The Latest: Nebraska may get shipments of vaccine in 2 weeks

OMAHA, Neb. — Nebraska could gets its first shipments of a coronavirus vaccine in less than two weeks if the proposed drug wins federal approval, but health care workers will be given first priority and the general public may not get access until April, state officials said Wednesday.

Gov. Pete Ricketts said the state tentatively expects to receive 15,600 doses of a vaccine produced by the drug manufacturer Pfizer the week of Dec. 13. Another 19,500 doses from the company are slated to arrive the following week, plus 32,100 doses from manufacturer Moderna if the U.S. Food and Drug Administration approves that company’s drug.

State officials are planning to receive more than 100,000 doses by the month’s end. With roughly 34,000 medical personnel in the state as of 2018, according to a University of Nebraska Medical Center report, and each person requiring two vaccine doses taken several weeks apart, that would account for many of the doses the state expects to receive this month.

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THE VIRUS OUTBREAK:

— U.K. approves Pfizer coronavirus vaccine for emergency use, puts Britain on track to start vaccinations soon

— International Red Cross seeks equitable access to vaccines

— Russia and Germany hit record numbers of daily coronavirus deaths

— Tokyo Olympic fans from abroad may have health tracked by app

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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:

KANSAS CITY — Health officials in Kansas City and St. Louis County who shut down some bars and restaurants in recent days for violating coronavirus restrictions are facing legal action and criticism from business owners and some public officials.

A Kansas City bar owner is asking a Jackson County court to issue a temporary restraining order to overturn a 10 p.m. curfew on bars and restaurants, which the city and Jackson County imposed two weeks ago as part of a series of restrictions to slow the spread of the virus. The bar is asking to be allowed to stay open until 3 a.m.

St. Louis County health inspectors on Tuesday shut down four businesses that they said violated a ban on indoor service at restaurants and bars. Kansas City health inspectors closed five businesses over Thanksgiving weekend — four for violating a 10 p.m. curfew and one for hosting a large gathering.

The pushback over dining restrictions comes during a surge in COVID-19 cases in the state and concerns about hospitals having enough beds to treat patients.

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DENVER — Colorado lawmakers have passed several bills offering assistance to restaurants and food pantries struggling to keep their doors open during the coronavirus pandemic.

The special session that was called by Gov. Jared Polis ended on Wednesday. The bills created and expanded grant programs to improve internet access for students, assist childcare providers and help individuals having trouble paying utility and housing bills.

The return of lawmakers to the Capitol for the COVID-19 session highlighted partisan approaches to the virus.

Republicans refused to wear masks while on the floor and in meetings. Democrats at the session wore masks and others attended online.

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MOSCOW — President Vladimir Putin ordered a “large-scale” coronavirus immunization campaign to start by late next week.

Doctors and teachers set to be first in line to get a Russian-designed vaccine that has yet to complete the advanced studies needed to ensure its effectiveness and safety.

Putin’s action came hours after Britain became the first country in the West to authorize the use of a vaccine against the coronavirus developed by U.S. drugmaker Pfizer and Germany’s BioNTech.

Russia touted its domestically developed vaccine, Sputnik V, as the world’s “first registered COVID-19 vaccine” after the government gave it regulatory approval in early August. However, giving the shots the go-ahead drew criticism from experts, because at the time the Sputnik V only had been tested on several dozen people.

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BATON ROUGE, La. — Craft brewers and bar owners told lawmakers that Gov. John Bel Edwards’ COVID-19 restrictions are damaging their operations and threaten to bankrupt their businesses.

Their complaints to the House Ways and Means Committee on Wednesday come as Louisiana sees its third surge of coronavirus cases and hospitalizations.

Microbrewery owners say their taprooms shouldn’t be treated the same as bars that are largely required to shutter indoor operations under tightened virus rules the Democratic governor enacted last week. The brewers also called for the ability to deliver beer directly to consumers.

Bar owners criticized Edwards’ rules limiting indoor live music performances as too strict and largely unworkable.

Edwards toughened his coronavirus restrictions on businesses a week ago as Louisiana sees a third spike in cases and hospitalizations of patients with COVID-19 — though many of the complaints to lawmakers involved restrictions that had been in place even before the stricter rules were issued.

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SPRINGFIELD, Ill. — Illinois on Wednesday reported a record 238 fatalities related to the coronavirus pandemic, a total that is nearly one-quarter higher than the previous record set during the spring onslaught of the illness.

The deaths were accompanied by 9,757 new cases of COVID-19, the malady caused by coronavirus infection. That was a drop from Tuesday’s newly confirmed cases, but the previous high of 192 deaths came on May 13, a day when there were just 1,677 new cases.

Overall, in nine months of the pandemic, there have been 12,639 deaths among 748,603 infections.

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ALBANY, N.Y. — New York plans to prioritize nursing home residents and staff when it begins distributing the first doses of coronavirus vaccine, hopefully later this month.

Gov. Andrew Cuomo said Wednesday that the state expects to receive 170,000 doses of Pfizer’s vaccine by Dec. 15, if the pharmaceutical company gets the federal government’s OK to make it available to the public on an emergency basis.

The governor said New York expects at a later date to receive at least 40,000 more doses of a vaccine made by Moderna, if it gets federal authorization.

That would be enough to cover the state’s roughly 85,000 nursing home residents and 130,000 staff members, though Cuomo said he expects not all residents and staff members will agree to take the vaccine.

Remaining doses could then go to New York’s next priority: congregate care facilities and then some of the roughly 600,000 health care workers who treat patients in emergency rooms and intensive care units.

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ATHENS, Greece — Pfizer CEO Albert Bourla urged global governments not to reopen economies too quickly because of the optimism created by possible COVID-19 vaccines.

