The Latest: India confirms UK variant in 6 recent returnees

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NEW DELHI — India has found six people who returned from the United Kingdom in recent weeks infected with a new variant of the coronavirus.

The health ministry in a statement on Tuesday said that all the six patients were isolated and their fellow travelers were tracked down. Close contacts of the infected patients were also put under quarantine.

India previously suspended flights from and to the UK until the end of the year, noting the new variant is “spreading and growing rapidly.”

India on Tuesday reported 16,432 new cases of the virus overall, taking its total to 10.22 million infections and 148,153 deaths. India is expected to start a vaccination drive for some 300 million people early next month.

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THE VIRUS OUTBREAK:

— Bill Trump signed into law combines $900 billion in COVID-19 aid with $1.4 trillion in spending and reams of other unfinished legislation

— House voted overwhelmingly to increase COVID-19 relief checks to $2,000, meeting Trump’s demand, but Senate outcome uncertain

— ‘Surge on top of a surge’ filling hospitals in California, where virus restrictions likely to be extended

— 5th candidate reaches final-stage testing in US, a crucial step to getting enough vaccines to protect world

— Mexico might allow private firms to buy, distribute vaccines after questions raised about centralized control

— 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:

ISLAMABAD — Pakistan’s civil aviation authority has extended its ban on passenger flights from the U.K for a week in an effort to avoid the spread of a new variant of the coronavirus.

The ban was imposed last week after European and other countries halted air travel from Britain due to a new and seemingly more contagious variant of the coronavirus in England.

In a statement, Civil Aviation Authority said the ban on passenger flights from U.K. will remain in place until Jan. 4.

Under a government order, Pakistani nationals who traveled to Britain are being allowed to return home provided their COVID-19 tests are negative.

On Tuesday, Pakistan reported 1,776 newly confirmed COVID-19 cases and 63 deaths in the past 24 hours.

There have been 9,992 deaths among 475,085 COVID-19 cases since February, when the first infection was detected in the country.

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SEOUL, South Korea — South Korea says 40 more coronavirus patients have died in the past 24 hours, the highest daily number since the pandemic began.

Officials also reported 1,046 new confirmed coronavirus infections Tuesday, taking the total caseload to 58,725, with 859 deaths.

South Korea’s previous daily high for COVID-19 deaths was 24, reported on both Dec. 21 and Dec. 22.

Some observers say surging fatalities reflect an increase in cluster infections at nursing homes and long-term care centers where elderly people with underlying health problems stay.

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BEIJING — China has reported seven new cases of coronavirus infection in Beijing, where authorities have ordered the testing of hundreds of thousands of residents.

Cases have been clustered largely in villages on Beijing’s northeastern edge, but authorities are wary of any spread in the capital that could hurt claims it has all-but contained local spread of the virus.

City authorities have already urged residents not to leave the city during the upcoming Lunar New Year holidays. China has canceled big gatherings such as sports events and temple fairs. Cinemas, libraries and museums operate at 75% capacity. The government is also discouraging business trips.

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LOS ANGELES — California officials say hospitalizations for COVID-19 have stabilized in parts of the state but still overwhelm hospitals elsewhere, and Gov. Gavin Newsom is warning of a new surge in coronavirus cases following heavy holiday travel in defiance of recommendations to avoid gatherings.

ICU units in Southern California and the San Joaquin Valley have no capacity remaining. Newsom says the state has prepared for a new surge in cases by setting up hospital beds in arenas, schools and tents, though it is struggling to staff them.

California has been regularly breaking records for case counts, hospitalizations and deaths from COVID-19, while officials say models used for planning predict hospitalizations more than doubling in the next month from about 20,000 to more than 50,000.

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FRANKFORT, Ky. — Kentucky’s governor says the state hopes to begin the next phase of its coronavirus vaccination program at the start of February and will target emergency responders, educators and people 70 and older.

Gov. Andy Beshear said Monday that more than 26,000 vaccine doses have been administered in Kentucky so far.

Health care workers along with residents and staff at long-term care facilities are at the top of the list for receiving vaccinations in the first phase. The next designated groups are those 70 and older, school personnel and first responders such as police and firefighters.

The governor says the target date for the second phase is around Feb. 1, though it could be “plus or minus a week.” He says officials expect it will take most of February to vaccinate those groups.

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ATLANTA — Georgia has more than 4,000 people hospitalized with COVID-19, and officials say hospital admissions are increasing at a pace that raises questions about the health system’s ability to handle demand.

The numbers rose again Monday as Gov. Brian Kemp highlighted the launch of vaccinations of nursing home employees, starting at a Gainesville nursing home.

The state has moved into the top 20 for most new cases per capita in the last 14 days as infection rates have declined in the Midwest and risen in the South.

Northeast Georgia Health System is a four-hospital system based in Gainesville that continues to see increasing numbers of COVID-19 patients. It has put beds in a gym to care for people with milder cases, but Dr. John Delzell says they “are essentially at capacity” and surgeries are being delayed.

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KIRKLAND, Wash. — The residents and staff members at a Seattle-area nursing home that had the first deadly COVID-19 outbreak in the United States began receiving vaccines on Monday.

The first death associated with the Life Care Center of Kirkland, Washington, was reported in late February, and more than 40 people connected to the facility later died of coronavirus. The Seattle Times reports that Monday was the first day long-term care facilities can receive vaccines under a federal partnership with CVS and Walgreens, which is handling shots for the bulk of the state’s approximately 4,000 long-term care facilities.

Along with health-care workers, Washington state has recommended that nursing home residents receive the vaccine first, followed by residents of assisted-living facilities, adult family homes and other care sites.

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LOS ANGELES — Cruise ships without passengers will be visiting the Port of Los Angeles in coming weeks in a step toward a future resumption of service by the industry, which has been shut down by the coronavirus pandemic.

The port says the visits for fuel, supplies and services are part of operations to reestablish the ships in U.S. waters as a prerequisite to meet federal regulations in order to resume cruising in the future.

Ships from Princess Cruises, Holland America and Norwegian Cruise Line will periodically dock at the Los Angeles Cruise Terminal starting this week and through 2021.

Cruises have been suspended since March.

The Port of Los Angeles had 93 cruise cancellations, amounting to more than 70% of total cruises, this year.

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