Editor’s note: This is a live account of COVID-19 updates from Wednesday, Jan. 6, as the day unfolded. It is no longer being updated. Click here to see all the most recent news about the pandemic, and click here to find additional resources.

Although many parts of the world are seeing growing vaccine access, the coronavirus is resurging and reshaping around the globe, filling hospitals and shutting businesses back down. But despite the sluggish start, Dr. Anthony Fauci said Tuesday the United States could soon be giving at least a million COVID-19 vaccinations a day.

In Washington, Gov. Jay Inslee announced Tuesday a two-phased plan that breaks the state into eight regions and will eventually allow businesses to open back up once the state gets a better handle on the pandemic.

We’re updating this page with the latest news about the COVID-19 pandemic and its effects on the Seattle area, the U.S. and the world.

Click here to see previous days’ live updates and all our other coronavirus coverage, and here to see how we track the daily spread across Washington and the world.

Navigating the pandemic
(Jennifer Luxton / The Seattle Times)


California hospitals prepping for grim COVID-19 choices

LOS ANGELES — California hospitals struggling with a skyrocketing coronavirus surge are trying to prepare for the possibility that they may have to ration care for lack of staff and beds — and hoping they don’t have to make that choice.

The state avoided surging cases for months, but now the virus is raging out of control there and across the nation in the wake of Thanksgiving holiday gatherings that authorities say vastly spread infections. Only Arizona tops California in cases per resident.

The state this week ordered hospitals in the hardest-hit areas to delay many elective surgeries in order to free up space.

In Los Angeles County, Methodist Hospital of Southern California convened an in-house triage team that makes daily evaluations “about the severity of critically ill patients that allows us to distribute resources to those who need it the most,” chief strategy officer Cliff Daniels said.

The hospital isn’t rationing care “and we hope we don’t get there,” Daniels said.

However, guidelines posted on the hospital’s website warn: “If a patient becomes extremely ill and very unlikely to survive their illness (even with life-saving treatment), then certain resources … may be allocated to another patient who is more likely to survive.”

—Associated Press

WIAA reorganizes sports calendar, decides football season will start in February

The Washington Interscholastic Activities Association revamped its high-school sports calendar again Wednesday as it continues to try to get sports on the field this academic year.

The WIAA’s Executive Board, made up of 13 school administrators from across the state, decided the traditional fall sports season can begin with practice Feb. 1. Those sports include football, girls soccer, volleyball, cross country and girls swimming and diving among others.

The fall season, which the WIAA is calling Season 1, is scheduled for seven weeks, ending on March 20. Winter sports and spring sports are still TBD.

Of course, any teams hitting the field next month will be contingent on the state’s guidance on coronavirus protocols.

Read the full story here.

—Nathan Joyce

CDC expects U.S. spread of highly contagious virus strain

WASHINGTON – The mutant variant of the novel coronavirus first seen in Britain is likely to be present in much of the United States. Although the variant has so far been detected in a very small fraction of infections, it shows signs of spreading and may become significantly more common in coming weeks, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and infectious-disease experts.

The cases so far have been mostly isolated: One in New York, one in Florida, one in Georgia and two in Colorado. The exception has been California, and specifically San Diego County, where a robust surveillance operation has so far found 32 cases of the variant. National Institutes of Health Director Francis Collins told The Washington Post Wednesday: “I would be surprised if that doesn’t grow pretty rapidly.”

There is no evidence that the variant, which has recently been detected in more than 30 countries, carries a greater risk of severe disease or death. But the appearance of coronavirus variants, including another mutation-laden variant that has appeared in South Africa, presents a challenge for every country hoping to crush the pandemic.

A more transmissible virus could drive more patients into hospitals and boost the covid-19 death toll. It also could prolong the march toward herd immunity. That’s the point at which a pathogen circulating through a population will slam into so many people with immunity that any outbreak quickly dies out and doesn’t turn into an epidemic.

—The Washington Post

Virus restrictions heightened in China province

BEIJING — Lockdown measures were being imposed in a northern Chinese province where coronavirus cases more than doubled in the region near Beijing that’s due to host some events in next year’s Winter Olympics.

