PARIS — Under fire for a glacially slow rollout of its first coronavirus vaccine shots, France’s government is pledging to pick up the pace, offering quicker inoculation to a broader array of health care workers from next week.
President Emmanuel Macron intervened in what is becoming an increasingly sharp debate about the French start of vaccinations, using his traditional New Year’s address to the nation on Thursday night to promise that he will personally ensure that the program does not drag its heels.
Macron said he will not allow “an unjustified slowness, for bad reasons, to take root.”
Before Macron spoke, his health minister tweeted that shots would be offered from Monday to health care workers aged 50 and over.
Only a few hundred people were vaccinated in the days after the first shot was injected Sunday into the arm of a 78-year-old in a long-term care facility. Consent requirements have slowed up the process.
Officials are also treading cautiously because of widespread skepticism in France around the safety of the rapidly developed vaccines.
THE VIRUS OUTBREAK:
— NYC mayor aims for 1 million people vaccinated in January
— Warp Speed effort to vaccinate millions in US off to slow start
— Britain uses ads to urge residents to ‘see in New Year safely at home’
— 2020 is finally ending, but New Year’s Eve revelries around the world will be muted by the coronavirus
Follow AP’s coverage at https://apnews.com/hub/coronavirus-pandemic, https://apnews.com/hub/coronavirus-vaccine and https://apnews.com/UnderstandingtheOutbreak
HERE’S WHAT ELSE IS HAPPENING:
NEW ORLEANS — People 70 and over will be able to get vaccinated against the coronavirus starting next week. Gov. John Bel Edwards announced Thursday as he detailed plans for distributing the state’s next shipment of vaccines using a network of pharmacies.
The announcement came one day after the state saw a record one-day total of new coronavirus infections.
Starting next week, a network of about 100 pharmacies will start to receive limited doses of the Moderna vaccine. Seniors 70 and older and certain health care workers will be able to make an appointment at one of the participating pharmacies to get the first of the two-shot vaccine.
Edwards says there are nearly 500,000 people aged 70 and older in the state and stressed that the process will take time.
LOS ANGELES — California has surpassed 25,000 deaths from coronavirus, the third state to reach the number.
New York has nearly 38,000 deaths and Texas has more than 27,000, according to a tally by Johns Hopkins University.
A surge has swamped hospitals with COVID-19 patients in Southern California and the agricultural San Joaquin Valley. Hospitals are housing patients in hallways, conference rooms, a cafeteria and gift shops. Makeshift hospitals are being set up in tents, arenas and schools.
This week, Los Angeles County had 274 deaths in 24 hours for a record toll of 10,056 deaths. The nation’s most populated county has about 40% of California’s virus deaths.
ANN ARBOR, Mich. — The University of Michigan’s Big House has been transformed into The Big Vaccine Clinic.
A few hundred University of Michigan medical professionals and students who work in health care settings received their first dose of the COVID-19 vaccine on Thursday at Michigan Stadium, one of the nation’s largest sporting venues.
The Michigan Stadium clinic is not open to the public. Those who visited on Thursday’s opening day did so by appointment only and fall into the vaccine priority group Phase 1A category. The university says its employees and students will receive a Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine dose at the football stadium clinic, which hosted up to 100,000 people on football Saturdays and has plenty of parking.
The rollout of vaccines started earlier this month across the state.
Michigan reported more than 4,200 new virus cases Wednesday and 51 deaths. More than 12,000 residents have died since March.
NASHVILLE, Tenn. — Tennessee ends the year ranked first in coronavirus cases per capita.
There were 1,426 cases per 100,000 Tennesseans over the past two weeks, which ranks first in the nation for new cases per capita, according to researchers from Johns Hopkins University.
Those numbers coupled with delays in the state’s virus vaccination rollout are causing health leaders to stress diligence in social distancing and mask wearing in 2021.
Tennessee allowing people 75 and older to be immunized on Thursday and resulted in long lines.
VATICAN CITY — Pope Francis skipped a New Year’s Eve thanksgiving prayer service because of back pain and acknowledged some might question why give thanks during a pandemic.
