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Medical personnel prepare the COVID-19 vaccination train parked at the Swartkops railroad yard outside Gqeberha, South Africa, for the arrival of patients Thursday Sept. 23, 2021. South Africa has sent a train carrying COVID-19 vaccines into one of its poorest provinces to get doses to areas where healthcare facilities are stretched. The vaccine train, named Transvaco, will go on a three-month tour through the Eastern Cape province and stop at seven stations for two weeks at a time to vaccinate people. (AP Photo/Jerome Delay)

ALBANY, N.Y. — New York Gov. Kathy Hochul says she is prepared to call in medically trained National Guard members and retirees to address potential staffing shortages caused by an approaching vaccine mandate for health care workers.

Hochul, a Democrat, released a plan Saturday to address what she called preventable staffing shortages in hospitals and other health care facilities once the mandate takes effect Monday.

Many health care workers have still not yet received a required first shot of a COVID-19 vaccine days before the deadline. That leaves the prospect of potentially thousands of health care workers being forced off the job next week.

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MORE ON THE PANDEMIC:

— Israel says US booster plan supports its own aggressive push

— South Africa’s vaccine traindelivers doses and doctors to poor areas

— CDC: Studies show masks lessen school outbreaks

— EXPLAINER: Who’s eligible for Pfizer boostershots in US?

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See all of AP’s pandemic coverage at https://apnews.com/hub/coronavirus-pandemic

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HERE’S WHAT ELSE IS HAPPENING:

SWARTKOPS, South Africa — South Africa has sent a train carrying COVID-19 vaccines and doctors and nurses to administer them into one of the country’s poorest provinces.

The vaccine train, named Transvaco, is on a three-month tour through Eastern Cape province and stop at seven stations for two weeks at a time to vaccinate people.

The initiative was launched by the state-owned rail company Transnet. It aims to meet head-on two of the biggest challenges in South Africa’s vaccine rollout: Getting doses out to areas beyond the big cities and convincing people in those areas who might be hesitant to get jabs.

The train can hold up to 108,000 vaccine doses in ultra-cold refrigerators. It has nine coaches, including accommodation coaches and a kitchen and dining area for the staff, a vaccination area and consulting rooms.

Dr. Paballo Mokwana, the train program’s manager, said medical personnel had vaccinated just under 1,000 people so far during a stop in the town of Swartkops. They’ve given jabs on the train but have also sent a vaccination team into nearby factories and businesses to administer shots to people at work.

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EDE, Netherlands — The caretaker Dutch government has fired its state secretary for economic affairs after she criticized the use of COVID passes on the day the country started requiring them to enter bars and restaurants.

Prime Minister Mark Rutte said in a statement on Saturday that Mona Keijzer’s criticism of the passes was “not compatible with” the government’s coronavirus policies.

Keijzer said in an interview with Dutch daily newspaper De Telegraaf that it is “becoming increasingly difficult to explain why the pass is necessary in one place and not in another.”

She added: “Are we going to keep going down this road or are we going to organize it differently?”

Keizer is a member of the Christian Democrats, one of the four parties that make up Rutte’s coalition government.

The government is in caretaker mode amid drawn-out negotiations to form a new ruling coalition following a March general election.

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JERUSALEM — Israel is pressing ahead with its aggressive campaign of offering coronavirus boosters to almost anyone over 12, saying its approach was further vindicated by a U.S. decision to give the shots to older patients or those at higher risk.

Israeli officials credit the booster shot, which has already been delivered to about a third of the population, with helping suppress the country’s latest wave of COVID-19 infections. They say they expect the U.S. and other countries to expand their booster campaigns in the coming months.

“The decision reinforced our results that the third dose is safe,” said Dr. Nadav Davidovitch, head of the school of public health at Israel’s Ben-Gurion University and chairman of the country’s association of public health physicians. “The main question now is of prioritization.”

The World Health Organization has called for a moratorium on boosters until at least the end of the year so that more people in poor countries can get their first two doses, but Israeli officials say the booster shot is just as important in preventing infections.

Israel raced out of the gate early this year to vaccinate most of its adult population after striking a deal with Pfizer to trade medical data in exchange for a steady supply of doses. It has also purchased large quantities of the Moderna and AstraZeneca vaccines.

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OLYMPIA, Wash. — The Washington state Department of Health says it will immediately start offering booster doses of the Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine to certain people after recommendations from the U.S. Food and Drug Administration and other groups.