Rail, air and highway connections to the Hebei capital of Shijiazhuang, a city of at least 10 million people, have been suspended and prevention and control measured tightened over urban communities and villages in the area. Classes have been suspended and school dormitories isolated.

The National Health Commission on Thursday announced 51 new cases had been confirmed in Hebei province, bringing the total to 90 since Sunday. Most have been in Shijiazhuang, although cases have also been recorded in the city of Xingtai.

Authorities have also imposed similarly tight measures in the cities of Shenyang and Dalian in Liaoning province just to the north.

Wary of a new wave of infections, China is discouraging travel over next month’s Lunar New Year holiday and beginning school holidays a week early.

—Associated Press

Homebound viewers boost New Year’s Eve ratings; a CNN high

LOS ANGELES — Stuck at home on a pandemic New Year’s Eve, TV viewers turned to Ryan Seacrest, Anderson Cooper and Andy Cohen in big numbers for a virtual celebration, with Times Square largely empty as the ball dropped.

ABC’s “Dick Clark’s New Year’s Rockin’ Eve” with host Seacrest drew 18.4 million viewers in the hour between 11:30 p.m. and 12:30 a.m. EST, an increase of 5% over 2020’s audience.

CNN ushered in 2021 with its highest-rated New Year’s Eve special on record, with 3.4 million people tuning in to share the evening hosted by Cooper and Cohen.

The ABC special’s first hour and an episode of CBS’ “60 Minutes” were the only non-football programs to make last week’s top 20 list of most-watched shows, according to Nielsen figures released Wednesday.

—Associated Press

Health officials confirm 2,191 new coronavirus cases in Washington

The state Department of Health (DOH) reported 2,191 new coronavirus cases and 64 new deaths on Wednesday.

The update brings the state's totals to 260,752 cases and 3,605 deaths, meaning that 1.4% of people diagnosed in Washington have died, according to the DOH. The data is as of 11:59 p.m. Tuesday.

The new cases may include up to 360 duplicates, according to DOH.

In addition, 15,415 people have been hospitalized in the state due to the virus — 88 new hospitalizations. In King County, the state's most populous, state health officials have confirmed a total of 66,286 COVID-19 diagnoses and 1,085 deaths.

On Dec. 16, DOH’s case, hospitalization and death counts started including both confirmed cases and probable cases. According to DOH, probable cases refer to people who received a positive antigen test result but not a positive molecular test result, while confirmed cases refer to those who have received a positive molecular test result.

The DOH says its daily case reports may also include duplicate test results, results assigned to the wrong county, results that are reported for today but are actually from a previous day, occasional false positive tests and other data discrepancies. Because of this, the previous day’s total number of cases plus the number of new daily cases does not add up to the new day’s total number of cases.

—Elise Takahama

Seattle won’t be counting its unsheltered homeless population this year, a number that could be higher than ever

This year will mark the first time since at least 1980 there won’t be a count of people living outside in Seattle. The homeless census occurs every year on January 21st and provides a snapshot of how many people are living on the streets and in shelters within King County.

The federal government requires every county in the U.S. to perform the count every two years, but King County has done it every year since before that mandate.

Last month, the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development granted permission to King County to not conduct the count over concerns around exposing volunteers and people being counted to the coronavirus.

“We’ve always put out a team,” said Colleen Echohawk, who runs a service center for homeless Native Americans in Pioneer Square called Chief Seattle Club, and co-chairs the board that voted to ask for a federal waiver. “There’s no way I’m asking a team to go out there in the middle of the night … with a lot of undiagnosed COVID in our community.”

Read the full story here.

—Scott Greenstone

Devils dance, observe virus protocols at Ecuador festival

PILLARO, Ecuador — Talk of the devil and he is bound to appear, the saying goes. In Ecuador, that means even during the pandemic.

An Andean village festival known as the Diablada, or dance of the devils, was muted Wednesday because of the health emergency. But a small group of people in demon and other costumes still danced without spectators, obeying municipal rules that no more than 30 people participate as Ecuador struggles to contain the spread of the coronavirus.

The costumed fiends assembled in a designated area in Pillaro, denied the chance to strut through streets and grimace at big crowds as they previously did, though scenes of the trimmed festival circulated on social media.

