The Latest: UN appeals to rich nations to share vaccines

BERLIN — U.N. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres is appealing to rich nations to support the purchase of coronavirus vaccines for poor countries.

Guterres says the U.N.-backed COVAX program needs $5 billion until the end of January. The program, created to ensure access to COVID-19 vaccines for all countries, currently faces a shortfall of more than $20 billion, he says.

“At the same time, I see countries that have bought more vaccines than several times the volume of their population or at least made the bids in that regard,” said Guterres, urging governments to donate excess doses to COVAX.

He notes it is in the best interest of the world to ensure broad immunization because “nature always strikes back.”

“If we don’t eradicate the disease, a virus can mutate,” he says, “and vaccines that at a certain moment are effective can no longer be effective if things change.”

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THE VIRUS OUTBREAK:

Health experts are convening to discuss the Moderna vaccine data. The panel of physicians and medical researchers is expected to endorse it, followed by the FDA’s OK soon after. A Pfizer vaccine got the go-ahead last week.

French president Macron tests positive for the coronavirus and is self-isolating. Macron recently met with numerous European leaders. The French and Spanish prime ministers are among many top officials in quarantine.

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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:

ROME — Italy has added 683 more deaths to its confirmed coronavirus toll.

The government also opened temporary hiring for 15,000 medical personnel to administer COVID-19 vaccines once they are approved.

The health ministry opened a special portal for doctors and nurses, including pensioners, to apply for nine-month contracts to work in the 1,500 hospitals and clinics to distribute vaccines. Italian officials hope to begin administering the shots before the end of the year, assuming approval by the European Medicines Agency.

The health ministry reported another 18,236 confirmed cases Thursday. The government is weighing whether to impose a tighter lockdown over Christmas to prevent gatherings.

Italy has registered more than 1.9 million cases. It has Europe’s highest confirmed death toll at 67,220, the fifth highest in the world.

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BRUSSELS — The EU’s top official says the COVID-19 vaccination campaign across the bloc will start on Dec. 27 if the the BioNTech/Pfizer vaccine is approved by the EU regulator next week.

Ursula von der Leyen, the European Commission president, says in a message posted on Twitter that EU citizens will receive the first anti-coronavirus shots from Dec. 27-29.

The European Medicines Agency is expected to give its go-ahead Monday, with the first batch of vaccines to be dispatched to member states on Dec. 26. The European commission has secured around 2 billion doses of potential vaccines for the 27 member states.

The EU’s executive arm says once a vaccine is ready, all EU countries should have access to it at the same time.

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MOSCOW — Russia’s COVID-19 vaccine rollout has so far received a wary, mixed response.

There are reports of empty Moscow clinics that offered the shot to health care workers and teachers, who have been designated as the first to receive the vaccine. Kremlin officials and state-controlled media touted the Russian-made Sputnik V vaccine as a major achievement after it was approved in August.

But among Russians, skepticism reflects concerns about how it was rushed out while still undergoing final-stage testing to ensure its safety and effectiveness.

Alexander Gintsburg, head of the Gamaleya Institute that developed the vaccine said last week more than 150,000 Russians had already received the shots.

Its developers say study data suggests the vaccine was 91% effective, a conclusion based on 78 infections among nearly 23,000 participants. A poll conducted in October by the Levada Center, Russia’s top independent pollster, showed 59% of Russians were unwilling to get the shots even if offered for free.

Russia, a nation of 146 million, has recorded more than 2.7 million confirmed cases and more than 48,000 confirmed deaths.

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WARSAW, Poland — Poland’s government announced a “national quarantine” that involves several restrictions from Dec. 28 to Jan. 17.

Health Minister Adam Niedzielski says the it will involve a 10-day quarantine for international arrivals, the closure of hotels, ski slopes and shopping centers and stores – except for those providing basic needs like food and medicine.

