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Wednesday October 20th, 2021 3:49AM

The Latest: Russia reaches record daily virus deaths again

By The Associated Press
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MOSCOW — Russia’s daily coronavirus death toll has hit a record 936 deaths amid the country’s sluggish vaccination rate and the government’s reluctance to tighten restrictions.

Russia’s state coronavirus task force reports the third straight day of deaths topping 900. A steep rise in infections and deaths began in late September, with authorities blaming it on the low vaccination rate. About 33% of Russia’s 146 million people have received at least one shot of a coronavirus vaccine. Only 29% are fully vaccinated.

On Friday, the government’s task force reported 27,246 new confirmed cases, slightly less than Thursday’s number of 27,550, which was the highest so far this year.

Kremlin officials have not imposed a new nationwide lockdown, delegating the power to tighten restrictions to regional authorities.

Russia has Europe’s highest death toll, with more than 214,000 deaths and 7.7 million confirmed cases during the pandemic. Health experts says those numbers likely are an undercount.

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MORE ON THE PANDEMIC:

— Russia reaches record daily coronavirus deaths again

— Australia's Victoria state reports daily virus case record

— UK eases travel restrictions further by slashing ‘red list’

— Pfizer’s request to OK shots for kids a relief for parents

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— See all of AP’s pandemic coverage at https://apnews.com/hub/coronavirus-pandemic

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HERE’S WHAT ELSE IS HAPPENING:

LJUBLJANA, Slovenia — Slovenia’s interior minister has rejected accusations that police used excessive force to curb anti-government protests with water cannons and tear gas on the eve of a major European Union summit in the country earlier this week.

The demonstrations were the third in a month against virus measures and the use of COVID-19 passes. Interior Minister Ales Hojs said Friday in Brussels that “police did their job very well during Tuesday’s intervention” and were “within their jurisdiction.”

He added an investigation has opened into police actions. About 25 protesters were detained and several were injured or hospitalized mostly for inhaling tear gas.

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COPENHAGEN, Denmark — Finland has joined other Nordic countries in suspending or discouraging the use of Moderna’s COVID-19 vaccine in certain age groups because of a slight increased risk of heart inflammation, a rare side effect associated with the shot.

The Finnish Institute for Health and Welfare says authorities won’t give the shot to males under age 30. They’ll be offered the Pfizer vaccine instead.

The government agency says it found that young men and boys were at a slightly higher risk of developing myocarditis. The move by Finland followed similar decisions by Sweden, Denmark and Norway on Wednesday.

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MELBOURNE, Australia — Australia’s Victoria state on Friday reported a record of 1,838 new COVID-19 cases and five deaths.

The daily tally of confirmed cases is the highest in a 24-hour period of any Australian state or territory.

It was the ninth consecutive day Australia’s second-most populous state has reported more than 1,000 cases, with active infections soaring to 16,823.

The deaths brought Victoria’s toll from an outbreak of the delta variant that began in early August to 75.

Infections are declining in New South Wales state. Australia’s most populous state reported 646 new confirmed cases and 11 deaths on Friday.

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NICOSIA, Cyprus — The president of Cyprus has received a booster dose of a COVID-19 vaccine and urged people who haven’t yet received a first shot to do so.

President Nicos Anastasides also said Friday that those who are eligible for booster shots should take advantage.

“We owe it to those closest to us and to our community overall. It’s a matter of social responsibility,” the 75-year-old Anastasiades said.

As of the end of September, 78.1% of the Mediterranean island nation's adult population had been fully vaccinated and 81% had received a first dose.

Cyprus has administered booster shots to more than 17,000 people age 75 and over, and plans to start giving them to residents 70 and over next week.

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ROME — Discos in Italy will soon reopen their dance floors after remaining one of the last public places still off-limits under the country's regulations to combat COVID-19.

The Italian government on Thursday approved the opening of discos and ballrooms starting Oct. 11 on condition that indoor venues fill only to 50% capacity and outdoor venues to 75%.

Experts advising the government on anti-pandemic strategies had for months warned that the close mingling of unmasked dancers and the shouting over the din of blasting music were ripe conditions for spreading the coronavirus. But transmission rates lately have been on a downward trajectory in Italy.

The government also approved boosting to 100% capacity the number of patrons permitted in cinemas, theaters, museums and concert halls. The higher occupancy applies to venues where guests must wear protective masks and show a “Green Pass’’ attesting to having had at least one vaccine dose or a negative recent COVID-19 test.

As of Thursday, 72.5% of Italy’s population was fully vaccinated.

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LAGOS, Nigeria — Africa’s top public health official has issued a strong reminder about the danger of the continent not having enough doses of COVID-19 vaccines.

Africa Centers for Disease Control and Prevention Director John Nkengasong said Thursday that getting the vaccination rate in Africa up quickly is “a way to ensure the collective security of everybody.”

The continent of 1.3 billion people has only been able to administer 156 million doses of vaccines out of the 200 million it has so far received, . Its full vaccination rate has dragged up to 4.57%.

Nkengasong said although some African countries are making “very good progress,” the continent’s overall vaccination rate is still “very slow” and “it is time to really translate pledges and those promises into actions so that we can save many more lives in Africa.”

He said that while Moderna announcing it intends to build a vaccine-manufacturing plant in Africa was “very much welcomed,” it “doesn’t necessarily solve the problem of today” which is “to get these vaccines in the arms of people as quickly as possible.”

