Fri. 11:02 a.m.: Latest world virus headlines — U.S. official expects quick vaccine distribution
Here are summaries of the latest Associated Press stories worldwide on the coronavirus pandemic, including:
— U.S. official expects quick vaccine distribution;
— Pfizer asks U.S. regulators for emergency use of vaccine candidate;
— India’s total number of coronavirus cases crosses 9 million;
— CDC urges Americans to stay home for Thanksgiving;
— Mexico tops 100,000 COVID-19 deaths, 4th country to do so;
— Health experts clash over use of certain drugs for COVID-19.
WASHINGTON — Gen. Gustave Perna of the Trump administration’s Operation Warp Speed vaccine program says about 40 million doses could be ready for distribution in the U.S. quickly if the Food and Drug Administration authorizes emergency use.
He told ABC’s “Good Morning America” this morning that states would decide, with guidance from the FDA and the CDC, who will first get the vaccine.
Pfizer is asking the FDA to allow emergency use of its COVID-19 vaccine candidate, starting a process that could bring the first shots as early as next month. Pfizer and its German partner BioNTech offered preliminary data to suggest its vaccine appears 95 percent protective.
Perna says the “states are going to tell us exactly where they want it to be…and as soon as they figure out their distribution plan across their states, we will ensure that the vaccine gets there in a timely manner.”
Health care workers and those in nursing homes and other vulnerable people are expected to get the first vaccines. Health experts say it likely will be spring or later before there’s enough vaccine for early distribution to the general public.
MEXICO CITY — Mexico passed the 100,000 mark in COVID-19 deaths, becoming only the fourth country to do so amid concerns about the lingering physical and psychological scars on survivors.
José Luis Alomía Zegarra, Mexico’s director of epidemiology, announced late Thursday that Mexico had 100,104 confirmed COVID-19 deaths, behind only the United States, Brazil and India.
The milestone comes less than a week after Mexico topped 1 million registered coronavirus cases, though officials agree the number is probably much higher because of low levels of testing.
The coverage of the back-to-back milestones has raised the hackles of some government officials.
Mexico’s pointman on the pandemic, Assistant Health Secretary Hugo López-Gatell, bristled when asked about Mexico reaching the 100,000 deaths point, criticizing the media for “being alarmist,” in the same way he has criticized those who suggest the government is undercounting COVID-19 deaths or providing contradictory and weak advice on using face masks.
“The epidemic is terrible in itself, you don’t have to add drama to it,” said López-Gatell, suggesting some media outlets were focusing on the number of deaths to sell newspapers or spark “political confrontation.”
“Putting statistics on the front page doesn’t, in my view, help much,” he said.
Mexico resembles a divided country, where some people are so unconcerned by the pandemic they won’t wear masks, while others are so scared they descend into abject terror at the first sign of shortness of breath.
Besides the trauma of the deaths, many coronavirus survivors say the psychosis caused by the pandemic is one of the most lasting effects.
With little testing being done — Mexico tests only people with severe symptoms and has performed only around 2.5 million tests in a country of 130 million — and a general fear of hospitals, many in Mexico are left to home remedies and relatives’ care.
Health officials around the world are clashing over the use of certain drugs for COVID-19, leading to different treatment options for patients depending on where they live.
This morning, a World Health Organization guidelines panel advised against using the antiviral remdesivir for hospitalized patients, saying there’s no evidence it improves survival or avoids the need for breathing machines.
But in the U.S. and many other countries, the drug has been the standard of care since a major, government-led study found other benefits — it shortened recovery time for hospitalized patients by five days on average, from 15 days to 10.
Within the U.S., a federal guidelines panel and some leading medical groups have not endorsed two other therapies the Food and Drug Administration authorized for emergency use — Eli Lilly’s experimental antibody drug and convalescent plasma, the blood of COVID-19 survivors. The groups say there isn’t enough evidence to recommend for or against them.
Doctors also remain uncertain about when and when not to use the only drugs known to improve survival for the sickest COVID-19 patients: dexamethasone or similar steroids.
And things got murkier with Thursday’s news that the anti-inflammatory drug tocilizumab may help. Like the key WHO study on remdesivir, the preliminary results on tocilizumab have not yet been published or fully reviewed by independent scientists, leaving doctors unclear about what to do.
“It’s a genuine quandary,” said the University of Pittsburgh’s Dr. Derek Angus, who is involved in a study testing many of these treatments. “We need to see the details.
“It’s not unusual for professional guidelines to disagree with each other, it’s just that it’s all under the microscope with COVID-19,” he said.
