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WHO cites virus slowdown in Europe

Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, director general of the World Health Organization.
Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, director general of the World Health Organization.SALVATORE DI NOLFI/Associated Press

LONDON — The World Health Organization says the coronavirus pandemic has “slowed down” in the past week although death rates continued to rise, with more than 67,000 new deaths reported.

The UN health agency said in its latest epidemiological update Wednesday that even though there was a “downward trend” in the number of cases in Europe, the region still has the biggest proportion of new cases and deaths globally. WHO noted that Africa reported the highest increase in new cases and deaths, driven by South Africa, Algeria, and Kenya.

In the past week, WHO said, the number of new cases reported in Europe dropped by about 6 percent after a 10 percent decline the previous week, suggesting that lockdowns across the continent are effectively slowing transmission. Still, the region accounts for about half of new global deaths.

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Britain’s caseload fell by about 13 percent, its first weekly decline since late August. There were about 1,600 people hospitalized every day in mid-November. , but that remains far lower than the more than 3,000 patients admitted daily in early April.

Yet, despite rates going down in much of Europe, reports were still studded with grim statistics. Hungary set records for COVID-19 hospitalizations and for patients being treated on ventilators. That’s the case even as the number of registered daily cases showed a downward trend as the country’s lockdown passes its two-week mark.

And across the globe, the outbreak was worsening. WHO noted that Japan reported the largest number of daily cases since the beginning of the outbreak, with more than 2,000 reported every day for five consecutive days, a 41 percent increase from the previous week. Myanmar reported a 74 percent jump in cases last week, with more than 11,000 new cases and a 36 percent increase in deaths, at 188. Associated Press

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Russia reports record number of deaths for 2 days

MOSCOW — Russian authorities have registered a record number of coronavirus deaths for a second straight day.

The government coronavirus task force reported 507 new deaths on Wednesday, the country’s highest daily toll. The previous record of 491 deaths was reported on Tuesday. A total of 37,538 people have died from the coronavirus in Russia, according to the task force.

Russia has been swept by a rapid resurgence of the outbreak this fall, with numbers of confirmed infections and deaths hitting new highs almost daily and significantly exceeding those reported in the spring.

The country’s authorities have rejected the idea of another nationwide lockdown or widespread closure of businesses, even as media reports from Russian regions showed that the health care system was under severe strain.

On Wednesday, officials reported 23,765 new confirmed cases. Russia currently has the world’s fifth-largest coronavirus caseload of overmore than 2.1 million.

Associated Press

Vaccinations for EU nations could start by Christmas

BRUSSELS — Vaccinations against the coronavirus could start in the 27 European Union nations by Christmas, and member countries must urgently prepare their logistical chains to cope with the rollout of hundreds of millions of doses of the vaccines, according to a top EU official.

Hailing the likelihood that “there’s finally light at the end of the tunnel,” European Commission president Ursula von der Leyen told EU lawmakers Wednesday that “the first European citizens might already be vaccinated before the end of December.”

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The commission, the EU’s executive arm, has agreements with six potential vaccine suppliers and is working on a seventh contract. The deals allow it to purchase overmore than 1.2 billion doses, more than double the population of the bloc, which stands at around 460 million people. Some vaccines would require two doses to be effective.

On Tuesday, Brussels said it would sign a contract for up to 160 million doses of the experimental coronavirus vaccine developed by Moderna, which the company says appears to be 94.5% percent effective, according to its preliminary data.

But von der Leyen said that while vaccines are important, “what counts are vaccinations. "

’'Member states must get ready now. We’re talking about millions of syringes, we’re talking about cold chains, we’re talking about organizing vaccination centers, we’re talking about trained personnel that is there. You name it. All this has to be prepared,” she warned.

At Brussels Airport, Koen Gouweloose, the CEO of Swissport Cargo Services, said during a tour of his company’s facilities that “what we expect is that there will be a huge volume coming through.”

Vaccine doses, from companies within Europe and from outside, will be temporarily stored in a refrigerated warehouse, and if necessary packed in dry ice, before they’re shipped out by road, rail or air.

“We are in the middle of Europe and we have connections to many parts of the world,” said Gouweloose, whose facility routinely handles vaccines and was set up three years ago to help manage an Ebola virus outbreak. “We are prepared. Everything is done, tested.”

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Associated Press

Merkel, governors to extend partial German shutdown

BERLIN — German Chancellor Angela Merkel and the country’s 16 state governors on Wednesday agreed to extend a partial shutdown well into December in an effort to further reduce the rate of COVID-19 infections before ahead of the Christmas periodtime.

Germany embarked on a so-called “wave-breaker” shutdown on Nov. 2, shutting restaurants, bars, and sports and leisure facilities, but leaving schools, shops, and hair salons open. It was initially slated to last four weeks.

Merkel said the measures will now be extended until Dec. 20, with a goal of pushing the lowering weekly regional number of new cases below 50 per 100,000 inhabitants.

One major new restriction stipulates that only up to five people from two households — not including young children — can meet, except over the Christmas period when the number will be increased to ten10.

Merkel said that existing measures have succeeded in halting an upward surge in new coronavirus infections — though they have stabilized at a high level, rather than sinking back to levels at which authorities feel contact-tracing efforts can be successful.

“We can’t be satisfied with this partial success,” she said.

Merkel noted that Germany’s disease control agency, the Robert Koch Institute, reported 410 deaths linked to COVID-19, the highest single-day total. yet.

’'(This) This “reminds us in the saddest way that behind the statistics are human fates,” she said.

The Robert Koch Institute also reported 18,633 new cases over the past 24 hours — compared with 17,561 a week earlier.

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Germany, which has 83 million people, was credited with a relatively good performance in the first phase of the pandemic. It still has a lower death rate than several other European countries, and its current shutdown has been relatively mild.

Associated Press