The Latest: Oman starts vaccinations with 1st batch of shots

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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 Health Ministry said the initial phase of the vaccination campaign would cover 20% of the population due to temporarily limited supply.

The virus outbreak in Oman has infected over 128,000 people and killed more than 1,400. The country closed all official points of entry last week over fears of the fast-spreading new variant of the coronavirus.

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THE VIRUS OUTBREAK:

– Unemployment benefits expire for millions as Trump rages

– EU launches vaccine rollout, historic day in virus fight

– Millions face new UK virus restrictions; border chaos eases

– A wave of COVID-19 has engulfed prisons in Belarus that are packed with people in custody for demonstrating against the nation’s authoritarian president.

– Health officials in Thailand say two new clusters of coronavirus cases have been found that appear to be linked to a major outbreak discovered a week earlier among migrant workers in an industrial province near Bangkok.

– A Black doctor who died battling COVID-19 complained of racist medical care in widely shared social media posts. It has prompted an Indiana hospital system to promise 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:

TOKYO – Japan is barring entry of all nonresident 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 nonresident 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 in a short-track program that began in November. The entrants now must carry proof of a negative test 72 hours prior to departure for Japan 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 and government officials 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 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. The variant was first identified in the United Kingdom but has since been detected in several other countries, including Denmark, France, Belgium, Australia and the Netherlands.

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BRATISLAVA, Slovakia – Just hours after the coronavirus vaccines arrived in Slovakia, authorities in the European Union country began administering their first doses on Saturday evening.

Vladimir Krcmery, a 60-year-old top expert on infectious diseases, became the first person to receive a jab at the University Hospital in the city of Nitra, 75 kilometers (47 miles) east of the capital of Bratislava.

“It’s a great honor for me, thank you” Krcmery said after receiving the innoculation.)

The vaccines were distributed also to three other hospitals in the cities of Kosice, Banska Bystrica and Bratislava.

Front line medical staff in hospitals treating COVID-19 patients are among the first to get the vaccine. President Zuzana Caputova is scheduled to get vaccinated on Sunday.

Slovakia is the second EU country after Hungary that started the vaccination campaign immediately after the vaccine’s arrival. The others plan to start Sunday.

The country of 5.4 million had 166,649 confirmed cases with 1,732 deaths.

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SANTA FE, N.M. – New Mexico will begin providing COVID-19 vaccinations to 15,000 people who work or live at long-term care facilities, state officials announced Saturday.

Beginning Sunday, the CVS and Walgreens pharmacy chains and Vida Pharmacy in Albuquerque will administer doses of the Moderna vaccine at nursing homes and assisted living facilities across the state, officials said.

“Sunday marks a monumental day in our fight with this deadly pandemic. It signifies a step towards protecting our seniors and securing their safety,” said Katrina Hotrum-Lopez, cabinet secretary of the Aging and Long-Term Services Department.

The statement noted that people receiving vaccinations will need two doses from the same manufacturer administered several weeks apart. The pharmacies will send staff to facilities three times over the coming months to administer the vaccines.

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SPRINGFIELD, Illinois – The number of COVID-19 cases worldwide has topped 80 million.

Data compiled by Johns Hopkins University reported the mark Saturday morning after 472,000 cases were recorded Christmas Day. The number of deaths related to the coronavirus pandemic across the globe stands at 1.75 million.

The U.S. is by far the leader among nations in cases of coronavirus illness, reporting nearly 18.8 million Saturday. India follows with 10.2 million; Brazil has counted 7.45 million. There have been more than 330,000 deaths in the U.S., 190,000 in Brazil and 147,000 in India.

There have likely been many more cases of the coronavirus that have not been counted for a variety of reasons, including under-reporting, asymptomatic infections and lack of cooperation with contact tracers.

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BUDAPEST, Hungary – Hungarian doctors and other workers in the health sector have begun getting vaccinated with the first shipment of the Pzifer-BioNTech vaccines against COVID-19 which arrived in the country early Saturday.

The first shipment of 9,750 doses – enough to vaccinate 4,875 people, since two doses are needed per person – arrived by truck from Austria and were taken to the South Pest Central Hospital in Budapest. The government said four other hospitals – two in Budapest and two others in the eastern cities of Debrecen and Nyíregyháza – would also receive vaccines from the initial shipment.

The government said more batches of the vaccine were expected in the coming weeks, with health sector workers being the first to receive vaccinations.

Hungary reported 1,198 new cases of the coronavirus on Saturday, along with 118 deaths, bringing the national totals to 315,362 cases and 8,951 deaths.

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ATHENS, Greece – Greek health authorities announced 262 new infections from the coronavirus over the 24 hours ending Saturday afternoon. There were also 46 deaths.

Since the start of the pandemic, the total number of confirmed infections is 135,114, with 4,553 fatalities.

The numbers of new infections and deaths are quite low compared with recent trends. Officials said Saturday, if this continues, schools might open again on January 8, but not retail shops or restaurants. The decision whether to end or extend the country-wide lockdown will be taken two or three days before January 7, the day it is supposed to end, a minister said.

The government has also published a timetable of the first vaccinations, which will start at 1 p.m. Sunday, with a nurse and an elderly resident of a retirement home being the first ones to be inoculated.

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BEIRUT – Lebanon’s health authorities are planning an increase in testing around the country amid a surge of positive cases in the holiday seasons and after the first case of the new coronavirus variant was reported here.

The health minister Hamad Hassan announced late Friday that a passenger arriving from London a few days earlier tested positive for the new variant.

Lebanon has not banned flights from the United Kingdom but asks travelers returning to test at the airport. Pressure from the public and politicians has increased, calling for a ban on such flights. There are fears of a spike in cases expected during the holiday season in Lebanon, where the health sector is cash-strapped and lacks resources.

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PHOENIX – Arizona has reported more than 5,000 additional known COVID-19 cases for the 10th straight day, as the surge put a pandemic-high number of virus patients in intensive care beds across the state.

The state Department of Health Services reported 6,106 additional known cases and 15 more deaths, increasing the state’s totals to 493,041 cases and 8,424 deaths.

Arizona has the third-worst COVID-19 diagnosis rate in the United States over the past week, behind California and Tennessee.

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