The Latest: Biden nominee frustrated at vaccine delays
WASHINGTON — President Joe Biden’s nominee to be health secretary is expressing his own frustration about long lines for vaccinations, canceled appointments as local health authorities run out of vaccine and the difficulty many Americans are having in figuring out where they stand in line to get the inoculation.
“That’s not America,” Xavier Becerra told CNN’s “State of the Union" on Sunday. “That’s not the way we treat those we consider vulnerable in need of the vaccine the most. That’s not America at its best.”
Biden has pledged to distribute 100 million vaccines in 100 days. Becerra said he can’t offer a timeline for when all Americans who want the vaccine will be able to get one.
“Once we’re in, in the house, taking care of business, we’ll be able to give more precision,” Becerra said. But you got to give us a chance to figure out what’s going on in the cockpit, that’s causing this plane to nosedive so severely.”
THE VIRUS OUTBREAK:
— Two in five Americans live where COVID strains hospital ICUs
— Pandemic stress puts medical workers at high risk of depression, anxiety, substance abuse
— UK ramps up vaccination program, gives first shot to 6 million, but health secretary says nation is “long, long, long way” from easing its lockdown
— A year after virus lockdown, Wuhan dissident is more isolated than ever
— Dutch youths riot over coronavirus curfew, torch village virus testing center
HERE’S WHAT ELSE IS HAPPENING:
PARIS __ France’s government may impose a third lockdown in the coming days if an existing 12-hour-a-day curfew doesn’t significantly slow virus infections.
Exactly a year after France announced Europe’s first confirmed case of the coronavirus, Health Minister Olivier Veran said in an interview published Sunday in the Le Parisien newspaper that if infections don’t drop, and “if the variants start to spread everywhere, we will take extra measures. And that’s called confinement. ... We will close down.”
An official in French President Emmanuel Macron’s office said Sunday that “everything is on the table” but no firm decisions will be made until the effect of the nationwide 6 p.m.-6 a.m. curfew is clear in the coming week.
In addition to the curfew, French restaurants, tourist sites and many other public places have been closed since October. But virus infections, hospitalizations and deaths have started rising again this month. France, which has lost at least 72,877 lives to the pandemic, has vaccinated more than 1 million people amid bureaucratic and logistical delays.
France on Sunday started requiring a negative COVID-19 test from travelers arriving by air or boat from other European Union countries. Such tests are already required for non-EU visitors, who also must go into 7-day quarantine upon arrival.
LANSING, Mich. -- If Michigan could administer 50,000 coronavirus vaccine doses a day, it could hit its goal of inoculating 70% of people age 16 and older by August.
At the current rate, about 29,000 per day, it would not finish until a year from now.
The issue is limited supplies — something Gov. Gretchen Whitmer and health officials hope can be addressed as new President Joe Biden takes the helm amid the largest vaccination effort in U.S. history and as more contagious virus variants spread.
“That’s our universal frustration,” the Democratic governor said. “We have the capacity and the plan to do a lot more vaccinations quicker. But the federal government ... it’s been hard. They have not gotten us what we need.”
In the first six weeks of the monumental undertaking to inoculate 5.6 million residents, Michigan has gotten 182,000 doses a week on average — 52% of what is needed to inject 50,000 shots in arms per day. Both vaccines are designed to be given in two doses, three or four weeks apart.
HARARE, Zimbabwe — Four Zimbabwean Cabinet ministers have died of COVID-19, three within the past two weeks, highlighting a resurgence of the disease that is sweeping through this southern African country.
President Emmerson Mnangagwa said the coronavirus is reaping a “grim harvest” in the country.
“The pandemic has been indiscriminate. There are no spectators, adjudicators, no holier than thou. No supermen or superwomen. We are all exposed,” Mnangagwa said on a nationally televised address.
Mnangagwa presided at the burial of one Cabinet minister last week, shortly after the death of the foreign minister was announced. Then came the death of the transport minister. Several other high-profile politicians and prominent Zimbabweans have also died recently.
The opposition accuses the government of using COVID-19 as a weapon by detaining its members of parliament, officials and other critics in overcrowded jails where the disease is easily transmitted. Critics also accuse the government of neglecting the public hospitals, where many ill with COVID-19 cannot get oxygen needed to survive. Many of the country’s elites are treated at expensive private facilities or fly out of the country for health care.
PARIS — The president of the European Council vowed Sunday to make drug companies fulfill their vaccine contracts with EU countries, but acknowledged it will be hard for the bloc to meet its goal of vaccinating 70% of the adult population by late summer.
Amid criticism in EU countries of disruption of vaccine deliveries from Pfizer, Charles Michel said on France’s Europe-1 radio: “We plan to make the pharmaceutical industry respect signed contracts.” He said EU officials “pounded our fist on the table” with Pfizer last week to ensure the delays end by this coming week.
However, given logistical challenges and the slow rollout of vaccines in the EU so far, he said “it will be difficult” to meet the aim of the EU’s executive Commission of vaccinating 70% of the adult population by the end of the summer.
