SEOUL, South Korea — North Korea has proposed a U.N.-backed immunization program send its allotment of almost 3 million doses of a Chinese-made vaccine to countries with severe COVID-19 outbreaks while it continues to claim a perfect record in keeping out the coronavirus.
UNICEF, which procures and delivers vaccines on behalf of the COVAX program, said Tuesday that North Korea’s Ministry of Public Health has communicated that the 2.97 million Sinovac shots COVAX planned to deliver to the North may be sent elsewhere.
The North Korean ministry also said it will “will continue to communicate with COVAX Facility to receive COVID-19 vaccines in the coming months,” UNICEF said in an email to The Associated Press.
COVAX had also allocated 1.9 million AstraZeneca shots to the North but delivery has been delayed.
Experts say North Korea remains focused on tough quarantines and border controls to keep out the virus, and vaccines appear to be a secondary priority.
Some experts say North Korea could be questioning the effectiveness and rare side effects of the vaccines it’s been offered and holding out for others.
The North claims to have not confirmed a single case of coronavirus infection, despite widespread skepticism. In its latest report to the World Health Organization last week, the North said it has tested 37,291 people for the coronavirus as of Aug. 19 and that all were negative.
MORE ON THE PANDEMIC:
— Micronesia’s president tells AP he mandated vaccines to protect vulnerable island nation where virus hasn’t spread
— Vaccinations in rural India are improving but country continues to struggle with enough supplies to meet demand
— Sound bite labeling US outbreak a ‘pandemic of the unvaccinated’ captured the moment but not the whole story
— Find more AP coverage at https://apnews.com/hub/coronavirus-pandemic and https://apnews.com/hub/coronvirus-vaccine
HERE’S WHAT ELSE IS HAPPENING:
JERUSALEM — Israel commenced a new school year on schedule despite a surge in new cases of coronavirus and concerns about students spreading infections.
Around 2.4 million elementary and high school students returned to classrooms Wednesday, while around a quarter million in communities with high infection rates remained home to learn remotely.
Masks are mandatory in classrooms and teachers are required to have received a COVID-19 vaccine or hold a negative test upon entry to schools.
The Health Ministry reported a single-day record of nearly 11,000 new coronavirus cases on Tuesday as the country grapples with a fourth wave of infections. Over 700 people are in serious condition in Israeli hospitals, straining the country’s healthcare system.
Israel has seen new infections skyrocket in recent weeks despite a world-leading vaccination drive that saw nearly 60% of its population receiving at least one dose of the Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine. Last month the country started giving booster doses to its population of 9.3 million.
TAIPEI, Taiwan — Schools across Taiwan have reopened for the academic year as the island’s largest COVID-19 outbreak subsides.
Schools on the island shut down in May and many switched online in the face of the island’s largest outbreak, which has since passed 15,000 cases. Taiwan is now reporting new COVID-19 cases in the single digits.
Students will eat lunch at their own desks, which now have plastic dividers separating students. Masks are required, and classrooms will have exhaust fans to circulate air.
Two giant balloons and music created a festive air greeting the students arriving for classes at Tienmu Elementary School on Wednesday. Parents are relived that their kids are back in school, saying online learning wasn’t necessarily good in the long term.
“You can see that parents are really happy today,” said Liao Cher-hao, president of the parents’ association of the school in the capital, Taipei. “They all want to send their kids back to school ASAP. Basically, we made a survey. The results of online classes are not super good.”
SEOUL, South Korea — South Korea has reported more than 2,000 new coronavirus cases, approaching a daily record set last month just a day after officials cautiously expressed hope that infections may slow.
The 2,025 cases reported Wednesday marked the 57th consecutive day of at least 1,000 cases, and there are concerns transmissions could worsen as the country approaches its biggest holiday of the year.
Officials are wrestling with a slow vaccine rollout and an erosion in public vigilance despite the toughest social distancing rules short of a lockdown in Seoul and other large population centers, where private social gatherings of three or more people are banned after 6 p.m.