State health officials said Friday that at least six months after completing the primary Pfizer vaccine series, people age 65 and older; people age 18 and older living in a long-term care setting; and people age 50 to 64 with underlying medical conditions or at increased risk of social inequities, should receive a booster dose of the Pfizer vaccine.

Officials say there are not yet recommendations for people who received the Moderna or Johnson & Johnson COVID-19 vaccines.

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SANTA FE, N.M. — Recriminations about face-mask mandates are creating new tension between Democratic candidates in the election campaign for mayor in Santa Fe.

In a flier distributed by mail Friday, incumbent Mayor Alan Webber highlighted a dissenting vote by mayoral candidate and City Councilor Councilor JoAnne Vigil Coppler last year in the creation of a city ordinance requiring face masks.

The ordinance reinforced a statewide mask mandate from Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham in the early months of the pandemic, before vaccines were available.

Vigil Coppler says she considered the ordinance impractical but never opposed state mask requirements and called the ad a distortion.

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LAS VEGAS — Thousands of hotel, casino and restaurant workers marched Friday on the Las Vegas Strip to highlight their call for employers to rehire more people who were furloughed last year because of the coronavirus pandemic.

Despite the reopening of casinos and hotels, Culinary Union officials said about one-third of its members — or about 21,000 workers — remain out of work some 19 months after the COVID-19 pandemic hit Nevada.

Many idled employees have now exhausted public unemployment benefits, they said.

In a statement, the union said the march’s goal was to highlight that hospitality workers “are ready to prepare and serve great food in full-service restaurants, make and serve quality drinks and beverages, and ensure guest rooms are cleaned and sanitized daily.”

Workers chanted “full-service restaurants” and “full-service cleaning” as they started marching Friday evening from Flamingo Road on Las Vegas Boulevard where police closed off sections of The Strip.

“This march is not a protest against any casino company,” union spokeswoman Bethany Khan said Friday. “It is a march, not a strike, rally, action, or a demonstration.”

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SEOUL, South Korea – South Korea’s daily increase in coronavirus infections exceeded 3,000 for the first time since the start of the pandemic as the country comes off its biggest holiday of the year.

The 3,273 new cases reported by the Korea Disease Control and Prevention Agency on Saturday marked the 81st consecutive day of over 1,000 and were about 840 cases more than the previous one-day record of 2,434 set a day earlier.

More than 2,500 of the new cases were from capital Seoul and nearby metropolitan areas, where transmissions have accelerated despite officials enforcing the country’s toughest social distancing rules short of a lockdown since July, banning private social gatherings of three or more people after 6 p.m. unless participants are fully vaccinated.

Officials believe the virus spread further beyond the capital region during the Chuseok holidays, the Korean version of Thanksgiving which began on the weekend and continued through Wednesday, a period during which millions usually travel across the country to meet relatives. Officials say the country may see even bigger daily jumps next week as more people get tested.

Less than 45% of a population of more than 51 million were fully vaccinated as of Saturday morning.

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MIAMI — U.S. officials say a ferret has tested positive for COVID-19 in Florida.

The U.S. Department of Agriculture said Friday that this is the first ferret to test positive for COVID-19 in the United States. A ferret in the European nation of Slovenia previously tested positive for the virus.

USDA officials say samples from the Florida ferret were tested after the animal showed symptoms that included sneezing and coughing.

Officials believe the ferret acquired the infection from a person with COVID-19. The small mustelids are commonly kept as pets. Officials didn’t say where in Florida the infected ferret was found.

COVID-19 has been reported in several animal species around the world, usually animals that come in close contact with infected humans, officials said. The USDA said the the risk of animals spreading the virus to people is low and doesn’t recommend routine testing for animals.

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JUNEAU, Alaska — Alaska reported more than 1,700 resident COVID-19 cases Friday. But state health officials says that includes reports from earlier this month as they work to clear a backlog that has built up during the latest case surge.

Health officials encourage looking at cases by their symptom onset date versus the date they were submitted to the state health department.

The state epidemiologist says Alaska is in the biggest surge that it has experienced during the pandemic.

A weekly report from the department says the state had more people hospitalized with COVID-19 than it did at the peak of a prior surge late last year.

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KAILUA-KONA, Hawaii — The Ironman World Championship will be held outside Hawaii for the first time in four decades.

That is due to uncertainty over whether the Big Island will be able to host the triathlon as scheduled in February because of the coronavirus pandemic. West Hawaii Today reports triathletes will instead head to St. George, Utah, to compete on May 7.

