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Wednesday December 8th, 2021 11:46PM

The Latest: Japan leader pushes Olympics despite few shots

By The Associated Press
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TOKYO — A full-page newspaper ad in Japan has condemned the government for forcing people to endure the pandemic without vaccines.

Meanwhile, Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga is vowing to hold a safe Tokyo Olympics, even as hospitals struggle to find beds for the sick and dying in parts of Japan and many Japanese desperately wait for vaccinations.

Frustration is mounting over Suga’s request that people cooperate while he pushes to hold the Olympics in just over two months. More than 300,000 people have signed a petition calling for the Tokyo Olympics to be canceled.

Last month, Suga declared a third state of emergency in Osaka, the center of the current surge in virus cases, as well as in Tokyo and two other areas. That has been extended through May 31. On Wednesday, two more areas, Aichi in central Japan and Fukuoka in the south, were placed under the emergency measures.

Only 1% of the public has been fully vaccinated, even as millions of doses sit unused in freezers because of staff shortages.

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THE VIRUS OUTBREAK:

— Britain PM Boris Johnson: Inquiry into UK's handling of virus to start next year

— 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:

GENEVA — A panel of independent experts who reviewed the World Health Organization’s response to the coronavirus pandemic has published its final report, listing an array of recommendations about how the world can better prepare for another.

It says the U.N. health agency should be granted “guaranteed rights of access” in countries to look into emerging outbreaks, the WHO chief should be limited to a seven-year term and the agency should get more stable funding.

Health experts mostly praised the report but questioned the feasibility of some proposals, saying it was unlikely countries would be willing to cede any measure of sovereignty.

The report faulted countries worldwide for their sluggish response to the coronavirus, saying most waited to see how the virus was spreading until it was too late to contain it, leading to catastrophic results. The group also slammed the lack of global leadership and restrictive international health laws that “hindered” WHO’s response to the pandemic.

Some experts criticized the panel for failing to hold WHO and others accountable for their actions, describing that as “an abdication of responsibility.”

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STOCKHOLM — Swedish Prime Minister Stefan Lofven says most coronavirus restrictions in Sweden will be extended until June 1.

“The spread of infection is still extensive in Sweden and it is not time to relax yet,” said Lofven whose country has opted for a much debated COVID-19 approach of keeping large parts of the society open.

The country has not gone into lockdowns or closed businesses, relying instead on a sense of civic duty to control infections.

Restrictions, such as open hours at the restaurant and bars, and the maximum number of people who can gather, both indoor and outdoor, are expected to change next month.

Sweden has registered more than 1 million coronavirus cases and more than 14,000 deaths, according to the nation’s Public Health Agency.

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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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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 two months.

Pakistan reported less than 3,000 coronavirus cases in the past 24 hours, showing a steady decline in cases. The positivity rate in Pakistan has decreased from 11% to 7.93% since last month, when authorities deployed troops to enforce coronavirus restrictions. But experts say it is too early to assume Pakistan has peaked.

Last week, Pakistan's government imposed a lockdown ahead of Eid al-Fitr, which will likely be celebrated Friday subject to sight of moon. Pakistan also expanded its vaccination program to protect people from coronavirus by offering free vaccinations to those age 30 or above.

Pakistan reported 104 single-day deaths in the past 24 hours. Overall, Pakistan has registered 19,210 confirmed deaths from coronavirus and 867,438 confirmed 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.

About 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 concerns 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 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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