China asks residents of 2 cities to stay at home

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BEIJING (AP) – Chinese authorities have asked residents of two cities south of Beijing to stay at home for seven days as they try to eradicate a COVID-19 outbreak in which more than 300 people have tested positive last week.

The cities of Shijiazhuang and Xingtai in Hebei Province restrict people to their communities and villages and have banned gatherings, according to notices posted on social media.

Hebei reported 14 more confirmed cases in the last 24-hour period, bringing the total for the ongoing outbreak to 137. He found 197 other people without symptoms who tested positive. China is not including these asymptomatic cases in its confirmed tally.

Beijing is asking Hebei workers to show proof of employment in Beijing and negative COVID test before entering the national capital. Chinese media reported on Friday of several-hour backups at the entry points.

In a separate outbreak, three more cases were reported in northeastern Liaoning Province, bringing the total to 84 since the first cases emerged about three weeks ago. Beijing has had 31 cases in the same period, but no new cases in the past 24 hours.

In other developments in the Asia-Pacific region:

– India will launch its coronavirus vaccination campaign on January 16 to stem the pandemic in the second most populous country in the world. The health ministry said on Saturday that priority would be given to healthcare and frontline workers, estimated to number around 30 million. They will be followed by people over 50 and population groups under 50 with co-morbidities, numbering around 270 million, the statement said. Last week, the Indian drug regulator gave emergency clearance for the vaccine developed by the University of Oxford and UK manufacturer AstraZeneca, and another developed by Indian company Bharat Biotech. AstraZeneca has hired the Serum Institute of India, the world’s largest vaccine manufacturer, to manufacture 1 billion doses of its vaccine for developing countries, including India. The health ministry said the two vaccines would be given in two dosages. India is second in the world behind the United States with 10.4 million cases of coronavirus, including 150,798 deaths, according to the ministry.

– COVID-19 vaccines will be free in China, where more than 9 million doses have been administered to date, health officials in Beijing said on Saturday. “Ordinary people won’t need to spend a dime,” Zheng Zhongwei, an official with the National Health Commission, said at a press conference. The announcement cleared up confusion at a press conference nine days ago in which Zheng said it would be affordable, and a senior official, Vice Minister Zeng Yixin, stepped in to say it would be free. . The costs will be covered by a national medical insurance fund and public funds. About 7.4 million shots have been administered since the start of a campaign on December 15 to immunize medical and transport workers and other key groups ahead of the Lunar New Year, a major holiday in mid-February. . More than 1.6 million shots had been administered in the previous months. Zeng, the vice minister, said the precise timing of a visit by a WHO team of experts on the origins of the virus was being determined and he would be joined by Chinese experts in Wuhan. , the city where cases of the new coronavirus were first detected. late 2019. WHO chief Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus expressed disappointment earlier this week that the Chinese side had not finalized the necessary permits for the visit. Two members of the team already on the way had to turn around. Tedros said in Geneva on Friday that he expects the dates to be set next week.

– Several regional governments in Japan have requested a declaration of state of emergency like the one issued by the Prime Minister in the Tokyo region to stem the surge in coronavirus cases. The heads of Osaka, Kyoto and Hyogo prefectures in central Japan conveyed their demand to Yasutoshi Nishimura, the minister responsible for coronavirus measures, in an online conference call on Saturday, the government said. Governor of Osaka Hirofumi Yoshimura to reporters. There was no immediate decision, but the government’s medical panel will investigate the situation, Yoshimura said. The state of emergency in Japan, which began on Friday for Tokyo and the surrounding areas of Kanagawa, Saitama and Chiba, focuses on asking restaurants and bars to close at 8 p.m. It lasts a month but can be extended. Gifu Prefecture announced its own month-long state of emergency on Saturday. Other prefectures may follow suit. Japan recently recorded more than 7,000 new cases a day, with daily Tokyo cases exceeding 2,000. Overall, Japan has confirmed more than 270,000 cases, including more than 3,900 deaths.

– Sri Lankan prison authorities have decided to release more than 100 prisoners serving prison terms due to their inability to pay fines, in a bid to contain the spread of the coronavirus in the overcrowded facilities. Some 4,121 inmates and 129 prison guards have tested positive for the virus in five prisons in different parts of the island nation. Sri Lanka’s prisons are very crowded, with over 26,000 inmates in institutions with a total capacity of 10,000 people. Prison officials said on Saturday that around 150 inmates serving prison terms because they could not pay the fines would be released under a special pardon announced by the government in an effort to ease congestion. Authorities have released prisoners for various reasons since December. To date, 10,227 prisoners have been released. Sri Lanka has confirmed a total of 47,304 coronavirus cases, including 225 deaths.

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