The Latest: VP Pence: Confidence in vaccine important for US

Pence said “the confidence piece is so important” so that enough Americans will take the vaccine and ensure its maximum effectiveness. Pence called on “all of us in public life” to vouch for the process that got vaccines to the cusp of mass distribution.

“We’ve gone at record pace, but we’ve cut no corners in this,” Pence said, sitting beside CDC Director Dr. Robert Redfield. “What we want to do is assure the American people that there’s been no compromise of safety or effectiveness in the development of this vaccine.”

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THE VIRUS OUTBREAK:

– Fauci apologizes for suggesting UK rushed vaccine decision

— California ties new COVID-19 rules to hospital capacity

– A World War II veteran from Alabama has recovered from COVID-19 in time to mark his 104th birthday.

— Authorities say a couple were arrested at a Hawaii airport after traveling on a flight from the U.S. mainland despite knowing they were infected with COVID-19.

— The U.N. chief is warning that the social and economic impact of COVID-19 “is enormous and growing.”

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Follow AP’s coverage at https://apnews.com/hub/coronavirus-pandemic and https://apnews.com/UnderstandingtheOutbreak

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HERE’S WHAT ELSE IS HAPPENING:

UNITED NATIONS — The U.N. health chief says positive results from coronavirus vaccine trials are encouraging but warns against poorer nations being left behind in “the stampede for vaccines.”

World Health Organization Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus addressed the U.N. General Assembly on Friday. He says vaccines must be shared “as global public goods.”

Referring to the upsurge in cases and deaths: “Where science is drowned out by conspiracy theories, where solidarity is undermined by division, where sacrifice is substituted with self-interest, the virus thrives, the virus spreads.”

Tedros urged all nations to unite and build the post-pandemic world by investing in vaccines, preparedness against the next pandemic, basic public health and primary health care.

Tedros says Covax, an ambitious but troubled global project to buy and deliver virus vaccines for the world’s poorest people, faces a $4.3 billion gap and needs $23.9 billion for 2021.

He says the total is less than one-half of one percent of the $11 trillion in stimulus packages announced by the Group of 20, the world’s richest countries.

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MILAN — Italy recorded another 814 coronavirus deaths on Friday. There were 24,099 new coronavirus cases reported among more than 212,000 tests.

While the rate of transmission in Italy has dropped below 1, signaling that the virus curve is under control, the government has imposed tight restrictions for the Christmas holiday.

They include a ban on traveling between regions from Dec. 21-Jan. 6, and a strong recommendation against hosting guests for holiday lunches and dinners.

New cases remain highest in Lombardy, the epicenter of both the spring peak and the fall surge, with 4,533 new cases. Neighboring Veneto followed with more than 3,700. There were 201 fewer new admissions to Italy’s intensive care units than a day earlier, dropping the total to 3,657 in ICU. Hospitalizations dropped by 600 to 31,200.

Italy has 1.6 million cases and 58,842 confirmed deaths, the second-highest death toll in Europe, behind Britain.

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WASHINGTON — Dr. Anthony Fauci, the nation’s chief infectious disease expert, says there was never a question that he would accept President-elect Joe Biden’s offer to serve as his chief medical officer and adviser on the coronavirus pandemic.

Fauci told NBC’s “Today” show on Friday, “I said yes right on the spot” after Biden asked him to serve during a conversation on Thursday.

As the director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, Fauci has served several presidents, Republican and Democratic. During President Donald Trump’s administration, he has been largely sidelined as Trump gave rosy assessments of the virus and insisted it would fade away.

Fauci has urged rigorous mask-wearing and social distancing, practices that have not often been followed at the White House.

On Thursday, Biden said he will ask Americans to commit to 100 days of wearing masks as one of his first acts as president.

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ANCHORAGE, Alaska — U.S. Rep. Don Young of Alaska has returned to work after recovering from the coronavirus.

The Anchorage Daily News reported the 87-year-old Republican lawmaker was back at work in his congressional office in Washington on Wednesday.

Young announced Nov. 12 he had tested positive for the coronavirus and was hospitalized.

Young previously dismissed it as the “beer virus,” but later said he didn’t grasp the severity of the illness. Last month, voters re-elected him.

