A man wearing a face mask to help curb the spread of the coronavirus holds incense offers prayers on the first day of the New Year at Yonghegong Lama Temple in Beijing, Friday, Jan. 1, 2021. President Xi Jinping said in a New Year address that China has made major progress in developing its economy and eradicating rural poverty over the past year despite the coronavirus pandemic.
BANGKOK — The Thai capital is shutting down venues including schools and entertainment parks as coronavirus cases continue to spread.
Thailand reported 279 new cases on Friday including two deaths.
Seven provinces including Bangkok have been designated red zones where places including entertainment venues, boxing rings, gyms and flea markets are ordered closed. Restaurants are allowed to serve only takeouts.
The restrictions are in place until mid-January.
The new outbreak has spread from the country’s largest wholesale seafood market in Samut Sakhon south of Bangkok and the gambling den in Rayong, and both places continue to log the highest number of infections. Bangkok reported 180 cases in the last 24 hours.
A spokesman for the COVID-19 center, Dr. Taweesilp Visanuyothin, said that the Health Ministry had contacted Oxford-AstraZeneca to purchase a second batch of 26 million doses of the vaccine. The deal would double the number of doses to be supplied by the British vaccine manufacturer.
The first 2 million doses are expected in February and March and will be given to medical staff.
THE VIRUS OUTBREAK:
— New Year’s revelries muted by virus as curtain draws on 2020
— Wisconsin hospital worker arrested for spoiled vaccine doses
— Brazil scrambles to approve virus vaccine as pressure mounts
— California surpassed 25,000 coronavirus deaths since the start of the pandemic and officials disclosed that three more cases involving a mutant variant of the virus have been confirmed in San Diego County.
— France’s government is pledging to pick up the pace of COVID-19 vaccinations after being criticized for a glacially slow rollout.
— Coffee producers say the coronavirus pandemic is threatening Honduras’ coffee harvest by keeping Hondurans who would normally travel for the work at home and preventing foreign harvesters from entering the country.
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HERE’S WHAT ELSE IS HAPPENING:
LAS VEGAS — Tens of thousands of people were walking on the casino-lined Las Vegas Strip on New Year’s Eve by early evening despite a plea from Nevada Gov. Steve Sisolak that people reconsider their plans to go out and celebrate.
While shopping, gambling, drinking yard-long frozen cocktails and gawking at the sights, most everyone out in Sin City was wearing a face mask, though not all had them covering their mouth and nose, as recommended by health experts.
Casinos have abided by state rules by spacing out chairs at slot machines and installing acrylic partitions separating people standing around craps and blackjack tables, but inside the casino corridors that snake past the gambling floors there were many areas where there were too many people strolling through to abide by social distancing guidelines.
Chanel Griggs and Layena Williams, two street performers costumed in black lingerie, tiaras and purple and white showgirl feathers, said New Year’s Eve is one of their most lucrative nights as they pose for photos with tourists and collect tips.
“It’s very busy and there’s a lot of people, like drunk people. They give us more money than they usually would. So that’s why we all come out,” Griggs said.
The tourist-dependent economy of Las Vegas has been pummeled this year because of the coronavirus, leaving officials like Sisolak urging people, especially locals, to stay home, while still trying to draw visitors to the glitzty city.
New Year’s Eve is typically one of the biggest parties the city sees all year, with more than 330,000 revelers, a choreographed fireworks show launched from the roofs of casinos, nightclub galas, concerts and other entertainment.
This year casinos are limited to 25% capacity, most nightclubs are closed and the fireworks show was canceled.
BEIJING — Two major airports in northeastern China are requiring departing passengers show a negative coronavirus test taken over the previous 72 hours before they can board their planes.
The requirements by the Shenyang and Dalian come amid a small but persistent growth in cases in the two cities located in Liaoning province just north of the capital Beijing.
Four new cases were announced Friday in Liaoning, along with another five cases in Beijing, where emergency testing was ordered for more than a million people following the detection of a small cluster in the northeastern suburbs.
Wary of another wave of infections, China is urging tens of millions of migrant workers to stay put during next month’s annual Lunar New Year holiday, usually the world’s largest annual human migration. Classes are also being dismissed a week earlier than usual and tourists are being told not to come to Beijing for holidays.
China on Friday reported a total of 19 new virus cases, including 10 that were brought from outside the country. Since the novel coronavirus was first detected in the central city of Wuhan in late 2019, China has reported a total of 87,071 cases and 4,634 deaths, although some question whether those figures underreport the full extent of the outbreak in China the country.