Thousands of tourists have traveled to past editions of the festival, which Ecuador’s culture ministry classifies as an occasion of ïntangible heritage” in 2009.

The Diablada in central Ecuador was restricted to Wednesday’s gathering and another diabolical dance-off on Jan. 1. That was instead of daily parades during a weeklong commemoration that is also held in some other Andean

—Associated Press

Arizona deemed ‘hot spot of the world’ amid virus surge

Five months after President Donald Trump hailed Arizona as a model for how it dealt with the COVID-19 pandemic, public health experts warned Wednesday that the state has become “the hot spot of the world” and that health restrictions the governor has been hesitant to impose could have tamped down the crisis.

“It’s way worse than July already, and it’s going to continue to get worse. We’re probably two weeks behind LA in terms of our situation,” Will Humble, head of the Arizona Public Health Association, said referring to Los Angeles County, where a COVID-19 surge has created a shortage of oxygen and led ambulance crews to stop transporting patients they can’t revive in the field.

Health officials in Arizona reported a triple-digit number of new virus-related deaths for the second day in a row and more than 7,200 daily cases, with hospitals strained by a record number of patients.

Arizona has the worst coronavirus diagnosis rate in the country, with one out of every 119 people in the state testing positive in the past week.

Forceful measures like a statewide mask mandate could help reduce cases down the road, but Humble said he doubts Gov. Doug Ducey will change anything. Hospital administrators also are pleading for the state to take greater measures to curb the spread of the virus.

Read the story here.

—Terry Tang, The Associated Press

Zimbabwe jails 3 for having New Year’s party despite ban

Thousands of people attend a music concert to celebrate the new year in Mbare, Harare, Friday, Jan 1, 2021. Despite a government ban on music concerts and public gatherings due to a surge in COVID-19 infections and the new and more contagious variants of the disease, thousands of people gathered in one of the country’s poorest neighborhoods to celebrate the new year. (AP Photo/Tsvangirayi Mukwazhi)

A Zimbabwean court has jailed three men who organized a New Year’s Eve party attended by thousands of people in the capital, Harare, in violation of COVID-19 regulations at a time the country is facing an unprecedented surge in infections.

The three men were sentenced to 12 months in prison, with six months suspended because they pleaded guilty and did not waste the court’s time.

Zimbabwe banned New Year parties as part of measures to slow the spread of the COVID-19, which is resurging amid signs of complacency by a public not keen on following preventive measures.

Despite the ban, large parties were held in several Zimbabwean cities and towns...

Zimbabwe had recorded low numbers of COVID-19 infections since March last year when it imposed a lockdown that was later eased as infections slowed. But figures of confirmed cases and deaths have recently begun increasing significantly and the government last week reintroduced a nighttime curfew, banned public gatherings, closed beer taverns and indefinitely suspended the opening of schools.

Read the story here.

—Farai Mutsaka, The Associated Press

Dates, plans of WHO expert visit to China under negotiation

China said Wednesday it was still negotiating with the World Health Organization the dates and itinerary for a visit by international experts looking into origins of COVID-19, after the head of the agency criticized Beijing for not finalizing permissions for the mission.

China’s position on the hunt for the origins of the pandemic “has always been open and responsible,” Foreign Ministry spokesperson Hua Chunying told a daily news briefing in Beijing.

She said that China has a close cooperation with WHO. However, the dates and itinerary need to be finalized, she said.

Read the story here.

—The Associated Press

Washington state releases new COVID-19 vaccination tiers, timeline through April

Dr. Thuan Ong, center, reaches out to UW Medicine Chief Medical Officer Dr. Tim Dellit after Ong spoke with deep emotion about his patients before he received a COVID-19 vaccination at the hospital Tuesday, Dec. 15, 2020, in Seattle. Ong’s medical team was the first to treat coronavirus patients at long-term care facilities in the area and he said he was thinking about his patients and those who died of the virus. (AP Photo/Elaine Thompson)

The Washington state Department of Health will next prioritize for vaccination everyone who is 70 years and older and those who are 50 years and older and live in multi-generational households, the state health department announced in a media briefing Wednesday.

In addition to the next tier of vaccinations, called B1, the department detailed through April who else would be eligible for a COVID-19 vaccine in phases B2, B3 and B4.

