The Latest: Swiss to shut restaurants, bars through February

GENEVA — Swiss authorities plan to shut restaurants, bars, sports facilities and cultural institutions through the end of February.

The order is expected to take effect on Saturday. It lifts the exemptions for some of the 26 regions with a “favorable evolution” against the coronavirus — making the restrictive measures effective nationwide. Ski resorts plan to remain open.

The country of about 8.5 million people tallied more than 4,808 cases in the last 24 hours — a rate of 522 cases per 100,000 people.

Overall, there’s been more than 470,000 confirmed cases and 7,434 deaths in connection with COVID-19.

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THE VIRUS OUTBREAK:

The European Union has given approval to the Moderna vaccine. The decision gives the 27-nation bloc a second vaccine to use against the coronavirus. Germany’s health minister is defending the slow start of the country’s vaccine campaign, saying he understands the desire for a faster rollout. The Dutch kick off virus vaccination program, the last of the European Union’s nations to do so.

Dr. Fauci believes the U.S. could soon give 1 million vaccinations a day. The U.K. says its vaccinated 1.3 million people and plans to have almost 1,000 vaccination centers operating by the end of this week. California orders surgery delays as the virus continues to swamp hospitals.

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

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HERE’S WHAT ELSE IS HAPPENING:

PARIS — France’s government spokesman says vaccines will be made available to people over 75 by the end of January.

Gabriel Atta says up to 600 centers will be set up in France later this month to allow people over 75, wherever they are living, to get the vaccine.

That’s in response to criticism about the slow start of the country’s vaccination campaign. Only 7,000 people have been vaccinated in 10 days since the campaign started on Dec. 26, according to government figures.

The French government had first chosen to reserve the vaccines for residents of nursing homes. Vaccination this week been opened to health care workers over 50.

With the European Union giving the OK for Moderna’s COVID-19 vaccine, Attal expects the nation to receive 200,000 doses by the end of January and 500,000 every month. Also, France receives 500,000 doses of the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccines each week.

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DUBAI, United Arab Emirates — The United Arab Emirates broke its daily record of coronavirus infections with 2,067 cases.

The record figure comes after the UAE drew tens of thousands of foreign tourists for the holidays and mass New Year’s Eve celebrations in downtown Dubai. The country has also detected an unspecified number of cases of the possibly fast-spreading variant of the coronavirus in people arriving from abroad.

With an economy that runs on aviation and hospitality, the UAE has remained open for tourism and business despite surging case numbers in the past few months.

Health authorities have recorded a total of 218,766 confirmed cases and 689 confirmed deaths.

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SOFIA, BULGARIA — Thousands of Orthodox Christian worshippers ignored coronavirus-related warnings issued by health authorities to abstain from mass gatherings to attend centuries-old Epiphany traditions.

Young men plunged into the icy waters of rivers and lakes across Bulgaria to retrieve crucifixes tossed by priests in ceremonies commemorating the baptism of Jesus Christ.

The legend goes that the person who retrieves the wooden cross will be freed from evil spirits and will be healthy throughout the year. After the cross is fished out, the priest sprinkles believers with water using a bunch of basil.

In the small mountain city of Kalofer in central Bulgaria, dozens of men dressed in traditional white embroidered shirts waded into the Tundzha River with national flags and sang folk songs.

Few local police officers attempted to prevent people from entering the river, threatening them with fines, but their calls were widely ignored.

Epiphany marks the end of the 12 days of Christmas, but not all Orthodox Christian churches celebrate it on the same day.

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AMSTERDAM — The European Union’s medicines agency has given approval for the Moderna coronavirus vaccine.

The decision Wednesday gives the 27-nation bloc a second vaccine to use against the coronavirus rampaging across the continent. The approval recommendation by the European Medicines Agency’s human medicines committee, which must be OK’d by the EU’s executive commission, comes amid high rates of infections in many EU countries.

There’s also been strong criticism of the slow pace of vaccinations across the region of some 450 million people.

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ROME — Italy’s health minister says coronavirus vaccinations are ramping up to the needed levels following the New Year’s holiday.

Roberto Speranza made the comments with Italy’s regional leaders, who are responsible for the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine rollout. He says: “The needed acceleration in the vaccine campaign is under way. The vast majority of regions have reached significant percentages. The country is ready.”

