The Latest: Italy considers tighter limits during holidays

MILAN — The Italian government is weighing even tighter restrictions over the Christmas holiday to avoid a new resurgence.

Italy’s overall contagion rate is slowing, with 8.8% of tests resulting in a positive diagnosis on Wednesday, resulting in 17,525 new cases.

But some regions are faring worse such as Veneto, which includes Venice in the north, adding 3,800 new cases and a hospital system near collapse. The governor, Luca Zaia, is urging the government to tighten restrictions nationwide, otherwise he’ll do so for the region of 5 million people that’s enjoyed the most freedom of movement in the fall resurgence.

Italy’s case total is nearing 1.9 million, while the known death toll rose by 680 to 66,537 confirmed deaths. That’s the highest in Europe.

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THE VIRUS OUTBREAK:

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— Poor countries face long wait for vaccines despite promises

US vaccinations ramp up as 2nd COVID-19 shot nears

— A scientist is taking part in the World Health Organization’s mission to track down the origins of the coronavirus.

The four nations of the United Kingdom are facing mounting calls to scrap. or limit a planned easing of coronavirus restrictions over Christmas.

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

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HERE’S WHAT ELSE IS HAPPENING:

MONTGOMERY, Ala. — A federal judge has thrown out a lawsuit challenging Alabama’s mandatory face mask mandate, which opponents claimed is unconstitutional.

U.S. District Judge Keith Watkins dismissed the lawsuit calling it a “shotgun pleading” that makes a lot of accusations without organization or solid legal claims. Health officials have credited masks with lessening the impact of the coronavirus.

The mask order, which was first imposed in the summer and extends at least through Jan. 22, requires people over age 6 to wear masks in indoor public spaces and outdoors when it’s not possible to stay at least 6 feet away.

The lawsuit was filed by former Alabama Chief Justice Roy Moore on behalf of state residents against Gov. Kay Ivey and the state health officer claiming the mask rule is unconstitutional. The judge allowed three weeks for a replacement lawsuit.

Moore’s Foundation for Moral Law denied Watkins’ criticism of the lawsuit, saying another version of the complaint would be filed.

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RIO DE JANEIRO — President Jair Bolsonaro and his health minister presented the government’s coronavirus immunization plan to the population, declining once again to include an intended start date for the program.

Bolsonaro said in a televised press conference on Wednesday that the start date will depend on Brazil’s health regulator, Anvisa, which has yet to approve the use of any coronavirus vaccine in the country.

The government was obliged to present its immunization strategy to the Supreme Court last Friday. The document, made public the following day, initially provides enough shots for about a quarter of the population, giving priority to groups more exposed to coronavirus and those more vulnerable to the disease.

The Brazilian leader has faced sharp criticism for not presenting a plan sooner. Bolsonaro, who tested positive for the coronavirus a few months ago, has said he won’t take the vaccine and won’t make immunization mandatory. ———

COPENHAGEN, Denmark — Norway’s Prime Minister Erna Solberg says citizens will need patience to get through the coronavirus.

“I still think there will be a lot of infection control measures until Easter. How the time goes after will be about our access to the vaccine,” Solberg said. “If we manage not to make Christmas a new wave of infection, which we fear, we may be able to ease some measures in January and beyond.”

She says it’s “not unlikely” the first vaccines in Norway will take place in the week between Christmas and New Year. Those getting the vaccine first include the elderly, people in the risk groups and health staff. The remainder of Norway’s population of 5.4 million will get the vaccine during the spring.

“One has to be prepared that the summer of 2021 will not be quite like the summer of 2019,” Solberg says.

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ST. PAUL, Minn. — Gov. Tim Walz plans to keep bars and restaurants in Minnesota closed for indoor service through the holidays.

Walz is expected to make the announcement Wednesday on extending the restrictions he imposed last month for a four-week “pause” that was due to expire Friday. The governor’s order also closed fitness centers and other places where people gather, as well as high school and other organized sports.

Walz’s spokesman Teddy Tschann says the governor will lay out a strategy that prioritizes in-person learning for elementary students.

Also, the governor is expected to sign the state COVID-19 relief package into law this week. Up to $88 million will be distributed by the state revenue officials to establishments that have seen at least a 30% drop in sales revenue from last year.

Checks ranging from $10,000 to $45,000 will be sent to those businesses by the end of December or early January. The Department of Revenue estimates that 5,800 businesses in the state will qualify for relief.