The phases and who qualifies can be seen here.

Last month, the state decided to prioritize the high-risk health care workers, first responders and residents in long-term care facilities. The health department estimates that about 500,000 people qualify for vaccination in the top priority group, called Phase A1.

The state health department had received 522,550 doses of vaccine, between the Pfizer and Moderna products, so far, said Dr. Umair Shah, the state health secretary.

Read the story here.

—Evan Bush

Brazil suspends syringe purchase effort as vaccination lags

Commuters wear protective masks inside the Luz train station in Sao Paulo, Brazil, on Thursday, Oct. 8, 2020. Photographer: Jonne Roriz/Bloomberg (Bloomberg)

Brazil’s President Jair Bolsonaro said Wednesday his administration is suspending an effort to buy hundreds of millions of syringes just as the country is preparing to launch a nationwide vaccination campaign against COVID-19.

Bolsonaro said on his social media channels that prices for syringes have soared, so, “The Health Ministry has suspended the purchase until prices return to normal.”

He also said states and municipalities possess enough stock to handle the first stage of the forthcoming immunization campaign “because the amount of vaccines at first is not big.”

The president has faced scathing criticism for his handling of the pandemic in a country that reported 56,648 additional cases of the novel coronavirus and 1,171 new COVID-19 deaths within 24 hours on Tuesday.

Read the story here.

—The Associated Press

Quarantine corner: Diversions to get you through the day

Terrific takeout: Food critic Tan Vinh shares the three best Seattle-area meals he’s had recently. One surprising pick: a sushi sandwich.

What did an “Undercover Billionaire” do to Tacoma? You can find out in the Discovery Channel series that starts tonight, after the show sent a music mogul our way to build a million-dollar business out of $100. And here are our top streaming shows this week.

The creator of Seattle’s “election anxiety” pasta and other noodly novelties is sharing her recipe for pesto with a kick of springtime flavor.

—Kris Higginson

Florida company accused of steering vaccines to rich donors

Florida launched an investigation Wednesday into an upscale nursing home amid reports that it administered coronavirus vaccines to wealthy donors and members of a country club along with its residents and employees.

The Washington Post and New York Post both reported that MorseLife Health System, a nonprofit that operates a nursing home and assisted living facility in West Palm Beach, has given vaccinations to donors and members of the Palm Beach Country Club, whose foundation has donated at least $75,000 to MorseLife since 2015, tax records show.

The newspapers reported that the vaccinations were organized by MorseLife CEO Keith Myers and New Jersey-based developer David Mack, a member of various MorseLife boards and chairman of the country club foundation’s board.

Meredith Beatrice, a spokeswoman for Gov. Ron DeSantis, “We are investigating this situation and will hold any bad actors accountable.”

Read the story here.

—The Associated Press

Start location changed for scaled-back Iditarod

Officials with the scaled-back Iditarod Trail Sled Dog Race on Tuesday announced another change for the 2021 competition.

The world’s most famous sled dog race will start and end from Deshka Landing, a year-round access point to nearby rivers about 7 miles (11 kilometers) away from the normal starting location in the Alaska community of Willow.

Construction at the community center in Willow forced the move.

Officials announced last month that the race, which is normally about 1,000 miles (1,609 kilometers), has been shortened to 860 miles (1,384 kilometers) and will not end as normal on the Bering Sea coast in Nome because of pandemic concerns.

Every musher must test negative for the coronavirus before the race begins. They will also be tested again during the race. Facial coverings and social distancing will be mandated at checkpoints, according to race officials.

Read the story here.

—The Associated Press

Pandemic-era Mardi Gras: No big crowds, but plenty of cake

A subdued Carnival season begins Wednesday after the coronavirus pandemic put an end to the crowd-heavy balls and street parades that draw thousands of people to the city every year.

The Butterfly King float makes it way down St. Charles Ave. near Canal Street as Rex rolls on Mardi Gras Day in New Orleans on Feb. 25, 2020. There won’t be any parades on Mardi Gras or during the weeks leading up to it because they just can’t fit within restrictions to slow the spread of the coronavirus pandemic, a city spokesman said Tuesday, Nov. 17, 2020, (David Grunfeld / The Advocate via AP)

The Mardi Gras season always starts on Jan. 6 and ends on Fat Tuesday, which this year falls on Feb. 16. The season is usually marked by extravagant balls and parades where costumed riders throw trinkets to the mobs of people packed along the parade routes.

