LONDON — The British government has appointed a vaccines minister as it prepares to inoculate millions of people against the coronavirus, potentially starting within days.
Prime Minister Boris Johnson said Conservative lawmaker Nadhim Zahawi will oversee the country’s biggest vaccine program in decades.
The U.K. medicines regulator is currently assessing two vaccines — one developed by Pfizer-BioNTech, the other by Oxford University and AstraZeneca — to see if they are safe and effective. The Guardian newspaper reported that hospitals have been told they could receive the first doses of the Pfizer shot the week of Dec. 7 if it receives approval.
The U.K. says frontline health care workers and nursing home residents will be the first to be vaccinated, followed by older people, starting with those over 80.
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Britain has ordered 40 million doses of the Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine — enough for 20 million people — and 100 million doses of the Oxford/AstraZeneca vaccine.
HERE’S WHAT YOU NEED TO KNOW ABOUT THE VIRUS OUTBREAK:
— Virus keeps Black Friday crowds thin, shoppers shift online
— Los Angeles orders more restrictions as coronavirus surges
— US colleges mull new virus protocols for students’ return
— Christmas tree growers who have faced increased interest in artificial trees in recent years say demand for real, fresh-cut evergreens is strong this season.
— The German government is preparing to roll out a nationwide coronavirus vaccine program as it became the latest country to hit the milestone of 1 million confirmed cases Friday.
Follow AP’s coverage at https://apnews.com/hub/coronavirus-pandemic and https://apnews.com/UnderstandingtheOutbreak
HERE’S WHAT ELSE IS HAPPENING:
BANGKOK — Health authorities in northern Thailand have traced and tested more than 300 people who were in contact with a Thai women who returned from Myanmar and tested positive for the coronavirus after somehow avoiding a mandatory quarantine.
Dr. Opas Karnkawinpong, director-general of the Department of Disease Control, said Saturday it was the 10th case in the past two months of community transmission, where it could not be ascertained with certainty where the patient caught the virus. Another case earlier this month involved the Hungarian foreign minister who arrived from Cambodia, but more typical cases involved people who had crossed the border illegally from Myanmar or Malaysia and were not immediately tested or quarantined, he said.
The 29-year-old woman had been in Myanmar for a month during a coronavirus surge before entering Thailand on Nov. 24. She then spent three days including visits to a nightclub and department store in Chiang Mai, the most populous northern province, before going to a hospital where she tested positive for the disease.
Health officials traced and tested 326 people who had been in contact with her and quarantined the 105 judged most at risk.
Thailand since January has had 3,966 confirmed cases of the coronavirus, including 60 deaths.
TOKYO — The number of people hospitalized in serious condition for COVID-19 in Japan reached a record 440 people, the health ministry said Saturday.
Daily confirmed cases topped more than 2,600 people, a record for Japan, according to tallies by local media. In Tokyo, daily cases have totaled more than 500 recently, raising alarm about a third wave of infections. The number had been hovering at about half that level for the past couple of months.
Although Japan has never had a lockdown, restaurants and bars have periodically closed early, including in Tokyo starting Saturday. More than 2,000 people have died related to the coronavirus pandemic nationwide.
LONDON — The British government is warning lawmakers who oppose strict coronavirus restrictions that the measures are the only way to avoid a surge that will overwhelm the health system.
A four-week national lockdown in England is due to end Wednesday, and will be replaced by three-tier regional measures that restrict business activity, travel and socializing. The vast majority of the country is being put into the upper two tiers.
Prime Minister Boris Johnson faces opposition from dozens of his own Conservative Party’s lawmakers, who say the economic damage outweighs the public health benefits. Some say they will vote against the measures in Parliament on Tuesday.
Cabinet minister Michael Gove said the measures were “grimly” necessary. Writing in The Times of London, he said there are currently 16,000 coronavirus patients in British hospitals, not far below the April peak of 20,000. Gove said a rise in infections would mean coronavirus patients would “displace all but emergency cases. And then even those.”
Britain has had Europe’s deadliest COVID-19 outbreak, with more than 57,000 coronavirus-related deaths.
