BEIJING — China is encouraging tens of millions of migrant workers not to travel home during February’s Lunar New Year holiday to prevent spread of the coronavirus.
The call issued by the National Health Commission is extraordinary because the Lunar New Year is China’s most important traditional holiday. It’s the only time of the year when many workers can travel home to see their families.
China has limited local transmission of the coronavirus, but authorities remain on high alert about a possible resurgence. Already, schools are scheduled to begin the Lunar New Year vacation a week early and tourists have been told not to visit Beijing during the holiday.
Millions of Chinese use the occasion to take vacations at home and abroad. During the roughly six-week travel period, Chinese can take upward of 3 billion trips. Also, Chinese authorities are carrying out a campaign to vaccinate 50 million people before the Lunar New Year holiday.
China has recorded 4,634 deaths among 87,027 confirmed cases of the coronavirus, a figure considered likely far lower than the actual number.
THE VIRUS OUTBREAK:
— UK approves use of vaccine by Oxford-AstraZeneca. The UK-based vaccine allows easier storage and the rollout is expected Jan. 4.
— Top Chinese officials quietly ordered strict controls on all COVID-19 research in the country, internal documents obtained by The AP show, cloaking the search for the origins of the virus in secrecy.
— Newly elected Congressman Luke Letlow dies from COVID-19 complications at age 41, just days before swearing into office.
— Cluckers: Coronavirus pandemic feeds demand for backyard chickens.
— Follow AP’s coverage at https://apnews.com/hub/coronavirus-pandemic, https://apnews.com/hub/coronavirus-vaccine and https://apnews.com/UnderstandingtheOutbreak
HERE’S WHAT ELSE IS HAPPENING:
LONDON — The British regulatory agency that approved the rollout of a second coronavirus vaccine says it and a previously approved vaccine can be given to pregnant and breastfeeding women, in consultation with their doctors, and people with food allergies.
That changes its previous guidance thanks in part to feedback from the growing numbers of people already inoculated. The Medicines and Healthcare Products Regulatory Agency had previously recommended against the use of the first vaccine, made by Pfizer and German firm BioNTech, for women who are pregnant or breastfeeding. It also had said that vaccine should not been given to people who have allergic reactions to food, other vaccines or medicines.
But as it green-lighted a second vaccine, developed by Oxford University and U.K.-based drugmaker AstraZeneca, the regulator also indicated that both vaccines are now considered suitable for people with food allergies.
June Raine, who heads the regulatory agency, says people with known allergies to any of the ingredients in the vaccines should not use them.
BERLIN — The head of the World Health Organization says a program to help get coronavirus vaccines to all countries needs $4 billion “urgently” to buy vaccines.
In a video message marking Thursday’s anniversary of the first report of a cluster of cases of “pneumonia of unknown cause” that turned into the coronavirus pandemic, WHO Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus says “we must ensure that all people at risk everywhere, not just in countries who can afford vaccines, are immunized.”
The Geneva-based WHO is co-leading the COVAX initiative. Tedros says in Wednesday’s message “there is light at the end of the tunnel, and we will get there by taking the path together.”
LONDON — Britain has authorized use of a second COVID-19 vaccine, becoming the first country to greenlight an easy-to-handle shot that its developers hope will become the “vaccine for the world.”
The government says the Medicines and Healthcare Products Regulatory Agency has made an emergency authorization for the vaccine developed by Oxford University and UK-based drugmaker AstraZeneca.
AstraZeneca chief executive Pascal Soriot says “today is an important day for millions of people in the U.K. who will get access to this new vaccine. It has been shown to be effective, well-tolerated, simple to administer and is supplied by AstraZeneca at no profit.”
Britain has purchased 100 million doses of the vaccine. Health Secretary Matt Hancock told told Sky News the “rollout will start on Jan. 4” and will “accelerate into the first few weeks of next year.”
Hundreds of thousands in the U.K. have already received the vaccine made by U.S. drugmaker Pfizer and German firm BioNTech.
BELGRADE, Serbia — An initial shipment of 2,400 Russian Sputnik V vaccines has arrived in Serbia and officials say it should get green light for use in early January.
The Russian vaccines on Wednesday were transported to the Torlak Institute for Virology, Vaccines and Sera in the Serbian capital of Belgrade.
