The Latest: Greece keeps most restrictions through Christmas
ATHENS, Greece — Greek authorities say bookshops and hairdressers will be allowed to reopen beginning Monday but all other retail stores, entertainment venues, restaurants, bars and cafes will remain shut throughout the Christmas period as part of the country’s second lockdown.
A mandatory quarantine for travelers arriving in Greece will be cut on Dec. 18 to three days from the previously announced 10 but a 10 p.m.-5 a.m. curfew will be in place throughout the holiday season.
Government spokesman Stelios Petsas said that despite five weeks of lockdown measures, coronavirus infections remain high, putting pressure on the country’s health system. Intensive care units were at 83% of their capacity nationwide, and at 91% of capacity in the hard-hit northern city of Thessaloniki, Greece’s second largest urban center.
Churches will be allowed to open to the faithful only on Christmas Day and Epiphany on Jan. 6, with limits on the number allowed inside according to church size.
Greece has registered more than 121,000 confirmed cases and 3,370 deaths.
THE VIRUS OUTBREAK:
— US experts endorse wide use of the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine. Shots could begin within days for U.S. health care workers and people in nursing homes.
— Germany sees record daily virus infections and deaths, calls grow louder for tougher lockdown.
— ICU workers struggle find a balance, acknowledging the vast amounts of deaths they have witnessed but trying to keep their own mental health intact
—U.S. lawmakers are trying to hammer out a COVID-19 relief bill as U.S. virus deaths jump to record levels. More than 19 million people rely on unemployment benefits, and unless Congress acts soon, nearly half will lose that aid.
— U.S. daily coronavirus deaths top 3,000, more tha n 9/11 or Pearl Harbor
HERE’S WHAT ELSE IS HAPPENING:
GAZA CITY, Gaza Strip —The Hamas militant group has imposed a second lockdown in the Gaza Strip to contain a worsening coronavirus outbreak in the isolated and impoverished territory, home to more than 2 million Palestinians.
Residents have been ordered to remain at home on Friday and Saturday, a brief period that appears unlikely to significantly alter the outbreak’s trajectory. A nighttime curfew has been in place since August.
Authorities are reluctant to impose more sweeping measures because the economy is already suffering from an Israeli and Egyptian blockade imposed when Hamas seized power from rival Palestinian forces in 2007. Israel says the blockade is needed to keep Hamas from importing arms.
The blockade, and strict quarantine measures, delayed the arrival of the coronavirus, but the first cases of local transmission were detected in August. Some 27,000 infections have been reported since then, including 175 deaths.
Gaza’s health system has been hollowed out by the blockade and years of conflict, and experts have warned that a major outbreak could overwhelm hospitals.
WASHINGTON — A U.S. government advisory panel has endorsed widespread use of Pfizer’s coronavirus vaccine, putting the country just one step away from launching an epic vaccination campaign against the outbreak that has killed close to 300,000 Americans.
Shots could begin within days, depending on how quickly the Food and Drug Administration signs off, as expected, on the expert committee’s recommendation. First in line for the vaccinations would be health care workers and nursing home residents. Widespread access to the general public is not expected until the spring.
“This is a light at the end of the long tunnel of this pandemic,” declared Dr. Sally Goza, president of the American Academy of Pediatrics.
In a 17-4 vote with one abstention, the government advisers concluded that the vaccine from Pfizer and its German partner BioNTech appears safe and effective for emergency use in adults and teenagers 16 and over.
BERLIN — Calls were growing Friday for tougher lockdown measures in Germany as officials report record daily increases in both coronavirus cases and deaths.
The Robert Koch Institute said the country’s 16 states reported 29,875 new cases of COVID-19, breaking the previous daily record of 23,679 cases reported the day before.
The number of deaths from the virus rose by 598, to a total of 20,970. The previous daily record of deaths was 590, set on Wednesday.
Germany’s states are responsible for imposing and lifting restrictions, and Chancellor Angela Merkel earlier this week urged action, saying “we are in a decisive, perhaps the decisive, phase of fighting the pandemic.”
Restaurants, bars, leisure and sports facilities are currently closed in Germany and hotels are closed to tourists, but schools and nonessential shops remain open.
Merkel has called on state governments to consider closing schools early before Christmas and is expected to meet with governors soon to discuss possible new measures. Several states have already announced new restrictions on their own.
COPENHAGEN, Denmark — The parents and three siblings of Prince Christian, the 15-year-old grandson of Queen Margrethe who has tested positive, do not have the virus.
However, Christian, the oldest son of Crown Prince Frederik — heir to the Danish throne — and Australian-born Crown Princess Mary, will remain in isolation until Monday at the downtown Amalienborg Palace, home of Denmark’s royals.
The royal palace said Friday that Christian, who one day will become king in one of the world’s oldest monarchies, has not had any symptoms and has not been in contact recently with his 80-year-old grandmother.
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.
The Korea Disease Control and Prevention Agency on Friday reported another 689 new coronavirus cases.
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.
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.