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Monday October 18th, 2021 2:32AM

The Latest: Germany pushes for quick EU vaccine approval

By The Associated Press
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BERLIN — Germany’s health minister has increased his pressure on the European Union’s regulatory agency and demanded that a coronavirus vaccine will be approved before Christmas.

The news agency dpa reported Tuesday that health minister Jens Spahn said “our goal is an approval before Christmas so that we can still start vaccinating this year, also in Germany.”

Spahn is pushing for a quick approval of a new vaccine developed by Germany’s BioNTech and American drugmaker Pfizer that has already been authorized for use in Britain, the United States and other countries. But Germany cannot use it because it is still waiting for approval by the European Medicines Agency, or EMA.

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THE VIRUS OUTBREAK:

— COVID-19 vaccine shipments begin in historic US effort

— Tens of thousands of new child brides are being married off as their families struggle amid the pandemic's economic fallout

— London and nearby areas will be placed under the highest level of restrictions starting Wednesday

— AP PHOTOS: Italian health workers still under enormous strain. One says "Christmas I will be here. Just like I had Easter here, just like August here, just like every day.”

— Scientists focus on bats for clues to prevent next pandemic

— After 110,000 virus deaths, U.S. nursing homes face vaccine fears

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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:

PARIS — As the holiday season approaches, French Prime Minister Jean Castex is encouraging the French to self-confine for 10 days before Christmas, rather than taking an automated coronavirus test.

Speaking on Europe-1 radio on Tuesday, Castex said such an approach prevents laboratories and pharmacies from becoming clogged. He also indicated that children can choose to skip school on Thursday and Friday so that they can begin self containment.

France on Tuesday is lifting a lockdown imposed on Oct. 28, but strict measures are still in place as infections are still high. There will be a nationwide curfew from 8 p.m. to 6 a.m., which will be lifted on Christmas Eve but not on New Year’s Eve. Theaters and cinemas will remain shut as will bars and restaurants.

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COLOMBO, Sri Lanka — Authorities in Sri Lanka said on Tuesday that more than 3,000 COVID-19 cases have been detected in the country’s highly congested prisons, as infections also surge in the capital and its suburbs.

They said that 2,984 inmates and 103 guards have been confirmed to have the disease in seven prisons around the country.

Sri Lankan prisons are highly congested, with more than 26,000 inmates crowded in facilities with a capacity of 10,000.

Eleven inmates were killed in pandemic-related riots inside a prison early this month. Unrest has been growing, with prisoners demanding better facilities and care as COVID-19 cases increase. Inmates have staged several protests inside prisons in recent weeks.

Sri Lanka’s confirmed cases since March reached 33,477 on Tuesday, including 154 fatalities.

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COLOMBO, Sri Lanka — The Maldives president’s office says it is discussing how to provide a “humane response” to a request from neighboring Sri Lanka to allow burials for Muslims who die of COVID-19.

Presidential spokesman Ibrahim Hood said Tuesday that President Ibrahim Mohamed Solih has received a request from Sri Lanka to look into the possibility of allowing such burials.

“The request has been received. At present we are considering and discussions are ongoing with regard to what would be the appropriate and humane response,” Hood told The Associated Press.

There was no immediate confirmation from Sri Lanka of such a request.

Sri Lanka's government in March announced it will cremate the bodies of all people who die of COVID-19, saying the coronavirus could contaminate underground water.

Sri Lankan Muslims have urged the government to allow burials, citing their religious beliefs. They accuse the government of denying Muslims a basic right without scientific grounds, since many countries in the world allow burials.

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TAIPEI, Taiwan — Taiwan has set a goal to vaccinate 60% of its population with a COVID-19 vaccine, or 15 million people, a health official said Tuesday.

Taiwan has signed an agreement with COVAX to purchase a COVID-19 vaccine, but is also actively in talks with vaccine companies who have candidates in phase 3 trials for a potential bilateral agreement as well, said Jing-Hui Yang, a deputy director at the Central Epidemic Command Center. COVAX, a global plan to distribute vaccines equally, has not yet started sending out shipments of vaccines.

The island will prioritize frontline health workers and essential personnel to receive the vaccine first, Yang said. Later on, the immunization campaign will target the elderly as well as those who have existing chronic illnesses.

Officials expect the vaccines to arrive early next year. Still, an immunization campaign will take time, and will not be finished in just a month or two, Yang warned.

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SEOUL, South Korea -- South Korea has reported another 880 new cases of the coronavirus as it slipped deeper into its worst wave of the pandemic yet.

That brought the country’s caseload to 44,364 on Tuesday, which was the 38th consecutive day of triple-digit daily increases. More than 10,000 infections have been reported in the last 15 days alone, mostly from the densely populated Seoul metropolitan area where health workers are struggling to stem transmissions tied to various places, including hospitals, long-term care facilities, restaurants, churches and schools.

The death toll was at 600 after 13 COVID-19 patients died in the past 24 hours. The Korea Disease Control and Prevention Agency said 205 among 11,205 active patients were in serious or critical condition as fears grow over possible shortages in intensive-care units.

Critics say the country’s viral resurgence underscores the risk of encouraging economic activity when vaccines are at least months away. The government had lowered social distancing restrictions to the lowest tier in October out of concerns about sluggish growth rates despite experts warning of a viral surge during winter when people spend longer hours indoors.

The government restored some restrictions over the past weeks, such as shutting down nightclubs, halting in-person school classes and requiring restaurants to provide only deliveries and take-outs after 9 p.m.

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WASHINGTON — Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar and Surgeon General Jerome Adams stressed the vaccine’s safety and effectiveness, while raising issues of social equity.

The officials spoke Monday at a George Washington University Hospital event Monday to launch the vaccination of health care workers in the nation’s capital.

Adams, who is Black, said it would be a tragedy if the disparate impact of COVID-19 on communities of color got worse because of hesitancy to get the vaccine. “We know that lack of trust is a major cause for reluctance, especially in communities of color,” said Adams.

Azar said the vaccines bring hope, but “all of that hope doesn’t matter if we don’t bridge to that point” where widespread vaccination puts and end to the pandemic. So he called on Americans to double down on practicing responsible behaviors such as avoiding travel and gatherings, maintaining social distance, wearing masks and washing their hands frequently.

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TORONTO — Canada has administered its first doses of COVID-19 vaccine.

Five front-line workers in Ontario are among the first Canadians to receive the vaccine at one of Toronto’s hospitals.

Three personal support workers, a registered nurse, and a registered practical nurse who work at the Rekai Centre nursing home are among the first to receive it.

Ontario received 6,000 doses of Pfizer’s COVID-19 vaccine Sunday night and plans to give them to about 2,500 health-care workers.

Residents of two long-term care homes Quebec will be the first to receive the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine in that province.

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NEW YORK — Coronavirus vaccinations have begun in New York.

A nurse at Long Island Jewish Medical Center in Queens got what Gov. Andrew Cuomo called the first shot given in the state’s campaign to vaccinate front line health care workers.

“I feel hopeful today. Relieved,” said critical care nurse Sandra Lindsay after getting a shot in the arm.

The head of the hospital system, Michael Dowling, stood over Lindsay as a doctor, Michelle Chester, administered the dose. Cuomo watched via a livestream.

All four applauded after the shot was given. “This is the light at the end of the tunnel. But it’s a long tunnel,” Cuomo said.

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