The Latest: WHO official hails benefits of AstraZeneca shot

GENEVA — The chief scientist of the World Health Organization is hailing the “huge logistical advantages” offered by a COVID-19 vaccine candidate developed by Swedish-British pharmaceutical company AstraZeneca.

Dr. Soumya Swaminathan noted the vaccine — for which AstraZeneca released initial results on Monday — can be stored in an “ordinary refrigerator” and can remain stable at temperatures of 2 to 8 degrees Celsius.

That would enhance the possibility of getting coronavirus vaccines to many countries where so-called cold chains — which are required of other vaccine candidates from drug makers Moderna and Pfizer — are harder to ensure.

Dr Mariangela Simao, a WHO assistant director-general in charge of access to medicines and health products, told a news conference alongside Swaminathan that top officials at the U.N. health agency are looking forward to getting more data from AstraZeneca in coming days.

Simao said WHO expects to have finalized an assessment of its vaccine “in the beginning of next year” which could lead to deployment of the vaccine.

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HERE’S WHAT YOU NEED TO KNOW ABOUT THE VIRUS OUTBREAK:

—AstraZeneca says late-stage trials show it s vaccine with Oxford University is “highly effective,” does not need the deep cold storage that rival vaccines do

— Cut off: School closings leave rural students isolated

— Jury duty? No thanks, say many, forcing trials to be delayed

— Inequality ‘baked into’ virus testing access as cases surge

— New Zealand leader Jacinda Ardern offers virus know-how to Joe Biden

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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:

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MADISON, Wis. — A conservative law firm asked the state Supreme Court on Monday to immediately block Dane County’s ban on indoor gatherings and indoor sports, arguing the order will ruin Thanksgiving and subject young athletes to mental trauma.

The Wisconsin Institute for Law and Liberty filed a petition with the high court on behalf of two parents of young athletes and an indoor gymnasium. The petition asks the justices to take the case directly without waiting for it to wind through lower courts and issue an immediate injunction blocking the ban.

The firm argues the high court should take the case because many counties have been expanding their coronavirus ordinances and the state needs clarification on how much power local elected officials can delegate to health departments.

No one immediately responded to an email sent to the joint health department seeking comment on the petition.

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CHICAGO — Nearly 700 nursing home workers walked off the job Monday at 11 mostly Chicago-area Infinity Healthcare Management facilities, saying they won’t return until the company offers them higher wages and safer working conditions amid the coronavirus pandemic that’s hit nursing homes hard.

Striking workers and representatives of their union, SEIU Healthcare Illinois, stood outside nursing homes in Cicero, Maywood and Chicago’s Brainerd neighborhood, while recounting a list of grievances against Infinity. The workers are demanding at least a $15 an hour wage, hazard pay for all employees and a sufficient supply of personal protective equipment.

Messages emailed to the company seeking comment Monday were returned as undeliverable, while telephone calls to the company’s offices in Hillside, Illinois, failed to reach any company representative.

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SOFIA, Bulgaria — In the wake of a recent spike in coronavirus cases in Bulgaria, the country’s health minister is proposing tight restrictions to be reimposed on all educational and cultural institutions, restaurants and sport events.

Minister Kostadin Angelov will propose to the government to approve the new measures as of Friday. He will also seek an extension of the declared epidemic emergency by 4 months — until March 2021.

The proposed measures include suspension of in-person classes at schools, internships for graduate students, attendance of kindergartens, nurseries and extracurricular activities. A ban will be reimposed on all sporting events, conferences, competitions and private parties and group travel. Cinemas, theaters, bars and cafeterias will be closed, too. Restaurants can operate only for home deliveries. All non-food shops, including malls, will have to close except of pharmacies, post and bank offices.

The Minister said that the healthcare system is under growing pressure as hospitals are struggling to deal with the growing tide of patients.

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BERLIN — German pharmaceutical company CureVac says it has signed a contract to produce major quantities of a COVID-19 vaccine under development in the Netherlands.

The Tuebingen company said Monday it had agreed with Munich’s Wacker Chemie AG on a contract for the production of its COVID-19 vaccine using mRNA technology at Wacker’s site in Amsterdam in the first half of 2021.

It plans to produce 100 million doses of the CureVac vaccine per year at the facility, and said there is potential for expansion.

