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The Latest: Japan imposes ‘emergency’ measures against virus

August 20, 2021 GMT
Health workers and police officers are seen at a unit block under lockdown in Campsie, southwest of Sydney, Friday, Aug. 20, 2021. A lockdown in Australia's largest city was extended throughout September and tougher measures to curb the coronavirus's delta variant were imposed Friday, including a curfew and a mask mandate outdoors. (Dan Himbrechts/AAP Image via AP)
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Health workers and police officers are seen at a unit block under lockdown in Campsie, southwest of Sydney, Friday, Aug. 20, 2021. A lockdown in Australia's largest city was extended throughout September and tougher measures to curb the coronavirus's delta variant were imposed Friday, including a curfew and a mask mandate outdoors. (Dan Himbrechts/AAP Image via AP)
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Health workers and police officers are seen at a unit block under lockdown in Campsie, southwest of Sydney, Friday, Aug. 20, 2021. A lockdown in Australia's largest city was extended throughout September and tougher measures to curb the coronavirus's delta variant were imposed Friday, including a curfew and a mask mandate outdoors. (Dan Himbrechts/AAP Image via AP)

TOKYO — Much of Japan kicked in its government “state of emergency” to curb COVID-19 infections Friday, as well as a less stringent “quasi-emergency,” although worries remained about their effectiveness.

Those requiring hospitalization grew to more than 168,000 people, and complaints have surfaced about hospitals turning patients away.

The emergency, which lasts through Sept. 12, requests restaurants and bars to close at 8 p.m. and not serve alcohol, and shopping malls to limit crowd size.

New daily COVID-19 cases totaled 25,146 people nationwide, averaging 20,307 a day this week, up from 14,729 last week, the Health Ministry said.

The government decided earlier this week to expand the emergency to 13 areas, up from six, including Tokyo and Okinawa. The quasi-emergency now covers 16 prefectures or areas, so about two-thirds of Japan is under some restrictive measure.

About 40% of adults are now fully vaccinated. About 15,500 people have died from COVID-19.

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MORE ON THE PANDEMIC:

— U.S. schools open amid record coronavirus delta wave

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— Maine Sen. Angus King tests positive for virus

— Africa WHO official knocks nations that ‘hoard’ vaccines

— 4 of Florida’s 5 largest school districts to require masks

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Find more AP coverage at https://apnews.com/hub/coronavirus-pandemic and https://apnews.com/hub/coronavirus-vaccine

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HERE’S WHAT ELSE IS HAPPENING:

SEOUL, South Korea – South Korea’s daily increase in coronavirus infections exceeded 2,000 for the second straight day as officials extended the highest level of social distancing restrictions short of a lockdown in large population centers.

The 2,052 new cases reported on Friday marked the 45th consecutive day of over 1,000 and brought the country’s caseload to 232,859, including 2,197 deaths.

The viral spread, driven by increased travel and the highly contagious delta variant, is a worrisome development in a country where a slow vaccine rollout has left more than half of the population still waiting for a first shot.

More than 1,300 of the new cases came from capital Seoul and the surrounding metropolitan region, where officials on Friday decided to enforce the strongest Level 4 social distancing rules for at least another two weeks. The rules prohibit private social gatherings of three or more people after 6 p.m. and force nightclubs and churches to close.

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SYDNEY — Sydney’s lockdown was extended throughout September on Friday and tougher pandemic restrictions were imposed, including a curfew and compulsory mask wearing outdoors.

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New South Wales state reported 642 locally acquired COVID-19 infections in the latest 24-hour period, the fourth consecutive day of tallies exceeding 600.

Australia’s largest city has been locked down since June 26, 10 days after the delta variant was first detected in an unvaccinated limousine driver who became infected while transporting a U.S. cargo aircrew from Sydney Airport.

Since then, 65 people have died from coronavirus in New South Wales, included four overnight.

The Sydney lockdown was to end on Aug. 28, but the state government announced it will continue until Sept. 30.

A curfew will apply from 9 p.m. to 5 p.m. from Monday in the worst-effected Sydney suburbs.

Mask wearing will become compulsory across the state will outside homes. Masks haven’t been compulsory in all circumstances outdoors

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WELLINGTON, New Zealand — New Zealand’s first virus outbreak in six months has spread from the largest city of Auckland to the capital, Wellington.

Health authorities said Friday that three people in Wellington who recently visited Auckland had tested positive. They said the outbreak had grown to 31 cases, and that some patients were being diverted from an Auckland hospital after one patient may have unknowingly been infectious while being treated.