PARIS — Non-essential shops around France are opening their doors Saturday, as part of a staggered relaxing of lockdown restrictions. The plans that come after a drop in nationwide virus infection rates were laid out by President Emmanuel Macron earlier this week.
All businesses, as well as delivery services, are authorized to open until 9 p.m. if they respect the French government’s reinforced sanitary protocol, including mask-wearing and social distancing.
That includes bookstores, music shops, libraries and archives.
BERLIN — Chancellor Angela Merkel is appealing anew to Germans to adhere to coronavirus restrictions as the Christmas period begins, telling her compatriots that “it will be worth it.”
Federal and state leaders this week decided to extend a partial shutdown that started Nov. 2 until at least Dec. 20 and tighten some restrictions. The measures so far have succeeded in halting a rise in new cases, but haven’t pushed them down significantly.
The national disease control center on Saturday reported 21,695 infections in the past 24 hours, compared with 22,964 a week earlier. There were another 379 deaths linked to COVID-19. Germany has reported just over 1 million cases and 15,965 deaths since the pandemic began.
Merkel said in her weekly video message that Germans can be proud of their discipline and thoughtfulness over the past 10 months and encouraged them to keep to the rules and reduce their contacts over the festive season.
She said: “Let us continue to show people what we’re made of by sticking to the rules that apply to all of us now, in winter, before Christmas, over the new year. Because we will see that it will be worth it.”
SEOUL, South Korea — South Korea has reported more than 500 new coronavirus cases for the third straight day, the speed of viral spread unseen since the worst wave of the outbreak in spring.
The 504 cases reported by the Korea Disease Control and Prevention on Saturday brought the national caseload to 33,375, including 522 deaths.
Around 330 of the new cases came from the densely populated Seoul metropolitan area, home to about half of the country’s 51 million population, where health workers are struggling to stem transmissions linked to hospitals, schools, saunas, gyms and army units.
Infections were also reported in other major cities including Daegu, which was the epicenter of the country’s previous major outbreak in late February and March.
The recent spike in infections came after the government eased social distancing restrictions to the lowest levels in October to support a weak economy, allowing high-risk venues like nightclubs and karaoke bars to reopen and spectators to return to sports.
Officials reimposed some of the restrictions this week and could be forced to clamp down on economic activities further if transmissions don’t slow.
SPRINGFIELD, Ill. — Illinois has risen above 12,000 deaths from COVID-19, while also surpassing the 700,000 mark for confirmed coronavirus infections.
The latest 1,000 deaths were recorded in just nine days — matching the state’s deadliest period previously in the pandemic in late April and early May, according to an Associated Press review of the data.
After a quiet summer, the virus aggressively returned in October. The number of confirmed coronavirus cases jumped from 500,000 to 700,000 over the past 17 days.
MEXICO CITY — Mexico reported a record daily increase in the number of coronavirus cases Friday, with 12,081 more infections reported.
The Health Department said the situation constituted an “alert,” and said that nationwide, infections had risen by over 8% last week.
Most of the newly-reported infections occurred in previous weeks, but tests results were reported Friday. The rise was greatest in Mexico City, where detected infections rose by over 34% last week.
City authorities have increased testing in the capital, including the use of antigen tests, and said that the larger number of tests may account for the rise.
In most parts of Mexico, only people with serious symptoms are tested, leading to an undercount of infections.
ATLANTA — A panel of U.S. advisers will meet Tuesday to vote on how scarce, initial supplies of a COVID-19 vaccine will be given out once one has been approved.
Experts have proposed giving the vaccine to health workers first. High priority also may be given to workers in essential industries, people with certain medical conditions and people age 65 and older.
Tuesday’s meeting is for the Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices, a group established by the CDC. The panel of experts recommends who to vaccinate and when — advice the government almost always follows.
Pfizer and its German partner BioNTech have asked the FDA to allow emergency use of its COVID-19 vaccine candidate. Moderna Inc. is expected to also seek emergency use of its vaccine soon.