The coronavirus has put an end to those large events. But that has not stopped notoriously creative New Orleanians from coming up with socially distant ways to celebrate.

Read the story here.

—Rebecca Santana, The Associated Press

Greek churches open on Epiphany feast despite tight lockdown

The Greek government relented and allowed limited attendance at churches celebrating the feast of the Epiphany on Wednesday, reversing a ban on attendance designed to limit the spread of the coronavirus.

A limited congregation attends the service for the feast of the Epiphany in the Church of the Holy Trinity in Piraeus, the port of Athens, Wednesday, Jan. 6, 2021. The Greek government relented and allowed limited attendance at churches celebrating the feast of the Epiphany on Wednesday, reversing a ban on attendance designed to limit the spread of the coronavirus. (Thanassis Stavrakis / The Associated Press))

Not all churches opened their doors to the faithful during services but, in those that did, congregations were limited from 25 to 50 people, for the largest churches, and, in some cases of overflow, the faithful were allowed in, a few at a time, for private prayers after the service was over.

As per a previous agreement between the Greek Church and the government, the traditional blessing of the waters conducted each year on the Epiphany, on Jan. 6, took place inside the churches and not in the open, in rivers and beaches, as is customary.

The Orthodox Church celebrates Jesus’ baptism during the Epiphany.

The Holy Synod of the Church of Greece had reacted angrily Monday to the ban which was imposed, without consultation, they claimed, the previous Saturday and had decided unanimously it would openly challenge it. The government had also responded strongly, saying no one can choose which laws to follow.

—The Associated Press

Park and vote: New Hampshire House holds drive-in session

The usual shoulder-to-shoulder was more like bumper-to-bumper for the New Hampshire House of Representatives on Wednesday as one of the world’s largest legislative bodies convened from the socially distant confines of their cars instead of the Statehouse.

The start of the legislative session was delayed as cars lined up to get into the lot at the University of New Hampshire where the session was being held.

Legislators were greeted by a handful of protesters who felt the session has failed to reasonably accommodate members with disabilities. One sign read that drive-ins are for movies and making out, “NOT for the NH State Legislature!”

The 24-member Senate also convened Wednesday, but in a fully remote session. House Democrats had pushed for the same, but acting Speaker Sherm Packard, R-Londonderry, said that wasn’t possible because the House hadn’t adopted rules to allow remote sessions. He also has said doing so would cost $300,000 to set up a secure voting system.

Instead, House lawmakers parked in alternating spots in staggered rows facing a large movie screen in Durham.

Read the story here.

—The Associated Press

Death of 9 nuns highlights toll of coronavirus in convents

Through the month of December, mixed in with joyful Christmas messages, death announcements filled the Facebook page of the Sisters of St. Joseph of Carondelet as a coronavirus outbreak took its toll in a residence for retired and infirm nuns.

“We have lost nine beloved sisters — wonderful, dedicated members of our religious community,” said Sister Joan Mary Hartigan, director of St.Joseph’s Provincial House in the Albany suburb of Latham.

The women were 84 to 98 years old when they died at the private residence for Roman Catholic nuns in the order of St. Joseph of Carondelet, which traces its roots to 1650 in Le Puy, France.

“They had dedicated their lives to bringing Jesus’ word of love and unity to the world in various ministries, including teaching, parish work and religious education,” Hartigan said by email.

The wave of deaths at Provincial House mirrors the toll among retired or infirm nuns at several other convents around the United States. The pattern aligns with deaths at nursing homes, which have also been hit hard by the coronavirus with 110,000 deaths nationwide.

In Germany, 76 nuns tested positive for the coronavirus in December and in Wisconsin, also last month, eight nuns died of COVID-19 in a suburban Milwaukee retirement community.

Read the story here.

