The Latest: Japan's prime minister weighs state of emergency

TOKYO — Japanese Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga said Monday vaccine approval was being speeded up and border controls beefed up to curb the spread of the coronavirus, and he promised to consider declaring a state of emergency.

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Tokyo Gov. Yuriko Koike and the governors of Saitama, Chiba and Kanagawa had asked the national government Saturday to declare the emergency after the capital saw a daily record of 1,337 cases on New Year’s Eve.

Worries have been growing about holding the Olympics in July, which will mean the arrival of tens of thousands of athletes, officials and media.

Suga stressed his determination to hold the Olympics, which he said will serve as “proof that people have overcome the coronaivus,” giving “hope and courage.” Preparations were moving ahead, he said.

Japan issued an official emergency warning in April last year through late May, urging restaurants to close early and people to work from home.

Japan has never had a lockdown, attempting to juggle the need to keep the economy going with health risks.

The declaration carries no legal penalties but works as a strong warning for people to work from home, reduce non-essential outings and social distance, as well as having businesses close early, in an effort to curb the spread of COVID-19.

Suga told reporters the ruling party will push for a legal change when parliament reconvenes later this month, to allow penalties for violations.

“The situation remains extremely serious,” Suga said at his New Year’s news conference at the prime minister’s residence.

Suga also stressed that vaccine approval was being expedited by a month so that vaccinations can start next month.

Cases have been growing in Japan in recent weeks, with more than 3,400 deaths so far related to the coronavirus.

Suga has come under criticism over what some see as his mishandling of the pandemic. He went out to an expensive steak dinner, although the government has recommended against dining out in big groups. On Monday he urged restaurants and bars to close at 8 p.m.

Most Japanese are wearing masks, but shopping districts and shrines, popular places for the year-end and the New Year, have been packed

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THE VIRUS OUTBREAK:

India has approved two COVID-19 vaccines, paving the way for a massive inoculation program. The vaccines are from Oxford University and AstraZeneca and local firm Bharat Biotech. In Britain, the prime minister is warning of new restrictions ahead as coronavirus infections soar. On Monday, the country plans to ramp up vaccinations using the Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccine. And in Tokyo, Gov. Yuriko Koike is asking the national government to declare a “state of emergency” to curtail surging coronavirus infections. Concerns are growing ahead of hosting the Olympics in July.

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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:

SYDNEY — Mask wearing on Monday became mandatory is some circumstances in Australia’s largest city due to the pandemic risk.

People risk a 200 Australian dollar ($154) fine in Sydney if they don’t wear masks in shopping malls, on public transport and IN various indoor areas.

New South Wales state Chief Health Officer Kerry Chant could not say how long the measure would be in place.

The state on Monday reported its first 24-hour period without a new COVID-19 infection BEING detected since Dec. 15.

A cluster that started in Sydney last month has spread to Melbourne, Australia’s second largest city where mask gas been mandatory since July.

Australian Chief Medical Officer Paul Kelly said three new cases had been detected in Melbourne during the latest 24-hour period, bringing the national total to 28,504 cases since the pandemic began.

Only 26 COVID-19 patients were in Australian hospitals on Monday and none was in an intensive care unit, Kelly said.

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CHEYENNE, Wyo. —Bars and restaurants across Wyoming will be allowed to return to normal operating hours beginning Jan. 9 as COVID-19 hospitalizations decline in the state.

The Wyoming Tribune Eagle reports Gov. Mark Gordon made the announcement Saturday. He praised businesses for adapting to health orders and thanked residents for recognizing the strain on hospitals.

The updated health orders allow bars and restaurants to resume onsite consumption from 10 p.m. to 5 a.m., and they allow gyms to increase the number of participants in group fitness classes from 10 to 25.

Counties can still opt out of the requirements if local conditions move to safer levels in accordance with White House metrics.

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DALLAS — Texas has hit a new record high for COVID-19 hospitalizations as a surge in the disease caused by the coronavirus continued to strain state medical resources following holiday travel and gatherings.

State health officials reported 12,563 COVID-19 patients in Texas hospitals on Sunday, an increase of more than 240 from Saturday. It was the sixth time in seven days that the state reported record-breaking hospitalizations.

Intensive care units in several parts of the state were full or nearly full Sunday, according to the Texas Department of State Health Services.

The department reported 14,535 new confirmed cases of COVID-19 Sunday, 1,510 more probable cases and 50 fatalities. Texas has seen more than 1.8 million cases and more than 28,000 deaths.

