The Latest: Belgium confident virus hospitalizations peaked

BRUSSELS — Belgian health authorities are confident a renewed surge of hospital admissions related to COVID-19 has peaked in the hard-hit country.

Virologist Yves Van Laethem told a news conference on Monday that about 400 people were hospitalized due to coronavirus complications on Sunday, compared with 879 on Nov. 3.

Some 6,948 patients are currently being treated in Belgian hospitals following a COVID-19-infection. It’s about 500 less than on Nov. 3.

To break the chain of contamination, Belgium has returned to partial lockdown measures including closing nonessential shops, bars and restaurants, as well as extending the autumn school vacation.

Van Laethem said the measures seem to have had an impact, as the number of patients in intensive care is also tending to stabilize. There were fears last month that Belgium would reach its maximum capacity for COVID-19 patients in intensive care by mid-November.

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HERE’S WHAT YOU NEED TO KNOW ABOUT THE VIRUS OUTBREAK:

Pfizer says an early peek at its vaccine data suggests the shots may be 90% effective at preventing COVID-19

Hungary unveils toughest virus measures yet, Portugal enters new state of emergency to fight rising infections

— With the campaign over, President-elect Biden is pivoting to fighting the coronavirus pandemic

— Germany says increase in new coronavirus infections appears to be levelling off, too early to talk about a reversal of the trend.

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— Follow AP’s coronavirus pandemic coverage at http://apnews.com/VirusOutbreak and https://apnews.com/UnderstandingtheOutbreak

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HERE’S WHAT ELSE IS HAPPENING:

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BUDAPEST, Hungary — The Hungarian government has announced the strictest measures taken to date in an effort to slow the spread of the coronavirus pandemic amid a dramatic uptick in hospitalizations and deaths.

Prime Minister Viktor Orban announced Monday that a general curfew would be imposed nationwide between 8 p.m. and 5 a.m. with the exception of those commuting to work. Businesses must close after 7 p.m., restaurants will be limited to home delivery, sporting events will be held in empty stadiums, and family gatherings will be limited to 10 people, Orban said. A general ban on events will also be introduced.

Universities and high schools will transition to digital education, while preschools, kindergartens and classes for children 14 and under will remain open. Healthcare workers, teachers and childcare workers will be tested weekly for the virus, according to the statement.

The newest restrictions will take effect at midnight Tuesday and remain in place for 30 days, after which they may be extended, Orban said. The Hungarian Parliament is expected to pass a measure on Tuesday which will enact a state of emergency for 90 days.

The raft of measures comes after a week of record-breaking hospitalizations and deaths. On Saturday, 107 people died of COVID-19, the highest daily total since the start of the pandemic, and more than 6,000 coronavirus patients were being treated in hospitals on Tuesday — also a record.

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LISBON, Portugal — Portugal has entered a state of emergency, with curfews imposed in the areas worst hit by the COVID-19 pandemic.

From Monday and for at least two weeks, some 7 million people — around 70% of the country’s population — must remain at home on weekdays between 11 p.m. and 5 a.m.. On the weekends, they cannot leave home after 1 p.m.

The government has warned that the state of emergency, which grants authorities special powers, may be prolonged and measures may be tightened if the spread of the new coronavirus does not slow.

The number of virus cases and hospital admissions in Portugal has climbed sharply in recent weeks. The country has seen 2,896 virus-related deaths.

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Pfizer says an early peek at its vaccine data suggests the shots may be 90% effective at preventing COVID-19, indicating the company is on track later this month to file an emergency use application with U.S. regulators.

Monday’s announcement doesn’t mean a vaccine is imminent. This interim analysis, from an independent data monitoring board, looked at 94 infections recorded so far in a study that has enrolled nearly 44,000 people in the U.S. and five other countries.

Pfizer Inc. did not provide any more details about those cases, and cautioned the initial protection rate might change by the time the study ends. Even revealing such early data is highly unusual.

Authorities have stressed it’s unlikely any vaccine will arrive much before the end of the year and limited initial supplies will be rationed.

The shots made by Pfizer and its German partner BioNTech are among 10 possible vaccine candidates in late-stage testing around the world — four of them so far in huge studies in the U.S.

Another U.S. company, Moderna Inc., also has said it hopes to be able to file an application with the Food and Drug Administration later this month.

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WASHINGTON — U.S. President-elect Joe Biden has announced the members of his coronavirus task force, which will put together a blueprint for fighting the pandemic.

Notable among the task force members is Rick Bright, a vaccine expert who had filed a whistleblower complaint alleging he was reassigned to a lesser job because he resisted political pressure to allow widespread use of hydroxychloroquine, a malaria drug pushed by President Donald Trump as a COVID-19 treatment.

Other members include doctors and scientists who have served in previous administrations, including experts in public health, vaccines and infectious diseases.

Biden says dealing with the pandemic is “one of the most important battles” his administration will face. Public health officials warn that the nation is entering the worst stretch yet for COVID-19 as winter sets in and the holiday season approaches, increasing the risk of rapid transmission as Americans travel, shop and celebrate with loved ones.

The U.S. is now averaging more than 100,000 new coronavirus infections a day, frequently breaking records for daily cases.

Hospitals in several states are running out of space and staff, and the death toll is soaring. So far, the U.S. has recorded more than 9.8 million infections and more than 237,000 deaths from COVID-19.

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BERLIN — Germany’s health minister says the increase in new coronavirus infections appears to be levelling off in the country but it’s too early to talk about a reversal of the trend.

