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Wednesday December 8th, 2021 11:11PM

The Latest: Britain's Johnson says virus inquiry next year

By The Associated Press
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LONDON — British Prime Minister Boris Johnson says a public inquiry into the handling of the coronavirus pandemic will be held next year.

He told lawmakers Wednesday the inquiry will have wide-ranging statutory powers and the government has a responsibility to learn lessons from the pandemic. Johnson says the inquiry will begin its work next spring.

Families of those who have died during the pandemic have been asking Johnson to call an inquiry since last summer, but the prime minister consistently said the time wasn’t right.

The U.K. has recorded Europe’s highest coronavirus-related death toll, with more than 127,500 people dead. It’s the fifth-highest total in the world.

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THE VIRUS OUTBREAK:

— Public service jobs in the US are increasingly thankless and exhausting, a situation worsened by pandemic

— Variant detected in India may spread more easily, but testing to track and understand it better has been slow

— A boom in pet ownership has veterinarians backlogged and burned out

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

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HERE’S WHAT ELSE IS HAPPENING:

BERLIN — The German government has agreed to let travelers who have been vaccinated or recovered from a COVID-19 infection avoid testing and quarantine when entering the country, unless they’ve come from areas where variants of concern are prevalent.

The Cabinet on Wednesday approved a change to existing rules that will also allow non-vaccinated people to end their quarantine early if they test negative.

The measures are designed to make summer travel easier, particularly for families where parents are vaccinated and children aren’t.

Germany’s health minister said the country expects to roll out its digital immunity certificate by the end of June. The certificate can be stored in an app that can be used instead of the yellow WHO booklet to prove that a person has been fully vaccinated.

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VATICAN CITY — Pope Francis returned to doing audiences with the faithful in person on Wednesday after a nearly six-month interruption due to COVID-19.

Francis greeted several hundred socially distanced and masked visitors inside the San Domaso courtyard of the Apostolic Palace.

The audience coincided with the 40th anniversary of an assassination attempt against Saint John Paul II. The pope was gravely wounded on May 13, 1981, by a 23-year-old Turk as he passed through St. Peter’s Square in an open car during a general audience.

Francis said the anniversary “makes us aware that our lives and the history of the world are in the hands of God.”

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KUALA LUMPUR, Malaysia — The International Federation of the Red Cross says coronavirus cases have exploded in Asia in the past two weeks with over 5.9 million new infections.

It says more people have been diagnosed with the illness in Asia over the past two weeks than in the Americas, Europe, and Africa combined.

The Red Cross warned Wednesday that the surge is pushing hospitals and health systems to the brink of collapse. It said seven out of 10 countries globally that are doubling their infection numbers the fastest are in Asia and the Pacific.

The Red Cross called for regional support with more medical equipment, support for prevention and urgent access to vaccines. It said vaccination campaigns in Asia are hampered by shortages, hesitancy and the costly logistics of reaching many areas.

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TOKYO, Japan — A global system error at the U.S. cloud-based software firm Salesforce forced dozens of local governments across Japan to halt their vaccine rollout early Wednesday.

More than 30 cities and towns, including municipalities in metro areas such as Tokyo and Osaka, had to stop taking vaccine reservation orders from residents for hours due to the disruption in the software, according to a tally by Japan News Network.

The trouble hit Japan’s public health system as the country struggles to accelerate its vaccination campaign amid a fourth wave of the coronavirus pandemic.

Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga has pledged that 36 million elderly people — a group that accounts for around 30% of Japan’s population — would receive two vaccine doses by the end of July. But fewer than half a million nationwide had received their first shot as of Tuesday.

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TAPIPAI, Taiwan — Taiwan’s president has sought to reassure the public that the government is capable of withstanding a further outbreak of COVID -19 after six local cases were detected.

The exact origins of the cases have not yet been discovered. President Tsai Yin-wen says the challenge at this moment is still severe. She says medical supplies are sufficient and vaccines will continue to be distributed.

Taiwan had virtually eradicated domestic transmission of the coronavirus through strict mask wearing, case tracing, travel restrictions and quarantine measures.

It has counted 1,210 confirmed cases to date, with the vast majority imported. The island has banned indoor events with more than 100 people and outdoor events with more than 500 until early June.

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ISLAMABAD — Coronavirus infections in Pakistan have been on a decline for more than two weeks after rising for over two months amid a nationwide lockdown.

Pakistan reported less than 3,000 cases in the past 24 hours, showing a steady decline in COVID-19 cases. But experts say it is too early to assume Pakistan has peaked.

In an effort aimed at containing the spread of the virus, Pakistan's government last week imposed a lockdown ahead of Eid al-Fitr which is likely to be celebrated on Friday subject to sight of moon.

Pakistan has also expanded its vaccination program to protect people from coronavirus by offering free vaccinations to those who are 30 years old or above.

Pakistan reported 104 single-day fatalities in the past 24 hours.

