SAN JUAN, Puerto Rico — A respiratory therapist who treated the first two COVID-19 patients hospitalized in Puerto Rico became the first person in the U.S. territory to be vaccinated against the virus on Tuesday.
Yahaira Alicea had treated an Italian couple who visited the island aboard a cruise ship in March. The woman later died. Alicea said it was a fearful moment for her that wore her down physically and emotionally as she urged everyone to get vaccinated.
“This is what we want, for this pandemic to end,” Alicea said. “Don’t be afraid.”
The event was cheered by many on the island of 3.2 million people that recently imposed more severe measures to fight an increase in coronavirus cases and deaths. Puerto Rico has reported more than 107,000 confirmed and probable coronavirus cases and more than 1,280 deaths.
Alicea was immunized a day after FedEx planes carrying more than 16,500 Pfizer vaccine doses landed in Puerto Rico, with another more than 13,600 expected later this week. The vaccine will be distributed to 65 hospitals around the island, according to Gov. Wanda Vázquez.
THE VIRUS OUTBREAK:
— Poor countries face long wait for vaccines despite promises
— EXPLAINER: Why is the EU taking so long to OK vaccine?
— Pandemic backlash jeopardizes public health powers, leaders
— London and nearby areas will be placed under the highest level of restrictions starting Wednesday
— U.S. COVID-19 deaths top 300,000 just as vaccinations begin
Follow AP’s coverage at https://apnews.com/hub/coronavirus-pandemic and https://apnews.com/UnderstandingtheOutbreak
HERE’S WHAT ELSE IS HAPPENING:
WASHINGTON: Top U.S. infectious disease expert Dr. Anthony Fauci says President-elect Joe Biden and vice President-elect Kamala Harris should be vaccinated for COVID-19 as soon as possible.
Speaking to ABC News, Fauci says, “For security reasons, I really feel strongly that we should get them vaccinated as soon as we possibly can.”
“You want him fully protected as he enters into the presidency in January,” he said.
Fauci said that while President Donald Trump, who was hospitalized with COVID-19 in early October, probably still has antibodies to the virus that will protect him for at least several months, he should get it as well to be “doubly sure.”
“You still want to protect people who are very important to our country right now,” Fauci said.
BERLIN — After days of pressuring the European Union’s medical regulator, Germany’s health minister said Tuesday that he has received assurances that the European Medicines Agency will approve a coronavirus vaccine by Dec. 23.
Health Minister Jens Spahn told reporters in Berlin on Tuesday he “welcomed” German media reports that said EMA would finalize its approval process of the Pfizer-BioNTech coronavirus vaccine by Dec. 23, instead of at a Dec. 29 meeting.
“Our goal is an approval before Christmas,” Spahn said. “We want to still start vaccinating this year.”
Spahn would not say from whom he had received the confirmation and the EMA could not immediately be reached for comment on exactly when it would release its findings on the approval process.
MOSCOW — Vaccination against COVID-19 with the Russian-developed Sputnik V vaccine has started in all Russian regions, Russian authorities said Tuesday.
President Vladimir Putin ordered the government to start “large-scale” vaccination in Russia two weeks ago, even though the Sputnik V vaccine is still undergoing advanced studies needed to ensure its safety and effectiveness. The shots have been offered to medical workers for several months even though the vaccine was still in the middle of late-stage trials, and over 150,000 people in Russia have already been vaccinated, according to its developers.
Health Minister Mikhail Murashko said Tuesday the vaccine has been delivered to all Russian regions, and the shots are being administered in over 1,200 medical facilities across the country. Medical workers, teachers and social workers are the first in line to get the shots.
Russia’s state coronavirus task force has reported over 2.7 million confirmed cases in the pandemic and nearly 48,000 deaths. The Russian Sputnik V vaccine received regulatory approval in August in a move that drew international criticism, as by that time the shots had only been tested on a few dozen people.
BRUSSELS — The Belgian cities of Brugge and Knokke-Heist are planning to introduce checks on shoppers coming from the neighboring Netherlands to avoid a scramble in their streets during the festive season.
After the Dutch government announced Monday a tough five-week lockdown comprising the closure of nonessential shops until Jan. 19, the cities close to the Netherlands border are expecting a big influx of Dutch shoppers.
“Just like the Belgians, the Dutch will want to do their Christmas shopping,” Brugge mayor Dirk De Fauw was quoted as saying Tuesday by local broadcaster RTBF. “We’ll have to be on our guard.”
In the coastal resort of Knokke-Heist, local authorities said police and stewards will manage traffic in shopping street and could close access roads to the town well-known for its endless sandy beach as they don’t have the authority to shut down the border.
PARIS — As the holiday season approaches, French Prime Minister Jean Castex is encouraging the French to self-confine for 8 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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
This story has been corrected to show that the French prime minister encouraged his nation to self-isolate for 8 days before Christmas, not 10 days.