The Latest: Australia to extend ban on leaving country
CANBERRA, Australia — Australia is extending its ban on international cruise ships and on Australians leaving the country except under exceptional circumstances for another three months until March.
The extension announced Tuesday means the human biosecurity emergency declaration will last for at least a year despite COVID-19 cases declining in the isolated nation.
Australia has imposed some of the most severe border restrictions in the world since the pandemic began, requiring most of its citizens and permanent residents to apply for a permit and prove exceptional circumstances if they need to leave the country.
Australia is a nation of 26 million people. Latest government figures showed on Monday there were only 1,618 active COVID-19 cases, with 30 of those infected in hospitals.
Thousands of Australians have missed out on funerals, weddings and the births of relatives because of the travel ban which is designed to prevent travelers from bringing with virus home.
THE VIRUS OUTBREAK:
— Britain rolling out COVID-19 vaccine to public as world watches
—U.S. passed up chance to lock in more Pfizer vaccine doses
— Millions of hungry Americans turn to food banks for the first time
— Biden’s health team offers glimpse of his COVID-19 strategy
— Years of research laid groundwork for speedy COVID-19 shots
HERE’S WHAT ELSE IS HAPPENING:
BEIJING — Health authorities in Chengdu identified three more cases of coronavirus, bringing the southwestern Chinese city’s total to five in the latest outbreak.
The Sichuan provincial health commission said Monday that one of the patients was the 20-year-old granddaughter of a couple whose infections were announced on Sunday. The other two were women aged 68 and 71 described as farmers who lived in the same Chengdu district, Ludu, as the two original cases.
As of Monday morning, more than 24,000 test results had been returned, with just four positives. The commission did not further account for the fourth positive case.
China generally does not include people who test positive but have no symptoms in its totals.
ISLAMABAD — Pakistan has reports 89 new coronavirus deaths in the past 24 hours, one of the highest single day totals since the pandemic began.
Also Tuesday it reported another 2,885 infections in the last 24 hours. The country’s tally of COVID-19 cases since the pandemic began is 423,179 with 8,487 deaths.
UNITED NATIONS -- The United Nations General Assembly has approved a resolution proclaiming Dec. 27 as the International Day of Epidemic Preparedness to keep a global spotlight on the need to strengthen global measures to prevent pandemics like COVID-19.
The resolution adopted Monday by consensus by the 193-member world body expresses “grave concern at the devastating impacts of major infectious diseases and epidemics, as exemplified by the ongoing coronavirus disease (COVID-19) pandemic, on human lives.”
Epidemics wreak havoc “on long-term social and economic development,” and create health crises that “threaten to overwhelm already overstretched health systems, disrupt global supply chains and cause disproportionate devastation of the livelihoods of people ... and the economies of the poorest and most vulnerable countries,” the resolution said.
The assembly underlined the urgency of having robust health systems and expressed deep concern that without international attention “future epidemics could surpass previous outbreaks in terms of intensity and gravity.”
It asked the U.N. World Health Organization to facilitate the observance of the International Day of Epidemic Preparedness to ensure the transmission and exchange of information, scientific knowledge and best practices on preventing and responding to epidemics locally, nationally, regionally and internationally.
BEIJING — Authorities have ordered mass coronavirus testing and locked down some locations in the southwestern Chinese city of Chengdu following the detection of two new virus cases there.
Chengdu health officials identified the cases as a 69-year-old woman, who’s condition is listed as serious, and her 71-year-old husband who has yet to show symptoms.
Officials at a Monday night news conference said they are still investigating the source of the infection in Sichuan province’s capital and largest city that has been relatively unscathed by the pandemic. However, samples taken at the couple’s apartment showed the presence of the virus in seven different locations, including on door knobs, light switches and food in the refrigerator, indicating a “high degree of contamination,” Zhu Xiaoping, heady of the provincial coronavirus task force was quoted as saying in a government news release.
Five locations in Chengdu’s Ludu district have been sealed off, including a hospital, a school and a wholesale market and more than 21,000 people tested as of Monday evening, the government said.
China reported a total of 12 new cases on Tuesday, including the two in Chengdu and 10 brought from outside the country, bringing China’s total to 86,646 with 4,634 deaths. Hospitals are treating 280 people for COVID-19 while another 219 people are being monitored in isolation after testing positive for the virus without showing symptoms.
TALLAHASSEE, Fla. — Florida authorities investigating an alleged hack into the state’s emergency response system raided the home Monday of a woman fired earlier this year from her job as COVID-19 data curator.
Florida Department of Law Enforcement said that Rebekah Jones, who was fired for unauthorized public comments about the data in May, has been under investigation since early November when someone illegally accessed the state’s emergency alert health system.
Jones was fired from her post in May after she raised questions about Florida’s COVID-19 data. She had been reprimanded several times and was ultimately fired for violating Health Department policy by making public remarks about the information, state records show.
Since her firing, she has lit up social media with posts criticizing Republican Gov. Ron DeSantis and his state agencies. For months, she has tried to promote herself as a victim who was fired for telling the truth, although there is no evidence that supports her claims.
Early in the pandemic, Jones wrote blog posts and reached out to media outlets and researchers sowing doubt about the credibility of the data now that she is no longer in that role. She said Health Department managers urged her to manipulate information to paint a rosier picture and that she pushed back. The data was crucial as the governor was trying to make highly controversial decisions on whether to reopen Florida’s economy.
State health officials strenuously deny any issue with the information’s accuracy.
Agents served the search warrant on her Tallahassee home after receiving a complaint from the Department of Health regarding unauthorized access to its emergency alert system, according to a statement from FDLE.
“Agents believe someone at the residence on Centerville Court illegally accessed the system,” spokeswoman Gretl Plessinger said in a statement.
ALABAMA — Alabama on Monday set a record of more than 2,000 COVID-19 patients in state hospitals as some facilities began to postpone non-emergency procedures amid staff shortages.
There were 2,079 patients in state hospitals with COVID-19 — the first time the number topped 2,000 since the pandemic began, according to state numbers from the Alabama Department of Public Health. Dr. Don Williamson, the former state health officer who now heads the Alabama Hospital Association, said at least three hospitals have begun to postpone non-emergency procedures amid staff shortages.
“My real concern is I still don’t see anything to break the spread between now and getting through Christmas. That’s my real concern, and frankly I’m increasingly frustrated about why it is so difficult for individuals to be willing to wear masks,” Williamson said.
“The election’s over. It should no longer be political. People are dying, and we can do better than this.”
Williamson said staffing availability is a major concern. He said some facilities have as many as 100 staff members out with COVID-19.
HARRISBURG, Pa. — Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Wolf warned Monday that the coronavirus is running rampant throughout the state and could soon force overwhelmed hospitals to begin turning away patients.
Wolf calls it a “dangerous, disturbing scenario” that will become reality if people don’t take steps to slow the spread. He said additional pandemic restrictions might be on the way but did not elaborate on what his administration might be considering while also acknowledging the ones already in place have not worked.
Wolf said the unchecked spread of the virus in all regions of the state means that resource-sharing agreements among hospitals could soon begin to break down and force them to begin rationing care.
Still, the governor all but ruled out a return to the kinds of statewide restrictions he imposed in the spring, when schools were closed, thousands of businesses deemed non-essential were shut down, and all 12.8 million Pennsylvanians were under a stay-at-home order.