HONG KONG — Hong Kong’s government on Monday morning ended an unprecedented lockdown after testing thousands of residents living in an area that had reported an increasing number of coronavirus cases, authorities said.

The lockdown, which was implemented in the early hours of Saturday, covered 16 buildings in Kowloon’s Yau Tsim Mong district, known as a working-class neighborhood with many subdivided apartment units. During the lockdown, residents were not allowed to leave their premises until they had tested negative for the coronavirus.

The district has been at the center of a worsening coronavirus outbreak, with over 160 cases reported over the first three weeks in January. Higher concentrations of the COVID-19 virus were also found in sewage samples, prompting fears that the virus could be transmitted via poorly installed plumbing systems in subdivided units that lack ventilation.

The government said in a statement early Monday that about 7,000 people were tested for the coronavirus during the lockdown, with 13 positive infections found.

“The Government hopes this temporary inconvenience will completely cut the local transmission chains in the district and ease residents’ worries and fear, so that they will regain confidence in resuming social and business activities in the area, and return to a normal life,” authorities said in the statement.

Health minister Sophia Chan said Sunday that the government would not rule out similar restrictions in the future if there is such a need.

As of Sunday, Hong Kong has reported 10,086 cases of the coronavirus, with 169 deaths recorded.

Australia approves coronavirus vaccine

SYDNEY — Australia’s medical regulator has approved use of its first coronavirus vaccine, paving the way for inoculations to begin next month.

The Therapeutic Goods Administration on Monday gave provisional approval for people aged 16 and over to use the vaccine developed by Pfizer and BioNTech. The regulator said priority would be given to groups that include aged-care residents and workers, frontline healthcare workers, and quarantine workers.

Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison welcomed the development. He said Australia was among the first countries to complete a comprehensive and thorough process to formally approve a vaccine rather than just grant an emergency approval.

Australia is aiming to complete inoculations by October. The nation of 26 million people has reported fewer than 30,000 virus cases and a little over 900 deaths.

Dr. Birx says she grappled with COVID deniers in Trump White House

WASHINGTON — Dr. Deborah Birx says when she was coordinator of President Donald Trump’s coronavirus task force, she had to grapple with COVID-19 deniers in the White House and that someone gave the president “parallel” streams of data that conflicted with hers.

Defending her tenure, Birx told CBS’ “Face the Nation” on Sunday that she was at times censored by the Trump administration but denied ever withholding information.

Birx said she would see Trump “presenting graphs that I never made” and that “someone out there or someone inside was creating a parallel set of data and graphics that were shown to the president.”

She added that in the White House, “There were people who definitely believed that this was a hoax.”

Birx did not identify the COVID-19 deniers and said she did not know who was presenting the parallel data to Trump, but said she realizes now that Trump coronavirus adviser Dr. Scott Atlas was providing some of it.

Birx said in December that she would retire but was willing to first help President Joe Biden’s team with its coronavirus response as needed. More than 25 million people have been infected with the coronavirus and at least 418,000 people have died in the U.S. since the pandemic began.

Mexico, Russia leaders to discuss vaccine supply

MEXICO CITY — Mexican President Andrés Manuel López Obrador will speak with Russian President Vladimir Putin Monday about obtaining doses of the Sputnik V COVID-19 vaccine, his foreign affairs secretary said Sunday.

Marcelo Ebrard said via Twitter the two leaders would speak Monday morning about the bilateral relationship and supplying doses of the vaccine.

The vaccine has not been approved for use in Mexico, but the government is desperate to fill supply gaps left by shortages of the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine. Mexico has given more than 618,000 vaccine doses.

A week ago, López Obrador said that his government had agreed with a U.N. proposal to delay shipments of the Pfizer coronavirus vaccine to countries like Mexico that had existing purchase agreements, in order to get more doses to poorer countries quicker.

Mexico has registered nearly 150,000 COVID-19 deaths and more than 1.7 million infections. Hospitals in the capital have been near capacity for weeks as a surge of cases followed the holiday season.

Earlier this month, Mexico’s assistant health secretary Hugo López-Gatell, visited Argentina in part to learn about its review of the Sputnik V vaccine. Argentina started using the vaccine in late December.

2,941 new cases, 48 new deaths from COVID-19 in Oklahoma

OKLAHOMA CITY — The Oklahoma State Department of Health on Sunday reported 48 additional deaths due to COVID-19 and 2,941 more cases of the new coronavirus.

There have been 373,090 total virus cases and a death toll of 3,279 since the pandemic began, according to the health department.

Oklahoma had the fourth highest rate of new cases per capita in the United States at 1,148.19 per 100,000 population according to data from Johns Hopkins University. The rolling average of deaths in the state has increased from 30.14 to 39.86 per day during the past two weeks.

State health officials rising death rates are likely to continue for a week or more, despite a decline in the number of new cases, because it can take several weeks to confirm a death was caused by COVID-19, the disease caused by the virus.