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ZAGREB, Croatia — Croatia says a record 92 people have died in the past 24 hours from the coronavirus.

Authorities on Wednesday confirmed 3,327 new cases of infections in the country of 4.2 million.

Meanwhile, Croatia’s Prime Minister Andrej Plenkovic appeared in public after more than two weeks in self-isolation after testing positive for the coronavirus. Plenkovic met with Russia’s Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov, who is visiting Croatia as part of a regional tour.

Croatia has reported 2,870 deaths and 180,000 confirmed cases since the start of the pandemic.

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BRUSSELS — Belgium is experiencing a rise in coronavirus cases, but health authorities hope more stringent measures won’t be necessary.

Over the past seven days, an average of 2,343 people tested positive each day in the country with 11.5 million inhabitants, which is an 8% increase compared to the previous week. However, the number of hospitalized patients decreased to 2,770, including 593 in intensive care unit.

Belgian authorities have warned they will adopt a zero-tolerance policy for lockdown parties, with Justice minister Vincent Van Quickenborne proposing increased fines.

Belgium has one of the highest death rates in the world with more than 18,000 people confirmed dead.

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COPENHAGEN, Denmark — Restrictions that applied to 69 of Denmark’s 98 municipalities are becoming nationwide on Wednesday with restaurants, theaters, museums, cinemas and various other venues closing.

Shops will remain open, but people are urged to work from home, and children from 5th grade upward will be sent home from school to remote learning. The nationwide restrictions will run until Jan. 3.

The government says the move was “on the basis of the high level of infection in Denmark,” which has 116,087 confirmed cases — up nearly 3,000 on Wednesday. There were 961 reported deaths, up 11.

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PRAGUE — The Czech Republic is launching a program of nationwide testing for the coronavirus.

The free voluntary testing started Wednesday at hundreds of sites across the country and will continue until Jan. 15. The results of the rapid antigen tests will be known in up to 20 minutes. Those who test positive will be retested with the more precise PCR tests.

The country has recently offered the rapid tests to teachers and used them to test residents and staff at all nursing homes.

The Czech Republic has been facing a rise in coronavirus infections in December. The government has decided to toughen restrictive measures that include the closure of bars, restaurants and hotels and the re-imposition of overnight curfew as of Friday.

The country of 10.7 million has 594,148 confirmed cases with 9,882 deaths.

The new cases reached 7,889 on Tuesday, about 2,000 more than the same day a week ago.

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TOKYO — Tokyo has reported 678 new cases of the coronavirus, a high for the Japanese capital.

The Tokyo Metropolitan Government says the new cases bring the prefectural total to 48,668.

Infections have been on the rise nationwide. Japan had more than 2,410 cases Tuesday for a national total of 184,042, including 2,688 deaths.

Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga, apparently reluctant to further damage businesses already hit by the pandemic, has been slow to take steps.

Last Friday, after repeated calls from experts, Suga finally announced plans to suspend the government’s travel promotion campaign nationwide from Dec. 28 to Jan. 11 following a series of media surveys showing a sharp decline in his approval ratings.

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SEOUL, South Korea — South Korea has reported another high in daily coronavirus increases as health officials face growing pressure to enforce stricter social distancing to slow the spread in the capital.

The 1,078 cases confirmed by the Korea Disease Control and Prevention Agency on Wednesday brought the national caseload to 45,442. The total confirmed death toll was 612 after 25 COVID-19 patients died in the past 48 hours, the two deadliest days since the outbreak.

The agency says 226 among 11,883 active patients were in serious or critical condition, which was also the most since the start of the pandemic, as fears grow about a possible shortage in hospital capacities.

Senior Health Ministry official Yoon Taeho said authorities were discussing whether to elevate social distancing restrictions to the highest “Tier 3,” which could possibly including banning gatherings of more than 10 people, shutting non-essential businesses, and requiring companies to have more employees work from home.

“Tier-3 social distancing is the last and strongest measure that we could take, which would cause widespread damage to the self-employed,” he said. “We are hearing the opinions of experts, including those from central government agencies and regional governments … while deeply reviewing whether to elevate the measures.”

More than 770 of the new infections were reported from the Seoul metropolitan area, home to half of the country’s 51 million people, where new clusters are popping up at churches, hospitals, long-term care facilities, schools, restaurants, army units and prisons.

