The Latest: Austria starts voluntary mass testing

The Latest: Austria starts voluntary mass testing

VIENNA – Austria has started voluntary mass testing for the coronavirus in a move that officials hope will help prevent long, hard lockdowns in the future.

The fast antigen tests started on Friday in Vienna and in the westernmost Vorarlberg and Tyrol provinces, days before Austria starts loosening tough lockdown measures that have been in place since mid-November. Positive tests will be backed up by conventional tests within 24 hours, and contacts quarantined if they are confirmed.

A special website has been set up for people to register for the tests.

The testing is being handled by the Austrian military, which has set up a big testing facility at the Vienna convention center with 170 test lanes.

Italy’s South Tyrol province, which borders Austria, already has conducted mass tests – following the example of Slovakia, which moved to slow infections and avoid a second lockdown by testing nearly two-thirds of its people in one weekend last month.

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THE VIRUS OUTBREAK:

– Fauci apologizes for suggesting UK rushed vaccine decision

– Jobs report will show how much pandemic is squeezing hiring

– 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.” Secretary-General Antonio Guterres said it’s foolish to believe a vaccine can undo damage from the global pandemic that will last for years or even decades.

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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:

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 said Friday that 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 called it “a light in these dark weeks” and 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 new 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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DOVER, Del. – Delaware’s governor is issuing a stay-at-home advisory and implementing a universal mask mandate requiring people to wear cloth face coverings even in their own homes if someone outside the immediate household is present.

Gov. John Carney on Thursday also recommended that schools suspend in-person instruction from Dec. 14 to Jan. 8 and resume hybrid learning on Jan. 11. Winter sports competitions will be prohibited during that period.

The mask mandate will require all Delawareans to wear cloth face coverings anytime they are indoors with anyone outside their immediate household. Delaware has had a public mask mandate since April 28 requiring use of face coverings in public settings where social distancing is not possible.

A spokesman for the governor says officials are relying on voluntary compliance with the mask mandate.

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SPRINGFIELD, Ill. – Illinois public health officials have reported 10,959 newly confirmed coronavirus infections and a second consecutive day of near record deaths from COVID-19.

The 192 fatalities announced Thursday matched the 24-hour toll reported May 13, at the height of the initial wave of the pandemic in Illinois. The number is second only to the 238 deaths reported Wednesday.

Illinois has now reported 12,830 deaths among 759,562 coronavirus infections.

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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 announced Thursday that 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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PHILADELPHIA – Hospital beds are filling up and medical staffs are being stretched as Pennsylvania’s health care system copes with a growing number of seriously ill COVID-19 patients.

State health officials say nearly half of all hospitals in the south-central region of the state and a third in the southwest anticipate staffing shortages within a week.

Pennsylvania’s top health official said Thursday that modeling indicates the state will run out of intensive care beds this month. More than 85% of the state’s ICU beds are occupied now.

But Dr. Rachel Levine added that she is even more concerned about hospital staffing. She notes that hospitals’ medical-surgical beds can be converted into ICU beds, but the supply of medical workers is “not infinite.”

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