BOSTON — Massachusetts’ highest court says Gov. Charlie Baker didn’t overstep his authority with orders to close businesses and limit gatherings to control the spread of the coronavirus.
The Supreme Judicial Court on Thursday rejected a challenge brought on behalf of a group including salon owners, pastors and a private school. They accused the Republican of exercising “legislative police power” by declaring a state of emergency.
Baker announced this week that Massachusetts would tighten some restrictions as cases rise. The court rejected the lawsuit’s argument that the governor’s actions infringe on due process and free assembly.
“Given that COVID-19 is a pandemic that has killed over a million people worldwide, it spreads from person to person, effective vaccines have not yet been distributed, there is no known cure, and a rise in cases threatens to overrun the Commonwealth’s hospital system, it is a natural cause for which action is needed to ‘protect the public peace, health, security and safety, and to preserve the lives and property of the people of the commonwealth,’” the court wrote, quoting the state law.
U.S. experts are convening to decide whether to approve the Pfizer vaccine. Food and Drug Administration advisers are scrutinizing the company’s data for any red flags or oversights. If approved, shots could begin within days for health care workers and people in nursing homes.
Meanwhile, U. S. lawmakers are trying to hammer out a COVID-19 relief bill. That comes as US jobless claims jumped to 853,000 amid a resurgence of the virus. More than 19 million people rely on some type of unemployment benefit. And unless Congress acts soon, nearly half will lose that aid in just over two weeks.
— Pope’s Midnight Mass to start early to respect Italy curfew
— UN chief warns ‘vaccine nationalism’ is moving at full speed
— No drama corona-Christmas has some glad to stay home
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HERE’S WHAT ELSE IS HAPPENING:
JOHANNESBURG — South Africa’s health minister Zweli Mkhize says the country is seeing a dramatic rise in coronavirus cases.
South Africa recorded 6,700 new cases on Wednesday, the country’s highest number since August.
Mkhize warned that South Africa is in a second wave and could overwhelm hospital capacities in some regions. South Africa’s surge highlights that a new wave of the disease is sweeping across Africa, according to the head of the Africa Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
HONOLULU — Hawaii expects to receive 80,000 doses of the coronavirus vaccine in December for distribution to health care workers and residents of long-term care facilities.
The Honolulu Star-Advertiser reports the state Department of Health made its initial trial order with Pfizer for 4,875 doses of the vaccine. The December order will be used to provide the priority group with the first of two doses, which require a minimum 28 days in between injections. The vaccine will be free.
Meanwhile, Hawaii’s biggest surfing competition has started amid concerns about the spread of the coronavirus among fans.
Hawaii Public Radio reports the Billabong Pipe Masters Oahu’s North Shore will run through Dec. 20. The World Surf League has changed the format and closed the competition area to reduce crowds.
WASHINGTON — Commissioner Stephen Hahn says Thursday’s meeting of the Food and Drug Administration’s vaccine advisory panel is “an important day for all of America.”
The FDA head hopes it will lead to the beginning of the end of the pandemic and a return “to a more normal and healthy life.”
Hahn says the FDA is working to understand the allergic reactions that turned up when the United Kingdom began vaccinations this week. He says the FDA would include recommendations in any emergency use authorization as to who should not get the vaccine. Hahn, addressing public skepticism of the vaccine, says if one authorized, it’s important for people to get vaccinated to arrive at herd immunity.
He says: “I have 100% confidence, and I think the American public should as well, with respect to our review of the safety and efficacy of vaccine.”
He spoke Thursday morning to ABC, CBS and NBC.
FRANKFURT, Germany — The European Central Bank has added a $600 billion economic stimulus as rising coronavirus infections shut down large swathes of the economy and hurt Christmas sales revenues.
The central bank is buying half a trillion euros more bonds, equivalent to $600 billion. That pumps newly created money into the economy and keeps borrowing costs low for cash-strapped businesses and governments.
The European Central Bank announced the new stimulus after its latest regular policy meeting on Thursday. ECB President Christine Lagarde said in October more help was on the way. The central bank is acting as new infections reach record highs in Germany, the eurozone’s biggest economy, and as regional governments weigh new restrictions ahead of the holidays.
WASHINGTON — The number of people applying for unemployment aid jumped last week to 853,000, the most since September, evidence that some companies are cutting more jobs as new virus cases spiral higher.
The Labor Department says the number of applications increased from 716,000 the previous week. Before the coronavirus paralyzed the economy in March, weekly jobless claims typically numbered only about 225,000.
More than 19 million people are still dependent on some type of unemployment benefit. And unless Congress acts soon, nearly half of them will lose that aid in just over two weeks. That’s when two jobless aid programs that the federal government created in the spring are set to expire.
The U.S. leads the world with 1.5 million coronavirus cases and more than 289,400 confirmed people dead.
MADRID — Spain is changing its entry rules from countries with high rates of coronavirus spread, allowing incoming visitors to prove they don’t have the virus with a cheaper and faster type of diagnosis.
Starting Thursday, authorities will start accepting negative TMA, or Transcription-Mediated Amplification tests, for the 72 hours before the entry in Spain. It’s an alternative to the Polymerase Chain Reaction, or PCR lab tests, that were required since Nov. 23.
Although the cost for a TMA test can be under 100 euros ($121) and results can be available in just over one hour. They are not as widely available as the PCR tests because only one company, a Spanish multinational, distributes the equipment to perform them.
