The Latest: US hits record averages for virus cases, deaths

NEW YORK — Deaths from the coronavirus in the U.S. have soared to more than 2,200 a day on average, matching the peak reached last April.

Cases per day have eclipsed 200,000 on average for the first time on record, with the crisis likely to get worse because of the fallout from gatherings at Thanksgiving, Christmas and New Year’s.

Nearly every state is reporting surges. A vaccine appears days away from getting approval in the U.S.

Dr. Michael Ryan, the World Health Organization’s chief of emergencies, says: “The epidemic in the U.S. is punishing. It’s widespread. It’s quite frankly shocking to see one to two persons a minute die in the U.S. -- a country with a wonderful, strong health system, amazing technological capacities.”

The coronavirus has caused more than 284,000 confirmed deaths and nearly 15 million confirmed infections in the United States.

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THE VIRUS OUTBREAK:

Deaths from the coronavirus in the U.S. have soared to more than 2,200 a day on average, matching the peak reached last April. The average cases per day has eclipsed 200,000 for the first time ahead of more holiday gatherings.

Meanwhile, the Food and Drug Administration says Pfizer’s vaccine is strongly protective against COVID-19 and appeared safe in the agency’s initial review, setting the stage for possible approval within days in the U.S.

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Follow AP’s coverage at https://apnews.com/hub/coronavirus-pandemic and https://apnews.com/UnderstandingtheOutbreak

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HERE’S WHAT ELSE IS HAPPENING:

MEXICO CITY — Mexico plans to start vaccinations against COVID-19 near the end of December, starting with health workers.

President Andrés Manuel López Obrador says the vaccines will be “universal and free” and voluntary. He hopes all will be vaccinated by the end of 2021.

Officials says starting in February, those over 60 will receive vaccinations, followed by those over 50 in April and over 40 in May. They urged people with risk factors to get vaccinated first.

The armed forces will distribute them to vaccination sites, initially in Mexico City and the northern border state of Coahuila.

Assistant Secretary Hugo López-Gatell says Mexico’s health regulatory agency is expected to approve the vaccine on Dec. 11, a day after the U.S. Food and Drug Administration is expected to do so.

López-Gatell says the pace of vaccination could be accelerated as more vaccines are approved and arrive. This week, Mexico plans to sign a deal to purchase 35 million doses of the CanSino vaccine from China.

Mexico, with a population of 126 million, has reported 1.18 million confirmed cases. Its registered at least 110,074 deaths, the fourth-highest death toll in the world.

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NEW DELHI — India officials are outlining a plan to immunize an initial 300 million people, saying some COVID-19 vaccines are likely to receive licenses in the next few weeks.

Health officials say three vaccine companies have applied for early approval for emergency use in India. The country plans to rely on its existing immunization programs, which are among the largest in the world, for the COVID-19 vaccines.

But there are challenges. Even before the pandemic, vaccine coverage for children was patchy. Health officials will need to ensure that the emphasis on coronavirus vaccines doesn’t disrupt the existing immunization programs, and more people will need to be trained to administer vaccines.

India has reported 9.7 million confirmed cases, second highest in the world. The country of 1.3 billion people has more than 140,000 confirmed deaths.

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WASHINGTON — New results on a possible COVID-19 vaccine from Oxford University and drugmaker AstraZeneca suggest it is safe and about 70% effective. Some experts say that shows it is likely to win approval.

Partial results from tests of the vaccine in the United Kingdom, Brazil and South Africa were published Tuesday by the medical journal Lancet.

But questions remain about how well it may help protect those over 55. That’s a key concern for a vaccine that health officials hope to rely on around the world because of its low cost, availability and ease of use.

Researchers claim the vaccine protected against disease in 62% of those given two full doses and in 90% of those initially given the half dose. However, independent experts have said the second group was too small — 2,741 people — to judge the possible value of that approach and more testing is needed.

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HONG KONG — Hong Kong leader Carrie Lam says social distancing measures will be tightened as cases of the coronavirus continue to surge, with a ban on nighttime dining and more businesses ordered to close.

Lam says there will be a ban on dine-in services at restaurants after 6 p.m., and venues such as massage parlors, beauty salons and gyms will be closed temporarily. She did not specify when the measures will take effect.

Hong Kong is grappling with the latest surge of coronavirus infections, with nearly 1,200 new cases in the last two weeks after a three-month lull.

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GAZA CITY, Gaza Strip — The Gaza Strip’s Hamas authorities are tightening restrictions in the Palestinian enclave to curb a surge in coronavirus infections.

The ruling militant group says it will impose total weekend curfews each Friday and Saturday starting this week. Schools and mosques were shut this week and businesses ordered to close at 6 p.m. The restrictions will ban journalists and news crews from moving during curfews.

A nighttime curfew has been in place since the first cases of local transmissions were confirmed in August. On Tuesday, the central lab resumed testing after a two-day halt due to lack of testing materials. The World Health Organization delivered enough testing kits for eight days, Gaza’s Health Ministry says.

The Palestinian territory has reported nearly 26,000 cases and 155 confirmed deaths.

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WASHINGTON — The U.S. Food and Drug Administration says Pfizer’s vaccine is strongly protective against COVID-19 and appeared safe in the agency’s initial review.

The positive review from FDA scientists sets the stage for a decision allowing the vaccine’s initial use within days. The analysis also offers the world the first detailed look at the evidence behind the shots.

On Thursday, the FDA will convene a panel of outside experts to review the government findings and recommend whether the vaccine appears safe and effective enough for millions of Americans. That public vetting process is key to bolstering confidence in the shots ahead what would be the largest vaccination effort in U.S. history.

The FDA typically follows the committee’s advice, though it’s not required to do so. If the FDA gives the green light, the first recipients would be health care workers and nursing home residents.

