The Latest: Ontario province to begin vaccinations next week

TORONTO — Canada’s most populous province will begin administering COVID-19 vaccinations at hospitals in Toronto and Ottawa on Tuesday.

Ontario Premier Doug Ford says a small number of doses are expected to arrive in the province in the coming days.

Canada’s health regulator approved the vaccine by U.S. drugmaker Pfizer and Germany’s BioNTech vaccine on Wednesday.

Ford says health care workers in long-term care homes and other high-risk settings will be the first to receive the vaccines.

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THE VIRUS OUTBREAK:

U.S. experts are convening to decide whether to approve the Pfizer vaccine. Food and Drug Administration advisers are scrutinizing the company’s data for any red flags or oversights. If approved, shots could begin within days for health care workers and people in nursing homes.

U. S. lawmakers are trying to hammer out a COVID-19 relief bill. That comes as US jobless claims jumped to 853,000 amid a resurgence of the virus. More than 19 million people rely on some type of unemployment benefit, and unless Congress acts soon, nearly half will lose that aid in just over two weeks.

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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:

GREENVILLE, S.C. — Vice President Mike Pence has traveled to South Carolina to talk about coronavirus vaccines, as cases are rising in the state.

Pence participated in a roundtable discussion with Gov. Henry McMaster and local leaders about two vaccines, both likely to receive FDA approval for use in the next week.

Pence says the government’s virus task force has “cut no corners in the development of this vaccine. We have cut red tape.”

State health officials plan to give vaccines first to health care workers and nursing home patients. Federal officials hope to have the vaccine available to the general public by the end of June.

South Carolina is averaging nearly 2,500 new cases a day, about 600 more than at the summer peak.

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OKLAHOMA CITY — Tulsa’s airport says it will begin offering coronavirus testing to current and recent passengers.

The airport board has approved the testing inside an airport terminal beginning Jan. 4 for people who are flying or have flown in the previous three days.

Costs will range from $70 for a rapid antigen test to $185 for a full respiratory test.

The State Department of Health reported 2,460 new cases of the virus and 35 more deaths on Thursday.

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MISSION, Kan. — The U.S. has set records for deaths and hospitalizations.

The U.S. recorded 3,124 confirmed deaths on Wednesday, the highest one-day total yet, according to Johns Hopkins University. That’s more than the toll of 2,977 killed on Sept. 11, 2001.

More than 106,000 Americans are hospitalized.

Until last week, the peak was 2,603 deaths on April 15, when New York City was the epicenter of the nation’s outbreak.

The pandemic has killed more than 290,000 people in the U.S., with more than 15 million confirmed infections.

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LONDON — British authorities plan to test all secondary school-age children in southeast England for coronavirus to try to curb surging infection rates.

Health Secretary Matt Hancock says the mass testing will cover parts of London and the neighboring areas of Essex and Kent counties. Children ages 11 to 18 will be tested whether or not they have symptoms.

Hancock says the testing will be done so schools could stay open, “because that is both right for education and for public health.”

Hancock says infections are starting to rise in some areas after falling during a four-week national lockdown in England that ended Dec. 2. The virus is spreading fastest among older children, health officials say.

Britain has confirmed more than 63,000 coronavirus-related deaths, the highest in Europe.

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CONCORD, N.H. — New Hampshire House Speaker Dick Hinch has died from COVID-19, a medical examiner ruled Thursday following his unexpected death.

The 71-year-old Hinch, who was sworn in as leader of the newly Republican-led Legislature only a week ago, died Wednesday.

He was starting his seventh two-year term in the state House. He previously served as majority leader for the 2016-17 session and as minority leader when Democrats were in control the last two years.

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LOS ANGELES — Ellen DeGeneres says she has tested positive for the coronavirus but is “feeling fine right now.”

Production on her daytime talk show has been paused until January, producer Telepictures said in a statement that followed DeGeneres’ Thursday announcement.

In an Instagram post, DeGeneres says anyone who was in close contact with her has been notified and she’s following “all proper CDC guidelines.”

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BOSTON — Massachusetts’ highest court says Gov. Charlie Baker didn’t overstep his authority with orders to close businesses and limit gatherings to control the spread of the coronavirus.

The Supreme Judicial Court on Thursday rejected a challenge brought on behalf of a group including salon owners, pastors and a private school. They accused the Republican of exercising “legislative police power” by declaring a state of emergency.

Baker announced this week that Massachusetts would tighten some restrictions as cases rise. The court rejected the lawsuit’s argument that the governor’s actions infringe on due process and free assembly.

“Given that COVID-19 is a pandemic that has killed over a million people worldwide, it spreads from person to person, effective vaccines have not yet been distributed, there is no known cure, and a rise in cases threatens to overrun the Commonwealth’s hospital system, it is a natural cause for which action is needed to ‘protect the public peace, health, security and safety, and to preserve the lives and property of the people of the commonwealth,’” the court wrote, quoting the state law.

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JOHANNESBURG — South Africa Health Minister Zweli Mkhize says the country is seeing a dramatic rise in coronavirus cases.

South Africa recorded 6,700 new cases on Wednesday, the most since August.

Mkhize warned that hospital capacities could be overwhelmed in some regions.

South Africa’s surge highlights that a new wave of the disease is sweeping across the continent, according to the head of the Africa Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

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HONOLULU — Hawaii expects to receive 80,000 doses of coronavirus vaccine in December for health care workers and residents of long-term care facilities.

The Honolulu Star-Advertiser reports the state Department of Health made its initial trial order with Pfizer for 4,875 doses. The December order will be used to provide the priority group with the first of two doses, which require a minimum 28 days in between injections. The vaccine will be free.

