The Latest: Italy adds 305 to death toll as vaccines start

By The Associated Press undefined

ROME — Italy added another 305 victims to its official coronavirus death toll on the same day it joined the rest of the European Union in launching a massive vaccination campaign.

Another 8,913 people tested positive Sunday, far fewer than in recent days. But with the Christmas holiday weekend, far fewer tests were conducted.

Italy leads Europe in the official COVID-19 death toll with 71,925 victims, though officials say the true toll is far higher due to missed infections early on and testing limitations.

Italy on Sunday began administering the first Pfizer-BioNTech vaccines to health care workers who have been on the front lines of the pandemic since Italy in late February became the epicenter of the outbreak in Europe.

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THE VIRUS OUTBREAK:

— EU launches huge vaccine rollout, bringing hope to the continent's nearly 450 million people

— Unemployment benefits expire for millions in the U.S. as Trump rages over COVID-19 relief plan.

— COVID-19 has engulfed prisons in Belarus that are packed with people in custody for demonstrating against the nation's authoritarian president.

— War and instability are posing huge challenges to virus vaccination plans in poor nations

— Thailand says two new coronavirus clusters appear linked to an outbreak among migrant workers

— A Black doctor who died battling COVID-19 complained of racist medical care; her Indiana hospital system is promising a "full external review."

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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:

PARIS — France started its first coronavirus vaccinations Sunday at a nursing home northeast of Paris, in one of the country's poorest regions, as part of a Europe-wide vaccination rollout.

"An intense moment, carrying so much hope," tweeted the head of the Paris region public health service, Aurelien Rousseau.

A 78-year-old woman identified only by her first name, Mauricette, was given France's first vaccine shot in the town of Sevran. Later in the day, vaccinations will be given at the Champmaillot home in Dijon.

Polls suggest that people in France are a bit skeptical of the new vaccines, so France's government has been cautious in its messaging and is not making the vaccines obligatory. The government hopes to be able to vaccinate up to 27 million of its 67 million people by summer.

France has reported over 62,570 lives lost in the pandemic. Nearly a third died in nursing homes, so the government decided to give the vaccine to the elderly first, as well as at-risk medical workers.

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ANCHORAGE, Alaska -- A women's prison in Alaska that had just three coronavirus cases last week says it now has more than 100 cases.

The Hiland Mountain Correctional Center reported 109 active cases of the virus on Monday.

The state Department of Corrections says the prison can house about 400 inmates.

Randy McLellan, a correctional officer at the women's prison, says the prison has been on lockdown since the new cases were reported.

Three of the state's 12 prisons currently have over 100 active coronavirus cases, including the Anchorage Correctional Center and Goose Creek in Point McKenzie.

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HONOLULU — City officials say about 20% of Honolulu's 4,500 first responders have received the Moderna coronavirus vaccine.

Hiro Toiya, the city's emergency management director, says 936 first responders received their shots Tuesday and Wednesday.

Honolulu Police Department officers represented 649 of the vaccines, 173 vaccines were given to firefighters with the Honolulu Fire Department and 114 vaccines were distributed to paramedics, emergency medical technicians and lifeguards with the Department of Emergency Services.

Between 60% to 70% of first responders are expected to receive the voluntary coronavirus vaccine.

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ROME __ European Union nations kicked off a coordinated effort Sunday to give COVID-19 vaccinations to the most vulnerable among the bloc's nearly 450 million people, marking a moment of hope in the continent's battle against the worst public health crisis in a century.

Health care workers, the elderly and leading politicians got some of the first shots across the 27-nation bloc to reassure the public that the vaccinations are safe and represent the best chance to emerge from the pandemic.

"It didn't hurt at all," said Mihaela Anghel, a nurse at the Matei Bals Institute in Bucharest who was the first person to get the vaccine in Romania. "Open your eyes and take the vaccine."

In Rome, five doctors and nurses wearing white scrubs sat in a semi-circle at the Spallanzani infectious diseases hospital to receive their doses.

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WEST PALM BEACH, Fla. __ Unemployment benefits for millions of Americans struggling to make ends meet lapsed overnight as President Donald Trump refused to signed an end-of-year COVID relief and spending bill that had been considered a done deal before his sudden objections.

The fate of the bipartisan package remained in limbo Sunday as Trump continued to demand larger COVID relief checks and complained about "pork" spending. Without the widespread funding provided by the massive measure, a government shutdown would occur when money runs out at 12:01 a.m. Tuesday.

"It's a chess game and we are pawns," said Lanetris Haines, a self-employed single mother of three in South Bend, Indiana, who stood to lose her $129 weekly jobless benefit unless Trump signed the package into law or succeeded in his improbable quest for changes.

Washington has been reeling since Trump turned on the deal after it had won sweeping approval in both houses of Congress and after the White House had assured Republican leaders that Trump would support it.

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WARSAW, Poland — A nurse at the main coronavirus hospital in Warsaw has gotten the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine, the first person to be vaccinated in Poland as part of a European Union rollout on Sunday.

Alicja Jakubowska, the head nurse at the Interior Ministry hospital in Warsaw, got a shot, followed by doctors and other health workers. Vaccinations in dozens of other hospitals were scheduled to begin across the country on Sunday.

"This is a historic moment for me," Jakubowska said. "The hospital management chose me. A nurse is the first to be vaccinated, a nod to hard-working nurses and midwives."