MIAMI — Florida health authorities late Thursday reported finding evidence of the latest U.S. case of the new and apparently more contagious coronavirus strain first seen in England, saying it was detected in a man with no recent travel history.
The case, disclosed in a Florida Health Department statement tweeted on its HealthyFla site, comes after reports in recent days of two individual cases of the United Kingdom strain of Covid-19 discovered in Colorado and California.
Florida’s health statement said the new virus variant was detected in a man in his 20s in Martin County, which abuts the Atlantic Coast above densely populated South Florida. The health department did not give further details, such as releasing the man’s medical condition or how the strain was detected.
California on Wednesday announced the nation’s second confirmed case of the new virus strain. The announcement came 24 hours after word of the first reported U.S. variant infection, which emerged in Colorado — in a Colorado National Guardsman who had been sent to help out at a nursing home struggling with an outbreak.
Scientists in the U.K. believe the variant is more contagious than previously identified strains. The cases have triggered questions about how the version circulating in England arrived in the U.S. and whether it is too late to stop it now, with top experts saying it is probably already spreading elsewhere in the United States.
LONDON — The coronavirus pandemic canceled London’s annual New Years’ Eve fireworks display, which usually draws tens of thousands of spectators.
But an unannounced light and fireworks display over the River Thames broadcast on BBC television just before midnight paid tribute to an extraordinary year, with tributes to health care workers, a reference to the Black Lives Matter movement and even a voice saying “you’re on mute” in reference to a bugbear of virtual work meetings.
The display ended with naturalist David Attenborough calling on everyone to work in 2021 to help our “fragile” planet. ———
LATHAM, N.Y. — Officials in upstate New York say nine nuns at a convent have died of causes related to COVID-19 in just over a month.
An Albany County spokesperson says in a statement to the Times Union newspaper that officials are aware of the deaths among the Sisters of St. Joseph of Carondelet in Latham.
WNYT-TV reported earlier in December that 22 sisters had tested positive. The convent’s website says it is home to 140 nuns.
The Roman Catholic Diocese of Albany says the convent is not ready to issue a statement.
TOPEKA, Kan. —- Kansas ranks last among states in its reported COVID-19 vaccination rate, according to U.S. government data, and state officials attribute it to a lag in reporting by providers of the shots.
The federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reported that 12,164 people had received the first of two vaccine doses in Kansas as of Wednesday, or 418 for every 100,000 of its 2.9 million residents. The CDC said Kansas had administered less than 11% of the vaccine doses it had received.
The figures sparked new criticism of Democratic Gov. Laura Kelly’s handling of the coronavirus pandemic from the Republican-controlled Legislature after months of conflict between her and top GOP lawmakers.
State health department spokeswoman Ashley Jones-Wisner said Thursday the vaccination numbers are not current because not all providers are fully trained on using a computer system for reporting inoculations.
LITTLE ROCK, Ark. — Arkansas health secretary Dr. Jose Romero on Thursday extended the 11 p.m. closing time for bars, restaurants and clubs that serve alcohol for 30 days in an effort to slow the spread of the coronavirus.
An order issued Thursday by Romero says that in consulting with Gov. Asa Hutchinson it was deemed necessary to extend the 11 p.m. closing until Feb. 3 to help control COVID-19. The previous order issued in November was to expire Sunday.
The state health department reports that as of Wednesday there have been 222,430 total coronavirus cases and 3,637 deaths since the pandemic began.
GENEVA — The World Health Organization says it has cleared the Pfizer-BioNTech coronavirus vaccine for emergency use, meaning poorer countries may soon get access to the shot already available in Europe and North America.
Every country that has a drug regulatory agency will have to issue its own approval for any COVID-19 vaccine, but countries with weak systems usually rely on WHO to vet the shots.
The global body said late Thursday that the decision to issue its first emergency use validation for a COVID-19 vaccine “opens the door for countries to expedite their own regulatory approval processes to import and administer the vaccine.”
The U.N. health agency said its review found the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine, which has already received clearance in the United States, Britain, the European Union and a dozen other countries, “met the must-have criteria for safety and efficacy set out by WHO.”
The BioNTech-Pfizer vaccine has to be stored at ultra-frozen temperatures, a big hurdle for developing countries where the required freezers and reliable electricity supply may not be available.
“This requirement makes the vaccine more challenging to deploy in settings where ultra-cold chain equipment may not be available or reliably accessible,” WHO said, adding that it was “working to support countries in assessing their delivery plans and preparing for use where possible.”
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