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Wednesday, November 25, 2020, 23:13
Russia virus deaths hit new record as disease ravages regions
By Agencies
Wednesday, November 25, 2020, 23:13 By Agencies

This photo shows cubicles housing patients on the arena floor inside a temporary COVID-19 hospital at the Krylatskoye Ice Palace in Moscow, Russia, on Nov 17, 2020. (PHOTO / BLOOMBERG)

PARIS / MEXICO CITY / LONDON / WINNIPEG / RIO DE JANEIRO / BOGOTA / ROME / JOHANNESBURG / ADDIS ABABA / STOCKHOLM / MOSCOW / BRUSSELS / BUENOS AIRES / KIEV / MONTEVIDEO / CAIRO / SANTIAGO / CARACAS / ALGIERS / LJUBLJANA / NAIROBI / SOFIA / TBILISI / LOS ANGELES / PRAGUE / OSLO - The daily toll of COVID-19 deaths in Russia exceeded 500 for the first time as the rise in infections across the country puts increasing strain on hospitals and medical staff complain about a lack of medicines and protective gear.

There were 507 deaths and 23,675 new cases in the past 24 hours, the government’s virus response center said Wednesday. The seven-day average number of COVID-19 deaths has reached 450, the highest so far, compared to less than 400 a week ago.

President Vladimir Putin told officials last week that the situation wasn’t easy and described the rising mortality rate as the “most alarming” trend.

More than 80 percent of Russia’s 265,000 COVID-19 beds are occupied, with several regions reporting occupancy above 90 percent, officials told Putin. According to the government’s daily reports, 37,538 people have died from the disease since the start of the epidemic.

But more complete official data on mortality released with a substantial lag put the toll far higher, at 55,671 from April through September. 

Meanwhile, the acting head of a big Russian state fur company floated the idea on Tuesday of vaccinating minks to prevent the spread of COVID-19, after millions of infected minks were destroyed in Denmark and cases of the disease were found elsewhere.

Global tally

Coronavirus cases worldwide has surpassed 59.6 million while the global death toll has exceeded 1.4 million, according to data compiled by Johns Hopkins University.

ALSO READ: Virus: WHO fears 3rd wave, calls Europe response 'incomplete'

Africa 

The number of confirmed COVID-19 cases recorded across the African continent has reached 2,080,923 while the death toll has risen to 49,975, the Africa Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (Africa CDC) said on Tuesday.

Thirteen African countries have announced a collaborative venture with international research networks to carry out clinical trials aimed at enhancing treatment for mild COVID-19 cases.

The Drugs for Neglected Diseases Initiative (DNDi), an international drugs research entity, said in a statement that the trials will be conducted in 19 sites to help identify therapeutics that could prevent the condition of COVID-19 patients from worsening to critical stages.

The trials will help discover therapeutics that can help minimize severity of the disease and avert strain on public health facilities in the continent.

Among the therapeutics being explored are the ones which are currently used to treat malaria, HIV/AIDS, hepatitis c, parasitic infections and some types of cancers.

Algeria

Algeria reported 1,133 new COVID-19 infections, the highest daily increase since the outbreak began in late February, bringing the country's tally to 77,000.

Fifteen more deaths were also reported, raising the toll to 2,309, while the number of recoveries rose by 649 to 50,070.

A total of 120 employees in the health sector had died and 9,146 others had been infected since February, according to Djamel Fourar, head of the scientific committee for monitoring the COVID-19 pandemic.

Argentina

Argentina's Ministry of Health reported on Tuesday 7,164 new COVID-19 cases over the past 24 hours, taking the total caseload to 1,381,795.

The ministry said 311 more patients have died, raising the toll to 37,432.

A total of 1,210,634 people have recovered while 133,729 cases were still active, according to the ministry.

The province of Buenos Aires is the most affected region with 607,897 cases, or 43.99 percent of the national total, and 20,065 deaths.

Brazil

Brazil registered 31,100 additional confirmed cases of the novel coronavirus which causes COVID-19 over the last 24 hours as well as 630 additional deaths, the Health Ministry said on Tuesday.

