PARIS (AP) — France’s health minister says his country is readying to start administering COVID-19 vaccines in late December. But Olivier Veran is warning Thursday that people will still have to wear masks and keep their distance even after vaccines are widely available.
Veran said he can’t say yet whether mass vaccination “will allow us to get rid of this virus and totally return to our past lives,” because it’s not clear exactly how long protection from the eventual vaccines will last.
Noting broad skepticism in France about vaccine safety, he promised transparency about vaccination policy and to release plans soon on who will get the vaccine first and how.
President Emmanuel Macron has said France will not make COVID vaccines mandatory.
The government laid out details Thursday of a gradual easing of its monthlong virus lockdown and announced hundreds of millions of euros in new aid for struggling workers and students and businesses forced to close.
French authorities are also increasing efforts to counteract the mental health consequences of the second lockdown and protracted pandemic. The prime minister said a government hotline for psychological help is now receiving 20,000 calls a day.
France leads Europe in numbers of confirmed virus infections, and has reported 50,618 virus-related deaths.
HERE’S WHAT YOU NEED TO KNOW ABOUT THE VIRUS OUTBREAK:
— Americans risk traveling over Thanksgiving despite warnings
— Congress braces for Biden’s national coronavirus strategy
— Pandemic gave locals fleeting taste of a tourist-free Hawaii
— To avoid any traces of the coronavirus that might be lurking on surfaces, Americans have been wiping down groceries, wearing surgical gloves in public and leaving mail packages out for an extra day or two. But experts say the national fixation on scrubbing can sometimes be overkill.
— California has reported a record number of coronavirus cases on the eve of Thanksgiving. More than 18,000 COVID-19 infections were reported Wednesday.
— Though the first real snow has yet to fall across much of Europe, ski buffs are imagining with dread a bizarre scene: Skiing in Zermatt in Switzerland while lifts idle across the border in Italy’s Aosta valley.
Follow AP’s coverage at https://apnews.com/hub/coronavirus-pandemic and https://apnews.com/UnderstandingtheOutbreak
HERE’S WHAT ELSE IS HAPPENING:
GENEVA — The World Health Organization says people need to get more active, warning that up to 5 million deaths worldwide could be avoided each year if people were. That’s despite the coronavirus pandemic.
The U.N. health agency, launching updated guidelines on sedentary behavior Thursday, is pointing to figures that one in four adults don’t get enough physical activity — a situation complicated by the COVID-19 crisis that has shut many people indoors.
The agency recommends at least 2 1/2 hours of “moderate to vigorous aerobic activity” for adults per week, and an hour per day for kids and teens.
A lack of physical activity leads to extra health care costs of $54 billion per year, plus another $14 billion in lost productivity, the Geneva-based WHO said.
ZAGREB, Croatia — Croatia’s government is closing down bars and restaurants and further limiting any gatherings in a bid to curb a surge in new coronavirus infections.
Prime Minister Andrej Plenkovic on Thursday announced the new set of measures that will take effect this upcoming weekend and last until Dec. 21 when the authorities will review them.
Plenkovic said the government has tried to maintain normal functioning during the second wave of the pandemic but that a rise in new cases has forced stricter measures. The country of 4.2 million on Thursday reported a record 4,009 new infections, while 51 people have died in the last 24 hours.
The new rules include a ban on more than 25 people in public gatherings and ten on private occasions. Weddings are banned and funerals can have no more than 25 people and no close contact.
While bars and restaurants will be closed, food delivery is allowed and cultural events can be held only with respect of gathering limits. The church is advised to broadcast religious ceremonies or respect epidemiological advise and only 40% capacity in public transport can be filled.
BELGRADE, Serbia — Serbia is registering a major surge in new coronavirus cases as health authorities warn that hospitals are running out of beds for patients.
Authorities on Thursday confirmed 7,606 new cases in the last 24 hours, a record for the Balkan country of 7 million people. They said 51 people died.
Epidemiologists have warned that the government was late in adopting a series of restrictive measures. Politicians are blaming the unprecedented surge on people failing to comply with the restrictions.
Serbia has so far registered about 150,000 COVID-19 cases and over 1,300 deaths.
NEW DELHI — India’s capital New Delhi is considering a nighttime curfew amid the latest coronavirus surge that has battered the city’s healthcare system and overwhelmed its hospitals.
The New Delhi government on Thursday told this to a court that had questioned the administration on the measures being taken to control the spike in daily cases.
The court was hearing a plea seeking to ramp up COVID-19 testing facilities in the capital, which is recording the most number of cases from any state in India for the last three weeks and more than 100 fatalities on an average every day for two consecutive weeks.
India’s new overall infections have declined steadily after peaking in mid-September, but the situation in the capital remains worrying.
The surge in the national capital had started at the end of October and reached record highs this month. On Nov. 11, the city saw 8,593 new cases, an all-time high.
According to the official data, New Delhi has recorded almost 2,300 deaths due to coronavirus in the last month.
