BEIJING — China is seeing a new surge in coronavirus cases in its frozen northeast, and has reported its first death attributed to COVID-19 in months.
Officials said Thursday that Heilongjiang province in the region traditionally known as Manchuria recorded 43 new virus cases, most of them centered on the city of Suihua. The northern province of Hebei just outside Beijing has seen China’s most serious recent outbreak and reported 81 more cases.
The new death raises the official toll for the pandemic to 4,635.
The relatively low figure is shown as evidence to the effectiveness of China's strict health measures, but has also raised questions about the tight hold the government maintains on all information related to the outbreak.
THE VIRUS OUTBREAK:
U.S. coronavirus deaths hit another one-day high at more than 4,300. Russian President Vladimir Putin has ordered an expansion of the vaccination effort. California has lifted some stay-at-home orders in northern counties, while many orders remain in place where coronavirus cases are surging. Japan has widened its virus emergency for 7 more areas as cases increase.
Indonesia begins a mass COVID-19 vaccination effort. Dutch authorities begin mass coronavirus testing in one town to get an idea of how many people have the new coronavirus variant.
HERE’S WHAT ELSE IS HAPPENING:
MEXICO CITY — Mexico has begun broad vaccination efforts as the country posts another new high in daily coronavirus infections.
Teams spread out to vaccinate front-line health care workers across Mexico on Wednesday, administering about 94,400 shots. That is compared to daily averages of about 4,000 shots in preceding days.
The country has a long way to go. There are 750,000 front-line health care workers, each of whom will require two doses.
The vaccination campaign ramped up a day after Mexico received a shipment of almost 440,000 doses of the Pfizer vaccine, its biggest shipment to date.
Officials reported a new high of 15,873 confirmed infections in the previous 24 hours, putting the country’s caseload for the pandemic above 1.57 million. There have been almost 137,000 deaths.
JACKSON, Miss. — The Mississippi Health Department says the state cannot take any more appointments for coronavirus vaccinations because of a “monumental surge” in demand after Gov. Tate Reeves announced that more people are eligible for the shots.
Officials said Wednesday that all doses of the vaccine are matched with appointments that have been booked.
Reeves announced Tuesday that the state was making vaccinations available to anyone 65 or older or people of any age with underlying health conditions. Previously, doses were available for health care workers, people living in long-term care facilities and anyone 75 and older.
Officials hope Mississippi will receive a large shipment of vaccine in mid-February. That would allow new appointments to be made.
NEW ORLEANS -- An appeal by some Louisiana bar owners fighting to overturn pandemic closures has been rejected by a federal appeals court.
The three-judge panel of the 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals on Wednesday upheld rulings by two lower court judges who last year refused to block the closure order.
The appellate panel rejected the argument that the closures are unfair because the rules allow other bars with food permits to remain open. The opinion says there is a plausible basis for the state’s position that businesses driven more by alcohol sales than food sales are more likely to spread the virus.
LOS ANGELES -- Faced with surging COVID-19 cases, the Los Angeles City Council is moving to ramp up enforcement of requirements that people wear masks in public to reduce the spread of the coronavirus.
The council approved a motion Wednesday instructing city departments to prioritize issuing citations during normal duties to people not wearing masks.
Leaders also approved a request for the city attorney to draft an ordinance that, if approved, would set fines and penalties for refusing to wear a mask inside a public place when asked to do so by management or while invading someone’s personal space. For example, park rangers who come across unmasked basketball players or a building inspector who encounters unmasked construction workers might issue citations.
AUSTIN, Texas -- Coronavirus cases in Texas have now topped 2 million since the pandemic first struck the state in early March.
The 26,808 newly confirmed infections reported Wednesday raised the total case count to 2,022,635.
Texas officials also reported an unprecedented 405 deaths related to COVID-19 in their daily report, but said that number included a backlog of death certificates dating from Dec. 8 to Jan. 11. They said the high for deaths in a 24-hour period remains 278, recoreed July 23.
The newly reported deaths raised the COVID-19 death toll since the pandemic first struck Texas in early March to 30,624.
HELENA, Mont. — Montana Gov. Greg Gianforte is removing pandemic mandates issued by his predecessor.
Gianforte said Wednesday that the restrictions are harmful to the state’s businesses.
Under the new rules that take effect Friday, restaurants, bars, breweries, distilleries and casinos will no longer be required to close at 10 p.m. They will also no longer be required to limit capacity to 50%.
Those requirements were put in place by former Gov. Steve Bullock in November as the state reached a peak in daily reported coronavirus infections.
A statewide mask mandate issued in July remains in place.
LAS VEGAS — A Las Vegas hospital says it declared a capacity crisis over the weekend, citing a surge of COVID-19 patients that overfilled its intensive care unit.
With nearly half its 147 beds occupied by coronavirus patients, St. Rose Dominican Hospital’s San Martin campus in southwest Las Vegas canceled elective surgeries beginning Saturday. It also pressed other units into use for non-COVID-19 patients.
Hospital spokesman Gordon Absher said Wednesday that patients weren’t turned away and the capacity plan is set to stay in effect until Jan. 22. He told the Las Vegas Review-Journal that two other St. Rose hospitals in the area haven’t issued disaster declarations but also are strained.
