The Latest: New virus clusters hit China’s north provinces
BEIJING — A Chinese city has brought 2,600 temporary treatment rooms online as the country’s north battles new clusters of coronavirus.
The single-occupancy rooms in the city of Nangong in Hebei province just outside Beijing are each equipped with their own heaters, toilets, showers and other amenities, the official Xinhua News Agency reported.
Special attention has been paid to Hebei because of its proximity to the capital and the province has locked down large areas to prevent further spread of the virus. The provincial capital Shijiazhung and the city of Xingtai, which encompasses Nangong, have been largely sealed off from the rest of the country. Community isolation and large-scale testing have also been enforced.
China on Saturday marked the anniversary of the start of a 76-day lockdown in the central city of Wuhan, where the virus was first detected in late 2019. A World Health Organization inspection team is in the city to probe the virus’ origins, amid stiff efforts by China to defend its response to the outbreak and promote theories that the virus might have come from elsewhere.
The National Health Commission on Sunday reported 19 additional cases had been detected in Hebei over the previous 24 hours. The far northeastern province of Heilongjiang reported another 29 cases, linked partly to an outbreak at a meat processing plant. Beijing, where around 2 million residents have been ordered to undergo new testing, reported two new confirmed cases.
China currently has 1,800 people being treated for COVID-19, 94 of them listed in serious condition, with another 1,017 being monitored in isolation for having tested positive for the virus without displaying symptoms.
THE VIRUS OUTBREAK:
Life in the Chinese city of Wuhan has some normalcy a year after deadly pandemic erupted there. British doctors are urging the government to review its policy of delaying 2nd virus vaccine shot for 12 weeks. Hong Kong is in lockdown to contain the coronavirus. And Mexico’s president has OK’d states acquiring vaccines. ___
HERE’S WHAT ELSE IS HAPPENING:
SEATTLE — Washington and Oregon are now confirming additional cases of the more contagious variant of COVID-19 in the Pacific Northwest. The Washington Department of Health announced Saturday that the B.1.1.7 variant, which first emerged in the United Kingdom last September, has been confirmed by DNA sequencing in two cases in Snohomish County. Those are the first confirmed cases in Washington. The Oregon Health Authority confirmed a second case, in someone from Yamhill County, a week after the first case was detected in Multnomah County. According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, there is no conclusive evidence that it’s more severe than other strains of the virus.
NEW YORK -- New York will be sending more vaccination preparation kits to senior housing complexes and churches in an effort to ensure fairness in vaccine distributions, Gov. Andrew Cuomo said Saturday.
The kits include syringes, vials, room dividers, privacy curtains, cleaning supplies, personal protective gear and other items. They also include instructions on how to set up a vaccination site.
New York deployed the first kits last week to five New York City Housing Authority senior citizen complexes and eight churches and cultural centers where nearly 4,200 people eligible to receive the vaccine were vaccinated, Cuomo said.
Kits are now being sent to four additional New York City senior complexes and eight other churches statewide, with plans to vaccine another 3,000 people at those locations by Tuesday. Locations in Brooklyn, the Bronx, Nassau County, Suffolk County, Rochester, Syracuse, Albany, and Buffalo will be receiving the kits.
The kits are part of an effort to ensure vaccinations in Black, Latino and other communities where COVID-19 has had a disproportionate impact, the governor said.
Also Saturday, the governor’s office reported 144 more deaths statewide from the coronavirus. More than 8,800 people were hospitalized, a drop of 44 compared with Friday’s data.
SAN FRANCISCO — A federal appeals court has denied a Southern California church’s request to overturn the state’s coronavirus restrictions barring worship services indoors during the coronavirus pandemic.
The Sacramento Bee says Friday’s ruling by the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals leaves the door open for addressing Gov. Gavin Newsom administration’s limits on church attendance if a California county is in a less-restrictive COVID-19 tier.
A three-judge panel ruled against South Bay United Pentecostal Church of Chula Vista over public health orders that restrict religious services from being held inside while virus case rates and hospitalizations remain high.
Currently in California, indoor worship services are banned in all purple-tiered counties — those deemed to be at widespread risk of coronavirus transmission. This tier accounts for the vast majority of the state. Just four counties are in less-restrictive tiers.