India has recorded 9.26 million cases of coronavirus, second behind the U.S. More than 135,00 Indians have died because of the virus so far.
TOKYO — Japanese Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga says that the next three weeks are going to be key for the country to stop further escalation of the surge in coronavirus infections that experts warn are putting medical systems on the verge of collapse.
“The upcoming three weeks is a critical time,” Suga said Thursday, asking the people to thoroughly protect themselves by using masks, frequently washing hands and avoiding common risks. “Everyone, please cooperate.”
Tokyo Gov. Yuriko Koike on Wednesday issued a request for early closing time for places serving alcohol from Saturday to Dec. 17 and urged residents to avoid non-essential outings. On Thursday, she said the measures are needed “before the situation becomes even more serious.”
Japan survived the first wave in the spring without hard lockdowns.
LONDON — Most people in England will continue to face tight restrictions on socializing and business after a nationwide lockdown ends next week.
The government announced details Thursday of the three-level regional measures that will take effect Dec. 2. Only three remote and island areas are in the lowest tier, where pubs and restaurants can open almost as normal and members of different households can meet up indoors.
London, with more than 8 million people, is in the middle level, where most shops, restaurants and leisure businesses can open with restrictions.
A huge chunk of central and northern England, including the cities of Birmingham and Manchester, will be placed in the top tier, where pubs and restaurants can only serve takeout and delivery, and leisure venues such as cinemas and bowling alleys must stay closed.
The government imposed a four-week lockdown in England early this month to curb an autumn surge in coronavirus cases, with travel restricted and non-essential businesses closed. The government’s statistics office says the infection rate appears to have leveled off, but Health Secretary Matt Hancock said “we must remain vigilant.”
ATHENS, Greece — Greece’s government spokesman says the country is extending its current lockdown measures, which had been due to expire at the end of the month, until Dec. 7.
Stelios Petsas said Thursday the extension in restrictions were necessary due to the continued spread of the virus, which was of particular concern in certain parts of the country, mainly in north.
Under the lockdown restrictions, all retail stores, bars, restaurants, museums, entertainment venues and gyms are closed. People are only allowed to leave home for specific reasons, including work, health reasons, to buy essential goods, to exercise or walk a pet, and must send a telephone text message or carrying a self-declaration to do so.
However, there are no restrictions on how many times a day people can leave their homes, or for how long.
Greece currently has more than 97,000 confirmed coronavirus cases and just over 1,900 deaths in this country of 11 million. Nearly 600 people are intubated in ICUs nationwide, according to figures released Wednesday evening.
BERLIN — Germany has passed the grim milestone of more than 15,000 deaths from the coronavirus.
The Robert Koch Institute, the country’s disease control center, said Thursday that another 389 deaths were recorded overnight, bringing the total since the start of the pandemic to 15,160.
Germany has seen 983,588 total cases of the coronavirus after adding 22,368 overnight, the agency said.
Germany embarked on a so-called “wave-breaker” shutdown on Nov. 2, closing restaurants, bars, sports and leisure facilities but leaving schools, shops and hair salons open.
It was initially slated to last four weeks but Chancellor Angela Merkel and the country’s 16 state governors agreed late Wednesday to extend it through Dec. 20 with a goal of pushing the number of new coronavirus cases in each region below 50 per 100,000 inhabitants per week. It’s currently at 140 per 100,000.
Merkel said that while existing measures have succeeded in halting an surge in new coronavirus infections, they have stabilized at a high level.
STOCKHOLM — Sweden’s Prince Carl Philip, who is fifth in the line of succession, and his wife Princess Sofia have tested positive for the coronavirus, the Swedish royal household said Thursday, adding that they have “milder flu symptoms but feel well under the circumstances.
The prince, son of Sweden’s King Carl XVI Gustaf, and his wife are quarantined at home with their two children, the palace said.
The monarch, Austrian-born Queen Silvia, their oldest daughter Crown Princess Victoria, and Prince Daniel will protectively be tested Thursday, it said in a statement. The royal family had been together in connection with Friday’s burial of Walther Sommerlath, Silvia’s brother in Sweden, palace spokeswoman Margareta Thorgren told the Aftonbladet daily.
The 41-year-old prince wed Sofia Hellqvist, now 35, in June 2015. The couple has two children, Prince Alexander and Prince Gabriel.
King Carl Gustaf is Sweden’s head of state, but his duties are ceremonial and he holds no political power.
MOSCOW — Russian authorities have reported a record number of coronavirus deaths for a third straight day.
The government coronavirus task force registered 524 new deaths on Thursday, the highest daily toll in the pandemic. Previous records of 507 and 491 deaths were reported on Wednesday and Tuesday. A total of 38,062 people have died of coronavirus in Russia, according to the task force.
Russia has been swept by a rapid resurgence of the outbreak this fall, with numbers of confirmed COVID-19 infections and deaths hitting new highs almost daily and significantly exceeding those reported in the spring. On Thursday, officials reported 25,487 new infections, another record number.
