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Wednesday December 8th, 2021 1:13PM

The Latest: Virus interrupts forming of new Dutch government

By The Associated Press
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THE HAGUE, Netherlands — The coronavirus has interrupted the process of forming a new Dutch government, with one of the two “scouts” mapping out possible coalitions testing positive for COVID-19.

The government information service says that talks scheduled Thursday have been canceled following the positive test recorded by Kajsa Ollongren, who is also caretaker interior minister and deputy prime minister in the outgoing coalition.

Ollongren is the second member of Prime Minister Mark Rutte’s Cabinet to test positive this week, following state secretary for economic affairs and climate Mona Keijzer.

The coalition talks are expected to take weeks or months following last week’s general election. Rutte’s conservative VVD party won the most seats in the lower house of parliament but will likely need to enlist other parties to gain a majority in the 150-seat legislature.

The two coalition “scouts” had been scheduled to meet Rutte and Sigrid Kaag, leader of the centrist D66 party that finished second in the election.

The government information service says officials are looking into “how and when the talks can resume.”

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THE VIRUS OUTBREAK:

— Bolsonaro under fire as Brazil hits 300,000 virus deaths

— AstraZeneca confirms strong vaccine protection after US rift

— Hong Kong vaccination drive struggles to gain public trust

— More than three months into the U.S. vaccination drive, many of the numbers paint an increasingly encouraging picture

— Mexican officials remain unsure about whether the supposed Russian coronavirus vaccines seized last week are real or fake

— The government of war-torn Syria says it will send emergency oxygen supplies to neighboring Lebanon, which is experiencing shortages

— Follow AP’s pandemic 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:

ISLAMABAD — Pakistan’s president said he hoped his country will soon overcome the coronavirus pandemic but asked people to continue adhering to social distancing rules.

President Arif Alvi made his comments in a televised speech Thursday after witnessing a military parade in the capital, Islamabad.

Authorities provided face masks to all those who witnessed the military parade.

His comments came shortly after Pakistan reported 3,946 COVID-19 cases in the past 24 hours, one of the highest increases in recent months.

On Thursday, Pakistan also reported 63 additional deaths from coronavirus, increasing the country’s total fatalities to 14,028 among 640,988 cases since last year.

Alvi’s remarks came a day after Pakistan’s top health official Faisal Sultan said his country will purchase 1 million doses of China’s Sinopharm vaccine and 60,000 doses of the vaccine made by Chinese company CanSino Biologics.

A day ago, Pakistan government ordered the closure of schools in the capital, Islamabad and in several high-risk cities until April 11.

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COLOMBO, Sri Lanka — Sri Lanka has decided to purchase 7 million doses of the Russian Sputnik V vaccine.

The government says it will pay $69.65 million for the shots.

Sri Lanka aims to inoculate 14 million people out of the population of 22 million. So far, over 850,000 people have received their shots using the AstraZeneca vaccine.

Sri Lanka has received 1.2 million AstraZeneca doses out of at least 10 million it plans to purchase for $52.5 million. It has also approved China’s Sinopharm shots.

Of the 1.2 million doses, Sri Lanka got 500,000 as a donation from India and bought another 500,000. The other 264,000 came through the COVAX facility.

Sri Lanka has reported 91,017 confirmed cases including 554 fatalities.

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MANILA, Philippines — The Philippine president has ordered at least nine city and town mayors investigated for possible charges after they reportedly jumped ahead of a priority list led by 1.7 million health workers and got injected with COVID-19 vaccine amid a shortage in supply.

President Rodrigo Duterte said in a televised meeting Wednesday night with key Cabinet members that aside from the mayors, the son of an actress also got immunized. He expressed fears that the Philippines may lose the chance to get more donated vaccines arranged by the World Health Organization if its conditions would continue to be violated.

“We were told by the WHO country representative, 'If you do not follow the list of priority, you might lose the assistance of the WHO,’’’ Duterte said. “It wasn’t followed because I heard even the son of an actress got it. It’s always the favored few.”