NEW DELHI — Intensive care wards in New Delhi’s hospitals are nearly at capacity, and the city’s main crematorium is packed, as the coronavirus has surged in the Indian capital and the country hit a grim milestone today, recording 9 million infections.
While the pace of recorded new cases overall in the country of 1.3 billion appears to be slowing, experts have cautioned that official figures may be offering false hope since many infections may be going undetected. In New Delhi, meanwhile, the disease is on the rise, and health officials found this week that the prevalence of infections in markets was much higher than expected, and the city has added an average of 6,700 new cases each day in recent weeks.
Despite that, markets are still full there and in other major cities, as fatigue with wearing masks and maintaining a safe distance from others set in during the recent festival season, including celebrations for the Diwali holiday. Experts worry that get-togethers for the festival of light will yield yet another surge in cases in the coming weeks.
“The next four weeks are crucial. The road is very bumpy,” said Dr. S.K. Sarin, director of New Delhi’s Institute of Liver and Biliary Sciences.
The capital’s health system is under tremendous strain: Government figures showed 90 percent of the critical care beds with ventilators designated for virus patients and 86 percent of critical care beds without ventilators were full as of Thursday.
NEW YORK — Pfizer will ask U.S. regulators to allow emergency use of its COVID-19 vaccine, starting a process that could bring first shots as early as next month.
The announcement comes days after Pfizer and its German partner BioNTech offered preliminary data to suggest its vaccine appears 95 percent protective.
Over the next few weeks, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration and its scientific advisers will decide if there’s enough evidence to allow emergency vaccinations. If so, first supplies will be scarce and experts say it likely will be spring before there’s enough for early distribution.
Health and Human Service Secretary Alex Azar told “CBS This Morning” this morning that Pfizer’s emergency use authorization application for its coronavirus vaccine candidate “means that hope and help are on the way.”
Dr. Anthony Fauci, the top U.S. infectious disease expert, has said in the meantime, citizens need to “double down on the public health measures” such as wearing a mask, social distancing and avoiding travel and people outside the household during Thanksgiving.
The U.S. leads the world with 11.7 million cases and more than 252,000 deaths.
NEW YORK — With the coronavirus surging out of control, the nation’s top public health agency pleaded with Americans on Thursday not to travel for Thanksgiving and not to spend the holiday with people from outside their household.
The Thanksgiving warning from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention came as the White House coronavirus task force held a briefing for the first time in months and Vice President Mike Pence concluded it without responding to questions by reporters or urging Americans not to travel.
Other members of the task force — whose media briefings were a daily fixture during the early days of the outbreak — talked about the progress being made in the development of a vaccine.
Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar said pharmaceutical companies Pfizer and BioNTech will seek emergency government approval for their coronavirus vaccine on Friday. And infection disease expert Dr. Anthony Fauci sought to reassure the public that the vaccine is safe while still encouraging Americans to wear masks.
The CDC’s Thanksgiving warning was some of the firmest guidance yet from the government on curtailing traditional gatherings to fight the outbreak.
The CDC issued the recommendations just one week before Thanksgiving, at a time when diagnosed infections, hospitalizations and deaths are skyrocketing across the country. In many areas, the health care system is being squeezed by a combination of sick patients filling up beds and medical workers falling ill themselves.
The CDC’s Dr. Erin Sauber-Schatz cited more than 1 million new cases in the U.S. over the past week as the reason for the new guidance.
“The safest way to celebrate Thanksgiving this year is at home with the people in your household,” she said.
LISBON, Portugal — Portugal’s parliament has voted by a comfortable margin to extend the country’s state of emergency by two weeks amid the new coronavirus pandemic.
The state of emergency has allowed the government to impose nighttime and weekend curfews across most of the country.
Officials are expected to further tighten restrictions on movements in areas of high contagion. Health experts say they expect the recent resurgence of COVID-19 to peak next week.
Portugal’s 14-day cumulative number of COVID-19 cases per 100,000 of population is 769 — higher than neighboring Spain and close to France and Italy, according to the European Centre for Disease Control.
Interior Minister Eduardo Cabrita told lawmakers today the government will likely need to extend the state of emergency again next month.
COLOMBO, Sri Lanka — Authorities in Sri Lanka have announced that they will suspend all passenger trains for two days as COVID-19 cases surge in the capital Colombo and its suburbs.
General Manager of Sri Lankan Railways Dilantha Fernando said trains will not run on Saturday and Sunday.
The authorities have locked down many parts of the capital and its suburbs since last month when the virus resurged.
Police have been strictly enforcing restrictions on movements and have arrested more than 100 people who violated the quarantine rules.
