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Sunday October 24th, 2021 11:53AM

The Latest: South Korea has 100th day of 1,000-plus cases

By The Associated Press
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SEOUL, South Korea — South Korea has reported more than 1,000 new coronavirus infections for the 100th consecutive day as a delta-driven outbreak continues to spread in the greater capital area.

Health officials say 1,580 of the 1,940 new cases reported Thursday are in the Seoul metropolitan region.

The capital area has been under South Korea’s toughest social distancing measures short of a lockdown since July. Private social gatherings of three or more people are banned after 6 p.m. unless all participants are fully vaccinated.

Officials say people’s frustration with social distancing is becoming an increasing challenge and hope the improving vaccination rate will allow more flexible measures soon.

As of Thursday morning, around 61% in the population of more than 51 million were fully vaccinated.

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MORE ON THE PANDEMIC:

— U.S. border residents rejoice in lifting of travel ban

— FDA grapples with timing of booster for J&J COVID-19 vaccine

— Russia, WHO differ on when approval will come for Sputnik V

— Families of COVID-19 patients ask hospitals to rethink visitor policies

___

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

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HERE’S WHAT ELSE IS HAPPENING:

SAN FRANCISCO — About 800 San Francisco city workers have asked for medical or religions exemptions to avoid a looming deadline for them to get vaccinated against the coronavirus or lose their jobs. So far, the city has not approved a single request.

That’s according to a city human resources official, who said about 5.5% of the city’s 35,000-employee workforce have not complied with the mandate to be fully vaccinated by Nov. 1.

Police officers, firefighters and other employees who work in high-risk settings were told to be vaccinated by Wednesday. However, among that group, 260 police, fire and sheriff’s employees sought religious or medical waivers.

A spokesman for the police union says 120 officers face termination because they didn’t meet the deadline.

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HELENA, Montana — Montana has set a new high for the number of people hospitalized with COVID-19 — 510.

The number reported Wednesday surpassed the previous high of 506 hospitalizations recorded Nov. 20, 2020, before any coronavirus vaccines were available.

Gov. Greg Gianforte issued a statement urging Montanans to get vaccinated, but added that “we will not mandate them.”

Meanwhile, the school district in Livingston, Montana, shifted its middle and high school classes to remote learning to slow the spread of the coronavirus among students. Officials said few students have used masks.

The school board voted Tuesday to have remote learning for its 740 middle and high school students until Oct. 25, because there are 17 coronavirus cases each at Park High School and Sleeping Giant Middle School.

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HONOLULU -- Organizers are planning for the Honolulu Marathon even though it’s not clear government officials will allow it to be held in December.

Hawaii Public Radio reports marathon organizers are frustrated that Honolulu is easing pandemic-related restrictions on large events but neither Hawaii’s governor nor Honolulu’s mayor have provided clarity about whether the marathon can happen with the thousands of participants it normally draws.

In 2019, there were more than 33,000 runners in the Honolulu Marathon, including more than 16,000 from Japan.

Other large marathons in Boston and Chicago were held recently.

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SAN DIEGO — Beleaguered business owners and families separated by a nonessential travel ban are celebrating after the Biden administration says it will reopen U.S. land borders next month.

Travel across land borders from Canada and Mexico has been largely restricted to workers whose jobs are deemed essential. New rules will allow fully vaccinated foreign nationals to enter the U.S. regardless of the reason starting in early November.

Unlike air travel, for which proof of a negative COVID-19 test is required before boarding a flight to enter the U.S., no testing will be required to enter the U.S. by land or sea, provided the travelers meet the vaccination requirement.

The 19-month coronavirus restrictions had economic, social and cultural impact, preventing shopping and cross-border family gatherings when relatives live on different sides of the border.

In Del Rio, Texas, Mexican visitors account for about 65% of retail sales, said Blanca Larson, executive director of the chamber of commerce and visitors bureau in the city of 35,000 people. “Along the border, we’re like more of one community than two different communities,” she said.

Fully vaccinated U.S. citizens and permanent residents have been allowed into Canada since August, provided they have waited at least two weeks since getting their second vaccine dose and can show proof of a recent negative COVID-19 test. Mexico has not enforced coronavirus entry procedures for land travelers.

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PORTLAND, Maine — A federal judge declined Wednesday to intervene to stop Democratic Gov. Janet Mills’ requirement that health care workers be vaccinated against COVID-19 by the end of the month.

U.S. District Court Judge Jon Levy says none of the nine plaintiffs met the legal threshold for an injunction to halt the requirement to be fully vaccinated by Oct. 29 or lose their jobs.

Levy ruled the record indicates regular testing alone is not sufficient to stop the spread of the delta variant.

“The speed of the delta variant’s transmission outpaces test-result availability,” he wrote. Daily testing, he wrote, would require use of rapid tests that are both less accurate and in short supply.

The judge concluded the plaintiffs were unable to show an injunction was in the public interest or that they had a strong likelihood of prevailing if the lawsuit moves forward. The Liberty Counsel, which filed the lawsuit in August, vowed to appeal.

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BUCHAREST, Romania — Doctors in Bucharest issued an open letter titled “a cry of despair” as the country’s overwhelmed health care system copes with record cases, hospitalizations and deaths.

The College of Physicians of Bucharest wrote a letter addressed to Romanians that says the medical system has “reached the limit.”

On Wednesday, Romania confirmed 15,733 new infections and 390 deaths, bringing the total number of deaths to 40,461. Data from health authorities indicate that more than 90% of coronavirus patients who died last week were unvaccinated.