LOS ANGELES — Los Angeles County has announced a new stay-home order amid a surge in coronavirus cases in the nation’s most populous county.
The three-week order takes effect Monday. It was announced Friday as the county confirmed 24 new deaths from COVID-19 and 4,544 new virus infections. Nearly 2,000 people in the county are hospitalized.
The order advises people to stay home “as much as possible” and to wear face coverings when they go out. It bans people from gathering with others who aren’t in their households, publicly or privately. Church services and protests are exempted as “constitutionally protected rights.”
Businesses can remain open but with limited capacity. Beaches, trails, and parks also will remain open.
MIAMI — South Florida Congressman-elect Carlos Gimenez has tested positive for coronavirus.
His campaigned announced Friday that the former Miami-Dade County mayor and his wife, Lourdes, tested positive Thursday for COVID-19 after having mild symptoms.
They said they’re self-isolating at home, in accordance with Centers for Disease Control and Prevention guidelines and advice from medical professionals.
“I will continue attending New Member Orientation virtually and preparing our office to serve the people of Florida’s 26th Congressional District from Westchester to Key West until I can resume my normal schedule,” Gimenez said in a statement. “I am extremely grateful for all of the incredible health care workers who are tirelessly dedicated to their patients.”
Gimenez served as Miami-Dade mayor from 2011 until this month. The Republican won his congressional race in the Nov. 3 general election and is set to assume office Jan. 3.
BRUSSELS — Belgium has relaxed some rules imposed to contain the coronavirus resurgence but is remaining strict on family gatherings over Christmas.
Now that all the virus indicators are declining, the government said Friday that non-essential shops could open under restricted conditions next week. Prime Minister Alexander De Croo said that beyond containing the virus, everyone had to make sure that loneliness did not strike.
“We must also be sure that during Christmas and New Year people are not alone, so that is why on the evening of December 24 or 25 isolated people, people living alone, will have the possibility to invite up to two people inside their home,” De Croo said.
One of the hardest-hit countries in Europe, Belgium has reported more than 16,000 deaths linked to the coronavirus.
LAWRENCE, Kan. — Holiday traditions have been upended across Kansas due to the coronavirus, forcing Santa to stay firmly on the ground in one city and transforming parades elsewhere.
In Lawrence, hundreds usually turn out on the Friday after Thanksgiving to watch firefighters use a ladder truck to rescue Santa from the top of Weaver’s Department Store.
But that’s not happening this year as the pandemic strains hospitals.
Instead, Santa will appear on the first three Saturdays of December atop a truck decked out in garlands, poinsettias and pine cones, the Lawrence Journal-World reports.
The city’s hospital, Lawrence Memorial, has been converting more rooms for COVID-19 patients and 26 coronavirus patients were being treated there on Friday.
SIOUX FALLS, S.D. — South Dakota on Friday reported 39 deaths from COVID-19, pushing the state to record more deaths in November than all other months of the pandemic combined.
The state’s tally of COVID-19 deaths stands at 888 after the Department of Health reported the death records from a two-day period stretching over the Thanksgiving holiday. The total number of deaths has more than doubled since November began, with 463 reported this month.
The state currently has a death rate of about 100.7 deaths per 100,000 people.
MINNEAPOLIS — The Minnesota Department of Health has reported 101 more COVID-19 deaths, the first time the state has topped 100 single-day deaths since the start of the pandemic.
The state health department reported 5,704 new cases on Friday, putting the state at 3,476 deaths and 295,001 cases since March.
More than 1,800 patients are hospitalized, including more than 380 in intensive care, as dramatic case growth over the past month has led to increasing hospitalizations and deaths.
The figures reported on Friday reflect data acquired by the health department as of Wednesday.
DES MOINES, Iowa — Iowa has reported that 37 people died of the coronavirus in the past day.
The state Department of Public Health on Friday said the additional deaths bring the total to 2,349.
In the past 24 hours as of Friday morning, there were 1,266 new confirmed cases.
Iowa has long had some of the nation’s highest coronavirus infection rates, but in the past week its numbers have improved slightly.
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