A Vatican cardinal stood in for the pope in St. Peter’s Basilica on Thursday evening and read aloud the homily that Francis had prepared before a bout of sciatica forced him to scrap the appearance.
Francis encouraged those trying to make sense of the COVID-19 pandemic, with all its death and suffering, to instead summon up compassion to take care of those in need. He offered thanks for doctors, nurses and volunteers on the front lines in caring for patients. Francis also expressed gratitude to school officials and teachers.
JOHANNESBURG — Many South Africans will light candles to mark New Year’s Eve amid coronavirus restrictions, including a nighttime curfew and a ban on liquor sales.
Instead of ushering in 2021 at packed events with dance music and fireworks, many South Africans are responding to President Cyril Ramaphosa’s call to light a candle to honor those who have died and the health workers who are on the frontline of battling the disease.
South Africa’s current resurgence of the coronavirus is fueled by a new, possibly more infectious variant. The country announced a record 17,710 new cases and 465 deaths in the past 24 hours, bringing the total cumulative number of cases to more than 1 million and 28,033 confirmed deaths.
Health Minister Zweli Mkhize will broadcast a candle lighting ceremony from a hospital in Durban. The mayor of Johannesburg will light a candle at the city’s Nelson Mandela bridge.
NEW YORK — New York City Mayor Bill De Blasio has set an ambitious goal of vaccinating 1 million residents with the coronavirus vaccine in January.
The mayor noted Thursday that meeting the target would require outside cooperation and the city dramatically increasing access to the vaccine. Health Commissioner Dr. Dave Chokshi says officials want to double citywide access points to at least 250 sites. Those would include hospitals, community health centers and urgent care clinics.
The city also plans to double its 150,000-dose-a-week capacity during January. The city has vaccinated 88,000 people since doses became available Dec. 14.
While there won’t be crowds of cheering spectators in New York City’s Times Square, de Blasio vowed “it’s going to be a joyous night, if ever there was one.”
“Goodbye, 2020. Here comes something better: 2021,” the Democrat added, reflecting on a year when the U.S.’ most populous city became an epicenter of the pandemic in spring and has tallied over 25,000 deaths from the virus to date.
ATLANTA — People exposed to a coronavirus patient who stay well for 10 days still have a 7% chance of getting sick, but a U.S. government recommendation on shorter quarantines is not changing.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention on Thursday published results of a study of 185 households in Tennessee and Wisconsin where a person in the house had the coronavirus.
The study shows 7% of household contacts who did not have symptoms and tested negative through 10 days of quarantine went on to have symptoms and a positive test within the next four days.
The CDC says people who leave quarantine before 14 days should avoid close contact and wear masks when around others.
The CDC in early December shortened its quarantine recommendation from 14 days to 10 days, or 7 days with a negative test result. At the time, health officials said shorter quarantines would get more people to comply.
The study is based on households in Nashville, Tennessee, and Marshfield, Wisconsin. People in the study kept track of their symptoms and collected nasal swab samples for testing.
PARIS — French health authorities are reporting the country’s first coronavirus infection with the more contagious 501.V2 variant from South Africa that has driven its surge in cases.
A Health Ministry statement Thursday said the infected man lives in eastern France close to its border with Switzerland and tested positive after a trip to South Africa. The man self-isolated and is now recovered. No contact cases were discovered.
The South African variant is considered more infectious than the original and may have fueled an infection spike there past 1 million confirmed cases.
France requires travelers from South Africa to produce proof of a negative test no older than 3 days. France has recorded more than 64,000 deaths from the coronavirus, the seventh-highest death toll in the world. The U.S. leads with more than 343,000 dead.
ROME – Italy recorded 23,477 confirmed cases on Thursday, the highest in nearly a month.
That’s nearly 7,300 more than the previous day. There were just under 17,000 more swab tests done in the last 24 hours compared to the previous day.
Italy has reached 2.1 million confirmed cases. There were 555 confirmed deaths recorded on the final day of the year, raising the total to 74,159. That’s the fifth-highest death toll in the world, and highest in Europe.
TEHRAN, Iran — Iranian media says the country is negotiating the purchase of coronavirus vaccines from China.
