The Latest: S Korea tightens pandemic rules over virus surge
SEOUL, South Korea — South Korea will limit private social gatherings to five people and shut down ski resorts and major tourist spots nationwide starting on Christmas Eve as it contends with a surge in coronavirus infections.
The restrictions announced Tuesday extend to a national level similar rules set earlier by authorities in the Seoul metropolitan area. It is the most serious step the government has taken to reinstate social distancing after months of easing.
Prime Minister Chung Sye-kyun says the measures will be in place at least until Jan. 3.
The Seoul area has been at the center of a viral resurgence that has overwhelmed hospitals and increased death tolls. The surge has put pressure on the government to raise social distancing restrictions to maximum levels, something policymakers have resisted for weeks out of economic concerns.
THE VIRUS OUTBREAK:
A new COVID-19 relief bill shaping up in Congress includes individual payments reaching $600 for most Americans and an extra $300 a week in unemployment benefits. Votes on the bill in the House and Senate are expected Monday. Among those getting help are hard-hit businesses, schools, health care providers and renters facing eviction. Also, President-elect Joe Biden will receive his first dose of the coronavirus vaccine on live television as part of a growing effort to convince the American public the inoculations are safe.
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HERE’S WHAT ELSE IS HAPPENING:
OLYMPIA, Wash. — Washington state Gov. Jay Inslee has announced new travel restrictions for people arriving from the United Kingdom and South Africa, where a new and seemingly more contagious strain of the coronavirus is circulating.
Inslee said Monday that he will order travelers coming from either of those two nations to quarantine for 14 days. Hes the order will cover passengers who have arrived from those countries in the past few days.
Inslee says the quarantine measures are precautionary and meant to stem a possible surge in cases that could overwhelm hospitals.
The quarantine is mandatory and although it is legally enforceable, Inslee says no one will be taken into custody over it.
SYDNEY — An outbreak of coronavirus infections in the northern beach suburbs of Sydney, Australia, appears to still be slowing, raising hopes that a lockdown will be eased by Christmas.
Only eight new infections were reported Tuesday for the previous 24 hours. That is down from 15 on Monday and 30 on Sunday.
New South Wales state Premier Gladys Berejiklian says she will announce Wednesday whether to allow an easing of a lockdown of more than 250,000 people in the northern beaches that has been in force since Saturday.
WASHINGTON — Two of the U.S. military’s top officers have received the coronavirus vaccine.
Army Gen. Mark Milley, who is chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, and Air Force Gen. John Hyten, the vice chairman of the Joint Chiefs, got their shots Monday. They received the Pfizer vaccine.
Other members of the Joint Chiefs are also expected to get shots as part of a campaign to reassure those serving in the military branches that the vaccine is safe.
DENVER — Colorado’s legislature will go into recess soon after convening in January as lawmakers wait for COVID-19 cases to subside.
Democratic leaders said Monday that legislators will begin the new session Jan. 13 and address any urgent business and required actions, such as swearing in new members. They will then suspend the session.
The tentative plan is to reconvene Feb. 16, by which time legislative leaders hope the peak of the coronavirus pandemic will have subsided. They say lawmakers will resume work earlier if there is an emergency that requires immediate attention.
AUSTIN, Texas — Gov. Greg Abbott of Texas is getting the coronavirus vaccine as the number of patients hospitalized with the virus statewide is back over 10,000 for the first time since July’s peak.
Abbott will receive the vaccine on live television Tuesday at a hospital in the state capital. His office says health officials urged the 63-year-old governor to get the vaccine in order to boost public confidence that the inoculations are safe.
Newly confirmed cases and hospitalizations in Texas are soaring tot levels unseen since a deadly summer outbreak. Abbott reiterated last week that he will not order a new round of lockdown measures. The virus is blamed for at least 25,000 deaths in Texas.
MONTGOMERY, Ala. — Alabama Gov. Kay Ivey became one of the first governors on Monday to receive the COVID-19 vaccine, bidding to build public confidence in the vaccinations that will have to be widely administered to ease the pandemic.
The Republican governor said that she wanted to assure people it is safe, after she received the first of the two-shot Pfizer vaccine at a Montgomery hospital on Monday.
Ivy, a 76-year-old lung cancer survivor, said she had no hesitation about taking the vaccine and urged others to take it as it becomes available.
Alabama is seeing a record-setting surge in COVID-19 in the wake of Thanksgiving and officials fear things will only get worse because of Christmas holiday gatherings.
With more than 2,520 patients hospitalized statewide for COVID-19 and cases increasing steadily, Christmas week began in Alabama on Monday with health officials issuing new pleas for residents to take precautions against the virus.
BATON ROUGE, La. — The Louisiana Supreme Court has sent a legal feud between Gov. John Bel Edwards and House Republicans over coronavirus restrictions back to district court.
The high court said Monday the judge ruled too quickly that the state law the GOP used to try to nullify the restrictions was unconstitutional.
The justices wrote that Baton Rouge Judge William Morvant should have held a full hearing on other issues raised in the lawsuit over the Democratic governor’s mask mandate and business restrictions.
The Supreme Court’s decision was a technical one that didn’t weigh in on the merits of the lawsuit. Instead, it requires Morvant to hold another hearing in the case.
LITTLE ROCK, Ark. — The governor of Arkansas said the state received more doses of coronavirus vaccines on Monday as the number of virus-related deaths continued to increase.
