The Latest: South Korea expanding virus testing, tracing
SEOUL, South Korea — South Korea is expanding the use of rapid tests and deploying hundreds of police officers and soldiers to help with contact tracing as it deals with its worst surge of coronavirus cases since the early days of the pandemic
Senior Health Ministry official Yoon Taeho said Friday that rapid antigen tests at emergency rooms, intensive-care units and remote-area hospitals will be covered by the national health insurance starting Monday, which would cost recipients about 8,000 won ($7) for each test.
Antigen tests and another form of rapid testing based on saliva samples will also be available at designated coronavirus testing sites in the Seoul metropolitan area, where officials are temporarily providing free tests to anyone, regardless of whether they have symptoms or clear reasons to suspect infection.
Yoon said the country will also deploy more than 800 police officers, soldiers and civil servants to support contact tracing efforts in the capital area, which has been at the center of the viral resurgence in recent weeks.
The Korea Disease Control and Prevention Agency on Friday reported another 689 new coronavirus cases.
THE VIRUS OUTBREAK:
U.S. experts are convening to decide whether to approve the Pfizer vaccine. Food and Drug Administration advisers are scrutinizing the company’s data for any red flags or oversights. If approved, shots could begin within days for health care workers and people in nursing homes.
U. S. lawmakers are trying to hammer out a COVID-19 relief bill. That comes as US jobless claims jumped to 853,000 amid a resurgence of the virus. More than 19 million people rely on some type of unemployment benefit, and unless Congress acts soon, nearly half will lose that aid in just over two weeks.
HERE’S WHAT ELSE IS HAPPENING:
NEW DELHI — India has recorded 29,398 new coronavirus cases in the past 24 hours, a continuing downward trend. It had reported 31,521 new cases a day earlier.
Single-day cases have remained below the 50,000 mark for more than a month now.
India reported another 414 deaths in the past 24 hours, raising the overall death toll to 142,186, according to the Health Ministry. India’s coronavirus tally since the pandemic began is 9.7 million cases, second behind the U.S.
CANBERRA, Australia — Australia’s prime minister says his government will not rush approval of Pfizer’s coronavirus vaccine because he wants Australians to have confidence in the product.
Prime Minister Scott Morrison said Friday that Australia is in a different position to Britain, which has given emergency approval to the roll out, and to the United States, which is near final approval for the vaccine’s use.
Morrison says he wants Australians to have “absolute full confidence that when it gets the tick, they can get the jab.”
The government expects the Australian regulator to approve the vaccine produced jointly by Pfizer and BioNTech by late January. The Australian roll out is expected to be underway by March.
WASHINGTON — A U.S. government advisory panel has endorsed Pfizer’s coronavirus vaccine, in a major step toward an epic vaccination campaign that could finally conquer the outbreak.
The Food and Drug Administration is expected to follow the recommendation issued Thursday by its expert advisers.
The group concluded that the shot appears safe and effective against the coronavirus in people 16 and older.
A final FDA decision is expected within days. Shots would then begin for health care workers and nursing home residents. Widespread access to the general public is not expected until the spring.
SANTA FE, N.M. — New Mexico health officials have issued orders that could limit nonessential surgeries and prepare for rationing of other medial services as the coronavirus pandemic strains resources and personnel at hospitals and intensive care centers.
One of the orders from the state Department of Health allows hospitals and acute-care facilities to limit surgeries. The second changes liability standards for emergency medical providers as the state prepares for possible triage procedures that might limit care to some individuals.
Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham said the orders go into Friday and will last until at least Jan. 4.
CANBERRA, Australia — Australian researchers say they have abandoned development of a potential coronavirus vaccine because it produced false positive results on HIV tests.
A statement said Friday that the University of Queensland vaccine that was to be manufactured at Australian biopharmaceutical company CSL’s Melbourne headquarters proved safe and produced a “robust response” to the virus during initial trials.
But it said the researchers and the government agreed not to proceed further because of the false positive result of some HIV tests due to a protein contained in the potential vaccine.
It was one of five potential vaccines on which the Australian government had signed contracts with developers.
