The Latest: Germany puts nursing homes, over 80s 1st in line

Activists light about 5,000 candles to commemorate the people who died of the coronavirus in Switzerland, Sunday, Dec. 6, 2020, on the Bundesplatz, front of the Federal Palace, in Bern, Switzerland. (Anthony Anex/Keystone via AP)

BERLIN — A panel of medical experts in Germany is recommending that nursing home residents, people over 80 and key medical personnel in acute and elderly care should receive coronavirus vaccines first when they become available.

A draft recommendation released Monday defines some 8.6 million people who would receive a vaccine first. That’s over 10% of the German population.

According to the 62-page document, only once those groups have been immunized and if vaccines are still limited should other high risk groups received the shot.

The draft, which still needs to be approved, has a total of six categories grouped according to their risk of serious illness from COVID-19 and the likelihood they might expose others. Teachers belong to the fourth category, while people working in key positions of government, in critical infrastructure and in small stores are in the fifth.

All other healthy individuals under 60 — an estimated 45 million people in the country of 83 million — would be last in line for a vaccine.

The expert panel says people who have recovered from a confirmed infection do not need to get immunized.

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THE VIRUS OUTBREAK:

— Health officials warn Americans not to let their guard down

— UK gears up for coronavirus vaccination program watched around the world

— Citing low virus rates in schools, New York City reopens schools again

— Biden picks Calif. Attorney General Xavier Becerra to lead HHS, pandemic response

— Senator says Trump, McConnell likely to back COVID-19 relief

— Trump lawyer Rudy Giuliani in hospitalafter positive COVID-19 test

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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:

VILNIUS, Lithuania — Lithuania’s government decided Monday to tighten restrictions after intial measures failed to stop the spread of coronavirus.

It advised people only to leave home for serious reasons, banned private parties of more than two families, tightened requirements in shopping centers and sent almost all public sector employees to work from home.

Shops are urged not to have short-term sales promotions, increase the number of checkouts and only have one person per family go shopping.

People in the southernmost Baltic country will have to celebrate Christmas under new regulations which take effect Wednesday and last till at least Dec. 31.

A country of almost 3 million, Lithuania managed to curb the first COVID-19 wave but now faces one of the highest surges in Europe per capita with 76,036 total cases and 637 deaths, most of those in the last two months.

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ATHENS, Greece — Greece’s government says it will maintain core lockdown measures through the Christmas holidays, acknowledging that monthlong restrictions have not reduced COVID-19 infections to the extent it had hoped for.

Schools, courts, and restaurants will remain closed through Jan. 7, government spokesman Stelios Petsas announced Monday, while non-essential travel between Greece’s administrative regions will also be banned.

Stay-at-home orders nationwide will remain in effect till that date, with movement outside households granted by the government by SMS.

Greece’s pandemic death toll reached 3,000 over the weekend, with most deaths occurring after Nov. 1. The number of daily infections, based on a seven-day rolling average, is currently at 1,609 compared to 2,674 in mid-November, Petsas said.

Restrictions for stores, churches, and hair salons will be announced later this week, Petsas said.

The current lockdown was launched Nov. 7 and initially planned to last for three weeks.

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COPENHAGEN, Denmark — Prime Minister Mette Frederiksen has announced local restrictions that close restaurants, bars, theatres and cinemas till the end of the year and switch students from the 5th grade and older to distance learning for a week before the Christmas holidays.

The restrictions, which also include shutting amusement parks, zoos and gyms in 38 municipalities, affect Copenhagen and its surrounding municipalities, and Denmark’s second- and third-largest cities of Aarhus and Odense.

The restrictions begin Wednesday and come as Denmark has seen a steady increase in infections in recent weeks. Denmark has had 90,603 cases and 885 deaths.

“The increase is worrying,” Frederiksen said.

Health Minister Magnus Heunicke added that the virus “still has the power to shut down the health care system and pull a trail of serious consequences behind it.”

Denmark on Monday also extended limiting public gatherings to 10 and urged that private get-togethers respect that number, and extended requirements to wear masks on public transportation and in shops.

