Briefs: China's push for a COVID-19 vaccine

Zheng Zhongwei, an official with China's National Health Commission, holds a chart showing different priority groups for a coronavirus vaccine as he speaks during a press conference held to discuss COVID-19 vaccine-related issues at the State Council Information Office in Beijing, Friday, Sept. 25, 2020. A Chinese health official said Friday that the country's annual production capacity for COVID-19 vaccines will top 1-billion next year, following an aggressive government support program for new factories. (AP Photo/Mark Schiefelbein)

Associated Press

News for September 25th

The Associated Press

BEIJING — A Chinese health official said Friday that the country's annual production capacity for coronavirus vaccines will top 1 billion doses next year, following an aggressive government support program for construction of new factories.

Capacity is expected to reach 610 million doses by the end of this year, Zheng Zhongwei from the National Health Commission said.

"Next year, our annual capacity will reach more than 1 billion doses," he said at a news conference. 

American pharmaceutical giants Pfizer and Moderna aim to produce a billion doses each in 2021 as well.

Zheng said distribution of the vaccines would prioritize groups such as medical workers, border personnel and the elderly before they are made available to the general public.

China has promoted the construction of vaccine testing facilities and manufacturing plants, and assigned independent monitors for their assembly. China has 11 vaccine candidates in human trials, with four of them currently in the third and final trials.

One of those is CoronaVac, made by the private company SinoVac, which is already rolling off the factory floor at a bio-secure facility outside Beijing. SinoVac's chairman, Yin Weidong, said Thursday that the factory was built in months, and more could be constructed if demand is sufficient.

Some nations are pooling vaccine efforts to ensure success against the disease. More than 150 countries are setting up the COVID-19 Vaccines Global Access Facility, or COVAX, under the World Health Organization.

Their target is to make 2 billion doses to inoculate 20 percent of the world's population.

The director-general of WHO, Tedros Ghebreyesus, said earlier this month that "the goal must be to vaccinate some people in all countries, rather than all the people in some countries."

In despair, protesters take to streets for Breonna Taylor

LOUISVILLE, Ky. — Some of them raised their fists and called out "Black lives matter!" Others tended to the letters, flowers and signs grouped together in a square in downtown Louisville. All of them said her name: Breonna Taylor.

People dismayed that the officers who shot the Black woman in her apartment during a drug raid last March wouldn't be charged with her death vowed to persist in their fight for justice. The big question for a town torn apart by Taylor's death and the larger issue of racism in America was how to move forward.

Many turned to the streets — as they did in several U.S. cities — to call for reforms to combat racist policing.

"We've got to take it lying down that the law won't protect us, that they can get away with killing us," said Lavel White, a regular protester in downtown Louisville who is Black. He was drawn to a march Thursday night because he was devastated by a grand jury's decision a day earlier not to charge the officers. "If we can't get justice for Breonna Taylor, can we get justice for anybody?"

He was angry that police in riot gear were out in force when protesters had been peaceful as they streamed through the streets of downtown Louisville past a nighttime curfew. Demonstrators also gathered in places like Philadelphia and New York, a day after violence marred some protests, including a shooting that wounded two Louisville officers.

Despite Trump attacks, both parties vow orderly election

WASHINGTON — President Donald Trump's refusal to commit to a peaceful transfer of power if he loses drew swift blowback Thursday from both parties in Congress, and lawmakers turned to unprecedented steps to ensure he can't ignore the vote of the people. Amid the uproar, Trump said anew he's not sure the election will be "honest."

Congressional leaders, including Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, rejected Trump's assertion that he'll "see what happens" before agreeing to any election outcome.

Many other lawmakers -- including from Trump's own Republican Party -- vowed to make sure voters' wishes are followed ahead of Inauguration Day in January. And some Democrats were taking action, including formally asking Trump's defense secretary, homeland security adviser and attorney general to declare they'll support the Nov. 3 results, whoever wins.

Asked as he departed the White House for a campaign rally if the election is only legitimate if he is the winner, Trump said, "We'll see."

