The Latest: South Korea to vaccine its 52M people for free

Health

SEOUL, South Korea — South Korea’s president says the country will offer free COVID-19 vaccinations to all its people in phases.

President Moon Jae-in made the comment in his New Year’s address on Monday. The government earlier announced that inoculations will start in February.

South Korean officials have said they’ll have vaccines for 56 million people, an amount seemingly enough for the country’s 52 million people.

Officials say they’ll work out detailed inoculation plans later this month. They say those recommended to get vaccinations first will include medical personnel, elderly people, adults with chronic diseases, police and soldiers.

After surging for weeks, South Korea’s virus caseload has gradually slowed amid tough social distancing rules that include a ban on gatherings of five or more people. Earlier Monday, South Korea reported 451 new virus cases, the first time its daily tally has fallen below 500 in 41 days. The country’s total stands at 69,114, including 1,140 deaths.

Moon said that “the end of the dark tunnel is finally coming into sight.” He said the government will make its best effort to further curb the ongoing outbreak.

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THE VIRUS OUTBREAK:

— President-elect Joe Biden faces challenge in guiding America past the Trump era, but success on virus, economy may help

— China says experts from the World Health Organization are due to arrive Thursday for an investigation into the origins of the pandemic

— Doctor using a horse-drawn cart to reach patients in mountain villages worries lockdown in Ukraine came too late to help

— India took a regulatory shortcut for a homegrown vaccine, though there’s scant evidence of its effectiveness

— Follow AP’s 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:

COLOMBO, Sri Lanka — Schools have reopened partially in Sri Lanka after being closed for nearly three months.

The move is seen as an attempt to return to normalcy from the months of lockdowns imposed to contain the coronavirus.

But the government decided not to reopen schools in the capital Colombo and its suburbs as the majority of recent COVID-19 cases are reported from those areas.

The schools that reopened were under strict health guidelines such wearing masks, bringing home-cooked food, washing hands regularly and maintaining social distancing.

Sri Lanka closed schools in October when two COVID-19 clusters emerged, one centered on a garment factory and the other on the fish market. Some reopened in November but closed again for holidays in December.

Sri Lanka has also banned public gatherings and imposed restrictions on public transport.

The confirmed cases from the two clusters have grown to 44,596 on Monday, accounting for most of the 48,000 cases reported in the country since the pandemic began.

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BEIJING — Chinese health authorities say scores more people have tested positive for the coronavirus in Hebei province bordering on the capital Beijing.

The outbreak focused on the Hebei cities of Shijiazhuang and Xingtai is one of China’s most serious in recent months and comes amid measures to curb the further spread during next month’s Lunar New Year holiday. Authorities have called on citizens not to travel, ordered schools closed a week early and conducted testing on a massive scale.

The National Health Commission said Monday that another 82 people had tested positive in Hebei and were showing symptoms. Around the country, another 36 people had tested positive without displaying symptoms, although it wasn’t immediately clear how many of those were in Hebei.

The Hebei outbreak has raised concern because of its proximity to the nation’s capital. Parts of the province are under lockdown and interprovincial travel has been largely cut off, with those entering Beijing to work having to show proof of employment and a clean bill of health.

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TOKYO — The Japanese Health Ministry has found a coronavirus variant in people arriving from Brazil that’s different from the ones in Britain and South Africa.

The variant was found in four people tested at the airport, the ministry said Sunday. Japan was working with other nations, the World Health Organization and other medical experts to analyze the variant.

The previously identified variants from Britain and South Africa are more contagious, but the behavior of this variant and the illness it causes are not yet known.

The Tokyo area has been under a state of emergency since Friday to try to stop the spread of the virus. Japan has had about 4,000 deaths related to COVID-19 so far, and more than 280,000 confirmed cases.

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BALTIMORE — Coronavirus infections have now surpassed 90 million confirmed cases, as more countries braced for wider spread of more virulent strains of a disease that has now killed nearly 2 million worldwide.

The number of infections worldwide has doubled in just 10 weeks, according to a tally by John Hopkins University on Sunday. COVID-19 infections had hit 45 million as recently as late October.

As of early Monday, John Hopkins counted 90,260,464 infections confirmed by government and other entities tracking cases.

The United States, now with more than 22.2 million infections, has confirmed the most cases and most deaths in the world. The number of U.S. cases was more than double that of India, which has recorded nearly 10.5 million infections.

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NASHVILLE, Tenn — U.S. Rep. Chuck Fleischmann of Tennessee said Sunday he has tested positive for the coronavirus after coming into contact with another member of Congress with whom he shares a residence in Washington.

Fleischmann said in a statement on Twitter that he has been in quarantine since Wednesday night, when he learned the other individual had tested positive.

Fleischmann said he is “feeling okay” and is consulting with the Capitol’s attending physician.

In November, the Republican won his sixth term in the U.S. House from the 3rd Congressional District in southeastern Tennessee.

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MEXICO CITY — The spokesman for Mexican President Andrés Manuel López Obrador said Sunday he has tested positive for coronavirus, but there was no word on whether the president had been tested.

Spokesman Jesús Ramírez Cuevas wrote on his Twitter account: “I am in good health and I will be working from home.”

Ramírez Cuevas is close to López Obrador, often handing him documents or going on trips with the president.

López Obrador is 67 and has high blood pressure, but almost never wears a mask.

On Sunday, López Obrador toured the Pacific coast seaport of Manzanillo and gave a speech, as usual without a mask on.

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JOHANNESBURG — Africa passed the milestone of 3 million confirmed cases COVID-19 Sunday, including more than 72,000 deaths, according to the Africa Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

South Africa accounts for more than 30% of the continent’s total with more than 1.2 million reported cases, including 32,824 deaths. The high proportion of cases in South Africa could be because the country carries out more tests than many other African countries.

South Africa is battling a resurgence of the disease, driven by a variant of the virus that is more contagious and spreading quickly. Many hospitals are reaching capacity, yet the numbers of those infected are expected to continue rising, according to health experts.

South Africa’s 7-day rolling average of daily new cases has risen over the past two weeks from 19.86 new cases per 100,000 people on Dec. 26 to 30.18 new cases per 100,000 people on Jan. 9, according to Johns Hopkins University.

South African President Cyril Ramaphosa will meet with his Cabinet this week to consider if further restrictions should be taken.

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