The South American nation has now registered 6,118,708 cases and 170,115 deaths, according to ministry data.

Bulgaria

Bulgaria's Council of Ministers, the main authority of the executive power, on Wednesday decided to impose a new nationwide lockdown from Nov 27 to Dec 21 to contain the rapid spread of COVID-19.

New restrictions include suspension of in-person attendance of kindergartens, creches, schools and universities and discontinuing extracurricular activities for all age groups and the operation of training centers.

All congresses, conferences, seminars, trainings and other public, cultural and entertainment events will be canceled. Private parties will be limited to 15 persons. Athletes under 18 will be barred from competing and practicing except in international competitions that are already underway.

Gambling halls and casinos, fitness gyms, food-service and amusement establishments will be closed, and restaurants will be permitted to make home or office deliveries only. All package tours using organized transport and group visits to tourist sights will be discontinued.

Shopping malls will be closed except for food stores, pharmacies, opticians, pet shops, and banks and telecom offices. Convenience stores will not be closed.

Theaters may function at up to 30 percent seat occupancy and 1.5 meters physical distances between spectators. Churches, mosques and synagogues will remain open.

The new measures will take effect on Friday evening.

According to data of the Health Ministry on Tuesday, Bulgaria's COVID-19 death toll had risen to 3,069 and the number of confirmed infections has reached 124,966. 

A man sanitizes his hands before entering a store in Toronto, Canada, on Nov 24, 2020. (ZOU ZHENG / XINHUA)

Canada

The Canadian province of Alberta said on Tuesday it would ban indoor social gatherings, halt classes for some students and reduce retail store capacities to slow the spread of COVID-19. 

Premier Jason Kenney also capped attendance at worship services and said in-person dining at restaurants would be limited to members of the same  household eating together.

Limits on retail stores and services take effect on Friday. The restrictions will be reviewed in three weeks.

Alberta reported 1,115 new cases on Tuesday, including 16 additional deaths. Canada has recorded nearly 338,000 cases during the pandemic and 11,500 deaths.

With rising cases in schools, Alberta will eliminate in-class learning for grades 7-12 starting on Nov 30, while younger students will continue attending schools until Dec 18. Alberta also ordered workers and visitors at all indoor workplaces in the Calgary and Edmonton areas to wear masks.

Neighboring Saskatchewan plans to announce new measures on Wednesday, a provincial government spokesman said.

Chile

Chile has registered 1,005 new cases of COVID-19, pushing the total caseload to 543,087, the Health Ministry said on Tuesday.

The death toll rose by 25 to 15,131, the ministry said.

Of the total caseload, 518,834 people had recovered while 8,816 cases remained active. 

A total of 695 people were hospitalized in intensive care units, including 539 on ventilators and 67 in critical condition.

On Monday, the country reopened its borders to foreign visitors in a bid to revive tourism. 

Colombia

Colombian First Lady Maria Juliana Ruiz has tested positive for coronavirus, the government said on Tuesday, but is asymptomatic.

President Ivan Duque and the first lady have regular coronavirus tests due to their high levels of exposure and busy schedules, the president's office said in a statement.

Ruiz, who along with her husband was tested on Monday, is following quarantine rules as established by the health ministry, the statement added. Duque received a negative result.

The country recorded 7,515 new infections in the past 24 hours, bringing the tally to 1,262,494, health authorities said Tuesday.

The death toll rose by 198 to 35,677, the authorities said.

Czech Republic

The Czech Republic should begin offering free antigen tests for COVID-19 for all who want them from Dec 18, Health Minister Jan Blatny was quoted as saying in an interview on Wednesday.

Prime Minister Andrej Babis said on Tuesday he wanted free testing on a voluntary basis before Christmas, expanding the use of antigen tests, which are faster and logistically easier than standard PCR (swab) tests but less accurate.

The country of 10.7 million has shown one of Europe’s fastest per-capita rises in coronavirus infection since September although the incidence has slowed in the last few weeks.

