The Latest: Australia's 2nd largest city to begin lockdown
MELBOURNE, Australia — Australia’s second-largest city will begin its third lockdown due to a rapidly spreading COVID-19 cluster centered on hotel quarantine.
The five-day lockdown will be enforced across Victoria state to prevent the virus spreading from the state capital Melbourne, Victorian Premier Daniel Andrews says.
Only international flights that were already in the air when the lockdown was announced would be allowed to land at Melbourne Airport.
A population of 6.5 million people will be locked down from 11:59 p.m. until the same time on Wednesday because of a contagious British variant of the virus first detected at a Melbourne Airport hotel has infected 13 people.
THE VIRUS OUTBREAK:
Germany reinstates some border controls to fight variants. Dr. Fauci expects coronavirus shot categories to open up by April in U.S. California’s virus death toll surpasses New York. African nations still encouraged to use AstraZeneca vaccine. President Joe Biden's virus-fighting team is on a war strategy to defeat the coronavirus.
HERE’S WHAT ELSE IS HAPPENING:
CARSON CITY, Nev. -- Nevada plans to gradually loosen its current coronavirus restrictions over the next three months before delegating decisions about business closures to local governments on May 1.
Gov. Steve Sisolak said Thursday that the state’s recent progress in containing the virus prompted him to loosen restrictions on businesses and people gathering.
He applauded the state’s progress in containing the virus and administering vaccines. But he said Nevada still had to work to further contain the pandemic.
The governor’s new plan will be rolled out in phases in the upcoming months and contains a complex patchwork of restrictions that he said were based on risk levels.
MELBOURNE, Australia — Australia is on track to manufacture and administer its own version of the AstraZeneca COVID-19 vaccine by the end of March, the health minister said on Friday.
Health Minister Greg Hunt was speaking at biotechnology company CSL Ltd.’s plant in Melbourne where the first doses are nearing completion.
The first of Australia’s 20 million doses of German manufactured Pfizer vaccine is to be administered in late February.
The first of the 1.2 million doses of overseas-made AstraZeneca vaccine is to be available in Australia by early March, although the Australian regulator has yet to approve it.
The government maintains that Australia’s relatively low incidence of COVID-19 does not justify emergency vaccine approvals.
The government expects that everyone among Australia’s population of 26 million who wants to be vaccinated and is over the age of 16 will have access to a vaccine by October.
WELLINGTON, New Zealand — New Zealand’s first coronavirus vaccine doses are due to arrive in the country next week, with border workers getting inoculated from Feb. 20, Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern announced on Friday.
New Zealand regulators gave provisional approval for the vaccine developed by Pfizer and BioNTech earlier this month.
Ardern says it’s pleasing to get the first doses ahead of Pfizer’s initial schedule, given the pressures on global demand.
New Zealand has no community transmission of the virus and the nation’s 12,000 border workers are considered the most vulnerable to catching and spreading the disease because they interact with arriving travelers, some of whom are infected.
However, New Zealand’s success in stamping out the virus also means it will need to wait longer than many other countries to get vaccine doses for the general population. Officials say they will hope to begin general inoculations in the second half of the year.
SANTA FE, N.M. — New Mexico Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham is headed to Washington to meet with President Joe Biden and other governors about COVID-19 relief efforts.
It marks her first trip out of the state since the pandemic began and comes just days after the state ended its quarantine requirements for visitors and residents returning to New Mexico.
The governor’s office says Lujan Grisham will be advocating for more federal funds and for continued increases in vaccine shipments.
Lujan Grisham said earlier that week that the state is pushing for federal approval for mobile clinics that would be capable of administering the vaccine in more remote and underserved parts of the state.
OLYMPIA, Wash. - All but six of Washington state’s 39 counties will be in Phase 2 of the state’s economic reopening plan as of Monday, with five new regions meeting the requirements necessary to join two other regions that have already seen a loosening of COVID-19 restrictions, including limited indoor dining.
Gov. Jay Inslee made announced Thursday the East, North, North Central, Northwest and Southwest regions, which comprise 26 counties across the state, will join the Puget Sound and West regions in the second phase of the plan.
