The Latest: South Africa reports 14K new cases in single day

NAIROBI, Kenya — South Africa’s health minister says the country has seen more than 14,000 confirmed new coronavirus cases in the past day, with a positivity rate of 26%, as overall cases edge toward 1 million.

Heath Minister Zwelini Mkhize says the “alarming rate of spread” of infections is much faster than during the first wave in midyear. His daily report doesn’t say how many of the new infections are attributed to the new variant of the virus in South Africa.

The country has more than 950,000 confirmed cases, including more than 25,000 deaths. More than 400 people have died in the past day.

Mkhize says COVID-19 is “unrelenting” and urges South Africans to not be complacent as they enter the holiday season, and he warns that the government will have to review restrictions meant to limit the spread of the virus and “consider further measures.”

More than a quarter of the country’s infections are in Gauteng province, home of commercial hub Johannesburg and the capital, Pretoria.

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THE VIRUS OUTBREAK:

Cheer will be in short supply this pandemic-stricken Christmas, as many face isolation, grief, job fears and potentially more contagious coronavirus variant.

No Christmas Day driving in Peru. Lebanon’s nightclubs are open, but no dancing. Such is the global mish-mash of coronavirus measures.

Freight from Britain and passengers have started arriving in France after the country eased a two-day blockade over a new virus variant.

France is springing elderly residents from care homes, but some families agonize if time with elderly relatives is worth the risk.

President Donald Trump has threatened to torpedo Congress’ massive COVID-19 relief package, demanding changes fellow Republicans have opposed.

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Follow AP’s coverage at https://apnews.com/hub/coronavirus-pandemic, https://apnews.com/hub/coronavirus-vaccine and https://apnews.com/UnderstandingtheOutbreak

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HERE’S WHAT ELSE IS HAPPENING:

ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — Around 15,000 residents previously ineligible for pandemic stimulus checks have started receiving payments from the state. The group includes immigrants in the country without work authorization.

Officials with the New Mexico Human Services Department said the $465 relief payments began arriving this week via direct deposit or checks.

The Legislature allocated $5 million to the fund for those who hadn’t received federal payments in April. Agency officials say they were able to identify an additional $2 million on top of that.

COVID-19 cases have been declining in New Mexico, but the economic fallout from the pandemic continues.

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TRENTON, N.J. — With apologies to Don Henley, New Jersey Gov. Phil Murphy has a message for state residents reminiscent of the Eagles holiday classic song: Please stay home for Christmas.

The Democratic governor on Wednesday used his final coronavirus briefing before the holiday to urge residents in New Jersey not to gather with extended family as a means of limiting the spread of the virus.

Murphy spoke as New Jersey recorded its first instance since May of back-to-back days when the state death toll from the virus exceeded 100.

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MADRID — Health Minister Salvador Illa said that, beginning Saturday, Spain will receive 4.5 million Pfizer vaccine doses over the next 12 weeks, enough to vaccinate some 2.3 million people.

Illa said on Wednesday that the first batch would arrive in the central province of Guadalajara and be distributed around Spain from there so that vaccination could begin as planned on Sunday.

The ministry reported 12,386 new COVID-19 cases on Wednesday, up from 11,079 on Tuesday, for a total of 1.8 million. There were 178 new confirmed deaths, down from 260 on Tuesday.

The 14-day cumulative index, closely watched by epidemiologists, rose to 254 per 100,000 inhabitants, up from 236 a day earlier but still down from the second-wave high of 529 on Nov. 9.

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LONDON — The U.K. has recorded its most coronavirus virus-related deaths since April.

In its daily update, the British government said another 744 people have died 28 days after testing positive for COVID-19, the highest level since April 29.

That takes the U.K.’s total up to 69,051, Europe’s second-highest behind Italy. If current trends continue, the U.K. looks set to overtake Italy to once again become Europe’s worst-hit country.

It also said another 39,237 new infections have been identified, the most recorded. However, comparisons with the early days of the pandemic are difficult as testing for the virus then was negligible.

Many of these new infections are said to be related to a new variant of the coronavirus that has been identified around London and southeast England and which scientists say is more virulent.

Lockdown restrictions have been tightened across the four nations of the U.K. in recent days. On Wednesday, more areas of England were put into the highest level of restrictions with a “stay-at-home” message in force.

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MILAN — Italy recorded another 14,522 new positive coronavirus cases on Wednesday, the last day before more severe restrictions take effect for the Christmas holidays.

Despite measures that have been in place since late October, Italy has yet to successfully flatten the curve of the fall resurgence.

The Health Ministry said about 8% of COVID-19 tests are turning up positives and the death toll grew by 553, 75 fewer than a day earlier. More than 200 new COVID-19 patients were admitted to intensive care, while 402 fewer were hospitalized in other wards.

Starting Thursday, Italians will have to fill out declarations of their reasons for leaving home, just like during the strict 10-week lockdown in the spring. The holiday restrictions, running through Jan. 6, give some leeway for visiting friends and relatives in the same region.

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JERUSALEM — Israel’s Health Ministry says it has detected the country’s first known cases of the new variant of the coronavirus.

The ministry announced Wednesday that it found the variant in three people who are in government-run quarantine hotels after returning from the U.K. The source of a fourth case is still under investigation.

Israel this week tightened its restrictions on entering the country, barring nearly all foreigners and requiring all returning Israelis to isolate in state-run hotels for 10 to 14 days. Flights from the U.K., Denmark and South Africa have been banned altogether.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu says the country is pressing ahead with a vaccination campaign it kicked off this week, while also weighing further lockdown restrictions.

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MEXICO CITY — The first formally approved COVID-19 vaccine arrived in Latin America on Wednesday.