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BEIJING — A foreign ministry spokesperson claims that China is following the further spread of coronavirus in the U.S. with a “heavy heart.”

The virus was first detected in the central Chinese city of Wuhan late last year and critics have accused the government of botching its initial response, setting off the pandemic that has killed more than 1.5 million people, including more than 282,000 in the U.S.

China has rejected such accusations, saying it’s 76-day lockdown of Wuhan and other strict measures gave the rest of the world time to prepare.

“We have taken the most comprehensive, stringent and thorough prevention and control measures, taking the lead in controlling the epidemic and resuming production,” Hua Chunying told reporters Monday.

“In the meanwhile, we are also following with a heavy heart the reports on the development of the epidemic situation in the United States these days, and express our condolences and sympathy to the American people in their current difficult situation,” Hua said.

Public compliance in China with prevention measures has been near-universal, allowing China to all-but eliminate cases of local transmission.

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PARIS — Hoping to strengthen its funding, the World Health Organization is appointing a CEO to a foundation intended to bring in more private donations, which should leave the global health body less vulnerable if a country withdraws or cuts funding as the United States did.

Anil Soni will join the new WHO Foundation in January after eight years with the multinational pharmaceutical Viatris.

This year’s global coronavirus pandemic, as well as the Trump administration’s withdrawal from the world health body, has exposed WHO’s fragile funding base. The organization relies largely upon voluntary contributions from member nations as well as a handful of large foundations. That has left it open to criticism that it’s vulnerable to outside influence at the expense of global health priorities.

In an interview with The Associated Press ahead of the WHO Foundation announcement, Soni said his priority is to seek out corporate and individual donations. He said the foundation will ultimately assume control of the COVID-19 Solidarity Response Fund, which has raised $238 million so far.

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MADRID – The Spanish government is pleading with people to voluntarily observe social distancing rules and other measures over the Christmas holiday, with the health minister saying “we can’t put a police officer in every house.”

Health Minister Salvador Illa said Monday that measures announced last week to prevent the spread of COVID-19 over the seasonal holiday are “very drastic.”

A curfew will be in place between 1:30 a.m.-6 a.m. on Christmas Eve, Christmas Day and New Year’s Eve, and family gatherings will be limited to 10 people.

“You don’t play with COVID. Let’s be careful,” Illa told a news conference in Madrid.

Spain has reported over 46,000 virus-related deaths in the pandemic.

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BERLIN — Chancellor Angela Merkel’s chief of staff says he expects coronavirus vaccinations to start in Germany “in the very first days” of the new year. The trained doctor says he’s prepared to help vaccinate people himself.

European Union authorities are expected to make a decision by Dec. 29 on approving the first vaccine for use. Germany is getting special vaccination centers ready. The news comes as Britain gears up to start coronavirus vaccinations on Tuesday.

Merkel’s chief of staff, Helge Braun, told the Bild newspaper late Sunday that he will tell medical authorities he’s prepared to help. He said he and Merkel will get vaccinated “when it’s our turn.”

Infection figures in Germany have stabilized at a high level since a partial shutdown started on Nov. 2 but haven’t decreased. On Monday, the national disease control center reported 12,332 new cases over the past 24 hours, compared with 11,168 a week ago, and 147 new deaths.

Restrictions such as the closure of restaurants, bars, sports and leisure facilities are due to last until at least Jan. 10 and some regions are taking or contemplating tougher measures.

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HONG KONG — Hong Kong plans to install vending machines for coronavirus testing kits in 10 subway stations across the city amid a new surge in cases.

A government news release Monday said about 10,000 specimen collection packs will be supplied to the machines daily.

The persistence of the virus in the city of 7.5 million has prompted an increasing array of control, testing and case tracing measures.

The news release said another 95 virus cases had been recorded on Sunday, bring the city’s total to 6,898, with 112 deaths. The last two week have seen the addition of 1,242 cases, most of them local, prompting authorities to tighten restrictions, including banning most social gatherings to just two people. The surge in cases has also led to the suspension of plans to open a “travel bubble” with Singapore.