Last month, Inslee announced that regions had to meet three of four metrics in order to advance: a 10% decreasing trend in case rates over a two-week period; a 10% decrease in coronavirus hospital admission rates in that same timeframe; an ICU occupancy rate that’s less than 90%; and a test positivity rate of less than 10%.
In the second phase, restaurants can offer indoor dining at 25% capacity, and indoor fitness center can open with the same limit. Sports competitions can resume with limited spectators, and wedding and funeral ceremonies can increase their number of guests.
DENVER -- The Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment has reported 109 cases of the coronavirus at the Winter Park Resort in Grand County.
The Denver Post reported that the outbreak was first declared on Jan. 23 and accounts for more than 6% of the 1,700 employees at the ski resort.
The Post reported that Grand County Health did not report the positive cases to the state until this week.
Grand County Health and the Winter Park Resort issued a joint statement that said the cases have not been traced to interactions with visitors but were connected to “social gatherings outside of the workplace and congregate housing.”
A COVID-19 variant first identified in Southern California appears to have spread to at least 19 states and several other countries, a study published Thursday suggests.
The variant accounted for about 44% of Southern California cases as of late January, nearly double from a month earlier, the study said. It was first identified in a single case in July and reemerged during a holiday surge in cases in the Los Angeles area.
More research is needed to determine if the variant spreads more easily than other COVID-19 variants or causes more disease, said study co-author Jasmine Plummer, a Cedars-Sinai researcher.
The paper was published online in the Journal of the American Medical Association.
Dr. Anthony Fauci, the nation’s top infectious disease expert, wrote in an accompanying editorial that said new variants likely will continue to emerge until spread of the virus is reduced.
SEATTLE - Washington state health leaders say that as the state closes in on the 1 million vaccination mark, a new report shows disproportionately low percentages of Hispanic, Black and multiracial people have received it.
The report, released Thursday by the Department of Health, shows race and ethnicity data for people who have received at least one dose of vaccine and for people who are fully vaccinated, with breakdowns for all ages.
The percentage of Black and Hispanic people who have received one dose as well as the percentage who are fully vaccinated is lower than their representation in the state population, the report’s findings show.
The percentage of fully vaccinated people who are Hispanic, for example, is currently 5.9%, which is lower than the 13.2% Hispanic representation in the state population, according to the report’s findings.
Black people make up 2.7% of people who are fully vaccinated, which is lower than 3.9% Black representation in population of Washington. Multiracial groups are also underrepresented compared to the overall state’s population, the report said.
LOS ANGELES — Los Angeles is temporarily closing five mass vaccination sites including Dodger Stadium for lack of supply as the state faces continuing criticism over the vaccine rollout.
Mayor Eric Garcetti says the city will exhaust its supply of Moderna first doses — two are required for full immunization — forcing it to close drive-through and walk-up vaccination sites Friday and Saturday.
They may not reopen until the city gets more supplies, perhaps next Tuesday or Wednesday. Smaller mobile vaccination clinics will continue operating.
Garcetti says Los Angeles uses about 13,000 doses in a typical day but received only 16,000 this week.
“This is not where I want to be,” Garcetti said. “It’s not where we deserve to be.”
California has now recorded the most confirmed deaths from the coronavirus with 45,496, edging past New York’s toll of 45,312, according to a tally by Johns Hopkins University.
Other coronavirus numbers are improving in the state, however.
The seven-day test positivity rate has fallen to 4.8%, and the most recent daily number of confirmed positive cases was 8,390, down from 53,000 in December.
PRAGUE — The lower house of the Czech Parliament has rejected a requested extension of a state of emergency, posing a serious obstacle for the government’s pandemic response in the hard-hit country.
The opposition says the current lockdown isn't working and accuses the minority government of Prime Minister Andrej Babis of not doing enough for those hurt by the restrictions.
As a result, the state of emergency will end this week. Bars, restaurants and cafes can reopen Monday, and a nighttime curfew and ban on more than two people gathering in public will be cancelled.
