TOKYO — Japanese Emperor Naruhito and his family will not offer their New Year greetings from the palace balcony due to concerns over the country’s struggles with a resurgence of coronavirus infections.
The Imperial Household Agency said in a statement Friday that the annual greetings on Jan. 2 will not be held. The event traditionally draws tens of thousands of well-wishers to the palace garden. The greeting was last canceled in 1990 following the death of Naruhito’s grandfather.
Emperor Naruhito and his family have rarely made public appearances since the pandemic began, due to cancelation of palace events.
Experts have urged the government to reduce social and business activity before the holiday season because of a rise in serious coronavirus cases.
HERE’S WHAT YOU NEED TO KNOW ABOUT THE VIRUS OUTBREAK:
— Americans risk traveling over Thanksgiving despite warnings
— Congress braces for Biden’s national coronavirus strategy
— Pandemic gave locals fleeting taste of a tourist-free Hawaii
— To avoid any traces of the coronavirus that might be lurking on surfaces, Americans have been wiping down groceries, wearing surgical gloves in public and leaving mail packages out for an extra day or two. But experts say the national fixation on scrubbing can sometimes be overkill.
— California has reported a record number of coronavirus cases on the eve of Thanksgiving. More than 18,000 COVID-19 infections were reported Wednesday.
— Though the first real snow has yet to fall across much of Europe, ski buffs are imagining with dread a bizarre scene: Skiing in Zermatt in Switzerland while lifts idle across the border in Italy’s Aosta valley.
HERE’S WHAT ELSE IS HAPPENING:
SEOUL, South Korea — South Korea’s daily coronavirus tally is above 500 for a second straight day and the country’s prime minister is urging the public to stay at home this weekend to contain a viral resurgence.
Prime Minister Chung Sye-kyun said Friday that people should avoid social gatherings and refrain from going out in public this weekend. South Korea has seen a spike in fresh infections since it eased tough social distancing rules last month.
Authorities reported 569 newly confirmed infections over the past 24 hours, raising the country’s total to 32,887 for the pandemic, with 516 deaths. The 583 new cases reported Thursday was the first time that South Korea’s daily tally had exceeded 500 since March.
ST. LOUIS — More Missouri counties in the region around St. Louis are imposing mandates requiring the use of face masks as coronavirus cases and hospitalizations surge.
The move comes amid an unsuccessful campaign by health officials in that area to get Gov. Mike Parson to require masks statewide.
Jefferson County, just south of St. Louis, is the latest to adopt a mask mandate. Neighboring Franklin County passed a mask order last week, and Boone County adopted a similar requirement earlier this week. Also this week, St. Charles County officials ordered an 11 p.m. closing time for bars and restaurants.
On Thursday, state officials reported 4,471 new confirmed cases, bringing the total to 287,263. Since the pandemic started, 3,808 people have died of COVID-19.
NEW YORK — New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo says officials are working on a winter plan for the coronavirus that will add metrics for how the state designates virus hot zones.
On Thursday, Cuomo said the state will continue homing in on small geographic areas where virus cases are a particular problem to avoid imposing broad statewide restrictions, considering factors such as the hospitalization rate and the availability of ICU beds.
The new plan will add factors like the hospitalization rate and the availability of ICU beds to determine the location of the hot spots.
Cuomo said the winter plan will also look at ways to keep schools open, evaluating a safe positivity rate as well as determining the levels of testing needed at schools over the winter months. The plan will also outline how vaccines will be distributed as they become available.
DES MOINES, Iowa — Iowa added 41 COVID-19 deaths Thursday as three more long-term care facilities reported virus outbreaks.
KCCI reports that the Iowa Department of Public Health reported 3,331 new positive COVID-19 cases as of 10 a.m. to bring the total to 222,278. The latest deaths raised the pandemic total to 2,312.
Long-term care facilities have been particularly hard hit, with cases in them accounting for 1,038 of the state’s 2,312 deaths. The three new facilities reporting outbreaks brings the total that have been hit to 152.
Health department data also shows fewer Iowa counties are reporting a 14-day positivity rate greater than 15%. There are now 88 counties with a rate at 15% or higher, down from 91 the day before. Schools in those counties can apply for a waiver to provide 100% distance instruction.
LAWRENCE, Kan. — The number of Kansas counties that require face coverings has risen sharply as fewer opted out of Gov. Laura Kelly’s latest mask mandate.
Sixty-two Kansas counties now have orders in place, with many coming as Kelly’s new statewide mask order went into effect Wednesday, according to a list compiled by the Kansas Association of Counties. The remaining 43 of the counties have opted out, but most are encouraging or recommending people wear masks, The Kansas City Star reports.
It’s a stark contrast to the response Kelly received to her first mask order in July, when the majority of counties opted out.
Meanwhile, a Lawrence hotel will serve as a shelter for individuals who need to quarantine or isolate after a positive COVID-19 test or exposure to a positive case, a press release from Douglas County and its Unified Command partners said.
The Kansas Division of Emergency Management is providing funding for shelter services at the Baymont Inn and Suites, the Lawrence Journal-World reports. It’s available to homeless individuals, those who cannot safely isolate or quarantine at home due to numerous people living in the same home and first responders and those who work in high-risk professions.
