The Latest: Virus surge hits S. Carolina, surpassing summer

COLUMBIA, South Carolina — The number of new COVID-19 cases in South Carolina is now greater than the levels the state saw when it became one of the nation’s hot spots this summer.

More than 2,450 new COVID-19 cases have been reported in South Carolina in each of the past three days. That’s more than any day of new infections saw during the July peak of the virus in the state.

Saturday’s 2,715 new infections were the most reported on one day since the pandemic started in March, according to the state Department of Health and Environmental Control.

South Carolina reported 2,538 new cases Sunday and 2,470 on Friday. The seven-day average of new cases is now above 2,000 for the first time.

Several school districts are looking at cutting back on how much time students spend in person learning because of the spike in cases.



— Vaccines are being shipped around U.K. in super-cold containers ahead of a mass vaccination program that will be watched around the world

— Europe battles a surge in coronavirus deaths in nursing homes as it gears up for a massive vaccination program that gives priority to the elderly

— Most of California to enter sweeping new virus lockdown

— China prepares large-scale rollout of coronavirus vaccines

— Ethiopia’s conflict stokes humanitarian and virus crisis

— Austrian Alps towns postpone mass coronavirus testing after huge snowfall.


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DEERFIELD, Ill. — Residents in a Chicago suburb set up a condolence box at the police station to honor their mail carrier who recently died of COVID-19.

Victor Fajardo was a letter carrier for more than 20 years and last worked in Deerfield.

“It’s a really sobering reminder that nobody is immune to this, even if you’re healthy and you walk a five-hour route every day and people love you,” Cara McGowan told WBBM-TV.

A box at the Deerfield police station allows people to drop off notes for Fajardo’s family. A GoFundMe effort has raised more than $13,000 to help the family.

Fajardo worked for the U.S. Postal Service for 23 years.

“Our thoughts and deepest sympathies go out to his family and friends, including the many people he worked with at the Postal Service,” spokesman Tim Norman said.


RICHMOND, Va. — Virginia is reporting a record number of coronavirus cases in the state for the second straight day.

Virginia reported 3,880 cases on Sunday morning. That compares to Saturday’s total of 3,793.

Virginia has reported a total number of 255,053 virus cases. The state’s health department reports there have been 4,200 total deaths from the virus in Virginia.

The state reported a 10.6% positivity rate, up from 10% on Saturday.

The Virginia Hospital and Healthcare Association says there are 1,490 people hospitalized in the state with confirmed cases of the virus. Of them, 395 were in intensive care.


ROME — Italy has added another 564 victims to its COVID-19 death toll, bringing its official total past 60,000 and closing in on Britain as the European country with the highest toll.

Public health officials have warned that Italy is likely to see hundreds of daily COVID-19 dead at least up to Christmas, when the effects of restrictions imposed last month should start to have an impact on reducing deaths.

As it is, the restrictions have stabilized new infections, with another 18,887 positive cases reported in the past day, below the daily average of the past few weeks. With the 564 dead reported Sunday, Italy has recorded 60,078 victims, second only to Britain’s 61,245 in Europe.

Italy, the onetime European epicenter of the virus, has one of the world’s highest death tolls. Officials have blamed the high numbers on Italy’s disproportionately old population, though critics have pointed to shortfalls in the health care system in hardest-hit Lombardy, which accounts for some 23,000 of Italy’s dead.

The Italian government has imposed travel restrictions over the Christmas holidays to prevent families from gathering in hopes of avoiding a third surge after New Year’s.


ATHENS, Greece — Greek authorities announced Sunday that new daily coronavirus cases dropped below 1,000 for the first time since Oct. 26.

There were 904 confirmed cases over the past 24 hours, along with 101 deaths, authorities said.

The total number of confirmed infections since the start of the pandemic is 115,471, with 3,003 deaths.

Despite a significant drop in cases over the past week, authorities have extended the countrywide lockdown to Dec. 14, but have allowed certain shops, including those selling Christmas-related merchandise, to open from Monday.

The number of patients on ventilators, at 600, was still close to all-time highs, straining the capacity of the national health system.


WASHINGTON — The head of the U.S. vaccine development effort said Sunday he believes the COVID-19 vaccine could have long-lasting effect once distributed.

Dr. Moncef Slaoui told CNN’s “State of the Union” that only time will tell for certain, but that in his opinion, the vaccine’s effectiveness could last for “many, many years,” with older people and others who are more vulnerable requiring a booster every three to five years.

He said that one of the hallmarks of immune systems is memory, so the body’s response to the coronavirus will be much faster once vaccinated.

Still, Slaoui said it’s not known whether vaccinated persons could spread the virus to others even if protected themselves. He said there may be an initial indication on that sometime in February or March.

Slaoui stressed that the continuing unknowns make it important for people to remain cautious and take safeguards to protect themselves and others against COVID-19.

He said that once 70 to 80% of the population is vaccinated, “the virus will go down.”


BERLIN — The southern German state of Bavaria is implementing more restrictions meant to slow the spread of the new coronavirus amid stubbornly high infection rates.

Gov. Markus Soeder said Sunday that the measures would take effect Wednesday and be in place for about a month.

“The numbers are simply too high,” he told reporters following a special meeting of his cabinet, the dpa news agency reported.

Bavaria is currently reporting about 175 new cases per 100,000 population over seven days, slightly higher than the national 142 per 100,000 figure, but some hot spots are far above that.

Soeder announced a curfew from 9 p.m. and 5 a.m. in areas with 200 new cases per 100,000 over seven days and above. Across the state people are also being told to stay at home unless there is a need to go out. Exceptions include to do Christmas shopping, participate in sports, go to the doctor and to go to school and work.

