It’s difficult to know whether people followed the plea from health experts and avoided big Christmas gatherings. Los Angeles International Airport, however, saw a sharp increase in passengers.
“It’s getting worse, and we haven’t even hit the Christmas or New Year’s surge yet, so I feel like the number of people that are going to die because the hospital system is beyond overwhelmed will shoot up,” one doctor at an LA County hospital said.
The next big test will be whether there are many New Year’s Eve and New Year’s Day gatherings.
LA County public health director Barbara Ferrer said in an interview last week that crowded shopping malls are a big concern. Under the state’s regional stay-at-home orders, shopping malls are supposed to be capped at 20 per cent of capacity, but it’s clear that those limits are not being followed.
“We’re going to take a hard look this weekend at the shopping malls because the pictures we’ve been seeing are … another little mini-disaster,” Ferrer said.
Officials are most concerned about the situation in local hospitals.
Patients are waiting as many as eight hours in ambulances before they can enter the emergency room. With intensive care units having few or no available beds, health officials are urging that people avoid emergency rooms or dialling for assistance unless absolutely necessary.
Meanwhile, Los Angeles County scientists have begun to test samples of the coronavirus from local patients to determine whether a new, potentially more contagious strain that is circulating in Britain has arrived, as some officials believe is likely amid a major surge of infections.
Argentina launches Sputnik vaccinations, Oman rolls out Pfizer
Argentina will begin vaccinating its citizens against coronavirus on Tuesday using the recently delivered Russian Sputnik V vaccine, the government said on Saturday, local time, following its approval by health authorities for emergency use.
Argentine president Alberto Fernández and provincial governors said health personnel would receive their vaccines in less than 72 hours. Around 300,000 doses arrived in Argentina on Christmas Eve, and subsequent shipments are expected early in 2021.
“The idea is that when the (southern hemisphere) fall arrives we will have a large number of at-risk people vaccinated,” Fernandez said in a meeting with provincial governors.
Argentina, the third largest economy in Latin America, has been hard hit by COVID-19 and logged nearly 1.6 million cases of the coronavirus and 42,501 deaths from the disease. Fears of a second wave are growing.
The Russian vaccine is set to arrive in each province of the South American nation by Monday, and on Tuesday morning the first doses will be administered, the government said in a statement.
On Wednesday, Argentina became the third country to approve the Sputnik V vaccine, after Russia and Belarus. Argentina has also approved the Pfizer and BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine.
Some Western scientists have raised concerns about the speed at which Russia has worked, giving the regulatory go-ahead for its vaccines and launching large-scale vaccinations before full trials to test Sputnik V’s safety and efficacy have been completed.
Russia says the criticism is unfounded.
The Persian Gulf state of Oman has launched its COVID-19 inoculation campaign, with the sultanate’s health minister receiving the first dose of the Pfizer vaccine.
State-run media reported that the first batch of 15,600 doses was flown in industrial freezers to Muscat International Airport last week to vaccinate a priority group of older adults, health care workers and those with underlying health conditions.
Another 28,000 doses of the vaccine by American drugmaker Pfizer and its German partner BioNTech are expected to arrive next month.
Oman says it aims to vaccinate 60 per cent of its roughly 5 million people. The Health Ministry said the initial phase of the vaccination campaign would cover 20 per cent of the population.
The virus outbreak in Oman has infected over 128,000 people and killed more than 1,400. The country closed all official points of entry last week over fears of the fast-spreading new variant of the coronavirus.
Japan bans entry to all but residents
Japan is barring entry of all nonresident foreign nationals as a precaution against a new and potentially more contagious coronavirus variant that has spread across Britain.
The Foreign Ministry says the entry ban will start Monday and last through January.
Last week, Japan banned nonresident foreigners coming from Britain and South Africa after confirming the new variant in seven people over the last two days — five from Britain who tested positive at airports and two others in Tokyo.
Japan is also suspending the exemption of a 14-day quarantine for Japanese nationals and resident foreigners. The entrants now must carry proof of a negative test 72 hours prior to departure for Japan and self-isolate for two weeks after arrival.
Japan is struggling with surging cases since November. It has confirmed a total of 217,312 cases including 3,213 deaths, up 3,700 from the previous 24-hour period. Tokyo alone reported 949 cases, setting a new record, despite calls by experts and government officials for people to spend a “quiet” holiday season.
Meanwhile South Korea reported 970 new coronavirus cases for Saturday, the Korea Disease Control and Prevention Agency (KDCA) said on Sunday, bringing the national tally to 56,872 cases, with 808 deaths.
That is the smallest in five days but still not far off from the record 1,241 infections logged on Friday.
Five more cases in Beijing
Beijing officials reported five new locally transmitted coronavirus cases as authorities rushed to mass-test residents. The five cases, linked to earlier infections, lived in the city’s Shunyi district, which has since activated an emergency response plan including mass testing, source tracing and disinfection. As of Saturday noon, over 120,000 had been tested for the coronavirus. Authorities plan to test 800,000 people in the district. Separately, officials reported four locally transmitted cases in the northeastern port city of Dalia, where over 4.75 million people were tested following more than 20 confirmed cases this month. China reported 22 new cases in the last 24 hours, including 10 imported and 12 domestic cases. China has so far reported a total of 86,955 cases, with 4,634 deaths.
Thailand outbreak linked to gambling den
Thailand confirmed 121 new infections of the novel coronavirus, a senior official said on Sunday, up from the 103 cases reported earlier in the day.
Taweesin Wisanuyothin, a spokesman for the country’s COVID-19 pandemic taskforce, said at a briefing that the new cases include 94 domestic transmissions and 18 in migrant workers connected to an outbreak at a seafood market in Samut Sakhon, a province south-west of Bangkok.
Infections connected to this cluster have spread to 38 provinces.
Some 36 local infections were in Rayong province linked to a gambling den, the spokesman said.
“The numbers reflect a heavier (outbreak), but we have more knowledge and capacity,” he said, adding that authorities were ready to handle the increased numbers.
Eight new cases were found in state quarantine facilities, and one infection in a person coming from abroad who did not enter quarantine.
Thailand has reported a total of 6,141 cases and 60 deaths.
Los Angeles Times, Reuters, AP