Young has held his seat since 1973 and is the longest-serving Republican in congressional history.

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SEATTLE — Teams of registered nurses will help long-term care facilities across the state of Washington with staffing shortages caused by the pandemic.

The state Department of Social and Health Services announced it will send six “rapid response” teams to work at assisted-living facilities, nursing homes and other long-term care providers where employees tested positive for the virus or were quarantined.

On Thursday, health officials have reported 431 long-term facilities with at least one coronavirus infection.

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OKLAHOMA CITY — The Oklahoma State Department of Health is providing $5.8 million to continue free coronavirus testing statewide through the end of the year.

State health commissioner Dr. Lance Frye says there’s been an “unprecedented number of COVID-19 tests for Oklahomans” ahead of the holiday season. He urged citizens to keep getting tested, “especially if you plan to travel or gather with anyone outside of your household during the holiday season.”

Federal funding has been used to provide more than 2 million tests statewide at no charge since the start of the pandemic. There’s been about 515,000 tests since Nov. 1, the health department says.

Oklahoma has reported a total of 204,048 confirmed cases and 1,836 deaths.

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HONOLULU — The acting Hawaii state epidemiologist said the number of state contact tracers will shrink after the end of the year.

Sarah Kemble says the program is overstaffed and will downsize to match demand.

The state Department of Health currently has roughly 400 contact tracers. The state agency didn’t say how many tracers would be let go.

The health department had been criticized earlier during the pandemic for an inadequate contact-tracing program. Kemble says since then, the state has hired hundreds of contact tracers, but many are now inactive.

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BIRMINGHAM, Ala. — A World War II veteran from Alabama has recovered from COVID-19 in time for his 104th birthday.

A relative says Major Wooten is physically drained and a little fuzzy mentally after battling the coronavirus. But granddaughter Holly Wooten McDonald says he appears to be on the mend as he marks his birthday.

McDonald said her grandfather tested positive for coronavirus on Nov. 23 after her mother — his daughter — got the illness. He was hospitalized but the Alabama football fan and former worker at U.S. Steel got better.

Madison Hospital shared video of Wooten wearing a face mask and waving while workers sang “Happy birthday dear Pop Pop” as he was discharged in a wheelchair decorated with balloons on Tuesday, two days before his birthday.

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ISTANBUL — Turkey’s president says he would get vaccinated to set an example for Turkish citizens to combat the coronavirus.

“There is no problem for me to get vaccinated,” Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan said Friday. “It is necessary to take this step as an example for our citizens.”

He says Turkey would purchase multiple vaccines and is in talks with Russia for their vaccine.

Turkey has ordered 50 million doses of Chinese Sinovac Biotech’s CoronaVac and its first shipment is due to arrive on Dec. 11.

Health Minister Fahrettin Koca told official Anadolu news agency vaccination would not be mandatory. But he would work to convince people by getting the shot as soon as Turkish authorities OK the vaccine.

Turkey is averaging about 30,000 coronavirus cases per day over seven days. The first weekend lockdown since end of May will begin Friday. The confirmed death toll has reached 14,316 since the start of the pandemic.

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COPENHAGEN, Denmark — Norway’s Health Minister Bent Hoeie says some 1.2 million people, chiefly those in high-risk groups and health workers, will get the vaccine when it becomes available.

The remainder of Norway’s population of 5.4 million will get the vaccine in the spring, Hoeie says.

The Norwegian government outlined those who get the vaccine first: people over 65, persons in retirement homes and hospitals, people ages 18 to 64 with one or more diseases or conditions that give a higher risk of a serious course of the disease.

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MADRID — Spain’s Health Minister Salvador Illa says the government hopes to vaccinate between 15 and 20 million people by next May or June.

The government had said it planned to vaccinate 2.5 million between residents and health workers in elderly care homes, first line health workers and disabled or dependent groups in the first three months.

It hopes to begin vaccinating next month and receive more than 140 million vaccine doses in all.

Prime Minister Pedro Sánchez said that in a third phase, the rest of Spain’s 47 million population would get vaccines. The vaccines will be free and voluntary.

Meanwhile, Spain’s Sociological Research Center issued a poll saying 55% of Spaniards would wait and see the effects of the vaccines before getting them. It said 8% would not take the vaccine.

