The Latest: S. Korea virus spike continues, 615 new cases

National & World News

A woman wearing a face mask to help curb the spread of the coronavirus walks by a masked elderly couple wait for their bus at a bus stand in Beijing, Sunday, Dec. 6, 2020. Provincial governments across China are placing orders for experimental, domestically made coronavirus vaccines, though health officials have yet to say how well they work or how they may reach the country’s 1.4 billion people. (AP Photo/Andy Wong)

SEOUL, South Korea — South Korea has reported 615 new cases of the coronavirus, its 30th day in a row of triple-digit daily jumps, as fears grow the viral spread is getting out of control in the greater capital area.

The country has added more than 5,300 to its caseload just in the past 10 days. Most of the transmissions were detected in the Seoul metropolitan area where health workers are struggling to stem transmissions tied to various places, including restaurants, schools, hospitals and long-term care facilities.

There’s concern that hospital capacities could become overwhelmed within weeks if the country fails to slow the viral resurgence. While the country managed to contain a major outbreak in its southeastern region in spring by channeling nationwide health resources and personnel, it’s less clear where the reinforcements will come if the virus wreaks havoc in the densely-populated capital area, where half of the country’s 51 million people live.

“The capital area is now a COVID-19 war zone,” Health Minister Park Neung-hoo said in a virus meeting, pleading for citizen vigilance. He said the country may have to further increase social distancing to prevent the viral resurgence in the capital area from “exploding into a major outbreak nationwide and collapsing the health-care system.”

While President Moon Jae-in’s government had been eager to tout the country’s previous gains against the virus, there’s criticism that it gambled on its own success by moving quickly to ease social distancing restrictions to the lowest level in October although the virus was still spreading.

Officials have scrambled to restore some restrictions in the capital area in in past weeks as infections soared, shutting down nightclubs, karaoke rooms and gyms, reducing in-person school classes and allowing restaurants to provide only deliveries and take-outs after 9 p.m.

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THE VIRUS OUTBREAK:

— Health officials warn Americans not to let their guard down

— Will the U.S. ever have a national COVID-19 test strategy?

— Most Californians face new lockdowns amid ICU surge

— China prepares large-scale rollout of coronavirus vaccines

— Vaccines are being shipped around U.K. in super-cold containers ahead of a mass vaccination program that will be watched around the world

— Europe battles a surge in coronavirus deaths in nursing homes as it gears up for a massive vaccination program that gives priority to the elderly

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Follow AP’s coverage at https://apnews.com/hub/coronavirus-pandemic and https://apnews.com/UnderstandingtheOutbreak

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HERE’S WHAT ELSE IS HAPPENING:

ANCHORAGE, Alaska — Austin Quinn-Davison, the acting mayor of Alaska’s largest city, is isolating at home after testing positive for COVID-19, her office announced Sunday.

She felt cold-like symptoms beginning on Nov. 29 and isolated at home until taking a test the next day. That test and another test came back negative. However, Quinn-Davidson’s third test came back positive Saturday.

The 41-year-old is experiencing mild symptoms, the office said. Her wife, Dr. Stephanie Quinn-Davidson, has tested negative and is not experiencing symptoms, the mayor’s office said.

“It’s so important to stay home and to get tested if you aren’t feeling well,” Austin Quinn-Davidson said “I’m grateful my symptoms are mild and thankful for the many free testing sites in Anchorage. I will continue to isolate at home as directed by my health care provider.”

Quinn-Davidson became the acting mayor of Anchorage on Oct. 23 following the resignation of Mayor Ethan Berkowitz. She’s the city’s first female mayor and the tenth mayor since the Municipality of Anchorage was formed in 1975.

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Many Californians were preparing Sunday for a new stay-at-home order that bars restaurant dining, shutters salons and limits retail in an effort to curb spiraling coronavirus infections and hospitalizations.

The new rules that take effect before midnight in the vast region of Southern California, much of the San Francisco Bay Area and a large swath of the Central Valley also prohibit residents from gathering with people not in their households.

Public health officials contend the measures are critical as space dwindles in intensive care units in Southern California and much of the Central Valley amid a surge in coronavirus infections

Some law enforcement officials in these same areas, however, said they don’t plan to enforce the rules and are counting on residents to wear masks and practice physical distancing to protect themselves during the pandemic.

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BEIJING — Authorities have completed a third round of coronavirus tests in the northeastern city of Manzhouli, where three new cases were reported on Monday.

The city government said testing on 200,745 people wrapped up on Saturday following two earlier rounds last month. No new positive cases were found and the three announced Monday were among those previously isolated as suspected cases, authorities said. Testing has been accompanied by travel restrictions and the quarantining of suspected cases and close contacts of those infected, as China strives to contain its latest outbreak in the city on the Russian border, where temperatures plunged to minus 18 centigrade (0 Fahrenheit).

China reported a total of 15 new cases on Monday, 12 of them brought from outside, bringing the mainland’s total to 86,634 with 4,634 deaths. Hospitals are currently treating 281 people for COVID-19 while 231 people are being monitored in isolation after having tested positive for the virus while showing no symptoms.

