SYDNEY — Australia’s medical regulator has approved use of its first coronavirus vaccine, paving the way for inoculations to begin next month. The Therapeutic Goods Administration on Monday gave provisional approval for people aged 16 and over to use the vaccine developed by Pfizer and BioNTech. The regulator said priority would be given to groups that include aged-care residents and workers, frontline healthcare workers, and quarantine workers. Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison welcomed the development. He said Australia was among the first countries to complete a comprehensive and thorough process to formally approve a vaccine rather than just grant an emergency approval. Australia is aiming to complete inoculations by October. The nation of 26 million people has reported fewer than 30,000 virus cases and a little over 900 deaths.
— A year after virus lockdown, Wuhan dissident is more isolated than ever
HERE’S WHAT ELSE IS HAPPENING:
MEXICO CITY — Mexican President Andrés Manuel López Obrador will speak with Russian President Vladimir Putin Monday about obtaining doses of the Sputnik V COVID-19 vaccine, his foreign affairs secretary said Sunday.
Marcelo Ebrard said via Twitter the two leaders would speak Monday morning about the bilateral relationship and supplying doses of the vaccine.
The vaccine has not been approved for use in Mexico, but the government is desperate to fill supply gaps left by shortages of the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine. Mexico has given more than 618,000 vaccine doses.
A week ago, López Obrador said that his government had agreed with a U.N. proposal to delay shipments of the Pfizer coronavirus vaccine to countries like Mexico that had existing purchase agreements, in order to get more doses to poorer countries quicker.
Mexico has registered nearly 150,000 COVID-19 deaths and more than 1.7 million infections. Hospitals in the capital have been near capacity for weeks as a surge of cases followed the holiday season.
Earlier this month, Mexico’s assistant health secretary Hugo López-Gatell, visited Argentina in part to learn about its review of the Sputnik V vaccine. Argentina started using the vaccine in late December.
OKLAHOMA CITY — The Oklahoma State Department of Health on Sunday reported 48 additional deaths due to COVID-19 and 2,941 more cases of the new coronavirus.
There have been 373,090 total virus cases and a death toll of 3,279 since the pandemic began, according to the health department.
Oklahoma had the fourth highest rate of new cases per capita in the United States at 1,148.19 per 100,000 population according to data from Johns Hopkins University. The rolling average of deaths in the state has increased from 30.14 to 39.86 per day during the past two weeks.
State health officials rising death rates are likely to continue for a week or more, despite a decline in the number of new cases, because it can take several weeks to confirm a death was caused by COVID-19, the disease caused by the virus.
WASHINGTON — Dr. Deborah Birx says when she was coordinator of President Donald Trump’s coronavirus task force, she had to grapple with COVID-19 deniers in the White House and that someone gave the president “parallel” streams of data that conflicted with hers.
Defending her tenure, Birx told CBS’ “Face the Nation” on Sunday that she was at times censored by the Trump administration but denied ever withholding information.
Birx said she would see Trump “presenting graphs that I never made” and that “someone out there or someone inside was creating a parallel set of data and graphics that were shown to the president.”
She added that in the White House, “There were people who definitely believed that this was a hoax.”
Birx did not identify the COVID-19 deniers and said she did not know who was presenting the parallel data to Trump, but said she realizes now that Trump coronavirus adviser Dr. Scott Atlas was providing some of it.
Birx said in December that she would retire but was willing to first help President Joe Biden’s team with its coronavirus response as needed. More than 25 million people have been infected with the coronavirus and at least 418,000 people have died in the U.S. since the pandemic began.
ANKARA, Turkey – Turkey on Sunday passed 25,000 Covid-19-related deaths since the start of the outbreak in March, the health ministry said.
A daily toll of 140 fatalities saw the total figure rise to 25,073. Turkey has recorded more than 2.4 million infections since the first case was recorded on March 11 last year.
The government reintroduced restrictions at the start of December, including weekday evening curfews and weekend lockdowns, to stem a second wave of infections.
Restaurants and cafes have been restricted to take-away services, weddings and funerals are limited to 30 people and the over-65s and under-20s are banned from using public transport.
The number of daily cases has fallen to around 6,000 in recent days from a high of more than 33,000 in December.
Turkey began its vaccination program on Jan. 14, initially focusing on health workers and the elderly. More than 1.2 million people had been given the first dose of the Chinese CoronaVac vaccine as of Saturday night, Health Minister Fahrettin Koca said.
JERUSALEM — Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Sunday said Israel will be closing its international airport to nearly flights as the government races to bring a raging coronavirus outbreak under control.
The entry of highly contagious variants of the coronavirus, coupled with poor enforcement of safety rules in ultra-Orthodox communities, has contributed to one of the world’s highest rates of infections. It also has threatened to undercut Israel’s highly successful campaign to vaccinate its population against the virus.
Late Sunday, the Israeli Cabinet approved what Netanyahu said would be a tight closure on incoming and outgoing air traffic. The government said it would make exceptions for a small number of humanitarian cases, such as funerals and medical patients, and cargo flights.
“We are closing the skies hermetically, except for really rare exceptions, to prevent the entry of virus mutations, and also to ensure that we progress quickly with our vaccination campaign,” Netanyahu said.
