The Canadian Press
LONDON — The World Health Organization’s top scientist says more data is needed to determine if the coronavirus vaccine developed by Oxford University and AstraZeneca works.
Oxford and AstraZeneca reported Monday that their vaccine appeared 62% effective in people who received two doses and 90% effective when volunteers were given a half dose followed by a full dose. They later acknowledged a manufacturing issue had resulted in a half dose mistakenly being administered as the first dose to some participants.
Dr. Soumya Swaminathan, WHO’s chief scientist, said at a Friday news conference that “the numbers are still too small to really come to any definitive conclusions.”
In the study, 2,741 people got a half dose followed by a full dose while 8,895 people got two full doses. None of the people in the half-dose regimen were over age 55.
“It’s very hard to compare these two groups,” Swaminathan said.
Swaminathan said the agency had heard AstraZeneca would like to conduct a full study testing the half dose followed by a full-dose regimen, noting that the other ongoing research evaluating the vaccine uses two full doses.
HERE’S WHAT YOU NEED TO KNOW ABOUT THE VIRUS OUTBREAK:
— Black Friday offers beacon of hope to struggling stores
— Empty seats, delivered feasts as virus changes Thanksgiving
— UK asks regulator to assess AZ-Oxford vaccine amid questions
— The pandemic is turning this into a holiday shopping season like no other. Toy companies are targeting stuck-at-home grown-ups with latte-smelling Play-Doh and Legos that turn into Warhols.
— The deluge of “Dear Santa” letters pouring into a French post office that sorts and responds to Kris Kringle's mail offers a glimpse into the worries and hopes of children around the world awaiting a pandemic-hit Christmas.
— Greece has moved all school and university classes to a remote format. State television is making and broadcasting lessons, while teachers speak to students online from empty classrooms.
Follow AP’s coverage at https://apnews.com/hub/coronavirus-pandemic and https://apnews.com/UnderstandingtheOutbreak
HERE’S WHAT ELSE IS HAPPENING:
LONDON — Ireland is easing its coronavirus restrictions, with most businesses allowed to reopen next week.
For six weeks, Ireland has been under tight restrictions, with many businesses shut and people restricted to a 3-mile (5-kilometre) radius of their home.
The government says shops, hairdressers, gyms, cinemas, museums and galleries will be allowed to open starting Tuesday, and religious services can resume. Restaurants and pubs that serve food will be able to open from Dec. 4, though bars that only serve drinks have to stay shut.
Ireland plans to ease restrictions further over Christmas, allowing people to travel and up to three households to gather between Dec 18 and Jan. 6.
Ireland, with a population of almost 5 million, has recorded more than 2,000 coronavirus-related deaths.
Prime Minister Micheal Martin acknowledged the hardship many faced, but said the nation’s “sacrifices” were working and had driven down the infection rate to one of the lowest in Europe.
TORONTO — Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau says he expects more than half of Canadians to receive a COVID-19 vaccine by next September.
Trudeau’s government is facing criticism after he said Canada will have to wait for a vaccine because the first ones that roll off assembly lines are likely to be given to citizens of the country they are made in. He noted earlier this week that the United States, the United Kingdom and Germany have mass vaccine-production facilities but Canada does not.
Trudeau says Canada has signed deals that could give it the most per capita vaccines in the world. But when Canadians will get the first doses remains an open question. Toronto is on lockdown and the country’s largest province of Ontario is reporting a record 1,855 cases on Friday.
GENEVA — Scientists at the World Health Organization estimate that about 60 to 70% of people in countries will need to be vaccinated against the coronavirus to achieve any type of herd immunity.
At a press briefing on Friday, WHO vaccines expert Dr. Kate O’Brien said it was still unclear if vaccines against COVID-19 might reduce the amount of time people are infectious or their ability to spread the virus. But she said modelling studies suggest up to 70% of the population will need to be immunized so that people are protected from the disease.
“It’s really important that we actually start to get more information about what the vaccines do, not just for preventing disease, but for actually preventing the acquisition of the virus,” said O’Brien, director of the U.N. health agency’s department of immunization, vaccines and biologicals.
Dr. Michael Ryan, WHO’s emergencies chief, noted that in some situations, targeting certain groups for vaccination may be more important than immunizing the entire population.