The measures are aimed at keeping families from traveling and socializing ahead of the possible reopening of schools on Jan. 18. Niedzielski says restrictions are necessary “because we cannot count on the vaccinations to protect us in the near future.”

Poland, as a member of the 27-nation European Union, could start vaccinating small numbers in late December. The mass vaccination program is expected to start in January.

Poland is reporting about 10,000 new daily cases, with a total of nearly 1.2 million confirmed cases and more than 24,000 confirmed deaths.

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SANTE FE, N.M. — More than 50 inmates have sued the Penitentiary of New Mexico claiming the facility near Santa Fe didn’t protect its inmates from the coronavirus.

The Santa Fe New Mexican reported that the New Mexico Supreme Court was asked to intervene after 56 inmates submitted a handwritten petition alleging safety regulations intended to prevent the spread of the coronavirus were too lax and caused an outbreak in late October.

The lawsuit says prison officials didn’t conduct enough tests and didn’t separate inmates from those possibly infected. The suit says the facility has had 141 confirmed coronavirus cases since the pandemic began.

The New Mexico Corrections Department and governor’s office declined to comment on the pending litigation.

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WASHINGTON — A second COVID-19 vaccine is moving closer to joining the U.S. fight against the pandemic.

A panel of independent experts is meeting Thursday to discuss the vaccine made by Moderna. The panel’s review for the Food and Drug Administration is the next-to-last step before the agency decides whether the shots can be used on an emergency basis. The FDA staff issued a positive review earlier in the week, confirming the vaccine’s safety and effectiveness.

If the panel gives a thumbs-up, the FDA is expected to give the green light within hours or days. A Pfizer vaccine got the go-ahead last week.

A second vaccine is urgently needed as coronavirus infections, hospitalizations and deaths keep rising in the U.S. ahead of holidays. The U.S. leads the world in grim virus totals, with 1.6 million confirmed cases and more than 307,000 confirmed deaths.

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PARIS — French President Emmanuel Macron has tested positive for the coronavirus a week after he met with numerous European leaders.

The French and Spanish prime ministers and EU Council president are among many top officials self-isolating because they had recent contact with him. Macron’s office says the president took a test “as soon as the first symptoms appeared.”

The brief statement didn’t say what symptoms Macron experienced. The 42-year-old Macron attended an EU summit with other European leaders and Wednesday met with Portugal’s prime minister and attended a Cabinet meeting. German Chancellor Angela Merkel, who had a bilateral meeting with Macron in Brussels, too a routine PCR test a few days after the European Council meeting and it was negative, her office says.

Macron’s 67-year-old wife, Brigitte, will self-isolate but has no symptoms and tested negative on Tuesday, her office says.

Macron joins a growing list of leaders who have tested positive for the virus, including U.S. President Donald Trump and British Prime Minister Boris Johnson.

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ROME — Pope Francis is calling for the funds used for defense budgets and nuclear weapons to instead bolster health care systems and fight poverty in the wake of the coronavirus pandemic.

Francis dedicated his annual peace message, released Thursday, to increasing a “culture of care” at local and national levels to build a more just world.

It’s a message Francis has repeated, including in his latest encyclical “Brothers All,” about the need for greater solidarity to end social injustices that have been exacerbated by the COVID-19 pandemic.

“How many resources are spent on weaponry, especially nuclear weapons, that could be used for more significant priorities such as ensuring the safety of individuals, the promotion of peace and integral human development, the fight against poverty, and the provision of health care,” he asked in the peace message.

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BERLIN — A German far-right lawmaker who has criticized requirements to wear masks in parliament has been hospitalized with COVID-19.

The office of Thomas Seitz confirmed Thursday the 53-year-old was admitted to hospital Dec. 12 following a positive test for the coronavirus.

Seitz was admonished last month by the deputy speaker of parliament, Claudia Roth, for wearing a bright orange mask full of holes as he crossed the Bundestag floor for a speech.

