The Latest: Red Cross seeks equitable access to vaccines

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.



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

— Russia and Germany hit record numbers of daily coronavirus deaths

— French President Emmanuel Macron says France will apply restrictions to prevent vacationers traveling to Swiss ski resorts

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


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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.”


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.


MEXICO CITY — Mexican President Andrés Manuel López Obrador suggested politicians who impose lockdowns or curfews to limit the coronavirus are acting like dictators.

The comments came Wednesday as López Obrador again fended off questions about why he rarely wears a mask. He says its a question of liberty.

The Mexican leader says pandemic measures that limit people’s movements are “fashionable among authorities … who want to show they are heavy handed dictatorship.”

It was unclear if the Mexican leader was referring to authorities in other countries or the mainly opposition-party local leaders who have tried to impose limits because of the coronavirus.

Mexico has recorded 1.1 million coronavirus cases and nearly 107,000 test-confirmed deaths, the fourth-highest toll in the world. However, Mexico does little testing and officials estimate the real death toll is higher.


LONDON — Britain’s health secretary has confirmed that batch testing has been completed for the first 800,000 doses of the Pfizer vaccine, which will be ready for use starting early next week.

Matt Hancock told lawmakers on Wednesday that the U.K. has preordered 40 million doses of the shots, enough for 20 million people to get the required two shots each. The doses will be tested in batches for safety.

“This is a monumental step forward. It’s no longer if there’s going to be a vaccine, it’s when,” he said. “This is a day to remember, frankly, in a year to forget.”

Hancock says distribution of the vaccine will be “one of the biggest civilian logistical efforts that we face as a nation.” He says the shots will first be distributed by hospital hubs and 50 of these are “ready to go” next week.

Doctor’s offices, pharmacies, conference centers and sports venues will later play a part in distributing shots.


WARSAW, Poland – Poland’s government says it is aiming at covering between 50% and 80% of the nation with voluntary and free of charge coronavirus vaccinations that should be available early next year.

Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki says Poland is seeking to purchase some 45 million vaccine units, at the cost of up to 10 billion zlotys ($2.7 billion; 2.2 billion euro) and has made some adjustments to the state budget to meet this “very, very high cost that we must afford.”

The vaccines should be available as soon as they are approved by Europe’s health authorities, Morawiecki says.

The first groups to be offered vaccination will be the medics, uniformed services like police and the military who are helping the medics, and the elderly. That’s a total of up to 7 million people in a nation of some 38 million.

Vaccination, requiring two shots three weeks apart, should be made available in various medical centers across Poland and in mobile facilities.


LISBON, Portugal — A group of 10 Portuguese restaurant and bar owners on hunger strike outside the country’s parliament building say they will stick with their protest until they are received by the prime minister or economy minister.

Sunshine warmed the group of nine men and one woman sleeping in tents on the pavement Wednesday, but rainy days are soon forecast. They are not eating food but are consuming liquids.

José Gouveia, spokesperson for the hunger strikers, said many businesses in the food and drink sector have gone bankrupt amid the COVID-19 pandemic and many more are teetering on the brink.

Prime Minister António Costa said Wednesday his government has made available 1.1 billion euros ($1.3 billion) for businesses, which can also apply for funds from a temporary layoff program.


NEW YORK — The New York City sheriff’s office says a bar owner who was providing indoor service in defiance of coronavirus restrictions has been arrested.

Protesters shouted Tuesday as deputies arrested Danny Presti, the co-owner of Mac’s Public House on Staten Island. The tavern is in an area designated by Gov. Andrew Cuomo as an orange zone because of spiking coronavirus rates.

The bar has been fined thousands of dollars as it continued to serve patrons inside and to operate past the 10 p.m. curfew for restaurant service that Cuomo imposed citywide.

Presti was charged with obstruction of governmental administration in addition to coronavirus-related violations. An attorney for the tavern’s owners says Presti was arrested because he didn’t want to leave his business.


WASHINGTON — A leader of the Trump administration’s effort to produce and distribute a coronavirus vaccine says he expects the Food and Drug Administration to soon authorize the use of a vaccine.

Operation Warp Speed chief science adviser Moncef Slaoui says he hopes by Dec. 10 or 11, a Pfizer vaccine is approved in the U.S.

Slaoui told ABC’s “Good Morning America” he “would expect the FDA to reach a similar conclusion” as British authorities did by approving emergency use of a vaccine developed by American drugmaker Pfizer and Germany’s BioNTech.

Slaoui is urging people to listen to the experts about taking the vaccine, look at the data and keep their minds open. He says “great science” allowed researchers to do discovery work “in weeks rather than in years.”

Slaoui calls the vaccine “an insurance against this virus” and says it’s “what will get us out of this pandemic.”


GENEVA — The World Health Organization has joined other experts who have recommended against use of masks with valves because they let breath escape.

The update is the first full revision of the U.N. health agency’s guidance on masks in months, marking the fourth edition since the coronavirus outbreak. Previous guidance focusing on mask-wearing in children was released in August.

In its “Mask Use in the context of COVID-19” released Tuesday, WHO says “exhalation valves on respirators are discouraged as they bypass the filtration function for exhaled air.” The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has already advised against use of masks with exhalation valves.

Along with mask wearing, the WHO also emphasizes physical distancing, hand washing and increased circulation of enclosed spaces.


VIENNA — Austria’s leader says the country will keep restaurants, bars and hotels closed until early January, although it will allow skiing starting Dec. 24.