A DHL flight touched down at Mexico City’s international airport and ground crew unloaded the first batches of ultra-cold vaccines produced by Pfizer and its German partner, BioNTech.

The first vaccines were due to be given to health workers in Mexico City and the northern city of Saltillo starting on Thursday. Officials didn’t say how many doses were in the first shipment, which was meant to test logistics procedures.

Shipments of the Pflizer vaccine are scheduled to arrive in some other Latin American nations this week and vaccine candidates from other producers have already arrived in some other nations pending formal approval by their health authorities.

Mexico expects to receive 1.4 million doses of the Pflizer-BioNTech product by the end of January.

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NEW YORK — New York City will send sheriff’s deputies to the homes or hotel rooms of all travelers coming from the U.K. to ensure they comply with the city’s two-week coronavirus quarantine requirement.

Mayor Bill de Blasio announced the enforcement action Wednesday amid concern about a new, fast-spreading strain of the virus that has been detected in the U.K.

Airlines flying from London to New York agreed this week to test passengers before they board. All travelers to New York are required to fill out forms with contact information and where they’ll be staying, regardless of where they’re arriving from. They will then be sent a quarantine order by certified mail.

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PHOENIX — Arizona on Wednesday reported at least 5,000 new known coronavirus infections for the seventh straight day as the state’s current surge continued to set pandemic-high records for hospitalizations.

The state coronavirus dashboard reported a record 4,163 inpatients being treated for COVID-19 as of Tuesday, including a record 972 in intensive care unit beds.

According to the dashboard, only 8% of all hospital beds and 7% of adult intensive care unit beds were not in use and available.

The state reported 6,058 newly confirmed COVID-19 cases and 54 deaths, increasing the state’s totals to 473,273 cases and 8,179 deaths.

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LONDON — British Health Secretary Matt Hancock says scientists have identified another new variant of the coronavirus in two people, both of whom are contacts of recent arrivals from South Africa.

Hancock told a press briefing that anyone who has been in South Africa in the past two weeks, together with their close contacts, have to quarantine themselves “immediately.”

Hancock said the evidence collated so far suggests that the new variant has “mutated further” than the one that recently prompted the British government to tighten restrictions across large parts of England and which led to many countries imposing travel bans on the U.K.

Hancock also announced new travel restrictions on South Africa.

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TORONTO — Canada’s health regulator announced on Wednesday that the COVID-19 vaccine from U.S. biotech firm Moderna is safe for use in Canada.

The vaccine is the second to be greenlit for use in Canada, following the Pfizer-BioNtech vaccine on Dec. 9.

Moderna anticipates starting shipments to Canada within the next 48 hours. Up to 168,000 doses are set to arrive by the end of December, and two million by the end of March.

Canada is to get 40 million doses of Moderna’s vaccine in 2021, enough to vaccinate 20 million people, or about two-thirds of the Canadian adult population.

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HELSINKI — The Baltic nations of Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania say they are planning to operate a joint repatriation charter flight from Britain to Latvia for their citizens on Dec. 28 as scheduled flights have been suspended due to the new COVID-19 variant.

Estonia’s Foreign Ministry said Wednesday the special flight from London to Riga, the Latvian capital, was meant for those Baltic citizens who urgently need to return to their home country.

The ministry said priority was given to “critical passengers” including unaccompanied minors, families with small children and people aged 65 and over. One has to permanently reside in the Baltic countries to qualify a flight seat which are to be equally divided by the three nations.

Like many others, dozens of Baltic citizens have been stuck in Britain due to the coronavirus flight restrictions imposed this week. The Estonian foreign ministry said flight restrictions between Britain and Estonia remain in force until Dec. 31.

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CAIRO — Egypt reported its highest daily confirmed cases in months, with over 911 confined cases and 42 fatalities, as authorities said New Year’s Eve celebrations would be canceled.

Health Minister Hala Zayed announced the numbers in a news conference in Cairo on Wednesday, which brought the county’s official tally to more than 127,970 COVID-19 cases including at least 7,209 deaths.

The increase came amid repeated warnings by the government about a second wave of the pandemic. Authorities have been urging people to take preventive measures, including wearing face masks and social distancing.

Minister Mustafa Madbouly said on Wednesday that his government would closely follow the measures to avoid a lockdown. The government said celebrations and other activities on New Year’s Eve are not allowed as part of their ongoing efforts to fight the pandemic.

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BERLIN — Undertakers in Saxony say crematoria in the eastern German state are reaching their limits because of the number of COVID-related deaths there.

German news agency dpa quoted the head of the regional undertakers association, Tobias Wenzel, as saying on Wednesday that his members are particularly worried about the Christmas public holidays.

He said waiting times for bodies to be cremated have doubled from five to ten days.

Wenzel told dpa that its’s not an option to take bodies out of state or even across the border to the neighboring Czech Republic.

Saxony has had a disproportionately high share of Germany’s deaths linked to the coronavirus — 2,409 since the start of the outbreak or almost a tenth of the nationwide total.

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BERLIN — Some 300 soldiers are taking part in a trial run ahead of the opening of a large vaccination center in Berlin, slipping into the role of elderly people who will be among the first to get the coronavirus shots.

Officials wanted to see whether it was possible to get people who might have trouble walking or hearing through the vaccination process in 70 minutes.

Wednesday’s trial run was organized by the German Red Cross rather than Berlin’s notoriously inefficient state authorities.

Similar trial runs have been taking place across Germany, where more than 400 mass vaccination centers are being readied for the expected start of the immunization campaign Sunday.

Aside from the centers, mobile vaccination teams will initially also visit nursing homes to reach people who are unable to be moved but who are particularly vulnerable to COVID-19.

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