The Latest: Defense secretary: US troops must get shots ASAP

Entering freshman, Sophia Brach swabs herself for a rapid COVID-19 test at Palos Verdes High School in Palos Verdes Estates, Calif., Tuesday, Aug. 24, 2021. The district is encouraging all students and staff to test before the first day of school, August 25, and there are three sites for the drive-up testing. (Brittany Murray/The Orange County Register/SCNG via AP)

WASHINGTON — Military service members must immediately get the COVID-19 vaccine, Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin says in a memo Wednesday, ordering service leaders to “impose ambitious timelines for implementation.”

Now that the Pfizer vaccine has received full approval from the Food and Drug Administration, the Pentagon is adding it to the list of required shots troops must get as part of their military service.

More than 800,000 service members have yet to get their shots, according to Pentagon data. As of Aug. 18, more than 1 million active duty, Guard and Reserve service members were fully vaccinated and nearly 245,000 more had received at least one shot.

The memo, which was obtained by The Associated Press, doesn’t dictate a specific timeline for completing the vaccinations. But it’s expected to be completed in weeks not months.

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MORE ON THE PANDEMIC:

— China accuses US of politicizing COVID-19 origins research

— WHO sees virus leveling off at 4.5M cases after steady rise last two months

— US Vice President Kamala Harrissays US will give Vietnam 1M vaccine doses

— Japanto further expand virus emergency areas as cases surge

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— Find more AP coverage at https://apnews.com/hub/coronavirus-pandemic and https://apnews.com/hub/coronavirus-vaccine

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HERE’S WHAT ELSE IS HAPPENING:

DEARBORN, Michigan — Ford Motor Co. is again delaying a return to the office for white-collar workers who have done their jobs remotely since the start of the coronavirus pandemic.

The automaker says its planned hybrid schedule of working some days at home and in the office has been pushed back until at least January 2022.

Spokesperson Kiersten Robinson says the change is due to rising cases of the coronavirus delta variant largely in southeast Michigan, where most of its U.S. salaried workers are based. Previously, the company had planned a return to offices no earlier than Oct. 1.

About 18,000 U.S. Ford workers don’t need to be in an office and have worked from home since early 2020. Ford also says white-collar workers who work remotely can spend up to 30 days per year working from an area of the country not their home.

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TOKYO — Japan has expanded its coronavirus state of emergency for a second week in a row, adding eight more prefectures as a surge in infections fueled by the delta variant strains its health care system.

The government last week extended the state of emergency until Sept. 12 and expanded the areas covered to 13 prefectures from six, including Tokyo. With four new prefectures added to a separate “quasi-emergency” status, 33 of Japan’s 47 prefectures are now under some type of emergency measures.

Tokyo has been under the emergency since July 12, but new daily cases have increased more than tenfold to about 5,000 in Tokyo and 25,000 nationwide. Hospitals are nearly full and many people must recover at home, including some who require supplemental oxygen.

Japan has confirmed 15,600 deaths nationwide since the start of the pandemic. Its vaccination efforts lag other wealthy nations, with 40% of the population fully vaccinated.

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BEIJING — China went on the offensive ahead of the release of a U.S. intelligence report on the origins of the coronavirus, bringing out a senior official to accuse the United States of politicizing the issue by seeking to pin the blame on China.

Fu Cong, a director general in the Foreign Ministry, said at a briefing for foreign journalists that “scapegoating China cannot whitewash the U.S. If they want to baselessly accuse China, they better be prepared to accept the counterattack from China.”

China, the U.S, and the World Health Organization are entangled in a feud that centers on whether the virus that causes COVID-19 could have leaked from a lab in the city of Wuhan, where the disease was first detected in late 2019.

A joint WHO-China report this year concluded a lab leak was “extremely unlikely,” and China wants the investigation to move on to other possibilities. The most likely scenario, the report said, is the virus jumped from bats to another animal that then infected humans.

But the findings are not conclusive. WHO Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said in late March that “all hypotheses are on the table and warrant complete and further studies.”

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GENEVA — The World Health Organization says the number of new coronavirus cases reported globally appears to be stabilizing at about 4.5 million infections after steadily rising for the past two months.

In its weekly assessment of the pandemic, the U.N. health agency says COVID-19 increased by about 20% and 8% in the Western Pacific and in the Americas, while rates of disease either remained the same or dropped in other regions.

The countries with the highest numbers of new cases were the United States, Iran, India, Britain and Brazil. The assessment says there were about 68,000 new deaths reported globally, with Europe and the Americas registering increases of about 10%.

WHO also noted several recent studies show licensed vaccines still provide protection against severe coronavirus disease, but that there is some evidence to show the shots are less effective at preventing people from becoming infected with the more contagious delta variant.