Turkey reaches 25,000 total coronavirus deaths

ANKARA, Turkey – Turkey on Sunday passed 25,000 COVID-19-related deaths since the start of the outbreak in March, the health ministry said.

A daily toll of 140 fatalities saw the total figure rise to 25,073. Turkey has recorded more than 2.4 million infections since the first case was recorded on March 11 last year.

The government reintroduced restrictions at the start of December, including weekday evening curfews and weekend lockdowns, to stem a second wave of infections.

Restaurants and cafes have been restricted to take-away services, weddings and funerals are limited to 30 people and the over-65s and under-20s are banned from using public transport.

The number of daily cases has fallen to around 6,000 in recent days from a high of more than 33,000 in December.

Turkey began its vaccination program on Jan. 14, initially focusing on health workers and the elderly. More than 1.2 million people had been given the first dose of the Chinese CoronaVac vaccine as of Saturday night, Health Minister Fahrettin Koca said.

Israel closes only international airport to curb spread

JERUSALEM — Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Sunday said Israel will be closing its international airport to nearly flights as the government races to bring a raging coronavirus outbreak under control.

The entry of highly contagious variants of the coronavirus, coupled with poor enforcement of safety rules in ultra-Orthodox communities, has contributed to one of the world’s highest rates of infections. It also has threatened to undercut Israel’s highly successful campaign to vaccinate its population against the virus.

Late Sunday, the Israeli Cabinet approved what Netanyahu said would be a tight closure on incoming and outgoing air traffic. The government said it would make exceptions for a small number of humanitarian cases, such as funerals and medical patients, and cargo flights.

“We are closing the skies hermetically, except for really rare exceptions, to prevent the entry of virus mutations, and also to ensure that we progress quickly with our vaccination campaign,” Netanyahu said.

The order is to begin early Tuesday and remain in effect until Jan. 31. Netanyahu’s office said the order still required parliamentary legislation to be finalized.

Read the full story here.

Fauci says vaccine goal would cover 67 million

WASHINGTON — Dr. Anthony Fauci said Sunday that President Joe Biden’s goal of administering 100 million vaccinations in the first 100 days actually means about 67 million Americans should be protected from COVID-19 during that time.

Fauci, the government’s top infectious diseases expert, said the president’s goal refers to 100 million shots, not people. Current vaccines require two shots.

Fauci maintained that goal could be difficult to meet even though the U.S. recently has been able to administer shots to about a million people a day. He explained that it will be harder to reach people once shots are given outside hospital and nursing home settings.

Fauci also told CBS’ “Face the Nation” that he supports a national commission to understand some of the problems in coordinating a COVID-19 response on the state and local level because states shouldn’t just be told, “You’re on your own.”

Ron Klain, Biden’s chief of staff, called the 100 million shots in 100 days “a very bold and ambitious goal.” He told NBC’s “Meet the Press” that it won’t stop the administration from aiming higher if doable.

U.S. passes 25 million confirmed cases

NEW YORK — The United States has surpassed 25 million confirmed cases of COVID-19 since the pandemic began. The new milestone, reported Sunday by Johns Hopkins University, is a grim reminder of the coronavirus’ wide reach in the U.S., which has seen far more confirmed cases and deaths than any other country in the world.

The U.S. accounts for roughly one of every four cases reported worldwide and one of every five deaths. India has recorded the second most cases, with about 10.7 million.

The number of new cases in the U.S. has shown signs of slowing recently, with an average of 176,000 reported daily in the past week, down from 244,000 in early January. The country’s first case of the infection was diagnosed almost exactly a year ago.

Hotel rates in Hawaii down by more than half

HONOLULU — Hawaii has reported its hotel occupancy rates have declined by more than half in December compared to the same time in 2019.

Hawaii Tourism Authority data shows that 23.9% of hotel rooms in the state were full last month as a result of the coronavirus pandemic, a decline of 56 percentage points compared to December 2019.

The Honolulu Star-Advertiser reported that December occupancy was in the low to mid-20% range for every major Hawaii island, except Kauai which dropped to 13.4%.

Only Washington, D.C. had a lower hotel occupancy rate than Hawaii in the United States.

Jan Freitag, senior vice president for lodging insights at Tennessee-based STR, Inc., said Hawaii’s tight COVID-19 travel restrictions served as a deterrent for some, but were also an attraction for others.

He said the sooner that people feel comfortable back on airplanes, the sooner the industry will recover.

Biden’s health secretary expresses frustration about vaccine times

WASHINGTON — President Joe Biden’s nominee to be health secretary is expressing his own frustration about long lines for vaccinations, canceled appointments as local health authorities run out of vaccine and the difficulty many Americans are having in figuring out where they stand in line to get the inoculation.

“That’s not America,” Xavier Becerra told CNN’s “State of the Union” on Sunday. “That’s not the way we treat those we consider vulnerable in need of the vaccine the most. That’s not America at its best.”

Biden has pledged to distribute 100 million vaccines in 100 days. Becerra said he can’t offer a timeline for when all Americans who want the vaccine will be able to get one.

