TOKYO — Tokyo reported 621 new coronavirus cases Saturday, setting a new record in the capital where a lack of government measures triggered concerns about a surge during the holiday season.
Nationwide, Japan reported a total of 174,000 cases, with about 2,500 deaths since the pandemic began.
Experts on a Tokyo metropolitan task force say serious cases are on the rise, putting burdens on hospitals and forcing many of them to scale back on care for other patients.
Japan issued a non-binding state of emergency in the spring and has survived earlier infection peaks without a lockdown.
The coronavirus task force on Friday asked the national government to take tougher steps to slow social and economic activities, such as suspension of out-of-town trips and requesting shorter business hours in areas where infections are accelerating.
Latest data shows that ongoing measures have been ineffective and the situation could worsen during the holiday season.
THE VIRUS OUTBREAK:
— US allows emergency COVID-19 vaccine in bid to end pandemic
— As he rails on election, Trump largely mum on toll of virus
— Demoralized health workers struggle as virus numbers surge
— Hours before t he Food and Drug Administration authorized the first COVD-19 vaccine late Friday, a high-ranking White House official told the agency’s chief he could face firing if the vaccine was not cleared by day’s end, two administration officials say.
— Some Americans are now falling sick with COVID-19 after celebrating Thanksgiving with people outside their households. Health officials are warning people not to make the same mistake during this month’s celebrations.
— Drugmakers Sanofi and GlaxoSmithKline say their potential COVID-19 vaccine won’t be ready until late next year as they seek to improve the shot’s effectiveness in older people.
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HERE’S WHAT ELSE IS HAPPENING:
WELLINGTON, New Zealand — New Zealand and the Cook Islands say they plan to have a travel bubble in place early next year, which will allow people to fly between the two countries without going into quarantine.
The arrangement would represent the first travel bubble that New Zealand has agreed to since closing its borders when the coronavirus first hit earlier this year.
New Zealand has moved cautiously on restarting international travel after stamping out community spread of the virus. Australia is currently allowing many New Zealanders to arrive without going into quarantine but that arrangement isn’t yet reciprocal.
The Cook Islands, with a population of only about 10,000, is self-governing but has close ties to New Zealand under a free-association arrangement, and its economy relies on New Zealand tourists.
SEOUL, South Korea — South Korea has reported another 950 coronavirus cases, its largest daily increase since the emergence of the pandemic, as fears grow about overwhelmed hospitals in the greater capital area.
The figures released by the Korea Disease Control and Prevention Agency on Saturday brought the country’s caseload to 41,736, after health officials added more than 8,900 cases in the last 15 days alone. Six COVID-19 patients died in the past 24 hours to bring the death toll to 578.
Most of the new cases came from the densely populated Seoul metropolitan area, where health workers have struggled to track transmissions popping up from just about everywhere, including hospitals, long-term care facilities, restaurants, saunas, schools and army units.
Infections were also reported in other major urban centers, including Busan, Gwangju, Daejeon, Ulsan and Daegu, a southeastern city that was the epicenter of the spring outbreak.
The government had eased its social distancing restrictions to the lowest tier in October despite experts warning about a viral surge during colder weather, when people spend longer hours indoors.
Officials restored some restrictions in recent weeks, such as shutting nightclubs and allowing restaurants to provide only deliveries and takeouts after 9 p.m., and could be forced to clamp down on economic activity further.
Prime Minister Chung Sye-kyun said South Korea may have to elevate social distancing restrictions to the highest level, which includes a ban on gatherings of more than 10 people, school closures, a halt to to professional sports and requiring companies to have most of their employees work from home.
President Moon Jae-in in a Facebook message apologized for his government’s failure to contain the outbreak despite months of measures that hurt the economy. He pleaded for vigilance, saying the country was going through its “last crisis before the arrival of vaccines and treatment.”
SAN JOSE, Calif. — An outbreak of 77 coronavirus cases in Santa Clara County has been traced to an illegal youth basketball tournament held last month in Placer County.
Officials say those who tested positive attended the event Nov. 7 and 8 at Courtside Basketball Center in Rocklin. They included 39 middle- and high school players, three coaches and 35 additional contacts.
An additional 17 cases outside Santa Clara County also have been traced to the tournament.
The California Department of Public Health has initiated an enforcement investigation involving the tournament operator.
SANTA FE, N.M. — New Mexico health officials say another 43 people have died due to COVID-19 complications.
The number released Friday is among the highest daily death tolls for the state in recent weeks.
Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham said her prayers are with those who have lost loved ones and she urged people to abide by the state’s public health restrictions.
Officials also reported an additional 1,849 confirmed cases, bringing the statewide total since the pandemic began to 116,565.
New Mexico is preparing next week to receive its first round of vaccine doses. Officials say they will be delivered to frontline health care workers.
WASHINGTON — The U.S. has given the final go-ahead to the nation’s first COVID-19 vaccine, marking what could be the beginning of the end of an outbreak that has killed nearly 300,000 Americans.
Shots for health workers and nursing home residents are expected to begin in the coming days after the Food and Drug Administration on Friday authorized an emergency rollout of what promises to be a strongly protective vaccine from Pfizer and its German partner BioNTech.