SANTA FE, N.M. -- New Mexico on Saturday reported 859 additional COVID-19 cases and 38 more deaths.
That increases the state’s pandemic totals to 168,579 cases and 3,115 deaths.
Bernalillo County had the most additional cases with 184, followed by 83 in San Juan County, 74 in Dona Ana County and 53 in McKinley County.
Most of the additional deaths involved older New Mexicans, but they also included several people in their 20s and 30s.
The number of infections is thought to be far higher than reported because many people have not been tested, and studies suggest people can be infected with the virus without feeling sick.
RIO DE JANEIRO — The governor of Brazil´s Amazonas state has announced tough new lockdown measures to combat a surge in COVID-19 cases that has overwhelmed local hospitals.
Gov. Wilson Lima said Saturday that as of Monday, the state’s 4 million people can only go out for essential activities such as buying food or seeking medical attention.
Hospitals in the state capital of Manaus have been strained amid reports that a new variant of the novel coronavirus is more contagious, and the state has seen a shortage of oxygen supplies. The state health secretary says 584 people are on a waiting list for hospital beds, 101 of them requiring intensive therapy.
“People need to understand that we have to take tough measures to save as many lives as possible,” Lima said in an announcement posted on social media.
HELSINKI — Norway says its capital, Oslo, and nine municipalities have been placed under strict restrictions to contain the spread of the new variant of the coronavirus first detected in Britain.
The Norwegian government said shopping centers and other non-essential stores in those regions were closed at noon on Saturday, and would remain shut at least until Jan. 31.
In addition, organized sports activities were halted, schools were ordered to rely increasingly on remote teaching and households were requested to not invite visitors home in those specified areas.
Norwegian health officials say the Scandinavian country of 5.4 million has so far identified some 55 cases of the virus variant which has spread widely in Britain.
Neighboring Sweden, where the overall pandemic situation is substantially worse than in Norway, said late Saturday that it was planning to launch a temporary entry ban from Norway due to the new mutated form of COVID-19.
LAS VEGAS -- Federal prosecutors have charged a Nevada man with fraudulently obtaining about $2 million in federal coronavirus relief aid, meant for small businesses, to buy luxury vehicles and condominiums in Las Vegas.
The Las Vegas Review-Journal reported that the U.S. attorney’s office in Nevada accused Jorge Abramovs of bank fraud after he allegedly applied for funding to at least seven banks between April and June 2020.
The complaint said a financial analysis determined Abramovs spent the money on personal luxury items, including a 2020 Bentley Continental GT Convertible for more than $260,000 and a 2020 Tesla Model 3 for about $55,000.
Abramovs was ordered remanded in custody on Friday during a detention hearing.
A defense lawyer assigned to represent Abramovs didn’t immediately respond to an emailed request by The Associated Press for comment.
CHICAGO — Restaurants and certain bars across Chicago and suburban Cook County have opened their doors to customers for the first time since late October after winning approval Saturday from Illinois health officials.
With the city and county moving up to Tier I of the state’s coronavirus mitigation plan, restaurants and bars that serve food can seat customers indoors at 25% capacity or 25 people per room, whichever is less.
Tables will be limited to no more than four people indoors or six people outdoors, and tables must be spaced 6 feet apart. Indoor service will be limited to a maximum of two hours and bars and restaurants must close by 11 p.m.
WASHINGTON — President Joe Biden pledged in his inaugural address to level with the American people, and the message from his first three days in office has been nothing if not grim and grimmer.
He has painted a bleak picture of the country’s immediate future dealing with the coronavirus, warning Americans that it will take months, not weeks, to reorient a nation facing a historic convergence of crises.
The dire language is meant as a call to action, but it is also a deliberate effort to temper expectations. The U.S. is trying to roll out its vaccination program, with issues of slow production and distribution.
The U.S. leads the world with 24.8 million confirmed coronavirus cases and more than 415,000 deaths.
MILAN — Italian premier Giuseppe Conte is pledging legal action not only against Pfizer but any pharmaceutical company that doesn’t meet its coronavirus vaccine commitments.
Conte says delays announced by a second company, AstraZeneca, were “worrying” and if confirmed would mean that Italy would receive an initial delivery of 3.4 million doses instead of the agreed 8 million.
