SEOUL, South Korea -- South Korea has reported 826 new cases of the coronavirus, its biggest daily jump in about six months, as fears grow about another huge wave of the virus in the greater capital area.
The Korea Disease Control and Prevention Agency said Friday that 633 of the cases came from the Seoul metropolitan area, home to half of the country’s 51 million people, where officials pushed back an easing of social distancing measures as infections soared over the past week.
Dozens of infections were each reported in other major cities and regions, including Busan, Daejeon and South Chungcheong Province.
Some health experts say government officials sent the wrong message to the public by announcing plans to allow for larger gatherings and longer indoor dining hours at restaurants starting this month to ease the pandemic’s shock on the economy. The experts say a premature easing of social distancing could have disastrous consequences when the country has administered first doses of vaccines to just 30% of its population and most younger adults remain unvaccinated.
The government had planned to relax social distancing restrictions nationwide at the start of July, raising the cap on private social gatherings from four to six people and allowing restaurants to extend indoor dining by two hours until midnight.
However, officials in Seoul and nearby Incheon and Gyeonggi Province have decided to hold off the new rules by at least a week as the wrestled with the rise in transmissions.
South Korea has so far reported 158,549 cases, including 2,024 deaths.
MORE ON THE PANDEMIC
— Britain registers nearly 28,000 daily cases, highest since January
— Turkey lifts most pandemic restrictions as new cases plateau
— Delta coronavirus variant exploits low global vaccine rates
— Africa’s COVID-19 envoy blasts EU, COVAX over vaccine crisis
HERE’S WHAT ELSE IS HAPPENING:
RENO, Nev. -- Northern Nevada’s Washoe County has confirmed its first death related to the COVID-19 Delta variant.
The county health district said Thursday the variant believed to have originated in India was the most common variant among samples collected at the state public health lab last month and is accounting for one in four new cases reported nationally.
Health District officer Kevin Dick says it was the leading variant reported in Washoe County the last two weeks and is extremely contagious.
The woman in her 40s who died had been hospitalized in the Reno-Sparks area, had no underlying conditions and had not received the COVID-19 vaccination.
ARKANSAS — For the second day in a row, Arkansas reported Thursday its biggest one-day spike in four months of the coronavirus that causes COVID-19, an increase officials have blamed on the delta variant of the virus.
The state reported 700 new virus cases, bringing its total since the pandemic began to 350,085. The state’s active cases, meaning those that don’t include people who have recovered or died from the virus, increased by 496 to 4,199.
The one-day increase in cases was the state’s highest since it reported 726 on Feb. 25.
The state’s COVID-19 hospitalizations increased by 12 to 337, while the death toll remained unchanged at 5,909.
“While the past two days have seen some of the highest reports for vaccine distribution in a while, our hospitalizations and new cases continue to rise,” said Gov. Asa Hutchinson. “Delays in getting vaccinated allow the delta variant to spread.”
Hutchinson appealed to the public to begin getting immunized to COVID-19 by the weekend.
The delta variant of the coronavirus that causes COVID-19 was first detected in India.
LANSING, Mich. — About $5 million in cash and college scholarships will be given away in lottery-style drawings aimed at raising Michigan’s COVID-19 vaccination rate, Gov. Gretchen Whitmer announced Thursday.
The incentive program features a $2 million jackpot, a $1 million prize and 30 daily drawings of $50,000 for residents ages 18 and older who have received at least one shot. Vaccinated residents ages 12 to 17 are eligible for one of nine four-year prepaid tuition contracts valued at $55,000.
The MI Shot to Win Sweepstakes is being launched after several states, including Ohio, offered millions of dollars to boost vaccinations — with mixed results.
Nearly 62% of Michigan residents ages 16 and up have received at least one dose, ranking it near the middle among states, as infections have plummeted. Whitmer and state health officials want 70% vaccinated, which would require about 678,000 additional people to get a shot.
HONOLULU — Hawaii officials are extending a vaccination incentive program to get more shots in arms.
Hawaii Public Radio reports a second round of vaccine incentives will be launched this month. People can register for the second round of incentives beginning July 12, with new prizes include cars, cash and furniture.
The incentive programs have been funded by local businesses.
The state Department of Health says the state’s current incentive program contributed to a 30% increase in vaccinations over what was expected in June.
Nearly 58% of Hawaii’s population is fully vaccinated. When the state reaches 70%, all COVID-19 restrictions will be lifted.
