The Latest: Germany to receive more than 2M vaccine doses

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A medical worker wearing protective gears prepares to take sample in the sub-zero temperatures at coronavirus testing site in Seoul, South Korea, Monday, Dec. 21, 2020. (AP Photo/Lee Jin-man)

BERLIN — German officials say they expect the country to soon receive more than 2 million doses of the Pfizer-BioNTech coronavirus vaccine that got the green light from regulators on Monday.

Authorities in Berlin state said they have been informed by Health Minister Jens Spahn that the first shipment of 151,125 doses will be delivered to Germany on Dec. 26.

Three further batches of almost 1.9 million doses combined will arrive on Dec. 28, Dec. 30, and in the first week of January.

Germany, a country of 83 million inhabitants, hopes to begin vaccinating nursing home residents on Dec. 27, followed by others at high risk of serious infection or working in fields where they might expose vulnerable people.

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THE VIRUS OUTBREAK:

A new COVID-19 relief bill shaping up in Congress includes individual payments reaching $600 for most Americans and an extra $300 a week in unemployment benefits. Votes on the bill in the House and Senate are expected Monday. Among those getting help are hard-hit businesses, schools, health care providers and renters facing eviction. Also, President-elect Joe Bidenwill receive his first dose of the coronavirus vaccine on live television as part of a growing effort to convince the American public the inoculations are safe.

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HERE’S WHAT ELSE IS HAPPENING:

LONDON — Prime Minister Boris Johnson says British and French officials are working “to unblock the flow of trade as fast as possible” after France barred U.K. trucks over concerns about a new variant of the coronavirus.

Dozens of countries have barred flights from the U.K. because of the new variant, which scientists believe is more easily transmitted. Southern England, where the new strain is most widespread, has been placed under strict lockdown measures.

France announced Sunday it was closing its borders to trucks from Britain for at least 48 hours from Sunday night. That left hundreds of vehicles stranded outside the Channel Tunnel port of Dover.

Johnson said he had spoken to French President Emmanuel Macron, and Macron “stressed he was keen to sort it out in the next few hours if we can.”

He stressed that the ban did not apply to freight moving in unaccompanied containers, and “the vast majority of food, medicines and other supplies are coming and going as normal.”

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STOCKHOLM — Sweden says it is banning all incoming travel from Britain and Denmark effective midnight Monday to curb any risk of the new COVID-19 virus variant from entering the country.

Swedish Interior Minister said at press conference on Monday that in the case of Britain “the ban means that all people traveling from the UK will be rejected if they try to travel into Sweden.” Swedish citizens would be exempt and wouldn’t be affected.

It wasn’t immediately clear how long the entry ban would be valid.

The Swedish government also said it also had imposed a 48-hour ban for all incoming flights from Britain, starting Monday afternoon and lasting until 1500GMT Wednesday. Cargo flights and ambulance flights are excluded.

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NEW YORK — New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo said he has asked airlines flying into his state from the United Kingdom to make all passengers take a coronavirus test before they get on the plane.

The Democrat said at least one airline, British Airways, has agreed to comply. He’s awaiting an answer from others, including Delta and Virgin Atlantic.

Cuomo has been calling on the U.S. government to temporarily halt flights from the U.K. because of the emergence of a new strain of the virus circulating in that country.

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ROME — Italy registered 10,872 confirmed COVID-19 cases in the 24-hour period ending Monday afternoon.

But as usually happens on weekends, relatively few swab tests were conducted, fewer than 90,000 – that’s half the amount done just three days earlier.

Since Sunday, 161 more coronavirus patients were admitted to intensive care wards, with more than 2,700 currently occupying ICU beds in the country that is grappling with a second surge of COVID-19 after a dramatic drop over the summer in daily caseloads.

Italy on Monday added 415 deaths to what is Europe’s highest national toll of pandemic dead, raising to 69,214 the known total to date of COVID-19 deaths.

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MULTAN, Pakistan — Pakistani authorities have imposed a temporary ban on travelers arriving from the U.K. to avoid the spread of new coronavirus.

The government said on Monday that the ban would go into effect starting Tuesday and would last till Dec. 29. Pakistani nationals who traveled to Britain will be allowed to return home provided their COVID-19 tests are negative.

The latest move by Pakistan comes after the discovery of a new strain of coronavirus in Britain.

Pakistan reported 1,792 newly confirmed COVID-19 cases and 62 deaths in the past 24 hours. There have been 9,392 deaths among 458,968 COVID-19 cases since February when the first infection was detected in the country.

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MADRID — The Spanish government says Spain will suspend flights from Britain as of Tuesday except for those carrying Spanish citizens or people with Spanish residence.

The government said Monday that it had taken the decision in conjunction with Portugal and following consultation with the European Union.

Up to now, Spain had declined to follow other European countries decision to suspend flights, saying it was seeking a common EU stance.

Spain said it would also be stepping up border controls with Gibraltar, the British colony on Spain’s southwestern coast.

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JERUSALEM — Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu says the country has further tightened restrictions on incoming air travel in response to the new strain of the coronavirus.

Netanyahu said Monday that Israel will not allow foreign nationals to enter the country, and any Israelis who return from abroad, starting Wednesday, will go into quarantine at state-designated hotels. Currently, returning Israelis are allowed to quarantine at home. The restrictions will remain in effect for 10 days.

Israel has already barred most foreign visitors since the start of the pandemic, but made exceptions for certain groups like religious seminary students. Israeli officials say almost all loopholes will now be closed.