The Balkan country has already started inoculation with Pfizer-BioNTech vaccines that are being used across the European Union. Officials have said Serbia will import Chinese vaccines and enable the citizens to choose.
Russia has been widely criticized for giving the domestically developed Sputnik V regulatory approval in August after the vaccine only had been tested on a few dozen people. Russian health authorities have said an advanced study has now covered more than 30,0000.
Serbia has close political ties with Moscow despite seeking membership in the EU.
HELSINKI — Latvia will impose a night-time curfew over the New Year’s holiday period.
Latvian Prime Minister Krisjanis Karins says the decision is aimed at curbing gatherings of people at public places. Starting Wednesday, the curfew runs from 10 p.m. until 5 a.m. through Jan. 3. The government also has prolonged the current state of emergency status in Latvia to Feb. 7.
A new daily record of 1,367 confirmed cases in the past 24 hours was reached Wednesday. In total, Latvia has recorded more than 39,000 cases and 626 confirmed deaths.
DUBAI, United Arab Emirates — The United Arab Emirates has shattered its single-day record of new coronavirus infections, with 1,723 cases recorded on Wednesday.
The record figure comes after the UAE said it detected its first known cases of the new, fast-spreading variant of the virus in people arriving from abroad. With an economy that runs on aviation and hospitality, the UAE has remained open for tourism and business.
The commercial hub of Dubai prepares to draw thousands of revelers for New Year’s Eve celebrations downtown, where authorities have mandated mask-wearing and social-distancing.
The UAE has a total of 206,092 cases and 665 deaths amid an aggressive testing campaign.
TOKYO — Tokyo’s surge in infections is bigger than earlier waves, Gov. Yuriko Koike has told reporters as the Japanese capital reported 944 new cases, its second highest since the pandemic began.
Koike urged residents to stay home during the New Year holidays, saying that “the infections can turn explosive anytime.”
She called her request a last-ditch effort to slow infections without requiring another state of emergency.
COVID task force experts said nearly three-quarters of the 4,000 beds currently available in Tokyo are full and all beds could be full within two weeks unless the people reduce their activities immediately.
BANGKOK — Thailand has reported 250 new coronavirus cases, including 241 local transmissions, as the country grapples with an intensifying outbreak.
Thailand has seen two major clusters developing since mid-December. One has mainly infected hundreds of migrant workers from Myanmar at a seafood market near Bangkok. And in recent days a cluster has grown connected to a gambling den in an eastern province.
Bangkok has been designated a zone 2 area, meaning that more than 10 new cases have been confirmed there. Officials in Bangkok this week announced new restrictions including the closure of some entertainment facilities during the New Year’s holiday.
Thailand has confirmed a total of 6,690 cases, including 61 deaths.
BERLIN — German authorities have reported more than 1,000 coronavirus-related deaths in one day for the first time since the pandemic began.
The national disease control center, the Robert Koch Institute, said Wednesday that 1,129 deaths were reported over the past 24 hours. That exceeds the previous record set a week ago of 962 and brings Germany’s total death toll to 32,107.
While delayed reporting of statistics over holidays and weekends is often an issue in Germany, the latest figure fits a recent pattern of high numbers of deaths.
A shutdown that was deepened on Dec. 16 with the closure of schools and most shops is scheduled to remain in place until Jan. 10.
ISLAMABAD — Pakistan’s COVID-19 deaths crossed the 10,000 mark on Wednesday after 55 deaths were reported in the previous 24 hours.
The government also reported 2,155 new coronavirus cases, raising total confirmed infections to 477,240 and 10,047 confirmed deaths.
Pakistan is currently facing a surge in new infections, mainly because of widespread violations of social distancing rules.
On Tuesday, it reported its first three cases of the virus variant that prompted strict new lockdown measures in Britain and global travel restrictions. It has imposed a ban on passenger flights from the U.K. until Jan. 4.
TAIPEI, Taiwan — Taiwan has announced its first confirmed case of the new coronavirus variant that was found in the United Kingdom.
The patient is a teenage boy who returned from the U.K. on Sunday and is now receiving treatment, the Central Epidemic Command Center said Wednesday.