OKLAHOMA CITY -- Some Oklahomans who lost wages due to the coronavirus pandemic will receive $400 from the state starting next week.
Oklahoma Employment Security Commission Director Shelley Zumwalt said Thursday the one-time payments will be going to to over 120,000 Oklahomans.
Zumwalt says the agency received permission from the Federal Emergency Management Agency to distribute Lost Wage Assistance funds to anyone who received $100 in benefits from any claim type and certify their employment was affected by the coronavirus pandemic during the week of Sept. 6-12.
TOPEKA, Kan. — Kansas does not plan to send personal information to the federal government about residents who receive coronavirus vaccines, though it has signed a data-use agreement with the CDC.
A spokeswoman for the Kansas Department of Health and Environment said Thursday in a text to The Associated Press that it signed a data-use agreement with the CDC “a while ago” but it “won’t be providing any identifying information.”
The CDC’s standard agreement calls for collection of data about vaccine recipients, including a person’s name, address and birthday. The CDC says the information will help determine how vaccines are distributed, monitor their safety and effectiveness, and identify places that are under-vaccinated.
The chief of the state health department said earlier this week that Kansas officials worry that sending personal information could discourage people from getting vaccinated.
CAIRO — Egypt has received its first shipment of a Chinese coronavirus vaccine, which was tested in the United Arab Emirates and is said to be 86% effective.
The shipment by Chinese state-owned pharmaceutical giant Sinopharm landed at Cairo’s international airport from the UAE on Thursday.
A health ministry statement says the government will first vaccinate health care workers, particularly those who deal with COVID-19 cases.
Egypt is the Arab world’s most populous country and it has seen an increase in confirmed coronavirus infections in recent weeks amid warnings by the government about a second wave of the pandemic. Egypt reported 445 newly confirmed coronavirus infections Thursday and 22 deaths from COVID-19, bringing the country’s overall tally to 120,147 cases, with 6,854 deaths.
HARRISBURG, Pa. — Pennsylvania is halting school sports and other extracurricular activities, ordering gyms, theaters and casinos to close and banning indoor dining at restaurants in response to the worsening pandemic.
A day after telling Pennsylvanians of his own COVID-19 diagnosis, Gov. Tom Wolf announced the widely expected clampdown Thursday. He said it aims to slow the accelerating spread of the coronavirus and prevent hospitals from becoming overrun.
“We all hoped it would not come to this,” Wolf said at a virtual news conference, but “we need to slow the spread to save lives.”
The restrictions include a 10-person cap on indoor gatherings, a 50-person limit for outdoor gatherings and capacity restrictions at retail stores. They take effect Saturday and run through until Jan. 4.
TORONTO — Canada’s most populous province will begin administering COVID-19 vaccinations at hospitals in Toronto and Ottawa on Tuesday.
Ontario Premier Doug Ford says a small number of doses are expected to arrive in the province in the coming days.
Canada’s health regulator approved the vaccine by U.S. drugmaker Pfizer and Germany’s BioNTech vaccine on Wednesday.
Ford says health care workers in long-term care homes and other high-risk settings will be the first to receive the vaccines.
GREENVILLE, S.C. — Vice President Mike Pence has traveled to South Carolina to talk about coronavirus vaccines, as cases are rising in the state.
Pence participated in a roundtable discussion with Gov. Henry McMaster and local leaders about two vaccines, both likely to receive FDA approval for use in the next week.
Pence says the government’s virus task force has “cut no corners in the development of this vaccine. We have cut red tape.”
State health officials plan to give vaccines first to health care workers and nursing home patients. Federal officials hope to have the vaccine available to the general public by the end of June.
South Carolina is averaging nearly 2,500 new cases a day, about 600 more than at the summer peak.
OKLAHOMA CITY — Tulsa's airport says it will begin offering coronavirus testing to current and recent passengers.
The airport board has approved the testing inside an airport terminal beginning Jan. 4 for people who are flying or have flown in the previous three days.
Costs will range from $70 for a rapid antigen test to $185 for a full respiratory test.
The State Department of Health reported 2,460 new cases of the virus and 35 more deaths on Thursday.