—The Associated Press

Swedish official resigns over Spain vacation during pandemic

FILE – In this March 15, 2020 file photo, Dan Eliasson, the general director of the Swedish Contingencies Agency (MSB), attends a press conference on the coronavirus pandemic, in Stockholm. A Swedish top official has resigned after a trip to Spain’s Canary Islands for Christmas and New Year’s, saying “the important thing is how we as a society handle the pandemic and all focus is on the incredibly important task.” The departure of Dan Eliasson comes as the Scandinavian country has seen a recent spike in virus cases. (Fredrik Persson /  The Associated Press)

A senior Swedish official resigned Wednesday after a vacation to Spain’s Canary Islands for Christmas and New Year’s, saying “the important thing is how we as a society handle the pandemic and all focus is on the incredibly important task.”

The departure of Dan Eliasson, who had headed the government agency responsible for civil protection, public safety, emergency management and civil defense since March 2018, comes as the Scandinavian country has seen a recent spike in virus cases.

And last year, the agency known as MSB, sent out text messages to millions in Sweden urging them not to travel.

But the 59-year-old Eliasson was photographed several times in December in the Canary Islands. He told the Expressen daily that he had “given up a lot of travel during this pandemic” and has a daughter living on the islands.

Read the story here.

—The Associated Press

Tokyo cases hit record as gov’t mulls emergency

People wearing protective masks to help curb the spread of the coronavirus wait for traffic light to walk along pedestrian crossings in the Shibuya area of Tokyo Tuesday, Jan. 5, 2021. Japanese Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga says vaccine approval is being speeded up to curb the spread of the coronavirus, and he promised to consider declaring a state of emergency. The Japanese capital confirmed more than 1200 new coronavirus cases on Tuesday. (Eugene Hoshiko / The Associated Press)

Tokyo on Wednesday reported a daily record of 1,591 coronavirus cases as the national government prepares to declare a state of emergency this week to cope with a new wave of infections.

Those needing critical care in the capital also reached a record 113 people, according to the metropolitan government.

Toshio Nakagawa, head of the Japan Medical Association, called the situation “extremely serious” but stopped short of criticizing Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga for acting too slow to contain the latest outbreak, as some have suggested.

“Please take this virus seriously, and don’t think it’s just another flu,” Nakagawa said, warning hospital care was getting stretched thin.

Japan has confirmed more than 250,000 cases, including over 3,700 deaths.

Read the story here.

—The Associated Press

Dutch begin COVID-19 vaccinations; last EU nation to do so

Nearly two weeks after most other European Union nations, the Netherlands on Wednesday began its COVID-19 vaccination program, with nursing home staff and front-line workers in hospitals first in line for the shot.

Healthcare worker Sanna Elkadiri, left, was the first Dutch recipient of a shot of the Pfizer-BioNTech coronavirus vaccine at a mass vaccination center in Veghel, Netherlands, Wednesday Jan. 6, 2021. Nearly two weeks after most other European Union nations, the Netherlands on Wednesday began its COVID-19 vaccination program, with care home staff and frontline workers in hospitals first in line for the shot. (Piroschka van de Wouw/Pool via AP)

The Dutch government has come under fierce criticism for its late start to vaccinations. Prime Minister Mark Rutte told lawmakers in a debate Tuesday that authorities had focused preparations on the easy-to-handle vaccine made by Oxford University and AstraZeneca, which hasn’t yet been cleared for use in the EU, and not the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine.

Dutch Health Minister Hugo de Jonge said, “Finally, after 10 months of crisis, today we are starting to end this crisis.” But he warned that, “it will take a while before we have all the misery behind us. ”

Read the story here.

—The Associated Press

Nebraska governor says citizens, legal residents will get vaccine priority over undocumented immigrants

Nebraska Gov. Pete Ricketts at a September  news conference in Lincoln. Ricketts and other officials unveiled the state’s plan to distribute a coronavirus vaccination on Monday. (AP Photo / Nati Harnik, file)

After briefing reporters Monday on plans to deliver coronavirus vaccines to Nebraska meatpacking plants, Republican Gov. Pete Ricketts was asked whether undocumented workers would be included.

“You’re supposed to be a legal resident of the country to be able to be working in those plants,” Ricketts replied. “So I do not expect that illegal immigrants will be part of the vaccine with that program.”