Statewide, health officials have tallied nearly 254,000 confirmed cases of COVID-19 and more than 3,500 deaths.
PHOENIX — Leaders of Arizona's major hospitals say the state is teetering on the brink of having to ration life-saving care as it faces the worst COVID-19 infection rate in the country.
The chief clinical officers of Arizona’s five biggest hospital systems spoke Wednesday at a joint news conference to implore the public and the state to do more.
Under a triage plan, “triage officers” at each hospital would decide which patients receive treatment if there are shortages in staffing, beds or ventilators. The physicians believe at least 1 in 10 people in Arizona is infected with the virus.
Hospital officials also renewed a call for Republican Gov. Doug Ducey to enact a statewide mask mandate and other mitigation measures “based on science and data.”
The Department of Health Services reported 5,629 additional known cases and 191 deaths, increasing the state’s pandemic totals to 641,729 cases and 10,673 deaths. Arizona had the worst diagnosis rate in the past week, with one of every 105 people diagnosed with the coronavirus from Jan. 5 to Tuesday.
CHICAGO — Chicago teachers punished for refusing to show up for the start of in-person classes over COVID-19 concerns have demonstrated outside the home of the school board president.
Roughly 150 school employees have been docked pay and locked out of Chicago Public Schools systems, meaning they can’t teach remotely either as classes began this week for thousands of pre-kindergarten and special education students.
The Chicago Teachers Union has objected to reopening plans saying the district hasn’t done enough to ensure teacher and student safety.
Thousands of pre-kindergarten and special education students were given the option to come back to class this week. Students in kindergarten through eighth grade have the option for two days of in-person instruction next month.
NAIROBI, Kenya — South Africa’s president says a task team under the African Union has secured 270 million doses of COVID-19 vaccines for the African continent, the largest such deal so far for the region.
President Cyril Ramaphosa, the current AU chair, says the doses will come from Pfizer, Johnson & Johnson and AstraZeneca via the Serum Institute of India.
Ramaphosa says at least 50 million of the doses will be available “for the crucial period of April to June” as coronavirus infections surge for a second time in parts of Africa, and all doses will be made available this year.
The 270 million doses are being secured independent of the global COVAX facility aimed at distributing vaccines to lower-income countries. Officials are concerned that the doses secured via COVAX will cover just 20% of Africa’s population, while African officials aim to cover 60% as soon as possible.
Africa recently surpassed 3 million confirmed virus cases.
SACRAMENTO, Calif. — California is immediately allowing residents 65 and older to get scarce coronavirus vaccines.
Democratic Gov. Gavin Newsom’s announcement on Wednesday puts seniors in line before emergency workers, teachers, childcare providers and food and agriculture workers even as counties complain they already don’t have enough doses to go around.
Health care workers and those in nursing homes and other congregate living facilities can still be vaccinated, but state officials are expanding to people 65 and up because they are at the greatest risk of being hospitalized and dying.
California has seen virus cases and hospitalizations explode since Thanksgiving, though in recent days the numbers have flattened.
SANTA FE, N.M. — State health officials say they have detected the first case of a more contagious variant of COVID-19 in New Mexico.
The state Health Department announced Wednesday that a man in his 60s who traveled to the UK in December has the variant.
Officials described the man’s illness as mild and said no hospitalization was required. They also said at this point, the department has not identified any close contacts within the state.
The variant has spread to multiple counties and several U.S. states since first emerging in September.
New Mexico has reported nearly 158,000 confirmed COVID-19 cases since the pandemic began.
BEIRUT — Lebanon’s health minister who is one of the main people leading the fight against coronavirus in the country has been infected with COVID-19.
The St. Georges Hadath Hospital said in a statement Wednesday that minister Hamad Hassan is undergoing treatment adding that he is in good conditions.
Hassan was widely criticized last week when a photo of him circulated having lunch with several other people on the same table during a visit to his hometown of Baalbek in northeast Lebanon.
Hassan said he wore a mask most of the time and that in accordance with rural traditions in Lebanon a person cannot reject an invitation for lunch.
An 11-day curfew will begin Thursday morning in the country, an attempt by the government to limit the spread of the virus. Lebanon, a nation of six million, has registered nearly 232,000 cases and 1,740 deaths.
HUNTSVILLE, Ala. — A top Alabama health leader said the state vaccination hotline was quickly overwhelmed by thousands of callers seeking immunizations during the coronavirus pandemic and “has not worked very well,” but officials are trying to fix the problem.
Dr. Karen Landers, the assistant state health officer, told a news conference on Wednesday that the hotline, run by a contractor, wasn’t able to handle the initial demand when it began operating, despite having 100 lines and 165 workers trained to answer calls. The Department of Public Health previously said the phone number received 1.1 million calls in its first day.
Landers said besides adding additional capacity to the hotline, workers are trying to get an online system in place so people can make reservations for vaccinations without calling.
She said even if the problems are resolved, all the vaccine doses the state has received so far have been spoken for. Additional shipments are needed to fulfill the state’s initial vaccine allotment of 271,000 doses.