Describing the epidemic situation as “severe,” the government’s Center for Health Protection called on the public to “avoid going out, having social contact and dining out,” and strongly urged people to avoid all nonessential travel outside the city.

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SEOUL, South Korea — South Korea has reported 615 new cases of the coronavirus, its 30th day in a row of triple-digit daily jumps, as fears grow the viral spread is getting out of control in the greater capital area.

The country has added more than 5,300 to its caseload just in the past 10 days. Most of the transmissions were detected in the Seoul metropolitan area where health workers are struggling to stem transmissions tied to various places, including restaurants, schools, hospitals and long-term care facilities.

There’s concern that hospital capacities could become overwhelmed within weeks if the country fails to slow the viral resurgence, especially in the densely-populated capital area, where half of the country’s 51 million people live.

“The capital area is now a COVID-19 war zone,” Health Minister Park Neung-hoo said in a virus meeting, pleading for citizen vigilance.

While President Moon Jae-in’s government had been eager to tout the country’s previous gains against the virus, there’s criticism that it gambled by moving quickly to ease social distancing restrictions.

Officials have restored some restrictions in the capital in past weeks as infections soared, shutting down nightclubs, karaoke rooms and gyms, reducing in-person school classes and allowing restaurants to provide only deliveries and take-outs after 9 p.m.

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LOS ANGELES — Many Californians are preparing for a new stay-at-home order that bars restaurant dining, shutters salons and limits retail in an effort to curb spiraling coronavirus infections and hospitalizations.

The new rules that take effect before midnight in the vast region of Southern California, much of the San Francisco Bay Area and a large swath of the Central Valley also prohibit residents from gathering with people not in their households.

Public health officials contend the measures are critical as space dwindles in intensive care units in Southern California and much of the Central Valley amid a surge in coronavirus infections

Some law enforcement officials in these same areas, however, said they don’t plan to enforce the rules and are counting on residents to wear masks and practice physical distancing to protect themselves during the pandemic.

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BEIJING — Authorities have completed a third round of coronavirus tests in the northeastern border city of Manzhouli, where three new cases were reported on Monday.

The city government said testing on 200,745 people wrapped up on Saturday following two earlier rounds last month. No new positive cases were found and the three announced Monday were among those previously isolated as suspected cases, authorities said. Testing has been accompanied by travel restrictions and the quarantining of suspected cases and close contacts of those infected.

China reported a total of 15 new cases on Monday, 12 of them brought from outside, bringing the mainland’s total to 86,634 with 4,634 deaths. Hospitals are currently treating 281 people for COVID-19 while 231 people are being monitored in isolation after having tested positive for the virus while showing no symptoms.

The virus, meanwhile, continues to surge in Hong Kong, with another 95 cases reported on Sunday, bringing the semi-autonomous Chinese city’s total to 6,897 with 112 deaths. Authorities there have tightened restrictions on the city’s 7.5 million people, including banning most social gatherings to just two. The surge in cases has also led to the suspension of plans to open a “travel bubble” with Singapore, underscoring the impact the outbreak has had on the city’s economy.

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LONDON — Shipments of the coronavirus vaccine developed by American drugmaker Pfizer and Germany’s BioNTech were delivered Sunday in the U.K. in super-cold containers, two days before it goes public in an immunization program that is being closely watched around the world.

Around 800,000 doses of the vaccine were expected to be in place for the start of the immunization program on Tuesday, a day that Health Secretary Matt Hancock has reportedly dubbed as “V-Day,” a nod to triumphs in World War II.

“To know that they are here, and we are amongst the first in the country to actually receive the vaccine and therefore the first in the world, is just amazing,” said Louise Coughlan, joint chief pharmacist at Croydon Health Services NHS Trust, just south of London.

Last week, the U.K. became the first country to authorize the Pfizer-BioNtech vaccine for emergency use. In trials, the vaccine was shown to have around 95% efficacy.

Vaccinations will be administered starting Tuesday at around 50 hospital hubs in England. Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland will also begin their vaccination rollouts the same day.

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