The president said he wants to "make sure the election is honest, and I'm not sure that it can be."

Biden's low-key campaign style worries some Democrats

WILMINGTON, Del. — The final stretch of a presidential campaign is typically a nonstop mix of travel, caffeine and adrenaline. But as the worst pandemic in a century bears down on the United States, Joe Biden is taking a lower key approach.

Since his Aug. 11 selection of California Sen. Kamala Harris as his running mate, Biden has had 22 days where he either didn't make public appearances, held only virtual fundraisers or ventured from his Delaware home solely for church, according to an Associated Press analysis of his schedules. He made 12 visits outside of Delaware during that period, including a trip to Washington scheduled for Friday to pay respects to the late Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg.

During the same time, President Donald Trump had 24 trips that took him to 17 different states, not counting a personal visit to New York to see his ailing brother in the hospital or weekend golf outings. 

Biden's aides insist his approach is intentional, showcasing his respect for public health guidelines aimed at preventing the spread of the coronavirus and presenting a responsible contrast with Trump, who has resumed large-scale campaign rallies — sometimes over the objections of local officials. Still, some Democrats say it's critical that Biden infuse his campaign with more energy.

Texas Democratic Party Chairman Gilberto Hinojosa said not traveling because of the pandemic was a "pretty lame excuse."

Ginsburg is first woman to lie in state at US Capitol

WASHINGTON — Capping days of commemorations of her extraordinary life, Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg becomes the first woman in American history to lie in state in the U.S. Capitol.

Ginsburg, who died last week at age 87, also will be the first Jewish-American to lie in state and just the second Supreme Court justice. The first, Chief Justice William Howard Taft, also had been president.

Ginsburg's casket will be brought to the Capitol Friday morning for a private ceremony in Statuary Hall attended by her family and lawmakers, and with musical selections from one of Ginsburg's favorite opera singers, mezzo-soprano Denyce Graves. Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden and his wife, Jill, planned to attend.

Members of the House and Senate who are not invited to the ceremony because of space limitations imposed by the coronavirus pandemic will be able to pay their respects before a motorcade carrying Ginsburg's casket departs the Capitol early afternoon. 

The honor of lying in state has been accorded fewer than three dozen times, mostly to presidents, vice presidents and members of Congress. Rep. John Lewis, the civil rights icon, was the last person to lie in state following his death in July. Henry Clay, the Kentucky lawmaker who served as Speaker of the House and also was a senator, was the first in 1852. Rosa Parks — a private citizen, not a government official — is the only woman who has lain in honor at the Capitol.

N. Korea's Kim apologizes over shooting death of S. Korean

SEOUL, South Korea — North Korean leader Kim Jong Un apologized Friday over the killing of a South Korea official near the rivals' disputed sea boundary, saying he's "very sorry" about the incident he called unexpected and unfortunate, South Korean officials said.

It's extremely unusual for a North Korean leader to apologize to South Korea on any issue. Kim's move will likely de-escalate tensions between the Koreas as it's expected to ease anti-North sentiments in South Korea over the man's death as well as mounting criticism of its liberal President Moon Jae-in. 

"Comrade Kim Jong Un, the State Affairs Commission chairman, feels very sorry to give big disappointment to President Moon Jae-in and South Korean citizens because an unexpected, unfortunate incident happened" at a time when South Korea grapples with the coronavirus pandemic, Moon adviser Suh Hoon cited the North Korean message as saying. 

On Thursday, South Korea accused North Korea of fatally shooting one of its public servants who was likely trying to defect and burning his body after finding him on a floating object in North Korean waters on Tuesday. South Korean officials condemned North Korea for what they called an "atrocious act" and pressed it punish those responsible.

According to the North Korean message, North Korean troops first fired blanks after the man found in the North's waters refused to answer other than saying he's from South Korea a couple of times. Then, as he made moves to flee, the North Korean troops fired 10 rounds. When they came near the floating object, they only found lots of blood but no sign of him. 

