The Latest: Young S. Koreans taking crucial university exam

Health Watch

Shannon McNaney wears a mask while shopping for a Christmas tree on Tuesday, Dec. 1, 2020, in Long Beach, Calif. (AP Photo/Ashley Landis)

SEOUL, South Korea — Hundreds of thousands of masked students in South Korea, including 35 COVID-19 patients, are taking the country’s highly competitive university entrance exam despite a viral resurgence that has forced authorities to toughen social distancing rules.

The Education Ministry says about 493,430 students began taking the one-day test at about 1,380 test sites across South Korea on Thursday. It says the test sites include hospitals and other medical facilities where the 35 virus patients and hundreds of others placed under self-quarantine will take the exam.

The annual test is a crucial step for many students’ lives in the education-obsessed country. The university from which a South Korean graduates significantly affects job prospects, social standings and even marriage partners.

This year’s test was originally scheduled for November but was delayed due to the virus outbreak.

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THE VIRUS OUTBREAK:

— U.K. approves Pfizer coronavirus vaccine for emergency use, puts Britain on track to start vaccinations soon

— International Red Cross seeks equitable access to vaccines

— Russia and Germany hit record numbers of daily coronavirus deaths

— Tokyo Olympic fans from abroadmay have health tracked by app

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Follow AP’s coverage at https://apnews.com/hub/coronavirus-pandemic and https://apnews.com/UnderstandingtheOutbreak

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HERE’S WHAT ELSE IS HAPPENING:

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ISTANBUL — Turkey’s health minister has announced a plan for vaccinations starting with an experimental inactivated vaccine later in December to combat the COVID-19 pandemic amid a surge in infections and deaths.

Minister Fahrettin Koca had previously announced an agreement with Chinese biopharmaceutical company Sinovac for 50 million doses of CoronaVac, with the first shipment to arrive after Dec. 11. The minister said early-use authorization would be granted after Turkish labs confirm the vaccine’s safety.

“If developments continue positively as we expect, Turkey would be among the first countries in the world to begin vaccinations in the early phase,” Koca said Thursday.

Health care workers, citizens above 65 and people living in care homes will be the first groups to be vaccinated. Next will be essential workers and people above 50 with at least one chronic disease. Third will be people younger than 50 with at least one chronic illness, young adults and other workers would be vaccinated. The fourth and final phase will be for the rest of the population. Turkey’s president has said the vaccine will be administered free of charge.

In November, The Lancet published a study about the efficacy of Sinovac’s vaccine, saying efficacy was determined to be moderate.

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NEW DELHI — India is reporting less than 40,000 new daily coronavirus cases for a fourth straight day as it awaits a vaccine rollout for its vast population.

With 35,551 new infections reported, India’s total confirmed cases crossed 9.5 million on Thursday. Its single-day cases have remained below the 50,000 level for more than three weeks.

The Health Ministry also reported 526 deaths in the past 24 hours, taking India’s total confirmed fatalities to 138,648.

India’s capital reported 3,944 new cases in the past 24 hours with positivity rate at a two-month low of 5%. It also recorded 82 more fatalities.

India doesn’t have any advance purchase agreement with any vaccine manufacturer.

The Serum Institute of India, which has been testing the Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccine, says it will apply for emergency approval by Indian authorities in two weeks. The institute is the world’s largest vaccine manufacturer.

India’s Dr. Reddy’s Laboratories is conducting tests for Russian vaccine Sputnik V.

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UNITED NATIONS — Nearly 100 world leaders and several dozen ministers are slated to speak at the U.N. General Assembly’s special session starting Thursday on the response to COVID-19 and the best path to recovery from the pandemic which has claimed 1.5 million lives, shattered economies in countries rich and poor.

Assembly President Volkan Bozkir says when he took the reins of the assembly in September it would have been better to hold the high-level meeting in June. Nonetheless, he said Wednesday that the session “provides a historic moment for us to come together to beat COVID-19.”