Italy has administered some 260,000 doses of the vaccine, the majority to health care workers. Overall, the shots administered represent 54% of the 479,700 doses that have been delivered to Italy’s regions, a sign that the rate isn’t terribly out of line with the number of doses Italy ordered.

Italy’s rollout was at least initially slow because of the earlier-than-anticipated delivery of the first batches and the Christmas holiday, which in Italy runs through Wednesday. Local authorities have said they expect inoculations to ramp up significantly in the coming days.

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BERLIN — Germany’s health minister is defending the slow start of the country’s vaccine campaign, saying he understands the desire for a faster rollout but that people should keep in mind that there is a global shortage of doses.

Health Minister Jens Spahn says Germany expects to receive more than 5.3 million doses of the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine by mid-February. If European regulators approve the Moderna vaccine, which they were considering in a meeting Wednesday, another 2 million doses of that shot is expected during the first quarter.

Spahn says Germany would get a total of 130 million doses of vaccine from the two suppliers by the end of the year. Since each person needs two shots, that’s enough to vaccinate about three-quarters of the population. More orders have been placed with other suppliers whose vaccines have yet to be approved in the European Union.

Spahn added Germany is working with BioNTech to open a newly production site in Marburg as early as next month, which would boost global supplies of that vaccine this year.

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BELGRADE, Serbia — Two Serbian politicians known for their staunch pro-Russian stance have received Russia’s Sputnik V coronavirus vaccine in an apparent effort to show that the Russian-made shots are safe.

Parliament speaker Ivica Dacic and Interior Minister Aleksandar Vulin were the first ones to receive the vaccine in Serbia. Sputnik V is not formally approved in the European Union after facing widespread criticism for a fast-track approval by Russia’s health authorities.

Serbia has received some 25,000 doses of the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine and some 2,400 doses of the Sputnik V vaccine.

Serbia’s vaccination program began on Dec. 24 when Prime Minister Ana Brnabic received a Pfizer shot to increase public trust in the vaccines, as health authorities struggle to counter a strong anti-vaccination movement in the Balkan country.

Officials in Serbia say they will try to import all types of vaccines, including those made in the West, Russia and China, and will let people choose which to take.

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JAKARTA, Indonesia — Indonesia logged yet another record in daily coronavirus infections on Wednesday as the government confirmed 8,854 new cases shortly after President Joko Widodo announced the vaccination program will kick off next week.

Widodo said in a televised address that he will receive the shots along with regional leaders on Jan. 13 to build confidence in the vaccine.

Indonesia’s state-owned pharmaceutical company Bio Farma have began distributing 3 million doses of the vaccine, developed by China’s Sinovac Biotech, to 34 provinces across the archipelago nation, home to more than 270 million people.

Indonesia’s overall tally is 788,402 confirmed cases and 23,296 confirmed deaths.

Widodo’s government seeks to vaccinate 70% of the population — at least 182 million people — by next year, with health workers given the top priority. The government has ordered millions of vaccine doses from Sinovac, Novavax, COVAX, AstraZeneca and Pfizer.

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THE HAGUE — Nearly two weeks after most other European Union nations, the Netherlands on Wednesday began its COVID-19 vaccination program, with nursing home staff and frontline workers in hospitals first in line for the shot.

Sanna Elkadiri, a nurse at a nursing home for people with dementia, was the first to receive a shot of the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine at a mass vaccination center in Veghel, 120 kilometers (75 miles) southeast of the capital, Amsterdam.

The Dutch government has come under fierce criticism for its late start to vaccinations. Prime Minister Mark Rutte told lawmakers in a debate Tuesday that authorities had focused preparations on the easy-to-handle vaccine made by Oxford University and AstraZeneca, which has not yet been cleared for use in the EU, and not the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine.

Dutch Health Minister Hugo de Jonge did not comment on the criticism as he spoke before Elkadiri rolled up the sleeve of her purple nurse’s uniform to receive the first shot. Instead, he looked forward to a future with the virus under control.

“Finally, after 10 months of crisis, today we are starting to end this crisis,” De Jonge said. But he warned that, “it will take a while before we have all the misery behind us. ”

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BANGKOK — Authorities in Thailand say they plan to expand coronavirus testing to thousands of factories in a province near Bangkok as they reported 365 new cases around the country and one new death.