The virus, meanwhile, continues to surge in Hong Kong, with another 95 cases reported on Sunday, bringing the semi-autonomous Chinese city’s total to 6,897 with 112 deaths. Authorities there have tightened restrictions on the city’s 7.5 million people, including banning most social gatherings to just two. The surge in cases has also led to the suspension of plans to open a “travel bubble” with Singapore, underscoring the impact the outbreak has had on the city’s economy.

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RALEIGH, N.C. — North Carolina is reporting a new high of coronavirus cases for the second day in a row.

North Carolina reported 6,438 confirmed COVID-19 cases in the state Sunday. That compares to 6,018 cases the state reported Saturday.

Cases have been rising significantly in the state in the past week. North Carolina went over 6,000 cases just two days after rising above 5,000 cases.

North Carolina’s health secretary described the increases as “very worrisome” on Saturday. Dr. Mandy Cohen said state officials were looking at what further actions could be taken to save lives in the state.

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COLUMBIA, South Carolina — The number of new COVID-19 cases in South Carolina is now greater than the levels the state saw when it became one of the nation’s hot spots this summer.

More than 2,450 new COVID-19 cases have been reported in South Carolina in each of the past three days. That’s more than any day of new infections saw during the July peak of the virus in the state.

Saturday’s 2,715 new infections were the most reported on one day since the pandemic started in March, according to the state Department of Health and Environmental Control.

South Carolina reported 2,538 new cases Sunday and 2,470 on Friday. The seven-day average of new cases is now above 2,000 for the first time.

Several school districts are looking at cutting back on how much time students spend in person learning because of the spike in cases.

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DEERFIELD, Ill. — Residents in a Chicago suburb set up a condolence box at the police station to honor their mail carrier who recently died of COVID-19.

Victor Fajardo was a letter carrier for more than 20 years and last worked in Deerfield.

“It’s a really sobering reminder that nobody is immune to this, even if you’re healthy and you walk a five-hour route every day and people love you,” Cara McGowan told WBBM-TV.

A box at the Deerfield police station allows people to drop off notes for Fajardo’s family. A GoFundMe effort has raised more than $13,000 to help the family.

Fajardo worked for the U.S. Postal Service for 23 years.

“Our thoughts and deepest sympathies go out to his family and friends, including the many people he worked with at the Postal Service,” spokesman Tim Norman said.

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RICHMOND, Va. — Virginia is reporting a record number of coronavirus cases in the state for the second straight day.

Virginia reported 3,880 cases on Sunday morning. That compares to Saturday’s total of 3,793.

Virginia has reported a total number of 255,053 virus cases. The state’s health department reports there have been 4,200 total deaths from the virus in Virginia.

The state reported a 10.6% positivity rate, up from 10% on Saturday.

The Virginia Hospital and Healthcare Association says there are 1,490 people hospitalized in the state with confirmed cases of the virus. Of them, 395 were in intensive care.

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ROME — Italy has added another 564 victims to its COVID-19 death toll, bringing its official total past 60,000 and closing in on Britain as the European country with the highest toll.

Public health officials have warned that Italy is likely to see hundreds of daily COVID-19 dead at least up to Christmas, when the effects of restrictions imposed last month should start to have an impact on reducing deaths.

As it is, the restrictions have stabilized new infections, with another 18,887 positive cases reported in the past day, below the daily average of the past few weeks. With the 564 dead reported Sunday, Italy has recorded 60,078 victims, second only to Britain’s 61,245 in Europe.

Italy, the onetime European epicenter of the virus, has one of the world’s highest death tolls. Officials have blamed the high numbers on Italy’s disproportionately old population, though critics have pointed to shortfalls in the health care system in hardest-hit Lombardy, which accounts for some 23,000 of Italy’s dead.

The Italian government has imposed travel restrictions over the Christmas holidays to prevent families from gathering in hopes of avoiding a third surge after New Year’s.

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ATHENS, Greece — Greek authorities announced Sunday that new daily coronavirus cases dropped below 1,000 for the first time since Oct. 26.

There were 904 confirmed cases over the past 24 hours, along with 101 deaths, authorities said.

The total number of confirmed infections since the start of the pandemic is 115,471, with 3,003 deaths.

Despite a significant drop in cases over the past week, authorities have extended the countrywide lockdown to Dec. 14, but have allowed certain shops, including those selling Christmas-related merchandise, to open from Monday.

The number of patients on ventilators, at 600, was still close to all-time highs, straining the capacity of the national health system.

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WASHINGTON — The head of the U.S. vaccine development effort said Sunday he believes the COVID-19 vaccine could have long-lasting effect once distributed.

Dr. Moncef Slaoui told CNN’s “State of the Union” that only time will tell for certain, but that in his opinion, the vaccine’s effectiveness could last for “many, many years,” with older people and others who are more vulnerable requiring a booster every three to five years.