The government on Tuesday hurriedly put the entire nation into a strict lockdown after the first community case was found in Auckland. Genome testing has linked the outbreak to an infected traveler who returned from Sydney earlier this month and was quarantined, although health authorities say they don’t yet know how the virus escaped quarantine.

New Zealand is continuing to pursue an elimination strategy aimed at wiping out the virus entirely.

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AUSTIN, Texas -- The Texas Supreme Court has declined to block restraining orders against Gov. Greg Abbott’s mask mandate ban.

The justices remanded Attorney General Ken Paxton’s appeal to the 3rd Texas Court of Appeal in Austin for a hearing. The court did not issue an opinion for its Thursday decision.

The move comes the same day as the Texas Education Agency dropped, for now, enforcement in the state’s public school systems of Abbott’s mask mandate ban.

In a public health guidance letter issued Thursday, the TEA said enforcement was being dropped because of ongoing court challenges to the ban.

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ANCHORAGE, Alaska — More than 3,000 fake COVID-19 vaccination cards have been confiscated at cargo freight facilities at the Anchorage airport as they were being shipped from China.

Officers from U.S. Customs and Border Protection seized the cards in the last week as they arrived in small packages.

An agency spokesperson said there were between 135 to 150 packages found in Anchorage, all sent by the same person in China. Each package contained a small number of the fake cards, between 20 to 90 cards.

A high volume of counterfeit vaccination cards have been detected nationwide.

Another 3,600 fake cards were found recently at cargo facilities in Memphis. Federal law enforcement officers are investigating.

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HONOLULU -- Organizers of the Ironman World Championship in Hawaii said Thursday this year’s contest will be postponed to February because of increasing COVID-19 cases in the state.

On Thursday, the state’s seven-day average of new COVID-19 cases hit 713, up 56% from two weeks ago.

A statement on the group’s website said COVID-19 in Hawaii is worse now than it has been at any point during the pandemic. The race had been scheduled for Oct. 9.

The Ironman competition is considered one of the most important Ironman triathlon events. Participants swim 2.4 miles (3.9 kilometers), ride bikes for 112 miles (180.3 kilometers) and then run a marathon, which goes for 26.2 miles (42.2 kilometers).

Organizers rescheduled the contest last year too, only to later cancel it completely because of ongoing coronavirus concerns and the risks of international travel. It was the first time in the triathlon’s four decade history that the event wasn’t held.

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PORTLAND, Ore. -- Oregon Gov. Kate Brown says all teachers, educators, support staff and volunteers in K-12 schools must be vaccinated against COVID-19.

The announcement was made Thursday amid a surge in coronavirus cases in the state and as hospitals near capacity.

Teachers are the latest to be added to the growing statewide vaccine mandate, which also includes health care workers and state employees. They must be fully vaccinated by Oct. 18 or six weeks after a COVID-19 vaccine receives full approval from the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, whichever is later.

“There are those who will disagree with the actions I’m taking today,” Brown, a Democrat, said during Thursday’s press conference. “But school is starting across the state and COVID-19 poses a threat to our kids. Our kids need to be protected and they need to be in school. And that’s why I’m willing to take the heat for this decision.”

In addition, Brown announced weekly testing for health care workers will no longer be an option for those who want to avoid vaccination. The only opt-out of the requirement is either a medical or religious exemption.

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ATLANTA — Georgia’s Republican governor issued an executive order Thursday banning cities from requiring businesses to enforce local pandemic restrictions.

But what impact, if any, the measure would have on new mask requirements in Atlanta, Savannah and other cities was not clear.

At a news conference, Gov. Brian Kemp said his order will prevent local governments from forcing businesses to be the city’s mask and vaccine police. He said he was concerned about measures in Atlanta and Savannah. Both cities have mask requirements, but it was not immediately clear that either would be affected by the governor’s order.

The order comes amid an explosion in COVID cases in the state.

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TOPEKA, Kan. — Officials in some Kansas communities are battling a rise in COVID-19 cases by mandating masks for kids, issuing emergency orders and requiring vaccines.

The seven-day rolling average of daily new cases in Kansas has risen over the past two weeks from 605 new cases per day on Aug. 3 to 797 new cases per day on Tuesday, according to data from Johns Hopkins University.