The order is to begin early Tuesday and remain in effect until Jan. 31. Netanyahu’s office said the order still required parliamentary legislation to be finalized.
LA PAZ, Bolivia — Former President Evo Morales was released from a hospital on Sunday after almost two weeks of treatment for COVID-19 at a moment the disease has rebounded in Bolivia.
Morales told a news conference that he felt “very good, I feel recovered“ as he left the private clinic in the city of Cochabamba.
Hospital director Gastón Cornejo recommended that Morales remain in repose, without visitors, for two more weeks.
The 61-year-old Morales, Bolivia’s first Indigenous president, left the country from 2006 to 2019, when he went into exile after protests over his reelection. He returned home in November after his party won presidential and legislative elections, ousting the interim government that had replaced him.
Bolivia has reported about 200,000 cases of the new coronavirus and almost 10,000 deaths.
WASHINGTON — Dr. Anthony Fauci said Sunday that President Joe Biden’s goal of administering 100 million vaccinations in the first 100 days actually means about 67 million Americans should be protected from COVID-19 during that time.
Fauci, the government’s top infectious diseases expert, said the president’s goal refers to 100 million shots, not people. Current vaccines require two shots.
Fauci maintained that goal could be difficult to meet even though the U.S. recently has been able to administer shots to about a million people a day. He explained that it will be harder to reach people once shots are given outside hospital and nursing home settings.
Fauci also told CBS’ “Face the Nation” that he supports a national commission to understand some of the problems in coordinating a COVID-19 response on the state and local level because states shouldn’t just be told, “You’re on your own.”
Ron Klain, Biden’s chief of staff, called the 100 million shots in 100 days “a very bold and ambitious goal.” He told NBC’s “Meet the Press” that it won’t stop the administration from aiming higher if doable.
NEW YORK — The United States has surpassed 25 million confirmed cases of COVID-19 since the pandemic began. The new milestone, reported Sunday by Johns Hopkins University, is a grim reminder of the coronavirus’ wide reach in the U.S., which has seen far more confirmed cases and deaths than any other country in the world.
The U.S. accounts for roughly one of every four cases reported worldwide and one of every five deaths. India has recorded the second most cases, with about 10.7 million.
The number of new cases in the U.S. has shown signs of slowing recently, with an average of 176,000 reported daily in the past week, down from 244,000 in early January. The country’s first case of the infection was diagnosed almost exactly a year ago.
HONOLULU — Hawaii has reported its hotel occupancy rates have declined by more than half in December compared to the same time in 2019.
Hawaii Tourism Authority data shows that 23.9% of hotel rooms in the state were full last month as a result of the coronavirus pandemic, a decline of 56 percentage points compared to December 2019.
The Honolulu Star-Advertiser reported that December occupancy was in the low to mid-20% range for every major Hawaii island, except Kauai which dropped to 13.4%.
Only Washington, D.C. had a lower hotel occupancy rate than Hawaii in the United States.
Jan Freitag, senior vice president for lodging insights at Tennessee-based STR, Inc., said Hawaii’s tight COVID-19 travel restrictions served as a deterrent for some, but were also an attraction for others.
He said the sooner that people feel comfortable back on airplanes, the sooner the industry will recover.
WASHINGTON — President Joe Biden’s nominee to be health secretary is expressing his own frustration about long lines for vaccinations, canceled appointments as local health authorities run out of vaccine and the difficulty many Americans are having in figuring out where they stand in line to get the inoculation.
“That’s not America,” Xavier Becerra told CNN’s “State of the Union” on Sunday. “That’s not the way we treat those we consider vulnerable in need of the vaccine the most. That’s not America at its best.”
Biden has pledged to distribute 100 million vaccines in 100 days. Becerra said he can’t offer a timeline for when all Americans who want the vaccine will be able to get one.
“Once we’re in, in the house, taking care of business, we’ll be able to give more precision,” Becerra said. But you got to give us a chance to figure out what’s going on in the cockpit, that’s causing this plane to nosedive so severely.”
PARIS —— France’s government may impose a third lockdown in the coming days if an existing 12-hour-a-day curfew doesn’t significantly slow virus infections.
Exactly a year after France announced Europe’s first confirmed case of the coronavirus, Health Minister Olivier Veran said in an interview published Sunday in the Le Parisien newspaper that if infections don’t drop, and “if the variants start to spread everywhere, we will take extra measures. And that’s called confinement. … We will close down.”
An official in French President Emmanuel Macron’s office said Sunday that “everything is on the table” but no firm decisions will be made until the effect of the nationwide 6 p.m.-6 a.m. curfew is clear in the coming week.
In addition to the curfew, French restaurants, tourist sites and many other public places have been closed since October. But virus infections, hospitalizations and deaths have started rising again this month. France, which has lost at least 72,877 lives to the pandemic, has vaccinated more than 1 million people amid bureaucratic and logistical delays.
France on Sunday started requiring a negative COVID-19 test from travelers arriving by air or boat from other European Union countries. Such tests are already required for non-EU visitors, who also must go into 7-day quarantine upon arrival.