The risk level was moved on Monday from the fifth, or highest, rung on the government’s coronavirus danger scale, to the fourth. That means restaurants, some schools and most shops remain closed but may reopen as soon as next week if current trends continue.

The cabinet will meet Sunday to decide on relaxing the curbs. If approved, the move will allow reopening of shops, restaurants and services, with some restrictions such as limits on the number of customers.

The total number of infections since the pandemic first hit in March rose to 502,534 on Tuesday, when the country registered 5,854 new cases, less than half of the daily peaks seen at the turn of October and November.

Total deaths have more than doubled in November to 7,499 after cases surged.

Egypt

Egyptian President Abdel-Fattah al-Sisi said on Tuesday that COVID-19 vaccines will not be available in Egypt before mid-2020.

Sisi said the government will sign contracts in a few days to buy vaccines, adding that they could be delivered to Egypt between July and December next year.

In an address to the Egyptian people, Sisi warned that the pandemic was still ongoing, urging them to adhere to the preventive measures in order to avoid more infections.

Egypt has so far recorded 113,381 infections, 6,560 deaths, and 101,981 recoveries since the first case was recorded on Feb 14. 

EU

The European Union is planning tough measures to boost its access to drugs, from sidestepping patents rights in emergencies to taking production to Europe, according to EU documents published on Wednesday.

The possible moves are meant to tackle the chronic shortages of medicines that have dogged the bloc for years and have become more serious since the COVID-19 pandemic and associated trade disruption and drug export bans.

The European Union Commission wants faster procedures during crises to produce generic versions of drugs in EU states without the consent of patent holders, an EU document says.

European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen warned on Wednesday against relaxing coronavirus lockdown measures too quickly, telling the European Parliament there was a risk of a third wave of infections.

"I know that shop owners, bartenders and waiters in restaurants want an end to restrictions. But we must learn from the summer and not repeat the same mistakes," von der Leyen said. "Relaxing too fast and too much is a risk for a third wave after Christmas," she told European Union (EU) lawmakers.

On Tuesday, von der Leyen said the EU will give the green light for a new vaccine contract in its bid to fight the pandemic.

Through the purchase of up to 160 million doses of vaccines produced by Moderna, the EU will be able to enrich its COVID-19 vaccine portfolio.

Apart from Moderna, the EU's current vaccine portfolio includes purchase agreements with AstraZeneca, Sanofi-GSK, Janssen Pharmaceutica NV, BioNtech-Pfizer and CureVac.

France

France will start easing its COVID-19 lockdown this weekend so that by Christmas, shops, theatres and cinemas will reopen and people will be able to spend the holiday with their families, President Emmanuel Macron said on Tuesday.

French President Emmanuel Macron said the worst of the second wave of the coronavirus pandemic in France was over

In a televised address to the nation, Macron said the worst of the second wave of the coronavirus pandemic in France was over, but that restaurants, cafes and bars would have to stay shut until Jan 20 to avoid triggering a third wave.

On Saturday, shops will reopen but people will still need a document to venture out. They will now be allowed to exercise for three hours instead of one, and within a 20-km radius of their homes, versus the 1 km allowed now.

In mid-December, the lockdown will be lifted if the number of new cases has fallen to around 5,000 a day, Macron said, but a curfew would be imposed from 9 pm. France registered over 9,000 cases on Tuesday, and crossed the 50,000 deaths milestone.

Acknowledging the shortcomings of the testing system, Macron said it would be reorganized so that test results will be available no later than 24 hours after being taken. He also said the government and parliament will have to discuss ways to make the isolation of infected people mandatory.

France will be ready to start a vaccination campaign at the end of December or beginning of January, Macron said, starting with the most vulnerable and older people. Vaccination would not be compulsory, he said.

On Wednesday, Industry Minister Agnes Pannier-Runacher said that Sweden-based pharmaceutical company Recipharm has signed a letter of intent with Moderna to produce some of its COVID-19 vaccine candidate in France.

