The Latest: US health officials OK another rapid virus test

WASHINGTON — U.S. health officials have given the OK to another rapid coronavirus test that people can use to screen themselves at home.

Abbott Laboratories said Wednesday the Food and Drug Administration authorized home use of its credit-card size test that detects coronavirus infections. The company says it will sell the test kit for $25 through an app and plans to ship 30 million in the U.S. over the first three months of 2021.

A day earlier, the FDA signed off on a similar test developed by an Australian company that was the first over-the-counter coronavirus home test in the U.S. The company says its test would sell for $30. Initial supplies will be limited to an estimated 3 million next month.

Abbott’s BinaxNOW Ag Card test comes with a nasal swab, developing solution and test strip. The test delivers results in about 20 minutes and users can connect with a testing consultant through an app to answer questions about their results. Parents can use the test to screen children 2 years old and up.

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THE VIRUS OUTBREAK:

Biden’s challenge: Creating a COVID-19-free White House

— 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:

BRUSSELS — The European Union plans to deploy anti-coronavirus shots across the 27-nation bloc using “supersonic fast procedure” once the EU regulator approves the BioNTech/Pfizer coronavirus vaccine.

The European Medicines Agency is expected to give its go-ahead next Monday Speaking at the European Parliament on Wednesday, EU commission vice-president Margaritis Schinas says if the EMA approves the vaccines on Dec. 21, “the commission is ready to provide the formal authorization of placing in the market in supersonic fast procedure.”

Schinas says “These vaccines will be the Christmas gift for all Europeans if everything goes well.”

The commission has secured around 2 billion doses of potential vaccines for the 27 member states. The EU’s executive arm has repeatedly said that once a vaccine is ready, all EU countries should have access to it at the same time.

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JERUSALEM — Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu says he will get the coronavirus vaccine on Saturday night, making him the first Israeli to be immunized.

Netanyahu says he wants to set an example for others to follow. Israel has procured hundreds of thousands of doses of Pfizer’s new vaccine and is set to begin a vaccination campaign next week.

“By the end of January, we will have millions of vaccines. I worked hard to bring them, and I ask you to use them,” he said.

Netanyahu is currently in isolation after contact with someone infected with the coronavirus. His office says he has tested negative for the virus.

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ANKARA, Turkey — Turkey’s daily coronavirus death toll hit a record high on Wednesday, with the government announcing 240 deaths.

The government also announced 29,718 new confirmed cases in the country of 83 million, pushing the total to nearly 2 million. The confirmed total death toll stands at 17,121.

Turkey has become one of the worst-hit countries in the world, with the number of confirmed cases hovering around 30,000 per day.

The country has imposed evening curfews and lockdowns at weekends to combat the surge without impacting the economy. But medical groups and opposition parties say the measures will fail to curb the spread.

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BRATISLAVA, Slovakia — Slovakia is tightening restrictive measures to contain a record surge of coronavirus infections.

Health Minister Marek Krajci says the government is imposing a round-the-clock curfew that becomes effective on Saturday at 5 a.m.

The aim is to limit people’s contacts before and during Christmas holidays. Krajci says during the curfew only people from two households can meet.

The exceptions include necessary trips to work, to do business or see doctors. People can do necessary food and medicine shopping in the stores closest to their homes. All other than nonessential stores will be closed.

The government has urged people to isolate at least for seven days or get tested before they see their relatives.

A record 58 people died of the coronavirus on Tuesday, with a second-highest 3,565 cases. The country of 5.4 million had 139,088 confirmed cases with 1,309 deaths.

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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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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 daily high coronavirus cases at 1,078.

The Korea Disease Control and Prevention Agency on Wednesday says the national caseload to 45,442. The total confirmed death toll was 612 after 25 coronavirus 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 the most since the start of the pandemic. There are concerns about a possible shortage in hospital capacities.

Senior Health Ministry official Yoon Taeho says 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.

More than 770 of the new infections were reported from the Seoul metropolitan area, home to half of the country’s 51 million people. 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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