The fresh outbreak erupted due to two clusters — one centered on a garment factory and other on the fish market.
The confirmed cases from the two clusters grew to 15,329 today. Sri Lanka’s total number of positive cases since March is 18,841, with 73 fatalities.
In a bid to contain the spread, health authorities have closed schools and key public offices, and gatherings are banned.
HONG KONG — Hong Kong has suspended in-person classes for lower primary school students after the city’s top health official said the coronavirus situation in the territory was rapidly deteriorating.
Classes for primary 1 to 3 students will be suspended for two weeks from Monday. The suspension comes just over a week after kindergartens were ordered to close following an outbreak of upper respiratory tract infections.
Hong Kong confirmed 26 new coronavirus infections today, 21 of which were local cases.
“I would appeal to people to stop all unnecessary gathering activities because the situation is severe now in Hong Kong,” health minister Sophia Chan said.
Hong Kong is due to launch an air travel bubble with Singapore on Sunday. Currently, the plan remains on track, although it could be suspended according to the agreement between Singapore and Hong Kong if the seven-day moving average for untraceable coronavirus infections exceeds five in either city.
STOCKHOLM — Skansen, Stockholm’s popular open-air museum, and its traditional Christmas market with food, yule decorations and people singing and dancing around a Christmas tree, will be closed this year for the first time in its 129-year history because of corona restrictions.
“This is to take responsibility in accordance with the new guidelines where all persons are encouraged to take responsibility and not meet more than eight people,” Skansen head John Brattmyhr said in a statement.
Last week, Sweden set its strictest virus restrictions to date by banning public gatherings of more than eight people to curb a record number of infections in recent weeks that are burdening the healthcare system. The Scandinavian country had opted to keep large sections of society open. Its controversial strategy in fighting COVID-19 has so far relied mainly on recommendations to the population to maintain social distance.
Located on the island of Djurgarden in the Stockholm archipelago, Skansen has a replica of a 19th-century town with craftspeople in traditional dress. It also includes an open-air zoo. It attracts more than 1.3 million visitors each year. No date has been set for its reopening.
Sweden has reported 201,055 cases and 6,340 deaths.
ATHENS, Greece — Greece’s Health Ministry says it is appropriating two private health clinics and their staff in northern Greece as the region’s public hospitals are under severe pressure from a surge in coronavirus cases over the past few weeks. The ministry said in a statement today that it had requested beds in private hospitals be made available to the public health system for the treatment of COVID-19 patients, but that “despite the effort, the finding of a mutually acceptable solution was not possible.” It said that as of today it was forcibly appropriating the two clinics and their staff in the northern city of Thessaloniki, Greece’s second largest urban center which is at the center of rising cases.
BEIJING — Authorities in China’s northern city of Tianjin have sealed off a hospital, a residential compound and a kindergarten after the city found four new local cases of the coronavirus today.
Three of the confirmed cases were a set of parents and their son. The fourth was an individual who worked in the same residential compound. On Tuesday, the city had found a COVID-19 case in the same residential compound, bringing the total to five confirmed cases. China does not count asymptomatic patients as confirmed cases.
Health authorities said they are sealing off the entire residential compound and classifying the area as high-risk. They’ve also sealed off the hospital where one of the patients went for his diagnosis and the kindergarten that the granddaughter of one patient attends. Parents and teachers of the kindergarten are being quarantined at home.
HONOLULU — Anyone flying to Hawaii will be required to have a negative COVID-19 test result prior to their departure for the state, with the new rule going into effect two days before Thanksgiving, Gov. David Ige announced Thursday.
Until now, passengers flying to the islands using a pre-travel testing program were permitted to arrive and then upload their negative test results to a state database, allowing them to skip two weeks of quarantine.
However, some travelers who arrived in Hawaii without their test results wound up later testing positive. That, in part, prompted the rule change, Ige said at a news conference,
The new program goes into effect Tuesday, just ahead of the holiday.
To bypass the 14-day quarantine, travelers must have the correct type of COVID-19 negative test results from one of the state’s trusted testing partners, Ige said.
“If test results are not available before boarding the final leg of their trip, the traveler must quarantine for 14 days or the length of the stay, whichever runs shorter,” he said.
Those who arrive without having their negative test results before departure will not be able to skip quarantine, even if their negative results become available shortly after they arrive.
Passenger have always had the option to not get tested at all and quarantine in their hotel rooms or homes upon arrival. Travelers will continue to have that option.
SEOUL, South Korea — South Korea’s prime minister has urged the public to avoid social gatherings and stay at home as much as possible as the country registered more than 300 new virus cases for a third consecutive day.