READ MORE: Vaccines offer glimmers of hope as world plans for future

Georgia

Georgia reported 3,071 new COVID-19 cases on Wednesday, bringing its tally to 114,889, the country's National Center for Disease Control and Public Health said.

Of the new cases, 1,314 were confirmed in the capital city of Tbilisi, the center said.

As of Wednesday, 95,581 patients have recovered while 1,085 have died, it said.

German Chancellor Angela Merkel attends a meeting of the German federal parliament, Bundestag, at the Reichstag building in Berlin, Germany, on Nov 8, 2020. (MICHAEL KAPPELER / DPA VIA AP)

Germany

German Chancellor Angela Merkel is proposing a further tightening of the country’s coronavirus restrictions, setting the stage for another tense round of discussions with the country’s 16 state leaders who have called for more lenient measures.

The number of confirmed coronavirus cases increased by 18,633 to 961,320, data from the Robert Koch Institute (RKI) for infectious diseases showed.

Germany's death toll rose by a record 410 to 14,771, data from the Robert Koch Institute (RKI) for infectious diseases showed

That was 1,072 cases more then the day before but 5,015 less than the record increase reported on Friday.

The reported death toll rose by a record 410 to 14,771, the tally showed. A week ago, the toll was at 305 and on Nov 2, the day Germany introduced a partial lockdown, at 49.

Merkel will hold talks with the 16 regional leaders from 2 pm local time in Berlin, when they’re expected to agree on an extension of the country’s partial shutdown until at least Dec 20.

In a briefing paper from Merkel’s office obtained by Bloomberg, the federal government proposes a further reduction in the number of customers allowed in shops and tighter measures in schools located in infection hotspots. 

These proposals go beyond a plan agreed upon by regional leaders on Monday, raising the stakes for the discussions.

Like the state leaders, Merkel suggests that the current partial lockdown will stay in place until Dec 20. But she does not want to automatically roll over the shutdown for periods of two weeks if contagion rates remain above the government’s target level.

Instead, Merkel proposes to reassess the measures before Christmas and a partial shutdown “is expected to remain necessary into next year,” according to the briefing paper.

Italy

Italy reported 853 COVID 19-related deaths on Tuesday, soaring from 630 the day before and the highest daily toll since March 28.

The health ministry also registered 23,232 new infections, up from 22,930 the day before, pushing the country's tally to 1.455 million cases.

The number of people in hospital with COVID-19 stood at 34,577 on Tuesday, a decline of 120 from the day before, while the number of patients in intensive care rose by 6, up from nine on Monday, to 3,816.

The northern region of Lombardy remained the hardest hit area on Tuesday, reporting 4,886 new cases. The central region of Lazio, around Rome, which has a far smaller population, chalked up the second highest number of new cases, at 2,509.

Italy will get 16 million shots of the potential COVID-19 vaccine developed by AstraZeneca in the first months of 2021 under a supply deal agreed at a European Union level, a government source said.

This initial supply will immunize 8 million people as the AstraZeneca vaccine will require an initial shot followed by a booster, the source told Reuters on Tuesday.

Kenya

Forty-five out of Kenya's 47 counties have each recorded at least 100 COVID-19 cases as the disease spreads faster among communities in the east African nation.

While Nairobi and Mombasa still account for the bulk of the infections with 34,515 and 7,921 cases, respectively, as of Tuesday, some counties have seen cases rise four-fold in the last few months. Only Wajir and Tana-River counties have not recorded 100 cases each.

On Tuesday, Kenya recorded 727 new cases, pushing the nation's tally to 78,512.

Kenya's death rate stands at 1.8 percent, with the bulk of the 1,409 deaths having been recorded in the second wave. On Tuesday, 17 more deaths were reported, health officials said.

ALSO READ: UNICEF to ship 2b COVID-19 vaccines to poor nations in 2021

Mexico

Pfizer Inc's COVID-19 vaccine could start being administered in Mexico in mid-December if it is approved by the country's health regulator, Mexico's foreign minister said on Tuesday.