Previous research concluded the vaccines are most useful for preventing hospitalizations and deaths.

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LONDON — A music and surfing festival in southwest England has been linked to some 4,700 confirmed coronavirus cases.

About 76,000 people attended the Boardmasters festival event in Cornwall during August 11-15. Attendees were required either to be fully vaccinated against COVID-19, to provide a negative test within 24 hours of arrival, or show proof of immunity through past infection within the last six months.

A Boardmasters spokesperson said infection-prevention measures in place at the festival had gone beyond the government guidance.

Authorities in Cornwall, a tourism hot spot, asked visitors to stay away this week unless they had already booked a vacation. The county currently has the highest coronavirus infection rate in England.

Local authorities in Suffolk, England, also released an analysis of the more than 1,000 positive virus tests confirmed after the Latitude music festival in July, attended by around 40,000 people.

Council data showed 619 people contracted the virus during the event, while another 432 became infectious at the time, despite the event having the same entry requirements as the Boardmasters festival.

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HANOI — The United States plans to provide an additional 1 million coronavirus vaccine doses and tens of millions of aid dollars to Vietnam to help combat the pandemic.

Vice President Kamala Harris, speaking during a bilateral meeting with Vietnamese Prime Minister Pham Minh Chinh on Wednesday, announced that the doses would begin to arrive within the next 24 hours. They will bring the total U.S. vaccine donation to Vietnam to 6 million doses.

The Defense Department is delivering 77 freezers for storing the vaccines throughout the country.

Vietnam is grappling with a fresh coronavirus surge driven by the delta variant, and the country has a stubbornly low vaccination rate.

In addition to more vaccine doses, the U.S. will provide $23 million in emergency aid through the Centers for Disease Control and the United States Agency for International Development to help expand distribution and access to vaccines, and to prepare for future disease threats.

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ISLAMABAD — Pakistan reported 141 deaths from COVID-19 on Wednesday, one of its highest tallies since May.

According to Pakistan’s National Command and Operations Center, more than 4,000 new coronavirus infections were also reported in the past 24 hours.

The surge comes amid widespread violations of social distancing and new rules regarding vaccinations.

Pakistan announced Tuesday vaccinations will be required of teachers, professors, school staff and students older than 17 and unvaccinated people will be barred from entering educational institutions starting Oct. 15.

Unvaccinated people also will not be allowed to use public transport or enter shopping malls from Oct. 15.

Pakistan, with a population of about 220 million, has reported more than 1.1 million infections and 25,220 confirmed deaths in the pandemic.

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SEOUL, South Korea — South Korea has reported 2,155 new coronavirus cases, nearly matching a record daily increase set earlier this month amid an alarming spread of infections.

With Wednesday’s report, the country has tallied more than 1,000 new cases for 50 consecutive days, including a record 2,221 on Aug. 11.

The virus has shown no signs of slowing despite officials enforcing strong social distancing restrictions short of a lockdown in Seoul and other large population centers where private social gatherings are banned after 6 p.m.

The Health Ministry is concerned that transmissions could further increase during next month’s Chuseok holidays, the Korean version of Thanksgiving when millions of people travel across the country to meet relatives. It is considering measures to reduce travel during the period, such as limiting train occupancy.

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SYDNEY — Australia’s New South Wales state has recorded another new daily high of 919 coronavirus infections. It also has had two more deaths related to COVID-19.

New South Wales’s previous high for a 24-hour period was 830 infections reported Sunday.

Health Minister Brad Hazzard said Wednesday that the health system in Australia’s most populous state is under pressure but is coping.

The COVID-19 death toll has reached 76 in New South Wales since the outbreak of the delta variant was first detected in Sydney on June 16.

Neighboring Victoria, Australia second-most populous state, reported 45 new infections Wednesday. Both states are locked down.

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JACKSON, Miss. — Mississippi’s top health official says he has received threats from people who are spreading lies accusing his family of receiving payments for him urging the public to get vaccinated against the coronavirus.

Mississippi has seen a rapid increase in cases since early July, driven by the highly contagious delta variant of the virus and the state’s low vaccination rate. State health officer Dr. Thomas Dobbs has been imploring people for months to get vaccinated.

On Tuesday, Dobbs wrote on Twitter that he has gotten threatening phone calls from people repeating unfounded “conspiracy theories” involving him and his family.

Dobbs says one lie is that his son, who is also a physician, receives a World Bank-funded kickback whenever Dobbs urges people to get vaccinated. In Dobbs’ words: “I get zero $ from promoting vaccination.”

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Copyright 2021 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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