Seitz, a member of the Alternative for Germany party, is one of 23 lawmakers who have tested positive since the start of the outbreak.

His party has taken a contradictory line during the pandemic, with some AfD lawmakers suggesting the virus poses no threat while others have criticized the government for allegedly doing too little to protect Germans from the coronavirus.

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LONDON — Britain’s health secretary says more areas in southern England will be placed under the toughest level of coronavirus restrictions starting on Saturday.

Matt Hancock told lawmakers on Thursday that cases in the south of England have risen 46% in the past week, while hospital admissions there are up by a third.

The Tier 3 restrictions means all restaurants and pubs must close except for takeaway services. People cannot socialize indoors or in most outdoor places.

Health officials are concerned about another surge in infections after the government said all restrictions will be temporarily eased during five days over Christmas to allow people to travel to see friends and family.

London came under Tier 3 restrictions on Wednesday, with the latest figures showing the capital among the fastest growing case rates in the country.

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GAZA CITY, Gaza Strip — The Gaza Strip has recorded more than 1,000 coronavirus cases in one day for the first time since an outbreak began, threatening to further overwhelm the territory’s decrepit health system.

Out of 2,474 tests, 1,015 were positive, the Health Ministry said Thursday. Twelve people have died in the past 24 hours, raising the death toll to 232.

Gaza has recorded more than 31,000 infections since the virus began to spread in the densely populated Palestinian territory in August.

An Israeli-Egyptian blockade on the Hamas-run territory that limits travel, as well as strict quarantine measures by the militant group, delayed the arrival of the virus. But since it began spreading through the population over the summer, the infected have quickly filled up hospitals. The Health Ministry says it has begun transferring COVID-19 patients to wards meant for other patients.

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SOFIA, Bulgaria — Bulgaria’s government is extending a nationwide lockdown until the end of January.

The number of new coronavirus infections and deaths remain high and putting pressure on the overloaded health care system. All non-food shops, nightclubs, restaurants, cafes and gyms remain closed. Secondary schools will stay closed while primary schools will reopen on Jan. 4.

Health authorities say the country will start its inoculation campaign once the vaccines are approved in the EU.

The Balkan country of 7 million has reported 186,246 confirmed cases and 6,196 confirmed deaths.

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TOKYO — Tokyo reported 822 cases of the coronavirus, a new high for the Japanese capital.

Nationally, Japan reported 2,988 new cases Friday for a total of 187,103 and 2,739 confirmed deaths.

Experts on the Tokyo task force raised caution levels for the medical systems to the highest, suggesting that most Tokyo hospitals have little extra staff or beds to continue treatment for other patients.

“We must stop further acceleration of the infections,” Tokyo Gov. Yuriko Koike said. “In order to prevent serious cases and deaths and save the medical systems from collapsing, I ask for everyone to cooperate.”

Koike said Tokyo is extending an early closure request for drinking places, which was to end Thursday, through mid-January.

Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga last Friday announced plans to suspend the government’s travel promotion campaign from Dec. 28 to Jan. 11 following media surveys showing a sharp decline in his approval ratings.

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JAKARTA, Indonesia — The World Health Organization says countries in the Asia-Pacific region are not guaranteed early access to COVID-19 shots and urged them to adopt a long-term approach to the pandemic.

WHO Regional Director Dr. Takeshi Kasai says the development of safe and effective vaccines is one thing. Producing them in adequate quantities and reaching everyone who needs them is another.

Dr. Socorro Escalante, WHO’s coordinator for essential medicines and health technologies, says while some countries that have independent vaccine purchase agreements might start vaccination campaigns in the coming months, others could see vaccination begin in the middle or late 2021.

COVAX was set up by WHO, vaccines alliance GAVI and CEPI, a global coalition to fight epidemics, in an effort to ensure equitable access to vaccines across the world. WHO representatives also urged that high-risk groups should be prioritized for the limited vaccines.

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