Nkengasong said 35 countries are still experiencing a “severe” third wave of infections but Africa had a 20% average decrease in new cases over the past four weeks.

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COLORADO SPRINGS, Colo. — A Colorado woman has been denied a kidney transplant because she won’t be vaccinated against COVID-19 due to her religious views.

Leilani Lutali faces the possibility of dying without a new kidney. However, the born-again Christian objects to the role that stem cells have played in the development of vaccines.

The UCHealth hospital group says transplant recipients need to be vaccinated because they are at significant risk of contracting COVID-19 as well as of being hospitalized.

The American Hospital Association says many transplant centers require vaccinations. It says organ recipients are vulnerable to COVID-19 because of the drugs they must take to suppress their immune systems.

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HARTFORD, Conn. - Connecticut officials said 671 state employees remained noncompliant with Gov. Ned Lamont’s vaccination and testing mandate as of Thursday, and some of those workers could be placed on unpaid leave as soon as Friday.

The Democrat said the number of executive branch workers who’ve proven they’re vaccinated for COVID-19 or have submitted a weekly test has been increasing every day.

“But at some point you’ve got to hold people accountable if they’re not responding, and we’ll start doing that tomorrow,” said Lamont.

Figures released by his office show the 671 noncompliant employees comprise 2.2% of the roughly 32,000 people who work for executive branch agencies and are affected by the mandate.

Those placed on unpaid leave will have their jobs held for them for 45 days, Lamont said. If workers don’t agree to be vaccinated or submit to weekly testing, he said it will be considered “sort of a voluntary termination.”

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ELK GROVE VILLAGE, Il. — President Joe Biden is championing the fight against COVID-19, requiring workplace vaccination requirements to force the roughly 67 million unvaccinated American adults to roll up their sleeves.

Biden is delivering that message in Illinois, where he’s visiting a suburban Chicago construction site run by a company that’s imposing a new vaccinate-or-test requirement.

In the coming weeks, more than 100 million Americans will be subject to vaccine requirements ordered by Biden. The majority of the nation is already vaccinated and industry leaders mostly agree with the mandates for the safety of workers and the economy.

Biden also planned to meet with the CEO of United Airlines, Scott Kirby, whose company successfully implemented a vaccine mandate, with no option for workers to be tested. Less than 1% have failed to comply and risk termination.

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KALAMAZOO, Mich. — A federal appeals court ruled in favor of some athletes at Western Michigan University who sued to play sports without getting a COVID-19 vaccination because of their religion.

The court declined to stop a decision by a federal judge in Kalamazoo who said the WMU vaccine requirement likely violates the athletes’ constitutional right to follow their religion.

WMU athletes who sought vaccine exemptions still can be required to wear a mask at practice or be regularly tested, under the injunction signed by U.S. District Judge Paul Maloney.

The 16 athletes sought a vaccine exemption on religious grounds but were ignored or denied, the appeals court said.

“We do not doubt (WMU’s) good faith, nor do we fail to appreciate the burdens COVID-19 has placed on this nation’s universities. ... But having announced a system under which student-athletes can seek individualized exemptions, the university must explain why it chose not to grant any to plaintiffs. And it did not fairly do so here,” the court said in a 3-0 opinion.

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NEW YORK — The U.S. is gearing up for the flu season on top of the continuing COVID-19 crisis.

Health officials urged Americans to get vaccinated against both the flu and coronavirus. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends a yearly flu vaccination for just about everyone, starting with 6-month-old babies.

Flu cases dropped to historically low levels globally over the pandemic, as restrictions designed to slow the spread of the coronavirus helped block other respiratory viruses. But with schools and businesses reopened, there’s no way to predict how bad a flu season the country might expect this winter.

“We certainly don’t want a ‘twindemic,’ both COVID and influenza,” said Dr. William Schaffner of the National Foundation for Infectious Diseases.

If people still need a COVID-19 vaccination — either first shots or a booster dose — they can get it at the same visit as a flu shot.

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MADRID — Spanish authorities say the key 14-day infection rate of coronavirus cases per 100,000 people has dropped below 50 for the first time since July 2020.

Prime Minister Pedro Sánchez says in a tweet it’s “a crucial milestone” in the fight against the pandemic. The Health Ministry on Thursday reported 48 officially recorded cases per 100,000 inhabitants over two weeks.

Officials say a large part is due to the national vaccination rollout, which has fully inoculated 77% of Spaniards. Pressure on hospitals has fallen considerably to 2,000 people admitted to hospitals and 551 in ICUs.

The Health Ministry reported 1,807 new cases from the previous day, taking the total to 4.9 million. There were 23 reported deaths, bringing the confirmed total to 86,701.

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GENEVA — The U.N. secretary-general says a lack of equitable distribution of coronavirus vaccines between wealthy and poor countries “is not only a question of being immoral, it is also a question of being stupid.”

Antonio Guterres called vaccine inequality the “best ally” of the COVID-19 pandemic. He decried hoarding of vaccines by rich countries, as well as vaccine nationalism and vaccine diplomacy – by which some producer nations try to use their doses as leverage.

Guterres told a World Health Organization news conference Thursday that if the virus continues to spread “like wildfire in the Global South,” there’s a risk that new variants could emerge and potentially resist current vaccines doled out widely around world.

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