Migrants accuse Greece of pushing them back out to sea

DIKILI, Turkey — Shortly after reaching the Greek island of Lesbos, a group of Afghan migrants say, their hopes for a new life in Europe were cut short when Greek authorities rounded them up, mistreated them, shoved them into life rafts and abandoned them at sea.

Associated Press journalists on a Turkish government-organized coast guard ride-along were aboard the patrol boat that picked up the 37 migrants, including 18 children, from two orange life rafts in the Aegean Sea on Sept. 12. Two other media organizations on similar government-organized trips in the same week witnessed similar scenes.

"They took our phones and said a bus will come and take you to the camp," Omid Hussain Nabizada said in Turkish. "But they took us and put us on a ship. They left us on the water in a very bad way on these boats."

Turkey, which hosts about 4 million refugees, accuses Greece of large-scale pushbacks — summary deportations without access to asylum procedures, in violation of international law. It also accuses the European Union of turning a blind eye to what it says is a blatant abuse of human rights.

The Turkish coast guard says it rescued over 300 migrants "pushed back by Greek elements to Turkish waters" this month alone. Citing what they say are credible reports, international rights groups have called repeatedly for investigations.

Virus disrupting Rio's Carnival for first time in a century

RIO DE JANEIRO — A cloud of uncertainty that has hung over Rio de Janeiro throughout the coronavirus pandemic has been lifted, but gloom remains — the annual Carnival parade of flamboyant samba schools won't be held in February.

And while the decision is being characterized as a postponement of the event, no new date has been set. 

Rio's League of Samba Schools, LIESA, announced Thursday night that the spread of the coronavirus has made it impossible to safely hold the traditional parades that are a cultural mainstay and, for many, a source of livelihood.

"Carnival is a party upon which many humble workers depend. The samba schools are community institutions, and the parades are just one detail of all that," Luiz Antonio Simas, a historian who specializes in Rio's Carnival, said in an interview. "An entire cultural and productive chain was disrupted by COVID."

Rio's City Hall has yet to announce a decision about the Carnival street parties that also take place across the city. But its tourism promotion agency said in a statement to The Associated Press on Sept. 17 that without a coronavirus vaccine, it is uncertain when large public events can resume. 

For Arab newlyweds, the party goes on until police bust in

DUBAI, United Arab Emirates — The party was going strong: traditional music blared, families cheered, throngs of revelers danced. Then, police burst in. Officers kicked out guests, slapped hefty fines — even locked up the tuxedoed groom and singers.

In recent weeks, such unhappy endings to long-awaited weddings have become a common story in the Arab world, as resurgent coronavirus caseloads trigger tough police action.

Still, in a region where marriage is the cornerstone of society — the gateway to independence and the only culturally acceptable context for a sex life — couples are plowing ahead, despite the deadly risks. From the Palestinian territories to the United Arab Emirates, officials attribute a spike in virus cases to traditional, large-scale weddings that flout public health measures.

In Jenin, in the northern West Bank, Mustafa Khatib and six of his band members spent two nights in jail for serenading a crowded wedding party this month. Police fined the group $11,000.

"This is not fair," said Khatib. "People will never stop getting married and will never stop holding parties."

Canceled flights strand 25 Easter Islanders for 6 months

WELLINGTON, New Zealand — For people around the world, the coronavirus has caused distressing separations and delayed homecomings. But the situation for a group of 25 residents from remote Easter Island stands out. 

For six months now the group has been stranded far across a vast stretch of ocean on Tahiti in French Polynesia. Children remain separated from their parents, husbands from their wives. 

Mihinoa Terakauhau Pont, a 21-year-old mom who is among those stranded, is due to give birth to her second son any day now, but can't have her husband by her side because he's back home. Her grief has left her exhausted.

"I can't cry anymore," she said. "My heart is cold."

Usually considered a tropical paradise, Tahiti has become a kind of prison to them. Many arrived in March planning to stay for just a few weeks — they'd come for work, or a vacation, or for medical procedures. But they got stuck when the virus swept across the globe and their flights back home were canceled.

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