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PRAGUE — The Czech Republic has launched a coronavirus testing program for the country’s teachers as students gradually return to school.

The program that started Friday and continues to Dec. 18 is designed to test up to 170,000 teachers. The free program is voluntary and uses rapid antigen tests.

The Czech government also plans to make COVID-19 tests available to all citizens, possibly starting Dec 18.

In November, the country started testing residents of all nursing and retirement homes.

The Czech Republic was one of the hardest hit amid the recent resurgent of coronavirus infections in Europe. The country of 10.7 million has reported more than 537000 confirmed cases, including more than 8,600 deaths.

The number of new daily cases had been dropping for several weeks, but the trend might be reversing. The day-to-day increase of new cases reached 4,624 on Thursday, almost 600 more than a week earlier.

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STOCKHOLM — Swedish Prime Minister Stefan Lofven says older people in retirement homes and staff in nursing homes, an estimated 570,000 people, will be the first to get vaccinated once European regulators give their approval.

He says after the European Medicines Agency and the European Commission approve a vaccine, “we will get started. The vaccine will reach all parts of our country.”

Lofven says the Scandinavian country that opted for a different approach to handling the pandemic by keeping large sections of society open and relied mainly on recommendations to its population, “must be ready to start as soon as the vaccine or vaccine arrives in the country.”

He says, “A year ago, we had not even heard of COVID-19. Now we are planning for vaccination. It is huge.” He added it would be free of charge.

Johan Carlsson, head of Sweden’s Public Health Agency, warned that the pandemic isn’t over just because a vaccine arrives.

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LONDON — America’s top infectious disease has apologized for suggesting U.K. authorities rushed their authorization of a COVID-19 vaccine, saying he has “great faith” in the country’s regulators.

Dr. Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, had sparked controversy with an earlier interview in which he said U.K. regulators hadn’t acted “as carefully” as the U.S. Food and Drug Administration.

Fauci said late Thursday that he meant to say U.S. authorities do things differently than their British counterparts, not better, but his comments weren’t phrased properly.

Fauci told the BBC: “I do have great faith in both the scientific community and the regulatory community at the U.K., and anyone who knows me and my relationship with that over literally decades, you know that’s the case.”

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UNITED NATIONS — The White House coronavirus response coordinator says Americans must not gather indoors with outsiders or take off their masks at any time when they are outdoors — even when they are eating and drinking.

Dr. Deborah Birx says people also have to observe social distancing and wash their hands to contain the coronavirus pandemic. She says some states are taking these measures, but in others it’s “not happening at the level that they need to happen.”

Birx says that even once vaccines are approved, it will take weeks to months before “the most vulnerable individuals in America” can be immunized.

She made the comments after meeting with U.N. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres and General Assembly President Volkan Bozkir at U.N. headquarters in New York on Thursday.

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SEOUL, South Korea — South Korea has recorded 629 coronavirus cases over the past 24 hours, the highest daily tally in about nine months.

The Korea Disease Control and Prevention Agency said Friday that 600 of the newly confirmed patients were domestically transmitted cases — nearly 80 % of them in the densely populous Seoul area, which has been at the center of a recent viral resurgence.

It says the 629 new cases took the country’s total to 36,332 for the pandemic, with 536 deaths related to COVID-19.

After successfully suppressing two previous outbreaks this year, South Korea has been grappling with a fresh spike in infections since it relaxed stringent social distancing rules in October. Last week, it toughened distancing restrictions in the greater Seoul area and other places.

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MONTREAL — The Quebec government is cancelling its plan to allow gatherings over four days of the Christmas holidays.

Premier Francois Legault says the province will no longer permit multi-household gatherings of up to 10 people from Dec. 24 through Dec. 27 as had been planned.

Legault first announced the Christmas plan on Nov. 19, saying people could get together as long as they quarantined for a week before and a week after the holiday period. But coronavirus infections, COVID-19 hospitalizations and deaths are on the rise and the province’s health system is deemed fragile due to a lack of staffing.

Legault says it’s not realistic to think the numbers will go down sufficiently by Christmas.

The French-speaking Canadian province reported 1,470 coronavirus cases Thursday.

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