People who fail to present the certificate on arrival at the country’s airports and ports face a fine of 6,000 euros ($7,270).
ROME — Pope Francis will celebrate Midnight Mass at 7:30 p.m. to comply with Italy’s anti-coronavirus curfew.
He’ll deliver his Christmas Day blessing indoors to prevent crowds from forming in St. Peter’s Square.
The Vatican on Thursday released the pope’s Christmas liturgical schedule. It says the pope’s Dec. 24 Mass — which for years hasn’t been celebrated at midnight but at 9:30 p.m. to spare pontiffs from the late hour — would begin instead at 7:30 p.m. this year.
Italy has imposed a 10 p.m. nationwide curfew, restaurant closures and other restrictions to cut down on crowds forming after a surge in coronavirus cases and deaths this fall.
Francis will celebrate New Year’s Eve vespers and New Year’s Day Mass in the basilica. None of the services is open to the public, given social-distancing limits.
BERLIN — Germany has reported its highest one-day total of coronavirus cases, while the number of deaths has climbed above 20,000.
The national disease control center, the Robert Koch Institute, said Thursday that 23,679 new cases were confirmed over the previous 24 hours. That’s just above the previous record of 23,648 from Nov. 20.
Robert Koch Institute president Lothar Wieler says the level of coronavirus infections is “extremely fragile.” Wieler says Germans have reduced their social contacts by about 40%, but his institute believes more than 60% is needed.
A partial shutdown started Nov. 2 has succeeded in keeping the surge from picking up speed. But recently, cases and deaths have been rising. Momentum is building for a harder lockdown over Christmas and the New Year, and some regions already are introducing new restrictions.
That’s partly because deaths, which have been relatively low in Germany compared with several other European countries, have increased markedly. Another 440 deaths were reported on Thursday, following a single-day record of 590 on Wednesday.
That brought the confirmed total to 20,372 dead. Germany has reported 1.24 million coronavirus cases since the start of the pandemic.
TOKYO — The number of new coronavirus infections in Japan’s capital have topped 600 in a day for the first time.
Experts on Tokyo’s virus task force say the surge in infections has placed an added burden on hospitals, making it difficult for many of them to carry out treatment for ordinary patients.
Tokyo reported 602 new cases Thursday, while the daily tally for the entire nation was 2,810. Japan has reported 168,573 infections since the pandemic began, with 2,465 deaths.
Tokyo Gov. Yuriko Koike is urging residents to avoid non-essential outings, especially senior citizens and their families. Tokyo has issued a request for drinking places to close early until Dec. 17.
NEW DELHI — India is reporting 31,521 newly confirmed coronavirus infections in the past 24 hours, dropping to just over a third of the peak level seen in mid-September.
India’s single-day cases have remained below 50,000 for more than a month. The health ministry also reported 412 deaths Thursday, raising India’s total fatalities to 141,772.
India’s health ministry says some coronavirus vaccines are likely to receive licenses in the next few weeks. It has outlined an initial plan to immunize 300 million people.
Three vaccine companies have applied for early approval in India: Serum Institute of India, which has been licensed to manufacture the AstraZeneca vaccine, Pfizer Inc., and Indian manufacturer Bharat Biotech.
AUSTIN, Texas — A Texas state official who has been critical of measures ordered by Gov. Greg Abbott in efforts to slow the coronavirus pandemic says he has tested positive for the virus.
Texas Agriculture Commissioner Sid Miller was among an estimated 200 people who rallied outside Abbott’s home in October to protest his pandemic orders, including a continued statewide mask mandate and lockdowns.
In a statement Wednesday, the 65-year-old Miller says he has been quarantining at his ranch.
In his words: “Not feeling my best, but I’ve survived rodeo injuries, broken bones, hip, double knee and shoulder surgery, west nile virus and cancer, and I’m going to beat this too.”
UNITED NATIONS — U.N. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres says “vaccine nationalism” is moving “at full speed.” He says that is leaving people in developing nations around the world watching preparations for the rollout of inoculations against the coronavirus in some rich countries and wondering if and when they will be vaccinated.
The U.N. chief has repeatedly called for vaccines to be treated as “a global public good” available to everyone on the planet, and he appealed Wednesday for $4.2 billion in the next two months for a World Health Organization program to buy and deliver virus vaccines for the world’s poorest people.
The United Kingdom and Russia are already vaccinating people. In the United States, the Pfizer vaccine could get a green light for emergency use in the coming days. The vaccine was approved by Canada on Wednesday.
Guterres says that “what we’re seeing today is an enormous effort by several countries in order to ensure vaccines for their own populations.”
NEW YORK — A study out of Italy is seen as added evidence that COVID-19 virus may have been spreading in late fall of 2019, before an outbreak was first reported in Wuhan, China.
Researchers identified the new coronavirus infection in a specimen taken in early December from a 4-year-old boy who lived near Milan. The boy first developed a cough and other symptoms in November, months before COVID cases were identified in Italy.
In the study, the researchers went back and looked at back-of-the-throat swab specimens that had been collected from 39 patients between September and February. One from the boy tested positive for the new coronavirus.
The researchers noted that the Italian child developed cold and flu-like symptoms in November and then a measles-like rash in early December. But they don’t detail where the child had been or who had been around.
Scientists at the University of Milan led the study and the medical journal Emerging Infectious Diseases this week posted it online. The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention publishes the journal, but it is editorially independent of the agency.
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