In response, Taiwan is further tightening travel restrictions, requiring business travelers who previously could apply for shorter quarantines to do a full 14-day period and suspending international transfers at the airport from Jan. 1, Health and Welfare Minister Chen Shih-chung said. The island already has strict border control measures in place, allowing in only Taiwanese passport holders and those with special visas or residence permits.
PRAGUE — Coronavirus infections in the Czech Republic have hit a new record high with the number of confirmed cases surpassing 16,000 in one day for the first time.
The Health Ministry says the day-to-day increase reached 16,329 on Tuesday, over 5,400 more than a week ago. The ministry says a record 48.54% of all tests were positive.
The previous record was 15,725 cases on Nov 4.
New infections have been on the rise since early December, and have started to surge again after slowing during Christmas vacation, mainly due to a significantly lower numbers of tests conducted.
The government imposed tough restrictions, including a nighttime curfew and a closure of all stores other than those selling essential goods. Bars, restaurants, museums, swimming pools and ski resorts are shut and public gatherings of more than two are banned.
The country of 10.7 million had 701,622 confirmed cases with 11,429 deaths.
BEIJING — A Chinese company says its coronavirus vaccine was found to be 79.3% effective at preventing infection in the final round of testing, in the first official announcement from a Chinese vaccine company of Stage 3 data. The Beijing Institute of Biological Products, a subsidiary of state-owned Sinopharm, has produced a two-dose vaccine that can be stored in normal refrigerators.
Its effectiveness is below Moderna’s vaccine, which is more than 94% effective, and Pfizer’s, which is 95% effective. Scientists had cautioned that COVID-19 vaccines might only be about as effective as flu vaccines, which generally are about 50% effective. However, the final proof of the vaccine’s effectiveness will depend on publication of scientific data as the company’s disclosure did not provide additional information.
The vaccine has already been in use in China under emergency approval since at least July. It has not yet received final market approval and is under review by China’s medical authorities.
ANKARA, Turkey — A first batch of vaccines developed by Chinese biopharmaceutical company Sinovac has arrived in Turkey, after a two-week delay.
A plane carrying 3 million doses of the CoronaVac vaccine landed in the capital Ankara early on Wednesday. The first shipment was initially scheduled to arrive on Dec. 11 but Turkish officials said problems concerning permits, followed by a COVID-19 case in Beijing customs and high alert against infections there, caused the delay.
Turkey has signed a deal for 50 million doses of the vaccine, which the country says has an efficacy rate of 91.25% based on early results of late-stage trials conducted in Turkey.
The vaccine will now be examined by two public health agencies before the government gives its formal approval for inoculations, starting with health care workers.
Turkey has also reached an agreement with Pfizer BioNTech, which is to provide 4.5 million doses of its vaccine until the end of March and the option to buy up to 30 million doses later in the year.
NEW DELHI — India is extending the suspension of flights to and from the United Kingdom until Jan. 7 due to the the spread of a coronavirus variant.
The resumption of flights after that date will be strictly regulated, Civil Aviation Minister Hardeep Singh Puri said in a tweet on Wednesday.
India’s Health Ministry has confirmed 20 people who returned from the UK before the suspension have been found infected with the new variant.
India on Wednesday maintained an overall downward trend and reported 20,549 new cases of the virus in the past 24 hours, taking its total up to 10.24 million confirmed infections. Another 286 deaths were reported in the past 24 hours, taking total fatalities to 148,439.
India is expected to start a vaccination drive for some 300 million people early next month.
DUBAI, United Arab Emirates — The United Arab Emirates’ capital of Abu Dhabi has shelved plans to reopen schools for in-person instruction after the holiday break.
Authorities in the federation of seven sheikhdoms ordered Wednesday that all private and public schools in the capital start 2021 with two weeks of remote learning “to protect the health and safety of students, teachers and school staff.”
For the fall semester, schools in the capital were able to choose from a patchwork of plans ranging from fully in-person to remote classes. The decision to mandate distance learning for part of January comes as the country sees a spike in virus cases.
The UAE this week said it detected “a limited number” of the first known cases of the fast-spreading variant of the coronavirus found in the U.K., without elaborating on number or travel history of the infected people.
With an economy dependent on hospitality and aviation, the country has remained largely open for tourism and business despite its rising case numbers.