Germany is one week into a four-week partial shutdown that’s meant to help prevent the health system from being overwhelmed. Restaurants, bars, sports and leisure facilities have been closed and new contact restrictions introduced, though schools and shops remain open.

New infections have continued to increase, reaching a new one-day record of 23,399 on Saturday. The country’s national disease control center on Monday reported 13,363 cases in the previous 24 hours, up from 12,097 a week earlier. Figures are typically lower on Sundays and Mondays because fewer tests are conducted over the weekend.

Health Minister Jens Spahn said Monday “we are seeing that the momentum is flattening, that we have less strong increases. But of course that is not the aim: we don’t want less strong increases, we have to get the figures down.”

Spahn said that it will be the middle or end of this week “at the earliest” before any effects from the latest restrictions are seen, “if at all.” He said that data show Germans have significantly reduced their movements.

Germany, which has 83 million people, has recorded 671,868 coronavirus cases since the pandemic started. Another 63 deaths were reported Monday, bringing the total to 11,352.

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MOSCOW — Russia on Monday reported a record number of new coronavirus infections but a daily death toll well below the highest toll.

The national coronavirus task force said 21,798 new cases were recorded, more than 1,000 more than the previous daily tally. It said there were 256 new deaths; the highest daily death toll is 389, recorded on Nov. 4.

Overall, Russia has tallied about 1,796,000 infections and 30,793 deaths but officials say there is no need for another national lockdown.

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SARAJEVO, Bosnia-Herzegovina — Bosnia’s health authorities have reported 73 new coronavirus deaths, the highest daily total since the start of the pandemic in the Balkan country.

They said Monday that there are 997 new cases in the past 24 hours, a slight drop from 1,211 cases recorded on Sunday.

Authorities say the virus has spread nearly throughout the country whose health system has still not recovered from the civil war in the 1990’s.

The country of 3.5 million has tallied more than 60,000 confirmed cases and over 1,500 deaths.

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HONG KONG — China’s financial hub of Shanghai has reported a cargo worker at the city’s main international airport has tested positive for coronavirus, prompting authorities to seal-off and disinfect his workplace and other locations he visited over the past two weeks.

The Shanghai health authority said the 51-year-old man, identified only by his surname Wang, had driven himself to a local hospital on Sunday, complaining of fever, fatigue and other symptoms associated with coronavirus.

China has largely contained the spread of the virus domestically and it was unclear how the man had become infected. However, in several recent cases, packaging on frozen food has been suspected as a possible means of the virus being transmitted.

China on Monday reported just 33 new cases, 32 of them brought from outside the country and one in the port city of Tianjin a short drive from Beijing.

China has recorded 86,245 cases and 4,634 deaths since the virus was first detected in the central Chinese city of Wuhan late last year.

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GENEVA — The World Health Organization’s chief says his agency is committed to “continuous accountability” as an independent panel evaluating WHO’s management of the global response to the coronavirus pandemic gets ready to brief the organization’s countries this week.

In a speech Monday, WHO chief Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said WHO welcomes “any and all efforts to strengthen the organization,” months after the organization bowed to demands from member countries to start an independent probe evaluating the COVID-19 response.

Tedros also pleaded for more money for the organization, saying there was a “shocking” imbalance between WHO’s annual budget and the expectations countries have of it.

“In the last decade, the world’s expectation of WHO has grown dramatically but our budget has barely changed,” he said, noting that WHO’s budget is equivalent to the amount the globe spends on tobacco products in a single day.

Tedros thanked donors for the $1.6 billion they have provided to WHO’s COVID-19 strategy.

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PRAGUE — Coronavirus infections in the Czech Republic have started to decline after a two-month rise to record high levels, thanks to a series of new coronavirus restrictions.

The Health Ministry says the day-to-day increase of the new confirmed cases dropped to 3,608 on Sunday, the lowest since Oct 11. A lower number of tests is usually carried out over the weekends but the number who tested positive dropped by almost 3,000 compared with the previous Sunday.

The confirmed cases reached a record daily high of 15,727 cases on Wednesday and has been declining since.

In another promising sign, the number of hospitalized dropped by some 500 to 7,779.

The Czech Republic has had 414,828 test positive while 4,858 have died.

The seven-day rolling average of daily new cases did not increase over the past two weeks, going from 112.34 new cases per 100,000 people on Oct. 25 to 97.63 new cases per 100,000 people on Sunday.

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NEW DELHI — India has reported 45,903 new coronavirus cases, with its capital recording the highest single-day rise in infections since the pandemic began.

The Health Ministry on Monday also reported 490 deaths in the past 24 hours, taking total fatalities in the country to 126,611.

New Delhi’s increase of 7,745 cases comes during a recent surge the government has attributed to crowding in markets during the ongoing festive season, winter weather and high air pollution.

The capital’s air quality levels are plummeting to the “severe” category. A recent government report projected New Delhi may see up to 15,000 daily cases in the winter months.

India has counted more than 8.5 million cases since the pandemic began, the second-highest total behind the U.S.

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BOSTON — The coronavirus has hit another sobering milestone: more than 50 million cases.

Johns Hopkins University’s coronavirus tracker tallied more than 50.3 million reported cases of coronavirus infection as of Sunday. More than 1.2 million people have died from COVID-19, according to its count.

The U.S., with about 4% of the world’s population, represents almost a fifth of all reported cases.

The country has had more than 9.9 million cases and more than 237,000 deaths from the virus since the pandemic started, according to Johns Hopkins University’s data.

Coronavirus cases and deaths also continue to soar in the U.S., as they are in many countries.