The Latest: David Kessler tapped for vaccine rollout

WASHINGTON — President-elect Joe Biden also is tapping former Food and Drug Administration Commissioner David Kessler to help lead the incoming administration’s vaccine rollout and development program.

Kessler has been advising Biden as a co-chair of his advisory board on the coronavirus pandemic. He served in the FDA from 1990 to 1997, under Presidents George H. W. Bush and Bill Clinton.

The pick of Kessler comes after Biden on Thursday called the Trump administration’s rollout of coronavirus vaccines a “dismal failure” and says he will unveil his own plans on Friday to speed up inoculations.

He will replace Moncef Slaoui, a researcher and former drug company executive who led Operation Warp Speed for the Trump administration, Slaoui will become a consultant to Operation Warp Speed.

Kessler will work with Gen. Gustave Perna, who will continue as chief operating officer.



— Desperate effort to bring oxygen supplies to the Brazilian rainforest’s biggest city

— City in northern China builds 3,000-unit quarantine facility to handle anticipated overflow of COVID-19 patients

— Dismal vaccination rates in four southern U.S. states worry health experts

— U.S. President-elect Joe Biden has unveiled $1.9 trillion plan for tackling the coronavirus pandemic. Called the “American Rescue Plan,” the legislative proposal would meet Biden’s goal of administering 100 million vaccines by the 100th day of his administration, and advance his objective of reopening most schools by the spring.

— While much of Europe is increasingly locked down, Spain insists it can stay open and still beat the virus. Spanish authorities insist the more contagious coronavirus variant causing havoc in Britain and elsewhere is not to blame for a sharp resurgence of cases.


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NEW DELHI — The government of Nepal has asked India for early provision of coronavirus vaccines even as New Delhi indicates that it may be some time before it starts meeting demands from abroad.

Nepal’s Foreign Minister Pradeep Kumar Gyawali made the request during the sixth meeting of the India-Nepal Joint Commission.

Nepal, Sri Lanka, Bangladesh and Brazil are among several countries looking to secure vaccine supplies from India, which has given clearance for the emergency use for the vaccine developed by Oxford University and U.K.-based drugmaker AstraZeneca, and another developed by the Indian company Bharat Biotech.

The spokesman for India’s External Affairs Ministry, Anurag Srivastava, said Thursday that it was too soon to comment on the country’s ability to provide vaccines to other countries.

“We are still assessing production schedules and delivery, and we will take decisions in this regard in due course. This may take some time,” he said.

On Saturday, India is launching an immunization program aimed at vaccinating 300 million people — healthcare workers, frontline workers including police, and those considered vulnerable due to their age or other diseases — by August 2021.


BERLIN — Germany’s president has called on white-collar workers to refrain from going to the office, if possible, to curb the spread of the coronavirus.

President Frank-Walter Steinmeier said in a televised speech Friday that “less is more, particularly in these days.”

He was flanked by the heads of Germany’s trade union federation and the main employers’ association.

Steinmeier said he was particularly concerned about the increased contagiousness of a variant of the virus first detected in Britain and now seen in continental Europe.

Chancellor Angela Merkel plans to hold talks with the governors of Germany’s 16 states on Tuesday to discuss further measures to tackle the pandemic.


BERLIN — Germany has passed the mark of 2 million confirmed COVID infections since the start of the pandemic.

The country’s disease control agency said Friday that there were 22,368 newly confirmed cases over the past 24-hour period, taking the total to 2,000,958.

The Robert Koch Institute said there have been 44,994 deaths linked to the coronavirus, an increase of 1,113 in a day.

German news agency dpa reported that newspapers carried significantly more death notices during the period until October 2020 than in the previous year.

The Saechsische Zeitung daily, which covers the eastern state of Saxony now badly affected by the outbreak, had three instead of the usual two obituary pages.


BRUSSELS — Belgium is strengthening its rules for travelers entering the country by train or bus in a bid to limit the spread of a more contagious variant of the coronavirus first detected in Britain.

In a statement Friday, Belgium’s Interior ministry said travelers arriving from a country outside the European Union or the Schengen space with a high contamination rate will now be submitted to the same rules as those coming by boat or plane.

The ministry said the measures are precautionary.

According to virologist Marc Van Ranst, who spoke to local broadcaster VRT on Friday, about 100 cases of people infected by new variants of the virus have been registered so far in Belgium. He said that figure could probably be multiplied by 100 for the true number.

More than 20,000 people have died of COVID-19-related causes in Belgium, a country with 11.5 million inhabitants. Health authorities said Friday that there were 17,966 additional deaths in the country in 2020 compared with the previous year.


ISLAMABAD — Pakistan’s education minister says authorities will start reopening schools in phases from Jan. 18 despite a steady increase in deaths and infections from the coronavirus.

Schools were closed in November when data showed that the country’s positivity rate had jumped to about 7 percent.

The rate has since come down to 5.9 percent, which is still high, according to experts.

Education minister Shafqat Mahmood said Friday officials decided to reopen schools in phases because the government doesn’t want to stop the learning process for children.

His remarks at a televised press conference came hours after Pakistan reported 2,417 new cases and 45 more deaths .

Pakistan has reported 514,338 infections and 10,863 deaths since the pandemic began in February.


BEIJING — China says it is now treating more than 1,000 people for COVID-19 as numbers of cases continue to surge in the country’s north.

The National Health Commission said Friday that 1,001 patients are under care for the disease, 26 of them in serious condition. It says 144 total new cases were recorded in the previous 24 hours.

The province of Hebei, just outside Beijing, accounted for 90 of the new cases, while Heilongjiang province farther north reported 43 new cases.

While there have been no reports of hospital bed shortages, Hebei has begun constructing a new quarantine center outside the provincial capital of Shijiazhuang in case it is needed.

Shijiazhuang and the cities of Xingtai and Langfang are under virtual lockdown, confining more than 20 million people to their homes.


WILMINGTON, Del. — President-elect Joe Biden says he knows his $1.9 trillion coronavirus plan “does not come cheaply” but he says America can’t afford to fail to pass the plan.

Biden said Thursday night that by investing now “boldly, smartly and with unwavering focus on American workers and families,” the plan will strengthen the economy, address inequity and set America on a more sustainable financial course.

Biden’s plan faces an uncertain future. Democrats have narrow margins in both chambers of Congress and the legislation would be paid for with borrowed money, adding to trillions in debt the government has already incurred to fight the pandemic.


WILMINGTON, Del. — U.S. President-elect Joe Biden says his priority is effectively combatting the twin crises of a pandemic and the sinking economy.

Biden said during a speech Thursday night that “we have to act now” to help the “millions of Americans, through no fault of their own,” who have lost “the dignity and respect that comes with a job and a paycheck.”

He discussed the framework of his $1.9 trillion “American Rescue Plan,” which includes $1,400 checks for most Americans and would extend a temporary boost in unemployment benefits and a moratorium on evictions and foreclosures through September.

The proposal also includes plans to speed up the vaccine rollout and provide financial help to individuals, states and local governments and businesses struggling with the prolonged economic fallout.

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