The Latest: WHO official urges China visit on virus origin

GENEVA — The head of emergencies at the World Health Organization says it’s “extremely important” for its international team to visit China to look into the origins of the coronavirus, saying the U.N. health agency has been reassured such a trip will happen “as soon as possible.”

Dr. Michael Ryan said such a visit is needed so that “the international community can be reassured of the quality of the science” that he lamented has been increasingly questioned for political ends — including pressure and threatening e-mails against scientists.

“Clearly, we all need to understand the origin of the virus. We all need to understand where it has come from, not least to understand where it may re-emerge in the future,” Ryan told a news conference from Geneva. “I believe our Chinese colleagues are just as anxious to find those answers as we are.”

Ten months after its declaration that COVID-19 represented an international public health emergency, WHO is still working to deploy an international team of experts to China to visit the suspected epicenter in the city of Wuhan and surrounding Hubei province.

___

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

___

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

___

HERE’S WHAT ELSE IS HAPPENING:

MADRID — Spain’s 14-day cumulative number of COVID-19 cases per 100,000 population — a key metric in measuring the pandemic’s spread — continues to fall.

The Health Ministry said Monday that number has fallen to 374 cases per 100,000. That’s down from 470 cases a week earlier and from the Nov. 9 peak of 529.

The Spanish government credits limits on movement and social gatherings for the drop.

Since Friday, Spain officially recorded almost 25,800 new COVID-19 cases and attributed 511 deaths to the virus.

In all, Spain has reported more than 1.58 million cases and more than 43,000 deaths.

___

BATON ROUGE, La. — Leaders of several Louisiana public school systems are calling on state officials to relax coronavirus quarantine rules. Those rules have sent thousands of students home from school because they have been in close proximity to someone who tested positive for COVID-19.

School superintendents from Ascension, West Baton Rouge, Rapides and Livingston parishes spoke to the House health committee Monday. They said too many students are missing in-person classroom instruction because they have been sent home for 14 days to quarantine.

The request to loosen the rules comes as Louisiana is seeing its third spike in coronavirus cases, with hospitals cautioning they are concerned the latest surge will overwhelm their facilities and threaten their ability to provide care.

___

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.

___

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.

___

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.

___

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.

___

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.

___

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.

___

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.

___

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.

___

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.

___

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.

___

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.

___

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.

___

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.

___

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