In the Lawrence area, Douglas County leaders approved a health order Wednesday that will require children ages 2 to 12 to wear masks while in indoor public spaces. The decision followed four hours of public comment that included jeering and interruptions from a largely maskless crowd, the Lawrence Journal-World reports.

In the Wichita area, hospital status was changed to critical Wednesday, as about 150 COVID-19 patients fill beds there, The Wichita Eagle reports.

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DENVER -- Colorado U.S. Sen. John Hickenlooper announced Thursday that he has tested positive for a “breakthrough” case of COVID-19.

The first-term Democrat issued a statement saying he tested positive after experiencing mild symptoms and is self-isolating at the direction of the attending physician for the U.S. Congress, Dr. Brian P. Monahan.

Infections and illnesses can happen even after being vaccinated. Experts say vaccination could help make any illnesses less severe. The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention notes that newer versions of the coronavirus could be a factor in “breakthrough” cases.

Hickenlooper, 69, is a former brewpub entrepreneur, Denver mayor and two-term governor who defeated incumbent Republican U.S. Sen. Cory Gardner in the 2020 election.

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CLAYTON, Mo. — A judge on Thursday issued an order barring St. Louis County from enforcing a mask mandate while a lawsuit against it is litigated.

St. Louis County Executive Sam Page issued the mandate last month, prompting the County Council to vote to rescind it. Page maintained that the mask requirement nonetheless remained in effect.

Circuit Judge Ellen “Nellie” Ribaudo then issued a temporary restraining order, finding that the state was likely to prevail in its argument that current law gives the council the authority to terminate the mask requirement. That order was in effect only until a decision was made on a preliminary injunction.

Ribaudo was critical of some who had claimed victory after the temporary injunction was issued.

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NASHVILLE, Tenn. — Tennessee hospitals warned Thursday that the intensive care units are full in nearly every hospital in the state’s major metropolitan areas.

The Tennessee Hospital Association said in a statement that the hospitals with full ICUs are the same ones that normally accept transfers of sicker patients from smaller hospitals.

Hospital officials are pleading with Tennesseans to get vaccinated and wear masks.

Meanwhile, U.S. Education Secretary Miguel Cardona warned Tennessee in a letter sent Wednesday that Gov. Bill Lee’s executive order allowing parents to opt their children out of mask mandates might violate federal law.

Separately, a Vanderbilt University Medical Center and Vanderbilt School of Medicine report released Thursday found that hospitalizations have increased more than tenfold in a little more than a month, the fastest rate of increase seen during the pandemic.

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COLUMBIA, S.C. — South Carolina’s top prosecutor on Thursday sued the state’s capital city over a school mask mandate that officials allege violates state law.

The city of Columbia’s school mask order conflicts with a state budget requirement that went into effect July 1 and bans school districts from using appropriated funds to require face coverings, State Attorney General Alan Wilson said in a complaint filed with the South Carolina Supreme Court.

The lawsuit comes as average daily cases of COVID-19 have risen by more than 60% over the last two weeks, with hundreds of students across the state already required to quarantine for exposure to the virus.

Earlier this month, Columbia’s city council ratified an ordinance mandating the use of masks in the city’s elementary and middle schools for at least the beginning of the school year.

The Republican attorney general said days later that the emergency ordinance should be “rescinded or amended,” but city leaders said the mandate doesn’t violate state law because city, not state, funds are being used.

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ANKARA, Turkey — Turkey will require all teachers, school administrators and other staff who have not been vaccinated to produce twice-weekly negative COVID-19 tests once schools reopen and resume in-person classes on Sept. 6, the president said.

Speaking following a Cabinet meeting Thursday, Recep Tayyip Erdogan said universities would also demand regular PCR tests from unvaccinated students and teaching staff.

People who have not been vaccinated and want to travel on buses and planes or to go to concerts, theaters and cinemas will also face mandatory COVID-19 testing, Erdogan added.

Health Minister Fahrettin Koca said the tests would be conducted free-of-charge at state-owned hospitals.

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RALEIGH, N.C. — The University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill says unvaccinated students and those who don’t disclose their COVID-19 vaccination status will be required to get tested for the coronavirus twice a week.

In a message to the community, the university says 87% of students have attested they are fully vaccinated. Those who become fully vaccinated and report their status to the university will no longer have to face twice-weekly testing.

The move comes as the state witnesses its worst levels of transmission of the virus in months.

North Carolina on Thursday registered more than 7,000 daily COVID-19 cases, the highest in seven months. More than 3,000 people are hospitalized in the state with COVID-19, the most since Jan. 28.