CureVac says the vaccine it is developing can be stored at regular refrigerator temperatures for up to three months, and even unrefrigerated at regular room temperatures for a period of 24 hours.

CureVac isn’t as far along in its trials, however, and says it plans to initiate a phase 2b/3 clinical study before year’s end.

The European Commission last week said it has sealed an agreement to buy up to 405 million doses of CureVac’s product as part of its procurement of the vaccine from various sources.

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LONDON — British Prime Minister Boris Johnson says shops, hairdressers, beauty salons and gyms in England will reopen and some fans will be allowed back into sports stadiums when a four-week lockdown comes to an end next week.

Johnson confirmed to lawmakers Monday the government will lift the stay-at-home instruction on Dec. 2 that were introduced early this month to curb a new surge in coronavirus cases. Shops, gyms, personal care businesses and leisure facilities will be allowed to reopen, and collective worship, weddings and outdoor sports can resume.

The lockdown will be replaced with regional measures involving three tiers of restrictions based on the scale of the outbreak in different areas.

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LONDON — AstraZeneca says that late-stage trials showed its COVID-19 vaccine was up to 90% effective, giving public health officials hope they may soon have access to a vaccine that is easier to distribute than some of its rivals.

The results reported Monday are based on interim analysis of trials in the U.K. and Brazil of a vaccine developed by Oxford University and manufactured by AstraZeneca.

AstraZeneca is the third major drug company to report late stage results for its potential COVID-19 vaccine. Unlike the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines, the Oxford-AstraZeneca candidate doesn’t have to be stored at ultra-cold temperatures, making it easier to distribute, especially in developing countries. All three vaccines must be approved by regulators before they can be widely distributed.

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TORONTO — The Canadian provinces of Prince Edward Island and Newfoundland and Labrador are temporarily pulling out of what’s called the Atlantic bubble, which allows residents of four Atlantic coast provinces to travel freely between the provinces without self-isolating.

Newfoundland and Labrador Premier Andrew Furey announced Monday that anyone coming into the province from the other Atlantic provinces must now self-isolate for 14 days, as other visitors are required to do.

He says the measure will be reevaluated in two weeks. Prince Edward Island Premier Dennis King says his province is suspending all non-essential travel to the Island for two weeks.

The provinces joined Nova Scotia and New Brunswick in the Atlantic bubble in July. COVID-19 cases are rising in Atlantic Canada as they are throughout Canada.

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SAN JUAN, Puerto Rico — A representative for Reggaeton superstar Bad Bunny said Monday that the singer has tested positive for the new coronavirus.

The announcement came a day after the musician won favorite male Latin artist and favorite Latin album for “YHLQMDLG” at the American Music Awards.

Bad Bunny, whose real name is Benito Martínez Ocasio, was scheduled to sing his hit, “Dákiti,” with Jhay Cortez at the event but canceled without explanation, leaving many fans disappointed. The singer, however, presented the award for favorite Latin female artist remotely.

It’s unclear if Bad Bunny was showing any symptoms of COVID-19. His publicist did not immediately return a message for comment.

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BISMARCK, N.D. — North Dakota health officials are rolling out free rapid COVID-19 testing for teachers, staff and school administrators this week as part of a pilot project designed to slow the virus’ spread by identifying and quickly isolating people who may be asymptomatic.

Testing of K-12 teachers will start in the Fargo and West Fargo school districts and will be expanded to other districts in coming days and weeks. Teachers, staff and administrators who work closely with students are being encouraged to get tested weekly through Dec. 31. Students will not be tested as part of the effort.

North Dakota ranks first in the U.S. in new COVID-19 cases per capita, with 2,418 new cases per 100,000 people over the past two weeks. One in every 86 people in North Dakota tested positive in the past week.

November is on track to become North Dakota’s deadliest month from COVID-19. More than half of the statewide deaths have occurred in the past few weeks.

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BUDAPEST, Hungary — Hungary’s foreign minister on Monday said the country is moving forward with testing on a Russian coronavirus vaccine after being the first in Europe to receive samples of the drug last week.

Peter Szijjarto says 10 initial doses of Sputnik V — the drug hailed in August by Russian President Vladimir Putin as the world’s first registered COVID-19 vaccine — would undergo testing in Hungary for safety and effectiveness.