“We’ve seen in many clusters that only 20% of the cases go on to transmit to others, 80% don’t transmit to anybody else,” he said. “I think we’ll need to be much more surgical and precise in exactly who we target for vaccination. It may be much more important to target certain sections of the community.”
PHOENIX — Arizona has reported more than 4,000 additional confirmed COVID-19 cases for the third time in a week as related hospitalizations continued to increase during the current surge in the pandemic.
The Department of Health Services’ coronavirus dashboard Friday reported 4,314 additional cases and 20 deaths, increasing the state’s totals to 318,638 cases and 6,588 deaths.
The dashboard reported that 2,301 people were hospitalized for COVID-19 as of Thursday, including 532 in beds in intensive-care units.
MILAN — Coronavirus deaths in Italy remain a stubbornly high 827, even as the number of people hospitalized and in critical care has started a downward curve.
COVID-19 hospitalizations dropped by 399 and virus-positive patients in ICU’s were down 64, as Italy recorded 28,352 new positives Friday, a narrowing of new cases by 2% from a day earlier, according to Ministry of Health statistics.
The death toll rose to 53,677, still the second-highest in Europe after Britain. Italy just completed three weeks of stricter measures, including partial lockdowns in the hardest hit regions and a nationwide 10 p.m. curfew. The government is considering some loosening as the holidays near.
ATHENS, Greece — Greece’s government has announced it will impose a limit on how much private medical facilities can charge for coronavirus tests.
Commerce and Consumer Protection Secretary General Panagiotis Stamboulidis said Friday that the limits would be 40 euros ($48) for PCR tests and 10 euros ($12) for rapid tests.
Private medical facilities such as clinics and hospitals had been charging about 70-120 euros ($84-$143) for PCR tests and around 40 euros for rapid tests.
Stamboulidis said the ceiling on prices was being set as tests were being used by many individuals and businesses as a means of preventing the spread of the virus.
A draft bill will be brought to parliament in coming days to allow for the change, he said.
OMAHA, Neb. — Seven of Nebraska’s 10 largest cities have imposed mask mandates, though Gov. Pete Ricketts has resisted ordering them to be worn throughout the state.
The cities issued the orders as the number of virus cases, hospitalizations and deaths surged over the last month.
The local mandates mean more than half of Nebraska’s 1.95 million people live in communities that require masks to be worn in indoor public settings, according to the Omaha World-Herald.
Most cities with mandates are in eastern and central Nebraska, including Omaha, Lincoln, Grand Island, Kearney, Norfolk, Columbus and Hastings.
City officials in the more conservative western Nebraska have said they were encouraging people to wear masks but not requiring it, which is the approach Ricketts has taken.
SAO PAULO — Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro says he won’t take any working COVID-19 vaccine himself and calls the use of masks to limit the spread of the disease “the last taboo to fall.”
Bolsonaro’s comments, broadcast on his social media channels Thursday night, alarmed health experts who said they could undermine efforts to achieve vaccination levels essential to halting the pandemic and might scare off vaccine makers negotiating with local authorities.
Bolsonaro also said, however, that any shot that is certified by Brazil’s health agency will be available for free to the public.
The Brazilian president, who contracted the virus in July, has long resisted the advice of most scientists and health experts to restrict social and economic activity, arguing that damage from a lockdown would be worse than the pandemic.
Balsonaro says: “I tell you; I will not take (any vaccine). It is my right and I am sure that Congress will not create difficulties for whoever doesn’t want to take a vaccine.”
KYIV, Ukraine — Ukrainian authorities have reported a record number of new coronavirus cases for a second straight day.
Health Minister Maksym Stepanov reported 16,218 new infections on Friday, almost 900 more than the day before and the highest daily spike in the pandemic. The previous record was set on Thursday, when officials reported 15,331 new cases.
Ukraine’s total has reached 693,407 confirmed cases, over 95,000 of which have been registered since last Friday. Ukraine has also reported 11,909 deaths in the pandemic.
The rapid rise in cases in Ukraine has started in September and put a strain on the country’s health care system. Earlier this month, the government introduced tight weekend restrictions in an effort to curb the spread of the virus. Under the measure, which is to last through the end of November, only grocery stores, pharmacies and public transport are allowed to operate on Saturdays and Sundays.
PHOENIX -- A sixth member of the Arizona Legislature says he has tested positive for COVID-19.
