The Latest: Sports, events in New Jersey to soon allow fans
ATLANTIC CITY — Fans will be allowed to attend sports and entertainment events at New Jersey’s largest facilities in limited numbers starting next week, Gov. Phil Murphy said Monday.
New Jersey venues with an indoor seating capacity of 5,000 or more will be allowed to have 10% of those seats occupied by fans starting on March 1, the Democratic governor said on the WFAN sports radio station.
For outdoor venues over 5,000 seats, the number will be 15% of capacity.
Murphy said he decided to allow the limited in-person attendance after reviewing a vast array of coronavirus-related statistics including hospitalizations, the number of hospital admissions versus discharges, overall positivity rate for COVID-19, and the rate of transmission, and determining that small crowds can be permitted safely.
He said face coverings and social distancing will be required at these venues.
THE VIRUS OUTBREAK:
— Researchers in Scotland say its COVID-19 vaccination program has caused hospitalizations to plummet
— British Prime Minister Boris Johnson to lay out plan to ease coronavirus restrictions but pubs, gyms and hairdressers to stay closed for weeks
— Russia’s vaccine rollout picks up speed but experts say the campaign is still moving slowly
— Elementary schools and kindergartens reopen in over half of Germany's 16 states
— Every Democratic vote is needed on $1.9 trillion COVID-19 relief bill, but minimum wage and other issues will force choices
HERE’S WHAT ELSE IS HAPPENING:
NEW YORK — New York City officials expect to catch up on their vaccination efforts after being forced to put off scheduling tens of thousands of appointments last week, Mayor Bill de Blasio said Monday.
“The supply that we expected last week is arriving today,” de Blasio said. “That means we’ve basically lost a full week in our vaccination efforts. But it will not stop us from reaching our goal of 5 million New Yorkers vaccinated by June because we still have the ability and the capacity to do it.”
ATLANTA — A new study finds that teachers may be more important drivers of COVID-19 transmission in schools than students.
The paper released Monday by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention studies nine COVID-19 transmission clusters in elementary schools in the Atlanta suburb of Marietta in December and January.
In only one cluster was a student clearly the first documented case. The CDC again advises that schools need to pursue “multifacted” strategies to prevent the spread of the virus, including cutting down on teacher-to-teacher meetings, making sure masks are worn correctly, and increasing physical distancing.
In addition, the CDC says it might be desirable to vaccinate teachers although the CDC restates teacher vaccination isn’t required to reopen.
HONOLULU — The Hawaii Senate is reconsidering allowing county emergency departments to charge out-of-bounds hikers for rescue costs as government spending remains under pressure because of the coronavirus pandemic.
A Senate bill would allow counties to issue criminal fines in addition to seeking reimbursement from hikers requiring rescue after leaving marked trails or ignoring signs saying areas are closed to hikers. The bill also would add new petty misdemeanor penalties for hiking illegally.
A revised version of a different Senate bill would only give counties the option of seeking reimbursement. The Honolulu Fire Department opposes seeking rescue reimbursement.
HILO, Hawaii — Coronavirus testing of travelers arriving on Hawaii island is expected to continue after the end of February, but officials have not yet determined the duration of the extension.
Partnerships between Hawaii County and private philanthropists allowing the county to test trans-Pacific arrivals are set to continue.
Hawaii County mayor spokesman Cyrus Johnasen says the terms of the continued testing are dependent on the level of funding the Big Island receives from the $1.9 trillion congressional relief bill under consideration.
Johnasen says the county will follow the state’s lead regarding exceptions for travelers who have been vaccinated.
BERLIN — Prosecutors have searched the mayor‘s office in the German city of Halle in an investigation triggered by the mayor and other politicians getting vaccinated against COVID-19 although they apparently weren’t yet entitled to be.
Germany has a several-tier priority list for vaccinations, starting with the most vulnerable and elderly. Its vaccination campaign is still at an early stage. Government leaders and other administrative officials don’t feature in the top tiers.
Halle Mayor Bernd Wiegand and several local politicians did get vaccinated, drawing strong criticism. Wiegand has advanced various defenses, including that the local disaster unit and council must remain functional in the pandemic.
Halle prosecutors said Monday that they are investigating Wiegand on suspicion of misappropriation of vaccines.
They said searches were carried out at the mayor’s office, at the local health office and vaccination center.
PARIS — Sanofi is going to produce as many as 12 million coronavirus vaccine doses per month for rival Johnson & Johnson, the second time the French drug maker is turning over production facilities to speed up supplies of a rival company’s vaccine, while its own candidate faces delays.
Sanofi’s announcement on Monday was quickly trumpeted by French President Emmanuel Macron, who relayed the development on his Twitter account. “We must together accelerate the production of vaccines with industrial partnerships,” Macron tweeted.
Sanofi said its vaccine manufacturing plant in Marcy l’Etoile, France, will formulate and fill vials of Johnson & Johnson’s vaccine candidate, developed by its Janssen companies. Sanofi said its French plant is expected to produce about 12 million doses per month of the single-dose vaccine.
Sanofi’s CEO, Paul Hudson, said the company remains committed to its own two COVID-19 vaccine programs but is also “stepping forward to show solidarity.” Sanofi has already previously announced that it will help bottle and package 125 million vaccine doses for the rival partnership of Pfizer-BioNTech.