The country’s authorities have rejected the idea of another nationwide lockdown or widespread closure of businesses, leaving it to regional governments to impose their own measures. In most, those don’t go beyond mask mandates, limiting the hours of bars and restaurants, ordering the elderly to self-isolate, forbidding mass public events and requiring employers to have some staff work from home.
On Thursday, Moscow Mayor Sergei Sobyanin extended requirements for the elderly to self-isolate and for employers to have 30% of their staff work from home until Jan. 15.
HONG KONG — Hong Kong on Thursday reported its third straight day of over 80 new coronavirus infections, a day after its leader declared a goal of “zero infections” in an annual policy address.
Authorities reported 81 coronavirus infections, 13 of which were not traceable. Daily cases in the past week have surged to a three-month high, resulting in the cancellation of a planned air travel bubble between Hong Kong and Singapore.
Many of the cases in the recent surge have been linked to outbreaks in dance studios across the city, with Hong Kong ordering those who have visited stipulated venues to undergo mandatory testing.
Hong Kong leader Carrie Lam said in her annual policy address on Wednesday that the city is aiming for “zero infections,” and said that it might implement another round of mass testing of its residents.
The increase in locally transmitted cases has prompted concern that a new wave of the virus has begun in the city. Authorities have tightened social distancing measures, ordering bars and nightclubs to close, in an attempt to stem the transmission.
NAIROBI, Kenya — Africa’s top public health official says vaccinations against COVID-19 on the continent might not start until the second quarter of next year. And he says it will be “extremely dangerous” if more developed parts of the world vaccinate themselves and then restrict travel to people with proof of vaccination.
The director of the Africa Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, John Nkengasong, told reporters that “I have seen how Africa is neglected when drugs are available” in the past. He warned that “it’s clear the second wave (of infections) is here on the continent” of 1.3 billion people.
Africa last week surpassed 2 million confirmed coronavirus infections. The Africa CDC has been discussing vaccine options with Russia, China and others. Nkengasong said that “the worst thing we want for the continent is for COVID to become an endemic disease” in Africa.
In one hopeful development, authorities have begun distributing 2.7 million antigen tests throughout the continent, which Nkengasong said is “perhaps a game-changer” that allows for faster and easier testing. So far, some 21 million tests have been conducted across Africa’s 54 countries.
COLOMBO, Sri Lanka — Sri Lankan police say 1,123 officers have tested positive for COVID-19 and 2,800 others have been quarantined amid a surge in cases in the capital and its suburbs.
Police spokesman Ajith Rohana said Thursday that the 2,800 have been quarantined at their quarters and in quarantine centers.
Health authorities have linked the police infections to a cluster of cases centered at the country’s main fish market near Colombo.
Sri Lanka has seen an upsurge in the disease since last month, when two clusters emerged — one at a garment factory and the other at the fish market.
The confirmed cases from the two clusters grew to 17,934 on Thursday. Sri Lanka’s total confirmed cases reached 21,468 on Thursday, including 96 fatalities.
SEOUL, South Korea — South Korea has recorded more than 500 new coronavirus cases in 24 hours for the first time in about eight months as health authorities struggle to contain a fresh surge of infections.
The Asian nation has been experiencing a spike in cases since it relaxed stringent social distancing rules last month. To deal with the latest surge, the country on Tuesday re-imposed tough distancing guidelines in Seoul and some other areas.
South Korea’s cases initially peaked last February and March, with officials reporting hundreds of fresh cases daily, mostly tied to a religious sect. Another major outbreak came during the summer, and was mostly tied to the greater Seoul area.
Officials say the latest bout is worrisome because there are many cluster infections tied to a variety of sources.
NEW DELHI — India has extended its restrictions on international flights until the end of the year as coronavirus cases surge in some states and its capital, New Delhi.
India’s aviation authority on Thursday said the restrictions will not apply to international cargo flights and those approved under “air bubble” pacts with some countries. Scheduled international passenger services have been suspended in India since March 23.
India’s new overall infections have declined steadily after peaking in mid-September. On Thursday, it reported 44,489 new infections, bringing its total confirmed cases to 9.26 million, second behind the United States. Deaths rose by 524 to 135,223.
The situation in the capital, however, remains worrying. It recorded 5,246 new cases on Thursday.
In an effort to slow the virus, the home ministry has allowed states to impose local restrictions such as night curfews but has asked them to consult before imposing lockdowns at state, district, or city levels.
BEIJING — China is reporting nine new coronavirus cases in the vast Inner Mongolia region, where authorities have closed schools, suspended flights, shuttered public venues and banned banquets and other gatherings.
The cluster has been centered on Manzhouli, a city of more than 200,000 people on the border with Russia. Authorities ordered testing of all residents to detect new cases after the country’s latest local outbreak first emerged late last week. Ground transport to and from the city has been largely cut off and movement around the city restricted.
Elsewhere in China, local infections have also been reported lately in the financial hub of Shanghai and the northern port of Tianjin, although the government’s pandemic update Thursday listed no new cases in those cities.