NEW YORK — The number of passengers screened for flights in the U.S. topped nearly 1.2 million Wednesday for the first time since the coronavirus pandemic outbreak, but it’s still about 38.5% below the same Wednesday last year, by far the smallest percentage decline since March.
The Transportation Security Administration said Wednesday’s tally of 1.19 million was the most since mid-March.
It’s the third straight daily gain.
On the same weekday a year ago, 1.94 million passengers were screened. However, that was Christmas 2019 when travel was lighter than normal. On several days in early April after the pandemic broadsided the U.S. economy, fewer than 100,000 people were screened to board planes.
The bump comes as the CDC warns that holiday travel may increase one’s chances of getting and spreading the virus. It recommends staying home and postponing travel as the best way to protect oneself from COVID-19.
HERE’S WHAT ELSE IS HAPPENING:
JERUSALEM — The Israeli government says it will be imposing its third nationwide lockdown on Sunday to halt the spread of the coronavirus.
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s Cabinet approved the movement restrictions for two weeks. It includes the shutdown of most non-essential businesses, limitations on gatherings and movement from people’s homes and reduced public transit. At the same time, classes for high school, kindergartens and some grade school students will continue.
Israel, a country of 9 million people, started rolling out coronavirus vaccinations this week and has already inoculated over 140,000 people, according to the health ministry. Netanyahu said Thursday that Israel aims to increase vaccinations to 100,000 people per day by next week.
Israel has recorded over 385,000 cases of the coronavirus since March, and 3,150 deaths. But the infection rate has shot up in recent weeks after the government started easing restrictions put in place in September.
OKLAHOMA CITY — Oklahoma health officials say they don’t plan to follow all of the newly released federal guidelines for vaccine distribution and will keep adults 65 and older in phase two of the state’s distribution protocol.
The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention issued new guidelines over the weekend to prioritize those aged 75 and older and frontline essential workers in phase two. But Oklahoma Health Commissioner Dr. Lance Frye said in a statement late Wednesday that the state’s advisory committee decided it would be problematic to prioritize young and healthy workers ahead of Oklahomans in the 65-74 age group.
Along with adults 65 and older, the state also plans to prioritize adults of any age with comorbidities, including hypertension, obesity, cardiovascular disease, diabetes, cancers or chronic lung, liver or renal diseases. The state estimates there are about 635,000 Oklahomans in these two categories.
Frye says health officials plan to closely monitor the state’s vaccine supply and could consider prioritizing those age 75 and older if supplies and provider access remains limited.
PHOENIX — Arizona on Thursday reported over 100 additional coronavirus deaths for the sixth time in nine days as state public health officials urged caution to prevent the spread of the virus during the holidays.
The state reported 7,046 additional known COVID-19 cases and 115 deaths, increasing the state’s totals to 480,319 cases and 8,294 deaths.
Arizona had a record 4,221 people hospitalized for COVID-19 on Wednesday, the latest in series of pandemic records set this month. Only 8% of all hospital inpatient beds were available and not in use, including 7% of ICU beds.
Arizona had the third worst COVID-19 diagnosis rate among U.S. states over the past week, behind Tennessee and California. The diagnosis rate is calculated by dividing the total state population by the number of new cases over the past week.
ISTANBUL — An infectious disease expert serving on Turkey’s medical board says an experimental vaccine developed by Chinese biopharmaceutical company Sinovac showed an efficacy rate of 91,25 percent based on early results of late-stage trials in the country.
CoronaVac is a so-called inactivated vaccine developed by Sinovac Biotech. Dr. Serhat Unal announced the initial results Thursday following randomized trials involving 7,371 volunteers and said the vaccine was safe.
Turkey’s Health Minister Fahrettin Koca said in the press conference the results were the first to be announced for CoronaVac. Sinovac had delayed announcement of results from late-stage trials to January.
Koca said the first shipment of three million doses of CoronaVac would be shipped to Turkey on Sunday and arrive Monday. He had initially announced the vaccines would arrive after Dec. 11 but said some permits caused the delay. Turkey has signed a deal for 50 million doses of the vaccine.
The health minister also said an agreement for Pfizer BioNTech’s vaccine was close. He said Turkey could get 4.5 million doses until the end of March and would have the option buy up to 30 million doses.
Turkey is among the worst-hit country’s in the world, with a seven-day average of about 23,000 confirmed COVID-19 infections daily.
LOS ANGELES — California has become the first U.S. state to record 2 million confirmed coronavirus cases.
A tally by Johns Hopkins University on Thursday morning showed the nation’s most populous state has a total of 2,010,157 infections. There have been more than 23,000 deaths.
The grim milestone comes as the COVID-19 crisis that health officials say stems from Thanksgiving gatherings strains California’s medical system. More than 18,000 people are hospitalized and many of the state’s intensive care units are filled.
MEXICO CITY — A Mexican nurse on Thursday became the first person in Latin America to receive a COVID-19 shot as part of an official vaccination campaign.