Rep. Andrés Cano, a Democrat, announced on social media Wednesday that he is in isolation but is not symptomatic. Cano was reelected this month.
Last week, Democratic Rep. Arlando Teller of Chinle announced he also tested positive and was isolating. The most serious case involved Rep. Lorenzo Sierra, who spent several days on a ventilator after becoming ill in October. He has now recovered. Rep. Raquel Teran also became ill in October, while Sen. Lupe Contreras and Rep. JoAnne Osborne revealed their infections earlier in the year.
LONDON — British health officials say the country’s coronavirus outbreak may have stopped growing for the first time in three months.
The government’s scientific advisory committee says the R rate -- the number of people each infected person transmits the disease to -- is between 0.9 and 1.0. That means that on average every 10 people with COVID-19 will infect between 9 and 10 others. If the figure is below 1, the number of new infections will shrink.
There are regional variations, with infections likely flat or growing in London and southeast England but falling in the northwest and northeast, which previously had the highest infection rates.
Coronavirus cases in Britain fell over the summer but surged again in the fall. The government imposed a four-week national lockdown in England on Nov. 5 to curb the new surge. It is due to be replaced next week with a system of regional restrictions. Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland all have their own measures in place.
LISBON, Portugal -- Portugal’s prime minister is repudiating a report saying that elderly people could be put at the back of the line when COVID-19 vaccinations become available.
Prime Minister Antonio Costa tweeted Friday, “There are technical criteria which can never be accepted by politicians. It is inadmissible to stop protecting life in accordance with age. Lives have no expiry date.”
Costa’s comments appeared to corroborate a report in weekly newspaper Expresso on Friday that officials tasked with drawing up the country’s vaccination plans had proposed in a draft document that healthy people over 65 would be among the last to be inoculated.
The spokesman for Portugal’s National Health Council, Jorge Torgal, told Portuguese radio station TSF the draft was drawn up at a time when scientific evidence suggested vaccines would not be effective in the elderly.
The Portuguese government has been widely criticized for its delay in drawing up its vaccine plans.
BERLIN — Germany has hit another grim milestone in the coronavirus pandemic, reporting a total of more than 1 million confirmed cases of COVID-19.
The country’s disease control centre said Friday that Germany’s 16 states reported 22,806 cases overnight for a national total of 1,006,394 since the start of the pandemic.
However, Germany has reported fewer virus-related deaths than many other European countries: 15,586 compared with more than 50,000 in Britain, Italy and France.
The country is almost a month in to a so-called “wave-breaker” shutdown instituted Nov. 2 after daily cases rose to new record highs. Officials say the new measures have succeeded in halting the surge.
But Chancellor Angela Merkel and state governors decided earlier this week to extend the shutdown well into December and add more restrictions to try to bring the numbers down to below 50 cases per 100,000 inhabitants each week.
BANGKOK — Thailand has signed a deal to procure 26 million doses of the trial coronavirus vaccine developed by pharmaceutical firm AstraZeneca in collaboration with Oxford University.
The doses expected to be delivered in mid-2021 would cover 13 million people in a population of about 69 million.
Thailand’s National Vaccine Institute signed a non-refundable advance market commitment contract worth 2.38 billion baht ($79 million) with AstraZeneca to reserve the supply of the vaccine candidate. Another 3.67 billion baht ($121 million) agreement for the purchase of the trial vaccine, known as AZD1222, was signed by the Health Ministry’s Disease Control Department.
A government spokesman said Friday that officials are still deciding who should receive the vaccine first. A separate deal signed in October allows a Thai company to manufacture the AstraZeneca vaccine. Thailand has had 3,961 confirmed cases of the coronavirus since January, including 60 deaths
MOSCOW -- Russia has reported a sharp daily spike in coronavirus cases. Officials reported 27,543 new confirmed infections Friday, over 2,000 more than the day before.
Moscow and St, Petersburg reported record numbers of new cases, with 7,918 and 3,687, respectively. The surge brought Russia’s total in the pandemic to over 2.2 million, the fifth-highest number in the world. Russia’s coronavirus task force has also reported 38,558 virus-related deaths.
Russia has been swept by a fall resurgence of the virus. The numbers of confirmed cases and deaths are hitting new highs almost daily and significantly exceeding the levels reported during the country’s spring outbreak.