Conte says the “the slowdown in deliveries constitute serious contractual violations that produce enormous damages to Italy and other European countries, with direct repercussions on the lives and health of citizens and on our socio-economic fabric, already badly tested by a year of the pandemic.”
He pledged Italy would take every legal recourse “as we are already doing with Pfizer-Biontech.”
Italy is under tiered restrictions and intensive care wards have surpassed the threshold for alarm in five regions.
On Saturday, 13,000 new cases and 488 deaths were recorded by the Health Ministry. Italy’s death toll of 85,000 is the second highest in Europe and sixth highest in the world.
MADRID — Spain’s top military commander has been forced to resign after he and other high-ranking officers violated established protocols and received the COVID-19 vaccine ahead of time.
Spain’s defense ministry confirmed to The Associated Press on Saturday that Minister Margarita Robles had accepted the resignation of Chief of Staff Gen. Miguel Ángel Villarroya.
His resignation comes after online news site El Confidencial Digital reported that Villarroya and other top brass had broken national protocols for Spain’s vaccination strategy, which currently only allows nursing home residents and medical workers to receive shots. Several public officials have jumped the vaccine queue in recent weeks, including a regional health chief for southeast Murcia, who also resigned.
ANCHORAGE, Alaska — Alaska health officials say they are considering moving up teachers on the state’s vaccine list as more students have restarted in-person instruction.
A top vaccine official with the state Department of Health and Social Services made the announcement.
The state has prioritized health care workers, seniors 65 years or older and long-term care residents and staff.
Teachers 50 years or older, residents that have two or more high-risk health conditions and other essential workers will be prioritized next.
State officials say conversations about vaccinating teachers are happening both in Republican Gov. Mike Dunleavy’s office and among a scientific and medical advisory committee that helped develop the state’s vaccine policy.
MECCA, Calif. — Advocacy groups are heading into farm fields in California to bring vaccines and information to migrant laborers in Spanish and other languages.
Some immigrants in the country illegally may fear that information taken during vaccinations could be turned over to authorities and not seek out vaccines. Those who speak little or no English may find it difficult to access shots.
These challenges are particularly worrying for Latino immigrants, who make a large portion of the workforce in industries where they have a significant risk of exposure.
In California’s sprawling Riverside County, home to a $1.3 billion agriculture industry, a health care nonprofit went to a grape farm to register workers for vaccine appointments. The Desert Healthcare District and Foundation also shares information about the virus and how to get tested on WhatsApp in Spanish.
The National Day Laborer Organizing Network has used a Spanish-language radio show on social media to share information.
PRESCOTT VALLEY, Ariz. — A multipurpose arena in Prescott Valley will be the latest large venue in Arizona to become a COVID-19 vaccination site.
Cottonwood-based Spectrum Healthcare on Monday will open an appointment-only site called “Vaccination Station” inside Findlay Toyota Center, a 5,100-seat facility that has hosted events including basketball games, rodeos, concerts and ice shows. The Daily Courier reports that Spectrum plans to administer shots to as many as 1,000 people daily.
Pima County already opened a drive-through vaccination site in Tucson at Kino Sports Complex. The state plans to open a site at the Phoenix Municipal Stadium on Feb. 1.
Arizona has the worst infection rate in the country with 1 in every 141 residents diagnosed with the coronavirus in the past week.
The Department of Health Services on Friday reported 8,099 new cases and 229 more deaths. That increased the state’s confirmed pandemic totals to 708,041 cases and 12,001 deaths.
MEXICO CITY — Mexico President Andrés Manuel López Obrador has given state governors permission to acquire coronavirus vaccines on their own.
With coronavirus infections and COVID-19 deaths at record highs in recent days, the federal government hasn’t received enough vaccine for the country’s 750,000 front-line medical workers.
So state governors have been calling for permission to obtain vaccines on their own, and the president said Friday they can do so as long as they inform federal officials and use only approved vaccines.
Also, López Obrador announced Mexico plans to start vaccinating teachers and other school personnel in one of the country’s 32 states this weekend with an eye toward resuming in-person classes there in late February.
Officials reported more than 21,000 confirmed infections Friday, a day after the country listed a record 22,339 cases. Deaths related to the virus in the previous 24 hours reached 1,440.
Mexico ranks No. 4 in deaths with more than 147,000, behind the U.S., Brazil and India.