There are concerns the virus could spread more quickly during this month’s Chuseok holidays, the Korean version of Thanksgiving where millions of people usually travel across the country to meet relatives.
MELBOURNE, Australia — Australia’s Victoria state is reporting its first COVID-19 deaths this year, and the government concedes that the infection numbers of the delta variant of the coronavirus will continue to rise.
The state reported two deaths Wednesday, the first since last Oct. 18. Neighboring New South Wales reported four deaths, bringing the death toll from a delta variant outbreak that started in June to 102.
Victoria and New South Wales are both locked down and are now counting on getting their residents vaccinated to contain the outbreak.
With 120 new infections reported Wednesday, Victoria Premier Daniel Andrews said: “We will not see these case numbers go down. They are going to go up.”
New South Wales reported 1,116 infections in the latest 24-hour period.
RICHLAND, Wash. — Workers at the Hanford nuclear reservation in eastern Washington state who do not provide proof of a coronavirus vaccination will be required to be tested at least weekly to be allowed on the site.
he Tri-City Herald reports that the policy announced Monday covers about 11,000 Department of Energy, contractor and subcontractor workers. Many workers could be required to comply by mid-September.
Also under the new policy, visitors with business at the site will have to provide proof of vaccination or a negative virus test from within the previous three days.
The Hanford site was used to produce two-thirds of the plutonium for the nation’s nuclear weapons program during World War II and the Cold War. About $2.5 billion is now spent every year on cleanup of the contaminated site.
ATLANTA — More Georgians are being diagnosed with coronavirus infections than ever before. The rolling seven-day average for positive tests rose to 9,641 per day Tuesday, topping the previous high of 9,635 set back on Jan. 11.
Officials say the rapid spread among children is a new aspect of the pandemic. Public Health Commissioner Kathleen Toomey said Monday that cases have skyrocketed since schools opened in early August.
Toomey says that “we’re seeing a significant number of cases among school-aged children, and the number of cases has nearly quadrupled over the last couple of weeks, with the sharpest increase — the highest number of cases — in children aged 11 to 17.”
She says public health officials tracked more than 170 outbreaks statewide last week, the highest number since the pandemic began. More than half were in schools.
HILO, Hawaii — The largest hospital on the Big Island of Hawaii is operating at about 120% of capacity amid a surge in COVID-19 cases.
The Hawaii Tribune-Herald reports that Hilo Medical Center has 38 patients being treated for the disease caused by the coronavirus, including 10 in the intensive care unit.
A hospital spokeswoman says that as the largest hospital on the island, it can’t divert patients.
She says it has a plan for everyone who comes for care. Last week, the hospital opened a 16-bed overflow unit in its extended care facility.
The hospital says it’s constantly assessing its campus for locations in which to care for patients.
ANCHORAGE, Alaska — An increase in hospitalizations of COVID-19 patients is further straining Alaska’s hospital system. One health official calls it a “very serious crisis” and worries what the next few weeks will bring.
The state health department reported that hospitals had a record 152 COVID-19 patients Tuesday, surpassing previous highs in December.
Jared Kosin of the Alaska State Hospital and Nursing Home Association told the Anchorage Daily News that the latest increase in coronavirus infections has shown little sign of slowing.
As of Tuesday, 771 of the state’s 1,200 hospital beds were filled. Out of 174 intensive care beds, all but 26 were taken.
MINNEAPOLIS — Minnesota officials are reopening four free coronavirus testing sites as circulation of the highly contagious delta variant renews demand for testing.
The reopened locations include sites in St. Paul and Bloomington, augmenting existing metro area sites in Brooklyn Park and at the Minneapolis-St. Paul International Airport. Outside the metro area, locations in St. Cloud and Mankato are expected to resume testing this week.
The increase in testing locations comes as virus cases continue to grow across the state and hospitals near full capacity, with both intensive care unit beds and overall hospital beds more than 90% occupied.
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