A planned relaxation of contact rules will remain in place for Christmas, allowing up to 10 people from multiple households to gather between Dec. 23 and Dec. 26, but a similar relaxation for New Year’s is being cancelled.


WASHINGTON — A top medical adviser to President Donald Trump’s administration saId Sunday he’s confident that the Food and Drug Administration will approve the coronavirus vaccine from pharmaceutical company Pfizer this week.

FDA officials will meet to review the Pfizer vaccine Thursday and it could be authorized almost immediately.

“Based on the data I know I expect the FDA to make a positive decision, but of course, it’s their decision,” said Moncef Slaoui, the chief adviser to Operation Warp Speed told CBS “Face the Nation.”

But White House coronavirus task force coordinator Deborah Birx warned Americans not to let their guard down even so.

Birx, speaking on NBC’s “Meet the Press,” noted that more than 100 million Americans suffered preexisting heath conditions that put them at high risk if they contract the virus. The vast majority of those won’t have access to the vaccine for months still.

“I want to be very frank with the American people,” Birx said. “The vaccine’s critical, but it’s not going to save us from this current surge. Only we can save us from this current surge, and we know precisely what to do.”


WASHINGTON — A top Trump administration official is calling President-elect Joe Biden’s criticism of distribution plans for the upcoming COVID-19 vaccines “nonsense.”

Biden said Friday that “there’s no detailed plan that we’ve seen” for how to get vaccines out of a container, into syringes and into people’s arms.

Speaking to “Fox News Sunday,” Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar said, “With all respect, that’s just nonsense.”

Azar said the process is “micromanaged and controlled by the United States military,” and leverages state and local governments, retail pharmacies and national shipping chains.

The first vaccine could be approved by the Food and Drug Administration in the next week, with the Trump administration saying the first immunizations should follow within 24-36 hours of approval.


BERLIN — Several communities in the Austrian Alps have put mass coronavirus testing on hold and others were urged to do the same after a storm dumped huge amounts of snow, sending some avalanche warnings to their highest level.

Some parts of the province of Tyrol saw 70 centimeters (27.5 inches) of snow fall overnight Friday into Saturday, and another 110 centimeters (43 inches) were expected on Sunday, Austria’s APA news agency reported.

In East Tyrol, 500 households were left without electricity after trees brought down power lines and the avalanche warning was at its highest level of 5. Several areas in East Tyrol postponed virus testing.

Austria on Friday started a voluntary mass testing program that officials hope will prevent long, hard lockdowns in the future. The fast antigen tests started in Vienna and in the westernmost Vorarlberg and Tyrol provinces.

Over the first two days, some 300,000 people were tested out of Austria’s nearly 9 million. The government is hoping that several million will have been tested by mid December.


LONDON — The coronavirus vaccine developed by American drugmaker Pfizer and Germany’s BioNTech was being sent to hospitals across the U.K. in super-cold containers on Sunday, two days ahead of the kickoff of Britain’s biggest-ever immunization program, one being closely watched around the world.

Around 800,000 doses of the vaccine are expected to be in place for the start of the rollout on Tuesday, a day that British Health Secretary Matt Hancock has reportedly dubbed as “V-Day,” a nod to triumphs in World War II.

“Despite the huge complexities, hospitals will kickstart the first phase of the largest scale vaccination campaign in our country’s history from Tuesday,” said Professor Stephen Powis, NHS England’s national medical director.

Last week the U.K. became the first country to authorize the Pfizer-BioNtech vaccine for emergency use. In trials, the vaccine was shown to have around 95% efficacy. Vaccinations will be administered starting Tuesday at around 50 hospital hubs in England. Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland will also begin their vaccination rollouts that day.

Governments and health agencies around the world will be monitoring the British vaccination program to note its successes and failures and adjust their own plans accordingly.


MOSCOW — Coronavirus infections in Russia hit a new record on Sunday, as the country’s authorities registered 29,039 new confirmed cases, the highest daily spike in the pandemic.

Russia’s total of over 2.4 million reported infections remains the fourth largest caseload in the world. Russia has also reported 43,141 virus-related deaths.

Russia has been swept by a resurgence of the virus this fall, with daily confirmed infections and deaths significantly exceeding those reported in the spring. Nevertheless, Russian authorities have rejected the idea of another nationwide lockdown or any widespread closures of businesses.

On Wednesday, President Vladimir Putin ordered a “large-scale” vaccination against COVID-19 to begin in Russia with the domestically developed Sputnik V vaccine that is still undergoing advanced studies needed to ensure its safety and effectiveness. Doctors and teachers will be first in line.

Sputnik V has been offered to medical workers for several months even though the vaccine was still in the middle of advanced trials. Several top Russian officials said they had already gotten the required two jabs. The Russian military this week began vaccinating the crews of navy ships scheduled to depart on a mission.

Health Minister Mikhail Murashko said Wednesday that more than 100,000 people in Russia have already received the shots.


CAIRO — Egypt’s Coptic Orthodox Church is suspending Sunday services for one month in the capital, Cairo and the Mediterranean province of Alexandria because of a surge in coronavirus cases among the faithful and monks.

The measure, which takes effect Monday, also includes all other activities in the Coptic Orthodox churches.

Christians constitute around 10% of Egypt’s predominantly Muslim nation of more than 100 million people.

Egypt, the Arab world’s most populous country, has faced an increase in coronavirus cases, with authorities warning that a new wave of the pandemic lies ahead. Egypt on Saturday reported 431 confirmed cases, the highest daily tally in months. It also reported 18 deaths.

Overall, Egypt has reported more than 118,000 confirmed cases including 6,750 deaths but actual cases are thought to be much higher.

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