By The Associated Press
England Hospitalizations Hit New Peak
LONDON (AP) -- Official figures show more people are currently hospitalized with COVID-19 in England than at the first peak of the outbreak in the spring.
There were 20,426 patients in hospitals as of Monday morning -- the last day for which figures are available -- compared to the previous high of 18,974 on April 12.
Simon Stevens, chief executive of Britain's National Health Service, said health care workers are back in "the eye of the storm" as they had been in the spring.
British authorities are blaming a new variant of the coronavirus, first identified in southeast England, for soaring infection rates. Almost half of England's population is under tight restrictions on movement and on everyday life in an attempt to curb the spread.
Stevens said vaccines provide hope, and estimated all vulnerable people in Britain could be inoculated against the coronavirus by late spring 2021.
Variant Virus Found in Germany
BERLIN (AP) -- German authorities say the coronavirus variant found in Britain has been detected in samples from two patients who were infected in northern Germany in November.
The health ministry in Lower Saxony state said late Monday that the samples were tested more thoroughly after news of the new variant emerged in Britain, regional public broadcaster NDR reported. They were taken in November from an elderly man with other medical conditions who later died and from his wife.
The ministry said the man's daughter had been in England in mid-November and likely was infected there.
News this month of the variant, which scientists suspect is more infectious, triggered tighter restrictions in parts of England and new hurdles to travel.
Germany, like several other European countries, detected a case of the new variant last week, in a woman who flew in from London on Dec. 20.
Sri Lanka Reopens to Tourists After 9 Months
COLOMBO, Sri Lanka (AP) -- Sri Lanka has reopened to tourists after more than nine months.
The Indian Ocean island nation closed to tourists in March, amid the first wave of the coronavirus. Authorities also closed the two main international airports.
The government says a pilot program to attract tourists is now being implemented. The first tourists arrived on a special flight from Ukraine on Monday. The 186 tourists are expected to stay in Sri Lanka for 10 days.
Under the pilot program, which will run to Jan. 24, 2,580 tourists are expected to arrive in Sri Lanka, mostly from CIS countries.
COVID-19 has dealt a severe blow to tourism, a vital economic sector for Sri Lanka, accounting for about 5% of its GDP and employing 250,000 people directly and up to 2 million indirectly.
Previously, the government announced that the country would reopen to tourists on Aug. 1, but the date was pushed back after new clusters of COVID-19 patients emerged.
Sri Lanka has confirmed 41,602 cases, including 194 deaths.
Israel Ramps Up Vaccinations
TEL AVIV, Israel (AP) -- Israel's Health Ministry says the country has vaccinated more people in nine days than have been infected with the coronavirus since the pandemic began.
The ministry said Tuesday that nearly 500,000 people, or about 5% of Israel's population of 9 million, have already received the vaccine since the country began its inoculation drive last week. More than 407,000 people have caught the virus in Israel, and over 3,200 have died.
Israel is hoping a mass vaccination campaign will help bring its current outbreak under control and ultimately wipe out the virus entirely. This week the country entered its third national lockdown, with much of the economy shut down to help bring down surging infection numbers.
Israel is among the world's leading countries for coronavirus vaccinations per capita.
US Vaccinates Troops in South Korea
SEOUL, South Korea (AP) -- The United States has started vaccinating its troops based in South Korea, as its Asian ally reported its highest daily number of COVID-19 fatalities amid surging cases in the country.
The United States Forces Korea says it started inoculating military and civilian healthcare workers, first responders and the USFK command team with the Moderna vaccine on Tuesday.
The USFK says the vaccine is 100% voluntary and not mandatory for the 28,500 American troops in South Korea.
The Moderna vaccine arrived in South Korea on Dec. 25.
The government said Tuesday it will have vaccine doses for 56 million people, an amount seemingly enough for the country's 51 million people. Officials say they plan to begin inoculating the public in February.
South Korea also said Tuesday that 40 more virus patients had died in the past 24 hours, the country's highest daily death toll. South Korea logged 1,046 new cases, raising the total caseload to 58,725, including 859 deaths.
Variant Virus Found in India
NEW DELHI (AP) -- 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.
Pakistan Extends Ban on Passenger Flights From UK
ISLAMABAD (AP) -- 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.
South Korea Sets Daily Death Record
SEOUL, South Korea (AP) -- 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.
China Reporting New Cases
BEIJING (AP) -- 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.
Mixed Bag for Hospitalizations in California
LOS ANGELES (AP) -- 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.
Vaccines Reach Seattle-area Nursing Home
KIRKLAND, Wash. (AP) -- 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.