When his comments quickly went viral, stoking outrage from critics, Nebraska officials rushed to clarify. Immigrants would still qualify for the vaccine, one Ricketts aide said, but those without legal status would have to wait at the back of the line.

“Nebraska is going to prioritize citizens and legal residents ahead of illegal immigrants,” the governor’s communications director, Taylor Gage, wrote on Twitter on Monday.

Read the story here.

—The Washington Post

India says it will prioritize Sri Lanka in providing vaccine

India’s foreign minister told Sri Lanka’s president on Wednesday that Sri Lanka will be prioritized when Indian-produced COVID-19 vaccines are ready for export, the president’s office said.

Visiting Indian External Affairs Minister S. Jaishankar made the pledge when President Gotabaya Rajapaksa asked him for vaccines produced in India, Rajapaksa’s office said in a statement.

India’s drug regulator has approved two vaccines for emergency use for COVID-19 — one developed by Oxford University and U.K.-based drug maker AstraZeneca, and another by the Indian manufacturer Bharat Biotech.

Serum Institute of India, the world’s largest vaccine manufacturing company, has been contracted by AstraZeneca to make 1 billion doses for developing nations, including India. However, delivery of the vaccine outside India is likely to take a number of months.

Read the story here.

—The Associated Press

Some Orthodox Christians in Bulgaria ignore COVID warnings on Epiphany

Citizens of the mountain town of Kalofer, in central Bulgaria, clad in traditional dresses stand in the icy Tundzha River, some waving national flags to recover a crucifix cast by a priest in an old ritual marking the feast of Epiphany, Wednesday, Jan. 6, 2021. The legend goes that the person who retrieves the wooden cross will be freed from evil spirits and will be healthy throughout the year. (AP Photo/Valentina Petrova)

Thousands of Orthodox Christian worshippers in Bulgaria on Wednesday ignored warnings issued by health authorities to abstain from mass gatherings due to the coronavirus pandemic and kept instead to their centuries-old Epiphany traditions.

Young men plunged into the icy waters of rivers and lakes across Bulgaria to retrieve crucifixes tossed by priests in ceremonies commemorating the baptism of Jesus Christ.

The legend goes that the person who retrieves the wooden cross will be freed from evil spirits and will be healthy throughout the year. After the cross is fished out, the priest sprinkles believers with water using a bunch of basil.

In the small mountain city of Kalofer in central Bulgaria, dozens of men dressed in traditional white embroidered shirts waded into the frigid Tundzha River waving national flags and singing folk songs. Inspired by bass drums and bagpipes and fortified by homemade liquor, they performed a slow “mazhko horo,” or men’s dance, stomping on the rocky riverbed.

The mayor of Kalofer, who usually leads the dance, this year did not enter the river to set an example that coronavirus regulations have to be followed.

A few local police officers attempted to prevent people from entering the river, threatening them with fines, but their calls were widely ignored.

—The Associated Press

Governors scramble to speed vaccine effort after slow start

New York’s governor is threatening to fine hospitals that don’t use their allotment of COVID-19 vaccine fast enough. His South Carolina counterpart says health care workers have until Jan. 15 to get a shot or move to the back of the line. California’s governor wants to use dentists to vaccinate people.

With frustration rising over the slow rollout of the vaccine, state leaders and other politicians around the U.S. are turning up the pressure, improvising and seeking to bend the rules to get shots in arms more quickly. The governors of California, Maryland and North Carolina said they will use the National Guard to speed things up.

“Move it quickly. We’re serious,” New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo warned hospitals on Tuesday. “If you don’t want to be fined, just don’t participate in the program. It’s not a mandatory program.”

As of Wednesday morning, just 4.8 million people in the U.S. had gotten their first shot out of 17 million doses distributed, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Meanwhile, the U.S. death toll has climbed past 357,000. COVID-19 deaths set another one-day record at 3,775 on Tuesday.

Read the story here.