The semiofficial ISNA news agency quoted Iranian President Hassan Rouhani’s chief of staff Mahmoud Vaezi as saying: “We are reaching agreement with China for buying 4 million doses.”
Vaezi said the process would take around two months. Iran has already discussed buying vaccines from both Russia and India. China on Thursday authorized the Sinopharm vaccine for general use, after it had already approved its use earlier to health care professionals and essential workers under emergency-use guidelines.
Vaezi said Iran will also buy 16.5 vaccines from COVAX, the global vaccine consortium.
Iran on Tuesday began the first study of the safety and effectiveness of Coviran, the country’s first home-made coronavirus vaccine.
Also Thursday, health ministry spokesman Kianoush Jahanpour said Iran and Cuba are working together on a vaccine and would test its safety and effectiveness on 50,000 volunteers in February.
Iran has 1.2 million confirmed cases and more than 55,000 confirmed deaths.
DENVER — Colorado plans to ease public health restrictions for restaurants and gyms in the much of the state starting next week.
Gov. Jared Polis announced the change on social media late Wednesday, citing sustained improvement in the state’s COVID-19 data, including intensive care units operating below capacity. He says he is asking the state health department to move counties with level red restrictions, including Denver and the rest of the populated Front Range region, to level orange starting on Monday.
The announcement came a day after Colorado said it had confirmed the first case of a new and apparently more contagious variant of the coronavirus in the U.S.
TEL AVIV, Israel — Business owners in Israel were hopeful the New Year might bring back a sense of normalcy and reverse their financial fortunes.
Israel will be spending New Year’s Eve under the country’s third national lockdown since the pandemic began, with restaurants closed except for delivery and bars, clubs and events spaces shut indefinitely. The virus restrictions have battered the country’s economy and sent unemployment soaring, hurting the service industry especially hard.
“2020 was a disaster,” said Morris Melvyn, who owns an Indian restaurant in Tel Aviv. “I hope 2021 will give us a better year, and we’ll start enjoying our lives again.”
Any New Year’s Eve celebrations are expected to be low-key. While some underground parties are expected to be held, police plan to enforce the lockdown rules.
CAIRO — The Egyptian government will shut down schools until Feb. 20 to help curb the spread of the coronavirus, which has so far claimed more than 7,500 lives.
Classes should be conducted remotely starting Saturday and until the end of the first semester in mid-January, read a statement posted on the official Facebook page of Egypt’s cabinet. Mid-year exams will be postponed until after the mid-year recess, which should last from Jan. 16 to Feb. 20, added the statement.
Egypt has recorded more than 136,000 confirmed cases.
However, Egypt’s Minister of Higher Education and Scientific Research Khaled Abdel Khaffar said this week the actual number of cases was much higher. He added Egyptians should brace for a higher infectious rate next month.
LONDON — On New Year’s Eve, the British government is running ads imploring people not to celebrate with anyone outside their household. The campaign is urging Britons to “see in the New Year safely at home.”
No parties, no hugging strangers, no mass choruses of “Auld Lang Syne.” Stephen Powis, medical director of the National Health Service in England, says “COVID loves a crowd.”
Most of the country’s population is under lockdown measures to slow the spread of a new, easily transmissible coronavirus strain. Social gatherings involving multiple households are barred. Police will be patrolling to deter groups planning to celebrate or to mark Britain’s final economic split from the European Union.
London’s annual New Years’ Eve fireworks display, which usually draws thousands of people to the banks of the River Thames, has been canceled. One tradition will continue: The huge Big Ben bell of Parliament will sound 12 bongs at midnight.
BISMARCK, N.D. — The North Dakota Department of Health has reported two suspected severe allergic reactions to the Moderna vaccine.
The Bismarck Tribune reported the two people had no history of anaphylactic reactions. Neither person was hospitalized and both have recovered. The allergic reactions occurred during a 15-minute post-vaccine observation period recommended by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
State health officials say anaphylactic reactions after being vaccinated are rare. For other vaccines, they occur at a rate of one per 1 million doses.
The state is vaccinating health care workers and long-term care residents. More than 13,000 people have received the first dose of the vaccine.