“Given the pressure to open the economy, (governments) should not make this mistake…and relax immediately,” said Bourla, speaking at an online event hosted in his native Greece.

“The vaccine is one tool in controlling this disease…The time that we will have to go back to normality is not far away. But it is definitely not now.”

Bourla spoke Wednesday after Britain became the first country to approve a vaccine developed by Pfizer and German biotechnology company BioNTech.

The 59-year-old executive says early stages of national vaccination programs were likely to have a significant impact because they would be directed at vulnerable groups like seniors and health care workers.

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DETROIT — A judge refused to block Michigan’s ban on indoor dining during a surge in coronavirus cases.

U.S. District Judge Paul Maloney say a “plausible explanation” for the state order exists: People can’t eat or drink without removing their mask, a step that could spread the virus.

Maloney turned down a request for an injunction with a week left in the three-week indoor dining ban. Some restaurant owners say the steady loss of customers could put many of them out of business. They say they’re concerned about a possible extension of the order by Gov. Gretchen Whitmer’s administration.

The Michigan Restaurant & Lodging Association and some restaurants sued the state health director. They say they can safely provide indoor dining and are treated unfairly when compared to other businesses.

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GENEVA — The World Health Organization is hailing Britain’s approval of a coronavirus vaccine for emergency use, calling it a “great achievement.”

Dr. Michael Ryan, chief of emergencies at WHO, likened the recent progress toward a coronavirus vaccine to “reaching the base camp on Mt. Everest: We still have to climb the mountain. It’s a great achievement, but we still have to get there.”

Ryan says “many obstacles” remain, such as producing enough vaccine, distributing it fairly, creating demand for the vaccine and delivering it to “every individual who actually needs it.”

He alluded to the reticence of some people to take a vaccine.

“You get to choose, and you should get to choose,” he said. “But you’re also part of a forest.” He reminds people, “it’s not just for you. You represent that new firewall.”

Ryan says more vaccines are needed beyond the “three or four” in final stages, along with increased production and lower prices.

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MADRID — Spain will slightly ease curfew restrictions for three days during the Christmas holidays while keeping most limits in place because of the coronavirus.

Health Minister Salvador Illa says officials from the regional governments agreed Wednesday to ban travel between regions from Dec. 23 to Jan. 6, with exceptions for essential trips.

Family gatherings over the holidays will be limited to 10 people from the same household. Large public events are banned. A curfew will be in place between 1:30 a.m.-6 a.m. on Christmas Eve, Christmas Day and New Year’s Eve. The country currently has an 11 p.m.-6 a.m. curfew.

Spain’s 14-day infection rate dropped Wednesday to 251 cases per 100,000 people from a high of 529 cases on Nov. 9.

Spain has recorded 1.6 million confirmed cases and more than 45,500 deaths.

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BERLIN — German Chancellor Angela Merkel and the governors of the country’s 16 states have agreed to extend current pandemic restrictions until Jan. 10.

Merkel says Germany is still “very far” from its goal of reducing the rate of infections to 50 cases per 100,000 people.

The decision means restaurants, bars and gyms remain shut and limits on personal contacts will be restricted into the new year, although all agreed to ease some restrictions over the Christmas period.

Merkel also expressed confidence in the process led by the European Medicines Agency to review coronavirus vaccine candidates for approval. The agency has said it will meet Dec. 29 to assess the application submitted by BioNTech and Pfizer, whose vaccine was given authorization for emergency use Wednesday by the U.K. regulator.

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RICHMOND, Va. — A health system serving a swath of central Appalachia says it will halt nonemergency elective procedures because of surging cases of coronavirus and capacity concerns at its Virginia and Tennessee hospitals.

Ballad Health officials say it will take effect Monday for at least 30 days.

Ballad CEO Alan Levine also announced that the system has one refrigerated morgue truck at a Tennessee hospital and has ordered a second one for another hospital. Ballad has been urging community members for months to follow basic public health measure to stop the spread of the coronavirus.

Virginia has more than 242,000 cases and 4,113 confirmed deaths. Tennessee has 380,000 cases and 4,638 confirmed deaths, according to each state’s health department.

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UNITED NATIONS — The International Committee of the Red Cross is urging “equitable access” to vaccines for people affected by conflict and violence.

ICRC Director-General Robert Mardini says health workers and people in regions where fighting is taking place “endure the double burden of conflict and COVID. We believe that people there should have the same right and access to the vaccine as others do.”

The ICRC says it is ready to support national vaccination campaigns and facilitate access to COVID-19 vaccines for people in countries affected by conflict and violence.

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MIAMI — Gloria Estefan says she spent most of November in isolation after testing positive for the coronavirus.

The Grammy-winning singer says she tested positive days after dining outdoors at a Miami-area restaurant. The 63-year-old Estefan enduring only “a little bit of a cough” and dehydration after losing her sense of smell and taste. She’s tested negative twice since recovering.

In a video shared on Instagram, Estefan speculates she might have been exposed by a fan who was not wearing a mask and spoke closely to her.

“I know we are kind of in a very big spike in Miami. It’s tough here now,” she said in her video. “Please everybody, wear your masks, try to stay six feet away and protect yourselves.”

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AUGUSTA, Maine — Maine Gov. Janet Mills is quarantining after being exposed to a person with a probable case of the coronavirus.

Mills announced Tuesday she was potentially exposed by a member of her security detail and is getting tested.

Mills says she has no symptoms, and both wore masks while keeping their distance from each other. However, she says she’s still observing safety protocols.

The Democratic says she’ll be working in the Blaine House, the governor’s official residence in Augusta.

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