Organizers plan to bring the contest back to the islands in October 2022. Ironman participants swim, ride bikes and run a marathon. The first race was held in Honolulu in the 1970s. It moved to Kailua-Kona on the Big Island in 1981.

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LOS ANGELES — Los Angeles County began making booster doses of the Pfizer COVID-19 vaccine available to eligible population groups Friday following Centers for Disease Control and Prevention endorsement of a third shot for those who got their second shot at least six months ago.

“Starting today, eligible Los Angeles County residents can begin receiving their booster dose at any of the hundreds of sites offering the Pfizer vaccine,” Public Health Director Barbara Ferrer said in a statement.

County residents seeking the booster shot must bring proof they received two previous Pfizer doses.

Eligible groups include people who are 65 years or older, residents of long-term care facilities, people 18 to 64 years old with underlying medical conditions and those 18 to 64 years with high institutional or occupational risk.

The latter group includes healthcare workers, first responders, teachers and day care staff, grocery workers and workers in homeless shelters or prisons.

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NASHVILLE, Tenn. — A federal judge handed down a second blow to Tennessee Gov. Bill Lee’s order allowing parents to opt out of school mask requirements.

U.S. District Judge J. Ronnie Greer on Friday ruled Knox County Schools must implement a mask mandate to help protect children with health problems amid the coronavirus pandemic. He also blocked Lee’s order from being implemented while the legal battle continues to move its way through court.

This is the second time in a week that Lee’s order has been placed on pause as families and advocates across the state have filed a handful of lawsuits amid spiking coronavirus case numbers in schools. In Shelby County, while the school district had implemented a strict mask mandate, a federal judge indefinitely banned Lee’s order after families argued the governor’s executive order endangered their children.

“It is real, and likely. Knox County students are being infected right now, every day, at a rate of 162 students every day … and the threat of harm is therefore (immediate),” Greer wrote.

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NEW YORK — A live televised interview with Vice President Kamala Harris was slightly delayed Friday after two hosts of the “The View” learned they tested positive for the coronavirus just before she was to join them on the set.

Co-host Sunny Hostin and guest host Ana Navarro were at the table for the start of the show, but were pulled from the set. Harris, who had planned to join the table, instead was interviewed remotely from a different room in the ABC studio in New York.

The White House says she didn’t have any contact with either host who tested positive. Colleagues said Hostin and Navarro had been vaccinated.

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WASHINGTON — President Joe Biden is urging those now eligible for COVID-19 booster shots to get the added protection. His plea comes a day after the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention endorsed the doses for millions of older or otherwise vulnerable Americans.

CDC Director Dr. Rochelle Walensky signed off on a series of recommendations from a panel of advisers late Thursday. Biden praised the decision and aimed to set aside any unease about the vaccination by saying that he would get his own booster soon.

The advisers say boosters should be offered to people 65 and older, nursing home residents and those ages 50 to 64 who have risky underlying health problems. The extra dose would be given once they are at least six months past their last Pfizer shot.

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ROME — Italian government workers will be heading back to offices to do their jobs after more than 18 months of remote work as part of coronavirus measures.

Premier Mario Draghi’s office says he signed a decree establishing Oct. 15 to resume in-person work. That’s the same date that all Italian workers – either in public or private employment – will need a COVID-19 Green Pass to access their workplaces.

Many public employees who serve citizens have already been working in offices. Receiving at least a first dose of a COVID-19 vaccine, having recovered from the illness in the last six months or presenting a recent negative test will secure the Green Pass.

The premier’s office says public offices “will assure that in-person return will happen in safe conditions.”

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COPENHAGEN, Denmark — Norway’s Prime Minister Erna Solberg says most of the national coronavirus restrictions in the Scandinavian country will be eased.

The restrictions lifted include the requirement for serving patrons in restaurants and the 1-meter (3.3-feet) social distance rule. Eateries, bars and nightclubs will be allowed to remain open after midnight, schools and kindergartens can return to normal and “handshakes will again be allowed,” a smiling Health Minister Bent Hoeie said.

He stressed Norway will have “an increased preparedness” and local restriction will be imposed if there was a flareup.

Norway is the second Scandinavian country to end the restrictions after Denmark did so on Sept. 10.

More than 76% of Norway’s population of 5.3 million have gotten one vaccine, and nearly 70% have gotten both shots, according to official figures.

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