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Monday October 18th, 2021 6:14AM

The Latest: France promises to speed up vaccination process

By The Associated Press
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PARIS — Amid public outcry, France’s health minister has promised an “exponential” acceleration of his country’s slow coronavirus vaccination process.

After barely 500 people in France were vaccinated in the first six days, Health Minister Olivier Veran defended the government’s strategy of giving the vaccines first to residents of nursing homes. But he vowed Tuesday to simplify a bureaucratic consent process blamed in part for France’s lagging vaccinations.

Veran said the government will expand the number of vaccination centers and categories of people eligible for early vaccines, and allow people to sign up for vaccinations on an app or by phone.

The growth of vaccinations in the coming days “will be exponential, rest assured,” he said on RTL radio. But he insisted that the government would not forego safety guidelines in a country facing broad vaccine skepticism.

While neighboring countries are imposing strict new lockdowns amid surging infections, Veran said France is weighing its options and “cannot relax,” but announced no new measures. Education Minister Jean-Michel Blanquer said on Europe-1 radio that he doesn’t want to “deprive children of school.”

Veran said France has confirmed 10 or 15 cases of the new, more contagious virus variant identified in Britain, and that overall French infections and hospital rates are currently at a plateau.

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THE VIRUS OUTBREAK:

— UK takes big step on the vaccine front, even as prime minister orders new lockdown

— Vaccination drive enters new phase in U.S. as some start receiving final dose

— Worries about vaccine rollout rise as New York finds virus variant

— Follow AP’s coverage at https://apnews.com/hub/coronavirus-pandemic, https://apnews.com/hub/coronavirus-vaccine and https://apnews.com/UnderstandingtheOutbreak

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HERE’S WHAT ELSE IS HAPPENING:

BERLIN — Germany’s disease control center has reported 944 COVID-19 deaths in the last 24 hours as Chancellor Angela Merkel and the country’s 16 state governors are set to meet and decide on an extension of the current lockdown.

Germany’s current lockdown took effect on Dec. 16 after a partial shutdown that started at the beginning of November failed to reduce new coronavirus infections. It was initially set to expire Jan. 10.

It’s clear that Chancellor Angela Merkel and Germany’s 16 state governors will agree to extend it when they review the situation on Tuesday. The question is by how long, and to what extent schools will open.

Local media have reported that the lockdown is likely going to be extended until the end of the month.

Another topic high on the agenda of Tuesday’s meeting is the ongoing criticism of the country’s preparations for vaccination amid frustration over the gradual start to the process.

Vaccinations in Germany and the rest of the 27-nation European Union started over a week ago. In Germany, a nation of 83 million people, nearly 265,000 vaccinations had been reported to authorities by Monday, the Robert Koch Institute said.

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JERUSALEM — American biotech company Moderna says Israel has approved its COVID-19 vaccine, but the announcement comes as the country faces a rapidly growing outbreak of the disease.

Moderna said in a statement Tuesday that the Israeli Health Ministry authorized use of the company’s vaccine and that it would begin delivering this month the 6 million doses secured by Israel.

Israel’s Health Ministry reported 8,308 new confirmed cases of coronavirus on Tuesday — one of the highest daily tallies since the beginning of the pandemic — as the country struggles to contain the pandemic during a third national lockdown. Israel has recorded over 450,000 cases of coronavirus and 3,445 deaths.

At the same time, Israel has already vaccinated over 10% of its population, primarily the elderly and healthcare workers.

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BANGKOK — Thailand’s government says it is tightening restrictions aimed at stopping the spread of the coronavirus as the country logged another 527 new cases.

Officials said Tuesday that foreign migrant workers accounted for 439 of the new infections, while 82 were Thais infected locally and another six were new arrivals from abroad who tested positive in quarantine centers.

Thailand on Monday reported 745 infections, the most since the pandemic began.

After almost no locally transmitted infections for almost half a year, Thailand in recent weeks has seen a viral resurgence first spotted in communities of foreign factory and market workers just outside Bangkok.

The government has responded by putting in place fresh antivirus measures across large parts of the country, including closing schools and limiting restaurant hours.

The government said Tuesday that it will restrict travel between provinces in so-called “red-zone” to goods, cargo and necessary travel, and set up additional checkpoint on roads connecting the country’s most affected provinces.

Field hospitals were being set up in at least five hot zones in an equal number of provinces.

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BEIJING — China has designated parts of Hebei province near Beijing as a coronavirus high danger zone after 14 new cases of COVID-19 were found.

Eleven of those cases were in Shijiazhuang city, where some events for the 2022 Winter Olympics will be held. An additional 30 people tested positive for the virus without showing any symptoms, the provincial health authority said Tuesday.

The other three COVID-19 cases were in the city of Yantai. Parts of Shijiazhuang were designated high danger areas, meaning they will undergo stricter testing and isolation measures, while parts of Yantai were registered as medium risk areas. Medical investigators were looking into whether a single event such as a family gathering had been the origin of many of the Hebei cases.

China has recorded a total of 87,183 cases of COVID-19, with 4,634 deaths. People who have tested positive but not shown symptoms have been counted separately from its official COVID-19 tally.

Wary of another wave of infections, China is urging tens of millions of migrant workers to stay put during next month’s Lunar New Year holiday, usually the world’s largest annual human migration. Classes are also being dismissed a week earlier than usual and tourists are being told not to come to Beijing for holidays.

