The Latest: Tunisia extends curfew past New Year's holiday

TUNISIA — Tunisia is extending its curfew until Jan. 15 to cover the New Year’s holiday and urging people not to hold end-of-year festivities or travel around the country to slow the virus spread.

Health Minister Faouzi Madhi announced the decision Tuesday, saying the country has seen an average of 50 virus-related deaths per day over the last quarter of this year. He blamed the infections on growing complacency toward masks and social distancing.

The head of the Pasteur Institute in Tunis, Hachemi Louzir, said that the country has not registered any cases of the new virus variant identified in Britain so far. Tunisia suspended all flights with Britain, South Africa and Australia this week because of new, apparently more contagious virus variants.

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THE VIRUS OUTBREAK:

Congress has easily passed a $900 billion pandemic relief package. It would deliver long-sought cash to businesses and individuals and resources to vaccinate a nation confronting a frightening surge in COVID-19 cases and deaths. The bill has been sent to President Donald Trump for his signature, expected in the coming days. The effort comes at the end of a year that's become the deadliest in U.S. history. Preliminary data on U.S. deaths show the coronavirus pandemic contributing to a 15% or more increase in deaths over last year. U.S. deaths topped 3 million for the first time, and the percentage increase was the largest in a single year since 1918.

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

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HERE’S WHAT ELSE IS HAPPENING:

ATLANTA — Georgia Gov. Brian Kemp says the state will again use a convention center for patient beds amid a surge in coronavirus cases that is straining hospital capacity.

The Republican governor said Tuesday the Georgia World Congress Center will have 60 beds and should be able to take patients starting next week. He expects the center to serve as an overflow hospital through January.

Kemp said the virus remained a threat despite the rollout of a vaccine. He encouraged residents to meet virtually over the holidays or gather outdoors with just a few people in the same household.

The convention center has served as a hospital before during the pandemic. In April, the state signed a contract to build a 200-bed health care facility at the site.

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BOISE, Idaho — The governor of Idaho says the state is in a race to get people vaccinated against the coronavirus while simultaneously limiting its spread long enough to avoid running out of healthcare capacity.

Republican Gov. Brad Little said Tuesday that the vaccination program is a high priority for him and Idaho Department of Health and Welfare Director Dave Jeppesen.

Little says the state on Tuesday received 28,000 doses of a recently approved vaccine from Moderna Inc. That is in addition to the 23,700 doses the state has been receiving from Pfizer-BioNTech.

The first round of vaccines is going to an estimated 130,000 front-line healthcare workers and people in long-term care facilities.

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BOGOTA, Colombia — Colombia’s president says that Venezuelan migrants who are living in the country without residence permits won’t be given free COVID-19 vaccines when those arrive in the South American country — possibly leaving hundreds of thousands unvaccinated.

In an interview Monday with Blu Radio, President Ivan Duque said that giving free vaccines to undocumented immigrants could “unleash a stampede” of Venezuelans crossing into neighboring Colombia to get vaccinated.

Duque said migrants who have regularized their status in Colombia would also be eligible for free vaccines as long as they fall into the categories that the Ministry of Health has outlined for who gets vaccinated first.

Columbian immigration authorities say more than 1.8 million Venezuelans currently live in Colombia and about 60% of them do not have a residence permit.

Duque’s comments were widely rejected by health experts and migrants’ rights groups, who said that leaving out a vulnerable group from a vaccination program would be counterproductive and unethical.

Dr. Juan Carlos Viloria, who leads an association of Venezuelan immigrants in Colombia, said not vaccinating everyone could put thousands of people at risk.

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FRANKFORT, Ky. — The governor of Kentucky and his wife received COVID-19 vaccinations Tuesday along with other top state lawmakers.

Democratic Gov. Andy Beshear, joined by his wife, first lady Britainy Beshear, thanked the top two Republican legislative leaders, Kentucky House Speaker David Osborne and Senate President Robert Stivers, for joining him in “setting the right example for the people of Kentucky.”

Beshear said the head of the Kentucky national guard, lieutenant governor, and state police commissioner will receive vaccines on Wednesday.

About 7,000 Kentucky residents, the vast majority of them health care workers in hospitals, have been vaccinated since Dec. 14.

Kentucky reports 3,057 new confirmed coronavirus cases and 28 virus-related deaths Tuesday. The state’s test positivity rate is 8.48%, down slightly from Monday.

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WASHINGTON — Health officials have paused part of three global studies testing blood thinners in hospitalized COVID-19 patients, saying the treatment does not seem to be helping those most seriously ill and that they cannot rule out the chance it could be harmful.

Blood clots and inflammation plague many with COVID-19, and the studies are testing various medicines to see if they can prevent organ damage.

A statement from the U.S. National Institutes of Health, which is involved in some of the studies, says independent monitors recommended pausing enrollment after seeing no benefit from blood thinners in critically ill patients needing intensive care.

The statement notes that increased bleeding is a common complication with these drugs but gives no details on whether or how often that occurred in these studies.

They are underway in many countries and are supported by health agencies in the United States, Canada, the United Kingdom, Australia and European nations.

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AUSTIN, Texas — The governor of Texas has joined the ranks of governors to receive the COVID-19 vaccine on live television in hopes of assuring the public that the inoculations are safe.

Republican Greg Abbott said after getting the vaccine Tuesday at a hospital in the state capital that federal health officials have urged governors to set an example. Alabama Gov. Kay Ivey also received the first dose this week, while other governors have said they’ll wait.

