The Latest: UK: Virus outbreak apparently stopped growing
LONDON (AP) — British health officials say the country’s coronavirus outbreak may have stopped growing for the first time in three months.
The government’s scientific advisory committee says the R rate -- the number of people each infected person transmits the disease to -- is between 0.9 and 1.0. That means that on average every 10 people with COVID-19 will infect between 9 and 10 others. If the figure is below 1, the number of new infections will shrink.
There are regional variations, with infections likely flat or growing in London and southeast England but falling in the northwest and northeast, which previously had the highest infection rates.
Coronavirus cases in Britain fell over the summer but surged again in the fall. The government imposed a four-week national lockdown in England on Nov. 5 to curb the new surge. It is due to be replaced next week with a system of regional restrictions. Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland all have their own measures in place.
HERE’S WHAT YOU NEED TO KNOW ABOUT THE VIRUS OUTBREAK:
— Black Friday offers beacon of hope to struggling stores
— Empty seats, delivered feasts as virus changes Thanksgiving
— UK asks regulator to assess AZ-Oxford vaccine amid questions
— The pandemic is turning this into a holiday shopping season like no other. Toy companies are targeting stuck-at-home grown-ups with latte-smelling Play-Doh and Legos that turn into Warhols.
— The deluge of “Dear Santa” letters pouring into a French post office that sorts and responds to Kris Kringle's mail offers a glimpse into the worries and hopes of children around the world awaiting a pandemic-hit Christmas.
— Greece has moved all school and university classes to a remote format. State television is making and broadcasting lessons, while teachers speak to students online from empty classrooms.
HERE’S WHAT ELSE IS HAPPENING:
LISBON, Portugal -- Portugal’s prime minister is repudiating a report saying that elderly people could be put at the back of the line when COVID-19 vaccinations become available.
Prime Minister Antonio Costa tweeted Friday, “There are technical criteria which can never be accepted by politicians. It is inadmissible to stop protecting life in accordance with age. Lives have no expiry date.”
Costa’s comments appeared to corroborate a report in weekly newspaper Expresso on Friday that officials tasked with drawing up the country’s vaccination plans had proposed in a draft document that healthy people over 65 would be among the last to be inoculated.
The spokesman for Portugal’s National Health Council, Jorge Torgal, told Portuguese radio station TSF the draft was drawn up at a time when scientific evidence suggested vaccines would not be effective in the elderly.
The Portuguese government has been widely criticized for its delay in drawing up its vaccine plans.
KANSAS CITY, Mo. -- The Kansas City area has reached an unwanted milestone: Coronavirus deaths in the region have now topped 1,000.
The Kansas City Star reports that nine new deaths cited Thursday brought the total since the onset of the pandemic to 1,003. The number includes Kansas City, Missouri, as well as its suburbs in both Missouri and Kansas.
The University of Kansas Health System said its hospital has had 119 deaths, with the average age of the victims 64. David Wild, vice president of performance improvement at the health system, said 16% had no underlying conditions.
BERLIN — Germany has hit another grim milestone in the coronavirus pandemic, reporting a total of more than 1 million confirmed cases of COVID-19.
The country’s disease control center said Friday that Germany’s 16 states reported 22,806 cases overnight for a national total of 1,006,394 since the start of the pandemic.
However, Germany has reported fewer virus-related deaths than many other European countries: 15,586 compared with more than 50,000 in Britain, Italy and France.
The country is almost a month in to a so-called “wave-breaker” shutdown instituted Nov. 2 after daily cases rose to new record highs. Officials say the new measures have succeeded in halting the surge.
But Chancellor Angela Merkel and state governors decided earlier this week to extend the shutdown well into December and add more restrictions to try to bring the numbers down to below 50 cases per 100,000 inhabitants each week.
BANGKOK — Thailand has signed a deal to procure 26 million doses of the trial coronavirus vaccine developed by pharmaceutical firm AstraZeneca in collaboration with Oxford University.
The doses expected to be delivered in mid-2021 would cover 13 million people in a population of about 69 million.
Thailand’s National Vaccine Institute signed a non-refundable advance market commitment contract worth 2.38 billion baht ($79 million) with AstraZeneca to reserve the supply of the vaccine candidate. Another 3.67 billion baht ($121 million) agreement for the purchase of the trial vaccine, known as AZD1222, was signed by the Health Ministry’s Disease Control Department.
A government spokesman said Friday that officials are still deciding who should receive the vaccine first. A separate deal signed in October allows a Thai company to manufacture the AstraZeneca vaccine. Thailand has had 3,961 confirmed cases of the coronavirus since January, including 60 deaths
MOSCOW -- Russia has reported a sharp daily spike in coronavirus cases. Officials reported 27,543 new confirmed infections Friday, over 2,000 more than the day before.