Pfizer was scheduled to submit details on the vaccine's use to regulator Cofepris on Tuesday and Wednesday, allowing the regulator to begin its analysis in line with its US counterparts, Foreign Minister Marcelo Ebrard said at a regular news conference.

Once the vaccine is approved in Mexico, Ebrard said it would take about five days for a shipment to arrive in Mexico from laboratories in either the United States or Europe.

Mexico has reported 10,794 new infections and 813 more deaths, the health ministry announced later in the day, bringing the official number of cases to 1,060,152 and the death toll to 102,739.

Morocco

Morocco has confirmed 3,999 new COVID-19 cases and 73 more deaths, taking the tally of infections to 331,527 and the death toll to 5,469. 

The total number of recoveries rose by 4,118 to 279,276.

Norway

Norway must maintain its most recent coronavirus restrictions for now and needs at least another three weeks to assess whether they can be lifted, Prime Minister Erna Solberg said on Wednesday.

Norway’s 14-day cumulative number of COVID-19 cases per 100,000 inhabitants was 150.9 as of Tuesday, the fourth-lowest in Europe behind Iceland, Finland and Ireland, according to the European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control.

On Nov 6, Oslo shut theatres, cinemas, training centres and swimming pools, with bars and restaurants no longer able to serve alcohol, causing many to close altogether.

Over the past two weeks, the number of new infections has been stable in the capital.

Nationwide, the reproduction rate has fallen to 1.0 since Nov 5 from 1.4 between Oct 26 and Nov 5, meaning that one infected person infects only one other person on average, down from 1.4 persons previously.

Poland

Poland on Wednesday reported a new daily record of 674 COVID-19-related deaths, while new daily coronavirus cases surpassed 15,000.

The country reported 15,362 new daily coronavirus cases, amounting to a total of 924,422 confirmed cases and 14,988 deaths.

Slovenia

Slovenia on Tuesday recorded 59 additional COVID-19-related deaths in the past 24 hours, the highest daily death toll ever reported, taking the total number of fatalities to 1,156.

In the same period, 1,302 new infections were confirmed, pushing the tally to 66,919.

The government's COVID-19 spokesman, Jelko Kacin, said that infections continued to rise across the country.

Outbreaks at senior care homes continued to be the major problem in Slovenia, with 174 new infections confirmed among the elderly on Monday, bringing the number of infections among the elderly to 2,618.

South Africa

The South African government is going with the COVAX global COVID-19 vaccine distribution scheme, with a committed purchase for 10 percent of its population of 58 million, a senior health official said on Tuesday. 

Khadija Jamaloodien, director of affordable medicines at the health ministry, told Reuters South Africa had not yet signed the commitment agreement to participate in the COVAX facility but would do so once officials had completed the necessary administrative processes.

South Africa has recorded the most coronavirus infections on the African continent, with more than 760,000 confirmed cases and more than 20,000 deaths to date.

READ MORE: G20 says it will strive for fair global access to virus vaccines

Spain

Elderly residents and staff in nursing homes will be the first to get vaccinated against the coronavirus in Spain, Health Minister Salvador Illa said on Tuesday, unveiling a national vaccination plan due to begin in January.

Vaccination in Spain will not be compulsory and will be free of charge, Health Minister Salvador Illa said

Other healthcare workers will be next to be vaccinated, Illa said, with a total of 18 groups of citizens being allowed to get the vaccine in one of Spain's 13,000 local public health centers.

Spain expects to cover a substantial part of the population within the first six months of 2021. Vaccination will not be compulsory and will be free of charge, Illa said.

Meanwhile, the Spanish government is to propose a "different" Christmas and New Year under coronavirus restrictions with just six people at parties, although it hopes the "soul and spirit" of the season will shine, El Mundo newspaper reported on Tuesday.

On Tuesday, Spain added 12,228 coronavirus cases to its tally that now stands at nearly 1.6 million, western Europe's second highest after France. While new infections have slowed in the past month, the death toll rose by 537 to 43,668 - the highest daily increase in the second wave of contagion.