A resurgence of the virus in Texas has put the number of hospitalized COVID-19 patients back over 10,000 for only the second time during the pandemic. Nearly 11,000 people were hospitalized in July during a deadly summer outbreak.

But Abbott says this time he won’t impose new lockdown measures again as cases climb.

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DUBAI, United Arab Emirates — Dubai has approved the use of the Pfizer vaccine against the coronavirus and will launch an “extensive” inoculation effort starting Wednesday.

Authorities in Dubai, the financial hub of the United Arab Emirates, said the vaccine made by Pfizer and its German partner BioNTech would be offered to citizens and residents free of charge.

The announcement comes after the UAE issued the first government authorization of the Chinese vaccine Sinopharm, claiming it was 86% effective based on an “interim analysis” of Phase III trials without offering further details. Clinics across the federation of seven sheikhdoms have started administering the Chinese vaccine.

The UAE has recorded over 195,800 coronavirus cases and more than 600 deaths. Although the country has seen an uptick in cases in recent months, Dubai, with its economy heavily dependent on air travel and hospitality, has remained open for business and tourism.

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NEW YORK — A top federal health official has signed off on an advisory committee’s recommendation about who should be prioritized for limited doses of coronavirus vaccine.

The government earlier this month advised state vaccination campaigns to put at the front of the line health-care workers and residents of nursing homes and other long-term care facilities.

U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention Director Dr. Robert Redfield on Tuesday endorsed the committee’s recommendation and made official government guidance.

An expert committee voted on Sunday to recommend the next groups to be prioritized. They said the second group should be people age 75 and older, and people with certain jobs – like teachers, corrections officers, and grocery store workers – that put them in frequent contact with other people.

The Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices listed the third group as other essential workers, people ages 65 to 74, and people 16 to 64 who have certain medical conditions that put them at risk for severe illness if they become infected.

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CHICAGO — Thousands of Illinois inmates and jail employees have become sickened with COVID-19 since the pandemic’s start. The increase in recent months has alarmed prisoner rights advocates.

The Chicago Tribune reports at least 59 inmates have died from COVID-19 and nearly 10,000 inmates and staff members have become infected. Most infections are recent. From March to early August, there were fewer than 700 known infections.

The head of the Illinois Prison Project calls it an “absolute failure” by the state. Illinois Department of Corrections officials have acknowledged the high number, which is partly blamed on more testing in jails.

The Illinois Department of Public Health said the state on Tuesday had 6,239 newly confirmed and probable COVID-19 cases, including 116 deaths. Overall, Illinois has reported 911,308 cases, including 15,414 deaths.

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PARIS — France will start allowing EU citizens and some British citizens to come to the continent from Britain, after shutting down all passenger and cargo traffic from the U.K. because of a new strain of the coronavirus.

French Prime Minister Jean Castex announced Tuesday that citizens of the border-free European travel zone arriving from Britain will be allowed to enter French territory as of midnight – but only if they have a PCR virus test from the last 72 hours. British citizens with EU residency will also be allowed.

The new rules will be in place until Jan. 6.

Castex said no decision has been made yet on cargo traffic but expected a solution “in the coming hours.”

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COLUMBIA S.C. — The South Carolina governor’s office announced Tuesday that Republican Gov. Henry McMaster has tested positive for the coronavirus and was slated to receive outpatient antibody treatment for “mild symptoms.”

His office said McMaster, 73, learned he had tested positive late Monday following a test “due to coming into close contact with the COVID-19 virus.” McMaster’s wife, 73-year-old Peggy McMaster, tested positive last week but remains asymptomatic.

On the advice of his personal physician, the governor was slated to receive monoclonal antibody treatment Tuesday, which his office called a “preventative measure for those with mild to moderate symptoms.”

Officials say the governor was tested last week at the same time as his wife but had a negative result at the time. He is now “experiencing mild symptoms with a cough and slight fatigue.”

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SACRAMENTO, Calif. — Californians are being warned it is too risky to celebrate the winter holidays normally and if they don’t change plans there could be a disastrous explosion of coronavirus cases.

The state has recorded a half-million coronavirus cases in the last two weeks, and Gov. Gavin Newsom says a projection model shows California could have 100,000 hospitalizations in the next month.

The current surge is already overwhelming hospitals in urban centers and rural areas alike. A medical center in Imperial County along the Mexican border warned Monday that it is fast running out of patient beds.

California is enduring by far its worst spike in cases and hospitalizations. All of Southern California and the 12-county San Joaquin Valley to the north have been out of regular ICU capacity for days.

California is averaging almost 44,000 newly confirmed cases a day and has recorded 525,000 in the last two weeks. It’s estimated 12% those who test positive end up in the hospital. That means 63,000 hospitalizations from the last 14 days of cases. The current figure is 17,190.

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PHOENIX — The death toll in Arizona from the coronavirus outbreak has passed the 8,000 mark on Tuesday as the state reported an additional 153 known deaths, the second-highest daily increase during the pandemic.

The state has seen 8,125 total deaths.

The Department of Health Services reported an additional 5,869 known COVID-19 cases on Tuesday, increasing the state’s total to 467,215 confirmed cases.

According to the state coronavirus dashboard, there were 4,019 virus-related hospitalizations as of Monday, the latest in a string of pandemic-highs recorded this month during the fall surge now continuing into winter.

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