Hungary has agreed to provide care to several dozen COVID-19 patients from Romania in the coming days to help ease the burden on hospitals.

Dragos Zaharia, a primary care doctor at Bucharest’s Marius Nasta Institute of Pneumology, thinks Romanian authorities should have enlisted a “famous personality” to lead the country’s vaccination campaign.

“Only anonymous guys are leading this fight,” Zaharia told The Associated Press. “It’s heartbreaking for us when we know that a lot of those who died could have lived, if they would have been vaccinated.”

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BOSTON — More than 800 people who work for Boston have been suspended without pay for failing to comply with the city’s coronavirus vaccine mandate.

Acting Mayor Kim Janey announced in August the city’s roughly 18,000 employees would be required to either show proof of vaccination or submit to regular testing.

Janey says the suspended employees who didn’t meet Tuesday’s initial deadline came from five “public facing” agencies, including the public schools department, libraries, the center for youth and families, the disability commission and the age commission. Workers who continue to ignore the mandate face termination, she said. The school department alone has about 11,000 employees.

The city is making plans to deal with potential staffing shortfalls, which so far accounts for less than 1% of workers. Suspended employees can return to work by providing proof of a negative test.

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GENEVA — The World Health Organization says the number of global coronavirus cases fell in the last week, continuing a downward trend that began in late August.

In its latest weekly assessment of the pandemic published on Wednesday, the U.N. health agency says there were about 2.8 million new cases and 46,000 confirmed deaths in the last week, a drop of 7% and 10% respectively. Europe reported a 7% rise in cases, while all other world regions reported a decrease.

WHO says Europe also had the biggest rise in deaths in the previous week, with 11% more COVID-19 deaths. WHO says the highest numbers of new cases in Europe were reported in Britain, Turkey and Russia.

The biggest drops in cases came in Africa and the Western Pacific, where case numbers fell by 32% and 27%, respectively. Deaths in both regions fell by more than a third.

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WASHINGTON — The Food and Drug Administration is wrestling with how to decide on booster doses of the single-shot Johnson & Johnson COVID-19 vaccine.

Other manufacturers want to offer boosters six months after primary vaccination. But J&J proposed a range of times, from two months to six months. In a review posted Wednesday, FDA scientists didn’t reach a firm conclusion, citing shortcomings with J&J’s data.

On Thursday and Friday, an FDA advisory panel will recommend whether to back boosters of both the J&J and Moderna vaccines. An extra dose of Pfizer’s vaccine already is available to certain Americans.

Pfizer and Moderna have provided the majority of U.S. COVID-19 vaccines. More than 170 million Americans have been fully vaccinated with those two-dose shots while less than 15 million Americans got the J&J shot.

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MOSCOW — The head of the Russian sovereign fund bankrolling the shot says Russia is ready to provide up to 300 million doses of its Sputnik V vaccine to the U.N.-backed COVAX initiative.

That’s despite the lack of WHO approval and Sputnik V vaccine production issues that are drawing concerns worldwide. Russian Direct Investment Fund CEO Kirill Dmitriev and the World Health Organization had vastly different takes Wednesday on when the Russian vaccine would get WHO’s stamp of approval.

Sputnik V is already being used in 70 countries around the world despite not yet authorized by the U.N. health agency. Some officials in countries, especially in Latin America, have expressed concerns they aren’t getting the vaccine’s second shot in time to properly innoculate their people.

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MIAMI — Families of COVID-19 patients are asking hospitals to rethink visitor policies a year and a half into the pandemic, which has killed 716,000 people in the U.S.

The relatives say they’re being denied the right to be with loved ones at a crucial time. Doctors also are increasingly telling hospitals to relax restrictions to allow patients to see their families.

Hospitals in at least a half-dozen states have loosened restrictions governing visits to COVID patients. Others, however, are standing firm, backed by studies and industry groups that indicate such policies have been crucial to keeping hospital-acquired infections low.

The University of Utah Health this year announced its hospitals would allow up to two adult visitors for the entire hospital stay with protective equipment and recently vaccinated or recovered from the virus. Many hospitals have made exceptions only for coronavirus patients who are about to die.

___

MOSCOW — Russia has reported a record 984 daily coronavirus deaths amid a slow vaccination rate.

It’s marked several record daily death tolls in the past few weeks. Infections have soared to near all-time highs, with 28,717 confirmed cases reported Wednesday.

The Kremlin has attributed the mounting contagion and deaths to slow vaccinations. Prime Minister Mikhail Mishustin said Tuesday about 29% of the country’s nearly 146 million people were fully vaccinated.

President Vladimir Putin emphasized the need to speed up the vaccination rate on Tuesday, but he also has cautioned against forcing people to get the shots. Health experts have attributed the slow pace of vaccination to widespread vaccine skepticism and disinformation.

The Kremlin has ruled out a new nationwide lockdown similar to the one during the first months of the pandemic that badly crippled the economy and dented Putin’s ratings. It has delegated the power to enforce coronavirus restrictions to regional authorities.

The increased infections have increased the pressure on Russia’s health care system. Speaking at a Cabinet meeting Tuesday, Health Minister Mikhail Murashko said 11% of Russia’s 235,000 hospitalized COVID-19 patients are in serious or critical condition.

Russia’s coronavirus task force has confirmed more than 7.8 million cases and 219,329 deaths -- the highest death toll in Europe. Russia trails the U.S (718,000), Brazil (601,000) India (451,000) and Mexico (283,000) in confirmed global deaths.

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