Moscow and St, Petersburg reported record numbers of new cases, with 7,918 and 3,687, respectively. The surge brought Russia’s total in the pandemic to over 2.2 million, the fifth-highest number in the world. Russia’s coronavirus task force has also reported 38,558 virus-related deaths.
Russia has been swept by a fall resurgence of the virus. The numbers of confirmed cases and deaths are hitting new highs almost daily and significantly exceeding the levels reported during the country’s spring outbreak.
Russian authorities have rejected the idea of another nationwide lockdown or the widespread closure of businesses to slow infections.
MELBOURNE, Australia — From nearly 8,000 active cases in August and more than 800 deaths in the Australian state of Victoria to the elimination of the coronavirus: It’s an achievement that one Melbourne doctor says he thought was unthinkable only three months ago.
Friday marked four weeks without a new case of COVID-19 and 9,828 Victorians were tested in the past 24 hours.
Health authorities say 28 days with no new cases means the virus has been eliminated from the community, given that the time represents two 14-day incubation periods.
Victoria reached 7,880 active cases on Aug. 11. The last COVID-19 patient in a Victorian hospital was discharged on Monday, leaving the state without an active case.
The resurgence had forced a lockdown in Melbourne, an overnight curfew and travel and family gathering restrictions. Premier Daniel Andrews was criticized repeatedly over several months for his strict guidelines.
“It is an emotional thing. My training makes me wary about ever saying we’ve reached the finish line here,” Melbourne doctor Stephen Parnis told Australian Broadcasting Corp. radio. “But the fact that in about three months we’ve gotten to this point, no one would have been able to suggest that would even come close to this.”
Australia’s death toll from the virus is 907 and 819 of them are from Victoria.
MADRID — Health Minister Salvador Illa says Spain will be able to vaccinate its 47 million residents against the coronavirus in three waves starting in January and ending “during the months of summer.”
Some 2.5 million people, including residents and personnel working in nursing homes, health workers and people with dependency, will be prioritized for the first batch of vaccines that Spain expects to administer between January and March, Illa said Friday.
He said that experts are analyzing what will be the order for vaccinating other groups in the March to June vaccination campaign and for the last batch, over the summer, depending on their risk of contagion and the availability of vaccine doses.
Spain has closed contracts to purchase 140 million doses that could cover 80 million people.
Asked about questions raised about preliminary results from a proposed vaccine developed by AstraZeneca and Oxford University, Illa said the European Union’s strategy of purchasing vaccines from at least seven different manufacturers takes into account that some might not get final approval.
“No vaccine will be administered that does not have the guarantees of safety and efficacy,” Illa said.
A recent decline in the number of daily coronavirus infections in Spain has given a slight respite to hospitals, where 12% of normal beds and 28% of intensive care beds are treating COVID-19 patients. But the number of daily fatalities remains high.
The country has recorded 1.6 million coronavirus infections and 44,300 deaths.
COPENHAGEN, Denmark — Some 30 people — reportedly including doctors — have been fined a total of 165,000 kroner ($18,620) for throwing a family party in Norway that failed to respect local restrictions, a Norwegian newspaper said Friday.
Police had to stop the party held northeast of Oslo that took place in early November. Some of the participants came from Denmark a few days ahead of the party and were fined for violating the 14-day self-quarantine restriction, police spokeswoman Sikke Folgeroe told the Romerike Blad newspaper.
A total of 22 fines were handed out, three of them of 20,000 kroner ($2,260).
Police didn’t confirm to the Romerikes Blad that those who organized the party were doctors.
TOKYO — Japanese Emperor Naruhito and his family will not offer their New Year greetings from the palace balcony due to concerns over the country’s struggles with a resurgence of coronavirus infections.
The Imperial Household Agency said in a statement Friday that the annual greetings on Jan. 2 will not be held. The event traditionally draws tens of thousands of well-wishers to the palace garden. The greeting was last canceled in 1990 following the death of Naruhito’s grandfather.
Emperor Naruhito and his family have rarely made public appearances since the pandemic began, due to cancelation of palace events.
Experts have urged the government to reduce social and business activity before the holiday season because of a rise in serious coronavirus cases.
Tokyo reported 570 new COVID-19 cases on Friday, a new record for Japan’s capital city as the country faces a surge in infections. Nationwide, Japan had nearly 140,000 cases and more than 2,000 deaths.
SEOUL, South Korea — South Korea’s daily coronavirus tally is above 500 for a second straight day and the country’s prime minister is urging the public to stay at home this weekend to contain a viral resurgence.
Prime Minister Chung Sye-kyun said Friday that people should avoid social gatherings and refrain from going out in public this weekend. South Korea has seen a spike in fresh infections since it eased tough social distancing rules last month.
Authorities reported 569 newly confirmed infections over the past 24 hours, raising the country’s total to 32,887 for the pandemic, with 516 deaths. The 583 new cases reported Thursday was the first time that South Korea’s daily tally had exceeded 500 since March.