Sweden

Sweden's health watchdog said on Tuesday it had uncovered "serious shortcomings" in COVID-19 care for residents of nursing homes where thousands have died.

"This is without question very serious," Prime Minister Stefan Lofven said in a statement to Reuters. "All people have the right to individually adapted care, regardless of where you live or how old you are."

The Health and Social Care Inspectorate (IVO), a government agency supervising healthcare and social services, said none of Sweden's 21 regions had taken sufficient responsibility for the treatment of infected nursing home residents, with a fifth of patients having received no individual assessment by doctors.

While the failings were identified as "systemic", IVO's decisions for the individual regions showed some had operated under instructions to avoid hospitalizing nursing home patients. One region prescribed end-of-life treatment for any resident with COVID-19 symptoms.

Later Tuesday, Health Minister Lena Hallengren said the government intends to start offering vaccines to people aged 65 and over early next year.

Sweden has signed a fifth vaccine deal as part of an EU agreement with CureVac. The deal will give Sweden access to a total of 4.5 million doses, which could cover 2.25 million people out of a population of 10 million. 

Switzerland

Switzerland is on its way towards halving the number of new COVID-19 infections every two weeks thanks to strict measures in the country's west that was particularly hard hit by the second wave of the virus, officials said on Tuesday.

Martin Ackermann, head of the COVID-19 science task force, said a media briefing a national reproduction rate at 0.7 to 0.8 meant the number of new infections was being cut in half every fortnight. A value below 1 means that statistically one infected person passes the virus on to fewer than one other person.

Switzerland had seen a rapid surge in infections since October, with 1,040 deaths in the last two weeks alone.

But the wealthy Alpine republic has taken relatively mild measures against the virus compared to its European neighbours, leaving shops, restaurants and theatres open. However, cantons in western Switzerland have imposed tougher restrictions. 

Switzerland and the tiny adjoining principality of Liechtenstein reported 4,241 new infections on Tuesday. Total infections have surpassed 300,000, with 3,930 deaths.

Tunisia

Tunisia has confirmed 1,017 new COVID-19 infections and 73 more deaths, bringing its total caseload to 90,213 and the death toll to 2,935. 

The number of recoveries increased by 1,457 to 65,303.

An employee works on a ventilator production line in an adapted hangar at the Airbus SE assembly plant in Broughton, the United Kingdom, on April 30, 2020. (PAUL THOMAS / BLOOMBERG)

UK

The United Kingdom lost a “crucial month” in its fight against coronavirus because it was too slow to respond to a shortage of ventilators, while the delay in sourcing personal protective equipment (PPE) came at a cost of 10 billion pounds (US$13.3 billion) to the taxpayer, according to two spending reports.

Ministers only started efforts to buy more ventilators on March 3, just over a month after the World Health Organization declared the pandemic a public health emergency, the House of Commons spending watchdog said Wednesday. The National Audit Office (NAO), which scrutinizes public spending, said the UK’s tardiness in sourcing PPE forced ministers to pay “very high prices” for new kit - much of which came too late for the first wave of infections.

Meanwhile, the Public Accounts Committee said it recognized the “significant achievement” of securing an extra 26,000 ventilators between March and early August. But committee chair Meg Hillier said this came about “much more by luck than design,” and the government “incredibly had no plan for sourcing critical care equipment in an international emergency”.Between February and July, the government spent 12.5 billion pounds on 32 billion items of PPE, of which only 2.6 billion were delivered to frontline organizations, according to the NAO.

The UK reported on Tuesday 608 deaths within 28 days of a positive COVID-19 test, the highest daily total since May, and 11,299 cases, a drop from Monday's tally, according to government data.

England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland - have agreed to relax COVID-19 restrictions for Christmas to allow up to three households to meet at home for five days.

Three households will be able to form a “Christmas bubble”, allowing them to meet up at home, places of worship and in outdoor public places but not at indoor hospitality or entertainment venues from Dec 23 until Dec 27 under the plans.

