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The Latest: US skeptical of Russia's virus vaccine safety

TAIPAI, Taiwan — U.S. Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar says it’s more important to have a safe and effective vaccine against the coronavirus than to be the first to produce a vaccine.

Azar, on a visit to Taiwan, was asked by ABC on Tuesday what he thought of Russia’s announcement that it had become the first country to register a vaccine against the virus.

He says, “The point is not to be first with a vaccine. The point is to have a vaccine that is safe and effective for the American people and the people of the world.”

He says it’s important to have transparent data on the vaccine to prove its safety and efficacy. He also noted that the U.S. has six vaccines in development under the Operation Warp Speed initiative.

The U.S. has the highest death and case count in the world, with more than 163,000 deaths and over 5 million cases.

Meanwhile, White House counselor Kellyanne Conway expressed skepticism about the testing backing up Russia’s claim that it has developed a COVID-19 vaccine.

“The U.S. standards are so much more stringent,” Conway said Tuesday on Fox “Fox & Friends.”

“Our FDA in our country sets the standards and what I understand from the Russia announcement is this is nowhere near where we are.”

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HERE’S WHAT YOU NEED TO KNOW ABOUT THE VIRUS OUTBREAK:

— Russia clears virus vaccine despite scientific skepticism

— Global coronavirus cases top 20 million, doubling in 45 days

— Virus surge makes U.S. weak link in global economic recovery

— New York’s true nursing home death toll cloaked in secrecy

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Follow AP’s pandemic coverage at http://apnews.com/VirusOutbreak 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 that authorities have found four cases of the coronavirus in one Auckland household from an unknown source, the first cases of local transmission in the country in 102 days.

Ardern said Auckland, the nation’s largest city, will be moved to Alert Level 3 from midday Wednesday, meaning that people will be asked to stay at home and bars and many other businesses will be closed.

She said the rest of the country will be raised to Alert Level 2.

Director-General of Health Ashley Bloomfield said the infections were confirmed after a person in their 50s went to their doctor on Monday with symptoms and was swabbed twice, testing positive both times. Six other people in the person’s household were then tested, with three more positive results.

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PROVIDENCE, R.I. — The confirmed number of coronavirus cases in the world has reached 20 million. That’s according to the tally kept by Johns Hopkins University.

Health officials believe the actual number is much higher, given testing limitations and the fact that as many as 40% of all those who are infected have no symptoms.

The U.S., India and Brazil have together accounted for nearly two-thirds of all cases since the world hit 15 million on July 22.

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BEIJING — The number of new community infections reported in China fell to just 13 on Tuesday, while the semi-autonomous city of Hong Kong saw a further decline to 69 new cases.

The mainland also saw 31 new cases brought by Chinese travelers from abroad arriving at eight different provinces and cities. China requires testing and a two-week quarantine of all new arrivals and has barred most foreigners from entering the country.

All new locally transmitted cases were in the northwestern region of Xinjiang, whose main city, Urumqi, has been at the center of the country’s latest major outbreak.

China has reported a total of 4,634 deaths from COVID-19 among 84,712 cases. Hong Kong has been bringing numbers of new cases down since its latest outbreak last month, partly by mandating mask wearing in public settings and stepping-up social distancing restrictions. The territory has reported 4,148 cases and 55 deaths.

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LONDON -- P&O Cruises, the U.K.’s largest cruise line, has pushed back the restart of its operations by a month until November.

It said this was due to the British government’s decision to advise people to avoid cruises as a result of the coronavirus pandemic.

Sailings, which had been due to resume on Oct. 15, have been canceled until Nov. 12.

Two trips with longer itineraries due to begin in January — Aurora’s Caribbean and South America Adventure and Arcadia’s World Cruise — have also been suspended.

The industry faces a particularly uncertain future after many passengers tested positive for the virus in the early days of the pandemic in February and March.

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COPENHAGEN, Denmark — Travelers from so-called risk countries will be tested upon arrival in Finland after a large group of people arriving on a plane from North Macedonia over the weekend tested positive for the coronavirus.

Krista Kiuru, Finland’s minister for Family Affairs and Social Services, said late Monday the Nordic country will introduce the mandatory testing as soon as possible.

Whether they will carry out random sampling “or test everyone who comes across borders, is still unclear” she said.

Mika Salminen of Finland’s National Institute for Health and Welfare said a large part of the world’s countries are considered risk countries.

Tests will be made on anyone arriving from a country with more than 8 to 10 new COVID-19 cases per 100,000 inhabitants in the past 14 days.

On Saturday, a plane from Skopje, North Macedonia, with 157 passengers landed in Turku, western Finland, and 24 turned out positive during voluntary tests, authorities said.

Salminen said that “on the whole the situation is relatively calm in Finland.” The Nordic country has seen a total of 7,601 cases and 333 deaths.

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ISLAMABAD -- Pakistan’s planning minister is warning his countrymen that their “victory” against the coronavirus could be reversed if they stop adhering to social distancing rules.

Asad Umar praised people on Tuesday for cooperating with the government since March, when a nationwide lockdown was enforced amid increasing COVID-19 deaths and infections.

His warning comes a day after Pakistan eased almost all restrictions on businesses. Schools have still not been reopened.

It also comes a day after the incoming president of the United Nations General Assembly, Volkan Bozkir, during a visit to Islamabad praised Pakistan for quickly containing the coronavirus, saying the South Asian nation’s handling of the pandemic is an example for others.

Pakistan reported its first confirmed case in February and witnessed a peak in deaths and infections in June. Since then, it has experienced a steady decline in fatalities.

On Tuesday it reported 15 fatalities from the coronavirus in the past 24 hours, raising its total COVID-19-related fatalities to 6,112.

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JAKARTA, Indonesia -- Indonesia has started the third phase of clinical trials for a COVID-19 vaccine in Bandung, West Java. State-owned company Bio Farma is running the trial in partnership with Chinese coronavirus vaccine developer Sinovac Biotech.

Twenty volunteers were injected Tuesday at Padjadjaran University’s Medical Faculty, with President Joko Widodo attending. The first and second clinical phases were conducted earlier in China.

“We hope that this third clinical trial will be completed in six months. Hopefully we can produce in January, and if production is ready, vaccinate all people in the country,” Widodo said.

A total of 120 volunteers will participate in the initial trial group. The next will be held in the third week and fourth week of this month and involve 144 volunteers. In early September, 408 more volunteers will receive vaccine tests. The injection and monitoring of the trial participants will be conducted until the third week of December.

On Tuesday, Indonesia announced 1,693 new COVID-19 cases, bringing its confirmed total to 128,776. The National Task Force for COVID-19 Mitigation reported that 59 people died in the last 24 hours, taking the death toll to 5,824.

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NEW DELHI, India — India reported 53,601 new coronavirus cases on Tuesday as its total confirmed infections near 2.3 million.

The Health Ministry said fatalities reached 45,257 on Tuesday after 871 new deaths were recorded.

India has been posting an average of around 50,000 new cases a day since mid-June.

The Indian Council of Medical Research, India’s top medical research body, said about 25 million tests for the virus have been conducted in the country.

Health experts say the country needs to test more people given its high population. A country of 1.4 billion people, India has been conducting a little less than 18,000 tests per million population.

India has the third-highest caseload in the world after the United States and Brazil. It has the fifth-most deaths but its fatality rate of about 2% is far lower than the top two hardest-hit countries.

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