Health Secretary Francisco Duque III reported to Duterte that just slightly more than 508,000 of a total 1.7 million doctors, nurses and other health workers have been immunized and added that only 1.5 million vaccine doses, all donated by China and the WHO, have arrived in the country so far.

The government program to inoculate about 70 million adult Filipinos has faced delays, supply problems, public hesitancy and widespread criticism. After health workers, the next in line of priority include elderly Filipinos and people with non-COVID-19 illnesses like diabetes and the poor.

___

SALT LAKE CITY -- Utah’s mask mandate will end April 10 after the Republican governor signed a bill that lays out a new timeline for lifting some of the state’s COVID-19 restrictions.

Masks orders will remain in place for schools and gatherings of more than 50 people. Businesses can also choose to require them.

Gov. Spencer Cox signed the measure on Wednesday, the same day that vaccinations opened to all people aged 16 and older.

New coronavirus cases and hospitalizations in Utah have been on a downward trend since January. According to state data, more than 438,000 of the state’s 3.2 million residents have been fully vaccinated.

___

The U.S. has surpassed 30 million confirmed cases of COVID-19, according to data collected by Johns Hopkins University.

Coronavirus cases nationwide reached 30,001,245 on Wednesday, nearly three months after the country hit 20 million.

COVID-19 related deaths now total more than 545,000.

The new milestone comes as public health experts show cautious optimism three months into the U.S. vaccination rollout. It is believed that 70% of Americans 65 and older have received at least one dose of the vaccine and COVID-19 deaths are below 1,000 a day on average for the first time since November.

The federal government is dramatically ramping up vaccine production and several states have already expanded vaccination eligibility to people age 16 and up.

More than 124 million cases have been confirmed worldwide.

___

TOPEKA, Kan. — Democratic Gov. Laura Kelly has signed legislation rewriting state laws for managing the coronavirus pandemic and future emergencies even though she believes it could hinder disaster response efforts.

The measure Kelly signed Wednesday extends the state of emergency for the pandemic until May 28 instead of letting it expire March 31. Kelly cited the extension in announcing her action.

The measure also leaves counties in charge of mask mandates and other restrictions. But in the state’s second most populous county of Sedgwick County, the county commission ended its remaining COVID-19 restrictions. Commissioners had said the measure signed by Kelly makes it more likely it would lose lawsuits over such restrictions.

The measure says anyone aggrieved by local restrictions during a pandemic or other emergency can file a lawsuit challenging them and the case must be heard within 72 hours.

___

TOPEKA, Kan. — Kansas says it will be receiving only a fraction of the 100,000 doses of the one-shot Johnson & Johnson vaccine for COVID-19 that it had expected next week.

The state Department of Health and Environment said Wednesday that it will receive 16,500 doses of the Johnson & Johnson vaccine when it had expected 100,000 doses.

The department said production issues mean that the promised doses might not be ready to ship to Kansas until the second or third week of April.

Gov. Laura Kelly had cited the expected arrival of the Johnson & Johnson vaccines last week in announcing that Kansas would make eligible for inoculations all residents from 16 through 64 who have medical conditions that would put them at risk of serious complications or death from COVID-19. The state had been limiting shots to people 65 and older, along with essential workers, as part of a second phase of its vaccine distribution.

___

SAO PAULO, Brazil — Brazil has reached 300,000 confirmed COVID-19 deaths and become the second nation to top that figure. The United States hit the same milestone on Dec. 14, but it has a larger population.

Wednesday’s coronavirus figures from the Brazilian health ministry added another 2,009 deaths to the country’s tally, which local media say is an undercount.

On Tuesday, Brazil hit a single-day record of 3,251 COVID-19 deaths and authorities fear that April could be as grim as March in the country’s overwhelmed hospitals.

Brazil added 100,000 deaths to its tally in only 75 days, a spike health experts have blamed on a lack of political coordination, new variants that spread more easily and a disregard for health protocols in many parts of the country.

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