BUENOS AIRES, Argentina — Argentine officials say they will study the possibility of combining two different COVID-19 vaccines due to the delayed arrival of Russia's Sputnik V for many who already received a first dose.
Buenos Aires city Health Minister Fernán Quirós tells Radio Mitre that officials would choose a random sample of potential volunteers to receive a second dose of vaccines made by AstraZeneca or China’s Sinopharm, or wait for a second shot of Sputnik likely starting in mid-August.
Several other countries have tried mixing vaccines due to distribution delays or safety concerns.
Some 70,000 people in Buenos Aires got an initial shot of Sputnik V three months ago and are still waiting a second dose. The number is about 300,000 nationwide.
The country has seen a renewed wave of infections at the start of the Southern Hemisphere winter.
PRAGUE — The Czech Republic is imposing measures to contain the spread of the highly contagious delta variant of the coronavirus.
Health Minister Adam Vojtech says all Czechs who return from abroad, including those who are at low risk, must get tested.
Workplaces have been ordered to bar employees who do not present a negative test after returning to the country.
The new restrictions don’t apply for people who have been fully vaccinated, however.
Infections began rising this week after several months of declines.
LISBON, Portugal – Portugal will impose an 11 p.m. curfew in parts of the country with surging coronavirus cases.
The curfew affects 45 council areas including the two largest cities, Lisbon and Porto.
Restaurants, cafes and cultural venues can stay open until 10.30 p.m., with limits on how many people can sit together.
Health authorities say the delta variant is pushing infections to levels not seen since February in the country of 10.3 million people.
Nearly 2,500 confirmed cases were reported Thursday. Hospital admissions of COVID-19 patients are at a two-month high.
BERLIN — A German advisory panel is recommending people who get a first shot of the AstraZeneca vaccine be given a second shot with one of the mRNA vaccines.
Germany’s committee on vaccinations cites studies showing a “significantly superior” immune response from a mixture of AstraZeneca with a second shot of an mRNA vaccine compared with two shots of AstraZeneca.
In a draft recommendation Thursday, it calls for a gap of at least four weeks between the different shots.
Germany uses the Pfizer and Moderna mRNA vaccines.
In April, German authorities decided people under 60 who had received a first shot of AstraZeneca should as a rule get a second shot of a mRNA vaccine.
That decision came after the AstraZeneca vaccine was linked to extremely rare blood clots.
RIO DE JANEIRO — Police have begun evicting hundreds of homeless families from a recently established tent city near Rio de Janeiro, underscoring Brazil’s resurgent poverty during the pandemic.
Residents blocked the entrance to the site Thursday with bonfires as police launched tear gas and fired water cannons at the tents. In the heart of the Southern Hemisphere winter, the city was experiencing one of its coldest mornings on record.
The forced removal in Itaguai follows a court decision in favor of the land’s owner, state oil company Petrobras. The residents had occupied the plot for two months and baptized it the “First of May Refugee Camp.”
Emergent shantytowns in several cities across Brazil reflect a surge of poverty after the government pared back its pandemic welfare programs. That left many exposed to soaring inflation as the nation’s weak job market has yet to show signs of recovery.
BRANSON, Mo. — Health officials working to boost lagging coronavirus vaccination rates in Missouri are concerned as the July 4 holiday weekend approaches, creating ripe conditions for the fast-spreading delta variant.
Missouri is second only to Nevada for having the highest coronavirus diagnosis rate in the past week. Its seven-day rolling average of daily cases has risen in the past two weeks from 576 per day on June 15 to 891 on Tuesday, according to data from Johns Hopkins University.
State data shows hospitalizations are up 38%.
ISTANBUL — Turkey has eased nearly all pandemic restrictions on businesses and events and lifted nighttime and Sunday curfews.
The Interior Ministry says restaurants and weddings no longer have to limit the number of people, but they still need to abide by social distancing rules. Only hookah shops are still closed.
Concerts and festivals can take place indoors and outdoors, but music must end by midnight.
Turkey’s vaccination drive has gathered speed, surpassing 50 million doses. But only 18% of Turkey’s 84 million population has been fully vaccinated.
Coronavirus infections have been hovering around a seven-day average of about 5,500 cases.
LONDON — British Prime Minister Boris Johnson says unspecified “extra precautions” to contain the spread of the coronavirus will be needed in coming weeks, while voicing confidence the remaining restrictions on social contact can be lifted on July 19.
Infections in the U.K. have risen sharply in recent weeks, with government figures showing another 27,989 new cases on Thursday. That’s the highest level since the end of January.