The Korea Disease Control and Prevention Agency said today the 363 cases reported in the past 24 hours took the country’s total to 30,017 with 501 deaths since the pandemic began.
South Korea’s caseload has been on a steady rise after it relaxed its physical distancing rules last month.
Prime Minister Chung Sye-kyun today asked people to minimize year-end parties and gatherings and called on businesses to let their employees work from home.
Local authorities on Thursday toughened distancing guidelines in the greater Seoul area, the southern city of Gwangju and some parts in the eastern Gangwon province.
CHARLOTTE, N.C. — Health officials said Thursday that three more people have died of coronavirus complications linked to a series of convocation events at a North Carolina church last month, raising the death toll to 12.
Large crowds attended events at the United House of Prayer for All People in October in west Charlotte.
In that time, public health contact tracers and Mecklenburg County officials have connected 213 COVID-19 cases to the events, which includes attendees and people who came in close contact with participants, The Charlotte Observer reported.
Of the deaths, 10 were from Mecklenburg County and two were from Gaston County, officials said in a statement.
SANTA FE, N.M. — New Mexico’s governor is calling a special legislative session next week in the hope of providing new economic relief to the unemployed and small businesses that are reeling from the coronavirus pandemic and aggressive emergency health restrictions.
Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham made the announcement Thursday as daily infections statewide surged to a new record of 3,675 positive COVID-19 tests.
The proposed $300 million package would funnel federal relief funds already assigned to New Mexico toward unemployment assistance, individual housing costs and grants to small businesses.
She said the plan includes a weekly $300 supplement to the unemployed. Democratic state House speaker Brian Egolf commented: “You can support your people while we have to take difficult but critical steps in public health.”
CARSON CITY, Nev. — Nevada health officials reported a record-high 2,416 new coronavirus cases on Thursday and six additional deaths as the virus continues to surge throughout the state.
The latest figures increased the state’s totals to 127,875 cases and 1,953 known deaths since the pandemic began. The number of infections is thought to be far higher because many people have not been tested, and studies suggest people can be infected with the virus without feeling sick.
The Nevada Hospital Association reported 1,288 confirmed or suspected COVID-19 patients are currently hospitalized. Both the number of reported daily cases and total hospitalizations are the highest since the start of the pandemic in Nevada.
SACRAMENTO — California is imposing an overnight curfew on most residents as the most populous state tries to head off a surge in coronavirus cases it fears could tax the state’s health care system, Gov. Gavin Newsom announced Thursday.
What officials are calling a limited stay-at-home order requires nonessential residents to stay home from 10 p.m. to 5 a.m. starting Saturday.
It affects counties with the most severe restrictions, 41 of the state’s 58 counties that are in the “purple” tier under California’s color-coded system for reopening the economy. That covers 94 percent of the state’s nearly 40 million residents.
The move comes only days after the state imposed restrictions limiting business operations in those 41 counties, which have the most significant increases in virus cases.
“The virus is spreading at a pace we haven’t seen since the start of this pandemic and the next several days and weeks will be critical to stop the surge. We are sounding the alarm,” Newsom said in a statement.
The order will last one month, until Dec. 21, but could be extended if infection rates and disease trends don’t improve.
EL PASO, Texas — Health care workers in the border city of El Paso, Texas, where the coronavirus pandemic has overwhelmed hospitals, are joining the nation’s top public health officials in urging people not to gather for Thanksgiving.
Surgical technologist Michelle Harvey said Thursday that personal protective equipment is in high demand at the hospital where she works. She and colleagues are frustrated that they often receive only one N95 respirator for 10- to 12-hour shifts and often have to reuse shoe covers.
There is a time-consuming process to request new equipment from locked storage units, Harvey said, and sometimes “the patient just doesn’t have enough time to wait for you to get new stuff.”
Harvey said she usually has 10 to 15 people in her home for the Thanksgiving holiday, but that this year she won’t.
“If you don’t take these precautions, this might be the last time,” said Harvey, 49. “This might be your last holiday with them.”
SALEM, Ore. — The Oregon Health Authority reported three grim COVID-19 record high’s Thursday, the state’s largest daily number of confirmed cases, most daily deaths and people hospitalized for the virus.
There were 1,225 new confirmed COVID-19 cases increasing the state total to 60,873. There were 20 new deaths reported, surpassing the 800 death toll since the start of the pandemic.
The number of people hospitalized with COVID-19 in Oregon is 414, the highest number since the pandemic began and a 142 percent increase since the beginning of November, according to state health data released Thursday.