Meanwhile, Hawaii’s biggest surfing competition has started amid concerns about the spread of the coronavirus among fans.

Hawaii Public Radio reports the Billabong Pipe Masters Oahu’s North Shore will run through Dec. 20. The World Surf League has changed the format and closed the competition area to reduce crowds.

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WASHINGTON — Commissioner Stephen Hahn says Thursday’s meeting of the Food and Drug Administration’s vaccine advisory panel is “an important day for all of America.”

The FDA head hopes it will lead to the beginning of the end of the pandemic and a return “to a more normal and healthy life.”

Hahn says the FDA is working to understand the allergic reactions that turned up when the United Kingdom began vaccinations this week. He says the FDA would include recommendations in any emergency use authorization as to who should not get the vaccine.

Hahn, addressing public skepticism of the vaccine, says if one is authorized, it’s important for people to get vaccinated to arrive at herd immunity.

He says: “I have 100% confidence, and I think the American public should as well, with respect to our review of the safety and efficacy of vaccine.”

Hahn spoke Thursday morning to ABC, CBS and NBC.

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FRANKFURT, Germany — The European Central Bank has added a $600 billion economic stimulus as rising coronavirus infections shut down large swaths of the economy and hurt Christmas sales revenues.

The bank is buying half a trillion euros more in bonds, equivalent to $600 billion. That pumps money into the economy and keeps borrowing costs low for cash-strapped businesses and governments.

The bank announced the stimulus after its latest regular policy meeting Thursday. It is acting as new infections reach record highs in Germany, the eurozone’s biggest economy, and as governments weigh new restrictions ahead of the holidays.

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WASHINGTON — Applications for U.S. unemployment aid jumped last week to 853,000, the most since September, evidence that some companies are cutting more jobs as new virus cases spiral higher.

The Labor Department says applications increased from 716,000 the previous week. Before the coronavirus paralyzed the economy in March, weekly jobless claims typically numbered about 225,000.

More than 19 million people are still dependent on some type of unemployment benefit. Unless Congress acts soon, nearly half of them will lose that aid in just over two weeks when two federal jobless aid programs created in the spring are set to expire.

The U.S. leads the world with over 15 million confirmed coronavirus cases and more than 290,000 dead.

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MADRID — Spain is changing its entry rules from countries with high rates of coronavirus spread, allowing incoming visitors to prove they don’t have the virus with a cheaper and faster test.

Starting Thursday, authorities will accept negative TMA, or Transcription-Mediated Amplification tests, for the 72 hours before entry in Spain. It’s an alternative to the Polymerase Chain Reaction, or PCR lab tests, that were required since Nov. 23.

A TMA test can cost less than 100 euros ($121) with results available in just over an hour. They are not as widely available as the PCR tests because only one company distributes the equipment to perform them.

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ROME — Pope Francis will celebrate Midnight Mass at 7:30 p.m. this year to comply with Italy’s anti-coronavirus curfew.

He’ll also deliver his Christmas Day blessing indoors to prevent crowds from forming in St. Peter’s Square.

The Dec. 24 Mass has for years been celebrated not at midnight but at 9:30 p.m. to spare pontiffs from the late hour. But this year it will be bumped up two hours earlier, according to the pope’s Christmas liturgical schedule released Thursday by the Vatican.

Italy has imposed a 10 p.m. nationwide curfew, restaurant closures and other restrictions to cut down on crowds forming after a surge in coronavirus cases and deaths this fall.

Francis will celebrate New Year’s Eve vespers and New Year’s Day Mass in the basilica. None of the services will be open to the public.

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BERLIN — Germany has reported its highest one-day total of coronavirus cases, while the number of deaths has climbed above 20,000.

The national disease control center, the Robert Koch Institute, said Thursday that 23,679 new cases were confirmed over the previous 24 hours. That’s just above the previous record of 23,648 from Nov. 20.

Robert Koch Institute president Lothar Wieler says Germans have reduced their social contacts by about 40%, but his institute believes more than 60% is needed.

A partial shutdown started Nov. 2 has succeeded in keeping the surge from picking up speed. But recently, cases and deaths have been rising, and momentum is building for a harder lockdown over Christmas and the New Year. Some regions already are introducing new restrictions.

That’s partly because deaths, which have been relatively low in Germany compared with several other European countries, have increased markedly.

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TOKYO — New coronavirus infections in Japan’s capital have topped 600 in a day for the first time.

Experts on Tokyo’s virus task force say the surge has placed an added burden on hospitals, making it difficult for many of them to carry out treatment for other patients.

Tokyo reported 602 new cases Thursday, while the daily tally for the entire nation was 2,810. Japan has reported 168,573 infections since the pandemic began, with 2,465 deaths.

Tokyo Gov. Yuriko Koike is urging residents to avoid non-essential outings, especially senior citizens and their families. Tokyo has issued a request for drinking places to close early until Dec. 17.

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NEW DELHI — India is reporting 31,521 newly confirmed coronavirus infections in the past 24 hours, dropping to just over a third of the peak level seen in mid-September.

Single-day cases have remained below 50,000 for more than a month. India’s health ministry also reported 412 deaths Thursday, raising India’s total fatalities to 141,772.

The health ministry says some coronavirus vaccines are likely to receive licenses in the next few weeks. It has outlined an initial plan to vaccinate 300 million people.

Three companies have applied for early approval in India: Serum Institute of India, which has been licensed to manufacture the AstraZeneca vaccine; Pfizer Inc.; and Indian manufacturer Bharat Biotech.