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The Latest: Australia moves up vaccination start to February

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Copyright 2020 The Associated Press. All rights reserved

Shoppers wear masks as they walk around a shopping precinct in Sydney, Australia, Sunday, Jan. 3, 2021. Masks have been made mandatory in shopping centers, on public transport, in entertainment venues such as a cinema, and fines will come into effect on Monday as the state government responds to the COVID-19 outbreak on Sydney's northern beaches, which is suspected to have also caused new cases in neighboring Victoria state. (AP Photo/Mark Baker)

CANBERRA, Australia — Australia is advancing the start of its coronavirus vaccination program to mid-February, with plans to inoculate 15% of the population by late March.

The government had argued there was no reason for an emergency rollout that cut short usual regulatory processes as has occurred in the United States and elsewhere because local transmission rates in Australia are much lower. It had planned to start vaccinating in March.

But Prime Minister Scott Morrison said Thursday he expects the Pfizer vaccine will be delivered two weeks after the Australian regulator approves it in late January. He said that “it is moving considerably faster than normal.”

Morrison says the goal is to give 80,000 shots a week and have 4 million of Australia’s 26 million people vaccinated by the end of March.

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THE VIRUS OUTBREAK:

Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar says the government will begin allowing more drugstores to start giving shots to speed coronavirus vaccinations. Some governors and other politicians are turning up the pressure after a slow rollout of the coronavirus vaccines. Dr. Anthony Fauci believes the U.S. could soon give 1 million vaccinations a day. The U.S. reports 29 severe allergic reactions to the vaccines.

The European Union has given approval to the Moderna vaccine. The decision gives the 27-nation bloc a second vaccine to use against the coronavirus. The U.K. says it has vaccinated 1.3 million people and plans to have almost 1,000 vaccination centers operating by the end of this week.

— Follow AP’s coverage at https://apnews.com/hub/coronavirus-pandemic, https://apnews.com/hub/coronavirus-vaccine and https://apnews.com/UnderstandingtheOutbreak

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HERE’S WHAT ELSE IS HAPPENING:

MEXICO CITY — Mexico has reported a new high for a daily increase in coronavirus cases, with 13,345 newly confirmed infections reported Wednesday for the previous 24 hours. Officials also reported a near-record of 1,165 deaths related to COVID-19.

The country has now seen about 1.48 million infections and almost 130,000 deaths so far in the pandemic. A low testing rate means that is an undercount, and official estimates suggest the real death toll is over 180,000.

Mexico’s vaccination effort continues at a glacial rate, with about 7,500 shots administered Wednesday, a rate similar to previous days. In Mexico City, the current center of the pandemic in the country, 88% percent of hospital beds are full.

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BEIJING — New coronavirus cases in northern China’s Hebei province have more than doubled as officials move to lock down an area that is home to about 75 million people.

Officials announced 51 new cases Thursday, bringing Hebei’s total to 90 since Sunday. Most of the cases have been in Shijiazhuang, the provincial capital that is due to host some events of next year’s Winter Olympics.

Rail, air and highway connections to Shijiazhuang have been suspended, control measures tightened for urban communities and villages in the region, and classes have been suspended.

Authorities have imposed similarly tight measures in the cities of Shenyang and Dalian in Liaoning province just to the north.

Wary of a new wave of infections, China is discouraging travel for next month’s Lunar New Year holiday and beginning school holidays a week early.

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BATON ROUGE, La. — Louisiana hospitals warn that they are running dangerously short of beds because of the influx of COVID-19 patients and the situation is expected to worsen because of the holidays.

Gov. John Bel Edwards and public health officials said Wednesday that efforts are being made to speed up vaccinations for the coronavirus. But they add that nothing will happen quickly enough to lower Louisiana’s coronavirus outbreak except the precautionary measures they have been preaching for months.

Virus restrictions are scheduled to expire next week, and the governor says he doesn’t know whether he will toughen the rules or renew them as is. New Orleans announced new restrictions Wednesday.

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LANSING, Mich. — Michigan will begin administering coronavirus vaccines to seniors and front-line workers such as teachers and police next week.

The state had planned to next immunize people 75 and older and essential workers including first responders, prison guards and child care providers. But officials said Wednesday that residents ages 65 to 74 will be included, too.

Gov. Gretchen Whitmer said that “every shot in the arm is a step closer to ending this pandemic.”

The first stage of Michigan’s vaccination program has been limited to health care workers and nursing home residents. At least 152,000 people in the state have received the first dose in just over three weeks. Michigan will move to the next phase Monday.

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AUSTIN, Texas -- Texas has reported a new daily high for COVID-19 deaths, with 326.

The total reported Wednesday was far more than the previous high of 278 deaths reported July 23. It raised the state's pandemic death toll to 28,545.

Texas officials reported 19,535 new confirmed coronavirus cases.

A record 13,628 people were reported in hospitals for treatment of COVID-19, the 10th consecutive day a new high has been set in Texas.

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SEATTLE — Washington state officials say everyone over 70 years old and anyone over 50 who lives in a multigenerational household will be the next priorities for coronavirus vaccinations in the state.

The state Department of Health made that announcement Wednesday in an online media briefing.

Newly installed Secretary Umair Shah reiterated that Washington remains in the first phase of vaccine distribution, with high-risk health care workers, first responders and residents of long-term care facilities first in line. But he says that within two to three weeks, the state should be able to move to the next phase focusing on the state’s older residents.

So far, state officials have administered 126,602 of the 522,550 doses the state has received.

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NEW ORLEANS -- New Orleans officials say they will forbid most public gatherings or special events involving people who are not members of the same household beginning Friday.

