The Latest: New Zealand vows to react fast if delta arrives

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FILE – In this May 14, 2020, file photo a customer waits at a counter at a shop in Christchurch, New Zealand. An expert group advising the government believes it is realistic for the country to maintain its zero-tolerance approach, which has included strict lockdowns for even small outbreaks, once it begins to reopen its borders. (AP Photo/Mark Baker, File)

WELLINGTON, New Zealand — New Zealand’s government is warning its citizens to be prepared for a strict lockdown at the first sign of an outbreak of the delta variant of the coronavirus.

COVID-19 Response Minister Chris Hipkins said the government’s response is likely to be “swift and severe.”

New Zealand has stamped out the spread of the virus and had previously planned to rely primarily on contact tracing for any small outbreaks.

But Hipkins said the problems that Sydney currently faces in trying to contact trace a growing outbreak showed the delta variant was extremely hard to manage and that New Zealand’s tolerance for risk was now very low.

He also hinted that New Zealand might soon mandate more mask use during outbreaks and change its strategy on administering second doses of the Pfizer vaccine to ensure more people got a first dose earlier, saying the details on the changes would be announced soon.

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MORE ON THE PANDEMIC:

— In Iran, slow vaccinations sow anger in unending pandemic

— US hospitalsare running low on nurses as they get swamped with COVID-19 patients

— Pandemic prompts changes in how future teachersin US are trained

— Some US entertainmentvenues may require vaccine passports for summer fun

— 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:

CANBERRA, Australia — Australia’s second-largest city, Melbourne, has extended its lockdown in a bid to stamp out an outbreak of COVID-19, while authorities in Sydney say they are considering easing restrictions for vaccinated residents despite the delta variant continuing to spread.

Australian cities have used lockdowns to successfully end coronavirus outbreaks throughout the pandemic. But the highly contagious delta variant poses new challenges.

Melbourne’s lockdown will be extended for a second week until the end of Aug. 19, the Victoria state government said Wednesday as it reported 20 new infections.

The New South Wales state government reported 344 new infections and said some lockdown restrictions could be eased for vaccinated Sydney residents from September.

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SEOUL, South Korea — South Korea’s daily increase in coronavirus infections has exceeded 2,000 for the first time since the start of the pandemic, continuing an alarming spread despite the enforcement of strict virus restrictions in large population centers.

Health Minister Kwon Deok-cheol on Wednesday pleaded for people to stay home during the holiday break around Liberation Day on Friday. He said that “in our fight against COVID-19, we are entering a new phase, a new crisis.”

Officials said more than 1,400 of the 2,223 new cases are in the Seoul metropolitan region. Kwon says transmissions are also spreading at faster speeds in other parts of the country.

South Korea has so far administered first doses of coronavirus vaccine to 42% of a population of more than 51 million.

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FRANKFORT, Ky. — Kentucky Gov. Andy Beshear is ordering that students and employees in the state’s schools wear masks indoors, as the fast-spreading delta variant of the coronavirus brings more infections and hospitalizations.

Beshear’s executive order issued Tuesday applies to everyone in Kentucky schools for kindergarten through 12th grade, regardless of vaccination status. He says the requirement also applies to child care and pre-kindergarten programs.

The governor says that “we are to the point where we cannot allow our kids to go into these buildings unprotected, unvaccinated and face this delta variant.”

Beshear said he wants to avoid schools shutting down in-person teaching and shifted to remote learning as occurred earlier in the pandemic. The number of children infected with the virus has risen sharply, and children under age 12 aren’t eligible for the vaccines.

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HOUSTON — The latest wave of coronavirus infections in Texas continues to tax the state’s health care systems as health officials report that 10,000 people are hospitalized with COVID-19 for the first time since early February.

State health officials reported Tuesday that 10,041 hospital patients in Texas were ill with COVID-19 as of Monday. That is the most since 10,259 COVID-19 hospitalizations were reported Feb. 4.

Meantime, a state district judge in San Antonio granted a temporary restraining order to allow the governments of San Antonio and Bexar County to require public school students to wear masks in class and to quarantine unvaccinated students exposed to the virus.

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

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