Critics say the country let its guard down by easing social distancing to the lowest in October out of concerns about sluggish economic growth rates despite warnings of a viral surge during the winter, when people spend longer hours indoors.

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COLOMBO, Sri Lanka — Sri Lankan authorities have reopened the island’s main fish market, which had been closed for two months.

The Central Fish Market, located on the outskirts of the capital, Colombo, was closed in October after 49 traders there tested positive for the coronavirus. Fish sales dropped sharply after the outbreak at the market spread across the island nation.

The number of cases centered at the fish market has risen to 26,774. While the fish market resumed operations on Wednesday, authorities said it would be limited to wholesale trade.

Sri Lanka has seen a fresh outbreak of the virus since October when two clusters — one centered at a garment factory and the other at the fish market — emerged in Colombo and its suburbs. Another cluster surfaced at crowded prisons last month. So far, there have been 30,459 confirmed cases from the three clusters. Sri Lanka has reported a total of 34,104 cases, including 154 deaths.

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ISLAMABAD, Pakistan — The number of daily COVID-19 deaths in Pakistan crossed 100 for the first time in five months with the virus spreading fast in the financial capital of Karachi.

The 105 fatalities in the last 24 hours increased Pakistan’s death toll 9,010 since February. Pakistan also reported 2,731 new cases, increasing its total to 445,977.

Karachi has been especially hard hit with the positivity rate of 18.76% compared to 7.2% nationwide.

Despite repeated requests from the government, most Pakistanis appear to still not adhere to social distancing rules, causing a fresh surge in the country that until recently had kept COVID-19 deaths in double digits.

Pakistan says a vaccine may not be available until February or March.

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KANSAS — A western Kansas mayor announced Tuesday that she is resigning, effective immediately, because of threats she has received after she publicly supported a mask mandate.

Dodge City Mayor Joyce Warshaw said she was concerned about her safety after being met with aggression, including threats via phone and email, after she was quoted on a USA Today article on Friday supporting the mandate, The Dodge City Globe reported.

“I understand people are under a lot of pressure from various things that are happening around society like the pandemic, the politics, the economy, so on and so forth, but I also believe that during these times people are acting not as they normally would,” Warshaw said.

The commission voted 4-1 on Nov. 16 to impose a mask mandate, with several exceptions.

Ford County, where Dodge City is located, has recorded 4,914 cases of COVID-19 since the pandemic began, according to the state health department. The county has about 33,600 residents.

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BOISE, Idaho — A proposed public health order that would have included a mask mandate for Idaho’s most populated region was voted down on Tuesday as hundreds of protesters again gathered outside the Central District Health building in Boise.

A previous attempt to vote on the order was abruptly halted last week after Boise city police asked the board to end the meeting early amid protest-related safety fears.

During Tuesday’s meeting, three board members from Elmore, Valley and Boise counties — the more rural counties in the region — all voted against the mask mandate, saying they’d heard from constituents who were deeply opposed to the rule. But three board members from Ada County — the most populated county in the state — were in favor of the mask mandate, noting that Boise-area hospitals are reaching capacity because of an influx of COVID-19 patients, including many who are coming from neighboring counties.

The order lacked the required majority to pass.

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SACRAMENTO, Calif. — California is distributing 5,000 body bags mostly to the hard-hit Los Angeles and San Diego areas and has 60 refrigerated trailers standing by as makeshift morgues in anticipation of a surge of coronavirus deaths.

The precautions come from hospitalizations that now are double the summertime peak and threaten to soon overwhelm the hospital system.

Gov. Gavin Newsom said Tuesday that the number of average daily deaths has quadrupled from a month ago. The surge is forcing an urgent scramble for more staff and space, a crush that might not abate for two months despite the arrival of the first doses of vaccines this week.

In Orange County, health officials said they plan to send large tents to four hospitals to help handle their patient caseloads.

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MONTREAL — Quebec’s premier is closing all non-essential businesses across the Canadian province from Christmas until at least Jan. 11.

Premier Francois Legault says that big box stores will be prohibited from selling any goods that are deemed non-essential. The premier is also forcing all office towers to empty starting Thursday and requiring employees to work from home until at least Jan. 11.

Legault says elementary and secondary schools will close Dec. 17 and can reopen at the earliest on Jan. 11. He says hospitals across the province are under too much pressure because of the COVID-19 pandemic to allow non-essential businesses to stay open during the holidays.

Quebec reported 1,741 COVID-19 infections on Tuesday.