The EU has sealed six vaccine contracts for more than 2 billion doses, but only the Pfizer-BioNTech and Moderna vaccines have been approved for use so far. The European Medicines Agency is scheduled to review the Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccine on Friday.
URK, Netherlands — Rioting youths protesting on the first night of a Dutch curfew torched a coronavirus testing facility and threw fireworks at police in a Dutch fishing village.
Police said Sunday they fined more than 3,600 people nationwide for breaching the curfew that ran from 9 p.m. Saturday until 4:30 a.m. Sunday and arrested 25 people for breaching the curfew or for violence.
Video from the village of Urk, 80 kilometers (50 miles) northeast of Amsterdam, showed youths breaking into the coronavirus testing facility near the village’s harbor before it was set ablaze Saturday night.
The police and municipality issued a statement Sunday expressing their anger at rioting, “from throwing fireworks and stones to destroying police cars and with the torching of the test location as a deep point.” They said the curfew would be strictly enforced for the rest of the week.
Police in Amsterdam also were bracing for another protest Sunday, sending officers to a square where demonstrators clashed with police a week ago.
ROME — Those in Italy who already received a first injection of an anti-COVID-19 vaccine will receive their second, despite the unexpected diminished availability of the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine, an Italian minister said.
Pfizer earlier this month said it was temporarily reducing deliveries so it could ramp up production at its plant in Belgium. Francesco Boccia, Italy's minister of regional affairs, told Sky TG24 on Sunday that the second dose will be “given and guaranteed.”
But the manufacturer’s decision to cut back on its supply schedule will mean Italy will have to push back its vaccination timetable aimed at achieving "herd immunity’’ by “some weeks or months,” he said. Italy had quickly rolled out its vaccination program, beginning with health care workers and residents and staff of nursing homes, and was just starting to vaccinate persons older than 80 when Pfizer announced its vaccine delivery cut-back.
“We demand that the (vaccine delivery) numbers are re-established,’’ said Boccia, whose country is exploring legal action against the pharmaceutical company. By Sunday morning, Italy, which has 60 million people, had administered 1.35 million shots, with 75,000 of those having received their second injection.
LONDON — Britain is expanding a coronavirus vaccination program that has seen almost 6 million people get the first of two doses -- even as the country’s death toll in the pandemic approaches 100,000.
Health Secretary Matt Hancock said Sunday that three-quarters of the U.K.’s over-80s have received a vaccine shot. He said three-quarters of nursing home residents have also had their first jab. Almost 5.9 million doses of vaccine had been administered by Saturday.
Health officials aim to vaccinate 15 million people, including everyone over 70, by Feb. 15.
Britain’s vaccination campaign is a rare success in a country with Europe’s worst coronavirus outbreak. The U.K. has recorded 97,329 deaths among people who tested positive.
Another 1,348 deaths were reported Saturday, and the U.K. is set within days to become the fifth country in the world to record 100,000 COVID-19 deaths.
WELLINGTON, New Zealand — New Zealand has reported its first coronavirus case outside of a quarantine facility in more than two months, although there was no immediate evidence the virus was spreading in the community.
Director-General of Health Ashley Bloomfield said Sunday the case was a 56-year-old woman who recently returned from Europe. Like other returning travelers, she spent 14 days in quarantine and twice tested negative before being returning home on Jan. 13. She later developed symptoms and tested positive.
He said health officials will conduct genome testing but are working under the assumption that the case is a more transmissible variant of the virus. He said they are investigating to see whether its possible she caught the disease from another returning traveler staying in the same quarantine facility.
New Zealand has eliminated community transmission of the virus, at least for now. Bloomfield said officials are ramping up contact tracing and testing efforts and hope to have more information about the case in the coming days.
BEIJING — A Chinese city has completed 2,600 temporary treatment rooms as the country’s north battles new clusters of the coronavirus.
The single-occupancy rooms in the city of Nangong in Hebei province just outside Beijing are each equipped with their own heaters, toilets, showers and other amenities, the official Xinhua News Agency reported.
Special attention has been paid to Hebei because of its proximity to the capital and the province has locked down large areas to prevent further spread of the virus. The provincial capital Shijiazhung and the city of Xingtai, which encompasses Nangong, have been largely sealed off. Community isolation and large-scale testing have also been enforced.
The National Health Commission on Sunday reported 19 additional cases in Hebei. The far northeastern province of Heilongjiang reported another 29 cases, linked partly to an outbreak at a meat processing plant. Beijing, where around 2 million residents have been ordered to undergo new testing, reported two new confirmed cases.
China currently has 1,800 people being treated for COVID-19.
SEATTLE — Washington and Oregon are now confirming additional cases of the more contagious variant of COVID-19 in the Pacific Northwest.
The Washington Department of Health announced Saturday that the B.1.1.7 variant, which first emerged in the United Kingdom last September, has been confirmed by DNA sequencing in two cases in Snohomish County. Those are the first confirmed cases in Washington.
The Oregon Health Authority confirmed a second case, in someone from Yamhill County, a week after the first case was detected in Multnomah County.
According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, there is no conclusive evidence that it’s more severe than other strains of the virus.