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MEXICO CITY — Mexico approved the Oxford-AstraZeneca coronavirus vaccine for emergency use Monday, hoping to spur a halting vaccination effort that has only given about 44,000 shots since the third week of December, about 82% of the doses the country has received.

Prior to this, the Pfizer vaccine was the only one approved for use in Mexico. Mexican regulators approved the AstraZeneca shot on Monday.

Assistant Health Secretariat Hugo López-Gatell said he erroneously reported approval for Chinese vaccine-maker CanSino, noting it had not yet submitted full study results for safety and efficacy.

Mexico has pinned much of its hopes on the inexpensive, one-shot CanSino vaccine. “It will makes things a lot easier for us,” López-Gatell said.

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LOS ANGELES - Broadcast legend Larry King, who has been suffering from COVID-19, has been moved out of the intensive care unit at a Los Angeles hospital and is no longer receiving supplemental oxygen.

A spokesman for King’s production company reported the improved picture on Monday. King had been in the ICU since New Year’s Eve. Spokesman David Theall says King conversed with his three sons by video call.

The 87-year-old broadcaster is best known as the genial host of the “Larry King Live” interview show that ran in prime time on CNN from 1985 to 2010.

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TOPEKA, Kan. - Gov. Laura Kelly says she’s “very comfortable” with how Kansas is distributing COVID-19 vaccines despite U.S. government data showing its inoculation rate is the lowest of any state.

The Democratic governor argued Monday that Kansas likely has a more efficient distribution system than other states and is getting vaccine doses more quickly to more communities. The state Department of Health and Environment has said the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention shows Kansas behind other states because of a reporting lag. Kelly told reporters the state has concentrated on “getting vaccinations in people’s arms.”

The CDC reported Monday that Kansas had administered 20,110 vaccine shots, or 690 for every 100,000 residents, making it the only state to inoculate fewer than 700 residents out of every 100,000.

The state health department has not published or posted online its own data for the number of shots given, and Kelly has faced criticism from top Republicans in the GOP-controlled Legislature over the CDC’s vaccination data.

House Speaker Ron Ryckman Jr., a Kansas City-area Republican, said Monday that Kansas residents “are tired of hearing excuses.”

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JACKSON, MISS. -- Officials in Mississippi announced a plan Monday to streamline access to coronavirus vaccines for vulnerable populations in the coming weeks.

“We want to make sure that as many doses as we get this week, we’re getting that many shots in arms,” Gov. Tate Reeves said during a news conference. “It doesn’t do us any good if it’s sitting on the shelf.”

The Republican governor said Monday that people over the age of 75 will have access to the vaccine, beginning next week, at private clinics and drive-through sites. The week after, those over 65 will become eligible for the vaccine.

“We know that we cannot afford delays in protecting those who are at the greatest risk,” Reeves said. “We must focus on saving lives.”

The Department of Health has 18 high-volume drive-through sites prepared for the vaccine rollout. Approximately 174 private clinics have also requested vaccines, State Health Officer Dr. Thomas Dobbs said. He did not immediately release the names of the 174 clinics.

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LOS ANGELES — Los Angeles County is likely to hit the tragic statistic of 1,000 coronavirus-related deaths a week soon if the current trends continue, officials said Monday.

More than 1 in 5 people are testing positive for COVID-19 and the county’s cases doubled between Nov. 30, at 400,000, and Jan. 2, to 800,000. It took more than nine months to reach 400,000.

County health officials fear the incoming Christmas and New Year’s surge. The additional Thanksgiving cases have swamped hospitals, forcing them to treat patients in hallways, ambulances and the gift shop, and forced an oxygen shortage.

The county on Monday reported 77 additional deaths, which include a reporting lag over the weekend, bringing the total to 10,850 in the nation’s most populous county.

Officials also reported 9,142 new cases — a lower figure due to testing sites being closed during the New Year holiday — to make a total of 827,498. The variant has not yet been detected in the county but officials believe it is here.

Nearly 7,700 people are hospitalized countywide for COVID-19 and 21% are in intensive care units.

“We’re likely to experience the worst conditions in January that we’ve faced the entire pandemic -- and that’s hard to imagine,” county public health director Barbara Ferrer said at a briefing.

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DENVER — Inmates in a Colorado jail will get daily temperature checks and those who test positive for COVID-19 will be regularly monitored by medical staff under a temporary deal negotiated by lawyers for the American Civil Liberties Union and the sheriff and approved by a federal judge on Monday.

The ACLU sued El Paso County Sheriff Bill Elder last month after his office acknowledged that inmates were not routinely given masks to wear to prevent the spread of infection until a large COVID-19 outbreak in the jail. Jail officials said they could not distribute masks initially during the pandemic because the only ones available had metal staples which they said created unspecified safety concerns.

Under the preliminary injunction approved by U.S. District Judge R. Brooke Jackson, inmates will be given two cloth masks to use and deputies who do no wear masks will face discipline. Deputies will check inmates’ temperatures twice a day and anyone with a temperature over 99.4 degrees will be referred to medical staff.

Those who test positive will be checked by medical staff daily and given access to over-the-counter pain and cold medicine like Tylenol or Mucinex for free without having to submit a written request for it under the deal.

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