The Latest: France's Macron tests positive for COVID-19

PARIS — France's Elysee Palace says President Emmanuel Macron has tested positive for COVID-19.

It said the president took a test “as soon as the first symptoms appeared.” The brief statement did not say what symptoms Macron experienced.

It said he would isolate himself for seven days. “He will continue to work and take care of his activities at a distance,” it added.

It was not immediately clear what contact tracing efforts were in progress. Macron attended a European Union summit at the end of last week, where he notably had a bilateral meeting with German Chancellor Angela Merkel. He met on Wednesday with the prime minister of Portugal. There was no immediate comment from Portuguese officials.

Macron on Wednesday also held the government’s weekly Cabinet meeting in the presence of Prime Minister Jean Castex and other ministers. Castex’s office said that the prime minister is also self-isolating for seven days.

The French presidency confirmed that Macron’s trip to Lebanon scheduled for next week is being canceled.

___

THE VIRUS OUTBREAK:

— French president Macron tests positive for COVID-19

Health officials track safety as COVID-19 vaccines roll out

California sets records for cases, deaths as virus surges

— US angling to secure more of Pfizer’s coronavirus vaccine

The first COVID-19 vaccinations are underway at U.S. nursing homes, where the virus has killed upwards of 110,000 people, even as the nation struggles to contain a surge so alarming that California is dispensing thousands of body bags and lining up refrigerated morgue trailers.

___

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

___

HERE’S WHAT ELSE IS HAPPENING:

GAZA CITY, Gaza Strip — The Gaza Strip has recorded more than 1,000 coronavirus cases in one day for the first time since an outbreak began there, threatening to further overwhelm the territory’s decrepit health system.

Out of 2,474 tests, 1,015 were positive, the Health Ministry said Thursday. Twelve people have also died in the past 24 hours, the ministry added, raising the death toll to 232.

Gaza has recorded more than 31,000 infections since the virus began to spread in the densely populated Palestinian territory in August.

An Israeli-Egyptian blockade on the Hamas-run territory that limits travel, as well as strict quarantine measures by the militant group, delayed the arrival of the virus. But ever since it began spreading through the population over the summer, the infected have quickly filled up hospitals. The Health Ministry says it has begun transferring COVID-19 patients to wards meant for other patients.

Gaza’s ailing health care system has long been overburdened, gutted for years by the blockade and intra-Palestinian political feuding.

___

SOFIA, Bulgaria -- Bulgaria’s government is extending a nationwide lockdown until the end of January, as the number of new coronavirus infections and fatalities remain high and is putting pressure on the overloaded health care system.

All non-food shops, nightclubs, restaurants, cafes and gyms remain closed. Conferences and congresses are banned.

Secondary schools will stay closed while primary schools will reopen on Jan. 4.

The government had to deal with strong pressure from businesses to ease the lockdown during the holidays and allow people to celebrate as usual.

“We have always put the lives and health of the people first, so we will continue to implement these measures,” Prime Minister Boyko Borissov said on Thursday.

Health authorities said the country is ready to kick off its COVID-19 inoculation campaign once the vaccines are approved in the EU.

The Balkan country of 7 million has had 186,246 confirmed cases, including 6,196 deaths.

___

COPENHAGEN, Denmark — Denmark is shutting down nationwide, with shopping malls and department stores ordered to close as of Wednesday and small shops — except for food stores and pharmacies — told to shut as of Dec. 25.

Prime Minister Mette Frederiksen said the restrictions will apply until Jan. 3. Hairdressers and beauty shops will close as of Dec. 21.

Frederiksen said she was “deeply concerned about how it will go in the coming winter months,” adding that Denmark’s “health care system is under pressure.”

“An epidemic that is running out of control will have major consequences, and greater consequences than shutting down now,” she said.

The Scandinavian country has has 119,779 confirmed cases — up nearly 4,000 in the past day — and 975 deaths — up 14.

___

TOKYO — Tokyo reported 822 new cases of the coronavirus, a new high for the Japanese capital.

Infections have been on the steady climb nationwide for several weeks. Japan on Friday reported 2,988 new cases for a total of 187,103, including 2,739 deaths.

Experts on the Tokyo task force raised caution levels for the medical systems to the highest, suggesting that most Tokyo hospitals have little extra manpower or beds to continue their ordinary treatment for other patients.

“We must stop further acceleration of the infections,” Tokyo Gov. Yuriko Koike said. “In order to prevent serious cases and deaths and save the medical systems from collapsing, I ask for everyone to cooperate.”

Koike said Tokyo is extending an early closure request for drinking places, which was to end Thursday, through mid-January.

Norio Ohmagari, director of the Disease Control and Prevention Center, said that the number of daily cases could exceed 1,000 within weeks. About half of the cases are no longer traceable as infections are transmitted at homes, offices and schools, experts said.

Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga, apparently reluctant to further damage businesses already hit by the pandemic, has been slow to take steps. After repeated calls from experts, Suga last Friday announced plans to suspend the government’s travel promotion campaign from Dec. 28 to Jan. 11 following media surveys showing a sharp decline in his approval ratings.

___

JAKARTA, Indonesia — The World Health Organization says countries in the Asia-Pacific region are not guaranteed to have early access to COVID-19 shots and urged them to adopt a long-term approach to the pandemic.

WHO Regional Director Dr. Takeshi Kasai told reporters in the Indonesian capital, Jakarta, that the development of safe and effective vaccines is one thing. Producing them in adequate quantities and reaching everyone who needs them is another.