Johnson says he is hopeful life will get back “as close to it was before COVID,” given the evidence showing vaccines are reducing deaths despite rising infections from the more contagious delta variant.
As of Thursday, 67% of the U.K. population has received at least one dose while 49% have had two. Daily virus-related deaths remain relatively low.
WASHINGTON — President Joe Biden has come up well short of his goal of delivering 80 million vaccine doses to the rest of the world by the end of June.
The White House says logistical and regulatory hurdles have slowed the pace of U.S. vaccine diplomacy. The Biden administration had announced about 50 countries and entities would receive a share of the excess COVID-19 vaccine doses.
But an Associated Press tally shows the U.S. has shipped less than 24 million doses to 10 recipient countries. The White House says more will be sent in the coming days.
COPENHAGEN, Denmark — Denmark is donating 2 million doses of the AstraZeneca vaccine to Albania, Bosnia-Herzegovina, Kosovo and North Macedonia.
Foreign Minister Jeppe Kofod says the Balkan nations are “experiencing a major vaccine shortage” and he is “glad that we can step in and assist our close partners with the absolutely crucial weapon against the pandemic, namely vaccines.”
Denmark is also giving an extra 1 million doses to COVAX, and initiative to give countries access to coronavirus vaccines regardless of their wealth. Foreign Aid Minister Flemming Moeller says the donation is earmarked for North African countries and Bhutan.
The Scandinavian country has donated AstraZeneca vaccines to Kenya and committed to give doses to Ukraine.
NEW YORK — The latest alarming coronavirus variant is exploiting low global vaccination rates and a rush to ease pandemic restrictions.
That’s adding new urgency to the drive to get more shots in arms. The vaccines most used in Western countries still appear to offer strong protection against the highly contagious delta variant, which was first identified in India and is now in more than 90 countries.
The World Health Organization warned this week that easier-to-spread strains, insufficiently immunized populations and a drop in mask use and other public health measures will delay the end of the pandemic.
Dr. Rochelle Walensky, director of the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, says that widespread vaccination is “even more critical because the virus that we have circulating is in fact more transmissible than the original wild type."
MOSCOW — Russian health authorities have launched booster vaccines for those were inoculated against the coronavirus more than six months ago, amid a surge in new infections and deaths.
Moscow health authorities on Thursday started offering booster shots with the domestically produced, two-shot Sputnik V vaccine and its one-shot Sputnik Light version. Other Russian regions are also starting to offer boosters.
Russia has faced a surge in infections, with more than 20,000 new COVID-19 cases daily since last Thursday. That’s more than double the average in early June.
It recorded 672 deaths Thursday, the highest daily toll since the start of the pandemic.
JAKARTA, Indonesia — Thousands of Indonesians have lined up at a sports stadium to receive a COVID-19 dose in a one-day mass vaccination event.
Authorities at the arena in Bekasi, outside Jakarta, aim to vaccinate 25,000 people.
It’s part of a push to dramatically scale up the nation’s virus fight as hospitals fill with sick patients. The goal is to administer 1 million doses per day in July and 2 million in August.
President Joko Widodo announced new community restrictions and the mobilization of the National Police and other resources to combat the surging infections.
The Red Cross warned this week that Indonesia is “on the edge of a COVID-19 catastrophe” and urgently needs to increase medical care, testing and vaccinations.
GENEVA — The World Health Organization says any coronavirus vaccines it has authorized for emergency use should be recognized by countries when they open their borders.
The move could challenge Western countries to broaden their acceptance of two Chinese vaccines, which the U.N. health agency has licensed but most European and North American countries have not.
In addition to vaccines authorized by Pfizer, Moderna, AstraZeneca and Johnson & Johnson, the WHO has also given the green light to two Chinese vaccines made by Sinovac and Sinopharm.
In its aim to restore travel across Europe, the European Union said in May that it would only recognize people as vaccinated if they had received shots licensed by the European Medicines Agency, which doesn’t include the Chinese vaccines. However, it’s up to individual countries if they wish to allow entry to people who have received other vaccines, including Russia’s Sputnik V.
Although Western countries have largely relied on vaccines made in the U.S. and Europe, such as Pfizer and AstraZeneca, many developing countries have used the Chinese-made shots.
This year, the head of China’s Center for Disease Control and Prevention acknowledged the effectiveness of its home-grown shots was low and numerous countries that have used them extensively have seen COVID-19 surges even with relatively high levels of immunization.