Limits on travel will also be scrapped so that people can meet up, with an additional day on either side for those going to and from Northern Ireland.

Ukraine

Ukraine will provide more financial assistance to private sectors affected by COVID-19 restrictions, the presidential press service said Tuesday.

According to the press service, President Volodymyr Zelenskiy said more than one million Ukrainians will be able to get the financial aid under a program worth 10 billion hryvnia (US$353 million).

The government also intends to provide a one-time material support to business entities to save jobs, in which each employee will receive up to 8,000 hryvnia, Zelenskiy said.

Uruguay

The Uruguayan government will strengthen its testing capacity for the novel coronavirus to curb a surge in infections, the secretary of the presidency, Alvaro Delgado, said Tuesday.

"We want to increase it to have more guarantees, and reach the sources of transmission faster and be able to quickly isolate them," Delgado told local TV channel Teledoce.

The South American country, home to 3.4 million inhabitants, has carried out 401,497 tests for COVID-19 to date.

So far, Uruguay has registered 4,763 confirmed cases  and 71 deaths, according to the latest report by the National Emergency System. 

Travelers wearing face masks check in at United Airlines desks at San Francisco International Airport, in San Francisco, the United States, on Nov 24, 2020. (JEFF CHIU / AP)

US

A growing number of hospitals around the US have canceled or delayed some planned medical procedures to preserve staff and beds for a surging number of Americans sick with COVID-19.

Conditions remain especially acute in the Midwest and West. From Illinois to Idaho, health systems are limiting non-emergency surgeries as the pandemic’s strain on personnel grows. Putting off planned procedures that patients can defer safely is one of the few levers hospitals have to adjust their capacity as the virus spreads unchecked.

US federal health officials are working on new guidance that would shorten the recommended 14-day quarantine period following a potential exposure to the coronavirus, a top health official said on Tuesday.

Officials are beginning to see a preponderance of evidence that people could spend less time in quarantine if they also test negative for COVID-19, said Admiral Brett Giroir, an assistant secretary at the Department of Health and Human Services, on a call with reporters.

The new quarantine period would likely be between seven and 10 days, from the original 14 days, and include a test to prove that the person no longer has COVID-19, the Wall Street Journal reported, citing a CDC official

The Wall Street Journal reported earlier Tuesday that the new quarantine period would likely be between seven and 10 days, from the original 14 days, and include a test to prove that the person no longer has COVID-19, citing a CDC official.

Millions of Americans have flocked to airports and highways in recent days ahead of the Thanksgiving holiday, leading to the busiest US travel period since the early days of the pandemic in March.

Officials pleaded with Americans to stay at home and redouble efforts to curtail the pandemic, as record hospitalizations pushed medical professionals to the brink.

The number of patients being treated for coronavirus in US hospitals surpassed 86,000 on Tuesday, an all-time high, while 30 of the 50 states reported a record number of COVID-19-related hospitalizations this month.

The US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention on Tuesday reported 12,333,452 cases of the new coronavirus, an increase of 157,531 from its previous count, and said the number of deaths had risen by 1,058 to 257,016.

Nearly 1.2 million children in the country have been diagnosed with COVID-19 so far, according to the latest data of the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) and the Children's Hospital Association.

Los Angeles, the most populous city in the US, decided to suspend dining services in restaurants for at least three weeks starting from 10 pm Wednesday. 

Officials from the government's Operation Warp Speed program said they plan to release 6.4 million COVID-19 vaccine doses nationwide in an initial distribution after the first one is cleared by regulators for emergency use.

Venezuela

Venezuela is currently not considering to reopen its borders to foreign visitors given the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, Tourism Minister Ali Padron said Tuesday.

"We don't have the conditions yet for international tourism," Padron said in an interview with Venezuelan state television network VTV.

Venezuela has only recently begun the process of reopening domestic tourism "in stages", Padron noted.

The country has so far reported 100,143 confirmed cases and 876 deaths, according to a tally by Johns Hopkins University.


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