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NEW YORK — The head of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention predicts the country is about to go through “the most difficult time in the public health history of the nation.”

Dr. Robert Redfield made the comment during a U.S. Chamber of Commerce Foundation webcast Wednesday.

Redfield says earlier surges in COVID-19 illnesses were concentrated in one area of the country or another, and health care workers and equipment could be shifted from one place to another to deal with it. But now, he says,all parts of the country are seeing rising infections and illnesses.

In Redfield’s words: “The reality is December and January and February are going to be rough times. I actually believe they are going to be the most difficult time in the public health history of this nation.”

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SACRAMENTO, Calif. — California has reported more than 20,000 new coronavirus case, shattering the state’s previous one-day record of 18,350 as Gov. Gavin Newsom — himself quarantined at home after his family was exposed — considers a new stay-at-home order.

Following an early summer surge that prompted a new round of restrictions, California’s cases plummeted in August and September and the state relaxed restrictions, allowing more businesses to operate, indoor religious services to resume and many schools to reopen for classroom instruction.

But new cases have exploded in recent weeks. A record 8,500 people are in hospitals, including more than 2,000 in intensive care units.

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ATLANTA — The head of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has signed off on an expert panel’s recommendation that health care workers and nursing home residents be the first to get coronavirus vaccinations when shots become available.

Dr. Robert Redfield’s decision was posted on the CDC website Wednesday.

Experts believe that when a vaccine becomes available, doses will be limited in the first weeks and months. That will mean officials will have to decide whether certain people should be first in line. Doctors have been watching for federal advice about how priorities should be set.

On Tuesday, the Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices voted 13-1 that the first people vaccinated should be health-care workers and patients in nursing homes, long-term chronic care hospitals, and other U.S. long-term care facilities.

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BOSTON — A coalition of U.S. colleges and universities is urging Congress to pass a new coronavirus relief bill with at least $120 billion for higher education, saying the sector faces a crisis of “almost unimaginable” scale.

The letter signed by the American Council on Education and 100 other groups says financial losses caused by the pandemic are far worse than schools had expected. Colleges have laid off thousands of workers to cut costs, but the letter says the pared-down operations will unstainable without additional federal help.

Colleges have had to increase financial aid to help students who are struggling to pay tuition, and schools have lost revenue from closed dorms and dining halls.

Enrollments have also decreased amid the pandemic, with a 13% drop in freshmen across all U.S. institutions. At the same time, many states have cut their higher education budgets.

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AUSTIN, Texas — The mayor of Austin, Texas, is apologizing for taking a family vacation to Mexico in November at the same time he was telling residents to stay home because of a worsening surge in coronavirus cases.

Austin Mayor Steve Adler said Wednesday that his trip to Cabo San Lucas “set a bad example.” The apology came hours after the Austin American-Statesman published a story revealing the vacation, which Adler had previously never mentioned publicly.

At one point during the trip to Mexico, Adler even posted a video on Facebook telling people in Austin that now was “not the time to relax” and urging them to stay home.

Texas this week surpassed 9,000 hospitalized patients with COVID-19 for the first time since summer.

The mayor has been among the state’s most vocal politicians in pleading for vigilance during the pandemic.

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TORONTO — Canada’s health minister says health officials will soon complete a review of the coronavirus vaccine made by Pfizer and BioNTech.

Health Minister Party Hajdu on Wednesday described the United Kingdom’s decision to authorize the vaccine as “encouraging.”

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s government has been facing criticism since Trudeau admitted last week that other countries with domestic vaccine production are likely to inoculate their citizens first before shipping doses to Canada.

Health Canada’s chief medical adviser said last week that several vaccine candidates are under review, and the first could be approved sometime this month. Dr. Supriya Sharma said at a briefing Nov. 26 that the agency expected to make a decision on approval around the same time as regulators in the United States and Europe.

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