Tough lockdown measures took effect Nov. 17 and are due to expire on Sunday. Chancellor Sebastian Kurz says a limited curfew that has applied around the clock will be eased and will apply only between 8 p.m. and 6 a.m. Schools will be reopened, except for older students, as will non-essential shops, museums, libraries and some other businesses.

Austria is currently is recording 335 new coronavirus cases per 100,000 residents over seven days, down from around 600 last month.

Kurz says the progress made allows a “cautious” opening. He says the tourism and catering sectors won’t reopen until Jan. 7.


LONDON — British regulators insisted that “no corners have been cut” during the assessment of the the COVID-19 vaccine developed by American drugmaker Pfizer and Germany’s BioNTech, which was cleared for emergency use on Wednesday.

In a briefing after the U.K.’s Medicines and Healthcare Products Regulatory Agency became the first regulator worldwide to approve the vaccine, its chair, Dr. June Raine, says the public can be “absolutely confident” that its standards are equivalent to those anywhere around the world.

Regulators also revealed the order by which the vaccine will be rolled out across the country over the coming weeks and months, beginning next week. The U.K. has ordered around 40 million doses of the vaccine, which can potentially immunize 20 million people as two doses are required.

Residents in nursing homes and their care givers will be offered the vaccine first followed by those 80 and over and frontline health and social care workers. From there, the priority plan largely follows age groups.

According to Munir Pirmohamed, chair of a medicines panel, immunity begins seven days after the second dose.


MOSCOW — Russia has registered a record number of coronavirus deaths for a second straight day.

The government coronavirus task force reported 589 new deaths on Wednesday, the highest daily tally in the pandemic. The previous record of 569 deaths was registered on Tuesday. The task force has recorded 41,053 virus-related deaths in all.

Russia continued to report high daily infections this week as well. On Wednesday, officials registered 25,345 new infections. Russia’s total of over 2.3 million confirmed cases is the fourth largest caseload in the world.

Still, Russian authorities have insisted there is no need to impose a second nationwide lockdown or shut down businesses. Currently, there is a country-wide mask mandate and mostly mild restrictions that vary from region to region.


BERLIN — Germany on Wednesday reported a record 487 new coronavirus deaths — the country’s highest daily toll since the outbreak of the pandemic.

The country’s disease control center also said 17,270 people had contracted the virus in the last 24 hours.

The country’s health minister said Tuesday that daily death numbers are way too high and reminded his compatriots that behind every single number there’s a tragedy and a human life lost. Germany has seen 17,123 people die in the pandemic,

Germany implemented a so-called “lock down light” about month ago with schools and stores remaining open. That has led to a stagnation of new infections, but the numbers have not been going down again like in other European countries which have had much stricter anti-corona measures in recent weeks.

Germany is waiting for approval of an anti-COVID vaccine by the end of the year, and has started setting up mass vaccination centers across the country that are supposed to be ready within two weeks


HELSINKI — Latvia has extended the state of emergency due to COVID-19 until Jan. 11 and has announced further restrictions to contain the spread of the pandemic in the small Baltic nation.

Latvia’s government announced late Tuesday that, effective Thursday, everyone in the country must follow the 2+2 principle in their daily public routine: observing a distance of two meters (6.6 feet) from others and limiting meetings to two people.

During the state of emergency, sales of alcohol and tobacco in Latvia will be prohibited at shops during the weekends and public holidays. Also, effective on Saturday, only grocery stores and pharmacies will be allowed to operate on weekends and holidays to sell food, drugs and other basic necessities.

Latvia, a nation of nearly 2 million, has seen its coronavirus outbreak worsen in the past few weeks.

The country on Wednesday reported 690 confirmed new cases and 14 deaths in the past 24 hours., for an overall toll of 224 virus-related deaths.


ROME — Italy’s health minister told lawmakers on Wednesday that Italy will distribute 202.6 million doses of COVID-19 vaccines during 2021 in “an unprecedented effort that will require a huge collective commitment.’’

Robert Speranza said the vaccines will not be mandatory, but that the doses allotted Italy through an EU collective purchasing agreement would be “enough to potentially vaccinate the entire population.”

Speranza emphasized that the distribution of the vaccines would depend on regulatory approval which was still pending from the European Medicines Agency.

The first vaccines are expected to arrive in January with Pfizer’s vaccine expected to get first EMA approval by Dec. 29 and Moderna by Jan. 12. Priority will be given first to Italy’s front-line health care workers, then residents of nursing homes, then to elderly over 80 before moving to other groups like people with medical risks, law enforcement, teachers and prison workers.

Speranza said the vaccines provide “a message of hope” in the pandemic, which has killed more than 55,000 Italians, but that “prudence and caution are still needed.”


LONDON — Drugmakers Pfizer and BioNTech said Wednesday they’ve won permission for emergency use of their COVID-19 vaccine in Britain, the world’s first coronavirus shot that’s backed by rigorous science — and a major step toward eventually ending the pandemic.

The move allows Britain to become one of the first countries to begin vaccinating its population as it tries to curb Europe’s deadliest outbreak.

“The vaccine will be made available across the U.K. from next week,″ the Department of Health and Social Care said in a statement. The National Health Service “has decades of experience in delivering large scale vaccination programs and will begin putting their extensive preparations into action to provide care and support to all those eligible for vaccination.″

Other countries aren’t far behind: Regulators in the United States and the European Union also are vetting the Pfizer shot along with a similar vaccine made by competitor Moderna Inc.

British regulators also are considering another shot made by AstraZeneca and Oxford University.


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