Initial doses are scarce and rationed as the U.S. joins Britain and several other countries in scrambling to vaccinate as many people as possible ahead of winter. It will take months of work to tamp down the coronavirus that has surged to catastrophic levels in recent weeks and claimed 1.5 million lives globally.
JUNEAU, Alaska — Alaska Gov. Mike Dunleavy is proposing what he calls an extraordinary response to revive Alaska’s pandemic-stunted economy.
His proposal outlined Friday includes about $5,000 in direct payments to residents from the state’s oil-wealth fund and an infrastructure plan he said is intended to create jobs. He says Alaskans and businesses are suffering, and now is the time to act.
The state’s economy has been battered by the coronavirusndemic, with tourism and hospitality industries hit hard. North Slope oil prices have been below $50 a barrel for much of the year.
SANTA ANA, Calif. — A California judge has ordered a 50% reduction in the populations at Orange County jails to protect incarcerated people from a major coronavirus outbreak.
Superior Court Judge Peter Wilson’s decision comes in response to a lawsuit by the American Civil Liberties Union that said conditions at the jails violate the state’s constitution and disability discrimination law.
The county has been ordered to file a plan with the court no later than Dec. 31.
Orange County Sheriff Don Barnes says his department is “evaluating the order, its impacts and our options for appeal.”
MEXICO CITY — Mexico’s medical safety commission has approved the emergency use of the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine for the coronavirus.
Assistant Health Secretary Hugo López-Gatell said Friday that Mexico is the fourth country to do so, behind Britain, Canada and Bahrain.
Mexico is set to receive 250,000 doses of the vaccine, enough for 125,000 people.
López-Gatel has said that front-line health workers will get the shots first. Vaccinations are expected to begin as soon as next week.
López-Gatel says the approval “is of course a reason for hope,” though the initial rounds of shots are not nearly enough for Mexico’s health-care workforce.
KALAMAZOO, Mich. — The U.S. Justice Department is supporting Michigan faith-based schools in their court challenge to Gov. Gretchen Whitmer’s ban on in-person classes in high schools.
The department’s Civil Rights Division filed an argument in favor of three Roman Catholic high schools and the Michigan Association of Non-Public Schools. A federal judge in Kalamazoo will hear arguments Monday.
The filing says schools and families have a constitutional right to practice their religion through in-person instruction. It cites a recent U.S. Supreme Court order that barred New York from enforcing certain restrictions on religious services in areas hit hard by the coronavirus.
Michigan’s health department argues the teaching restriction is necessary to control the spread of the coronavirus, especially after Thanksgiving gatherings.
FLAGSTAFF, Ariz. — The U.S. federal agency that provides health care to Native Americans says it’s expecting more than enough coronavirus vaccines to protect all the people working in the hospitals and clinics that it funds.
The Indian Health Service was treated much like a state for distribution purposes. It submitted a plan to vaccinate more than 2 million Native Americans and Alaska Natives.
The agency expects to receive 22,425 doses of the Pfizer vaccine next week and 46,000 doses of the Moderna vaccine by the end of the year. Those doses will cover the more than 44,000 people who work at hundreds of facilities that are receiving vaccine allocations through the Indian Health Service.
UNITED NATIONS — Eight mainly Western nations are accusing North Korea of using the pandemic “to crack down further on the human rights of its own people,” pointing to reports of an uptick in executions related to the coronavirus and strict controls on movements around its capital.
The statement was issued Friday after the U.N. Security Council privately discussed North Korea’s human rights situation. Germany and others had sought an open session but Russia, China and other council members objected.
Seven council members — Germany, Belgium, Dominican Republic, Estonia, France, Britain and the United States — joined by Japan criticized North Korea for rights abuses. They also said the North Korean government’s decision “to prioritize its weapons programs” is inevitably worsening the impacts of the pandemic on the North Korean population.”
LITTLE ROCK, Ark. — Arkansas health officials on Friday reported a one-day record of 55 deaths due to COVID-19 and 2,770 new confirmed or probable cases.
“We have once again reached a grave milestone in this pandemic,” Gov. Asa Hutchinson said in a statement.
“While we may have hope ahead from promising vaccine news, we cannot grow weary over the next few weeks,” he said.
In a statewide address Thursday night, Hutchinson said the state is seeing a surge in cases after Thanksgiving and suggested Arkansans travel less for the coming Christmas holiday and take rapid tests both before and after travel.
The state Department of Health reported a total of 2,875 deaths due to the illness caused by the virus and 181,624 total cases since the pandemic began.
The health department reported 1,059 people hospitalized with the virus.
WICHITA, Kan. — A Wichita fitness studio’s owner and his business are suing Kansas for compensation for being forced to shut down and reopen with restrictions this year because of the coronavirus pandemic.
The lawsuit filed this week in Sedgwick County District Court by Ryan Floyd and Omega Bootcamps Inc. argues that the state used his and the business’ private property “for the benefit of the general public” when it and local officials imposed their restrictions. The lawsuit cites part of the state’s emergency management law that says people can pursue claims for compensation in court if their property is “commandeered or otherwise used” by state or local officials.
The Kansas attorney general’s office declined comment, saying it was reviewing the lawsuit. Gov. Laura Kelly’s office did not immediately respond Friday to a request for comment.