It’s a tightening of current restrictions that limit indoor special events to 75 people and outdoor events to 150. The tightening of coronavirus restrictions announced Wednesday also will limit occupancy at businesses to 25%.

The harsher restrictions take effect Friday at 6 a.m.

Mayor LaToya Cantrell and city health director Jennifer Avegno say the changes are being made because the percentage of positive coronavirus test results has doubled in about one week, surpassing 10%. Rising positivity rates had already led to a shutdown of indoor bar service last week in the city.

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MONTREAL — Quebec’s premier is imposing a provincewide 8 p.m. curfew beginning Saturday as a way to curb surging coronavirus infections and hospitalizations.

The province will become the first in Canada to impose a curfew for addressing the pandemic.

Premier Francois Legault spoke of the need to take drastic action as he announced a four-week curfew prohibiting people from leaving their homes between 8 p.m. and 5 a.m. unless they are going to work.

He says officials have concluded the virus is being spread through gatherings in residences, and the curfew is meant to prevent that.

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JERUSALEM — The Israeli Cabinet has agreed to tighten a lockdown in hopes of slowing a raging coronavirus outbreak.

Most schools and businesses will be closed, public gatherings restricted and public transportation limited for a two-week period beginning at midnight Thursday night. Thousands of police are expected to be deployed to enforce the closure.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s office announced the decision late Wednesday.

Israel has jumped out to a fast start in vaccinating its population, inoculating 15% of its 9 million people in just over two weeks. But at the same time, it is facing one of the world’s highest rates of coronavirus infections.

Israel’s Health Ministry has reported over 462,000 cases of the coronavirus, including more than 8,000 new cases on Wednesday. It also has reported over 3,500 deaths.

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RALEIGH, N.C. — North Carolina Gov. Roy Cooper on Wednesday announced a three-week extension of a 10 p.m. curfew aimed at helping slow the spread of the coronavirus as some counties experienced a bumpy rollout of vaccines for residents over age 75.

As the state moved beyond healthcare workers and those in nursing homes and shifted to the new phase of vaccine distribution for certain elderly members of the general public, some sites quickly ran out of supplies or experienced long lines or crowds.

Not all counties had begun the new phase because key healthcare workers who regularly come into contact with COVID-19 haven’t all had the opportunity to get their first dose of a Pfizer or Moderna vaccine.

At a time when data from the state Department of Health and Human Services shows 96 of North Carolina’s 100 counties with substantial or critical community spread, Cooper warned residents to remain vigilant.

“No matter where you live, work, worship or play, COVID-19 remains a deadly threat, and we’ve got to treat it that way,” Cooper said.

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ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. — Florida began converting one of its major testing locations into a vaccination site and Gov. Ron DeSantis said Wednesday that residents over 65 should be soon able to receive a shot at other large-scale venues, churches, and even some grocery stores around the state.

DeSantis spoke at the Hard Rock Stadium in Miami Gardens, and some first responders were vaccinated. He called Wednesday a “soft opening” that will last a few days until the site opens to the regular public.

More than 329,000 people have been vaccinated in Florida — or about 1.5% of the population — almost all of them either health care workers, residents in care homes, or people over the age of 65.

“We believe putting seniors first is the right policy as a matter of public health,” DeSantis said.

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The drugstore chains CVS and Walgreens both said Wednesday that they expect to finish delivering the first round of COVID-19 vaccine doses at nursing homes on schedule by January 25.

CVS said it was roughly halfway done as of Tuesday. It is working with 7,822 nursing homes nationwide and had completed nearly 4,000 first-dose clinics.

All told, CVS said it has administered 351,231 vaccines in nursing homes as of Tuesday, including nearly 30,000 in big states like California and Florida.

There are more than 15,000 nursing homes nationally, and the drugstore chains focused first on vaccinating at those locations in part because residents there are more vulnerable and require more care than people staying at other long-term care locations.

CVS and Walgreens also are expanding their vaccine delivery into those other locations, which include assisted living facilities. CVS said it has completed nearly 700 first-dose clinics at those locations and administered more than 26,000 shots.

But the drugstore chain said it was still waiting on eight states — Arizona, Illinois, Indiana, Maryland, Oregon, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island and Wisconsin — to set start dates before it can begin working in those locations.

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BOISE, Idaho — An 87-year-old south-central Idaho man has filed a federal lawsuit against Republican Gov. Brad Little and the state’s health department seeking to force the state to put people 65 and over at the front of the line for the coronavirus vaccination.

Richard Byrd of Rogerson in the lawsuit filed Monday says it’s a life-and-death issue for older people who tend to die at much higher rates than younger people if they get COVID-19.

Byrd contends denying him access to the vaccine immediately is a violation of his rights under the U.S. Constitution. The Idaho attorney general’s office declined to comment on the lawsuit.

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BIRMINGHAM, Ala. — Birmingham Mayor Randall Woodfin was released from a hospital Wednesday after being treated for COVID-19 and planned to continue recovering from the illness and quarantining at home.

Woodfin, 39, was admitted to Princeton Baptist Medical Center on Monday with pneumonia in his left lung caused by COVID-19. He said a grandmother who died of the illness caused by the new coronavirus was being laid to rest as he was being discharged.

“That pains me. I can’t be there, and I miss her. She was 87 years old and she died of COVID-19,” he said in a statement. “If you don’t have to be out, don’t be out. Wash your hands. Wear your masks and practice social distancing.”

Woodfin received Remdesivir and convalescent plasma therapy during his stay in the hospital.

Woodfin fell ill at the same time three other Alabama mayors from Auburn, Decatur and Florence were fighting the illness.