María Irene Ramírez, chief of intensive care nursing at the Ruben Lenero Hospital in Mexico City, received the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine in a ceremony broadcast live across the country.
Mexico received an initial batch of 3.000 doses of the vaccine on Wednesday even as other countries around the region prepared to start similar programs following approval of some vaccines following months of testing of several versions that involved tens of thousands of volunteers across the region.
Chile said it was receiving 10,000 doses on Thursday and Argentina, which has run into problems obtaining the Pfizer vaccine, received a flight carrying 300,000 doses of the Russian Sputnik V vaccine, though it cannot yet be given to people older than 60 due to a lack of testing data.
BERLIN — Christmas Eve in Germany is shaping up as an all-too-silent night as COVID-19 cases hovered near record highs, police threatened fines for violating restrictions on gatherings and people lined up outside a shuttered nightclub to get tested for the coronavirus.
A few people were out on Thursday for last-minute shopping, but streets in Berlin were emptier than usual on a day when most shops close early for the country’s biggest family holiday. Berlin’s Kitkat Club nightclub may be closed because of the nationwide lockdown, but a few people lined up outside its doors for a virus test.
Medical association president Klaus Reinhardt cautioned that testing can miss new infections with deadly results for others and warned against “a false sense of security,” the dpa news agency reported. Police in the southern Bavaria region, which has been hard hit by the winter upsurge in infections and deaths, warned of 500 euro ($610) fines for violating a 9 p.m. to 5 a.m. curfew.
Germany’s national disease control center on Thursday reported 32,195 new cases and 802 deaths, just below the peak of 33,777 cases from Dec. 18 and 962 deaths from Wednesday. The high level of infections comes ahead of the expected start of vaccinations on Sunday.
JAKARTA, Indonesia — Christmas celebrations in Indonesia will be a low-key affair amid surging coronavirus cases in the world’s fourth most populous nation.
Earlier this month, the Indonesian government imposed a ban a large gatherings during Christmas and New Year’s eve. Churches are limited to only 50 worshippers.
Most major churches across the mostly Muslim country of 270 million obeyed the restriction on Thursday. About 10% of the population are Christians.
Church Unity General-Secretary Prist Jacklevyn Frits Manuputy said many churches in the capital Jakarta, and other cities have set up online services, as well as midnight masses. “We did all we can do to keep people connected with God during this Christmas eve,” he said.
Indonesia has reported nearly 700,000 COVID-19 cases, the largest caseload in Southeast Asia and second in Asia only to India’s 10.1 million confirmed cases. It has recorded more than 20,000 deaths.
ROME — Police in Italy are out in force to implement new COVID-19 travel restrictions aimed at preventing far-flung families from gathering for Christmas as public health officials appeal for common sense to protect the elderly from infection.
Italy went into a modified nationwide lockdown Thursday for the Christmas and New Year period. Restrictions on personal movement and commercial activity mirror those during the 10 weeks of hard lockdown Italy imposed from March to May when the country became the epicenter of the outbreak in Europe.
Italy is on track Thursday to pass the 2 million mark in confirmed infections since the first domestic case was registered Feb. 20-21. On Wednesday, the country crossed another psychological threshold when its confirmed death toll passed 70,000, the highest in Europe.
Of particular concern is the traditional Christmas Eve dinner, usually a multi-course, multi-generational affair that is a staple of Italian family life over the holidays.
BELGRADE, Serbia — Serbia’s Prime Minister Ana Brnabic was the first to get vaccinated against the coronavirus in a show to the generally skeptical population in the Balkan country that the vaccine is safe.
She and another Serbian government minister received the first shots of the Pfizer COVID-19 vaccine in a live TV broadcast on Thursday in what marked the start of the vaccination campaign in the country of 7 million people.
Those older than 70 in nursing homes are to follow.
Serbia on Tuesday received the first batch of 4,800 vaccines against the new coronavirus developed by BioNTech and Pfizer. Serbia is also testing the Russian Sputnik V vaccine.
Polls show that a large segment of Serbia’s population is prone to different conspiracy theories and is reluctant to get vaccinated. Serbian officials have said that an unspecified number of different vaccines will arrive in the weeks and months to come and that mass vaccination should start early next year.
DUBAI, United Arab Emirates — Kuwait has started its vaccine rollout, with the first Pfizer shots given to healthcare and essential workers, older adults and those with chronic health conditions.
Kuwait’s minister of health announced Thursday that batches of the coronavirus vaccine created by American drugmaker Pfizer and its German partner BioNTech would arrive each month until all residents of the oil-rich Persian Gulf sheikhdom had been vaccinated. Kuwait’s prime minister received the first jab that marked the official opening of the mass inoculation drive.
The first shipment of 150,000 Pfizer doses arrived in industrial freezers on Wednesday, with a total of 450,000 doses expected to be delivered in the first quarter of 2021.
Kuwait has recorded more than 148,770 coronavirus infections and 920 deaths, a relatively high confirmed infection rate per population in the tiny state of 4.2 million.
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