Russian authorities have rejected the idea of another nationwide lockdown or the widespread closure of businesses to slow infections.
MELBOURNE, Australia — From nearly 8,000 active cases in August and more than 800 deaths in the Australian state of Victoria to the elimination of the coronavirus: It’s an achievement that one Melbourne doctor says he thought was unthinkable only three months ago.
Friday marked four weeks without a new case of COVID-19 and 9,828 Victorians were tested in the past 24 hours.
Health authorities say 28 days with no new cases means the virus has been eliminated from the community, given that the time represents two 14-day incubation periods.
Victoria reached 7,880 active cases on Aug. 11. The last COVID-19 patient in a Victorian hospital was discharged on Monday, leaving the state without an active case.
The resurgence had forced a lockdown in Melbourne, an overnight curfew and travel and family gathering restrictions. Premier Daniel Andrews was criticized repeatedly over several months for his strict guidelines.
“It is an emotional thing. My training makes me wary about ever saying we’ve reached the finish line here,” Melbourne doctor Stephen Parnis told Australian Broadcasting Corp. radio. “But the fact that in about three months we’ve gotten to this point, no one would have been able to suggest that would even come close to this.”
Australia’s death toll from the virus is 907 and 819 of them are from Victoria.
MADRID — Health Minister Salvador Illa says Spain will be able to vaccinate its 47 million residents against the coronavirus in three waves starting in January and ending “during the months of summer.”
Some 2.5 million people, including residents and personnel working in nursing homes, health workers and people with dependency, will be prioritized for the first batch of vaccines that Spain expects to administer between January and March, Illa said Friday.
He said that experts are analyzing what will be the order for vaccinating other groups in the March to June vaccination campaign and for the last batch, over the summer, depending on their risk of contagion and the availability of vaccine doses.
Spain has closed contracts to purchase 140 million doses that could cover 80 million people.
A recent decline in the number of daily coronavirus infections in Spain has given a slight respite to hospitals, where 12% of normal beds and 28% of intensive care beds are treating COVID-19 patients. But the number of daily fatalities remains high.
The country has recorded 1.6 million coronavirus infections and 44,300 deaths.
COPENHAGEN, Denmark — Some 30 people — reportedly including doctors — have been fined a total of 165,000 kroner ($18,620) for throwing a family party in Norway that failed to respect local restrictions, a Norwegian newspaper said Friday.
Police had to stop the party held northeast of Oslo that took place in early November. Some of the participants came from Denmark a few days ahead of the party and were fined for violating the 14-day self-quarantine restriction, police spokeswoman Sikke Folgeroe told the Romerike Blad newspaper.
A total of 22 fines were handed out, three of them of 20,000 kroner ($2,260).
Police didn’t confirm to the Romerikes Blad that those who organized the party were doctors.
TOKYO — Japanese Emperor Naruhito and his family will not offer their New Year greetings from the palace balcony due to concerns over the country’s struggles with a resurgence of coronavirus infections.
The Imperial Household Agency said in a statement Friday that the annual greetings on Jan. 2 will not be held. The event traditionally draws tens of thousands of well-wishers to the palace garden. The greeting was last cancelled in 1990 following the death of Naruhito’s grandfather.
Emperor Naruhito and his family have rarely made public appearances since the pandemic began, due to cancellation of palace events.
Experts have urged the government to reduce social and business activity before the holiday season because of a rise in serious coronavirus cases.
Tokyo reported 570 new COVID-19 cases on Friday, a new record for Japan’s capital city as the country faces a surge in infections. Nationwide, Japan had nearly 140,000 cases and more than 2,000 deaths.
SEOUL, South Korea — South Korea’s daily coronavirus tally is above 500 for a second straight day and the country’s prime minister is urging the public to stay at home this weekend to contain a viral resurgence.
Prime Minister Chung Sye-kyun said Friday that people should avoid social gatherings and refrain from going out in public this weekend. South Korea has seen a spike in fresh infections since it eased tough social distancing rules last month.
Authorities reported 569 newly confirmed infections over the past 24 hours, raising the country’s total to 32,887 for the pandemic, with 516 deaths. The 583 new cases reported Thursday was the first time that South Korea’s daily tally had exceeded 500 since March.
The Associated Press