Dr. Socorro Escalante, WHO’s coordinator for essential medicines and health technologies, said that while some countries that have independent vaccine purchase agreements might start vaccination campaigns in the coming months, others could see vaccination begin in the middle or late 2021.

“It’s important to emphasize that most, if not all, the countries in the Western Pacific region are a part of the COVAX Facility,” said Escalante. “Within the COVAX Facility we are expecting that the vaccines will be coming in on the second quarter of 2021.”

COVAX was set up by WHO, vaccines alliance GAVI and CEPI, a global coalition to fight epidemics, in an effort to ensure equitable access to vaccines across the world.

WHO representatives also urged that high-risk groups should be prioritized for vaccination as vaccines will only be available in limited quantities.

___

DUBAI, United Arab Emirates — Saudi Arabia has kicked off its COVID-19 inoculation campaign, with the health minister receiving the first dose a week after authorities approved the Pfizer vaccine.

Health Minister Tawfiq al-Rabiah said the government is confident of the safety of the vaccine, and vowed that all citizens in the biggest Gulf Arab state, with a population of 34 million people, will receive injections free of charge.

Al-Rabiah hailed the start of the campaign as “the beginning of the relief of the pandemic crisis."

Authorities said they will give priority to health workers, citizens and residents over 65 years old and those with underlying health conditions in the first phase of the rollout. The government did not specify how many doses had been received, but said it plans to inoculate at least 70% of the population by the end of next year.

Although cases have declined in recent weeks, Saudi Arabia has struggled to contain a major outbreak that has killed over 6,000 people.

___

SYDNEY, Australia — Authorities are searching for the source of an emerging COVID-19 cluster in Sydney’s northern coastal suburbs.

Australia’s largest city had gone 12 consecutive days without community transmission until Wednesday when a driver who transported international air crews in a van to and from Sydney Airport tested positive.

By Thursday, six people had been infected with the virus though community transmission in Sydney, as well as six returned travelers who had been infected overseas and tested positive while in hotel quarantine.

The new infections include a woman who works at the Pittwater Palms aged care home, which has since been closed to visitors.

A drummer in a band that had played in several clubs around Sydney in recent days has also been infected.

The New South Wales Health Department said later Thursday that 17 people had been infected in Sydney’s northern coastal suburbs. Residents in the Northern Beaches Local Government Area were advised to work from home and remain at home as much as possible for the next three days. Others were advised to avoid traveling to the area.

___

SEOUL, South Korea -- South Korea has added more than 1,000 infections to its coronavirus caseload for the second straight day amid growing fears that the virus is spreading out of control in the greater capital area.

The Korea Disease Control and Prevention Agency on Thursday said the COVID-19 death toll was now at 634 after 22 patients died in the past 24 hours, the deadliest day since the emergence of the pandemic. Among 12,209 active patients, 242 are in serious or critical condition.

Nearly 800 of the 1,014 new cases were reported from the densely populated Seoul metropolitan area, where health officials have raised alarm about a looming shortage in hospital capacities.

Thursday was the 40th consecutive day of triple digit daily jumps, which brought the national caseload to 46,453. The country reported 1,078 new cases on Wednesday, its largest daily increase.

The viral resurgence came after months of pandemic fatigue, complacency and government efforts to breathe life into a sluggish economy.

Officials are now mulling whether to raise social distancing restriction to maximum levels, which could possibly include bans on gatherings of more than 10 people, shutting tens of thousands of businesses deemed non-essential and requiring companies to have more employees work from home.

___

LOS ANGELES -- California has reported more than 53,000 new coronavirus cases and 293 deaths, setting new records as hospitals struggled to keep up with the surge.

State health officials said Wednesday a change in data processing added 15,337 previous cases to the count, but the new virus cases remained a daily record.

The state has been grappling with soaring cases and hospitalizations. Most of California’s 40 million residents are under stay-at-home orders because of dwindling intensive care unit capacity.

Hospitals are filling up so fast that officials are rolling out mobile field facilities and scrambling to hire more doctors and nurses.

___

JUNEAU, Alaska -- Health officials in Alaska have reported that a second health care worker had an adverse reaction to a COVID-19 vaccine.

Bartlett Regional Hospital in Juneau says the two workers showed adverse reactions about 10 minutes after receiving the vaccine and were treated. One received the vaccine Tuesday and will remain in the hospital another night under observation while the other, vaccinated Wednesday, has fully recovered.

U.S. health authorities warned doctors to be on the lookout for rare allergic reactions when they rolled out the first vaccine, made by Pfizer and Germany’s BioNTech. Britain had reported a few similar allergic reactions a week earlier.

___

COLUMBIA S.C. — U.S. Rep. Joe Wilson is the latest member of South Carolina’s congressional delegation to test positive for the coronavirus, announcing his test result Wednesday just hours after speaking on the U.S. House floor.

The Republican said in a statement late Wednesday that he tested positive earlier in the day, adding, “I feel fine and do not have any symptoms.”

The 73-year-old Wilson said he would quarantine “through the Christmas holiday.”

Wilson was at the U.S. House on Wednesday, when he wore a face mask as he delivered a floor speech lauding President Donald Trump “for his efforts to bring a vaccine to the United States faster than any other vaccine in history.”

Wilson’s office did not immediately respond to a message regarding other elements of the congressman’s recent schedule.

Elected to a 10th term in November, Wilson is the third of South Carolina’s seven-member U.S. House delegation to contract COVID-19.

Bg pattern light

UPGRADE TO PREMIUM

Subscribe to Samoa Observer Online

Enjoy access to over a thousand articles per month, on any device as well as feature-length investigative articles.

Ready to signup?