The Latest: South Africa buys 1.5 million doses of vaccine

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Pedestrians walk past a public TV with a live broadcast of a news conference by Japanese Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga after he declared a state of emergency Thursday, Jan. 7, 2021 in Tokyo. Suga declared a state of emergency Thursday for Tokyo and three other prefectures to ramp up defenses against the spread of the coronavirus. (AP Photo/Eugene Hoshiko)

JOHANNESBURG — South Africa says it will import 1.5 million doses of the AstraZeneca vaccine to inoculate the country’s health workers.

It’s the nation’s first announcement of the purchase of a COVID-19 vaccine. It comes as record highs of 21,832 new confirmed cases and 844 deaths were registered Wednesday.

The health minister says the first 1 million doses will be delivered later this month from the Serum Institute of India, followed by 500,000 doses in February.

South Africa, with 60 million people, has reported more than 1.1 million confirmed infections. That represents more than 30% of all cases on the 54-nation continent of 1.3 billion.

Some of South Africa’s hospitals are reporting they are at capacity. The rapid spread of the disease in recent weeks has been driven by a new, possibly more infectious variant of the virus, according to medical experts.

There have been 31,368 confirmed deaths in South Africa.

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THE VIRUS OUTBREAK:

Japan has declared a state of emergency in Tokyo area after it hit a high of daily coronavirus cases. South Africa says it will buy 1.5 million doses of AstraZeneca vaccine to inoculate health care workers. Surges in Arizona, a world ‘hot spot,’ puts focus on Republican Gov. Doug Ducey.

Quebec begins a provincewide 8 p.m. curfew on Saturday to curb surging coronavirus infections and hospitalizations. The Israeli Cabinet OKs tightening a lockdown by closing schools and businesses for two weeks. Mexico has reported a new daily high in coronavirus cases.

— 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:

GENEVA — The head of the World Health Organization’s European region says a new variant of the coronavirus that emerged in Britain doesn’t appear to increase the severity of symptoms, but it does “raise alarm” for health care providers.

Dr. Hans Kluge, WHO’s regional director for Europe, pointed to “new challenges brought by the mutating virus” and says the region is facing a “tipping point in the course of the pandemic.” He says 22 countries in the region have detected the new “of concern” variant.

“With increased transmissibility and similar disease severity, the variant does, however, raise alarm: Without increased control to slow its spread, there will be an increased impact on already stressed and pressurized health facilities,” he says.

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TOKYO — Japan has declared a state of emergency for Tokyo and three nearby areas as coronavirus cases continue to surge, hitting a daily record of 2,447 in the capital.

Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga issued the declaration at the government task force for the coronavirus. It kicks in Friday until Feb. 7, and centers around asking restaurants and bars to close at 8 p.m. and people to stay home and not mingle in crowds.

The declaration carries no penalties. But it works as a strong request while Japan juggles to keep the economy going. Shopping malls and schools will remain open. Movie theaters, museums and other events will be asked to reduce attendance. Places that defy the request will get publicized on a list, while those that comply will be eligible for aid, according to officials.

Coronavirus cases have been surging in Japan after the year-end and New Year’s holidays.

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PRAGUE — Coronavirus infections in the Czech Republic have hit a new all-time high for a second straight day, prompting the government to extent a current lockdown.

The Health Ministry reported 17,668 new cases on Wednesday, about 300 more than the previous record set a day earlier.

Infections, which have been on the rise since early December, started to surge again this week after slowing during New Year holidays.

Health Minister Jan Blatny said the government on Thursday extended the lockdown until Jan 22. The restrictions were originally scheduled to end Sunday.

The country of 10.7 million has had 794,740 confirmed cases and 12,621 deaths.

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SEOUL, South Korea — South Korea says it will extend its ban on incoming flights from Britain for two more weeks until Jan. 21.

Authorities said Thursday they’ve found three additional cases of the more contagious variant of the coronavirus identified in the U.K, taking the total to 14. South Korea has also found one case of a coronavirus variant detected in South Africa.

All foreigners entering South Korea will be required to submit negative COVID-19 test results starting Friday.

Officials say a recent outbreak appears to have peaked because they aren’t seeing a further upsurge in infections. The country reported 870 new cases on Thursday, the third day in a row that the figure has been below 1,000. The new cases took the national caseload to 66,688 with 1,046 deaths.

South Korea on Monday extended its second-highest social distancing rules, called “Tier 2.5,” in the greater Seoul area and the third-highest rules in other areas for two more weeks.

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

The country has a total of 1.48 million infections and nearly 130,000 confirmed deaths so far in the pandemic. A low testing rate means it’s likely an undercount, and official estimates suggest the actual death toll is closer to 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 starting school holidays a week early.

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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.

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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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