PHNOM PENH, Cambodia — Cambodia’s Health Ministry on Monday reported 35 new confirmed cases of the coronavirus, 31 of them coming from community transmission. The new cases are part of a recent surge that includes 17 cases reported Sunday, 15 of them local.
Prime Minister Hun Sen posted an audio message on social media telling people to keep up their measures against infection by wearing face masks, using hand sanitizers and practicing social distancing.
“I plead with people living in the capital Phnom Penh to please not go out from their homes if there is nothing urgent to do outside,” he said.
As of Monday, a total of 568 people throughout the country have tested positive for the coronavirus, with 93 still receiving treatment. Cambodia has reported no deaths from the disease.
The Health Ministry said at least 23 locations in capital Phnom Penh and nearby provinces, including schools, night clubs, beer gardens and other entertainment sites, appear to be prime locations for the transmission of the virus. The Tourism Ministry ordered the temporary closing of all such entertainment venues, and seven schools have been shut as well.
GENEVA — The head of the World Health Organization is pleading with rich countries to check before ordering additional COVID-19 vaccine for themselves whether that undermines efforts to get vaccine to poorer nations.
Wealthy nations have snapped up several billion doses of vaccine, while some countries in the developing world have little or none. European nations have given financial support to the U.N.-backed COVAX effort to vaccine the world’s most vulnerable people, and are considering sharing some of their own doses.
WHO Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said Monday that “even if you have the money, if you cannot use the money to buy vaccines … having the money doesn’t mean anything.”
Speaking after talks with Germany’s president, he said some rich countries’ approaches to manufacturers for more vaccines are “affecting the deals with COVAX, and even the amount that was allocated for COVAX was reduced because of this.” He didn’t name those countries.
Tedros added that rich countries need to “cooperate in respecting the deals that COVAX did” and make sure before they seek more vaccines that their requests don’t undermine those deals. But, he said, “I don’t think they’re asking that question.”
PARIS — A region in southeast France is adding daytime weekend lockdowns to a 12-hour nightly curfew already in place seven days a week to slow a surge in coronavirus infections that is straining hospital resources.
The Alpes-Maritimes region that includes the towns of Nice, Cannes and other Mediterranean beauty spots is the first region to add the increased restrictions to the daily 6 p.m.-6 a.m. curfew that has been in force nationwide since January.
For at least the next two weekends, most people in the Alpes-Maritimes region will only be allowed to leave their homes to buy food, for medical appointments, to walk pets or for one hour of physical exercise during the day before curfew.
The measures, announced Monday by the region’s top official, apply to the Alpes-Maritimes’ coastal towns where 90% of the population lives.
Prefect Bernard Gonzalez said the region has the highest infection rates in France, with nearly 600 virus cases per 100,000 people. He said hospital wards are close to being overwhelmed and described the situation as “very worrying.”
LONDON — Researchers in Scotland say its COVID-19 vaccination program has led to a sharp drop in hospitalizations.
Scientists from the University of Edinburgh, the University of Strathclyde and Public Health Scotland found that the Pfizer vaccine reduced hospital admissions by as much as 85% and the Oxford/AstraZeneca shot cut admissions by up to 94%.
The findings were based on a comparison of data from people who had received their first dose of vaccine and those who had not received an inoculation. The data was gathered between Dec. 8 and Feb. 15, a period during which 21% of Scotland’s population received their first shot.
“These results are very encouraging and have given us great reasons to be optimistic for the future,’’ said Professor Aziz Sheikh, director of the University of Edinburgh’s Usher Institute. “We now have national evidence — across an entire country — that vaccination provides protection against COVID-19 hospitalizations.”
SYDNEY — Australia started its COVID-19 inoculation program on Monday, days after its neighbor New Zealand, with both governments deciding their pandemic experiences did not require the fast tracking of vaccine rollouts that occurred in many parts of the world.
Other countries in the Asia-Pacific region that have dealt relatively well with the pandemic either only recently started vaccinating or are about to, including Thailand, Vietnam, Cambodia and Singapore.
Catherine Bennett, an epidemiologist at Australia’s Deakin University, said countries that do not face a virus crisis benefit from taking their time and learning from countries that have taken emergency vaccination measures such as the United States.
“We’ve now got data on pregnant women who are vaccinated. Natural accidents, like incorrect dosing, happen in a real world rollout,” Bennett said. “All of those things are really valuable insights.”
Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison had his first dose of the Pfizer vaccine on Sunday in a show of confidence in the product. Australia is prioritizing building public confidence in COVID-19 vaccines ahead of speed of delivery.
Health and border control workers, as well as nursing home residents and workers, started getting the Pfizer vaccine on Monday at hubs across the country.
LONDON — British Prime Minister Boris Johnson is laying out a road map for lifting lockdown -- but millions of people in the U.K. longing for a haircut or a meal in a restaurant still face a long wait.
Johnson is set to announce a plan Monday to ease restrictions incrementally, starting by reopening schools in England on March 8. People will be allowed to meet one friend or relative for a chat or picnic outdoors from the same day.
Three weeks later, people will be able to meet outdoors in groups of up to six. But restaurants, pubs, gyms and hairdressers are likely to remain closed until at least April.
The government says progress will depend on vaccines proving effective, infection rates remaining low and no new virus variants emerging that throw the plans into disarray.
Britain has had Europe’s deadliest coronavirus outbreak, with more than 120,000 deaths.
Vaccines Minister Nadhim Zahawi said the government’s plan for easing restrictions was “steady as she goes.”