

Health officials said the school’s administrators are taking “all the necessary measures” to ensure that learning isn’t disrupted and to reinforce health measures on campus.

ABC News has reached out to the school for comment.

Since the start of the coronavirus pandemic, Switzerland’s Federal Office of Public Health has reported at least 51,492 confirmed cases of COVID-19, with 4,809 hospitalizations and 1,776 deaths.

Sep 24, 6:43 am
Israel moves to tighten restrictions as cases climb

Israel’s government has decided to tighten coronavirus-related restrictions as cases continue to climb, despite a second nationwide lockdown.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s cabinet voted early Thursday to close all nonessential businesses, including open-air markets. The cabinet also agreed that prayers and political demonstrations should be limited to open spaces with a cap of 20 people and that participants should not be allowed to travel more than 1 kilometer (0.6 miles) from home to attend either.

The new measures are set to go into effect Friday afternoon, as the Jewish state shuts down for the weekly Sabbath ahead of Yom Kippur on Sunday and Monday. The restrictions on demonstrations, however, are subject to approval by Israel’s parliament, the Knesset.

Israel has seen one of the world’s highest per capita rates of COVID-19 infections over the past two weeks. The country entered a second lockdown last Friday and it’s slated to last until mid-October.

Sep 24, 5:57 am
22 US states and territories in upward trajectory of new cases

An internal memo from the Federal Emergency Management Agency obtained by ABC News on Wednesday night shows that 22 U.S. states and territories are in an upward trajectory of COVID-19 infections, while 13 jurisdictions are at a plateau and 21 others are in a downward trend.

The number of new cases and the number of new deaths recorded in the United States are both increasing in week-over-week comparisons. There also continues to be a steady rise in the number of hospitals nationwide where more than 80% of beds in intensive care units are filled, according to the memo.

In Alabama’s Limestone County, 90% of ICU beds across two hospitals were in use. The Alabama Hospital Association confirmed that a shortage of nurses is a statewide issue in both hospitals and universities due to a lack of faculty, facilities and funds, the memo said.

Florida’s Leon County reported a 20% increase in COVID-19 cases among children since Aug. 10, around the start of the new school year, coinciding with a 20% increase in pediatric hospitalizations, according to the memo.

Meanwhile, the number of new cases recorded in Kentucky have increased by 21% since Sept. 13. The state’s seven-day fatality rate has doubled since then, from 13.4 to 26.4 per 1 million population. The number of COVID-19 tests being conducted statewide declined by 45.2% during the week ending Sept. 17, compared with the previous week, according to the memo.

Michigan’s seven-day case rate increased by 154.4% from Sept. 13 to Sept. 20. The state also reported a 38.1% week-to-week relative increase in COVID-19 testing on Sept. 17. Officials attribute the surge to schools and colleges, with 20-year-olds making up the largest portion of total cases, the memo said.

Sep 24, 4:51 am
US records over 1,000 new deaths

An additional 1,098 coronavirus-related fatalities were recorded in the United States on Wednesday, according to a real-time count kept by Johns Hopkins University.

Wednesday’s tally of COVID-19 deaths is lower than the country’s record set on April 17, when there were 2,666 new fatalities in a 24-hour reporting period.

There were also 36,330 new cases of COVID-19 confirmed across the nation on Sunday, down from a peak of 77,255 new cases reported on July 16.

A total of 6,934,205 people in the United States have been diagnosed with COVID-19 since the pandemic began, and at least 201,909 of them have died, according to Johns Hopkins. The cases include people from all 50 U.S. states, Washington, D.C. and other U.S. territories as well as repatriated citizens.

By May 20, all U.S. states had begun lifting stay-at-home orders and other restrictions put in place to curb the spread of the novel coronavirus. The day-to-day increase in the country’s cases then hovered around 20,000 for a couple of weeks before shooting back up and crossing 70,000 for the first time in mid-July. The daily tally of new cases has gradually come down since then.

An internal memo from the Federal Emergency Management Agency obtained by ABC News on Wednesday night shows that the number of new cases and the number of new deaths recorded in the United States are both increasing in week-over-week comparisons.

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