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Coronavirus latest: Biden seeks to boost syringe production, tighten foreign travel rules

Peter Wells in New York

California on Thursday reported fewer than 20,000 new coronavirus cases for the
first time in eight weeks, but any optimism was kept in check as the state's death toll topped 35,000 following one of the biggest daily increases on record.

Warnings that some hard-hit areas, specifically Los Angeles county, are facing vaccine supply issues are also complicating the state's outlook.

Counties reported a further 19,673 infections over the past 24 hours, the California's health department revealed, down from 22,403 on Wednesday. This was the fewest new cases reported in a single day since December 3.

Over the past week, the Golden State has averaged 31,725 new cases a day, down from a peak pace of 43,948 a day about one month ago. While that decline is encouraging, other metrics and warnings from public health officials point to a slightly more complicated situation.

Authorities attributed a further 571 fatalities to coronavirus, down from 694 on Wednesday that was only one death shy of the state's record daily increase. The latest figure ranks among the 10 biggest daily increases in deaths California has reported since the start of the pandemic and took the overall death toll to 35,004, which is the highest in the country.

Hospitalisations fell to a 25-day low of 20,408, but the number of available intensive care unit beds dropped to a record low 1,030.

Public health officials for Los Angeles county warned on Wednesday evening that "vaccine supply is still extremely limited" and called for residents to be patient as they worked with federal and state officials to boost supply and vaccination capacity over coming weeks.

"Often we do not know from one week to the next how many doses will be allocated to LA county," Barbara Ferrer, director of Los Angeles Public Health, said during a briefing. 

Given the recent federal decision to expand vaccine eligibility to people over the age of 65, a further 1.4m residents have been added to Los Angeles' vaccine task, on top of some 800,000 healthcare workers. To vaccinate all people in those eligible groups will require 4m doses. As of Wednesday, the county said it has received only 853,650 shots.

Los Angeles county, with about 10m residents, is the most populous in the US. It has confirmed almost 1.04m coronavirus cases since the start of the pandemic, more than any other part of the country.

Although some coronavirus metrics have been trending lower in recent weeks, Dr Ferrer urged caution. "The end is not yet in sight. With high numbers of daily cases, hundreds more people will require hospitalisations," she said.

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