Authorities have focused their efforts on migrant workers in Samut Sakhon, a province next to the capital that has been the epicenter of a new outbreak and where thousands work in its mainly seafood processing factories and markets.

They have has also focused on trying to trace itinerant gamblers who travel widely around the country and are blamed for a second major hotspot outside Bangkok.

Officials at Thailand’s COVID-19 coordinating center say of the 365 new cases, 250 were local transmissions among Thais, 99 were migrant workers and 16 were arrivals to the country isolated in quarantine centers.

That brought the total since the pandemic began to 9,331, including 66 confirmed deaths.

Taweesilp Visanuyothin, a spokesperson for the COVID-19 coordinating center, said there were plans to test workers at more than 10,000 factories in Samut Sakhon, 100 of which have more than 500 employees each.

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PRAGUE — Coronavirus infections in the Czech Republic are continuing to surge, hitting a new all-time high.

The Health Ministry says the day-to-day increase reached 17,278 cases on Tuesday. The previous record of 17,045 was set on Dec 30.

New infections started to surge again this week after slowing down during the New Year holidays.

A total of 7,001 COVID-19 patients are currently hospitalized, with 1,004 in serious condition, putting the heath system under pressure. Hospitals are banned from providing any non-vital care to be able to focus on those infected.

A lockdown imposed by the government to contain the surge will be in place at least until Jan 10.

The country of 10.7 million has 776,967 confirmed cases, including 12,436 deaths.

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SARAJEVO, Bosnia-Herzegovina — When thousands of people across the European Union began rolling up their sleeves last month to get a coronavirus vaccination shot, one corner of the continent was left behind, feeling isolated and abandoned: the Balkans.

Balkan nations have struggled to get access to COVID-19 vaccines from multiple companies and programs, but most of the nations on Europe’s southeastern periphery are still waiting for their first vaccines to arrive, with no firm timeline for the start of their national inoculation drives.

What is already clear is that Albania, Bosnia, Kosovo, Montenegro, North Macedonia and Serbia — home to some 20 million people — will lag far behind the EU’s 27 nations and Britain in efforts to reach herd immunity by quickly vaccinating a large number of their people.

North Macedonian epidemiologist Dragan Danilovski compared the current vaccine situation to the inequalities seen during the 1911 sinking of the Titanic.

“The rich have grabbed all the available lifeboats, leaving the less fortunate behind,” Danilovski told broadcaster TV 24.

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TOKYO — The U.S. Navy in the Pacific has started administering COVID-19 vaccinations to thousands of sailors.

It comes a week after medical personnel and strategic forces were given their initial shots at Naval Hospital in Yokosuka, Japan, the 7th Fleet said.

The fleet includes about 20,000 sailors operating 50-70 ships and submarines and 140 aircraft. The vaccinations are part of a “prioritized, phased approach” adopted by the Department of Defense to “protect our people, maintain readiness, and support the national COVID-19 response,” the fleet said.

Vaccinations are being provided on a voluntary basis. Among those vaccinated were sailors aboard the USS Ronald Reagan, the fleet’s only forward-deployed aircraft carrier.

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TOKYO — Tokyo has reported a daily record of 1,591 coronavirus cases as the national government prepares to declare a state of emergency this week to cope with a new wave of infections.

Those needing critical care in the capital also reached a record 113 people, according to the metropolitan government.

Toshio Nakagawa, head of the Japan Medical Association, called the situation “extremely serious” but stopped short of criticizing Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga for acting too slow to contain the latest outbreak, as some have suggested.

Japan has confirmed more than 250,000 cases, including over 3,700 deaths.

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BEIJING — China’s Hebei province is enforcing stricter control measures following a further rise in coronavirus cases in the province, which is adjacent to the capital Beijing and is due to host events for next year’s Winter Olympics.

The National Health Commission on Wednesday reported 20 more cases had been detected in Hebei, bringing the province’s total to 39 since Sunday.

The province’s top official said Tuesday that residents of areas classified as medium or high risk, primarily neighborhoods in the cities of Shijiazhuang and Xingtai, were being tested and barred from going out.

People in neighborhoods ranked as medium risk can leave only if they show a negative virus test. Classes are shifting to online learning and school dormitories placed on lockdown.

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Categories: National News