PIERRE, S.D. — One group of South Dakotans marked the Thanksgiving holiday by setting up a makeshift memorial near the state Capitol in Pierre for those who have died from COVID-19.
A group called Stop the Spread set up over 800 empty chairs on the Capitol grounds, representing each person who has died. The state has tallied 849 COVID-19 deaths, with 424 of those deaths coming in November.
That death count is the 41st highest in the country overall, but the 11th highest per capita, according to Johns Hopkins researchers.
While the state maintained one of the nation’s lowest death rates per capita throughout the summer and into the fall, a wave of cases has led to a skyrocketing rate of deaths in recent weeks.
MADRID — Spain’s infection and fatality figures in the resurgence of COVID-19 are continuing to edge down, with the country posting 12,289 new cases and 337 deaths.
The 14-day cumulative number of COVID-19 cases per 100,000 of population, a recognized measure of the pandemic’s spread, also fell Thursday, to 325.
That is far off the Nov. 9 peak during the resurgence, when it stood at 529, and comes amid nationwide measures restricting movement and social gatherings.
The government admits the trend is favorable but wants to maintain caution until its target rate of 25 cases per 100,000 of population is reached.
Spain’s total number of new confirmed coronavirus cases stands at 1.6 million, with more than 44,000 deaths.
OTTAWA, Ontario — The chief medical adviser at Health Canada says Pfizer’s COVID-19 vaccine candidate could be approved in Canada next month.
Dr. Supriya Sharma says the Health Canada review is most advanced for the vaccine being developed by Pfizer and BioNTech. She says Canada is reviewing it alongside the United States and Europe, and expects it will be approved here at the same time it is given emergency authorization in the U.S.
The U.S. Food and Drug Administration is meeting Dec. 10 to consider whether to give the go-ahead to Pfizer. Canada has a purchase deal to buy at least 20 million doses of Pfizer’s vaccine, with the first four million of those on track to arrive before the end of March.
Sharma says she expects the first shipments of the Pfizer vaccine in January but it is possible Canada could begin receiving the first doses before the end of the year.
SANDPOINT, Idaho — A county commissioner in northern Idaho has proposed defunding the local health district after the district instituted a mask mandate to slow the spread of the coronavirus as it surges in the area.
The Bonner County Dailey reports that Bonner County Commissioner Steven Bradshaw proposed the resolution this week to pull about $250,000 from the Panhandle Health District.
Commission Chairman Dan McDonald said the resolution will have to be placed on the agenda before it can be considered at next week’s meeting.
The health district ordered the mask mandate on Nov. 19.
Bonner County Sheriff Daryl Wheeler says his agency won’t enforce it.
BETHEL, Alaska — The Alaska Native Medical Center, which specializes in health care for Alaska Native and American Indian people in the state, says it is now over capacity with coronavirus patients.
The center says it had to open an alternate care site to handle overflow.
The hospital’s Acting Administrator Dr. Robert Onders said during a virtual town hall on Monday that the critical care unit is so flooded that it cannot hold all the hospital’s most seriously ill patients.
About 20% of coronavirus patients at the hospital require critical care. Onders said he expects the hospital’s situation to worsen.
The Yukon-Kuskokwim Delta region had the highest coronavirus case rate in the state as of Tuesday with about 273 cases per 100,000 people across the region on Tuesday.
RENO, Nev. — The coroner in Reno fears the recent explosion of coronavirus cases in Nevada could soon overtake not only the ability to treat the sick, but also store the dead.
COVID-19 is now spreading so fast statewide that someone is confirmed to have contracted it every minute and someone else is dying from it about every two hours.
The Reno-Sparks area has recorded 59 COVID-19 deaths the last 30 days — half of those this past week.
If the current trend continues, Washoe County Medical Examiner Laura Knight says the death rate could potentially double over the next two to three weeks, and double again by early January.
Statewide hospitalizations set another record Wednesday with 1,414 COVID-19 patients.
PARIS — France’s health minister says his country is readying to start administering COVID-19 vaccines in late December. But Olivier Veran is warning Thursday that people will still have to wear masks and keep their distance even after vaccines are widely available.
Veran said he can’t say yet whether mass vaccination “will allow us to get rid of this virus and totally return to our past lives,” because it’s not clear exactly how long protection from the eventual vaccines will last.
Noting broad skepticism in France about vaccine safety, he promised transparency about vaccination policy and to release plans soon on who will get the vaccine first and how.
President Emmanuel Macron has said France will not make COVID vaccines mandatory.
France leads Europe in numbers of confirmed virus infections, and has reported 50,618 virus-related deaths.
ROME — Italian health officials say the number of coronavirus patients both in intensive care and regular care beds has dropped. It’s an encouraging sign for Italy’s overtaxed hospitals during the surge in cases.
According to Health Ministry figures, 34,038 people in the country of more than 60 million were hospitalized in non-ICU beds Thursday, down 275 from Wednesday.
There were 3,846 ICU patients, two fewer than on the previous day.
On Thursday, 822 deaths were registered, raising the total to 52,850.
Although some 2,700 more swab tests were performed compared to the previous 24-hour period, the number of persons testing positive jumped by more than 3,000 Thursday.
With 29,003 new confirmed cases, Italy surpassed the 1.5 million mark in the pandemic Thursday, reaching 1,509,875.