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Wednesday December 8th, 2021 1:49PM

The Latest: South Korea mulls rapid tests for home use

By The Associated Press
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SEOUL, South Korea -- South Korea is reviewing whether to approve rapid coronavirus tests that can be taken at home and produce near-immediate results as another tool to fight the pandemic.

Kwon Jun-wook, director of South Korea’s National Health Institute, said Thursday there’s a need to provide convenient and accessible tests that people can use regularly because the virus is often transmitted by people with no or mild symptoms.

Health authorities had previously been reluctant to expand the use of rapid antigen tests and other forms of fast testing, which could produce results within 30 minutes but are less accurate than standard laboratory tests.

However, Kwon said the country may need more tools as it has struggles to slow the spread of the virus following a devastating winter surge, with around 300 to 500 new cases still being reported every day.

He said that real-time PCR tests, which involve health professionals administrating nasal and throat swabs and lab machines genetically analyzing the samples, would remain the country’s gold standard even if officials approve rapid tests for public use.

South Korean officials also said Thursday that the country will issue a smartphone app this month that verifies a person has been vaccinated. While Prime Minister Chung Se-kyun raised the possibility that the app could be used as a vaccine passport, Korea Disease Control and Prevention Agency officials said countries would first have to agree on an international standard for screening travelers for vaccination.

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THE VIRUS OUTBREAK:

— Medics despair as France’s ‘third way’ virus strategy flails

— India fights virus surge, steps up jabs amid export row

— Company at heart of J&J vaccine woes has series of citations

— Amazon plans to have its employees return to the office by fall as the tech giant transitions away from the remote work it implemented for many workers because of the coronavirus pandemic.

— Japan is set to designate Osaka and two other prefectures for new virus control steps as infections in those areas rise less than four months before the Tokyo Olympics.

— Greece has announced it is relaxing some coronavirus restrictions despite surging COVID-19 cases that are straining hospitals to their limits, with retail stores to reopen and people allowed to drive outside their home municipalities for exercise on weekends.

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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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BEIJING — Health officials in China say six more people have become ill with COVID-19 in a southwestern Chinese city on the border with Myanmar. That brings the confirmed total in the Yunnan province city of Ruili over the past two days to 12, including three Myanmar citizens.

The Yunnan Health Commission said Thursday that 23 other people have tested positive for the coronavirus without showing symptoms of illness. Of those, 13 were Chinese and 10 were Myanmar nationals.

Officials say more than 20,000 tests have been administered so far. City authorities plan to test Ruili’s entire population of about 210,000 people, and require them to quarantine at home for one week.

The residential compound where the infections were found has already been locked down.

China has largely eradicated local transmission of coronavirus and takes strict measures whenever a new cluster emerges.

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ANCHORAGE, Alaska — People magazine reports that former Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin says she tested positive for the coronavirus and is urging people to guard themselves in the pandemic, such as wearing masks in public.

It is not clear when Palin tested positive, but the magazine quotes her as saying other members of her family tested positive, too.

According to the magazine, Palin says her case shows that “anyone can catch this.” She urges vigilance and says people should “use common sense” to avoid spreading the coronavirus and other viruses.

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OLYMPIA, Wash. — Washington state is opening eligibility for coronavirus vaccinations to all residents age 16 and older starting April 15.

Gov. Jay Inslee had previously resisted expanding eligibility, saying he wanted to avoid doing that too quickly into order to ensure those most at risk were vaccinated first. He had noted that eligibility didn’t guarantee vaccination right away and would depend on supply.

But Inslee said Wednesday that the federal government’s assurances of increased allocations, plus concerns about rising cases in many parts of the state, led to the decision to open up eligibility.

The federal government has directed states to make all adults eligible for vaccination by May 1, but most states have earlier plans, with more than a dozen opening eligibility to all adults this week.

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QUEBEC CITY — The Quebec government is putting three cities in the Canadian province into lockdown beginning Thursday following a sharp rise in coronavirus infections.

Quebec Premier Francois Legault announced Wednesday that schools and non-essential businesses will close and the curfew will be moved ahead to 8 p.m. in Quebec City, Levis and Gatineau. He says the situation is alarming.

The new restrictions do not affect the Montreal area.

Canada’s most populous province of Ontario is expected to announce new pandemic restrictions Thursday amid a new wave of infections.

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ATLANTA — Georgia Gov. Brian Kemp is rolling back pandemic restrictions amid warnings from federal officials of a “fourth surge” of coronavirus cases if states continue relaxing precautions.

The governor’s office says Kemp signed an executive order Wednesday that will end a ban on large gatherings, eliminate shelter-in-place requirements and reduce any remaining distance requirements at restaurants, bars, movie theaters and fitness classes. The rollback starts April 8.

Earlier this week, President Joe Biden and the head of the CDC warned that too many Americans are prematurely declaring victory against the virus. They appealed for mask requirements and other restrictions to be maintained or restored.

Kemp has said loosening restrictions is a critical step in restoring normalcy and ensuring businesses survive.

Georgia last week made all residents over age 16 eligible for vaccination against the coronavirus.

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SEATTLE — Amazon plans to have its employees return to the office by fall as the tech giant transitions away from the remote work it implemented for many workers due to the coronavirus pandemic.

The company had previously given its return-to-office date as June 30, but questions remained as to whether the company would allow some of its 60,000 Seattle-area office employees to continue working from home part time.

The Seattle Times reports the company told employees Tuesday it is planning a “return to an office-centric culture as our baseline.”

Amazon and Microsoft were among the first large companies to mostly shutter their main offices in the Seattle area during the first COVID-19 outbreak in March 2020.

Amazon spokesperson Jose Negrete said the company will not require office workers to receive a COVID-19 vaccine before they return, but is encouraging employees and contractors to get vaccinated as soon as they are eligible.

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JOHNSTON, Iowa — Facing an uptick in new coronavirus cases and a hesitancy among a significant portion of the population to get the vaccine Iowa Gov. Kim Reynolds is pushing to convince residents that getting a shot will help return life to normal.

Reynolds faces a state where virus activity has increased in recent weeks specifically among spring break travelers aged 18 to 29. About a third of the state’s adult population, roughly 800,000 people, will not commit to getting a vaccine which is prompting Reynolds to plead with them to consider it for everyone’s sake.

State health data shows 555 new positive cases in the past 24 hours and no additional deaths reported. Iowa has had 5,729 COVID-19 related deaths in the past year.

Reynolds said Iowa is expected to get nearly 161,000 vaccine doses next week, the largest weekly supply so far. That will enable the state to open vaccination appointments broadly to all adults beginning Monday although a few counties already have expanded their vaccination eligibility.

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