Szijjarto announced last week that negotiations are ongoing between a Hungarian drug manufacturer and Russian partners on possible domestic production of the drug.

Sputnik V has not completed advanced clinical trials and has not yet been assessed by the European Medicines Agency, the European Union’s medicines regulator. The vaccine has already been administered in Russia to healthcare workers and other high-risk groups.

Szijjarto says Hungary is also in negotiations with three Chinese vaccine makers, and purchased 2.8 million doses of a Chinese antiviral medication.

The central European country has also reserved 12 million doses of vaccine from manufacturers in Europe and the United States, including British-Swedish pharmaceutical company AstraZeneca, Belgium-based Janssen and the joint U.S.-German vaccine from Pfizer-BioNTech.

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ISLAMABAD — Pakistan will again close all educational institutions as of Thursday because of a steady and increasingly drastic increase in coronavirus cases.

Schools were opened in September as Pakistan appeared to have achieved a sustained flattening of the curve.

Daily cases had dropped to less than 300 a day, but few people wear masks and social distancing is mostly non-existent in the country of 220 million.

Pakistan recorded 2,756 new cases in the last 24 hours, one of the sharpest spikes since the outbreak began in March. The country has 376,929 confirmed cases, and 7,696 people have died from the virus.

The government announced Monday that schools will be closed through December and the possibility of re-opening will be discussed again in early January.

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MOSCOW — Daily new coronavirus infections in Russia hit a new high on Monday, with authorities reporting a record 25,173 new cases. The latest figure brings the country’s total to over 2.1 million. The government coronavirus task force also reported 361 deaths on Monday, raising the total since the start of the pandemic to over 36,500.

Russia, which currently has the world’s fifth largest number of confirmed cases, has been swept by a rapid coronavirus resurgence since September. Despite this, authorities insist there are no plans to impose a second lockdown or to shut businesses nationwide.

When asked why other hard-hit Russian regions aren’t following Buryatia’s example, Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said Monday that regional governments decide on which restrictions to impose in their regions depending prevailing conditions there, like the number of available medical workers and hospital beds.

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JERUSALEM — The Palestinian Authority in the Israeli-occupied West Bank has announced a partial two-week lockdown to clamp down on the coronavirus’ spread as new cases have rapidly increased.

Palestinian Prime Minister Mohammad Shtayyeh said Monday that the West Bank will be under a full lockdown over the weekends, and a curfew will be imposed from 7 p.m. until 6 a.m. on weekdays. All non-essential businesses will be closed during the periods of lockdown.

The Palestinian Health Ministry has recorded over 3,000 new cases of the coronavirus in the West Bank in the past week, and a total of more than 84,000 since the beginning of the pandemic. It says at least 714 Palestinians have died from the disease.

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JAKARTA — Indonesia’s confirmed coronavirus cases have surpassed half a million as the government of the world’s fourth most populous nation scrambles to procure vaccines to help it win the fight against the pandemic.

The Health Ministry reported 4,442 new cases on Monday to bring the country’s total to 502,110, the highest toll in Southeast Asia and second in Asia only to India’s more than 9.1 million confirmed cases.

The ministry said that the death toll from the virus is 16,002, and that it has been adding 3,000-5,000 daily cases since mid-September.

President Joko Widodo said his administration is working on a mass vaccination program for the vast archipelago nation, home to more than 270 million people.

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BEIJING — Chinese authorities are testing millions of people, imposing lockdowns and shutting down schools after multiple locally transmitted coronavirus cases were discovered in three cities across the country last week.

As temperatures drop and people move actitivies indoors, large-scale measures are being enacted in the cities of Tianjin, Shanghai and Manzhouli, despite the low number of new cases compared to the United States or other countries that are seeing new waves of infections.

On Monday, the National Health Commission reported two new locally transmitted cases in Shanghai over the last 24 hours, bringing the total to seven since Friday. China has recorded 86,442 total cases and 4,634 deaths since the virus was first detected in the central Chinese city of Wuhan late last year.

In Tianjin, health workers have collected more than 2.2 million samples for testing from residents in the Binhai new district, after five locally transmitted cases were discovered.

In Manzhouli, a city of more than 200,000, health authorities are testing all residents after two cases were reported on Saturday. They also shut down all schools and public venues and banned public gatherings such as banquets.

Categories: National News