The government can use other legislation to reimpose some but not all measures.
BURLINGTON, Vt. -- A more easily transmissible variant of the coronavirus first found in the United Kingdom is likely present in Vermont.
The state's Health Department said Thursday that wastewater testing in Burlington found the presence of two virus mutations associated with the variant.
The department said it will conduct genetic sequencing of samples from people who have tested positive for COVID-19, the illness caused by the virus.
The variant first detected in the U.K. has been reported in at least 34 states.
Vermont Health Commissioner Mark Levine said the state is in “a new stage of the pandemic,” but officials had expected that variants could be circulating there.
NEW YORK — U.S. health officials are now recommending that people who are fully vaccinated against the coronavirus do not have to go into a 14-day quarantine after exposure to an infected person.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention quietly posted the updated guidance this week. It says vaccinated people may skip quarantine if they are asymptomatic, and if their contact with an infected person came at least two weeks after receipt of the final dose in the two-shot vaccination series and within three months of receipt of that last dose.
The recommendation is similar to what the CDC has said about people who developed immunity after being infected with COVID.
SAN FRANCISCO — A surge of COVID-19 cases at the University of California, Berkeley, has prompted school officials to extend a lockdown on about 2,000 students in residence halls and bar them from outdoor exercise.
The university says more than 400 mostly undergraduates have tested positive since an outbreak started in mid-January. A weekly breakdown shows about 200 positive tests since the start of February.
A lockdown initially put in place for Feb. 1-8 has been extended through at least mid-month. Among the strict new rules are a ban on outdoor exercise that goes beyond state guidelines encouraging people to get outside to exercise.
BERLIN — Germany will temporarily reinstate border controls after designating the Czech Republic and parts of Austria “mutations areas” because of the high number of coronavirus variant cases.
German news agency dpa reports that the controls and entry restrictions will start Sunday at midnight. Travelers coming from parts of Austria or from the Czech Republic will have to provide proof of a negative coronavirus test to enter.
The controls will present a hurdle for thousands of cross-border workers. It’s not clear how long they will last.
Chancellor Angela Merkel and the governors of Germany’s 16 states agreed late Wednesday to extend the country’s pandemic lockdown until at least March 7, in part due to fears over more contagious variants.
MADRID — Spain is reporting 513 deaths from the coronavirus Thursday, down from 643 the previous day.
The health ministry registered 17,853 new cases, increasing the total to more than 3 million. The confirmed death toll reached more than 64,200.
The percentage of ICU beds occupied by coronavirus patients dropped by one percentage point to 41%, which virus expert Fernando Simón calls still “extremely high.”
Spain has administered 2.91 million vaccines, with more than 900,000 complete doses. It aims to have 70% of the population vaccinated by September.
PHOENIX — Arizona has reported 200 more coronavirus deaths.
There are 2,507 COVID-19 patients occupying inpatient beds in the state, down from a high of 5,082 on Jan. 11.
The Department of Health Services reported 1,861 new cases, increasing the totals to 791,106 cases and 14,662 confirmed deaths.
The state’s most populous county, Maricopa, is expanding vaccination eligibility at county sites to adults 65 and older.
New cases and deaths in Arizona have been declining.
MILWAUKEE — A former home for retired Catholic nuns in Milwaukee is now a shelter for homeless people who have COVID-19 or are vulnerable to the coronavirus due to their health.
Clare Hall’s nuns moved into new quarters last January and the building was sitting empty just as the pandemic took hold. When Milwaukee County approached the Archdiocese of Milwaukee about space to house the homeless, Clare Hall was the answer.
Almost 60% of the 200 men and women who have stayed there since March had coronavirus. Melvin Anthony, who was homeless for more than 15 years, says Clare Hall saved him during a desperate time.
NEW ORLEANS — Flights to count the only natural flock of whooping cranes have been canceled due to the pandemic.
It’s the first time in 71 years that crews in Texas couldn’t make an aerial survey of the world’s rarest cranes.
The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service has records of such surveys for every year starting in 1950. That’s according to Wade Harrell, whooping crane recovery coordinator for the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.