He said that one of the hallmarks of immune systems is memory, so the body’s response to the coronavirus will be much faster once vaccinated.

Still, Slaoui said it’s not known whether vaccinated persons could spread the virus to others even if protected themselves. He said there may be an initial indication on that sometime in February or March.

Slaoui stressed that the continuing unknowns make it important for people to remain cautious and take safeguards to protect themselves and others against COVID-19.

He said that once 70 to 80% of the population is vaccinated, “the virus will go down.”

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BERLIN — The southern German state of Bavaria is implementing more restrictions meant to slow the spread of the new coronavirus amid stubbornly high infection rates.

Gov. Markus Soeder said Sunday that the measures would take effect Wednesday and be in place for about a month.

“The numbers are simply too high,” he told reporters following a special meeting of his cabinet, the dpa news agency reported.

Bavaria is currently reporting about 175 new cases per 100,000 population over seven days, slightly higher than the national 142 per 100,000 figure, but some hot spots are far above that.

Soeder announced a curfew from 9 p.m. and 5 a.m. in areas with 200 new cases per 100,000 over seven days and above. Across the state people are also being told to stay at home unless there is a need to go out. Exceptions include to do Christmas shopping, participate in sports, go to the doctor and to go to school and work.

A planned relaxation of contact rules will remain in place for Christmas, allowing up to 10 people from multiple households to gather between Dec. 23 and Dec. 26, but a similar relaxation for New Year’s is being cancelled.

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WASHINGTON — A top medical adviser to President Donald Trump’s administration saId Sunday he’s confident that the Food and Drug Administration will approve the coronavirus vaccine from pharmaceutical company Pfizer this week.

FDA officials will meet to review the Pfizer vaccine Thursday and it could be authorized almost immediately.

“Based on the data I know I expect the FDA to make a positive decision, but of course, it’s their decision,” said Moncef Slaoui, the chief adviser to Operation Warp Speed told CBS “Face the Nation.”

But White House coronavirus task force coordinator Deborah Birx warned Americans not to let their guard down even so.

Birx, speaking on NBC’s “Meet the Press,” noted that more than 100 million Americans suffered preexisting heath conditions that put them at high risk if they contract the virus. The vast majority of those won’t have access to the vaccine for months still.

“I want to be very frank with the American people,” Birx said. “The vaccine’s critical, but it’s not going to save us from this current surge. Only we can save us from this current surge, and we know precisely what to do.”

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WASHINGTON — A top Trump administration official is calling President-elect Joe Biden’s criticism of distribution plans for the upcoming COVID-19 vaccines “nonsense.”

Biden said Friday that “there’s no detailed plan that we’ve seen” for how to get vaccines out of a container, into syringes and into people’s arms.

Speaking to “Fox News Sunday,” Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar said, “With all respect, that’s just nonsense.”

Azar said the process is “micromanaged and controlled by the United States military,” and leverages state and local governments, retail pharmacies and national shipping chains.

The first vaccine could be approved by the Food and Drug Administration in the next week, with the Trump administration saying the first immunizations should follow within 24-36 hours of approval.

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BERLIN — Several communities in the Austrian Alps have put mass coronavirus testing on hold and others were urged to do the same after a storm dumped huge amounts of snow, sending some avalanche warnings to their highest level.

Some parts of the province of Tyrol saw 70 centimeters (27.5 inches) of snow fall overnight Friday into Saturday, and another 110 centimeters (43 inches) were expected on Sunday, Austria’s APA news agency reported.

In East Tyrol, 500 households were left without electricity after trees brought down power lines and the avalanche warning was at its highest level of 5. Several areas in East Tyrol postponed virus testing.

Austria on Friday started a voluntary mass testing program that officials hope will prevent long, hard lockdowns in the future. The fast antigen tests started in Vienna and in the westernmost Vorarlberg and Tyrol provinces.

Over the first two days, some 300,000 people were tested out of Austria’s nearly 9 million. The government is hoping that several million will have been tested by mid December.

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LONDON — The coronavirus vaccine developed by American drugmaker Pfizer and Germany’s BioNTech was being sent to hospitals across the U.K. in super-cold containers on Sunday, two days ahead of the kickoff of Britain’s biggest-ever immunization program, one being closely watched around the world.

Around 800,000 doses of the vaccine are expected to be in place for the start of the rollout on Tuesday, a day that British Health Secretary Matt Hancock has reportedly dubbed as “V-Day,” a nod to triumphs in World War II.

“Despite the huge complexities, hospitals will kickstart the first phase of the largest scale vaccination campaign in our country’s history from Tuesday,” said Professor Stephen Powis, NHS England’s national medical director.

Last week the U.K. became the first country to authorize the Pfizer-BioNtech vaccine for emergency use. In trials, the vaccine was shown to have around 95% efficacy. Vaccinations will be administered starting Tuesday at around 50 hospital hubs in England. Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland will also begin their vaccination rollouts that day.

Governments and health agencies around the world will be monitoring the British vaccination program to note its successes and failures and adjust their own plans accordingly.

Copyright 2021 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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