Since last year, Pakistan has reported 19,210 fatalities from coronavirus among 867,438 COVID-19 cases.

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CANBERRA, Australia — Qantas Airways has pushed back its forecast resumption of international travel to late December.

The Sydney-based airline previously said international travel would restart in late October, based on the government's forecast on vaccine availability for Australians. However, the Australian government forecast Tuesday that international travel will remain at low levels until mid-2022 and vaccines won’t be widely available in Australia until the end of 2021.

“We will keep reviewing these plans as we move towards December and circumstances evolve,” Qantas said in a statement Wednesday .

Australia bans its citizens from leaving the country except under limited circumstances to prevent them from bringing home infections.

The only exception is New Zealand. The two countries last month introduced a quarantine-free travel bubble that recognized their success in containing the virus.

Qantas said it was optimistic more travel bubbles would open once Australia completes a vaccine rollout and other countries are in similar positions.

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DHAKA, Bangladesh — China delivered 500,000 doses of Sinopharm vaccine as a gift to Bangladesh on Wednesday to help it cope with a shortage.

Bangladesh, a nation of 160 million people, is in desperate need after India banned exports of Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccines produced by the Serum Institute of India because of its own devastating surge in infections.

Chinese Ambassador to Bangladesh Li Jiming formally handed over the Sinopharm vaccines in Dhaka on Wednesday. Bangladesh has already approved the Chinese vaccines after the World Health Organization has recently listed the Sinopharm for emergency use globally.

Bangladesh received about 7 million doses from the Indian institute, but its deal had called for 30 million doses to be delivered by June.

Bangladesh already suspended administering the first dose of vaccines. Some few hundreds of thousands of people are due their second dose but would be left out if new doses do not arrive soon.

Bangladesh has attempted to diversify its vaccine sources, asking the United States for 4 million doses from its stock and signing a deal with Russia to produce Sputnik-V vaccines locally in Bangladesh.

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NEW DELHI — India has confirmed 4,205 more deaths, setting another daily record and taking its official COVID-19 toll past 250,000 as it battles a ferocious surge in infections.

Around 370,000 new cases were added in the last 24 hours, pushing India’s total past 23 million, according to the health ministry. The figures are considered vast undercounts due to insufficient testing and records among other factors.

On Tuesday, authorities warned that nearly 90% of districts in the country are seeing a high positivity rate, sparking fears the virus is spreading fast into rural areas.

India's recent surge has been blamed on more contagious variants as well as government decisions to allow massive crowds to gather for religious festivals and political rallies.

Even though daily cases have shown very early signs of flattening, experts have cautioned authorities to not let down their guard. With nearly 4 million cases still active, health care systems remain strained with limited hospital beds, oxygen and medicine.

Many states have imposed their own restrictions to curb infections, and the southern state of Telangana became the latest to announce a 10-day lockdown on Tuesday. Calls and pressure for a nationwide lockdown have been mounting.

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SALEM, Ore. — Oregon lawmakers have passed a bill to give tenants who are struggling with financial hardships due to the pandemic more time to pay past-due rent.

Currently tenants have until July, but the legislation will extend the deadline to next Feb. 28. The bill already passed the Senate and now goes to the governor.

The measure protects renters from the long-term impact of not making payments on time by barring such information from being reported to consumer credit agencies or being used in consideration of future rental applications. The measure also bars landlords from screening out applicants based on pandemic-era evictions.

In March, more than 17% of Oregon renters in a U.S. Census survey reported being behind on rent payments.

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COLUMBIA, South Carolina — South Carolina parents can opt their children out of wearing masks in public schools.

Gov. Henry McMaster issued the executive order, citing widespread access to coronavirus vaccines for adults across the state.

“It goes against all logic to continue to force our children — especially our youngest children — to wear masks against their parents’ wishes," McMaster said in the statement Tuesday.

The order also bars state and local government agencies from requiring people to show proof of vaccination in order to receive government services or access public buildings and facilities.

The governor’s order also limits local governments from issuing mask ordinances based on his prior emergency declarations related to the pandemic. Those governments will have to find justification for such mask rules within their own ordinances.

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TORONTO — Canada’s largest province says it will stop giving out first doses of the Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccine due to concerns over blood clots.

Ontario Chief Medical Officer of Health Dr. David Williams says the decision has been made out of an abundance of caution because of increased instances of a rare blood clotting disorder linked to the shot.

AstraZeneca is restricted in some European countries because of a potential link to extremely rare blood clots. In Canada, at least 12 cases have been confirmed out of more than 2 million doses given and three women have died.

Ontario says it has 49,280 doses of the shot remaining in the province out of over 707,000 received. Health officials are awaiting results of a clinical trial in the United Kingdom looking at giving a different vaccine for the second dose. That would allow people who got AstraZeneca first to be given Pfizer or Moderna for their second dose.

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