On Sunday, Netanyahu also said Israel was banning incoming flights from the U.K., Denmark and South Africa — saying those are the countries where the new mutation of the coronavirus had been detected. He said the ban could be extended to other countries if the strain spreads.

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TEHRAN, Iran — Iran has suspended flights to the United Kingdom for two weeks over fears of a fast-spreading new variant of the coronavirus.

In response to a request from Iranian health authorities, the transport ministry decided on Monday to halt round-trip flights to Britain, which is grappling with an outbreak of what officials have described as a more contagious strain of the virus.

Plane tickets were abruptly canceled and all Iranian planes were ordered to return to Iran from the U.K. without passengers.

Iran has struggled to contain the worst outbreak in the Middle East, which has killed over 53,800 people.

The new strains in the U.K. and South Africa appear to be more infectious than the original virus.

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HOUGHTON LAKE, Mich. — A popular northern Michigan festival is switching to a February weekend because of coronavirus restrictions.

Tip-Up Town USA in Houghton Lake promotes itself as Michigan’s longest-running winter festival, with a polar bear dip, snowmobile drag racing, ice fishing contest and more in Roscommon County. The local Chamber of Commerce said it began in 1950.

WWTV–WWUP-TV reported that the Jan. 16-17 dates have been switched to Feb. 27-28 because of restrictions on attendance at outdoor events. Outdoor events are limited to 25 people through Jan. 15.

Organizers said if there are conflicts with the new dates, Tip-Up Town probably will be canceled.

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WOONSOCKET, R.I. — CVS Health has expanded its COVID-19 vaccination program for residents and staff of long-term care facilities into 12 states.

The drugstore chain said Monday it will add another 36 states on Dec. 28 and start vaccinations in Puerto Rico on Jan. 4.

Vaccinations began around the country last week, mostly for health care workers. CVS Health and rival Walgreens also started providing shots at some long-term care locations in Connecticut and Ohio.

Both companies said they would expand their programs in 12 states starting this week. CVS Health said Monday that those states include Florida, Kentucky, Maine, Maryland, Nevada, New Hampshire, New York, Oklahoma, Oregon and Vermont.

Woonsocket, Rhode Island-based CVS Health plans to make three visits to each site in order to give residents and staff their initial shoot and then a booster. The company said it expects that most residents will be fully vaccinated three to four weeks after the initial visit, and it will complete its program in about three months.

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CAIRO — Sudan on Monday banned travelers arriving from the U.K., The Netherlands and South Africa from entering the county amid concerns over new coronavirus variants detected in those countries.

The civil aviation authority said the ban would go into effect starting from Wednesday and would last till January 5.

Sudan has reported more than 22,963 confirmed cases, including 1,450 deaths, as of Friday. The actual COVID-19 tally, however, is believed to be higher given the country’s limited testing.

The decision by Sudanese authorities followed similar measures by several western countries that have imposed temporary bans on certain travel from the United Kingdom, following the discovery of a new strain of coronavirus.

The new strains in the U.K. and South Africa appear to be more infectious than the original virus.

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PARIS — A croaky-voiced French President Emmanuel Macron held a cabinet meeting Monday via video, in which he indicated the French could enforce “systematic tests” as a condition for French nationals returning from Britain to France for the holidays.

Macron, in stable condition, has been working from home at the Elysee Palace as he recovers from his COVID-19 infection.

Macron said that the “problematic virus mutation” identified in southern England caused the U.K. “to take exceptional decisions on Saturday and accelerate the measure of closures and constraint.” It brought France to suspend all travel and freight from the U.K. until Wednesday.

French government spokesman Gabriel Attal told reporters after the Cabinet meeting that “a certain number of strains viral are being analyzed constantly” by French scientists.

He defended France’s decision to close its border with the U.K., saying the idea behind the 48-hour freeze was to give enough time for Europe-wide negotiations.

Attal said vaccinations in France are expected to begin by Sunday.

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VATICAN CITY — The Vatican says it’s “morally acceptable” for faithful to receive COVID-19 vaccines whose research used cell lines from tissue obtained from abortions.

The Vatican office on doctrinal orthodoxy on Monday noted in a statement that bishops and Catholic groups have made conflicting pronouncements on the matter. The statement says “it is morally acceptable to receive COVID-19 vaccines that have used cell lines from aborted fetus” in the research and production process when “ethically irreproachable” vaccines aren’t available to the public.

Pope Francis ordered the publication of the statement, which also stressed that the licit use of such vaccines “does not and should not in any way imply” moral endorsement of such cell line use.

The statement by the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith cited the circumstance of citizens not being allowed by health authorities to choose which vaccine to be inoculated with. It also noted that vaccination “is not, as a rule, a moral obligation” and therefore must be voluntary. Still, the Vatican cited the “duty to pursue the common good” by protecting the weakest and most exposed to the virus through vaccination.

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BERLIN — A top German virologist is hinting at some skepticism about how much more infectious a new coronavirus strain detected in England really is, though he says it’s right for politicians to take precautions.

Christian Drosten, a professor of virology at Berlin’s Charite hospital, told Deutschlandfunk radio Monday he is “not so very worried at the moment.” He pointed to “incomplete” information and said British scientists say they need to wait until this week to be able to conclude preliminary analyses that could confirm the suspicions, or not.

British officials say the new variant is up to 70% more transmissible than existing strains. They have tightened restrictions in southeast England, and a string of European countries on Sunday halted flights from Britain.

Drosten said it’s important to see what British scientists conclude in the coming days.

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