The Latest: S. Korea opening dozens of free virus test sites

SEOUL, South Korea — South Korea is opening dozens of free coronavirus testing sites in the greater Seoul area amid a surge in infections.

The 718 new cases reported by officials Monday took the country’s total to 43,484, including 587 deaths. About 65% of the new cases were found in the Seoul area, which has been at the center of the recent spike.

The number of new cases marked a drop from the 1,030 reported on Sunday, South Korea's highest daily tally. But observers say the lower figures were a result of fewer test taken over the weekend and that the country’s caseload is expected to surge again this week.

Starting on Monday, health authorities will open 150 virus testing centers in the Seoul area in phases in addition to more than 210 existing sites as part of efforts to slow down the outbreak.

The new testing sites are scheduled to stay open for three weeks, and anyone can take a free coronavirus test. Previously, people wanting to take diagnostic tests on their own have had to pay if they test negative.

The government says it’s considering enforcing its toughest-level social distancing rules in case the surge continues.

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THE VIRUS OUTBREAK:

COVID-19 vaccine shipments begin in historic US effort

Scientists focus on bats for clues to prevent next pandemic

— After 110,000 virus deaths, U.S. nursing homes face vaccine fears

— Trump says he’s nixing plan for early vaccine at White House

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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:

WELLINGTON, New Zealand — New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern says the country plans to open a travel bubble with Australia in the first quarter of next year.

That would mean people traveling from Australia to New Zealand would no longer need to go into quarantine for two weeks upon arrival. Australia is already letting New Zealanders skip quarantine.

The announcement Monday comes two days after New Zealand said it planned a similar bubble with the Cook Islands. The two arrangements would represent the first travel bubbles that New Zealand has agreed to since closing its borders when the coronavirus first hit earlier this year.

New Zealand has moved cautiously on restarting international travel after stamping out community spread of the virus. Ardern says there are some remaining logistical issues to overcome, including how it would deal with a large influx of returning travelers in the case of another significant outbreak in Australia.

The announcement comes as some relief to families separated by the virus and to tourism operators, many of whom rely on visitors from Australia.

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TORONTO — Prime Minister Justin Trudeau says the first of many freezer-packed COVID-19 vaccine vials have arrived in Canada.

Trudeau tweeted a picture of them being taken off a plane. Canada’s health regulator approved the vaccine made by U.S. drugmaker Pfizer and Germany’s BioNTech last Wednesday.

The Canadian government recently amended its contract with Pfizer so that it would deliver up to 249,000 doses this month. Trudeau says it is good news but he is urging Canadians to continue to wear masks, avoid gatherings and to download a government app that lets users know if they’ve come in contact with those who have tested positive.

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LOS ANGELES — Los Angeles County has again broken a record for coronavirus hospitalizations, fulfilling the county public health director’s dire predictions in just days.

Figures released Sunday afternoon show that more than 4,000 people were hospitalized for COVID-19 in the nation’s most populous county.

That breaks the previous record set only the day before, with 3,850 patients in a hospital, and follows the trend of hospitalizations increasing nearly every day since Nov. 1.

The LA County health director warned on Monday, when hospitalizations were near 3,000, that the county could see the statistic to climb to 4,000 within two weeks.

Statewide coronavirus figures were not immediately available Sunday.

More than 325,000 doses of a COVID-19 vaccine are on their way to California.

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ROME — Italy on Sunday registered 484 confirmed COVID-19 deaths, one of its lowest daily death tolls in about a month. But those latest deaths were enough to eclipse Britain’s toll as having Europe’s highest toll in the pandemic, according to tracking done by Johns Hopkins University.

Counting criteria differ in the two countries, and many deaths, especially early in the pandemic in Italy, are believed to have gone undetected.

According to the Italian Health Ministry on Sunday, Italy’s known death toll stood at 64,520. Britain’s toll, according to Johns Hopkins data, stood at 64,267 as of Sunday evening.

Italy added nearly 18,000 coronavirus infections from the previous day, raising the nation’s official tally over 1.84 million. By far, the region registering the highest number of new infections in the last 24 hours was the northern region of Veneto, which in the first surge last spring had fared better than its neighbor Lombardy.

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ALGIERS, Algeria — Still recovering from COVID-19, Algeria’s president has suddenly reappeared after nearly two months out of the public eye.

President Abdelmadjid Tebboune said in a video message Sunday that it may still be several more weeks before he is fit enough to return to the North African country. He fell ill and then left for treatment in Germany in late October. Before his 4-minute, 54-second video message, his last public appearance had been in mid-October, in a meeting with France’s foreign minister.

The 75-year-old Tebboune spoke clearly in the video and did not seem short of breath. He has, however, clearly lost weight.

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