Republican Gov. Asa Hutchinson said the state reported 58 deaths from COVID-19 on Monday, though about one-third of those were delayed reports. The state saw 1,457 newly confirmed COVID-19 cases, and more than 1,000 people remained hospitalized with the virus.
Hutchinson said Arkansas also began receiving shipments of the newly approved coronavirus vaccine from the drugmaker Moderna, with 5,900 doses expected Monday and additional shipments planned for Tuesday and Wednesday. The state also received 18,575 doses of Pfizer’s vaccine.
Over the past two weeks, the rolling average number of daily new cases in Arkansas has increased by nearly 9%, according to researchers at Johns Hopkins University. One in every 189 people in Arkansas tested positive for the virus in the past week.
LOUISVILLE, Ky. — The governor of Kentucky announced Monday that several long-term care facilities in the state have started vaccinating their residents.
Democratic Gov. Andy Beshear said vaccines for those groups should be finished by early March. Deaths in the state’s assisted living and nursing homes account for two-thirds of the state’s coronavirus death toll.
Kentucky received it’s first shipments of the new COVID-19 vaccine last week. About 7,000 Kentucky residents, the vast majority of them health care workers in hospitals, have been vaccinated since.
Through the federal Pharmacy Partnership for Long-Term Care Program, Walgreens pharmacy will provide the COVID-19 vaccinations in roughly 800 long-term care facilities across Kentucky.
OKLAHOMA CITY — The head of Oklahoma’s largest teachers union praised the governor on Monday for moving school personnel to phase two of the vaccine distribution plan, but she warned that forcing schools to return to in-person learning next month could jeopardize the safety of public school workers.
Oklahoma Education Association President Alicia Priest also released details of an informal survey of more than half its members that show 63% believe schools are not safe for in-person instruction.
Republican Gov. Kevin Stitt has said his goal is to return all public schools to in-person classes after the Christmas break.
Priest, a Spanish teacher from Yukon, described Stitt’s plan is an “arbitrary date” and suggested it could pit parents and educators against one another.
CHARLESTON, W.Va. — West Virginia set another weekly record for positive coronavirus cases and deaths as it awaits an influx of vaccines from Moderna.
Health officials said the state recorded at least 6,638 confirmed cases of the virus in the seven-day period ending Sunday. That passed the mark of 6,439 positive cases set two weeks ago. The state also reported 160 deaths last week.
Officials said on Monday that the state’s vaccination drive reached a third of all long-term care centers in the state last week. They expect to have administered doses to all 214 centers by the end of the month, ahead of schedule and ahead many other states.
Republican Gov. Jim Justice has said about 85% to 95% of long-term care center residents are taking the vaccine, but about 40% of staff are declining it.
DUBAI, United Arab Emirates — Kuwait is suspending all commercial international flights and closing its land and sea borders starting Monday evening until Jan. 1 over fears about the highly infectious new coronavirus strain.
The government said that cargo flights and trade routes will remain open.
Health authorities ordered those who arrived from the European Union or the United Kingdom in the past week to immediately take a PCR coronavirus test.
The national airline of the United Arab Emirates also announced it will require all passengers flying from the United Kingdom starting Thursday to show a negative PCR coronavirus test within 72 hours before taking off over fears of the fast-spreading new strain of the virus.
The Kuwaiti Health Ministry said COVID-19 cases increased by 230 to 148,209 on Monday, while the death toll rose by one to 922.
AUSTIN, Texas — The Texas Capitol will reopen to the public in January after being closed for much of the year because of the pandemic, a decision that comes as new coronavirus cases and hospitalizations are surging to the highest levels since summer.
Republican Gov. Greg Abbott said in a statement on Monday that the capitol will reopen Jan. 4, about a week before the Texas Legislature reconvenes for the first time since 2019.
Texas had more than 9,800 hospitalized coronavirus patients as of Sunday, the most since a deadly summer outbreak. The state is approaching the Christmas holiday with fewer than 800 intensive care unit beds and last Thursday smashed a single-day record for new cases with with more than 16,000, which state officials partly attributed to holiday gatherings.
BATON ROUGE, La. — Louisiana is expecting to receive shipments of a second coronavirus vaccine.
The office of Democratic Gov. John Bel Edwards said Louisiana is expecting to receive 79,500 doses of the Moderna vaccine and more than 28,000 Pfizer vaccine doses that will arrive this week.
Meanwhile, a new audit released Monday by Legislative Auditor Daryl Purpera’s office says the slow pace of laboratories’ reporting of coronavirus test results is hindering the health department’s ability to understand the scale of the outbreak, do adequate contact tracing and determine the rate of positive versus negative test results.
Health Secretary Courtney Phillips says the department’s data analysis accounts for many of the issues raised by the auditor’s office.
UNITED NATIONS — The World Health Organization’s technical lead for COVID-19 said on Monday that scientists in the United Kingdom are still trying to understand the transmissibility and lethality of the new virus strain, and the antibody response it provokes.
Dr. Maria Van Kerkhove said studies on antibody response are underway and they expect results “in coming days and weeks.”
Emergencies Chief Dr. Mike Ryan said, “There’s zero evidence that there’s any increase in severity associated with this disease.”
He said that whether the new variant responds the same as older variants to current vaccines “is currently being checked in a number of labs.”
WHO Chief Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said that the strategy for addressing new variants of COVID-19 was same as for prior variants.