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Friday December 4th, 2020 9:35AM

The Latest: Pope holds first public audience in months

By The Associated Press
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VATICAN CITY — Pope Francis has held his first public general audience after a pause of nearly six months due to the coronavirus outbreak.

Francis used Wednesday's audience to call for solidarity as the way to exit the crisis.

Francis said: “The current pandemic has highlighted our interdependence: We are all linked to each other, for better or for worse."

He added: “To come out of this crisis better than before, we have to do so together, all of us, in solidarity."

About 500 faithful attended the audience in the Vatican’s San Damaso courtyard.

Under strict safety rules, faithful kept social distances as they sat in the courtyard and were all required to wear masks. The Pope didn’t wear one as he met the crowd, but kept a safety distance from the faithful, who were cheering and waving at him.

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HERE’S WHAT YOU NEED TO KNOW ABOUT THE VIRUS OUTBREAK

— U.S. government cancelling some orders for ventilators, after rushing to sign emergency contracts in spring

— The Sun Belt's coronavirus summer is easing after 35,000 deaths, but next question is impact of school and other events returning

— Antibodies against virus last longer than earlier reports suggested, according to a scientific finding raising vaccine hopes

— US sending rapid coronavirus tests to assisted living facilities, moving to fill a testing gap for older adults

— Follow AP’s pandemic coverage at http://apnews.com/VirusOutbreak and https://apnews.com/UnderstandingtheOutbreak

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HERE’S WHAT ELSE IS HAPPENING:

DUBAI, United Arab Emirates — The United Arab Emirates says several schools across the country will switch to remote learning in response to suspected coronavirus outbreaks oamong employees, just days after schools reopened for in-person instruction.

The country’s National Emergency Crisis and Disaster Management Authority made the announcement Wednesday as the UAE reported 541 new coronavirus infections, its biggest one-day jump in almost two months. Virus cases in the Gulf country have been steadily rising in recent weeks, with 70,231 infections, including 384 deaths, reported by health authorities since the pandemic began.

Schools welcomed students back across the seven emirates on Sunday with conditions, including mandatory masks, social distancing and temperature checks.

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LONDON — Some families of those who died in the pandemic are accusing British Prime Minister Boris Johnson of being “heartless” for refusing to meet with them.

Covid-19 Bereaved Families for Justice, which represents more than 1,400 families, wants a public inquiry into the government’s handling of the pandemic.

Organizers say Johnson previously agreed to meet with them, but on Wednesday they shared a letter in which the prime minister declined to do so.

Campaign co-founder Jo Goodman, who lost her father to the virus, says Johnson dodged five letters requesting a meeting and now he is "telling us he’s too busy. It’s heartless.”

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NEW DELHI — India registered 78,357 new coronavirus cases in the past 24 hours, raising its total over 3.7 million as the government eases pandemic restrictions nationwide to help the battered economy.

India, a nation of 1.4 billion people, is fast becoming the world’s coronavirus epicenter. It has been reporting the highest daily increases in new cases for more than three weeks, and at its current rate is likely to soon pass Brazil and ultimately the United States in total reported cases.

The Health Ministry on Wednesday also reported 1,045 deaths in the past 24 hours, taking total fatalities up to 66,333. It now has the third-most deaths after recently passing Mexico’s toll, according to a Johns Hopkins University tally.

Infections have been spreading fast from people in India’s big cities to smaller towns and rural areas.

Its testing capacity of nearly 100,000 per day has been increasing but experts say it is not enough.

On Wednesday, the Indian Council of Medical Research, India’s top medical research body, said the country had conducted nearly 44 million tests for the virus since the pandemic began.

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SEOUL, South Korea — South Korea has recorded 267 additional cases of the coronavirus, marking a triple-digit daily jump for the 20th straight day that has forced local authorities to impose tough social distancing rules.

The Korea Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said Wednesday the additional figures took the country’s tally to 20,449 that includes 326 deaths.

The agency says 253 of the new cases were locally infected patients, 187 of them in the densely populated Seoul metropolitan area.

South Korea has seen a spike in infections since early last month, many associated with churches, restaurants, schools and a public rally. Authorities have recently restricted dining at restaurants and ordered the shutdowns of churches, fitness centers and night establishments in the Seoul area as it struggles to track many of the new infections.

The caseload has trended slightly downward in recent days, but health officials have urged the public to keep following strengthened social distancing guidelines.

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MELBOURNE, Australia — Australia’s hot spot Victoria state on Wednesday extended its state of emergency for another six months as its weekly average of new COVID-10 infections dipped to 95.

The Victorian Parliament’s upper chamber passed legislation by a 20-19 vote to extend the state of emergency, which enhances the government’s powers to impose pandemic restrictions.

The government had wanted a 12-month extension.

The state health department reported 90 new infections and six deaths in the latest 24-hour period. There were only 70 new infections on Tuesday.

But the latest seven-day average has dropped into double-digits for the first time in weeks. The previous week’s average was 175 infections a day.

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