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LANSING, Mich. — Nonpublic schools sued after Gov. Gretchen Whitmer’s administration extended a coronavirus order that prevents in-person instruction at Michigan high schools, saying it violates the First Amendment right to practice religion.

The federal lawsuit, filed in Michigan’s Western District late Monday, was brought by a group representing more than 400 nonpublic schools across the state, as well as three Catholic high schools and 11 parents. The state health department on Monday lengthened COVID-19 restrictions by 12 days, through Dec. 20. The order took effect Nov. 18 and applies to public high schools and all colleges and universities.

The plaintiffs include Lansing Catholic High School, Father Gabriel Richard High School in Ann Arbor and Everest Collegiate Academy in Clarkston. They say they can safely provide face-to-face learning and sought an injunction to block enforcement of the order.

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WASHINGTON —- The leader of Operation Warp Speed says the Trump administration was looking at several different vaccines during the summer when it had the option to lock in additional Pfizer vaccine doses.

Chief science adviser Moncef Slaoui told ABC on Tuesday “no one reasonably would buy more from any one of those vaccines because we didn’t know which one would work and which one would be better than the other.”

The administration is coming under scrutiny for failing to lock in a chance to buy millions of additional Pfizer doses. That decision could delay the delivery of a second batch of U.S. doses until Pfizer fulfills other international contracts.

Assistant Secretary for Health Adm. Brett Giroir says the situation with Pfizer doesn’t change the timeline for vaccinating “any American who wants it” by “late spring and early summer.” He tells CBS, “We will be able to vaccinate about 20 million people this month and another 20 million to 25 million in January and another 20 to 25 million in February.”

Those numbers assume FDA authorization of the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines.

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BERLIN — German Chancellor Angela Merkel expects the first coronavirus vaccine to become available in the country early next year.

The European Medicines Agency set a meeting to discuss approval for the BioNTech/Pfizer vaccine for Dec. 29.

In an Monday interview with Metropol FM, a Berlin radio station aimed at Germany’s Turkish community, Merkel says the vaccine “will probably be available and approved in Europe from the beginning of 2021, according to everything we now know.”

Last month, German officials thought vaccination centers would be ready next week. Britain’s regulator became the first worldwide last week to allow emergency use of the vaccine, and immunization began Tuesday.

Meanwhile, the governor of Germany’s eastern state of Saxony has announced schools and most stores will close starting Monday until Jan. 10 after a spike in coronavirus infections. Official figures show the state has more than twice the number of infections per capita in the past week as the national average.

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GENEVA — The Swiss national rail operator says nearly all train travel between Italy and Switzerland will be suspended indefinitely starting Thursday due to COVID-19 control measures that have been required by Italian authorities.

Spokeswoman Ottavia Masserini of the Swiss federal railway service says an Italian government decree requires that train operators carry out temperature checks on passengers, who must show they’ve tested negative for the coronavirus and carry a document from their employers authorizing travel.

The railway standstill could affect many cross-border workers, particularly in the health care sector, who travel from Italy to southern Switzerland every day.

Switzerland has recorded high levels of coronavirus transmission but hasn’t enacted strict control measures.

Masserini say train travel between Switzerland and Italy is down by 50 percent this year amid the pandemic.

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LONDON — A 90-year-old retired British shop clerk has received the first shot in the country’s COVID-19 vaccination program, signaling the start of a global immunization effort intended to offer a route out of a pandemic that has killed 1.5 million.

The U.K. is the first Western country to start a mass vaccination program after regulators authorized the use of the shot developed by U.S. drugmaker Pfizer and Germany’s BioNTech. United States and European Union authorities may approve the vaccine in the coming days.

Britain’s program is likely to provide lessons for other countries as they prepare for the unprecedented task of vaccinating billions of people. Britain has received 800,000 doses of the vaccine. The first shots will go to people over 80 and nursing home staff.

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RABAT, Morocco — Morocco is rolling out an ambitious COVID-19 vaccination plan, aiming to vaccinate 80% of its adult starting this month.

Morocco, which is battling a resurgence in virus infections, will start with 10 million doses of China’s Sinopharm vaccine. The first injections could come within days, a Health Ministry official told The Associated Press.

Medical experts and health officials are going on TV to encourage skeptical Moroccans to get immunized. While the U.S. and Europe race to approve and inject Western-made vaccines, other governments around the world are looking to vaccines from China and Russia.

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BERLIN — Germany’s eastern state of Saxony has become the country’s hotspot for coronavirus infections, with the number of newly confirmed cases per 100,000 inhabitants reaching almost 320 in a week.

According to figures published by Germany’s disease control center Tuesday the nationwide rate is currently less than half that in Saxony, at about 147.

The Saxony-based daily Freie Presse reported that the state government is considering tightening pandemic restrictions from Monday.

Germany reported 14,054 newly confirmed cases in the past 24 hours Tuesday, taking the total since the start of the outbreak to almost 1.2 million. The number of COVID-related deaths in the country rose by 423 to 19,342.

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COPENHAGEN, Denmark — Prince Christian, the 15-year-old grandson of Queen Margrethe who one day will become the monarch in one of the world’s oldest monarchies, has tested positive, the royal palace said Monday.

Christian, the son of Crown Prince Frederik who is heir to the throne, and Australian-born Crown Princess Mary, is in isolation at the downtown Amalienborg Palace, home of Denmark’s royals.

As a consequence, his parents and his three siblings will stay in isolation at the palace for the time being. The royal household says the prince who is second in line to the Danish throne, “has not been in contact with other members of the royal family very recently.” That includes his 80-year-old grandmother.

On Sunday, Christian’s parents were briefed about a local outbreak at his school and the young prince was tested.

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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.

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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.

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