“Once we’re in, in the house, taking care of business, we’ll be able to give more precision,” Becerra said. But you got to give us a chance to figure out what’s going on in the cockpit, that’s causing this plane to nosedive so severely.”

Paris may impose third lockdown

PARIS — France’s government may impose a third lockdown in the coming days if an existing 12-hour-a-day curfew doesn’t significantly slow virus infections.

Exactly a year after France announced Europe’s first confirmed case of the coronavirus, Health Minister Olivier Veran said in an interview published Sunday in the Le Parisien newspaper that if infections don’t drop, and “if the variants start to spread everywhere, we will take extra measures. And that’s called confinement. … We will close down.”

An official in French President Emmanuel Macron’s office said Sunday that “everything is on the table” but no firm decisions will be made until the effect of the nationwide 6 p.m.-6 a.m. curfew is clear in the coming week.

In addition to the curfew, French restaurants, tourist sites and many other public places have been closed since October. But virus infections, hospitalizations and deaths have started rising again this month. France, which has lost at least 72,877 lives to the pandemic, has vaccinated more than 1 million people amid bureaucratic and logistical delays.

France on Sunday started requiring a negative COVID-19 test from travelers arriving by air or boat from other European Union countries. Such tests are already required for non-EU visitors, who also must go into 7-day quarantine upon arrival.

Michigan hopes for August to reach vaccine goal

LANSING, Mich. — If Michigan could administer 50,000 coronavirus vaccine doses a day, it could hit its goal of inoculating 70% of people age 16 and older by August.

At the current rate, about 29,000 per day, it would not finish until a year from now.

The issue is limited supplies — something Gov. Gretchen Whitmer and health officials hope can be addressed as new President Joe Biden takes the helm amid the largest vaccination effort in U.S. history and as more contagious virus variants spread.

“That’s our universal frustration,” the Democratic governor said. “We have the capacity and the plan to do a lot more vaccinations quicker. But the federal government … it’s been hard. They have not gotten us what we need.”

In the first six weeks of the monumental undertaking to inoculate 5.6 million residents, Michigan has gotten 182,000 doses a week on average — 52% of what is needed to inject 50,000 shots in arms per day. Both vaccines are designed to be given in two doses, three or four weeks apart.

Dutch rioters torch virus testing facility

URK, Netherlands — Rioting youths protesting on the first night of a Dutch curfew torched a coronavirus testing facility and threw fireworks at police in a Dutch fishing village.

Police said Sunday they fined more than 3,600 people nationwide for breaching the curfew that ran from 9 p.m. Saturday until 4:30 a.m. Sunday and arrested 25 people for breaching the curfew or for violence.

Video from the village of Urk, 80 kilometers (50 miles) northeast of Amsterdam, showed youths breaking into the coronavirus testing facility near the village’s harbor before it was set ablaze Saturday night.

The police and municipality issued a statement Sunday expressing their anger at rioting, “from throwing fireworks and stones to destroying police cars and with the torching of the test location as a deep point.” They said the curfew would be strictly enforced for the rest of the week.

Police in Amsterdam also were bracing for another protest Sunday, sending officers to a square where demonstrators clashed with police a week ago.

Italians who got first shot will get second

ROME — Those in Italy who already received a first injection of an anti-COVID-19 vaccine will receive their second, despite the unexpected diminished availability of the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine, an Italian minister said.

Pfizer earlier this month said it was temporarily reducing deliveries so it could ramp up production at its plant in Belgium. Francesco Boccia, Italy’s minister of regional affairs, told Sky TG24 on Sunday that the second dose will be “given and guaranteed.”

But the manufacturer’s decision to cut back on its supply schedule will mean Italy will have to push back its vaccination timetable aimed at achieving “herd immunity’’ by “some weeks or months,” he said. Italy had quickly rolled out its vaccination program, beginning with health care workers and residents and staff of nursing homes, and was just starting to vaccinate persons older than 80 when Pfizer announced its vaccine delivery cut-back.

“We demand that the (vaccine delivery) numbers are re-established,’’ said Boccia, whose country is exploring legal action against the pharmaceutical company. By Sunday morning, Italy, which has 60 million people, had administered 1.35 million shots, with 75,000 of those having received their second injection.

Britain expanding vaccination program

LONDON — Britain is expanding a coronavirus vaccination program that has seen almost 6 million people get the first of two doses — even as the country’s death toll in the pandemic approaches 100,000.

Health Secretary Matt Hancock said Sunday that three-quarters of the U.K.’s over-80s have received a vaccine shot. He said three-quarters of nursing home residents have also had their first jab. Almost 5.9 million doses of vaccine had been administered by Saturday.

Health officials aim to vaccinate 15 million people, including everyone over 70, by Feb. 15.

Britain’s vaccination campaign is a rare success in a country with Europe’s worst coronavirus outbreak. The U.K. has recorded 97,329 deaths among people who tested positive.

Another 1,348 deaths were reported Saturday, and the U.K. is set within days to become the fifth country in the world to record 100,000 COVID-19 deaths.


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