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PHOENIX -- Arizona health officials reported a big jump in coronavirus pandemic numbers on Sunday, including a record daily high of more than 17,200 new confirmed cases — a number they say is likely partially inflated by a lag in reporting during the holiday weekend.

The Arizona Department of Health Services reported Sunday there were 17,234 new cases. That eclipses the previous record of about 12,000 set in early December.

A department spokesman says the jump in daily cases is likely due to a lag in reporting on the holiday weekend as well as from Christmas gatherings.

No new deaths were reported Sunday.

Health officials also reported that just 7% of hospital beds were available statewide and 61% of intensive care unit beds were occupied by people with COVID-19.

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BALTIMORE — The COVID-19 death toll in the United States has surpassed 350,000 as experts anticipate another surge in coronavirus cases and deaths stemming from holiday gatherings over Christmas and New Year’s.

Data compiled by Johns Hopkins University shows the U.S. passed the threshold early Sunday morning. More than 20 million people in the country have been infected. The U.S. has begun using two coronavirus vaccines to protect health care workers and nursing home residents and staff but the rollout of the inoculation program has been criticized as being slow and chaotic.

Multiple states have reported a record number of cases over the past few days, including North Carolina and Arizona. Mortuary owners in hard-hit Southern California say they’re being inundated with bodies.

The U.S. by far has reported the most deaths from COVID-19 in the world, followed by Brazil, which has reported more than 195,000 deaths.

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The daily number of dead in Italy in the COVID-19 pandemic has slowly declined over the last few days, with 347 deaths registered in Health Ministry figures on Sunday.

Just a month earlier, the daily new deaths count had climbed to near 1,000. Italy now has tallied 75,332 known dead in the pandemic, which along with Britain, ranks as the deadliest toll in Europe.

Despite partial lockdown measures of recent weeks, including over the year-end holidays, Italy’s numbers of new caseloads remain stubbornly high.

There were 14,245 confirmed new coronavirus infections since Saturday, raising to 2,155,446 the number of the nation’s known COVID-19 cases. The Italian government must decide by mid-week whether to renew, tighten or ease limits on movement based on analyses of several criteria, including availability of ICU hospital beds, rate of transmission and percentage of tests yielding positive results.

Currently, dining at restaurants and cafes isn’t permitted, gyms, museums, cinemas and theaters are closed, and there is an overnight nationwide curfew that begins at 10 p.m.

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BERLIN — Germany’s health minister is rejecting criticism of the country’s preparations for vaccination amid frustration over the gradual start to the process.

Vaccinations in Germany and the rest of the 27-nation European Union started a week ago. In Germany, a nation of 83 million people, nearly 239,000 vaccinations had been reported to authorities by Sunday.

There has been criticism from opposition figures and some politicians within the governing coalition of various aspects of the process, including what some view as the EU’s overly cautious advance ordering of the BioNTech-Pfizer vaccine -- the only one so far cleared for use in the EU.

Health Minister Jens Spahn told the Rheinische Post newspaper that “we ordered enough” and the problem is that production capacity is initially low. He said it was always clear that supplies would be limited at the beginning.

Spahn said it was also clear that the start would be relatively slow because the first vaccinations are taking place in nursing homes, rather than in special vaccination centers.

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VATICAN CITY — Pope Francis said he was very saddened that some people during COVID-19 pandemic holiday lockdowns managed to slip away on vacations while so many are suffering economic problems or are ill.

During noon prayer remarks Sunday at the Vatican, Francis said that “we don’t know what 2021 has in store for us.”

But, he added, “what each of us and all of us together can do is to commit ourselves a little more to taking care of others” and of the environment, “our common home.”

He acknowledged that there is the temptation to look after one’s interests and to “live hedonistically, trying only to satisfy one’s own pleasure.”

Throughout the pandemic, the pontiff has stressed caring for those most in need and obeying anti-contagion measures.

Instead of appearing at a window overlooking St. Peter’s Square, as he usually does on Sundays, Francis delivered his remarks, carried on television and social media, from inside a Vatican palazzo, in keeping with pandemic strategy to discourage crowds.

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HARARE, Zimbabwe -- In response to rising COVID-19 numbers, Zimbabwe has reintroduced a night curfew, banned public gatherings, and indefinitely suspended the opening of schools.

Vice President Constantino Chiwenga announced the new measures, saying that Zimbabwe recorded 1,342 cases and 29 deaths in the past week, the highest number recorded so far.

Zimbabwe’s 7-day rolling average of daily new cases has risen over the past two weeks from 0.90 new cases per 100,000 people on Dec. 19 to 1.47 new cases per 100,000 people on Jan. 2.