—The Associated Press

EU agency authorizes Moderna’s COVID-19 vaccine

FILE – In this file photo dated Wednesday, Dec. 30, 2020, a bottle of Moderna COVID-19 vaccine on a table before being utilised in Topeka, USA.  The European Union’s medicines agency on Wednesday Jan. 6, 2021, gave the green light to Moderna Inc.’s COVID-19 vaccine, a decision that gives the 27-nation bloc a second vaccine to use to fight the virus rampaging across the continent.(AP Photo/Charlie Riedel, FILE)

The European Union’s medicines agency gave the green light Wednesday to Moderna Inc.’s COVID-19 vaccine, a decision that gives the 27-nation bloc a second vaccine to use in the desperate battle to tame the virus rampaging across the continent.

The approval recommendation by the European Medicines Agency’s human medicines committee — which must be rubber-stamped by the EU’s executive commission — comes amid high rates of infections in many EU countries and strong criticism of the slow pace of vaccinations across the region of some 450 million people.

Read the story here.

—The Associated Press

Balkans feel abandoned as vaccinations kick off in Europe

When thousands of people across the European Union began rolling up their sleeves last month to get a coronavirus vaccination shot, one corner of the continent was left behind, feeling isolated and abandoned: the Balkans.

Balkan nations have struggled to get access to COVID-19 vaccines from multiple companies and programs, but most of the nations on Europe’s southeastern periphery are still waiting for their first vaccines to arrive, with no firm timeline for the start of their national inoculation drives.

What is already clear is that Albania, Bosnia, Kosovo, Montenegro, North Macedonia and Serbia — home to some 20 million people — will lag far behind the EU’s 27 nations and Britain in efforts to reach herd immunity by quickly vaccinating a large number of their people.

North Macedonian epidemiologist Dragan Danilovski compared the current vaccine situation in the Western Balkans to the inequalities seen during the 1911 sinking of the Titanic.

“The rich have grabbed all the available lifeboats, leaving the less fortunate behind,” Danilovski told broadcaster TV 24.

Such sentiment as the world faces its gravest health crisis in a century has gained traction in the Western Balkans – a term used to identify the Balkan states which want to join but still are not part of the EU.

Read the story here.

—The Associated Press

UK leader to use ‘every second’ to vaccinate the vulnerable

U.K. Prime Minister Boris Johnson pledged that his government would use “every available second” to shield the elderly and the vulnerable from the virus rampaging across Britain as he told Parliament on Wednesday why the country needed to return to a COVID-19 lockdown.

Britain’s Prime Minister Boris Johnson speaks during a news conference in response to the ongoing situation with the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic, inside 10 Downing Street in London, Tuesday, Jan. 5, 2021. England is entering a third national lockdown that will last at least six weeks, as authorities struggle to stem a surge in COVID-19 infections that threatens to overwhelm hospitals around the U.K. (Hannah McKay/Pool photo via AP)

Lawmakers, who were recalled from their Christmas recess early to discuss the measures, are expected to approve the new rules because there is a wide consensus on the need for tougher restrictions to control soaring new infections.

“There’s a fundamental difference between the regulations before the House today and the position we faced at any previous stage, because we now have the vaccines that are our means of escape,” Johnson said. “And we will use every available second of the lockdown to place this invisible shield around the elderly and the vulnerable.”

The U.K. is in a maelstrom of rising COVID-19 infections, hospitalizations and deaths. Britain reported more than 60,000 new daily coronavirus cases for the first time on Tuesday. More than 391,000 people have tested positive in the past seven days, up 44% from the previous week.

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—Danica Kirka, The Associated Press

Catch up on the past 24 hours

Gov. Jay Inslee has a new plan to eventually allow reopenings for restaurants and other businesses. The Healthy Washington plan breaks the state into eight regions and uses metrics to determine when reopenings can happen. But one Kent sports bar is up and running, refusing to close despite a slew of citations. For now, here's what you can and can't do under the state's restrictions.

How will you know when to get your second vaccine shot? A Q&A explains how that's being tracked and who will see your vaccination status.

Swamped California hospitals will ship patients to other corners of the state and delay surgeries for "non-life-threatening" conditions amid an alarming rise in COVID-19 patients. One hospital is so full that patients are packed into the gift shop and chapel.

One hospital had two frantic hours to give out 600 vaccine shots after its freezer died. With time ticking down, doctors hit the road, exhorting staffers to "tell everyone you know." The drama that unfolded in California provides an unintentional road map for how a mass inoculation program could work.

—Kris Higginson

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