Jakubowska said getting the shot is is an important step "in the return to normality." Afterwards, she said it did not hurt at all.

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ZAGREB, Croatia — A 81-year-old care home resident on Sunday became the first person to receive COVID-19 vaccine in Croatia.

Top officials attended as Branka Anicic received the vaccine before cameras. She says it felt great to be the first in Croatia to receive the vaccine and urged others to do the same.

Croatia's Prime Minister Andrej Plenkovic says the vaccines first will go to those who are the most vulnerable and exposed to the virus. He expressed hope most people will agree to vaccination.

Croatian media have reported that many among Croatia's 4.2 million people remain skeptical regarding the vaccines, even among doctors. Authorities have launched a campaign to encourage people to get vaccinated.

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MADRID— Two women, a 96-year-old resident and a worker at a nursing home, became the first Spaniards to receive the coronavirus vaccine on Sunday morning.

The Los Olmos nursing home is located in Guadalajara near the distribution hub that vaccine maker Pfizer has in central Spain 70 kilometers (43 miles) northeast of Madrid.

"Let's see if we can all behave and make this virus go away," said Araceli Hidalgo, the elderly resident, after receiving her injection.

"I am proud (to receive the vaccine)," said Mónica Tapias, the 48-year-old worker. "What we want is for as many people as possible to get vaccinated. We have lost some residents here to COVID, and that has been very sad. Let's see if this can finally finish with this."

Army trucks escorted by police cars left the company warehouse before sunrise to distribute loads of the vaccine to all the regions of mainland Spain. Military airplanes or helicopters flew crates of doses to Spain's Canary Islands, Balearic Islands, and its north African enclaves of Ceuta and Melilla.

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PRAGUE — Prime Minister Andrej Babis has kicked off the coronavirus vaccination in the Czech Republic.

Babis became the first Czech to receive a shot of the vaccine in Prague's military hospital during the Czech public television's live broadcast on Sunday morning.

"There's nothing to worry about," Babis told reporters before a ceremonious start of the vaccination program. "Everything's fine," he added after getting a shot.

World War II veteran, the 95-year-old Emilie Repikova, sitting next to the prime minister, was the second.

The medical personnel in four hospitals in Prague and two in the second largest city of Brno will get vaccinated by the first batch of almost 10,000 vaccines by Germany's BioNTech and American drugmaker Pfizer in three days. The second batch of 19,500 vaccines expected to arrive next week will be distributed in all regions across the country.

The Czech Republic had 670,599 confirmed cases of coronavirus with 11,044 deaths.

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SEOUL, South Korea __ South Korea has decided not to immediately enforce its toughest distancing rules in the greater Seoul area despite a surge in fresh infections.

The Seoul area, which has been the heart of a recent viral resurgence, is currently under the second highest distancing rules. There have been calls for raising the restrictions to the highest level as the current curbs haven't showed much significant effects. But the government was reluctant to do so because of worries about the economy.

Health Minister Kwon Deok-cheol said Sunday the government will maintain the current level restrictions in the Seoul area until Jan. 3 and that it'll see how the outbreak develops this week before determining whether to adjust the curbs. He says the third highest level of distancing rules imposed in other regions will also remain in place until Jan 3.

Kwon says South Korea has logged an average of 999 new cases each day last week, 690 of them in the Seoul area.

Earlier Sunday, South Korea reported 970 new cases, bringing the total to 56,872, with 808 deaths.

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DUBAI, United Arab Emirates — The Persian Gulf state of Oman has launched its COVID-19 inoculation campaign, with the sultanate's health minister receiving the first dose of the Pfizer vaccine.

State-run media reported that the first batch of 15,600 doses was flown in industrial freezers to Muscat International Airport last week to vaccinate a priority group of older adults, health care workers and those with underlying health conditions starting on Sunday.

Another 28,000 doses of the vaccine by American drugmaker Pfizer and its German partner BioNTech are expected to arrive next month.

Oman says it aims to vaccinate 60% of its roughly 5 million people.

The virus outbreak in Oman has infected over 128,000 people and killed more than 1,400.

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TOKYO — Japan is barring entry of all non-resident foreign nationals as a precaution against a new and potentially more contagious coronavirus variant that has spread across Britain.

The Foreign Ministry says the entry ban will start Monday and last through Jan. 31.

Last week, Japan banned non-resident foreigners coming from Britain and South Africa after confirming the new variant in seven people over the last two days — five from Britain who tested positive at airports and two others in Tokyo.

Japan is also suspending the exemption of a 14-day quarantine for Japanese nationals and resident foreigners that began in November. The entrants now must carry proof of a negative test 72 hours prior to departure and self-isolate for two weeks after arrival.

Japan is struggling with surging cases since November. It has confirmed a total of 217,312 cases including 3,213 deaths, up 3,700 from the previous 24-hour period. Tokyo alone reported 949 cases, setting a new record, despite calls by experts for people to spend a "quiet" holiday season.

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TORONTO — Officials in Canada's most populous province have confirmed the first two known Canadian cases of a more contagious variant of COVID-19 that was first identified in the United Kingdom.

The province's associate chief medical officer says that the cases are a couple from Durham Region, just east of Toronto, with no known travel history, exposure or high-risk contacts.

The new variant is believed to spread more easily and faster than the original version of the disease but is not believed to be more deadly.

The provincial government said in a news release that is no evidence to suggest that the vaccines approved by Health Canada will be any less effective against the new variant.

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