Funerals are now limited to 30 people while other gatherings such as weddings and church services are banned for 30 days. Restaurants and beer taverns have also been closed. The government has postponed indefinitely the opening of schools for a new term that was supposed to start on Monday, Jan. 4. But the new measures have done little to reduce the country’s general atmosphere of complacency.

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Dr. Anthony Fauci says U.S. President-elect Joe Biden’s pledge to administer 100 million shots of the coronavirus vaccine within the first 100 days of his administration is “a realistic goal.”

The top U.S. infectious disease expert tells ABC’s “This Week” says “we can do 1 million people per day. You know we’ve done massive vaccination programs ... in our history. There’s no reason why we can’t do it right now.”

That optimism comes as the race to vaccinate millions of Americans is off to a slower, messier start than public health officials and leaders of the Trump administration’s Operation Warp Speed had expected.

Fauci acknowledges “there have been a couple of glitches, that’s understandable.” He says the pace is picking up but “we are not where we want to be.”

As the U.S. COVID-19 death toll tops 350,000, Fauci is taking issue with President Donald Trump’s claim on Twitter on Sunday that the number of U.S. cases and deaths is “far exaggerated” because of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s “ridiculous” methodology.

Fauci says “the deaths are real deaths.” He says hospitals are running out of bed and medical workers are exhausted under the strain of caring for the sick.

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LONDON — British Prime Minister Boris Johnson warned Sunday that more onerous lockdown restrictions in England are likely as the country reels from a new coronavirus variant that has pushed infection rates to their highest recorded levels.

Johnson, though, insisted he has “no doubt” that schools are safe and urged parents to send their children back into the classroom in areas of England where they can. Unions representing teachers have called for schools to turn to remote learning for at least a couple of weeks more due to the new variant, which scientists have said is up to 70% more contagious.

The U.K. is in the midst of an acute outbreak, recording more than 50,000 new coronavirus infections a day over the past five days. On Saturday, it notched a daily record of 57,725 new cases. The country has seen nearly 75,000 virus-related deaths.

“We are entirely reconciled to do what it takes to get the virus under control, that may involve tougher measures in the weeks ahead,” Johnson said in an interview with the BBC.

In some parts of the British capital and its surrounding areas, there are around 1,000 cases per 100,000 people.

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BERLIN — A prominent German state governor is calling for the country’s lockdown to be extended until the end of January and says there should be no rushed reopening of schools.

Germany’s current lockdown took effect on Dec. 16 after a partial shutdown that started at the beginning of November failed to reduce new coronavirus infections. It was initially set to expire Jan. 10.

It’s clear that Chancellor Angela Merkel and Germany’s 16 state governors will agree to extend it when they review the situation on Tuesday. The question is by how long, and to what extent schools will open.

Bavarian governor Markus Soeder told Sunday’s Bild am Sonntag newspaper that “the lockdown must be extended until the end of January.” He said a “hasty easing would set us back a long way” and that Austria has shown “the open-closed-open-closed model doesn’t work.”

Some officials advocate opening primary schools early. But Soeder, whose state has above-average virus infections, said it would be “irresponsible” to send all students and teachers straight back to school.

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NEW DELHI — India authorized two COVID-19 vaccines on Sunday, paving the way for a huge inoculation program to stem the coronavirus pandemic in the world’s second-most populous country.

India’s drugs regulator gave an emergency authorization for the vaccines developed by Oxford University and U.K.-based drugmaker AstraZeneca and another developed by the Indian company Bharat Biotech.

Drugs Controller General Dr. Venugopal G Somani said both would require two doses and the decision was made after “careful examination” by the Central Drugs Standard Control Organization, India’s pharmaceutical regulator. Both vaccines are cheaper and easier to use than ones by Pfizer and Moderna since they do not require ultra-cold storage facilities.

Prime Minister Narendra Modi called the vaccine approval a “decisive turning point to strengthen a spirited fight.” “Congratulations India,” Modi tweeted.

India’s initial immunization plan aims to vaccinate 300 million people — health care workers, front-line staff including police and those considered vulnerable due to their age or other diseases — by August.

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NEW YORK — New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo says the state has recorded more than 1 million confirmed COVID-19 cases since the pandemic began.

New York reached that figure as it reported about 15,000 new positive tests on Friday. Experts say the official number of coronavirus cases represents a significant undercount, since many people in the New York City area were infected with the coronavirus last spring when testing was largely unavailable.

New York is the fourth state to report more than 1 million positive COVID-19 tests after California, Texas and Florida.

New York reported 128 COVID-19 deaths on Friday.